Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Last Catch: The BP Oil Leak One Month Later

The Last Catch

May 24, 2010
By Ilka de Laat

Venice, LA – When charter boat captain Allan Welch leaves Venice Marina in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana on Wednesday, he will not be guiding his regular customers to catch Redfish: Plaquemines Parish is under a fishing ban. Instead, Welch will be escorting a British Petroleum taskforce to an oil clean-up site.
Though the oil gushing from the BP Deepwater Horizon leak has been ongoing for over a month, the impact of the disaster is just now starting to be felt along the southern Louisiana coastline. Fishermen can’t begin to guess what the long-term impact to their livelihoods might be, while emergency bird rescue centres have been standing at the ready for two weeks. Only now are they expecting an onslaught of affected birds as the oil slowly starts to accumulate along the fragile marshlands.
The destination of the oil as it journeys through the Gulf of Mexico remains a mystery. The Exxon Valdez spill, previously the largest oil disaster, was contained to the water’s surface, remained in a finite geographical area, and washed up on a rocky shore. The BP oil leak is already proving near-impossible to contain and collect as much of the oil remains trapped between the fresh water of the Mississippi River and the salt water of the Gulf. Clashing currents and chemical dispersant further prevent the oil from gathering obediently at the water’s surface. One charter boat captain who took divers out to the oil said they that they dove through a 25-foot deep oil patch found just below the water’s surface during a dive on May 23rd.
Dispersants are pumped at the source of the leak as well as sprayed from airplanes, but are really only effective on fresh oil. Jay Holcomb, Director of the International Bird Research and Rescue Center says dispersants can be as toxic as the oil itself and affects the feathers equally.
The Environmental Protection Agency has demanded that BP reduce overhead deployment of the current dispersant Corexit and find a less-toxic alternative by May 25th. BP has countered that the only other federally approved dispersant currently available contains an endocrine-disruptor. This discussion heats up alongside another between the EPA and Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser who confronted EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson on May 24th and said they are not doing enough or moving fast enough to protect the fragile marshlands.
Meanwhile, Captain Welch laments that the reeds are already dying. “My 8th grade science fair project was on coastal erosion. We were losing a football field of land then, we’re still losing a football field of land every fifteen minutes now. Then we get this…” he motions to the oil-stained reeds, “it will never come back.”
Charter boat captains are being forced to exchange fishing for BP clean-up contracts to replace income lost, ironically, to the BP leak itself. This is far from an ideal situation, but BP pays twice the going charter rate, and with the fisheries closed for an indeterminate period of time, Captain Welch will accept the income while and when he can.
“These are proud people, these are fishermen,” says Nungesser. There is talk that BP may financially compensate the fishermen for the loss of their livelihood. But as Nungesser awaits BP to announce a compensation plan, he expresses his deep concern. “It doesn’t look like our industry is going to be what it used to be for many years to come.”

SEE JOSEPH WENKOFF'S PHOTO ESSAY here. Click on "Essay" then on "The Last Catch."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Our Kid's Library

I haven't written at all I see since we found out we were pregnant in December! Since then, I've been busy growing a human. How weird is that?!

I'm in my 19th week of pregnancy now (that's about halfway through) and I've just started to feel little wee kicks. So naturally I am beginning to believe for once and for all that I am going to be a mother. It's been very cool and exciting in a dreamy, theoritical kind of way, thinking about motherhood - until now. Now that I'm being literally kicked into reality, I've started to think about the plethora of "accoutrements" that a baby needs.

Blankets and other sundry nursery items aside, I have pleasantly come to the conclusion that collecting books for our kid's library is my favourite hobby the past two days. In order to keep myself on track I've put together a list of an "ideal kid's library."

In this list are some cherished personal favourites (like "The Paper Bag Princess" and "Winnie the Pooh"), some titles I've been waiting to read (like "Where the Sidewalk Ends"), and some titles I've never heard before (like "Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.")

But I have this nagging feeling that I am missing some obvious selections.

What books were your beloved? Which do you plan to read to your children? Which of these titles do you recommend and which titles am I missing? I'm dying to know.

Here's my list. The starred titles are books I've already collected. Sigh. I've got a long ways of collecting to go!

Our Kid’s Ideal Library

For The First Years

A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond
Aesop’s Fables by Russel Ash
Alexander & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee
Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
Berenstein Bear series by Stan & Jan Berenstain
Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
Clifford the Big Red Dog by Norman Bridwell
Curious George series by H. A. Rey
Eloise by Kay Thompson
Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
*Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
*Guess How Much I Love You? by Sam McBratney
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
*Love You Forever by Robert Munsch
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
Make Way For Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
Mr. Men and Little Miss books by Roger Hargreaves
Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
*Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
Richard Scarry’s Best Storybook Ever by Richard Scarry
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear
The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown
The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
*The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
*Where’s Spot? By Eric Hill
Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
Winnie the Pooh series by A Milne

For A Bit Older

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by the brother’s Grimm
Hans Christian Andersen Tales
Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss
The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew mysteries
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Twits by Roald Dahl

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Machinarium Dreams

I am not one to be drawn into computer games. Admittedly, I was (and will always be) a Tetris addict, but that game was only a salve to my anxious tendencies. Playing it, I always felt the same tension in my stomach that I feel when I bite my nails. Not a healthy past-time, really.

I remember decades ago when Super Mario Brothers came out. That's when I knew I wasn't a game-gal. I couldn't manage to keep the little guy alive. Later, Spider Man took over the free time and attention of several of my friends to the point that I began to follow a self-imposed rule: don't date a guy who plays video games.

And so, it came as a huge surprise when I read a review about a video game in the Toronto Star newspaper last month and promptly went online to try out the demo.

I was smitten.

, from Amanita Designs, is the story of a little robot that you control as he wanders through an adventure in a mythical dystopian, yet poetic landscape. Only Czech developers could come up with such a romantic vaguely medieval yet seemingly futuristic world. Actually, now that I think about it, it has the flavour of the run-down, post-Communist Europe of a few decades ago.

Neither the little robot or any of the other characters that he encounters speaks - they communicate through grunts and thought-bubbles. Actions are classic point-and-click, and without any written instructions players are meant to learn where the little robot is meant to go and what he is meant to accomplish. In this sense, when you play the game, you may as well be traveling in a foreign country where you don't know the language. And that is certainly part of the fun.

My partner and I play the game together on the couch on our laptop. We take turns at the control and are constantly suggesting to one another possible moves. It is, I think, a joy to discover that we do not bicker with each other when we disagree with the little robot's intentions and actions.

My father has been playing the game for about a week longer than us and my mother says it became the main activity in his life for a week after I bought the game for him as a gift. I wonder which room he is in now...

A couple of nights I have dreamt that I lived in the world of Machinarium. The music and sounds rounding out the experience. I have no idea where the little robot is going - and my dreams gave me no clues - but I look forward to learning more when my partner and I pick it up next.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Self-Fullfilling Spiral Into Irrelevance

"A self-fullfilling spiral into irrelevance" is how Linden MacIntyre eloquently speaks of current media & journalism trends, and also laments the state of the nation at the CBC.

His muted yet passionate, and thoroughly literate rumniations on journalism bubble to the surface during an interview with Anna Maria Tremonti on CBC Radio's The Current. He was being interviewed for winning the Giller Prize for literature for his book "The Bishop's Man" which chronicles the emerging crisis of conscience in a worldly priest (click here for more on the book and the prize.)

MacIntyre is a journalist at CBC's "The Fifth Estate." All the more reason to listen to his thoughts on the state of media today. (Click on Pt 2 from November 12th for the full interview.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

TED Talks that Speak to Me

Slow day here at the office. While the bosses are watching rough cuts in Vancouver, I am searching the internet for great documentary ideas back here in Toronto.

When I am seeking inspiration, I find a reliable source to be the TED Talks, so neatly arranged in a browser-friendly way on their website.

If you haven't heard of TED, I have swiped this brief paragraph from their site: TED is a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader - to include Science and Global Issues.

TED has grown into an international conference, a philanthropist fund, a free translation service and a fellowship program.

It's popularity has begun to soar via social network interfaces such as Facebook and Twitter where members can easily watch, share and rate the videos.

I admit, I get mighty sucked into the TED talks. Partially because many of the subjects are so exciting (the Cassini spacecraft landed - yes LANDED - on Titan - Saturn's moon! And few of know because the media failed to recognize this incredible achievement.) But more so, I find that the individuals who bring us the subjects the talks are often more inspirational than their subjects.

Daniel Liebeskind - architect of the Royal Ontario Museum's "Crystal" I can do without. His talk - 17 Words About Architectural Inspiration - feels more like 17000 words that wheeze and squeak out of his mouth like a balloon the mouth of which is pulled taut. I am one of the few who like the Crystal, and I'll amusedly watch Daniel windbag for a minute (if you find him an interesting character, keep an eye out for the CBC/90th Parallel documentary The Museum.)

But Jill Bolte Taylor, well she simply took my breath away with her lucid description of experiencing a stroke - and simultaneously - nirvana.

Here are quick links to those ideas I think are worth spreading:

- Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain researcher, experienced a massive stroke. In this talk, she recounts the psychic, physical and spiritual experiences leading up to that day, during the stroke and after her recovery. These insights have transformed her life and she invites us to transform ours - in Stroke of Insight. *****

- Kerry Mullis, the unconventional Nobel laureate chemist, explains in Next-gen Cure for Killer Infections how he would slap a non-human molecule "on to a bacteria that was pathenogenic to me that just invaded my lungs [like staph and anthrax]. I could immediately tap into an immune system that was there, it was not going to take five or six days to develop it, it was immediately going to attack." Well, you get the idea. *****

- Gever Tully founded the Tinkering School where children get to play with sticks and sharp tools and make roller coasters - activities helicopter parents shudder at. But as we increase "safety" boundaries, we decrease kids' oppertunities to interact with the world around them. 5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do actually promotes safety. ***

- Jacqueline Novogratz thinks poverty is a combination of variables that include lack of income, but also lack of choice and lack of freedom. The choice part is interesting - when combined with a micro-loan it can transform lives dramatically. Escaping Poverty describes one single mother's experience rising out of the worst slum in Nairobi. ****

- Elizabeth Gilbert, best-selling author of "Eat, Pray, Love", allows for vulnerability again by expressing her fears and doubts surrounding a follow-up to the book and discovers that instead of "being" genius, we "are" genius." I enjoyed this talk On Genius and creativity and have already shared it widely. *****

- Ken Robinson also speaks about the visionary in all of us in Schools Kill Creativity. His tone is light and humourous and thoroughly enjoyable though more anecdotal than factual. Perhaps he is healing from the British social hierarchy since he moved to the U.S.? ****

- Carolyn Porco Flies Us to Saturn and talks about a stunning and successful international effort to send a spacecraft to Saturn to not only collect jaw-dropping images, but land - yes LAND - on the planet's moon, Titan. Why didn't the world celebrate this monumental event? ****

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Uniform Project

Sheena Matheiken grew up in India and wore a uniform to school every day. Now she is wearing a uniform again every day (she has 7 identical copies and will wear this dress for 365 days) as an exercise in sustainable fashion. She's also challenging her accessorization skills - she's fantastic at it.

Sheena is simultaneously raising funds to cover educational expenses for slum children in India by supporting a revolutionary educational program called The Ankanksha Foundation, a non-profit organization with the vision to one day equip all students with the education, skills and character they need to lead empowered lives. For more on Ankanksha, click here.

To see Sheena's amazing dress in action (I am already querying the designer to make my own) watch this fun video produced by Daily Candy.