Freedom of speech and the right to show off your lack of class

I don’t know what motivates this sort of thinking. Narcissism? Misandry? Boorishness?

It’s unfortunate that even amid a tragedy that claimed 16 lives and injured 15 others, some can’t help but wave their social justice warrior capes.

On the positive side, the above individual would appear to be far outnumbered, as more than $15 million has been raised for those involved in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and their families.

Yes, we all have the right to voice our opinion, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should do so each and every time a thought enters our mind.

As wiser folks have said: “It’s better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.”

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How red poppies came to be given out on Memorial Day

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

– John McCrae

In Flanders Fields, among the most iconic war poems even penned, was written in May 1915 by Canadian physician and Lt. Col. John McCrae after he witnessed the death of his 22-year-old friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer, at the Second Battle of Ypres.

McCrae performed Helmer’s burial service himself, during which time he noted how poppies quickly grew around the graves of those who died at Ypres. The next day, he composed In Flanders Field while sitting in the back of an ambulance at a medical station outside Ypres.

McCrae’s references to the red poppies resulted in the remembrance poppy becoming one of the world’s most recognized symbols for soldiers lost in war.

McRae never got an opportunity to reap recognition for his poem.

In January 1918, while commanding a Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne in Northern France, McCrae died of pneumonia at age 45. He was buried with full honors in the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Wimereux, just north of Boulogne.

Helmer and McRae were two of approximately 67,000 Canadians who died in service during World War I. In all, some 39 percent of Canadians mobilized for war in the 1914-18 conflict were killed or wounded.

Study shows purple sandpiper to be tough guy of bird world

cornell-bird-study

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has not only documented the migratory movements of more than 100 western hemisphere bird species but created a fascinating animated map which shows the approximate location of each throughout the year.

This is the first time data of this sort has been compiled on such a scale. It includes such extreme migrations as that of the Lapland longspur, which travels well into the Arctic Circle in July and August, and the dark-faced ground-tyrant, which makes its way to the tip of Tierra del Fuego from November through February.

There are others that migrate from Brazil and other South American countries all the way north to central Canada, a distance of 7,000 miles or more.

“We used millions of observations from the eBird citizen-science database,” said lead author Frank La Sorte, a research associate at the Cornell Lab. “After tracing the migration routes of all these species and comparing them, we concluded that a combination of geographic features and broad-scale atmospheric conditions influence the choice of routes used during spring and fall migration.”

(You can access a second map here, which will provide an index through which you can follow different species on their year-long route.)

Purple sandpiper: Tougher than it looks.

Purple sandpiper: Tougher than it looks.

Perhaps the most unusual migration is that of the purple sandpiper. This species winters near the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island, in the Canadian Maritimes, than spends its summer on Baffin Island, in far northern Canada.

While not limited to Canada, in North America the species’ breeding ground is the northern tundra on Arctic islands in Canada. They also breed in Greenland and northwestern Europe, perhaps in part to cement their role as ornithological tough guys. Anyone or anything that purposely winters in the Canadian Maritimes and also spends time in Greenland has my respect.

It appears, according to Cornell’s interactive map, that purple sandpipers have little interaction with other species, as none have migratory patterns that bring them within a couple hundred miles of the small shorebirds.

An important discovery of the study is that bird species that head out over the Atlantic Ocean during fall migration to winter in the Caribbean and South America follow a clockwise loop and take a path farther inland on their return journey in the spring, La Sorte said. These include bobolinks, yellow and black-billed cuckoos, Connecticut and Cape May warblers, Bicknell’s thrush, and shorebirds, such as the American golden plover.

“These looped pathways help the birds take advantage of conditions in the atmosphere,” he added. “Weaker headwinds and a push from the northeast trade winds as they move farther south make the fall journey a bit easier. The birds take this shorter, more direct route despite the dangers of flying over open-ocean.”

The study found the spring migration path follows a more roundabout route but the birds move faster thanks to strong tailwinds as they head north to their breeding grounds.

Species that do not fly over the open ocean use the same migration routes in the spring and fall. Geographic features shaping this pattern include mountain chains or isthmuses that funnel migrants along narrow routes, according to the study.

(Screen grab from Cornell migration study, showing location of different species on April 9. The purple sandpiper is the blue dot seen in the far eastern reaches of Canada.)

Recalling a Canadian writer’s memory of distressed Wales

rhondda-mawr

If one travels for any length of time, one is bound to experience an unhappy adventure or two. What turns a miserable traveling experience into one that can be looked back on with, if not fondness, than at least a smile is the ability to take something away from the experience, be it a lesson, a memory or the ability to count one’s blessings.

George Woodcock (1912-1995) was a noted Canadian writer of political biography and history, an anarchist thinker and a literary critic. He also published several volumes of travel writing. As such, he experienced his share of “bad trips.” Among those that stood out was one he took in the early 1930s, during the Great Depression, while in his early 20s.

Woodcock was born in Canada but grew up in England. While he would later move back to Canada after World War II, he had an aunt who lived in the Glamorgan region in South Wales, which gave him the chance for free holidays. Apparently, he got what he paid for:

One day, when I was visiting her, I decided to take a bus and visit the Rhondda area, the heart of the South Wales mining district. Rhondda has a special place in the thoughts of those with Welsh connections, for one of the finest of all Welsh songs – stunning when the daios from the valley sing it at a rugby match – is called ‘Cwm Rhondda’  the hill of Rhondda. There are actually two valleys – Rhondda Mawr, Great Rhondda, or the main valley, and Rhondda Fach, the lesser valley of little Rhondda that branches off from it. I intended to go up Rhondda Mawr, cross over the intervening hills, and come down in Rhondda Fach, which I would descend and then make my way back to Bridgend, where I was staying.

It was the worst of times in Rhondda, though it probably looked just a little better than the best of times, since most of the mines were not working, and the smoke that would normally have given a dark, satanic aspect to the landscape was less evident that in more prosperous days. Still, it was dismal enough: a long ribbon of a main road with no real gap in the houses, so that it seemed like a single serpentine town, thickening out at each village centre like knots on a string. The houses were mostly built of gray stone long turned black from soot. In the middle distance reared up the gaunt towers and immense wheels of the pitheads and the truncated pyramids of the slag heaps. There were a few sickly trees among the houses, but the hills on each side were bare and greenish brown; spring had hardly begun.

It had the feeling of occupied territory. Many of the shops had gone out of business, the mines had slowed down years ago, and the General Strike of 1926 – disastrous for the workers – had delivered the coup de grace to the local economy. The people were shabby and resentful. Groups of ragged men squatted on their haunches, as miners do, and played pitch-and-toss with buttons; they had no halfpennies to venture. A man came strolling down the street, dejectedly whistling ‘The Red Flag’ in slow time as if it were a dirge.

Later, after being caught on the hills in a drenching downpour, Woodcock soddenly came across a slag heap where approximately 50 men and women were industriously picking over the ground.

I caught up with a man walking along the overgrown road from the mine into the village, whose damp slate roofs I could see glistening about half a mile away. He was pushing a rusty old bicycle that had no saddle and no tires, but it served to transport the dirty gunnysack he had tied onto the handle bars. He had been picking coat from the lagheap. ‘No bigger nor walnuts, man,’ he explained. The big coal had been taken years ago, so long ago it was since work had been seen in the village. I asked him how long he had been unemployed. ‘Ach y fi, man, it’s nine years I’ve been wasting and wasted.’ Yet he was friendly, perhaps because I looked such a wretched object that he saw me as an equal in misery.

(Top: View of Rhondda Valley today.)

Mr. Hockey: He did it all with skill, aplomb and unbending toughness

howe

There’s little that can be written here about hockey legend Gordie Howe that hasn’t been stated elsewhere with more color, clarity and eloquence.

Howe, who died Friday at age 88, was the consummate all-around player: he could score, pass, defend and intimidate. He was the embodiment of what a hockey player should be: tough as a $2 steak, modest and always had time for fans, young and old.

You don’t get the nickname “Mr. Hockey” for nothing.

Howe broke into the NHL at age 18 and didn’t retire until he was 52. Over the years he suffered broken bones, concussions and had teeth knocked out. He was said to have received more than 500 stitched on his face alone during his career.

In 1950, he crashed into the boards during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, fracturing his nose and cheekbone, and lacerating his eye. Only emergency surgery in which doctors were forced to drill a hole into Howe’s skull to relieve pressure on his brain saved the Floral, Saskatchewan, native’s life.

Howe responded the next season by leading the league with 43 goals and 86 points in 70 games. He would spend 25 years with the Detroit Red Wings and was among the league’s top-five scorers for 20 consecutive years.

When he was 50 years old – and playing with his sons in the rival World Hockey Association – he led his team in scoring with 96 points.

On top of all that, Howe, who grew up on the Canadian prairie, had a dry sense of humor, particularly on the ice, though opponents likely weren’t laughing along.

In the mid 1960s, Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins took the league by storm as a youngster with his gifted skating and playmaking ability. During a game between the Red Wings and Bruins, Howe sent the rookie hard to the ice with one of his infamous elbows when he felt Orr had been a bit too spirited.

“I’m a very religious player,” Howe explained when Orr asked him about the hit. “I think it’s much better to give than to receive.”

Stan Mikita, the Chicago Blackhawks’ Hall of Fame center, once told The Detroit Free Press what happened after he cut Howe under the eye early in his career.

“A couple of minutes later at the Olympia, we were both turning in the Wings’ end. The next thing I remember I was at the Chicago bench, my head is killing me. Our backup goalie, Denis DeJordy, said he was the only one in the building who saw what happened. Gordie had skated by me, slipped his right hand up under his armpit, pulled out his fist, popped me in the jaw and put his glove back on.

“A few shifts later, he ambled by and asked if I learned anything. I said, ‘Are we even?’ Gordie says, ‘I’ll think about it.’”

Local leader fights for right for employees to remain ignorant

Henry Reilly

One sometimes wonders if parochial politicians realize how narrow they appear when they express close-minded views, or if it’s actually their goal to put forth that perception in the first place.

Henry Reilly, a councillor representing the Mourne area  in County Down on a local council in Northern Ireland, recently wrote a letter to a local publication complaining that area workers employed by the same council were being queried about their Irish language skills.

“Workers are being asked if they have an Irish language qualification, how competent they are in Irish, if they would be willing to deal with enquiries from the public in Irish and if they would be willing to take a course in Irish. Staff are even asked if they would like to take such a course during working hours!” Reilly wrote to the News Letter.

Reilly added that council staff members who had contacted him expressed concern that their lack of knowledge of Irish or interest in learning Irish could harm their promotion prospects.

“It is clear to me that the implication of the audit is that having Irish will be a distinct advantage when working for the council,” he added. “This is wrong and discriminatory against the Protestant community.”

So here we have a government entity which, as part of its responsibility to serve its citizenry, seeks to assess the Irish-speaking capabilities of its employees. Understanding that not all employees may be able to speak Irish, it asks if they would be interested in taking a course in the language during working hours.

The council is willing to pay to enable employees to learn another language, to help them better serve the populace. But an elected official finds fault with that. Not because of the potential cost, or because it would potentially leave the council staff shorthanded during working hours, but because it somehow discriminates against the Protestant community.

As I noted when I first learned of this on the blog An Sionnach Fionn, I wish someone would pay me to learn a second language.

The only thing that’s seems unfair is that the people of Mourne find themselves represented by an ignorant ass who is either kowtowing to a handful of bigots who don’t want to learn Irish because they see it as the language of Catholics, or is grandstanding in a bid to lock up votes for the next election.

I don’t know what the threshold should be for having civil staff learn different languages to serve a polyglot population, but clearly there are many regions that would benefit from having some understanding of the language(s) of those they serve, whether it’s Irish in Northern Ireland, Spanish in parts of the United States, French in parts of Canada, etc., etc.

Public service isn’t about bending the job to the employee’s whims, but adapting to what the populace needs, when possible.

If Reilly has his way, services that could be better provided by a staff at least somewhat conversant in Irish would either go undelivered, or be delivered in a decidedly less efficient manner. Either way, some of Reilly’s constitutents would lose – but he’d rather pander than serve all of the public.

(Top: Henry Reilly, councillor on the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council representing the Mourne area.)

Perception or not, corruption isn’t limited to Third World

corruption index

Transparency International, a German-based organization, recently released its world Corruption Perceptions Index for 2015.

Not surprisingly, North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan and Sudan ranked near the bottom of the index, which measures widespread corruption in the public sphere, and also factors in instances of abuses of power, secret dealings, bribery, child labor, human trafficking, environmental destruction and terrorism, among other things.

Transparency International found that corruption was rife in 68 percent of the world’s countries: It would be interesting to see a similar index for US states.

If the actual machinations that go on with misuse of tax dollars, corporate incentives and lawmaker ethics, among many other things, weren’t both so well cloaked by those in power and so often overlooked by US citizens, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a number of states ranked somewhere around the nations of Eastern Europe in terms of corruption.

The difference between the US and other parts of the world isn’t a lack of corruption, it’s that our elected officials are better at hiding it, aren’t quite so ostentatious in showing off their ill-gotten booty and generally don’t kill those who threaten to expose them.

I’d imagine the same is the case in other so-called “first-world” nations such as Canada, the UK and France. Even highly ranked countries such as Denmark (No. 1), Finland (No. 2) and Sweden (No. 3), have problems.

They just have fewer issues than lower-ranked countries and their corruption occurs in a more “white collar” manner – say spanking new roads and public buildings in friends’ areas in exchange for laundered kickbacks along with incredibly generous government pensions, as opposed to naked looting of the government coffers and outright execution of opponents.

Like most things in life, it’s all in how you play the game.

(Top: Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. The darker the country the more corrupt the public sector; the lighter the less corrupt. Greenland, Antarctica and Western Sahara seem pretty safe.)