Sunday, December 25, 1994

Christmas with the Cappucinos

Maxville, Dec 26 -  A 26 pound turkey slides out of an oven in a country kitchen in Eastern Ontario. "Most of us are ethical vegetarians" says the mother, as she stirs a frying pan the size of a manhole cover full of tofu. Even so, less than thirty minutes after the bird hits the table, nothing is left of it but a drumstick being gnawed on by a two year old grandchild that everyone has nick-named "G'Day".
    It may be the largest family Christmas dinner in Canada. "We've got fifteen or so of our own kids  here so far, and their families - I could be wrong - more are coming in." says the father, Fred Cappuccino, 67, as a throng of about thirty children and adults of all races mill around the two rooms in the log cabin. It could be a cook-out at the UN. Hands of every colour pass plates rapidly to and fro, carrying Indian hot curries and Korean pickled eggplant along with the stuffing and cranberry sauce. A young woman from Hong Kong asks her brother from southern India to put on more coffee. Vera, a Viennese-born friend of the Cappuccinos hands out latkes, potato pancakes, and cuts up a heart-shaped cake as the kettle comes to a boil on one of the three stoves, two of them wood-burning, in the house. "We cut our own wood - we've got a 50 acre wood-lot" says Shan Cappuccino, 25, who drove in from Ottawa. Only two children still live at home. Bonnie Cappuccino, 57, stir fries vegetables on the stove. Born in Illinois, she is wearing a Sari, large brass bangles on each arm that clang like gongs as she stir fries the vegetables, and 20 or so Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and African amulets and medals. The left side of her mouth is supported by a brace. "I had a brain tumor - it just left this side paralyzed - it was on the facial nerve - it wasn't  cancer." she says in a tone that says it was no big deal to her. It was removed a little over a year ago. Did it slow her down? "It took a while to recuperate. After about six months I was resuming my trips over to India."
    The Cappuccinos have set up three homes for children in India and one in Nepal. "She felt unfulfilled as a mother after raising 21 kids." jokes her husband Fred, who, along with all of their kids, share an oddball sense of humor.    Fred and Bonnie's unorthodox family started after the birth of their first son, which they named Robin Hood. Both of them were inspired by the ideas of Gandhi. "We believed in zero population growth," says Fred, who still works part-time as a Unitarian minister in Beaconsfield, Quebec and in Ottawa. "I wrote to Japan, where I worked after the war as a missionary to asked for a mixed-race orphan - I felt that a lot of the children that were fathered by American GIs, particularly when they were black, would have a hard time integrating into Japanese society." By the time the Cappuccinos had left Chicago to become pastor at a church in Pointe-Claire, a suburb of Montreal, in 1967, they had given birth to another child and adopted five more from across the world.
    Did Robin mind sharing a home with all these children? "I think it was much more fun - it was much more people to be with." he says.    The Cappuccinos inspired other people. "Sandra Simpson lived around the corner from us in Pointe-Claire - when she heard that we were adopting more kids she wanted to get in on it." The Simpsons went on to become known to millions as 'the largest family in Canada' from their TV commercials for a pain reliever and operate a restaurant near Toronto. Another neighbour who wanted to get in on the act was Naomi Bronstein, who now runs relief missions in Cambodia, Viet Nam and Guatemala. She recently brought two babies that were found abandoned in a trash can in Pnohm Penh back to Canada for medical treatment. All of the families now run their own separate charitable organizations. The Cappuccinos call theirs 'Child Haven International' and run it from an office in their Maxville home. The office was built thanks to a donation from one of Fred's missionary friend's in Japan, who sent him a donation. "He said 'the money was for you, not for Child Haven'," says Fred, "So we used the money to get the office out of Bonnie's kitchen."
    The homes in India and Nepal have about 200 children. Bonnie was in India this year to introduce new technology to make a form of milk from soya beans. The small-scale projects are directed at women to help them start their own businesses.  "It's a more palatable form of soy milk." Bonnie says they run the homes because "We enjoy it, I guess. We enjoy the countries, the people, and its a nice feeling to know you're doing a little good." The purpose of the homes for children is "Basically to raise them from whenever they come in, till they're self-sufficient."
    Bonnie is Buddhist, and Fred describes himself as "about 38.54 percent" Buddhist. Bonnie says " I believe that people are sacred, rather than believing in an external force, and I think people can help other people,"

Thursday, August 18, 1994

Bugs - I go to an entomologists' conference

GUELPH, AUG 18, 1994 - The Bug People have come to town to tell how they help solve crimes, cure life-threatening diseases and reconstruct the genetic code of long extinct animals.

Bug People, as people who study insects informally call themselves, are taking part in a Congress on Dipterology, the study of winged insects such as flies, mosquitoes and midges being held at theUniversity of Guelph this week. Scientists from Universities and Museums around the world are roaming the halls of Guelph, proudly introducing themselves as a "Mosquito woman" or a "Blackfly man" depending on the insect that they specialize in. But one participant, Guelph student Ian Smith says "I really hate that." understandably, as his interest is in a group of insects called dung flies.

"Flies are the most common and diverse group of animals in Canada" says Dr Terry Wheeler, a post-doctoral fellow at Guelph, who says little is known about the habits of the estimated 20,000 species of flies that make Canada their home. Wheeler says he studies flies. "Because they're everywhere, they're easy to find." He extracts some glass vials from a bag with a huge logo of a fly on it. "I could spend the rest of my career studying these" as he shows the tiny insects preserved in fluid in the vials. "I found these in my garden." He explains they are an unknown species of biting midges which kill and eat mosquitoes. Like tiny hawks, the midges wait on leaves, then swoop down on the unsuspecting mosquitoes. He said the six specimens, which have yet to be given a name as a species, are the only ones collected to date.
Wheeler's specimens
 People weren't always so friendly to insects. Adrian Pont, of the University Museum of Oxford told the Congress that flies and other bugs had been persucuted by the Church and State in Medieval Europe "It was quite common - insects could be tried in civil or ecclesiatic court, and could bebanished or executed. Once the Bishop of Lausanne in Switzerland formally excommunicated a swarm of June bugs."

Scientists at the Congress say that precise understanding of the life cycle of flies give them suggestions on how to deal with them. Flies affect humanity in harmful and beneficial ways. Tom Scott, a professor at the University of Maryland, says that half of the population of the tropics are susceptible to diseases spread by mosquitoes and other insects. "You've got malaria, filariasis, yellow fever, dengue fever... there are about 100 million cases of malaria a year, and one million of those are fatal."

Insect also cure diseases. Dr John Stoffolano, of the University of Massachusetts, says that doctors at hospitals in the US have been requesting him to send them the maggots, the immature larvae, of the blowfly, an insect that eats dead and decaying animals and people. Stoffolano says "that for centuries,the blowfly has been used to treat serious infections - soldiers wounded in battle noticed that wounds that became infected with maggots after the blowfly laid their eggs in them actually healed better than wounds without the maggots - they only eat decaying flesh - they don't damage nerves or other living tissue - and the saliva of the maggots contain a bacteria that releases an antibiotic that prevent other bacteria from invading the wound." He says that in one case, he was asked for the maggots by doctors treating a 300 pound woman who had developed a "hospital infection" in surgical incisions after receiving liposuction. Hospital infections are caused by bacteria found in hospitals that have become resistant to antibiotics. "None of the antibiotics could fight it." he says, but the woman became better after the maggots were deliberately put in the infected incisions. "First they put the maggots in the wound, then they cover it with a gauze bandage and leave it for a few days. Then they remove the maggots with tweezers."

Blowflies also play a role in solving crimes. Steven Marshall, a professor at Guelph and the Chair of the Congress, which features a panel on Forensic Dipterology, the study of flies in criminal investigation, says the blowfly and other carrion eating insects start laying their eggs in a body in a very specific order after death, which allows investigators to determine when a murder victim died and when the body was left outside. "I examined the clothes of Christina Jessop for insect eggs to determine how long the body had been it the field" where it was found. "It was very sad - it was this cute little jacket with a 'Penny-Farthing' design on it."

Hiromu Kurahashi, a scientist from Japan says his work with blowflies helps pinpoint the exact date a body was left outside, and if the body had been moved, where it had been before it was discovered."The forest supplies the results to the forensic scientist". He says that certain insects only lay their eggs during a few days in the year, and others only in a certain area. "We can determine the time a body was exposed to within three days."
Hiromu Kurahashi

Some scientists at the Congress study insects that have been extinct for 125 million years. In the film Jurassic Park, scientists recreated dinosaurs from DNA taken from blood found mosquitoes trapped millions of years ago in amber. David Grimaldi, of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, has extracted fragments of DNA from insects in amber which are between 25 and 125 million yeas old but says "It's a huge leap from that and reconstructing the DNA genome (the complete genetic code of a living creature) - the day you can use fragments of DNA to reconstruct dinosaurs is the day people become immortal! - you could just go to the graveyard and make clones of people from their DNA."! Grimaldi says insects became trapped in amber after they got stuck in resin in ancient forests. After millions of years, the resin hardened into amber, which is used in jewelry.

One of the most unusual flies described at the conference is the Ant-decapitating fly, studied by former Guelph student Brian Brown, now at the Los Angeles County Museum. He says the tiny flies"chase after the ants, lay their eggs in their bodies, and the larvae eats the contents of the head after they hatch." He said sometimes the head drops off the ant while it is still alive. "They first started studying these flies after this guy noticed these ants walking around with no head." He said ants had evolved defenses against the fly. "Some of them just run away" but leaf cutter ants in South America"have smaller ants running around on the leafs they carry to chase them (the flies) away".

Bug People are experts in one important field: What is the best insect repellent? Richard Merrit, a biting insect expert from Michigan State University, says the best repellant is "OFF or Skintastic -anything with DEET works best." He dispels the myth that Skin-So-Soft works any better. "It works for about 20 minutes" and says some gimmicks to control mosquitoes don't work. He says transmitters that broadcast an ultrasound signal that is supposed to repel mosquitoes "is geared to the wrong gender - the males responded to the frequency, but it's the females that bite! Traps are absolutely worthless - only three percent of what they trap is biting insects."

Copyright 1994, 1996, 2015

Sunday, July 17, 1994

Hamilton, July 17, 1994, World Cup Brazil and Italy fans meet on the street

In Hamilton there are a lot of Italians, some Brazilians but mostly Portuguese who were pulling for Brazil in the World Cup - they met on the streets - nearly everything was very fun.

Very energetic Italy supporter
She didn't flip off Brazil, but her friend did
Had to be restrained after being shoved by Brazil - she did kick him back 

 Italian fans - better lookers
 Brazil fans - better dancers

Saturday, July 16, 1994

Swimmin with Sheila


Copps with kids

copyright 1999 Mark Bellis
Sheila Copps, despite being batty, is a very good politician from a political dynasty in Hamilton, a big industrial town near Toronto on Lake Ontario. The Star did not run the part about the ax or holding her head underwater, despite my appeal.

Hamilton, July 16, 1994 - The Deputy Prime Minister donned snorkel and fins and plunged into the filthy waters of Hamilton Harbour to pick up trash as part of a clean-up program sponsored by local scuba clubs.
"They wanted me to swim in Burlington." said Deputy Prime Minister Copps, who is also Minister of the Environment, as she bobbed up clutching a zebra mussel encrusted can, the only thing she could
Copps with can.
I was told by the dive crew
that they'd found it and given it to Copps.
 find in the murky brown water on the end of Pier 4 in Hamilton. Burlington had clearer water but is outside of Copps' riding in East Hamilton. "I'd have gotten in shit if I dove out there - looks like I'm in shit now!" she said refering to the brownish water swirling around her. Copps later used the mussel-clad can to illustrate the problems caused to the environment by the Zebra mussel invasion. "Twenty years ago they weren't in Lake Ontario." Copps is not a certified diver, but took a crash course to familiarize herself with the equipment, and was accompanied by Doug Brignall, an experieced instructor. She remained submerged for about 10 minutes, combing the bottom in water with only a few feet of visibility.
Copps "wanted to make a statement about what we can do" to clean up the environment, she said before the dive. As she was swimming out, Ms. Copps looked back and noticed that the event was being picketed "Protestors! If you don't do anything with you life, no one will criticize you." she said. Copps was quoted earlier as saying she would like to swim in Hamilton Harbour because her mother once swam there.
Copps told some children she was swimming with after her dive that she would have brought her daughter but her mother Geraldine did not want her photographed by the media. She then played some games with the children, including one to see who could hold their head underwater the longest, which Copps won, and later told them an anecdote about splitting her own head open with an axe when she was a child in an effort to escape from a garage in which she had been confined by her sister. [I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP - BELLIS].
Possibly a submerged deputy prime minister, or the Loch Ness monster. It was really impossible to see more than a few feet so I'm suprised even the dive team could have found the can.

Note added in 1999 Copps' got the kids to sit around in shallow water in a circle near the beach and then got them to duck their head in the dank water, saying she always won at this when she was young. One little girl in front of me went into a dead man's float after about 30 seconds, and with the biggest headlines of my journalistic career - "DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER DROWNS TOT IN FRONT OF CAMERAS" - dissolving in my mind I pulled her head back up. She was fine. The clean-up dive was sponsored by the Ontario Underwater Council, an association of scuba clubs, and involved hundreds of divers from across Ontario collecting underwater trash around Hamilton.
Copyright 1994, 1996, 2009 Mark Bellis

Friday, May 27, 1994

Fire, College Street, 1994

Firefighters help elderly man, College Street, Toronto, May 27, 1994, 7.45pm

Small fire over a store

Friday, April 15, 1994


New York Attorney-General G. Oliver Koppell speaks to reporters after hearing in Casablanca 5 case, State Supreme Court, Canton, New York, April 15 1994

CANTON, NEW YORK, APRIL 15, 1994 - The chief prosecutor of New York State came in person to a small town in upstate New York to ask that first degree rape charges be reinstated against five men convicted of having sex with an unconscious woman.
    Governor Mario Cuomo made Attorney-General G. Oliver Koppell special prosecutor in the case of the "Casablanca Five" as they have become known, after the original district attorney accepted a plea bargain, where the men plead guilty to the misdemeanor of sexual misconduct, and paid fines or did community service instead of facing trial on the more serious charge of rape.
    The woman was visiting the Casablanca Restaurant in Gouverneur,  New York  in October of 1991 when she became drunk and passed out in the washroom of the establishment. The five men admitted to having sex with her, and she only found out about the acts after gossip reached her at work days later.
    There were protests of about 100 people when the plea bargain was accepted last June outside the courthouse in the small town of Gouverneur about 25 kilometres south of Brockville.
    Koppell argued Friday before a sitting of the State Supreme Court in the county seat of Canton that the District Attorney could not, by statue, agree to such a drastic reductions in charges, and that the Gouverneur Town Court which accepted the plea bargain had no authority to handle the matter since the felony charges were pending against the men in County Court.
    Koppell said this avoided putting the defendants in "Double Jeopardy", being tried twice on the same charge, because the action by the Town Court "was null and void - it was as if they pleaded guilty in an open field or street corner."
    Defense council Mary Fahey said her client didn't "do 200 hours of community work because of a baseball umpire"'s decision, and that the the Town Court "is a duly constituted court of New York State.". Defense also said that there was no forensic evidence against their clients, and that their convictions rest on their statements to the Police, the voluntariness of which they questioned.
    The motion to reinstate the rape charges is being held before acting Supreme Court Judge Eugene  Nicandri, who was the County Court judge in the original trial.
    Nicandri asked Koppell if he felt it was better if it was better to obtain a conviction for a lesser charge in a "partially hypothetical" case than if an accused was to go free on a more serious charge and noted that district attorney had a great deal of discretion in dealing with charges.    The victim, Krista Absalon, who has consented to being identified and interviewed by the media sat in the front row of the court, accompanied by her mother and two sisters, who wore purple ribbons to protest sexual violence against women, and her lawyer Bonnie Strunk, who is suing the defendants for damages. Absalon said after adjournment she "would like to thank the  Attorney-General for coming - he is doing an excellent job."
    None of the defendants appeared in court, on advice of their lawyers. Fahey, representing Mario Pistolesi, said outside the court that she was confident the judge would decide against reinstating charges. "I think this is the end of the line for the charges."
    Nicandri will notify lawyers when to expect his decision, expected in about a month.