Closing ELA: An international disgrace.

Scientists, both national and international, politicians inside and outside the House of Commons, patriotic organizations and ordinary concerned citizens like me line up to defend the importance of the Experimental Lakes Area. Who works there? The people who told us about acid rain and the dangers of detergents in our waterways, among other facts.

Who doesn’t want them to work there? The Harper government in the shape of the Fisheries minister Keith Ashfield. Read about it i todays Globe and Mail:

We are saving money, the Harper government cries. It costs 2 million dollars a year, folks. The new Office of Religious Freedom(Whose?) costs 5 million. How much did they squander on those jets. How much are they spending to promote the history of a war no one cares about? And what about those ads about the Action Plan that isn’t there any more.

They aren’t saving money, but I wonder who’s going to make some. Who has those logging contracts?

Replace the ELA with cleacut! What a disgrace.

Writing contests

I entered the New Kindle Book Review contest today. My last book, The Facepainter Murders, made it to the semi-finals last year, and I have hope for No Motive for Murder, this time around.

Some years ago writer Louise Penny suggested entering contests as a way to jump-start a career. I took her advice and have entered quite a few, achieving success in the first one entered, at Wynterblue Publishing in North Bay. I have continued to enter, both to add new achievements to my cv, but also for the increase in confidence that comes from the praise that so often accompanies the awards.

My most recent success was coming first in the September contest of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly, published in London, England. Its first prize is 150 pounds sterling and publication in the April edition. The judge’s comments were gratifying.  I have included them below.

The Decision

Beautifully written, technically assured, The Decision tells a painful story in language that is sharp, precise, pared to the bone.  Not a word is wasted here, every sentence, phrase and word playing its part in the achievement of an artfully achieved whole.  This is one of those stories you know will haunt you.  A very worthy winner.

Very encouraging, indeed.

What’s with Fantino?

Fantino’s CIDA letters cause a stir – The Globe and Mail.

First Julian Fantino decides that he can to cut off future aid to an impoverished nation, devastated by years of corruption, without a word of warning and without asking us, his employers, if we are the kind of people who demand some sort of quid pro quo to help the poor. One trip to Haiti and he was an expert. Even the United States and the UN regretted his remarks.

“Canada’s foreign aid agency should play an active role in promoting the country’s economic interests abroad rather than limiting its scope to poverty reduction alone, International Co-operation Minister Julian Fantino says.” Globe and Mail, Dec.3/2012.

And here all the time I thought the purpose of aid was first to save lives and then to help a country improve to the point that it could feed and care for its people itself.

I wonder how the Prime Minister liked getting rapped on the knuckles by both the United States and the United Nations. Or was this a trial balloon, the Prime Minister’s plan, floated by yet another minister who took the heat for the boss.

Now Fantino, or someone in his organization is using a government web-site to post letters that the Globe and Mail calls vitriolic and partisan. Perhaps, like Mayor Ford in Toronto, he hasn’t read the playbook, in his case for Ministers of the Crown, who are held to a higher standard than a candidate for election in an affluent suburb of Toronto.

If the letters were indeed posted by staff, without his knowledge, than he has an even bigger problem, that of having lost the respect of the civil servants who work for the department of which he is, currently, head.

New Year Goals

Do you set New Year goals? I fight against it but somehow they sneak in suggesting I continue learning Italian, or take my photography to a level beyond snapshots, or redo parts of the garden in the spring which of course requires planning now.  What about the books I received for Christmas: Richard Ford’s Canada and Ross King’s Leonardo and the Last Supper, among others?
And what about my new book, not the one just published, No Motive for Murder, but the one I’ve been working on this winter. I’m excited about being close to the end of the first draft. It’s not in my usual genre, not in my Dangerous Journeys series, and I hope will be my best.

I’ve been asked to speak to the Canadian Club, here in Lindsay, so polishing my talk is on the New Year agenda as well.

So in spite of resolving not to make New Year’s resolutions, I seem to have made them after all.


A police spokesman, struggling to find the way out of his own grief and confusion, said, “I support the second amendment but I think anyone who wants to buy a weapon should have to go through the same testing that we do, like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality, and training.” That would be a start and cut back dramatically on the number weapons purchased at legitimate gun stores(like the ones the mother of this man owed) and pawn shops. What about gun shows, a major source of weaponry? Thousand attend and buy.

Illegal weapons abound. In this country the guns flow in from the USA. We send them marijauna and they send us weapons of destruction. Millions and millions of handguns and assault weapons are manufactured by companies around the world, enough to outfit thousands of armies and security forces. Are these companies the driving force behind the NRA and their incomprehensible rhetoric? Follow the money.

After the last tragedy, the number of guns purchased increased. “If only someone on the scene had a weapon, he could have been stopped,” they cry. Or more would be killed by the untrained blazing away at the uncaring.

It is the culture of the country, the myths that have to be changed. The worship of a constitution written, not by saints but by flawed men of the eighteenth century. Sensible people recognize that the second amendment refers to what was then the need for a volunteer militia to defend the fledgling country. Other countries, like Switzerland and Israel continue to have that system, but they have conscription and individuals are trained, and the psychotic and unstable are weeded out. Their murder rate is a small fraction, relative to population, to that of the USA.

I fear no change will come out of this tragedy, but I hope that President Obama, no longer facing election, can use this to help the country turn their weapons into lumps of metal.

Turning Leaves and other lovely things

Just got back from Writescape’s Turning Leaves retreat at Fern Resort. What a gift to spend a weekend with old friends and new, writers all, concentrating on projects and the writer’s craft. I learned valuable lessons in characterization, especially the Sunday morning session with Gwynn Scheltema and Ruth E. Walker.

Back home, it’s Monday, snow is falling and the carryover from the weekend had me spending it on my work-in-progress. The voices of my characters are  distinct and clear in my head, less so on paper(or the computer screen).

I just started reading Russ King’s Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven. A giant Black Willow at the river’s edge, the black water, dotted with a gaggle of Canada Geese who seem to be practicing take-off and landing this morning while working on their group harmony, ice forming, and in the distance a row of white—seagulls resting on a half-submerged log— turn the view from my kitchen window into a Group of Seven landscape.

I’ve started “pinning” to a few boards on Pinterest, a process I didn’t understand until recently. Several writers I know are using it as a sort of giant white board, pinning portions of their wip or research or clippings, to private boards. I am using one for clippings, but the rest to collect and share books and paintings and photographs that I especially like.

A true tragedy this: the mayor brought down by his fatal flaw, his apparent inability to understand that the rules apply to him.

Book Review: The Judgement of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that gave the World Impressionism

I’ve just finished reading Ross King’s The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade That Gave the World Impressionism (2006). The painters of Impressionism had always interested me, so I was happy to find a writer who placed them in their world, and explained the influences that shaped their work. Ross King does that in a very readable book. My only quibble is with the dearth of coloured plates. Expensive, I know, but I wanted to see more.

The most interesting personality King reveals is that of Meisonnier, a painter, obscure until he began to play a role in King’s book, but a giant in French 19th century art. King contrasts his story, one of success and riches, of obsessive painting and repainting, of intense research into such unlikely subjects as equine locomotion—at one time he built a small railroad on his property and used it to make hundreds of drawings of horses as they ran alongside— with that of the Impressionists, obsessed with light and colour and painting in the open air, and catching the fleeting beauty of a sunrise or a day in the park. Meissonier emerges from King’s pages as a fully realized character, with all his flaws and genius.

King writes so well, I was disappointed when he, or rather events, ended the story with the last Impressionist exhibition. He has gone on to write about The Group of Seven in Defiant Spirits, and more recently Leonardo and the Last Supper, the latter winning him his second Governor General Award. The first was for The Judgement of Paris. Defiant Spirits  is next on my list.

Interest in art history has led me to The Great Courses, and Professor Richard Brettell, teaching From Monet to Van Gogh: A History of Impressionism, an audio-visual course, and excellent companion to King’s book.

Happenstance and Science

Quest for a wonder drug started with shrew bait – The Globe and Mail.

An article in this morning’s Globe and Mail tells the story of a researcher, Dr. Jack Stewart who started to look at the pain-killing possibilities in shrew saliva. Sounds unlikely doesn’t it? But that is the nature of science. It was known, the article tells us that shrew saliva had paralytic properties. Dr. Irwin G. Martin had published a paper on the subject in the Journal of Mammalogy in 1981. Dr. Stewart’s research into the chemical that caused the paralysis led him to his recent discovery. A typical chain in science: primary research in an area as unlikely as shrew saliva at one end and a potential treatment for not one but three major cancers— ovarian, breast and prostate— at the other.

This is the chain that politicians, businessmen and other non-scientists don’t seem to understand. Much of medical discovery comes by happenstance. Vincristine and Vinblastine are potent anti-cancer agents derived from the periwinkle plant, common now in many of our gardens. The plant searchers, funded by amateur botanists and Royal Societies, brought plants and seeds from all over the globe, often to London. From there the seeds were shared, first to Paris, according to Michael F. Brown, writing in Who Owns Native Culture, 2003. Folk medicine revealed that many plants were in common use as treatments for disease. Anthropology, botany, chemistry, medicine, all studying these plants, often a considerable remove from any thought of practical application, but all leading through the cross-pollination of publication, to the drug that brought hope at last to childhood victims of acute leukaemia. I first met the drug while I was working as a resident at the Hospital for Sick Children in 1972, treating those children, mostly under five years, who now had a chance, not just for survival, but for a cure.

This won’t happen, can’t happen without the funding of primary research,  research without a known outcome. How can you predict that shrew saliva might cure human cancers? But you can fund the inquiring minds, let them talk to one another, and wonderful things can happen from that cross-pollination.

We deny funding to universities and basic science at our peril.

Shameful decision

Clock ticking down for renowned environmental research station – The Globe and Mail.

A line in a “budget” and a world-renowned research facility, the one that taught us about phosphates and acid rain and would have taught us how to deal with the oil sands is closing because of some politician’s scientific illiteracy and inability to face hard facts. Not everything in this world of ours can be reduced to a line in a profit and loss statement, but the members of the Harper government seem to think it can. But even it that was the way it worked, the knowledge produced by the experiments at the Experiment Lakes is far more valuable than any minimal decrease in budgetary expense.

Even if other sectors could pick up the cost, the time line imposed by the Omnibus bill is too short. I suppose the Harperites like to see people who are so much smarter than they are twisting in the wind.

It is shameful decision and a disgrace to this country.

Heavy Urban Search and Rescue

Budget cuts put rescue teams in peril long before Elliot Lake – The Globe and Mail

Teams such as these cost a great deal of money. The Harper government, which is cancelling the funding, claims that 90% of disasters are handled locally. Whether or not that is true, and who knows about statistics released by this government, the 10% are those such as the disaster at Elliott Lake or future terrorist attacks, or crumbling urban infrastructure collapses that take heroic effort by well-trained teams with advanced equipment to save lives. Without funding, Public Safety Canada said that some or all of the teams would not survive.

The funding cut was another of those buried in the Omnibus Bill, just passed with much high-fiving and cheering by the Harper party stalwarts. Perhaps they will come to dig out the survivors when the next building collapses.

What so these guys think federal governments are meant to do? Oh, I remember. Build bridges for the Americans.