February 12, 2014

Book Review: Hijos de la Selva/Sons of the Forest

In the early part of the 20th century photographer Edward Curtis was funded by American businessman J. P. Morgan to undertake the extensive task of making a photographic record of Native Americans across the United States. While some of these photos are undeniably powerful and poignant, the motivation behind them of creating a portrait of "a vanishing people" resulted in him either doctoring the photos or dressing them up in "costumes" in order to eliminate any traces of so called civilized influences. While this does nothing to diminish the quality or scope of his work, when compared to the work of genuine cultural anthropologists or ethnographers, it does call into question their historical authenticity.

This becomes especially obvious when comparing his work his contemporary, the German ethnographer Max Schmidt. While Schmidt's work has languished in obscurity for years, its now been brought to light again through the publication of Hijos de la Selva/Sons of the Forest by Perceval Press. Edited by Viggo Mortensen and with text provided by scholars Federico Bossert and Diego Villar, this book not only reproduces many of the photos Schmidt took among the people of Paraguay and Brazil, it also goes into detail about his background, the philosophy upon which his work was grounded and how this differed from the more Eurocentric (or Amerocentric) approach taken by others working in his field at the time.

The book is divided into two parts; Bossert and Villar's essay on Schmidt, his work and its philosophical and academic underpinnings and a selection of digital reproductions of his original glass plate photographs taken of the peoples of the Brazilian and Paraguayan Amazon basin. Mortensen, Bossert and Villar, with help from people at the Museo Etnogafico Andres Barbero of Asuncion, Paraguay where Schmidt's original photographs are archived, began work on this collection back in 2009. In his introduction to the book Mortensen explains how after they had made their initial selection the original glass plates were shipped to California for digitalization and that the book's objective was to be a mixture of an academic appraisal of his work and an artistic appreciation of his photography.
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I have to admit the academic part of the equation gave me some concerns as I've been removed from the world of academia for close to thirty years and have memories of reading works which sucked the life out art. So I was pleasantly surprised upon reading the essay composed by Bossert and Villar to find it informative but not the dry as dust type of thing I had grown accustomed to reading years ago. Firstly, and most importantly, they placed his work in its proper historical and cultural context by going into both his background and the academic environment surrounding ethnography in his native Germany in the late 19th and early 20 centuries.

After they established a context within which to place Schmidt's work, they proceed to delve into his actual explorations and study. We learn about his first trips into the Amazon basin and his initial contacts with the indigenous peoples of the region. Here the author's have gone right to the source for their information as they quote substantially from Schmidt's extensive and exhaustive diaries. Unlike what was usual for the times Schmidt travelled simply, accompanied only by two guides and a mule. While this left him more at the mercy of the environment than was usual the impression I received from reading was it made him far less threatening a presence then any of his predecessors.

While the writing and descriptions of Schmidt's life and work were fascinating my understanding suffered from a lack of knowledge of South American geography. This is not a complaint directed towards the work's authors, rather a warning to anybody reading this they should make sure they have a good atlas or map of the region to hand. In fact reading Bossert and Villar's essay make one wish there were more written about this fascinating man who took it upon himself to make a record of the isolated people of the regions. For after 1929, he retired from his position at the Berlin Museum of Ethnography, and moved to South America where he continued his work independently.

While the academic part of the book makes for interesting reading, and gives us knowledge of the person behind the lens, for me it was the pictures making up the second half of the book which were most intriguing. For not only have the photos been reproduced, so have Schmidt's original captions and explanations. Unlike other photos of this type I've seen, most obviously Curtis', Schmidt's images not only tell you who the subject is and where they were taken, they often give you details of the person or the situation depicted. As a result these are real people, not some idealized, romantic version of the "nobel savage".

Even more intriguing is how Schmidt makes no effort to disguise any modifications his subjects might have made in their behaviour or dress due to contact with the outside world. As a result we see the rather odd juxtaposition of an image showing children in uniforms attending school next to images of naked adults going about their business. While they might have been taken among different people, it shows us their's was a world in transition. To our eyes the pictures might depict a life minus the comforts of civilization we can't imagine living without; primitive and deprived. However, when compared to images shot on the reservations and tribal lands of North America at the same time, these people don't have the same aura of defeat or loss about them as their northern counterparts.
Adelina Pusineri:Viggo Mortensen:Diego Villar:Federico Bossert sm.jpg
Which isn't to say they weren't under threat from civilization. As the text points out even in the 1920s and 1930s industrial expansion in the form of rubber tree tappers were making inroads into indigenous territories and killing anyone in their way. However, the images in the book also show people who still hadn't been defeated or overwhelmed. We also see from the photos how their geographical location made it far easier for them to avoid the advance of civilization than people in North America. Schmidt's accounts of the difficulties involved in travelling to where most of these people lived confirm the isolation depicted in the images.

However, all other considerations aside, the images are also a testament to Schmidt's skill and artistry as a photographer. He seems to have had some sort of innate ability to put his subjects at ease as the photos come across as a mixture of those one would see in a family album and documentary style shots of people going about their daily business. While that might not seem like a great accomplishment to us today with digital cameras, remember he was shooting glass plates which required a great deal of preparation and set up. It was very hard to be unobtrusive with the kind of equipment required for taking these kind of photographs, yet even in the obviously posed pictures there is very little of the formality we've come to expect from this era of photography.

Before reading Hijos de la Selva I knew nothing of the life and work of Max Schmidt, little of the study of ethnography and almost nothing about the people of the Amazon Basin. While one book can't, and this one doesn't claim to be, a definitive work on these subjects, it introduces the reader to them with intelligence and compassion. The carefully prepared essay gives us both an academic and personal history of Schmidt and places his body of work in its proper context so we can fully appreciate the significance of the accompanying photographs. Even more important, as far as I'm concerned, the book makes clear how Schmidt, unlike so many of his contemporaries in the same field, saw his subjects as fellow human beings, not just objects of interest to be studied. An example many of us could stand to learn from even today as indigenous people the world over still struggle against various types of stereotyping.

(Article first published at Empty Mirror as Book Review: Hijos de la Selva/Sons of the Forest)

December 9, 2012

Book Review: The Ponderables by Tom Jackson

Almost since we climbed down out of the trees humanity has been trying to define the universe and our place in it. Gradually we developed methods by which we could codify and analyze the information at our disposal in order to formulate answers. At first these took the form of simplistic superstitions based on a myriad of belief systems and myths. However as the years passed and our knowledge grew we developed methods which allowed us to come up with answers based on facts. This in turn created a body of information common to all humanity independent of individual belief systems. It hasn't always been smooth sailing especially when discoveries have flown in the face of accepted wisdom or contradicted the teachings of powerful religious bodies.

For some reason people are more afraid of rational explanations and scientific facts than they are of mysticism and unfounded beliefs. Even today religious fanatics of many faiths not only refuse to accept proven scientific theories, but are insisting their individual beliefs be given equal status in spite of there being no proof as to their validity. One of the reasons they're able to get away with this is the majority of people know almost nothing about the various rational means used to define the universe. For some reason most of us see these areas of study as completely inaccessible and assume they can only be understood by a few people. A new series of books by British science author Tom Jackson, The Ponderables goes a long way towards refuting that sentiment. In fact, judging by the first three volumes; The Elements: An Illustrated History of the Periodic Table, Mathematics: An Illustrated History of Numbers and The Universe: An Illustrated History of Astronomy, this series will not only help demystify science it will remind people of just what an amazing and magical world we live in.
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Each of the three books shows how our awareness and knowledge of its subject matter has developed over the course of human history. However instead of merely recounting dry facts and figures Jackson manages to bring the individuals responsible for some of the world's great scientific breakthroughs to life by not only recounting their discoveries but telling us the story behind them. Divided up into a hundred great milestones in each area's history we are able to witness the growth of awareness and knowledge from the time of ancient Greece to the present day. Each book also comes with a handy dandy 12 page pull out timeline that can be used for quick reference. On the reverse side you'll find twelve pages of information specific to each subject. Seasonal star charts in The Universe, great mathematical enigmas in Mathematics and a chart of elements in their atomic order in The Elements

Aside from talking about the various individuals and their discoveries, each section not only contain illustrations which help to explain their significance, Jackson also includes explanatory notes ensuring readers won't have any trouble understanding what's being discussed. While this is not some simplistic "science made easy" type of book, Jackson has the ability to make the material accessible and interesting. Not being a person with a significant background in the sciences I was pleased to see he doesn't make any assumptions about his reader's knowledge. Yet at the same time not once do you have the feeling that he's talking down to you. It's like having a well educated and personable tour guide through the history of each subject.

Of course it doesn't hurt that he includes such historical events like Hennig Brand (a 17th century German alchemist) being the first on record to discover a new element. Boiling his urine down he watched as it began to glow in the dark and named the resultant powder phosphorus. But it's not just elemental scientists who know how to have fun, mathematicians are no slouches either. The Russian Ladislaus Bortkiewicz developed one of the main tools used in statistics in 1898 when he computed the odds of a Prussian cavalryman being killed when kicked by a horse. Or did you know astronomers have come up with a term for the opposite of The Big Bang which created the universe. They call it the Big Crunch - but don't worry they figure we've got a few billion years until all of matter collapses in on itself.
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Those unfamiliar with the history of science might also be surprised to discover that Astronomy has proven to be one of the most contentious issues down through the ages - at least in the Western world. Starting with Aristotle in ancient Greece it was believed the earth was at the centre of the solar system and everything, including the sun, revolved around us. This fit in nicely with the Catholic Church's view of the world and anybody who disagreed with them ran into all sorts of trouble with the Inquisition. In spite of being able to offer conclusive proof that the earth, and the other known planets revolved around the sun, Galileo Galilei, facing jail time and potential burning at the stake for heresy, was forced to recant his theories. It wasn't until 1992 the Vatican apologized for its mistreatment of Galileo.

Of course that wasn't the first time he had gone against conventional wisdom. There was also the incident with the two canon balls of different sizes which he dropped off a building and observed they both hit the ground at the same time. Up until then accepted doctrine was the larger object would fall faster than the smaller one, but Galileo's simple proof showed how gravity doesn't care about size and exerts the same amount of pull on all objects.

Watching human knowledge grow over the centuries is both fascinating and revealing. For not only do we grow to understand how its a cumulative process, we also realize that most of the information was there for anybody to discover, it was only a matter of observation. As our technology has become more sophisticated so has the equipment we use for making our observations. We've gone from watching the night sky through simple telescopes to high powered observatories to finally the Hubbell telescope in orbit. The observation of particles has graduated from microscopes to electron-microscopes to super conductors.

However, what I find most impressive about Jackson's books is how they manage to convey the wonder and magic of the universe we live in while showing there are rational explanations for all that we see. Knowledge helps us to understand the world around us and in the process deepens our wonder as we realize how special and rare it is. The Ponderables series introduces us to some of the most important people and events over the course of humanity's history who have been responsible for unveiling the world's mysteries. After reading them you can't help but be excited by the magic still waiting to be revealed.

(Article first published as Book Review: The Ponderables by Tom Jackson on Blogcritics.)

April 15, 2012

Product Review: eers PCS-150 Sculpted Ear Buds

What are the two most aggravating things about the ear bud style of earphones? For me it's the fact they never seem to fit comfortably in the ear and even those with the little loops for draping don't seem to ever want to stay in place. The second thing is directly related to the first as I'm sure the lousy fit is a major cause of how poor a job they do of blocking out background noise. The idea of earphones is so you can listen to a portable music device when you're out and about. But what good are they if they're either falling out of your ear or the only way you can hear your music is if you crank the volume so high you risk deafness.

I'm amazed I made it to my fifties without any discernible hearing loss after spending so much time in clubs standing right up front next to the stacks of speakers listen to noisy punk bands. The last thing I want to be doing is blowing an eardrum while listening to my I-pod - the irony in itself would be mortifying. Ever since I started reviewing music I've been looking for a decent set of earphones. I want something I can use in a variety of circumstances ranging from walking down the street next to traffic to the middle of the night when I don't want to disturb anyone else. While there have been a couple that have been fine for when I'm stationary and in a quiet atmosphere, no matter how good their sound quality is once I'm moving around amidst the noise and bustle of the world nothing has really proved to be reliable.
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So when I first heard about the idea of earphones which could be sized to fit an individual's ear canal I was intrigued. Developed by a company, Sonomax, which has been making industrial ear plugs for workers for over a decade, each set of sculpted eers ear buds is supposedly tailored to fit the shape of your ear canal. Not only would this keep the earbud comfortably in place it would also provide a seal to drastically reduce the amount of extraneous noise leaking in. The idea sounds great, but how in the heck were they going to accomplish that? It's not like buying shoes or clothes where you can send a company your measurements so they know what size to send you.

What they've done is developed the means for you to literally create your own earbuds at home. I was sent the kit for a set of PCS-150 custom fitted sculpted eers to test. At a list price of $199.00 Canadian a pop (the company is Canadian) the price might seem rather steep. However if they can deliver on what they advertise the price isn't that out of line when compared to the cost of high end speakers for a stereo system. Remember, no matter how much money you spend on the other components it's the speakers which will determine the quality of the sound you listen too. A bad set of speakers will ruin a good system, while great speakers will make K-Mart quality components sound like an audiophiles dream. So if you have a $300.00 portable music player do you really want to listen to what they produce through a set of headphones that cost $19.95?

The first thing you'll notice is the quality of the packaging the materials come in. Everything is contained inside a durable, hard cardboard box, which when opened reveals the carefully sealed contents. The kit includes what looks to be a set of headphones but is actually the SonoFit Custom Fitting System. The system fits over your head just like a set of headphones, but instead of containing wires and speakers its guts contain a pair of inflation pumps and medical grade silicone. At the receiving end of silicone and pumps are two modular ear pieces which can fit into even the smallest of ear canals. The ear pieces look like your typical ear buds down to the loops to fit over your ear, but that's where the similarities end.
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Looking at everything was a little intimidating, especially with the notice warning you not to play with any of the buttons before beginning the customization process. However it comes with easy to follow trilingual (English, French and Spanish) and comprehensive instruction manual and a very efficient quick start guide as well. The latter contains all you need to know for creating your earbuds while the former has detailed instructions for how to care for your product and other helpful information. In an nutshell what happens is you use the head band and over the ear loops to position the ear pieces in your ear's canal. Once you have pushed them in as far as comfortable and done any fine tuning adjustments you require for comfort and fit, you activate the pumps which shoot the silicone into the pieces. The hardest part is sitting still with your head level and not talking for the five minutes required for the process to take place. When the time is up you simply snap the pieces off the frame and put the included face plates in place and, voila, you have your very own custom fitted ear buds.

Okay, I didn't go into the full details of how it works. However, the instructions are easy to follow, and if for some reason you have any problems they give you a link to a video to watch showing how its done and supply a 1-800 number to call for help as well. What's more important is whether they deliver on their promise of sound quality and ambiance? Well the apartment I live in right now is on my city's main street. Traffic at almost anytime of day or night includes 18 wheelers, Harley Davidsons, diesel passenger buses and cars equipped with sub-woofers big enough to knock over buildings. Normally if I want to listen to anything, including talking on the phone, I have to close the windows. With the windows open not only was I able to hear the music from my I-Pod with no problem, I could barely hear the sound of the passing traffic, and this was at four in the afternoon smack in the middle of rush hour.
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I was so shocked and surprised that it took me a couple of moments before I even paid attention to the quality of the sound I was listening to. Just being able to hear without having to crank the volume was pleasure enough in itself for the first little while. Once I started to pay attention to what was going on inside my ears I was even happier. I had been a little leery of the PCS-150s advertised bass enhancement as I'm not a fan of bass heavy music. However all it means in this case is they've found a way to create a full, rich and balanced sound. There's none of the tinniness I've long come to associate with ear phones and neither have they resorted to most people's answer to that problem by simply amplifying the bottom end.

One of the tracks I use for testing headphones and speakers features a band that uses a lot of hand percussion alongside the standard rock and roll set up of guitars, bass and drum kit. Not only could you make out instruments the percussionist was playing normally lost on most speakers and ear buds, but you could also hear each instrument and the vocal harmonies clearly, distinctly and proportionate to their place in the mix. It was like the audio equivalent of 3-D as the sound had a depth of field you very rarely have the privilege of being able to appreciate. You could even hear the individual notes being played on the acoustic bass and the pitter patter of the congas drums, instruments which are normally lost when played in a rock and roll band.
To say I was impressed with the custom moulded eers PCS-150 ear buds isn't overstating it. Not only do they live up to their hype of providing a product that eliminates a high percentage of atmospheric noise common to the urban landscape which fits comfortably and securely into your ear, the quality of the sound they produce is as good as any high end speaker system if not better. While the PCS-150 comes complete with a built in microphone, for $30.00 less you can purchase the PCS-100 and get the same quality sound without the microphone. For the real audiophiles out there they also have the 200 series with even more enhancements to the sound quality for $299.00 with and $269.00 without the microphone. I doubt my ear is good enough to notice any difference, but if they are of the same quality as the 100 series, I'd bet they're worth the extra $100.00.

Currently the sculpted eers are only available at a limited number of retail outlets in the US, but you can purchase them through the company's on line store. As an added inducement they are not only covering shipping costs, but paying the duty on all cross border orders. In Canada they are currently available at The Source, a nation wide electronics chain, and through the online store. The price might seem a little steep, but for those who want to experience the same quality of sound on their portable device as they do in the comfort of their living room, they are worth every penny.

(Article first published as Product Review: eers PCS-150 Sculpted Fitted Ear Buds on Blogcritics.)

July 9, 2008

Interview: Elizabeth Pisani Author Of The Wisdom Of Whores & HIV/AIDS Advocate

A few months ago I wrote a review of Elizabeth Pisani's book The Wisdom Of Whores which recounted her work combating the AIDS epidemic in South East Asia. In the book she talked candidly about issues that most people are still afraid to speak about openly when it comes to the disease. A great deal of what she talked about is the need to ensure that the world doesn't become complacent when it comes to the issue of AIDS prevention.

As more and more drugs have come along that can extend a person's life once they have contracted the disease, and money is being poured into searching for a vaccine, less and less is being said and done about the nitty gritty of AIDS prevention. Most political and religious leaders would rather talk about how much money they are spending on a vaccine instead of talking about making sure intravenous drug users having clean needles or transgendered prostitutes have condoms.

Even sillier are the ones who start postulating about how things as unrelated as Global Warming, are causing the virus to spread. While there is some truth to the fact that poorer countries are hit harder by AIDS, economic factors are not the major contributor to the spread of the disease that people would like to think. For the disease to be transmitted it still requires an exchange of blood to occur between an infected and an uninfected individual. Unprotected sexual activity and sharing dirty needles are still the two main reasons that the disease is spread.
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Elizabeth Pisani called me from London England on Tuesday July 8th to talk about the Wisdom Of Whores. She had just retuned from a three week tour or the United States promoting the book there. When we had set up the interview she had suggested waiting until after she was done with her book tour of the United States so we could talk about the reactions to the book. Things didn't quite go as planned, as you'll see, and we ended up having a rather free wheeling discussion about the state of HIV/AIDS prevention and policy around the world.

You've just finished an extensive book tour of the U.S. for Wisdom Of Whores, and you're still among the living, but I'm guessing it wasn't without its moments

Well to be honest, there was almost no public reaction at all. (laughs) Which in itself says something. There seems to be a huge amount of reluctance on the part of the media to deal with confrontational issues.

Well what about reviews - the New York Times and the other big papers - nothing?

Nothing - there was only one review that has been published in the mainstream press since the book was released at the beginning of June. That was in the Philadelphia Enquirer, and it was a very positive review too. There has been quite a bit in the blogsphere though, and I had some radio interviews on National Public Radio (NPR), but that was it.

Even in cities like San Francisco, where you'd think they'd notice a book about AIDS, there wasn't anything at all in The Enquirer or any of the papers. I did have a meeting with the head of one of the grass roots organization in San Francisco, and that was good. He and I don't always agree on everything but I have immense respect for the work he and his people have done.

So no, there are no real "Moments" to talk about that happened in any of the public meetings. Interestingly enough though the book is selling better in the States than it is in Britain where I've had all sorts of press. It was strange to go from being in the pages of The Financial Times to nothing - but there it is.

Where I did get some reactions was in the private meetings at places like the World Bank, The Gates Foundation, and USAIDS.

Well that was a question I was going to ask you a bit later on - so I might as well ask it now. What has been the reaction of places like that to the book

I was scheduled to give a sort of brown bag, lunch time talk, with questions and answers at World Bank headquarters in Washington DC. I had been told not to expect many people, maybe ten or fifteen, but it ended up being standing room only - so about sixty people, which was quite wonderful.

What was the subject of the talk?

The interaction between prevention and treatment, and how we in the AIDS profession are still getting it wrong by not focusing our energies where they are truly needed which is on the high risk groups; men who practice anal sex, the sex trade, and intravenous drug users.

I don't get it - way back in the early days anybody I knew who was aware of the disease knew those were the people most at risk, and we also knew how the disease was transmitted - why is it still so hard for people to get that message?

There are really two issues at hand here, one is partially the fault of us in the AIDS industry and the other is the concern over the stigmatization of those in the affected groups. Unfortunately there is a very real concern when it comes to the latter; by saying men who have anal sex, people in the sex trade, and intravenous drug users are the ones most at risk for transmitting the disease you set them up as pariahs. As these are also people who already exist on the margins of most societies, or are a minority already subject to harsh treatment, labelling them most at risk for transmitting the disease increases the chances of them being ostracized.

Knowing full well that politicians weren't going to want to put up money for gays, sex trade workers, and needle users, the threat to people outside the high risk groups was stressed in order to secure any money at all. The trouble is that the money isn't being spent on the areas where it's most needed. It's all very well and good to have programs for people in the low risk groups, but if we don't spend the money on those most at risk what are we really doing to stop the spread of the disease?
For example in the Bronx, the borough in New York City, they've just announced a program where they are going to test everybody over the age of fifteen for the virus. That includes people who have been widows for twenty years and the celibate - people who are at no risk of getting the disease. We already know who are at most risk, and wouldn't the money be better spent on testing them, providing them with treatment and setting up programs to stop them from spreading the disease?

In New York City one in four of gay men who are coming in to be tested are not only HIV positive but they are already in the throes of full blown AIDS - which means they are waiting for symptoms of the disease to show before they come into get tested and by then they are at the most infectious. There's something seriously wrong with that, and its because we're not doing enough to work on prevention.

In Canada we just had the recent furor over a safe injection facility in Vancouver British Columbia - Insite - that the federal government was going to close, but thankfully a judge in British Columbia ruled they couldn't because it provides a health care service. The attitude from the government was one of - I don't care about junkies

Right and that's the vicious circle people working in the world of AIDS are dealing with. If there was ever an under serviced area in the world right now it would be the East side of Vancouver. I've seen some pretty bad spots in the world and that's just horrible. The people there are trying so hard to do something but they have so little to work with. Insite is only able to cope with 5% of the people injecting on the street.

Here's an irony for you, when the people opposed to Insite found out that figure they tried to make it part of the argument against keeping it open by saying, well they can't be doing much good if they're only servicing five per cent of the population. Of course all that means is they don't have the resources to do any more.

Well you can make statistics say anything can't you?

Oh yes, you can torture numbers to say what you like easily enough, but it doesn't change the reality of the situation. We know that there are only very specific circumstances required for the HIV/AIDS virus to be spread; an infected person, and uninfected person, and an exchange of bodily fluids. So obviously you have to prevent the spread of bodily fluids from the first to the second.

Yet, I was at USAIDS saying just those things while I was in the States and the director says to me: "I never thought of it that way before". Maybe I'm a little too Pollyanna, but I hope that by constantly keeping pressure on the people delivering services that we can at least get them to spend the money in the areas where it's needed. Go ahead and do all your studies and set up your programming with the other groups, because of course its needed, but don't do it at the expense of the people who are at most risk of contracting and spreading the disease. Unfortunately that's the situation we are currently in.

Even before I read your book I had the impression that people are very defensive when it comes to AIDS prevention - and any critical evaluation, no matter how constructive, is treated like an attack. Is this a valid impression and if so how did this fortress mentality come about?

I'd like to say it's not true, but unfortunately it does exist. There are two types of people who get involved in HIV/AIDS work; those who give a shit, and those who are there because that's where the money is. Those of us, like me, who are in because we give a shit want to to believe we know what works. We know the communities we work with and how to best reach individuals within it - who is going to react positively to what incentives to use what prevention methods. I think if we didn't have that belief we wouldn't be able to keep doing what we are doing - you have to have the feeling that you're making a difference otherwise how could you keep on doing it?

The result is we only want to hear good news, we don't want somebody like me coming in from the outside saying well you know this isn't working because of such and such. It's so hard to get funding for programming that you fear that anything negative that comes up will adversely affect the programming you know that is working well, or that you believe should work.

For example I know, I firmly believe that there is a co-relation between preventing the spread of other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS but the data just doesn't add up. No matter how I look at the statistics I can't prove that working on one helps the other - yet I know that it has to be true.

Of course the second group of people, those in it for the money, want to show they are doing a good job so they can keep on getting their funding and have jobs for themselves.

Recently there's been talk by the Canadian government of refocusing the direction of their HIV/AIDS funding away from grassroots organizations towards putting it into research on a vaccine. To be honest I'd never even heard talk of a vaccine before this - how realistic a goal is that?

The vaccine has become the latest pet project, the Gates Foundation has been sinking a lot of money into it. While I wouldn't say we should give up on the vaccine, it's so far been a very disappointing failure. Of course it's very safe politically, because you don't have to say anything about the money being spent on anything controversial like needle exchanges in prisons, but it looks like you're doing something. If I may be so bold, for the amount of money that Canada would be putting up, it wouldn't really accomplish much and would be better off spent elsewhere. Huge amounts of money are already being spent on it by Gates and the World Bank

Yeah well Gates has more money than our GNP, so if he's putting money into it what difference would our few dollars make?


How are other countries dealing with the three high risk groups. Especially countries that we in the West might consider resistant to talking about sex and drugs

Well one of the biggest success stories working with the sex trade was in Cambodia, where the government had worked out an arrangement with the brothel owners so that condom use was being promoted among all the workers. Unfortunately the US government, under pressure from the International Justice Mission (IJM), who I call Cops For Christ, threatened to remove Cambodia from their donor list if they didn't crack down on the sex trade in the country.

Cambodia did have a serious problem with child prostitution, that was simply shocking, and that needed to be dealt with, but instead of just targeting those specific cases, the government was forced to close down the whole system. The result was that the all the brothels were raided, the girls were raped and had all their savings and gold stolen from them by the cops, and the trade has been driven underground where there is no government control or regulation. It hasn't stopped the sex trade

(In her book The Wisdom Of Whores, Ms. Pisani goes into details about the events in Cambodia and the problems the IJM create where ever they go. The girls they "rescue" from prostitution have no means of making money and are dumped on local service agencies who don't have the facilities to deal with them. IMJ are despised and distrusted by the local police and the sex workers for making the problem worse not better. The girls are forced to take re-education courses - like sewing - for six months during which time they are not paid. There are many cases of them using ladders and rope made out of their bed sheets to escape the shelters they have been sent to after being rescued. As one prostitute put it to the author "Look, if I could afford to be going to school for six months without pay I wouldn't be selling sex".

The final tally is that by the end of 2005 fewer then 1000 girls had been successfully rescued from a life of prostitution, and the IMJ had received five million dollars from the Gates foundation to fight prostitution and the HIV/AIDS it was supposed to spread. On the other hand the Cambodian government's program had ensured that an estimated 970,00 Cambodians had used condoms when they bought sex by the same date.)

The real big surprise is in Iran, where they have set up needle dispensers on the streets of Teheran so that anybody who needs a clean needle has ready access to them. They also have needle exchanges in prisons there.

It's been reported in the Western media that Iran claims they don't have any homosexuals

Oh, most of the Middle East is still really bad when it comes to the issue of Homosexuality. In fact in Egypt they arrest anyone with HIV/AIDs because they take it as a sign that you're gay, which is illegal. I thought we'd grown up somewhat and were beyond that. It was just as bad in Africa where up until a short while ago in the sub-Saharan area they denied they had any homosexuals at all. Of course there homosexuals are probably no more at risk than heterosexuals when it comes to contracting the disease as it's so widespread.

Africa has obviously been the worst case scenario for the AIDS virus. At one time people were predicting that India was another Africa just waiting to happen - do you know have any information about that situation?

I've not worked on the ground in India since I was a reporter so I don't have any first hand experience but I do know the data and some of what's been going on there. UNAIDS, on the last World AIDS day - December 1st/07 - actually revised the projected number of people infected with the virus downwards by two million, from five to three million. It was a classic case of not looking at the right groups and using misleading data to base their estimations on.

The data that the figures had been based on was collected from a couple of hospitals where all the difficult cases were being referred to, and these hospitals had a large number of pregnant women coming to them with the infection. From that information they postulated that pregnant woman were a high risk group for infection across the country. At the same time they were almost completely ignoring the people in the high risk groups. This of course skewed the original tally badly - it take make it better politically to be able to say that pregnant women were at risk, but it meant nothing was being done for those who really needed treatment.

At one point there was only one web site providing information for people in the sex trade and something like two for homosexuals and one for intravenous drug users - or is that the other way around - at any rate this in a country of close to a billion people.

Thankfully, this is one country where Bill Gates, bless him, has done something useful. He offered the country 110 million dollars on the condition it be spent on prevention programming for high risk groups. When the federal government dithered and held their hands up in horror, he by passed them and went directly to state and municipal governments who gladly took the money and began implementing programming. What's even better is that other states have seen the success they've had and are creating programs based on them.

So now that you're no longer in the sex and drugs business, what are you going to do now for excitement?

Well I don't really feel like I've completely left the business, what with the book and all. I'm still out talking to people about the issues and I'm still doing the occasional consulting work, and reviewing articles for journals. To be honest what I miss is the most is the number crunching - the excitement of discovering something new or finding the proof that what I believed to be happening was actually happening.

Well this didn't turn out quite the way we planned - I still have a hard time believing there's been so little notice given the book in the press and there was so little reaction at all in the States

Well there was one good story I can tell you, it was during a radio call in show in Illinois on the NPR station. I took this one call from a gentleman who was very much in agreement with a lot the things I had been saying. At one point he said, well wouldn't it make sense to legalize prostitution? What was really surprising was he was a State Senator for Illinois.

Thank you very much for this Elizabeth

Your welcome.

Well I have to say that I had had visions of hearing tales of Ms. Pisani receiving death threats over the phone and being denounced from pulpits across the South or something similar when we set up this interview. Here she was, a woman who took great pride in saying she worked in sex and drugs going to the country who ties foreign aid to their version of morality. The fact that the book is being completely ignored is probably even scarier than it being the subject of debate or her the object of hatred. Although I'm not sure if it's as scary as hearing that the director of USAIDS had never thought about the correlation between how the disease is spread and how to prevent it from being spread.

The good new is that people are buying the book in spite of the lack of acknowledgement in the press that it's been published. In the United States the book is being distributed by Norton Books and in Canada through Penguin Canada. If you're interested in keeping up to date on information pertaining to HIV/AIDS you can check out Elizabeth's web site.

May 8, 2008

Book Review: The Wisdom Of Whores Elizabeth Pisani

It's close to thirty years ago since British rocker Ian Drury had a hit with the song "Sex And Drugs And Rock And Roll". Somehow or other nobody had strung the three together in quite the catchy way he had before, and his little ditty's title caught more then a few people's imaginations. In those innocent days prior to AIDS and the "War On Drugs", it became the catch phrase of choice for a great many people to sum up what they needed to make them happy. That Drury might have been satirizing the rock star image with his song was lost on ninety per cent of his audience, who had latched onto the title as a lifestyle definition.

The world spins around and ten years later, in the 1980s, I couldn't read the obituary pages of my local paper without reading that a man of my generation had died of unknown causes, leaving behind special friends, but very rarely, a wife or parents to mourn him. AIDS was very much a mystery in those early days in the mid to late eighties, but even then we knew it was caused by sharing bodily fluids and the quickest way of catching it was through unprotected sex and sharing a needle. It was only a matter of time before it spread beyond gay men. Sex and Drugs were "very good indeed" no longer.

When the Canadian Red Cross came clean about not testing their blood properly and giving hemophiliacs infected blood, (and oh by the way if you received a blood transfusion between these dates you really should get yourself checked), the "innocent victim" syndrome in AIDS reared its ugly head. Just what the world needed - another way to stigmatize people who were dying because they had sex or shared a needle. The Christian right in North America had already labelled HIV and AIDS as the wages of sin, and being able to say they only have themselves to blame, while others are blameless, only added fuel to the pyre they were building to burn the sinners.
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In the preface to her book The Wisdom Of Whores, Elizabeth Pisani says that when people ask her what she does for a living she cheerfully replies "Sex and drugs" as it's easier than having to explain to people that an Epidemiologist studies how diseases spread in populations. For ten year of her life, starting in 1996, Ms Pisani worked on the front lines of HIV/AIDs research looking for patterns in how the disease was spread, developing ways of curbing the spread of the diseases, trying to figure out how many people were potentially at risk, and of course dealing with the political fallout that always seems to accompany sex and drugs.

In the course of her work she has run police roadblocks in Indonesia carrying blood samples and used syringes, sat on street corners with prostitutes in the border towns of China and Tibet discussing the economics of their trade, worked with the transgendered prostitutes of Indonesia, argued policy with officials from the UN, the World Health Organization (WHO), Muslim Clerics, and brothel owners in Thailand. The Wisdom Of Whores are the conclusions she has reached after these ten years of field work about what works in the fight against HIV/AIDS and what doesn't work. These conclusions are backed up by not only her years of personal observation, but by the data she has crunched charting the growth of the disease and the effectiveness of the various means used to prevent it's spread in different countries and among different social groups.

One of the most frightening things about this book is, at the time it was being written, the amount of influence being exerted on HIV/AIDS programming by people with political and religious agendas. From Muslim Clerics in Africa and South East Asia saying that not using condoms proves how faithful you are, the American government going so far as prohibiting their staff from having access to research that proves the effectiveness of condoms in preventing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD), to American policy that tries to prevent any agency, whether they receive American money or not, from advocating the use of condoms as a preventative measure; it's more important to these people that their view of the world is adhered to than the disease be prevented from spreading.

In spite of the statistical evidence that Ms. Pisani cites, that over 70% of the people who sign pledges vowing to abstain from pre-marital sex end up having pre-marital sex, the American government still preaches abstinence as the answer for preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. The fact that the majority of these people also practice unprotected sex is even more damning. That those figures are from the US, and not a country with a flourishing sex trade, makes the whole abstinence argument even more spurious.
In spite of what any number of groups might want you to think, according to Ms. Pisani's research very few people are sold into the sex trade of South East Asia as slaves. It's more a matter of simple economics; a women can earn more in a half hour as a prostitute than she would for making 150 t-shirts in a sweat shop. If people are really so concerned about women in the sex trade maybe they should consider paying a little more money for their brand name t-shirts so these women have a viable alternative to make money to feed their families.

In all of these countries where condom programs have been implemented within the sex trade infection rates have been halved and continue to decline. The programs that work best are the ones like the one implemented by Thailand. The government allows the brothels to operate as long as the women working there use condoms, if they don't the government closes it down and the owner loses his source of income. By routinely randomly testing all the women working in the brothels for STDs the government is able to tell if condoms are being used. Not only has this helped prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS but it has also cut down on the spread of all STDs among clients, brothel workers, and all of their families.

The sharing of needles by intravenous drug users is of course the other big way that the virus is spread. In spite of this, resistance to needle exchanges as a means of prevention still runs high. Those who believe in the war on drugs are convinced that needle exchange programs encourage drug use and don't want anything to do with it. Yet statistics presented by Ms. Pisani shows that needle exchanges not only help prevent the spread of disease, they work to help people get off drugs. Two or three times a week they are in contact with social workers who can give them referrals to treatment programs and provide them support in quitting drugs and a good many of them take advantage of it.

The other big issue that Ms. Pisani raises is the need to balance treatment and prevention. While nobody wants to see anybody die when there are drugs available that could prolong their lives for as much as ten years, the problem is now that too much of the HIV/AIDS budget is being spent on treatment and prevention is falling by the wayside. As a result people are still being infected in spite of everything we know. Politicians are much happier when they can say they are giving money to treat pregnant women so they don't spread the disease to their unborn child, or to treat a child who was born with the virus, than they are in announcing money to help people who have sex and use drugs from catching it.

The Wisdom Of Whores is like a gale of fresh air being blown through the musty smelling bullshit that has surrounded the whole HIV/AIDS issue from day one. It's not just the holy cows of the right Ms. Pisani takes on either in her battle to save lives. Everything from peer counselling to confidential testing is put under her microscope for analysis; saving lives and preventing the spread of the disease is what concerns her not what people think is right. I'm sure this will get a lot of people's backs up, but it's hard to argue with her statistics about rates of infection.

It's hard to imagine a book about a subject as dry sounding as epidemiology being a page turner and entertaining, but Elizabeth Pisani has managed to do just that. She is irreverent, but never irrelevant; by turns angry, compassionate, and frustrated, she is a refreshingly human voice among so many speech makers. Sex and drugs might be taboo subjects for most people, but they are Elizabeth's bread and butter, and according to her they are at the root of HIV/AIDS. The Wisdom Of Whores paints as true a picture as possible of the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS and where it stands today as you're liable to ever read. As well as the book you can also go the Wisdom Of Whores web site to receive even more up to date information and join in the ongoing discussion on how the world is doing in its fight to keep people alive.

The Wisdom Of Whores can be purchased directly from Penguin Canada or an online retailer like

February 21, 2008

Wild Burros Killed As "Wildlife Management"

“Congress finds and declares that wild free-roaming horses and burros are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West; ... and that these horses and burros are fast disappearing from the American scene. It is the policy of Congress that wild free-roaming horses and burros shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death; and to accomplish this they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands” The Wild-Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971

It looked liked the bleeding would finally be stopped. In 1971 an American Congress finally put the brakes on what had been an ongoing slaughter for one hundred years. The killing of America's wild horse and burro populations looked like it was finally coming to an end. It was quite a sea change from a hundred years earlier when American governments had advocated the extermination of the wild horse as a means of bringing the American Indian to heel.

Even more important than just stopping the killing was their recognition that these animals needed to have territory to live in. "They are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of public lands" would seem to guarantee both the horse, and their far less glamourous cousin the burro, at least equal standing on public lands as all other creatures. But a law is only as strong as the will to enforce it, and there seems to be plenty of interest groups with money who have the ability to sap the will needed to enforce that law.

Cattle ranchers want the land the horses use because of how little they are charged to use public lands for grazing rights, and have been more than willing to supply the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) with erroneous statistics and misleading information in order to support their cause. The BLM have done their bit for agribusiness by actually ensuring the wild horse population has been reduced by over 50% since Congress passed the 1971 act that supposedly ensured their population would be stabilized.
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If the campaign carried out against the horses wasn't bad enough it pales in comparison to the one currently being waged against the humble burro. Not only have they seen the amount of their habitat space gradually eroded until now it stands at less than fifty per cent of what they had in 1971 but herd levels have been reduced to such an extent that most have fallen below numbers considered sufficient to maintain genetic integrity (150) and some herds are so small (50 or less) that inbreeding is a serious risk.

Somehow or other since 1971 the wild burro has gone from being "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west" to a exotic feral animal that is interfering with the natural order. It's interesting how this wasn't considered a problem until a few years ago when a move was made by big game hunters in North America to reintroduce the Desert Big horn sheep into the same areas that burros were already grazing.

While it's despicable in the first place to re-introduce an animal into the wild just so you can hunt it, displacing another animal and calling it "Wild Life Management", is hypocrisy of the highest order. What's been happening is a smear campaign that would be worthy of any dis-information program run by the current administration. First start referring to the burros as feral and exotic instead of wild so it sounds like they were a recently introduced species instead of having been here longer then almost all breeds of domestic cattle.

Like the horse, the burro was re-introduced to North America in the 15th and 16th century with the arrival of the Spanish. The burro was especially adaptable to the climate of the Southern United States and Mexico as the breed that came with the Spanish had originated in North Africa. Not only does it require minimal amounts of water for survival, it also can obtain most of it's required water from the scrub brush that makes up the majority of it's diet.

Like the horse the burros were at various points in time released into the wild and vanished into wilderness that could support little other wild life. It's only been since another introduced creature, man, has wanted to make use of its habitat that the burro has become a "Wild Life Management" issue. Unlike horses they weren't even a concern for cattle ranchers, because they lived in territories that couldn't sustain cattle.

However, once State governments became aware of just how potentially lucrative the Big Horn Sheep hunt could be, (with licences fetching up to $100,000 each at auctions), burros became a nuisance creature that needed to be dealt with. All of a sudden we hear that they are a threat to water supplies, their populations are too high, and of course a threat to the precious Big Horn Sheep gold mine.

What's even more disquieting is the fact that many of the Big Horn Sheep are animals being introduced into areas where there was no prior sheep population. In fact the Arizona Desert Big Horn Sheep Society boasts on its web site that over 1000 animals have been introduced and have established viable populations in ten mountain ranges where they didn't previously exist.

Recently I was sent documents that were a record of an investigation into the discovery of burro carcasses in in Big Bend Ranch State Park in Texas. As these documents have not yet been made public my source has asked to remain anonymous for the moment. The documents in question are the transcripts of interviews conducted by an Internal Affairs officer who was following up on complaints of potential animal cruelty.
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Park rangers having discovered the bodies of burros rotting by the road in the park dutifully reported the crime to state authorities. The only problem was that the shootings had been carried out by Deputy Director of Texas State Parks Dan Sholly and States Parks Region 1 Director, Michael Hil, with the full support of the State Parks Director Walter D. Danby. When interviewed in early November the three men freely admitted that the killings had taken place, and had only just recently stopped.

According to Mr. Sholly's testimony they had started shooting the burros in April of 2007 until they were ordered to stop on October 23rd 2007 (although he did admit that a final burro was shot on Oct. 26th three days after the stop kill order was issued). According to him they had "kept a running total in our mind, and initially in our reports, the number we had shot was seventy-one burros". He also said that he had shot burros on five or six trips into the park, but not every time he went there - mainly because he didn't see them every time he went into the park.

In his testimony Mike Hill said that July of 2007 was the last record he has of burros being shot, and that Dan told him to keep killing burros and not to write anything down about it after that time. He said that Dan had told him that something had been said in Austin (State government offices for Texas are located in the city of Austin) about the burros being killed. It's interesting to note that in his testimony Dan Sholly claims that he never told any park employee to stop recording the number of burros being shot.

It's also interesting to note that in his initial interview with the investigating officer the dates Mike HIll said the shootings took place contradicted those given by Mr. Sholly, but two days later he claims to have reviewed "contemporaneous notes" to refresh his memory, and changed the dates to coincide to agree with those offered by Mr. Sholly. He had said in his first interview that the killing of burros had started in April of 2006, a full year earlier then the date he came back with of April 2007. Of course he might have simply confused the dates, but than again since Sholly denied telling him to stop recording his kills, I have to wonder.

Both Mr. Sholly and Mr. Hill testified that the killing was necessitated because they were wanting to reintroduce Big Horn Sheep to the park and that they had been told that wouldn't be possible with the burros in place. Mr. Sholly also claims they never went into the park to deliberately hunt for burros, but they were trying to impact on the population by taking targets of opportunity.

I thing the most damming piece of testimony came from State Park's Director Walter D. Dabney. After relaying that he told Mr. Hill and Mr. Sholly that they should kill any and all burros on site, he mentions that no other efforts have been made to control the populations in the park since he started. In other words, they haven't attempted to capture, or relocate the herd by any of the means normally followed with protected animals.

I'm not really sure how always carrying a gun and shooting any burro you see on site differs from hunting burros, but them I'm not a Director of State Parks in Texas so I wouldn't know about such distinctions. All I know is that the burro is protected animal in the wild and is not to be killed or have it's habitat displaced by any other animal. Yet in Texas the people who are running the parks system are guilty of both crimes.

The transcript of the inquiry that I received came complete with the investigating officer's findings and recommendations. The only fault he could find with the indiscriminate killing of a protected species was the fact that the people doing the killing hadn't bothered to notify the park's employees in advance that they would be shooting burros in the park. If they had known in advance that the shootings were taking place they wouldn't have been surprised to find the rotting burro carcasses beside the road, and worried that anything untoward was going on.

He recommended that in the future all park employees be better informed about the parks wildlife management programs and that proper arrangements should be made to deal with the disposal of the carcasses. Nowhere in his findings or in his recommendations does he mention that burros are a protected animal in the United States, or that perhaps they should investigate alternative means of wildlife management instead of killing them.

It took a twenty-five year fight by concerned citizens and wildlife conservationists to get the American Congress to pass the The Wild-Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971. Thirty-six years latter officers and directors of Public Parks in Texas are flagrantly disregarding the two major provisions of the act. Not only are they depriving them of habitat desperately needed to maintain the numbers of wild burros in America, they are killing them in order to facilitate their supplanting. Currently there are only five genetically viable burro herds remaining in the wild and if the current rate of attrition of both habitat and animals is allowed to continue it will result in the extinction of wild burro herds in the American West.

Is this how America preserves its cultural heritage?

Facts and figures concerning the relative sizes of burro herds and Big Horn Sheep populations and habitat, unless otherwise stated are taken from "Wild Burros of the American West: A Critical Analysis of the National Status of Wild Burros on Public Lands 2006 by C.R. MacDonald

February 19, 2008

The Case of the Missing Kyoto Accord Part Two

Saying yes to something is a whole lot different from actually doing anything about it. Even with my rather specialized knowledge of the ins and outs of the backrooms of Ottawa I was at a loss as to where to go on this one. All of my usual contacts, sources, snitches, and blackmail victims had shut up tighter than someone holding back a fart in church.

At the word Kyoto some hadn't even the decency to say anything just left me listening to the click of their receiver echoing in the dial tone. They'd either all been gotten too early and hard or were just scared by what they knew. It's difficult to believe that something as seemingly benign as an accord governing reductions in CO2 would cause everyone I know to pucker shut, but that was seemingly the case.

The only clue, if you could call it that was the mysterious voice that phoned just as tall, intimidating and gorgeous was knocking at my door. But someone who uses call blocking and hangs up after muttering out "Where has all the water gone?" can't be considered much of any assistance.

So I was wrapping up my day by letting the imagination play around with having to console a certain Mrs. marine biologist, which involved quite a bit of page leafing on my part, when my reverie was rudely ruptured by the phones pneumatic clatter. When I had collected my thoughts sufficiently to finally collar the receiver under my chin and against my ear a voice scratched at my eardrums.

"Have you figured it out yet?" At least this time it seemed inclined to wait around for an answer instead of the rhetorical shit from earlier. So I decided to see if could draw it out by holding some cards back. This was my only source and I needed to play it right or it would end up being just another August fishing story.

"The question shouldn't have been, where has all the water gone?" I said stalling for time, "It would have been better to ask why is the water not coming?" I wasn't quite sure what made me say that, but after it came out of my mouth it was just like toothpaste in that it couldn't be shoved back in the tube. On the other hand since it seemed to impress the voice at the other end enough to keep him on the line, it couldn't have been all bad.

"Very good, shamus, very good. At least you listen when the information comes in the right package. We were afraid it might be a little too distracting given your initial reaction, but now we see that it was the right decision." There was a pause during which I took all this in, including the fact my mystery woman may not have been all she claimed to be, perhaps not even married.

I missed the first part of what the voice at the other end of the phone said next as I let my mind drift along lines that had nothing to do with water, but was wet enough in its own right, so had to try and catch up as it went along. The first words that I caught was a mention of a favourite drinking spot and with a bit of the quick thinking I was known for cut in with, "Yeah I know the spot"

The pause at the other end of the line was long enough that I thought maybe I'd blown it. But the voice came back on the line and said "eight o'clock" before leaving me with my old friend the dial tone. I figured that was as good an indication as any that I could hang up the phone.

So three hours latter I was sitting at my seat by the pole with a cold one sweating in my hand and a hottie working the poll causing those around me to sweat, waiting to see who would show up. Part of me was hoping it would be her, I've always wanted to use that line about what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this. Even better would be the one from that Bogie movie: "of all the Gin joints in all the world she had to walk into…"

Damn the heat must be getting to me worse then I thought if I'm starting to go on about some dame like this who I couldn't even say hello to without my larynx swallowing my tongue. I leaned forward to rest my forehead on my hand and brought the cold beer bottle up in an attempt to cool off my head, when somebody bumped into my back moving me forward in my seat.

That's not too unusual in a crowded bar like this, you get drunks staggering around a lot, and everybody takes it for granted and doesn't get their noses out of joint too often. So I was kind of surprised that the reaction of those around me was so extreme. First the guys on either side of me backed away and turned an even paler shade of civil service never see the light of day pasty, then the girl twirling on the pole stopped, pointed, opened her mouth to scream but didn't make it that far as she collapsed in a heap on the counter.

It was only when I turned around and saw the knife, if something the size of a machete could be called a knife, sticking out of the guy's back. If I was to hazard a guess this was to have been my contact for the evening, if only because of the fact he had a picture of me in the hand that wasn't trying to remove what didn't belong from between his shoulder blades. It looked like this missing Kyoto accord was really starting to heat up, and somebody didn't want me or anybody else to know too much about it.

Well I'm like your stupidest cat that way; curiosity has its claws in deep. Bodies starting to fall and people clamming up is just one sure way to keep me interested and make me even more curious. I wouldn't say nothing to the cops about nothing; it's always better not to let them draw conclusions because it usually ends up with you in the frame, so to speak.

It looked like I was going to be on my own for this Kyoto accord deal, which was fine by me, as that's just the way I liked it. I happened to look up at that moment to see what looked like a familiar head of ash blonde hair leaving through the bar's main entrance. Well, maybe I wouldn't be so alone as I thought.

February 18, 2008

America's Wild Horses Under Attack

The late British naturalist and conservationist Gerald Durrell used to talk about what he called the paper protection of animals. By that he meant governments made laws that on paper claimed an animal was protected but in reality the animal was still at high risk from humans. The greatest risk that Durrell saw was the fact that while there might be laws preventing them from being killed - there was no law preventing the land they lived on from being taken away.

The biggest threat to all wild life, whether it has roots, legs, fins, or crawls on its belly, is the steady encroachment of humanity into habitat. Humans and their farm animals do not mix with wild life under any circumstances. The least amount of contact will cause animals to change their habits. Look at the bears in parks like Yellowstone who beg for food, or ones near human habitation who have taken to foraging in dumps instead of hunting for food as they used to. Of course minimal contact isn't going to drive an animal to extinction, so government run parks or preserves that allow human visitors, if properly managed, are a lesser evil than the complete eradication of habitat.

In Canada a concentrated effort is being made both publicly and privately to preserve habitats where species or unique ecosystems are endangered. Once these areas are established they become off limits to any human intervention, whether habitation, exploitation of natural resources, or on occasion even human visitors. If an area is considered too sensitive to withstand even humans camping in tents, than they aren't allowed to enter the designated area.
The necessity of programs like these was brought home to me again this weekend by the news that a herd of 150 American wild horses is under threat from a lumber company's plans for the Blackjack Mountain of Oklahoma. The herd was established around twenty-five years ago by Gilbert Jones and includes a couple of horses that are direct decedents of those who came to Oklahoma on the "Trail Of Tears" with Choctaws and Cherokees Indians during their forced removal from the Tennessee mountains.

In spite of the fact that American Wild Horses are considered a protected animal by the American government, The Oklahoma Land and Timber Company has been given permission to plant trees to harvest like a crop. In order to facilitate the growth of this "crop" they need to eliminate all ground cover and foliage that might compete with them. The company had signed a contract allowing for a two year period during which the herd could be relocated, but has since reneged and begun spraying the area with pesticides.

Bryant Rickman of the Medicine Springs Ranch, who manages the herd, has been given until February 29th to remove them from the area by the Lumber Company. Only thing is, where can you find room for 150 wild horses to run free anymore? You see the situation in Blackjack Mountain is a reflection of what faces the wild horse population across the United States as they are being squeezed off public land set aside for them by the very agency meant to be protecting them - the Bureau of Land Management.

In 1971, when Congress and Richard Nixon responded to public pressure and enacted the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was made responsible for the welfare of the remaining wild herds and ensuring that their population was maintained at the current level. At the time the BLM claimed there were only 17,000 animals living in the wild. What this claim was based on is unknown as they didn't conduct a census of the wild horse population for the first time until three years later. The results of that first head count showed them to be off target by more then 50% as the actual total was 42,000.

While on paper the law says that American Wild Horses are a protected species and public lands must be made available to them as sanctuaries for free range, less than half the actual population has been given that protection. In its wisdom, instead of amending the original 17,000 figure when they discovered how wrong it was, the BLM decided that the excess horses needed to be "removed" from public lands. The people who were responsible for preserving the horses have instead managed to reduce their population by around 50% since protection came into place.

The real problem is the fact that the BLM are also responsible for issuing grazing licences to cattle ranchers on the same public lands set aside for the horses. So for every horse the BLM can remove from public land, they can replace it with a fee paying cow. For every horse removed from public land agribusiness gets to graze a cow subsidized by the American government. According to two General Accounting Office reports the BLM was making removal decisions not on the actual numbers of horses that a range can support, but on the recommendations of advisor groups "largely composed of livestock permittees".
So the guys who stand to make the most money from having wild horses removed from public land are the ones telling the BLM that horses are the primary cause of overgrazing and degradation of public lands. The truth is that because horses tend to roam and can find forage in areas where cattle and sheep can't, they cause far less harm to a habitat than any livestock.

When cattle graze they don't chew the grass they pull it from the ground; if the soil happens to be wet they will therefore rip it out by the roots. Horses on the other hand have front teeth allowing them to crop grass as they graze, meaning there is far less chance of them destroying the root system and allowing for new growth. A horse's digestive system is actually beneficial to a habitat, because they pass grass seed through their system and replant as they graze.

As to the BLM's claim that horses are degrading grazing lands; well horse aren't the critter that defecate in their own water supply, while cattle do. Horses aren't the animal that hangs out in one area of land until it's stripped clean of any and all forage necessitating human intervention to move them on to other pastures. Even without any of that information, the numbers don't lie; at current levels livestock out number wild horse by 200 to 1 on public lands. You tell me who is going to have the biggest impact on the environment; two hundred head of cattle standing in one place or one horse wandering around looking for food?

Yet somehow or other, in spite of all this information available to the government and Congress about BLM's record of mismanagement and its history of playing fast and loose with facts and information, their budget was increased by 50% in 2001 and then another third in 2005 to pay for an aggressive removal program of wild horses from public lands. So if the people charged with protecting the horse population in the wild are being funded by the government to remove the horses from the wild it really makes you question the validity of the law that supposedly guarantees their safety.

Back in Blackjack Mountain Oklahoma concerned people have come together to form the The Gilbert Jones Choctaw-Cherokee Conservancy and Historical Land Trust whose immediate goal is to raise $450,000 to purchase the first 524 of the needed 2,500 acres for the Trust to secure a permanent home for these last of a kind horses. The goal is to preserve the original tribal strains of Choctaw and Cherokee and America's Spanish Colonial Mustangs in viable and healthy wild herds for generations.

Return To Freedom, a 501c3 charitable organization has joined forces with script writer John Fusco (Hidalgo, Spirit, Stallion Of The Cimarron, and the upcoming Forbidden Kingdom) the Rickman Family, and others in forming the trust. You can find out more about their effort and what you can do to help by following the link above to the Return To Freedom web site.

In 1971, the single biggest letter campaign outside of protests against war, forced Congress and Richard Nixon to enact the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act to ensure the survival of America's wild horse population and preserve the strains that are unique to our continent. Thirty-six years of mis-management and conflict of interest has done nothing but reduce the population of horses in the wild by nearly 50%.That's not wildlife preservation in my book.

Unless otherwise stated, information in this article was provided by the The American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign web site.

December 30, 2007

Book Review: As The World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay In Denial Derrick Jensen & Stephanie McMillan

The day doesn't go by anymore without there being at least one story in the news that concerns the environment. From either business denials of the Kyoto accord, arguments for and against the validity of global warming, to a story about the latest change in conditions around the world. Today was no exception as American Marine Biologists have moved the polar bear onto the endangered species list primarily due to loss of habitat.

While many animals have been forced into near extinction by our physical encroachment into their natural territories denying them the ability to sustain themselves, the polar bear is the first creature to feel the affects of our indirect influence on an area. The polar ice cap is melting and depriving them of their habitat and hunting grounds. Normally the pack ice would have no trouble supporting the weight of even the largest adult bear allowing it to roam at will hunting for the seal meat it needs to sustain itself. As the ice thins due to rising temperatures they are either drowning or starving to death.

The plague of global warming has extended the reach of our death grip over the planet until now we no longer even need to live in a place in order to kill off its native species. While reports like the one issued by scientists concerning the North may be finally convincing people that global warming is a danger to our planet and life itself, the means to combat it are still being contested by those whose interests demand that the conditions causing global warming continue unabated.
As the danger has increased to the point where it has become an accepted fact by a good percentage of society, there has been a corresponding increase in corporate and political makeovers utilizing code words for environmental friendliness like "Green" and "Natural". If nothing else global warming has been responsible for the development of intensive advertising campaigns as everybody from governments to the oil and gas industry rushes to convince the public that they are doing their bit to save life.

In response to these campaigns, and the various band-aid solutions offered by folk such as Al Gore, author Derrick Jensen and cartoonist Stephanie McMillan have created the new graphic novel As The World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay In Denial. Published by Seven Stories Press and distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada it will hit the shelves of bookstores in January offering truths that make Al Gore's inconveniences pale in comparison.

It's a retelling of the classic "Rome burning while Nero fiddles" story, except now it's the earth that's burning while the human race fiddles. In this case our fiddling consists of all the great ideas and plans that have been proposed as the means to save the planet from our destructive behaviour, and the burning is the death of the planet. While it may sound good in theory to change all your light-bulbs, recycle aluminum and tin cans, walk more and drive less, and buy goods with less packaging, the truth is the actual impact is so negligible that you may as well not bother. The only people benefiting are the manufactures of the light bulbs, and the owners of recycling plants.

The two young girls who are As The World Burns' protagonists are discussing "the list" of things that individuals can do in order to prevent global warming that appeared at the end of an unnamed movie about climate change. While one waxes enthusiastic about it, the other makes increasingly biting, and sarcastic comments. ("You're going like this one - you won't even have to change your lifestyle"... "Well thank goodness for that!!")

But when they sit down and do the math, figuring out how much the actual reduction in carbon dioxide emissions would be, the list just doesn't seem as thrilling as it once was. Even if every single person in the United States were to change all their light-bulbs to fluorescent, cut the amount they drive in half, recycle half of their household waste, inflate their tire pressure to increase gas milage, use low flow shower heads and wash clothes in lower temperature water, adjusts their thermostats two degrees up or down depending on the season, and plants a tree it would result in a one time, twenty-one percent reduction in carbon emissions.
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Even if by some miracle you were able to get every single person in America to actually do all that, there's a problem. America's current emission level is 7.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year and increases at a rate of 2 percent per annum. That means, for those with weak math skills, that after ten years levels would be right back where they started from.

At that point in the story the question is asked, why is it individuals are being asked to do all the work when the biggest culprits are industry? If America, and the rest of the world, (Acid rain in Germany is so bad that huge chunks of the Black Forest has been defoliated; Siberia, eastern Germany, and other remnants of the Soviet Union are industrial wastelands; and nobody knows what the environmental cost of the Chinese and Indian economic miracles is going to be) aren't willing or able to change the demands put upon the manufacturing sector for material wealth and mass production, any efforts made by individuals will be in vain.

In our story, As The World Burns, things come to a head when aliens strike a deal with a President of the United States (looking a lot like Ronnie Reagan) that in exchange for lots of gold they get ot eat the planet. The Aliens had been expecting resistance, and were happy to find that humans were only to willing to destroy their own world in order to make a quick profit. Of course this upsets corporate America; weren't they supposed to be allowed to eat the world in exchange for letting the President be President? Something has to be done!

It turns out that the Aliens are afraid of the wild, ("You know Mr. President, the wild, it's kind of like what you see on eco-tours. Trees, bushes, plants, and animals."), but how do you use the wild to fight Aliens? It turns out you don't, but the wild can fight back on it's own, especially if humans are willing to help them. With the survival of earth at stake the animals, trees, and elements feel like they have nothing to lose and throw themselves into the fight no matter what the cost is in life. If they lose this battle, they won't survive much longer anyway.

There's nothing subtle about the message As The World Burns delivers and the majority are going to dismiss it as radical nonsense. As a society we are still too much enamoured of the things that are produced by industry and enthralled by the convenience of our amenities. It's far easier to dismiss the message that our lifestyle is responsible for destroying the planet than it is to even contemplate changing it. Anyway, doesn't everybody say our way of life is the best in the world?

Only dangerous radicals or the very naive would suggest otherwise and recommend governments enact, or even enforce existing environmental regulations, that make a difference in the fight against global warming. Anyway all that would happen is companies would close here and open factories in other countries where the laws aren't as strict and the people are desperate. Of course if all the countries in the world were to prevent a unified front against polluters, they'd have nowhere to run and would have to change their ways if they wanted to stay in business.

It comes down to how much of the planet are we willing to lose? If we don't care about preserving a natural existence at all and seeing how far we can survive artificially without the wildlife that we were entrusted with as caretakers, than the course we are currently following is not a problem. But if we are to have any hope of preserving what's left, and maybe even reversing what's been done, we need to rethink our whole way of being.

As The World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Stay In Denial is unabashedly radical in it's call for change, and provides convincing arguments that we aren't doing enough to prevent the destruction of the natural world. The decision is ours - trust the politicians and the leaders of industry who tell us that everything will be fine, or trust our senses; sight, smell, sound, touch, and taste, that tell us the world has changed irrevocably for the worse and that we need to do something about it.

This is definitely not a graphic novel for those looking to escape the troubles of the world, or for those unwilling to accept that we've been wrong all along. Unfortunately it's speaking the truth, and unless more of us are able to realize that fact, the world as we know it will succumb to the rapacious greed of a few and it's very possible that polar bears will be a thing of the past by the time our grandchildren inherit the earth. That's not a legacy I want to leave behind - how about you?

August 19, 2007

Book Review: Something Rich And Strange Patricia McKillip

Humans have always been fascinated by the oceans. They take up the majority of space on this planet leaving us islands of impermanent rock to cling too amid their vastness. At any moment they could raise up storms that could batter down our shelters or submerge us beneath waters. We are allowed to survive on their sufferance; one only needs look to New Orleans to be reminded of that.

Our pitiful attempts at keeping the waters at bay, or to manipulate them into doing our will, have continually proven doomed to failure. Isn't it about time we recognised the inevitable and learned to try and live with the oceans instead of continually trying to conquer or using them as garbage dumps? They are no more immune to our poisons then we are, yet we cling to the illusion because abody is in constant motion that it is self cleaning.

At one time we feared the seas and respected them, but that was also when if we didn't understand something we gave it magical attributes to explain its powers. Oceans were populated by mysterious creatures that would lure us into a deathly embrace. Sirens would sing to sailors so that they would wreck their ships on rocks and die in the depths, or mermaids would steal men's hearts and lure them one by one to their deaths under the waves.
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A number of years ago the British illustrator Brian Froud created a serious of fifty drawings and passed them out to four authors. They were each asked to pick the one illustration that inspired them the most and create a story based upon it. The four novels were then published as a series and each one's cover was graced with the illustration that inspired it.

Unfortunately they've been long out of print and it was almost impossible to come by the stories any more. Thankfully ibooks recently re-released my favourite in the series, Patricia McKillip's Something Rich And Strange, but not with the original cover that provided the initial inspiration. Which is a pity because as you can see from the graphic on the left it was beautiful, but thankfully it hasn't affected the quality of the story. (By the way the ibooks site is currently under construction so you'll not be able to visit them and see what else they might have to offer.)

Jonah and Megan live in one of those costal towns along the West coast of the United States that manage to eke out a living from the tourists who come to look at the water and dream primordial dreams they don't understand. Jonah owns a shop that sells trinkets and 'things of the sea' to the tourists, and Megan draws pictures of tidal pools with pen and ink that the tourists buy as mementos of their visit to the water.

Their first indication of something untoward occurring is the appearance of a creature (a sea hare) in one of Megan's drawings that she can't remember putting there. They are both inclined to dismiss it as her being forgetful or caught up in a moment of inspiration, until the mysterious Adam Fin shows up selling the most extraordinary jewellery. All his pieces are carved stone and silver designed to look like creatures of the sea.

Adam awakens Megan's desire to see deeper into the sea, what lies beneath the surface and beyond the tidal pools that she is able to reproduce with her pen and paper. But its Adam's mysterious sister who attracts Jonah, when he hears her singing with a bar band one night. Ulysses is the only man to have not succumbed to the lure of the sea's voice as articulated by the Sirens; of course he also had his sailors tie him to mast to prevent him from jumping overboard.
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At this point in the story Patricia McKillip has us believing it is a tale about the coldness of the sea and it's perilous beauty. How a person can be blinded to their peril by that beauty and lose all that is precious to them. Jonah is more than willing to trade Megan for Nereis, Adam's sister who is queen of the sea, because he has been enchanted by her Siren song.

But has anyone ever asked the Siren what she wants from this exchange? Why did she want to lure Jonah down to her, and as it turns out, Megan as well? Is it from a desire to avenge herself on the world of men for slowly killing her, or is it just because that's her nature and she can't be other than she is?

When Jonah gets down to the bottom of the sea he must travel to where Nereis lives. He follows her song through a labyrinth until he comes to a small door after the final turn in the maze. Through the open door he can see a beautiful tower of pearls and shells from where the song emanates so he knows she lives there, but to reach the tower he must cross through an area of ocean that's filled with the detritus of humanity and the damage it's caused.

Jonah assumes that this is his final test before he's allowed to be rewarded with Nereis' acceptance. So he struggles blindly towards his goal, shielding himself with the shell of a turtle that was strangled by a plastic bag. What he doesn't know is that Megan is making the same journey, guided by Adam, in an attempt to rescue him, or at least see if he wants to be rescued. But instead of hiding herself, and not seeing the destruction, she does her best to give assistance to the creatures she sees suffering.

In the end that's exactly what Nereis wants. She wants humans to see past the romantic image that we have created in our head of the mysterious depths and vast expanses of Ocean life and remember that the seas are filled with living creatures. Our lives are irrevocably linked to her health; if the oceans die our chances of survival are next to nothing, and she will surely die if we continue to only see her in terms of something rich and strange instead of a living breathing organism.

Patricia McKillip has created the perfect red herring with Something Rich And Strange. Her characters and scenarios make an updated version of the being drawn by the Siren's song into the ocean entirely plausible. She plays upon our willingness to believe in the cruelty of the deep sea and Sirens until at the last second she stands it upon its head and shows us that we are as blind as Jonah when it comes to what lies beneath the waves.

Patricia McKillip has a command of the English language that is as beautiful as any writer I have read. She can summon sights and sounds to magically appear in a reader's mind's eye, like few others. If I ever were able to go to the deep places of the ocean I have no doubt that I will already have a good idea what they will look like having read Something Rich And Strange.

This is not a "message book" in the sense that you are beaten over the head with anything. It's a wonderful story that just happens to remind us of our obligations to those we share our world with. Fantasy and myth are wonderful, but sometimes reality is even more spectacular.

May 22, 2007

Medications And The Water Table Don't Mix

Now a days there seems to be a pill for just about everything. There are antibiotics for all the new diseases that taking to many antibiotics has created; there are pills to take for the stress of living the life we're living; and there are the pills we take to cope with the heart attacks, high blood pressure, strokes and other stress induced illnesses.

Of course what goes in the body also has to come out in some form or other, which in turn gets gathered up by our city's sewer system, filtered and sent back into the water table. After the body has done assimilating whatever drug we have taken it will join the general exodus and end up in the sewers along with all the other waste products.

Well, you're saying, so what. How much can be left to pass out of our bodies after we're done? It's can't be anything worth getting excited about can it? Well obviously it can otherwise I wouldn't be going to all this trouble to set you up for it, so I'll just end the suspense.

Researchers with the Canadian Government, The Environmental Protection Agency in the States, and the American Chemistry Council have just released the results of a study they began in 2001. From 2001 until 2003 they treated a lake in Northern Ontario with trace elements of the synthetic hormone used in birth control pills.

The amount used was equivalent to the amount that would be discharged from a city's sewer system. After the three years of adding the amount they sat back to see what effect if any it would have on fish populations.

The results were quite frightening, male fish literally turned into females. Instead of producing sperm they began producing eggs and their physical appearance changed so them became indistinguishable from the females. After the first year the minnow population began to crash, and after only a few years the fish was almost exterminated.

Double-checking to make sure there were no other elements at work, they monitored the fish populations in two similar sized lakes in the same area. Those populations remained completely unaffected so they could conclude that their tampering was the direct cause. (The lake used was not part of any city's sewage system so would have been as pristine as you can get these days)

By the end of the experiment the lake's total concentration of synthetic estrogen was about five parts per trillion, or science's equivalent of next to nothing. Dr Karen Kidd, who headed up the research team said she was shocked by the severe reaction that the fish population had shown to such a small amount of the hormone.

While it's not known what effect the drug has on humans when it gets into the drinking water, it would be the same amount as was released into the lake, Dr. Kidd said that these results should be treated like a "red flag" warning us of the potential danger involved for humans. With the rise in various forms of reproductive problems in human males, ranging from declining sperm counts to testicular cancer and with no cause identified as of yet, she said this should really be a priority.

It's been long known that fish populations around sewer effluents have shown population decreases but this is the first time those reductions have been directly linked to a specific cause. Dr. Kidd said the solution is not for women to stop taking the pill, but for cities to start using proper treatment plants that can break down chemicals so they are not released into the water. Not only will it prevent estrogen from being released into the water table, but all other left over medications as well.

Of course if you live in a city like the one I do where they dump raw sewage into the water system when it rains too much there are vast improvements that have to be made to the way municipalities handle their raw sewage period. It will require an investment in infrastructure that is probably unreasonable to expect from most municipalities in North America, let alone elsewhere in the world. This is a project that all levels of government have to take responsibility for and not try to pass the buck.

Something else to contemplate is what affect other drugs "flushed" into the water table are having. A friend of mine jokes that so many people in the town where I live are on some form of stress medication or another that you could probably just drink the tap water now to if you need anti-depressants.

If governments want to pay more than lip service to the environment, if they are sincere in their efforts of trying to preserve our world, they need to worry about more than just the air we breathe. Human beings are made up of a ridiculous percentage of liquid and water is essential to our survival. Isn't it time we took the steps to ensure that our water isn't killing us?

May 16, 2007

Hidden Dangers In Zodiac Spot On Flea Control

How many times have you purchased a product, let's say a cleanser or a bug spray, and in big bold colours they display the various warning signs. Toxic, flammable, carcinogenic or whatever are in large enough type so there is no way that you're going to be able to miss it.

Or how about when you get a prescription you've never had before. The pharmacist, if he or she is any good, ensures that you know all possible contradictions and their symptoms. In fact most of them even provide a print out with which once you read you wonder if the stuff is going to kill you before it cures you, but at least you know what could go wrong.

Then of course there is now the grocery store where more and more packaging are carrying not only a products' nutritional value, but lists it's potential for allergies as well as any foods it might have come into contact with that could cause an allergic reaction. In fact everywhere you go you can see health warnings on the outside chance that something could harm you.

Whether it's because companies are terrified of being sued, new government regulations, or simple decency it doesn't matter. These warnings are now accepted as course and you expect to see them. The days of having to make use of magnifying products or having to pore over acres of small print in order to find out what exactly it is you're using or eating are long gone.

At least I thought they were, or maybe what applies to humans doesn't apply to pet products. That's always possible seeing as what's been going on with cat and dog food recently and other feeds in the past that have been discovered to be deadly. Heck mad cow disease was first started by adding sheep brains to cow feed, because the illness actually forms in sheep not cows.

Every spring I usually treat my cats with Revolution Blue, a medication I buy from my vets that gets rid of fleas, ear mites and other insects that bother them. They are indoor cats so that's all they usually need. Revolution is a great product that's easy to use, as you just squeeze a small tube's contents into the space between your pet's shoulder blades and it takes care of the rest. I think the natural oils in the cat's hair carries it around the body.
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With our vet moving beyond comfortable walking distance I haven't been able to get out to pick up the medication for my cats in a couple of years but they'd been fine anyway so it hadn't seemed to matter. This year thought they started to display symptoms that they might be picking up mites or fleas; they can come in on my wife or I, if we have been around an animal that has them, easily enough.

So I went to a reputable pet store and bought Zodiac Spot On Flea Control for Cats and Kittens which promises to kill flea eggs in the animal's fur. You apply it just like the Revolution. So we did this on Saturday to all four of our cats.
By Sunday one of them was sporting a bald spot between his shoulder blades. Although we had noticed that it had aggravated them we had put the medication on their shoulders for a little while after, we didn't make any connection between what was happening with him and the Spot On until we noticed his skin where the hair had fallen out looked like it had been burned it was so bright red and weepy.
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His hair had fallen out in little clumps in that area, I found it lying in a cluster on the carpet. It wasn't like it had shed or anything because it wasn't loose hairs, you could see it formed into clumps with the roots and everything. He's a shorthaired cat so we've been able to monitor him closely now and it doesn't look like the damage is spreading any further.

But yesterday I was walking through the hall and found a pile of hair from another one of our cats. His hair is thicker with more layers so we hadn't known anything was wrong until it all just fell out in a clump. It was like he had rolled over onto his back like cats do and had left his hair behind him when he got up.

Even before that had happened we had begun to suspect the Spot On might have had something to do with it. I looked over the packaging and saw something that said what to do in the event of a problem with humans. But didn't see anything else on a scan. The type is very small and it had been hard enough trying to read the instructions for applying the material. I had had my glasses on that were what I used for reading normal sized type face and even smaller, but the type was not much bigger than this.

My wife went over the back of the packaging with a magnifying glass and finally found first aid instructions for cats. While the first aid instructions for humans had its own subject heading and started a paragraph – for the animals it began mid way through the paragraph on human first aid.

It was the only place that they actually used the word pesticide in the packaging. "Sensitivities may occur after using any pesticide for pets" They go on to say if sensitivity occurs wash your pet with mild soap and water, and rinse with large amounts of water. If it continues seek medical attention – taking the packaging and P.C.P. number with you.

Of our four cats only the two boys showed any signs of "sensitivity". Have you ever even thought about washing a cat, let alone a cat that's not in the best of moods? Neither of our boys are small either; the black one weighs in at around 25lbs and the grey one is about fifteen but is affectionately known by the vets as "live wire" for the difficulty involved with taking his temperature (I've worn him as a hat with a thermometer hanging out of his butt when he was a kitten)

Nowhere on the packaging is there any warning that this stuff may have an adverse effect on the animal except in this first aid treatment area hidden away in small print. By then it's too late to decide that you don't want to risk your animal's health by rubbing something potentially dangerous into his or her skin. The last thing you want when you think you've done something good for your pet is to see its hair start falling out in clumps

A warning is something you put on packaging that a person can see so that they can make a considered decision. It's not something you bury in small print under first aide treatment. Especially when earlier on they tell you to make sure not to let the pet take the medication internally, or to keep it away from their eyes and genitalia. You'll think that the first aid treatment is for that eventuality– not in the event of something happening they haven't warned you about.

They don't even tell you what form the sensitivity could take. When do we need to seek help from a veterinarian? When all their hair falls out, when a little clump of hair falls out, when their skin turns pink, or when their hair takes on the texture of someone who’s done one too many home permanents and burnt their hair so that it feels like straw?

Wellmark International, formally known as Zoecon is the manufacturer of this and other insecticides that are used for everything from mosquito larvae control to the fleas on your pet. In a world where we are gradually starting to ban pesticides for their known toxicity and dangers to the planet, don't you think that a company that provides products to consumers that contains those toxins should be forced to warn them properly?

What would it cost them to print in legible lettering on the front of the package something to the effect of: Some animals have more sensitive skin than others – your cat may not be right for this product. Is that too hard? Think of all good will that would generate, and all the ill feelings it would prevent.

I bought Zodiac Spot On as an attempt to provide my cats some relief from a problem and have ended up causing them to develop problems. There is something wrong with that equation. That needs to change.

April 11, 2007

Global Warming Warning: It's Worse Than You Thought

This just in, a weather update for the planet earth for the next fifty to sixty years. Famine, flooding, fires, and drought are all predicted to be on the increase unless we do something to change our current levels of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact things are at such a state right now that even if we began to curb emissions today the planet won't start receiving the benefits from it until 2040.

Now I know, when have you ever been able to trust the weatherman before? Well in this case it's not moron reading a teleprompter. No this is a 1572 page report issued by theIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Some of the highlights of the report are that the yields in rice crops in China and Bangladesh could drop by up to ten per cent in Bangladesh and twelve in China. Bangladesh also faces a drop of 1/3 in the yield from their wheat crop by 2050. Of course it won't just all of a sudden cut off that year, it will be a gradual decrease over the years between now and then, slowly increasing the numbers of people in those areas of the world at risk of starvation.

The drops in yield combined with anticipated population increases could put an extra 50 million people at risk from hunger as soon as 2020, with the numbers pretty much doubling every thirty years: 132 million in 2050 and 266 million people in 2080. In just over seventy years time roughly an equivalent number of people to that as currently live in the United States will be at risk from starvation in one small corner of the world.

But according to people like Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper and American President George Bush our economies are more important then reducing the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by businesses and cars. Far be it that the people who paid for them being elected have to do anything that will hurt business. Anyway it's only a bunch of folk on the other side of the world who are going to suffer right away, we're okay for a while.

If it gets too hot here we'll just turn up our air-conditioning, we grow plenty of our own wheat, and be real, how many people really like rice anyway? Who ever heard of having rice with your Sunday side of beef; meat and potatoes are what every right thinking person eats anyway.

So what if water shortages will be felt in India because of glaciers melting in the Himalayan Mountains? I can't see why they're complaining about water shortages anyway when over a 100 million of them are going to be facing flooding problems from the rises in sea levels.

Africa is a lost cause anyway. We keep trying to help them out by "developing" their natural resources for them, but they get all uptight about wanting to actually retain ownership of the product. With increased flooding and dependency on our aid to survive maybe they'll be a little more reasonable about letting us in on the oil and mineral development.

Does that sound like an overly cynical assessment of the two biggest economies in North America? The thing is that Canada and the United States are continually vying with each other for the position of who is the most wasteful consumer of non-renewable resources in the world. Along with the other developed countries of the world we are responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions.

We may not consciously make policy that takes advantage of other people's misfortune, although if you judge by the manner in which the Bush administration has sold off or is in the process selling off Iraq's natural resources to private corporations in the United States you have to wonder. But the countries that are suffering the most from green house gas emissions are those who actually generate the least.

The majority of the fallout, so to speak, from climate change is being felt in the developing world – specifically the continent of Africa. While the Indian sub-continent, central Asia and China are headed for hard times; it looks mild compared to what could happen in Africa if we continue at the rate we are going.

The rise of sea levels off the coast of East Africa could reduce Gross National Product (GNP) by 10% across the board. Wheat could actually be extinct as a crop across the whole continent by 2080, meaning that they will be completely dependant on foreign sources for one of the basic staples of human existence; the ability to make bread.

Even the developed world will take a hit, as the Mediterranean is close enough to Africa to get some fall out. Due to the delicate nature of the ecosystems in the area, the amount of damage will be substantial. The result would be that by 2070 as many as 44 million Europeans will be facing water shortages.

In the South Pacific Australia and New Zealand face temperature increases that will lead to heat waves, forest fires, droughts and landslides. While across the rest of the region it will create conditions that will see a rise in storms like the tsunami that hit the Solomon Islands prior to the Easter weekend.

While Australia and New Zealand can probably adapt to the changes, the smaller islands will be devastated because of intense infrastructure damage. They just don't have the capacity to recover from that amount of damage on their own, especially since so much of what would be damaged are the facilities they depend on for sources of income.

The report has two very blunt recommendations: first, while it's already too late to do anything about what's going to happen between now and 2040 we can still offset the majority of future disasters by getting serious about controlling greenhouse gas emissions right now. The second recommendation is that steps be taken now to mitigate repercussions by ensuring that public food distribution, health care, and disaster preparation are improved in those areas that will be hardest hit.

If we increase the chances of people surviving and rebuilding after the disasters that occur between now and when the effects of reduced emissions start to be felt they will be in a better position to take advantage of the improved conditions.

It seems that now a days you can't open a paper without seeing some politician in North America talking about how they are going to make the environment a priority and they have a plan for reducing greenhouse gasses. They talk about tax incentives for people using public transit but mass transit in Canada is seriously under funded and expensive to use.

Years of government neglect of mass transit systems across the country have left them with insufficient facilities to handle even the minimal demands put on it now. If people were to start using it in significant enough numbers to make a difference it would require the government to spend money it shows no signs of wanting to.

They've been far too busy giving away budget surpluses as tax breaks to the rich, corporations, and the middle class to ensure their re election to be able to spend money on frills like maintaining mass transit, let alone upgrading it to the levels it needs to be at.

What the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes clear is that we have run out of time to prevent some disasters from occurring, but if we act quickly we can still stave off the worst damage. But it's not just controlling greenhouse gases we need to work on. This panel has only looked at one symptom of a far more deep seated problem, and more then just reducing green house gases is needed for Africa.

We need to provide proper sustainable development assistance to the countries that need it so that they can become independent. We need to work with them to help curtail the spread of sexually transmitted diseases that are decimating their populations and destroying their economies, and finally we need to work with people and governments to bring populations under control. The world cannot continue to sustain the ever-increasing number of people on the planet.

If we do not work in all three areas at once then we are deluding ourselves that we are accomplishing anything that will assist us in leaving future generations a planet similar to the one we were given at birth. In the last fifty years we have done more harm to the planet then was meted out to her by our ancestors in the length of time our species has existed.

Lets take the next fifty years to correct the mistakes we've made and redress the balance. It's the least we can do.

April 8, 2007

Bisphenol A: Birth Defects In A Can?

If it's not one thing it's another when it comes to packaged food and drink these days. If it's it not what they are using to improve the flavour that will make you sick (monosodium glutamate or M.S.G. as its more commonly known) it's what has been used to give it extra weight. The food industry has take to bulking up frozen packaged foods with soy protein.

Thankfully people are starting to catch on, including the food regulators. So instead of the old warning labels on packages, with only peanuts as a potential allergen, the list now includes soy, wheat gluten, and sulphates. People with food allergies are used to having to read any item's label in order to ensure their safety and well-being.

Well now instead of having to just worry about what is being put in our food being dangerous to our health, we may have to start worrying about what our food is being packaged in being a danger. Bisphenol A is a chemical known to act like a synthetic female sex hormone used in the manufacture of plastics and tin to prevent the taste of the container from being transferred to the food or liquid its holding. The only problem is that far too many test results are revealing something is not right with this wonder chemical.

In fact what scares scientists the most is that it seems the lower the amount of chemical present, the greater the danger. This has to do with the way hormones interact with our bodies. Hormones latch onto cells and at low doses stimulate vital biological processes. At too high a dose the cell's receptors are overwhelmed and shut down. This of course turns the theories of toxicity that state that the higher the dose the worse off you are on their head.

How bad is it? Well a geneticist at Washington State University, Dr. Patricia Hunt, was so appalled by her findings that she immediately went home and threw out all her products containing Bisphenol A. She had found that female mice exposed to low levels of the chemical had the unfertilized eggs in their uteruses so scrambled that if they had been humans the result would have been birth defects such as Down syndrome and miscarriages.

It's only been in recent years that the chemical has become widely used, even though we've known about its existence since the 1930s, and started using it in the 1950s. But we live in an increasingly pre packaged age so there is more call for this type of product then before – who wants to taste plastic in their food and drinks? Usually a product containing Bisphenol A is marked with the recycling number 7 inside a triangle. (Interestingly enough that's one of the plastics my local recycling company won't take)

Just how pervasive is this stuff? Well in the United States urine tests found it to be in 95% of all people tested, and in other parts of the world it has been found in the blood, in placenta, and in birth chords.

One of the other very interesting characteristics of Bisphenol A is that test results are dependant on who has done the testing. Every single test conducted by the plastics industry and those who manufacture container products have found it completely safe for human consumption. On the other hand 95% of independent tests have produced results so terrifying that those conducting the test never want to touch goods that come in those products again.

Spokespeople for the plastic industry say that there is nothing wrong with the chemical and that scientists are using flawed methodology. The scientists respond by saying the plastic industry is splitting hair in their results when they say that Bisphenol A is weak form of Estragon because it triggers reaction in far fewer cells then other forms. It still affects enough cells that are responsible for many of our biological functions.

One of the big five plastics companies in the United States, GE, has just decided to phase out that aspect of their business. They claim their timing has nothing to do with the first of what promises to be many class action suits brought against the manufacturers of plastic. A group in Los Angles is filling suit alleging harm from the chemical was caused by plastic baby bottles.

GE claims that their plastics division isn't growing as rapidly as others and is not fitting into their current business mode, so they've put it on the market. Their spokesperson dismisses talk of risks from Bisphenol A as "speculation" saying that it has never been shown to have any risks to humans.

If the chemical is so safe why have scientists from Health Canada and the Ministry of the Environment classified it as inherently toxic? Why are they conducting an assessment of how it used in the manufacturing process where they are starting with that premise that it is a risk to humans and industry is going to have to convince them otherwise? Normally it’s the other way round.

When Health Canada set its acceptable limits (the amount of trace elements on a parts per million scale that is considered safe for human consumption) back in 1999 they didn't take the less is more factor into their calculations. Some scientists are now saying this chemical needs to be considered on a scale of parts per trillion for a clear picture to emerge.

Since Health Canada set their limits, there have been a dozen studies that have shown adverse affects at amounts lower then the limit. One study using a sample 1,000 times less potent then Ottawa's limit showed the chemical able to change breast tissue to make it more predisposed to breast cancer. Scientists believer that there is a correlation between the increase in the number of cases of breast and prostate cancers and the increased prevalence of Bisphenol A in our food.

I don't know about anybody else, but I'm not predisposed to trust anyone from industry to tell me the truth about pollutants and toxics in our food. They after all have a vested interest in the results, not the scientists. I'm more inclined to believe the scientists who are so scared by the results that they getting rid of everything in their houses made with Bisphenol. It's not like they're getting paid to replace all the food and baby bottles in their houses made from the stuff. I think from now on I won't be bringing anything into my house with the number seven stamped on it.

Industry doesn't have the best record with the truth when it comes to pollutants and I see no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one. Remember these are the same types of companies that dumped Mercury in our rivers, all the while assuring us it was safe. That is until children in Japan and Northern Ontario were born with horrible birth defects, linked directly to the Mercury that had poisoned the fish their parents had eaten.

Industry has always played fast and loose with the truth when it comes to issues of pollution and safety. Why should this time be any different?

March 10, 2007

European Union: New Treaty Reduces Greenhouse Gases Twenty Per Cent

On Friday evening The European Union issued a statement announcing a new agreement aimed at cutting greenhouse gases and emissions. The three steps announced will be in addition to their previous commitment to abide by the terms of the Kyoto Accord.

Under the terms of the agreement the Union agreed to ensure that over the next 13 years that greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 20%; ten per cent of all automobiles driven in the member states would be fuelled by biofuels made from plants; and that a total of 20% of all energy used by the member nations will be generated through renewable sources compared to the current six %.

But there are a few items in the accord that have given environmentalists pause, and caused some voices to be raised in concern. First is the fact that the French and some of the newer Eastern European member states like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have insisted that Nuclear Energy be listed as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

Some of these countries are landlocked and are at Northern latitudes, which reduces the viability of solar and wind power acting as a substitute for coal fires driving the engine of industry. While nuclear fuel might burn cleaner the problem remains of what to do with disposal of the spent fuel rods. Would using nuclear fuel just be a matter of exchanging a short-term problem for a long term one?

Then there is the fact that not all countries in the union are going to comply within the time period allowed. Once again it’s the former Soviet Bloc countries that are facing difficulties. Having only joined the Union in 2004 some of them have not yet benefited completely from their membership and would face real economic difficulties in meeting the goals established by the agreement.

In order to accommodate these countries the language of the agreement is vague about the commitment of individual countries, only stipulating that over all the Union meet these targets. So while some countries might fall short, as long as others make up the difference they will be able to claim success.

What the leaders of the European countries are hoping for, aside from preserving the earth a little longer, is that by showing a commitment to lowering greenhouse gases above and beyond that agreed to under the Kyoto Accord they will encourage some of the other major polluters to at least sign off on Kyoto. With neither China, Russia, India, nor the United States doing anything about mandating controls, four of the largest polluters and consumers of fossil fuels in the world are doing nothing to in the fight against global warming.

Since the biggest concern that each of the four countries has about Kyoto or any agreement that forces emission controls, is the impact it would have on their economies, this new plan by the European Union can be effective in a couple of ways in offering them encouragement. First of all is the fact that they have managed to come up with an effective means of ensuring that nobody within a group of twenty- four nations is going to have to do anything that will endanger their economic growth.

Then there is the fact that the Union will be reducing its own overall economic stability for the period of time it takes to adjust to its new reality. The other four countries will be in a position to institute Kyoto type controls and yet still be under fewer restrictions than the Europeans.

If they can get at least Russia on side that will be a big plus, as Russia is a big trading partner with the Union it might not prove that complicated. Especially if it can be made clear to Putin, president of Russia, that doing so will make him look better in the eyes of the world then the Americans. The Cold War maybe over but the "competitive" spirit still remains between the two ex-foes. Nothing seems to motivate intent on the part of Russia's political leadership more then an opportunity to make the American government look bad.

The politics of the environment is a tricky thing, where governments are more concerned with their chances of re-election or the fate of their political party than protecting our future. Somehow the European Union is managing to find a way to achieve results above and beyond the minimal requirements of Kyoto. Now that's an example we can only hope that other countries can follow,

February 28, 2007

Yet Another Sexually Transmitted Disease

For those of you still under the delusion that HIV and the AIDS virus are the only sexually transmitted diseases out there that you need to worry about, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention's latest report should be a good wake up call. According to their recent report one in four women aged fourteen – fifty-nine are infected with Human papilomavirus (HPV). The percentage reaches nearly 50% when the age range is dropped to women age fourteen – twenty-four, with prevalence increasing on a per year basis within the range. After twenty-four, outside the age of greatest sexually activity, the rate of infection decreases.

HPV is known to bring about anything from minor skin irritants to being a prerequisite cause for cervical cancer. About 100 different variants of the virus have been identified, of which approximately thirty are sexually transmitted. There are about a dozen known types that can result in a woman developing cervical cancer.

Doctors and researchers concur that the only way to correctly diagnose the virus, and to ensure that any embryonic cancer growth is detected, that women have a yearly cervical exam commonly known as a Pap Smear. A Pap Smear is able to detect the presence of abnormal cells that could be a precursor of cervical cancer. As long as testing is done on a regular basis the chances of a women dying from cervical cancer are reduced dramatically.

One only need compare the incidences of death from cervical cancer between countries in the developed world where Pap Smears are available to those of countries where they are not to see what a difference they make. While around 3600 women will die from cervical cancer in the United States, hundreds of thousands die worldwide with the majority of those deaths occurring in countries without proper gynaecological treatments.

While a Pap Smear can be used to catch HPV after the fact, it would be better still if there were a means of preventing its transmission in the first place. Since abstinence can't be enforced except through turning every male into a eunuch at the first sign of sexual maturity, other more valid options are available.

The regular use of a condom offers about a 70% chance of preventing the virus' spread, plus there are assorted antibacterial creams that can be utilized which will help. Remember that sexually transmitted diseases are not limited to the genital areas only. HPV has been seen as a factor in anal, throat, and mouth cancers, so precautions need to be taken during all sexual activity.

Best of all though is the new development of a vaccine that has just received FDA approval in 2006. Gardasil has been approved for women aged 9 – 29. Not only is it effective against two of the cancer causing sexually transmitted variants, it's also effective for use against non sexually related types of the virus that are responsible for planters warts and other uncomfortable skin conditions. So don't go flying off the handle about encouraging pre-teens to have sex, it's just a vaccine that has a multitude of positive functions.

If there is something that should be making people upset about this vaccine or about the report in general, is why the other half of the equation hasn't been tested or studied. In most cases of heterosexual relationships it's not just a woman involved. For a woman to contract HPV she has to have caught it from someone.

But instead of examining or testing men for the virus medical research has focused it's efforts on women when it comes to prevention. Why not look at ways that men can prevent the transmission as well? Women maybe the ones most at risk so there is an obvious need for them to be tested for that reason, but why not go to the source of the risk for testing and prevention?

Yes a man can wear a condom and cut down on the chances of passing a sexually transmitted disease, but why not develop a vaccine that he can take? Wouldn't it increase the chances of safety if men as well as women had securer preventative techniques?

But it's just like with the matter of birth control. The onus for prevention is still placed squarely on the shoulders of the woman and not the man even though a pregnancy can't happen under normal circumstances without both participating. The old line of if men could get pregnant think of the advances in reproductive technology that would have been made by now when applied to sexually transmitted diseases becomes even more appropriate; men do get and transmit disease just as readily as women.

Maybe it would help men take more care if they knew facts like certain types of HPV are responsible for over 50% of penile cancers? Although less common then cervical and vaginal cancer, it still occurs. But since no studies have been done on the incidences of men with HPV those figures could be higher. If we don't know how many men have HPV how can we truly tell how many cases of penis cancer have been caused by it?

You'd think the lessons we've learned from AIDS, that sexually transmitted diseases are indiscriminate, would have been absorbed by now. Even though news stories are full of facts and figures about how women are affected by HPV it doesn't mean men aren't part of the picture.

Even if they were to find that the virus has little or no bearing on the health of men, which they won't because of the previously mentioned penile cancer link, shouldn't men take it upon themselves to bear some of the responsibility? Could you really live with yourself knowing that because of your carelessness someone you loved died of cervical cancer?

Sexually transmitted diseases don't have to place anyone at risk no matter your level of activity. All that needs to be done is ensure proper education protection, research not limited to only one gender, and everybody taking responsibility for their actions. But somehow that simple solution seems to keep eluding us and until we achieve it people will continue to die for no reason and there is no excuse for that.

February 12, 2007

Canadian Politics: The Green Game

The politicians in Canada have discovered a new game called " I Can Be Greener Than You"`. Everyday without fail you can open a newspaper or turn on the television news and you'll see either one of the four party leaders. If they happen to be tied up with actually governing, the environment minister and the official opposition party critics will be run out for commentary.

As Prime Minister, Steven Harper should have an advantage in the game of one-upmanship as he gets first crack at the press every day. But instead of making any great steps that would put the opposition on the defensive, he ends up responding to their proposals not the other war round.

The impression that this gives is that the Conservative Party of Canada, Harper's political party, doesn't care enough to come up with anything of real substance on the issue. The other problem that Steven Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada have is bridging their credibility gap when it comes to environmental issues.

They are the same government after all that after only a couple of months in power announced that they were going to renege on Canada's commitment to the Kyoto Accord. They offered up a Clean Air act instead, that was so ineffective it wouldn't even kick in until seven years from now, and even then it would be partially voluntary which meant there was no guarantee of any results.

In fact their biggest effort in this new game has been to discredit the new Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion. For all the Conservative Party posturing about how they don't worry about polls, this guy absolutely terrifies them. Ever since his election as leader in December of 2006, he's pulled the Liberal party up by the bootstraps and kept them ahead ever since. On top of that he was pushing the environment as a key issue even before he was elected leader.

Of course the other reason Dion worries the Conservatives so much is that he was Minister of The Environment for close to two years. While he didn't do anything spectacular at that time, he at least prevented the slashing and burning of programming that has occurred in the first year of the Conservative Government. Considering that both of his Prime Ministers were intent on cutting the budget that in of itself is an accomplishment.

Of course Mr. Dion is also in the position of being able to take the moral high ground when it comes to the environment. All he has to do is keep repeating I wasn't the one to scrap our participation in the Kyoto accord and drop hints about Stephen Harper being from Alberta where the most business opposition to Kyoto – the oil business – comes from and let people draw their own conclusions. If they come up with Stephen Harper is a lackey of the oil and gas industry it won't be any skin off his nose.

Now the New Democratic Party (NDP) under Jack Layton are trying to look like they have some influence over events but in reality what little power they might have had is gone. Sure the Conservatives need them if both the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois vote against them, but if that happens can you see what passes for a left wing party supporting the most right wing federal government in Canada's history? Not bloody likely.

Jack has been one of the staunches supporters of the Kyoto Accord and other environmental initiatives with actual teeth in them that will make a difference. Of all the leaders he seems to be the only to understand that we can't put off taking action any longer. He also knows that the longer we wait to start, the harder and more expensive it will become.

The real problem is that none of them are seen to be offering any real viable ideas except the opposition wants us to sign back on again with the Kyoto Accord, which wasn't that great to begin with, but at least it was something

In the middle of all the politicians posturing, posing, and proclaiming, someone who relay knows what he's talking about when it comes to the environment is touring the country to push for people to force politicians to realize it's not just a fad but folk are genuinely scared.

David Suzuki has climbed on a bus and is touring the country like some latter day traveling evangelical show preaching the gospel of how we can save ourselves from Global warning. Since Suzuki is usually more popular than any of the politicians people are paying attention to him when he rolls into town.

Will that translate into any real increased pressure on the political types? Well Suzuki has set up an online letter writing campaign at his web site where you can get a letter in your name written to all the previously mentioned political leaders, as well as the leader of Bloc Quebecois.

I don't know how effective this will be except maybe to remind the politicians that the people of Canada believe that the issue of air quality is just as important as the budget and tax rebates. But of course that's the reason that all of them have for spending any time on the issue. If the Canadian public didn't care as much as they do now do you really think that any of these politicians would give a rat's ass?

Probably not, which is all the more reason to go over to David Suzuki's site and sign up to send a card to remind the political types what's important. Sometimes I don't think they'd remember their own names if the Speaker of the House Of Commons didn't call upon them when they stood up to speak in Parliament. Hoping they'll remember the environment without help when there are no cameras present is a little too much to ask

Right now they are playing their Green Game because they know it plays well with the Canadian Public. But until the House actually votes in legislation that curtails emissions from car and industrial smokestacks sufficient to meet even the bare minimum asked of by the Kyoto Accord, it won't be anything but a game.

The real losers in this game are going to be all of us; the planet, and anybody who is able to come after us without being born with an oxygen tent built in.

February 9, 2007

I'm A Time Traveller

Mathematics and I have never been the best of friends. The same mental block that causes me to invert the letters in a word or construct a sentence backwards can't make any sense whatsoever out of the way numeric formula work. While over the years I've gradually been able figure out some basic things like fractions (you just can't do any baking unless you can figure out how many times one eighth goes into six, thirty seconds) and can sort of find my way around the circumference of a circle anything more advanced than that and I'm lost.

On one hand it's not been any real great loss, I wasn't planning a career as an engineer or computer scientist anyway. But it's also cut me off from understanding things like the physics of light, sound, and time. I've always been fascinated by those three subjects and would have loved to have at least been able to understand what E=Mc2 means.

Oh I know the words are something like Energy equals mass times something squared, but that doesn't mean a thing to me. What does relativity mean anyway? What's relative to what? Did Einstein mean that time was relative to something and that something was represented by the famous formula? I've never known and no one has ever been able to explain it to me in terms that I can understand.

I know all sorts of theories about the relative nature of time but I doubt any of them have anything to do with what Albert was talking about. For example there's the time that moves at an ever-decreasing rate of speed relative to the boredom of a high school French class.

A double period that was the last class of the day in the end of May when the sun shone brilliantly bright and the sky was the colour blue you only see from inside a classroom was guaranteed to affect the speed of the clock in relation to the number of times that you looked at it. Then of course there was the amount of time that actually passed relative to the number of hours that it felt like you had been sitting in the aforementioned double period.

Of course all of us were familiar with those expressions of relativity as teenagers, and probably assumed once we had escaped the confines of school time would revert to behaving in its docile pattern of sixty seconds to a minute and sixty minutes to an hour. It just shows how naïve we were about its workings. If anything time became even more capricious.

There was the pause at the end of the phone after you worked up the courage to ask someone one out; the wait for a decision on whether you got the job or not could make one night last an eternity; and finally the way time stretched seconds into forever as your car spun off the road. As an adult you discovered that school was just time's training ground as much as it was your own, time was everywhere now, and not just a clock on the wall to be watched.

Now while most people have experienced those concepts of time in one form or another some of us have had the joy of experiencing the way in which time and memory can intermingle to bring the past to life. People who have suppressed memories of abuse will all of a sudden start vividly reliving an incident from the time of their abuse and swear it's happening in the present, even thought it's a memory. While that's an example of time slipping her moorings it's only a beginning when it comes to the tricks she can get up to especially with memory so ably attending her.

Past and present mean nothing anymore to a survivor with suppressed memories. Everything is in the present and there is nothing she or he can do about it except try to deal with the fact that the memories exist outside the confines of our traditional definition of time. How else would you explain the fact that a person is able to be an adult at the same time as they are living out their experiences as a child?

In order to break the cycle of being stuck in your childhood you have to be willing to walk into the past with your eyes open and rescue your self. Does all this sound a little New Age for you? Walking into the past sounds a little spacey I guess, but there is really no other way to describe what I'm talking about.

I've been working with a psychologist for the last year and a half in an attempt to clear some flashbacks that seemed to have lingered after more then twelve years. We've been using a technique called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, better known as E.M.D.R. to help me stop regressing back to childhood every so often.

With E.M.D.R. a client is first asked to bring the memory to mind, then the psychologist will induce a type of hypnotic trance either through rapid eye movement, a steady pulse of sound, or a pulse in the hands. The client then talks through what they are experiencing and responds to questions and suggestions offered by the councillor conducting the session.

The idea is that by bringing the present and the past together in a controlled manner, the client will begin to be able to exert their will over the situation and explain to themselves that the abuse existed only in the past. As silly as it sounds this sometimes involves talking to the child in the memory who is being traumatized to reassure him that his life is not without hope, and it will get better.

Then, dependent on your mood and the circumstances, you can confront your abuser and threaten them for a change if for no other reason then to make you feel good about yourself and to help reassure your memory self that things will get better.

This is an instance of how a person can become stuck in time and be forced to relive a specific moment over and over again. Unlike time in the other instances I've described which actually does move forward without active intervention from the present, time won't flow past this point ever without help.

Time is not always the linear thing that clocks describe as moving in a neat circle with seconds following seconds and minutes following minutes, turning into hours, days, months and years. Like I said at the beginning I wish I had the knowledge and know-how that would allow me to describe how that works so that I could offer you some scientific proof of what I'm talking about. But I'm afraid you'll just have to take my word for it when I tell you that I'm a time traveller. Perhaps not the way H. G. Wells visualised it in his book The Time Machine, but I am one just the same.

Although, I could think of places in time that I'd much rather have visited then where I do have to go sometimes and wish that I had some choice in the matter.

January 25, 2007

Searching For Searches

Does anyone really know how search engines work? I know in theory they are supposed to scour the web in response to commands given by the person using the service and respond with the addresses of web sites that have the information pertinent to what was requested. But the practice seems to be something else altogether.

Take for example the other night. Just out of idle curiosity my wife wanted to find out the history of the word pretty. As her search command she had asked for "history of the word pretty" (without the quotation marks). What she got in return was anything but pretty.

Not one site in the top forty offered had anything vaguely to do with the history of the word. Instead the majority of them were simply sites where the word pretty was being used and no mind being paid to the original request. After trying a number of variations using history and pretty returned pretty much the same results; which in turn resulted in various comments being made on the parentage and history of Google other search engines were consulted.

When it became obvious that this was not a Goggle specific problem, and that all search engines seemed to be particularly obtuse when it came to try and finding out "something as fu*king simple as the history of a goddamned stupid, word for fu*ks sake" she gave up the search. I didn't blame her, because although sometimes Google can be your best friend, on other occasions search engines are only as good as what they are capable of doing.

The first thing we always have to remember when using anything to do with computers is they can't think outside of the parameters that have been defined for them. Search engines are designed to pick out keywords from something published on the Internet and match them to the search query. They have very few ways of knowing the actual context of the words in question; so will simply return the addresses of sites where they find the words requested.

At least this is what I've come to believe, and to be honest I can't come up with any other reasonable solution. I've been looking at how many people are directed to my site based on the fact that a word in the title or body of the text has matched their search request. That the post in question has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of their search is irrelevant to the search engine.

Of course to further confuse the poor person doing a search is the fact that some web sites are given more weight in a search then others. This doesn't mean it will show up if it doesn't contain the required keywords, but a site with a high ranking will be receive priority so long as it contains key words, even at the expense of one more relevant.

Google, and I'm sure other search engines do the same thing, have created their own arcane system for the ranking of sites, but I've yet to meet anyone who really understands how they do it. Perhaps it's based on the number of times the site in question has had a high number of keywords show up, the number and turnover of material, or heaven forefend, maybe even the quality of the material comes into play.

What is obvious is that no one seems to be keeping track of how pertinent the posts are to people's search requests. Of course that may be an impossible task to perform; just as it's impossible to teach the search engine the difference between pretty awful and pretty good.

I've heard of people who will spend hours coming up with keyword listings for a post to optimize their search engine results, as the ads put it, but I can's see why they bother. There doesn't seem to be anyway to influence how search engines are going to decide what to choose beyond a word in a post matching a search request. Now that's scientific.

December 21, 2006

The Magic Of Winter Light

Forty-five minutes ago the clock rolled over and it became officially December 21st, the winter solstice. Although my calendar says that December 20th was the first day of winter, I can't help but always think of the 21st as being the longest night of the year.

I realize given the inaccuracies inherent in our system of measuring the passage of time that dates jump around a bit. When your year is 365 days and a quarter long there are bound to be some variables that even a leap year can't correct. But since the difference in the length of the day on the 20th or 21st is so minimal I don't feel too badly for adhering to the date I've always associated with the event.

Now don't get me wrong, it's not that I'm about to go out and enact some archaic ritual to commemorate the event, I'll leave that to those who feel the need to do those things. It's just that I've always found this time of year to be extremely magical in a way that has nothing to do with the Christmas season.

One of the things I appreciate about living in a small city is the fact that there are very few small building to cut off my view of the sky and the ability to see large swaths of it at once. Because of this I get to experience one of the great pleasures of living in an area where there is a noticeable shift in the earth's position in terms of the sun and the quality of light.

Near the end of August is when I usually first begin to notice that the days have started to run out of steam, and the sun has started to set earlier. By the time the end of October roles around and we set the clocks back an hour, by six o'clock in the evening the sun has pretty much set.

But it's not until near the end of November that the real magic begins. As the earth has spun on it axis and taken the part of the world I live in further below the sun's line of sight the quality of our light has started to change. Not only do we receive less of it over the course of a twenty-four hour period, what we do receive comes to us on an angle such that it seems to cut across the path of the planet instead of shining right on to us.

I'm sure that people who are equal distance south of the equator to our position to the north will experience something similar. But I also think that there's something about the quality of the light in the Northern parts of the world that isn't replicated anywhere. Perhaps it's the cold air creating a thinning of the atmosphere, I don't know. All I do know is that it's one of the reason's I'd never move to a place where there's no winter.

It's the shadows that are the first indication of the change. With the sun tracking lower in the sky every day shadows are exaggerated in their elongation until they become as much part of the scenery as the object that cast them. Walk along beside a stand of trees and you are walking through them as well beside them. Or you are seeing their shadows prostrate, while your second self steps from one to the next, merging and separating, merging and separating, until you lose track of which is moving and which is stationary.

You often hear people complain about the brightness of the winter sun, what they are talking about is the sun shining off snow that has accumulated over a period of time, and been subjected to a deep freeze. These are the glass like conditions when combined with the angle of the sun that make the need for sunglasses or eye protection paramount. If you are around vast fields of snow then snow blindness can be a potential hazard. In fact winter is usually the only time that I find I'll need, or want to wear sunglasses for just that reason. Well maybe not snow blindness but the harshness of the glare at any rate.

But it's in the days leading up to the twenty first of December before too much snow has fallen and the temperature has had a chance to really dip below the freezing point too far that I'm talking about. It's those days when the sun has risen only so that he can begin to set, when it feels like it's permanent twilight, then the feeling you've entered into another world becomes really strong.

If somehow you are able to get away from the elements that distinguish the twenty-first century, traffic, buildings, and noise, to walk amidst the quiet of some trees or by the water, it feels like you've stepped out of anyone particular time. The light has been watered down enough on these days that shadows gather at the edges of everything, smoothing sharp edges into soft curves so that distinctiveness is blurred and objects seen at a distance become almost indistinguishable from their backgrounds.

I can see why earlier societies could believe this time was the end of the year as everything faded from view gradually each day earlier and earlier. The date that marked the reversal of that process, the longest night of the year when you could almost swear that the sun wasn't going to return, would be the day you celebrate the end of one year and the start of a new one.

To them it was if a new sun was being born on the midwinter day and the light would gradually start to return. It's an experience that we can still share today if we take the time to look around what is happening to the world beyond the rush of the artificial season we have created.

I personally find it much more satisfying to watch the year end in the physical world then on the calendar. In particular I enjoy the time leading up to the solstice because it's one of the moments of magic that bridge the span of years between us and those who lived on earth thousands of years earlier who watched the world do much the same things it does today

December 13, 2006

Critical Habitats Left Unprotected Puts Endangered Species At Risk

I don't know about you, but normally when I hear about a government being taken to court for not obeying the laws of the land, it's not usually while they are still in power. But that's what's happening to Prime Minister Steven Harper's Conservative Party of Canada government.

I'm not talking about some nuisance suit or personal vendetta brought about by a vindictive ex politician with an axe to grind. This is a genuine suit aimed at forcing the government to live up to the letter of the law when it comes to the protection of Scientists warn the summer ice pack could vanish from the Arctic by the year 2040. At the same time the winter ice would be reduced from its current ten-foot thickness to three feet.

The impact this would have upon wildlife and the environment in not only the Arctic but the rest of North America as well is almost too severe to imagine. Already we are hearing reports of polar bears starving to death due to their inability to hunt during the summer season because of the thinning ice pack. One can imagine only too well what will happen to their population in the far North if the predictions for the next thirty years follow the patterns predicted by these scientists.

Given these circumstances and the others around the world, protection of habitant becomes more and more essential not just as a means for specific species preservation, but as a means of ensuring environmental integrity. Knowing all this it makes the government not complying with the act even more negligent.

They don't even deny the fact that of the past thirty recovery plans for endangered species, only five have included habitat protection, and three of those were in already protected areas. Their excuse that there are many interested parties in the land doesn't wash at all.

In fact I would think the fact that so people have "vested interests" in what's done with the land should be a clue to how necessary it is to supply the designation of critical habitat to an area. If so many people have a "vested interest" it means someone is going to want to do something with the land. If they are allowed the animal who was supposed to have been protected, will have far less chance at recovery because of the degradation of their environment.

I remember reading an interview with the late Gerald Durrell, the British Naturalist and Conservationist. In it he was talking about how governments pay lip service to the idea of endangered species preservation with laws that are meaningless. Unless they were prepared to ensure the survival of habitat as part of the law, the paper they are written would best off be used in an outhouse.

There have been many times when I've disagreed with various government policy decisions, and I consider that par for the course. But when a government enacts legislation that makes them look good on paper (and in the papers) that doesn't really do anything it's an entirely different matter. It means they don't have the integrity or the balls to stand up for their own beliefs, and feel compelled to sneak around behind everyone's back.

We aren't the only inhabitants of this world, we share it with numerous other creatures and plants. But we use up a disproportionate amount of space and energy compared to our neighbours. Only occasionally do they intrude upon us and that's usually only if we've built right on top of their homes, or in their territory, but they are the ones who either learn to adjust or move.

Don't you think it would be nice if on occasion we humans returned that favour, and left their homes alone so that they could get on with the business of living without having to worry about being shot, or dying from the drinking water?

Canada is one of the few countries in the world that has an endangered species program if properly implemented would allow an animal or plant under threat of extinction the opportunity to recover. Unfortunately our government doesn’t seem to want to live up to their obligation when it comes to this act and would be perfectly content with never protecting another square inch of habitat.

They are the loudest complainers when it comes to the courts of Canada "ruling the country instead of the legislature", but if they ever learned how to obey the laws of the country, or understand the constitution that wouldn't be such a problem. When the courts up hold the law of the land one more time and find against the government, maybe Steven Harper and the Conservatives will finally learn the difference between right and wrong.

September 19, 2006

Rebuilding Your Life From The Past Forward

"You can't live in the past".

"Time heals all wounds".

"It's time to get on with your life."

These have got to be three of the most common things said to people who are in recovery from crap that's happened to them in the past. People who have no understanding of what it means to try and rebuild yourself from the heart outward and the ground up are most often the "caring" individuals who spout these absolutely useless words of advice.

Whenever I hear someone saying any of the above, or any number of variations on the theme, I feel like grabbing them by the shoulders and giving them a good shake. Maybe that way their brain will start firing on all cylinders for a change. After I'm sure I've got their attention, I would calmly explain a few things to them as per their trite little aphorisms.

First of all what the hell are they implying when they say stuff like that? Most times they are "subtly" telling you're being self indulgent and you need to stop wallowing in self-pity. That really becomes evident when they follow up their earlier words of wisdom with "everybody's had a tough life – look at me" as if that would settle the matter.

Hey guess what, not everybody is the same. I know that's a difficult concept for some people to get their heads around but it's true. We all have different aspirations, desires, and psychological make-ups; and that's only a start. They also seem to be able to ignore the fact that some things are harder to recover from than others. Nope they are the litmus test against we are all to be judged against.

The phrases themselves have very little meaning, or are comfortably ambiguous at best. Nobody actually lives in the past; sure time heals all wounds, some of them kill you eventually; and how do you know someone is not getting on with what he or she consider to be a life. Just because they don't do what you do, how does that make them a zombie?

Let us look at some harsh realities of people in recovery from crap that happened to them in the past. First of all the longer you've put off dealing with it, for whatever the reason, the harder it is to recover and the worse it beats the stuffing out of you. It doesn't matter to you at that moment in time that time may or may not heal that particular wound; it's wide open and gaping at that precise moment and sucking you whole soul into its depths. Finally, just what is recovery anyway if it isn't trying to get on with your life?

I can tell you from personal experience that being in genuine recovery is not something you do for fun and want to do for any longer than you have to Implying that you can turn the process off and on at will and all of a sudden be better is not only insulting it shows an ignorance of what the process entails. Any person who can blithely say "get on with your life" has never done the work, no matter what they claim to have overcome. The fact that they have that attitude at all is the first clue.

In my experience the people most inclined to say things like that are still too scared of that process and feel threatened by anyone who has the courage to even contemplate moving beyond who they once were to become who they could be. When I use the word recovery, I'm talking about the recovery of the self that lives in the realm of potential not about getting better from something.

I've written about the work Dr. Jeffery Young has done in past posts but I'll recap for those who haven't read them. Each of us has been shaped irrevocably by what has happened to us during our formative years. Our means of reacting to circumstances, the people we are attracted to, what we expect others to do from us, what we think we have to do in order to be accepted, and so on were all imprinted dependant on what happened to us mainly in pre-pubescence.

Dr. Young has worked out various patterns of behaviour, what he calls Schemas that can be caused by a variety of potential circumstances in a home life. If you were the child of alcoholics you will grow up expecting to be treated in a certain manner, and continue to use the behaviour patterns, or copping mechanisms, that got you through that time period.

Sometimes, because that's what you are used to, and equate it as what is normal, you seek out those same circumstances over and over again throughout you adult life. The familiarity of the situation is comfortable for you because you can predict what will happen down to even when the relationship will be ended.

Co-dependency has the benefit of allowing you to tell yourself that you are doing something good, because you are trying to help somebody else. In reality all you are doing is helping to make the hole all the much deeper to climb out of for both of you.

Sometimes it takes a traumatic event to realize the trap you're in, other times you hit bottom, and sometimes it just seems to happen for no apparent reason except some part of your brain has decided enough is enough. Whatever the reason you have committed yourself to the complete overhaul.

The problem, or the great thing depends on your mood that day, is that once you discover that things need fixing you can't stop until you're done. The first, and sometimes hardest step is finding someone who you can work with to help you along the way. Even if you can do the work on your own, and you should anyway, you need to have a professional ear to bounce shit off of. Someone who understands how the brain works so you don't end up just fooling yourself.

Personally I think this whole process of recreating oneself is the closest thing to a miracle each of us can perform. Giving birth to a child and raising it is taking an empty vessel and filling it up; re birthing yourself is looking at what you are, completely, honestly, and dispassionately and excising all that's unhealthy.

Then you have to figure out who you would have been if you had been allowed to, and find the means of becoming that person. Each reaction that you have to an emotional stimulus has to be analysed to see if you are reacting to the present circumstances or the past. Which voice are you listening to, the one that belongs to the person standing in front of you or the one that called you a useless shit thirty years ago because you bought the wrong brand of beer?

When I hear people dismissing this type of journey with meaningless catch phrases because they don't have the guts to do the same thing, are willing to live blind and deaf to the possibility of giving voice to their true self, or because they need to hold on to having somebody else to blame for their troubles, it makes me appreciate those people who attempt it even more.

It's not living in the past to strive to overcome it's effects on your present; not waiting for time to heal your wounds takes a lot more strength than simply sitting back and being a martyr; and what else could you call reclaiming your if not getting on with it? Perhaps that's the problem, those who say those types of things need to understand what they are talking about. Or it is that too much to ask?

Rebuilding Your Life From The Past Forward

"You can't live in the past".

"Time heals all wounds".

"It's time to get on with your life."

These have got to be three of the most common things said to people who are in recovery from crap that's happened to them in the past. People who have no understanding of what it means to try and rebuild yourself from the heart outward and the ground up are most often the "caring" individuals who spout these absolutely useless words of advice.

Whenever I hear someone saying any of the above, or any number of variations on the theme, I feel like grabbing them by the shoulders and giving them a good shake. Maybe that way their brain will start firing on all cylinders for a change. After I'm sure I've got their attention, I would calmly explain a few things to them as per their trite little aphorisms.

First of all what the hell are they implying when they say stuff like that? Most times they are "subtly" saying you're being self indulgent and you need to stop wallowing in self-pity. That really becomes evident when they follow up their earlier words of wisdom with "everybody's had a tough life – look at me" as if that would settle the matter.

Hey guess what, not everybody is the same. I know that's a difficult concept for some people to get their heads around but it's true. We all have different aspirations, desires, and psychological make-ups; and that's only a start. They also seem to be able to ignore the fact that some things are harder to recover from than others. Nope they are the litmus test against which we are all to be judged.

The phrases themselves have very little meaning, or are comfortably ambiguous at best. Nobody actually lives in the past; sure time heals all wounds, some of them kill you eventually; and how do you know someone is not getting on with what he or she consider to be a life. Just because they don't do what you do, how does that make them a zombie?

Let us look at some harsh realities of people in recovery from crap that happened to them in the past. First of all the longer you've put off dealing with it, for whatever the reason, the harder it is to recover and the worse it beats the stuffing out of you. It doesn't matter to you at that moment in time that time may or may not heal that particular wound; it's wide open and gaping at that precise moment and sucking your whole soul into its depths. Finally, just what is recovery anyway if it isn't trying to get on with your life?

I can tell you from personal experience that being in genuine recovery is not something you do for fun and want to do for any longer than you have to. Implying that you can turn the process off and on at will and all of a sudden be better is not only insulting it shows an ignorance of what the process entails. Any person who can blithely say, "get on with your life" has never done the work, no matter what they claim to have overcome. The fact that they have that attitude is the first clue.

In my experience the people most inclined to say things like that are still too scared of that process and feel threatened by anyone who has the courage to even contemplate moving beyond who they once were to become who they could be. When I use the word recovery, I'm talking about the recovery of the self that lives in the realm of potential not about getting better from something.

I've written about the work Dr. Jeffery Young has done in past posts but I'll recap for those who haven't read them. Each of us has been shaped irrevocably by what has happened to us during our formative years. Our means of reacting to circumstances, the people we are attracted to, what we expect others to do for us, what we think we have to do in order to be accepted, and so on, were all imprinted dependant on what happened to us mainly in pre-pubescence.

Dr. Young has worked out various patterns of behaviour, what he calls Schemas that can be caused by a variety of potential circumstances in a home life. If you were the child of alcoholics you will grow up expecting to be treated in a certain manner, and continue to use the behaviour patterns, or copping mechanisms, that got you through that time period.

Sometimes, because that's what you are used to, and equate it as what is normal, you seek out those same circumstances over and over again throughout you adult life. The familiarity of the situation is comfortable for you because you can predict what will happen down to even when the relationship will end.

Co-dependency has the benefit of allowing you to tell yourself that you are doing something good, because you are trying to help somebody else. In reality all you are doing is helping to make the hole all the much deeper to climb out of for both of you.

Sometimes it takes a traumatic event to realize the trap you're in, other times you hit bottom, and sometimes it just seems to happen for no apparent reason except some part of your brain has decided enough is enough. Whatever the reason you have committed yourself to the complete overhaul.

The problem, or the great thing depending on your mood that day, is that once you discover that things need fixing you can't stop until you're done. The first, and sometimes hardest step is finding someone who you can work with to help you along the way. Even if you can do the work on your own, and you should do as much as possible on your own anyway, you need to have a professional ear to bounce shit off of. Someone who understands how the brain works so you don't end up just fooling yourself.

Personally I think this whole process of recreating oneself is the closest thing to a miracle each of us can perform. Giving birth to a child and raising it is taking an empty vessel and filling it up; re birthing yourself is looking at what you are, completely, honestly, and dispassionately and excising all that's unhealthy.

Then you have to figure out who you would have been if you had been allowed to, and find the means of becoming that person. Each reaction that you have to an emotional stimulus has to be analysed to see if you are reacting to the present circumstances or the past. Which voice are you listening to, the one that belongs to the person standing in front of you or the one that called you a useless shit thirty years ago because you bought the wrong brand of beer?

When I hear people dismissing this type of journey with meaningless catch phrases because they don't have the guts to do the same thing, are willing to live blind and deaf to the possibility of giving voice to their true self, or because they need to hold on to having somebody else to blame for their troubles, it makes me appreciate those people who attempt it even more.

It's not living in the past to strive to overcome it's effects on your present; not waiting for time to heal your wounds takes a lot more strength than simply sitting back and being a martyr; and what else could you call reclaiming your if not getting on with it? Perhaps that's the problem, those who say those types of things need to understand what they are talking about. Or it is that too much to ask?

September 18, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord Part Seven

The bump on the top of my head was starting to make me wish for bed and a cold compress, and the last thing I wanted to be doing right now was sitting in a dank cellar chatting with the two folks, no matter how good their intentions had been, who'd made me feel like this. Still there was something compelling about the way her lower lip trembled when she was emotionally distraught that made me want to investigate how she reacted to other stimuli.

But those were idle thoughts suited to other occasions, and even contemplating them made me wince with pain. Anyway, they looked like a couple of nice earnest, concerned types who wanted to save the world, and from previous experience I knew that was one road better left un travelled. They weren’t casual about anything, and politicized sex was always on the low end of the enjoyment scale for me, especially when working on a migraine.

I suggested that we keep in touch and if they thought of anything more, or if anything happened, that might lead me to an answer about who croaked the professor and what happened to the Kyoto accord. I told them if I ever did get any answers that I would make sure they were filled in, if for no other reason so they could stop bashing people over the head that came into the store asking about the Kyoto accord.

Couldn't be good for business if you kept hauling concerned environmentalists down into a cellar and giving them the third degree. Unless they had a sideline in headache remedies: "Hey does that store of yours have anything for a wicked headache, induced by a minor head trauma?" I asked her pointing at the point on the noggin he had tried to stave in.

He had the good grace to look embarrassed and mumble another apology, while the smile she bestowed made me start reconsidering my earlier resolution and thinking a little tender loving care administered by her capable mouth might not be such a bad thing after all. But when my eyes made contact with daylight, it was still only mid afternoon, when we reached the street all thoughts of anything but lying alone in bed with the blinds drawn and me out cold quickly vanished.

Even her bashful, eye's down looking up at me through her eyelashes, "Is there anything else that I can do for you…" only elicited a request for a cab. Her suggestion as she shepherded me into the cab that she'd call tomorrow to see how I was doing, was laden with meanings, but all I could do was smile weakly and mumble my address to the cabbie.

His initial reluctance on driving me was quickly overcome by my suggestion that the quicker he got me home the less chance there was of me puking on the back of his head. Mentioning the names of a couple of gentlemen I knew in the people cartage business who were known for their efficiency in dealing with those who upset their friends helped to overcome the last of his doubts.

It also ensured I was spared the usual commentary on the state of the world that cabbies seem to believe is their prerogative to deliver. By the time we pulled up to the office whatever placebo she had given me was slowing me down sufficiently that I tipped the cabbie a twenty, which led to the unprecedented site in Ottawa of a passenger having his door opened for him by the driver of his hack. He also did me the favour of pointing me in the right direction of my buildings door, so I didn't wander dazed into traffic.

Harry the day doorman had seen me in quite a number of states before this, but even his eyes showed some concern as he clocked the state of my pupils and the discreet swelling on the back of my head.

"You want me to check on you every couple of hours or so Mr. Steve, to make sure you haven't slipped into a coma?"

"Actually", I told Harry, "a coma sounds pretty attractive right about now. Just get me on the elevator and hit the button for the right floor and I should be able to take it from there." The last thing I needed right now was to be mother-henned by six foot–seven-inch, 300lb, ex linebacker with one eyebrow, a shaved head, and a gold loop earring the size of a hoola-hoop. Nope I just needed my bed and a lot of pitch dark.

Which I almost didn't get until I remembered how a key and lock mechanism worked, after surviving that challenge, navigating through the clutter of the office to the private room in behind was nothing. The only distraction was the flashing red of the answering machine light, which caused a momentary fixation, quickly overwhelmed by the intense pain its pulsation produced in my skull.

I let the back of my knees hit the side of my bed that allowed it to welcome me into the comfortable bosom of its embrace. I wish I could say I slept like a log and didn't feel anything until I woke the next morning, but I was disturbed all night by wild dreams that featured Ms. Magnesen and the environmentalist cutie literally tearing me in half; Professor Magnesen lecturing both of my parts on separate occasions on how to control emissions; and in amongst it all was the sound of people pounding at my door and yelling for me to wake up as they were the police and it was long past time that decent people were awake and at work.

Unfortunately that last part turned out to be true, (I don't want to think about the implications of the other parts thank you very much) and I eventually had to stagger to the door so as to prevent the noise from continuing. It was only as I turned to lead my old buddies from the crime scene back into the apartment that I realized the ten o'clock I had read on the dial of my bedside clock meant the next morning, not later that same evening.

"I didn't even know you drank tea, let alone took sugar in it" was followed by harsh laughter from behind as the assholes chortled at my misfortune. "Was that one lump or two?" That ain't the kind of shit you deal with before coffee on the morning after the day I had had yesterday. I couldn't even muster the energy to give them a baleful stare, let along a snappy retort.

I didn't know what I had done to deserve the honour of a home visit, but I figured I'd better be slightly somnambulant before trying to cope with the excitement of it all. I pointed in the general direction of where I remembered my bathroom as being, and received a leering grin and a sweeping, be my guest, arm gesture in return.

It was only after I had held my head under the cold tap for five minutes that I began to realize the potential for trouble that a visit from two cops, who were being overtly genial, could forebode. For two guys like McIntosh and Gates to show up at my door without kicking it down first meant they had either come to gloat or…I couldn't think of any other reason.

If they were going to arrest me they would have kicked the door down and hauled me away, that would seem more their modus apprehenda- so to speak- over this polite routine. Of course this all could just be an elaborate game of good cop bad cop, as I noticed Gates hadn't done anything except show his teeth at McIntosh's jokes. Like with any wolf that could mean he's laughing or readying himself to go for your throat.

When I could look in the mirror and only see one of me looking back I figured I could just about cope with the boys in bad suits and headed back out to the office area. Still studiously avoiding any sort of contact with them I headed to where the coffee pot that was my morning cup awaited. From the damage inflicted upon my kitchen and the depreciation in the level of the pot, I could see my guests hadn't hesitated on making themselves at home.

"You must have finished the lumps off last night" Gates called through " We couldn't find anything but these packets of "nude" sugar. Oh and your out of cream." It's a good thing I like black coffee cause 25 years with no chance of parole is a long time to spend behind bars, and guards inside don't like cop killers.

After gulping a first cup, burning the roof of my mouth and finishing the process of returning to consciousness simultaneously, I poured a second cup and headed out to meet my early birds, hoping I wasn't the worm awaiting eating. From the way Gates was looking at me like a side of beef I couldn't help feeling that prospect was pretty good.

"Who gave you the love tap?" McIntosh asked pointing his chin at the lump on my head.

"Someone who wasn't as genteel in looking for information as the police officers of our nations capital. Now what can I do for you boys, I wouldn't want to think I'm holding you up from serving and protecting the good people of Ottawa" I tried to look at them with as much innocence as I could muster with my eyes still slightly crossed and the knowledge that the last time I had seen them a dead body with a machete in its back had plopped at my feet weighing heavily on my mind.

"It's what we can for you chum" Gates was licking his lips, hopefully licking off lingering drops of coffee but it was hard to tell what was going on behind those beady little eyes. "We thought you might like to know the identity of the stiff who fell at your feet the other night. We thought hearing his name might jar your memory, although I see others have tried less subtle means. Which reminds me do you need to report a crime, we're police officers you know and we're here to protect the public." He laughed a horrible little laugh that sounded like a cross between a growl and the wind blowing over a grave on a cold November night.

"That was just a misunderstanding, and why should hearing the dead guy's name jar my memory?" I was trying to think if I had given beautiful anything like my card which she could have given her dad which would take some explaining if it were found on his corpse.

"The crime scene boys found this", he reached into his pocket and pulled out a plastic baggie of the type you use for sandwiches, pot, and evidence. This one held a piece of yellow paper torn on two edges so it had obviously ripped from the bottom corner of a larger page. "Your ad in the yellow pages was found in Mr., I should say Dr./Professor Magnesen's jacket pocket with the name of the bar scrawled on it, and the words "last brass pole on the barkeep's side" written in the same hand."

He paused and looked at me, and just in case I hadn't caught the implications of what he was suggesting, spelt it out for me." We think you were arranging to meet him there, and you've holding out on us for some reason and we want to know why?"

I took a sip of my coffee and looked up at him. "Well that's better then your usual average, batting .500 could almost make a person think you know what you're doing. Yes I was supposed to be meeting him at the bar, but I wasn't holding out on you because until you just told me I had no idea that the corpse at my feet was Dr. Morgensen.

We had only talked on the phone up till that point, which is probably why he had the directions on where to find my scrawled on my ad in the yellow pages. I just figured he had shown up after the murder and found the bar locked up and him not able to get into seeing me. I've been hoping to hear from him again since, but now it looks like that hope is a pretty vain one…"

It's always good to leave a thought or sentence hanging when talking to cops, they don't like to think you know everything, and it gives them the illusion that they have some room to manoeuvre with you even though you've built a pretty thick brick wall up for them to run into. And if they do have something in reserve, you can always hold on to I hadn't finished.

I wasn't going to have to worry about that this time, because although it was obvious they didn't like it, they didn't seem to have anything more than that piece of paper connecting me to the dead doc. If they thought otherwise, obstructing a murder investigation would be the least of my worries. I'd have to start worrying about my name finding its way to the attention of individuals I don't want knowing it.

They had finished their coffees by then and knew their chances of refills were non-existent, so they'd have to head over to Tim Horton's and have an official coffee break if they wanted any more. Gates was out the door and McIntosh was close behind him, when he turned and looked back.

"This is more than just a divorce case gone bad, peeper, it's even more than just a homicide. There's a lot of pressure on us to get results, but results that end it without it going far. There's talk of not letting it go further than this room, unless something else shows up soon.

Everybody's called the chief today from the horsemen, to the spy guys, and somebody from Parliament Hill to ask that we keep them posted. Everybody's walking around the station house right now so uptight that they're scared to fart. Whoever worked you over last night was an amateur compared to these boys from up high. I've heard that they can make it so you get to the point that you want to tell them what they want to hear just so the pain will stop."

He nodded at me then and closed the door behind him. Have a nice fucking day. It looked like my time on this case was running out fast no matter what I wanted, so the option of another day in bed, however tempting was a no go. The problem was that unless something fell in my lap pretty soon this case was no go as well.

I had to hope that someone was having more success than me or I could be looking forward to a long time away from home.

September 10, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord Part Six

Whether or not I fell like the proverbial ton of bricks, it sure felt like I had been hit over the head with them. When I came to it was with feelings I'd normally associate with the morning after the night before washing over me. The pain cutting through my head made it feel like I was ready to be outfitted for a Frankenstein stitch job, or at the least some sort of zipper assembly that would keep the top part of my head from separating from the bottom.

But there were some noticeable differences, most obviously being the fact that it seemed my legs were bound to the chair I was plopped into and my hands in lap were first tied to themselves than connected to my feet's bonds via yet another cord. For vegetarians they certainly knew their way around trussing the main course for roasting and basting at 375 degrees for a couple of hours until done.

Whoever was responsible was either brilliant or blind lucky and it didn't matter which as the result was still the same. Any time I tried to fidget with my feet in the hopes of loosing their bounds the ropes around my hands seemed to tighten and vice versa. I figured by the time I had loosened anything significantly either my hands or feet would have fallen off due to lack of circulation..

What with my head still feeling like the axe was still sticking out of the back at a jaunty angle, and my limbs trussed like a pork roast, I was quite content to sit quietly and await what was ever coming. It could explain why the next thing I knew was that I heard the sound of voices whispering in front of me. Dozing off had the unexpected payoff of reducing my head pain substantially, as well as allowing some free eavesdropping time as the voices were obviously under the impression I was still out.

"I thought you said you didn't hit him that hard? He looks like he's got brain damage," said the first voice. It sounded like a woman's, deeper than most but still a woman and I suspected it was the one who I had followed into the dead end.

"Hey you were the one who was all panicky about being followed. Anyway what does it matter, he's just another Fed. We'll give him a shot, find out what he knows then let him go. If he shows up back at headquarters sounding like he's a few bricks short of a load whose going to notice over there? Most of them talk like they've seen recent contact with the flat edge of a 2 X 4 anyway."

They thought I was a fed, while it was slightly insulting; it was also understandable given their circumstances. It also made life both a little easier and a little more precarious at the same time. If I was able to convince them of the fact that I was working the same side of the street as they were and not a fed they might not look on me with such suspicion. Of course if I wasn't able to do that I could end up being injected with some sort of truth drug that also seemed to remove a good chunk of a person's reasoning skills.

"Well the horsemen are going be happy if you keep making their job easier by knocking out everyone whose sneaking around behind their backs trying to figure who offed the professor, and who is trying to stuff the Kyoto accord so far up a chimney at the same time, that it will just be so many more toxic emissions if it can't be found soon." I had decided to try and brazen it out with the truth, cause sometimes you never know people might believe you.

It was kind of hard for me to decipher their reactions as I was seated in the centre of the pool of light cast by a naked bulb hanging over my head like that Greek dude's sword, and they were lurking in the shadows. I could tell that I had startled them, but that could just as easily be put down to them not knowing I was among the conscious more than anything else.

Whatever other effects my little speech might have had on them, at least it got them to come into my circle of light. I was right about the woman's voice, it belonged to the one who I'd followed from the store. She was your typical granola number down to her lack of make up, thick socks and expensive German made sandals. It didn't stop her from being attractive, but in an earnest political sort of way that I knew from experience could fast become tedious.

The guy was cut from the same cloth; only he had a slightly harder edge to him. He was that new breed of political activist who the cops hadn't figured out yet, computer and tech savvy, with no worries about employing violence if attacked. Cops hadn't managed to upgrade their thinking from the days of passive resistance and when they ran into people who picked up their tear gas canisters and calmly lobbed them back at them it still confused them.

The demonstrators had their own version of shock troops now who would stand up to the first wave of a baton flailing riot cop charge to give their more passive brethren and sisters a chance to escape. The guy in front of me was a prime example of the type, tall, leanly muscled and tough as whip cord. I had no trouble believing that he'd been the one to administer the love tap that left me counting teeth with the tip of my tongue.

After, I don't know maybe thirty seconds – maybe an hour – of them staring at me and me trying to stare back at them without staring because it seemed to hurt just a little too much to use my eyes that much, and without anybody saying anything. I was just about to try again when she spoke up.

"What do you know about Professor Magnesen?" she asked

"Now that's an interesting first question to ask, not why were your following me, or what do you want, but about a person who I haven't said I even know. What I do know is that you know him, which I didn't know before; thanks" I said brightly.

She certainly turned a very pretty shade of red when she flushed, whether it was with anger or embarrassment didn't make much of a difference in my book. He on the other hand didn't have the same redeeming qualities when he flushed. If he was pissed at her for giving something away, or pissed at me for being a wiseass was irrelevant as he was bound to take his displeasure out on me not her.

"Okay smart ass we you've proved that you aren't just another pretty face, but why should we believe that you're not a cop and you still didn't answer her question about what you know about the professor. So why don't you be a good guy and answer the lady's questions and maybe I'll forget what a rude bastard you were to her." He reached behind him and pulled one of the largest hunting knives I've ever seen out of belt sheath and began cleaning his nails with it. He saw me staring at it, and nodded his head once as encouragement that I shouldn't be shy about speaking my piece for much longer.

"Well first of all I know he was working on a project for the government that would have reduced green house gasses substantially while actually improving the economy instead of harming it, until the government changed and his program funding was yanked. I know that he started meeting with some environmentalists about something or other and that some government department was starting to get very interested in his files at home."

I paused for breath here and tried to gauge their reactions, but neither of them was giving anything away. They both were just staring at me waiting to hear what I had to say next. So far anything I had told them didn't tell them what they really wanted to know; who I was. The feds would have known all that I had said up till now so they still didn't have any reason to believe me when I said I wasn't working for the government. I was going to have to lay as many cards as possible on the table.

"A short while I was contacted by a client to investigate the disappearance of the Kyoto accord. I got a call at the office one night and I was supposed to meet someone over at a strip club in Hull. He showed up alright, but he arrived to see me with one of the biggest hunting knives I've ever seen sticking out of his back." I said this last bit being very careful not to look at the blade whose point the guy was now digging into the wooden tabletop in front of me.

"Since then I've been trying to trace backward through his life in an attempt to figure out who killed him and what he'd been working on that has people so scared that even after he's dead they're still trying to shut him up." I followed you", pointing with my chin at the woman" because I hoped you'd be able to help me find some answers. Given my reception I can only hope that we might be of some assistance to each other."

The guy and the woman exchanged glances, she raised an eyebrow and he nodded his head in return. He kept the knife in his hand and came at me with point pointed directly at my chest. He flipped it over in his hand so that the cutting edge was pointing up and swung the knife up and through the ropes binding my wrists. He then bent down and sliced through the cords around my feet.

He stepped back and took up his position beside the table again as I shook my hands and feet in an attempt to restore some of the circulation that I'd lost while I'd been strapped in. More and more I'm convinced that I would never be cut out for bondage. I just don't like mixing work with pleasure that much.

I was still busy rubbing at my wrists and ankles when the woman spoke up. "Look", she said, "we're really sorry about all this", waving her hand as if taking in the basement, my skull and being tied to a chair, "but ever since the professor was killed we've been really scared about what's going on. Why would they want to kill him just because he had good ideas about how we could reach our commitment to the Kyoto accord and be able to help other countries do the same."

"Yeah", said the guy," I hope I didn't do too much damage, but our nerves are stretched pretty raw right about now. Not only can't we figure out why anyone would have wanted the professor dead, we don't have much idea as to who could have done it. When you showed up nosing around…well we though we might be able to crack you open about who you were working for and get some answers."

He sighed, and shook his head. "But we're still no further ahead and there aren't even any clues to go on. It doesn't sound like you know that much more than we do." He sucked in a big breath of air." Damn this is frustrating. He was so close to answers, in fact we believe he might have even had them already, but was playing it close to the vest as he could see the departments he had built for research and development slowly being dismantled due to budget cut backs and funding not being renewed. He had contacted us late in the summer before the Election, knowing that even a potential Stephen Harper victory would destroy his life's work"

"When they couldn't do that, they destroyed him instead" her voice was choked as if close to tears, and I looked at her closely. "The reason he approached us was that I had been a student to his at the University. One day, accidentally he said, by coincidence he said he came in here and we got to chatting. He wanted to know what I was up to, If I had kept up being active in environmental groups after leaving school. He also wanted to know if I had been following the discussions about global warming in the papers and was as worried as he was by what he called the irresponsible science issuing from some world capitals"

She paused as if to gather her thoughts, or to just take the deep breath that would see her through the rest of her story. "After a while he asked me if I knew a couple of other people who were active in environmental groups who might like to learn some information that they could put to good use. So we began to go over to his house at odd hours to try and shake off any potential tails. Judging by the outcome to date we haven't succeeded in doing much except getting our patron killed"

The silence that followed her little speech was exceptionally empty as we all sat with our own thoughts for a minute or two. Finally she broke it and in a rather choked voice looked at me, then over at her erstwhile companion, and asked the question whose answer I had come looking for. "What do we do now?"

September 7, 2006

Honey don't look he's schizophrenic!

There aren't many illnesses left that carry quite the stigma that mental health issues do. True it is now socially acceptable to go and see a psychiatrist, but even then that's only for something safe called analysis. Once a week you go to the doctor and complain about how awful your life is and he or she sit there and take notes.

In some circles it has become almost a status symbol or a badge of distinction to say, "Oh yes I'm in therapy" They might not be able to tell you exactly why, or if it's done them any good, it's just one more thing to do in a week. To be fair more and more people are seeking professional help for dealing with the ever-increasing amounts of stress that seems to be a prerequisite of living in today's society.

Depression and anxiety are no longer considered "abnormal" as nearly one in four people are now being medicated for one or the other. Hell when the big drug companies are taking out television adse and buying up miles of page space in attempts to sell you the latest be happy pill you know that whatever it is they are for is pretty damn mainstream.

It's when you begin to deviate away from the "normal" abnormalities that the looks start. The slightly fixed smile and the freezing of facial muscles are usually accompanied by a shifting of body weight onto the back foot so in case you start frothing at the mouth or acting in any manner that might be construed as dangerous, they can execute a quick get – a-way.

There's nothing quite like the words bi-polar or schizophrenia to bring a conversation to a complete and stuttering halt You ever want a little personal space in a crowded room all you have to do is work sentences like "my doctor says I'm in a bit of a manic phase right now, but he's hoping the adjustment to my meds will enable me to cope." Grin a little wildly and add a touch of mania to your eyes and you'll find yourself alone in the middle of the room in no time flat.

People with schizophrenia or diagnosed with bi-polar become immediate pariahs to those who were their friends and even some members of their families. If you had any decency at all you would go off and get yourself put away in a mental home and not be such a burden on your friends and family. They'd all be more than willing to help you commit yourself – for your own good of course – if you would only come to your senses and do the right thing.

The convenience of you being shut away is of course all theirs; out of sight and out of mind is how most people would prefer sick relatives or friends. But that sort of behaviour is almost bearable when compared to the abuse some patients are subjected too. Far too often it is family causing the abuse, aided and abetted by the complicity of a society that doesn't care.

When a person suffers from a mental illness one of the assumptions society is quick to make is that no matter the severity of their disease, their ability to assess circumstances has been reduced. When they are living at home and their primary caregiver is a parent, anything the patient says is judged against the parent's description of the same circumstances. A parent could be stealing from his or her own child, be caught and accused by the child but nothing will happen. All the so-called caregiver has to do is suggest the child was off his or her meds for a day or two – and everything the client says is immediately suspect, and will be passed off as paranoid delusions.

Let the child become angry and try to stand up to their parent, and it will be suggested that the patient is becoming dangerous and hard to manage, and the doctor's will up the patient's medication. Let me give you an example of this sort of thing in action.

My wife and I have a friend who is his early thirties. Five years ago he was headed for a nervous breakdown due to stress and other factors. Instead of his mother trying to get him treated for the obvious stress he was undergoing she convinced him he needed to commit himself to a psychiatric ward in the local hospital. While he was there they diagnosed him as schizophrenic.

Since his release from the hospital he has been living with his mother and she has been making his life miserable and he has not a single means at his disposal for resisting. At any time she can arrange a competency hearing that could see him declared incompetent and lose what little say he does have in his life. On a whim she can decide that he's not allowed to have friends or leave the apartment unless it is run errands for her.

Even though she is reaping enormous benefits from his living with her, she continues to act like she is the ultimate martyr and he owes her for all the sacrifices she's made. The truth is that she owes him for quite a bit, the least of which is a guarantee that half her rent is paid for each month by the government of Ontario through our friend's disability pension.

There is also the slight matter that is only paying 30% of the listed rent of "her" apartment because our friend ensures she is entitled to a two bedroom geared to income unit when under normal circumstances she would have had to settle for a single room apartment. So it to her advantage that he continues to think of himself as dependant on her and that he's not capable of surviving a day on his own.

Towards that end, she continually insults him, runs him down to others when he is present, and talks about him in the third person when he is in the same room. Whenever he becomes friends with anyone who encourages him to take pride in himself and his accomplishments she demands that he stop seeing them.

The poor man is so frightened of her and how she can make his life a living hell that he always goes along with what she tells him to do. Like so many other mental health patients he has no one he thinks he can turn to for help and is trapped in a situation where he doesn't have a chance of getting any better.

He is not alone in these types of circumstances. The particulars might be different in each set of circumstances, but the end result is usually the same. There are advocacy groups for mental health patients, but they have to know that they exist before they can contact them. Even if someone manages to establish a contact for him to one of those groups, the patient has to want to change his or her circumstances. In some instances they just feel too frightened to do anything any more.

When a patient is diagnosed with schizophrenia there is no monitoring of their situation done other then a semi annual check up with psychiatric personal to ensure their medication is still working. They are not given access to any ongoing therapy to help them cope with any problems they may be having and are either left to their own devices or the tender mercies of their care givers.

The medical profession makes very little effort to help those patients suffering from schizophrenia once they are released back into the community. Perhaps if there were a more concentrated effort on everyone's part; government, advocates and medical profession this could be changed. Until then people like my friend will be subject to a living hell.

September 3, 2006

Canadian Politics: The Case Of The Missing Kyoto Accord Part 5

So I admit it, I'm a sucker for a woman in distress. It doesn't hurt that when she says my name it sound like a caress or that four foot nine of her five feet seven are legs. Those are just what we call fringe benefits in this line of work. Sort of like free drinks at a bar, or a discount on a sandwich for work done in the past.

So it was pretty much a no-brainer that when that husky voice, made even huskier by tears, washed over my ear I'd be saying yes to doing anything Ms. Magnesen wanted. If it means ferreting around in the muck of the quagmire that we call politics in Canada then that's what I'll be doing.

Lucy's voice sounded a bit calmer, less full of tears when she called me as agreed the next morning. If we were going to get to the bottom of this whole mess there was no time like the present to begin. I was hopping that she would be able to give me some clues, names of any of the Greenpeace and granola types that had been hanging out with her dad in those last days, would be a good place to start.

Unfortunately she couldn't remember any more details about them that morning then in our previous conversation. It looked I'd be getting on a lot closer terms with soy burgers, herbal teas and hemp shirts than what I'd consider good for a man's soul. But those are the sacrifices you have to be prepared to make for the job.

I'm sure you've noticed how groups tend to congregate into a geographical centre of activities, and the granola rollers are no different. In Ottawa they have taken over a couple of square blocks of what used to be the red light district until the girls got wise and moved out to where all the Embassies are and can now get work as escorts and blackmail material. (usually one and the same thing in the Embassy district)

In the end it meant another nice seedy neighbourhood falling victim to the let's improve the downtown core so people from the suburbs want to come here mentality. It's that type of thinking that has ruined more areas in this city then you can shake a by-law exemption on zoning laws at. The first signs of trouble are when the adventurous ones in their S.U.V.'s and Dockers start showing up in your favourite greasy spoon.

Then it's only a matter of time before they're telling their friends about this "place". The next thing you know there's a Starbucks on one corner, a health food store on another, a new age book store on the third and one of those shops that don't really sell anything in particular but whatever it is they do sell it's for quite a bit of money.

The people I wanted to talk to weren't going to be among that crowd; none of them would be caught dead driving anything powered by anything other than their own leg muscles, eating in a greasy spoon, or, if they drank coffee at all, sitting in a Starbucks. They'd be the ones you see working in the health food stores, or the whole earth type eateries that spring up like boils in these new neighbourhoods

You know the type; never smiling, with a pasty grey complexion from not eating enough protein who drift around filling the bulk bins at the health food stores. Or being your surly wait staff at the new eatery that displaced the greasy spoon within weeks of gentrification. They seem to take some sort of grim satisfaction in watching people pretending to enjoy their tasteless lentil and ground nut burgers or making bulk purchases of certified organic brown basmati rice.

The only time they're known to smile is when some pathetic soul tries to order something that gives them an excuse to for the "lecture". It comes in four standard forms; the evils of globalization, the evils of eating meat, the evils of trans fats and other unhealthy by-products of processed foods, and the evils found in tap water and the air we breath.

The latter they seem to take special delight in listing while people are trying to eat lunch. Nothing like a graphic description of the effects of P.C.B.'s on a person's liver to turn you off your lentil and beetroot tofu omelette. Lucy had wanted to come with me on the grounds that she might be able to recognise one of the people who was visiting her father, but I told her that it wasn't necessary for the two of us to suffer, and besides Ididn't know what danger we could be walking into.

So far all that I had risked was doing some sort of permanent damage to both my intestinal tract and any goodwill I might have towards my fellow humans. I remember reading about the Puritans back in history class somewhere and how they were dour folk who didn't believe in frivolity or fun of any kind. But compared to these environmental martyrs those guys would have been a laugh riot.

For all that I still was no further ahead before I walked into this ring of hell that Dante seems to have forgotten to describe. There was only one store that I hadn't been in yet and I didn't hold out much hope of finding anything there. Factual information and New Age bookstores aren't normally to be found within the same orbit, but as the saying goes no turn un-stoned. I've learned never to discard anything as a potential source of information.

Compared to the rest of the places I'd been in my tour through the pits of despair this was a fountain joy. Bright light, and no smell of rotting vegetation made an immediate improvement in my mood, which was only augmented by the smile and plunging neckline behind the counter. As they were accompanied by a pretty face and a cheery voice asking me if there was anything she could do for me, it almost made the day's efforts worthwhile.

Leaning casually on the counter, trying not to be distracted by what happened whenever she inhaled, I quickly spun the tale I had come up with to cover my real intent. My daughter was doing a school project on global warming and needed to find out more information about the Kyoto Accord. Did she happen to know anyone or could she recommend any good books that a single dad could get for his pride and joy to help her fulfill her dream of becoming an environmental scientist?

As soon as I mentioned the words Kyoto Accord I couldn't help notice an increased agitation in her breathing, how her smile had become a little more fixed, and a look had entered into her eyes that could only be fear. Pressing home what seemed to be an advantage I said surely amongst some of these books there must be something about global warming and the Kyoto Accord.

She was a lousy liar, that pretty little New Ager, and she knew it. But she bite her lip and said no, that wasn’t the type of book they sold here. She then made a show of catching site of the time, and making her excuses about needing to see a doctor she hustled me from the store so she could close up for her appointment.

I quickly took up station in the doorway of a store a half block down; there was no way I was going to let my little bird fly without following her. If my guess was right she was the lead I had suffered lentil burgers for and all I would have to do was follow her to where I needed to be led.

Sure enough she came out of the store a minute later. After locking the door she gave the street the quick once over and began to walk briskly away from the store and me. I let her get a half block away from the store before I began to follow her. She was wearing a very distinctly coloured poncho with some sort of bird on it's back that made her easy to follow so I wasn't worried about losing contact with her.

At one point she dashed into a store for a couple of moments and when she came back out she had added a headscarf to her ensemble. If that were meant to fool anyone who was possibly trailing her she was in for a surprise. Not even the R.C.M.P. would be thrown by such a simple deception. I was being careful to keep well back from her so there was no chance of her catching a glimpse of my face or recognising me by some other means, so I almost missed it when she turned off the main road.

When I got to where she exited stage right it turned out to be a dead-end alleyway with nobody in sight. As my eyes adjusted to the gloom I noticed a couple of doors in each wall. They were made of identical plain materials, banded with metal; obviously fire doors from the old days when the buildings were first constructed.

It was probably that momentary feeling of being nonplussed that distracted me enough that I didn't notice anyone behind me until I felt the first touch on the back of my head of whatever it was they used to knock me out. I can only assume that I fell like a ton of bricks because that's what you normally do under the circumstances.

August 6, 2006

Canadian Poltics: The Case Of The Vanishing Kyoto Accord

It only took me until noon to decide that I wasn't going to like Monday that week, which usually meant that the rest of the week lay stretched out in front of me as invitingly as a three day old corpse in July on the slab. August in Ottawa was so putrid with humidity that even the politicians have fled the luxury of their expense account lives and mistresses to return to the loving arms of family and constituents.

Obviously that meant a drastic improvement in the air quality for those of us still here. Talk about global warming and the release of dangerous emissions all you want, there's nothing that can compete with the Canadian House of Commons for being a source of C02 and, dependant on what was on the menu at the Commons Cafeteria, other noxious fumes.

I was sitting by the one window in the office that could open with a fan blowing, hoping to capture something cooling from the oozing fetidness that passes for a breeze at this time of year. Damn it, I thought, this is ridiculous. We're in the capital city with coldest mean temperature of any country's seat of power. Moscow may have slightly longer winters, and may even get days colder than Ottawa's coldest, but on average we take the cake.

I had entered into that pre heat stroke daze of semi consciences when the sounds of the phone ringing and someone rapping at the door nearly stopped my heart for good. Unpeeling myself from the back of the chair was a matter moments and allowed me to reach the phone within ten rings and yell to the door "Hold your horses". If I had hoped that standing at the phone would give me time to get what felt like a yard of cotton out of my butt cleavage, I was sorely disappointed.

The voice on the other end of the phone was succinct and to the point. "Where has all the water gone?" was followed by a renewal of the dial tone. Swearing under my breath at phone pranksters abusing old song lyrics I really wasn't prepared for what was waiting behind the door. Considering the circumstances I think my reaction was within reason.

She had to be about 5'9" and her three-inch heels only added to the illusion that her legs went up to her chin. Which should have been physically impossible given what lay between the waist and the long swan-like neck, but go figure. Human anatomy has never been my strong suit, but I could see that she would be a wonderful textbook if I ever decided to broaden my horizons and open my mind to new areas of learning.

I could tell any hopes that I may have had of leafing her pages were minimized by the "Holy Fuck' that had slipped out of my mouth on opening the door. The part of my brain that still functioned realized the longer I stayed there gaping like some slack jawed inbred was reducing the chances of me even getting a peek inside the cover. Even so it took a loud throat clearing on her part to get me to come around

Still not trusting myself to speak I stood aside and bowed her ever so slightly into the room indicating the chair directly across my desk from my own. Following her back across the room I was reminded of why I had put the desk at the point in the room furthest from the door. Of course it didn't do my equilibrium any good, so by the time we sat facing each other across a span of pine veneer, I was quite ready to jump out the window if she demanded.

She looked at me and shook her head slightly, which had the effect of making her ash brown hair float halo like around her face. "All you guys are the same aren't you," she said piercing me with the ice chips that were her steel grey eyes. I all of sudden felt pinned to the back of my chair like a butterfly under glass.

After three false tries I managed to get my voice to squeak out " What brings you here today, Miss, what can I do for you?" Instead of the hoped for steady and reassuring voice that was normally at my disposal, I sounded like I had small cricket in my throat.

She looked at me with a grim little smile that implied she didn't think there was much of anything that I'd be able to help her with, but her options were limited. "First of all it's Mrs. not Miss, Ms. or anything implying availability of any kind what so ever." She paused to see what kind of effect that might have on me. Since I was still too numb to do anything but sit and nod blanked faced, there was nothing to indicate how much or little impact her being married might have effected me.

With a purse of her lips, which could have expressed some mild disappointment in reaction to my seemingly nonchalant attitude about her place on the open market she began to talk again. It turns out this drop dead gorgeous woman is in fact a professor of Marine Biology specializing in ecosystems and other words that just were too many syllables for a day like this.

She talked about a lot of things that didn't make any sense but a picture started to evolve of something terrible happening. The average mean temperature was rising around the world by a degree or so a year, and had been for the last ten year or so. Sure it meant warmer winters, but that meant less snow, which meant less spring melt.

When the spring melt is reduced, the water table is reduced and the level in the rivers and lakes drops. The less ground water there is the lower the likelihood of rain which in turn depletes the water table and the lakes and rivers and so on. She stopped than and I looked at her in horror.

"If it's allowed to continue the climate will continue to change and we'll be living in a desert but worse. A dessert has its own natural ecosystem, but here if there is an enforced desert the first things to go will be the trees, followed by the shrubbery and then finally the smaller plants

Farm crops will be devastated and we will no longer be able to produce basics like corn and wheat in amounts sufficient for feeding ourselves. The animal life won't be able to adapt quickly enough as there won't be time for successful mutations to increase the gene pool and allow evolution to occur."

For the second time that day she had stunned me and left me sitting with my jaw agape. This couldn't be possible was my first thought, but it was of course, even during the ice break-up during the spring the Ottawa River failed to rise to the level it had achieved last year let alone any of the previous ones.

She watched me come to these realizations on my own before she continued, " What I need you to do is find out what happened to the Kyoto accord. Parliament had ratified it in the last administration, but now Steven Harper and his Conservative Party Of Canada have said they are going to renege on our country's commitments to meeting certain reductions in toxic emissions.

We think somebody got to him and is putting pressure on him to do this. There can be no other reason whatsoever to go back on a promise to the world. No one could be that inconsiderate or stupid without having a good reason."

She stopped again and looked straight into my eyes, those grey chips of ice had melted into something sad and scared. "Please find the Kyoto accord and bring it back. It wasn't the best solution in the world but it was the only one we had"

How could I say no to that?

July 28, 2006

NAFTA, The Environment, And You!

Back in the old days when the governments of North America were still negotiating the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) one of the major concerns raised by opponents of the deal was its environmental impact. The primary concern was that companies in one country might be forced to bend their environmental standards in order to compete with businesses working in an area with less stringent rules.

At the time, in these pre Kyoto accord days and greenhouse emission targets, it was primarily Canada and the United States concerned about whether Mexico's standards would be so slovenly that they would be able to produce products far cheaper than corporations in either of the two biggest players.

Environmentalists were concerned that there long, hard fought battles to regulate aspects of manufacturing that dealt with environmental impact would be for nought as companies slashed budgets in these "non-essential" areas, leading to a return of the bad old days. In an effort to appease both the business communities and the environmentalists a side deal was struck allowing for the creation of the Commission for Environmental Co-operation (CEC) to monitor how well environmental standards were being maintained.

It interesting to note how some things never change for business people, it doesn't matter whether they are dumping Mercury poisoning in the English River system in Northern Ontario as the Reed Paper mills did in the seventies, if it ensures they can compete with polluters elsewhere. The same arguments are being use against the reduction of smokestack emissions and other poisonous wastes into the air we breath, as a reason by the Bush government for not signing the Kyoto accord and the Harper government for reneging of Canada's signature.

We can't compete, they bleat like lost little sheep, we can't compete. What about all those countries that don't sign they say, we can't compete. That argument is as spurious as it selfish. First of all for any country outside of North America who doesn't sign on the dotted line to abide by the Kyoto accord, slap them with such huge tariffs that our borders would be effectively closed to them. Watch how quickly they'd sign on and fall into line.

Within North America the means for ensuring that all countries and companies are complying with the aims of the accord, and that everyone is suffering equally from having to pay for the one time retooling of their equipment exists. That's what the CEC was created for in the first place, right?

Well in theory yes, but in practice it seems not to be the case. First of all there is the matter of their budget. With the money they receive they are supposed to conduct investigations, hire staff, perform research, etc. etc. Activities that are going to run in double digit millions per annum are still being covered by the same $9million dollar budget they were given in the year they were established.

Although they were officially designated as an independent body, in reality they are very much controlled by the three countries party to the treaty. Aside from the 40% reduction in real spending power they have had to endure because of inflation and zero increases in budgets, they are dependant on the respective governments for the data they use in formulating their reports.

As an example, The Globe and Mail newspaper cites the instance of the report on environmental impact of the concrete industry. The information they used to compile their comparison between the American and Canadian industries was supplied by the respective governments, who in turn had been supplied by the industry in question.

So the governments, and everybody involved, are counting on the industry people to step up and say, "oh by the way we went way over the top last year and polluted like crazy – sorry about that". Even the CEC realizes that this makes their findings a little suspect and added an addendum to the report saying that it doesn't fall within there mandate to investigate the provenance or integrity of the information supplied for the report and findings should be judged accordingly. In other words take this side of fries with lots of salt.

It's conditions like this that have environmental specialist and University of Ottawa professor Stewart Elgie thinking the committee is next to useless because they are hamstrung by the governments they are supposed to be checking up on. Instead of being a watchdog he says they have become a house pet, implying they work only to the limits their masters allow.

The outgoing chair of the committee, with only a month left on the job, William Kennedy freely admits there are problems that make their job next to impossible. The primary reason for their inadequacy he says is down to the fact that they were created as window dressing to allay the fears of the public, not because any of the governments actually supported the idea of their creation.

They dare not open their mouths on greenhouse gasses, because the Bush administration would block them issuing the report because it doesn't follow their line of thinking. It's probably safe to say given Steven Harper's decision to ignore parliament ratifying the Kyoto accord that the current administration in Canada would be of the same mindset.

The CEC already ran into hot water when they were able to commission a report on the dangers to Mexico of genetically modified corn. Although the report was written by some of the world's leading agricultural scientists, it's recommendation that a cautious approach be taken so as to preserve wild strains of corn in Mexico, was denounced as fundamentally flawed and scientifically unsound by the Bush administration.

That the American food industry is anxiously trying to sell genetically altered products in markets all over the world wouldn't have anything to do with that reaction would it? With most of the world's markets already resistant to the idea, a bunch of disagreeable scientists could only make matters worse by clouding the issue with facts that seem to offer support for their position.

NAFTA was designed to allow the businesses and people of all three countries freer and greater access to each other's markets. In theory this was supposed to allow the manufacturing and resource industries of each country to flourish, but in practice has fallen far short of that objective.

Never has it been harder for people from Mexico and Canada to cross the border into the United States, especially if they are looking for employment. Canada and America have been locked in a bitter dispute over duty that the Americans have been collecting on softwood lumber being sold by Canadian companies in the U.S. for close to five years now.

Instead of the intended result of countries thinking in terms of one big happy business community working together to strengthen the economy of North America as a whole, more then ten years after the signing of the pact everybody is still as protectionist as before. Is it any wonder that their environmental watchdog pretty much reflects that outlook?

It just wouldn't do, now would it, for one country to admit that they are actually polluting more then their counterparts in another country or that one of their businesses practice's could be detrimental to another county's welfare. The environmental business of our businesses is nobody's business but ours has become the official environmental policy of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In the meantime instead of studying the impact of 145,100 tonnes (metric) of cancer causing materials into the atmosphere on the health of children, the CEC concentrates on providing reports that their sponsoring governments can really support: energy-efficient buildings. According to Mr. Kennedy there's a lot of support for it and that the agency has got a real winner with it.

If that's the winner, whose the loser?

July 27, 2006

Oak Trees: Link To The Past

I have a couple of tattoos that circumvent my forearms. On each arm are two stylized dragonheads accompanied by leafs of a specific tree; the left arm has Holly leaves while the right acorns and a solitary Oak leaf. In the old beliefs of the British Isles, long before the Romans came, it is thought that the year was divided up amongst the reigns of two kings: The Oak King and The Holly King.

One king represented the period of growth and fertility and the other the period when the land was cold and sterile. Symbolically they can be interpreted, in probably a million ways, but I like to think of them as representing the two halves of the creative process: a period of dormancy for introspection and a period of fertile creativity.

While the Holy tree has been retained in our modern celebration of Christmas as a nod to the pagan past, the Oak was not granted the same leniency. Since so many of the pre-Christian rituals involved sacred groves of Oak trees, the church had many groves of Oak destroyed in an attempt to eradicate the practices of its predecessor.

While the Oak may not have the ritual significance it once did, its effect on people cannot be denied. Who can truthfully say that they have not been moved by the sight of an Oak standing solitary sentinel in some farmer's field? Why is it that even to this day we are moved by stories of Oak trees, and that some individuals have even grown to have mythic status beyond what would normally be associated with a tree.
0-Robin's Oak
In England, just outside the town of Nottingham lies arguably one of the most famous forests in the English-speaking world, Sherwood. Within Sherwood Forest is a venerable old tree that is referred to as "Robin's Oak", in reference to the forest's most infamous inhabitant.

That both Robin Hood and the tree existed is true enough, but the tree's reputation for being his hideout in the woods unfortunately does not stand up to close examination. Although the tree is currently hollow enough for people to move around inside and even take shelter, it is at most only a thousand years old.

So even if "Robin's Oak" was around at the same time as the outlaw, it would have been a mere hundred year old sapling, living and vibrant. Remember, hollowness is a sign of age and death in a tree, not a convenience for human's to take shelter. If the tree had been dying in the 1100's, it would long ago have turned to mulch on the floor of Sherwood Forest.
Windsor Oak
In the grounds surrounding Windsor Castle, Windsor Park, in the Thames Valley outside of London, stands a solitary Oak tree of equal if not more years than its counterpart in the North. It is known simply as Herne's Oak, although there is nothing simple about Herne The Hunter and the Wild Hunt that he leads across the skies on the eve of the Twelfth Night of midwinter. Herne has the body of a man, the beak, of an owl, the antlers of a stag and the ears of a wolf and he rides on the back of a white horse accompanied by his pack of white skinned, and red eyed Yell Hounds.

Twelfth night used to mark the turning of the year for the peoples of England. Twelve days prior had been Midwinter, marking the return of the Sun after the longest period of darkness in the running of the year, December 21st. On the eve of Twelfth Night The Wild Hunt was said to ride the skies looking for prey, which was anyone foolish enough to be out on that evening. Farmers would make sure that all livestock was safely in on that night or they could awake the next morning and find themselves short a few head of cattle or sheep.

Herne was a force of nature, answerable to no one save himself, and was said to reside in the Oak tree in Windsor park. He would serve as a reminder to the people that nature is impartial to them, their needs and desires, doing what it must when it must. Although the longest night of the year may have passed, the worst of winter could still be yet to come.

I was reminded of Oak trees again today when reading through the morning paper full of war and horror I came across this one article in The Globe and Mail about one an older Oak tree in Canada and what steps were being taken to preserve it.
.Papineau Oak tree
About one hundred kilometres (80 miles) outside of Montreal in Montebello Quebec is the former residence of Louis –Joseph Papineau. Papineau was the leader of an uprising in 1837 in Lower Canada (Quebec) that demanded representational government for the colonies. Upper (Ontario) and Lower Canada were ruled by an appointed Governor General and a few wealthy individuals. Due to their nepotistic nature they were known derisively as The Family Compact.

Papineau's attempt at change was a failure and he and other leaders were forced to flee to the Untied States where they spent ten or so year in exile. When he returned to Quebec in 1845 he set to establishing his home in Montebello and it was while having the lands cleared for it's building he preserved this solitary Oak to give his home a sense of history.

Today, 170 years later, the tree is beginning to suffer from symptoms of old age and is need of assistance. Parks Canada (The supervisors of all national parks and historical sites in Canada) sought out the help of an arborist to try and devise a means of preserving the three hundred plus year old tree.

Today, just like some of its older relatives in Europe the Papineau Oak is on crutches. Three props, one ten meters and two six meters, are now being used to help support the weight of the lower branches. Parks Canada is hopeful that this will be sufficient to ensure that the tree outlives the rest of us.

Near the beginning of this post I wondered what it is about Oak trees that makes them appeal to so many people. While some, like me have specific reasons for being attracted to Oak trees; I think the fact that they are so old gives them a certain romantic appeal. You can stand in Sherwood Forest and say Robin Hood walked by that tree. Or you can visit The Chapel Oak of Allouville-Bellefosse in Normandy, France that is two chapels built inside the hollow core of a nearly 800-year-old tree and think of the pilgrims over the years who have worshiped in the shrine.

In this highly impermanent world that we are living in now, the Oak tree is a sign of strength and endurance in the face of all that the world and nature has to throw against it. Perhaps we look to it as an example to help us carry on in the face of so much strife. Or maybe it's just because they make such nice places to have picnics under, with lots of shade.

Either way Oak trees have endured over the centuries, and continue to fascinate and amaze us. They may not be part of any organized religion, but that doesn't seem to have stopped us from doing them honour.

July 23, 2006

Radio Frequency Identification: Privacy's Last Gasp

I'm sure most of us have heard of the fascinating new industry that's sprung up like a weed as an offshoot of our advances in technology: Data mining. In a nutshell it involves the collection and dissemination of information about individuals for any use that anybody can think of.

From governments conducting censuses to businesses trying to develop profiles of the people most likely to buy their product, raw information about you concerning everything from your preference in toilet paper to how many sheets you use when you wipe is all grist for their mills. If you use three sheets now, Procter and Gamble want to know if you'd be more willing to by a product if you could do the same job with only two sheets, or would you be willing to use four if it were softer?

While most of us don't even think like that, it's those types of questions that plague the minds of the product development folk at big corporations and their marketing departments. Anything and everything they can find out about you will help them build a better picture of how they can get you to buy their products.

Information has become the hottest commodity on the market these days, and it's not just being put to so called innocent use by the corporations and advertising firms Everybody from private insurance companies, mortgage brokers, and credit agencies has ways they can make use of that data.

Do you order a large amount of pizza on your credit card, or buy a lot of groceries with a high fat content? Well don't be surprised if the next time your health insurance premiums come up for renewal that they either increase or you are turned down because you represent too great a risk because of possible cardiac problems.

You think I'm exaggerating, well I wish I were but according to this article in the Globe and Mail newspaper it's already happening in the United States. A chain of grocery stores in New England has developed software that generates a dietary profile of each of its shoppers based on their grocery purchases. In order to help cover the costs of developing the programme they have sold these profiles to organizations wanting to know which of their clients has brought their ill health on themselves through bad diet so they can cut them off from coverage.

The villain behind all this is something that's actually been around for quite a while but is only just being utilized to maximum effect. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is small, silent and can be utilized everywhere. Procter and Gamble want to install a chip in your fridge so they can monitor what foods you buy, NCR is installing small screens in shopping carts in grocery stores that will run ads complementing the product you just tossed in the cart, BellSouth has applied for the patent to rummage through your garbage so they can see which chips you threw out so they can sell that list to marketing firms, and finally Pfizer is keeping track on how many Viagra you take and when, through chips in the packaging.

Of course the larger implications for RFID use lie in security issues. I.B.M. currently holds the patent for building RFID peephole in walls and ceilings of public places where they will be able to peek into your purse, pocket and wallet. The chip is being installed in ID cards, like the new American national ID card currently on order and passports that are tagged at the borders.

The fact that data is being collected in ways we can't even imagine is scary enough as it is, but what's even scarier are the implications of what that data could be utilized for. Like the example of the New England grocery chain selling its client information to insurance companies, what's to stop any and all information changing hands from supposedly innocent users like marketing companies, to those who will use it to create some sort of profile of you for insurance reasons or establishing credit.

Finally, it comes down to what gives them the right to gather this information in the first place. This is information akin to that gathered by a wiretap as far as I'm concerned and should be subject to the same rules and regulations. What gives any business the right to know about my eating habits, just on the off chance that they might be able to sell me a product?

A government wants to spy on a person, fine, ask the courts permission like you would in the case of a wire tap and you can than plant RFID devices all over their body. If you're going to have RFID devices in public places monitoring people's activity; which is understandable in these strange times, make damn sure you draw up really tight regulations governing how the information it produces is used and who has access to it.

There is also the question of disposal of the information gathered. What will happen to the literally miles and miles of data that is accumulated? Is it going to be stored somewhere or will it be deleted as soon as it's found to be of no use to anyone?

Radio frequencies can be monitored by anybody, and this technology is highly susceptible to being hacked according to engineers at John Hopkins University, with it only becoming even more vulnerable when they enable the tags to be read from a distance. What kind of guarantees are there that personal information like medical records aren't being lifted and then sold to the highest bidder. Maybe it's naïve to believe that sort of activity doesn't occur already, but this will make it even easier for people to access that information in the future.

A few years back when Benetton found out that consumers don't like being spied on they were forced to recall millions of garments that had RFID chips installed in them. Other companies in Europe have been forced to back down in the face of consumer outrage, so you can make a difference. In the above cases people simply refused to buy products from Gillette and the other companies involved with making use of the chip until they said they had removed them.

But it seems like North Americans, in spite of all our claims to be freedom loving, have no problems giving up their freedom of privacy at the drop of the hat. The governments have plenty of means of collecting information about all of us already, all of which are regulated by laws to protect you from them. RFID is no different from things like wiretaps, telephoto lenses and long-range microphones that are employed to infringe on your privacy now.

I see little or no justification for corporations like Proctor and Gamble to be accumulating personal information on individuals in the name of making sure we see the right commercial at the right time. As these new information technologies get more and more sophisticated it's up to the public to decide whether or not they are willing to allow their personal habits to be public knowledge.

The industry claims that regulations will develop and the technology use expands. To me that is akin to closing the barn door after the animals have escaped. Now's the time to tell them what we will and will not allow them to collect and what we will allow them to do with that information. You have the right to privacy, demand that it is respected.

July 18, 2006

Ain't No Pill For Memories

Being held captive by the past through your own memories is a horrible existence. Whether you are constantly reliving events through flashbacks, or simply haunted by occurrences from long ago, they can impede your health and happiness. Memories can repeatedly traumatise a survivor of a horrendous event and are a cause of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Psychiatrists, therapists, and councillors work to help patients suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome by reducing the amount of influence memories have on their current situation. If the memories can be put into their proper context so that they are simply reminders of the past, than a survivor is able to accept that the events remembered aren't happening today and increases their sense of well being.

Conventional means of doing this currently involve varying methods of processing the memories and desensitizing the survivor to the depicted events. One of the newer and more successful means employed is Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, better known as E.M.D.R..

In E.M.D.R. a client is asked to visualize a memory and place themselves in it. On a scale of one to ten they then define how upset this memory makes them feel, what emotions they are experiencing, and where do the emotions physically manifest in their body. A light hypnotic type trance is then induced either utilizing rapid eye movement, an alternating pulse in the palms of the hands, or an alternating tone in the ears.

It usually depends on the individual client as to what is the most effective method as different people respond better to different stimuli. Once the patient has settled into the memory the doctor than talks them through the memory, having them tell the story as it is happening to them.

The theory is that instead of simply reliving the event and re experiencing the trauma, this controlled situation allows them to step away from participating and begin to deal with the emotions that were generated by the circumstances. For example people who have survived a situation where other's have died, will often feel guilt because of that and not be able to break free from those moments until they have dealt with that emotion.

The trauma won't be forgotten, but it won't be constantly relieved either, the person can get on with their life and live without the dominant negative emotions that the flashbacks invoked. While E.M.D.R. does involve working directly with the memory it does not utilize desensitization to the extent of other forms of therapy. Some literally have the patient relive the moment over and over again until they no longer feel the same initial intensity of reaction

The client will make a tape recording of their voice recounting what happened, and this will be utilized for the desensitizing process. This tape will be played repeatedly to the client during their sessions with the doctor until it loses all meaning to them. It is hoped that on some level or another the client will cease to be affected by the trauma because it will no longer have the same level of impact when thought about.

The human memory is an amazingly complex system that serves more than just the obvious purpose of letting us remember what to pick up at the grocery store. Memory and pain receptors share the same neurological paths in our brain, allowing the body to learn how to keep itself safe.

One of the more obvious examples of this is of course the child and the hot burner on a stove. A child touches the hot element of the stove, his hand tells him it hurts, his brain remembers the pain, and the next time the child goes to do the same thing he remembers the pain and will stop herself.

This connection between memory and pain is also responsible for the condition known as phantom limb. A person who has had a limb amputated will swear they can still feel either their toes or their fingers even though it may have been years after the surgery or accident that saw them lose that limb. The memory of it being there is imbedded so deeply that the mind is unable to forget its former presence.

Memory plays a role in other learned, but unconscious behaviours like breathing and other involuntary body systems. Some Alzheimer patients, or dementia sufferers of one kind or another, have died because they have literally forgotten how to breathe or swallow. (My father chocked to death on his saliva in his sleep because he forgot how to use those muscles)

With memory affecting so many different aspects of the body and its functions you'd think it would be the last place you'd want to start messing with. But somebody has come up with the bright idea of utilizing a pill to do the same work on flashbacks that existing therapies already do.

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal Canada have begun human trials utilizing the beta blocker propranolol, currently in use for treating high blood pressure, as a means of dampening an emotional reaction to an event. Patients were asked to write out their stories of trauma and were then given either the propranolol or a placebo.

It had already been discovered that administering the drug to patients who have recently experienced a trauma interferes with the transfer of memories from the part of the brain where they are experienced, the hippocampus, to that area where they are stored to come back as flashbacks, the cerebral cortex. What wasn't known was whether patients who had experienced a trauma years ago would receive the same benefits as those newly traumatised.

Since people who suffer from flashbacks relive the memory completely, the test cases who wrote their experiences out began to re–experience the emotional traumas all over again. In other words they had recreated a circumstance within themselves that closely matched those of a recently traumatised patient and should therefore be able to benefit from an immediate administration of the drug.

A week later the patients were called back to listen to a reading of their scripts. They were all monitored for anxiety symptoms, and an overall twenty percent reduction was noted and their trauma level was less elevated then the group who taken the placebo. This group is considered too small a sampling to provide an indication of how successful the treatment is, but the doctors involved feel that it is sufficient evidence to encourage them to keep investigating.

The doctors freely admit they have no idea what amount of risk the patients face in the dampening of other memories. Will happy memories be affected, or will it just be the memory that is foremost in the mind at the time the script is being written. It's obvious a person just can't take the drug and the emotional impact of their bad memories will decrease. They have to be in a controlled situation where they are administered the drug while at the height of the emotional experience for it to have any effect at all.

Now at first blush this sounds like it might be something useful. It's not doing anything like erasing memories, just easing their emotional impact. But I can see two problems, one obvious and one that has more to do with long term treatment implications for a patient.

The obvious hesitation is nobody can have any idea what other affects this drug utilized in this manner could be having on the memory. If a patient only experiences minor improvement the first time and elects to continue the drug therapy, what will the cumulative effect on the memory be?

Everybody is so different when it comes to our emotional and psychological makeup that it could be almost impossible to make a generalized prediction on how people will react to it. There would be no way to guarantee there won't be contradictions for those taking the drug.

Aside from those concerns there is the problem of the steps it omits from a patients recovery process. Especially for those patients whose trauma was such that it has caused deep-seated emotional problems and behavioural abnormalities an essential part of dealing with these memories is coming to an understanding on how they have impacted on our present day behaviour.

I have been undergoing E.M.D.R. therapy for the past year or so in an effort to mitigate the damages of extensive childhood sexual abuse. Each time my therapist and I have dealt with a specific memory or flashback, the process of working through it has uncovered clues to why I am a certain way, or where behaviours come from.

By understanding these ways of being are reactions to events in the past I have learnt to recognize that they are no longer appropriate to my situation and can safely discard them. As long as I was experiencing the memories of being raped, part of me would still believe that I still needed to act like those were my circumstances. It has only been by working through the memories that I have been able to change that mindset.

If at some point a patient is just given this drug to diminish the memories but does nothing to process the information, they are only doing half the work required for a full recovery. You won't know how these memories have affected your day-to-day existence if you just walk away from them. You are still the same person who was experiencing the flashbacks and really no further ahead then before you took the drug.

There are no shortcuts to mental and emotional health, and I worry that a pill like this will tempt people into believing that they will be able to solve all the problems caused by traumas in their past just by taking it once or twice. That is an unrealistic and false expectation (and hope) to be giving people.

July 15, 2006

Natural Selection: Still Going Strong

For me there has always been a huge flaw in the arguments condemning Natural Selection, the fact that it works. You can talk all you want about Creationism, or Intelligent Design, but Natural Selection is based on plain and simple observation of nature at work.

So many times the argument you hear from people is that "I'm not descended from some monkey, God made me." which has little or nothing to do with Natural Selection. Even if it turns out that a Creator was involved with the design of the human species millions of years ago, it has nothing to do with whether Natural Selection as a process works or not.

For those of you who missed grade ten biology I'll give you a little summary of how evolution works, okay. The first thing you have to realize is that it's all about genetics and errors in genetic code called mutations. Now don't go confusing mutation with the Marval comic's title The X-Men version of mutants, because in nature a mutation can be something as subtle as a colour change in feathers or fur.

Mutations occur all the time in all species, usually they have little or no impact on that species and the strain dies out because the carrier of that new genetic code doesn't survive, doesn't mate, or its progeny don't make it. But once in a while a genetic variation comes along that is able to do better in the environment it finds itself in than other members of its species.

Whether collecting food or hiding from predators its deviation or mutation gives it a better shot at surviving and when it breeds that gene is passed along to some of its offspring who in turn… well you get the picture. As this happens the members of the species who lack the mutation that either keeps them safer or allows them to eat different foods, start to die out because they can't compete and gradually that gene pool is effectively eliminated as the dominate one; hence the saying Survival of the Fittest.

More or less that was the theory Darwin put forward after his infamous voyage on the HMS Beagle took him to the Galapagos Islands. Darwin's wasn't the only theory of evolution to come out of the 19th century. Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarc proposed that animals would evolve because of their surroundings and that genetic changes would occur as they attempted to adapt to what was around them.

Unfortunately this theory doesn't stand up to close examination; what it implies is that a species notes a more efficient way of surviving and is able to change its genetic code at will. If this were the case don't you think humans would have grown an extra set of hands by now? How many times have you needed that in a multitude of situations.

As anybody who has studied evolution knows Darwin came up with his ideas based upon his observations of the different species of Finch on the Galapagos Islands. As he travelled from island to island he made note of the different styles of beak that individual species had, and how they were particularly suited to the food source available to them. As the concept of evolution wasn't a new thing, ancient Greeks and Indian scholars had written on the subject, he had a body of knowledge upon which he could base his theroms.

It's interesting to note that the big dispute about evolution in the 19th and early 20th century did not revolve around whether it existed or not, but whether it was caused by, as Darwin postualted hereditary means, or as Lemark said, adaptive means. As research into genetics grow more sophisticated, including discovery of D.N.A. it's become more and more obvious that Darwin's theory of inheritated characteristics caused by mutations is the correct explanation for evolution.

In the last little while there have been renewed attacks on the theory of evolution by religious people who don't want to accept that anything but the hand of God could have gone into the making of the world. They call themselves Creationists for the obvious reason that they believe everything was created by God.

A third alternative, Intelligent Design has been offered up to explain evolution and other "unexplainalbe" natural occurances. Proponants of this theory claim that certain things are just to sophisticated to have occurred all on their lonsome and that there has have been some sort of intelligence behind those events.

Since they are deliberatly vague about the nature of the intelligence – mainly because they want to keep religion out of it so that it will be accepted as science – it could lead sceptics like myself to wonder what they mean by intelligence. To me these sound like people who aren't honest enough to admit they are Creationists, or embaressed by believing in God and are trying to make up science to justify their faith.

I have more respect for a Creationist because they are honest about who they are and what they believe in. Besides if you have to justify or prove faith, doesn't that contradict the whole idea of faith? Oh well I'll leave that for the theologists to fight over.

But just as all these theories are coming back into vogue at the expence of poor old Darwin, it looks like he's about to be rescued by his old buddies the finchs of the Galapagos Islands. It seems the little rascals went ahead and evolved again, while somebody was watching.

Peter Grant of Princeton Universtiy has been studying the Darwin Finches of the Galapagos Islands for decades and had recorded the effects on drought and other environmental changes on the populations.

From 1982 until the present he was able to watch a smaller species of ground finch evolve to cope with the intrustion of a larger species that was in direct competition for its food supply. The larger bird was able to consume the shared food supply at three times the speed of the original inhabitant of this particular island. When a drought hit in 2003 and 2004 further reducing food stocks and increasing competition, the only birds that survived form the island's original population were ones with a smaller beak that could eat a different seed.

They are now the dominant strain of that species because of the mutation that caused them to be born with a different beak. If that second, larger species of finch had never shown up on their island, that mutation would either have made no difference and died out because they could not eat the large seeds easily. Instead they were in a position to survive rather than die out because of their genetic difference.

Natural Selection at work, nature chose which was the version of the smaller bird that was more suitable for survival based on the circumstances at the time. A few years from now things may change again and a new mutation might be the one that becomes dominant. There is nothing evil or mysterious about evolution, Darwin, or Natural Selection. It's happening all the time all around you in many different species.

Most of the time it's far too subtle to make any difference, but sometimes, as in the case of the finchs of the Galapagos Islands, it ensures the survival of a species, in one form or another.

May 16, 2005

Public Environmental Enemy Number One: Human Beings

My attempt to maintain a listing of the worst environmental villains has failed miserably. As we are closing in on the three month anniversary of this blog (have you noticed that spell check doesn't recognize blog) I have devoted a grand total of two posts to the topic. Its not that I'm not fanatical about the topic, more that when I think about it I get completely overwhelmed. There are just so many to choose from I don't know where to start.

There's the American government sponsored by the oil industry raping the Alaskan wildlife preserve instead of investing those billions in developing alternative energy; the builders of subdivisions everywhere destroying land of all types to build butt ugly housing; the Big Three auto makers and their insistence on performance over efficiency; electrical suppliers returning to coal powered generators instead of enforcing conservation efforts. The list is endless.

But the real reason is that you can reduce the list down to one commonality that is painfully obvious. There is only one thing that drives all the different enemies, one desire. Fulfilling the needs of the consumer. Each of the aforementioned groups of people do what they do based on the demands placed on them by us. Human beings.

That's the painful truth. We can try and blame it on corporate greed, government indifference, or some other excuse, but if we were not compliant, or even worse, demanding of the services provided, there would be no need for them to deliver. As long as we demand the luxury of five bedroom houses for two people to live in, massive automobiles for no other purpose but to convey us to and from work, and conveniences to cool our air, trim our hedges, change our environment, and open our cans we create the raison d'être for all of these crimes.

By sitting at my computer at this time of day and writing this blog I have very little idea of how much demand I'm making on the system but at a guess I'd say there is the minimum of a light on to see with, the power to run my computer, to run my internet connection, to have the blog's server on to pick up post, and the power on in all the offices that are needed to be staffed to allow all of that to happen. That's just scratching the surface.

When it comes down to it there is really only one enemy of the environment and we are it. None of our actions do anything to recompense for what we take. We don't even make good fertilizer as corpses. Most other animals, minerals , plants etc. either give something back or are neutral. When was the last time you saw a rock use a hair dryer? Prey and predator serve a purpose, make a balance. If left alone most animal populations adjust themselves over time, or there is sufficient habitat to allow for one area to be abandoned in favour of another for a time to allow overgrazed areas to recover.

So called primitive tribal humans recognized this flaw in our make up and organized specific rites to remind themselves of their need for gratitude to the natural world. The "give-a-ways" and the "pot -latches" of native Americans were in recognition of the fact that we don't give anything back, that we have no integrated way of saying thank you. Even though those ceremonies did not actually give anything back in the physical sense they served as a reminder of our limitations so that we could govern ourselves accordingly.

Humans leave a massive "footprint" behind and do little or nothing to repair the damage. Whether strip mining pumice to make stone washed jeans and leaving the tailings to pollute the water table, clear cutting old growth forest and destroying thousands of species' habitats in order to build more housing modules, or refusing to practice sensible family planning in order to maintain sustainable levels of population, it all amounts to the same thing.

The ever continual population boom is probably the biggest contributor to the ill health of the planet. In the wild when a population booms one of three things happens, predators thin the herd, the food runs out and famine reduces the population to a sustainable level, or decease ravages the group. Since humans have no predators except themselves, we are mainly the victims of famine and decease of our own making. Each new virus that springs up, every new famine in the sub Sahara, are a direct or indirect result of our overpopulation.

We in the so called developed world have stood idly by for too long allowing the populations of the former colonies to be manipulated by the religious and political agenda of a minority. Under the guise of aid they ensure their morality is imposed upon populations that are suffering from the rapid mutation of viruses via the huge petrie dish of a large population weakened by starvation. A virus is like any species playing out its little evolutionary war, mutating to resist our medicines at an alarming rate. As far as a virus is concerned the more warm bodies to grow in the better. We must pressure bodies like the U.N. etc. to start handing out condoms instead of prayer books. If the world population is not brought under control soon, well, to put it succinctly we're f***ed.

The thing is that there is good news. It has been predicted that the upcoming generation of women in the developing world, with the advent of education and the opening up of options for a better life, will actually have less children then previous ones. But that has to be sustained over the long term, and we have to actively work to promote that lifestyle everywhere. There is no way this world can hope to support the over 5 billion people on it for much longer. It's already cracking at the seams.

What had started out as a sort of neat idea to highlight the worst polluters or environmental offenders just sort of fizzled out as I whittled it down to the bare essentials. Sorry about that but sometimes looking in the mirror isn't pretty. Our species has been partying without caring for a while now, its time to deal with the hangover.

April 17, 2005

"The Lonely Blogger"/Enemy Of The Environment#2 Canola

Yep that's me "The Lonely Blogger" Maybe I never should have got a site meter and kept myself in blissful ignorance that there might be someone out there reading what I have to say. But being the masochist that I am I went out and installed one. Now each week I get an e mail which delineates my lack of traffic on a daily basis. Yep one whole hit a day, from my publishing page.

I've done all the right things you know to raise my profile. I've linked my blog with my web site, I've listed everything with Google search engines, I've used nifty catch phrases to catch the eyes of random browsers in the submitted descriptions. Hell I've even stooped to baiting the hook with celebrity names(I've written about Viggo Mortensen) But nothing. Zilch. Nada.

Maybe its all a hoax and there's no internet out there. You know we all sit at home posting our thoughts and photos and whatever and it goes nowhere. Nobody is actually able to travel or visit other pages? Nah, because no one could afford to perpetrate a hoax of that size. So it all comes back down to nobody visits my site. Lets be honest, who is going to visit the site of a unknown Canadian writer who hasn't published anything of note and writes really unpopular stuff.

Dissing the pope, suggesting banning private ownership of cars, pointing out what idiots we are in general. Probably not many out there want to read about how screwed up the world is, at least from my perspective. I bet I come across a some radical, long haired, iconoclastic crank. Hmm, well that's a pretty could description isn't it. Maybe I should change my blurb describing the blog to that. Rantings of a long haired iconoclast! Yeah that's the ticket to bring in the crowds. Finally the Throngs and Hoards will show up in their Multitudes. My site meter will go through the roof and I won't be able to keep up with the demand for request as a public speaker.

Oh well, maybe I'll just e mail links to some friends, and be happy with that.

The second member of my enemy list may at first glance seem a little strange and I should preface it with a mention that I do not hold it responsible, rather those who make use of it. Therefore I give you. Canola

This plant has brought about some of the worst agribusiness crimes of the last ten years. Responding to the suspiciously fast growth in popularity of canola as an ingredient in oil based products more and more land is being turned over to it's production. Where as plants such as soy, peanuts, and corn have multiple uses outside of oil and margarine as a food, canola seems primarily single purpose. Therefore land used for its growth is begin used to simply feed the profits of whatever company is producing the plant and not feed the people of the world.

Given the plethora of canola based margarine and cooking oils on the market it must be easy to produce and render, why else would there be so much of it. It leads me to suspect that the producers have created the market for it for that very reason. Its easy and inexpensive to produce, from the crop up, so as long as its insured that it becomes popular we can make a killing from. Ten years ago had you heard of canola? Did you care? All the claims about saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated fats aside(people were living long healthy lives before we knew about this stuff so I can't see what difference it really makes) there are really only two types of distinct cooking oils that I can see(aside from speciality items like sesame and almond) and that's vegetable and olive. In a blind taste test could you tell the difference between something cooked in sunflower, canola , Soya, corn or any other oil? Not me, well maybe peanut oil, but that's it.

So now the world is flooded with this stuff for no other reason then it will increase someone's profits, but the cost to us seems to be plenty. They actively encourage the use of pesticides in the growing of canola by creating a strain called "Roundup ready" which means the plant is immune to one of the most virulent poisons on the market. A grower is thus encouraged to spray entire crops with this stuff, safe in the knowledge that it will kill off everything but his precious canola. Has anybody checked out what the half life of this poison is. What happens to us when we consume it over a long period of time? What happens to the surrounding environment when it's sprayed and their is the least amount of wind that carries it past the boundaries of the farm? What happens to wildlife that eats seeds sprayed with this stuff, and then it works it way up through the food chain? What the hell are we doing? Didn't we learn from DDT? I guess not.

So here's what we got: ariable farm land being used up to grow a single crop being sprayed with a poison that will prevent anything else from growing, thus ensuring that only "roundup ready" canola can be planted on that field for who knows how long all to produce a vegetable oil. Do you think its worth it? I don't.

April 11, 2005

A Windows Bitch

My turn!

Yep probably everybody's done it but it's my turn. I use Windows 98, maybe Windows 98 2nd edition I'm not sure. The thieves I bought the system from gave me a manual with second edition on the cover covered over in black magic marker(you can still see it) and a disc with a date reflecting Windows 98. If anyone reads this and knows a quick easy way to tell the difference let me know. Everything everywhere says 98 but a friend gave me an update disk and there was no difference between what was on it and what is on my system. Going to Microsoft is no use because they've stopped differentiating, they just call everything Windows 98.(the pecker heads)(can I say that oh well too late I did already).

But that's not all. I've been cruising along for four years now and never had a problem with my dial up. Password saved etc just hit the connect button. Then yesterday morning for no discernible reason it all of sudden demanded a password be entered and the remember box had been grayed out. I spent two hours searching through the system trying to figure out how to fix this problem including running the so called troubleshooter for modems and ended up having less idea of what was going on then when I started. In the end I phoned my service provider who even though it wasn't their problem very nicely helped me out and got everything fixed up in two seconds. I hope it never happens again because I don't think I know what I did.

I remember when I first started with Windows reading a book about it, and it saying very nicely that one thing to be prepared for is the system just going out to sit under a tree for a while and re setting itself for no apparent reason. What gets me is that all the new operating systems that come out, especially XP, seem to be even more unstable. So I'm really happy with 98 and have no plans to change no matter how awkward it is. I don't use games, I've got great software that allows me to do what ever I need to do(cool edit pro, photoshop, etc.) In my opinion Microsoft would have just focused on perfecting what they had instead of dicking around with new things that don't work well.

Well that was pretty mild wasn't it, I guess the anger has dissipated and my hunger is more important so, I'm going to have lunch. I meant to say something earlier, if you read my review "A Taste of Curry", abou the first books in Ashok Banker's modern adaptation of The Ramayana, you should get yourself over to and check out his website. Lot of fun and very interesting.

April 7, 2005

Oil: The End Is Nigh - Thank Goodness

All good things must come to an end, and even those things which were never that great to begin with will finish eventually. And this looks like its the beginning of the end for oil as a source of power in our world. The amazing thing is the shock people in North America are feeling as the price of pumping fuel into their steel boxes on wheels rises on a weekly if not daily basis. We have lived so long in our artificial cocoon of cheap gas that having to face the reality of paying the true value of fuel is hard to bear(I remember travelling in Germany in 1980 and seeing the price at the pump being @ 75 cents a litre)

But what is truly scary is the fact that our governments seem to be trying to placate these fears with promises of more bounty buried throughout the earth. Instead of speaking the unfaltering truth that we are nearing the end of the usefulness of petroleum as fuel, and that as the inevitable happens prices will continue to spiral upward, they are full steam ahead in the exploitation of more and more environmental delicate oil exploration projects. The Alaska wildlife refuge, and offshore drilling off both coasts of Canada are just three projects that will risk more then they can ever deliver on. The costs involved in the development will continue to out weigh the increase in availability so prices will never come down again( When have you ever known a price increase to be significantly rolled back)

Through greed and short-sightedness our society has become oil dependent(George Bush calls the Alaska Wildlife Refuge exploitation "protecting America's oil requirements" when it should be called "protecting my family and friends wallets") Transportation, heating our homes, the manufacturing base, plastics, and who knows what else are all dependent on a ready supply of oil. We are about to have to go through a period of radical change over the next few decades, with no plan for a future without oil.

I would like to offer a simple solution that will not only reduce our dependence on oil, but would have the added benefit of allowing every nation on the face of the earth to meet its Kyoto accord gas emission reduction goals, and then some. Ban private ownership of fuel based cars, except in the case of business. Metropolitan Centres already have public transport infrastructure in place, and the auto manufacturers can be retailed to produce more mass transit vehicles. Outlying communities can have publicly owned fleets of cars that are available for us on a needs only basis; business commuters on short hops can access these same types of vehicles, and so as to prevent wastage businesses can schedule people's travel to coincide with others so as to enable car pooling.

Think of the other side benefits: a reduction in noise pollution with less cars on the road, less auto related deaths(both human and wildlife), people will actually be brought into contact with each other instead of being isolated in their own private boxes, and we can rid ourselves of a lot of the ugly concrete that desecrates our landscapes by scrapping a lot of now useless supper highways. Imagine being able to hear the sounds of nature, not traffic. Smelling fresh air not carbon dioxide and seeing the sky not a brown smudge in late August.

I know it sounds ridiculous to most of you, and you can't even picture what it would be like to no own a car, but in the long run it may well be the only hope we have for salvaging something of this world.