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

June 2, 2007

Book Review: Land Of The Lost Mammoths and Pirates, Bats, And Dragons Mike Davis

I never read much fiction for young adults, or teens as we used to called when not being called something less savoury. Even when I was technically of the age appropriate for that genre it was never something I was particularly interested in. First of all the topics never seemed that interesting –young love and high-school garbage that seemed to be lived by people from another planet.

Nobody I knew talked like or acted like the people in these books, or even more to the point cared about the things these characters seemed to think mattered. How people could live in our world and be so clueless as to what was going on around them socially and politically was beyond me. Little did I know until I was much older that I was a freak, but that's another story.

At the time as far as I was concerned it just meant that nobody except adults were writing anything that interested me. It was either that or reading fantasy stories written for children like Alan Gardner's or Susan Cooper's books; with nothing in between. Well, thirty years too late I've finally stumbled on a couple of books that would have fit the bill perfectly.

Land Of The Mammoths and Pirates, Bats, and Dragons by Mike Davis published by Perceval Press are giant strides in the right direction of writing books for a youth audience that have more on their minds than what their going to wear to the prom. That they are both subtitled "A Science Adventure" is the first clue that they are not your standard youth fare, and reading them only confirmes it.
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Both stories feature three young adults who have exceptional skills, but not outside the realm of reason. In other words while they are intelligent and gifted in their fields of study their abilities don't make them unrecognizable as teenagers. They still have all the characteristics of teenagers; the cock-sure attitude that they know what they are doing and no one else does; convinced of their immortality; and suffering from foot in mouth disease.

Jack and Connor are Irish Americans who live in Ireland while Julia is a New Yorker and proud of it. In both novels the three protagonists travel to parts of the world that are little known to people of any age in our society. Greenland in book one and the Arab island Socotra in the Arabian Sea at the mouth of the Indian Ocean off the coast of Yemen for book two.

The three young people are brought together in the first book through a scientific competition sponsored by the U.N. that sends the winners to Greenland to assist in research being already conducted on the dwindling Reindeer of the island. While it may seem a happy coincidence that brothers Jack and Connor were both selected, it turns out it's their areas of study that brought them to the attention of their team leader.

While Jack's fascination with micro technology has led him to create the worlds lightest manned aircraft – it can be collapsed down to the size of a canoe and weighs about as much, Connor has made a study of Mammoths, and his knowledge is equal to that of any doctorial student. They soon find out that the reindeer are not to be the true focus of their project and it's their unique specializations that are really what are in demand.

Part Lost World, part real lessons in the delicate nature of isolated ecosystems, the common cold can wipe out whole communities of people and animals if they've never been exposed to it, Land Of The Lost Mammoths is a great combination of adventure story, scientific education, and history lesson. Not only do the young heroes and we have an exciting time of it, Mr. Davis does an excellent job of incorporating the legends and history of Greenland into the story.
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While both of the books deal with the issue of preserving delicate ecosystems, Pirates, Bats, And Dragons casts a little wider net politically. You can't travel to the Middle East without coming under the watchful glare of people who love to stick their noses into other people's business. The fact that Jack is an expert in micro-radio controlled technology and that he's an avowed pacifist marks him in some minds as suspect from the start. But showing up where the CIA has just made a horrible mess of things makes him look awfully attractive to certain parties as a scapegoat.

Once again they are working under the auspices of the U.N., only this time there is no hidden agenda on the part of their team leader. They are there to use their skills to help explore the extensive cave system on the island of Socotra. Julia's skills as a large animal specialist and zoologist come to the fore, as they have to figure out the truth behind the legends of dragons living in the cave system.

Jack's job is to utilize a new invention of his, radio controlled bats with built in cameras that are solar and battery powered and controlled by microwaves. They can act as scouts for the explorers before they enter into the cave systems themselves. Connor will be leading the way into the caves as he has proven himself to be a cliff climber and spelunker of some skill.

Not only do the trio have to face any dangers that the fauna of the island may have to present, there are also modern day pirates (not cute ones like Johnny Depp either) and the CIA to be contended with. Unlike most books aimed at this market it does not adhere to the party line of my country right or wrong, and in fact the enemy ends up being the policies of the current administration and the lengths they will go to tracking down terrorists and covering their asses when things go wrong.

The three teenagers, their team leader, and their local guides all come within a whisker of being disappeared or declared suspected terrorists because an enemy is needed and they will fit the bill. It doesn't hurt that their team leader, although an American citizen, is of Palestinian birth, and that the Patriot Act lets anybody be locked up without trial or charges being laid. But they are saved by Jack being able to alert the media who show up and make enough fuss that the State Department has to intervene.

As with the first book Mr. Davis does a good job of blending the scientific information, and his jabs at American policy, with the adventure story. Nothing ever seems jarring or out of place and each little piece fits together with the neatness of a jigsaw puzzle. While on occasion both books might drift towards feeling like "Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys Take on the World", those times are too few to distract from the overall quality of the books and the story telling.

It's not often that young people are given a perspective on the world that is different from the one that is presented in the mainstream media. To find it in books that are also well written, entertaining, and informative is a pleasant surprise. Mr. Davis has also gone to the effort of footnoting points of historical and scientific importance through-out the books, so if people are interested they can do further study on their own.

Like everything else at Perceval Press right now Land Of The Lost Mammoths and Pirates, Bats, And Dragons are half price until June 17th/07. They would make great summer reading for people of all ages.

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.

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.

December 23, 2006

Moments Of Magic

I think I've always wanted there to be magic in the world. I'm sure that as a child I would have dreamed that there was something that could be called upon to change my life. If I could only discover it or find the right clue that would lead me to the place where it existed then everything would be perfect.

But the type of magic I was looking for and the type of magic that exists in the world have very little to do with each other. It wasn't until I was much older that I faced up to the fact that there are no magic wands we can wave to whisk us away when we wish.

Bad things happen to children, adults have to deal with their problems, and each of us is forced to bear the burden of our responsibilities. The avoidance techniques that we do have are far less wholesome than broomsticks and only delay the inevitable. But in spite of these reality checks I've managed to keep a tenacious hold on my belief in magic.

Maybe it was because of the fact that I worked in theatre for a period of time and in some ways we created magic each time we gave a performance. There's always been something about the theatre that is somewhat magical, perhaps because of it's previous association with travelling shows during the renaissance, or it's even earlier associations with the god Dionysus. Anyway what else would you call it when a person becomes someone else before your very eyes if not magic?

No matter what the reasons I am as certain of magic's existence as I am of the fact that I'm dependant on oxygen for survival. Does that make you uncomfortable to hear a supposedly rational man admit that he believes in magic? Well I can't say that I blame you, I have a fairly good idea how ridiculous that sounds. Like some new age psychobabble I 'm sure leading up to some stupid talk about guardian angles or something equally nauseating.

Fear not, it's nothing to do with guardian angles, whether you consider it new age psychobabble is another thing I guess, but that is something we'll all have to live with. Those of you who wince with embarrassment when you read this, will consider yourselves the most martyred I'm sure, but I think I've given fair warning and you've had plenty of time to turn aside so you've only yourself to blame.

However I don't think anyone really needs to worry that much because the magic I'm going to talk about is readily available to anyone with eyes and ears willing to use those senses and keep their mouth shut for a short period of time. In other words using your powers of observation not the ones for making observations.

Walk down almost any block in a residential neighbourhood and you'll see at least one or two front lawns adorned with some sort of ornamental hedge or shrubbery. As you approach from down the street, if you are paying attention, you may notice a fair amount of activity going on within and around the piece of topiary. The air is full of the small, feathered bodies of sparrows and the sound of their excited voices.

As soon as you get to within two feet of the bush it's as if something has pulled a plug. All the bird sound stops and nothing is moving. If you were to only give a causal glance, as you walked by you'd wonder where they all could have dispersed to? There's only one or two visible now.

But if you look closely you can see them all perched on the branches that shouldn't support even their weight. They are stock-still and not a sound can be heard save the occasional "peep" which is quickly hushed. Yet continue on only for a few feet and the air is once again filled with sound; a quick glance over your shoulder reveals that the action you had interrupted has continued as if it had never been interrupted.

If you were to continue to walk and head out onto a main street, you'll be grateful to see that because there are few buildings taller than four stories high that the sky is laid out for you like an expanse of ocean. Except of course no sea on this planet could be that colour blue or contain clouds that tower in quite that manner.

For just a second you see why the Hopi of the South West say the Kachina spirits live in a mountain range in the sky. It appears to be running on a diagonal over your head, magnificent piles of solid white flecked with grey. Streaming off to the side are the insubstantial veils that the sun is using to partially shield his face with today.

The unexpected sound of bus engine engaging almost pulls you back to the earth but out of the corner of your eye you see a ballet group of pigeons take flight in their tight spiral formation. Twenty, thirty, maybe even forty of them are attempting to scale the heights of the sky momentarily. But as if they are attached to a string, or are bound not to climb further, they invert the motion that took them aloft and settle back onto the roof they had been roosting on a moment before.

All the way down the street as far as you can see the same pattern is repeated as group after group respond to the flight of the one prior in line. Wave after wave crests against the lower breakwater of the sky before returning to their point of origin until all you see are black specks at the far end of your vision.

Continuing to walk you veer back away from the traffic onto another residential street and from nowhere appears a flock of starlings to settle in a tree some twenty feet from you. There is no way of knowing how many of them there in front of you, only that they blacken the tree and the sounds of their voices are a cacophony that mysteriously attracts no one else's attention.

At some unseen signal they lift off as one unit and if the pigeons were a dance troupe the starlings are a brigade on parade ground formation, so sharp and tight are their turns, and precise in their intent. This is no mere reaction flight; it is a deliberate manoeuvre that lifts the whole flock to their next feeding location or roost.

Ask yourself how can the sparrows know when to turn on and off; how do the pigeons take off into those spirals every time; and most especially how does a flock of starlings obey such precise movement commands?

In our pre rational days when we didn't look to science for every explanation, when we were dependant on the generosity of the planet's bounty for survival, we believed in the spirits of the game we hunted and that the earth beneath our feet was a living breathing entity. But in spite of our new ability to offer reasonable solutions to puzzles like those I've posed above, I can't help but wonder if we might not have been on the right track all along in our "primitive" times.

You can offer me any number of words of scientific explanation, but they won't quiet the feeling inside of me that when I watch these occurrences, I'm witnessing a type of magic that goes beyond anything a human being could hope to create. It may not be exactly what I hoped for as a child, but it does the trick now every time.

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 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.

June 3, 2005

First Citizens

They were here first

It's far too early in the morning to be awake and writing but here I am anyway, and as I was sitting here browsing the newspaper, looking for things to write about, an answer came through my window. From out in the dark I hear a low chirping sound, which is not a bird given the time, and for a second I wonder, then I realize it's those masked bandits Racoons.

I'd guess I have to blame Stirling North for my love affair with raccoons. Ever since I read Rascal as a kid I've thought them to be the most fascinating of critters. Brave with distinct characters and very intelligent. They get a bad reputation for their habit of stealing garbage and living in people's garages, but to me that just exemplifies their adaptibility: how many other wild animals have been able to live so readily in cities? They've got a survivor instinct that makes that T.V. show look like the joke it is.

How many of us could withstand the mass destruction of our habitat and deep on living through the radical change? Or overcome hysteria induced attempts at extermination based on the premise that rumored cases of "racoon rabies " was making it's way up from Northern New York into South Eastern Ontario via racoons catching lifts underneath transport trucks? This so called rabies scare being a case of mistaken identity (racoons get a type of illness that seems to mimic some rabies symptoms) didn't seem to phase the red neck lunk heads who would look for any excuse to blast away at an animal.

Racoons aren't the only four legeds who share the cities with us, just the most prevalent. Aside from the usual suspects of small rodents, there have been reports of Coyotes in Toronto, (more likely wild dogs, or coydogs a blending of coyote and dog) and I have seen in Kingston skunks, foxes, and the occasional deer that wanders in from the outskirts. The latter is happening less and less with the increased build up of the suburbs acting as barrier keeping the wild life at bay. Most people think of this as inconvenience not as a pleasure (I'd admit to some trepidation about sharing housing with a skunk: its their poor vision that makes them dangerous, they don't see anything until their right on top of it, and then they get startled, and well you know the result) but I love to be able to look out in my backyard and see a mamma raccoon and her kids washing their food in my bird bath.

Of course there is the variety of bird life in the skies over Kingston as well. For those people willing to lift their noses from the grindstone occasionally they can be treated to the sight of a variety of hawks soaring, turkey vultures swooping, and the occasional eagle or owl. There was one memorable occasion I remember witnessing a beautiful Snowy Owl perching on a downtown building, it's brilliant plumage a stark contrast to the dull brick surrounding it. I have had some birds take the concept of bird feeder a little too far, with sharpshin hawks grabbing a quick snack from amongst the feeding sparrows, but this has also led to the sight of a massive Coopers Hawk dissecting a bird of some sort in my backyard.

But as usual I find myself in a minority when it comes to expressing this opinion. Most people view any sort of animal life as a pest, an intrusion into their carefully ordered world not as a gift to be cherished. I'm sure if they could they'd sit out back with a shot gun to put a bullet into the raccoon rummaging through their garbage or the skunk waddling around the neighbourhood. To those of you of that mind set I'd like to offer this little reminder. They were here first. We are the intruders.

Not that I'd expect anyone to pay attention to that, we still don't recognize the rights of the people who were here before us, so what's the likelihood of us doing it for the others who came first. It is interesting that the people who we refuse to recognize treated their fellow citizens with a respect that we can't even find in ourselves to treat members of our species who we live side by side with. Rudeness and selfishness seem to be our lifestyle choices more and more, so any sort of compassion for others is probably too much to ask for.

cheers gypsyman

April 22, 2005

The Hubris Of Humans And Earth Day

I can think of nothing that more symbolises our catastrophic situation environmentally than the fact that we have an event called Earth Day. One day of the year in which we think about this place we inhabit. That's it. For 364 days of the year we pretty much ignore her, and then we have the unmitigated gall to believe we can make up for the neglect by organising community barbecues to pick up garbage. Everybody shows up in their S.U.V.s with plastic bags to fill up to take to non degradable land fill sites. As meaningless gestures goes this ranks up there with Jerry Lewis telethons and an associate producer credit(something you give your secretary instead of a raise)

All that an event like Earth Day does is emphasize how far we have drifted from the understanding that we are only one life form on this planet. In our hubris we have come to believe that laws of nature simply don't apply to us. Simple things like overpopulation, food supply and sustainability of an area apply to other species but not us. When we see a deer herd increase in population to the point where it will not be able to sustain itself due to insufficient food supplies (due to us killing off all the major predators which would keep their population in balance) we endorse what's known as a culling of the herd. Kill off some so that the majority can survive. But the same rules of supply and demand do not seem to apply to us.

We have population densities so high that the land we live on can't handle us anymore. Our wastes pile up, we have to import food, and natural resources are depleting. Yet we refuse to see the problem as one of our own making, or even to see a problem at all. Kyoto, recycling, alternative energy are not cures, they are simply treating the symptoms not the ailment as far as I'm concerned. We need to address our very relationship with the planet.

As a species, when we were directly dependent on our environment for survival, we had an understanding of where we fit in. We worshiped and were grateful for the gifts we received from the planet. Crops, hunting, clean water, or fresh air, were not taken as our due or for granted and we knew we had to abide by the laws that governed all life. From here, the usual argument goes, we moved on into a more mercantile society where the concepts of profits and control became more important, the direct relationship to the land was lost, and we were sundered from the other species. But why did that happen? Even without depending on the land for survival we could still see that we were the same species and that the same laws would still have to apply that did before.

Well I hate to sound cliched but the truth of the matter is that as patriarchal societies replaced matriarchal ones we stopped understanding nature and our role in it. As soon as we began simplifying things into good and evil, the us against them attitude of the monotheistic religions that we now follow, we began to think of ourselves as superior and separate from the natural world. Instead of just another species we became The Species.

The world was around for billions of years before we showed up (sorry creationists it's true, we're the Johnny come lately here) and was doing pretty good without us. How well do you think we'd do without her? Don't you think it's time we showed her a little more respect then a one day a year event? You don't have to go back to worshipping nature spirits (although that wouldn't hurt) to accomplish this, all you have to do is remember that you are bound by the same rules that apply to any species that lives on this planet.

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.