A long weekend in the sun

Many people are spending the last "official weekend" of the summer out-of-doors. It's three days of relaxing for most workers, culminating in Labour Day tomorrow. On Tuesday children return to school. All along the waterfront people are enjoying the sunshine and the scenery.

The weather in the Eastern part of the continent has been spectacular this weekend, even as the cities along the Gulf of Mexico prepare for the unfortunate arrival of Hurricane Gustav. We hope damage will be minimal.

Thanks to Duilio Zane for his photograph taken along the Lake Ontario coastline in Toronto.

Best wishes, everyone.

Original bike racks

This interesting photo by Rodolfo Clix helps to contrast the challenges rural and urban cyclists have in finding places to lock their bikes.

In the country, judging from this photo, the experience can be quasi-meditative.  In the city, on the other hand, finding a place to lock up a bike isn't so easy or pleasurable.  

But in New York, things are changing for the better.  Recently the city transportation department decided to organize a competition for new bike rack designs. The department invited David Byrne, the well-known lead singer from the Talking Heads, to help judge the competition.  Byrne got so involved in the assignment that he decided to offer some original designs of his own.  They proved so popular that his designer bike racks are now in nine locations around the city.  His concepts are jovial at heart.  For example, one of them, now situated at Old Times Square, is in the shape of a buxom woman.

See it and read more in the National Geographic travel blog 

David Byrne's site has examples of all of his designs and how they were built.

Photo source:  stock.xchng

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A shift in American foreign policy?

As the United States turns it's attention to the Democratic and Republican conventions and the upcoming presidential election, political analysts are evaluating the Bush era and paying close attention to the country's foreign policy. For better or worse, the United States is the dominant player on the world stage. It's influence is global.

What foreign policy goals should the next American president set?

In an engaging essay in American Interest magazine, a quarterly magazine whose tone is largely bi-partisan, historian John Lewis Gaddis argues that George W. Bush may have already subtly shifted the United States' focus. He quotes Bush's second inaugural speech in 2005 when the president said, "it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

Gaddis argues that "ending tyranny" is an old idea in American politics - it permeates the Declaration of Independence and was an important policy of many early presidents, from Jefferson to Adams to Lincoln . It's an important concept because it recognizes that before democracies can take root, people must have security and safety first; the "freedom from fear" that Franklin D. Roosevelt talked about.

This may be a hard lesson re-learned, as the world and the White House study what's gone wrong in Iraq and in other countries where the United States has tried unsuccessfully to push, prod and promote democracy.

Gaddis is a renowned Yale professor, best known for his studies of the Cold War. He surprises us with the revelation that, contrary to public perception, George W. Bush is an avid reader and a serious student of history. Hard to believe, isn't it? Gaddis is impressed with the president's first-hand knowledge of this subject and his association with historians.

Anyway, the essay will be an interesting read for both the Obama and McCain camp, as they look ahead to the election later this year.

I enjoyed it.

See Ending Tyranny - The past and future of an idea in American Interest.

Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for highlighting it.

Also, Independence Day in this blog has more on the ideas of Thomas Jefferson.

Photo of the Capitol Building in Washington courtesy of Michael Slonecker.
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Ripley's and Guiness

If you're interested in strange and wonderful items from around the world, then The Trocadero in London's Piccadilly Circus is the place for you. It's the new home of Ripley's Believe It or Not! exhibition.

When Robert Ripley, a cartoonist, began his world-wide expeditions in the 1920s and 30s, he never imagined he would amass such a large collection of bizarre items.

The exhibits include a selection of animals with two heads, a portrait of Princess Diana made entirely of laundry lint, a jewel-covered Mini Cooper and a collection of genuine shrunken human heads, just to name a few.

Ripley was an eccentric figure who travelled to more than 200 countries. As a newspaper cartoonist he drew pictures of strange things he had seen, but often people didn't believe these things were real. So he financed more trips and returned with samples that proved the naysayers wrong.

The new museum will be open 365 days a year.

Interestingly, August 27th also marks the anniversary of another "authority for the curious": it was on this date in 1955 that the first edition of the Guiness Book of Records was published. The concept was hatched during a hunting party four years earlier, when the owner of the Guiness Brewery argued with another man over which bird was the fastest game bird in Europe. A book was needed to answer the question and others like it. So a fact-finding agency was commissioned to compile what became the Guiness Book of Records. It has gone on to sell more than a 100 million copies and new editions are printed every year.

Links for more information:
Ripleys Believe It Or Not Exhibition, London.

The story of Robert Ripley

Guiness World Records

The photo of the Venetian mask is courtesy of Jack Horst.

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Swimming phenomenon Michael Phelps “returns to his tank at Sea World,” magazine says.

This is too good to pass up.

Now that the Olympics are over, are you suffering from Games withdrawal? The end of daily television coverage has left somewhat of a void.

Here’s something that helps a little bit.

Satirical on-line magazine The Onion has found a novel way to praise the winner of 8 swimming gold medals and current world-record holder in several events. The publication says Phelps is excited to be back in his “Happy Harbor” tank delighting visitors at Sea World in Orlando, Florida.

The article’s here :)

Thanks to Konrad Mostert for his underwater photograph of an unidentified person diving into a pool, made available at http://www.sxc.hu/.

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A new approach to mental health

For those who regularly practice meditation, it may seem self-evident; but to me, the idea of using holistic methods to help people get through mental illness seems refreshingly novel: instead of a possible dependency on drugs, a patient might find that learning to observe one's troubles with detachment may help in recovery.

"Mindfulness-based psychotherapy" is a new approach currently being experimented in hospitals and mental health organizations. According to the Globe and Mail, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto is one of these. It's taking part in a $2.5-million clinical trial to find out if mindfulness meditation can prevent relapses of depression in certain people as effectively as anti-depressant medications.

This type of discipline requires that a person sits still, relaxes and listens to one's body, focuses on breathing and on being aware of one's surroundings. When the patient learns to prevent the mind from wandering too much, he or she is asked to turn their attention to whatever is troubling them.   Learning to observe difficult emotions impartially and accept them is an important step.

Zindel Segal, a psychologist, tells the newspaper that pausing at these moments can help people who have a history of depression. They can identify and observe emotions instead of reacting automatically. "Fright, alarm, rejection are experiences that can come over us very quickly, " Segal says. In many cases, they are built-in responses that prevent patients from choosing alternatives.

The Globe article offers some interesting insights.  Here's the link.

Illustration courtesy of Sachin Ghodke.

Weekend travel -- a literary magic carpet

If the price of fuel is keeping you close to home this summer, why not find a comfortable spot and spend some time with a great travel book?

A few years ago, National Geographic Traveler magazine published a list of classic travel narratives, compiled from suggestions forwarded by explorers, writers, editors and photographers.  It was called Around the World in 80+ Books

Besides well-known stories like Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen (1937), Roughing It by Mark Twain (1872),  A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (1964) and Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger (1959), the list offers some tantalizing works.  The titles alone are a magic carpet ride:

The Valleys of the Assassins: And Other Persian Travels by Freya Stark. Written in 1934, Stark travelled alone in the mountainous region of Western Iran.

Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca (1995).  The writer spent four years wandering with the Roma throughout Eastern Europe to learn their ways and traditions.

Cold Beer and Crocodiles: A Bicycle Journey into Australia by Roff Smith (2000). An American living in Australia decides to ride around the continent and meet its people. The journey takes almost a year, and the beer, well... you get the idea it's important to the Ozzies. 

Motoring with Mohammed: Journeys to Yemen and the Red Sea by Eric Hansen.  Written in 1991, this is the story of Hansen's search for journals he buried in the sand ten years earlier, after being shipwrecked. 

Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War by Tony Horwitz (1998).  A Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Horwitz travelled in the so-called "unvanquished" Southern States to explore why some Americans are still obsessed with the war.

Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone by Mary Morris (1988).  National Geographic calls her "emotive and gutsy" and says she deserves to be on television talk shows. Morris lived in a Mexican town for some time and wandered around Central America.  She writes about the difficulties of living in strange places and her voyage of self-discovery.

As you can see, just reading the list promises adventure, like having a unlimited visa. To peruse the complete list, go to the National Geographic Traveler page here.

Many thanks to Bart De Poorter for his photograph of Kyrenia Castle in Cyprus.

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The Galileo book mystery

Photo © Jenny Rollo
An anonymous collector somewhere in the world possesses a much-coveted book about Galileo Galilei, the late-Renaissance scientist, known for his experiments on gravity and studies in astronomy.

Scholars would love to get their hands on this book because it's the earliest known biography of the man who was put on trial for writing that the earth rotated around the sun. At the time, religion and politics held firmly that the earth was the centre of the universe.

The book has a mysterious history, as a recent article in Smithsonian Magazine explores. The biography was written in 1664, about twenty years after Galileo's death, then went missing in the Great Fire of London two years later. It resurfaced in 1749 in the library of an English earl but then was lost again until very recently, when it came to light as part of an auction related to a property dispute and a castle eviction. Now it's in the hands of an anonymous private collector. But before it was sold, an American associate professor heard about it and was able to review the contents of the book at the auction house. He was surprised by what he read. It appears it's an annotated version of another work that was destroyed in that fire in London in 1666. And most illuminating, it presents a new and different explanation as to why Galileo found himself in trouble with the Pope and was brought to trial...

You can follow this mystery in the Smithsonian article, Galileo, Reconsidered.

Many thanks to Jenny Rollo for the photograph of Galileo's tomb in Florence.

If you like this type of story, you might want to read "Two mysteries solved!" in this blog.

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A contemplative moment

A sign posted outside a church in Mississauga, Ontario:

"When the outlook is bad, try the uplook."

Thanks to Gokhan Okur for the photograph from Bellapais, Cyprus.

Everything is relative

I received the following story in an e-mail and want to share it with you. I don't know who the author is, so I can't give credit where credit is due. But it's one of those little vignettes that makes one smile with an "ah-hah" moment...

A mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the motor of a Ford XR8 when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in his shop, who was waiting for the service manager to take a look at his car.

The mechanic shouted across the garage, "Hey Doc, want to take a look at this?"

The cardiologist, a bit surprised, walked over to where the mechanic was working on the XR8.

The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag, and asked, "So, Doc, look at this engine. I open its heart, take the valves out, repair any damage, and then put them back in, and when I finish, it works just like new. So how come I make $39,675 a year, a pretty small salary, and you get the really big bucks, when you and I are doing basically the same work?"

The cardiologist paused, smiled, and leaned over, then whispered to the mechanic, "Try doing it with the engine running."

Many thanks to Nitin Ale for his photograph of an automobile engine. He made it available at www.sxc.hu.

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Invisibility cloaks no longer just a fantasy

Photographer Carlos Zaragoza had fun with this picture, calling it "Mr. Invisible at the Beach."

If you're a fan of Star Trek or the Harry Potter novels, you will be familiar with the idea of cloaking devices -- instruments that can make objects invisible.

Always a step behind science fiction and fantasy ("If it can be imagined, it can be done"), real science is moving closer to creating materials that indeed can appear invisible to the human eye.

You may have seen the item in the headlines: two separate research teams at the University of California, Berkeley, have published papers indicating the development of new artificial materials that bend light "backwards." In other words, the light is bent away from the line of sight. These composites refract light in ways natural materials cannot. Apparently, they can refract it the "wrong way" in three dimensions, making an object invisible.

National Geographic News has a fascinating article that explains how these new materials bend light around them, like "the way water flows around a boulder."

In the short term, these composites could be very useful in microchips and optical devices. A bit more research and future Harry Potter fans may have an invisibility cloak to play around with.

Read the Geographic article here.

Many thanks to Carlos Zaragoza for making his photograph available for public use.

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Practical philosophy from Woody Allen

Some “deep thoughts” from writer/director Woody Allen to start off the week:

“I’m not afraid of dying. I just don’t want to be there when it happens."

“My view of reality is that it has always been a grim place to be . . . but it’s the only place you can get Chinese food.”

His latest movie, Vicky Christina Barcelona is now playing in theatres.

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Weekend Travel --- From a Mediterranean isle to unusual artists in Scotland

We return to the theme of little-known Mediterranean islands this weekend with a quick look at Ponza.

This island is a favourite hangout for Italians during the summer months, with beautiful water for swimming, resorts and expensive nightclubs.

Ponza is part of the Pontine Archipelago, a group of volcanic islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea, off the Italian coast, west of Rome and Naples. It has been inhabited from ancient times and, like the Aeolian Islands we talked about last month, is the site of Greek legends. Some believe it to be the site of the grotto of the sorceress from Homer's Odysseus. Ponza could be Circe's island Aeaea, where she seduced Odysseus and held him captive for a year.

Over the years, the island has been held by countless invaders and potentates.

But now it's a secret vacation spot known mainly by Italians. It's main industry is tourism, followed by fishing and boat building. During the summer months, many locals rent out their apartments to visitors.

The clear water around the island is a big attraction for those who love the sea. According to Wikipedia, Jacques Cousteau filmed several documentaries in the area. Wes Anderson also chose this spot for his movie "The Life Acquatic," featuring Bill Murray.

While we're in Europe, we should check in one last time with Matt Gross, the New York Times reporter who's been visiting the continent on a shoestring budget all summer long. He started his trip on the cliffs of Dover and now, after thirteen weeks on the road visiting sixteen countries, Matt's reached the end of the line.

He concludes his trip in Edinburgh, where he experiences one last uphill climb before diving in to Fringe Festival. We can soak up the atmosphere in his video here.

Thanks to Shelley Cunningham for this Edinburgh photo that was made available for public use. Photos of the port in Ponza are courtesy of Valentina Jori.
Grazie, Valentina!

Both photographers made their shots available at www.sxc.hu
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Urban farming is back from the past

A few days ago, in "Vertical farms,"we talked about the possibility of city buildings devoted to farming.

The concept is really not new. It's modern development that takes us back to the past.

Ancient civilizations arranged intricate irrigation systems to bring water closer to homes. Ancient Babylon in the Middle East and Machu Picchu in South America are still famous for the stepped architecture and the watered gardens the residents cultivated. In medieval times, some farming was done inside protective walls, in order to ensure a safe food supply for castle and manor dwellers. During the first and second world wars, people in the U.K., Canada and the United States were encouraged to cultivate so-called "Victory gardens." These were plots devoted to fruits, vegetables and herbs to reduce the pressure on large-scale farming and focus on manufacturing in support of the military.

Interesting how the emphasis on recycling, the conservation of raw materials and self-reliance can be applied just as easily to a war effort as to modern-day environmental efforts.

National Geographic magazine recently visited Europe, where urban farming is making a resurgence. The editors produced a video segment on people in London who are promoting food production at home. The video is here.

Many thanks to Duilio Zane for his photograph of the Toronto St. Lawrence Market.
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Bush and Putin, ink and paper

After yesterday's cartoon about the Russian bear, I keep stumbling over other similar editorial views about the relationship between President Bush and Prime Minister Putin.
The Seattle Times' Erick Devericks has hit upon several topics we've discussed in this blog. He has a nice selection at his own site, Antagonist Ink.

Scroll down and see his cartoons on the situation in Georgia, the environment and the Olympics. I really like his work with colour and shading.

Thanks to Gabi Campanario for the link on his urban sketch blog Seattle Sketcher.

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Difficult job for Condoleezza Rice

I’m thankful the machinery of diplomacy is finally moving in an effort to stem the violence in Georgia, but in my view it’s unfortunate the United Nations is not taking a lead role.

France and the United States today urged Russia and Georgia to sign a cease-fire agreement without delay. In Moscow, meanwhile, Russia's foreign minister is said to have declared Georgia could "forget about" regaining its two separatist provinces (South Ossetia and Abkhazia).

The United States has so far ignored the taunt and is focusing instead on the immediate needs of its ally in the region: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said her country "stands strongly.. for the territorial integrity of Georgia.“ And with that Rice headed for Tbilisi to persuade Georgia's leaders to sign the cease-fire agreement.

Unfortunately, the comments from Rice and from American president George W. Bush earlier in the crisis ring hollow. One can only imagine how much more forceful and morally sound the American position would have been if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq in 2003.

Rice gets another dirty job. I wish her well.

Artist Pat Oliphant hits the mark in this editorial cartoon that underlines the irony of the situation -- "Ursus horribilis versus lamus duckus"

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Pre-season NFL football coming to Toronto

The city is buzzing about the NFL pre-season game scheduled for Thursday evening at the Rogers Centre between the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It will be the first visit to Toronto by the Bills in 10 years. We expect to see lots of fans from across the border visiting our city.

This photo of the Rogers Centre was taken by D. David Zane from a convenient spot above the stadium (click on the photo for a detailed view).

Home of the Toronto Blue Jays of Major League Baseball, the stadium features a retractable roof and comfortably seats more than 46-thousand people. Event organizers choose the stadium for all kinds of entertainment and conventions throughout the year. In 1992, 46 hot air balloons were inflated in the stadium, setting a world record.

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Olympic twilight zone

Today the Olympic train took a turn towards the twilight zone. This morning we heard that the organizers of the opening ceremonies inserted some videotaped scenes and computer generated images during key moments of the presentation that had been carefully pre-recorded months earlier. And then we also discovered that the little girl singing the Chinese anthem was a fake, brought in to lip sync the voice of the actual singer, who apparently was considered not attractive enough for.

Meanwhile, the story of the American boxing team keeps getting stranger. After spending a year in residency at a training camp in Colorado, the team is self-destructing. First one of the star boxers collapsed in Beijing trying to slim down, missed his weigh-in and so could not compete. This is something that should never happen in an elite competition. Observers are questioning his coaching. Then today, one of America's best hopes for a boxing gold medal, Rau'shee Warren , seems to have experienced a moment of ringside miscommunication: thinking he was leading in points, he lost a qualifying match when he danced around waiting for the end of the round instead of attacking his Korean opponent.

On the lighter side, the best photographic moments for me, so far, have been the expressions of American President George Bush as he enjoyed a few days with the athletes. We've seen the photos of Bush cavorting with the U.S. beach volleyball players, but this collection is too funny to describe. Enjoy.
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The Olympics are a good draw this August, providing lots of positive, uplifting moments to counterbalance so many negative stories in the news these days.

American swimmer Michael Phelps remains the big story. He set another world record today in the 200 metres freestyle event and won his third gold medal, on track to equal or beat Mark Spitz's seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics. Sunday's come-from-behind victory in the men's 4 x 100 metre relay by the U.S. team was one of the most exciting swimming races we've seen in a long time.

While the winners get a lot of attention, it's the competition itself that puts a smile on my face. In the words of the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part, the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well."

Today marks the first anniversary of this blog. It's been interesting and fun so far.

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Weekend Travel - Cape Cod and a little bit of Europe

Cape Cod has been a popular summer travel destination for decades. Many people take photographs of the landscape and the buildings.

One of America's most gifted artists, Edward Hopper, often travelled through Massachusetts and Maine in the 1920s and 30s. His paintings are more popular today than ever.

The New York Times recently returned to Cape Cod with some Hopper prints and compared the subjects of his paintings then and now. The newspaper put together an interesting slide show that takes a look at each painting. The slide show is here.
Click on the audio bar at the bottom of each picture frame. It's a great way to enjoy the scenery and the artwork. Think of it as a virtual vacation.

Across the ocean meanwhile, Matt Gross, the intrepid frugal traveller, has almost reached the end of his twelve-week European trip. He files a video story about a border town in the Netherlands that shares just about every building with Belgium. The locals take it all in stride. Makes me want to visit. You can see Matt's story here.

Thanks to Sean Gianotti for his photograph above of the Highland Light, also known as the Cape Cod Light. He made it available for public use with attribution.

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Weekend reading - Lindbergh's story still captures the imagination

This is my drawing of Charles Lindbergh and "The Spirit of St. Louis," the plane he flew alone across the Atlantic in May, 1927.

The story of the first solo air crossing from New York to Paris in thirty-three-and-a-half hours is a fascinating one. Charles Lindbergh was an obscure 25-year-old mail pilot from St. Louis at the time. The thought of attempting the crossing came to him late one moonlit night as he was flying to Chicago in his open-cockpit DeHavilland biplane in 1926. He faced an uphill climb. Aviation companies and plane manufacturers did not know him. He had very little money and no experience navigating oceans. And yet, he was able to convince local businessmen in St. Louis to finance his project, was able to find a company in San Diego to build him a plane and taught himself everything he needed to know to fly by compass and dead reckoning alone across the ocean.

Others had died attempting the crossing before him, but Lindbergh worked out his plan and stuck with it, even as others criticized him for it. Many people, for example, believed a multi-engine plane was necessary for a trans-Atlantic crossing; but Lindbergh, a former barnstormer who was keenly aware of engine reliability in the 1920s, felt the more engines on an aircraft, the more chances of failure. He instead placed his confidence in a single Wright Whirlwind engine and focused on adding fuel capacity to his plane. Trusting his abilities to stay alert for long periods of time and on his painstaking navigational calculations, he limited himself to loading the plane only with fuel and the most basic emergency gear, some drinking water and four sandwiches. Saving weight and improving fuel efficiency was his ticket to survival.

"Spirit of St. Louis," the book

I'm reading all about this in Lindbergh's own words, as he set them down in his 1953 book which carries the same title as the name of his plane.

It's one of the best books I've picked up in years (thanks, Quentin Payette). Many accounts of historical exploits tend to reflect the terminology of the day and appear archaic, even musty. Not so with Lindbergh's story. It sounds like he's recording a podcast or posting a weblog. His writing has a very modern quality to it. He seems the type of person who could easily switch centuries and appear before us as a jet pilot or an engineer with a laptop. Comfortable and confident in his own skin, his Midwestern humility and down-to-earth sensibilities helped him achieve history in the skies. He wrote the book in the present tense, so we feel we're taking the journey with him, moment-by-moment. The book is a surprising page-turner. And it won the 1954 Pulizter Prize for biography .

For more information on the record-breaking flight see this page from the site devoted exclusively to Lindbergh.

Other links:
The plane: see this "Spirit of St. Louis" page and the Wikipedia page
The book: Link to on-line supplier Chapters.Indigo.ca
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Beijing -- A sublime performance marred by news of conflict elsewhere

It's been a day of extremes.

In Beijing, the opening ceremonies for the 2008 Olympics,-- the "lucky 8" Games (see yesterday's note) -- got off to a spectacular start, with a demonstration of Chinese creativity, precision and theatrical drama that captivated the attention of an estimated 4 billion television viewers around the world.

Sadly, at the same time we heard of a new conflict exploding in another part of the globe. Military forces clashed in fighting between Russia and Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Heavy casualties are reported on both sides.

What a shame we are such a long way from harmony.

Ironically, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was in China for the opening of the Olympics.
According to the New York Times, Putin declared that "war has started," while the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, accused Russia of a "well-planned invasion."

This is truly regrettable, especially on the day when the nations of the world gathered to celebrate the global village and the 2008 Olympic motto of "One World, One Dream."

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, made an appeal at the ceremony calling on countries at war to honour a traditional truce during the Games. Unfortunately, his call was ignored.

The athletes of the world will draw us to them, as we watch their stories in Beijing over the next 17 days. They can be an example to the rest of us.

Let's hope dialogue replaces killing elsewhere.

For more, see "World Media Hails Beijing's Perfect Night."

Also: "Russian Troops Enter Rebel Enclave."

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Here come the Olympics

Well, here we are.

The Beijing Olympics are getting underway with auspicious numbers on the calendar: 08.08.08.

Let's hope this global event contributes to more harmony, better understanding and greater openness between all people.

The Games, of course, have been overshadowed by concerns over human rights, pollution and freedom of expression, among other things.

As the Olympics begin, editorial cartoons provide a sense of how the event is perceived in the West against the political backdrop of the moment.

The tension between the Chinese central government and the people in Tibet who seek the preservation of the Tibetan language, culture and religion remains a hot topic. Signe Wilkinson jabs with humour in this example.

In South Africa, meanwhile, Zapiro addresses the issue of censorship with this original take.

Jim Morin of the Miami Herald focuses instead on the big concern over air quality in Beijing. Not so funny, but very illustrative.

Finally, for a lighter look, we turn to Stuart Carlson, whose funny cartoon reminds us that we should be careful when we criticize.

Let's hope for the best for these Olympics. The spirit of the Games is a positive one -- may the sports competition help bridge differences and lay the groundwork for progress.
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Thanks to gocomics.com for the links.

How a jar of Nutella inspired the invention of a life-saving nutritional supplement.

Have you heard about Plumpy'nut? It's a remarkable story from Africa's most impoverished areas.

People are calling it "Africa's miracle food."

Plumpy'nut is a simple formula that is saving thousands of lives every day.

The product was invented by a French scientist, Andre' Briend, who had worked for years to develop an effective ready-to-eat nutritional supplement, until a jar of Nutella sitting on his table in Malawi gave him the idea of trying a Nutella-like paste instead of other forms of food. Eventually, in partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund, the French company Nutriset began packaging the formula under the name "Plumpy'nut."

It's an odd name, but it's a powerful concoction. The mix is easy to make. It consists of peanut butter, powdered milk, powdered sugar and supplemental vitamins and minerals. It's ideal for relief agencies working in remote areas because it requires no refrigeration and no water.

Malnourished children who eat the paste start to gain weight immediately and within weeks become relatively healthy. The product doesn't need to be administered by doctors or nutritionists; instead mothers can feed the paste directly to their children. This is another important reason for it's success.

Doctors Without Borders, the humanitarian medical agency, is seeing dramatic results in Niger and has nothing but praise for Plumpy'nut. American journalist Anderson Cooper travelled with the CBS program 60 Minutes to aid camps in Niger and was astounded by what he found.

You can see the full video report here.

This simple paste will make a big difference in Africa's future.

Additional information:

Doctors Without Borders article.

Also: A Blender in Malawi

And many thanks to Cristiano Galbiati for his photograph of the Kenyan landscape (Tzavo National Park)
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On the old border between East and West Germany, a hike in haunted hills

It's a holiday Monday in Canada and many people are enjoying their summer travels.

This is a photograph of the steam engine on the Brocken Railway in the Harz mountains of Germany. (Courtesy of Jswefu Makkeö.)

We're in Germany today because this is where Matt Gross, the "Frugal Traveler" with the New York Times, has turned up. For those who have been following his weekly posts, you know he's almost reached the end of the trail. In week 11 of a 12-week budget tour of Europe, Gross left Poland and entered Germany where he's been hiking in the scenic Harz mountains.

Brockenberg, or Brocken Mountain, is an area that inspired Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who decided to use the location as the setting for a celebration of witches in his masterpiece, Faust.
For centuries, the area was thought to be haunted, not only by witches, but also by goblins and other creatures.

Matt has decided to climb through the forest and up to Brocken. He's finding places to eat and sleep along the way.

Matt's weekly video is on his New York Times blog page here.

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As people sometimes say, "The sign's as big as a house. You can't miss it."

In this blog a few days ago, we were discussing the faults and merits of traffic signals and other road signs. Today the blogosphere is full of references to graphic designer Alex Peemoeller's design for indoor signage for an Australian parking lot. He's developed a three-dimensional painting scheme that is really quite original.

His approach for the Eureka Tower Carpark in Melbourne has won design awards...and it's easy to see why.

Peemoeller currently lives in Hamburg, Germany, and does graphic design work of many types. His website is http://de-war.de/. You'll have to drag graphics out of the way to find links -- another original approach.

For another Melbourne reference, see Luna Park.

Another Australian connection: the photo of the arrows on the road. Thanks to Stephen Eastop for making his photograph,"Everywhere a Sign 3," available for public use.

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Reaching a goal

There is something beautiful about a goal reached. It is twice created: once in the mind, a second time in the real world.

Mark Oldershaw, a canoeist on Canada's 2008 Olympic team, will carry a wristband to Beijing with him. It comes from a fellow Olympian, Adam van Koeverdan, with whom he grew up paddling.

In 2004, Oldershaw was injured and didn't make it to the Athens Olympics. His friend did. Van Koeverdan returned from Athens with that wristband as a gift for Oldershaw. On it, he had written both of their initials and the year "2008" on it.

They turned it into a reality. Both Oldershaw and Van Koeverdan qualified and will be competing in a few days in Beijing.

Van Koeverdan also has been chosen Canada's flag-bearer for the opening ceremony.

Many thanks to Rurik Tullio for the photograph of the climber, made available at http://www.sxc.hu/

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Back soon

Hello from the West.

Currently I'm in Calgary on a work assignment after spending the beginning of the week in Edmonton.

I'll be back in Toronto soon and will resume posting items within a few days.