Saturday, December 18, 2010

Albatross: In Current Events, Literature

A NYT article reveals that the endangered short tailed albatross is on the rebound and nesting pairs have been found thousands of kilometers from their usual habitat near Japan.

The article kindles thoughts for me of this majestic bird whose wing span can reach up to 11 feet. They have a very efficient glide ratio, soar in high altitudes among prevailing wind currents, and cover immense distances. There are 21 species, 19 threatened with extinction.

Of course, its main allusion in literature is in 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' by Samuel Taylor Coleridge written in 1798. A wedding guest is stopped by an old man who wants to tell him a story. At first the man is annoyed but eventually mesmerized by the sailor's tale. It's about a global sea voyage that turns disastrous when the mariner kills an albatross and suffers the consequences.

As a former English teacher, I enjoyed taking my students through this narrative poem 30 years ago. It may seem more dated now and rarely read. If you have some time and want to read this poem aloud to yourself, you may find your mind providing a graphic visual of events to fill you with wonder.

Ah ! well a-day ! what evil looks
Had I from old and young !
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.

Photo: Statue in Somerset

Friday, December 17, 2010

Carbon Footprint

Imagine lush trees growing in the most distant northern regions of the Arctic. The extensive oil and gas discoveries in the past few decades are an indication that a vast biomass once existed there.

Now a research team studying a melting glacier near Canada's northernmost point of land has discovered a "mummified" forest that's at least two million years old, with "perfectly preserved" tree trunks, branches and leaves."

"The present-day thaw at the north end of Ellesmere Island -- another sign of the widespread warming now taking hold of Canada's polar frontier -- has served up intact spruce and birch trees believed to have been buried in a landslide during the Neogene period of Earth history between two million and eight million years ago."

Moreover researchers say, "Because the trees' organic material is preserved, we can get a high-resolution view of how quickly the climate changed and how the plants responded to that change."

The same scientists also say that the latest warming trend will only intensify global warming with all the pent-up carbon released from such sites.

Today, Ellesmere Island is mainly a home for muskoxen and is one of the world's most inhospitable places, but melting glaciers are changing all that.

Cherish the Story


Most have heard about the story of Allied and German troops who laid down their arms on December 25, 1914, sung carols, played football, and exchanged gifts. (Friko has documented the event very well in her Advent series.)

Now a Canadian soldier's letter written at Vimy Ridge has been uncovered which describes a similar event in 1916.

"Here we are again as the song says," the young soldier wrote. "I had quite a good Xmas considering I was in the front line. Xmas eve was pretty stiff, sentry-go up to the hips in mud of course. ... We had a truce on Xmas Day and our German friends were quite friendly. They came over to see us and we traded bully beef for cigars."

The passage ends with Pte. MacKinnon noting that, "Xmas was 'tray bon,' which means very good."

Scholars have hailed the letter as a "fantastic find." The letter takes on added poignancy since the young soldier was killed on the infamous ridge in April, 1917.

"The letter clearly demonstrates that there was an attempt to downplay these small-scale Christmas truces when they happened," said Prof. Weber, noting that official military records make little or no mention of such events — largely because they could be interpreted by army commanders as a failure to maintain discipline and a fighting frame of mind among front-line soldiers."

This is the season to reflect and cherish stories like these which provide some inspiration for greater harmony and good will.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Dietary Panacea?


Are you eating enough fish to reap the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids? Studies have shown that the nutrient helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, fight depression, and keep one young.

Linda Beck writes all three articles above for The Globe and Mail, "There are no official recommendations regarding how much omega-3 fat one should consume each day, but most experts agree that a daily intake of 500 milligrams of DHA and EPA (combined) helps to reduce the risk of developing heart disease. If you eat six ounces of salmon each week, you’re getting 500 milligrams of omega-3 fats.

If you have been diagnosed with heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends you consume 1,000 milligrams of omega-3 fats a day. If you don’t like fish, fish-oil supplements are a good alternative. Fish-oil supplements are made from salmon, anchovies, sardines, herring and mackerel. If you opt for supplements, read labels before you buy. Fish-oil capsules vary in the amount of DHA and EPA they contain. Most capsules provide 300, 500 or 600 milligrams..."

I take a fish oil tablet daily with 900 milligrams of DHA and EPA. I also eat several cans of sardines a week and bake salmon several times a month. I don't have heart disease (fingers crossed) but the research suggests that for someone my age, who is soon to hit 60, it certainly can't hurt to focus on those fish oils.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hopeless

In the pitch darkness she finished her shift
at the local fast food haven,
and threw up the hood of her light vinyl jacket;
the sidewalk was slippery with freshly fallen snow.
Too bad she didn't bring a scarf she thought
as the north wind assaulted her vulnerable neck.
It was the best job she could get-
A couple of $20's for five hours of work;
now 10 o'clock her kids would be fast asleep-
valuable family opportunities missed
like the warmth of a fireplace
they never enjoyed.
Her sitter, tied to her cellphone,
probably talked the evening away with her friends;
she hoped her boyfriend was not with her
keeping her "company."
Why did her husband leave her penniless and alone?
Swept her off her feet right out of high school
Promised to love and cherish...
The flakes seemed to get larger now
and the wind subsided;
the lights took on a warmer glow.
Ahead was the stone edifice of a vaulted church;
a choir was inside practicing for the big day.
Illuminated was the stained glass window with a child and adoring mother....
I wish I could feel as fresh and new she gasped
as her home came into view.
This is my submission to Magpie Tales with a weekly photo prompt.

Swirling Introspection


It happens every year at this time. I lie in bed and reflect on the past year and look forward to the next. Blame it on the long nights near the winter solstice and the meager UV rays. My mind turns with possibilities like a van Gogh starry night.

My post yesterday about #reverb10, a site which encourages one to reflect back and look ahead, stirred the star dust. It seems to me the first 15 excellent questions carry several themes:

Eliminating: What distracts you and causes you to become somewhat disjointed and frazzled? How can you eliminate them?

Enjoying: What can you do to cultivate life's riches? What is it that makes you feel alive?

Assessing: What are your strengths and passions and how can they be nurtured in your pursuits?

Creating: How can you channel more of your creative energies, experience the wonder, and avoid the tedium?

Focusing:What can you do to direct or channel your interests into something productive and meaningful?

Many readers know that I have directed quite a few energies into this blog over the last three years. It is a reflection of my interests, skills, and perspectives. It gives me great enjoyment and enrichment on most days. But I am open to some refinement in this pursuit. I also realize that life is multi layered; a balance is needed to accommodate those different dynamics. One idea I am playing with is Less is more....

How do the themes above resonate for you?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2010 Recap at #reverb10


#reverb10 is a site which encourages one to use the month of December to 'reflect on this year and manifest what's next.'

Every day a different writer poses a question to prompt reflection. Today I get up to speed on their questions through some journalling. You may want to benefit from all the introspection as well.

December 1: Gwen Bell- Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

2: Leo Babauta- What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

3: Ali Edwards- Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

4: Jeffrey Davis- How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

5: Alice Bradley- What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

6: Gretchen Rubin- What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

7: Caligater- Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

8:Karen Walrond- Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

9: Shauna Reid- What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

10: Susannah Conway- What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out?

11: Sam Davidson- What are 11 things your life doesn’t need in 2011? How will you go about eliminating them? How will getting rid of these 11 things change your life?

12: Patrick Reynolds- This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?

13: Scott Belsky- When it comes to aspirations, its not about ideas. It’s about making ideas happen. What’s your next step?

I will be following this site for the rest of the month and following the hashtag #reverb10 on Twitter. I am sure to meet some interesting new perspectives.

Thanks to Ariwriter for the link.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Better Gift: iPad or Kindle?

Two of the hottest gifts this holiday season are the Amazon Kindle and Apple iPad. On one of them you can play the popular video game Angry Birds and subscribe to Netflix, and take your pick from thousands of movies, etc. On the other, you can simply read.

Dr. Nate Kornell in Psychology Today argues "the psychological differences may be just as important.""If you plop down on the couch and fire up your Kindle (or NOOK, etc), you have to make one decision: What should I read? You might choose a novel, a magazine, a newspaper, a textbook, a scholarly article, or what have you."

"If you plop down on the couch and fire up your iPad (or Galaxy Tab, etc.), you face a very different decision: Should I read? With the Kindle, you'll probably be reading within seconds. With the iPad you could be reading within seconds, but you could also jump on Angry Birds or Netflix. Or Hulu, Zappos, YouTube, Twitter, Farmville, or Gmail, ad infinitum."

"As a computer, the Kindle can't compete with the iPad. But from a psychological perspective, the Kindle makes actual reading much easier. Not because of the screen or the technology. Because reading's your only choice. We usually think of choice as good. But choice can be a problem when you're struggling with self control."

In our online world filled with infinite, diverse choices, isn't it comforting to know that one device focuses your options in a very specific direction?

Photo:

China: Exponential Tourist Market


Thirty years ago my first impression of the Canadian Rockies and places like Banff National Park, Alberta and Vancouver Island, British Columbia was awe. Pristine greenish blue lakes, snow capped mountains, invigorating hikes to alpine meadows, the roaring surf of the Pacific coastline left indelible impressions. At the time I remember many Asian travelers including the affluent Japanese who swept into these destinations in luxurious buses and stayed in the five star hotels.

Now the middle class of China's 1.3 billion citizens are poised to travel. Earlier this year China granted approved destination status to Canada and travel agencies are paving the way with group tours. On one of the first tours a Beijing student said, "Everything is so beautiful and fresh. I love it here." One travel company is expecting a 30 per cent annual jump, year after year, in Chinese travel here.

Canada's ambassador to China said, "With a growing middle class, a booming economy, and an increased outbound travel potential, the China market presents huge opportunities for the Canadian economy."

The United States is also becoming an increasingly popular destination for Chinese travelers. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding several years ago. "In 2007, China ranked as the 16th largest international market for the United States, with 397,405 Chinese visitors to the U.S. Chinese visitors spent a record $2.56 billion in the U.S. in 2007, with average expenditure of over $6,000 per person." There are expectations of dramatic growth.

In a country with crowded and frenetic cities and challenged environmental standards, one can imagine how their tourists will be entranced by the beautiful destinations of the world.

Photo:

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Most Valuable Sports Memorabilia


Canadian born James Naismith, who invented the sport of basketball, had his original notes on the rules of the game auctioned off this last week for $4.4 million. That sale makes it the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia ever.

Naismith typed up the rules on two pages and used it at the Y.M.C.A. Training School in Springfield, Mass. in the winter of 1891. It was to be a gentlemanly game without “shouldering, holding, pushing or striking,” where the ball “may be batted in any direction” (but not with a fist), and a “player cannot run with the ball” but “must throw it from the spot on which he catches it.”

Rob Rains, the co-author with Hellen Carpenter of “James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball,” said that if the Naismith document was the original version of the rules, “it’s one of the most valuable pieces of sports memorabilia ever sold at auction.” An extensive search into its provenance revealed it as undoubtedly original.

What were the other most expensive auctioned sport items?
- Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball- $3 million
- T206 Honus Wagner tobacco card $2.35 million
- Babe Ruth's bat used to hit the first home run at Yankee Stadium $1.26 million

As a Canadian, I find it interesting that this world class game was invented by a Canadian, as was the sport of hockey by the indigenous people of our far north. Of course, for both sports the rules of the game have evolved into quite intricate tomes.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Doing Without

How many things I can do without! ~ Socrates

-How does this quote contrast with dominant social values?
-To what extent do you pamper yourself and buy extravagant or peripheral items?
-How can you resolve to live with less? Think about several specific ways.
-How might more simplicity and minimalism enrich your life?

(As I near 365 posts at 365 Quote Quest, I am beginning to compile my top 5o favourite quotes for 2010. This quote may be one.)

If you have a favourite quote for 2010, I would love to read it as a comment. Better yet, if you blog about one, and link back to quoteflections I will link back to you in a future post. (Please e mail me or leave a comment if you have a post.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Interesting Blogger Statistics


I am nearing my third anniversary as a blogger with over 1,100 posts. An infographic provides a look at some of the statistics about the blogging phenomenon:

-Bloggers worldwide: U. S. 33%, Canada, Mexico 5%, South America 2%, European Union 19%, Asia Pacific 8%....Africa?; that leaves about 30% unaccounted for...

-79% of bloggers have college degrees or higher.

-Interesting that in 2009 9% of bloggers were self employed; in 2010 it is 21%, a growing segment.

-Professional bloggers are "more sophisticated" in the use of Facebook and Twitter to drive readers.

-34% say that Twitter is a more effective driver than a year ago.

-51% say they receive a salary for their blogging.

Annual revenue generated from advertising on blogs:
All bloggers $42,000
Part-timers $14,000
Self employed $122,000

Conclusions: Most of the bloggers I read make little or nothing from blogging. There are a lot of bloggers out there who simply want to interact with like minded people and share perspectives.

The chart encourages one to think about why you blog, what is your long term plan for your blog, how important is Facebook and Twitter in your general strategy, do you intend to gain some revenue eventually? Finally do you see blogging as a fading genre or growing in 2011?

Enhanced chart at Holy Kaw. Via Grasshopper Group, 'Empowering Entrepeneurs'

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Snow Palaces

Nightmare or fantasy?
100 centimeters of snow,
over one meter in two days,
three days of school closures-
mountains of snow
too deep even for sledding;
too bad there's no groomed ski hill close by.
Shovel that driveway
clear the sidewalk
what happened to our terrier?
From the north the winds came,
swirling counter clockwise currents
from a giant storm in the distant Maritimes,
picking up moisture over Lake Huron and Georgian Bay and
creating giant, pillow cases of snowflakes-
A record snowfall,
two weeks earlier than the usual beginning
of snow kingdoms
paralyzing traffic on Highway #401 for hours
and liberating childhood fantasies.

(Early this last week London, Ontario was buried as described in the poem.)

This is a Magpie Tale around a weekly photo prompt.

Raw or Cooked?

A steamer may be your most strategic piece of cookware in the kitchen. A leading nutritionist writes that certain vegetables are best if they are steamed rather than eaten raw.

"Cooking your vegetables can actually boost their antioxidant content. Heating vegetables releases antioxidants by breaking down cell walls. Studies have found that eating cooked spinach and carrots – versus raw – results in much higher blood levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant thought to guard against heart disease and lung cancer. You’ll also get more lutein, a phytochemical that helps prevent cataract and macular degeneration, if you eat your spinach cooked instead of raw."

"And when it comes to certain minerals, you’re also better off eating your spinach cooked. Green vegetables such as spinach, beet greens and Swiss chard are high in calcium, but their high levels of a compound called oxalic acid binds calcium and reduce its absorption. Cooking releases some of the calcium that’s bound to oxalic acid. Three cups of raw spinach, for example, have 90 milligrams of calcium, whereas one cup of cooked has nearly triple the amount (259 milligrams). Cooking vegetables also increases the amount of magnesium and iron that’s available to the body."

Moreover, some vegetables are healthier when eaten raw or lightly steamed. "Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy and kale contain glucosinolates that are converted to anti-cancer compounds called isothiocyanates when they are chopped or chewed." Light steaming keeps many of the nutrients in tact.

I am reminded of Popeye, the sailor man who had the foresight of eating cases of cooked spinach!

Photo:

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Marketing Niche Savvy

Have you ever marveled at how some people do so well in marketing their ideas, talents, or products on the Internet? No business is easy to begin with the expectation of an immediate avalanche of sales. It often takes a lot of work and time to build a following, get the message out, and encourage the consumer to use that credit card. There is also some savvy marketing going on in positioning the product, branding, and advertising, etc.

Here are several well positioned niche products. In the midst of the winter cold, Twittens are gloves which can allow you to expose those fingertips for handy texting. They are "gloves for the text generation." The name is a cross between Twitter and mittens, and you can follow them there and on Facebook. Who can be without a pair?

Talli Roland, whose blog I have followed for over a year, has marketed her young adult fiction very well. Her latest novel The Hating Game is on some bestseller lists as an e book, along with sales of a hard copy.

Or how about a microbrewery using all natural milled ingredients in your very own home with minimum fuss? The Brewer's Market offers several inexpensive kits with different flavours to enjoy. I have tasted The Crossroads Amber Ale and enjoyed its distinctive appeal very much. (Disclosure: one of the partners is a most likable and talented son in law.) They also are on Twitter and Facebook.

Do you know of any other well positioned products and appreciate their marketing or appeal?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Teens with Literary Leanings


What's the next big thing for teenagers on the Internet who like to read and write? According to a NYT's article Figment.com may be it.

I really went into it and thought, ‘We’ll be the social network for young-adult fiction,’ ” said Mr. Lewis, a former managing editor of The New Yorker. “But it became clear early on that people didn’t want a new Facebook.”

The young people on the site weren’t much interested in “friending” one another. What they did want, he said, “was to read and write and discover new content, but around the content itself.”

Figment was unveiled on Monday as an experiment in online literature, a free platform for young people to read and write fiction, both on their computers and on their cellphones. Users are invited to write novels, short stories and poems, collaborate with other writers and give and receive feedback on the work posted on the site.

“We wanted people to be able to write whatever they wanted in whatever form they wanted,” Mr. Lewis said. “We give them a piece of paper and say, ‘Go.’ ” He added that so far contributions had included fantasy, science fiction, biographical work and long serial novels. “There’s a very earnest and exacting quality to what they’re doing.”

Moreover, the site may be a convenient place for publishers to scout for talented young writers. One publisher said, “The teen culture is a constantly moving target. We’re looking for partners who are deeply embedded in the way teens interact.”

As a retired high school English teacher, I can appreciate what motivates teens to read and write. If they are like many adults, they may find a catalyst at sites like this. What figments of their imagination may be shared?

Photo:

'You've Got to Do It'


What motivates people to give? An editorial in the Globe and Mail reveals that Canadians are donating less. "According to Statistics Canada "just 23.1 per cent claimed a donation on their tax returns last year, a thirty year low. In 1990, 30 % of Canadians claimed a donation.

The editorial explores possible reasons for the decline including the recession, a stagnation in incomes, people being turned off by one too many fund raising phone calls, or being alienated by high administrative costs, etc.

I wonder also if there might be a gradual shift in societal values.

One suggestion the editor provides is that the government should provide more incentives to give. "A larger tax credit could go to donors who donate more in a given year than the previous year."

It's interesting to think about how one creates a culture of giving. One article referred to the popularity of the Polar Bear Dip for the Downtown Mission in Windsor, Ontario. 100 daring bathers braved the freezing temperatures to wade into the Detroit River. One raised $67. "It's for a good cause. You've got to do it."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The End of Paper Magazines?


An interesting experience is leafing through "Canada's first interactive digital magazine." You click through the pages just like a real magazine, stop and peruse an article of interest, or admire some of the stylish images. As a bonus, readers can click the headlines on the cover, or listings in the table of contents, to go directly to the article they are seeking.

Real Style founder and president Elen Steinberg said, "You can recreate the experience of a print magazine, but it's so much more enhanced. You've got video, everything is linkable."

An advantage for advertisers is to find out what consumers like to read, what links they pursue, and what they purchase. One cannot do that with the traditional format.

Ironically my wife and I were purging piles of magazines from several bins in the basement this last weekend. Do we need to continue subscribing to good hard copy magazines or be happy with the online versions? For example, it's difficult for me to be without the monthly National Geographic.

Here is the link to the new digital magazine. (Click on the middle of the magazine to begin and press Escape when you want to leave.)

Photo:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Knowing Ourselves

It appears that the better you know yourself the happier you'll be. This quote, which I provided at 365 Quote Quest, really made me stop and think.

Ninety percent of the world's woe comes from people not knowing themselves, their abilities, their frailties, and even their real virtues. ~ Sydney J. Harris

- To what extent do you really know yourself?
- What are your abilities?
- What are your frailties?
- What are your virtues?
- How can you use this knowledge to enhance the quality of your life?

Tags: quotations, reflections, life lessons

Friday, December 3, 2010

Gather round the Hearth


We spend time carefully thinking about the dynamics of our blog:
header, sidebar, name, caption, images, style, voice, friends...
Like the entrance to a stone manor with pristine snowfall,
We welcome with ideas, thoughts, musings...
People walk up the sidewalk from near and far
Should I knock and stay awhile?
It looks like a friendly place;
I think I smell cinnamon buns and rooibos tea.

The scenery out the windows can be pastoral or urban
Frenetic or relaxed
Youthful or silvered
Enchanting or pensive-
A parade of holiday floats.

Our computer screens play out the greetings
As we dance to the music of our fingertips.

Submitted to Magpie Tales which has a weekly photo prompt.

(Welcome to a recent phenomenon, social media, and how it is helping to shape many people's lives.)

New Bacteria Excites


What life forms exist beyond earth? Increasingly scientific research has extended the possibilities in an expanding universe. This week the discovery of a bacteria in an isolated California lake in Yosemite National Park that can use arsenic instead of phosphorus to grow created quite a sensation.

The report published in Science and at the NASA website, which funded the research, concluded that it will impact the quest for extra terrestrial life.

Astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell writes in the Guardian, "While not delivering the groundbreaking revelations that many had been anticipating, these arsenic-employing bugs are still interesting. They reveal the astounding ability of biochemistry to utilise whatever raw materials are available, and they provide hints as to how alien cells might be constructed..."

"Astrobiology is a young science, and we're only just now developing the technological capability to properly survey worlds beyond our own for signs of life. There is the expectation that we are right on the brink of discovering the first true twin of Earth orbiting another sun in the galaxy, and a succession of new robotic probes are being planned for places like Mars and Europa that could host alien life."

Dartnell believes we are just around the corner for some awe inspiring discoveries.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

In Giving one Receives


Why not consider some alternative gift giving this holiday season? It could be a socially responsible way to balance the more traditional consumer gifts, and inspire younger family members to think beyond themselves.

Here are several links with gift catalogues from charitable organizations:

-Mercycorps.org: 'Be the change'- goat $70; camel $150; outfit a classroom $150; plant an acre of rice $29; educate an AIDS orphan $100...

- Kiva.org: 'What gift do you give to someone who has it all? Here's a chance to help someone who doesn't'....loans that change lives.

-World Vision.org: Gifts that make a difference...(We sponsor a child from Zimbabwe through this organization.) (Click on your country and go directly to the gift catalogue.)

- Ten Thousand Villages: 'To create opportunities for artisans in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term fair trading relationships.'

Of course, there are numerous other organizations which offer opportunities to provide hope to the less fortunate.

Giving opens the way for receiving.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Expanding International Presence

Throughout history international relations has always created its share of intrigue. It's interesting to read about China's expanding economic and political footprint in the Middle East.

- Turkey and China last month touted "a new cooperation paradigm." Beijing's inroads with the Islamist government includes an agreement to transform the ancient Silk Road into a Silk Railway linking China and Turkey.
- China gets more than a quarter of its oil imports from the Persian Gulf and has billions invested in Iran's oil sector.
- China filled a void in Syria left by a decaying Soviet Union, providing the terrorist state with a variety of missiles and modernizing Syria's antiquated energy sector.
- China is the leading oil and gas investor in Iraq, and it is paying millions to protect its investment there. ( Iraq has the world's largest known oil reserves.) China has also forgiven billions of Iraqi debt.
- In the large scheme of things, "Although China holds a significant portion of U.S. debt, and trade relations are strong, at the end of the day the two nations are competitors, both strategic and economic- with profoundly different world views. It may be that this great game will end with Washington and Beijing as allies. More likely, though, a modus vivendi (agree to disagree) will emerge between the two powers."
- Increasingly, countries in the Middle East see China as a useful counterbalance against the West, amid a "growing regional perception that the United States is withdrawing from the Middle East."

From an article by David Schenker and Christina Lin, Los Angeles Times

Image:

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Slowest News Day


The Atlantic reports, "April 11, 1954 was the most uneventful and boring day of the 20th century. Every day something of significance occurs, but nothing remarkable had happened on the said day in 1954, according to experts who inserted over 300 million important events of the century into a computer search programme to calculate."

A reader responds "April 11, 1954 sounds like the most wonderful day in history. I think it's worthy of a holiday. A day where everyone tries really hard to not do anything newsworthy."

Of course, we are reminded of Andy Warhol's, quote from 1968, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes."

Here's to slow days filled with anonymity and appreciation of the world around us.

Image:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cease Fire: Proactive Program


How does one break the cycle of gang violence and serious street crime?

Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist who formed CeaseFire, a highly successful anti-gang program based in Chicago, devised a comprehensive approach. According to Dr. Slutkin, violent behaviour is learned by modelling and unconscious copying, and sustained by peer pressure. The unfortunate result is that minor grievances are settled by the barrel of a gun. These volatile situations are further compounded by the expectation of peers to “do something” to save face and “honour.”

"Dr. Slutkin’s solution is a public-health approach, in which eradication of violence is modelled along the same lines as the eradication of polio or other diseases. The key is to stop transmission of violence, while inoculating the community to develop resiliency or immunity against the “disease.” It requires the co-operation of government, police and grassroots organizations. Most importantly, affected communities are not passive onlookers. Rather, they take a central role in improving their quality of life."

CeaseFire was launched in West Garfield Park, Chicago, in 2000 and quickly reduced shootings by 67 per cent in its first year.

"The program has five core components: community mobilization, youth outreach, public education, faith-based leader involvement and criminal justice participation. This includes a cadre of outreach workers who focus on changing the behaviours and attitudes of high-risk individuals, and “violence interrupters” who call for truces and a stop to retaliation. Many are former gang members who are eager to help young people avoid a life of violence. Conflict mediation is central."

Sheema Khan believes the program has strategic potential in some communities in Canada and throughout the world. Ceasefire.ca has an extensive network of professionals willing to engage communities in comprehensive social outreach.

Image:

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fading Blooms


'Gather ye rosebuds while ye may'
'Make your lives extraordinary'
'Carpe Diem-
'Seize the day.'

Robin Williams as English teacher
in the movie Dead Poets' Society (1989)
took his students into the foyer
of the elite private school
to view trophies and class pictures.
He encouraged them to look into those
bright and eager faces
and read what messages they convey.

'Well, my boys, they are now fertilizing daffodils.'

All of us have trophies,
successes amidst failures.
However, easily consumed by daily activities,
vital choices
may be illusory
amidst the falling leaves and faded blooms.

For a wonderful one minute segment of this scene in the movie, go here.

Submitted to Magpie Tales.

Good to be Colour Blind?

At 365 Quote Quest I provide a quote a day and several questions for reflection. This one encouraged me to linger.

An optimist is a person who sees a green light everywhere, while the pessimist sees only the red stoplight. The truly wise person is colorblind. ~ Albert Schweitzer

- Are you more an optimist or a pessimist?
- To what extent do you get excited or disappointed by the green and red lights in your life?
- How can one cultivate and enrich colorblindness in life?
- How might it enhance your life?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Antidote to Yearning


I'm on track to post 365 words for 2010 at 365 Word Quest as I stroll through the dictionary from A-Z. (Imagine the luxury as a retired English teacher to be able to engage in such hobbies.)

At present I am well into the D's.

desiderata- the plural of desideratum noun- something lacked and wanted

C17 from Latin desiderare- desiderate verb- to feel the lack of or need for; long for; miss

It's interesting to think about what we might lack and want in our lives. How wonderful if it's very little. And, yet, for many people there is a something gnawing at the core, robbing vitality and personal happiness.

Max Ehrmann's 'Desiderata' has provided a guide post for many over the years since its publication in the 1920's.

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Friday, November 26, 2010

In Stitches


All of us remember our stitches. Not as much, perhaps, the laughter with the cliche 'being in stitches,' but with the more painful, physical ones,.. or the stitches that are required in the world.

On Friday, fresh from a big Thanksgiving dinner with family, friends and staff, President Obama awoke and decided to get some exercise. Because of the wet weather in Washington, the choice was an easy one. Rather than setting off for a round of golf, Obama chose indoor basketball. The president left the White House at 9:30 and played five-on-five with family members and friends.

"After being inadvertently hit with an opposing player's elbow in the lip while playing basketball with friends and family, the President received 12 stitches administered by the White House Medical Unit."

Here is the world, sound as a nut, not the smallest piece of chaos left, never a stitch, nor an end, not a mark of haste or blotching, or second thought but the theory of the world is a thing of shreds and patches. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The current event and quote encourage us to think about our own personal physical stitches and, possibly, what is shredded and patchy about our world which may require some stitches.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fruit/ Vegetable Renaissance

With advances in genetic research, new fruits and vegetables bound for supermarkets are tastier, healthier — and more attractive; moreover they're not the products of genetic modification. The improved ability to identify and track genome traits has enabled researchers to cross-breed faster and more predictably than ever before.

“A main objective here is to bring flavour and flavour experiences to a new level in the produce department, so we’re doing this across the board—tomatoes, peppers, melons,” says David Stark, Monsanto’s vice-president of consumer benefits, one of the featured companies.

Red celery has been created by cross-pollinating existing commercial varieties with a vibrant red, but bitter, heritage celery root from Eastern Europe.

Crisphead Romaine Cross Lettuce is a cross between two popular greens. It has the popular crunch and taste of iceberg, but with the higher vitamin A and C content of romaine.

Red Brussels sprouts has a distinctive new appearance and improved flavour bound to be a hit with kids.

A new broccoli contains up to three times more glucoraphanin, a substance that helps the body reactivate antioxidants, enhancing the ability to tackle free radicals. Breeding commercial broccoli with a wild, Sicilian relative that contains higher levels of glucoraphanin.

It's encouraging to see that new, healthier varieties can be developed through advances in genetic research without genetic modification. What fresh, distinctive products do you enjoy?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Beyond the Light Switch


What if the whole world was without electricity for one week? What pandemonium, devastation would result? Would there be a job for you? How would your lifestyle change? Could you survive with your family?

Of course, this scenario is highly unlikely. But it does force us to think about how dependent we are on electricity for EVERYTHING!

Where does it come from? How do we keep the electric grid, the world's largest machine, humming with power for everything our heart desires?

In Ontario our government has announced a doubling of consumer electric bills over the next 20 years, with major investments in nuclear generation, and green energy initiatives in solar and wind power. By 2020 there will be no dependency on "dirty coal." Moreover, consumers will pay more for energy at peak times during the day.

David Biello has produced a four hour documentary for local PBS entitled 'Beyond the Light Switch. What will the Future of Energy Look Like?' He wants to contribute some perspective on the national energy debate. How should we proceed given our finite resources and desire to lessen our contribution to global warming and pollution?

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

26 Marathons in 26 countries

It must get tedious running marathons of 26.2 miles in hot, crowded cities. How about running one in Greenland surrounded by glaciers? That's what 60 or so runners did on October 23 when the temperature was around -5 degrees Centigrade (25 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Welcome to a tough, unique marathon in truly magnificent scenery. The Polar Circle Marathon known as “the coolest marathon on earth” takes place in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. "The endless ice and snow of this vast country make up the backdrop of this unusual race, in which runners pass glacier tongues, moraine landscapes and soundless, arctic desert."

The course is run on the snow covered gravel road connecting the inland ice with the small township just north of the Polar Circle. A part of the route even takes place on the Greenlandic ice cap itself.

"The race attracted runners from around the world, with 18 countries represented this year. Many had run extreme and exotic marathons, like the retired South African lecturer who had already knocked off seven marathons in seven continents, and is now well on the way to completing his next goal of running 26 marathons in 26 countries. Others were tackling their first 26.2-mile race. Several businessmen were having a change from their usual sports of mountaineering and cycling, as part of their plan to do "one stupid thing a year".

We all know someone among our friends, family, or even ourselves who has tried the 10 K, half or full marathon... The training, the preparation, the run make for great drama and camaraderie.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pass the Veggies


It's heresy to think about Thanksgiving without turkey, but vegan chef Chloe Coscarelli of Los Angeles and most of her family have had a turkey-free Thanksgiving for the past 10 years. Every fall, she and her mother experiment with new meat-free dishes and work to “veganize” some of the traditional family favorites.

“My family decided it wouldn’t make Thanksgiving any better tasting to have turkey on the table,” said Ms. Coscarelli, whose holiday recipes include maple-roasted brussels sprouts and portobello mushrooms filled with savory lentil-cashew stuffing. “I have served an all-vegan Thanksgiving to the most diehard carnivores, and no one misses the meat.”

Writer Tara Parker-Pope reflects, "Although I’m not a vegetarian, I stopped eating turkey two years ago, mostly because it’s not a meat I enjoy preparing or eating. But that small decision has also changed the way I cook and eat during the fall and winter holiday food season."

"I returned from a shopping trip with more than a week’s worth of food. Except for a single package of chicken breasts, my bags were filled mostly with produce and grains. So far, my daughter and I have feasted on a delicious skillet mac-and-cheese dish packed with broccoli, onions and mushrooms; roasted brussels sprouts; a caramelized onion tart; and parsnip-and-apple soup. We still have plans to make an Indian-spiced sweet-and-sour butternut squash; zucchini boats with herbed ricotta; and an unusual buckwheat-and-black-kale dish created by Mr. Anthony. The chicken is now in the freezer because I haven’t gotten around to cooking with it."

The article in the NYT entitled 'A Vegetarian Thanksgiving, Even for Carnivores' encourages one to think about how one can reduce meat consumption and glorify the garden.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Eleventh Hour


The latest possible time
nearly too late-
most of us must make crucial decisions
throughout our life...
decisions made to shape our path
bring us happiness, fulfillment
or sadness and desolation-
crucial landmarks,
defining watersheds,
opportunities for vistas.
Some are made with much forethought
and before the eleventh hour...
in others we toss and turn going this way and that...
then there is spontaneous euphoria
or fevered haste.

Decisions shape
our character, reputation, and destiny.

What if our choices were based on
acquiescent acceptance
premonitions of possibility
valued volition?

A belief in the adventure of being?

Life is the sum of all our choices. Albert Camus

The hardest thing to learn in life is which bridge to cross and which to burn. ~David Russell

The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live. ~Flora Whittemore

This post is a submission to Magpie Tales #41, a site which invites some creative reflection.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Art Inspires


Aptly named “Van Gogh from Space,” this picture was taken by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from a satellite. Rebecca Roth, of NASA, describes the picture:

' In the style of Van Gogh’s painting “Starry Night,” massive congregations of greenish phytoplankton swirl in the dark water around Gotland, a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea. Phytoplankton are microscopic marine plants that form the first link in nearly all ocean food chains. Population explosions, or blooms, of phytoplankton, like the one shown here, occur when deep currents bring nutrients up to sunlit surface waters, fueling the growth and reproduction of these tiny plants.'

Vincent van Gogh's "Starry Night" painted in 1889 is considered to be his magnum opus. The Dutch post impressionist work depicts the view outside his sanatorium room window at night. Since 1941 it has been on permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

It's interesting to think about how art surrounds and delights us through nature's realistic depictions, and through the talented work of artists in a host of genres.

Yesterday I marveled at a tri colour beech whose leaves fell like brittle gold shrouds with the slightest breeze.

Great art picks up where nature ends. ~Marc Chagall

NASA story via: Gizmodo

Friday, November 19, 2010

Feats of Fluidity

It's the weekend and this post is just for fun and enjoyment. Scottish cyclist Danny MacAskill is a master at freestyle street biking. (Someone said his name should be Danny Max Skill.) In this video he rides Scotland's Edinburgh Castle, bunkers on the island of Inchgarvie, and a power station in the Scottish Highlands. The scenery is great and the feats spectacular. The sound track of tunes by Scottish locals also enhances the pleasure. Several comments about the video have said they like to see it multiple times; it's that fluid and beautiful. I recommend the first couple of minutes if you are on internet cruise control. (And turn the volume UP!)

When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race. ~H.G. Wells

Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs



Via: Boing Boing

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making the World Open and Connected

I am a latecomer to Facebook and just learning about its dynamics. Recently Mark Zuckerberg, the founder, outlined a new messaging email system called Titan. All members will receive an @facebook.com email address and it will enable enhanced communication possibilities.

Apparently Facebook has considerable clout. "On the Internet, information is power, and no company has more information than Facebook, which will likely eclipse Google soon as the world’s most-visited website. Unlike Google, where users spend a few seconds or minutes searching for something and then move on, many of Facebook’s 500-million users spend hours on the site every day. That shift – from a two-way street model of asking for and receiving information to a multidimensional set of interactions – has the potential to change the Internet in ways not seen since its popularization in the 1990s."

How will all this information revolutionize the Internet?

"Imagine a future in which your social circle colours every on-line experience – in which websites customize content for you based on whom you know. In the not-too-distant future, an online shopping store’s sales pitch to you may consist of a personalized pitch from one of your closest friends. A news website may present to you a strikingly different front page than it presents to anyone else, because its editors know from your Facebook profile that you like stories about politics, say, but not crime."

Earlier this year, the founder under the glare of television lights confided, “My prediction would be that a few years from now we’ll look back and wonder why there was ever this time when all these websites and applications … weren’t personalized in some way,” he said.

“I just think that the world is moving in this direction where things are going to be designed more around people. I think that’s really going to be a powerful direction,..making the world open and connected."

Where are you on the Facebook value meter? Is Facebook a passing fad ?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Being an Introvert in an Extroverted World


In a society which often extols the extrovert, there are two articles which help to provide perspective of the opposite. One is Jonathan Rauch's 'Caring for your Introvert' first published in The Atlantic in 2003:

"Extroverts are seen as bighearted, vibrant, warm, empathic. "People person" is a compliment. Introverts are described with words like "guarded," "loner," "reserved," "taciturn," "self-contained," "private"—narrow, ungenerous words, words that suggest emotional parsimony and smallness of personality. Female introverts, I suspect, must suffer especially. In certain circles, particularly in the Midwest, a man can still sometimes get away with being what they used to call a strong and silent type; introverted women, lacking that alternative, are even more likely than men to be perceived as timid, withdrawn, haughty...

How can I let the introvert in my life know that I support him and respect his choice? First, recognize that it's not a choice. It's not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.
Second, when you see an introvert lost in thought, don't say "What's the matter?" or "Are you all right?"

Third, don't say anything else, either."

Secondly there is Laurie Helgoe's essay in the September/October issue of Psychology Today:

"Scientists now know that, while introverts have no special advantage in intelligence. they do seem to process more information than others in any given situation. To digest it, they do best in quiet environments, interacting one on one.

Further, their brains are less dependent on external stimuli and rewards to feel good. As a result, introverts are not driven to seek big hits of positive emotional arousal—they’d rather find meaning than bliss—making them relatively immune to the search for happiness that permeates contemporary American culture. In fact, the cultural emphasis on happiness may actually threaten their mental health. As American life becomes increasingly competitive and aggressive, to say nothing of blindingly fast, the pressures to produce on demand, be a team player , and make snap decisions cut introverts off from their inner power source, leaving them stressed and depleted. Introverts today face one overarching challenge—not to feel like misfits in their own culture..."

Care to comment on the two dichotomous character types?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For the Love of Coffee

I ran across an interesting infographic on worldwide coffee production and consumption. Here is a question/answer list arising from it:

1) Which country produces the most coffee? (Brazil with 33% of world's production)
2) Name several other countries with high coffee production? (Vietnam- I am surprised this country is second, Columbia, Indonesia)
2) How big is the coffee trade per year in tens of billions of dollars? ($42.5 billion)
3) How many countries in the world grow coffee? (49- reveals its global significance)
4) What percentage of Americans drink coffee? (56% and 66 billion cups a year!)
5) After the United States name three other top coffee drinking countries. (Germany, Japan, Italy, France)
6) What percentage of coffee consumption is now gourmet? (40%-I'm finding that richer coffee certainly enhances the enjoyment.)

Coffee smells like freshly ground heaven. ~Jessi Lane Adams

Coffee is the best thing to douse the sunrise with. ~Terri Guillemets

What would we do without our morning elixer?


For a larger image go here:Holy Kaw

Monday, November 15, 2010

Globalism Incongruous with Fair Trade?


The Fairtrade Foundation helps to promote economic development opportunities in poor countries. It has just released a report revealing how billions of dollars in subsidies in wealthy countries prevent the world’s poorest cotton farmers from making a living.

As a result, farmers in the four biggest cotton producing countries of west Africa are losing out on vital income which would help people in rural areas and pay for roads, schools and other developments to reduce their dependence on aid, it claims.

"The current system of subsidies cannot be right and certainly is not fair. The principles of Fairtrade need to be integrated and reflected in the global trading system."

In 2005 governments agreed to end the cotton subsidies, but the deal will not come into force until the prolonged talks reach a full agreement. The next ministerial meeting has not been scheduled, but one is expected next year to mark 10 years since the talks began in the Qatar city of Doha.

For example, in the landlocked, semi-desert nation, Mali depends on cotton for its survival. Half of its export revenues come from cotton – it is the second-largest producer in Africa after Egypt – and it is estimated that more than 3.2 million Malians, 40% of the country's rural population, depend on the crop for their livelihoods.

Moussa, who started growing cotton 17 years ago, farms two hectares of land, which yield 500-800 kilos a year. Yet despite the quantity and quality of cotton he produces, he is barely able to feed his children.

"Sometimes, the young ones cry because they're so hungry," he says, his face impassive. "I become very angry when I'm not able to get enough food for my family. All the time, I feel sad." Last month, two of his youngest children contracted malaria and his three-year-old son almost died because Moussa couldn't afford to buy medicine. "That made me very afraid. It makes me feel ashamed because I am the chief of the family but I am not able to protect them. In our culture, this is unacceptable."

As nations extol the virtues of globalism, it seems wealthier countries need to be more sensitive to the hurdles faced by emerging economies.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Home in the Shade of a Sequoia

One has to admire a home which harmonizes with the surrounding landscape.

The Los Angeles Times Home of the Week is in Pasadena with an urban castle motif. Its central feature is a soaring 150-year-old giant sequoia which stands as a sentinel.

The house, built in 2007 by an architectural designer, is surrounded by 15-foot-high hedges and features a rooftop garden with rows of Italian cypress trees and succulent-filled planters.

"Somebody had to have loved that giant sequoia tree because it belongs up north," says the architect owner. "I designed the house vertically to give the tree some company. You can see the tree through the skylights, making the tree part of the house."

Having enjoyed the majestic sequoia on a recent U.S. national parks camping trek, I can appreciate why the architect wanted to spotlight and protect the vital tree.

He is the happiest, be he king or peasant, who finds peace in his home. ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

What brings you peace and enjoyment in your home? How has your home been harmonized by the landscape around it?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Three Tweets for the Web

Tyler Cowen, professor of economics, writes a superb essay in the Wilson Quarterly about the positive aspects of the Internet; he calls it a cultural transformation.

"It may seem as if we have entered a nightmarish attention-deficit culture, but the situation is not nearly as gloomy as you have been told. Our culture of the short bit is making human minds more rather than less powerful."

"The arrival of virtually every new cultural medium has been greeted with the charge that it truncates attention spans and represents the beginning of cultural collapse—the novel (in the 18th century), the comic book, rock ‘n’ roll, television, and now the Web. In fact, there has never been a golden age of all-wise, all-attentive readers. But that’s not to say that nothing has changed. The mass migration of intellectual activity from print to the Web has brought one important development: We have begun paying more attention to information. Overall, that’s a big plus for the new world order."

"It is easy to dismiss this cornucopia as information overload. We’ve all seen people scrolling with one hand through a BlackBerry while pecking out instant messages (IMs) on a laptop with the other and eyeing a television (I won’t say “watching”). But even though it is easy to see signs of overload in our busy lives, the reality is that most of us carefully regulate this massive inflow of information to create something uniquely suited to our particular interests and needs—a rich and highly personalized blend of cultural gleanings."

Far from disorder, he argues, there is coherence, literacy, and satisfaction there. (His essay is worth reading in its entirety.)

He concludes, "... we are better off for this change, a change that is filling our daily lives with beauty, suspense, and learning."

Photo Credit