Friday, April 29, 2005

Help Support Women's Reproductive Rights

The University of Western Ontario has decided to give Dr. Henry Morgentaler an honorary Doctor of Laws degree on June 16. Unfortunately, the university has been getting a large amount of anti-choice mail protesting this decision and slandering Dr. Morgentaler. In contrast, there has been next to no pro-choice mail in support, so far. Dr. Morgentaler is a hero to Canadian women for securing the right to choose abortion in 1988, in the Supreme Court Morgentaler decision that threw out Canada's abortion law. Could you possibly help with a short, affirming e-mail to the administrators at the university? Below are the names and e-mail addresses of the President of the University and the Chair of the Board of Governors. It is really important that as many people as possible write to these administrators praising the decision to confer the law degree on Dr. Morgentaler as soon as possible. The anti's are holding a vigil on Wednesday at 2pm. And could you pass this message on to other Canadians who would be willing to take a few moments to send a note of praise?
Thank you so much for your support!

Write to:
Dr. Paul Davenport, President, UWO

Don McDougall, Chair of Board of Governors
c/o Jan VanFleet, University Secretary

Feel free to copy my very simple email if you like:

Dr. Paul Davenport, President, UWO
Don McDougall, Chair of Board of Governors
c/o Jan VanFleet, University Secretary

I feel it is very important to offer my support for the honorary Law degree your university is giving to Dr. Morgentaler. There are many women who's lives have been directly improved by Dr. Morgentaler's brave championing of a woman's right to choose and I am glad he will receive the recognition he deserves.

Thank you


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

My Hero - Howard Zinn on Democracy Now!

My hero Howard Zinn, the radical historian, was on Democracy Now tonight. - Watch it here. Yay! He's the best!

Obesity Wars

About a week or so a go, a study came out showing that being moderately overweight is actually a cause of fewer deaths than being underweight.

Quote from The abstract of the study (you have to buy it to read the whole thing): "Conclusion: Underweight and obesity, particularly higher levels of obesity, were associated with increased mortality relative to the normal weight category. The impact of obesity on mortality may have decreased over time, perhaps because of improvements in public health and medical care. These findings are consistent with the increases in life expectancy in the United States and the declining mortality rates from ischemic heart disease."

Main findings:

  • Deaths associated with underweight (BMI<18.5): +33,746
  • Deaths associated with overweight (BMI 25-29.9): -86,094 (i.e., overweight "saved" lives")
  • Deaths associated with obesity (BMI>30): +111,909

Read The New York Times article on the study. (user name: redjenny4 password: redjenny)

The report doesn't say that obesity isn't a problem! Firstly, it correctly demonstrates that BMI is an imperfect measure of possible obesity (a body builder can have a BMI classification of obese, but have 5% body fat). The study also correctly points out that being underweight isn't healthy either, especially with the accompanying neurotic food mentality and "thin is in" superstar body types.

The study shows that being moderately overweight isn't going to kill you. well, duh! being 20 lbs overweight is no big deal! It is the extreme of obesity that has the health risks, not carrying a little extra "junk in the truck"! Especially if you are overweight, but exercise and eat healthy. That's going to give you an advantage over someone who is sedentary and eats crap all the time, but has a genetically slim build, or high metabolism. Or someone who doesn't eat enough and is malnourished. The study only looked at premature death and not increased morbidity and disability, or chronic disease (diabetes, managed heart disease, high blood pressure) which are more and more manageable thanks to modern medicine, but may seriously impede quality of life.

so that's what a balanced read of the study shows.

The media, of course, is all over this, with headlines reading "Obesity is not that dangerous after all!", "Bon Appetit!", "Whoppers and the End of an Epidemic", "The public health community's massive fib"

The fast food industry and chain restaurants LOVED this. Their PR and marketing is jumping on this! They are practically calling the long standing recommendations to eat healthy and exercise a conspiracy! Check out these sites: and

These sites promotes things like fear of organic foods (covered in manure) and hurrahs for soft drinks: "The latest phony food scare centers on soft drinks and their alleged link to type 2 diabetes" and are against apparent prohibition sponsors MADD.


Their "about us" says the "Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies, and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices. The growing cabal of "food cops," health care enforcers, militant activists, meddling bureaucrats, and violent radicals who think they know "what's best for you" are pushing against our basic freedoms. We're here to push back." They equate knowledge with control - I guess telling someone that overeating junk food every day isn't healthy is curtailing their consumer freedom.

Aside: I like the way they call me a consumer, not a citizen or human being.

My favourite line is: "We believe that only you know what's best for you." I guess doctors, scientists and nutritionists are all just meddling activists. My knowledge gleaned from ads and marketing that barrages me all day is obviously better than the knowledge they learn in 5-15 years of high level schooling... But what do they know? If I believe a pound of butter, a cigar and a bottle of whisky is good for me, I must be right!

Center for Consumer Freedom is a front group for Berman & Co., a PR company representing the restaurant chains, alcohol and tobacco industries. More info about them here:

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Purely Awesome - Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is so witty it hurts.

I saw Tom Friedman on The Daily Show a while ago, discussing his new book. He wowed us with the brilliant news that the USA may not the centre of the world (although he said it a little differently). I know that sounds like crazy talk, but apparently Indian techies are as smart as American techies! Good thing we have people like him to tell us these things. Mr. Taibbi wrote a rather scathing, and extremely funny review of the book here.

also: In this article, Matt discusses a poll that reveals that most Americans don't know the difference between left and right wing. The right knows this and uses it to their advantage. Quite accurately, he says the word left-wing is "more meant as an insult, to describe a fuzzy-headed refusal to accept patriotic orthodoxy, than it is to refer to a concrete set of political beliefs." ah ha! So that's why if I say "it's wrong that poor people starve while rich people play golf all day", someone invariably argues back: "why do you hate america?".

Monday, April 25, 2005

Fallen Soldier

A post on a forum i frequent sometimes. click here to read it. Why? Because these are real people and when people are desensitised to each others' humanity, evil things happen. So we have to stay aware, stay human.

I was reading in this month's Harper's, in which some of the individual Hutus who had committed absolute atrocious acts during the Rwandan genocide talked about how it felt to be doing these things. Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem speaks of thoughtlessness over will as the prime executor of evil. it seems that what these, and sadly, many other situations are propelled by something similar. Most times emotions clue us in to moral questions - this is our feeling of conscience. Seeing victims as something other than human means conscience can be appeased and morality can be suspended.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

This weekend in the news:

Bill C-27 Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Enforcement Act
Bill C-27 is getting little press, but concerns me deeply as it will severely reduce the safety of our food. If it is passed, imports of food from other countries won't be subject to the same scrutiny as Canadian food. This is in itself is awfully dangerous (Got BHG in your milk?) but will also mean that local farms are put at yet another disadvantage. There will then be two choices: continue to let Canadian agri-business die or deregulate. The obvious choice will be deregulation. Every other time they've tried to put this type of bill through, there has been public outcry. They're being smarter about it this time, burying it in other regulations. Protect Canada’s food system – tell your Member of Parliament to vote against Bill C-27! It only takes a minute of your time.

Gap between native, non-native schools growing
If you read Saturday's star, you would have been nearly brought to tears by this article. The question is... what to do about it. It seems to me in addition to bringing in the speech pathologists, psychologists and occupational therapists, etc, maybe there can be some free intensive training for the local community members. When I worked up north, the library was a real community centre (and where I lived was MUCH less isolated). Schools can provide the same thing - adult education and community development programs are so important, and can easily find their home in a grade school - if that school is properly funded and staffed. But communities need support and help to run things their way. At the very least, the teachers who are already there should be given free professional training to upgrade their skills and to deal with specific issues, such as special needs. Unemployment is 75% up there - can the government put aside money to pay community members who volunteer to work with the children, for example? Just a thought.

Friday, April 22, 2005

More Earth Day Madness

Environmental Confessions - Confess your environmental sins, and read others.

Happy Earth Day

Ecological Footprint Quiz -
My Results:
FOOD 1.1


The Canadian Government also has a good one - One-Tonne Challenge. I took it, but discovered that I can't make a lot of the necessary changes because I live in an apartment building. I already walk/take public transit everywhere, but I plan to get a bike this summer, which is also helpful.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Rebuilding countries is big business

I saw Naomi Klein on Democracy Now last night, and followed up by reading a recent article of hers in The Nation. Here's a bit of a summary and comment:

This is not exactly news - it's just another chapter in the story of our post-modern type of colonial international relations. The effects are, however, particularly insidious, so it is extremely important to bring them to public attention.

From post-tsunami Sri Lanka & Indonesia or hurricane-wrecked Honduras & Guatemala to war-torn Afghanistan & Iraq, there is no shortage of "countries smashed to rubble, whether by so-called Acts of God or by Acts of Bush (on orders from God)." These countries need to be rebuilt, and that is a lucrative opportunity. After the countries are pressured into agreeing to policies such as privatization of water, in come the private firms, like Bechtel, Halliburton, etc.

Double-talk alert: this is called "aid", so we westerners can feel good about ourselves, yet it is for-profit.

Here's what the "aid" has done after the Dec 26 tsunami: "The most devastated countries have seen almost no debt relief, and most of the World Bank's emergency aid has come in the form of loans, not grants. Rather than emphasizing the need to help the small fishing communities--more than 80 percent of the wave's victims--the bank is pushing for expansion of the tourism sector and industrial fish farms."

As Condoleeza Rice had said, the tsunami provided a great opportunity for the US.

World bank's ongoing tactics - lend money so countries in need can pay private US/International corporations to perform tasks that they have decided those countries should have - building infrastructure, electricity grids, providing water, opening private health care clinics, etc - all for profit of course. Profit that leaves the country, going straight into the pockets of these transnational corporations. Now the country is left with a huge debt which must be paid by the people. So the transfer of money goes like this: world back --> corporation (loan which pays for development), then, country --> world bank (debt repayment). Somehow the people who live in the country are bypassed. But it is they who are are left with the debt to repay. Most of the time, what were previously public sector projects are now run by private companies, so even more money goes from their hands into corporate hands.

this "reconstruction" boom is a perfect way to squeeze even more money out of countries which might not otherwise fall prey to the previous tactics. countries that have been destroyed, as Klein says, "take orders well. After a cataclysmic event, governments will usually do whatever it takes to get aid dollars--even if it means racking up huge debts and agreeing to sweeping policy reforms. And with the local population struggling to find shelter and food, political organizing against privatization can seem like an unimaginable luxury."

Klein aptly calls this: "a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering."

Highly recommended article - Read it

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Draw a Pig - Personality Test

My Pig:

I am a realist.
I am direct, enjoy playing devil's advocate and neither fear nor avoid discussions.
I am emotional and naive,caring little for details and a risk-taker.
I am insecure or living through a period of major change.
I am an OK listener
I have a poor quality sex life

Make Poverty History

This site makes it very easy to send an email to the Prime Minister and your MP. Go there. Do it. It's better than nothing.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Abiogenic Theory of Oil

Got involved in a discussion about peak oil. Someone brought up the idea that oil isn't what we think: "Oil isn't the byproduct of biological mass from the dinosaurs, it's a geologic chemical and there's plenty still left in the earth."

I read up on it - I'm no scientist so I can't be sure of the origin of oil, but my response to this was:

Even if the abiogenic theory is true. that doesn't automatically solve our problems.

first of all, just because it is there, doesn't mean we can easily get it. in fact, the deeper we have to go, the less efficient it is. sometimes it is so energy- and cost- intensive that it isn't worth it. If it were to take the energy equivalent of 1 barrel of oil for each barrel extracted, it is better NOT to extract it, right?

take the tar sands, which are extremely inefficient, requiring almost as much energy to mine and refine as is produced. in fact, in alberta, they use high quality fuel (natural gas) to produce poor quality crude oil. improved technology is making it more efficient, but it is still quite ridiculous if you think about it, especially when you factor in other costs (environmental, etc. see below)

it is likely that technological improvements would help in the long run, making extraction of your deep so called abiogenic crude oil possible and maybe somewhat efficient, but why not put that same technology into other energy sources that don't have all the drawbacks of petroleum?

if we put aside the concern with "running out" because we are now tapping into vast geological petroleum deposits, there are still other issues. the release of carbon from deep underground into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide will continue to change the composition of our planet - causing global warming in the short term. sulphur, contained in varying amounts in different oil sources, oxidizing and eventually becoming sulphuric acid in the atmosphere (acid rain)... smog formed from other particles such as nitrogens, dirty groundwater, etc. we all know about these. they won't go away with more oil!

there's more, if you want me to go on, but i'm sure everyone is sick of hearing it... my point is that a new theory of the origin of oil doesn't solve the problem.

so are we looking forward to lives filled with chronic illness, smog alert days, increasingly damaging natural disasters? oh wait, that's already happening... how is abiogenic oil going to help?

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Monday, April 04, 2005

Review: Confessions of an Economic Hit Man - John Perkins

This book is at once an autobiography, a 20th century history of America and a call to action. These elements are balanced very well with a very readable narrative style.

The history covered in this book is admittedly controversial. It primarily covers the less-shiny aspects of history, which I doubt are taught in US schools, but which are easily accessible if one only looks. It is also quite well-documented and supported by evidence. Perkins discusses American corporate and governmental involvement with Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador and many other nations from a first hand perspective.

What is interesting is that we see this history as the setting for a very personal story, through the eyes of a participant. As the title suggests, it is in fact a confession. Perkins was an important player in some of the darker aspects of subtle non-governmental foreign policy, and he is not an apologist.

He shows a little bit of the psychology of people who commit evil acts on behalf of organizations to which they belong. For example, structures set up to do harm can generally find people with the right personality characteristics to be capitalized upon - greed, ambition, etc. What this means is, rather than simply provoking hate towards individuals who are perpetuating exploitation, Perkins reveals the underlying broader issues, such as the consequences of the misuse of power and profit. I think he very effectively places the specifics of historical facts (as well as his story) in context in a way that historical texts typically do not.

Although it is not a prescriptive book as such, Perkins does offer some ideas and suggestions at the end as to what individuals can do if they believe in trying to ameliorate the situation he has presented.

I found it to be both a compelling page turner and very factual at the same time. Highly recommended for the history buff, social activist, avid biography reader, news junkie, or really anyone who cares about the world we live in.