Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hannah's Gold

The 2010 Winter Olympics has been a smorgasbord of stunning performances, razor thin margins of victory, and unexpected upsets with the spice of controversy, rivalries, and at least one tragedy thrown in. And, as with every Olympics, an interesting assortment of back stories, as told by Bob Costas, has helped us choose individual personalities to root for-or against. Most of these back stories highlight, in some way, the athlete's unwavering, laser-like focus on becoming among the best in the world at their particular discipline. Apolo Ohno's four-a-day two hour workouts; bronze medal winning speed skater J.R. Celski's return from a potentially career ending leg gash in 2009 (with the help of Dr. Eric Heiden); both Hannah Kearney and Bode Miller's redemptive performances in Vancouver after disappointing strike outs in Turin in '06, and many, many more stories of amazing effort, commitment, and resilience.
My favorite of all the back stories is that of snowboarder Hannah Teter and her extensive charity efforts. Hannah is from Belmont, Vermont, the heart of Vermont's ski, snowboard, and maple syrup country. She created a foundation, Hannah's Gold, that sells “Grade A Medium Amber, Pure Vermont Maple Syrup” with the motto “Sweeten the World One Bottle at a Time”. Through a partnership with World Vision, she has “adopted” the town of Kirindon, Kenya. Hannah's Gold has raised over $178,000 for Kirindon. The focus, initially, was on providing clean drinking water and sanitation, but has also addressed AIDS victims, homelessness, farming equipment and methods, recreation for children, and other needs of the town. (visit hannahsgold.com for more info and/or to buy some syrup)
Now she has launched a new effort, “Sweet Cheeks. Panties with a Purpose”. (sweetcheekspanties.com) that donates its proceeds to Doctors Without Borders, her response to the devastation in Haiti. There is a Ben and Jerry's flavor, “Maple Blondie”, that helps fund Hannahs Gold.
In Vancouver, Hannah is sleeping under a quilt donated by Amp Energy Drinks, that is illustrated with images of Hannah snowboarding, and of Kirindon. Amp gave $20,100 to Hannahs Gold, and after the Olympics Hannah is going to auction the quilt. And Hannah gave ALL her prize money in 2009 to the charity.
There are, most definitely, a whole lot of athletes competing in Vancouver that are deserving of our awe. Not just the headliners, the medalists. Every athlete, even those who finish 18th, have reached a rarefied level most of us mortals can't even imagine. But this young lady, this 23 year old, spectacularly talented, hardworking snowboarder has reset the bar. Not, necessarily, for the medals she's won, but for the Gold she gives away.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Cat Chow Solution

Ranking way up there on the list of the most alarming news of the modern era, along with wars, jihaadism, climate change, and global economic contraction, has been the uncontrolled proliferation of the carnivorous toad in Australia. Why Nancy Grace or Geraldo aren't on this story is beyond me, but it's at least as riveting as Tiger Woods tales. In case you've somehow missed this saga- Australia, in 1935, imported the poisonous, carnivorous Cane Toad from Hawaii to fight insect pests. Once there, though, the cane toads gobbled up smaller, docile native species and predators that fed on the cane toad died from their poison. The population of cane toads, since, has ballooned to 200 million. There have been numerous failed attempts to reduce their numbers, including gassing, running over them with cars, audio blasts intense enough, theoretically, to be fatal, and an annual Toad Out Day in Queensland, the epicenter of the toad crisis, on which locals are encouraged to hunt and destroy cane toads.
In 2009 anti-toad scientists at the University of Sydney stumbled upon a promising, and apparently effective strategy using-I promise this is not made up- cat food. It seems the cane toads do their multiplying in the ponds and “billabongs” of Queensland. Listen to this stat: one cane toad will produce 30,000 eggs in a single clutch!! Scientists discovered that dollops of cat food placed strategically around the ponds and billabongs attracted carnivorous meat ants . If timed to coordinate with the emergence of the millions of little toads, the ants feast on the all-you-can-eat toad buffet, and kill up to 80% of the hatchlings. Australia's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, is withholding judgment on the catfoodicide method of toad control, concerned it may cause unnecessary “pain or distress”. Pretty safe to conclude I'd think, though I'm no expert in toad psychology, that ants eating 80% of your babies would, in fact, be distressing. But its unlikely there will be much sympathy for the carnivorous toads among Aussies. And some guy from-again, this is not made up-a group called Frogwatch doubts the kitty chow method's effectiveness. But many are encouraged they may finally have a solution to the toad problem. But I have a concern I have not seen mentioned. I'm concerned that encouraging the prosperity of carnivorous meat eating ants could lead to scary unintended consequences. If the ants successfully diminish the carnivorous toad population, Australia will have armies of hungry, meat eating ants, with a newly developed taste for a cat food appetizer followed by an unlimited buffet of....something. Maybe, then, they could bring in some ant eating Aardvarks from Africa.