Tuesday, June 28, 2005

photographic interlude

Posted by Hello

photographic interlude

Posted by Hello

photographic interlude

Posted by Hello

photographic interlude

Posted by Hello

Monday, June 27, 2005

My brother's voice is the voice of god

I was raised a catholic. That is to say, every sunday morning, my father would wake me from a sound and restful sleep and drag me to church. I even, along with my older brother, served as an altar boy for a few years.

(The story of my renouncing of christianity is the subject of a different blog entry. For now, it only needs be said that I suppose I was a catholic until about the age of 14.)

One afternoon - I was about 8 years old - my older brother and I watched a movie entitled Oh God! You Devil! The synopsis of this movie, found here, is as follows:

In the third and final film in the Oh, God! franchise, Bobby Shelton (Ted Wass) is a struggling musician who can't get a break, which bothers him all the more now that his wife, Wendy (Roxanne Hart), is about to have a baby. Desperate and depressed, Bobby announces that he'd sell his soul to get ahead. Suddenly, Harry O. Tophat (George Burns), Satan's earthly representative, appears and offers Bobby a deal -- seven years of unprecentented fame and fortune in exchange for his soul. Bobby cynically accepts and discovers that the devil is true to his word, but he finds that the trappings of fame and wealth are empty pleasures, and he loses Wendy along the way. When Bobby declares that he's made a horrible mistake, God (Burns), who has been watching over Bobby, offers to help get his soul back as the devil offers Bobby's place in eternity as the prize in a poker game.

Looking back, it likely wasn't a great movie. But we were young and bored, and so we watched it.

In the early stages of the movie, the god character whispers his dialogue, and the movie presents his lines as subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

I don't know what compelled me to tell my brother that I couldn't read the subtitles (for I could certainly read at that age), but I asked him to read them aloud for me. Perhaps it was just that idolatry that little brothers have for their big brothers: he could do anything - and anything for me. It was perhaps natural that I gave this little power over me to my brother, so I could relax in his comforting aura and be wowed by his nimble reading and recitation. Regardless, my brother read to me god's lines.

And the strangest thing happened: the next time I went to church and listen to a gospel reading, I heard my brother's voice. When I read lines from a bible (which was seldom, to be sure), I heard god's voice in my head as my brother's.

To this day, when I think of the words that some god, some god who may or may not exist, speaks to me, I hear the voice of my older brother.

It is strange. And yet, it makes my happy to think back on my young and innocent days.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Centralia, PA

I finished my last book during my trip to Toronto, and as I had nothing to read, I borrowed a book from a friend who I was staying with:

It chronicles an older man's walk along the historic Appalachian Trail, and his observations about America during his hike. Frequently, his observations are critical and poignant. I am thoroughly enjoying the book.

On page 187 of this book, the author passes through a section of eastern Pennsylvania, and he lists the names of the depressing towns he travels through - Port Carbon, Minersville, Slatedale...

I've been to Minersville. This person lived in a town - Pottsville - 5 kilometres away. He had an account with the Minersville Bank. I helped him move to this part of the world. Minersville is just as sad a town as the author makes it out to be.

This fact is not so interesting in itself. But what is fascinating, strange, and eery all at once is the author's side trip to an abandonded town nearby - Centralia.

Centralia is approximately 15 kilometres from Pottsville or Minersville, although it barely exists on a map anymore.

It seems as though this part of Pennsylvania sits atop one of the richest deposits of a coal ore (anthracite) in the world. Pennsylvania is still the biggest coal producer for the US - and that's why my friend got a job working there.

Centralia, like all these little towns, was a coal mining town. In 1962, an exposed coal seam was unknowingly lit on fire, and the coal seam ran directly underneath the town. From time to time, smoke would rise from the ground in Centralia, as the fires continued unabated.

Still, no one thought anything of this subterranian inferno until the late 1970s, when people in the town started reporting that their basement walls were hot to the touch. The incident apparently garnered national attention when a boy playing a backyard was almost swallowed up by an 75 foot deep hole that suddenly appeared.

It seems that the coal fire had caused a massive underground cavern to form, and Centralia was starting to sink into the ground. In the early 80s, the US government determined it would be too expensive to put the fire out, and so the town was evacuated.

(Blogger is not posting images right now, but a good picture of what the fire has done to the highways can be seen here)

Today, a few souls still live in Centralia, despite the smoke rising from the ground daily, and the fact that the roads and highways are blistered and crevassed from the coal fire.

It is estimated that the coal fire will continue for another 1000 years.

This is a bizarre story. For a good history of the town and many more pictures, go to this website.


In other news, the Herald ran my letter about banning free bibles in schools. Mine and other letters are found here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

This is too important a story to ignore

Monsanto is one of the world's largest manufacturers and sellers of crop seeds - seeds for soy, corn, wheat, etc. The company is also one of the world's largest investors in research into Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and Genetically Engineered (GE) foods.

You may remember the story of Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser: he didn't want to grow GE canola on his land but, unfortunately for him, the neighboring farmer did. Some of these Monsanto-created seeds blew over the fencing and on to Percy's plot, and he - unbeknowst to him - had his non-GMO canola pollinated with GE seeds. What happened next is beyond comprehension and logic:

Because he was in illegal possession of Monsanto's GE canola, Monsanto sued him for infringing upon its patent. And Monsanto won!

Flash back to today.... Greenpeace obtained a copy of a Monsanto research report where it tested its new GE corn on lab rats (poor bastards). An independent scientific review of the report found that, indisputably, GE corn is linked to major health risks.

Read the article here.

For me, GE food has always been a concern, although I had never put much stock into GMO's affect on human health - geez, look at all the crazy stuff we do to ensure an abundant food supply, and yet we haven't completely destroyed our bodies yet. I figured that GMOs would probably pass right through us.

No, for me the concern was the loss of genetic diversity, the starkly unknown consequences of playing god in this manner, and the very scary reality that it is impossible to contain strains of field-grown grains: GE crops could blow all around the world, invading non-GMO farmers' land and threatening ecosystems with their hyper-resistant-to-predators strains of seed. Some scientists worry that these GE grains could take over the world - literally.

There is simply too much we don't know about GMOs for our governments and industry regulators to be turning a blind eye like they are. Especially when every single public opinion poll in Canada and Europe states that the public is skeptical and worried about GMOs.

Take a minute and read a) Greenpeace's position on Genetic Engineering in general and 2) more specifically, its position on GE agriculture. Then come back to this blog site.

One of the promises that the Martin government made during his election run was to push for mandatory GE labelling on food in Canada. It turns out that the promise was a little more difficult to keep than to make - he's made no progress on it and it has dropped off his radar.

If I could ask PM Martin one question, I would ask him about GE labelling - not Iraq, missle shields, beef industry subsidies, or sponsorship scandals, but GE labelling. I think the issue is that important. We have got to get control of agriculture before there's nothing left to grow and nowhere left to grow it.

If you also think it is an important issue, take some time out of your day and send the Prime Minister an email. All you have to do is visit his site to find out how to contact him.

Happiness is...

This past week, a little town in Nova Scotia named Antigonish was the site of an international conference (Antigonish is also the site of me passing out on a toilet, my friends Jason and Mark making post-pub sausage runs, and Mark vomiting out a whole sausage).

The conference brought together doctors, environmentalists, academics, and just all-around good people to discuss a way to measure a nation's happiness.

This whacky idea resulted from the king of Bhutan's introduction of the philosphy that the overall happiness of his country's people was more important than the overall wealth of his country's people. Fascinating. (Bhutan, by the way, is the home of the tallest unclimbed peak that has been named. Gangkar Puensum, at 7541 metres, is a religous site, and therefore the king has forbidden expeditions to attempt the summit).

Then, in response to Bhutan's king, a bunch of folks got together and held a conference to try and figure a way to actually calculate the happiness of a population - the index would be called the Gross National Happiness measure. This conference in Antigonish is the 2nd annual conference on happiness.

These smart folks, I can only assume, gather in a room and discuss a) what needs to be measured to determine happiness and b) how it can be measured. Such things like sustainable development, having a government that listens to the voice of its people, and a stable economy are some key items that factor into a country's happiness.

So I read about this conference, and I decided to do an informal poll of a small sample size (OK, just one person: me) on the items that would make Canadians happier:

1) If the US would just sort of, kind of, crack off at the border of Canada and Mexico and then float off into space. Hmmm, maybe that's a bit harsh. I'd be happier if it stopped bombing people and took a less authoritarian stance on foreign policy.

2) If the world could sing in perfect harmony. Man, that'd be nice.

3) If the new pope had chosen a name like Pope BringIt I or Pope ThaShiznit I.

4) If I could bike year round (wait a minute, I *am* moving to Antigua. This one seems attainable).

5) If we could take all the good from a religion and throw out all the bad. All John Lennon was saying was give peace a chance.

6) If I could get rid of the little bit of loose skin around my belly from when I lost a bunch of weight.

7) If, to use J-Lo vernacular, people were more "real." That is, they actually did what they said, and said what they did. Are we short on integrity?

8) If there were more parks in Halifax that were conducive to both trail running and dog walking at the same time.

9) If coffee didn't give me the shakes and the sweats. Oh yeah, and if all coffee was fairly traded. (I didn't use to believe there was such a thing as unfair trade, but then I went to a presentation by Oxfam).

10) If I could go over to Mark's house and watch game 7 of the NBA finals with Jason and John. I'd be super happy about that.

As a footnote to this blab, I love the idea of a happiness index. Western nations are in dire need of a paradigm shift. It's high time that something - anything - other than financial performance become the primary measure of a government's success.



Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Sleeping in with the dog

Every morning, Ellie comes and crawls under our covers and sleeps with us for an hour or two.

It's so cute that it almost makes us forget about all the other stuff she does, like chew and destroy Jenny's glasses.


Sleepy Posted by Hello

Leave us alone! Posted by Hello

Sleeping in Posted by Hello

Ellie as an uncoordinated puppy Posted by Hello

Monday, June 20, 2005

I rode a bicycle for a living

This past weekend, I tore myself away from watching golf and building basements long enough to read this article about a Toronto bike courier who died on the job. Believe me, you don't need to waste your time by reading the article - here's the summary:

Bob, 58, had a heart attack while riding his bike, and he died within 10 minutes. 100 bike couriers had an impromptu wake for him in the middle of downtown Toronto.

I used to be a bike courier in Toronto. I did it for a month.

See, I like to ride my bike; it's one of my favourite things to do. So I foolishly thought that riding my bike for a job would be fun. It wasn't, and here's why:

There's nothing fun about having some half-witted dispatcher order you around all day.

There's nothing fun about riding a block, picking up a letter, and then riding half a block to deliver it (people who work for banks are lazy: walk it there yourself, asshole, it's half a block!).

There's nothing fun about huddling into a coffee shop, wet and cold, on rainy days.

As it turns out, being a bike courier sucked.

So I quit.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Banning free bibles, media slants

The Halifax Regional Schoolboard has banned the distribution of free bibles in all schools in the Halifax region.

And the Chronicle Herald wrote a piece on it. Wouldn't you know it? I had a beef with the slant of the article. If you want, you can read the text of the article here.

Then read my letter to the author of the article below:

Davene Jeffrey,

thanks for the article on banning the bible giveaway in Halifaxschools - it was an enjoyable read.

One thing, however, that I thought could have been touched upon is the fact that non-denominational schools are not the place for religious education or indoctination. Further, it would seem - at least to me - to be partisan and in conflict of interest to further allow public schools to sanction the free bibles.

I think the school board has taken a necessary step, a step in line with the philosphical view of the public school, and I wish that this point had been explored further in your article.

Like I said in my letter, public schools are not the place for religious nepotism. That's why I'm in favour of canning stuff like the "christmas break," free bibles, and easter holidays.

Although I do like the extra vacation.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

A little of this, a little of that

I've been doing a lot of linking lately, but that's because there's a lot of good stuff to link to out there.

It seems as if the late Terry Schiavo - the central figure in the right-to-die case - really was in a persistent vegetative state, and that no amount of treatment or therapy would ever have restored the full half of her brain mass that she lost.

Her parents, of course, disagree with the autopsy report, and insist that Terry wanted to live - this despite all evidence indicating that Terry had no awareness, no concept of life, and no realistic brain function.

The whole case is stupid. How these folks can argue with this science is beyond me.

What else? Found an article on Planet Ark (added to my links on the sidebar) about a faulty North Dakota flood relief plan that could 1) really screw up the Red River in Manitoba and 2) violate a 100 year old water treaty between the US and Canada. This story is so wacky that I don't know what to write about it. North Dakota is pushing on Canada, and it's time for Canada to push back.

Lastly, for those who dig geology (get it?), my favorite paper - the Toronto Star - has a little feature on the geologic history, present, and future of the Toronto region. The special webpage has a ton of fascinating information and graphics on how a 10,000 year old glacier created the fertile lands around Toronto, and how urban expansion is threatening the whole ecosystem.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


If you're at all interested in the debate about gay marriage in Canada, then read this article.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

If you like people

then you have to like that the G8 is wiping out a big chunk of developing nations' debt.

Kudos to those fat-cats in Washington for getting this one right.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I'm starting to despise the Halifax Herald

Today, I read a front-page article in the Halifax Herald about cod stocks and the imbalanced ecosystem in the Atlantic ocean.

Then I got pissed.

See, the Herald took a Canadian Press story and added its own headlines - which it is allowed to do. But the choice of headline is critical in slanting an article one way or the other. Let me explain:

The Herald placed the article on the front page under the headline "Without cod, all bets are off." The article, however, was broken up and continued later in the paper. The headline for the second part of the article read "Seals have more to feed on." And that's what got me pissed.

The article in question was a report on a study that found that low cod stocks throw the ecosystem into a perilous state of unbalance. My beef was with the second headline. If a bored or casual reader was glancing over the page and read "Seals have more to feed on," they might assume that the reason cod populations are down due to seals sitting around on ice floes gorging themselves.

Darn, we better club these seals to death before cod disappears. Heck, we need to do it for the good of our ecosystem.

And that's both faulty science and bad reporting. So I wrote this letter to the Herald:

Dear editor,

it was with great outrage that I read the story on cod stocks on the front page. More specifically, I found the choice of headline for the continuation of the article on page A10 ("Seals have more to feed on") to be irresponsible.

The article reported on a Science Magazine study: due to low cod stocks, prey fish are thriving and therefore seaweed and plankton are struggling.

If the average reader glanced at the headline, however, he or she may assume that the seal population is up as a result of a low cod population. This is misleading, as the casual reader might also assume that a cull of seals might cause cod stocks to rebound.

In fact, the story implies that cod stocks are down due to overfishing, but none of the three headlines you chose indicates this.

It was unfortunate that you decided to make a headline from a word - seal - that only appeared in the story once and had little relevance to the story. Receiving equal mention in the piece was the fact that fishermen are catching more shrimp. However, you decided to play an angle and perpetuate a viewpoint that there are too many seals in the water.

It is irresponsible journalism like this that silently portrays seals to be the villains of our oceans. Populations of cod, seal, prey fish, and plankton were in balance before we started over-fishing the seas and killing seals - this is what the Science Magazine report found, and with your choice of headline, you missed the proverbial boat.

Shit like this makes me mad.

To see how headlines can differ on CP stories, and the whole slant of an article can be created, see the same piece printed in both the Herald and the Globe and Mail.

You could also read the article, while you're at it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

And I'm not even passionate about lakes

It's true. I would much prefer mountains - big, jagged, glaciated peaks. Then, I'd choose rolling, eroded hills, like those found in New York. After that, I'd probably pick rivers and streams, and then perhaps oceans. Yep, lakes might come near the end of my list, right before boring woods and prairies.

But even though I'm not passionate about lakes doesn't mean I don't care about the pollution of the Great Lakes.

All this toxic dumping - by both Canada and the US - into the earth's biggest fresh water reservoir is really going to cause a problem for the US when is has to start buying large quantities of water from Canada (because the US is burning through the Ogllala Reservoir - because of excessive agriculture and animal farming... but I've already blogged on the Ogllala).

It's a shame, this pollution. It's also a shame that laughing Jack Layton even got a mention (with a completely inane and irrelevant comment, to boot) in the article.

This little post would make a good segue into posting about salmon farming. I'll see if I can get on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Back from hogtown

and from old friend Caren's wedding. Close friend Allison and wife Jenny were bridesmaids.

Other pictures from that wedding can be found at Katie G's new blog.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A filler post - I'm in Toronto

For a great example of how wacky organized christianity actually is, read this article.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Another letter to the editor

People at the Chronicle Herald have been up in arms about some sort of doings that transpired involving cyclists.

A bunch of clowns wrote in saying how much they hate cyclists, think bikes shouldn't be on the roads, and other hurtful things.

So I wrote a letter to the editor, and it can be found below. Seeing as the Herald has (it would seem) a policy of reserving 50% of its published letters for people without a brain, mine might not make the cut.

Dear Herald,

The attitude towards bicyclists in North America - recently displayed by Herald readers - saddens me. We should be praising cyclists, not vilifying them.

In a country facing rising obesity rates, growing fears of an oil crisis, and the reality of climate change, the bicycle should be embraced for what it really is: the most efficient form of transportation on earth, a valid way to commute, and a great way to get exercise while reducing fossil fuel consumption.

For those of you who are upset when you have to pass a cyclist - remember that the cyclist could just as easily be sitting in front of you at a traffic light idling a monstrous, gas-guzzling SUV, clogging up both your morning commute and your air.

So the next time you're caught in rush hour, consider what it would be like if you were on your bike, passing all the poor drivers in their cars, smiling at how you are enjoying a beautiful afternoon, burning off the stress of the day, and not suffering from the frustration of stop-and-go traffic. It's a wonderful feeling, and cyclists have got it figured out.

Now if only the rest of us would do the same.

Just planning our trip to the Rockies for my brother's wedding, and thought I'd throw some pics up (none of which are mine). This is of Verdant Pass Posted by Hello

The Columbia Icefield, as viewed from Wilcox Peak Posted by Hello

Moraine Lake and the Ten Peaks. (yes, we're going to all these places, and even dragging my parents to some of them) Posted by Hello

the north face of Mt. Temple Posted by Hello

Finally, a scene from Antigua, our soon-to-be home Posted by Hello