Friday, 28 February 2014

Rain in California, Cold in Montreal

My West Coast friends are posting happy news about much-needed rain.

Good on them, since the drought there is bad for all concerned.

As for me, I'm steeling to go out this morning at -18 C (0F)--this cold is getting old.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

More on Energy: When Too Much Hydro Is Too Much Hydro

Le Devoir leaked a report from a government commission this week on the future of energy in Quebec, a report that has been making waves.  In short, it says that contnuing to build hydro projects and to support windmill electricity generation is costing too much and that current electric capacity is more than enough for the province's needs.  If the projects now underway continue, taxpayers will be out a lot of money, and Quebec's economy will not benefit in the least from the outlay of billions of dollars.

Not surprisingly, the PQ government pooh-poohs the conclusions, although it can't deny them.  Nor can it ignore recently released information about the sweetheart deals between Hydro Quebec and aluminum plants.  The pay peanuts for their electricity, and even got a break when they locked out their workers last year. Rather, say government spokepersons, providing low cost power is important for the province's industry.Future capacity is designed to take care of future needs.

The report comes as the economic health of  various oil projects, including the pipelines that are supposed to carry Alberta tar sands oil to (take your pick) the US, Atlantic Canada or British Columbia, is up in the air.

We seem to be in a situation where all bets are off on  the supply of energy, given the sudden increased availability of natural gas from frakking and the like.

Where are we going? What do we really need?

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Energy Debate: Nuclear and Other Forms of Electricity

Last week the Globe and Mail contained the most recent issue of Corporate Knights, a magazine that calls itself "The Company for Clean Capitalism." Rarely have I come across such a series of informative, thought-provoking articles about where we are going in terms of our use of energy.

Among the articles are an evaluation of the various costs of electricity generation, which contains this startling statement about nuclear power:

"Given the rapidly falling cost and potential of efficiency and renewables, the speed with which they can be deployed, as well as the availability of gas as a transition and complementary resource, the economically rational path for the next quarter century is crystal clear: New nukes aren’t necessary."

In other words, going for better energy efficiency and using other sorts of low-carbon, renewable eneergy is going to be a lot cheaper for the forseeable future. 

Definitely worth reading.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Saturday Photo: Sun on Winter Leaves

This is the winter sun shining on one of my plants that do well inside.  It'll be a long time before anything is green outside, so I like to have a reminder that the season isn't always winter.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Going in the Wrong Directon: PQ Budget and Krugman's Take-Down of Austerity Memasures

As usual Paul Krugman is worth reading today.  His analysis of why stimulus in the US hasn't done what it should have is clear: there should have been more, not less, and things would be much worse if there hadn't been the stimulus package in 2009.

He writes that the "huge natural experiment Europe has provided on the effects of sharp changes in government spending....  If stimulus opponents had been right about the way the world works, these austerity programs wouldn’t have had severe adverse economic effects, because cuts in government spending would have been offset by rising private spending. In fact, austerity led to nasty, in some cases catastrophic, declines in output and employment."

The message about the adverse effects of austerity hasn't been heard in Quebec City (or Ottawa, for that matter),  given the budget that Pauline Maurois's PQ government brought down Thursday.  Lots of talk about fiscal responsiblity and zero deficit, and no recognition of the important role government should play in  supporting public programs and putting the emphasis of full employment. 

We're headed for an election here, and certainly the PQ, the provincial Liberals and the right of centre Coalition pour l'avenir du Québec aren't going to talk about the need for stimulus.  Thank goodness Québec solidaire is around to raise some important questions. "The old model is broken down," commented Amir Khadir, one of the two QS members of the National Assembly.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Paris, Because Mavis Gallant Loved the City

The recent death of Mavis Gallant reminds me of how deeply seductive Paris is.  After Montreal, it is a place I'd like to live.

What a pleasure that we have Gallant's stories about the two cities to enjoy.  That is the legacy of writing, particularly when it crosses to line and becomes literature.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Big Money to Fight Elections against Climate Change Nay-sayers

I remember back in the 1970s when the environmental movement was beginning around here and I realized that it was going to be a long row to hoe to get 1) better water pollution control, 2) air quality emissions standards, 3) recycling and 4) everything else that was necessary to make the world liveable.

The problem was that the eco-guys and gals (not that we/they were called that then) just didn't have the money to get their message across.  The companies that stood to profit from pollution could advertise their spin on things in every media, but we had to slog it out in the trenches.  This meant that even when there was a victory (as in the fight to remove phosphates from detergent) it could be subverted by clever campaigns.  (See my post about this from 2007.)

But maybe some of the big money has wised up.  The New York Times has a very interesting story to day about hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer who has set up a huge fund to fight elections against climate change nay-sayers. 

The NYT reports that he  "is rallying other deep-pocketed donors, seeking to build a war chest that would make his political organization, NextGen Climate Action, among the largest outside groups in the country, similar in scale to the conservative political network overseen by Charles and David Koch.

"In early February, Mr. Steyer gathered two dozen of the country’s leading liberal donors and environmental philanthropists to his 1,800-acre ranch in Pescadero, Calif. — which raises prime grass-fed beef — to ask them to join his efforts. People involved in the discussions say Mr. Steyer is seeking to raise $50 million from other donors to match $50 million of his own.

"The money would move through Mr. Steyer’s fast-growing, San Francisco-based political apparatus into select 2014 races."

A good thing, maybe, although the question of how big a role money should play in a democracy looms behind.  Certainly worth following.  And certainly would be interesting to see if any big money in Canada would be interested in following Steyer's example here. 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Advice from Pete That Should Be As Unforgettable As He Was

Too often we don't say what we think to people we expect won't agree with us. But that's a mistake, as Pete Seeger used to say.

And just for good measure, here's a song about talking.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Saturday Photo: Snow Removal

The picture was taken a while ago, but that's what we're doing these days around here.  A long winter, but made bearble by some lovely sunny days, and frequent sbowfalls that make everything lovely.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Well, What It Was, Was Herpes Zoster...

This morning I started a regime of cortisone type and anti-viral, anti-stomach upset drugs.  Seems those excruciating pain and the rash that I thought were back-related and due to a reaction to acetominophen were actually due to shingles.

Not your typical shingles--the resurgence of the virus that causes chickenpox decades later--because the rash didn't itch, and the nerve where the virus attacked were was in my hip and leg, not my torso.  Neverthless it all is a drag, literally.  My left foot is numb and I'm not using it properly: the hope is that with the drugs, the nerve function will return quickly.

The pain is still there, but not as intense, thank goodness  And thank goodness for physio Christine Gibson who told me I should have a doctor look at what was going on in my body.  It's not a case for exercise, she said in effect.

One of the drugs has excitability as a possible side-effect, and I'm almost looking forward to that after two weeks of feeling the pits.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Cold Day: Warm Food: Chili

As I wait to go to the doc (may not have been an acetomiophen reaction I had last week, but shingles) I'm thinking of what might taste good for dinner.

Chili sounds just right, but I don't have any cooked red beans.  Never fear, though, The New York Times says today, real Texas chili doesn't have beans. Just a mixture of various meats, spices and peppers.

Don't know abou that, but here's a good recipe on this morning when I don't feel up to thinking of much else. 

1 pound lean  beef, chopped into small pieces

6 slices of bacon

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

 5 cups of dark red kidney beans, cooked until soft

1 number 2  can of tomatoes

 2 tablespoons chili powder

 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  1 teaspoon dried oregano


    In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook meat until evenly browned. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
    Add vinegar, beans, chili powder and vinegar. 
    In a slow cooker, combine the cooked beef, kidney beans, tomatoes, celery, red bell pepper, and red wine vinegar. Season with chili powder, cumin, parsley, basil and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to distribute ingredients evenly.
    Cook for  one hour over low heat on stove, or bake in oven from 2-3 hours at 300 F.
    Serve with tortillas

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

That Routinue Mammogram Could Be Not What the Doctor Needed to Order

Eight years ago, just about now, I got a call telling me that a routinue mammorgram had showed suspicious tissue, and it looked like I had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS.)  By the end of the summer, I'd been biopsied, excised and radiated, and was telling people how important mammograms were.

Since then I've become more skeptical,  Even then it was clear that DCIS the majority of time doesn't  into real cancer, and there was a big question whether tamoxifen should be given as a follow up.  One study reported in The Lancet of North American women said yes, but another, also in The Lancet, of women in Australia, New Zealand and the UK counseled against giving the drug to post-menopausal women because now benefit was found. (Had a fight with my surgeon about that, and changed doctors, actually.)

Now it looks like the tool used to find my DCIS is really unnecessary.  A new, very large Canadian study shows no benefit to mammography. It "found that the death rates from breast cancer and from all causes were the same in women who got mammograms and those who did not. And the screening had harms: One in five cancers found with mammography and treated was not a threat to the woman’s health and did not need treatment such as chemotherapy, surgery or radiation."

Interestingly, Enbridge, the questionable pipeline and fossil fuel group, is sponsoring a benefit concert for cancer research in Montreal Feb. 28.  Who's going to really benefit?


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Important Interview with Elizabeth Kolbert

This is an interview worth reading  and  a book that might have a big impact.

Elizabeth Kolbert on the Sixth Extinction, coming up whether you like it or not.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Saturday Photo: Mile End's Secret Forest

I know, I know, this is not one of my photos, and it's Monday, not Saturday.  But this morning was the first in a week that I've been out walking, so I went ot check out the lovely "Secret Forest" that some Mile End residents put up a couple of weeks ago.

The idea was to liberate Christmas trees put out for recycling by "planting" in the disused space near the railroad tracks in Mile End that has become an very special sort of urban park.  For a while I thought our tree, put on Jan. 6 and gone the next morning a week before the regular recyclers came around, might figure among the trees which line a desire line across the space.  But they were all too small (and besides one of my contacts says that they went tree rustling after Jan. 6)  The result is quite delightful, and I'd like to think that there is perhaps a really "secret forest" somewhere in which our trees is spending the winter.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Careful with Acetominophen...

Update, 14/02/2014 (a palindrom!)

So it was shingles that was causing my pain--and it was/is intense.  The rash appears to have been merely coincidental with the acetominophen use.  But the warning holds: don't take too much!

Original post:

Okay everyone, back at work after several days away from the computer because of back/leg problems.  Physio seems to have help a lot, as it has in the past.  But I also took too much acetominophen it seems, and have developed an allergic reaction.  Not the end of the world, but a reminder that there are no free lunches, and no drugs without occasional side effects.

And it seems that acetominophen can have serious ones.  Here's a link to the FDA warning about taking too much/possible reactions.

It reads in part:

"Although rare, possible reactions to acetaminophen include three serious skin diseases whose symptoms can include rash, blisters and, in the worst case, widespread damage to the surface of skin. If you are taking acetaminophen and develop a rash or other skin reaction, stop taking the product immediately and seek medical attention right away."

My consult with 811 says to take Benedryl and to go to a doctor if things don't get better in 48 hours.  Just checked in our medecine chest: yep,  we had some, with an expiry date of 2007.  Obviously we don't get this kind of thing very often!

Monday, 3 February 2014

Time Out, But Nto for Long, I hope

No excuses. but I've got an aching back, so I'm lying low.