Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Controversial Video Games

I have read enough articles over the years which have linked teen exposure to violence in the media to a greater desensitization toward violence in every day life.

Consequently I was shocked to read of the U.S. Supreme Court which overturned a California law banning the sale of violent video games to kids.

"To be sure, there's plenty of content in video games that's not for kids. Virtually everyone agrees on that, and there's a ratings system in place to help parents decide which games are appropriate and which ones aren't.

The ratings, like those at a movie theater, provide guidelines and create rules for game retailers. (California's law would have judged games differently though, making it a crime if a retailer doesn't follow them.)"

CNN looks at ten violent video games over the years which have sparked controversy:

- Death Race, 1976
-Mortal Kombat, 1992
-Doom, 1993
-Grand Theft Auto, 1997
-Silent Hill, 1999
-Postal 2, 2003
-Mad World, 2009
-Bioshock, 2007
-Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, 2009
-Bulletstorm, 2011

If only one can rely on all parents and caregivers to protect children from overexposure, and provide vital alternative learning and entertainment opportunities.

'I'm alright right now'

Dr. Rick Hanson writes a thoughtful article in Psychology Today entitled 'Overcoming Fear.' The key is to be attuned to the here and now.... Chances are, right here, right now, you're in good shape.

"The muttering of fear tells you implicitly, 'Watch out, bad things are happening you're not seeing, don't ever think you're completely OK, never let down your guard.'

But take a close look at this moment, right now. You are probably alright: No one is attacking you, you are not drowning, no bombs are falling, there is no crisis. It's not perfect, but you're OK."

Hanson sees this omnipresent fear as ingrained over the ages,

"To keep our ancestors alive, the brain evolved strong tendencies toward fear, including an ongoing internal trickle of unease. This little whisper of worry keeps you scanning your inner and outer worlds for signs of trouble....

The brain's default setting of apprehensiveness is a great way to keep a monkey looking over its shoulder for something about to pounce. But it's a crummy way to live. It wears down well-being, feeds anxiety and depression and makes people play small in life."

The solution to some of the anxiety and fear we experience is tied to this immediacy,

"You may want more money or love, or simply salt for your French fries. Or want less pain, heartache or rush hour traffic. All very reasonable. But meanwhile, underneath all the to-ing and fro-ing, you are OK. The foundation of your activities is an aliveness and an awareness that is doing fine this second.

There you are doing dishes; notice that "I'm alright right now," and perhaps even say that softly in your mind. Or you are driving: I'm alright right now. Or you're talking with someone: I'm alright right now. Or doing emails or putting a child to bed: I'm alright right now."

A related article is 'Nine Secrets of Courage: Simple steps to make you stronger than fear.'

Monday, June 27, 2011

For the Love of Asparagus

As a farm boy, I got up early before school in May and early June to help with the harvest of our three acre field of asparagus. The tender sprigs came up through the rows of octopus like roots which were planted years before deep into the soil.

Warmer sunshine and temperate nights resulted in an explosion of stalks the next morning. My mother and father would pack the tender harvest in the shed later that morning before taking their produce to the marketer as soon as possible to preserve its freshness.

I have always enjoyed seasonal asparagus at the dinner table. Now, of course, thanks to efficient global shipping we can enjoy the product from Chile, Peru, and Mexico in the off season.

I simply like them lightly steamed but the New York Times has a recipe that looks like a culinary delight. It comes from the Lombardy region of Italy which includes a garnish of gremolata, a combined mixture of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest.

See the full recipe here.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Skimps on the Heart

Will the movie Cars 2 contain as much fun and wit? The critics seem to weave all over the road with their reviews.

-Justin Chang for Variety:

-"If "Cars" was perhaps the least engaging of Pixar's hugely successful animated features, John Lasseter and his team have hit the creative accelerator with the unexpectedly delightful "Cars 2." The rare sequel that improves on its predecessor, this lightning-paced caper-comedy shifts the franchise into high gear with international intrigue, spy-movie spoofery and more automotive puns than you can shake a stickshift at, handling even its broader stretches with sophistication, speed and effortless panache...."

-Roger Ebert:

-"While I was watching Cars 2, an elusive nostalgia tugged at my mind. No, I wasn’t remembering Pixar’s original Cars from 2006. This was something more deeply buried, and finally, in the middle of one of the movie’s sensational grand prix races, it came to me: I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom many years ago, some toy cars lined up in front of me, while I used my hands to race them around on the floor and in the air, meanwhile making that noise kids make by squooshing spit in their mouths. In this memory I was completely engrossed with my cars. They were as real as people,.."

- Mike Ryan for Vanity Fair:

-Ryan's title speaks for itself: Is Cars 2 the first crappy Pixar Movie (and 24 other urgent questions). (This is a funny review through question and answer.)

- Chris Knight for The National Post:

-"John Lasseter, co-director of Cars 2 and producer of almost every other Pixar movie ever made, has said that his aim with this one was to make not a parody of a spy movie but an actual spy movie. I’d counter that he succeeded all too well, because while spy movies have action, excitement and (of course) car chases in spades, the one thing they often skimp on is heart...

Thus Cars 2 marks a rare stumble for Pixar, whose 11 films since 1995 have consistently amazed audiences and critics with their technical prowess and storytelling smarts."

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Place called Hope

Most of us have experienced the peace and enjoyment within a beautiful natural setting. We return revitalized and refreshed. Some, however, may never get that opportunity because of very challenging conditions.

One enterprising person sacrificed a career change and financial challenges to help troubled kids find such a haven north of Toronto.

"You may know a teenager like Gene or Sarah. They’re the kids from hell. They lie, they cheat, they steal, they have a serious drug habit and they’re flunking out of school. They’re self-destructive and out of control. And if teens like these aren’t supported in the transition to adulthood, they may never get their lives back on track."

The successful program has helped troubled teens to find the right path to college and a hopeful future.

Tribute is paid to the visionary who created the program, found the necessary funding, and received later government support.

"There’s a moral to this story. Governments and established institutions are almost incapable of starting innovative programs such as this. They’re too risk-averse. They don’t have the drive or vision, and the cost of failure is far too high. A Pine River can only come from social entrepreneurs such as Ms. Minden – people with passion, imagination and perseverance. If you want the world to be a better place, do it yourself."

Via Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente

Friday, June 24, 2011

Take your Passion and Make It Happen

How does one commemorate the 100,000th graduate for a local university? It's having grads dance to 'What A Feeling' from the sound track of the 1983 film Flashdance.

Hats off, to Holly Ward, executive director of public affairs and communication, who came up with the idea. The three minute video has gone viral among graduates who are uplifted by the energy and spirit of the production.

"It's an iconic song everyone knows and they reacted to it quickly...We just relied on the emotion of the day."

See the video featuring grads here. See the uplifting and energizing music video by Irene Cara here. (She won an Academy Award in 1984 for Best Original Song for cowriting Flashdance...What A Feeling.)

'Take your passion, and make it happen,
Pictures come alive, you can dance right through your life....'

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Pottermore: Riding the Digital Broomstick

The dynasty of Harry Potter will live on at Pottermore, a new interactive website which hopes to keep fans engaged with new material.

According to Time, "the site immerses users in the boy wizard's world, combining elements of computer game, social network and online store. Rowling says it includes 'information I have been hoarding' about the books' characters and settings." Also, all seven novels will be available as audiobooks and ebooks in multiple languages.

It all began on these publication date(s) :

-Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, June, 1997
-Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, June 1998
-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, July 1999
-Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, July, 2000
-Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, June 2003
-Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince, July 2005
-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, July 2007

As of June, 2011 the book series has sold 450 million copies and been translated into 67 languages. J. K. Rowling's personal net worth is estimated at $1 billion. The books are a series of many genres including fantasy and coming of age...

It's interesting that all the publication dates took place around the summer holiday when millions of avid readers, both young and old, salivated with the latest fantasy adventure.

Three cheers for advancing literacy among young readers! Pottermore, which goes live on July 31, is sure to keep readers engaged amidst the digital revolution.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Defying Gravity

I saw them first in a crowded downtown shopping district in Toronto. Odd configurations of stones were stacked atop one another in a surreal balancing act. Were they secured with glue or some new bonding agent?

Adrian Gray is a professional stone balancer in London. He started placing different shaped rocks precariously on top of each other one day because he wanted “to make a beautiful family group of stones”.

His craft began more than eight years ago, and he has since constructed all manner of impossible looking sculptures on the Dorset shoreline near his home.

“I realised that stones would balance in a really strange way. People come up to me and ask if I’ve stuck the stones down with blue tack or glue. Then I simply lift off the top stone and they look astonished.”

This gravity-defying technique has led to Gray’s sculptures being exhibited in local galleries and cafes.

Sounds like a delightful hobby for aspirants: the Zen of stone balancing.

Via The Independent. See more of Gray's work here and his website here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pledging Allegiance to Peace

Patriotism is a virtue, right? Love for country provides the opportunity to celebrate its virtues and endorse its values.

Tony White argues, however, that we need to be wary:

"Patriotism is an attitude of favoritism toward “my country” and “my people.” If egotism or pridefulness toward oneself is a vice, then patriotism or pridefulness toward one’s particular country is likewise deplorable...

Patriotism clouds our judgment; it hinders objectivity and detracts from our ability to assess political situations rationally. Patriotism biases us toward our country’s perspective, encumbering our desire and ability to consider outside perspectives. Patriotism breeds conformity and closed-mindedness. Furthermore, it makes us overly trusting of those in power over us, and susceptible to abuses of that power."

White concludes,

"If we want to achieve world peace and a form of society not based on violence, the time for change is now. But if we eradicate patriotism, what unifying principle can replace it? One answer is humanism. It unites not a particular group, but all people.

If humanism proves too weak a sentiment, let us embrace universal love. This can happen when we realize our connection to others and the underlying unity of all things; when we experience the Divine inherent in ourselves and recognize this same divine essence in others; when, as Quaker founder George Fox wrote, we “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.”

Read entire essay via Utne Reader/Friends Journal, a Quaker publication

Who are the Quakers?

Image of World Flags

Laughter as Healer

Horticultural, Historical, about joining the Hysterical Society? They are popping up in more and more communities.

Several leaders of groups in the Chicago area say laughter helps with pain management by increasing endorphins, and relieving stress.

"If you laugh on a regular basis, your body actually becomes inhospitable to negativity."

One newcomer admitted that he was always an amateur laugher and he joined to "take my game up a notch."

One warm up exercise is trying a variety of laughs such as while rowing a boat.

Quote Garden has some excellent quotes around the theme of laughter including:

~I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose. ~Woody Allen

~At the height of laughter, the universe is flung into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities. ~Jean Houston

Monday, June 20, 2011

On My Quote/Word Quests

Several of my favourite quotes this past week at 365 Quote Quest are:

*Hitch your wagon to a star. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

- How's your wagon (life) progressing?
- What stars (dreams) occupy your thoughts?
- How can you balance your dreams with reasonable goals and aspirations?

*Least said soonest mended. ~ Proverb

- Do you agree with this Proverb?
- How can you try to mend a problem with an economy of words?
- What other tactics are involved to resolve a problem?

*Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly. ~ Julie Andrews

- How disciplined are you?
- The quotation seems paradoxical. How can discipline set you free?

And several interesting words from 365 Word Quest (I'm going through the dictionary from A-Z):

*fortuitous- happening by chance, especially by a luck; unplanned; accidental

C17 from Latin fortuitus, from fors chance, luck

More probably the resemblance which may be traced in this respect between the religions of the East and West is no more than what we commonly, though incorrectly, call a fortuitous coincidence, the effect of similar causes acting alike on the similar constitution of the human mind in different countries and under different skies.

*froufrou- a swishing sound, as made by a long silk dress; elaborate dress or ornamentation

-C19 from French of imitative origin

Like many froufrou fashionistas, my bedroom is an extension of my wardrobe, and therefore has to be interesting, welcoming, and a little bit funky.

*frump- a woman who is dowdy, drab, or unattractive

C16 (in the sense: to be sullen; C19 dowdy woman): from Middle Dutch verrompelen to wrinkle, rumple

Okay, like everyone else, I too was staggered that such a seemingly trained voice should come out the mouth of a woman who's been dubbed a 'frump.'

Mesh of Overlapping Territorial Claims

The South China Sea is filled with romance, myth and allusion. It's also the center of dispute in international relations.

It's interesting to peruse several maps of the sea, the surrounding countries, and the competing claims. The Economist documents "a mesh of overlapping territorial claims 'which' are mounting."

"Besides a wealth of marine life, the sea is believed to be rich in oil and gas: the “next Persian Gulf” in the words of one excited observer. The countries laying claim to this bounty have all been building up their navies, notably China which this week officially confirmed long-known plans to deploy its first aircraft-carrier. To counter such advances, Vietnam has ordered six Kilo-class submarines from Russia...."Within the political spheres of influence "America is not directly involved. But it has declared a “national interest” in preserving freedom of navigation in the sea. Of the 74,000 vessels, carrying one-third of global seaborne trade, that passed through the Strait of Malacca last year, most also plied the South China Sea."

Map and Wikipedia article of South China Sea.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Spectacular, Unspoiled Ruins

The Roman Empire lasted about 500 years and ended in 476 A.D. when the emperor abdicated to a Germanic warlord. At its height during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117) the empire encompassed 6.5 million square kilometers.

"Because of the Empire's vast extent and long endurance, the institutions and culture of Rome had a profound and lasting influence on the development of language, religion, architecture, philosophy, law, and forms of government in the territory it governed, particularly Europe, and by means of European expansionism throughout the modern world."

Time magazine has a wonderful series of 7 images taken at Leptis Magna, a Libyan port city on the southern Mediterranean coastline. The ruins contain some of the best vestiges of this once mighty civilization.

How vulnerable are these ruins to the current confrontation between NATO forces and the dictatorial rule of Muammar Gaddafi?
(Pictured above is Medusa's Head, at a site considered "one of the most spectacular and unspoiled Roman ruins in the Mediterranean.")

One hopes the pristine condition of many of the ruins, which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage sites, will be left untouched for posterity.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Presence

President Barack Obama writes an endearing essay 'Being the Father I never Had' for People magazine.

"And even though my sister and I were lucky enough to be raised by a wonderful mother and caring grandparents, I always felt his absence and wondered what it would have been like if he had been a greater presence in my life. I still do. It is perhaps for this reason that fatherhood is so important to me, and why I've tried so hard to be there for my own children...

They need our time, measured not only in the number of hours we spend with them each day, but what we do with those hours. I've learned that children don't just need us physically present, but emotionally available – willing to listen and pay attention and participate in their daily lives. Children need structure, which includes learning the values of self-discipline and responsibility."

My father was always there in my life. As a farmer his presence around the fields, barns, and greenhouses meant that there were always ways to participate in the daily process of work and recreation. Much of the time was simply enjoying the knowledge that he was there while I rode my bike around the farm yard or played catch with my siblings up against the giant barn door, or took walks with our dog to the pond and fields.

Obama's essay encourages one to think about how we can offer quality time for our children and others in the community. As well as being President, Obama volunteered as an assistant elementary basketball coach.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Good Literature as Risk-taking

According to Marjorie Garber, Professor of English at Harvard, the mark of great literature is the open-ended questions it leaves in the reader's mind.

Her book, The Use and Abuse of Literature "opens with a strikingly similar lament about literacy in her time, which is present-day America. The share of college graduates receiving English degrees is a shockingly low four per 100, and there’s been an accompanying drop in reading rates across all age groups. This is bad news not just for literature professors, but for democracy, since reading correlates strongly with various forms of civic participation."

The reviewer reflects, "If anyone is qualified to rescue literature from the threat of irrelevancy, it’s Garber, of some 15 books on cultural and literary matters, including six on Shakespeare alone. She simply knows everything there is to know about the history and practice of literature and criticism....Garber is not a proponent of the Great Books approach—she’s no fetishizer of the canon or timeless notions of quality. For her, “literature” is a shifting cultural status ascribed to books by critical arbiters of the moment, not an intrinsic quality. Rather, there are literary ways of reading, and literary ways of writing—a book becomes literature when we ask literary questions of it. Equally, books lose the status of literature when they fall from these considerations, the fate of many—perhaps the majority of—works by once-revered authors."

For Garber, literary ways of reading "pose open-ended questions—the most interesting of which are those without definitive answers.... She’s deeply uninterested in what makes particular books good or bad; what engages her is how meaning is produced. She prefers the brand of criticism that engages in uncertainty, productive mistakes, and continuous re-readings that settle nothing—“every way of reading produces an equal and opposite way of re-reading.”

The reviewer concludes, "The Use and Abuse of Literature is an enormously learned and wide-ranging defense of the literary imagination, but as Garber herself says, “The future importance of literary studies . . . will come from taking risks, not from playing it safe.”

The review encourages one to think about the authors who are taking risks and leaving the reader with resonating questions about life.

Review in The Wilson Quarterly

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Social Media Responds to Riot

Ratings were high as Canadians watched game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday night, June 15. Losing with the score 4-0 after winning the first two games was, indeed, a disappointment for the Vancouver Canucks who played against the Boston Bruins.

Much more sad, however, was the riot which broke out after the game in Vancouver.

Canadians are a mild mannered, agreeable bunch...over all, and this was a colossal black eye as a result of global media coverage.

The Vancouver mayor and B.C. premier have stressed that the hard core group of rioters will be prosecuted. Others in the city are disappointed by the bad publicity of their fair city.

Thousands turned out to help with a clean up the next day spurred on by a Facebook event.

On a side (horizontal) note, 'tonsil hockey' played alongside in the midst of the riot.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Appreciated History and Culture

What's an education in the humanities worth?

Robert D. Kaplan for the NYT writes a wonderful essay about the life of Patrick Leigh Fermor who died last week at 96 at his home in England. According to Kaplan, Fermor had a broad humanist perspective that is sorely lacking today among strategists.

"In today’s world of overly specialized foreign-policy knowledge, in which military men, politicians and academics inhabit disconnected intellectual universes, we need more generalists like Fermor."

Fermor helped to undermine the German occupation of Crete during World War II, and went "one to become one of the greatest travel writers of his era."

He was once described by the BBC as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond and Graham Greene."

"He did not simply glorify king and country; rather, he combined the traits of a soldier, linguist and humanist, and he appreciated history and culture for their own sake even as he used that wisdom to defend civilization. In today’s world of overly specialized foreign-policy knowledge, in which military men, politicians and academics inhabit disconnected intellectual universes, we need more generalists like Fermor.

Following the Nazi occupation of Crete, Fermor, fluent in both classical and modern Greek, infiltrated the island to help organize the resistance. He and a small band of British agents spent years in the mountains disguised as Cretan shepherds, complete with black turbans and sashes and armed with silver-and-ivory daggers. Fermor organized and carried out the daring 1944 kidnapping of Gen. Werner Kreipe, the German commander in Crete, whom Fermor’s group marched to a boat that spirited them to Egypt."

Kaplan, who met Fermor personally at his home amidst his extensive library, concludes, "The British Empire lasted as long as it did partly because it produced soldier-aesthetes like Fermor, who could talk about medieval Greece as easily as he could the Italian Renaissance, for comparison is necessary for all serious scholarship. America needs men and women like Fermor if it is to maintain its current position in the world."

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Vital Alternative to Self-esteem

According to Dr.Kristin Neff a better pursuit for caregivers is not self-esteem but self-compassion.

What, exactly, is self-compassion? Neff turns to three main Buddhist components: self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.

-"Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental.

-Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes.

-Mindfulness involves being aware of one’s painful feelings in a clear and balanced manner so that one neither ignores nor obsesses about disliked aspects of oneself or one’s life. Though we can all benefit from practicing self-compassion, Neff sees it as crucial for overburdened, and sometimes underappreciated, caregivers. “Not only will it help to get through difficult situations,” she says, “it will lead to greater happiness and peace of mind.”

A trailer for her book expands upon the perspective:

"The relentless search for high self-esteem has become a virtual religion; and a tyrannical one at that. Our competitive culture tells us we need to be special and above average to feel good about ourselves, but we can’t all be above average at the same time. There is always someone richer, more attractive, or successful than we are. And even when we do manage to feel self-esteem for one golden moment, we can’t hold on to it. Our sense of self-worth bounces around like a ping-pong ball, rising and falling in lock-step with our latest success or failure.

Fortunately, there is an alternative to self-esteem that many psychologists believe is a better and more effective path to happiness: self-compassion."

Via Utne Reader/ Psychology Today

Monday, June 13, 2011

Character Bias in Children's Books

As my two daughters grew up, we visited the library once a week to pick out a pile of delightful children's books. Every night we sat on the couch, one eager reader on either side of me, as we enjoyed each adventure, fantasy, and escape for the imagination.

The latest issue of Gender and Society finds, however, that many of these books and other children's presentations are filled with gender bias.

"While parents themselves may be gender conscious, children's books as a whole are less so. Even Franklin the Turtle, Curious George and Peter Rabbit are part of the male character bias that shows no sign of litting up, a major new study of 5,600 children's books from 1900-2000 has found."

The problem with this bias is "it could further a sense that girl characters are less interesting than boy characters and lead girls themselves to feel less important."

The study included all the Caldecott award winning books (1938-2000), Little Golden Books (1942-1993), and the Children's Catalogue (1900-2000).

The researcher says she would like to see more young boys given books with female characters. "I think it would expose them to a range of different characters' experiences,.. and assist with their understanding of girls and women in real life."

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Challenging Roads Inspired by Passion

According to writer Lane Wallace for The Atlantic, finding your passion and pursuing your dreams is not a narcissistic endeavour or a misleading mantra. Indeed, 2011 graduates in high school and college should hold on to their optimistic plans and visions amidst challenging economic conditions.

"Passion, despite how often we use the term to tout company commitment or extol romantic excitement, is often misunderstood or confused with other motivations. Many people view dreams and passion... as a hopelessly idealistic, selfish, or irresponsible choice that is diametrically opposed to commitment to others, responsibility, security, or success. But I have spent the past year and a half researching a book about passion and people who follow passionate paths in life, and nothing I've found backs up that premise or belief. Indeed, I would argue that passion is one of the most important elements in any effort to improve a community, build something of value in the world, and even survive tough times or a daunting economy. The fact that it also tends to lead to a sense of fulfillment within an individual is certainly one of its benefits—but it's not the driving force that compels someone down the passion road."

Wallace goes on to assess what passion is and isn't, and concludes,

"So when we urge graduates to pursue dreams and passions, we are not telling them to satisfy selfish desires and neglect everyone else. We are challenging them to go explore the world and find something so compelling that they will dedicate their best energies to pursuing it. We do this knowing that the passionate roads are far from the easiest paths that they could take in life. Far easier to pursue a "steady" predetermined path or career that they will spend judging their accomplishments in dollars and counting the days until retirement. So why pursue the more challenging roads that are built and inspired by passion? Because that is how you save communities and transform the world. It's also the strongest weapon you can have for surviving tough times and standing out from the crowd."

Places of Sublime Beauty

An excellent article celebrates the 100th anniversary of Canada's National Parks. Today there are 42 national parks, and 167 historic sites.

The mandate is unchanged:

"Dedicated to the people of Canada, for their benefit, education and leave unimpaired for future generations."

The CEO of Parks Canada said, "Our objective is to connect people to these great places so they can be proud of the exceptional system of stories and geography that we have in Canada. The key to their long term future is an engaged citizenry."

A focus on Nahanni National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories caught my particular interest with committed citizens lobbying hard over the years for its preservation and expansion.

"The South Nahanni River, running through the heart of this wilderness, stands among the world's greatest natural wonders as it plunges over Virginia Falls, a waterfall twice as high as Niagara, and carves a passage through the earth almost as deep as the Grand Canyon.

In the late 1960s, hydroelectric development was proposed for Virginia Falls on the South Nahanni River. Wilderness lovers, led by CPAWS (then known as the National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada), cried foul and mounted a campaign to protect the Nahanni as a free-flowing wild northern river. Prime Minister Trudeau's 1970 visit to the river cemented the deal to create Nahanni National Park Reserve. In 1972, land was set aside for a national park, and in 1976, a 4766 sq km corridor along the South Nahanni and Flat Rivers were legally protected as a national park reserve. In 2009, Nahanni National Park Reserve was expanded to permanently protect 30,000 km2 of Boreal wilderness - an area the size of Vancouver Island.

In 1978, Nahanni National Park Reserve became the first site in the world to be officially granted World Heritage status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), highlighting the global significance of the Nahanni's natural values."

How many short sighted economic and political decisions have been made around the world which resulted in the decimation of nature's sublime beauty?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Blanket of Memories

These days most quilts are generic, mass produced and complement the decorating scheme quite nicely. The art of quilting is fading as a hobby and one writer reflects in a wonderful personal essay why she carries on with the practice of her mother.

One reason is that the quilt can become a blanket of memories. Her mother kept all the left over fabric she ever used in sewing and would use them in a quilt when the time came. "That piece of yellow gingham was from a butterfuly shirt my mother made me...And that scrap- pale beige with tiny red rose buds and tinier green stems. It was from a dress I once loved..."

Now the writer keeps the fabrics from old clothes in the closet. "There was the T-shirt my husband bought at his first Metallica concert, a large selection of high school sports shirts from the early nineties, debating tournament T-shirts, and my favourite, a Hostess Munchies T-shirt that I won from a lucky bag of chips when I was 14...."

"Many people write memoirs as a way of reflecting on the chapters of their lives, but quilting is another way to do this. The pieces of a special quilt are like pages of a journal. The stories lie together, patterned and soft, waiting to be pulled up over a set of shoulders and read."

Hayley Linfield in The Globe and Mail

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's Your Soul Pole?

A neighbourhood in Victoria, B.C. has transformed their unsightly telephone poles with street art. A concerned resident initiated the project after poles on her street were spray painted by taggers.

She had seen a presentation by an urban designer for City Repair Project. The volunteer society in Portland, Oregon builds benches, reclaims parkland, and decorates intersections to make unpleasant urban areas seem "inhabited, known, and loved by its residents."

Ms. Threlfall calls her initiative Adopt A Pole, and the teamwork with others has resulted in exciting creations:

"By the end of the day, the streets were decorated by poles sporting cattails in marshy browns and dandelions in glorious yellows; doves and cranes in brilliant whites; jumping frogs in whimsical greens; dragonflies with red bodies and green wings.

A perambulation along the streets offers displays of shocking pinks and funky purples; dashing reds and mundane greys; primitive caricatures and a spectacular Betty Boop, on a pole one block south of Vic High."

The article encourages us to think about our own initiatives which bring a dream, an action, and a purpose to life.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Putin as Action Hero

While Arnold Schwarzenegger wilts under bad publicity, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is getting a surprising boost from an unlikely source: the comics. Superputin, A Man Like Any Other, an online comic strip, was released last week, and is already an Internet phenomenon.

"Superputin, allegedly the work of a Russian PR freelancer who received no input from the Kremlin, features a kimono-clad Putin darting to rescue a bus from an al-Qaeda bomb attack. Helping him is the cartoon version of President Dmitry Medvedev, described as a “gnome raised by bears” with an obsession for gadgets. The gentle parody of Russia’s political duo registered three million views in its first week, but has also stirred criticism for portraying the political opposition as brain-hungry zombies."

Comics and graphic novels are enjoying a growing following thanks to some talented and creative writers and artists.

Via Macleans

See English version of the comic strip here. (Click on images to proceed to the next one.)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Helping Give People What they Want

Is Groupon a flash in the pan, or a major transformational Internet company as the CEO suggested recently? An article by James Surowiecki in The New Yorker provides an interesting assessment.

The article begins with a reference to some previous big winners and missed opportunities:

"The history of the Internet is, in part, a series of opportunities missed: the major record labels let Apple take over the digital-music business; Blockbuster refused to buy Netflix for a mere fifty million dollars; Excite turned down the chance to acquire Google for less than a million dollars. Time and again, businesses with seemingly dicey prospects have ended up becoming huge successes, and price tags that once seemed absurd have turned out to be bargains. But big companies have learned their lesson: these days, they’re positively obsessed with not missing the next big thing, and are willing to shell out huge sums of money in order to insure that they don’t. And when Google tried recently to acquire the two-year-old daily-deal site Groupon, for the seemingly outlandish sum of six billion dollars, it was hard not to wonder if the lessons of history had been learned too."

By the way, Groupon is a portmanteau of two words, group and coupon, and offers a local deal of the day on food, merchandise or services and it can be anywhere from 50 to 90 percent off the regular price. The catch is one only gets the deal if enough people buy. Imagine getting up to 90% off in your favourite restaurant or spa.

The writer's assessment is that Groupon is more an "old school company" that makes excellent revenue but requires a large work force to keep up writing and promoting ads and growing a global clientele. On the other hand, companies like Facebook, Twitter, and You Tube are "revolutionary companies with distinctive technologies" which have harnessed the network effect to grow.

The article concludes that the company will end up making a lot of money. "These days, the Web is full of good, solid businesses that may not be remaking the world but that are helping give people what they want. If that’s what Groupon ends up being, well, there are worse fates."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Perennial Demand for Food

What's the hottest investment these days? You may be surprised to consider that farmland may be one of them.

Chief factors include:

- land prices (in Nebraska, as an example) are up by 20% this year
- hedge funders have been talking about farmland
- crop prices are up
- demand for food is not going away
- farm technology has greatly improved yield, planting, harvesting efficiencies

"So is farmland overvalued now? Here's the math: In Nebraska where I was, the farmland prices have reached about $6,000 an acre. Based on the current price of fertilizer and seeds, the farmers told me, it costs about $4 to grow a bushel of corn. That means at current prices, each bushel produces a profit of $3.50. Farmers these days get about 200 bushels per acre of corn. That means a $6,000 investment produces an annual income of about $650, which is an income yield of 10.5%. That's more than double the earnings yield of the S&P 500. And it is three times the yield you would get with 10-year Treasury notes. So by that measure farmland doesn't look overvalued."

See full article at Time.

Friday, June 3, 2011

'I Love Mistakes'

Most of us have seen the Dyson commercials for the ultimate vacuum cleaner. They are slick, sophisticated, and simple. James Dyson, the inventor, shares how he invented a no mess or fuss vacuum cleaner that keeps its cool, efficient sucking power without a bag.

He writes an essay in Newsweek about 'My Favorite Mistake:'

"I started with an idea: a vacuum with no bag. The bag was a problem. The bag clogs with dust, the machine wheezes, losing its puff. So, inspired by an industrial cyclone at a timber mill, I created a vacuum that used centrifugal force to separate the dust and dirt. No bag, no clogging, no loss of suction. It didn’t look great, but it worked. After five years of testing, tweaking, fist banging, cursing, and more than 5,000 mistakes—or prototypes, as engineers call them—it was there. Or nearly there."

However, "No one would license my machine; it was good for cleaning but bad for business. Hamilton Beach was another one: “James, you’ve got two minutes.” Five years in two minutes? I love brisk meetings, but this was a useless exercise only made worse because they wouldn’t let me use the word “suck.” I saw them all: Black & Decker, Eureka, Kirby. No. No. Yes. I mean no. Electrolux said a vacuum without a bag wouldn’t sell...."

Finally, Dyson realized that he was wasting his time. He needed to bring his invention to market himself. "I finally understood that if I wanted to make the machine, I’d have to do it myself. So after three fruitless years, a brief but expensive interlude with a licensee, and no money to show for it, I went off on my own...."

Thanks to Dyson's persistence and learning from mistakes his very profitable company is growing and now also sells a bladeless fan and a hand dryer that has made paper towels redundant. "The company, which now employs 2,500 staff worldwide, is in the middle of a program to double the number of scientists and engineers it employs to 700 to ensure it can keep pumping out the new inventions we never knew we needed."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Good Nutrition isn't Complicated

My Pyramid released by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on April 19, 2005 has now been replaced on June 2, 2011 with My Plate.
From My Plate:

- "Enjoy your food but eat less.
- Avoid over sized portions.
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Make at least half your grain whole grains.
- Switch to fat free or low fat milk.
- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals, and choose the lower numbers.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks."

"Gone are the old pyramid's references to sugars, fats or oils. What was once a category called "meat and beans" is now simply "proteins," making way for seafood and vegetarian options like tofu. Next to the plate is a blue circle for dairy, which could be a glass of milk or a food such as cheese or yogurt."

One nutritionist said, "This new logo brings it all together." Nutrition doesn't have to be complicated.

For the sake of comparison of educational nutrition logos, Canada's food guide and rainbow can be seen here.

Finally First Lady Michelle Obama "pointed to My Plate’s inability to make children engage in physical activity for the recommended hour a day and she reminded parents that this is an area where they need to be proactive. She reassured Americans that My Plate is part of a long-term initiative in conjunction with the Let’s Move! program to increase healthy eating and physical activity nationwide."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Life Transformation

Women in China in the past decade have contributed to a significant social revolution. They have long been "silenced or sidelined- if they weren't smothered at birth. But now a booming economy has transformed their lives."

In 1990 three out of every four people still lived and worked on farms. Now more than 40% have moved to the cities and by 2015 half the population will be urbanized.

Education and earning power have given women independence, and "with it the self-reliance that comes from an unprecedented measure of control over their own lives."

"The past played no part with the factory girls who had migrated from their villages to operate the assembly lines that produce the clothes we wear, the computer parts we need, the shoes, hats, handbags, games and gadgets that make the Western world go round. They work up to 13 hours a day, live in cold, dirty, overcrowded dormitories and eat poor food. They have no free time, health insurance, holidays or pension provision beyond the paltry state minimum. Three years ago their average wage was between 500 and 800 yuan—roughly £50-80—a month. Today, a shortage of labour means that young women in their 20s, the elite of the migrant workforce, can earn three times as much, or more...."

Periodically they return to their villages "bearing gifts: anoraks, trainers, sweets and toys for the children, pretty jackets for their mothers. They also inject unprecedented sums of money into the rural economy. Young unmarried women now subsidize their parents, pay for the education of younger brothers and sisters, distribute handouts to elderly relatives, and command growing respect from the village as well as from their families."

As well, it is apparent that education drives China. The university boom started as a means of lifting the country from economic recession. Now it is enabling the country to progress on a much more solid social infrastructure.

An important question for the author is whether or not many of the Chinese people have been able to understand and assimilate these sweeping changes to their culture and values.

Indeed, it's a question for us all as we consider the degree to which our lives have changed from one generation to the next. What lies at the center?

Via The Economist/Intelligent Life by Hilary Spurling

Prepare to Live Meaningfully

By now most people know about one of the most deadly tornadoes to hit the U.S. Around dinner time on Sunday, May 22, a F4-F5 tornado, 3/4 mile wide, ripped and pounded through 1/3 of the city of Joplin, Missouri. The latest toll is 123 dead and 10 missing.

The city hospital took a direct hit. When the staff heard 'Execute condition Gray," they had too little time to roll patient beds into the hallways. "Just as workers were completing the precautionary steps Sunday night, the entire nine-story building was pummeled by a tornado. Glass shards exploded from every window, doors blew open, and even patients’ IV-lines were ripped from their arms..."

John Hunter writes a moving article entitled 'Storm like a giant pounding the house with his fist' for CNN.

"...we piled into the bathroom, and I threw two large pillows on top of my wife and granddaughter. I closed the bathroom door, sat on the toilet lid, and tried to un-pop my ears.

I leaped to cover our granddaughter who had gotten into the fiberglass one-piece tub enclosure. The sound was deafening. It was as if a giant were pounding the house with his fist. The swirling wind caused the entire house to shake and start to fall apart.

The roof soon disappeared, throwing ceiling sheet rock and two-by-fours on top of my head. The blown-in insulation and broken glass filled our hair and eyes. This was the slowest, most powerful storm any of us have experienced! Time seemed to slow down, and minutes turned into an eternity as we were entangled in helplessness. The girls were shivering and shaking and I was as solid as a Jell-O-filled rooster, trying to protect them with my makeshift wings...."

Hunter lists several lessons including:

- Make sure your family members know you love them.
- Prepare thoroughly for death, but prepare to live meaningfully.
- Give back as soon as you are able.Image: Hospital above
Image: Joplin destruction