Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Do It For The Chickens

Louise just found this website. It's an appeal from the WSPA, the World Society for the Protection of Animals, to the McDonald's restaurant chain, to stop using eggs from hens raised in cages, and use only the eggs from free-run hens.
Since McDonald's uses only free-run eggs in Europe and the UK, there's no excuse for their Canadian restaurants still using eggs from caged hens. Their USA restaurants have already pledged to phase in free-run eggs this year.
Check out the letter-writing campaign sponsored by WSPA. Send McDonald's a note. Odds are, even if you never eat at McDonald's there's one in your area anyway, so write to them as a neighbour and part of the food community.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Avoiding GMO Foods

Louise found a useful article in Chatelaine magazine, about how to avoid eating foods containing genetically-modified food organism products. Ya know that the times, they are a-changin' when even a fashion magazine (but one that earnestly tries every year or so to re-write itself as a relevant magazine for women) speaks up on the GMO issue!
At any rate, check out Louise's post on our blog Q-zine about food. One of the links mentioned in the Chatelaine article is for this new project to certify foodstuffs that do not contain GMO products -- the Non-GMO project. Nice to think that there'll be yet another seal of approval to help me make product choices. Usually my choice is "don't buy stuff" but gee, there are days I want a chocolate bar or potato chips.
Luckily, on the potato chip front, the Canadian company Old Dutch Foods Ltd. has two new products out: lightly-salted regular chips, and lightly-salted Rip-l chips. The rippled ones in particular taste & crunch real good, and I'm planning to bring them and the regulars to a family barbecue this summer. Any time I get chips with an ingredients list three items long (potatoes, canola oil, salt) I'm thrilled to avoid MSG and preservatives and so on. Chips made in Calgary from Canadian potatoes -- that's regional to western Canada if not local. Now to lean on the company to fry 'em in canola oil that's not made from Round-up Ready canola!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Mason Bees

All right, so we've all heard about the problems with honeybee hives over the last year or two. (If you haven't, well, open a search engine and read a little of the kerfuffle.) There are some personal improvements people can do to make up for the effects that our urban living has on pollinators. Honeybees are only the most well-known of these insects that make it possible to propagate most of our food plants. Another kind of pollinator is the mason bee.
These are good-tempered bees that don't live in big hives. They live in little homes they make out of nooks and crannies in trees and odd places, some of which can be in suburban yards. Mason bees are better neighbours than wasps or ordinary bees. A lot of people are learning about mason bees and installing little houses for them.
If you're interested in learning more, there's a mason bee course starting up at Swan Lake Nature Centre. For people who live outside the Victoria area, check at your local recreation centres, nature centres, and libraries for local programs on mason bees. If there isn't one set up, get cracking! Program planners need local people to ask for activities like this and facilitate them!

Build a Mason bee Condo
Invite an amazing pollinator into your garden - BUILD them a CONDO!
Local expert, Gord Hutchings, will familiarize you with the life-cycle and habits of the Orchard Mason Bee. Then you’ll make your own observation Mason bee condo so you can observe the adult bees building the brood chamber, depositing the pollen store, laying eggs, and watch the developing larva and pupa. All materials are supplied.
Sunday, March 13th 9 - 11:30 am
$55 members $70 non-members
call to register
3873 Swan Lake Road, Victoria, BC, 250.479.0211

Saturday, January 01, 2011

An Optimistic Book for a Happy New Year

So this year, my resolution is to express a practical optimism. Not just a wishful thinking, positive attitude kind of thing, but an authentic optimism that is actually well-founded in recent experience, with reasonable expectations for the near future.
With that in mind, I've been reading a book that Bernie took out from the public library. Note that public libraries are a very effective expression of practical optimism! Also note that our local public library, the Greater Victoria Public Library, (yes, only in Victoria is it necessary to look up the public library in the phone book under not L or P nor even V, but G) is doing a crackerjack good job, and will even be keeping all branches open on Sundays from 1:00 to 5:00 pm from January 2 to April 17. Check out the article written by Tom Hawthorn for the Globe and Mail on December 10 -- an article that praises this library in particular.
As for the book I've been reading, it's Raj Patel's book The Value of Nothing. The subtitle goes on to add: Why everything costs so much more than we think. You can read about it at Patel's website, or do a search on his name and the title to find some videos and reviews.
The Value of Nothing is a great book to read, and then give a copy to any snotty person you know who keeps annoying you with opinions about economic policies and the free market system. It doesn't really matter what that snotty person's annoying opinions are. My own opinion about the free market system is that it isn't an organized system, it's not free by any of several definitions discussed by Patel, and it bears little resemblance to the markets where I sold produce, wool, and books for over fifteen years. Yet I am now hoping to go forth and be less snotty myself when others wish to share their opinions about economics in informal discussions. And I owe that spirit of good-mannered cooperation to Raj Patel's book.
Patel has done his homework here, and has referenced several historical and contemporary economists. Reading this book makes me feel smarter, not dumber. There are just enough footnotes to explain some details without whipsawing the reader back and forth in bewilderment.
It's no surprise that Patel can tie the price of a cup of coffee and a Big Mac to global climate change and democracy. And that's without any cheap slogans or party rhetoric. Read it -- or his bestseller Stuffed and Starved -- and form your own opinions.

Friday, October 22, 2010

David Harvey explains economic crisis

Bruce Curtis (Carlton University) turned me onto this fantastic little video:
"David Harvey - The Animated Crisis of Capitalism"

Or view the unanimated lecture

or at YouTube: David Harvey

Monday, August 16, 2010

Canada's Stonehenge

I thought I'd mention here the name of a book I've just read by a Canadian scholar, Gordon Freeman. He is a retired professor from the University of Alberta. His book is called Canada's Stonehenge: Astounding Archaeological Discoveries in Canada, England, and Wales. You can read about it at
The Canadian Stonehenge he describes is a cairn of rocks in southern Alberta. It's larger than the many small circles of stones in many places on the Prairies, circles that are commonly called "medicine wheels." By making many visits to this cairn in all seasons of the year over decades, Freeman has confirmed that it is not merely a mound of rocks surrounded by stones left randomly by the melting glacier, as archaeologists have assumed. The site is an astronomical observatory at least 5,000 years old with sightlines for summer and winter solstice sunrises and sunsets, and many other sightlines.
Freeman has repeatedly asked the provincial government of Alberta to protect the site from digging for oil well development. His requests have been partially successful, protecting the cairn itself but only some of the surrounding area.
I think his book will be of great interest to many people. Freeman also discusses his observations at Stonehenge in England, and the Welsh source of some of the stones installed at Stonehenge. The author is sympathetic to the cultures who built these great stone features. He has made a particular effort to learn about calendars in their various forms. In his text he doesn't shy away from commenting on political decision-making, particularly as it influenced the Gregorian reforms to the modern calendar.
Check out his website, and get your local public library to order a copy of the book. This book is the opposite of the ravings of a wing-nut: it's the sober description of years of quiet observation in the field, and the studies of a scholar who for decades has interacted peaceably with farmers and small-town people as well as government officials and academics. I find it a very Canadian book, and a good one for describing what it's like to be a scholar of books and of the natural world while living in Alberta.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Okay, So He Really Was Crazy

Or, like so many before him, driven mad by prophecy. The Guardian is reporting that when GW Bush was trying to sell the invasion of Iraq to the French, the Shrub was doing it by using screwy biblical prophecy: Gog and Magog. To quote Andrew Brown:
In the winter of 2003, when George Bush and Tony Blair were frantically gathering support for their planned invasion, Professor Thomas Römer, an Old Testament expert at the university of Lausanne, was rung up by the Protestant Federation of France. They asked him to supply them with a summary of the legends surrounding Gog and Magog and as the conversation progressed, he realised that this had originally come, from the highest reaches of the French government.
President Jacques Chirac wanted to know what the hell President Bush had been on about in their last conversation. Bush had then said that when he looked at the Middle East, he saw "Gog and Magog at work" and the biblical prophecies unfolding. But who the hell were Gog and Magog? Neither Chirac nor his office had any idea. But they knew Bush was an evangelical Christian, so they asked the French Federation of Protestants, who in turn asked Professor Römer.
He explained that Gog and Magog were, to use theological jargon, crazy talk. They appear twice in the Old Testament, once as a name, and once in a truly strange prophecy in the book of Ezekiel[.]

And, of course, the story just gets stranger--as is typical when talking about the Bush II Whitehouse.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dam That's Big!

Wood Buffalo National Park of Canada is the largest park in Canada's system of National Parks and the 2nd largest protected area in the world, at 44, 807 square kilometres. It is also home to the world's largest.....beaver dam. Seriously.

The dam is, apparently, about one and a half CN Towers in length, ~850 metres or 2,800 feet long. The product of several generations of beavers, the dam blows past the old record of a dam 652 metres long in Three Forks, Montana.
Beaver dams are unusual in that they can be seen from space--like the Great Wall or the Pyramids at Giza. Canadian ecologist Jean Thie said Wednesday he used satellite imagery and Google Earth software to locate the dam, which is about 850 meters (2,800 feet) long on the southern edge of Wood Buffalo National Park.

Beaver can cut down as many as 200 trees a year, and generally build dams between 10 and 100 metres long. When such dams are near human development, the dams are usually destroyed and the beavers caught and transported to little beaver penal colonies new areas away from humans. These beaver, well away from people, have been free to reshape the environment as they see fit.
The dam wasn't begun until after 1975, it was determined after comparisons between aerial photographs. But they've been *ahem* beavering away on the dam for decades. Currently, there are two new dams going up that look like they will eventually be connected to this dam, making a dam almost a full kilometre long. 
Here's a Parks Canada video of the dam from the air:

There's a number of links, so I'll just include a link cluster here.
Parks Canada
Discovery News

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ever wonder...

...what our governments get up to? I do. And Google has decided to post just how many requests and of what kind governments are making of them. I applaud the transparency, even as I remain suspicious of Google's motives.

A screengrab from Firefox, cropped with GImP

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Acceptable Version

Good ad. Read the story in The Guardian Online.

The Thermohaline and the Bay of Bengal Island

The BBC reports (here and here) that research published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters has found no apparent long term slowing of the Gulf Stream. This may be one major dodged bullet; the Gulf Stream is essential to bringing heat north from the tropics and keeping Europe 4 - 6ᵒC warmer than it would otherwise be. The Gulf Stream is part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation which itself is part of the global thermohaline system of currents.

On the other hand, and across Africa, the island known as New Moore Island to the Indians and South Talpatti Island to the Bangladeshis has now become nothing more than a hazard to navigation. The island itself has slipped beneath the waves of a rising ocean. The School of Oceanographic Studies (Calcutta) says that satellite imagery shows that the entire island is under water. So on the plus side of the global climate chaos ledger, rising sea levels have removed one source of international friction.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tiger and the decline of Canadian Journalism

Okay, someone explain this one to me.

I turn on the CTV nightly news and the lead story is Tiger Woods has decided to play golf. Not that he had won anything yet, you understand, but simply that he had shown up in public. I might even get this being an item on the sports news, but the nightly news news? Why is this news? Why is this an item that every Canadian urgently needs to know?

Then we are presented with a parade of experts (mostly other news media staffers -- remember when news reporters used to interview people other than themselves?) who pronounced that American had seen fit to forgive Tiger for his past indiscretions -- which then had to be detailed in case anyone in the country hadn't already heard them ad nausem, which is obviously redundant given that Canadians have to all know this story or why would any of us supposedly be interested enough in it for it to be the lead story? But having established once again that Tiger has been a bad boy, we get to hear that American has forgiven him.

Two things wrong here. First, since when is it up to America to forgive Tiger? Isn't that like his wife's prerogative? Come to that, what does any of his private life have to do with anyone? If it wasn't affecting his golf game, why should any of us -- even actual golf fans -- poke their noses into his family business?

Second and more sociologically significant, who says America has forgiven him? Was there a poll? Because a poll was not referenced here. Just a bunch of sound bites from Tiger's publicists. And it is this very news cast saying how America has forgiven him that gets the word out that it is time to forgive him.

I personally do not feel a couple of months qualifies as the statute of limitations on being an ass, but then I never thought this was my business in the first place. But it is fascinating to see the power of some publicist somewhere to get this wealthy ass a clean slate after only a couple of other months. Clearly the interests of the corporations who had invested in Tiger advertising, and Tiger's own financial interests, out weigh the interests of well, actual natural news reporting.

That this item made the news, let alone positioning as the lead story, seriously undermines the credibility of our national news outlets. This is a more important story than, say, the economic implications of the Canadian dollar reaching par with the American dollar? Clearly this is yet another example of appealing to lowest celebrity scandal-sheet style reporting to raise ratings rather than responsible reporting. That the non-story of this non-event -- a more blatant PR managed newsfeed I cannot imagine -- appeared on our news at all reveals a complete abdication of journalistic responsibilities. Bloggers give more objective reporting and take PR handouts less blatantly than this. I am embarrassed for the stat of Canadian journalism.

The best we can hope for is that someone at CTV took a massive bribe, or thought to curry favor with the corporations that employ Tiger to advertise their products in hopes that some of those advertising dollars would come their way -- because if they were too stupid to figure out they were part of a managed PR exercise, then we are truly on our own....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

quote of the week

"Word has become this gargantuan labyrinth inhabited by a lot of
bewildered people who were hoping for one night in a cheap motel."

Donna McMahon, in reply to a lengthy online discussion on the difficulties of trying to figure out the intricacies of Word processing program:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Quote of the Week

"Not to mention that in two years the BC gov't cut the arts funding budget from
$47 million to $3 million but was bragging on the radio today about the $450
million put into the Olympic sports. We'll be able to play ball but no one
will be left to write about it."

Anderson Colleen

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Now For Sale 2nd Hand

This Canon 5.2 metre lens was up for sale on ebay before Solstice. Canon says of the lens:
This is the only ultra-telephoto lens in the world capable of taking photographs of objects 18 to 32 miles away (30km to 52kms away). Having a focal length of 5200mm, Canon Mirror Lens 5200mm can obtain one hundred times as large an object image as that of a 50mm lens.
The asking price on ebay was apparently $45K. Funny, but it didn't sell. The video below gives you an idea of what this lens is capable of.

And John apparently has dibs on it for a birthday present.

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