Monthly Archives: December 2008

A Case of Indulgence

This was the last of the Fearsmag articles that I wrote. I thought of putting it out tomorrow but I could be nursing a hangover, or more likely sleeping in. That’s one of my indulgences.

In whatever stage of abstinence or feeding our appetites that we managed to survive through the holiday season, we now suffer the aftermath. A new year has begun and in many cultures it becomes a time of reckoning, of cleaning our mental houses, of taking stock and changing or honing up on our past year’s progress.

Often January is a time of making too many promises and setting stakes too high. You might say it’s the time of atonement, whether you’re religious or not, for our past sins, be it laziness, overindulgence, taking on too much, doing too little, not changing, lacking stability, clinging to the past or not planning the future. We try to set past abuses or mistakes right with New Year’s resolutions. If we can whitewash the slate, perhaps we can start fresh and ignore all that’s gone before.

Or not.

Not too many years ago, I decided to stop making resolutions. After all, why set yourself up for a fall? We resolve to make these changes in our lives, often drastic ones, and wonder why we then fail to change. In January, because there’s no planning for holidays, we’re broke from spending too much and have already saturated our flesh with sugar, alcohol, salt and fat; we heroically battle our faults. Start a new year, start a new plan, start right.

And time, which is really just a big wound-up clock that we imagine, unwinds the wheel of the year as well as our plans, which fizzle by March if not earlier.

I guess I learned the lesson. Don’t overindulge through the holidays, then you won’t have to diet yourself down to the right size again. Of course, many people control themselves throughout the year and feel that this is the one time to let loose, to balance the scales even if those scales can be tipped to one side rather quickly and it takes the whole year to get back there again. To indulge or not—the fear to let go, to take the plunge.

We have set ourselves a tricky quest in this new century, as in the old. We want to have it all but we don’t want to wallow in it. Gourmet chocolate shops, delectable world-select coffee bars, elite watering holes holding alcohol from every exotic locale, and the finest clothes made of wondrous fabrics not seen since the Egyptians wove cotton, abound in many countries. We surround ourselves with splendor, covet what we don’t have and continue to search for the most expensive, exquisite or unique of today’s fads.

Well, what’s wrong with having the best, of rewarding ourselves for what we’ve accomplished? Nothing, but those that have too much, who can acquire whatever they desire, who have sailed to the highest pinnacle and hover there, are watched by the heaving millions with envy, jealousy and ridicule.

Like Icarus and his fateful flight toward the sun, we view movie stars, singers, politicians, the famous, the rich and the powerful as those who try for godhood and will fall back to the earth. And like scavenging vultures, we wait to pull them down or help them on their descent. Each and every person wants what is rightfully theirs, perhaps more than a fair share and will seek it out. All of us would like to indulge. Those that do are loved at first. We hold them like beacons in the darkness of our obscurity. They shine as examples of what can be done, of what-ifs made real and that some people can have it all. Yet, if they stay too long in the flame, we burn them with our scorn. We hold their lives up to that oh-so-bright light and examine every pore, every crack, every flaw.

Michael Jackson is no longer a rising star. His comet is falling and he receives as much ridicule as adoration, not for his music but for his life that, like any one of ours, cannot stand the polished gleam of godhood for long. Let’s face it, people are hypocrites. It’s all right if I have it, if my loved ones and friends have it, but if others have it and I have to watch for too long, well that’s just not right. Just like the dog that’s done his business in the wrong spot, eventually he gets his nose rubbed in it. Those who have and indulge end up rubbing our noses in it. Not the same as the dog. It’s not necessarily intentional, but many people see this material flaunting as the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots. And perhaps there are the unspoken messages that we really don’t like to hear: Could I have done more? Am I doing anything with my life? Will I amount to anything? Does anything I do matter? Will I be remembered after I die? Why have I failed when others have succeeded?

So it is that to indulge, in more than one culture or religion, is seen as a sin, a luring to the dark side, a vice. Indulgence in itself is not necessarily bad. You can indulge someone, let him or her cry, or rant or be a little crazy once in a while. It makes you look magnanimous, open-minded, loving. Having a little chocolate or getting looped or dancing the dawn into being is okay, once in a while. But do it all the time and you become a pig, a dilettante, a bohemian, a hedonist, a self-centered creature. The names abound.

In the end, our indulgences are our own but it’s our society that really let’s us know what’s not right and what is considered overindulgence. So, don’t make a resolution, until you’re ready to, whether it’s January 1st, March 19th or November 23rd. In the end, it matters only to you, and society, your friends or other forces like your body will tell you when to change. Indulge a little but don’t parade it in front of others. And before you indulge, ask yourself, with just a little fear lacing your veins, am I ready for what it will do to me and how others will see me?

Happy New Year. May your indulgences keep you healthy.

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Portable Defibrillators Save Lives

I’m down with a cold so here’s a Technocopia article I wrote back in 1999.

Easy enough for a child to use, defibrillators may become as common as fire extinguishers.

With only seven per cent of people who suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside of hospitals surviving, the American Heart Association is championing the use of portable automatic external defibrillators (AED). There is only a ten-minute window in which a cardiac victim’s heart can be restarted usually by using a defibrillator. After that, if the person can be revived, he or she will sustain brain damage.

The statistics are frightening. Heart disease is the number one killer, and cardiac arrest is at the top. About 250,000 (some reports say 350,000) people in the U.S., and 80,000 in Canada, die of cardiac arrest every year. Eighty per cent of those happen at home (Los Angeles Times 7/16/98). In only ten per cent of cardiac arrest cases do ambulance attendants arrive in time to save a patient.

Health professionals, first responders (police, ambulances) and lay people are lobbying for automatic defibrillators to be made more accessible. They argue that more lives than seven per cent would be saved if a defibrillator were available in time.

An automatic external defibrillator is a heart-starting device that can be carried by one person. By placing electrodes on the patient’s chest it monitors, then instructs the person to deliver an electrical shock to the patient’s heart. This shock starts the heart pumping again in a regular rhythm. Sometimes additional shocks are needed to start the heart. Chances of survival decrease seven to ten per cent for each minute that passes before the hearts resumes pumping.

Cardiac arrest differs from heart attack (or stroke). A stroke is caused by blood deprivation and arterial blockage. The person remains conscious and usually has warning symptoms leading up to the stroke. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can happen at any time to someone with no previous history of heart disease. The most common SCA is ventricular fibrillation, when the heart begins to contract chaotically. The person stops breathing and loses consciousness because the heart cannot pump oxygenated blood to parts of the body, especially the brain.

The American Heart Association states that there are four factors that contribute to ventricular tachycardia, or sudden cardiac arrest.

· Pre-diagnosed heart disease.
· Degeneration of the heart muscle.
· Enlargement of the heart due to high blood pressure.
· Hardening of the arteries.

SurvivaLink Corporation, Minneapolis, Physio-Control Corp., Redmond, and Heartstream, Inc. Seattle (division of Hewlett-Packard) designed the AEDs for use by paramedics and for situations when a plane is in-flight. These companies widened the scope, making these devices accessible to the public. The Food and Drug Administration approves AEDs for home use. They are easy to understand and use, perform self-checkups and have protective failsafes.

The company websites give instructions on what to do if someone suddenly passes out and stops breathing.

· Have someone call 911 or local emergency access number.
· Check airway.
· Check breathing.
· Check pulse.

Only at this point would you use the portable, lightweight defibrillator the size of a laptop computer, and weighing between four to seven pounds. When open, there are clear readable instructions with icons as to where to place the two electrodes. A voice command guides the user.

Though each AED is slightly different, the process is similar for all. Once the responder places the two electrodes on the patient’s chest the AED uses an electrocardiogram (displayed on some models) to check for pulse. If there is a pulse the person may be suffering a stroke or from some other health problem and it will not advise a shock. (It is unclear at this point if the shock button would work if someone pressed it inadvertently.) If it detects no pulse it instructs the responder to stand clear of the victim and to push the button. The AED releases a charge into the patient’s chest. If there is still no pulse the AED will charge and repeat the shock with verbal instructions each time.

Researchers found that the cause of failure for many of the larger older defibrillators was improper testing and maintenance of batteries. The new defibrillators come in their own sturdy plastic cases, some with spaces for spare batteries. The lithium batteries hold a charge longer than other types of batteries. The AED performs a daily self-test checking the charge and if the batteries are low it indicates the need for replacement. In most AEDs, even when the batteries are low, there is usually enough energy to deliver five to nine shocks.

The self-checking program requires smart technology that consists of a memory chip. As well, the AEDs use biphasic wave technology though monophasic is available in some brands. Biphasic technology is the use of optimal current each time a shock is discharged. The electrical wave reverses direction part way through and delivers the right charge. There is an impedance variable caused by the difference in size and weight of people. This impedance is checked and analyzed by the two-way current. Results with the biphasic wave technology (as in Physio-Control’s LifePak 500) showed a 100% success rate on the first shock.

An AED on Every Corner

A nearly foolproof, portable defibrillator makes it easy for anybody to use one. Researcher Dr. Gust H. Bardy, at the University of Seattle, and his team instructed fifteen sixth-graders for about one minute on using the defibrillators. “On average, the researchers found, the children completed defibrillation in 90 seconds, compared with the professionals’ (paramedics) time of 67 seconds. Furthermore, all of the children properly placed the device’s pads on the chest and remained ‘clear’ of the mannequin as the shock was delivered…” (Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association 10/18/99) The American Heart Association recommends that everyone should first be trained on how to use a defibrillator.

Already many airlines have been carrying the AEDs, as well as resorts, casinos, and cruise ships. Advocates of the AED hope that it will be as accessible as fire extinguishers, available in gyms, shopping malls, sports arenas, theaters, seniors’ homes, restaurants and even in the homes of people diagnosed with heart disease. The defibrillators run between $2500-$4000 USD and still require a doctor’s signature to own, yet people as well as companies like FORD are buying them.

Some critics believe it is dangerous to put an AED into the hands of an untrained person who may forego calling a trained paramedic after the shock is administered. Others see it as infringing on the duties of police or firemen who already have other responsibilities. Yet, in many states police cars have been issued AEDs. In Rochester, Maine “survival after cardiac arrest jumped to 50 percent from 20 percent” after squad cars were issued AEDs (New York Times 04/15/99) Yet early studies (from 1998) in other states showed a negligible increase in survival.

Initially there was reluctance by police, airline attendants or even employees of large companies to use the portable defibrillators. Concern over machine malfunction or using an AED correctly led ultimately to concerns of who would be found liable. Some insurance agencies would not cover liability for such devices, and some airlines and companies did not want to carry them.

Thirty-one states have now passed limited Good Samaritan clauses for use of AEDs by laypersons. Airlines such as Lufthansa and United have been sued for not supplying timely medical care to victims of sudden cardiac arrest. “Two weeks after it was sued, United announced plans to place defibrillators on its planes. Other airlines followed suit.” (Gannett News Service 03/10/98). American Airlines has instituted the Golden Heart Club for those people whose lives have been saved on the airline, and those attendants and people who have used the devices to help them. (The Dallas Morning News 07/24/99)

Further lobbying continues for use of the portable automatic defibrillator. There are those that argue that to place so many portable defibrillators in every public access facility would be cost prohibitive. Many AEDs would never be used. Yet, fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems are required and fires do not happen in every building. Because an AED can also monitor heart signals and determine that a person is not having a cardiac arrest, they have saved money for airlines that are required to divert their paths when a cardiac arrest occurs.

When a portable defibrillator saves lives it will go beyond the naming of a price. Attitudes are changing with the ease of using an AED. It is now possible for even a child to be able to save someone from cardiac arrest: the number one killer of North Americans.

Automatic External Defibrillators: Medtronic Physio-Control LifePak 500 (there me other ones now and they are more common but you’ll need to Google to find them)

For more information:
Physio-Control http://www.physiocontrol.com
American Heart Association: Sudden Cardiac Death
http://www.amhrt.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3053

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Weird Pets

rabbit, bunny, pets, Dutch rabbit, animals

Dutch Rabbit Wiki Commons

The other day we got talking about the weirdness of some pets. I have a friend whose cat will eat any flowers she brings into the house. One of my cats loved bread and would eat a whole loaf if he could. Another friend had a cat that loved fruit. It’s known that cats will eat corn, olives and melon. What appeals to their taste buds, I don’t know. But other animals can have just as many odd habits.

I grew up in a household that had dog, cats, rabbit, budgie and guppies (a turtle at one point too). My particular pet was the rabbits. I had several successive Dutch rabbits. They remain small with (the most common colors of) grey or black hindquarters, white upper torso and black ears with whtie on the face. The paws, including the hind ones will usually be white. Kind of the same as the tuxedo cats.

In Calgary we kept the rabbit in a hutch outside. It had free run of the fenced yard during the day and when weather was really cold, we’d bring it in though it probably would have been find in its hay. Rabbits are easy to train to use the litter box and are fairly calm though if they’re startled the sharp digging claws that they sport can do some damage.

I think I had three rabbits in all but maybe it was only two. I remember Snuffy and then the male. My mother named him after the Minister of Highways because they were both odd. I didn’t know what she meant at the time but now might hazard a guess.

Gordon Taylor was a bit different for a rabbit. Rabbits are naturally timid, but Gordon had to stand up to his own with two cats and a German Shepherd. In the summer I’d see one of the cats chasing the rabbit around the yard and whereas this might give concern to some, we soon learned not to worry because the next few seconds would see Gordon chasing the cat around the yard.

It could be that the cat was running in terror because Gordon, true to his species, was a very amorous bunny. I don’t know if he ever tried to hump the cats but we have pictures of him hanging on the Shepherd’s tail (all that he could reach) and trying to make mad passionate love to it. The dog pretty much rolled its eyes and ignored him.

Gordon’s odd penchants ran to food too. As I teenager I would sometimes eat a raw wiener (why on God’s green earth, I don’t know) and one day I was doing this and holding Gordon. He leaned over and took a giant chomp out of the wiener. I stood looking down at him in shock, saying, You’re not supposed to do that. You’re a vegetarian.  Not only did he swallow that piece but he took another bite.

Gordon also was very fond of chocolate. We had to put him in a kennel once when we went away. I greeted him with a chocolate bar, which he nearly swallowed whole. I didn’t know then that chocolate isn’t good for animals, especially dogs, but if it did Gordon any harm, he never showed it.

Being a cocky little rabbit with a big dog attitude, Gordon also loved to race around the yard. Sometimes he’d kick up his hind feet and squirt. I don’t know what this signified but he did it to me once. I was so mad I picked him up and dunked him in a tub of cold water. He never did it again.

Gordon died mysteriously, his neck broken. We don’t know if a dog got into the yard (ours would have said something) or if he hit the fence. He wasn’t savaged and his skin was unbroken.

I stopped having rabbits for pets after the last one died, a little female, in a way so gruesome I still shudder (and won’t relate here). But after that I said no more. Rabbits rarely died natural deaths and it was too much. Still they were gentle and interesting pets and definitely had their individual personalities and predilections, like Gordon Taylor. He gets to go down in history as one of the quirkiest pets I had.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_rabbit

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Weather and Commonality

My neighbor's Victorian painted colors are the only ones that show up in snow on snow.

My neighbor's Victorian painted colors are the only ones that show up in snow on snow.

It is alas, snowing again in Vancouver. I’m supposed to go to a friend’s for Boxing Day but may very well not make it out.

What I have noticed over this last week of weather, snowy, slushy, slippery, trudging weather, is that people have opened up. Where normally we walk down the streets minding our own business, not making eye contact or glancing briefly and away, that has changed.

I’ve passed people shovelling and shovelling and shovelling their walks. A few of us have popped out with our cameras to take pictures of the record breaking views. I’ve followed behind people stepping into foot-deep slush and water puddles, squeaking and shrieking as we slip and the wet seeps through our boots to later freeze our feet.

We’re clumsy, we’re beleaguered by snow and stuck cars, we laugh at our silliness, because we can’t curse and grumble the whole time. People have looked at each other and smiled in commiseration. In the long pre-Christmas holiday line-up I started talking with the woman behind me about how we both almost got rid of our old boots this year. And she said she was originally from New York but wants to get her maple leaf in Newfoundland (when she applies for citizenship). I was wearing my cat hat (with ears) because it’s the warmest I have. Another woman commented on that and how it seemed to suit me.

Me in cat hat on my very snow street.

Me in cat hat on my very snowy street.

In our conversation about weather the second woman said she worked for the government and they’re staging all sorts of disaster scenarios to prepare for the 2010 Olympics. We were making comments about how bad it’s gone at the airport this year. On Dec. 24th Air Canada cancelled all of its short and medium haul flights (my friends going on West Jet were luckier), and Greyhound cancelled all buses in and out of the Lower Mainland due to road conditions.

We thank the bus drivers for stopping over the three-foot banks of snow in front of the bus stops and smile at the people shovelling to ease our way. One thing the adverse weather is doing is making people much more friendly. We have a certain commonality in weather and in dealing with it. Even Christmas does not have that commonality because we come from different backgrounds and beliefs, have had good or bad Christmases.

But snow and more snow and dealing with it in a city where we don’ t normally have to, has given all of us something we can talk about, safely and freely. If it wasn’t for all the other unsavory aspects of bad weather I’d almost welcome it for the aspects of bringing out camaraderie in everyone. I have actually really liked this side effect of weather.

Photos are courtesy of my neighbor Rob.

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Holiday Memories: The Good Ones

I grew up in a fairly dysfunctional family. Every Christmas usually involved one huge fight between my mother and father and my mother carting us off to a movie or for Chinese food or to a friend’s. When my father was gone, the fights still continued but they were transferred to us. My mother usually threatened to not get a Christmas tree or something else.

Every year my mother put us to polishing the silver and brass, stripping the linoleum floors (all of them) with ammonia and wax and polishing them. The floor waxing was a little draconian but I didn’t mind the polishing of rows on rows of collector spoons, the silver dinnerware only used at Christmas, New Years and Thanksgiving, and the myriad other metal items. My younger brother devised a form of electrolysis to dip the things in and clean them; any thing to get out of the work.

But those are not the good memories. We always baked: sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, butter tarts, fruitcake and sundry other types. My mother had this giant ceramic crock, about 18 inches high in which she would pour the molasses, sugar, dried chopped fruit and cherries in dayglow, not made by nature, colors, the currents and almonds and whatever else goes into the fruitcake. We would stir with long wooden spoons as this was far too much for any set of beaters.

There were three graduated square pans and three round with the punch-out bottoms. In would go the brown and sweet batter (yummier that way than cooked). Once they were baked my mother would wrap them in cotton tea towels soaked in brandy, then she’d sprinkle them with more brandy, put in a slice of apple, wrap them in wax paper and store them in the crock. There was enough for a year or more. I never cared for fruit cake because I don’t like dessicated fruit.

The best part was the tree. It was usually 10-12 feet tall and went right to the roof. We had a little plastic angel (about 8″) with a light inside of her. Her best pale feature was the silken white angel hair, probably made from fiberglass for all I know but it was real. On would go the angel and the lights first, carefully strung by my older brother (or father at one point) with the bubble light set in the right spots after, and the weird little round snowball lights.

Then would come the placing of the balls, the many balls and ornaments–two large boxes about three feet high and 18 square inches wide, stacked to the top with balls. Even as a child some of those ornaments were venerable and I wasn’t allowed to place them until I grew a bit older. There was the silver smoking pipe and the violin, the trumpets and other horns that you could blow into and they’d honk…for the first while anyways, until the cheap noisemaker bust.

There were the glass birds, peacocks and swans and others with long fake, stiff fiberglass tails, which clipped on the branches. There were the balls with their indented crinkled interiors that gathered light and threw it back throughout the tree. These were often round or stretched like double-ended teardrops. There were a few hand painted balls. There were the teakettles and coffee pots, the old style hurricane lamps that always had a place nearer the top of the tree because of their delicate and venerated stature.

Then there was my ball. As long as I remembered it, it already had a hole in it, in one of those indentations. Some times my siblings would tease me that it had broken because I insisted on putting it in its special place every year. It was unique in shape and color. The top was like a ball with two (maybe three) indentations. It may have had a slim stemlike neck that was very short and then a slight dome that slid into a slow growing bell shape. The bottom gently curved the other way (convex) and joined up with a little nub hanging down. I believe the bottom was  silvery pink matching the painted flower on the side. The rest was a deep teal (I loved turquoise even then). In retrospect it resembled a glass bell about six inches long.

I loved that ball. It summed up in ways I can’t really describe, all the good things of Christmas; my family being together and happy (when they weren’t squabbling), gift giving, cooking and decorating the tree, and possibly having a few people over. The last parts to trimming that tree were adding the glass garlands; balls and bells, and the tinsel. We draped tinsel carefully over every single branch so that it shimmered and danced. We stopped putting it on the bottom branches because the cats kept eating it and it wasn’t a pretty sight at the other end. The lights bubbled, a few blinked but most shone a steady blue, red, yellow and green, carefully arranged so that the colors didn’t clump.

My mother pretty much stopped with a tree as the family went its own way, not always amiably, and she gave me many of the ornaments that she still had. One year, when I was out visiting I asked her, “Hey, where’s my ball?” I hadn’t asked in years or seen it but she knew exactly which one it was. She said, “Oh, it broke years ago.”

I was devastated. It was like that fragile glass had held all the good aspects of love, and Christmas and generosity. Like those emotions, like our relationships, it was something to be cherished, to handle gently, to respect. It was delicate and beautiful. I felt such a hollow and sorrow within me that I hadn’t even realized what it had meant to me.

This year I didn’t put up a tree, but I have several special ornaments and I recently found a ball with as unique a shape, very individual. Perhaps I didn’t do the tree this year because it’s been a tough year and I want the memories going into those ornaments to be good ones. Perhaps it’s a breather and remembering my friend Bear who died last year on Dec. 18th. I’ll have memories of all these things to hold close.

May your Christmas, or Hannukah, or Solstice or Kwanzaa, when they fall, bring you joy, warmth, friendship, love and family. And most of all may they give you good memories to hold close and cherish.

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Pope Benedict, Shake Your Head

When is the Catholic church going to pull its head out of the Dark Ages where it first firmly entrenched itself and burned/destroyed any symbols, artifacts and writings of other beliefs (hence bringing on the “Dark Ages”)? I’ve always wondered about any religion that freezes in time. Not that the Catholic church is the only one but wearing the frocks and habits of fashionable dress from the 11th and 12th centuries gets a little…old.

Besides traditions stuck in the past, so is Benedict’s and the Church’s beliefs: “Homosexual acts are a ‘destruction of God’s work,’ he said.” (CBC  http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/12/23/pope-speech.html )  The article is a little vague in connecting his comments to anti-homosexual statements. The Vatican site doesn’t list it yet in English but someone posted the rest. Here is a significant part that talks in roundabout terms of men and women as the only natural way of relationships: “It is necessary to have something like an ecology of man, understood in the right sense. It is not outdated metaphysics when the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this natural order be respected.” 

The Church has always said go forth and multiply. It’s part of the reason we have overcrowding and poverty, and consequently more disease. If we had statistics that went back centuries I’m betting that they would show that homosexuality rises with overpopulation: perhaps Ma Nature’s way to control population growth besides disease. I know I once read about a study with rats that showed they moved to homosexuality when overcrowded. I’m not sure what the other factors were, if there were equal numbers in genders but it would be an interesting aspect of the Gaia hypothesis.

Pierre Trudeau (past Prime Minister of Canada) once said, “There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.” Likewise there is no place for the Church. It really is no one’s business and if they actually decided that the soul was jeopardized and unsalvageable (if it commits homosexual acts), then there would be no reason to rally against it.

I mean really, there is no need for every human being to keep multiplying. Condoms are okay. Homosexuality is okay. They help control the population. More people do not necessarily equal Christian converts and the Church just doesn’t seem to get that its outmoded view is alienating more people than it’s bringing into its folds. Granted the Vatican is still one of the riches entities in the world, but that could subside (maybe they have secret stocks in condom manufacturers).

I do believe that Benedict on one level thinks he’s trying to save souls and that he sees homosexuality as a “disorder” that harms the spirit and will keep that person from getting into heaven. However, as Cardinal Ratzinger, he wrote a very long letter to the Bishops on care of homosexual persons in 1986. It’s very long, it goes into great detail on spirit and will and culpability. He is so concerned in fact that I think “he doth protesteth too much.”

We’ll never know but can only conjecture. But I wouldn’t doubt if Ratzinger joined the Church to avoid that holy union of man and woman, which God sees as natural. Odd that, how the Catholic church says it is what God wants but won’t let its priests and nuns marry or have sex. Hmmm. Ratzinger, then in trying to lead a pious and holy life devoid of all sex, including deviant, disordered sex, had to resist  his own inclinations and if he can do it, then anyone can and he can save those poor homosexual persons, because he saved himself.

That may only be a tale but I would like to think that perhaps that’s what the Pope believes. He does caution in 1986 against acts of violence on homosexuals but he certainly is vehemently against it.

Still, I wonder about the Church’s view and railing against homosexuality when there are worse crimes. There is murder and burglary and rape and other violence. Oh and there is pedophilia, perpetrated so often by the Catholic Church’s priests that they’ve been forced to make some apologies. Doesn’t Jesus say something like, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

I’d suggest that the Pope check his glass walls before he starts tossing stones on gay people. Excerpts below, from Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons” http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19861001_homosexual-persons_en.html

 However, the Catholic moral viewpoint is founded on human reason illumined by faith and is consciously motivated by the desire to do the will of God our Father. The Church is thus in a position to learn from scientific discovery but also to transcend the horizons of science and to be confident that her more global vision does greater justice to the rich reality of the human person in his spiritual and physical dimensions, created by God and heir, by grace, to eternal life…

Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder…

The Church can never be so callous. It is true that her clear position cannot be revised by pressure from civil legislation or the trend of the moment. But she is really concerned about the many who are not represented by the pro-homosexual movement and about those who may have been tempted to believe its deceitful propaganda. She is also aware that the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to, or as acceptable as, the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct impact on society’s understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy.

10. It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action….

Given at Rome, 1 October 1986.

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Let it Snow, Oh No, No No!

Okay I’m not yet  done whining about winter, or describing snow. This is seriously the biggest long term dump of the white stuff in a very long time. Many years ago we had a blizzard on Dec. 23rd. I was going to Tacoma for Christmas but on the 24th I couldn’t get my Honda Civic out of the parking spot. The snow was up to the tops of the doors. I did go, catching a taxi and then the Greyhound over the border (an experience I never want to repeat because customs officials treat you like a street person if you take the bus).

Last year, we had several small snowfalls, that melted in between, and then froze, making the streets look deceptively clean but with the thinnest sheet of ice that denied traction. And it was cold. This year, a week of freezing temperatures with snow and then Saturday and Sunday’s big dump has made this more unusual. Yesterday it continued to snow steadily, and for most of the day it really was like someone shaking a big sugar shaker as the snow fell straight down. No wind whatsoever.

My landlord shoveled the walks twice and this morning there was another four inches of snow. It was snowing when I awoke, or maybe raining as it was very light. My back patio is snowed in and everything carries large caps of the white stuff. My round patio table looks like a giant cake with white frosting.

I have a little tuxedo cat named Venus. She loves her territory and hisses fiercely at most interlopers. She also tends to like the comforts of home more than the outdoors ( a direct opposite to the late great Figment who loved his outdoors and would have been out  exploring in the snow.) Yesterday, I picked Venus up and put her out the door, under the eaves where there was still some loose dirt. She does tend to like the great outdoors for doing kitty business. But no way. Since the snow and cold last week her fuzzy butt has not touched the ground.

All the lines and tree lims now have about two inches of snow sitting on them. When it starts to thaw (and I did here dripping from the eaves this morning) it will be really messing with big snow splats falling on our heads.

Yesterday the snow was still dry and powdery and the sky a silvery white. Today, blue is peeking through the clouds and the temperature is near zero. So that means everything is getting mushy. My car is pretty much buried in the ruts of the side streets with a good six inches or more sitting atop it.

So I took the bus but I had to walk along sidewalks thick with the overnight snowfall (on all walks) then up past the schoolyard and through the school parking lot. You can guess none of this has ever been shoveled. I was lucky enough to find a few tire ruts to walk in which made it slightly less tiresome. But I was panting and my legs hurting from walking on the sliding snow. It’s softening up and underneath those inches of gray brown sludge is still a lovely layer of ice. I was sweating by the time I got to the Drive.

The double length buses going south on Commercial got stuck. The back end would slide and pull backwards. Finally one bus made it to the stop. We trudged out through the muck because he couldn’t get close to the curb buried somewhere under the snow. We all sat at the back because the driver needed some traction. It sure is white here in Vancouver today. The streets are mushy and you have to dodge cars shooting past and sling the slime at you.

And why do people get this stupid grin on their faces and say, Looks like we might have a white Christmas after all. As if it’s special. As if it’s romantic. Some dumb song or two talking about snow in nostalgic terms does not make it better. Go backt to the mountains, evil snow, go. Go now. (Oh wait, BC is almost all mountains…sigh.)

But it’s warmer, though we’re still getting snow this week. Snow in our rainforest. Evil snow, herald of doom and darkness in all those fantasy novels. Come to think of it, Mordor might be welcome right now, for warmth if nothing else.

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Freakin’ Winter Wonderland Update

On Friday night I decided to completely close my bedroom window. It tends to be the warmest room in the house and although I like my climes warm I like to sleep slightly cool. So I usually have my window open a crack throughout the year. It got frikkin freezing enough on Friday that I closed it.

Or tried to. But the wood is warped with the cold. All that west coast moisture that seeps into everything has now expanded as it turned to ice and I could only, mostly, close the window. Likewise, I could only partly open the door under our front stairs where the garbage is stored. Luckily it was enough to get my head and arm in to toss the offending scraps.

This morning (Saturday though technically it’s 12:10 am) I washed my face and put clothes in the washer. All good, but when I went to rinse dishes in the kitchen there was no hot water. Not just water that’s gone cold but no water period, though I had the cold water well enough. My earlier fear of pipes freezing had come true.

My landlord and I put a heater in the cupboard and I walked up to the drive to meet a client and do some shopping. I now have a new appreciation for what it was like living on the farm in the 1900s and having to pile wood on the stove. You’d wear tights and socks and shirts and sweaters, and shawls, piling layer on layer to just keep warm. No care to how weirdly street person like you look.

If I’d been a guy, by the end of my walk today I would have been a woman because the proverbial brass balls had fallen off the monkey. I walked so quickly (uphill) to the Drive that I sweated and pulled off my cat paw mitts, unbuttoned the top button of my melton wool coat and loosened my woven silk scarf. I kept my hat on my head but when I met my client I took off my coat, unbuttoned the sweater and took off the hat.

By the end of the meeting, before we had even left I was putting on my hat, then buttoning my sweater, then putting on my coat. The sweat had cooled on my body by the time I walked to the bank, then to the post office. Not too bad…bearable if not freezing. But then I walked down to the market, carrying the parcel and the two bottles of wine from the liquor store (it may be an economic downturn but you can’t tell from the empty shelves in the store…or maybe you can). I bought veggies and began the trek home. Two blocks and my right foot was completely numb with cold.

Not to mention I’d been cold in the liquour store and never warmed up. I stopped in the chocolate store, partially to thaw. My foot was hurting by then. But I didn’t mind the wait in the store. I depopsiclized. I got home and it was positively balmy in comparison. And hooray, the water was working again.

Tonight I drove to a friend’s yule party in New West. Fine weather but freakin’ freezing. I left at 8:30 to go to a party in Kits and it had warmed up enought to not need mitts in the car. I picked up my friends along the way and we were there by about 9:15. Just as it began to snow. That’s snow on top of snow and ice, with below freezing temperatures, that we’ve had for a week, in Vancouver. Where it never or just barely every snows!

Guess what? Coldest day ever! in one hundred years! That means since they start recording temperatures and I guess hell has frozen over because this sure feels like hell. So now it’s 12:20. I made reasonably good time though all, and I mean ALL the roads are coated with snow. Anyone driving had windows covered with snow because it was falling faster than a heater could melt it. But I made it without incident.

Hunkered down. Grinchly grumpy about the stuff I moved away from Alberta to avoid. Sad that I won’t be making it to my friend’s memorial tomorrow because I won’t be able to get through the snow. But grateful we’re whole and we all made it in one piece and that everyone was driving sanely.

Addendum: It’s Sunday noon, and it’s still snowing! There must be a foot by now and no end in site. I didn’t order this. Waaaaaah!

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Book Review: The Very Bloody Marys

Very Bloody Marys

Very Bloody Marys

I’ve owed M. Christian this review for a very long time and since it’s not timely with the release (2007 by Haworth Positronic Press), then why not a review in time for that holiday shopping list? And a huge mea culpa–I didn’t realize it had been that long. I still owe you.

From the title you might think this is about drinking, or murderous monarchs. If you thought one of these, you’re close to the heart of the matter. But really it’s both, about bloodthirsty vampire queens. Some are not so much queen as just murderous gay vampires. If you’re familiar with M. Christian’s work, you know he’s a prolific writer, and his writing includes erotic tales straight, gay, lesbian, etc. He’s very versatile. So I confess to thinking this book would be about gay vampires with  a lot of erotica thrown in. Though it has sensuous details this is more the tale of a gay vampire trying to gain experience as a detective. It’s a murder mystery with the supernatural thrown in.

While vampire detectives are not necessarily new, a gay vampire detective is. Valentino is thrust into the crime scene on a personal level, since his mentor is missing. And the crime scene: Vespa scooting vampires are killing the folks of San Francisco and risking the outing of all vampires, who tend to live by a code so that they aren’t hunted down. Coupled with mentor Pogue’s disappearance, Valentino has two mysteries to figure out.

The book opens with three different beginnings as Valentino tries on his authorial voice. This sets the tone, and gives this character high twinkiness. Valentino is a flamer, vapid and vain. The character was so irritating and flittythat I nearly put the book down, but his way in the world was intriguing. I think M. Christian might have cut it down a bit but then I realized there is a good reason about a quarter of the way into the book on why Valentino is acting this way. He comes to discover what’s been done to him and his personality deepens as it’s unlayered.

Valentino relies on other supernatural help and Christian’s writing uses some very descriptive phrases. For being an undead guy, Valentino is vibrantly alive and given to over verbosity that doesn’t stop in describing his zombie driver: “One time–big shudder here–I had caught a look at his eyes, two puss-filled boiled-egg eyes staring, unblinking, straight ahead, and didn’t sleep well for a week.” Of course that should be pus-filled not eyes with cats in them, but I blame the publisher for not putting a proofreader on it or maybe they did and missed it. There are very few typos, which is a good thing.

You get a good sense of Valentino’s world as he sees it. “Finally, the Brass Ass of the Great Emancipator (Abraham Lincoln) led me through silverfish heaven to a narrow doorway between the piles…In it was Saul, tarnished silver hair, rainbow sweater unwinding in spots into primary colors, brittle bones showing where unwinding yarn couldn’t hide it, eyes like bleached robin’s eggs, Indian blanket in his lap hiding the bones I knew weren’t just brittle but also didn’t work, and, because of those legs, an ancient wheelchair.”It took me a moment to realize he meant realbones, not bony legs; the visual setting is very concrete.

Much of Valentino’s descriptions go into overdrive, with buckets of adjectives. They hit their height when he’s talking about his lover, Julian. “Oh oh oh Julian Julian Julian–beloved, adored, venerated companion, compadre, mate, playmate, partner, betrothed, idol, best friend, love, lover–oh oh oh Julian Julian Julian…” A bit much? Yes, but then this is the turning point for Valentino.

Events pick up with dire and catastrophic discoveries. I don’t want to give it away but let’s just say the Very Bloody Marys are brutal, relentless, sociopathic, fashion sensitive vampires. As the fog clears from Valentino’s eyes he finds his world isn’t as he suspected. Sure it still has a few supernatural beings but all is not what it seems. He still richly describes things but there is a darker vein now to the vampire detective’s perspective. “The inky blackness didn’t so much as run as steadily walk out of that doorway. A pooling, a billowing, a smoking, and then up and into arms and legs and a wide-brimmed hat pulled down over hooded eyes.”

When  Valentino runs into Ombre, even the supernatural shade notices something has changed though the gay vampire tries to hide it. “It’s just that you seem different somehow. The flippancy is still there, that much is clear, but it’s like something else is missing.”

And Valentino has changed on several levels. In the process of discovering what has happened to Pogue, being threatened with permanent annihilation and in stopping the brutal gang, he earns his wings. He solves the mysteries, stops the Marys and finally grows up a bit after 200 years. M. Christian wraps up the tale in a very satisfying and unpredictable way. It’s one of the many bright spots in the story; very little is predictable. You won’t see this as another tired take on the vampire trope. It’s refreshingly bright and if not a complete happy ending, one with suitable revenge.

If you’re looking for a good, fast paced read, or if you like mystery or fantasy or gay fiction. Or if you just want something different and new, this book will be as satisfying as a vampire’s first drink of blood.

The Very Bloody Marys, M. Christian, 2007 Haworth Press Inc. ISBN: 9781560235354

M. Christian’s site: http://zobop.blogspot.com/

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The Idiocy of Winter Driving

Inevitably there is always someone (or more than one) who decides they’re outside the laws of nature when it comes to driving, and driving in winter. Really I should call this Sex and the Idiocy of Winter Driving and it will get more hits but I just can’t work sex into this…in most cases, and really I don’t want to know.

As I ranted yesterday, Vancouver doesn’t handle real winter well. We’re just not used to it. Not that the first snowfall doesn’t cause havoc in the rest of the country, and it often does but I can observe first hand the idiotic behavior here.

So yesterday, snow falling, roads sanded and salted but still icy and city trucks not keeping up everywhere or on the Number 1 Highway. There were accidents, there were lights out at intersections. There were many of us who opted for SkyTrain and bus. I did because even if I was cautious I didn’t want to deal with those who might not be and the traffic snarls. I’m glad I didn’t drive after I heard about the accidents. There were at least two deaths. I don’t know the details.

But as I was waiting for the bus last night, having stayed late at work to hopefully avoid delays (I didn’t) this is what I saw on the slushy, still slippery road: people booting it through the lights. Revving up on slippery snow and ice is bound to get you spinning your tires and going nowhere, or worse, sliding out of control. People running red lights. This is par for the course in Vancouver and dangerous at any time but more so when you have less control on the road. People dialing and talking on their cell phones, driving with one hand. Why am I surprised? People always think they can divide their attention between driving and smoking and talking on the phone and drinking coffee, sometimes all at once.

Sure, some of these drivers might just be from the Interior or Alberta or Ontario where snow and ice are a factor of winter. But reckless and unsafe driving negates the fact that they know how to drive in winter. If they’re driving like that, they’re not aware. Then there are all those who may not know, who incorrectly judge how fast they can stop, how slow they should turn a corner. My biggest fear in taking the bus was standing on the street and watching some vehicle spin out of control and into me.

Today I drove, deciding to take my time. That meant brushing all the snow off my car, including my lights and the roof so that it didn’t blind someone driving behind me. That also meant pulling slowly out of my parking spot, driving carefully down the ice and snow packed street, coasting gradually to a stop at the corner and signalling well in advance. The main roads were pretty good and overall, on the city streets, people were driving reasonably, not too fast and too close.

On the highway, traffic was lighter than usual and moving well. The speed limit is 90 km and we were moving at speed or 100 km. That wasn’t enough for one guy who decided to pull suddenly into the HOV lane, roar along at something like 130 km and cut back in front of a car without signalling. Obviously the recent news of a family losing two of their young boys in an accident when a single occupant driver drove into their van in the multi occupant lane did nothing to deter this guy. That driver was charged and a second driver (also single occupant who hit the other one after it hit the van) will likely be charged as well.

I shake my head and wonder who else will be a statistic because they thought they were immune. Like the stupid teenager last night, who arrogantly kept walking closer and closer to the cars driving by (while waiting for the light to change). He made one taxi come to a stop in the middle of the intersection on slippery snow. That kid will pull his tricks of power until he becomes a statistic or loses a friend. I wanted to smack him and muttered, “There’s someone who deserves to be hit. ” I got a look from one pedestrian, but really, if you’re going to court disaster, don’t be surprised when it takes you up on the offer.

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