Portugal: A Land of Explorers

But Portugal has a peaceful feel about it. I sit on the terrace overlooking the vineyard there and I feel cut off from the world. You need that sort of thing. – Cliff Richard

Physical Location Map of the Area around 39° 30' 19" N, 7° 34' 30" W

It was Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese explorer who first sailed from Europe to Kozhikode (Calicut) in Kerala in 1498.  Under the leadership of Prince Henry, the Navigator, the Portuguese accumulated a wealth of knowledge about navigation, geography of the Atlantic Ocean and had monopoly on spice trade with Kerala, during the 15th and 16th centuries.

Christopher Columbus who inadvertently discovered a new continent was neither Portuguese-born nor sponsored, but was Portuguese trained. He married a Portuguese woman; obtained navigation charts and related information from his father-in-law, Bartholomew Perestrelo.  He also collected maritime intelligence from returning explorers and sailors.

Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese born explorer, is known to be the first to first circumnavigate the globe, an exploration sponsored by Spain. He sailed around South America, discovering the Strait of Magellan, and across the Pacific.


On June 18, we flew into the Northern city of Porto – home to Port wine and a beautiful old city centre which UNESCO recognised as a World Heritage Site.  It was a rainy and cloudy summer day and in the evening we set out on foot to explore the city.

Clérigos Tower and Sé Catedral do Porto are the two prominent buildings on the Porto skyline, a must-see location for all those who visit the city of Porto.


From our hotel we walked to Sé Catedral do Porto (Porto Cathedral), built in Romanesque style construction which began in the twelfth century.   The paintings by Nasoni, the carved gilded wood altarpiece and the silver altar of the Blessed Sacrament are all worth a glimpse.


The beautiful blue (azulejo) tiles that cover its galleries, as well as the chapel are from the Gothic period.


The church offers a panoramic view of Ribeiro, is one of the most popular neighbourhoods in Porto. True to its name, the district is situated on the riverbank (Ribeira in Portuguese stems from the word river).


Clérigos Tower is considered a National Monument since 1910. The Tower built in the 18th century, is now a museum, open to the public.


From the church, we walked to the Ribeira, a riverside historic neighbourhood that retains all its medieval charm.  Its colourful and wonderfully decorated façades and many restaurants that line up will please any visitor.


Walking through the Ribeira, along the Douro River, we reached Dom Luis bridge, dating from 1886.  The upper level is used by metro-rail and the lower level by automobiles.  We walked along the walkways on the lower level and reached the wine lodges of Porto.  On one end of the bridge is the former Monastery of Serra do Pilar, characterised by its circular church and cloister.


Port Wine Lodges are located in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the opposite side of the Douro River.  Sandeman’s and Croft’s are two of the best well-known lodges.  Most buildings had red tiled roof, akin to old building’s roof of Kerala, which must be from Portuguese influence.


Below the monastery we found many love locks which couples lock to a steel bridge, and throw away the keys into the river, to symbolise their unbreakable love.  The city authorities are not pleased by such display of love as they consider them as vandalism due to the damage they cause and the cost of removing them.


From the Ribeira, we walked through the rain to São Bento Station, made of glass and wrought iron.  Built in 1900, this beautiful station was named after a Benedictine monastery that once occupied this space in the 16th century.


Inside, twenty thousand azulejos (hand-painted Portuguese blue tiles) cover the grand entrance hall depicting Portugal’s history, its royalty, its wars, and its transportation history. The blue and white tiles were placed over a period of 11 years (1905–1916) by artist Jorge Colaço.


Next to the station stood the Santo Antonio dos Congregates Church built between 1662 and 1680.  During the Siege of Porto (1832-33) by the Liberals, this church became a military hospital and army storage facility.


Our next stop was at the Praça da Liberdade, the commercial hub of Porto, built in 1920s. At the top of the square is the Câmara Municipal (City Hall), with its distinctive clock tower.


Walking through Rua Santa Catarina, a cobblestone paved pedestrian only shopping street, packed on either side with international stores and numerous restaurants, street vendors and coffee shops, we came to a shopping plaza.  My eyes caught on to the Indian made Bajaj Scooter on display in a clothing store.


We continued walking along Rua Santa Catarina and reached the Chapel of Santa Catarina, also called Chapel of Souls. This unique shrine dates back to the 18th century and is completely covered in the typical blue Portuguese tiles.

A bit tired after a long walk through the rain with jet-lag hanging on our eyelids, we dined at a roadside restaurant with entrée being Bacalhau (salted cod fish).  It is the most popular base commodity in Portuguese cooking.  Traditionally there are more than 365 different dishes, one for each day of the year, and the country has a love affair with the pungent smelling fish.

We then returned to our hotel to prepare for the Wine Tour of Douro Valley for the next day

Military Ethics and Politics in Canada


The House of Commons of the Canadian Parliament voted unanimously on May 14, 2019 to apologise to Vice Admiral Mark Norman, Vice Chief of Defence Staff, for his legal ordeal  with a resolution that “ The House recognize Vice-Admiral Mark Norman for his decades of loyal service to Canada, express regret for the personal and professional hardships he endured as a result of his failed prosecution and apologise to him and his family for what they experienced during their legal conflict with the government.”

What was remarkable was that the resolution was moved by a member of the opposition Conservative party and passed by the house duly supported by the ruling Liberal party whose government was mainly responsible for the Admiral’s ordeals. Indeed, it was an unmistakable sign of a healthy democracy. The passage of such a resolution was a tacit admission of error on the part of the Liberal government, however much one may argue that the investigation and subsequent procedure is carried out by independent agencies.

However, the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a hard time saying sorry to Vice-Admiral Mark Norman.  He refused to apologise when asked directly to do so by Conservative Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Scheer.  Trudeau’s response was to blame Stephen Harper, his Conservative predecessor, for awarding a defence contract, in which the admiral allegedly had an interest.

Scheer pointed out the double standard and launched a vicious attack on the Prime minister for his willingness to spend untold millions of Canadian tax payers’ money for prosecuting a righteous public servant, Vice Admiral Norman who was a national hero.

When the resolution was put to vote, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had already left the chamber and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was absent.  In an election year this will surely have its political consequences.

In stark contrast to the passage of this apology resolution, I was reminded of the several instances of senior officers of the Indian defence forces being convicted by court martial and cashiered/ dismissed from service in disgrace. In quite a few instances the higher courts of appeal have rejected the court martial verdicts and restored the lost honour of these officers. However, there was not a single case of an apology from anyone, not even the concerned service Headquarters to the individual.

At the time when charges were pressed against Vice Admiral Mark Norman, he was the Vice Chief of the Canadian Defence Forces, the Number 2 man in the military hierarchy. For a western democracy, it was perhaps a rare incident of such nature.

What was the case against Vice Admiral Mark Norman?

The Canadian Navy urgently needed a supply ship as HMCS Protecteur, Canadian Navy’s only supply ship was engulfed in a blaze in February 2014, rendering it unserviceable.  The ship had to be towed by a US Naval ship to Pearl Harbour.  The Conservative government in power then placed an order with Quebec-based shipbuilder Chantier Davie Canada Inc (Davie) to convert a civilian cargo ship into a military supply vessel at a cost of $668-million.

Prior to the award of the contract, the Conservative Government changed the federal procurement rules to allow a single vendor contract without competition, which was questioned by the incoming Liberals. The Conservative Defence Minister defended the decision to amend the rules to facilitate the single vendor deal, as the Canadian Navy wanted a Supply Ship urgently and the normal process would involve 30 to 36 months.

In November 2015, the new Liberal Government apparently took a decision to pause and review the deal. The information was leaked to James Cudmore, then a CBC reporter. Following the leak, there was a public outrage in Quebec. The liberal Government then backtracked and quickly approved the deal.  However, furious with the leak, the Government ordered the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to investigate the matter.

In January 2017, Vice Admiral Mark Norman was suspended from service and more than a year later subsequent to raids at his residence, the RCMP charged Vice Admiral Mark Norman with breach of trust, alleging that he leaked cabinet secrets to both an executive at Davie and to a journalist.   In its court brief, it was alleged that Norman ‘knowingly and deliberately’ leaked this information and breached cabinet secrecy on 12 separate occasions between October 2014 to November 2015.

Norman vehemently denied any wrong doing pleaded not guilty to the charges and said that he acted with integrity, ethically and “in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces and, ultimately, the people of Canada.”

Government’s case against Norman unexpectedly began to collapse in March 2019, partly under the weight of information from several former Conservative cabinet ministers and staffers. The new evidence, gathered by Norman’s lawyers and presented to the court on March 28 included some documents which were not uncovered during the investigation, something Norman’s lead defence lawyer blamed on government obstruction. The independence of the investigation carried out by the RCMP also comes into question.


The case took a turn on its head the moment Liberal MP Andrew Leslie announced his retirement from the federal Liberal caucus and expressed his wish to testify for the defence in Vice-Admiral Mark Norman’s trial.  His testimony would have been politically embarrassing for the government, coming from the ruling party MP.  It was a political ‘hara-kiri’ for Leslie who said that he will not be running for re-election in 2019.

Who is Liberal MP Andrew Leslie?  Why was he defending Vice-Admiral Mark Norman?


Veteran Lieutenant General Andrew Brooke Leslie served Canadian Army for over three decades.   He was an artillery officer commissioned in 1981 and rose to the top of the hierarchy to be appointed as Chief of the Land Staff in Jun 2006.  He retired in September 2011 and was elected MP of Liberal Party in 2015. Prior to his retirement, he was assigned the task of making a ‘transformation report‘ of the Canadian Defence Forces. On this task Admiral Mark Norman was his deputy and part of the team that submitted the report. So Admiral Mark Norman was a subordinate well known to the General.

While appearing as defence witness, Leslie would have no specific knowledge about the allegations that led to the charge against Norman, but would have insight into how the case was treated by the Liberal government, both during the investigation and throughout the pretrial phase. The Admiral’s legal defence had often often made the accusation of political interference which may well get substantiated by the General’s testimony. Also, knowing the nuances of the procurement process and probably having faced frustrations similar to the problem of procuring a supply ship may well state in testimony that the Conservative Government decision to amend the procurement rules was well justified.  All these would surely have been politically embarrassing for the government.

The General acted like a General to defend the honour and well being of his subordinate, a comrade in arms, even at the cost of his political future. This is a classic case of military loyalty to the organisation and ultimately to the Canadian nation in a larger sense.  Notice that there was a personal cost involved and therefore becomes all the more praiseworthy

At the end of it, the government was forced to drop all charges against Vice Admiral Mark Norman.  What caused the prosecution to drop the charge is not yet known.  It is obvious that for the conviction to stand, the aspect of personal gain and damage to public interest would both require to be proved. There is no indication of any available evidence towards this.  In the face of mounting public statements from then Conservative cabinet ministers and staffers that the Admiral’s recommendations for single vendor deal with Davies was made only in the best interests of the Canadian Navy, the prosecution was probably left with no alternative but to drop the charges.

The Canadian public will come to know of the reasons that prompted the state to drop the charges only if Norman ever files a civil lawsuit against the government for the ordeal that he faced.  Norman said he has an ‘important story’ to tell Canadians, which he will be sharing in the coming days.

On being exonerated of all charges, Vice Admiral Mark Norman said “I am confident that at all times I acted with integrity, I acted ethically and I acted in the best interests of the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces and, ultimately, the people of CanadaThe alarming and protracted bias of perceived guilt across the senior levels of government has been quite damaging and the emotional and financial impacts of the entire ordeal have taken a toll.”  Like a true soldier he did not blame anyone for his ordeal and was preparing to get back to work immediately.

Meanwhile, the supply ship that Vice Admiral Norman fought for, MV Asterix (It is not christened HMCS as the ship is only leased by the Canadian Navy.  It is not commissioned by the Navy and is manned by Naval and civilian crew), has been in service for more than a year, refuelling Royal Canadian Navy ships around the world. Many in the Canadian Navy say that conversion of the Asterix from a merchant vessel to a Naval supply ship is a rare example of a defence project that was delivered on time and on budget.

So, in the face of a decision which apparently went right all the way, pressing charges against a man who recommended the course of action probably seemed meaningless.  Was it simply a case of a political squabble between the Liberals and the Conservatives into which a man in uniform was unwittingly drawn? We shall probably never know!

Banning Cell Phones in Schools


Ontario is banning cell phones in classrooms during instructional time, starting next academic session – September 2019.  Education Minister Lisa Thompson said “Ontario’s students need to be able to focus on their learning — not their cell phones. By banning cell phone use that distracts from learning, we are helping students to focus on acquiring the foundational skills they need, like reading, writing and math.”

The cell phone combined with internet technology has undoubtedly revolutionised our lives in myriad ways. Perhaps there is hardly any facet of life untouched by this revolution. Increasingly, it has become difficult to be active members of our present day societies without the use of cell phones. Like all technologies that have revolutionised human life and behaviour, the cell phone too has its pros and cons. Along with its all too obvious beneficial uses, the cell phones have a number of disruptive influences particularly on children.

Research indicates that in developed countries, a majority of middle school children own cell phones. While some children own their first cell phones when they are 11, nearly 50-60 % of all children own cell phones by the age of 13. In many cases it is the parents who are instigators of the first cell phone purchase. For many families the safety factor along with an enhanced sense of being connected is the major motivator for children being cell phone owners at a tender age. Children from higher income groups tend to own a cell phone earlier than those from lower income groups. Both parents and schools resort to various methods to regulate the use of cell phones to a greater or less degree.

In developing nations, the problem seems to be less acute as it is only a small percentage of well to do children who own cell phones in middle school and majority of children even in high schools still do not own cell phones. While parents of children who own cell phones attempt some sort of regulation on their use, most schools simply adopt a policy of banning these devices within school premises. Just as school uniforms do, such a policy serves as a great leveler between the haves and the have nots. So the dynamics in the developing world seem to be quite different from those in the developed world.

Is the ban proposal a case of resistance to change? During our schooldays too, many such scientific gadgets that enhanced learning were banned and the bans were later withdrawn. It commenced with the slide rule, then it was the calculator. During our children’s schooldays it was the turn of the scientific calculator to be followed by the laptop and then the notepad computers. While it has to be admitted that the revolutionising impact of the cell phone is far different from that of the slide rule or scientific calculator, particularly on the social and behavioural planes, the bottom line is that it is still a new technology that must be incorporated into the learning process sooner or later.

Cell phones help improve Digital literacy, a critical aspect of young students learning. It will also help them to effectively participate in the workforce. The cell phones provide a link between students and their parents, which has an important role to play in ensuring their safety. Evidence indicates parents want this type of access. Students with special needs, such as managing diabetes, and other medical and physiological conditions may be required to access various apps during school(s) hours. Rather than banning cell phones all out, we need to find ways to educate the students to use their phones effectively and efficiently. Banning cell phones will likely lead to underground and hidden use by teens. Rather than reducing cyber-bullying, banning cell phones altogether may show an increase in cyber-bullying.

We know about the 3Rs of learning – reading, writing, and arithmetic. We now need to include ‘research’, thus making it 4Rs. Schools need to educate both the teachers and students about safely negotiating the virtual environment. This means all schools need to develop policies around the use of cell phones during school hours.

A 2015 study by the London School of Economics investigated the impact of restricting  Cell phone use in schools of four cities in England on student productivity. The results  indicated an improvement in student performance of 6.41% in schools that have  introduced a cell phone ban. These findings did not discount the possibility that  cell phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured. The study  found that cell phone bans have very different effects on different types of students. It  improved outcomes for the low-achieving students (14.23%), and had no significant  impact on high achievers. It showed that low-achieving students are more likely to be  distracted by the presence of cell phones, while high achievers can focus in the  classroom regardless of whether phones are present.

Another study was published in the Journal of Communication Education, Ohio University, based on impact of cell phone usage during class lecture, on student learning. Participants in three different study groups (control, low-distraction, and high- distraction) watched a video lecture, took notes on that lecture, and took two assessment tests after watching the lecture. Students who were not using their  cell phones wrote down 62% more information in their notes, took more detailed notes, were able to recall more detailed information from the lecture, and scored better on a multiple choice test than those students who were actively using their cell phones.

Research published by the University of Chicago found that even if cell phones are turned off, turned face down or put away, their mere presence reduces people cognitive capacity. The paper called the phenomenon “cell phone induced brain drain”.

University of Illinois conducted a study that examined students’ cell phone and Internet use and its relationship to their mental health. The study assessed two forms of escapism amongst students: one that arises from boredom and one used as a way to avoid negative emotional situations.

What are the likely drawbacks of students using cell phones?

  • It surely reduces face-to-face communication. Teenagers tend to message or  text, avoiding a more challenging conversation.
  • Smartphone apps, games and messages prompt dopamine release, creating addiction. Mere presence of a phone in the backpack can distract a student even though the student may not even be checking it.
  • It tends to reduce working memory capacity, mental mathematical ability, logical analysis and fluid intelligence.
  • It has surely reduced the students’ ability to cope with uncertainty and stress. In other words it reduces tolerance for ambiguity. Research shows being uncomfortable with uncertainty is associated with students feeling distracted and tense during difficult examinations or tests. The more uncomfortable young people are with uncertainty, the higher the number of co-occurring psychological problems they report experiencing. Smartphone use is associated with the current epidemic of anxiety and depression.

How can cell phones help in enhancing the learning process?

  • Students tend to carryout research using their cell phones off-campus, later in life in their higher education, and in their professional and workplace learning.
  • In case students want to investigate, collect data, receive personalised and immediate feedback, record media, create, compose, or communicate with peers, in and beyond the classroom, then using cell phones is ideal.
  • Cell phones allow students to learn at a place, time and pace of their choosing, for example, on excursions, or when working on group projects or assignments with friends in more informal spaces like home, while travelling, etc.

Banning cell phones in schools is not the solution as it is important to educate children to live well in the era in which they are growing up. Students must be taught how to use technology to learn, communicate, and work with ideas. Modern technology provides new learning opportunities and the ability for students to develop skills they will need for future careers. The ability to copy what is written on the blackboard or what is dictated by the teacher into a note book is not a particularly useful skill that will help learning in the modern age nor is it what prospective employers are looking for.

An outright ban on cell phone use will hardly ever yield the results intended. Students will always find a way to smuggle it in, even if banned. That said, there is also an overarching need to perhaps severely regulate its use during classes.

Is there a need to regulate the minimum age for ownership of cell phones?

The rules formulated must be implementable at school level without hindering learning and development while at the same time minimise the disruptive effects on tender minds at the social and psychological plane.

Is it worthwhile to ban cell phones in schools? Will the ban be later overturned?

A Letter to Santa


Most children believe in the existence of Santa Claus just as our children did while growing up.  Why wouldn’t they? After all, they always found the Christmas gift they prayed for under the Christmas Tree every Christmas Morning.

During the Christmas of 1994, I was posted as the Brigade Major at Binnaguri.  Veteran Lieutenant General KR Rao, PVSM, AVSM, VSM was then our Colonel General Staff. Before coming to wish us ‘Merry Christmas’ he called up and our daughter Nidhi, aged three, answered the phone and asked him as to who he was.  Colonel Rao with a tinge of humour said “I am the Santa Claus .”  Nidhi was overjoyed and said “Thank you Santa, I got the Barbie which you sent across.  How did you know that I really wanted it?”


Santa Claus – it all began with St Nicholas, saint of children and sailors, a Bishop who lived in the Fourth Century in Myra, Turkey.  He was a very rich and kind man with a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people.  The legend has it that a poor man who had three daughters could not get them married as he could not afford dowry.  One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house which fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry.  It was repeated for the second and third daughters. Thus commenced the tradition of hanging stocking by children expecting Santa to drop their gifts down the chimney.


St. Nicholas became popular in the Victorian era when writers and poets rediscovered the old stories.  In 1823 the famous poem ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ was published by Dr Clement Clarke Moore.  The poem describes St Nicholas with eight reindeer and gives them their names. They became famous with the song ‘Rudolph the Red nosed Reindeer’, written in 1949. The other seven reindeers are named Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.

Are these reindeer male or female?  Obviously they are females as female reindeer keep their antlers throughout winter whereas the males shed them. It’s a mystery, though, why many of them have obvious masculine names, Rudolph for instance.

Santa in England became ‘Father Christmas’ or ‘Old Man Christmas’, in France, he was called ‘Père Nöel’, in Austria and Germany he was ‘Christ kind’ a golden-haired baby, with wings, who symbolised the new born baby Jesus.

In North America his name was ‘Kris Kringle’ (from Christkind). Later, Dutch settlers took the old stories of St Nicholas with them and Kris Kringle and St Nicholas became ‘Sinterklaas’ or as we now say ‘Santa Claus.’


Canada is home to the tradition of children writing letters to Santa.  Canada Post has been helping Santa with his mail for decades. Since the national program started, in 1981, Santa’s North Pole Post Office has answered more than 27.8 million letters, in 39 languages, including Braille.  Look at the Postal Code – it is ‘Ho Ho Ho’ – Santa’s signature laugh.

Santa is assisted by volunteers called ‘ Postal Elves; who help him with this monumental task. They volunteer more than 260,000 hours to make sure all the children who write to Santa get a reply before Christmas.


The first snowfall or the Santa Claus parades held in most cities and towns across Canada is a trigger for children to write their letters to Santa.  Schools, daycares and homes organise Santa letter writing.  One needs to include full return address for the Postal Elves to deliver a reply.  Postage is free, but Santa loves stickers.  Children are encouraged to write about their favourite sports, jokes, school activities or family fun with pictures and drawings.

A child normally writes two letters to Santa, one from school and the other from home.  In order to prevent a child from receiving inconsistent responses from Santa, all mails from schools and daycares are replied with a generic, poster-size group letter, which will include every child’s name.  A letter from home will get a personalised response from Santa.

Santa is often asked interesting questions by children -, “Does Rudolph have a girlfriend?”; “How many cookies do you eat?” and so on.  Some even ask for reuniting their separated parents.  He also receives requests for toys, pets, dresses, etc. The advent of modern communication technology has not reduced the number of hand-written letters to Santa, but has increased year to year.

Children dealing with issues write letters showing their concerns.  These ‘special letters’ are dealt with by a team of trained Postal Elves — from psychologists and social workers to police —  who help Santa handle them.  If they think the child is in danger, a process is set in motion to solve the issue.  These Elves are trained to give a correct reply that will help provide some reassurance that someone is listening.

We must appreciate Canada Post, the Postal Elves, the teachers, the parents and the children for these letters and for keeping the tradition alive.

Wishing all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

(Images Courtesy Google)

 

US Exports Oil


United States has joined the elite club of major oil exporting nations with nearly $22 billion worth of oil exports.  The US Congress lifted a 40-year-old ban on the export of crude oil following the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. The ban restricted crude oil exports from the US to all countries besides Canada.  The last time the US exported more oil than it imported was 1953.

The International Energy Agency estimates that American oil production between 2015 and 2025 would grow at a rate unparalleled by any country in history, with far-reaching consequences for the US and the world.

Technological advancements in drilling and fracking (hydraulic fracturing) helped US to extract huge reserves of gas and oil trapped in shale rocks.  Main contributor to shale oil production is from the Bakken Shale Formation in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas. The oil that is being produced from these shale formations is sometimes incorrectly referred to as ‘shale oil.’

The oil in the Bakken and Eagle Ford formations actually exists as oil, but the shale does not allow the oil to flow very well. This oil is called ‘tight oil’ and advances in hydraulic fracking technology have allowed some of this oil to be economically extracted.


‘Tight oil’ refers to hydrocarbons that are trapped in formations that are not very porous.  This oil and gas cannot flow out into the pipe as easily as with traditional wells. This oil is extracted by drilling horizontally across the deposit, and then fracking to open up the rock and allow the oil to flow.

The price of oil is political and is set by the big players, particularly by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), led by Saudi Arabia.  New fracking technology has resulted in flooding the oil market.   Oil prices had been above $100 per barrel up to 2014 and is now about $50 per barrel, all because of US shale oil.  The shale revolution has transformed oil tycoons into billionaires and the US into the world’s largest petroleum producer, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia.

As the oil market got flooded, Saudi Arabia initiated an economic oil war against the US by refusing to cut production in November of 2014 –  an attempt to drive US shale oil producers bankrupt.  The increased OPEC oil production drove oil prices down even more, eventually dropping to about $30/bbl in 2016, a price at which shale producers can’t break-even.

The oil wells used to flare out natural gas and was burned off as an unwanted by-product.  Now the gas is cooled to minus 162 degrees Celsius, to be condensed into a liquid – Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) -to be used as a clean alternative to coal.  US is now a top producer of LNG, selling shiploads of the commodity to countries such as China.

Even though LNG is not a very ‘clean fuel’, US under President Trump has been exporting LNG from 2017.  US is expected to overtake Qatar and become the world’s biggest LNG exporter by the mid-2020s.

US may claim today that it is energy independent, but will still be exposed to global energy prices and still be affected by the geopolitics of the Middle East.  Though US sells more petroleum than it buys, American refiners continue to import  more than 7 million barrels a day of crude from all over the globe to feed its refineries, which consume more than 17 million barrels each day.  Thus the US has become the world’s top fuel supplier.

Why this sudden multi-fold increase in oil production?  Is it the re-emergence of US under President Trump?  Is it an attempt to control the world through the oil market?   These questions will find answers in days to come.

It could also be that US is exploiting all its oil reserves to be sold in the world oil market as some new engine  technology is in the offing with minimum dependence on fossil fuels.  You may soon find such a technology emerging in the market and what it could be is anyone’s guess.

Let us wait and watch.

Women Empowerment and the Dog

A Facebook post compared a woman to a flea on his dog.  The woman had declared that she will enter a temple in India in the backdrop of the recent judgement by the Supreme Court granting equal rights to women to enter that temple.  It is believed that the deity at the temple is a Brahmachari (conduct consistent with Lord Brahma), (also meaning a man with the virtue of celibacy when unmarried and fidelity when married) and no woman must enter the temple.  When the case of woman entry to the said temple came up for hearing in the Supreme Court, the judges had to rule in favour of allowing equal rights to both man and woman as the Constitution of India grants it..

During my morning walk with our dog Maximus on a bitterly cold Canadian winter morning, our neighbour, Mr Steve, a septuagenarian  asked “If you can  walk slowly, I can accompany you both.”  We commenced our walk slowly along the walkway cleared of snow that had fallen that morning.

After about five minutes of walking, we came to an intersection with traffic lights.  The ‘Green Man’ signal for pedestrian crossing had just turned to flashing ‘Red Hand’.  Mr Steve said “Walk fast, we can get on to the other side before the traffic starts moving across.”

“The signal has turned red, do we need to cross now?” I enquired.  “Do not worry, get going” said Mr Steve.  On crossing the road, Mr Steve reminisced about his youth and said “In 1939, the Second World War commenced and I was only eleven years old then, studying in Grade 6.  Our family then lived a hundred miles North of Toronto.  We had a dairy farm with over two hundred cows.  On the outbreak of the war, like all able men of Canada, my father and two elder brothers joined the Canadian Army and moved to Europe to fight the war.  Running of our dairy farm was taken over by mother and my two elder sisters.

In those days most activities in Canada were taken over by women – from driving trucks and buses, running the banking and postal services, grocery shops and petrol pumps – anything and everything – as most men had joined the Armed Forces and had sailed off to Europe.

After the war, in 1945, my father and brothers returned home.  My mother did not allow them anywhere near the diary farm as it had become ‘hers’.  With the experience of digging trenches during the war and also in building roads and tracks towards the war efforts, my father and brothers started a road construction company in Toronto.  On my graduation in engineering from University of Toronto, I too joined my father’s company and retired as its CEO a few years back.

What all fields Canadian women took over during the war, they have not allowed the men folk to come near them  That is why Canada is where it is today, all because of women empowerment.”

“What does this story got to do with our jay-walking across the road?” I asked.

Mr Steve commenced his justification ” It seems you are not aware of priorities in Canada.  It begins with the children, then women, followed by dogs and then other pets, then is wildlife and then are the trees and plants, and last, but the least come the men.  If we two were only to cross the road I would have never in my wildest dreams thought of crossing the road.  Just because the dog was with us, I told you to get across.”

“Why so?” I asked.

“In case two old men like us get struck by a vehicle, the Canadian courts will only grant may be forty to fifty thousand dollars.  If the dog even gets brushed by a vehicle, the driver will have hell to pay as the court will surely decree at least a million dollars.  That fear in every Canadian driver will never allow them to move an inch  even if the traffic light turns green” Mr Steve explained.

In case real women empowerment has to come into the Indian society, some major catastrophe like what happened in Canada, USA or Europe during Second World War need to occur.  Supreme Court judgements, or forced entry of women to some temples is not going to give women equal rights they need to be given.  The Indian males need to accept this reality and change for the betterment of the society.

 

A Colourful Stroll Along Lake Ontario


Port Credit located ten kilometers from our home was an old trading port till the 1800s.  It is now a marina for boats.  Along the lake shore is a seven kilometer trail that turns into multitude of colours every fall.


Port Credit is located at the mouth of Credit River on Lake Ontario.  The ship Ridgetown was sunk here on June 21, 1974 to act as a breakwater.  After her decommissioning in 1970, she was loaded with stones, towed from Toronto Port to Port Credit and sunk at the entrance to the port  with her cabins and stack intact. She remains here, protecting the port from the forces of waves.  In the backdrop is the City of Toronto, about 20 kilometer away with its landmark CN Tower.


On a windy day, the waves rise up over a few meters.


Canadian Fall is well known for trees with splashes of red, orange and yellow that dot tree lines across the country.


Fall is the most photographed Canadian season of the year, with colours changing very fast until the leaves fall off.


Tender thin leaves are made up of cells filled with water sap and will freeze in winter. Any plant tissue incapable of surviving the winter must be sealed off and shed to ensure the tree’s survival.

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As sunlight decreases in fall, the veins that carry sap into and out of a leaf gradually close. A layer of cells called the separation layer forms at the base of the leaf stem. When this layer is complete, the leaf is separated from the tissue that connected it to the branch and it falls off.


Coniferous trees like pines, spruces, cedars and firs, don’t lose their leaves or needles in winter. The needles are covered with a heavy wax coating and the fluids inside the cells contain substances that resist freezing.

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These needles can live for several years before they fall off.


Ground along the trail is all covered with leaves of varying shades of yellow, orange and red.


Some of the leaves are yet to change their colours and some have done it already.


Old cycles and other artifacts are used to decorate the walkways.

There are many children’s parks along the trail.’


Picnic spots equipped with tables, benches and barbecue stands for the revelers dot the trail.

This is the Suncorp refinery located about ten kilometer away.


These Canadian geese have not migrated down South to USA.  It is neither that they have lost their passports nor have forgotten to migrate.  It is because they find enough food in various parks in the city and may have developed the art of surviving through Canadian winter.  May be they will fly South as soon as the temperature drops.