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Tuesday, March 29, 2016


There is great excitement over President Obama's visit to Cuba and his talks with Raul Castro.  And in Cuba Obama pushed the American line about the need for Cuba to embrace human rights and democracy.

Did you ever wonder why America was so furious at Cuba.  Her excuses over the last few decades were generally that Cuba wasn't a democracy and she was a communist country right on American's door step.

Pretty wild when you consider that America has, with the possible exception of her Marshall plan in Europe (and the motivations there were otherwise)* has never, not ever, not once promoted democracy anywhere in the world.  In fact just the opposite is the case.  John Perkins in his book Confessions of an Economic Hit Man  describes the process.  First America sends in what he calls the Hit Man.  This is an operative, such as John was, who with a combination of the carrot and the stick tries to persuade a new head of the government, whether elected, appointed or elevated to the position in a coup that he should cooperate with American aims.  This generally involves allowing American companies free rein in the country.

The shoring up of Europe after the war, including Germany had a positive motivation, at least by Marshall, of not repeating the mistakes after the first world way and beggaring Germany, leading to the second.  However the main motivations were A, to have a bulwark against Russia and B, to weaken Great Britain vis a vis her empire and to take over her world interests.  Do you realize that the quid pro quo for Lend Lease was access to British markets and military bases around the world.

If the Hit man doesn't succeed, America sends in the so called Jackals.  These are generally CIA operatives who disrupt the country and get the glorious leader deposed or in some cases killed in order to get a more compliant person leading the country.

If that doesn't work, they use false flag operations and the army.

One of the systems the Hit men use is to give the country huge loans for, for instance, the development of a hydro electric scheme.  The pricing is far above the value of the project and the client country doesn't see a cent (except for bribes to the glorious leader and arms for the army that he uses to keep his own people in line).  An America company such as Haliburton (Dick Cheney) does the work and gets the money.  When the country defaults on the loan (from the American bank mis-named The World Bank) America agrees to take payment in various ways such as the resources of the country.

As for Communism, which America complains about*, the only country I know that actually has had real communism is Israel.  Her Kibutzim were actual communism.  Not dictatorships aka Russia or China.  And Israel is America's staunchest friend.

*The new word she uses to justify doing anything she wants anywhere in the world is Terrorism.

No, the truth is that America was pissed off at Cuba and Fidel because it is the only example I can think of where a local took back his country for the benefit of his own people and kicked out American mining companies and agricultural companies who were ripping off Cuba and turning her people into serfs.

Generally, America loves to have a dictator in charge of a country.  If he can be corrupted, he will spread the largess to a few concentric rings of people and the army and keep control of the country for his own pecuniary benefit and serve the American corporatocracy.  America is not keen on having a democracy because each time there is a change of government, she has to start the corruption process over again and who knows what sort of patriot could be elected and prove difficult.

What America dislikes most of all, though,  is a dictator who is against America.  Fidel Castro once joked that if there was an Olympics for foiling the most American assasination attempts, he would be the clear winner.  And it is unlikely that Cuba would have stayed out of the clutches of America if she had had a democracy.  Only a dictator could act fast and effectively enough to stave off the constant attempts of America to get Cuba back under her thumb.  The Bay of Pigs was a good example.  First America flew reconasance over Cuba, then bombed her air fields and then sent in the rag tag army of Cuban exiles in the certain knowledge that the president would send in the regular army when the Cuban exiles failed.

Fortunately they didn't count on President Kennedy who scuppered that neat little plan.  This is one of a number of  possible reasons why he was shot down in Texas.  He thought of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as a bunch of delusional old men and wanted to break up the venal CIA and scatter them to the winds.

What I liked most about the visit by Obama was Raul's comments to Obama.  He told Obama that with respect to human rights, Cuba considers affordable medical care for all her citizens and free education are both human rights and America should up her game before criticizing Cuba.  Sad for Obama since, at least as far as medical care goes, he fought for this.  However he had to 'take it' in his position as president.

Later. Fidels message to the Cuban people was Beware of Americans bearing gifts*.

Now we have the sad spectacle of the primary elections, even in the inappropriately named Democratic party between Sanders and Clinton.  One would expect this from the Republicans but one would hope that a party called Democrat would have more respect for the concept.  Look, for instance at the discrepancy between the voting in each state and the exit poles.  Also have a look at:

Fidel Castro made some pretty negative comments about Obama's visit stating essentially that Cuba doesn't need hand outs from the US. Some commentators in the USA talked as if Fidel was rambling and out of touch with the Cuban people.  If there is a disconnect, it is the Cuban people who are out of touch with their leader.  They would be wise to listen to the old fox.

Have you noticed that America still has sanctions in place against Cuba.  If America was serious about good relations with Cuba they would simply remove these sanctions and let Cuba access the American market with her products.  Instead she is keeping the sanctions in place to be used to bargan with Cuba to get her businesses back into Cuba.  America business would dearly love to get back to the Batista situation in which American business dominated Cuba and Cubans provided cheap labour.  Cuba should listen to her old revolutionary.  He knows what he is talking about.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Our homing muscovy duck

I find this hard to believe and completely unexplainable.  We have a female Muscovy duck who was hatched on our property.  She can just about fly well enough to go over a fence and land on our little pond in front of the house.  She laid 14 eggs under an old three wheeler motor cycle and hatched out all three of them.  Unfortunately she and her ducklings took to roosting at night (is roosting the right word for ducks??)  on our front porch.  What a mess in the morning.

Finally, when the babies were only a few weeks old we decided we had had enough.  We found a friendly farmer who raises ducks himself and has a nice big pond.  He lives 6km away across our main highway.  We crated up the ducks and he  came and got them in his pick up truck.  Two days later they were all back on the pond.

We phoned him and asked him if he had changed his mind.  Not at all, he said.  The ducks just disappeared.  Somehow, she had led her small ducklings on a 6km walk.  Somehow she knew where we were in relation to where she was and what direction to go to get home.  Somehow she didn't loose a single duckling.  I'm in awe of her.

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Greenhouse Effect

Much has been written about the green house effect without really explaining what it is and how it works.  I thought I would chip in my two cents worth and hopefully make it make more sense.  I'll start with the Sun which has the mother of all green house effects.  I'll use the sun because it is pure physics with no emotion involved.  Then, when we are in the proper scientific mind set we can look at the earth.

So,,,, the sun started out as a cloud of elements with by far the greatest part being hydrogen.  It collapsed under its own gravity and if you have ever pumped up a bicycle tire, you know that the end where the hose is, warms up.  A diesel engine works on the same principle.  You compress the charge of air about 20 times and it becomes so hot that when you spray in the mist of diesel oil, the oil ignites.  Of course, with a cloud of gas heavy enough to produce the sun, the compression was far greater and the hydrogen at the middle was very hot and very compressed.  It was so hot and so compressed that the hydrogen atoms began to fuse together and produce Helium, releasing large quantities of energy as photons (electromagnetic energy).

This heated up the nearby hydrogen which was hot enough to fuse but not compressed enough.  What is interesting  is that very hot hydrogen absorbs and re-emits the photons produced by the nuclear furnace.  And it re-emits them  in all directions.  Some are sent back toward the core, some sideways and some toward the surface.  All are again and again absorbed, emitted, absorbed, emitted, over and over again.  There are various estimates that for the time it takes for the energy of a photon to reach the surface of the sun but all are in the thousands of years.

Compare this to what the situation would be if each photon created in the centre of the sun was not absorbed by the overlying hydrogen.  As quickly as the energy was produced it would travel through the overlying hydrogen and leave the sun.  Remember that it only takes 8 minutes for the energy of the sun to reach us once it has reached the surface and we are 93 million miles from the sun.  Instead of staying in the sun, the energy would leave the sun in about 1/2 X 8minutes / 93 X 60 = about three seconds.  The sun would cool down and probably the thermo-nuclear reaction at the center would stop.

This is the green house effect. On the Earth, the atmosphere is transparent to most of the light energy coming from the sun so the atmosphere is heated from below as this radiation is absorbed by the earth.  The warmed earth radiates long wave radiation.   If this long wave (infra-red) energy was radiated at the speed of light straight back into space, the planet would cool rapidly.  If on the other hand, some of the gases in the atmosphere absorb and re-emit the energy coming from the planetary surface in all directions, the planet warms up. It is a fact of nature that the wave lengths of energy coming off the earth, mainly in the infra red spectrum is absorbed and re-emitted by the gases we call green house gases.  They include water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide and a bunch of others in addition to Carbon dioxide.

On earth we have the same phenomenon as on the sun but vastly reduced.  Green House gases in the atmosphere  absorb photons in the infra-red part of the spectrum and re-emit them in every direction.  More of these molecules then do the same.  This delays the escape of heat from the atmosphere and causes it to warm.  The greater the proportion of green house gases in the atmosphere, the longer it takes for the energy coming off the earth to reach space and head out at the speed of light.

As the earth as a whole warms up, it radiates more energy.  Eventually we reach equilibrium with the same amount of energy being radiated as is being absorbed but the Earth is now warmer.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

How to get the beaver back

OK, so you have finally realized that at least a partial solution to your water problems is to get the beaver back in every stream or seep where he can possibly build a dam.  As you have realized, this will shift water from winter to summer (just as snow packs and glaciers used to do), recharge your water table, clean your water of sediment and nutrients, extend the life and effectiveness of your hydro-electric dams, allow these dams to provide more water and more electricity than they are doing now and so forth and so on.  So how do you get the beaver back in your catchments.

First, beavers need trees to build their dams.  Willows are great but any deciduous tree will do.  If you have such areas, capture and transfer some beavers to the area.  release them in lakes, artificially dammed ponds in streams or naturally deep parts of the stream. This will keep them happy as they explore the area and find a suitable location to build a dam.  However, the problem is, that much of the catchment will have been degraded and will be lacking a riparian zone of trees. Let's fix that and spend very little money doing it.

Tools you will need are a chain saw (If you don't like the noise, get an electric one that plugs directly into your specially installed alternator on your pick up truck) a pair of secheters (pruning sheers), a lopper (optional), an axe, a sledge hammer and 5 foot  steel bar sharpened on one end for each member of the crew.

Find a suitable deciduous tree such as a willow, poplar, aspen, cotton wood etc. Cut it down about waste height.  You want to leave a stump to coppice (grow from the stump).  Cut the entire tree all the way from the trunk to the small twigs into fore-arm length pieces.  The pruning sheers will come in handy for the smallest branches.

The larger logs you can leave as-is or split into four.  Sharpen the bottom end of all the larger pieces with your axe.  The thinner branches don't need sharpening.  Bundle all this into your pick up truck, cover with some wet sacks and head for your site.  You must do this when there is some moisture in the soil where you want to establish a beaver friendly riparian* zone.  This might be following a rain which has zoomed down to the sea, taking your top soil with it.  Nothing like watching your top soil disappear to inspire action.

*A a zone of trees and bushes on the side of a stream or river.

At the site, take the sharpened logs and quarter logs and pound them into the ground with your sledge hammer.  For the smaller branches, use your steel bar to punch a hole into the ground.  Try to make the hole about a third as deep as the length of your pieces of branch.  Drop in the branch and heel in.

For the intermediate diameter branches, if the ground is too hard to pound them in, the bar is also useful.  Punch a hole with your bar by ramming it a few times into the same hole,  rotating the top around to widen the hole at each punch.  It is now much easier to pound the medium diameter pieces into the ground.

If you have deer around the place and no wolves to keep them moving, you will have to find some way to keep them off of your new forest at least until it has a couple of years to grow.  Many of the deciduous trees grow at phenomenal rates if protected and soon will be too high for the dear to destroy.

Have fun and make sure to take 'before' and 'after' pictures and maybe write a blog with an article for each site you do.

And what happens if your introduced beavers threaten to flood your house or wash away a road.  Simple. You install a beaver deceiver.   Look them up on the net.  Here is how you make and install one model.

At a convenient place on the dam, remove branches.  Make a depression deep enough so that if the water only gets to that level, it won't cause damage to whatever you are trying to protect.

Get a piece of that corrugated plastic pipe and lay it over the dam.  It must be long enough to reach the bottom of the pond and  to reach the stream bottom on the down side of the dam.

Make up a U of scrap wood and pound it down into the beaver dam, upside down to hold the pipe in place.  The beavers will come and patch up the leak that evening and you don't want them to accidentally shift the pipe.

And the last step. Get some wire weld mesh of the type they use to reinforce concrete.  The bigger the holes the better but not large enough to let an adult beaver through.  Bend this mesh in a circle to make a cylinder and attach the ends together.  On one end, clip out a couple of cross ties all around.  A bolt cutter will do nicely.  You are going to pound this cylinder into the bottom of the pond with the clipped end down and removing the cross ties will allow you to push or pound the cylinder into the bottom of the pond.  The cylinder should extend above the level of the water or you could even put a top on it of mesh* and have it totally under water.  You, of course, are going to place this cylinder over the inner end of the pipe (almost forgot to mention that).

Now no matter what the beavers do, the water will remain at the level you have determined.

* Unprotected steel which is always immersed in water corrodes (rusts) very very slowly so putting a mesh lid on the cylinder and making sure it is completely submersed is not a bad idea.  Besides if you are in an area where the water freezes in the winter, if the top of the cylinder is below the bottom of the ice, it won't be shifted by ice movement.  A bit more work but worth the effort.  Iron corrodes most quickly just at the surface of the water.

Friday, October 9, 2015

The Chernoble Nature Reserve

Much surprise is exhibited by people when they realize that the no-go area around Chernobyl is turning into a wild life sanctuary.  We see such comments as "People are worse than nuclear fall out", referring to  the ever increasing richness and abundance of the flora and fauna in the area since people were excluded.  No argument there but it misses the basic biological point.

It is, of course true that if there is sufficient radiation, such as you might find inside one of the damaged Fukushima reactors and you stay in there long enough (not all that long), you will have your insides sun tanned and you will die.  Expressing it a bit more scientifically, the ionizing radiation wizzing through your body will disrupt so much of your physiology that your organism will cease to work.

Less radiation than a fatal dose will cause an increase in mutations and as we all know, most mutations decrease an organisms fitness to survive in his environment.  The effect on an individual organism, being hit with increased radiation is something of a lottery.  One individual may be made less fit, another not effected. A very very small proportion will have a mutation that will be advantageous.   And remember that we all live with a background level of radiation.  We get it from the sky as cosmic rays (heavy nuclei travelling at near relativistic speeds) and from radioactive elements in our soil.  To some extent our genetics is adapted to this radiation and there are mechanisms in our bodies that repair at least a portion of the copying errors.

Let's jump sideways for a moment.  Think of a pair of wolves.  The mother can easily have three pups (often many more) each  year and a wolf can easily live for 10 years.  Let's say 30 pups born to the couple over their life time.  Why are we not overrun by wolves.  A sparrow even more so.  A successful pair of sparrows can have 5 clutches with 5 young in each clutch in a single summer season.  Why are we not overrun by sparrows.  Even Humans are in this category.  A female human can have 10 babies in her lifetime and it wasn't so long ago that this was not unusual.  Thank heaven for contraception.  Without it, there would be standing room only.  Actually, the result would be starvation and pestilence.   

Most of the young of any animal  you care to mention die and in fact, in a stable population, on average, only two young from each pair of adults survive to carry on the species and they themselves give rise to two survivors.  Natural selection involves a lot of death.

So how does this relate to animals living in an area of increased radiation.  As long as the radiation isn't of such a level to "cook" any organism in the area, some offspring will be dealt a poor genetic hand, some not and natural selection will winnow out the ones with no aces.  The winnowing will simply occur a little earlier in a population with higher radiation  levels.  In the case of our wolf, in a "normal" radiation area, all the pups could well survive during the summer with most of them starving in the winter if their food source is not sufficient*.  In the high radiation area, it is likely that less of  the litter will survive initially and by and large, the same number of wolves will survive into the next spring in both cases.

*Which will  eventually occur at some point, if the wolf population is increasing.

Part of the reason we are so shocked is that if we humans were exposed to increased radiation, many of our children would be effected and we don't just shrug this off and let the maimed children die.  In the animal  world, without human interference, many young would die before they are born  We never see this.  Following hatching, many little sparrows fall. It may or may not meet his tender view but that is life (or rather natural selection).  The radiation has to be pretty severe to cause an actual decrease in population.  All animals produce a  massive excess of young, surplus to what what is needed to keep the population in a steady state.  As long as each pair leave more than two offspring who in turn produce more than two, the population grows.

This is clearly what has happened in Chernobyl.  The radiation is not sufficient to kill off enough young to decrease the population.  Quite the contrary. The animals have left more young than enough to grow the population 

We get tied up in misunderstanding when we try to apply a human perspective of the acceptableness of having many wonky children to the Animal situation in which only a very few of the progeny of any animal survive even without increased radiation.  Short of massive radiation levels, natural selection simply occurs a little earlier and as long as a few survive, the population will rise until it encounters the usual limiting factors, such as food supply at which point, the population will level out.

Note that in certain extreme areas with simplified assemblages of flora and fauna such as the Arctic, population boom and bust but still remain over all around the carrying capacity of their area.