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Hunting with a fox.

I like to take pictures and watch animals in Nature and one animal that gives me pleasure to observe is the fox. Near where I live, in a botanical garden, 5 foxes can be observed right now coming and going. By observing them one can really understand why they do what they do. On that day, last Saturday, it was clear that this particular fox was hungry and on the hunt.

The area to catch a squirrel was perfect; situated where trees were well spaced out the fox first crouched and appeared to be flat on the ground, looking similar to a cat ready to pounce on a mouse. It then advanced slowly, crouching all the time. It was immobile except when it advanced slowly, inching towards the target. It looked a lot like a cat.

The squirrel seemed oblivious to the fox as the fox did not move an inch. It waited and got closer until suddenly the fox sprang up and pounced rapidly on the squirrel. The element of surprise worked clearly in the foxes favor. I am always surprised at the speed of the fox looking more like a cheetah going after a big prey in Africa.

What happened then was a whirlwind of action as the fox tried to run down the squirrel. On this occasion the fox succeeded and brought down the squirrel in an ideal area as there were no trees to climb to escape the clutches of the fox. I could hear several squeals from the squirrel as I was not too far from the scene. The fox had bitten the prey. I could see no blood being spilled but was it over?

The squirrel was not dead and so the fox began pawing at it, giving it several shots to the head it seemed. The squirrel appeared to be dead, appearing quite immobile. And then suddenly the squirrel rose up and made a run for the trees that were further away. Not a chance. The fox sprang on it and bit it in the neck again.

At that point one would think that the squirrel was dead. But once again, for the last time, it tried to get away and attempted to run. Once again the fox is too quick and this time bit it and carried it in its mouth. No more squealing. The squirrel hung limply in the mouth of the fox, with the head dropping on one side and the rest of the body on the other side. It looked very nice and I did take several shots of it as I was not too far. Not for the squeamish obviously.

Not content to put the squirrel in its mouth the fox bit several more times and elicited no responses. The squirrel had passed away we could safely say. It then took its prey and ate it under a tree, well hidden from the other foxes that might be tempted to steal it.

The behavior of this fox was different from the behavior of other adult foxes as this one was a juvenile, being born in March. Older foxes would have snapped the neck of the squirrel more rapidly. This one seemed ignorant in how to kill a squirrel rapidly and cleanly. At times it seemed to be playing with it. And maybe it was, playing with its prey and knowing that it could not escape.

I was happy with my outing, having spent a good 30 minutes following that particular fox. On that occasion at least it was able to eat but often the squirrel is too quick. I was happy as the light was good and my pictures were nice. But the squealing of the squirrel was still ringing in my ears hours later….


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My bicycle is a financial black hole!

I awoke this morning early as it was 07:00. The skies were cloudy and so I decided to just relax at home and that was the plan until the sun magically appeared. It was warm and humid and I thought that a nice bike ride would be appropriate. After all, there are less cars on the road on Sunday mornings and that would make my ride a better and safer ride.

So I embarked around 09:00 and went to a park that I enjoy where every loop is 1.9 miles. Even if my bike is only three years old I have already spent 40 dollars to replace a flat tube as well as the inner sleeve. All that because of a bit of racing on a bad road. As well I had to replace brand new brakes as the old ones seemed to be defective. You want to be sure of your brakes. These new brakes had cost me around 70 dollars as well with a tune-up.

Well, after about 90 minutes of cycling at a good clip I decided to return home. Now since my tire repair of last year I had noticed that shifting gears was not easy, and that my gears slipped easily. I did not want to repair this as I usually ride only about 20 minutes when I use my bike. Not worth the effort and price I thought.

So here I am, at the end of my bike ride and I am approaching my house when all of a sudden I seem to be pedaling in thin air. I am pedaling but I am not advancing and worse, I am about to fall off the bike. I know something is wrong. I disembark and take a look at the back of my bike and what I see is horrible; the area where all the speeds are seem to be at a 45 degree angle. It looks like the axle is broken or worse still.

I have no choice so I walk about ten minutes to the bike shop near my house. Luckily I was the only customer there. One look at the bike and the mechanic asks me if I pedal a lot backwards. I reply no, of course. What is the point of bicycling if not to advance forwards…I thought this was a curious question to ask.

He then tells me that what happened is rare, and since it is a cheap bike, the components may have been of inferior quality to begin with. I reply that in my previous years of biking something like this has never happened. It could be just bad luck he replied.

This bad luck ended by costing me 32 dollars. But now at least, the gears are smooth when I shift and the experience of bicycling is so much better. It was worth 32 dollars for me. But still, it seems that every year I have to change something on this bike. I think that from now one I will call it my personal black hole, one that I can ride and touch. But if every year I have to replace something that breaks I figure than in another five years my bike will be a new bike! But at what cost…

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The carbon problem.

By now most people will agree that solutions are needed to the solve climate change. Solutions exist but up to now trying to lock the carbon in the atmosphere safely and for long periods of time were not successful.

But now, scientists in Iceland have been able to turn the gas into stone and so lock it away in a permanent way. The gas is dissolved with water and the mixture is pumped into certain rocks. The reaction of the mixture with the rocks means that the mixture forms a mineral called calcite.

For the process to work some stones are better than others. Volcanic rocks called basalts are the best for this process as they are rich in calcium, magnesium and iron reacting with CO2 in an ideal way.

The great advantage of this process is that 95% of the carbon dioxide is converted into calcite and this happens very quickly, in less than two years. As the conversion is rapid so will be the monitoring of the process.

The negative about this new technique is that the scale of the projects would have to be larger than the ones being experimented right now, and a lot of water would be needed as well as the right kind of rock.

The best solution according to scientists would be to use the ocean floors and the margins of the continents to safely store the CO2. It seems as well that using sea water would also work well with the process.

Of course more testing still has to be done, nevertheless if this technique works perhaps the consequences of climate change could be mitigated to a large degree, giving us a chance to better be prepared for the unpredictable consequences of such a major upheaval.

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Are famines a thing of the past?

In a recent article in the New York Times an author was discussing the paradox of drought and less food availability in an African country and yet the people there were not starving to death. In other words, even in dire circumstances there was no famine and he wondered why.

According to the author, it was better railroads in the country and newly imported trucks that made the difference. Even water was trucked to places that had none. In short, nothing like the recent past.

The author’s point was that famines are often political tools used by politicians to repress the people. In that African country which the author returned years later to investigate the results were clear; given roads free from checkpoints and markets held at night to reduce the chances of being bombed the local economy worked efficiently. There were no famines when there was no fighting.

The author is not shy in making the point that once a country passes a certain level of prosperity and has a responsible government that can be held accountable for its actions the threats of famine recedes. He pointed out that there were no famines in democratic countries.

He ends his article by showing that 90% of people who died of starvation between 1870 and 1980 died as a result of imperial conquests, great wars or repression under oppressive regimes. With less major conflicts and more democratic countries, the threat of famines has receded.

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How green are fish farms?

I always thought that eating fish was better for the environment, at least much better than meat. It now seems that in the case of fish farms it may not always be the case. At the very least, fish farms may make fish less healthy to eat as well as having a negative impact on the environment.

The problem is this; the feed given to the fish in these farms is often other fish that had been fished in the wild. Most farmed fish in Canada are fish such as the Atlantic salmon and these are carnivores. The feed given to them is usually other fish as well as fish oil. Many environmental organizations have said that these wild fishes could be used to feed people and that this practice was unsustainable in the long run.

Most scientists would agree that if the feed for these farm fishes come from plant based ingredients it is a good thing, in theory. In practice, the environmental footprint gets larger as the scale needed to furnish those fish farms grow larger.

As a consumer of fish, the worst aspect of this change of diets for the fish is that the healthy omega-3 fatty acids in the fish could be reduced and make fish such as salmon less tasty as well as less healthy.

Now salmon farmers are aware of this problem and are trying to avoid it but for fish that are omnivorous such as Tilapia that already eat more plant material this could mean that they would end up with even less omega-3.

The best advice given to consumers seems to eat a variety of seafood and to demand that the fish that we eat has been fished in a sustainable way, whether it comes from a farm or fished. Still, lets not forget that even if these fish farms might do more harm to the environment, it would still be far less that the raising of livestock such as beef and its heavy demand on water resources. In fact, most people agree that if one industry should be favoured if they use plant-based ingredients in its feed then it should be the fish farms.

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The man in the tree.

I was very interested in this story that occurred this week in Seattle. An agitated man with a long beard and disheveled clothes climbed a 80 foot Sequoia tree and remained there for the night. He refused to cooperate with police and spent the night in a makeshift fort that he made in the tree. It was only when he came down for a snack the next day that he was taken in. Some would say that he was simply a philosopher gone mad with city life. Of course, no need to be a philosopher for that.

Now it is clear that the man was probably in some sort of mental distress as he was yielding a knife according to witnesses. And of course climbing trees in the middle of a city is not exactly something mundane. What is surprising is how this man was treated by the social media. Quickly someone created a twitter account to parody him and even the Seattle police on its account created some tweets, some of which were jokes. There was even a live feed by local news with a newscaster narrating the antics of the man in the tree. In other words, a real circus

The newscaster saw in the whole affair a metaphor; would not some of us climb up in a tree and forget about the world we live in? Or forget our problems?

Mental health is no joking matter, and we obviously have some ways to go before some of us understand this. For the Seattle police to joke about someone’s mental health is dismaying to say the least. Shame on them. For news station to consider this event as news is typical of them. Another slow news day perhaps in Seattle…..


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The immorality of the draft.

I read an interesting article in the New York Times last weekend about the draft in the United States. It was abolished years ago but I did not know that there was a requirement that males of 18 of age had to register. For those who do not know, a draft ordered by the government is when the government forces you to enlist in the armed forces. Basically you become a legalized slave. If you refuse, you must justify yourself or go to jail. Draft dodgers coming from the United States in the 60’s were numerous as they simply went to Canada and never returned.

The article mainly was an argument that women too should be included in this register but more importantly, the article did not talk about the immorality of the draft, only its economic consequences as if the only thing that mattered was the cost of it.

It quoted several economists about why the draft had been abolished but not one talked about how immoral it was to forcibly enlist someone against their will. And it is after all the main reason why the draft is immoral, because you do not owe your life to the government. Not one person in the article talked about the morality of the draft.

At any time that a government is going to war it has to justify it to its citizens. Only a free army is justifiable. As well, it is well known that free armies are better armies than armies composed of soldiers that were drafted. In any case, when the cause is just a country never fails to see its citizens rise up and take up arms to defend it. But for that you need a good reason. Sadly, for a country to have a draft implies that it cannot logically explain why its citizens should put their life on the line, and this is precisely why a draft is immoral. Even putting one’s name on a register is wrong as this is the first step to a draft. It is an admission that the government may have the right in the future to your life, that it basically owns you. Does it?

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