The end of being sleepy

Now this sounds promising …

A nasal spray containing a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys, allowing them to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests. The discovery's first application will probably be in treatment of the severe sleep disorder narcolepsy.

The treatment is “a totally new route for increasing arousal, and the new study shows it to be relatively benign,” said Jerome Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and a co-author of the paper. “It reduces sleepiness without causing edginess.”

Orexin A is a promising candidate to become a “sleep replacement” drug. For decades, stimulants have been used to combat sleepiness, but they can be addictive and often have side effects, including raising blood pressure or causing mood swings.

The military, for example, administers amphetamines to pilots flying long distances, and has funded research into new drugs like the stimulant modafinil and orexin A in an effort to help troops stay awake with the fewest side effects . . .

Blame anti-nuke activists for climate change

Here's an argument for you: Environmentalists who lobbied successfully against nuclear power in 1970s are partly responsible for potentially catastrophic global warming because they forced policymakers to rely more heavily on dirty carbon-producing coal plants.

This argument is the starting point for Jason Mark in a long piece in The Utne Reader which looks at the tension within the green movement over the role of nuclear energy in an era when climate change is the greatest threat to the planet:

The argument over nuclear power reveals a long-standing tension in the environmental movement between those who say there are technical fixes to the greenhouse gas challenge and others who believe that we need a wholesale restructuring of society if we are to avoid global meltdown. To embrace a new round of nuclear reactor construction is to say that we can have our climate and eat all the energy we want, too; it is, in some ways, maintenance of the status quo. To oppose nuclear power is to suggest that we need to reform the ways in which we live, for if we can find a way to create lifestyles that don’t demand as much electricity, then the nuclear question is moot.

…A number of prominent environmentalists—among them Whole Earth Catalog founder Stewart Brand, Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jared Diamond, and Gaia-theory promoter James Lovelock.

After decades of decline, the nuclear industry is on the upswing, cheered along, oddly enough, by green activists who once fought the industry but now say that nukes are better than coal given the global threat of climate change. Among those leading the charge in favour of nukes is Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore: “Yes, I was an opponent of nuclear energy all through my Greenpeace years,” Moore says. “But when I do the math, it’s very clear to me that renewables can’t do the job themselves, and that’s why nuclear has to be part of the mix. . . . As an environmentalist, I choose nuclear.”

Harper on Bhutto's killing

 The official notice from the PMO that Prime Minister Harper would be available to speak to the media about Benazir Bhutto’s assassination went out at 1346 Ottawa time this afternoon, giving reporters 29 minutes to get to the Calgary airport. The PMO was curious why not many reporters were able to show up.  

Luckily, as we’d been calling the PMO all day, we had an early heads-up and our camera crew was already on the way to the airport. Here’s some of his comments, made just before he got on the government jet to return to Ottawa:

On behalf of the people of Canada, I want to express my sincere condolences to the family of Mrs. Bhutto as well as to those of the other innocent victims today and to the people of Pakistan.

We condemn this attack in the strongest possible terms. This was an abhorrent act of terror. We hope that the government of Pakistan will act to bring the perpetrators to justice. This cannot be allowed to permit any delay in the return of Pakistan to full democracy, something the people of Pakistan have been waiting for for far too long.

… it is our role to continue to press the government of Pakistan to continue on the path to restoring full democracy, something that we think is long overdue.  

… we’ve been concerned for several months now about this whole series of events in Pakistan that undermines the stability there [in Afghanistan, where our troops are] and we are concerned about regional stability and obviously about the valiant efforts that our people in Afghanistan are making.



Finally – Canada weighs in

While leaders of other governments get in front of a camera so we can hear the outrage in their voice, Canada simply issues a press release:

December 27, 2007 (1:00 p.m. EST)
No. 186
The Honourable Maxime Bernier, Minister of Foreign Affairs, today issued the following statement condemning the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto:

“Canada condemns in the strongest terms this attack on the restoration of Pakistan’s efforts to return to full democracy. Today’s violence is especially heinous in view of the upcoming elections on January 8, 2008. The anti-democratic intent of the perpetrators could not be more obvious.

“I urge the Government and people of Pakistan to continue to reject all forms of violence and to resist those who seek to destabilize their country. Stability in Pakistan is vital for regional stability and security.

“We extend our deepest condolences to the family of Benazir Bhutto, to the families of the other victims of today’s attack, and to the Pakistani people. Our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.”


– 30 –

UPDATE: At 1:15 ET, we have just been alerted that Prime Minister Harper will make himself available at the Calgary airport at 2:15 ET. Our cameras are racing there right now!  

Waiting for Canada ….

It’s now more than five hours since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has already done a live televised statement calling for calm in his country. Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, who was meeting with Bhutto hours before she was killed, did a televised press conference, to express his horror. From Crawford, Texas where is on holiday, U.S. President George Bush gave a brief televised address to condemn the killings and urge Musharraf to press ahead with elections. From Scotland where he was holiday, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown chimed in.

Here in Canada, the Bloc Quebecois issued a press release. The NDP’s foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar was quick to put out his party’s position and do some television interviews about the subject. Liberal Foreign Affairs Critics Bob Rae has done several one-on-one interviews and is now holding a press conference in Toronto. Liberal MP Jim Karygiannis even organized a town hall meeting in his Toronto-area riding with the local Pakistani community.

And, now, as I look up, there are a steady stream of briefings at the U.S. State Department to help citizens of that country understand how Bhutto’s death will affect that country’s relationship with Pakistan and the entire region.

So how about our government?

Nothing. Bupkus. Nada. No Harper. Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier is MIA. Nothing from his junior minister, Helen Guergis. Nothing from his Parliamentary Secretary Deepak Obhrai. We are told that someone at PMO or the Department of Foreign Affairs is working on a statement.

Here at CTV, we did manage to track down Liberal-turned-Conservative MP Wajid Khan (a former member of the Pakistani Air Force) who was in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, and talk to him by phone.

Conservatives sometimes wonder why they can’t seem to connect with so-called “ethnic” voters. Well, here’s a clue: Their political opponents are already out in force today supporting the Pakistani community in Canada; talking to them; trying to understand how events in that country have now changed Canada and the world we live in. That’s called “getting it”. How tough is to write up a couple of paragraphs telling the world that Canada, too, condemns these attacks?


Car buyers choose deals on gas-guzzlers over being green

More proof that Canadian consumers tend to talk a lot about being environmentally conscious but often fail to change their own behaviour: Sales for gas-guzzlers in Canada jumped in November compared to year-ago levels while sales of tiny efficient vehicles dropped. This change came despite the presence of some generous federal government rebates on fuel-efficient vehicles and gas prices that remained relatively high.

Automotive consultant Dennis Desrosiers, in his most recent newsletter, notes:

… luxury SUV [sales] up 14.3 per cent, large pick-up increased 8.7 per cent, small Luxury vehicles up 0.9 per cent despite a fair number of US purchases that don't count in the Canadian numbers. The whole category of large/luxury/sport was up 0.2 per cent in a market that was down 5 per cent. So much for high fuel prices, so much for feebates …. discount a vehicle and consumers will buy more.

Indeed small entry level vehicle sales were down 9.3 per cent, the largest drop this year . . .

The unintended consequences? Not necessarily good for the environment and little to nothing our governments can do about it. If vehicles are priced too high, consumers will just go to the States or buy used…. lower the prices to move the product and consumers in Canada buy them.  Governments should be careful with their approach to regulating our industry. Consumers will always find a way around these regulations.

For November, the number one selling passenger car in the country was the Honda Civic. Honda put 4,690 new Civics in Canadian driveways but that was a steep drop from November, 2006, when Honda sold 5,585 Civics. The other top-selling passenger cars in Canada in November were, in order (with percentage change in sales from last November in brackets): 2. Pontiac Grand Prix (+589.9%), 3. Mazda3 (-24.6%), 4. Honda Accord (+69.9%), 5. Ford Focus (+5.6%)

The top-selling light trucks, according to Desrosier’s research, were: 1. Ford F-Series (+4.3%), 2. Dodge Caravan (-17.7%), 3. Dodge Ram (+5.6%), 4. GMC Sierra (+2.4%), 5. Chevrolet Silverado (+3.6%).

Year-to-date, combined sales of passenger vehicles in Canada are up 0.4% at 807,988 units while combined sales of light trucks is up 6.1 per cent at 725,506.

Springtime with Bob Rae!

The writs have been dropped for four more by-elections.

In Toronto Centre, former Ontario Premier Bob Rae is the odds-on favourite to replace retired MP Bill Graham when voters there go to the polls on March 17. Several weeks ago, the Conservatives fired their candidate, Mark Warner, because he … well, they never really said why. It doesn't much matter: This district, which Bob Rae calls “the heart of Canada”, includes the tony Toronto neighbourhood of Rosedale and is about as safe as it gets for Liberals.

Voters will also select a new MP in the Saskatchewan riding of Desnethé–Missinippi–Churchill River where rookie Liberal MP Gary Merasty decided within a year to pack it in. Political renegade/oddball David Orchard wants to contest this seat for the Liberals but leader Stephane Dion apparently has other ideas. Merasty won it in 2006 in a close vote that incumbent Conservative Jeremy Harrison (now a member of the provincial legislature) contested to no avail.

In Vancouver Quadra, former Liberal minister Stephen Owen is also retiring. Had floor-crosser David Emerson run in this riding as a Conservative, he might have won here! It's a lot more upscale than Emerson's current riding of Vancouver Kingsway. For that reason, I'd say this is the seat that has the greatest chance of change. It's the Liberal's to lose but this is B.C., after all, and weird stuff happens.

Finally, former Liberal cabinet minister Jim Peterson quit the House the day after his contemporary and friend Bill Graham did. And, just as with Graham's old seat in Toronto, look for this one to stay Liberal with a victory by another former contestant for the leadership that Dion won: Martha Hall Findlay — see you in the House this spring along with Bob Rae. The Conservative candidate Maureen Harquail will give it her best, no doubt, but Willowdale is only slightly less safe than Toronto Centre for Liberals.

Lululemon nixes bisphenol A products

Earlier this month, I reported on a decision by sporting goods retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op to remove some products made with bisphenol A from store shelves. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical most often used to harden plastics products, such as baby bottles, water bottles, etc. Environmentalists say bisphenol A has been linked to cancer and other nasty diseases. MEC became the first national retailer to take BPA products off the shelf.

Now, a second major retailer in Canada is moving to nix BPA products. Lululemon Athletica Inc. of Vancouver has also decided to sell products without BPA, says activist group Environmental Defence.

The U.S. Federal Drug Administration has not ruled that BPA products should not be used. In Canada, Health Canada has BPA under review, with a decision expected in March. The Ontario government is also reviewing the safety of BPA.