Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Winter blues

Do you live in a place north from parallel 30°N or south from parallel 30°S? Have you felt that your mood has changed recently (in an undesirable fashion) for no reason? Then this information will be valuable for you.
People who aren't used to live in areas where in winter it's rare to see the sunlight can find really strange the fact that long periods without receiving sunlight may affect some people. There are many consequences that may arise from such phenomenon, most notably a deficient absorption of vitamin D and changes in mood and behaviour.
The latter is a disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD - I wonder if that abbreviation is only a coincidence). But SAD is the most drastic scenario; on its early (and most common) stage it's usually called Winter Blues, a name given by Dr. Norman Rosenthal, one of the greatest researchers about the disorder worldwide.
How does the SAD feel like? It feels really, really bad. Having your mood changed from one day to another is very awkward, and it may be very maddening to unsuccessfully looking for an explanation to it. Normally, the winter blues brings the individual's mood down, to a point in which the symptoms are more or less the same as those observed in a mood depression: laziness, sadness, long periods of self reflection and lack of motivation are among the series of behaviours that the affected individual may experience. This disorder, if slight, may last for some days. Surprisingly, it affects a large portion of the population who live in the mentioned zones of the world. That would explain things like, for example, why does Sweden have one of the highest suicide rates in the world.
Still, I understand that there are some treatments that help to cope with SAD and winter blues- including outdoor sports and outdoor recreational activities. Especially for immigrants coming from countries where people are subject to suffer this disorder, handling the situation may be even more difficult than for people used to it. So if you think that you're experiencing winter blues, just seek for an expert's advice, try to be surrounded by your friends or significant others for as long as possible, or get some sunshine and smile!

Monday, February 26, 2007

The discovery of the millenium?

Thousands of year of history are suddenly challenged by a group of archaeologists, all because of the recent discovery of a tomb in Jerusalem. In this place, several caskets containing remains of people were found, and on top of each the name of the person whose remains were contained in them: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Along with them, the remains of Mary Magdalene and an alleged son of her and Jesus, Juda, are kept in that place.
Is this a coincidence, or are those remains really from the people described in the New Testament? The Discovery Channel will premiere a show (named The Tomb) on March 4 (in the US, March 6 in Canada) where they'll show the evidence that leads the archaeologists to believe that they found Jesus and his family's tomb.
Even when the documentary hasn't been broadcasted, there have already been some reactions from the Roman Catholic community, minimizing the importance of the discovery. A spokesman of the Roman Catholic Church in New York says that it's only speculation and absurd theorizing.
He's not the only one. Members of the Greek Orthodox Church and some historians have made know that they think it's "very unlikely" that those remains are really those of Jesus' family. Instead, they say, there are some individuals that like to play with stories in which people believe so blindly.
It's hard to tell an opinion about this discovery. I don't know whether the archaeologists did find Jesus' remains or not; however, I don't think that the finding will radically change the faith of thousands of people in the world. Even if they manage to prove that the remains belong to Jesus, people who really believe in the Catholic or Christian faith won't believe that, just because they are convinced of their faith.
I don't follow the Catholic or Christian faith, but still I wonder: What is, at the end of the day, the point of showing this discovery? Is it trying to convince millions of people that their beliefs are wrong? Or simply to make some money from sensationalism?.
Anyway, I think that it will be interesting to watch Discovery Channel's documentary. It will be attention-grabbing to know if those remains belong to Jesus or not. But whatever the conclusion is, I don't expect millions of people to look different towards their religion after watching such show. Do you?

Photo by The Discovery Channel

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Taco Rats.. Yum, yum!

Taco Bell's food has never been one of my favorites. In fact, I'd say that I don't like it at all, because in my personal point of view, it has nothing to do with authentic Mexican food at all (if anybody has tried authentic Mexican food, will know what I mean for sure).
Anyway, I know many people who do like Taco Bell, which is very respectable. I wonder if they'll feel like going to any of their restaurants any soon after watching the video that shows a dozen of rats running all across a KFC/Taco Bell place in New York City and having lunch there.
The images are very clear: The rats running under the tables, through the kitchen, under the drinks machine, and technically everywhere. And those animals don't seem to be very frightened by the presence of the media, taking pictures and recording video of the bizarre scene.
Yum Restaurants, company that controls both Taco Bell and KFC, will investigate the case in depth. Meanwhile, they closed that specific location and they'll try to analyze the problem with the franchise's owner. The franchisee, by the way, was allegedly warned of the possibility of having rats in his restaurant by authorities from New York city back in December. However, it looks like they didn't care too much about it. Even more disgusting is the fact that, according to some neighbours, that problem has been there for several months now, when the restaurant was still in full operation!
But I believe that images are a much better way to understand the case. Here's a video from YouTube, which contains an extract from CBS News covering the incident:

Yuks! After seeing this, I'll modify Taco Bell's slogan a bit: Yo NO quiero Taco Bell. At least, not with rats!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

New European border controls

I don't know whether the idea comes from the Identity, Tradition and Sovereignty group in the European Parliament, but countries of the European Union seem to be quite tired of receiving thousands of illegal immigrants from South America each year. They're committed to keeping incoming illegal immigrants out of their land.
I'm sure that, if they had the option of building a fence all around the territory that comprises the European Community, they would build it. This because, although the European Union has publicly showed its discontent with other countries like Israel for building protective fences, they do build them to avoid illegal immigrants. Check for instance the case of the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, bordering Morocco, where the Spanish authorities built barbed fences to avoid Africans entering their territory (and mysteriously, nobody complains about it).
Unfortunately for their cause, that's not a feasible solution for their problem with South Americans, mainly because illegal South Americans commonly travel by air. Their operation is easy: They use tourist visas and remain in Europe. As simple as that.
It looks like a great challenge to keep these people off Europe. That's why Europeans have decided to form a committee that will be focusing on strategies to implement in selected airports of Europe.
European authorities are very optimistic about the expected results. For example, Peter Almeier, a German civil servant, boasts about the good results that they obtained of applying similar procedures during the Soccer World Cup in Germany last year. This time, the measures will take effect in airports in the following cities: Lisbon, Madrid, Barcelona, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Milan, Rome, and Frankfurt.
Looks like a good first move for the European Union to fight their problem; however I find two principal drawbacks:
  • Surprise is generally a desirable factor when coping with certain issues. Why did Europeans announce their future plans regarding illegal immigration, and moreover, why did they let the media know which airports will be involved in the project?
  • How do they plan to maintain control over the immigration flows entering through the rest of the countries in Europe? Have they considered to do the same in airports like Warsaw, Budapest or Bucharest? Let's not forget that mobility is unlimited through the European Union's territory once an individual manages to enter it.
I wish I could know the results of their plan in a few months' time, it'd be worth seeing how effective are Europeans to control people crossing countries without any restrictions.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Holy Soccer

Maybe it's because of the suspension of soccer games that has taken place in Italy since the riots after the Catania against Palermo match. Or perhaps because the priests of the Vatican City are sick of watching games manipulated by the corrupt Italian Footbal Federation. Whichever reason, the fact is that the Vatican City is about to introduce its own soccer league, named the Clericus Cup.
In this league, in which 16 teams representing different Catholic institutions will participate, only priests will play. Other supporting staff, such as coaches, will be composed exclusively by ecclesiastical members. The rules will be pretty much the same that are in force in other soccer leagues (by this, I mean all but the MLS). The main differences will be the length of a match (in this league, a game will consist of two 30 minutes periods) and the use of a "blue card", which will mean a suspension of 5 minutes.
All of the games will be played in the La Petriana stadium in Rome; however, the final match to be played in June will be disputed in the Marmi Stadium... of course, don't expect it to be on a Sunday, because there will be no Sunday matches in the Clericus Cup.
According to the organizer, Centro Sportivo Italiano (Italian Sport Centre, CSI), the idea of this league is to demonstrate the importance of sport in a Catholic education.
How do you like this project? In my point of view, it's really weird. But hey, that's true... why shouldn't priests enjoy the benefits of doing some sport as well? Who says that religion and sports don't match??
If you're curious to see, don't forget to tune in to the opening match, Gregoriana vs Mater Ecclesiae, on February 24!

Click here to visit CSI's official page (in Italian), with information about the Clericus Cup.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Hybrid Assistive Limb

As I wrote some days ago, I am more and more amazed each time I hear about Japanese culture. Hi-tech has indeed become part of such great and respectable country's way of life.
All those gadgets that have been built in Japan lately are really awesome. It looks that the era in which our best friends will be robots is approaching very fast; the world depicted in several Sci-Fi books will become reality in some years' time. And partly, thanks to the research that Japanese scientist are developing in the field of high-tech.
One of the inventions resulting from such research deserves a special mention. It is called the Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL, a sort of artificial exoskeleton designed to help people with disabilities to perform activities like walking and lifting heavy objects. The exoskeleton is powered by a battery contained in a backpack; it works by 'feeling' electrical impulses sent from the brain to the respective extremities. The HAL reacts to the stimulus quicker than the individual's body, performing the movement desired by the person.
Such device was developed by a group of Japanese scientists lead by professor Yoshiyuki Sankai at the University of Tsukuba.
A newspaper in Japan reveals that around 400 HALs will be assembled, each of which will be either leased or sold for prices nearing the $5,000 US dollars.
This is a very interesting invention, that may really revolutionize treatments for people with disabilities. I'm sure that devices like this one will indeed make their lives easier.
I welcome this invention. Two thumbs up for it.

For more information about the HAL, visit its homepage by clicking here.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Latin American populist trio

Some of the guys that may annoy me most are those individuals who pretend to play the role of Messiah when elected to a popular position. And although these individuals have proven to be the ones that impact more negatively their respective jurisdictions, for some reason people in developing countries still believe in their ideals and want them to be their rulers.
See the case of Venezuela, for example, where Hugo Chávez (picture above, left) brainwashed the vast majority of the population and imposed a socialist rule where all kind of private industry is becoming the State's property. Besides, this individual has full power of enacting whatever he wants, without passing that through any kind of Congress before.
Evo Morales (picture above, right) is pretty much imposing the same philosophy in Bolivia (very likely under Chávez's orders). First to be nationalized was hydrocarbon, then mining, then whatever he wants to own. His strategy is even better: to nationalize anything he wants, without paying any indemnity to the original investors. That's a deal.
It's no surprise that those two countries keep some of the highest inflation rates in the region.
What is a surprise is that the movement keeps spreading all over Latin America. Although, fortunately, the populist intervention wasn't successful in Mexico, Peru and Colombia (countries where presidential elections were held last year, and all of which had at least one populist candidate), Ecuadorans did take the bait of populism and voted Rafael Correa (picture above, center) as their President, an individual with very close ties to Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales.
Correa took office as president on January 15, 2007, but way before that date it was obvious that he wanted to shift the future of Ecuador towards socialism, pretty much like Chavez's ideas in Venezuela.
He didn't disappoint. Barely a month after starting his duties as head of State, he openly admitted that his intentions are to implement a "21st century socialist government that is succeeding in all Latin America and the world" (for some unknown reason, I don't feel that this model has been implemented in many countries, but only in Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua. Is that a whole world?). Moreover, he states that he'll impose a fair system in which "the rich pay more to subsidize poor", some sort of coarse Robin Hood (but not an aquatic one).
Who knows what will be next? Is it that the nationalization syndrome will also affect Ecuador at some point of the upcoming 4 years in which Correa will serve as president? Let's wait and see. Meanwhile, good luck to the Ecuadorans with this guy. May populism be good for you.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Whale hunting discord

Towards 1986, whale hunting was a popular activity performed without any sustainability perspective. This drove to a situation in which the International Whaling Commission (IWC), an international entity created to make sure that whale hunting is regulated in a way that the supply of whales is assured, totally prohibited commercial whaling activities. The only limited exceptions to that measure were scientific hunting, and aboriginal hunting.
Since then, the rules haven't changed. Some countries have been hunting according to the mentioned exceptions, most notably Iceland, Norway (both under the 'aboriginal' justification) and Japan (for 'scientific research').
Given this background, it is curious to see what has happened lately: In a conference held in Tokyo, Japan, pro-whaling countries declared that the IWC has become an organization dedicated to promoting bans on whale hunting rather than regulating it, and they accused such bans of being imperialistic. Moreover, the Japanese threatened to quit their membership to the IWC if the organization's criteria are not reformed.
What the Japanese claim is that whaling is part of their national traditions, and the amount of certain whale species in the oceans have recovered enough to restore commercial hunting. However, these claims have traditionally been blocked by anti-whaling members, who have also expressed their suspects that Japan hasn't been hunting whales for the sake of science as they claim, but they have been doing it only to continue with their traditional hunting activities.
I can't tell whether whale hunting is an activity related to the Japanese national traditions. What I can say is that whaling is not an essential activity in such country's economy. Those animals cannot be farmed and the exact number of whales cannot be determined, so if an allowance of commercial whaling is issued, a optimum control of the amount of births and deaths of such animals cannot be exactly estimated. Thus, it is easier to lose control over the "sustainable" amount of whales that may be hunted per year.
I admire the Japanese culture, and I respect Japan as an advanced country made up of a society with a high education. But I find their arguments about whaling inadmissible. I simply can't find a reasonable justification for which commercial whale hunting should be further permitted. What else is needed to preserve traditions, apart from killing whales allegedly for the sake of science, and then selling their meat in the markets as food?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Some philosophy around Valentine's

Tomorrow is February 14, Valentine's day.
There's no doubt that there are days throughout the year that are worth to celebrate, and some that don't. Valentine's is one of those that don't.
Why is celebrating Valentines so important? What's the real point of doing it? My philosophy is that, if you really want to show how good is your friendship with somebody, or how much you love another person, it's not necessary to wait until a certain date during the calendar to have all kinds of affective demonstrations. Moreover, you should make your best to demonstrate how you care about a person everyday.
If you ask me, Valentine's is a day to cheer hypocrisy. It's very hypocritical to be someone you're not only for a specific date. This magic is somewhat strange: It doesn't matter if a person hurts a friend during the year, and it doesn't even matter if a person enjoys to create gossip around other people. The magic of Valentine's makes everything very clean and smooth for a day. That's the only date in the year when you see the power that a box of chocolates or a stupid balloon can provide.
Definitely, I don't celebrate that. Not because I'm a bitter and twisted guy, it's only because I don't feel like celebrating a day to show people how deceitful I can become for a day.
If people want to receive something from me, they will in the appropriate moments of life. If I expect a person to give me something in life, I don't expect it to be a greeting card that has written something like "you're a good friend" or "I love you". That's not a demonstration of real friendship whatsoever.
However, I think that Valentine's also has its good points. It's a day that really encourages people to activate the economic cycle, by spending more money. Such money can be later spent as extra payments for workers and other projects that may benefit society. So seeing it from that point of view, it seems to be a great idea to me.
But this is a free world and I'm not trying to discourage anybody from celebrating Valentine's. If you wish to, you can. That's everyone's choice. And just in case you do, happy Valentine's.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Red Hand Day

Since 2002, February 12 is a date used to commemorate the "Red Hand Day". This is an annual commemoration, dedicated to fight against the practice of using children as soldiers in armed conflicts.
The Red Hand Day was created by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers; the date actually matches the one in which the United Nations brought into effect a protocol to protect the children's rights and to avoid their participation in wars and other struggle, which was approved back in the year 2000.
Unfortunately, although the protocol was signed and ratified by representatives of 92 different countries, it looks like its impact hasn't been as expected. It is notorious that many children are still active soldiers in disputes around the globe, mainly in some countries in Africa. Some deceiving numbers suggest that more than 200,000 children worldwide are active in armed conflicts, and a third of those children are girls.
It is remarkable to say that the impact in these children from such experiences is very negative. For those who survive in the battlefields, it is sometimes difficult to get into the society again. They normally don't go to school anymore nor find jobs; many of them have no option but to get involved in illegal activities. They also live traumatized for the rest of their lives, due to the brutality to which they were exposed during the childhood.
I find very interesting that there's a day in the year to commemorate these tragic episodes of human cruelty forgotten by many.
Say no to war, and say no to children in wars.

For more information about the Red Hand Day, visit its official site: http://www.redhandday.org/

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Mobile porn... anytime, anywhere!

Do you know a person who is urged of watching pornography often throughout the day? A large cellphone company in Canada has found the solution for them!
Telus, one of the largest mobile phone services providers in Canada, decided that porn is appropriate to watch whenever you want it, and wherever you are. Why waiting to get to the privacy of your house to see porn stuff, if you can watch it in your own cellphone?
Yes, that's true. Thanks to the sick mentality of the marketing guys at Telus, access to porn material is available to people on the streets, 24/7. The mechanism is very simple: the customer requests the video or photo, and pays about $3.00 or $4.00 Canadian dollars for it. It can't get any easier.
Is this a good market? Some estimations expect that the wireless pornography distribution will grow to more than $14 billion between this year and 2011. Of course, such growth can only be possible with the cooperation of individuals who actually buy such material, whose morality would be questionable to the eyes of the vast majority of people with high social values.
But Telus is a company fully aware of the importance of family values, so they arranged that, in order to be able to purchase porn through the phone, the user should pass an age verification and a credit card number. Also, parents can block the material in their children's phones.
Why would the children need to purchase pornography through their own cellphones, if they can see it in anybody else's? The idea of this industry is to bring pornography everywhere you want it, so you or your children could be enjoying the show displayed on some other person's LCD cellphone screen anywhere: The bus stop, the food court, the supermarket, the library... virtually everywhere. It's as easy as finding some pervert who enjoys watching porno videos and movies in public places, who has a credit card and owns a Telus phone.
Obviously, the reactions couldn't wait for long. For instance, the Roman Catholic community of Vancouver (city where Telus has its main headquarters), led by Archbishop Raymond Roussin, complained bitterly about Telus' new business. This priest is also planning to terminate all contracts in which Telus provides services to Catholic institutions. Other customers have threatened to end their contracts with such company. But Telus sees this as a normal reaction. Jim Johannsson, Telus' spokesman, boasts about the situation, saying that only a 'small fraction' of customers will switch from Telus as a retaliating measure.
In my own point of view, no matter how Telus tries to justify this move, it's just against all kind of moral values. But still, this is not a new industry; we cannot forget that in Europe this market is much more developed than here in North America - which doesn't make it any better.
Will Telus be successful in this new adventure? We don't know. It's early to tell. But if you live in Canada, don't be surprised to unwillingly watch porn sometime, in the most inappropriate moments... and don't forget to thank Telus when that happens!

With some information from The Globe and Mail

Friday, February 09, 2007

A plausible action, or a new case of violation of human rights in China?

China. So much to speak about it. I like China as a country and as a cultural heritage, and even I have good Chinese friends... but when things have to do with human rights and environmental issues, China is one of the worst examples worldwide. And even when it's questionable whether they're pursuing genuine justice, their previous reputation in human rights violations make think that something's wrong in the Chinese judicial systems.
This time, the authorities didn't decide to parade prostitutes in the streets of Shenzhen. Now, they decided to arrest a Chinese-born Canadian citizen, charge him with terror-related issues, and torture him while in prison.
That's Huseyin Celil's story (picture on the left), an activist who is not unfamiliar to the Chinese prison facilities. In previous occasions (1994), this Chinese Muslim has been there because of protecting Uyghur people's rights. He was able to escape such imprisonment (in which he claimed to have been tortured) and he was admitted as a refugee in Canada.
Last year, Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan and deported to China, where he was tried on charges of terrorism. He was obviously found guilty, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. It is important to mention that the Chinese authorities didn't let the Canadian government to intercede for him, as they didn't actually recognize their Canadian citizenship.
Now, is the Chinese authorities reasonable in this case? Not recognizing a nationality that was legally granted to a person is a sort of human rights violation, I guess. But the Chinese authorities agree with those in Uzbekistan that this individual's real name is Guler Dilaver, sought by the Interpol in connection with an attack to a Chinese delegation from Xianjing in 2002. Also, they argue that he's a member of the Eastern Turkestan Islamic Movement, an organization considered as a terrorist group by, among others, the United States. Besides, the Chinese claim that Celil, or Dilaver, is a Chinese citizen thus no consular assistance is allowed for him.
But that's the Chinese authorities' version of the story. His family claims that he's a peaceful man unfairly accused of terrorism.
Who tells the truth, and who lies in this case? It's difficult to tell. The only thing that is for sure is that the Canadian representatives are not happy of being ignored, and they keep an eye on this issue.
Meanwhile, Celil, or Dilaver, whatever his name is, is sitting at some jail right now somewhere in the city of Ürümqi... the good news for him is that China assured to the Canadians that he won't be facing a death penalty; the bad news, that it seems that he'll be sitting there for a long time.

Click here to read the note at ctv.ca

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Streets and technology are not necessarily a good mix

Especially if you live in the jurisdiction of the State of New York, this information will interest you. But even if you don't, it's still worth to keep reading.
A report that appeared today in Yahoo news says that New York State Senator Carl Kruger is promoting a legislation through which pedestrians who cross the streets distracted with an electronic device will face a $100 dollar fine. This because, according to Kruger, three pedestrians have been killed in his jurisdiction since last September; all of them were crossing the street but keeping more attention on their electronic devices than in the incoming traffic.
Some of the gadgets that appear to distract more people when crossing streets are iPods, cellphones, videogames and Blackberries (and coming soon, useful iPhones).
If you feel identified with this kind of behaviour, perhaps you should keep in mind any of the following recommendations:
  • Don't listen to your iPod (or whatever portable sound device you own) at very loud volumes. Increasing the volume does not boost excitement, but it does distract you from outter stimuli easily.
  • If walking on the street, be aware of the distance you have left to reach the limit of the sidewalk. When you're distracted with a device such a videogame or a Blackberry, you sometimes lose accuracy in that notion.
  • Beat the temptation of sending SMS messages anytime, anywhere. Choose a certain appropriate time to send/answer SMS messages. Doing it when walking in the streets is not a good idea.
  • Don't trust on other people's movements! If you're one of those persons who don't see the pedestrian lights and prefer to cross the streets trusting the movements of other pedestrians, you should change that habit. It's better to be fully concentrated when crossing streets; pause your game or type your email after you've safely crossed the street.
And remember: If you live in New York and you love your loud iPod, the next fined person could be you!

To read the original report on Yahoo News, click here.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Funny stuff

Here's another strip by the Argentinian cartoonist Quino. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do, especially dedicated to those people who say that my blog is too serious. You know who you are (right Denise?), my cheers to you :).
Click on the image to enlarge.


Monday, February 05, 2007

And talking about snow, how about a snow festival?

Whilst in Russia the authorities cope with the stinky, greasy, colourful snow that ornaments the surroundings of the city of Omsk, in the Japanese city of Sapporo will start tomorrow the Snow Festival, a yearly venue dedicated, among other things, to promoting international relations and perhaps to celebrate the fact that we still have some pure, white snowfalls in some regions of the world.
The 58th edition of this festival will take place until February 12, 2007. Some of the events to be held include the formation of snow statues, skiing activities, photo and poster exhibitions, and ice sculptures. This year, a total of 18 teams will contest in the various contests programmed for the festival. There are teams representing the United States, China, Shanghai (separately from China), South Korea, Germany and Finland. Some other teams are coming from regions with little or no winter activity tradition (not even the presence of snow for years!), such as Thailand, Hawaii, India and Mexico (the lattermost does have some yearly snow, but it's not a country with real winter traditions anyway).
Typically, all of the teams build impressive snow and ice monuments that leave people breathless (click here to see some sculptures contesting in recent years), and we're not expecting to get disappointed in this year's festival.
The Sapporo Snow Festival is an interesting event unknown by many, but it's good to see it still alive!

Click here to visit the festival's official website.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Multicolored snow

I've mentioned in several occasions how exciting is for me to hear about strange things that happen in our strange world. What I forgot to mention is that sometimes, such strange things are not amusing at all; moreover, they're scary.
This is one of those frightening strange things that happen. A note that appeared today in The Globe and Mail says that there was a snowfall lately in the Russian region of Siberia. The interesting (and maybe tragic) part is that the snow was not very conventional: Its color was not white, but yellow, green and orange. What is more disgusting, is that this snow (if such name can be given to it) was accompanied by a nauseating rotten smell.
Local authorities in the city of Omsk, close to the place where the snowfall occurred, have warned the population about the possible health risks of drinking or using the snow in any way. Meanwhile, some samples of the snow have been collected to be analyzed, which will determine its composition.
The note doesn't go much further than this information. However, there are already some theories that could somehow explain the origins of this phenomenon. One of the most worrying (but feasible) is the constant release of mercury into the environment from Siberian communities in the region of Lake Baikal. I'm not a chemist, and my knowledge about chemistry is quite reduced, so I wouldn't know what are the potential effects of mixing mercury with snow although I'm sure that it's not a desirable combination whatsoever.
Another theory suggests that what's contained in the snow is actually some type of petrol product. I can't determine if that would be more or less harmful than having the mercury on it, but it'd be equally deceiving.
I think that it's not a real surprise to have this type of phenomenon in such area of the world. Let's not forget that some of the countries with the worst environmental records, such as China, are located nearby. And Russia itself does have a bad reputation in terms of sustainability and environment friendly industries. It wouldn't be surprising to find that the rain that falls in that specific region has the same composition of this snow. But all of this is simple speculation, nothing has been proven yet.
What is for sure, is that this disgusting snow has been made possible thanks to the magic of human destruction of the environment and poor governmental regulations (and supervision) to promote greener industries and exploitation of resources.
For those who were skeptical about the consequences of global warming and lack of sustainable policies, does this make you change your mind?

To read the original report in The Globe and Mail, click here.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Italy, the day that soccer ended

Violence by any means is reprehensible. When it happens in sports, it can also be funny... and sometimes, it can go much further than that.
This thought is a result from the latest news coming from Italy, where the (corrupt) Italian Football Federation decided to cancel all soccer-related events indefinitely after the riots registered following a match disputed between the teams Catania and Palermo.
The result was pretty tragic: A dead policeman, around 100 injured, and a lot of destruction. Now what?
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that an incident like this one happens, and it's not likely to be the last one. It looks like soccer is no longer a sport to which families can attend the venues. At least not in some countries, like Argentina and England, where hinchas and hooligans, respectively, have turned the game into a perfect excuse for riots and violence. And Italy's league is following more or less the same fate.
There's not much to comment about a topic such as this one. It's just an event that makes us think where are our social values going to.