History, Humor, News, Pope

Papal Conclave: older Cardinals’ weak bladders require installation of portable Vati-Cans

Happy Papal Conclave Eve; that day before the process of electing the next pope begins when seminarians and altar servers all over the world put their cassocks over the end of their beds hoping to find the pockets filled with Papal Candy in the morning. Okay … that’s not true, cassocks don’t have pockets. Papal Conclave Eve isn’t an actual holiday, nor a Holy Day, but if I were a greeting card company I’d give some serious thought to the idea

The Papal Conclave starts tomorrow and ends when a new pope has been elected. The word comes from the Latin cum clave meaning “with a key”. In 1274 Pope Gregory X decreed that after a three-year session to elect a pope all future elections would involve the electors being locked in a room until they agreed on a pope.

Clearly this is an idea that Barack Obama should bear in mind when trying to get a bipartisan agreement in congress: never mind “Fiscal Cliffs” and “sequestration”, lock Congress in with NO MEDIA access and they’ll come up with a solution quick as bunnies.

Given the advanced age of many of the Cardinals and subsequent weakened bladders portable toilets known as Vati-Cans have been installed in the Sistine Chapel. Okay … that’s not true either

In our age of instant communication via Twitter and Facebook and other social media the possibility of an information leak is greater than ever. Not surprisingly there is a total ban on Blackberry devices, iPhones , iPads and the like in the Conclave. What is surprising is that the Sistine Chapel, where all the action takes place, has been equipped with radio jamming gear. Is it to foil attempted electronic eavesdropping from outside, or do they just not trust the Cardinals? They entrust these men with replacing the pope, yet they fear one of them may sneak in a Smart Phone!

Don’t forget, many roofing companies will be offering Conclave Specials on chimneys for the duration!

History, News, Politics, Polls

Falklands or Malvinas: ballots better than bullets

Having voted in two referenda on the future of the province of Quebec in Canada it is interesting to watch the current vote in the Falklands/Las Malvinas that will determine what the residents of the island prefer regarding British rule. According to the BBC, “The tiny community is expected to overwhelmingly back remaining British”. It isn’t binding and is more a publicity tool at best for the British government to use as proof they should maintain control of the island.

Not surprisingly Argentina, the other country interested in Las Malvinas as they call them, are downplaying the vote.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has said the inhabitants’ wishes are not relevant in what is a territorial issue.

However this approach is seen as a diplomatic mistake by Andres Oppenheimer

… Fernández’s overheated rhetoric, as well as her government’s moves against the islanders, are more designed to win applause at home than to help Argentina recover the islands.

If Argentina really wants to recover its legitimate rights over the islands, it should seduce its islanders, rather than harass them.

Whether or not the referendum has any importance on the world stage will be played out once the result is determined. and the British start promoting the desire of the residents to remain under British rule. However the bombastic approach taken by Argentina is already being criticized by many, given them an uphill fight.

The question, “Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?” is certainly better than the long and vague questions asked in two Quebec refernda.

It’s better than the armed conflict that lasted 74 days in 1982!
Cuba, Hugo Chavez, Humor, News, Venezuela

Hugo Chavez to get well “urned” final resting place

Hugo Chavez’ funeral is just over and Vice President Nicolas Maduro has just been sworn in as “Interim” leader and already the campaigning has begun. Not overtly by Maduro or opposition leader Henrique Capriles but by Chavez himself. Not exactly from the grave, but from his new residence in a crystal urn for all to see.


According to The Washington Post the late president will be housed in the Museum of the Revolution.



“We have decided to prepare the body of our ‘Comandante President,’ to embalm it so that it remains open for all time for the people. Just like Ho Chi Minh. Just like Lenin. Just like Mao Zedong,” Maduro said.

He said the body would be held in a “crystal urn” at the Museum of the Revolution, a stone’s throw from Miraflores presidential palace.

Ho Chi Min?Lenin? Mao? I’m not so sure Chavez fits in with those folks. Then again I’m not so sure you’d want to be included with that group.

Hugo Chavez, News, Venezuela

Hugo Chavez: the view from Miami

Many things have been written about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez since his death on Tuesday. Some of it has been laudatory, claiming he was a man of the poor. some has illustrated him as a tyrant who gave the Venezuelan people’s money to terrorist groups around the world.

The short video below shows an example of the reaction from ex-pat Venezuelans attending the baseball game in Miami between the Marlins and the Venezuelan National team in preparation for the World Baseball Classic. These people left the country,  as did many, to escape Chavez’ currency controls and draconian administration and find a new life in the US where they feel safe and are free to spend their money as they please. They don’t have to worry about buying US dollars on the black market every time they want to go on vacation.

Now we can let go of an era that was killing us, was holding us back. Venezuela has so much potential.

– Miguel Penagos of West Palm Beach, Florida

News, Venezuela

Hugo Chavez and Venezuela’s future: Andres Oppenheimer and Gwynne Dyer

Two of my favorite columnists, Andres Oppenheimer and Gwynne Dyer  have written about the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. They aren’t in direct opposition to each other, but there are certainly some contrasts.

From Oppenheimer’s article:

Andres Oppenheimer laht.com

My opinion: Latin America’s political cycles tend to change every dozen years, and Chávez’s death — alongside stagnant commodity prices — is likely to accelerate the waning days of Chávez’s “Bolivarian revolution” in Latin America.

Much like we had military dictatorships in the 1970s, social-democracies in the 1980s, pro-free market governments in the 1990s’, and “Chavismo” in the 2000s, we may be entering a new decade of something different — hopefully democratic pragmatism.

But Chávez’s undeserved image as the region’s biggest champion of the poor — in fact, countries like Peru and Chile reduced poverty more than Venezuela in recent years, and without weakening their democracies — will have a lasting negative impact on Venezuela. As often happens in commodity-rich countries, populist leaders thrive during booms in world commodity booms. Then, when commodity prices go down and they leave office — whether they are thrown out or, as in Chávez’s case, die in office — their successors have to take unpopular economic measures, and the former populist leaders’ followers can say, “You were better off when we were in power.”

Venezuela will be no exception to Latin America’s commodity curse. Chávez’s populism will remain popular for decades. It will take a lot of time — and education — to convince many Venezuelans that Chavismo was “bread for today, hunger for tomorrow,’’ and that the most successful countries are those that have strong institutions, rather than strong men.

From Dyers’ article:

Gwynne Dyer cbc.ca

“The graveyards are full of indispensable men,” said Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minster of France during the First World War, and promptly died to prove his point. He was duly replaced, and France was just fine without him. Same goes for Hugo Chavez and Venezuela.

( … )

Over the past dozen years Chavez’s governments have poured almost $300 billion into improving literacy, extending high school education, creating a modern, universally accessible health-care system, build housing for the homeless, and subsidising household purchases from groceries to appliances. What made that possible was not “socialism”, but Venezuela’s huge oil revenues.

News, Venezuela

Hugo Chavez, Henrique Capriles and the future of Venezuela

The post below was originally published this evening, it was, in fact, “liked” by two kind readers. It then, somehow, disappeared completely from my blog. Clicking on the link in an email turns up a “Not Found” message.
Is it the ghost of Chavez? Or just a technical glitch. Hmmm … Here it is again, this time with a Spanish translation

The Venezuelan diaspora heaved a sigh of relief hours ago as it was announced that Hugo Chavez had died. Not that a man’s death, with few exceptions, should be celebrated, but many of those who make up the significant Venezuelan ex-pat community worldwide fled because of Chavez’ dictatorial reign. From seizing control of media to barking at the United States while cozying up with the Castros in Cuba Chavez was an old school tyrant.

A beautiful country with huge oil reserves that looks more like a third world country. Supermarket shelves lack essentials such as milk and bread. In many cities businesses can only operate on alternate days because of electricity shortages, yet vast reserves of oil exist.

According to the Venezuelan constitution an election must be held within 30 days of the President’s death. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles will face Vice President Nicolas Maduro in what will be a status quo versus change election.

Will Chavez’ imprint be pressed firmly enough onto Venezuelan society that his party will continue to run the country into the ground; or will his legacy fade and a new free and open society emerge with Capriles? it’s going to be an interesting 30 days, I just hope it is peaceful.

Hugo Chávez, Henrique Capriles y el futuro de Venezuela

La diáspora venezolana hace unas horas lanzó un suspiro de alivio ante el anuncio de que  Hugo Chávez ha muerto. Bajo algunas excepciones, no se debe celebrar la muerte de una persona, pero muchos salieron de Venezuela y viven alrededor del mundo, gracias al régimen dictatorial de Chávez. Mientras mantenía la cercana amistad con los Castros en Cuba,  representó la vieja escuela de tiranos que iba desde el control de los medios de comunicación al constante ataque a los Estados Unidos.

Un hermoso país con grandes reservas petroleras que pudo convertirse en algo más que un país en vías de desarrollo, mantiene en este momento los estantes de los supermercados vacíos por la falta de productos básicos como la leche y la harina de maíz. En muchas ciudades los negocios solo pueden operar en días alternados por la falta de servicio eléctrico.

De acuerdo con la constitución venezolana debería haber elecciones a los treinta días de la muerte del presidente. El líder de la Oposición Henrique Capriles se enfrentará al Vicepresidente Nicolás Maduro en un intento de lograr un cambio o continuar con la misma situación política en el país.

¿Estará la huella de Chávez lo suficientemente marcada en la sociedad venezolana para que su partido  continúe gobernando al país, o su legado desaparecerá y una nueva sociedad más abierta a los cambios vendrá con Capriles? Los venezolanos van a enfrentar unos treinta días bastante difíciles, solo espero que sea de manera pacífica.

Humor, News

Kamikaze mice to be dropped on Guam’s snake problem

In an effort to ease Guam’s brown tree snake problem the US Department of Agriculture is going to drop sedative laden mice over the jungle. The snakes eat the mice and voila, no more snake problem. The sedative acts as a poison on the snakes but won’t harm any over beasts – except, of course, the mice, but that’s collateral damage I guess (in fact the mice are already dead).

(The D of A) says the trial will involve attaching the dead mice to cardboard and tissue paper parachutes before dropping them from a helicopter.

The parachutes are designed to slow the descent of the mice bait so they become entangled in the canopies of trees.

If you’ve ever been near a helicopter you know the great gusts created by the blades. Dead mice with cardboard and tissue parachutes near a helicopter … I don’t know about that. I think someone should warn the folks in Papua New Guinea, a mere 1,300 air miles from Guam, to be on the lookout for incoming tissue parachutes carrying poison mice lest they think they’re being invaded by a rodent air force.

A rumor spread that on Friday a spokesman for the D of A, when asked why not rats as they would offer a meatier meal for the snakes, replied that most of the US rats are busy in Washington trying to hammer out a deal to avoid the sequestration.



Canada, News, Politics

Keystone Pipeline: science vs money

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would move crude oil from Canada’s oil sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas got a big OK yesterday when the State Department, responsible for the project because it crosses the border, released a report indicating the pipeline won’t have a major impact on Alberta’s oil sands development.

Kerri-Ann Jones, an assistant secretary with the department, said the pipeline doesn’t pose any greater risks to the environment than any other modes of transportation.

However this seems to fly in the face of science. As Bill McKibben, head of 350.org put it “That, in a word, is nonsense — some of our most important climate scientists in the U.S. have written the State Department to explain exactly how dangerous Keystone is.”

It would appear that proponents of the pipeline and oil sands development find scientific evidence to be, as Al Gore put it, an Inconvenient Truth. Even a team of scientists from Environment Canada confirmed that the oil sands are a problem.

Federal scientists have uncovered evidence that contaminants wafting out Alberta’s oilsands operations are collecting on the bottom of remote lakes up to 100 kilometres away.

A team led by federal scientist Jane Kirk, also of Environment Canada, will report that snow within 50 kilometres of oil sands operations is contaminated with a long list of  “priority pollutants” including a neurotoxin that “bioaccumulates” in food webs.

This is a classic case of money (some would say greed) scrapping it out with environmentalists. Unfortunately for those who are concerned about the ecological impact, money is a great lure not just to the big players in this project such as TransCanada Corp., but to those told there will be jobs galore. However the State Department report clarifies the job-making role of the project stating only 35 jobs would result..

… the report said that while the pipeline’s construction would support 42,100 jobs during the one- to two-year construction period, with total wages of about $2 billion US, only 35 permanent and temporary jobs would remain once Keystone XL is fully operational.

President Barack Obama is expected to make a decision on the pipeline this summer. Until then it will be a battle of science against greed, truth versus misleading statements.

In another post I wrote about the 1976 Montreal Olympics: when they were doomed in the days and months leading up to the opening they were “Montreal’s Games” yet when they were a success seen around the world the became “Canada’s Games”. Well, when the oil sands are the next best thing to sliced bread they are “Alberta’s Oil Sands” but when the are environmental disasters they become “Canada’s Oil Sands”


Selling blood plasma in Canada; will screening fall prey to profit?


Give blood; give life. The old slogan still holds true today, but the key word is “give”, as in not sell. The idea of cash for blood isn’t new, it has been popular in the US for many years. In Canada the trend has started with several cash for plasma clinics opening in Manitoba and Ontario. The target group is students and a few of these clinics are located within close proximity to universities.  It seems the same screening procedure used by traditional, non-commercial clinics is used at the new clinics with one exception;people can sell blood (I can’t say donate) twice a week for $20 each time. Non-commercial clinics such as those operated by Hema-Quebec or Canadian Blood Services suggest a couple of months between donations.

The move is legal, but health observers worry about the consequences. There are fears some people might be tempted to lie on screening questionnaires to get access to cash.

Logistics aside, as a regular blood donor, I find the concept of payment for plasma repugnant. Can you sell body parts? Can I put one of my kidneys on EBay? Of course not. So why is it acceptable to sell blood? Even if this increases the amount of blood collected it raises questions about the quality of the blood. It isn’t news that for-profit entities are looking to keep costs to a minimum. Will this lead to reduced screening of blood?

Mike McCarthy has hemophilia and contracted hepatitis C from contaminated blood. McCarthy lost two uncles because of bad plasma collected from prisoners in Arkansas. The Toronto man believes there should be a law preventing payment for blood donations.

“We are potentially heading down another slippery slope where consumer or commercial aspects take precedence over the safety and well-being of Canadians who depend on a safe blood system,” McCarthy told CBC News

Canada, News

Nova Scotia fishermen show courage in search for lost vessel Miss Ally

The Miss Ally went missing about 120 kilometres southeast of Liverpool. (The Canadian Press)

With the Pope’s resignation announcement, Reeva Steenkamp’s murder  and Oscar Pistorius being charged in the case and his circus-like bail hearing grabbing the headlines, a sad story from Nova Scotia has not received the exposure it rates.

Last Sunday the fishing vessel Miss Ally capsized off the coast of Nova Scotia and crew members Billy Jack Hatfield, Joel Hopkins, Katlin Nickerson, Steven Cole Nickerson and Tyson Townsend have not been seen since. On Tuesday, only 48 hours after the incident, the official search was called off after it was determined no survivors were possible. However local fishermen undertook their own search in an effort to recover if not rescue the lost crew.

A joint operation involving Department of National Defence and Canadian Coast Guard crews had launched an extensive search for the vessel on Thursday morning after families and friends pleaded with authorities to keep looking.

Sadly when the much damaged hull was located no bodies were found under it, so the waiting goes on for the families.

One of those involved with the unofficial search was George Hopkins, whose son Joel Hopkins is one of the missing fishermen. He said  finding bodies would give him closure.

I admire the tenacity of the fishers who are determined to recover the bodies of their friends, family and colleagues.  My sympathies to all those who have suffered a loss in this terrible accident.