Friday, March 30, 2012

Bliny for Breakfast

Masha was here last night as school is out for a couple days. So for breakfast Tanya made bliny (crepes).  Some she filled with fried mushrooms and some with cottage cheese and some she left for our own choices. We still had some maple syrup left so that was an easy choice.  (NOTE to anyone coming to visit, bring cheddar cheese for me and maple syrup for Masha)

Just for fun, instead of folding all the mushroom bliny, she gathered the edges of a couple and tied them up like a sack using smoked cheese strings.  Pretty cute. So I took pictures.

Understanding Your Tax Refund

After filing their personal tax returns by April 30th, many Canadians will receive a tax refund. This is indeed a very exciting time, and I'll explain it in a Q & A format:

Q. What is a tax refund payment?
A. It’s money that the federal government will return to taxpayers who have overpaid on their income tax.

Q.. Where will the government get this money?
A. They already have it.

Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?
A. Only a smidgen of it.

Q. What should I do with my refund?
A. The plan is for you to use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of China?
A. Shut up.

Below is some helpful advice on how to best help the Canadian economy by spending your tax refund wisely:

* If you spend the money at Wal-Mart, the money will go to China or Sri Lanka.
* If you spend it on gasoline, your money will go to Albertans or Arabs.
* If you purchase a computer, it will go to India, Taiwan or China .
* If you purchase fruit and vegetables, it will go to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala.
* If you buy an efficient car, it will go to Japan or Korea..
* If you purchase useless stuff, it will go to Taiwan.
* If you pay your credit cards off, or buy stock, it will go to management bonuses and they will hide it offshore.

Instead, keep the money in Canada by:
1) Spending it at yard sales, or
2) Going to hockey games, or
3) Spending it on prostitutes, or
4) Beer or
5) Tattoos.
(These are the only “truly” Canadian businesses still operating)

Conclusion: Go to a hockey game with a tattooed prostitute that you met at a yard sale and drink beer all day!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Cold Hearted Woman

Andrei got his Lexus back from the body shop yesterday and bought it over to show me how shiny it looked.  He swears the badger was 40 kg but 40 lbs might be an exaggeration according to Wiki.

Tanya spent the day transplanting 'leventy-'leven dozen baby plants from starter boxes to individual cups or larger boxes so they have room to grow.  Pictures in a few days when they have all grown another 10 cm.

I got up at 7:00 this morning and looked at the cold foggy day, let the cat in and went back to bed. Tanya got up at the same time, fed the cat the last of his canned cat food, checked all her baby plants and went back to bed.

Kuchma finished his stew and came to the bedroom door, speaking to us in cat Russian.  I didn't catch it all but it was to the tune of "I am cold.  The house is cold.  I am lonesome.  Why are you still in bed?"  Tanya replied in human Russian.  I didn't catch it all but it was to the tune of "Take a flying leap".

The cat came around to my side of the bed.  He knows.  He is NOT allowed on the bed.  ESPECIALLY after his tomcat smell problems required washing everything down to and including the mattress cover when he sneaked in and slept there one afternoon. 

He jumped up on the bed beside me and lay down purring happily.  I picked him up and gently set him on the floor.  Several times. He had just settled down again when Tanya reached over me and threw him off the bed in no uncertain terms.

He must have thought it was me that did it as he then walked around the bed to Tanya's side and jumped up by her.  That was a mistake.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Its About Development (not NGOs vs Mining companies)

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) is Canada's Official Development Agency (ODA) through which the Government of Canada channels money for international aid and development.  My own experience with CIDA has been that any programs which are simple and useful they tend to kill and while they claim to be "results driven" their bureaucratic overhead is some four times that of comparable European ODAs.  

CIDA has been very reluctant to work with the private sector other than consulting firms, on the grounds that they would rather forgo development than do something a commercial company might benefit from.  But to give credit, they have co-funded some development projects with Canadian mining companies (see article below). Having said that, CIDA has funded some good on-going development programs through NGOs to alleviate poverty in some of the poorest parts of the world.

This is apparently changing.  Policy now seems to be to fund development projects where the investment pays off not in development necessarily but in increased trade.  They are unfunding KAIROS Canada, long time effective development NGO composed of several Canadian churches.  There is a suggestion that KAIROS may have angered the Harper government by refusing to whitewash Israeli atrocities against Palestinians and not necessarily siding with Canadian mining companies when they may be in the wrong.
CIDA has also greatly reduced funding to Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (CCODP).  You can read more details on Dennis Gruending's Blog HERE

Now what CIDA has done is fund to the tune of many millions of dollars Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) projects with three Canadian Mining companies. You can read the backlash on Dnnis Gruending's Blog and many others. I am not in a position to defend the projects or the companies because I know nothing about them, however I do know a little about CSR having worked on a couple of projects with my friend Wayne Dunn.  When done right, CSR projects can bring real benefits to both the communities around the mine and the mining company.

Wayne has written a couple of articles on his experience with CSR.  The first is reprinted below with his permission.  It is also available on the website of Canadian Association of International Development Consultants (CAIDC).  His second article is available on the website of the McGill Reporter HERE.
I have been listening to the debate regarding CIDA’s partnership with some Canadian mining companies and felt compelled to put forward some thoughts based on over two decades of experience working at the interface where the interests of communities, global private sector, governments, development agencies, environment, NGOs and others meet.  There have been some spectacular successes and abysmal failures at that interface.  Impoverished people and communities have been uplifted, or they have been pushed further down, environmental miracles and disasters have occurred.  It has been far less about the types of partners involved than it has been about the right partner, plan and approach, based on the specific situation.

The recent discussion over CIDA's collaboration with Canadian mining interests in support of international development has been framed in terms of the interests of Canadian NGOs vs the interests of Canadian mining companies.  The discussion is more properly framed in relation to the interests of the people and communities that should be the beneficiaries of Canada's development assistance.  It’s about the world’s poor and how CIDA can best support education, health and other development issues.

CIDA does not have an easy role.  Its budget comes from Canadian taxpayers and it has a responsibility to ensure that the money it invests in development produces results.  CIDA often works with and through Canadian partners including NGOs, educational institutions, private sector (including mining) and other partners.  There are successful examples for all types of partners, just as there are unsuccessful examples.  No single group holds a monopoly on success, or failure.

I was one of the first to facilitate a large, developmental partnership project between CIDA and a Canadian mining company.  Canadian mining company Placer Dome wanted to go far beyond normal practices and assist the families of 2,500 retrenched mineworkers to establish alternative income streams.  The company committed $5,000,000, CIDA contributed $2,000,000, a number of local NGOs and organizations were involved and the direct impact was felt by thousands of families in hundreds of communities across Southern Africa.  The indirect impact changed the social face of the South African mining industry and led directly to the industry’s progressive (and economically self-interested) HIV/AIDS programming and the project was published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (link) and used as a case study by the Stanford Business School.

After the success of work in South Africa the World Bank asked Placer Dome to help develop a strategic approach to HIV/AIDS programming in Papua New Guinea that would engage all stakeholders.   We put together a plan and CIDA contributed $200,0000, Placer Dome about the same amount and other partners including Australian Aid, World Bank, World Health Organization, PNG AIDS, Chamber of Mines and others contributed cash and resources.  The end result was a Public Private Partnership Strategy and programming for HIV/AIDS in PNG that was enthusiastically endorsed by a broad cross section of the HIV/AIDS constituency.

In Turkey Eldorado Gold was in the process of developing a gold mine and their work with local communities identified agricultural development as a key local priority.  CIDA partnered with Eldorado (CIDA $200,000 cash, Eldorado ~$750,000 cash and in-kind) and strategies and programs were developed that helped to increase income and productivity of the farmers.

In all of these cases a development impact was achieved because CIDA picked the right partner for the situation.  The mining companies, by virtue of their presence in the area and understanding of the situation, were uniquely positioned to produce results in these cases. In other cases it may well be an NGO or others that would be the best partner.  Experiences like these should help to guide the current debate. 

Canada has a global responsibility to support development around the world.  The execution of that responsibility should not be about one Canadian group or another, but rather about the impact on development.  It isn’t a mining company vs NGO issue.  The mining sector has done terrible things to people and communities, in Canada and globally.  But, so have churches, NGOs, governments and others.  All these groups have positive accomplishments too.  CIDA cannot, and should not exclude entire sectors from its partnership programs.  CIDA must find the partners that enable it to be the most efficient at supporting development for the world’s poor.

Wayne Dunn has worked with private sector, governments, NGOs, civil society and others on over 60 social responsibility/development projects in over 30 countries.  He can be reached at +1.250.743.7619 or

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Selling a small (software) company

This post is courtesy my friend Wayne Dunne of Portarlington, County Laois, Ireland.  Wayne is a software developer and while his advice, based on his own experience, was for someone interested in selling a small software company, I think it could be applied to anyone selling a small company.  I have his permission to post it.

1. Make sure the buyer is serious, an approach could simply be reconnaissance, depending on who they are.
2. You will need to have a handover period between the sale and when you are finally free.
Make the handover period as short as possible (because after you get paid and it's not your baby you will find that you don't care as much anymore, sad but true)
3. During negotiations befriend the buyer and use terms such as "I will have to bring this back to the shareholders to decide". Make the shareholders appear to be the bad guy that you are both working to please to get this deal through.
4. You will be tied to some sort of non-compete clause, if you plan to break it in the future then offer a global non-compete clause. Due to this being so vast it will be viewed as being unreasonable (in most cases) by the courts and will be omitted from the contract, without breaking the whole contract. (At least in UK law - see Blue Pen Test)
5. As with all negotiations - know what you want going in and ALWAYS be willing to walk away from a deal. If you feel you must complete a deal, you have already lost
6. Talk with your suppliers about the offer, under the guise of "I am looking at doing this, would this impact your relationship with the firm going forward", really you are going to see if some of them are willing to become potential buyers. (More potential buyers means more leverage for you).
7. Find out the real reason they want to buy you and focus on that, for example when McAfee were a far smaller firm than they are today they bought out a similar sized technology firm, (I can't remember the firm) - But they didn't want their technology, they wanted their sales team. Not the reason why you would expect a technology company to be purchased, perhaps something like this is in play here?
8. Ask for things you don't need during the negotiations, maybe say you want to keep two of your best engineers for you next business, then be willing to give up the things you don't need to get more money or to get other things you may want.
9. Get an M&A advisor if you want, but do the negotiations yourself. This is too important to leave up to others.
10. Talk with a tax advisor, structure things is the best way for you to keep as much of the sale money as you can.
11. If they want to pay in installments get as much as possible in a lump sum up front and tie the installments to easily achieved targets
12. Most people are weak when it comes to negotiations; that includes you, but it also includes him, remember that.
13. Don't tell your customers about the potential sale, unless they are so large they can buy you, and you are so important to them that they will buy you.
14. Lastly, always keep in mind that you didn't go looking for this sale, it came to you, if it doesn't happen your life will go on just the way you had planned before this came along.

When I sold my software business a while back it was to my largest customer. But I subtly prepped them for a long time leading up to the sale.

I began the process by talking with them about how companies often get bought out and how products end up failing under new owners who don't have customers best interests at heart and how much of a shame that is. This was dropped into a few conversations over time. The day they brought it up in a conversation rather than me bringing it up, I told them how important the relationship between us was, that it wasn't something they should worry about, and that if that situation would ever arise I would give them first refusal on any deal. That created the buyer for me while it looked like I was giving something away.

From there I slowly worked on making them think they could make my product better than I could till eventually they believed it too.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Remembering the Farm: Cavell, Leipzig and School Prayer

The one-room school in the now disappeared community of Cavell, where my father almost completed grade 8 and I completed grade 7, is now a museum in Wilkie, a small town about 15 minutes away (30 minutes when I was a kid).  My sister (who never attended Cavell) took pictures when she was there lately.  I was looking at them on FB, stole the two below and it got me thinking about my school days and the then non-issue of religion in schools.

My father was hunting crows eggs in the spring of his grade 8 year, fell out of a tree and broke his arm, so could not write the final exams.  The teacher gave him his grade on condition that he NEVER return to school. I managed to complete Grade 7. They closed the school in June of 1960 along with several other one room schools and we were bused to now disappeared community of Leipzig about 7 miles away where I took my Grades 8 to 12..

Leipzig was a Catholic community, mainly of Volga Germans and others from Germany directly.  There were a few Lutherans in the mix, I believe as there was a Luthern church in town. The Saskatchewan Mother House of the Sisters of Notre Dame was located in Leipzig and the Sisters were our school teachers.  The school was a Catholic school in the Public School system because the vast majority of kids were Catholic.  Religion was taught from 3:00 to 3:30 and we heathen Protestants could do our homework under the watchful eye of one Sister Martina.

Cavell was just a regular public school while Wilkie had a Catholic School under what was known as a Separate School Board and a public school under the Public School Board.

I had often wondered about the fuss today about so-called Christian Schools, where parents don't want their children going to a public school.  I finally realized that in my father's and my time in our part of Saskatchewan there were only Christian Schools - either Catholic or Protestant, with Protestant being the default public school type. Because there were no other religions in rural Saskatchewan.

Religion was not taught per se in the "Protestant" schools as in the Catholic schools but certainly the values were, more indirectly than deliberately.  And looking through my father's old readers and even my Grade 7 and 8 readers, there were excerpts from the KJV Bible which were taught as literature.

At Cavell, if my memory serves me correct (and I hope someone can verify as I am old and my memory sometimes recalls things that didn't happen), in the morning we stood at our desks and sang Oh Canada and said the Lord's Prayer (long version).  When we went to Leipzig, we gathered in the hall in the morning and sang Oh Canada and said the Lord's Prayer (short version).  It was not a problem for our parents because we all to a greater or lesser degree, subscribed to some version of Christianity.

I suspect that this held true for all parts of Canada at some time in their history.  However, as more people moved to Canada from all parts of the world, unless they were Catholic, their kids ended up in the Public School system effectively diluting the Protestant only make up.  So we have public schools with Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, JWs, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and two dozen other kinds I have never heard of along with people who don't believe in any kind of God or gods.

It is no longer one size fits all.  The world has changed and we have to change with it.  If there is going to be prayer in the schools, then everyone has to divide up into their own groups and pray their own prayers or else no prayers at all. Christmas is THE most important festival season in the Christian world.  School Christmas Concerts used to have bits and pieces about Christmas - carols and mangers and such.  Not any more.  I kind of miss it but recognize that public schools are for all students and must take into account the beliefs of all students as best as possible.

The folks that are hostile about all this, claiming an attack on Christianity etc., are just trying to sound righteous.  What they are really upset about is that the demographic make up of our country has changed and they don't like it.  But rural schools were simpler 50 years ago, I will admit.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Time on our hands

It was too cold and windy for Tanya to work in her flower garden so we drove into Krivii Rih to our favourite store Epicenter.  Combination Home Depot with Linens and Things on the second floor.

Tanya wanted grow lights for her bedding plants as they do not get enough direct sunlight.  What a circus.  The people in the garden section didn't know squat.  The people in the lighting section were not much better but we kept digging and finally found someone who actually knew something.  No fluorescent lights but some incandescent bulbs, so we bought a desk lamp and grow-bulbs and will try it out.

Tanya bought a garden gnome.  A cute little guy about 1 meter tall laden with mushrooms he has been picking.  I set him in the back seat and belted him in. Masha will love him.  So will Bobik.

Then we went upstairs to look at a summer blanket for our bed.  Found the right colour but wrong material.  Then we went to look at clocks.  We have been wanting to buy a good wall clock (mechanical, not battery with chimes, chains and pendulum) for over our fake fireplace.  Found sort of what we wanted but decided to wait and keep looking.  But we bought a new kitchen clock and one for our bedroom too.

Every time we go to Epicenter 2nd floor, I go to look at the ornamental guns, swords, ships and such.  I had admired Lord Nelson's Victory for some time so today Tanya decided she would buy it for me.  I think she likes that kind of stuff too.  Anyhow, it is sitting on our fireplace for now. 

There was a galleon Tanya liked better but I preferred the English ship to the Spanish.  The new Spanish Navy has glass bottoms so they can look at the old Spanish Navy.

New Kitchen Clock and Masha's writing board

Lord Nelson's Victory

The bedroom clock.  NO alarm. We are retired.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March Winds

Today would have been a perfect day for flying a kite, if I had such a thing.  March winds are howling.  It is +12 and warmer in the sun.  The sky is clear and blue as the top half of our flag.

There is still a few spots of snow on the north sides of things but most of it is now gone.  The creek/river by our place is spread out into the hayland but not like it could have been if we had a fast melt.

Sunday, Tanya pruned the grapevines while I held/moved the big ladder for her.  Masha who had been here for the night, helped clean up the vines after. I got a picture of Tanya dressed for pruning in her teenage jeans with the store-bought raggy holes and patches and wearing her "Goodbye forever, young girl" black felt zipper boots with white fluffy band around the top.  A contradiction in fashion statements.  She said if I put it on the internet she would compost my corpse to grow flowers. I will put it on her computer as wallpaper.

Tanya is itching to get into her flower beds and has started working on anything she can reach from the sidewalk. There are hundreds of shoots coming up in tulip beds, crocus beds, hyacinth beds and daffodil beds.  I have no idea how many bulbs she planted last fall and neither does she.  Lots.

Yesterday we went into town and bought 33 twelve inch square patio blocks, three square meters worth, for under a dollar a block.  These are going into the flower beds in strategic locations so she can work in muddier conditions than last year.

Today she transplanted into individual little pots, 30+ geraniums from seed she saved last fall.  Said it was easier to start new ones than try to keep last years plants alive over winter.  We also picked up her seed order from InterFlora at the post office.

The dogs have stayed in their yard like good boys though they are dying to get loose.  Their yard hasn't been cleaned for months thanks to nice fresh snow falls that saved me the trouble at the time.  Today I went out to clean it and it looked like I had kept cows in there over winter or maybe elephants, instead of Fox Terriers. Fibre soaks up a lot of moisture and the cheap ($30 per 20 kg bag) dog food I buy them has a lot of fibre. Shoveled and swept everything into piles.  Maybe I can hire a corral cleaning contractor to spread them in the fields.

Kuchma has been banned from the house because he stinks up the place something fierce with Tomcat smell. But we made up a soft bed for him mostly in the sun and he can invite the neighbour cat over for meals once in a while.  He sure is lonely for human companionship though.  When we go outside he is meowing and rubbing all over wanting to be petted.  But just don't pick him up.

Andrei hit a huge badger on his way home from Krivii Rih two nights ago and wiped out the front of his Lexus.  Bumper, grill, headlight on one side.  So he borrowed our car.  It needed washing anyway.

Steps have been taken?  No, placed.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

They Sold Trigger

A friend of mine sent me this.  Figured it was worth sharing.

The Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, MO has closed its doors forever. The contents of the museum were sold at a public auction. Roy Rogers told his son, if the museum ever operates at a loss, close it and sell the contents. He complied.

Here is a partial listing of some of the items that were sold at auction...

Roy 's 1964 Bonneville sold for $254,500, it was estimated to sell between 100 and 150 thousand dollars.

His script book from the January 14,1953 episode of This Is Your Life sold for $10,000 (est. $800-$1,000).

A collection of signed baseballs (Pete Rose, Duke Snyder and other greats) sold for $3,750.

A collection of signed bats (Yogi Berra, Enos Slaughter, Bob Feller, and others) sold for $2,750.

Trigger's saddle and bridle sold for $386,500 (est. 100-150 K).

One of many of Roy 's shirts sold for $16,250 and one of his many cowboy hats sold for $17,500.

One set of boot spurs sold for $10,625. (He never used a set of spurs on Trigger).

A life size shooting gallery sold for $27,500.

Various chandeliers sold from $6,875 to $20,000. Very unique and artistic in their western style.

A signed photograph by Don Larsen taken during his perfect game in the world series against the Dodgers on Oct. 8, 1953, along with a signed baseball to Roy from Don, sold for $2,500.

Two fabulous limited edition BB guns in their original boxes with numerous photos of Roy, Dale, Gabby, and Pat sold for $3,750.

A collection of memorabilia from his shows entertaining the troops in Vietnam sold for $938. His flight jacket sold for $7,500.

His set of dinner ware plates and silverware sold for $11,875.
The Bible they used at the dinner table every night sold for $8,750.

One of several of his guitars sold for $27,500.

Nellybelle sold for $116,500.

A fabulous painting of Roy, Dale, Pat, Buttermilk, Trigger, and Bullet sold for $10,625.

One of several sets of movie posters sold for $18,750.

A black and white photograph of Gene Autry with a touching inscription
from Gene to Roy sold for $17,500.

A Republic Productions Poster bearing many autographs of the
people that played in Roy 's movies sold for $11,875.

Dale's horse, Buttermilk sold for $25,000. Bullet sold for $35,000. He was their real pet.

Dale's parade saddle, estimated to sell between 20-30 K, sold for $104,500.

One of many pairs of Roy 's boots sold for $21,250.
Trigger sold for $266,500.
Do you remember the 1938 movie The Adventures of Robinhood,
with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland? Well Olivia rode Trigger in that movie.
Trigger was bred on a farm co-owned by Bing Crosby. Roy bought Trigger on a time payment plan for $2,500. Roy and Trigger made 188 movies together. Trigger even out did Bob Hope by winning an Oscar in the movie Son of Paleface in 1953.

So it's good-bye to Roy and Dale. It was a great ride through childhood.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Irish Cartoons

Too many to steal so look them up yourself and Happy Saint Patrick's Day. There are some very good ones here. Enjoy

Friday, March 16, 2012

Houdini Hounds

It is spring.  Tanya's tulips,  crocuses and hyacinths are up.  The yard, which is all flower garden is a sea of mud.  Bobik and Volk were out of their yard again this morning, mud to the hocks, waiting by the front door  and quite pleased with themselves for being there.

They were not getting out the high window, after all.  Blocking it had no effect on their escapades.  They were getting out at the gate.  But how? I thought they were climbing out over the top between the gate and the house.  I tried blocking the gap with a pipe but that only worked for a day or two.  I wired a metal mesh to the gate to block the gap.  That didn't work.  They couldn't go under the fence as there was no room.

Masha was here last Saturday and she and Babushka were outside enjoying the sunshine.  The dogs apparently saw Masha and immediately Volk was out looking for attention.  Tanya turned to see Bobik in the act of escaping and the puzzle was solved.  If they put their front feet on the foundation ledge at the base of the house and stuck their nose between the gate and the angle iron it was latched to, they could pull the bottom of the gate back towards themselves and squeeze between the gate and the house.  Solution - wire the gate half way down too.

The reason they were out this morning was that I had forgotten to wire the gate yesterday after I fed them. They were hungry this morning and came looking for me.

The gap wired shut

Close up of the solution

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Day Tripping

Tanya and I are going to Prague for 8 days.  This is our first time in Europe (EU) so rather than try to organize, we are going with a package.  What a circus to try and get a package, you cannot believe.  Tanya was several days on the internet and talking to travel agents in Krivii Rih, Dnipropetrovs'k and Kyiv.  We had found what we thought was the perfect package.  It was affordable, and included two days in Vienna.  Regardless of the fact that the price on the internet site stated airfare was included, we were informed by the tour operator that it was NOT included.

Anyhow we finally found something close.  And started to close the deal.

Tanya needed a Schengen visa.  If we go west she needs a visa; if east, I need a visa;  Turkey lets us both in for a fee at the border.  One applies for a Schengen visa at the embassy of the country of first entry but the travel agent will look after the logistics once we have all the documentation.  Along with the usual suspects, we needed a notarized document stating that I was paying for the trip.

So yesterday we went to Dnipropetrovs'k.  Can't tell you how many months it had been since I was there.  It is spring so the road is full of chuck holes and driving is rather nerve racking.  In Ukraine if you see a driver weaving violently back and forth on the road, they are fine.  If they are driving in a straight line staying in their lane they are drunk.

The reason for the Dnipro trip was that we have no certified English translator in Zhovti Vody.  Our friend Natalia, head of the city foreign relations department, translated my little letter and sent it to her notary friend Oksana to have it notarized.  Cost us $30 at the lawyers and coffee, dessert and a visit with Natalie. 

I got my McDonald's fix for a few more months - they have a new Ukrainian burger - Pumpernickel bun.  And had a look at the winter crops and snow cover.  Less snow the farther east we drove.  Too early to confirm winter kill from the road but the reports are maybe 30+% will have to be reseeded into summer crops.  10 hour day, four hours driving and I was in bed by 8:30.  Driving is no thrill on these roads.

We would have gone to a travel agent in Dnipro but the one we use doesn't have ability to process credit cards.  Cash only. So today we drove into Krivii Rih, to see another Oksana at KiiAvia who had done our last two trips to Turkey.  This was the first time I drove through downtown KR myself with out someone familiar with the city to guide me. 20 minutes, outskirts of ZV to outskirts of KR and almost two hours to reach the travel agency some 60 km down the centre of the city.  New York is the city that never sleeps and Krivii Rih is the city that never ends.

Tomorrow I will sleep in and then do some real work.  I have a proposal to prepare.

The pictures are of a metal grapevine outside a restaurant in Dnipro.  The vines go up each side of the door than along the wall the length of the building.  No idea what they would cost in Canada or in Ukraine but the artwork is absolutely wonderful.  Tanya says she wants something like it. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The "Wayne is Great" Folder

My friend Wayne in Canada, (not to be confused with our mutual friend Wayne of the same clan in Ireland), was asked to do a short article for a McGill University publication.  He ran it by the other Wayne and myself, did some serious editing and came out with a good piece.  He said when it gets published he was putting it in his "Wayne is Great" folder.

What a brilliant idea.  I had never heard of it before.  Every one of us needs to keep an "I am Great" folder and add things we have accomplished that we can be proud of. All of us at times fail and we can get down on ourselves.  Our friends and family reassure us we are not hopeless failures (well, my friends anyhow; my family not so much - just kidding) but if we have a "I am Great" folder, we can look back and reassure ourselves that we CAN DO!!

And ask your family and friends or co-workers to suggest stuff to put in it.  We don't always remember what we have accomplished, being focused on the tasks remaining.  If it is written, put a copy in the folder; if it is something you have built, put a picture in along with details.  Figure out some way that is meaningful to you.

I know some of the things that are going in my "Al is Great" folder.  From times long past, it is likely to be just a list of things that I will add to as I remember.  For more recent accomplishments, it will be documents and pictures.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Anger, Depression and Cholesterol - Learning new things

"Hear me, my chiefs. I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands I will fight no more, forever." Chief Joseph.

I started writing a blog post in my head a few weeks ago.  Like Chief Joseph, I am tired of fighting.  It seems that all my life, I have been angry about something at someone or in most cases a great many someones.  I do not suffer fools gladly.  I hate injustice, corruption, unbridled greed and people who claim to speak for God.  In no particular order. And it/they are everywhere.

Being filled with anger, hatred and frustration, speaking and striking blindly in all directions, (or so it seems to me) is exhausting.  I hate it.  I wish I could stop.  I wish I could be like some I know who stick their head firmly up their rear, hearing, seeing speaking no evil, only reading and quoting nauseatingly sweet syrupy platitudes and pretending the world is all sunshine and roses.

Constant anger and a low boiling point are signs of depression.  Many years ago, (but not soon enough, ask my kids) I went on the little white pills.  They didn't do anything for me but I found that other people didn't act like complete assholes when I was taking the pills but started again as soon as I stopped. They do keep my temperament much more on an even keel even at a low dose.

This was as far as I got in my composing.  Then this past week, I read an article in The Globalist, a weekly freebie of international news and views that comes in my Inbox every Friday.  A strange place to learn something about one's health.

The article Limbaugh, Lipitor and the Incivility of American Political Life speculates on a connection between the "increasing incivility" in America and the $30 billion per year consumption of cholesterol lowering statin drugs. 

The article says statins can reduce fatal heart attacks in patients with increased risk factors — such as diabetes, very high cholesterol, or prior heart attack — and that these drugs can be life-saving for some patients. . .  According to Dr. John Abramson, a professor at the Harvard Medical School and author of Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine, "These drugs have been on the market for 21 years... and yet there is still not a single study that documents a health benefit to women of any age, or men over 65 who don't already have heart disease or diabetes." . . . Yet the immense yearly expenditures on marketing statins has assured that over the past decade most of the medically insured, over-50 population of the United States has been prescribed statins.

The fly in the ointment as usual is the side effects Overlooked in the developed world's rush to medicate cholesterol to lower and lower levels have been profound questions about the relationship between cholesterol and cognitive function, mood and behavior. The pre-statin scientific literature provided numerous hints of a link between low (or lowered) cholesterol and violent death, as well as aggression. Reducing cholesterol reduces levels of serotonin, a critical brain neurotransmitter, and low brain serotonin is well known to be linked to violence, impaired impulse control and aggression in both humans and animals

Eureka (Yeah?  Well you don't smell so good yourself...but I digress).  For years I have been feeling smug when I go for a physical.  I might be 50 kg overweight but my heart rate is low 60 to 70, blood pressure low-normal (boosted by coffee and insufferable politicians) AND my cholesterol levels off the scale on the LOW side. 

So finding a possible reason for this behaviour of mine has made me feel immensely better.  Now I wonder if they have a drug to increase cholesterol or do I just keep taking serotonin boosters?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Winning Elections in the 21st Century

 "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything." -- Josef Stalin

To be a successful politician, the first requirement is an ego the size of the Taj Mahal; the second requirement (and this applies to political parties as well) is an absolutely belief in the rightness of one's ideas and on the ideology underlying them. This applies whether one is driven by greed and lust for power for the sake of power or by altruism and a fervent desire to make a better world.

The first priority is to be elected.  Actually gaining and keeping power is the ONLY priority because without that, nothing else counts.  (That doesn't mean a party not in power has no opportunity to shape legislation - much of Canada's social legislation brought in by the Liberals was at one time or another part of the CCF-NDP platform).

So the combination of gigantic ego, unshakeable rightness and the need to win puts a great deal of temptation in the way to "help" the voters. This is likely as old as voting. Whether it was Tammany Hall in New York, Daley's Chicago, Duplessi's Quebec or Drapeau's Montreal, the great unwashed were not necessarily trusted to make the "right" choice.  Legend has it Joey Smallwood told Lester Pearson as they drove through a cemetery in St Johns Newfoundland to "Keep waving; some of my strongest supporters are here".

I have to admit Harper's alleged robo-calling is petty stuff compared to the list of observed misconduct in the Russian presidential election.  Putin  owns the Election Commission, the Police/Militia and the Courts so he can get away with 19th century fraud methods.

America, on the other hand, is, as always, much more sophisticated.  They have electronic voting machines.  Touch-screen voting has been in since 1996, although it doesn’t work. There are no paper ballots. There is no accounting, no audit, and no recount. Four companies supply them and are essentially in charge of counting the electronic ballots.  There have been some royal screw ups along with a fair bit of questionable results.  There is little or no security against voter fraud built into the machines compared to Vegas slot machines.

Some of the interesting things I found:

In Florida, where Diebold registered 16,022 negative votes for Gore, newsmen saw votes falling off Gore’s tally.  A Diebold machine registered 16,022 negative votes for Al Gore in Precinct 216 in Florida in the 2000 presidential election.  Here is how it is done:

In the 2004 election one County in Ohio, equipped with Diebold electronic voting machines, reported NEGATIVE 25,000 votes.

A statistical analysis on several swing states found that in EVERY STATE that has paper audit trails on their EVoting, the exit poll results matched the actual results reported within the margin of error. So, we have MATCHING RESULTS for exit polls vs. voting with audits vs. A 5% unexplained advantage for Bush without audits.  Here is how that is done: 

The head of a company vying to sell voting machines in Ohio for the 2004 election told Republicans in a fund-raising letter that he is "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." 

Beverley Harris, at Black Box Voting, said that she went into the computer, by-passed the password and changed the vote in less than 10 minutes.

In three different electoral counts in three different states, each candidate who won, did so by exactly the same number of votes!

A CEO of one of the four major voting machine corporations, resigned his position to run for public office. He then won the vote, counted by his own machine. He had a $5 million ownership in the company that counted 80 per cent of the votes. 

Spanish-speaking and other minority areas where the machines have been introduced in some instances the voter pushes for one candidate and the machine registers the other, then deletes the actual choice, to prevent discovery in an audit. 

In Georgia, 22,000 machines were modified by the supplier and no one could see what change was inserted. 

New Hampshire used uncertified software on the touch screen voting in the caucus. There were huge discrepancies between machine counting and hand counting.

Rigging an election is merely a "misdemeanour" in some states and of course
there is incredible resistance to any audits by the beneficiaries of the electronic voting.

This one is my favourite: During Arnold Schwarzenegger’s run for the post of California governor, the vote total showed up on the internet five hours before the polls closed and the figure was the same as the final announced vote. I am certain it prompted The Onion announcement that one of the Diebold machines had accidentally released the name of the 2012 presidential winner in the video below.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Voting Day in Russia

The citizens of the Russian Federation went to the polls today to re-elect Putin for a third term (6 years this time) as president.  He needs more than 50% in this round to avoid a second round of voting.  As if that is a problem.  Three of his opponents are professional losers, though Zyuganov of the Communist Party is the favoured protest vote.  No credible liberal candidates were allowed to run and the oligarch running as an independent will be lucky if his own mother votes for him.

After the protests of December and February over the rampant fraud in the Duma elections, Putin spent a BILLION dollars installing CCTV cameras in all the polling stations.  One of his buddies made half a billion on that, I expect, but not much else will come of it.  My guess is only the Election Commission will be allowed to see the films and we all know THEY won't see anything untoward.  Putin will claim then, that he won fair and square.  Yeah, right.

According to BBC, carousel voting (busing people from polling station to polling station), which is pretty easy to detect, is going all out in Moscow, Novosibirsk and Barnaul and likely in other places to, though they didn't mention it. When the BBC report was filed, already some 3000 instances of fraud had been documented by independent observers.

Not surprised about Novosibirsk.  I think that was the city which banned demonstrations by toys.  Seems that no one could get approval for a demonstration so some enterprising soul put protest signs on toys and set them out in the square.  Naughty, naughty.

The opposition is already organized for protests tomorrow, however so is the Kremlin, having imported 6000 extra police from the hinterland.  I imagine that Putin will be no more Mr. Nice Guy now that the election is over and any and all protests will be brutally crushed.  I don't expect any of the militia brought in will "refuse to fire on their own people".  These are the folks that brought you Stalin, after all.

Harper and GOP, you keep interesting company.

Monday Morning Update: Putin wins with 60% of the vote and a 68% turnout.  Exit polls match the actual count.   A major difference this time is that the opposition candidates are not going quietly, according to BBC.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Putin's Russia comes to Canada.

This email from was in my inbox this morning.  I had heard a little about it.  Being off the beaten track has its disadvantages.  All I can hope is that the RCMP and the Election Commission nail Harper's hide to the wall over this. Harper needed a majority government so he could wreck the country and this is how he got it.
Dear friends across Canada,

Thousands of voters may have been tricked into not voting in the last election, and investigators are currently failing to conduct a national investigation. Click below to tell Elections Canada and the RCMP that Canadians demand a real investigation, including an account of all election day robocalls -- then forward this email and ask friends and family to join the movement to save our democracy from fraud and corruption:

Sign the petition
News reports have just revealed that callers supporting Harper likely misled thousands of voters in the last election. But we can undo this fraud, if investigators now work to find the truth of what really happened.

Last election, voters in as many as 45 ridings received misleading and fraudulent phone calls telling us to go to fake polling stations. New media reports show that this orchestrated attack on our democracy might have worked -- flipping seats to benefit the Conservative party and giving them a majority in Parliament. Elections Canada and the RCMP are, thus far, limiting their investigation to one riding and the members of one political party -- if we raise a massive public outcry they will be forced to expand their investigation to third parties and to dig into fraud across the country.

At minimum, our public officials should review all robocall contracts for election day, and we can make them dig deep in every implicated riding. Click below to demand Elections Canada and the RCMP act now to protect our democracy, then forward to everyone:

On election day - May 2, 2011 - Canadians were inundated with dishonest phone calls saying that voting stations had been moved, then directing voters to a wrong location. Some of these callers even posed as Elections Canada officials. We need get to the truth and to do that we need Elections Canada and the RCMP to expand their investigation and ask the courts to reveal all calling companies’ orders for election day calls. These calls were likely so widespread that they could have actually changed the outcome of many close races!

We already know that Guelph was targeted by misleading calls and that this was part of a complex and pre-meditated plan. Some of the calls used a number tied to a disposable “burner” phone paid for in cash and registered to a Mr. Pierre Poutine on Separatist St., Quebec. A conservative staffer working on the campaign in Guelph has already resigned and if Elections Canada and the RCMP expand their investigation we can get to the truth and confirm full responsibility for all the election day fraud, in all 45 implicated ridings and beyond.

Our government was elected under suspect circumstances rife with reports of voter fraud -- but we can get to the truth. Click below to tell Elections Canada and the RCMP to expand their investigation:

Millions of Avaaz members rallied together to win anti-corruption laws in Brazil and in India and now Canadian citizens can come together to rescue our democracy. We can’t let governments steal elections and if we take action today we can win back our democracy.

With hope,

Emma, Ari, Ricken, Laryn, Melanie and the rest of the Avaaz team


'Robocall' probe puts Tory campaign in Guelph under microscope (Montreal Gazette)

Fraudulent calls a sophisticated attempt to disrupt an election (Globe and Mail)

Marketing strategist Stewart Braddick plays role in Conservative party’s electoral success (Toronto Star)

Harassing and misleading phone calls in 2011 federal election reported nationwide, Liberals and NDP say (Toronto Star)

Robocalls scandal spreads across Canada as number of affected ridings hits 34 (National Post)

30 complaints about fraudulent poll changes filed to Elections Canada (Global News)

Elections Canada probed Tories’ Guelph campaign in November (Maclean's)

List of ridings hit by election calls complaints (CBC)