Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Unintended Consequences and its Victims

"It's unexplainable. Suddenly they said, 'Now you can't come'."
"Most of us cannot go back to Iran; we're in complete despair. We are afraid they will give us a sentence [the Iranian regime view them as traitors, sentence them accordingly]. They could put us in jail."
H. Avakian, 35, Armenian Christian, Iranian refugee, Austria

"[The government of the Islamic Republic of Iran engages in] systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom, including prolonged detention, torture and executions based primarily or entirely upon the religion of the accused."
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
Terraces of the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (Oren Fixler/Flash90)
Terraces of the Baha'i Gardens in Haifa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea (Oren Fixler/Flash90)

Islam has a controversial and peculiarly polarized relationship with other religions. On one hand, it formally recognizes Judaism and Christianity as sharing some of Islam's precepts, even while reality is that Islam has lifted its sacred precepts from the religions it considers its predecessor 'try-outs' by a God dissatisfied with the earlier iterations, giving his final stamp of approval to the third, Islam, and on the other hand reserving the right to have a wholly negative view of their sacred legality, having spurned the Prophet's invitation to abandon Judaism and Christianity and submit to Islam as Allah has decreed.

So, even while Iran's Constitution proclaims Shiite Islam the official state religion, shunning Sunni Islam as an illegitimate version of true Islam, recognizing Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians as minority religions given Iranian protection, in point of fact the Republic goes out of its way to violate its own stated patronizing position on the protected status it so magnanimously offers religions with a connection to Islam, purporting to be separately quasi-divine, but in actual fact their presence an affront to Islam not taken lightly.
An Iranian woman prays as she attends Christmas Eve mass at the St Joseph Armenian Catholic church in Tehran on Dec. 24, 2016.        (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iranian woman prays as she attends Christmas Eve mass at the St Joseph Armenian Catholic church in Tehran on Dec. 24, 2016. (Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)
According to the U.S. Commission, Iranian authorities have detained hundreds of Christians between the years 2010 and 2016. President Suhaib Nashi of the Mandaean Society of American states his fears for a number of Mandaean families who have temporarily established themselves as Iranians looking for asylum, hoping to be re-united with family members living in the United States. They have fled Iranian persecution in hopes of finding a place for themselves where their religion is treated with respect and equality among others.

And they felt so assured there would be a place for them in the United States that they liquidated all their holdings, left their professions and cut themselves away from their place of birth in Iran in a search for freedom for themselves and their families. They travelled to Austria as a safe transit site there to await the processing of their visas enabling them to arrive in the United States to begin their lives anew there. They are still waiting, some one hundred Iranian Christians a year later, their savings drained as they awaited applications for refugee status to be processed.

A return to Iran in recognition of U.S. failure to regard them as refugees, validating their requests and allowing them to emigrate to America, would result in their lives being endangered since the government of Iran regards them as enemies of the state. The 1989 U.S. law, the Lautenberg Amendment offers safe haven to persecuted religious minorities. Among those awaiting word from the U.S. that they may proceed as requested, are ethnic Armenian and Assyrian Christians, Mandaeans and Zoroastrians who have been mostly sponsored by relatives in the U.S.
Jewish Iranians casts their vote at a synagogue used as a polling station for the Jewish community in Tehran on February 26, 2016. AFP
Some 30,000 Iranians, members of the Jewish, Mandaean, Zoroastrian and Baha'i communities, all persecuted minorities in the Islamic Republic of Iran have received refugee status enabling them to settle in the United States since the Lautenberg Amendment saw expansion to include Iranians, in 2004. It is from among these families' relatives that those who see their futile applications being denied by U.S. authorities are being denied hope for the future.

One of the families already conditionally approved for refugee status later received a notice of ineligibility which stated their application "has been denied as a matter of discretion". Recent changes in the U.S. refugee admissions programs resulted, according to a State Department spokeswoman, in "a greater number of denials in the Vienna refugee program", leaving the U.S. Austria and others to work in tandem hoping to find alternatives for the anxiously waiting groups of Iranian Christians.

US Puts Scores of Iranian Christians at Risk of Persecution
Image: Omar Marques / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images
Asylum seekers join 2016 protests in Vienna, Austria.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Choose Tap Water

"With a lot of this microplastics research we're still at a ground level where we understand that this stuff is everywhere, but what we have less information on is what impact it has on human health and ecosystems."
"Generally, I can see how they've [researchers] obtained the results and it makes sense -- I mean I'm not totally surprised to find that water bottled in plastic contains plastic particles."

Dr. Michael Rennie, Canada Research Chair in Freshwater Ecology and Fisheries

"As part of our continuous review of new evidence on water quality, we will review the very scarce available evidence with the objective of identifying evidence gaps, and establishing a research agenda to inform a more thorough risk assessment."
World Health Organization

"These results indicate the main source of the microplastic particulate [in bottled water] is different; the data seems to suggest that at least some of the plastic contamination may be coming from the industrial process of bottling the water itself."
Study, research team at State University of New York Fredonia

"When you mould [a water bottle] you probably can't mould it without having plastic fragments coming off. We have this idea that plastic is clean but it's an industrial process that manufactures these products so how we can even think it's clean is shocking to me."
"The vast majority of us, especially those of us in developed nations like Canada, the United States and Europe have access to clean, well regulated water which is much cleaner than bottled water."
"You want to be drinking tap water."
Dr. Sherri Mason, team leader, study, State University of New York
Prof. Sherri Mason
Prof. Sherri Mason carried out the laboratory work at the State University of New York (SUNY), on behalf of Orb Media. (Dave MacIntosh/CBC)

"Other contaminants can be absorbed by plastic kind of like a sponge, so even if a microplastic particle passes through your system, it might still be releasing the absorbed contaminants into you and the environment."
Dr. Jesse Vermaire, professor of environmental science, Carleton University, Ottawa
This new study, not yet published -- which concludes that the process of industrial bottling itself may be responsible for the New York State University's team finding that bottled drinking water is frequently contaminated with small particles of plastic -- analyzed 259 bottles commonly found in nine countries, to discover that 93 percent of the bottles were found to be contaminated with the presence of microplastics.

A global investigation into bottled water conducted on behalf of Orb Media resulted in this research and its findings. No particular regulations currently exist with respect to quantity of health-permissible microplastics in bottled water in Canada, in the United States, or in Europe. The reason appears to be that not enough scientific evidence exists for guidelines as to how much plastic exposure can be harmful to human health.

Any plastic less than five millimetres in size is considered to be a microplastic. Dr. Mason explains that this definition is being further defined to incorporate minuscule pieces less than one millimetre in size. An average of 325 microplastic particles per litre of water, less than 0.10 in size (roughly the width of human hair) was found by her research team.

The team discovered that an average of 10.4 microplastic particles greater than 0.10 millimetres per litre of bottled water prevailed, a contaminating presence easily double the average that can be found in tap water, according to a previous study.
Microplastics found in major brands of bottled water. Time
Not only is the amount of microplastics present more numerous but the type of plastic discovered to be present in bottled water was different as well, than what is found in tap water. Tap water contained mostly plastic fibres, in contrast to mostly fragments (rough pieces with sharp edges) discovered in bottled water. And as Dr. Mason explains, the presence of the microplastic particulate peculiar to bottled water relates to the fact that the bottles under study had not been reused, making it unlikely that the bottle was disintegrating.

The actual process of bottling the water was responsible for the presence of microplastics.

In addition to which Dr. Mason noted that those ubiquitous microbeads -- perfectly round, minute bits of plastic -- were not found in the bottled water. A ban on production of microbeads will be taking effect this year as they are being phased out of Canadian products. Eleven water bottle brands were tested in the study: Aquafina, Dasani, Evian, Nestle Pure Life, San Pellegrino, Aqua (Indonesia), Bisleri (India), Epoura (Mexico), Geroisteiner (Germany) Minolta (Brazil, and Wahaha (China).

In responding to a request for comment on the study findings, Dasani, Evian, Nestle, San Pellegrino, Aquafine, Aqua and Gerolsteiner all gave boilerplate responses, emphasizing that they practise high quality standards and are committed to continuing to ensure they produce safe products.

A woman walks past an aisle with bottled water at a supermarket in Los Angeles. Tiny pieces of plastic have been found in over 90% of the world’s most popular bottled water brands, by a study in the US. Photograph: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Late, Great Star of Hypothetical Astrophysics

“I heard him lecture. We were in the same room together several times but we didn’t converse, because you’d have to wait a long time for each sentence. As a scientist, he was one of the greatest of our time, with his series of discoveries in the field of Einstein’s theory of gravity, black holes, the origin of the universe, and the connection between them and quantum theory."
"His disease and his struggle with it captured everyone’s imagination. It was amazing to see how in his condition he established a family, wrote books, and always continued to work."
"On one occasion we went out, several scientists, [at Stanford University] to a restaurant in Los Angeles. [Hawking] really loved steak and this time too he ordered steak, which they would put in a blender for him so he could eat it. He usually would listen to the conversations around him because of his difficulty in talking to people, but when he finally did speak, people waited on every word out of his mouth, even if it took time. And on his part, he would choose the right words and try to squeeze as much meaning as possible into every word."
"I thought it was wrong to mix up politics and science because science is universal. Of course, I also wasn’t happy with a boycott of Israel, it is opposed to the spirit of science and doesn’t help anything. Therefore I was at the top of a letter from Israeli scientists that was sent to him on the issue. We asked him to take it back and we never received a reply."
Professor Barak Kol, head, Physics Department, Hebrew University
British physicist Stephen Hawking answers questions during an interview in Orlando, Florida, April 25, 2007. Photo: Reuters / Charles W Luzier / File.
"[Finding a] theory of everything [would allow humankind to] know the mind of God. A complete, consistent unified theory is only the first step; our goal is a complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence."
"...But one can't help asking the question: Why does the universe exist? I don't know an operational way to give the question or the answer, if there is one, a meaning. But it bothers me."
"Asking what happens before the Big Bang is like asking for a point one mile north of the North Pole."
"We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our greed and stupidity. We cannot remain looking inwards at ourselves on a small and increasingly polluted and overcrowded planet."
"If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn't turn out very well for the Native Americans."
British scientist, astro-physicist, cosmologist, Stephen Hawking

Nature was both kind and unkind to this extraordinary man in gifting him with a mind capable of thinking in a manner that few others who have existed on Earth have done. However, though this man was so gifted with genius, he was given the cruel blow of a mind existing in a thoroughly incapacitated body that over time failed catastrophically. On the other hand, most people diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) -- a dread degenerative disease that eventually destroys the nervous system -- die in relatively short order, this man lived for 55 years with ALS.

He lived to astound the scientific community with the capacity of his mind and the unique quality of his analytical capabilities, his thoughts and hypotheses. He has been acclaimed as the greatest living scientist during his lifetime, one among a very few that have graced this planet over the millennia. Where Albert Einstein brought science forward with his great leaps into the universal unknown of time and space in his own time, Stephen Hawking followed in that great scientist's universe-explicating wake.

Just as Albert Einstein's avuncular face and electrified hair was familiar to the larger world, so too was Stephen Harking's disease-contorted face.
Stephen Hawking
British physicist Stephen Hawking, whose decision to boycott a conference in Israel has been described as hypocritical. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

"Although I cannot move and I have to speak through a computer, in my mind I am free", he assured any who might have contemplated feeling sorry for a man who had no such feelings for his own plight. He was elevated to academia's most prestigious scientific post as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University and remained throughout his long life to age 76 -- 55 of those years with ALS -- fixated in a search for physics' ultimate goal, the "unified theory" of "everything". Despite his great acclaim, he never won a Nobel prize in science, since none of his theories have yet been proven.

Even so, his place in science and history and his remarkable capacity to endure the disease that destroyed his body leaving his mind untouched and vibrantly alive to the need to reach his full intellectual potential second to none he was, when all is said and done, all too human. His decision to abandon the wife of his early years with whom he had three children was not of her choosing, when his decision was to marry another woman, a woman married to an expert who helped him acquire a computerized 'voice', and who acted as a nurse to him.

That this man of science and universal acclaim as the world's premier living scientist decided to boycott Israeli academia and Israeli scientists for a social political movement that was based on a veneer of slanderous intent to condemn and demonize the State of Israel without taking into account the complexities woven into the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in its own way goes a distance to identifying his intellectual brilliance with historical laziness that confuses slander with justice. Pity, that.
"Hawking's decision to join the boycott of Israel is quite hypocritical for an individual who prides himself on his whole intellectual accomplishment. His whole computer-based communications system runs on a chip designed by Israel's Intel team."
"I suggest if he truly wants to pull out of Israel he should also pull out his Intel Core i7 from his tablet."
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner,  Shurat HaDin, Israeli law centre (2013)
The biggest mystery. (Courtesy Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science/Handout via Reuters

"In my 2000 paper, I pointed out the fact that experimental physicists had failed to find any evidence for Hawking Radiation, and I predicted neither will be there any such evidence in [the] future because there could not be any exact horizon, any exact black hole in the first place."
"Accordingly, I exerted that there is really no Black Hole Information Paradox."
Abhas Mitra, former senior scientist, Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), Mumbai, India

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Scientific Breakthroughs in Medical Research

"Less than one percent of published biomedical research is both scientifically valid and clinically useful."
Dr. Brian Haynes, clinical epidemiology professor, McMaster University

"Much of what biomedical researchers conclude in published studies is misleading, exaggerated, and often flat-out wrong."
"There is increasing concern that most current published research findings are false."
"The probability that a research claim is true may depend on study power and bias, the number of other studies on the same question, and, importantly, the ratio of true to no relationships among the relationships probed in each scientific field. In this framework, a research finding is less likely to be true when the studies conducted in a field are smaller; when effect sizes are smaller; when there is a greater number and lesser preselection of tested relationships; where there is greater flexibility in designs, definitions, outcomes, and analytical modes; when there is greater financial and other interest and prejudice; and when more teams are involved in a scientific field in chase of statistical significance."
"Simulations show that for most study designs and settings, it is more likely for a research claim to be false than true. Moreover, for many current scientific fields, claimed research findings may often be simply accurate measures of the prevailing bias." 
John Ioannidis, expert on credibility of medical research, Stanford University
Photo of Universal Biomedical Research Laboratory - Fresno, CA, United States. UBRL Laboratory from the inside.
Universal Biomedical Research Laboratory

Doesn't the public get all worked up with excited anticipation on reading newspaper accounts of radical new health research that has succeeded in finding that elusive cure for whatever ails the anxious reader. That anxious reader will hope against hope that he will live long enough to take advantage of this breakthrough finding in new techniques, medicines, protocols that will surely benefit his/her condition, knowing that from laboratory finding to animal modelling to human clinical trials a decade may pass before government health bodies give regulatory assent for use.

The trouble is there are so many of these research projects and papers that come out of studies that are published to great acclaim. Whose conclusions have a qualifier such as "may", "might", "can", or "could" possibly have an impact on any given health condition. Despite which the research and its conclusion swiftly gets reported in headline news with added emphasis here and there to garner public interest and sell papers. And though people are at first thrilled at the prospect of a cure around the corner, some researchers in the field may think differently.

A seasoned researcher who would never dream of accelerating output on the basis of a fragile thread in research supposition might ask himself what selective science methods might have been used to conclude that their specific research points to a cure? Was the research contrived with a bias beforehand, a prior determined outcome? Was this a rigorous, double- or triple-blind study, one whose conclusion could be trusted?

Deceptive methods are often used by researchers anxious to publish and receive professional credit for producing yet another influential paper cited  by other researchers, to advance their careers. This has become a motivating factor for many in the field of health science seeking to impress those who may then regard them as promising experts in a particular field of study for whom an attractive position in academia may be forthcoming.

Selective study designs make use selectively of data, taking care to use the analyses or reporting of results that most closely match the outcome they have determined to aim toward. The results are heavily biased studies, a common failing in research, but one that experiences little difficulty in finding a place within science publications of good reputation. As an example with health impacts reported out of air-pollution-epidemiology studies, researchers can select outcomes from previous studies that suit their purposes.

Ignoring studies that fail to demonstrate the impacts the researcher is looking for, heavily biases his or her own conclusions, making them worthless. In the same token, scientists who are informed that their study appears to be one based on bias will be affronted, and go into vigorous denial. But it is not the 'evidence' unearthed that reflects the nature of science, but the methods used; flawed methodology results in flawed outcomes. Bias nullifies any evidence that results from such studies.

When a study undergoes triple- or double-blinding, its purpose is specific to the reduction of scientific bias on the part of scientists undertaking the study. Peer reviewers for journals prior to publication, are meant to carefully read the papers to ask probing questions, and recommend changes that clarify issues, and if well done by knowledgeable reviewers, preclude bias, assuring the publishers that the paper they will then publish is scientifically rigorously defensible.

On the other hand, journal publishers and their editors look for novel research that will pique the interest of their readers. If a study fails to demonstrate health impacts, they may be rejected for publication, and when this occurs the bias shown is on the part of the publisher. As for the media, methods are irrelevant, they look for results and the more spectacular they can make those results appear in print by their own use of superlatives and excesses, the more saleable their product is to the public.

This is an issue that doesn't start in the laboratory, but in the classroom. Where professors in academic settings now all too often train their students what they must think, and not how they should think to reach reliable conclusions, muddying science with prevalent social attitudes. Often hopes of procuring more research funding motivates academics to rush their work to publication to impress funding agencies.

Academic education has a purpose, to teach students how to think analytically. Failing that purpose, degrees are mere papers signifying little. Supporting the view of the cynical that the experience of life aligned with plain good old common sense rate as a practical equal to the value of a doctorate.

Closeup portrait, young scientist in labcoat wearing nitrile gloves, doing experiments in lab, academic sector.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

First Nations vs Property Rights: Free Speech, Justice

"In my view, this [decision of the appeal court] understates the importance of both the common law liberty to proceed unimpeded along a public highway and the right to engage in political protest -- the heart and soul of freedom of expression in a democracy."
"...Mr. Fleming was entitled to attend and participate in the Flag Rally regardless of its effect on the government's political goals at Caledonia or anywhere else, and in particular, regardless of whether the Flag Rally was considered provocative by the government or protesters."
Judge Grant Huscroft, dissenting judgement, Ontario Court of Appeal
Randy Fleming is arrested - purportedly to prevent trouble - by OPP officers for carrying a Canadian flag in Caledonia, Ont., in an image taken from a video shown in court.

Justice Huscroft, the third member of the appeal court in the case of retired steelworker, 57-year-old Randy Fleming who had planned to attend a "flag event" in Caledonia, Ontario at the Douglas Creek Estates subdivision -- still under construction but halted when Six Nations 'warrior' protesters violently occupied the area in 2006 in protest against building on land they claimed to be traditionally theirs and for which no treaty had been signed -- but was stopped and seriously manhandled by a group of Ontario Provincial Police officers felt that the appeal court of which he was part, erred in not upholding the finding of the original judge.

Residents of Caledonia, Ontario, and families that had bought homes from the home builders at Douglas Creek Estates were put through years of intimidation and threats from the Six Nations/Haudenosonee occupiers. Their occupation of the site was illegal, their behaviour was criminal, and police did little to apprehend the First Nations men whose occupation of the subdivision and the mostly unfinished houses represented a state of chaotic criminality. The occupiers resorted to raging violence, vandalizing a Hydro One station, burning bridges and cars, issuing "passports" to residents living near the site, demanding to see them before permitting the passport-holders to access their homes.
Six Nations protesters in Caledonia in 2006

The reaction of the Ontario government was to warn the provincial police force not to interfere and to ensure that the First Nations warriors and the non-native residents were kept apart. But the larger purpose was to ensure that the First Nations people were not 'provoked' to further violence, leaving non-aboriginals to live with the intimidation of threats that terrorized the population. Over the occupied site, the flag of the Mohawk Warriors was flown in defiance of law and order. Ontario Superior Court Judge David Marshall issued orders that the barricades the warriors had put in place to exclude non-natives were to be removed; orders that were ignored.

In May 2009, three years following the original 'occupation' and ruination of the housing estate, non-native locals had arranged for a "Flag rally". Randy Fleming set out to join them. He had with him a Canadian flag mounted on a pole as he headed toward the rally. For his troubles a half-dozen OPP officers tackled him to the ground, injuring him physically, and adding another injury to his dignity as a free citizen of Canada and resident of Ontario, charging him with obstructing police as officers arrested him to "prevent a breach of the peace". Despite that he was charged with this malfeasance, the Crown ultimately withdrew the criminal charge.

Mr. Fleming responded by suing the OPP, and he won his suit. Ontario Superior Court Judge Kim Carpenter-Gunn ruled his arrest to have been unlawful, the police used undue force and in so doing breached his Charter and common-law rights. He was awarded close to $300,000 in damages along with legal costs. The OPP appealed and tasked three lawyers from the Ontario Attorney General's office to pursue the appeal. The appeal court saw fit to overturn Justice Carpenter'Gunn's decision on the basis of the judge having made "palpable and overriding error"; that the OPP meant "to prevent harm" coming to Mr. Fleming as well as preventing a peace breach.

The court turned Mr. Fleming's award into a fine of $25,000 representing fifty percent of the legal costs to the government of the appeal. Here's strange logic: the government with its unlimited financial resources depends on taxation, including Mr. Fleming's share, to fund those unlimited resources. Mr. Fleming also, quite incidentally, funded the decision depriving him of justice. And in ordering him to pay for half the government's legal appeal costs, he has been doubly financially tasked, in a most peculiar show of justice denied.

As for the 'error' cited having been attributed to the original trial judge finding in Mr. Fleming's favour? She erred, it would seem, when she made the determination that the OPP had prevented Mr. Fleming from "exercising his lawful rights of walking up Argyle Street (Caledon's main street)" which turns out not quite to have been the case, since it wasn't on Argyle Street but another Caledon street where the confrontation had taken place. The decision of a Mad Hatter, straight out of a confused Wonderland.
Randy Fleming’s arrest on May 24, 2009. Supplied

No justice for Mr. Fleming, no justice for the people who had bought the houses constructed and to-be-constructed in that ill-fated subdivision, because the Government of Ontario bought the land from the home builder,  Henco Industries Ltd. and turned the 40 hectares of land which had been purchased by them originally from the Crown which held that the Six Nations of the Grand River had historically relinquished it to the Crown -- over to the dissenting, aggrieved and violent protesters, to be handed over to the administration of the Six Nations.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Space Travel and the Human Body

"Now we know that fat cells are active and secrete substances that impact neighbouring cells such as the bone, and the blood."
"The theme of our research hasn't changed since I arrived in Ottawa more than 20 years ago. We're looking at the musculoskeletal effects of immobility. I work with rehabbing patients. They are anemic. They have weak bones, weak muscles and other complications."
"The link to an astronaut is obvious. Astronauts when they're in space have no force on their skeletons and muscles. They touch an object [while floating] and end up at the end of the hall."
"To my knowledge we're the only laboratory in the world that has developed these measures. And we've adapted them to space. Which was quite a feat. It took us two full years."
Dr. Guy Trudel, director, Bone and Joint Research Centre, University of Ottawa
NASA Image: ISS046E008882 - Astronaut Tim Kopra (left) performs blood draw on European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake in the Columbus module.

Space travel may be out-of-this-world exciting, but the atmospheric medium is not conducive to human health. The lack of gravity to which all animals on Earth have been designed to accommodate themselves to, represents a direct threat to the organism which is man. Simply put, travel in space has the effect of aging the human body and while it advances that aging process the body experiences utter havoc.

While astronauts are in the long, drawn-out process of preparing for space flight they also undergo a relentless process of conditioning, a process requiring the human body to be exposed to a super-human effort to overcome the more immediate threat to the musculoskeletal challenges that the space flight experience exposes them to.

Dr. Trudel and his investigative team face a challenge of their own devising in an effort to understand fully the process taking place impacting deleteriously on astronauts' bodies and health outcomes. They compare what the astronauts undergo to what they know of bodily deterioration of long-term, bedridden, sedentary people who never leave the bonds of Earth and the gravity that keeps them there.

What the researchers are doing is measuring the impact of space travel specifically on human bone marrow. Long periods of enforced immobility tends to create a situation where bone marrow is infused with excess fat. When that excess fat takes up room on the spongy tissue within the bone we know as marrow, vital red and white blood cells find less room in the marrow, where they normally reside.

The idea then is to determine whether microgravity results in a similar impact on the bone marrow of astronauts. This close scrutiny of marrow is of recent vintage; though the condition has long been known, it was thought to be irrelevant in its outcome. An assumption dispelled by more recent studies in disabled patients which have shown that excess marrow fat has a range of issues attached to it inclusive of osteoporosis and infection susceptibility.

NASA, the world's premiere space agency, does its own studies to enlarge its knowledge base of impacts on the health of astronauts to enable it to assist astronauts in recovering from journeys into space. Dr. Trudel, a rehabilitation doctor at the Rehabilitation Centre of the Ottawa Hospital, explains why it is that NASA is interested in his team's study results.
NASA Image: ISS050E011020 - European Space Agency (ESA) Thomas Pesquet, Expedition 50 Flight Engineer (FE), during Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Generic Sample Minus Eighty Laboratory Freezer for ISS (MELFI) Insertion, in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) Pressurized Module (JPM). Photo taken during Expedition 50.

Astronauts, unalike bedridden patients, have an intensive physical regimen to counteract and limit as much as possible, atrophy and anemia resulting from their space exposure. On board the International Space Station, there are treadmills and muscle resistance equipment, and they are used for up to two hours daily by each astronaut on a regular pro-active schedule. Still, with the realization that longer space trips are planned for the near future, it is also understood there will be little room for exercise equipment.

Hence the interest in Dr. Trudel's five-year MARROW project to which NASA and the European Space Agency, as well as the Canadian Space Agency have contributed financial support. Astronauts will provide marrow information before and after their flights with MRI exams establishing the fat content in their marrow. During, after and before each space mission they provide blood and breath samples for blood cell data.Samples are also collected in space and stored in thermo lab freezers.

Scientists theorize that astronauts become anemic as 15 percent of their red blood cells are destroyed while in space. The Bone and Joint research lab has developed a method of measuring precisely when a red blood cell is destroyed. In connection with and preparation for the research project, Dr. Trudel has travelled back and forth to Houston to visit NASA.

"It was moving. We were in the very room where the astronauts were after landing. They were in isolation, behind glass. Security was crazy. It's a nice atmosphere. Very dynamic. You feel you are part of something when you're at the Johnson Space Center in Houston." Googling "Canadian Space Agency" and "marrow" will take those interested to a brief video where an astronaut is shown conducting marrow tests in space.
NASA Image: ISS047E131794 - Jeff Williams, Expedition 47 Flight Engineer (FE), taking breath and ambient air samples for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Marrow experiment, in the Columbus Module. Photo taken during Expedition 47.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Art Transcending Political Correctness

"Whether this was done out of ignorance or not [an official apology from the university is due] that this piece was approved for display."
"As a Muslim community, we feel greatly offended, concerned and disappointed."
"This has already provoked Muslims and has caused very upsetting reactions, and several students' responses and behaviour [sic] towards this is extremely alarming and is starting to make some students feel unsafe at OCAD."
"This is serious and we do not take it lightly."
Muslim Student Association, Ontario College of Art and Design University
The controversial piece. Twitter
"Why does someone need to disrespect a whole religion and the way of life of billions of people?"
"...The intent does not change the blatant disrespect to our Islamic faith and the objects, places and symbols we hold dear to our heart."
"Picking up customers in my taxi that swear I hate them and want to kill them simply because I am Muslim or having my mother or my sisters followed and abused for wearing the hijab makes me live a certain anxious and protective lifestyle."
OCAD student, part-time taxi driver

"We understood she was speaking from within her own cultural practices and experiences."
"We didn't feel we could put up the work without any information. We've been working with her [the artist] the last couple of days. We've been in discussion."
"So for her, no name and no statement means the work has to come down. [Despite the controversy raging around the work] that doesn't mean we're shutting the dialogue down. The university supports the right to artistic expression."
Natalie Majaba Waldburger, show co-curator, OCAD professor

"We respect the Muslim Student Association has their opinions, and this is an important dialogue around this piece."
"It's a matter of looking at both sides."
Christine Crosbie, OCAD media and communications manager
The Ontario College of Art and Design University in downtown Toronto.Peter J. Thompson/National Post/File
The controversy at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in downtown Toronto emerged as a result of a Muslim art student's statement piece to be hung at the campus for a special show. The piece was untitled and there was no attribution revealing the name of the artist. As for the art piece itself it was a green Islamic prayer mat. Rather different than most such mats in that etched upon the mat was the black outline of a nude woman, recumbent.

It hung among the other exhibits until a complaint was received by the college, which then removed the prayer mat and in its place hung a notice from the curators and show jurors stating: "the intent of the work that was previously hanging in this space" was to be clarified, the decision made to  "remove it temporarily ... until a statement from the artist can accompany it."

 Reference was made to "the concerns of a number of OCAD University student groups", and concluding with a rather delicate apology should concern have been caused either by the artwork's removal or its inclusion prior to removal in case either "has caused anyone harm." And since the complaint emanated from the ever-watchful eyes of Muslims demanding its immediate removal, and an investigation launched, a bit of panic ensued.

Affront to an Islamophobia-sensitive-prone minority; what a ghastly turn of events!

Yet the controversial piece fit right in with the spirit of the show titled Festival of the Body. The artist originally allowed her name to be attached to the piece, reconsidered, and then had it removed. Lest one wonder why an artist would decide to detach herself from a piece she designed with a purpose for a special event expressing her belief both in her religion and her art, consider the danger she would be placing herself in through connection with a piece of art that enraged her religious peers.

At the same time the university administration is also sensitive to the issue of primary importance in the west known as freedom of speech.

As a fascinating corollary to this incident the school displays a piece of art titled Immersion (Piss Christ), a 1987 photograph by American photographer Andres Serrano. This piece shows a plastic crucifix submerged in a tank of the artist's urine. Christians have denounced, vandalized or threatened harm to the photographer every time the photo has been exhibited over the last three decades.
"We’ve seen the same impulse for self-censorship in the West before … Given the seriousness of the violence, such self-censorship is understandable; it’s also a step backward at a time when we need to reassert the importance of free expression by artists, activists, journalists and editors alike."
Andres Serrano, art photographer
As for the controversial prayer mat which has engendered so much attention, ensuring that the OCAD University special show was a resounding success judged by reaction and presumably attendance, the artist did in the end, give context to her piece, which was re-hung, name still withheld, along with her statement: "If the body was created halal (permissible) when did we make it haram (forbidden)?"

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