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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

On the road again...

I'm away from home about 20 of the next 30 or so days. It's a combination of earn-a-living trips (in Northern BC to places like Prince George, Smithers, Burns Lake and Terrace) and Amnesty meetings in Ottawa.

Anyhow, my mind is very busy as well as my body and sometimes it's hard to do more than a little browsing in blogworld. Some random thoughts:

- I'm aware that politics in the US are heating up as George II's ratings drop into the 30% range. My hopes are that the Democrats will show some spine, send some clear messages and the winds of change will blow.

- I'm concerned about the Canadian troops in Afghanistan (now in harm's way in Khandahar). I think that an international force in that country is needed and might make a difference, but the commitment is so small and the funds are so meager (compared to the wasteful war in Iraq).

- I'm aware that my son Ryan is graduating from high school soon - he's planning to play music, write, travel and work a while rather than more school. He's interested in visiting India. I'm happy to see him turning into an independent young man, but already miss him.

- Amnesty is busy with so many human rights issues... One that I am keen on is fighting to maintain rights in the face of security fears - Guantanamo Bay, wink-wink torture, spying on citizens and here in Canada, the security certificate (arrest without charge with no time limit).

Hey, was that an open thread or whatever?

Two pictures here - one more from my trip this month to Mexico (early morning street in Melaque) and a great photo - pro breast-feeding I'd say!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Blogger Buddy Publishes Blockbuster Book

Auntie Willow , blogging buddy, has published a book entitled 'Put Word on Your Resume - Quick!' This is a pitch for you to check it out via her site and if you or someone else wants to purchase a book that will take you from neophyte to whiz on WORD (or anything in between), go at it...

Friday, February 24, 2006


Here is my newspaper column for next week. I really don't like the title - a prize to whoever gives me a better one (really!). Other comments welcome too of course.


Many years ago I worked above the Arctic Circle. In my six-month tour of duty, I met few people, and almost all were other men. I didn't feel particularly at ease with many of them. Maybe it was generational (me young - them old) or maybe it was the drinking and gambling (me dry - them drunk), but I found myself alone most of my non-working hours.

I took advantage of this to read book after book, to write letters and stories - and to take long hikes under the twilight sky in the wee hours of the night. However, it wasn't many weeks before I felt lonely and isolated - I believe I experienced mild depression. When it came time to return to the 'world', or to sign up for another stint,I was soon packed and pacing the tundra, waiting for the Boeing 737 to rescue me.

It's rare that people choose to spend their lives alone - even the monks and priests I've known have been excellent social company and have lived in groups. It's not surprising that prison inmates are punished through solitary confinement and torturers and other thugs use isolation as a means to break down human will.

Most of us are social beings, with a strong need to share our lives with family and friends, in communities of one sort or another. Writers, philosophers, psychiatrists, my mother and my barber all know that this is healthy behaviour. According to Dr. Ron Dovell, researcher for Interior Health, "After 25 years of study, scientific research is also telling us that there is a clear link between social relationships and health. In addition to providing a sense of satisfaction and well being - social connections act as a buffer against a host of health problems. The reverse is true also - social exclusion can be bad for our health."

Lack of social integration has been linked to depression and stress-related conditions such as high blood pressure, chronic pain syndromes and related chronic conditions. Any life situation that isolates people can adversely affect their health. For example, a divorce can lead to isolation of one or both spouses; the death of a spouse can hasten the death of the survivor - one reason why seniors are more prone to the stress of isolation.

It's also known now that children who have learning disabilities that prevent them from interacting with their peers, as well as those whose families move often, preventing the development of long-term relationships, are also susceptible to depression and stress-related conditions. Dr. Dovell notes, "Other research confirms that poverty is both a cause and product of social exclusion. The experience of poverty can lead to stigmatization and isolation from civic society."

The message is clear: there's great value in belonging and in feeling connected to each other. There's now strong evidence that social connections improve physical and mental health, and may prolong life. Perhaps happiness, health and a long life have more to do with connections to family, friends and community than to money, career and attaining things or experiences. To me, that's useful information - if I go to the Arctic again, I'm not going alone.

While not referring directly to health, American archaeologist Howard Winters put it this way, "Civilization is the process in which one gradually increases the number of people included in the term 'we' or 'us' and at the same time decreases those labeled 'you' or 'them' until that category has no one left in it."

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Poetic Justice

This poem appeared in the Saturday Globe and Mail newspaper. Written by regular, John Allemang. I love it.

Mass Distraction

What if he planned it all this way?
The gun fired on that fateful day,
The loyal friend felled by his shot,
The press corps chasing something hot -
A nation's search for easy laughs
Rewarded by Dick Cheney's gaffes.
What if it were a clever ruse
To save himself from much worse news?
While men rot in Guantanamo
Ignored by every late night show,
And Halliburton makes a buck
Exploiting war's well-placed good luck,
And Scooter Libby pins the blame
On higher-ups without a name,
And anger at Katrina's rage
Looks like it might take center stage,
Dick Cheney with his well-timed blast
Ensures his laugh will be the last.

A quail turns out to be a man?
There goes our short attention span,
And one of war's most vicious hawks
New gets to share his pain on Fox.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Looking for good signs...

I'm always on the lookout for a good sign (in both senses of the phrase). Pass 'em along if you find them. (This one is for all you pet lovers out there, which always includes Vee, although I'm sure her dog is never sarcastic.)

Friday, February 17, 2006

Ahhh, he was a President...

I was looking through a book tonight and came across this brief quote, from another time, from another US President. I hope he wouldn't mind me formatting it as a poem. Let's find inspiration in the past to fight for a different future...

With malice toward none, with charity for all,
with firmness in the right,

as God gives us to see the right,

let us...achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace
among ourselves,
and with all nations.

- Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ethiopia - not getting much attention

Many in Ethiopia had their hopes for democracy dashed last May, when there appeared to be widespread rigging of elections by the government. Since then, protesters have been beaten, jailed and many killed. This includes a lot of youth. With some exceptions, the President has not felt much international pressure and indeed Washington has remained particularly quiet - Ethiopia is a strategic friend in the area on the 'war on terrorism' (see map to know why).

I have a dear friend living in Addis Ababa with his wife and children and he's been telling me it's a new climate of fear and discouragement, after some years of hope. I won't name him here, but for his family's sake, I want to focus attention on this.

Here is an
action that can be taken by anyone who would like to write a letter to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The action is written for young people, but at this time of the day, that's just about the right level for me...

In addition, here is an Ethiopian blog that leads to lots of current information and articles (excuse the plethora of ads).


Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Back from Mexico - in body at least...

1. beach at La Manzanilla
2. Barra de Navidad cafe
3. What a planter!

Just returned from a great, but short break in the small fishing and agricultural village of La Manzanilla, Mexico ( tourism now too). As with most travel, time became a little warped. In looking back at the end of a week or so, it seemed to have been a much longer time - very full of experience. Yet in getting home, it seemed to have flown by very quickly.

I took lots of photos and will post some here. I wish I had a scent-camera so you could smell the woodsmoke, diesel, roasting chicken, dry dust and salt wind. That, with a sound recording of roosters, motorcycles, barking, laughing and incessant surf...would be a more sensual representation than photos and words.

- Had a chelada for Pica - beer with hot chile is not for all, but I loved it...

- Thanks for the advice on reading materials - I got through a couple of books, including Tim Winton's The Turning. If you don't know this Aussie writer, you might check him out. This set of stories is now alive in me.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Hola and Adios!

Our place is one of the thatched units in this photo - sorry to have to show you that.

I'm on my way to Mexico tomorrow. Just a bit over a week on the beach in Melaque and La Manzanilla - both small, not much developed places just north of Manzanillo. I'm traveling with a buddy and my brother Monty. When they get back from mountain biking, kayaking, sailing or whatever... they can wake me in the hammock and I'll slice the limes for the cervaza. I love Mexican food, Mexican people, hot sun, sandy long beaches, hammocks... I even love the little lizards sunning and darting.

I'll probably look at the internet now and then, but not sure about posting. Photos when I return.

A dilemma: I have several books packed, but for the last spot in the case I can't decide between John Irving's Until I Find You or Tim Winton's The Turning (he's an amazing Aussie author). Any advice?

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities

The discussion here around the line between freedom and responsibility (sparked by the Mohammed cartoons) was interesting...

This links to work done in the 1990s on a Universal Declaration of Human Responsibilities. It was endorsed by some important leaders, such as Jimmy Carter and Pierre Trudeau.

I learned about it years ago, when former PM Trudeau visited Nelson (our small town in the mountains). A friend of mine really wanted to meet him, but Pierre was staying out of sight (he was visiting his son Michel, who was a local ski bum then - died in an avalanche that same winter... but that's another story).

Anyhow, my friend left a note at Trudeau's hotel saying he'd really like to discuss the Declaration of Human Responsibilities with him. He got a phone call from Trudeau himself and an invite for what became a 2 hour coffee meeting.

Have a look - comments always welcome


Thursday, February 02, 2006

My son's latest poem...

My 18 year old son gave me permission to post his latest poem - a bit of a rant...best read out loud.

Issue of Concern
by Ryan

I’m concerned with the way things are
How far will we go until we’ve gone too far?
All over the world children starve
But where I live I don’t even need to leave my car
To get a couple of Big Macs and some fries
So I just shut my eyes and dream myself away

Yeah I’m concerned with what I see
Single parents go off to work minimum wage jobs
And leave their kids at home to be raised by a
A crystal screen
And a plastic mouse leading to a world of
Delusional star struck dreams
Teenage girls scream
Because beauty’s been redefined as
Air brushed magazine models who don’t eat…

And it’s all eaten up
Fill the plate
Fill the cup…
One thought comes to mind
What the fuck!?!?

I’m concerned that human beings
Are being played for fools
By a few men who made the rules
And a few more men who have enforced them for years
So never dry your tears
Just let them flow
Let’s release what needs to be let go
Like apathy
And take back our responsibility for our destiny
(The ultimate creativity)
Never say someone else made you do it
And made you pursue the life you live
Give yourself up to yourself
Be your thoughts and voice
Allow yourself a choice
Rather than being molded by
Invisible hands

I’m concerned that my children
Will live on barren lands
Where trees are plastic
And the air they breathe is synthetic
It’s pathetic
My peers are apathetic
And they don’t even realize
We could be living a divine harmony
With everything
But we can’t transcend our ego’s greed
I want to be freed
And I want everything to be there with me…

But I’m concerned that this may never happen

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Muhammad cartoon row intensifies

Religious freedom in conflict with freedom of expression.

This BBC piece indicates just how far the conflict in Europe is developing over the publication of cartoons that have images of Mohammad in them. Apparently, Islam doesn't permit any images of the prophet, let alone satirical ones.

While I don't think any media (or person) needs to be dismissive or rude (or blasphemous) toward a religion, I clearly believe that freedom of expression is a basic human right (so does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the way). My right to offend may not be a very nice one, but it trumps someone's right to control my thoughts, words and writing/art...because of their religion.

This is fundamental (pardon the use of the term).

What do you think? Are you allowed to make fun of, criticize, challenge, question or even speak against religion? Is it your problem if that offends? Where is the line?


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