Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Empty Rain Barrel

I wish I could take it to Africa
The thermometer reads 35C in the shade as I drain the last drops from the rain barrel.
Without water the vegetable garden on my bush lot will wither and die. There is but one thing to do: Load the pickup truck with buckets and start hauling water from our cottage lake to refill the rain barrel.
As I lift buckets from the truck bed and pour the water into the barrel, my mind is replaying the news clips I’ve seen this week about the drought in the Horn of Africa. Cadaverous children with sunken cheeks and huge eyes. Adults barely able to keep mobile as they travel to find water and food.
They remind me of the forest animals I see continually foraging to stay alive. But these are humans, and they should not die because of lack of water. The little children with their bones pressing outward against their shrinking skins deserve to grow and experience the wonders of life the same way we have.
I see the news show gurus intoning the sad facts of the tragedy, then moving on to the next story. I want to scream: “get off your millionaire’s ass and tell viewers why it has become so difficult to get directly to these people the life-saving things they need.”
Our society is less and less able to act effectively on anything. Individual initiative is smothered by political correctness, stupefying bureaucracy, an over-thinking justice system and, of course corruption and greed for money and power.  All any individual can do is write a cheque, most of which will end up in some bureaucrat’s pay or pension envelope, or in the pockets of corrupt politicians or warlords.
I wish I could fill my rain barrel, load it and a million like it onto planes, and fly them into the deserts where people are dying. Why can’t it be that simple? There is water. There are planes. There are flat places to land. Is there no new, daring thinking on how to stop needless deaths?
I can fill my rain barrel and save my insignificant little vegetable garden. Millions of us, however, can’t find an uncomplicated way to fill rain barrels that will save humans.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Incredible, but true

The four most incredible pieces of information from Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World scandal:
1. British Prime Minister David Cameron met 26 times with Rupert Murdoch, or his News Corp. executives, in just over one year in power. In addition, he had Murdoch’s son James, senior executive Rebekah Brooks, and former editor Andy Coulson (who he later hired for his own staff) as guests to his country home. Does the Pope talk that often with God?
2. Ms. Brooks became editor of the News of the World at age 31. The paper was the largest circulation English language newspaper in the world. She appears to have had no formal education beyond high school. She joined the News of the World as a secretary at age 21.  She later started writing about TV soap operas and at 29, less than three years before becoming the newspaper’s boss, she was just a feature writer, but a charming and vicious networker. In getting ahead, who you know really is more important than what you know.
3. Rupert, looking owlishly arrogant, told a British parliamentary committee he is not to blame for the phone hacking or other outrages committed by his news empire. Employees he trusted are to blame. Rupert, Rupert, Rupert, you nasty little worm. You hired them. You created the culture of power craving and greed in which they thrived.
4. In a world of possible terrorism on every street corner, a man with a shaving cream pie gets past British security, into a parliamentary hearing room and at Rupert Murdoch. How safe does that make the world feel? And, we still have to take off our shoes when we enter an airport lineup.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Getting Silly over 1812

Hey Canada, pull out the worry beads.

We appear to be fretting ourselves into a funk over a major celebration of our history. As usual, the fretting is connected to our incurable inferiority complex.

The Toronto Globe and Mail has published a hand-wringing piece about how the federal government will “tread carefully” in celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812-14 to avoid “inciting anti-American sentiment.”

Ottawa will be very careful, the Globe reported, not to upset the Americans with boasts of how we repelled the U.S. invaders roughly 10 generations ago. It said the government is carefully crafting its messages about the bicentennial to stress how we have lived peacefully with our most important neighbour and trading partner ever since.

The paper even had eminent historian Jack Granatstein predicting that sparks will fly across the border as the bicentennial approaches.

The fear is that bicentennial celebrations will spawn Canadian cockiness and anti-Americanism that will inflame sensitivities south of the border.

Oh dear, we Canadians do know how to haunt a party.

Firstly, the Americans, plenty busy with their own current problems, likely don’t care how we feel about the War of 1812 or how we celebrate its anniversary. To them, that war was basically another fight against the hated British.

The Americans haven’t held a grudge about this before, so it’s hard to see why they would two centuries after it ended. In fact, they have done more to celebrate one hero of the British-Canada side than we have. That would be Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief who left Ohio Territory to fight on our side because the Yanks kept stealing Indian lands.

Kids in the States have been named after him, including the Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman. Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland offer prayers and pennies to a statue named Tecumseh in the hope that he will bring them good luck in exams and sporting contests. A scene of his death at the Battle of the Thames is painted high atop the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

So Canada, let’s take a few really deep breaths, a couple of teaspoons of perspective, and have some fun celebrating history shared by both countries. After all, the War of 1812 ended in a draw. Let’s keep it that way.

(If you want to know more about Tecumseh and the War of 1812, see my book ‘Tecumseh: Shooting Star, Crouching Panther’ Dundurn Press 2009)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Kids Without Homes

I recently got an understanding of why our government, and the Bank of Canada, continue to issue warnings about personal debt levels. I got this from watching a CBS 60 Minutes segment.
The CBS piece was about family homelessness; interviews with  decent, average families who lost their homes and found themselves living in their vehicles, parks or cheap motels. CBS reported that 14 million American children were in poverty before the recent great recession. That’s now 16 million, up two million in two years.
In Florida’s Seminole County schools, 1,000 students have lost their homes. One educator running programs for homeless kids in Seminole County said between five and 15 new homeless kids join her programs every day.
On Highway 192, the road to Disney World near Orlando, 67 motels house 500 homeless kids and their families. Special school bus runs have been organized to pick up these kids and take them to and from school.
The children interviewed on camera are nice, well-spoken kids being raised by decent parents who have lost their jobs, and their mortgaged homes.
Some of the interviews are heartbreaking. Said one student: "I kind of feel like it's my fault that we don't have enough money. I feel like it's my fault that they (my parents) have to pay for me. And the clothes that they buy for me."
The Certified General Accountants Association of Canada said recently that
the pace of debt accumulation in Canada is declining but household debt levels still soared to a new record of $1.5-trillion in the first quarter of 2011, leaving many Canadians with lower or stagnant incomes in a “dire” situation. The association reported that more than half of indebted Canadians are borrowing money just to meet their day-to-day living expenses.
Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney has warned in the past of the impact of rising Canadian debt levels, and in a separate report recently, TD Economics warned that “following five years of excessive debt accumulation, Canadian households are finally tapped out.”
The great fear is that when interest rates begin to rise, many Canadians will not be able to meet increased monthly payments.
After watching the kids on 60 Minutes, we don’t want to see that happen here.
You can view the 60 Minutes homeless segment at: 

Friday, July 8, 2011

The St. Nora Lake Rope Swing

For more years than I can remember, there has been a rope swing on the northeast shore of St Nora Lake in Haliburton County. Parents have taken kids there by boat for an hour of fun and relief from the summer heat.
The kids held the rope, ran down an earthy slope, swung out over the water, then dropped into its cool depths. Sort of like a Norman Rockwell painting. Very little in North American society now is the way Norman Rockwell painted it. Things aren’t simple anymore, often because of how we have allowed government and the legal system to sprawl uncontrolled.
Where the Rope Swing Used to Be

The talk on our lake is that the county government cut the rope swing, and a tree or branches supporting it. The branches were dumped into the lake where the kids used to jump and swim.
The reasoning, some lake folks say, is that the county has created a pay-for-use campsite near the swing and took the swing down because campers might use it and get hurt. Then, of course, the county might be sued.
You want to scream at the bureaucrats behind this. But we should be screaming at ourselves. We are the ones who have created a system in which all forms of government increasingly control more and more aspects of our lives.
The root of all this is the soft and cuddly legal system we have developed. Hit a pothole with your car, sue the city for a new tire and a sore neck. You are guaranteed some money because it’s easier for the city to pay than have its expensive legal staff fight it.
And, we wonder why our kids are inside playing electronic games or watching the video screen.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Skies Ablaze over Lake of Bays

Dorset community lighted the skies over southeast Lake of Bay for Canada Day weekend.
Every July, the Dorset hamlet community stages the fireworks display, which is attended by cottagers and vacationers for miles around. They come by boat from the far reaches of Lake of Bays and by road from many parts of the Haliburton and Muskoka lake country.
It’s got to be the best fireworks display put on anywhere by a small community. Dorset has 300 permanent residents.
It’s a summer scene at its best. The old bridge across the narrows is lined with spectators, as are the docks below. Red and green boat lights sparkle all around Big Trading Bay. The ice cream shop sells out most of its flavours in a couple of hours before the display.
Volunteers collect donations from the hundreds of spectators. The money is used for next year’s display and for community projects.