Thursday, April 30, 2009


The Bear has had a busy week or so. Two of the ethics bodies on which I serve had meetings, one of which was an unscheduled event. And in both cases, the H1N1 influenza outbreak made it on to the agenda. (Surprise?)

For those not familiar, a quick review.
a) The Influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1 was the variety responsible for the so-called "Spanish Influenza" of 1919-1920. Millions of people died, world-wide. The H1N1 variety that is back now, is in a different form. The current form has bits of human, swine, and avian flu in it. Yes, it has "mutated" or "evolved." Calling it 'Swine Flu" is a serious misnomer, and really confuses people.
b) As in the 1919 version, this variety seems to target otherwise healthy people in the age range of teens to 40s.
c) While it has become a scourge in Mexico, other countries are seeing far less of a problem. In Canada, when I last checked, there were about 30 confirmed cases of this new H1N1. (That's compared to 4,000 to 8,000 Canadians who die in a "normal" year of the regular, seasonal influenza and complications, with 20,000 to 40,000 being hospitalized.) Those people tend to be babies, the elderly or those who already have significant health problems. The interesting thing to note is that, in comparison to the 1919 disease, this year's H1N1 appears to be a MILDER form of the illness. -- at least thusfar.
d) There is a lot that is going on behind the scenes. Not much of it is being made public, because officials (rightly) do not want to cause public panic. As someone who helped prepare part of the pandemic plan for our health region (which covers a huge geographic area), I have been checking on the status of the situation. Operations are falling into place exactly as planned. People apparently know what to do, and are following the necessary steps.
e) There has been talk of a vaccine (thought that, again, is being played down). A vaccine could probably be developed in about six weeks; it would take six months of testing to prove the vaccine is safe and effective. But doing that is extremely expensive. Is developing a vaccine worth it, if this flu outbreak can be handled effectively in other ways?
f) A couple of thoughts about prevention.
• Be vigilant, but don't panic. Just because you or your kids have bit of a sneeze or sniffle doesn't mean anyone has this flu. Bed rest, lots of fluids, and checking temperatures is the best solution, initially. If things get worse, check with doctor or hospital. You have to be the judge, of course.
• Washing your hands regularly and sneezing or coughing into your elbow (not your hands) are two key ways of preventing the spread of this disease. I know that sounds incredibly low-tech, and some media were reeeeeealy slow to take that seriously, but you can trust the Bear on that one.

(Some medical people, like nurse dani, may want to say more. Pls. be my guest.)

I have yet another ethics meeting (with a different group) this coming Tuesday. You can bet H1N1 is going to be on the agenda. (Bears know about these things.)

As for me, I'm going about life as normal (or as normal as possible, considering I'm a bear trapped in a human body).

Ciao for niao.


Footnote: The title for this post is adapted from a comment by my mate in Brisbane, Australia. Why is it that the folks in OZ have all the fun thoughts?

Friday, April 24, 2009


Back a while ago on this blog, in posts "And Where to Begin" (April 13th) and "Done the Deed" (April 16th), I shamelessly let you into my personal struggles to make sense out of something, and share my thoughts with the world. That's what we journalists try to do. Sometimes we do it well; sometimes, not so well. You readers get to be the judges.

I promised that, after it was published in the newspaper for which it was written, I would blog it (in a revised form). I have done that. It is on the blog which I use for ethical and journalistic writing, the one called "Bears Noting." You'll find the story as "Newspapers, R.I.P.??" Should you desire to comment, I'd be pleased to hear from you on either site.

In other news, a cheeky, chattery red squirrel has returned. As with the Dark-eyed Juncos this poses a dilemma. Is the squirrel part of the clean-up committee, or another mouth to feed? Such a deep, existential question is too much for the Bear tonight -- I can bearly get my brain to focus on it.

So, be cool, but stay warm.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


I've made some changes in how I do my blogging.

When I first set up the blog "The Ethical Pilgrimage," it was in connection with my post-graduate studies in bioethics. When I became chronically ill, my plans to finish my degree evaporated.

Now, that blog is about to do the same (more or less).

I'm going to keep it up in the blogsphere, as a matter of historical record and reference (should I need it, or other people want to see particular items). Thoughts which I would normally have posted there will be found on my blog "Bears Noting."

Thank you to those who have taken the time to read and follow these few notes. If you'll "bear with me," I think you'll find the other site to be as noteworthy as this.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


We interrupt our regular programing for this special news bulletin.

The pathfinders having done their work, the full-scale invasion of the Dark-eyed Juncos began at dawn in the Bear's back yard.

Early reports indicated that the first wave was led by a raiding party of four.

Four other Juncos followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the grass and leaves,
And scrambling to the shore (of the bird bath).*

We'll have further reports as they become available. Now back to our regular programming.

*With apologies to Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll). See Junco picture in side-bar.


Sometimes when you're trying to blog, life gets in the way. Sometimes when you're trying to live, a blog post gets in the way.

The following is an example of the latter.

It's a matter which Snowbrush raised on his blog, and to which (after considerable reflection) I responded.

You see the story unfold on my "Desert Epiphanies" site. That's the site where I do most of my spiritual reflection,

Now, I'll go back to the task that was at hand.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I've been doing some reading and thinking, which is moving my mind in a new direction. So for the next little while, you probably won't see me here. (I'll likely do a bit of reading and commenting, but not a lot.) I'm not running away, I just need some time to reflect and meditate out in my Celtic Grove.

If I don't show up in a week or so, May-B, "Cheerful" Jane, and CJ from Northumberland have my permission to send their respective dogs (Montel, Charlie, and Sparky) to hunt me down.


Now that the front yard is done more or less done, it's time to switch to the real action -- the back yard. (The vines at the front will need a bit of trimming, but that will take about five minutes, because most of it was looked after last fall.)

The back yard has two major functions. My Celtic Grove is back there -- a place built for reading and meditation. (When I figure out how to put pictures in my posts, I'll send some along.)

The second function is to provide a place of food, water and sanctuary for birds of all types (more or less).

Usually the Dark-Eyed Juncos are the first to arrive in the spring. But so far, we've seen only one; strange there haven't been more. Not only that, our first Robin of the season arrived a week ahead of the Junco.

Clarification about Robins. The Robin of Great Britain is about 5 inches long, with olive brown upper parts, and red face, throat and breast, with a white belly. The American Robin, a member of the Thrush family, is about 11 inches long, with a black head and throat (and a white eye ring), lighter black upper parts, and red which covers both breast and belly. While the American Robin was named after its British counterpart, that's were the similarity ends.

A particular male Robin has taken a liking to a yard, and is hanging out fairly regularly. The house across our back lane has a turret (really!) which provides "high ground" and a good view of the whole neighbourhood. In a week or so, I expect this chap will be sitting on the turret singing his heart out. And, bye and bye, there will be a female, gathering grass and mud, to build a nest in a more discreet location, and then -- well, you know.

In the meantime, we need to clean and re-mount the three nesting boxes we have. We have drippers (which supply drips of waters to our bird baths, thus keeping the water fresh) that have to be re-conected and tested. And rather than have cement walkways through the garden, we cover our walks with large bark chips -- so we'll need to get another bag or two of those.

Then we wait and see who shows up, and what starts growing, and try to get things tidied up before the mosquitos come and drive us inside. The only reason I can think anything good about mosquitos is that they provide excellent fed for may birds, as well as bats. (You see, I try to find a positive angle for everything -- well, almost.)

G3 has begun reorganizing the inside of the house, but that's going to have to wait for a few days. She's doing a presentation on helping families cope with dementia (particularly Alzheimer Disease) -- something on which she's been working for about 20 years. (I'm her technical assistant: I help set things up and operate the equipment.) Then we'll attend to the garden. And when the mosquitos get to bad, we'll work inside. There is a system!

And as I am slowly starting to feel a bit stronger, there may be other inventive things into which I can get myself.

I do hope you all have a wonderful spring (or autumn for those of you who live in Australia or thereabouts).

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Well, the snow finally disappeared today, leaving behind a multitude of junk on our lawn -- bottles, cigarette buts, candy wrappers, cigarette packages, etc. Most, I think, are from the "customers" of our neighbours across the street. A far as we can tell (and by "we" I mean me and the other neighbours at this end of block), the folks across the street are dealing drugs. Aside from the garbage, we haven't really had any problem. In fact the father/grandfather/patriarch of the family and I have delightful chats we see each other on the street. Our City Councilor, however, is well aware of the situation, which may lead to some intervention on the part of the local constabulary. (Heavy on the MAY.) In the meantime, it's "Que shiraz, shiraz," as Wendy put it so delightfully.

Before I did that raking, thought, I had to pick up a few things at the grocery and some air filters for our forced air furnace. Which meant traveling to a multitude shops -- nobody has all the things you need in one place. I was gone for so long that G3 was beginning to be a bit concerned about what happened to me.

Anyhow, I got a bit of the front yard raked before my body gave out, and I lugged my "collection" to the big trash bin in the back lane. After that I came in, exhausted, and slept of about five hours (a common occurrence in many of my afternoons).

Perhaps in the next day or two I'll be able to finish raking the front lawn, and be able to turn my attention to the gardens (front and back) and my "Celtic Grove" -- my sanctuary space.

Hope spring is a joy for all of you, my mates. What are some of your favorite spring projects?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


NO, not the dastardly deed, as in the old "You must pay the rent"/"I can't pay the rent" routine. I got my op-ed column into the paper on budget and early (i.e., ahead of deadline).

Two gold stars for Rob-Bear! ;)

I was frankly worried for a while that I wasn't going to be able to do it. My energy has been awfully low lately (so low, in fact, that, in a recent race with a tortoise and a snail, I came in third! But I may have told you that already.)

About "on budget." When one receives a writing assignment, one is told how many words to write. (In my case, the column always 500 words.) If you write too many words, you're over your word "budget" (so to speak) -- which results in certain "consequences." But then, if you go over "budget" when buying a car, or sofa, or refrigerator, or new clothes, that are "consequences." Most of us understand that.

But 500 words is terribly frustrating. You just get started on telling your story -- and you're out of words. And you have to go back, and re-think, and re-write, and make sure every word is worth using. It's a different world from blogging. The other journalists who inhabit blogland (and I know several) would, I think, agree. They can speak for themselves, if they choose. I'm not going to "out " them as journalists. (That would be certainly unkind and invasive, and frankly unethical.)

Anyhow, what I've written will "hit the streets" next Thursday. Sometime after that, I'll put it on my Bears Noting blog -- which used to be my main blog, until I switched to "Chrome on the Range." I'll make a few revisions at that point, since I won't be bound by the infernal 500-word limit.

In the meantime, thanks for your support and encouragement.

Monday, April 13, 2009


I have been sitting looking at a blank formatted page. I have to fill that page with 500 words of something reasonably intelligent -- or as intelligent as any bear can be. And I have to submit said 500 words by "close of business" on Thursday. It's called a deadline. Editors have these kinds of expectations of op-ed columnists. Which is fair and legitimate.

The story of deadline, as I was once told, has a military reference. Prisoners of war were kept in an enclosure simply marked by a line on the ground. You crossed the line, and you were dead. Literally.

Not an auspicious or encouraging thought. It's 500 words to the editor of a national newspaper on Thursday, or I'm "dead."

That fact that I have been feeling really depressed of late, and having terrible dreams, is not helping the situation.

So I switched pages and decided to blog. I don't think anyone in the blogsphere is likely to kill me (thought I have met a couple of pretty unfriendly folks -- but only a couple). Most of you are the absolute souls of kindness, and thoughtfulness, and usually humour. It is a strange place to be -- considering that you're all strangers (except for maybe one or two).

Which opens up an interesting comparison between blogs and newspapers (some of latter genuinely deserving the epithet "rags").

French Fancy was first off the mark (so to speak) with her dismay and indignation about the Daily Mail and its coverage of the incredibly sad death of Natasha Richardson. Blogger Mike H got into the fray on March 21st, with his "Gone Fishin'" post. Long-time friend and career journalist Jim Taylor piped up a day later about the sad shape of newspapers in his blog Sharp Edges. And then there is an interesting piece in The Atlantic Monthly by Andrew Sullivan about why he blogs.

Now, none of these, in itself, is particularly significant. But when you get a group of different people, apparently independent of each other, thinking similar thoughts, that's called a "trend." And reflective journalists are drawn to trends like bears are drawn to honey.

Hmmmm . . . You know, my friends, you've just given me an idea.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Friend Gutsy Writer noted I had been in hospital for some heart tests related to chest pains. And out of concern she wanted to know what's up. I was going to do a long comment in reply, then decided, "What the %*$%@, why don't I just do a post on the thing and be done with it." This may, or may not, be of any use to anyone, but here goes.

First and foremost, I have had a long history of chest pain. So the last time I was in hospital, the good doctors set me up with a specialist to do a very thorough checkout of the situation. And my heart is in very good shape, thanks very much.

But GW wanted to know more about the benign, recurring chest pains. What you're about to get is far more than you ever want to know. But as a medical ethicist I do these things with precision.

The culprit in this case is something called costocholdritis. (That's pronounced: COST-oh-con-DRY-tis.) Ain't that just a mouthful?

Explanation. Our ribs are attached to our spine at the back and the upper ones are attached to our breast bone (sternum) in the front. There is a fair amount of connective tissue in the front. (Dani, or some other nurse can fill indetails, if need be.) Anyhow, that connective tissue can become inflamed -- like a swolen knuckle or sprained ankle. These things happen.

Problem: Because of the location of the pain, it's hard to tell when I'm having a costo attack or a heart attack. So I get into the ER. They want to know if I have a history of heart problems. I tell them, "No, but I have a history of costochondritis." They do all the stuff to see whether I'm having a heart attack; ECG monitor, blood tests, iv lock, etc. When all that checks out, they move me from the ER "front line" to ER observation. And in due course, they try something else. Morphine helps the pain, but there are other things which are more helpful (and frankly, I really don't need the morphine -- it's a waste of good drugs). There are several anti-inflammatory iv meds which will change the condition virtually in the snap of a finger. And after a while, if things are OK, they send me home.

I have anti-inflammatory meds that I take regularly, which help deal with the problem. But sometimes those aren't enough, so I have to go to the hospital. Hence I suffer both pain in the chest and pain in the posterior (because I have to go to the hospital). In some ways it's kind of a waste of medical resources. But the doctors keep telling me to come back if I'm having problems, because sometime it might just not be the costo.

Anyhow, spring has sprung, and I'll be out walking. My family doc and I have worked out an exercise program for me, and I've already started working on that. My sense is that the stronger (more physically fit) I become, the less chance I'll have for recurring costo.

As long as I don't have a physical fit in the process. ;)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Surviving Young Dog was a challenge. Simply put, walking said creatrue of God was more than my legs could handle, and I ended up with legs so sore, I could hardly move.

That was last Thursday. I tried to rest up over the weekend, with limited success.

Today, I was in hospsital for some sophisticated tests on my heart -- which included walking on a treadmill. Just the thing my legs didn't need.

The good news:
a) my legs survived (barely) the test, and
b) my heart is in excellent condition -- meaning we have effectively ruled out heart problems as the cause of my recurring chest pains. (We're also pretty sure we know what the problem is -- and it's something relatively benign and not life-threatening.)

So: Healthy mind, heathly body, take my pick. Suggestions, anyone?

P.S.: The Doc and I also had a a couple of very interesting conversations on medical ethics. (I spring these things on doctors every time they treat me. As a senior member of the Health Region's Ethics Committee I do this as a matter of course.) When I have the energy, I'll put some of that on my blog "The Ethical Pilgrimage."

Sunday, April 5, 2009


The day dawned fair and clear. Blue sky, bright sunshine, temperature of 4°C by mid-morning. It's going to be a wonderful day. G3 and Uni-gal are taking Celtic Boy and Celtic Girl for swimming lessons.

Young Dog went home with his adoring mistress. As it should be.

Ol' bear, on the other hand, is not as he should be. My back and legs are so sore that I can bearly move. Getting up and down the stairs is a major accomplishment. I mostly have to pull myself up the stairs with hands on the banister. Getting to our congregation for Morning Worship today is just "not on."

But don't worry; I'm all right for the shape I'm in.

(Note to Bear: When first coming out of hibernation, do not attempt extensive, vigorous, regular exercise with a strong, enthusiastic, high-energy, active dog.)

BTW, if you don't hear from me for a few days, it's not that I've gone away angry. It's just that I haven't been able to make it as far as the computer.

Hope you're all enjoying spring. The snow is melting slowly; bits of the garden are beginning to appear. This is good. Soon the spring and summer birds will start returning. This will also be good. This year I will have little option but to sit in the sunshine, and watch and enjoy their presence. And that will be good.

Hope you all have a grand day and a good week.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Young Dog has gone home.

Uni-gal will be home from her international adventure in a few hours, and her dog will be there to greet her.

It was fun to have him. He loved to play, and walk, and hang out in the yard, and sleep at my feet when I was reading, and even when I had a visitor this afternoon (after appropriate greetings had taken place).

But keeping him would be a lot of work, because of a number of things which are all part of his personality. Yes, we could teach him new ways (MAYBE), but we both realize that would take a lot of work -- more work than getting a puppy and training it from the beginning. And the re-training process would take more energy than I have right now.

So, we've started looking for a puppy. Will we ever get one? Who knows.

As Yogi said famously, "It ain't over till its over."

Thank you in the blogsphere for bearing with me on this.


I took the dog for his last walk today. I'm too sore to try it again. I'm also way too sore to work in the yard (or do much of anything else, except that I've cleaned up both kitchens). G3 will have to take him later. In the meantime, he's starting to get bored, and thus "into things."Not a good sign.

There's one peculiar thing that forgot to share. Young Dog likes to walk with a stick in his mouth. That's not too uncommon. However, this is a remarkable dog. Most dogs who carry a stock carry it crosswise in their mouths. Young Dog, however, carries the stick by the end. He walks around looking like a dog with a cigar in his mouth. (Fhi & FF: Il ressemble un chien qui fume. Vraiment!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

A DOG, A DOG; MY ahhhh, owwwww, arrrgg . . . (7)

Having faced health challenges most of last summer, autumn and winter, I'm really not in good physical (or mental) shape. The plan was for me to get walking, now that the weather is getting nicer here, and it is easier to get around. Walk for fifteen minutes, three times a week, then up to four times a week after a bit, then finally five times a week. Good plan, approved by my care team.

Thursday night, Young Dog arrived. Since then, its been 15 minutes, three times a day -- way beyond the prescribed plan.

This morning (Thusday) I woke up with my legs feeling a bit rubbery. Took the dog for his accustomed walk, then worked in the yard. Came in to the house mid-morning, feeling exhausted; rested, had lunch and then slept. Woke up mid-afternoon almost totally immobilized -- in both my legs and back. Everything has stiffened up (almost rock solid and immobile). And the PAIN. Too much activity, too soon. Ah, well. I was trying to be a good sport about it; now I'm suffering the consequences.

G3 walked the dog after supper (having taken on that challenge for me). When she got home, however, YD came tearing down the stairs and I was bowled over "enthusiasm in four legs." I managed to crawl to the love seat across from the gas stove in the basement sitting room. YD hopped up, curled up against me, and allowed me to pet him until we were both relaxed.

Tomorrow, Young Dog goes home. He will be there to greet Uni-gal when she returns from her conference/holiday in the States. I hope to survive until then. (I certainly expect to do so -- though I'm not certain in what condition.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


The day dawned clear and cool; the god (make that "dog" -- I can't even type this morning!) woke up rested and ready for action; the bear could bearly come to -- except there was a dog licking my face. That'll teach me to lie at the edge of the bed. YD is just tall enough to stand beside the bed and lick, lick, lick.

Good grief; a three-times-a-day walker, a gardening assistant, an animated door bell (that barks when strangers get close). These I can handle, more or less, A four-footed alarm clock? Um, well, . . .

He was sick in the night. For some utterly unfathomable reason, he likes to eat sticks. Some tooth-pick sized pieces got stuck in his stomach, and he regurgitated them. I thought I had cleaned up after him at 3:00 a.m., but I missed a spot. Anyhow, cleaning up was part of this morning's list of things to do.

The list included walking dog, feeding dog, working in the garden (to clean up a mess AND entertain the dog). Not to mention getting cleaned up myself (locked the dog out of the bathroom while having a shower this time), plus taking time to talk to G3. (Fancy that; talking to my wife!) Yeah, the dog really has taken over. But seeing as we have to go out, he's gone home for the afternoon.