Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!

I did not know that the tradition of the ball-dropping in New York was that old! They're celebrating that by doing things a little differently this year (and hopefully going forward).

NEW YORK -- The Times Square New Year's Eve ball is celebrating its centennial by going green.

The star of the world-famous holiday extravaganza was revamped this year with 9,576 energy-efficient bulbs that use about the same amount of electricity as 10 toasters.

Philips Lighting, which created the light-emitting diodes, or LED bulbs, specifically for the event, said they are smaller but more than twice as bright as last year's lights, which were a mix of more than 600 incandescent and halogen bulbs. And the new lights can create more than 16 million colours for a kaleidoscope of hues against the 672 Waterford Crystal triangles.

The ball was first dropped for the New Year's Eve celebration in 1907. Made of iron and wood, it weighed more than 300 kg and was lit with 100 25-watt bulbs.


This year, the motif is "Let There Be Light" and features a stylized, radiating sunburst on each of the crystal triangles.

The new design and technology "will make the ball glow like nothing else," said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, a business group in charge of the event.

Mrs THIT wonders how much energy the previous ball would eat up. I...have no idea, but I suspect it was significantly more than ten toasters.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Changing The Present

I've read a couple of articles lately about how charitable donations have become far more popular options for Christmas presents over the past year or two. Rather than navigate through malls looking for something to catch the eye, people are becoming more attracted to either donating to a cause on behalf of a loved one, or to "adopting" an animal from an organization such as the WWF.

Changing The Present seeks to make it easier by gathering all your options under one roof. And they offer other ideas as to when that mentality can come into play. It doesn't have to be just at Christmas time.

Race For Your Cause: All right, not everyone runs marathons regularly just for the sheer hell of it. Anytime I've been involved in anything even resembling this, it's been for a specific cause. But someone who does run a marathon "because it's there" can use Changing The Present to raise funds for a pet cause.

Facebook Gift Giving: Considering the sheer volume of people who have Facebook memberships, and who constantly send requests to add various applications to one's page, this one could do a lot of good! Basically...

Changing the world, one gift at a time
Now, you can give gifts to your friends that also make the world a better place.

ChangingThePresent offers nearly 1,000 meaningful $1 gifts from hundreds of leading nonprofits, so you're sure to find something that moves you. For instance, you can contribute towards providing a child with her first book; funding an hour of cancer research; protecting an acre of the rain forest; or restoring a blind person's sight with cataract surgery.

Your gifts will appear on your friends’ profile pages when they add the application.

And finally (though not necessarily leastly):

Create a Registry: If you have a forthcoming event for which people are expected to buy gifts, you could direct them to making a donation to a personal favourite charity/cause. Weddings naturally come to mind first when the term "registry" is used, but you can apply it to any significant event.

Whether you're the person donating or suggesting the donation, if you're unsure about the organization to which the donation would be applied, you can always check with Charity Navigator to get a better feel for whether they're a worthy recipient.

Happy giving!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

2007 Seventh-Warmest Year on Record

I know many people are sick and tired of hearing it, but...

BBC News - This year has been one of the warmest since 1850, despite the cooling influence of La Nina conditions, according to scientists.

The UK's Hadley Centre and University of East Anglia conclude that globally, this year ranks as the seventh warmest.

The 11 warmest years in this set have all occurred within the last 13 years. For the northern hemisphere alone, 2007 was the second warmest recorded.

I mention it because, when we received 35+ centimeters of snow in one day recently, the inevitable comments that global warming must be a hoax or mistake were heard again. So if I follow the reasoning, scientific research is to be immediately invalidated in favour of a snow storm in mid-December.

Is that to say that scientists are never wrong? Of course not. I've admitted a number of times that I'm not a full believer in global warming, or climate change, or whatever name you want to give it.

I also don't believe the excuse, used by those who don't want to change their habits, that adapting against climate change will ruin the economy. Ridiculous. Individuals can take it upon themselves to do their little part and make a significant difference. But I suppose that taking the stance that inaction is doing the world a favour is comforting to those who can't do away
with their little luxuries, like driving to their mailboxes.

You may have seen this gentleman's original video before. He broke down the logic of acting as though climate change is a fact very clearly. He apparently has updated it to cover a hole in his original video, so if watching this version feels as though you're watching a sequel, well, you are. And he's made more since, including a 4-part series since called "The Solution".

He dares you to punch a hole in his theory. So by all means, if you feel that a snow storm in December trumps his entire argument for a common sense approach, write to him and set him straight.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Get Drunk for the Environment! And for Country!

Ah, Friday night! My favourite time of the week because it's the most distant I can be from having to work next.

Usually, I like to celebrate that weekly event with a bottle of Taylor-Fladgate port (well...not the whole bottle...). But from time to time I'll wander from habit and look for other options. If it's a "green" option, all the better!

So you can imagine that the name "plantatree" on a bottle caught my eye!

You can click the image above for their website, but here's the claim:

For each bottle purchased, Lifford Wine Agency, in partnership with Tree Canada, will plant one tree. The trees, to be planted in Sudbury beginning in spring ’08, will each absorb approximately 650 pounds of carbon over the course of their life span.

“We are proud to be able to offer consumers a carbon-positive choice with plantatree™,” said Steven Campbell, Owner, Lifford Wine Agency. “We know that consumers want choice. We are providing them with an environmentally-responsible choice in the wine they drink. Consumers who purchase plantatree can enjoy a glass of wine and at the same time do something positive for the planet.”

Lifford has gone to great length to provide consumers with a high quality product that is good for the environment and supports local industry. The grapes for plantatree were farmed using sustainable agriculture practices in California. To lessen the carbon imprint, the wines are transported in bulk to Niagara and bottled by Niagara Vintners in PET plastic bottles made in Mississauga. The plastic PET bottles are unbreakable, significantly lighter than glass and recyclable. The cartons are made in Ontario of recycled cardboard that can be recycled again.

Mrs THIT is not wild about the plastic bottle, arguing that glass is no less recyclable. True enough, but I like it for a different reason. I take the bus home. When I have to take one of these with me, I'm always paranoid that I'm going to break it on the way. And it is indeed significantly lighter. So it works for me on that level.

When I'm a bit better informed about recycling codes, I intend to write a post about it here. For now, suffice to say that the bottle shows the following logo...

...And according to Wikipedia...

While all thermoplastics are technically recyclable, PET bottle recycling is more practical than many other plastic applications. The primary reason is that plastic carbonated soft drink bottles and water bottles are almost exclusively PET which makes them more easily identifiable in a recycle stream. PET has a resin identification code of 1. PET, as with many plastics, is also an excellent candidate for thermal recycling (incineration) as it is composed of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen with only trace amounts of catalyst elements (no sulphur) and has the energy content of soft coal.

I've had a couple of bottles of it (the Merlot) now and I like it. Is it high quality? Does it need to breathe? Would it go well with peice of soft cheese? Cripes, I don't know. Not only am I not a connaisseur (sp?) by any stretch of the imagination, I don't even pretend to be one. Here's my overall review: I think it tastes nice.

Now last night we stopped by the liquor store on our way home but I couldn't decide between the port or the Plantatree. Part of my decision was made for me when the port was unavailable, but I thought I should look around a bit for other options.

Glad I did! While browsing, I stumbled into this loveliness (in red, mind you):

Notice the Vancouver 2010 Olympic logo there? I'm a sucker for the Olympic games (though I gave up on them for a spell after the boxing fiasco in Seoul) and have done my little share to support those athletes from time to time. Well, here's another way:

Every time you purchase Jackson-Triggs Esprit™ wines, partial proceeds will proudly support The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and our Canadian Olympic Team. Jackson-Triggs Esprit™ wines are specially crafted in celebration of the Spirit of The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and are the result of our unique partnership with the Vancouver Organizing Committee for The Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC).

I'd posted about another wine which had partnered with the WWF, and have seen yet another that contributed tot he SPCA. There are enough options now that pretty well any time I buy a bottle, I'll attempt to see to it that someone benefits in a small way from my purchase. Why not? Those wines tend to be inexpensive and certainly adequate for my little weekly celebration.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Click Greener

This was a tip that I found on a WWF newsletter. I meant to hold off posting about it until closer to Christmas, but it slipped my mind. On the other hand, since many guys only do their Christmas shopping on December 23rd anyway, maybe I'm still way ahead of schedule.

Each year, online shopping malls earn millions of dollars in referral fees. ClickGreener harnesses this power and uses it to help the environment. Simply visit your favorite retailer through and make your purchase as usual. ClickGreener then donates 51% of the referral fee earned to WWF-Canada and other leading environmental organizations. There is no additional cost to you.

There are a number of recent articles about this including this one. So if you're the internet-shopper type, why not have a glance at whether the store you're shopping at is included on clickgreener's list? They're not lacking for selection and you can either search by store name or by product type.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

It's Really Just a Love Story...

Frequent and/or long-time readers of my little blog, if there is such an animal, will have noted by now that many of the posts that fall under the "tip" or suggestion category will include a benefit aside from the positive environmental impact.

The simple reason for that is that in my experience most people won't necessarily pay more, or go through additional effort, to be "green". I actually don't blame them, since many claims of greenhood are disputed. So I like to look for additional incentive when I find it, whether health-related, money-saving, whatever.

Here's a side-benefit that I have yet to "promote". Soft hands.

I bring to your attention, Nature Clean Dishwashing Liquid.

This product (and other members of its family) are fairly easy to find. They tend to be included in the organics section of grocery stores. We'd noticed them before, but they cost a little more and Mrs THIT had never heard anything particularly good about natural household cleaning products so until recently, they'd been ignored.

She tried this one because of it's tea tree oil content. Christine works with chemicals and her hands suffer because of it. They become extremely dry, cracked and painful. It's precision work, so she's unable to wear gloves while working. She'd heard that tea tree oils can be good for dry skin however and on that basis decided to give this product a try.

It seems she's quite pleased with it. She'd tried a number of moisterizing creams and what-not over the past couple of years to little success, but after less than two weeks of using this product she's already seeing a difference.

This particular benefit is hardly a surprise when one looks into the history of the company:

In the early 1960s, Mrs. Ross, the wife of our founder, suffered from skin rashes caused by dish detergents and shampoos. In an effort to alleviate her suffering, her husband began developing natural formulations. Since then the Ross family has continued the tradition of creating natural non-toxic alternatives for almost every product in your home. Over the years the love story surrounding our brand has extended far beyond this. Natureclean® is about caring for your family's health, it's about the passion we feel for protecting our natural world, and it's about loving ourselves enough to use safer products.

Group hug!!

Looking around their site, I found their Produce Wash interesting as well.

Most pesticides can’t be removed from produce with water alone because they are designed to be water resistant. This way, they won’t wash off in the rain.

Fruit & Veggie Wash Concentrate was designed for produce which requires soaking such as grapes, berries, broccoli, and spinach. This type of produce has more hidden crevices where contaminants can hide. Our formula has no taste, is odourless, residue-free and helps remove surface pesticides, chemicals, bacteria, wax and dirt. For firm produce like apples and tomatoes, we recommend our Fruit & Veggie Spray Wash.

Even organic produce should be washed. It can be exposed to everything from contaminated irrigation water to fertilizers, animal feces and human contact.

All told, I'm tremendously pleased that Christine has found a natural product that rids her of a nagging physical discomfort. So pleased in fact that I'll leave the dishwashing duties to her entirely! Sure, I probably washed dishes about once a year on the average, but I wouldn't want to take away something that benefits her, so I'll sacrifice that anniversary-like event for her sake. ;-)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Kindness Meters

Interesting idea coming out of the mayor's office here in Ottawa and getting front page coverage in the Ottawa Sun newspaper.

Mayor Larry O'Brien wants you to make change for the homeless.

Beginning next week, visitors to the Byward Market will notice a few "kindness meters," formerly used as parking meters they are intended to collect loonies and toonies for the city's homeless.

It's part of the Give Smart program the city officially kicked off yesterday.

"Nobody in the City of Ottawa needs to be hungry and I want residents to park their cash in these meters," said O'Brien.

The mayor has asked that six parking meters that are no longer being used for their original purpose be refurbished and stationed at strategic locations -- high traffic pedestrian areas in the Market.

So as not to confuse motorists, the meters will be positioned away from the road and painted a different colour than the traditional metallic grey.

O'Brien said the kindness meters will be easily recognizable and will carry a Give Smart logo.

The money collected wouldn't be placed directly in the hands of the homeless, but will be distributed to the organizations that serve the homeless, including the Ottawa Mission and Operation Go Home.

"The money will go to the groups that actually provide the help," said O'Brien.

Rideau-Vanier Coun. Georges Bedard, whose ward will be home to the meters, said they'll go a long way to providing the necessary help that homeless people need.

"I hope this will encourage people to give their money to various organizations," said Bedard.

The Give Smart drive is the second phase of a program that began last April emphasizing that putting money into the hands of the panhandlers doesn't help them.

"It mostly goes to feeding their addictions," said Bedard.

To help promote public philanthropy, Bedard said the Give Smart campaign will be advertised on OC Transpo buses and pamphlets have been printed to inform the public about the program's intention -- all paid for by the area business community.

And to ensure the operation and maintenance of the program doesn't become a financial burden, the city is looking for corporate sponsors.

Bedard said if the kindness meters prove to be a worthwhile means to collect money to help the homeless, he'd like to install more of them in the Byward Market.

Similar meters have already been installed in a few Canadian municipalities and across the United States.

Montreal installed 60 of them a few months ago and collects about $700 a week.

I'll be honest, at first read I thought this was a well-intended idea that I would have supported when the opportunity presented itself, but that would not amount to much. However, its success in Montreal (on a much larger scale mind you) is encouraging.

The article seems to cover all my concerns but one; why limit it to loonies and twonies (which I believe should be the proper spelling of that coin's name, in light of its value)? I'm constantly carrying too many coins. I'd unload all my nickles and dimes and not even feel it. No doubt the organizations in question would accept them.

I like the mention that giving homeless people the money directly does little to help. I believe that to be true. Reading this article, I was reminded of many anecdotes, personal or otherwise, of people trying to help and becoming frustrated. Christine once handed a guy some change only to be told "Well, that's not a hell of a lot!". I saw a panhandling kid once get pissed that someone included pennies in their handout to him, grab them from his cup and throw them in the street. A co-worker was asked for $75 to get a room for the night.

I once gave a lady a loonie, and she asked me for five bucks. Presumably, if I'd given her $5 she'd have asked for ten and proceeded with this escalation until I bought her a house by the river. She followed me for two blocks asking for more.

So this would appear to be a case where the indirect method is the better course of action.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Improve at Scrabble and Feed the Poor!

My mention of urban legends in the previous post reminded me that I hadn't visited The Urban Legends Reference Page, a long-time favourite, in some time. So I did. And browsing the "What's New?" section led me to this little game (as well as a confirmation that it is indeed legitimate and not a hoax).

The point is to trigger a donation of 20 grains of rice for every multiple answer vocabulary question you answer correctly on the site. The rice is paid for the advertisers at the bottom of the page. And how does it reach those in need? From the site's FAQ:

The rice is distributed by the United Nations World Food Program (WFP). The World Food Program is the world’s largest food aid agency, working with over 1,000 other organizations in over 75 countries. In addition to providing food, the World Food Program helps hungry people to become self-reliant so that they escape hunger for good.

Other similar sites, on which a donation is made with nothing but a click, include and Look across the top of either site for even more.

The Six Sins of Greenwashing

I hate getting suckered by a hoax, but it happens to most people. Probably everyone can recall falling for something they read on the 'net (most likely in some bulk e-mail) or believing in something that was later revealed to be an urban legend.

For that reason, I try to question some of the claims I come across when looking into environmental matters. Especially now that claiming to be green is such a great marketing tool. Often though, you have to apply a little blind faith and go with your gut.

This is why I was pleased to read about The Six Sins of Greenwashing, brought to my attention through a Greenbiz newsletter. Here's a portion of their article

In the spring of 2007, TerraChoice sent research teams into six category-leading "big box" retail stores with instructions to "record every product-based environmental claim they observed." In all, the teams examined 1,018 consumer products bearing 1,753 environmental claims. Products ranged from cleaning and personal care products to televisions and printers.

Of the products examined, "all but one made claims that are either demonstrably false or that risk misleading intended audiences," according to the report.

TerraChoice has isolated six methods by which the green claim is not always as accurate as a consumer would be led to believe, hence the six sins. Some could be "innocently" innacurate due to lack of detailed research, while others are deliberate falsehoods or omissions of information.

The report includes tips on how to avoid the misinformation, whether you're the business or the consumer, including the certifications that they feel you can count on. Check it out. Seems like a good reference.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Recycled Toilet Paper?

What a lovely image this creates. recently reviewed different brands of butt-wad made with various levels of recycled content. The perception of using recycled toilet paper is probably that it would not be unlike going all the way back to nature and using tree bark to clean the crack, but apparently one brand stands out above the rest.

Drum roll...
Seventh Generation Double Roll
2 ply/ 400 sheets per roll/ 4.5"x4" sheet/ 200 sq. ft.
$3.99 for a 4-pack at Whole Foods
Recycled content: 100 percent
Post-consumer recycled content: 80 percent minimum
Color: white (processed without chlorine)
Pattern: flowers
Absorbency: 4.1 out of 5 (9 reviewers)
Overall comfort: 4.4 out of 5 (9 reviewers)

Some reviewers questioned whether this roll was even recycled -- quite the compliment for TP that boasts a minimum 80 percent post-consumer content. Though the tree-felling Cottonelle roll beat it by one-tenth of a point in overall comfort, this little recycled-roll-that-could ruled in absorbency. Even Summer said it was "nice on the tush!"

I don't recall ever coming across this brand at a local grocery store, but the next time I'm in one I'll look for it and give it a try if it's available. Don't expect a review though.

Looking at the comments on Grist's page, I see one person suggests the following:

I...don't know what to make of the whole thing. I was certain it was a joke but their website gives the opposite impressions. The online store certainly seems legitimate. Yet, their tips on how the deed...create doubt.

When you crumple toilet paper, just like if you crumpled a piece of writing paper, it gets sharp edges and corners. Why would you want sharp corners on your toilet paper? Like all paper, toilet paper feels smoothest when it is flat.

Folding, instead of crumpling, also helps you use far less paper— saving energy, resources and money.

If you are worried that folded paper will break or tear, just fold it over again to make more layers. With ShitBegone, I usually tear off 3 or 4 sheets, and fold them over twice for a total of 4 sheets (8 plys) thick. But even if you tear off 6 or 8 sheets at a time, and make a pad 24 layers thick to wipe yourself with, you will still use less paper than most crumplers do.

All right, well...Maybe I'll start with 7th Generation and increase my experimentation when I'm more confident.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

More on the ZENN Car on the Rick Mercer Report

This is a typically funny and informative Mercer segment on the ZENN car. Worth the few minutes to watch it, and worth communicating with the two men mentioned in the segment during the test drive to ask them to get things moving along. Or perhaps appealing to the provincial level is the way to go.

The other thing that jumped out at me was the price. $12,000?? That's honestly far lower than I would have guessed.

On the other hand, I would have two concerns:

a) Top speed. Can you take this thing on the highway? It doesn't sound (no pun intended) like it.

b) Charge length. I believe the site's video states that an eight hour charge is good for about 35 minutes. Oy. Not so good for the long-distance stuff.

So it appears to be a car for a specific market. Still, there are an awful lot of benefits, especially for the selling price and considering that you don't have to buy gas. How much does THAT save a month??

Now this is my first attempt at including a youtube video as part of my post so forgive me if I botch it. If I have, the actual link is this.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The CFL's Green Drive

No, this is not yet another post about how CFL's (compact fluorescent lights) are going to save the world. It's about how the CFL (Canadian Football League) is attempting to lighten the impact of its championship game this weekend.

Here's a portion of a press release from earlier this month.

TORONTO (CFL) -– The ‘CFL Green Drive’, a new initiative focused on minimizing the Grey Cup’s impact on the environment, was announced today by the Canadian Football League, in partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Environment.

Each year the CFL hosts the largest single-day sporting event in Canada. The CFL Green Drive represents a major new commitment by the league to minimize the event’s impact on the environment.
For this year’s Grey Cup, the CFL Green Drive will focus on three major areas; the use of renewable clean energy, waste management and carbon offsetting.

Through an environmental audit conducted by supporting partner Zerofootprint, the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the CFL championship game's energy use, paper, and team air travel were determined. These emissions will be balanced out using ISO-certified reforestation carbon offsets. This effort will offset nearly 300 tonnes of carbon dioxide, a process which will help revitalize degraded ecosystems and soak up the CO2 the event has produced.

The CFL is also working with supporting partner and clean energy leader Bullfrog Power, a retailer of 100 per cent EcoLogo certified green electricity, to provide clean power for this year’s Grey Cup.

Throughout Grey Cup week, the CFL’s supporting partner and recycling pioneer Turtle Island will provide waste management and recycling services for the Grey Cup Festival and at the big game itself.

More information can be found on the CFL’s Green Drive website via The website contains links to all of the CFL’s ‘green’ partners and is a resource for fans to learn more about the various initiatives.

Fans will also find an engaging way to be a part of the CFL Green Drive through an interactive carbon calculator designed by Zerofootprint.

Mrs THIT and I recently had a discussion about how authentic some of these "initiatives" are. I'm not questioning the CFL's in particular, but speaking in general terms. Are there real efforts being made, or is the green flag being waived because it's makes for good marketing?

Who knows? I don't want to paint everyone with one wide brush. If nothing else, the CFL brings the issue to a large group of people, a number of which may not be very aware of the options.

The CFL, by the way, is hardly a trailblazer here. Some time ago, it was announced that the 2010 Winter Olympics would also be carbon neutral, and the claim was reinforced earlier this month. The 2006 Olympics were partially offset, as were a number of other events including the Superbowl.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Costa Rica and New Zealand on Path to Carbon Neutrality

This is an article from the Worldwatch Institute.

While some of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHGs) hem and haw about how to—or even if to—limit their contributions to climate change, at least two small countries are blazing trails for the world to follow. Both Costa Rica and New Zealand have declared over the past several months their intentions to become carbon neutral. Together, they accounted for about 0.15 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions in 2005, according to the World Bank.

In May 2007, Costa Rica’s government announced it was drawing up plans to reduce net GHG emissions to zero before 2030. The country aims to reduce emissions from transport, farming, and industry, and to clean up its fossil fuel power plants, which account for 4 percent of the country’s electricity (of the rest, 78 percent comes from hydropower and 18 percent from wind and geothermal power). In addition, through an innovative program begun in 1997 and funded by a gas tax, the government compensates landowners for growing trees to absorb carbon while protecting watersheds and wildlife habitat. Costa Rica aims to be the first country to become carbon neutral.

But Costa Rica could be in a race with New Zealand, which last month set the target of becoming “the first truly sustainable nation on earth.” Prime Minister Helen Clark announced in a speech on September 20 that her country will adopt an economy-wide program to reduce all GHG emissions, with different economic sectors being gradually introduced into a national emissions trading program that should be in effect fully by 2013. Other commitments include an increase in renewable electricity to 90 percent by 2025 (up from 70 percent today), a major net increase in forest area, widespread introduction of electric vehicles, and a 50 percent reduction in transport-related emissions by 2040.

These two nations represent only a small share of the world’s emissions. But as New Zealand’s Clark said last month, “We are neither an economic giant nor a global superpower…. If we want to influence other countries and the responses they take in coming years and decades, then we must take action ourselves. Taking action is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do.”

I've been to Costa Rica and it's a lovely place. I was on a cruise, so I was only there for one day.

I went horseback riding with my wife and my pappy. My horse hated me, as well as everyone and everything around it. I gave another horse attitude and that horse tried to kick mine, causing it to bolt. Thankfully, handlers (?) got a hold him before I was sent tumbling to my ass.

Was that the most unpleasant part of my day trip? Actually, no. Watching dumb-ass tourists stoss cigarette butts in the rain forest was. That was the most frustrating thing. Because heaven forbid you go three whole hours without your smoke.

But I guess it's not that big a deal. When tossing cigarette butts in a forest, what's the worst that can happen, right?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Organic Food Proven Healthier?

I wasn't certain whether I should post this for two reasons:

a) I've beaten this drum before.
b) I typically like to find an objecting viewpoint. Not that I seek to have my mind changed, but I like to know whether there's a (or multiple) factor(s) that I haven't considered.

"b" is particularly true in this area because I know not everyone is a believer that organic = healthier (though most do know that organic = more expensive). However, the mention that this study is the largest of its kind won me over.

Organic food is healthier than conventional produce and may be better at preventing cancer and heart disease, according to the biggest study of its kind. So here is a slightly trimmed version,with the full article available here.

In a finding that challenges official advice, researchers have shown that fruit and vegetables contain up to 40 per cent more nutrients if they are grown without chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

The £12 million project also found that organic milk contains 80 per cent more antioxidants -substances which reduce the risk of tumours and life threatening problems.

Organic produce also had higher levels of iron and zinc, vital nutrients lacking in many people's diets.


A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency - which has come under fire for insisting that organic produce is no more healthier than conventional food - said it would review the latest study.

The findings come from Prof Carlo Leifert, an expert in organic food whose four year Newcastle University study is funded by the European Union and food companies.

He said the health benefits were so striking that moving to organic food was the equivalent of eating an extra portion of fruit and vegetables every day.


His team grew fruit and vegetables and reared cows on organic and non-organic sites on a 725 acre farm near at Newcastle University.

They found that levels of antioxidants in milk from organic cattle were between 50 and 80 per cent higher than conventional milk.

Organic wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions and lettuce had between 20 and 40 per cent more nutrients.

Although the study has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, Prof Leifert is convinced the findings are sound.

He also believes there is enough evidence for the Food Standards Agency to change its advice on organic food and admits to being puzzled why the agency has not already done so.

"I wonder whether it's more to do with politics," he said.

The research suggests that organic fruit and vegetable is healthier because it uses more natural fertiliser such as clover and manure.

"Plants have evolved to get nutrients from organic matter, " he said.

"They need only a small amount early on in the year, and most in the summer. Yet with chemical fertiliser, they get most soon after planting and very little when they need it most."

The study - which runs for another year - found that milk was more nutritious in the summer, when cattle are grazing fresh grass.

"If you feed a cow on grass you get better milk," he said.

"I suspect that because British cattle have so much grass in their diet that nutrient levels may be higher in conventional UK milk than in some imported organic milk."

The Soil Association, which has been embroiled in a decade long dispute with the FSA over the health benefits of organic food, has welcomed the latest research.

There are few signs that the boom in organic food is ending. Sales are growing by 25 per cent each year and shoppers now spend around £2 billion a year on organic produce.

The reasons why organic food is popular vary. Some shoppers buy it for the taste, others to reduce exposure to chemicals.

Organic meat is popular among shoppers concerned about animal welfare.

The Food Standards Agency has ordered a review into its advice on organic food and health benefits. The results are expected in March.

"Until then the advice remains that there is no evidence that organic food has higher levels of nutrients than conventional food," a spokesman said.

I have yet to come across a sound argument as to why I shouldn't eat organic when the opportunity presents itself. Even the well-thought out comment made at the bottom of the article...

Yeah. I'm sure that plants that have been splattered with manure are MUCH more healthy than non-organic.

- Nic, Maize, USA

...doesn't quite cut it. When a friend of mine once asked about what the difference was in eating organic, another responded to the effect that "It means that you eat real shit instead of articifical shit". Well...If I'm going to eat shit anyway...

Friday, November 09, 2007

ZENN: Zero Emissions, No Noise

I came across a story of a Canadian company making electric cars, but struggling to sell them within the country, on another blog. But it seems that since that entry was written, things have taken a significant turn and that the possibility of purchasing an electric car is becoming more likely.

Here's a brief video from CBC's National which recaps the hurddle that's been jumped, the remaining difficulties, and some pros and cons of this vehicle.

The ZENN Motor Company's own website has a promotional video as well.

I'm not sure that the Zenn could be the primary vehicle for many people, because of its top speed and maximum charge, but at least it appears that some significant progress has been made in regards to the electric car becoming more mainstream.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Peer Pressure The World Into Eco-Friendliness!

The timing of this article (or at least, my finding it) is convenient, as I'm going to Toronto tomorrow and spending the night in a hotel.

You know those signs they have in the bathrooms reminding you to reuse your towels in order to save water? One such sign was the inspiration of a study on how the wording of a suggestion can impact the likelihood that it will be followed. The results may offer some insight as to how best to deliver a message so that it sticks. Read on:

I’ll bet you’ve been there. You’ve stood under the unkind fluorescent lights of a hotel bathroom, looking at one of those milquetoasty pasteboard signs about towel reuse. And maybe you’ve thought, What a crock. In the face of innumerable planetary ills, we’re expected to believe that towels are the cure?

But marketing researcher Robert Cialdini must have a sunnier disposition. When he first noticed those little signs, he was positively delighted by the opportunities, remembering the billboard slogan this space available for lease. “I thought, ‘This space available for test,’” he said during a recent talk in San Francisco.

Cialdini and his Arizona State University students, with the consent of two Phoenix-area hotels, took their theories of persuasion to the towel rack. First, they tested the familiar exhortations to “Help save the environment” and “Help save resources for future generations.” These messages had similar success rates, convincing an unimpressive 30 percent of guests to reuse their towels after one night.

Things improved, however, when the research team resorted to peer pressure. The invitation to “Join your fellow guests in helping to save the environment”—including the justifiable statement that nearly three-quarters of guests used their towels more than once—garnered a 44 percent participation rate after one night. Then, the researchers drew guests’ peers even closer: “Seventy-five percent of the guests who stayed in this room . . . [used] their towels more than once,” they asserted. With the ghosts of former guests peeping over their shoulders, nearly 50 percent of hotel customers hung up their towels.

We are a pliable people, it seems: what our neighbors, and even our unseen fellow hotel guests, do in their bathrooms wields more influence than we like to think. Cialdini argues that these flocking instincts can, and in some cases already do, work for the planet. In a telephone survey of more than two thousand Californians, for instance, he found that the belief that one’s neighbors conserve energy was closely linked to household energy savings—even though most respondents professed higher-minded motivations such as environmental protection and civic responsibility. Activists, Cialdini says, should take note.

Yet one group resists the do-good herd. An unexpected result of the hotel towel study was that no matter the message, American Express cardholders reused their towels significantly less often than Visa or MasterCard members. The reason, speculates Cialdini, is that many AmEx members take their advertising slogan to heart, believing that membership really does “have its privileges.” One of them, it appears, is to use as many towels as you darn well please.

Smoked Wheat

I've commented a number of times about how certain people make a big deal of the fact that Christine and I became vegetarians a couple of years ago. But I maintain (and always will) that it's not anywhere near the huge lifestyle change that some make it out to be. Not to take a shot at myself, but if I can do it...

If you spend even a minimal amount of time looking into it, you'll find that there are a number of substitutes that are available to kill the meat craving at first, until you no longer really have a desire for it. That's been my (our) experience, anyway. Think of them as "Nicorette for beef". ;-)

Now in truth, there aren't substitutes for everything. I have yet to come across a quality substitute for ribs, for example. And I had yet to come across a quality substitute for smoked meat, but now that one's been taken care of.

Christine spotted "Smoked Wheat" from the above folks at a Loeb store near our place and decided to give it a try. Click on the logo for more details.

We were pretty pleased with it. Was it identical to the real thing? No. Like many fake meats, the most glaring difference is in the texture (in my opinion, anyway).

Does it simulate the real thing well enough to pass? Absolutely. Flavour-wise, it's close enough. And now that it's a couple of hours in my past, I'm enjoying the wicked thirst you get after a little while after eating a smoked meat sandwhich. Now THAT'S substitutin'!! It's also kind of odd because water is the first ingredient...

We'll have it again before long, and likely try "Roast Wheat" at some point. And hopefully they both look close enough to the real thing to others that I can have it in a sandwich at work or with friends and not have someone tell me for the umpteenth time "Oh, that's right! You don't eat meat at all?? I don't know how you do it..."

Here's the nutritional content from a handy little site called And while looking up some information about smoked wheat, I came across this list of Top Five Vegetarian Sandwiches. Smoked Wheat made the #3 position, so I might just have to try the other four some day.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

IFAW's Petition Against Ivory Trading

Fairly self-explanatory. I know that not everyone is convinced petitions are actually impactful, but this is an area where I take the point of view that while they may not be, doing nothing is definitely not impactful.

Looking a little further into this issue, I came across the following blurb:

New DNA tests on illegal ivory have revealed elephant-poaching hot spots. Now scientists hope police will be able to catch the crooks responsible and halt the decline of elephant numbers.

Interesting. More about this process and it's impact can be found here.

Salt: Not Just For Breakfast Anymore!

While not a professional nutritionist by any stretch, and not nearly as careful as I could be when determining my snack options, I've come a long since the days I used to have BBQ chips for breakfast.

It turns out that might not have been so good for me. Who knew??

I suppose neither was the time that I scooped a spoonful of salt into a cup of tea. Of course, that was by accident. I thought while drinking it that the contents of my cup tasted...odd.

I read the article below yesterday while on my lunch break at work and wolfing down a 12" Subway Veggie Delite. It was written by one Megan Gillis of the Sun newspaper chain and is a clear, brief rundown of the impact of salt on your diet. Some of the statistics mentioned may surprise you.

Limiting salt in the food we eat would be the biggest boon to public health since safe drinking water and sewers, a coalition of health groups argued yesterday.

The group was urging action to stop an epidemic of high blood pressure linked to strokes, heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and dementia.

The average Canadian eats about a third more salt than the healthy limit and double what they need, most of it from processed foods including bread, cereal, soups and processed fast food.

Research suggests that if Canadians ate only healthy amounts of sodium, the number of strokes and cases of heart disease could drop by 30% and one in three Canadians with hypertension -- a million people -- would have normal blood pressure, saving $430 million a year in health costs and 4 million doctor visits.

"The individual can only do so much and now more food companies have to step up," Canadian Stroke Network director Dr. Kevin Willis said. "If we discovered that a food additive was causing 30% of all cancers, something would be done right away. The same action is needed with sodium to prevent stroke, heart disease and other vascular illness."

Health Minister Tony Clement established an expert working group yesterday as a first step toward a national strategy to cut salt consumption.

But health groups want the government to move quickly to set standards for salt in food, track and report how much Canadians are eating, launch an education campaign and provide incentives to food makers.

The goal is to reduce sodium consumption to healthy levels by 2020.

Meanwhile, people should read labels, eat less processed and fast food and cook more meals at home based on naturally low-sodium foods such as fruits and vegetables.

"It's been said reducing dietary sodium would result in the biggest improvement in public health since clean water and drains," said Sen. Wilbert Keon, the former head of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

"It's not just adults who have to worry," Keon said. "Evidence published recently shows that sodium is harmful to children, causing high blood pressure and damage to blood vessels that will lead to ill health later in life.

"In my own work as a heart surgeon, I've seen the impact of poor diet on disease and damaged hearts. It's critical we take a population level approach to reduce sodium in the food supply, make it easier for people to make healthier choices and educate the population on the link between sodium and hypertension."

It's not just the salt shaker. Processed foods can be packed with sodium. Research shows that even Canadians who say they never add salt to their food are consuming too much sodium. A small number of foods -- pizza, sandwiches, subs, burgers and hot dogs, soups and pasta dishes -- account for a third of the sodium we eat.

- Pizza Pizza pepperoni slice (large takeout slice), 1,710 mg.

- Pizza Pizza Big Bacon Bonanza (takeout only), 2,090 mg.

- McDonald's Big Mac, 1,020 mg.

- Burger King Bacon Double Cheeseburger, 1,460 mg.

- Subway 6" spicy Italian sub, 1,580 mg.

- Subway 6" ham sub, 1,060 mg.

- East Side Mario's baked ziti pasta with sausage, 2,310 mg.

- East Side Mario's Bigga Spaghetti with Meatballs, 4,290 mg

Source: National Sodium Policy Statement

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Even God's Going Greener

From The Book Standard, by way of

Thomas Nelson will publish the world's first eco-friendly Bible later this month. The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible will be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and production will flow from a FSC-certified forest through a paper manufacturer and printer that have FSC chain-of-custody certification.

The Bible will contain recycled fiber and was developed along with Domtar, a paper manufacturer with a strong environmental commitment. Thomas Nelson is currently working with the Green Press Initiative, a U.S.-based organization that helps the book publishing industry reduce their paper usage, to reduce the company's carbon footprint.

This isn't my first exposure to the Green Press Initiative. During our vacation in late July/early August, we made a stop in Perth, where I bought a calendar that has the Green Press initiative stamp on it.

I looked them up and found them interesting. Though I intended to post about Green Press at the time, I held off on the basis that talking about calendars in August is sort of like putting up Christmas decorations before Halloween.

The calendar itself is published by Amber Lotus Publishing and they claim to printing on 100% post-consumer recycled paper (cover stock is 20% recycle) using soy-based inks. They plant a minimum of 3000 trees every year and offset their carbon dioxide emissions through NativeEnergy.

There's an awful lot to like there, and going forward that Green Press logo will be something I look for.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

United Animal Nations Halloween Reminders

With Halloween on the way, I can already look forward to Oscar barking at every ghost and goblin that makes it to our door. Boy, you just don't get tired of that, eh?

Actually, at our old place, it was kind of cool because we could set a gate at the top of the stairs that led down to the front door. Oscar would bark himself hoarse through the banister at all the little kids just as Christine would open the door, scaring the kiddlies senseless for a brief moment. Hilarity would naturally ensue.

That's not an option in the new crib. We have a fairly wide entrance hall, which in this instance will complicate things. So we're going to have to figure something out.

Here are other things to bear in mind as Halloween creeps up on, courtesy of the United Animal Nations (said from the pet's point of view).

1. No treats for Fido. Chocolate can be toxic to dogs and cats, and tin foil and cellophane candy wrappers can be hazardous if swallowed. Don’t give us candy, no matter how much we beg!

2. Take care with candles. If you add a candle to your carved Jack-o’-lantern, make sure we can’t knock it over and get burned or cause a fire.

3. Dress without stress. If your pet likes to wear a costume (please don’t force us if we don’t!), make sure it’s safe. No small dangling pieces that we can chew or choke on. Make sure we can breathe, see and hear clearly, and that the costume doesn’t trip us or restrict our movement.

4. Get unplugged. Well, you can keep your lights and decorations plugged in, but make sure we can’t chew on the wires and cords.

5. Privacy please! Unless your pets are super social and friendly...put them in a separate room when trick-or-treaters come to call. All those strangers can be scary and stressful for us.

We're #1!

In rudeness.

Reader's Digest set out to determine which city in Canada was the most polite. The Ottawa Citizen covered the results which included Ottawa coming in 11th. Of 11. More below.

RD sent teams of researchers to gauge the politeness of people in major cities across the country. The teams used three tests. At 10 busy intersections, they dropped a folder filled with papers to see if anyone would help pick them up.

The RD teams also walked behind people entering public buildings to see if they would hold the door open. and bought small items in 10 stores to see if the sales clerk would say thanks.

Maybe people here mistook the RD teams for Americans with their puny little dollars, and who needs to be nice to them anymore?

Besides, we're busy running this exasperating country. We don't have time to make nice with every butterfingers rube from out of town who lacks the hand/eye co-ordination necessary to walk and grasp a sheaf of papers at the same time.

Moncton finished first in the survey, and it's true Monctonians are unfailingly nice to visitors. But these are the same people who tell you with a straight face that the well-named Tidal Bore is a fascinating natural phenomenon. And they insist that Magnetic Hill is not a shabby trick to pull on innocent little children.

Montreal was ranked fifth, and there's no doubt that Montrealers are sophisticated. When blind drunk, for example, Montrealers never urinate on their own statuary. They much prefer coming to Ottawa on Canada Day to urinate on ours. Nothing says gracious urban living like drunks urinating in public at the War Memorial.

RD's head office is in Montreal, but that wouldn't influence the survey results, surely.

Calgary and Vancouver tied for second? Be for real, RD.

In Calgary, it's considered polite to talk about how much money you make and what a civic blessing it would be if Newfoundlanders were banned in Alberta. It's the height of wit in Calgary to refer to Red Deer as "Dead Rear."

In Vancouver, a visitor finds himself gagging on civic smugness. All they talk about is how much they paid for their house, and how much more it's worth now. Know what, you Kitsilano kook? Nobody cares about your paper fortune.

Toronto finished third from the bottom, no surprise there. People in T.O. are constantly crabby because the Maple Leafs are a foul blot on the city's fair face.

Anyway, who cares what RD thinks? RD is so boring we already forgot everybody in those "Most Unforgettable Character" articles. The survey explains why RD is only seen at the dentist's office. Because reading it is associated with pain.

In Moncton, they have a colloquial expression used to indicate total disagreement with any statement, political or otherwise: "And a pig's behind is pork, too."

Ottawa dead last in civility? Yeah, RD, and a pig's behind is pork, too.

The Most Courteous Cities

(Rankings as published in Reader's Digest)


1. Moncton: 80 per cent

2. tie: Calgary and Vancouver: 77

3. Edmonton: 73

4. tie: Victoria, Charlottetown, St. John's: 70

5. Montreal: 68

6. tie: Halifax, Winnipeg: 67

7. Regina: 63

8. Quebec City: 62

9. Toronto: 60

10. Saskatoon: 57

11. Ottawa: 50

Naturally, this has sparked some debate. There are a number of points about this whole thing that I find particularly amusing.

1. The seriousness with which some people are reacting in comment sections online and in the paper. Come one, people. Reader's Digest could do this once a month and come up with different results. This is hardly an exact science. Don't worry about it.

2. The variety of reactions across the country. In looking up the article, I came cross several recaps of it from newspapers in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. Ottawa is last, and many people seem to agree it's deserving of its positioning. Vancouver is tied for second...and many people seem to think that's a a load of crap.

3. The reaction to the article above taking toungue-in-cheek shots at other cities. To those who think that the article was written seriously, I have an early Christmas present for you; a very tiny portion of which relates to the definition of "irony":

1, 2. Irony, sarcasm, satire indicate mockery of something or someone. The essential feature of irony is the indirect presentation of a contradiction between an action or expression and the context in which it occurs. In the figure of speech, emphasis is placed on the opposition between the literal and intended meaning of a statement; one thing is said and its opposite implied, as in the comment, “Beautiful weather, isn't it?” made when it is raining or nasty.

It's not fully completely applicable but it should lead you down the right path.

In any event, such studies are amusing, but that's about the extent of it in my opinion. I'm not from here but I've lived here many years, have no intention of leaving, and have met some great folks. Yet there are days that I come home ranting about how much I hate people in general.

The odd "test" in this survey is the one about having doors held open. I NEVER have that problem. I find that 95% of the time people will hold doors for others.

My great symbol of rudeness here, there and everywhere is the use of cellphones in public places. But that's a whole other topic for another day...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Real Hair Racket

I've never heard of this sort of thing before. If true, it goes to show that there's no end to the imagination of people willing and able to exploit others in a less fortunate position.

Amy Winehouse is set to donate £50,000 to a Romanian orphanage after discovering her hair extensions could have come from there.

The 'Rehab' singer - who wears a weave to boost her trademark beehive hairstyle - was shocked to discover orphans often have all their hair cut off to provide extensions for Western women. Although Amy has ensured the pieces she uses come from ethical sources, she is determined to help.

A source said: "Amy met a lovely lady from the group Beauty Hurts and they started chatting about the real hair racket. She had no idea orphans were exploited. She knows where her weave comes from and to be honest, it's the US where most of the unethically culled hair ends up, but she still wanted to help. Amy was keen to keep her generous donation secret but realises it's important to highlight the issue."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Inspirational Sausage

A three-legged dachshund named Longfellow runs to the finish line to win a race at the Annual Savannah Wiener Dawg Races Saturday, Oct. 6, 2007, in Savannah, Ga. Longfellow missed last year's races after being hit by a car and losing one of his hind legs. After recovering for the year, Longfellow joined more than 175 dachshunds from around the South to compete for prizes during races at the Oktoberfest Festival on the Historic River Street Waterfront. (AP Photo/Photo Stephen Morton)

Monday, October 08, 2007

Self-Conscious About Driving a Smart Car?

Then probably this little guy isn't for you.

You're looking at Nissan's newest electric car, which is getting a little press these days. I'm not certain why, because the press release I found about it dates back to 2005.

In any event, that it's electric is almost an afterthought because *gasp* its wheels rotate for easier parking!! Now you're talking progress!

Apparently it will also cheer you up after a bad day. I'm all for trying to look beyond a paradigm but that's just..odd.

TOKYO (Sept. 30, 2005) - Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., today unveiled Pivo, its imaginative electric car concept, in partnership with renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami at the company's Nissan Ginza Gallery in downtown Tokyo.

Pivo, which will be on display at this year's Tokyo Motor Show, features an innovative cabin that revolves 360 degrees, eliminating the need to reverse. Thanks to its compact body, the car is also exceptionally easy to maneuver.

The three-seater car comes with a number of user-friendly technologies, including Nissan's Around View Monitor which reduces blind spots by displaying the outside surroundings on screens mounted on the inside of the car's A-pillars located on either side of the windshield. A dash-mounted infrared (IR) commander allows the driver to operate the navigation and stereo systems with simple finger movements without letting go of the steering wheel.

Pivo is powered by Nissan's compact, high-performance lithium-ion battery and its unique Super Motor, resulting in zero emissions.

The gallery space for the Pivo event, which was designed by Murakami, features a futuristic vegetable garden installation, as well as large balloons and illustrations of "Pivo-chan," a character he designed based on the concept car's inspiring image.

Here's a short video clip.

Ever hear that a genius is not appreciated in his or her own time? Well, someone came up with a similar car YEARS ago and got laughed at for it.

Let that serve as a lesson to not judge an idea entirely on first impressions, people.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Corn-ucopia of Options

This is a subject matter that I came across a while ago, but struggled to come up with a way to display it. This being thanskgiving weekend in Canada, the timing seems right now.

One of my first posts on here was about discovering the various things that could be accomplished with hemp. More and more I'm finding out that the same is true about...corn.

I found out more about ethanol a while ago:

Ethanol is a liquid alcohol made of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon and is obtained from the fermentation of sugar or converted starch contained in grains and other agricultural or agri-forest feedstocks. In Canada, ethanol is presently made principally from corn and wheat.

Ethanol is blended with gasoline to produce a fuel which has environmental advantages when compared with gasoline, and can be used in gasoline-powered vehicles manufactured since the 1980's. Most gasoline-powered vehicles can run on a blend consisting of gasoline and up to 10 percent ethanol, known as "E-10"...

But I only recently found out that corn can be used to make plastic. The main benefit appears to be in the time it takes to biodegrade.

But of course, whenever something highly beneficial to the environment comes to light, it takes no time for someone to find a flaw in it. CFLs use less energy but contain mercury. Wind turbines are too loud. Creating solar panels is too costly.

This article covers both the potential benefits and drawbacks well and I tihnk, when it's all said and done, if the corn plastic is available to me, I'll take it.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Seagulls Will Eat Anything.

This cracks me up. It was sent to me by a buddy. Click on the picture.

A seagull in Scotland has developed the habit of stealing chips from a neighborhood shop.

The seagull waits until the shopkeeper isn't looking, and then walks into the store and grabs a snack-size bag of cheese Doritos.

Once outside, the bag gets ripped open and shared by other birds.

The seagull's shoplifting started early this month when he first swooped into the store in Aberdeen, Scotland, and helped himself to a bag of chips. Since then, he's become a regular. He always takes the same type of chips.

Customers have begun paying for the seagull's stolen bags of chips because they think it's so funny.

Or...Procreation Day??

When I wrote the post below, I didn't anticipate coming across this other type of "day off" for a specific cause:

MOSCOW (AP) - A Russian region best known as the birthplace of Vladimir Lenin has found a novel way to fight the nation's birthrate crisis: It has declared Sept. 12 the Day of Conception and for the third year running is giving couples time off from work to procreate.

The hope is for a brood of babies exactly nine months later on Russia's national day. Couples who ``give birth to a patriot'' during the June 12 festivities win money, cars, refrigerators and other prizes.

Ulyanovsk, a region on the Volga River about 550 miles east of Moscow, has held similar contests since 2005. Since then, the number of competitors, and the number of babies born to them, has been on the rise.

Alexei Bezrukov and his wife, Yulia, won a 250,000 ruble prize - equivalent to $10,000 - in June after she gave birth to a baby boy, Andrei. Bezrukov said patriotism wasn't their motive for having a child, their third, although the money was welcome.

``It was a patriotic atmosphere, you know when everyone around is celebrating, but I wasn't thinking of anything but my son,'' he said. ``The whole thing is great, it's great to get 250,000 rubles when you have a new baby to take care of.''

Russia, with one-seventh of the Earth's land surface, has just 141.4 million citizens, making it one of the most sparsely settled countries in the world. With a low birthrate and very high death rate, the population has been shrinking since the early 1990s.

It is now falling by almost half a percent each year. Demographic experts expect the decline to accelerate, estimating that Russia's population could fall below 100 million by 2050.

Usually when I post I like to include a graphic of some kind, but in this case I don't think I should.

Humanitarian Days?

There's an election coming soon in Ontario and along with elections come...Promises!

The Green Party of Ontario is proposing six new statutory holidays, dwarfing a pledge by the governing Liberals that would see Ontarians receive one additional day off.

Under Green leadership, vacation days would be provided in March, April, August and November and municipal and provincial polling days would be holidays.

"It gives people more time to spend with family and gardening and cleaning the house and that makes people feel awful good about themselves and then they feel better at work," party leader Frank de Jong said yesterday in an interview.

I posted about something similar not too long ago. At the time, I believe it was the Federal party that was suggesting a shorter work day and/or additional vacation time. I don't recall the specifics of it.

Naturally, on the surface that sounds very appealing. But I spoke with a gentleman from Alberta (through work) recently who, while discussing an entirely different subject, brought up a different idea I like even more.

He took part in program with Habitat for Humanity which consisted of travelling to Mexico to help build homes for people in need of affordable housing.

What is Habitat for Humanity Canada?

Habitat for Humanity Canada is a national, non-profit, faith-based organization working for a world where everyone has a safe and decent place to live. Our mission is to mobilize volunteers and community partners in building affordable housing and promoting homeownership as a means to breaking the cycle of poverty.
The organization was founded in 1985, consists of 30,000 volunteers and 70 Affiliate organizations from coast to coast, and is a member of Habitat for Humanity International which spans 100 countries, has built over 200,000 homes, and is now building a new home every 24 minutes.

I linked the above, but I'm not entirely certain that it's correct. This gentleman had explained that the organization he worked with was not a religious one, yet this clearly says that HFH is faith-based.

In any event, his idea was that companies should establish something along the lines of a Humanitarian Day (his name, not mine, but I like it). The point would be that once a year (minimum), a company could award an employee a Humanitarian Day if said employee wanted to take part in a charity event of some sort. These would be cumulative and ONLY to be used for that purpose. One would have to provide proof of participation (because you just know some people would try to treat them as an extra vacation day).

I love it. The impact on a company would likely be minimal and it may just encourage some folks to get out there and do their part.

I suggested to him that he escalate the idea to senior management and I have no idea whether or not he did, but I'll talk to him again some day (it's the nature of my work) and if he hasn't, I will. I would love for this kind of thing to become common place.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

That's My Girl!

Mrs THIT was out of town last weekend dealing with a family matter. Usually when she leaves for a spell, she calls upon arrival at her destination and before she sets off to come home.

I received a call from her at an odd time while she was away though, which always raises a question mark, right? And sure enough she was somewhat distraught. Thankfully it wasn't due to any harm coming to her or any member of her family.

While driving on the highway, they (Christine and her sisters) came upon a minivan. Its occupants, for undetermined and highly illogical reasons, had decided to keep their dog in a carrying case. That's fine, except that the case was strapped to the outside of the vehicle.

Because of high winds, particularly in a moving vehicle (and in a brewing storm, an indication in itself that the case-on-the-roof plan is not real sound), choice words that Christine had for these people were not hitting the mark.

So she called 9-1-1. :-)

She asked to speak with police, was transferred, explained to the person who took her call where she was and the situation she was looking to report. To their credit, the police took her complaint seriously and said they were sending a car out.

Out of curiosity, the ladies followed the car in question and sure enough, within minutes, a cop had pulled the minivan over for a chat.

Unfortunately, we don't know how the story ends, exactly. I suspect they were asked to remove the case and bring it inside the vehicle, but that no punishment as such was delivered. And it may well be that a couple of miles down the road, the driver returned the case to its previous position and went on his merry way, cursing the carload that ratted him out. We were hoping for a follow-up call to let us know how it was handled but this point we haven't received one.

But at least it serves as an illustration of how to go about dealing with one of these situations. For animal lovers, seeing that kind of idiocy is infuriating and the first instinct might well be to get more directly involved. Admittedly, it might be mine.

Don't. Let the professionals handle it. Even PETA, recognized for their hands-on approach, would suggest this. In an e-mail to people on the mailing lists, here's what they recommend:

Find out which agency is responsible for investigating and enforcing anti-cruelty laws in your state, county, or town. This may be a local humane society or a taxpayer-funded animal shelter. In areas without such organizations, citizens should call the police or sheriff's department.

If an animal is in a life-threatening situation, call authorities immediately. Follow up with them in a timely manner to determine their findings and their planned course of action. If they do not respond right away, call PETA at 757-622-7382.

Still, we may try to keep on top of this one. I'm wondering if there's a way to find out what the outcome was, and if so, we'll do just that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Speaking of Poisoning Your Own...

From Voice of America:

For the first time in Japan, two elected officials are warning the Japanese public of dangerous levels of mercury in dolphin meat, and condemned its consumption, especially in school lunches. They say the public is unaware of the health problems associated with the meat, and are on a mission to educate them. Catherine Makino reports from Tokyo.

Two city assemblymen from the fishing town of Taiji in the southern prefecture (state) of Wakayama, say short-fin dolphin meat was taken from supermarkets in the city and tested for mercury over the past year. Junichiro Yamashita and Hisato Yono say it contained more than 10 to 16 times the government's limit.

Although supermarkets are removing it from their shelves, Taiji is moving ahead with plans to build a $3 million dolphin processing plant. In addition, there are plans to expand the government's program of supplying school lunches with dolphin meat.

Speaking to journalists, Yamashita strongly denounced those plans, and said the school lunches were like feeding children "toxic waste." He says the government does not warn people that eating dolphin meat is a health hazard - mercury can cause severe brain damage and potentially fatal health problems.

"I stressed to the town council that it was risky and dangerous to use the meat, and it should be destroyed," he said.

Japanese medical researchers have also voiced concern about the high levels of mercury found in dolphin meat. Sea animals pick up the mercury in polluted coastal waters.

He says the government and the fishing industry hide the information from the public.

"The mass media is not taking it up because it could threaten the economy of the small town of Taiji, and hurt major fishery industries and the hunting drives of dolphins," he said.

Environmental groups such as Greenpeace and the Elsa Nature Conservancy of Japan warned two years ago that short-fin dolphin meat was contaminated. The groups also used the warning in a campaign to stop Japan's annual dolphin hunts.

About 2,300 dolphins are killed yearly in Taiji and 20,000 throughout the country. In Taiji, the mammals traditionally are herded into small coves, where they are speared and hacked to death. Most other countries ban dolphin hunting.

In the 1950s, the coastal waters around a small town in Japan called Minamata experienced massive mercury poisoning. About 3,000 people who ate seafood from the town's coastal waters were sickened and suffered permanent harm.

Pesticides Blamed for French Health Disaster

I'm posting this out of personal interest, since these are two places that I've been to on cruise vacations.

Aerial view of a banana field in Martinique destroyed by Hurricane Dean in August 2007. Photo:Jacques Demarthon/AFP

PARIS (AFP) - The French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique face a "health disaster" with soaring cancer and infertility rates because of the massive use of banned pesticides on banana plantations, a top cancer specialist warned Monday.

"The situation is extremely serious. The tests we carried out on pesticides show there is a health disaster in the Caribbean. The word is not too strong. Martinique and Guadeloupe have literally been poisoned," Professor Dominique Belpomme told the capital's Le Parisien newspaper.

On Tuesday Belpomme is to deliver a report commissioned by the National Assembly, which will highlight the dangers posed by the long-term use of chlordecone, also known as kepone, on banana crops.

Chlordecone, which kills weevils, was banned in France's Caribbean territories in 1993, but it was used illegally -- often sprayed by aeroplanes -- up to 2002.

"The poisoning affects both land and water. Chlordecone establishes itself in the clay and stays there for up to a century. As a result the food chain is contaminated, and especially water. In Martinique most water sources are polluted," Belpomme said.

According to the cancer specialist, the impact on health will be "more serious than the tainted blood" scandal -- in which some 4,000 French people were infected with blood contaminated with the HIV virus in the 1980s.

"The rate of prostate cancer is major. The French Caribbean is second in the world ranking. Extrapolations show that nearly one male in two will be a risk of developing prostate cancer," he said.

"In addition the rate of congenital malformation is increasing in the islands. And women are having fewer children than 15 years ago. The standard theory is that this is because of the pill, but I think it is linked to pesticides," he said.

Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier said the situation was "very serious" and promised to "treat the question of chlordecone with the greatest openness."

But Christian Choupin, head of the Martinique and Guadeloupe Banana Producers' Association said Belpomme's report was unscientific.

"One has the impression that people are dying like flies in the French Caribbean, which is far from the reality," he said.

The French islands produce 260,000 tonnes of bananas a year, worth some 220 million euros (305 million dollars). The industry also receives 130 million euros in EU aid.

In August Hurricane Dean destroyed all the crop in Martinique and some 50 percent in Guadeloupe. Barnier said this represented an opportunity to rebuild the banana plantations "with zero pesticides."

Belpomme said chlordecone does not affect the fruit itself because the contamination "is confined to the skin".