Thursday, March 30, 2017

Some Philosophy

Back from a 10 day trip to northeastern Ukraine, about 30 km from Belorussian and Russian borders.  Now trying to catch up on reports and such. A friend sent me these via email so I thought they were worth passing on.
  • Jean Kerr... The only reason they say " Women and children first" is to test the strength of the lifeboats. 
  •  Prince Philip... When a man opens a car door for his wife, it's either a new car or a new wife. 
  •  Emo Philips... A computer once beat me at chess, but it was no match for me at kickboxing. 
  •  Harrison Ford... Wood burns faster when you have to cut and chop it yourself. 
  •  Spike Milligan... The best cure for sea sickness, is to sit under a tree. 
  •  Jean Rostand... Kill one man and you're a murderer, kill a million and you're a conqueror. 
  •  Arnold Schwarzenegger... Having more money doesn't make you happier. I have 50 million dollars , but I was just as happy when I had 48 million. 
  •  WH Auden... We are here on earth to do good unto others. What the others are here for, I have no idea. 
  • Johnny Carson... If life were fair, Elvis would still be alive today and all the impersonators would be dead. 
  • Warren Tantum... I don't believe in astrology. I am a Sagittarius and we're very skeptical. 
  • Steve Martin... Hollywood must be the only place on earth where you can be fired by a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a baseball cap. 
  • Jimmy Durante... Home cooking. Where many a man thinks his wife is. 
  • Doug Hanwell... America is so advanced that even the chairs are electric. 
  • George Roberts... The first piece of luggage on the carousel never belongs to anyone. 
  • Jonathan Winters... If God had intended us to fly , he would have made it easier to get to the airport. 
  • Robert Benchley... I have kleptomania and when it gets bad, I take something for it. 
  • John Glenn... As I hurtled through space, one thought kept crossing my mind: every part of this rocket was supplied by the lowest bidder. 
  • David Letterman... America is the only country where a significant proportion of the population believes that professional wrestling is real but the moon landing was faked. 
  • Howard Hughes... I'm not a paranoid, deranged millionaire. Dammit, I'm a billionaire. 
  • Old Italian proverb... After the game, the King and the pawn go into the same box.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Lucky Luke

Some older people might remember Lucky Luke the comic book and TV cartoon character who was faster on the draw than his shadow. Terence Hill brings him to life in a 1991 comedy movie I ran across.  It is mostly funny though that stretches a point in a place or two.  The story is narrated by Roger Miller the voice of Luke's horse, Jolly Jumper. Nancy Morgan plays Lotta Legs, the love interest and Ron Carey is Joe, the leader of the Dalton Brothers.

Luke becomes the sheriff of Daisytown and cleans up all the bad guys to the point that the town is soooo boring.  The Daltons try to stir up the Indians by showing them what their country will be like in 100 years - tourists, freeway interchanges, factories pouring out smoke etc.

The Daltons have prices on their heads: Joe at $5000, William $4000, Jack $3000 and Averell $20, marked down to $2. The Indians are deliberately very white, in fact when Prairie dog and Luke shake hands, Luke's arm is quite brown and Prairie Dog's deathly pale.

In true cowboy fashion, Lucky Luke leaves Lotta Legs and Daisytown, riding off into the sunset.

I love Terence Hill's movies.  Especially when he teams up with Bud Spencer in My Name is Trinity and My Name is Still Trinity, made some 20 years earlier than Lucky Luke.  They are truly funny.

I can't find the entire movie on Youtube but this is one scene from They Call Me Trinity.

From a comment on the video clip: Just for the sakes of it these movies were completely Italian, with Italian actors (Terenzo Collina and Bruno Pedersoli AKA Terence Hill and Bud Spencer), interior scenes were all shot in Cinecittà-Roma and in both card trick scenes the hands are of 1970s Italian magician Tony Binarelli :-)

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Legendary Milky Way

The Milky Way Ice Cream Store has been a seasonal fixture on Victoria Avenue in Regina for over 60 years, 37 under current ownership. It opened yesterday, March 10, in -20C weather to a line up waiting for ice cream.

Not only does opening day make front page news in the local daily; it also makes the local TV news

Carole Boldt said Milky Way Ice Cream picks a date each spring to open and sticks by it — despite the weather. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Regina freaking out over Milky Way Ice Cream's 'spring' opening on –20 C day

The lineup yesterday didn't quite stretch down the block in both directions as it does on hot summer weekends.  All three windows go full blast then, with Lord only knows how many people inside rotating past the three windows taking and filling orders.  They serve "four hunnert and eleventy three " varieties of hard ice cream and at least two kinds of soft, a couple dozen sundae flavours, specialties, and even burgers and hot dogs if you are willing to wait.  There is no place to sit other than three benches along one side or the parking lot/sidewalk by the strip mall next door. And parking is not a problem if you walk a block.

My eldest, years back, would walk there with her black lab Dezi, buy a soft ice cream cone, sit and share it with the dog just to mess with people's minds. But she was not alone. The sidewalk swarmed with dogs and kids. You could always find friends and  neighbours somewhere in the line.

The Milky Way usually closes after the Thanksgiving weekend in October but may stay open longer this year.  

I miss the Milky Way.  Someone go and have a maple walnut sundae for me please.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Some Background on Russian Fake News

“Psychological warfare has existed as long as man himself.” . . . “Propaganda needs to be smart, competent and effective,” (Russian Defense Minister) Shoigu said.

White propaganda has clearly attributed source and discernible motive. For Americans, prominent examples include the broadcasts of Hanoi Hannah during the Vietnam war. The North Vietnamese propagandist was famous for her “go home G.I.” refrain, encouraging soldiers to lay down their arms by telling them their cause was unjust.

Gray propaganda is information that has no obvious source, and uses a mix of proven and unproven facts to promote a favorable narrative or trick the enemy into believing one thing over another. The GRU textbook cites U.S. efforts to convince the world that the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983 in cold blood as an example of this approach.

Black propagandamost insidious form of information warfare is a a false flag operation. During the Chechen conflict, Russian psychological warfare experts spread rumors that foreign fighters had raped the 13-year-old daughter of a Chechen village elder. The rumors helped sow discord between Chechen fighters and Arab Islamist volunteers, undermining the unity of the rebels. (Source: The Moscow Times).

Atlantic Council has a good article explaining the difference between today's Russian Dezinfomatsiya and Soviet era propaganda. Here’s Why You Should Worry About Russian Propaganda. 

In the Cold War years, the Soviet disinformation machine produced and spread lies that aimed to damage the United States’ reputation as a value-driven and principled nation. . . A binary battle between good and evil. 

New “news” sites with legitimate sounding names but no editorial boards or journalistic credentials pop up like mushrooms after a storm to skew the message on any geopolitical event by “reporting” an alternative point of view. They mix facts with fiction to obfuscate reality and undermine the very notion of truth. On social media, Russian trolls and bots attack critics, confuse the objective narrative, and drown out reason with noise. New think tanks and research organizations with vague names but without a transparent funding structure or recognizable expertise appear with “analysis” ready in support of a pro-Kremlin view. 

And once a seed—be that a meme, a lie, or some mix of truth and fiction—is planted, it travels across media platforms at astounding speeds. This is the third difference between now and then: disinformation spreads at lightning speeds thanks to our highly-connected societies. What used to take months or years of constant hammering at the same topic in newspapers and television broadcasts, now takes minutes or seconds to find its way across the globe. 

And once a story goes viral online, it’s only a matter of time before it’s picked up by a mainstream news network, now completely devoid of its original source, and reported as fact by journalists and editors forced to work on increasingly imposs
ible deadlines to keep up with the news cycle and doesn't wait for fact checking. 

Three kinds of propaganda, and what to do about them describes Russian disinformation (as) a "firehose of falsehood." This tactic involves having huge numbers of channels at your disposal: fake and real social media accounts, tactical leaks to journalists, state media channels like RT, which are able to convey narrative at higher volume than the counternarrative, which becomes compelling just by dint of being everywhere ("quantity does indeed have a quality all its own").

We're not disagreeing about facts, we're disagreeing about epistemology. The "establishment" version of epistemology is, "We use evidence to arrive at the truth, vetted by independent verification (but trust us when we tell you that it's all been independently verified by people who were properly skeptical and not the bosom buddies of the people they were supposed to be fact-checking)."

The "alternative facts" epistemological method goes like this: "The 'independent' experts who were supposed to be verifying the 'evidence-based' truth were actually in bed with the people they were supposed to be fact-checking. In the end, it's all a matter of faith, then: you either have faith that 'their' experts are being truthful, or you have faith that we are. Ask your gut, what version feels more truthful?"

And as this NYT article explained, no one cares if the president (or anyone else) is lying.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

International Women's Day or Восьмое марта

Tomorrow is International Women's Day.  In much of the world it is observed as a political statement regarding the rights of women.  The Soviets were much too clever for that and turned it in to a celebration of old-fashioned womanhood.  Vosmoe Marta (Eighth of March) is second only to New Year's Eve as a holiday.

The upstairs managed to stay clean overnight and we finished the downstairs this morning.  The other half of the Christmas turkey is out thawing and the family will come for dinner tomorrow afternoon.  We were in town today for supplies, including flowers for all the women, even Dasha.

So, females young and old of the human race, if you are battling the patriarchy or basking in it, I wish you a great day and all success.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Fake News, Russian Style

Russia is currently the world's expert and leader in fake news of all kinds.  Especially since the Maidan Revolution of Dignity in early 2014, and subsequent Russian illegal occupation of Crimea and Russian aggression in Donbas, Ukraine has been the subject of a deluge of disinformation and outright faked news.  

Early examples of these concern misinformation and manufactured videos regarding the fire in Odessa and the shooting down of MH17, and the totally manufactured 'crucifixion of a three-year-old boy' and 'artillery death of a 10 year old girl". 

I subscribe to the weekly Disinformation Review, which comes every Thursday from East Stratcom Task Force with key examples and reviews of pro-Kremlin lies and disinformation of the week. The review focuses on key messages carried in international media which have been identified as providing a partial, distorted or false view or interpretation and/or spreading key pro-Kremlin messaging. It also carries a link to a complete compilation of all cases reported by their network.  Here are some of the top stories from the past few weeks.  If you click on each link, it takes about 2 minutes to read the entire article.

To sign up for this newsletter, please click here:

Good Russia

Russia is good, the West is evil. So, on Russian state TV, we were told by the Deputy Chairman of the State Duma that Russia respects international law, that it is friendly towards its neighbours, and that it is those neighbours who are the aggressive ones, not Russia. To be fair, it was said in the same show that Russia might have to strike Europe pre-emptively if NATO keep putting troops into the Baltic countries. But no mention was made of Russia violating international law through its illegal actions in Ukraine, annexing Crimea among other things.

In the same show, it was stated that Donbass is part of Russia and that it is being bombed by European troops on a daily basis. Of course, no evidence was presented for these European troops – there are none.

The Evil West

One of the common techniques of the disinformation campaign is to use outright falsifications. And many examples of the technique presented themselves this week. So we saw for example a Bulgarian story claiming that EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn stated that Bulgaria will cease to exist as a nation within 40 years ( – he said no such thing. We saw a Czech outlet saying Commission President Juncker thinks the EU will fall apart during the Brexit negotiations ( - something he has not stated. And we saw Europe and the West accused on Russian state TV of wanting to destroy both Russia and Ukraine (, of starting the Maidan protests in 2014 (, and of aiming to loot Ukraine ( - even of peoples organs. Again, needless to say, all untrue.

Another continuing trend this week was the depiction of refugees and migrants as dangerous. A Czech outlet reported that migrants had sexually harassed people in Frankfurt on New Year's Eve ( - information that was based on false testimonies and subsequently deleted from the original report but that is still spreading. A cooperation agreement between the Czech, Romanian and German armies was explained as an effort by Germany to protect itself against migrants by another Czech outlet (

Also the Swedish city of Malmö was depicted in a very negative way on Russian state TV ( misrepresenting unemployment numbers as at 63% (that is actually the employment figures of the city) and murder rates over the last year exaggerated up from 12 to 50. The piece also covered the old disinformation story of no-go zones in Sweden (

Fabricated moral collapse

We learned from Russian state TV that Brussels is a dangerous place to live and that thousands - yes, literally thousands - of women are sexually assaulted on the streets on a daily basis

Repeating already debunked disinformation, we read again that thousands of tanks are flowing into Europe to threaten Russia; and that the EU's moral collapse continues, this week with the banning of baptism

Another old and unfounded claim was repeated, namely that without Russian control of the country, Ukraine will embrace Nazism and fascism There are no facts to support those claims. In fact, the human rights situation in the country was better before the Russian forces entered Ukrainian territory uninvited Russian state TV also repeated the usual disinformation that a coup took place in Ukraine in 2014 In support of the facts on the ground, we recall the statements from the OSCE that the elections were conducted in a democratic manner 
The amount of hate-speech on Russian state TV debates has significantly risen. Almost every mention of Ukraine we see (and there were a lot of them in the last days) is accompanied by the adjective “nazi” or the noun “coup” - once again ignoring the reality that the Revolution of Dignity was no coup, and that Ukraine does not have nazi parties in the Parliament. In one show, there were open calls for a violent purge of the Ukrainian authorities (; you will find the precise timecodes for the critical quotes in the table).

We saw again the myth that we debunked last week, that Ukraine is provoking the violence in Donbass (, and doing it just to get the attention of the new US President’s administration (, or to impose martial law and abolish freedom of speech ( We saw absurd distortions of President Poroshenko’s interview, claiming that the head of the Ukrainian state has called for the lifting of sanctions against Russia ( We also saw inventions that the Ukrainian army is ready to join the pro-Russian “separatists” (

There was plenty of disinformation about Ukraine again during the last week. One "documentary" about Eastern Ukraine claimed that the Russian presence in the area was fabricated by the Western media. Russian state TV show Vremya Pokazhet focused on the relationship between Russia and Ukraine, and claimed that Russia had not seized Ukrainian territory, that Russia is not fighting in Ukraine and that Russia is in fact not present in Ukraine at all ( Of course, these claims have all been refuted before - even by President Putin himself (

In another TV show, it was explained that Russia did indeed annex Crimea, but only to save the peninsula from impending destruction ( The same disinformation was aired by Czech pro-Kremlin outlet Protiproud, which re-used the unsubstantiated allegations around genocide of Russian speakers (

Avdiivka is on territory that should be under the full control of the Ukrainian army, according to the line of conflict stipulated in the Minsk Agreements. On the morning Sunday 29 January, the Ukrainian army reported that Russian-backed militants had begun shelling their positions there. The OSCE special monitoring mission positioned in the city flagged up hundreds of ceasefire violations in both directions of the front. Journalists reported that the shelling came from Russian-backed "separatists" (herehereand here).
But Russian state media immediately started denying any Russian role in the newest escalation. During the talk show "Vremya pokazhet", we heard that there are no Russian troops on the ground - not only around Avdiivka, but also in the whole territory of Ukraine ( Later in the same show it was claimed that a "secret plan" of the Ukrainian government is being realized, aimed at ethnic cleansing of Donbas. The next day, we heard in the same show that actually it is European humanists and their friends from the US who are responsible for the deaths in Avdiivka ( – not those doing the shelling.
Another show, "Mesto vstrechi", blamed Kyiv for the humanitarian catastrophe in Avdiivka (  One of the speakers accused President Poroshenko of provoking the conflict in order to divert the attention of Europeans away from the "fact" that he is stealing the gas flowing from Russia to Europe. Sergei Zheleznyak, Kremlin-loyal MP of the Duma, stated in "Pervaya studia" that Poroshenko provoked the hostilities in order to receive financial help from the West, as he had lost a huge investment in backing Hillary Clinton ( suggested that Ukraine provoked the fighting to test the loyalty of the new American administration (
President Putin has also made multiple accusations: that Ukraine provoked the renewed violence in the east of the country in order to pretend to be a victim and receive money from the West; to establish a dialogue with the new US administration (after Ukraine supported the losing candidate); because the government needs to regain the people's support; and because Ukraine is not ready to implement the Minsk agreements.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Thank God for (Un?)Answered Prayers

Funny how news articles reminded me of this old story.

Mabel's Bar and Bordello (referred to locally as Mabel's Bed and Breakfast) was one of the busiest establishments in town.  So much so that Mabel decided to double the size of her building and hire more, uh, staff.

The church across the street which had endured the embarrassment of having Mabel's as a neighbour was horrified.  They called a week of prayer and fasting as construction progressed, asking God to destroy Mabel's den of iniquity.

As events transpired, lightening struck Mabel's, just as the addition was almost complete.  Everything burned to the ground.  Not even the basement was saved (sorry, no pun intended). No one was injured as the girls and their clients, much to the amusement of some and shame of others were able to escape the flames unharmed.

The church had a Service of Celebration, thanking God for answering their prayers.  There was a great deal of rejoicing until Mabel sued the church for damages.

Her argument was that they prayed, God answered, and the church had confirmed it.  Therefore the fire was their fault and they should pay.  The church's defense was that lightening was a natural occurrence and neither God nor their prayers had anything to do with it.

The judge admitted it was the strangest case he had ever dealt with.  Here was a Madame who firmly believed God answered prayer and a church claiming it was all nonsense.