Windsor Humanist Society

June 17, 2008

Windsor City Council United in Support of Anti-Substance Abuse Plan

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The Windsor area has taken its first steps in a fight against the devastating effects of drugs in our region, say the authors of a new framework document aimed at preventing and reducing substance abuse.

Crack“We’ve come together and said, ‘Yes, there’s a problem. Yes, here’s how we should work together,’” said Sheila Wisdom, executive director of The United Way.

Ms. Wisdom was one of several delegates who spoke to city council Monday about the framework, which was more than a year in the making.

Unanimously supported by council, the document will lead to the creation of an implementation committee. Ms.  Wisdom said that once the strategy is developed, the community can get better access to provincial and federal funding.

Ward 2 Coun. Ron Jones noted the connection between drugs and crime. “We have a gang problem, and we have a gun problem,” he told the mayor. “And, Your Worship, behind the gangs and the guns, you have drugs.”

However, the document didn’t pass without controversy. Two of the delegates who attended voiced opposition to the mention of “harm reduction” as one of the pillars of a future drug strategy.

Sophia Martin, a recovered addict and now an advocate for those dealing with drug problems, worried that “harm reduction” might include things like the handing out of “crack kits” — drug paraphernalia issued to encourage safer practices among addicts.

“We realize it’s not written on paper,” Ms. Martin said, “(But) handing out crack kits would not preserve the community’s quality of life…. It will definitely support illicit drug activity and destroy our children’s future.”

Rob Cheshire, a volunteer chemical dependency counsellor, warned against “harm reduction” practices he described as “experimentation,” and pointed to the failings of the safe injection site in Vancouver.

“I believe that such a scenario (in Windsor) would be counterproductive, with the distinct possibility of loss of life,” Mr. Cheshire said.

Ward 1 Coun. Drew Dilkens said he’s visited Vancouver and he’s “absolutely paranoid” about its “harm reduction” practices coming to Windsor.

But Ms. Wisdom noted that “harm reduction” has yet to be defined in a local strategy, and there remains much to discuss.

“This is a wicked, messy problem, and there’s not a simple solution to it…. We’re at the starting point of this conversation, not at the end of it.”

Windsor police Deputy Chief Jerome Brannagan said he supports the document.

“The phrase ‘harm reduction’ is all over the place. I would offer a suggestion — that when people talk about ‘harm reduction,’ they look at it as a philosophy on different issues as opposed to a single way of reducing this problem,” he said
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Matt Achine, after a June 17, 2008 article by Dalson Chen in The Windsor Star

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June 15, 2008

Genetic Coding in Meteorite Played Key Role in Life on Earth

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Genetic material from outer space found in a meteorite in Australia may well have played a key role in the origin of life on Earth, according to a study to be published Sunday.

MeteoriteEuropean and U.S. scientists have proved for the first time that two bits of genetic coding, called nucleobases, contained in the meteor fragment, are truly extraterrestrial.

Previous studies had suggested that the space rocks, which hit Earth some 40 years ago, might have been contaminated upon impact.

Both of the molecules identified, uracil and xanthine, “are present in our DNA and RNA,” said lead author Zita Martins, a researcher at Imperial College London.

RNA, or ribonucleic acid, is another key part of the genetic coding that makes up our bodies.

These molecules would also have been essential to the still-mysterious alchemy that somehow gave rise, some four billion years ago, to life itself.

“We know that meteorites very similar to the Murchison meteorite, which is the one we analyzed, were delivering the building blocks of life to Earth 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago,” Zita Martins said.

Competing theories suggest that nucleobases were synthesized closer to home, but Zita Martins counters that the atmospheric conditions of early Earth would have rendered that process difficult or impossible. A team of European and U.S. scientists showed that the two types of molecules in the Australian meteorite contained a heavy form of carbon — carbon 13 — which could only have been formed in space.

“We believe early life may have adopted nucleobases from meteoric fragments for use in genetic coding, enabling them to pass on their successful features to subsequent generations,” Zita Martins said.

If so, this would have been the start of an evolutionary process leading over billions of years to all the flora and fauna — including human beings — in existence today. The study also has implications for life on other planets. “Because meteorities represent leftover materials from the formation of the solar system, the key components of life – including nucleobases – could be widespread in the cosmos,” said co-author Mark Sephton.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Matt Achine, after a June 14, 2008 article in Agence France-Presse

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Scientists Bid Farewell To Space Probe ‘Ulysses’

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European and U.S. scientists will bid a fond farewell on July 1 to the space probe Ulysses, which has circled the Sun gathering data for 17 years, almost four times its expected lifetime.

The Space Probe 'Ulysses'The first major collaboration between NASA and the European Space Agency, launched in 1990, “changed forever the way we view the sun and its effect on the surrounding space,” David Southwood, ESA’s director of science, said in announcing the end of mission.

Stuffed with 10 observational instruments, the 370-kilogram probe is the only satellite to have circled the sun’s poles.

Its principle objective was to explore the boundaries and impact of the sun’s sphere of influence, called the heliosphere.

One of its many findings was that the sun’s magnetic fields, thrust outward by solar wind, extends into the solar system in ways that were previously not suspected.

“This is very important because regions of the sun not previously considered as potential sources of hazardous particles for astronauts and satellites must now be taken into account,” noted the Paris-based ESA’s Richard Marsden.

Scientists originally thought that the speed of solar wind – a constant stream of particles emitted by the sun – was about 400 kilometres per second.

But Ulysses proved that during much of the sun’s 11-year solar cycle, wind travels at nearly double that speed.

The probe also detected and analyzed cosmic dust flowing into our solar system from deep space, showing that it was at least 30 times more abundant than astronomers had thought.

Unexpectedly, new measurements of helium isotopes created in epochs billions of years apart also confirmed cosmological theories about the Big Bang — and the likely fate of the Universe.

The probe’s “measurements support the theory by which the initial density of matter corresponds to a universe that will not collapse on itself at the end of time,” explained Edward Smith, the Ulysses Project Scientist for NASA.

The Big Bang is thought to have occured some 16 billion years ago.

Hurtling through space at an average speed of 56,000 kilometres per hour, Ulysses has logged over 8.6 billion kilometers.

The mission was originally designed to last five years, but engineers were able extend the life of the on-board generators powering the equipment by more than 12 years.

Power has now dwindled, however, to the point where fuel will soon freeze in the spacecraft’s pipelines.

One of the challenges confronting space scientists at the outset was placing Ulysses into an orbit that passed over the sun’s poles.

In October 1990 the Discovery space shuttle lifted the probe into space and away from the sun toward Jupiter.

Sixteen months later, the giant planet’s gravity bent the spacecraft’s flight path downward and away from the ecliptic plane along which all planets circle the sun, catapulting Ulysses into an orbit that went over the top and and under the bottom of the sun.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Matt Achine, after a June 14, 2008 article in Agence France-Presse

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Unborn Victims Bill A Tough Sell – Québec Abortion Rights Advocates Accused by Conservative MP Ken Epp

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Insisting he has no “hidden agenda” on abortion, Conservative MP Ken Epp stepped up efforts Tuesday to sell his proposed private member’s bill to recognize fetuses as separate victims when killed or harmed in attacks on pregnant women.

Ken Epp with Story-tellersThe Sherwood Park MP accused opponents, especially those in Québec, of engaging in a “massive misinformation campaign” about its potential effect on abortion rights in hopes of derailing the bill that passed second reading in the Commons in March.  Contrary to what they are saying, the bill specifically states it doesn’t apply to abortion, he told reporters on Parliament Hill.

“To those of you actively campaigning against this bill, I say this: Please stop frightening Canadians about the effect of the bill based on your misreading of it,” he said during a news conference.

Mr. Epp admitted the event was orchestrated to reach out to Québecers, who he says are being subjected to an aggressive misinformation campaign by abortion rights advocates and their allies.

Mr. Epp was joined on the platform by several French-speaking supporters of the bill. Among them were Salman Sesen, who lost his daughter Aysun Sesen and his unborn granddaughter when Aysun Sesen was stabbed to death by her partner last year in Toronto; and Ulrika Drevniok, a graduate nursing student in Montréal who appealed to the medical profession to get behind the bill on grounds it will act as a deterrent to potential abusers of pregnant women and their unborn children.

A trio of Bloc Québecois MPs followed Mr. Epp to the podium, where they portrayed the legislation as a “back-door” route to give the fetus rights and make abortions more difficult to get in Canada.

The bill, titled The Unborn Victims of Crime Act, would amend the Criminal Code to make it a crime to injure or take the life of a fetus against the will of the mother.

It was given second reading approval by a vote of 147 to 133, thanks in part to the support of a score of Liberal MPs. Of the handful of Conservatives who voted against the legislation, three were from Québec — Josée Verner, Lawrence Cannon and Sylvie Boucher.

The bill, which is unlikely to come to a final vote before the fall or winter, would impose penalties of up to life in prison for anyone who directly or indirectly causes the death of an unborn child while attempting to harm the mother. Penalties for injuring the fetus would be up to 14 years in prison.

Bloc MP Nicole Demers said she is concerned the bill could slip through because she suspects Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion’s recently stated opposition to it will not have much influence with members of his caucus who are adamant opponents of abortion.

Ms. Demers said there is fierce opposition in the province because Québecers are not fooled by Mr. Epp’s assurances that the bill does nothing to undermine abortion rights.

Creating a special status for the fetus opens the door for those wanting to recriminalize abortion, she said.
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Matt Achine, after a June 11, 2008 article by Norma Greenaway in The Edmonton Journal

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