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Friday, December 30, 2005


This is my LIVE WRITE newspaper column for next week - as always, comments welcome. Note: only those in the dark, cold, northern hemisphere will easily relate to this article. The rest of you are welcome to send me airline tickets...

At this time of year, someone living in Canada may be forgiven for secretly hoping that global warming is on its way soon. You understand that rapid climate change will disrupt life as we know it and you probably support the Kyoto Protocol (the UN Convention on Climate Change). Yet, you can’t help imagining the balmy weather - maybe even palm trees and January without snow. No more winter tires, no more shoveling, no need to fly to Mexico to take off your clothes outdoors…

Many in Canada seem to love winter – and to be content with its annual arrival. For them, “Yes it’s cold, but it’s a dry cold…” or “I get above it all by going to the ski hill…” or “It’s great because my kids love the snow so much.” This northern spirit is admirable, yet some of us relate more to the words of humorist Dave Berry, “The problem with winter sports is that – follow me closely here – they generally take place in winter.”

Feeling the winter blues now and then (even for true enthusiasts) is not unusual. Many people feel mildly depressed during winter, but for some, it’s more serious. They experience severe bouts of feeling down all the time, low energy, problems with sleep and appetite, and reduced concentration to the point that they have difficulty functioning. In extreme cases, suicidal thoughts may occur. This condition is recognized as a mood disorder and is named Seasonal Affective Disorder (forming the appropriate acronym, SAD).

According to the UBC Mood Disorders Centre, other common symptoms of SAD include oversleeping, extreme fatigue, carbohydrate craving, overeating and weight gain. These are normal things for a bear to experience in winter, but not particularly useful for most people.

It’s not known for sure what causes SAD. Researchers believe it has to do with the fewer daylight hours reducing mood altering chemicals in the brain. It may also be our biological clocks telling us to sleep more – which puts us out of step with our somewhat artificially supported schedules. These no longer change according to the seasons.

The Canadian Mental Health Association believes that 2% or 3% of Canadians suffer from SAD, while about 15% have the less severe winter blues. Women are more likely than men to experience SAD. It can be important for a professional to rule out a diagnosis of clinical depression, which can also have predictable cycles throughout the year.

There are things that can be done to alleviate the symptoms of SAD, other than simply waiting for spring. They include spending time in a southern location – for those with the means, there’s nothing like swaying in a hammock or strolling along a tropical beach to temporarily perk up the circadian rhythms. Here at home, you can spend active time outdoors - exercise relieves stress and increases mental and physical well-being. Indoors, keep the curtains tied back and the branches covering the windows well trimmed, so that when the sun breaks through, it shines on you.

Many people with SAD respond well to exposure to bright, artificial light. Light therapy involves sitting beside a special fluorescent light box for a period of time each day. A health care professional should be consulted before beginning light therapy, as it’s not suitable for everyone.

Good company and laughter may also help. Writer W.J. Vogel’s advice might put a smile on your face: “To shorten winter, borrow some money due in spring.”

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Row deepens over Danish cartoons

Yikes! Now the poor Danes are under threat from true believers, who think it's okay to issue death threats to anyone who portrays Mohamed in any way... (especially this Danish cartoonist and his editors).

I don't know who scares me more - the Wrong Wing Christians, with their certainty and hatred (to gays, to liberals, to non-belivers, to anyone who disagrees)... or the Muslims who have fundamental beliefs that seem to require much of the same.

Hey, I know there are moderates and loving folks in both camps - even met some. I'd just be happier if everyone started with a clean slate and really thought about these myths and stories ...

If we raised a generation of humans to say, 18 years old, with absolutely no religious training (of any sort), then told them the Christ, Mohamed, Krishna, Buddha, Apollo, Zeus etc. stories - what do you think they'd believe? Probably find the stories interesting and be willing to provide therapeutic counselling for anyone who believed they were real...


Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Need a movie for the holidays?

I don't do culture moments too often, but it's December 27th and I'm in the mood...

If you've had enough of Charlie Brown's Christmas and The Grinch (or even It's A Wonderful Life)...but still want to sit in front of the TV with a movie - try OFF THE MAP. It's a sweet, quirky and moving flik. It stars Sam Elliott and Joan Allen and takes place in remote New Mexico.

Briefly: a woman is remembering a time in the early 70's when she was 12 years old and her father was struck down with a bout of depression. Don't worry, while this movie does delve into depression in a touching way, you're going to want it to go on after the credits end...

Amazing colours in New Mexico and truly amazing acting. (The young girl is played by Valentina de Angelis, who is new to me and a disarmingly good actress.)

If you see it (or have seen it) - feel free to leave a note.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Best and Worst of Christmas List

Whatever your religious persuasion (or absence of one) - you are probably experiencing the culture of Christmas in some way. There are elements of it that can be sublime, meaningful or at least bring about good memories. There are elements that are weird, commercial and annoying. Let's look at both here.

Here's my start - leave yours too!

The Best:
  • Family memories - laughter, good food, music, games, a fireplace, snow falling, magic...
  • Ethiopian Christmas - sitting in a mud compound in Khartoum, Sudan - as the guest of 20 or so Ethiopian refugees who lived together in a space the size of a big living room. There was a delicious (precioius) meal, bottles of Pepsi all around, songs and prayers... and a feeling of love, hope and kinship that belied all circumstance.
The Worst:
  • Riding the subway in Toronto very late one Christmas night and realizing that almost everyone else in the car looked immensely sad and lonely (and probably were)
  • My favourite snow globe (I confess, I used to collect them) - the one with baby Jesus in the manger ... and Santa Claus kneeling before him in prayer (maybe it should be on the best list)
  • Visiting Bethlehem and drinking a cold beer in the Star Bar before sticking my head through a hole to be photographed 'on the hillside with shepherds' - hmmm, maybe that goes on the best list too - depends on my mood.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

U.S. Senate blocks drilling in Alaskan wildlife refuge

No drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge (story).

I know there are 14 women in the US Senate, but still feel comfortable saying that this august body has been showing some balls lately... This is another failure (for now) of the Bush regime to get what it wants through sneakiness and intimidation.

Canada has been opposed to drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge (which borders Canada and sustains a common eco-system).

Provisions against torture, no drilling in sensitive and precious environment, no spying on your own people illegally - go Senate go! (But don't think this will protect you in the mid-term elections next year, when many of you should be sent packing for your record on security and war.)


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Canada should lead, not follow - We need to step out from US shadow.

This is an interesting piece by Linda McQuaig. It will give our foreign blog visitors some insight into Canadian/US politics (with a strong point of view).

Pierre Trudeau once compared our relationship with that of a mouse and an elephant..."when the elephant sneezes, everyone catches a cold."

Everyone knows there's no way to force the rogue Bush administration into line with the international consensus on a number of key issues, including climate change. About the only tool available — and it's a blunt instrument — is the pressure of world opinion.
Thanks to Straight Goods for this article.


Monday, December 19, 2005

Iranian President Needs Some Good Drugs...

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has banned Western and "indecent" music from state-run TV and radio stations. This includes examples such as as Eric Clapton's Rush, George Michael's Careless Whisper and The Eagles' Hotel California. Apparently Kenny G. is out too. (story here)

This man seriously needs a couple of tokes, some cheesies and a pair of headphones - although I'm not opposed to banning George Michael or Kenny G. ... except in principle.

I have read enough to know that Iran is not the caricature that is portrayed in the media and that there is strong dissent and a real struggle between the idealogues and the religious fanatics (in power).

Meanwhile, don't expect to hear any decent tunes on the official stations...


Friday, December 16, 2005

"Every Exit is an Entrance to Somewhere" - Tom Stoppard

Here are your submissions for meaningful quotes - I chose my favourite when you submitted several. Thanks! There are some gems here.

"I know nothing except the fact of my ignorance." - Socrates (posted by dimitri alexander)

"I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals." - W. Churchill (posted by bohemiantroubador)

"In spite of illness, in spite of even the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of distintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways." - Edith Wharton (posted by Julian Blue)

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter." - Rev. Martin Luther King (posted by Vee)

"Live long and prosper." - Mr. Spock (posted by elizabeth green ... and it's fun!)

"When I die, I want to die like my grandfather - who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car." - Author Unknown (Julian Blue gets to submit two with this beauty)

"Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others." - JF Kennedy (posted by elizabeth green - okay, she got two also - but she blogs with Julian Blue and I don't want conflict...)

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." - Albert Camus (posted by granny)

"During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism." - Howard Thurman 1900-1981 (posted by dr. mike kear)

"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self" - Cyril Connolly (posted by granny... and is it a blogger's dream quote or what??)

Thanks to you all.


This is my LIVE WRITE newspaper column for next week - happy to have any feedback from you writers out there, before I send it off...

Have you noticed it’s the Christmas season? Or have you been hiding in the basement, with no contact with the outside world? For people of belief, the season of Christmas or the Festival of Light or Hanukah, is a spiritual time. For most of us, it’s also a welcome break from school or work – a time to calmly rest, to enjoy the company of loved ones, to take care of our health…to be at peace. Or is it? If a visitor from another galaxy dropped in this month and was among us quietly watching, her report would be interesting.

For example, many humans cut down or buy a small green tree, drag it into their house, prop it up, and then cover it with baubles and lights. Perhaps it’s a new pet of some sort? It certainly isn’t loved for long, as it soon ends up dragged out the door, in a shower of dead needles.

There is a gifting ritual also. Most females begin hunting and gathering gifts early in December and then wrap them in colorful, festive paper. Many males perform the same ritual in the final one or two days before the giving event … Males and females alike march from store to store with hopeful faces that later turn to panic and fatigue. Some become cranky. Their credit cards are warm from use. This is all enacted while listening to recorded seasonal songs, broadcast from every corner. The lyrics speak of peace, joy, light and happy family times.

The eating ritual is unusual as well. Humans love to eat and drink – they often do both for pleasure rather than for nourishment. However, it’s difficult to explain their late December culinary rituals, which include:

Drink as much as you can, especially eggnog with rum, which only appears in this season.

Use butter and icing sugar to create as many shapes as possible – bake and eat.

Avoid carrot sticks. In fact, if you see carrots on a buffet table, head down the street to where they’re serving cheese balls and smoked salmon.

Gravy is not a food itself, but meant to be poured over everything else. Make a volcano with your mashed potatoes… fill with gravy, eat it, fill it again, and so on…

Mention how lovely the fruitcake is, and then secretly hide your slice somewhere in a drawer or behind a curtain.

Do not be content until your stomach aches and you feel the need to unbutton your pants or skirt and lie prone. Have many naps between eating.

Many of us probably recognize ourselves in this alien visitor’s report. There are, of course, ways to celebrate that are more suited to good health and a spirit of peace.

My teenage daughter recently asked her family, “Would any of you mind if I gave you a homemade gift for Christmas this year?” There was an immediate chorus of “No, we would love it!” Making gifts instead of running with the shopping herd is one tip for a less stressful, less expensive and perhaps, more appreciated holiday.

A wise person, with free days and friends and family on hand, might sleep more, read a good book or go to a ski hill. They might enjoy good conversation, sing together and revive family stories. If you want to honour an ancient tradition - invite someone lonely or hungry to join your festivities and warm, delicious meals.

As with so many things in life, it’s all about balance. It was summed up nicely by the Peanuts character Lucy, “All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt.”

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Quotes to Remember...

I've been on the road (earning a living) ... I keep an eye on my blogger friends' sites when travelling, but don't find a lot of time to post.

I love quotes and collect them - use them in my work too. Here's one I love:

"If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything." - Mark Twain
Leave a quote that you like and I'll post them as a list.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Add your face to calling for Global Arms Treaty

There are approximately 639 million small arms in the world today.

Eight million new weapons are produced every year.

Nearly 60 per cent of small arms are in civilian hands.

The annual number of bullets produced is more than double the world's population.

Every year roughly half a million men, women and children are killed by armed violence - that's one person every minute.

So take a minute. Have a look at the Control Arms campaign ... and if you want to - add your face to the petition.


Saturday, December 10, 2005

Time limited offer

If this link remains, some of you will enjoy the show. Not too kind to someone we know.... Warning, the word asshole is sung many times. (Thanks to Micheal D. for the link.)

1. Go to
2- Type in "asshole", without the quotes
3- Instead of hitting "Search" hit "I'm feeling Lucky"
4- Tell your friends before the people at Google fix it

If you don't find a video and song, let me know and I'll send you the direct link

Friday, December 09, 2005

Harold Pinter's Nobel Prize Speech

Harold Pinter delivered his acceptance speech (Nobel Prize for Literature) by videoconference. The entire text of the speech is here. It's masterfully written, passionate and extremely condemning of the United States. Those of you proud of US policy will be angry... others will be moved, and sad when reading this.

Maybe he needs to be nominated for the Peace Prize next.

"I know that President Bush has many extremely competent speech writers but I would like to volunteer for the job myself. I propose the following short address which he can make on television to the nation. I see him grave, hair carefully combed, serious, winning, sincere, often beguiling, sometimes employing a wry smile, curiously attractive, a man's man.
'God is good. God is great. God is good. My God is good. Bin Laden's God is bad. His is a bad God. Saddam's God was bad, except he didn't have one. He was a barbarian. We are not barbarians. We don't chop people's heads off. We believe in freedom. So does God. I am not a barbarian. I am the democratically elected leader of a freedom-loving democracy. We are a compassionate society. We give compassionate electrocution and compassionate lethal injection. We are a great nation. I am not a dictator. He is. I am not a barbarian. He is. And he is. They all are. I possess moral authority. You see this fist? This is my moral authority. And don't you forget it.'"


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Get Ready to MAKE SOME NOISE for Human Rights

"Music speaks the language of freedom, revolution and solidarity. Witout that freedom - without music that is angry, joyful and necessary - we are nothing."
- Yoko Ono

Amnesty International is launching a huge international music campaign, with prominent artists performing songs from the John Lennon songbook (with Yoko Ono's support). The songs will be available for download and will also be sold as CDs. There will be country-specific CDs coming out as well.

How would you like to hear Avril Lavigne do Imagine? (I know that sounds weird, perhaps even blasphemous, but I heard an early version - it's good.) Black Eye Peas, the Cure, Snow Patrol and Postal Service all have songs coming out soon. In Canada I think we'll have the Barenaked Ladies, Sarah McLaughlin and lots of surprises.

Money goes to Amnesty. The noise goes to wake up people to fight for human rights (and to remember a great man of our era - John Lennon).

Get info here

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Morris the Moose Comes to Visit

We live in a mountain valley in western Canada - our co-housing community is connected to crown land (public land) that goes from our valley bottom all the way to a huge glacier and beyond. There are people around, but it's still very natural.

Recently we saw a bull moose running in a field above our house. An hour later we found him looking in our front door. He stayed around for a couple of hours - eating my shrubs and then taking a nap in the trees right next to our house (just waking up in the photo). We were astounded that such a huge ugly/beautiful wild animal was not afraid.

We learned two days later that he is known as Morris and was cared for as an orphan by people who live about 20 kms away. He wanders all summer and fall and eventually comes home for the winter (and lives with their cattle and sheep). This year, they brought a large horse trailer to our area, attracted Morris in with carrots ... and drove him home for the winter.

Isn't he handsome?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Canada will investigate allegations of secret CIA flights (join the club)

The US kidnaps people here and there, then puts them on unmarked CIA aircraft and sends them to dark, secret places (in say... Poland or Egypt or Syria) where they can be imprisoned, interrogated, undoubtedly tortured in many cases... No legal process, no charges, in fact in Chile and Argentina and so many other places this is knows as DISAPPEARANCES. (Amnesty information here)

Nice. And this is going to help us maintain rights and freedoms?

Condi Rice is on a fire-fighting trip to Europe to quiet down the whiners who don't like their airports being used for this (and who knows what other assistance?).

Go media! Find the dirt and get it out - make Condi and George squirm. Make European governments squirm...Hell, make the Canadian government squirm (Canada story here).

Makes the hobby of airplane watching a lot more interesting for those that put out the folding chairs and sit by runways..

caricature by Fico Molina - find his work here


Sunday, December 04, 2005


(Feedback always welcome)

This column begins with a statement and a question. The statement: our health is dependent to an important degree on what we eat and what we eat is dependent greatly on our level of affluence. Life expectancy decreases and health declines as income decreases. This is not my opinion, but is supported by evidence from the World Health Organization, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, Interior Health’s Population Health Plan…and common sense.

Now the question: what do these three things have in common - the 19th annual CBC Food Bank Day (December 2nd), Human Rights Day (December 10th) and a Sheik in the village of Rut Rut in Darfur, Sudan? The link between the first two is deeper than being December dates and the Sheik connects through a story. Read on and connect the dots.

Food Bank Day just took place – thousands of dollars and thousands of kilos of food were generated to bolster the good work done by the 97 food banks in BC. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, thus the date for Human Rights Day. (Find it here http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html or contact me for a copy.)

The connection between Food Bank Day and Human Rights Day is apparent in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration. “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself/herself and his/her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his/her control.” This is Canada’s international obligation and as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, why do we need a Food Bank Day at all?

In 1983, I was on a committee in Toronto that launched the second food bank in Canada (Edmonton’s was first). Most of us resigned after six months, because government policy had not changed to ensure everyone had enough to eat and we weren’t going to support institutionalizing food banks. Twenty two years later, there are more than 650 food banks in Canada, in a single month this year more than 800,000 Canadians used one, and use has increased 118% since 1989 - the year the federal government promised to eliminate child poverty. Too many mothers in Canada look into their children’s hungry eyes and tell them there isn’t anything to eat.

According to the Canadian Association of Food Banks, the neighbours among us who are not eating are welfare recipients, the working poor, persons with disabilities, seniors, children (40% of food bank users) and lone mothers.

If you’d like to help Canada meet its international obligations, consider these actions. Educate yourself about poverty issues, lobby for affordable housing, purchase local food when available, support community gardens and kitchens and assist your food bank to offer healthy foods. Finally, in what seems to be our national sport, prepare for elections by learning about the candidates and voting for those who support actions to eliminate poverty, who believe in health for all.

Oh yes, the connection to the Sheik in Rut Rut is food... I spent three days with him, just as Darfur was emerging from two years of drought. Most of the elderly and very young had died in Rut Rut. Red Cross food relief was sustaining them and I was there to assess their needs for tools and seeds, to prepare for rains that were coming. He taught me two things during my visit. The first was about dignity - as local leader, he was completely focused on whatever it took to get them back on their feet, to produce their own food. The second was about generosity. When I arrived in Rut Rut, I begged them not to kill a chicken to feed me (it was the custom and I knew they were going to do it). The Sheik grumbled about this my entire visit.

As I was driving out of the village, in a cloud of dust and sand, he sprinted alongside my jeep, grinned through the window, flung open the back door and threw a live hen in. I laughed, named her Henrietta and ate her a week later.

Friday, December 02, 2005

1,000 Execution Takes Place - Bush voices death penalty support

It's disgraceful - in the name of justice, the 1,000th prisioner has been killed in the U.S. (BBC coverage here) If you are someone who still needs information to decide whether the death penalty is just or fair - just have a little peek here and take some time to read. (And please, if you're leaving a comment, don't give me religious reasons for killing others - I don't think Buddha, Jesus or Mohamed want you to...)

I'm not sure President Bush can read, but if you're American, you could always vote him out of office...

Texas - 355
Virginia - 94
Oklahoma - 79
Missouri - 66
Florida - 60
Georgia - 39
North Carolina - 38
South Carolina, Alabama - 34 each
Louisiana, Arkansas - 27 each
Arizona - 22
Ohio - 19
Indiana - 16
Delaware - 14
Illinois - 12
Nevada, California - 11 each
Mississippi, Utah - 6 each
Maryland, Washington - 4 each
Nebraska, Pennsylvania - 3 each
Kentucky, Montana, Oregon - 2 each
Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, New Mexico, Tennessee, Wyoming - 1 each
US government - 3

Amnesty International's Kate Allen said that the landmark death "puts the US in the same company as countries like China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam".

Sasha - Teacher of Compassion

I don't usually post personal items, but I want you to see Sasha, our Chihuahua, who is going on 16 and teaches us compassion. We took him in to foster care (from the SPCA) when he was 14. Needless to say... he stayed.

He's blind, deaf, mute and doesn't have many teeth. His days of jumping and yapping at front doors, biting ankles, humping pillows etc. are long gone. He spends about... well... about 22 hours a day right where he is in this picture. The other hour or two is spent on walks (carry him down and up the front steps), on long epic poops (the time, not the actual poo) and sometimes on a lap in front of the TV (he prefers his bed most of the time). He always wags his tail and does his best to wiggle happily when any of this attention is coming his way.

I think of him as in the 'assisted-living' stage of life. Anyhow, everyone who meets Sasha likes him and most make a little sound like, "Ohhhhh..". I think it's the sound of compassion.

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