Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Potluck For Peace Meeting - One Voice

I attended a meeting Monday at St. Paul University sponsored by this group (Potluck for Peace, aka "P4P"). I've cut and pasted part of the invite because it concisely states the purpose of the groups:

One Voice Movement is a grassroots movement in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories empowering moderates to stand up against extremism and to take back the agenda of conflict resolution. The Israeli and Palestinian speakers will present the views of average Israelis and Palestinians, what they want for the future of their region and what young Palestinians and Israelis are doing to make this future vision a reality. They are currently on a tour of Canada ( Ottawa , Kingston , Toronto Hamilton, Montreal , and Halifax).

Potlucks for Peace (P4P) is an Ottawa-based Jewish Arab dialogue group built on the premise that out of the willingness to engage in dialogue, solutions can arise. P4P members advocate peace, through peaceful means, for all. They understand the negative consequences of the concept of victory of one party over the other and believe in the value of both parties to the conflict being winners.

The presentation was quite good. Three young speakers (mid-early 20's) did all the talking. One young woman was Israeli (raised in Israel), the young man was Palestinian, and ther was another young woman - not sure of her background other than appeared to be a North American member of One Voice (sorry - didn't catch the names). The Israeli woman had a close friend in the IDF killed during operations. The Palestinian man had been shot along with a friend as bystanders to a conflict.

It was quite powerful to hear both of their stories, and how they have worked hard to breakdown the "blood cycle" (as I think they called it of killing, vengance, more vengance, etc. ).

I'd encourage anyone that reads that sympathized with a struggle for a peaceful settlement to inquire further, and possibly attend a meeting, or just send support to the One Voice organization. One Voice is international, P4P is local to Ottawa.

Links: (e-mail

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Radon Gas

Recently I submitted myself to a Radon Test--that is a put a charcoal cannister in my basement for 48 hours, closed it up and shipped it off to Bubble Tech in Chalk River for assessment. It seemed the trendy thing to do--my neighbor had done one and encouraged me to do the same. I like to keep up with the Joneses. What is Radon Gas? It is a radioactive gas which is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It is linked with the increased risk of lung cancer as when breathed in it breaks down into alpha particles which cause cell death and damage.

So here is where it gets interesting. When we bought our house in Kanata we were informed that Radon levels, while present, were well beneath the limits. Did they lie to us? No. It's true. They are. But what about these limits? Further research and an article in The Globe and Mail on Radon opened our eyes. It seems that Canada has the highest levels of what is considered acceptable (we even exceed China). While we insist that 800 bq/m3 is AOK the rest of the world (including europe, the World Health Organization, and the U.S.) feel that acceptable levels of exposure must be below 150 bq/m3. Why are we so high? Who knows. When my health is at risk, who cares.

So what were the results of my report? Well the levels in my basement are a lovely 438 bq/m3. Because I work from home (thank goodness decided at the last minute NOT to set my office up in the basement where Radon levels are highest) my exposure levels are of course high. This is of enough concern that my report instructs me to take remedial action. And we are. We've purchased a fresh air exchanger (which will do multiple good things like decrease the humidity in the basement, freshen the house in the winter, increase the humidity upstairs in the winter, remove all that lovely pet dander and odor that accumulates particularly in winter time and cooking orders, etc). Radon typically isn't a problem in the summer because we've got windows open and air movement--it dissipates quickly. So a fresh air exchanger is one of the best things one can do because it gets fresh air into the house throughout the winter and cycles the stale air out. We'll also be sealing any cracks in our foundation wall. Hopefully after we've done these things are levels in the winter months will be quite low. After we install the exchanger and seal the cracks I'll retest my levels and cross my fingers. I'd suggest that anyone in the Kanata area (I live in Morgan's Grant) get their houses checked. You can pick up the charcoal cannister at the City of Ottawa offices on Centrepointe for 42.18 (that includes the test itself but not the shipping to mail it). It's a small price to pay to ensure that your house is within acceptable levels (though it's up to you whose levels you pick--I for one am going with the majority wins theory!).

Monday, November 06, 2006

Where can I find
BBC's 'The Siberian Timebomb' by David Shukman?

Fish Is Good For You...

Ottawa - On October 18, two lakes in Newfoundland that are habitat to trout, Atlantic salmon, otter, and other species, received a death sentence as the newly amended Metal Mining Effluent Regulations (MMER) went into law. In a precedent-setting move, Environment Canada amended the MMER, a regulation under the Fisheries Act, to allow Aur Resources to dump toxic waste from its copper-zinc-gold mine into Trout Pond and a nearby unnamed lake. Both these lakes are in Newfoundland's largest watershed, the Exploits River system--a system that has had millions of taxpayer dollars pumped into it for fish habitat restoration. This legalised destruction of fish-bearing lakes opens the door to the destruction of other fish-bearing water bodies all across Canada. Mining companies have only to ask the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Environment Canada for permission, and bingo! They've got it.

A new technology to turn oil and sugar into fuel

University of Minnesota team has invented a "reactive flash volatilization process" that heats oil and sugar about a million times faster than you can in your kitchen and produces hydrogen and carbon monoxide, a mixture called synthesis gas, or syngas, because it is used to make chemicals and fuels, including gasoline. The new process works 10 to 100 times faster than current technology, with no input of fossil fuels and in reactors at least 10 times smaller than current models. The work could significantly improve the efficiency of fuel production from renewable energy sources.
A difficulty in turning plant material into usable fuels has been breaking down the chemical bonds in cellulose--the material that gives plant cell walls their stiffness--to liberate simple sugars that can be fermented into ethanol or turned into other fuels. That requires special enzymes and lots of time. But the high heat of the new process breaks those bonds with ease, meaning cellulose and similar plant materials can possibly be used as feedstocks.
The secret is ultrafast flash volatilization [vaporization]
The work was supported by the Department of Energy and the University of Minnesota Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Selective Grocery Shopping

Where Do YOU buy your groceries?
Yesterday I completed a phone survey. I do survey's because they are how I paid for my college diploma and later on they allowed me to finish my master's thesis. I owe a debt there--not to survey companies but to any poor sod who has to do that as a job. I've been there. But after completing this survey (yes it took over ten minutes of my time and the poor person was obviously new to the job) I realized something interesting: I don't shop at my favorite store for meats and produce. Why? Because they don't stock enough local and organic fruits and vegetables. They've got a great selection but it's largely not organic. And because of this--because I want to purchase organic foods and produce--I shop at the grocery chain that provides them for my other foods. The surveyer was baffled. She had no room for this on her survey and kept insisting it was because the grocery store was convenient. No--convenience has nothing to do with it. There is another chain store closer to me actually. I shop there because I can get organic foods (we actually argued twice about this). I've been thinking about this survey a lot. Other things popped up as I answered questions--how little I shop at deli counters, bakery sections and frozen food sections (all because I bake all bread/pastries within my house and make all meals from fresh foods). Then I got to thinking about other aisles I can completely breeze past in grocery stores: household cleaners/detergents. Why? Because I buy all natural cleaners and laundry soaps at a natural food store. And even though I own two dogs and two cats I whip past the pet food aisle. Why? Because after having two cats develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome and cancers in the intenstinal tract from the preservatives in packaged pet foods and a German Shepherd who can not process anything that isn't fresh I feed mainly fresh raw or cooked foods to my pets. [It's been over 18 years that I've watched the impact on my cats (and 10 on my dogs)--I firmly believe that cats and dogs are experiencing on a more intense level the ravages of preservatives and chemicals in foods within their bodies.]

An article on Loblaws recently mentioned that the grocery giant is again facing a decline--unable to compete against Wal-Mart and other big box stores such as Costco it has struggled to keep up--deciding hazily to also stock clothing and household items. But that is not working. But it has created a whole middle section of a store I quickly zip past. And so for me the grocery store--once the staple of the weekly trip--has become a building that houses only 1/10th of what I wish to purchase. Am I the norm? I don't think so. I do think the majority are going to big box retailers and buying their pre-packaged foods in bulk. But I don't think it helps a chain like Loblaws that the rest of us are being a little choosier--getting our natural detergents and cleaners elsewhere and finding other smaller natural food outlets for our other choices. Certainly I believe there is a slow change coming in grocery stores from both ends. The big box buyer versus the local/organic buyer. It will be interesting to see who wins.

In some sense it is a snapshot of the bigger battle between the environment and our economy. Me? I'm being selective and voting with my feet. One small step at a time.