Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Honor Killings in Canada

The Victims
In the end, the father, the mother, and the son were found guilty of first-degree murder and given life sentences in the Shafia "honor" killings--a trial that riveted Canada. 

Sadly, in many parts of the world, women are still treated like chattel. And Canada isn't immune. The murder trial of the three Afghan-Canadians ended last Sunday. Mohammad Shafia, 59, his second wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, 42, and their eldest son, Hamed, 21, were convicted of murdering three of the family's daughters and Mr. Shafia's first wife of a polygamous marriage. Their bodies were found in a submerged car at the bottom of a canal in 2009. 

The Three Found Guilty

According to the prosecution, the murders were committed to cleanse the Shafia family name. In many Islamic countries, women need permission to obtain a passport, attend school, and even leave the home to go shopping. Unfortunately, these moral attitudes continue when some Islamic migrants settle in a western country. In secret wiretaps of Mr. Shafia's telephone, Mr. Shafia is heard describing the victims as whores and unfit to live because of their perceived rebellious conduct, which included surfing the Internet, taking to boys, and leaving the house unescorted.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Recycling Your Artificial Prosthetic

A friend recently had a hip replacement, which got me thinking about prosthetic implants. When we think of recycling, we think about glass, plastic containers, newspapers, aluminum cans, etc. But what about recycling implanted orthopedic prosthetics such hips and artificial knees. Once a person has died, he or she no longer needs them. Whether buried in a cemetery or cremated, these materials do not decompose. So why not recycle? It sounds a bit morbid, but isn't this a great way to reuse a valuable material instead of letting it go to waste?

Current prosthetics use titanium, iron, stainless steel, and cobalt chromium—which have recycle value. Recycling orthopedic prosthesis implants left from the cremation process is now a common practice in many European countries. OrthoMetals, a company recycling metals from crematoria, collects these no longer needed implants from all over Europe. After a process involving magnets, conveyor belts and sorting by hand, the metals are sold to companies that melt them down, giving them a new lease on life.

It's clear that this service provides an environmentally friendly way to dispose of prosthetics. An added bonus is that after OrthoMetals has recovered its costs, it returns the remaining monies to the crematoriums, which then donate the proceeds to charities. Maybe an enterprising American company should look into the prosthetic recycling business!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Jumbo Jet Hotel

Most people can't wait to get off the plane after a long flight, but for some travelers staying at the Jumbo Hostel in Stockholm is the destination in itself.

Welcome aboard the world's first Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet converted into a reasonably priced hotel for the discerning traveler. Jumbo Hostel is only a 3 minute ride from the terminals at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport and is perfect for anyone catching an early flight.

Most of the plane's interior has been gutted and converted into a modern Swedish-inspired hotel. The hotel boasts 27 rooms, with 75 beds. It offers standard guest rooms, budget-priced dormitory style rooms, and even a luxury suite (the converted cockpit with a panoramic view of the airport). The hotel has a cafe and snack bar, as well as an observation deck built along the top of the jet's left wing, allowing guests to view the airport's taxi-way. The 747's upper deck, which was used as the first-class lounge, is still there with the original seats and serving areas. You can even order a standard airline meal (not sure I'm up for that). 

It has me sold. The next time I'm in Stockholm, I staying here for a truly unique and affordable experience.

Comic of the Day

From the Los Angeles Times 

What we can expect if Mr. Gingrich is the Republican nominee. However, I really think Mr. Romney has it in the bag. It's his election to lose. Unfortunately, when it comes to getting elected President, it's all about money, and Mr. Romney has it in spades.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Even The Wiggles aren't from Immune from Controversy

The Wiggles are a world famous Australian children's music group. The four members include a Blue Wiggle, a Red Wiggle, a Purple Wiggle, and a Yellow Wiggle. However, not even the Wiggles are guaranteed job security. Yellow Wiggle Sam Moran was recently fired from his position as the Wiggles lead singer, and rumors about his termination are making front page headlines in Australia.

Mr. Moran joined the group in 2006, replacing Yellow Wiggle Greg Page, who had to leave the job to recover from a serious illness. Now, five years later, Mr. Page has been re-hired. In a statement from Blue Wiggle Anthony Field, Mr. Moran was described as a "hired hand" who was no longer needed. The real reason for Mr. Moran's departure is probably about money. The original three Wiggles are reported to split the band's annual earnings of approximately $28.5 million while Mr. Moran earned about $180,000 (less than 1 percent of the band's total). When Moran asked for a raise in salary, he was let go. Apparently, even in Children's entertainment, it's a ruthless world. 

What I find fascinating is how the band handled Mr. Moran's departure. I have included a recent interview from the Today Show. In the interview, Blue Wiggle Anthony Field came across as an evasive disingenuous jerk!. Mr. Field couldn't even answer a simple question about the circumstances involving Mr. Moran's departure. Shame on you Wiggles! Your greed and arrogance really comes across. It's a shame that one of Australia's beloved music groups have tarnished their image with something that could have been handled better. Bottom line, the Wiggles treated Mr. Moran badly!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Bark Side

Music Video of the Day


Friday, January 20, 2012

The Australians are Invading Portland and Other Images of Winter 2012

This iconic building just around the corner from my house was recently purchased by an Australian businessman for $657,900 USD.  (Who else but the Australians have money these days.) The Williston West Church was bought by Frank Monsour for his son Sebastian. The Monsour's live in Brisbane, but Sebastian travels to Portland a few times a year. Sebastian plans to stay at the church during his visits.

On the Street Where I Live
The Western Promenade: it's particularly beautiful just after a snow storm. 
Winter Wonderland in the West End!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The End of Coffee Snobbery

Correction:  The Yuban I'm referring to in this posting is Yuban Premium.  I bought the regular Yuban and it was Awful!!! (Jan. 31, 2012)

When it comes to coffee, I'm a snob, plain and simple. I like a good cup of coffee. Generally, the more expensive the brand, the better it is (that's what I thought, at least). No instant crap for me or any of that mass-marketed stuff like Folgers or Hills Brothers. I usually buy Peets, Coffee By Design (local Maine Roaster), or Jim's Organic. However, while visiting Kansas (one of the flyover US States) over the holiday's, I had to eat my words.

Kansas, and especially Western Kansas, isn't known for its coffee culture, and finding a good cup of coffee is next to impossible. So when I was offered a cup of Yuban Coffee, I decided to be polite and drink the swill. But to my surprise, the Yuban was excellent. It was just as good as the more expensive brands, if not better. I even had a second cup, just like in the old TV commercials.

It just goes to show that it's never too late to reexamine deeply ingrained stereotypes and prejudices. Just because something is cheaper and mass-marketed, doesn't necessarily make it bad. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Are American's Biased Against Political Candidates that Speak a Foreign Language?

Quelle horreur! Mitt Romney speaking French. America's long-held distrust of intellectuals is legendary, but God forbid that a presidential candidate should speak a language other than English. Currently, there are two TV ads called the, “French Romney,” and the “Romney Connection.” The ads show footage of Mitt Romney speaking French. In one ad, the narrator states,

Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney-he'll say anything to win. . . And just like John Kerry, he speaks French too.”

This is followed by a clip of former Presidential candidate John Kerry saying,

Laissez les bon temps rouler.” Juxtaposed with another of Mr. Romney saying, “Bonjour, je m'appele Mitt Romney.”

(Although my French is a bit rusty these days, Mr. Romney's French isn't that bad.)

Only in the USA is speaking a foreign language considered a liability. In 2004, John Kerry had to stop answering questions in French from foreign journalists after candidate G.W. Bush accused him of “showing off,” even suggesting that Mr. Kerry's ability to speak French made him sympathetic to France and therefore Un-American.

This attempt to portray political candidates as elitist and Un-American simply because they speak a foreign language is insulting to the intelligence of most Americans. These ads are just another example of pandering to a few people who view foreign skills as “intellectual” or Un-American.

John Huntsman speaks some Mandarin, and President Obama has some knowledge of Indonesian. If the USA truly wants to be proud of its leaders, then foreign language acquisition should be commended. As the USA moves toward becoming a bilingual country, with many people speaking Spanish as their primary language, this bias will hopefully end. Speaking a foreign language is a skill that should be encouraged, and candidates that have that skill should be praised, not criticized or mocked.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Blue Monday: Truth or Fiction

The third Monday of January is often cited as the most depressing day of the year and is referred to as "Blue Monday." For many of us, January is a depressing time. There are many reasons why someone may feel "down" during January: the weather is awful, there is less daylight, holiday festivities are over, and debt from Christmas shopping becomes due. There is even a website devoted to Blue Monday and some "evidence" to suggest that suicide rates peak during this time of year. But is "Blue Monday" fact or just fiction?

The term "Blue Monday" was first identified by Cliff Arnall, formerly of Cardiff University. It marks the symbolic time in January when people suffer from a series of combined depressive effects. His date was devised using the following mathematical formula:
[W + (D-d)] x TQ / M x Na
The model uses six identifiable factors: Weather (W), debt (d), time since Christmas (T), time since failing our New Year's resolutions (Q), low motivational levels (M), and the feeling we need to take action (Na).

Most scientists agree that Mr. Arnall's formula and "Blue Monday" claim are complete rubbish. Clinical depression is a complex condition that cannot be explained by a simplistic formula. There are many factors that contribute to depression, and it's extremely unlikely that there's a reliable set of external factors that cause depression in an entire population at the same time every year. So if you're a bit depressed today, I suggest taking some time to indulge your creativity or curiosity and enjoy this Blue Monday.

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Vegan Quest for 2012

I hate cooking. If it weren't for the great dining options in Portland, my diet would consist of fast food, frozen dinners, and cereal. I know some people find cooking creative and even relaxing; but for me, cooking is a boring chore that involves a lot of work. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy having a delicious meal with a glass of wine and bit of cheese; it's just the cooking part of the meal that I find uninspiring.

Every New Year, I tell myself that this year, I will try my hand at cooking. And every year, I find myself not following through. Likewise, every year, I attempt to eliminate all animal products from my diet and adopt a healthier and more animal friendly lifestyle. 

He Really Looks Good. Is it the Vegan Diet?
Last year, Bill Clinton (the former poster boy for junk food and bad dietary habits) became a vegan as way to improve his health. The news that Bill Clinton could somehow turn his life around and embark on a new lifestyle was not only inspiring, but it challenged my sense self and what I could accomplish. It was like Mr. Clinton was daring me to follow suit. 

To that end: my goals for 2012 are to cook one vegan meal each day, and to eliminate as many animal products from my diet as possible. As part of that quest, I intend to write regularly about my progress.  

Assisting me on my vegan journey is "The 30-Day Vegan Challenge," by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.  It's a wonderful book filled with simple recipes and useful tips on how to achieve your goals. (Thanks for the book Hilary!)

I know cooking one fresh meal each day will be challenging but it can be done! However, eliminating all animal products from my diet seems daunting and even scary. My heart is there but my willpower is weak. It's not like I eat a lot of meat anyway. In fact, the only animal flesh I eat is fish and turkey. I won't miss the eggs, the milk, or even the occasional honey in my tea; however, the prospect of a life without cheese and yogurt seems seems soulless and empty. And what about eating out? It will be interesting to see how I deal with these and other issues during the year.  

First off, I'm going to share a wonderful and EASY recipe that my mother used to make. (Coincidentally, it also happens to be vegan.)

Cabbage-Soy Salad 
Serves 4-6 and takes about 15 minutes to prepare
1/2 white cabbage
1/2 red cabbage
1 French shallot
3 1/2 oz. olive oil
1 tbs. tomato paste
1 tbs. tomato sauce
2 tbs. soy sauce
1 bunch of tarragon
1 carrot
Salt and pepper to taste

Finely shred the cabbages and carrot. Peel and finely chop the shallot. Combine the olive oil with the soy sauce, tomato paste and tomato sauce. Strip the leaves of the tarragon and mix everything together. Season with salt and pepper. It makes for a tasty snack or tangy salad to accompany a main course. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Welcome 2012

Welcome to 2012!  I'm back after a month off.  I begin this year with a very sad report on the current state of politics. 

Last night, I decided to watch the Republican Presidential debates. Big Mistake! It's depressing to think that the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has become a prisoner of the extreme religious right. The GOP has a long history of advocating for progressive issues including the abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, and trust-busting. But alas, the GOP has become a party pandering to bigots, religious zealots, and xenophobes. Viewing last night's debate was like watching a race to see which candidate could be more pious and bigoted than his rivals. 

I found Senator Romney to be the most loathsome of the bunch. That's saying a lot since the other candidates include the vile Santorum, the hypocrite Gingrich, the clueless Perry, the zany Paul, and the lackluster Huntsman. (On the other hand, Mr. Huntsman seems to be an honest and reasonable man, with some measure of integrity, an oddity in today's Republican Party.)

Mr. Romney should know better. Yet, he panders to bigotry and homophobia. He is the very definition of a manufactured candidate, groomed by market research and polished by political action committees. Mr. Romney has flip-flopped on every major issue, including abortion, health insurance, the environment, and gay rights. He's been campaigning non-stop since he lost the Republican nomination in 2008. I only hope that America wakes up and sees Mr. Romney for what he is: a spineless and disingenuous creature that will do anything to become President. 

I hope my future posts are more positive!