Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If I had no time left...

This is what I would tell those I love:

Be excellent in your treatment of others. Regardless of any other achievement, honor, or award, be true in this.

There will be those who will seek to take advantage of your generosity, or may perceive you as weak as a consequence, but pay them no mind. The advantage lost from conceding to a petty difference is more than taken up by the good you will generate.

Do not be afraid. Fear brings out the worst in all of us.

A New Day at the Eye Doctor

A year ago, when this blog was young, I documented my visit to the eye clinic. Yesterday I had my annual checkup. Experiences are vivid, maybe because the eye is so vulnerable. I am hyper-sensitive during these visits. I bring hubby along and I am grateful that he drives me home. Drops are put in my eyes that keep my eyes dilated and keep me from focusing. For a brief time, my frenetic pace just stops. Until I can see again.

I noted some improvements from my last visit. Stations are now clearly marked with large signs, POD 1, POD 2, and POD 3 (large signs in an eye clinic. What a concept). But I get ahead of myself. I must first "report to the nursing station". Like last year, I take a number. I am 99. They are serving 98. Service was very fast.

I was directed to POD 2; much easier to find this year. There was still a hand drawn sign with a bold arrow, "Put your paperwork in the basket." the nurse was brisk, placing my paperwork in the basket and redirecting me to the POD 2 waiting room. I did note that she did not spare a moment for eye contact. So, despite the improvements, I still felt like a number.

The improvements needed now are human, and not as quantifiable. How many times a day are these nurses asked the same question? I can imagine how monotonous it can become...for them. For me, all is novel. How can they be engaged in their day so the experience is humanized?

As a side note, one of my favorite bloggers, Paul Levy, promotes Grateful Nation. Apparently, gratefulness is good for me. This I believe. I must learn more.

I am grateful that the tests for glaucoma so far come back negative. I treasure my eyes. I am grateful for a patient husband, who dreads the hospital even more than I do. I treasure him, too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ten Thousand Hours and Talent

I am wrapping up Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers. His convincing conclusion is that the experience of those who have achieved great success "...at first blush to lie outside ordinary experience. But they don't. They are products of history and community, of opportunity and legacy." (p. 285)

His conclusions are reassuring in many ways. With ten thousand hours of practice, any one of us with even middling talent can become proficient. To become leaders in our field, we need a little more. We are helped by a supportive community and being in the right time and place. "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand before kings." Proverbs 22:29.

My daughter, passionate about dogs, send me an editorial by Cesar Millan, dog whisperer. He is one of those people who has excelled in his line of work, and also had the good fortune to have a community, place and time to build great influence, or as Gladwell describes it, meaningful work.

On the twentieth of this month, he talks about how dogs have taught him.

"But that's not all dogs have to teach us. They educate us about the value of consistency. If you apply Exercise, Discipline, then Affection every day without fail, your dog will reward you with loyal companionship. And they show us how to live life to the fullest by being balanced and celebrating every moment.

Through my pack, I have experience birth, life, and death, and they have shared fundamental lessons about going through this natural life cycle. How do they pass from one phase to the next? How do they stay together all their lives as a family? They have taught me to value the simplicity of life itself. They intensify every moment that I am with them. And for that, I am eternally grateful."

Yes, I can learn a lot from hanging out with our dog friend, Ariel. She knows when it has been too long between visits. A quick exchange of affection is all that is needed. How many times do I neglect that simple thing? What price do I pay, mentally and physically, by ignoring this basic need?

How about celebrating the moment? I've seen that theme repeated over and over again as well. There's Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's work on Flow. I bet dogs and ten thousand hours champions enjoy many flow moments of intense concentration.

Drugs or Time?

Mental illness is an issue that hits close to home for me. My mother is bi-polar. My son, ex-husband, and son-in-law all show signs of schizophrenia. I've seen the devastation of these diseases up close and personal. We depend on our minds to self-assess our condition; to let us know when we are not well. Mental illness strips us of even this basic freedom and family, friends, or the state must intervene. In a delusional state, the mentally ill may blame family members for the indignity of forced care. The only comfort I get is to see them recovered, back home, and able to smile again.

Don't get me wrong; psychiactric medications have changed the face of care for the mentally ill. Gone (or nearly gone) are the ice baths, restraints, incarceration, and shock treatments. The attached article provides an extensive list of past treatments. I don't buy in to this author's assertion that true cure is blocked by the drug companies. We use drugs because they are the best solution yet available. We also still have short term incarceration when a person is so far gone they are a danger to themselves or others. And a very few are too dangerous to ever have in the population at large. But for the most part, these medications help people live out in the community and relatively independent lives.

I've often wondered, however, in the aggressive pursuit of lower costs, or by simple ignorance or neglect, if we do the mentally ill a disservice by characterizing their disease as only a drug problem. Bipolar Disorder responds beautifully to medication. There's a specific deficit in the brain, and medication replaces it. Schizophrenia, however, does not respond as well. All the medications do right now is to keep the worst symptoms in check. I suspect that Schizophrenia is really a bundle of brain flaws all of which present similar symptoms (delusions, paranoia) if left unmanaged long enough. Even my bipolar mother presented delusions and paranoia when she was very far gone.

From "The economic burden of mental health problems in Canada": By Stephens T, Joubert N.

"This study provides a comprehensive estimate of the economic burden of mental health problems in Canada in 1998. In particular, it estimates the cost of non-medical services that have not been previously published and the value of short-term disability associated with mental health problems that were previously underestimated according to the definitions used here. The costs of consultations with psychologists and social workers not covered by public health insurance was $278 million, while the value of reduced productivity associated with depression and distress over the short term was $6 billion. Several data limitations suggest that these are underestimates. The estimated total burden of $14.4 billion places mental health problems among the costliest conditions in Canada."

There are precious few classes and counselling sessions freely available to the mentally ill. There are clubs and group sessions. My son visits his support worker as often as once a week. But those sessions are primarily a check-in, to monitor if my son is better or worse. There's a wonderful program at Ponoka that helps people with combined mental health and drug issues. But it lasts only six weeks. Follow-up is minimal.

WHO Optimal Mix for Mental Health Care
Here in Canada, the burden of care falls on the family doctor, who spends up to half their time taking care of mentally ill patients. I suspect most are patients suffering from various depressive disorders. Why? Because psychiactric counselling is not fully covered by our health care system. Drugs are.

Mental illness in itself is a socially isolating disease. Treating the illness with drugs alone does not resolve the isolation. Some of my family members carry the burden of their illness, fears and anxieties unresolved, weighted down. My psychologist friend describes a day in the life of a person in depression as wading through jell-o. The effort to dress, to go to the store, to walk down the hall, takes all they have. Imagine for the schizophrenic getting through a normal conversation while ignoring the dozen other conversations or so competing in his head.

It seems to me that it could be possible that many mentally ill could experience greater empowerment over their disease, and less medication. The mentally ill might be coached through new coping techniques that would help them reduce their dependence on medication.

There's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for instance, that takes less time than the old psychotherapy. Greater community supports are needed as well, and supports for the families with mentally ill members.

The World Health Organization recognizes the need for better care for the mentally ill. Governments across the world need to see mental health as a vital component of primary health care. We need to change policy and practice. Only then can we get the essential mental health services to the tens of millions in need”, said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization.

The world health report 2001 - Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope

I'll stop now. My researcher's gene has been activated and I'm having trouble putting this article to bed. To answer the title of this blog, I think we need drugs and time...much more time. We need to think about and talk about these issues openly. We need to be there for family members who are mentally ill. Help them out of the confusing maze of their illness. Help them find greater fulfillment and happiness from living.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fighting Crime

It's been a crazy-busy week. Work absorbed, which I think I've talked enough about now. But also I've been busy with condo board stuff. Sharlene and I both attended the Clareview Crime Council meeting to learn more about what can be done about crime in our neighbourhood.

Sharlene and I attended because there is a fair bit of petty crime activity in our back parking lot. Cars are broken in to or stolen. Shady deals are passed between cars with darkened windows. So we went to this session to learn more about what is available. Unbeknownst to us, the meeting was also a recruitment drive. We're both signed up. *sigh*. Ah, well. If it proves too much, I can always bow out.

But wow, so much we learned in that hour and a half. There's all sorts of crime prevention associations out there. There's all kinds of resources available, too. I got a phone number for "report a drug house". We can get a "safety audit" done for our property. There's a Coalition of Crime Councils. I met social worker who works in our neighbourhood. There's Safe Streets and Neighbourhood Empowerment Teams and Safe Edmonton (this looks good).

There's an expert on Neighbourhood Empowerment, Jim Diers who will be coming to town to speak on November 17, 2009. He has a book and now I am eager to hear from him in person. I bet a lot of what he talks about ties in to my ponderings on how we can humanize intake experiences.

It all comes down to people, doesn't it? Why haven't I heard of all these councils, resources and associations? Is it because I had bought in to the apathy and assumed there is nothing that can be done?

By the way, as I browsed the internet to confirm links above, I found InformAlberta.ca. It appears to be a self managed site to link all sorts of services in a mega-database The Safe Streets link was bad. The "contact us" form was markedly worse, consisting of over a hundred fields to review, two tabs, and obscure instructions...in red. God help me if I filled out the inquiry wrong. Will the internet police be after me soon?

Oh, and I should mention that the Clareview Crime Council provided FOOD and COFFEE. Coffee was compliments of our local Mac's owner, who recognized me and greeted me as I came in. It is heartening that he is so involved in our community.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Edmonton Call Center Frustration

Last December I watched with interest as Edmonton launched a new call center, 311, with ambitions to improve service response. The target at the time was to respond to 80% of the calls within 25 seconds. But in the first six months, the average time waiting for an operator was two minutes. ($10-million phone service source of frustration By Frank Landry, City Hall Bureau, Edmonton Sun)

The idea was a good one. What went wrong?

I am most concerned that the "fix" quoted in the article is to hire more operators and add Interactive Voice Response. Beware of techie fixes, especially if the problem is not fully understood. Those of you who know me will agree; I like gadgets. Especially if they make my job easier and faster. But gadgets aren't always the solution. For instance, I have resisted the urge to buy a food dehydrator, a showtime rotisserie, and an electric meat slicer. A girl has only so much counter space.

So if buying a new gadget is not the solution, what could the call center do to improve it's service? First of all, the agency needs to find out why it takes so long for an operator to conclude the call. I suspect they have many of the problems experienced by Alberta Treasury Branches (ATB) when they decided to improve their call center operations. ATB is now a "best practice" model on how to improve the customer experience.

Here is a quote from the Customer relationship management systems handbook
By Duane E. Sharp (2003) (P 152, 153)

"ATB’s cumbersome contact center system lacked the functionality to service customers quickly. Often, customers who thought they were phoning a local branch office had their calls redirected to the centralized contact center, where the customer’s transaction history was unknown. To find the answers the customer needed, the contact center representative would have to bring up any one of several different screens, a laborious, time-consuming process….[now] when a call comes into the contact center, a profile of the customer will pop up, giving the representative information about who the customer is, the customer’s address, a full listing of the customer’s holdings, and a description of the customer’s last contact with the bank."

I would respectfully suggest that the city would do better to hold off on the purchase of the interactive software, learn more about the business of responding to city calls and the number of screens their operators must flip through, learn more from the best practice models like ATB, and then come up with solutions.

I'll throw in one more plug for the Fish! philosophy. Here is an article by John Christensen on the implementation of Fish! at Sprint's call center, "A Call for Change".

Call centers are important. Call centers are where front-line interaction with the customer happens. The customer's opinion of your offerings are made here. Set aside the statistics for a moment, as summaries and statistics may mask the cause. Executive should take a day off and sit in and listen in at the call center. How does the public really feel about your agency?

If this is where customer relations are made or broken, why would you put any barriers, such as automated response, between the caller and you? As I learned from webpagesthatsuck.com, the smart guys such as Wal-Mart, E-Bay and Amazon give the customer a smooth experience. Doors of entry are wide open and there are no barriers between customer and product.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

You know the kind of day....

...where the breeze through the window a shade cooler than mild blessing the skin in puffs scented softly of damp leaves, the sky a gentle blue with the faintest haze of high cloud, trees lightly dusted in gold, sounds of children playing out of sight, a magpie chuckling to itself at it's own joke, the swish of car cruising lazily past our street.

This is my fall morning.

The potted tomato yields a few red cherries every morning. The zucchinis have worn themselves out. Thumbelina carrots pop out plump and ready. I've pulled all the leeks save three. Flowers are resting except for my geranium which is bursting in a half dozen broad red blooms. Hubby asks if we can have "more of those" next summer. Parsley overflows in it's own pot, ready to be brought inside when the cold weather comes.

It is as if the land waits in stillness for what is sure to come.

Friday, September 18, 2009


I've been on the hunt this morning; no success so far. I remember a quote from a self-made man who said something along the lines of, "I learn like everyone else, from books". I would like to find that quote and confirm who said it.

During my hunt I notice that google has matured. Results aren't random clips from text. I've found biographies on self-taught men, a sculpture titled the Self Made Man (below), Autoditactism (fancy word for self-taught) on Wikipedia, and exotic websites designed by autodidacts. There is a sense of non-conformity in the autodidact's website design.

I've found one wonderful quote but not directly related to my hunt,

"One of my worst fears is of what I will be in the future. Not really of what will happen to me, but of what it will turn me into. If none of my dreams comes true, will I be embarrassed to keep dreaming? It takes courage to fulfill dreams, but I think even more if we can't."

Quoted from The Day I Became an Autodidact, by Kendall Hailey found on Lisa Chellman's blog.

I can't imagine a better quote to sum up middle age and mid-life crisis. Kendall Hailey wrote this long before she hit her golden years. But then again I suspect she is one of those rare individuals who works out her wisdom before she gets there. Me, I stumble along like everyone else. I read the seven habits of highly effective people after my most energetic years. So much wasted effort (sigh).
I am of an age where my house and mind are cluttered with unfinished projects. All were started with the best of intentions. The finished design glories in technicolor in my imagination. But the reality is that my life is cluttered. Some of those great ambitions will stay undone.
Meanwhile, I work out how to best use the time I have left. What can I learn, what can I do, what can I share, that will make best use of my abilities and leave a lasting impression on this world?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Body and Mind

Well, from the declining quality of my posts, it's obvious I am tired. Then near the end of day yesterday, I got a stuffed head and scratchy throat.

No wonder.

Was the fuzzy brain the fore-runner of whatever virus has hit me now? Or is it a case of where the mind is, the body will follow? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I will say, the time taken to log my state of health, what I eat, when I eat, exercise, sleep, has made me much more aware of how my whole system is interdependent. I see that I pay for every foolish choice...now that I am paying attention.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Streaming Fish

Again, no topic today. A work assignment has completely absorbed me for the past few days. Hubby gets monosyllable grunts instead of complete thoughts. But I do want to keep up on the writing. My theory that body and mind responds to habit does seem to bear out. I wake up in the morning anticipating my blog.

Now, if this poor old brain had something to say..... mister fishy grins at me from his perch at my desk. He makes me smile. Hubby and I saw another at a Webkins display, the first time I've seen him in Edmonton.

Mister fishy of course, reminds me of Pike Place, the success of my unit to introduce joy in the workplace, and the accolades that came from that. That initiative is getting old, but the principles haven't. They've borne the test of time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Public Voyeurism - Swarming Celebrities

Colin Farell yesterday confronted a paparazzi for yelling at his sister for getting in the way. Media frantically gathers information on celebrities to feed an apparently insatiable thirst for that information. The way we do that in the western world has a wrongness about it that I haven't quite fingered. Today I have more questions than answers.

When does the public's apparently insatiable desire to know become wrong? In a nation steeped in the principles of "freedom of the press", is restraint possible?

Here's a definition of mediated voyeurism from the book, Voyeur Nation: Media, Privacy, and Peering in Modern Culture. by Clay Calvert.

"Mediated voyeurism refers to the consumption of revealing images of and information about others' apparently real and unguarded lives, often yet not always for purposes of entertainment but frequently at the expense of privacy and discourse, through the means of the mass media and Internet. "

The book concentrates on "reality television" and the unreality so created. Privacy is a right. Obviously people who participate in such shows must sign away their rights to privacy, including night vision cameras. Regular people who have not cavalierly given them away, are more sensitized to their rights in this regard, especially now that we have the tools to break down all apparent barriers. On the other hand, it can be argued that celebrities, unlike "reality show" participants, never sign their rights away. Privacy is gradually (or suddenly) taken from them. Can a celebrity ever have a "private dinner" in a public place? Is there such a thing as a "private beach"? What lengths must a celebrity go to for privacy? How much privacy can a celebrity create for themselves without help?

A veteran of celebrity status, Gareth Edwards says,

"But the fact of life is that the mouth of the media is a very hungry one to feed. People may say there's no such thing as bad publicity, but I wouldn't necessarily agree...Publicity and all the attention is not something you get used to, it's something you grow with. If I were to say, 'Is it a nice thing?' then yes, it certainly is, and it has more attractions than drawbacks."

So far there are few restraints on the insatiable collection of minutae by the media, all under the cloak of "freedom of the press". Will there come a day where self-monitoring will be inadequate? Will the public demand some restraint on what is offered free on people's lives?

Here's a popular vendor who does not cater to the public, Shopskins . The link provides an audio interview, about twenty minutes long, with the owner of this popular restaurant. His answer to the public frenzy was to find a smaller location off the beaten track. He routinely ejects about 3-4 people a week if he senses they are simply there for the show. Check out the mixed reviews from visitors.

How different from Pike Place Fish, who have cheerfully embraced their yogurt dudes. The difference, perhaps, is that Pike Place has been committed to becoming "world famous" and has grown the company and it's offerings as it's popularity has grown.

Paparazzi: http://www.viiphoto.com/showstory.php?nID=870

Self-Awareness 101

Today's one minute writer asks the question, what basic course should be offered to all college students? Self-Awareness 101 was the first that popped to mind.

When I was checking out the possibility of going to college, a professor told the prospective students that the most valuable course he ever took was....typing. His colleagues irked at that. But his premise was simple. He used his typing skills every day.

The same way, self-awareness allows us to grow. Not just a few times, but with every encounter in the day. So much of the rest of our learning is to absorb, build, and catalogue our collection of facts. He with the most knowledge wins. But that's not quite true, is it? Society doesn't reward the most knowledgeable. Not if he isn't convincing. So how about a class on influencing others? But that has flaws, too. No-one wants to be won over by trickery.

We want to be engaged, honored, listened to. If there were a hole in the North American heart, it would be the great yawning desire to be heard. We're shouting loud enough, that is to be sure. But in the shouting we are not listening to each other.

Which is where self-awareness comes in. With every encounter, good and bad, there are two players. The "opponent" and me. In a few small ways I can influence an opponent to my point of view. Especially if I have taken the time to really understand what he is trying to say. Especially if I honor him by letting him know he's been heard. But the great power in my hands is to change me. I have total control over that...in theory. If I can walk past a pastry in the window shop, surely I can examine my own motives and scrub out found flaws.

Believe me, people can sense that strength. A self aware person does not lash out at every swipe. A self aware person controls how she responds. She looks for a better way. People feel safe around her, because deep down they know, even when provoked, she will be reasonable.

Now, just imagine a single class of college students, successful grads of Self-Awareness 101. Imagine thirty people who really listen to others and themselves, and are willing to challenge their most precious beliefs about themselves. Imagine what they can accomplish with those skills in a lifetime. They won't hit middle age with a huge wad of regrets, or perhaps totally unaware, hit middle age bewildered, unsure how they failed to grab opportunities?

Except we really must change the name. Self-Awareness sounds so...basket-weaving-hippy-space-out-there.

How about Aware 101? Or maybe "It's All Over Here", a day catching fish at Pike Place.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

People Justice is Quick and Terrible

The quote in my title is on page 194 of a novel, "Brick Lane" by Monica Ali, and I think represents something profound in the way people behave in crowds. One reviewer says of this author, "She is one of those dangerous writers who sees everything" (Kirkus Reviews). Ali's observations are as acute as they are descriptive.

A character in her book makes this statement, "People justice is quick and terrible," after watching a crowd beat and set afire two men who had attempted to rob a bank in Bangladesh. The girl laments that there is lawlessness in her country where people take things in to their own hands and hopes it is different for her sister in London?

I had mentioned in an earlier post that according to Confucious, the very least a leader must have is the trust of his people. Otherwise people do what they want. Anarchy.

I've met Anarchists, of whom I am violently - strike that - vehemently opposed to their position. For them, it is government that is inherently evil and have taken the extreme position that people are most content and peaceful when unhindered by government or laws.

To that argument I ask, who is the "government"? At the end of the day, they are people just like us, just trying to make the best way they can. After twenty years in the public service, I can confidently say that there is no "cabal" or secret society. We end up the way we are by our own error; both in our personal lives and in our communal activities like democracy.

The second problem I consider is the application of anarchy in practice. Mouse over this interactive "conflict map" that shows various conflicts around the world over time. The picture is not pretty. Conflicts are the chief cause for disruption in trade, poverty, and starvation. As Ali's character so sweetly expresses, people in crowds, aroused, are swift and terrible. Somehow, like a pack of dogs, we are capable of far worse when we have companions agreeing and egging us on.

I understand the temptation. When we see criminals go free with apparently no hindrance; when our homes or families are violated; we may ask, is there Justice? The swift answer is "Lock them up." But the solution, like life, is not so simple.

Managing by Color

I've had my nose to the grindstone the past few days, accomplishing the top activities on my list. Any gold in my personality is pleased. Knowing these important, undone tasks are out of the way does release the load. I stand a little straighter. Having some help at work has definitely had an impact.

My mind is a little lax, not quite sure what to do with itself. I do hope I am not dependent on stress to enliven my muse. Tell me I can be creative just by being happy.

I heard from George Boelcke yesterday, owner operator of Vantage Consulting and author of Colorful Personalities. http://www.vantageseminars.com/ His presentations have had a tremendous impact on my unit, helping us to understand ourselves and each other that much better. Though I can offer him no more work this year, I do wish him all success in his ventures.

Even in a time of restraint, investment must be made in our staff. Otherwise, in a few years, we stand alone. I will demonstrate. This is a diagram of a hypothetical Manager's staff complement, showing years of experience. In this example, there had been a hiring freeze fifteen years earlier. The consequence is that while there is a fine batch of newcomers and a receding lump of veteran baby boomers. there is a significant gap of people with "middling" experience. What happens when the boomers are gone? There will be a whole bunch of people hustling to figure out what is going on. And a lonely Manager.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Book Review, "Midnight on the Line"

Investigative reporter and author, Tim Gaynor, interviews smugglers, migrants, and the enforcers tasked with keeping them out, all along the US-Mexico border. His descriptions are vivid and real, because he is there. He walks where they walk, and for a short time, tries to live in their shoes. I am enraptured by the story.

Gaynor confirms my instincts that "one size fits all" solutions rarely work. On the fourteen foot double fence in urban areas there is no razor wire. No-one wants images of dead migrants hanging from a cruel fence. Rather, the mesh of the fence is too tight to get a toehold. The fence is formidable, but not deadly.

But these great double fences, heavily watched, would be ineffective across the great stretches of barren wilderness along the border. In the wilder areas, a border patrol can afford to allow a smuggler or illegal immigrant to spend a few days trekking to civilization. Often the harshness of the land does the work for them, and the fugitives are more than happy to be picked up. Out in the wilderness, a fascinating blend of horse-mounted trackers, military strength helicopters, and pilotless drones do their work.

What have I learned from the book? Real solutions requires us to not be too quick to lash out answers. Talk to the people on the front line. Walk with them and learn what they know. Different conditions may demand a variety of responses. Listen. Extra funding can help where workers are overwhelmed (i.e. Tijuana), if intelligently applied.

The root problem is we have an inequity, marked with a border. We've created "us versus them". Reduce the inequity, and the demand goes away. We are maybe not ready for a borderless world, but perhaps this humbling recession will reduce the strain.

Edited to add: Another gem from the book, which confirms my concern that throwing money at the problem can cause unintended results. At the very end of chapter 9, Corruption, page 226, public servants are nervous about mass hiring to fill in a gap. A similar mass hiring in Miami resulted in a sharp rise in corruption uncovered a few years later. Those in the know are concerned about hiring too many people at once, many who might be less qualified. Paul Charlton, a former US attorney in Arizona, states, "My greatest concern is that the public will lose faith in law enforcement and our government. You only have to look at government south of the border to understand what that means," he said, in reference to Mexico's corrupt authorities, regarded with a mixture of apprehension, contempt and despair by most Mexicant. "Once the public loses faith in its law enforcement, once they no longer trust that the individuals wearing uniforms are working to protect them but [see that] instead [they] are working for their own benefit, then there is a whole greater degree of lawlessness. That kind of disrespect actually attacks the fundamentals of our democracy."

I think the principle of trust between government and the governed is older than democracy. I quote Confucious, "Tzu Kung asked about governing, and the Master said 'Adequate supplies of food, adequate stores of munitions, and the confidence of the people.' Tzu Kung said, 'suppose you unavoidably had to dispense with one of these, which would you forgo? The Master said, 'Munitions.' Thereat Tzu Kung asked if of the remaining two he had to dispense with one, wich he would forgo. The Master said, 'Food; for all down history death has come to all men (and yet society survives); but the people who have no confidence (in their rulers) are undone.' "(xii. 7.)

Saturday, September 5, 2009


In the absence of a full-blown holiday, I must take my breaks where I can. I had a few moments on my deck today, watching the birds. The song birds were silent as the crows, magpies, and one unidentified grey-back among with the 'pies were busy furrowing out insects and grubs from the lawn. The crow up in his tree was the bird equivalent of deep-throat. His call is so deep and out of the ordinary, I do hope he either grows out of his juvenile awkwardness, or his flock accepts him anyways.

Back to the grey-back, I looked him up. He's a Northern Flicker. I've seen flocks of him before around this time; migrating is my guess. The field guide confirmed he is the only woodpecker that feeds from the ground.

While I was digging around, I found all the bird calls I've wondered about this summer, but failed to glimpse. I have confirmed my childhood memories. I hear mom's voice, "That's a Chipping Sparrow" and, delighted, "A Vireo!". The Chipping Sparrow, my mother would say, you would hear on the hottest days. The hotter the day, the faster the sparrow would buzz. This summer I could pinpoint the tree the fella was singing his territory song, but I could never get a clear look at him. Next summer I will take a look for a spot of red on his head.

The Vireo has a singsong call, distinctive and beautiful. My daughter would be pleased to know that it thrives where trees are not sprayed for pesticide. It lives off the bugs in the trees. We haven't sprayed the trees in our townhome complex for many years.

You can hear the calls of all three birds at the links I provided.

The Lure of High Drama

This week a tragic death of a cyclist in Toronto on August 31 has grabbed media and public attention. Mine, too, but my interest is in the public reaction itself. The story has all the elements of high drama. We have a hot-headed cyclist with a long list of warrants for petty crime. We have a panicked motorist, Harvard grad, CEO, and former Ontario Attorney General. The motorist was driving a Saab convertible no less.

In a struggle betwen cyclist and motorist, the outcome is not surprising.

I wonder with the high drama that follows the event will help our society learn anything from the tragedy. I doubt it. We already have cyclists and motorists polarized over the cause and the cure. The family of the cyclist, Darcy Sheppard, have retained the services of Aboriginal Legal Services for both legal support and to handle public statements. Michael Bryant has resigned his position as CEO of Invest Toronto, and has retained Navigator Limited to handle his public image.

In the tidal wave of public drama, will the small voice of reason be heard? Banning prominent Saab owners from the road will obviously not prevent future tragedies like this. I believe there is a physical reality at work here. No matter how much courtesy they afford each other, bicycles and motor vehicles don't mix very well. Give them their own lanes. For example, the small voice of reason from Francine Dick of Toronto writes,

On a recent visit to New York City I saw Manhattan's innovative approach to bike
lanes. One side of the lane abuts the sidewalk, while the other side is marked
with ongoing barriers. Not only does this separate cars and bicycles, it
prevents motorized vehicles from parking in bike lanes and prevents cyclists
from riding into open car doors. It's a well designed system Toronto should look
at. (Toronto Star)

As for an aroused public's ability to to recognize the truth, I am not so sure. I am reminded of a dramatic public polarization when a crazed gunman, Marc Lepine, shot twenty-eight people at the École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989 before killing himself. The women's movement has taken ownership of this incident as an example of violence against women. Canada now has a national day against violence against women, on the anniversary of this tragedy. But the incident, as dramatic and terrible as it was, is not typical of the violence that the average woman has to fear in this country, is it? One scholarly book, deadly dull by the look of it, suggests that such dramatic incidents fire the public imagination and result in broad "categorization" for the cause. This mis-applied categorization results in misapplied cures. The book is The Montreal massacre: a story of membership categorization analysis By Peter Eglin, Stephen Hester. If the women's movement were successful in eliminating societal tolerance for violence against women, would we see similar events like the Montreal Massacre reduced over the years?

Obviously not, because our society has witnessed continued incidents of disturbed loners opening fire in public places, especially schools. I think continued incidents like this are more accurately predicted by Gladwell's concept of a tipping point. Incidents like this repeat themselves precisely because of their drama and public interest.

The Montreal Massacre had far less to do with tolerance of violence against women in this country, as it showed society's failure to identify crazed loners and prevent their descent in to madness and violence. I have four immediate family members with chronic, severe mental illness. There are precious few community supports for them. But speaking out for better care for the mentally ill does not grab the same sort of headlines. Our society, horrified to inarticulation, continues to treat mental illness like a dirty little secret.

Let's be honest about the cause for tragedy, cut through the drama, and look for positive cures. No matter how dull, boring, or disturbing the truth may be.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Very, very tired

Wouldn't you know it, this morning my muse has fled and today's writing prompt is to write about what it feels like to be very, very tired.

My "tired" is not that of those worthy souls who take the stairs instead of the elevator, or the sweaty sweats who pound endlessly on the treadmill. I am a physical coward. My tiredness is of the mind, where I do most of my exercise. I'm working on a few puzzles right now, and their resolution won't come easily. It will take targetted research. How do I make sure I ask the right questions?

But I am complaining about work that I am born to do. The tiredness is earned, and the result a few months from now, well, if I remember to celebrate, will be worthy.

How does brain tired feel? I am fuzz. Repeat your question. Thoughts drag their way out like lead shoes. Don't ask me what's for supper. Feed me brainless television, please. Something that doesn't take any thinking. Hubby asks, "Helloooo, are you there?"


Not really.

I'm not even sure where I am any more.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Slogging through the painful things

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I move my arm like this.

Doctor: Then stop moving your arm like that.

What makes me keep going on the painful things, the tasks that no longer provide the same reward, or the prize endlessly deferred? Why don't I just stop doing it, and work on what brings me joy? Some of my drivers are not so noble like the icy fingers of guilt, or the evil whisper, "Quitter".

On the other hand, there are reasons to carry on past the odds. Perhaps my gut tells me I am working on something I am very, very good at, and the reward will come even if it is not obvious right now. Even if few people confirm my instincts just yet. My passions tell me I have something valuable to contribute. This must be what drives artists and writers to work in obscurity. That, or indescribably large egos.

Another reason to keep going was taught to me by a lawyer friend. She lived for the energy of the courtroom, and she was a natural showman. She loved her job and she was very, very good at it. She pointed out that a career can be an exchange. She lived for her day in court, but for a lawyer, that is a brief culmination after days and nights of slogging research. She did not enjoy the slogging part. But she did it, and wore out a lot of secretaries (she deliberately hired people with strengths were she was weak), in order to do what she loved.

The trick must be to be sure about your passions and remember why you signed up in the first place. If the dream still holds, follow your intention (borrowing from the Pike's Place Fish boys) and the rest will follow.

Ouch, this hurts.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Vow for my Friends

I am officially in mid-life crisis, I guess. I am confronted more and more of dreams undone. Partially finished projects clutter my desktop. Great friends and memories crowd my mind, but when is the last time I called?

Well, that dogged determination that got me through single parenthood is carrying me through...again. In my middle age, I finally picked up Covey's book on Effectiveness. I am building new habits and making fresh vows. One new habit, which is working out very well, is to designate a day a week to those activities I say I value most. Frienships are right up there on my priority list. So I've dedicated my Fridays to check up on old friends. It's worked wonderfully. I've reconnected with a few of my cherished friends and reminded them - in person - that I think they are great people.

It's not enough to let the influence of their great qualities and past memories jangle inside my head. I will continue to build and renew on those great relationships.