Friday, July 30, 2010

Case in Point - Shahram Amiri

Shahram Amiri is an Iranian nuclear scientist who disappeared in Saudi Arabia in June of last year while undertaking the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca.  He surfaces a year later in the "Iranian Interests" section of the Pakistani Embassy in the United States claiming he had been kidnapped by the CIA and subjected to substantial pressure to provide information on Iran's nuclear program.

The US State Department says he was in the USA of his own free will.  He allegedly had defected from Iran and provided information in return for a few million bucks.  The kidnap story is just a cover so he can go home to his family.

Two stories, opposite versions, which do you believe? Who is lying?

After 1954 (and 1980-88), Iran has no reason to love or trust America.  America has no love for Iran of course since they threw out the Shah and are now building a nuclear bomb.  America does not like any country in the Middle east that it cannot control and Persia has been a problem since the days of the Great Game.

Would the CIA kidnap an Iranian nuclear scientist and take him to the USA and try to turn him with psychological pressure and loads of money? If they did and it didn't work, would they actually let him "escape" and then fabricate a cover story, hoping to get him killed on his return home? Would an Iranian nuclear scientist defect to the USA and leave his family behind in Iran to the tender mercies of the Revolutionary Guard?

Would the Iranians treat a returned nuclear scientist defector as a hero simply in order to embarrass the USA?

How do you explain the three videos on YouTube with two different story lines?

My sympathies are entirely with the Iranians.  But I could be wrong.  The CIA and the State Department could be telling the truth.  Like the Irishman who walked past a pub - Hey, it could happen.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Truth and Lies

A couple of years ago I was in Moscow visiting at a university where a friend teaches English.  At that time the rehabilitation of Stalin as the all-wise, all-knowing all-benevolent Uncle Joe was in full swing.  I asked a couple of students who were in the office what they thought of Stalin coming in second in a "Greatest Russian of all time" competition sponsored by a TV station.

They gave me the answer I expected from a culture that has learned the hard way to keep their heads down and mouths shut - they weren't interested in history, they were interested in the future.  But one of the teachers had a question for me - how do you know what and who to believe?

When it comes to the events of the day, what and who do you believe?  How do you know if you are being lied to?  That is no easy question and there are usually two choices - watch Fox News Channel and believe everything or believe nothing and suspect everything.  Even the cut and dry is not always as it seems.

Back in March, the South Korean Corvette Cheonan sunk after some kind of explosion and 46 sailors were lost. North Korea was the obvious suspect and indeed after an investigation by an international team, it was concluded that a North Korean torpedo from a mini-submarine had sunk the Cheonan.  They even dredged up the remnants of the torpedo.  North Korea vehemently denied it but what would you expect?

So today, I ran into this article  in CounterPunch which raised a whole pot load of issues that never made the 6:00 news.  There is a great possibility that the data was fudged to make it match South Korean expectations and that the ship actually triggered a non-contact mine of which there are several in the shallow water area where it sank and which may even have been south Korean in origin. Truth remains the first casualty of war.

I made up a check list for the teacher in Moscow and would welcome comments and additions:

What is the agenda?
Who benefits?
What evidence?
Who is funding it?
Historical facts – incontrovertible or new evidence? Files available or closed?
Language – rational vs. emotional/hate filled
Official government policy?
How independent is the media?
How free is the country?
What is currently “politically correct”?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thunder and lightning

Tanya didn't have to water her flowers tonight.  We had a dandy thunderstorm that made three passes before disappearing.  For a while we thought she may not have to water them again at all this year as there were hailstones mixed in the first rain.  But only a few and not very large ones, so she lucked out. 

The temps have been running in the high 30's all week so hail would not be unexpected.  All of Russia seems to have the high temperatures too.  Moscow was 39 with smoke from nearby forest/marsh/brush fires. 

I took some food out to the dogs just as the rain was starting.  Bobik slipped out of the gate when I opened it so I let Volk out too for a run.  Gardens are past damage and the chickens should have all been home for the night anyhow.  They weren't gone long.  Once the downpour started we found Volk on the front entry step and Bobik standing by the gate to go in.  Dogs do have enough sense to come in out of the rain.  People, on the other hand, . . .

Speaking of dogs, Maxim has taught Ronald to shake a paw. 

Roman, the historical sculptor

Plasticine (plastileen in Russian) has kept Masha and Maxim entertained for hours.  Roman was here the other day and it kept him entertained too.



One body, two heads 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Entries to my poetry contest

Insubordinate (no blog but should have one) emailed me the following versions of familiar poems.  They are wonderful and have admittedly an agricultural theme which endears them to my heart even more.

O what can ail thee, farmer man
  Alone and watching carefully
The crops are late and autumn comes
  I am afraid
O what can ail thee, farmer man
  So haggard and so tres concerned
The blight is on these crops of mine
  And spray is dear

I wandered 'cross my fields of green
Waving so slightly in the breeze
When all I once I saw a sheen
A spot of dreaded crop disease
On the heads of my crop so fine
So many there I felt like cryin'
On this year's hay crop . . .
Shall I compare thee to last year's hay crop
Thou art more greener and as high as the gate
Heavy rains do fall, beat thee down to earth
And haying time hath all too short a date
I wandered - a lonely little cloud
But friends soon came to have some fun
With driving rain and hail so hard
We pummeled on Saskatchewan
Upon the crops, upon the ground
We flooded basements all around.
Grow grain along with me
Riches are yet to be
The rain is much, the GDD are low
Our crops are in Her hand
Mother Nature rules the land
Will we harvest; fear Jack: damage much, still no dough.

With apologies to Keats, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and Browning .
And many many thanks to Insubordinate. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Big Mac Index

The Economist just published its semi-annual Big Mac Index, which compares the price of a Big Mac around the world and uses that to estimate whether the currency is over or undervalued against the USD.  It is not scientific but it is easy to understand.  The Economist says this:

THE Big Mac index is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP), according to which exchange rates should adjust to equalise the price of a basket of goods and services around the world. Our index shows that Asia remains the cheapest place to enjoy a burger, while those on the hunt for a value meal should steer clear of Scandinavia. The euro, despite its troubles, continues to be expensive when compared with many other rich-world currencies, though the British pound is trading close to its fair value. China's recent decision to increase the "flexibility" of the yuan has not made much difference yet—the yuan is undervalued on the burger gauge by 48%. For more on the Big Mac index see article.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why The Rich Should Be Taxed At Lower Rates Than The Middle Class

It's not exactly an explanation of the position. But it does make some sense to the very wealthy. From El Pais:
Translation: "we avoid paying taxes because we don't want to flaunt our wealth."  
 Stolen from The New Republic

Old Friends

Number ONE Son sent me a box of (my) old westerns with the girls, which I was some glad to see. Most of the authors I read by people like MacDonald or Macmillan, Beevor or Tuchman, Gilbert or Massie, Diamond or Dyer, Blum or Chomsky are fairly heavy stuff.  Even the hard cover fiction I read, LeCarre or Mitchener, are not exactly relaxing.

For that I have always turned to western novels, of which I once had over 100.  They kept disappearing to turn up at either May-B's or #1 Son's.  Book thieves!!  Didn't break me as most were bought second hand for half the marked price.

My favourite western authors are Ernest Haycox, Louis L'Amour, Will Henry (though his books are pretty intense as well) and Dorothy Johnson's two books of short stories.  I've read many different authors and Haycox is by far and away the best.  He wrote wonderful short stories and his novels well researched and well written.

You can see from the picture below, these books are old and well worn, the pages yellow and brittle.  I've read most of them a dozen times or more.  The three Dells were 35 and 45 cents new.  Most of the others about $1.50.  There are a few recent ones in the $4 range.

Old friends.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Chopping down the cherry tree

Apparently Moscow had a terrible wind storm yesterday which knocked over some 2000 trees.  We had a bad windstorm the other day and today Tanya got worried about the big cherry tree in our front yard.  It is over 20 years old and about 4 meters taller than the power lines passing in front of our place.  The problem with the tree is how it grew.  It is like three huge trees in one, coming together in an upside down tripod about 1 meter from the ground.  That is the weak spot. 

A very strong wind could rip one or more of the three "branches" off, splitting the trunk where they come together.  It could damage our house and the power lines. The electric company had been by earlier this spring and told us to trim the tree away from the power line. So Tanya called our neighbour Valeria and he came over this afternoon to knock the top off the tree.

I never before saw anyone climb a tree wearing cheap slip-on rubber sandals but up to the top he went with a pruning saw and proceeded to dismember the tree limb by limb.  Of course, Tanya hollered every time one dropped on her flower beds but she was worried about Valerie up so high and limbing the tree so close to the power lines.  I told him I didn't want to have to find Natasha a new husband.

Once he got most of the high limbs off and away from the power line, he called it quits.  We'll take the rest of the tree down in the winter.  when Tanya's flowers are safe.

More wood to dry for shashlik.  And in another 20 years we can cut down the weeping birch Tanya planted beside it this spring.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Cold Comfort

My sister scanned a bunch of old pictures from the farm and sent them on a DVD with the girls when they came over.  The temperature was 40C again today and we hung out in my office which is air conditioned.  I got looking at the pictures Ev sent. 

These two caught my eye as I remember that spring of 1966 very well.  They were taken on May 22 along our road.  The snow banks were still there.  This was in the days when we thought there was another ice age coming, of course.


I was home from 1st year University.  Dad had bought a 14' Morris Rod Weeder at a farm auction about 5 miles from home  and sent me with the tractor to bring it home.  This was the end of April but looked more like mid February.  There was snow banked everywhere.  The banks on each side of lane into the farm site were about 8 feet high in the caragana trees.  I dutifully hooked onto the rod weeder and started down the lane.

Now a 14" rod weeder is about 22' wide with the drive shafts sticking out, as you can see from the picture of this very old one.  As I started down the lane, it narrowed and the ends caught in the snow banks.  I couldn't back up and had to keep going, bending the shafts.  Dad laughed and took the unit into town to get repaired.  Our local blacksmith started the story that I had been working summerfallow and had got between two snowbanks and bent it all up.  That spring it could have been almost true

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Like Kipling? Don't know. Never Kipled.

Now on Rob-Bear's Blog, you will find links to Rachel's Blog, "The Waxing Moon".  She recently ran a poetry contest for the best Haiku about bears, which Rob-Bear won.  He even got a prize.  He had some good competition too.  There was one dissenting poet in the group who did an excellent imitation of Robert Service, which was much more to my liking.  And it gave me another idea for a contest.  Sorry, no prizes, other than the satisfaction of winning.

Here are the rules.  Pick a poet, any poet but a real one i.e. one who writes with rhyme and meter and such stuff, none of this cheap free verse that any idiot can write.  Pick a very identifiable poem from said poet and write your own version.  As per the example below.

The tumult and the shouting dies—
  The Captain and Tennille depart—
The weather’s hot; the water’s bad,
  And I am too afraid to fart.
Remind me the dogs need walking yet,
Lest I forget, lest I forget!


Last night when we started on our dog walk, Lucia's old dog and the young dog, now named Ronald, came running to their gate to greet us.  It is obvious that the old dog loves the pup and they get along famously.  Dogs are gregarious critters and need company - so long as they can figure out who is top dog and in this case yet, there is no problem.

Lucia says the pup follows her everywhere.  Tonight he came over to see Masha so I grabbed my camera.  You can see how tall he is getting; all legs.  Like Masha.

The cucs are done and tomatoes coming on fast, large and small varieties.  Tonight for supper we had a real corn feed; the good kind, with butter dripping off chins and elbows and salt enough to put blood pressure over the moon.  Monday the corn starts coming off for the freezer. 
The hollyhocks are done.  Another new lily bloomed yesterday and Tanya's "100" gladiolas are beginning to bloom.

Living Dangerously

Friday, July 16, 2010


The three people (I'm an optimist) who faithfully follow my blog will note I have been uninspired the last few days.  It has been too hot - mid-thirties - and there has not been much activity of interest to anyone.  I can't even work up a good rant or a bad joke.

Walked the hounds three night is a row, once the temp drops to about 30.  Maxim helped me one night, Masha one night and tonight it was just me so I walked along the marsh, which I haven't done all year and never before with the dogs on leash.  They disappeared into the tall grass and reeds and I didn't see them again until we hit the clearing at the other end.  I just hung on and waded through.

Masha is spending a lot more time here this summer.  Nights too.  She sleeps with Babushka.  I sleep with the Air Conditioner.  I offer to trade but Masha would likely catch pneumonia so the A/C is out.  We bought a large pool, about 6' wide by 10' long and 3' deep which holds 1000 litres of water at 60%  full (I can mix my measurement systems with the best of them).  Masha and Maxim spent the better part of the afternoon in it.  Even Babushka has been seen to slide in for a quick cool off.

Palaces and Castles

Two of the main attractions in Yalta are the palace of Count Vorontsov, one of many homes he owned and the Livadia Palace, summer home of Tsar Nicholas II and site of the Yalta Conference between the "Big Three" allies in February 1945.

Front Entry, Vorontsovski Palace
May-B posted another picture of the palace here.

The Livadia (or White) Palace
Then there is the Swallow's Nest.  Publicity pictures make it look like some fairy tale castle on some lonely rocky promontory.  Truth is it is a pretty popular restaurant surrounded on the land side by the usual touristy type development and with a private home behind it, out of view that dwarfs the castle.  The restaurant can be reached by land - if you like lots of stairs or by water - if you like lots of stairs.
The Swallow's Nest Restaurant

The bait

The truth

Wouldn't you like this summer home?
You could blast a boat house in the base of the cliff and
a hidden staircase inside the rock to the house
 Note: If you Google Vorontsovski Palace, Alupta and the Livadia Palace, there are some awesome pictures which will have to do you until you come and take your own.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Masha the Dog Walker

Maybe I can get Tanya to take some pictures tomorrow.  My hands have been full of dog leash the last couple of days.  Masha has helped me walk the two dogs on their leashes. She takes Volk and I take Bobik who is a bit hard to handle at the beginning of the walk.

Yesterday we let them off the leashes once we got well clear of yards and gardens.  I had a bag full of sliced up wieners to entice them back when it was time to put the leashes on for the walk home.  Bobik can be bought, came on call and stood to be snapped into his leash.  Volk would have none of it. So Masha walked Bobik home and Volk came home an  hour later.

Today we left them on the leash for the whole walk and Masha did just fine with Volk.  She chased him out of the brush and unwrapped him from around posts and towed him out of the ditch when he wanted to detour.  Maxim and Ivan came with us and the three kids ran while I walked.  Two years ago, Masha was 5 and couldn't keep up.  Now I can't keep up.

Bobik was quite happy to have Volk go ahead.  Volk would mark territory and then Bobik would come along and mark over top of it.

We took them down to the river to swim after the walk and the dogs sure enjoyed the cool off. The water is nice and deep after the rains, actually overflowing the bridge a bit.

Ky teaches the dogs to sit
When the girls were here, Ky decided to teach the dogs to sit.  They learned quickly, though Volk would sit, then immediately flop over to get his tummy rubbed.  When I go to put their leashes on now, I say "Sit" and it is Volk who sits patiently while I snap on the leash.  Bobik is too wound up to sit.  He needs more lessons I guess, Ky.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Nature of God

Tomes have been written on the nature of God by highly learned men, which I have no intention of reading unless they turn out to be part of my purgatory.  It is Snowbrush wrestling with the contradictions of theism and atheism that has got me thinking about my own attempts to come to grips with things over the past 30 odd years.  In a number of his blogs, he has forced me to think through my own beliefs and I owe hm for that.  Him and all his readers who comment.  Now he is threatening to leave that topic so I better get busy and write.  I jotted a few things down in previous blogs WHO and WHO & HOW. And please keep in mind, this is the very finite trying to explain the infinite.

The gist of the argument is that if God is so good and loves his people so much how come he allows so much suferring in this world? I quote from Snowbrush's blog:
(1) If God is omniscient, he knows exactly where, when, and how much every creature suffers. (2) If God is omnibenevolent, he doesn’t want any creature to suffer. (3) If God is omnipotent, he has the power to eliminate suffering without eliminating any benefit that suffering might bring. 

Now the nature of God has always been described as omnipotent (all powerful) omniscient (all knowing) and omnipresent (big enough to fill the universe and small enough to fill my heart, as the song says).  I never anywhere heard of omnibenevolent but stand to be corrected (R-B?).

Yes, God knows exactly what is happening and what will happen to all His Creation and I expect it gives Him a great deal of pain to see His creatures suffer and yes, he could change all that "in the twinkling of an eye".  However, He is not going to do that.

We are taught that God has a plan for the redemption of His creation from its current sorry state of affairs.  And given that the earth is 3 to 4 billion years old and the universe much older than that, it is fair to say His planning horizons are not the 5 years in my business planning, nor the 50 years that the Japanese allegedly use, nor the 500 years the Chinese allegedly use in their political maneuverings.

As I understand it, God wants a people who will know Him for WHO He is and love and worship him OF THEIR OWN FREE WILL.  Doing everything for us is not going to help us grow up, nor is magically making us love Him going to be very satisfactory (A very crude comparison - and I know, I know, I 'm going to Hell - is using a date-rape drug vs old fashioned seduction).

So He leaves us to our own devices and so far we have pretty much mucked it up and it hasn't even begun to get really bad yet.  When you compound man's inhumanity to man with nature's inhumanity to man over a few millennia, you arrive at today. Bleah! But humans are not yet convinced they can't fix things themselves (liberals) or they have the upper hand in the game and don't want it fixed (conservatives).  At some point those who are left will come to their senses, realize that they need a power beyond themselves (how is it worded in AA?) and turn to God.

That is the tricky part as there is no end to the folks who assail us daily with the idea that THEY alone have the answers, that God has given them alone the wisdom to understand the Bible as the road map to Salvation and that the rest of us, in order to be saved should shut up and do what they say, unquestioningly. Sorting our way through that minefield is no easy task and no one is going to do it for us.

Please pass the hat.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Another dog finds a new home

When the girls were here, they went walking with me and the dogs in the evenings.  One evening, Bron was with me and we came across a little part Doberman puppy.  It was maybe two or three months old and either abandoned by its mother or its owner.  At any rate it was lonesome and very hungry and it "followed us home" with encouragement from Bron.  Bobik and Volk seemed to accept him but I knew better than to put him in with them when we got home.

The pup ate a good helping of cat food and drank some milk before we announced to Tanya that we had three dogs again.  But I had a plan.  Our neighbours, Lucia and Zhenia's dog is very old and has trouble moving around much any more.  They need a young dog.  Also Maxim was there visiting his Babushka AND Zhenia was away at a health spa on the Black Sea.  (Insert evil chuckle here).

Picture courtesy Ky
I bought 15 kg of good quality puppy food and a collar and leash as a thank you for taking the pup.  Zhenia is now home and to the best of my knowledge the pup is still there and doing well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Grandma's Flower Garden

Tanya would have loved my maternal grandmother.  This little white haired Ontario born woman with roots in Yorkshire was to me what every grandmother should be.  Grandma loved flowers, too. Her flower gardens, on the farm at Kelfield until 1955 and then in Biggar until her death some 50 years ago, were the most beautiful I had ever seen. 

This picture my sister recently sent me was taken at the farm so most likely is very late 1940's or early 1950's.  She also had a big vegetable garden but flowers were her passion.  Mostly annuals as I recall.

 My grandfather was a hardworking no-nonsense Dutchman (who came to Canada via Iowa which is how he ended up with Scandinavian spelled surname).  He didn't believe in frivolous time wasting things, so my grandma and the three girls used to read standing up with brooms in their hands so they could look busy if grandpa came into the house.  But grandpa knew what was important to grandma and through the 1930's and any year it was dry, he hauled water from the dam for her flowers in barrels on the stoneboat behind horses or tractor.

Grandma's love of flowers carried over to her three daughters.  My mom didn't have the time or energy to grow as many as grandma but she had lots of colour in her garden.  We used to tease her that she never planned a flower garden, she just let everything go to seed and in  spring, cultivated between the rows and what ever grew was her flowers for the year.  Her two sisters also had lovely flower gardens.

Too many summers weeding vegetables kind of put me off gardening of any kind, so I am thankful for Tanya.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Tanya's Flower Garden Update

We came home after 8 days away to learn we'd had three days of good rain and to find the gardens had grown substantially.  Tanya spent two days cleaning up the flowers and then started on the vegetable garden.  She is getting a pail of cucs every day now and has no idea what to do with them.  Lena will make more into pickles but even she has a limit.  Andrei's Tanya doesn't want any as she would just have to move them when they go to their new apartment.

Our little freezer that we paid $500 for three years ago is almost full and we have corn and beets yet to harvest.  We can now buy one twice as big for the same price in a local store, so the idea of freezing foods to preserve them rather than canning everything is slowly catching on.

Tanya has lilies blooming from early spring to late fall

This is "Masha's flower garden"

Nothing says Ukraine like Hollyhocks

Two year old Climatus in our front flower garden

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Man Outstanding in his Field

Kostia put the girls on the plane at 11:00 on July 2 and at 1:00 picked my colleague and friend Al Scholz off the plane and put him on a train to our place at 5:45 for a three day visit.  Al is on his way home to Saskatoon from Kazakhstan for the summer and will go back late August.  He is working on a minimum tillage research project on a 250,000 ha corporate farm of which 5,000 ha is dedicated to research.  They have had no rain since winter and wheat crops are going backwards very fast.

It has been a great two days so far talking farming with Al.  He is an agronomist and consultant and has 8 years farming experience on his own to back up his technical expertise.  Al says that yields in Kazakhstan are half of Saskatchewan though growing conditions are similar and the big issue is management, not lack of technology.  Fields are too big and managers are not hands on.  No one has an overall picture of what is going on, including top management.

We took the dogs for a walk this morning and stopped to check out a local wheat field. Combines are rolling again today though we wonder if the grain is dry enough.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Homeward Bound

Bron and Ky are on their way home or at least we know they were in the airport in Boryspol  by 9:30 this morning.  Their train was over 30 minutes late but Kostia got them to the airport in record time.  Hillary Clinton is in Kyiv today so traffic will be fouled up all day but they must not have had too many roads blocked off yet.  Technically the plane leaves for NY at a little after 11:00 this morning, so even with only 90 minutes they will be OK. . . I hope.

Bronwyn was antsy to get home.  She missed her husband, of course, but she is also her mother's daughter and if the Regina skyline is below the horizon, she is too far from home.  But she says she will come back again.  Ky could have stayed all summer but has some serious dissertation stuff to have complete by early September.  Tanya was all for her to pack her next summer's work and live here for the summer next year, communicating by internet.

Just before getting on the train.
 We put the girls on the train to Kyiv in Simferopol yesterday at 4:15 and were home by 11:45.  If you add the 2 1/2 hours from Alupta to Simferopol, it took 10 hours to drive the 600 km each way.  Bad roads in places (mostly near home), heavy traffic, many villages with 60 km speed limits and many many trucks loaded to the gunwales and traveling as slow as 50 on the good stretches.

Our trip home was not without incident.  After sitting for a week, the battery was dead.  The hotel owner jury-rigged a set of jumper cables from electric cable and had us going in no time.  The girls gave me what for for not having a set of jumper cables.  What kind of Saskatchewan farm boy was I?  THEY each have a set in THEIR cars.  And coming in the week earlier, we got a batch of bad gas and the engine light was on when we arrived indicating fouled plugs.  On the way out I kept the engine revs up and by the time we got to Simferopol, the carbon was burned off.
I forgot to get more cash in Simferopol so we headed out with 70 hrivnas and not enough gas to get home.  Not smart.  Bank machines are where you find them and using credit cards at filling stations is problematic.  Tanya finally spotted a bankomat by a highway restaurant in a little village and we filled up in Krivii Rih, just 65 km from home.  We might have made it, coasting on fumes but . . .

I hope the girls' trip home is without incident.

We had a great time and it was so good to see them.  They can write about their adventures as it is their story to tell.