Log Cabin Chronicles Letters to the Editor page

Messages to the editor

(Be sure to scroll down to see all letters)


Posted 07.06.14

LCC Columnist Frank Berheisel, in just four sentences, has brilliantly summed up this latest decision by the Supreme Court, to degrade the rights of Americans and further empower the corporate and theistic interests of the one percenters. So far, the fears about this court are coming true.

Earl Mahoney
Ormond Beach, Florida


Posted 06.06.14

It's logical -- let me explain why.

Real nature lovers have to accept that hunting is part of the normal food chain. Hunters shoot deer. Fishermen catch fish. It contributes to the balance of nature and provides food for the hunter or fisherman and his family, friends, and neighbors. It also contributes to the economy for tourism, manufactures, and dealers of hunting and fishing equipment.

Somewhere it also satisfies our hunting instinct, honed down through millions of years of evolution. Also inherited in this evolution is the unthinkable, the disgust for the hunter who would kill and leave his prey there to rot. The ultimate waste.

Expand your thinking to war. It also stimulates the economy and satisfies in inherent need to hunt. Isn't the ultimate hunt the measuring of one's self, to hunt a prey that can shoot back? After shooting your hunter, if we follow our instincts, it would go against our DNA leave the prey there to rot. We have to eat it (him). If you don't want to eat him, don't shoot him. True sportsmanship.

If you've followed me this far, there's more.

It stands to reason that the hunter must share his bounty. This should be expanded to the members of government, who declare war, manufactures of war equipment and their employees, in short everyone who contributes to the war effort. In fact these people should be forced to eat the victims of their efforts. It should be made into law.

If you don't want to eat him, don't hunt for him. True sportsmanship.

Norman Benoit
Eastern Townships, Quebec


Posted 10.17.13

Health care has been in the news. As Obamacare is being debated in the U.S., many Canadian political commentators have pointed out the results of the federal government 'downloading' health care to the provinces, without sufficient transfer payments to cover the costs.

Most of the examples in the news cite the situation in Ontario, but none mention how terrible health care is for those of us who live in West Quebec. It's generally known that residents of Quebec pay the highest taxes in North America, and this includes a variety of fees for the Health Services Fund, Medical Insurance, and the Health Contribution.

I have no idea what these cover, since our co-pay for the drug plan is higher than in Ontario, and prescribed physiotherapy and similar professional services are not covered.

Many of us do not have a family doctor. When my doctor retired, I had to go to a clinic to get prescriptions renewed, without any blood work to see if any changes were required, no physical examination, and no opportunity to discuss current problems.

As a senior who takes five prescribed medications daily, one of which is for chronic pain, I was worried, and so was my optometrist, who referred me to the private doctor he had just found for his family.

But I have to pay more than $200 for an annual check-up, and more than $100 for any follow-up visit. And I've paid for a four-point cane, a walker, various orthopedic seat and back cushions, as well as a variety of over-the-counter things he's prescribed.

I've also had to pay for physiotherapy, acupuncture, and ortho-massage. And I can only deduct a portion of these bills from my income tax. Quebec reimburses me for none of this.

I wonder why Quebec doesn't realize that keeping me in my own home and still paying taxes is a benefit to the province. I'm fortunate that I have a profession that allows me to continue to earn some income from home, but I resent having to continue to work part-time at the age of 79 in order to stay afloat.

What does Canada plan to do with an increasing senior population who can't afford retirement homes?

Barbara Florio Graham ( http://SimonTeakettle.com)


Posted 12.07.12

The US Federal Reserve is destroying programs like Social Security by their near-zero percent interest rate so that guys like this and their zombie banks can borrow money at almost zero percent so that they can leverage that money in 'investments' that are really just bets, and gamble in the derivatives market.

The derivatives market is estimated at 600 trillion -- 1.2 quadrillion dollars. These derivatives derive their value off of something else and have no intrinsic value in or of themselves. They are just side bets.

Now when they win their bets they keep their money; when they lose, the politicians, Bush, Obama, or whoever, then tell us we must bail them out, because if we don't, we will have an economic collapse because firms like Goldman Sachs are too big to fail.

A-holes like multi-millionaire Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein -- whose bank took billions in government bailout money and who thinks the people of the United States are 'expecting too much' from the government and our 'entitlements must be contained' -- are going to destroy the economy just to make the current quarter's bonus. They tell us that we must make sacrifices through various 'austerity measures' like reduced social security payments.

The US needs to start arresting bankers and their political servants because they have made an economic collapse a mathematical certainty.

I say, buy physical gold and silver. All paper monetary products and investments will be wiped out by them. If we don't, we will have an economic collapse because firms like Goldman Sachs are too big to fail.


Posted 03.20.11
Pierre Nadeau
Western Japan

INTERNET REPORT 11 AM SUNDAY: Police in Japan say 15,000 people may have been killed in a single prefecture, Miyagi, by the huge quake and tsunami which struck nine days ago. The official death toll has now risen to 8,450, with 12,931 people missing.

Nearly 6000 confirmed dead.

The number of missing is stable, but we expect it to both drop, as the various lists are compared and adjusted (the confirmed dead are still among the missings; and many have left without giving news) and rise as more precise data is cumulated.

In any case, the 15 000+ number of dead/missing is exaggerated. Something around 10 000 dead is expected.

The situation calms down as more routes and railroads open up, allowing for essential supplies to be delivered in devastated zones. There is quite a number refugees yet (around 300 000) and the conditions are getting worse as toilets and basic hygiene, food, fuels, and comfort lack. Young kids and elders are getting weaker.

However no one is yet panicking in Japan, except many foreigners who choose to flee the areas of Tokyo and Fukushima for a mix of fears about nuclear threat and earthquakes that persist. The Japanese in devastated zones speak with calm and even sometimes a lively mood about their situation, celebrating simply being alive, and work as one community. Looting and vandalism hasn't been witnessed at all.


The levels of radioactivity on site have fallen positively.

There are six reactor-plants. Three were already in maintenance and not in use when the earthquake happened, with one (#4) not even having fuel in it. The main problem resides in that all cooling systems have been stopped, leaving all reactors (except the 4) and their used fuel cooling pools warm up. When the fuel, used or new, warms at the point that water evaporates and leaves the fuel exposed, it allows it to heat even more.

As early as the second or third day, all five reactors containing live fuel were stabilized thanks to the injection of sea water. They are stable since then, although western medias' panic.

The problem resides with the cooling of the used fuel pools that still hasn't started though the normal systems. The 5 and 6 pools are slowly warming, but aren't dangerous. The 1 and 2 pools are worrying, but seem stable. Pools 3 and 4 are the main preoccupation right now as much of their water evaporated (the explosions and white water vapor showing on TV).

Yesterday night (Japan time) 30 tons of water were successfully shot into pool #3 with the use of firefighter trucks, stabilizing it for the time being. An american drone successfully took pictures of plants 3 and 4, confirming the presence of water in both pools, without being able to figure exactly how much. Yesterday also were almost completed electrical work allowing to provide electricity to plants 1 and, from there, 2. This will be completed this morning (Japan time), allowing to get cooling and other systems back on for these plants. Finally, this afternoon (Japan time), is is planned to shoot some more water into #3 and maybe #4 used fuel pools.

For those worrying about radioactive contamination on the West coast of North America, read this:


In a general manner the crisis has calmed down considerably, while it is still critical.

There is still no valid reason to panic. Less and less, in fact.

Quebec Hydro frego promo

Posted 03.19.11
Brien Young

How on earth can selling efficient refrigerators to people who heat with electricity make any difference whatsoever?

Why would anyone bother going to such an expense, for what? If my electricity rates here in Toronto were as low as Quebec's I could almost afford to heat my outdoor patio.


Posted 03.17.11
Pierre Nadeau
Western Japan

UPDATE: 8:45 AM: John, you might want to add that they succeeded in shooting 30 tons of water with fire trucks into used fuel tank No. 3 atnded at 8:09 PM -- Pierre

Because of the alarmist reports in the West and the dozens emails I'm getting, I'm taking a second to write this brief report. These are simply verified facts, nothing else.


Over 5000 confirmed dead
Over 15m000 missing (this includes those who ran away to other places in Japan without giving news)
Over 400,000 evacuated

Biggest problems are missing food, water, sanitary and fuel; cold weather is another problem for those in the devastated zone.
Roads and railroads are slowly opening back, allowing to provide supplies to devastated zones.

Many people are migrating towards the South of Japan if they can.


Most problems have calmed down and no immediate threat exists. The biggest problem right now remains with two used fuel tanks that started heating up and are vaporizing water. Should they overheat, the used fuel could (could!) leak radioactive material, affecting a perimeter defined somewhere between 60-80km. Even so, the amount leaked would never be close to an actual nuclear explosion such as in Tchernobyl (no comparison possible).

They are trying to drop water by chopper (hard because of winds and impossibility to hover) and blowing water into tanks with fire trucks. This is happening right now.

Earthquake There are daily tremors in the Tokyo area since Friday. Two big ones occurred in Shizuoka (6.2, South of Tokyo) and Ibaraki (4, way north of Tokyo).

People stored as much food, water and other basics and stores in Tokyo are literally empty.

Media keep providing round the clock data and news, although not much is actually happening. Westerners are panicking, Japanese aren't.

As for me and my relatives, everything is fine and safe.

Pierre's soulsmithing website

Not hate words, it's the easy-access to guns, eh?

Posted 01.12.11
Brien Young

No, it isnÕt the nasty political rhetoric [in the US] thatÕs to blame [for the Arizona shootings]. It is the almost unrestricted access to guns, especially in states like Arizona.

Years ago, while hiking in the Superstitions, east of Phoenix, I encountered several people -- mostly young --carrying holstered handguns. On my return home, I researched Arizona gun laws and found that parents in Arizona can give their child a gun at any age but cannot give it to someone elseÕs child unless the child is at least 16.

So what do you expect when someone who is unstable and feels alienated wants to lash out? Of course, IÕve been living a sheltered [Canadian] life here in the land where politicians get cream-pied, what do I know?

As for the rhetoric, I prefer opponent to enemy, focus rather than targeted, undocumented immigrant rather than illegal alien. It just helps focus on the real issues instead of inciting hatred.

Early Winter Indoor Adventure

Posted 01.03.11
Mary Campesi Ferree

Unpack new printer.
Install new printer.
Uninstall new printer.
Install new printer again.
Try to print with new printer.
Level thingie says no ink. Bah.
Unhook new printer.
Hook it up again.
Ink flows.
Print happens.
Try to scan with new printer.
Nada. Zilch. Nicht. Error message: Printer is not connected. Uninstall new printer.
Install new printer for 3rd time.
Voila! No internet connection.
Crawl around the weeds of the control panel.
Whadya mean, broadband connection only?
Crawl around some more weeds.
Find the culprit. Eliminate broadband option. Ethernet only, thank you.
Scan document.
Can't find document.
Try to scan again. Aha! Success.
Try copying on two sides of paper. Yea!
Internet works.
Scan works.
Print works.
Copying works.

And so it goes. I guess the 3rd time really is the charm. Here's hoping it all functions tomorrow when I turn it on.

Sad Commentary on America

Posted 12.18.10
Bob Gervais
London, Ontario

The treatment of the young USsoldier represents neither retributive nor distributive justice, if it represents justice at all. It is a very sad commentary on America the Beautiful when it permits its bureaucracy a fit of pique because someone showed evidence of their hypocracy in the clear light of day.

Truth is one of the values of freedom; freedom should never be the price paid for truth. The latter smacks of petty dictatorships, an action such as one might expect from Robert Mugabe.

It strikes me that America may be in a situation of crisis far larger than it realizes.

Letter from Thailand #9

Posted 11.29.10
Emily Murray

Call on me, Parami

During lunch last week at Parami school, I joined the female teachers in their "house," which also serves as the library, an occasional classroom, a storage space for tables and construction material, and contains the communal computer room and kitchen. We were sitting on the floor, because the old table disappeared to be used as a shelf for some recently arrived refugees.

We were listening to a Burmese radio station. My impression of Burmese music is that they've translated all of our one-hit wonders from the eighties and nineties. They have also used these as inspiration to write shamelessly cheesy love songs.

When the song they were playing was finished, an official sounding man began to speak. I caught the words "democracy" because it was repeated about seven times, and the acronyms "BBC" and "DVB". I looked at the other teacher and asked if this was a government radio station. She said yes, and they were just telling us that Burma now is democratic, and not to believe anything the BBC or the Democratic Voice of Burma tell us. I've heard of government propaganda. Burma has one of the most heavily censored media in the world. This was the first time I recognizably heard it with my own ears, and it was shocking.

Despite any residual unrest on the border, the majority of Mae Sot residents flocked to the Moei river last Sunday night for Loi Krathong. I was with my elementary students and some Korean visitors. We avoided the big crowds by going instead to a smaller river on the other side of town.

There were still a few hundred people wearing sparkling fluorescent outfits and outrageous makeup. The children looked like porcelain dolls throwing firecrackers into the river or at people's feet. There was a parade of decorated trucks with giant Krathongs, and each float blared its own music, regardless of how many other songs were playing at the same time.

My students had made their own traditional Krathongs out of banana leaves and a round piece of wood, decorated with flowers, incense and candles. They are basically little boats that float down the river under the full moon. You're supposed to make a wish as you release them, and sometimes people slip a baht (about CDN$0.04) or two between the leaves as an offering to river spirits.

My students don't often get to go out at night, and the festival atmosphere was very exciting, but probably a little nerve wracking for them. They all held hands and stuck close together. There was a group of dancing Thai people and I joined them as we passed. A crazy looking old woman offered me a plastic cup filled with whisky and I think the sixth graders were scandalized. Fortunately, one of the few things I can say in Thai is 'Mai Dai Ka,' which means 'no thanks.'

When we returned to the school, the cook served us all a mysterious greenish leafy soup. One of the students called it medicine. The headmistress explained that it was a traditional Burmese broth that is eaten on the night of a full moon to restore good health.

It was tasty, and I do feel mighty good these days, if a little overwhelmed at how soon it will be time to pack. I feel like I've just gotten used to living here. My brain is currently not allowing me to comprehend that we are going back to where it will be cold, and where omelettes won't be served with rice.

The next two weeks are going to be a blur of trying to gather all the souvenirs I want, finishing up my units in class, and trying to convince my students that I still love them. I'm sure it can be done. Maybe I will write them a love song. They would dig it.

Letter from Thailand #8

Posted 11.08.10
Emily Murray

Speaking of speaking

I was recently sitting with a group of people drinking Chang, a notoriously damaging beer that never gets cold. We were talking about the mating capacity of dead mosquitoes. It was that kind of night.

I suddenly realized that out of the six of us, I was the only one speaking my first language. I was with my Colombian roommate, a handsome Argentinean, a young German guy, a Thai friend of ours, and an Italian malariologist. I was the only Canadian.

I've always proudly corrected people who ask which state I am from, but lately I've noticed that the Canada to other western countries ratio in Mae Sot is considerably larger our population would suggest.

Go Canada!

A few weeks ago, Christine and I were eating when a local man next to us looked over and asked without a question mark: "You come from Canada." We weren't even wearing our maple leaf pins or moose-print pajamas. My telltale "eh?" has even disappeared from my vernacular, replaced by the Burmese "nah?"

When asked where I am from, I always try to answer that I am from Qurbec, most people know where that is, but some don't. It is only in recent years that I have truly embraced the culture and language of my home province. I love it especially in a city like this where everyone speaks English anyway, and French is just slightly more exotic.

As we know, this is Thailand. As a common courtesy to the host country, I should be making an effort to learn the language. I do, with Travel Thai: hello, thank you, very beautiful, where is the bathroom, etc. However, within Mae Sot, Burmese speakers are a majority, and because of my role here, I must admit to practicing my Burmese with more enthusiasm.

I can understand the gist of basic conversations, especially those centered on food, sleep or visiting someplace. Unfortunately, I cannot tell if and when people are discussing anything political. With the upcoming elections in Burma, I wish I could get a sense of the sentiment. The general opinion, I believe, is the same as that held by the majority of the international community, which is that the whole process is going to be bogus.

It is interesting that the country is holding its first elections since 1990, and there is little discussion in the news about which party people will vote for, only whether people should vote at all.

Many of my students are so young, I wonder if they are aware of what is going on. I certainly wouldn't have at their age, but there is so much that they understand that I never will.

A teacher made a funny observation a little while ago. He asked how many Canadians knew the name of our own Prime Minister. I guessed that most, but not everyone, knows Stephen Harper, and has some opinion about him. He smiled and said that this was because we have a good government. He continued to explain that in Burma, everyone, even the smallest child knows the name Than Shwe, the current military government leader. So his conclusion was that in good countries, there are people who don't know their government, and in bad countries, everyone knows the government.

Most of the adults, here in Mae Sot, are here because they believe in democracy and human rights and they are willing to fight for them. Some have had opportunities to leave to western countries and have declined in order to continue their work here. It is extremely humbling to be with such people.

Sunday was an important day, and I can only hope that it leads to some improvement. Fortunately, despite everything, hope is not as scarce as one might expect. This is a tribute to the resilience and genuinely noble nature of the Burmese.

Letter from Thailand #7

Posted 09.17.10
Emily Murray

Lucky Me

Lucky Tea Shop is best frequented between five and ten in the morning when there is a plate of samosas and fried dough waiting on each rickety table in the corner of the market.

A sweaty man cooks naan right in front of us, which is served with salty chick peas and washed down with green tea instead of water. We usually also order Burmese tea, which is heavy with sweetened condensed milk and mighty delicious.

Their system is based on observation and trust; when we go to the counter to pay, we tell the smiling cashier how many of each thing we ate and she tallies it up. A full breakfast costs less than thirty baht, or one Canadian dollar.

It has the kind of atmosphere that makes me smile to myself later on. A boy of about twelve runs around carrying tea and collecting dishes. Of course I wish he were in school, but for a Burmese boy, working in a tea shop is a decent living. The other customers are mostly men with scraggly beards who chain smoke cigarettes that are sold individually at the counter. A lighter hangs from the wall for anyone to use.

As we dunk our dough sticks in tea, a young boy comes over from the road and starts touching all the samosas until our waiter hands him two and sends him on his way.

A skinny stooped man who is sitting alone says hello to us, then laughs madly and continues to chatter away to himself. We donÕt understand, but he obviously thinks that we are hilarious. He gets up to talk to the women at the cash. Everyone else ignores him. They are very patient with him, even though we can tell that he is demanding something ridiculous as he waves about a twenty baht bill. We giggled amongst ourselves, but soon feel bad for laughing when it turns out that he bought us each a Coke.

I drew a dinosaur saying thank you on a pink napkin. We all signed it and gave it to him as he was leaving, because we didnÕt know what else to do.

By my standards, this is dining at its finest.

Letter from Thailand #6

Posted 08.30.10
Emily Murray

From border to border and back again

I've lived on a border for most of my life. I remember crossing as a family from Rock Island, QC to Derby Line, VT with nothing but a smile and a wave. When passports became mandatory it was strange, but the smiles and waves persisted, so I can't really complain. At least it is always open.

Currently, I live five minutes from the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge. It has been closed for just over a month now. We biked over to confirm this and it was an eerie sight, though in town, one might not even notice since scores of people cross the river illegally every day.

For some reason, Adrian, Christine, Felipe, and I were under the impression that we had until September to renew our dual entry tourist visas. We were mistaken.

We made last minute plans on Thursday to get to the next closest border at the "northernmost point of Thailand," ten hours away by bus. There are two buses that make this trip from Mae Sot. One is at 6:30 in the morning, the other at 8:30.

We slept through our alarms on Friday the thirteenth, waking up at 6 a.m. Almost ready to dash out the door, Adrian realised that he couldn't find his passport. By the time we found it, we had missed both buses.

Saturday morning, we woke up late again. We had no way of getting to the bus station along the highway besides walking. There are no taxis in Mae Sot and tuk-tuks cannot be counted on before 9 a.m. Tuk-tuks are motorbikes that pull covered carts, typically driven by pushy men who can only count in English from fifty onward.

We were not going to make it unless we got a ride so we stuck out our thumbs in desperation. This was my first time hitch-hiking. The last thing I expected was to be picked up by a large Greyhound-style bus, headed to the depot. We felt very lucky until the ticket lady informed us that the bus we needed was "full-fulled" for the whole weekend.

We ended up getting into a minibus that would take us to the station in Tak, which is on the way. Our driver drove like a maniac, which I loved but made everyone else sick on the twisty mountain roads. From there, we got tickets for a nice big air-conditioned bus to Chiang Mai.

We saw the bus that we were meant to be on, in it several open seats. However, when we boarded ours, we found that all the seats were occupied with one or more people and that the aisles were filling up. Christine and I spent two hours sitting in a luggage cubbyhole near the door below the seats. It was stuffy and smelled like paint, but at least we were heading in the right direction.

From Chiang Mai, we got seats on a sketchy bus that would finally take us the rest of the way to Mae Sai. We arrived around 8 p.m., three hours after the borders close for the night. We stayed at a guesthouse in which we had the luxuries of a cold shower and toilet paper.

We were entertained during our meal in the market by a trained elephant. I touched it and fed it. It was hairy and slobbery. The trainer, a young boy, caught his poop in a baggie and disposed of it in a flower pot. I can now cross off one thing from my list of things to see before I die.

In the morning, we walked to customs. We got into the least intimidating line. We got our passports stamped to confirm that we had left the country. We stepped onto the bridge, put our watches back 30 minutes and moved over to the right-hand side. We crossed the river to the Burmese customs. We crammed into an office, very politely presented our passports, quickly filled out a form, paid about 10$ each, had our mug shots taken, and left our passports with the officials in exchange for a temporary ID. We stepped into Taichilek, Burma.

There is a market at the foot of the bridge. Being white, we were immediately assaulted by tour guides, tuk-tuk drivers, and men selling cigarettes and Viagra. We had no kyat, the Burmese currency, but everyone accepted baht so we walked around and had tea.

On our way back that same day, we retrieved our passports and returned our temporary IDs. Christine asked if she could keep hers, but was refused. We filled out an arrival card on the Thai side, got some more stamps, and our mission was accomplished. All that remained was make our way back to the familiarity of our own border town.

Though the trip was relatively enjoyable, I hope that we won't have to repeat it sixty days from now. Twenty total hours on a bus is a long time, and my iPod only stays charged for fifteen.

Letter from Thailand #5

Posted 08.18.10
Emily Murray

It's medicine, it's good for you

Our bodies are complex and mysterious, not to mention fragile. You might scratch away at a mosquito bite on your ankle some night, only to find yourself with a large oozing welt in its place the next morning. Strangely, a trend among our projects volunteers has been for these to also become suddenly, inexplicably swollen.

No worries though, I have another foot. I'm probably right footed anyway.

This week, the headmistress of Hsa Mu Htaw informed me that I was sleeping over so that they could give me "medicine. " Though I was optimistic about my "ignore it and it will go away " approach, I of course accepted this kind offer. I was unsure what it would entail. I've seen the dismayed face of many a six year old, after a sneeze, when a teacher hurries to the office to fetch their big white container of Vitamin Miracle.

After dinner, one of my teacher buddies brought me to a classroom, where two of my students were fanning a large, steaming bucket of leafy tea. I was hoping for a sip until I stuck my feet in it. It was scalding!

It took a few times before my reflexes let me keep even my toes submerged. My "doctor " put on a pair of latex gloves and we made a few white jokes. They began to clean my nasty sores with alcohol, the big swollen one as well as various smaller bites and cuts. I was then directed to perform a series of immersing and removing my feet from the tea for twenty seconds at a time.

After the second or third dunk, one of the students left and returned with more cotton swabs and a needle and thread.

I almost threw up.

"What is that?! " I asked, even though I obviously knew the answer.

They laughed and told me it was a needle. All I could manage to say after that was that "I don't like. " They laughed again and we kept dunking.

I considered my options.

Freaking out seemed a little harsh because they were being very kind and I'd spent the last few minutes showing them the soles of my feet, which is generally extremely rude. Would I let them use the needle if they wanted to? I didn't know. I thought it was pretty obvious that I did not need stitches, so I decided to watch and wait.

I giggle a lot when I'm nervous.

Fortunately, it would seem that they brought it in just to see if I would pee my pants. They finished up by dabbing me with a thick white antiseptic cream that took all night to soak in. In the morning, I got the whole treatment again.

After classes, I was preparing to leave when another teacher handed me a bag with peroxide, cotton balls, and a tube of bright red antibiotic cream- all things I could have easily found by myself.

They are all so caring and they genuinely worry about me. This doesn't make any sense. Their daily lives are difficult in such complex, tragic ways. They go through much tougher ordeals than having an ugly ankle. They take death, poverty, unreasonable working conditions, and unfair elections in stride, but when I have some scratches, it's a catastrophe.

I am very grateful, and it has gotten a lot better since. I do hope everything is gone by Monday, if only so they don't go out of their way for me again. Every time they do something special for me, I feel like I am being counter-productive to the efforts that are being made to help these schools and these amazing people. Somehow, bags of fruit just don't cover it.

Yes, indeed -- speak more French

Posted 08.17.10
Lorna Fraser, former Quebecer

I really enjoyed Fred Ryan's Speak more French article and it is sad but this way has been around for a long time.

I grew up in the Eastern townships of Quebec. My mother came from the Leeds/Thetford Mines area and she could speak some French but never did. My paternal grandmother was French but was not allowed to speak it in the home.

Life could have been so much easier as I have lived in New Brunswick, the so-called bilingual province, since I graduated from high school. When I graduated from high school I could switch back and forth between the two languages, thanks to French education starting in Grade 2.

I moved here to Saint John and there was very little French here at that time. What I was taught was not conversational French so it got some strange looks and I stopped speaking it.

We lived in the Edmundston area for twenty-seven years and our children were educated in French. This was a sticky point with some of the 4-5 percent English in that area at that time. They had just obtained their own English school and community center and needed all the support of the English in the area. Well, we felt it was more important for our children to speak French so we were shunned.

I was happy to practice my French all those years there but like a lot of places, if they see you are struggling a bit\, they will switch to English -- and we let them and were relieved

Our oldest son was one of the graduates of the last bilingual school in the province. He had been able to take three courses in French and three in English and he had attended late immersion French starting in Grade 7. We had started him out in English classes as we just moved there and didn't understand the dynamics at the time.

After graduation, our son moved to Toronto so he doesn't use his French much and doesn't feel comfortable speaking it. He recently moved back to Saint john where the French population has really grown. Maybe he will use it some more and become comfortable speaking it again.

Our second son started in French school in Grade 2. The English system just didn't look right. He still speaks French and uses it in his work and hopes to teach his son to speak it and be bilingual.

Dumping him into French school at that age didn't do him any favours though and he hated school. He fought the language all the way refusing to use it outside of school. His friends' parents were happy as he taught them English.

Our daughter started school in the French system and is perfectly bilingual. She lives up your way and uses French every day in her work. She keeps in touch with her friends from Edmundston and they are all French.

As parents you always hope you are doing the right thing. I think that our children are glad that they have an understanding of a second language and can communicate if need be, if not be totally bilingual.

Letter from Thailand #4

Posted 07.31.10
Emily Murray

Continuing on in our ringy-dingy ways

Where would I be without my bike? Its green, it's got a basket, the brakes squeal, and there are teeny bits of it all over town. I generally don't notice when little bolts and things fall off as I'm biking -- unless it's my pedal. When my pedal falls off I turn around and pick it up. Good thing I have a basket.

I also have a little bell. I remember getting my first bike for my fifth birthday. It was also equipped with a little bell (and training wheels and tassels!) I was always under the impression that little bells were for little girls, who would use them solely to punctuate shouts of: "Hey! Look what I can do!" But I have been wrong before.

Here, bicycles are considered to be legitimate forms of transportation. It is not uncommon to see someone biking with a passenger and two or more large delicately balanced baskets, carrying fruit or other wares. It also seems that general traffic rules are more like guidelines.

The lanes are wherever you happen to be driving. Texting while driving a motorcycle is no sweat. Traffic lights are well respected but they all have countdowns. By the time it gets to 3-2-1, we all know that its been red on the other side for a sufficient amount of time.

There are no stop signs anywhere. Instead, at every intersection, vehicles honk their horns or ring their bells before turning. This is supposed to alert any oncoming traffic of their presence and intentions.

The bells and horns are also used to alert people if you are approaching from behind, whether this is necessary or not. For a long time, I felt indignant every time someone honked at me. (Where did they want me to move to? I already bike on the very edge of the road!)

I had to get over my assumption that all honks were resulting from road rage. For the Thai, a honk or a ring just means, "I'm coming up behind you, by the way. Don't be alarmed."

My roommates have happily adopted the custom. They use and abuse the little bells with no problem. I am still reluctant to ring at anybody unless they are genuinely in my way.

Despite this seeming lack of order, I have heard of surprisingly few accidents, though close calls are common enough to be taken in stride. People tend to be fairly courteous. Most people ride motorbikes, so if they wanted to swear at each other, they easily could.

And maybe they do, I would never know.

No matter what the scenario of a close call is, the Thai driver on the other end always smiles. The Thai smile is hard to interpret. I never know if it means they're just happy we didn't hit each other, or if they are only masking their face so I can't read that they think I am a silly foreigner who doesn't know how to ride a bike. I tend to think that it's the latter, though I'm comforted all the same. And we all continue on in our ringy-dingy ways.

Letter from Thailand #3

Posted 07.12.10
Emily Murray

Seeking wild bamboo shoots

Recently, my housemate Christine and I were lucky enough to be invited to pick bamboo shoots in the forest with some of our Burmese students. We rolled groggily out of bed at 6 am, expecting to be picked up at 6:30.

Four hours later...

We piled into the back of a truck already filled with students. Christine had a girl hold on to her legs so as not to fall out as we bumped along the once paved road. When we got to our starting point, we noticed that everyone around us immediately and mysteriously produced a knife ranging from in size from vegetable peelers to straight-up machetes. Neither of us had come equipped so we stood awkwardly for a moment before a student handed us each a small carrot slicer.

We followed a group up the steep track. After two or three minutes of walking, the boy who seemed to be a self-designated pro turned to us. He pointed up into the brush and asked: "Go up?"

We smiled, said "No problem, we'll follow you!" expecting them to lead the way. He continued to stare and we understood that they meant for us to venture up on our own. We had to quickly explain that we actually had no idea what bamboo shoots looked like or where to find them and that we were indeed quite useless.

We ended up following them through the forest and getting a tutorial that mostly consisted of "Is this one?" followed by a simple "No."

On the whole, they were really good sports about having us tag along. We eventually stopped for lunch at a stream. One large pot of rice and three small containers full of dried fish, roasted chili peppers, and scrambled eggs fed all twenty-odd of us, with second helpings and some to spare.

I am now aware that bamboo shoots are big purple spikes -- white on the inside -- that grow directly up from the ground. They make for very delicious chicken curries. I succeeded in finding a few baby ones but nothing too substantial. I'm no pro, but now I can say that I know how to do at least one useful thing.

I also acquired sixty nine beautiful bug bite shaped scars on my shins and one nasty red ant bite on the back of my neck.

I've begun to understand to what extent my life has been one of privilege. Even here, I enjoy the luxuries of running water and a nearby 7-11. Many things that one might consider a skill in Canada are essentially useless when it comes to actually being resourceful. At home, I know how to cook; I know how to find my food because I know which aisle to look in. I have so much respect for these people who know how to survive from A to Z (my knowledge extends to C at best), who do it without complaint and with grace. Suddenly, supermarkets seem like cheating. In any case, I don't take my meals for granted.

Maybe soon I'll learn how to pluck a chicken, and later, to catch a fish with my bare hands...

Haiti 6 months later ~ Frozen in Time
1.5 million still in tents and under tarps

Posted 07.17.10
Sasha Cramer of SOIL
Port au Prince, Haiti

Six months later and sometimes it feels like we will be stuck in January 2010 forever. It as if we are frozen in time, looking out on the hillsides covered with tents. Every once in a while we will notice a change, like the empty space where the church used to be on Delmas 53.

For years I would stay in the hotel across the street and be awakened by singing from that church. In January, when I returned to the hotel, the church was a mound of cement and twisted iron with a cross that dangled precariously into the street. Now there is just a hole, an empty space that still echoes with the voices of the choir. Sometimes we notice the ever-growing piles of rubble that spill out into the street as people carefully clear out their houses.

The city dump is expanding beyond its capacity as new trucks and equipment bring in daily loads of rubble, trash and sewage. Every day truckloads of crumbled cement are being moved out of the city, but as quickly as the streets are cleared they are filled with fresh rubble. The problem is so large that when looking out from the inside change is nearly imperceptible.

It seems easier to see the things that remain unchanged since January 12. The crumbled palace that still looks out onto the sprawling camp at Champs de Mars where over 6000 families live huddled together, increasingly afraid for their safety as the pressure to relocate mounts. The skeleton of the National Cathedral still hovers over downtown Port au Prince. The only change since we walked through the collapsed pews in February is a fence of corrugated metal sheeting that keeps out mourners and awe struck visitors.

Each time we drive down Delmas I am struck by the gaping fa¨ade of the old Caribbean Market, where you can still spot the shining metal of shopping carts, a reminder of the hands that pushed those carts.

There are more than 1000 camps for displaced people within the city and the Haitian government estimates that 1.5 million people are living in tents.

Though there are some programs to relocate people back to their homes, the majority of displaced people were renters with uncertain property rights and 50 percent of the buildings in Port au Prince are now uninhabitable. Most of the camps are located on private property and pressure to relocate has been intense and at times violent. With nowhere else to go, many families are forced to endure terrible conditions and human rights violations only to sleep under a leaky tarp.

As I write I can feel the air getting heavier around me and I wonder how everyone keeps moving forward when there are so many obstacles in the path. And then I remember the moments of standing in the camp near our house when, lost in children's laughter, you could almost forget that it was disaster that brought everyone together on the soccer field.

I think of the brave young women who wash clothes in the blazing sun so that their children can go to school proud of their pressed uniforms. I think of the dedicated young men who spend days waiting outside metal gates praying for a day's honest work, still finding the humor to share a joke with a friend. Each day I concentrate on the unbroken spirit of the people and the shattered buildings melt away.

Working in Haiti, one has to accept that tragedy can strike with one blow but recovery will always be a series of small victories, a job, a meal, a hug, a soccer game. So we cannot lose hope by focusing on the frozen landscape, we must learn to search for hope in the eyes of a friend, to find strength in the gratitude of a stranger.

Please consider supporting ongoing recovery efforts through a monthly commemorative donation to SOIL. You can donate online at our website www.oursoil.org.

Letter from Thailand #2

Posted 07.12.10
Emily Murray

Badjaoleh means why

I've never felt big, clunky or ungainly as a human being until I came to Mae Sot. At home, I am often teased about being among the oldest yet shortest of many cousins. I am a respectable five feet plus three and a half inches tall and this has suited me just fine until now.

Here, among the migrant Burmese, I am a giant. Sumon, who is the sweetest, daintiest English teacher that I have met so far, is twenty three though she could pass for sixteen. When she holds my arm or hand, I am afraid to squish her fingers in my own sausage-like appendages.

She teaches her classes based on the "Government of the Union of Myanmar Ministry of Education" curriculum handbooks. She loaned me a copy for each of the grades I am teaching. I went through them all, meticulously taking notes, before I realized that we were equipped with our very own copies at the house.

I noticed something very interesting as I perused the lesson outlines. For the most part, it is similar enough to any standard second language curriculum. Students will learn basic vocabulary, verb tenses, plurals, etc. However, by purpose or by oversight, during all of the sections on question words and interrogative sentences, the word "why" does not appear once though the words who, what, when, where, how, which and whose are all very well covered.

Why would an illegitimate, pseudo-democratic, military government wish to prevent its educated population from asking this question? I wonder how well the word Badjaoleh is covered in Burmese class.

My first reaction was "Yes! I can so use this is in my lesson plan for tomorrow!"

This is terrible because I should not get excited by yet another hint of the Burmese government's oppressive presence in absolutely every aspect of life. Still, it's nice to feel that I am contributing a concrete piece of knowledge to my student's education. Most of them did know of it, but couldn't or wouldn't put it into a sentence.

My only hope is that the next English teacher is overwhelmed with questions like: "Why is the sky blue? Why don't you have brown eyes? Why doesn't the world care about Burma?"

To the 2011 volunteers: you're welcome!

Letter from Thailand

Posted 07.05.10
Emily Murray

Thailand is amazing. Mae Sot is beautiful. The people smile at you and they are very understanding if you speak only "nit noy" Thai.

The food sold on the street is strange and delicious. You can smell it around every corner. The dried and fresh fish take some getting used to, but it's better than some of the sewer smells in Canadian cities.

The market is like a tent village of stalls with every possible kind of goods. Meat vendors sit near their stands with swooshy brooms to swat flies off their produce. Mangoes and bananas fall off their trees into our street and yard. Everybody rides a motorcycle without seeming to actually know how to drive, including Thai women in miniskirts and heels.

You take your shoes off before entering any building, even sketchy cafés. Our ceiling is covered in geckoes (lizards) and we are woken up by roosters in the neighbour's yard at 4:30 every morning. This is good because it means we can then hear the monks chant at 6:30.

I wish all this could make up for the fact that over half of the population here are only in Thailand because they can't live in Burma.

Hsa Mu Htaw and Parami, the two "learning centers" that I am volunteering at are not allowed to be called schools because they are not officially recognized by the Thai government. All of the students are Burmese and are well aware of what is happening in their country.

Some live at the schools, others have a home, or at least a place to stay, in Mae Sot. My students range from eight to eighteen years old, scattered through grades three to eight. They are all so grateful to be in school. The grade eights are even good sports about having an inexperienced teacher who is the same age as them.

A lot of my students have come from Burma only this year, and it is their first experience with a western teaching style. For my first class with each grade, I planned some English games. It took a few rounds to warm them up to the idea of tossing a ball in class. Most of them just stared and whispered something in Burmese to their neighbour. I imagine, by their suspicious glances, that they were saying something along the lines of: "I'm not falling for this."

Their rote oriented background is really evident when they don't just answer a question, they yell "A-P-P-L-E, apple!" or "D-O-G, dog!" At the end of every class, the students stand up and in unison yell: "Good morning, teacher! Thank you, teacher! We'll see you tomorrow!" This is very cute, mildly unnerving, and a big reminder that I am on the other side of the world.

At Hsa Mu Htaw, between the headmistress, the other teachers, and the students, I always have a full glass of drinkable water and I am overly well fed at lunch. They make me the sweetest, milkiest coffee I have ever tasted in my life, which is a touching gesture even though I would much prefer some of their green tea.

It was very strange to sit at the teachers table for the first time and to allow students to clear away my plate. I offered to carry away my own dirty dishes, but they seemed mildly offended so I let it go. They also give me a fork and spoon with every meal though everyone else eats with their hands.

The girls do my hair and put Thanaka, a yellowish paste made from a root, on my face. They think this is beautiful and I'm beginning to quite like myself. The boys let me play caneball with them, which is my new favourite sport, although I'm terrible at it. They never allow me to be "out", even if I clearly fumble the ball.

Caneball is played with three people on either side of a badminton net or like you are playing hacky using a coconut sized hard ball that you can only hit with your feet and head. I love it. The Burmese become acrobats when they play it.

The way I see it, if my students can teach me how to be awesome at caneball in six months, I can probably improve their English at least a bit in that time, too.

A slice of urban life

Posted 05.16.10
Bob Gervais

London, Ontario

Some of my movement was self-directed as I headed East along Dundas at the corner of Richmond Street. Some was simply the tidal effect of the human wave that seemed to move back and forth between the buildings. I was being subjected to an unwritten traffic rule: If you stand at an intersection you will cross when the light turns green.

A rangy, zit-bedecked adolescent added several inches to his stature by styling his anthracite hair in a six-pack of Mohawk spikes. I negotiated my way past the four young females who seemed spellbound by the sound waves emanating from the ebon-clad figure.

I very nearly pin-balled off the denim shoulder of a tattooed native woman. She plodded west on Dundas, her vision fixed on some focal point that her eyes could not see. Had I not avoided the bump, I'm convinced that the word TILT would have appeared on the back of my irises.

As I recovered my stride and bent past the native female, I spotted him for the first time. Was it the Kelly green of the jacket or the breadth of the green expanse that grabbed my eye? I only know for sure that my eye was grabbed.

Stocky comes to mind but so does 'fire-plug.' Both apply. Below the hem of the jacket, his multi-creased, tan trousers moved to and fro, accompanying the rhythm of his rolling gait. I was sure that, if I looked up, I would see canvas, spars and rigging splashed against the robin-egg blue sky festooned with cotton balls.

His sand-brown hair was about eight days past its 'cut-by' date. While his right arm pendulumed to match his step, the bratwurst fingers of his left hand cradled a pocket book by his side. I could not see the title. As I observed the flow of humanity part before him to ease his passage, I wondered whether he was reading "The Old Man and the Sea."

His undulating gait was more inexorable than slow as he sailed along the inner passage on the sidewalk. His gaze was not fixed on the horizon but on the surface. Was he alert to obstacles or clumps of seaweed that might foul his progress? Suddenly, he lurched to the right. His body dipped downward like a schooner into a trough then, he rose again, climbing the wall of the swell.

He didn't seem to have tripped. Was this a portent of a medical emergency I wondered as adrenalin began to course through my body.

As the multi-faceted sea of faces broke before him, his right hand snaked into his pocket and re-emerged with a flame with which he lit the cigarette butt he had retrieved. The disappearing smoke made me wonder about the virtues of steam over sail.

As I angled by at the corner, my backward glance landed on a face illuminated by pure satisfaction but the book title was still masked by the bratwurst fingers.


Posted 03.26.10
Thomas Mike Moseley

Derby, Vermont

Fifteen or so people gathered in the Derby Line (Vermont) Village Hall recently to talk. The topic: 'Free Buzzy Roy,' not that Buzzy, well known pharmacist in Derby Line and a Village Trustee was incarcerated. Indeed, he was the quietly courageous individual who had ventured on foot to Rock Island Quebec to import a VIP (Very Important Pizza) from Pizzeria Steve.

Doing so, he strolled up Church Street past the international Haskell Library on his way to report at US Customs and Immigration, as he had done many times before, and was stopped and interrogated by a police trooper assigned by Operation Stone Garden.

This adjunct to Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is part of a Federal program to detain "criminal aliens" and interdict "dangerous drugs" and has recently blanketed our border community with dozens of overtime workers from police and sheriff's departments around Vermont who have certainly issued a record number of traffic tickets on the border.

Mr. Roy was detained, allowed to report himself as required by law and released. Irritated by rude officialdom, he made a second and then third trip, which resulted in Mr. Roy's being arrested, processed and held in a holding cell. His crime: "failing to report to at the port of entry." Hard to do in handcuffs.

In any case, participants in the quiet meeting mulled over their reasons for standing with Buzzy, apart from his being an awfully nice guy. Everyone agreed that "Bring back our Friendly Border" struck some common chords about how easy it used to be to cross for hockey games, a cup of coffee, or terrific bakery items and how inconvenient, brusque, and irritatingly paramilitary things have become.

A mildly anarchical sentiment was "A police state is not a secure state." "Stop Operation Stone Garden -- a huge waste of tax dollars," and "Can't you be N(ice)" a play on the acronym for Immigration and Customs Enforcement turned up. Not exactly the stuff of radical street theatre, but enough to unite the group in deciding to hold a quiet march from the park to the Haskell Library to read the new (unannounced and hastily erected) sign forbidding traffic into the United States by one and all, no matter how long you've lived and walked here.

So, let me issue an invitation to all interested neighbors, especially including our Canadian friends from Stanstead (Three Villages) to pack their identity documents and join us at 2:00 pm at the Derby Line Village Hall on Saturday, March 27 to peacefully assemble, walk, and discuss how to promote civility, friendly cross border relationships and the calm self confidence that is our real defense against terrorism. Stansteaders who wish not to cross the border could meet us on Church St. No criminal aliens or dangerous drugs, please. Thomas Mike Moseley, MD
Derby, Vermont

For more information about the story follow the link to WCAX TV http://www.wcax.com/Global/story.asp?S=12132613


Posted 01.26.10
Berit Lundh

OSLO, NORWAY: A few weeks back I wrote a piece called The Female Heart Attack. There is a sidebar to this story that is both uplifting and endearing.

The longest journey, the most hideous challenge and the most frightening struggle of this whole experience was, after having realized how immediately I needed help, the crawl from the bathroom to the phone in my bedroom.

I did not have the strength to crawl and so I crept and slithered my way across the floor. I would manage a foot or two and then collapse or lose consciousness.

As I had mentioned in my recent entry, I had been perspiring copiously for well over an hour so I don't know if my wonderful cat Trixie was just using me as a salt lick or whether or not she was bringing me back with intention.

Regardless -- each time I would lose it, I'd be brought around by a rough little tongue licking my face.

She must have done this a dozen times in those ten meters.

Recently I had a scheduled meeting with my physician and mentioned this to him.

"Well," he said "that cat more than likely saved your life. According to your medical report you had no more than a ten-minute leeway" ... in other words......

(Trixie is a 5-year-old adopted cat. She was thought to be difficult to place. I've loved her since the day I got her but now, my feelings for her are just ever to be grateful for having met her.)


Posted 01.26.10


Earthquake Response -- Your Support Needed!

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti, January 22, 2010

Dear John,

To our dear friends and supporters who have been so present through this difficult time. I feel like I have a wall of love and protection around me knowing that you are all holding Haiti in your thoughts and prayers. I apologize for not having written for the past few days, it is partly that life here is so hectic and fast paced and partly because I find that writing about the situation brings all my emotions to the surface and brings me to a vulnerable space that can be rather overwhelming. That said, I so want to be able to share with all of you what we are experiencing and the important difference we have been able to make as a result of your generosity.

When I first arrived in Port au Prince I spent a day at the UN compound by the airport where NGO's, doctors and soldiers swarm around talking on satellite phones and running from meeting to meeting. I learned about the massive amounts of food aid that arrived in the first week and was stockpiled at the airport. I learned of the aid trucks filled to the brim with supplies blocked at the border and sitting idle at the ports. Since that day I have not returned to the aid compound and chosen instead to go into the streets, into the camps where people hide from the sun, huddled together under tattered tarps waiting for the food that has yet to come, into the alleyways littered with the rubble of fallen dreams and the spirits of those we have lost.

I know that some of these stories of aid not reaching the victims are beginning to filter into the international media but I wanted to see if I can shed some light about why this is without casting blame. Everyone who has come here is devastated by this disaster, everyone wants to help but the slowness in distribution is not a question of intentions, it is a question of long standing fears and the security structures put in place in response to these fears.

A few days ago I got an email from Nicolas Kristof of the New York Times asking me to comment on the supposition made by many (not Nicolas himself) that Haitians have received large amounts of aid money over the years and have somehow squandered it. I responded to him by talking about fear, this same fear that is slowing the distribution of aid during this crisis. For centuries Haiti has been portrayed as a dangerous country filled with volatile and threatening people, unsafe for foreigners. This supposition, this fear and misunderstanding, has very deep implications for foreign aid and cross cultural understanding.

I have been amazed to visit friends working with large NGO's in Port au Prince only to learn that they are forced to operate under security restrictions that prevent any kind of real connections to Haitian communities. One friend showed me the map, used by all of the larger NGOs where Port au Prince is divided into security zones, yellow, orange, red. Red zones are restricted, in the orange zones all of the car windows must be rolled up and they cannot be visited past certain times of day, even in the yellow zones aid workers are often not permitted to walk through the streets and spend much of their time in Haiti riding through the city from one office to another in organizational vehicles.

The creation of these security zones has been like the building of a wall, a wall reinforced by language barriers and fear rather than iron rods, a wall that, unlike many of the buildings in Port au Prince, did not crumble during the earthquake. Fear, much like violence, is self perpetuating. When aid workers enter communities radiating fear it is offensive, the perceived disinterest in communicating with the poor majority is offensive, driving through impoverished communities with windows rolled up and armed security guards is offensive and, ironically, all of these extra security measures actually increase the level of risk for aid workers.

As I said, this wall of fear is not a new phenomenon and it has had very serious implications for the distribution of the millions of dollars of aid that have been flowing into the country for the past 10 days. Despite the good intentions of the many aid workers swarming around the UN base, much of the aid coming through the larger organizations is still blocked in storage, waiting for the required UN and US military escorts that are seen as essential for distribution, meanwhile people in the camps are suffering and their tolerance is waning.

Over the past 5 days I have been grateful to work with a small organization unhindered by bureaucracy and security restrictions. I am so thankful to work with a courageous team of Haitian community leaders and a respectful and fearless group of Americans. Thanks to the generous donations of our supporters SOIL has raised approximately $30,000 for immediate relief efforts and we are committed to providing that relief as quickly as we can get the money into the country. The most striking thing I have noticed while visiting the many camps throughout the city is the level of organization and ingenuity among the displaced communities. Community members stand ready to distribute food and water to their neighbors, they are prepared to provide first aid and assist with clean up efforts, all that they are lacking is the financial means to do so. When the quake struck people's savings were buried under the rubble of their former homes, banks are closed and no one has been able to access their accounts. Food and water are available for sale in the streets but no one is able to purchase them.

Our hope is that SOIL, AIDG and other small organizations will be able to help provide communities with the means to meet their needs in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, bridging the gap during the time it takes for the larger organizations to mobilize. I am honored to know a network of brave community leaders throughout Port au Prince whom I met during my human rights work from 2004-2006 and our team has spent the past several days visiting the camps with them and helping to distribute the resources that we have at our disposal. Each day we have been purchasing water trucks to deliver to camps that have yet to receive water, giving money to community organizers who are then able to purchase food from local businesses and distribute it to the areas most in need, bringing doctors and medical supplies into zones of the city that have none, providing our generator to community cyber cafes so that people are able to contact their families, driving patients from the camps to medical clinics that can receive them.

The magnitude of this tragedy is unimaginable and we are aware of our limitations and our inability to help touch more than a small percentage of those affected. While it breaks my heart to think about those we cannot help, it also fills me with hope to see the impact that we have been able to make. Each day I am awed and humbled by the dedication and compassion of my colleagues, both Haitian and international and touched by the outpouring of love and support that we have received from around the world. Please keep your love and donations flowing and we will do everything in our power to funnel that love and aid to the communities that need it the most.

With love from Port au Prince,



Sasha Kramer, Ph.D.
Co-founder Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL)
124 Church Rd.
Sherburne, NY 13460

Where are the cajones, Canada?

Posted 09.24.09

Elected senators? What happened to that idea that I would support? Almost thirty appointed Senators now by Harpo? Wasn't it Muldoon (a former Con PM who was prone to making large bank deposits without knowing where the money came from or what it was for) who said to Turner, "You had a choice, Mr. Turner and you picked the wrong one?" Well, you had a choice Mr. HarperÉ

This bunch is still continuing on in that fine Tory tradition of making one dumb decision after another. Nortel technology sold to offshore interests and not one objection from the ruling party? Yet we heap praise on Tim Horton's for coming back to Canada?

Instead of being in the international spotlight at the UN with other world leaders, our illustrious PM is in Hamilton having some Timbits and a large double double?

We have managed the economy effectively? This statement coming from a party that didn't even realize that there was a worldwide recession coming? According to our Finance Minister, Jim Flatulence, everything was absolutely rosy last fall. And Harpo told us there were bargains to be had in the falling stock market when all we were trying to do was hold on?

Tougher criminal laws and sentencing? Sure, let's build those US style super jails and really train criminals to be better at their craft?

National unity? This egocentric PM has given the Blocheads more seats in Parliament than they could ever dream of.

Enough already! Where are the voices of reason in this C.R.A. Party? Oh, that's right, I forgot, no one in the Tory caucus is allowed to speak their own mind. Heaven forbid that one of them should have an opinion that differs from the great one's. Someone's got to have the cajones to speak up. Keith McClatchie
St. Catharines, Ontario

Letter from Florida: Dear President Obama...

Posted 06.10.09

Dear President Obama,

I am highly skeptical of this letter ever reaching your desk, but in any case, I have decided to send it and see what transpires.

As a proud American and citizen of this great country, I find it incredibly hard to digest that we still maintain such a drastic level of inequality when it comes to basic human civil rights. As a gay man in a committed and loving relationship, I am forced to fight for my civil liberties on a daily basis.

The current Federal laws in this country are discriminatory both in theory and in practice against every gay and lesbian person, and further serve to marginalize our lives. In your victory speech on election night, you referenced the gay and lesbian citizens of this great country of ours. That in itself is contradictory to the laws of this country that serve to do nothing more than discriminate against a certain segment of the population, just as they marginalized people of color for many generations.

As a citizen of this United States, I pay taxes and contribute just like anyone else. However, our governmental system penalizes me because I am a gay man. Does this seem unfair, unjust, and unbalanced? I believe that it certainly does.

The laws in this country rest upon a foundation of equality and not inequality, or so they should. Yes, it is true that in certain states my partner and I can legally be married and receive certain legal protections. Nevertheless, a recognized union between two people is not a privilege. It is a fundamental right and yet, many of your fellow Americans are denied that very basic right. We are a country where separation of church and state should be the rule and not the exception.

I do not concern myself over whether or not the relationship with my partner is labeled a Ōmarriage' or Ōcivil union'. In the eyes of the Federal government, it is a matter of semantics. The churches, faith communities, and religious leaders take it upon themselves to decide if a person has the right to marry someone else. If clergy do not wish to allow my partner and I the right to wed in their house of worship, that is their business in doing so.

However, they should have no bearing as to whether or not my relationship is recognized by state and federal governmental entities.

We are all proud people living in a country where freedom reigns and where discriminatory practices at any level will not be tolerated. I implore you to take a firm stand in our government in working to eradicate discrimination against gay and lesbian people within the Federal government. Equality and basic civil rights for our citizens of this great land are the principles you should be working to uphold. Anything less is wrong and unjust.

Whatever your personal faith in God or belief is, I respect you for it. Nevertheless, those things have no place in deciding whether or not I receive equal treatment by the very government I help to support and the balance of equality as it pertains to Americans as a civilized society.


Jeremy S. Mahoney,
Jacksonville, Florida

Letter from Norway: All things are relative

Posted 02.21.09

Norway is one of the world's richest countries with a GDP per capita of 47,800 in US dollars placing it at number four worldwide. Sitting pretty is the Government Pension Fund of Norway, Europe's largest, holding a market value of almost USD 356 billion . There have been losses of course -- no country can completely escape the global reality but all things are relative.

quot;Nordic countries, Denmark and Norway, reported rising unemployment with oil-rich Norway saying the jobless rate rose to its highest level in two and a half years in January.

The Norwegian labor office said the unemployment rate hit 2.6 percent -- up from 2.0 percent in December and 1.8 percent a year ago."

Regardless of her wealth, the crisis is having its impact here.

    Stores are closing at a rate I have not seen in the dozen or so years I've been here.

    Car sales are down 40 percent.

    Real estate, in the past a virtual goldmine, is now slow, slow, slow to sell.

    The stock market is falling.

    High-end retail sales are down although low-end chains are showing increased sales.

    Restaurants are suffering and even 7/11 coffee -- although the price has remained the same, give you less for your money.

The Norwegian government has also presented its bailout package.

"The latest package from the Norwegian Ministry of Finance, announced over the weekend, is aimed at easing access to loans and financing for businesses."

This is Norway's second attempt at rectifying the crisis but without any success. Parts of the package resemble Obama's -- infrastructure, infrastructure, and infrastructure.

I have to admit it's hard for me to take the situation in this country seriously when I see what's going on in the rest of the world.

Yes, the Western world is suffering but not nearly as much as third world countries with doubled or tripled prices of grain, their life's sustenance.

And what effect really does this global financial crisis have on the war in the Congo, the Sudan, Somalia, the Middle East, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe?

Millions of people worldwide have been suffering from financial crisis for years -- no food, no clean water, no power, no school -- and yet somehow the world has not been able to get together to provide them with bailouts that actually work.

As with much of the rest of the world, the rich seem to get richer and the poor just simply die.

So I, for one, have little sympathy for the greed, corruption, and dishonesty of the West. Of course the same exists in third world countries but we ought to know better.

B. Lundh
Oslo, Norway

Letter from Norway to President-elect Obama

Posted 11.05.08

Dear Barack Obama,

Today is indeed a huge day for the world and not because you are America's first black president. Today is a huge day for the world because finally someone was able to mobilize American voters to go the the polls and vote for change.

As someone who has been living overseas for the past twelve years, I have wondered consistently over the past eight how America would survive the GWB administration, not only at home but throughout the world.

Whilst in Canada, I lived in Quebec, five miles as the crow flies from the Canada-US border and sitting right on top of the Vermont-New Hampshire border. Our alpine ski passes were at Wilderness (yes, Dixville Notch) in New Hampshire. Our summer vacations were spent on the coast in Maine or Massachussets. I have visited, over longer and shorter periods of time, forty-two of the United States of America and, although I love being Canadian, I have felt that I knew the US almost as well as I knew my own country -- that is, until GWB.

However, this last eight years seems to have taught Americans one very important thing -- that they alone have the collective power to make changes for over 300 million people. They and no one else. And it took a Barack Obama to move them enough to finally do the right thing -- Vote for Change -- and they did.

Hurray for you and your family, hurray for the American people, and last but absolutely not least, hurray for the world.

All the best for what will be an interesting four years.

B. Lundh
Oslo, Norway

Ed scholarship planned in QC's Eastern Township by CFUW

Posted 10.22.08

Dear Editor;

Former teachers and students of one-room schools in the Eastern Townships continue to be honoured and appreciated by members of the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Sherbrooke & District Club with the collection and preservation of the recollections of that bygone era.

Their book, Days to Remember: One-room Schoolhouses in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, launched in November 2007 was received with much enthusiasm. The book is a perpetual calendar which is richly illustrated with vintage and contemporary photographs, and features over sixty biographical sketches of former teachers, pupils and one inspector.

Ronald Ewing wrote in the Sherbrooke Record that "it is a wonderful addition to any collection of texts dealing with our local history with an emphasis upon the English population. It succeeds in a scholarly way while using an anecdotal style."

Former teachers and students are still invited to contribute their stories, photos, etc. to the Eastern Townships Research Centre at Bishop's University in Lennoxville or their local Historical Societies. If anyone would like to have the questionnaire used in the project, contact www.cfuwsherbrooke.org or 819-826-3929. All tapes, transcripts, and memorabilia from the CFUW project are being preserved at the Eastern Townships Research Centre to be used for personal or scholarly research.

Plans are underway to establish a scholarship for a student who is working towards becoming an elementary school teacher. The book can be purchased at local bookstores and specialty shops in the Eastern Townships, through Townshippers' Association (819-866-5717) and the club's website In Montreal, books are available at Nicholas Hoare Bookshop and Concordia University Bookstore, and in Quebec City at La Maison Anglaise et Internationale.

On the rights of gay people to marry

Posted 10.21.08

Dear Editor;

The majority of Floridians are OK with same-sex couples having the same exact legal rights as everyone else -- hospital visits, inheritance, and benefits at work. But they don't want those couples having the legal right to get married (translation: God doesn't like homos).

Their logic escapes me. Oh wait, there is no form of logic, intelligence or reasoning from these folks. Many of these "citizens" are the same people who voted for our current president and look where that has gotten us.

When asked about same-sex marriage in a Research 2000 Florida Poll, 53 percent of the respondents eagerly support Amendment 2, the proposed change to the Florida Constitution that would limit marriage to the legal union between one man and one woman. However, these same exact respondents enthusiastically - around 77 percent -- supported the legal rights of same-sex couples.

(Translation: "It's OK if those people want to see a dying partner in the hospital, get their partner's money, or benefits from an employer. But, those people are not normal and Jeebus ain't gonna be happy if the fags marry".) Their f*cked up mentality is steeped in the Bible (translation: hypocrites.)

It is this same percentage of the population who still believes the earth is flat, won't allow evolution to be taught in the schools, and eagerly supports the likes of McCain and Palin (translation: mindless)

As a gay man in a same-sex relationship (seven years and going strong), I do not understand why anyone could take issue with my having the right to marry my same-sex partner here in Florida (or anywhere else for that matter). How does my ability to wed as a gay man influence their lives? (Translation: not one friggin' way.)

Marriage is a union between two people. An emotional bond comprised of love, commitment, and loyalty. These things are not limited to one man and one woman. My life partner and I can certainly attest to this.

It comes down to what's fair and just in society. Denying any two consenting adults (two men, two women, or a man and a woman) who have made a choice to share a life together and love one another the right to marriage is just wrong. It is unfortunate when people live without thinking for themselves, but instead choose to hide behind illogical ideals, irrational thought, and the concept that somehow there is a Guy in white robes floating around in the clouds waiting to get pissed off if gays get to call their relationships a "marriage".

Scott Mahoney
Jacksonville, Florida

US anti-Cuban laws now enforced in Canada

Posted 04.24.08

Dear editor,

Like many Canadians, I receive a MasterCard application about twice a month.

These offers come from US bank subsidiaries based in Canada. Some of the applications state, in very fine print, that the card cannot be used in Cuba, North Korea, or Iran. Others don't say so, but a telephone call will confirm the same restriction.

By some estimates, as many as one third of Canadians belong to credit unions. If you are a member of a credit union that issues MasterCard, your card is likely no longer valid in Cuba because the company that clears your transactions was bought out by a Canadian subsidiary of a US firm.

Were you even told this? (Note Bank of Montreal MasterCards are still valid in Cuba as they clear their own transactions).

The MasterCard issue is part of a larger picture. To my knowledge, we now have:

  • US banks in Canada that issue these constrained MasterCards
  • Canadian Credit Unions offering these same cards
  • The same banks refuse to send funds to Cuba or facilitate any transactions involving Cuba
  • US couriers in Canada who will not pick up/deliver to/from the Cuban Embassy or its consulates
  • Canadian-domained versions of US travel websites that don't offer trips to Cuba
Is this but the tip of an iceberg?

Does anyone reading this have knowledge of other consumer-oriented applications of the US's Helms-Burton law in Canada?

Canada has a law prohibiting this sort of application of US laws in Canada.

When Helms-Burton was enacted in the US in 1996, Canada quickly amended its Foreign Extra-territorial Measures Act to protect its sovereignty and by requiring US subsidiaries operating in Canada to abide by Canadian law and not discriminate against Cuba in economic activities.

To date, no prosecutions have ever been launched in support of this law, despite the growing number of violations.

Last year, Canada voted with most of the world, 184 to 4 in favour of lifting the blockade against Cuba. Despite this very public support for Cuba, we are allowing US companies to use our banking system to destroy the economy of Cuba, a sovereign nation with whom Canada has had uninterrupted, friendly relations for more than sixty years.

Brien Young

Emergency Meeting, or The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling!

Posted 03.29.08
At the last emergency meeting of L'Office Québécois de la Langue Française to discuss the latest threat to their culture, all the members were fired up to get there early.

After arriving in the morning in their Japanese cars, they shared a breakfast of Belgian waffles, Spanish omelettes, Mexican cornbread, and good old Tim Horton's coffee.

While eating, someone admired Présidente-Directrice Générale Madame France Boucher's outfit, including new Italian shoes and her nice new Hong Kong-made purse, and everyone laughed when she said she bought the purse at Wal-Mart. . . and admitted she got her skirt while on vacation in Florida!

They chatted about Amy Winehouse's performance at the Grammy's and Monsieur Guy Dumas mentioned that last night he went to see the new "Rambo" movie, version Française of course, at the American-owned AMC Theatre downtown . . . after eating at Boston Pizza. He said he had not slept well because his teenager kept playing her Jay-Z and Kanye West CDs in her bedroom too loud.

With breakfast done they moved to their new boardroom decked out in Ikea furniture and a Honduras Mahogany boardroom table to start their emergency meeting. Madame Marie Gendron fired up the Sony projector and her Toshiba Laptop to present a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation on how a handful of English signs at McKibbin's Irish Pub in Montreal were destroying the French culture.
Via the Internet

On resignations and hypocrisy

Posted 03.13.08
What a bunch of hypocrites these people are...

So, Spitzer has now resigned as Governor of New York. It's too bad that folks weren't as demanding in calling for Bush's resignation.

Bush has advocated for torture, abused his own discretionary powers time and time again, and keeps lying to America -- and yet he still sits at the helm of our government. What a jackass. Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales...don't even get me started on these jokers.

The only folks Spitzer owes an apology too are his wife and kids for the hurt, shame, and public embarrassment he has caused them.

Jeez. Look at the Kennedys. With all their scandals and public humiliations, Ted is still in office.

If the American public wants to call shame on anyone, it should be on that moron sitting in the oval office, and his band of criminal cronies he has surrounded himself with.

The end of Bush's term can't come soon enough for me. Good riddance.

Scott Mahoney
Jackonsville, FL

An apology/suggestion from the LCC's Galivanting Gourmand

Posted 01.26.08
Hi John,

I've been so busy that I somehow missed the opportunity to pen a tribute for Robbie Burns Day.

On my Internet travels this frosty morning I came across an interesting link regarding the early Scottish settlers in the Eastern Townships and Quebec. Perhaps you have seen this but I thought it might be of interest to you and others. http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Hills/9917/hisqueb1.htm#history

In absence of a proper column for loyal Log Cabin readers, I can provide at least one tribute of sorts by introducing a concept that may allow some union of Quebec's two solitudes. I believe that Haggis presents a perfect opportunity.

In celebration of Robbie Burns Day why not stuff a stomach with poutine in lieu of sheep and pig offal? Serve with neeps and tatties and Pepsi. Jos-Lois for dessert is a reasonable accommodation.

The name I suggest for the poutine-stuffed haggis is Quaggis.

Have a wee dram for me,

Greg, the Duncan

Bread-making reader is enthralled

Posted 07.09.07
I fell in love with your oven description, it was/is just what I want in my new (old, moldy) kitchen here in rural France.

The old chimney is blocked...PERFECT! and the stones and bricks are still around the place, it'll make a fine bread oven using your descriptions to help me along.

Thank you so very much for the great page, nice writing too

Howard and Kelly Lute

And this from a chef

Posted 07.09.07
What a delightful site.
I enjoyed the journal and the illustrations.

Cool life you have carved.
Great visualizations about your process.

The insight is personal and sweet.

Thank You
Chef Nonni Casino

Letter from an angry American

Posted 07.09.07
Dear President Bush,

I am outraged that you chose to commute the sentence of Lewis Libby.

Mr. Libby was tried by a jury of his peers and found guilty. He was sentenced under guidelines passed by Congress and upheld in the federal courts.

By commuting his sentence you have shown that there is not equal protection under the law in the United States, you have demonstrated to the world that in the United States it is nice to have friends in high places.

A bad example set by the leader of the free world.


Frank Bernheisel
Falls Church, Virginia

RE: Ross Murray's dreaded peanut butter jar dilemma

Posted 03.14.07
Dear Editor,

Years ago, in the petit village of Ste. Hermenegilde, QC, I learned from big guy Hank that if you toss your crusty peanut butter jars out into the yard that the squirrels and chipmunks will happily clean them out for you.

Down in the Eastern Townships this worked wonderfully and they actually ate most of the plastic, too, if you did not collect them quickly.

Once in a awhile a big squirrel would get momentarily stuck (bucket head, hee, hee!) and we would watch the antics from our window. The chipmunks always had the advantage as they could easily negotiate the smallest of jars.

Somehow, up here in the suburbs of Montreal, they do not do this. We put the dirty jars out and learned quickly that it is feral cats that perform this task. The squirrels seem to know that having their heads in a sticky jar spells certain death by a local band of night prowlers.

These are some ugly and tough felines, I tell you, and they mark their territory to our great frustration. Nothing like the musky scent during an early morning hot tub session outside after the hot tub has been owned by the marauders.

Try the Squirrel-Klean technique. At the very least you may witness a display of dominance by whatever animals inhabit your yard. A mob of Meerkats vs porcupines in Stanstead, perhaps?

Chunky works better that creamy and they don't like the organic unsweetened stuff. That's for sissies and bad for your heart...

Greg Duncan

Posted 03.03.07
Dear Editor,

I recently read an article by Barbara Florio Graham on-line in the Log Cabin Chronicles about Whose Junk is This?

Anything that can be done to keep re-usable "stuff" out of landfills is good for us and particularly good for future generations. As has been said many times, "One person's junk is another's gold mine." I'd like to tell you about a "gold mine" that many are not aware of.

At www.freecycle.org people can find a group that recycles things in their area. There are approximately 3,260,193 members in 3975 groups worldwide and it is constantly growing. "The best things in life are free" and Freecycle(TM) helps this by members offering things they no longer need or want (some new, some used) and members can also ask for items needed.

Recently, a manager of the Freecycle(TM) Group in Montreal was interviewed on TQS-TV and our Sherbrooke membership increased by 34 percent in less than a week.

We started our group in January 2005 and we now have 369 members. Many of them are bilingual, while some are unilingual English or French. We have members from as far away as Connecticut because they have a cottage in this area which they visit often.

The more members we can get interested make for more "stuff" to kept out of landfills. Sometimes it is amazing what people ask for and actually get as well as the many items that are offered. Not long ago a person from a western province asked for a house and he did get one, including the property it was on.

Please consider giving our group in Sherbrooke a boost in membership and help to keep useable articles out of our landfills. People can visit our Freecycle(TM) Sherbrooke QC group at: http://ca.groups.yahoo.com/group/Freecycle_Sherbrooke_QC and sign up right away or they can check www.freecycle.org to see if there is a group closer to their area.

Thank you,

Ric Smithers
496 rue Cartier Sherbrooke QC J1G 1G1

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