Saturday, May 31, 2008

Julie Couillard: No Angel, Just Plain Human

The mistake of now former Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier, of leaving confidential government documents at his former girlfriend's home, is an unwanted type of publicity for him, but is possibly both positive and negative for Bernier's ex, Julie Couillard.

Her past is described here as being shadowy. She's had relationships with members of the Hell's Angels, two of them are now dead. She had been questioned by police in previous criminal activity, and was convicted on drug possession another time. She claimed to work at real estate when the company she mentioned said she did not work for them. She has also claimed to be an aspiring actress. This part, fits in with any publicity she has been, and is getting. An attractive woman who wants to live high and be seen with men of wealth, or public figures, would see this as an advertisement for promoting herself as well.

In fact this could be a lucrative time for her, being interviewed by various media can earn you the price you name. It also is a predictable book and/or movie in the making. Ms. Couillard started from humble beginnings, and has struggled in life, but was trying to move beyond her tainted image. She said Bernier used her to boost his own public image (as weird as that may be). True or not, I think it could have went both ways. She has had a hard life in many ways it appears, but part of the reason why is that she sought fame and fortune, but tried to get it the wrong ways. One could think, human impatience, insecurity, weakness, or it could be just bad decisions or bad luck. In any case, with all this publicity now, she may get her riches the old-fashioned and legal way, through book deals and interviews.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

There's Bisphenol A Lurking in your Cans

The latest news on BPA is that many of these cans leach BPA into food - particularly those that have been heated with the product inside, to kill bacteria in food. It appears to be of particular concern for children because so many canned products are used for and by kids. There's been an analysis done on some canned products - you can see the list here.

The heating process is what drives particles of BPA into food. Testing was done after food was emptied, cans rinsed several times, and then filled with water. It showed up in the water after being heated, and to different degrees depending on the product.

A couple of months ago I contacted several canned food companies, Avon, Danone, and one other. I heard back from the first two. My question was, "is there BPA in the linings of the cans used for your product?" The answer I received from Danone was that their cans did not contain BPA. The company responsible for AVON canned peas and carrots replied that "there is no Bisphenol A used in our canned products". But on the CTV list of products used for the study, Del Monte's canned peas and carrots is listed there as one which leaches it into food. A third company did not respond at all.

The emphasis on the news items is for children because BPA has a cumulative effect. The chemical mimics the hormone estrogen and BPA exposure has been linked to a predisposition to prostate and breast cancer, as well as reproductive problems. The Globe also has an article on it from yesterday. We all likely have some level of Bisphenol A in our bodies. The good news is that not all cans have BPA in them at all. Also, pop cans are not so potentially dangerous since "soft drinks create such a harsh environment that microbes can't survive in them; as a result, while pop cans are also lined with a BPA-containing resin, heat sterilization isn't required." (Globe).

For more information here's a list of previous posts on BPA.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Gas Cost Calculator

Here's a gas consumption calculator.
It will give you an idea of how much your gas costs are each month and year.

It's a good idea to reset your odometer to record how many km you've gone between fill-ups, and take note of how many km you drive each day. You can change the km driven per day to see the difference in costs or savings.

Gas saving tips here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Signs that Gas Prices are Decreasing Driving

"As gas goes up, driving goes down" is a CNN headline today that says there is a historic drop in driving.
Compared with March a year earlier, Americans drove an estimated 4.3 percent less -- that's 11 billion fewer miles, the DOT's Federal Highway Administration said Monday, calling it "the sharpest yearly drop for any month in FHWA history." Records have been kept since 1942.
Americans also increased their use of public transportation. They took 10.3 billion trips that way in 2007, the highest level in 50 years. Just weeks ago, a CTV news items reported that bicycles are selling more as people are changing their mode of transportation in some of Canada's larger cities. It will be interesting to see if these trends happen in St. John's and the province.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mars Lander Successful. Step 2: Get Those Martians to Spend

Another NASA spacecraft successfully landed on Mars, and NASA hopes to find life there. Here is an image of the fully equipped probe.

This is Mars of the future, hopefully, when civilization finally takes root.

Hillary's RFK Remark Good for News Media

In a Friday interview Hillary Clinton was making the point that she finds it difficult to believe people are trying to push her out of the Democratic nomination race. She used the example that her husband Bill was only declared the nominee after a June California primary. Then later in the interview when giving another example of a Democratic nominee in 1968 still in the race by June, she unfortunately used the words "when Robert Kennedy was assassinated." It was a poor choice of words but the example was fine. Some have read a metaphoric message of Obama's political assassination into it, but the timing of that word's use was particulary inappropriate because just days ago, Edward Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He is also an important endorser of Obama.

If she had left out the "assassination" part of her example, then there would probably be no fallout from this. The example she was trying to use was valid, but it was too good a sound-bite for news media to not to pounce upon and squeeze every bit of mileage out of. Here's one headline from one U.S. political site, Huffington Post, "Clinton Kennedy Assassination Reference: Raises Bobby's Death To Explain Why She Stays In Race". She's had to do plenty of explaining since.

The RFK reference flap has helped Obama look good. He "took her at her word" when commenting on her explanation. So he gets to look like the understanding, calm and good guy. If he were not so far ahead in the delegate race, the reaction might have been different - it could have been ammunition for him.

After at least 14 months of campaigning in the Democratic nomination process, it's amazing they're still standing on the canvas, and speaking coherently at all so Hillary's misspeaking will be forgiven. Unless there is one last scandal for Obama he will win by decision anyway.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Health is Everyone's Foundation

Premier Danny Williams has made a decent offer to Pathologists that puts them on salary par with those in other parts of Canada. Thankfully, oil money allows for more compensation for these critical people and will be an incentive for current Drs. to stay, and to entice others here.

There is still much healing left to take place in hospital ERs, and with nursing staff shortages. While the salary incentive is being dealt with we are reminded to look at our own society as a whole.

We all are responsible for how we live, and to a great extent, many health ailments. Disease beyond our control happens, old age, and deterioration happens. What can also happen is less strain being put on health care because of individual choices on lifestyle. The better we take care of ourselves, the greater the chance of good health, less hospital visits, and less stress on health workers. It's common sense but personal habits are a factor in the current health crisis. Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest nurse per capita ratio in Canada, yet they are extremely stressed, overworked, and still understaffed. It's the demand the general public makes of health care. However, this situation like many, does not have to remain the same. The better we eat, the more active, and the more educated about food and environmental toxins we become, the greater the chances of better health inside and outside of hospitals for all concerned.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tom Rides Out

      (click image to enlarge)

Deputy Premier Tom Rideout resigned his cabinet post yesterday over road money that had been agreed upon by Transportation Minister Dianne Whelan. He was informed by the Premier that the amount of $3.5 million for his district was $1 million too much, so Rideout decided to hit the road as DP and Minister of Fisheries & Aquaculture.

Mr. Rideout was first elected to the House of Assembly as MHA in 1975. He served in many capacities during his many years of public service, including a brief time as Premier. Good luck Mr. Rideout and may your own future take you to a road less gravelled.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Holy Redeemer! Is that Danny Williams in the Iceberg?

This mysterious iceberg miraculously appeared in Flatrock over the weekend. People were amazed to see a familiar face in it only 100's of feet from the Grotto. The appearance of this berg coincided with some long-awaited sunshine, and brought a sense of hope and joy with it. Some say it's a sign of a higher power.(click for larger view)

At one point when the sun began to hide behind a cloud, you could almost see the man in the ice frowning on the potential overcast. It may have been the lighting and shadows, but he was having none of that.(click for larger view)

It was indeed a rare and unusual spectacle to behold as hundreds of lucky sightseers were in their glory looking upon the divine sight. It reminded many of the famous Virgin Mary iceberg that made an appearance in the Narrows of St. John's in 1905. God only knows where such heavenly sights will make their next premier.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Before very, Very long, the fog will be a blur

Even though every spring, St. John's and much of the surrounding area is an abysmal, disheartening, unrelentingly torturous, morbidly cold, wet, heart of darkness, the place and the weather has to be put into perspective. Yes, it is depressing to wake up for weeks at a time, in April and May, to temperatures of 0 - 3 degree highs, but as many say, it could be worse. All we have to do is read or watch the news for a minute. On any given day, there are human tragedies happening from natural occurrences, like the cyclone in Burma that took 15,000 lives and counting, or the earthquake in China with up to 50,000 souls wiped out, or parts of the southern States where tornados cause hell, not to mention the agony of those involved in war. One could look at our extended winters as the price we pay for peace and life. Those who suffer loss in such calamities would prefer the lives of loved ones to have continued, whatever the weather.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Senator John Edwards Will Endorse Barack Obama

Both Clinton and Obama courted Edwards, who came in at number three in the Democratic nomination race. His endorsement is a huge statement of support for Obama, who is seen to be too far ahead to catch anyway, and a big disappointment for Hillary Clinton. The announcement will be made in about one hour from now.

Speed - the Multifaceted Road Demon

A big pickup truck barrels through a narrow residential neighborhood. There is a stop sign 200 metres down the street, yet the truck rockets towards it like it is a drag strip finish line. The brake lights suddenly appear at about 10-15 feet from the stop sign. What a rush - that must be for the heroic driver. Congratulations, you have learned how to press on that gas pedal, while you travel unprepared to stop in a street where a kid, or car can pop out onto the road any second. Hurray! A pat on your back for your skill and bravery.

How typical this style of driving is in the old city. A sudden burst of gas, the Start! The "my car is more powerful than yours" Acceleration, and then the Reset, i.e., stopping at that next red light 100's of metres away. A green light signals the Repeat.

There are so many things wrong with that driving habit. One big one, is that it eats up more gas, hence, creates more fuel demand, hence affects rising gas prices. Two, it is unnecessary to be weaving in and out of traffic, often in close proximity to other vehicles, and without signaling, it's the opposite of courteous. Three, it increases the risk of accidents and injuries, especially the frequent running red lights, and driving through crosswalks with pedestrians waiting to cross. Why someone at the MUN crosswalk by CBC has not been hit is amazing.

Fourth, forget trying keep a little distance between yourself and the driver ahead. It's seen as an invite to ignorantly swerve in this gap and irritate you more. More inane driving, more accidents, higher insurance rates for all.

Around these parts, you have to be concerned for your tires and minimizing car damage, due to the rut-riddled roads. It requires cautious road navigation skills, and often means slowing down to meander through the minefields. But that doesn't stop some drivers from practically pushing you out of the way, or threatening to pass where there is a no pass street.

Driving too fast and rude reckless driving burns more gas, creates more gas demand which drives prices up, raises the chances of accidents and injuries, and drives insurance rates up, and probably people's blood pressure. Driving fast should not be equated with good driving, or how "on the go I am", or a measure of one's importance, rather, it is what it is, a bloody menace.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Upbeat Tune for the Fogtime Blues

Lady Madonna has to be one of the most buoyant and lively pieces of pop music there is. It's instantly recognizable opening piano notes shout, "come alive"! This is mainly Paul McCartney's composition, musically and lyrically, though John Lennon threw in the line "see how they run". It was released as a single in March, 1968. McCartney, influenced by American blues and pop performers such as Little Richard, was inspired by the boogie-woogie piano sound in the song "Bad Penny Blues" by Englishman, Humphrey Lyttleton, for Lady Madonna. You can hear the influence in the opening part of the song.

Piano is prominent in the song, and saxophones are as well. The original song is interesting for more than just the catchy, high-spirited melody - there is a part in the song, that, for this listener anyway, was hard to determine upon first hearing, whether it was voice or an instrument making the sound. The sound resembles a saxophone, but it's been mentioned on one Beatle "fact" site, that the sound was made by the singers cupping their hands over their mouths and mimicking the sax (in this video, they voice it anyway). In any case, it was trademark Beatle musical creativity, and it had the fingerprints of Paul's typical upbeat style.

Here's the You Tube video, with Paul playing it on a British show hosted by musician Jools Holland. So turn up your sound and get ready to tap your feet.

Whatever your musical preference, You Tube is a great site to search and find live performances, cover versions, and lessons in guitar, piano, or whatever.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

3 Mom's Stories: 1 Good, 1 Not Good, 1 Very Sad

Brenda Martin is Free and Reunited with her Mother

Brenda Martin, the Canadian who was imprisoned for two years in a Mexican jail, was freed Friday. What a mother's day gift! Could there be a better gift for a mom than to have her own child (a 50+ woman) back in her arms? Good timing, and it's good to hear a positive story out of the near wasteland of sad, bad media stories.

Martin was held by Mexican authorities on fraud charges, which she vehemently denies, saying there is no actual evidence of her involvement. She was sent to a Canadian prison over a week ago, and now, paroled. For a while in media reports, it sounded like, as she looked, a desperate situation - one which would leave Martin on the brink of her sanity. But after a bleak guilty sentencing, and expected additional jail time, Martin has been swiftly released into the normal world that she was blinded from for two years. Her ordeal was so dismal that now it seems we've witnessed a person's resurrection, and a new life again. It's safe to bet that it probably made her mom's day.
Hillary Clington Could Use a Mother's Prayer Right About Now

With superdelegates slipping over to Obama (he is tied in superdelegates), Hillary, the formerly presumed, second Clinton Presidential incarnation, must be thinking that what really matters is family. She should, because it isn't going to be the Democratic nomination that will matter more. On the contrary, it is becoming less realistic with each passing day, as Obama has gotten bandaged up from his campaign-busting bruises, received from the slum landlord asociations, and connections with the Wright-winged Reverend who meant right but sounded wrong.

Only a small miracle can bring Clinton from the barely radar-perceptible second position, to catch, then pass Obama in what would have to be a photo-finish by that time. He can start to coast now, as superdelegates are beginning to pledge allegiance to his campaign, while former Hillary supporters are doing likewise. The small miracle that could help Hillary would have to be a huge piece of bad press surfacing about something connected to Obama, or a brilliant, Clinton idea on perhaps economic policy, foreign policy, or health care. You never know, but she's been attacking at many opportune times, and he has risen from the bruises. He is cool and sportmanlike in his confidence now - "I don't mind Hillary continuing to stay in the race" - as he knows the ultimate outcome. It's ok Hillary, you were/are a successful mother, it appears, and that's a pride that last forever.
Mothers and Motherless Children of Burma

Poor Burma, the poor mothers, fathers, and mourners. There are an estimated 100,000 lives lost from Thursday's cyclone. The country's people, their homes, belongings, have been destroyed. Mother's lost children, and vice-versa. Their government shamefully interfered with international aid to suffering people, while people are scared to complain. It now is allowing aid supplies, but not international relief teams, experienced in helping people in emergency situations, when well over 1 million are clinging to life. Now that's a nightmarish, unfathomable hardship to endure. When you consider that our original birth fate was random, out of our control, then it makes you think how lucky we are to be living in a place with rights, food, access to health services, freedom, and just to be alive. The best gifts for Burma's people right now are food, water, and medicine.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mother's Day Gifts

Moms have enough to worry about these days, without the daily rise in gas prices on top of it all. Show her how much you love her with these lovely gas vouchers.

Moms deserve a break so why not pamper her with a Full Service fill up!

If she drives a big rig, she'll be humming a tune with

* Vouchers will not be honored after Mother's Day night.
These prices will not last long and tough luck on mom redeeming her voucher after Sunday.

Now, here's an oldie but goodie gift!
You can never go wrong with this perennial choice,
mom's favorite flour

She'll be in the dough with this gift.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Due to relentless fog and freezing temperatures the Confederation building and Capital had to be moved to Marystown. The House of Assembly remained in session, though all MHAs had to wear hip rubbers along the way. The Government party was jubilant and celebrated Premier Williams' decision to move the Capital. The Opposition tried to float a bill to stop the resettlement, but were met with jeers and booze. Undaunted, they attacked PC MHA's for toeing the government line. A squid fight ensued, and one baked squid was thrown at the opposition. Premier Williams shouted, "Try this, some 'heated de bait'! Haha." Some members stormed out, saying it was getting too rough in the House.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Obama to Widen the Delicate Delegate Gap with Clinton

He is favored to win North Carolina, she, Indiana. The latest polls have the races close - a 4 point lead for Hillary in Indiana, and an 8 point lead for Obama in NC. NC has 115 delegates, Indiana has 72 that are tied to today's primaries (not including superdelegates)

If the results match the polls, this is how the night may end up looking like:

Obama: 62 from North Carolina; 34 from Indiana - Total = 96 delegates
Clinton: 53 from North Carolina; 38 from Indiana - Total = 91 delegates

Obama has spent gazillions on campaign ads in Indiana to make himself known there. Clinton has an advantage in that way everywhere. She might be inspired to keep going after tonight's tally, but she is not closing the gap. He is doing well, considering friendly fire. Despite a recent reminder from Rev. J. Wright of Obama's past pastoral connection, he could be doing much worse in the mostly white Indiana.

Wright's message might ultimately be right, but his spirited delivery and provocative language was given at the wrong time - most recently last week. Go figure the timing, it was hard to tell if he was trying to help Obama or himself. Obama has been distancing himself from him, and it looks like he will have survived the negative association.

Hillary will take Indiana, he, North Carolina. It will be a win-win contest, with the edge to Barack.

These Icebergs May be from the Ice Age

Scattered around this craggy coastline are small mountains of floating white gold, an old and cold treasure to behold. And there were many beholders out yesterday, and no doubt today, and they will be holdin' cameras to capture with cutting edge, digital age technology, ice age beauty. Below are a few more angles of these giant gems taken by this ice-bergeler.

(left) This is just the tip of the iceberg... more to follow.

This is really a small berg bit, but it still looks large next to the boat.

This berg has 50,000 km on it, is 12,000 years old, and is on the cutting edge of iceberg style.

Another angle of the same berg. The ocean heaves created swirlpools between both sides of the ice.

Cape Spear spiced up with a bit of July green.

* Update - Just to let readers know that the above shots were taken with a zoom lens, and the photo was cropped. Do not venture near the edge of cliffs, as it is easy to trip, or wind can cause you to lose your balance and fall.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Oil Profits Cold Comfort to Have Not Individuals

Big oil offers it's thanks to you the consumers for making them laugh in hysterics as they limo ride all the way to the bank. Yes, we love their product and we are making a few people happy. We can take some comfort in knowing that Newfoundland and Labrador is at least making barrels of extra revenue, and on the way to being a "have" province. It's too bad though, that this is cold comfort, literally, to those on low incomes, people with disabilities, and fixed incomes.

A recent story which got airplay a local tv news show, described one woman's struggle to keep warm, keep fed and keep healthy. The news of prosperity translates into more poverty for people like Wanda White.

Ms White receives $320 every two weeks. Some people fill their cars or trucks with that much gas each month. She has to use it for heat, food, electricity, phone, etc. The cost of home heating fuel since last September has risen by about .40 cents a litre. That's an increase of around $320 per typical oil tank fill up. There are many others with health struggles like her who are negatively affected by massive increases in heating expenses. Her spastic paralegia requires the use of a cane and her speech is slow. Yet, she is ambitious - doing an online course, and wanting to open a tea house in the future.

There are indeed pockets of third world living in our rich G7 country.

This is not much help, but one idea to trim home heating costs, or insurance, or anything for that matter, is to phone around and compare prices. For furnace oil, there is a range of around .06 cents a litre.

As of today, May 5th, here are local St. John's home heating oil prices:
(prices are for 1 litre of oil)

Five years ago you could buy furnace oil for about .43 cents a litre, give or take a few cents difference between dealers. In general, inflation may seem low, but this one essential product is hurting people badly. They need income increases too, to keep pace with vital living expenses.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

"Ecoli Burgers Hardly Fit to Eat" say Scientists

A heads up on a certain strain of ground beef - Steakhouse Beef Burgers, sold at M&M Meat Shops across Canada, and frozen Pure Ground Beef Patties, made by Belmont Meat Products and sold at Costco stores in Ontario. More details right here. This beef has been grounded. Don't even feed it to your neighbour's loud, annoying and hateful dog, it's so bad!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Reward Informants of Bilge Oil Dumping Ships

Canada has longest coastline in the world - 243,000 km. Much daily sea traffic occurs off Atlantic Canada's shores, the home range to "roughly 40 million pelagic seabirds." Obviously the coastline is important because of wildlife and fish, not to mention it's beauty. Most appreciate it, some don't - like the latest alledged shipping bandit who is charged with dumping bilge oil off Newfoundland's coast. (Bilge oil is a mix of ballast water and oil from ship engines.)

Thankfully, a thoughtful and brave crew member handed over videotaped evidence to the authorities in Montreal where the ship, the MSC Trinidad, is being held. Third engineer Domingo Silva videotaped a pipe that bypassed the bilge tank so that its bilge oil could be dumped in the ocean. This guy and four others could very well lose their jobs. They should be rewarded though by our province or Canada, and a reward incentive ought to be offered to encourage others to report similar incidents. The reason ships dump their bilge is because it cuts down on costs of going to a seaport and legally unloading their bilge oil.

The risk for crew members for snitching on their slippery bosses is the threat of losing their jobs. If they will provide evidence of a ship dumping bilge oil, they should be compensated. If money talks, a monetary reward will encourage other ships crews to spill the beans as well.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Surpluses and Debt

It's good to be awash in extra dough - rich or poor it's always nice to have money. It's good to see an additional $266 million for health care operations, and the debt coming down. There's still $10.3 billion on that credit card. According to the budget in the next fiscal year another $300 million will bring it down to $10 billion. With the price of oil reaching record levels just about every day, it just means more good surplus news for Newfoundland and Labrador. The expected surplus of over $500 million next year could be $1.7 billion, therefore, much more could be paid down on the debt. In years to come it will mean more money for dis, debt and de'udderting.