Colombian President Santos signs a decree legalising medical marijuana

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos has signed a decree legalizing the growing and sale of marijuana for medical purposes, a dramatic shift in a country long identified with US-backed policies to stamp out drug crops.

Santos said the new regulatory framework was long overdue given that Colombians had been consuming marijuana and marijuana-based products in a legal void for years…

With the new rules, Colombia joins countries from Mexico to Chile that have experimented with legalization or decriminalization as part of a wave of changing attitudes toward drug use and policies to combat it in Latin America…

Proponents of the new approach say as many as 400,000 Colombians suffering from epilepsy and other ailments could benefit from the clearer regulatory framework.

Colombians for two decades have been allowed to possess small quantities of any narcotic for personal use due to a series of constitutional court rulings guaranteeing the “free development of one’s personality”.

But the congress and the executive branch have been loath to endorse such views, in part because of officials’ skittishness about showing any weakness in a country that is the biggest supplier of cocaine to the US…

President Santos, who has acknowledged smoking pot as a journalism student in the 1970s at the University of Kansas, repeated his commitment that the new rules only apply for medical and scientific purposes, not recreational use.

Well, that’s his position this week. Maybe – when Obama isn’t looking – he’ll let a little more reality sneak into law in Colombia, eh?

How a man died from his tapeworm’s cancer

The egg of the parasite Hymenolepis nana

In Colombia in 2013, a man showed up to a hospital with a confusing array of symptoms. He was gaunt, having lost a lot of weight in the past few months. He was HIV-positive and hadn’t been taking his medication. He was fatigued, with a fever and a cough. Stool samples revealed that he was carrying the parasite Hymenolepis nana, a common type of tapeworm; strangely, a scan showed cancer-like nodes in his lungs and lymph nodes.

His doctors weren’t sure how to diagnose the man—the cells looked and behaved like cancer, but they weren’t the man’s own cells. The cancer seemed to be from another multi-celled organism. The disease progressed and 72 hours after he was admitted to the hospital, the man died.

Doctors determined that the man died from his tapeworm’s cancer—the first such case ever reported, according to the study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. And that’s got some scientists asking questions about how much we know about what causes cancer in the first place.

Scientists have known for a while that some infectious agents such as parasites can cause cancer. Two types of parasitic flatworms that live in the liver have been connected with increased incidence of cancer in bile ducts found in the intestines; another called Schistosoma haematobium can be ingested through water and is known to cause bladder cancer. The hypothesis is that these parasites can cause inflammation in the host’s tissues, which causes them to reproduce faster and increase the likelihood of a mutation.

But this case is different—the cancer was in the parasite’s cells, not the man’s. To see what might have caused the tapeworm’s cancer, the researchers compared the genes of the worm’s normal and cancerous cells. The researchers found that several of the genetic mutations in the cancerous cells occurred in the same genes as malignant mutations in human cells.

That not only shows a level of biological commonality, one researcher told NPR, but this case also shows how cancerous cells can spread out of control when the immune system is compromised.

This strange case raises even more questions…about the role of the immune system in fighting or protecting the body against cancer. “The host–parasite interaction that we report should stimulate deeper exploration of the relationships between infection and cancer,” the study authors write.

Some scary stuff out there, folks. Stuff we haven’t figured out, yet.

Sometimes, you’re in real trouble if you take advice on sex from your mom!

Shocked medical staff in a clinic in central Colombia discovered a potato growing inside a patient’s vagina. The bizarre phenomenon was discovered when doctors attended a 22-year-old woman complaining of abdominal pains this week.

The embarrassed young woman explained that she had been advised by her mother to insert a potato into her vagina as a means of avoiding unwanted pregnancy. “My mom told me that if I didn’t want to get pregnant, I should put a potato up there, and I believed her…”

After leaving the tuber in place for around two weeks the good news is that the young woman was not pregnant. The bad news was that she began to experience intense pain in her lower abdomen. The potato had germinated, and grown roots inside the lady’s most private parts.

When the nurse went to examine the patient, she originally thought she had been the target of a practical joke, as she found roots emerging from the young woman´s vagina.

The offending root vegetable was removed without need for surgery, and there should be no lasting physical effects on the young woman…

Sex education is often incomplete in rural Colombia.


Thanks [I think] Ursarodinia

Cocaine-carrying phony nuns busted in Colombia


Three women dressed like nuns have been arrested at a Colombian airport allegedly smuggling drugs…Police said the women, aged 20, 32 and 37 had two kilos of cocaine each strapped to their bodies.

Officers said they became suspicious because the women “didn’t look like nuns” and their habits “didn’t look right”.

They were travelling from the capital Bogota to the island of San Andres, popular with holidaymakers…

The three, who according to police broke into tears when the cocaine was discovered strapped to their legs, will be charged with drug smuggling.

They reportedly said they had been forced into drug trafficking because of “financial hardship”.

The Colombian island of San Andres, just off the coast of Nicaragua, is a popular destination for foreign and Colombian tourists alike.

The island is also along a busy drug-smuggling route, especially popular with speedboats and submarines laden with cocaine, stopping off on their way from Colombia to Central America.

Always useful to avoid a monocultural economy.

Pic of the Day

Click to enlarge
Photo credit: Rex Features.

With a scientific name of Psychotria Elata, this species also goes by the fitting names of the Hot Lips Plant, Flower of Lips or even Hooker’s Lips. The colourful red flowers have evolved to attract pollinators including hummingbirds and butterflies. The plant can be found in the forested areas of tropical America such as Costa Rica and Colombia.

Thanks, Ursarodinia

The granny cloud helps children in India, Colombia and more

Jackie Barrow isn’t a granny yet but as a retired teacher she felt she might qualify for an advert in The Guardian newspaper calling for volunteers to help teach children in India.

She did and today, three years on, she is reading “Not Now Bernard” via Skype to a small group of children in the Indian city of Pune.

They love it and are engaged in the experience as she holds up an Easter egg to show them how children in the UK celebrated the recent holiday.

The Granny Cloud project is the brainchild of Prof Sugata Mitra, best-known for his hole-in-the-wall computer scheme which put basic PCs into some of the poorest parts of India.

Prof Mitra installed the first such computer on the wall of his south Delhi office, opposite a slum. He was amazed to see that the children, initially curious about the machine, soon became self-taught experts…

Prof Mitra noticed they did best when an adult was present offering advice and encouragement over their shoulders. There was, he reasoned, no-one so encouraging as a granny and so the idea was born.

The official name of the project is Sole (self organised learning environments) but it is more commonly known as the granny cloud.

The grannies, or e-mediators as they are officially known, are not teachers and the sessions they conduct with the children in India are not lessons.

Instead they read stories to the children and talk about things relevant to them and to the UK. The point, said Prof Mitra, was that they provided encouragement and praise and became a “virtual granny” to the children…

There were now around 300 “grannies” involved in the scheme and it was growing all the time, Prof Mitra told the BBC…

The scheme has now been extended to four schools in Columbia, South America where, said Prof Mitra, it was doing very well.

It is also being used in schools much closer to home.

RTFA. It’s long and has interesting anecdotes, failures as well as success.

The project benefits senior citizens taking part as thoroughly as it does the children – just differently. I find it interesting, useful, a bit of useful addition to lives regardless of borders. Which is proper in what this cloud-based world is becoming.

Secret Service providing Obama security stiffed hooker!

Did they think taxpayers would pick up the tab for everything?

The Secret Service is investigating allegations of misconduct by agency personnel preparing for President Barack Obama’s arrival at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, including that at least one officer solicited a prostitute, according to media reports.

A dozen Secret Service workers were sent home Thursday and replaced by others on site. The service overstaffs on international trips by bringing more agents than needed should one become sick…

Ron Kessler…told NBC News that he had learned that Secret Service personnel brought prostitutes back to their hotel room. They typically stay in the same hotel as the president… He said that most of the 12 officials were involved.

He said authorities found out when a prostitute filed a complaint that she wasn’t paid. Kessler said that police then alerted the State Department, which then alerted the White House and the Secret Service…

The Secret Service employees had arrived about a week before Obama touched down and stayed at Cartagena’s Hotel Caribe… A hotel employee told the AP that they had been drinking heavily throughout the week. Several reporters and White House staff also had rooms booked at the hotel.

Obama arrived in Cartagena, a port city, on Friday and attended a leaders’ dinner that night at the city’s historic Spanish fortress. Thirty-three leaders from the Americas are gathered at the summit to discuss economic policy, trade and immigration. The president was scheduled to hold two days of meetings before heading back to Washington Sunday night…

…Although prostitution is legal in Colombia when conducted in “tolerance zones,” soliciting prostitutes is considered inappropriate by the Secret Service… Additionally, the Washington Post reported, several of the agents sent home are married.

I generally consider coppers to be smarter than crooks. Most of the time. Not all the time.

Priests hired their own killers in a lovers’ suicide pact

Two Colombian priests who were found shot dead in the capital Bogota a year ago themselves hired the assassins who killed them, prosecutors say. They said the priests had agreed a suicide pact after one of them was diagnosed with AIDs, but contracted hitmen because they could not bring themselves to carry it out.

Relatives of the dead priests insist they were victims of an armed robbery. They have denied reports that they were involved in a gay relationship.

Two of the alleged killers are being prosecuted after being traced from calls made from the priests’ phones.

Father Richard Piffano, 37, and Father Rafael Reatiga, 35, were found shot dead in a car in southern Bogota in January 2011.

Prosecutors allege they paid the suspected hitmen around $8,500 to kill them and make it look like a robbery attempt.

The two priests had been friends since their training and often celebrated Mass and other religious services together, Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper reported.

In his final church service, Father Reatiga asked parishioners to pray to Santa Marta, the patron saint of lost causes, the paper reported, while Father Piffano asked his to “pray for me”.

Suicide – like homosexual acts – is forbidden in the Catholic Church.

Apparently, the worst sin is love. There are so many sides to this tale that didn’t have to be, that didn’t have to end in death and sadness. All that was required was walking away from the ideology and customs of the Catholic Church.

A great deal of the world is willing to accept love as one of the greatest manifestations of humanity. Enough so, that folks living in societies still influenced by so-called religious morality have already moved in great numbers away from strictures that define love and marriage as something that only happens between one man and one woman.

Divorce is part of the door opening. In most cases freeing a woman from a relationship gone sour.

Understanding that sexuality is a natural part of human life encompassing so much beyond primitive animal reproduction. I don’t expect religious bodies that still require official celibacy and the supremacy of men to get that. But, virtually all Catholics reject silliness like the banning of contraception. Any access at all to sensible science and sociology opens people to a vision of life as the sensual beings we are.

And that sensuality needn’t be limited by anything more than taste and inclination – within acceptable cultural limits of an age of understanding and decision.

These two men should have walked away from a calling that died centuries ago. They should have chosen a new life and enjoyed their love. Death is a decision only left to people without the understanding to change their own lives. Forget the ideology that cannot comprehend change. Or love.

China and Colombia propose railway as alternative Panama Canal

Click on photo for map

China is proposing to build a rail link to rival the almost century-old Panama canal, the Colombian president has said. The 220km rail connection would connect Cartagena, on the northern Atlantic coast of Colombia, with its Pacific coast – making it easier for China to export its goods through the Americas and import raw materials such as coal.

“It’s a real proposal … and it is quite advanced,” Juan Manuel Santos told the Financial Times. Although the link would be almost three times the length of the canal that cuts through neighbouring Panama, the president added: “The studies [the Chinese] have made on the costs of transporting per tonne, the cost of investment, they all work out…

Panama also has a rail route, built almost 60 years before the canal, which is more expensive than the waterway for shippers but faster…

A shipping executive told the newspaper that moving containers on to and off the link at either end would probably cost $200 each in addition to $100 fees for the rail transport. In comparison, fees for the canal are around $100 a container…

Well, that’s one estimate. Any others?

The ministry of foreign affairs in Beijing confirmed the proposal.

The project is reportedly one of several Chinese proposals to improve transport links with Asia. The most advanced is a $7.6bn plan to build a 791km railway and expand the port of Buenaventura, on Colombia’s Pacific coast. It would allow up to 40m tonnes of freight a year to be carried from Colombia to its ports and promote the export of coal to China, where demand is rising fast.

Modern container ships get unloaded and loaded faster and more efficiently every year. I don’t see any new technology improving transit via the Panama Canal. All that’s happening there is widening and tweaking the system to allow larger vessels through. None of that would be a problem for the dry land solution proposed in Columbia.