Monday, February 29, 2016

Scientists wait for Olm eggs to hatch...also known as Slovenian dragons

In a Slovenian cave visited by a million tourists every year, a bizarre and rare amphibian is guarding a significant clutch of eggs. The olm, a blind salamander found in cave rivers of the Balkans, is thought to live for more than 100 years but reproduces just once or twice a decade.
A female in an aquarium at the Postojna Cave has laid 50-60 eggs - and three of them are now showing signs of growth. Nobody knows how many will hatch, or even precisely how long it will take.
"Right now it looks like three are good candidates, "said  Saso Weldt, a biologist working at the cave.
He and his colleagues have taken very long-exposure photographs in the darkened cave, in order to glimpse evidence of the tiny embryos developing.
"She started laying eggs on 30 January. She is still laying one or two eggs per day, and they need something like 120 days till they hatch."

'Quite extraordinary'

That is an uncertain estimate, he explained, based on a colony of olms that was established in the 1950s in an underground lab in the French Pyrenees. There, they live in slightly warmer water, at 11C.
"In our cave, it is slightly cooler, 9C, so everything will be prolonged."
It is a unique opportunity to observe the enigmatic olm - also known as the proteus - reproducing in the same caves where it has lived for millions of years.

olm eggs
Nearly 60 eggs have been laid on the underside of a rock
"It is very significant because there is not a lot of data about anything, [relating to] the reproduction of this group of animals," commented Dusan Jelic, a Zoologist who studies wild olms by diving underwater through cave systems in Croatia. If the baby olms hatch and develop healthily, Dr Jelic said, it would be "something amazing".
"In the wild, we never find eggs or larvae. They are probably hidden in some very specific localities within the cave systems."
There is just such a labyrinthine cave system in Postojna, with its own population of wild olms - but remarkably, this particular clutch of eggs has been laid in an aquarium in the cave's heavily trafficked visitor area.
"This is very cool - it is quite extraordinary," said Primoz Gnezda, another biologist working at Postojna Cave. "But also, we are quite scared that something will go wrong, because the eggs are very sensitive."

visitors watching screen

As the only cave vertebrate in Europe, the olm is very well adapted to its sheltered, subterranean realm: karst caves, created as water eats its way through soluble rocks.
"For 200 million years they were in an environment that didn't change," said Dr Jelic.
As a consequence, the animals - and especially their eggs - are very vulnerable to changes in water quality and temperature. Even the seasons barely reach underground.

Baby dragons

Back in 2013, another of Postojna's captive olms laid eggs - but none of them hatched and many were eaten by the other olms in the tank.
This time, precautions have been taken. All except the mother olm have been removed and the aquarium is boarded up, to protect the eggs from light. Extra oxygen is being added.
"Now it's up to them," said Mr Weldt.
An infrared camera feeds live video to a nearby screen so that the cave staff, as well as tourists, can see what happens.

olm in aquarium
                                              Olms have skin-covered, sightless eyes and protruding gills

olm in aquarium
They swim like eels and can go 10 years without food
There is almost no movement, but occasionally the female olm stirs to check the eggs, to lay another, or to fend off amphipods - small, hungry crustaceans which she cannot see, but detects using electro-sensitive organs in her snout. The animal also has a powerful sense of smell, which helps monitor the eggs.
"The eggs have a smell, so she can recognize which are alive and which are dead," explained Mr Weldt. "And because food is so scarce in the cave system, she eats the ones that are not fertilized."
The proteus is something of an icon in Slovenia, even appearing on coins before the arrival of the euro. Hundreds of years ago, when floods occasionally washed the creatures from the region's caves, they were regarded suspiciously as baby dragons.
In the last few weeks, the Postojna "dragon mum" has become quite a celebrity and carries a weight of expectation on her slimy shoulders. The cave biologists feel it too.
"It is a challenge and a responsibility," said Mr Weldt. "I'm excited."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

How will people view us a century or two from now? Will future generations condemn us for our behavior?

Defaced face of Cecil Rhodes statue

By Adam Gopnik
Protesters in South Africa and now Oxford have demanded the destruction of memorials to Cecil Rhodes, a man whose behaviour and beliefs they say are unacceptable in the modern world. But Adam Gopnik asks if our 21st Century ways will look acceptable to future generations.
There has been heated debate over the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oxford. Since Rhodes, once seen as a hero of Empire, now looks like a racist and an imperialist - both bad things - the notion is that he should not be honoured in an institution of knowledge.
Should we tear his statue down? The French have a nice all-purpose idiom to cover the destruction of things of the past in pursuit of the values of the present. "Il faut bruler" they say - it must burn. But must we burn down Sartre or Louis XIV or Victor Hugo over the many things they they got wrong? They also got some important things right and educated and enlightened us.
I am not a fan of Rhodes - though I do think this kind of inquiry can easily become an inquisition. We can rummage through the past of any historical figure and find something obnoxious by the standards of 2016. Even so saintly a character and prescient a man as the philosopher John Stuart Mill - who with Harriet Taylor invented modern feminism - can be shown to have been insufficiently attentive to the very real sufferings of the Irish in Ireland or the Indians in India.
My own standard is simple - what were the moral positions broadly accepted at the time these people lived, and where does the historical figure stand within those? Not too many, but some, saw just how wrong slavery in the American south was in 1860, and Mill was one of them. Not too many people thought imperialism evil in and of itself, and Mill was one of those, too.
Two hands bound in wooden shackles

But more to the point, we should use these inquiries not as a moment of moral arraignment of others but as moral instruction to ourselves. What attitudes and practices that we accept blithely now as just part of the necessary arrangement of the world will seem horrific to the future? What will we be morally arraigned for tolerating by our more pristine descendants? I've arrived at a tentative list of four such horrors.
I don't say that this is the right or complete list - or even that we ought actually to "bruler" these things - just that these are the things that morally curious people with an eye to the future might to be curious about now.
The first is mass cruelty to animals in the pursuit of food. The industrial farm, the industrialised slaughterhouse - for all that we have been told of these things, we still effectively hide away this truth from ourselves and from our sight. The conditions of animals - chickens forced to spend their lives motionless, pigs, such sentient and feeling beings, crowded in pens and slaughtered on assembly lines of panic - may seem to our descendants as unspeakable as that of the slaves in the middle passage seem to us.
Inside the chicken farms
Cockerels drinking from drinkers in rearing shed, Cumbria
That we blithely sit down to eat veal chops at conferences on ethics (I did, once) may well seem to them as brutally hypocritical as American slaveholders praising liberty. My own view, articulated at numbing length in my book about eating,' The Table Comes First,' is that since we would always eat scavenged beasts, the real issues involve the treatment of animals, not just their consumption. An animal raised kindly and slaughtered painlessly seems to me fairly harvested - though I am in the minority in my own pescatarian family and may, someday soon, convert.
The next moral outrage the future may condemn is cruelty to children in schooling. This may seem like much the lesser sin - certainly not getting any schooling at all, like so many girls in Islamic countries, is far worse. But the Western school day and school regimen we accept uncritically, are, on the whole, remnants of an earlier time, living symptoms of the regimentation of life in the 19th Century that also brought us mass conscription and military drill.
We've outgrown mass conscription, but we still too often teach our children to a military timetable. We take it for granted that long school days, and much homework, will benefit them, though there is not a scrap of evidence that this is true, and a large body of evidence that it is false.
We take it for granted that waking teenagers in the early morning, then having them sit still and listen to lectures for eight hours, and then doing three or four more hours of homework at home, is essential and profitable.

Steve Jobs gives a talk in front of an Apple logo
 Steve Jobs said he discovered Shakespeare away from the classroom

All the evidence suggests that this is the worst possible way of educating anybody, much less a 15-year-old in need of much sleep, freedom of mind, and abundant creative escape-time - of the kind that John and Paul found by skipping school to play guitars in the front room, or that Steve Jobs found when, in a California high school, he tells us he discovered Shakespeare and got stoned, at the same time and presumably in equal measure.
We are taught that the over-regimented Asian societies with their tiger mothers will overtake us, but it is Apple, invented by that stoned Shakespearean high schooler, that sends its phones to be made in China, not the other way round. Genuine entrepreneurial advance comes from strange people and places. In the future, when kids arrive at school in the late morning, and we teach math the way we now teach sports, as an open-ended, self-regulating group activity, we may well recognise that each mind bends its own peculiar way, and our current method of teaching, I think, will seem quite mad.  
The third moral outrage I imagine the future espying is our cruelty to the ill and aged in our fetish for surgical intervention. Modern scientific medicine is a mostly unmixed blessing, and anyone who longs for the metaphysical certainties of medieval times should be compelled to have medieval medicine for his family. But no blessing is entirely unmixed, and I suspect that our insistence on massive interventions for late-arriving ills - our appetite for heart valves and knee replacements, artificial hips and endlessly retuned pacemakers - will seem to our descendants as fetishistic and bewildering as the medieval appetite for bleeding and cupping and leeching looks to us now.
Yes, of course, we all know people whose lives have been blessedly extended and improved by artificial joints and by those wi-fi pacemakers. But our health system is designed to make doctors see the benefits of intervention far more clearly than their costs. Not long ago I was reading these words from a doctor about the seemingly benign practice of angioplasty procedures for heart patients: "It has not been shown to extend life expectancy by a day, let alone 10 years - and it's done a million times a year in this country." Every age puts up a fight with mortality - and every subsequent age looks back, and shudders at the weapons the past ones used.
Finally, I suspect the future will frown on any form of sexual rule-making, aside from ones based entirely on the abuse of power. Gay and straight or bi or trans - numbers and kinds and kinks - all that really matters is the empowered consent of two people capable of being empowered and informed.

Portrait of Oscar Wilde
 Oscar Wilde - saint of gay liberation or exploiter of underage sex workers? 

When Oscar Wilde was condemned by society more than a century ago in London for having sex with underage male prostitutes, he became a figure of evil, his life and career destroyed. Within half a century this persecution seemed to us intolerable - and for most of the second half of the 20th Century Oscar was seen as a saint of gay liberation. Yet a scant 20 years later, the table has turned again - exactly because it is not homosexuality but rather the exploitation of younger teenagers for sexual purposes that we now rightly, I think, realise is among the blackest of all possible sins. I suspect that the future will be even more tolerant of sexual variety, and even more censorious of the exploitation of the powerless.
And that perhaps is the central point. Morality does clarify over time - only not to the wrong willing partner or the wrong way of eating or the wrong way of thinking, but into what's fair and isn't in a relationship of power.
If we want a simple moral rule to take through the centuries it might be - see who's helpless, and help them. That always looks good in retrospect. Meanwhile, moral curiosity needs to separate itself from moral hysteria, and even as we condemn our moral ancestors, we need to hold our ears to the wind, and listen for the faint sounds of our descendants telling their melancholy truths about us.
Mr Gopnik has a lot of insight and I agree with much of what he said. There are few hard and fast principles or standards of morality that survive the ages...except perhaps, The Golden Rule...the ethic of reciprocity. Or, in the idiom of the day...'pay it forward'.

Monarch Buterflies Increasing once more...hope for future

Overwintering monarch colony in Mexico. Photo courtesy of Pablo Leautaud/Creative Commons.

Monarch on oyamel fir. Photo courtesy of Pablo Leautaud/Creative Commons.
Each year, monarch numbers are estimated by the total overwintering area they occupy in Mexico. Photo courtesy of Pablo Leautaud/Creative Commons.
Each year, monarch numbers are estimated by the total overwintering area they occupy in Mexico. Photo courtesy of Pablo Leautaud/Creative Commons.
Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle, Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius and Director Dan Ashe, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visiting the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary for monarch butterflies in Mexico. Photo by USFWS.
Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle, Midwest Regional Director Tom Melius and Director Dan Ashe, of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, visiting the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary for monarch butterflies in Mexico.

The 2015-16 monarch butterfly population estimates were released today by our partners in Mexico. Numbers reflect a 255% increase in the area occupied by monarchs in the overwintering habitat since last year. Overwintering monarch butterflies occupied approximately 10 acres of habitat in Mexico this year compared to last year’s estimate of 2.8 acres. This is great news but more work is needed to restore the eastern population of monarchs.
After a phenomenal two month long migration from the United States and southern Canada, the North American monarch butterfly reaches Mexico, where it spends the winter months. There, monarchs cluster together in small areas of habitat, and each winter the population is estimated by the total area they occupy in the overwintering grounds.
Long story short, monarchs are still struggling but as we work with Mexico and Canada, we are making a difference to restore their habitat. In recent years, monarchs have decreased by 90% since peak populations in the mid-90s. Loss of milkweed and prairie habitat in the United States, along with loss of habitat in the overwintering grounds have contributed to the decline of this incredible insect.
Mexico established the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in 1980 to protect the monarch’s mountainous home. Just over 60 miles from Mexico City, the 138,000 acre reserve is sectioned off into several sanctuaries that provide winter refuge to the millions of monarchs who migrate to Mexico each fall. From roughly late October through February, monarchs live in the forested mountains of Mexico, where temperatures are mild enough for survival. This habitat is only found on 12 mountaintops on the planet, and is essential to the persistence of the monarch and its migration.
The monarchs cluster in Mexico’s rare oyamel fir forests, occasionally taking shelter in pines and other trees. The oyamel trees provide much needed refuge and protect the butterflies from extreme temperatures, rain, snow and predators.
While in Mexico, monarchs go through four stages: arrival, the establishment of overwintering colonies, colony movement and finally, spring dispersal. After arrival, monarchs will fly around during the day and seek out the best location for colony establishment. As temperatures drop, monarch movement decreases, and the butterflies form large, dense clusters on oyamel branches, coloring the forest orange.
By mid-December, monarchs have settled into their overwintering homes. The butterflies roost on tree trunks and tree branches. In fact, monarchs cluster in such great numbers that the oyamel fir branches give way to the weight and begin to bend. Overwintering population counts are completed at this time, as it’s the coldest time of the year, and the monarchs are gathered together, in several predictable areas, with little movement.
Since the winter of 2004-05, the World Wildlife Fund and the Mexican National Commission of Protected Natural Areas have measured the number of monarch butterflies at the overwintering grounds. To provide some context, in the winter of 2013-14, experts reported the lowest monarch population on record with an occupied 1.66 acres of overwintering habitat. In 1996-97, monarch populations peaked with estimates reporting more than one billion monarchs occupying 44.5 acres of habitat.

The final stage usually begins in mid-February as temperatures rise. Monarchs will disperse from their overwintering habitat, and descend down the mountains in search of water and warmer temperatures before they begin their spring migration in March.
How can you help monarchs as they prepare to migrate North this spring? Plant native milkweed and native wildflowers, avoid tropical milkweed and delay mowing during times of peak monarch activity in your area. Everyone and every little bit of habitat can help. The more monarchs we have, the better they can withstand extreme weather and climate events.
Why is it important to save a species from extinction? Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is 1,000 to 10,000 times the "natural" or "background" rate and, say many biologists, is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65m years ago. If we can save one species...we can save others and help restore the balance of nature and the food chain on our planet. Just remember, we are just another species of animal residing here and when the other forms of life have disappeared, we will also.

Christie endorses...Rubio insults...Trump rules

Gov. Chris Christie (R., N.J.) endorsed Donald Trump for president on Friday, saying he is the Republican party's best
hope to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the general election.

The hard-fought 2016 Republican presidential campaign hit a new level of intensity on Friday, capped by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie endorsing Donald Trump amid an exchange of biting personal insults between Mr. Trump and rival Sen. Marco Rubio.
Mr. Trump’s strong momentum ahead of Super Tuesday on March 1, when 11 states will award 595 delegates, prompted Mr. Rubio to suggest that half of the Republican Party would abandon the New York developer if he wins the nomination.
But Mr. Trump signaled that he is trying to fuse his anti-establishment coalition with the political mainstream by appearing with Mr. Christie, a former Republican rival and the Republican Governors Association’s president.

For Mr. Trump, Mr. Christie’s endorsement represents the first significant figure with ties to the political establishment to join his campaign. It also shifted attention from Thursday’s debate, when Mr. Trump found his business record the subject of sustained attacks from both Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Mr. Rubio.
Mr. Christie ended his own presidential campaign after his sixth-place finish in the New Hampshire primary. Since returning to New Jersey, Mr. Christie had been considering an endorsement privately, people familiar with the governor’s thinking said. He had intended to wait to officially endorse until after Super Tuesday or the mid-March primaries, but changed his mind after Mr. Trump asked him to breakfast Thursday morning in New York City to talk over the matter. Mr. Trump asked for an earlier endorsement to help him shore up additional establishment support before Super Tuesday, including Southern governors with whom Mr. Christie had formed relationships.
The endorsement came after a day in which Mr. Rubio continued his newly aggressive tack against Mr. Trump. Asked in Oklahoma City if he would support Mr. Trump if he is the nominee, Mr. Rubio replied: “He’s not going to be the nominee. The Republican Party will be split apart if he became the nominee.”

Underlining the back and forth between the Trump and Rubio camps were two acts of political insult theater. Mr. Rubio suggested Mr. Trump urinated on himself during Thursday’s Houston debate and accused him of being a “con man” who employs illegal immigrants to write his tweets.
Mr. Trump responded by calling Mr. Rubio a “nervous Nellie,” a “lightweight” and a “choker.” On stage with Mr. Trump in Fort Worth, Texas, Mr. Christie chimed in, calling Mr. Rubio “desperate.”
And in what may encapsulate the 2016 Republican primary better than any other moment, both Messrs. Rubio and Trump mocked the way the other applies makeup.
Mr. Rubio’s late offensive against Mr. Trump serves as his likely last chance to stop the billionaire from running away with the party’s nomination with a series of victories on Tuesday.

The sharp exchanges also framed Mr. Rubio as the front-runner’s chief antagonist and alternative, a position for which he has been battling Mr. Cruz in recent weeks.
Still, it comes late in the process, well after Mr. Trump has established himself as the undisputed GOP leader, and having gone nine full months without facing sustained attacks from any of his viable opponents in the field.
For the first time in the campaign, Mr. Rubio offered an extended attack on Mr. Trump directly and by name from his campaign stage. In a merger of social and traditional media, Mr. Rubio read misspellings from Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed in a rally broadcast live on cable television.
“He called me Mr. Meltdown,” Mr. Rubio said. “Let me tell you something. Last night, during one of the breaks, two of the breaks, he went backstage. He was having a meltdown. First, he had this little makeup thing, applying like makeup around his mustache, because he had one of those sweat mustaches. Then he asked for a full-length mirror. I don’t know why, because the podium goes up to here, but he wanted a full-length mirror. Maybe to make sure his pants weren’t wet, I don’t know.”
Mr. Christie, who eviscerated Mr. Rubio during a New Hampshire debate earlier this month, said he backed Mr. Trump because he would run an unconventional campaign that would surprise Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. “The best person to beat Hillary Clinton in November on the stage last night is undoubtedly Donald Trump,” Mr. Christie said. Mr. Christie is expected to campaign for Mr. Trump going forward.

Maine’s Republican Gov. Paul LePage also endorsed Mr. Trump on Friday while speaking on “The Howie Carr Show,” a conservative radio talk show based in Boston.
After announcing Mr. Christie’s endorsement, Mr. Trump slammed Mr. Rubio as unprepared and incapable of being tough enough to be president.
“I watched a part of his little act, and he’s a desperate guy,” Mr. Trump said at a press conference in Fort Worth, Texas. “He is not presidential material—that I can tell you. Doesn’t have the demeanor. He is a nervous Nellie. I watch him backstage. The guy is a total mess.”
Establishment GOP figures, who for months have privately pleaded for a candidate to attack Mr. Trump, cheered Mr. Rubio’s offensive on Friday, even as they bemoaned the increasingly nasty politics that are ensnaring the party.
“I am excited to see Marco Rubio try to expose the fraud that Donald Trump is,” said Jack Oliver, who served as national finance co-chairman for the Jeb Bush campaign. “The problem is that this is an American election with global consequence, and every time I turn on the television, I feel like I’m watching a reality TV show.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Cruz found himself largely blacked out from Friday’s nonstop cable news coverage that carried the Rubio and Trump events and press conferences live.
Campaigning in Nashville, Tenn., Mr. Cruz warned that if Mr. Trump, who has won the last three contests in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, does well in the March 1 states, there will be nothing between him and the GOP nomination.
“If he continues with that momentum and powers through and wins everywhere on Super Tuesday, he could easily be unstoppable,” Mr. Cruz said. “And I think that would be a grave mistake both for the Republican Party and for the country.”
Mr. Cruz, who has placed third in three states in a row after winning Iowa’s caucuses, insisted that he is still relevant in a Republican race increasingly focused on Mr. Trump and Mr. Rubio. However it seems his chances are slim to nothing. The focus is on the last two standing.
Trump is on a roll...the people have spoken. They may regret it.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Uneasy Truce in Syria

Injured Syrian boy at a hospital in Damascus. 21 Feb 2016
 The children pay the price for the continuing, wholesale slaughter in Syria

The first major truce in Syria's five-year civil war has come into effect.
The "cessation of hostilities" began at midnight Friday, with early reports suggesting that guns had fallen silent over major battlefields. UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said fighting had "calmed down" but one breach was being investigated.
In the run-up to the deadline US President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government and its ally Russia "the world will be watching".Russian jets were reported to have intensified attacks on Syrian rebel positions on Friday.
But as the deadline passed monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said while some gunfire was heard in the northern city of Aleppo elsewhere it was quiet.

Syrian rebel fighter in the town of Arbin in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of capital Damascus. 26 February 2016
An uneasy silence falls at midnight over Damascus

Mr de Mistura has said that peace talks will resume on 7 March if the truce "largely holds". He added he had no doubt "there will be no shortage of attempts to undermine this process".
"This will remain a complicated, painstaking process," he told the UN Security Council via videoconference from Geneva.
But he added: "Nothing is impossible, especially at this moment."

Previous talks in Geneva collapsed in early February after making no progress. The UN Security Council has also unanimously adopted a resolution drafted by the US and Russia that endorsed the truce agreement. It urges all sides to "use their influence with the parties to the cessation of hostilities to ensure fulfilment of those commitments".
One of the key aims of the cessation - brokered by the US and Russia - is to allow desperately needed aid to reach people trapped in besieged areas.
The UN resolution names about 30 areas in dire need of aid, including eastern and western rural Aleppo and the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, which is under siege by so-called Islamic State (IS) jihadists.
The truce involves government and rebel forces - but not IS or the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. On Friday, Nusra Front urged its supporters to intensify attacks against President Bashar al-Assad and his allies.

Almost 100 rebel factions have agreed to respect the truce, Syrian opposition umbrella group the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) said.
The HNC warned the Syrian government and its allies not to use the "proposed text to continue the hostile operations against the opposition factions under the excuse of fighting terrorism".
Russian President Vladimir Putin said his forces were targeting IS, Nusra Front and other extremist groups designated as legitimate targets by the UN Security Council.
However, Russia is widely accused of also attacking more moderate rebel groups fighting President Assad, an ally of the Kremlin.
President Obama said the success of the cessation would depend on whether warring parties including the Syrian government, Russia and their allies lived up to their commitments.
Attacks needed to end, he said, and humanitarian aid had to be allowed through to desperate civilians.
"The coming days will be critical and the world will be watching," he added.
More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed in Syria's civil war and millions more have been forced from their homes.
Does anyone have faith in this truce ?...Highly doubtful. The one to watch is Russia, who may use this agreement as cover to continue striking at anti-Assad rebel groups. What steps will the UN take if this proves to be true??

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

How Trump can be beaten

 Donald Trump has easily won the US state of Nevada, his third consecutive victory in the race for the Republican nomination

By Anthony Zurcher

There was one clear winner after Tuesday's Nevada caucus - Donald Trump.The New York billionaire has emerged victorious in his third-straight nominating contest. He has come out on top in primaries in New England and the south, and he has now won a caucus in the west.
He is bringing voters to the polls who have never participated in the Republican political process before - voters who the political wags never thought would turn out.
He is appealing to hard-core Tea Party conservatives and born-again evangelicals; libertarian true-believers and blue-collar moderates. If caucus entrance polls are to be believed, Mr Trump even won Nevada Hispanics by a significant margin over two Cuban-American senators.

If Mr Trump is the winner, the rest of the field - no matter how it shakes out - are the clear losers. And they are losers who are running out of time to derail the growing Donald Trump juggernaut.
Can it be done? The odds are growing increasingly long, but here are five ways it might happen - and why it probably will not.

Marco the establishment man

Marco Rubio has secured the blessing of Republican officeholders across the nation.
He finished second to Donald Trump in South Carolina and could repeat the performance in Nevada.
But second place is first loser, as the saying goes, and he needs to find somewhere to break through and notch some wins before Trump becomes inevitable. Where does that happen? Even in his home state of Florida he trails the New Yorker.
How Trump is beaten: The Republican Party apparatus has picked its candidate, and consolidated support allows Rubio to pull ahead while Trump never breaks past 30-40%. Maybe the Floridian forces Kasich out of the race - either by promising him the vice-president spot or by appealing to his civic responsibility.
It takes Rubio a while to start winning primaries, but when he does the victories snowball into a wave that carries the senator to the nomination.
Why it does not happen: The establishment field is still somewhat fractured.
John Kasich seems stubbornly determined to stay in the race, and Ted Cruz likely pulls away some anti-Trump support that could be Rubio's. Time is running short. Despite a strong effort in Nevada, Rubio could not get any traction. If he is going to make his move, it has to be soon.

Ted Cruz's southern revival

The momentum Ted Cruz had after his Iowa caucuses and second-place showing in New Hampshire has evaporated. He may have hoped his organisation in Nevada would allow him to be a surprise winner, but that was not to be.
As he said during his concession speech, next Tuesday, when a large slate of southern states vote, will be the "most important night" of his campaign.
How Trump is beaten: Cruz recaptures his magic thanks to a strong performance in his delegate-rich home state of Texas and across the South. Trump's air of inevitability is broken, and he falls back to the pack.
Why it does not happen: If there is a candidacy that is broken, it is Cruz's.
He has endured a string of bad headlines, including having to fire his chief spokesman after a social media scandal. With his win in South Carolina Trump has already shown he can thrive in the South - and he buries Cruz on Tuesday with across-the-board victories.

John Kasich's land of brokered dreams

Ohio Governor John Kasich did not even try to contest Nevada and seems ill-suited for the upcoming slate of southern primaries. Where he does have a chance, however, is in his home state of Ohio, which votes on 15 March.
Starting then, many of the states, including Ohio, are winner-take-all. That is where Kasich makes his move.
How Trump is beaten: If Kasich can nab all of Ohio's delegates and maybe pick off another Midwest state or two, he could garner enough support to deny Trump the nomination.
If no one has a majority of the delegates at the end of the primary process, there is a brokered convention where the presidential nominee will be decided by behind-the-scenes manoeuvring and deal-striking between the various candidate camps.
Why it does not happen: Kasich currently trails Trump in Ohio and across the Midwest. He has got little momentum and even less money. If he survives to 15 March, it will be only just barely. There has not been a Republican brokered since 1948 - ancient history in US politics.

Independents to the rescue

The editors of the Boston Globe suggested an interesting strategy for left-leaning independent voters in Massachusetts, where Trump currently holds a large lead over his Republican competitors. In the state's primary on 1 March, they said, even unaffiliated liberal voters should cross party lines and support one of Trump's opponents.
By picking someone other than Trump, they would keep the New Yorker's margin of victory down and deny him delegates.
How Trump is beaten: With Massachusetts voters leading the way, independents and even Democrats in states with open primaries flock to the polls to stop a candidate they view as toxic. That helps lessen Trump's advantage in new voters and tips the electoral scale to one of his opponents.
Why it does not happen: Some Democrats appear to be openly cheering for Trump to burn the Republican Party to the ground, figuring he will be easily defeated in the general election. Besides, the Bernie Sanders v Hillary Clinton battle is still going strong, and they might be more concerned with actually picking their party's nominee.

Trump finally implodes

Maybe, just maybe Trump finally says something so outrageous, so politically radioactive that it torpedoes his candidacy.
Perhaps there's a position so anathema to conservatives that even Trump cannot take it without alienating his voters. Or maybe there is a segment of the population the New Yorker just cannot insult without repercussions.
How Trump is beaten: Conservative voters shake their heads, as if emerging from a long slumber, and decide they do not want to support a brash, controversial businessman for commander in chief after all. There was a line out there, and Trump finally crosses it.
Why it does not happen: There is no line. This is not a dream. Trump may still be beaten, but he is not going to beat himself.

By Anthony Zurcher

FBI Investigation into San Bernadino killer's iPhone causes Apple boss to hit back

Public option has been mixed, but some Apple users have rallied to the company defence
Apple boss Tim Cook has hit back at the FBI over the handling of a court order to help unlock the iPhone of San Bernardino killer Syed Rizwan Farook.
Mr Cook told ABC his company first learned of the controversial request when it was reported in the news media.
"I don't think that's the way the railroad should be run," he said.
"I don't think that something so important to this country should be handled in this way."
However, a source close to the investigation said Mr Cook's claim was "simply not true", and that Apple's legal team was "the first to know".
A spokeswoman for the FBI said she did not wish to comment on Mr Cook's remarks.
Mr Cook was defending the company's refusal to comply with the FBI's order that it remove security blocks on Farook's device so data on it could be accessed.
Farook, along with his wife Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 people in the attack in December last year.
"I think safety of the public is incredibly important," Mr Cook said.
"The protection of people's data is incredibly important. And so the trade-off here is we know that doing this could expose people to incredible vulnerabilities."
When asked if he was concerned Apple may hinder investigations that could prevent a future attack, Mr Cook said: "Some things are hard and some things are right. And some things are both. This is one of those things."
The FBI has argued that Apple is overstating the security risk to its devices. FBI Director James Comey said Apple had the technical know-how to break into Farook's device only in a way that did not create a so-called "backdoor" into every Apple device.
Conflicting polls suggest the American public is divided. One poll, by the Pew Research Center, suggested the majority of those polled sided with the FBI - although the researchers noted support for Apple grew among people who owned smart phones.
A Reuters poll, conducted by Ipsos, said 55% of respondents worried that the FBI would seek to use the backdoor to "spy on iPhone users".
iPhone users have a legitimate point. No one organization should be given so much power. It does feel like big brother breathing down your neck. Hang on to your right to privacy as long as you can. Just saying.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Watcha think about this?... Russia wants to fly surveillance planes over the US

 Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his annual end of year news conference in Moscow, Russia. Russia will ask permission on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, to start flying surveillance planes equipped with high-powered digital cameras amid warnings from U.S. intelligence and military officials that such overflights help Moscow collect intelligence on the United States. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, File)

In keeping with our last post, this article supports the theory that Russia is gearing up for cold war or worse. See what you think.
Russia will ask permission on Monday to start flying surveillance planes equipped with high-powered digital cameras amid warnings from U.S. intelligence and military officials that such overflights help Moscow collect intelligence on the United States.

Russia and the United States are signatories to the Open Skies Treaty, which allows unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of all 34 member nations to foster transparency about military activity and help monitor arms control and other agreements. Senior intelligence and military officials, however, worry that Russia is taking advantage of technological advances to violate the spirit of the treaty.
Russia will formally ask the Open Skies Consultative Commission, based in Vienna, to be allowed to fly an aircraft equipped with high-tech sensors over the United States, according to a senior congressional staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the staff member wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
The request will put the Obama administration in the position of having to decide whether to let Russia use the high-powered equipment on its surveillance planes at a time when Moscow, according to the latest State Department compliance report, is failing to meet all its obligations under the treaty. And it comes at one of the most tension-filled times in U.S.-Russia relations since the end of the Cold War, with the two countries at odds over Russian activity in Ukraine and Syria.
"The treaty has become a critical component of Russia's intelligence collection capability directed at the United States," Adm. Cecil D. Haney, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, wrote in a letter earlier this year to Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., chairman of a House subcommittee on strategic forces.
"In addition to overflying military installations, Russian Open Skies flights can overfly and collect on Department of Defence and national security or national critical infrastructure," Haney said. "The vulnerability exposed by exploitation of this data and costs of mitigation are increasingly difficult to characterize."
A State Department official said Sunday that treaty nations had not yet received notice of the Russian request, but that certification of the Russian plane with a "digital electro-optical sensor" could not occur until this summer because the treaty requires a 120-day advance notification. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
The official also said that the treaty, which was entered into force in 2002, establishes procedures for certifying digital sensors to confirm that they are compliant with treaty requirements. The official said all signatories to the treaty agree that "transition from film cameras to digital sensors is required for the long-term viability of the treaty."
In December, Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, sought to temper concerns about Russian overflights, saying that what Moscow gains from the observation flights is "incremental" to what they collect through other means.
"One of the advantages of the Open Skies Treaty is that information — imagery — that is taken is shared openly among all the treaty parties," she said at a joint hearing of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees in December. "So one of the advantages with the Open Skies Treaty is that we know exactly what the Russians are imaging, because they must share the imagery with us."
Still, military and intelligence officials have expressed serious concern.
"The open skies construct was designed for a different era," Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart, director of the Defence Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers when asked about the Russian overflights during a congressional hearing. "I'm very concerned about how it's applied today."
Robert Work, deputy secretary of defence, told Congress: "We think that they're going beyond the original intent of the treaty and we continue to look at this very, very closely."
Steve Rademaker, former assistant secretary of state for the bureau of arms control and the bureau of international security and nonproliferation, told Congress at a hearing on security co-operation in Europe in October that Russia complies with the Open Skies Treaty, but has "adopted a number of measures that are inconsistent with the spirt" of the accord.
The treaty, for instance, obligates each member to make all of its territory available for aerial observation, yet Russia has imposed restrictions on surveillance over Moscow and Chechnya and near Abkhazia and South Ossetia, he said. Russian restrictions also make it hard to conduct observation in the Kaliningrad enclave, said Rademaker, who believes Russia is "selectively implementing" the treaty "in a way that suits its interests."

 Thanx to the Canadian Press

U.S.-Canada ponder cruise missile warnings

Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, gives an operational update concerning Libya, at the Pentagon in Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2011. 

Navy Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, director of the Joint Staff, gives an operational update concerning Libya, at the Pentagon in Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2011. The commander of NORAD says U.S. and Canadian defence planners are taking notice of Russia's use of cruise missiles in Syria, something that could have wide-ranging implications for the West ??? particularly in the Arctic. Gortney tells The Canadian Press that multiple strikes on Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, show Russian aircraft don't have to leave their airspace in order to deliver lethal effects.THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo/Cliff Owen

OTTAWA - The bloody, sun-baked sand of Syria is a long way from the Canadian Arctic, but Russia's use of cruise missiles in the five-year-old civil war has defence planners in both the U.S. and Canada sitting up and taking notice.
U.S. Admiral Bill Gortney, the commander of Norad, said multiple strikes on Raqqa — the de facto capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — show Russian aircraft don't have to leave their airspace in order to deliver lethal effects.
The missiles, launched last November, came from Tu-160 and Tu-95 warplanes and warships in the Caspian Sea and travelled thousands of kilometres to hit their targets. Those attacks were followed in December by submarine-based launches of Kalibr cruise missiles.
In an exclusive interview with The Canadian Press, Gortney said the message intended for the West was crystal clear.
"There was no tactical or operational requirement for any of those shots," he said. "They were telling us they have this capability and can employ it globally."
The Trudeau government is about to embark on a defence policy review, but unlike its Conservative predecessor, which emphasized military preparedness in the Arctic, the issue has barely registered in Liberal policy statements.
One of the pressing issues will be replacing the rapidly aging north warning system of radar stations over the next decade.
But defence planners in both Washington and Ottawa have in recent years been quietly warning about the threat of a surprise cruise missile attack from the Far North. Most of their research, however, has focused on rogue nations or terrorist threats from converted ships operating in the Northwest Passage.
They have warned, however, that the absence in the Arctic of radar protection at low levels below 3,000 metres means there would be very little warning of a cruise missile launch in the region.
Gortney said Norad can track ballistic missiles coming over the North Pole, but coverage for low-flying cruise missiles remains a major challenge. American and Canadian planners are together trying to figure out a solution, he said.
"Against this particular threat, you need the ability to look over the horizon," Gortney said. "Does that mean it needs to be airborne — or land based? Or a combination of both?"
The harsh environment poses a bit of conundrum, he added.
One possible solution would be an aircraft carrier-based E2D-Hawkeye surveillance plane, which has been fully tested electronically. But Canada has neither the plane nor the ship, and American use of both would depend on weather.
Norad planners are also experimenting with the use of static balloons with a load of surveillance gear.
"Because of the nature of the Arctic, a balloon might not be the best option," Gortney said.
The Canadian military has been studying the idea on its own, and has considered the possibility of installing static surveillance balloons at choke points along the Northwest Passage.
The aerospace command is also responsible for monitoring maritime approaches to the continent. A number of defence journals and open-source intelligence reports have noted that Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic has now surpassed Cold War levels — something Gortney confirmed.
Yves Brodeur, Canada's former ambassador to NATO, recently said Russia has become a more unpredictable actor on the world stage and that the alliance was caught flat-footed by the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
"We never saw it coming," Brodeur told a defence conference last week.
"It says something about the early warning systems. We ended up trying to catch up with something we didn't quite understand."
A lot of Canadian citizens, myself included, have been saying for years that Russia has eyes on Canadian territories in the Arctic. Some politicians have lobbied for a stronger military presence in the north, where we are most vulnerable, but little attention has been paid to the situation. To give Mr Harper credit, he was more aware and concerned about Russian aggression in the north, but even he had no long range plans.
We stand alerted and warned. Russia is taking the world stage as an aggressor and threat to world peace (Once more).  Why is it always about world domination?  While the  global community is focused on ISIS, Russia is taking advantage of the chaotic situation to sneak up on the world with military might, under the guise of assistance.  Putin must sense a certain weakening in the west a certain relaxing of military vigilance unless it pertains to terrorists. We can see the icy fingers of a future 'cold war' gradually gaining a stranglehold on a divided world. The two big guys, Russia and the USA facing off...we've been here before. And why is Russia suddenly so bold and confident ?? Does China have their back? What good will our heightened awareness do us if we don't take some kind of defensive or forestalling action?

Thanx to the Canadian Press for providing materials

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Hillary Takes Nevada

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrives on stage for a Nevada Democratic caucus rally, on 20 February 2016, in Las Vegas.

US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has narrowly won the Nevada caucuses in the latest stage of the Democratic race for presidential nominee. She is leading with 52% of the vote over her rival Bernie Sanders' 48%. She had been hoping for a big victory in Nevada where she is popular with Hispanic and minority voters. The Republican primary is also under way in South Carolina, where frontrunner Donald Trump is trying to fend off Texas Senator Ted Cruz.
The votes could be key ahead of the "Super Tuesday" round on 1 March. On that day, about a dozen states will choose their Republican and Democratic contenders for the 8 November presidential election, with about a quarter of all nominating delegates up for grabs.
Hillary Clinton, who won Iowa but was beaten convincingly in New Hampshire by Mr Sanders, declared victory in a tweet, thanking people who voted for her, saying "this is your win".
"Some may have doubted us, but we never doubted each other," Mrs Clinton told supporters at a victory rally in Las Vegas. "This is your campaign."
The presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders has grown increasingly close in recent weeks, with the former secretary of state expected to win Nevada in double digits just weeks ago. But the Vermont senator, who has successfully galvanized young voters with his calls for free university education, appears to have performed better than expected with the heavy minority population in Nevada.
According to NBC exit polls, Mr Sanders won among Hispanics with 53% of the vote but lost among black voters earning just 22% of their vote.
"Five weeks ago we were 25 points behind and we ended up in a very close election. And we probably will leave Nevada with a solid share of the delegates," Bernie Sanders said in a statement on his rival's victory.               
The state represents the most racially diverse battleground so far, with both candidates courting the vote of African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans, who make up about 50% of the state's population.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and his wife Jane visit a caucus site in Las Vegas, Nevada 20 February 2016.
Mrs Clinton overcame an unexpected strong surge by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in Nevada on Saturday

The state represents the most racially diverse battleground so far, with both candidates courting the vote of African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans, who make up about 50% of the state's population.
Elsewhere, in South Carolina, Republican supporters are choosing who they want to see run for the White House . We will soon have that result

Friday, February 19, 2016

Yosemite Firefall

Shot yesterday 2/15/2016. One of the most stunning moments in Yosemite National Park. We hiked about an hour from Southside Dr to a high plateau where you have full view of the tunnel from the Village perspective.The setting sun hits Horsetail Falls at just the right angle to illuminate the upper reaches of the waterfall. And when conditions are perfect, Horsetail Fall glows from white to gold, red at the peak, then fades out quickly after 20 minutes.

Photographer from ZitherFilmography 

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Trump is not a Christian says the Pope

The Pope has questioned US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's Christianity over his call to build a border wall with Mexico. Pope Francis said "a person who thinks only about building walls... and not of building bridges, is not Christian".

The New York businessman supports deporting nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants. Calling himself a "proud Christian", Mr Trump blamed Mexico for the Pope's remarks, calling them "disgraceful". Mr Trump has alleged that Mexico sends "rapists" and criminals to the US.

Pope Francis made the comments at the end of a six-day trip to Mexico.
"A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the gospel," he said.  He declined to say whether Americans should vote for Mr Trump, who is leading the Republican race for president.
"I say only that this man is not Christian if he has said things like that. We must see if he said things in that way and I will give him the benefit of the doubt," the Pope said.

In response to a question about whether contraception was allowed to prevent the transmission of the Zika virus, the Pope said that for some cases the "lesser of two evils" can be used. He said abortion "is a crime, an absolute evil," but that avoiding pregnancy is not.

Addressing a rally in South Carolina, Mr Trump responded to the Pope's comments.
"For a religious leader to question a person's faith is disgraceful. I am proud to be a Christian," Mr Trump said. "No leader, especially a religious leader, should have the right to question another man's religion or faith."
"[The pope] said negative things about me. Because the Mexican government convinced him that Trump is not a good guy," he said.

Did Mr Trump need to take on the Pope? Well, almost certainly yes.  Because in god-fearing South Carolina, the next state to vote in the primary process - to have the Pope say that he is unchristian is potentially very damaging.
And over the course of the campaign, the billionaire property developer has been at pains to prove his religious credentials, appearing at rallies with a copy of the Bible that his mother had given him as a child.
He also said the Vatican was the so-called Islamic State group's "ultimate trophy" and that if it attacked, "the Pope would have only wished and prayed that Donald Trump would have been president because this would not have happened".
Two of Mr Trump's Republican rivals, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both Catholics, said they look to the Pope for spiritual guidance, not political direction. Mr Rubio said the US has a right and an obligation to control its borders.
Mr Bush told reporters he "supports walls where it's appropriate" and that "Christianity is between him and his creator. I don't think we need to discuss that".
Jerry Falwell Jr, the president of the conservative Christian Liberty University and a Trump supporter, told CNN that the Pope had gone too far.
"Jesus never intended to give instructions to political leaders on how to run a country,"
he said.

Trump campaign official Dan Scavino tweets: Amazing comments from the Pope- considering Vatican City is 100% surrounded by massive walls.

Earlier this month, Mr Trump called Pope Francis "a very political person" in an interview with Fox News.
"I don't think he understands the danger of the open border we have with Mexico," Mr Trump said.
American Catholics are seen as an important voting bloc in US elections. Many support Republican candidates because of their opposition to abortion and gay marriage.
Mr Trump has been courting the evangelical Christian vote, often successfully, but his fellow Republican rivals have tried to argue that his religiosity is not sincere.

Trump's religious views: In his own words

Donald Trump family photo

  • "I'm going to protect Christians" (January 2016)
  • "I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don't bring God into that picture. I don't" ( July 2015)
  • "I believe in God. I am Christian. I think The Bible is certainly, it is the book...I'm a Protestant, I'm a Presbyterian. And you know I've had a good relationship with the church over the years. I think religion is a wonderful thing. I think my religion is a wonderful religion." (2011)
  • His proposed Muslim ban: "Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in Jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life." (December 2015)
  • Muslims in general: "Most Muslims are wonderful people, but is there a Muslim problem? Look what's happening. Look what happened right here in my city with the World Trade Center and lots of other places." (2011)

  • Ted Cruz's campaign is now running an advertisement featuring a 1999 television interview Mr Trump gave in which he said he was "very pro-choice" when it comes to abortion.
    In January, Mr Trump faced ridicule after flubbing a Bible verse when giving a speech to a Christian university in Virginia. He has said he is a Presbyterian Christian but has had trouble recalling his favourite Bible verse when asked. He has referred to communion, the Christian sacrament signifying Jesus' last supper, as having "the little wine" and "the little cracker."
    Sooo, who wins, the Pope or the Donald ???

    Wednesday, February 17, 2016

    Tuesday, February 16, 2016

    Canada's missing or murdered indigenous women.....count 'higher than thought'

     Ms Bennett said the true figure of missing or murdered women is higher than previously thought

    The Canadian government has confirmed that the number of missing or murdered indigenous women in the country is higher than the previously reported. Ministers recently spoke to survivors across Canada to begin a government inquiry into the matter. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a key campaign pledge to address this.

    Canada's minister for the status of women suggested on Tuesday the accurate number of missing and murdered women could be as high as 4,000. Patty Hajdu said the government did not have an accurate figure but she indicated there was research from the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) that said there were about 4,000.
    The often-cited 1,200 figure came from a 2014 Royal Canadian Mounted Police report on the missing women, related to the period between 1980 and 2012. And even that was grossly underestimated.
     The discussions revealed, from participants, friends, relatives and indigenous womens' councils, that the true figures may even be higher than 4,000, according to Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett.

    Trudeau addressed the Assembly of First Nations in Quebec

    In December 2015, Canadian authorities charged a man in the death of one indigenous girl whose murder caused a national outcry. Raymond Cormier, 53, was charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tina Fontaine, 15, who was found dead in 2014 in Saskatchewan's Red River.
     An investigation in April revealed that dozens of aboriginal women disappear each year in that area, with many later found dead in the Red River. Mr Trudeau has promised an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women in an appeal to First Nations chiefs. The public inquiry will be a "top priority" of his newly-elected Liberal government, he said.
    Mr Trudeau has also promised increased funding for aid and other programs and a review of laws on indigenous peoples. Trudeau was appalled at the living conditions of the indigenous people in Northern Saskatchewan. He was shaken when he heard the true numbers of  dead or missing women, who have never been accounted for.
    The previous government has much to answer for. They ignored pleas for help from First Nations chiefs to investigate the missing women, and they promised but didn't deliver enough humanitarian aid for health and clean water and money for improvements.

    Minister of Justice Jody-Wilson Raybould, Minister of Status of Women Patricia Hajdu and Ms Bennett conducted interviews with nearly 2,000 people to start forming the government inquiry - survivors, families and loved ones of survivors.
    The ministers aim for the inquiry to, "examine the causes of violence against Indigenous women and girls and make recommendations for concrete actions to prevent future violence", said Ms Bennett.
    "Regardless of the number, the level of Indigenous women and girls who have gone missing or were murdered is an ongoing national tragedy that our government is committed to addressing immediately."
    Easy to say. We just hope we get to see genuine aid and improvements being provided.
    The responsibility also lays at the door of the provincial governments who have treated these people like second class citizens or worse. The federal government can't always ride herd on every situation. If the provincial governments can't deal or are overwhelmed by a problem, or are outraged by the way cases are handled, or not handled, by the Mounties, they should vigorously protest to the federal government. Up until now, the sound of silence has been deafening.
    Justin is not a miracle worker, nor should we expect him to be, but here is the crucible which will test just what he is made of.
    Sorry to end the post on a preposition.


    It was one of those never-ending summer days that John O'Donovan relished. 
    It was August 2014, and the detective from Winnipeg's homicide unit had just finished Sunday lunch with his family and was preparing to walk his dogs, retired greyhounds.
    But then the phone buzzed with a familiar number and O'Donovan knew his peace and quiet was about to end.
    It was his duty inspector with news that a body had been found weighted down in a bag in the Red River, the river that runs through Winnipeg and is the lifeblood of the city.
    Within an hour, O'Donovan was at his desk in the city speaking to officers and handing out assignments.
    The body was in such an advanced state of decomposition it took four hours to determine it was that of a young woman.  It was another few hours before detectives could settle on a tentative identification. 
    “We didn't know who she was or how old she was, or how long she'd been in the water,” says O'Donovan.  The river did a lot of damage.”

    Tina Fontaine

    A tattoo of angel wings on the back of the young girl pointed officers to a runaway, a 15-year-old school girl called Tina Fontaine.
    Within days Tina's case was making headlines throughout Canada not just for the horrific nature of her death, but for what she had come to represent. She brought national attention to the terrible situation we have been discussing.
    Tina Fontaine was from Canada's Aboriginal population - made up of First Nation tribes, Inuit from the far north and Metis, the descendants of French settlers and native Canadians. 
    Her murder was the latest in a seemingly never-ending stream of violent attacks against Aboriginal women and girls in Canada. With Aboriginal peoples making up less than 5% of Canada's population of 35 million, the numbers are  astonishingly high.
    “Winnipeg is a working city, it's always been one of those frontier towns, it's always been a tough town,” says O'Donovan who moved to the city 30 years ago from the west coast of Ireland.
    But, for reasons he could not reveal at that time, without compromising the investigation, Tina Fontaine's death horrified this hardy detective.  He said only that he had "feelings of outrage that a 15-year-old child has been killed”. 
    Months into the investigation, his wife pointed out to him that Tina was the only murder victim she had heard him refer to by her first name.  The teenager was not the first Aboriginal schoolgirl to have been murdered in Winnipeg, but the collective outrage that followed her killing marked a watershed for a city that had often shut its eyes to violence against Aboriginal women, not only in Winnipeg but throughout Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

    Fortunately Tina's case and many others were under investigation by Project Devote, a special task force set up in Winnipeg four years ago to investigate unsolved cases in Manitoba where the victim was deemed to have been “vulnerable”.
    A tour of the project room, jointly staffed by local officers and the national Royal Canadian Mounted Police, reveals pictures of all the 29 cases currently under investigation along with maps annotated with dots showing the last place each victim was seen, and, in some cases, where their body was found.
    So far, only two cases have been brought to court. Constable Jason Michalyshen says the challenges the team faces are considerable. 
    “Often with missing persons there's no scene for us to physically analyze or gather evidence,” he says.
    “We understand this is devastating for family members, but it's equally frustrating for investigators when we have limited information.”
     Despite its high profile and generous funding, Project Devote isn't doing enough.
    One victim's family said, “You don't get any answers from them. You get a phone call every month to say, you know, ‘We're working on the case... we have nothing further to tell you".
    “We really feel like because we're indigenous people in Canada that we're not taken seriously,” she says.
    "They just think no-one is waiting for us, that nobody cares about us, that we're disposable.”
    But Tina Fontaine did have someone waiting for her.  An hour's drive north up highway 59, in a cosy one-storey house just outside Sagkeeng Aboriginal Reserve, Tina's great aunt, Thelma Favel, never stopped hoping she would come home. 

    Thelma Favel
    Thelma Favel

    The reserve, which has a population of nearly 3,500, is like hundreds of others across Canada, separated from mainstream society and largely self-governed.  Thelma raised Tina and her younger sister here. Years earlier, she had looked after Tina's father, her nephew, when her sister couldn't cope. Often drugs and alcohol consume indigenous parents and the children are left to fare for themselves. Tina and her sister were lucky. They were raised in a comfortable home and loved. Thelma had taken in many abandoned or neglected children over the years.
    When Tina was fifteen she set out with $60.00 dollars in her pocket to visit her mother in Winnipeg and was never seen again. Her murder and it's investigation brought this dismaying, frightening situation to national attention, to people like myself who were ignorant of such horrifying events happening in our country.
    So who is killing Aboriginal women and girls?  A view widely held in Canada is that Aboriginal women face violence mainly from their own community. 
    The figures compiled by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police bear this out to an extent. Between 1980 and 2012, more than 60% of the recorded murders of Aboriginal women were committed by husbands, family members or close friends.  But this leaves nearly 40% of women who were killed by strangers or casual acquaintances, a term that is often used to describe the sex worker-client relationship. Aboriginal women are 1.4 times more likely to be killed by someone they aren't close to.

    The serial killer Shawn Lamb, convicted in Winnipeg in 2013 of murdering two Aboriginal women (and the prime suspect in another case) described them as “the perfect victim” because no-one seemed to care if they went missing. This may also be why a large number of Aboriginal women were among the victims of Canada's most infamous serial killer, the pig farmer Robert Pickton in British Columbia. 
    The remains or DNA of 33 women were found on his farm, when he was arrested in 2002. Some were hitchhikers, a number were prostitutes and drug addicts.

    In Winnipeg , many of the murdered and missing Aboriginal women disappeared while working on the streets. For the past few years, the Winnipeg police force has run a counter-exploitation unit, patrolling at night to keep an eye on women at risk. 
    “There is nothing safe about women working the streets in the sex trade,” says Sgt Cam Mackid who has worked this beat for the past 20 years.
    The unit spends each night driving around the known red light districts in Winnipeg's North and West End districts, befriending women, checking up on them and offering them a lift home. If the girls are under age, they refer them to Child and Family Services.
    “When we speak to girls we ask if there's any way to get them off the streets,” says Mackid.
    “We have no legal authority to take them off, but we do our best to make sure they're not taking risks.”
    As he puts it: “The streets are ground zero for predators.”
    Tina Fontaine’s death appears to have been a moment of awakening for Canada.
    Huge crowds joined rallies to protest against the murder, and thousands of women tweeted pictures of themselves holding signs asking the question “Am I Next?”
     Since Tina was killed, three more Aboriginal women have been murdered in Winnipeg.  Two of the deaths appear to be related to domestic arguments. In the third the perpetrator is unknown.  And at the beginning of April 2015, another 15-year-old Aboriginal schoolgirl was assaulted and left in a critical condition. 
    As the snow falls gently outside her home in Sagkeeng, Thelma Favel sits surrounded by pictures of Tina.  She's relieved that Canada seems to be waking up to the issue of violence against Aboriginal women, she only wishes this awareness had come sooner. 
    “It's going to be too late for Tina,” she says.
    “But at least it might help somebody else's child.”