Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year to all my Readers

The temperature dropped to -10C three days ago and it has been trying to snow ever since.  So perhaps we will get winter.  In parts of the world the holiday season is almost at an end with New Year's being the last.  Here in Ukraine it is just beginning.  Tanya has supper ready for Luda's family and I will go to Andrei's.  We will be celebrating Christmas on the Julian calendar so holidays continue for over 10 days yet.

Regardless of how you celebrated holidays (or did not), and given that some cultures have their own New Years based on their own calendar, most of the world, at least for business purposes, recognizes the New Year of the Gregorian calendar.  So "Happy New Year" is all encompassing, to all peoples of all countries.

I appreciate my readers and especially those who comment.  So I say to all of you:

For 2016, may you have peace in your hearts, peace in your families, and most of all peace in your countries. Happy New Year.

From the Independent (click to hear it spoken in many languages)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Happy Holidays.

Tanya calls me every day on Skype.  Luda can go home from hospital on Tuesday, which is good news for all. She recovered very quickly and is walking without pain.

We had "Catholic" Christmas, as Tanya calls it, dinner here.  Lina and Sveta came early and we baked cookies and prepared the meal.  Supper wasn't very English Christmas traditional but there was an overabundance of food, which is traditional everywhere.

Masha was off on a three day school excursion to Kyiv and L'viv.  Andrei had to work, as usual.  When you manage some 70 men doing security work there are always problems and all occur at night.  Tania and her mom came and of course Dasha.  We had enough food for 10, so I sent as much home as people would take.

Yesterday I ate the rest of the cookies so today I had to cook.  I made Enthusiasm Soup aka Refrigerator Soup.  The recipe I learned from my mother-in-law many years ago.

Tomorrow morning I am off to Pereyaslav-Khmelnitsky to visit my friends Artur and Oksana for the night, with a stop off at a feedlot near Boryspol to check out Artur's client's feeding problems.  The owner will meet me at the train in Kyiv.  He is supposed to find me some boots.  Size 49 (13). I wish him luck. I am looking forward to the visit more than to the feedlot.

Christmas Cookies

Lina and Sveta, my sou-chefs

Christmas morning view from our balcony
I'd have sung "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas" but I understand it is now the official song of the American Republican and Canadian Conservative, Wildrose, and Saskatchewan Parties. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Remembering the Farm - Monday Morning Washday Blues

In the grand scheme of things, certain domestic chores were assigned to certain days of the week.  Some of it made sense.  Saturday morning was housecleaning and Saturday night was bath night because Sunday was church and likely visitors.  We kids and Mom wished for company so we could play and visit.  Dad wished for no company so he could sleep.

But Monday was washday, Tuesday was ironing, Wednesday was bread baking. Why in that order, I have no idea but there must have been logic. Obviously ironing followed washing but why not bake on Monday?

Before we had electricity in 1953, and likely for a few years after that, Mom had a washing machine powered by a 1/4 horse gasoline motor.  It had a long metal hose attached to the muffler to run the fumes outside but it was not quiet.  The washing machine engine was quite popular with older boys who were handy with tools and such.  They made great go-carts.  By the time I was of age, that little engine had gone the way of the horse and buggy.

Exactly when mom got an electric washing machine, I cannot recall.  Nor the make, but it looked more or less like this picture. The tub had an agitator in it and a lever at the side turned on a pump to empty the tub.

The wringer removed water from the clothes as there was no spin cycle.  There was a knob to set pressure on the two rollers, which could turn in either direction. Mom's was a safety wringer.  If something jammed, or you gave it a quick push, it would "explode" and the rollers would jump open. Power wringers without the safety were deadly and could crush fingers or grab pieces of clothing and pull you in.  "Don't get your tit in a wringer" was not just an idle expression.

The washing machine would be set up in the middle of the kitchen and two washtubs for rinse water would be set up behind it on a folding wooden stand.  Water would be heated on the kitchen stove in the washtubs and a wash boiler.  The cleanest clothes would be washed first (same rule on bath night - cleanest kid bathed first).  Water, especially hot soft water, was a scarce commodity so it had to stretch. After the clothes were agitated, the wringer, which swiveled, was set to dispense them into the first rinse tub and run the water back into the washing machine.  Clothes would be fed in to the wringer by hand, one piece at a time.

Mom would put another load in the machine, then rinse the clothes by hand in the first tub, wringer them into the second tub, rinse by hand again and then wringer them into a clothes basket to hang outside on the line. Mom eventually got a dryer which was a God-send in winter.

When Mom and Dad moved into the "new" house in the late 60's she got an automatic washer and dryer but the water from the well was so bad it destroyed anything metal it came in contact with and left the clothes stained yellow so all the rest of her life she took the clothes into the laundromat.

Today, with all the automated appliances we can do whatever, any or every day. Except mending and ironing.  That is still always done tomorrow.

Today, I changed the bed linen and put two sheets, a pillow case and a bath sheet into the machine.  An LG Direct Drive front load with lots of buttons and such.  I never used it in almost nine years.  Tanya does the wash, I hang up the clothes.  So she showed me how to use the machine for when she was gone.  Put in clothes, put in small container of gel soap. Push this button, turn this knob to here, push this button and wait 100 minutes until the bell rings.  I knew about the bell and should have known the whole process was simple.  Tanya is technology challenged. Her instructions to buy her a microwave were "Two buttons:  Make Hot; Open Door".

Just before the final spin cycle it stopped and the warning code UE flashed.  Panic.  If there is a manual it is in Russian. What did we do without Google?  Found the LG site.  Went to washing machines, manuals, download.  Of course on the UK site (English) it would not recognize our model but I went through the pictures until I found one that looked like ours.  Bingo.  UE is unbalanced load.

Fitted sheets are not only impossible to fold, they have a habit of enveloping everything in the wash load, like a protozoa wrapping itself around a bacteria. So I untied the knot of wet soggy stuff and put it back in teh machine.  The instruction book also told me where the Spin setting was. All's well that ends.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Home Alone

Tanya has been gone 10 days now.  She took the train to Moscow then flew to Abakan. Her sister Luda had surgery (5 hours) on Friday to renew circulation in her leg.  Similar to heart surgery I guess with a chunk of clogged artery replaced.  She is still in ICU until possibly Tuesday.  Tanya is looking after her in hospital and again when she goes home.  Now she is limited to taking her food as she is not allowed in ICU to protect against flu.  Hospitals in Russia (and in Ukraine) are so starved for funds that the nurses are only able to administer meds and related.  Patient care must come from family of friends.

Tanya could be gone one to two months.  So there is just me and the critters.  Her family in Zholti Vody is looking after me.  Friday I had enough of my own company so went to town and had lunch with Lina and Sveta, then we went grocery shopping and made a late supper for Andrei's family.  Masha had dance class until 7:00.  First thing Dasha asked when she got in the door "Do you still have the trampoline?".  It was great to have some activity in the house.

The girls are coming again on 23rd to clean house for 25th when we will celebrate "Catholic" Christmas.  Mostly clean cat hair off the carpets and muddy cat footprints off the floor and window sills.  It is constantly damp outside.  Today it is +10C.  I gave up trying to clean their feet and just say to heck with it and clean the floor and window sills.

I should have gone to the market today for a goose or turkey for Christmas Day but maybe they will have one in the supermarket.  They had no beef on Friday.  "Maybe next week". I grabbed the last two pkgs of ground beef.

Luda's operation was at the hospital in Novokuznetsk, which is about 400 km from Abakan and halfway between Abakan and Novosibirsk.  The hospital specializes in locomotion problems.  And there were lots of people there in wheelchairs.  Luda's roomie had exactly the same problem with her leg so they got to compare notes.

Tanya has rented a small flat for her stay in Novokuznets, close enough to the hospital, but with good local transport, too.  She did some walking around town as she had not been there since she was 10.  She says that she has distant relatives there but had lost tract of them over the past 45 years. She took pictures to send me which I am sharing.

We talk on Skype when it works which is sort of hit and miss.  And message back and forth on Facebook.

Tanya is a long way away from me
One of the dozen or more buildings on the hospital grounds

Not yet cold enough to freeze the river

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Twas the night before Christmas & out on the ranch

'Twas the night before Christmas & out on the ranch
The pond was froze over & so was the branch.
The snow was piled up belly-deep to a mule.
The kids were all home on vacation from school,
And happier young folks you never did see-
Just all sprawled around a-watchin' TV.
Then suddenly, some time around 8 o'clock,
There came a surprise that gave them a shock!
The power went off, the TV went dead!
When Grandpa came in from out in the shed
With an armload of wood, the house was all dark.
"Just what I expected," they heard him remark
"Them power line wires must be down from the snow.
Seems sorter like times on the ranch long ago."
"I'll hunt up some candles," said Mom. "With their light,
And the fireplace, I reckon we'll make out all right."
The teen-agers all seemed enveloped in gloom.
Then Grandpa came back from a trip to his room,
Uncased his old fiddle & started to play
That old Christmas song about bells on a sleigh.
Mom started to sing, & 1st thing they knew
Both Pop & the kids were all singing it, too.
They sang Christmas carols, they sang "Holy Night,"
Their eyes all a-shine in the ruddy firelight.
They played some charades Mom recalled from her youth,
And Pop read a passage from God's Book of Truth.
They stayed up till midnight-and, would you believe,
The youngsters agreed 'twas a fine Christmas Eve.
Grandpa rose early, some time before dawn;
And when the kids wakened, the power was on..
"The power company sure got the line repaired quick,"
Said Grandpa - & no one suspected his trick.
Last night, for the sake of some old-fashioned fun,
He had pulled the main switch - the old Son-of-a-Gun!

This rewrite was kind of cute so I thought I would share it.  Couldn't find the author. 
The Gene Autry version below, with explanation.
During the story portion of the December 22, 1946 Gene Autry Melody Ranch Christmas Party broadcast, Gene recites the Christmas poem "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" to comfort little Susan whose mother is very ill. And as this is Gene's telling of the classic poem, it has a Western flavor to it. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Disaffected and it Feels So Good: Antonin Scalia just kicked Clarence Thomas off the Bench and promoted Abigail N. Fisher

Disaffected and it Feels So Good: Antonin Scalia just kicked Clarence Thomas off the Bench and promoted Abigail N. Fisher

Wherein I Attend English Club

For the past several weeks, I have been attending "English Club" which meets Friday evenings from 7:00 until 8:30, 9:00 ish.  The club is open to anyone who wants to practice their English skills, speaking and listening.  So having a native English speaker attend and participate is something they look forward to.  Even if I am 40 to 50 years older than everyone in the group.

The club meets in the common area of a private Foreign Language School.  The school is one of several in Ukraine owned and operated by a private company.  It has three class rooms and teaches English, Polish and German.  The Polish and German classes are mainly adults who intend to go to Germany or Poland to work.  The English classes seem to be supplementary to English taught in schools and attracts mainly children, highschool students and university students.

The language school is located in the same building where I go to get my hair cut.   There is a small coffee/tea shop (four tables) in the building that I stop at for a cup of coffee after my haircut to support the new business.  The couple that run it also speak English.  I was in having coffee one day when the instructor of the English classes came in, heard me speaking and invited me to English Club.

There is a different theme every week and the group leader comes up with exercises that include everyone.  With 15 to 25 people (not everyone attends regularly) we are divided into three groups usually as no one will speak in the large group.  One week the theme was music, another week it was jokes, another week it was books.  This past Friday it was movies and the Club leader, Ina (EEna) (I am only 30 years older than she is) gave each group a set of cards with questions about movies. The set was handed around the group and each person had to read the question and answer it.  Some questions everyone had to answer.

The English class instructor, Dasha, has a class of 6 highschool students just before English Club and she asked me to attend the class and help with pronunciation. So the last two weeks I do that too.  The kids knew me from English Club and when they saw me they smiled all over. Dasha said they were never that happy to see her.

The Friday after American Thanksgiving, the organizing committee even brought lunch to English Club and the theme was food. There has been another native English speaker, Erica, attending for the past several weeks too.    She gave a presentation on traditional American Thanksgiving food.

 Erica is here with her family for three months mainly in Zholti Vody but also all over Ukraine and into Poland too. Erica is the oldest of nine children, three of whom are from Zholti Vody, having been adopted four years ago. The family is very musical and entertained the English Club on the day the theme was music.They have been singing in churches and orphanages on their travels.   Their mom is quite brave as all the kids are home schooled. They currently live in Oregon but are moving (back) to Texas when they get home in January.   Erica's father is Chris Booher, a successful business man and a professional musician, proficient on several instruments. He played fiddle for Asleep at the Wheel back in the late 90's before he decided being married was better than being famous.

Chris and I had coffee together one afternoon and it was very interesting to talk to him.  We both concluded America was going to hell in a handbasket but I suspect for totally opposite reasons.

Chris Booher on the right

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ten Putin Jokes

With thanks to Nina Khrushcheva.

1.  Russia’s biggest HR problem is that Vladimir Putin gives management jobs to his most loyal associates, but then expects them to act with intelligence and competence.
2.   While visiting Crimea recently, Putin threatened Ukraine with a shared Russian future.
3.   Putin finished his dinner, wiped his lips with a crisp linen napkin, and ordered, “Burn the rest.”
4.    I lived during Brezhnev, during Gorbachev and during Yeltsin. Putin is the only leader for whom I have been asked to eat less.
5. The West shouldn’t have worried that Putin would bring back the USSR; at the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit it turned out that he has been rebuilding Genghis Khan’s 12th century empire.
6.  At the business forum in Saint Petersburg Putin called on investors to invest in Russian businesses.
  • And how is a Russian business different from a regular business?
  • It’s the same reason why Russian roulette and regular roulette are different.

7. The Kremlin warned that if the West further expands the sanctions, it will further increase Putin’s ratings.
8.  When you are Putin, your Russia is flourishing.
9.  The Russian Society of the Blind announced that they see no alternative to Putin.

10. The West—although angry, hypocritical, cunning and hateful of Russia—must have a kind soul; otherwise why would all of our political functionaries and apparatchiks keep their children abroad?

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

The War in Syria for Dummies

President Assad (who is bad ) is a nasty guy who got so nasty his people rebelled and the Rebels ( who are good ) started winning ( Hurrah!).

But then some of the rebels turned a bit nasty and are now called Islamic State ( who are definitely bad!) and some continued to support democracy ( who are still good.)

So the Americans (who are good ) started bombing Islamic State (who are bad) and giving arms to the Syrian Rebels (who are good) so they could fight Assad (who is still bad) which was good.

By the way, there is a breakaway state in the north run by the Kurds who want to fight IS (which is a good thing) but the Turkish authorities think they are bad, so we have to say they are bad whilst secretly thinking they're good and giving them guns to fight IS (which is good) but that is another matter.

Getting back to Syria.

So President Putin (who is bad, cos he invaded Crimea and the Ukraine and killed lots of folks including that nice Russian man in London with polonium poisoned tea) has decided to back Assad (who is still bad) by attacking IS (who are also bad) which is sort of a good thing?

But Putin (still bad ) thinks the Syrian Rebels (who are good ) are also bad, and so he bombs them too, much to the annoyance of the Americans (who are good) who are busy backing and arming the rebels (who are also good).

Now Iran (who used to be bad, but now they have agreed not to build any nuclear weapons and bomb Israel are now good) are going to provide ground troops to support Assad (still bad) as are the Russians (bad) who now have ground troops and aircraft in Syria.

So a Coalition of Assad (still bad) Putin (extra bad) and the Iranians (good, but in a bad sort of way) are going to attack IS (who are bad) which is a good thing, but also the Syrian Rebels (who are good) which is bad.

Now the British (obviously good, except that Mr Corbyn in the corduroy jacket, who is probably bad) and the Americans (also good) cannot attack Assad (still bad) for fear of upsetting Putin (bad) and Iran (good / bad) and now they have to accept that Assad might not be that bad after all compared to IS (who are super bad).

So Assad (bad) is now probably good, being better than IS (but let’s face it, drinking your own wee is better than IS so no real choice there) and since Putin and Iran are also fighting IS that may now make them Good.
America (still Good) will find it hard to arm a group of rebels being attacked by the Russians for fear of upsetting Mr Putin (now good) and that nice mad Ayatollah in Iran (also Good) and so they may be forced to say that the Rebels are now Bad, or at the very least abandon them to their fate. This will lead most of them to flee to Turkey and on to Europe or join IS (still the only constantly bad group).

To Sunni Muslims, an attack by Shia Muslims (Assad and Iran) backed by Russians will be seen as something of a Holy War, and the ranks of IS will now be seen by the Sunnis as the only Jihadis fighting in the Holy War and hence many Muslims will now see IS as Good (Doh!.)

Sunni Muslims will also see the lack of action by Britain and America in support of their Sunni rebel brothers as something of a betrayal (mmm. might have a point) and hence we will be seen as Bad.

So now we have America (now bad) and Britain (also bad) providing limited support to Sunni Rebels (bad) many of whom are looking to IS (Good / bad) for support against Assad (now good) who, along with Iran (also Good) and Putin (also, now, unbelievably, Good) are attempting to retake the country Assad used to run before all this started?

So, now you fully understand everything, all your questions are answered!!!!

Not sure where this started.  It was emailed to me by a friend who got it from a friend.  I goggled it and it shows up in many places so I cannot give credit to the original author.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Holodomor Memorial Day Nov 28.

On Saturday, November 7th in Washington DC, the dedication ceremony of the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide (Holodomor) Memorial was held. Article and picture of the memorial are found here.

Russia has revived the old Stalinist propaganda, denying that the Holodomor ever occurred, and claiming it was a lie manufactured by the west to discredit Moscow.

There are a number of documentaries available on-line, including this one which is about 1 hour long:

There is a 2015 movie based on the Holodomor which can be viewed or downloaded here though I have done neither.

The following references are from the article linked to above:
  • Cairns, Andrew.  The Soviet Famine 1932-33: An Eyewitness Account of Conditions in the Spring and Summer of 1932.  Edmonton: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta, 1989.
  • Commission on the Ukrainian Famine.  Investigation of the Ukrainian famine, 1932-1933: Oral History Project of the Commission on the Ukraine Famine. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1990.
  • Conquest, Robert.  The Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivization and the Terror-Famine.  USA: Oxford University Press, 1987.
  • Davies, R.W.  The Socialist Offensive: The Collectivization of Soviet Agriculture, 1929-1930.  London:  Macmillan, 1980.
  • Davies, Robert William and S.G. Wheatcroft.  The Years of Hunger: Soviet Agriculture, 1931-1933. USA:  Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
  • Dimarov, Anatoliy.  A Hunger Most Cruel: The Human Face of the 1932-1933 Terror-Famine in Soviet Ukraine.  Winnipeg: Language Lantern Publications, 2002.
  • Dolot, Myron.  Who Killed Them and Why?  In Remembrance of Those Killed in the Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Dolot, Myron.  Execution by Hunger: The Hidden Holocaust.  New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1987.
  • Halii, Mykola.  Organized Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933.  Chicago: Ukrainian Research and Information Institute, 1963.
  • Hryshko, Wasyl.  The Ukrainian Holocaust of 1933.  Toronto: Bahriany Foundation, 1983.
  • Kostiuk, Hryhory.  Stalinist Rule in Ukraine: A Study of the Decade of Mass Terror, 1929-1939.  Munich: Institut zur Erforschung der UdSSSR, 1960.
  • Krawchenko, Bohdan.  Social Change and National Consciousness in Twentieth-Century Ukraine. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
  • Marcus, David.  “Famine Crimes in International Law,” American Journal of International Law 97, no. 2 (2003): 245-281.
  • Motyl, Alexander,  “Deleting the Holodomor: Ukraine Unmakes Itself,” World Affairs Journal, Sept.-Oct. 2010. .
  • Motyl Alexander, “Remembering the Ukrainian Famine-Genocide,” World Affairs Journal, Blogpost from December 13, 2013. .
  • Oleksiw, Stephen.  The Agony of a Nation: The Great Man-Made Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933. London: National Committee to Commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Artificial Famine in Ukraine 1932-1933, 1983.
  • Procyk, Oksana, Leonid Heretz and James Earnest Mace.  Famine in the Soviet Ukraine, 1932-1933: A Memorial Exhibition, Widener Library, Harvard University.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986
  • Serbyn, Roman. Famine in Ukraine, 1932-1933. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1986.
  • Snyder, Timothy D. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.  New York: Basic Books, 2010.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning - a book review

Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and WarningBlack Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Timothy Snyder's newest book begins by explaining the ideology behind Hitler and National Socialism. In this it is an improvement over most histories which deal with WHAT is done and the immediate WHYs but rarely goes deeper. Hitler believed in an extreme version of Social Darwinism - survival of the fittest. He believed that life was an endless struggle of superior races to vanquish inferior races and take what they needed for survival and that it was a crime NOT to do so. He believed that Germans (Aryans) were THE superior race and that for example, Slavs were sub-human and should be enslaved or starved, their Black Earth (Ukraine) taken to feed the superior race.

While most anti-Semitism is based on the notion that evil Jews are polluting good humans. Hitler saw it quite the opposite. Humans were to live by the law of the jungle and the Jews, which Hitler did not even consider a race, devised ways to prevent the rise of the superior race and the survival of inferior races. Everything civilizational was part of a Jewish plot to control the world. Capitalism, communism, states, laws, institutions, justice, mercy etc were all invented by Jews.

So Hitler undertook to create war, not as a means to an end but to continue forever. There were two wars to be fought simultaneously. A colonial war against the inferior Slavs of the east and an anti-colonial war against the Jews, without which he could not win the first war. Interestingly enough, his colonial war was inspired by superior American destruction of inferior indigenous peoples and their land seized to create the American empire.

Snyder then goes on to describe the situation in Germany and then each of the states that were involved in the war. We tend to think of Germany as a strong state which coerced the other states into the mass murder of Jews. The exact opposite is true. German Jews stood a better chance of survival than Jews in the east where the state had been destroyed completely, either by Germany (western Poland) or first by the Soviets and then by Germany (eastern Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, the Baltics, western Russia) where 95% or more of the Jews were murdered. In every regions where the state was destroyed, Germany was able to easily involve non-Jewish locals in collaboration to murder Jews. In states which retained some semblance of statehood (Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, to an extent Bulgaria), Jews stood a much better chance of survival. In Holland which was generally not anti-Semitic, where the government fled, more Jews were killed than in Greece which tended to be more anti-Semitic but where the government remained intact.

Anti-Semitism was rampant in Poland (where the vast majority of European Jews lived) in the 1930's. Poland wanted the Jews out and thought their best bet was the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. To that end they trained and armed groups of Polish Jewish groups to fight the British in Palestine. These groups also played a part in the Polish Home Army, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Polish and Soviet partisan groups. Ukrainian Nationalist groups such as the UPA made for a very complex situation as they engaged in ethnic cleansing of Poles, murder of Jews, rescuing of Jews, fighting the Soviets and fighting the Nazis.

People who engaged in rescuing Jews did so for many reasons, for money, for love, for companionship, for labour, for replacement of lost children and some did it purely because it was the decent thing to do. Many examples are given of those who put their lives on the line to save one or many Jews. Some are famous (Raoul Wallenberg) but most are simply people who disappeared into history but for the memoirs of those they rescued.

The final chapter deals with lessons learned and situations under which such things could conceivable happen again. The one thing Snyder makes very clear is that strong states and strong institutions are critical to prevent genocide and that the attitudes of the extreme right and extreme left against the state are very dangerous. We are none of us so far removed from the people who collaborated with and participated in the mass killings of the Holocaust.

This book should be read along with Timothy Snyder's previous book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin in which the murders of millions by both Stalin and Hitler are examined in detail, including that of the Jews.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 20, 2015

Climate Change - Understanding Global Temperature Calculations

This post is kind of an aside but the article from The Telegraph from last February regarding "adjustments to actual temperature readings" is making the rounds again.  A commenter on FB posted a link to someone's blog post that had two very interesting videos embedded.  The text of the post was pretty much useless as it was simply Climate Change Religion attack jargon.

I am and remain a climate change skeptic simply because I hate the bullying tactics of the Climate Change Religious against anyone who dares to question anything.  People that desperate to squelch dissent must not be too sure of themselves.  And if most of them know as much about climatology as they do about GMOs, one does well to ignore them. They are simply anti-Exxon and anti-Monsanto.  In orhter words they have politicized science.

Here is NASA's take on it from 15 years ago and it is much more reasonable than the doomsayers would have you believe.  There are questions being asked by scientists.  We have learned a great deal since then, of course, but the question still remains, how much of global climate change is anthropogenic and how much has natural causes

These two short videos explain a great deal about how global temperature is calculated and why and how adjustments are made. They are made by a real scientist who explains things very clearly and gives you the data sources and software to do your own calculations if you wish.  Quite different from Dr Mann of hockey stick fame.

This picture is a screen capture from late in the second video.

The bottom pictures and chart show the coverage of earth and ocean surface by temperature recording devices, increasing from about 40% to about 80% from 1900 through 1970.  The top chart is a combination of all earth temperature records adjusted (dark red) and raw (light).

Global temperature is gradually and seeming inexorably increasing.  However you can see the oscillations that occur about every 30 years, so obviously there are other things happening than just GHG.  I can vouch for the 50's, 60's and 70's.  We had real winters then. But in the late 70's things warmed up and kept warming up. Though if you look at the top of the graph we seem to be headed into another "flattening" of temperature rises.

What will happen at the end of this current cycle (2040-2050) is anyone's guess.  Will the temperature again shoot up as it did for the past 30 years or are we headed into a cooling period? And how will it play out regionally? John Reader's "Africa: a biography of the continent" describes the effect of "localized" climate changes over the centuries.

A great deal of research is being done to try to hedge our bets as to which way the climate will go, with most seemingly favouring increased temperatures, though it is not the 95% that folks like to claim.  Regardless, the social impact and environmental hazards, over and above CO2, of coal, oil and gas should be pushing continued development of renewable energy sources.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Paris, Beirut and ISIS (ISIL)

The humorous blog post sketched out in my mind Friday night for Saturday morning was totally inappropriate against the news of the night's happenings in Paris.  French security knew something was coming but they didn't know what or when or who. So how do you defend against that?

Whether the EU's borderless Schengen system can survive terrorist attacks is a question.  Hollande said he was closing the French border but of course it is not that easy and would take months and millions to reinstate proper border controls.

They have identified several of the dead attackers, and some who are on the run.  Most of them appear to be of French or Belgian origin.  A Syrian passport was "found near the body" of one of the attackers that belonged to a man who came into Europe with refugees from Syria.  It has not been confirmed that the passport belongs to the body yet.  This has not stopped the haters from coming out from under their rocks.  These are folks who never met an immigrant or refugee they liked unless they were white males of European descent, so of course they are playing the no-refugee thing to the hilt. 

An item just hit my news feed that the passport was a fake as they have another person in custody with the same passport but a different picture.  Trying to make it look like some of the attackers were Syrian refugee-terrorists would help ISIS cause by hardening attitudes towards refugees fleeing from ISIS. (Backlash against refugees and Muslim communities in general also is a big plus for Russia as it will drive more Europeans into the ultra nationalist far right parties such as Marine lePen's and weaken the EU.)

The reality is, The Islamic State(IS) loathes that individuals are fleeing Syria for Europe. It undermines IS’ message that its self-styled Caliphate is a refuge, because if it was, individuals would actually go there in droves since it’s so close instead of 100,000s of people risking their lives through arduous journeys that could lead to death en route to Europe.

[One IS] video addresses the issue of those leaving the Islamic State for the lands of the infidel – i.e. refugees fleeing to Europe. An Islamic State speaker explains how it is correct for Muslims to leave the lands of the infidel for the lands of Islam, but not vice versa: Muslims should seek to live in a land where the shari’ah is enforced. Speakers warn that the ‘Jews and Christians’ do not have their interests at heart, and will force them to convert in order to remain in their countries. They cite issues such as the restrictions against hijab and niqab in European countries such as France. They assert that the Islamic State will remain strong despite those leaving. They will find happiness only in the land of the caliphate.

“…ISISwants to provoke a right-wing Islamophobic backlash against refugees and immigrant communities that come from Islamic countries, because that conflict gives credence to their world view that there is a war between the West and Islam. This backlash that we see happening is exactly what they want to drive Europeans towards the right-wing, and drive Islamic immigrant communities towards them. ISIS believes they've set up this Islamic utopia, but all these Muslims are fleeing that Islamic utopia -- so that's kind of embarrassing to them. So ISIS hopes that by provoking a backlash, it will lead people to sympathize with them more. Because then these people that are being welcomed in Europe will think, well, actually maybe we're not being welcomed in Europe. Maybe ISIS' world view is right, that there is this fundamental difference between our world and the West.

ISIS is a weapon in the Middle-East power play between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  In the Arab countries, Shia Muslims are the downtrodden under Sunni overlords.  Except in Syria, where Assad's mainly Alawite regime is an offshoot of Shia Islam but the country is mainly Sunni.  Iran is of course Shia and supports the Shia majority areas of the Arab Middle East.  Saudi Arabia is the champion of Sunni Muslims since it contains the two most holy places of Islam. Saudi Araba is using ISIS to keep the Shias under control while Iran is using the crisis to boost its own standing in the Middle East.

What is ISIS? First, it is a much more dangerous organization than al Qaeda.  It is highly religious, very fundamentalist and has a strategy for the here and now.  Al Qaeda saw the establishment of a Caliphate sometime in the future. ISIS has control of territory and has declared a Caliph who meets all qualifications including being a descendant of Mohammed. For a very clear explanation of what ISIS is and what it stands for, why it acts as it does, please read this article.  It is long but worth the time.

The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.

This is also good. 
The Paris attacks are the culmination of a 200-year-long battle over how Islam should respond to the rise of Western power.

And finally.

The day before the Paris attacks, two ISIS bomb blasts in Beirut killed more than 60 Shias and injured several hundred others.  It did not get the press or the sympathy that Paris generated.  If one is Lebanese or even if one simply cares about one's fellow human, it is hard to understand why one life is worth more than another.  The sad truth is that it simply wasn't news.  We are inured to stories of tragedies in that part of the  world as they happen on a daily basis. A plane crashes and kills 300 people.  That is news.  The fact that 3000 people are killed monthly on the roads of America is not news.  “If only one man dies of hunger, that is a tragedy. If millions die, that’s only statistics.” Joseph Stalin.  We live in a sad world

Not in my name

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Ukraine, Russia, Turkey and Egypt

Ukraine has so far failed to prosecute any of Yanukovych's criminal gang.  They may be arrested but are allowed to go free "on bail" or have their case dismissed and even allowed to leave the country.  However Korban, oligarch, leader of the new UKROP party, and an ally of oligarch Kolomoisky, both bitter enemies of Proroshenko has been arrested for embezzlement.  Shokin, the Minister in charge of such shenanigans is the main block in reforming the judicial process but he is supported by Proroshenko and Yatseniuk.  Mostly the loud noises about fighting corruption are just that and both the IMF and EU are getting irritated.

Ukraine has a long way to go to reach the 21st century.  Admittance to the visa-free Schengen zone is high on Ukraine's wish list.  However they have to meet certain requirements not necessarily related to visas but certainly to civilized behaviour.  One of them was legislation preventing workplace discrimination on the grounds of sexual preference (or race and colour).  When it came to the first vote in the Rada, deputies were conspicuous by their absence and it received about half the votes necessary.  Some of the speeches opposing it came right out of the dark ages which is kind of where Ukrainian culture is in so many respects.

Russia continues down its anti-Ukrainian path in more than the war in eastern Ukraine which is still ongoing, of course.  The Kremlin has determined to send back to Ukraine from Russia as many Ukrainians as possible just at the start of winter.  Only those fleeing the war n eastern Ukraine are "exempt" but some are afraid to identify as refugees as they will she shipped east to Magadan and dumped in the middle of nowhere with no support.  Others are being told to go home as "the war is over".  So much for the claim of protecting Russian speakers.  Oh, I think young Ukrainians dodging military call-up are also exempt from being sent home but that may be changing too.

The head of the Ukrainian Library is under arrest for "running a library" which apparently had "extremist" material in it.  That is what libraries are supposed to do - house all relevant materials related to in this case Ukraine.  She also says some of the titles they "found" were planted.  And the Tretyakov Art Gallery has removed Ilya Repin's famous Zaporozhian Cossacks Write a Letter to the Turkish Sultan (wherein they essentially tell him to get stuffed).  Such ideas of Ukrainian independence are considered seditious these days, I guess, even in art galleries.

Turkey had its election last Sunday and Erdogan's party has its majority.  Not enough to alter the constitution to give Erdogan the executive powers he so desperately wants or even enough to take the changes to the people, both of which require more than a 50% plus 1 majority. It is unlikely it will make much difference to Erdogan who continues to abuse his figurehead position as president.  It is also likely that the crackdown on all opposition and the war against the Kurds will continue.

It looks more and more like the plane full of Russian tourists returning home that disintegrated in mid-air and crashed in the Sinai Peninsula last Saturday,  killing all on board was downed by a bomb. Security at Sharm el-Sheikh airport was pretty lax at the best of times apparently and for 20 GBP could be bypassed entirely.  It wasn't even necessarily a tourist that took the bomb on board.  It was more likely one of the baggage handlers.  This will not do the Egyptian tourist industry much good which was likely the intent as much as it may have been aimed at Russia as well.  Kill two birds with one stone so to speak.

THIS just came in from WaPo.  Both Russia and Egypt have a vested interest in denying that is was a terrorist attack.  However as the article notes, both are more adept at lying than investigating.  And the trolls are all over it in the comment section

Here is a modern version of Victor Vasnetsov's "The Knight at the Crossroads". The painting reflects a scene from Russian folk tales, where the hero arrives at a crossroads and finds a inscription in a stone that says “If you go left, you will lose your horse. If you go right, you will lose your head”

Friday, October 30, 2015

More Odds and Ends

It is hard to write anything intelligent when your head feels like it is stuffed with sawdust.  My head may BE stuffed with sawdust and my writings may NOT be intelligent at the best of times but as long as it doesn't FEEL like it, I am good to go. I walked the dogs on a cold rainy day, dressed too warm got all sweated up and wet with rain.  Instead of changing into a dry shirt when I got home I fell asleep.  When I woke up my sinuses were plugged solid.  Some days I should not be allowed out without a note from my wife.

I can breath now but it is moving into my chest.  One more week to go.  All cures for the common cold work in about two weeks. Treating the symptoms only goes so far.  Oxymetazoline works great as a nasal decongestant BUT if you use it to often the sinus tissues develop a rebound effect.  So I can't use it anymore.  And I used the last of my extra-strength  Fisherman's Friend cough lozenges which I haven't found here yet.  My son is mailing me a half dozen packages.  I trust I will no longer need them when they arrive but they will be here for next time.

Winter seems to have arrived for keeps now with night temps well below freezing and day temps barely reaching +5.  The dogs' water dish freezes up at night so I take them a pail of hot water which cools off when it hits their dish and stays liquid for the day at least. The cats are still going out at night, though Tigritsa waits until 3:00 am.  She is a wuss.  Scared us the other day; lethargic, wouldn't eat anything etc.  Went out at her usual time and we saw her next morning eating a mouse.  She prefers to hunt her own food, I guess.

It is hard enough to concentrate when I can breathe so I did no useful work but watched a few old movies instead.  I now prefer Charles Bronson's westerns to John Wayne's.  In 1970 (?) Richard Chamberlain made a couple of Allan Qartermain movies based on Ryder Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines.  Atrocious doesn't begin to describe how bad they were.  Indiana Jones movies were far better.

Since Oct 21 was the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalger, I watched "That Hamilton Woman". The 1941 movie was apparently Churchill's favourite during the war and he watched it several times.  The parallels are striking.  England standing alone against a dictator who has conquered all of Europe and preparing to invade England.  Emma, Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson's mistress, was quite a character.  A recent biography "England's Mistress" is on my to-read list. The movie ends happily for England but not of course for Nelson and certainly not for Lady Hamilton who died in abject poverty in Calais in 1815.

Last Friday evening I went to "English Club" as a special guest, a native English speaker.  Two groups met at 5:30 and at 7:00.  About 10 or 15 in each group.  Ages from 13 to 50+.  The two organizers were fluent in English.  The participants had all studied English and English Club gave them practice opportunity to speak and listen.  The first group spoke about things they feared and things that inspired them; the second group about hobbies.  They would ask me questions and I would answer them as best I could.  No interest in cows but lots in history so I could still pontificate. Two of the girls were in Masha's class and were so excited when they figured out who I was.  They immediately called Masha after Club.  Another girl was Tanya's great-niece.  We had met a couple years before but I didn't recognize her.  She had grown up a fair bit.  I will got back once in a while to future meetings.

Turkey has a national election on Sunday, five months after the last one that did not give Erdogan his majority. Lots of violence between PKK (Kurds) and Turkish state which may or may not backfire on Erdogan.  I do not see a peaceful resolution to this at all.  If Erdogan fixes the results all hell will break loose as people will take to the streets en masse.  If he does not get his majority again and the moderate party gets over the 10% threshold, I see things getting really ugly for the moderates.  Their leader has already had death threats. Erdogan could easily tar them all as terrorists.  We'll see.

Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Remembering the Farm: "...than cross ties on a railway"

Diane Henders is writing a series of scary blogs in preparation for Halloween.  Her last one (here) is about adrenaline rushes and asked if any of her readers had some to share. By the way she also writes very good spy stories. There are 10 books in her Never Say Spy series and more on the way.  She is "too busy" to chase either a movie or TV series but she definitely needs to do one or the other.

My story occurred when I was in highschool, possibly 1963 or 1964.  It was a serious, as Lord Nelson is reputed to have said "Bring me my red cape AND my brown trousers" kind of scary.

The CNR mainline between Edmonton and Winnipeg runs close to our farm.  This particular summer the railway replaced all the cross ties along our section of line and piled the old ones in the ditch along the right of way.  Old railway ties are always handy on a farm for everything from blocking to fence posts, so dad contacted the railway about getting some.  They were likely free as any not picked up had to be gathered and burned.

About a mile and a half from our place we could easily access a section of ditch along the railway from a level crossing on an old municipal road allowance.  After school one October day, Dad and my brother took the '49 Merc 1 ton truck and I drove the tractor, a Cockshutt 40, Perkins Diesel, no cab and a loud muffler.  The plan was to fill the truck with the old ties down in the ditch and then use the tractor with a long cable to pull it back up onto the road.

Overview of the area
We loaded the truck in about 45 to 60 minutes.  No trains went by during that time. When we went to pull the truck up on the road, dad drove the truck and I drove the tractor.  I suggested to dad that the easiest grade to pull from would take me across the track. (There had been no trains therefore there would be no trains). Dad said no, the blind curve to the west would prevent us from seeing anything coming until it was too late and I should pull parallel with the tracks.  So I did that.

Enlargement of the circled area
I had just pulled the truck up onto the road and was running east, parallel to and about 6 feet from the tracks, when a freight from the west went past my ear at 100 kmph.