Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Mhar Monastery, Lubny Ukraine

These are some of the photos I have scanned.

In July 1999, I was working on a project in Ukraine.  One Sunday in July, those of us who were instructing the Beef-Forage course decided to drive from Peryaslav-Khmelnitsky to visit the fair at Lubny just for something to do.  The Mhar  Monastery (also known as Mgarsky Monastery) was much more interesting and very close by.

It was founded in 1619.  Those who are familiar with Ukrainian history will recognize some of the great men associated with it such as Hetmans Bohdan Khmelnitsky and Ivan Mazepa.  In 1919, the Bolsheviks shot 17 monks and closed the Monastery.  It did not reopen until 1993.  We were there only 6 years later.  It looks much different today.

This site will give you a more detailed history. Right click and click Translate into English.
http://www.mgarsky-monastery.org/main/brief-history

Mhar Monastery Lubny Ukraine

Cathedral and Bell Tower

Cathedral of the Transfiguration (from Wiki as my pics were incomplete)

Bell Tower

Detail of Cathedral
A little artistry just for fun

The interior of the church was quite lovely

More of the interior

A monument to the victims of the Holodomor was nearby in a lovely peaceful park

Monday, April 24, 2017

Scanning the Horizon. . . and Photos

Ever notice you can't do something unless you do something else first and end up chaining backwards into two weeks work? Last week, when the two most dangerous idiots on earth were playing chicken, some article or another mentioned that the Russians were sending soldiers and equipment towards the Russian/North Korean border which is all of about 17 km long.  Cool, I thought, I can do a blog on that because 20+ years ago I was in that  part of the world. I should have some pictures in one of my old photo albums which I brought with me to Ukraine. So I went looking for my pictures.  No luck.  All you get are the maps from Google below. Sorry.

Twenty years ago, I was partners in a Canadian genetics export company. Rumour had it that the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of Jilin Province wanted to set up their own AI stud.  So my interpreter and I took a train from Changchun to Yanbian to meet with local officials. It turned out that what they wanted to do and what the bureaucrats in Changchun would allow (or fund) them to do were two different things.  We had some time to kill and they wanted to show us a new port city of which they were very proud.  The Tuman River forms the northern border with North Korea and there is a narrow neck of land where Chinese, North Korean and Russian borders all come together.

Rumour (the main source of information in China) had it that the World bank or some such was going to fund the dredging out of the Tuman River and create a deep water port.  So the Chinese had already built the port city in anticipation.  Brand shiny new empty city that would have build more than a few AI studs but IF the deep water port dream came true, someone stood to make millions.

The narrow neck of China between NK and Russia had been a source of contention between China and Russia and I was told that a few years before some 100,000 soldiers had shot it out in a small bush war. Too small to make the news, I guess. But the place was well protected with military posts and I knew that at any time there were binoculars and machine guns from three armies trained on me.




But as I sorted through my five huge albums, I decided they really should be scanned and the paper disposed of. My HP Photo Scanner 1000 can scan a 4x6 or 5x7 photo in under a minute.  Except it is older than dirt and no longer supported by HP.  I think the driver is for Windows XP so it doesn't work properly.  All the internet sites that promised new drivers linked back to HP who told me to PFO. This took half a day.

My Epson L355 printer scanner is a wonderful printer but scanning is horribly slow.  Da Vinci could paint the photos almost as fast as I could scan them.  But he is never around when I need him.

So today I started scanning.  My April 1991 trip to Kazakhstan SSR and the Canada Ukraine Beef Forage Project from 1999.  All the other photos fall in between.  By 2001 I had a digital camera.

Maybe there will be some blogs to be found in these scanned photos which are mostly China, Turkey and Ukraine.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Turkey Votes for Dictatorship by less than 1.5%

On Sunday April 16, Turkey held a referendum on constitutional amendments which would give President Erdogan virtually unlimited powers. The Yes vote won by about 51.4 to 48.6. American press has been covering it better than I expected, especially since Trump phoned to congratulate him while the rest of the world leaders did not.

Erdogan, like Putin, took no chances on an unfavourable result. OSCE has declared the vote far short of democratic as the NO side was given far less opportunity to present their case and were targeted by state institutions as anti-Turkish and terrorists. Leaders were arrested, rallies broken up, provinces declared state of emergency, NGOs were prevented from campaigning, and Kurds had a very difficult time voting. And unstamped ballots were allowed. Erdogan told the OSCE to pack salt.

The opposition parties intend to challenge the count, not that it will help as Erdogan controls the courts and appoints the judges.  Even if he had lost, it would have made no difference as he had de facto seized these powers already in the crack-down following the attempted coup last year which saw some 50,000 people arrested and over 100,000 fired from their jobs. Expect to see these numbers rise as Erdogan takes revenge on the leadership of the NO side.  He has always treated the 48% who oppose him as enemies of the state.

Erdogan is a pious Muslim but he is also an authoritarian in his own right.  He is not driven by radical Islam but by the belief that only his vision for Turkey is the right one and that nothing will stop him.  Anyone who tries is automatically an enemy.  He lost the vote in the three largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, home to more secular Turks, but won the support of the pious Muslims throughout the country. His party, AKP, gave these people a voice in Turkish politics for the first time and brought them into the economy in the first 10 years as Prime Minister.

Turkey has always had a tenuous grip on democracy.  Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Turkey's Lenin, as our tour guide called him) was no democrat.  The military saw itself as the defender of Ataturk's secular Turkey and intervened several times, usually none too gently to put it kindly, when the government was viewed as swinging too far into religious ideology.  The West, which can never leave well enough alone, did not see this as a good thing and supported Erdogan when he took steps early on to bring the generals to heel.  So by the time last summer's abortive coup was organized, it was too late and the army supported Erdogan, as did a majority of the population.

Erdogan is no fan of Ataturk and sees himself more as the Sultan of a revived 'Ottoman Empire'.  Instead of pressing to join the EU, under Erdogan Turkey will become the leader of the Middle East countries and act as a gateway to Europe (which in my opinion makes far more sense as Turkey is NOT European). As Sultan, in his 1000 room White Palace in Ankara, he will have the power of life and death over his subjects.  Literally, if he brings back the death penalty as he is in favour of.

One more country has turned its back on democracy.

Erdogan Lashes Out At European Monitors Of Turkey's Referendum

http://www.rferl.org/a/turkey-referendum-electoral-body-valid-opposition-recount/28434781.html

The vote that will determine the fate of Turkey’s democracy
http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21720611-turks-are-split-over-giving-new-powers-recep-tayyip-erdogan-be-warned-he-would-use-them 

Turkey is sliding into dictatorship
http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21720590-recep-tayyip-erdogan-carrying-out-harshest-crackdown-decades-west-must-not-abandon

Is It Too Late for Turkey’s Democracy?






Thursday, April 13, 2017

Books and Libraries

The Saskatchewan government, having bankrupt the province, as all right-wing governments seek to do in their jurisdictions, have released a mean-spirited budget designed to inflict as much misery on the citizens of the province as possible.  One of the many cuts to services for people is to Saskatchewan's public libraries. They have also cut funding to education. Attacking anything that smacks of education seems to be a thing with right-wing governments.  Their whole budget looked like a cheap copy of Trump's. And these (expletive deleted) have another three years to go before the next election.  The British parliamentary systems has its advantages and disadvantages.

Books have always been important to me since I learned to read.  My mother said I drove her crazy with questions until I learned to read.  Then I could find my own answers or find other things to learn about. Our one room country school got a box of books from the school board office once a month, which I usually devoured withing the first week. The local Five and Dime store had cheap hardboard covered books for kids and young people.  But even at $0.79, purchases were limited. (And the original version of The Three Musketeers turned out to be FAR more interesting than the watered down kids version).

Book of the Month supplied me with hundreds of books as well as keeping me up to date on what was being written and by whom. When I went to bookstores, it was usually to the mark-down section, where no-longer-new releases were affordable.  My library slowly accumulated.  Books were never discarded or sold. When I decided to move to Ukraine, I had about 1500 volumes on my selves.  Not many compared to real bibliophiles but quite a few nevertheless.  Leaving them behind was no easy choice.

Some I packed and shipped.  The kids sorted through them and took what they wanted.  Graeme got most of my history books, especially those related to the World Wars. The rest went to a charity book sale, I think.  I didn't want to know.

Now it is ebooks. I have purchased a few real books since moving to Ukraine but they have to be sent to my daughter's, who then has to include them in a care package to be shipped to me.  A nuisance to her.  Ebooks I can buy and download immediately, though it may take months before I read them.  I have an ereader but prefer my phone, even though the screen is much smaller. And I still prefer real books, especially history books with maps and end notes, which I can easily flip back and forth to as needed.

We have three shelving units filled with real books.  Half are Tanya's and half are mine.  She is also an avid reader and can order real books on-line. There is something about a library filled with real books that is far more satisfying than hundreds of ebooks on an ereader.  Possibly pride?

This makes me want to cry

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Cheering for Toronto Maple Leafs

With the Wilkie Outlaws of the Saskatchewan West Hockey League racking up a 17/1 season, Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League winning 52 of 72 league games and in Round 2 of the Playoffs, and the perennial losing Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League clinching a playoff spot, my hockey teams are doing pretty well.

Wilkie is my home town and if I lived there I would be an active supporter.  As it is, after 5 decades away, several of the family names on the team are still familiar.  Having spent most of my adult life in Regina, I was aware of the Regina Pats but never went to a game.  Now I have hockey fans as family and friends so I at least pay attention to the standings and quietly cheer them on.

Back in the 50's, Montreal Canadiens were a dynasty; Maurice Rocket Richard was in his prime, as were Bernie Boom-Boom Geffrion and Jean Beleveau. Jacques Plante was in the net.  The kids at school, especially the ones I did not like, cheered for Montreal.  So I became a Leafs fan. The Leafs were contenders in those days.  Johnny Bower was in the net, George Armstrong was Captain, Tim Horton and Al McNeil on defense and guys like Bert Olmstead and Frank Mahovolich on the wings. It was even before the days of Eddie Shack.

Rivalry was fierce between Montreal and Toronto.  1966-67 was the last year of the original 6.  Montreal and Toronto went 6 games in the Stanley Cup finals before Toronto beat Montreal 3-1 on home ice. That was 50 years ago.  As Pierre Berton called it "1967: the last good year".  Maybe the Leafs can do it again for Canada's 150th birthday.

Terry Sawchuck and Johnny Bower 1966



I have cheered for other teams once the Leafs are out of the running.  Montreal in the 70's, then Edmonton Oilers in the dynasty days of Gretzky, Messier, Coffee and Fuhr. Now, not so much.  I just secretly hope for the Leafs and endure nasty memes on Facebook

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hecklers, Honeypots, and Hackers - How Russia Sows Discord in the Western World

Russian empire (re)building is very clumsy compared to America's Empire building, possibly the difference between a land-based empire and an economic empire. But where Russia completely out plays the West is in the use of cyber Active Measures.

America has "interfered" in elections at least since the end of WWII and still does but appears to continue to use Cold War methodologies: NGOs training locals in organizing Civil Society and Civil Disobedience, funding opposition parties, official pronouncements of support, that sort of thing.  Other things may not be so obvious, see also Latin America.

Russia on the other hand has gone high tech, making full use of all the capabilities of the internet to spread fake news rapidly, intimidate or smear opponents, which they applied accurately and effectively in USA and are doing the same in Germany and France.  These two articles are reports of testimony given at the Senate Hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 election and are the clearest explanation of how it works that I have read to date. Clearly written and no spaghetti diagrams

Clint Watts' Testimony: Russia’s Info War on the U.S. Started in 2014

Hate Makes Us Weak: How Russia exploits American racism and xenophobia for its own gain.


Three other articles may be of interest and I have extracted and edited some of the high spots.

Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind

Long read but worth it, about the psychology of how and why we make decisions and how our decision making process can be manipulated.  The Trump Campaign allegedly applied these technologies very specifically in critical states.  

News outlets have claimed that although Obama’s and Clinton’s teams both used social media, data analytics, and finely grained targeting to promote their message, Trump’s team, according to Forbes, “delved into message tailoring, sentiment manipulation and machine learning.” If this sinister level of manipulation seems far-fetched, it nevertheless reflects the boasts of Cambridge Analytica, the company they employed to do this for them, a subsidiary of the British-based SCL Group.
The company, whose board has included Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has also been held responsible by the press for the outcome of the Brexit vote of June 2016. Its CEO, Alexander Nix, claims in a presentation entitled “The Power of Big Data and Psychographics” (which can be found on Youtube) that Cambridge Analytica has used OCEAN personality tests in combination with data mined from social media to produce “psychographic profiles”—models that predict personality traits—for every adult in America. It did so without the consent of Kosinski and Stillwell, who developed the technique. Nix claims that they possess between four and five thousand data points on every potential voter, after combining the personality test results with “attitudinal” data, such as credit card spending patterns, consumer preferences, Facebook likes, and civic and political engagement. Nix claims that they can use their data in combination with tracking cookies, data from cable companies, and other media tools to target very specific audiences with messages that are persuasive because they are informed by behavioral science.
Note: Other articles have said that Cambridge Analytica did not have as great an impact as they claim.  However their sources wanted to take credit for Trump's win.
UW professor: The information war is real, and we’re losing it

“There was a significant volume of social-media traffic that blamed the Navy SEALs for the Boston marathon bombing,” University of Washington professor Kate Starbird said. “It was real tinfoil-hat stuff. So we ignored it.”
Same thing after the mass shooting that killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: a burst of social-media activity calling the massacre a fake, a stage play by “crisis actors” for political purposes.
“After every mass shooting, dozens of them, there would be these strange clusters of activity,” Starbird says. “It was so fringe we kind of laughed at it. That was a terrible mistake. We should have been studying it.”
Starbird argues that these “strange clusters” of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach. There are dozens of other conspiracy-propagating websites such as beforeitsnews.com, nodisinfo.com and veteranstoday.com. Starbird cataloged 81 of them, linked through a huge community of interest connected by shared followers on Twitter, with many of the tweets replicated by automated bots. Infowars.com alone is roughly equivalent in visitors and page views to the Chicago Tribune, according to Alexa.com, the web-traffic analysis firm.
The true common denominator, she found, is anti-globalism — deep suspicion of free trade, multinational business and global institutions. “To be antiglobalist often included being anti-mainstream media, anti-immigration, anti-science, anti-U.S. government, and anti-European Union,” Starbird says.
Much of it was strangely pro-Russian, too — perhaps due to Russian twitter bots that bombarded social channels during the presidential campaign. Your brain tells you ‘Hey, I got this from three different sources,’” she says. “But you don’t realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn’t know how to vaccinate for it.”

Why It's So Hard to Stop a Cyberattack — and Even Harder to Fight Back

How do you know for certain who did it, or the intent? Retaliation risks accidentally starting a war.
Without being able to attribute the attack, or if there were some uncertainty about who was responsible, it would be very hard to strike back. Unlike conventional attacks, cyberattacks can be difficult to attribute with precision to specific actors. In the event of a major cyberattack, pressure to respond would be immediate—and probably intense. But if a country strikes back and the forensics are erroneous, then the retaliation will have unnecessarily and inadvertently started a war.
This is because governments like the Russian government appear to rely heavily on third parties to develop their cyber weapons and conduct their attacks. This offers them many benefits—deniability being one of them—but it also offers them less control over what their cyber warriors actually do—creating a so called “principle agent problem.”
In other words, an attack that originates from within the Russian cyber world might be the work of the Kremlin—or it might not. This further complicates the choice of response.
Sometimes, the culprit will be clear, of course. But in these cases, the question is how, specifically, to respond.
Some advisors might push for a cyber counter-attack that inflicts equal damage on the guilty party. But this isn't always possible. If the perpetrator is a party like North Korea, then there is no equivalent financial system to target. But should the United States instead use conventional military weapons like a cruise missile, perhaps on Pyongyang's cyber training facilities? A strike like that would clearly risk serious escalation of the conflict. It might be seen as disproportionate if the U.S. financial system had recovered in the interim with relatively minimal real damage.
Even if the U.S. power grid were seriously affected by a cyberattack, however, and the United States knew with a high degree of confidence who the guilty party was, there would be reasons for caution—especially if the attack was an isolated incident and there were no other signs of aggression or malign intent.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Some Philosophy

Back from a 10 day trip to northeastern Ukraine, about 30 km from Belorussian and Russian borders.  Now trying to catch up on reports and such. A friend sent me these via email so I thought they were worth passing on.
  • Jean Kerr... The only reason they say " Women and children first" is to test the strength of the lifeboats. 
  •  Prince Philip... When a man opens a car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife. 
  •  Emo Philips... A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing. 
  •  Harrison Ford... Wood burns faster when you have to cut and chop it yourself. 
  •  Spike Milligan... The best cure for sea sickness, is to sit under a tree. 
  •  Jean Rostand... Kill one man and you're a murderer, kill a million and you're a conqueror. 
  •  Arnold Schwarzenegger... Having more money doesn't make you happier. I have 50 million dollars , but I was just as happy when I had 48 million. 
  •  WH Auden... We are here on earth to do good unto others. What the others are here for, I have no idea. 
  • Johnny Carson... If life were fair, Elvis would still be alive today and all the impersonators would be dead. 
  • Warren Tantum... I don't believe in astrology. I am a Sagittarius and we're very skeptical. 
  • Steve Martin... Hollywood must be the only place on earth where you can be fired by a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap. 
  • Jimmy Durante... Home cooking. Where many a man thinks his wife is. 
  • Doug Hanwell... America is so advanced that even the chairs are electric. 
  • George Roberts... The first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone. 
  • Jonathan Winters... If God had intended us to fly , he would have made it easier to get to the airport. 
  • Robert Benchley... I have kleptomania and when it gets bad, I take something for it. 
  • John Glenn... As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind: every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder. 
  • David Letterman... America is the only country where a significant proportion of the population believes that professional wrestling is real but the moon landing was faked. 
  • Howard Hughes... I'm not a paranoid, deranged millionaire. Dammit, I'm a billionaire. 
  • Old Italian proverb... After the game, the King and the pawn go into the same box.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lucky Luke

Some older people might remember Lucky Luke the comic book and TV cartoon character who was faster on the draw than his shadow. Terence Hill brings him to life in a 1991 comedy movie I ran across.  It is mostly funny though that stretches a point in a place or two.  The story is narrated by Roger Miller the voice of Luke's horse, Jolly Jumper. Nancy Morgan plays Lotta Legs, the love interest and Ron Carey is Joe, the leader of the Dalton Brothers.

Luke becomes the sheriff of Daisytown and cleans up all the bad guys to the point that the town is soooo boring.  The Daltons try to stir up the Indians by showing them what their country will be like in 100 years - tourists, freeway interchanges, factories pouring out smoke etc.

The Daltons have prices on their heads: Joe at $5000, William $4000, Jack $3000 and Averell $20, marked down to $2. The Indians are deliberately very white, in fact when Prairie dog and Luke shake hands, Luke's arm is quite brown and Prairie Dog's deathly pale.

In true cowboy fashion, Lucky Luke leaves Lotta Legs and Daisytown, riding off into the sunset.

I love Terence Hill's movies.  Especially when he teams up with Bud Spencer in My Name is Trinity and My Name is Still Trinity, made some 20 years earlier than Lucky Luke.  They are truly funny.




I can't find the entire movie on Youtube but this is one scene from They Call Me Trinity.




From a comment on the video clip: Just for the sakes of it these movies were completely Italian, with Italian actors (Terenzo Collina and Bruno Pedersoli AKA Terence Hill and Bud Spencer), interior scenes were all shot in Cinecittà-Roma and in both card trick scenes the hands are of 1970s Italian magician Tony Binarelli :-)


Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Legendary Milky Way

The Milky Way Ice Cream Store has been a seasonal fixture on Victoria Avenue in Regina for over 60 years, 37 under current ownership. It opened yesterday, March 10, in -20C weather to a line up waiting for ice cream.

Not only does opening day make front page news in the local daily; it also makes the local TV news

Carole Boldt said Milky Way Ice Cream picks a date each spring to open and sticks by it — despite the weather. (Matt Howard/CBC)


Regina freaking out over Milky Way Ice Cream's 'spring' opening on –20 C day


video

The lineup yesterday didn't quite stretch down the block in both directions as it does on hot summer weekends.  All three windows go full blast then, with Lord only knows how many people inside rotating past the three windows taking and filling orders.  They serve "four hunnert and eleventy three " varieties of hard ice cream and at least two kinds of soft, a couple dozen sundae flavours, specialties, and even burgers and hot dogs if you are willing to wait.  There is no place to sit other than three benches along one side or the parking lot/sidewalk by the strip mall next door. And parking is not a problem if you walk a block.

My eldest, years back, would walk there with her black lab Dezi, buy a soft ice cream cone, sit and share it with the dog just to mess with people's minds. But she was not alone. The sidewalk swarmed with dogs and kids. You could always find friends and  neighbours somewhere in the line.

The Milky Way usually closes after the Thanksgiving weekend in October but may stay open longer this year.  

I miss the Milky Way.  Someone go and have a maple walnut sundae for me please.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Some Background on Russian Fake News

“Psychological warfare has existed as long as man himself.” . . . “Propaganda needs to be smart, competent and effective,” (Russian Defense Minister) Shoigu said.



White propaganda has clearly attributed source and discernible motive. For Americans, prominent examples include the broadcasts of Hanoi Hannah during the Vietnam war. The North Vietnamese propagandist was famous for her “go home G.I.” refrain, encouraging soldiers to lay down their arms by telling them their cause was unjust.

Gray propaganda is information that has no obvious source, and uses a mix of proven and unproven facts to promote a favorable narrative or trick the enemy into believing one thing over another. The GRU textbook cites U.S. efforts to convince the world that the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983 in cold blood as an example of this approach.

Black propagandamost insidious form of information warfare is a a false flag operation. During the Chechen conflict, Russian psychological warfare experts spread rumors that foreign fighters had raped the 13-year-old daughter of a Chechen village elder. The rumors helped sow discord between Chechen fighters and Arab Islamist volunteers, undermining the unity of the rebels. (Source: The Moscow Times).

Atlantic Council has a good article explaining the difference between today's Russian Dezinfomatsiya and Soviet era propaganda. Here’s Why You Should Worry About Russian Propaganda. 

In the Cold War years, the Soviet disinformation machine produced and spread lies that aimed to damage the United States’ reputation as a value-driven and principled nation. . . A binary battle between good and evil. 

New “news” sites with legitimate sounding names but no editorial boards or journalistic credentials pop up like mushrooms after a storm to skew the message on any geopolitical event by “reporting” an alternative point of view. They mix facts with fiction to obfuscate reality and undermine the very notion of truth. On social media, Russian trolls and bots attack critics, confuse the objective narrative, and drown out reason with noise. New think tanks and research organizations with vague names but without a transparent funding structure or recognizable expertise appear with “analysis” ready in support of a pro-Kremlin view. 

And once a seed—be that a meme, a lie, or some mix of truth and fiction—is planted, it travels across media platforms at astounding speeds. This is the third difference between now and then: disinformation spreads at lightning speeds thanks to our highly-connected societies. What used to take months or years of constant hammering at the same topic in newspapers and television broadcasts, now takes minutes or seconds to find its way across the globe. 

And once a story goes viral online, it’s only a matter of time before it’s picked up by a mainstream news network, now completely devoid of its original source, and reported as fact by journalists and editors forced to work on increasingly imposs
ible deadlines to keep up with the news cycle and doesn't wait for fact checking. 

Three kinds of propaganda, and what to do about them describes Russian disinformation (as) a "firehose of falsehood." This tactic involves having huge numbers of channels at your disposal: fake and real social media accounts, tactical leaks to journalists, state media channels like RT, which are able to convey narrative at higher volume than the counternarrative, which becomes compelling just by dint of being everywhere ("quantity does indeed have a quality all its own").


We're not disagreeing about facts, we're disagreeing about epistemology. The "establishment" version of epistemology is, "We use evidence to arrive at the truth, vetted by independent verification (but trust us when we tell you that it's all been independently verified by people who were properly skeptical and not the bosom buddies of the people they were supposed to be fact-checking)."

The "alternative facts" epistemological method goes like this: "The 'independent' experts who were supposed to be verifying the 'evidence-based' truth were actually in bed with the people they were supposed to be fact-checking. In the end, it's all a matter of faith, then: you either have faith that 'their' experts are being truthful, or you have faith that we are. Ask your gut, what version feels more truthful?"

And as this NYT article explained, no one cares if the president (or anyone else) is lying.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

International Women's Day or Восьмое марта

Tomorrow is International Women's Day.  In much of the world it is observed as a political statement regarding the rights of women.  The Soviets were much too clever for that and turned it in to a celebration of old-fashioned womanhood.  Vosmoe Marta (Eighth of March) is second only to New Year's Eve as a holiday.

The upstairs managed to stay clean overnight and we finished the downstairs this morning.  The other half of the Christmas turkey is out thawing and the family will come for dinner tomorrow afternoon.  We were in town today for supplies, including flowers for all the women, even Dasha.

So, females young and old of the human race, if you are battling the patriarchy or basking in it, I wish you a great day and all success.



Monday, March 6, 2017

Fake News, Russian Style

Russia is currently the world's expert and leader in fake news of all kinds.  Especially since the Maidan Revolution of Dignity in early 2014, and subsequent Russian illegal occupation of Crimea and Russian aggression in Donbas, Ukraine has been the subject of a deluge of disinformation and outright faked news.  

Early examples of these concern misinformation and manufactured videos regarding the fire in Odessa and the shooting down of MH17, and the totally manufactured 'crucifixion of a three-year-old boy' and 'artillery death of a 10 year old girl". 

I subscribe to the weekly Disinformation Review, which comes every Thursday from East Stratcom Task Force with key examples and reviews of pro-Kremlin lies and disinformation of the week. The review focuses on key messages carried in international media which have been identified as providing a partial, distorted or false view or interpretation and/or spreading key pro-Kremlin messaging. It also carries a link to a complete compilation of all cases reported by their network.  Here are some of the top stories from the past few weeks.  If you click on each link, it takes about 2 minutes to read the entire article.

To sign up for this newsletter, please click here: http://eepurl.com/bN1ub5

Good Russia


Russia is good, the West is evil. So, on Russian state TV, we were told by the Deputy Chairman of the State Duma that Russia respects international law, that it is friendly towards its neighbours, and that it is those neighbours who are the aggressive ones, not Russia. To be fair, it was said in the same show that Russia might have to strike Europe pre-emptively if NATO keep putting troops into the Baltic countries. But no mention was made of Russia violating international law through its illegal actions in Ukraine, annexing Crimea among other things.

In the same show, it was stated that Donbass is part of Russia and that it is being bombed by European troops on a daily basis. Of course, no evidence was presented for these European troops – there are none.

The Evil West

One of the common techniques of the disinformation campaign is to use outright falsifications. And many examples of the technique presented themselves this week. So we saw for example a Bulgarian story claiming that EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn stated that Bulgaria will cease to exist as a nation within 40 years (http://bit.ly/2lyZgEu) – he said no such thing. We saw a Czech outlet saying Commission President Juncker thinks the EU will fall apart during the Brexit negotiations (http://bit.ly/2lyT4fP) - something he has not stated. And we saw Europe and the West accused on Russian state TV of wanting to destroy both Russia and Ukraine (http://bit.ly/2m3uPaK), of starting the Maidan protests in 2014 (http://bit.ly/2mhtkS5), and of aiming to loot Ukraine (http://bit.ly/2l3eYEI) - even of peoples organs. Again, needless to say, all untrue.

Another continuing trend this week was the depiction of refugees and migrants as dangerous. A Czech outlet reported that migrants had sexually harassed people in Frankfurt on New Year's Eve (http://bit.ly/2m3KCD6) - information that was based on false testimonies and subsequently deleted from the original report but that is still spreading. A cooperation agreement between the Czech, Romanian and German armies was explained as an effort by Germany to protect itself against migrants by another Czech outlet (http://bit.ly/2kDZNFM).

Also the Swedish city of Malmö was depicted in a very negative way on Russian state TV (http://bit.ly/2lAw5l3) misrepresenting unemployment numbers as at 63% (that is actually the employment figures of the city) and murder rates over the last year exaggerated up from 12 to 50. The piece also covered the old disinformation story of no-go zones in Sweden (http://bzfd.it/2m8uqQU).

Fabricated moral collapse

We learned from Russian state TV that Brussels is a dangerous place to live and that thousands - yes, literally thousands - of women are sexually assaulted on the streets on a daily basis http://bit.ly/2kKFx1O.

Repeating already debunked disinformation, we read again that thousands of tanks are flowing into Europe to threaten Russia http://bit.ly/2juL2zW; and that the EU's moral collapse continues, this week with the banning of baptism http://bit.ly/2jvytnU.

Another old and unfounded claim was repeated, namely that without Russian control of the country, Ukraine will embrace Nazism and fascism http://bit.ly/2kN9aCZ. There are no facts to support those claims. In fact, the human rights situation in the country was better before the Russian forces entered Ukrainian territory uninvited http://bit.ly/1RolEeE. Russian state TV also repeated the usual disinformation that a coup took place in Ukraine in 2014 http://bit.ly/2kbMRDO. In support of the facts on the ground, we recall the statements from the OSCE that the elections were conducted in a democratic manner http://bit.ly/2eWWBAV. 
 
The amount of hate-speech on Russian state TV debates has significantly risen. Almost every mention of Ukraine we see (and there were a lot of them in the last days) is accompanied by the adjective “nazi” or the noun “coup” - once again ignoring the reality that the Revolution of Dignity was no coup, and that Ukraine does not have nazi parties in the Parliament. In one show, there were open calls for a violent purge of the Ukrainian authorities (http://bit.ly/2lIEZd4; you will find the precise timecodes for the critical quotes in the table).

We saw again the myth that we debunked last week, that Ukraine is provoking the violence in Donbass (http://bit.ly/2lApN5g), and doing it just to get the attention of the new US President’s administration (http://bit.ly/2lHk0aB), or to impose martial law and abolish freedom of speech (http://bit.ly/2kD2Xpl). We saw absurd distortions of President Poroshenko’s interview, claiming that the head of the Ukrainian state has called for the lifting of sanctions against Russia (http://bit.ly/2kZ5k6X). We also saw inventions that the Ukrainian army is ready to join the pro-Russian “separatists” (http://bit.ly/2kZwgDn).

There was plenty of disinformation about Ukraine again during the last week. One "documentary" about Eastern Ukraine claimed that the Russian presence in the area was fabricated by the Western media. Russian state TV show Vremya Pokazhet focused on the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, and claimed that Russia had not seized Ukrainian territory, that Russia is not fighting in Ukraine and that Russia is in fact not present in Ukraine at all (http://bit.ly/2js6I3k). Of course, these claims have all been refuted before - even by President Putin himself (http://bit.ly/1kC94ch).

In another TV show, it was explained that Russia did indeed annex Crimea, but only to save the peninsula from impending destruction (http://bit.ly/2jh7cXG). The same disinformation was aired by Czech pro-Kremlin outlet Protiproud, which re-used the unsubstantiated allegations around genocide of Russian speakers (http://bit.ly/2iDpbsQ).

Avdiivka is on territory that should be under the full control of the Ukrainian army, according to the line of conflict stipulated in the Minsk Agreements. On the morning Sunday 29 January, the Ukrainian army reported that Russian-backed militants had begun shelling their positions there. The OSCE special monitoring mission positioned in the city flagged up hundreds of ceasefire violations in both directions of the front. Journalists reported that the shelling came from Russian-backed "separatists" (herehereand here).
 
But Russian state media immediately started denying any Russian role in the newest escalation. During the talk show "Vremya pokazhet", we heard that there are no Russian troops on the ground - not only around Avdiivka, but also in the whole territory of Ukraine (http://bit.ly/2leYlGS). Later in the same show it was claimed that a "secret plan" of the Ukrainian government is being realized, aimed at ethnic cleansing of Donbas. The next day, we heard in the same show that actually it is European humanists and their friends from the US who are responsible for the deaths in Avdiivka (http://bit.ly/2jSO1qY) – not those doing the shelling.
 
Another show, "Mesto vstrechi", blamed Kyiv for the humanitarian catastrophe in Avdiivka (http://bit.ly/2jT5kba).  One of the speakers accused President Poroshenko of provoking the conflict in order to divert the attention of Europeans away from the "fact" that he is stealing the gas flowing from Russia to Europe. Sergei Zheleznyak, Kremlin-loyal MP of the Duma, stated in "Pervaya studia" that Poroshenko provoked the hostilities in order to receive financial help from the West, as he had lost a huge investment in backing Hillary Clinton (http://bit.ly/2kyOFah). Lenta.ru suggested that Ukraine provoked the fighting to test the loyalty of the new American administration (http://bit.ly/2lfiR9t).
 
President Putin has also made multiple accusations: that Ukraine provoked the renewed violence in the east of the country in order to pretend to be a victim and receive money from the West; to establish a dialogue with the new US administration (after Ukraine supported the losing candidate); because the government needs to regain the people's support; and because Ukraine is not ready to implement the Minsk agreements.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thank God for (Un?)Answered Prayers

Funny how news articles reminded me of this old story.

Mabel's Bar and Bordello (referred to locally as Mabel's Bed and Breakfast) was one of the busiest establishments in town.  So much so that Mabel decided to double the size of her building and hire more, uh, staff.

The church across the street which had endured the embarrassment of having Mabel's as a neighbour was horrified.  They called a week of prayer and fasting as construction progressed, asking God to destroy Mabel's den of iniquity.

As events transpired, lightening struck Mabel's, just as the addition was almost complete.  Everything burned to the ground.  Not even the basement was saved (sorry, no pun intended). No one was injured as the girls and their clients, much to the amusement of some and shame of others were able to escape the flames unharmed.

The church had a Service of Celebration, thanking God for answering their prayers.  There was a great deal of rejoicing until Mabel sued the church for damages.

Her argument was that they prayed, God answered, and the church had confirmed it.  Therefore the fire was their fault and they should pay.  The church's defense was that lightening was a natural occurrence and neither God nor their prayers had anything to do with it.

The judge admitted it was the strangest case he had ever dealt with.  Here was a Madame who firmly believed God answered prayer and a church claiming it was all nonsense.