Monday, October 31, 2005

Steps to Prosperity?

   Personnel Today recently conducted a survey of 2,000 personnel officers and found some weighty results. Most of those polled said they would prefer to offer employment to those of "normal weight". Half of the respondents believed that obesity affects productivity and that obese individuals lack self-discipline. The survey also found that 1 in 10 personnel officers would not want to send an overweight employee to meet a client. Even more interesting, 1 in 10 also think obesity constitutes grounds for dismissal. It would seem that for those who are weight-challenged, one of the first steps to take toward getting that dream job is to push themselves away from the dinner table a little sooner.
   Another suggestion being made for those anxious to make their way along the path to prosperity a little more quickly is to go regularly to a place of worship. This little nugget comes from Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to Gruber, "doubling the frequency of attendance leads to a 9.1 increase in household income...". If that's caught your interest, you might want to purchase a copy of Gruber's paper so you can read the rest of it and get busy increasing your income. Of course, the more people who are interested enough to buy copies, the more Gruber's income will increase. You don't think this is part of Gruber worshipping at the altar of the almighty dollar, do you?
    I think Mr. Gruber needs his head read. Religiosity has naught to do with income. If it really did, then all of the poverty stricken who regularly fill the pews and benches would be going home to small mansions instead of to the hovels they presently call home. I think Gruber is wandering around lost somewhere in left field. Either that, or he's using all the wrong terms for the concepts he's trying to get across.
    Religiosity? no. Social climbing? Yes. I knew of a couple once whom Gruber should meet. They bought a home in a smaller Ontario town, moving there from Toronto. The first thing they did was to research the local churches, looking for the one with the biggest turn-out each Sunday. When they decided they had identified the one, they immediately became two of the flock's most faithful church-goers, never missing a Sunday, or an opportunity to meet the locals. They wasted no time on anyone who looked like they were attired in anything less than the best, but lavished all their attention instead on those who seemed to be "important". They fawned all over those people, seeking invitations and handing them out, too. They made the connections they set out to, and then a strange coincidence took place. Their income did increase, as did their place in the community social circles, but their attendance gradually trailed off. They never darken the doors of the church these days. Religiosity? Yeah, right.

Volunteer Vacationing

   If you've got the yen to travel and a little money and time to work with, but you want a little something different this time around, here's a site you might want to check. volunteerabroad.com will take you to a site that asks you to click on the answers to a few quick questions, like what region of the world, what country, what volunteer position and what time span you have. I tried clicking on "any region" "any country" "volunteer work for women" and "1 to 2 weeks". It returned a list of 140 sites I could check for organizations needing help anywhere from Azerbaijan to Austria. Take a look, if you have a minute. You never know where it might lead.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Decorations or Wasted Food?

   The big news for Hallowe'en this year is the new variety of pumpkin being sold that's white, instead of the usual bright orange. The flesh inside the white outer layer is still orange, and that supposedly adds to the ghostly appeal of a carved pumpkin with a candle burning inside it. The white pumpkins are a little more expensive than their traditional orange cousins, but if you're after the latest the cost difference shouldn't stop you, should it? After all, Nancy Soriano, Country Living magazine's editor-in-chief says the white jack-o-lanterns will add an "iconic look" to your decorating. Of course, if you understand what the hell she's babbling about, then you've probably already bought one of these babies.
   On the other hand, you could have a Hallowe'en bash this year that's entirely devoid of the de rigueur pumpkins. Maybe you've been rethinking the annual squandering of food that North America indulges in each autumn. After all, that's exactly what those pumpkins are. Food. They are members of the squash family. They yield a flesh that can be used to bake in pies or quick breads or cookies. It can also be used to create delicious pumpkin pone, and hearty soups, curried pumpkin dahl - the list goes on and on. Pumpkin seeds are great items to include in your regular diet, too, since they offer manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, tryptophan, iron, copper, zinc and protein. I know some people who carve out a pumpkin save the seeds and roast them, but far more probably toss them out in the garbage.
    How can using food as a decoration which will be thrown out after a few days be justified? Yeah, yeah, I know, lighten up. What am I getting myself all worked up about? It's just a few pumpkins, and we do grow so incredibly many of them here. People always carve them into jack-o-lanterns every year. Why should we stop?
   Maybe the answer to that can be found in that powerful little phrase, "Think globally, act locally". Maybe the reason to stop can be found in the literature of any of the organizations that make their fervent appeals for help for the impoverished children of the world. Maybe a look at one or two of those little faces, already old beyond their years, could provide the impetus you need to walk past the pumpkin display, even if they are showing "chic" white pumpkins. Maybe reminding yourself that they are food would help you to change the way you think about this aspect of Hallowe'en. After all, didn't your mom always tell you not to play with your food?
   Please, give it a thought.

Huh?

   McDonald's Corp., that bastion of concern for healthy eating has announced it will display nutrition information on the packaging of most of its menu items this coming year. The Corp. says the move is to demonstrate its commitment to promoting healthy lifestyles. Yes, you read that right, their commitment. I'm just wondering which of the items will not carry the info. They did say 'most" would, but that leaves the possibility that their Big Mac will not. After all, why risk having people run screaming from the store after they read the label on that burger they just ordered?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Great Speaker, Great Cause

   Last night, hubby and I made the trek down to the U. of T.'s Convocation Hall to hear Stephen Lewis give a lecture, part of the "Race Against Time" lecture series. Lewis is currently the UN Secretary General's Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS. His accomplishments and titles took half of the space in the brochure distributed at the door. They include politician, diplomat, and humanitarian. He has been the Canadian Ambassador to the UN, Special Advisor on Africa to the UN Secretary General, and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF. He was named
Canadian of the Year" in 2003 by Maclean's magazine, and listed by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. He is a commissioner of the World Health Organization's Commission on Social Determinants of Health, and Director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation, whose mission is "Easing the pain of HIV/AIDS in Africa".
   Last night's lecture was the last of the series that saw Lewis speaking in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax, and finally, Toronto. The lectures will be rebroadcast on CBC Radio One's "Ideas" from November 7th to the 11th.
   In one hour up on that stage, Lewis covered enough material to send the audience home feeling as though they had been to the entire series. He is a riveting speaker, whose fame obviously precedes him. When he first walked on to the stage, the applause was thunderous, and took a long time to quiet so he could begin speaking. The man's unbelievable passion for the cause he espouses was present in every syllable he uttered. The stats he quoted are staggering. In Africa, there are presently 25 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 living with HIV/AIds. 58% of them are women. Of the 6.2 million infected people between the ages of 15 and 24, a horrendous 75% are women and girls. By the year 2010, it is expected that 20 million children will be without one or both of their parents, because of HIV/AIDS. This results in one of two scenarios. Either grandparents do their best to raise the orphans, or the children form "child-headed households" which means that the eldest child, often no more than 12 or 14 years old, is left to raise their younger siblings.
   His main thrust was the woeful inadequacy of the response of the western world to this pandemic, and his scorn for the U.S. in particular was patently clear. He highlighted the ridiculous conditions the U.S. attaches to its aid program for the audience to see and laugh at, and laugh they did. The only problem is, those conditions are so totally devoid of humour. They help only a very small number of countries but not those with the highest incidence of cases, for some reason. They tell the governments there that receiving the aid is contingent upon them halting the distribution of condoms and not advising the people to use them. How stupid, stupid, stupid is that? How arrogant and backward the almighty U.S. is in their approach to this desperate situation facing Africa.
   He spoke too about the G8 summit and their goal-setting being co-opted by Tony Blair for his own agenda. He belittled the concerts attendant upon the summit as a chance for the privileged western world to make a big noise about how wonderful they are to care, and have another party while they're at it, before they send off their pittance in donations and then pat themselves on the back in "obsequious celebration of incremental fractions". He ended his lecture with a plaintive plea to the audience. "Can someone, anyone," he asked, "explain to me our modern values?"
   He suggested a list of potential steps that could be taken in solution of the problem bedeviling Africa, and returned again and again to Lester Pearson's challenge to the western nations to spend 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product on developmental assistance; a challenge that was accepted by all to whom it was extended, but has still to be met. One point he made over and over again was that the private sector needs to step in and take up the slack left by the world governments. One way he suggested they could do that was for big business to give 0.7 per cent of annual profits to the grass roots agencies working to ameliorate the situation for all those affected. He also said he was aware that his suggestion would be laughed to scorn by most of those same businesses.
   I could venture a response to his call for an explanation of the malaise affecting western morals. It's to be found in the wallets of those who worship the three-headed god of "me, myself and I". Whatever disposable income they have is spent even before it is earned on purchase of all the latest - clothes, electronics, gourmet pizzas - the list of "must-haves" goes on and on, leaving little to nothing to drop in the collection plate when it's passed around. Those devotees care naught about some homeless waif halfway around the globe from their pursuit of the trendy. So many of them have no compassion for anyone other than themselves. Lewis himself says, "It is not a just world." I don't want to face that truth. I want to continue to light my little candles against the darkness, as I do when I pack boxes for the Operation Christmas Child, or volunteer at the CNIB. I want to allow myself the luxury of denial and pretend that it is a caring world. I want to listen to Lewis and know about everything that he does. I want to remember that there are others like him who care about those in need. I don't want to acknowledge the harsh reality that they are in the tiny minority. As Shakespeare's King Lear cries, "Oh, that way madness lies, let me shun that."

Friday, October 28, 2005

James Brown and Me!

Whoa-oa-oa! I feel good, I knew that I would, now
I feel good, I knew that I would, now
So good, so good, I got you
Whoa! I feel nice, like sugar and spice
I feel nice, like sugar and spice
So nice, so nice, I got you


   Have you heard the godfather of soul make his joyful declaration of feeling like he's on top of the world? The chorus of this song has been used so many times, by so many people, with slight adjustments made to the words to fit their occasions of exhilaration. This morning, after I changed the line "I got you" to read "I helped you!" it would have been just the right paean for me to warble. I was returning from my Friday morning volunteering (keep in mind as you read on that I am not "officially" trained, I just volunteer) at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I felt so good, I swear I could have flown home just as easily as I drove there.
   I've been paired up there with a young fellow who is still working on his mobility skills. About five blocks down the street from the CNIB building is a coffee shop that has a whole lot more atmosphere than the Institute's cafeteria, so we started walking there a few weeks ago. When we get there, we discuss things like the structure of Canada's government or whatever else is on the agenda for the day, but we're doing it in a place we both enjoy more. Of course, getting there has also been a practise for getting "out and about" for this young man. Previously, I have given him my arm and served as his sighted guide, but we've been working on changing that, and making the safe arrival at the coffee shop more of his responsibility. Today, on our way back to the CNIB, he didn't even reach for my arm. He used his cane and I walked beside him. He made all the calls, when to cross the intersections, etc, and he got us safely back to the CNIB. I walked beside him, either joining him in ordinary conversation, maintaining a companionable silence, or giving him details of what he was coming up to on the sidewalk and using directional words to tell him how to navigate the situation.
   When we were walking up to the Institute door, he stopped for a moment and said, "This is the first time I have taken someone somewhere like this. You are such a good mobility instructor. Thank you for helping me have this chance to feel good."
  Voila!  Instant huge smile all over my face! Instant urge to break into my own rendition of the godfather's ode to joy, (except that I wouldn't want to embarrass the young man!). Instant joy at having been able to give a such a gift.
    I feel good, so good.

A Puzzler

   Here's another number for you - 99.99%. That, apparently, is the amount of similarity between the DNA of any two given humans. 99.99% So here's the question I've just got to ask. How could anyone ever actually claim innate superiority to anyone else? If we are all that much alike, then it's basically like comparing yourself to yourself and them saying "I am better than myself!" It males just that much sense. This little number is something that should be force-fed, world-wide, to every racist and better-than-thou type. To base claim of superiority on racial or colour differences, or ability/disability issues is an incredible declaration of stupidity.
   The other 0.01% is the only room for difference there is. There are those, of course, who would try to squeeze their claims for one-up-manship into that little wee margin. To me, it just doesn't seem a big enough space to squish in all the differences of thought, religions and philosophies of life. Maybe when DNA itself lets us know just how similar we all are, those who try to cram that last 0.01% full of significance would do better to pull a one-eighty and begin using their energies instead to welcome into their lives all those new-found brothers and sisters of theirs. Maybe, just maybe, all the ways there are to share our lives and celebrate our differences would make our world a much better place, indeed, for all of us.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Come Again?

   Authorities in Australia have issued an apology to the family of a man to whom they issued a parking ticket. His car was parked in the lot of a shopping mall in Melbourne and he was inside it - dead - at the time the ticket was issued. He had been missing for nine days and the ticket was issued on the eighth day of that timespan. If the ticket was given because the car had been sitting there too long, didn't the ticket giver see the old man inside?

   Authorities in Canada, too, have been forced to apologize. This one is a world of difference from the Australian blunder, however. Correctional Service Canada has been ordered to pay $5,000. in damages to Vlado Malikovich because he was exposed to second-hand smoke in a prison near Gravenhurst, Ontario. Why was Malikovich in the jail where all that nasty-wasty smoke was being exhaled? He was serving time for murdering his wife and daughter. If sentences here in Canada went a little more the way I wish they would, that creep would already have had the death sentence served on him. He would have been blasted into eternity by several shotguns all aimed at him the minute the guilty verdict was returned, and he never would have been there inhaling someone else's second-hand ciggy fumes. Voila! A saving of $5,000.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sleep Well, Sister

On Monday night, the mother of the civil rights movement passed away. Rosa Lee McCauley Parks was 92 years old when her God called her home.
   While many know at least of her fateful decision not to give up her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama bus that day in 1955, few realize how much more there was to this woman's story. Parks had become an activist long before that fateful day. Married in 1932 to Raymond Parks, Rosa and her husband had been active in various civil rights causes, such as voter registration, at a time when those involving themselves in such activities knew they might pay with their lives for their bravery. Rosa worked with the NAACP and in 1943 was elected as the Montgomery branch secretary. In the summer of 1955, she went to Tennessee where she took a two-week inter-racial seminar to train for civil rights activism. She was ready when the bus driver ordered her to move on that December day.
   The story goes that she was tired after a day at work, but Parks herself has said that she was no more tired than she was normally was on any other workday. Rather than feeling physically tired, she says her spirit was tired of all the unfair practises, all the segregation she and every other black citizen of the States were forced to endure. When she boarded the bus, Rosa recognized the driver as the same one who had her evicted from his bus twelve years earlier when she had paid her fare and then refused to leave the bus and re-enter through the back doors. This was common practice, often insisted upon so that blacks wouldn't offend white passengers by walking past them in their front-of-the-bus seats. On that December 1st, 1955, this same bus driver insisted she get up from her seat, but the determined woman stayed seated. The bus driver called the police, and had her removed. Her decision that day is acknowledged by historians as the real beginning of the civil rights movement.
   Parks stayed involved in the movement, spending many years in demand as a speaker, among other things. In 1998 Rosa Parks was presented with the first International Freedom Conductor Award given by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and in 1999, President Bill Clinton gave her the Congressional Gold Medal, the United States' highest civilian honour. When I was still teaching, I taught every class about her, about the bravery and determination she showed. I used Rosa Parks every year as an example of just how much difference one person really can make in their world, how much they can affect the lives of everyone around them.
   Thank you, Sister Rosa. Thanks for your inspiration and example, for making our world a much, much better place. Sleep well, Sister.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Teensy Weensies

      Looking for a cause? Ingrid Betancourt might be more than happy to have you spare her a minute or two. Let this quote serve as a quick little intro to the valiant Ingrid: "Ingrid and her campaign against corruption are the nightmare of those who are ruining Colombia..." Ms. Betancourt is currently languishing in captivity, she and her campaign manager having been abducted in Feb. 2002. If she is indeed still alive, the time you take to sign the petition to free her might just finally turn the tide for her. Learn more here.



   Every once in a while, I come across some numbers that need to be shared. These new statistics have just been released by the American Diabetes Association. They relate to type 2 diabetes, which the Association says is caused in main by over-eating and under-exercising. Read them carefully and then pass them along to anyone you think should see them. Remember, that American stats show proportions similar to those for Canada, with the numbers adjusted to reflect lower overall population.

   13.8 million Americans now have type 2 diabetes, compared to just 5.8 million in 1980. This represents a drastic rise in incidence.
   Based on these figures, it is predicted that 22 million will have the disease by 2030.
   At the moment of diagnosis, 3 out of 10 patients are overweight, and 6 out of 10 are obese.

Put down your forks, people, and pick up those weights! Get out of the lounge pants and into sweat pants. Do something, before it's too late!



   A recent Harris poll asked 2,271 people, "In which professions are people the most overworked?" Nurses were placed in the #1 position, while teachers were given the second spot. That's what I keep saying. Teachers are out there on the front lines, battling with bullies and gang members, for the safety and happiness of your kids while they learn. They don't get a whole lot of support while they do it, either. Things have got to change in our schools soon or there will be a huge price tag to be paid.
   I quit the classroom two years ago because of the all the little thugs I kept encountering, but I'm still a teacher at heart, so I tutor and I volunteer at the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind). What an incredible difference it makes to work with people who are there because they choose to be, because they want to learn. Today, at the CNIB, I was working with the members of a beginning keyboarding class. These people are from a wide age and ability range, including one woman who is an absolutely wonderful student. At the age of 83, and in spite of being legally blind, she has decided to conquer computers. Go get 'em, Grandma!


   A follow-up to the Guluwalk saga. October 23, 2005 In Toronto, this Saturday just past, over 1,000 people joined in the 11 km walk in spite of a chilly temperature and steady rain. The results are still being tabulated, but early reports show that there was major turnout in every city that took part. Guluwalk co-founder, Adrian Bradbury says, "Our first message is to the children of Uganda. You are not alone." Perhaps with the voices of so many raised in support, those children heard the whisper on the wind, and were able to take some comfort.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mind-Boggling

   York Region Police Chief Armand La Barge had some interesting things to say at the press conference held on Tuesday, at Queen's Park by the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. He charges that the justice system is dysfunctional, citing as one proof the fact that nine criminals - murderers and sex offenders - were given day passes and travel permits this past summer to go to Canada's Wonderland. Know what else? Some of them were not even escorted.
   The Association has a great deal to say about our justice system and what a change-over it needs. Lax prison sentences are one of the problems making "a mockery of the criminal justice system" according to the Association. A proof he offers for this one is the contrast between sentences here and in the States for someone running a marijuana grow-op. The person sentenced in Canada for the crime might find themselves facing house arrest or a nine-month conditional sentence, while in the States, the sentence would be seven years. House arrest? I can just hear the criminal types giggling right now.
   Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant says there is legislation to be introduced this fall that will address some of the concerns voiced by the Police Chiefs. Let's make the time fit the crime. Our system needs to listen to the Police Chiefs when they ask for tougher sentences to be handed out. These are the people out there on the front lines, for god's sake. When Deputy Chief Tony Warr of the Toronto Public Service says "It's time for us to pull our heads out of the sand" he knows what he's talking about. Enough of this bullshit of us paying for people like Homolka to get an education at the taxpayers' expense while she was behind bars.. Let's make the time fit the crime. Hard labour would be good for a lot of those in the prison system right now. As for those others like the ones given the passes to Canada's Wonderland, let's take another long, hard look at capital punishment. Please.

Greasy, Sweet or Salty

   "Unfortunately, if they are not greasy, sweet or salty we don't eat them." Those are the words of University of Toronto nutritionist Davis Jenkins, in reference to the latest figures about Canadian consumption of fruits and vegetables. This is the third year running that the sales of vegetables, both fresh and processed (canned or frozen) has fallen. While the figures for fruits have risen steadily for the past ten years, the rise has not exactly been what you would call meteoric. Jenkins got out his calculator, added fruit and vegetable figures together, and came up with the average Canadian eating the approximate serving equivalent of two apples a day. Not exactly great news when you remember that the recommendation is for five to ten servings a day of vegetables and fruit.
   Now for the "coup de grease". Our consumption of fats and oil (think cakes, fried foods, KFC, etc, etc) has been on a constant upswing during the same period as the decline in veggies. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to extrapolate these figures from Canada out to most developed countries. Airlines really are going to need to widen the seats on their planes!

A Little More Guluwalking

   
About International GuluWalk Day, October 22

More than 50,000 people are expected to walk in 45 cities worldwide. What started out as an attempt by two average Canadians to better understand the ordeal of these courageous kids; has grown into an urgent, impassioned worldwide movement for peace. Participating cities include:
CANADA (12) - Calgary, AB; Edmonton, AB; Halifax, NS; Kitchener, ON; Montreal, QC; North Bay, ON; Ottawa, ON; St. John's, NF; Thunder Bay, ON; Toronto, ON; Vancouver, BC; Winnipeg, MB
USA (22) - Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Boulder, CO; Cedar Rapids, IA; Chapel Hill, NC; Charlottesville, VA; Chicago, IL; Dayton, OH; Denver, CO; Grand Rapids, MI; Lawrence, KS; Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis, MN; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA; Phoenix, AZ; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; San Diego, CA; Seattle, WA; South Bend, IN; Washington, DC
WORLD (11) - Beijing (China); Coventry (UK), Gulu (Uganda); Kampala (Uganda); London (UK); Nairobi (Kenya); Newry (Ireland); Perth (Australia); Stockholm (Sweden); Sucre (Bolivia); Uzice (Serbia)

For more information visit www.guluwalk.com.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Idiot Alert!

   Two brain-dead Bulgarians who had somehow managed to get jobs as border policemen were caught recently being unbelievably stupid. Seems they took a fancy to a mobile telephone belonging to U.S. ambassador John Beyrle, so one of them pocketed it. When Beyrle asked them if they had seen his missing telephone, they said no. They forget to take into account the device's built-in tracking system, which led the police right to it, nestled in the culprit's pocket. Duh! A possible ten years in prison will be the award for the initiative taken by these two morons.

Save a Bird

   Toronto hydro has issued an appeal to highrise offices and condos, on behalf of our feathered friends who will be migrating south for the next few weeks. Hydro is asking for lights to be turned off between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. to reduce the number of birds that dies each year as a result of flying into lit windows. Birds that migrate at night are attracted to artificial light and thousands of them die each year because of collisions with buildings that stay lit through the wee hours. Although the advisory I read was issued here in Toronto, I'm sure it's good advice for any other city located on migratory paths.
Turn off a light, save some energy and a life or two, as well.

Get Ready to Walk!

   I first wrote about the Guluwalk back in July. Here's the latest on the event from Toronto originals Kieran Hayward and Adrian Bradbury.

LOCAL CELEBS & PEACE EXPERTS TO LEAD TORONTO GULUWALK

Bishop Ochola, Gerald Caplan and Haydain Neale of jacksoul, among others, to lead GuluWalk Day: Toronto, down Yonge Street

On Saturday, October 22, 2005, Toronto will join over 40 cities around the world for GuluWalk Day, the first-ever global show of solidarity for the night commuters of northern Uganda. Yonge Street will be cleared of all vehicles and will be filled instead by thousands of footsteps and voices for peace, including musician Haydain Neale of jacksoul, and genocide expert Gerald Caplan and renowned peace advocate Bishop Ocholaof Uganda. WHAT: GuluWalk Day -Toronto WHEN: Date: Saturday, October 22, 2005 Start Time: 4:30 p.m. WHERE: Start Location: Lawrence Subway Station (Lawrence Park & Ravine)Walk Route: South on Yonge Street to King Street West on King Street to Metro Hall Square (at John Street)
Post-Walk Event: Metro Hall Square (Event at approximately 7:30 p.m.will include a video presentation, speakers and musical guests)

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Wonder Trees?

    Dr. Steven Strauss, director of the Tree Biosafety and Genomics Research Cooperative at Oregon State University, has been seeking to redesign trees. His aim is to "modify trees to meet the wood and environmental needs of a growing world". To achieve that aim, the good doctor has been heading up a project in which single mutations have been inserted into hundreds of poplar seedlings.
   Joshua Davis, writing about the project in October's issue of "Wired" magazine, calls Strauss "Doctor Frankentree" and refers to the project results as being "straight out of Dr. Seuss". There have been branchless trees, and trees that grew in spirals, as well as trees lacking in lignin, the natural chemical that makes them rigid.
   Emvironmentalists are not taking kindly to Strauss' experimenting. Some have gotten their shorts into such an uproar, they firebombed the OSU lab of Strauss' former research collaborator in 2001, causing more than one million in damages. Others have hefted axes to chop down the experimental trees. Strauss is now one of the very few researchers working in the field, but his enthusiasm is unchecked.
   He talks about someday being able to produce wood free from knotholes and wind-warping. He enraptures on the topic of lessening the toxic output produced by the pulp and paper industry through the use of his lignin-deficient mutants, because of their requiring fewer chemicals to break them down into pulp. He declares that GM forests would actually be a boon to ecology, allowing thousands of acres to be returned to the wild since his forests would be more efficient in output and therefore require less land. Strauss even avers that his creations would pose no threat of contamination to the natural gene pool. "There's no way," says he, "this DNA would pass the survival-of-the-fittest test." How can he be so sure of that? How can he claim to know?
   I wouldn't be one of those to grab an axe, but I do have reservations about Strauss; work. I know, I know, our species has always played with the natural order of things, all the way through its existence. Crossing this plant with that one, for instance, to produce a hardier offspring has been a boon to agriculture and all the hungry mouths it has fed for untold years. But those alterations have been made on a lesser scale, never before at the most basic biological level. Of course, we have not previously been capable of that, but simply to do something because we know how is not necessarily to be doing our best.
   Genetic modification may seem like a "miracle-cure" for many ills at the moment, but I have to wonder if we might not find out to our sorrow, at some future date, that the supposed miracle was really a disaster. Humankind has done exactly that more than once before. It's not from the same field, I know, but I always think of strabismus when I hear of someone like Strauss and their attempts to better nature. I was born with strabismus. When I was a little girl, some bright soul came up with the idea of forcing the misaligned eye of anyone so afflicted, into alignment with the other. Hours and hours of therapy were endured by anyone with the condition and it did seem to have done wonderful things for us, until a little time had passed. Then it was discovered that the miracle was no miracle at all. Instead it became a burden to be borne.
   Always, the passage of a little time is essential, for results to be studied. Nothing should ever be rushed into. Those who argue with Strauss and the like-minded are often held up to ridicule and asked why they would prefer to prolong a backward state of affairs that could instead be turned into an Elysian field of sunshine and roses with the application of just a little technology. Let's go back to the strabismus. It turns out that this wonder-therapy used in the '50's was utterly rejected by some, while this particular Elysian dream was accepted hook, line and sinker by others. Living here in Toronto meant I was in a city where all of us with the condition were subjected to the therapy. Now, there is a whole generation of us here who can be compared to those in Quebec, for instance, where the practice was rejected. We have eyes now that need stronger lenses before we can see well, and even then, if we get eyestrain, many of us are likely to see one and a half images, even with our lenses perched on our noses. They have eyes that were allowed to handle the problem by adjusting to it NATURALLY, and their vision is better for it.
   Perhaps someday we will all be glad that Dr. Strauss ignored the naysayers and persevered with his experiments. I fear, instead, that the reverse may well come to pass. Someday, humankind may find themselves at a lack for a sufficiently baneful malediction to call down on the heads of those who support genetic modification.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Don't Look Up!

    Aviatophobia keeping you down? Ophidiophobia hampering your travel to exotic places? How about a good dose of the two all wrapped up into one? Take a quick little trip here. You'll meet Jake Socha, a postdoctoral researcher at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois and see footage of the flying snakes he's been studying. That's right, real, soaring serpents that make their home in the lowland tropical rainforests of Southeast and South Asia. Has one ever landed on a human? Says Socha, "I've never heard of this happening. There's no need to worry about snakes falling out of the skies, even if you live in Southeast Asia."

Muted Majesty

   On that trip to Quebec that I mentioned yesterday, we were hoping to see lots of bright and beautiful fall colours in the leaves. There were colours alrght, but they were muted and a little forlorn looking. The same holds true here in southern Ontario. According to Environment Canada's senior climatologist David Phillips, it's because of the unusually hot, pollution-filled summer they had to suffer through. The Windsor-to-Quebec City corridor recorded the hottest, most humid summer in 60 years, as well as a record number of smog-alerts, and all of this stressed the trees. They are, after all, lifeforms, and therefore subject to stress, too. Where a human might show their stress levels in irritability or sleepless nights, the trees show theirs with lacklustre displays in the autumn. Could this be Mother Nature waving yet another red flag at us, asking us to look a little more carefully at our pollution-causing lifestyle? Hmmm.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Xenophobia Lives!


   I've just come back from a stay in Quebec City, where I met a waiter who embodies everything you've ever heard about the Quebecois being xenophobes.
   Let me set the scene for you. We walked into a small eatery - my husband, two daughters, and myself - wanting to sample some of the fares posted on the menu displayed outside. Immediately to my left, some of them close enough for me to touch them, were four vacant stools at a counter and a table for two, vacant as well. This was a lunchtime, in an establishment that anyone can walk into without a reservation, and be seated. Except ...
   The waiter approached my husband and said "Quatre personnes?" My husband, who speaks not a word of French, answered, "Four" . The next words out of this miscreant's mouth were, "We are full". My husband's disbelief came out in one little "Pardon?" to which Mr. Goodwill responded with a repeat of "We are full."
   No point in questioning the empty seating available right to hand. We walked out in disgust. We also took with us the money we might otherwise have spent in this narrow-minded individual's eatery. We spent it elsewhere.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Safe-ty in Numbers?

   Here are a few Hollywood numbers from The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. They are relevant to the Society's expressed concern about the influence Hollywood is having on today's mores and sexual practices, with the contraception-free sexual behaviour portrayed in so many movies.
   Apparently, 007 is right up there at the top of the Society's list of bad boys. In 20 films starring the debonair double-O-7, he has slept with 44 women and never reached for a condom once. The Society points out the fact that he has not caught any STD's or fathered any children, either, as fuelling the totally unrealistic expectations and irresponsible sexual behaviour indulged in by so many.
   I certainly don't think that they can claim Hollywood's version of sexual conduct as the sole reason for the rise in STD's and accidental pregnancies that the Society is pointing to, but I do think you have to factor it in. Doctors from Sydney University in Australia found no mention of any method of birth control in 90% of the sex scenes they viewed in the top 200 films from the past 20 years. That's one huge amount of viewers represented by those movies. How many of them are actually influenced by what they see on the flickering screen? An interesting question.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Operation Christmas Child

   It's that time of year again. My daughters and I are busy packing shoe boxes to send to Operation Christmas Child. Have you heard of it? Last year they collected 7.4 million boxes (735,690 from Canada, my country) and delivered them to needy children in 95 countries around the world. Trains, planes, boats, railways, even donkeys were all used as means of transport to get those boxes to the eager hands of children who might otherwise have nothing at all.
   This program is run by The Samaritan's Purse, a nondenominational, evangelical Christian organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to people around the world who are the victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine. Since they are a Christian organization, they do tuck into every box a booklet about Jesus. If you're OK with that, then you might want to get involved. It's an easy way for those of us who are blessed with more than we need to share with those who do not have enough.
   We have a good time doing it each year. Some little items for the boxes are bought as we see them through the year, but the bulk of the purchasing is done at a really great dollar store not too far from our home. They have a great selection of merchandise that is just perfect for inclusion in the boxes. Combs, tooth brushes, small stuffed animals, and little tambourines just right for small hands - all these and more made their way into our shopping basket. At home, they were exclaimed over and packed and repacked into the boxes to get as much as possible fitting in. I had spent some time beforehand at my sewing machine in preparation for the packing day, making a couple of drawstring bags from brightly patterned cotton and we tucked them in as well. The bags, big enough to carry a pair of shoes, can be used for whatever personal treasure needs a bright carry-about.
   I love doing this every year, being afforded the means to share a little of my good fortune at Christmas. As a teacher, I used to do this with my intermediate students. They all got very involved, too. It just seems to be a really feel-good project. I was extra happy this year to find out from my husband that he had brought this project to the attention of his team at work. They are an international, multi-faith group. He was very careful to make sure they all understood about the inclusion of the christian literature, but all of them were fine with that. Every one of them came on board and the results have been wonderful. Rather than the two or three boxes my other half originally thought might be the end product, last Friday's "packing session" brought so much to the table, they're going to need more boxes and it looks like a dozen Christmas Child shoeboxes might result from their enthusiasm.
   If you are lucky enough to have everything you need in your life, and the idea of sharing that good fortune appeals to you, you might like to get involved in Operation Christmas Child, too. Packing a shoebox is an easy and fun undertaking. Follow the link here to get instructions, and some ideas of what you can include. Enter Operation Christmas Child in you search engine and you'll find the info about where to drop off you shoeboxes. If you have kids, get them to contribute to the boxes, and give them the opportunity to learn about empathy for the plight of their brothers and sisters. You could take the challenge of involvement to your church, or workplace, or social group as well. How much do you want to do? Take a little time to give. You'll get a lot from it.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Benedict's First Syn - odd

   This just in, folks, the first synod under Pope Benedict the Dumbo, oops! I mean 16th, will be considering, among other issues, the "worthiness" of Catholics who present themselves to receive the sacrament of communion. This seems to have come about because of all those naughty politicians who claim to be catholic and then support the cause of same-sex marriages. Bad boys and girls, indeed! Absolutely unworthy to receive the sacrament.
   A parish priest in Canadian PM Paul Martin's Montreal riding has declared that the Prime Minister no longer deserves the sacrament because of his support for the law that makes Canada one of four countries where the marriages are legal. Apparently, Charlie Angus, a politician from northern Ontario, has been denied communion by his parish priest.
   Let's discuss this issue of worthiness, shall we? We could start with, oh say, the issue of birth control. I don't know if those righteously indignant men of god remember this, but the RC church's official position on the practice of birth control is THOU SHALT NOT. End of discussion. Now if they decide to begin limiting distribution of the sacrament only to those worthy to receive it, they will effectively empty out nearly every single church, in the western world, at least.
    I mean, come on guys, take a closer look at the pews in front of you next time you're bellowing away from the pulpit. Didn't you ever notice how many of the families in those pews seem to consist of the parent(s) and just two kids? Just two. How do you think that happens so consistently for westerners? You don't think it's some kind of magic, do you? You don't think all those parents have only had intercourse twice in all the years of their marriage, do you? For christ's sake (no pun intended) you don't really think that vatican roulette works, do you? Do you?
   Wake up and smell the roses, guys, as well as the manure that fertilizes them. For an institution fresh out of a major child abuse scandal, it doesn't somehow seem quite right that you should be the first to cast any stones, at all. Maybe you should all spend some time in that synod huddled around a copy of the bible instead. Pay special attention to the passage about casting the first stone. Think about it really carefully. Maybe get someone in to explain it to you. Then instead of wasting time trying to hold onto your perceived power over the lives of others, you could spend some time trying to figure out how to contribute something worthwhile to those lives. You could use a dictionary and look up words like comfort, and support. You could think about moving your flagging institution forward from the dark ages it languishes in and finding a place for yourself in this year, this century, this modern world.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Poster Child for Racism?

   Colby King, the Washington Post’s Deputy Editorial Page Editor and columnist has declared radio host and former Reagan administration Secretary of Education Bill Bennett to be THE poster child for racism, and it's impossible to gainsay the man. His comment was made in response to Bennett's racist statement made on September 28th, on Salem Radio Network's "Bill Bennett's Morning in America" when a caller suggested to him that the people aborted over the last 30 years could have ensured the solvency of the Social Security program if they had been allowed to live and become gainfully employed adults. Bennett didn't think that would necessarily be something you could count on, but he did say that "if you wanted to reduce crime ... if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."
   Mr. Racism went on to declare his own statements were "ridiculous and morally reprehensible", but that didn't stop him from reiterating "but your crime rate would go down". "Morning in America" airs on approximately 115 radio stations with an estimated weekly audience of 1.25 million listeners.
That's one heck of a lot of ears into which he's spewing his vitriol. Correct me if I'm wrong, but is he not "inciting to hate"? It seems to me that the man is thereby entitling himself to a cell at Gitmo
   How can he be allowed to roam the streets? Where is the justice in allowing this criminal his freedom while others guilty of exactly the same crime as his are incarcerated? Is American "justice" really only for whites?
   Take a step back from this situation for a moment and direct your sights to Johannesburg, South Africa, where Mark Scott-Crossley was sentenced on Friday to life in prison for the crime he committed. Truly, his is the face of racism, incarnate.
   Like Mr. Poster Child back in the land of the free, he has absolutely no regard or respect for the black-skinned members of his own species. (I know I'm making a tenuous assumption here, but for the sake of argument, let's say that Scott-Crossley actually is human.) Unlike Mr. Poster Child, he took his hatred of them one step further and murdered Nelson Chisale. A former employee of Scott-Crossley's, Chisale was returning to his farm to pick up his cooking pots after having been fired for an alleged theft. Scott-Crossley coerced other employees into joining him in a machete attack on Chisale. They tied the victim to a stake where he was left, bleeding, for several hours. What they did next is horrendous. They took him to the Mokwalo White Lion Project, an enclosure where several of the big cats were kept, and they tossed him over the fence. Chisale was still alive when they did this. Later, investigators found nothing more than a skull, several shards of bone, and some bloodstained clothing when they searched for Chisale's remains.
   It was revealed during the trial that a portion of Chisale's pay, which was supposed to be deposited in his niece's account each month, was not deposited. Eight months later, when it still had not materialized, he reported his boss, Scott-Crossley, for employment violations, and drew Scott-Crossley's wrath on himself. Now that he has been taken to court, Scott-Crossley shows no remorse for his actions. Instead, he has offered Mr Chisale's family $6300 towards a funeral, $21,000 for a home and Mr Chisale's wages of $210 a month for 10 years if he is spared from prison, and is arguing that jailing him would only be an unnecessary cost to the state. This is a man who personifies total disregard for black humanity.
   If Bennett is different from Scott-Crossley, it is only in that he has urged others to hatred with his words, but never actually taken up arms against blacks himself. Scott-Crossley, on the other hand, has personally taken the kind of attitude expressed by Bennett to its most horrific extreme. Perhaps they would make good cellmates for each other. It's an idea that should be given serious consideration.


   To read another reaction to Bennett's racial slurs, as expressed by a blogger vehement in her condemnation of Amercia's easy acceptance of the racist sores festering within itself, click here.