Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tanya's Flowers - End of April

Tanya took most of these pictures. She is a better photographer than I am but she is too busy gardening to post them so I am making them my last blog of the month.  The pictures were taken on 27th and 29th. A cold damp April slowed them down somewhat but they are coming on fast now as we have temps in the 20+C range every day. Click on the photos to make them bigger.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Mhar Monastery, Lubny Ukraine

These are some of the photos I have scanned.

In July 1999, I was working on a project in Ukraine.  One Sunday in July, those of us who were instructing the Beef-Forage course decided to drive from Peryaslav-Khmelnitsky to visit the fair at Lubny just for something to do.  The Mhar  Monastery (also known as Mgarsky Monastery) was much more interesting and very close by.

It was founded in 1619.  Those who are familiar with Ukrainian history will recognize some of the great men associated with it such as Hetmans Bohdan Khmelnitsky and Ivan Mazepa.  In 1919, the Bolsheviks shot 17 monks and closed the Monastery.  It did not reopen until 1993.  We were there only 6 years later.  It looks much different today.

This site will give you a more detailed history. Right click and click Translate into English.

Mhar Monastery Lubny Ukraine

Cathedral and Bell Tower

Cathedral of the Transfiguration (from Wiki as my pics were incomplete)

Bell Tower

Detail of Cathedral
A little artistry just for fun

The interior of the church was quite lovely

More of the interior

A monument to the victims of the Holodomor was nearby in a lovely peaceful park

Monday, April 24, 2017

Scanning the Horizon. . . and Photos

Ever notice you can't do something unless you do something else first and end up chaining backwards into two weeks work? Last week, when the two most dangerous idiots on earth were playing chicken, some article or another mentioned that the Russians were sending soldiers and equipment towards the Russian/North Korean border which is all of about 17 km long.  Cool, I thought, I can do a blog on that because 20+ years ago I was in that  part of the world. I should have some pictures in one of my old photo albums which I brought with me to Ukraine. So I went looking for my pictures.  No luck.  All you get are the maps from Google below. Sorry.

Twenty years ago, I was partners in a Canadian genetics export company. Rumour had it that the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture of Jilin Province wanted to set up their own AI stud.  So my interpreter and I took a train from Changchun to Yanbian to meet with local officials. It turned out that what they wanted to do and what the bureaucrats in Changchun would allow (or fund) them to do were two different things.  We had some time to kill and they wanted to show us a new port city of which they were very proud.  The Tuman River forms the northern border with North Korea and there is a narrow neck of land where Chinese, North Korean and Russian borders all come together.

Rumour (the main source of information in China) had it that the World bank or some such was going to fund the dredging out of the Tuman River and create a deep water port.  So the Chinese had already built the port city in anticipation.  Brand shiny new empty city that would have build more than a few AI studs but IF the deep water port dream came true, someone stood to make millions.

The narrow neck of China between NK and Russia had been a source of contention between China and Russia and I was told that a few years before some 100,000 soldiers had shot it out in a small bush war. Too small to make the news, I guess. But the place was well protected with military posts and I knew that at any time there were binoculars and machine guns from three armies trained on me.

But as I sorted through my five huge albums, I decided they really should be scanned and the paper disposed of. My HP Photo Scanner 1000 can scan a 4x6 or 5x7 photo in under a minute.  Except it is older than dirt and no longer supported by HP.  I think the driver is for Windows XP so it doesn't work properly.  All the internet sites that promised new drivers linked back to HP who told me to PFO. This took half a day.

My Epson L355 printer scanner is a wonderful printer but scanning is horribly slow.  Da Vinci could paint the photos almost as fast as I could scan them.  But he is never around when I need him.

So today I started scanning.  My April 1991 trip to Kazakhstan SSR and the Canada Ukraine Beef Forage Project from 1999.  All the other photos fall in between.  By 2001 I had a digital camera.

Maybe there will be some blogs to be found in these scanned photos which are mostly China, Turkey and Ukraine.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Turkey Votes for Dictatorship by less than 1.5%

On Sunday April 16, Turkey held a referendum on constitutional amendments which would give President Erdogan virtually unlimited powers. The Yes vote won by about 51.4 to 48.6. American press has been covering it better than I expected, especially since Trump phoned to congratulate him while the rest of the world leaders did not.

Erdogan, like Putin, took no chances on an unfavourable result. OSCE has declared the vote far short of democratic as the NO side was given far less opportunity to present their case and were targeted by state institutions as anti-Turkish and terrorists. Leaders were arrested, rallies broken up, provinces declared state of emergency, NGOs were prevented from campaigning, and Kurds had a very difficult time voting. And unstamped ballots were allowed. Erdogan told the OSCE to pack salt.

The opposition parties intend to challenge the count, not that it will help as Erdogan controls the courts and appoints the judges.  Even if he had lost, it would have made no difference as he had de facto seized these powers already in the crack-down following the attempted coup last year which saw some 50,000 people arrested and over 100,000 fired from their jobs. Expect to see these numbers rise as Erdogan takes revenge on the leadership of the NO side.  He has always treated the 48% who oppose him as enemies of the state.

Erdogan is a pious Muslim but he is also an authoritarian in his own right.  He is not driven by radical Islam but by the belief that only his vision for Turkey is the right one and that nothing will stop him.  Anyone who tries is automatically an enemy.  He lost the vote in the three largest cities, Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, home to more secular Turks, but won the support of the pious Muslims throughout the country. His party, AKP, gave these people a voice in Turkish politics for the first time and brought them into the economy in the first 10 years as Prime Minister.

Turkey has always had a tenuous grip on democracy.  Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (Turkey's Lenin, as our tour guide called him) was no democrat.  The military saw itself as the defender of Ataturk's secular Turkey and intervened several times, usually none too gently to put it kindly, when the government was viewed as swinging too far into religious ideology.  The West, which can never leave well enough alone, did not see this as a good thing and supported Erdogan when he took steps early on to bring the generals to heel.  So by the time last summer's abortive coup was organized, it was too late and the army supported Erdogan, as did a majority of the population.

Erdogan is no fan of Ataturk and sees himself more as the Sultan of a revived 'Ottoman Empire'.  Instead of pressing to join the EU, under Erdogan Turkey will become the leader of the Middle East countries and act as a gateway to Europe (which in my opinion makes far more sense as Turkey is NOT European). As Sultan, in his 1000 room White Palace in Ankara, he will have the power of life and death over his subjects.  Literally, if he brings back the death penalty as he is in favour of.

One more country has turned its back on democracy.

Erdogan Lashes Out At European Monitors Of Turkey's Referendum

The vote that will determine the fate of Turkey’s democracy 

Turkey is sliding into dictatorship

Is It Too Late for Turkey’s Democracy?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Books and Libraries

The Saskatchewan government, having bankrupt the province, as all right-wing governments seek to do in their jurisdictions, have released a mean-spirited budget designed to inflict as much misery on the citizens of the province as possible.  One of the many cuts to services for people is to Saskatchewan's public libraries. They have also cut funding to education. Attacking anything that smacks of education seems to be a thing with right-wing governments.  Their whole budget looked like a cheap copy of Trump's. And these (expletive deleted) have another three years to go before the next election.  The British parliamentary systems has its advantages and disadvantages.

Books have always been important to me since I learned to read.  My mother said I drove her crazy with questions until I learned to read.  Then I could find my own answers or find other things to learn about. Our one room country school got a box of books from the school board office once a month, which I usually devoured withing the first week. The local Five and Dime store had cheap hardboard covered books for kids and young people.  But even at $0.79, purchases were limited. (And the original version of The Three Musketeers turned out to be FAR more interesting than the watered down kids version).

Book of the Month supplied me with hundreds of books as well as keeping me up to date on what was being written and by whom. When I went to bookstores, it was usually to the mark-down section, where no-longer-new releases were affordable.  My library slowly accumulated.  Books were never discarded or sold. When I decided to move to Ukraine, I had about 1500 volumes on my selves.  Not many compared to real bibliophiles but quite a few nevertheless.  Leaving them behind was no easy choice.

Some I packed and shipped.  The kids sorted through them and took what they wanted.  Graeme got most of my history books, especially those related to the World Wars. The rest went to a charity book sale, I think.  I didn't want to know.

Now it is ebooks. I have purchased a few real books since moving to Ukraine but they have to be sent to my daughter's, who then has to include them in a care package to be shipped to me.  A nuisance to her.  Ebooks I can buy and download immediately, though it may take months before I read them.  I have an ereader but prefer my phone, even though the screen is much smaller. And I still prefer real books, especially history books with maps and end notes, which I can easily flip back and forth to as needed.

We have three shelving units filled with real books.  Half are Tanya's and half are mine.  She is also an avid reader and can order real books on-line. There is something about a library filled with real books that is far more satisfying than hundreds of ebooks on an ereader.  Possibly pride?

This makes me want to cry

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Cheering for Toronto Maple Leafs

With the Wilkie Outlaws of the Saskatchewan West Hockey League racking up a 17/1 season, Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League winning 52 of 72 league games and in Round 2 of the Playoffs, and the perennial losing Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League clinching a playoff spot, my hockey teams are doing pretty well.

Wilkie is my home town and if I lived there I would be an active supporter.  As it is, after 5 decades away, several of the family names on the team are still familiar.  Having spent most of my adult life in Regina, I was aware of the Regina Pats but never went to a game.  Now I have hockey fans as family and friends so I at least pay attention to the standings and quietly cheer them on.

Back in the 50's, Montreal Canadiens were a dynasty; Maurice Rocket Richard was in his prime, as were Bernie Boom-Boom Geffrion and Jean Beleveau. Jacques Plante was in the net.  The kids at school, especially the ones I did not like, cheered for Montreal.  So I became a Leafs fan. The Leafs were contenders in those days.  Johnny Bower was in the net, George Armstrong was Captain, Tim Horton and Al McNeil on defense and guys like Bert Olmstead and Frank Mahovolich on the wings. It was even before the days of Eddie Shack.

Rivalry was fierce between Montreal and Toronto.  1966-67 was the last year of the original 6.  Montreal and Toronto went 6 games in the Stanley Cup finals before Toronto beat Montreal 3-1 on home ice. That was 50 years ago.  As Pierre Berton called it "1967: the last good year".  Maybe the Leafs can do it again for Canada's 150th birthday.

Terry Sawchuck and Johnny Bower 1966

I have cheered for other teams once the Leafs are out of the running.  Montreal in the 70's, then Edmonton Oilers in the dynasty days of Gretzky, Messier, Coffee and Fuhr. Now, not so much.  I just secretly hope for the Leafs and endure nasty memes on Facebook

Monday, April 3, 2017

Hecklers, Honeypots, and Hackers - How Russia Sows Discord in the Western World

Russian empire (re)building is very clumsy compared to America's Empire building, possibly the difference between a land-based empire and an economic empire. But where Russia completely out plays the West is in the use of cyber Active Measures.

America has "interfered" in elections at least since the end of WWII and still does but appears to continue to use Cold War methodologies: NGOs training locals in organizing Civil Society and Civil Disobedience, funding opposition parties, official pronouncements of support, that sort of thing.  Other things may not be so obvious, see also Latin America.

Russia on the other hand has gone high tech, making full use of all the capabilities of the internet to spread fake news rapidly, intimidate or smear opponents, which they applied accurately and effectively in USA and are doing the same in Germany and France.  These two articles are reports of testimony given at the Senate Hearing into Russian interference in the 2016 election and are the clearest explanation of how it works that I have read to date. Clearly written and no spaghetti diagrams

Clint Watts' Testimony: Russia’s Info War on the U.S. Started in 2014

Hate Makes Us Weak: How Russia exploits American racism and xenophobia for its own gain.

Three other articles may be of interest and I have extracted and edited some of the high spots.

Invisible Manipulators of Your Mind

Long read but worth it, about the psychology of how and why we make decisions and how our decision making process can be manipulated.  The Trump Campaign allegedly applied these technologies very specifically in critical states.  

News outlets have claimed that although Obama’s and Clinton’s teams both used social media, data analytics, and finely grained targeting to promote their message, Trump’s team, according to Forbes, “delved into message tailoring, sentiment manipulation and machine learning.” If this sinister level of manipulation seems far-fetched, it nevertheless reflects the boasts of Cambridge Analytica, the company they employed to do this for them, a subsidiary of the British-based SCL Group.
The company, whose board has included Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has also been held responsible by the press for the outcome of the Brexit vote of June 2016. Its CEO, Alexander Nix, claims in a presentation entitled “The Power of Big Data and Psychographics” (which can be found on Youtube) that Cambridge Analytica has used OCEAN personality tests in combination with data mined from social media to produce “psychographic profiles”—models that predict personality traits—for every adult in America. It did so without the consent of Kosinski and Stillwell, who developed the technique. Nix claims that they possess between four and five thousand data points on every potential voter, after combining the personality test results with “attitudinal” data, such as credit card spending patterns, consumer preferences, Facebook likes, and civic and political engagement. Nix claims that they can use their data in combination with tracking cookies, data from cable companies, and other media tools to target very specific audiences with messages that are persuasive because they are informed by behavioral science.
Note: Other articles have said that Cambridge Analytica did not have as great an impact as they claim.  However their sources wanted to take credit for Trump's win.
UW professor: The information war is real, and we’re losing it

“There was a significant volume of social-media traffic that blamed the Navy SEALs for the Boston marathon bombing,” University of Washington professor Kate Starbird said. “It was real tinfoil-hat stuff. So we ignored it.”
Same thing after the mass shooting that killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon: a burst of social-media activity calling the massacre a fake, a stage play by “crisis actors” for political purposes.
“After every mass shooting, dozens of them, there would be these strange clusters of activity,” Starbird says. “It was so fringe we kind of laughed at it. That was a terrible mistake. We should have been studying it.”
Starbird argues that these “strange clusters” of wild conspiracy talk, when mapped, point to an emerging alternative media ecosystem on the web of surprising power and reach. There are dozens of other conspiracy-propagating websites such as, and Starbird cataloged 81 of them, linked through a huge community of interest connected by shared followers on Twitter, with many of the tweets replicated by automated bots. alone is roughly equivalent in visitors and page views to the Chicago Tribune, according to, the web-traffic analysis firm.
The true common denominator, she found, is anti-globalism — deep suspicion of free trade, multinational business and global institutions. “To be antiglobalist often included being anti-mainstream media, anti-immigration, anti-science, anti-U.S. government, and anti-European Union,” Starbird says.
Much of it was strangely pro-Russian, too — perhaps due to Russian twitter bots that bombarded social channels during the presidential campaign. Your brain tells you ‘Hey, I got this from three different sources,’” she says. “But you don’t realize it all traces back to the same place, and might have even reached you via bots posing as real people. If we think of this as a virus, I wouldn’t know how to vaccinate for it.”

Why It's So Hard to Stop a Cyberattack — and Even Harder to Fight Back

How do you know for certain who did it, or the intent? Retaliation risks accidentally starting a war.
Without being able to attribute the attack, or if there were some uncertainty about who was responsible, it would be very hard to strike back. Unlike conventional attacks, cyberattacks can be difficult to attribute with precision to specific actors. In the event of a major cyberattack, pressure to respond would be immediate—and probably intense. But if a country strikes back and the forensics are erroneous, then the retaliation will have unnecessarily and inadvertently started a war.
This is because governments like the Russian government appear to rely heavily on third parties to develop their cyber weapons and conduct their attacks. This offers them many benefits—deniability being one of them—but it also offers them less control over what their cyber warriors actually do—creating a so called “principle agent problem.”
In other words, an attack that originates from within the Russian cyber world might be the work of the Kremlin—or it might not. This further complicates the choice of response.
Sometimes, the culprit will be clear, of course. But in these cases, the question is how, specifically, to respond.
Some advisors might push for a cyber counter-attack that inflicts equal damage on the guilty party. But this isn't always possible. If the perpetrator is a party like North Korea, then there is no equivalent financial system to target. But should the United States instead use conventional military weapons like a cruise missile, perhaps on Pyongyang's cyber training facilities? A strike like that would clearly risk serious escalation of the conflict. It might be seen as disproportionate if the U.S. financial system had recovered in the interim with relatively minimal real damage.
Even if the U.S. power grid were seriously affected by a cyberattack, however, and the United States knew with a high degree of confidence who the guilty party was, there would be reasons for caution—especially if the attack was an isolated incident and there were no other signs of aggression or malign intent.