Brown vs. White Refugees and Poland

This article might be misunderstood as an apologia for racism or a misdirection, so I must start it with a statement:

Please do not mistake an explanation for an excuse.

There is a lot of racism towards non-white people in all of Europe. It is strong in the Slavic nations and it is indeed very strong in Poland, which is currently ruled by a racist covert clerical-fascist party (which luckily does not have overwhelming majority support yet I might add). This does no doubt play a significant role in Poland’s willingness to accept Ukrainian refugees readily, whilst it was refusing Syrians staunchly for the last few years. A policy that I find abhorrent and which should never be in place. Czechia is guilty of the same thing and I oppose that too. I criticize my own government for this and I shall continue to do so.

However, that is most definitively not the sole reason and it might not even be the main reason in this particular case. In my opinion, the main reason here is not that Ukrainian refugees are white, but that the aggressor they are fleeing is Russia and the refugees are Slavs.

There is a lot of panslavic sentiment still floating around (I have written about it before). Slavic people do have a shared identity and they do feel some connection with each other. One of the reasons for that apart from some intelligibility of our languages is that most Slavic nations were oppressed minorities pretty much everywhere for several hundred years, many gaining independence from an oppressive regime only very recently.

But wait, you might say, aren’t Russians Slavs? Yes, they are.

And they are probably the single exception to the rule since they were mostly the oppressors, certainly for the last few hundred years. Poles do not like Russians specifically that much. Russia played for example no insignificant role in destabilizing and partitioning the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in a way that eerily resembles current events in Ukraine. And they did not rule their part of Poland exactly kindly afterward either.

Poles and Ukrainians thus share not only a generic common Slavic identity but also a relatively recent common history. They were both compatriots and allies as well as enemies and rivals in that history, but not very recently and those differences pale with one thing they have common very recently indeed –  a ruthless oppressor, Russia. Ukrainians did not forget the Holodomor, Poles did not forget the Katyn massacre and both definitively remember the forty-something years of being dictated what to even think from Moscow afterward.

It is all of course much more complicated than I can ever hope to describe in a short blog post even if I knew everything there is to know about it. And motivations on an individual level always vary wildly. It definitively is not as simple as “Poles think brown people bad, white people good”, although a lot of (not only) Poles are no doubt like that.

Russian Empire

I got very confused and indeed even angry with a comment written on Pharyngula. Not with the commenter, who I do not think has any malicious intent, but with the contents of the comment which make no sense to me and sound downright typically American ignorant.

For what I gather from Nina Khruscheva’s explanation, Biden’s idea that Putin wants to resurrect the USSR is incorrect. He also doesn’t want to resurrect the the Russian Empire. Putin doesn’t like revolutions apparently.

What he wants, it seems, is similar to the united Arab state Baathists like Hussein and Assad want in the Middle East. In Putin’s case, he wants a pan-Slavic state that he rules with an iron fist.

I know that most readers and commenters on FtB are Americans and thus are writing mostly from an American perspective and reading sources that were either written from an American perspective or were filtered through it on the way. I try occasionally to insert some different perspective, with questionable results.

But even when I try to read this comment through my American glasses, it does not make any sense whatsoever. Maybe my American glasses are not strong enough or maybe I interpret it wrongly but…

I mean, what the fuck is the difference between Russian Empire, USSR, and a pan-Slavic state that Putin rules with an iron fist?

The Russian Empire was a multi-national country in which Russians with Tzar at the throne wielded nearly absolute power and ruled over all of East-Slavs and some non-Slavic nations with an iron fist. Some West and Southern Slavs had the “fortune” of being ruled over by Austrians and Ottomans.

The USSR was a multi-national country in which Russians with the Communist Party wielded nearly absolute power and ruled over all of East and West-Slavs and some non-Slavic nations with an iron fist. Some Southern Slavs had the “fortune” of being ruled over by a separate Communist totalitarian regime of their own.

So saying that Putin does not want to revive USSR or the Russian Empire is true in about the same sense as saying that Nazis don’t exist no more, ya know, since the term refers to members of a political party that only existed in Germany in the 1930-40s. Technically the comment is accurate, practically it is meaningless. And such quibbling over distinctions without a difference at a time like this pisses me off.

Putin most emphatically DOES want a Russian Empire with him as the ruler. It does not matter what anyone says, his actions speak louder than anyone’s words. Minutiae of differences between the former Russian Empire, the former USSR, and Putin’s recent goals are irrelevant and pale when the similarities are considered.

The Rise of Whataboutism

Whenever I look at the comment section under an article or video about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, whether in CZ or EN, there is a visible presence of people who either outright say that Russia is right to this or who say that it is not wrong to do it because… Whatabout Iraq? Whatabout Afghanistan? Whatabout Grenada? Whatabout Whatever?

This is a classic Soviet-era propaganda tool, trying to divert the attention from an injustice being done by the USSR to similar injustices being done by the USA. The old adage that two wrongs do not make a right applies. There is no moral difference between the USA invading another country and/or sending in mercenaries trying to overthrow a democratically elected government because it threatens US financial interests and/or egos of its leaders and Russia invading another country and/or sending in mercenaries to overthrow a democratically elected government because it threatens its financial interests and/or egos of its leaders. They are both bad.

Then there is also a not insignificant number of people who engage in what I would call ifonlysm. Ifonly Ukraine did not try to join the EU. Ifonly Ukraine did not have right-wing extremists. Ifonly Ukraine did not have a “coup” against Yanukovich. Ifonly Russia got an iron-clad guarantee that NATO won’t expand no more even if a country’s people wish to do so.

As someone living in Central Europe in a country that was very often right at the center of any big conflict in Europe from  The Thirty Years’ War through Napoleonic wars, WWI, and WWII right up to The Cold War, I very much do not appreciate this rhetoric. Because if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that this is not how any of this works. Appeasing Putin would not stop this invasion, it would only change the timescale and the pretext under which it is done.

Autocrats do not try to gain power for rational reasons and the reasons they say are not the real reasons. The truth is that autocrats want power for power’s sake. Some go the way of amassing useless billions in wealth, some go the way of hijacking the state apparatus to become dictators, some do both. But just as there is no billionaire who cannot be corrupt because “he has amassed enough wealth”, there is no dictator who does not want to expand their area of influence because the “empire is big enough”. The billionaires hoard wealth until the economy collapses and goes into recession, the autocrats hoard power until the state apparatus collapses and a revolution happens. The only limits on what an autocrat can achieve are those imposed on them from the outside.

Putin has now made it clear that he wants to restore the former USSR sphere of influence. And although he did not use such words, it essentially means he wants to build a Russian Empire with him being its Tzar for life. He does not need it. His country does not need it. There is no rational reason to try to pursue such a goal except an insatiable lust for power. And the keyword here is insatiable.

Bonsai Tree – I Still Do Not Understand You My Persimmon

Previous post.

Last year my Persimmon tree did not branch out and it also took a veeery long time to shed leaves. When it did shed the leaves, I decided to overwinter it in a cooler, darker spot than last year in the hope that I will get better control over when it starts to grow. I did not. Saturday I noticed that it has started to sprout new twigs. That is very early and very inconvenient because I had no potting substrate prepared and due to the extreme weather I could not prepare any for a few days. But today I finally got around to replanting the tree.

Maybe what keeps this tree dormant is not only cold but relative dryness and cold? I do not know. It has wintered, it has survived, but I still have no clue whatsoever what is optimal for it where I live.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

Here you can see it in a bucket of water when I am washing out old substrate from the roots. The roots looked very healthy and were not overgrown. I might not need to re-plant the tree every year.

As you can see. last year there has only grown one twig, very upright and very long. And it did not start to grow from the apical bud right below the cut, but from one a bit lower. That has made the trunk shape in that place a bit awkward. Luckily this spring the tree started to branch out at the main stem, from the buds under the previous year’s cut. Go figure.

I have removed the whole of last year’s growth on the main stem and I did not touch the secondary stem at all. I will leave the secondary stem to grow this year uninterrupted. that should make it stronger and thicker. And next year I will cut it back a lot. On the main stem now are two budding twigs which I hope will become a suitable base for a nice crown.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

Here it is replanted, being watered for the first time in the new substrate.

I made a cutting from the top of last year’s growth where the twig was soft and not very woody yet, I slathered some root stimulator on the wound and put the twig in water to find out if this plant can be propagated this way. Putting a cutting directly in water is the simplest way, but not all trees take root this way – some are more finicky in this regard. We shall see, the worst-case scenario is no harm, the best-case scenario is another persimmon to play with.

Small resin project: Totoro

If by now you’re annoyed with my obsession for the cute monster, you’re out of luck. With the temperatures increasing I finally got around to doing some small resin projects again. There are some larger ones that I’ve been wanting to do for a while now, but honestly, I don’t have the spoons. Right now I need instant gratification like a toddler.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

I got the moulds a while ago and I must say, they really came out cute. I worked with a combination of epoxy and UV resin. First I cast the bodies in grey and then I painted in the details with UV resin. The former took about 3 min, the latter about 3 hours, because I needed to cure the resin in layers. I finished them into a pair of earrings, 4 pins and 2 keychains. The small ones are a bit more bunny than Totoro, but they’re cute nevertheless.

Dangers of Park Maintenance

On Friday I took my father for a medical check-up, and whilst I was waiting, I took a walk in the nearby park. It is not a particularly big park, so it was in fact several walks back and forth. And during that time I have spotted this stump uprooted stump.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

It looks like it happened very recently, possibly (probably?) during the first big windstorm that hit our region on Thursday. But this tree was not broken, it was uprooted, and that is not something that happens very easily to deep-rooting tree like linden (probably Tilia cordata, it is hard to be exact with a stump). But in this case, the wind was only the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

You may remember my late cherry tree and how I explained that I have felled it because it was infested with heartwood-eating fungus. And that is the case of this one too, only here the fungus is visibly far more spread. The white-ish color in the middle is the wood that has been infested by the fungus. No healthy hardwood that I remember from the top of my head has this color and texture. When split along the grain, white mycelium fibers would be more clearly visible, and under a microscope, one could probably also see that the wood is much more porous than is normal.

The wood is still hard, when dried and struck it would probably give a nice thunk!  and might be possible to work it into something beautiful, but its strength was severely compromised. Which is visible on the root-side of the stump.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Several thick main roots have white-ish color to them and they are broken in a way that healthy wood just does not break.

Luckily this tree did not kill anyone, although there was a severely mangled park bench in the direction of its fall. But trees like this do occasionally kill people in urban areas. What can be done to prevent that?

Well, look at another picture from the same park.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

That is not poo at the base of this tree, that is a fungus fruiting body. I am not a mycologist and the fruiting body is far too much decomposed for me to even guess the species, but almost certainly is not a mycorrhizal fungus, those do not grow this close to the trunk. To me as a former dendrologist, this is most probably a wood-eating fungus and only a mycologist can ascertain otherwise.

Oak trees are not very susceptible to heartwood rot, so this might be sapwood fungus. In that case, the tree will wither and die within a few years, still standing and relatively strong. If it is heartwood rot, the tree should be felled immediately before its structural integrity is so impaired that a sneeze fells it. If unsure, the safest course of action would be to fell the tree before it endangers a nearby parking lot and an entrance to the school.

I had a similar experience at our local building supply store. At the border of their fenced-off outdoor storage was growing a huge, beautiful red-leaved beech tree. But during sewage renovations, its roots were damaged and I predicted then, that the tree will not survive for very long. A few years later I have noticed fungal fruiting bodies at the base of the trunk and I have said to the store owner that the tree should be felled asap before it becomes a hazard. The law in CZ does not allow to fell such big trees willy-nilly, not even on private property, but the tree was felled within a year so his application went through and somebody had to look at the tree before approving it. And when I have seen the stump, I knew that my advice was correct – it was similar to that of the linden tree stump at the beginning of this article. It did not look like healthy beech wood at all.

And that is what should be done to prevent such trees from killing people. Every park should be assessed at least twice a year by either a mycologist or a dendrologist (at best both). Fungal fruiting bodies are often transitory and there is a finite window when the infestation is visible on the outside of an otherwise apparently healthy tree which is, in fact, a ticking time bomb. And just because the fruiting body is not on the trunk but on the ground still does not mean it is not dangerous.

Near the very probably sick oak tree was this stump

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

It is too oak stump, and you can see that it seems to be decomposing more on the outside. That is usual for oak trees, the heartwood normally lasts longer. But it is not a guarantee. As a side note, I would love to come by and lop off the burl on the right side, there is some seriously beautiful wood in there I am sure.

Speaking of beautiful wood, look at the burls on this oak tree.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

Pity that park maintenance is usually not done by very savvy people and I know from first-hand experience that most of these trees when they reach the end of their lives end up as firewood, despite there often being really beautiful specimens. A friend of mine has witnessed a burl worth probably over a hundred € being tossed into a wood chipper. It made me nearly cry when I heard about it.

And look at this sycamore tree.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size

Under that bark is some top-notch curly maple unless I am mistaken. And I do not think I am.

We as a society do not pay nearly enough attention to park trees. Not when they live and not when they die. I think they deserve more, in life as well as after that, even if it never were an issue of human safety. Which they are.

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation was my introduction to the Star Trek universe. I’d fiercely fight for the remote in the afternoon to have my dose of silly aliens, so when we finally gave in and got Netflix I thought : Well, let’s watch again! Rewatching your childhood favourites is inherently fraught with danger, especially when talking about things with special effects and “future technologies”, but also when the racial and sexual politics of the 1990s are measured against 2022.

Star Trek has always been lauded for being progressive, which shows you exactly not just that progress has been made, but also that we still have a long way to go. The bridge crew starts out with a diverse set of people, yet after Tasha gets killed, we’re down to two constant female crew members, both being in caring and nurturing professions. They are amazing characters, but they are also pretty much a 1990s ideal: a professional woman, but not a threat to the men in any way. The same is true for the changing characters in each episode: Unless one of the crew wants to fuck them, there’s a 90% chance that it’s a white guy, and if they are love interests, it’s a 90% chance they’re a white woman. I think I have now arrived at the third white male important scientist with a much younger wife whose job is “wife”. I can still enjoy it, though. It’s at least a piece of media that is sincerely trying (I’m not going to comment on the allegations of the abuse on set, just the product).

Yet, there is one thing I cannot forgive. Remember when I said I watched it first in the 90s? Well, not only was there no possibility to switch to the OV, I wouldn’t have understood it either (I so envy the kids today who have a world of languages at their hands), so my version of Captain Picard is the dubbed version. Watching the OV now, I recognised three things:

  1. Captain Picard curses like hell
  2. Captain Picard is easily pissed (it’s amazing how different the tone of voice is in the dubbed vs OV)
  3. No-fucking-body in the whole universe is able to pronounce Picard, not even Picard

Aye Made Some Leather Goods

It was cold outside (well duh!, it’s winter), I did not want to heat the workshop and I did not feel particularly well either, so what little work I have done was indoors with leather.

First, do you remember that mobile phone I had to repair nearly three years ago? My mother’s phone gave up the ghost so we have decided that she will try whether she can work with a smartphone, so I gave it to her.

But the old folding case was disintegrating (purely from age, it was obviously not made to last, it started to crumble despite spending most of the last two years in a drawer). Thus I have decided to make her a leather one. I could have done a better job, if ever I have to do this again, I will know better. It is a very thin leather and it deformed around the edges a bit and I should have left the folding spine a tiny bit wider. But it works and she likes it.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

It turns out that my mother is for her age relatively tech-savvy and she can work with a smartphone just fine whereas my father still struggles with his. It was the same with PC and the internet. So I do hope the phone works for her well and lasts a few more years, justifying the repair and saving us no insignificant amount of money.

I have also made leather sheaths for the accidentally tacticool knives. I went for simple sheaths, but with a basket weave pattern. So essentially the time that I have saved by tumbling the blades instead of polishing them went into the sheaths.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I have also made sheaths for the birch bark handle knives. I am not entirely satisfied with how they turned out, especially the bigger one. I am blaming ice swimmer for this because he implanted in my head the idea of embossing a sheath with birch leaves and catkins.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

© Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The knives are now available at The Shoppe.

Going Solar

Our latest home improvement project has finally come to life and our new solar panels are online. This has mostly been Mr’s project. Not because I’m opposed to solar energy, but because I have zero time for researching, calculating and shopping for it. It took about a year from start to finish, and I won’t bore you with all the small and big  problems with banmks what waht have you not and present you our own small energy centre.

©Giliell, all rights reserved

Here you have a screenshot of that shows the energy use and production of our “power plant”. The image has 4 circles representing the different components, the middle circle represents the ac/dc converter. The top left corner shows you the current energy production. We have a maximum of 7.1 kwh, what you see here is 717 W, light clouds. The top right corner is the current energy use in the house. The bottom right corner is our battery. It has a maximum of 7 kwh, but it always tries to stay at 25% full in case of emergencies. Bottom left ist the interaction with the power grid. The dots going to the middle show you how much energy is going which way. All in all we’re currently very fascinated by the app. I guess this will wear off in a few weeks, but currently I keep checking it constantly.

One of the niftier components of the whole thing is a little (expensive) gadget that allows us to keep producing energy when the grid is down. With a normal solar plant, when the grid is down, your solar gets shut off. That’s sensible because you cannot safely repair a power line while thousands of roofs keep sending voltage. In our case, should the energy company send the signal tu turn off, our unit becomes its own closed circuit. Since experts have already predicted power outages to become more common, that seems like a sensible investment.

As you can see, our goal is to produce as much of our own energy as possible and I must say, for February it’s been good so far. One thing is that we do need to change our habits and try to use the electricity when it’s being produced, because I basically lose 8ct on every kwh I have to sell to the energy company. Years ago, before batteries were affordable, solar mostly went into the power grid and people got guaranteed high prices, making it a good investment. Friends of ours needed a new roof and didn’t know how to pay for it when the roofer told them that putting up solar would pay for itself and the roof. Those subsidies had their own problems, as they mostly benefited home owners and were paid by renters, but they led to a thriving solar industry. then those subsidies were cut, 100k jobs in solar were lost, and people stopped putting up new solar panels. Because if I calculate the cost of the whole thing and divide it through the expected kwh that it will produce, a kwh costs me 15ct while I get 7. But if I have to buy a kwh, I pay around 30ct, so I save 15 by using one that I produce myself.

Paradoxically, this has led to me occasionally using more energy on purpose, like today. It was a fairly sunny day and we produced 11 kwh, not bad for a day in February, which is about our daily use as well, but of course we don’t produce it evenly spread, so when I came home this afternoon, I put on the dishwasher on the high energy short cycle that only takes an hour. Because then the sun was shining, the battery was full, and I was selling my energy cheap. But if I  put it on the low energy long cycle, that would take 4 hours, meaning that I would have to rely on the battery for the later half of the cycle, draining it faster and making me buy energy tonight/tomorrow morning, which is a perfect example of something that is the perfectly logical and sensible decision for one person being a negative for society as a whole, but I’m not going to feel bad about it.

Like a Brick in a Dark Alley…

Today was a sunny day, the days are getting finally noticeably longer – it is nearly six p.m. and it is still reasonably visible outdoors. I went for a nice walk in the sunshine.

And I feel like crap anyway. I was feeling reasonably well last winter as well as most of this one. But the last two weeks I was feeling under the weather, being cranky and tired and getting hardly more than an hour or two of work done a day. And today, depression has hit me like a brick in a dark alley. Getting out of bed was a huge amount of work. I hoped the walk will help somewhat, but it did not.

My specialist physician has performed a number of blood tests to evaluate whether they reveal some possible cause behind my chronic tiredness, but they came out mostly OK. I even had OK levels of vitamin D, so the 4000 IU that I am taking daily each winter seems to be not too much and not too little either.

One result was slightly out of whack though and she has halved my thyroid medication as a result. Maybe the depression is an aftereffect of my body getting adjusted to that. I do hope to be able to do something, soon there will be a lot of work in the garden to do.


Ukraine – Central European Perspective

Adam Something is maybe not as far left as to satisfy purists, but he is reasonably far left to seem to be a decent person and not be an extremist. I find most of his videos informative, and I think his last one – a length-ish take on Ukraine’s conflict with Russia, is very good.

Adam Something is a Hungarian Youtuber currently residing in CZ (these are public pieces of information that he himself has disclosed on his YouTube channel). That might explain why he, whilst being a leftist, is very critical of both current Russia and the former USSR empire. He does not have the personal experience with the failed socialist experiment of the last century that I have, but the cultural memory is still fresh. Thus he shares my deep dislike of tankies.

The cold war was not a conflict between good guys and bad guys, just between two different types of bad guys. And that has not changed, at least as far as the current proxy conflict between USA and Russia goes. For some baffling reason, there appears to be a sizable amount of people who think that because the USA was the bad guy in every conflict for the last 75 years that it makes their opponents into good guys.

Knife Shoppe

Hi ya’all. I haven’t been very active here lately because I had some work to do. Including that after months and months of heavy procrastination, I have finally purchased web hosting and a domain and started a small webpage for my knives.

Constructive criticism is welcome.

The webshop interface does not allow me to display prices in other currencies than Czech Crowns (yet), but I do hope that anyone can convert it to USD or € or whatever should they need to. I will gladly sell anywhere in the world as long as it is financially feasible for both me and the customer, but selling outside of the Czech Republic must be done through individual arrangements and cannot be done simply via the webshop interface (not yet). The reasons are simple – additional currencies and shipping outside CZ are both available for an extra charge and I am not ready to dish out more money than is strictly necessary. Not yet, anyway.

I am thinking about adding a knife-making blog there, but I am somewhat discouraged by the amount of work that it would entail.

I will leave this post pinned to the top of the page for some time.