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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