Monday, December 12, 2016

Corruption in Ukraine

Sorry this isn't much of a post.  We both have the flu at our house and publishing anything takes a great deal of effort.  The text is from the news feed, followed by the article.

Exiled lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko on Dec. 6 released the first of a series of audio recordings he claims prove President Petro Poroshenko and his inner circle are corrupt.
The recording was released by the online newspaper. In the recording, Onyshchenko and lawmaker Oles Dovhiy, whom the fugitive member of parliament described as representing Poroshenko, discuss the possibility of Onyshchenko, a suspect in an embezzlement case, reaching a plea bargain with Ukrainian authorities. Onyshchenko told that the plea bargain would be reached in exchange for him writing off Poroshenko’s alleged $50 million debt to him.
Onyshchenko has said he had been an intermediary in Poroshenko’s alleged efforts to bribe lawmakers and to organize a smear campaign against ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk before Yatsenyuk quit in April. He has also accused Poroshenko of extorting money from businesses and politicians, raiding companies and trying to monopolize the media by negotiating to buy television channels.

A lot of what Onyshchenko is saying is not new and has been said by many more credible sources, including ex-prosecutor generals Davit Sakvarelidze and Vitaly Kasko, lawmakers Sergii Leshchenko and Viktor Chumak and others.
His detailed portrayal of the brazen way in which members of parliament are bribed and state companies are fleeced is astonishing. What makes it more credible is that these practices were well-known before, and that Onyshchenko effectively admitted to taking part in these corruption schemes.

In fact, it is not the critics and accusers who are destabilizing Ukraine and lending Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a hand. It is Ukraine’s amazingly thievish and out-of-touch bureaucracy, which is slowly killing the nation by stealing whatever crumbs are left of the country’s wealth and thus giving fodder to criticism.
If true, Onyshchenko’s accusations could be the beginning of Poroshenko’s downfall, similar to those of his predecessors Leonid Kuchma in the wake of the scandal over the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze and Viktor Yanukovych following his decision to drop an association deal with the European Union.

Oleksandr Onyshchenko, a fugitive lawmaker from the People’s Will faction, has accused President Petro Poroshenko and his inner circle of massive corruption and released what he says is evidence to back his claims.
Though the vast scale of Ukrainian corruption was common knowledge, Onyshchenko’s sweeping allegations add minute detail to the overall picture and specify the exact amounts allegedly paid by the president to bribe lawmakers, as well as those allegedly extorted from state companies by Poroshenko and his right-hand man, lawmaker Ihor Kononenko.
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine has opened a criminal case to investigate Onyshchenko’s claims, while some lawmakers have called for the creation of a special commission. Poroshenko’s critics argue that the scandal could potentially lead to his impeachment and have compared it to the scandal around tapes allegedly implicating then-President Leonid Kuchma in the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000

Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Bureau obtains evidence as to ownership of the Parliamentarian Segey Faermark in Ukrainian subsidiary of Belgian giant Jan De Nul

Friday, December 2, 2016

How advocacy groups work

My nephew sent me a link to this article a week ago.  Took me a week to read it and I don't pretend to understand much of it.  The following section did explain a great deal to me that I had always suspected but could never put into words as well as this.

Keystone XL was less central than abortion, but still “a top-tier election issue for the 2014 elections for the United States Senate, House of Representatives, governors in states and territories, and many state and local positions as well.”8 In case you missed the fuss, Keystone XL was a proposed oil pipeline. The environmental lobby, and the American left in general, devoted extraordinary efforts to preventing its construction. As far as I can tell, the possible environmental consequences were minor; there are many more important environmental policy questions which the movement has fought much less hard. Although notionally environmentalists’ concern was possible spills, everyone understood that Keystone was symbolically about global warming, and therefore really about global warming—even though everyone also understands that in practice it would have had almost no effect. Other policies affect carbon emissions far more, and might have been altered with far less effort. So why did the left choose to draw a line in the sand at Keystone XL?
In “The toxoplasma of rage,” Alexander suggests an explanation.9Advocacy groups deliberately choose bad examples because those generate the most controversy. The one they promote is obviously wrong, so the Tweedledum side objects loudly. However, the general principle is considered correct by everyone on the Tweedledee side, so they feel they have to defend it. Their specific arguments are perforce lousy—even if the principle is right—so Tweedledum senses blood in the water and closes in for the kill. But the underlying, broader issue seems critical, so Tweedledee will defend the unconvincing symbolic example to the death. The brutality of the ensuing battle generates huge publicity for the cause. (And also, to be cynical, donations to the advocacy organization, and advertising revenue for the media that cover it and fan the flames.)
If you want to signal how strongly you believe in taking victims seriously, you talk up the least credible case you can find. A rape that obviously happened? Shove it in people’s face and they’ll admit it’s an outrage, but they’re not going to talk about it much. There are a zillion outrages every day. A rape allegation will only spread if it’s dubious enough to split people in half along lines corresponding to identity politics. People start screaming at each other about how they’re misogynist or misandrist or whatever, and your Facebook feed gets hundreds of comments in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS about how my ingroup is being persecuted by your ingroup.10
A commenter on a post related to the Dakota Pipeline asked how he could become a professional protester, having done it voluntarily for years.  My response was this: You need to put yourself in a position where you can profit by your activism. Neil Young, Leonardo di Caprio, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth May and Niki Ashton come to mind. Or start your own NGO, find something highly divisive to be against that you are unlikely to have any real impact on, enlist the help of people like the above named and the money will start flowing in. You can even partner with other anti-everything NGOs to get name recognition. 

Of course, as a 'true believer' it went right over his head, so I am sure he will always be a useful tool of whatever NGO or other organization has figured out not only how the system works but how to work the system.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Incoherent Ramblings

Today I have nothing intelligent to say and will write several paragraphs to prove it.

My news feed is filled with stories of America's descent into the abyss, Russia's intrusion into the elections of European countries as France and now Italy seem poised to move to the right if not the far right, and Ukraine's refusal to deal with corruption at the highest levels. Fortunately there are also stories of kittens and puppies and lions and tigers and bears (oh my). And memes of atrocious puns.

My daughter and a friend are coming from London for Christmas so Tanya is cleaning the house from top to bottom.  Halloween being over, it was OK to remove the, uh, decorative cobwebs from the ceiling and corners.  Tanya and I both are not fond of spiders (see also Winston Smith and rats).  She was dusting away and I yelled "Паук! Паук!" (spider, spider).  She jumped and then told me "Идите в баню". (Get to the Sauna which is polite for Go to Hell).

Her niece Sveta and daughter-in-law Lina have been press ganged into helping.  I felt guilty about the amount of help those two girls have given us over the past couple of years but last fall we gave them a 14 day all inclusive package in Turkey.  A great many firsts for the girls.  Sometimes it is more fun watching the wonderment of others enjoying themselves than going ourselves. At the same time, Tanya's son Andrei and family were in Turkey for the first time and we got daily, sometimes hourly updates from both.

Ukraine has no flu vaccine this year so it is a real worry if kids get sick.  Dasha had just recovered when Masha got sick with a high fever.  She went to Baba Natasha's as sort of quarantine. She is getting better.  Yesterday about 9:00 am Tanya left for town to take Masha some pumpkin muffins and never came home.  She phoned me about 4:00 pm to let me know she would be home in 5 minutes. The car was filled with packages.  Lina had phoned and asked if she wanted to go shopping in Krivii Rih.  What a dumb question that was.  I had no idea where Tanya had been and she asked "Weren't you worried about me?" "No.  When you are on the loose it is other people I worry about".

Tanya plants her garden until she gets tired and then plants the rest to pumpkins to fill in space.  Every year we have wheelbarrows of pumpkins most of which get chucked out by spring. Not this year. Tanya got a recipe for pumpkin muffins and has been churning them out by the dozens.  There is always a bowl full on the table.  I ate the last one for breakfast and there are more in the oven as I write. Our black cat, Vovo, even likes them and stole a couple from the dish one night.

My thermostat is going in my old age.  At night when I go to bed, I am thoroughly chilled and it takes me forever to warm up.  Then I warm up and suddenly am too hot so I roll the blanket to the centre of the bed and sleep the rest of the night with just the sheet.  The other night I was frantically throwing off the blanket and Tanya mumbles, out of a sound sleep, "Menopause?"

Runkeeper makes walking more enjoyable because it has statistics and charts and stuff like that. So I walk two or three days then give my knees and hips a break for a day and continue on. The dogs are quite happy with this arrangement. I vary my routes so they have new places to sniff periodically.

Dasha, at three and a half, does what Dasha wants.  She was talking to Baba Tanya on Skype the other day and her mother wanted her to eat something. "I don't want to eat". Baba Tanya told her she needed to eat because her mother had made food for her.  "I SAID I don't want to eat". "But you must eat so you will be strong and healthy". "I'm not talking to you anymore" and she walked away.  Little wretch. Masha was quietly obstinate at that age.  Dasha is just obstinate.

A Legend-Dairy Pun

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving to my Friends in the USA

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends.  I suspect as extended families gather around the table, many families will be as divided as during and after the Civil War. Of which the events of this past month are merely an extension.  I do hope that they don't end up like one of the verses in this song which tells of family divides in the Emerald Isle.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Things I love, that make me happy

  1. Couples who have loved (or endured) each other for 60, 70, 80 years.
  2. People who can write that the 127,344th reason they love their spouse is that they brought home sushi . . . and a dead squirrel.
  3. Couples and friends who tease each other, gently, of course.
  4. Devastatingly witty put downs, especially when aimed at me (so no feelings are hurt) and especially when they come from my children.
  5. Baby goats.
  6. Babies laughing and small children shrieking with delight as they play.
  7. Wild animal families showing love for each other.
  8. Wild animals playing, especially the young.
  9. Animals of different species showing a bond of affection for each other.
  10. Bad jokes, dad jokes, terrible puns, inappropriate jokes.
  11. Reading to learn and to understand.
  12. Flowers, whether growing wild by the road, in Tanya's garden or in Butchart Gardens.
  13. Cows and calves in good grass.
  14. The smell of new mown hay and well made silage.
  15. Wild geese in giant Vee's in spring and fall.
  16. Meadowlarks (I miss Meadowlarks.)
  17. Coffee
  18. Woodworking
  19. Seeing parts of the world that others do not normally seek out
  20. Pictures of beautiful landscapes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Outsmarted and outgunned, the Dems strike out

If there ever was a day to write a Blues song beginning with "Woke up this morning. . ." today was the day. Every Liberal-Progressive pundit, professional and amateur, including myself, called the American election very wrong. On Monday, I asked a friend in DC if the Republican Party would reinvent itself or just continue to double down. I am still spitting out feathers and beaks today after that gaffe.

It has always seemed like the Republicans were going from disaster to disaster but with 20/20 hindsight, it was the Democrats who were barely hanging on while the Republicans set them up for complete destruction.  This election was about Religion (Hillary is Satan) and Race (Trump rally chant: We hate Muslims. We hate Blacks.  Time to take our country back).  Nixon's Southern Strategy  and Falwell's Moral Majority came to maturity and bore fruit.

Nixon was an old-time politician, followed a few years later by Reagan with HW as the power behind the throne.  Clinton gave the Republicans practice in being totally uncooperative and wasting government money on politically biased investigations.  Then came W with Cheney as the brains and power of the Presidency.

The Democrats' turn brought Obama to the plate.  In the lead up to the 2008 election, the Republicans began serious HRC bashing with the SCOTUS Citizens United decision in 2010 opening the floodgates to corporate cash in time for the mid-term elections.  The remake of the liberal Warren Court into a conservative Roberts Court was paying off.

The GOP ran McCain against Obama, a fair match until they added Sarah Palin as running mate.  This introduced to the American public the idea that any idiot could seek the highest office in the land and as Obama commented you could draw a straight line from Palin to Trump.

The Religious Right, supposedly being used by Republicans to gain votes was also busy using the Republican Party to position itself into power.  Republicans were also busy down-ballot getting control of as many states as possible which is what political parties do but in America state governments have has the added advantage of controlling voting in each state, including constituency boundaries, polling stations, ballots etc.

Republican wannabee presidential candidates got wilder and wilder into Right Wing Religion culminating with the unelectable Romney in 2012.  And the Religious Right kept pushing regressive laws at the state level, restricting abortion access, insisting on inserting religion (theirs only) into schools, etc.  Some of these laws were passed and some were then overturned by SCOTUS. They kept things stirred up and in front of the public.

In 2012 I said to one of my blog readers (in a private email I think) that the Republicans wanted Obama in for 8 years so they could obstruct everything he wanted to do and make America so bad people would vote for a Religious Right President in 2016 and that 2020 would likely be the last free election in America.  I had some of the details wrong.

In 2013, the Robert's Court watered down the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Immediately Red States began passing voter ID laws supposedly aimed at preventing voter fraud.  Voter Fraud being defined as Blacks, Latinos, Muslims, poor and students who might vote Democrat.  You know, people who should never have been given the vote in the first place.

Throw in Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, Isis, Muslims, Syrian Immigrants, Fox News, Breitbart and Alex Jones and you have a rather flammable mix. The GOP got smart this time.  the religious nutbars when down swinging in the primaries, leaving a man who is the antithesis of Christianity but who can stir the darkest most hateful tendencies in his followers.  He will Make America Great (White) Again. And by selling HRC as the Anti-Crist, Trump attracted teh religious crowd without getting religious.

The Religious Right hide their man behind Trump as VP.  Mike Pence will be Trump's HW and Cheney.  In fact Trump has already said he will leave the details of being POTUS to Pence.  This is a Dominionist's wet dream.  Republican's control the presidency, the house, the senate and the supreme court and the Religious Right is positioned to control them.

Every regressive, oppressive law the Religious Right ever dreamed of will now be passed and every inconvenient SCOTUS decision overturned.  Republican Jesus will have his theocracy. Voter suppression will reach depths not seen since Jim Crow. Republican control of the states will only increase and in 2020 and going forward Republicans will win every federal election because they control the voting.

2016 will be the last free and fair (such as it was) election in America in my lifetime and possibly in that of my children. America will resemble Russia even more than it does now.

Just call me one of Job's Comforters.

I'm so sorry, Sweetheart.  Just don't watch anymore.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Voting Day in America

Most of the world, including me, does not get to vote today in an election that affects all of us.  If Hillary can win, in spite of the Republicans best efforts to rig the vote, it says a great deal about where Americans are really at in their politics.  I can only imagine how it would be if all voters were registered automatically, felons could vote, polling booths were placed for the convenience of all voters and there were no electronic voting machines.

All the best, America, today and in the days ahead.  Please don't forget Ukraine.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Wherein I visit the Dentist

I am, as the saying goes, too pooped to whoop.  Besides the Cubs won, for which I am glad, not that I had anything vested in the outcome other than my habitual cheering for the underdogs.  Next year, I hope they both meet again and Cleveland takes it in 7.

I have been walking 5 km per day.  Average pace between 12 and 13 minutes per km. Tuesday was cold, wet, windy and miserable.  I averaged under 11:30.  Yesterday was cold, wet, windy, miserable and snowing.  I averaged under 11:15.  Today I did NOT want to walk but guilted myself as it was sunny and warm (well, OK, it was +8C).  I could hardly manage a good waddle and timed out at over 13 minutes per km.

My wind is getting better and I no longer have to stop to rest but at the end of an hour, I am beat. To finish my day, I had a dental appointment at 5:00 pm. I had not been to this dentist before.  The two other times, I went to a guy who drilled and filled in under 30 minutes but this time I wanted a thorough check up.

Tanya found a young guy, maybe 25-27 years, from Donetsk, one of the 'internally displaced', at the Medical Centre,  Profimed, where she and I doctor. His training is much more than just drill and fill and his equipment is better than my dentist in Regina had 10 years ago. Plus his dental assistant was a drop-dead gorgeous blonde.  Young enough to be my granddaughter of course but still takes one's mind off the pain.

Come to think of it all the assistants in Profimed are attractive blondes but I digress.

Cleaned and polished, took X-rays and in general knocked about until he located all my problem teeth.  One bad one.  I do not know the Russian word for Root Canal and am terrified to ask but my next visit on Wednesday is for 90 minutes and then I have two more after that.

Maybe tomorrow I can write the blog I have been mentally working on for two weeks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Pictures along my dog-walking route

Walking the dogs became more fun when I downloaded the Runkeeper app for my Samsung mobile phone.  It is a combination GPS mapping and timer with a few odds and ends built in.  So I have been experimenting with different versions of routes that I take the two dogs.

A friend from Saskatoon uses this app and posts her distance and time on Facebook.  I liked that idea because if you post it once, you have made your brag and are stuck with putting your money where your mouth is every day or lose face. If you don't walk, you better have an excuse.  My friend is today attending her family's fall calf sale at their local auction market.  Mostly to see her grandkids but she doesn't have to walk today.

In my case the dogs need the outing and so do I.  My knees and hips are not getting any less sore but at least I don't sound too much like the Little Engine That Could going up a rise.

The Runkeeper app makes a map of every trip so today I tried to illustrate it with photos at most corners.  You can follow along with the map below.  All the photos are numbered and the numbers on the map correspond to where they were taken. They are shot facing the direction of travel.

Now you know what my neighbourhood looks like.

Friday, October 21, 2016

This Child Here: Olya

Lifted from Dr Robert Gamble's public email. Read the story Train to Vinnytsia, link below, about his trip to bring her back safely after she ran away.

This girl on the left is Olya. She was ten or eleven in that picture. The next image is her at thirteen.

That's when she left the shelter called The Way Home where she was staying in Odessa, Ukraine and disappeared along with another girl and a boy.  That was 2007.  A month passed, then I remember an all night train ride to a city called Vinnytsia and an early morning bus ride to remote village half an hour away, where we found her in a cabin with less room inside than your normal living room.  The kids came back with us.

This third picture was given to me on my last trip to Ukraine. It is her today, eight years later.

The train to Vinnetsia was a remarkable moment in my ten years of directing the work of This Child Here in Ukraine. Seeing this photo reminded me how the right kind of love and attention can help youth and children grow with grace into adulthood. Without the effort we put forth, you might be looking at a very different face.  
Olya's face is so hopeful and full of joy.
Robert Gamble

If you want the story, it's an 8 min read, click on  Train To Vinnytsia  on

Dr. Robert Gamble,

cell phone  828 318 2149
Executive Director of This Child Here a 501c3 nonprofit serving vulnerable youth and children in Ukraine.
If you would like to THINK ABOUT GIVING,  Click Here; or to read more about us go to:  
see also: 
(you may need to copy and paste the link)

Please send donations to:
This Child Here
245 Seaview Ave.
Daytona Beach, Fl  32118

My Mobile phone when  in Ukraine:  +380638229070

We do not Believe in
Ourselves until someone
Reveals that deep inside us
Something is valuable,
Worth listening to, worthy
Of our touch, sacred to our touch.
Once we believe in ourselves we can
Risk curiosity, wonder, Spontaneous
Delight, or any experience that reveals
The human spirit.
                                   e.e. cummings

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Remembering the Farm: Tractors of my Youth

Dad farmed with horses until 1950 when he bought his first tractor, a Massey Harris 33. The dealer wanted $600 for the used tractor and the bank would loan 2/3.  So the dealer wrote out a bill for $900, showed dad as having paid $300 and the bank coughed up the $600.  The pretty much describes my dad's dealing with banks for the next 50 years.

My brother and I helping Dad feed the cattle with the MH 33. c 1951
The tractor was rated at 28 hp.  It had a pulley for belt driven stationary equipment such as a saw or grain chopper.  It had a 540 rpm PTO but it was not "live", which is to say when you stepped on the clutch whatever machine (eg swather or combine) it was driving also stopped operating.  This was not good when harvesting as you could easily plug the combine if you were not fast enough getting the tractor out of gear and releasing the clutch. It did not have hydraulics of any kind. That didn't matter much as we had no equipment at that time that needed it.

Dad traded it after a couple of years for an Oliver 77.  It had 37 hp and live 540 rpm PTO.  But no hydraulics. Dad bought a Char-Lynn hydraulic pump which was driven by the PTO and made life much easier as he bought a 12' deep tillage cultivator and a 12' discer both of which were equipped with hydraulic lift.  The 12' swather and Massey Harris Clipper combine remained manual lift as they needed the PTO to drive them.

Oliver 88
In the late 1950s Dad traded the Oliver 77 for an Oliver 88. It was rated at 46 hp, live 540 rpm PTO and built-in hydraulics.  The built-in hydraulics meant Dad could buy a Du-Al front end loader in 1958 which lasted the rest of his farming life. It was a great investment for our farm. The Oliver 88 was the tractor I learned on as a 12 year old boy, running the deep tillage cultivator, 21' double disc or harrows as well as the swather in the fall.  The swather was still lever lift and it took all my strength to move it.

Then in the early 1960s Dad got a Cockshutt 40 Perkins Diesel rated at 55 hp.  This had power enough that we could move up to a 15' discer and 15' deep tillage cultivator.  The front end loader fit the new tractor with a little work and remained there for the next 45 years. This was the tractor I spent my highschool years on: seeding, working summerfallow, combining.  It was expected that boys would miss at least a week of school in spring and again in fall.

None of these tractors had cabs.  You worked in the heat or the cold and the ever present dust and the noise.  To this day, I blame the tractor for some of my hearing loss and my father's also. Open tractors had some disadvantages.  I had stopped to grease the equipment one day and our dog, who always tagged along, managed to flush a skunk who proceeded to flush him.  He was in agony, having taken the load of spray directly into his face.  He came running to me for sympathy.  I am standing on the tractor seat hoping he can't jump or climb up.  Eventually he gave up but he was mad.  With nothing to lose, he went back after the skunk and finished him off.  Took a while for him to smell normal again but he survived and so did I.

Picking rocks, Dad on the Cockshutt tractor, me doing the picking, 
With small equipment came long hours.  By the time I was in highschool, Dad farmed 7 quarters, 4.5 cultivated and 2.5 in native pasture.  Summerfallow made up at least 25% of the cultivated acres and required cultivation several times in the year, plus preworking land for seeding.  Cultivating was boring but enjoyable. Your GPS was a distant fence post and all you had to do was keep it straight with minimum overlap.  You could sing at the top of your lungs or what I enjoyed more was simply thinking about stuff.  I never minded the sound of my own thoughts and don't to this day.

Many the lunch or supper was eaten either in the truck or on the tractor.  Mom would pack food and a thermos of coffee in a knapsack (we didn't have backpacks in those days) and you headed out after breakfast or after school.  In cold weather you put on numerous layers and last of all the ubiquitous one piece coveralls.  When lunch was a quart sealer of home made pork and beans, the coveralls which were airtight except at the collar were a disadvantage.

Dad had more tractors after that but these were the ones I remember from when I was growing up.

Illustration of how a Power Take Off (PTO) transfers power from the tractor engine
 to the implement.  Early PTOs were 540 rpm, modern ones are 1000 rpm

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Where People Live

I am over-Trumped, over the Hill-ary and cannot read one more article on Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin or Petro Poroshenko.  So here is a trivia blog of interesting stuff. In pictures.

50% of Americans live in the blue counties

50% of Canadians live in the red census districts. Montreal and Quebec city are hard to see

Most Canadians live South of 49; most Europeans North 
Half the world's population live in the yellow areas and dots

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Ozersk City 40: Russia’s Secret, Closed and Contaminated City

Those in paradise were given a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness. There was no third alternative.” (From the dystopian novel We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin, 1924)

Russia has announced that they are cancelling a more or less mothballed nuclear agreement with USA to convert weapons grade Plutonium into reactor fuel unless certain conditions are met.
·         Roll back North Atlantic Treaty Organization infrastructure and reduce NATO personnel to September 2000 levels;
·         Repeal the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials involved in human rights violations;
·         Repeal all U.S. sanctions against Russian individuals and businesses;
·         Compensate Russians for damages incurred by U.S. sanctions and by Russia’s “forced countersanctions”;
·         Present a “clear plan of irreversible destruction” of U.S. surplus plutonium.

Putin should have also asked for Alaska to be returned and a pony.

The majority of Russia’s weapons grade Plutonium is currently stored in a city on the east side of the Ural Mountains, between Chelyabinsk and Yekaterinburg. Ozersk, code named City 40 and appearing on no maps until 1991, was a top-secret closed city built by the Soviets in 1946 to house the scientists, workers and all related to develop nuclear weapons.  The huge Mayak nuclear plant required 15,000 people which along with families and everything needed to create a totally closed living environment meant a city of 100,000 people.

There was an article in The Guardian back in July which caught my eye and I saved the link.  Suddenly this city might be important to know about.  There is a personal side to this also as I learned two days ago that Tanya’s cousin, her children and grandchildren live in Ozersk.  I had always thought they lived in Chelyabinsk.  Even when Tanya’s cousin, daughter in law and granddaughter visited here a few years ago, nothing was ever said.  The habit of secrecy is never really shed, I guess.
For the first eight years, those who were relocated to City 40 simply disappeared.  They were not allowed to communicated with anyone outside the city.  Their records were erased. They did not exist. Even after the rules were relaxed, they were constantly spied on and anyone even slightly suspect was driven away in a Black Maria.  The city is still closed to outsiders, however citizens are free to leave with permission, even permanently, if they wish.  Few wish to leave.

In exchange for their freedom, Ozersk provided private apartments, plenty of food, including delicacies unheard of the Soviet times – caviar, chocolate, bananas – good schools and health care, entertainment and cultural events, churches, restaurants, grocery stores, all beside a beautiful lake surrounded by forest.  All this while the rest of the citizens suffered in abject poverty. Even today, with tree lined streets, lovely flower beds and beautiful lakes, it resembles an idyllic 1950s American town.

But the inhabitants know the truth, even though for years it was kept secret even from them.  The town is dangerously highly contaminated.  As the Soviet Union demanded more and more nuclear bombs faster and faster, all pretense of safety regulations was swept aside.  From the late 1940s on, people began to die from radiation exposure. Radioactive waste dumped into the river (the equivalent of 4 Chernobyls) sickened and killed people downstream.  Lake Irtyash contains the equivalent of 2.5 Chernobyls and is dubbed the Lake of Death or Lake Plutonium.

Early statistics are hard to come by thanks to the government's continued insistence against any elevated dangers despite all evidence to the contrary. Doctors were forbidden to mention that patients in the area had radiation poisoning; instead it was called "special disease" and the infected patients were swept under the rug, often without receiving the necessary treatments. A recent study showed that Ozersk residents are more than twice as likely to develop lung, liver and skeletal cancers and astronomically more likely to develop chronic radiation syndrome. It is so accepted that to die of radiation-related illnesses is seen as a badge of honor; a sacrifice made for the good of the people.

Ozersk was the site of the third worst nuclear disaster in history, after Fukushima and Chernobyl. Known as the Kyshtym Disaster, on Sept 29, 1957, a cooling tank overheated and the resulting explosion turned the sky purple and created a huge cloud of radioactive dust which the wind spread to the North East.  Only 11,000 people were evacuated, their villages, crops and livestock destroyed out of 250,000 people in the path of the cloud. No explanations were given but it was not difficult to figure out.

The disaster was kept secret from the world until 1976 when dissident scientist, Dr. Zhores Medvedev, told the world.  The CIA knew about it from almost the beginning but helped cover it up, including downplaying Dr. Medvedev’s disclosures.  The CIA did not want anyone asking embarrassing questions about the Hanford Site in Washington state on which Ozersk had been modeled and a train wreck in its own right.

A very recent documentary, City 40, is available on Netflix, which unfortunately I do not have.  The trailer is below, as is an interview with producer and director, Samira Goetschel. With the help of a “fixer” she entered the city undercover, interviewing and filming the people because she wanted to know about them, about how they thought and why they stayed. Even though Ozersk no longer manufactures Plutonium, but rather things like Cobalt 60, Iridium 192 and Carbon 14, the vow of secrecy still holds and some of the people Ms. Goetschel interviewed have had to flee the country to avoid arrest.

What struck me the hardest about the interview was her statement that Ozersk was a microcosm of all Russia.  The double fence is not to keep them in but the rest of the world out.  It is the only life they have ever known and they fear the outside. From the beginning the residents were indoctrinated with “You are the chosen ones; the saviours of the earth; everyone outside is an enemy”.

It is difficult for outsiders to comprehend how the residents of City 40 can continue to live in a place they know is slowly killing them. But a local journalist says they are not concerned with what the outside world thinks of them and their way of life. He says the majority of his fellow residents, like him, just wish to be left alone to live in “peace”. They are happy in their fenced-in paradise.


Monday, October 3, 2016

Behind Vladimir Putin’s Trouble With the Truth

From yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

1. Mr. Putin has a lot to hide. Sure, he could have fessed up about the MH17 shoot-down (as the U.S. did after shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in 1988—eventually paying compensation, expressing regret, and moving on). But doing so would have made it harder to keep lying about the Russian military presence in eastern Ukraine—and Mr. Putin finds it harder to admit the truth about that. His lies are inter-linked.
2. Mr. Putin thinks we all lie as much as he does. His intelligence background clearly disposes him to suspect the truthfulness of others. That’s just the way the world works, he seems to think—and only suckers fail to see it. (Hence the now-widespread analysis of Russian propaganda: that its goal is not to show that Moscow tells the truth; only that nobody does.)
3. Mr. Putin recycles lies that his own people tell him. Anyone who has dealt with senior Russian officials, up to and including the Russian president, has heard them make claims, usually about the secret workings of U.S. policy, that are so bizarre and preposterous you would think no normal person could believe them. This problem—unquestioning acceptance of information circulated by intelligence services—exists everywhere, but it seems especially acute in the Russian system and makes defaming the U.S. all too easy.
4. Mr. Putin’s position depends on keeping the truth covered up. There’s no evidence, in my view, that he was directly involved in Russia’s most shocking murders of recent years, from the journalist Anna Politkovskaya in 2006 to opposition leader Boris Nemtsov in 2015. But Mr. Putin guards the system that covers up these crimes—a system so corrupt that it would be very hard to decide where to let the truth emerge without having everything unravel. Mr. Putin’s solution: Cover it all up.
These explanations paint an unattractive picture of Vladimir Putin as a political leader, but to my mind a final reason for his systematic lying is the most damning of all: Mr. Putin doesn’t see its costs.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle 1803-1805

Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle, 1803-1805Trafalgar: Countdown to Battle, 1803-1805 by Alan Schom
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warning, the first few chapters are like watching paint dry but if you stick to it, it is not a bad read.

Napoleon may have been a feared leader of armies on Continental Europe but when it came to the sea and the navy, he couldn't organize a drunken brawl at an Irish distillery. He was a control freak who had to make decisions on even the most minute details and changed his mind so frequently his subordinates were hard pressed to keep up.

His original plan, conceived in 1803, was to built sufficient transports to ferry 150,000 men to invade England and sufficient battleships to support them against the British Navy. The attempts to do this as described by the author are like a giant SNL skit except you can't make this stuff up. Part of the problem was lack of senior officers in the French navy many of whom had been disposed of during the Great Terror. They also had a desperate lack of experienced sailors.

French and Spanish battle ships are scattered up and down the Atlantic coast and along the French coast in the Mediterranean. Cornwallis kept them bottled up from the channel on down while Nelson kept them bottled up in the Mediterranean. Admiral Villeneuve, the original Captain Tuna, Chicken of the Sea, in charge of the Mediterranean fleet could find more excuses not to do anything than a Republican controlled Congress.

Napoleon had everything as ready as it was going to get for the invasion with transports and troops along the coast across from England. He ordered Villeneuve to sail from Toulon, give Nelson the slip, sail to the West Indies, drawing the British fleet after him. He was to raise Cain with British possessions there, deposit 12,000 French troops to help protect French possessions there and then sail back, collect the rest of the French fleet from Brest and proceed to Holland to launch the invasion.

He managed to get to the West Indies and back but failed in his mission there. Nelson chased him there and back. When Villeneuve got back to where his orders told him to turn north to Brest, he turned south to the safety of Cadiz where the Spanish fleet lay. Nelson bottled him up nicely, staying far enough away that the fleet could try to escape allowing Nelson to "annihilate them once and for all".

Villeneuve was going nowhere. They could not put to sea without refitting and revictualing. France was running out of money and Napoleon had already stiffed more suppliers than Donald Trump. It was cash on the barrel head or nothing. Eventually they manged to scrounge about 3 months worth but Villenuve was still finding excuses not to venture out.

All of a sudden one morning Villeneuve sat up in bed and said we are leaving NOW. He had got word that Napoleon had fired him and his replacement, whose ONLY recommendation was that he was not Villeneuve, was less than a day away. By this time half the fleet had no use for him and were reluctant to obey anything he said but they eventually all cleared the harbour, heading for the Straits of Gibraltar and Naples. Napoleon had given up on the invasion.

Nelson and his 27 ships had the Combined Fleet where he wanted it. When Villenueve saw there was no getting away, he turned his line of 33 ships and went into battle Oct 21st 1805 just off Cape Trafalgar. The battle is described in great and interesting detail in the book. No one could question the courage with which the French and Spanish fought but their lack of experience combined with English gunnery meant they didn't have a hope. They lost 23 ships while the British lost none, though they took an awful beating. (See also Wikipedia)

England was safe from threat of invasion for another 135 years. Nelson was dead which only added to his hero status while Cornwallis who played a much larger role than history gives him credit, is all but forgotten. Villenueve was returned to France by the British where shortly after he "committed suicide" Russian style by stabbing himself in the heart 6 times.

For those of you interested in the romantic side of Nelson, I suggest "That Hamilton Woman" the 1941 movie about the most famous mistress in British history.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

All The Good Names Were Taken: Missing the obvious

All The Good Names Were Taken: Missing the obvious

"What turned a person described by the neighbors as an "ordinary kid" into someone buying bomb components through Ebay was a whole lot of little incidents that eventually hit some trigger point. And it wasn't stuff happening in some Arab country -- it was what was happening in New Jersey. It was day after day, week after week, month after month of Islamaphobic neighbors calling in bullshit noise complaints, it was the city hassling his family's restaurant if it stayed open one minute too late but ignoring other restaurants in the same neighborhood doing the same thing, it was being repeatedly being accused of being a jihadi or called a raghead simply for looking Arab -- although Afghanis aren't Arabs, but most Americans are too dumb to know that."

An excellent and thought provoking post.  Please read it all.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Putin's United Russia wins Duma elections. Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!

It is unlikely that the Russian Duma elections held last Sunday got much attention. The world seems mesmerized by the American Gong Show, Brexit or not to Brexit or the flood of refugees into Europe driven by events in Syria.  However it is worth knowing about as it has implications for the future.

According to the Central Election Commission, United Russia received about 54% of the vote with an historic low turnout of 47.8%.  This gives the party 343 seats of 450, a 76% majority, capable of amending the constitution. Much to no one's surprise.  The fix was in which is why most voters stayed home.

There are several ways to determine if an election was fraudulent.  One is to compare actual voting with exit polls.  This could not be done in Russia as exit polls are unreliable.  Another is to count the actual number of voters who entered the polling station and compare that with the official number of votes caste.  In several polling stations where RL/RFE staff were able to count the voters entering, the number of ballots cast was double or more. Response? "Your clicker must have got stuck".

Levada Center, the only independent polling organization in Russia, found a few weeks before the election that support for United Russia was about 30%.  They were promptly declared a 'foreign agent'. Another polling firm found 44% support.  Both a far cry from the reported 54%.

The detailed results by polling station of the 96,000 polling stations are readily available on the CEC website.  Statisticians have been analyzing the data looking for anomalies and found them.

Figure 1
In free and fair elections, charting percent turnout by polling station creates a bell-shaped curve, with the center roughly corresponding with the average percent turnout. In Figure 1, Canada, Mexico, Sweden and Poland follow the bell curve.  Bulgaria and Ukraine show a blip close to the 100% mark, indicative of fraud by ballot stuffing.
Figure 2

Now look at past Russian elections in Figure 2. The left hand side of the curves look normal but the right hand side does strange things.  Like not falling away. Like showing blips at turnout percentages ending in 5 or 10. Like a number of polls with turnouts in and around the 100% mark. Funny how that works, isn't it? As Joseph Stalin said, "Those who cast the votes decide nothing. Those who count the votes decide everything."

Figure 3
This year's election followed the trend in Figure 2 only more so. Starts out normally and then goes wildly off.  When the votes are broken down by party, it seems in polling stations with high turnouts, United Russia got all the extra votes. Like 11 million out of 25 million extra votes, if one assumes the same patterns by party as in the normal part of the chart. The same pattern of spikes shows up at turnouts ending in 5 or 10.  How lazy can you get?

In one polling district, turnouts at 100 of the polling stations were 62.2%.  This was 'just coincidental' as actual turnouts ranged from 62.16 to 62.24.  Right.

For a video of examples of ballot stuffing, go here:

For a giant sized picture of Figure 3, go here:

Paul Gregory, writing for Forbes, explains how the Kremlin controlled the election, keeping turnout as low as possible so that ballot stuffing would be less noticeable:

The rest of my sources are here: