Sunday, April 29, 2007

THIS puts West Nile into perspective

From the website for Lost River Walks:

As part of the effort to monitor the virus last year, the state asked counties to report on bird deaths. Of the more than 80,000 birds turned in at state request, only a few thousand died from West Nile. The single leading cause of death among these birds was pesticide poisoning, from chemicals used on lawns for aesthetic reasons. Diazanon, Dursban and other compounds used for lawn and garden care in the attempt to control grubs, fungus and weeds. Citizens who labour for the perfect lawn also keep backyard bird feeders. They are apparently unaware of the conflict between the two pursuits. Birds are "indicators" of environmental perils. They warned about DDT in the 1970s. Now they're warning us that it's time we kicked the pesticide habit, for their sake and our own.

From article passed to us by Great Lakes Laboratory, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
867 Lakeshore Road Burlington, Ontario Canada L7R 4A6
phone: 905 336 6425 fax: 905 336 6437

Otters holding hands

Amazing - you MUST watch this short video!

Many thanks to Andrea for the link. :)

Friday, April 27, 2007

Help get a Bush crony fired!

From a recent e-mail from

Paul Wolfowitz -- President Bush's key architect of the Iraq war, now president of the World Bank and self-styled fighter of corruption -- was caught red-handed in a corruption scandal of his own. He pushed a huge pay raise for his girlfriend, and hid the facts from his organization and the world.

He's got to go.

The World Bank's board, made up of our governments from around the world, is now deciding whether Wolfowitz should keep his job. An immediate, massive, and global outcry could make the difference. Our petition is three words long: "Sack Paul Wolfowitz." Sign it here:

When Paul Wolfowitz was a top official in President Bush's Department of Defense, he was one of the Iraq war's biggest backers. When the war became a fiasco, instead of firing Wolfowitz, Bush gave him a promotion--to president of the World Bank. At the Bank, he vowed to make corruption his top issue--but alienated the world by delaying aid packages to India, Kenya, and other countries without consulting the bank's Executive Board.

Now we've learned that he didn't practice what he preached.

Wolfowitz's girlfriend was a senior World Bank employee. When he became president, the Bank's ethics rules would not allow him to keep her on staff under his supervision. So he transferred her to the US State Department--but kept her on the Bank's payroll, and gave her a US$60,000 pay raise. Her salary rose to US$193,590, higher than Condi Rice's. What's more, it appears that Wolfowitz hid the evidence of what he'd done.

Fighting corruption is a key to ending poverty. But there can't be one standard for the rich and powerful and a different one for everybody else.

The 24-member board of the World Bank, which uncovered Wolfowitz's corruption through a special investigation, is now deciding his fate. Bush is likely pulling strings to help Wolfowitz keep his job. It's time for global public opinion to weigh in--which means it's all up to you.

Click here now to sign the petition, and then send this email to ten friends:

Wolfowitz claimed the Iraq war would spread democracy, but it sparked a civil war. He promised to fight corruption, but engaged in it himself.

He talks a lot about accountability. It's time to bring some accountability to Paul Wolfowitz.
You can also see a very cool video about this here.

Please - sign the online petition if you agree that Wolfowitz should be fired. An Avaaz petition has made a big difference already in another much-needed area:

Last week, Avaaz campaigners hand-delivered our 100,000-signature climate change petition to the environment ministers of the world's most polluting countries. It worked. The chair of the meeting waved the petition in the air, calling on his fellow ministers to act--and they agreed that climate change would be the #1 issue at the G8 summit in June.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

An object lesson from nature

Ralph Waldo Emmerson once wrote, “The earth laughs in flowers.” Well, today was the proverbial giggle that echoes through a church during a funeral.

I’m not sure what the climate is like where you are, but here in Toronto we’ve only had a few warm days so far, and most trees are just starting to grow buds for their leaves. So everything is still pretty much grey and brown and drab and dirty-looking. Until today …

This morning when I left my apartment building, I noticed that there was a large shrub across the street that had – overnight, apparently – burst into small, bright yellow flowers. It is so cheerful and happy to look at.

Here again, nature provides an object lesson. Your job could be a veritable suckus uninterruptus, or maybe you just left your husband, or maybe you have some stupid complex problem with a loved one that seems impossible to resolve. But nature tells you: life can turn on a dime. This is both cause for hope during those looooong terrible grey days, and it’s also an urgent warning for us to savour what’s good about the present. Because you just never know.

Tomorrow I’ll try to post a picture of this shrub, and one of you incredibly smart and knowledgeable people can tell me what it is. :)

Cool slogans

The other day I was in a store called Grass Roots, and I saw a number of buttons/pins that I thought were very cool. I honestly don’t know how/where I would wear them, but I was afraid I wouldn’t remember what they said if I didn’t buy them. So here are their slogans, for your reading enjoyment:

“It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber.”

“The best things in life aren’t things.”

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell. – Edward Abbey”

“Create the future – don’t consume it.”

And, finally:

“JOIN THE ARMY – Travel to exotic, distant lands, meet exciting people, and kill them.”

You’re welcome! :)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Where nature and man collide - literally

Yesterday, I held a wild bird in my hands.

It was my first on-the-street training as a volunteer with FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program), and yesterday around 7:00AM, our little group found a Northern Flicker (a woodpecker that tends to be about a foot tall) lying at the base of an office building in downtown Toronto. It must have just recently hit a window, because after we picked it up, it appeared to be conscious and its feet clung strongly to my finger as I held it with the other hand. The way its head drifted to one side and its eyes bulged slightly suggested that it had suffered some kind of brain trauma. Irene, our trainer, blew gently on its head to separate its feathers so she could apply aconite, a first aid homeopathic remedy, to its skin. With reverence and hope, it was placed in a paper bag for transport to the Toronto Wildlife Centre, where it could be examined, treated, and, hopefully released north of the city to continue its migratory route.

Why were we in the downtown core at some god-awful time yesterday (and today)? Because we knew chances were good that the Northern Flicker – and perhaps dozens of other migrating songbirds – would be confused and trapped among the maze of skyscrapers. And we wanted to help.

Songbirds migrate at night so as to avoid predators like hawks. Apparently they navigate by the stars, and can be confused by the lights that are left on overnight in buildings. They end up hitting glass in the hours around dawn or, weak and exhausted from their overnight travels, will spend the day among the buildings, disoriented by the reflective glass. The results are often injury, death, or such exhaustion that they are very vulnerable to predators.

Conservative estimates suggest that one billion songbirds die each year in North America due to building strikes. Conservative estimates. One BILLION songbirds a year.

You might wonder why you don’t see masses of little songbird bodies all over the place if the problem is so prevalent. Well, the answer is a bit grisly. There are seagulls, raccoons, rats, and cats that clean up the dead and injured birds pretty quickly.

So I’ve decided to do my bit to help. There are lots of causes out there, and I truly have little justification for caring about songbirds rather than the homeless people I see while on my rounds. But this is what I’m drawn to, and at least I am doing (and learning) something.

And I have the added benefit of holding in my hands – for however short a time – something wild and beautiful and wondrous.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Yesterday I noticed that my cat Cleo had a really sore-looking hind paw, so this afternoon we made the trip to the animal hospital.

Two and a half hours, $380, one X-ray, a packet of antibiotics, a foot soak and bandage, and a mild sedative (just for the cat, unfortunately) later … and now Cleo smells like the animal hospital and Sabrina, my other cat, freaks out whenever they come close to each other …


I will say one thing: if you’ve never tried using Rescue Remedy for animals or stress before, you might want to try it. I gave Cleo some of this homeopathic remedy this morning when she seemed to be in pain, and it made a world of difference; her eyes became clear again, and she had her normal perky manner again. It didn’t fix her paw, obviously, but I think it helped her feel better.

Next time, though, both cats are coming with me to the animal hospital, so they can smell equally disinfectant-y!!!

The most boring blog update EVER

So it’s been a while … I had been doing so well with relatively regular updates to this blog, but then I just needed to focus on some other things for a bit, namely going to the gym regularly, going to bed on time, and keeping my apartment tidy. Pretty boring, I know, but I’d slipped into some bad habits, and they weren’t turning around easily. But it’s getting easier to wake up at 5:00* in the morning to go to the gym before work, I generally wash up the kitchen after dinner each night**, and I’m now going to bed between 8:45 and 9:30 (rather than the midnight – 12:30AM that had become my habit just a month ago or so!). Needless to say, this radical change in schedule and activity hasn’t come easy, especially when I was getting up early but still was getting to bed late. It didn’t help that Daylight Savings Time started too, and sent the schedule in the opposite direction. But in spite of these challenges, I am prevailing and continue to be determined. I’m rather proud of myself! :)

* I know you’re wondering: why do I get up so early for the gym? I’ve tried going there after work, but it seems harder somehow, like work has squeezed me out like a limp washcloth, and going to the gym is the last thing that I want to do at the end of the day! As well, now that spring is teasing us with its possible arrival, getting up really early is great for photography on the weekends (since my gym doesn’t open until 7:30 on Saturdays and Sundays). Also, I will be doing some volunteer work once a week or so that is best to do around dawn (more on that later).

** Now that I’m a vegetarian, I find I’m cooking more for myself (rather than heating frozen prepared food) and need what little counter space I have in this kitchen to be cleared of dirty dishes. This means washing our dirty dishes on a daily basis rather than after 2 - 3 days. It took a little time for my roommate to understand this, but now we both really enjoy having a clean kitchen. Woo-hoo!!!!

There have been some other things going on, of course, but I’ll leave those for their own blog entries. But in the meantime, thanks for checking my humble blog for updates! :)

Friday, April 06, 2007

Loss of a friend is also a loss for science

Another fascinating column by David Suzuki ... it amazes me how short-sighted we are when it comes to commerce vs. the environment, and how little most of us understand (care?) about the impact of our dietary/lifestyle choices. Thank goodness for people who will stand up and tell unpopular truths.

Loss of a friend is also a loss for science

On March 30th, Science, one of the world's most respected scientific journals, published a paper about how the overfishing of big sharks in our oceans has led to an increase in ray and skate populations which, in turn, is having cascading effects down the ocean food chain.

It's a fascinating piece of work - one of those big-picture studies that helps connect the dots and shed light on the complex interconnections between various species in an ecosystem. But what makes this particular piece of science so important to me personally is the lead a- Ransom Myers of Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Dr. R.A. Myers, RAM to his friends, died earlier that same week.

The Science paper is typical of RAM's work. He was a brilliant scientist who became a tireless advocate for conservation after finding disturbing trends in our oceans. It was those trends that led him to raise alarm bells over mismanagement of the Atlantic cod when he was with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans. For his efforts, he was first ignored, and then reprimanded. The fact that he was later proven right I'm sure offered him little consolation as he watched the fisheries collapse. More than 15 years later, it has yet to recover.

In 2003, RAM published a paper in the journal Nature that earned him worldwide recognition. The report was a culmination of years of work with his colleague, Dr. Boris Worm. Together, they had carefully dissected decades worth of fishing data and found that major large predatory fish - the ones we most like to eat - such as tuna, cod and swordfish, had seen their populations plummet by some 90 per cent in just 50 years.

The paper was controversial, especially in the fishing industry, because it warned that many more fisheries would face collapse if we don't seriously cut back on what we are taking out of the oceans. But RAM was never one to back down from controversy. In fact, controversy probably helped the story earn media attention around the world - shedding light on a problem that for many is out-of sight, out-of-mind.

It was this sort of big-picture thinking that helped make RAM such a giant in his field. In 2005, Fortune magazine named him one of the world's Top 10 people to watch. He was indeed a distinguished scientist, an engaging public speaker and leading advocate for change. Sadly, we will now never know what else he may have accomplished. His death from a brain tumor, at just 54, came at the height of his scientific career and at a time when the world needs him most.

In February, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit RAM in the hospital. By then, he could only say yes or no, but he understood everything that was going on and what was being said. I hope I was able to adequately convey just how much he had accomplished and how much he had done for science and for conserving nature for future generations.

RAM's Science paper on the demise of sharks seems to be getting good publicity, as it should. Rather than merely being mindless man eaters, sharks are an integral part of the ocean's web of life. As the report shows, killing them off for shark fin soup has allowed other species, like rays to thrive. But booming ray populations are now decimating their favourite food source - scallops. And since scallops help filter water, their loss has actually resulted in poorer water quality in some areas.

Dr. Ransom Myers was at the leading edge of conservation biology. He consistently strove to dig deeper and go further in the search for answers to pressing ecological issues. His efforts raised the public's understanding of the plight of our oceans, and he inspired a generation of marine biologists. His work will be sorely missed, and so will he.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A day at a cabin

Wow, had a fantastic day yesterday. My friend Jim and I drove up to Grey County to join a group of our friends in a cabin along the Niagara Escarpment. Throughout the drive, Jim and I had a lively conversation about life, meaning, community, individuality, etc., etc. and it was very thought-provoking, at least for me. I really enjoyed the way that Jim made me think.

I spent the rest of the day hiking, eating, and otherwise loafing around and enjoying being with an amazing group of people in a lovely natural setting:

In the afternoon, I went for a hike by myself, partly because I hike so slowly and I didn’t want to hold anyone back, but also because I just wanted to focus on being out in nature. It was incredibly relaxing and invigorating – I need to do this more. Afterward, I returned to the cabin and read for a bit while others napped/read/hiked.