Monday, February 25, 2019

Out of commission for a bit

I will be offline for a while. Final surgery. If you are on Facebook and I start posting cat pictures, jokes or trolling Conservatives and Republican Jesus Christians, you will know I made it through one more time.

There once was a man with a hernia
Who said to the doctor, "GolDurnia,
When improving my middle
Make sure you don't fiddle
With matters that do not concernia."

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Coffee - the Water of Life

Whiskey is supposed to be from the Irish word for the water of life and they do have a point, however, I will argue that coffee is more like it based on consumption data (which I am too lazy to look up). Coffee is starter fluid for the morning impaired. My youngest once started her day without coffee. Her court date is pending.

There are many kinds of coffee. Instant and decaffeinated are NOT coffee. Not is the stuff they serve at Starbucks unless you ask for real coffee. Espresso is good coffee if they would just give you a mug full but who can afford a double-double? Cowboy coffee is strong enough to float a horseshoe. Norvegian coffee pots are kept on the back of the stove 24/7.  Grounds and water are added as necessary until the pot is full of grounds. Then you start over. Mechanic's coffee tastes like used motor oil. A friend of mine from Peru once told me coffee should be hot as hell, black as pitch and bitter as marriage.  I'll drink to that.

Some people are quite snobbish about coffee. Others are not so fussy as long as it is chewable. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Remembering the Farm - School bus days

This cold snap kind of takes me back to riding the school bus from 1960 to 1965. In 1960, Wilkie School Unit closed the remaining one-room country schools including Cavell which I had attended for 7 years. We were all to be bussed to |Leipzig where a new school had been built. Three busses collected the rural students.

My father drove the bus from 1960 to 1974.  This meant ready cash coming in every month of the school year and meant we could quit milking cows and shipping cream, which was a blessing, trust me. Riding the bus in spring and fall was no problem. Winter was another game. No mobile phones, no CBs. If you had a problem you couldn't solve, it was walk to the next farm to use their phone.

The bus was automatically canceled on days when it was 40 below or it was storming too bad to travel.

Roads were gravel and graded after rains.  They were not the grid roads or super grids of today.  The road past our place had been #14 highway until 1958 when a new highway was built that followed the railway track instead of the road allowance. This cut off many miles to Wilkie, Landis, where my Father's parents lived until 1963 (?), and Biggar where my Mother's parents lived until 1968. It also meant our road reverted to the municipality.

Saskatchewan usually did not get much snow in winter but what we had moved around a lot. Ditches were narrow and the banks were not cut back so roads drifted shut quite often.  A local snowplow club was formed to keep the bus route open. Of course, if you didn't join, you still got the benefit and there was always one neighbour who took advantage.

The road past our farm had been built in the 1930's. Grandpa was a staunch Conservative and it paid off.  It was built with horse scrapers so ditches were narrow and cuts through the hills were steep.  We had a cut 1/4 mile east and 1/4 mile west of our farm. With any drifting snow, they would fill solid. vehicles would often get through one cut but not the next one so we would have company until the road was plowed.

The rest of the roads were not bad, except one side road up to Stop 6, (see map below), which crossed a shallow coulee. The cuts going down and up would drift in, like the one by our farm. Dad usually made it.  He carried a shovel but hated to use it and mostly could get out of places he got into. Only once did he get down in the coulee and decide he wasn't going to make it up the other side. He turned the bus around in the middle of the road. The road was 6" wide than the bus wheelbase but he made it.

The map below will help describe the route. It is not precise as numbers of kids changed year by year so is sort of an amalgam as best I remember. I cannot recall the total number on the bus for any given year.

1. The bus left our farm at 7:50. Dad did not wait for the 4 of us. If we were late we were in trouble after he got home.
2. Alex Hubers where I think we picked up two.
3. Fred Frey - 3 kids, Jake Frey 2 kids
4. Jim Watts - 5 kids.  The first would get to the bus before the next one showed up.
5 Henry Frey - 2, Don Ulrich 1
6 Hurleys - 5, They were replaced by Sweets - 2 and then Mettlesky's 2(?) over time.
7 Schmidts - 3
8 Kolonosky's 5 (?)
9 Dominic Millers - 2
10 Delaneys - 2
11 Ed Gaertners - 4(?)
12 Fred Flasch - 2
We were at the school by 8:45.

Part of Reford RM #379 showing the bus route I took to school
 Baby Boomers were born from 1946 to 1966. But even before 1966, the number of rural kids started to peter out. There were 6 in my class that graduated in 1965.  There were more in the class but if they were short classes to graduate, they didn't make the picture. After I left, they started combining schools to make up class size. Grade 7 and 8 went to Handel 10 miles away and the high school kids came to Leipzig. Not sure how long that lasted but eventually they bussed the high school kids from Leipzig to Wilkie. Eventually, the school closed entirely after my dad quit driving bus. There is nothing left of the town now but the church which is seldom if ever used and the old convent which was refurbished into a private rehab centre with a good reputation.

My Grade 12 Graduating Class of 1965
Addendum from my brother:
Your grad was in 1965, Ross in 67, me in 72 and Ev in 73 (she skipped grade 1). The last Leipzig grad was 1969 with 3 grads: Audrey Cey, Lynn Delaney, and Reg Gaertner. Walter Bojarski died of a heart attack the day before the grad and they almost canceled it.
The Handel-Leipzig exchange occurred over 3 years: 1965-66 to 1967-68. Grades 7-9 went to Handel and 10-12 to Leipzig, I think because Leipzig school had a better science lab. It started when I was in grade 6 so I took grades 7 & 8 in Handel. Then back to Leipzig for grade 9. A teacher couple from Nova Scotia - Sandy and Bev Rankin - taught the high school. Mrs R taught 9 & 10 in one room, Mr R the 11s and 12s in the other room. Mr R was also principle.
The high school 10-12 were bussed to Wilkie starting 1969-70 school year. The 3 Leipzig busses met at the statue corner and Matt Huber took us to Wilkie. We got 3 way radios that year so Matt would know to wait for us or not (depending on how stuck we were at Mettlesky's coulee). I took grades 10-12 at McLurg Hign in Wilkie. I don't know what year the elementary grades were closed in Leipzig after I graduated anyhow.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Inflation in Ukraine

The chart below is translated from Ukrainian and USD information was added.  I can't find the original source now, only others who have referenced it. It gives an idea of the price increases over 5 years both in local currency which are huge and in USD which are not so big.  The main problem is the price of natural gas.

Ukraine is highly dependent on IMF financing until the country gets its act together.  Being invaded by Russia in 2014 did not help and has been used as an excuse to drag out essential reforms. Ukraine has long subsidized gas prices. The IMF in its usual attitude of people be damned insists Ukraine start charging the going rate for gas. In September of 2018, Ukraine paid $304.40 USD per 1000 M3 for imported gas which is about 8.43 UAH. Becoming very rich necessitates involvement in the gas trade.  Billions are made between Naftogaz imported price and the consumer by the gas distribution companies as the government makes up the difference to Naftogas between what they spend on importing gas and what the distribution centres pay them.  To give credit, the country is working hard to clean up the corruption but the distribution centres are fighting back.

Our normal daily gas consumption to heat our house is about 16 M3. This winter it is 24.  We don't know why as we are not there. Katya has the heat turned down upstairs and the house is cool. There is always the suspicion that they are diluting the gas with something but I do not know if this is even possible or simply urban legend.  Our house, like all buildings in Ukraine, is not insulated, merely thick walls of masonry.  Our windows are relatively new but need readjusting to tighten better.  What we have under our roof is a mystery to me. So it is costing us 24 M3 X 30 X 8.55 = 6156 UAH per month or $222.00 USD.

Apartment blocks are centrally heated and charged a flat rate per M2.  Lina's flat is about 30M2 which is quite small and she pays 30 X 50 = 1500 UAH per month or $54 USD. But she has no control over her heat. It is sometimes too hot or ice cold. She only has heat from mid-October to mid-April. She cannot put in her own gas furnace with hot water heat unless every person in the building does.  Which cannot happen.

Here is why the inflation, especially of gas prices is so devastating. according to Ukrainian legislation, for persons over the age of 65, the minimum age-based pension is 35 years for men, while for women, 30 years. Pension is set at 40% of the minimum wage. 

  • 40% of retirees in 2017 were below the poverty line; 
  • 2,5 thousand UAH - average pension in Ukraine;
  • 1497 UAH - minimum pension.

Compare minimum pension with the gas price for a small flat. there is nothing left. Theoretically, the government is to make up the difference in gas price by raising pensions and social assistance.  It is, of course, never enough to actually cover it.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Empire of the Summer Moon - a book review

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by S.C. Gwynne.

Given a choice between historical fiction and actual history, I prefer history every time. Fiction wastes too much space trying to make a story out of something that is already a story in its own right. James A Michener’s Texas can hardly compare to T.R. Fehrenbach’s Lone Star: a history of Texas and the Texans. The latter was far more interesting and informative. 

After wading through the four books of the Lonesome Dove series, enjoyable as they were, as mentioned in a previous blog, I was not at all happy with their historical accuracy. Fortunately, I had in my collection of unread cheaply purchases eBooks a superb history of the Comanche nation, Empire of the Summer Moon.

I suggest you click the link above and look for a review by William Thomas, a historian, who writes a far better review than I can. Reading reviews by people who know the history themselves is always very enlightening. For example, if you click in the link to the Fetterman Massacre by Dee Brown and scroll to a reviewer named Matt, you will learn far more than by reading the book.

The story of the Comanche begins with the horse. The Spanish horse arrived in North America in numbers in the late 16th century.  It was ideally suited to the Western Plains. It was light, small and tough, could live on sparse grass and go long distances between waterholes. The Spanish were unsuccessful in keeping the horse from falling into the hands of the Native Tribes. The Apaches were the first to acquire them but never acquired a real horse culture.  A revolt of the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico in 1680 temporarily drove the Spanish out, leaving behind thousands of horses which made their way to the Great Plains and multiplied rapidly.

Comanche warrior
The horse and the knowledge of how to use it spread with astonishing speed through the midcontinent. In 1630, no tribes anywhere were mounted. 25 By 1700, all Texas plains tribes had them; by 1750, tribes of the Canadian plains were hunting buffalo on horseback.

The horse turned the Plains Tribes from paupers to princes. The buffalo had supplied all their needs when they were on foot and now they could hunt easily and follow the buffalo herds as they migrated.  Horses became currency and stealing horses and making war on weaker neighbours for more hunting area became their version of participatory Monday Night Football. The Comanche excelled in adapting horse technology, including horse breeding quicker and better than neighbouring tribes. No other tribe could out ride or outshoot them. The horse was their main trade item and the means to get to the customer.

Comancheria and surrounding Tribes c 1830-1850
In the late 17th century the Comanche began moving southward out of the foothills of the Wind River country and in 1706 mounted a raid against Taos, New Mexico, which was the first that Europeans even knew they existed. The Comanche kept the Spanish and French out of Texas and drove their mortal enemies, the Apache, south and west of the Pecos River.  At their peak between 1830 and 1850, Comancheria covered part of 5 states and about 240,000 square miles.

Mexico, having achieved independence from Spain, invited American settlers to Texas, to take the Comanche heat off themselves. Settlers flooded into Texas, settling the more fertile eastern Texas first and then slowly moving west. It didn’t take long to run into the Comanches who fiercely defended their territory from all comers. A warrior could fire 20 arrows accurately from the back of a running horse in the time it took to reload a muzzle-loading rifle which had to be done standing on the ground. They were ferocious fighters and could not be beaten until the advent of the repeating revolver and rifle, allowing the Texas Rangers and US Army to fight on horseback.

Texas frontier showing US Army forts
Comanche culture was ideal for a hunting and warring nation. It was loosely knit with no fixed hierarchy and no major rituals such as the Sun Dance. Decisions were made democratically but individual band members were not bound by them. Chiefs were elected but had no absolute control, something which was greatly misunderstood when it came to signing peace treaties.  And peace treaties were signed but could never specify enforceable boundaries between Comanche and Settlers. The author points out that soldiers could protect the settlers from the Comanche but to turn on and kill white Americans in defense of the Indian was never going to happen.

In a botched “Treaty Negotiation – Captive Exchange in Austin in 1838, several Comanche chiefs were massacred.  In 1840, in revenge Buffalo Hump (yes, he existed, just not as told in Comanche Moon) led a revenge raid on Victoria and Linnville, all the way to the sea. Raid after raid on settlers and settlements left bloated bodies and burning houses. Settlers kept coming and Comanches kept pushing them back. The full moon in spring and summer, known as the Comanche Moon, brought terror to the settlers as that was when the warriors swept down on them in the night.

In 1833 the Parker clan built a fort about 240 km west of the Louisiana Texas border which at that time was far ahead of other settled areas.  A number of families began farming there.  In 1836, the Parker Fort was raided by Comanches.  Several men were killed and women and children were taken captive, including 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker who became the most famous captive.

Cynthia Ann Parker and daughter Prairie Flower
The book devotes several chapters to raids and the treatment of captives, much of it taken from first-hand accounts of women who were ransomed or escaped.  Men were killed, many tortured in unimaginable ways, women were raped and killed or taken captive to be used as slaves, infants and small children were killed, young children were most often taken captive and raised by various families. Captives might be sold to other tribes or bands or held for ransom. Occasionally the captives became known as “Loved Captives” and be treated as family members.  Cynthia Ann was one of those.  She adapted and adopted Comanche ways, fell in love with and married a Comanche war chief, Peta Nocona, with whom she had three children, the oldest of whom was Quanah who would go on to fame as the last great Comanche war chief.

She refused to be rescued. Her uncle, James Parker, searched for her and other captives from the Parker raid over 8 years. His search became the basis for Alan LeMay’s book The Searchers which in turn became the iconic John Wayne movie of the same name. Cynthia Ann was the only one he never found when he gave up in 1844. She was seen two or three times after that but all attempts to ransom her were refused.  She had no intention of going back. However, in 1860, she was captured in a raid on her village by Rangers and soldiers in which her husband was killed. She and her young daughter were forcibly returned to relatives in East Texas. Her daughter died a few years later and Cynthia Ann starved herself to death in 1871.

Llana Estacado showing the escarpment on the east side
Quanah survived and as a young man, led the last of the Comanche bands who lived far from whites, in the Llana Estacado or Staked Plain, high flat grasslands in west Texas and east New Mexico, from which they were eventually driven.

Empire of the Summer Moon describes the seemingly inevitable destruction of the Comanche nation from diseases such as smallpox and cholera, from the slaughter of the buffalo herds on which they depended for food and from the relentless encroachment on their land by whites, backed by the Rangers and US Army.  The last holdouts, under Quanah Parker, are forced onto reservations in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).  At first, they are given a large area but even that is taken away from them and they are left with 160 acres each.

I was left with an overwhelming feeling of sadness for a great people who lived according to their lights and were extinguished by another great people who lived according to theirs.

Quanah Parker