Sunday, July 31, 2011

Department of Defense Defends Butterflies

A Taylor's Checkerspot butterfly. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

I just love a story in which everyone comes together for the good of one; and, everyone ends up benefitting -- most especially the environment.

Normally, common sense might suggest that living on a military base's artillery range would reduce an animal's hopes of long-term survival -- but for one threatened butterfly species, the opposite is true. Taylor's Checkerspot butterflies are listed as an endangered species in their native Washington State, so when thousands of them took up residence on Joint Base Lewis McChord near Tacoma, the insects earned the support of one of the most deep-pocketed agencies on Earth: the US Department of Defense. As it turns out, for the DOD to continue weapons practice on the base without interruption, it'd have to do its damnedest to make sure the fluttering little butterflies make a comeback.

According to biologists, checkerspot butterflies may have seen their populations plummet to near-extinction due to habitat loss, but ironically the fragile insects have found safe haven in the unlikeliest of places, forming one of their largest colonies on the firing range of the military base. The unassuming insects might otherwise be no match for the armed forces juggernaut, but for the last several years, the butterfly has been a candidate for the federal endangered species list -- threatening the DOD's authorization to fire artillery in their habitat. If that were to happen, the land would be transfered to the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife, charged with ensuring the species' survival.

So, with the fate of the military base's artillery practice tied to that of an endangered butterfly, the DOD slipped a conservationist's cap over its standard-issue beret. Well, sort of.

The Department of Defense recently funded the construction of a $30,000 greenhouse to serve as a checkerspot butterfly nursery -- on the grounds of Mission Creek Corrections Center.

Working with the sustainable prisons project at The Evergreen State College, scores of inmates have been trained to help raise the endangered butterflies at the prison for their eventual release into the wild. And, if the butterfly breeding program funded by the DOD is successful, not only will the species' move further from extinction, the military base will once again be allowed to fire off its weapons unfettered by fluttering.

Project manager Kelli Bush perhaps described the program best in an interview with the Spokane Spokesman-Review:
"We like to think of it as a win-win, win-win-win," she said, noting the benefits to the military, local biologists, the inmates who gain a unique skill set, and of course the butterflies.
Why can't more problems be solved like that?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bay of Plenty Latest Casualty in Oil Spill Accidents

Oil from stricken cargo ship the Rena has begun washing up on the beach at Mount Manguanui in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. Photo courtesy:

Oil has begun washing up on a popular beach on New Zealand's east coast, five days after the container ship Rena struck a reef in the Bay of Plenty. Officials urged people to avoid the area, warning that the water off Tauranga city had become "highly toxic".

Efforts to remove oil from the ship, which ran aground on Astrolabe Reef in the early hours of Wednesday, have been suspended in the face of deteriorating weather conditions.

On Sunday about 10 tonnes of fuel oil had been pumped into safe storage from the 236-metre-long ship but that represented a fraction of the 1,700 tonnes on board.

The salvage operators have said they are confident the Rena is secure but fears remain that the 47,000-tonne vessel could break up in stormy weather, disgorging oil and cargo into the bay. Maritime New Zealand, which is overseeing the salvage operation, issued a public health warning on Monday, ordering people not to "touch or attempt to clean up oil as it is toxic" and reinforcing earlier advice to avoid collecting or eating shellfish from the affected area.

The picture to the left shows oil streams leaking from the Rena.

Warning signs are being erected on beaches. Earlier advice had been that oil was unlikely to come ashore before the middle of this week but thick black blobs have been deposited on shorelines by the tide.

At least nine oil-coated seabirds, including seven little blue penguins, have been recovered from the slick.

Maritime New Zealand said it hoped that when the operation resumed it would take between 30 and 40 hours to remove the remainder of the oil. Chemical oil dispersants have been dropped on the slick but this is believed to have had little effect.

Maritime New Zealand salvage co-ordinator Bruce Anderson said experts were confident the ship was in "pretty good shape". He told Radio New Zealand: "It's stable on the reef, there are no signs of deformation in the vessel, things are OK."

The salvage strategy is first to remove oil, then to lighten it by lifting off containers, and finally to remove the ship itself.

In a press conference on Monday afternoon the New Zealand transport minister, Steven Joyce, confirmed that among the many hundreds of containers stacked on board the ship 12 were believed to contain potentially dangerous materials.

He added that the captain of the Rena, which is chiefly crewed by Filipino nationals, had been interviewed as part of two separate investigations into the grounding and that consumption of alcohol could not be ruled out as a factor.

Brett Keller, the owner of Tauranga Marine Charters, who has viewed the stricken vessel from sea, said that in the face of deteriorating weather the response could be "too little, too late".

"They're lucky they had five flat days, and now today is looking pretty snotty," he told the Guardian early on Monday. "The ship is totally unsupported on half its length. You put a two- or three-metre swell on that, add in 40 or 45 knots of wind and something has got to give."

Responding to criticisms around the speed of the response, the New Zealand prime minister, John Key, pointed to the rarity and complexity of the incident. Speaking on the TV One Breakfast programme, Key said: "Every year around the world there are ships that get into grief, but not ones that normally just plough into a very well documented reef in calm waters at high speed."

Officials had moved immediately to fly specialists to New Zealand, Key said, with five of the world's 50 top experts now in the country. "You have to make sure you understand exactly what you're doing before you do it," he said.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Trees Are Amazing

Photo courtesy: lukemcreynolds

Trees are the largest and longest-living organism on earth.

Trees renew our air supply by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.

Trees clean the air by collecting dust and pollutants.

The shade from trees helps cool the Earth's temperature.

Birds and other animals use trees for their homes, protection; and, as a source of food.

Healthy trees can increase your property value and decrease your home's heating and cooling costs.

There are more than 23,000 different species of trees on Earth!

Two large trees produce about 400 pounds of O2 each year, which is the amount of oxygen that the average person consumes in a year.

During photosynthesis trees take in CO2 from the air and convert it to the sugars it uses to grow and survive.

One large tree can absorb up to 10 lbs of air pollutants each year. These include ozone (O3 — the primary component of smog), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), two major contributors to acid rain, and particulate matter (e.g. dust, soot, and smoke). Each of these pollutants have been shown to have adverse health effects, including asthma, lung cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

By intercepting rainfall and stabilizing soil, trees can reduce soil erosion and surface runoff to our sewers and streams, and thus reduce the amount of our tax money that must be spent on water treatment.

The average life span of a downtown urban tree is now estimated to be less than 10 years!

While trees in the outer, more residential areas of the city often live closer to 30 years, the fact remains that trees in the unnatural urban environment are not surviving as well as their rural counterparts, which commonly live for more than 100 years.

It comes as no surprise to me that studies have shown hospital patients with window views of trees tend to recover faster and with fewer complications than similar patients without such views, and that treed neighbourhoods typically have fewer reports of violent acts than barren communities. In my mind, such psychological influences represent the greatest value of urban trees; although, the other positives trees provide are none too shabby either.

So...go outside and hug a tree today!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Domestic Dog Disease Decimating Ethiopian Wolves

Photos courtesy: Rebecca Jackrel

Did you have any idea there are wolves in Africa? Jackals, sure. Painted dogs, yep. But wolves? Turns out the Ethiopian wolf is the only wolf species on the continent, and lives exclusively in the high-altitude areas of Ethiopia. But it is a hair's breadth away from disappearing entirely. Only 450 survive in small populations and the main threat: rabies from domestic dogs.

The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program spoke at last weekend's Wildlife Conservation Network Expo about the status of these unusual animals.

Domestic dogs are used by herders to protect sheep and goats, and the land used for grazing is shared with these wolves. Coming into contact with unvaccinated dogs can mean death for not only one wolf, but the entire population in that area.

The EWCP is working hard to change this, starting with the herders and vaccinating domesticated dogs. Such a simple step is harder than it seems. Educating herders on vaccinations, getting out to the dogs, raising funds to get the vaccinations in the first place -- all of this is many hours of effort. Thus far, EWCP has managed to vaccinate an astonishing 65,000 domestic dogs. And yet, it's just a start.

Another important step is vaccinating the wolves themselves. EWCP has only recently been given permission by the Ethiopian government to vaccinate populations of wolves. The strategy is to get medicine into them while disturbing them as little as possible. The solution thus far is baiting.

Rabies vaccinations can be given orally, so the team leaves out bits of bait containing a dose of medicine. The hope is that enough wolves from a population will eat the bait to protect that population should an outbreak hit. If EWCP can get even 40% of a pack vaccinated, they boost the chance of the pack surviving by 90%.

Rabies vaccinations can last up to 3 years, however, baiting is done on a rotating basis since it's a rather hit-or-miss strategy. K9s can eat more than 10 times the recommended dose without any negative side effects -- so essentially, the more baiting, the better the odds.

Photo courtesy: Wikipedia CC

Another step in protecting the wolves is protecting the habitat in which they live. But protecting the habitat would do more than just boost the odds of wolves surviving. The wolves live in high-altitude mountain areas in Ethiopia, and that's where a significant amount of the fresh water comes from. By protecting habitat for wolves in Ethiopia, the water source for 85 million people would also be protected. A win-win for everyone.

The Ethiopian Wolf Project is partnering up with EWCP this November to help document the lives of these interesting animals (whose looks and habits remind me of part wolf, part coyote) as well as the efforts made by EWCP.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Outraged Farmer Destroys Entire Colony of Endangered Birds in One Afternoon

American pelicans. Photo courtesy: dave and rose / cc

When some people get angry they clench their teeth, shake their fists, and raise their voice. Craig Staloch, a farmer from Minnesota, slaughters an entire colony of birds. Earlier this year, Staloch became enraged when thousands of American White Pelicans began nesting on his rented property near Minnesota Lake. He contacted wildlife officials, but when they told him the birds were protected by law, the farmer took matters into his own hands, committing one of the most extreme cases of wildlife destruction officials have ever seen: he killed them all in just one afternoon.

American White Pelicans were once driven to near extinction, but in recent decades, thanks to conservation efforts and government protection, the birds have made a slow and steady comeback. In recent years, the pelicans have been forced to find new colonies throughout Minnesota. Prior to the farmer's violent outburst, there had been 16 known nesting sites in the state, and officials from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have been in the process of monitoring their health.

Unfortunately, one colony of some 3,000 pelicans had come to settle on land rented by Staloch -- and he's clearly not a bird-lover.

According to the Kansas City Star, the farmer's property was visited by DNR agents last May who were performing a survey of pelican colonies. Staloch was frustrated that the birds were occupying about seven acres of his property and he asked the agents for advice. The farmer said the birds' broad feet were trampling his corn and soybean fields leading to a loss of revenue, but officials informed him of the animal's protected status and recommended he build a fence around his crops. To him, the idea building a fence to keep out flying birds was illogical, so after authorities left, Staloch went out and decimated the entire colony -- but he didn't know the DNR was coming back.
The next day it was obvious that something was wrong, [pelican expert Linda Wires] said. Normally, the enormous birds, with wing spans of 8 to 10 feet, fly off when disturbed. But the colony was eerily silent and empty, she said.

Then they began finding broken eggs. When Wires put her hand on the grassy nests, they were cold. As they moved through the brush, they began finding smashed and dead chicks. They found a total 1,458 nests and 2,400 eggs and chicks had been destroyed. Only one chick was still alive.

"It was a gruesome sight," Wires said.

Kohlmeyer said that when confronted by investigators for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Staloch admitted that he'd destroyed the colony.
Last month, Staloch was charged with violating the protections American White Pelicans enjoy under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and this week he made his first court appearance. According to the Staloch's attorney, the farmer overreacted to his bird problem. "He flipped out. He got frustrated and went to town."

At the hearing Staloch entered no plea. If convicted, he faces fines of $15,000 and six months in jail.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Block Watch Safety Tips

Image courtesy: BC Crime Prevention Program

Elevator Safety:

- check the elevator before you enter. If a person inside the elevator makes you uncomfortable, don't get it. Feign forgetting an article if you like
- stand near the control panel
- get off the elevator if another passenger makes you feel uncomfortable
- if you are attacked, hit the alarm button. Do NOT press the stop button because you may get trapped between floors

Safety for Persons with Disabilities:

- carry medical and emergency contact information with you in case of emergencies
- do not hang bags on your wheelchair or scooter
- affix reflectors to your wheelchair or scooter and install a bell or horn
- fasten a small pole with a flag to your wheelchair or scooter at the 5' level to make you more visible
- if call 911, tell the operator you have a disability
- if you have trouble speaking, keep a tape player near the phone to convey your name and address to emergency services. If your phone is a land line (not a cell phone) your address will automatically appear to emergency services when you call and they will send help automatically
- install a peephole in the door at YOUR eye level

Safety for Women:

- carry cash, credit cards, driver's licence, house keys, etc. in an inside jacket pocket or other concealed place
- if you wear a backpack, do not sling it over both shoulders
- never leave your purse unattended (e.g. in shopping carts, at restaurants, at work).
- don't let your purse be used against you:
* if someone grabs your purse, do not resist
* if it has a long strap, do not wear it across your chest
* carry a small purse tucked under your arm
* if you use a "fanny pack", wear it to the front and hide it under your clothing
- don't list your first name or salutation in the phone book, on lobby buzzer panels or on your answering machine

Monday, July 25, 2011

The True Cost of a Pineapple

A pineapple plantation. Photo courtesy:

Pineapples: Luxury fruit at what price?

Pineapple is the latest bargain offer in supermarkets, but the true cost is paid in the countries where it is produced. Guardian special correspondent Felicity Lawrence investigates reports of environmental damage, union-busting and poverty wages in Costa Rica's fruit industry.

Watch this video in spanish.

I intend to give up eating pineapples in support of the peasants. I will also be sending emails to Dole and Del Monte asking for explanations; and, letting them know that I will be boycotting their products. To find out how to contact Dole, click here. To contact Del Monte, click here.

Enjoy? the video:

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Body Shop's Image Tarnished After Eviction of Peasant Farmers

The Body Shop. Photo courtesy: Linda Nylind via

The Body Shop, the cosmetics giant that claims to source ingredients from companies that protect local farmers' rights, buys palm oil from an organisation that pushed for the eviction of peasant families to develop a new plantation.

Daabon Organics, a Colombian firm that provides the British chain with 90% of all its palm oil, was part of a consortium that asked the courts to remove farmers from a sprawling ranch 320km north of the capital Bogotá with a plan to grow African palm. Police in riot gear evicted the farmers in July.

Now solicitors for 123 peasant farmers and their families are appealing against the decision with the backing of a British charity. They say that some locals had lived and worked on the land for more than 10 years and had already applied for the right to own it under Colombian law before the consortium bought it.

The disclosure will embarrass the Body Shop, which has claimed that it respects the rights of local farmers in developing countries and uses Daabon's oil to make the equivalent of 7.5 million bars of soap every year. It will also highlight the many battles between farmers and palm oil companies across the globe as the product becomes increasingly lucrative.

"The Body Shop should reconsider its decision to buy palm oil from Daabon in the light of this conflict," said Catherine Bouley of Christian Aid, which is backing the farmers' legal action. "The Colombian government would like to triple the area under palm cultivation, which will only exacerbate the problem of displacement."

The dispute began in December 2006 when Daabon's subsidiary CI Tequendama and a partner company bought Las Pavas, a 1,100-hectare (2,700-acre) ranch in Southern Bolivar province. The consortium applied for an eviction order in January this year which was enforced in July.

Solicitors acting for the peasant farmers claim that the consortium should have been aware that the land had been home to families who had been cultivating crops including plantain, maize and squash for more than 10 years.

The peasants say they had previously been forced off the land in mid-2006 by paramilitary groups, but had moved back some six months later and made a legal submission to own it for good. Under Colombian law, ownership can be granted to farmers who have occupied abandoned land for more than three years.

Banessa Estrada, a solicitor for the peasants, said that the families had formed a co-operative and submitted an official claim on the land in mid-2006, several months before the consortium's purchase. "It was an illegal eviction because they did not take into account the claim of the land made by the peasants," she said.

Another palm oil company had taken an interest in buying the land in 2006, but had backed down after discussions with the peasants, campaigners claim.

A small group of farmers returned to the ranch last week for the first time since their eviction – with a reporter.

Misael Payares, leader of the peasants' association, pointed to a row of recently felled trees by the side of a new road. "This is what a supposedly ecologically friendly company is doing," he said.

Ader Rojas, who grew plantain on the ranch, said much of the plot had been churned up. The wooden shelter he built near the plot had been destroyed and a bog near his land had been drained. "This was all I had," he said.

The evicted peasants have set up a camp in the schoolyard of the nearby village. Over open fires, they prepare meals of corn fritters and cheese for the 500 men, women and children with food donated by aid agencies.

The Body Shop, which is the world's second largest cosmetics franchise and has 2,400 stores in 61 countries, was founded by the late Dame Anita Roddick and is now part of L'Oréal group.

Its distinctive eco-friendly image – it was the first British cosmetics chain to introduce refillable bottles – has been preserved by L'Oréal and it continues to campaign for the rights of local producers. In June 2007, while announcing its deal with Daabon, The Body Shop called on manufacturers and retailers to follow its lead to help slow the drastic environmental and social effects of unsustainable production.

"We have changed our entire soap range to be manufactured using palm oil from one of the leading sustainable plantations – Daabon in Colombia," it said in a press release. "We have commissioned our own audit and visited the plantation to ensure the protection and welfare of communities, workers and the surrounding jungle is preserved.

"Production impacts on the rights of indigenous populations, often creates poor labour conditions and has severe health implications for women working on the plantations," it read.

The Body Shop has a current commitment to community trade by seeking out small-scale farmers, traditional craftspeople, rural co-operatives and even tribal villages, according to the company's website.

Daabon, a certified organic producer, is a family-run company that was set up in 1914 but has grown substantially over the past five years. It now has 714 office in Colombia and 28 offices in other countries including the US, Germany, Japan, and Australia. Alberto Davila, Daabon's president, has been photographed embracing Colombia's president Dr Alvaro Uribe Vélez.

The demand for palm oil has soared over the past 15 years and it is found in foods such as margarine, crisps and chocolate, as well as in soap, cosmetics and biofuel.

The oil is used as a hardener in a wide range of personal care products. It was present in 497 products launched globally in 2007 compared with 246 in 2006, according to market researchers.

But the growth has led to a backlash from environmental groups concerned that forests across the tropics are being cut down to make way for plantations, destroying habitat for endangered species and resulting in the displacement of local people.

Greenpeace says the palm oil industry contributes to carbon emissions when producers establish new plantations on peat bogs, which store carbon. Draining and burning peat bogs to establish plantations releases greenhouse gases.

The protests have taken some producers by surprise because five years ago they developed a certification system for producing environmentally sustainable palm oil.

A spokeswoman for Daabon said the company had never been involved in any other land disputes and was seeking to resolve the case through the courts and "community outreach". She said it had no knowledge of any claim by the farmers before it acquired the land and had taken all steps to come to an agreement with them.

She added that any preparation of the farmland since July would have ensured that any protected areas would not be affected.

"The Daabon group and its subsidiaries have never had any previous land conflicts and would under no circumstances knowingly violate the rights of legitimate land holders," she said.

"[A] consultation will focus on explaining the company's plans for an inclusive model which could offer better living standards and opportunities for communities in the areas, similar to that developed in the Magdalena region."

A spokesman for The Body Shop said that the disputed land has not produced oil for its products.

"The Body Shop is committed to the defence of human rights and trading ethically, and works closely with suppliers to uphold our values. We are aware of the allegations regarding land rights in Colombia and we are liaising with our suppliers in that region and monitoring the situation closely."

Troubled oil

• Palm oil, a reddish substance derived from the pulp of the fruit of African oil palm, is widely used as a cooking oil, for producing detergents and biofuel.

• It is the target of campaigners because demand has led to the deforestation of millions of acres of forest in Indonesia, Malaysia and Colombia.

• In Borneo, tropical hardwood forests are being cleared for palm oil plantations, leading to fires covering parts of south-east Asia in haze.

• The UN has said that if deforestation in Sumatra and Borneo continues, the orangutan could be extinct in 15 years.

For more about the use of African palm as a biofuels, click here.

To find out what Christian Aid thinks about UK policy towards Colombia, click here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Arctic Ozone Layer Hole in Sudden Expansion

This chart shows the levels of ozone above the Arctic on 19 March 2010 (left) and 2011 (right), the latter showing about a 50% drop. Photo courtesy: OMI/Aura/NASA via

A huge hole that appeared in the Earth's protective ozone layer above the Arctic in 2011 was the largest recorded in the northern hemisphere, though the sudden appearance of the hole was not due to man-made causes, scientists said in a report on Monday.

The ozone layer high in the stratosphere acts like a giant shield against the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause skin cancer and cataracts. Since the 1980s, scientists have charted the size of the ozone hole every summer above the Antarctic.

Some years, the holes have been so large that they covered the entire continent and stretched to parts of South America.

During extreme events, up to 70% of the ozone layer can be destroyed, before it recovers months later. The hole above the Arctic was always much smaller – until March this year, when a combination of powerful wind patterns and intense cold temperatures high up in the atmosphere created the right conditions for already-present, ozone-eating chlorine chemicals to damage the layer.

The findings, reported in the journal Nature, show that the hole had opened over northern Russia, parts of Greenland, and Norway, meaning people in these areas were likely to have been exposed to high levels of UV radiation.

"The chemical ozone destruction over the Arctic in early 2011 was, for the first time in the observational record, comparable to that in the Antarctic ozone hole," say the scientists, led by Gloria Manney of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The scientists say man-made chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) destroy ozone in the stratosphere, after sunlight breaks up the complex chemicals into simpler forms that react with ozone. While some of the chemicals are covered by a UN treaty that aims to stop their use, it will be decades before they are fully phased out of production.

Normally, atmospheric conditions high above the Arctic do not trigger a large-scale plunge in ozone levels. But during the 2010/11 winter, a high-altitude wind pattern called the polar vortex was unusually strong, leading to very cold conditions in the stratosphere that also lasted for several months. This created the right conditions for the ozone-destroying forms of chlorine to slash ozone levels over a long period.

The report's authors said there was a risk that the spread of the Arctic hole could become an annual event.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Life on a Mountain of Rubbish

One of the many Indonesian families who live on the Jakarta waste 'mountain' in a home built from rubbish. Photograph: Javad Tizmaghz for the Guardian

They call it "the mountain": a sprawling, 110-hectare mound of Jakarta's rotting rubbish that stretches as far and nearly as high as the eye can see. Dark clouds of flies hover over decaying vegetables, cloth rags, mattresses, plastics, broken tables, medical x-rays and greasy car parts. Squelching among it all are the mountain's stray cats, goats, rats, cockroaches – and thousands of men and women, rifling through the rubbish to find their own personal treasure.

"Woo hoo, a mobile!" cries one 20-something scavenger as he pockets the phone with a blackened hand and, with the other, flings a plastic bottle into the wicker basket on his back.

All around him, scavengers are loading their baskets with aluminium tins, glass bottles and plastics of every variety. Some dance among the mountain's many bulldozers, their mechanical arms busy flinging rubbish skyward, while others scavenge the fresh loads of trucks that wind around the mountain's base and deposit the 6,250 tonnes of Jakarta's daily rubbish anywhere there is space.

Scavenging at Bantar Gebang, Indonesia's largest trash dump, is a 24-hour business – and business is booming. "I came here because the work is good and I can be my own boss," says Umi, a 47-year-old former paddy farmer who, after living on-site for 20 years, proudly declares herself the mountain's resident trash lady. "When you farm rice you have to wait for the harvest and the work can be backbreaking. Now I work when I want to work. There's always something to find."

Bantar Gebang, 20 miles east of Jakarta, is a peculiar case of Indonesian self-enterprise. Built in 1989 on rice paddy fields, the tip today is awash with former rice farmers who once dug the earth for their food and now dig the "mountain" for their earnings, with many of them living atop the tip in constructions made from the rubbish itself.

Their one and two-bedroom huts, fashioned from scrap wood, cardboard, rugs, plastic advertisements for credit cards and nails rummaged from the tip, blend like ragtag camouflage into the mountain's hillside. Cafes furnished with abandoned tables and sofas offer tea and biscuits to scavengers, while fields of trash are levelled at dusk for ad-hoc volleyball games. A small outdoor cinema, boasting scavenged speakers, shows films once a week, and the call to prayer by resident imams often wafts over the mountains of rotting waste.

Around 2,000 families are estimated to live and work at Bantar Gebang, but as Jakarta's waste increases, so does the tip's population. Most are unskilled workers from Java, some of whom have been scavenging in streets and rubbish bins their whole lives. But life here, says new resident Dadi, 25, can be a difficult adjustment. "I couldn't eat properly for weeks when I arrived, the smell was so bad," he says of the tip's stench of curdled milk. "I vomited every day."

Despite a strong sense of community on the tip, many also find that they are stigmatised when they cross its borders. "For a long time, it was hard to go back home," says Sar Jok, 59, a "boss" who recruits new residents into teams of scavengers and sells their findings to independent recycling companies. "People would say, 'Why do you live on the dump? It smells bad, you smell bad'. But when they saw I made good money, their opinions changed." Scavengers, some of them children as young as five, make around 30,000 rupiah (£2.20) a day. Like the few paddy farmers who still till what's left of the neighbouring rice fields, many of Bantar Gebang's residents must do all they can to survive off the land. Nila, 31, a mother of three, regularly scavenges for her family's dinner. "I'll find vegetables, and fish or meat on the mountain," she says, cooking dinner over an open fire. "If it looks and smells OK, I take it. So far we've been lucky – nothing's happened to us."

Local charities have lobbied for greater healthcare for scavengers, who are at risk of everything from minor skin irritations and vitamin deficiencies to tuberculosis and tapeworm. Landfill landslides can be deadly. But the municipal government already faces difficulties just dealing with Jakarta's waste. Recent initiatives to trap the tip's methane production and build on-site recycling facilities have eased Bantar Gebang's pollution. But the Indonesian Solid Waste Association recently admitted that the capital city of 10 million may need another decade until it can fully manage its own rubbish. Renie Elvina Tiurma, head of a Jakartan household and corporation-targeted recycling initiative called the Green Project, says that the unofficial reliance on scavengers to remedy the problem cannot continue.

"Scavenging is not optimal because 40% of the 'recycling' is still not recyclable, it's too dirty to be processed," Tiurma says. "If Jakartans just sorted their own trash, we wouldn't have landfills like Bantar Gebang. Around 48% of a household's waste is recyclable and another 40% is compostable. But there's not much awareness or understanding here about recycling, as it's not yet government policy." While Jakarta is still years away from diminishing its rubbish to a level that would pitch the scavengers into other work, just the thought of a different future is too much for some.

"I met my partner here, my life is here," says Nila. "I honestly don't know where else I would go."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Did You Know That...

As a coffee lover myself, I was delighted to find this nugget of coffee lore. There was a time when coffee was an important part of a Turkish marriage. The Turkish bridegroom had to promise his new wife that he would always supply her with coffee. If he didn't keep his promise, it was grounds for divorce.

Ancient explorers called the Canary Islands Canaria from the Latin word "Canis" (meaning dog), due to the large population of fierce dogs living on that island. The name was later passed on to the native wild finch or canary.

When Australia hosted the 2000 Summer Olympics, it chose three of its native animals as mascots. "Olly" was a kookaburra, "Syd", was a platypus and "Millie" was an echidna. They represented air, water and earth. Trust the Australians to come up with something so relevant; and, yet whimsical.

The woven straw hat called a Panama hat actually originated in Ecuador. It was first shipped to the Isthmus of Panama before being sent on to other destinations and the name of the point of international sale stuck.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Bits of Metal Found in Pureed Pork Products

Slices of pureed pork similar to those contaminated. Photo courtesy: avlxyz

If this year's storm of salmonella didn't make a plant-based diet ever the more appealing, than maybe metal in your meat will. That's right, Food Safety News reported last week that a Pennsylvania pork manufacturer had to recall 5,550 pounds of pork after metal fragments were found embedded in the meat. You'll never guess how the suspect pork was contaminated.

K. Heeps, an Allentown, Penn meat manufacturer recalled 5,550 pounds of pureed pork after shards of metal were found in the product. The small pieces, according to Food Safety News, were found by two consumers who then reported the problem. The metal pieces seem to have broken off the blending equipment and then ended up getting mixed in with the meat.

Food Safety News reports:
Each box bears "EST. 9379" inside the USDA mark of inspection and a production code of 06/16/11. The pureed pork products were produced on June 16, 2011, and shipped to Calif., Fla., Ill., Ky., Md., Mo., N.J., Ohio, Pa., Texas, Utah, and Va. for institutional use.
Though no injuries have been reported, it's none the less disturbing. Finding metal in your meat is the first problem and the second issue is the eleven states that the suspect meat was shipped to before the discovery was made. It's all the more reason to either cut out meat entirely or decrease your intake and choose high quality, local organic meat when you do eat it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Guide to Personal Safety

The Block Watch logo. Photo courtesy: blockwatch New Westminster police

I have just gone to a block watch meeting as a volunteer co-captain. For those who aren't aware, block watch is a volunteer program for neighbours to report crime to the police and their local block watch to reduce crime in their area. One of the handouts I received was about personal safety. I am reprinting it here as the tips can be used by anyone, anywhere in the world, in any type of housing. Please read and implement these tips in your day-to-day living. Be safe, friends.

Personal safety is an important consideration for everyone regardless of age, gender or ability.

Be aware!! Whether at home, in your car or walking in your neighbourhood, awareness is the best protection against crime. Know your surroundings; and, be prepared for anything that may put you at risk.

Project Strength! Criminals often target groups or individuals who appear vulnerable. Walk with confidence and purpose. Keep your head up and observe your surroundings including people in the area, businesses and sources of assistance. Don't appear to be confused or lost.

Safety on the Street: Plan your route to avoid isolated areas (even if it is a really good shortcut). Be alert and sure of yourself. If you believe you are being followed, cross the street, go to the nearest group of people or business and call the police. Don't overburden yourself with heavy parcels (think Christmas time) or a bulky purse. Use a money belt or pouch to conceal money and important documents. Don't display cash in public. Walk near the curb and away from alleys and doorways. If you wear a lanyard around your neck, ensure it has a quick-release mechanism. Carry a whistle, personal alarm and/or pepper spray; and, know how to use them.

Cycling or Jogging: Go with a friend and avoid isolated areas. Always carry personal identification. Stay alert and don't use headphones. Vary your route; don't be predictable. Identify places of refuge along your route in case of emergency. Wear reflective gear if you're out at night. Carry a bicycle repair kit and know how to complete minor repairs. Carry your cell phone in your hand so you can quickly call for help if you need it. Don't forget your pepper spray, personal alarm and/or whistle.

On Public Transit: Avoid isolated or poorly-lit transit stops. Sit near the driver or emergency contact panel and stay alert - don't fall asleep. If someone bothers you, state firmly and loudly, "Leave me alone." Advise the driver immediately.

If someone follows you off the bus or train, walk to where other people are. If you in a residential area, go to the nearest house and ask them to call police. Again, don't forget your pepper spray, whistle and/or personal alarm.

When travelling late at night, the driver may be able to let you off closer to your destination. Ask if this service is available. Don't leave your purse or parcels on the floor - hold them on your lap.

On Holiday: Don't put your home address on luggage tags. Review travel advisories before you depart at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International trade. Click here for the Canadian website. Use traveller's cheques and carry minimal cash. Carry money, passports, visas and other important documents concealed in a money belt or money pouch. Wear minimal jewellery and use the safety deposit box provided by your hotel.

Safety in Your Car: If you must store valuables in your car, keep them out of sight (think trunk). Keep you vehicle fuelled and maintained. Check tire pressure and oil regularly.

Park in well-lit areas near other vehicles. Have your keys ready before you get to your car. Examine the interior of your vehicle before you get in. Criminals have been known to hide in the back seats of cars and attack their victim as they enter the vehicle.

Always lock your vehicle after entering and when leaving it. Don't leave your purse on the passenger seat; keep it on the floor or in the back. Do not pick up hitchhikers. Carry a cellular phone for emergencies. Plan your route and carry a map in case you get lost. Carry a first aid and emergency roadside kit in your car.

If your car breaks downs, turn on the hazard lights, remain in your vehicle with the doors locked and wait for assistance. Carry a "Help - Call Police" sign and place it in the window. If someone offers to help, don't get out of the car. Roll down the window only enough to talk and ask them to call a towing company or the police.

If you believe you are being followed, drive to the nearest business, police station or busy location and blow the horn to attract attention. Call 911. Do not drive home.

There is so much more good information, I will be sprinkling these blogs throughout the other postings for the next couple weeks or so.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Moroccan Tree-Climbing Goats

Goats on trees are found mostly only in Morocco. The goats climb them because they like to eat the fruit of the argan tree, which is similar to an olive. Farmers actually follow the herds of goats as they move from tree to tree. The fruit of the tree has a nut inside, which the goats can't digest, so they spit it up or excrete it which the farmers collect. The nut contains 1-3 kernels, which can be ground to make argan oil used in cooking and cosmetics. This oil has been collected by the people of the region for hundreds of years, but like many wild and useful things these days, the argan tree is slowly disappearing due to over-harvesting for the tree's wood and overgrazing by goats.

Photo courtesy: Remo Saviaar via Oddee

As a result a group of people and organizations have banded together to try to save the tree. To do so one of the primary locations where the trees grow has been declared a biosphere preserve. It was also decided that by making the world aware of the oil, it's great taste and supposed anti-aging properties, would create a demand for it. However, the people who planned to market the oil could not envision people wanting to put an oil on their food or their face that was collected from goat excrement. As a result, a campaign is being led to ban grazing on the trees by goats during certain parts of the year to allow the fruit to ripen and fall off on its own. The fruit is then collected and turned into oil by oil cooperatives. So far, this arrangement seems to be working.

Here's a video showing the goats climbing the trees.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

World's Oldest Two-Faced Cat

This undated handout image, obtained by Reuters, shows a Massachusetts cat with two faces that has become the world's longest surviving so called "janus" feline at 12 years of age. Photo courtesy: REUTERS/David Niles/Handout via Yahoo!News

Frank and Louie is the world's oldest two-faced cat, which is not to say he is deceitful or insincere.

Rather, the fluffy, gray feline with two mouths, two noses and three eyes, turned 12 years old this month, setting the record for "longest surviving Janus cat," Sara Wilcox, a Guinness World Records spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The name "Janus cat" was coined by British zoologist Dr. Karl Shuker, based on the two-faced Roman god of transitions, gates and doorways.

Frank and Louie has a case of craniofacial duplication, an extremely rare congenital condition resulting from a protein with the odd name of sonic hedgehog homolog (SHH).

The disorder, also known as diprosopia, can cause part or all of an individual's face to be duplicated on its head. It has been recorded multiple times in the domestic cat (Felis catus), but few of the resulting two-faced kittens survive into adulthood, Wilcox said.

Frank and Louie was born on September 8, 1999 and his remarkable life will be commemorated in Guinness World Records' new 2012 edition, Wilcox said.

The cat's owner, a woman only identified as Marty who lives near Worcester, Massachusetts, has asked to remain otherwise anonymous. She was a veterinary technician in 1999 when a day-old, two-faced kitten about the size of her thumb was brought into her clinic to be euthanized.

"The normal life expectancy is one to four days for cats with this condition," because afflicted animals typically have other disorders and defects, Marty told a local radio station on Tuesday. "When he was first born, every day was a blessing."

She immediately adopted Frank and Louie and helped him get surgical procedures necessary for survival, she said.

The cat has one brain, so both faces act in unison. Two of his eyes -- the outermost ones -- are normal, while the middle eye is larger but doesn't function.

The cat eats on the right side, using Frank's face, which is connected to his esophagus, while Louie's nose twitches at the same time, his owner said. The cat shares a home with a big dog, another cat and a few birds, including a parrot that sings opera.

Marty told the local radio station that Frank and Louie is "actually more like a dog. He walks on a leash and he loves car rides."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Newly-Discovered Plants Replants Self

Photo courtesy: Alex Popovkin, Bahia, Brazil

A new flowering plant species accidentally discovered in Bahia, Brazil has the unique ability to bow down and deposit its seeds, The tiny white and pink flower in effect replants itself for the next season.

The discovery shows the fascinating survival capabilities our flora and fauna and illustrates that we've only just scratched the surface in naming the world's diverse species.

Live Science reports that a handyman doing work on property in the lush region of Bahia happened to discover the new flowering plant growing on the property of "amateur botanist" Alex Popovkin.

According to Live Science:
When the plant's fruits form, the plant slowly bends its small, fruiting branches down, depositing the seed capsules carefully onto the ground -- and sometimes burying them in the soft cover of moss. Geocarpy, which is also practiced by peanut plants, ensures that the seeds will grow into new plants near the mother plant during the following season.
Researchers uncovered the mystery when they realized that the plants died during the dry season and then reappeared in the same spots during the rainy season.

This is proof positive that we're far from uncovering the mysteries of global diversity and gives added incentive to preserving these hotbeds of biodiversity.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Jellyfish Clones Self

Photo courtesy: deep_onion / cc

When you can clone yourself, you never have to be alone -- at least that's what marine biologists at Australia's Townsville aquarium are discovering. Recently, an injured Cassiopea jellyfish that had been kept alone in its own tank was found to be suddenly and inexplicably in the company of some 200 youngsters. But as nice as it must be for the lonely jellyfish to have others around, that's not even quite the case; biologists suspect that each one of the tiny new jellyfish is actually a clone of the original.

As with most cases of seemingly immaculate conception, scientists are a bit perplexed with the jellyfish's mysterious birthing. There is a chance, they say, that the sudden mother to hundreds of baby jellyfish had in fact had a brief tryst some time earlier while no one was watching, but that it wasn't likely. The most plausible explanation, it seems, is one that's far more remarkable.

"Jellyfish clone very easily. When some jellyfish are cut in half, you get two jellyfish," aquarist Krystal Huff tells "Since the parent jellyfish was injured, it had damaged tissue cells which could have grown into other jellyfish."

In other words, the bits of material which sloughed off the parent jellyfish actually regenerated hundreds of little copies of the original. But sadly, the big jellyfish ultimately died from its injuries -- leaving the multitude of tiny clones of itself to fend for themselves (or giving the parent another 200 or so chances at life, depending on how you look at it.)

Either way, nature's power to persevere is nothing short of amazing.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Copper Mine Threatens Ancient Monastery

Statues at the Mes Aynak site. Photo courtesy: Global Heritage Fund

Once again, the love of money is threatening an irreplaceable artefact. Unfortunately, for a 2,600 Buddist monastery filled with priceless antiques, it has gotten in the way of the excavation of a copper mine. The world cannot afford to lose this tie to the past.

A decade ago, the Taliban's destruction of two 1,500-year-old Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley drew worldwide attention to Afghanistan's rich archaeological heritage. Now, 10 years later, another ancient Buddhist site is at risk of being lost -- not to war, but to the process of rebuilding the country.

While digging a copper mine in Mes Aynak, south of Kabul, workers with China Metallurgical Group Corp. (M.C.C.) "discovered" a 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery dating back to at least the 4th century, full of ancient statues, frescoes, pottery, gold and silver coins, and domed shrines.

Afghan archaeologists had known about the site since the 1960s but conflict had kept them from excavating it. Since the discovery last year, they have been rushing to salvage what they can before the open-pit mine is completed. An informal agreement between the company and the firm gave them three years to do so, an amount of time experts say is insufficient, especially given the lack of funds and personnel. Archaeologists also told the Los Angeles Times earlier this summer that the deadline to finish the salvage excavation keeps changing.

"That site is so massive that it's easily a 10-year campaign of archaeology," Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist brought in by the U.S. Embassy to work on sites in Afghanistan, told the Daily Mail last year. "Three years may be enough time just to document what's there."

Exploited for its copper since ancient times -- Mes Aynak means "little copper well" -- the mine stands to generate tens of billions of dollars and bring much-needed jobs and economic activity to the war-torn country, though government corruption will likely limit how much of that trickles down to its people. The Association for the Protection of Afghan Archaeology has started a petition (I signed!) to get Mes Aynak included on UNESCO's World Heritage List and List of Endangered Sites to ensure its protection.

Though cultural heritage is most prominently at risk, the mining work raises environmental concerns as well. In a January 2008 report, the European research group Integrity Watch Afghanistan noted that environmental impact and the involvement of local communities had "not yet been approached as a major issue" despite the "potentially disastrous consequences" of failing to appropriately deal with the highly toxic wastes produced by copper mining and the water consumption involved in the project. A copper mine run by M.C.C. in Pakistan is "widely said to have serious environmental problems," the New York Times reported in 2009.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

In China, Organic Produce is For The Elite Only

A produce vendor stopping for lunch. Photo courtesy: Flickr, babasteve

LA Times has a report about how organic produce is sold in China, providing a glimpse into what life might eventually be like, in the USA, if House Republicans fully codify their Libertarian beliefs (which assumes they would put an end to funding USDA Organic registration).

As things stand, US, Canadian and most European citizens have a choice: if they want to eat factory farm produce and dairy they can do that; or, they can spend a little more for USDA-certified organic food. In China, on the other hand, the good stuff is saved "...for officials only. They produce organic vegetables, peppers, onions, beans, cauliflowers, but they don't sell to the public," said Li Xiuqin, 68, a lifelong Shunyi village resident who lives directly across the street from the farm but has never been inside. "Ordinary people can't go in there."

The LAT article-ending cite epitomizes the political context:
The continued existence of the tegong, or special supply, is treated with secrecy because of public resentment over the privileges of the elite. After the Southern Weekly, a hard-hitting Guangzhou-based newspaper, published the story about the customs farm, the Central Propaganda Department banned further reporting on the subject and the article was removed from the newspaper's website.
Probably the "special supply" food is commonly served up with a side of shark fin soup.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Endangered Birds Receive Own Island

Photo and inset courtesy: Wikipedia Commons

For a handful of lucky, yet critically endangered songbirds, life just got a whole lot roomier. The tiny species of Millerbird, native to Hawaii's Nihoa island, has been teetering on the brink of extinction there for decades. But now, in an attempt to hedge the chances of the bird's survival, conservationists have gifted two dozen of them a new place to call their very own own -- a remote, 1,023 acres Hawaiian island that, naturalists hope, will become a Millerbird love nest.

Millerbirds number only around 600 individuals on their native island of Nihoa, but they're under constant threat of being wiped out entirely due to droughts, fires, or the presence of foreign species -- and it wouldn't be the first time. Nearly a century ago, on Hawaii's Laysan island 650 miles away, invasive rabbits had driven a related species of Millerbird to extinction, leaving a void in the delicate ecosystem.

Several years ago, however, officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), in partnership with the American Bird Conservancy (ABC), hatched a plan to repopulate Laysan island -- now sans rabbits -- with a starter group of Millerbirds from Nihoa. Conservationists hope that, by establishing a new population of the birds elsewhere, the species would be less vulnerable to changes on their current island home -- all while restoring a sense of balance to Laysan, where Millerbirds once could thrive.

"So instead of putting our eggs literally in one basket on one island, what we are trying to do is create a second population that will essentially reduce the overall risk of extinction," Dr. George Wallace of American Bird Conservancy told Hawaii's KITV.

Officials rounded up 24 Millerbirds in total for the relocation, a dozen males and a dozen females, and transported them to their new island home. A team of researchers will remain on Laysan over the next year to monitor the birds' progress.

"Translocation is an important tool for the conservation of endangered island birds, and the Millerbird translocation stands on the shoulders previous efforts," Holly Freifeld, biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a release. "This project also breaks a lot of new ground, and has been a model of teamwork and innovation for the past five years. Twenty-two people - the Millerbird team, the crew of the M/V Searcher, and the FWS restoration team on Laysan - worked very hard and with high energy and spirits to make this trip a success."

Now that the endangered Millerbirds have been released, the most intensive efforts of the FWS and ABC to save the species by relocating them have come to an end. Now it's up to the birds to make the most of their new island home.

Hello, hello, to anyone out there - I'm endangered...can I get my own island as well, please?

Monday, July 11, 2011


Bottlenose dolphins. Photo courtesy:

There are more than 30 kinds of dolphins in the world. They are found in all oceans and in a few rivers.

In the wild, dolphins live in small groups called pods. Pod members work together to protect each other from enemies such as sharks. Sometimes the moms form a safe "playpen" by swimming together with the babies in the middle.

Bottlenose dolphins can live to be 40 years old.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Air Pollution Can Cause Heart Attacks

Photo courtesy: Simone Ramella / cc

While the sight of a hazy, smog filled cloud looming over the cityscape is certainly enough to break the heart of any would-be outdoorsman, it turns out that breathing in that pollution just might do so -- quite literally. According to a recently published study from the British Medical Journal, the inhalation of vehicle emissions can actually increase the likelihood of a heart attack, even up to six hours after exposure.

Air pollution has previously been linked to a myriad of health complications -- including, but not limited to, a drop in fertility, loss of worker productivity, and even depression. Previous research, and common sense, had indicated that prolonged exposure to air pollution was damaging to the human cardiovascular system, but this may be the first instance in which breathing in airborne particulate matter from cars within a short period of time raised the risk of a potentially deadly heart attack.

To find a correlation between this serious medical emergency and air pollution, researchers from London's School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analyzed nearly 80 thousand heart attack victims and compared the time and location of the attack with records of ambient air pollution maintained by the U.K. National Air Quality Archive.

The study indicates that a small but measurable increase in heart attacks was found to associated with air pollution caused by vehicle traffic -- and the more fossil fuel burning cars are contributing to it, the increased probability only rises. From
After controlling for environmental factors like air temperature, humidity and viral infection rates, along with social factors like holidays and day of the week, the researchers found that exposure to high levels of certain components of air pollution -- pollutant particles and nitrogen dioxide, which are a byproduct of car traffic -- was associated with a greater risk of heart attack. The heavier the traffic pollution, the higher the risk of heart attack.

The researchers looked at heart attack risk for 72 hours after exposure to pollution, but found that the risk remained elevated for only six hours.
According The Guardian, ever year exposure to air pollution contributes to the premature deaths of some 29,000 in the UK alone -- which suggests that the global death toll from vehicle emissions is most likely mind-boggling. And, as more research into the harmfull impact that breathing in particulate matter spewed out by cars is having on our bodies, we're bound to attribute more deaths to a lack of clean air.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Sustainable Landscaping Tips

Photo courtesy: thebestlandscapingtips

Choosing Plants
- select plants appropriate to your garden's conditions: for example - plants requiring dry, sandy conditions will not live in a boggy environment
- consider hours of sunlight, moisture levels, proximity to buildings and competing plants: these are critical things to consider; and, fortunately there is a wide variety of plants to choose from that are capable of surviving in every condition
- when plant shopping, ask about mature heights and spreads to allow adequate space: This must be determined and allotted for at planting time - when they are mature and overcrowded is not the time to take action
- match the plant's specific needs with the level of care you're willing to provide

Waterwise Thinking
- water less frequently; but, more deeply to encourage roots to grow into soils that are deeper and more moist
- collect rain water in barrels or watering cans to use for watering needs rather than tap water
- mulch garden beds to help trap moisture in the soil
- water in the morning to prevent evaporation: Early morning is best as it gives any water accidentally spilled on the plants a chance to dry before the sun uses it to burn the plant
- improve drainage to prevent pooling or excess runoff
- reduce lawn areas where unnecessary and replant with perennial or shrub beds

Pest Management
- identify pests and diseases before selecting a control: garden centre staff can help you with this; and, provide you with organic and least-toxic options
- use organic fertilizers, soil additives or compost to reduce chemical fertilizer applications
- add plants that attract beneficial insects

Wildlife Habitats
- include native plant species where suitable to the garden environment
- add flowering, nectar-producing plants for insects, birds, butterflies; and, other winged pollinators
- place a bird bath, pond or other water source for wildlife nearby in a somewhat sheltered area
- vary the height and density of plantings to create a diverse habitat

Friday, July 8, 2011

"Bubble Cloud" Spotted Over Beijing

A huge unidentified, luminous disk, many times larger than the full moon, was observed in the skies of Beijing and Shanghai on the night of Aug. 20. Many flight pilots as well as individuals on the ground reported on it. One pilot called the sighting “extremely shocking.”

A China Southern Airline pilot published the following report on a Weibo microblog: “Aug. 20, 9 p.m., flight 6554, Shanghai area, discovered huge luminous object at height of 10,700 meters. It has a regular circular shape, with size changing from small to large. It’s a few hundred times bigger than the moon, and the visual diameter is greater than 50 nautical miles. It remained for 20 minutes, then dimmed and disappeared. It was extremely shocking, and crews from more than 10 flights have made reports to the Shanghai Airport Control Tower.”

The captain of another flight replied that he saw it too. As soon as he climbed above the clouds at about 9,000 meters altitude, he saw a huge, white disk in the clear night sky.

“It was round and big, and occupied one of my side windows and half of my front window. I thought I was delusional, but my First Officer was asking me if I saw it too,” the captain said.

While they were getting ready to report the phenomenon to the Shanghai Control Tower, other airline flight crews already started reporting it, he said.

According to an Aug. 22 report, the Civil Aviation Administration of Eastern China confirmed the incidence, saying air traffic control logs show that many flight pilots indeed reported it.

The news quickly spread on the Internet, with people saying they saw the same phenomenon in the skies above Beijing and Shanghai at about the same time.

An Aug. 24 report by Yangcheng Evening News quotes Beijing resident Cheng Xu witnessing a strange light disc on the night of Aug. 20. Cheng posted a photo on Weibo, which shows a huge disc above a tower-like object.

Pan Dayoyo, another netizen, confirmed the sighting on Weibo, saying: “Yes, that’s right. I also saw it on Aug. 20.”

“Psychology Soldier” said he saw a light disc that looked like an autumn full moon rising to the northeast of his home.

A Mr. Li of Shanghai’s Putuo District said he was relaxing on the balcony of his 34th floor [home] at around 9 p.m. on Aug. 20, when he suddenly spotted a luminous object larger than the moon hanging up there in a northeasterly direction. Li said the object seemed very far away.

Judging from posted photos, the luminous disc appears to be translucent, with stars visible behind it. Some people have referred to the mysterious display as a UFO, but exactly what may be causing the phenomenon is unclear to experts.

Zhu Jin, the curator of the Beijing Planetarium, told Chinese media, "It must have been caused by human beings, not nature or other things like that."

Another staff member at the planetarium said, “Personally I think it's a kind of meteor or a phenomenon in terrestrial space."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tainted Honey Smuggled Into US Stores

TAINTED: Despite crackdowns on major honey smugglers over the past two years, tainted Chinese honey continues to enter the United States in record amounts via other Asian countries. Photo courtesy: theepochtimes

Anyone who knows me or reads this column knows that I am very high on unpasteurized, raw honey as a natural medicine both for internal and external repair of the body. I found this article on The Epoch Times website; and, if true, is very frightening. Personally, I find this incredibly disturbing; but, I can see no reason for the reporter to have reported anything other than the facts.

On a personal level, because I wanted only raw, unpasteurized local honey, I found a local beekeeper who also believes in the medicinal properties of raw honey; and, don't buy from anyone else.

Millions of pounds of hazardous honey are being smuggled in large quantities from China to the United States, constituting as much as a third or more of the honey on American shelves, a recent investigation found.

The in-depth article published in Food Safety News shows through government shipping tallies, customs documents, and interviews with North America's top honey importers and brokers, that major U.S. packers have been purchasing record amounts of Chinese honey potentially contaminated with antibiotics and heavy metals.

This is despite assurances from the Food and Drug Administration that the honey reaching Americans is safe and authentic, and follows a widespread crackdown on major smugglers over the past two years.

After the Commerce Department imposed high tariffs—as much as $1.20 per pound—on honey from China in 2001, honey peddlers there began shipping their goods through Asian countries such as India and Vietnam, to obfuscate the real origin.

Thus, while the United States seemingly gets 123 million pounds of its imported honey from Asian countries, which includes 45 million pounds from India, much of it in fact comes solely from China.

“This should be a red flag to FDA and the federal investigators,” Richard Adee, ex-president of the American Honey Producers Association, told the trade publication. “India doesn't have anywhere near the capacity—enough bees—to produce 45 million pounds of honey. It has to come from China.” The article presents hard proof of that inference.

For example, 16 shipments containing more than 688,000 pounds of honey went from the Chinese port of Nansha to the Indian honey manufacturer Little Bee Honey during the last month. Six shipments of the same honey went from Little Bee Honey to the port of Los Angeles a week before the report was published, according to Import Genius, which documents U.S. customs records, as cited by Food Safety News.

About 23 percent of the honey from China contains lead, and at least two harmful antibiotics, according to findings from the Indian Export Inspection Council earlier this year.

To expedite their production process, Chinese beekeepers use Indian-made animal antibiotics, including chloramphenicol, a substance that is banned in food by the FDA for its carcinogenicity and DNA damage to children.

Once the buyers collect their honey, they store it in unlined, small, and lead-soldered drums before handing it off to brokers. The honey, now contaminated with lead, is then processed. Lead affects “almost every organ and system” in the human body and can lead to death in high doses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

To avoid any attention from consumers and criminal investigators, some unscrupulous Chinese honey pirates pump the stuff through a network of high-temperature, high-pressure ceramic filters to remove or hide all indicators of added sweeteners or contaminants.

This renders it entirely barren of pollens or other trace elements that could be used to ascertain its origin. “But it's not honey anymore. There's no color. There's no flavor. There's nothing,” Elise Gagnon, a major honey supplier, told Food Safety News.

Once blended with real Indian honey on its way to the United States, the final product appears just like its American counterpart on the grocery shelves. It’s cheaper, but half of it is not honey at all.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Toxic Pesticide Used in Chinese Garlic Chive Production

A saucepan containing cooking garlic chive and soft tofu. Photo courtesy: Le Hoan Nha via theepochtimes

One of my absolutely most favourite vegetables. When cooked properly, they are delicious. Now, unfortunately, I find that garlic chives are being subjected to toxic pesticide spraying in China. So...if you love garlic chives as much as I do, find out where they were grown before eating.

Highly toxic pesticides are used at China’s largest garlic chives production base in northern China.

Changli County in Hebei Province is famous for its garlic chives. Most of the chives are sold to Beijing, Tianjing and Northeastern China. To increase yield and profits, almost all the farmers heavily spray the chives with banned pesticides.

Luo Fei, a farmer from Wangbeizhuang Village, told The Epoch Times that highly toxic and banned pesticides such as 3911 (phorate), 1605 (methyl parathion) and iron mike (aldicarb) are still available in the countryside, most likely produced by underground factories. 3911 is the most toxic pesticides; its residual toxicity can last for two years.

Luo said that pesticide-contaminated chives could cause nausea, dizziness, and diarrhea. If consumed in large quantity, it could be life threatening, causing cancer and blood diseases.

Zhang Zhi, another farmer, told The Epoch Times that their farms are called “Green Vegetable Planting Base,” but they are actually all polluted.

“Can it be called green? No. If it were green, the production would drop. We all count on it to make a good living,” Zhang said.

Zhang explained that in order to kill insects, they spray 3911 every eight or 10 days. All garlic chives farms do it that way, he said.

“I would suggest consumers not eat too many of these chives. Our local farmers don't eat these chives. We plant a little bit separately just for our own use,” Zhang said.

Another farmer said it’s all about money. Chives without pesticides look gray and yellowish, while the ones treated with pesticides are big, green, and strong, and can be sold for twice as much.

Mr. Yang from Zhongzhuozhuang Village said after spraying the pesticides, one is supposed to wait for a while before cutting the chives and putting them on the market. One should wait at least 10 days before consuming the chives, he said. But in order to make money faster, the chives are generally sold right after the insecticides have been applied.

Mr. Huang from Gengzhuang Village said that local farmers don't care about “green” products; they have all become rich by selling garlic chives and are living in big houses.

“They don't eat the contaminated chives themselves,” Huang said. “Don't they know they hurt consumers?” he asked.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Year-Long Reading Festival

Photo courtesy: momstownbarrie

Reading is rapidly becoming a lost art. With television, movies, computers; and, other techno devices I have absolutely no knowledge about becoming so popular, the quiet enjoyment of a good book is fast becoming a thing of the past.

While none of these inventions are necessarily evil, they do take time away from a good read where everyone and everything comes to life in your imagination. No movie, television program, or video game is ever as richly detailed as my version. That's why I never watch a movie if I've already read the book. No movie on screen ever lives up to the one played in my mind as I read the book.

Imagine my delight to find that reading is being celebrated with a year-long festival in the Baltic State of Estonia. Everywhere, people are participating in special events to promote reading. My kind of festival.

In the town of Haapsalu, the celebration took a unique turn. The people of the community wanted to do something novel that tied in with the theme of reading. The townspeople committed to spend five days publicly reading the Bible from start to finish. The feat took place in the Estonian cathedral of St. John, with 150 locals taking a turn. Tiit Salumae, the pastor at the church, says the project was designed to reawaken an interest in the Bible, which was originally written to be read aloud.

Way to go, Estonia!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Bear Takes Car for Joy Ride

Bear crashes car by itnnews

A bear got into an empty car, honked the horn and then sent it rolling 125 feet into a thicket, with the bear still inside, a Colorado family said.

Seventeen-year-old Ben Story said he and his family were asleep in their Larkspur home, 30 miles south of Denver, when the bear managed to open the unlocked door of his 2008 Toyota Corolla early Friday and climbed inside.

A peanut butter sandwich left on the back seat is probably what attracted the bear, Story said.

It's not unusual for bears to open unlocked doors to cars and houses in search of food, said Tyler Baskfield, a spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"It happens all the time," he said. "They're very smart."

Once inside, the bear must have knocked the shifter on the automatic transmission into neutral, sending the car rolling backward down the inclined driveway and into the thicket, Story said.

The door probably slammed shut when the car jolted to a stop, he said, trapping the bear inside.

Neighbors had called 911, and deputies freed the bear by opening the door with a rope from a distance. It then ran into the woods.

Story said he'll need a new car because the bear trashed the interior while apparently trying to find a way out.

The bear also left what Story called "a present" on the driver's seat.

"A nice pile, actually," added his dad, Ralph. "Something to remember."

Baskfield said such incidents are worrisome because they endanger the bear as well as the public. Wildlife managers trap and kill problem bears that learn to scavenge for human food and garbage.

"Food was left in the car. It's troubling for us," he said. Ralph says it was as if the bear trapped inside the car knew what he was doing. "He just kept hitting the horn!"