Thursday, July 30, 2009

How the Vain Die – Tanning Beds

Unless you’ve been frozen in time for the past decade or longer, you are well aware of the dangerous affects the Sun can have on our bodies. Thanks to the miracles of modernization, the ozone layer has been letting through more of the Sun’s harmful Ultra-Violet A and B (UVA and UVB) rays, which can cause skin cancer, and ultimately death.

Long suspected of providing an artificial cancer risk into the mix, recently the World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed it – tanning beds are bad news.

A sunbed, with lights off.Image via Wikipedia

New research has prompted WHO to classify tanning beds and ultraviolet radiation as definite carcinogens – they have even categorized them among the top cancer risks to humans, along with smoking.

An article, published online in the medical journal Lancet Oncology, found the risk of skin cancer jumped by 75 per cent when people started using tanning beds before age 30.

Tanning beds give off mostly UVA rays, which may not be as harmful as UVB rays, actually penetrate deeper into the epidermis, meaning, the more you expose yourself to these rays of invisible light, the more likely you will get skin cancer.

I’ve always wondered what the fascination is with heading to a tanning salon, tossing on some funky high-tech looking protective goggles, and lying naked on a giant metallic bed – all in the name to stay golden brown during the winter, or anytime. I’ve met people that use tanning beds on a regular basis throughout the year.

Some go to these places before going away to a sunny vacation destination, to avoid burning once there. Though wouldn’t it make more sense – and be cheaper too – just to slop on some sun screen?

Just how vain do you have to be these days to risk your life?

Years ago, when I was a kid, I’d love soaking up some sun to get a tan. But we’re talking long before we knew the ill affects the sun has on our bodies, and our life spans.

Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for those wanting a quick tan to lather up in Vaseline to increase the affects of the sun’s cooking power. Some would come back looking like lobsters, all burned – but after the burn had gone, a golden tan was all one could see.

sun bathImage via Wikipedia

Do the same thing these days and you would probably be greeted with strange looks, as most people do whatever they can to prevent the sun’s harmful rays from beating down on them.

But for some reason, we don’t give those strange oddball glances to those telling us they go to tanning salons to get a tan. We assume that because they are everywhere, and allowed to legally sell their product – a tan – that they are safe.

Perhaps that should change.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Summer in the City of Stink

Summertime brings out the best festivals in Canada’s largest city of Toronto.
There are regular Ribfests, where “ribbers” (the guys cooking up the ribs) from all over North America come to win the ultimate prize – best ribs. It’s also where rib lovers like me can go to get sticky fingers, as we sample all the different ribs.

They even had a Ribfest at the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) – another popular summer festival, which opens in a handful of weeks. The CNE – or “the Ex” for us locals – is the largest fall fair in the country, with exhibitions, live stage and music shows, magic, and of course the rides of the Midway and all that food. Though if they have a Ribfest at the Ex again this year, I recommend staying away from all the overpriced greasy crap they sloth out at the Food Building, and go for some high quality, finger-licking ribs.

Typical Caribana paraders.Image via Wikipedia

But that’s not for a couple of weeks – the big show to hit TO is the annual Caribana Festival. This is the largest Caribbean cultural festival in North America, drawing millions of people from around the world to Toronto. From music and dance, to food and costumes, even the parade, it all adds a bit of excitement to a hot summer in Toronto.

My favourite summer treat happens middle of August – The Taste of the Danforth. Danforth Avenue in mid-town Toronto is known as Little Greece, for its large Greek population, restaurants, and cultural centres. During this festival celebrating Greek culture, they shut down most of the road, so you can have some of the best Greek food, while roaming the exhibits, shows, and other fun things to do.

Summer in Canada’s largest city isn’t dull – but this summer it sure may smell funky, thanks to the 24,000 City of Toronto employees walking the picket lines.
Both the city’s inside and outside workers walked off the job June 22, shutting down city run services. From daycare centres, community pools and recreation centers, to most noticeably garbage collection.

To ensure people have some place to dump their trash, the city opened up temporary trash sites across the city – where us residents must haul our own waste too. These temporary garbage dumps have been located in public

CNE midway in 2007.Image via Wikipedia

spaces owned by the city – community center parking lots, football fields, ice arenas, even children’s playgrounds.
Problem is, as the unions continue to refuse to negotiate – instead they demand the city give them what they want without any questions or compromises – the City of Toronto is slowly running out of these public spaces.

One possible site is the Canadian National Exhibition – the CNE grounds. This is a public space, and the city is well within its legal rights to use it as needed. However, it highlights an even larger problem for Canada’s largest city – image.

The CNE attracts visitors from across Canada, the States and around the world. It is one of the biggest summer tourist stops during its brief end of summer run.

Imagine the sounds of the midway, and the smells of the cotton candy interrupted by the ugly sight of thousands of stinky garbage bags, piled high, and growing every day.

The image of Toronto as one of the friendliest, cleanest and safest cities in North America would be shattered – if it hasn’t already been, thanks to a few bullies running an overpowering union.

The City of Toronto has made numerous attempts to end the strike using the collective bargaining process. They have made various offers, but the unio

City of Toronto and Exhibition Place from the ...Image via Wikipedia

ns – as many belligerent bullies do – refuse to accept anything but the whole enchilada.

One of the union leaders demonstrated his thug-like behaviour recently, by uttering an ultimatum – he said, either give us what we want by Sunday at midnight, or he (and presumably his colleagues) will storm out of the hotel where the negotiations are taking place, and join the picket lines indefinitely until we get what we want.

Nice – I didn’t know “Terrorism 101: How to Avoid Civil Discussions and Negotiations” was taught in union management school.

To be fair, I conducted my own informal survey to find out who locals blame for the continued strike. Using our social networks (Twitter and Facebook), we asked you: “Who do you blame for failing to end the five-week-old civic employees strike in Toronto?”

As of this writing, 73 percent put the blame exclusively on the union and its members. Only nine percent blamed the Mayor and his city’s negotiating team, though 18 percent blamed both the city and the union. You can vote on and see the on-going live poll here.

Regardless of who is and isn’t at fault for the continued labour dispute in Canada’s largest city, one thing is very clear – without the services you’d expect to find in such a large and modernized city, the image of it around the world – and even for its millions of residents – has changed forever.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Doesn’t Anyone Work Anymore?

Why Labour Unions Are Like An Old Shoe

During tough economic times as we’ve been in since late last year, people tend to do whatever it takes to ensure they keep their pay cheques coming in.

That is, unless you have the luxury of being in a labour union. Or so it seems, as this summer is being called the summer of the strike as more organized labour unions in Canada are walking the picket lines at any one time.

Earlier this year, city workers for the City of Windsor, Ontario, Canada walked off the job – just this week they ratified a new deal.

The 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike ...Image via Wikipedia

But Canada’s largest city remains without the basic services that make a city liveable, as 24,000 inside and outside civic workers continue to walk the picket lines. Garbage collection is the most visible victim in this strike, as non-unionized city employees have had to establish temporary trash heaps in community center parking lots, parks, and children’s playgrounds.

But other essential services are affected, one of which are paramedics which aren’t allowed to walk out completely – thankfully – but are working to rule. An investigation is currently underway where a man that died from heart failure could have lived, had the working to rule paramedics reached him sooner.

VIA Rail train at London, Ontario train stationImage via Wikipedia

And today, Canada’s national passenger rail service, Via Rail Canada added to the picket lines popping up across the country, as their 350 locomotive engineers and yardmasters went on strike, over wages, benefits and scheduling changes.

Unions at Canada’s national airline, Air Canada were in a legal strike position, but going against the grain of many other unions, actually came to an arrangement with management, and have renegotiated their collective agreement, averting a strike.

Organized Labour -- Out of Touch with Today

Labour unions have done good things in the past. Without the labour movement, our employers would most likely still be severely underpaying us, forcing us to work unreasonably long hours, and in dangerous and non-productive workplaces.
Labour unions have lobbied for, and won us decent wages, reasonable expectations for hours of work, and compensation in money or time of overtime, and have helped pave the way for safer, worker-friendly environments.

They have also assisted in preventing the abuse of children in the workplace, sexism, and other forms of discrimination in the workplace through their lobbying and negotiation strategies.

However, maybe the labour union is like an old shoe beyond repair

New shoes, same as the old shoesImage by Beige Alert via Flickr

. No matter how many times you patch an old shoe, there comes a time when there just isn’t anything left to attach the patches too, so it’s time to go out and get a new pair.

The shoe once was comfy, cozy, maybe even stylish. But now it lacks the padding and support necessary to safely be worn.

Labour unions were once comfy, cozy and stylish too. They provided comfort to their members by standing up for their rights, to negotiate fair and equal wages, benefits and working conditions. It used to be a cozy arrangement working in a union shop, as it almost guaranteed no matter what happened, you’d always have a job. And it could even be said that union membership was stylish, as those not in ‘em tried to get jobs at places where unions ruled, so that they too could benefit from the union’s representation.

But like our old shoe, unions are beyond repair. They don’t negotiate anymore, they dictate, command, order, and then hold their members employers hostage by walking out “in solidarity” as they go out on strike, until those orders are fulfilled.

Unions don’t take into consideration the needs of the employer, and what is and isn’t really possible in today’s economy.

They no longer need to fight for fair market value wages – most unionized workers earn on average about five to 10 per cent more than those who are non-unionized doing the same job elsewhere.

They no longer need to fight for better benefits, again most unionized workers have more benefits than their equivalent non-unionized workers. And as the economy has shrunk over the past decade, there has been a consistent decline in the numbers of full-time staff employees in the workforce. These jobs remain, but instead of being on staff, with benefits, companies are hiring people on contract arrangements, so they don’t have to pay for benefits. Not so if you’re in a union – you’re

GESO protest at Yale University, 2005Image via Wikipedia

pretty much guaranteed benefits.

And unions no longer need to fight for safer workplaces. Thanks to years of lobbying, governments have taken on the responsibility of ensuring employers provide safe working environments, through legislation, inspections and where necessary, fines and enforcement.

So, what do today’s organized labour unions do?

They still have all the fight left in them from the initial labour movement, but instead of putting that energy to good use, they use it to bully employers into backing down to their outrageous demands.

Case in point, in both civic employees strikes in Windsor and Toronto, the cities offered counter-offers to the unions demands. They didn’t offer everything the unions wanted, but that’s not the point of hammering out these things.

The whole collective bargaining process is a negotiation – where all sides discuss what they can give in exchange for what the other wants.

But unions these days, still led by labour movement fighters loaded with piss and vinegar don’t want any part of it – they either get exactly what they want, or they walk away, taking their members – and the employers workers – with them into a strike situation, which benefits no one.

As of today, the 24,000 civic workers for the City of Toronto have been on strike 33 days. Millions of residents in Canada’s largest city have gone without garbage collection, maintenance of public spaces, and reduced ambulatory services for over a month.

Ambulance on the Run - comingImage by Doug McG. via Flickr

Thousands of restaurants across the city have gone without their regular inspections, possibly endangering those who frequent the few bad apples of the bunch.

The city’s health department hasn’t seen a day of work in over a month – yet the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned all major urban centers to be on alert and ready for another outbreak of the deadly H1N1 Swine Flu. Medical experts have come out against the Toronto Strike, saying the city may not be ready for this outbreak, possibly resulting in hundreds of preventable deaths.

Countries around the world have placed Canada’s largest city on their watch lists, warning their citizens not to travel to Toronto, because of the unsafe conditions caused by the labour dispute.

Add in today’s strike at Via Rail Canada, and the entire tourism industry is a right-off.

Yet, Toronto Mayor David Miller and his team have offered the city’s unions contracts which are balanced and fair. They don’t give the unions everything they demand, but the compromises fall in line with what other similar sized cities provide to their employees.

But unions these days don’t want to compromise, they want it all – or nothing.
And that is why unions – like the old shoe – should be tossed out with the trash.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Economists Nowhere Near Reality

Today, the Canada’s federal financial regulator – the Bank of Canada – boldly declared the recession over.

The national financial regulator – which sets the stage for how other financial institutions across the country will operate – estimated that the Canadian economy will advance by 1.3 per cent during the current July to September period and three per cent in the final fourth quarter of the year.

The optimistic view of the economy had an immediate effect on the Canadian dollar, which jumped 0.97 cent to 92 cents U.S.

Bank of CanadaImage by d.neuman via Flickr

However the Bank of Canada is still concerned about the slumping American and European markets, and says they may contain more unpleasant surprises, which could affect the global economy just as it did back last October.

Wait a sec . . . the Bank of Canada says we’re out of the woods, but we’re still in the forest?

Doesn’t make sense – Canada isn’t the only country affected by the global economic downturn, Canada is very much tied to the American and European markets.

So how can the country’s national fiscal institution declare the recession over?
One word: posturing.

The stereotyped image of the tight-wad, highly cautious, nerdy banker-type rings true. Those in positions to influence world economies are easily spooked by even the tiniest of teeny-tiny things.

Just look at how fast most of the major trading indexes of the world fell when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on the infamous “9-11” – trade indexes in Canada, Europe and Asia all dropped, even though they all were many hundreds – if not thousands – of miles away.

The same holds true when good news spreads from reputable sources, such as the Bank of Canada – even though it may only be a prediction, estimate, or the result of someone holding out on his or her lucky rabbit’s foot for luck.

Despite the numbers released by the Bank of Canada, this sounds very much like political posturing, in an attempt to stimulate the economy. By claiming the country is out of the recession – or will be by the end of the summer – investors will have more confidence to put their money back into the market, and that influx of dollars should help the wheels of the economy.

In theory, that sounds great – but just how realistic is it, given the dependence on most nation’s economies by the big American financial machine?

Don’t be fooled by premature statements, driven by lucky rabbit’s feet. Just look at what is still going on around you and ask yourself if we really are out of the woods.

Almost 400,000 Canadians have lost their jobs since October – and just how many of those people are still out of work or working in underemployment situations, just to make ends meet?

Many businesses are still suffering – just go to your local mall and count all the empty and gone out of business stores.

More people in Canada are depending on food banks to feed themselves and their families than ever before – simply because they can’t afford the basic

Economy of American SamoaImage via Wikipedia

needs for themselves.

Canada’s economic recovery may be taking place, but clearly we have a long way to go before declaring the recession a done deal.

And that economic recovery could be stalled or even halted suddenly, if the economies of the States and/or Europe continue to tumble, as they presently are.

The financial stimulus package American President Barack Obama launched in the spring is meeting with mixed results. On the one hand, it is providing some movement of funds in the economy, but on the other hand, people are still losing their shirts – or worse – their homes.

Until the American economy is stable and once again prosperous, the Canadian economy won’t be.

Keep stroking that lucky rabbit’s foot – but I’m waiting for more evidence before considering the recession over.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Changing Economic Realities Bring Out the Fight

Earlier this year, one of Canada’s largest universities – York University, in Toronto, had one of their longest and most painful labour disputes. Teaching Assistants and part-time faculty went on strike for over three months, displacing students and those who work on and near the university’s two campuses. The school year had to be extended over a month, delaying graduating students their degrees, and returning students the chance to find summer work.

Just over a month ago, the 24,000 inside and outside civic employees that keep Toronto clean and safe went on strike. They still are on strike, affecting garbage collection, parks and recreation programs, ambulance services, and

Northwest Gate Picket LineImage by Gavatron via Flickr

just about anything that makes a city run.

Late last night, Via Rail, Canada’s national passenger rail service announced that locomotive engineers would be in a legal strike position this Friday. Today, they reduced service on some routes, to avoid stranding people across the country in the event a strike were to take place.

The world of work is not what it once was. The economy has shrunk – not only are people losing their jobs in record numbers not seen since the Great Depression, but many of those jobs are gone forever. Companies aren’t planning on asking many of those people back, instead they are looking at combining roles, so one person may be doing the job of two, or more employees.

WILMINGTON, DE - JUNE 3:  Rick Wagoner, Genera...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

That is if the company is lucky enough to still be. Many companies have gone out of business completely, others have had to go into bankruptcy protection to dodge their creditors long enough to regroup – not to name names – General Motors (GM).

We do live in challenging times, which might explain why labour unions are fighting harder for what they believe are the best interests of their members.
Can’t blame them for trying, but part of the collective bargaining is negotiating.

Negotiating involves compromise, a give and take on both sides to ensure a fair work arrangement for all parties.

Problem is, unions these days seem to have forgotten this, because they stand firm, holding out for the impossible, even when the companies they deal with try to come up with a balanced and fair compromise.

The City of Toronto has proposed several such compromises, giving the union some of what they want for their members. The union on the other hand, continues to hold the city and its resident’s hostage, saying they want it all, or no deal.

That was the problem for the union representing the Teaching Assistants and part-time faculty at York University as well. Though as the strike continued, public support shifted away from the hard working employees out on strike, turning instead towards the poor students unable to get their education.

The longer a strike lasts, the less support the union and its members have, and that prejudiced attitude can continue long after the strike.

Our human picket lineImage by Gavatron via Flickr

Many years ago, when Major League Baseball Players went on strike, causing the season the end early, the jokes circulating about grown men – most younger than you and me – playing a kids game for millions of dollars, going on strike weren’t just jokes. It took several years for fans to warm up to spending money on tickets, ball caps, team jerseys and other such items again. Some baseball teams went out of business or were bought out and relocated because people simply weren’t going to the games – remember when Montreal had the Expos?

Most people are lucky in this economy to have a job of any kind, many don’t get benefits, and job security is pretty much unheard of in today’s working world. So it is hard for most of us to sympathize with a group of people out on strike, until they get something most of us don’t have.

Yet unions continue to fight for job security, and better benefits for their members, holding out until provincial or federal governments step in. Provincial or federal governments will intervene with their mediators, to bring both sides together through negotiations. But, when the union continues to hold out, failing to negotiate, the government has no choice but to order the employees back to work.

And when unionized employees are ordered back to work, the whole collective bargaining process has failed.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

How A Labour Dispute Can Kill Off The World’s Human Population

Canada’s largest city has been without some essential services for the past month, thanks to a strike by the city’s 24,000 inside and outside unionized workers.

Paramedics, daycare centers, public parks, municipal offices, and garbage collection have all been affected by the strike.

The most visible concern affecting Toronto residents are the massive piles of trash, overflowing in community center parking lots, public basketball courts, baseball diamonds, and even children’s playgrounds.

The so-called “garbage strike” hasn’t crippled the prosperous city, ofte

Toronto Garbage StrikeImage by artriguing via Flickr

n referred to as the economic engine of the country – but it could in far reaching ways.
As the mounds of garbage fill the city’s makeshift temporary landfill sites fill – which residents have to cart their own trash too – countries around the world issue travel advisories, warning people not to come to Toronto.

Rats, raccoons, cockroaches, seagulls, and other wildlife are having the time of their lives, feasting on the simmering stinking mess. They could bring and spread diseases to people, at a time when the World Health Organization (WHO) is already concerned about the H1N1 Swine Flu pandemic sweeping across the globe.

WHO’s six-stage scale is at level six – the pandemic stage – as H1N1 Swine Flu has proven deadly to thousands worldwide.

With the ongoing strike – now over a month old – new concerns are popping up, as the city’s health department won’t be properly prepared to handle any sudden outbreaks of the deadly H1N1 Swine Flu.

WHO says the deadly bug’s infection rates have recently begun to decline, but as new strains of the virus have been found in the population, they are anti

Plague Of Rats Strikes Toronto Blamed On City ...Image by Metrix X via Flickr

cipating a relapse of the outbreak – one which may not be as easy to fend off, thanks to mutations making it more resilient against anti-viral medications like Tamil Flu.

If that more resistant strain hits Canada’s largest city and the local healthcare system isn’t ready, chaos will be the result. Millions of people commute back and forth from the neighboring communities outside Toronto, all of whom could fall sick, and possibly die, due to an uncontrolled outbreak. As Toronto is the hub for much of Canada’s travel, with over 50% of those coming to Canada by air, landing at the city’s Pearson International Airport, any outbreak could easily affect citizens from other countries.

If the city’s health department – which is on strike – fails to act immediately upon discovering an outbreak of the H1N1 Swine Flu, infected individuals could board planes heading for other countries, and create a global catastrophe.

All because the unions representing the city’s inside and outside workers can’t come to reasonable terms with the City of Toronto on issues of job security and sick leave.

Toronto Garbage StrikeImage by artriguing via Flickr

Ironic how the union is holding the city hostage over sick leave benefits, when the H1N1 Swine Flu could make much of the city, the country, the continent, and even the world, extremely sick, just because some staffers aren’t working because of the strike.

Scientists have been predicting the next great pandemic, far worse than the bubonic plague which wiped out most of Europe’s population, for the past decade. These scientists, using models charted over time, show how pandemics occur every century, and show how we are overdue for our century’s outbreak.

Due to economic, geographic, social, and other demographic conditions, these scientists predicted that the next great plague would come from a third-world country, where clean water and food sources are scarce.

Toronto, one of the world’s most prosperous cities, was never thought of as being a potential source for the next great pandemic. But because of the labour dispute between the city and its staff, it could be just that.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Moon Walk Hits Big Four-Oh

Forty-years-ago today, American astronaut Neil Armstrong climbed out of the Lunar Module, and as his feet hit the surface of the moon, proudly declared: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

It was the summer of 1969, and Armstrong’s landing on the moon was a knock-out punch by the American’s against the Russians in the space race. Earlier, the Russians had held the lead, by putting their Sputnik spacecraft into orbit.

Neil Armstrong works at the LM in one of the f...Image via Wikipedia

The space race has fizzled, and become a joint-venture of sorts, as countries across the globe work together to better space exploration. Canadian astronauts have gone up on Space Shuttle missions – there are two in space now on one.
Several countries have partnered to build the International Space Station. And without good working relations among the nations of the world, we wouldn’t have the high tech global telecommunications systems which we enjoy, allowing us to place voice, video, data and text calls from Dildo, Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada (yes that place exists), to Twatt, Scotland (that place exists too).

Still, forty-years after NASA put a man on the moon, we have yet to really better that achievement. Yes, the Space Shuttles are far more advanced than the rocket ship which propelled Armstrong to our closest orbiting body, but we have yet to venture back to the moon, or the other celestial bodies within our solar system.

Humans have sent robotic rovers to Mars, and satellites far beyond our solar system. These have given us a glimpse into what lies beyond our cozy atmospheric-creature-comfort planet Earth. But despite that initial knock-out punch, man (or woman) have never set foot on any other land mass outside since.

NASA is working on it – they have announced plans to go to the moon by 2020, and establish a lunar base capable of sustaining living conditions for six-months on the moon by 2025. This would allow astronauts to build a home from which to study the terrain and working conditions in space, to prepare for trips beyond the moon.

That trip beyond the moon could very well be Mars.

A trip to the red planet would take six-months, as Mars is over 30-million miles away from Earth. The moon is a great way to test the technologies needed to get humans that far out into space, and to establishing actual home-bases from which to work.

Makes sense, if it takes you six-months to get someplace, you don’t want to just do a quick hop-skip and jump on the surface, then turn around and spend another six-months coming back. You want to stay, look around, and explore the unknown.

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL - JUNE 18:  In this handout...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Although it’s been so long since human beings walked on the moon, NASA is taking the trek to the moon and later Mars seriously. Last month, the American space agency launched their Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, an unmanned spacecraft to find potential landing sites based on moon surface resources.
Currently, NASA is investigating the moon’s south pole, because of the possibility of water ice, which could be used by the astronauts living there for drinking, or as a source of oxygen and hydrogen for air and fuel.

Once astronauts have conquered the living conditions on the moon, in theory, they would be better prepared for a mission to Mars.

Big plans, but riddled with a big hole. Just next year, NASA is retiring the Space Shuttle fleet, and their new rocket ship – the Orion – won’t be ready for another five-years. That means American astronauts – and presumably Canadian ones as well – will have to depend on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to

The April 12 launch at Pad 39A of STS-1, just ...Image via Wikipedia

get to the International Space Station, and other out-of-this-world places.

"Relying on the Russians between when we're retiring the shuttle and having the Constellation program flying is something that I'm not very proud of," said former Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Crippen, who piloted the first space shuttle mission in 1981.

Crippen, and many others feel it is great to be partners in space explora

tion with Russia and other countries, but it isn’t good to be totally dependent on another country’s spacecraft to get you to where you want to go.

Crippen has argued that the Space Shuttles could fly safely until the Orion – or some other NASA vehicle – is ready, but NASA says it is more about money than safety. They simply don’t have the money to continue the shuttle program while developing other space technologies.

It’s been forty-years since man has walked on the moon, so it probably won’t hurt us any if we have to wait a few more years. Still, putting a space colony on the moon won’t be nearly as exciting as putting one on Mars, which will take even more time to achieve. But both will be well worth the wait.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Techno Politicians – A New Breed of Public Servant

Many eons ago, when I was a print reporter, the only way for politicians and other news makers to get their messages out was through their speeches, media events, and staff. It was a love-hate relationship between us reporter-types, and the spin doctors – I mean press secretaries – working alongside the politician.

Everything that comes out of a politician’s mouth is usually scripted. That script has probably been read, and re-read countless times by their staff, to ensure there aren’t any mistakes in the message being delivered.

When you see a politician on television, answering questions live, all their answers are scripted too. They have been briefed by their handlers how to respond to just about every question you or that television reporter could imagine. It is rare these days to catch ‘em off guard.

What has changed is how direct and informal the messages are becoming, thanks to instant micro blogging sites like Twitter.

Twitter is a cool web-based micro blogging site, which allows peop

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

le to share very brief one-liner-type statements about anything and everything that pops into their heads. You can even follow this blog on Twitter, by adding @jordansdaily to your own feed.

American President Barack Obama uses Twitter, so too does his rival John McCain. The White House has its own Twitter account, which posts pictures and video they capture as they follow the President. Even the Brits are in on the instant online action, you can follow British Prime Minister Gordon Brown by adding @DowningStreet to your Twitter page.

Whether President Obama actually taps out his own “tweets” to send via Twitter on his Blackberry is doubtful. Those messages, as with everything else that comes out of his – and all other politician’s by DavidAll06 via Flickr

offices – is carefully crafted and vetted by the best wordsmiths in the world.

But what is fascinating about this new method of communications is its directness.

Love or hate the news media, one thing journalists do is analyze, discuss and debate the issues. When a politician or other news maker says something, there is usually some sort of discussion, or alternative opinion brought in, to add context to the story, and provide some balance. You may not always agree with those alternative views, but at least they are there for you to think about.

However, when you receive a message in your Twitter feed – or any other live micro blogging site – from a politician or news maker, you are only receiving the information they want you to have. There isn’t anything to counter balance their information with other facts and arguments – all you’re getting is their one-sided version of the story.

It will be interesting over the next few years to see how this new form of instant, direct and non-objective messaging affects world democracies.

Instead of getting all sides of the story from the media, those on the information superhighway may just get the information which they have subscribed too, not even considering the bias, slant or angle that information is taking. Elections of the future may be won or lost by just how well politicians communicate their messages directly to the people, circumventing any potential analysis or debate for those people.

And that could prove dangerous for democracy, as the discussions and debates about not just the people running our world, but the very laws, programs and policies that make our world, could vanish.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

H1N1 Swine Flu Sweeps Across Canadian Provinces Summer Camps

Hundreds of children at three Muskoka, Ontario summer camps have caught the H1N1 flu virus – commonly called “Swine Flu.” Health officials confirmed yesterday that 227 children have contracted the deadly virus, but all cases are mild, and pose no immediate risk.

Summertime in Canada is a time to slow down, to relax in the great outdoors. Schools out, and many kids are sent to summer camps to play, learn and grow in northern communities, which thrive during the summer months. These cottage-based communities have an influx of visitors from across the province, and around the world, as people from all over come to enjoy the fresh country air, swim and fish in local lakes, ponds and streams, or just to soak up some sun on the many beaches.

An outbreak of any virus is never a good thing, especially when children are involved. But when that outbreak occurs in a community at the peak of its tourist season, more harm may come, as there are more people coming and going into town.

Which is why the summer hotspot of Muskoka, in Ontario, Canada is the worst place to have a Swine Flu outbreak. Muskoka, made famous in Canada by the so-called “Muskoka Chair” – a wooden deck chair commonly found in the region – could have an even bigger problem, if the H1N1 Swine Flu virus isn’t contained to just the summ

H1n1Image by kodomut via Flickr

er camps affected.

The number of Swine Flu cases are declining in the area, which health officials say is a good sign, as it means control measures are working to contain the deadly virus. However, the outbreak is still being assessed, as it is estimated that about 20 percent of the kids at the three summer camps have contracted the H1N1 Swine Flu bug.

So far, 61 staff members at the three camps have also contracted the H1N1 Swine Flu virus, and they have all been isolated at their respective camp sites to prevent further contamination. Most of the infected children have been sent home.

The logic behind sending the infected kids home, is that they will feel more comfortable and make a quicker recovery at home. However, the risk of contamination increases by sending kids home, as they may come into contact with others on their journey home. And, kids will always be kids, infected children may not sit still while infected, and spread the deadly virus to their neighborhoods.

And some of the neighborhoods these kids are coming from are in the States – increasing the potential for the H1N1 Swine Flu to spread on both sides of the border. Camp Ramah, a Jewish Education camp affected by the H1N1 Swine Flu outbreak has over 450 children registered, many of them from the United States.

ZOMG!!! SWINE FLU!!!!Image by Amanda-Ruth via Flickr

Although infected kids wouldn’t be as comfortable recovering in isolation at their summer camp, it would be a more prudent method to prevent cross contamination across the region, the province, and even the continent.

Other provinces in Canada are experiencing outbreaks of the deadly H1N1 Swine Flu. Off the west coast, a Vernon, British Columbia army cadet training center has reduced their training schedules, after a cadet was diagnosed with the virus.
Despite restructuring their programs, 27 cadets have become sick since the initial cadet’s infection, showing just how infectious this bug really is.

The summer camps in Ontario remain open, however all kids coming and going into the camps are screened for the virus.

Summer camps in the United States have actually been closed, due to H1N1 fears. The American Lung Association has advised 50 affiliated camps which host children with asthma to close, to prevent Swine Flu infections. And last month, the American-based Muscular Dystrophy Association closed 47 summer camps, also because of concerns over the growing spread of H1N1 Swine Flu in North America.

The World Health Organization (WHO) still has its global pandemic scale set to the highest level – level six --- officially considering the H1N1 Swine Flu a global pandemic. Despite being at the highest level, WHO says the overall severity of what they are calling the “H1N1 Influenza Pandemic” is “moderate,” based on scientific evidence and input from its member countries.

WHO’s website says they are concerned “about current patterns of serious cases and deaths that are occurring primarily among young persons, including the previously healthy and those with pre-existing medical conditions or pregnancy.”

So perhaps the American summer camps which have closed are taking the right approach, which our Canadian summer camps need to follow, as young people – even healthy ones – could severely be affected by this global pandemic.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Midsummer Classic More than Just Good Baseball

Lastnight’s All Star Game between the American and National baseball leagues as been long thought of as a showcase of the best players from both leagues.

Players and fans vote for their choices as to who gets to play ball. But aside from popularity contests, the winner or even the loser, last night’s ball game was about something more.

America’s first black president, Barack Obama threw out the ceremonial first pitch – and he didn’t do all that shabby for – as he often refers to himself – a “southpaw.”

TORONTO - APRIL 6:  Roy Halladay #32 the Toron...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Despite all the media hype surrounding the lead up to the game, including Monday night’s batting contest, the announcement of the starting line-up, and even having President Obama open the game with his lefty-arm, the real story from last night’s All Star Game was about one lone player.

Toronto Blue Jay Pitcher Roy Halladay was the starting pitcher for last night’s game. This was his sixth All Star Game, but his first as a starting pitcher, which really put the pressure on the potential Cy Young candidate.

Putting even more pressure on Halladay, perhaps was Halladay himself – not just because he was the first pitcher to toss out a ball for the American League, which traditionally wins these matches (the American League has won 11 of the last 12 All Star Games), but also to sell himself to his future team.

DETROIT - APRIL 02:  Starting pitcher Roy Hall...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Trade winds are blowing across the baseball diamond, and Roy Halladay’s name is top on the cards of all those placing bets. When asked at a press conference prior to the All Star Game what he thought his chances of being traded out of the Toronto Blue Jays franchise, Halladay estimated it was “50-50.”

The Toronto right-hander told a gaggle of reporters prior to the All Star Game that his team just doesn’t have what it takes to win.

“I think as a player, there’s that will to win, that will to do it in October and basically that’s what all of this has been about,” he said. “I would like that chance, I’m not saying it won’t be Toronto. You’d like to be three games up in first place and not have to deal with it.”

Halladay’s comments hint that the Toronto team just isn’t in a winning mood and that may be what is costing them wins. As of the All Star Game, the Toronto Blue Jays were in fourth place in the American League, and just came off of their second worst away trip, losing 12 of their last 15 games on the road.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Toronto this year. For the first two months of the season, the Toronto Blue Jays were number one in not just the American League, but taking their statistics into consideration, they were the best team in all of baseball.

Injuries sidelined a number of their staff, including another ace pitcher – B.J. Ryan. Ryan was let go by the Blue Jays prior to the All Star Game, simply because he wasn’t playing like he used to before all of his injuries.

But unlike Ryan, the ball is in Halladay’s glove – he is the one who will have to vet through all the possible offers, and see if Toronto is the place he’ll remain.

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