Sunday, September 13, 2015

Business as Usual in Ukraine...or not

Someone chided me for not updating the Ukraine situation in a long while.  I guess it is time.  There is a great deal of change or none depending on what you look at. There are likely more than 50 articles per day across my Facebook news feed or my email.  some days I read them all and some days I can't face any of them.

Minsk II calls for "special recognition" in a new Ukrainian constitution of the Russian controlled Donbas.  This is Russia's attempt to bury the Donbas inside Ukraine in such a way that it will render the country ungovernable and totally under Kremlin control.

Europe and America continue to put a great deal of stress on Ukraine unilaterally living up the the Minsk agreement whether or not Russia does.  Russia, of course, says it has no responsibility to the Minsk agreements as it is not involved in the conflict.

A new constitution has gone to the Rada for first or second reading (I forget which).  It does devolve certain powers to the Oblasts but falls far short of making Ukraine a Federation as Russia demands.  It contains a clause that says to the effect that special status for the Donbas will be determined in a separate law.

Proroshenko says there will be no further discussion of special recognition until all foreign troops and equipment is removed from Donbas and Ukraine is back in full control of the Russian border.  Like that will happen.  Ukraine's best bet is a frozen conflict that leaves Russia holding the bag.  Whether Putin will allow that to happen or not is open to debate.

Putin has opened another front in his hybrid war with the west, this time in Syria.  Russia has a naval base in Syria and has openly supported Assad against all comers.  Russia is moving troops, planes and ground equipment into Syria and offering to "cooperate" with America against ISIS.  This puts America in the awkward position of either refusing help against ISIS or helping Russia to support Assad, whom America has been opposing through support of certain rebel groups.  There is also suspicion Putin will try to trade this for a freer hand against Ukraine.

At the same time the ceasefire is suddenly holding.  There have been no shelling, no rocket attacks, no infiltration of rebel troops, no one killed or injured for the first time in 18 months.  This is likely part of Putin's strategy to sow more discord in Europe relating to non-renewal of sanctions. The Russian economy is in the tank and Putin needs to get at least EU sanctions lifted so he can in return lift the bans on imported food, medicine and whatever.  The Kremlin's response to Western sanctions has always been to make the Russian people suffer.

The new constitution is not without its detractors.  Three far right nationalist parties, led by Svoboda, held a mass rally in front of the Rada during the reading and voting demanding that all devolution of powers away from the central government be removed.  A grenade was thrown and three National Guard were killed and several people injured. Russian agents may have been involved in stirring the pot as Russia uses both the far right and left to its advantage.

Adding insult to injury, I just saw this today.  Russia has of course been hauling coal across the line from Donbas to Russia since day 1 and their "humanitarian convoys" have loaded high tech equipment from Donbas factories for their backhaul.  Now armed Russians have entered Donbas with combine harvesters and threshed the sunflower crop, hauling it back to Russia, leaving the farmers with bare fields.

More some other day.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Remembering the Farm - Cows III

Milk is not my favourite beverage.  In terms of volume consumption, coffee ranks first, tea second, water and juice third. Milk is about 257th. I enjoy chocolate milk or on corn flakes and other cereals and any kind of dairy product that doesn't taste like milk.  Natural yogurt is out as is buttermilk or kefir. I love cheese of all kinds, ice cream and milk shakes, flavoured yogurt.  Anything but liquid drinkable milk. I have drunk kumis (fermented mare's milk, bluish, 6% alcohol) and shubat (fermented camel's milk, thick, no alcohol) just for bragging rights.

It is a learned behaviour going back to the days of my youth when milk was forced upon me. If you put a bag of mothballs up to a cow's nose, the taste and smell will be in the milk within minutes. Our milk cows feasted on stink weed laden stubble fields in spring and fall, crested wheat grass pasture in summer and absorbed the flavours of 10 to 15 animals, bovine and equine, kept in a small barn during the winter.

Until my dad got a job driving school bus in the fall of 1960, we depended on the cream check for cash money.  Not sure how many cows dad milked but likely 5 or 6 maximum.  Our cream separator was driven by a small electric motor after 1953 when we got power. Skim milk went to the calves who were stunted for lack of energy.  Cream was kept cool down the well in long slim cans hung from chains.  Not sure how often we shipped.  We had two five gallon cream cans and one three gallon.

Our separator was rigged with a pulley and electric motor after 1953

Typical cream can, though some were painted around the top
The cream was taken to the railway station in Cavell and sent to the creamery in Biggar 40 miles away.  The empty cans came back two days later.  The cans were tagged with a cardboard tag fastened with thin silver wire. Tag wire served as the duct tape of its day as it was useful for fastening anything.

Mom would wash the separator, cream cans and milk pails and scald them with boiling water.  Milk was strained into the bowl on top of the separator through a cloth.  Especially in winter it "took the lumps out". Shelf life of unrefrigerated milk was about 15 minutes.  If I drank today what I drank as a kid, I would be so sick as I would have no tolerance for the bacteria. There are other dangers as well.  Two of my friends spent a year in a sanitorium with TB from drinking unpasteurized milk.  My late wife did not get TB but her blood titre was so high that all the scratch tests for TB were positive and so it was X-rays all the way. To this day, I am fanatical about people drinking only homogenized milk.

Eventually I was old enough to milk cows, though Dad always did the morning milking. Unless a cow is an easy milker, a young kid with not enough strength in their hands to milk quickly and smoothly can ruin a good cow by making her hard to milk.  Some of our cows were killers to milk.  One cow, Jane was her name, part Jersey from her horns but quiet enough to milk in the yard untied, was so hard to milk.  I hated milking her and was glad when she was old enough to retire to hamburger and roasts.

Ollie tried to slip the ring on Leena's finger while she was milking.
 For 20 minutes he was engaged to Bessie the cow
Her teats* were a bit on the large size for small hands.  But she was apparently nothing like my grandfather's cow named Turnip Teats. Another cow I recall was called Brenda, after the neighbour's daughter from whom we bought her.  She was a good milker and easy to milk, (the cow, not the daughter).  Other cows were Ramona and Beauty, purebred Red Poll.  Good cows but a bit spooky.  More than one bucket got kicked over.  Worse case scenario, a cow would get her foot in the bucket, necessitating a trip back to the house for a clean pail.

Once the school bus checks started coming we were down to one cow milked for home use.  She would be milked at night for just how much we needed and then her calf turned loose until next morning.  I have always been in favour of letting calves do the milking

*Note: it is teats, not tits.  A tit is a bird. Though I suppose that if someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture and not think of The Lone Ranger is a dedicated music lover, then a dedicated bird watcher would be someone who can see a pair of Great Tits and not think of Dolly Parton.

Cows I and Cows II are here and here.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Remembering the Farm - Beets, turnips and jacknives

We dug the last of the beets today, to go down in the root cellar.  Tanya and I were sitting in +33C shade cutting the tops off when I remembered an incident from my distant past.

At age 10, I had saved enough money to buy a Stockman's knife.  A real knife, not one of those $2 toys that some of the boys took to school, so dull they wouldn't cut butter.  It was $10 at the Leipzig Coop and I had been watching it for months hoping it would still be there when I had the money.

Early October I bought the knife and proudly carried it home in my jeans pocket.  It was very sharp and Dad warned me to be careful.  If I cut myself the knife would sit on the window over the sink for a month to remind me to be more careful.

The day I brought it home we dug the turnips. I was topping turnips with my new knife and, of course, sliced my thumb. Dad was so upset.  He put my knife up on the window as he said he would but because I had been working, not fooling around, all I had to do was ask any time I wanted to use it.

Over time, the point broke off the long blade (don't ask) and the bone handles broke but unless someone threw it out it should still be in a treasure box someplace.

This is exactly what my knife looked like