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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Coyotes are changing

This week a young folk singer died after being mauled by a pair of coyotes. Hiking the Skyline Trail in Cape Breton Highlands National Park, 19-year-old Taylor Mitchell, of Toronto, was airlifted to a hospital in Halifax but died from her extensive injuries.

To put us all at ease, editorial writers like Paul Berton, of The London Free Press/Sun Media, are telling us, "unlike wolves, coyotes tend to be solitary and do not travel in packs."

Not according to the Nova Scotia Department of Resources that has posted pertinent information on the department Website. "Coyotes do travel and hunt in family units or packs, generally there is a dominate pair with young of the year."

Berton continues to mislead his readers by writing that coyotes "are smaller than medium-sized dogs and not designed to take down large prey..."

Not according to the Website All Points North which states that whitetail deer are the "primary diet for the eastern coyotes in the Adirondacks."

If you are thinking that deer are rather large prey to be downed by something smaller than many family pets, you're right to wonder. Truth is, according to Project Coyote, folks like Berton are confusing the coyotes found in the west with those found in the east. The eastern coyote is a much bigger predator. A 55-pound female eastern coyote was radio-collared in New England. Large males of almost 50-pounds have been reported in Nova Scotia in the area where the young hiker was attacked.

Why are these coyotes so large and why are they hunting in packs — possibly because they are not purebred coyotes but a product of a "canid soup." The most plausible scenario is that the Eastern coyote is often a hybrid between coyotes and a small type of wolf — the red wolf, although some believe the grey wolf may also be part of the mix. DNA sampling of coyote tissue in the Northeast has confirmed the presence of wolf DNA.

The Nova Scotia Department of Resources believes the Eastern coyote has significant wolf and dog characteristics resulting from interbreeding and producing an animal "twice the size of . . . the western coyote." This is not an animal to be lightly dismissed as simply looming "large" in "the human imagination" as Berton writes.

It was not until 1977 that the first coyote was trapped in Nova Scotia. Since then they have dispersed across the province. The danger coyotes pose to people is not great, that said, there have been three recorded incidents of people bitten or attacked in Nova Scotia since 1995. Newspaper articles record that across Canada between 1998-2008 there were 24 incidents resulting in injury. It must be noted that these were mostly scratches or puncture wounds. Until this week, there were no deaths.

It is much the same story in the States. Attacks on joggers, hikers, cyclists and children are increasing, especially in southern California. A rash of coyote attacks on children in 2008 led to the closure of a park in southern Cal. "People cannot be ambivalent about coyotes," said Harry Morse of the California Dep't of Fish and Game.

Most injuries are minor but one victim of a coyote attack required 200 stitches.  And back in 1981 a Glendale, CA, girl was attacked and killed while playing outside her home.

In areas where aggressive coyote behaviour has been reported, people are wise to take note. In most cases, simple precautions are all that is necessary. The following, based on advice given by the CBC seems prudent.

  •  In areas where coyotes have been spotted, be prepared. The best defence is a good offence. Carry a whistle, flashlight and/or personal alarm. This is especially important for small children who play outside or walk to school.
  • If confronted by an aggressive coyote, stand your ground. Stay put and look it in the eye. Do not look away and never run as it is more likely to consider you prey, give chase and seriously harm you.
  • Be aggressive yourself by waving your arms, stomping and yelling loudly in a deep voice. You are trying to deter it from coming closer.
  • Don't walk alone in areas with known high coyote activity. Walk with a companion and stay together.
  • Don't lure coyotes with food. Coyotes are scavengers and will be attracted by food left outside for pets, meat scraps left in compost buckets and garbage bins that do not seal tightly.
There is little reason to fear coyotes but there is no reason not to have great respect for them. The coyotes in eastern Canada are a dynamic, evolving species with a changing genetic make-up.

For another take on coyotes in Ontario see Anatomy of a Coyote Attack by Harold MacGregor. Be warned, he has posted pictures which some may find difficult to view.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Bad genes may cause bad driving!

    An editor at Digital Journal turned me on to this story and so I'm just linking to my take on the report out of Irvine, California.

    I'd be interested to know what Olivia Judson would say about this study.
    Photo by Steve Zylius / University Communications

    UCI neurologist Dr. Steven Cramer, who studies brain repair after stroke and brain remodeling, published a study suggesting that bad driving may in part be genetically based.


    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Art isn't 9 to 5

    If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound? If an artist creates a body of work and no one is there to see, is it still art?

    A friend, Sheila, in Montreal is a truly fine artist but somewhat private and secretive. She is driven to quietly create. Photography, pencil sketches, oil paintings, wood sculptures and more are all in her remarkable and extensive repertoire.

    Name an artistic endeavour, such as film making, and you will discover that she's tackled it, done it, and filed her completed work in her bulging portfolio.

    This is a woman for whom everything is art. Everything demands, and receives, creative attention. A simple lemon pie in her hands becomes a work of art exhibiting culinary creativity. At the very least, her pies are works of fine craftsmanship, beautiful to behold.

    Wonderfully tart, thanks to fresh lemons and a bit of lemon zest, this is a pie that owes nothing to Shirriff lemon pie filling. Her pies are truly her pies.

    Nosing about Sheila's kitchen, I came upon the cookbook she gave her husband. Each page illustrated with a pencil sketch. The drawing above the challah recipe, a traditional Jewish ceremonial bread, was a strong, stylized image. Then I came upon the lasagna illustration and I gave a loud gasp. From the other room I heard, he's found the lasagna recipe, and then laughter.

    This woman has been creating art her entire life. Since her graduation from art school decades ago, she seems to have never taken a break. Except for her 9-5 job, she has dedicated her life to the pursuit of the real. (A Hans Hofmann reference-.)

    My wife went to the Ontario College of Art. We have two of her works from that period on our walls. But when she left the college, for the most part, she left her personal involvement with art behind.

    I attended art school in Detroit and I got a degree in filmmaking from Ryerson in Toronto. Ask me how many of the students in my classes actually went on to work in art or film. The answer is not many. This is not uncommon.

    One thing that one learns in art school is that art is tough. Art is not just lines or colour on a stretched canvas. I would argue that a lot of fine art is the culmination of the artist's thoughts on the subject at hand and the artist's visceral reaction to the work as it takes shape.

    Sheila spends weeks thinking about her art, planning, anticipating, and then modifying her approach continually while she works. Once she has the statement complete and on display in a finished piece, she creates another work building on a different visual riff on the original theme.

    For instance, think of her rich, complex, series of flower paintings. One theme in these works is the fleeting nature of time; flowers bud, bloom and shrivel. This is a powerful theme and the organic, swirling flowers are steadied, grounded by the repeated visual riff of different, large geometric shapes in each piece in the series.

    Sheila deserves a show. She has earned one.


    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Tar spot on maples

    Today's blog is a rip-off of a report from Guelph University by W.A. Attwater. I think it is best to ensure accuracy and so I am leaving this report essentially untouched.

    Whenever I've seen round, black dots on maple leaves, I've wondered what they were and what should be done. If you have thought the same, read on.

    These distinctive round to irregular black, spots found on infected maple leaves are known as tar spots. Not noticeable until late summer, tar spots are caused by two species of Rhytisma fungus.

    The first, Rhytisma acerinum, produces black, tar-like spots about 1.25 cm or more in diameter on the upper surface of infected leaves. The second species, R. punctatum, produces patches of small, 1mm wide spots and is often called speckled tar spot.

    The thickened black spots are fungal tissue called stroma. Red, silver, Norway (including the varieties with red leaves) sugar and Manitoba maples as well as others are affected.

    Both fungi survive between seasons on the fallen diseased leaves. In the spring, spores are produced within the black stroma and are carried by air currents to young maple leaves where they start new infections. Unlike many other foliar diseases, Rhytisma spp. do not continue to cause new infections throughout the summer

    Infections first show up as yellow or pale green spots on the leaf surface in the early spring or summer. The black, raised tar-like spots develop within these spots in mid to late summer. Severely infected leaves may be shed.

    Although tar spots are conspicuous, they are seldom so injurious in home gardens to justify spraying with a fungicide. As the strong visual appearance develops late in the growing season, the overall health of the trees is rarely affected.

    To reduce the amount of disease overwintering, rake up fallen leaves in the autumn and destroy or remove them from the yard.

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Is this the giant killer?

    I've been remiss in my handling of this blog lately. I still have been posting daily stuff but not here. As you may know, I am a retired photojournalist and have some strong feelings about the direction that our news media is heading. For the past few days I have been immersing myself in some citizen journalism.

    The site is Digital Journal and it purports to be a place for citizen journalists to post news and even get paid for it. The truth, and I am sure the people running the site realize this, is that this site is providing a framework for professional journalists to work outside the confines of media owned newspapers, etc. (Even their reporters who have never worked for a paper, or other media outlet, show a degree of competence that says professional.)

    Why would a journalist want to do this? Well, maybe the big paper contracted in size and the cutback cut the journalist's job. There are a lot of trained, talented people out there who, if they knew about Digital Journal, might be keen to file stories, real news stories, to this Internet site.

    I have made three postings. (And I was not responsible for the art accompanying the story. I believe these are wild turkeys!) All my stories were inspired by the mainstream media (MSM) but I backwards engineered my pieces by going to the press releases or reports or whatever that the original stories relied on and worked up my stories from there. My stories and the MSM stories look very similar but because we shared common sources and not because I simply ripped them off.

    I was chatting with a fellow who worked for Canada's major papers. He was telling me that when they went online it was so complicated at first that the best brains in the newsroom spent more than an hour attempting to post the day's news, and failed.

    I'm sure it is easier now but a person I chatted with at another paper told me just recently that it took the better part of half an hour to post a story. This is nuts. Who writes their software?

    I can post a story on Digital Journal with a simple click. I can spell check before filing with a couple of clicks. I can return and edit a posted story with a simple click. The Digital Journal is slick. Where this Internet media experiment will lead, is anyone's guess.

    But my gut feeling is that we are seeing the birth of a new way of providing us with our news. It is not the gonzo free-for-all method of pure citizen journalism; it is more like a cooperative effort of independent, capitalistic, professional journalists working free of the restraints of the present media giants.

    Is Digital Journal supplying the framework that could prove to be the giant killer?

    Remember, for neat pictures taken in the London area check out Rockin' On: London Daily Photo.

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Shoot fast, shoot often, shoot well

    Think of this as a guest column from Rockin' On: Photography. I love the pictures and I think the advice is worth giving to everyone and not just budding photographers.

    When I was a news shooter for The London Free Press we never shot just one image from an assignment. One picture leads to another. This angle leads to that angle. The opportunities seem almost infinite.

    In the film era there was a check on our drive to shoot just one more picture - the film. You had to pace yourself or you would run out. You only shot the stuff that seemed truly good. You learned to be somewhat discerning. I say somewhat because I still recall seeing photogs returning from assignment with six or more rolls of exposed film.

    Well, film is history and the check on our trigger finger has been removed. This is both good and bad. Often pictures that didn't seem that great at the moment they were taken, prove to be brilliant when properly cropped in the enhancement process. There's no excuse for letting a picture opportunity slide by today.

    Well, there is one excuse. If you shoot way too much, you'll run the risk of missing some good stuff in the editing process. The room for digital images on your disk may seem infinite but your time isn't. It is still wise to be somewhat discerning.

    All of that said, if you get a chance for a picture, take it. And let it take you.

    Saturday I was on my way to the mall to buy some jeans. I saw a couple of hot-air balloons and stopped for a quick picture - the image of the balloon with the apartment building in the foreground.

    I liked the picture so much that I decide to chase the balloons. They were drifting over the southwestern edge of the city, heading for the open fields of the countryside. I might get a nice hot-air balloon at sunset shot, I thought.

    Shooting with a six-year-old Canon SD10, a point and shoot with a fixed wide angle lens, it's work finding images. When one balloon dipped low and near, I pulled my car over, jumped out, leapt the water-filled-ditch and ran into the field. I shot quickly. Composing and recomposing my images. The result is on the left.

     I thought I might be able to capture something even better. As the balloon rose slowly to clear some distant trees, I jumped into my car and sped off in search of the next country road taking me to the balloons.

    At one point, I thought I was too far away to get a picture but it looked as if the balloon was landing and the fun was at an end. This isn't film, I thought - shoot something. The basket below the balloon was skimming about two or three feet above a field but it did not make a clear silhouette because of some a dark grove of trees immediately behind.

    I waited. The balloon didn't touch down but moved past the trees. I had my shot. Click!

    Within moment the hot-air balloon touched down and the fun was over. I headed home. On the way home I stopped for the picture of the fall coloured trees reflected in the still pond. I never did stop for new jeans.

    The lesson: shoot fast, shoot often, shoot well. Oh, and have fun!

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Are there still words best left unsaid?

    Maybe I see newspapers differently that you do. To me newspapers are special. I invite a newspaper into my home. It sits with me every morning at my breakfast table and shares stories with me, brings me up to speed on what has happened over the past 24 hours, while I drink my coffee, eat my cereal and just generally wake up.

    I find it jarring when my friend asks me, "Why didn't he go after the writer of this crap...?" I change the conversation, I turn the page.

    "She pisses off the wrong customer...," my friend, the newspaper, continues.

    Now, the word crap I can take but I don't need it bandied about at the breakfast table. But the word piss has no place in day-to-day conversation. This is not the language of someone I want to wake up to. I'm not a prude, honest. I just recall what these words once meant.

    One of my favourite columnists at The London Free Press likes to entertain and enlighten me with witty conversation and wise words. He makes me think and laugh at the same time. Ian Gillespie is a fine fellow with whom to share breakfast. He may offend but he is rarely offensive.

    Ian has a grasp of English that seems to escape some of his superiors — in rank at the paper, not in class or writing abililty. P. J. Harston likes to throw around the term "wanker". He put the word to good use in his on-line piece, "Earth Day? Screw it!" (P.J. boldly used another questionable word right in his headline.)

    Thank goodness for the redesign. Many of The London Free Press links are broken. You will be unable, at least in the short term, to read the Harston piece. (Harston the interactive manager must take some of the blame for all the broken links. I imagine if Harston was looking for a term to describe an interactive manager who cannot get his Internet code correct, he might reach no deeper into his rich vocabulary than the previous paragraph.)

    Years ago I knew an English girl, Liz, who was staying with a girlfriend in Detroit. Liz brought the album Hair into her friend's home, but when her girlfriend's father, a Detroit policeman, heard the lyrics Liz was on the way home. I thought he over-reacted.

    I would not have expected him to run out and buy the album or get tickets to the musical. Nor would the folk behind the production of Hair be surprise to learn that he was not to be counted among their audience. The Hair folk were not interested in having people like our Detroit policeman among their fans.

    Why is it that The London Free Press appears not to be interested in having people like me among their fans?

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    Getting the lead out

    Cruising the Net I came across a blog post by Leisure Guy that was derived from a fascinating and informative book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.

    In the late 1940s, a graduate student at the University of Chicago named Clair Patterson was using a new method of lead isotope measurement to try to get a definitive age for the Earth at last. Unfortunately all his samples came up contaminated — usually wildly so. Most contained something like two hundred times the levels of lead that would normally be expected to occur. Many years would pass before Patterson realized that the reason for this lay with a regrettable Ohio inventor named Thomas Midgley, Jr.

    Midgley was an engineer by training, and the world would no doubt have been a safer place if he had stayed so. Instead, he developed an interest in the industrial applications of chemistry. In 1921, while working for the General Motors Research Corporation in Dayton, Ohio, he investigated a compound called tetraethyl lead (also known, confusingly, as lead tetraethyl), and discovered that it significantly reduced the juddering condition known as engine knock.

    Even though lead was widely known to be dangerous, by the early years of the twentieth century it could be found in all manner of consumer products. Food came in cans sealed with lead solder. Water was often stored in lead-lined tanks. It was sprayed onto fruit as a pesticide in the form of lead arsenate. It even came as part of the packaging of toothpaste tubes. Hardly a product existed that didn’t bring a little lead into consumers’ lives. However, nothing gave it a greater and more lasting intimacy than its addition to gasoline.

    Lead is a neurotoxin. Get too much of it and you can irreparably damage the brain and central nervous system. Among the many symptoms associated with overexposure are blindness, insomnia, kidney failure, hearing loss, cancer, palsies, and convulsions. In its most acute form it produces abrupt and terrifying hallucinations, disturbing to victims and onlookers alike, which generally then give way to coma and death. You really don’t want to get too much lead into your system.

    On the other hand, lead was easy to extract and work, and almost embarrassingly profitable to produce industrially—and tetraethyl lead did indubitably stop engines from knocking. So in 1923 three of America’s largest corporations, General Motors, Du Pont, and Standard Oil of New Jersey, formed a joint enterprise called the Ethyl Gasoline Corporation (later shortened to simply Ethyl Corporation) with a view to making as much tetraethyl lead as the world was willing to buy, and that proved to be a very great deal. They called their additive “ethyl” because it sounded friendlier and less toxic than “lead” and introduced it for public consumption (in more ways than most people realized) on February 1, 1923.

    Almost at once production workers began to exhibit the staggered gait and confused faculties that mark the recently poisoned. Also almost at once, the Ethyl Corporation embarked on a policy of calm but yielding denial that would serve it well for decades. As Sharon Bertsch McGrayne notes in her absorbing history of industrial chemistry, Prometheans in the Lab, when employees at one plant developed irreversible delusions, a spokesman blandly informed reporters: “These men probably went insane because they worked too hard.” Altogether at least fifteen workers died in the early days of production of leaded gasoline, and untold numbers of others became ill, often violently so; the exact numbers are unknown because the company nearly always managed to hush up news of embarrassing leakages, spills, and poisonings. At times, however, suppressing the news became impossible, most notably in 1924 when in a matter of days five production workers died and thirty-five more were turned into permanent staggering wrecks at a single ill-ventilated facility.

    As rumors circulated about the dangers of the new product, ethyl’s ebullient inventor, Thomas Midgley, decided to hold a demonstration for reporters to allay their concerns. As he chatted away about the company’s commitment to safety, he poured tetraethyl lead over his hands, then held a beaker of it to his nose for sixty seconds, claiming all the while that he could repeat the procedure daily without harm. In fact, Midgley knew only too well the perils of lead poisoning: he had himself been made seriously ill from overexposure a few months earlier and now, except when reassuring journalists, never went near the stuff if he could help it.

    Buoyed by the success of leaded gasoline, Midgley now turned to another technological problem of the age. Refrigerators in the 1920s were often appallingly risky because they used dangerous gases that sometimes leaked. One leak from a refrigerator at a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929 killed more than a hundred people. Midgley set out to create a gas that was stable, nonflammable, noncorrosive, and safe to breathe. With an instinct for the regrettable that was almost uncanny, he invented chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs.

    Seldom has an industrial product been more swiftly or unfortunately embraced. CFCs went into production in the early 1930s and found a thousand applications in everything from car air conditioners to deodorant sprays before it was noticed, half a century later, that they were devouring the ozone in the stratosphere. As you will be aware, this was not a good thing.

    Ozone is a form of oxygen in which each molecule bears three atoms of oxygen instead of two. It is a bit of a chemical oddity in that at ground level it is a pollutant, while way up in the stratosphere it is beneficial, since it soaks up dangerous ultraviolet radiation. Beneficial ozone is not terribly abundant, however. If it were distributed evenly throughout the stratosphere, it would form a layer just one eighth of an inch or so thick. That is why it is so easily disturbed, and why such disturbances don’t take long to become critical.

    Chlorofluorocarbons are also not very abundant—they constitute only about one part per billion of the atmosphere as a whole—but they are extravagantly destructive. One pound of CFCs can capture and annihilate seventy thousand pounds of atmospheric ozone. CFRCs also hang around for a very long time—about a century on average—wreaking havoc all the while. They are also great heat sponges. A single CFC molecule is about ten thousand times more efficient at exacerbating greenhouse effects than a molecule of carbon dioxide—and carbon dioxide is of course no slouch itself as a greenhouse gas. In sort, chlorofluorocarbons may ultimately prove to be just about the worst invention of the twentieth century.

    Midgley never knew this because he died long before anyone realized how destructive CFCs were. His death was itself memorably unusual. After becoming crippled with polio, Midgley invented a contraption involving a series of motorized pulleys that automatically raised or turned him in bed. In 1944, he became entangled in the cords as the machine went into action and was strangled.

    . . . and what about Clair Patterson, mentioned at the start of this article?

    Well, Patterson tackled the nagging question of all that lead in the atmosphere. He was astounded to find that what little was known about the effects of lead on humans was almost invariable wrong or misleading — and not surprisingly, he discovered, since for forty years every study of lead’s effects had been funded exclusively by manufacturers of lead additives.

    In one such study, a doctor who had no specialized training in chemical pathology understood a five-year program in which volunteers were asked to breathe in or swallow lead in elevated quantities. Then their urine and feces were tested. Unfortunately, as the doctor appears not to have known, lead is not excreted as a waste product. Rather, it accumulates in the bones and blood — that’s what makes it so dangerous — and neither bone nor blood was tested. In consequence, lead was given a clean bill of health. [But surely he must have realized that, with all that lead going in and none coming out, the volunteers must be accumulating the lead? – LG]

    Patterson quickly established that we had a lot of lead in the atmosphere — still do, in fact, since lead never goes away — and that about 90 percent of it appeared to come from automobile exhaust pipes, but he couldn’t prove it. What he needed was a way to compare lead levels in the atmosphere now with the levels that existed before 1923, when tetraethyl lead was introduced. It occurred to him that ice cores could provide the answer.

    It was known that snowfall in places like Greenland accumulates into discrete annual layers (because seasonal temperature differences produce slight changes in coloration from winter to summer). By counting back through these layers and measure the amount of lead in each, he could work out global lead concentrations at any time for hundreds, or even thousands, of years. The notion became the foundation of ice core studies, on which much modern climatological work is based.

    What Patterson found was that before 1923 there was almost no lead in the atmosphere, and that since that time its level had climbed steadily and dangerously. He now made it his life’s quest to get lead taken out of gasoline. To that end, he became a constant and often vocal critic of the lead industry and its interests.

    It would prove to be a hellish campaign. Ethyl was a powerful global corporation with many friends in high places. (Among its directors have been Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and Gilbert Grosvenor of the National Geographic Society.) Patterson suddenly found research funding withdrawn or difficult to acquire. The American Petroleum Institute canceled a research contract with him, as did the United States Public Health Service, a supposedly neutral government institution.

    As Patterson increasingly became a liability to his institution, the school trustees were repeatedly pressed by lead industry officials to shut him up or let him go. According to Jamie Lincoln Kitman, writing in The Nation in 2000, Ethyl executives allegedly offered to endow a chair at Caltech “if Patterson was sent packing.” Absurdly, he was excluded from a 1971 National Research Council panel appointed to investigate the dangers of atmospheric lead poisoning even though he was by now unquestionably the leading expert on atmospheric lead.

    To his great credit, Patterson never wavered or buckled. Eventually his efforts led to the introduction of the Clean Air Act of 1970 and finally to the removal from sale of all leaded gasoline in the United States in 1986. Almost immediately lead levels in the blood of Americans fell by 80 percent. But because lead is forever, those of us alive today have about 625 times more lead in our blood than people did a century ago. The amount of lead in the atmosphere also continues to grow, quite legally, by about a hundred thousand metric tons a year, mostly from mining, smelting, and industrial activities. The United States also banned lead in indoor paint, “forty-four years after most of Europe,” as McGrayne notes. Remarkably, considering its startling toxicity, lead solder was not removed from American food containers until 1993.

    As for the other scourge left to us by Thomas Midgley, chlorofluorocarbons, they were banned in 1974 in the United States, but they are tenacious little devils and any that you loosed into the atmosphere before then (in your deodorants or hair sprays, for instance) will almost certainly be around and devouring ozone long after you have shuffled off. Worse, we are still introducing huge amounts of CFCs into the atmosphere every year. According to Wayne Biddle, 60 million pounds of the stuff, worth $1.5 billion, still finds its way onto the market every year. So who is making it? We are — that is to say, many of our large corporations are still making it at their plants overseas. It will not be banned in Third World countries until 2010.

    Clair Patterson died in 1995. He didn’t win a Nobel Prize for his work. Most geology textbooks don’t mention him. Two recent popular books on the history of the dating of Earth actually manage to misspell his name. In early 2001, a reviewer of one of these books in the journal Nature made the additional, rather astounding error of thinking Patterson was a woman.

    I think I've discovered a book worth having in my little library, A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. I'm off for the Oxford Bookstore.


    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Score one for the Digital Journal

    This morning I read an interesting story on Jan Wong, the former Globe and Mail Beijing correspondent who was fired after writing an op-ed piece linking violence in Quebec schools to the province's language policy.

    I will admit right off that I was not a fan of Ms. Wong when she worked at the Globe. I found her Lunch With Jan Wong columns not so much brutally honest as just plain nasty. Why celebrities ever agreed to dine with her, I don't know.

    That said, she wrote well and she delivered the stories and columns that the Globe clearly wanted. When she originally wrote her op-ed piece that would lead to her leaving, the heads at the paper stood behind her, choosing to run the article.

    But, if I don't think a lot of Wong's writing, I think even less of a lot of what is said, or should I say shouted, in the House of Commons. The piece evoked the knee-jerk reaction one would expect and many members demanded an apology. Wong held her position. The Globe folded.

    The national paper ran an editorial condemning her controversial column. The Digital Journal reporter, Jason Li, quotes Wong: "I was so broken-hearted when I saw that,” she sighed, and called Edward Greenspon’s assertion in the Globe editorial, “a piece of crap, if you want my mild opinion.”

    Wong was hung out to dry and in leaving was asked to sign a gag order in return for a sweetened severence package. Wong signed but managed to have the gag order time limited. The gag order has now expired and Wong is speaking out.

    Wong held an interview session at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, the other day and the report by Jason Li in the Digital Journal is quite interesting. But, what is more interesting is the lack of reporting in the MSM.

    A search of Canoe for "Jan Wong" returned no results. A search of The Canadian Press for "Jan Wong" returned the message, "Your search did not match any documents." A seach of the Globe and Mail turned up lots of stuff on and by "Jan Wong", but nothing that I could find on her recent statements about her being gagged by the paper. I searched "gag order" on the Globe site with no better luck.

    Score one for the Digital Journal.

    Addendum: In researching this piece, I came across other pieces written by Jan Wong, other than her dining stuff. She can be an exceedingly strong writer and excellent reporter. I guess I just don't like inviting a pit bull to dinner. I think the Globe misused her formidable talents.

    Thursday, October 15, 2009

    Canadian Rivers at Risk

    Today marks the first day that I have filed a story on the Digital Journal. I read the report released by the World Wildlife Fund Canada and then wrote an article, similar to a newspaper report. You can find it under the headline, "Canadian Rivers at Risk."

    The Digital Journal is attempt to operate an on-line digital newspaper with citizen journalists writing the stories and sharing in the profits of the operation.

    Most of the stories seem to be re-writes of stories running in the MSM but some are not, and everyone is getting experience writing and learning to meet deadlines. In a few cases, the Digital Journal has scooped Sun Media, the main news chain that I follow.

    I must note that I sorely missed having an editor. I wrote "to meet out" when I meant "to meet our." I put in words and phrases that I later edited out. And I didn't properly link my quotes to my sources.

    Being a one man band means hitting some truly sour notes. (Then again, the newspapers have jettisoned a lot of their editors. Which is why we read stuff like, "Since my eye operation, I can sea very well." Unfortunately, the operation didn't improve the writer's spelling.)

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Update to Factory Farming Post

    There has been an update and new link added to the post looking into factory farming and how it relates to health. They don't call it swine flu for nothing.

    If you haven't read the post, please do. It has been popular around the world. Not sure if popular is the correct word but it attracts a steady stream of hits. Hit it soon, while all the links are still connected.


    Sunday, October 11, 2009

    Fuzzy Bears, Warm Memories, Cold Winters

    I just have to learn to read the fine print. I am now submitting news stories to Digital Journal. One part of the contractual agreement stipulates that stories posted to their site must be digitally unique.

    So, please click here to read my little piece on fuzzy bears, warm memories and cold winters. It is worth linking over. This piece has been popular.

    Check out the Digital Journal site, while you are there. It is an interesting concept and I believe it is Canadian.


    I thank the Sault Ste. Marie Horticultural Society for the information used to write this post.

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    Evolution-devolution of cities

    Kodachrome 64 is dead. It changed my photography career. - By Camilo Jose Vergara - Slate Magazine

    Click on the above sentence and then click launch below the picture to observe the changes made to one, small nondescript building in Chicago over the passing of years. The building may be uninteresting but the changes certainly are not. The building's surface changes, a window appears (more likely reappears), the entry door changes and razor wire comes and razor wire goes.

    If you look at the far left side of the earliest photos you will notice a small home. It appears to have burned and then to have been demolished. The home presents another story, a sidebar to the main story, you might say. It is a little story ending badly for the structure and, in the short term, for the neighbourhood.

    Camilo Jose Vergara obviously loves cities. He has spent a great deal of his life documenting urban change in some of America's greatest cities. To be more accurate, he has carefully documented urban decay in America. I googled Vergara and found another interesting strip of photos. <= Note: you must click on the line "ENTER HARLEM, NY DATABASE."

    Taken over a 4 year period, Vergara documents the transformation of a once beautiful building with stained glass, twin double door entries, and ornate woodwork into a building patiently awaiting the wrecking ball.

    The way we treat our cities — towns and villages, too — is truly sad. There are some important lessons in these photos. These images may come from the States but Canadians should not feel too smug. Often, we have simply not documented the slow motion disaster remaking our urban world.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2009

    My genes made me do it!

    This post is going to be about a common sexual myth but maybe it should be about intelligence, the intelligence needed to get through a modern day. This morning I wanted to scream, "Bring back the horse and buggy era!" This is the third time I have written and posted this piece. The third! I have just got to learn to think "back-up." Even better, I should simply learn to think.
    Whenever I hear someone blame their actions on their genes, I cringe. I have an especially strong reaction when I hear someone, but often a woman, supposedly resorting to science in excusing the actions of a cheating man. "Men are natural Don Juans, " these people say. "It's in their genes." Nature intended men to be lovers, to go forth and multiply.

    I cringe, but I cringe silently. I have no comeback. I think these people are way off base but they are espousing an evolutionary position taught even in high schools. The discussion adds levity to science classes struggling to hold student interest.

    Then I read Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice To All Creation. The good doctor, actually Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist who writes for many well known publications, goes to great lengths to show how this is a law of nature that isn't. To be blunt, this notion is nonsense.

    Judson tell us, "The man who first lent scientific respectability to this notion was named A.J. Bateman. In 1948, he published a paper . . . in which he claimed to have proved that males have evolved to make love and females to make babies."

    Bateman "proclaimed with a flourish, males (including humans) are natural philanderers while females (again including humans) are naturally chaste."

    Judson says Bateman's position when it came to sex was that "males produce lots of tiny, cheap sperm whereas females produce a few large, expensive eggs . . . one man could easily fertilize all the eggs of many females." Men who have many women are just following a genetic imperative.

    Bateman's principal, as it is known, has been all the rage for decades. Feminists invoke it, scientists expound on it, and many a silver tongued Lothario has sought shelter in its core belief: men are cads, women are saints. It is just the way of the world.

    Unfortunately, according to Judson, "Bateman's principal has a fundamental flaw: it's wrong. In most species, girls are more strumpet than saint. Rather than mating once, they'll mate with several fellows, and often with far, far more than necessary just to fertilize their eggs."

    Take a deep breath, guys, it gets worse. When my wife read the first post, she had daggers in her eyes when she glanced from the computer monitor to me: "Woman are not, are not . . . I'm not even going to dignify this with a response. Harrumph!"

    Never "harrumph" me. It sends me googling, researching. And this is where this whole discussions takes a nasty turn.

    I discovered the following: In Stuttgart, Germany, a man hired his neighbour to get his wife pregnant.

    It seems a 29-year-old husband and his former beauty queen wife wanted a child badly, but the husband was told by a doctor that he was sterile. So, he hired his neighbour to impregnate the queen. Since the neighbour was already married and the father of two children, plus looked very much like our cuckold-husband-to-be, the plan seemed good. The neighbourhood stud was paid $2,500 for the job and for three evenings a week for the next six months, he tried desperately, a total of 72 different times, to deliver on his promise.

    However, when the young wife failed to get pregnant after six months, the husband was not understanding and insisted that his neighbour have a medical examination, which he did. The doctor's announcement was that the neighbour was also sterile. This news shocked everyone except the neighbour's wife, who was forced to confess that the stud was not the real father of their two children.

    At last report, the husband is suing for breach of contract in an effort to get his money back. (From the post 10 Most Bizarre Paternity Stories.)

    Funny? Yes. Uncommon? Not as uncommon as you might think. It is a frequent enough occurrence that it even has a couple of names: The children's rights movement calls it "child identity fraud", while the father's rights movement calls it "paternity fraud".

    Beginning in the 1980s, the development of sophisticated genetic techniques enabled biologists to investigate paternity and what they discovered was something astonishing, something no one had predicted - namely that, from stick insects to chimpanzees, females are hardly ever faithful.

    I'm going to give the last word on paternity fraud to Heather Draper who wrote in the Journal of Medical Ethics: "Paternity testing might be an effective test of genetic relatedness and infidelity, but it is an ineffective test of fatherhood." Scissors cut paper, paper wraps stone, and compassion, love, humanity trumps genes.

    So men, take the advice of Dr. Tatiana (Olivia Judson) and don't be a lazy partner, give your woman a hand with the child care, be a loving supporter, give of yourself.

    If you want to get into the lady's genes, maybe you should take your cue from the black vultures which apparently have a strong social convention supporting monogamy. These birds insist that sex be conducted in the privacy of the nest and they won't tolerate lewd behaviour in public. Who'd have thought?
    For an interesting read, check out Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice To All Creation by Olivia Judson. It is bawdy, ribald and extremely funny --- and educational to boot.

    Addendum: I'm a bit of a romantic, maybe it's genetic, but I must be fair and mention that Judson on page 164 addresses the question of monogamy in humans. "Do individual humans, just like individual crickets and fruit flies, differ in their genetic predisposition toward monogamy?"

    "Perhaps it will turn out," she continues, "that men with large testicles (anticipating a high risk of sperm competition) are prone to seducing other men's wives and have difficulty forming lasting bonds whereas men with small testicles (anticipating a low risk of sperm competition) are prone to sexual fidelity . . . But for now, this is all conjecture . . . "

    Lastly, an aside to my wife, "Which ever way this goes, honey, I'm one of those fellows whose genetics indicate that I came into the world anticipating a low risk of competition. You can relax."

    Monday, October 5, 2009

    ...there'll be one child born and a world to carry on...

    You may not realize this but when you visit an Internet site, you leave certain information. You leave your I.P. address. At the very least I have a good idea of where you live - at least, the town and the country.

    Often I know the Internet site you visited before mine, and sometime I know the Internet site that you head off to after hitting me. If you hit more than one item on my blog, I have a vague idea of how long you stayed.

    Recently, one visitor to my blog was cruising the Web searching references to Laura Nyro and stumbled upon this post. They stayed awhile. They must have liked what they found. When they left, they went to YouTube and watched the following video.

    They unwittingly shared their search with me. Now I am going to share what they found with you. My wife thinks this song is a bit morbid. I don't. I think it is uplifting - filled with mature hope, a positive take on this adventure we call life - living.

    The post that inspired all of this follows the embedded song.



    I just have to learn to read the fine print. I am now submitting news stories to Digital Journal. One part of the contractual agreement stipulates that stories posted to their site must be digitally unique.

    So, please click here to read my little piece inspired by my new granddaughter and memories of Laura Nyro. It is worth linking over. This piece has been popular.

    Check out the Digital Journal site, while you are there. It is an interesting concept and I believe it is Canadian.


    Sunday, October 4, 2009

    This is food?

    The story in the New York Times about ground beef is shocking and disgusting.

    After eating hamburger contaminated by a potent strain of E. coli, a young woman is left paralysed. The Times takes an in-depth look at ground beef production in the United States.

    Living in Canada,it is easy to read this as a story about conditions in the meat industry to the south. Yet just a few months ago, we had our own meat contamination story centred around a plant in Toronto, and a few years back we had a story about lax meat plant procedures in an Aylmer operation.

    I wouldn't be too smug.

    Saturday, October 3, 2009

    SoHo - South of Horton - Part 1

    It's known as SoHo: South of Horton. In the giant scheme of things it was, until recently, a forgotten part of London Ontario. Why an area as attractive and as centrally located as Soho should have fallen from favour is a long and complex story.

    Many Londoners would argue about the beauty of SoHo. I spent a recent afternoon taking pictures in SoHo. One resident told me he didn't think it was a beautiful part of town. "No good lookin' homes in this neighbourhood," he said. His girlfriend nodded in agreement.

    Until my daughter and her husband rented a home in the central part of SoHo, I would have agreed with that young girl's assessment. Seeing my daughter's rental apartment changed my mind. Although her building dates from about 1880, it retains a lot of the original elegance from that period. My daughter understands the building has a strong connection to Labatt's as the original residents worked at the nearby brewery.

    I decided to check out the SoHo neighbourhood. I started on Adelaide St. which is the far eastern end of the area. I moved west shooting the homes bordering the Thames River in the southern part of the area. The western end of the neighbourhood is defined by the river bending north towards the forks.

    The west end of SoHo is a sad sight, or should I say site. Many of the remaining homes are historic, going back to 1880 or earlier, but for the most part their importance to the fabric of the city is not appreciated.

    A home that breaks the pattern is the one shown which was owned by John Sheehy, an engineer with the Grand Trunk Railroad in 1888. The northern boundary of SoHo is actually not Horton Street but the railroad tracks so familiar to Sheehy. The engineer did not have far to walk to get to work.

    The exterior of the home is missing some of the fancy wood detailing popular when the home was built but it has aged remarkably well. The original front door still has the bell. Such bells were once common but are rare today. The present owners, a young couple, are quite enamoured with their home and neighbourhood. It shows.

    Friday, October 2, 2009

    Citizen Journalists, Citizen Editors

    I've started following Digital Journal. For a news junkie, it has lots of interesting stories and links — some links are even Canadian! (It's posted there on my Digital Journal blog.)

    Yesterday I read an opinion piece on citizen journalists. The writer, John Rickman, was thoughtful and the following comments read like a conversation between adults. There was a little flaming, but no major fires.

    On the downside, I felt citizen journalists were being belittled while professional journalists were being held up as almost a standard. I bristled. This is no big deal as I bristle a lot. I'm a bristly person.

    Oddly enough, I didn't bristle at the positive stuff John Rickman wrote about editors. These people are important players on the news gathering team, and not always given the credit they deserve.

    I agree with a great deal written by Rickman and with a number of those making comments. What I disagree with is the distinction made between citizen journalists and working journalists, those journalists lucky enough to be on staff at some media concern.

    I got into the business back in 1971 when my car refused to leave Ontario for Vancouver on Canada's west coast. Stuck in northern Ontario, my travelling companion and I both got jobs with the local daily. Neither one of us had training in journalism. I had gone to art school and taken photography. My friend had a degree in English. I became a staff photojournalist and my friend a reporter.

    I used to think of myself as a professional — a professional photojournalist. And I was. Then one day I had to fill in a form that asked if I was a professional, a member of a profession. It stipulated that I must be licenced or registered or have met some legal requirement to claim I was a professional.

    It was clear, that as far as these people were concerned, I had a job and not a profession. My job performance benefited from my education, skill, and experience. It even paid well. Photojournalists working at the peak of their job range earned good money. Pay, skill, experience, and education all counted for nothing. The form was firm; one must have met a true standard, a measurable standard, and have a piece of paper to prove it.

    Looking back on my years in the business, I realize that many of the best reporters I have known were not trained journalists and some of the best editors were not even English majors. One of the best editors I've had the pleasure of knowing had a degree in engineering. (If this editor were to read this, I believe he might be calling me over to discuss my use of the word "pleasure".)

    One of the most interesting heads of an editorial department that I ever met started his career as a crank; you might even say a professional crank if you aren't hard nosed and demanding a certification document. This man was an educated, skillful crank.

    The fellow, whose experience was as a factory floor worker, wrote so many letters to the editor, wrote them so well, and with such solid arguments that, when there was an opening in the editorial department, the newspaper hired him. Soon, he  headed the department.

    I've met a lot of graduates of journalism programs and many are first rate. The programs act as filters and yet I have met some frighteningly poor grads. What makes them frightening is that armed with a degree, they think they know what they are doing. They don't have the wisdom to respect an engineer-editor or factory-floor expert.

    I am uncomfortable with the division between citizen journalists and working journalists. Working journalists can be citizen journalists who got lucky, like my factory floor worker or my friend entering the business because of car problems.

    With so many journalists losing their jobs, there are a great number of unpaid or underpaid bloggers who are both citizen journalists and experienced old hands.

    I like to think that, thanks to the Internet, what we are developing is group of citizen editors. If a paper gives us a glowing special report on a new urbanism community — a story written to meet a clear agenda — a citizen journalist may correct the paper, complete with pictures.

    Whatever is written today must meet a high standard or soon be taken down by an alert citizen editor. When the editor-in-chief of our local paper claimed one thing he had learned from being a journalist was that one could not fry an egg without an element in Canada, it did not take 24-hours for a citizen journalist to prove him wrong.

    It is interesting to note that the paper was offered photos of the event but refused them. To the best of my knowledge no one at the paper ever acknowledged in print that their editor-in-chief had made a factual error. They stood by his silly statement. If professionals can't deal with a fried egg error, what do they do when confronted by real errors?

    In the future I hope citizen editors spike any error riddled stories.

    Three older posts being moved to Rockinon Blogger from WordPress

    The three buzzword of the day posts, all on new urbanism, are in the process of being moved over from another site that I am closing. The should be moved by the weekend.