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March 28, 2009

Virgin Galactic readying for Space Tourists

TECHNOLOGY - Officials at Sweden’s Ice Hotel have announced a partnership with Virgin Galactic (owned by Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Airlines and Virgin Mobile) which will allow it to sell tickets into space to space tourists.

The trips, which are expected to take in the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), are scheduled to depart from the new spaceport in Koruna, northern Sweden, in 2012 and will allow passengers the chance to fly through either the northern lights during the winter, or the endless sun of the Arctic summer.

Virgin began the search for accredited space agents this January and the Ice Hotel will be ready to start taking Virgin Galactic inquiries and bookings as soon as specific training is completed.

Sir Richard Branson’s space venture has yet to fly a commercial flight, Virgin Galactic are already expanding their routes due to high demand. Virgin Galactic has already made £20 million in bookings and passengers (over 200 of them) are requesting new routes.

Virgin Galactic has another spaceport in New Mexico, where they are testing and designing the first spacecraft designed to make regular sub-orbital flights into space.

The 200+ would-be astronauts have paid deposits of £100,000 for the two-and-a-half hour long flights, and include celebrities Paris Hilton, Moby, Sigourney Weaver and scientist Stephen Hawking.

New Mexico flights are set to begin in 2011 and Swedish flights to begin in 2012.

Tourist space flights are currently also offered by Space Adventures, which has thus far sent former Microsoft executive Charles Simonyi and South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth, into space for millions of dollars.

Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) space launch vehicle was christened "Eve" (after Sir Richard Branson's mother), will lift the space-going rocket (known as SpaceShipTwo) to 50,000 feet, at which point the rocket will launch, and later return to earth like a space shuttle does.

So what will be the christened name of SpaceShipTwo? Adam seems like a good choice.

See Also:
Branson offers a $25 million prize for reducing global warming
Xcor Spaceship Unveiled

37% of Droughts caused by Global Warming

ENVIRONMENT - Global warming is more than a third to blame for a major drop in rainfall that includes a decade-long drought in Australia and a lengthy dry spell in the United States, a scientist said Wednesday.

Peter Baines of Melbourne University in Australia analyzed global rainfall observations, sea surface temperature data as well as a reconstruction of how the atmosphere has behaved over the past 50 years to reveal rainfall winners and losers.

What he found was an underlying trend where rainfall over the past 15 years or so has been steadily decreasing, with global warming 37% responsible for the drop.

"The 37 per cent is probably going to increase if global warming continues," Baines said as he presented his findings at a major climate change conference in Perth Australia.

Four major regions has seen a large decline in rainfall. The affected areas are the continental United States, southeastern Australia, a large region of equatorial Africa and the Altiplano in South America.

At the same time there is two areas in the tropics where rainfall has been increasing – northwestern Australia and the Amazon Basin.

"This is all part of a global pattern where the rainfall is generally increasing in the equatorial tropics and decreasing in the sub-tropics in mid-latitudes," Baines said.

"This is a little bit like the pattern that the (computer) models predict for global warming but this is coming out of the rainfall observations of the past 30 years," added Baines.

The rainfall trend was also accompanied by a trend in global sea surface temperatures (SST), he said, adding he used temperature data going back to 1910.

Sea surface temperatures have also been rising as the atmosphere warms.

"If you take the SST data and analyse that over a long period you can break that up into a variety of components, such a global warming component," he said.

He also looked at the influence on rainfall of major ocean circulation patterns that have a major impact on the world's weather such as the Atlantic conveyor belt that brings warm temperatures to northern Europe.

Two Pacific circulation patterns, including the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, were also studied for their influence on rainfall.

The key in the analysis was to strip out the influence of the El Niño ocean-climate pattern which routinely causes drought in Southeast Asia and Australia and floods in Chile and Peru.

Baines says the Atlantic conveyor belt was 27% to blame for the decreased rainfall, while the two Pacific ocean circulation patterns were 30% responsible.

See Also:
Global Warming in Russia & the North Atlantic
Global Warming: Hurricanes in Europe?
Australian Drought

China joins Earth Hour

ENVIRONMENT - This year will be the first time China has joined in on Earth Hour. For environmentalists, it will be one of the most powerful images to see many of China's architectural landmarks suddenly going dark.

The whole point of Earth Hour is to promote environmental awareness and reaching China's 1.3 billion people is certainly a boost to the global environmental movement.

Securing the participation of China's cities in a country that is home to a fifth of the globe's population – and the biggest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world – is a good start.

Organizers of Earth Hour believe China's participation will send a powerful message around the world.

"That two of China's most iconic landmarks – the Shanghai skyline and the Olympic Green – will be part of this year's effort will send a message to the rest of the world that the people of China are committed to taking action on climate change," says Dermot O'Gorman, country director of the World Wildlife Federation, the organization that inspired the movement.

"Ordinary people, too, in many cities have now signed up to switch off," he says.

Beijing and Shanghai aren't just any two cities. Their combined populations total more than 36 million – more than the entire population of Canada. They represent a huge boost to Earth Hour's global effort.

During a briefing in Beijing last week, Angel Gurria, the head of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, said: "No global issue can be addressed properly without China in its midst."

Other major Chinese cities also participating include Hong Kong, Macau, Baoding, Dalian, Nanjing – where a valley of 80 skyscrapers will switch off – and countless smaller cities and towns.

They'll join hundreds of millions others – organizers hope the global total will exceed 1 billion – throughout 84 countries - for the first time.

In Beijing – in restaurants, on campuses and in private homes – there's a nascent enthusiasm about joining a global movement. The city's popular Bookworm, a bookshop and eatery, sent out an email to customers this week inviting them all for a candlelit dinner.

March 27, 2009

Health Canada halts sale of smokeless cigarettes

CANADA/HEALTH - Health Canada is warning Canadians not to buy or use electronic smoking products, dubbed smokeless cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

The health agency says the products have not been fully evaluated for safety, quality and could pose a health risk.

A smokeless cigarette looks remarkably like the real thing and includes a red light at one end to mimic the burning embers of a cigarette. It has a chamber for storing liquid nicotine, which is heated to a mist and inhaled into the lungs. As such smokeless products deliver nicotine without the tobacco and chemical additives that are linked to cancer and other health problems.

"Although these electronic smoking products may be marketed as a safer alternative to conventional tobacco products and, in some cases, as an aid to quitting smoking, electronic smoking products may pose risks such as nicotine poisoning and addiction," says Health Canada in an alert.

"Nicotine is hazardous to the health and safety of certain segments of the population such as children, youth, pregnant women, nursing mothers, people with heart conditions, and the elderly," the agency adds.

So how does this justify the sale of nicotine patches, nicotine gum and similar nicotine products? They also cause addiction and related addiction-related health problems, but like smokeless cigarettes lack the carcinogenic elements.

Health Canada says that anyone selling, importing, or advertising electronic cigarette products in Canada "must stop doing so immediately." It's advising those Canadians who have used e-cigarette products and are concerned about their health to consult with a health care practitioner.

Health Canada seems to have missed the point. Nicotine is legal. There are tonnes of nicotine products available on the market.

Health Canada has previously authorized the sale of a number of legal smoking cessation aids, including nicotine gum, nicotine patches, nicotine inhaler and nicotine lozenges. So why not smokeless nicotine cigarettes?

Many American & Canadian websites sell smokeless cigarettes online, so people still looking to buy nicotine refills can find them online.

March 24, 2009

China calls for Global Currency

POLITICS - China is calling for a new global currency controlled by the International Monetary Fund, stepping up pressure for changes to the global financial system dominated by the weakening United States dollar and western governments.

In an essay by the Chinese central bank governor released late Monday, the concept reflects China's growing assertiveness in economic affairs and its massive buildup of foreign reserves, mainly U.S. dollars, as well as its ownership of 50% of the US National Debt.

China is also pressing for developing countries to have a bigger say in finance when leaders of the Group of 20 major economies meet April 2nd in London to discuss the global credit crisis.

Gov. Zhou Xiaochuan's essay did not mention the US dollar by name but it said the crisis showed the dangers of relying on a single country's currency for international payments.

In an unusual step, the essay was published in both Chinese and English, making clear it was meant for an international audience.

"The crisis called again for creative reform of the existing international monetary system towards an international reserve currency," Zhou wrote.

Zhou said the proposed new currency should be used for trade, investment, pricing commodities and corporate bookkeeping.

The Chinese government has long been uneasy about relying on the U.S. dollar for the bulk of its trade and to store foreign reserves. Premier Wen Jiabao publicly appealed to Washington earlier this month to avoid any steps in response to the crisis that might erode the value of the dollar and China's estimated $1 trillion holdings in Treasuries and almost $6 trillion in U.S. government debt.

China is worried that the worth of its holdings of U.S. dollars could erode if the greenback falls in value against other currencies over the next few years.

The proposed new global currency should be based on shares in the IMF held by its 185 member countries, known as special drawing rights, or SDRs. The Washington-based IMF advises governments on economic policy and lends money to help with financial problems. Currently the money lent is based in US dollars, giving the United States an unfair advantage and inflates the value of the dollar.

Some economists have suggested creating a new reserve currency to reduce reliance on the dollar but acknowledge it would face major obstacles. It would require acceptance from countries that have long used the dollar and hold huge stockpiles of the U.S. currency.

There is also concerns about the security of the US dollar, which is notoriously easy to counterfeit because it has no anti-counterfeiting measures built into the bills. The US government has discussed creating a more secure currency but previous administrations have ignored the counterfeiting problem.

"There has been for decades talk about creating an international reserve currency and it has never really progressed," says Michael Pettis, a finance professor at Peking University's Guanghua School of Management.

Managing such a currency would require balancing the contradictory needs of countries with high and low growth or with trade surpluses or deficits, Pettis said. He said the 16 European countries that use the Euro have faced "huge difficulties" in managing monetary policy even though their economies are similar.

The benefits of having a single currency would allow companies to trade liquidity and cut out the banks as the middle man during exchange rates (banks typically take about 1% to 2% in profit from each exchange, but those nickles and dimes add up when you are exchanging billions of dollars per day).

Representatives from American and British banks say they will oppose the new currency, saying it would cut into their profit margins.

Zhou also called for changing how SDRs are valued. Currently, they are based on the value of four currencies – the dollar, euro, yen and British pound.

"The basket of currencies forming the basis for SDR valuation should be expanded to include currencies of all major economies," Zhou wrote. "The allocation of the SDR can be shifted from a purely calculation-based system to one backed by real assets, such as a reserve pool, to further boost market confidence in its value."

March 22, 2009

China arrests a hundred Tibetan monks

POLITICS/RELIGION - Nearly 100 Tibetan monks were arrested on Sunday after hundreds of protesters attacked a police station in northwestern China, in the town of Ragya on Saturday.

The protest appeared to be in retaliation for of a Tibetan monk after he escaped from police custody Saturday and went missing (police claim he committed suicide by jumping in a river). The monk was charged with unfurling a Tibetan flag, which is banned in China.

Saturday's protest of approx. 2000 people was one of the largest protests in a tense month of tightened Chinese security in the region because of a number of sensitive anniversaries. Spokespersons for the Chinese government say the protest included nearly 100 monks from the Ragya Monastery and assaulting policemen and government staff.

The protesters were angry because they believed a man, a 28-year-old monk named Tashi Sangpo, jumped in a river to commit suicide after fleeing from police.

"When Tashi was being interrogated by the officials, he asked their permission to go to the toilet. He then went out and jumped into the Yellow River," says a Tibetan exile on condition of anonymity. "The dead body is yet to be found."

Tashi Sangpo was being investigated by police because he unfurled a Tibetan flag on the roof of the monastery on March 10th, the anniversary of the start of a 1959 abortive Tibetan revolt against Chinese rule, and distributed pamphlets on the street urging unified protests against Chinese rule.

China claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the Himalayan region was virtually independent for centuries and that Beijing's tight control is draining them of their culture and identity.

Immigration: Good or Bad?

CANADA - In the early 1990s immigration actually helped saved the Canadian economy from the recession.

Why? Home sales. More population, more demand for houses and housing, higher real estate prices, more jobs for construction workers, more workers with cash to buy cars, more cars being built... you get the picture.

In other words immigration doesn't hurt the economy, it helps it.

So during the current recession, will immigration help get the economy back on track?

Or should Canada should follow the recent actions of countries like the U.K. and Australia in tightening up immigration. There is a perception amongst amateur economists that too many immigrants arriving in tough times will only strain Canada's resources and swell welfare rolls and unemployment lines.

So the question is whether immigrants drive up unemployment and welfare caseloads or help stimulate a troubled economy by bringing in extra foreign cash. Data suggests that many uneducated immigrants coming to Canada during the early 1990s never recovered from chronic unemployment. The complete opposite is true of educated immigrants who have prospered and now, on average, make more money than people born in Canada.

So really this issue comes down to bringing in more students and educated immigrants, particularly those with skilled trades or entrepreneurs with lots of cash to start their own business (there is a loophole in Canadian immigration laws that allows immigrants to fast-track their entry into Canada if they have money and are looking to start their own business).

The people who contribute the least to the Canadian economy is war refugees, who are often uneducated, speak very poor English or French and have difficulty finding work.

And then there's the immigrants who are educated, but their degrees aren't acknowledged in Canada, so we end up with Pakistani doctors driving taxis and Korean engineers working in convenience stores.

"These people came here and had a tough time getting any decent job," said University of Toronto sociologist Jeffrey Reitz. "Their professional careers got derailed. Their skills became stale. They were stuck even when the economy bounced back. "These people are worse off for their entire life."

In 1993 Canada's unemployment rate rose to 11.4%, the same year 256,703 people arrived, the highest level in decades. At the time Canada was taking in refugees from the Gulf War.

Some amateur economists think that wars boost the economy, but this is actually not true. They believe war helps the economy because of the transition from the Great Depression in the 1930s to World War II and the post WWII economic boom. But in reality the USA's economy had already recovered from the depression by 1935. During the war the economy soured, and after the war was over the economy rebounded. War is really just a drain on government coffers and bankrupts the government, resulting in future tax increases.

War refugees arriving in Canada really have few options left. As a moral and well-meaning country it is Canada's responsibility to take in refugees. Where we are failing them however is after they get here we need to be schooling them, training them for the workforce and making them active parts of the economy.

The same principle should be applied to all Canadians, especially regions with high unemployment. Native Canadians for example could benefit a lot from more training/educational programs.

We see what happens when people have little education, few jobs opportunities and high unemployment... alcoholism, depression and higher suicide rates.

Meanwhile regions with lots of educated immigrants tend to see a strong economic boom.

That is the case for Markham north of Toronto, where the population grew 80%, from 145,500 in 1991 to 261,600 in 2006, mainly due to an influx of immigrants. The population boom has led to rapid residential and commercial development, making the town the GTA's fourth-most populous municipality and attracting big corporations such as IBM and Honda Canada.

The demographics of Canada's newcomers has also evolved. The inflow of wealthy Hong Kong tycoons, a staple in the early 1990s, came to a halt after the island's return to China in 1997. The majority of skilled immigrants arriving now may be financially established but they aren't necessarily as wealthy.

What Canada doesn't need however is the influx of "temporary workers" who come to Canada on two or three year work visas to fill supposed labour shortages, and then they end up not working because of recession layoffs and can legally stay in Canada until their work visas expire, so they find other jobs.

In 2008 Canada admitted 193,000 temporary workers.

Conclusions:

Immigrants good.

War refugees, we need to be educating them.

Temporary workers? Don't bother.


See Also:
Canadian Immigration and Population Surge
Canada's Worker Shortages
Canadian Immigration Kidnaps & Deports Children

Stephen Harper's Gun Raffle

CANADA - Last night Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters' annual meeting in Mississauga, and then they held a gun raffle for two hunting rifles.

A spokesperson for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, which represents 83,000 members in 655 hunting and fishing clubs in Ontario, said whoever won the raffle would be required to show a firearm licence before taking the rifles home. The federation is supported by both Conservatives and Liberals.

Please, before you criticize Harper for taking part in a gun raffle (sounds irresponsible doesn't it?), remember that hunting rifles are rarely ever used in crimes.

This comes just days after Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz was dropped from a controversial speaking engagement at a gun lobby dinner featuring a 9mm Beretta handgun as a raffle prize. (9mm Berettas are regularly used in crime...)

The law-abiding qualities of hunters was a central theme in Stephen Harper's speech, which focused in large part on his opposition to the federal long gun (shotgun or rifle) registry, which Harper and gun advocates wants to scrap.

But that by itself would be silly. Rifles (and more frequently shotguns) are still used in crimes. Sawed-off shotguns are a weapon of choice amongst some criminals. The registry is necessary to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands, and if they do get sold to a criminal the government can track who bought and sold them.

And to some extent he's right. Long guns are rarely used in crimes, handguns are the weapon of choice for criminals. What really needs to happen is the creation of a National Gun Registry, where all guns are registered.

The other thing that needs to happen is the creation of a RCMP taskforce, complete with undercover officers, aimed at gun smugglers and black market gun sales.

See Also:
Gun Control in Canada
Handguns in Canada
Killer Goth on the Rampage in Montreal
Laser Weapons in the Hands of Canadian Soldiers
Cop Killer in Ontario

March 21, 2009

Ponzimonium in the USA

POLITICS - Dozens of multi-million-dollar Ponzi schemes are under investigation in the United States, something a U.S. regulator calls "rampant Ponzimonium."

Note: A Ponzi Scheme is a scam which depends on an influx of new capital instead of investment profits to pay existing investors.

The most mammoth Ponzi scheme is the disgraced financier Bernard Madoff's $65 billion USD fraud, but meanwhile multi-million-dollar "mini Madoffs" are proliferating from New York to Hawaii, says the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

So far in 2009 the CFTC agency has uncovered NINETEEN different Ponzi schemes. (At this rate there will be almost 80 for the whole year.) That compares with just 13 for all of 2008.

"Because of the economy, people are seeking redemptions more than they ever have and that's making a lot of these scams go belly up," says Bart Chilton, head of the commodities commission.

In the last month the CFTC agency has pursued investment fraud in Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Iowa, Idaho, Texas and Hawaii. Chilton called the problem "rampant Ponzimonium" and "Ponzipalooza".

Many scams are small but grew fast to support lavish lifestyles, like the $40 million, five-year Ponzi scheme that came to light in February when a North Carolina man committed suicide. Claiming to be an expert mathematician, Bruce Kramer persuaded 79 people to invest in a so-called foreign currency trading operation.

Instead Kramer used the money to buy a Maserati car, a $1 million horse farm, artwork, and held "extravagant" parties.

When the economy soured, Kramer struggled to find new clients to keep the scheme going. In the days before his suicide, his investors demanded their money back and grew suspicious when they couldn't access their own funds.

But that $40 million is small potatoes. In Texas, billionaire financier Allen Stanford bilked investors of $8.8 billion, including investments from the drug dealers known as the Mexican Gulf Cartel, whom Stanford was laundering money for.

In other news, Dubai is going Bankrupt and Citibank has split its company into two, creating a new company called "Citicorp" which it is pawning off all of its risky investments and creating a corportate entity critics in the CFTC referred to as "a legalized Ponzi scheme" and "the kind of company only a fool would invest in".

A New Era of Solar Energy in Ontario

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - A new green-energy law is coming to Ontario, combined with long-term incentives for solar energy producers.

The new law (the Green Energy Act) + incentives has solar corporations clambering over each other. Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc., one of the world's leading suppliers of next-generation solar modules, and solar power supplier Recurrent Energy Inc. of San Francisco are both planning to develop multi-megawatt solar projects in Ontario.

California-based Nanosolar Inc. says it is seriously considering Ontario as the location of a regional assembly plant for its thin-film solar modules. Nanosolar is also working with French energy giant EDF Energies Nouvelles to map out future solar projects in Ontario.

Why? The new laws + new prices the province is willing to pay for solar power will tip the balance in favour of investment in Ontario.

Two other firms are also planning to build solar-cell manufacturing operations in Ontario.

The recent Green Energy Act and a new renewable-power purchase program that offers a generous premium for green power is just a start. The Ontario Power Authority has proposed an European-style "feed-in tariffs" that would see it pay, as part of a 20-year contract, 80.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power that comes from a residential rooftop solar photovoltaic system.

(NOTE: Critics will point out that people in Ontario currently pay approx. 7 cents per kWh, so this seems like a ploy by the Ontario Power Authority to jack up electricity prices.)

Long-term contracts under a feed-in tariff model is superior to approaches in the United States that tend to be based on upfront tax incentives that create short-term sales spurts.

In theory as systems grow larger the feed-in tariff would decline. The power authority would pay 71.3 cents for rooftop systems up to 100 kilowatts, dropping to 63.5 cents for systems up to 500 kilowatts and 53.9 cents for anything above that. The largest systems would likely be found on the rooftops of schools, commercial buildings and big-box stores.

The lowest tariff, 44.3 cents, applies to "ground mount" systems that don't exceed 10 megawatts. This would apply to the massive solar farms that sprawl across acres of empty fields.

All prices replace a fixed 42-cent tariff that applied to all system categories that existed under a previous program, which itself was a continental first when introduced two years ago.

So already Ontario is paying extra for green energy, and some customers are willing to pay more for green electricity... but are they willing to pay even more?

These new prices are great news for people wanting to produce electricity in their backyard, and maybe even good for people willing to pay the extra for green energy, but what about regular electricity consumers? They care more about price than whether it is green or not.

Arno Harris, CEO of Recurrent Energy, said the new tariffs makes Ontario an attractive market for his company, which yesterday purchased a project pipeline totalling 350 megawatts from Chicago-based UPC Solar.

Harris said Recurrent and other large developers are taking advantage of the economic downtown to consolidate the market. The "vast majority" of projects acquired from UPC, he says, are based in Ontario.

"Our goal is to develop over 100 megawatts and get it into commercial operation by 2012," says Harris, explaining that economies of scale allow the company to lower costs by placing bulk orders for solar modules.

In early March, First Solar purchased a pipeline of more than 2,000 megawatts of solar projects from Hayward, Calif.-based OptiSolar Inc. in a stock deal valued at $400 million (U.S.). About 10% of those projects are based in Ontario.

Solar developers are pushing for 50 cent tariffs for large land-based solar fields in an effort to lure investment and green-collar jobs. They claim the current prices don't make it profitable enough to get investments to build.

The power authority says the tariffs have only been proposed and could change after eight weeks of consultation with industry players. "Anyone having concerns with the proposed pricing should provide their feedback to the agency," said energy ministry spokeswoman Amy Tang.

But who's going to pay for higher prices? Consumers?

Right now the cheapest alternative isn't to buy green electricity, its to buy your own solar/wind power and make it yourself.

Solar module prices are expected to fall dramatically this year and 2010 as new cheaper/more efficient solar panels come into the market.

March 20, 2009

Personals and Love up during Recession

SEX - Love and sex are recession proof, so says business owners.

Sex and condom shops, fetish shops and personals websites are making huge profits right now. Why? Because when people want to save money and have fun, they go for the basics: Good Ol' Fashioned Sex.

Personals websites (ie. Goth Personals Canada) are seeing a huge boost in profits and some companies are seeing their best year ever.

Alcohol sales are also up.

But don't think for an instant that this will result in a skyrocketing marriage and birth rate, quite the opposite. Birth control sales are up dramatically, and many young adults are holding back from getting married and/or having kids until they can afford to do so.

CREDIT SCORE DATING

Those who are thinking about marriage are starting to be cautious about it... some of them are even doing credit checks of potential partners.

A recent survey of singles shows that 80% are being more selective about partners because they don't want to get involved with someone in debt (often because their ex had money troubles).

Usually people don't like to discuss money on a first date. Its considered too superficial and serious.

"Money thing, that's serious stuff. I'll worry about that later," says one participant at a speed dating event, but admits he's worried about financial stability.

"I know a lot of my friends, their financial situations are difficult right now," adds another participant.

A lot of people are in financial trouble right now, so for those that don't have a lot of money keeping things casual seems to be the better option.

"I met a few female lawyers who told me that they had extreme -- like $240,000 -- debt and yes, that would be an impediment," says one man. Checking credit ratings might also be a good way to check if a person is a liar when it comes to finance issues.

"Before you get involved in a relationship or anything, FICO first, then sex," says finance guru Suze Orman. There are plenty of websites out there that can check a person's credit rating, and even an online dating site called CreditScoreDating.com, where singles look for love and weed out low-credit scores.

But credit score dating is a double-edged sword.

It means you're limiting yourself to people with lots of cash and a good record of paying off their debts, but will they be attractive and compatible? You're still taking a chance.

Also credit scores don't mean a person doesn't have lots of debt, it just means they're good at paying their bills on time. For all you know they could be swimming in debt and are barely managing to pay their bills...

84% of singles admitted in a Match.com survey they are more selective about who they date during a recession. As it stands online dating websites are reporting a surge in business, because it is cheaper to find a date online then going to the bar scene.

Just remember, it was greed that got us into this financial mess in the first place. Will love and caring about people get us out of it?

March 19, 2009

Tonga Underwater Volcano Erupting

ENVIRONMENT - The eruption began Monday after a series of magnitude 5.0 earthquakes near Tonga, a 170-island archipelago between Australia and Tahiti, according to the United States Geological Survey.

Yesterday a plume of ash rose about 5 to 8 kilometers in the sky. "It's a very significant eruption, on quite a large scale," Tonga's chief geologist, Kelepi Maf says.

Authorities have issued an ash advisory for the area, and so far nearby fish and other animals are fine, but the plume of ash might endanger Tonga residents if the wind shifts. 112,000 people live in the Kingdom of Tonga. The volcano is approx. 10 km off the main island, Tongatapu.

There is also concern another earthquake could cause a tsunami as the eruption continues.

Tonight a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit the region, and scientists did issue a tsunami warning but luckily there was no major shift in sea level.

The Kingdom of Tonga has 36 undersea volcanoes in the region and is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc of earthquake and volcanic zones surrounding the Pacific Ocean. It is possible this volcano could become significantly worse. "Underwater volcanoes can be violent, and have a strong climatic effect," said Simon Turne of Macquarie University in Sydney.

Normally earthquakes in the region rarely go above 2.0 magnitude, so a 7.9 is almost unheard of.

March 18, 2009

Killing the Recession Blues

CANADA - There's a new Canadian website out there trying to boost consumer confidence and promoting recession friendly tips and advice. Its called "Screw You Recession" and in addition to money-saving tips, the site also boasts topics related to going green, fashion, entertainment, eating out and new technology.

Its a bit like the fashion recessionista craze going on right now, but is more like a general entertainment/shopping site for everything recession-ish.

Not a bad idea I think. Its a good site to help kill those recession blues.

The site also has the look and feel of a blog, so its easy to get around and includes some random celebrity shenanigans (Britney Spears, Paris Hilton et al), with updates/giggles on the Screw You Recession Twitter page.

(I admit, I was looking for an excuse to use the word Shenanigans in honour of St. Patrick's Day.)

Fourteen Tips to Kill the Recession Blues

1. Get a new job if yours was lost.
2. Learn a new skill so that you can get the job.
3. Help the homeless so that you can feel better that at least you have a house.
4. Don't sell your house cause it's a buyers market, not a sellers market.
5. Notice that things go in cycles and wait for signs of the upswing.
6. Listen to free music online so you don't have to buy more CDs.
7. Use your time on the internet to make money AND have fun at the same time.
8. Ignore the depressing news headlines, read the celebrity gossip and do the Soduku.
9. Don't gamble your money away, spend it all on exercise/sport equipment and buy a gym membership or join a sport-related club (Pillow Fighting maybe?).
10. Read the funnies.
11. Set aside some money to buy your favourite foods. You still have to eat, so why not make it something you really love.
12. Remember, all of your life's problems will seem small and insignificant after having sex. Unless of course you're impotent...
13. Whatever you do, don't commit a crime if you can't do the time.
14. If you do a crime, remember not to drop the soap.

CBC Vs the Conservative government

CANADA/ENTERTAINMENT - The Conservative Party of Canada is upset about American game shows such a Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune on CBC and during the current economic climate the CBC has little choice but to boost ratings using American shows.

The CBC has received $30 billion CDN in taxpayers' money over the last 30 years, fulfilling their obligation to provide Canadian content in both English and French, but doing so is tricky as they're limited to using a majority of Canadian content and are facing a lot of competition from cable networks with 300+ channels.

Stephen Harper and his cronies have little they like on the CBC as it is, so its no wonder its facing cuts.

Hockey Night in Canada and Little Mosque on the Prairie are the most popular shows and therefore safe from the Tory axe, but other shows like metrosexuals 'Stephen and Chris' (a style show) is being put on hiatus, and Fashion File (a show about the fashion industry and supermodels that has been on the air since 1989) is being canceled completely.

And what is the CBC promoting? 'Canada's Next Great Prime Minister', a game show which has contestants compete and get judged by Canada's old prime ministers. The show underlies an overall dissatisfaction with Stephen Harper's leadership skills and his inability to win a majority government during elections.

Whats left? The Nature of Things, CBC News, Rick Mercer, 22 Minutes, Just For Laughs, documentaries, the occasional movie, CBC children's shows in the mornings, The Simpsons (also safe from being cut because its too damn popular, despite previous attempts to remove it from the CBC) and the aforementioned Jeopardy/Wheel of Fortune game shows. Many of these shows are either contrary to the Tories environmental or immigration policies or openly mock Stephen Harper (ie. 22 Minutes and Rick Mercer) so its really not a surprise they want to axe a lot of the CBC shows.

So therein lies the problem. The CBC is facing a budget crunch and they need more money, but the Tories don't want to give it because there's too many shows they dislike (including The Nature of Things, The Simpsons and Little Mosque).

So what is left to do? The CBC have already cut back on staff as much as they can, advertising spots have slumped, and there's a shortage of Canadian content they can show.

Maybe its time to bring back 'The Raccoons' in reruns? No wait, that's a kids show with an environmental message.

Or borrow The Reach for the Top (a game show which gives scholarships to high school graduates) from TVO? No wait, that supports higher education and educated people are less likely to vote Conservative.

Obviously the CBC is between a rock and a hard place.

Is it just me or is Cyril Sneer a lot like Stephen Harper?

Buyers' Market: Now is a Good Time to Buy a House

POLITICS - Despite the credit crisis and the housing market collapse (actually due to it...) now is the best time to buy a house.

With record low interest rates, housing prices dropping, now is the time to buy a new house or condo.

House and condo sales are still in a slump since many Americans and Canadians are counting their pennies and worried about the recession, but for those who have the cash to buy and have stable jobs this is a great time to buy, and it could be decades before we see such record low interest rates and house prices.

Canadian home sales were down 31% year-over-year in February, and average prices were 9.2% below year-ago levels, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Monday.

In the United States housing starts and permits rebounded in February from record lows, rising for the first time in 10 months, according to data released on Tuesday. Compared to a year ago however housing starts are still down 47.3%.

U.S. foreclosures in February comprised 56% of all home sales, a dismal sign that the banking industry is taking on more real estate due to the sour post-Bush economy. Real estate which the banks then need to sell at a loss, which means lower prices for buyers.

All of this is good news for people looking to buy their first house or people looking to upgrade to a better house and are willing to sell their current house at a loss (that or rent it out).

And for people just looking to sell (and retire to Florida?), the best advice is to wait.

March 17, 2009

Hockey Fights: Poll Results

CANADA/ENTERTAINMENT - The fight over hockey fights is far from over.

A new poll today shows that 63% of Canadian hockey fans want fighting in the game, but 61% of Canadians think fighting should be banned.

So where does that leave hockey fights and the future of hockey in Canada?

Well, legally, they're not supposed to be fighting in the first place. Police have been turning a blind eye to manslaughter incidents where teenagers and adults have been killed in hockey fights.

Parents and loved ones however are saying the time has come to ban hockey fights, and they're not about to give up and quit. The deaths of hockey players have galvanized these people in seeking a permanent ban on hockey fights.

The pro-fighting crowd believes that the 63% of hockey fans who say they support fighting in hockey may believe the discussion is over, but its evidently far from over. The other 37% of hockey fans who oppose hockey fights aren't about to give up this legal fight especially since the majority of Canadians disapprove of hockey fights.

The case against hockey fighting has been growing over the past 25 years, with evidence that it doesn't just cause death, but also permanent brain damage similar to boxers and football players.

The pro-fighting crowd still rules the roost (hockey fighters setting their own agenda), which means in the NHL, North American minor pro hockey and major junior hockey in Canada engaging in a fight generally only means a five-minute major penalty.

But sanctions and new rules continue to grow, including new ones proposed by NHL general managers just last week.

In the 1970s bench-clearing brawls were common, but that was eventually banned.

Today, in the OHL and QMJHL there are new rules that call for using the instigator penalty more aggressively, to send a message to players fighting may well cost them the game.

So change is coming and its unstoppable. Hockey will become a greater sport when fighting vanishes from the landscape.

And then there's the NHL playoffs, the most sacred time of year to hockey fans... a time during which hockey fights are already banned.

So if hockey fights are banned during the playoffs, why isn't it banned the rest of the year?

See Also:
Hockey Fight in Canada
Wayne Gretzky and the Death of Hockey



Chrysler planning pull-out from Canada

CANADA - According to insiders Chrysler is already making plans behind the scenes to pull its operations out of Canada if it can't reach an agreement with the Canadian Auto Workers by the end of the month.

Chrysler Canada says it needs to cut its labour costs by approximately $20 an hour to be competitive with foreign automakers such as Toyota, which also has plants in Canada but Toyota's Canadian workers are not unionized.

Currently wages, union dues, benefits and pensions amount to approximately $76/hour. To be competitive with Toyota plants operating in Canada, Chrysler says it needs to reduce those costs to $57 an hour.

NOTE: Toyota Canada pays comparable wages and benefits, but don't have the extra cost of union dues. What this really comes down to is an END to the Canadian Auto Workers union.

See Also:
Unsold Cars Piling Up
Car Sales down 29.9%
Car sales crash in Canada
United States unemployment at 25-year high

Congress to strip AIG of bonuses

POLITICS - United States Senators are hopping mad over the insurance giant AIG executives who received $165 million in bonuses, using taxpayers' money that was meant as part of the bailout plan.

Senate Democrats vowed today to strip AIG executives of their $165 million in bonuses, as expressions of outrage swelled in Congress and in the mass media over a firm that received billions in taxpayer bailout funds.

"Recipients of these bonuses will not be able to keep all of their money," declared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the Senate floor.

"If you don't return it on your own we will do it for you," said Chuck Schumer of New York.

Senate Democrats are now threatening to tax the bonuses at up to 91% through narrowly written legislation, said Schumer, if AIG does not return the money voluntarily.

Some feel 91% doesn't go far enough. In the United States House of Representatives, Steve Israel, D-N.Y., and Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, introduced a bill that would that would tax at 100% bonuses above $100,000 paid by companies that have received federal bailout money.

"It boggles my mind how these executives can be so unaware of what the American people are going through," said Tim Ryan. He called his proposal "a wakeup call that the days of arrogance and greed on Wall Street are coming to an end. We will use any means necessary."

The Internal Revenue Service currently withholds 25% from bonuses less than $1 million and 35% for bonuses more than $1 million.

On Monday, President Barack Obama lambasted AIG for "recklessness and greed" and pledged to block payment of the bonuses. Obama said he had directed Geithner to determine whether there was any way to retrieve or stop the bonus money.

Pope Benedict Vs Condoms

HEALTH/RELIGION - Pope Benedict XVI is not a doctor.

Nor is he an expert on AIDS or its spread across southern Africa.

Today Pope Benedict was on his way to Africa and said that condoms is not the answer to Africa's fight against HIV/AIDS. The health issue has divided even clergy working with AIDS patients, with Catholics in the region openly questioning whether the Catholic Church is making a fatal mistake promoting the idea of condom use as a sin.

Pope Benedict had never before directly addressed condom use. He claims that the Roman Catholic Church is in the forefront of the battle against AIDS and the Vatican encourages sexual abstinence to fight the spread of the disease.

But what the Pope says and does contradicts with what the Church does, which actively tells people that condom use is a sin. However some priests and nuns working with HIV/AIDS patients question the church's opposition to condoms amid the pandemic ravaging Africa.

"You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms," Pope Benedict said to reporters this morning, aboard the Alitalia plane heading to Yaounde, Cameroon, where he will begin a seven-day pilgrimage on the continent, in an effort to convince Catholics that condom use is still a sin, even if it does prevent the spread of AIDS. "On the contrary, it increases the problem," says Benedict, claiming that condoms break too easily and help spread AIDS by creating a false sense of security.

The use of condoms in North America and Europe has proven effective in curbing HIV transfer rates, and decreasing the percentage of people with AIDS over the long term.

Africa is the fastest-growing region for the Roman Catholic Church, though it competes with Islam and evangelical churches. At the same time however, AIDS is spreading through Africa quickly and is hitting countries like Zimbabwe the hardest.

On the plane, Benedict also dismissed the notion that he was facing increasing opposition and isolation within the church, particularly after an outreach to ultraconservatives that led to his lifting the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop. See Catholic Bishop denies the Holocaust.

In a letter to Catholic bishops released last week, the pope made an unusual public acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes and turmoil in his church over the rehabilitation of Bishop Richard Williamson.

See Also:
AIDS Spreading across Africa like Wildfire
How America Aids and Abets AIDS/HIV Worldwide
Africa's Best Hope: Anti-Retrovials
Birth Control Vs. Overpopulation
Christian Aid Organizations

March 15, 2009

Huge Asteroid Misses Earth

TECHNOLOGY - On March 3rd 2009 the Earth narrowly avoided being hit by an asteroid 115 feet wide (about the size of a 10 story building). The impact damage, had it struck the Earth would have been 1000 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb during World War II.

At its closest point it was 45,000 miles away, twice the distance of the highest satellites, but still close enough it was a risk of falling into Earth's gravitational pull and causing massive damage.

Astronomers had only three days of warning that 'Asteroid 2009 DD45' was coming but figured there was very little collision risk and didn’t make a big deal about it.

Asteroid 2009 DD45’s size is about the same size as the Tunguska asteroid that leveled 2,000 kilometers of forest in Siberia in 1908. The incident at Tunguska is thought to have been caused by an explosion by a comet or asteroid 6 to 8 kilometers above the surface of the Earth, as no crater or meteorite fragments were ever found at the site and its been recorded as an unknown phenomenon.

Earth takes on about 10,000 tons of space debris each year, mostly from dust from comets or asteroid pieces. Larger pieces however pose significant danger.

Scientists are already concerned about another asteroid, known as Apophis, that will come close to the Earth in 2029 and pass very close to the Earth again in 2036 and again in 2037. Apophis is about 1,000 meters wide, but its speed/size would cause damage roughly 10,000 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb.

If Apophis does strike the Earth, its predicted to hit the Pacific Ocean, creating a tsunami that would destroy many coastal regions in the United States, China and other Pacific rim countries.

L is for Layoffs, D is for Depression

ENTERTAINMENT - Bert and Ernie's jobs are safe, but Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization that produces Sesame Street, is cutting 20% of its workforce because of the American recession.

Sesame Workshop announced today it will layoff 67 of 355 staff positions.

Sesame Street, featuring characters such as Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch, has been on the air since 1969 and is the most widely viewed children's TV show in the world. Three months ago, CEO Gary Knell said while the company was "able to withstand" recessions, it was not "immune."

Of course, people losing their jobs is not very funny. It just proves that no company in this bad economy (dare we say depression?) is immune.

Satellite piracy costing industry billions

TECHNOLOGY - The Canadian Motion Pictures Distribution Association estimates that the total loss to the industry from satellite piracy in 2001 alone was about $1 billion – and that number is likely far higher in 2009.

Satellite companies, including Bell ExpressVu in Canada and United States-based DISH Network have been fighting back. The companies are switching to a tough new encryption system while using the threat of court action to prevent television piracy.

But tech advocates point out that satellite piracy is both difficult to prove, but those threats aren't taken seriously. And encryptions? Like DVD encryptions, such things can easily be cracked by a skilled techie.

Satellite companies like to remind users that theft of signal not only means less subscription revenue for providers, but a fall in ratings for TV stations which translates into lost advertising revenue... and results in canceled shows.

Los Angeles-based media analysts The Carmel Group estimates there are at least two million illegal television households in the United States and Canada, out of a total of approx. 15 million legal households.

These days satellite piracy is growing quickly, competing with illegal cable hookups and online downloading in an ever growing trend towards free content.

Buying a dish and a receiver costs less than $200 CDN, plus a little know-how on how to hack in to the satellite system (info easily available online) is surprisingly easy. That or hire a teenager to do it for you. The end result is 200 channels, including pay-per-view movies and the movie network, and no monthly bill.

"I can't believe I was actually paying for cable before," says one anonymous user called James, who does it so he can watch the Tennis channel.

These "Free To Air" satellite receivers are widely available throughout Canada. While buying equipment is not a crime, modifying it to access subscription signals is, but very difficult to prove or find. Free to Air is widely available in Europe, where television and radio broadcasts are typically sent unencrypted. There are approx. 250 Free to Air channels in North America, mostly specialty channels.

An USB port on the satellite receiver allows users to change the internal programming after downloading software from the internet. Download the latest encryption codes, install, done. Furthermore the new encryption only effects new channels.

The Canadian cable and satellite industry is lobbying government to toughen laws against piracy, including harsher sentences for pirates, but has neglected to suggest a way to actually FIND the pirates. They want to raise the threat level in order to scare pirates, but the ability to find and catch pirates is non-existent.

There have been a few people caught and charged, but its in such small numbers its not taken seriously. Police don't take it seriously either. If anything, the police are just as guilty of illegal downloading and satellite piracy as much as the next guy. Everyone does it.

The industry, short on advertising funding during the new internet age and the American recession, is also short on cash to fund hiring private investigators to find satellite pirates.

Bell ExpressVu is also targeting people who both sell FTA receivers and have websites that promote piracy, demanding they pay a $1,000 fine and hand over the equipment to Bell.

But the new tactics isn't scaring pirates. "They'll have to pry the remote control out of my hands before I give it up," says anonymous pirate James.

See Also:
The Napster Revolution
The Cultural Netolution
Advertising in America

Tories boost military spending in Alberta

CANADA - The Conservative government will spend about $41 million at three military bases in Alberta to prepare the Canadian Forces for future missions and create civilian jobs.

"We're not just investing for the purposes of Afghanistan. This is an overall effort to rebuild and refurbish the Canadian Forces, not just for this mission but for the next and the ones to follow," says Defence Minister Peter MacKay.

The biggest project will be building new training quarters built at the Edmonton Garrison. Soldiers often travel to Edmonton for specific training courses and now often have to be quartered at hotels in the city, says base commander Lt.-Col. Gary Blenkinsop.

The new quarters will house 97 additional soldiers.

While it does make sense that soldiers should be house on base, $41 million seems like a rather steep price just for sleeping quarters for 97 soldiers. Where is the rest of the money going?

They're also going to upgrade water treatment facilities for Canadian Forces Base Wainwright and buy a new refueling system at 4 Wing in Cold Lake, the busiest fighter base in Canada. The three projects together will create 220 jobs over the next two years, says Peter MacKay.

Thats it. $41 million just for that. What are they paying per hour, $30 or $40?

$41 million divided by 220 people, that is $186,363.63 per person. Minus the costs of materials (???), that seems like awfully expensive wages for 2 years worth of work.

Chalk that one up to Conservative government wastefulness.

And why Alberta? Its the Conservative Party's stronghold, where they get most of their donations from.

ESCAPE FROM CITY 17

CANADA/ENTERTAINMENT - Canadian directors the Purchase Brothers have created a video called "Escape from City-17" that has gone viral on YouTube. Using Toronto's industrial parks as landscapes for the video, they created a plot based on the extremely popular computer games Half-Life and Counter-Strike.



David and Ian Purchase of Markham, Ontario have been toiling towards their dream of becoming movie directors and their video has caught the attention of Hollywood producers.

Three reasons: #1. Its an extremely popular (over 2 million views in the last month). #2. Its a very well made video, complete with spectacular graphics. #3. Its also extremely low-budget, only $500 for the first 2 episodes.

"The $500 budget went to the costumes and the airsoft guns," explains David.

"But in terms of time, that first one took about three or four months of working on it. And we've been working on the other (instalments) too. We shot them all simultaneously, and then filled in the gaps," says Ian.

"Escape from City-17" is a five-and-a-half-minute film, the first part of a series of videos planned to be released on YouTube. Lauded by viewers worldwide for its engaging story, special effects and accurate depiction of the tense first-person-shooter's universe, the video has many fans and online commenters clamouring for more, and people in the film industry hoping and believing that this is possibly just the start for the suddenly up-and-coming siblings.

A month ago they signed on with "Sons and Daughters", a local commercial production company who would represent them in Canada.

Many of the scenes in the first installment were filmed in a local train yard, where they were often chased off by security guards. Much of the acting was provided by friends like Derek Chan, who stars in Part One with Ian, who plays a fellow soldier with a vaguely European accent.

They're not happy with the flaws of the film, the sound dubbing and they have to limit themselves because they know they have limited resources.

There have been very few video game-based films that actually pleased gamers. The brothers sent a rough cut to Valve Software, the maker of Half Life and Counter-Strike, and garnered such a positive reaction that they were flown down to its Bellevue, Wash., headquarters to discuss the possibilities of making a film. This was high praise, as Valve has little interest in making a Half Life film; many of the previous pitches to them were considered ridiculous.

"After seeing some of the dreadful ways Hollywood has attempted to turn video games into film, it was great to see how well the Purchase Brothers have brought our game to life. Hollywood could learn a lot from these guys," says Gabe Newell, owner of Valve.

"I know that some directors like to change things, like the floating airships in the background, and some would say, `Oh, let's make them black, to make them stand out more.' Well, no, they're supposed to be white, that's the type of stuff that matters," says David.

Valve's disinterest is a slight problem, because as the video started racking up hits, Hollywood producers started asking "How do we turn this into a movie?" Since then 'Sons and Daughters' flew the brothers to Hollywood to discuss possible deals.

Within a week in L.A., the Purchase Brothers had met with most of the top agencies in Los Angeles and are now represented by Anonymous Content for commercials in the United States, and signed with CAA for feature film representation, sharing an agent with Christopher Nolan (Dark Knight). The pair are already working on their own feature film idea.

"It's going to be set in World War Two, it's going to be feature length, it's got a very cool story that we can't really talk about," says David.

The good news is that their budget has increased significantly and the brothers are now scouting out locations to shoot more scenes for "Escape from City-17".

See Also:
Censoring Canadian Films
Online Strategy and Roleplaying Games
Zombie Movies from Hell
Online Poker Games

March 12, 2009

Wind Generation in Ontario Sets a Record

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - Wind generation in Ontario achieved record output on March 11th (yesterday). Over a 24-hour period, wind energy created 16,585 megawatt hours (MWh), which is enough electricity to power the homes and businesses of 550,000 people for 24 hours.

The record is due to a combination of more wind turbines being installed and a particularly windy day yesterday.

The hourly average wind output for the day was 691 megawatts (MW), with a high output of 781 MW and a low output of 419 MW.

"The strong winds yesterday translated into record levels of electricity produced by wind turbines located throughout the province," said Ken Kozlik, Chief Operating Officer of the IESO. "Ontario is making significant progress in its efforts to phase out coalfired generation and develop a greener, more sustainable supply mix, which will lead to more recordbreaking days."

With nearly 900 MW of wind capacity providing energy into the electricity
market, Ontario is leading Canada in wind generation capacity. The IESO
forecasts that at least two terawatt hours (TWh) of electricity will be
produced by wind farms over the next year.

NOTE: 1 terawatt = 1 billion kilowatts

See Also:
Building a Wind Turbine Factory in Ontario
The Solar Powered Myth
Home Energy Saving Tips
Solar Power becoming Profitable
Ontario Goes Nuclear
Canada's Electricity Problems
Ontario wind power gets $1.3 billion

Ozone tied to respiratory death rate

Residents of big cities face greater threat to breathing hazards and death due to pollution, a new study finds.

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - According to the study long-term exposure to ozone in Toronto may be responsible for approx. 20% of all lung-related deaths in the city. The massive new American study on health risks of the common air pollutant compares smog levels in major North American cities and deaths caused by smog.

People who live in cities with smoggy ozone pollution are 25% to 30% more likely to die from lung disease than those living in areas with the cleanest air, researchers reported.

The study, which looked at data tracking 450,000 people over 18 years, suggests the current emphasis on peak ozone days (also known as smog days) as the smog component's major health danger ignores the serious, cumulative perils that breathing it over a lifetime impose.

"It's not just the peaks you should worry about, it's the cumulative, entire ozone season that's important, too," says George Thurston, a professor of environmental medicine at New York University.

"So we can't just sort of hide in our homes on the peak days and avoid the adverse effects of ozone," says Thurston, who directed the air pollution portion of the study.

The report, released today in the New England Journal of Medicine, does not look at Canadian cities, but York University air pollution expert Geoff Harris says Toronto's ozone levels are almost identical with those found in many large cities in the northeast United States.

About 20% of respiratory deaths in these cities can be directly attributable to long-term exposure to the pollutant. Ozone and fine airborne particles are two of the major components of smog. In New York and Washington ozone smog increased the risk of dying of any respiratory ailment, from cancers to a severe asthma attack, by approx. 25%.

In very smoggy Los Angeles ozone increased the risk of dying of any respiratory ailment by about 50%.

Ozone in the upper reaches of the atmosphere helps protect the Earth from the sun's punishing ultraviolet rays. But at ground level, ozone is corrosive is a key player in respiratory fatalities.

Ground level ozone is created by sunlight reacting with nitrogen dioxide and fine particle pollutants emitted by cars, factories and coal-fired generating plants. The resulting triple oxygen molecule (O3) is volatile, and can react with the vulnerable surface of the lung, breaking down the tissue and causing a host of pulmonary conditions.

Doctors have long known that ozone is hazardous. Short-term exposure aggravates asthma symptoms and causes breathing problems. It is especially dangerous for those people who suffer from pre-existing pulmonary conditions such as emphysema.

The study is the first to tease out the relative percentage that ozone exposure contributes to deaths due to smog. The study will give more ammunition to groups like his to argue for tougher pollution standards.

Toronto Public Health says air pollution in general accounts for about 1,700 premature deaths in the GTA and 6,000 hospital admissions each year.

See Also: Pollution in Canada getting worse, statistics show

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