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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Haiku time friends!

It's the every-so-often haiku post. I love this form of poetry. The format is 3 lines, not rhymed, and consisting of 5 syllables, then 7 and followed by 5 more. However, you do your own thing - we have no poetry police at this blog. I will suggest a theme though - "Inner Contentment".

Here are my entries - now let's have yours.

World swirls and transforms
Breath pulled in and eases out
Life moves me timeless

Red robin cries flies
Blue eggs wait for warm feathers
I step back with grace

Mom turns 80!

I don't do a lot of personal or family posts, but this is in honour of mom.

My mother turned 80 recently and we managed to pull off a surprise party for her in Kelowna, BC. Four of her five children (all boys), our kids, her brother and sister and about 40 friends attended.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this approach as she seemed to go into mild shock when she walked into the room... After than initial moment it was wonderful. She is a healthy, bright, active and loving 80 year old woman. I can only hope to follow in her footsteps (she outwalks me now).

The photo is mom with my kids. (Click to embiggen - as PICA calls it...)

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Amnesty AGM in Winnipeg

I'm off today to the Amnesty International (Canadian Section) AGM, being held in Winnipeg - at the university. It will be lots of business, but also an inspiring gathering of about 300 great people - 50 of them youth members who have been attending a Human Rights College this week.

Interestingly, the University itself is part of a human rights campaign on behalf of a young Iranian woman who has been sentenced to death for murder. Nazanin Fatehi killed one of her three attackers during an attempted rape by three men (she was 17 years old). Go here if you'd like to sign an online petition to come to the aid of Nazanin. For all kinds of reasons, this is extremely wrong (the sentence, not the petition).

Someone asked me yesterday how I cope with my particular load of 'heavy' information. You know, human rights, the environment, Stephen Harper, George Bush, indigestion... all of it! Sometimes I don't cope that well, but most of the time, I find these things keep me sane and pretty happy:

- solitude
- literature
- nature
- children
- writing
- humour
- friends and family
- inspiring people and stories

It's all about the focus - where we put our minds, so go our hearts.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The American Dream...revealed

The term "American Dream" is almost a mythical phrase now. It's so firmly planted in the US national consciousness as to seem primeval. I think it's mostly equated these days with something like 'every American may attain great wealth, power and success, no matter how humble their start'. It has morphed, for many, to include a new SUV, 15 minutes on Oprah and home ownership, no matter what the debtload. I'm afraid facts don't prove that particular dream as being successful. Among industrialized nations, only Mexico and Russia rank lower in terms of poverty growing for example. The gap between rich and poor has grown immensely in the past 20 years. It's becoming more difficult for many Americans to put food on the table, let alone own a home and have decent health care.

But now to my point (you sigh with relief):

Most historians believe that the term 'American Dream' was coined by James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book The Epic of America. The American vision, he wrote is:

The dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of their birth or position.

Now that's a dream to revive and to work for...for every nation. Agree?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Practicing Safe Sun

This is my newspaper column for next week. Comments always welcome.

The sun has returned and summer is just around the corner. This column will make you think twice about getting a tan this year. Those of you who worship the sun and can’t wait to darken up on all sides should stop reading now, especially if you’re a teenager. (Research shows that Canadian teens love to tan and many don’t care much about the health warnings.)

There is a lot of pressure around health choices these days – from ferreting out trans fats in my crackers to slapping on sunscreen and seeking shade. When I was a teenager, it was so much simpler. We crammed six of us into my rusty Volkswagen bug (no seatbelts to worry about), pumped in two dollars of gas and bounced down Ontario back country roads to the beach. Once there, we grabbed some burgers and fries, hit the sand and cranked up the transistor radio (ask your parents what that is).

My tanning approach was to rub my skin with my family’s secret recipe: iodine mixed with baby oil. The iodine provided a nice orange foundation colour while the baby oil acted as a pleasantly fragrant basting ingredient. On a good hot day, you could almost hear it sizzle, like chicken on a grill. The first day produced a lobster-like hue, which was referred to as ‘a good base’.

The problem is that we now know that sunlight contains ultraviolet rays (UV) that can harm your skin and eyes. Canadian sunlight is strong enough to cause premature aging of the skin and skin cancer. UV rays can get through clouds, fog, haze and even water. My generation has done a good job of poking holes in the ozone layer, so there is more UV entering exposed skin than ever before.

There are three main types of skin cancer. Most cases in Canada are basal or squamous cell carcinoma and tend to develop later in life on skin that has been repeatedly exposed to the sun. They progress slowly and rarely cause death because they usually don’t spread and can be surgically removed. Malignant melanomas are different. They can occur early in life and progress rapidly. They are less common, but are the type most likely to be fatal. In 2003, there were 656 cases treated in British Columbia - and 120 deaths.

It comes down to this: it’s healthier to keep the sun off your skin. For those who love to tan, there isn’t much good news. Sun damage builds up with each exposure to the sun – even if you don’t burn, sun damage is still taking place… and it’s cumulative. A tan doesn’t protect you from skin damage – it is itself a sign of damage and injury. People with dark skin are not automatically protected from sun damage, even if there is more natural protection. And finally, indoor tanning machines also cause skin damage.

My teenage self, racing along in my VW - with my Beatle haircut, Hawaiian shorts and raging hormones - had a wonderful time at the beach. My middle age self has already had four or five pieces of suspicious skin removed by physicians. I still love the blazing sunlight and still like the idea of being a (bald, chubby) bronze god. But now I practice safe-sun.

Revising civil liberties in the US

You may have to click on this and enlarge it to read the text...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

My kind of hummer...

This little fellow visited our deck yesterday. I love the buzzing, frenetic...yet startling beauty of hummingbirds. Too bad a gas-guzzling piggy vehicle has stolen their nickname...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Stars gather for Da Vinci debut

Such a big deal about a mediocre job of thriller writing and a new film. Protests, religious debates, law suits...it all spells one thing to me: PROFITS. Dan Brown, and now Hollywood will be very happy. Bring on the controversy - bring on the bread and circus.


As for Jesus marrying Mary and settling down with a family. I can't see what the fuss is about. It's not like he married Matthew or Luke... and there's no word of Mary sneaking into Egypt for an abortion. Sounds like good Christian values all around. Give them a mini-van and a split level and they'd fit right in to most neighborhoods.

The other positive angle is that any one of us could study our genealogy and discover Jesus was our great (many times) grandpa. Ironically, he could have even been the great grandpa of the President of Iran - wouldn't that be an interesting sequel!


Sunday, May 14, 2006

Honour your mother...and clean your room too


Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers visiting.
(To the rest of us - "Listen to your mother dear!")

Friday, May 12, 2006

Epitaphs - thinking ahead...

Many of us will end up lying beneath a stone with something written on it (we'll all end up somewhere other than this life of course). I have always enjoyed reading a good epitaph - knowing that many are not written by their 'owners'. Here are a few I'm fond of:

Susan B. Anthony (early American feminist)
"Liberty. Humanity. Justice. Equality."

Charles Bukowski (poet)

"Don't try"

Winston Churchill
" I am ready to meet my maker. Whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter."

Emily Dickensen (poet)
"Called back"

Groucho Marx
"Excuse me. I can't stand up."

Dorothy Parker (wit and writer)
"Excuse my dust."

W.B. Yeats -
"Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by."

Robert Frost (poet)
"I had a lover's quarrel with the world."

Now for the interesting part - feel free to leave your own epitaph here - you might leave two - one that is serious and one for fun - you don't have to tell us which you'd actually prefer engraved for you some day in the very far distant future...

I'll start. For Gary.

"He lived. He loved."



Thursday, May 11, 2006

This one's for the Pope

I was in the mood to laugh and found my link to this very spiritual Monty Python musical number. If you have four minutes and want a very moving experience, have a peek at Every Sperm is Sacred. Link here.

Site launches 'Chinese Wikipedia'

China is launching its own Wikipedia-type website - where users themselves create an ongoing encyclopedia of information (story here). Of course, this is China, with its strict censorship of internet use and its arrests and executions without much process...so believe me there will be many jobs created to sit and read what is being posted. Knock, knock...

Just for fun, once it's online - I think I'll go to Baidupedia (the new service) and post entries like this:

- Can someone tell me about Tiananmen Square?
- Anyone seen the Dalai Lama lately?
- Where can I talk to a dissident?
- I'm holding a meeting on free elections next week.
- Falung Gong members unite!

It could be fun to see if I get any email back.

P.S. Google is having no problems complying with Chinese regulations as it launches its new service. With 187,000,000 internet users predicted within 2 years - what are a few arrests or detainments and curtailment of human rights? Go corporation go!!


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Graffiti of the week

Got to love those Italian vehicle advertisements!
And those fiesty graffiti writers...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

US Executions - one person's story

Anonymous left this message to my earlier post about the death penalty (with Statue of Liberty skirt photo). It's a very compelling story and I want to honour it with those of you who visit here.

I stood behind thick glass filled with chicken wire and watched while Texas murdered my grandson and I held my daughter tightly with both arms wrapped around her to prevent her from trying to claw through the glass to get to her first born son lying on the guerney. The day before they killed him we were allowed to visit him (no contact, ofcourse) and on the execution day he was allowed to phone us at the sanctuary for families.

After over a decade on death row he had matured into a strapping young man and was no longer the brash youngster he had been. And he still professed love for his wife, who had gone off with another man right after his arrest, and asked us to give her his love message. Families never believe that their loved one is guilty but I strongly suspect that his wife was the guilty party and he covered for her, because he spent the entire weekend at my home during the time the crime was committed. But authorities always think families are lying so us providing an alibi was discounted, especially after he accepted the guilt.

As he lay strapped to the gurney he was allowed some last words. He expressed his love for all of us and ended his statement with "tell her I love her and I forgive her ." Forgive her? For what? He never bore her any animosity for taking a lover so soon after the tragedy. He had said, "she's young, it's only natural and right for her to go on with her life, because I'll never be free." His death bed declaration of forgiveness made us even more suspicious of her guilt, but if he was covering for her he took it to his grave. Years later she visited us and was babbling on, started saying something and sudddenly caught herself, looked around like a deer caught in headlights, stammered and said, "I mean..." and quickly ended her visit. Her incomplete statement indicated guilty knowledge of some sort. We will never know if Texas executed the wrong person or not.

PS: you're right about poor legal ounsel. $50,000.00 retainer, for starters. No way we could afford that. The court appointed lawyer had never defended a capital case before and during summation stammered, fumbled wildly through a sheaf of papers in his hand, ran back to the table and pawed through more papers, all the while babbling and stammering like a crazed thing. He was a nice and earnest young man but was unqualified and inexperienced and everyone was embarrassed for him, even my grandson; even though it was his life on the line he felt sorry for the attorney!!

I have to say that all the death row guards that knew him during the decade-plus time he was there liked him and told us he didn't belong there, he was not a killer. And those guards are very savvy about the criminals they interact with every day. They are not easily fooled.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Ahmadinejad sends letter to Bush

It seems a letter from the President of Iran is on the way to President Bush (via the always useful Swiss). The contents have not yet been revealed, but this could be fun. Here's one version - others welcome:

Dear President Bush (AKA Satan):

You and I are so much alike. We both believe we're right all the time and don't care what anyone else thinks. We both believe in a God with strict rules and dream of the day we can force them on every human being (especially women). We love nuclear weapons and are sure God wants us to use them. We're willing to spend all our nation's money on war and power. We love oil like you wouldn't believe.
Why can't we be friends? Imagine what we could do together!

Your new friend,

President Ahmadinejah (AKA Cranky)


Friday, May 05, 2006


This is my newspaper column for next week - feedback always welcome...

I got my first two-wheeler when I was five years old and living in France. I learned to ride it within days. It was a birthday gift, and at the same party I was also given a home-sewn Superman costume (red silk panties included). It shouldn’t take much imagination to picture a little boy pedaling like mad down the road on a tiny bicycle – throwing frequent glances over his shoulder to see if the red cape was billowing out behind. I was the (very little) man of steel. I was flying.

I don’t remember much about the crash. I was racing along behind the neighborhood meat delivery truck when the driver chose to stop and, for some reason, I chose to keep pedaling. My next memory is of speeding in a car to the hospital, with bloody towels wrapped around my head. My mother was comforting me, as she did her best to stifle her own panic. If you would like, I can show you my scar. (Don’t show this article to my mother; she still feels guilty.)

If my story doesn’t convince you to ensure your young children are bicycle-safe, perhaps this information will. Biking is the most popular outdoor activity amongst youngsters in Canada. Nine of out ten children aged 10 to 14 are bicyclists. Sadly, over 50,000 of them are seriously injured in bike mishaps each year. Injuries to those precious little heads account for 75% of all deaths from bike injuries. The majority of these kids are injured within six blocks of home.

A bicycle is not a toy. It’s a child’s first vehicle. You can prepare children to be safer cyclists by helping them practice safe riding skills and teaching them about safety equipment and the rules of the road. Once you’ve checked that the bike is the right size, and properly fitted a certified helmet on the child’s head (CSA, ASTM or SNELL safety standard in BC), supervised practice is the best way to teach riding skills. The safest place to learn to balance and steer a bike is away from the road, in a vacant parking lot for example.

ICBC has a cycling education program designed to teach kids aged 7 to 13 the basics of bike riding. Bike Smarts: A Handbook helps teachers, youth leaders and cycling instructors to improve the knowledge, skills and attitudes of children in the safe handing of a bicycle. It can be found online at http://www.icbc.com/youth/roadsense_kids.asp or by phoning ICBC.

Of course, safe cycling is not just for children. Have you ever seen a happy family pedaling in a line along the road – kids with big smiles on their faces and helmets on their heads, while the helmet-free parents let their own hair blow in the wind?

Perhaps those adults need to know that a fall on an unprotected head from a height of only 60 centimeters (2 feet) can cause permanent brain damage. I might question these parents’ judgment and understanding of the concept of a role model, but I don’t believe they really want to risk brain injury and the seizures, intellectual and memory impairment and personality changes that may result.

As for me, I did get back on my little bicycle and have avoided further serious cycling injuries for about fifty years now. I have no idea where the Superman costume is today, but still have dreams of flying to the rescue (faster than a speeding bullet).

A photo of Dora Maar (for Lauren)

The subject of Picasso's painting below was his friend, model and muse Dora Maar. She was a successful artist herself - wonderful photographer (particularly in the 1930s).

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Picasso portrait fetches $95.2m

This is Picasso's portrait of his most famous lover, Dora Maar. It sold at auction this week for $95.2 million (story). That's a lot of money for a painting that was obviously painted after a night of heavy drinking, while standing on a moving boat, looking into a mirror.

Just kidding of course, but not about the outrageous amount of money. Did you buy it DA?


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Requiem for a little dog

Our little dog Sasha died last night. He was a 16 year old Chihuahua and in spite of being blind, deaf, mostly mute and rather wobbly - he brought joy to us and pulled compassion out of those who met him (including lots of teenagers).

In the past couple of weeks, he stopped eating, then walking, then drinking water - and finally stopped wagging his tail. Two nights ago we gave him a warm bath; last night we put him to bed and this morning he was dead. He seems to have gone in his sleep - he hadn't moved.

The photo is from some months ago.

Here's to doggies everywhere... and the love they bring.

Pink sings Dear Mr President - Live

This is a powerful song to listen to. Maybe we'll find music is the road into the hearts and minds of young people...to make them angry and sad and want to work for change.

Maybe it will move them to the streets and to the ballot boxes.

Viva youth!

Thanks to the witty, insightful (and ready with a ruler) Auntie Willow for directing me to this link.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Spring's here - blossoms to follow

It's spring in our BC mountain valley, but the flowers aren't here yet. I'm envious of the sunny places, where flowers are year round. Here's a photo from La Manzanilla, the Mexican village I visited in February. Pardon the rush hour on the main street...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Inspiring AI meeting

The Amnesty AGM in Portland was inspiring. When 900 people get together who have one thing in common - their dedication to a world that promotes, supports and fights for human rights, for everyone - it can be busy... and moving. In addition to the work of the meeting (resolutions and all), there were some very inspiring events.

We held a rally in Pionner Square (photo of square left) to oppose torture (and extraordinary rendition). The plastic orange ponchos worn were symbolic of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay... and with the hot sunny day, they were pretty sticky inside. The speakers included a woman who was a torture victim herself... and who lost her husband, her father and two daughters to disappearance (in Guatamala). We also heard from a Portland doctor who supports 1700 patients who have been torture victims and from a woman who is an expert on the illegal mystery flights the US is using when they illegally detain, and then transfer prisoners to countries where they can be interogated in a way that's ... well, torture. We made a lot of noise.

Actress Mira Sorvino may be famous for her role in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion (and other movies), but she's also a Harvard grad and an amazing humanitarian. As spokesperson for Amnesty's campaign to stop violence against women, she hosted a MAKE SOME NOISE FOR DARFUR concert in Portland (she's 8 months pregnant too). Along with lots of noise, petitions, letters etc. we had a great evening of music, including Suzanne Vega and acoustic sets from Collective Soul, Tom Morelos (of Audioslave) and Incubus. Okay, those of you my age probably only know Suzanne, but Lauren, Vee and other younger bloggers might have even wanted to be there! (Correct me anyone.)

Anyhow, back to work , family, community and watching NHL hockey playoffs (Go Edmonton!).

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