1,418 Days in Hell: Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War in Pictures

1,418 Days in Hell:   Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War in Pictures

The Russian world just celebrated Victory Day on May 9, commemorating the surrender of Nazi Germany in World War II.   A friend of mine who lives in Russia now describes World War II as “Russia’s state religion”.    This is a big deal over there and a huge part of the national psyche.

I thought this was a cool series of photos about the Soviet war experience.   One of the reoccuring themes in my Wolverines:  Reflections on Red Dawn book is that during the Cold War we were face to face with a society that had a strong collective history of suffering and endurance through some of the most adverse conditions imaginable.   Not just in World War II, but pretty much intertwined throughout Russian history.     Things got rough sometimes for our military during the World Wars, but American civilians were largely immune from the horrors of war (and still are).    All things considered, we had a very comfortable 20th Century and Russia had anything but.

During the height of the Cold War (and today), the average Russian would have had grown up hearing stories from relatives on suffering and could still see the damage from war around them.   The kinds of things they would’ve heard would make grandma’s stories about only being able to buy a couple tin cans of peas a week during the war seem pretty trivial.   Would the American public have the mettle to make the kinds of sacrifices needed to win a total war?    As we continue to poke the Russian bear and others around the world today, would we have the mettle as a society to stomach the kinds of burdens that a major conflict would bring about?    Death, resource scarcity, cyber attacks, economic warfare, etc?     I don’t know…

Colony Collapse Disorder Hits Close To Home

Ok, I don’t know if it’s exactly “colony collapse disorder” but one of my two beehives died last week and the other one took a beating and is way down.    The state apiarist estimates (tongue twister?) that 70% of the hives in the state will die this year due to the stressful winter…and it was a brutal one.   Not only was the winter rough, the past couple of years have been hard on bee colonies due to drought.

I’m watching my other hive to see how they’re doing.   I’ll probably crack into it again next week and see if they’re reproducing and do whatever I can do to make things a little more comfortable for them.  I didn’t do much supplemental feeding last year, but I’ll probably give them some sugar water to help out.   Hopefully the hive will be able to build itself back up and I’ll be able to split off and rebuild the other one.

It seems like colony collapse disorder and the general plight of the pollinating insects has gotten a lot of mileage on social media and such over the past year or two.   It is good that people are starting to care, but I think sometimes the focus is a little off target.  Yeah, reposting something about how evil Monsanto and pesticides are isn’t a bad thing and there should be discussions about these things, but in the meantime please plant something that benefits pollinators.    Seedum, sage, mints, clover, whatever.

Since seeing my bees die, realizing I have a ton of plants that need pollinators, having a girlfriend into prairie plants and talking with a guy who’s raison d’etre is planting milkweed for the dwindling monarch butterfly populations, the idea of creating better environments for bees (and other important insects) has been on my mind.   I know there’s all kinds of doomsday scenarios thrown around about the demise of the bees (and yeah, they really are that important) but it just feels a little more real as I’m pulling handfuls of dead bees out of my hives.

Also, I have to say it was really cool this winter to look outside on sunny days above freezing and seeing the bees getting out of the hive.   It was good to know that they’re still there.    It sucks that they had to suffer through a colder-than-usual Iowa winter stuffed up inside a wood box in my backyard just to die once everything started the flower and the good times were ready to roll.    See you in Valhalla, little bees.



Brushing Your Teeth With Sewer Water in Texas

Brushing Teeth With Sewer Water Next Step as Texas Faces Drought

So the hydrologic cycle in Wichita Falls, Texas just got a little shorter and they’re treating sewage water directly and putting it back into the municipal water system.   Honestly, it’s probably a little less disturbing than it sounds and someone interviewed in the article makes a good point that all of the water we use was someone else’s toilet water at some point (see:  water cycle).   At the end of the day every drop of water was probably brontosaurus piss at some point.   Still, the important thing here is that the city of Wichita Falls (pop. around 100,000 so it’s good-sized) is at the point where they have to make these uncomfortable decisions to get water.

Wichita Falls is in the Texas panhandle and situated on top of the Ogallala Aquifer, a giant underground sea below the American Great Plains.   This vast reserve of water has made commercial agriculture possible in this arid region.   I’m not sure exactly how to word this, but it’s also made civilization possible in the region.   I struggle with how to word this because of course there were bands of American Indian tribes there before we came and as of now it’s the most sparsely populated region of the Continental 48 but I think you know what I mean.    If you look at a map of the US at night, notice how once you get past Lincoln, Nebraska and Dallas, TX you don’t really see much besides a string of lights along interstates and a few little dots here and there:



Anyways, the water in this ancient aquifer is being used up at a rate that far surpasses the rate it replenishes.  Most of this water is used for ranching and row crops and there’s big problems on the horizon for the region (and perhaps the country/world) when it gets to the point where they can’t use the water anymore.   There’s already towns on the fringes of the aquifer that have basically “dried-up” as the shoreline (?) has shrank and left them high & dry.

When I was in Iraq there was a guy in my platoon who was from Western Nebraska.   Really smart guy, he had a degree in aeronautical engineering and a great analytical mind.   He told me about some of the problems of the region and I remember one of the more PG conversations we all had was “what should Western Nebraska do? (or really anywhere in the high plains)”.   That’s a tough question and one I still think about from time to time with no good answer besides pack up shop and let the bison come back.   Although that’s probably the best solution I can come up with, that’s one of the most difficult ones to swallow in our growth-orientated culture.     I’d like to tackle the issue of the aquifer deeper sometime.

The past couple of years have been rough on that part of Texas and really the whole Great Plains/Midwest area due to drought.   The thing about drought is that the misery can compound itself by affecting vegetation and soil quality the next year and continue to make things worse.    If water tables are lower and vegetation and soil quality are down from last year’s drought, this effects of this year’s drought is only going to be worse.    This of course makes the region’s agricultural products (grain, cattle, cotton, etc.) a little more dear.   The situation gets worse when you consider a few other major grain producing regions have been in a drought too.     I know phrases along the lines of “if you don’t believe there’s inflation, go to the grocery store” have been thrown around a lot in alt-media circles, but I’ve REALLY started to notice food prices climbing this year.

While the particular situation of Wichita Falls using sewage water is probably more disturbing than truly alarming,  it does seem like something where mother nature is kicking back a bit after people living on the wrong side of the land’s true carrying capacity for too long.     Even if this part of the world has a good rainy season this year, it still doesn’t solve some of the long term problems associated with the overuse of water for commercial agriculture and human settlement in this arid regions.

US Should Send Astronauts to Space Station by Trampoline

Russian Official: US Should Send Astronauts to Space Station by Trampoline

Well played, Russia.    I got a chuckle out of this one.    It’s just a witty retort from a low/mid-level Russian official but in a way there’s more behind it.  The US government’s response seems half-cocked (if even that) and I don’t think the US government or citizens are prepared to deal with a response in kind from Russia.   For the record, I’m glad our goverment’s response is so dismal because I’d be opposed to aggression against Russia over the past year’s events.    I don’t think most people have thought about the Russians having the stones and/or the ability to put the screws to us in kind.   I suppose telling NASA that they’ll have to carpool with someone else to get to ISS would be one way.

On another note, I know a lot of people (myself included) have been pretty demoralized by how low NASA has sunk over the past decade or so and chalked it up as another sign of this country going to “hell in a handbasket”.   I guess the reality of the fact that we need Russia to keep up our scaled-back activities in space really shines some light on that situation.

There’s something very fatalistic to me about the idea that progress in space has seemed to come to a halt when you were constantly bombarded with the idea that the future will look like Star Trek or The Jetsons or something, but that’s probably a topic for another day.

Nuclear War: What’s In It For You?



I came across this book at the Planned Parenthood book sale last month and thumbed through it.    As something of a Cold War, uh, enthusiast (???) I thought this was a pretty cool relic from the era.   And the title is hilarious, I laughed as soon as I saw it.   There’s a sardonic/black humor tinge through the whole thing.

The book was put out by some disarmament foundation and does a very good job of explaining just about anything about nuclear warfare you could think of in layman’s terms.  It gives a few interesting scenarios on how nuclear war could’ve happened, a few real-life situations where it almost did and a good fictional scenario of what nuclear war would’ve looked like for a town of 10,000 that didn’t get hit in a large scale attack on the US.    Basically that looked like One Second After by William Forstchen sans the epic battle with the bikers at the end.

Overall, it’s an enjoyable read and laid out well for just picking up, opening up any page and jumping right in.   I like books like that.    It is very informative.   I also like how it does a good job of avoiding national biases and explains Europe’s general unease with being stuck between the USSR and the US.   I think this is something that most Americans gloss(ed) over and still sometimes overlook on issues of foreign policy – we’re not always 100% the cowboys in the white hats.

Although large scale nuclear war a la the Cold War is probably less likely today than it was when this book was written in 1983, is the use of a nuclear weapon more likely today?   Back then if one nation used them, it was pretty much guaranteed that someone else would respond in kind.   Today with all the terrorist groups, “rogue states” and second-tier powers that have them, it makes it a little less cut-and-dry.   It almost seems like we would be more likely to see some kind of nuclear weapon go off in a major American or European city from a terrorist attack than the Ruskies launching nukes in 1983 knowing that we’ll throw everything we have against them.   I don’t know.    I hope not.

Anyways, more than anything I just thought this book was a really cool bit of Cold War memorabilia.




Putin Encircling the US “Red Dawn” Style?

Putin is Militarily Encircling the United States Red Dawn Style

This blog post from Dave Hodges “Common Sense Show” caught my attention because of the Red Dawn reference, of course.     The content is solid, but it’s presented a tad on the alarmist side.   I don’t know enough about Dave Hodges to know if it’s tongue-in-cheek or not but it’s an interesting observation.

In Red Dawn the Soviet Army invaded the United States in concert with Soviet-supported Cuban and Nicaraguan forces.   The Latin contingent was able to sneak across the US/Mexican border and catch the Americans with their pants down because Mexico was in the middle of a bloody revolution.   It’s a good guess that this revolution would’ve been a proxy war between the US and the Soviets and Cuban/Nicaraguan forces there might have been expected.

Hodges makes the case that Russia is running circles around us diplomatically in Latin America, or “our backyard” as John Kerry called it.   This used to be our sphere of influence, but it does seem like Latin America is drifting away from globalism and into it’s own little interconnected world.   Russia kind of has the same thing going on so they’re all pretty well suited for each other, I think.

The article gives a few examples of what’s going on “down there”…

–  Nicaragua is increasing military cooperation with Russia and has a pro-Russian/not-so-hot-on-the-US government.

–   Venezuela’s raison d’etre over the past decade or so seems to be being vocally opposed to all things American…or Norteamericano, to be more precise.   They have strong military, economic and political ties with Russia and pretty much anyone else in the world that we’re at odds with.    To me Hugo Chavez seemed like a lackluster guy, but he had a great trick up his sleeve (vehement anti-Americanism) that made him popular around the world.

–   Argentina.   We’ve got an uneasy thing going on with them.   I’ve seen surveys that show Argentines have some of the lowest opinions of Americans in the world, including the Middle East.   According to this article, Argentine president Christina Kirchner backed Putin’s annexation of Crimea and said something or other about the Falkland/Malvinas island thing (as Argentine politicans tend to do…often), presumably hoping for support when/if they try to get possession of the islands again.    Now that I type this, I wonder if the Falklands/Malvinas could someday end up a real flashpoint between Russia and the West?   A few years ago I would’ve said it was too obscure of a conflict, now who knows…

– Brazil.   They’ve flexed their newly-gained diplomatic muscles a few times in the past four years or so to counter US foreign policy aims, namely in Iran.   They’re increasing cooperation with Russia as well, especially economically and in the technological fields…and yes, militarily.    Brazil is a rising economic powerhouse and is one of the BRIC”s” nations, along with Russia, India and China (South Africa?  Bullshit.  Not counting them) who some say will be the big players on the world scene for the rest of the 21st Century.   Some of the economic proposals between the BRICs could be bad news for some of our economic arrangements, namely the petrodollar system…that’s a long conversation in itself.   Also Brazil is notable in the world as being one of the few places where agricultural production can be notably ramped up.   There’s all kinds of land down there ready for the plow and their agricultural sector has been booming for a while now.   Soybeans, cattle, coffee, corn, sugar, you name it.   They’ve been doing a lot of business with China too, for what’s that’s worth.  The ability to produce food is very important of course and I think Brazil will be even more important in the future.

Who else?   Oh, Ecuador.  Not exactly a bit hitter on the world scene but I think a lot of people like and respect President Rafael Correa.    He actually seems like a respectable guy.   He has some depth and tact to him that his counterpart in Venezuela (Chavez) didn’t have.   He would probably be one of the better world leaders to sit down and have a conversation with.   Anyways, they’re on board with Russia (and not with us).

Apparently El Salvador signed a military agreement with Russia.   I hope MS-13 doesn’t get stabby if all hell breaks loose, ha ha.

I doubt that these developments mean that a pan-Latin army is going to come rolling across the border and come get us Red Dawn style, but it is interesting to watch how the world seems to be shifting from US hegemony to a more multipolar world as Russia gets teeth again.

Two Colorados – The Prospect of Northern Colorado Secession

Northern Colorado Wants to Secede from Colorado

This is an article from July 2013 I bookmarked back then with the intention of posting it just because I thought it was an interesting cultural divide within the same borders that has been festering for a while now.    Just like some countries don’t seem to make sense when you consider ethnic/regional/religious/political differences, states can be the same way.   The divide between Northern and Southern California is one of the more well known examples but there’s also Illinois, Michigan, Florida and arguably New York that seem to be two different worlds.

Probably within my lifetime, Colorado has made that list of places that are really hard to paint with a single stroke.   You have the conservative rancher types in the Great Plains, progressive urbanites in the Denver/Colorado Springs corridor and then the various cats & dogs out in the mountains.    The big divide in the state is of course rural vs. urban and that’s probably more or less the big divide just about everywhere but in a place like Colorado it might be a little more pronounced.   I can see the environmentalism of places like Denver and Boulder being at odds with the ranchers and farmers out on the plains.   I can also see the left-leaning tendencies of the urban areas being at odds with the rugged individualism of everywhere else in the state too.

In the article they’re talking about a movement to get rural Northern Colorado to split from the rest of Colorado.   To add a little more to the idea that some borders don’t make sense, a few counties from Nebraska are said to be in on it too.   Although the nuances of Nebraska aren’t as visible at the national level (same with Iowa, although they’re there), there’s a big divide between (very) rural Western Nebraska and urban Omaha/Lincoln.   I’ve even heard of tongue-in-cheek motions for Omaha to leave Nebraska and link up with politically moderate Iowa and leave the ultra-conservative Great Plains/Western Nebraska folks to themselves.     For what it’s worth, the world of an insurance agent in Omaha and a rancher somewhere outside of Kearney are pretty damn different and with different concerns.

This summer I went and visited an old friend I was in Iraq with who is a police officer in the Denver area.   It was my first time in Denver and it was really cool to get the tour of the city from someone who grew up in a very rough part of it and then sees the city from the police officer’s perspective.   He pointed out all kinds of cool little things that wouldn’t make it into Frommer’s.      One of the things that kept coming up was the huge cultural divide within the city, almost like three different places.   There’s the Denver that’s mostly white, progressive and affluent (see: “hipsters”, “yuppies” or whatever term is en vogue now.   Getting sick of hearing “hipsters” but that’s a different story) and then there’s the mostly Hispanic Denver that isn’t as well off and isn’t as interested in progressive politics.   The third Denver would be African-American but as I understand it isn’t as much of a factor these days as the White/Hispanic divide there.   I don’t think there’s necessarily a ton of antagonism between the factions, but little interaction and some frustration about having to deal with divergent agendas in local politics – it’s not so much that people have conflicting agendas, it’s that generally the different groups aren’t interested in the others’ issues.     It’s kind of interesting how these kind of fissures can boil all the way down to the local level and aren’t just an issue for countries.

Denver was a really cool city though, I thought….and I enjoyed both Chicano Denver and the progressive White Denver.    There’s probably not a better place in the world that I know of to get a good mix of urban offerings and the great outdoors, except maybe San Fransisco.    It was also the first time I’ve traveled by rail with the except of a couple short trips in the UK.    It’s about twelve hours from Osceola (45 minutes or so south of Des Moines.  I wish we had Amtrak!   They talk about it, but I doubt we’ll see it.) to Denver, which leaves at about 7:30 pm or so and arrives around 7:30 am in Denver.   I got a few hours of reading done and felt a little more comfortable than I would’ve on a plane (but yeah, the flight between DSM and DEN is about an hour and a half).    It beats the ten hour drive through Nebraska, too.    I’m sure I’ll repeat that voyage sometime in the future…




Russian Jet Buzzes American Ship – Ohhh Myyyyy!!!!













The war drums against Russia are getting a little out of hand.

Russian Jet Passes Over US Warship

So there was a US Navy vessel in the Black Sea (that’s the one that’s, you know, right there by Russia) and a Russian fighter flew by it a bunch of times and it’s headline news and everyone’s shocked and appalled that those goddamned Ruskies would do something like that and wondering why our boys didn’t shoot that pinko son of a bitch down.

This sort of thing actually happens all the time when two formidable militaries get close to each other.   I knew a guy that was in the USAF during the Cold War and stationed on the Alaskan coast who said that one day a week the Russian jets from their base across the Bering Strait would come over and buzz the towers and then the next day our fighters would go buzz theirs.   All that was exchanged were some universally recognized obscene gestures.

I also wonder if there would be the same sort of indignation if American jets harassed a Russian naval vessel in the Gulf of Mexico or somewhere else close to home.   I’m sure that happens pretty much any time a Russian vessel gets anywhere near the US and it should happen.   I have no problem at all with letting foreign powers know who’s neighborhood (not “backyard”, haha, that’s a different subject) they’re in.

I just thought this was one more silly example of the powers-that-be seeming like they’re foaming at the mouth to start something with Russia.   I’ve said before that the “human rights crisis” that magically surfaced when Obama was going to have to have a face-to-face with an angry Putin with some tough questions over Syria at the G-8 was pretty much bullshit, the media coverage of the Sochi Olympics was out of hand from the start (my favorite was the “this is just like the Munich Olympics with Hitler!” line.) and whenever I click on any mainstream media news site it seems like there’s always some “top 10 reasons why Russia sucks” article.

I also think that the revamped cold war thing has kind of lionized Russia and Putin to a small handful of Americans, including myself.    They’re not perfect by any means, but they’re openly hostile to a lot of the things that I think are the worst aspects of the United States – namely the way we run our foreign policy.   Sometimes we make the Russians out to be this bulwark against American militarism and soulless consumerism.   I suppose they are in a way, but they’ve got their own agenda in mind too.

Anyways, I hope cooler heads prevail in all of this bullshit and maybe we go back to arguing about the worldview of chicken franchises and other things of that nature instead of rattling Russia’s cage.   If we want to keep this up, I’ll gladly offer my services to Uncle Sam in the way of compiling a list of chicken hawks that have been pushing for this kind of thing to send in first.







Food Oasis Project


So this is a new project I’m working on with a handful of other people in the area.    The point is to help people start community gardens and turn unusued/under-utilized space into productive land, especially in areas where access to healthy options is limited (“food deserts”).   I’m pretty excited about this project and so far it’s off to a good start.    I’m not sure if I should spill out a lot of details before they really come to fruition, but we’ve got a project under way with one community center near me on revamping their community garden, our foot in the door for a project at a prominent local institution either this fall or next year and talking to some enthusiastic folks at another local institution which could be a big project.    We’re also making a ton of great contacts around the community.    It’s starting to look like a lot of good things can come out of this and I’ll be sure to share.

Backyard Permaculture, Edible Landscaping, Mini-Orchard or Something Like That.

I’ve been on the fence about where I see myself living in the long term and this year I decided that I’ll probably stay here for a while.   I have a few fruit trees in the ground and some other edible perennials, but I’ve been a little hesitant to put things in the ground just because of the likelihood that I was going to move somewhere else.    There’s a lot of good reasons for me to stay put in this house (for one, I’ll have it paid off by the time I’m 39 at the current rate) and unless I do something like marry Mrs. Duggar, it’ll probably meet every need I’ll have in the future.

Not only was the prospect of moving on my mind, I also told myself that I needed my lawn for my dogs.    This is true, but it dawned on me that the majority of the tree exists in the air and underneath the ground and there’s usually only a small trunk at the surface level.  No shit, Ryan.    Putting in a few trees wouldn’t take hardly anything at all from the dogs.   They might even like having more things to run around, more things to observe and more shady spots in the summer.

I’ve had my order out for plants for quite a while and I’m fine-tuning my plans for where things are going.   I called the utility companies the other day to get them to mark out the lines, so hopefully they get here tomorrow.   Then over the next few daysI’ll put the trees and shrubs in.

I have the following trees coming:  Plum, Crabapple, Sweet Pit Apricot, Cherry, a 5-in-1 Pear and a mini-dwarf apple.    I picked up a few more container-sized trees – two Evereste Crabapples and a Necta Zee nectarine.

I have raspberries, several currants, elderberries, sea buckthorn, gojis, Nanking cherries, kiwi, Rugosa roses, maypop and a few other odds and ends coming too.

The plan this year is to put down the trees and start working on a food forest where I’ll have the trees surrounded by layers of shrubs, herbs, roots and vines.    I’d like to put in a brick path that leads to….somewhere and have this path lined with shrubs and mini-dwarf trees.

My front yard is fairly shady with a few partial-shade spots and a bit of full sun areas.   Right now I have a little bit of catnip, a dwarf peach tree and about a dozen or two strawberry plants here and there but I’d like to get more production out of the front.   Right now I’m thinking of taking a sunny space about 3′ x 20′ on the side of the house and filing it with edible ornamentals as well as putting in crabapple and cherry trees and maybe elderberries.

Another project I’d like to tackle is the issue of my deck.   It’s a nice deck and very big but it’s kind of miserable during the day in the summer just because it’s so damn hot.   I’d like to make the space productive and nice to hang out in, but it’s hard to get things to grow in containers with the sun constantly beating down on it.    It’s really nice at night though.   I’m not sure if I want to build a trellis over part of it but I suppose that’s an option.

I’ve drawn up a rough plan for what I have and have coming and will post pictures and updates as I go as well as some of my thoughts and anything I come across that I feel is worth sharing with the world.    The more I think about it, I have a lot of possibilities with my less than a quarter acre lot and no reason NOT to go wild.   My neighbors probably already think I’m a little weird, I don’t see myself trying to sell the place anytime soon and my dogs will be fine.

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