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January 29, 2011

China worried about real estate bubble bursting

POLITICS - On Wednesday China brought in fresh measures to curb real estate prices in China, including local price controls. A property tax, widely anticipated, was not announced despite growing worries that China's real estate bubble is dangerously large and could implode.

City governments must set property price control targets and make the targets public in the first quarter of 2011. The targets will be in line with local economic factors.

China’s city governments have a vested interest in this topic since its a major source of their tax revenues.

China also announced new rules which require a 60% down payment for second-home buyers, up from the current 50%. First time home buyers are unaffected.

There is also a new law barring local residents from buying a 3rd home if they already own 2 homes in the area.

China has also told banks to restrict lending to developers in the hopes that fewer new projects will shorten demand (its the opposite, smaller supply will only raise prices and encourage bidding wars).

“These are the unprecedentedly harsh policies, and will definitely weigh down (property) prices,” said Hua Zhongwei, an analyst with Huachuang Securities in Beijing.

Despite the slew of measures that China is taking property prices are remaining stubbornly high. The goal is to cool the real estate market so the bubble becomes more stable and less likely to implode, which will hurt China's economy with disastrous results.

There is also widespread public anger about property inflation and foreign investors who have been buying up Chinese condos and jacking up the prices. China's leaders are acutely aware of this and how its effecting the economy have decided they will not tolerate double digit percentages in property inflation and rampant speculation.

Property inflation went down to 6.4% in December from November’s 7.7%, but it wasn't that long ago that many Chinese cities were seeing inflation of 10% or more annually.

“The new measures are very strict. If property sales plunge, some property developers will definitely run out of cash,” said Shen Aiqing, a property analyst with GF Securities in Guangzhou.

What China is doing is also very risky. They are attempting to cool down the market, not bring it to a complete halt. A sudden shortage in home buyers would do exactly what they feared, cause a collapse.

Political and Economic Chaos in Egypt

POLITICS - Below is a time line of the events leading up to Egypt's current state of anarchy.

January 17th

A 50-year-old man sets himself on fire outside parliament. In December a similar protester in Tunisia did the same thing and it unleashed an uprising that overthrew Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

January 18th

A 25-year-old unemployed man sets himself ablaze in the city of Alexandria. A lawyer in his 40s also sets himself on fire outside government buildings in Cairo.

January 20th

Two Egyptians injured after setting fire to themselves.

January 24th

Nobel laureate and opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei says Egyptian should follow the lead set by Tunisia and overthrow the dictatorship currently running the country.

January 25th

Anti-government demonstrations bring several thousand people on to the streets across Egypt. Two demonstrators killed in Suez after clashes with police.

During the night police fire tear gas thousands of protesters in central Cairo.

January 26th

Thousands of people demonstrate in Egyptian towns, ignoring a strict ban on protests. Egyptian police continually fire tear gas at protesters.

In Cairo a protester is killed in clashes with police.

In Suez, 55 demonstrators and 15 police officers injured in clashes.

January 27th

Security forces swarm central Cairo. Hundreds of protesters clash with police in Suez and Ismailiya.

Police shoot dead a young man in the Sinai town of Sheikh Zuwayed.

The White House says the Cairo government and protesters they have an "obligation" to avoid violence. The European Union asks Egypt to respect the right to protest.

Opposition leader ElBaradei says he is ready to "lead the transition."

January 28th

In Cairo riot police use tear gas and rubber bullets on tens of thousands of protesters.

In Suez a protester is killed and in Alexandria a government building is burnt.

Thousands of arrests across Egypt as government seeks to stay in power.

Internet services go down.

Opposition leader ElBaradei joins over 2,000 people in Friday prayers in Cairo.

President Mubarak imposes a dusk-to-dawn curfew, calls on the army and declares martial law.

Britain and Germany express concern about the violence, with Britain saying the protesters had "legitimate grievances."

Protesters set fire to the headquarters of the ruling National Democratic Party in Cairo.

January 29th (today)

Death toll rises to at least 64 people.

Curfew increased to 4 PM.

Military dispatched to quell protests in the suburbs of Cairo.

Protests outside Egyptian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Mubarak refuses calls for early elections.

Gunfire at Mubarak's presidential residence reported. More reports of "nonstop" gunfire coming from his residence.

Various Egyptian politicians resigned or removed from their positions.

Ahmed Shafiq has been named Egypt's new prime minister. Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman appointed as vice president. Both men are former members of Egypt's military.

THE EGYPTIAN MIRAGE

Egypt was hailed as a success story by international financial institutions. Egypt's economy was flourishing, with annual GDP growth of 5% to 7% thanks to it being a stable haven compared to the rest of the Middle East. The Egyptian regime promised stability and stamped out opposition.

That success story however is turning into a mirage however. According to Forbes magazine Egypt's "economic situation will deteriorate further."

On Thursday, the Egyptian stock market dropped 10.5%.

If a new government came into power however it could easily rebound.

Meanwhile tourists are fleeing Egypt as quickly as they can as the violence escalates.

Its all part of a regional trend effecting Jordan, Yemen, Tunisia and other countries. Protests are springing up against authoritarian dictatorships and their local economies are part of the reason.

These protests are a tricky matter for the United States, which actively promotes democracy, but has allied itself with many of the dictatorships in the region. Jordan for example is an important American ally and the second-largest per-capita recipient of American assistance (Israel is the first).

This region wide backlash against dictatorships could end up being bad for American interests in the region, as democracies are more difficult to control/bribe compared to dictatorships.

There are fears that these protests could spread to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other economic centres of the Middle East where many poor people have seen the rise in economic power of their overlords, but have been denied the right to vote.

Democracy, complete with the accountability, popular legitimacy and peaceful resolution of conflict is the path to long-term stability in the Middle East, but such things will only happen if people first throw out the old regimes and start anew.

January 26, 2011

Harry Potter Deathly Hallows Part 2 Trailer

ENTERTAINMENT - We've been searching for a good quality trailer for Part 2 of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows". Below is the best one we've been able to find.



If you can find / know of a better trailer, please add a link to it in our comments section.

Harper makes budget deal with Separatists

CANADA - The minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper continues to cling to power and has made a $5 billion deal with the Bloc Quebecois for its support of the upcoming federal budget.

The Bloc Quebecois claims they've received a raw deal with respect to regional development to tax harmonization and wants an extra $5 billion in Quebec spending in return for propping up Stephen Harper's lame duck government.

The Conservatives are neck and neck with the Liberals and want to avoid an imminent election, which means seeking either NDP or Bloc support. The Liberals have refused to support major elements of the Conservative governmnet's spending and fiscal platforms.

The Bloc meanwhile is claiming foul, saying that B.C. and Ontario got better deals with HST tax deals (although some B.C. and Ontario residents would disagree, pointing out that they now pay slightly more taxes).

The Bloc is also claiming that disaster relief funding for Manitoba’s Red River flood in 1997 was unfair, because Quebec got no disaster relief funding for Quebec’s ice storm in 1998. (Seriously, they're complaining about events that happened 13 years ago.)

And last but not least, the Bloc is complaining that Alberta got huge tax breaks for Alberta’s oil sector and that Ontario got help for its struggling auto industry during the recession but little was done for Quebec's forestry industry.

And there is more complaints, some dating back as far as 1994.

Quebec already receives an extra $8 billion annually from the national equalization program.

The Bloc also wants equalization payments to Quebec doubled to $16 billion.

Harper's government doesn't have much choice but to agree to the Bloc's demands if he wants to avoid an election.

If Harper flip flops on these payments the Bloc are threatening to cause a federal election by refusing to support the budget.

“If the Harper government refuses to do justice to Quebecers, the Bloc will vote against this budget. If this causes a federal election, we’re ready for it," says Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe.

January 25, 2011

Toronto cops found guilty of assaulting disabled man

CANADA - Two Toronto police constables have been found guilty of assault of an elderly disabled man, whom they arrested on the night of April 24th, 2009 on the steps of his Gerrard St. East home in Cabbagetown.

Constables John Cruz and Edward Ing were stoic and made no comment on Justice Elliott Allen's verdict in court this morning. “His injuries are consistent with being struck constantly,” the judge said, referring to the victim, Richard Moore, who was 59 at the time of the attack.

The officers had testified that they arrested Moore for public drunkenness and were fearful for his safety, but hospital reports confirm that Moore had no trace of alcohol in his system. The judge said the officers had no grounds for the arrest. The charge of being drunk in a public place was quickly thrown out of court.

No date has been set for sentencing.

Basically two cops beat up and arrested an elderly disabled man, and then claimed the old man was drunk in public. Seriously, don't our police officers have something better to do? Like go after street gangs, the mafia or investigate murders / missing people reports?

Beating up old people is not part of the job description.

January 24, 2011

Russian Airport attacked by Terrorists, 31+ killed

POLITICS - A suitcase full of explosives was carried into Moscow’s busiest airport today by a suicide bomber. The explosion killed 31 to 35 people and wounded almost 170. Exact numbers have not been released yet.

Domodedovo Airport's international arrivals terminal was engulfed in smoke, and body parts scattered as shrapnel, screws and ball bearings inside the suitcase went off with the deadly impact of shards from a giant grenade. Hundreds of international visitors to Russia were in the area at the time of the explosion.

President Dmitry Medvedev immediately ordered beefed up security at Moscow’s two other commercial airports and also bus and train terminals. He cancelled a trip to Switzerland, where he had hoped to promote Russia as a profitable investment haven free from violence.

Its evident that Russia is not as safe as he would like. The suicide bomber has yet to be identified. They believe to have found his severed/charred head.

The explosion, which occurred at 4:32 p.m. (1342GMT), could be the result of Chechen militants who have claimed responsibility for previous terror attacks in Moscow. A Chechen double suicide bombing on the subway in March 2010 killed 40 and wounded over 100 people.

Questions are now being asked as to whether Russia should host the 2014 Winter Olympics. FIFA this past weekend announced that Russia will host the 2018 World Cup for Football (Soccer).

Terrorist attacks have been growing in Russia in recent years. In 2004, Chechen suicide bombers managed to sneak past Domodedovo Airport security and killed 90 people when they blew up two planes.

Chechnya has been fighting for independence for over a decade now. The republic wants to throw off Russian rule and form their own government, free of Russian influence. Two disastrous wars between Russia and the republic’s separatists have not quelled their desire for independence.

Its not certain if any Canadians or Americans were injured in today attack. Two British people are among the dead.

A Domodedovo Airport spokesperson said 35 people were killed. Emegency services say it was 31 people confirmed. The discrepancy has not been explained.

Amateur video taken after the attack has been posted on YouTube and shows piles of bodies on the airport floor and more bodies scattered around.



Built in 1964, Domodedovo is located 42 km (26 miles) southeast of Moscow and is the largest of the three major airports in the region, serving 22 million passengers / year. It is considered to Russia's most high tech airport, but its lax security procedures are often questioned.

Will Prince William become King Arthur?

POLITICS - It should be noted, for a variety of reasons, Prince Charles of Wales might never become King of England.

#1. Because he might actually die before his unusually long lived mother does. Queen Elizabeth II will be 85 in April, and her mother (the Queen Mum) lived to be 102. She might be on the throne for another 30 years.

#2. Because Prince Charles married a divorced woman. Camilla Parker Bowles divorced her husband in 1995. As the head of the Church of England, a king cannot be married to a divorced woman. This means if his mother died, Prince Charles would have to step aside and the next person in the line of succession would be his son, Prince William of Wales.

And even if Prince Charles does somehow become King (ie. they ignore the Church of England's rules), it will be a brief time period that he is on the throne. (Prince Charles will be 63 next November. Its possible he might live until he is 90 [males typical die sooner than females] and could be on the throne for 2 decades, but that will be a short time period compared to the six decades his mother has been Queen.)

Prince William Arthur Philip Louis (born 21 June 1982), would then have an interesting option before him. When ascending the throne he would get to pick his official royal name.

He could be King William V, King Arthur, King Philip (which sounds too much like the French and Spanish Kings) or King Louis (who again sounds too French).

It is possible he would pick King William V, but oh... wouldn't it be so much more interesting if he picked King Arthur?

January 21, 2011

North Americans wasting time on Twitter, Facebook

By Charles Moffat - January 2011. (Facebook and Twitter)

ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY - According to a new study many Canadians are wasting time in the office updating their Facebook and Twitter pages, YouTube, chatting, instant messaging, checking email, checking out online personals, online gambling and file sharing movies / music. (And we can assume many Americans are doing these too.)

The modern office worker is a lazy, incompetent beast who is so utterly bored of their job they spend most of their time doing non-work-related activities.

And according to a new study of 34 large Canadian companies we can now get an idea of just exactly which activities they are wasting their time on. California-based Palo Alto Networks collected six-months worth of network data at the 34 Canadian companies with hundreds of thousands of workers across the country.

That is a huge loss to company productivity (and ultimately Canada's economy) when workers waste time on meaningless social activities they should be doing at home. It also raises privacy and security concerns over employees downloading viruses or employers looking at their employees private data.

“People who like to do nasty things on the Internet are getting better at using social media tools and applications as a way of spreading malicious software,” says Joe Compeau, an IT expert at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario.

In 2007, the Ontario government instituted a ban on employees using Facebook and YouTube in the workplace, calling them both time wasters. It is surprising many other companies have refused to follow suit (likely because the managers are also on Facebook and Twitter, and similarly bored with their jobs).

According to Palo Alto Networks, several government agencies were included in the pool of Canadian data, but did not give more details.

Web savvy employees are even bypassing restrictions on Facebook and similar websites. According to the data 53% of organizations believed they had Facebook blocked, but according to usage on their networks over 90% of employees were still accessing Facebook.

Palo Alto has done quite a few studies on this in the past. Their biggest involved 760 companies in 70 countries. This is the first time they've broken down the data for Canada.

According to the data Facebook and Twitter are two of the most popular activities (it should be noted both could be used legitimately for social media marketing, but they are probably not being used for that). “We have not found a single enterprise in Canada where Twitter is not being used,” says René Bonvanie, vice president of worldwide marketing at Palo Alto Networks. “If it were just one or two marketing people using Twitter, the traffic would be in megabytes. The traffic is in gigabytes. It’s hundreds of people [per company].”

Facebook and YouTube were in heavy use at 31 of the Canadian companies studied. YouTube alone used 6% of the bandwidth.

Most office workers use Gmail for personal email and instant messaging. Meebo, a browser-based instant messaging platform, is apparently more popular than Facebook Chat, more so because Meebo can't be blocked.

“That tells me that Canadians are smart. People have figured out that most companies block traditional IMs but haven’t figured out how to block browser-based IMs,” says Bonvanie.

33% of office workers use Spark, an online dating application.

88% use some form of instant messaging.

91% use Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail.

75% use the file sharing program BitTorrent.

33% use XUnlei, a Chinese file sharing program notorious for spreading viruses and malware.

“Malware can install itself on the users desktop or laptop and start to send out information about the user, their data. It could potentially be a huge loss of confidential information,” Bonvanie said.

Combine this loss of work productivity and growing proof that people who work from home are more productive, and a generation from now we might be seeing a lot more companies who have switched to hiring people to work from their homes.

Academic research shows that people who work from home tend to be more creative, innovative and more productive in both the short and the longer term because they have to succeed in order to keep the company happy.

Of course there is also the opposite argument...

"If you expect me to check my work email in the evenings and on weekend, why can’t I update my dating profile at the office?"


IN THE UNITED STATES

American companies studied: 351

Percentage of American office workers who use instant messaging: 97%

Percentage of American office workers who use Gmail, Yahoo or Hotmail: 100%

America's Favourite Social Network: Facebook

China's economy in a bubble

POLITICS - The economy of China is in a massive bubble and when it blows it is going to spell devastation to the world economy. In terms of economic value China's economy is three times "heavier" than the USA. I say "heavier" because I want to make a point about size and strength and "economic weight".

In China's case their economy is largely about their ability to throw their weight around. If China does something, ie. build 3D cellphones with projectors on them, within 5 years even little kids in New Jersey will have them. China is a manufacturing juggernaut and whatever they do or build will become the new status quo.

And unfortunately you can't measure economic weight in dollars or GDP. Its arguably better to measure it in economic transactions. You can't measure it in literal weight because a tonne of cellphones is probably going to be more valuable than a tonne of plastic toys. And for the same reason you can't measure it in dollars or cents because exchange rates and market prices fluctuate too much. Instead by measuring the volume of transactions what you see is that China is approx. six times the size of the USA in terms of economic weight.

Now part of that is because China's economy grew 9.8% in the fourth quarter of 2010, while the USA is stagnating in a recession recovery mode (they haven't released numbers yet). And the other part is China has over 4 times the population of the USA, but most of it is because China is such a huge manufacturing megapower.

If you measured based on GDP in dollars China has $9.9 trillion USD in GDP (per annum) and the USA is $14.3 trillion USD... but we also know that China's currency the Yuan is undervalued by about 33 to 50%, which means their real GDP should be close to $20 or $30 trillion.

Plus add to this the fact that the USA owes China over $3 trillion USD for its national debt and you realize the US's economy is pretty weak compared to China.

However China's glorious present is not without a few problems. China's economy has been growing so rapidly (up 10% GDP every year for the last 20+ years) that there is now abundant evidence to suggest that China's economy is in a bubble.

We already know China's real estate market is in a bubble, mostly due to foreign investors who keep sending their money to China to be used to build office towers and condos that are sitting empty because of speculation that they will someday be sold or rented. In Shanghai half of the office towers are sitting empty because there simply isn't enough paper-pushing jobs at this point. (A wiser person would have invested in building factories instead.)

One way to measure an economy is to measure electricity usage. In China 75% of electricity is used in manufacturing. In the USA its only 22%.

It really makes you realize how few products the United States actually makes any more.

Depending on who you talk to you will get different views on the size of China's economy. We agree much of it is speculation because its very difficult to measure these things in currency. According to Arvind Subramanian of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, the value, in U.S. dollars, of total goods and services produced will be dramatically different in a developing country like China.

"In a developing country," says Arvind Subramanian, "the amount it would cost you to get a haircut or go to a doctor would be much cheaper than what it would be in the United States."

When the size of the Chinese economy is measured by how many haircuts or doctor visits it would buy, the numbers change. (In other words measuring the transactions, like we said above.)

"If you make that purchasing-power correction," Subramanian says, "I find that the Chinese economy is $14.8 trillion, which is larger than the American economy."

So he and us differ on the amount China is actually worth.

It should be noted that Subramanian was using an older value for China's GDP, a value of $5.7 trillion, instead of the $9.9 trillion China's GDP is currently worth. To correct his error however we just have to apply mathematics... 14.8 / 5.7 X 9.9 = 25.7.

Using his numbers China's real GDP is $25.7 trillion, almost twice the size of the American economy.

We argue its still better to measure in base transaction numbers.

Subramanian's and our assessments differ dramatically from calculations made by the International Monetary Fund. Most economists are hesitant to say that China's economy has surpassed the USA's, regardless of the measurement (this might explain why Subramanian was deliberately using outdated numbers for China's GDP).

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed that most Americans are convinced that China is already the dominant economic power on the planet, by a margin of 47% to 31% percent (and 22% who don't know or care).

That means that 53% of Americans either refuse to believe China's economy is bigger, or they simply don't know enough about economics to know any better.

"We've been brainwashed," says Robert Aliber, professor emeritus of international economics at the University of Chicago. "The general sense that China is an economic powerhouse is far-fetched," he says.

Aliber agrees that, by purchasing-power measurements, the Chinese economy is probably a lot bigger than the GDP figures suggest. He points out that much of what China adds to the world economy is cheap labor, something which is undervalued and extorted and that most Chinese still live in poverty. On a recent trip to China, Aliber noticed that many urban apartments are unoccupied, so their value is unproven.

"Somebody has to buy these apartments," Aliber argues, "or their prices will decline. China is at the near terminal stage of a massive housing bubble."

If that bubble bursts, China's economic figures won't look so good.

In related news...

President Hu Jintao heads back to China today, his state visit to Washington having underscored his country's status as the United States' top economic rival — or even its master.

Hu Jintao got the red carpet treatment this week, but was it because he is just a rival? Or is it because the USA owes China so much money and likely needs more?

"This ain't Canada right now" G20 cop says

CANADA - York Regional Police officer, Sgt. Mark Charlebois (badge number 815), is under investigation for telling people they are no longer in Canada and has no civil rights.

The video shows several people standing outside of the G20 security perimeter at King St. W. and University Ave. on June 27th while their bags are searched by a group of police officers. When a young man in a black T-shirt and cap refuses to hand over his backpack the police begin intimidating him and eventually tell him that he is no longer in Canada and that he has no civil rights.



This, and several incidents which involve "unprovoked attacks by police officers" and unwarranted arrests of Canadian citizens are part of a long list of investigations that are ongoing as the result of last summer's G20 meeting. The police corruption during that period has given Canadians an eyeful of what police are really like.

In one unprovoked attack police broke a man's arm just because he was taking photographs. He was then held for hours without being allowed to receive medical attention. Dorian Barton seeks $250,000 for the police assault and battery, unlawful arrest and detention and “negligent investigation.”

The number of similar lawsuits are piling up as police corruption and violence was rampant during the G20, causing more damage than anything done by the relatively few protesters.

January 17, 2011

Is Steampunk the New Goth???

GOTHIC - Watch out what you see on the subway late at night because while in 2001 you might have seen some pretty freakish goths, by 2011 standards that just isn't weird enough. Steampunks (or depending on your fashion sense, Steamgoths!) is the new thing.

No, there's no fantasy element to this. True, many goths were into Wicca, vampires, magic, fairies and such... steampunk is about retrofuturism... anything that looks old but is futuristic at the same time. Think really weird pocket watches, corsets, circa-1900 clothing and gadgets that run on something other than electricity. (Like the steampunk clock shown below.)



Part of this fad (if you can call it that) can be blamed on the Sherlock Holmes movie that came out in 2009.



However there is several other films we could blame as well, including:

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, 2004



Van Helsing, 2004

Steamboy, 2004

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, 2003



The Time Machine, 2002



Wild Wild West, 1999

Sleepy Hollow, 1999



FASHION - In terms of clothing however this is the part where there is lots of room to grow.

See brassgoggles.co.uk and community.livejournal.com/steamfashion for ideas.

Goggles is a common idea when people think of steampunk, but its a bit of a cliche too.

Think leather, brass or copper, gears, clocks, levers, chains (like bicycle chains), Victorian patterns, pinstripes, damask, argyle, hair is usually up or a bob... You can also have fun with tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, torn clothing, tools (ie. pocket wrenches and gauges).

"[Steampunk is] drawing on actual history. You can pull into it what you're into and put your spin on it. It's accessible yet expandable," says Jake von Slatt (aka Sean Slattery, of Littleton, Mass.), who likens the philosophy behind steampunk to open-source software. "There is a real focus on sharing, exploring things together, building community."

Steampunkers also have conventions to exchange ideas and compare clothing and gadgets, they dress to the nines and party like it's 1899.

Mr. von Slatt is currently "steampunking" a fiberglass, 1954-style Mercedes kit car, adding salvaged gauges and lights from other cars and gold filigree trim. Drawn to steampunk's "do-it-yourself, making something from nothing" mantra, von Slatt scavenges most of his components.

Basically wherein gothic culture the protagonist is a vampire or demon, in steampunk the villain is a gadget-crazed mad scientist.

And the hero is a goodie-two-shoes bicycle mechanic who builds himself a steampunk bicycle...

I am sure he gets plenty of weird looks, but anybody who is into bicycles will appreciate what he has done. Its a retro recumbent bicycle, and that is just plain kewl.

If you are looking for something steampunk-esque to read, we recommend The Keepers of the Maser series of graphic novels by Italian comic book author Massimiliano Frezzato.

Huzzah!

Canadian industries cutting emissions

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - Companies in Canada are cutting their emissions even though the government of Canada is still sitting on the fence when it comes to climate change.

According to an Ontario government report released last Friday, the air is getting cleaner due to lower emissions. Ontario and Alberta produces most of the CO2 emissions in Canada. (One in three Canadians live in Ontario.)

In 2009 there was 3 smog advisories, the lowest number since the government began tracking them in 2002.

Emissions of common air pollutants decreased from 2000 levels:

Nitrogen dioxide down 40%;

Carbon monoxide down 64%;

Sulphur dioxide down 54%.

The report also says there has been a 27% decrease in fine particulate matter concentrations since 2003.

The Ontario government credits replacement of coal-fired power plants with clean energy sources and the Drive Clean program for some of the improvement in air quality, but another big contributor is the manufacturing sector which sometimes uses coal burners to power their factories and has been cutting back on the use of coal.

The data used to determine the current Air Quality Index comes from 40 monitoring sites across Ontario.

FACT: If Canada cut out the use of coal completely we would meet Kyoto reduction levels.

January 8, 2011

Mass Animal Deaths caused by Poison

By Ai Lung Nguyen - January 2011.

ENVIRONNENT - A build up of toxic and poisonous gases in the Earth's atmosphere is killing many birds and fishes in large numbers. There has been incidents of mass animal deaths including birds, fish and crabs in Arkansas, England, Sweden and New Zealand. So far the incidents also include:

2 million dead fish washed up in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland last Saturday.

Hundreds of snapper fish were found dead and washed ashore at Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand on Tuesday.

A 2nd incident in New Zealand has happened with penguins, petrels and other seabirds dying in the hundreds. Scientists believe they ate the snapper fish and were poisoned by whatever is in the fish.

150 tonnes of red tilapias fish have died in Vietnam, washed ashore. The Vietnamese government claims they were killed by lack of oxygen in the water.

100 tonnes of dead sardines and catfish have washed up on the beaches of Paranagua, Brazil.

In England, more than 40,000 Velvet swimming crabs were found dead on the beaches.

The Thanet shoreline is littered with the crabs, along with dead starfish, lobsters, sponges and anemones.

50 jackdaw birds were found dead Wednesday on a street in Stockholm, Sweden.

On Tuesday, 450 birds plummeted to their deaths in Louisiana.

On New Year’s Eve, over 3,000 red-winged blackbirds fell from the skies in Arkansas.

Also in Arkansas thousands of dead fish are now floating along 17 miles of river south of Hartman, Arkansas.

100,000 drum fish washed up on the shores of the Arkansas River.

300 turtle doves died in Italy on Friday.

In the case of the turtle doves people noted a blue stain on the doves, similar to that causes by potassium cyanide which causes hypoxia and suffocation, which could explain how they died, but not why a whole flock of turtle doves suddenly flew into a cloud of potassium cyanide gas (or something similar).

Initially scientists thought it might be cold weather, the result of global warming and climate change, but autopsies on the birds and fish turned up toxic chemicals in their blood.

Water quality alone has also been ruled out, since the incidents are happening in North America, Europe and even New Zealand, and would not explain incidents that are happening inland in places like Arkansas. Scientists now believe it is an air-borne but water soluble toxin which has been building up in the atmosphere.

If the mass deaths continue to pile up an international investigation into the causes will be needed. Right now countries are investigating the causes independently of each other.

News media are now calling it the Aflockalypse.

January 7, 2011

Phoenix Jones, Real Life Super Hero

ENTERTAINMENT - Inspired by seeing someone in a fight and needing help when dozens of bystanders nearby did nothing, a man in the city of Lynnwood, Washington, has decided to become a real life crime fighting super hero. Obviously part of the inspiration is from Batman and other fictional superheroes.

Clad in a black and gold suit, complete with bulletproof vest, stab-prevention plates, a Taser and mace, the man calling himself "Phoenix Jones" has so far successfully stopped one crime, an attempted carjacking.

The rescued victim (Dan) says: "People are saying, 'No way, dude, you were probably drunk.'" when telling people about the incident.

But the super hero known as "Phoenix Jones" is real. He has no super powers, he's just a good Samaritan who 5 nights per week wanders the street looking to stop crimes.

Kudos man, Kudos!

Dog knows over 1,000 words

TECHNOLOGY - A group of American researchers have taught a Border Collie named "Chaser" over 1,000 words and are teaching more words every day. They are attempting to learn if border collies have any limits for the number of words they can learn.

January 1, 2011

Holy Moly its 2011!

2010 was a year of many things, as most years are. There is never a year that is dull and nothing happens. True, some years are more interesting (2001 for example).

Lets go down the list of important things that happened in 2010...

AUTOMOTIVE - Gas prices soared in 2010 and the first mass production electric car was introduced. Other car manufacturers are coming out with more electric cars in 2011. Oil prices went down at the start of the year, but gas prices overall kept going up.

CANADA - The Canadian minority government continues teeter on the brink of an election... sometime... eventually. Whenever Canadians get bored of having a Conservative government which doesn't actually do anything (and is too afraid to show Canadians what they would really do if they got a majority government).

ENTERTAINMENT - YouTube is outpacing television in popularity. More people now watch YouTube on a daily basis than they watch TV. TV still pulls in more hours per viewer, but YouTube is more popular (at least in North America).

ENVIRONMENT - The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is the big story of 2010. Blame for the environmental disaster has been handed squarely on BP and contracting companies. Meanwhile global warming and climate change are getting worse and countries world wide still can't come up with an agreement that would halt the process. (Scientists now say its too late to stop the effects of global warming, the best we can do is to try and fix what we can so it doesn't get even worse.)

FASHION - Men wearing hamburgs and Swisses (and mistakenly calling them fedoras). The 1920s fashion culture is suddenly in. What's next, zoot suits?

FEMINIST - Precious, the story of an overweight, illiterate teenager in 80s ­Harlem, won two Oscars. Except we didn't go see it... and we can't think of anyone who did. Honestly, we're not sure if anything significant happened in the world of feminism in 2010... and that is rather sad.

GOTHIC - Gothic culture is practically dead at this point. Even Emo is becoming lame (although we'd argue Emo was ALWAYS lame). The new thing is STEAMPUNK... which we argue could also be interpreted as STEAMGOTH! Anything that is retrofuturistic is now kewl.

HEALTH - Several major breakthroughs that may lead to cures for AIDS and cancer. The problem however is that they won't be available for another 5 to 10 years while they are thoroughly tested. One of them cures 60% of AIDS strains, and holds promise for curing the other 40% of AIDS strains. Cancer meanwhile is the result of toxins and malformed cell tissue. New medications that get rid of the toxins and helps cancerous cell tissue to regenerate are in the works.

POLITICS - 2010 was really more about economics than politics... true, the USA is on the verge of war with North Korea... and maybe Iran too... but American's primary worry is economics on the home front. The US economy is still sour because of their trade imbalance with China, despite efforts to boost the American economy too many people are buying products from China. President Obama meanwhile is too scared to face down China because most of the national debt is owed to, you guessed it, China. In 2011 we predict the US economy will get WORSE and it will likely do so suddenly, like a sudden stock market drop in Spring or Summer. And then the USA will have no choice but to demand that China stop pegging their currency to the US dollar, and China will have to agree when their economy starts hurting too.

If anything China has the most to lose if the economy goes sour. Their real estate market is in a bubble and will burst if there is an extended period of economic uncertainty. Anyone who invested in real estate in China is going to lose their shirts. That or we will have a currency war.

As proof that the economy is still on shaky ground gold prices soared in 2010 to a record $1405 USD per ounce. Experts think it might go as high as $2000 USD in 2011 if the US economy stays weak or gets worse.

RELIGION - Pope Benedict helped cover up a pedophile priest who molested hundreds of boys. Complaints to the Catholic Church are falling on deaf ears. Yada yada yada, don't send your children to a religious school where they will likely be molested.

SEX - California dropped its ban on gay marriages, but meanwhile NASA announced that sex in space is a big no-no. (Although the James Bond movie Moonraker begs to differ...)

TECHNOLOGY - Tablets and SmartPhones debuted in 2010 and we will see a slew of better made versions in 2011. They're getting a lot cheaper too, which will be nice.

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