Tag Archives: death

Who Watches the Watchmen: Police Investigating Themselves

Canada’s police have been going through the ringer lately and rightfully so. We have both civic police and the RCMP. In some cities and jurisdictions the RCMP are the only police force where there is no other policing body. They are spawned from Canada’s oldest police unit, the NorthWest Mounted Police (NWMP). They began with the fur trade, the frontier and the Gold Rush. There are romantic images of Mounties on their horses, dressed in the traditional red serge uniform with the brown stetson hat. They were considered noble and strong, and the Mounties “always get their man” was a tagline for years.

Now, a cumulation of mismanagement, inferior training, bad judgment calls and arrogance have come back to smack the force in the face. Their reputation has deteriorated so much in recent years that they are becoming a laughing stock. It didn’t help that they sold the copyright to their image to Disney. Yes, perhaps Mickey Mouse could do better in red serge.

What has lead to this now lamentable record and public scorn? There are several very public cases, the most notorious, that of Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death at the Vancouver airport by four RCMP officers. Dziekanski’s biggest fault: he didn’t speak English and was confused from hours of being lost in the airport with inept handling from airport staff. And he picked up a desk stapler. The ensuing inquiry that wrapped up recently showed a farce of statements by the supposedly well-trained Mounties who should be able to resolve many situations with communication and not escalated violence.

Besides statements that contradicted the video footage (and without it Dziekanski would be dead and we would never have come close to the truth) the big, strong and supposedly fit officers feared for their lives and that of their fellow officers, because Dziekanski picked up a desk stapler. As I’ve said before, if these guys get scared so easily then they have no right being a police officer. And this statement, them fearing for their lives, is a crucial phrase that probably every RCMP officer ever investigated for a death at their hand has uttered.

Other notable cases were that of Kevin St. Arnaud, shot dead after being chased through a field and surrendering. The officer, a rookie, said St. Arnaud looked threatening and was overtop of him where he fell, when he fired. Witnesses (including 24-year veteran officer) and forensic evidence indicated the officer was standing and five meters away when he fired, and that St. Arnaud had raised his hands in surrender. The outcome: the officer was not found to have committed any wrongdoing.

The other case was Ian Bush, shot in the back of the head while in police detention. Again, it took place in northern BC and a rooky copy said it was self-defense because he was being choked. Yet Bush was shot in the back of the head, not the side or front. Forensic evidence and character witnesses didn’t match up to what happened. Yet again, the officer feared for his life.

These are just three cases that took place in BC, and rookie cops were involved in two of them But in all three a man died and the officers feared for their lives in questionable circumstances. And in all three, charges were not laid, though the Dziekanski case could still see charges brought against the officers because of its high publicity if nothing else. And in all three cases the police investigated their own.

There have been outcries of biased investigation, which the RCMP adamantly deny. Of course they would but the evidence stacks against them. Questionable outcomes, officers never found in the wrong and a system that perpetuates itself in negligence and inefficient training have knocked the RCMP down to little better than some criminals. Still, this is not the majority of officers, but bad and very notorious publicity hurts their image as a whole.

Some areas in Alberta use retired police officers to investigate deaths involving officers but even so, there is still the possibility of the police protecting their own and staying loyal to an ethic that has been passed down through the years. Having different officers from other regions investigate an event has the same problem. Sometimes junior officers have investigated senior officers, where inexperience will lend itself to abuse or misjudgment.

The recently completed report on RCMP self-investigation recommends “that serious cases involving sexual assault, death or serious injury cases should, in some cases, be turned over to outside investigators to ensure independence.” Absolutely. And though the RCMP are balking at some of these recommendations, there shouldn’t be a problem if an investigative body was set up. These situations are still relatively rare and no matter where a death or sexual assault happened in the province investigators could fly there within two hours.

It will be extremely rare where there could be two cases at once. The RCMP should welcome a nopartial investigation. As well, as I’ve said before they need to look at themselves and their training all over again. New drivers in BC have to display an “N” for a year or two and have certain restrictions. Perhaps rookies in the RCMP should have the same and not be allowed out on their own or maybe even carry a gun until they know how to handle themselves. (Ireland actually runs with no police officers carrying guns.) And some retraining in nonagressive means needs to be carried out. A friend who was once a police officer said that officers are not given much training in martial arts or even negotiation, which means they’ll often go for weapons before negotiation.

I hope the RCMP will see this as a way to buff up their now very tarnished image (especially in BC) and accept the recommendations gracefully. I hope they’ll look at retraining and extended training in peaceful negotiations and in disarming someone without escalating violence. And I hope they will be able to live up to the former image of being Canada’s finest and noble security force.

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Society and Death

We have moved into a period in this culture where death is not part of life, nor the every day. Although death continues to happen to young and old, ill and hale, through accidents, disease and murder, still we talk about it in an all-encompassing way but ignore it in the intimate of the every day.

There may be somebody who will say death is not part of life and for the person who dies, life indeed is no more part of them. But for those who know someone who has died, death is very much part of their lives. It used to be that in small communities, such as mining or fishing towns, when someone died they were laid out upon the table in the family home. A table is where people break bread, eat of the earth, communicate and come together, and it is a place big enough to lay a body. Where it will be cleaned and dressed by family members. A place where a person lays in state for people to pay their last respects before being taken to the church and then buried. Funeral parlors weren’t in every small town.

Death now is the last great taboo of the Western world. When someone dies, people have no idea what to say and so say nothing at all. They’re uncomfortable with the concept of death and avoid it like the plague. Veer around the person whose loved one has died, maybe send an innocuous card. A brave soul might say, I’m sorry to hear about your mother/brother/wife.

The griever is expected, after missing a few days of work, to act normal, to show no emotion that may be seen as sad, maudlin, angry, or grief-stricken. Crying is verboten. After all, people will feel edgy and avoid the grieving. So act like it’s life as normal.

The truth is, grief takes time. There is no set limit but it often takes a year to process through a person’s emotions. People who deny their grief and don’t go through the process can actually do physical damage to themselves. The storing up of such emotions, rather than releasing them through a natural process, can also affect the person’s psyche for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that you can’t put off your grieving for too long, that there is a crucial period when the grieving should take place.

And yet our society tries to make everyone a stoic, free from any emotions except those that are uplifting and bright. By doing this, we cauterize ourselves from the full range of what it means to be human, effectively castrated from all but the most superficial feelings. You cannot have joy without experiencing pain. A constant state of euphoria cannot last and becomes the norm on which a person then judges bad or good, happy or sad. What would normally be sad becomes huge trauma and depression, with no end in sight to it.

I believe it is this unhealthy avoidance attitude that society has to death and negative emotions which have caused an increase in drug use, both recreational and with anti-depressants, to handle what once our bodies could do on their own. We have fewer ways to cope naturally and must go to the drugs. Drug addicts cannot find that constant euphoria so they hunt it in the addiction, afraid to face a life that encompasses happiness and pain.

And death–we can’t avoid it. It will happen. I never knew what to say to anyone when their family member or friend died. We don’t hug our coworkers, we don’t pat them on the shoulders. We maintain distance. We don’t wail at funerals and beat our breasts. And yet we should, for in those acts we express the grief that otherwise builds up in us. We have an outlet that lets us return to a healthy mentality faster.

I regret that when my sister-in-law’s parents died (at different times) that I didn’t know what to say and said nothing at all. How callous. How ignorant. It took the death of a friend for me to experience the grieving process and to understand how people can feel, and just how long it can take to think of that person without crying and feeling as if someone has crushed your heart. I began to understand that a person grieving can feel very cut off and alone, and as if no one cares.

It is almost like being shunned, when someone has to grieve. Letting a person or a community grieve publicly, sharing memories, talking about the person who passed can help. It validates the feelings and a person will recover faster from mourning if they are allowed to express themselves. And yes it can take a year or longer. I have only lost friends and that affected me greatly. I can’t imagine the depth of the pain and loneliness that their spouses felt.

We can all change this debilitating trend by not being so scared of death and the process that we pretend doesn’t exist. The TV show Six Feet Under took a black humor look at death, from the death that opened each episode to the dysfunctional and very real lives of the mortician family that dealt with their own issues and the mourners for the dead. It was an adventuresome show because it touched on death in a very real way that we shy away from. And the show was a hit; witty, tender, irreverent, strange and examining some aspects of life we would rather avoid.

Now, when I know someone who has lost a loved one, I try to let them grieve, to make sure they know it’s all right, to help them and to express my condolences so that they don’t feel isolated. It is the best way to make life more meaningful, by acknowledging the death of friends, family and coworkers.

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Canadian SF Giant Dies

Phyllis Gotlieb left the mortal coil on July 14. She is probably not a name known to many in the world of speculative reading yet she was known by many writers. She was a steady writer; though not as prolific like Rob Sawyer or Charles de Lint, she was in her own way a pioneer in the field.

Judith Merril was known as the grandam of science fiction and Phyllis as the mother of Canadian SF. She began writing and publishing when there were fewer writers in the field altogether and very few women. Canada was a pipsqueak next to the US, yet Phyllis was making her mark. She was a founding member of SFWA, and the only Canadian at its time of inception in 1965.

Phyllis began writing when science fiction wasn’t as popular as it is now, but was a fan of the early pulps. She was known for her poetry and during a writing block in the 1950s her husband suggested she write science fiction. She sold her first novel Sunburst in 1964 and the Sunburst award is named after Phyllis’s book.

Phyllis was known for her no-nonsense, wry wit and intelligence. She was an active member of SF Canada and has been quoted as being instrumental in encouraging such young writers in their careers as Robert Sawyer, Cory Doctorow and Sandra Kasturi.

It’s no easy thing to be a writer in a country with a small population, be a woman, and be writing in a field that wasn’t very popular, yet Phyllis was pretty much the first Canadian speculative writer published and continued unabated, publishing her last novel in 2009. Her matter of fact Valentine’s poems to her husband Kelly were often amusing and hilarious. She gave insights that made one think deeper and longer about topics and sometimes cut straight to the chase without the sugary coating.

SF Canada will miss Phyllis greatly, and I’m glad that we had a chance last year to award her with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Her contribution to SF and Canadian writers will be felt for a very long time.

Condolences and memorial messages can be added here: http://www.benjaminsparkmemorialchapel.ca/MemorialBook.aspx?snum=125855&sid=134769

An Interview with Phyllis from Challenging Destiny: http://www.challengingdestiny.com/interviews/gotlieb.htm

CBC’: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/toronto/story/2009/07/15/phyllis-gotlieb.html

The Sunburst Award: http://www.sunburstaward.org/

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The Death of Rock Stars

Untimely deaths in the world of entertainment may not be every day, but they are a little too common, and of course because these people are famous we hear of all the sensational aspects that went along with the death. Looking at three stars of the music world, we have Elvis Presley, John Lennon and Michael Jackson, to name a few but perhaps the most famous deaths.

Elvis made it to 42 and died from complications of obesity and drugs. His life of fame ate at him and like many stars, brought out the hollowness of always being in the spotlight and having money to satisfy every desire but a happy heart. His funeral was big and his grave still gets many fans at Graceland.

John Lennon, didn’t die by his own hand, but was shot down by a nut, at the age of 40 (and Lennon actually said in a interview that day that he would probably be popped off by a loony). I remember when he died and I was incensed that the local paper didn’t even mention it on the front page of the newspaper. But some deaths hit the front pages because they sell newspapers.Because Lennon had moved on from the Beatles to a new phase of his life, his death was big but probably not as big as Elvis’s though they had been contemporaries.

Michael Jackson made it to 50, so did relatively well of the three big stars. He too died from drugs, addiction and who knows what else. His funeral this week was a spectacle with rock and movie stars and the thousands who attended being chosen through a lottery. It was in one sense a big dead concert, with booklets being given out as souvenirs or mementos of his memorial.

Comparing funerals and the splash that any of these men made in death could be difficult. Even Sarah Bernhardt’s death in the 20s held a spectable. Jackson has died in the age of computers and internet, blogging and tweeting. That his death will have hit more media forms than any other big stars death is obvious. This will of course increase his impact on his fans, or the number of people influenced by him. On TV, there must be at least five stations with long, dedicated shows to dissecting Jackson’s life. Not to mention every news hour covered Jackson’s death in detail.

Although stars often do charity and public works, funneling some of the gross amounts of money they make into good deeds, they are not overall big on world impact. That often takes world leaders and the power of their countries behind them to make those changes. But the King of Rock n’ Roll, the King of Pop and the Fab Four were known for their music, for touching the hearts and souls of millions of people. On TV, in movies, on stage, they were more visible, more beautiful and more charismatic than our world leaders.

Is it any wonder then, that we idolize them, place them on pedestals and call them our modern gods? People must place their faith, hopes and dreams on someone. We may not all be famous but we can fantasize of these princes of music and try and dig into evey aspect of their lives. And we can hate them enough to pull them down or shoot them, should they show a flaw or just somehow be what we can’t be.

Michael Jackson, like Elvis and John Lennon, left a huge legacy. It will stay in the hearts and minds of people for a long time. It will be a hundred years or longer before they fade from memory. But other stars will rise and shine and burn brightly for a time, then fade. And amongst those supernovas, there will be millions of other stars, not so bright, but the lives of you and me and those around us who deserve attention and love while alive. The price of fame and fortune was that Elvis and Michael at least, sought drugs and were unhappy. So we, the little stars, should remember this and be happy that we have the ability to be obscure and not always in a spotlight that can singe us to the soul.

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Michael Jackson: Shooting Star

I grew up with Michael Jackson, or his music anyways. But that’s not hard to say for most of us. After all, when a career spans forty-five years, many people can say the same thing.

As the news rolled in, people and media have expressed their shock, that they were stunned. Sadly, I can say I was not. I have said that I expected that Michael would die an early death, like Elvis, than live to a ripe old age. I have called him a shooting star for years, for he is and was exactly that. A shooting star ascends high into the heavens, or so high up that everyone can see that light. But such a bright light eventually comes to an end. As opposed to a star that shines constantly and brightly for eons and then fades out at the end of a long lifetime, a shooting star seems all the brighter for its briefer lifespan, and that it will descend much quicker. The candle burned out long ago, to paraphrase Elton John.

That Michael Jackson was a brilliant musician and stage presence, the greatest pop icon of his time, is obvious by the number of albums he sold and the money he made. It’s irrefutable. That he lived a happy and normal life is arguable. The signs are not so hidden at all that Jackson was a troubled and unhappy individual. Like many of us, I’m sure he had his moments of happiness, but like many of us he was also unhappy with who he was. And he had the money to do something about it.

He was a good looking, handsome black child who grew to adulthood and was still attractive. Looking at those early pictures of Michael, you can see he is still black, his hair curly yet fashionable. Slowly his wide, broad nose, narrowed and narrowed again to the skeletal aberration that it became. I certainly hope that the plastic surgeon who mangled Jackson’s face doesn’t advertise that he did the great Michael Jackson. Of course, Jackson also had surgeries to change the shape of his jaw, his lips, his cheekbones, his eyes until the face does not resemble the earlier Michael Jackson at all. How much plastic surgery is needed for a burn of long ago? Not that much, I would think.

He took to straightening his hair, getting rid of any semblance to the negroid curl. And his skin turned white. It’s said that he suffered from a skin pigmentation problem, vitiligo. On white people this sometimes shows as a darker patch, or a pinker patch of skin. On black people, it shows as white or pinkish skin. This could possibly be true but any person I ever saw who had this condition, where the melanin starts to leave the skin, had it in patches, not an overall and even discoloration. Though it’s possible that he started with this and had a chemical depigmentation performed using monobenzone, to even out the skin tone. He also did not exhibit conditions of albinism, evident by the darkness of his hair and eyes. (The Philipines, as one example, sells many skin lightening soaps.) There are numerous ways listed on the internet on how to lighten your skin tone. Michael Jackson had the money, which gives you the means, to do this to the extreme. Perhaps it started as a pigmentation problem but I believe he went in search of being a white man.

These extreme examples of changing his body indicate how unhappy he was with who he had been born. And proves that money can’t buy you happiness. He was too famous to walk anywhere without being recognized, therefore negating his chances of having normal life experiences. As Michael grew farther away from a normal life (even as a child in a performing family he was more used to spotlight than to family life) it became more unattainable.

Where were the family and friends that could bring him back to center? His family wasn’t a good example as they all lived in the limelight to one degree or another as well. If Michael’s only friends were other stars (as often is the case) then they may have been his yes men, only telling him how wonderful he was, never saying, Michael you’ve gone too far. Or Michael, you’ve got to eat or you’re going to die. But if there were those who tried to balance Michael’s extremes, maybe he just didn’t listen. After all, he was rich and powerful in the music world.

Michael lived in fantasy palaces, with private zoos and was probably happiest when he took his creative genius into the realm of  music where he was an innovator and a leader. I was never that in to pop music but I would argue that there is no better music for teenagers, because pop music is catchy, upbeat and fast enough to engage a young mind. Yet Michael was seen as a god, not as a man. I’m sure he was a romantic icon for enough teens as well.

We have a tendency in our world today to put rock/music stars and movie stars upon pedestals. They are our modern gods. But we (people, the masses) are a fickle lot, that get bored too quickly and demand too much. If our gods slip up, we will pull them down, we ridicule them and we hate them for the fame and money and beauty that we cannot hang onto ourselves. We will pick at their every flaw and as their pedestal crumbles we will hack it to pieces.

And then Michael, the unfathomable recluse who invited children into his palace, was charged with child molestation. Whether true or not, such an accusation is devastating and scarring to the core. It could not do other to a man estranged from a normal life who could only live on the idolization of his fans. Even the supposed three children he had with the rather plain woman (who disappeared from the scene shortly after) were suspect. No matter how a man bleaches himself, or suffers pigmentation problems, they won’t transfer to his children. And black being more dominant than white would show in the features, yet these kids (the few pictures that exist) are more white than anything else, one especially being extremely white.

Michael Jackson’s life had become a circus, the star on its descent. The millionaire who owed millions. When I recently looked at a progression of pictures of Jackson through his life and I saw how thin he was (not just slim, but very thin) I knew he suffered an eating disorder as well. This fits in with someone so desperate to change into someone else. Anorexia starves the body on all sorts of levels. Not enough nutrients to feed the muscles or the organs and then those organs must work harder. Anorexics, unless they try to seek help and recover, often die of heart attacks when the strain on their hearts become too much. It really was inevitable.

Michael Jackson may have had other conditions too; it’s not clear. But one thing that is, is that he was fighting his body his whole life. To be so gifted and die so conflicted. Could most of us ever hope to shine so brightly? Could any of us fear to burn so painfully? I feel sad for his life, that he couldn’t have loved himself more. Michael Jackson joins the other shooting stars, the famous who died suddenly before their flame burned out naturally: Jimmy Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, River Phoenix, Princess Diana, John Lennon and many others.

Reports are saying that he died of a drug overdose or a cocktail of deadly proportions. Not really a surprise. Jackson was reportedly addicted to painkillers (Vicodin, Demerol, etc.)  since the face burning episode. Put on top of that, the numerous surgeries and his anorexia and you have a collapse just waiting to happen. A bit of a star’s standard way out, whether planned or accidental. This shopping list of pharmaceuticals does support my theory of a man disenfranchised and unhappy with the way his life continued to unfold. So he closed the book.

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Book Review: The Word of God

You might think this is a religious book and in a way it is. The Word of God, or Holy Writ Rewritten, by Thomas Disch, (Tachyon Publications, San Francisco, 2008) was written not so much as a refutation to other religions, but, as Disch puts it, to establish himself as a deity. He begins his book discussing that the only way to talk to many religions, especially the fundamental ones, is to argue on their own level and point out that he too is a god and what his religion looks like.

It is witty, scathing, funny, illuminating. In part this is an autobiography of Disch’s life, but as a pastiche, not as a whole. It is part philosophy and condemnation of many conservative religions, especially Christianity. Disch was raised a Catholic and was publicly gay and since this is his “holy writ” it of course talks of religion in many guises quite a bit.

The book is also a collection of some poems and short stories, interspersed to give examples of birth, afterlife, reincarnation and judgment: “The New Me,” “Room Service,” “The Second Coming of the Christ,” “A Man of Mystery” “A Ranch House on the Styx,” “The School for Traitors,” “On the Road” and “Deus Ex Machina” almost all string together (some continuations of the same story) and of course all do touch on religion and the events that came together to create Thomas Disch. He was the illegitimate child of Thomas Mann, the prolific German writer and Nobel prize winner, though you will not find this listed in either Disch’s or Mann’s Wiki entry (and his father is missing altogether in his entry).

Many of these stories have Philip K. Dick in them, as a sort of antiChrist and in hell. It’s hard to tell from this if Disch had always hated Dick (since he wrote a poetic eulogy for Dick, which is in the book) or if he only came to despise Dick’s right-wing, bigoted, perhaps drug-induced opinions later, when Dick reported Disch to the FBI as a subversive. What the outcome of Dick’s confabulations were is unclear.

Thomas Disch was known to the SF community and was nominated numerous times for awards (and won some), but he also wrote a great deal of poetry, criticisms and other works, and had earlier aspirations in architecture. The book starts out in the present, around Christmas of 2005 when he began to write it, and he finishes on February 2nd, his birthday. Disch lived with his long time partner, Charles Naylor who died in 2005. Disch himself suffered from several illnesses and had a string of personal setbacks, besides being depressed by his partner’s death.

He took his life in July, 2008, just months before Word of God was published. It is somewhat ironic to read his words in this book that proclaims his deity and see where he was at and where life took him to. This is not his last book as I believe a posthumous work will be published this year. I enjoyed Word of God and it gave me a new look at Disch, his mind and his life. I had read his works, On Wings of Song and The Priest which was pretty scathing to the Catholic church while at the same time being deftly written enough for you to care for the very corrupt priest.

And if nothing else, I’m very curious as to what went on between Philip K. Dick, a great experimenter of drugs, married five times, and Thomas Disch, an openly gay man, all those years ago. They were both brilliant writers and characters in their own ways. Here’s to the god Disch and his ascension to his own heaven. Word of God, definitely worth a read, informative and entertaining throughout.

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Swine Flu? When Pigs Fly

Okay, that’s a little joke but I think we need to keep a few things in perspective when it comes to the spreading fear of swine flu. Fear is spreading faster than the flu and though it is a serious enough illness, it should be treated with level headedness, not paranoia. Panic can be a demon that brings on an epidemic of hysteria.

If the media had existed in its current form in the 14th century when the Black Plague first reared its deadly head, probably more people would have died from fear, from fear mongering, from ostracization than those already-high numbers. The Black Death killed an estimated 30-60% of Europe’s population, decimating society and economy for many years to come. Some 75 million people are believed to have died from the bubonic plague.

These days, we may not get to those numbers because medical care is better. Yet we might get to higher numbers because there are far more people than Europe in the Middle Ages. And many cities are overcrowded, not to mention that many nations still have poor levels of sanitation and health. An estimated 500,000 people die yearly from seasonal flus. Mexico City has 22 million people but the flu has shown in a few other areas of Mexico as well as in Texas. Still, there are only 7 confirmed deaths by the WHO as of yesterday.

That’s not many yet. In fact, 150 people out of a population of 110 million is a pretty small percentage. However, every death is a rent, a loss of life and grief for loved ones; that should matter. We do have to be cautious but not crazed. People aren’t getting these from pigs, no matter what the name indicates. Eating pork won’t make a difference. However, one thing that humans learned over the centuries that cut down on the spread of disease and infection was that cleanliness makes a difference.

We’ve moved out of the polite era, when everyone was taught manners, coughed and sneezed into handkerchiefs, washed behind their ears and washed their hands because parents instilled it into their kids. We’ve become lackadaisical in this modern, free age, but what you can’t see can indeed hurt you. When it comes to hygiene we must still be diligent.

Here’s the best thing to do to avoid swine flu, any flu or illness in general: wash your hands well, often, and with soap and water. Cover your mouth with your arm or a tissue if you cough. Use tissues for your nose. Wipe down surfaces with disinfectant. If you cough or sneeze, don’t do it on others. Wash your hands often. Don’t kiss pigs.

Usually influenzas hit the very young and the very old. So far, this flu has killed men in the 25-40 (or 50) age range for some reason. Tomorrow I fly to LA. I’m not worried. After all, I’m healthy. I don’t have a compromised immune system or any illness that weakens me. My lungs (the area to worry about most) are very strong. I’m not flying to Mexico. Even all the people that the flu infects each year do not die from it. Planes are very good incubators of infections/colds in general. A closed space with a lot of people. It’s best to be vigilant about hygiene whenever flying.

There have been questions why the mortality rate would be higher in Mexico than elsewhere. If it’s Mexico City, well, there are 22 million people, as I said. When I was in Mexico in the late 80s, the smog was so bad that birds were dropping out of the air and you could taste it. Add that on top of other respiratory problems and a flu that attacks the same area and it’s not surprising that more people may die in Mexico City (and any other overpopulated, polluted city center) than in other cities.

Flu shots have been given for quite a few years now, optional but encouraged for the young and old. I predict we’ll see more people getting flu shots this year in general. However, a viable vaccine for this current flu would take a few months to work out and perfect. If this doesn’t turn pandemic, then it will have abated by then.

Symptoms are similar to other flu symptoms, fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, nausea, possible vomiting and diarrhea, lack of energy and appetite. (More severe cases may deal with respiratory problems and death.) Don’t jump to conclusions if you develop some of these. If you have been to Mexico or in contact with someone who has, watch your symptoms, call  your doctor’s office if you’re worried, or if it is a child or elderly person who is ill. If the fever goes beyond a few degrees or you have trouble breathing, then you will probably want to get checked out. Children and the elderly are always at risk. Eating healthily, drinking plenty of water and getting adequate sleep will keep your immune system strong.

Becoming crazed with fear is a more likely way to get sick than just taking sensible precautions. And when the latest scare is over, continue following good hygenic habits. After all, in many ways we don’t want to go back to, or repeat the Middle Ages.

Update as of 10/15/09: There is an awful lot of hype about this flu and to this date there are fewer people who have died from it than from other flus. However, the high-risk group does seem to be 20-year-olds and early 30s. Each person will have to decide if they need a flu shot or not but as a healthy female, who isn’t pregnant nor in that age group, I’ll forego the shot and take my chances.

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Taser Inquiry–Dziekanski’s Death

The inquiry continues into the Tasering death of Robert Dziekanski, or the conducted energy weapon, as the police call it. One of the RCMP officers testified yesterday to conflicting admissions. Now, if you’ve seen the video the crucial moments are fuzzy, where Dziekanski is actually tasered. But even though he tossed a chair or two he was not in a high fury. You can see he is agitated or scared, by his fast breathing. Then you see there are security guards who don’t seem to be talking to him but keeping him penned in and it looks as if he’s barricading the doors.

What the guards and RCMP probably didn’t know was that he was there for hours and hours. He would have been dehydrated and confused, tired, maybe angry. What the guards did know is that he spoke a foreign language, pretty common for people coming in to an airport. It doesn’t look like anyone tried to communicate with him in his language.

The video shows four RCMP coming in and talking to him. He throws up his hands and walks away. What I thought, was that a taser needs to touch a person’s skin, but it fires dart-like electrodes. At the point that they fire the Taser Dziekanski smashes his fist into his hands and does look a bit combative but he’s just been zapped. Then they hit him again, and he rolls out to the floor, obviously in great pain. You see an officer fire a third time and I don’t know when the other two shots were fired.

Now the officer, Constable Gerry Rundel, testified yesterday saying that Dziekanski resisted and took a combative stance. If I throw my hands into the air, does that mean I’ll now get shot by the police, by Taser or gun? How does this gesture then differ between that of saying “I give up” or “I’m frustrated and can’t communicate” with uh, “Rarrr, I’m coming at you like a man-eating tiger”?

Rundel also said that he feared for his life at one point. Fear? For his life? Let’s see, there were three security guards just standing around before the police came. The four, count em, fourRCMP officers carrying weapons and wearing bullet proof vests somehow couldn’t talk to or restrain one man just standing there at the time. It used to be, before Tasers, that cops were trained on how to restrain a person without causing more damage. But they seem to just fire at him, and five times?

There’s much ado made about the stapler. Not a staple gun, not an industrial, electric staple gun. Just a stapler used for stapling a few papers together. I’ve put one through my finger before and somehow not only lived to talk about it but have borne no scars. But the RCMP who are supposedly trained in methods of restraint and oh, powers of observation, mistake the nasty office stapler as a weapon for which they fear for their lives? All you secretaries and aides of the world unite! Forget the pitchforks and scythes. Grab up those staplers and we will put fear in the hearts of those who oppose us.

If this is the state of our police force, then no wonder gangs are taking over. Sorry, but they’ve becoming pussies if a stapler scares them and if it takes four men armed with Tasers to take down an agitated man. If an officer fears for his life over such an action, then he should not be a police or RCMP officer. And if this is how they’re trained, I too fear for my life should I ever have to encounter the RCMP.

The police chiefs are now out in force today, defending the Taser and saying it saves lives (and it does seem to take a few too). Well,  if we go with the adage, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, then it stands that indeed Tasers don’t kill people, police kill people. I am critical here because there has been far too much abuse by those who are supposed to uphold the law. If their training makes them more fallible than the perpetrator, then they need new training, including how to minimize damage and physically restrain someone. How about some martial arts?

It used to be that a Taser was to be used if there was risk of injury to the individual or others. Serious risk of injury. Use as a last resort before pulling out the gun. But now, everyone better be on their best behavior because the next time you give someone the finger, swear, or turn your back on the RCMP they will Taser you as being combative and resistant. They won’t talk to you, they won’t find other ways to take you down. In fact, if you’re going to jump off a bridge and you turn your back, make sure you really mean to commit suicide because they’ll Taser you on the way down.

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Joe the Pigeon

I’m not sure why I remembered Joe the other day. Maybe it was because of the raucous calls of crows, the saucy toks of ravens and the black murders that fly over every day at dusk. But Joe was a bird of a different color.

Joe was a pigeon, not a stool pigeon but a fellow most fowl. We named him Joe, really not knowing his sex. I mean, really, how do you figure what a bird is, look under their tails? It’s all hidden away anyways.

Joe was a tenacious pigeon who lived in a nest in the eaves of the house next door to my roommate’s and mine. From the kitchen window over our sink we could see the pigeons come and go. Pretty much they were an indistinct lot of cooers, doing what birds do, fluttering into the nest, leaving for work, napping out during the day, making eggs. I’m not sure how many were in that nest but Joe hung around a lot.

So much so that he always seemed to be there, sitting on the wooden strut above the nest and watching, and watching. He watched so much with that beady eye that we began to wonder. In fact, it soon became apparent that Joe hadn’t moved in weeks, which became months. The other pigeons obliviously came and went so Louise and I would carry out their birdbrained conversations, done in a slow deep voice:

“Hey, what’s wrong with Joe?”

“Dunno, maybe he’s mad at us?”

“You think? Maybe he’s depressed?”

“Yeah, he just sits and stares at us.”

“Downright creepy, if you ask me.”

“Hey, Joe! Joe?”

And there Joe sat for most of a year, never moving, protected from rain and snow and wind. It wasn’t until a big guster blew through one day, pushing its icy fingers between the narrow space between two houses. Joe took his final flight that day, literally, now as light as a feather. The wind tossed his body down to the sidewalk where it exploded into dessicated bones and feathers. There was very little to find because it almost instantly vaporized after that length of time.

I did find Joe’s skull, sans beak as it had dropped off too. I kept his skull with other prized bones for quite a while. Until the new kitten found it and thought it a great toy to bat around and chomp on. We remember Joe though for his vigilance, where even in death he watched over the nest.

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Hit and Run, and Gang Killings

A couple were killed walking home on Saturday, by an 18-year-old driver, possibly drinking and speeding, who then tried to run from the scene by leaping into False Creek. (False Creek is indeed false and only a puddle really.) The police dogs tracked him down.

And on the news they talk about how that 18-25 year range of male drivers tend to have the highest accident rate because they take bigger risks. That poor couple don’t get another chance. Their lives are stopped short and early. The driver will. A speaker today said that BC has some of the toughest driving measures for getting a license and it has dropped deaths caused by young drivers by 20%. The accidents have cost the province $1.6 billion dollars.

So here’s one suggestion to get young people from driving like crazy maniacs while drinking. Make public transport more accessible. This is one of my pet peeves. Take some of that $1.6 billion and run the SkyTrain later than 12:30 am on weekends especially. Make it reliable and frequent. Run other buses that will take people from the bars. Taxis are too expensive for almost everyone so TransLink and ICBC and the city should get together and figure out that alternative ways of getting home after being at the bar will save lives and dollars. Make it part of the infrastructure.

For that couple and all the people killed by cars every week, it doesn’t make much difference. Such a waste, because someone wants to speed and show off and be tough or sexy or whatever power they think driving fast imbues. But we can also blame car manufacturers that put out numerous ads equating speed with sex and cool. Zoom zoom zoom. Just look at a billboard or an ad on TV and you know what I’m talking. Since Canada successfully sued the tobacco industry for health costs with cancer, maybe it’s time to sue the car companies for encouraging unsafe driving.

The other half of people dying this week in Greater Vancouver is the six shootings in seven days of various organized crime/gangster members. Brazen shootings in broad daylight in malls. So far, no one innocent (as in, not involved in these gangs) has been hit but that doesn’t negate last year’s rampage of gang shootings where several innocent men were murdered for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I cannot imagine the horror of what they had to endure in those last moments. And of course their families and loved ones will pay the price forever of organized crime.

The only good thing about the shootings it that they’re eliminating themselves but there will always be other scum that rises to the top, the shooter that lives. If I had my way I’d punt them all to the moon without spacesuits. But I don’t, and the police aren’t having as much luck tracking them down.

I’ve said it before; I hate this type of growing up that Vancouver has had to face. Sure, every city has murders but we could still count them under 100. They were crimes of violence and passion but still few and very rare. The gangland shootings are almost doubling our numbers and innocent people are getting hurt. Shootings in malls? I’d like us to go back to the little granola city where the pace is slow and we have more restaurants than days in the year.

I’ll happily sign any petition that gets rid of these guys. It’s never good news if organized crime is involved. Police are asking people to deny service to known gang members. Not a bad idea. Like days of old, a tribe would ostracize a member who committed a terrible crime, ignoring them like they didn’t exist. These outcasts usually moved on or died of loneliness.

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