Thursday, April 28, 2011

Domodedevo Airport

We arrived in Moscow at 9:00 am and by 12:30 we had grabbed a bite of breakfast and navigated the Metro and electric train from Kursk railway station to Domodedevo Airport.  It is a modern new airport terminal that would be at home in any big city in the world.  Found a wifi spot, downloaded emails and my old computer ran out of battery.  So we found a bench and slept.  Had supper at 5:00 and just now (6:00) we found a great little coffee shop that has plug ins for laptops as one of their sales features so I am having coffee and Tanya is wandering.  We don't have enough rubles for her to shop in an airport.  I did find a nice watch I really liked in on of those shops that doesn't post prices...I guess not.

First time I was in Domodedevo airport was 20 years ago this month.  My first international trip.  It was still the Soviet Union in those days.  I will blog about that trip sometime.  Domodedevo was a hellhole in those days.  Domestic traffic only.   Sort of like a really old very busy bus depot in a poor section of a big city.  No seats, no service, no nothing. You needed high rubber boots to go into the toilets.  Tanya was through it many times with her kids in those days and remembers it well.  In summer people sat out on the grass.  It was cold when we were there and our plane was 5 or 6 hours late.  We sat inside on our luggage in the tea shop with hundreds of other people.

At 4:00 our plane left for Almaty Kazhakstan. In those times all flights were scheduled for night so passengers couldn't look out the window and learn anything they shouldn't.  Like the presence of large cities that weren't marked on any maps.  I don't know what they thought the U2 flights and then the satellites were doing all that time but anyhow...In Uralsk, I got busted for taking a picture of a bridge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So you know where we are going

Click to expand so you can actually read it.

From the left - first red arrow is Dnipropetrovsk, next red arrow is Moscow.  Then look waaaay over.  Top red arrow is Krasnoyarsk (city of 1 million).  Middle red arrow is Abakan where we are headed.  The bottom red arrow is the city, Kyzyl, we visited in 2006 where Tanya's cousin Kolya lives.  We will not likely go there this time though the drive through the mountains is lovely.

We leave tomorrow morning (April 27) from the house at 9:00 by taxi to the bus station in Zhovti Vody and catch a minibus at 9:40 to Dnipropetrovsk, arriving a bit before 11:00.  Our train leaves at 2:15 and we get into Moscow at 10:00 next morning (April 28th).  Our plane doesn't leave for Krasnoyarsk until about 11:00 at night, arriving at 7:30 am the next morning.  Four and a half hour flight and three hour time difference. 

Then we catch a bus for Abakan which will take 5 or 6 hours, not sure.  it is just over 400 km so depending on how many stops.  The road is actually good as it was new five years ago. We should be in Abakan some time on the afternoon of April 29th.  A few hours over two days. 

We could fly direct to Abakan from Moscow but it is double the price so we fly to Krasnoyarsk.  We could take the train the whole way but it is four days instead of two. It is a long way.

The Dog Ate My Homework

Actually, the bank machine ate my bankcard.  Last night at 6:00. It jammed when the ATM tried to spit it back at me before it gave me cash, so it kept the card.  And the cash.  So this morning we had to go to the bank and get the card back. No problem.  Took 40 minutes from when we walked in the bank until we walked out. Trying to explain what had happened was futile.  The bank lady said "Their bank didn't handle foreign bank cards anymore".  Yeah, right, with Cirrus?  I don't think so.  She was just making it up.

We leave tomorrow morning.  Tanya has been slowly packing us for a week.  We are traveling light.  Since we were last there, her sister has indoor plumbing and an automatic washer so we can wash clothes easy enough.  Too bad she had to wait until she was in her late 40's to get something she could have had years ago.  Sometimes we are so busy cutting trees we don't have time to sharpen the axe.

I have been busy backing up computers and transferring files to my notebook, just in case I need something.  Tanya put the last bedding plants in, the rest will wait until she gets back, I guess.  Yuri and Katya were here for an hour getting instructions.  Yuri will run a new sink drain while we are away.  Kata will keep an eye on the place, water the plants and feed the animals.

Spring finally arrived and we are already into late spring.  The days are over 20C. The cuckoos are back as of Sunday.  The storks have been back for a week or so and the mourning doves a week before that.  The grass is green everywhere and 6" tall.  The cows and goats are out grazing, thankful to be free from their winter stalls and coarse over-ripe hay. All the trees are showing green, some are in half leaf already.  The fruit trees are starting to bloom and everywhere are pink and white blossoms.  This spring seems to me more special, more wonderful, to see all things growing again.  It has been a long grey winter.

Tanya's flowers are bursting into bloom, just as we leave, so we will miss the early flowers - tulips and lilies.  The peonies will be blooming shortly after we get back, I think. Tanya loves her flowers and the least I can do, since I can't "help", is be proud of her work.  And I am, in case you hadn't noticed.  More pictures...(And just wait till I have grandkids - I should live so long?).

Monday, April 25, 2011

Magnitsky vs Kaspersky

When you read about the Magnitsky case you get a pretty good idea of Russian Police and Tax Departments.  The police are not there to prevent or solve crimes, though they sometimes do, they are there to control the people.  As they have been since Tsarist times and were more so in Stalinist times, certainly.  In return, they are allowed to engage in criminal activity, presumably to secure their continued loyalty in spite of poor wages.

The Tax Department is there to control enemies.  Big powerful ones, worth billions, like Khodorkovsky and small fry at the local level as well. The tax laws are so contradictory that everyone is on contravention and selective audits are all it takes to land one in trouble with "the law".  Of course, in Khodorkovsky's case, what they don't find they make up.

I was told it was Peter the Great who came up with the idea of a lowly paid bureaucracy which supplemented its income through corruption however it could. Putin seems to have taken it to new levels.  Whether Medvedev is complicit or powerless is anyone's guess.

The most recent information on the Magnitsky story is here.Russia's Crime of the Century - By Jamison Firestone | Foreign Policy.  It is good reading if you like gruesome crime stories.

I was pleased to read that the police had rescued Yevgeny Kaspersky's son from his kidnappers.  Obviously the kidnappers were amateurs and Kaspersky has some political clout.

A Quiet Easter Sunday

Saturday morning three guys from the gas department were going door to door along our street telling everyone they needed an inspection certificate for their gas furnaces and chimneys every two years or they would be cut off. New regulation, I guess, but Easter weekend???

Tanya called our gas man who couldn't come on Saturday but was Sunday morning at 9:00 OK?  Sure, why not?  He was here for three hours.  Our furnace had not had regular maintenance for a year or so.  It didn't work well most of last winter and we had no hot water, no matter how hard we DEMANDED it for several days.  We need a new connection pipe to the chimney and we may need a new furnace or a very expensive repair to get the hot water heating to work right.  But we don't have to heat water on the stove for dishes, at least.

I had two naps, which is a good Sunday in my books.  Tanya had one long nap.  No gardening yesterday and no business plan writing. We took the dogs and the next door kids for a long walk up to the lake and then had Easter dinner of poached salmon and Salad Olivier.

Today Tanya was up at 6:30 setting out bedding plants.  Over 100 Astors, I think she said.  It is warm and looks like rain so she is anxious to get things in the ground. Two days until we leave does not give us much time. She came in at 9:00 to hot biscuits, fresh coffee and a clean kitchen.  I can do some things.

Kuchma is all happy.  Our neighbour Victor has a new cow so we have farm milk again.  With lots of cream.  There was a litre of store-bought milk in the fridge.  I gave it to the dogs.  They are too dumb to know the difference anyhow.

Here is the picture of the Easter baskets Tanya and Masha made.  I didn't think the picture turned out very good but Tanya said post it anyhow.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

христос воскрес

Masha was here today, colouring Easter eggs with her Babushka.  Maybe somewhere in Ukraine they are making the beautiful traditional eggs but here it is dye them one colour and stick on fancy decals from the store. Tanya bought a number of the traditional Easter breads yesterday so she and Masha made up three baskets of eggs and bread.  One for each of the families.  Lena is going to church tomorrow at 5:00 am.  At that hour she can go on behalf of all of us.

This past week was spring cleaning for the city.  For several days early in the week hundreds of people turned out to rake the parks and boulevards, clean up the flower beds and whitewash the curbs on the main streets.  University students, highschool students, even the little kids got in the act. It is all volunteer, a carry over from previous times and every one seemed to be having a good time.

People have been busy in the cemetery, too.  Cleaning around family grave sites, planting flowers  and getting ready for next Sunday when people traditionally visit the graves of relatives in remembrance.

And the Priest shouted to the congregation "Христос воскрес! Christ is risen!"
And the congregation relied with one voice "Воистину, воскрес! Truly, he is risen"

Friday, April 22, 2011

You CAN get there from here

This post is one of those things that happens when I am supposed to be working and get carried away by something interesting instead. My friend Wayne on Vancouver Island has a Nayadic aerator as part of the septic system on his acreage.  I was learning more about it and came across this site for Vegetative Tertiary Filters for waste water from Type 2 Septic systems. Great pictures of awesome flower gardens, cattail beds and lush green riparian areas around ponds

Which reminded me of a few years back when my friend, Hubert, and I were in west-central Turkey looking for projects we hoped someone would be interested enough to fund. Water pollution in rivers from a couple of towns in the area were a big problem. One city was a leather tanning centre and the other had a packing plant and a few other delightful contributors to black river water.  We proposed building a wet-land or marsh filtration system (cattails and such) down river from the cities, which would rather inexpensivly take out the majority of pollutants. I think they opted for an expensive bricks and mortar system instead - which may or may not be built yet.  We need to go back.

The black water flowed through a beautiful canyon that they hoped to make into a tourist attraction.  Now it isn't the Grand Canyon of the Colorado but it isn't Frey's coulee where we went tobogganing as kids either.  We also looked at agriculture in a couple of valleys with potential for organic food production (hence the interest in CLEAN river water).  While we were there we did a little sightseeing too.  So today's blog is brought to you round about by Wayne's septic tank.

Ulubey Canyon
Kazanci River flows through Ulubey Canyon.  Black water!
Banaz Valley
Grapes drying in the sun
Cilandiras Bridge over the Banaz River
Built by the Lydians several centuries BC (railing not included)
Hubert and Murat.  Notice the "road" is more of a donkey track
Looking downriver in the Banaz Canyon
One of the last of the Lydians' kings was Croesus whose name is associated with great wealth. I could spent the rest of my life in turkey and never begin to see all the history and beauty associated with Asia Minor.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How does your garden grow?

Tanya planted her gladiolas today and a bunch of some kind of lily.  It was sunny so I took some pictures.  When we get home in mid-May it will have changed a lot. Tanya is getting enough of various flowers to start filling in solid beds.  Starting with tulips, which I hope we will have some blooming before we leave on Tuesday.  The lilies in the picture below started out as three three years ago. The daffodils are doing fine; there eare a couple of clumps of them now.  Some blooming as you see and some to bloom shortly.

Side flower bed running from street to almost back of the lot
Front flower bed, from the walk to the driveway
Kuchma is a big help

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Banks on the Economy

The business plan template that I use sensibly calls for a section on Economic Outlook.  I try to keep it to two pages covering local, provincial, Canadian, American and global situations in a nutshell.  Of course one looks for good news to bolster the client's ability to get financing.  Bad news stays out of the business plan but goes direct to the client as advice.

There are two banks whose economic research and commentary I routinely use. these are the same ones as my associate uses so we see and say the same things for consistency's sake: RBC (Royal Bank of Canada) and BMO (Bank of Montreal).  They have a series of publications, some weekly, some monthly and some quarterly, looking at various aspects such as trade, housing, labour etc.

After a while, you start to recognize the boiler plate and the bull shit.  They make a big fuss if the Canadian or American GDP growth forecast goes up or down 1 point.  This month it is projected to grow at 2.9% in 2011 and 3.1% in 2012.  Or vice versa.  They just circle around 3.0% pretending they actually have a clue.  As long as "the Economy" is growing, they are happy that all's right with the world.

They deal with "The Economy", not with people, blithely quoting aggregate numbers about foreclosures and unemployment totally unaware that human misery might be involved.  They did say that so far America has recovered only 14% of the jobs lost in the downturn and suggest that the problem is "systemic".  It is systemic but not the way they mean it.  Establishment economists always use the term systemic to describe unemployment after every recession.  They mean that there are lots of jobs but the people available just don't match the requirements.  What a crock and cop out.  But then they don't have to face the reality that the jobs just aren't there.

They did like Obama's tax cuts (for the rich, though they didn't mention that part) and had a nice chart to show how it would stimulate the economy.  I am sure they have nice charts showing how Harper's tax cuts for the rich will help the Canadian economy too though I didn't see them.

GDP growth, stock market rises, tax cuts for the rich might help "The Economy" but if it doesn't help "The People", then what good is it?  THAT is the systemic problem.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It has Bean One of Those Days

Yesterday and today were the kind of days Tanya lives for.  She is, to say the least, radiantly happy, which makes me happy.  She has been in her garden from morning to night and I've done the running around, shopping and cooking.   It has been +20C both days.  Shirt sleeve weather.  she has been putting out a few flowers that were started indoors but mostly cleaning up weeds and moving flowers from clumps to their own beds.  Photos to follow soon, I hope. 

The crocuses are done blooming, the daffodils have started, the hyacinth large and small are blooming and there are tulips coming up EVERYWHERE. She has 96 gladiola bulbs soaking in potassium permanganate solution to plant later this week.  She claims she has 150 bulbs so I don't know where the others are.

Lena came after work today and they planted all the peas, beets and onions. So along with lettuce, carrots and radish, planted previously, the garden is taking shape.  Tanya says she will plant white and pinto beans for me to dry. for pork and beans.  I guess she liked my first try at it here.

Tanya had been to the market on Sunday and brought me a kilogram of white beans, so I put them on to soak and Monday went and bought a kilogram of pork.  Not having a slow-cooker was a bit of a nuisance as I had to learn all over again how to cook them.  I boiled the beans for an hour till they were soft, browned the pork and threw them all into a huge pot and added the usual suspects including molasses, brought from Canada for that purpose (and for ginger cookies). 

The recipe I found on the internet said bake at 400F for 75 minutes.  That made no sense to me so I baked it for 2 hours at about 300F.  Delicious, if I do say so myself.  But the beans were slightly crunchy.  Now I know that cooking beans with sugar makes them hard again but I have no idea what to do about it.  Any has-bean cooks out there with experience please help.

The cat is absolutely at loose ends in this nice weather.  He wanders in and out of the house, meowing about something but what?  Tanya says he needs a wife.  I dunno.  This morning he went into the downstairs bedroom and was sleeping on the bed in the bright warm sun.  I had put a towel there but Tanya objected anyhow and booted him out.  He was mad and came up stairs to complain to me, meowing loudly at me as though I cared, then fell asleep on my foot.

He is always getting into trouble with Tanya who loves him anyhow but he isn't sure about that.  When we had several days of rain, he would come in muddy and get his feet wiped before proceeding.  One day Tanya went out to speak to a neighbour and Kuchma came in unnoticed, as she left.  He was mud to the hocks but sat in the entry and picked the mud out of his feet.  When Tanya returned there was this pile of lumps of mud on the front entry floor. Out he went.

Which is why I tread carefully around here too.

Next Year Country: Dr. Harper’s New and Improved Medicare

Next Year Country: Dr. Harper’s New and Improved Medicare

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I DO know Jack Schidt

Over the years, people have suggested on more than one occasion that I didn’t know Jack Schidt.  That is totally untrue.  I have been up Schidt Creek many a time and over the years met the entire Schidt family.

Jack is the only son of O. Schidt and Awe Schidt, of the Rural Municipality of Schidt Creek, Saskatchewan.  O. Schidt. the fertilizer magnate, married Awe Schidt, the owner of Kneedeep Schidt Inn, a crappy little bed and breakfast which she closed shortly after her marriage.

In turn, Jack Schidt married Noe Schidt and the couple produced six children.  Their oldest daughter was very religious and is now Sister Holy Schidt. Their other five children are two sons, Deep Schidt and Dip Schidt, the twin girls, Fulla Schidt and Giva Schidt and the youngest, an afterthought, Bull Schidt.

Against her parents objections, Dip Schidt married his second cousin, Loada Schidt and they produced a nervous son, Chicken Schidt. Deep Schidt also married his second cousin, Dumb Schidt, a high school drop out. They had three children, Dawg, Byrd and Horace.  The oldest boys, Dawg and Byrd are dating the Rhea sisters, Diar and Gonor.

After being married for 15 years Jack Schidt’s business was wiped out and he and Noe Schidt divorced. Noe Schidt later married Mr. Sherlock, and because her youngest kids were living with them at the time, she wanted to keep her previous name. She was then known as Noe Schidt-Sherlock.

Fulla Schidt and Giva Schidt were inseparable throughout childhood and subsequently married the Happens brothers in a dual ceremony. The wedding announcement in the newspaper announced the Schidt-Happens wedding. They created a bumper sticker and made millions. You have probably seen it.....

Bull Schidt, the prodigal son, left home to tour the world. He recently returned from Italy with his new bride Pisa Schidt.  They are now expecting Baby Schidt.

So the next time someone tells you The Blog Fodder doesn’t know Jack Schidt, you can set them straight.

Customer Service FSU-style

The former Soviet Union was legendary for poor customer service.  You needed them; they didn't need you.  Restaurants closed for lunch, I have heard.  Better restaurants in hotels etc had an Amazon guarding the door and when she decided the place had enough customers, she locked the door.  I experienced that my self in 1991 in Almaty (then Alma Ata) Kazakhstan.  In Moscow according to journalists whose accounts I have read, you couldn't get into some restaurants without a reservation and you couldn't get a reservation unless you could get inside.

That is slowly changing here in Ukraine. Private industry is realizing they need the customer not the other way round and that poor service can actually chase them away to competitors, where they exist and where people have means to go to them.  The large western style stores and supermarkets provide pretty much western style service, which is to say some good, some bad, some indifferent, depending on the person or the day. I've commented before about the high quality of service in McDonald's restaurants here.  They are like I remember Canadian McDonald's from 30 years ago. 

But the old ways linger on.  The other day Tanya and I went to buy light bulbs at a new hardware and construction store "Square Meter".  It took us an hour.  Everything they sold had samples nailed, screwed, glued or cabled down.  You get a clerk to help you pick out what you need, go to the counter and pay for it, then take the slip to a back wall window where other people take the slip and fill the order.  We had a store like that in Regina 30 years ago, called Consumer Distributing.  I hated it.  We needed six 11 watt fluorescent bulbs with small bases, six 60 watt spotlight bulbs, small bases.  I had cut the sides from the boxes so there would be no mistakes.  Right. We got the fluorescent bulbs but finally gave up and went to another store for the spotlights.

Today we went to pick up three replacement flower bulbs.  In the big order Tanya got a week or so ago, three of the bulbs (roots, tubers??) were bad.  Tanya phoned the company, based in western Ukraine and they threw three replacements in the courier immediately.  Good service for a good customer! The courier "Nova Poshta" or New Post is located across the street from Devyatka (# 9) Mall and in behind another building. There is even a sign that shows you where they are located.  Except they moved since we were there last.  There was a sign on the door with their new address and a phone number.

The new address doesn't help much as there are no (very few) street signs in Zhovti Vody anyhow.  Tanya tries the phone number.  It is wrong.  There were other people there also to pick up packages. they had been there yesterday and there wasn't even a sign on the door then. A lady from the company shows up and takes the sign down.  Tanya has a discussion with her.  She gets the right number, calls the new location and finds out where it is.  But they are closed for the rest of the day.  It is 3:00 pm.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Yuri Gagarin - Kosmonaut

Fifty years ago today, Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.  His flight lasted 108 minutes from launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan until he landed safely somewhere near the Volga River.  Not quite a full orbit but enough to get 187 miles above the earth.  Gagarin was not in control of the space capsule as no one knew what the effect of being in space would be but he did have ability to take over and fly it if ground control lost contact.

Gagarin actually bailed out about 7 km up on the reentry and parachuted safely to earth because the capsule would land so hard no one inside could survive.  The Soviets did not talk about this because according to the "rules" the man had to stick with the ship from takeoff to landing.

He was a hero, no doubt about it, as systems were pretty primitive and there was no guarantee he would come back alive.  In fact he almost didn't as there was a reentry malfunction that nearly caused the capsule to burn up.

 Just as there is a Lenin street in every urban centre of any size in the FSU, there is also a Gagarina street.  In Dnipropetrovs'k (the equivalent of Houston to the Soviet space program) we lived a couple blocks from Gagarina street, one of the main thoroughfares.  And here in Zhovti Vody, Gagarina street is the main drag.

Tragically, Yuri Gagarin was killed seven years later, test flying a MIG fighter plane, even as he was preparing for another flight into space. As the Russian Archives Online concluded his story: In July of 1971, the astronauts of the Apollo 15 mission visited the moon and left behind a plaque in memory of the 14 men, Russian and American, that had died leading mankind into space. Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin had made his mark on history.

Picture from here

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Last Minute Posts are usually bad

It is nearly 1:00 am and I should have been in bed long ago, being old and all.  Slow day today.  Tanya went to the market this morning looking to buy a birch tree for our front yard.  No trees there today but she did buy a few flowers including another rose bush.  Of course it rained the rest of the day so she couldn't set them out, so she went to visit Masha instead. Me, I stayed home and caught up on the news.  Tomorrow I start a business plan for a new client.

The following was circulated via email (Thanks, Kristi) but I thought it was interesting enough to post.  You really cannot hide any more.  Time to buy a balaclava.

You used to be able to get lost in the crowd, but not anymore. This is a photograph of 2009 Obama Inauguration. You can see IN FOCUS the face of EACH individual in the crowd !!!  You can scan and zoom to any section of the crowd.  .  . Wait a few seconds. Double click anywhere  . And the focus adjusts to give you a very identifiable close up. The picture was taken with a robotic 1474 megapixel camera (295 times the standard 5 megapixel camera).  Every one attending could be scanned after the event, should something have gone wrong during it. Click on:

Next Year Country: Billionaires Flourish, Inequalities Deepen as Economies “Recover”

Next Year Country: Billionaires Flourish, Inequalities Deepen as Economies “Recover”

Next Year Country: "To Work at Fukushima, You Have to Be Ready to Die"

Next Year Country: "To Work at Fukushima, You Have to Be Ready to Die"

Saturday, April 9, 2011

BBC on Krivoii Rih

I've written about Kryviy Rih (or Krivii Rog in Russian) a couple of times.  The long narrow iron ore and steel city 40 km south of us that is over 100 km long from one end of the city limits to the other but only 20 km wide.

BBC has a set of articles and videos on the city as part of their series on Ukraine. .  The ArcelorMittal steel mill is huge.  It was originally privatized in the kind of shady deal that the FSU is famous for.  Pennies on the dollar to a local with connections.  However Yulia Timoshenko when she was Prime Minister had the deal quashed in court and sold it to an outside company for $4.8 billion dollars.

The original mill was built in the mid 1930's and when AM bought it, employed 55,000 people.  They are down to 37,000 with the modernization already carried out in the past 5 years and plan on taking the number down to 15,000 over the next 5 to 10 years.  You can watch the video of the CEO talking about world norms for steel production of 1 person per 1,000 tonnes, meaning the plant really only needs 6,000 people.  But they need another 9,000 to make up for services which are normally procured from outside sources which do not yet exist in Ukraine.

Wages will certainly go up but there are 40,0000 people who were under-employed and are now unemployed. Under-employment was a huge problem in the FSU as everyone had a job that wanted to work but the jobs were not necessarily productive.

I read somewhere (and can't find it now though it may have been Paul Kennedy in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers) that the combined output of capital and labour in the Soviet Union FELL 1% per year for the last 30 years of its existence.  Countries run by on ideology alone, ANY ideology, cannot remain competitive in a manner that provides a decent lifestyle for their citizens. Which ought to be the raison d'etre of any country.

There is a story that Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev are on a train. The train stops and will not move any more at all. Stalin condemns the entire crew as enemies of the people, has them rounded up and shot.  The train still doesn't move.  Khrushchev rehabilitates the entire crew posthumously.  The train still doesn't move. Brezhnev says "Let's just pull the blinds and pretend the train is moving".

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spring Rain

Last night we had our first nice spring rain.  A warm light misting that soaked the gardens.  The smell of the damp rich black earth reminded me of some of the things I miss about the farm growing up. Tanya was glad she  planted carrots yesterday and I am sure all the neighbours were happy for the long hours they put in this week. There are little sticks everywhere marking rows or patches of something that will appear in a few weeks.  The garlic rows are already showing green.  Garlic goes in to the ground in early fall and gets a start before winter.

Tanya will have daffodils shortly.  The lilies are growing a few cm every day.  You can almost watch them.  Tulips are coming up everywhere, including places Tanya had dug them up and moved them last year.  Obviously she missed a few bulbs here and there. The petunias and asters seem to have survived their soaking of last Saturday.  The phlox seedlings got moved yesterday into boxes that give them more space.  I think there is over a hundred or something.

On Monday a package came from a seed company - all flower seeds - several different colours of petunias and I don't know what else..  Some will have to wait for next year as they need to be started indoors.  Tanya figures there is no sense starting them now.

When we got married I promised to keep her in chocolate, roses and champagne and she promised, under those circumstances, to keep me broke.  So far so good.  Her flower garden is my way of keeping her in roses.  Tonight at 5:30 we picked up a $200 dollar order of bulbs.  That is a lot of bulbs.  Tanya won't get much sleep tonight as she is going over them very carefully. She has already planted lilies and something else.  More will go in tomorrow but the gladiolas will wait until just before we leave for Siberia.

I head out at 11:00 tonight on the night train to go to Kyiv and pick up my visa from the Russian Consulate.  I hope.  There is no knowing in advance if I filled out the forms not quite right or they decided for some other reason not to issue it.  Immigration works the same in every country.  Totally arbitrary.  Answerable to no one.  Unchallengeable.  Ask people who try to get a Canadian visa.

I get in at 6:00 am and wait until 12:00 to pick up my visa.  Hours to pick up visas are from 12:00 to 1:00 on Fridays.  The morning express gets into Kyiv at 12:30.  I MIGHT make it to the Consulate in under 30 minutes or it might take 35 at which point I am screwed. So I sit in McDonalds and enjoy good coffee and free WiFi for 6 hours.  Pick up my visa (or not|) and head back to the train station to catch the 5:45 express.  Home by 11:00 pm Friday night.

I used to like going to Kyiv but the thrill is gone.  Now I like to stay home. Neither of us want to go anywhere.  We must be getting old.  At least traveling "somewhere" is still fun.  I can hardly wait to see the family in Siberia.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Canada's Long Gun Registry

The Liberal government passed The Firearms Act in 1995 as a result of the 1989 murder of 14 female engineering students at a Quebec University.  The Act requires the registration of all guns, including long guns (rifles and shotguns) which previously required a purchaser and owner to possess a Firearms Acquisition Certificate but were not registered.  Implementation was a mess, even worse than a mess.  Far more expensive than originally claimed, the software didn't work and so forth.  It was opposed by western Canada, mainly rural, where long guns for hunting, varmints, butchering, humane disposal of animals etc were a way of life.  It was highly popular in eastern and urban Canada.  Harper is promising to scrap it if re-elected. The NRA are dragging their poison north of the border.  One more reason I hope he loses

Dennis Gruending posted the following on his blog "Pulpit and Politics".  I reprint it here with permission.

Stephen Harper and the long gun registry, facts and fiction

Stephen Harper announced on April 4 that a re-elected Conservative government would scrap Canada’s long gun registry. That hardly comes as a surprise. The Conservatives hate the registry. They tried in the last parliament to do away with it and have all of its records destroyed but they lost the vote narrowly in the House of Commons in November 2010. The Conservatives habitually use the registry as a wedge issue that they hope will dislodge votes from NDP and Liberal MPs in rural and small town areas. For a long while it looked as though the politics of division was working, but prior to last fall’s vote there was a growing chorus in support of the registry from police chiefs, emergency room physicians, nurses, people who run women’s shelters, labour unions and others. The Conservative bid to divide and conquer could well backfire in this election.

The Firearms Act was passed in 1995, a response by the Liberal government to the 1989 massacre by Marc Lepine of 14 young women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. The Act required gun owners to obtain permits and to have their rifles and shotguns registered. People were not prevented from owning and using these guns but they were expected to register them. Supporters of the registry believe it is a valuable tool for preventing gun violence, often arising from domestic disputes. Some people, for a variety of reasons, including a record of instability or violence, can be denied ownership if compromising information comes to light when they seek a firearms permit. With a registry, police heading to the scene of disturbances can find, by running a computer check, if there are registered firearms at the address.

Registry supporters

The Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Association of Police Boards all support the registry. The RCMP produced early in 2010 that said the registry works, but the government prevented its distribution for months and released it only reluctantly.

Myths and reality

Conservative MPs (and some others) untroubled by the facts have been constantly repeat a mantra against the long gun registry – but repetition does not make it true. Let’s look at some of their claims:

The registry is a financial boondoggle:

The registry’s implementation in the 1990s did go badly, a saga that involved large cost overruns and expensive computer software that at first didn’t work. But those problems have been sorted out and more than seven million guns have now been registered. The boondoggle argument is out of date and the registry’s costs are now modest. The RCMP manages the registry and reports that in 2009 the long-gun portion of the entire firearms registry (which also includes restricted weapons like handguns) cost $4.1 million to operate. Speaking of financial boondoggles, the government spent $1 billion for a three-day G8-G20 summit that occurred in Ontario last summer.

Criminals use handguns, while only law-abiding hunters and farmers use shotguns and rifles:

Criminals also use shotguns and rifles. There were 16 police officer shooting deaths in Canada between 1998 and 2009 and 14 of those officers were killed by a long gun. These weapons are also used in domestic violence and in suicides.

Gun violence is a big city problem but long gun registry targets people in rural areas:

In fact, gun deaths are higher in rural areas and Western provinces. In Yukon, for example, gun deaths run at about three times the national average.

The firearms registry does not save lives:

The Firearms Registry and associated measures have worked to reduce rifle and shotgun murders in Canada. Death and injury from firearms have declined by over 40 per cent in Canada during the era of stronger gun laws. Can all of this be attributed to the long gun registry? Probably not, but it is irresponsible to claim that the registry has had no impact in reducing risk and death, and even more irresponsible to want to get rid of it.

The firearms registry does nothing to prevent violence against women:

Safety experts and front-line workers women’s shelters across the country beg to differ. They say that the registry helps reduce violence against women. Do you prefer to believe them or to believe a gun shop owner on this one?

Making people register their guns means that law abiding gun owners are treated like criminals:

How so? We register cars, boats, mortgages, even bicycles and dogs. Nobody can seriously argue that they are being treated as second-class citizens for having to register a firearm, particularly when it has been shown to improve public safety.

The government wants guns to be registered so that it knows where to go to confiscate all of them:

This is the biggest whopper of them all and it is difficult to believe that anyone would actually use the argument — but read this from the pen of Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkruez: “Why are the police chiefs so strident in their quest to keep the registry in place? They won’t admit it, but it appears they don’t want Canadians to own guns. To that end, they need a database that will help them locate and seize those firearms as soon as a licence or registration expires.” The National rifle Association in the U.S. has been lending assistance to anti-registry forces in Canada and has spread this myth as well. It is either an entirely cynical argument or a symptom of paranoia. In either case, it is unworthy of adult debate.

The Conservatives are using every conceivable method to defeat opposition MPs who they believe are vulnerable because they voted to keep the gun registry. But a significant coalition of people and groups believe that it is useful and should be kept. In fact, it may well be Conservative MPs in closely contested urban seats who will be the losers if they persist in opposing the registry.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Facebook is watching you

CIA's 'Facebook' Program Dramatically Cut Agency's Costs

Every time you click on an app you allow it to see all your information and that of all your friends. Think about it next time. Who is watching you and why?  The sad thing is that those who are NOT using Facebook are likely to be spotted as well and placed under suspicion because they are "hiding something".  1984 just didn't get the date right.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Risk, Reality and Radiation

The situation in Japan wrt the nuclear reactor still not resolved and potentially getting much worse has generated a fair bit of blather in the blogosphere about radiation and the dangers there of.  Comments range from the we're all gonna die to don't worry. Neither extreme being useful.

In a previous life, I had to deal to a certain extent with public reaction to risks of eating something that would make them sick or kill them.  It seemed to me that the more unlikely the risk, the stronger the public reaction to it.  So I did some reading on the social aspects of risk for a class I was teaching and found this article which is a bit dated now but still a good read for those so inclined.

It is now well-established that lay reactions to risk can differ considerably from judgements that are based on scientific probability estimates. No shit, Sherlock. Basically, people fear what they can't see or can't control.  The longer the time frame to consequences, the more fear.  The bigger the consequence, the more fear. The less credibility the source of information, the more fear.

So people fear GMOs, fertilizers and pesticides (has Big Ag/Big Pharma ever lied to you before?).  They fear irradiation of foods because they think it means the foods become radioactive and glow in the dark. They fear BSE, though the risk factor is immeasurably small, because the prions are virtually indestructable and vCJD takes a long time to show up.  They fear any food additive with a name longer than four syllables which they cannot pronounce.  And they fear anything that smacks of radiation, regardless of the amounts..

My cousin's daughter, who is a science and math teacher, posted this website on Facebook a while back which had this awesome chart of radiation exposure on it.  Go to the website for explanations and over 500 comments some of which are quite educational.

Click on the chart for full size or go to the weblink

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring Floods

The prairies and other parts of North America with a heavy snow pack are hoping for a slow melt and gearing up for a fast melt and high water in places that don't need it.  Not to be outdone, we had our own home grown flood today.

Last year in May we installed a small pressure system to help out when we water our garden and the pressure in the town water system is so low it was painful.  It was located in the passageway to our outbuilding (which Tanya uses as a greenhouse until I get one for her). It sits there unplugged but still hooked to the water line, until we need it to water the garden.  This morning about 10:30 a seal broke between the pump and the electric motor and water sprayed into the passage way, flooding almost all of Tanya's plants, beating them flat.  I heard the water running and opened the door to the passage way.  Water flooded into the pantry and kitchen.

The water line from the street enters the house into a four foot deep sump beside the pump.  It was full of water.  The shut off valve was at the bottom of the pit (don't even think about asking) but I couldn't reach it, couldn't find it and the water was ice cold.  First we got the plants out of harms way.  Tanya grabbed a couple of neighbours working in the garden across the road from us (not Lucia and Zhenia to whom she is not speaking at the moment) who came and helped.  I got the hose from the pump dragged outside and turned on to relieve the pressure.  The neighbour threw wet towels over the leak and somehow figured out how to turn off the tap deep in the sump hole.

By 1:00 we had the passage way cleaned up and the kitchen mopped up.  The water was 1/2" deep in places in the kitchen but didn't run into the livingroom at all.  Pouring level concrete floors is not a priority in housing construction, I guess.  I am thankful.

Tanya was sick about her plants but she poured the water off them and did what she could. The soil here doesn't drain well being heavy clay but she had mixed it with sand and well rotted manure so we hope the little seedlings will not be too water logged.  She has a heater going full blast and a window open to circulate air.  The (150??) tomatoes which seemed to have taken the worst beating were standing nice and tall again tonight so we'll see. Her little petunias were doing so good and now this.  Do petunias survive wet feet? 

I don't know if this blog will get posted or not as my internet connection has been acting up for two days now. I am back on Internet Explorer which works a liitle bit, off and on. Firefox did not work at all. Some people's blogs I can open, others I cannot.  I cannot get my mail on Outlook but will try on line.  Skype says I am on line and tells me who else is on line but I cannot call anyone.  I tried the modem on my laptop with the same results so it may be the modem.  Tanya has the same ISP but a different modem and has had no trouble.

Friday, April 1, 2011

What's Time to a Pig?

A man is walking down a country road. He sees a farmer up on a ladder in an apple tree holding a pig so it can eat the apples from the tree.  When the pig can no longer reach the apples, the farmer climbs down, moves the ladder to a new spot on the tree and climbs up again with the pig who munches cheerfully on the apples hanging from the branches. 
The observer, quite puzzled, says to the farmer, "Wouldn't it save a lot of time and effort if you just let the apples fall of the tree and let the pig eat them on the ground?" 
"Oh, don't worry", says the farmer, "What's time to a pig?"

I so often think of this story as I continue to run into a culture where everything takes so much longer and is so much more complicated than it need be. We bought our tickets to Siberia.  Moscow Abakan return $500.  We can book them on line but have to go to a bank to pay for them.  Can't pay on-line by credit card.  We print off the page to take to the bank.  I give the teller my credit card.  Though I have a copy, she needs my original passport (at the Russian Embassy) and the notarized translation.  So I can pay by credit card at a bank?  A credit card with a chip and a PIN?  I go outside to the bank machine, jam in my credit card and take out enough cash to pay for the tickets.

I have to learn to be like that pig.  If "the farmer wants to carry me up the tree to reach the apples" what's time to a pig? Or a jackass, for that matter?

We leave by train to Moscow on April 27 and return May 19.  We were going earlier but I knew Tanya would worry about her garden not being in.  She will plant her garden and Lena will just have the tomatoes to transplant, about May 10. And my brother-in-law, Valerie, starts a month's holidays on April 21 so I will get a good visit with him this time.  And it will be warmer in Siberia in May.  Tanya can help Luda plant her garden.