BMW, but not the car. The Furies, yes.

Blatchford, Mallick, Wente

These three are members of the Globe and Mail columnist gang: find Wente and Blatchford under National, and Mallick under Comment in the right hand column. That might not sound important, but they each have a style and presentation of opinions that forces me to buy this daily newspaper.

One recent, typical, article from each of them. Heather Mallick's comment about Belfast was really apposite, to me anyway, since I have remarked upon the idiocy, bigotry, utterly demeaning behaviour of the louts that commit these racist crimes.

Her kid-gloves treatment is offensive

By Christie Blatchford: Saturday, February 28, 2004 - Page M3

I first wrote about baby Sara Cao little more than a month after her death.

My initial read of the case was, here we go again -- that what this was was another sorry story where a Children's Aid Society, in this instance the CAS of Toronto, had fouled up.

God knows, there have been enough of these to go around, and I've covered many of them.

Off the top of my head, now as then, two horror shows particularly stand out -- the story of Jordan Heikamp, who quietly starved to death before his young mother's self-absorbed eyes and those of a sheaf of helping professionals asleep at the switch (a Catholic Children's Aid Society of Toronto case), and that of Sara Podniewicz, whose slatternly, crack-addicted parents abused and neglected her to death while ostensibly under the supervision of another handful of watchers (also a CCAS of Toronto case).

I covered every minute of the coroner's inquest into Jordan's death, and every minute of the murder trial of Sara Podniewicz's parents, and of other cases before and after. I think it safe to say that my work in this area hasn't made me the social workers' pet.

What was most jarring about those cases, and what they had in common, was that the supervision of the vulnerable children was of an abysmally dim standard.

It was as though the involved professionals were, both at the critical moments of their young charges' lives and after they were dead, obsessed with covering the agency in question's collective arse, and their own.

When I took a second look at the baby Sara Cao case, back in late 2001, I realized that this was not one of these.

Ultimately, the Toronto CAS failed to protect the little girl; there's no getting around that, and Bruce Rivers, the agency's executive director, made no effort to do so. Mr. Rivers was clearly stricken by Sara's death. He admitted that it was alarming that she had died while under what was intensive supervision by his staff.

But he was also adamant that the agency's efforts had been aggressive, and indeed, the record showed they were: The CAS nurse and social worker made six visits to Sara's home in about a two-week period, as well as several unsuccessful attempts; they followed up when the baby's mom, Elizabeth Cao, missed doctor's appointments; their notes were not filled with banal nonsense about how mom "was presenting well."

As Ontario's deputy coroner, Dr. Jim Cairns, told me at the time, this one was akin to a case of a 40-year-old man, to all appearances healthy, going to hospital with chest pain, being given all the right tests, and all of them coming back normal.

Nine of 10 doctors would send him home, Dr. Cairns said. One, smart enough to listen to his own gnawing if ill-formed unease, might admit the man. When it turns out later the man has had a heart attack, it would be unreasonable to hold the other nine doctors to the "standard of suspicion" of the 10th.

It is with this background that I read the stories in a couple of Toronto newspapers last week quoting defence lawyer Cindy Wasser, who represented Ms. Cao when she was charged with second-degree murder in Sara's death. Ms. Wasser was demanding an investigation of the CAS, and suggesting that it was the agency, and not her client, who was really responsible for the baby's death.

By this time, of course, Ms. Wasser and the prosecutors had struck the bargain that saw Ms. Cao plead guilty to the lesser offence of manslaughter in exchange for a joint recommendation that she serve no jail time, but be given instead what is called a conditional sentence.

And indeed, that is precisely what happened before Judge David Fairgrieve this week. In about eight minutes, the deal was done, Ms. Cao was a free woman, and being treated by the system, and in the main by the media, as a pitiful one, worthy of sympathy, at that.

Now Ms. Cao, at 25, is by no means the sharpest knife in the drawer.

She scores at the low end of the borderline range on intelligence tests; she has what is often called a flat "affect," meaning she has little depth of emotion; she lacks common sense and judgment.

But she got through high school, and finished Grade 12, and for all the stones rightly cast at the public educational system, there are still those who cannot "scrape" through. In court on the day of her sentencing, holding Judge Fairgrieve's reasons in her hands, she appeared to follow along and, indeed, when he read aloud the so-called conditions she must follow, and came to the part where she cannot be in the company of a child under 5 on her own, she looked up and took notice.

She was also aware enough, upon her first interview with Toronto Police, this when meningitis was suspected as the cause of Sara's death and the police were making fairly routine inquiries, to say something like, "I never shook her or anything."

The truth of the matter is that while a degree of responsibility belongs with the CAS, whose job it is to look out for children with parents just like this, Sara's mother remains the person who picked her up and shook her unto death -- and, judging by some of the 10 rib fractures the baby also had, some of them already healing, probably shook her more than once.

The nasty thing about a culpable homicide is that whoever and whatever else played a role, there is always at the core of the story a someone who is, well, culpable.

That person is Ms. Cao, and for her to be treated with kid gloves now -- to be given this kiss of a sentence -- is offensive.

One of the fundamental principles of sentencing is called general deterrence. Specific deterrence is about the offender; general deterrence is the message, in effect, that goes to the public.

Anyone who spends more than a New York minute in Canadian courts knows this: Elizabeth Caos are a dime a dozen.

There is a legion of parents just like her, every day, in the halls of justice -- not very bright people; not very lucky people; sad people, sometimes emerging from hellish childhoods of their own; ruined people; ill-equipped people; poor and intellectually impaired people; people who can't even read.

But you know what? Most of them don't pick up their babies hard enough to break ribs, and most of them don't shake them until their eyes bleed and their brains swell, and it is these folks who are the most egregiously insulted by the "there, there" sentence given Ms. Cao.

Sara lived 39 days, the last three on life support. Her mother spent 22 days in jail, before she was released on bail. How's that for a message? How's that for specific deterrence?

One of her sentence conditions is that the second she knows she's pregnant again, she's to report it to the Children's Aid. Anyone want to bet on that happening?

cblatchford@globeandmail.ca

 

Stop being nice -- it's time to lose our cool

By Heather Mallick: Saturday, February 28, 2004 - Page F2

Can you think of a phrase to describe throwing bricks through the window of a 105-year-old woman in Belfast just because she's Catholic and you're not? This is a woman who had 12 children, she's suffered enough, but no, she was trundled to hospital shaking in terror and covered in bits of glass.

I call it "granny torture." Government officials called it "faith-hate behaviour." This encapsulates where our world has gone wrong. We're gentle and rational and reasonable when we should be furious. People who refer to granny torture as faith-hate behaviour should be minced. Peace-loving people that we are, sometimes we should completely lose it.

This latest Newsspeak phrase was born in Burnley, a dive in Britain's horrible north where the town council is openly voted-in Nazi, but no one likes to say that, so they use acronyms and phrases such as "race-hate behaviour."

In Belfast, they also pelt Chinese and Pakistani immigrants (neither Catholic nor Protestant) with rocks. I suppose the police tell the thugs to "use their words."

I'm mystified. If I lived in Belfast, which, if it had one of those posh grand "cultural capital" titles, would be Sucking Municipal Wound 2004, I'd be grateful if anyone new moved in. I'd bring them hot meals and attractive flower arrangements for their slum dwelling. Welcome to Belfast, I'd say, and they'd be picking shards out of their hair and hissing at each other in Mandarin, "I knew we should have moved to Grozny, but you said Chechnya lacked recreational facilities."

Belfast deserves universal contempt. Let's all enjoy the moment.

We hear Newsspeak non-stop now. At the end of the day, Belinda Stronach just wants to "give back," one of her "talking points." You gave up fighting Newsspeak when they changed "unemployment insurance" to "employment insurance" and then boasted they had a surplus when all that meant is they wouldn't give jobless people their money back. And you should erupt but you tamp down your rage burner, which is shooting blue gas and saying, "Light me, baby."

When Junior Bush says he doesn't believe in global warming and the Pentagon, those notorious environmentalists, have just told him that by 2020, it will cause global catastrophe and war, perhaps I should stop cracking jokes and erupt with unfashionable, but entirely justified rage.

I've spent the past month listening to CDs by the great American comedian Lewis Black. A man so angry he has been called "an aneurysm waiting to happen," he appears occasionally on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and is this century's Lenny Bruce. His genius is to boil (operative word) down everything to what it really is and get incredibly angry about it.

On his latest CD, Rules of Enragement, he says government-business corruption used to be like going into a hotel where you know people are having sex but you don't know in which room. Now, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Halliburton do it right in front of your face. When he reaches total rage, Mr. Black makes a noise -- "buh-buh-buh-buh" -- by vibrating his lips like they're guitar strings, and I'm laughing myself sick. "It isn't the anger that's funny," he explained to a journalist. "It's the cathartic release."

When British police announced they were going to interview every serial killer in the country to find out why they did it, I was screaming: "They do it because they like it. They think it's just the funnest thing, you idiots." Now, I have another reason not to travel to Britain aside from PM Tony Bliar: Their cops are stupid. Maybe they come from Burnley.

I've been wondering why I now loathe Bliar's Britain like I loathe Junior's USA. Here's a Guardian reader on a talk thread: Brits are realizing that "America is not a utopian land of the free, but a generally pretty fucked-up kind of place led by a loon with an increasingly uneducated and obese population. People can now start to see parallels with Britain, and it frightens them."

And Brits are getting mad. Smart Americans are suicidal. Which must mean Canadians are getting at least cranky.

Perhaps crystals, yoga, pacifying drugs and anger-management courses were meant for a world we no longer live in. For even if you don't approve of fury, can you deny that it's justified? When Ontario students complain because they can't pass the high-school literacy test so they can't graduate, and the test is a brochure for some golf course and it asks you where the balls go, I get mad. What are we, Arkansas?

Photography's in trouble. Thanks to some bastard who shoved John Kerry and Jane Fonda's heads together, news photographers are fighting for survival because their work is no longer needed except for one-shots that might be blended later. Curse this, yea, call down lightning from the heavens.

Lewis Black is a Yale drama school graduate, and says all this with passion, pacing, sophistication, down-home dirtiness and a wild genius. His other CDs are The End of the Universe, The White Album and a DVD called Unleashed. His stance is that he translates what we are told about the world into what it really means. You laugh until your head spurts blood, and that's the wonder, and the awfulness, of Lewis Black. Until now, you hadn't thought anything so sick, so world-ending, could be stand-up material.

hmallick@globeandmail.ca

From go-go to gaga. After you turn 50, the nouns are first to go from your wachamacallit -- memory

By Margaret Wente: Saturday, February 28, 2004 - Page A27

My girlfriends and I often wonder if we're going gaga. Although our minds are razor-sharp, we've noticed that we suffer from increasingly alarming lapses. The other day I left behind the $500 I had just extracted from the cash machine. I zipped in and out of there with such efficiency that I didn't even miss my money until the day after, when I reached into my pleasantly fat wallet and found nothing but a wad of old grocery-store receipts.

It's comforting to blame these mental slips on overtasking. We lead busy, busy lives, and our brains are buzzing with big ideas and too much to do. We've got lots of weighty matters on our minds -- global warming, government corruption, whether Calphalon cookware is better than All-Clad, and how soon Barbara might leave Conrad now that he might go down the tubes. No wonder we occasionally find ourselves in the middle of the Staples store and can't remember why we're there.

But secretly, I know that overtasking's not to blame for this depressing deterioration of our faculties. Turning 50 is to blame. That's when the laws of entropy kick in with a vengeance. Around the time you find that first stout hair sprouting from your chin, you begin to lose your glasses when they're sitting on your own head. After you turn 50, it is dangerous to think about more than one thing at a time. If you do, you will drive right past your own street on the way home from work, the one where you've lived for 15 years.

"You need a minder," my husband said the last time I did this. It was hard to argue with him.

I used to think that after we turned 50, we would experience a glorious surge of postmenopausal zest and become more powerful and focused than ever before. That's what Gloria Steinem said. She didn't tell us our vocabulary would shrink. The other day I blanked out on the words for "windshield scraper." English suddenly becomes a sort of foreign language, and you're forced to grope for synonyms for words that have gone AWOL. The nouns are the first to go.

My friend Barbara is even worse than I am. Although she is able to talk brilliantly for hours about the field in which she is a leading authority, she can't remember the names of common household objects. "Where's that thing you use to mix the salad dressing?" she'll ask. "You know what I mean. That thing. With the wires." Frequently her sentences are completely unintelligible. "Can you lend me that fantastic novel by Saul Bellow, The Bleeding Heart?" she says, when what she means is The Human Stain by Philip Roth. She maintains that even though the things she says are factually inaccurate, they are generally true, which is what counts.

Barbara's theory is that we only have a certain number of memory slots in our brains, and by the time you reach age 50 they're all filled up. Your brain has no room for new information. This wouldn't be so bad if the information you already possessed was worth having. Unfortunately, my own memory slots are crammed with useless junk. I can scarcely recall a single thing I learned in five years of university. But I know the complete lyrics to every early Beatles tune, to say nothing of the Howdy Doody theme song.

It is impossible to delete these files. This explains why I can't remember how to program the voice mail on my cellphone, or recall the name of somebody I met last week.

Recently I went to see my dentist, the one I've had for more than a decade. I spent half an hour standing helplessly in the lobby of a downtown office tower because I forgot his name and couldn't remember what floor he was on. I thought of calling my husband to see if he knew who my dentist was, but I had failed to memorize my husband's cellphone number.

Going gaga has certain compensations. You can read Elmore Leonard's novels all over again, because you can't remember reading them the first time. You can happily watch reruns of Law & Order because you forget how they turned out, and you really can't recall why you and your husband practically got divorced back in 1989. Sometimes I run into somebody I think I dated in the distant past. Did I really go out with him? If so, what happened? It used to bother me that I couldn't remember these things, but now I think it's just as well.

Barbara reassures me that this growing mental fog is not a sign of early Alzheimer's. It is as natural at our age as turkey neck.

Still, the loss of that $500 smarts. Yesterday I went back to the bank to see if anyone had turned it in, but nobody had. I confessed to the woman in the bank that I felt like a total idiot, but she was sympathetic. She says it happens all the time.

mwente@globeandmail.ca