Cuba on My Mind

I’ve been feeling rather grumpy lately, and just figured out why; I have Cuba on my mind. Not the “all-inclusive” this beach could be anywhere in the world Cuba – I need the living, heart pounding, take your breath away Cuba. The Cuba that prompted my son to ask how people with so little could be filled with such joy.

Havana is like no other place I’ve travelled. Evidence of the revolution; images of Lenin and Che Guevara , bullet scars, socialist slogans, and meandering lines of residents waiting patiently outside government stores for state supplied rations of rice, beans, and rum – are nothing more than a small chapter in Cuban history. A 16th century Spanish fort stands guard over Havana’s harbour; the shells of giant sea turtles float in the murky waters surrounding it, centuries old refuse alluding to lavish meals of Spanish rule. Taxi stands filled with pre 1959 American cars compete with horse drawn carriages for tourist dollars. Remarkably clean streets do little to hide the crumbling façades of Spanish colonial occupation. Gorgeous building held together with chicken wire and cinder blocks. Ballerinas from the National Ballet spill onto the street, mindful of the broken pavement and uneven curbs. Open air markets filled with books, soviet era propaganda, old movie posters, and art. A meal of chicken, potatoes, and beer for $2.00 as night falls and the air fills with music.

Cuba stole my heart and I need to go back. I long to be stuck in time, surrounded by remarkable people who when given lemons made lemonade. People who persevered, improvised, and never forgot how to laugh and sing. I don’t for a second believe life is all roses, but know Cuba is a special place with people I admire. At the moment my only wish is to fly to Havana, get on an ancient train complete with a roll of toilet paper and coffee mug as none are provided, and travel the 500 miles to Santiago de Cuba. The train will likely break down along the way stranding travellers for hours, hopefully days. I can’t think of anything I would rather do. I have Cuba on my mind.

Gamma Delphinids

June 11, 1930 – Maryland; three members of the American Meteor Society reported seeing an incredibly bright meteor shower. It wasn’t the kind of evening a self respecting meteor watcher would have chosen to gaze at the sky. Overcast skies and a full moon were less than ideal meteor watching conditions. Despite the lousy conditions, and the fact no one else reported seeing them – they remained adamant about what they saw.

Scientists now believe it was the Gamma Delphinids, and 83 years later – they’re coming back -maybe. More of a best guess than a promise, chances are good that for as little as 15 minutes, an hour at most beginning 4:28 AM EDT, the night sky will sparkle with brilliant fast moving meteors.

The Gamma Delphinids meteor shower – if it shows – will appear to radiate from the constellation Delphinus (del-FINE-us) the Dolphin high in the southern sky shortly before dawn tomorrow morning June 11. This map shows the sky facing south at 3:30 a.m. local time. Delphinus is to the east or left of the bottom of the bright 3-star figure the Summer Triangle. Created with Stellarium

(The above paragraph and photo were blatantly lifted from astrobob)

If you can’t find Vega; a bright star, easily visible as a frame of reference – download the Google Sky Map app on your phone. Perhaps staying up all night to maybe wish upon a star isn’t your thing; Sky Map will bring the universe to your doorstep – never again will you ponder what that object in the sky is called.

More Americans Believe Obama is Muslim Than Accept Evolution

In a Gallup poll taken last year more Americans believed Obama was Muslim than believed in the theory of evolution. Almost half – 47% of Americans polled accepted creationism, (up from 44% in 1982)  while 32% opted for “intelligent design” , the theory that God played a role in the development of man, 78% responded God at least played some part in human development. By political affiliation 58% of Republicans, 41% Democrats, and 39% of independents answered that God made man.

News flash America – Obama is not a Muslim – and even if he was, what possible difference would it make? What if he were a Scientologist, Jehovah Witness, or Buddhist? Scientology enjoys tax free, non profit status in America because you geniuses decided their “free personality test” fulfilled the requirement of a mission. This doesn’t seem to bother you in the slightest, but I suspect pharmaceutical companies would pull out their hair since Scientology claims mental illness is a myth. Maybe Obama could become a Jehovah Witness, he knocks on a lot of doors and might stand a chance of becoming one of the 170,00 chosen to ascend to heaven. I realize a Buddhist Obama is pushing it; Buddha after all was simply a man who searched for kindness, caring, and decency over money, power, and greed.  Mitt Romney is Mormon; that didn’t seem to bother anyone. Nobody got on Romney’s case over the founding father of the Mormon religion – Joseph Smith – being jailed for fraud over a fortune telling scheme gone wrong, having a “vision” when released from jail, then starting a religion believing among other things that dark skinned people were descendants of an evil lost tribe of Israel.

Clearly faith is a matter of opinion, a subject that divides and angers to the point of hatred. If anyone can explain what difference it makes in their lives what others choose to believe, I would be grateful. If anyone could give a single reason why it’s any of their business – I’ll listen.

Bitumen Greed

When I think of oil  I picture John Wayne capping a well in classic 60s style, or lazy pumps rocking up and down across the landscape. Oil pools beneath the ground; oilmen drill and pump it to the surface, move it to refineries by pipeline, then distribute it via freight systems to its final destination. There are mishaps like the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska or the bungled well in the Gulf of Mexico; the latter received 24 hour news coverage for weeks – an epic ecological disaster. Fouled beaches impacted tourism, shellfish beds destroyed, fragile marshland and glades gasping beneath globs of crude oil. Count down clocks clicked until another attempt was made to contain the devastation. Debates raged over blame and compensation, newsmen interviewed every forlorn shrimp man and business owner along the Gulf Coast. For weeks on end – analysis, impact reports, and human interest stories; and without fail, an ever present split screen showing crude oil spewing from the underground well.

Oil spills come and go, they blaze across media outlets for a few weeks, then forgotten until the next one reminds us to be more careful. Out of sight, out of mind.  The oil most people think of is pumped from reserves deep in the earth; vast pools of crude, waiting in underground lakes. Until an accident impacts the environment –  no visible damage on the horizon.

Bitumen is another story. This tar like, semi solid substance is found in sandy or clay like earth known as tar sands. The 141,000 square Km Athabasca Tar Sands in northern Alberta gives Canada the second largest oil reserve in the world after Saudi Arabia. Unlike Saudi oil, this is Bitumen – in the earth, not beneath it.

In 1967, Sun Oil Company was the first to commercially extract crude from the sands using water and surfactants to separate the oil, initial production was around 30,00 barrels a day. Now 64 oil companies, most of them foreign, produce upwards of a million barrels a day.  Production is expected to increase at the same rate, the government has no intention of conducting business any other way. Alberta has one of the lowest royalties in the world for its oil, in 1994 the federal government gave tax breaks of 100% for capital investment; to be “written off” as “accelerated capital cost allowances”. Canada has rolled out the red carpet to foreign investment with just one stipulation – once the land has been strip mined, it should be restored to “equivalent land capability”, although land use does not have to be identical.

The tar sands area around Fort McMurray is, or was Boreal forest and muskeg. The Athabasca River runs through the sands and provides the massive amount of water needed to process Bitumen. The water is heated using ridiculous amounts of natural gas; so much so that Alberta may have to reduce natural gas shipments to America to keep up with the tar sands. Huge tailing pools contain by-products of the refining process. Mercury, lead, cadmium, and other toxic waste products seep into the ground, and spill back into the Athabasca River with nothing more than an “oops – sorry” from the oil companies. Hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres, as far as the eye can see, wiped off the face of the earth.

Ponder those weeks spent watching images of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, then look long and hard at the pictures. Granted the gulf supports many more people, shrimp are much more popular than Northern Pike, and the livelihood of northern Canada’s mostly indigenous population doesn’t hold a candle to the plight of oyster men in Louisiana.

Prora Hotel

Pondering Buzludzha last night took me to another interesting abandoned site. I had no idea this place existed, let alone the dozens of other weirdly creepy ghost locations built in the last hundred or so years. This link explores odd little corners of the world.

Hotel Prora was the brainchild of Nazi Germany.  Hitler wanted a place for German workers to vacation, a place fuelled by Nazi propaganda; part of a programme called “strength through joy”.  Starting in 1936, 9000 workers took three years to build the world’s largest hotel. Stretching over 4 Km. along the Baltic Sea, 10,000 rooms face the water in eight buildings; cookie cutter copies –  exactly the same.


They planned another four identical resorts, including facilities for cruise ships


Things didn’t go so well – not a single guest registered at the front desk. The place was abandoned; it housed some refugees after the war, small sections were used briefly by auxiliary female Luftwaffe personnel,the Military Technical School at Bundeswehr, and as an outpost for the East German army. Aside from 400 beds converted into a youth hostel in 2011 – it sits crumbling and vandalized.




All photos from