30 July 2009

Hydro Quebec intervenes on Lower Churchill

Hydro Quebec has taken a shot at the Lower Churchill project as part of the environmental review, saying the environmental documents do not contain the amount and the quality of information normally required within the framework of the environmental evaluation of major hydroelectric projects, according to le soleil.

The HQ submission said that unless deficiencies are corrected, the project shouldn’t be approved.  Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro has until September to respond to the HQ submission, as part of the environmental review process for the project.

One of the issues highlighted by HQ was water resource management between the Churchill falls power plant and the Lower Churchill. 

That may be a valid objection and could be the reason why the provincial government made changes to the Electrical Power Control Act two years ago but still hasn’t implemented them.  Under the changes, two energy producers on the same river would have to come to an agreement to ensure both projects worked to the maximum.  In the absence of an agreement the province’s public utilities board could impose one.

But, the revisions are in limbo.  Incidentally, the only part of the province the section applies to would be the Churchill River.  It would have applied to any developments on the island but any potential issues there were eliminated when the provincial government wiped out most private sector electricity generation on the island with its December expropriation.


Paying not to produce electricity

A drop in electricity demand in North America will see Hydro Quebec paying some of its suppliers not to produce electricity in the next year, according to le devoir.

Selon les documents déposés devant la Régie par la société d'État, ses surplus d'approvisionnements s'établissent à 11,3 TWh pour l'année prochaine. Le chiffre inclut les volumes d'énergie différés par le passé. De ce volume important, Hydro-Québec souhaite désormais soustraire les 4,3 TWh de la centrale de Bécancour. «Notre contrat avec TCE nous permet de payer pour la non-livraison d'électricité», a commenté Guy l'Italien, porte-parole d'Hydro-Québec. «Cette option nous coûte, dans le contexte actuel, moins cher que si nous décidions de prendre possession de l'électricité pour la revendre sur le marché.» La Société n'a pas été en mesure hier d'indiquer si des clauses similaires étaient présentes dans ses contrats d'approvisionnement avec d'autres de ses fournisseurs.

HQ is looking to shutter a natural gas generator operated by TransCanada Energy and pay the company $250 million under the terms of the contract between the two companies.

In the near term, HQ may also wind up with a significant surplus of generating capacity as it looks to bring the La Romaine and other projects on stream.  HQ will go ahead with the megaprojects since it has the capital and will look to recover its costs over a very long time span.

A drop in energy demand and competition from other electricity generators will likely also lessen the chances the provincial government’s cherished Lower Churchill project will find favourable capital arrangements.  The $6.0 to $9.0 billion project remains chronically about two to three years behind schedule in its most recent iteration. 

The project also doesn’t have a single customer to date outside consumers on the island portion of province.  They would be – in effect – forced to subsidise the massive project by virtue of having an infeed line strung to the Avalon peninsula even though demand on the island could be met through other less costly means.   Other than that, there are no signed power purchase agreements.

Interestingly, as demand has lessened, interest in the project has increased, particularly within the Maritime provinces.  Federal cabinet minister Peter Mackay and Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently toured the proposed dam sites by helicopter.

Of course, weakening demand and a proponent jammed up for cash and pushed along by its own hyper-torqued rhetoric might create a much better circumstance for energy buyers looking to strike a favourable long term deal.  That’s very similar to the situation that led Brinco to sign a disastrous deal with Hydro Quebec in 1969, with the backing of the provincial government.


h/t to Claude Boucher.

29 July 2009

An unhealthy trend

In a province with a notoriously underdeveloped private sector,  the news of a manufacturing venture in Argentia should be bringing a lot more voices of concern than it likely will.

That’s because the metal fabrication facility will be a joint venture of JV Driver, D.F. Barnes Group and the provincial government

Out of a total estimated cost of $10 million, the provincial government is tossing in $4.0 million. And of that amount fully half is going to purchase specialized equipment for welding pressure vessels as well as training employees.

In other words, the provincial government is taking on the capital costs and the human resource costs for two private sector companies of the start-up venture. 

Now it’s not like these sorts of government-backed ventures have a spectacular history of success in Newfoundland and Labrador, and that history spans a half century and more.  Typically, the ventures that need such massive transfusions of public money are marginal at best or  - even worse - unthinkable without it. 

Places that have a market demand and industrial sectors where there is demand usually can attract sufficient private sector investment to make a go of things without government involvement to the tune of 40% of project cost and with government absorbing the cost of training and capital equipment purchases. 

If you look at the news release, there’s no sign this new venture has any contracts already aside from whatever demand might come from local offshore projects.  That might point to another issue, namely that this pressure vessel fabrication plant is competing with well-established players globally that are considerably closer to customer locations than Newfoundland and Labrador.   The existing companies would also have the competitive advantage of experience and a proven track-record for delivery.

Taken altogether, those points suggest it might be difficult to break into the pressure vessel market successfully without using government subsidy as a way of lowering costs.

This is not the first example of government subsidized industry in this province and, if the current administration’s policies are any clue, it won’t be the last.  What this project indicates is that government has decisively abandoned the 1992 Strategic Economic Plan. 

That plan, you may recall was built on the twin ideas of lower to non-existent government subsidy on the one hand and on the other a focus on industries where Newfoundland and Labrador offered an obvious competitive advantage.  The idea was to create businesses that were sustainable in the long-haul in a global economy without government financial support.

What is now appearing more obviously is that the provincial government’s industrial development policy is a throw-back to the rubber boot and eyeglass factories  of the Smallwood era and the 1980s vintage cucumber grow-ops. 

Plus ca change, it would seem, or perhaps res ipsa loquitur:

"In particular, My Government will create sources of capital to enable businesses to establish, grow, diversify, and prosper."

There are also white tips poking through the sand, portents of the bleached bones of Latvian dinosaurs from the days when another government brought back little more from its wanderings than the crushing weight of debt. It is not for government to create sources of private sector capital out of public money, Premier Williams. One shudders at what the winds of time will expose of that seemingly Smallwoodian tyrannosaur.

After years of looking at the Irish and Icelandic models, the province’s industrial policy has apparently reverted to its original Latvian root.


When small could mean big

As renewNewEngland.com reports, the Maine state legislature recently passed an initiative designed to encourage small, locally-owned green energy generation concepts. The bill was signed into law on June 26.

The new law establishes a six-year pilot program to encourage the development of community-based renewable energy in Maine, defined as a majority locally-owned facility that generates electricity from an eligible renewable resource.  The pilot program has an overall program cap of 50 MW, 10 MW of which is reserved at the outset for projects that have a generating capacity under 100 kW or are located in the service territory of a consumer-owned utility.  To be eligible for the program, renewable energy projects must (1) have a generating capacity of 10 MW or less, (2) secure a resolution of support from their local community (projects with a capacity of less than 100 kW are exempt from this requirement), (3) be connected to the grid, and (4) have an in-service date of September 1, 2009 or later.

This has all the hallmarks of a growing trend south of the border to focus on private sector development of small energy developments.  It’s based on the belief – apparently -  that small is not only less harmful to the environment but that local initiative and local capital can successfully combine to meet a portion of the nation’s energy needs.  The approach is supposed to create jobs and, since it is handled by the private sector and costs are relatively small, stimulate the growth of local businesses.

Compare that to the official philosophy in Newfoundland and Labrador that is touting an energy megaproject that thus far has no customers outside the northeast Avalon peninsula.  Incidentally, even your humble e-scribbler’s sister missed the point that the infeed the provincial government is trying to ram through Gros Morne is designed to bring power to townies, not Yanks. 

There is no plan in public at this point to extend any power lines south of the island of Newfoundland.  There likely won’t be if customers can’t be found for the juice.  Anyone who has read any part of the environmental review documents for the infeed to Soldiers Pond will understand that the thing is justified entirely on a supposed power shortfall on the island within the next decade. 

They plan to meet that supposed need with Lower Churchill power at a cost of $6.0 to $9.0 billion.  As the 2007  energy plan puts it:

This demand is forecast to grow at a fairly steady, moderate pace over the next several years. This would result in a need for new sources of supply on the Island prior to 2015, and later in Labrador.  As a result, we plan to develop the Lower Churchill project, which will include  a transmission link between Labrador and the Island.

Anyone reading the environmental impact documents will also realise that the provincial government’s energy company has effectively ignored the potential for small hydro developments or other small electricity projects to meet local need.  Even when an energy corporation official talks about wind power, it is obvious the corporation is fixated on the export market.  And when they think exports, big is all they seem to see.

There’s been a moratorium on small hydro projects in the province since the late 1990s.  While the provincial government committed two years ago to make a decision on the moratorium this year, odds are the decision won’t be made on time.  Even if it is made, the energy plan links the Lower Churchill and alternative sources for the island in an “either/or” proposition.  If the government proceeds with the Lower Churchill, alternatives are dead issues.  If the Lower Churchill dies, then small generators are the way to go.

As for private sector capital investment,  you only have to consider that one of the effects of the expropriation bill last December to see the official attitude to the private sector.  While everyone fixated on Abitibi, the expropriation also included seizing control of just exactly the kinds of small hydro that Maine and others are encouraging and hand them over to the provincial government’s energy corporation.  Star Lake  - totally unrelated to the Abitibi mill - was one of the casualties of the expropriation, as was the Exploits River partnership, a joint venture between Abitibi and locally-based Fortis. 

If that doesn’t convince you, consider that in the event small hydro projects go ahead, the energy plans mandates that only the provincial government energy corporation will be involved:

If the Provincial Government lifts the moratorium, it will institute a policy that the Energy Corporation will control and coordinate the development of small hydro projects that meet economic thresholds and are viable for an isolated island system.

And it’s not like the energy corporation has been very efficient at exploring alternatives to its current obsession with megaprojects.  The earliest proposals for wind energy farms on the island turned up over a decade ago. However, it took another six years for a small project to start on an isolated island and another  seven years for a report to examine the issues involved in wind generation and another two years after that before the first larger demonstration project started.

If Newfoundland and Labrador followed the approach of other jurisdictions, the people of the province could reaping the big economic and environmental benefits of innovative, small energy generation.

Unfortunately, the provincial government’s energy plan is fixated on government monopoly and megaprojects. The only things big in that are costs and - of course - project delays.

The Lower Churchill was supposed to start in 2009.  By the latest estimates, the earliest it could start construction is after 2011.


The Wookey Hole Witch

Wookey Hole Caves, near the village of Wookey, Somerset held a competition recently for the post of witch at the local tourist attraction.

Contestants had 60 seconds to make their pitch in front of a panel.  Carole Bohanan, a real estate agent, bested 400 or so others and walked off with the job. As the resident witch, Carole will work under the name Carla Calamity. 

The job comes with an annual stipend of 50,000 pounds sterling.

Legend has it that an old woman did once live there, with her dogs and her goats, her spells making life miserable for the locals.

Eventually, a monk from Glastonbury was sent for and Father Bernard, together with his bible and a candle, went in to see if he could sort the situation out

He failed. The witch ran off into the depths of the cavern, cursing and screaming.

So the monk scooped up some water from the cave, blessed it and threw it at the witch. She and her dog were turned to stone and can still be seen in the cave today.

Now given a choice, something suggests that people on the west coast of Newfoundland might prefer shelling out a few hundred thousand annually for a local Carla.  If nothing else, she’d be a much better draw than say some massive steel erections in a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Don’t think so?

Just take a gander at the winner.


Fisheries activist passes away

Father Des McGrath, the Roman Catholic priest who was instrumental in the drive to organize the Fish, Food and Allied Workers union has passed away at age 74.

McGrath was found dead in his garage by police.

Born in Corner Brook in 1935, McGrath was ordained in 1961.  in 1969, McGrath and Richard Cashin helped fisherman organize the Northern Fisherman’s Union.  It amalgamated with the Canadian Food and Allied Workers Union in 1970 to form the predecessor of the FFAW.  Cashin served a president. 

McGrath held no union office but remained an advocate for fisheries union for the remainder of his life.



1.  Does Ron Ellsworth, wannabe mayor, keep referring to himself in the plural as in “we” received information or when “we” got into politics when he is referring to himself, singularly and personally?

The “we”, something he copied from his model’s speaking pattern along with referring to things as this “piece” or that “piece”, sounds pompous, arrogant or – worse – deranged.  [word replaced;  see note below]

And while we are at it, why…

2.  would Ron Ellsworth, wannabe mayor, bring up optional blind trusts for city councillors when there are other ethics issues he’s clearly ignoring.

Like campaign finance reform.

Far better for people to know which monied interests in town are backing candidates than giving councillors the option of putting their interests at arms length.

But in the spirit of disclosure and accountability, maybe Ron could disclose publicly his own local business interests for starters and a complete accounting of his campaign donations and expenses for the past two elections.

We are not talking about the ones required by the laughable city election rules.  We are talking about full and complete disclosure using – for example – the federal campaign spending and reporting rules.

Ellsworth has made a rod to beat his own back, but his rival for the mayor’s chair – Doc O’Keefe  - isn’t likely politically swift enough to use it. 

Others might not be.


Change update:  There are two parts of that post that require correction, elaboration and clarification.

The first is the use of the word “mentor” in reference to Ellsworth.  That wasn’t the right word since it could suggest a conscious collaboration by both parties. The word “model” is better since it merely suggests what seems to be obvious, namely that Ellsworth is modelling himself on a certain well-known politician.

The second is to replace the words “but Doc is too stunned to use it, most likely”.  Stunned is a common enough local word and while that phrase would come across to someone who got the point using dialect, the potential for misunderstanding is too great to leave it alone.

The phrase could be taken the wrong way so best to change it to one that more accurately reflects the meaning intended:

As it now reads, the sentence should convey the point that while Ellsworth has essentially handed his rival with a political rod to beat him about the head with, Ellsworth’s rival hasn’t displayed the sort of political savvy and moxie – the political swiftness – to capitalize on his opponent’s blunder.

Now for those who think your humble e-scribbler got calls, be assured that there were none.  Also be assured that Doc’s crowd won’t like the revised version any better than the one before.  Nor will Ellsworth and his crowd.

This just makes plain what was meant.

28 July 2009

Re-union fever

Among the bands re-uniting for concert dates in 2009:

1.  Kajagoogoo[youtube link]

2. Spandau Ballet

3. Ultravox.

4.  Earth, Wind and Fire are still out there so this doesn’t really count as a reunion;  it’s worth just posting this video of a recent version of September that stills kicks ass.

5.  And to reunite you with some really great music from a band that never stopped, there’s always Kid Creole and the Coconuts:


27 July 2009

Significant digits: $100 million

No, it’s not Dr. Evil trying to catch up with the times.

There’s something about $100 million that seems to tweak the current Provincial Conservative administration in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Even more specifically, it is $100 million coupled with Labrador.

Take, for example, the plan to string hydroelectric lines and massive steel towers from Labrador to St. John’s via a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The Premier is backing the proposal to drive the giant steel erections straight through Gros Morne because the cost of jogging around the park -  which he estimates at $100 million – is too high a price. 

Or during the last provincial election campaign when the Liberals floated the idea of establishing a $100 million fund for economic development in Labrador.

Oh no, screamed the Tories.  The province might go bankrupt at such a price.

And then there’s the cost of extending fibre-optic telephone and data lines to Labrador.

Glorious idea, but the provincial government can’t even think about starting without federal cash.  The estimated cost is $80 million, but that’s only a couple of minor cost overruns or a simple bit of rounding from hitting the magic number.

All that is strange enough from a government that has money pouring in by the barrel-full from oil deals signed before 2003 when they came to power.

But, in fact, the Tories in power have so much cash floating around from all those old deals that, according to the last budget, they’ve got almost 20 times $100 million sitting in temporary investments.

Bankruptcy is far from imminent.

Still, the consistency of the talking point that connects $100 million and Labrador as being something problematic, just leaps out as a pattern.


$100 million.

There’s something about the two that sounds awfully familiar.

A few clicks of the keyboard and up it pops.

Faced with bankruptcy in the early 1930s, the Dominion of Newfoundland tried to sell Labrador to Canada as a way of picking up some fast cash and retiring the crushing debt that had been accumulated by decades of over-spending and mismanagement by Tory and Grit and coalition governments alike. 

Labradorians didn’t even have a vote before the 1946 National Convention but their lands, won by Newfoundland in a 1927 Privy Council decision on the boundary went up for sale before the ink was even dry on the documents.

The asking price was $110 million.  In some accounts the $10 million bit gets dropped off, probably due to rounding.

The Canadians weren’t interested.

Seems like the connection between Labrador and $100 million is passed on genetically because it just keeps seeming to crop up among local politicians.


iPod and flames

Seattle, Washington television station KIRO 7 reported last week on an 800 page report by the American Consumer Product Safety Commission into reports that some iPods have apparently burst into flames for no observable reason.

The report included 15 cases across the United States of iPod-related fires including some that caused injuries. There are over 175 million iPods across the globe.  No recall is planned.

Consumer reporter Amy Clancy obtained the report after a seven month long process under US federal access to information laws.


Gasoline plus Taser equals?

Fire, apparently.

Well, maybe. 

A man in Australia who had doused himself in gasoline reportedly burst into flames when local police hit him with a Taser. A police officer who tried to douse the flames suffered burns and injuries from rocks thrown at him by a nearby woman.

However police are also checking to see if the lighter the man was brandishing along with a container of gasoline may have ignited or if the man ignited as he was being struck with the Taser.


26 July 2009

The Newfoundland Flag: Great War version

flag ww1For those who have been following the Newfoundland flag posts, here’s another contribution that may well surprise some people.

This is an example of the certificates sent to families of soldiers killed during the Great War (1914-1918).  A similar document for sailors killed in action had the words Royal Naval Reserve in place of “1st Newfoundland Regiment”.

The flag to the left is the familiar Union Flag. 

The one on the right is the red ensign, adopted by the Newfoundland legislature in 1904.  The red version flew on government buildings while the blue version flew on government ships.

Incidentally, a Wikipedia entry on Newfoundland and Labrador incorrectly identifies the ensign as an “unofficial commercial flag” while one on the Dominion of Newfoundland shows the ensign correctly as the official flag..

great seal The ensign included the 1827 Great seal of Newfoundland in the fly.   The Great Seal depicts a fisherman and Mercury, the god of commerce, presenting the harvest of the sea to Britannia.  The motto is translated as “These gifts I bring thee.”

This was the official flag of Newfoundland at the time of the Great War.  In fact, you’ll have a hard time finding any official documents from the period which substitute another flag for the red or blue ensign. 

There are other examples of unofficial documents that use this flag in preference to any other.  A handbill distributed by the Fishermen’s Protective Union to praise the sacrifice of the Morey family of Boot Harbor [sic], Hall’s Bay shows the Union Flag and the red ensign.  The Morey’s had seven sons:  a total of four served with the Newfoundland regiment (2), the Royal Naval Reserve (1)and the forestry corps(1) .  A fifth had joined the American army and two others had tried repeatedly to enlist but been rejected for undisclosed reasons.

A poem honoring the regiment’s Roman catholic padre, Father Thomas Nangle, appeared in the August 1916 issue of the Newfoundland Quarterly. The only flags on the page are the Union Flag and the red ensign of Newfoundland.


Tourism industry association caves on Gros Morne hydro towers

The province’s hospitality industry now supports the provincial government’s plans for Gros Morne national park, expressing their belief that a “balance” can be found in the government’s plan to sling hydro lines along 120-foot-high steel towers along the most visible, public portions of the park.

There’s a story in the Western Star from last week.

Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador – the province’s tourism industry association -  issued an unprompted and undated statement  in early July that said:

…By being an active participant in this process and working with stakeholders to find the best solution, HNL is optimistic that a balance will be found. As business owners, the tourism industry understands the need to be financially prudent in making long term economic decisions and is confident that the long term economic and social impact of Gros Morne to the province is being considered during this process.

That statement appeared around the same time the Gros Morne story reared its head again publicly.  It came about a month after the provincial government created a new provincial tourism board.  The membership includes a bevy of current and former HNL heavyweights including HNL president Bruce Sparkes.

The language in the statement – especially the bit about being “financially prudent”  - matches perfectly the line taken by the Premier that he was prepared to sacrifice Gros Morne’s UNESCO status because the costs of going around the park might possibly, theoretically, be too high.  Financial prudence dictated the shortest route, especially if that extra money could be spent on health care instead.  Never mind that the province’s energy corporation would be building the lines with borrowed cash not money from the provincial treasury.

The Premier estimated the cost of going around the park at $100 million.  The provincial government currently has cash assets on hand of upwards of $1.8 billion.

By the time HNL issued its new position, the “long term economic and social impact” had already been considered of course, and promptly dismissed by the provincial government.

As the Western Star noted, the new HNL language is also radically different from the statement HNL made in February when the towers controversy first appeared.  Back then, there was an unequivocal statement that the towers were the wrong way to go:

"Running towers in front of dynamic and dramatic landscape is going to take away from the natural beauty of it," [HNL president Bruce] Sparkes said. [CBC story]

"From a photographic, awe-inspiring point of view, it's going to take away that. And who wouldn't say, 'Gee, too bad they put that pole line there?'"

What hasn’t changed in the government position, as expressed by the Premier:

“When park officials look at what the trade-off happens to be for the benefits we get at the end of day ... I think they will see the benefit,” he said.

Seems like that happened, but not to the park people. Who knows?  Maybe the HNL rethink was aided by a few phone calls and e-mails.

What makes the HNL about-face even more spectacular  something your humble e-scribbler noted back in early July when the erection story heated up again:  “the surest way to put an end to any news story about the threat to Gros Morne  from the potentially unnecessary infeed from the Lower Churchill – if that even gets built – is to have the tourism people state publicly that having Gros Morne festooned with steel girders and power lines  is just a lot of fuss about nothing at all.”

The tourism people have spoken.


24 July 2009

Irving shelves second refinery

Irving oil has cancelled plans for a $7.0 billion refinery in Saint John New Brunswick, adjacent to its existing refinery and natural gas facility.

The company cited the recession and forecasts of weak demand.

The proposal would have doubled the size of Irving’s existing 300,000 barrel per day refinery in the southern New Brunswick city.


23 July 2009

For want of a nail: cabinet ministers and conflict of interest version

The issues raised by the Paul Oram case just got a whole lot worse, politically:

…Oram replied that "if you look at any business people that are involved in government you'd have to ask the same question."

"I'm not the only one that owns businesses within government and owns shares within government, and has been a director of a business within government. There's all sorts of people that are involved there."

Expect reporters and others to ask some logical questions:

  • Who are the others in cabinet with business interests that aren’t in a blind trust?
  • Has there been a real or perceived conflict of interest in each of these?
  • How come the Premier didn’t simply require his ministers to put their businesses in a blind trust when they were appointed to cabinet?

That last one remains the crucial one for your humble e-scribbler.  This entire issue was one of the easiest to manage with a little preventive action.

As a result of that initial decision, Paul Oram’s answer to The Telegram just opened up a whole new line of inquiry where really there shouldn’t need to be one.


22 July 2009

Freedom from Information: the “how Irish are we” version

From the 2008 annual report of the Ireland Newfoundland Partnership:

Irish Legacy Project at The Rooms

The Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation, INP and IBP are supporting the establishment of the Irish Legacy Project at The Rooms Provincial Museum, Art Gallery and Archives (www.therooms.ca). 

The Irish Legacy Project will be a focal point for telling both the historical and contemporary stories of the Irish in Newfoundland. It comprises the development of a permanent exhibit for the museum, and the creation of an ancestral research workspace for the archives. It is expected that the museum exhibit will open to the public in September 2009.
There’s also a pretty good description of the project in the INP strategic plan for 2008-2010:
In 2007, INP became a partner in a major initiative titled the Irish Legacy
Project, which will establish a permanent exhibit at The Rooms Provincial Museum, Art Gallery and Archives in St. John’s. The exhibit will incorporate film, artefacts, maps, and text to describe the historical and present day relationship between Ireland and Newfoundland. It is envisaged that the establishment of this legacy project at The Rooms, will provide a focal point
for future culture and heritage projects and will assist the long-term sustainability of the Ireland Newfoundland connection. The core of the Irish Legacy Project will be a permanent exhibit in the provincial museum. To complement this exhibit, INP should continue to encourage art exchanges between the provincial art gallery and the Irish Museum of Modern Art, building upon a previous exchange in 2005.
You also won’t find anything over at the provincial version of the Ireland partnership.  There’s been no annual report from the Ireland Business Partnership since 2006-07 likely because the local website hasn’t been updated for the most part since late 2008. Even the “What’s New” section doesn’t mention the permanent exhibit, even though that page was updated in June 2009.

So what about The Rooms?

Funny thing is, you won’t find any reference to this exhibit on The Rooms’ website, even though the project has been underway since 2007  - at least  - and is apparently slated to open in September 2009.
This is really strange since in the museum world a permanent exhibit is a pretty big deal.  It’s basically the core of what the museum is supposed to represent.

You can see that by looking at two of the three permanent museum exhibits at The Rooms right now.  One is on the province’s natural history.  A second one focuses on aboriginal people in the province.  That pretty much follows on from the old Newfoundland Museum which combined a natural history museum and a human history museum in one pile.

A permanent exhibit that focused on one of the groups of European settler populations wouldn’t necessarily be the logical next step. Given the limited permanent space in the building, one might expect the next permanent exhibit to have a broader look at European history in the province with sections devoted to various aspects of that history.  The Irish would be there, along with the English – as the largest group – and the Norse, French, Basques and others.

An approach that emphasises diversity and the complexity of our history would also be in keeping with the provincial government’s own stated image of the province:
My Government will affirm Newfoundland and Labrador’s status as a distinct people, not uniform in lineage but multi-cultural, one nation inclusive of many nations living in harmony together.
Focusing in one one specific ethnic group - even one with as significant a role in Newfoundland and Labrador history as the Irish  - would be a pretty powerful political statement for one thing. 

Such a narrow exhibit would also run the risk of  providing a potentially distorted view of the history of Europeans in Newfoundland and Labrador complete with the stamp of museum authority.  That’s no small issue given the absence of a required history course in the provincial high school curriculum, for example,  and what appears to be a popular tendency to imagine or fantasize our history.

Then there’s that ancestral archives thing.  The provincial archives already get a huge chunk of business from people doing research into their own family tree.  Putting in some sort of dedicated genealogy workspace is a significant undertaking.  If the new workspace had an ethnic overlay to it, like say a special emphasis on the Irish alone, we’d be looking at a major alteration of the archives’ philosophy.

So with such a big thing in the works, it’s a bit peculiar that there has been so little public mention of it by the people behind the “legacy” project.

Let’s look a little deeper.

There is a reference to the project in The Rooms strategic plan (undated, but covering the period 2008-2011) tabled in the legislature in 2008.  It refers to completion of an undefined “Irish Legacy Project” by 2011, as one example of how the museum division will “have increased opportunities for the public to interact in a meaningful way with the history and visual arts of the province.”  Planning would be done by 2009.  The strategic plan doesn’t saying anything about this being a permanent exhibit.

There’s also a reference to the project in The Rooms 2007-08 annual report (tabled in February 2009 (!)):
…working with the Irish Business Partnerships and the Irish Newfoundland Partnership, and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs, the Museum initiated the Irish Legacy Project. The project, scheduled to open in March, 2009, will result in an exhibition focusing on the historical and contemporary connections between Newfoundland and Ireland.
Again, there’s no definition of the project nor a reference to a permanent exhibit but we do have a new date:  March 2009.  Now that’s not a date for planning to finish, that’s a date for the thing to open even though a different timeline was given in the strategic plan.

Let’s go back to digging and see if there’s more somewhere else.

Forget the provincial government website.  There’s nothing there on it at all in the way of a news release or ministerial statement. 

Over at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John’s website you’ll find this bit:
The Archives of the R.C. Archdiocese will have a number of archival documents on exhibit in Talamh an Éisc – The Fishing Ground , an exhibition that introduces the Irish peoples who have been in Newfoundland and Labrador since the late 1600s, the exhibit explores the communities they built and celebrates the contributions they made to life here in Newfoundland and Labrador. The permanent exhibit will open in The Rooms on March 18, 2009. [Bold in original]
They even have a specific date, but no exhibit opened in March 2009, though.

But there’s that word “permanent” again.

This is all very peculiar.  Neither The Rooms’ strategic plan nor annual report are documents people are going to leaf through impatiently trying to find out what is coming up.  Even if you did, the language is so vague as to be impenetrable. 

Sure, the documents are publicly available but if no one from The Rooms or the provincial government highlighted the project, mentioning it in the annual report or strategic plan is as good as saying nothing about it at all.

And if the crowd at The Rooms were hopped up on this major project, you’d think they’d be mentioning it, letting us now how important it is, how much work it will involve, and generally trying to build up a bit of attention for it.  After all, a new permanent exhibit on the Irish in Newfoundland is no small venture.

And since both the archdiocese and the Irish government think this is going to be a permanent feature of The Rooms, it seems very strange there’s been not so much as the peep of a pipe or the lilt of a lyre about it.

This is all very interesting and very peculiar.

And it makes you wonder what is really going on over in the box the Basilica came in.


Better late than never: Oram version

The province’s health minister putting his business interests in a blind trust.

The issue arose when Oram  - who owns two personal care homes – was appointed to his new portfolio.
As CBC reports it:
Not only is he moving all his shares in personal-care homes into a blind trust, Oram said, but he is going even further by moving all of his business interests — including stakes in funeral homes, a grocery store and a construction company — into a blind trust.
It makes sense to do it all at once, Oram said, in case he changes portfolios.

Good idea this blind trust thing.

Heaven knows you wouldn’t want to be appointed to a portfolio  - like say the Department of Business (which Oram held at the time of his appointment to health)  – and be running businesses in the province.

That would be a conflict of interest, wouldn’t it?
Told ya so Update:  The CBC story, linked above, has grown a tail made up of people essentially tossing back and forth comments in defence of Oram and attacking him.

All wonderful stuff and all completely unnecessary.

A real or perceived conflict of interest could have been avoided in this case and others if cabinet ministers were required to place their business interests in a blind trust when they are appointed to cabinet.  It's a simple solution and one that's been used in this province before.

All you can do is shake your head in disbelief.

21 July 2009

Another OCIO triumph

How do you deal with a government computer system that is hopelessly out of date it wants you to “update” your Internet browser to a version that is actually three version older than the one you are using?

You don’t really.

You just shake your head and laugh.

the past This picture is the screen that appears when you try and access some provincial government websites.  In this case, it’s the lobbyist registry set up after 2004.

Note the dates:

“Copyright 2000”

“Last updated January 12, 2003”… that is the year before the lobbyist registry bill passed the House of Assembly and long before the bill was even thought of.

The version of Firefox that screen appeared on is 3.0.12.

The government computer won’t let that higher version to access the registry because supposedly it doesn’t meet the minimum “security and compatibility requirements.”

The truth is the Firefox version currently in use by your humble e-scribbler exceeds the security requirements but in order to use it, the version it will accept is two full iterations old.

The alternatives are no better. 

There are still lots of people out there using Internet Explorer 6, but more and more of us users have upgraded to version 8.

Netscape Navigator was last updated in 2007.  The only thing you can get these days is an archive for it. That last iteration was version 9 which, as you can see, is two full iterations beyond the current government-supported version.

What about Chrome?

You get the same silly blocking screen recommending you use antiquated software.

The Office of the Chief Information Officer is the giant bureaucracy created by the current administration to manage all provincial government computing services.  The thing has been a pretty spectacular  - and expensive - failure, at least when it comes to ensuring the public face of government is functioning at something reasonably approaching modernity. 

This mess at the lobbyist registry website is a case in point. Incidentally, the companies registry is no better.  The only thing it will accept is IE.

So what’s a body to do? 

Try Internet Explorer.  For some inexplicable reason, the OCIO system still supports IE no matter version you are using.

One suspects, therefore, that security isn’t really the issue.  Rather the issue is likely that giant , expensive unwieldy bureaucracy cannot deliver what it should be delivering to government and especially to the public.

Running into this little annoyance time and again makes you wonder, though, if the current hardware standard throughout government is a 286 hooked to a dot matrix printer.


One last thing.

That contact link at the top of the page people are supposed to use if you download the old browsers and still can’t get through?  it takes you to a list of telephone numbers that are only available during government working hours.

There’s no e-mail contact address at all, anywhere.

Welcome to the 21st century, courtesy of the provincial government.


Cruising the numbers

The local tourism industry is a notorious spin machine, constantly trying to make things sound as magically delicious as possible.

That may be great for marketing but the hyper-torque makes it very difficult for anyone trying to get a handle on what the actual trends are in tourism or if all the money spent is bringing real dividends.

Take the local cruise ship marketing crowd for instance.  Their website is famous for predicting banner years in visitors, but the actual performance sometimes comes a little shy of the forecast.

In 2008, the tourism marketing agency predicted there’d be 60,000 passengers and crew visiting the province. The actual number was 50,000.  In fact, between 2005 and 2008, the number of passengers and crew from cruise ships has ranged between 50,000 (the low for the period) and 55,500 in 2007. The cruise authority’s forecasts are something else again.

This year, the prediction is for 65,000 visitors bolstered by provincial government cash. In fact, what catches the eye in a government news release is this claim:

Newfoundland and Labrador’s cruise industry has experienced significant growth in recent years. The latest industry research projects a 38 per cent growth rate since 2008 in the number of passengers and crew visiting the province – to exceed 65,000 visitors in 2009.

Since they don’t tell us what the performance was before 2008, we don’t know the basis on which the “research” makes the projection and we certainly don’t know how much growth there has been.

Usually a lack of concrete information is the first sign of bullshit and in this case, you’d be right on. Once you’ve checked the numbers, you’d discover that they’ve actually been pretty stable over the last four “recent” years.  Between 2007 and 2008, the trend was decidedly downward.

That second sentence is a bit dodgy as well since it holds out a prediction for this year compared to last year but without any solid underpinning.

Now once you have the numbers, you can also start to question basic math skills.  65,000 visitors in 2009 would represent 15,000 more than actually showed up in 2008.

That’s 30% more, not 38%.

But that number “38” didn’t wind up there by accident.  It was probably cut and pasted from an earlier news release.

You see 38% would be the increase CANAL predicted earlier this year when they were forecasting there’d be 69,000 cruise visitors in 2009.

Luckily they didn’t cut and past the earlier earlier prediction:  a 56% increase - 78,000  - in cruise ship visitors to in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2009. 

In other words, in the space of a few weeks, the cruise authority’s “research” forecast a 56% increase, then successively smaller numbers until this most recent one which is now 13,000 visitors lower than their first prediction.

Now the cruise ship industry, like the whole tourism industry, is a key part of the local economy.  Unfortunately, when it comes to facts, there are some in the industry who prefer the stuff that sounds good over the stuff you can measure. That’s too bad because every one of these visitors is a real visitor bringing new money into the economy.  Whether there are 50,000 of them this year or 60-, 65-, 70- or 78, 000, that’s a good thing.


20 July 2009

INP boondoggle tagged for axe in Irish expenditure cuts

A decade old business/trade project between Ireland and Newfoundland and Labrador that seems to have generated only cultural exchanges and ministerial trade missions has been identified by an Irish government-appointed panel  as one area of government spending the Irish government could cut in tough fiscal times.

In the report issued last week, the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programs recommends chopping public spending for the Ireland-Newfoundland Business partnership:

“…the discontinuation of programmes within the Department of the Taoiseach which are no longer justifiable given the significantly reduced Exchequer resources available and the existence of other more important priorities. Expenditure on the Active Citizenship Office and the Newfoundland Labrador Partnership falls into this category.” [Emphasis added]

In the report’s second volume, the panel cited a lack of an economic rationale to underpin the project as a key reason for recommending it get the axe:

This programme was developed to promote and develop cooperation with the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The Group understands that the partnership developed from the recognition of extensive migration ties between Ireland and Newfoundland/Labrador and the desire to build cooperation. However, there is no significant economic rationale to underpin continuation of the scheme and the Group recommends that the scheme be abolished to save €0.3m a year.

In setting the background for the recommendations, the group noted that the Irish government is facing a projected deficit in 2009 of 18.4 billion Euros.  The panel was also aiming at reducing the Irish public service which had grown overall 17% in the past eight years. 

In some sectors, the report noted disproportionate growth “in the ratio of senior-level grades where, for example, the numbers at middle to higher management levels in the civil service grew by some 82% in the period 1997 to 2009 at a time when civil service numbers as a whole increased by 27%.” (page 12)

The government is looking for ways to return the budget to balance in the shortest possible time.  The scope of the financial problems being faced in Dublin are laid out succinctly in the opening of the report:

Consequently, Ireland is now in a position where we need to borrow more to fund a larger budgetary deficit, while paying higher costs for this borrowing. This means that ever increasing proportions of our tax revenues will be needed to service the national debt. In 2009 over 11% of estimated tax revenues will be used for this purpose, compared with a figure of about 4½% of tax revenues as recently as 2007.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, innovation minister Shawn Skinner expressed his belief that the partnership would continue but his comments suggest that either he hadn’t read the report or had been very badly briefed before speaking with reporters.

"They are physically moving the office of the INP to the Taoiseach's office which is like … the premier over there or the prime minister over there and that to me speaks to the significance that the Irish hold this office in," he said.

The report clearly indicates that the partnership is already housed under the Taoiseach’s (first minister’s) office so that is really no indication of anything. 

Moreover, given the magnitude of the country’s financial problems, no office was safe from recommended cuts.  Even defence, which had seen a reduction of 8% in staffing over the past eight years, is included in the projected cuts and rationalisation.

The CBC online story (linked above) erroneously refers to the report as being prepared by consultants.  This suggests something with far less official status than it does.  The review panel was appointed by the Irish government as part of a specific government financial management project.  It received technical and administrative support directly by staff from the country’s finance ministry.

Skinner also said:

“"They are very cognizant of the good work that's being down by the INP with the IBP and they want to see that continue and I have no doubt they will continue to fund this office."

Pretty well all the projects and offices proposed for the chopping block do “good work”.  Most do far more “good work” core to Irish domestic social and economic interests than the half-million dollar partnership.

The current Irish national debt is more than 65 billion Euros.

The report is now in the hands of a parliamentary committee for detailed review before the next budget is set in the fall.


The Shoe Cove Connection

On July 20, 1969, humans first walked on the moon and Newfoundland and Labrador has played a role in the American space program since the beginning.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) operated a  station at Shoe Cove, north of St. John’s to provide telemetry for launches from Cape Canaveral and to assist in track spacecraft in orbit as part of the Manned Space Flight Network (MSFN). The Shoe Cove was one of dozens operated around the globe in support of the NASA program.

The site is identified in NASA historical records as being at St. John’s, but the facility was located north of the city, near Cape St. Francis.

The Shoe Cove facility operated from 1960 until it was phased out in 1970.  As such, Newfoundland played a role in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. A portable Minitrack and Optical Tracking System (MOTS) was moved to Newfoundland from a site in the Bahamas to support launches for Skylab.

The dates for the site are given incorrectly in some local accounts.  Several  documents available online give dates for the site from the late 1950s until the early 1970s.  One, dated 1962,  includes the frequencies on which the local system operated. An application for the site was approved by the federal cabinet in 1959.

With the end of the Apollo and Skylab projects in the 1970s, the connection between the American space program Newfoundland didn’t end.

Newfoundland remains a site in the Cape Canaveral range monitoring system.  With the closure of the U.S. naval facility at Argentia,  the 45th Space Wing, headquartered at Patrick Air Force Base, took control of one of the buildings still covered by the 1941 lease on the site. It is the last remaining American military location in Newfoundland and Labrador.  

An X-band radar installed on top of the building provides telemetry for launches from Canaveral along the northern portion of the range. The site is operated remotely but may be manned as needed.  The building and its systems are not part of NASA  - they belong to the U.S. Air Force’s 1st Range Operations Squadron, 45th Space Wing - but support NASA operations.


18 July 2009

Halberstam on the late Walter Cronkite

From The Atlantic, an excerpt of David Halberstam’s piece on television journalism:

…He knew by instinct the balance between journalism and show biz; he knew you needed to be good at the latter, but that you must never take it too far. He was enough of an old wire-service man to be uneasy with his new success and fame. He was just sophisticated enough never to show his sophistication.


17 July 2009

Ospreys 3

Here are some shots of CV-22 “0032” on the runway at St. John’s.  Apparently the US Air Force Ospreys  didn’t leave a couple of days ago as these came through this afternoon.

Note the heat plumes on the bottom shot coming from the engine.




Meanwhile, you can find one of Gary Hebbard’s shots at Avweb, in the slide show of reader-submitted shots.

Plus ca change pour M. Hodder

The Jim Walsh trial continued in court this week.

Former House of Assembly Speaker Harvey Hodder is still on the stand.

The Telegram account of his evidence on cross examination suggests the former Speaker is continuing the curious pattern he has had of offering accounts of events that vary somewhat over time.


Kremlinology 4: there and not there

Another news release of cash for Trevor Taylor’s district but no sign of any comment from the cabinet minister in the official news release from government.

Then again, a news release issued the same day with cash for a different project in the same community and Trevor is there, large as life.



16 July 2009

Back to the moon

As part of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing NASA is spending US$230,000 to restore video footage of the first mission that put humans on the moon.

NASA lost the original video in the 1980s when old tapes were inadvertently erased and re0used.  The lunar mission sent video pictures from the moon using a format unusable by television.  NASA converted the images into a TV-friendly format and it is those converted images that were broadcast around the world.  in the process, much was lost, apparently.

The restoration project involved a combination of footage found in video archives around the world and some 36 hours of video that survived in NASA’s own archive.

Some of the restored footage was unveiled Thursday on the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch of Cape Canaveral. There is also a NASA website containing still and video images of the Apollo 11 mission as well as NASA’s Apollo program page. Google also has a Google Moon site which covers the lunar landings from Apollo 11 until the last mission Apollo 17.


15 July 2009

Conflict of interest curiosity

Under the 1995 Conflict of Interest Act, a public officer hold is defined as any person who “receives a salary or other remuneration, in whole or in part, from money voted by the legislature…”.

That would make a cabinet minister a public office holder under the meaning of the Act.

Pretty simple, right?

There are also sections of the House of Assembly Act  that cover conflict of interest for elected members. There are provisions that tell cabinet ministers what to do.

They all come down to the same basic points.  People can’t further their private interests using information they gain from their public office.  In addition, cabinet ministers who may find themselves in a conflict of interest have a couple of options on how to handle a specific case, should it arise.

The simplest way for a cabinet minister to avoid an appearance of conflict is to place any business interests in a blind trust as soon as he or she is appointed to cabinet.

The reason is pretty simple:  lots of things come before cabinet or a cabinet committee, especially at budget time.  If you had certain types of business interests, the “leave the room” or “get someone else to do it” procedures set out in the House of Assembly Act would basically mean some ministers would spend more time out of the cabinet room than in it.

The Premier sensibly put his interests in such a blind trust after the October 2003 election.  He may have taken a while to do it and he may have moaned and complained as he went through the process but ultimately, his approach is the most sensible way to avoid political problems. When you have important work to do, there’s no reason to be distracted by issues that can be easily avoided.

Odd then, that the Premier has apparently made no such rules for his cabinet.  In response to reporters’ questions today, the Premier said that handling potential conflicts of interest would be a matter for the new health minister to sort out with former Tory party president Paul Reynolds ( in his role as Commissioner of Legislative Standards) but, for his part, Danny Williams advised Oram to put things in a blind trust.

Advised him?

Odder then, that Oram has been in cabinet – as business minister – but hasn’t bothered to sort out this issue before now.  A blind trust is a really simple, practical solution to a very real potential political problem.

And the whole thing is odder yet again considering that in 1997, then-Premier Brian Tobin issued cabinet conflict of interest guidelines that added to the requirements already in legislation.

1) Ministers shall place in a blind trust all assets, financial interests or other sources of income within the definition of "private interest" in S. 20 (e) of the Act, except for those that are an "excluded private interest" within the definition of S. 20 (a) of the act;

(2) Trustees for these blind trusts shall be other than members of the Minister's immediate family; and

(3) Ministers shall cease to serve as directors or officers in a company or association, as referred to in S. 20 (e) (iii) of the act.

Tobin acted amid accusations of a conflict of interest involving one of his ministers.

Maybe that’s what Danny Williams referred to before the 2003 election when he laid out his own ethics and accountability commitments to the people of Newfoundland and Labrador:

We've seen blatant abuse of office and taxpayers' money, allegations concerning conflict of interest, questions of fundraising contributions, and suggestions of impropriety during leadership conventions. These are very serious issues that are eroding the people's confidence in government. [Emphasis added]

Who knows?  Maybe he had other issues in mind.

But there’s no doubt he was aware of the issues and concerned enough about them to issue a suite of promises on ethics.

He didn’t mention a specific commitment on cabinet ministers and conflicts of interest but it seems passing strange that he hasn’t given his ministers any specific instructions on conflict of interest for his own cabinet.  If nothing else, clear instructions remove needless political problems like we said already.

The Premier certainly has the power, authority and everything else needed to set the rules for his own cabinet.

So how come he has decided to let Paul Reynolds sort it out?


Last Osprey shot

The CV-22s from 8 Special Operations Squadron and their escort Hercules aircraft left St. John’s at around 1430 hours local time on Wednesday afternoon.

That doesn’t mean the end of the great shots, however.

This one shows “0028” on approach, transitioning the engine pods to the vertical position in preparation for landing.  They are at about 45 degrees in this shot.

Incidentally, the pointy bit on the nose is the end of the  refuelling probe. 

Osprey 0028-transition

Ospreys at YYT: Day 2

A flurry of photographers arrived in ye olde e-mail inbox this morning from local aircraft enthusiasts.

These people can also use a camera.

AFG-070618-001 With the better pictures, it is now easy to confirm that the aircraft belong to 8th Special Operations Squadron, US Air Force unit that is part of Special Operations Command

To quote the factsheet:

“The primary mission of the 8th SOS is insertion, extraction, and re-supply of unconventional warfare forces and equipment into hostile or enemy-controlled territory using airland or airdrop procedures. Numerous secondary missions include psychological operations, aerial reconnaissance and helicopter air refuelling. To accomplish these varied missions, the 8th SOS utilizes the CV-22 Osprey, a highly specialized Bell-Boeing tilt-rotor aircraft.”

They fly out of Hurlburt Field in Florida.

Unlike the Marine and Navy aircraft, these come with a variety of specialised attachment including countermeasures, radio and different radar.

Osprey cropped Here’s a shot of the one included in last night’s update.

You can see some of the additional bumps on the nose to accommodate some of the specialised add-ons.

osprey approach Here’s another spectacular photo of 0028 on approach. 

Look at the tail ramp and you can make out the loadmaster next to what appears to be a weapons mount covered in a yellow tarpaulin.

Turns out to that these aircraft have been through St. John’s before.  In October 2008, they transited through St. John’s, presumably on the way to an international exercise in Mali

The photos below are from the October visit.  They clearly show “0028” and “0031” both of which went through St. John’s in the past 24 hours, destination across the Atlantic presumably.











“0031” with blades folded.


Another aircraft being readied for flight.


“0031” ready to launch.

Fantasy Island; Flags of Our Fathers version

A cabinet minister whose doesn’t know his historical arse from his current events elbow.

And now a bunch of guys who put up a flag to remind us, supposedly, of where we came from, of our past. That’s how one of the guys behind a giant pink, white and green flag described the project for CBC Radio’s Chris O’Neill-Yates.

Seems some yahoo unscrewed the flag base and demolished the thing a month or so after the boys put it back. Apparently it’s been vandalised every year since it was stuck up there a few years ago.

Ah yes, a glorious reminder of our past.

Our past as the pre-Confederation Newfoundland, it would seem:

As mentioned in my last post, we’re putting up the Republic of Newfoundland flag on the South Side hills, and everyone is invited to join in on the hike.

Those familiar with what actually happened will no doubt be scratching their heads and rightly so. Just stop before you cut through the skin.

The Republic of Newfoundland is fiction.

Never existed.

Never happened.

The “republic” is entirely the invention of a local guy looking to make a buck on a few tee-shirts. And he’s made it too what with the popularity of the shirts among the latter-day corner boys.

The flag – in all its pink, white and green gloriousness – belonged to a St. John’s crowd but over its whole history it never gained widespread popularity through what became the Dominion of Newfoundland.

It was certainly never adopted as the official flag of the country.

In other words, at the very best, the flag is a townie artefact but as the flag of a republic? You can’t be the flag of something that never existed anyways.

The crowd who demolished the flag are very likely not a bunch of historians on a rampage.

They are most likely just another bunch of locals who like to destroy what others have made, even if – in this case – what the flag represents is entirely a figment of someone’s imagination masquerading as reality.

Oh well.

If the boys with the flag are raising some money to fly their flag again, maybe they can get in touch with Paul Oram.

He seems like the poster child for their project.

Update November 21, 2009: New title to deconflict with another post. Both were originally titled "Fantasy Island"


14 July 2009

Seen at YYT: Ospreys!

Pictures to follow but three Osprey tilt-rotors arrived at St. John’s airport within the last hour, apparently accompanied by a KC-130.

The Osprey is an unconventional aircraft that is entering service with the United States Marine Corps, Navy and Special Operations Command.  Launching and recovering vertically like a helicopter, the engine pods rotate in the air allowing the aircraft to fly like propeller driven airplane.

image.ashx For those who haven’t seen one, here’s a US Navy stock shot of one in a hover.








osprey-folded blades No Joy Update:  Your humble e-scribbler is not a photographer.

St. John’s airport has a ramp where aircraft are parked in cases when the owners don’t want them seen.

That’s where the three Ospreys and a bevy of Hercs are parked, with the Hercs positioned in such a way that only the tips of the blades of two of the Ospreys could even been seen from the airport fence.

In the twilight, the third could be seen, behind a service truck, with its rotor blades folded.  if you squint and look at the shape inside the red outline above, there she is.  That glint slightly right of centre is the reflection of the airport trucks yellow roof light on the aircraft windscreen.  The starboard engine is just above the truck.

Hopefully some other local aircraft enthusiasts had better luck and are better photographers.

Having big guns helps

Paper maker Kruger may be getting additional financial help from the provincial government to keep its mill in Corner Brook operational.

There’s nothing new in this.  The provincial government has been subsidizing the forest industry for years.

What makes this a bit different is that the area has such strong representation in government.

No one is explaining to forestry workers why subsidies are bad, as fish minister Tom Hedderson did a few weeks ago when people wanted some cash to help out that troubled industry.

Having big guns helps.

Of course,  having those big guns a wee bit worried doesn’t hurt either.

You can tell they are worried about local public anxiety about the future of the Kruger operation when a news release appears advising that every provincial politician from the Corner Brook area will be traveling in a pack on Wednesday.


Good news on fishery

It may have taken a global crisis to bring everyone together but the provincial government, the Association of Seafood Producers and the Fish Food and Allied Workers union have reached an agreement to develop a plan on restructuring the fishery.

Working groups will look at financing, marketing and overall restructuring.

The process will be directed and overseen by a steering committee consisting of two representatives from each of the FFAW, ASP and the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. An independent chair will be appointed by the Provincial Government and the working groups will be assisted by a facilitator from the department.


13 July 2009

Sorta NSFW Monday

There is no limit to the human imagination.

Proof can be found in the marvellous Lego.

Millions of children have grown up with them, building entire worlds out of a few small bricks.  We loved them and cherish them and sometimes choked on them, but with Lego we could build a world which was entirely ours.

Some of us couldn’t bear to part with these special toys from our childhood. Your humble e-scribbler still has a bag of all his 1960s and 1970s era bits and pieces but they haven’t been played with in a while.


Maybe since last week.



For your amusement, here are some links to what some of the hornier adult Lego fans get up to in their spare time.

Given that they involve sexual images, we have to put a warning label on them that they may not be suitable for all ages and may not be safe for work.  Given that they are Lego people, they might be safe for some workplaces, hence the “Sorta NSFW”.

There is the Lego Kama sutra, although there are only 12 pictures in that link.  If memory serves, there were a few more positions than that in the book.  Bonus points to anyone who can find a Ferrari in the original illustrations.

Rest easy, literary purists.  Someone else has reproduced additional positions from the  Kama sutra and made a slide show of the result.

There is another collection of 40 pictures of Lego people in various suggestive positions.  We call them “suggestive” since the wee Lego people are not even close to anatomically correct and they are merely positioned close to each other in certain poses that hint at  certain sexual positions. 

With that in mind, the genius behind this  little collection evidently has an obvious fondness for one position.  Given the frequency with which it appears, odds are he or she isn’t getting  much of it.

Note that the one with the elephant and  another with the Batman characters are just warped enough to put some people off their oatmeal.

Those of you of the kinkier persuasion will probably like the rather elaborate one that isn’t depicting intercourse.  Or police officers, for that matter although handcuffs show up.

Now if all that Lego smutification isn’t your cup of tea, there are some other truly inventive and well-done bits of animation on youtube using Lego.

Raiders of the Lost Ark.



Sudbury workers on strike

Vale Inco’s unionized employees in Sudbury hit the picket line Monday after 85% rejected the company’s latest contract offer in voting on the weekend.

According to the Globe and Mail:

At issue was Vale's proposal to reduce a bonus tied to the price of nickel.

In addition, workers opposed a plan by the company to exempt new employees from its defined-benefit pension plan, which guarantees employees a reliable and steady income after retirement.

The company is proposing to provide them with a defined-contribution plan, which bases retirement benefits on investment returns.

Employees at the company's Voisey's Bay operations in Labrador voted 99 per cent against the same offer on Wednesday and are set to begin a strike on Aug. 1.


$300 million for Goose Bay environmental clean-up

The federal government will spend $300 million for environmental clean-up at 5 Wing Goose Bay. The clean-up project will end in 2020.

The clean-up is being touted as an economic boost to the town in addition to the obvious environmental value.

"This significant investment benefits the Wing, contributes to the economic foundation of the community and mitigates risk to human health and the environment," MacKay, who visited the base Sunday, said in a news release.

Liberal member of parliament Todd Russell sees the clean-up as a prelude to shutting the military base. Russell is quoted by the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese:

"When governments clean up they're looking to clear out," he said.

The defence minister’s spokesman, Dan Dugas, denies the claim according to Pugliese:

Dugas said Goose Bay continues to play an important role in the Canadian Forces operations. "We believe in the base," he added.

Dugas noted that around $100 million a year is spent annually operating the base. In addition, $20 million was recently spent on improving runways there.


12 July 2009

Government on shuttle watch?

STS-127 will launch from Cape Canaveral in less than four hours.

The shuttle Endeavour will launch on an inclination of 51.6 degrees taking it over the Hibernia, Terra Nova and White Rose platforms.

Is our offshore oil safe from the possibility shuttle pieces will fall on top of them in some sort of fiery cataclysm?

Don’t laugh.

Only four short years ago, the Premier threw a very public and very ill-informed panic attack over rocket launches heading over the precious oil fields and the prospect one might drop and blow everything up.

It was one of the early dramas in what seems to have become  a drama-filled administration.

Not all have been so preposterous or as laughable.


Weather Report Update:  They scrubbed the launch due to bad weather.

10 July 2009

Paul Oram: Minister of Revisionist History

Former business minister Paul Oram did a series of interviews when he was in Atlanta last October to attend a trade mission.

His interview on diversifying the economy is interesting mostly because Oram manages to completely cock-up just about everything.

According to Oram, the cod moratorium took place in the “early to mid-1980s”.

If you think that was a slip of the tongue consider that according to Oram, once the moratorium started,  we then turned to diversifying the economy with mining for things like iron ore and uranium.  Iron ore mining dates back to the 1890s, not the 1980s and as for uranium, there isn’t a functioning uranium in the province at the moment.  There never has been one. There are prospects but no actual mine.

The Lower Churchill will start up within the coming year (i.e. 2009) according to Oram, even though the thing had not even started the environmental review process when he did the interview.  It won’t complete the process until 2010-2011.

When asked about innovation, Oram couldn’t give an example.  Instead, he talked about the difference between his department and the innovation department.

We’ll be generous and say that oram sounded like the minister of revisionist history.

Others might say he was the minister of  the “Don’t know a Damn Thing” department.


Incidentally, just count the number of times Oram says “to be honest with you.”

We assume he is being honest.  It’s just that he honestly doesn’t have a clue about recent events in Newfoundland and Labrador.