Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Boulevard of broken dreams

A million or so Filipinos marched Monday, August 26, to Rizal Park, formerly known as Luneta, to collectively show their outrage against the system of pork barrel that has been at the front and centre of Philippine politics for quite sometime. Janet Napoles, the pork-barrel queen, made sure this issue won’t die down as she continues to elude authorities. The euphoria of last Monday’s protest is over now and we’re back to base one, with reality staring down hard at us.
Even before the march, President Noynoy Aquino has already pronounced he would abolish the Priority Assistance Development Fund or PDAF, the congressional pork barrel. Although at first Aquino was for retaining PDAF because he believes that it has some benefits to local governments and other civil organizations like cause-oriented NGOs, he had to backtrack after realizing the huge swell of opposition on the eve of the people’s march. The truth, however, is he could not unilaterally make this decision on his own without involving Congress.

Protesters during the August 26th one million people  pork barrel march at Rizal
Park demanding the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF),
Congress' pork barrel and the president's pork barrel. Photo courtesy of Demotix.
Malacañang lauded the people who marched last Monday calling them Noynoy Aquino's new allies in his campaign against corruption. Naturally, people were mad because President Aquino stood his ground in preserving the much bigger presidential pork barrel, the discretionary funds he can use anytime at his will without congressional approval, especially the billions of dollars paid as royalties to the Philippine government from the Malampaya gas project.
With PDAF’s abolition uncertain and the president’s pork barrel safe in place, perhaps what the people need to do next time is to assemble another protest, but bigger and more boisterous, not in Luneta but in front of Malacañang.
Assuming another protest march would make the President eventually buckle down to pressure, both congressional and presidential pork barrels even if they are abolished will not solve the problem of corruption. The sum total of all stolen possessions by politicians, their families and cronies, past and present, is still much larger, enough to make the whole nation shudder. We need a bigger intervention, one that is not only going to wipe out pork barrels, whether presidential or congressional.
French political thinker Charles-Louis de Secondat, better known as Montesquieu, wrote about the corruption of principles and the decline of the state in De l’Espirit des lois (The Spirit of the Laws):
“The corruption of each government begins almost always with the corruption of its principles…
“Once the principles of a government have been corrupted, even the best laws become bad and will turn against the State, whereas when principles remain healthy, bad laws may have the effect of good ones because the force of principle carries everything with it.
“Few laws are not good when the State has not lost its principles, and, as Epicurus relates in speaking of wealth: ‘It is not the liquor which has become corrupted, but the vessel that holds it.’”
This observation doesn’t apply only to the Philippines but also to its model of governance, the United States, a far more advanced political system. In a 2005 Harper’s Magazine article, “The Great American Pork Barrel,” Ken Silverstein outlined how a simple piece of legislation like the Foreign Operations bill could undergo a startling metastasis.
Calling it the biggest single piece of pork barrel legislation in American history, Silverstein noted that the aforementioned bill started with a mere nine earmarks (Americans call their pork barrel as earmarks) but ended with 11,772 separate earmarks scattered throughout the bill.
Silverstein wrote: “There was$100,000 for goat-meat research in Texas, $549,000 for “Future Foods” development in Illinois, $569,000 for “Cool Season Legume Research” in Idaho and Washington, $63,000 for a program to combat noxious weeds in the desert Southwest, $175,000 for obesity research in Texas. In the end, the bill’s earmarks were worth a combined total of nearly $16 billion—a figure almost as large as the annual budget of the Department of Agriculture and roughly twice that of the Environmental Protection Agency.”
Napoles’s P10-billion pork barrel scam simply pales in comparison. Nor the presidential pork barrel which was reported to be largely allotted for calamity funds. The pork barrel system in both the US and Philippine settings obviously protects incumbents of Congress and the President. There is very little incentive to reform the system. As what has happened in the Philippines, the most President Aquino, for instance, can do is to mouth his slogan of “matuwid na daan” which is nothing but an empty shibboleth.
Keith Ashdown, who served as research director for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and a nationally recognized expert in tracking political paybacks and corruption, calls the American pork barrel or system of earmarks as one of the most fundamental rights of members of Congress, whether one is Republican or Democrat. “Getting between a lawmaker and an earmark is like trying to take a rib eye away from a dog,” says Ashdown.
Since 1822 when US President James Monroe limited financial support from Washington “to great national works only,” the pork barrel has become central to America’s national political culture. It has long been a foregone conclusion that whenever the federal government builds a road, or erects a dam, or constructs a power plant, members of Congress will artfully pad the bill with hometown “pork.” In fact, this is the same political culture that the Americans transplanted in the Philippines during their colonial administration of the islands.
Filipino politicians are astute learners of the American political system. With the hue and cry about pork barrel, President Aquino is now suggesting reforms that would in effect only streamline the means of corruption. Eliminating the PDAF and introducing a more palatable program with virtually the same purpose will not solve the problem. 
Filipino seafarers join protest vs. pork barrel system and corruption. Photo by
Edgardo Tuangtuang, courtesy of Migrante International.
The trust of the Filipino people in their leaders is now at a record low. In fact, it has been in the dumps since the two decades of martial law regime under Ferdinand Marcos. Despite a resurrection of trust in the early stages of the Cory Aquino administration, we have never fully recovered, especially after the years of plunder under Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
President Noynoy Aquino, with his awkward and lacklustre leadership and policies, has failed to restore trust in government. All the president’s men—Lacierda, Ochoa, Abad, and others—can do is to keep on refurbishing Aquino’s image as trustworthy even if he is a weak leader.
Political cynicism is growing in leaps and bounds, and if the President and the men around him continue to be in a state of denial, which the smug yellow media helps to foster, the last three years of the Aquino administration will surely be headed towards a boulevard of broken dreams and failed promises.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Neither EDSA I nor Tahrir Square

During the last leg of our trip last Thursday in picturesque Quebec’s Eastern Townships, we stopped at Domaine des Côtes d'Ardoise, the first winery in Dunham and the oldest in Quebec. It’s not just the wine that enchanted us to the place but the collision of art, nature and viticulture on the vineyards and the gardens. The winery features a vast collection of sculptures in various media from bronze to stone to ironworks that were scattered along the various narrow footpaths winding round the vineyard.
It was the second stop in our scenic tour of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, right after we had picked baskets of blueberries from the Bleuetière Benoît farm in Dunham. It was my wife Patty’s reunion with her younger sisters, Mel, a practising doctor in Tin Can Bay, Australia, and Cindy, the youngest and a nurse in New Jersey. Accompanying Mel to her first trip to North America was her Australian partner Warwick, while Cindy came along with her American husband Ken, who had visited us in Toronto more than a couple of times. Also with us were our daughter Isobel who works in Montreal and her boyfriend, Jonathan, a French-Canadian from Levi and Drummondville, Quebec, both of whom served as our tireless guides and translators in the largely French-speaking townships.
"I don't know what pork barrel is," Janet Napoles tells investigative journalist
Malou Mangahas in an exclusive interview. Photo courtesy of GMA News.
Click link to view
"Janet Napoles, itinangging sangkot siya sa umano'y bilyung-bilyong pork
barrel scam."
Disconnected from Facebook, the respite offered me some needed break from my rambunctious social and political forum which was smouldering before I left on the hot issue of the corruptive effect of the pork barrel system in the Philippines. We’ve had our own share of corruption in Canadian politics, too. Newspapers and the social media here in these parts are likewise buzzing with daily opinions and blogs condemning corruption and scandals in government.
But unlike politicians in the Philippines and other foreign governments, our politicians in Canada have the decency and grace to step down and resign once their corruption has been exposed. This past June, Montreal Mayor Michael Applebaum quit amid charges of fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust and municipal corruption. It was the latest scandal in the so-called “City of Saints.” Applebaum’s predecessor also resigned last year after evidence of staff wrongdoing on his watch surfaced in a province-wide corruption inquiry.
A politician or government official resigning because of charges of corruption would never happen in the Philippines. Former presidents Ferdinand Marcos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and now Janet Napoles, the “queen of pork barrel” who is still at large, never quit until some higher power deposed them.
The dictator Marcos plundered the nation’s economy not only by showering his supporters in Congress with pork-barrel money but also by rewarding his cronies with licenses and grants to freely run and operate businesses in the country while he pocketed millions of dollars from foreign loans. Whatever happened to the ill-gotten wealth that the Marcos family accumulated during his years of presidency? His wife, Imelda, and children Imee and Bongbong are still around, all deeply entrenched in political power as if they have not committed wrongdoings against the Filipino people.
Joseph Estrada, the “eternal” mayor, is back as Manila’s newly elected head of city government. His election was never tarnished by charges of plunder and corruption while he was president for which he was removed from office by a revival of the EDSA people power movement. In fact, Erap finished second to Noynoy Aquino during the last presidential elections, proving that corruption in government is an acceptable part of the Philippine political landscape.
Noynoy Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, remains under house arrest and grounded in a hospital, merely getting a slap on the wrist considering the magnitude of Arroyo’s alleged corruption in government. The most Noynoy Aquino could accomplish to showcase his “matuwid na daan” (straight path) mantra of government was to impeach Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona, not on charges of corruption, but for his failure to comply with the constitutional obligation to file his statement of assets and liabilities net worth (SALN).
The current president’s campaign against corruption is in fact a charade that masks his own government’s involvement in wrongdoings, if not by his family, but by his closest and loyal political allies. Through the pork-barrel system, the president is able to reward those who toe his line and punish those who go against his wishes. This is exactly the main rationale for pork-barrel politics. It is a system of largesse, a practice institutionalized by the Americans during their colonial administration of the Philippines. It is pork to us while the Americans call it earmarks. It is the grease that oils and runs the political system.
READ MY LIPS. Pork is here to stay, as far as President Aquino is concerned.
Photo courtesy of the Malacanang Photo Bureau.
Aquino’s defensive propagandists are however quick to respond to allegations of corruption in the current administration. They bring out the legacy of the president’s mother, Cory Aquino, as some sort of a saintly presidency that was never tainted with any wrongdoing or misbehaviour in government. Because of his mother’s legacy, the current president, to the eyes of his official apologists, can never be corrupted. This virtual aura of righteousness, they argue, also extends to the president’s sisters, their families, and close friends.
Yet, this is far from the truth. Through his friends in the yellow media, Noynoy Aquino is able to manufacture their version of the truth to whitewash all the lies and deception about his presidency. Despite their efforts to cover up Aquino’s involvement in various anomalies, they fail to put a lid on the revelation of his sister Ballsy Aquino-Cruz’s involvement in the $30million MRT 3 extortion scam from the Czech railway company Inekon. Other scams by relatives and cronies unearthed earlier are the grand smuggling by Danding Cojuangco of sugar and oil products to evade taxes, landgrabbing by families of Noynoy Aquino’s Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa from farmers in San Jose Del Monte to make way for relocation housing projects, DSWD’s Soliman and aides’ mishandling of P18 billion ($442 million) worth of calamity funds and international aid pouring in for victims of typhoon Pablo, Aquino’s hand in P2.8-billion road scam in Davao del Sur, and many more others.
Now, the Aquino government is exploiting the recent exposé about Janet Napoles’ 10-billion peso “pork-barrel” scam for ghost projects involving members of Congress, the executive department and other agencies, local government units, fake NGOs and a big-time syndicate of influence peddlers and high-flying hustlers. Instead of taking the lead role in the anti-corruption crusade, President Aquino and his inner sanctum have chosen to defer to the people’s anger against the scope of Napoles’ corruption and the consequent growing public clamour to abolish the pork-barrel system. This shows how farcical this president’s crusade against corruption is, for he knows full well that neither an investigation of the Napoles’ scandal, whether by the Senate’s Blue Ribbon Committee or the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation, nor a million march against corruption and the pork barrel will accomplish anything.
On August 26, a million Filipinos will troop to Rizal Park to show the people’s collective outrage against the pork-barrel system. Everybody’s hoping this is the tipping point when the people will demand President Noynoy Aquino to abolish the program called Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) that justifies the system of pork barrel which allocates 200 million pesos for each senator and 70 million for each member of Congress in the annual budget.
But this million march is neither an EDSA I nor a Tahrir Square revolution. EDSA I ended with the ouster of an oppressive dictator who ruled the Philippines with impunity. It restored at least the trappings of a democracy. The Tahrir Square uprising in Egypt also brought down a military dictatorship but failed to kickstart the beginnings of a new democratic political system.
The August 26 million march will simply air the people’s collective indignation. Once the marchers have dispersed and gone home, reality will sink in that this system of pork barrel will continue to stay. It will take more than a million march to overhaul a corrupt system, but at least it could be the start to launch bigger protests and demonstrations against a government that has been hypocritical about its own corruption.
As a society, we cannot stop believing that good government is possible. If we do so, then it would be unlikely for us to do what is necessary to keep government honest.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Walking the poverty line

Being poor can be characterized in many ways. One can be poor in the economic sense, or one can be poor in moral or spiritual terms.
Undeniably, a horrific image of poverty could be a picture of a homeless person sleeping on a city street crowded with glass and steel-clad skyscrapers, or of unclothed and unfed children, or thousands of displaced men and women in countries ravaged by war, their emaciated arms stretched upward begging for food or water. For these people, to be poor is to be absolutely poor.
Some years ago, the World Bank came up with a measure of poverty in relation to purchasing power parity (PPP). Economists at the Bank drew the poverty line at “a dollar a day,” or more precisely, $1.08 at 1993 PPP. This meant that a person is poor if he or she consumes less than an American spending $1.08 per day in 1993. In light of the declining power of the U.S. dollar, this bank standard of poverty line obviously needs to be adjusted. Of course, government policy makers have developed their own poverty lines, which really matter more than a global destitution standard adopted by the World Bank apparently as a campaign tool rather than to guide policy.
Definition of poverty. Photo/illustration by Ben Heine.
Measuring the poverty line is both difficult and problematic. Not all countries define it in the same way. In 1963, the United States adopted “Mollie’s Measure,” named after Mollie Orshansky of the U.S. Social Security Administration who designed a simple formula to measure material deprivation using data from the late 1950s.
The formula calculated the minimum cost to feed a family then multiplied it by three. Orshansky used the cost of a nutritionally adequate diet as the basis for a cost-of-living estimate, adjusted according to family size and composition. On average, she estimated that families spent about a third of their income on food. But there are several flaws in Orshansky’s formula. For one, food is now only about one-seventh of household expenses, not a third. The formula also did not allow for a host of other variables such as cost differences among regions, the fact that more people commute longer distances, or that more people live with nonrelatives, sharing expenses and income, or taxes or all sorts of cash and noncash government assistance.
Today, many U.S. economists are suggesting that the poverty line should be revised to provide a better picture of who is actually poor. Due to politics (what else to blame), the U.S. remains trapped in the quagmire of the current yardstick that does not reflect modern conditions. There are those who advocate adjustments that raise the poverty line, while others prefer ways that lower it. Many experts have given up, others even concluding that the official measure is set in stone.
Since 1992, in Canada, a new alternative to measure the poverty line in terms of meeting a family’s basic needs was proposed as an alternative to the prevailing relative poverty lines, like Statistics Canada’s Low Income Cut-off (LICO), that compare how some well off Canadians are relative to others. Basic needs poverty lines are intended to measure the number and proportion of Canadians who cannot afford the basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, shelter and other household essentials. The new approach accepts that basic needs poverty is a problem, i.e., people cannot afford the basic necessities of life without resorting to borrowing or getting assistance from family and friends or do without.
In the Philippines, a new income threshold has been adopted after discarding the Orshansky approach of the U.S. The new index covers only basic needs like food, clothing, shelter and transportation. It does not include spending for recreation. The National Statistics Coordination Board recently announced that a family of five with a total monthly income of less than P10, 000 (U.S. $244) is considered poor. In 2006, the same family is considered poor if its household income is no more than P8,569 per month. Close to 40 per cent of the population, or 2 out of 5 Filipinos, live below the poverty line.

Make Poverty History. Photo/illustration by Ben Heine.
But the measurement of poverty on the basis of adequate coverage of basic needs is also an imperfect device. Under such definition, it is also possible that more than 50 per cent of the country’s population may be classified as poor even though its economy is relatively better than the poorest countries in the world. This is so because the use of such indicators to measure poverty may obscure the true size and the real dynamics of poverty.
The harsh reality is that the number of families or people in the world today who are poor is alarmingly increasing. Wars, natural disasters, unequal distribution of wealth, high rates of unemployment and uneven regional economic development are pushing down more and more people to an abysmal pit of poverty and hopelessness. This is not only true in the poorest areas of the world as poverty also manifests itself among marginal communities in prosperous urban North America, particularly among the increasing number of children, youth and single mothers struggling to survive on measly government dole-outs.
Despite all the statistical parameters and terminologies designed to accurately measure material destitution, the bottom line in any process of defining poverty still hurts. There will always be real people who are absolutely poor, and they surely stick out from the computation.
Real poverty cannot be ignored. What matters is the effort to eliminate poverty, and its constitutive element, inequality. And if such effort were left alone to distant and disaffected policymakers who have no real understanding of what being poor is, without involving the poor in their own development, chances are that the same failures of the past will persist or very minimal success will only be gained.
Better yet, let this remind us of the cynic in the late U.S. president Ronald Reagan, who once said, “We declared war on poverty, and poverty won.”
[Reposted from an earlier blog I posted on June 22, 2008 . I am away on a trip so I will be reposting some of my past blogs.]

Monday, August 5, 2013

There is joy in a simple meal

In his book, Near a Thousand Tables, historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto wrote:
“One of history’s longest and most luckless quests has been the search for the essence of humanity, the defining characteristic which makes human beings human and distinguishes them collectively from other animals ...Cooking is at least as good as all the other candidates as an index of the humanity of humankind....”
It is therefore not surprising that [former] French President Nicolas Sarkozy has described French cuisine as “the best gastronomy in the world” and has supported his country's bid to UNESCO to add it to the world’s list of intangible cultural treasures. Naturally, the Italians were not thrilled because to them, “Italian gastronomy takes priority,” said top Italian cook Massimo Mori. So Italy teamed up with Spain, Greece and Morocco to get UNESCO to pick the traditional Mediterranean diet, whose abundant use of olive coupled with moderate wine consumption is said to be the healthiest in the world.
Poulet scarpariello. Photo courtesy of
Could cooking really be a good indicator of our humanity that the French and the Italians are seriously offering their bids to have their national cuisine enshrined as a UNESCO world cultural treasure?
My very first stab at serious cooking was when I was in law school and my children had nothing to eat when they came home from school. Like my children, I was also hungry; except for the usual snacks, there was nothing cooked on the table to eat. We could not wait for my wife to come home and cook for us every afternoon. She was working full-time and supporting the entire family while I struggled to become a lawyer, a dream I had always wanted to accomplish even before coming to Canada.
So I decided to cook, a decision that almost ripped my ego and machismo apart. Where I came from, the women always took charge of the kitchen, so it was an unusual decision to take on this chore, but someone had to start the revolution.
I pulled out all the cookbooks from our small library and started browsing over the different gourmet recipes and menus. Le Cordon Bleu’s Classic French Cookbook immediately caught my attention because of its glossy cover and beautiful full-colour photographs of authentic French dishes: from appetizers to fish, poultry, meat and game main courses to delicious desserts. I set the book aside. It was impossible for someone with very little taste for good food to start something monumental like mastering the French way of cooking; in no manner was it for beginners.
Then I chanced upon Julia Child’s From Julia Child’s Kitchen. Intimidation took the better of me, however. Not French cuisine again, and put the hefty book back on the shelf. Just then, another book, not as grandiose or as formal as Child’s, caught my eye. It was this fairly old-looking book, frayed with its cover missing, that my wife bought for fifty cents from one of her sorties to those garage sales which became a convenient outlet whenever she wanted respite from me and the children.
The book’s title captivated me, The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet by Pierre Franey. I told myself this one would be a piece of cake—something close to heart—and the recipes looked quite easy to cook. When I started to browse through the pages, I was again floored, another French cookbook. But this time, I tried to muster every bit of courage that lined my hungry stomach and, of course, remembered the images of my hungry and ready-to-start-a-revolution children begging me to cook dinner already and not to wait for their mom.
The good thing about Franey’s book was its eclectic arrangement. It started with poultry; chicken has never intimidated me, and I knew I would have very little difficulty trying one of the chicken recipes. And strangely, for a French chef’s cookbook, it offered as its opening salvo an Italian recipe. The recipe carried an interesting title, Poulet Scarpariello, meaning chicken shoemaker-style. It made me laugh after reading Franey’s comment that the lowest compliment one can pay a French chef is to say, “He cooks like a shoemaker.”
After reading the recipe about ten times and committing it to memory, I drove with my children to the supermarket to buy the chicken (a whole week’s supply of chicken) and the rest of the ingredients to go with it, including a bottle of dry white wine, lemons and sprigs of parsley. The following day, I cooked Cuisses de Volaille a la Diable, aka devilled chicken legs, and the next day, a little more complicated recipe, Poulet Saute Provencale or sauteed chicken with tomatoes.
What do you know, after my first month with the chicken recipes came fish, beef, pork, and pasta, until it was time to renew my acquaintance with Le Cordon Bleu and Julia Child. One of my Cordon Bleu favourites is Veau Saute a la Marengo, a dish that took its name from the Battle of Marengo in 1800, when Napoleon Bonaparte’s chef, Dunand, first created it in celebration of the French victory over the Austrians. It’s a classic recipe for sautéing veal chunks with tomatoes and mushroom stew with its traditional garnish of crayfish, deep-fried eggs, and croutes. I have also cooked from this cookbook Pot au feu de Pintade (braised Guinea fowl with baby vegetables,) and Homard et Poireaux Tiedes a la Badiane (warm lobster and leek salad with star anise).
Self-taught only through my own readings of cookbooks idly lying at home, I have also ventured outside the French kitchen by looking with a keen eye on Italian, Spanish, Mexican and Oriental cuisines. I have rediscovered my own roots too by recreating my own mother’s traditional favourites: adobo, sinigang, kare-kare, and binagoongang baboy. These days, I am into Asian fusion or the fusion of Asian and continental cuisines such as the dishes made popular by Susur Lee.

Filipino Bulalo. Photo courtesy of
All my children are grown now, and each one can whip up a mean dish or two on their own, but they still come home once in a while to graze on my home cooking. Our friends whom I have invited on lazy weekends always come back to savour my home-grown gastronomic efforts. If they can be considered my food critics, then I can boast I have satisfied their palates.
Julia Child once wrote that a good cook is not born; one learns by doing. One can cook one’s native dishes or borrow a recipe from a great chef’s cookery, but the end result will always bring delight and ecstasy whenever you see your family or friends enjoying the fruits of your labour. The smell of chopped thyme and rosemary, or pungent onions, braising sauce, and even perhaps a dash of curry powder, all bring out the aromas and flavours of the kitchen.
Well, will it be the French or the Italian cuisine that should be on the UNESCO list? Jean Brillat-Savarin, a French lawyer and politician known as both an epicure and gastronome, wrote in his famous work, The Physiology of Taste, “The destiny of nations depends upon the manner in which they are fed.” The simplest meal satisfied Brillat-Savarin, as long as it was executed with artistry. I rest my case.
[This is a repost of an earlier blog I wrote on August 3, 2008. I’ll be away on a trip so I will be reposting some old blogs.]

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The life of a dog

Hanna, our neighbour’s dog, passed away two months ago.
I used to babysit Hanna whenever our neighbours went out of town. Having retired early from law practice, I have so much time to spare in-between my reading and writing. All I had to do was go to our neighbour’s house every two hours to check on Hanna and walk her in the garden where she could relieve.
I noticed that Hanna was limping as I walked her down the stairs towards the garden at the back of our neighbour’s house. She was obviously in great pain. I wondered if it was due to old age, she was close to 12 years old (about 84 years old in dog years), and dogs of her size would be very lucky to live beyond 10 years. But our neighbours were the type who would pamper their dog with love. Maybe it was because they were childless and Hanna served as a surrogate for the child they wished they had.

My daughter's old dog, Larkin, frolicking on the snow. Click link to view
Things Dog Teach Us,
When our neighbours came back from their camping trip in the woodlands of Northern Ontario, I told them about Hanna’s limp. Hanna had arthritis and it had been deteriorating, our neighbours said. In fact, Hanna had an appointment with the vet the day after they returned. She was getting chemotherapy treatment. This fact didn’t shock me because I knew our neighbours would go beyond the extra mile to keep their Hanna alive and comfortable.
Yesterday, when I looked down at our neighbour’s backyard from our deck, a brown and cheerful canine spurted out to a clatter of barking, then wagged its tail endlessly. Could be the new dog, Hanna’s replacement, I guessed. I have learned from babysitting Hanna that a dog’s tail is the best indicator of its emotions. The more a dog wags its tail, the happier it is.
Dogs, like humans, can also stir up a big controversy, a domain usually reserved for politicians and movie stars. Iggy, the dog TV talkshow host Ellen de Generes adopted is a perfect illustration. When Ellen decided to give Iggy to her hairdresser, Mutts and Moms, the dog’s adoption agency, took him back. The papers Ellen signed with the adoption agency stipulated that if the dog was given away, it would have to go back to the rescue organization. Ellen de Generes was so shattered by this turn of events that she sobbed in front of her TV audience and millions of people who regularly watched her show. The dog agency even received several death threats. Could this be an example of the decline of American culture?
People who had nothing better to do would pick up the telephone and threaten other folks just because of a dog. Our neighbours wouldn’t ever dare to give Hanna away or to even let her die in pain. They would give her the best available health care possible. It was only when Hanna’s life was severely compromised by her illness that our neighbours decided, which I knew was a painstaking process for them, to bring Hanna to the vet to end her life swiftly and without complication. I am confident, too, that our youngest daughter will do the same thing with her dog Larkin who is also very close to the twilight of his life. [Larkin also passed away more than five years ago and our daughter has adopted Onegin, a Golden Retriever, since.]
Onegin after retrieving the ball from the snow.
If only we could be as humane and as kind to others as we are to our pets, view the life of a dog as precious as the life of another human being: whether a homeless person in Toronto or of those famished and starving-to-death little children in Darfur.
But the life of dogs compared to humans is not without its interesting twists. In a French shorts, La Vie D’un Chien (The Life of a Dog), a French scientist invents a serum which temporarily changes him into a dog. It is only later, after the serum wears off and he becomes human again, that his troubles begin. Perhaps, there is a valuable story to be learned, particularly during those times when our lives seem to have gone to the dogs.
[This is a repost of an earlier blog I wrote in June 2008. I’ll be away on a trip so I will be reposting some old blogs.]