Friday, March 30, 2007

Damned passports?

Last monday, a curious note named "Villagers snub new passports over Satan" appeared on the front page of the Victoria News Daily, which happened to be a very strange note that I think is worth sharing in my blog.
It talks about people freaked out in a village called Bogolyubovo, in Russia. They are systematically refusing to obtain a new series of passports issued by the government because they consider them sinful. And the reason to consider them sinful is that those passports have bar codes (which, by the way, is not the one that appears on the picture), each of which, supposedly, contains the number 666 somewhere on it.
The most interesting part is that the supposed number is not even visible on the bar code. According to the villagers, some experts have told them that the number is contained, but I suppose that a scanner is needed to find that out.
This incident has unleashed a "bar-code-phobia" in Bogolyubovo. The situation has reached unimaginable horizons; it has gone as far as having people reluctant to cash their pension money at post offices because the slip contains a bar code, which might contain the three sixes as well.
I can't believe what I read on this. I have a single word to express my thoughts about it: weird.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A little disrespect, how much can that hurt anybody?

In a clear demonstration of disrespect to the Bible and Jewish beliefs, the Victoria Philharmonic Choir will represent Samson, a musical work composed by Haendel, on April 5, 6 and 7.
I am really upset with this news. In an attempt to make this representation something "original", the individual organizing the event, named Simon Carpet, decided to depict Samson as a suicide bomber. He says, "Is there any difference between pulling down a pillar or blowing a bomb? Samson killed thousands of people. To show him in the traditional mythological sense does a disservice". At least the tenor Ken Lavigne, who will be Samson's in the hideous play, is a little more sensible than Carpet, by expressing "I’m really struggling with this. I can’t help but feel that a number of people will not enjoy this rejigging of a biblical hero". But he'll do the job anyway, maybe it won't hurt him so much after all.
Offensive. Antisemitic. Ridiculous. Insulting. Ignorant. All those adjectives fit to express my disappointment on this upcoming event, which clearly goes against the tolerance policies that harmoniously rule in Canada. It's even more shaming that this kind of offense will be put on stage at the some place right in our lovely Centennial Square, just beside the City Hall. Sad but true.
I sincerely wish the worst luck to this project. Shame on all the people involved on it, and shame on whoever attends the event and pays the ticket to support the project of spreading the ignorance and disinformation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Frog Invaders

Back in 1995, Fox produced an episode of the Simpsons called "Bart vs. Australia", where the characters traveled, precisely, to Australia. From among the series of adventures that the Simpsons lived in their journey, I remember one in which Bart smuggled a frog past customs into Australia, where such animals were non existent. The result is that th frogs became a plague in such country after the Simpsons fled in a chopper.
When I watched such episode, I thought that the joke about the frogs was hilarious. What I didn't know (and now I should admit my short knowledge about Australian history) is that such joke is actually based in a real incident. It happens that, in 1935, a certain type of toad (named Cane Toad) native to Central and South America was imported to Australia, in an attempt to control the Cane beetles that were devastating the sugar cane plantations in the northeastern region of Queensland. It looks that the idea wasn't that wise after all: Although the initial amount of toads was slightly superior to 100 animals, their population has grown fast; today it is estimated that a total population of 200 million cane toads live in Australia. And yes, they're considered a pest.
Having millions of toads would not be an issue to worry about if these animals weren't poisonous. The toads are now well adapted to the Australian environment and ecosystem, and due to the high concentrations of toxic venom in their bodies, they have contributed to significantly reduce the populations of other species, especially of those that actually eat them.
Some Australian environmentalists, mainly those aware of the delicate equilibrium of the Australian ecosystems, have decided to take actions to fight the toads. One of the most notorious (and radical) projects is Frogwatch, an organization committed to bringing down the amount of Cane toads living in Australia to a reasonable number that assures that the ecosystems are not negatively affected by their presence. They launched a program called Toad Buster, in which they encourage people to trap these animals. The specimens collected are killed afterwards and the remains are then converted into fertilizers.
Toads are gross by nature. I don't know whether Frogwatch's objectives are ethical or not; what I can say is that, once these facts are known, the joke that appeared in The Simpsons is not that funny anymore.

For more information about the Frogwatch project, visit their website by clicking here.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

300: The review

I'm definitely not a movie guy. I barely go to the movie theatres, but when I do, I like to know that paying the price of the ticket was worth. And I think I have enough criteria to differentiate good films from bad ones.
I just went to the movie theatre today, and this is the very first time that, after watching the film, I'm not sure whether I'm satisfied with what I watched. That's my feeling after watching 300, a movie that recreates somehow a legendary battle between the Spartan army, led by King Leonidas, and the Persians, ruled by Xerxes.
As most historic films these days, 300 is not precisely the most accurate adaptation of the passage. However, the special effects are very good, and the massive Persian army made me remember somehow the trilogy of the Lord of the Rings. For some reason, I find some similarities between the dark forces of Mordor and the Persian army led by Xerxes in the film 300.
A movie that goes from exciting to vulgar in several parts, this film contains very explicit scenes that depict massacres, assassinations and, pretty unnecessarily, sex. If you decide to watch it, be prepared to spend two hours of bloody scenes, accompanied by speeches said with a curious accent that will make you remember Shakespeare's works.
Although I'm not precisely fan of vulgar and extremely violent scenes in movies, I have to admit that I like epic films. Moreover, I'm a fan of ancient Greek history and culture. Maybe that's why I left the movie theatre with a sort of good taste in mouth. Perhaps I wouldn't watch it again, but at least it made me pass two nice hours this evening. And it may have the same effect on you if you watched it as well... to find that out, is up to you!

Photo: Epoch Times

Friday, March 23, 2007

Spring is here

For us, inhabitants of the Northern hemisphere of the world, it's official: Spring is here. Those bright, shiny days when flowers are blossoming everywhere, when the grass is green and the birds sing in the morning, are back. Time to put those coats back in the closet! The vitality to do outdoor activities should be replenished by now. No more winter blues to worry about, all the sunshine necessary to have a good mood everyday can be obtained by simply walking out to the streets. Sounds good.
Unfortunately, that's currently simply theory. At least, it is here in the Canadian west coast. The outside temperature has increased, but rain is still there. It looks that I, along with all the people who live in this corner of the world, will have to wait a little more to enjoy all those benefits inherent to springtime. Let's hope not much longer though.
What is spring, anyway? Spring means that for about 92 days, the climate will be steadily warming up (besides the increases in temperatures gained by global warming) before reaching its highest peaks in summer. Personally, I'm not a big fan of these increases in temperatures; especially not when it gets too hot. The good news is that there'll be more sunshine to enjoy.
Although spring is usually a season linked to sweet and lovely things in life, it also has its negative side. For instance, it is precisely in the first third of spring when the tropical storm and hurricane season begins; this is because the formation of hurricanes is precisely linked to this increase in temperatures (I'm not a meteorologist, so I don't have a scientific explanation on how it occurs), as are also tornadoes, which begin to be more frequent in this time of the year.
But I don't want to appear to be too pessimistic. In fact, I'm glad to know that spring is already here, and that its magic will be notorious in no time... hopefully. All this excitement inspires me to write a Haiku (in English, of course) about spring:

Sunlight is out there
I feel the warmth in my skin
Springtime is with us

Have a nice spring.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Reflections on environment

So many things to take care about lately! During this time of the year, it becomes quite difficult to enjoy some time off to do whatever things I like to do in life - writing my blog being one of them. Still, I can't miss the opportunity to comment about interesting things (good and bad) that occur all around the world. It is even more enjoyable when the things to comment about are very positive. But when it comes to be about environment and sustainability, the positions are disputed. That's what makes the topic more appealing to discuss.
Yes, it's true, our behaviour as residents of this planet has been pretty bad overall, especially in recent times. Mankind has exaggeratedly exploited the natural resources available on Earth, to turn them into objects and products that make life possible as we know it today; however, the cost of such transformation has been high: A good example is the recent extinction of the Baiji, caused by the systematic destruction of its habitat and life cycle.

I don't know how many people are actually concerned about the tragic end of the Baiji species, possibly not many. At least, there are some nations that aren't touched at all, moreover, they still promote and defend activities such as whale hunting, although whales are endangered animals.

If the extinction of species doesn't help people and nations to be more conscious about nature and environment, what will? Maybe we've found the answer to this question in recent years, and it's called global warming. Whether such phenomenon is a result of the human destruction of nature is still disputed, but just in case, some governments have started taking some (late) corrective actions. Now it's up to civilians to make their effort as well.

The panorama I describe here sounds catastrophic. Fortunately, not all of the news regarding environmental issues are as lousy as I write. There are some good signs that let us think that it is possible to develop our civilizations and ways of living while allowing nature to flourish as well. One of the examples of this is the recent discovery of new species of plants and animals in the Indonesian island of Borneo. Most of them were discovered a few months ago; this week, a new type of Leopard (discovered in 2006) has been officially called Bornean Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). This predator is said to have been discovered since the 19th Century, thus, this recent naming is only an attempt by the World Wide Fund of Nature (WWF) to create the conditions to protect it.

What drove the WWF to assign it a name is the conclusion of an investigation that determined that this species isn't directly related to other leopard species in mainland Asia. But it is indeed a good news, as long as this announcement doesn't become a springboard to launch a campaign of Bornean clouded leopard hunting to sell its fur and take economic advantage of it. Let's hope this is not the case, and let's hope the authorities protect this species properly.

What other surprises are hidden in Borneo? The more scientists investigate, is the more interesting they find it there!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Want to waste your money? Buy a $1,000 pizza

If you have a thousand US dollars, you live in New York city, and you feel that you have nothing good to do with that money... then go to Nino's Bellisima!
This restaurant is run by an Albanian chef named Nino Selimaj, who owns five more restaurants in New York. In this specific restaurant, he recently added a new dish to its menu: A 30 cm. wide pizza topped with several types of caviar and lobster. This eccentricity is sold at $1,000 USD. According to Selimaj, one of these pizzas has already been sold, probably to a customer that didn't mind wasting such amount of money. Of course, in the opinion of its creator, the pizza is "delicious".
No matter how hard a person tries to convince me, I don't think that any pizza in the world should be priced to $1,000 USD. It's just ridiculous. In any case, I don't expect to be one of the swindled customers to purchase such pizza, but I wish this fellow good luck with his new creation.
I'd love to hear from someone who tries this dish...

Click here to read the original article in Yahoo! News

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Cola without Coca

Evo Morales and the Bolivian coca-leaf farmers don't like the idea that the Coca Cola company uses the word "coca" as a brand. Thus the populist president demands, in his position of leader of the country and leader of the coca farmers, the Coca Cola Company to drop the word "Coca" from its name, as well as from its products' names.
The reason to demand this is simple: Coca Cola is a company that doesn't commercialize Coca leaf, and as such, it shouldn't use the name.
Whether Coca Cola utilizes coca leaves to produce its flagship product is a mystery. They won't disclose that information, as that would reveal part of the mysterious secret recipe of the coke. But still, the Bolivian government doesn't want them to use the name.
Is that a valid demand? The Bolivian coca farmers and government are convinced that it is, and they're seriously considering to start an international campaign to force Coca Cola to change that name. "They [the international community] don't let us industrialize the coca leaf and for that reason we think that they [international companies], Coca Cola for example, shouldn’t use the name for its products", complained Margarita Terán, a member of Morales' government.
The request goes much beyond the simple fact of renaming brands. Bolivian authorities will also take advantage of their (likely doomed to failure) campaign to demand the coca leaf to be removed from the UN's Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Bolivians argue that coca has medical properties (which are currently being investigated by Cuban scientists); maybe it's because of that reason that the number of illegal coca plantations has grown, the amount of cocaine laboratories has more than doubled, and the efforts to eliminate irregular coca plantations have reached a record low in Bolivia during the years that Morales has been president.
Will their project achieve any success?

With some information from EFE Agency

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Zimbabwean fight for freedom

Zimbabwe is, as far as I remember, the country with the current highest inflation rates in the world. The prices of goods and services, thus, are soaring. As a result of such hyperinflation, the unemployment rates are dramatically increasing day by day, and the citizens are finding it harder to make a living in those conditions. And those are not the only problems suffered in that African nation, it also seems that the human rights record is lousy.
Unfortunately, it doesn't seem that the situation will improve any soon. Not as long as Robert Mugabe is in power (which, by the way, looks like it'll be for a long time still). This president has imposed an authoritarian rule in which, like any other dictatorship, no opposition to the president in turn is tolerated. Pretty much the same kind of policy utilized throughout history by many tyrants around the world: Idi Amin in Uganda, Muammar Gaddafi in Lybia, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Adolf Hitler in Germany, Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania, Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in North Korea, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Saparmurad Niyazov in Turkmenistan, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and more recently Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, are just some of the many individuals who have instated regimes in which essential conditions to survive are to cult the leader's image, and to avoid any kind of criticism towards the ruler himself or his thoughts.
Still, in all those countries and epochs have existed brave people who don't feat to express their disagreement with the dictatorial regimes. Currently, there are brave men and women in Zimbabwe who have openly expressed their antagonism towards Mugabe's system. One of those people is Morgan Tsvangirai (picture above).
Maybe the biggest foe of Mugabe's rule, Tsvangirai has been tortured in several occasions, plus he has been recipient of various assassination attempts. He ran for the presidency of his country in 2002 representing the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), a party created by himself. He lost the elections in a flawed process to the eyes of many, and manipulated to the eyes of many others.
Tsvangirai has been imprisoned in various opportunities in the recent years. His most recent arrest was on just this week, on March 11, just before participating in a prayer rally in Harare (the Zimbabwean capital). What followed his arrest was brutal: Tsvangirai was beaten by the police, causing him serious injuries in the skull, hands, and one eye. He also lost a great amount of blood. He entered the intensive care unit of a local hospital after the severe beating.
Tsvangirai wasn't the only person injured during the incident. Most of the protesters were beaten, and some of them were severely injured as well. All because of what? Because of participating of a rally to protest against Mugabe's policies that are sinking the country well below the line of poverty. But of course, any kind of demonstrations against Mugabe are banned.
This makes me think of the precarious situation of human rights in some countries all around the world. It's curious that some of the countries with the worst human right records are precisely developing countries. Is it that the rulers of such countries really don't realize that an important condition to progress is precisely the respect of the most elemental rights of the people? Or is it that they just prefer to keep the people oppressed, to remain in power for as much time as possible?
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe keeps sinking steadily. My respects to Mr. Tsvangirai.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

YouTube Idol

I've had the opportunity to spend some time watching some videos in You Tube, and checking the comments and messages that the users leave regarding such videos. I noticed that a curious phenomenon has been occuring lately: Thanks to the popularity of YouTube, and the ease to interact with its interface, many people have had the opportunity to rocket their singing careers by reaching great awareness in diverse regions of the world.
I found some personalities that deserve a special mention for their bravery to launch their videos on YouTube, for their talent to perform, and for the popularity they've gained. Here are the individuals who make up this selection (fun guaranteed):

1. Mr. Jat (Mexico): According to information that I've been able to get about him, it looks like he is rapidly gaining popularity in the Mexican city of Guadalajara. Check his video (below); although it's in Spanish, you won't need to understand the lyrics to appreciate this guy's talent. His speed to rap is absolutely amazing, and his voice mixes perfectly with the music to create a unique blend. Now that, if you do speak Spanish, I'm sure that you'll enjoy the poetry as well:

2. Delfín Quishpe (Ecuador): There's a theory that suggests that this Ecuadoran singer got inspired to write this emotional song after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001. It looks that his girlfriend worked in one of the towers. The result is this terrific-quality video. I am very impressed with the sadness of the music. Again, this song is in Spanish, but you won't need to understand the lyrics to appreciate the beauty of this masterpiece:

3. The Chinese Singer (China): This girl's video has been watched more than 85,000 times in YouTube. Although that's a sign that she's becoming popular, I couldn't find her name. However, she looks like a promising rising star. The modulation of her voice is very delicate, and her facial and bodily expressions let us know how much she enjoys singing so wonderfully, more even in the a capella demonstration (from which se receives a big applause afterwardws). I think that we have our next Maria Callas on her way to fame!

I bet you're astonished with so much musical quality, just as I am! Phew!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Jackson 5, the return

23 years have passed since the last time when The Jackson 5 performed together. Since then, many things have happened: Michael Jackson has became Caucasian. Michael Jackson rocketed his career as a solo performer. Michael Jackson was accused of pedophilia. Michael Jackson underwent thousands of aesthetic (?) surgeries. Michael Jackson got married and divorced. Michael Jackson almost threw his son down from the balcony of a hotel in Germany. Michael Jackson became a Muslim. Michael Jackson was caught dressing like a woman in Bahrein... phew, did I mention anything about Michael Jackson's adventures?
Although the rest of the members didn't reach the fame and fortune that Michael did after leaving the Jackson 5, they all (Jackie, Tito, Marlon, and Jermaine) pursued solo musical careers. And maybe the nostalgia of old times (and the need of new business opportunities) has driven them to think of reuniting.
The plans could be even more ambitious than just releasing an album with their greatest hits. A series of 250 concerts in Las Vegas and some alternate projects could also be on the scope of these guys. Most surprising of all: Michael Jackson could reappear with his older brothers.
If you're really wishing to see this band reunite, I'm afraid to tell that you'll have to wait at least a year. It looks like, if Michael and his brothers get an agreement on this project, the final result would only be seen untile 2008. Meanwhile, you can start buying all kind of Jackson 5's memorabilia and reserving tickets to Las Vegas for the next year. It looks that it's really happening.

Friday, March 09, 2007

River Plate 0 - 1 Caracas FC... not as tragic as it seems

Many Argentinians must be sad today. Especially, those who follow River Plate, one of the most popular soccer teams in such nation.
In a country where soccer is seen almost as a religion, incarnate in the figure of Diego Armando Maradona, there can't be anything more degrading than losing to the visitor team, especially when such visitor team is a foreigner and, in fact, comes from a country where almost nobody cares about soccer and where the soccer culture is far behind the one in Argentina.
Who would believe that River Plate would have it difficult to win its game against the almost inoffensive Caracas FC, from Venezuela? Why should anybody doubt that this would be an easy one for River Plate, playing against a team that has never managed to win in Argentinian territory? The tragedy was unforeseeable indeed. Caracas won 1-0 this game of the Copa Libertadores (a tournament similar to the Champions league in Europe), and gave River Plate's fans something to cry about.
Obviously, I mock about the situation. It's pathetic the way in which soccer is worshiped in Argentina. The truth is that soccer is a sport in which teams sometimes win and sometimes lose (a truth that really hits the ego of quite a few hinchas in Argentina), and of course, Maradona doesn't have any power to avoid that. Shall this result illustrate to all those who see soccer in Argentina as the most important thing in life that River is only a team, soccer is only a game, and nobody is invincible.
Glad to hear from this result, and congratulations to the Caracas FC.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The death of Captain America... so what?

It seems really odd to me to read different newspapers and various sources of information, and to find in all of them a note relating to the fictional death of Captain America.
Yes, Captain America is a widely-known character in the comic book industry. Yes, all of us have at some point of our lives read one of those strips where Captain America saves the world. Yes, he has been an influential phenomenon for comic book geeks... but still, such kind of news is completely irrelevant, mainly because it's a fictional event - pretty much, crying the death of Captain America is like crying the death of a Tamagotchi. And it is even more irrelevant if you think of the various occasions in which some superhero is killed in a strip, and then magically resuscitates on the following issue (like happened with Superman in... hum... how many occasions?). It looks like those superheroes have more or less the same powers to come back to life as Kenny McCormick of South Park. The only difference is that Kenny's deaths don't appear in newspapers, nor in ABC, nor in CBS.
But hey, not all is bad news for people who really feel sorry about Captain America's tragic end. Marvel, the comic book company, announced that Captain America's movie will be released soon! Will it be worth watching it, or is it going to be another swindle like Spiderman and Superman were? Let's wait and see.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Counterfeit Starbucks?

Starbucks Coffee's business model has been exemplary to many. Its aggressive expansion campaigns have brought Starbucks shops to many cities in various countries around the world, where they sell their expensive coffees and offer access to the internet.
Their business model has arrived to India as well. It is precisely in such country where an entrepreneur named Shahnaz Husain decided to follow somehow their strategy.
What features of Starbucks' idea will she apply to her own coffee shops? Will it be their Italian-fashioned names for their beverages? Or maybe the Human Resources Management policies...?
According to Husain, her model is 'totally different' from Starbucks'. She didn't disclose clear details of her idea, except for the projected name: STARSTRUCKS!.
After hearing about such an original name, Starbucks Corporation decided to enter a controversy to avoid Husain of using the Starstrucks name, arguing that it is 'deceptively similar' to the Starbucks brand.
But Husain doesn't seem to be interested in getting a settlement, if that means not using such curious name. So lay back and wait for the fireworks to begin, as it looks that this story will last for a long time...

Click here to read the original note in Yahoo! News

Saturday, March 03, 2007


If the Winter Blues (or any other reason) is making you feel alone in the world, and you live in the area of Tokyo, Japan, then you should know that the solution for your needs is closer than ever to you!
Now you can enjoy the benefits of walking around the streets with an inoffensive dog that will provide you company for a couple of hours per day... in exchange of a modest price that you'll have to pay to Puppy the World, a company founded in 2003. They're dedicated to renting dogs to people who feel alone (in that sense, I understand that Japan is a huge market).
The prices are reasonable: 1,900 yens (around 12 euros) per hour, and 10.500 yens (more or less 66 euros) per day. For the latter option, I don't believe that the fee covers food for the animal. Of course, cleaning after the dog and having it appropriately leashed are responsibilities of the lessee!
I would normally criticize this kind of business, but in this specific case I find a very positive reasons to support Puppy the World's idea (and I'm sorry for people who'll feel insulted by my comment): Renting dogs can discourage people of buying more dogs. Honestly, we don't need more of them in our streets, and I mean worldwide. So I really welcome this type of business, would be good to have similar things around the world if they really discourage people of populating further our cities with dogs (I have good reasons to wish that. Click here to read more).
Comments? Please post them. Thanks!

To visit Puppy the World's website (in Japanese), click here.

Photo by BBC

Friday, March 02, 2007

Compassless Army

Who could believe that a group of Swiss soldiers invaded a neighbouring country as part of their "routine"?
Sounds awkward, but it's true. At least, it was true once this week. According to a note that appeared in a Swiss newspaper, Blick, a group of about 170 Swiss soldiers entered by mistake the territory of Liechtenstein, a small landlocked country that lies east of Switzerland.
Swiss representatives explain that the incident took place during some routine in the border with Liechtenstein. As the border is not clearly demarcated, the group of soldiers entered inadvertently foreign territory, and they kept going for about two kilometres inside Liechtenstein.
However, the invasion wasn't noticed in Liechtenstein by the national security forces (which, I believe, comprise only policemen, as such tiny country does not have an own army), mainly because the troops weren't accompanied by machinery or helicopters that could provoke any noise. Nevertheless, the authorities of both countries agreed that this was merely an accident and no diplomatic frictions arose then from this strange event.
Perhaps it's time to include compasses in the default inventory of the worldwide famous Swiss knives used by the army in Switzerland, isn't it?

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Humor by Quino

What better way to begin this month than with a snowy day (like the one we had here in Victoria) and posting some humor in my blog? I present here some of drawings by Quino, the Argentinian cartoonist I admire so much and who has brought me hours and hours of fun. I hope you have fun with his drawings as well: