Sunday, June 28, 2015

Masha's pictures

Tanya downloaded 350 pictures from Masha's camera onto my computer.  Half are from our holiday in Bulgaria,  Most Masha took with a couple of obvious exceptions (she is in them).

Today was a perfect day and we spent most of it on the beach.  Swimming and sunning.  Lots of locals out today, dozens of little kids having a great time in the warm shallows.

There is a lot of nonsense on my FB feed about "Bikini Bodies".  99.9% of the females here, young and old, short and tall, big and small, have bikini bodies.  They each have a body and they put a bikini on it.  End of story.  Europeans are far less hung up about the human body than North Americans.  I credit that to their luck in avoiding teachings of Knox and Calvin who have ruined more lives than alcohol.

More older people today but this is definitely a young people's beach.  I am in the oldest 1%.  80% are between 20 and 40 years and 60% between 25 and 35.  This has benefits for amateur astronomers.

Looking north from the dock

The sea at its roughest 

Masha ready to swim

This looked like fun - for someone else

There were a few jellyfish once in a while but very few

Colourful rooster in Nesebar window

I love this picture.

Do you have a piece of shashlik for me?

And a french fry for me?

Jellyfish (medusa in Russian)

Busy beach

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Ancient Town of Nesebar, Bulgaria

Yesterday, being Sunday, we decided to go sight-seeing to Nesebar, a 30 minute boat ride or 15 minute bus ride south of Sunny Beach.  Good thing we went yesterday as it was warm and sunny.  Rained last night and is cold and cloudy today.  Sleeping day.

Nesebar, a small almost-island, connected to the mainland by a very narrow neck of land,  is a very old settlement, built by the Thracians over 3000 years ago.  The museum has pottery examples going back to 5000 BC.  Then as the Greeks settled the Black Sea, it became a Greek colony in about the 7th or 6th century BC.  The Romans took it over about 70 BC and then it became part of the Byzantine Empire until the Turks finished that in 1453.

Nesebar is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Bulgaria.  Most of the fortification ruins are from Greek times but some remain of the original Thracian walls and towers.  There area  great many churches dating back to Byszantine times when the community became famous for its Icon Painting Schools.  This continued even during Ottoman occupation up until the 19th century.  Some of the locally painted icons are on display in the museum.

Needless to say, every square inch of the town that has been developed for tourists with hotels, shops and restaurants.  Tanya has already investigated renting a flat there for "next time" as it would be much quieter and nicer than where we are in Sunny Beach.

Google Nesebar Bulgaria Images for hundreds of great pictures.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Swimming at Sunny Beach - TANSTAAFL

It is a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the beach.  The beach is soft sand and you have to wade out quite a ways to get to water deep enough to swim.  The Black Sea is much less salty and much less buoyant than the Mediterranean so I cannot swim here like I can in Turkey.  So Masha and I stay in the shallows while Tanya swims far out.  Yesterday the waves were quite strong.  The water was to Masha's waist and the waves were over her head. The water was cold until you got used to it; my Sibirochka loved it.

Two-thirds of the beach is roped off with lounge chairs and umbrella tables for rent.  The other third is for people to lay on their own towels.  Renting a lounge is 4 BUL and if you want the umbrella table it is another 4 BUL.  So if Tanya and I wanted lounge chairs and an umbrella table it would be 12 BUL per day or 120 for 10 days.  That is $85 CAD.  At our hotel we get breakfast and supper only.  Tea, coffee, juice, or water is available only at breakfast.  At supper you pay.  This is how they keep the package prices as low as possible.

Last time Tanya and I were in Turkey, we had an all inclusive package that included all three meals, private beach with lounges and umbrellas or screens, free bar all day long.  It will be interesting to see what has changed when we next return.

I have not taken any pictures on the beach.  Viewers, depending on their bent, would accuse me of being either voyeuristic or not voyeuristic enough.  I have noticed that the ubiquitous under-wire push-ups are discarded in favour of cloth triangles and string.  In many cases it is quite a let down.

One old lady, much to Masha's amusement, was topless.  She and her husband reminded me of this cartoon

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bus to Bulgaria

Tanya Masha and I are at the MPM Royal Central Hotel in Sunny Beach Bulgaria, a mere 30 hour bus ride from Zhovti Vody. But we saved $400 by not flying.  And the folks who started from Kharkiv spent 10 more hours on that bus than we did. The bus run was Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Krivii Rih (where we got on), Mykolaiev, Odessa and then onwards.

We crossed Moldova at the bottom corner.  One hour at border control in Ukraine, one hour at border control in Moldova, one hour to drive, slowing to a crawl every 5 minutes to cross a hole in the road, then one hour at border control to leave Moldova and one hour at border control to enter Romania at Galati, then three hours to cross Romania, two hours at the joint border control between Romania and Bulgaria and 4 hours more to reach our hotel. We were almost to Turkey.

Border crossing goes thusly.  Officer gets on the bus, collects passports, matching each to a face as he/she goes.  Then he/she takes the passports to the office, goes over them carefully and scans them all into the computer.  Bulgaria is not part of the Schengen zone so we had the extra two border controls.  Bulgaria is not part of the Euro zone either for which I imagine they are thankful.  Their currency is the Lev, which is about 2 to the Euro or 1.9 to the USD.

Sunny Beach is a nice little family tourist town.  Strip joints and sex shops abound.  I told Masha she would be smarter when she left than when she came.

Hotel is nice.  Our room is actually a small sitting room and a bedroom so Masha has her own sleeping space.  Supper was good.  We walked to the beach after supper.  Return trip only took an hour and a half. Took two days to walk to the beach when we were in Spain.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Remembering the Farm - the Boxcar

Number crunching was making me dizzy.  Forty vegetables, one country, one province, two counties, fifteen years, area and yields.  Adds up to a great many numbers - then twist and turn them to try to make them tell any secrets.  And do the same for 25 fruits and nuts.  Music is a good break and You Tube is handy. Found Pete Seeger singing one of my favourite sad songs, a song Woody Guthrie made famous, "Hobo's Lullaby".  Got to thinking about the boxcar which was every bit as symbolic an icon on the prairies as the grain elevator.

The boxcar, a box on wheels with a sliding door on each side, was the universal carry-all for over 150 years.  Far more than hobos rode the rods courtesy of boxcars. I remember as a small boy, watching the mixed local pull into Landis or Cavell.  (They were 7 miles apart on the main CN line, Saskatoon to Edmonton).  This was pre-diesel-electric, with a big black steam engine doing the honours.  The train would be one or more passenger cars, mail/baggage car and one or several box cars filled with freight for the local towns along the way.   It served as bus line, mail delivery, grocery and parcel delivery. Whatever was needed in small town Saskatchewan came by train.

The train would be met by a flatbed truck, or horse drawn freight wagon, or in winter a flatbed sleigh.  Goods would be hand-bombed from the boxcar onto the dray and then delivered where ever in town. Groceries came that way and needless to say there were not many perishables and no frozen goods to speak of.  If there were enough perishables and frozen goods to warrant a shipment, a reefer car would be added to the train. 

Boxcars also moved our bulk commodities out of the west to the Lakehead and farther east to Montreal, or eventually west to Vancouver.  Try to imagine loading that boxcar with grain through the side door.  No easy task for the elevator agent. To ensure everyone had a chance to deliver grain, quotas were allotted based on acreage.  There was always excitement when someone spotted some cars on the elevator siding because that meant there would be room in the elevator to deliver some grain and that meant cash money in the pocket. The boxcars loaded with grain were emptied by turning them on their side.

By the late 50's and 60's,  the boxcar was relegated primarilytmoving grain as highways improved; buses moved passengers and packages while trucks moved mail and freight.  I remember sitting in church, looking out the window and counting boxcars on the freight train that went by every Sunday morning.  Empties going eat were usually about 75 to 100 cars long.

Gradually, the boxcar fleet was replaced by big round grain tanks with top loading and bottom unloading hatches.  Sidings were lengthened to handle 50 to 100 cars which cut the delivery and pickup costs dramatically but spelled the end of the old wooden elevators.  Now on abandoned sidings you will see hundreds of abandoned boxcars, waiting, I supposed to be melted down for scrap.  They have gone the way of the hobo.

NOTE: Those who remember better than I, please add details or correct errors.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Ukraine - The Russian War of Aggression is on again

There never was a real cease fire with either Minsk I or Minsk II, just a bit of a slow down.  The Russian side pretended to pull back the heavy artillery but turned it around and brought it back.  Ukraine tried somewhat harder but it cost them a number of soldiers and several villages.  Anyhow, June 3, it opened up again full blast.

This article is good comes with maps

This article has a one page pdf with a map and brief explanation.

For day to day stuff go to Kyiv Post and Euromaidan websites.  Bertter yet, Like them on FAcebook and they will feed you their news stories.

Putin is in Italy and scheduled a meeting with the Pope for which he was an hour late.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Verdun 1916 - a book review

Verdun 1916Verdun 1916 by Malcolm Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Humanity is mad. It must be mad to do what it is doing. What a massacre! What scenes of horror and carnage! I cannot find words to translate my impressions. Hell cannot be so terrible. Men are mad! — Lieutenant Alfred Joubaire (Died for France at Verdun).

Two horrendous battle were fought in 1916: Verdun and the Somme. The latter which lasted from July 1 to November 18, is better known to English speakers as it was fought mainly by troops from Britain and the Empire. The Somme resulted in over 1.1 million casualties on both side with the British losing 58,000 the first day, of which 19,000 were killed. Details complete with excellent full screen maps can be found at

The Battle of Verdun was an attempt by the Germans to bleed France white and force her into an armistice by attacking an area so sacred to France that the retention of which the French General Staff would be compelled to throw in every man they have. The strategically located city had a history going back to Attila the Hun, Charlemagne and the Peace of Westphalia. 

Verdun was a series of 28 forts great and small built on high ground (>150 meters) overlooking the valley of the Meuse River. They had been modernized before the war and equipped with heavy artillery. However, under Joffre, fortresses were no longer considered in vogue and they had pretty much been abandoned and disarmed. Further, Verdun was a salient with only one light railroad and one narrow winding highway along which to move troops and supplies. The German CiC, Falkenhayn, expected it to be an easy victory and an on-going bloodbath for the French.

Brown gives only the bare essential military details. For those, go to either The Price of Glory: Verdun 1916 or which has full page maps etc. Brown tries to bring to the reader the horror of those engaged in the fighting on both sides. The "mill on the Meuse" ground up 700,000 men (330,000 Germans, 370,000 French) over the course of 300 days, with many of the dead and wounded never having seen an enemy soldier. It was a battle of artillery, with several thousand heavy guns on both sides shelling the trenches.

Brown quotes extensively from letters, memoirs, official documents, written by soldiers, officers, nurses, ambulance drivers, presidents and paupers on both sides. It is not an easy read if one has any imagination. The stench of death was everywhere. A shell would bury the living and the dead while the next one would disinter them again. There were no white flag truces to gather the wounded. Dirt in the wounds made gas gangrene a constant companion. Food and water were all at a premium.

The Germans took a few kilometers but they did not take Verdun. Furthermore they were bled as white as the French. Falkenhayn was replaced by Hindenburg and Ludendorf. Joffre was fired. Petain emerged as the hero of Verdun which came back to haunt France some 20 years later when he would surrender to Hitler instead of turning back the Nazi invasion.

However the effect of the hell of Verdun on the morale of French troops resulted in mutinies the following year, which were never recovered from until into 1918. 

Bravery and belief in duty were never in short supply. The savagery that humans can inflict and endure staggers the mind. 

Maps and photos from Wikipedia.

The battle field 

The Battle of Verdun

The Western Front 1916

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Friday, June 5, 2015

Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? - a book review

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Hitler had delayed the invasion of the Soviet Union by two weeks, Europe would today be speaking Russian and look much like East Germany prior to unification. That is the conclusion one draws from Suvorov's book.

Anyone with an interest in the history of the Second World War knows the general narrative of the German invasion of Russia June 22, 1941. Hitler fooled Stalin into signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, bribing him with the secret protocols dividing up Eastern Europe. This allowed Hitler to fight on one front only without having to watch his back and would deal with Russia later. The Germans were so successful in overrunning Western Europe, North Africa, Norway and the Balkans, that Hitler decided to risk invading the Soviet Union. Destruction of the USSR was his overriding goal all along - starving 1/3 of all Slavs, enslaving 1/3 and driving 1/3 behind the Urals.

The Red Army was massed along the border with Germany and munitions, aircraft, tanks etc were also there. The Red Army was badly led, Stalin having killed off all the experienced officers in the 1937-38 purges, and did not have time to prepare defenses. Stalin was convinced Hitler would not attack and disregarded warnings of the pending German invasion, from among other sources Churchill and Sorge, a spy in the German Embassy in Japan who gave the exact date of the invasion.

The Red Army was caught totally unprepared by the German attack and collapsed in utter confusion, though they fought bravely. It took several weeks for the Soviet Army to get organized and begin to provide any kind of solid defense. They were not helped by Stalin who insisted that there should be no retreat and no territory lost.

Originally scheduled for April, Barbarossa was delayed until late June while the Germans bailed out Mussolini in the Balkans and reinforced the Romanian oilfields. Hitler was convinced that the war with the Soviet Union would be over in 4 months. However, even though in the first few weeks and months of the war, the Nazi's captured over 4 million Red Army soldiers and destroyed or captured thousands of aircraft and tanks, and millions of tonnes of munitions, they were caught by winter at the gates of Moscow.

This is the accepted story from German sources and official Soviet sources. For some reason, no one questioned the official Soviet sources and no one asked the obvious question, "What the hell were the Russians doing between Sept 1939 and June 1941 and more importantly, what were they thinking?"

We know the Soviet Union supplied food and raw materials to the Germans. We know in September 1939 they invaded and annexed eastern Poland, fought the Winter War with Finland, then in 1940 invaded and annexed the Baltics as per the agreement with Germany. They also invaded and annexed Bessarabia which was not in the agreement and which was too close for comfort to the Ploiesti oilfields, Germany's only oil supply.

It is Suvorov's belief that it was Stalin who fooled Hitler into facing west and that Hitler was finished the moment he turned his back on the USSR. Stalin's logic goes back to the very beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Socialism was not supposed to be limited to one country, it was to be world wide. After Russia, the country most ready for revolution was Germany immediately after the Great War. But by 1920, when the Russian civil war ended, it was too late. The Red Army was beaten back at Warsaw in 1922 and the border established to 1939.

Stalin realized that WWII was essential to the spread of Socialism; for the Capitalist Europe (Germany, France and Britain), to destroy themselves. That is why the USSR began helping Germany rearm, contrary to the Treaty of Versailles, long before Hitler came on the scene. It is also why Stalin encouraged the rise of Hitler, because he recognized his usefulness to the Socialist cause. Stalin referred to Hitler as the "Icebreaker" who would open the way for a Socialist conquest of Europe.

So when Zhukov signaled Stalin in August that the Red Army was in position to annihilate the Japanese Army North at Khalkhin-Gol on the Mongolian-Manchurian border and ensure Russia did not have to fight on two fronts, Molotov signed the infamous agreement with Molotov.

Suvorov was a Russian Military Intelligence Officer until his defection to Britain with his family in 1978. As such he had access to documents that other historians did not or that they did not understand the significance of. Suvorov describes in well documented detail what the Red Army was doing and what they were thinking. He lists which officers commanded which armies, division, battalions, where and when they were stationed, what their training and equipment was. He asks many questions to which he then applies his knowledge of military strategy and tactics to work out possible answers.

IF the Soviet Union was determined to stay neutral and stay out of the war and their only concern was to defend themselves against German aggression then WHY did they:

  • Move their border up against Germany, rather than leaving a buffer?
  • Abandon and destroy the Stalin-Line of defensive fortresses stretching from north to south, which at least would have provided a fall back line of defense?
  • Train a million paratroopers and establish a marine landing invasion force stationed on the Danube?
  • Train and organize a First Echelon army of millions and secretly move it up against the Border with Germany and Romania?
  • Train and organize a Second Echelon army and secretly begin moving it towards the German border?
  • Build roads and railroads towards the German border and use them to move troops and to stockpile millions of tonnes of fuel, munitions etc within 50 km of the border?
  • Build airstrips within 40 to 50 km of the border and part aircraft wingtip to wingtip?
  • Train pilots not in air to air combat but in air to ground bombing and strafing?
  • Spend months of detailed planning but have no defense plans?

These are activities of an OFFENSIVE Army, not a defensive army. In other words Stalin was NOT waiting for Hitler, he was going to attack. Suvorov calculated the date of July 6, 1941. Sunday morning was a favoured Soviet attack time. And according to the railway schedule the Second Echelon armies would begin arriving at the front July 10, which meant they could actually be unloaded on the other side of the border on German territory. On July 6, the disasters which happened to the Red Army would have happened to the German army.

By May and early June 1941 the actions of both armies on both sides of the border were mirror images of each other. Both sides were well aware of the build up of the other side. Why didn't Stalin believe the warnings? He had no reason to trust Churchill whose very survival depended on opening of an Eastern Front. Nor did he trust Sorge who had been "recalled to Moscow" months previous but refused, knowing what was waiting for him when he got there.

Stalin did trust his own intelligence officers who were certain an attack would not be launched even if Hitler were foolish enough to want to fight on two fronts. They were monitoring two critical items which they knew Germany MUST have before an attack on the USSR. Winter clothing and winter lubricants. Hitler's hubris sunk Stalin.

Suvorov's claims have been disputed as revisionist. The mythology of the Great Patriotic War is that Russia did not want to fight but were invaded without cause by the German aggressor. Most of the documentation needed to prove Suvorov's version has of course been destroyed, in particular the detailed plans which every commander along the front had in a red envelope in a safe which was to be opened on command from Moscow. But there are enough clues left to indicate that Hitler attacked to preempt what he knew was coming and that it was just in time.

Until I find a specific detailed rebuttal, I am inclined to go with Suvorov.

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Monday, June 1, 2015

Ukraine update - the Russia Problem

Pretty much the same old same old again. Russian-backed militants continue to shell and attack Ukrainian positions along the front, using weapons that under Minsk II they were supposed to have pulled back 50 km from the line of engagement.  Two Russian servicemen have been captured; Moscow claims they were no longer service men at the time of capture which both men say is bull-tweetie.  Two Ukrainian soldiers have just been captured; that will be interesting.

Novorussiya seems to be a thing of the past.  Possibly Kerry traded Crimea for Donbas.  The problem with Donbas is that it reminds me of the child custody battle where neither parent wanted the little hellion.  Neither Ukraine nor Russia can afford to take responsibility for trying to fix it.  Russia broke it so they should own it but it cost a lot of Ukrainian lives...

Proroshenko met with the EU rescue people  who are decidedly unhappy about the rate of reform in Ukraine.  So are the people of Ukraine, I might add.  There has been a few things done but nothing to really address the root problems of corruption, bureaucracy,and lack of business friendliness; all three being tied together in one gigantic Gordian knot.  How well the economy is doing is anyone's guess.  Mine is "not so good". We are seeing a few businesses close or scale back here in Zhovti Vody.  At least the crops are looking pretty good.  We have had a good winter and good soil moisture with recent rains.

Things in Russia have been going from bad to worse.  Another dissident Vladimir Kara-Murza, is in hospital with severe kidney failure, most likely from poison. It seems, as one article put it, "Don't walk, don't eat, don't drink".  Radio Free Europe has a list of those poisoned.  Funny how all of them seem to be enemies of Putin.

Putin passed a law last year that any NGOs which received foreign money must list themselves as foreign agents and print that on all documents.  He has added to that recently with the undesirable organizations act. Any organization, including a business can be declared undesirable, shut down and the principals fined or jailed.  The initial list includes the usual suspects such as Amnesty International, Memory and Mothers of Russian Soldiers.  He has also decleared that deaths of Russian soldiers during "peacetime" are state secrets.

When MH 17 was shot down over "separatist" controlled territory last July, the Russian Defense Ministry released satellite photos to prove that it was done by a Ukrainian fighter plane.  Bellingcat ( have released a 45 page report proving that the photos were faked. The Soviets used to go to great lengths to make their false information believable.  Putin's Russia no longer tries.  the intent isn't to fool but to sow confusion by providing what they euphemistically call alternative opinions.

There have been some odd things going on in Ukraine such as a string of suicides, murders and explosions.  A far-right extremist group claiming to be Ukrainian.  It does check out as being extreme right but not Ukrainian.  Surprise, surprise, surprise. .

Cheryl Rofer at Nuclear Diner has some good links. One book, one lengthy paper and a couple of good articles.

An opinion piece in the Financial Times says the West's problem is not Putin but Russia itself, going back over 200 years.

Historically, Russia has pushed its borders outward, as far away as possible from its heartland. It did not stop when it reached defensible physical borders, but only when it ran into powerful countervailing states. Where the west saw imperialism, Moscow saw the erection of defences.
For Moscow, states there face a choice not between independence and Russian domination, but between domination by Russia or a rival. That struggle, Moscow believes, is playing out in Ukraine.

On another front, America is FINALLY going after FIFA.  FIFA makes the mafia look as innocent as babes.  I mean Qatar? In summer? South Africa claims it paid $10 million in bribes to get the World Cup in 2010.  For Russia, that kind of money is pocket change after the $30 billion that disappeared in preparation for teh Sochi Olympics.  Putin claims America is overstretching its jurisdiction but methinks he is scared that their own shenanigans will come to light and that the 2018 World Cup will get pulled.

So you have to read this.  Borowitz must be hurting from laughing.  Having China or North Korea take him seriously is nothing new but Russia?  Priceless!