Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Deadly Robins of Summer

After my last somewhat deranged post I decided that the time had come to chillout. Or more correctly head out to my bunker in the countryside and broil there instead of in the city. Try to get away from the real wars, blogging wars, and all the other threats that seem to be everywhere these days. Before I join a whole bunch of others out there and go completely off my rocker. Eh? Uh?

But as I walked through the sweltering woods late this afternoon I came across another threat that scares me more than all of the above. The potentially lethal combination of lots of mosquitoes and robins.

Thanks to our mild winter the mosquito squadrons that carry West Nile fever are expected to be more numerous than ever. And our hot summer will make them even more dangerous.

But what I'm worried about is the number of Robins. The little red chested birds are everywhere. I've never seen so many.

For a long time scientists didn't understand why most people got infected late in the summer, even though the mosquitoes that spread West Nile had been buzzing around for a while. Then they decided to open up the mosquitos teeny weeny stomachs and find out whose blood they had been drinking. And they discovered that topping the menu was the American Robin.

It turns out that in early summer the mosquitoes prefer to feed on robins and their young, more than any other birds even sparrows. Which suits the West Nile virus just fine. The robins don't die when they're infected and they are not a dead end for the virus like humans are. So they can keep on spreading the virus to one mosquito after the other. Until the robins disperse after breeding. And the mosquitoes start feeding on us.

So my question is (drumroll)..... If there are a lot of mosquitoes and a lot of robins does that mean we're going to have a lot of cases of West Nile fever?

I don't know why I've started worrying about West Nile fever now. Maybe it's the polio-like fever that can hit healthy young adults that gives me the shivers. Or maybe it's because of the 235 cases of West Nile last year almost half of them (106) were in Ontario.

Or maybe the robin connection somehow triggered an old childhood memory. The ancient English nursery rhyme my parents used to read to me when I was a child. A poem called Who killed Cock Robin?

"Who killed Cock Robin?

I said the sparrow , with my bow and arrow...

Who saw him die? I said the fly.

With my little eye, I saw him die.

Who caught his blood? I said the fish.

With my little dish, I caught his blood..."

Of all the nursery rhymes I ever heard that was the most disturbing one. I was haunted as a child not only by the ghoulish lyrics but by the burning question. Why did sparrow kill Cock Robin in the first place?

So robins and sudden death have always been linked in my mind. Except now it's just a lot more real. Now not only can sparrows help kill you ,or worse. Robins can too.

Or maybe it's just that I hate the smell of those DEET products so much. What's the use of showering and putting on deodorant to impress your squeeze. If you are going to end up smelling like that? I've always resisted putting it on. But now I really can't.

None of us should take any chances. We need to know all we can about West Nile.

And we do need to slap on that stinky stuff. It's better to smell awful than dead. And your lovers won't mind, or can't complain. Unless you're wearing shorts and it runs up your leg. Because they'll be as stinky as you.

Hey what can I say? Sometimes it's not easy to be a Canadian...

Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Dishonouring a Reluctant Hero

I hate how some Canadians are reacting to what Cpl Anthony Boneca apparently had to say about his last tour in Afghanistan. I hate that it divided his friends and family. And that his Dad felt he had to defend his son's reputation by issuing a statement.

But what really ticks me off is the jingoistic nonsense coming from those who portray it as some kind of left wing media plot to smear the honour of the dead corporal. And question the morale of our soldiers over there. I understand what this soldier is saying. And I'm sorry he lost his friend. I just don't think he needs to defend him.

Anthony Boneca doesn't need any defenders. He did his duty, he signed up for two tours in Afghanistan, he never let his fellow soldiers down, he fought bravely, and died fighting for his country. He may have been a reluctant hero. But he's a hero anyway.

So nobody should try to cover-up what he said. Or try to make it sound like something shameful. Or turn it into a partisan political issue. Or try to make it all rah rah rah. Armchair generals and chickenhawks talk like that. Heroes don't. They can say what they want.

Having said that, I should also add that I've never met a soldier with any army anywhere who didn't bitch. I think it's a way of coping with boredom and tension. Soldiering and bitching go together like ham and eggs. Or whatever that yellow shit is they serve in their cafeterias. So put that into the mix.

But I found it interesting that Boneca complained about being exhausted and about what he called the "Kandahar weight loss program." And that Christie Blatchford in an excellent pay to read Globe report came across evidence of the same thing:

"These soldiers are near exhaustion or would be if they stopped long enough to notice. Many have lost between 25 and 35 pounds since arriving."

Maybe I'm wrong. But to me it just might be more evidence of what I've warned about all along. We're trying to do too much with too little. The coalition doesn't have enough boots on the ground to protect rebuilding efforts properly. And still go after the Taliban. And it's been that way since the Americans invaded Iraq and all but forgot about Afghanistan. What good is it if we control the day, if the Taliban control the night?

The British have been having quite a debate about their military in Afghanistan.. And they're doing something about it. But we can't even send our Afghan force more helicopters let alone more troops. I know we've got a great bunch of soldiers out there. I know you can push them pretty hard. But you can't win a war like this one on pride and guts alone.

If you don't believe that, read this story. It's long and quite opinionated. But since the writer knows Afghanistan and was almost killed there a couple of weeks ago, I figure she's earned the right to that opinion. Just like our dead soldier....

In the last weeks of his tragically short life Anthony Boneca desperately wanted out. He apparently felt that he had somehow been misled. That his reserve training hadn't prepared him for the rough combat of Afghanistan. I don't know if anything can prepare you for something like that. I don't know if other reservists over there feel that way. But Boneca did. He took a bullet in the neck. So his views must count for something. To treat them as something shameful, dishonours him and our country.

While supporting our troops we need to keep asking questions about why we are fighting that war, and how we are fighting it. Jingoism and Afghanistan are a bad mix. And the surest way to turn a noble mission into a bloody mission impossible.

But we can worry about all of that later. The mournful sound of the bagpipes is drifting over Trenton again. I see that Anthony Bonseca has finally made it home. We should just thank him for his sacrifice, and celebrate his life. I know I will.

Because for me reluctant heroes are kind of special.

And somehow very Canadian too...

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Pope's Shameful Visit to Spain

I see the (former) Nazi Pope has ended a quickie visit to Spain, where he spent his time pining for the good old days and attacking that country's liberal and secular values. In the usual way: by attacking gay families.

Too bad for him not too many Spaniards seemed to be paying attention. They had to fly in the faithful from all over the world to make it look like he could attract a crowd. I mean checkout the photograph. Even his entourage looked bored.

But the part I liked best was the slap in the face he got from Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Good for him. I only wish we had a Prime Minister who could stand up for our secular values like that

But then Zapatero has a lot of history going for him. The long dark years of the Franco regime when the fascists and the Catholic Church ruled the country with a bloody hand. And millions were killed, or jailed and tortured, or driven into exile. And contraception, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality were outlawed. The fearful times that the old inquisitor Benedict calls the good old days.

So many victims. So much blood and suffering. But for me the horror of those years hit home when I visited a ravine near Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains where the fascists murdered Federico Garcia Lorca

They shot him once for being a left-wing poet and playwright who frequently criticized the Catholic Church. And then shot him twice in the ass for being a "maricon" or queer.

In the months and weeks before his death Garcia Lorca was tormented by a recurring deathly dream. Dark veiled women would threaten him with black crucifixes. He was wrong about the women. But his killers, who were never punished, wore black shirts. And had crosses dangling from their necks.

His young lover Rafael Rodriguez Rapun, for whom Lorca wrote these sonnets, died fighting for the doomed Republic one year to the day later. When fascist planes strafed his position and he refused to take cover. Just stood there and fired away.

At least Rafael has his own grave. Federico doesn't

Not that it really matters. Although it would be nice to reunite them again. But it's a beautiful place. He's in good company. And his spirit lives in the hearts of the Spanish people who treasure him. Who have come out of the darkness and into the light. And don't want to go back to the so-called good old days.

How this Pope fails to understand that is almost beyond belief. How he could call for a return to those evil bloody times is simply unforgivable.A shameful and disgusting thing.

But then the Catholic Church has declared war on liberal democracies everywhere, including Canada. So we shouldn't be surprised. We should just be prepared to fight back. And never let those religious fanatics tell us how to live our lives. Or try to silence us.

As Garcia Lorca once wrote:

"To keep still when we are on fire.
Is the worst punishment we can inflict on ourselves."

I think that message was directed at oppressed gays and lesbians. But it applies to everyone else as well.

Gays and lesbians may burn first. But if these crazy religious fanatics have their way we'll all burn later.

As I sat in the shade of a few olive trees, on a brutally hot day, and thought of the gentle,dreamy, gay poet and playwright who was killed for what he wrote and who he was....and all the other victims of fascism.... I felt dizzy.

Maybe it was the heat or the horror. Or maybe it was because it was all so blindingly clear.

Either we destroy the religious extremists who are torching the planet in the name of their crazy gods.

Or they'll destroy us...

Friday, July 07, 2006

The George and Steve Comedy Hour

We interrupt my summer again to bring you this morning tv special...Live from the White House it's the George and Steve Show!!(applause) Wow what a proud moment that must have been for our wannabe President. Not only did the Bush regime provide more flags and sailors than a Broadway production. And force even Dick Cheney to attend. They even gave Harper his very own shiny Presidential Seal. Just like the real President has. Yup the Bushies really put on quite a show to please their little puppet.

Too bad it was such a comedy of errors...

Starting with Harper's bizarre decision to begin the news conference with a lengthy statement in French. It was obviously another blatant attempt to play to the soft nationalists in Quebec. The ones he is counting on to give him a majority. But it backfired horribly.

I turned on the CBC's French news network and for some reason they were translating into French, the English translation of Harper's speech in French. You could hear the English translation in the background. So any unilingual French viewers would have assumed that Harper was speaking in English. And since his lips were out of synch he looked really weird as well. Like a puppet or a marionette. Ooh la la. Bam. Uh Oh. Talk about making poutine out of those Quebec brownie points.

Then when the questions began they were all about North Korea and all of them aimed at Bush. So in a desperate attempt to include Harper, the Chimp then declared that the North Koreans were also a threat to Canada. They might fire a missile at the U.S. and hit us instead. And the Harper poodle rolled over on its back and agreed. Even though the North Koreans can't even get it to fly. And can't even make reliable bicycles.

Yikes. Talk about a threat to real estate values in Vancouver. All those expensive homes are worth at least 100-thousand dollars less tonight. Do you think the owners can sue?

I didn't think it could get worse than that. But it did. It degenerated into outright farce when CTV's Robert Fife asked Bush if he liked his personal gift from President Harper. (A Calgary Stampede belt buckle and a stetson) And Bush who hadn't received them yet was left fumbling with his belt as if he was about to take off his pants. While Harper just stood there with his mouth open. God knows what unseemly Adam and Steve act could have ensued if the Chimp had actually dropped his drawers.

By this time I was lying on the floor laughing so hard I thought I would die. A belt buckle and a stetson? Is Harper the President of Canada or Alberta? I didn't think anything could top that. But it did. The final humiliation came with the grand finale.

Bush called on any reporter who was celebrating a birthday to join him on stage for a group hug. And about three or four of them did. Leaving Harper looking on from the sidelines spluttering something like "if anyone else comes up here I'm really going to have to object." But nobody paid him any attention.

The only way he could have got the media to focus on him again is if he had put on an evening gown and a big blonde wig and started singing "Happy Birthday Mithta Prethident..." Like she did.

For a moment I almost felt sorry for Harper. He looked so miserable standing there watching as the news conference was hijacked by the hated media. Looking on like the nerd at the high school dance. As Bush hugged all those reporters instead of him. Boy that must have hurt.

I mean put yourself in his shoes. He sells out his country's economic interests. Allows the Americans to keep a billion dollars of the money they stole from us. He cancels plans to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Says he'll jail more kids and build more prisons instead. Blows the religious right by promising to persecute gays and lesbians. Spends 15-billion dollars on the military in just one week. All just to get a pat on the head from the criminal Bush regime. And then they treat him like that?

He doesn't even get a whole news conference with his hero Chimp Bush. They don't even call him Mr Prime Minister. He only gets to have the Presidential Seal for an hour. He doesn't even get a Chimpy hug. They just call him Steve. And treat him like one.

It's probably good enough for Harper. I can hear him now. "He called me Steve. He called me Steve. He likes me. He really likes me..." But as a proud Canadian it's not good enough for me. I think Prime Ministers should act like Prime Ministers. Not Presidents. Or flunkies. Ugh.

Oh yes. I was glad to see the end of that humiliating little comedy show in Washington today.

Too bad our horror show continues...


Turns out the Americans noticed how the birthday boys got the cake while Harper was left with just the crumbs. Good question Robert asks. Where was our dumbo media? Looking the other way? Joining in the fun? Or just helping our pathetic wannabe President lick up the crumbs?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Pissing Matches and Bottle Rockets

I have to apologize for slacking off again. But when it comes to a choice between blogging and summer I'm afraid blogging doesn't stand a chance. Besides what can I blog about? It's too hot to get angry. I'm determined to try to set an example and stay cool. While others are losing their minds. Cooking their radiators over a pissing match.

The whole thing is absurd. All it proves is that young, boozed up Conservative louts have no class. And that some Conservative bloggers are crazy and possibly dangerous But we already knew that.

Besides if the unknown soldier had been able to sit up in his tomb and watch the drunken oafs do their thing he probably would have laughed it off. He was probably young too. And he would know that his memory and those of all the others are safe in our hearts. Stones can be worn down by time. Or even pissed on. But what's in our hearts can't be touched. It's the stuff that makes us Canada.

So please can we get a grip on ourselves? By all means embarrass the shit out of those drunken idiots and charge them with mischief. But I suggest we let them live. Stop making them public enemy number one. It's too damm hot for a lynch mob. The Harper bubbas may be in power. But we're still not Alabama.

It's even too hot to get excited about the mad ravings of these African bigots. In fact I'm delighted.The way ahead is now clear. If unity means bigotry. Then long live separation! It's time for the American Anglicans to remove the cancer growing on them. And sever all links with the African Church.

Any Church that encourages the persecution of gays and women while allowing polygamy and ignoring genital mutilation should be worshipping Satan instead of Christ. The American Church is better than that. Much better.

Which reminds me of something I really wanted to blog about. The big fireworks show that capped the big party down South.

Talk about firing off a big bottle rocket to celebrate the Fourth of July!!

It takes a lot of faith in the future, imagination, know how, and above all guts to fly this baby these days. But our neighbours still have lots of that.

I spend a lot of time attacking the dreadful Bush regime. I hate those bastards with a passion. But I love the American people. My granddad made sure of that.

By a fluke of history he was rejected by the RAF in the last year of the war because he was too young. But they sent him off to Canada to learn how to fly. And then on to the United States to fly Corsairs with the U.S. Navy.

My grandad's views of the United States were shaped by the men he flew with, and by the sunny optimism of post-war America. It was like he was trapped in that era. Almost fifty years later, on a rare visit to the States, he dragged me all over the country looking for a drugstore that still sold malt sodas.

And he never lost faith in America the beautiful. The yankees might lose their way sometimes he said. But never their idealism and their freedom loving hearts. For every bad thing I could come up with, he could mention something good from the field of medicine or science. Remind me the country of Richard Nixon was also the country of Abraham Lincoln.

Besides he used to say, compared to the stuffy English they're an awful lot of fun.

He was right about that one. They really do put on quite a show. And we've got the best seats on the planet. You've got to love the fact that history made us neighbours. I mean who would we rather have next door? Snooty France?

Hey the yanks can sometimes drive us crazy. But sometimes, like this afternoon when the shuttle Discovery soared into the sky carrying among others the first black woman to fly into space, they can also inspire us.

Happy landing Discovery! Happy Birthday America!

Now excuse me while I go back to my summer....

Saturday, July 01, 2006

One More Reason to Love Canada...

I hate weddings of any kind. But if these guys had invited me, I would have gone to theirs.

They sure make a cute couple. I liked the way they kept things private, and couldn't understand what all the fuss was all about. After eight years together who can blame them. It probably was about time ...

I also liked how they couldn't stop smiling all through the ceremony. And that the place was packed with RCMP officers. Not only do they make a great couple. They've apparently got a lot of great straight colleagues and friends. Boy have we all come a long way.

From the days when the RCMP used the "fruit-machine to ferret out gays. Thousands of gay men lost their jobs or had their careers and their lives destroyed. You can read more about that here. or watch this chilling six-minute video. (real) to get an idea of what it was like to be hunted for who you are.

We may not be where we hoped to be. We may not be where we should be. But at least we're not where we were.

A wedding like that one is almost better than an apology.

And makes me proud to be a Canadian.

Happy honeymoon guys!

The Lions and Donkeys of The Somme

It's ninety years since the Battle of the Somme began. The mines went off. The whistles blew. And the soldiers walked into a hail of machine gun bullets and mortar shells. It was the worst day in British military history.

And Newfoundland's worst day ever.

In recent years some historians have been revising the conventional view of that battle. And disputing whether it really was the case of Donkey Generals leading British Lions to the slaughter.

Even the son of the Butcher of the Somme has come out to defend him.

It's pretty hard to defend a guy who thought machine guns were "overrated" even as they mowed down his men. But Haig died a hero. Still insisting years after the war that tanks and planes were no substitute for a soldier and his horse.

Some lessons were learned.

But the one I think we've never learned. Apart from the one to stop killing each other. Is the one to stop glorifying war.

The one that Siegfried Sassoon, the gay warrior poet who lived through the hell of the Somme, took aim at with these few lines

"You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye

Who cheer when soldier lads march by

Sneak home and pray you'll never know

The hell where youth and laughter go...."

That's what I take out of the Battle of the Somme. That it was a place where youthful idealism was mown down by the reality of war. Young men were led to the slaughter by old men who didn't know what they were doing. And made the same mistakes over and over again.

While the crowd cheered and the band played on.

It's an old story. And then maybe it's not.

Remember our troops in Afghanistan, and the dead soldiers of Newfoundland.

Happy Canada day everyone!