Wednesday, April 30, 2008


There's been talk recently about a giant floating island of garbage in the middle of the Pacific. A crew from sort of BBC WORLD meets MTV internet channel that I'm starting to get addicted to--set out to find this 'garbage island'. What they discover (besides sea sickness, cabin fever and smooching) is not a large mass of solid garbage spinning like a trash galaxy. Instead, the situation is far more disturbing. There are billions of small particles of semi broken down plastic polymers floating around everywhere. Birds eat it, sea life gets stuck in it, and the goo itself becomes a chemical sponge for various nasty compounds called persistant organic pollutants.

Garbage you can clean up. But what do you do when the rubbish is dissolved and inseparable from water? What do you do when 6.4 million tons of more trash is dumped into the oceans each year?

Here is episode 1 of Toxic: Garbage Island:

Watch the rest, here.

Photo Essay: Plants

After taking a few pictures celebrating the start of spring (see Winter is Dead?), I've been on a plant photo binge.

Here a few examples:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Post Post Modern Music: The Kills

This is a group I found on a hip blog last week. The song's called U R A Fever.

In an interview, the rock duo's Alison Mosshart said something interesting about the power of the internet that piqued my interest. It seems that blogs have developed a real power in spreading the word about good music and that is changing how the industry works:

This is a real moment of honesty and truth here because there was a moment in time, very recently, when big companies could market something--it could market the hell out of something--and then that would be huge. It would be famous because it was forced on you all the time.

I think now that music is typically free kids can make their own decisions. Everyone's calling it a crisis, but I don't.

Spoken like a true rocker. Anway, one comment on YouTube said, "This song is so sexy." Couldn't agree more...

U R A Fever - The Kills

Monday, April 28, 2008

RIP Blogging?

Consistent posting is tough, and blogs may come and go, but the medium of blogging is here to stay.

I’ve heard that the key to building up an audience for your blog is posting regularly. After all, faithful readers expect something fresh for their eyes to feast on when they point and click to your page. A few consecutive visits revealing the same “Merry Christmas Everyone!” post, and people will simply stop coming, favouring blogs that have managed to at least break into the new year.

But diligent posting is hard! There’s the issue of time. Unless you’re unemployed or (through some perversion of luck) you blog for a living, finding time to craft a fresh post between work, school, meals, homework, walking the dog, playing with the kids, etc. etc. isn’t always easy. Then, there’s the issue of issues. Sometimes your mind is bursting with ideas, opinions, rants and observations. (For me, it was the eruption of the Tibet turmoil a few weeks ago.) Other times though, your mind is an empty vessel, containing nothing remotely of interest. And what do you do then?

With this in mind, I read an obituary of sorts for blogging. It’s called “THE DEATH OF PERSONAL BLOGS” by Emily Gould and although provocative in its title, it’s really a personal reflection on how Gould’s blog and some of her favourites have lived and died since their inception in the late nineties or early 2000’s (can I say ‘turn of the century’?):
Checking in on the sites I used to frequent five years ago during the golden age of the blog reveals an online graveyard. Many of my old virtual friends’ last few posts follow the same sad pattern — the initial spate of “sorry I haven’t posted in so long”s followed by the inevitable “it’s over, but check out what I’m doing at [corporate blog]!”

What she’s really getting at is the serious tenacity required to maintain a blog for longer than a few months. Not so much that blogging is dying out, but that the medium has a very high attrition rate. Yet that’s what I think is key to why blogging will endure: there's always more.

Humans are social creatures and love to communicate. The flowering of communication means is testament to that: letters, telegrams, phones, faxes, televisions, email, instant messaging, text messaging… We can’t get enough of it. And rather than ditching an old medium for a new one, the old ones remain in our communication tool belt for use in different contexts.

Blogs are unique in that in they’re not only a way to share information, but they have this amazing democratizing effect on information. Suddenly, knowledge and info isn’t dictated through newspapers, TV and your small circle of word-of-mouth, but becomes a vast network with no boundaries and fitting every niche imaginable.

It’s a beautiful thing. And even if this blog doesn’t survive it’s first year, another will take it’s place. And when that fails, others will take the torch, because people will never run out of things to say and will always find a hungry audience ready to listen.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


I am currently busy with life, but promise (cross my heart, yada, yada...) to return on Monday, April 28, 2008.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Clay To Keep the Doctor Away

A small meteor crashes down in a farmer's field. A group of people go to retrieve the space rock, but find a high tech box inscribed with heiroglyphics in its place. They open the box and discover several samples of pasty substance, each with a different hue--light green, beige, blue, etc.--but all with the consistency of peanut butter.

Scientists take this alien gift and carefully examine it under a microscope. They are deeply impressed by what they see. "Highly sophisticated bio-engineering," they declare.

The micro-structure contains three layers, the first having a crystalline structure like salt or diamond. Clinging to this like a magnet is a mesh of minerals, including potassium. And to top it off, a sprinkle of organic molecules, each sample containing combinations as unique as snowflakes in terms of type and arrangement of these molecules. "Only a super-intelligent race could have created this," announce the stunned scientists.

But what does it do?

After running a 1000 different tests on it, they discover it kills bacteria. Not just any bacteria but the super-bugs like MRSA, the one stalking hospitals, schools and other public places, causing ugly pus-leaking sores, and resistent of most antibiotics doctors throw at it.

The people of the Earth rejoice. Yet, questions remain. The scientists can see what it looks like, but can't quite figure out how the substance is doing the bacteria-fighting. And they can only guess how the brilliant alien race managed to sythesize such a complex compound.

Well, the substance I've just described is actually simple old clay, not a high-tech concoction derived from ET. It's been used since Roman times for treating nausea and cuts and after years of getting the cold shoulder from modern medicine (because of "lack of research") it is now getting the respect it deserves.

Indeed, it's shown encouraging results against highly drug-resistant strains like MRSA and a flesh eating bacteria called "Buruli ulcer" that has ravaged parts of Africa. But just as descibed in my little story, scientists don't know what the clay is actually doing. Some of those unique organic molecules could be poisonous to the bacteria. Maybe it has somrthing to do with it's acidity...

No one knows.

But the real question is will the medical community in Canada and the US will embrace the novel idea of using simple clay to treat disease? Or will they hide behind medical orthodoxy and dismiss clay as just a fringe therapy, not worthy of serious attention?

Picture: a micrograph of clay, from this site.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Post Post Modern Music: Basement Jaxx

Basement Jaxx have always rocked out the beat of their own drum, but the video for Take Me Back to Your House is truly unique--equal parts silliness and grand spectacle. It's a tongue-in-cheek celebration of Communist Russia, complete with folk costumes, dancing bears and a Stalin look-alike.

But why do I waste words, when the video can speak for itself?

Koodos to everyone involved in making this glorious pageant, fit for a ki-- I mean... fearless revolutionary leader.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Red, White and Blue in Kansas

Last Sunday morning, I heard an excellent radio program called "The Sunday Edition" on CBC Radio. Host Michael Enright left the snowy liberal bastion of Toronto for the proud Red state of Kansas to produce a report called, Heartland: the Mood of Middle America.

Being it's only real neighbour, Canadians are always very interested in America, it's history, culture and this year more than ever, it's politics. This report tries to get into the mind of "middle America," the America that is fundamentalist Christian, pro-war and anti-gay, and the one that wholeheartedly endorsed George W. Bush (twice). It's the America that is worlds apart from the the liberal Yankee/Hollywood sensibility that Canadians (and much of the world) are familiar with through pop culture and mainstream media.

Whenever we do think about red-state America, images of rusty pick-up trucks, goofy accents, and Bible-thumping come to mind. So what struck me about the show was how UN-stereotypical Enright's guests were. Emanuel Cleaver, a black congressman and preacher representing Kansas City, had some insightful and provocative things to say on topics ranging from Barrack Obama to the government and politics in general.

On Obama's slogan of "Change":

First of all we have to define change, and it has more than saying we're going to "change". Answer the question about how we're going to change. Change has become kind of the word we throw out there because someone's done polling and said that it works. And the American public unfortunately and tragically, falls for it! You just say change and people start cheering.

On the American system of primaries:

This is unbelievably stupid! We allow two of our smallest states to determine who becomes the president. ...It doesn't make sense. There's very little diversity in either Iowa or New Hampshire. There is no way that you can really separate the rural from the urban. It's all just one little block of voters.

But perhaps the most challenging statements he made were on race-relations in America if and when Obama becomes the first black president. He thinks that for many white Americans, voting for Obama will be their way of affirming that the US is not racist. But he worries that once that happens, the general public will just move on and lose focus from dealing with the ongoing struggle with discrimination:
I think for many white Americans they are looking at Barrack Obama and saying this is our chance to demonstrate that we have been able to get this boogieman called race behind us. And so they're going to vote for him. Whether he has credentials or whether he has any experience, I think that's all out the window. It's this country's opportunity to say, we've solved the problem, it's all over. And frankly that is causing many African Americans to tremble.

After November [with a Obama administration], any redress on racial issues will be met with rejection because we've already demonstrated that we're not a racist nation.

Another excellent interview had Enright talking to Kansas governor Kathlene Sebelius, a strong and level-headed Democrat, seemingly contradicting the idea of Kansas as the reddest of Red states. Asked how she got elected in such a conservative state, she replied:

I got more votes than my opponent... Kansans have been really willing to cross party lines based on what they see as leadership capacity and what kind of job you've done. Kansans are pretty pragmatic. They look at what you say you're going to do and whether or not you actually do deliver.

So maybe Kansans aren't just a bunch of hardline Bush-lovers. Here's what she had to say about the moderate Republicans and Independents that voted her into office:

Independents in Kansas are really independents. They're not filed as independents and masquerading as one party or the other. They really are folks who are not so closely identified with either party and they really are looking for the right person for the right job so theres a large block of voters, 30-35% depending on the election year who are registered as independents, see themselves as independents and are available to the best candidate.
And what do these sensible, middle-American folks think of the current state of American government?

A lot of them are just baffled with the direction of this new Republican party, which is opposed to anything involving government, opposed to a safety-net for poor or vulnerable citizens, opposed to public education, who see government immunization of children as an intrusion, don't want standards in daycare centres--a whole series of issues that are really so fundamentally different from the framework moderate republicans have about government, about the safety net, about the importance of public education...

They feel it's important to declare themselves no longer members of that party. They don't want any mistake, that they do not belong to a Republican party [that] is so anti-government that they're willing to essentially dismantle basic institutions that have always been the halmark of this country.

Granted, she is a Democrat, and her views probably don't represent every single person in the State. Plus, I haven't mentioned the other interview in the program, which was with a local right-wing commentator who a had more characteristic conservative views. Yet, even his opinions added depth to my shallow perception of the conservative media.

Overall, I found the program utterly enlightening about an America that we outside the US (and I suspect many inside, too) totally underestimate in terms of its diversity and complexity. Really, there is not one America, but many Americas, all coalesced within the country's borders.

The picture above is called Achelous and Hercules, by Thomas Hart Benton, 1947, and is featured on Emanuel Cleaver's website.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Earth Hour: Yes We Can

Lights went out around the world this past Saturday, as communities big and small participated in Earth Hour, a symbolic movement started in Sydney, Australia to lower energy consumption by turning off lights and appliances for one hour.

At exactly 8:01PM, I not only shut off lights and appliances, but--with flashlight in hand--I marched down to the fuse box and shut off the power to the whole house: fridge, furnace and all.

For that one hour my family and I sat around the kitchen table, our faces bathed in warm candlelight, snacking, chatting, playing with the candle wax. We enjoyed our little refuge from self-imposed darkness and enjoyed the novelty of our energy fast. It was quite beautiful and almost spiritual in it's simplicity and solidarity, knowing that millions around the world were doing the same. In fact, WWF Australia says 50 million people in 40 countries participated.

Certainly, it's not going to stop climate change, nor will it prevent people from leaving their lights on thoughtlessly after that one dark hour had passed. But it was an important symbol. I've heard people call it "a prayer," transmiting hope for a better world through a small but united, committed act of sacrifice. It was "largely symbolic" said one energy conservation expert, but added, "symbolism is sometimes important."

It's true that not everyone participated. Bangkok, for example, didn't meet expectations after a successful 15 min 'lights out' campaign last year. Even Sydney, the pioneer of Earth Hour, failed to match last year's numbers. On the flip side, Toronto meet its target with a 9% reduction in use (just one point behind Sydney's result last year) and my own little suburb achieved just under 7%--second best in the city as a whole.

Overall, being the first year that the the idea went worldwide, I say Earth Hour was a success. It was an announcement to our politicians, corporations and to ourselves, that yes, we are willing to give up some convenience and we are willing to work together to make a change for the better. We're paying attention, we care, and we want action.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Noble Architecture

Dr. Evil's twin brother Jean Nouvel (click here to see what I mean) has won the Pritzker prize – known as the "Nobel of architecture." I have to admit I had not heard of Nouvel, who has won many prestigious awards and is considered to stand shoulder to shoulder with such modern greats as Frank Gehry and Sir Norman Foster. Judging by the dazzling, ambitious examples of his works below, I'd say he deserved it.

(Although, as Slate points out, architecture is a huge team effort involving other architects, structural engineers, builders and the patrons. They too deserve credit.)