Monday, February 28, 2011

Learning parenting the hard way - by having children

I was talking to my daughter Ky on Skype the other night and we got talking about her younger sister LynnieC.  I had a picture of her cousin's "Lil'T" as my desktop wallpaper.  Lil'T is 4 years old and full of mischief.  In this picture her eyes just sparked with sheer impishness.  I'm glad she is my niece's kid, just as I was glad my sister's daughter, whom I dubbed "Calvin" after the comic strip, went home with her at night.  I just love kids like that and encourage it as much as possible - in other people's children.

We had enough mischief on our hands as it was. Now Ky was no angel.  As a toddler she sang Happy Birthday to the furnace and blew out the pilot light.  The repair man from the gas company thought we must have had a sudden and severe downdraft.  You could call it that. Ky also dialed 911 "cause nothin' 'citing ever happens round here".  Something did. But compared to LynnieC, she was pretty easy to keep tabs on.

LynnieC  was bright.  At less than age 3, she doctored her own headache with two baby aspirins, (the standard treatment from her mom).  We were horrified.  "How did you get the lid open?" "I readed the directions".  She was fast.  At not much over a year, her mother had JUST finished wallpapering the kitchen, gone to answer the front door and returned to see LynnieC with a ballpoint pen, up on a chair, adding decoration to the wallpaper.  The decoration was still there when we sold the house 5 years later.

LynnieC at 1 yr
The episode that became legendary occurred when she was still a toddler.  Her older sister and brother had been instructed to watch her and still she had done something, I forget what.  We were mad! We spanked them, (something I no longer recommend, by the way, having learned better but too late for our kids) and then sat the two at the kitchen table and lectured them about responsibility and about looking after their sister.  When we adjourned the meeting we found...that LynnieC had hauled flour from the pantry and water from the bathroom and made paste on the shag carpet on the stairs.  Under our noses.  While we were sitting there...

We apologized profusely to our children for being very wrong on all counts. 

And LynnieC is still pretty full of mischief though age and adulthood have slowed her down a bit.

Of course, conservatives don't have ethics. If they did, they wouldn't be Conservatives

Ralph Goodale is the Liberal MP from my old riding in Regina.  He is one of the good guys as far as I am concerned and has been highly rated in Canadian polls (Macleans Magazine) for his integrity and hard work.  I still get stuff from his office including his weekly comments email. 

The background to this weeks comments is that Foreign Aid Minister Bev Oda* decided to kill government funding to an NGO called KAIROS run by moderate church organizations. Harper's people would hate them for being moderate instead of fundamentalist and for speaking out against human rights abuses regardless of who commits them. No names mentioned but it starts with an "I".

Oda's bureaucrats defended the agency very strongly in a written document to her. She doctored the document to say the opposite and presented it to the House as reason for her decision to unfund KAIROs.  She was called on it and denied doctoring the report.  She was called on that and finally admitted it.  Harper refuses to fire her, nor should he as she was, like everyone else in his government, acting on HIS orders.  He is the one we need to get rid of.

So here is this week's update.  At least our justice system can operate independently of politics when it needs to. Now if the Liberals could just find a living breathing LEADER.

Stephen Harper must think Canadians don’t care all that much about ethics and integrity.  Nothing else explains his blanket defence of foreign aid minister, Bev Oda.

Under universal criticism for attacking a church organization like KAIROS, misrepresenting the assessment of that organization done by government officials, tampering with documents, and not telling the truth to Parliament – Ms. Oda’s credibility is gone.

But such behavior is not an isolated incident in this government.  They’ve been ethically-challenged from the start.  Remember the swirl of unsavory stuff that tarnished their coming into office in the first place back in 2006.

That Conservative campaign was founded upon two fundamental falsehoods.

First they promised to fix Canada’s Equalization Formula in such a way that Saskatchewan would gain $850 million every year in extra payments from the federal government.  But that promise quickly turned into a lie.

Their only explanation afterward was to say it was obviously such a ridiculous promise that no one should have believed it.  Strike One against Conservative integrity!

Secondly, they promised never to tax Income Trusts.  That, too, turned into a lie.  Tax them they did, obliterating $25 billion from the savings accounts of two million Canadians.  Strike Two!

And now, there’s news about dubious Conservative election financing in 2006. 

The Party has been under investigation for four years in connection with a system to divert some of their national campaign spending down to certain local ridings, thus circumventing national spending limits and cashing in on local election rebates.

Over a year ago, the RCMP and Elections-Canada raided Conservative Party Headquarters to seize evidence related to this scheme.  It’s been in court ever since.

Last week, new charges were laid in this matter against the Conservative Party and four senior Party officials – including two current Conservative Senators.

The sorry saga continues!

*cool name for a Foreign Aid Minister.  The acronym for Official Development Agency is ODA. Likely the only qualification she had?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

OK, Baseball Fans, What is the Score?

5 to 4, bottom of the 5th, one out, nobody on.

The Joy of Living

When you spend as much time as I do reading the news on-line, and current events articles and the blogs of writers who care about the economy of their country and humanity in general and the environment that hasn't been mined or drilled yet, it is easy to get depressed.  One could conclude the world is a terrible place and going to Hell in a handbasket, which in one sense, I suppose it is.

On the other hand it is a very beautiful place and brings joy and happiness to a great many living creatures, including humans, in spite of it all.

I love watching the dogs explode out of their area when I open the gate.  They barely touch the ground as they make a hard right and race some 500 meters as fast as they can, just because they can.  They make a 180 and race back, past the house in the opposite direction, almost to the end of the street.  Then they come back and hang around the yard, hoping the cat will come out to play so they can chase him up a tree.

The other day we were waiting in the line up at a bank machine.  Three students from the Economic University came along and got in line.  They were obviously quite upbeat about things and were engaged in animated conversation while they stood there.  But one girl, in particular, could not be still.  She literally was dancing* the whole time and pretty fancy footwork too. Ukraine may not be the best country in the world to live in, but for that girl, that day, life couldn't seem to hold more happiness. 

* and it wasn't the "it is cold and I have to pee" dance.  I know the steps to that one.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Out of the Frying Pan

We bought a new frying pan.  I wanted so badly to claim it was my Valentine's gift to Tanya. She bought me a coffee pot.  But since I am in some trouble already with a couple of my relatives, it is far safer to admit I dropped the lid on the old one and a new lid was half price of a new frying pan.

This pan is totally non-stick so little oil is needed.  It says do NOT cook on high heat and cooks on low heat very rapidly.  Veggies come out crisp and green.  I don't have to add oil to cook ground beef any more.  Our beef gives a whole new meaning to LEAN ground.  Best $50 we spent in a long time.

The brand is Bergner and you can find it here.  They should really pay me for this, don't you think?

And Tanya's Valentine's gift is a dressing table (is that the right name?) for our bedroom, which she has wanted for a long time.

Why People still Prefer Religion

“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” Stephen Hawking

The following Career Choice flow chart was stolen from DC Power.  He is an electrical engineer with a long and distinguished career with Saskatchewan Power Corporation which will be coming to an end in 93 days, 9 1/2 hours as I write.  

If you compare it with the flow chart on Religion a couple of blog posts below, you can see why many people still prefer religion to science in spite of Stephen Hawking.  Religion is far simpler and has all the answers.  It also seems to involve a lot of food.

Click to enlarge

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's Winter

I love Tanya.

When I wake up at night sometimes and find her snuggled up against me and her arm over me, hugging me, I feel so loved.  I am thankful every day (and a little puzzled) that she loves me as much as she does.

Because I delight in catching her off guard and doing or saying something totally stupid.  A non-sequitur that puts her in kinks. Some days it doesn't take much if she is in a giddy mood.

When a man gets old, his hair starts falling out but growing back in his nose and ears.  Jeff Foxworthy says if you pull on an old man's nose hair, you can watch his hairline recede. We were driving into town yesterday when she reminded me that it had been (quite) a while since I trimmed my nosehair.  I said "It's winter".

She lost it.  I guess the visual was too much for her.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I Believe in God

"The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has nobody to thank". - Dante Gabriel Rossetti. A friend of mine posted this on Facebook a while back. That and Voltaire's quote "If God didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent Him*" got me to thinking. Why do I believe in God?

This blog post is mainly for me, to sort out a few things in print and put it out where it is public. It is not intended as a challenge, nor as proselytizing. Many of the blogs I read (because the writers care about people, about justice, about health care and decent wages, about good education and adequate pensions, about workplace safety) are written by people who are declared Atheist or Agnostic, with one Apatheist. I don’t blame them for their non-belief.

They, by and large, escaped from authoritarian fundamentalist “Christian” organizations. Trust me, I don’t believe in the God these organizations represent either. Theirs is a political God used to enforce positions of power. A God who hates women, people of colour, the poor, the sick, the powerless, the gay. A God who loves war, money, and (mainly) white males. In a bait and switch tactic, billed as a God of love and forgiveness, but delivered as a God of fear and guilt. No thanks.

At least they could escape, sometimes with loss of their family, support system, community, sometimes with nothing more than “phone calls from their mother”. There are other religions where one is lucky to escape with their life. Their God hates women with a passion and everyone else too that doesn’t fully subscribe their very narrow definitions of “Godly”. Again, a political God, used to enforce power positions. No thanks.

Part of the problem of believing in God is that we think too small. We look for some kind of Zeus, a human-like being with super powers. Michelangelo’s God. God is often pictured, though likely unknowingly by the speaker, as an angry old man, peering down through a knothole at the world and pounding his fist in anger if he sees a bare patch of skin or people having a good time. I can't prove God exists in any "scientific" manner and if I could then it really wouldn't be a God I would want to believe in anyhow. Too small.

Being trained in the sciences, I am well aware of the many "natural laws" that govern physics, chemistry, biology, life itself. The whole universe pretty much operates on its own, following all these natural laws. Where there are laws, there must be a law giver. All else can and does follow as a consequence of these laws. I have to admit that as science traced the origins of the current universe back multi-billions of years to the split second at which it began, that on the other side, they would find the only explanation was God. I should have known better. Too small.

Stephen Hawking's latest book, “The Grand Design”, which I haven’t read yet, explains how the Universe came into being without a creative moment as we would understand it. That makes God bigger than Steven Hawking and that takes some doing as Hawking likely has a better grasp of what exactly is infinity than any one. Now we know that the universe is finite, we need a new measure to try to imagine infinity. Trying to get my mind around infinity hurts as it doesn't quite stretch that far.

Eternity is another word that is too big to measure. God is eternal. How long is eternal? Longer than the age of our current universe at any rate. (Apparently Heaven and Hell are supposed to be eternal, too. That scares hell out of me. Not the Heaven and Hell part, the eternal part. I cannot imagine doing anything eternally. I mean, imagine living in Hawaii, waking up and looking out the window “Damn, another nice day” and playing two more rounds of golf. For eternity…)

Most of the reasons I believe in God are pretty simple and selfish. When I am thankful and I so often am, for life in general and some things in particular, I need someone to thank, so I thank God. When I wake up at night and worry about friends and loved ones who are far away or with problems I can’t deal with, I leave them with God. I also thank people and I also help people but “knowing” there is a God, makes things much less complicated and eases my mind.

I like to think there is Someone in charge of the universe, of this earth and of everything in it; that life has a purpose. I am not sure what in charge means, certainly not day to day operation and manipulation but maybe a plan of some kind. Humans evolved to the top of the food chain through the functioning of natural laws over a long period of time. Whether it was preprogrammed into the system or occurred randomly is neither here nor there. I prefer preprogrammed. Others can disagree. Like the existence of God, it cannot be proven either way. One is Who and Why, the other is How.

But the things humans do to each other, (never mind what the earth can do to humans; as I write this, NZ is dealing with results of a 6.3 earthquake in the Christchurch area) it is easy to dismiss God for allowing these things to happen, since God obviously doesn’t love creation. Without the existence of an over all long term (eternal) plan, life would be pretty horrible to contemplate and one wonders why people continue to reproduce, struggle to exist, etc. Other than I guess that is programmed in as well. So I believe there is a plan. And maybe even justice somewhere some time, somehow.

I like to think and that there is something beyond the grave for all life – humans, cows, dogs, trees, flowers. They are all alive, they all have life. When one shuts off a car engine, nothing changes except there is no longer a spark. No electricity flows to the plugs, nor to the controls system. The car is dead. I like to think that life does not stop at the time of death on earth. Not just human life but all life, plant and animal. That the spark which is life came from God and goes back to God. What happens to it there is unknowable.

This is pretty long and rambling so I am going to leave it. I have several short essays, written over the years, of things I believe, things I value, my philosophy of life as it were. Interesting to go back and reread them and see what changes and what does not. And I refuse to think about infinity or eternity, other than Tanya needs infinite patience as I take an eternity to get ready to go when she is ready (and of course vice versa).

*I apologize for using the male pronoun Him in reference to God. That was simply the quote. We need a better pronoun to describe God, who is not a He nor a She. God should be referenced accurately in English as IT (neither male nor female) but some will say that demeans God. Really? Then the fact that we say "he, she, it" in that order would mean that God is also demeaned if referred to as She. The implications of that are quite disgusting.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writing is Hard Work

There are several blog topics ruminating* inside inside my head. The problem is that to say what I want to say in a way that makes sense takes a lot of work, a certain amount of research, thinking and rewriting. These are serious posts, and some will even have charts and graphs. No real reason to write them other than to throw out a few more ideas to, as we say in the cattle business, agitate the fecal masses. Not tonight, though.

In the mean time, for Timmies Fans everywhere...

*A pretty picture for my readers knowledgeable in livestock physiology but the rest of you need not concern yourselves too much.  Just think of a 25 gallon gas bag filled with constantly churning organic matter, foul smelling liquid, billions of bacteria, no oxygen and an occasional belch of CO2 and Methane. 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Murrmurrs - A hilarious blog site

Murr Brewster left a comment on my blog and I followed her home to Murrmurrs.  That will teach her.  Wasted half a day reading her blog and laughing till the tears rolled down my face.

Need a sex toy for your humping hound?
Think YOU have the best husband in the world?
Can't understand the American economy?
Prefer piano recitals to watching the Super Bowl?
and on it goes.

This woman is funny.  Her use and abuse of the English language is, as she bills herself, "snort worthy".

Five stars and many thumbs up.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Picture frames

Reading several series of comments on Facebook (You know who you are, Violet) reminded me of a game a friend and I invented many years ago.

Jim and I were both misfits working for the Honourable Company of Adventurers Trading out of Hudson's Bay, also known as the Here Before Christ company, in Inuvik NWT, back in 1972.  Inuvik had a population of about 5,000 or more and the store was large enough to support about 10 "management trainees".  That was the handle the company used so they could pay us a monthly salary instead of by the hour so we worked for CHEAP.  Parties were plentiful in Inuvik especially during the long winter nights and they tended to be BORING if one's IQ was higher than that of, say, an active parsnip or the average Bay Boy.

Jim and I invented a party game called "Picture Frames", of which maybe one or two others were privy.  At some point in a conversation at a party, one of us would use the words "picture frames" in a sentence.  This was the clue to carry on an animated conversation in which every utterance had to make sense in and of itself but have absolutely no connection or relevance to anything that had been said before by yourself or any other members of the conversing group.

We would keep this up until we ran out of ideas or until someone noticed.  Usually no one noticed, even if they were part of the conversation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Russian Visa Application Time

Page 1
Tanya and I are going to visit her family in Abakan, Khakasia, Russia the last week of March and returning when they throw us out.  Which is to say, depending on what I can get for a visa.  Canadians are now required to fill out the USA application form which you can have a look at here or in the pictures. I've gotten approval for bank loans with less information.

If I get a tourist visa, I will get an invitation from a registered tour company in Moscow, stating which cities I am traveling to.  As long as I get a stamped statement from a hotel in one of these cities that I actually stayed there (usually for a fee), I can go where I want, more or less.  If I get into trouble then I am in trouble but if not, then the paperwork is in order and all is well.  A tourist visa is for a maximum of one month.  And they state the EXACT dates in and out.  Anything changes and it is start all over time.

Page 2
If I get a "homestay" visa, then I need an invitation issued by the Department of the Interior or whatever in the city of my relatives. Tanya's sister has to go to the OVIR police who handle that (all documents are handled by police, even in Ukraine) and have an ORIGINAL invitation sent by courier or telexed (they still have them here) to the Consulate in Kyiv.  That can be for up to three months. 

There is now apparently a provision for a long term multi-entry visa; not sure how many entries or for how many years but we will know more tomorrow as Luda will go to the OVIR office with the forms and documents I emailed her today. Multi-entry would sure be nice as the visa application process is not much fun and takes a lot of time.  Two long days travel to and from Kyiv to apply and collect the visa plus hefty application fees.

 From what I have been reading, fear of things foreign has been a Russian trade mark for centuries.  Police surveillance of foreigners did not begin with the Soviet Union, though it certainly was perfected at that time.  It is still more or less a police state in that they do NOT want people coming in and stirring the pot in any way.  There are those who are only too anxious to assist in the establishment of democracy, read "a government more friendly to their financial interests, not necessarily those of Russia". That also explains the crackdown on NGOs from a few years back.  I can't speak the language and have not got huge amounts of cash to subvert people with so I hope they don't get too owl-y with me.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Canadian Gasoline Prices in 2011

The Globe and Mail have an interesting map on their website today showing gasoline prices per litre in various cities across Canada. Prices for each city are the 2011 average (as of Feb. 15, 2011).

There are slightly less than 4 litres in an American gallon and slightly more than 4.5 litres in an Imperial gallon

Sorry, I chopped off Whitehorse at 110-119.9 per litre.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bagel Boss

Catering NY commented on my blog about Food Freedom Day.  I followed the link to the Bagel Boss.  Oh, my.  If we have bagel joints in Ukraine, I haven't found them yet.  I LOVE bagels.

If I have any readers near Carle Place NY, please visit them and have a bagel for me.  And for those who can only look at the food, check out the website anyhow.

Drinking habits

The Economist had an interesting Daily Chart yesterday on global alcohol consumption.  Not sure if it was coincidental to Valentines Day or not.

A map of world alcohol consumption
THE world drank the equivalent of 6.1 litres of pure alcohol per person in 2005, according to a report from the World Health Organisation published on February 11th. The biggest boozers are mostly found in Europe and in the former Soviet states. Moldovans are the most bibulous, getting through 18.2 litres each, nearly 2 litres more than the Czechs in second place. Over 10 litres of a Moldovan's annual intake is reckoned to be 'unrecorded' home-brewed liquor, making it particularly harmful to health. Such moonshine accounts for almost 30% of the world's drinking. The WHO estimates that alcohol results in 2.5m deaths a year, more than AIDS or tuberculosis. In Russia and its former satellite states one in five male deaths is caused by drink.

Annual consumption of pure alcohol, litres per person
 However the ever abused Russian drinkers are fighting back.  Tanya found a survey article on a Ukrainian website with some interesting numbers about frequency of drinking in, of all places, Great Britain.

84% of British consume alcohol, compared to a world average of 71%
41% of Brits regularly consume alcohol compared to 27% of the Aussies
33% of British boys aged 13 to 15 have been drunk at least twice and apparently more than 33% of girls though the number was not given.

The survey on European attitudes on alcohol was done by TNS Opinion in early 2010 but I was unable to download the report from EC Public Health

Monday, February 14, 2011

House Cleaning on Valentine's Day

Tanya says she is going to write a blog about how she spent Valentine's Day cleaning house.  Yesterday and today were serious cleaning days.  The regular biweekly once-overs were no longer sufficient so it was all out war on dirt.  How can a house get so dirty with only two people living in it and a damp climate that should keep dust to a minimum?

Day one, my job was cleaning my bathroom upstairs.  Cleaning toilet, sink and mirror was no problem.  No was the white base on the shower.  But the calcium deposits or whatever stick to the shower doors like s--t to a blanket.  I have never been happy with how clean the shower was.  The cleaner we use is NOT Fantastic by any stretch.  I asked Tanya and she came in and grabbed the Johnson brand toilet duck and a rough sponge and presto clean shower doors.  Who knew?  She says you need to wear gloves with it because her hands were sore after.  She started using it in her bathroom for cleaning tub, toilet and sink.

Today was downstairs.  I stayed out of the way while she did the kitchen (I help best there when I don't help), then when she started the living room, I said, "I feel bad I am not helping".  She said "I figure you feel pretty good not helping".  "OK, I feel guilty not helping" and she set me to work with detailed instructions of what and how to do as she needed. Which is how I like it.

Now here is some advice for both wives and husbands on husbands doing household chores. I have harped on this before.  Women love to complain that their husbands don't do their share of work around the house.  If the husbands are not the irredeemably old fashioned European types who expect their wives to wait on them hand and foot, there is some chance of getting them to do much more than they now are IF they get the right signals.  It is the old Mars vs Venus thing again.  Men love to help BUT...

Wives, if you want him to help, ASK and then give specific tasks.  Don't expect him to "see what needs doing and then do it".  Most husbands assume the house is "yours" the same way you may assume the garage and workshop are "his".  Men don't help other men unless they are asked because it is seen as interference. If you need help, they expect you to ask.  If your husband suddenly starts doing the laundry are you going to be thrilled or are you going to take it as a sign that he is dissatisfied with how you are doing it?  If you start cleaning up his garage and workshop without being asked, trust me it will most likely NOT be taken kindly, so understand he is not going to butt into "your" business unasked.

Husbands, ASK your wife if you can help and ask for specifics.  She is not going to ask you to help because for a woman having to ask means you don't love her.  Watch another woman, a long time friend, in your wife's kitchen, helping her put the meal on the table.  She may ask "can I help you" but after that the work related instructions are pretty minimal.  Your wife expects that from you and for most males it is close to impossible, so you have to ask and ask for specifics.

A few other comments for good measure.  Husbands, have you ever offered to cook supper and had your wife stand over you and micromanage the whole thing, criticize you constantly because you aren't doing it how she would do it?  Or have you ever done something around the house only to have your wife do it over again because it wasn't up to "her" standards? And then wonder why you don't "help out" in the house?

If, in the previous paragraph, you can substitute wife for husband and husband for wife and add "but expect you to keep cooking, cleaning, etc. regardless of the criticism", may I suggest either a good lawyer or a Smith and Wesson. 

Now I expect some female is going to weigh in on how things are supposed to be and how "helping" around the house is soooo sexist but I am trying to deal with how things are.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Food Freedom Day holds sad message on farming

By Laura Rance / Rural Revival Column / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS / 2011.02.12 

In case you hadn't noticed, today is Food Freedom Day, the calendar date by which the average Canadian has earned enough to pay their entire year's grocery bill -- and that includes booze.

In 2010, the average Canadian spent approximately 11.9 per cent of personal disposable income on food. And even though food prices are skyrocketing around the world, the situation in Canada is unlikely to change a whole lot in the foreseeable future.

The country's largest farm group says that's something worth celebrating.

"Canadian farmers are proud of their role in providing high-quality food produced to top-level food safety, environmental, and animal-welfare standards," Canadian Federation of Agriculture president Ron Bonnett says in a release.

"Food Freedom Day demonstrates the value that Canadian farmers deliver to all Canadians -- not only through quality food, but by supporting one in eight jobs, which in turn translates into vital economic contributions for our rural communities. Our agri-food industry is a key driver of socioeconomic prosperity in Canada, and one in which investments return many times over," the CFA release says.

Heck, our food is so cheap in this country, recent studies have shown we can afford to throw half of it away.

But before you start hip-hip-hooraying all the way to the grocery store, you might want to pause to consider the price we pay for food freedom.

It sounds counterintuitive, but there are some who argue policies that promote cheap food are partly to blame for the food riots caused by the recent spike in food prices.

Food crisis stories filled the wire services last week, telling us the UN Food and Agriculture Organization Food Price Index on Feb. 3 touched its highest level since officials began keeping records in 1990.

The index rose for the seventh month in a row to 231 in January, topping the peak of 224.1 in June 2008, when the world was last gripped in a food crisis. But as recently as 2002, prices were at a 50-year low.

"Since the 1950s, chronic underinvestment in agriculture has been considered a normal feature of a healthy, growing economy. A successful farm policy is one that delivers cheap food to urban consumers, whatever the cost at the producing end," Nick Cullather, author of The Hungry World: America's Cold War Battle Against Poverty in Asia, writes in a recent Globe and Mail column.

The result of that policy has been a chronically unprofitable production system, one that has to be subsidized by farmers, the environment and governments (at least those that can afford it).

Relative to other sectors, agriculture has also been underfunded in research.

Granted, the Egyptian situation was a powder keg looking for a match before food prices took a sharp turn upwards. But the rising cost of bread sparked riots that ultimately brought down a government, and worried foreign-policy advisers the world over.

Closer to home, the Canadian Agriculture Policy Institute (CAPI) released a new report on Canada's food system last week that points out Canadian farmers and ranchers lost money from the marketplace in seven years out of the past decade. Taxpayers fill in the gaps with so-called "business risk management" subsidies, which CAPI suggests stabilize the status quo, rather than providing incentives for farmers to do what is necessary to make their businesses profitable.

The CAPI report also zeroed in on the health-care budget dilemma.

Health-care costs could be consuming up to 70 per cent of provincial budgets in a few short years, and many of the diseases drawing on those budgets -- heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer -- are linked to diet and lifestyle.

Then there's the question of sustainability. Are our production systems, highly dependent on non-renewable resources, up to the challenge of maintaining or increasing production? CAPI calls for a co-ordinated federal food strategy, starting with the formation of a cabinet committee on food. "The status quo is unacceptable. Canada's agri-food industry has the natural and human resources to do much better -- yet Canada risks sleeping right through its greatest potential," the report says.

Cullather says the world's farmers can meet the challenges of a growing population and climate change, but not without a change in how we perceive agriculture's role.

"A lasting fix will require more than an adjustment to allow cultivators to survive. It will require unlearning a half century of dogma that relegates agriculture to a subordinate status. The global economy includes the global countryside, and the return of prosperity will have to begin there," Cullather says.

Kind of puts a damper on Food Freedom Day, doesn't it?

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached by email:

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Russian Travel Guide TV

We got out satellite dish retuned the other day and now have several new channels.  Tonight we were watching a documentary channel called Russian Travel Guide TV.  There is also a Russian variant.

The home page give instructions for satellite pick up and it also says that many European cables are carrying it now.  I am sure if you know how you can get it on your computer but don't ask me how to do that.  There are lots of YouTube type clips to watch too but haven't checked that out yet.

You could spend the rest of your life in Russia and never run out of new things to see in whatever category you like - palaces, old churches and museums, historical sites (Borodino, for example), breathtaking scenery; adventure stuff like hiking, rafting, climbing; animal or bird watching.  For those of you who would love to visit this beautiful country but can't afford the time or money, this is the next best thing.  We watched tonight about the Russian bears on Kamchatka salmon fishing during a spawning run.  (And while one was eating a big salmon Tanya said "Save some for me").  These bears are big bruisers.  Near relatives to the Alaskan Kodaks

Kamchatka is on our list of places to visit.  I think it will be cheaper to fly there from Vancouver than from Kyiv so we may do an around the world ticket sometime.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Halina Makarova 1931-2011

Halina Makarova 1931-2011
Yesterday we buried Baba Halya*.  She was Andrei's Tania's paternal grandmother and Masha's great grandmother.  Masha is heart broken.  "I can't believe I will never see Baba Halya again".  Neither can any of us.

She died suddenly of heart failure Saturday evening.  She was never sick and lived independently to the last breath so I guess it was a good way to go.  Baba Halya would have been 80 in July and was planning a big celebration.  She loved people and loved family gatherings.  Tanya and I included her in every family meal we could because she was such a joy to have around.  I never knew her not to smile and her laughter was infectious.

The ceremony was small with just family and a few old friends from her apartment.  Old women outnumbered old men 10 to 1.  When you reach 80, there are not many men left alive in Ukraine.  Halina had been widowed over 30 years ago.  Tanya's father died 13 years ago. In an adjoining part of the church, a simultaneous ceremony was under for a man of 36 who had died of cancer.  You get the picture.

The priest did not accompany us to the cemetery.  Four men from the funeral company carried the coffin to the grave site and four of her old lady friends carried the lid.  We all said our goodbyes, the lid was placed on the coffin and fixed with a nail in each corner.  The coffin was then gently lowered to be beside her husband from whom she had been long separated.  Bobik, Volk and I will visit her every time we go for a walk that way.

We met her other son, Alexandr (Sasha) (Tania's uncle) and his wife Alla, their two adult children Regina and Sasha Jr. and their spouses, all of whom live in Zhovti Vody.  Next time we have a family gathering we will have 6 new people to invite. And we will certainly remember a wonderful woman, our beloved Baba Halya.

*The Cyrillic letter Г is pronounced as a hard G in Russian or an H in Ukrainian.  In Russian, she would be Galina.

Monday, February 7, 2011

U.S. faces its own Suez crisis as Hosni Mubarak holds on in Egypt

By Peter McKay of the Daily Mail, UK
Last updated at 9:15 AM on 7th February 2011

Hosni Mubarak
As a dictator who has plundered his nation’s treasury to the reported tune of £40 billion to enrich himself and his ¬family - while keeping the majority of his 80 million subjects in poverty - Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, should yield to popular protest and retire with dignity. But has the rest of the world done or said enough to encourage him to do so?

The United Nations pressed for him to go, but no one pays much attention to its announcements. The European Union - via its lacklustre high representative, Baroness Ashton - said Mubarak should move on, but this counts for even less. Our own Government has made encouraging noises about the elderly tyrant withdrawing in an orderly fashion, but no one - least of all Mubarak - cares what we think.

Any support? Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak has some support from the United States - but there are mixed messages coming from the White House.

If any great powers, such as Russia or China, have come out formally one way or another, I’ve missed it. Neither are models of democracy, of course. So they might have felt it was better to say little. The same goes for most Islamic governments.

There is only one foreign state that matters to Mubarak and that’s America, which had bankrolled his regime for 30 years and pays for Egypt’s armed forces. And the ¬message from Washington? Shockingly, it’s all over the place. President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, began by saying Mubarak should stay. Then they said he should take heed of the protests. When that yielded nothing, they said he should consider going. He disagreed. Finally, they insisted he should step aside.

Unfortunately, the special ambassador they dispatched to Cairo, former envoy to Egypt Frank Wisner, has not been kept up to date about their changes of mind.After meeting Mubarak last week, Wisner said: ‘The President must stay in office to steer those changes. I believe President Mubarak’s continued leadership is crucial - it’s his chance to write his own legacy.’

What? That’s not what Obama and Mrs Clinton are spouting. Hillary says that ‘an orderly transition’ to an interim government headed by Egypt’s foreign spy chief Omar Suleiman - who’d be well known in Washington - is needed.

Country torn apart: Thousands of protesters have demanded that Mubarak steps down - but there needs to be more definitive support from the West.

As for the hapless Wisner, according to a White House spokesman, he was speaking ‘in a personal capacity’, even though Obama had sent him to see Mubarak. Obviously, Wisner wouldn’t have been sent there as Obama’s special envoy in order to later advise the world about his own personal views.

The truth is, America is terrified that the demise of their reliable stooge Mubarak might lead to the installation of an Islamic government in Egypt, which in turn might result in restrictions on the Suez Canal, putting western economies in crisis, and a reduction in Israel’s security.

Intelligent American analysts recognise it’s transparently cynical to demand democracy in Egypt while at the same time preventing Islamic parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, taking part in any election.
But what if the Muslims - like Hamas in Palestine - seek power in order to establish an Islamic state which is not democratic?

Oh dear. That’s a thorny one! ‘Democracy’ for America often means a system in which they can interfere a system of governing that inclines the nation concerned to support Uncle Sam.

The U.S. sacrificed 58,000 American lives in South Vietnam in the vain hope of saving ‘democracy’ there from communist insurgents from the North. It has sacrificed more lives and treasure in pursuit of ‘democracy’ in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But its self-interest has become too transparent. Even friends of America grimace when they hear the simplistic rhetoric the U.S. uses when talking about an outside world which remains a great mystery to the majority of its citizens.

Why does the U.S. - and Britain as its cheerleaders - need to interfere abroad at all? Because, like us, it is addicted to growth. It wants its economy to become bigger and its citizens richer. It needs to sell more goods in order to consume more. America (and ourselves) can’t do that without freedom of trade and a continuing supply of raw materials, including oil.

With Britain’s enthusiastic co-¬operation - no matter what government was in power, Tory or Labour - the U.S. fixed this by backing Arab leaders keen to deal with us while enriching and entrenching in power their own families.

This trusted old racket is now coming to an end. You can’t keep peons down for ever. We’ll have to get used to the idea.

Read more:

Stories of Susan and Fred

The following stories are true.  You can't make this stuff up.  The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Fred and Susan worked in the same department in the town of A___.  Fred, although married, had an eye for younger women and Susan, also married, 15 years his junior and absolute arm candy, soon caught his attention. They became an item, divorced their respective spouses, married and moved to city B___, where Fred became a senior manager and Susan could enjoy the good life.

Susan's mother lived in the city of C___.  Fred detested Susan's mother.  To avoid having to drive Susan to visit, he would come home from work very drunk and proceed to pass out.  Firewood as they say in Russian.  One day in disgust at her uncooperative mate, Susan poured an entire pot of fresh hot borscht over him as he sat passed out at the table.

Another time, Susan announced they would go to her mother's for the holiday.  Fred said no they would go to Crimea. Susan was adamant and so was Fred.  Finally, Fred said, fine, you can go to your mothers but you will not take any clothes bought with my money nor will I give you any money to go.  Susan stripped off, grabbed her handbag and headed out the door, across the courtyard and down the street, naked as the day she was born, with Fred running after her to wrap her in a coat.

Just because he was married to Susan did not stop Fred's wandering eye.  For some reason, this upset Susan, though she herself had not been the epitome of fidelity before she met Fred nor after their marriage.  Someone tipped off Susan that Fred had a new young girl friend. One day, Fred came home, showered and fell asleep on the bed.  Tanya came in and caressed him to attention while he lay dreaming of all the nice things she was going to do to him.  The dream did not include the kettle of boiling water* she poured on him.  He let out a scream and grabbed under the bed for his hunting rifle, which Susan had the prior foresight to remove.  Fred sneaked off to a doctor friend and in a couple of weeks he was as good as new.

Fred, possibly DUI at the time, was killed in a car accident five years ago.  Susan has not remarried.  Anyone looking for movie material, for a small fee, I will introduce you to the woman in the city of B___ who knows far more stories than these.  For those men of you who are looking for a change of lifestyle, I will, pro bono, introduce you to Susan.  Bring money.  Lots of money.  She is not, as we say in the cattle business, an easy keeper.

Doctor: Nurse, I distinctly told you to slip off his spectacles and prick his boil...but I digress...

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Not Nureyev

Two more trees gone today.  An apple tree by our neighbour's fence and the cherry tree in our front yard.  I'll do a before and after of our house next time I am out with the camera.  Yuri cut them into stove length blocks which will in a couple years make for very good shashlik fires.  I sure wished I could have turned that cherry tree into usable material for building or turning as the wood grain was just lovely.  As an aside, the nutritionist at Brooks Feedlot said years ago that horses chewed corral rails because they were after the grain in the wood...but I digress.

Yuri was here at 8:30 this morning, so we all went outside to help. The trees were huge and had to be cut down small section at a time to avoid too much collateral damage.  Tanya's flowers took a beating but the fences and windows are still intact.   It was a damp day with a strong west wind and it felt COLD.  No Chinook (Foehn, for the uninitiated) but the temp did go up 10 degrees to to +5C (41F) and it was cold if you worked up a sweat then stood and waited for the next batch of stove length blocks or bunch of branches to haul.

I dressed warm.  T-shirt under my shirt and then dug out my long underwear which I put on about once a year.  They are local bought black tights, (with no feet, thank God).  They fit like a second skin.  Not so much poured in as painted on.  Not a sight for the public but better than white Speedos (gotcha).

Bobik and Volk wanted to help so I let them run.  They played like puppies, wrestling in the deep snow, chasing around and in general, having a wonderful time.  Masha built a snowman and Bobik went over immediately and expressed his approval.  When I finally put them back in their run, they were tired out and glad to go.

I have to bribe them, of course, with treats.  I buy "Studentka Sausiska" at $1 per package of 9.  These are half fat, half milk powder and the rest meat. I cut three up into 18 pieces (3x6) which I feed them one piece at a time as reward for going home.  They are 6 times happier with the 18 pieces than if I gave them the same amount as 1 and 1/2 whole wieners each. I don't know if this is because they are dogs or because they are males.

My Two Artists

Still Life by Masha

Ukrainian Cottage by Tanya
Masha was here for the night last night.  She brought her water colours and she and Babushka sat down to paint.  Masha's picture is pretty "Grade 2" but if you look closely at the carrot detail you see the beginnings of an artist like her grandmother.  Tanya gives Masha lessons (when Masha will listen) and said she "just did her picture in a hurry".  I wish she would do more and take her time.  She never ceases to amaze me.

Friday, February 4, 2011

As I was saying

The Anti-Empire Report

A cautionary tale

In July of 1975 I went to Portugal because in April of the previous year a bloodless military coup had brought down the US-supported 48-year fascist regime of Portugal, the world's only remaining colonial power. This was followed by a program centered on nationalization of major industries, workers control, a minimum wage, land reform, and other progressive measures. Military officers in a Western nation who spoke like socialists was science fiction to my American mind, but it had become a reality in Portugal. The center of Lisbon was crowded from morning till evening with people discussing the changes and putting up flyers on bulletin boards.

The visual symbol of the Portuguese "revolution" had become the picture of a child sticking a rose into the muzzle of a rifle held by a friendly soldier, and I got caught up in demonstrations and parades featuring people, including myself, standing on tanks and throwing roses, with the crowds cheering the soldiers. It was pretty heady stuff, and I dearly wanted to believe, but I and most people I spoke to there had little doubt that the United States could not let such a breath of fresh air last very long. The overthrow of the Chilean government less than two years earlier had raised the world's collective political consciousness, as well as the level of skepticism and paranoia on the left.

Washington and multinational corporate officials who were on the board of directors of the planet were indeed concerned. Besides anything else, Portugal was a member of NATO. Destabilization became the order of the day: covert actions; attacks in the US press; subverting trade unions; subsidizing opposition media; economic sabotage through international credit and commerce; heavy financing of selected candidates in elections; a US cut-off of Portugal from certain military and nuclear information commonly available to NATO members; NATO naval and air exercises off the Portuguese coast, with 19 NATO warships moored in Lisbon's harbor, regarded by most Portuguese as an attempt to intimidate the provisional government. In 1976 the "Socialist" Party (scarcely further left and no less anti-communist than the US Democratic Party) came to power, heavily financed by the CIA, the Agency also arranging for Western European social-democratic parties to help foot the bill. The Portuguese revolution was dead, stillborn. 1

The events in Egypt cannot help but remind me of Portugal. Here, there, and everywhere, now and before, the United States of America, as always, is petrified of anything genuinely progressive or socialist, or even too democratic, for that carries the danger of allowing god-knows what kind of non-America-believer taking office. Honduras 2009, Haiti 2004, Venezuela 2002, Ecuador 2000, Bulgaria 1990, Nicaragua 1990 ... dozens more ... anything, anyone, if there's a choice, even a dictator, a torturer, is better.

There is more to this article at

William Blum is the author of:
  • Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War 2
  • Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower
  • West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir
  • Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire
Portions of the books can be read, and signed copies purchased, at
Previous Anti-Empire Reports can be read at this website.

1. William Blum, "Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower", pages 187, 228 for sources

Mubarak 1 Egyptians 0

Looks like Mubarak has pulled it off.

He made peace with the USA by promising to fake some reforms, including not running his son for president this fall.  This will "avoid chaos" and with US help, ensure that it will be more of the same shit, just in a different pile. America has been investing heavily in Egypt for years as their ally in the war on terror (read war on Middle East Arabs and Persians who have oil).  Billions of dollars in "foreign aid" have gone to Mubarak who in return sent it back to the USA for military hardware.

Mubarak made peace with the armed forces senior people by making former general Suleiman VP and Shafiq, former head of the Air Force, as the Prime Minister.  Part of Suleiman's previous job of head of security was to make sure the officers were loyal to Mubarak.

That leaves only the Egyptian people who don't count anyhow. If they can keep a lid on violence, the people will eventually have to go home.  The police and thugs were sent home after Wednesday's fiasco. The troops are slowly building up but keeping on the good side of the crowd. With foreign journalists banned from the square where all the action is, there may be a danger of another Tienanmen Square, though I would hope not. The "official" Egyptian health department figures for dead and wounded are laughable but like China in 1989, those will be the numbers that stick in the system because no one can change them unless the system changes.

The brightest light from a western perspective is Mohamed ElBaradei who would be quite capable of heading an interim government.  But the Americans (Republicans certainly) hate him because he was right about Iraq and they didn't listen. Don't look for an intelligent transition.

So nothing changes and the pressure will continue to build. Like the Bourbons and the Romanovs, who avoided introducing gradual change, when the lid finally blows, even though initially it may look like a democracy, when it is all over the only people left standing are the Robespierres and the Lenins. Or if you are lucky, the Castro's, Koumeni's and Chavez's.  The longer any country puts off true democracy the more likelihood of the extremists taking over.  Don't want the Muslim Brotherhood? Best make true reforms not just window dressing, even if the final results are the people's choice and not yours

The wild card is the younger officers.  Since only the army can force Mubarak from power, if the younger officers, those in charge of the tanks and soldiers on site, side with the people, then it is game over for Mubarak. We can only hope.

This thing took me over two hours to write with interruptions. By the time it is published, it may be out of date. Things are moving fast and slow at the same time.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Growing up without a cell phone

I need to post something and then go to bed.  It is late night here.  Way past my bedtime.  This was sent by my friend Ed and is likely funny if you are 20 years younger than I.  I am old enough to do the 25 miles to school uphill both ways, barefoot in winter routine.  the funny thing is so is Ed, given where he grew up.  Except he rode horseback 100 miles to school every day.  or something like that.

When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were. When they were growing up; what with walking twenty-five miles to school every morning.... Uphill.. Barefoot...both ways. yada, yada, yada. And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in hell I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on my kids about how hard I had it and how easy they've got it. But now that I'm over the ripe old age of forty, I can't help but look around and notice the youth of today. They have got it so easy. I mean, compared to my childhood, they live in a damn Utopia! And I hate to say it, but you kids today, you don't know how good you have got it.

1) I mean, when I was a kid we didn't have the Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves, in the card catalog!!
2) There was no email! We had to actually write somebody a letter - with a pen! Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox, and it would take like a week to get there!
3) Child Protective Services didn't care if our parents beat us. As a matter of fact, the parents of all my friends also had permission to kick our ass! Nowhere was safe!
4) There were no MP3's or Napster's or iTunes! If you wanted to steal music, you had to hitchhike to the record store and shoplift it yourself!
5) Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio, and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and @#*% it all up! There were no CD players! We had tape decks in our car. We'd play our favorite tape and "eject" it when finished, and then the tape would come undone rendering it useless. Cause, hey, that's how we rolled, Baby! Dig?
6) We didn't have fancy crap like Call Waiting! If you were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal, that's it!
7) There weren't any cell phones either. If you left the house, you just didn't make a call or receive one. You actually had to be out of touch with your "friends". OMG! Think of the horror... not being in touch with someone 24/7!!! And then there's TEXTING. Yeah, right. Please! You kids have no idea how annoying you are.
8) And we didn't have Caller ID either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was! It could be your school, your parents, your boss, your bookie, your drug dealer, the collection agent... you just didn't know. You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister!
9) We didn't have any fancy PlayStation or Xbox video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics. We had the Atari 2600! With games like 'Space Invaders' and 'Asteroids'. Your screen guy was a little square. You actually had to use your imagination!!! And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen... Forever! And you could never win. The game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died! Just like LIFE!
10) You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on! You were screwed when it came to channel surfing! You had to get off your ass and walk over to the TV to change the channel!!! NO REMOTES!!! Oh, no, what's the world coming to?!?!
11) There was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday morning. Do you hear what I'm saying? We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons!
12) And we didn't have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove! Imagine that!
13) And our parents told us to stay outside and play... all day long. Oh, no, no electronics to soothe and comfort. And if you came back were doing chores!
14) And car seats - oh, please! Mom threw you in the back seat and you hung on. If you were lucky, you got the "safety arm" across the chest at the last moment if she had to stop suddenly, and if your head hit the dashboard, well that was your fault for calling "shotgun!" in the first place!
You kids today have got it too easy.