Wednesday 5 August 2009

not a blog IV

Up, Down.

Rania Ibrahim Mutlib Video 1, 2, 3.

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Wooler United ChurchWalmart

1. Iraq 'suicide bomber', 16, jailed, Natalia Antelava, Tuesday 4 August 2009.
2. Failed Iraqi Female Teen Suicide Bomber Sentenced, Khalid al-Ansary, Mohammed Abbas, Patrick Graham, August 4 2009.
3. Can Wal-Mart Be Sustainable?, NYT Editorial, August 6 2009.
4. WM Move to Grade Suppliers on Sustainability Affects Other Retailers, Ambiguous, July 15 2009.
     4a. Walmart Sustainability Milestone meeting, July 16 2009 (difficult to make out).
     4b. Wal-Mart Sustainability Overview, 2006.
     4c. ICC Staff Briefing, July 2009.
5. The sad state of the NDP, Letter, Harry Greenwood, West Vancouver, August 7 2009.
6. Being 'new' gets old really fast, Rick Salutin, Friday August 7 2009.
7. Energy battle heats up as B.C. lowers royalty, David Ebner, Friday Aug 07 2009.
8. Prentice pledges new wastewater rules, Steve Rennie, Thursday Aug 06 2009.
9. Reduce fetal exposure to BPA and phthalates, experts say, Martin Mittelstaedt, Thursday Aug 06 2009.
10. Toronto's waste collectors piling up the overtime, Brodie Fenlon, Friday Aug 07 2009.
11. There's jobless, and officially jobless, Tavia Grant, Friday Aug 07 2009.

Iraq 'suicide bomber', 16, jailed, Natalia Antelava, Tuesday 4 August 2009.

Baghdad - A juvenile court in Iraq's Diyala province has sentenced a 16-year-old girl to seven-and-a-half years in prison for an attempted suicide attack.

Rania Ibrahim was arrested in August 2008 in Baqouba, capital of Diyala province, considered to be a stronghold of al-Qaeda. Video of the arrest shows police removing her long dress to reveal what appears to be a suicide belt.

She said a relative of her husband had told her to wear the vest. In the police video, Rania, with dark curls around a chubby, childish face, looks confused. Later in the footage she tells the police chief that she did not know what was going on, and police said that the girl appeared to have been drugged. Rania left school when she was 11. Five months before the arrest she was sold into marriage.

'Told to wait'

It was a relative of her husband, she told police, who told her to put the vest on and wait outside for further instructions.

It is not clear what led to her capture, and initial reports suggested that she gave herself up. The US military has described her as an "unwilling suicide bomber" forced or tricked into staging a suicide attack. But a year after her arrest, she was found guilty by the Diyala juvenile court.

Rania Ibrahim's story is not unique. Dozens of teenagers, both girls and boys, were used in suicide attacks in Iraq in the years following the US invasion.

Failed Iraqi Female Teen Suicide Bomber Sentenced, Khalid al-Ansary, Mohammed Abbas, Patrick Graham, August 4 2009.

BAGHDAD - A girl caught wearing a vest packed with explosives in an aborted suicide attack in Iraq last year has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison, a court official said on Tuesday.

Then 15 years old, Rania Ibrahim was arrested in August 2008 in Iraq's northeastern Diyala province, whose uneasy mix of Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims had given rise to some of the worst sectarian violence in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

U.S. military officials had described Ibrahim previously as an "unwilling" suicide bomber, as did the girl herself in a TV interview.

"Diyala juvenile court has ruled to convict the minor Rania Ibrahim and sentences her to seven years and six months ... The sentence is initial and can be appealed," an Iraqi Supreme Judicial Council official said, declining to be named.

The sentence was handed down on Monday.

Initial reports said Ibrahim had given herself up, but police later said she had been searched and they had found the vest. Many suicide bombers detonate themselves when discovered.

Television footage at the time showed Iraqi forces gingerly approaching a visibly distraught Ibrahim to remove the suicide vest.

She said her husband had introduced her to someone claiming to be her relative, who had put the vest on her. She said she had felt dizzy and sick for days and police said she seemed drugged by a sedative when they arrested her.

Can Wal-Mart Be Sustainable?, NYT Editorial, August 6 2009.

Recently, Wal-Mart has been rolling out plans for what it calls a sustainability index — a measure of how green the products it sells really are. It is asking each of its suppliers, an enormous list of businesses, 15 questions about the life of their products from manufacturing through disposal: questions about greenhouse gas emissions, social responsibility, waste reduction initiatives and water use.

It is a sound idea. And probably a very good marketing tool. Given Wal-Mart’s huge purchasing power, if it is done right it could promote both much-needed transparency and more environmentally sensitive practices.

Wal-Mart has already created a Sustainability Index Consortium, which will include environmental groups and other nonprofits, universities and businesses. The consortium will create the criteria for the index, and will share with Wal-Mart the task of building a product-by-product database measuring the environmental impact of each product’s life cycle.

Wal-Mart seems aware that the success of its effort to reveal the environmental transparency of its suppliers will depend on the transparency of its own efforts — including the degree to which it collaborates with critics.

The company plans to do more with the index than simply using it to guide its own purchases from suppliers. This database could inform consumers as well. To that end, Wal-Mart hopes to put a readable version of it in every aisle so that consumers can gauge the environmental impact of their purchases.

Wal-Mart has done consistently well by selling at low prices. Historically, however, cheap goods have often reflected careless and unsustainable environmental practices — clear-cutting entire forests, for instance, which is cheaper than selective logging. If Wal-Mart successfully combines cut-rate prices with high-class environmental stewardship, other businesses should follow.

WM Move to Grade Suppliers on Sustainability Affects Other Retailers, Ambiguous, July 15 2009.

Wal-Mart is set to announce a new sustainability index that will grade various suppliers and products by a range of environmental and sustainable factors.

The move, to be unveiled at a July 16 meeting in Bentonville, Ark., will lead manufacturers to label their products in such a way that lets consumers easily discern the sustainability of one product over the other, reports The Big Money.

With other retailers involved in the sustainability consortium that Wal-Mart is starting, the movement may become much larger in scope when all is said and done. Wal-Mart is mum on the details for now, but this event page shows a glimmer of what invitees to the meeting can expect. “Join us for a groundbreaking workshop to craft the sustainability index that Wal-Mart buyers will use to evaluate their 60,000 suppliers and the hundreds of thousands of products that end up on store shelves,” writes Matt Kistler, Wal-Mart’s Senior Vice President of Sustainability.

“We are assembling a diverse group of stakeholders to help ensure that we measure the sustainability of products in a way that is credible and highly scalable. You will work with Wal-Mart merchandise leaders, Wal-Mart suppliers, non-governmental organizations, scorecard thought leaders and other sustainability experts,” Kistler continues.

The $406 billion retailer has been building toward this moment for some time. First came its Sustainable Packaging Scorecard, which was unveiled in 2006 and went live in early 2008. As time went on, the goal was for suppliers to reduce the amount of packaging in their products, as well as the energy component and other negative environmental aspects of the packaging’s supply chain. Life-cycle attributes may well be part of the index, too.

For suppliers, the implications of Wal-Mart’s sustainability initiatives are clear - adapt and improve, or get thrown off the shelf. What is different about the July 16 meeting is its scope is so large that it may lead to a set of standards that extend beyond Wal-Mart. Indeed, Wal-Mart has invited Costco, Target and Kroger to join the sustainability consortium that will have a hand in crafting the index.

The consortium will be led by the University of Arkansas and Arizona State University. Additionally, faculty at Duke, Harvard, the University of Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford have also been involved in planning the index, reports The Big Money. Among the major suppliers said to be involved are Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Tyson, General Mills and Tyson, among others.

Wal-Mart’s reason for forming the consortium may be because the retailer doesn’t want to be the sole arbiter of what constitutes sustainability in a product, according to the article, which quoted an insider as saying, “They are willing to get the ball rolling, but they want to hand it off to someone else.”

It’s predicted that the sustainability index may fall to a yet-to-be-formed group along the lines of the Marine Stewardship Council or the Forest Stewardship Council. Jon Johnson, who holds the Walton professorship in sustainability at the University of Arkansas, is leading the consortium, along with Jay Golden, an assistant professor in the school of sustainability at Arizona State. Johnson said the the index will be “comprehensive,” adding that, “Unless you look at the entire life cycle of the product, you just can’t measure the environmental impact.” Wal-Mart will provide a live Webcast of the meeting, which is from 9-11 a.m. (CDT), July 16. Click here to view the Webcast.

The sad state of the NDP, Letter, Harry Greenwood, West Vancouver, August 7 2009.

Re: What's in a name?, The NDP mulls a change in moniker, editorial, Aug. 5

I am a founding member of the NDP. When we arrived in Ottawa for our convention, we had a temporary name, New Party, and an interim leader, Hazen Argue.

After the lobbying and the debate, we left with a new name and a new leader, Tommy Douglas.

I can tell you that the delegates were not unanimous on inserting "democratic" into our title, arguing that it sounded too American. Others objected to the use of "new."

Many argued for calling our party what it was reputed to be, a democratic socialist party, and since Tommy Douglas always referred to us as socialists, this had widespread support. However, we were in the midst of the Cold War and the large pro-American unions such as auto and steel campaigned vigorously against it. So, in the end, the compromise label New Democratic Party entered the Canadian scene.

Fortunately, the new leader carried more weight than the name. The members were energized by his vision. His oratory proclaimed that when the economy was being debated, we should focus on health care and make sure it never strayed far from the table.

The last NDP leader to uphold this was Ed Broadbent.

Today our leader, Jack Layton, has not only allowed it to stray, but has forgotten that it even existed.

To debate a name change at the upcoming convention is purely academic, for there is no longer the passion within the party that there was in 1961.

All of the ideas and the vision of Tommy Douglas have disappeared; they've given way to maintaining the status quo and reducing our shout to a whisper.

Being 'new' gets old really fast, Rick Salutin, Friday August 7 2009.

Whether it's summer reading, or a political party's name, new insights don't require new texts or even the word, ‘new'
The current issue of Literary Review of Canada has a piece by über-critic Linda Hutcheon on book reviewing itself. That sounds like good prep for your summer reading. “We certainly do need some guidance,” she says, “given the fact that we live in a world that offers us so many choices of goods and services that we can never know enough about – and therefore select from – in any intelligent manner.”

I have one question: Why? I mean in the case of books; I'm not talking about selecting a car or cellphone.

Why not just reread what we already know we like? That's how the human race read and told tales for millenniums before the rise of print.

There was a time BP (Before Print) when an educated person could be expected to have read all the books there were. When print began, just 650 years ago, those ancient texts came out first: the Bible, then the rest. Why not stop then?

Well, printers had a big investment in their presses, they needed more product to pay them off, and to profit after their initial costs were covered.

This happened with radio and TV, too. First came the technologies, then programs were devised to get people to buy sets. So new print matter was required, leading to forms like the novel (i.e. “new”) and journalism – which, as its name says, required new material each day. I don't deny some good stuff came out of this crass economic motive.

But it runs against human nature, as evidenced by the universal cry of pre-literate kids about books: Again! Again! They want to go back over what they know and love, and it's how the species long reacted as well. Under that approach, new layers and meanings are always found. You delve deeper, not wider. In that old, oral tradition, it almost doesn't matter what the texts or “canon” are; what counts is the attention brought to them.

You can find the basics of human experience in almost any drivel. Teaching kids to read amounts to weaning them from that oral mindset, injecting the concept, “new,” into their DNA, and doing a little consumer training, too. Some people say the “new” was always being smuggled into ancient texts under the oral tradition, but classicists can reply that it's all there to start with, so long as you turn and turn it again, as the Talmud says. The point is, new insights don't require new texts or even the word “new.” It's also true that whole industries and sectors – publishers, authors, critics – are dependent on new texts being produced all the time, and I happen to be among them ...

Which brings us to the proposal for the New Democratic Party to gain a new look by dropping the word, new, from its name. Of course, when you call something new, it tends to age, it's like asking for Old trouble. They could name it the New New Democratic Party.

But new has begun to sound musty, like someone old who won't admit it. What about Old Democratic Party? Or Old Party? John A. Macdonald won an election on that one. Their real yearning is to be the Democratic Party, because it's Barack Obama's party in the U.S. and they heard he has a big appeal. They could call themselves the New Obama Party, or just the Obama Party if New implies, as it seems to, that they're old and tired, as opposed to new and fresh. Trouble is, the Obama newness is already aging, the new part was getting elected. Most of what he's doing now is old, like reneging on health-care reform and ramping up the war in Afghanistan.

Personally, I think a good new name would be the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which they shucked 50 years ago so they'd become a big success. It has three really interesting words, none of which is socialist or new. As an acronym, CCF, two letters are the same, so they'll be easy to remember as all the new members get old. And in 50 years, they can just switch it again, so as to sweep the country.

Energy battle heats up as B.C. lowers royalty, David Ebner, Friday Aug 07 2009.

2-per-cent charge on production less than half the offer given by neighbouring Alberta

Vancouver — British Columbia is fighting back against Alberta in an escalating battle for lucrative natural gas drilling dollars, introducing an ultra-low royalty to lure investment.

B.C. is bringing in a nominal 2-per-cent royalty on the revenue from the first year of production on new wells drilled from September through next June.

As a global race for capital intensifies, Thursday's royalty announcement by B.C.'s Liberal government is a direct response to similar measures introduced in Alberta earlier this year.

“It's not only Alberta,” said B.C. Energy Minister Blair Lekstrom. “This is a global competition. Capital is mobile.”

The two commodity heavyweights are engaged in an ever-more intense battle for the attention and investment of energy companies.

Major gas discoveries in northeastern B.C. have attracted several billion dollars from companies to secure land to explore, shifting the spotlight away from the perennial energy capital of Alberta.

Alberta had increased royalties, but backed down several times after the energy industry slashed spending in the province.

Both provinces also face significant continental competition from the likes of Texas and Louisiana, where large pools of natural gas are easier to access and the commodity is much closer to energy customers.

British Columbia's 2-per-cent royalty on gas, as well as oil, is less than half the comparable 5-per-cent deal in Alberta, and was the centrepiece of a package of breaks in Thursday's announcement.

The B.C. incentives will make a tangible difference, with wells drilled that otherwise would not have been, industry executives said.

The timing is also right, as energy explorers are busy working on their winter plans, the time of year when the ground in remote regions is frozen to allow rigs to move to locations more easily.

“There's no doubt a 2-per-cent royalty is very positive,” said Michael Culbert, chief executive officer of Progress Energy Resources Corp., which typically splits its capital spending of roughly $200-million between British Columbia and Alberta. “This could sway some additional dollars going into B.C.”

The natural gas business has been crunched by a surge in supply from shale gas plays in the United States and a slump in demand because of the recession. The benchmark price at a key Alberta trading hub is about $3 for 1,000 cubic feet, too low to justify much of the difficult drilling in northeastern B.C.

Alberta said it won't immediately respond to the B.C. incentives, instead focusing on a general review of the province's competitiveness, which is expected to be finished late this year.

“In the end, having the lowest royalties may not be the key,” said Jerry Bellikka, a spokesman for Alberta Energy.

EnCana Corp., North America's largest gas producer, said the B.C. decision reflects the fact that competition for drilling dollars is intense and the high costs of work in rugged and remote northeastern British Columbia must be weighed against easier options in Texas and Louisiana, home to prolific and promising gas fields. EnCana operates in all the areas.

“[B.C.'s] a tough place to do business,” said Richard Dunn, a vice-president of regulatory affairs at EnCana. “We consider investment opportunities continent wide … The lower royalties definitely help.”

Northeastern B.C. is home to the Montney play as well as Horn River, a shale deposit north of Fort Nelson that could become Canada's biggest gas discovery ever.

Companies in the past two years have spent heavily to buy exploration rights. Because companies have five years to drill, there isn't an immediate demand to get to work, especially with low gas prices, so B.C. hopes the new royalty deal accelerates plans.

The province also has a special low royalty program for Horn River, for which it is currently settling deals with about a dozen companies.

The province has come to rely on the natural gas business to fund public spending, especially as the traditional foundation industry of forestry fades more each year. With a spiralling deficit and the spectre of deep cuts to health care, B.C. said each dollar of new royalty credits will generate $2.50 in additional revenue in the next three years, money that will go to health care and education.

Prentice pledges new wastewater rules, Steve Rennie, Thursday Aug 06 2009.

Sewage regulations to be unveiled later this year will set Canada-wide performance benchmarks and monitoring timelines, Environment Minister says

Ottawa — Canadian municipalities will have to bring their sewage treatment plants up to snuff under new regulations to be unveiled by the Harper government later this year.

The new rules will set performance benchmarks, timelines and monitoring and reporting requirements for the country's 4,000 wastewater facilities, Environment Minister Jim Prentice said Thursday in Saint John.

The regulations will cover all wastewater systems operated by municipalities, the provincial and federal governments, and those on federal or aboriginal lands.

“All jurisdictions will now have to maintain, update, or develop new regulatory tools to implement the Canada-wide strategy,” Mr. Prentice said, according to a copy of the speech provided by his office.

“We have the strategy. We intend to enforce it with the powers of the Fisheries Act to protect the health of Canadians and the environment.”

Facilities that can't afford the upgrades or repairs can apply to Ottawa's infrastructure fund or borrow from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp., Mr. Prentice said.

More details will emerge when the government publishes draft regulations in December, which are expected to be revised and finalized next year.

The Conservative government has been criticized for announcing only piecemeal projects instead of the national water strategy promised more than two years ago.

This spring, Canada's environment commissioner told a House of Commons committee the Tories have made negligible progress on a national water strategy.

Scott Vaughan said the Tories have made plenty of announcements about the water strategy but they haven't yet followed up with enough action to merit an audit by his office.

“The position of the office is that we don't examine a program if it's based only on a press release,” he told MPs in April.

“We did not see any measurable progress in developing a national strategy or a national framework.”

Mr. Prentice's announcement drew a rebuke Thursday from Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia, the party's water critic.

“The Harper government has no vision on this pressing issue,” he said in a statement.

The government has ignored Parliament's calls for a national water strategy, he said.

A soggy summer in some parts of the country has pushed sanitary and storm sewers to the limit.

Heavy rainfall in Ottawa has clogged city drains and spilled nearly 500 million litres of sewage into the Ottawa River. Beaches have been closed because of high levels of bacteria.

Oyster and quahog fishing was banned along a six-kilometre stretch of Prince Edward Island's East River in June after a sewage leak was discovered at a treatment facility in a nearby trailer park.

On the West Coast, politicians in Victoria recently approved a plan to build four treatment plants to handle the millions of litres of raw sewage the city and surrounding suburbs now dump every day into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And a recent report by the environmental group Ecojustice analyzed figures from Ontario's Ministry of the Environment and found billions of litres of untreated sewage have been dumped into the province's waterways.

Reduce fetal exposure to BPA and phthalates, experts say, Martin Mittelstaedt, Thursday Aug 06 2009.

With Health Canada recently banning plastic baby bottles made from bisphenol A and proposing to ban certain toys, questions arise about whether similar actions should be taken to safeguard pregnant women

Citing possible risks to young children, Health Canada recently banned plastic baby bottles made from bisphenol A and is proposing to ban toys containing six types of phthalates, best known as the rubber duck chemical.

Singling out babies and toddlers for special protection against harmful chemicals is a good idea because infants, with their rapidly growing bodies and unique exposure patterns, can be more vulnerable to dangerous chemicals than are most adults.

But a question has arisen about Health Canada's actions: If young children shouldn't come into contact with the two chemicals, what about pregnant women and their fetuses, which are even more susceptible to harmful compounds, especially those with hormonal impacts, like these man-made substances?

Bisphenol A is an estrogen mimic, meaning exposure gives an extra hit of the female hormone, while phthalates interfere with testosterone production, reducing levels of the crucial male hormone.

During fetal development, in particular, humans are extremely sensitive to sex hormones. Everything from genital development to brain organization is choreographed by specific levels of these hormones circulating in the womb at precise points in the pregnancy. If levels are skewed by synthetic chemicals, there is the risk of irreversible, life-long changes occurring.

“Pregnant women and the fetus are in fact the greatest target group for all of these chemicals,” says Frederick vom Saal, a professor at the University of Missouri and one of the leading researchers in the U.S. investigating bisphenol A, or BPA as it is also known.

Health Canada needs “to now take the next logical step” and consider wider restrictions on the chemicals to reduce exposures in pregnant women, contends Dr. vom Saal. The agency shouldn't assume “that by just targeting protections for newborns they've done enough.”

Although Health Canada took action against the two chemicals to protect children, the most provocative research on both compounds has been done on pregnant rodents and on their pups during early neonatal life, the period that corresponds to the last part of gestation in humans. Because conducting experiments on pregnant women would be unethical, these animal laboratory tests are designed to flag possible harmful effects on people.

Such experiments have found dramatic results, including enlarged prostates, skewed mammary ducts that in women would translate into increased breast cancer risk, and the feminization of male genitals.

Safeguards for pregnant women are needed, agreesanother top researcher in the field, Shanna Swan, director of the Center for Reproductive Epidemiology at the University of Rochester's school of medicine, and an authority on phthalates. While children are sensitive to the chemicals, they're “not as sensitive as the fetus. There is no question about that,” says Dr. Swan.

Dr. Swan has published a study finding that women who have higher levels of phthalates during pregnancy give birth to boys with a slightly shorter distance from the start of their genitals to the anus, mirroring a discovery made in male rodents exposed to the chemical. In rodents, the shrinkage is viewed as feminizing the male genital tract, but the effect occurred at far higher doses than what is found in people exposed to the chemicals.

Nonetheless, because there is animal evidence of harm during gestation, Dr. Swan says “we should assume until proven otherwise that it's reproductively toxic to humans.”

Health Canada said it is monitoring research on the chemicals, but it believes the weight of evidence does not yet warrant measures to reduce exposures by pregnant women.

“Health Canada will take appropriate action if a risk to human health is identified,” it said in an e-mailed response to questions.

But the federal agency has begun several studies on pregnant women and their babies to see whether the animal research is onto something, and has ordered up research to see if the genitals of newborns have been affected by their mothers' exposure to the two chemicals.

Last month , for instance, it posted a notice indicating that it has asked a McMaster University researcher to study pregnant women to find out whether BPA affects the anogenital distance in their babies. It has a similar study on phthalates to try to duplicate Dr. Swan's findings.

In human babies, as in rodent pups, males typically have a larger distance from the anus to the genitals than females, and it is likely that anything reducing the sex difference would be hormonal in nature.

The chemical industry said it welcomes the research and predicted its products will get a clean bill of health. “We are confident that the levels of bisphenol A that will be found will be extremely low and we think it's unlikely that any health effects will be observed,” said Steven Hentges, spokesman for the American Chemistry Council.

The council also represents phthalate makers and has argued that the research showing effects on the genitals of boys is flawed.

It's been relatively easy for Health Canada to introduce measures restricting infant exposure to phthalates and BPA by ordering them out of just a few products such as plastic baby bottles and toys. If it decides pregnant women need protection, it faces a much harder task because products containing the substances are ubiquitous.

“The ability of governments to actually tackle adult exposures is going to be extremely challenging,” Dr. vom Saal predicted.

Pregnant women wanting to reduce their exposure while the government researches the issue may have difficulty because many plastic products don't disclose what they're made from, although some polycarbonates containing BPA carry the plastic industry's symbol of a triangle encasing the number seven, while polyvinyl chloride, which often contain phthalates, sometimes carries a triangle encasing the number three.

As well, there isn't a full understanding of how humans are being exposed to the chemicals, but residues in food from packaging and processing equipment are suspected. Some researchers believe other sources might be important, such as breathing dust containing the chemicals or absorbing them through the skin, as people would do for compounds in cosmetics.

The uterus doesn't offer protection against the compounds, which have been detected in the placenta, amniotic fluid and umbilical cord blood, indicating that maternal exposure leads to fetal exposure.

The amounts of exposure in people are low, but according to some experts, they are still worrisome. Blood concentrations of bisphenol A are typically a couple of parts per billion, while phthalates measured in urine can be thousands of parts per billion. One part per billion is a tiny amount, the equivalent of one second of elapsed time over nearly 32 years.

But Dr. vom Saal cautioned that these concentrations are far higher than the natural amounts of estrogen in people, which are in the parts per trillion, and testosterone, in the parts per billion. He says that because people's hormone systems are already operating at their natural levels, any alterations caused by phthalates and BPA should be a source of concern.

Health Canada studying effect of chemicals on infant genitals

Health Canada has quietly been studying a delicate topic: Whether or not the genitals of Canadian babies are being altered by their moms' exposure to bisphenol A or phthalates during pregnancy.

The research will measure the distance between the start of a baby's genitals and its anus, a space that on average is larger in boys than in girls. If the space is getting smaller, it means boys are being born less manly, and likely to have smaller penises and testicles.

The phthalate study is under way and will take up to five years to complete, while the bisphenol A research is just starting.

Phthalates, which are able to reduce levels of the male hormone, testosterone, are found in everything from polyvinyl chloride shower curtains to floor tiles, where they're used to make plastics less brittle. They're also added to cosmetics and perfumes to make the fragrance last longer.

Bisphenol A, an estrogen mimic, is the main ingredient in polycarbonate plastic products, including office water-cooler jugs, lenses for eyeglasses and the protective coatings on compact discs. It's also in the epoxy liners found on the inside of most food and beverage cans, and in some carbonless paper register receipts.

All BPA is made by humans and isn't found in nature, although there are some microbial sources of phthalates.

Scientists have known for years that dosing pregnant rodents with phthalates feminizes their male offspring, giving them female-like areolas and nipples, and smaller genital tracts. The amounts used to prompt the effects are far above what people are exposed to, but recently, researchers in the U.S. believe that they have detected slightly smaller genitals in boys born to mothers with higher-than-average phthalate exposure during pregnancy.

Bisphenol A has raised health concerns too, with tests in experimental animals leading to such conditions as early puberty, genital malformations and increased prostate growth, often at low doses given during fetal development.

The federal government is also testing several thousand Canadians for their BPA and phthalate levels, but the results are not yet available. Bio-monitoring in the U.S. has found that nearly everyone carries detectible amounts of the two chemicals. One survey conducted between 2003 and 2004 found about 93 per cent of Americans have bisphenol A in their bodies, and researchers looking for phthalates have found a similar percentage.

Toronto's waste collectors piling up the overtime, Brodie Fenlon, Friday Aug 07 2009.

City spent about $475,000 in overtime over the long weekend to empty its temporary dump

Fresh off a 39-day strike, Toronto's waste collectors and drivers are raking in the overtime and will continue to rack up extra hours well into next week as they clear up the curbside collection backlog.

The city spent about $475,000 in overtime over the long weekend to empty it temporary dumps, and Toronto's 400 unionized garbage collectors are averaging about two hours of overtime a day on curbside collection.

Former Etobicoke mayor Doug Holyday said that he repeatedly urged city management and councillors to ban overtime for the cleanup, just as Etobicoke did after a 38-day garbage strike in 1984. He said the promise of overtime creates a vicious cycle in which “the longer they stay out, the bigger the mess, the more the overtime, the more money they get back, the longer they stay out.”

“You only encourage unions to go out on strike by offering overtime on the back end,” added Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who argued Toronto should have held off on signing collective agreements with its striking workers until after the long weekend to save money.

Mayor David Miller said city staff were directed to ensure that no overtime would be collected after the strike except for cleanup and matters of health and safety.

“We've got to get the garbage cleaned up. That's the first priority,” Mr. Miller said. “When you're picking up from many houses in Toronto, mine included, six weeks worth of recycling and six weeks worth of garbage – it takes time.”

Asked why Toronto didn't follow the lead of Windsor, which prohibited overtime during its garbage cleanup after a 101-day strike, Mr. Miller was curt. “Why not leave garbage in the streets for another few weeks? I think the question speaks for itself.”

Geoff Rathbone, general manager of solid waste management, said in an interview earlier this week that the city faces an “unprecedented situation” in which limits on overtime have to be balanced with the need to keep the collection system moving. Residents can place an unlimited amount of garbage and recycling out for pickup on the first two regular collections.

“What we don't want to do, of course, is fall too far behind, so we have to balance some overtime with our need to be fiscally responsible,” he said.

City spokesman Rob Andrusevich said Ontario's Environment Ministry gave officials 24 hours to clean out the temporary dumps after council ratified the deals, which meant that work had to be done through the long weekend. He said private contractors would have cost the city about 70 per cent more than regular staff because of the costs of renting heavy equipment.

Mr. Holyday doubts that. “I think you'd find the contractors would work a lot quicker,” he said. “A contractor would do twice as much as our people.”

Mr. Andrusevich said crews will take longer to complete their routes today and through next week. “There's a public interest now in simply being able to get rid of these materials as we're moving into warmer weather,” he said.

Meanwhile, a motion to consider the feasibility of giving residents rebates for lost services during the strike, and separate motions to request the province make as essential services garbage collection, daycare and paramedics, were referred to the executive committee, which meets next month.

There's jobless, and officially jobless, Tavia Grant, Friday Aug 07 2009.

When Statscan issues its jobs data today, it won't tally those who have given up or postponed their searches

After John Peck was reorganized out of his job at Shell Canada Ltd. in April, he searched for work in communications or consulting for a few months. But few positions were open and the rare ones posted were swamped with applicants.

So, he has stopped looking. The 56-year-old, who received a severance package, is spending a month on Deer Island, N.B., where he's diving, sailing boats and combing beaches.

"It's a good time to wait and see what's happening with the economy, see how things shake out," he explains. "There's a lot more competition right now, and that was part of my decision to take a good chunk of the summer off."

When Statistics Canada reports its monthly job count today, many unemployed people like Mr. Peck - who have either postponed or given up their job search - won't be tallied. That's because people who haven't hunted for jobs in the past month aren't counted as unemployed or as part of the labour force.

The gap between the actual unemployment rate and the official statistics is likely to widen in the coming months, as more people give up their job search to go back to school, or wait until jobs are more abundant, economists say. Many more workers will settle for part-time jobs, even though they want full-time positions.

"Official numbers always understate how bad it is during recessionary periods," said Robert Fairholm, an economist at the Centre for Spatial Economics, a research firm in Milton, Ont. "Things will get worse before they get better for unemployed people."

In a forecast this week, he predicted that Canada's unemployment rate would rise to 10.5 per cent by the first quarter of 2011 if discouraged workers were counted.

Today's Statscan report is expected to show about 15,000 jobs were lost last month, sending the national unemployment rate to 8.8 per cent from 8.6 per cent, according to economists polled by Bloomberg. The economy shed almost half a million full-time jobs - 454,000 positions - between October and June, Statscan figures show.

When involuntary part-time workers are factored into the equation, Canada's unemployment rate would have been 11.3 per cent in June, according to Statscan's so-called R8 series on "underutilized" labour, which is not seasonally adjusted. That's well above the 8.1-per-cent level it showed in the same month last year, though down from the 12.4 per cent it reached in March.

Canada's official unemployment rate is a more accurate depiction of reality than the U.S. measure, though, because it includes people who are both actively and passively looking for work, said Millan Mulraine, economics strategist at TD Securities. The U.S. criteria are more stringent - they stipulate that people have to be actively looking for work - and thus fewer people are counted in the jobless tally, he said.

Employment insurance is another indicator of joblessness; the most recent report showed a record number of Canadians are receiving jobless benefits. That, too, could be skewed in the months ahead as EI benefits run out.

Rick Newton, 46, is one of thousands of Canadians who have fallen out of the country's official bookkeeping. EI benefits for the information-technology specialist dried up last year. So the Burlington, Ont., resident put his job search on hold to go back to school to update his certifications.

He said it was a "conscious decision" to leave the labour market after a fruitless job search.

"I hope to be looking for work again in November."

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