Sunday, September 12, 2021

Watch this space next week

Tanya and I are vacationing in Turkey. We are staying at the Club Akman Beach Hotel South of Kemer. We will be home late on 19th and a full report asap after. Our friends Vitalik and Natasha are staying at our place and looking after our critters. 
Best holiday ever. Best resort we have found in over 10 holidays to this area. Weather is perfect. Sea is perfect. Food is good, beds comfortable, grounds well maintained.
I burned my face out swimming so now I have appealing eyes and a peeling nose.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Marketing Forced-Birth as Pro-Life

Since Roe vs Wade, the religious right have been fighting to have it repealed and abortion made illegal again. Many states have passed laws which eventually were thrown out by the Supreme Court. However the five Injustices, three of which were appointed under Trump have changed the nature of SCOTUS. They refused to even hear the new Texas law before it went into effect Sept 1st. They are currently hearing the Mississippi law which if they find in its favour will end Roe vs Wade. 

Dr Heather Cox Richardson provides an overview of the Texas Law and what it means to women in Texas and possibly in every other Red state and a brief history of the anti-abortion movement. The Republican Jesus Red Southern States claim it is because they are "Pro-Life" however they rank at the bottom in terms of poverty, infant mortality, maternal mortality and anything else that might make it easier to carry a child to term and raise it to adulthood. Their politicians are opposed to any programs that might improve the lot of the actual living, even vaccinations or wearing a mask.

Their argument, in favour of advocating for forced-birth only, is spelled out in this article which will likely make you nauseous but read it anyhow. John Pavlovitz, whom the "Pro-Life" people hate because he calls them out for what they are, summed it up quite eloquently. His articles  are Here and Here. 

Embryos are relatively easy to advocate for. They don’t encroach upon people’s privilege or confront their politics or challenge their theology or require much from them in the way of lifestyle change. . .

. . . By opposing abortion, religious people can feel the intoxicating, easy high of self-righteousness and moral virtue—without having to actually love or help people: strange, disparate, uncomfortable-for- you-to-be-around people. That’s because embryos can be idealized into something pleasant and palatable, devoid of any of the messy characteristics they find undesirable in actual walking-around human beings. They aren’t yet gay or Muslim or liberal or Black or poor or atheist (or whatever other qualifiers trouble you), and so affinity with them is uncomplicated, solidarity with them does not cross the lines of their tribalism.

Anti-abortion believers get to feel like noble advocates for Life, while still holding onto their prejudices and hang-ups and hatred.

 Or as George Carlin put it, "If you are pre-born, you're fine; if you are pre-school, you're f**ked".

One of the advantages of pushing an extreme position is that you are not bound by facts or reason. Emotion beats rationality any day. Two examples of the misinformation used to oppose abortion:

Life begins at conception. What is life? The sperm is alive. The egg is alive. The embryo (<8 weeks) is alive. The fetus (>8 weeks) is alive. Science can define the stages of pregnancy but cannot define when life begins. That requires theology. Genesis 2:7 (KJV) says And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. So when a baby draws its first breath, it becomes a living soul and a human being. This is what the Jews believethat existing life should take precedence over potential life, and a woman’s life and her pain should take precedence over a fetus. I expect most rational people would agree that Jews are just as moral as Republican Jesus Christians.

A fetal heartbeat can be detected at six weeks. Yes and no. Ultrasound can detect a small flutter in the area that will develop into a heart. These are electrical impulses from the cells that will be the heart's 'pacemaker'. The sound is made by the ultrasound machine itself. The heart has no valves so cannot beat. A true heartbeat caused by the sound of heart valves that can be heard on a stethoscope usually occurs after about 10 weeks. The term 'fetal heartbeat' is very misleading as used in forced-birth laws.

The 'forced-birth' crowd like to talk about 'murdering babies, or murdering children'. An embryo or a fetus is not a baby or a child though it has potential to become those, and then a teen ager and an adult and an old person but they don't talk about abortion as 'murdering teenagers'. They are playing on images with their language which is good marketing, of course.

When the forced birth people talk about a pregnant woman, you are always shown images like on the left, never like on the right which is what most women look like if the seek an abortion. In 2018, 92% of abortions were preformed at under 13 weeks.

This is what embryos look like at 6 and 8 weeks. Bean size. When 65% of abortions occurred in 2016. mid-term (2nd trimester) abortions are usually because the woman had to come up with the money or if young teens, because they feared their parents to deal with it earlier. Third trimester abortions which account for about 1%, are usually tragic, either the mother's life is in danger or the fetus is terminally malformed. 

Of course it is the third trimester  abortions the 'Pro-Life' people focus on because they are the most gory. They talk about children being torn limb from limb, even as they exit the womb. 

These images are how you are to imagine aborted embryos and fetuses. Ruddy cheeked, blonde, blue-eyed, healthy and white. . . because these are the only children that matter. . . so long as they are not poor. Or gay or atheist or. . .

You are never to imagine these children. They may well be very much loved but their mother may not be able to afford another mouth to feed.  In 2014, 75% of abortion patients were poor or low income. And 59% of patients who obtained an abortion already had one or more children.

CDC Stats were available for 2018. There is no mandate for states to report abortions and not all do. Of 48 reporting areas in 2018, there were 614, 820 abortions reported: 11.3 per 1000 women aged 15 to 44 years and 189 per 1000 live births. Early medical abortions accounted for 38.6%. Women in their 20s accounted for 57.7% of abortions. 

Guttmacher Institute provided the following data. in 2019, 29 states with 58% of women of reproductive age were considered hostile to abortion, 14 states with 35% of women of reproductive age were considered supportive. using 2014 rates, 1 woman in 4 will have an abortion before age 45.  Adolescents made up 12% of abortion patients in 2014: 18-19 8%, 15-17 3% and <15 0.2%. Of abortion patients in 2014, 39% were White, 28% Black, 25% Hispanic and others 9%; 17% mainline Protestant, 13% evangelical Protestant, 24% Catholic, 38% no religion, 8% other. in 2014, 51% of abortion patients were using birth control the month they got pregnant, 24% condoms and 13% a short acting hormonal method.

Criminalizing abortion won’t stop it – it’ll just make it deadly. Women will continue to terminate pregnancies and put their lives in danger in the process. In 1967, 42% of American maternal death rate was attributed to botched abortion. This does not matter to the 'Forced-Birth" movement as they were likely poor anyhow. And be sure that if the wives, daughters and mistresses of the 'Pro-Life' lawmakers and their wealthy friends need abortions, they will get them in a safe clinic.

The government cannot (yet) require Americans to follow the Catholic Church's prohibition against divorce or (yet) forbid a woman from using birth control. And neither should it utilize one particular interpretation of Christianity to make a woman bear a child. but the Republican Jesus Christians are will on their way to establishing an authoritarian theocracy. They may have stirred up a hornets' nest or be the dog that caught the car, but the voter suppression laws may well keep the rabble at bay.

And regardless of what O'Toole is telling Canadians, the religious right vote solidly CPC and will fight to once again make abortions illegal in Canada. 

Saturday, August 28, 2021

The Revenge - A ballad of the fleet by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 Long narrative poems appeal to me for some strange reason. Noyes' The Highwayman, Kipling's Ballad of East and West, Macauley's Horatius at the Bridge, Arnold's Sohrab and Rustum, Service's Cremation of Sam McGee, and on and on. I usually manage to memorize a few lines of each and sometimes in the night reach for lines I cannot recall so I wake up and re read the poem. And so it was with The Revenge. 

Spanish Galleon
In the 16th century, the galleon was the standard ocean going battleship of the western European nations. The Spanish Galleons, as well as being armed with cannon, had high fore and aft castles which suited their battle tactic of boarding. The English Race-built Galleons had low fore and aft castles and depended on superior speed and maneuverability as well as superior gunnery to keep the Spanish at a distance. The most famous of these was The Revenge (of which some 13 ships were to carry the name eventually). 

The Revenge
The revenge was Sir Francis Drake's flagship in 1588 when the British defeated the Spanish Armada with help from the weather. In 1590, The Revenge, under Captain Martin Frobisher plied the Spanish Main to intercept bullion laden treasure vessels bound for Spain. In 1591, the British fleet, under Lord Thomas Howard was charged with patrolling the Spanish coastal area to blockage Spanish ships and prevent Spain from rearming as Phillip II did not give up easily. The Revenge was part of Howards patrol and captained by Sir Richard Grenville.

The Spanish set out with 53 ships to put an end to Howard's blockade when his small flotilla was harboured in the Azores with many sick and the ships in need of resupply. Tennyson says The Revenge had only a hundred seamen, while other sources say 250. Two hundred fifty was the standard crew size so I will go with Tennyson. So our story begins. 

The Revenge, a ballad of the fleet by Alfred Lord Tennyson

At Flores, in the Azores Sir Richard Grenville lay,

And a pinnace, like a flutter’d bird, came flying from far away;

“Spanish ships of war at sea! we have sighted fifty-three!”

Then sware Lord Thomas Howard: “’Fore God I am no coward;

But I cannot meet them here, for my ships are out of gear,

And the half my men are sick. I must fly, but follow quick.

We are six ships of the line; can we fight with fifty-three?”


Then spake Sir Richard Grenville: “I know you are no coward;

You fly them for a moment to fight with them again.

But I’ve ninety men and more that are lying sick ashore.

I should count myself the coward if I left them, my Lord Howard,

To these Inquisition dogs and the devildoms of Spain.”


So Lord Howard past away with five ships of war that day,

Till he melted like a cloud in the silent summer heaven;

But Sir Richard bore in hand all his sick men from the land

Very carefully and slow,

Men of Bideford in Devon,

And we laid them on the ballast down below:

For we brought them all aboard,

And they blest him in their pain, that they were not left to Spain,

To the thumb-screw and the stake, for the glory of the Lord.


He had only a hundred seamen to work the ship and to fight,

And he sailed away from Flores till the Spaniard came in sight,

With his huge sea-castles heaving upon the weather bow.

“Shall we fight or shall we fly?

Good Sir Richard, tell us now,

For to fight is but to die!

There’ll be little of us left by the time this sun be set.”

And Sir Richard said again: “We be all good Englishmen.

Let us bang these dogs of Seville, the children of the devil,

For I never turn’d my back upon Don or devil yet.”


Sir Richard spoke and he laugh’d, and we roar’d a hurrah and so

The little Revenge ran on sheer into the heart of the foe,

With her hundred fighters on deck, and her ninety sick below;

For half of their fleet to the right and half to the left were seen,

And the little Revenge ran on thro’ the long sea-lane between.


Thousands of their soldiers look’d down from their decks and laugh’d,

Thousands of their seamen made mock at the mad little craft

Running on and on, till delay’d

By their mountain-like San Philip that, of fifteen hundred tons,

And up-shadowing high above us with her yawning tiers of guns,

Took the breath from our sails, and we stay’d.


And while now the great San Philip hung above us like a cloud

Whence the thunderbolt will fall

Long and loud,

Four galleons drew away

From the Spanish fleet that day.

And two upon the larboard and two upon the starboard lay,

And the battle-thunder broke from them all.


But anon the great San Philip, she bethought herself and went,

Having that within her womb that had left her ill content;

And the rest they came aboard us, and they fought us hand to hand,

For a dozen times they came with their pikes and musqueteers,

And a dozen times we shook ’em off as a dog that shakes his ears

When he leaps from the water to the land.


And the sun went down, and the stars came out far over the summer sea,

But never a moment ceased the fight of the one and the fifty-three.

Ship after ship, the whole night long, their high-built galleons came,

Ship after ship, the whole night long, with her battle-thunder and flame;

Ship after ship, the whole night long, drew back with her dead and her shame.

For some were sunk and many were shatter’d and so could fight us no more—

God of battles, was ever a battle like this in the world before?


For he said, “Fight on! fight on!”

Tho’ his vessel was all but a wreck;

And it chanced that, when half of the short summer night was gone,

With a grisly wound to be drest he had left the deck,

But a bullet struck him that was dressing it suddenly dead,

And himself he was wounded again in the side and the head,

And he said, “Fight on! fight on!”


And the night went down, and the sun smiled out far over the summer sea,

And the Spanish fleet with broken sides lay round us all in a ring;

But they dared not touch us again, for they fear’d that we still could sting,

So they watch’d what the end would be.

And we had not fought them in vain,

But in perilous plight were we,

Seeing forty of our poor hundred were slain,

And half of the rest of us maim’d for life

In the crash of the cannonades and the desperate strife;

And the sick men down in the hold were most of them stark and cold,

And the pikes were all broken or bent, and the powder was all of it spent;

And the masts and the rigging were lying over the side;

But Sir Richard cried in his English pride:

“We have fought such a fight for a day and a night

As may never be fought again!

We have won great glory, my men!

And a day less or more

At sea or ashore,

We die—does it matter when?

Sink me the ship, Master Gunner—sink her, split her in twain!

Fall into the hands of God, not into the hands of Spain!”


And the gunner said, “Ay, ay,” but the seamen made reply:

“We have children, we have wives,

And the Lord hath spared our lives.

We will make the Spaniard promise, if we yield, to let us go;

We shall live to fight again and to strike another blow.”

And the lion there lay dying, and they yielded to the foe.



And the stately Spanish men to their flagship bore him then,

Where they laid him by the mast, old Sir Richard caught at last,

And they praised him to his face with their courtly foreign grace;

But he rose upon their decks, and he cried:

“I have fought for Queen and Faith like a valiant man and true;

I have only done my duty as a man is bound to do.

With a joyful spirit I Sir Richard Grenville die!”

And he fell upon their decks, and he died.



And they stared at the dead that had been so valiant and true,

And had holden the power and glory of Spain so cheap

That he dared her with one little ship and his English few;

Was he devil or man? He was devil for aught they knew,

But they sank his body with honor down into the deep.

And they mann’d the Revenge with a swarthier alien crew,

And away she sail’d with her loss and long’d for her own;

When a wind from the lands they had ruin’d awoke from sleep,

And the water began to heave and the weather to moan,

And or ever that evening ended a great gale blew,

And a wave like the wave that is raised by an earthquake grew,

Till it smote on their hulls and their sails and their masts and their flags,

And the whole sea plunged and fell on the shot-shatter’d navy of Spain,

And the little Revenge herself went down by the island crags

To be lost evermore in the main.

And away she sail’d with her loss and long’d for her own;...
...To be lost evermore in the main.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Dr. Peter J Van Soest 1929-2021 Legendary Ruminant Nutritionist

 This blog could also be entitled "I know you don't care but..." I do care so I will write it for me.

Dr. PJ Van Soest
When I was a kid, skipping school to go to Agricultural Short Courses organized by Alan Rugg, the local Ag Rep, beef cattle were the simplest farm animals to feed. What ever you fed them was torn apart in the rumen by the bacteria and protozoa, recombined by them to suit their needs and the cow digested their by products and the bugs themselves. Nutrition was pretty crude, all done by wet analysis ; crude protein (N x 6.25), crude fat (ether extract), nitrogen free extract (not crude protein, fibre, fat or ash) and crude fibre, all added together (fat x 2.5) produced TDN (Total Digestible Nutrients) which was a crude estimate of useful feed value in use since 1860s . 

We knew the basic requirements for different classes of animals and fed to those. Dairy cattle were a bit different as there was as much art as science because things worked but at the time people didn't know why. Reading Hoard's Dairyman from the last 135 years is an education in its own right. But beef cattle were my main interest, so that is how I ended up in the University of Saskatchewan, College of Agriculture studying Animal Science.

Dr. Dave Christensen graduated from UofS in 1958 and started as Associate Professor at Animal Science the same year I started as a student. He was a Ruminant Nutritionist, specializing in dairy nutrition but taught the general ruminant nutrition courses. We learned that TDN tended to over estimate the feed value of forage because it underestimated the cell walls. The contents of a cell are highly digestible and the cell walls are quite variable. 

We also learned that Dr PJ Van Soest, a brilliant scientist from the USDA Research Centre at Beltsville Maryland, had come up with a superior method of estimating feed value, including TDN. Instead of Crude Fibre he developed two analyses ADF (Acid Detergent Fibre) and NDF (Neutral Detergent Fibre). ADF is used to estimate energy eg TDN, and NDF is used to estimate animal intake (rumen fill).  Van Soest’s detergent analysis gave researchers a way to precisely separate the chemical components of feeds into three categories: parts that were digestible to all animals; indigestible without fermentation; and completely indigestible. Those two analyses today form the basis of estimating feed quality ruminant nutrition and permanently changed animal science.

In Fourth Year, we had to write a thesis which was basically a heavy duty term paper. Dr. Christensen was my supervisor and my topic was Estimating forage Quality as I recall. It was anticipated that I would focus on Van Soest's work. However in May 1968, Lofgreen and Garrett had just published their seminal work A System for Expressing Net Energy Requirements and Feed Values for Growing and Finishing Beef Cattle.

Well! This was mind blowing and right up my ally. I paid lip service to the original intent and then poured the coals to net energy. Besides the Lofgreen and Garrett's formulae were based to a great degree on Van Soest's Analyses. Dr. Christensen was not overly pleased and gave me a B. He said it deserved an A but he had to nag me constantly to get it finished (by end April 1969 after all the other students had gone home).

In 1968, Dr Van Soest moved from Beltsville to Cornell University in Ithica NY, where he spent the rest of his career. At Cornell he was as a co-inventor of the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System, a cattle nutrition model currently used to formulate diets for over 70% of dairy cattle in North America and used in over forty other countries. 

Net energy estimates and net carbohydrate and protein system revolutionized ruminant nutrition all based on detergent fibre analysis. Dr Van Soest once said, “I participated in something that was very remote, a backwater in science, and then it became very important.”

Dr Van Soest died in March 2021. I ran across his obituary while searching for information for a Saskatchewan rancher. He should have lived forever. After retirement he continued teaching and research, publishing hundreds of papers over his life time, the last at age 90 in 2020. He was the kind of researcher that should have been sent funding, no questions asked.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Remembering the Farm: Barbed Wire Fences

 When my grandparents bought our farm in 1914, the closest firewood was 30 miles away. That was likely the closest willow pickets for fences too. They bought two quarter sections (160 acres, measuring 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile) and leased two others which were mostly prairie short grass (likely Stipa comata or needle grass). That worked out to 7.5 miles (15 half mile) of perimeter fences and likely another 1.5 miles of cross fences. 

By the time I was old enough to help fix or build fence, it was all fenced using willow pickets and two strands of barbed wire with split cedar posts or used railway ties for corner posts as needed. Willow was tough and durable, not rotting easily. Dad could now cut pickets on our own land as poplar and willow grew in the low areas once the prairie fires were under control. Poplar made terrible fence pickets as it would rot out in under 5 years. Soaking it in Bluestone (copper sulphate) would maybe give you 10 to 15 years but it was a slow process. 

A willow picket would be maybe 4' to 4.5' long and 2" to 2.5" in diameter, flat on top and sharpened with an axe at the bottom. A hole was punched with a crowbar as deep as possible and the picket driven in with the flat of an axe. We had a maul but the willow would not take heavy pounding too well. The barbed wire was fastened to the picket with a staple or in many cases especially on old pickets with baling wire (#12). Pickets or posts were spaced 1 rod (4 paces, 5 meters, 16.5 feet) apart, 181 to the half mile.

Posts were needed on corners and in low spots. Post holes had to be hand dug which was hard work in baked dry soil. We had a hand auger for digging and another for removing the dirt from the hole. Usually the hole needed widening with a spade to handle a used railway tie. Then there was a tamping bar to firm the dirt around the post. At the estate sale, all I wanted for souvenirs were the two post augers and the tamping bar. Funny that but I had a soft spot in my head for them. They were in the machine shed when my brother managed to burn it down so the metal parts went in the scrap.

As we rebuilt and repaired perimeter fences we gradually added a third wire. Dad did buy a few spools of new wire (80 rods to a spool and two spools to the half mile) but most of the wire was stuff he bought at auctions. Not always in the best condition and constantly needing mending. Working with barbed wire was somewhat hazardous. I always wore jeans, a long sleeve heavy work shirt, and leather gloves. My tan stopped at my collar.

In the early 60s dad cut the top off a 53 Chev sedan, took the back seat out and made it into our fence mending truck. It got about 15 miles to the quart of used oil and you could not turn it off or it would not start for a few hours. After idling for 30 minutes while I repaired a stretch of fence, it would blow a smoke screen that would hide the Queen Mary. The dog used to swim in a slough while I fixed fence and when I would rev the motor he would come running, up through the back and over the seat into the front, then lie on my lap. 

Willow pickets were getting hard to come by and times must have been better as dad bought a post pounder that mounted on the front of the tractor. Then we bought commercial pressure treated 3" to 4" pickets and 6" posts from Glaslyn and our fences started to look professional. I drove the tractor and dad sighted in and pounded the posts. The post had to be held to keep it straight while it was being driven into the ground. One day dad absently minded held the post too near the top and the driver took a nice bite out of his glove and some of his finger and thumb. He got it stitched up and it was not too bad. I did the same thing at Cumberland House many years later but I got really lucky. It just wrecked the glove and missed my hand. Farm accidents are caused by carelessness!!!

In the early 60s dad rented and eventually bought another 3 quarter sections: 2 cultivated and 1 prairie, adding another 5 miles of perimeter fencing. 

A word about barbed wire gates. The wires were always loose, no matter how often they were rebuilt. From one of our cultivated quarters there was a 1 mile trail through the pasture with a wire gate at each end. Dad had bought a used 1 ton at an auction that had no brakes. Coming through the pasture meant he could avoid the roads. One fall, I had JUST fixed both wire gates and dad decided to drive the grey truck home with a load of wheat. He forgot to slow down so he could stop and drove through the first gate. By the time he got to the second gate, he forgot to slow down again and drove through it too. MURDER was too good for him. 

Dad sold the cattle in the fall of 1982. He was 60 years old, it had snowed in late September, he had no winter feed ready and he was tired. Since that time, the fences have fallen into disrepair except for those around the pasture area which was rented out for grazing. The unused fences desperately need to be torn down and the wire rolled up and scrapped. There is nothing worse than old barbed wire lying around to catch and injure animals. We had a horse get wrapped in old wire and  though she was stitched up and doctored, she never healed and was no longer rideable.

Three strand wire fence, showing proper wire spacing

Three strand wire with good posts.

A barbed wire gate in the usual disrepair

Typical wire gate, closed with a rope tie

Corner post, built right but a bit worse for wear

This abandoned fence needs to be torn down and cleaned up

Front mounted driver. The heavy steel weight is raised by hydraulic
and then suddenly dropped onto the sharpened post

Sorry for not using metric units but once you are off the highways it is Imperial Units all the way. Land was surveyed in Imperial units of rods and miles. It is bought and sold by the 160 acre parcel called a quarter section (1/2 mile by 1/2 mile, with 4 quarters making up a section. Grains and oilseeds are harvested and stored in bushels even though they are sold in tonnes.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Singing Myself to Sleep

 When a song gets stuck in your head and goes round and round and will not go away, it is called an Earworm. Some people hate them. I love them because I can pick and choose. 

There is always something going on inside my head. I'm either arguing with myself about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, or how I can dissuade people from their fantasies and conspiracies, or who can I annoy on Facebook. If none of the above then it is music fills my soul and the empty void. Songs with simple words and melodies that I enjoy and have played enough to learn the lyrics are sung silently in my mind. The acoustics are good, like a high vaulted ceiling in a cathedral and no discernable echo. 

While I enjoy Tchaikovsky, I couldn't hum the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies to save my soul. I need words to the music. So over the years I have built a playlist of which at any given time may consist of four or more songs which I sing to myself. They are added to or subtracted from for no good reason. Something will remind me of one I used to sing to myself and I'll add it back in. 

So here area  few of the songs that play in my mind and often play until I go to sleep. In no particular order.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Best Friends and Enemas

The title is simply click bait though someone once sent me a card that read, “For your birthday, I’m giving you a big bottle of castor oil. . . with friends like me, who needs enemas.

Looking for some serious thought and comments here as I am puzzled. Umair Haque wrote a column, “How bad is American life? Americans don’t even have friends anymore.” The image below is of survey results for USA asking, outside of relatives, how many Best Friends people had. Range from 0 to >10. The numbers dropped considerable between 1990 and 2021.

As I have said before Umair Haque makes Jeremiah sound like Pollyanna so I took his conclusions with several grains of salt. Read it if you like. But I question the definition and the survey question.

How do you define best friends? I divide people into Best Friends, Good Friends, Friends, Acquaintances, People I wish I didn’t know. I have lots of people I consider good friends but where is the divide between good friends and best friends? Things that keep me awake at night.

So, I asked my children, as I have a great deal of respect for their thinking ability. I will edit their answers somewhat.

I think best friends is such a limiting concept because I have “best friends by topic” or by location or by time in my life. I’m sure the numbers dropped as people moved online. I have so many different types of friends I find the labels don’t fit! Friends I talk about work with, friends I talk about philosophical things, friends I call with exciting news, friends I meet for coffee, friends who I can talk to one thing about but not about others, etc.

I would say my list of “good friends” or “good friends who I never see or talk to but still appreciate a great deal” has climbed since my youth. People wander between labels easily too. I like “good friends” as to me it seems like there is more room for people. 

We don’t need “best friends” like when we were 6 anymore. Because our worlds are bigger and more complicated now. For me, I like the saying that friends come in three categories: forever, for a time, for a season. I’m okay with that. 

For me, there are 2 types of best friends. 1.The ones you spend your chosen free time with. 2.Non relatives, non children that you would lay down your life for without a moment’s hesitation. And if any asks me to say who my single best friend is, it's XYZ.

Hmm. An interesting question. I guess I maybe have 5 or 6 BEST friends outside of relatives. I think your division is pretty good, though. Too many people falling into the “people I wish I didn’t know” category these days. I probably have more of those than I do best friends, which maybe says more about me than I would like. 

And I’d say best friends are the people you can be totally yourself around. But only sometimes. Or maybe they’re the people you want to talk to when you’re happy or you’re sad. Or the people who know you the best and still love you anyway. 

Yes! I agree. I would go to ABC for different things than LMN. And they know me in different ways, but they’re both my best friends.

Their comments helped a great deal to get my head around something I never thought much about before. Friendship is a continuum with no fixed dividing lines and many sub titles under my five main headings of “Best Friends, Good Friends, Friends, Acquaintances, and People I wish I didn’t know.”

I have maybe three people I consider best friends or top of the list of good friends. These are people I have known and worked with for many years, who are far smarter than I, each in different areas and from whom I am continually learning and with whom I could spend all my time.

I have dozens of good friends, all for different reasons and the two years I was back in Canada allowed me to renew many of them. There are also Facebook Friends and Blogger Friends, some of whom I consider good friends. Internet makes it easier to stay in contact with friends I know personally and friends I have never met personally.

Acquaintances used to fall into the hundreds when I worked in Sask Ministry of Agriculture. Farmers and ranchers, industry people, through meetings, conferences, farm calls. Walking across Agribition used to take 3 or 4 hours because I stopped and talked to everyone I know. Now, not so much, having been out of the game for 20 years.

People you wish you didn’t know are usually out of your control. You have no choice (sometimes they are relatives 😊😊) usually through work or related business. On FB I have unfollowed or unfriends most of them but being polite sometimes intervenes unless they make racist remarks.

OK, the floor is open to comments.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Putin, Ukraine, and Nord Stream II

Russian aggression towards Ukraine has not changed much in a while so I have not blogged about it. Lies are spread about Ukraine every day on Russian news and on the internet. Cyber warfare keeps our IT people working overtime. Militarily, every day is much the same. Cease-fire agreements are made, and the Russian side continues to attack several times a day along the front line, with Ukrainian casualties of one or two killed and a few more wounded every day. Russia continues to support their proxies with money, munitions, equipment and of course officers and specialists, all the while denying that fact.

A couple of things have happened just recently that may signify a change for the worse. In April, Putin massed 100,000 troops and heavy equipment along the Ukrainian border complete with full operative logistical support. Most of them are still there. Then last month Russia has (illegally) threatened with bombing any “enemy” ship passing within their (illegally claimed) 12 mile limits around Crimea.

And finally, Putin self-published a 5000 word paper On the Historic Unity of the Russian and Ukrainian People in which he attempts to tell Ukrainians that their statehood is an accident, their resistance to Russian aggression futile and their fate as a people inextricably tied to Russia’s. His conclusions are questionable and the whole thing has nothing to do with history as a modern academic discipline.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is obsessed with pretending that Ukraine does not exist and that Ukrainians have no independent agency. Putin presents the Soviet Union as the savior of Ukrainian reunification. “In 1939, lands that had previously been seized by Poland were returned to the USSR. Their main part was given to Soviet Ukraine.” Putin shamelessly concludes that “contemporary Ukraine was fully created by the Soviet epoch.” And declares Russia always treated Ukraine “with great love.”

Putin has long expressed sympathy for the Russian Empire and his new article vividly manifests this worldview. He sees Russian Federation, not as a new state that emerged after the collapse of the USSR, but as a direct continuation of the Russian Empire. Putin interprets the nation not as a civil phenomenon, but as an ethno-religious community. This imperial mentality is incompatible with modern international law and is dangerous for all of Russia’s neighbours. The President of Russia calls today’s Ukraine “our historical territory” although it would be more correct if the Ukrainians called the region of Muscovy “ours”, since initially it was ruled by the Kyiv princes.

Putin can’t deal with two peoples who are similar in many respects but who want to live separately. And he is prepared to use force to achieve full domination of Ukraine as he did in Crimea and is doing in the Donbass. From the point of view of the West, his actions are those of an aggressor; but from Putin’s point of view, what he has done is an internal matter because they are already properly Russian. Putin considers present-day Ukraine ‘the anti-Russia,’ that is as simply “one more Western project the struggle against which is what he supposes is his mission handed down to him by the Moscow princes.”

To put Putin’s conclusions in perspective, imagine Boris Johnson declaring that the Great English nation includes the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish, based on their common history. It is as accurate historically as Trump’s 1776 report. This linked article is a hilarious satirical take off on Putin’s approach according to which anyone except the Ukrainians formed the nation in Ukraine by applying the Putinist approach to Russia.

Ukraine is taking Putin’s paper seriously as it is almost a declaration of war. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine said, “Putin’s mission is to restore the greatness of the Russian empire.” Ukrainians overwhelmingly believe that they are a different nation and want to continue building their national state and overwhelmingly want to escape the historic domination, occupation, colonial exploitation and repression by Russia. Putin’s own stance now appears to be hardening. If he acts upon the precepts he enunciates in his essay, it could transform the East-West confrontation into something much nastier and more foreboding.

The second major item with a bearing on Ukraine’s future and perhaps more dangerous to the country’s future as an independent state are Russian pipelines encircling the former East Bloc countries under the influence of the USSR, in particular Ukraine. Nord Stream II, the pipeline under the Baltic Sea linking Russia directly with Germany will double the volume of Nord Stream I to a total of 110 bcm/y. TurkStream pipeline starts from Russia’s Krasnodar region, crossing the Black Sea to the receiving terminal in Turkey. It consists of two lines with a capacity of 15 bcm/y each. The first line is already in operation, delivering 15 bcm/y of gas to Turkey for its internal needs.  The second line is designed to run from Turkey to Bulgaria, across Serbia to Hungary and Slovakia.

Gas Pipelines from Russia to Europe

Nord Stream II (NS2) for years has been a source of friction within Europe and between Europe and America. Germany supports it very strongly. Ukraine sees it as “a noose around its neck.” USA says it puts too much power in Russian hands. Putin says America just wants to sell LNG to Europe.

Gazprom has reduced supply to Europe to a contractual minimum through existing pipelines across Ukraine, driving prices up and reducing Europe’s ability to replenish stockpiles which are currently at 50%. Gazprom says that when NS2 goes on stream there will be lots of gas for Europe. That is rather compelling evidence that Gazprom, which wholly owns NS2, will try to force the hand of Gazprom to ensure that it is not just completed, but that it also receives all European Union (EU) regulatory clearances rapidly. Failure to do so will ensure that Europe and Ukraine will freeze in the dark this coming winter.

Gazprom has several times in the past decades used gas supplies as political weapons. One expert identified approximately forty politically motivated Russian energy cutoffs between 1991 and 2004. From 2014 to 2015, Russia attempted to cut off Slovakian, Hungarian, and Polish supplies in order to forestall contracted Russian gas being resold to Ukraine via reverse flow.


However, the 2009 crisis resulted in a new EU law that the pipelines and the suppler must be independent of each other, that the pipelines can be used by supply competitors and that there must be tariff price transparency. Gazprom will fight this tooth and nail as it challenges their monopolist position.

A new pipeline will not increase supply, it will simply divert it from one pipeline to another. Reduce gas flow through Ukraine and its pipelines become uneconomic and then scrap. Then EU loses a significant energy security hedge that stems from the huge capacity of the Ukrainian transit network, which has 146 bcm of pipeline capacity and 32 bcm of storage capacity. This sort of capacity makes it possible to meet peak demand, manage atypical supply surges, and support the intermittent availability of renewable power.

And the effect of the loss of that route, in addition to the flooding of the west to east interconnectors, is to make it much more difficult for competitors to enter the gas market in the region, effectively splitting the Northwest European market from the Central and Eastern European market

Nord Stream 2, therefore, is likely to have a very problematic journey through the EU’s energy liberalization regulatory clearance regime, and Gazprom is making that journey more problematic by seeking to manipulate gas supplies to ensure it obtains all the necessary clearances to operate the pipeline. The Kremlin by attempting to blackmail Europe, is inadvertently in the process of triggering an existential threat to the European Union which will force the EU institutions and member states to robustly oppose it.

In the course of this conflict, the operation and functioning of Nord Stream 2—and who supplies gas to the European market—will become secondary issues to that of sustaining the EU’s legal order, the entire basis upon which the EU operates. The Kremlin’s public willingness to manipulate the supply of gas and send the price spiraling upward in order to force its pet energy project through the EU’s legal machinery will lose Moscow the support of most of its remaining allies. It also opens up the prospect of EU action, supported by the United States, to seek to remove Gazprom as a major supplier in Central and Eastern Europe, and limit the amount of gas EU states as a whole take from Gazprom.

So where is America in all this? At the June 16, 2021, Geneva Summit with Vladimir Putin, President Joe Biden told President Putin, that we need to have some basic rules of the road that we can all abide by.” The “rules of the road” were legislated by two global wars. They are the predicate for international relations in all respects, including cooperation on climate change, arms control, COVID-19, and cyber as sought by Biden. Rule #1 is territorial integrity and inviolability of borders, yet Biden did not place Russia’s de-occupation front and center . . . or anywhere. Instead of requiring reinstatement of the rule, Biden simply repeated “unwavering commitment” to Ukraine. 

Everyone gravely intoned Putin’s lecture that the resolution of “the conflict” must be in accord with Minsk agreements. America (and Europe) is in lockstep with Russia’s ukase that Ukraine must surrender key aspects of its national sovereignty under the coercive fraud of Minsk. Russia, a rogue state, uses Minsk to displace the United Nations Charter, Helsinki Accords, and all else that constitutes the “rules-based international order.”

As of yesterday (July 21), Biden and Merkel have settled their disagreements over NS2. Germany will invest in Ukraine’s green technology infrastructure, and Berlin and Washington will work together on initiatives to mitigate Russia’s energy dominance in Europe. The decision drew immediate criticism from Russia hawks in Congress as well as Ukraine and Poland. However, “the Biden administration by contrast recognizes that the United States has more important foreign policy problems than a faraway pipeline, not the least of which is the geopolitical competition with China. Those problems require a strong alliance with partners like Germany.

Under the terms of the deal, the U.S. and Germany committed to countering any Russian attempt to use the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as a political weapon. And, they agreed to support Ukraine and Poland, both of which are bypassed by the project and fear Russia's intentions, by funding alternative energy and development projects.

The two sides committed to supporting a $1 billion fund for Ukraine to diversify its energy sources, of which Germany will provide an initial $175 million grant and appoint a special envoy to help Ukraine negotiate an extension of its transit contact with Russia up to 10 years. Germany also guaranteed that it would reimburse Ukraine for gas transit fees it will lose from being bypassed by Nord Stream 2 until 2024, with a possible 10-year extension. Germany also agreed to press for sanctions in the event Russia attempts to use its energy clout as a weapon against Ukraine, according to the joint statement signed by Washington and Berlin

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia would never use gas and oil as levers of political pressure. But last month Putin warned that Ukraine would have to show “good will” if it wanted gas transit to continue. 

How this plays out remains to be seen. Russian agreements are worthless and apparently so are agreements to defend the borders of Ukraine for giving up nuclear weapons. I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for all the promises from Germany and Biden either. But if Ukraine falls, given Putin’s mission to reconstitute the former Soviet Union as the Russian Empire, eastern and central European countries should be worried. So should the rest of the “free world”.