Thursday, 30 May 2013

Endangered Bees

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne. -- Marcus Aurelius

In September of 2011, millions of bees in Florida's Breward County mysteriously died in one day.  Local farmers and beekeepers suspected that pesticide spraying was to blame.

In March 2012, an Illinois beekeeper's hives were illegally seized and destroyed by the Department of Agriculture, who claimed that the bees were infected with a disease.  The farmer insisted that his bees were healthy and the only reason they were taken was because he had been researching the effects of the pesticide known as Roundup.

The agricultural giant Monsanto has been suing farmers to protect their "patented seed technology"; all because honeybees land on Monsanto’s genetically-modified crop fields and cross pollenate them with the organic plants at the farmers' fields nearby.

In April 2012 Monsanto bought out a research firm that specialized in bee disorders, for the apparent purpose of using that research to deny any link between genetically-modified crops and the honeybee decline.

All of the above cases, and more, make it clear that corporations are taking more aggressive and even illegal actions to control our food supply.  Even honeybees are considered a threat, to the point where bees are actively being exterminated despite warnings from the scientific community that pollination is vital to our crops and to humanity's well-being.

Many environmentally conscious groups are advocating the use of yards as personal farms; their motto being "Grow food, not lawns".  Unfortunately there are municipalities that have bylaws requiring grass to be planted, and hefty fines have been levied against homeowners who grow vegetables on their property.  So it's a good idea to check first.

I for one am thinking about turning my back yard into a vegetable garden.  Wish me luck.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Ni-hao America

Learn without thinking begets ignorance. Think without learning is dangerous. -- Confucius

These days many of our consumables, from clothing to electronics, are manufactured in Asia under conditions that are considered highly unsafe but are tolerated because of lower production costs.  In the end it is the workers and little people who suffer.

That suffering is being felt on both sides of the ocean now, because of shady business practises and contaminated goods.  Just this morning, quality concerns with a Chinese producer of acetaminophen have prompted a recall of four fever medications for children.  Earlier in the week, batches of honey produced in China were subject to recall due to chemicals in the honey.

From time to time we hear about childrens' toys or jewelry made in China that contains lead or other harmful substances.  And we can't forget the 2008 incident in China where over 50,000 babies were hospitalized because of infant formula adulterated with melamine.  And this despite a melamine ban that had been imposed the previous year!

Who puts PLASTIC in foodstuffs?  Who puts TOXINS in childrens' toys?  The answer: people who care about money more than they care about people's health.  So a few children die from their products... there are too many people in the world already, right?

We need to pay closer attention to these things.

Since I don't grow my own food I am becoming increasingly careful about what I buy and where it originated.  For example, pick up two otherwise identical cans of fruit salad and look at the labels.  One says Made in U.S.A. and the other says Made in China.  The U.S.-produced one will most likely be at least 50 cents more expensive, but I would prefer to pay that extra 50 cents to be assured that the contents are safer.

Typically I avoid fresh produce that does not originate in North America.  But that is no guarantee.  Those California strawberries might have been treated with waxes or sprays so they don't ripen before they reach a market in Canada.  That batch of bell peppers from Mexico might have been irrigated with contaminated water.  I have even seen reports of merchants openly spraying produce displays with insecticide to keep fruit flies away.  And washing produce before eating it doesn't always remove contaminants since the plant absorbs everything from the environment.

Some people have said that the only way to make a difference is to boycott Asian products.  Realistically that probably won't work, because we depend too much on products from overseas.  Take a look at the label of almost anything you see and it will be marked as made somewhere in Asia.  Even the winter boots I bought last year, an expensive brand that was marketed as Canadian, had a tiny label inside them that said Made in China.  No wonder they didn't last; the quality of Chinese-made goods is abysmal.

There is a need for clear regulation in these industries, and it must be consistently enforced.  And we need to start shifting production back here.  For the jobs, for the economy, and for the safety of millions of people.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Classic Playthings

"You will always be your child's favorite toy." -- Vicki Lansky

We have a large orange telephone-shaped plushie that has a huge smile on the front.  It was originally mine - a gift from my older brother when I was about four, and I referred to it as my "long distance telephone".  I thought of it today when I saw a commercial for yet another inane comic book-inspired plastic gizmo, and wondered how many young people will keep their possessions in good condition and pass them on to their own kids?

Most of my own childhood toys and stuffed animals were given to my young nephews before I moved away from home.  However I kept a few very special items that include the plush telephone, a set of plush Ninja Turtles, a pair of maracas that I had bought with my own money on a family vacation to the Bahamas, and a framed whimsical print of a tiger with an owl sitting on its tail by an artist named Margot Johnson.  These are now on prominent display in our daughter's room.

Classic playthings such as unique stuffed animals, hand-made dolls, and wooden blocks are becoming increasingly rare.  Take a look at almost any children's toy now and it will be made mostly of plastic, and might contain some kind of electronic component that flashes lights and makes sounds.  We all know that plastics are made from oil.  Electronics contain gold and other valuable elements that are necessary for their function.  These substances are removed from the ground in vast quantities every day to create make mundane objects, including childrens' toys.  However those same substances are finite.  Should people really continue to use vast quantities of limited resources to make flashy toys for children, toys that might end up in a landfill somewhere when they break because it's next to impossible for the average person to fix them?

Read "A Child's Christmas in Wales" by Dylan Thomas and you'll find that many children were happy with hand-crafted wooden toys and cloth dolls (plus treats of fruit and candy).  They didn't need fancy accessories to make their own fun.  Even today, there are kids who can find more fun with a cardboard box than with most other things.  So why do we continue to bombard children with advertisements featuring the latest moulded plastic figurine to roll off a mechanized assembly line?

Never mind, I know the answer.  Money.  Plus harried parents who are too quick to satitate their kids' desire for instant gratification.  It all reminds me of the scene from the film 'Babe' where the grandfather has made a beautiful doll house by hand, only to be tearfully told by the child that she wanted 'the one on the television'.

One day the oil will run out, and people will be far too occupied with survival than with plastic toys.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Are We There Yet?

Justice delayed is justice denied. -- William Gladstone

Any parent will tell you how frustrating it is to hear incessant "Are we there yet?" when on a road trip. More people should be saying something like that when it comes to the not-so-swift prosecution of criminals, particularly ones who are accused of heinous deeds.

In the following examples, I have not given any names because I believe the names of people who commit such atrocities should be forgotten.

The preliminary hearing has just wrapped up for the person who was charged in 2012 with the dismemberment of a Chinese student and mailing his body parts across the country. The trial will not take place until the autumn of 2014.

For the accused in a 2009 case of three womens' bodies found in their submerged car, two years and three months elapsed between the arrests and the start of the trial.

For the lowlife who was charged in 2002 in connection with the disappearance of dozens of women in Vancouver, it was almost FIVE YEARS before his murder trial began.


Several articles that I researched cited the following reasons for such delays.

1. Invocation of the accused's right to a preliminary hearing.
2. Availability of court facilities, the judge, lawyers, and witnesses.
3. Jury selection and availability of jurors.
4. It's to everyone's interest to wait until emotions have cooled down.

These are good reasons to be sure, but still, can't there be steps taken to reduce the waiting time?

Yes, we all know that the court system is overloaded. However it's inhumane to force the victims' families to suffer with their anger and grief for prolonged periods of time until receiving the closure of a verdict. Also, the longer the time between the event and the trial, the more likely the memories of any witnesses will become blurred. (Defense lawyers know this, and will take full advantage of the fact.)

My mother-in-law has a simple solution. If there was incontrovertible evidence that a person committed a serious crime such as murder, rape, or child abuse, then just dispense with the trial and shoot them on the spot. Or drop them in Antarctica in the dead of winter. In her world, overpopulation would not be a problem.

I know that's extreme, but realistically, some of these criminals do not deserve a roof over their heads and three meals a day at the expense of law-abiding taxpayers.