Eddie Merckx has become embroiled in a corruption case involving the town of Anderlecht, commissioner Philippe Boucar and Merckx’s bicycle company. The allegations include insider information on competing bids for a supply of high end bicycles to the town. It is also alleged that the commissioner received one of the carbon fibre bikes at a greatly reduced price.
A quick look at online sales for used Merckx bicycles underlines the high prices for these technologically advanced two wheelers. Frames alone can cost over US $3000.
The 48 bicycles involved were slated for the police department.
These corruption charges had nothing to do with Merckx’s cycling career. In the eyes of many in the cycling world he remains the top rider ever in the 20th century. There was no title that he went after that he did not achieve.
The US military is using ‘good old American knowhow’ to produce ever more bizarre weapons of war. It is a common thing for us to hear about drone strikes in countries that the US has an interest in. Those weapons are guided from within the continental US to strike enemies or others in far off areas.
Now there is a jumping robot. Dubbed Sand Flea
this robot developed by Boston Dynamics is in its final testing before being deployed to Afghanistan. It will join about 2 000 other robots on the ground there. This little robot weighs only about 11 pounds but can leap about 30 feet in height with the aid of a carbon dioxide cartridge. The tough little machine can leap over compound walls and then back again; leap onto buildings; or leap into open second story rooms taking video all the time.
Currently in the works at Boston Dynamics is a robot called the Cheetah. It has maintained speeds up to 18 mph on a treadmill. It takes its inspiration from the fast cat.
Another military robot that Boston Dynamics seems particularly proud of is the Big Dog robot. They refer to it as “the alpha male” of their robots. I can think of other adjectives to describe it. “In separate tests BigDog runs at 4 mph, climbs slopes up to 35 degrees, walks across rubble, climbs a muddy hiking trail, walks in snow and water, and carries a 340 lb load. BigDog set a world's record for legged vehicles by traveling 12.8 miles without stopping or refueling. The ultimate goal for BigDog is to develop a robot that can go anywhere people and animals can go. The program is funded by the Tactical Technology Office at DARPA
.” Boston Dynamics
RHex is the corporation’s sturdy, waterproof rough terrain gizmo. It is able to swim on the surface of water as well as climb stairs.
RISE is able to climb vertically using micro claws.
It is easy to imagine these machines being used to search collapsed buildings, peek into enemy’s fortifications and so on. The trick is to decide who the enemy is. Words such as combatants, militants, factions are used routinely to justify sometimes heavy handed action.
These weapons falling into the hands of a dictator or an overzealous protector of the public peace could be used to spy on and intimidate peaceful protesters at gatherings like Occupy Wall Street.
Robots could be sent into crowds to intimidate and record identities without risking the presence of fallible police.
There used to be a TV show called Robot Wars where hobbyists would pit their creations against one another in an arena. It makes me wonder how long it will be until the arena for robot wars widens to the whole world.
Former political darling Dominique Strauss-Kahn is in hot water again for his alleged involvement with a pimping ring. French investigators questioned Strauss Kahn for several hours before releasing him on bail. The investigation centers on a hotel in Lille that was home to “parties”. Apparently other “parties” were held in Paris and Washington. After ten hours of questioning in Lille, DSK was charged with "complicity in aggravated and organised prostitution" - or, as the Daily Mail described it, "complicity in pimping in a vice ring". The Week
DSK, 62, claims that he was unaware that the young women with whom he engaged socially were prostitutes. Hiring a prostitute is not illegal in France, but procuring one for another person is. The charge is a serious one that could result in a lengthy jail sentence if he is convicted.
DSK’s fall from grace has been a swift one. A year ago he was the head of the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and was expected to be a frontrunner in the upcoming French presidential elections. The veneer began to crack when a New York chambermaid accused DSK of sexual assault. Then another woman in France leveled charges of sexual misconduct. While the legalities have been dropped in the case of the French woman, the American, Nafissatou Diallo, has brought a civil case against him. DSK’s lawyers are arguing that he was entitled to diplomatic immunity at the time.
Dick Cheney, vice-president under the Bush administration received a new heart. Some would say that it is the first one for him. Cheney has had cardiac problems for many years and at age 71 has made it to the top of the list for a heart transplant.
There are many people on waiting lists for replacement human organs. The problems are twofold. A donated organ needs to be a close match to the recipient and there are more people needing replacement organs than donors. Obviously the donor of a heart is deceased.
In order to maintain the new organ, recipients must take immunosuppressant drugs for their lifetime. Sometimes, in spite of tissue matching the host body rejects the new organ.
The first human to human heart transplant was performed by South African Dr. Christiaan Barnard in 1967. The patient lived only 18 days after surgery. When cyclosporine was isolated in the 70s the picture for survival improved dramatically. With ongoing improvements in medications and technology, the transplant patient can expect to live another five or more years.
Cheney has been a most controversial character in the “War on Terror” defending the use of torture at Guantanamo offshore prison. Human Right Watch has called for the investigation of those who authorized and engaged in torture such as waterboarding. “In 2005, Human Rights Watch’s Getting Away with Torture? presented substantial evidence warranting criminal investigations of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet, as well as Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, formerly the top US commander in Iraq, and Gen. Geoffrey Miller, former commander of the US military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”Human Rights Watch
Perhaps even more troubling is the relationship between the Halliburton corporation and Cheney.
Shack Island in Nanaimo British Columbia is a charming non-conformist holdout against real estate developers and cookie cutter construction. This motley collection of shacks has occupied a warm place in my mind since I was a teenager and lucky enough to spend some time there.
I accompanied some lucky friends who had a shack that they used in the summer. At that time, the shoreline was still forested and rowboats left on shore would be there when the owners’ returned. As kids we could explore the rocky outcroppings and the large lagoon, eating raw oysters if we dared.
Modern times have hit this area. Shellfish poisoning warnings grace the entrance to the lagoon, the forests are gone and high end houses elbow each other on their way to the beaches, yet these messy little shacks have held out over the years. No electricity, no running water and a communal privy away from the water. Although by now I would guess that chemical toilets grace the hovels.
People started living here in the Dirty 30’s when even the cheap land in Nanaimo was beyond their means. Fishermen could make a living catching fish and rowing into the town to sell it. A Japanese family predated them, losing one son to WWI, yet when WWII came along and people of Japanese descent were being interned, they were targeted.
The descendants of the shack owners use these buildings weekends and summer times. They are repaired and painted to prepare for the wind and sea water that works at them constantly. Most are built in the shelter of two rocky hills that break the stormy winds and the cabins rest on stilts to keep their skirts above high winter tides.
The fact that they still squat here today is a testament to the will and determination of the owners. In the 50s real estate developers bought the old Pipers’ property for a ritzy sub-division. Those renters and owners who were on shore were evicted and those on the islands were soon under pressure. Largely forgotten now, a flurry of activity resulted known as the Battle of the Stakes. The shacks are still here and Pipers’ Lagoon Park dedicated where houses were slated to be built. Owners can maintain their shacks and bequeath them to family members, but are prohibited from rebuilding should disaster strike.
The lagoon itself has a colourful history itself ranging from a short-lived whaling station to an unsuccessful sheep farm. Too many hungry cougars found mutton to their liking.
Yesterday when I visited the park it was a cold blustery day. Even the Garry Oaks looked chilled. Leaving the flat, easy path behind led to sheltered bays and early spring flowers. The thwarted dreams of development have given the public a rare and quirky jewel on the ocean.
Nanaimo is well served by provincial government ferries and planes. It is located across Georgia Strait from Metro Vancouver.
For loving details about Shack Island, look for a book written by Ruth English Matson, called Shack Island.
Canada is marking the winter that wasn’t. Today more temperature records are falling from Saskatchewan east. Temperatures in Ottawa and Toronto are expected to hit 30C. That’s a good 20 degrees hotter than normal. This heat wave has persisted for about a week now. Temperature records that date back almost 150 years have been demolished.
Unusually hot air from the Gulf of Mexico has been pushing up the American plains into Canada. At the same time the hot system has pushed the cooler Arctic air westward, giving Alberta and British Columbia cooler than normal temperatures.
While the TV weather prognosticators talk about people getting June weather in July and are giving humidex readings months early it makes me wonder about the effects of this topsy turvy winter.
Cold temperatures in the Great White North serve to kill many insects and their larvae. When we fail to get the deep freeze temperatures that have been normal for many years, these pests overwinter and come back in greater numbers in the spring. In our gardens we might deal with them by picking them off our food and flowers by hand but when they hit our vast forests the situation is quite different. Mild winters have contributed to the devastating spread of the pine beetle infestation. The beetle would normally be killed in great numbers when a quick deep freeze catches them in the autumn. The past decade has seen a slow, much more gentle slide into winter allowing the beetle to survive. They carry a fungus on their bodies which kills the trees. Hugh swaths of forest stand dead and create a massive fire hazard.
Plants get confused when temperatures heat up. They go into growth gear and then get zapped by the cold as it settles back over the country.
Of course one anomalous winter does not prove that our climate is changing. It does alert us to the possibility that it is occurring when we string together several years of odd weather. Climate scientists have told us that we can expect more extreme weather events as more energy(heat) is pumped into the atmosphere. Some areas will be warmer, some cooler, some will have more rainfall, others less.
According to NOAA,
February is the 324th consecutive month of temperatures above global average. That is not the whole story of course. February was also cooler in some areas. “Warmer-than-average conditions occurred across nearly all of Canada and Alaska, the eastern half of the United States, southern Greenland, and north central Russia. Cooler-than-average regions included northeastern Africa, most of Europe and central Asia, and much of Australia
We saw extremely cold weather this winter across much of Europe that resulted in the deaths of at least 650 people. Drought in western Europe marked much of February. In the southern hemisphere torrential rains hit Australia. Tunisia in North Africa experienced flooding from rapid melting of snow pack.
Tornados hit the American mid-west early this year. February 28 and 29th killer tornados struck, killing and injuring people. A category 4 cyclone hit Madagascar on Valentine’s Day.
Last year saw Texas limp through the driest July on record. Massive fires devastated the state and reserves of water for electrical production and consumption fell to dangerous levels. Crop and livestock losses were in the billions of dollars. Heat waves in late summer struck much of Europe.
The back of the heat wave was broken around the globe when torrential rains fell, flooding land and displacing people.
There is an old folk saying, “One swallow does not a summer make”. One anomalous season does not ‘prove’ that our climate is changing. On the other hand it would be folly to ignore the evidence of emerging patterns.
Atlanta is an American city moving up in the bedbug count. According to the pesticide company Orkin, the incidence of reported bedbugs in the city has moved the city from 45 to 15th in ranking in the country. The unhappy change in status was based on the number of extermination requests. According to the pesticide company, Cincinnati and Chicago lead the nation in that accounting.
The little bloodsuckers have moved into the forefront of people’s consciousness in the past few years. Once thought to have been relegated to the history books, the Cimex lectularius
gets its common name from its preference for human blood sucked at night. They are most active during the night and can hide in cracks and crannies. A person may be attacked numerous times in one night awakening with red, itchy welts on the skin.
In the developed world, the worry of bedbugs pretty much ended when DDT became widespread. The lavish use of the pesticide eliminated bedbug infestations but had some unfortunate unintended consequences and has been discontinued. That may explain the resurgence of the mini-vampires.
Other reasons postulated for the increasing occurrence in North America are increased international travel, especially by air; increasing numbers of homeless people who share shelters; displaced persons living in refugee camps in crowded conditions; the acceptance of buying used clothing and used furniture may help introduce the critters to new homes.
Bedbugs are not only found in squalid conditions. Hotels with 5 stars have been invaded by them. You might pick up the parasites in a movie theatre, while visiting an apartment that is infested or horrors, during a hospital stay. Mayo Clinic
has a useful fact sheet on bedbugs.
Avoiding an Infestation Some of the following tips may prove useful in avoiding an infestation.
· When you enter a hotel room isolate your luggage and coats. Put them in the bathtub or shower stall and immediately check the sheets and mattress of the bed/beds. Pull the sheets back to expose the mattress and look for little rusty spots. Lift the mattress slightly to check underneath. Rusty spots indicate that bedbugs have been feeding. Demand another room and go through the routine again.
· When returning from a trip take your clothes and put them in the dryer on “hot” for at least 15 minutes. Your luggage may be infected with the insects while in the hold of the plane.
· Be careful who you invite to stay in your home. They may inadvertently bring unwanted passengers with them.
· Be cautious about buying used clothing and furniture from thrift shops. While it is laudable to reuse and recycle having to invite a pest management company into your home negates any savings you have made.
Cockroaches are a natural enemy of bedbugs, but most people would not encourage those in their home.
If you do find you have an infestation, it is best to consult with a professional exterminator.
Canadian OxyContin addicts are scrambling to find alternate opiates now that Purdue Pharma has ceased producing the much abused pain killer. The scope of the problem is stunning to non-addicts. Approximately one in every three residents, up to 9,000 people in an aboriginal population of 25,000 in northwestern Ontario, are addicted to the painkiller, which is also known as hillbilly heroin. Winnipeg Free Press
Addicts are flocking to Winnipeg’s treatment centres, but they are at capacity.
There is a legitimate replacement painkiller produced to thwart the illegal use of the opiate. OxyNeo is a gel that can’t be powdered for those that snort it and if heated to inject it turns into a tarlike substance. The active ingredients are the same as the phased out pharmaceutical, but the new form makes it much harder to abuse.
Many people get hooked on the painkiller through a legitimate prescription but the medication is addictive and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms lead many to seek street sources. OxyContin.org
has an information page that cites interesting facts about this drug.
Much of the widespread addiction problem has been blamed on misleading advertising by Purdue Pharma which was fined USD $600 million in the US for misleading advertising.
This has been building up for some time in Canada. At the large, chain pharmacy where I do business, signs have been posted for quite some time that advise that OxyContin is only available by special order. The British Columbia government medical services will no longer assist in purchasing the phased out opiate. OxyContin has already been replaced in the US.
Physicians are divided about the wisdom of withdrawing the “hillbilly heroin” from the market. The sharp withdrawal from it may prompt many to flood emergency wards looking for relief from their painful addiction. Other physicians don’t want to see a useful tool in pain suppression removed from their arsenal. According to the Ottawa Citizen
Canadians are amongst the heaviest users of prescription opiates in the world. They also state that the North American death toll from prescription opiates over the past 25 years has reached 100 000.
For those who cannot tolerate codeine as a pain killer, the choices for immediate short term relief are becoming rare. Morphine is highly restricted in hospitals. Putting medications on the exceptional access program denies surgery patients the rest they need to recover quickly.
Countries around the world are getting in on the latest weapon of war. It allows the combatant to sit away from the mud and the danger of everyday killing and deliver death from the sky in air conditioned comfort. Years ago I read a science fiction story that outlined this very scenario. It ended badly for everyone concerned.
What happens to a society that can wage war without endangering its own citizens? What happens to a society when it never knows when death will fall from the sky – no warning, far from their country’s borders? When targets are decided on in an independent country and collateral damage is part of the side effect of drone strikes? Collateral damage often consists of the deaths and maiming of the innocent.
What happens when drones are deployed by many countries? Compared to manned planes, they are relatively cheap, are fast and don’t put the operator into the theatre of combat.
Human rights organizations are increasingly vocal about the alarming increase in deadly drone strikes. In the US drone strikes are in the purview of the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) which is characteristically close mouthed about their operations. In a letter December 16, 2011 to US President Obama, Human Rights Watch is urging the president to turn over the drone capability to the military where some accountability is seen. They express the need for the adherence to international law and urge the president to remember the words of his speech as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. "Even as we confront a vicious adversary that abides by no rules ... the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war,” stating, “that is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is the source of our strength
. Barrack Obama
The continued secrecy and inability to confirm that the drone strikes are against dangerous people forces people to speculate on the “collateral damage” inflicted. Words like militant, combatant, terrorist, belligerent are often applied to justify a Hellfire missile delivery. How do these operators know that they have not killed women, children and the elderly when they target a house or a compound? Doesn’t creating terror among civilians constitute terrorism? Have the Americans become that which they purport to fight? The Americans have already executed more than 2,300 people in this manner, principally in the hunt for Taliban fighters hiding in the region along the Pakistani-Afghan border. Obama might also start using drones against Somali pirates. To date, the victims also include three American citizens, who would normally enjoy special protections guaranteed by the US Constitution. The first was the Islamist preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, born in New Mexico, who was killed in a drone attack in Yemen in Sept. 2011. Der Spiegel
The US and Israel are currently the leaders in production of drones. There are about 50 countries to date with drone capability. China is moving quickly to fill the demand in other countries. The global race is on to both sell and exploit this new tool. “The United States doesn’t export many attack drones, so we’re taking advantage of that hole in the market,” said Zhang Qiaoliang, a representative of the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute, which manufactures many of the most advanced military aircraft for the People’s Liberation Army. “The main reason is the amazing demand in the market for drones after 9/11.”Washington Post
Former stage actor John Wilkes Boothe made a brief appearance in Gettysburg before being hastily removed due to crowd displeasure. In the category of “What were they thinking?” buyers for the bookstore at the Gettysburg National Military Park stocked bobble head dolls of the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.
A reporter from theHanover Evening Sun prompted the removal from the bookstore shelves after inquiring into the appropriateness of the selection at the site of the decisive battle of the American Civil War.
“The Booth dolls, which are about 7 inches tall and come in boxes that look like the inside of the theater where Lincoln was killed, sell online for about $20 each. They have proved to be popular, as more than 150 of the original run of 250 have been sold, and more are being made, Kansas City, Mo.-based manufacturer BobbleHead LLC said.” Odd News
Opinions are divided as to the appropriateness of the bobble head doll of Boothe at Gettysburg. Apparently a gift shop close to the Ford Theatre where Lincoln was shot also sells the gag dolls. One prominent Lincoln historian was quoted in the Hanover Evening Sun:
"It's like selling Lee Harvey Oswald stuffed dolls at the Kennedy Center."Harold Holzer