Has This Happened To You?

Some time ago I wrote a post on Chinese ghost cities. Within half an hour the Chinese Daily Mail was following my blog – no big deal. A few months later Felix Baumgartner made headlines when he parachuted from the edge of space. I wrote a post titled “Sorry Felix, D.B. Cooper Has My Vote”, referring to Cooper’s 1971 hijacking. Cooper forced a landing in Seattle, collected $200,000, and parachuted into folk hero legend somewhere over the Cascade mountains. No trace ever found other than some marked ransom money along a river bank in 1980. Cooper has been on the FBI’s most wanted list since. Within half an hour of posting,  Yahoo alerted me to my hacked email. The message stated Langley, Virginia as the source, advising me to change passwords. The CIA is headquartered in Langley.

My daughter called me today – over the past few days she downloaded the Passionate Eye documentary on Putin and his Sochi Olympics. Next it was a documentary on Russian mobs, followed by a Google search on Sochi. Not long after her Sochi search Yahoo notified her of a breach in her e-mail. Intruders managed to gain access to her account – the source being Russia.

It’s possible coincidence met fat chance; strange things happen all the time. My gut tells me “chance” had nothing to do with it; odds of compromised e-mail accounts immediately after activity – however innocent – containing “flagged” or frowned upon interest, are miniscule to none.

Perhaps I’m over pondering, I tend to do that at times. Curiosity has the better of me – I need to know if I’m off my rocker, if this has happened to anyone else, and thoughts on these chance occurrences.

Zeppelin Guts

This ponder could well be old news to many; for me it was an astonishing tidbit  – something to learn more about. My knowledge of the first world war is limited to sobs as I tried  making it to the end of the movie Gallipoli. I knew of German air raids on Britain; I had no idea Zeppelins were involved.

Characterized by their rigid, cylindrical shape, Zeppelins relied on light weight frames encased in layers of fabric “skin” coated with protective resins. “Lift” was possible when lighter than air hydrogen gas filled numerous cells within the structure. Mounted below these behemoths – up to 600 feet long – was a gondola. Gondolas held engines for thrust – captain and crew, passengers and later on – bombs.

Hydrogen molecules are tiny. Gas cells had to be strong and “fine” enough stop leakage and maintain pressure. The answer – cow intestines – lots and lots of intestines. It took roughly a quarter million cows to make a single Zeppelin. Intestines were cleaned, cut and pieced together with nothing more than water as glue. As fibres dried, they literally curled around each other forming incredibly strong bonds.

The German army and navy saw potential in Zeppelin reconnaissance; at the start of the war, the army had six and  navy one – that’s 1,750,000 cows! During the war, Germany is estimated to have had 115 Zeppelins. Do the math; even rounding down to a conservative 175,000 cows per ship – taking into account wartime Zeppelins were smaller – that’s over 20 million cows.

Clearly the reason Germany banned sausages during the war.

Able to reach altitudes of 25,000 feet while travelling nearly as fast as an airplane. Inclement weather mattered little when flying above clouds; a crew member lowered in a wicker basket, dangling up to a thousand feet below the ship, reporting to the captain by telephone line. Imagine being assigned that duty.

Zeppelin raids over Britain accounted for roughly 1,500 deaths. Not the success Germany hoped for despite a terrifying psychological impact. Cow fact digested – I’m off to learn more about WW1.

Image – Maggie Jones – flickr.com

Ice Cracks and Mercury

I can’t explain what happens to set me off; that split second of clarity – aha moments, outrage, jaw dropping realities, outrageous buffoonery – a dog’s breakfast of circumstances to ponder. Today it was ice cracks and mercury.

Man is one sorry excuse for a species; it defies all reason to have muddled through this far. Name any other species and you’ll find they hone their skills, adapt to environment, and learn from past missteps. Opposable thumb, spoken language, massive brains –  unnecessary for survival. Survival of the fittest and natural selection merely  rough drafts of evolution’s story. Heightened sense of sight, scent, and sound, venom, camouflage, hibernation, migration – simplistic generalizations describing nature’s magnificence

Mankind drew the straw guaranteeing a disconnect from that nature. The straw responsible for impenetrable structures, religious squabbles, pointless aggression, division of classes, and a hot cup of tea. Our evolutionary hiccup resulted in a species of dependant, gullible, attention deficit nincompoops. A species harbouring shreds of animal instinct between marshmallow fluff and Lemming sensibilities.

News of ice cracks and mercury managed to focus mankind’s folly; a perfect example of our hubris. A story about climate change – a scientific paper published in Nature magazine – a warning about alarming levels of mercury in the arctic.

Mercury vapor from coal burning power plants and gold mining pollute the atmosphere. About 20 years ago, science sorted out where all that mercury vapor was going. They knew it travelled thousands of miles into the atmosphere; the kicker was how the planet took care of it. Every spring, something remarkable happened in the arctic. Following months of near darkness, our sun’s rays set a chemical reaction in play – a process that removes harmful mercury.


Here’s the problem – arctic ice has become thinner; thinning leads to sea ice cracking at alarming rates. Huge fissures appear, ice flows break apart, exposing open water. Water is considerably warmer than arctic air. Temperature differentials cause”churning” in the air flow – a phenomenon responsible for pulling mercury down rather than showing it the atmospheric door.


Global warming elicits rolling eyes or impatient blank stares – sure, a concerned group of realists acknowledge the reality, the rest sitting firmly on their opposable thumbs. Climate change peaked with Al Gore, relegated to a dusty shelf along side plastics, oil, tar sands, and nasty banned substances contaminating imported food products.

Nature does the best it can. Our species taking for granted nothing will disturb the complacent unnatural balance our big brains delivered. Oblivious, unprepared, ignorant – pick a word – how about “stupid”? We are so far removed from reality, gobbling big money’s pacifier – a ball gag dipped in honey preferable to imploding reality. It doesn’t matter whether climate change is manmade or a natural cycle. What matters is it’s real, it will effect our lives and we haven’t the skills to cope with difficulty.

Image – l.yimg.com

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Excuse Me Sir, You Need To Check That Pipe Bomb

I’ve been known to ponder differences between Canadian and American culture;  I try to comprehend – at the very least gain a sympathetic mindset for opposing points of view. Our cultures dictate behaviour, actions based on accepted norms – our countries so alike yet worlds apart on certain issues. I stand my ground when gun legislation or civil rights surface; along the way learning to appreciate why Americans want a firearm under the bed. I get it – along the way cautioning myself to think before shooting my mouth off. There are two sides to any debate, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Keeping my mouth shut, concentrating on similarities rather than stirring up divisive chit chat worked for a while. I’ve been so good it hurts – becoming a better person for it.

Today’s news broke my resolve – this is just too good, too Canadian to walk away from. On Sept.20, what appeared to be a pipe bomb in a piece of carry on luggage was removed from 18 year old Skylar Murphy at Edmonton International Airport. Initially the security screener returned the device to Murphy. Other security personal stepped in and confiscated the bomb, allowing Murphy to board his plane. The incident wasn’t reported to the RCMP for 4 days. Holy crap Canada. On Sept. 27, Murphy returned to Canada. He was arrested, charged with possession of illegal explosives, fined $100 and given a years probation.


Meanwhile, Canadians wanting to make a  short hop across the border for a weekend get-away – better not have condoms in their purses. A female university student from Vancouver was detained by U.S. customs 3 times over several weeks. The first detention undoubtedly explain the rest. Vermont border guards took exception to lingerie and condoms in her bag. Questioned for hours, missing her plane to Nashville, and unbeknownst – flagged. A few weeks later leaving Montreal, all it took was a scan of her passport to find her once again seated in a interrogation room. They wanted to know how much the man she was travelling with paid her. Her story which I’ll link below is worth reading – long story short – they let her go “this time” for telling the truth. Truth being the man she travelled with was married – and not to her. Following their Aruba vacation it was border guard time. Please read her story – she puts it more eloquently than I ever could. Lets just say, she was sent back to Aruba and told if she ever tried entering the U.S. again without an official waiver she would be banned for 5 years.


Moral of this ponder – Canadians loose their pipe bombs but aren’t arrested and given a $100 fine until after their pleasant vacations. Canadian girls packing condoms or undergarments other than granny panties had better be prepared to face moral justice – justice dished out by border guards with nothing better to do. Holy crap.

Robert Pickton

When the name Robert Pickton hit the news today, two silent years after conviction stripped his name from the front page – I stopped to ponder evil. Not mental illness or crimes of circumstance; pure, unadulterated evil.

Born in 1949, Pickton lived on the family pig farm in Port Coquitlam B.C. with his brother Dave. Fond of picking up prostitutes and drug addicted women on Vancouver’s downtown east-side, luring them to his farm with promises to “party” was a well know fact on the street. During the 90’s women started to go missing. In 1997 Pickton was charged with attempted murder; after driving a prostitute to his farm and having sex with her, he put a handcuff on one of her arms while stabbing her in the stomach. She stabbed him back, both ended up at the same hospital, nurses removed her handcuff with a key found in Pickton’s pocket. In 1998 the charges were dropped – prosecutors believing testimony from a drug addicted prostitute too unreliable. Clothing and rubber boots Pickton wore to the hospital sat forgotten in a police locker for 7 years. In 1999 police were tipped that Pickton had a freezer full of human flesh at the farm – he was interviewed but no search took place.

In February of 2002 police obtained a search warrant for the Pickton farm based on allegations of illegal firearms. By this time so many women had disappeared the B.C. Missing Women task force had been formed. During the firearms search they found an inhaler belonging to one of the missing women. A second warrant under the Missing Women Investigation lead to his farm “sealed” by R.C.M.P,  Pickton charged with firearms violations, released and put under surveillance.

On February 22, 2002 Pickton was arrested and charged with 2 counts of first degree murder. October of 2002 the count was at 15, by May of 2005 he had been charged with 27 counts of first degree murder. Pickton was reported to have confessed 49 murders to a cell mate, sorry he got “sloppy” as he wanted an even 50.

Forensic teams weren’t looking for bodies; anything resembling a body had been ground up and fed to the pigs. The property was taken apart piece by piece, soil and rubble put through sifters in attempts to find teeth or small bones for DNA analysis. Those rubber boots sitting for 7 years had DNA from 2 missing women.

The trial began in January of 2006 – Pickton pleaded not guilty on all 27 counts. The judge dismissed one count, divided the remainder into a group of 6, another of 20 charges. The actual jury trial started January of 2007, for the first time a publication ban was lifted; Pickton facing the first 6 murder charges. I’m not going to write details of the crowns opening statement – descriptions of body parts mutilated for his amusement are public record if anyone feels they need to know more.

In December of 2007, the jury found Pickton not guilty of first degree murder, but guilty of second degree on all 6 counts. Canadian law carries punishment for second degree murder as life in prison with no possibility of parole for 10 – 25 years. The judge imposed the maximum – life with parole possible after 25 years.

In 2010 the Vancouver police and RCMP issued an apology for the way missing women investigations had been handled. A official inquiry called the Missing Women Commission made its findings on law enforcement screw-ups public in 2012. The crown decided not to take Pickton to trial on the remaining 20 counts, their logic being no greater outcome would result above his existing sentence. Families of these victims understandably distraught over losing a chance to face him in court. There remains 80 unidentified DNA samples – half men, half women. Evidence for additional charges of murder exist but the crown is done with Robert Pickton.

Pickton appeared briefly via video link in court today – it was a hearing to determine if the city of Vancouver or the Province would pay legal fees for families involved in the lawsuit. Pickton’s response – “it didn’t really matter to him”



Kinder-Egg Travesty

Why can’t toy manufacturers leave well enough alone? Without a doubt, toys are divided along gender lines – fair enough – in principle. Little girls like caring for baby dolls, boys love pushing trucks through the sandbox. Between these poles lies a vast world of gender free play and imagination.

What baby didn’t have a set of wooden blocks, floating bath tub toys or stuffed animals; gender neutral beginnings, understandably parting ways as kids get older. My daughter loved mermaids and unicorns, my sons trains and trucks; perfectly natural, part of growing up. My ponder takes no issue with gender based toys – at least not in this post. My irritation stems from that sea of gender neutral fun that once nestled between the two. Ingeniously simple play, accessible regardless of gender.

Etch-A-Sketch, Slinky, Play Doh, Lego, Kinex, Brio, Playmobil, and Kinder Surprise – examples of non specific gender marketing – simply great toys. Toys that didn’t have to be pink or blue, toys that any kid played with. I’ll be generous by forgiving pink Etch-A-Sketch or Slinky; attempts to jump start sales in a ToysrUs, mega-store era. I’m not sure what was wrong with Mr. Potato Head but suddenly there was a Mrs. Play Doh began marketing gender specific “play sets”, Lego introduced “Lego Friends”, specifically for girls – gone was square head Lego man – replaced by ridiculous plastic bimbos, kittens and puppies.

Kinder Surprise for girls was too much; the travesty responsible for pushing me over the edge. Kinder eggs began in 1974, the brain child of Ferrero – put a toy inside a chocolate egg. Billions sold, thousands of different toys inside the yellow capsule – really cool surprises waiting to be assembled. High quality, clever little gems – often silly, but never totally lame. You never knew what that yellow capsule would give up – one thing for certain, it wasn’t guaranteed to be a ring, hair accessory or plastic princess. At least not until Kinder for girls came along.

We always buy Kinder Surprise to put in Easter baskets and Christmas stockings. My kids are adults now yet they still look for that foil wrapped egg. My husband had no idea of Kinder’s gender split when inadvertently picking up eggs wrapped in slightly pink foil – they keep their gender packaging subtle. Horror gave way to outrage as egg after egg revealed disappointing centers.

The logic behind gender specific everything eludes me. Girls liked square head Lego man, and took no offence with Mr. Potato Head. Girls don’t need pink paper or ridiculous depictions of girlish nonsense at every turn. There used to be a realm of toys children played with because they were great toys. Once upon a time, a world of non-gendered fun entertained generations of kids. I wish someone would tell marketing nit-wits to leave well enough alone.

Weapons of Mass Destruction

When pondering ancient history, few people would consider weapons of mass destruction. Poison tipped arrows hardly qualify, at least not in our modern context of WMD. Defined as chemical, nuclear or biological weapons capable of causing indiscriminate death or injury on a large scale – hardly the image in mind when picturing Roman legions, Greek soldiers, or Hannibal’s army crossing the Alps.

Think again; the first historical documentation of WMD use was 590 BC when the Greeks poisoned water supplies for the besieged city of Kirrha, using extracts from a toxic plant, Hellebore. Roman, Manius Aquillius poisoned wells of besieged cities in 190 AD. Throughout history, conquest by plague or disease has always been a popular course of action. Hittite literature from as early as 1500 BC, documents driving people infected with Tularemia into lands they had their eye on. Why waste soldiers when disease can do the work for you. Middle Ages saw corpses of plague victims catapulted over defensive walls. History documents assault by disease as late as 1710 in Europe when Russians stormed the Swedes at Reval, tossing plague infested cadavers over the walls. Lets not forget the Americas – however inadvertent at first – smallpox proved a mighty WMD once invaders understood the implications.

Historical accounts of poisonous snakes tossed onto decks of enemy ships, scorpion filled baskets catapulted over enemy walls, fire,  and poison arrows – while nasty, don’t fit my perception of a WMD. Weapons of mass destruction are much uglier than that; they target without conscience, attack innocents without mercy and speak to the ugliness of humanity. WMD’s are the “final solution” – that moment when a line is crossed – win at all costs, casualties irrelevant.

A few days ago I heard something that resounded in this pondering mind. Watching a documentary on evolution, the question posed was “why is man the only species that evolved into what is known as mankind”. The answer – while clearly lacking a definitive explanation, came back with this – the shark has ruled the oceans for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s brain virtually unchanged, not getting larger or evolving because it doesn’t need to. Sharks are the perfect killing machines,  senses heightened to suit their purposes – larger brain not required. Mankind “evolved” purely because it was that, or become dinner for superior predators.

The problem with our “evolution” is the WMD mindset. Sure, our big brains can create wonders unimaginable to lessor species – but who cares. Ultimately we use our evolution to win at any cost; collateral damage deemed acceptable. We haven’t learned from history, show no evidence of changing our ways, and squabble over issues that should have been irrelevant by now.

A million years from now, I bet those same sharks will be swimming about the oceans. Swimming long after mankind has imploded, long after one WMD too many wiped us off the face of the earth.