Friday, 23 December 2011

Awesome morning sky

The awesome sky -

Every once in awhile I just have to sing sky praises. Today I watched the sun come up – stood on the deck wrapped against the cold and monitored the sky lightening in the East and the little pat of butter spread into a sun. It cleared the horizon at 9:17 am CST.

I was hoping to catch a glimpse of Mercury but there was just enough cloud wisps in the Eastern sky to block any stars.

Yesterday, in a breathtakingly clear morning, the “fingernail” moon hovered just above the horizon – holding the “old moon” in it's cradle. About one hand width (outstretched arm) to the left, Mercury blinked into view even as I watched!

The last time we saw Mercury distinctly like this was in Cuba from the top of our resort. It was the first SRPC Rural Critical Care.

Ranking lower on the scale of delightful wonderment, I counted a dozen jet-streams, markers of both our love affair with air travel and also of the most carbon-intensive means of travel. It would be impossible to have an unblemished photograph of the sunrise.

Can't cut the trails out of the sky - so it's all good!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

We Are the Occupy Movement!

The occupy movement is about justifiable anger. Anger at the banks for paying more than a million taxpayers' bail-out dollars to the very chief executives who made the bad decisions that brought them close to bankruptcy in the first place. Anger at Wall street trading and gambling that passes for “making money”. Anger at corporations posing as “people” without the responsibilties for the actions of a “person”. Anger at an environment consumed by energy behomeths whose sole purpose for existence is to accumulate financial wealth.

The Occupy Movement is about reclaiming the global commons. It has no leader – or it has many leaders. Camps invite speakers – or they invite themselves.  Notable have been David Suzuku, David Korten, and Jeffrey Sachs. They organize food, water supplies, sanitation, media “rooms”, common areas and generally take care of one another. They police themselves and allow no alcohol or intoxicants on site.

Is it a “perfect” homogeneous movement? No. The homeless are there because the street is already their only home. Are mistakes made? Of course. The movement has not been able to sustain complete non-violence but it has made a gargantuan effort to do so. Individuals have become frustrated, weaker members have been bated by the police to lose their cool, and individuals have urinated on their opposition.

But I am part of the Occupy Movement! In Montreal, I walked through the encampment two or three times a day and stopped to read signs and talk. Martha McClure's daughter is participating in Fredericton. Friends of friends everywhere are either camping or supporting the campers. I am of the 99%.

This movement cannot be allowed to fail, to sputter or die!!

Those hardy souls who want to camp out all winter should be aware that they are at greater risk of losing their own tempers or to being forcibly evicted on spurious grounds. They are also humans and fragile – they need to be well-prepared for winter camping! Individuals should fall-back positions should they become ill. (A job for supporters.)  Those who cannot be prepared should go into hibernation for the season - or move South.  Control your output and your strength.

For the rest of us under warm roofs, we should be applying ourselves to non-violent study. Years ago I participated in a non-violent action where one of our group claimed that she knew enough about non-violent action to avoid the workshop and join us on site. Someone vouched for her but it was a delicate situation and we had media attention. Her non-constructive actions attracted more attention than the issue. Anarchy cannot work without cooperation.

Gandhi based his movement on a philosophy familiar to the Hindu - although not always practiced by them.  The civil rights movement was based on the principles of non-violence but conducted extensive workshops because they knew that the tiniest violent act on their part would be met by increasing state force.  The anti-apartheid movement only won finally when they eschewed violence and withdrew their services and their money.  It is not easy to sustain non-violence but it will be the winning card in this game.  Our strength will be in non-cooperation, in creation and in "adaptive management" of every situation.  Our numbers are legion.

Many of us have been armchair “occupiers” for decades. We have volunteered on the fringes of social and cultural change. We have been activists in environmental and peace movements.  Those who are putting their bodies where our mouths, and sometimes our feet, have been, need our support. We must give the on-site occupiers the energy to hang in there. Dismantling the repressive political and economic system that currently oppresses the 99% will not happen overnight.

Those who hibernate – and those who support the movement – must prepare for Spring. Perhaps we could target March 21st? Significant for the beginning of the growing season in the North and the end of one in the South. If we cannot actively stay on a site, we should plan next summer's holidays to tent out somewhere – and proclaim that we are part of the Occupy Movement!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Home again.....

This morning I sat down on the deck to a grey backlit moonlit cloudy sky mourning my foolishness in agreeing to work in the clinic today – with Mr. Pointy-ears beside me – waiting to hear in the silence. There are no cars on Copeland road and no dogs or coyotes barking, no owls hooting and the squirrels and birds were doing what they are supposed to do in the coldest part of the day – hibernate. Pretty unusually quiet.

And I thought what two strange lives I am living. Yesterday morning I was in Ottawa. A bustling noisy city. I like hot yoga because it forces me to to become silent on the inside. Sirens, always cars, trucks, yet where Mary lives is quite quiet as compared to the sound level in other cities.

For the three weeks in Ottawa, the closest animal companion is a cat named Alice. Alice is very cheshire in that she will fold herself over things – steps, backs and sides of chairs, Mary's lap and give her best cheshire cat imitation on the corner of at the top of the stairs. I almost expect to see the grin without the cat! For all the trials and tribulations Sylvain and I are having trying to train ourselves, I start to miss his companionship – and his behaviour measures up quite nicely to that of a lot of urban dogs.

The house is chaos – and because it is hard to get to the places that need vacuuming (they are upside down, piles on one another, etc), there is a lot of animal hair everywhere. Two cats and the occasional dog (he is occasionally allowed the freedom of the house) leak hair all the time, not just in the spring!
The windows need two more sandings and two more coats of varnish (or whatever they are using – Bill and maybe Ntara) before we can begin to clear the space. My belongings are all in suitcases so I hope that there is a “work” outfit in the closet.

I'm fretting over the Turning Point, the establishment of PER (Physicians for Education and Research), the donor appeal, the upcoming trip to Iraq and the inability to get replies from our partners there (while I am excited that Bill is coming with me, I'm worried about stressors – when I'm alone, I have one person's tensions.)

Whenever I travel out of country, I think of the possibility that I won't come back. There are very few plane crashes but that risk always exists – but greater is the risk of a motor vehicular accident. If I travel alone, our children still have one parent; on the other hand, if we both go down, they are adults. But I'd hate to have them deal with my messes. It also makes me concerned that we share our wishes about goods and services in that unlikely event.

OK. Feed the dog, wash up, have breakfast and get dressed to “play doctor” for a day.  

Friday, 15 July 2011

Remembering - a horse called Lady

Skylar has a very similar horse to the horse with which I grew up. Her horse has reddish (“blood”) spots where the Lady of my youth had grey spots. Paradoxically, Skylar's horse is called “Lady Grey” while my horse was simply “Lady”.

On our tour of the countryside last weekend, Allen and Betty (brother-in-law and sister) drove past the place where my horse, Lady, and I went down the West bank of Edwards' Creek (I had erroneously remembered it as the Vermillion River) on one cold winter's ride. The trail, never very good fifty years ago, is all filled in now. Lady's feet went through the ice and I fell into the water (not very deep). I was riding bareback as almost always and had to find a “mounting block”, a large rock or a fallen tree trunk.

Even though she was frightened and quivering, the horse stood still and let me haul myself onto her back. Her body felt reassuring and warm between my cold wet legs. Away from her body, my blue jeans and underwear froze solid quickly. My feet were ice cubes in my boots. We rode up the almost non-existent East bank of the creek and onto the road that went past Korchinski's and Duhame's. (Now the access to the Ukrainian and Countryfest Site?)

Lady started running as soon as there was open road. I recall feeling relieved that she wanted to run home because I could no longer direct her. I tried to hunker down next her back but couldn't really get much of my body next her heat. My left and rights hands traded places locking themselves in her mane.. I don't remember reaching home but Mom told the story to her friends so often that it seems as though it is my memory, too.

Apparently the horse went to the house instead of the usual habit of going straight to the barn. She stood outside the kitchen window and uncharacteristically stomped her foot. Mom saw me and rescued me from Lady's back. Someone else took the horse to the barn. She said that I was so cold that I couldn't talk (worrisome indeed!), that she had to lead me to the couch and that she had to undress me. She says that she put towels in the oven and brought me a hot water-bottle. Eventually I fell asleep and she didn't move me to my bed because she wanted to watch me from the kitchen.

Dad read the riot act about telling people where I was going when I went for a ride. He started by saying, “Whatever possessed you to go there in the first place?” He rightly concluded that it would've taken some time to locate me if the horse had galloped into the yard without a rider.

The experience cemented my love and respect for Lady! Without over-dramatizing, she saved my life that day.

Remembering......Aunt Kate

There are too many memories – they make me feel lonely.” Kate Fisher, around 1980.

I understand what she meant now because they make me lonely too. The memories that rattle around in my brain are sometimes simple and untold. Of course, everyone has memories that are theirs alone – and some people think that everyone should know their particular memories. Some people have very different memories of the same event – that is true of every significant event in our family's history, largely because while one person remembers the event as a twelve year old, someone else would've been six!

In Dauphin last weekend, my bro-in-law, my sister and I drove around the countryside immediately West of the homestead where our grandfather, our father and his sisters, our generation and a now a third generation lives.

I remembered bringing the alfalfa hay to the yard from the hayfield on the most Western part of the home half section.

I remember age 2 or 3. running around the moving but empty hayrack until our father turned and told us to sit down. One particular ordinary day of bringing in the hay, I sat high behind our father – alone, I don't recall anyone else in the “nest” that he had made for me, a pocket in the top of the hay. I could see over my father's head because he was sitting with his legs hooked over the front of the rack. Lying on my stomach rocking along on top of the hay, I watched the horses plod along; on the left was the dark brown King, with his blind right eye inwards towards Queen. She was red-brown with a red-brown-coloured mane and tail. They flicked their ears back in forth and their necks swayed back and forth in unison with one another and with their buttocks. They hardly ever turned their heads away from straight ahead. They wore “blinders” on the sides of their bridles.

The reins were loosely held in Dad's hands. There was a line of trees across the field North to South, willows and berry trees mostly to the South and a small bluff of mixed trees at the North. There was a small dry creekbed across the road where Dad slowed the horses and reminded me to sit down. After the dip, the road was hard-packed dirt when it was dry. Sometimes, if it wasn't too hot, he would ask the horses to trot and their harness would clink while the hayrack creaked.

But the trees aren't there anymore, the horses died long ago and I can't remember when Dad started pulling the hay rack with a tractor. No one else shares that memory.

Dad used horses for hauling hay long after he was doing other farm work with a tractor. He could get off the hayrack, pick up a hay-fork, put hay onto the rack and then ask the horses to move forward with a cluck and stop again with a “whoa”. A tractor needed a person!

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Socialism for whom?

Re: “In a World 'sans Socialism'” - Margaret Wente's column June 21st, 2011

The puzzling thing about the term “socialism” is its application to various actions. It is “socialism” to have medicare, but not the building of roads. It is “socialism” to have universal car insurance (as Saskatchewan does) but public support for construction of sports facilities – hockey rinks and football stadiums – is not. It is “socialism” to provide government support to low-wage earners but baling out banks or multi-national automobile manufacturers is business. “Privatization” is what happens if a government-run business becomes profitable because goodness knows, we, the people, wouldn't want to be “socialists”.

It seems to me that the term is used pejoratively and in a limited way to describe activities that prevailing corporate think tanks and private enterprise want to control.

Definition of “socialism” from my Apple computer dictionary: “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole”.....(it) ”necessarily implies an opposition to the untrammelled workings of the economic market”. Why did our banks and mortgages not fail when the US went broke? Because Canada's regulatory system is better than that in the US...oh dear, socialism at work!! Does anyone remember that we, the people, once owned PetroCan - but it was making money! What is so wrong about our government making money off of something other than its people?

I, for one, am tired of seeing my tax dollars supporting the already wealthy, corporations or just plain monied. Going to companies that make fictitious airplanes and helicopters to be delivered in the far distant future to do what? Paying elected representatives to "sell" Canada abroad - translate advertise Canadian manufacturing goods and Canadian resources abroad so that capitalism can continue to work - which means that we continue to believe in endless growth in a finite world! Who is crazy? And how do we, the ordinary citizens, get control of the media to break the addiction to pap and talk shows, educational systems so that our children are not told the lies of the colonial capitalist past, monetary system so that we are not paying the cost of the international gambling ring that trades up in nanoseconds, health care so that we are not sold pharmaceuticals for fear, our environment so that we can really smell the roses!

Time to look after myself and go for a bike ride!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Manufacturing Doubt

Manufacture of Doubt

There is an industry for this!! There is probably an industry for everything but in this case, a book called “Merchants of Doubt” (2010) has been published which outlines the ways in which the public relations (PR) industry has systematically sought, trained and paid scientists and politicians to cast doubt on research on such varied issues as dangers of cigarette smoking, pesticides and ozone depletion. A few years earlier, Devra Davis mentions the “maturing of the science of doubt promotion” in the forward to her book The Secret History of the War on Cancer (2007).

How does it work? A 1969 memo from a tobacco company executive states "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy".

The public relations industry creates doubt, uncertainty, and confusion. Be it tobacco, exposure to radioactivity, the dangers of DDT, acid rain or global warming – the doubt industry is having a heyday. Witness the scientists who currently eagerly walk to centre stage to stow doubt in a willing public about global warming.

After all, if global warming is a threat, then we might be required to change something. Human beings – even those who live on the edge of adventure and imagine themselves to be flexible, nimble and contrary to mainstream thought – find that change, internal and behavioural is not an easy thing. “A potent subset of the scientific community leads the world in denial” and, the world, eager to believe that it does not need to change any fundamental beliefs happily and vehemently complies.

The most pressing issues of our era are skewed by manufacturers of doubt. Global warming, radiation from nuclear power plants, and rising cancer statistics become mired in complex arguments between people who otherwise agree – because something has led them to doubt the findings of their comrades and fellow travelers.

The woman who speaks out about the dangers of radiation, Dr Rosalie Bertell – with impeccable credentials – is “an old lady and a nun at that”. The mathematician, Dr. Gordon Edwards, who has voluntarily spent decades researching nuclear power, has “a personal axe to grind”.

In 2009, I had the privilege to represent the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) at the Uranium Development Partnership hearings. The SMA is a conservative organization, slow to change and most members were quite supportive of the nuclear power, Saskatchewan was openly supportive of and a recipient of enormous grants from Cameco, a uranium mining global giant. My presentation had to reflect the organization, the board of the SMA approved it so it did.

It questioned regulatory bodies, reviewed the literature with respect to radiation exposure and concluded that more studies should be conducted including a baseline health study of Saskatchewan residents who might, in future, be affected by a nuclear power plant. It said nothing about whether or not radiation was harmful and nothing about my personal beliefs.

Nevertheless, the president of the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA) phoned the SMA the following morning before 9:30 am and asked him if “Dr. Dewar had represented the organization appropriately” and if “everything that Dr. Dewar had said had been approved by the SMA”. I know this because I phoned at 9:30 am to debrief with the executive director. Later the Sk CNA person wrote a letter to the SMA casting doubt on the material that I had presented to the SMA. The SMA appropriately forwarded the letter to me and I responded immediately, closing my letter with “please provide the exact nature of the research which is questionable”. He never responded. He didn’t need to because it didn’t matter – the only thing that mattered was the doubt cast upon me and my presentation.

A more recent similar episode occurred this past winter after the Ottawa Citizen published an opinion piece written by Dr. Caldicott and myself. Our piece was fully referenced (which the Citizen published on line). The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission in the person of Mr. Binder wrote a reply claiming that they had more than 150 peer-reviewed studies in their Port Hope Synthesis Report which proved that “there was no danger to radioactivity in Port Hope”. Who besides those of us who have read the Synthesis report know that there are only 120 references and that, of these, less than 50 are studies, none of which are “peer-reviewed”?

When the Merchants of Doubt get such publicity, how can truth prevail?

Thursday, 5 May 2011

George "Must-be-Bought"

George “Must-be-bought”

On March 14, George wrote “as long as the following four conditions are met, I will no longer oppose atomic energy.

Its total emissions – from mine to dump – are taken into account, and demonstrate that it is a genuinely low-carbon option.

We know exactly how and where the waste is to be buried.

We know how much this will cost and who will pay.

There is a legal guarantee that no civil nuclear materials will be diverted for military purposes.”

None of these requirements have been met yet on March 21st, George was unequivocably convinced that nuclear power would save the world from global warming.

The nuclear industry has huge pockets – Cameco gave a million dollars to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) allegedly on the sole condition that they make no statements in opposition to uranium mining. The FSIN did not need to support mining, it merely had to quit squeaking about such little things like environmental assessments, potential water pollution, and loss of traditional land use.

Total emissions – from mine to dump – are not “green” but estimates of the full cycle are much lower than coal or gasoline, closer to that of natural gas as a source of electricity. Hydroelectric, wind and solar outrank nuclear power. And conservation would cut needs and use by a whopping 25 to 40%! Even if it were a long term viable choice for the environment, it takes an estimated 10 years before one plant can go into production and we would need to be building more than 400 NOW to tackle global warming.

There are better cheaper more environmentally friendly choices.

As for George's other assertions, nothing comes close. The natty little problem of waste disposal remains, no one knows how much decommissioning or waste disposal will cost and, of course, while there is a legal guarantee that civil materials won't be diverted, there are no means of enforcing it.

There is absolutely no reason for George to have changed his tune except that he was bought. His credibility is seriously undermined.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden

We received the news of his death on May 2nd as we were preparing to leave Iraq. No matter which language of the t-v channel, news of Osama bin Laden's death was the headline. People celebrating in streets, politicians frantically positioning themselves, Obama declaring it a “great victory” for the United States – a tiresome litany.


Who was Osama? Was he, in fact, the leader of al-Qaeda? Did he order the destruction of the twin towers where 2500 civilians were killed? Is al-Qaeda a centralized organization or a loosely knit of collection of men who espouse a brutal Islamic fundamentalist jihad on the West?

Whoever he was, he was summarily executed by US hit-men. Do we believe in justice, the court of law and the opportunity to open a crime to “the facts”?

Ah. That is exactly what the United States, and others who manufacture and supply the world with guns and ammunition, do not want. The release of Saddam Hussein to his executors before hearing him on the witness stand, before hearing about those who supplied the means by which he betrayed his own people and about undercover agents who played roles in, and supplied weapons for, wars with Kuwait and Iran is highly suggestive of a trend to muzzling inquiry.

What could Osama have told us? Would we have learned why his family was spirited out of the US after 9/11 when almost every other plane on continental USA had been grounded? Perhaps we might have learned more about his actual role in the 9/11 incident – still believed by many academicians to have internal US involvement just as did the Gulf of Tonkin incident. A legal process would have served to demystify him, debunk his cause and undermine the brainwashing of his followers. An opportunity lost. As we were leaving Iraq, echoes of his elevation to sainthood was already occurring. We can expect the “blow-back” to be extensive.

It was an extra-judicial killing, outside due process of law, carried out unitlaterally by agents of one country (as far as we know). Sadly, the media is now hailing vengeance as an instrument of justice.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Motherhood's silent scourge, Globe and Mail, 14.4.11

While governments ignor them 2.6 million babies and 400,000 women die annually. Since “the problem exists largely where there is rampant poverty, no education and poor housing”, there is a solution.

Poverty must be reduced. In the face of the human and economical costs of these deaths – to say nothing about environmental, emotional and spiritual costs – every political party should have plans to reduce poverty. Not pie in the sky plans – evidence based plans.

Some Poverty reduction steps:

1. Tough on Crime = Getting rid of crime.

While I feel like drawing and quartering a rapist or pulling a child killer apart slowly on the “rack”, I have to good sense to realize that these methods have been tried and do not decrease the occurrence of those crimes.

What does work?

While there will be sociopaths for whom there can be no trust and psychopaths who can never be safely medicated, the vast majority of rapists and killers perform their crime spontaneously, heedlessly and often under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The vast majority have mental health problems, have been abused themselves, and come from poor backgrounds. Studies of Canadian inmates indicates that almost half should be in a treatment facility, not a jail. Recidivism is more likely to occur amongst the unemployed and uneducated prisoners.

Sweden has been experimenting with entirely different jail incarceration - prisoners are sent to a facility which is a cross between a college, a spa and an army boot camp. Result? A recidivism rate of less than 15%!

Treatment instead of incarceration doesn't mean the the prisoner is in the community. The whole point of being a prisoner means that movement and activities are restricted.

Action: Decreasing recidivism – which means decreasing crime – should be the goal of the criminal justice system. Build more rehabilitation and educational programs for criminals.

2. Education:

Early childhood development programs, adult literacy programs, grade X equivalency, and college preparation courses are either underfunded or not funded at all. Most European countries fund post-secondary education. Canada increases tuition fees.

Does education make a difference to poverty? Of course it does.

Action: Increase investment in education at all levels.

3. Housing.

Government, municipal or reserve-funded houses always have slipshod construction, paper-thick interior walls and thin-skinned exterior walls. They are always drafty. Is “always” too strong a word? As an itinerant physician in Northern communities in Saskatchewan, and across the sub-Arctic, and having friends who live in subsidized housing, “always” is what I've seen.

It would marginally increase the cost and greatly increase the energy efficiency if skilled workers and experienced building contractors constructed quality housing which, in turn, would decrease the incidence of discomfort and disease. Decreasing disease and disability decreases health care costs. Decreasing disease and disability also increases the ability to attend school and get an education.

Action: Build better houses. Create a national housing plan.

4. Tax.

While we do need an entirely different economic system because this one is failing – has done so once and is back on the same trajectory – an intelligent step could be taken right now. The passing of a bill by the Canadian government to institute a “Tobin Tax”, a tax on the cash accrued by “flipping” currency, occurred on March 24, 1999 but was never enacted. This is a form of institutional gambling for which we all pay. Since the vast majority of Canadian citizens stand to benefit from this tax, there should be no problem ratifying the bill.

Action: Enact the Tobin tax. Increase the government's coffers!

5. Military.

The Canadian military is the most costly of all government programs, delivers the least benefit to the tax-payers and spends its money badly.

Most Canadians want a cadre of well-trained young people with good equipment who can respond international and national emergencies. Most Canadians also want peace-keepers and even the hawks are uncomfortable with the current schizophrenic military mandate. We have ample evidence that violent conflict resolution does not bring peace or stability. Besides loss of life, it is environmentally unsound and wastes an inordinate amount of petroleum producing a gargantuan carbon footprint.

What would a peace-keeping military look like?

The airforce would have pilots and planes and helicopters that can search, rescue and operate under extremely inclement conditions. It should have large transport planes for troops, equipment, housing and hospitals and highly maneuvrable transport helicopters capable also of carrying large numbers of people.

The navy would also have reinforced and stable ships for personel and equipment. It would have ice-breakers and should have aircraft carriers for search and rescue and surveillance planes and helicopters. It would have research submarines.

The army should be capable of digging a major city out from a blizzard, locating people during an ice storm and searching for children and others lost in wildernesses. Its personnel would be well-equipped with skills and discipline in mediation and nonviolent action. They should be physically fit, mentally stable, mobile, and probably young.

For all the armed services, a personnel plan should be developed so that replacement officers have trained for a peace keeping militia. A wide open communications network would end secrecy and promote timely informative dialogue among personel. Any new government-provided housing would be energy efficient. Health care for personnel and their families should be paramount. They should receive appropriate exit interviews, special access to educational opportunities after a specified length of service, and continued access to counseling and family services. Did I mention pension plan?

Action: Immediately start meeting the needs of the veterans and their families. Tackle the change from attack mode to life-saving mode one item at a time through spending choices. Increase the role of such trainers as those who teach in the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at Kingston and the many others who work in non-violent conflict action.

Will this Action Plan provide enough money for the programs that are needed to change rising poverty levels to decreasing poverty levels? By reversing the slide into poverty, the federal budget would reap the benefit of reduced crime rates, more jobs and more people to pay taxes. An ascending cycle of prosperity!

Final result: Less mothers dying in childbirth, less babies dying as newborns and a lower incidence of stillbirths. A happier world.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Galileo and Nuclear Power: fact and fiction

In 1610, Galileo Galilei joined Copernicus in describing the sun as centre of the solar system. By 1616, he was called to the Inquisition and was forced to recant. Fortunately for us, his denial did not change the facts.

Today the same situation exists between the nuclear industry and the facts of its radioactive legacy.

The nuclear industry insists that low levels of radiation are not harmful to human health. Physicians know better. And so does most of the public. Background natural radiation is dangerous – eg. radon in basements and cosmic rays from the sun.

The US National Research Council came to the conclusion in 2008, after five previous reports, that “current scientific evidence is consistent with the hypothesis that there is a linear, no-threshold dose-response relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the development of cancer in humans.(1)” In lay terms, this means that there is no dose that is completely safe, just different levels of risk.

There has been more than enough evidence linking radiation and effects on health.

In 1954, the US dropped a bomb on the Bikini Atoll irradiating some of the Marshall Islanders and more than 7000 square miles of Pacific ocean. The United States funded a Nuclear Claims Tribunal which recognizes thirty-six conditions for which citizens can be compensated. Most of the conditions are cancer but mental retardation is included(2).

In 1985, the UK government established the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) to respond to anecdotal reports of higher rates of childhood leukemia near the nuclear installation at Sellafield. The authors note a “serious excess of childhood cancer might be related to radioactive emissions from the nuclear facilities” but concluded that the emissions measured at the facilities were too small to explain this finding(3).

In 2008, the Germans concluded a study that provided compelling evidence of an unequivocal positive relationship between a child’s risk of leukemia, and residential proximity to a nuclear power plant. The authors state that these findings are compelling, that the elevated risk does indeed exist and that it is related to the nuclear facilities. Then they concluded that “the reason for the elevated risk is unexplained, as the levels of radioactive emissions from these facilities are considered too low to explain the increase in childhood leukemia”(4).

It should be noted that in neither the COMARE study nor the German study did the researchers claim that there was no connection between the power plants and the effect upon health.

Closer to home, the Port Hope Synopsis report by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission includes a study(5) which makes the following statements: “there was an excess of childhood cancer deaths”, "lung cancer mortality was of interest because of the increased incidence observed amongst women" and "increased mortality from circulatory disease, including ischaemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and disease of arteries". None of the increases were statistically significant. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission states that there was no ill effects of the radioactivity in Port Hope. Researchers would conclude that “more research is needed”.

Where are the voices of physicians? In December 1998, International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War adopted a Swiss proposal in opposition to nuclear power(6). Their affiliates, Physicians for Global Survival (Canada), and Physicians for Social Responsibility (US) eventually followed. In 1982, reconfirmed in 2004, the Canadian Medical Association's position is that: “there is at present no conclusive evidence of a measurable increase, in the long or short term, of adverse effects due specifically to radiation in populations thus exposed”.

Just as the Church defended its long held belief that the sun circled the earth against scientific evidence, so the nuclear industry defends the myth that it is clean green and safe for human consumption. It's time for the CMA to reconsider. Or keep defending fiction.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Radiation exposure: comparing apples and oranges

No danger to health.....

The latest group to join the chorus reassuring the public that the amount of radiation reaching North America from Fukushima are aviation organizations. They claim that inincreased amount of radiation is no greater than the amount that a person would receive when flying across the continent! This is like comparing apples to oranges!

The average Canadian is regularly exposed to 1.7 to 3.0 mSv of radiation per year and mostly doesn't get cancer. However, some people do get cancer from "normal" exposure to radiation. Roughly 20% of lung cancer is caused by entirely natural exposure to radioactive radon and an estimated 20% of leukemias are from "normal" background radiation. Certainly almost everyone knows that increasing exposure to cosmic rays from the sun also increases the incidence of skin cancers. Still, the number of people who get cancer is low compared to the hundreds of thousands who don't.

Through studies done on airline pilots, there is evidence that the greater the number of air miles traveled, the greater the chances of developing cancer!

The difference, which is egregious, is that the traveler or the sunbather makes a choice to expose him- or herself to greater risks; his exposure doesn't affect his neighbour who doesn't travel or sunbathe. In the case of radioactivity released from a nuclear power plant accidentally or intentionally (as Pickering does regularly), the population has both no knowledge of the risk and no choice in the matter of exposure.

The other difference is that exposure to cosmic rays is limited to the actual time that the traveler is in the air. The effects may linger but the radiation does not. The radioactive particle of iodine, cesium or any of the 48 other potential emissions absorbed through eating or breathing is not limited to the moment of exposure. The particle is the "gift that keeps on giving" releasing radioactivity until all its atoms have decayed to their stable non-radioactive end product.

Certainly aviation organizations know the difference between apples and oranges! It is ingenious if not a little dishonest.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Moratorium on Nuclear Power

Finally, Physicians for Global Survival takes a stand. We aren't calling for a cease and desist order for nuclear power, but we are calling for a moratorium on new nuclear power plants. And here is the statement:

With its United States affiliate, Physicians for Global Survival today called for a moratorium on new nuclear reactors in Canada and a suspension of operations at the nuclear reactors on fault lines. PGS cited the medical risks associated with radiation exposure and stressed that, unlike x-rays which expose a person for a limited time, radioactive emissions from nuclear power plants expose entire populations and are the “gifts that keep on giving”.

"There is no safe level of radiation exposure," said Michael Dworkind, MD, immediate past president of Physicians for Global Survival. “Only recently scientists discovered that background natural radon was responsible for an estimated 20% of lung cancers in Canadians; the same scientists estimate that 20% of childhood leukaemia occur as a result of exposure to natural radiation.” “We cannot continue to expose human populations to increased radiation from nuclear power plants,” he said.

Human fallibility being what it is, the only way to avoid nuclear accidents is to not build nuclear reactors," said Dr. Birkett, a long time member of the board of Physicians for Global Survival.

According to the US National Academy of Sciences, any exposure to radiation increases a person's risk of developing cancer. In the case of the Japanese Fukushima reactors, the primary radionuclides of concern are:

Tritium, which is indistinguishable from hydrogen as far as biological systems are concerned and can be incorporated into every cell of a body.

Iodine-131, which causes thyroid cancer when absorbed through inhalation and ingestion.

Cesium-137, which behaves like potassium and when ingested spreads throughout the body. At Chernobyl, Cesium-137 was taken up by lichen and plants, and animals which consumed those plants became radioactive.

Strontium-90, which is deposited in bone and teeth where it remains for decades; it causes bone cancer, and leukaemia.

Plutonium-239, which causes lung cancer and remains a severe threat for thousands of years.

Cesium-137 and Iodine-131 are fairly easy to measure and were used to mark the extent of the Chernobyl radiation contamination, but, in fact, there are more than 47 radioactive elements being released during the Fukushima disaster. Physicians are concerned that external radiation exposure does not adequately account for the effects of internal emitters.

Medical treatment for radiation exposure is limited, at best. Iodine pills provide only limited protection against the absorption of Iodine-131, mostly in children. It does not offer protection against gamma irradiation from Iodine-131.

The public health risk from a large radioactive release from Canadian reactors near densely populated areas around Toronto is substantial.

Physicians for Global Survival is also deeply concerned about the financial effects of an accident at a Canadian nuclear power plant because the federal government would be liable for the environmental and human costs.

Physicians for Global Survival applauds the increased safety measures that have been taken by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission but maintains that nuclear power cannot be made completely safe. “Clean renewable energy is the only sustainable option” said Dr. Richard Denton, President.

Physicians for Global Survival calls upon the Government of Canada and the Canadian Safety Nuclear Commission to:

  • Implement a moratorium on new nuclear reactor licensing and design certification without delay.

  • Suspend operations at nuclear reactors on fault lines while a safety review is conducted.

  • Establish a rolling stewardship for spent fuel pools and onsite fuel and waste storage for all reactors which will engage the expertise of current operators for their lifetimes and that of their successors for generations.

  • Eliminate subsidies for new reactors, especially loan guarantees, and prioritize safe, clean renewable energy sources that can meet today's energy needs.

Monday, 21 March 2011

No Immediate Danger

No Immediate Danger!

Physicians usually weigh risks and benefits when they expose patients to radioactivity through x-rays, CT scans and radioisotopes but recently even they were shocked to find out that the low levels used to examine the arteries of the heart increased the risk of cancer.

Industry and government repeat the mantra that there is “no immediate risk to human health”. Physicians for Global Survival agrees that there is no immediate danger to individual health or life from radioactivity unless the amount is enormous or prolonged.

Humans are constantly exposed to natural radioactivity from the sun, radon in the air, and naturally occurring radioactive ions such as carbon-14. People mostly don't get cancer, auto-immune diseases such as lupus and rosacea or have miscarriages or children with birth defects. There is no doubt in the minds of medical experts, however, that increasing the global burden of radioactivity will increase the incidence of cancer.

What is happening in Japan is happening to our biosphere because wind and water travel the globe. There is a complex soup of elements released by the damaged nuclear power reactors but three are of particular concern.

Tritium, a gas, enters the environment around most nuclear power plants by planned releases or in accidents. Tritium is bound with oxygen in water which makes it extremely dangerous. Living organisms cannot distinguish between radioactive water and normal water and will absorb the radioactive water to use as biological building blocks, enzymes and genetic material. Tritium has a half-life of twelve years which means that 2 tonnes released to the atmosphere becomes 1 tonne after 12 years.

Iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days releasing beta and gamma radiation in its decay. One of the risks of treatment of cancer of thyroid with this isotope is an increase of other cancers. It is especially toxic to children and fetuses because it targets the normal thyroid in growing animals. The damage to the thyroid can be mitigated by taking potassium iodide but there is no protection for the full body gamma radiation effects.

Cesium-137 is unarguably the biggest threat. Cells treat it like potassium, allowing it to literally bathe every cell in the body and concentrate it in soft tissues, muscles and bones. Double threat cesium-137 decays by beta emission to barium-137m which emits gamma radiation before becoming stable barium 137. It can affect enzymes and DNA, disrupt normal cellular function, affect germ cells and increase the risk of cancer. The United States Environmental Protection Agency says that once dispersed in the environment, cesium-137 “is impossible to avoid”. It has a half-life of 30 years.

Physicians for Global Survival and its parent body, International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War, have taken the position that nuclear power cannot be made safe enough to risk the health of this planet. Dispersal of background radiation will inevitably affect human health, and the health of succeeding generations. “No immediate danger” is a short-sighted perspective.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

On Call

A day out of the rest of my life.

There are a lot of reasons that a 24 hour call becomes less attractive as I age. One day is really two days out of the rest of my life. Not all that important when I was 36 but now that I am 67 and outliving some of my friends, each day becomes more precious.

I arrived to start work on Thursday and saw 17 patients, signed off about 30 lab reports, spoke with a specialist at her request and to one about my patient, dealt with an abusive patient in the ER and was begging milk from my next door colleague for my tea at 18:35. The nurse in the ER called for advice or confirmation of his treatment four separate times, each for several patients. At 22:15, I had to go to the hospital for a maternity who thought she was in labour; she was not but other patients came in. Two more maternity patients, a man with chest pain and a hopeless resuscitation in process by the EMTs commanded my attention. I was in bed at 1:30 am.

One phone call interrupted my sleep. At 5:15 the nurse asked me to come in to see an elderly man.

My head felt as though I'd just arrived from an overseas 16 hour flight. It was a challenge to get motion into stiff joints. The patient was a cancer patient whose daughters were very anxious about treatment. Sympathy was difficult

I signed off the pile of unseen charts and was home by 7:50. I called the incoming physician for handover.

After a shower and something to eat, it was time to make up for the lost sleep – my sluggish brain made it apparent that I would not be doing anything else. Daytime sleeping is always a bit difficult for me so I prepare with earplugs and eye cover. Exactly ten minutes after the loss of consciousness and deeply asleep, the phone rings and rings. Eventually I am awake enough to answer it. The day nurse needs a signature! I told him that it could wait for 24 hours but the call had destroyed sleep. And now I had a dull headache. I'm whining about my osteoarthritis; my healing fracture burns.

I never did get the day back. It was lost. Now don't get me wrong, I did a few things but, like the pecking of a hen, a little here a little there, and couldn't get clearness back. An afternoon nap helped but now it was too late to call Eastern Canada for the business that I wanted to do.

And now, at 8:00 am on Saturday, I am back on call.for another 24 hours. It is hard to think positively about the next 48 hours.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

"Three Little Birds"

"Ever little thing is going to be all right" (Bob Marley) What makes two people wake in the morning with the same song in their heads? "Three Little Birds", the previous evening would do it!

The stage play by Kenneth T. Williams laced with Bob Marley is funny and emotionally charged. It opens with Tantoo Cardinal's soliloquy as Annie in her home on the reservation. She is dying with a painful cancer and has no grandchildren Her "take charge" only child, Kerry, played by Ntara Curry, has spurned relationships and clings to her identity as a professional. There are fire works between the two of them which blaze into a storm after Troy, Aaron Stonechild, falls into the house though a window! With a baby in his arms.

Laughter seems almost inappropriate to the subject matter but wells up frequently and unexpectedly.

The stage lighting was faulty but the actors were so professional that the audience was left to ponder over the meaning of the intermittently darkened stage! Spirits at work? Passage of time?

Aaron Stonechild was remarkably convincing as the teen father who wanted to do right by his baby girl, Anne-Marie, played by what appeared to be a short roll of cloth with off-stage recorded crying (it did mostly work).

Tantoo Cardinal was exquisite with just enough lightness to keep us convinced that she was, indeed, in pain and dying. Seeing her off stage, it was remarkable how convincingly she had become a dumpy frumpy old woman who just wanted to become a cookum before she died.

Ntara is our daughter so I cannot really be very objective about her stage work. I always like watching her! She had a most difficult role - convincingly career-driven, upset and angry for the entire first act having to soften up on cue - a bar in Toronto, at her dying mother's bedside. It was courageous for Lorne Cardinal to cast a white girl in a Metis role.

Criticisms? Two. It came as a compete surprise that rez-born Aaron was illiterate; neither his script nor his accent were convincing. And missing was the sense that Tantoo and Ntara cared enough for one another to want to spend more time together. There are a couple of precious moments where they come together but not much softness between them.

"Three Little Birds" - see it if you can! It's good. (I wish that it was accessible to the cookums and others that I see in La Loche.)

(Find about Tantoo's social activism at

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Steam Generators

Getting steamed up about steam generators? I am.

Bruce Power wants to send 16 old radioactive steam generators, each the size of a railroad car, to Sweden where they will be melted down and separated into low radioactive and highly radioactive waste. The highly radioactive waste will be shipped back to Halifax where it will be trucked back to the Western Waste Management Facility near Kincardine, Ontario. The low radioactive material will be mixed 1:10 with scrap metal and sold to be made into anything - children's toys, cutlery, etc. The levels will be almost too low to be measured.

Is that a bad thing? After all, we have to get rid of the radioactive waste somehow. And Bruce Power wants to be a good citizen and recycle!

It is a very bad thing. Most of us are exposed to between 2 and 4 milliSeverts per year naturally - cosmic rays, radon gas for example, or medically as in x-rays and CT scans. Research shows that there is a linear response - the higher the amount of exposure, the more likely the biological changes. Most of us do not get cancer; the lag period between exposure and disease can be very long. However, the connection was first discovered in studies that showed that leukemia is 7x more frequent in children whose mothers were x-rayed while they were in the womb due to the greater sensitivity of the fetus. However, some of us do get cancer and none of us want to get cancer. Cancer occurs when something interferes with the normal brakes on cell growth and the cells grow wildly and out of control.

There are three (four if you count cosmic-rays) types of radiation. Gamma radiation is very much like x-rays which pass right through us but potentially dislodge ions in DNA. Alpha radiation can be blocked by skin. Which doesn't happen if it is ingested or inhaled. The little alpha-producing particle lodges in lungs, kidneys or wherever the body uses or disposes of the particular substance. There is also beta radiation which lies between the other two in terms of penetration and potential to cause damage.

The Steam Generators are highly radioactive containing a soup of radioactive salts. In 2006, Bruce Power said that they were too radioactive to transport and that they would keep them on site practically in perpetuity. They admitted in hearings in September 2010 (I was there) that they did not have a plan in place in the event that a ship capsized but that dilution would take care of the problem - well they didn't really say that about dilution but it was implied. Each tritium release to the environment and every uranium atom spread on the surface of the globe adds to background radiation. And the effect will not be reversed for thousands of years. Just as dioxins used as pesticides ended up in the fatty tissue of polar bears so the depleted uranium used in the military and the radon gas released from mining will enter the entire biosphere.

Steam generators. That's our power company at work. Potentially polluting the Great Lakes - source of drinking water for millions of people - and certainly adding more radioactivity to our environment by "re-cycling" radioactive waste.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

World Woman's Day- remembering

This morning I heard a young woman on CBC:the Current. She prefaced many of her statements with the benefits that had been derived from the woman's movement and intimated that feminism was no longer needed. She had found no barriers to her career and extrapolated that no woman of her generation had any reason for failure to advance their careers other than their own determination. How little she knew of the past, the present or even the future! How far we have come and yet how far we have yet to go to achieve equity under the sky.

During medical school, I was constantly reminded of my inferiority - subject to hormone rages, likely to have babies at the drop of a hat or at least loss of a condom, unlikely to attract female patients to my practice because for unknown reasons women were more likely to want a real man as their physician and unlikely to have men in my practice because what self-respecting male would want to be examined by a woman. Not a promising outlook (and we all know how incorrect it was).

I started rural practice in 1980 in Wynyard. One of my colleagues grabbed my butt when we were standing in front of the entire high school assembly, another openly derided my skills. The head nurse was so antagonistic to a woman doctor that, years later, the nursing staff apologized for her behaviour. (Fortunately, I was thick-skinned; I knew that she did not like me but I had not know the extent.)

Within one year, 80% of the deliveries were being done by me. There had to be changes to delivery protocols - the lithotomy position had to be the choice, not the rule, erythromycin had to be used in place of silver nitrate drops, daily hgb on both mother and babe had to be discontinued, mothers were to be allowed to walk both before and after the delivery - and, who can forget the battles over rooming-in? The shit hit the fan when one of my patients came into the hospital, delivered at 9:00 am and asked to go home the same day - and I let her!! My medical judgment was questioned - and, of course, the nurse could find physicians to support her position that women should remain in the hospital for five days after delivery. For the first time, I had to explain myself to the College of Physicians and Surgeons.

My skill as a GP anaesthetist were in demand by the guys - but they were horrified when I insisted upon intubating the T&A's. (In fact, told the nurse not to fill my order for endotracheal tubes! 1981) As late as 1988, any IV push meds that I wanted to give were run past the older doc, male of course (who attended CME on cruises). One remarkable case, following the cardiologist's orders! (So I called local doc and told him to call the cardiologist and explain himself.)

Regional drug dinners? Male brag fest about their financial prowess. Or whine about the government. (Some things might not change too much.) And then in 1991 or 2 some recently graduated BC woman physician bragged in the Med Post how she "got where she was without any input from the woman's movement" - really pissed me off. When I was in first year medical school in Manitoba, there were only four women in a class of 75 people. That was "getting into mediclne without the woman's movement", getting into medicine in the mid-1980's was walking into medicine upon the backs of our foremothers (including me!).

I recognized that discrimination in the 80's was just part of the times. I became secretary to the Regional Medical Society but I refused to learn how to make coffee on the basis that it was an equal opportunity situation. On a separate and rather interesting note, Old Man Doc and I remain on, and are even friendly, speaking terms. I was enlisted as the primary and palliative physician for the other Old Man Doc in his retirement years. The third Doc, the bum grabber, seems to have bounced around the province (maybe grabbed too many bums?).

These are some of the lowlights of the 80's; one of the sad things for me is that there are still women experiencing these types of discrimination in medicine; fine researchers who don't get the plums, excellent orthopedic surgeons who put up with obsolete sexist comments, and so on.

There is evidence that people who respond to injustices with social activism are healthier, have less hypertension and gastro-intestinal disorders than those who either accept injustice as "just doing business" or normative or those who perpetrate the injustices. This is a good thing. It applies to women and men who believe in a partnership model of how the world should be run.