Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Blood, Tears and Folly

Len Deighton is perhaps better known for his Spy novel series Game Set and Match, Hook, Line and Sinker, but he is also a self confessed amateur historian with several works on WWII. “Blood, Tears and Folly: an objective look at World War II”, was published 15 years ago. One nice thing about history books, if they are well researched they can be read any time.

Deighton’s purpose in writing the book was to “remind ourselves how badly the world’s leaders performed and how bravely they were supported by their suffering populations”. He examines the delusions and myths of the nations involved, British, Germans, Japanese and Americans, and how they set the stage for the tragic events that followed. The book “takes into account the assumptions and ambitions of its protagonists and the background from which they emerge” taking the “narrative far enough back in time to deal with some of the misconceptions that cloud our preferred version of the war”

Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly: from Troy to Vietnam" 1984, looks at the folly of nations which she defines “Pursuit of Policy Contrary to Self-Interest." (See also http://www.stoneschool.com/Reviews/MarchOfFolly.html) “For a government’s policy or a nation’s courts of action to be considered folly,” Tuchman writes, “it must meet three criteria. First, it must be perceived in its own time as counterproductive to that group’s own self-interest, not just in hindsight. Second, a feasible alternative course of action must have been available when the policy was adopted. And third, the policy must be that of a group, not just a single individual.” Blood, Tears and Folly looks not just at the folly of nations but the folly of individual leaders from Churchill to Rommel, from Tojo to Wavell, from Stalin to MacArthur.

Deighton’s book illustrates like no other, how wars are started, fought, won and lost by human beings with emphasis on HUMAN. We tend to think of wars in terms of sports where the “best” team wins, where dazzling generalship scores the most touchdowns. Wars are rarely won by brilliant leadership but most often simply by those committing the fewest stupid mistakes or best able to master the logistics of supply. Leadership at all levels on both sides was prone to all the failings of human kind: fear, pride, greed, stupidity, indecision, obsession, paranoia.

“Battleship” admirals’ distain for airplanes and submarines; RAF refusal to consider anything but strategic bombing for fear they fell back under control of the Army or Navy. Constant underestimation of the enemy, whether German invasion planning based on a Russian collapse in four months or British military in SE Asia refusing to prepare any defenses against the Japanese because they could not “believe they could form an intelligent fighting force”.

If you think you know the history of World War II i.e. WHAT happened, "Blood Tears and Folly" will give you new insights into WHY they happened.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Easter Sunday

Yesterday, our friends Natalie, Andrei and daughter Yulia drove out from Dnipropetrovs'k for Easter Sunday dinner. It was the first time any of them had been to our place ever so we took great delight in showing them around. (I had just finished putting up the curtains in the kitchen and cleaning up before they got there. Only one small oops in drilling in the mounting screws, which I am an expert in covering up by now.) They were quite impressed with all we had done.

First thing in the morning, Tanya had started cooking again. Some left over perogie dough became a fish pie (and tasted wonderful). Two more salads, crab salad (1 cup niblets corn, 1 cup slivered crab, two cups slivered (grated?) carrots and the ubiquitous mayonnaise) and a green salad. The chicken went in the oven just when they called to say they were outside town.

We opened our dining table out full for the first time. To hold all the food, not to accommodate 5 people. We should have had 10 people for dinner. And Tanya sent me to the store for more groceries because “she didn’t think we’d have enough food”. Actually we’d run out of fruit juice.

Tanya has known Natalie for about 10 years and considers her one of her two best friends. Natalie started her career as a professional translator and lately was the head of the City of Dnipropetrovs'k International Relations Department. She was all over the world at any given time, working on business deals, leading trade delegations or piloting the Mayor and other high officials on various missions related to trade with the City of Dnipropetrovs'k.

She has just started on the biggest challenge of her life, heading up the company which will put together the bid on the 2020 Summer Olympics for the City of Dniporpetrovs'k. She is terrified and overwhelmed by the magnitude of the job but got no sympathy from either her husband or Tanya as all believe there is no one in Ukraine as capable as she is, to make it happen.

Andrei is a businessman in Dnipropetrovs,k. Construction and trucking. Great guy. I had not met him before and had been looking forward to meeting the man who married Natalie, figuring he had to be something grand. He is! Yulia is 15 and a sweetheart. No one seems to have told her that teenagers are not supposed to be that well mannered and agreeable to have around.

A big storm blew in about 5:00 so they headed for home. It rained hard all night and I have not had to do yard work today at all. Love it. Now I have to go look after my pooches.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cooking for Easter

Tomorrow is Easter Sunday so today we have been busy cooking and baking. We will have a plate full of traditional Paskha bread and coloured eggs for tomorrow morning and a great deal more food for visitors. Tanya was chief cook and I was delegated chief bottle washer.

We had shipped home from Canada at Christmas a number of items not available in stores here. Jell-O, maple syrup, pancake mix, cake mixes, brown sugar, canned icing, bran muffin mix, chocolate chips. Tanya has been dying to try things so I dug out Ella’s Oatmeal Cookie recipe and we started with two dozen chocolate chip cookies then made two dozen raisin cookies. Hit of the day with Masha and Maxim. Tanya can already make the recipe by heart after two times. Then we started making layered Jell-O’s in tall glass cups. Opened a box of Certo by mistake. Caught it in time. Next were 18 bran muffins, followed by a white cake mix and the last of one can of icing to finish it.

Oh, yes, we made Ukrainian food too. Salad Olivier - I was chief chopper-upper for that. While I was chopping things up, Tanya had me cut up a chicken and put it to marinate for tomorrow. Tanya had started dough rising first thing and punched it down twice. At the end of the day she made perogie. A word of explanation here about names. What Canadians call perogies are actually verenikie. Verenikie is NOT a staple food here but store-bought frozen for “emergencies”. Perog (one) perogie (many) is best translated as pie. Raised dough “buns” stuffed with fruit or meat or whatever and fried. These perogie were stuffed with boiled egg and green onion marinated in melted butter with added salt for three or four hours. To die for.

Tanya is now colouring Easter Eggs (Pysanka) so I bowed out.

Masha has been here all day, playing with Maxim and the puppies and Lucia’s rabbits and… She comes in the house once in a while but other than that we haven’t seen her. She is skipping her nap today. Tanya wants a nap but she is afraid to lie down for fear Andrei and Tanya come for her and find Babushka sleeping and Masha playing outside unsupervised.

Salad Olivier – a traditional Ukrainian salad
Two cups each of the following: peas (canned or frozen), hard boiled eggs, ham, potatoes.
One cup of each: dill pickles, carrots, green onion, mayonnaise.
Potatoes and carrots should be cooked but still relatively firm.
Chop everything the size of peas. Mix all ingredients. Keep chilled until served.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Banking in Ukraine

We set out to buy a car in January which meant transferring the last of my cash to Tanya’s account at Privat Bank. In three tranches so as not to attract attention by being over the $10,000 limit on any one transaction. We had been transferring money several times so my branch of the Credit Union knew the routine by heart. I could check on line to see when the money left my account and after three days it would be in Tanya’s account. Except it wasn’t.

Tanya had lost her bank card in Canada some place and got a new one. And a new account. Who knew? The money was transferred to her old account number. So we go down to Tanya’s branch where her account is and up to the third floor where people deal with such things. The dingy hallway/waiting area looked like a cross between a bus depot in the slums and a doctor’s waiting room in flu season. Full of rank and file mostly middle aged and old people. No receptionist just closed doors the length of the hall. And a computer terminal which gave you a choice of 8 problems and then a number. Two screens flashed numbers periodically and people got up exited to "The Room" which seemed to have people behind it doing something.

Efficient? No. Some people picked two or more problems and got two or more numbers to see if it would speed up their waiting time. Sometimes the machine spit out two numbers at a time. A young lady from inside “The Room” spent most of her time in the hall sorting out the mess. Another young woman in tight Dolce & Gabbana jeans and above-the-knee red Italian-leather stilettos clattered up and down the ceramic tiled floor, moving VIP (Very Important Paper) from room to room through the hierarchy for approvals and the all important stamps. We waited. And waited. An hour!

Finally our turn came. We entered “The room” which had about 18 people at desks rowed down both sides of the room. Depending on the problem you picked, you were sent to the desk of the person(s) who would work on it. We found ourselves with a young man who actually was keen and wanted to help. He had one chair in front of his desk. Tanya sat down and began to explain the situation. This was going to take time, I could see so I looked for a chair. There was an empty chair right across the aisle in front of a hard working woman displaying cleavage normally associated with the Oscars or New Year’s Eve parties. She was not working with clients so I asked politely if I could borrow her chair. She point blank refused.

I don’t know if she thought I was going to sit and stare at her or what. I know I find dĂ©colletage interesting but now that I am an old man, I cannot remember why. I just wanted to sit down. At any rate, Tanya intervened and I got the chair. The young man understood the problem and was certain it could be solved. He checked Tanya’s old account number. No money there either. Oh, cool. We gave him the details of the transfer, all relevant numbers, Tanya’s internal passport and he left. Another girl came in with some documents which Tanya looked at. She left. Thirty minutes later the young man came back. Money was now in the old account. Transferring it to the new account took another thirty minutes, more VIP to be read, signed and stamped and much more rushing too and fro but it happened.

We should have known this was just a warning of things to come.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Grandchildren are put on earth to entertain grandparents. Masha is my 4 ½ year old step-granddaughter, a child with a mind of her own and very firm views on how things should be done. Which is to say her way. She lives in an apartment which has no room for pets so loves to come to our house to play with our puppies Volk and Bobik and our cat Kuchma.

Masha told her parents the other day “When you die I will get puppies and a cat and do what I want”.

She was playing outside with her friend Maxim from next door to us. Tanya called her in to eat lunch. "Can I bring Maxim?" Of course. "Will you offer him food?" Of course. "Babushka, we’re good people".

At lunch, Tanya offered her chocolate and hazelnut spread on bread. "Are there preservatives in it?" I don’t know but I do know it tastes very sweet. "Well, OK, but don’t tell Mama."

Her mom sent her a natural yogurt drink (made by Danone, best name in dairy products in Europe). “I watched the advertising on TV. It is very good for children, so I drink it”.

She and Tanya were watching Chip and Dale cartoons on our TV which is in our upstairs bedroom. I laid down on my side of the bed with Masha in the middle and fell asleep. When the cartoons were over Tanya was asleep too. “Babushka, I can’t sleep. Allen snores to much. Lets go to another bedroom”. And they did.

When she went home, she left here a change of clothes, her cartoon DVD’s, her toys and her Kinder-surprise. She said “I will come back. I need my potty (garshuk) so I can spend the night.”

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Dead Centre of Town

Maybe the reason there are more older women than men buried in the ZV Cemetery is that women don't have wives so they live longer?
Married men live longer than single men but they are more willing to die.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Cemetery

Zhovti Vody was the location where in 1648, 360 years ago this year, Bohdan Khmelnitsky defeated the Poles and freed Ukraine from their very unpleasant overlordship. Of course, six years later, his allies having deserted him and the Poles threatening a return engagement, Khmelnitsky signed an agreement effectively turning Ukraine over to the Russians. The jury is still out on that one.

Zhovti Vody is today a city of about 70 to 80,000 people, founded as an urban centre in the late 1950’s. During Soviet times it was a “closed city” and only authorized people were allowed to go there. It had two military factories turning out communications equipment, as well as a uranium mine and processing mill. When Ukraine became independent, the factories shut down but the mine still operates.

Marianivka, where Tanya and I live is a village that starts on the south east edge of ZV (I can’t figure out where the city stops and the village begins) and stretches south for several kilometers along both sides of a creek and boggy marsh. Behind our house, about two blocks to the West, is a very large cemetery serving the city and containing many hundreds of graves, more than a thousand, I would say. The bulk of the graves are from the past three decades, with much fewer from the 1970’s and very few from the 1960’s and 1950's. This is in keeping with the “creation” of the city of Zhovti Vody 50 years ago.

Bobik, Volk and I go for our twice daily walks around and through the cemetery. The puppies love to explore and I love to read the headstones for stories they might tell.

The stories are all too often of lives cut short. The average age seems to be about 60 years. For every person who lived into their 80’s there are many who died in their 50’s and too many young people in their 20’s and 30’s. I found one lady who made the grand age of 107 years but another husband and wife who died two years apart, both 51. There seem to be more graves of old women than old men, possibly a result of “The Great Patriotic War” which claimed the lives of Ukrainian men in unprecedented numbers. One wonders how much being born before 1946 and enduring the horrors of war we cannot imagine impacted the age at which people died

While most graves do not have any religious insignia, traditional Orthodox customs are plainly evident. Cremation is banned except when ordered by civil authorities for public health reasons. The body is buried facing East with the marker placed at the foot of the grave so that as you read the inscriptions, you are also facing East, the rising sun, the symbol of the resurrection. Including a picture of the deceased on the gravestone is a common custom. Technology from about the past 15 years allows the person’s portrait to be laser etched onto granite slabs, where previously it was on a ceramic plaque fastened to the marker. Graves are almost always fenced, either as individual sites or as family plots and tables and benches are also quite common to allow people to sit and eat and drink as they remember those who have gone on.

Almost every grave site is well cared for by family or friends. April is the month when people tend the graves, cleaning up debris, planting flowers, and placing artificial wreaths, in preparation for Paskha or Easter. Every day the puppies and I on our walks encounter different people tending graves of loved ones. Families looking after graves of parents and grandparents. Grandparents tending the graves of children or grandchildren. A lonely man in his mid-40’s planting flowers around the grave of his wife who died 11 years ago at the age of 29.

Life is life, the Russians say, and death is part of life.

Satellite Internet Service

Our internet is back working again. It is my life line to my kids, my friends, to Canada. It is also my newspaper and my encyclopedia. I am lost without it. I had $8 left on my account when we put on another $50; however “putting $50 on the account” is not so simple an operation. Like everything else in Ukraine, internet service is more than a little confusing at times. First we go to the bank and transfer the money, getting a “cretention” or receipt with a number on it. Second we go home and go to the ISP site, fill out the details of our account and enter the amount of money transferred. We get another receipt on-line which we print off. Third, we then email the ISP giving them the number of the bank transfer receipt and the ISP site receipt. The ISP then activates that amount on our account. All of this takes two or three days.

All transactions are in Russian and Tanya looks after them. I could set up some of it in English so I could understand it but then Sergei, our long-suffering IT guy couldn’t fix it when it all goes wrong. The first clue we had that all was not well was when the site quit working on Tuesday. Call Sergei Wednesday. No money in our account. Go to bank. Bank says money transferred, go to internet cafĂ©. Tanya has an email from ISP saying the ISP site receipt is wrong. Tanya had forgotten Step 2 and used the number from a previous payment. Get the right number. Email ISP. Wait. Nothing happens. Tanya checks her email again. She sent the receipt numbers to our friend Galina in Moscow by mistake. Sends numbers to ISP email address. Internet now works.

Because we don’t have a land telephone line or TV cable to our home, high speed internet was not an option. Tanya said there was an Ukrtelecom land line a couple of blocks from us but it would cost a fortune and take forever to get installed to our place.

JSC Ukrtelecom is a government monopoly but is short of operating cash like everything else the government is responsible for and needs to replace its entire ancient infrastructure. The government is listing 68% of its shares at $2.4 billion dollars but will still hold the management firmly in its grasp. There are monopolies and monopolies. SaskTel is also a government monopoly but they know they face privatization if they lose the goodwill of the Saskatchewan people so they perform and perform well. Ukrtelecom is a carryover from Soviet times when government service was an even greater contradiction in terms.

KyivStar, one of the big mobile telephone companies in Ukraine, offers a dial-up internet service with a twist. First we dial KyivStar ISP, and then we dial SpaceGate, a satellite internet service, using ABS 1 satellite which we pick up with a pizza dish outside the window. Maximum download speed is 1000 Kbps, compared to dial-up at 54 Kbps or High-Speed at 100,000 Kbps. Maximum upload speed is 460 Kbps. Sounds not bad but actual speed is nowhere near the maximum. During the afternoon when usage is at its peak, speeds range from 10 to 30 Kbps and anything over 250 is a miracle. At 6:00 am Sunday morning, speeds approach maximum because no one in their right mind is up that early on a computer.

I can live with the service as it is but it sure would be nice if Skype would work. $0.20 per minute on my mobile. $0.02 per minute on Skype to a land line. Someday.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Spring in Marianivka

Mid-April and mid-spring in Marianivka Selo (Village). The apricot trees are in full bloom. Our tree is alive with bees, as are all the neighbouring trees. After the apricots will be the cherries, then the apples. Tulips and daffodils are in full bud, with some flowers already in several gardens that get early heat.

All our perennials are up and our two lilies will bloom in time for Easter (Paskha) which falls on April 27th. Tanya has green onions, garlic, carrots and peas planted as well as many annual flowers. We will not plant potatoes and will buy what we need from other villagers. Tanya has several dozen tomato plants ready to transplant and will buy enough more to make up about 200 plants of several different varieties. (Our neighbour Lucia will have 400 tomato plants). We will buy cabbage and other bedding plants in the local market, possibly tomorrow morning.

On Thursday we bought 18 rose bushes in Dnipropetrovs’k for about $40. If they all survive and prosper our front yard will be very beautiful. I am not allowed in the garden at planting time as I am “too heavy and will pack the soil so nothing will grow” Oh, darn. So I haul water (until we can find a decent quality garden hose), cut and sharpen stakes for row markers and take my puppies, Volk and Bobik for walks so we are out of the way.

Today, Saturday, all the village gardens are full of people, mostly planting potatoes, which is the heaviest work so needs all available hands.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Big Sky Controversy

Kevin Hursh (Today’s Comment, 11/04/08) rightfully defends Big Sky Farms from those who are resentful of its size, its success and the fact that the Saskatchewan government owns 69% of it. Jim Long (Pork Comments, e.g. http://www.thepigsite.com/swinenews/17586/pork-commentary-carnage-continues-but-ethanol-ideal-is-over ) has been particularly vocal in his attacks. Partly I suspect because Big Sky is using what used to be NPD (now Hypor) breeding stock. Be interesting to hear the tune if Big Sky’s 50,000 sows were of Genusus breeding. Jim Long makes it sound as though Big Sky were on government funded life support more so than the rest of the industry – “pull the plug”. Investors in the pig industry everywhere are bleeding equity and I expect Big Sky investors are no different. There has been no word of any cash injections to Big Sky from the general provincial treasury, so the “taxpayers” are not supporting Big Sky. What is Jim Long’s problem?

The history of Saskatchewan (indeed Canada) is that much of what we have is a result of significant government investment. We have a different political and economic history and culture than the Americans. The American wanna-bees in Alberta and their vocal imitators in the rest of Canada who brand everything they disagree with or can't understand as “socialist”, don't seem to comprehend that. In his excellent book “The Canadians”, Andrew H Malcolm points out that when the US completed its transcontinental railway in 1869, it had a population of 40 million people. When Canada completed its transcontinental railway in 1885, it had a population of 4 million people and 1500 miles more miles of railroad to build through the Canadian shield. Government did not just guarantee loans, it put up cash as well. Huge amounts of cash. Major developments have since relied heavily on government funding and support simply because other investors would not take the risk without it.

Governments can and must take risks that others will not take. Upgraders, fertilizer plants, irrigation systems, etc. When they fail (plastic shopping carts, French translation software, Meadow Lake Pulp Mills, potato storage) they are soundly and self righteously beaten up by the press and opposition. When they are successful they are also beaten up for “interfering” in private enterprise. Prince Albert Penitentiary used to have a thriving cattle herd and feedlot which employed the prisoners and provided beef for the prison and other federal institutions. A prominent local cattle buyer successfully forced the government to close it because it provided “subsidized” competition to “honest” private cattle people.

Florien Possberg was one of the original investors in NPD swine genetics, I believe. NPD also had heavy government investment. We would never have had a major World-Class swine genetics company located in Saskatchewan without it. I happen to know from sitting on the Board of NPD back when I worked for Saskatchewan Agriculture that the company was so profitable that there was no way Saskatchewan Crown Investments wanted to sell their shares. It was a cash cow. I suspect that Big Sky is no different. Crown Investments has no doubt made good money from their investment in Big Sky and Saskatchewan has a pork production company that sets examples for others. It has excellent management, excellent human resource policies and staff who are proud of their work and their company. Big Sky recruited locally and trained and maintained their staff. No imported labour because they didn’t need it.

The Saskatchewan government need not apologize to anyone for investing in Big Sky and certainly, like any investment, if one is offered a price one cannot refuse, then it is time to sell and look for another place to invest.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The First Post

Blogging is an obvious choice for those of us who are certain the world is entitled to our opinions on virtually anything. In my case it is an inherited family trait which I will blame on my father since he is no longer here to defend himself. My three daughters all have blogs. My son does not, being the quiet sort who seldom voices an opinion in public, other than to his wife.

The title to my blog was suggested by my youngest daughter. When she learned I'd had my pocket picked in the Kyiv Metro at the train station for the third time, twice in the last year, remarked "Dad, you're just blog fodder". (And regardless what your father told you, your wallet is NOT safe in your front pocket in the 8:00 am crush to get on the Metro. Put it in your luggage or your computer bag).

So today I am setting out to build a blog site and see how long it takes anyone to notice. Experiences in Ukraine and comments on books, news items, and other columns will fill the pages. With any luck, no one will notice and the outrageous comments will not generate international incidents. And I checked. There is a delete all button.

If you found me, stay tuned. Something interesting will come along sooner or later.