Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fattest people on earth

A couple of readers have challenged Walt's assertion that Americans are fatter than others. It's true that there are part of the world where you can see large numbers of obese people. Samoa and South Africa spring to mind, although in South Africa the fattitude seems largely confined (or unconfined) to women. In fact, it's regarded as a sign of beauty.

In the case of the Excited States of America, though, we're talking about a huge number of fatties. "We're not talking about an obscure population," said James Zervios, spokesman for the Obesity Action Coalition in Tampa. "We're talking 93 million people."

That is to say, 93 million Americans are overweight. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in three Americans is overweight and another one-third is obese, and about one in 20 is at least 100 pounds heavier than he or she should be, or "morbidly obese."

I already said that. I didn't have a number to put to the assertion, but had and still have full confidence in what I see with my own eyes. In fact, I'm thinking of going to the optometrist to see if my glasses can be fitted with wide-angle lenses, just so I can see all of the tubbies waiting at the airport to occupy the seat next to mine.

Thanks to Agent 17 for sending along a recent article from the Palm Beach Post which gives us the above figures. [Don't go for the cheap joke! Ed.]

Friday, April 29, 2011

Showers for those who can't see their toes

When I was a sprat, people didn't take showers. They took baths. I can remember of a Saturday night when ma would put a couple of pails of water in the boiler on "Nat King" -- that's what we called our coal furnace -- and pretty soon there's be a tubful of hot water so pa could bathe, then ma, and then us kids, in order of age. I was the youngest.

Nowadays people are too busy to spend a half-hour in the bathtub, and hot water is not such a precious commodity as it was back when, so people take showers, some as often as once a day. Trouble is, although we now have built-in bathtubs, better than the galvanized tub in the kitchen, the design and dimensions of tubs haven't changed in decades. If anything, bathtubs have gotten smaller.

But people have gotten larger -- much larger! Which explains the invention of the curved shower curtain rod shown at left. A generation or two ago, most people could be comfortable in a tub fitted with a straight rod. Their width did not exceed that of the tub and all was well.

Now, however, the majority of Americans are overweight, fat, or downright obese. Not to mention morbidly obese. Canadians can wipe the smug smirks off their faces because the BMI figures for Canucks are almost as bad. [Those of course are round figures. Ed.] So more people are feeling the cold, wet shower curtain clinging to the sausage casings they call their skins. Not pleasant.

Congratulations, then, to whoever invented the curved shower curtain rod. As suggested in the picture, it increases space. And it decreases discomfort. So now, thanks to this miracle of modern engineering, ladies like these can have showers without getting the bathroom floor wet.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

More on the Great Escape of Kabul

Ed. has been doing a bit of fact-checking, or should I say sifting through the various and varied reports of last weekend's escape of nearly 500 Taliban and other riff-raff from the central prison in Kabul, the shining capital of Afghanistan.

A couple of days ago, Walt passed on the news that the number of escapees was around 800, not 480 as first reported. Wrong! [Walt wrong? Incredible! Ed.] Turns out the original number -- 480 -- was correct. The 800 mentioned in the follow-up escaped last year.

Canadian Prime Minister "Call me Steve" Harper said he found the news from the sandpit disappointing, but that we (meaning NATO, I guess) must "keep plugging away". Agent 3 suggests Harper could start by plugging the hole in the floor (see pic from the first story) with his fat ass. Agent 3 is obviously not a Conservative!

A letter to Prime Minister Harper

Agent 3 has sent Walt a copy of his (?) letter to the once and future Prime Minister of Canada. (Lifetime pct: .973) While Agent 3's math may be off by a trillion dollars or so, the idea underlying his suggestions bears thinking about.

Dear Mr. Harper,

Please find below my suggestion for fixing Canada's economy. Instead of giving billions of dollars to banks and auto manufacturers who will squander the money on lavish parties and unearned bonuses, use the following plan:

There are about 2 million people over 50 in the workforce. Pay them $1 million apiece as severance pay for early retirement, with the following conditions:

1) They MUST retire. 2 million job openings. Unemployment fixed.

2) They MUST buy a new Made-in-Canada car. 2 million cars ordered. Auto industry fixed.

3) They MUST either buy a house or pay off their mortgage. Housing crisis fixed.

4) They MUST send their kids to school/college/university. Crime rate fixed.

5) They MUST buy $50 worth of alcohol/tobacco/gasoline per week. There's your money back in duty, taxes, etc.

It can't get any easier than that!

Yours truly,
Ordinary Joe Canadian

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Afghan nightmare for NATO

Some serious commentary on the Great Escape of Kabul, mocked by Walt yesterday. Graeme Smith, writing in the Globe and Mail, poses some excellent questions.

Two uncomfortable lessons could be drawn from the latest Taliban jailbreak in Kandahar: Either the locals were scared to talk about it, or they supported the insurgent plot. Neither option reflects well on NATO strategy in Afghanistan.

How could a team of insurgents camp out in southern Afghanistan's most heavily guarded city, spend months tunnelling and hauling away tons of earth, and attract no notice? Canada spent millions of dollars upgrading the prison and training its staff; Canadian intelligence agents and commandoes are stationed only three kilometres away, at a camp shared with their U.S. and British counterparts. Why didn't anybody tip them off?

Click here to read the rest of Mr. Smith's article.

Footnote: The article puts the number of escapees at "over 800", not a mere 480 as reported yesterday.

Give a senior citizen a break

Walt welcomes aboard Agent 21, who sends this gem from Down Under.

Working people frequently ask retired people what they do to make their days interesting. Well, for example, the other day my wife and I went into town and visited a shop. When we came out, we saw this cop writing out a parking ticket. We went up to him, and I said, "C'mon man, how about giving a senior citizen a break?"

The cop ignored us and went on writing the ticket, so I called him an "asshole". He glared at me and started writing out another ticket for having bald tires. So my wife called him a "shithead".

He finished the second ticket it and put it on the windshield along with the first. Then he wrote out some more tickets. This went on for about 20 minutes. The more we abused him, the more tickets he wrote.

Just then our bus arrived. We got on it and went home. Now that we're retired, we try to have a little fun each day. It's important at our age.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The great escape

Today Walt is reading reports out of Kabul -- capital of the sandpit known as Afghanistan -- that forty dozen (= 480) Taliban prisoners escaped from the local hoosegow over the course of some four or five hours yesterday.

How did they do this? Through a thousand-foot-long tunnel that took approximately five months to dig. All this happened under the watchful eyes of the Afghan police, the same police to whom NATO is handing over responsibility for national security.

An Afghan government spokesthingy confirmed the tunnel was dug from a house within shooting distance of the prison [Did he/she really use that phrase? Ed.] and that the inmates had somehow gotten out of their locked cells and disappeared into the night. Kandahar remains relatively warm even during winter and the ground would not have frozen while insurgents were digging the tunnel.

It is unclear how the Taliban were able to move so many men out of the prison so quickly. Also unclear is why guards would not have heard the diggers punch through the cement floor, and whether they supervise the inside of the perimeters at night. The word "bribery" remains unspoken.

The picture at the right is supposed to show an Afghan policeman looking into the escape hatch. Walt can reveal that the hole is actually the prison toilet, hence the presence of the fan just behind it. The fan [made in China? Ed.] was probably purchased with western "humanitarian aid" money.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Holy Saturday

The Holy Saturday liturgy is rather low-key, with the main celebration being the Easter Vigil tonight. However, a friend has sent a lovely video of last Sunday's blessing of the palms at St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church, which I'd like to share with you. The celebrant is Mitred Archpriest Roman Galadza.

No, they're not palm branches. Palms are rather scarce in the Ukraine, so the tradition is to use pussy willow branches. If you look carefully, you might be able to see Agent 5 somewhere in the congregation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ontario dentists risk licences over sex abuse

Dickens wrote "The law is a ass." (If you thought Shakespeare penned those words, check on Google.) There are many collections of stupid, dumb and ridiculous laws proving the truth of the statement. But one of the dumbest laws Walt has heard about in some time is a provision of the Regulated Health Professions Act of Ontario that makes it illegal for dentists to have sex with their spouses.

Well, putting it another way, dentists who have sex with their spouses better not be drilling and filling their teeth. That's because the Act says that health professionals cannot have sex with their patients. So a "health professional" can have a spouse or a patient, but not a spouse for a patient.

So said the Ontario Court of Appeal last year, ruling on a case involving a chiropractor who had treated his girlfriend. The chiropractor was found guilty of professional misconduct for sexual abuse and lost his licence. Since dentists are covered by the same act, they run the same risk.

One Ontario tooth mechanic calling for change is Dr. Larry Pedlar, who, for half a century, counted his wife among his patients. Oral Health quotes the good doctor as saying, "If I treat my wife, it means I am sexually abusing her. It means I would be an outlaw."

Still, half the dentists he knows continue to treat their spouses, says the 72-year-old Dr. Pedlar. "They just keep their mouths shut." Unlike their spouses, presumably.

The issue has become a topic of ridicule in dental circles, and rightly so, says Walt. Ontario's Minister of Health has promised to, errr, look into the problem. Open just a little bit wider...

Book review: Baghdad Without a Map

Why should a book written over 20 years ago be of interest to us today? Because, in Baghdad Without a Map, freelance journalist Tony Horwitz describes scenes and events he witnessed in the Middle East, which are being replayed today. Reading this book helps us understand why the Arabs are revolting. [Nice use of ambiguity there! Ed.]

Mr. Horwitz, an American Jew, travelled the countries of Araby in the late 1980s, reporting from all the places in the news today -- Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Libya -- and more. He presents witty and insightful vignettes of the history and culture of a volatile territory understood by few Westerners, even after a decade fighting and dying in the sands and scrub.

Reading his accounts of Hussein's Iraq, Mubarak's Egypt and Gadhaffi's Libya, as he found those states 20 years ago, is like watching "Groundhog Day". We know it all happened again and again and again. Intrigue and absurdity abound. People are still caught in the cross-fire of conflict. The desert sands are still being watered with blood every day.

Yet nothing changes. And, one suspects, nothing will change. The Middle East remains, in Horwitz's words "a malodorous mix of arms, zeal and anarchy", a place where "progress [is] measured in grains of sand".

To read Baghdad Without a Map (Dutton, 1991) is to wonder yet again why on earth Western treasure is being squandered and Western blood being spilt there. Highly recommended by Walt.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Harper's Canada

For Walt's Canadian readers, Agent 26 passes on a summary of "Call me Steve" Harper's vision for words and lots of pix.

Is it really that bad? In a word... YES!

The things they eat

Walt's unexpected trip to the big smoke -- see below -- led inevitably to a bout of serious shopping in a Chinese supermarket. Here are some of the things I saw on offer...

Pork blood curb -- On closer (but not too close) inspection this turned out to be cubes of what I took to be pig's blood.

Chinese Yellow croaker -- Not frog, but fish.

Forzen silver fish -- Not bugs, but little fish, like sardines, frozen solid.

Mrs. Walt, observing my greenish complexion, refrained from buying any of that stuff, contenting herself with chicken claws.

Then we went for lunch at a little restaurant which featured duck noodle soup -- a change from chicken -- and "real viscera in noodle soup". I went with the duck.

Next time you're eating chow mein and sweet and sour chicken balls -- the best part of the chicken -- be aware that it's not real Chinese food!

Cautionary tale: "Windows Recovery"

Walt's computer was attached yesterday by a horrible virus/trojan called "Windows Recovery". It masquerades as a Windows performance enhancement programme, and scares you into believing your hard drive is all screwed up. If you accept the free "fix", it destroys key files on your hard drive so that you can't access them. Disaster!

WORD OF WARNING: Walt was using AVG anti-virus software, which failed to detect the threat. AVG offers (for $29.99) a recovery programme which does not work! At least it didn't work for me. In fact, the trojan got into the programme, causing "Windows Recovery" to reappear with every attempt to reboot.

Another anti-virus programme being offered online is "SPOTzilla". For $19.99 Walt got another programme which claimed to fix "Windows Recovery". If you Google "Windows Recovery" you'll see the ad for "STOPzilla" at the top of the page. It doesn't work! I wouldn't be surprised if "Windows Recovery" is being passed along on the net to boost sales of "SPOTzilla".

Are they all in it together? Could be! My advice -- and that of my Chinese computer guru -- is to go with Microsoft Security Essentials. It's from Bill, and it's free.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Have faith in God, not technology: Benedict XVI

Thanks to the miracles of modern science, we humans are more powerful now than ever before. We are masters of our world and masters of our lives. Right?

Modern technology lets us to fly from one side of the earth to the other in less than 24 hours. And we can get through the airports at other end in only six or seven hours.

Modern technology enables us to know in the first months of a pregnancy whether a child is healthy and whether it's a boy or a girl. And if it's a girl, modern technology helps us to kill her before she sees the light of day.

Modern technology gives us access to literally 1000s of channels of information and entertainment. We can see pornography from all over the world on our tablets, Blackberries, even our cellphones, 24 hours a day.

At the risk of being called a technophobe, Walt ventures the opinion that today's world is a worse place -- more complicated, more contaminated and more inhospitable -- than ever before.

Why? Because the modern world has been created by humans who think their science has made them better than God. We can do anything, they think, except maybe create life and we're pretty close to that. Aren't we humans great?

Pope Benedict XVI is of a different view. He told Palm Sunday worshippers that man will pay the price for his pride if he believes technology can give him the powers of God.

The Holy Father's homily, delivered to tens of thousands in St. Peter's Square, had as its theme man’s relationship with God and how it can sometimes be threatened by technology.

"From the beginning men and women have been filled — and this is as true today as ever — with a desire to ‘be like God’, to attain the heights of God by their own powers," the pontiff said. "All the inventions of the human spirit are ultimately an effort to gain wings so as to rise to the heights of Being and to become independent, completely free, as God is free."

“Mankind has managed to accomplish so many things: we can fly! We can see, hear and speak to one another from the farthest ends of the earth. And yet the force of gravity which draws us down is powerful,” he said.

While the great advances of technology have improved life for man, the Pope explained, they have also increased possibilities for evil, and recent natural disasters are a reminder, if any were needed, that mankind is not all-powerful.

In spite of being "powered by technology", today's world is in a horrible state. The lesson to be learned, Pope Benedict said, is that "the great achievements of technology...contribute to the progress of mankind only if they are joined to these attitudes – if our hands become clean and our hearts pure, if we seek truth, if we seek God and let ourselves be touched and challenged by His love.

"All these means of 'ascent' are effective only if we humbly acknowledge that we need to be lifted up; if we abandon the pride of wanting to become God. We need God. He draws us upwards; letting ourselves be upheld by His hands – by faith, in other words – sets us aright and gives us the inner strength that raises us on high. We need the humility of a faith which seeks the face of God and trusts in the truth of His love."

Walt says "amen".

Friday, April 15, 2011

Going out in a Blaise of glory

The "African disease" has spread, quite suddenly, from Côte d'Ivoire to nearby Burkina Faso, which means "Land of upright men" in the local language. Like Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso is a former colony of France.

Unlike Ivory Coast, the upright men didn't depose their president by way of an election. Instead, Blaise Campaore, who has kept himself in power for nearly 24 years, was sent packing by his own military bodyguards. Why? Because they hadn't been paid their housing allowances.

According to Agence France Presse, M. Compaore fled the capital, Ouagadougou, on Friday morning, after the mutiny among his bodyguards spread through barracks at the presidential compound and other army bases. He is believed to be holed up in his hometown, about 30 km to the north.

Gunfire erupted at the 50-acre presidential compound late Thursday, as troops demanding money began firing their weapons. The shooting came from the barracks of the presidential guard, then spread to other barracks and camps, a military official said.

An AFP journalist reported that the gunfire in the military camps was followed in short order by the customary looting of shops. The home of General Dominique Diendière, Compaore’s chief of staff, was also said to have been ransacked and razed, in that order.

I have always wanted to go to Ouagadougou -- pronounced Wa-ga-doo-goo -- just to be able to call someone and say, "Here I am in Ouagadougou." It rolls off the tongue so nicely. If I ever get there, I intend to leave in a cloud of dust and small stones, not in a blaze of glory.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Easter eggless in Seattle

Another report of political correctness carried to absurdity, this time from Seattle. A teen volunteering in a Grade 3 classroom says she wanted to put treats together for the children for Easter, but was told she'd have to call the eggs "spring spheres."

The girl, Jessica, told KIRO Radio, "At the end of the week, I had an idea that I wanted to fill a little plastic egg with treats and jelly beans and other candy." She said the Easter eggs were meant as a parting gift to the kisd after she finished her volunteer assignment.

"I was kind of unsure how the teacher would feel about that," Jessica said, adding there were different cultures at the school and she wanted to clear it first. The teacher asked administration.

Jessica said she was told "I could do it as long as I called the treat 'spring spheres... not Easter eggs." Jessica said she thought it was "ridiculous" but she still passed out the eggs to the students.

Seattle Schools issued a statement on its website saying they "have a religion and religious accommodation policy, approved in 1983, stating that 'no religious belief or non-belief should be promoted by the school district or its employees, and none should be disparaged.'"

To think that using the term "Easter eggs" disparages someone else's religion [Who? Muslims? Ed.]... Now, that's ridiculous.

Rick Mercer to Kanuck Kids: Vote!

You Canadian kids out there, if you're not gonna listen to Walt, listen to Rick Mercer. Give the geezers a surprise. Get out and vote.

Walt is pleased to report that students at three Canadian universities are taking Rick up on his challenge. In spite of the heavy final exam schedule, "vote mobs" have been organized [Let's say they sprang into being fully formed. Ed.] at Guelph, McMaster, Victoria, Calgary, Ottawa (the famous U of 0), and the heretofore unknown University of Northern BC. According to Agent 3, McGill students are putting on their old red sweaters as I write.

Good on yer, kids! But please remember to follow through on May 2nd. And remember your ABCs.

Scatological message for Canadians

Walt urges all Canadians -- especially young Canucks -- to pay heed.

Just in case you didn't get the URL, click here to read the shit Harper did.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Confucius say...

Confucius say, "If you are in a book store and cannot find the book for which you search, you are obviously in the.....

Thanks and a tip of the toque to Agent 6.

Where next? Swaziland next?

From the sandy deserts of Libya and Egypt, our search for examples of misrule in Africa takes us south, way way south, to the remote mountain kingdom of Swaziland.

Wedged in between Moçambique and South Africa, it is a desperately poor little place, with a population of only 1,4 million. 40% of Swazis are unemployed. 70% live on less than $1 a day.

Swaziland has two things that set it apart. It is ruled by King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch. And it is the site of the annual "Reed Dance" in which His Highness chooses a new wife -- he has 14, at last count -- from amongst hundreds of nubile young maidens.

Now the winds of change are blowing even in that remote corner of the Dark Continent. Perhaps inspired by the "Arab Spring" and this week's overthrow of Ivory Coast's Laurent Gbagbo (even though he had only one wife), protesters are thronging the streets of Mbabane demanding political reforms.

Speaking for King Mswati, who was otherwise engaged, Prime Minister Barnabas Dlamini declared the demonstrations illegal and warned that anyone who took part did so at their own risk.

Police Commissioner Isaac Magagula said the police, the army and prison services were ready to face down “evil” protesters. “Such evil will not be tolerated,” he told the local Times newspaper.

Another spokesman for the king cautioned a western journalist that [the protesters] "only want His Highness to share some of his wives. But that is not necessary. Plenty of girls here. See for yourself next reed dance."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Plus ça change

Every now and then Walt, like most others who put words in public spaces regularly, hits a dry patch -- a time when inspiration fails, the juice dries up and the monitor is a big white void.

Something may have happened in the world. Something may be about to happen. But in my world right now, nothing is happening. Nothing that matters to me, at least. The things that are happening today have happened before, and will happen again, if not tomorrow then certainly the day after.

In the Middle East, there are wars and rebellions. Muslims are killing Christians when they're not killing each other. People are dying in the streets of Syria, Yemen and Palestine. Nothing new there.

A think tank has warned the Canadian government that if it keeps troops in Afghanistan as "trainers", they could get killed, so maybe a rethink of that decision would be in order. Well, stop the presses! Walt said the same thing months ago.

A trio of African leaders -- three who have yet to be overthrown -- jetted into Libya and brokered a truce between the Mad Colonel's forces and those rebelling against him. The ink wasn't yet dry on the Kufic script when Gadhafi's men shelled the excrement out of a rebel sandcastle. The rebels responded by calling in a NATO airstrike. (Yes, they're now "communicating with" NATO forces.) The body count rises as the stalemate continues.

Speaking of stalemates, the government of the Excited States of America did not grind to a halt on the weekend, as a truce was reached in the debate over how much more indebtedness the nation could stand. Well, not a truce so much as an agreement to continue the fight for another six weeks. The ship is sinking and the solons are arguing over the side on which the lifeboats should be launched.

And in Canada, there's a rumour than an election campaign is in progress, if "progress" is a suitable word for such an event. A TV debate between the leaders of the four parties which held seats in the outgoing Parliament is scheduled for tonight. Walt predicts all four leaders will prove themselves masters of evasion, but none more so than Stephen Harpoon. Lifetime pct: .974.

The French debate was to have been held on Thursday night, but has been moved up to tomorrow night so Canucks can watch what they really want to watch, namely the NHL playoff game between Boston and Montréal. At least one country has its priorities straight!

So...everything is kind of stuck in neutral, chez Walt. But keep watching this space. Something might happen tomorrow.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Just dessert?

It's been an up and down weekend for the duly diselected president of Côte d'Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo, pictured. [Seems we had the wrong picture last week. Apologies. Ed.]

On Saturday there were reports from the usual unreliable sources that he and his presidential guard had broken out of their basement bunker in one of Abidjan's two presidential palaces, and were counter-attaching forces loyal to president-elect-but-not-installed Alassane Ouattara. Now Reuters has breaking news. The French, having tired already of their little foray into Libya, have turned their attention to their former colony.

French forces "detained" M. Gbagbo in his residence, according to Hervé Cohx, an "advisor" to Ouattara, and are now taking him to the Golf Hotel where he will be served for dinner. [Is this right? Perhaps just "served dinner"? Ed.]

Friday, April 8, 2011

A view of Canadian politics from Down Under

Could it be that the arrival of warmer weather has stirred Walt's Canuck agents from their hibernal slumber? Agent 26, whom I hadn't heard from in a coon's age, writes:

You know where I stand on our present government’s attitude toward democracy. Forgive me for being passionate [How Canadian is that?! Ed.] but I thought you would be interested to see what others think of what’s happening in Canada.

She refers to "Canada watches its democracy erode", an article in the Australian by Ramesh Thakur, who was Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, 1998-2007, and is now a professor of political science at the University of Waterloo and adjunct professor, Institute of Governance, Ethics and Law, Griffith University.

Prof. Thakur's article is too long to quote here in its entirety, but four paragraphs demand to be "retweeted", or whatever the technoterm is.

Edmund Burke noted that all that was necessary for evil to triumph was for good men to do nothing. Canadians are certainly good and worthy folks, but they suffer an excess of civil obedience, politeness and lack of civic rage that could be harnessed to combat political atrophy. At a time when Arabs risk life and limb for political freedoms, Canadians seem largely apathetic about the erosion of their democracy.

The centralisation of power in the hands of the prime minister and political staffers - with the resulting diminution of the role and status of cabinet, parliaments and parliamentarians - is common to Anglo-Saxon democracies in Australia, Britain, Canada and the US, but the extent to which constitutional conventions, parliamentary etiquette and civil institutions of good governance have been worn away in Canada is cause for concern....

Little wonder Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin describes the government's "arc of duplicity" as "remarkable to behold". What remains unclear is whether this adds up to an indictment of Canadians' indifference to democratic rights being curtailed or of the opposition parties, which have failed to harness the silent majority's outrage.

As Canadians head for the polls in early May, it remains to be seen whether Liberal Party charges of the Harper government being obsessed with secrecy, control, spin and attack ads will resonate with voters. Until then, Oh Canada, we cry our hearts for thee.

Please click on the link to read the entire piece. And if you're Canadian, don't forget this on election day!

Traditional Catholics betrayed by Benedict XVI

Sandro Magister is a leading "Vaticanista" -- Vatican-watcher -- and editor/publisher of the highly-respected Chiesa newsletter. He generally tries to maintain an objective, albeit conservative, stance in his articles. In other words, he's not an ultra-traditionalist who believes that everything decided and done by the Church since 1962 is wrong.

So, for Signore Magister to criticize the Pope, or even to echo the criticisms of others, is to express the profound malaise that infects today's Church. Yet that is what he does, in "High Up, Let Down by Pope Benedict", Chiesa's leading article this week.

Voices of disapproval have been raised over the Holy See's confirmation that on October 27th, Benedict XVI will preside over a day of "reflection, dialogue and prayer" together with "Christians of other confessions", representatives of other religions and "men of good will."

The encounter will come in the same place -- Assisi -- and twenty-five years after the infamous one convened by John Paul II. Cardinal Ratzinger, as he then was, did not take part in it. Now that he's pope, he says, the next encounter will be reviewed and corrected, scrubbed clean of the slightest hint of the assimilation of the Catholic Church to other faiths.

But, the traditionalists say, the problem is that such "encounters" should not be held at all! Some of them have signed a critical appeal, of which Chiesa gives details. The "spirit of Assisi," in their view, is part of a more general confusion, originating in Vatican II, that is disrupting Catholic doctrine -- a confusion to which Benedict XVI is not reacting as he should.

Most recently, Sig. Magister continues, the criticisms of Pope Benedict by traditional Catholics have grown in intensity. And they reflect a growing disappointment with respect to the expectations initially invested in the restorative action of the current pontificate.

The criticisms of some traditionalists are focused in particular on how Benedict XVI interprets Vatican Council II and the postconciliar period.

The pope errs, in their view, when he limits his criticism to the deterioration of the Church's beliefs and practices in the aftermath of Vatican II. In fact, they say, Vatican II was not only poorly interpreted and applied: it was itself a source of grave errors.

The first of those was the renunciation of the Church's authority to exercise, when necessary, a magisterium of definition and condemnation, i.e. the renunciation of the anathema.

In exchange for "dialogue" with "other expression of Christianity" and other religions, the Church gave up Her God-given power to declare what is right and what is wrong. And for the sake of dialogue and political correctness, She stopped proclaiming the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla sanctus -- outside the Church there is no salvation.

The dogma has not been "repealed". Dogma cannot be changed or "taken back". But by refusing to talk about religious rights and wrongs, by treating other confessions and other religions as more or less equal "seekers of truth", Pope Benedict does the True Faith a lamentable and grave disservice. He is, in fact, leading us in the wrong direction.

Libya: what we didn't know

Americans are a pretty ignorant lot, especially when it comes to goings-on outside the continental 48. This is not only Walt's opinion, but the finding of Newsweek's "What We Don't Know" quiz. 2/3 of quizzees don't know what happened at the Constitutional Convention. 40% don't know who we fought in World War II. Try the quiz yourself and see how you do.

This ignorance gets America into a lot of trouble, especially when it gets sucked into "a spot of local trouble" in places which only a minority can locate on a map. Like Libya.

Seems we -- to be fair, other countries have jumped into the dogpile -- had another "oops!" moment yesterday. Five more Libyan rebels were killed by "friendly fire" when NATO planes bombed a rebel tank column. This was because ... errr ... we didn’t know the "good guys" had tanks.

In war, unlike the courts, ignorance would seem to be a valid excuse. Rear Admiral Russell Harding, deputy commander of the operation, said NATO had no previous information the rebels were operating tanks. In the past, only forces loyal to Gadhafi had used heavy armoured vehicles, he said. So that's all right then. No apology will be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, in Washington, General Carter "Smoked" Ham [No more cheap jokes, please! Ed.], head of US African Command, said the situation on the ground is "unclear and fluid", unlike the situation in the air which is fluid and unclear.

General Ham was asked if a stalemate was emerging in the seven-week-old conflict. He told a Senate hearing, "I would agree with that at present." He added that the USA should not arm the rebels without a better idea of who they were! In other words, in our ignorance, we're giving weapons to anyone with a red, black and green flag. Why? Because we're ignorant!

When asked how the war would end, Ham answered, "I think it does not end militarily." Walt asks, if a war doesn't end militarily, how does it end? How will we know when we've won and yet another sandpit has been made safe for democracy and the education of girl children? Will we ever know? Will we ever learn?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Don't buy gas on April 15th!

I don't hear very often from Agent 38, but today received a plea to join a continent-wide gas boycott on Friday, April 15th. Here's the story...

In April 1997, there was a "gas-out" conducted nationwide to protest ever-increasing gas prices. Gasoline prices dropped 30 cents a gallon overnight.

Gas is now averaging around $1.30 per litre in Canada. In the USA, on the weekend, I paid nearly $3.80 per gallon -- about 95 cents Canadian per litre, for you Canucks. Don't say it can't be helped. A large chunk of the price of gas is attributable to taxes, especially in Canada. So it IS something the government can fix...if it wants to.

To bring the point home, everyone is asked to not go to a gas station on April 15th. If no-one buys gas on that day, $2,292,000,000.00 (that's over 2 BILLION BUCKS) will be taken out of the oil companies' pockets.

Yes, for just one day. So please, could we try on the 15th and to put a dent in the oil industry so they'll go crying to the government? Obviously the wailing and gnashing of teeth of the ordinary people isn't being heard, but you can bet the Big Oil lobby has the government's collective ear.

If you agree -- and why wouldn't you? -- please forward this to all your contacts. We can do it! If you're running low on the 13th, gas up on the 14th or wait until the 16th. But let's make April 15th a gas-free day!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Democracy in Zimbabwe

I've pretty much worn out the "Democracy in dark countries" title, so will confine myself here to the (almost) darkest of the dark*. That would be Zimbabwe, formerly Rhodesia, formerly Southern Rhodesia, in southern Africa.

Zimbabwe has been ruled since its independence in 1980 by Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the only head of state in the world other than North Korea's Kim Jongil to call himself "Comrade". Comrade Bob was elected in 1980 to serve as prime minister under the figurehead president Canaan Banana. (One of the first laws passed by the new black government was an act making it an offence to poke fun at the president's name.)

A couple of years later, disgruntled that a Banana was living in State House, Bob had the constitution amended to abolish the offices of prime minister and president, replacing Mr. Banana and himself with, errr, himself.

Comrade Bob has been happily (for him) ensconced in State House ever since, pausing every 5 years or so to hold an election which he always won...until 2008. Then, through a failure of the frigging in the rigging, the opposition candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, got a plurality of the votes. But not quite 50%.

So it was decreed that there should be a run-off, just as in Haiti. Mugabe won the second round -- not a big surprise since Mr Tsvangirai declined to run again, fearing state-orchestrated violence against himself and his supporters.

As a sop to the opposition, and to put a little shine on his much-tarnished victory, Comrade Bob revived the office of prime minister, and declared that Mr Tsvangirai could sit in that chair, just far enough away as to be unable to get his hands on the levers of power.

Bob has now tired of playing that game and wants to have fresh elections not later than this coming June. The machinery of oppression is being cranked into high gear even now, with opposition supporters being arrested on trumped-up charges, incarcerated, tortured and, yes, murdered.

Not surprising, then, that support for the opposition party has dropped from 55% to 38% in recent polls. Support for the ruling party as increased from 12% to 17%. Let's see. 17% plus 38% equals 55%. And the rest? Following a campaign of terror in which some 200 people were killed and 1000s beaten up or tortured, more than 40% of voters refused to express any opinion, one way or another.

Few dare hope (out loud, at least) that the next election will bring any change. The Pope is still Catholic. Bears still shit in the woods. And Comrade Bob is still in power. Zimbabwe -- land of no surprises.

* Competition for the soubriquet "darkest of the dark countries" would be fierce, but the winner today would likely be the so-called Democratic Republic of the Congo. And that's only because Somalia can hardly be considered a country.

Still more democracy in dark countries

It's been about 9 weeks since we looked in on Côte d'Ivoire -- Ivory Coast to monolingual anglophones, if you'll forgive the redundancy.

When Walt last checked the election results, on January 30th, a chap named Alessane Ouattara had won the presidential election, in spite of the customary violence and fraud. However, the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo (pictured) refused to hand over power. He had been advised, it seemed, by Zimbabwe's first and only president, Comrade Bob Mugabe, that just because you lose an election doesn't mean you have to go.

Fighting ensued, and at the end of January Ouattara's ragtag forces occupied the north (more Muslim) part of the country, including the shiny new capital which was being reclaimed by the jungle following the death of the previous president-for-life. Gabbo's army held the (more Christian) south, including the old capital, Abidjan.

Since then, the forces for democracy (African style) have pushed slowly but relentlessly southward, and this weekend had occupied the greater part of Abidjan. They are being supported by French and "UN forces", since the UN recognizes M. Ouattara. ("Allo, Ouattara! Ça va? Qu'avez-vous fait avec Gbagbo?!")

As of yesterday Gabbo was supposedly holed up in either the old presidential palace or possibly what's left of a 5-star hotel. Even the BBC refers to him as being "in the bunker". He is said to have prepared a special meal for his mistress and to be loading his Luger. Stay tuned.

Note to Ed.: I'm in a bit of a hurry this morning. Can you please check the loser's name? Also try to find a more recent picture.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Democracy in dark countries - latest

Lovers of democracy and hip hop will be pleased to know that, according to the BBC, musician Michel "Sweet Micky" Martelly appears to have won the rerun of the Haitian presidential election.

He defeated ex-senator and former first lady Mirlande Manigat in a run-off held on March 20th. Turnout in the second round was higher than expected, approximating 120% of the number of registered voters, thus accounting for the delay in announcing the result.

It should be noted, though, that this is only a preliminary result. Officials are busy getting their stories straight, and the final tally is not expected until April 15th...give or take a week.

This is in keeping with Haitian tradition. The run-off was actually supposed to be held in January, but was delayed by the traditional frigging in the rigging. This time the cheating was much better organized, officials said. M. Martelly also benefitted from the support of five candidates eliminated in the first round, including his fellow musician Wyclef "Michaëlle" Jean.

Jude Celestin, who had the backing of outgoing President Rene Préval, took the largest share of the votes in the first round, but was persuaded to withdraw from the second heat. Former dictators ["presidents", surely! Ed.] "Baby Doc" Duvalier and Ex-Father Bertrand Aristide were likewise deterred from throwing their chapeaux into the ring.

Now that a new president is in place, Haiti's corruption, poverty and general misery will doubtless be forgotten as the streets of Port-au-Prince reverberate to the throb of the voodoo drums. Martelly rules!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

"Oops!" moment in Libya

It was only a matter of time. Reports are reaching WWHQ (Walt's World Headquarters) of a NATO airstrike in Libya that seems to have been, errr, a mite off target.

AP reports a spokesman for "the main Libyan opposition" -- apparently the opposition is like Legion -- 13 rebels were killed and seven injured while preparing for an attack on the oil city of Brega, late yesterday.

Abdel-Hafidh Ghoga called the killings an "unfortunate accident". He explained that the confusion of the targets was understandable, given that "all these damn pickup trucks look pretty much the same, especially if you're red-green colour blind, especially in a sandstorm."

Sheikh Ghoga -- or whatever he is -- refrained from saying anything like "With friends like these..."

Footnote: Walt is checking out a report that Mr Ghoga, like the Mad Colonel, has a corps of female guards, known in his case as "the Ghoga girls".