Thursday, 7 November 2013

Remark the Cat

"The Rum Tum Tugger is a curious cat, and there isn't any need for me to spout it, for he will do as he do do, and there's no doing anything about it." -- T.S. Eliot

I did a very kind or very rash thing today, and I'm trying to decide which.

A bit of backstory: a local cat named Gizmo started hanging around our place about the end of July. I spoke to Gizmo's owner who told me that she had been an indoor cat but suddenly had a change in attitude toward the other cats in the home and ran away. She is not spayed, which seemed to me a plausible reason to not want to return home. Another reason for not staying inside is the large dog that the family now owns. They left food out for Gizmo in their yard, and I put a little shelter out on our back stoop to provide her with a safe place to hide since she was being picked on by other neighbourhood cats. The months went by and Gizmo continued to show up in our yard on a regular basis, and became quite friendly with us.

Then my family and I went on holiday for two weeks. When we returned I didn't see Gizmo for a few days, but it was obvious that she had been using the shelter so I left some food out. Later that day I noticed that the food was gone, but I also made the unpleasant discovery of a pool of either vomit or diarrhea on the patio, so evidently the food didn't settle well with her for some reason.

However this morning Gizmo appeared on the back stoop and I immediately noticed that something was wrong. She wasn't behaving as she normally did; instead she was sluggish and apparently in pain. I picked her up and went to knock on her owner's door, and said that I felt that she needed to see a vet. The owner seemed preoccupied, and said only that Gizmo was supposed to have her shots and get spayed but she couldn't be kept in the house long enough to make an appointment. I handed Gizmo over and turned to go home, but within a few minutes the cat was following me back.

Once at home I decided that I had to take charge. I wasn't about to let this poor kitty get any worse. I grabbed an old towel, wrapped her up and took her to the closest vet. Eventually the vet examined Gizmo and said that Gizmo was dehydrated and malnourished (and NOT pregnant, thank goodness) and he needed to keep her overnight to stabilize her and do some other tests. I explained that the cat wasn't mine and I would have to consult the owner as to what to do, but in order for the vet to proceed with the tests he needed a deposit. I paid without a second thought.

On the way home I knocked on the owner's door again and explained the situation. The owner said bluntly that she couldn't deal with it. Being a single mother working from home with two kids, three cats and a dog, and an unemployed boyfriend, she just couldn't handle any more. She knew that I had been looking out for Gizmo and had thought that Gizmo needed space and would be more comfortable at my place rather than at hers. I had to concede the point, and even though I'm on a tight budget myself I am not one to abandon an animal in need that has clearly chosen to "adopt" me.

As of right now Gizmo is still at the vet's, and will probably be staying there at least another day. My husband has mixed feelings about the situation but we'll discuss what to do once we get word of Gizmo's progress. It's wierd, worrying about a cat that wasn't ours to begin with.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Autumnal Reflections

"Still don't know what I was waiting for, and my time was running wild, a million dead-end streets and every time I thought I'd got it made, it seemed the taste was not so sweet." -- David Bowie

Autumn has arrived, and the leaves on the trees are not the only things that are changing.

My father, who will be turning 75 soon, seems to be losing his faculties.  He can't remember the names of many people whom he has known for years.  The last time he drove me back from his house, he would have gone through two intersections had I not called his attention to the stop signs.  His doctor claims there's nothing wrong with him, but I'm not so sure.

The management of the rowhouse complex where my family is living changed over last year. Since then, many people including myself have noticed a marked decline in the upkeep of the grounds.  Two of the long-time maintenance staff who were well-known by the residents as friendly and efficient were fired and replaced by people who barely speak English, and they don't do their jobs well.  Branches aren't being picked up, trash bins on the grounds aren't being emptied, the promise of new windows for many of the residents hasn't been kept.  Even the front office seems to be closed most of the time.  It's a shame because the previous administration had worked hard to keep up the buildings and attract residents with young families.  Now many people are moving out, and we will probably also move next summer.

Two acquaintances on Facebook have recently left their boyfriends, under similar circumstances:
"I spent the last two days listening to you bitch and moan about how bad you have it and how you NEVER feel like you come first in my life when I DO EVERYTHING FOR YOU!!! I Love you but I'm D-O-N-E DONE!!! I asked you to do one thing for me today: take me to the fair. You have been home all week doing NOTHING. But no, you can't put me first for once can you?  I don't need or deserve to be treated like this and I won't let you any more!"

"Once again I am the biggest ass in the world for believing in someone, supporting them through hard times and falling in love with them. Believing when they say they care and they love me too. Only to be shut out and ignored. We're finished."

Another woman I know is about to have a baby at age 45, despite all the advice she had against it.  She already has four other older children by three different men, and has never worked in a steady job as far as I know. When directly questioned about what's happening in her life, she avoids the question or doesn't respond at all.

As for me?  Still stuck in the same rut.  I can't seem to write much.  My hopes to find a part-time job while my daughter is in school grow dimmer, as nobody seems interested in the applications that I send - and I have sent dozens.  The majority of brick-and-mortar jobs around here appear to be in retail sales, an area in which I have no experience whatsoever.

Well, all I can do is keep my chin up and soldier on.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Righteous Hypocrisy

"Christianity: The belief that some cosmic Jewish zombie can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him that you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. Makes perfect sense." -- Unknown

A friend of mine posted this on her blog and proceeded to describe how ridiculous the followers of organized religion are, because they live their lives trying to emulate characters in a book.  Holy books are just that: books, written by men trying to make sense of what was happening to them.

People like to play-act.  Every Halloween we see kids dressed up as witches, superheroes, princesses, and the like.  Cosplayers dress up as their favourite characters for conventions.  However this doesn't mean that they truly believe in these characters or follow their standards.

Religious practitioners are also play-acting.  They are trying to emulate a character in a book, as described by those who supposedly knew him while he was living, or according to stories of him passed down by his followers.  Let's not forget that as stories are passed along details are lost, so when they are finally written down, the stories could very easily have been changed from their original form, or even intentionally modified to suit the writer's views.  The stories in the Bible (and possibly other holy texts) were not written until decades or centuries after the death of the main character.  Who's to say what really happened?

As a result, practitioners of religion (particularly Christianity) are living a lie.  What's worse is that they often misinterpret what the book says and become defensive when called on it.

My former in-laws were Catholic, although after all the children moved away from home they no longer went to church regularly.  But those values remained, as twisted as they seemed to me at the time.  When a cousin had an affair he was censured by the entire family, and my ex's mother said "Have your fling, but if you have any decency, go back to your wife."  To quote Hebrews 13: "Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery."  It seemed to me that by judging the sinning cousin, the family was also sinning, because judging such things should be God's job and no other's, according to the book.  So even though they claimed to believe in the book, they weren't truly following it, and that is hypocrisy in itself.  I don't know if the situation with the cousin was ever resolved, because the issue became verboten - it was not to be talked about within the family.

My ex himself once threatened me with divorce if I refused to give him children (which cemented my decision to NOT have children with him).  We all know what King Henry VIII did with his wives who couldn't give him sons: he either divorced them or had their heads cut off.  And yet Matthew 19 clearly states that the only proper reason for divorcing one's wife is if she committed adultery.  Therefore my ex was as hypocritical as his family when he claimed that he still believed in the Catholic teachings.  Later he would tell me that he had only been joking, but it sure sounded serious at the time.

I could give more examples, but you get the idea.

Just for the record, I don't deny that Christ existed.  Historical and physical evidence indicates that he might have - but that he performed miracles is impossible for me to believe.  Still, I respect those who choose to believe otherwise even though from a realistic standpoint it appears silly.

So the next time you see someone dressed up as a fictional character, don't make fun of them.  If you happen to be a devout Christian you are doing exactly the same thing, just without the costume.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Hate Begets Hate

"I want freedom for the full expression of my personality." -- Mahatma Gandhi

There's a story on the Huffington Post about a lesbian couple living in Kingston Ontario who returned from their vacation to find hate-filled letters by an anonymous group in their mailbox. Move away, they were told, or there would be consequences. If they went to the police, there would be consequences. Children would be hunting them with BB guns, among other things.

The couple took a stand. They went to the police, to the media, and to their neighbours. There was a support rally held in a neighbourhood park. They didn't intend to be frightened into leaving, as others had been.

I commend this couple. Still, it's a real shame that the world has become such a harsh place. No, scratch that - it always was a harsh place for anyone who was 'different'. Any such people had no option but to be 'different' in private or face complete societal censure. Today it's a little better, but now haters have the luxury of spreading their vitriol and idiocy around the world via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and other forms of electronic expression.

Some Christian groups have twisted Mahatma Gandhi's quote "Hate the sin, love the sinner" to their own ends. The letter from the above-mentioned group does so as well, stating "we have nothing personal against you, only against your sexuality" and they use this as justification to "watch and wait, and then strike, at home and office, as need arises", all the while claiming to be "primarily non-violent".

Having been raised in a home with extremely conflicting values (my father was a bigot, my mother a liberal) I will admit that I find certain lifestyles a bit difficult to accept. Seeing interracial couples, lesbian couples, or gay men kissing in public makes me cringe inwardly. However I do have friends who are in LBGT or interracial relationships, and this has taught me tolerance. I do not begrudge their choices, I don't make an issue out of it, and what happens in the privacy of their home is not my business. Just as my personal life is nobody else's business.

Too many people have forgotten that other adage, attributed to Jesus himself: "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you". If more of us truly lived by that, the world would be a much better place for everyone.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Drop the Shopping

If men liked shopping, they'd call it research. -- Cynthia Nelms

I went to the mall yesterday afternoon, by myself because my family finds such activities boring.  There was a big end-of-season sale going on, and I thought I could find myself new jeans, shorts, and swimsuit for decent prices.  Easy, right?


I must have looked through at least ten different stores, and believe it or not, I couldn't find a single pair of jeans that would suit me.  I don't want those low-rise, hip-hugging, butt-squeezing, ankle-cut, stone-washed, pre-holed things.  Those are not JEANS.  Jeans are meant to be comfortable and are worn for crawling around in the dirt, not for squeezing yourself into just to look "sexy".  Eventually I said to myself, screw this, next time I'm going to Mark's Warehouse.  (My current pair of jeans came from there and I love them.)

A friend of mine later told me that she recently bought herself a pair of men's jeans, because the overall selection of women's cuts is abysmal and she needed them to actually WORK in.
Next I tried shorts, only to encounter the same problem.  Underwear-revealing, leg-absent, butt-hugging flimsy things that seem to be in danger of falling off at any time.  To me, shorts are short pants.  They cover you from your waist down to mid-thigh.  At one point I was trying on men's shorts to see if they would fit me well enough, because women's so-called shorts did not.

As the afternoon wore on I was beginning to wonder if I would ever find something when a display caught my eye: women's shorts, ACTUAL shorts, two for $30.  I picked out what I believed to be my size and went to try them on.  Only to be flabbergasted when they didn't fit me.

What?  These shorts were marked Medium, but they were too small?!  I have been fortunate to be the same weight and body shape for my entire adult life, and I've worn Medium sizes without any problems.  And now Medium doesn't fit me any more?  What anorexia-supporting clothes designer decided this?  Grumbling, I returned the offending piece of clothing to the display and grabbed a Large.  This one fit.

At the counter I asked the salesperson: if the item came from a display marked two for $30, then one would only cost me $15.  Right?  She smiled at me a bit sheepishly and explained that one item cost $20 and in order to get the discount I had to bring any two items from displays marked two for $30.  Oh, all right.  I found the display where I had got the shorts and picked another pair that was a different colour.  So now at least I had shorts.

A swimsuit was another challenge.  Last year I bought my daughter a one-piece swimsuit that covers completely from shoulders and upper arms to mid-thigh.  Lately I've been seeing more kids in similar suits, both one-piece and two-piece, and it seems appropriate for the stronger sun and heat that we've been getting in recent years.  But trying to get something like that for an adult, particularly a woman, is extremely difficult.  The closest thing I could find was in the men's section: swim-shorts and swim-shirt that were primarily designed for men who indulged in high-performance water sports like water-skiing or surfing.  Salespeople at two different stores (Sports Experts and Bikini Village) told me that the shirts were meant to go over an existing swimsuit because they didn't have the elastic support that a woman's swimsuit has.

At most of the stores that I searched, the bulk of women's swimsuits were teeny bikinis, tankinis, or other spaghetti-strapped, boob-revealing monstrosities that I wanted no part of.  Perhaps I was being too picky, but still I don't want to show all my skin to the sun and risk getting burned in places that should not be.  I finally was forced to give up, because at this point it was almost closing time and my family was no doubt wondering where I was.

So three and a half hours of shopping only got me two pairs of shorts.  I've had better days.

Friday, 5 July 2013

You Never Know Who Might Be Watching

"Jeepers creepers, where'd ya get those peepers? Jeepers creepers, where'd ya get those eyes?" -- Johnny Mercer

I've been noticing a disturbing trend at the local wading pool.  Quite a few parents and daycare supervisors are allowing their preschoolers to remove wet swimsuits and put on dry clothes next to the pool, instead of taking the kids to the nearby chalet to change.

The pool area is surrounded by a six foot tall ivy-covered fence and ringed by trees and hedges, but less than thirty feet away is the back of a three-story apartment building.  Many of the facing apartments have a clear view of the pool and the kids who play (and change) there.  If a sexual predator happened to live in one of those apartments they would have a plethora of chances to take surreptitious photos of naked toddlers and bikini-clad ladies.

As far as I know, there have been no incidents in all the years that the pool has been there.  But there's always a first time for everything.  And those adults who don't hesitate to disrobe the kids in full view of those windows obviously don't realize that they might be putting the kids at risk.

As for my daughter, she wears a swimsuit that covers her completely from her shoulders to thighs, and she changes it at home.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Never Seen, Never Known

"Only when the last tree has been cut down; only when the last river has been poisoned; only when the last fish has been caught; only then you will find that money cannot be eaten." -- American Indian proverb

Powdered rhino horn. Sliced manta ray gills. One ounce black bear bile. Shaved turtle shell.

What looks like a recipe for a witch's vile brew is in fact a list of ingredients used in various traditional Oriental medicines. Despite all evidence to the contrary, too many people believe that these ingredients will increase virility, boost the immune system, or cure any number of ailments. As a result, many species are at high risk of becoming extinct due to poaching.

The black market for rhino horns alone has caused the population to plummet by 90% over the past 40 years. The animals that remain in the wild are in protected reserves, but even then they aren't safe. Conservationists have been forced to take drastic measures to protect the animals, including:

Posting armed rangers to guard the animals 24 hours a day. Unfortunately determined poachers will not hesitate to bribe or even kill the guards in order to get their booty.

Hiring professional veterinarians to safely remove the rhino's horns to lessen the animal's appeal.

Injecting a toxic solution into the rhino's horn that turns it pink. It doesn't affect the animal, but if the pink horn is ingested it causes severe gastrointestinal distress.

Rhinos aren't the only animals in need of protection. Elephants, narwhals, and walrus are constantly targeted for their tusks despite an international ban on ivory. Sharks are dying by the millions because their fins are chopped off to be used in soups. Many types of whale are being hunted illegally. Tigers are sought for their skins and bones.

What's worse is that the media contributes to the problem. It upsets me greatly to see news stories like "This rare animal was thought to be gone but it has been seen HERE". What that does is paint a huge target on the animal and its habitat. Not only will scientists and animal-watchers descend on the area but poachers will also, endangering the animal even more. If an extremely rare animal is found it should be left in peace, its habitat kept secret if possible, so hopefully it will be able to propagate.

It has been estimated that over 1800 species of plants and animals worldwide are endangered because of human activity. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. More people and governments must take action to quell the senseless slaughter of creatures that have just as much right to exist as we do.

I hope that my grandchildren will be able to see a real rhinoceros or elephant, not just a model of one in a museum or a picture in a book.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

People Forget the Bad Stuff

"Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." -- Winston Churchill

How soon people forget.

Today is June 6th.  69 years ago today, Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy.

Where are the commemorations?

My local newspaper had nothing this morning, so I looked online and what I found was disheartening.  No Google Doodle.  A blog about the Battle of Stony Creek that occurred on the same date in 1812.  A slide show of 29 photos on Yahoo News Canada.  A short video on the CTV News web site.

I finally found stories on the CBC web site and Yahoo Canada News by searching for "D-Day", and both articles were posted only three hours ago - as if the subject were an afterthought.  The only mention on the CBC main page itself is a tiny photo that links to the original radio broadcast of the invasion.

The only site that seems to be giving the event any decent coverage is CNN.

It's an insult to all who fought and died that day.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Endangered Bees

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne. -- Marcus Aurelius

In September of 2011, millions of bees in Florida's Breward County mysteriously died in one day.  Local farmers and beekeepers suspected that pesticide spraying was to blame.

In March 2012, an Illinois beekeeper's hives were illegally seized and destroyed by the Department of Agriculture, who claimed that the bees were infected with a disease.  The farmer insisted that his bees were healthy and the only reason they were taken was because he had been researching the effects of the pesticide known as Roundup.

The agricultural giant Monsanto has been suing farmers to protect their "patented seed technology"; all because honeybees land on Monsanto’s genetically-modified crop fields and cross pollenate them with the organic plants at the farmers' fields nearby.

In April 2012 Monsanto bought out a research firm that specialized in bee disorders, for the apparent purpose of using that research to deny any link between genetically-modified crops and the honeybee decline.

All of the above cases, and more, make it clear that corporations are taking more aggressive and even illegal actions to control our food supply.  Even honeybees are considered a threat, to the point where bees are actively being exterminated despite warnings from the scientific community that pollination is vital to our crops and to humanity's well-being.

Many environmentally conscious groups are advocating the use of yards as personal farms; their motto being "Grow food, not lawns".  Unfortunately there are municipalities that have bylaws requiring grass to be planted, and hefty fines have been levied against homeowners who grow vegetables on their property.  So it's a good idea to check first.

I for one am thinking about turning my back yard into a vegetable garden.  Wish me luck.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Ni-hao America

Learn without thinking begets ignorance. Think without learning is dangerous. -- Confucius

These days many of our consumables, from clothing to electronics, are manufactured in Asia under conditions that are considered highly unsafe but are tolerated because of lower production costs.  In the end it is the workers and little people who suffer.

That suffering is being felt on both sides of the ocean now, because of shady business practises and contaminated goods.  Just this morning, quality concerns with a Chinese producer of acetaminophen have prompted a recall of four fever medications for children.  Earlier in the week, batches of honey produced in China were subject to recall due to chemicals in the honey.

From time to time we hear about childrens' toys or jewelry made in China that contains lead or other harmful substances.  And we can't forget the 2008 incident in China where over 50,000 babies were hospitalized because of infant formula adulterated with melamine.  And this despite a melamine ban that had been imposed the previous year!

Who puts PLASTIC in foodstuffs?  Who puts TOXINS in childrens' toys?  The answer: people who care about money more than they care about people's health.  So a few children die from their products... there are too many people in the world already, right?

We need to pay closer attention to these things.

Since I don't grow my own food I am becoming increasingly careful about what I buy and where it originated.  For example, pick up two otherwise identical cans of fruit salad and look at the labels.  One says Made in U.S.A. and the other says Made in China.  The U.S.-produced one will most likely be at least 50 cents more expensive, but I would prefer to pay that extra 50 cents to be assured that the contents are safer.

Typically I avoid fresh produce that does not originate in North America.  But that is no guarantee.  Those California strawberries might have been treated with waxes or sprays so they don't ripen before they reach a market in Canada.  That batch of bell peppers from Mexico might have been irrigated with contaminated water.  I have even seen reports of merchants openly spraying produce displays with insecticide to keep fruit flies away.  And washing produce before eating it doesn't always remove contaminants since the plant absorbs everything from the environment.

Some people have said that the only way to make a difference is to boycott Asian products.  Realistically that probably won't work, because we depend too much on products from overseas.  Take a look at the label of almost anything you see and it will be marked as made somewhere in Asia.  Even the winter boots I bought last year, an expensive brand that was marketed as Canadian, had a tiny label inside them that said Made in China.  No wonder they didn't last; the quality of Chinese-made goods is abysmal.

There is a need for clear regulation in these industries, and it must be consistently enforced.  And we need to start shifting production back here.  For the jobs, for the economy, and for the safety of millions of people.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Classic Playthings

"You will always be your child's favorite toy." -- Vicki Lansky

We have a large orange telephone-shaped plushie that has a huge smile on the front.  It was originally mine - a gift from my older brother when I was about four, and I referred to it as my "long distance telephone".  I thought of it today when I saw a commercial for yet another inane comic book-inspired plastic gizmo, and wondered how many young people will keep their possessions in good condition and pass them on to their own kids?

Most of my own childhood toys and stuffed animals were given to my young nephews before I moved away from home.  However I kept a few very special items that include the plush telephone, a set of plush Ninja Turtles, a pair of maracas that I had bought with my own money on a family vacation to the Bahamas, and a framed whimsical print of a tiger with an owl sitting on its tail by an artist named Margot Johnson.  These are now on prominent display in our daughter's room.

Classic playthings such as unique stuffed animals, hand-made dolls, and wooden blocks are becoming increasingly rare.  Take a look at almost any children's toy now and it will be made mostly of plastic, and might contain some kind of electronic component that flashes lights and makes sounds.  We all know that plastics are made from oil.  Electronics contain gold and other valuable elements that are necessary for their function.  These substances are removed from the ground in vast quantities every day to create make mundane objects, including childrens' toys.  However those same substances are finite.  Should people really continue to use vast quantities of limited resources to make flashy toys for children, toys that might end up in a landfill somewhere when they break because it's next to impossible for the average person to fix them?

Read "A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas and you'll find that many children were happy with hand-crafted wooden toys and cloth dolls (plus treats of fruit and candy).  They didn't need fancy accessories to make their own fun.  Even today, there are kids who can find more fun with a cardboard box than with most other things.  So why do we continue to bombard children with advertisements featuring the latest moulded plastic figurine to roll off a mechanized assembly line?

Never mind, I know the answer.  Money.  Plus harried parents who are too quick to satitate their kids' desire for instant gratification.  It all reminds me of the scene from the film 'Babe' where the grandfather has made a beautiful doll house by hand, only to be tearfully told by the child that she wanted 'the one on the television'.

One day the oil will run out, and people will be far too occupied with survival than with plastic toys.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Are We There Yet?

Justice delayed is justice denied. -- William Gladstone

Any parent will tell you how frustrating it is to hear incessant "Are we there yet?" when on a road trip. More people should be saying something like that when it comes to the not-so-swift prosecution of criminals, particularly ones who are accused of heinous deeds.

In the following examples, I have not given any names because I believe the names of people who commit such atrocities should be forgotten.

The preliminary hearing has just wrapped up for the person who was charged in 2012 with the dismemberment of a Chinese student and mailing his body parts across the country. The trial will not take place until the autumn of 2014.

For the accused in a 2009 case of three womens' bodies found in their submerged car, two years and three months elapsed between the arrests and the start of the trial.

For the lowlife who was charged in 2002 in connection with the disappearance of dozens of women in Vancouver, it was almost FIVE YEARS before his murder trial began.


Several articles that I researched cited the following reasons for such delays.

1. Invocation of the accused's right to a preliminary hearing.
2. Availability of court facilities, the judge, lawyers, and witnesses.
3. Jury selection and availability of jurors.
4. It's to everyone's interest to wait until emotions have cooled down.

These are good reasons to be sure, but still, can't there be steps taken to reduce the waiting time?

Yes, we all know that the court system is overloaded. However it's inhumane to force the victims' families to suffer with their anger and grief for prolonged periods of time until receiving the closure of a verdict. Also, the longer the time between the event and the trial, the more likely the memories of any witnesses will become blurred. (Defense lawyers know this, and will take full advantage of the fact.)

My mother-in-law has a simple solution. If there was incontrovertible evidence that a person committed a serious crime such as murder, rape, or child abuse, then just dispense with the trial and shoot them on the spot. Or drop them in Antarctica in the dead of winter. In her world, overpopulation would not be a problem.

I know that's extreme, but realistically, some of these criminals do not deserve a roof over their heads and three meals a day at the expense of law-abiding taxpayers.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A Woman's Issue

As soon as you see a mistake and don't fix it, it becomes your mistake. -- Unknown

How much longer must we see people blame the victims for the crime, and watch the authorities act too slowly? When will people understand that the men and to a lesser degree, the culture, are the problems?

A post on a Facebook community page for women's issues in India lamented the fact that victims of rape in India were getting younger; the most recent being a four-year-old that was severely injured. One male commenter wrote: "Stop being sluts then u won't get raped". How DARE this idiot pin the blame on a child who couldn't even know what constitutes "slutty" behaviour?

His FB timeline contains glaring contradictions. He posts that he wants to adopt a child, he is tolerant of other people's sexuality, and he supports the medical use of marijuana. How can one reconcile that with his statement above? All I will say is that if he adopts a girl, hopefully he won't have to find out what it's like to be the father of a girl who was raped.

The description of an Islam-oriented women's group reads as follows: "Allah has created women with the most beautiful figure, we know it's beautiful. So why then should we cover it? Because it's not for everyone to see. Likewise in the case of hijab, Allah created us with beautiful structure and because of our beauty, He is testing us by stating to cover our beauty and to be modest about our beauty. By wearing the hijab we are respecting Allah and our love for Him. Since He's our creator and the Creator of the world we are living in, we have to respect His laws, shari'a. Hijab can save a woman from evil's eye. Only hijab makes one feel better and safer."

This is what they might believe, but the truth is that the hijab protects them from nothing. Women who wear full-length burqas are equally as likely to be raped as those who wear bikinis. We all have the right to wear what we choose and not be afraid; our choice of clothing does not indicate we are "asking for it". Is a man who walks down the street in the summer without a shirt "asking for it"?

Rape is not always about sexual gratification, it's about power and control. If a man cannot control himself, or respect a woman's right to safety, that man should not be allowed to remain in society at large. Any blame for his actions should rest squarely on his shoulders, and nowhere else.

Monday, 15 April 2013

A Moment of Inattention

It is the disease of not listening, the malady of not marking, that I am troubled withal. -- Shakespeare, Henry IV

As much as I don't want to admit it, I am middle-aged.  Where the heck did all the years go?

This afternoon I had what I termed a 'senior happening' that up until now I had discounted as only experienced by older people who were in the process of losing their faculties.  It scared me deeply.

I was cooking, stirring a sauce with a plastic utensil, which I often use to avoid scratching my cookware.  Then I was distracted by a holler from my daughter in the next room; she wanted my attention for something, I can't even remember what it was now.  I couldn't have been absent for more than a minute or two, but upon my return I discovered to my horror that the entire kitchen was filled with smoke.

Missy must have heard my curses but otherwise she seemed to be oblivious to what was transpiring.  The pot I had been stirring now contained a foul gooey mess - I had accidentally left the utensil in the pot, and it had melted and welded itself to the bottom of the pot.  At once I shut off the stove, whisked the pot outside, and then opened as many of the windows as I could to clear the smoke.

The windows would remain open for the remainder of the afternoon as I tried to remove the burned plastic from the pot.  I managed to scrape off most of it without damaging the steel, but a stubborn quarter-sized area remained despite all my efforts.  Eventually I had to concede that the pot was most likely no longer useable.

Hours later, after dinner had finally been served, the kitchen cleared, and Missy put to bed, everything finally hit me.  I had been distracted for a mere moment, and had forgotten the most basic rule of cooking safety: never leave an operating stove unattended.  I had endangered my daughter and myself.  This should not have happened.  Only a fool could be ignorant of what was happening in front of them!

As I write, the house still reeks despite the windows having been open for half the afternoon.  I'll probably have to wash everything that can be washed, to get rid of the smell.  And I hope that Missy and I don't suffer any ill effects from inhaling that smoke, even if it was only for a few minutes.

One thing's for sure, I'll never leave a pot on the stove again.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Do you want a background check with that?

This battle for 'common-sense' gun control laws pits emotion and passion against logic and reason. All too often in such a contest, logic loses. So, expect more meaningless, if not harmful, 'gun control' legislation. Good news - if you're a crook. -- Larry Elder

Up to now I've been keeping out of the gun control debate because I know how much it has polarized people's opinions.  Personally I abhor guns and would never touch one, much less have one in my home.  However a comment I read this morning on a CNN article concerning the NRA's resistance to background checks struck me as being right on the money.  Here it is:

"As both a gun owner and an NRA member (there are actual benefits to being a member), I 100% support universal background checks. I think the level of paranoia some gun owners show is absurd! I have a hard time drawing a connection between universal background checks to gun confiscation! I have no problem with the background checks because I have nothing to hide...

Due to an overwhelming response to my original comment, I'm adding in a few (well, more than a few) additional comments in order to address some of the most common threads.

1) To the trolls who have nothing to say other than short, one liner little absurd comments: get a life, get a job, and get out of your mother's basement. You want to have a discussion, we can have a discussion. I'm open to the idea that I'm wrong, but how about discussing/debating it instead of the stupid "you're a liar", "I would rave you a thousand times if I could", etc. Also... spelling helps.

2) The notion that universal background checks ultimately leads to a gun registry because it would not be enforceable seems a bit... short-sighted... maybe narrow-minded... to me. Is it not possible to come up with some sort of a system where, when I sell a firearm privately, that I can't check the person out first to at least have a warm fuzzy that this person isn't going to go off killing a bunch of people with the firearm I just sold them? Instead of just going off the handle on how it can't happen, why not offer up alternative solutions? One I liked was the gun license. You want to own a weapon? You have to have a gun license. That provides the background check and gives us gun owners some sense of "yeah, this guy is ok to sell to".

3) I like when people bring up the 4th and 5th Amendments. Basically saying that somehow this will lead to giving up the 4th and 5th Amendment rights. I'm pretty sure the 4th Amendment includes the words "probable cause" and the 5th Amendment includes the words "due process". For my weapons to be confiscated, the process of law still has to be adhered to. Are there corrupt law officials and politicians? You bet... but guess what... there are corrupt gun owners too.

This law doesn't all of a sudden give law enforcement the blanket right to search the home of a gun owner without a warrant and without probable cause. It also doesn't allow law enforcement to confiscate without due process. We wouldn't be throwing out the 4th and 5th Amendments just by making background checks a requirement before the purchase of a firearm.

4) I love all the "What If" scenarios that everyone has been putting out. What if this happens or what if that happens. If we try to come up with laws that cover every possible scenario, every possible outcome, we would never get anything done. Oh wait... we don't get anything done now because we try to make everyone happy and cover every possible scenario/consequence.

Here's a "What If" scenario right back at you. What if you are going to a gun show with your AR-15 with the intent of selling it. Before you walk into the gun show, a person approaches you and says "Hey buddy, how much you want for your AR?". You tell this person your price and they produce a wad of cash. No big deal, you sell him the AR, take your cash and go home happy. The next day, you're watching the news and they tell you a story about a person who walked into their place of business and summarily shot a bunch of people before taking their own life. You figure out that it's the same person you bumped into at the show and the weapon they used was the AR you just sold them...

I know that is a stretch... but honestly it's less of a stretch than some of the other "what ifs" I've heard. I can tell you honestly that I'm not ok with this situation. For one thing, it wouldn't happen to me because I absolutely do not sell a firearm to someone I don't know. However, what I described about purchases at gun shows DOES happen... all the time!

Look, no system is going to be perfect. We live in an imperfect system and it was, in part, designed that way. We aren't going to prevent every crime and we aren't going to all of a sudden eradicate evil with a few laws. But, I think we need to have a more sensible approach to how firearms are purchased and transferred. If universal background checks is a step in that direction, I'm all for it. If you guys can come up with a better solution, I'm all ears!"

The only thing I can add is that there should be a licencing system in place. If anyone wants to own and use a gun they should be required to obtain a licence.  After all, we need licences to drive a vehicle, marry, and practise certain professions.  It makes sense for gun ownership too.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Help, I've been stupid!

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious
stupidity. -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

Hardly a week goes by when I am not shaking my head in sadness and/or outrage at stories of individual and societal ignorance or stupidity.

Law enforcement in a small community could not or would not press charges against four boys accused of raping a girl at a party because it was concluded there was "not enough evidence".

A teenage girl posted in a pregnancy forum that she needed help to determine if she got pregnant by her boyfriend because she "didn't learn about ovulation and all that".

The latest foofaraw over language in Quebec has made Time Magazine.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

During my formative years growing up in suburbia, everyone knew their neighbours.  Everyone looked out for everyone else's kids.  I or any other kid I knew could ring the doorbell of almost any house on the block and someone would help solve the problem.

You don't see that too much any more.  Often both parents in a family (if there even are two present) are working.  Kids are placed in daycare or after-school programs where they are practically raised by others.  People are too focused on their own lives to bother with anyone else's, and might not even know their neighbours' names.  Kids and teenagers are left to their own devices for long periods of time.

It's sad.  And so it's no wonder that many young people now get into trouble.  The adult support network just isn't there.  When will people begin to take a more active role in the education and betterment of their children and their community?

I still think about the six-year-old boy that used to live across the lane from us.  One day after school last spring he came over and asked to play with my daughter.  I invited him in, got him a snack, helped him with his homework, and supervised as he and my daughter played together.  An hour later his father knocked at the door, worried and furious because the boy hadn't told him where he was.  The boy burst into tears, not wanting to go home.  The apparent root of the problem was that the family was going to be moving away from the neighbourhood, and the boy was upset about it.

I'm glad that I was able to be there for that boy when he needed some help.  It's the kind of thing we need more of.

Monday, 1 April 2013

You Can't Eat Money

"Anyway, no drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed, and love of power." -- P. J. O'Rourke

This morning I am physically ill.  Not because I have a cold or 'flu, but rather it's a reaction to a story circulating in the news.

The town of Mayflower in central Arkansas, with a population of about 1700, was flooded on Friday afternoon.  Not with water, but with oil.  An Exxon-Mobil pipeline known as Pegasus ruptured, sending thousands of gallons of heavy crude coursing into the town's drainage system, streets, and backyards.  The spill has supposedly been contained and the company has offered an apology, but so far the cause of the spill hasn't been identified.

What kind of apology can mitigate this?  Part of a community has been destroyed because of inadequate oversight and maintenance on a pipeline.  People in the spill area will never be able to sell their homes, and will likely never see any form of monetary compensation.  The ground and local water supply will be contaminated for decades.

Let's look back at the Exxon-Valdez spill of 1989 in Alaska.  Although the spill was "cleaned up" the effects are still there, 24 years later.  Dig down into the soil a few inches and you see oil.  Sea otters and orcas in the affected area are in decline, and fisheries still haven't recovered.  Exxon was ordered to pay billions of dollars in fines but its multiple appeals and legal wrangling on the case caused the total to be revised downward to a fraction of that amount.

How ironic it is that a town named for the ship that brought some of the first European settlers to North America in search of a new life has been so adversely affected by the "new" American life: greed.  The oil flowing through the ruptured pipeline isn't even American; it originated in Canada and is being transported to Texas for refinement before shipment overseas.  So Exxon was pumping oil that wasn't theirs through an inadequately maintained pipeline that had previously been idle for four years, and they expected it to work?

There have been at least five landbased oil spills on United States soil in the past three years (two in Canada).  How many more accidents will it take to make the bigshots realize that transporting oil is dangerous?

How many communities like the town of Mayflower will pay the price?

Friday, 29 March 2013

Shots in the Dark

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." -- Robert McCloskey

Have you ever thought that no matter how much you try something, it's never enough?  Yeah, I figured as much.

I should be celebrating the holiday weekend with my family but instead I feel overwhelmed.  I've been spending a large portion of every day for the last year looking for a part-time job so that I can earn some extra money while the munchkin is in school.  My ideal scenario would be freelance writing or blogging about a subject that I'm very familiar with, like genealogy.

I tried marketing myself as a genealogist but I only had one bite in six months.  Then after I had done some work for the person, she told me that she couldn't pay me.

Also I registered with web sites whose purpose is to pair up freelance writers with potential employers.  Again, only one contract offered after six months of applications and letters.  Then that contract was terminated early because the person thought I wasn't working fast enough despite the fact that he had given me no deadline for the project.

I don't qualify for the majority of jobs that would require me to work with the public because I am not fluently bilingual (which you have to be in this crazy province).

So here I am, still no employment.  And now my husband wants to leave our current lodgings.  Not because we can't afford it, but because he feels the management of the building is not taking proper care of things, the rent is being raised (again) without any sign of improvement to the facilities, and they don't seem to be listening to our concerns.  Personally I don't want to move.  We're close to everything, the munchkin's school is two blocks away, and we have friends in the surrounding area.

I've spoken to the building manager but he informed me that nothing can be done until the end of April.  I've spoken to my husband but he seems to have made up his mind already.

Everyone hears but nobody is listening.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Manners and Common Sense

"In my opinion, we don't devote nearly enough scientific research to finding a cure for jerks." -- Bill Watterson

I have often wondered if parents are simply not teaching basic manners, or if it's a "teenager" thing to disrespect everyone to the point of landing themselves in more trouble.  And when they do get into trouble, no matter how serious, they often laugh it off as if it were a big game.

An 18-year-old Florida girl giggles during a bail hearing and flips the bird at the judge, who immediately increases her sentence.

An Ohio teen on trial for murder smirks the whole time, and then utters profane statements and gives the finger to his victims and their families.

Two teenage girls tweet death threats toward a rape victim, and are promptly arrested.

Not to mention the hundreds of Quebec student "protesters" that were arrested for vandalizing businesses and damaging police vehicles.

Such behaviour isn't limited to teenagers, either.  I once witnessed a high-speed car chase through a residential neighbourhood that was precipitated by one of the drivers cutting off the other at an intersection.  The driver behind was flashing his high-beams and grinning like a Cheshire cat.  Both drivers appeared to be grown adults.

And don't get me started about the numerous celebrities who have ended up in court and/or in jail (multiple times, even!) because their status went to their heads.

There are many reasons why common decency goes out the window.  You can argue that these people have some kind of mental disorder, that it's impossible for them to understand proper behaviour because of some chemical imbalance in the brain, that they "forgot" in the heat of the moment, or that they were high on drugs at the time.

But sometimes, they just don't care because they are spoiled brats who believe they are entitled to everything and will throw temper tantrums if they don't get their way.  Or they don't care because they have brainwashed themselves into believing that they are somehow better than everyone else.  Or maybe, just maybe, their parents never taught them manners in the first place.

On a sarcastic note, maybe all those schools that want to eliminate sex education can teach Emily Post instead.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Evil Geniuses for a Better Tomorrow

"A wingnut is someone on the far-right wing or far-left wing of the political spectrum - the professional partisans, the unhinged activists and the paranoid conspiracy theorists. They're the people who always try to divide rather than unite us. -- John Avlon

I recently came across a message on an FB group that was completely unrelated to the topic of the group, and offensive besides.  So I reported the message.  However in doing so I found myself in the poster's cross-hairs.

The young man (looks early to mid-20s in his profile photo) calls himself a "comedy activist" and conspiracy buff who is the leader of a group called Reptilian Report.  According to their site, this group's goals include: hunting down and interviewing aliens, defeating the Illuminati, and stealing Illuminati/Freemason power by using their ritual locations.  His original post rambled on about President Obama being the Antichrist and that his upcoming visit to Jerusalem was timed purposely to coincide with the Persian New Year.  When I called him out on several mistakes that he had made, he discounted the sources I cited as being "owned by the Illuminati".

Later posts in the same thread claimed that he was a genius, and that he and his compatriots were working on something secret that would enable the creation of clean energy, fix the economy, end world hunger, eliminate greed, etc.  Of course he wouldn't reveal HOW they intended to accomplish all this, because he was certain that he was being watched and possibly targeted for assassination.

This is one messed-up man, to put it mildly.  He does have a point about the world needing help - it certainly does - but the way he's going about his "mission" looks scary.  And spamming Facebook groups with his manifesto won't garner him any sympathy.

I hope that someone gets him the help he needs before he decides to continue his war with violence and not words.

(For those not familiar with screwball card games, the title of this post refers to a card in the Steve Jackson game "Illuminati".)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Getting Away With It

"Much of the modern resistance to chastity comes from men's belief that they "own" their bodies - those vast and perilous estates, pulsating with the energy that made the worlds, in which they find themselves without their consent and from which they are ejected at the pleasure of another!" --  C.S. Lewis

I've been following the sickening story of two Steubenville Ohio teenage football stars who allegedly raped a 16-year-old girl who was drunk and comatose with no way to defend herself.  What's worse is that several others witnessed this and did nothing to stop it because they supposedly thought the girl had consented and therefore there was no wrongdoing.  Other members of the football team have been wearing masks and protesting outside the courthouse, demanding that the players on trial be set free.

My first thought was WHERE ARE THEIR PARENTS?  Who in their right mind allows their teenager to go out partying at all hours of the night and get drunk?  Who teaches their sons that it's acceptable to harrass and rape someone?  Are people becoming so self-indulged that they can't or won't guide their children appropriately?

A big part of the problem is that in many small towns, the local athletic team (usually football) is accorded celebrity status.  The players are practically given free rein to do as they please, and they get away with a LOT - which includes, unfortunately, sexual assault.  Coaches and other authority figures will even cover up for them.  It brings to mind another case from a few years ago where a Texas high school cheerleader refused to cheer for the basketball player who had raped her.  As a result she  was kicked off the squad and publicly humiliated, and a grand jury refused to indict the ones responsible.

One comment on the story summarized it quite well: "Rape has always been about power and control, and in this country, we assign those attributes to atheletes and celebrities. We tend to allow them to think they have some sort of absolute power and authority to take whatever they want to take and there are no consequences. We sort of canonize atheletes because they can run fast or throw a ball straighter than the next guy, and these young players are taught they are elite."

Fortunately we seem to be getting closer to breaking this taboo subject wide open.  The sexual abuse scandal at Penn State University made national headlines.  But there are countless high schools and sports clubs around North America that might harbour the next perpetrators of the unthinkable.

These boys in Steubenville must be used as an example to others.  If you assault a girl you will go to jail and have a black mark on your record for the rest of your life.  No second chances.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Just Another Day at the OQLF

"Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all." -- Walt Whitman

After seeing the latest news story about the ridiculous behaviour of the Quebec separatists:

I decided to amuse myself by writing a tongue-in-cheek letter to anyone who might be considering a visit to our fair province.

Welcome to Quebec, a province steeped in history and natural wonder. From the Chaudiere River and the Plains of Abraham to the Montreal International Jazz Festival and Bonsecours Market, there is something to interest everyone.

However, it's advised that you learn a few words of French before your arrival. For almost 40 years the Quebec government has been protecting its people's French language from the encroachment of English. As a result, the use of English within the Quebec borders is strictly controlled.

All outdoor signage is in French, and if you happen to see signs with English letters, the English letters are half the size of the French ones. Any business with more than 50 employees uses French in the workplace. Immigrants and people without a special exemption attend school in French.

And that's not all. Quebec has its own special police force to ensure that these language freedoms are being maintained. Italian restaurants seem to be particularly favoured targets; recent cases involved the words "Pasta" and "Caffe".

Some employees of the public transit system in Montreal have shown their loyalty to Quebec by refusing to serve customers who speak English. Supporters of a recently-tabled amendment to strengthen the language laws were quoted as saying that anyone who can't ask for a Metro ticket in French should walk.

Tourists are welcome to visit. But if you don't know French, perhaps it's best to not speak at all.

By the way, the phrase you need to buy a Metro ticket is:
Puis-je acheter un billet de métro, s'il vous plaît?

Monday, 4 March 2013

Two Solitudes

"If the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, you can bet the water bill is higher." -- Unknown

Two pieces in this morning's newspaper caught my attention with their highlighting of the sociopolitical situation that Quebec residents endure.

First: At a conference of the sovereigntist party Option Nationale, former premier Jacques Parizeau pointed out that an independent Quebec would be "rid of constitutional constraints" with regard to anglophones and asked how a new government would handle the issue.  He also encouraged the use of public funds to work toward the goal of sovereignty (even when Quebec is currently over $114 billion in debt) because being independent would "provide considerable savings".

I call bullshit.  If Quebec were to become independent, things would get MUCH worse for everyone.  There would be no more federal transfer payments.  No more Canadian dollar.  No military.  Trade and business contracts would have to be renegotiated.  And so on.  And I would bet my bottom dollar that any government of an independent Quebec would not hesitate to stomp down on non-francophones so hard that they would break.  Why not make us wear maple-leaf badges and be done with it?  At least we'll have no doubt as to where we stand.

Which brings me to the second piece: A letter from a 26-year-old anglophone student at McGill University, in which he describes his plan to leave the province for good after he receives his MBA.  He had spent three years working in the U.S. and then returned home to find that nothing had changed.  Roads are still crumbling, taxes are higher than ever, the government still spins in circles, and nothing changes.  He will gladly trade all that for something better.

The second example is a clear consequence of the first.  It's little wonder that so many people, including the bulk of my own contemporaries, have left the province.  Very little has changed in 30 years, and there hasn't been a government strong enough (provincial or federal) to say "Stop the nonsense."  The beautiful city that I have called home is falling apart amid an ongoing war of attrition that, in the end, everyone will lose.

I was recently asked why I stayed here despite all these problems.  Answer: my family.  My husband has a stable job, we have a child in school (immersion), and my in-laws live nearby.  We cope.  And we happen to like it here.  But we'll be keeping an eye out for other opportunities, because with this wacky government of ours, things could change in the blink of an eye.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Happy St. David's Day

"Each section of the British Isles has its own way of laughing, except Wales, which doesn't." -- Stephen Leacock

Visitors to Google today would notice that their Doodle is a leek-holding red dragon breathing fire, the flames transmuting into daffodils.

March first is the feast day of St. David, the patron saint of Wales, who was known for his teachings and asceticism (forsaking many of life's worldly pleasures). The aforementioned leek is St. David's personal symbol, while the daffodil is a symbol of Wales and usually blooms in March. St. David's Day has been a national festival for centuries and a public holiday since 2000, celebrated with parades, concerts, and of course food.

A few of my ancestors were Welsh, and no doubt observed the date in their own ways. But the funny thing is, when I think about St. David's Day I am reminded of a song that was on a recording of nursery rhymes I had when I was a child. I knew it as "The Three Hunters" but the correct title is "Three Jovial Welshmen."

There were three jovial Welshmen, as I have heard them say,
And they would go a-hunting upon St. David's Day.

All the day they hunted, and nothing could they find
But a ship a-sailing, a-sailing with the wind.
One said it was a ship; the other he said nay;
The third said it was a house, with the chimney blown away.

And all the night they hunted, and nothing could they find
But the moon a-gliding, a-gliding with the wind.
One said it was the moon; the other he said nay;
The third said it was a cheese, and half of it was cut away.

And all the day they hunted, and nothing could they find
But a hedgehog in a bramble-bush, and that they left behind.
The first said it was a hedgehog; the second he said nay;
The third it was a pin-cushion, and the pins stuck in wrong way.

And all the night they hunted, and nothing could they find
But a hare in a turnip field, and that they left behind.
The first said it was a hare; the second he said nay;
The third said it was a calf, and the cow had run away.

And all the day they hunted, and nothing could they find
But an owl in a holly-tree, and that they left behind.
One said it was an owl; the other he said nay;
The third said 'twas an old man, and his beard was growing grey.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Fickle Friendships

"An insincere and evil friend is more to be feared than a wild beast; a wild beast may wound your body, but an evil friend will wound your mind." -- Buddha

It seems that I have inadvertently alienated a long-time acquaintance on Facebook by blogging an opinion of the current political situation in Montreal. I already knew that we had greatly differing viewpoints, judging by the conversation we had immediately following the last provincial election, but I never thought that it would go this far.

Her initial reaction to the blog had been one of disgust. Then she asked me that, if things were as bad as I believed them to be, why did I continue to live here? My first thought was perhaps her question was meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but not wanting to interpret it wrongly, I took the question at face value and told her my reasons: my family, my husband's family, and the fact that I like it here.

Her final message was that she had to delete her response because she could no longer continue an exchange with me. Our views were too radically different and that fact was "getting under her skin". It didn't take me long to realize that she had unfriended and blocked me.

I sent a message to a mutual friend asking to relay an apology for me, but the friend declined to get involved. I wasn't surprised by that, nor by the torrent of comments by other people saying that it was sad to abruptly break off communication just on the basis of conflicting opinions. I had all but put this whole incident into the "life lessons" basket when I decided to check my Email. Facebook automatically sends notifications of messages and comments to my inbox, and there it was: the aforementioned response that had been deleted from my FB wall.

Its content was self-serving and insulting towards me. In brief, she said that she had never been affected or bothered by the political/social situation, and couldn't understand why so many people were behaving as if it was the worst thing. If I truly was bothered by what was going on, instead of writing about it I ought to either become a politician myself and fight for change, or pack up and leave.

A lot of what she said reminded me too much of my father, who also has strong political views and will quickly lose his temper when contradicted. I learned a long time ago to not discuss certain subjects with him for that reason. Apparently my now-former friend is the same.

I don't feel like apologizing to her any more. If anything, she owes ME one.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Educational Challenges

"School days, school days, dear old Golden Rule days; reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory stick." -- Will Cobb and Gus Edwards

At some point, just about everyone wonders "what's being taught in school these days".  It appears that students today are learning more about greed and entitlement than mathematics and humanities.

Today is the beginning of the Quebec government's two-day education summit.  Its main purpose is to find solutions to issues related to higher education, including accessibility and the reduction of student debt.  Even though it has only just started, many groups are already unhappy.  Among the complaints:

Certain controversial subjects are not on the agenda.
Speakers are not allowed enough time to discuss their issues.
Groups representing English schools were not invited.

All of these are legitimate concerns.  But come on people, at least be reasonable about expressing your views.  Vandalism is NOT an acceptable form of protest.  The front entrances of both the Ministry of Education and the office of a former student activist turned MNA were covered with red paint on Sunday night.  Do stupid things like that really make any difference?  Not at all.

As to be expected, the biggest clamour is coming from people who want "free tuition" or at least a tuition freeze, instead of indexing the fees to inflation.  These people are dreaming in Technicolour.  Free tuition might seem to work for several other countries (most notably those in Scandinavia), but it won't work here.  There is too much corruption and money mismanagement at all levels of government to make state-run educational facilities feasible.  Besides, in many cases abroad, the tuition isn't "free" at all: students often have to pay "administration fees" to the tune of thousands of dollars per year.

Freezing tuition isn't an option either.  Quebec tuition fees were frozen for many years, and as a result the quality of education is declining.  Schools can't pay experienced teachers, maintain facilities, and keep current with educational needs without money, the bulk of which comes from tuition.  How could anyone expect to get a job in a cutting-edge field if their education was from materials that were 20 years out of date?  Therefore indexing tuition rates to inflation seems to be the most logical way to go.

Too many Quebec students don't seem to understand how lucky they are.  For example, it currently costs about $1800 per semester for a full-time undergraduate arts program at Concordia.  By contrast, the average cost per semester for a full-time undergrad program at the University of New Brunswick is $3500.

Do the math.  That is, if you can.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Wondering Why

"The one real object of education is to have a man in the condition of continually asking questions." -- Bishop Creighton

I've been following two news stories lately that seem to be provoking more questions than answers.

PBS' Frontline is running a two-part special this week about the young man in Newtown CT who stole his mother's guns, shot her dead, and proceeded to slaughter a Kindergarten class.  The reporters spoke to school officials, friends, and members of the community in an effort to deconstruct his life and figure out why he did what he did.

As a child he had been diagnosed with Asperger's, and those who have children with the condition know that they don't handle changes well.  And yet, his life was nothing but changes: his parents divorced, his mother had shuffled him around various schools attempting to find the best "educational fit" for him, and more recently she was talking about selling their house and moving.  She also made a huge mistake in taking her son to gun ranges and teaching him how to shoot, in the belief that it would help them bond if they did something they both enjoyed.  But the biggest question, what made the young man snap and go on a killing spree, remains unanswered and probably always will be, because the two people who could give the clearest answer are dead.

The second story is about a young woman who hung herself while in prison, and died because the guards had been ordered to not intervene.  After a relatively normal childhood she was diagnosed with ADHD and a host of other mental disorders, and during her teenage years she had been in juvenile court multiple times for various minor offences.  However she didn't fare well in the correctional system (in less than a year she had been transferred 17 times) and developed the habit of harming herself.  Eventually she became an expert at hiding pieces of cloth, shoelaces, even shards of glass - anything she could harm herself with - in her body cavities.  She had attempted suicide so many times that orders came down to prison staff to not help her unless she stopped breathing, because to do otherwise only enabled her.

The big questions remain.  Why was the girl behaving this way in the first place?  Why was she so misunderstood by the people in authority and treated as an undesirable, instead of being given the treatment that she desperately needed?  How could anyone order the prevention of life-saving procedures?  (An inquest revealed that the guards who were assigned to the cell the day the girl died were allegedly being scapegoated by the system.)

Two shattered lives and unnecessary deaths.  The root of these particular cases obviously is mental illness that was not addressed appropriately.  Why, then, are resources not being made available?  A comment from another documentary stuck in my mind: a young man with a rare genetic muscle degenerative disorder said, "So much money is being spent on treatment for people who don't take care of their own bodies, and there's not enough for people like me."

This taboo of mental illness needs to be broken.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Tarnished Respect

If one doesn't have respect for oneself, one can have neither love no respect for others. -- Ayn Rand

I was reading an article this morning stating that the Queen's Jubilee Medal award is becoming a farce.  This purpose of this medal is "to honour significant contributions and achievements by Canadians", but instead there are a number of municipal mayors across the country who are returning theirs because they feel that there are those more deserving.

It turns out that quite a few medal recipients had questionable activities, or even criminal records, which goes to show that the people behind the selection process did not do their homework.  To top it off, Justin Bieber got one.  And he showed up at the award ceremony to meet the Prime Minister in overalls and a baseball cap.  Come on!  You are going to meet the head of state, for goodness' sake.  I don't care how popular you are, or how good a musician you think you are, at least dress properly and take off your damn hat!

My grandfather served in both WWI and II and had 12 medals to his name including the Distinguished Service Order, one of the most prestigious military decorations in the British Commonwealth.  My mother tried (ultimately in vain) to get him nominated for the Order of Canada.  He would be spinning in his grave at this insult.

If anyone is deserving of the Queen's Jubilee Medal it's contractor Mike Holmes, who received the medal in June of 2012.  He has fixed homes, changed lives, and been very active in the local and national community.  More than that kid Bieber ever can say, that's for sure.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Childhood Memories

There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.  -- Elizabeth Lawrence

Lately my daughter has been asking me to sing a song to her at bedtime instead of reading a book.  I have picked up many songs over the years, but I've refrained from singing some of the songs that my mother used to sing to me because they are scary.  I mean, really scary for a kid (at least they were to me).  Below is an example.

One kid that I knew was also familiar with the song, and with his rather twisted sense of humour theorized that the Dragon in this song was actually Puff the Magic Dragon turned evil after Jackie left him.  (Technically this couldn't have been possible, because Puff was written 37 years later.)

Green-Eyed Dragon With the Thirteen Tails
by Greatrix Newman and Wolseley Charles (1926)

Once upon a time lived a Fair Princess, most beautiful and charming;
Her Father, the King, was a wicked old thing, with manners most alarming.
And always on the front door mat, a most ferocious Dragon sat,
It made such an awful shrieking noise!
So all you little girls and boys...

Beware, take care, of the Green-eyed dragon with the 13 tails,
He'll feed, with greed, on little boys, puppy dogs and big fat snails.
Then off to his lair each child he'll drag,
And each of his 13 tails he'll wag!
Beware, take care, and creep off on tip toes.
And hurry up the stairs,
And say your prayers,
And duck your heads, your pretty curly heads,
Beneath the clothes, the clothes, the clothes.

That Dragon he lived for years and years, but he never grew much thinner.
For lunch, he'd try a Policeman pie, or a roast M.P. for dinner;
One brave man went 'round with an axe
And tried to collect his income tax
The Dragon he smiled with fiendish glee,
And sadly murmured "R.I.P."...

Beware, take care, of the Green-eyed dragon with the 13 tails,
He'll feed, with greed, on little boys, puppy dogs and big fat snails.
Then off to his lair each child he'll drag,
And each of his 13 tails he'll wag!
Beware, take care, and creep off on tip toes.
And hurry up the stairs,
And say your prayers,
And duck your heads, your pretty curly heads,
Beneath the clothes, the clothes, the clothes.

That Dragon went down to the kitchen one day where the Fair Princess was baking;
He ate, by mistake, some rich plum cake which the Fair Princess was making,
That homemade cake, he could not digest,
He moaned and he groaned, and at last went west -
And now his ghost, with bloodshot eyes
At midnight clanks his chains and cries...

Beware, take care, of the Green-eyed dragon with the 13 tails,
He'll feed, with greed, on little boys, puppy dogs and big fat snails.
Then off to his lair each child he'll drag,
And each of his 13 tails he'll wag!
Beware, take care, and creep off on tip toes.
And hurry up the stairs,
And say your prayers,
And duck your heads, your pretty curly heads,
Beneath the clothes, the clothes, the clothes.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Hard Choices

"Nobody ever did, or ever will, escape the consequences of his choices." -- Alfred A. Montapert

There's a 10-year-old girl who goes to the same school as my daughter, and she often walks along the same path as we do, so we've gotten to know her a bit.  Last year she and her mother adopted a female cat who had not been spayed, and the result was eight more kitties in the space of six months.  Just recently they discovered that one of the offspring, long thought to have been female, was actually male, and was beginning to make advances toward the other females.  I said the solution was easy: get the boy neutered.  The girl said, "It costs moolah."  When I pointed out that it costs more to raise yet another litter of kittens than to go to the vet, she shrugged and said that there was nothing she could do except confine the boy to one room away from the other cats.

Over the course of several conversations I learned that the girl's mother has fibromyalgia and is unable to work.  Her stepfather works but his current job is unreliable, doesn't pay what he's worth, and doesn't pay on time.  So they are being forced to save and cut wherever they can, which unfortunately means none of their cats have been vetted or sterilized.  On top of this, the girl is reluctant to give any of them away even though city regulations stipulate that they are only allowed three.  I have offered many times to adopt one, only to be turned down.

But there are times when we must make hard choices.  My husband, wonderful man that he is, often forgets to transfer money to me so that I can pay the bills on his behalf.  But bills must be paid, which results in the draining of my accounts and my bank getting on my case.  So there have been many times that I've not bought myself things that I need/want in order to keep the household running.  I've become an expert at transforming leftovers into a new meal, or making healthy dinners from what I have on hand.  Very little is wasted in our house... until hubby comes home with a new book or DVD that he just bought and I end up wasting my breath trying to tell him to pay more attention to the household finances.

And he wants to make a return trip to DisneyWorld this year. Sure, HE can afford it because he's the one with the job right now.

I have spent the past year searching for some form of part-time job so I can earn some extra money while Missy is in school, preferably something that I can do from home like blogging or article writing, etc.  Out of all the applications I've made (I've lost count of how many) I only had ONE reply, and when I followed up on it, the person never responded.  I'm told it's hard for everyone: my middle nephew is studying to go to medical school, he's very intelligent and motivated, but he has sent out literally hundreds of job applications and only received one response of "thanks but no thanks".

The next big choice we might have to make is to move this summer.  I really don't want to because I like it here and everything is close by, but health is more important.  Just after Christmas I noticed that the seal around our living room window had failed and water had infiltrated the wall.  The management was duly notified, but it has now been a month and nobody has come even to check for potential mould in the walls.  I've been struggling with respiratory ailments for the past three weeks; whether that's being exacerbated by something, I don't know.  If it were our place instead of a rental, I would tear the whole wall out, but we can't.

I don't like big changes, or being forced into making decisions, and I know that many people don't.  But we have to accept our choices and change what we can to make our lives better.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

It's Too Dark!

"Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it." -- Terry Pratchett

My husband and I were awakened at just before 5 AM by yells from our 6-year-old's room: "It's too dark in here! I can't find Willow! (her so-named Hello Kitty plushie) My night-light is off!"  With a few grumbles we both hauled ourselves out of a comfortable bed to discover that we had no electricity - hence the absence of light.  A quick look out the window showed dark houses in at least a three-block radius.  The room was still warm, which meant we hadn't been without power for long.  But with a frigid temperature of -30C outside and the fact that our building is of 1950s stock with little insulation in the walls, we would not stay warm without power to the furnace.

With Missy awake, going back to bed wasn't an option.  So flashlights, candles, and emergency supplies were organized.  Hubby departed for work much earlier than normal, anticipating transit slowdowns.  Missy and I bundled up to await the outcome.  The pre-dawn neighbourhood was quite eerie, backlit by the ever-present glow from the city.

Not surprisingly, school was cancelled for the day since the building was located in the blackout area.  By 8:20 AM the temperature in the house had dropped to 15C and we were preparing to depart for the mall (which was unaffected).  But to our surprise and relief, the power was restored.  So we've been relaxing together, coloring pictures and watching videos, and hoping the power will remain stable (we've had a brownout or two but haven't lost it completely).

Blackouts of this nature are, unfortunately, expected when temperatures plummet and everyone needs heat for their homes.  More than 3/4 of homes in Quebec are heated by electricity.  Ours is heated by a natural-gas furnace but it still needs power to start.  Whenever we move, one of my criteria for a home is to have a propane/pellet/wood-fired stove as a backup in case of events like this.  I can handle no electricity, but I like to be WARM.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

We're Sending Them Where??!

"Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery." -- Jack Paar

Buried in the middle pages of the local newspaper a few days ago was an article about how thousands of Iraqi and Iranian refugees who had fled the violence in Syria were going to be "resettled" here. Initially they had fled their own countries for the dubious safety of Syria, and when the civil war broke out there they went to Turkey, and now there are plans afoot to bring them to Canada.

Say WHAT?!

While I think of immigration as a reasonably good thing for Canada, there has to be some lines drawn and questions asked.  Can these people prove that they are bona-fide refugees?  Are there legitimate reasons as to why they can't return to their own countries, or stay in Turkey?  Do any of them have dual citizenship that would make them eligible to come here?   Do they possess sufficient education and skills that would enable them to become productive members of Canadian society?  And, will they agree to abide by our laws and culture?

I know there are people in the system whose job it is to determine all these things.  But really, use some common sense and make sure that people meet the criteria BEFORE they are brought in.  Sometimes it seems that for every immigrant that succeeds here, there are two others who exploit the system and/or become criminals, intentionally or not.  I'm sure nobody has forgotten the murders of those four women in Kingston a few years ago, although that is an extreme example.

What's sad is that sometimes immigrants who have come here for a better life end up being deported for stupid reasons.  There was a news report yesterday about a Pakistani family with two Canadian-born children who had just won a last-minute stay of deportation on humanitarian grounds. The woman's father had not accepted their marriage, so they came here to escape the wrath of the family.  They've been here ten years and are well-established, and yet the system claims they would be in no danger if they were sent back.  How could you send two Canadian children to what to them would be a foreign country, just because you think it is "safe"?

The system sucks.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Smoke and Mirrors

"More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette." -- 1949 cigarette commercial

Doctors used to smoke in their offices.  The stereotypical bar always had a haze of smoke.  But what's more disgusting is that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

The week of January 20th to 26th is the Quebec Tobacco-Free Week 2013.  It reminds us of all the progress that has been made in the last 50 years regarding cigarettes: no TV advertising of cigarettes, no smoking in public establishments, no selling of tobacco products to minors, huge warning labels on packages, etc.

But how much has all that really done?  For every anti-smoking campaign, there are tobacco industry lobby groups and smoking special-interest groups who say there is no problem.  Smoking isn't addictive.  Smoking doesn't cause cancer.  There's no real proof.  People are going to smoke despite the gruesome pictures.  Denial after denial.  And people still smoke despite the risks.

If I could, I would challenge every one of those tobacco executives and pro-smoking people to look me straight in the eye and try to say that.  I watched my own mother, my father-in-law, the mother of a dear friend, and others waste away and die from smoking-related cancers.  I have a friend who becomes violently ill when she happens to breathe any cigarette smoke in her vicinity.  I can't step into a home where someone has been smoking without having uncontrollable coughing fits.

I fear for the children of people who smoke.  The parents of one of my daughter's classmates smoke in their home, BOTH of them.  I take every opportunity I can to invite the little girl over to my place just to get her out of that environment for a while.  Her clothes always stink.  The one time I went over to their home, I lasted only two minutes before the coughing started and I had to leave.  I wished I could call them out on it, but what could I say? They are probably well aware of what they are doing to themselves, and to the health of their children, and they don't care.

If there were such a thing as magic I know exactly what I would do with it: make every single God-damned cigar and cigarette on this planet disappear and render it impossible for more to be manufactured.

How Much Help is Too Much?

Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. -- Chinese proverb

Afghanistan. Libya. Mali.

The names and locations of these and other countries have become common knowledge not for their culture or tourism potential, but because of war.  And the fact that other more powerful countries have stepped in to "help" them with their upheavals.  I used to think that it was a good thing for the more liberal-minded countries to step in and provide arms and troops to help other countries become more stable and usher in a "new era of democracy".

Now, I'm not so sure.

The United States and many European countries are approaching financial ruin.  Can they really afford to be "helping" other countries any more?  Is it feasible to continue to send money, armaments, and troops to places where they might not necessarily be doing any long-term good?  Some people are saying to bring the troops and resources home and let those other countries sort things out themselves.  We have no business interfering in their domestic affairs.

My grandmother actually used to laugh at those Christian Children's Fund commercials.  You know the ones: ten cents a day will help a child somewhere in Africa to go to school or have access to medication.  She would say there were similar money drives by the churches when she was a child. "Help the starving children in Africa."  Well, nothing has changed in the last hundred years because the children in Africa are still starving despite all the aid that is being sent there.

It's time to stop throwing money and resources at the problems, and teach people to deal with things more effectively on their own.  We have enough of our own problems to take care of instead of worrying about everyone else's.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Bait and Switch

I'm afraid of Americans, I'm afraid of the words, I'm afraid I can't help it, I'm afraid I can't... I'm afraid of Americans." -- David Bowie

So here I am, another blog move in less than six months.  I had noticed that since Christmas, I had been receiving blog notifications from only ONE person, whom I had befriended on Blogster and who turned out to be rather prolific in posting run-of-the-mill nothing.  Then I did some checking and discovered that the majority of my contacts had either followed Chovhani over here or relocated their blogs elsewhere.  I don't blame them.

Many, too many people over there have been ranting about politics, guns, and other socially charged issues without taking other peoples' opinions into consideration.  I found myself backing out of many conversations with certain bloggers because I realized that they would never accept my moderate viewpoint.  And then there were the angst-ridden young people complaining about their latest breakup or how bad their lives were.  I tried to reach them by commenting on some of their blogs, to give the perspective from someone who had been through it, but I don't know if they really heard me.

This isn't to say that there are no decent folks left over on Blogster, just they seem to be few and far between.

I'm looking forward to reconnecting with my former Multiply contacts who have moved here.  It's good to be able to keep a circle of friends, even online.  And maybe my writing will get a bit more exposure.