Thursday, February 27, 2014

DRAGON'S LOYALTY AWARD


Dragon's Loyalty Award presented by M. J. Joachim

This is a great thing that has been bestowed upon me. By accident, or as collateral serendipity, or something like that. Lemme explain. Last year, I took part in a blogging challenge at the spur of the moment, rather like I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) last year, and actually "won" both, by finishing. The other challenge, for those not in the know, is the A-to-Z Challenge, where, during the month of April, you write a short post every day starting with the letter "A" and finishing up with "Z". It works out because every Sunday during the month, it is "dark" (a musician's and actor's term) wherein you don't post or write on that letter. If you finish the challenge, you get a  nifty badge that you display on your blog, which I did, much like the one I got for NaNoWriMo in 2013. You also get some street cred for finishing the damned things, because you gut out the writing blocks and all the inherent other stuff, like. . . uh, life. 

Two years ago, I wrote exactly 1637 words for NaNoWriMo and quit in total misery, because I was in the throes of undiagnosed Parkinsonism and that shit ain't fun. I've been able to take everything else thrown my way, but that was truly debilitating, both mentally and physically. Now, that I'm under treatment (some people wish I weren't as I am busy making their lives a merry Hell for past indiscretions, but I was too sick) I feel 20 or 30 years younger. I believe in the quality of persistence over time and it applies to all things, so maybe this is a good award for me. Dragons live forever. 

So, too, do challenges, and friendships. This is my second year on the A to Z Challenge and I am proud to be a member of #teamDamyanti. I did have a bit of confusion over this award, which is nothing new with me. I've done such jack-a-nape things like follow my own self on my own blog, when I was trying to answer a reader's comment and argued with myself under the pseudonym of Andi-Roo over suicide, when I performed a hurried cut-and-paste job, that was really just a cut-and-paste-paste. That floated around in the cyber sphere for several hours before I caught it and fixed it. Andi's response? "Ha ha ha! Girl! You crack me up!" Of course, there's always the time I thought I was doing good for the homeless in my area, in a post, that had a horribly juxtaposed picture: 


Admittedly, some of the stuff the ex-cons at FSJ, my old homeless shelter, used to concoct between pinochle games looked worse than this, -- scrunched-up cheetos, ramen soup noodles and anything else dumped into a single-serving size potato chip bag, add water and eat with a spoon and called "goulash -- this was NOT on purpose!

I'm legally blind and have a very weak right eye, and my left eye has dark cast that makes it hard to see and read. Sometimes I have to read things 8 or 12 times, or come back and give it a go another day. I've been legally blind for 10 years, so am used to this, but it makes for some interesting interpretations and I tend to "skim" a  lot of text. So, today, I just realized that M.J. Joachim had awarded the Dragon's Loyalty Award to the entire Team of Co-hosts and their Minions, of which I am one. Color me. . . confused?

No, I'm not. Well, okay, kinda sorta. I mean, I just show up and try to do what I'm told. It is an honor and I have to tell 7 things about myself, then award this to 15 bloggers and visit them and pass on the love. Consider it done, M.J., and thank you so much for this award!

I started playing the violin at age 11, but realized my mistake and switched to viola at age 15. I did not pick up another violin until the age of 45, when some idiot in Tampa hired me to play the violin on a gig, while I was living in Charlotte, North Carolina and had a free week. I guess all the other violinists between Charlotte and Tampa died or left town that week. I had to rent one for the gig and I rented the worst thing I could find in the hopes that I would never be hired to play another violin again. It didn't work. More idiots hired me to play the violin. I still hate the violin. The only thing worse than the violin, is playing Mozart on the violin; that right there, is Hell in a barrel. Give me Beethoven, or better yet, Shostakovich, or something with lots and lots of 16th notes, except for the slow parts; I love slow parts and can e-mote like a mo-fo and have a gorgeous sound. Or rather, I should say, Wolf has a gorgeous sound.

I own a viola that was "born" 10 years after Beethoven's death in 1827. My Florenus is of the Bolognese school of fiddle-making and was built in 1837. His name is "Wolf" and he was named by the luthier who appraised him and insured him. I've owned him since I was 19, and he's lasted longer than any of my marriages. He's a much better partner, too. At 177 years old, he's considered a young adult in the fiddle world. 



Wolf's hand-carved scroll; a trademark is the crudeness of the work; the House of Florenus is known for it. It certainly doesn't hurt the sound. His 2-piece back is "matched" up; 2 "tiger stripes" run down either side of his seam.

 

 My viola bow was "engineered" and built by an aeronautics engineer out of Germany. Many modern bows are now built by former engineers and their sons. In the old days, bow-makers, like Tourte, Vuillame and Withers observed birds and watched the shapes of their wings as they flew. The wood is pernambuco.




The 2nd Liston-Ali fight, which secured Ali's place in the history books. Ali's trainer, the late Angelo Dundee took time out to talk to this boxing fan when he was working a young fighter in Tampa, circa 1999. This sport is rich in history, heart, love and tragedy. It is Shakespeare on a 20-foot canvas rectangle.
 
I am a HUGE boxing fan. Boxing is the quintessential art of physical and mental abilities melded together. Boxing history and lore is some of the most fascinating in the world, and the very best boxers possess the minds of chess-masters and the quickness of cats. The fighters have the hearts of lions and are some of the kindest people I have ever met. Boxers do not fight out of anger, but they practice an old and gladitorial sport that has lost relevancy in the modern age. Much of the arm movement and pronation is echoed in the musical world, as is the pace of a Championship Match. I've met many of my musical colleagues at boxing matches.

My only other secret is this: my psychiatrist, who is also an internist calls me his "Google" for all things "Parkinsonism" (I explained the DaTScan process to him). When I started to exhibit overt symptoms, without knowing what I had, I started to learn, from what I could glean on the internet, my own primary care physician and from support groups on Facebook and Twitter (I only had Medicaid, which did not pay for any Neurology testing or medication, at the time). My greatest source of information is YumaBev who has had Parkinson's Disease for many years, and is a dear, wonderful friend, and such an inspiration! I have Parkinsoism, or essential tremor, or "Parkie Lite" as I am calling it, for I exhibit every one of the symptoms, yet my substantia nigra produce Levadopa, thus I am on a much different drug regimen. But, as is my wont, I faced it head-on and went back over my own family's history and believe my mother suffered from it, as well, which would speak in favor of e.t., as that is a "familial tremor" and therefore, inherited. We are now facing the idea that this may also be altered by certain protein combinations, or by gene therapy. 

That's pretty much all I have to say about me; I still get to play my fabulous Wolf without it sounding like a machine gun, although my performing days are behind me.

If you have NOT participated in the A-to-Z Challenge before, I urge you to try it! It's so much fun and you'll get to meet bloggers from all over the world. If you want to plan your challenge around a theme, please, please please, contact any one of us at #teamDamyanti, or sign up here:





Monday, February 24, 2014

TECH TUESDAYS -- KEEPING YOUR PC OR LAPTOP IN TOP-TOP SHAPE FOR WORK


A typical clan conversation in SpiRitZ_CC on Runescape whilst skilling

 As you can see by the above, I have a very busy life and do many important things, usually at the same time. The key to being able to being a successful multi-slack-er, uh, multi-tasking individual is making sure my computers are running happily along, with no hiccups. We addressed the downloading weasely programs problem last week, but just how often do you all clean out all those stupid *.tmp files, run Disk Cleanup (in Windows XP, Vista and 7) and defragment your disk?

Ideally, this should be done at least once a month, and with the newer releases of Windows, you have the option of transforming your file system from FAT (File Allocation Table) to NTFS (New Technology File System) and is run on all systems utilizing Windows 3.1 server and higher. The system is more robust and scalable, therefore more forgiving of errors on the hard-drive, where files are stored. In the past, FAT was the standard and a computer with Windows 3.1 client would have to have the *.tmp files deleted, and the disk would have to be defragged about once a week, to keep it running optimally.
So, now that the history lesson is behind us, here is what you can do to keep your little monster running at peak performance.

Start by making sure all programs are closed, including any browsers and chat windows. Go to your Windows Start in the lower left hand corner and select "All Programs". Then, select Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. You'll bring up a window that looks like this:




The Default Drive is C: unless you've partitioned your drives yourself. If this is the case, you don't need my help. Press "OK" to continue.


You can pretty much delete any files on this list, unless you have a burning need to look at the hex dump of your last application/system crash. Trust me, it makes for extremely boring reading. Select a bunch of boxes and click "OK".


This screen will give you a chance to get rid of "Crusaders from Outer Space" that you downloaded in 2011 for free and the kids played once. You will also probably find that stupid "Free Greeting Card" program that wasn't free and has been nagging you for the last 4 years. You can annihilate it from "Programs and Features" too, as well as from your Control Panel, which amazingly enough is called "Programs and Features". 

System Restore and Shadow Copies should be approached with CAUTION. Not all versions of Windows automatically create a new system restore, every time a change is made to your system, i. e., adding or removing a program. BEFORE doing anything here, if you're trying to free up space and speed up your computer, MAKE SURE you have at least one System Restore created, or your data backed up somewhere. Most PCs come with 2 drives; C and D. D contains the "shadow" drive which is the mirror image of your Windows program that was put there when the system was loaded. It does NOT contain your pictures of your kids, or cats, or receipts, videos of Grandma on her floaty in the pool, so approach with caution, or skip it, if you're not sure that you should remove ANY System Restores. Better safe than sorry!

Once you have all of your options click "OK". 


The computer goes off and does this "dancing baloney" thing, while the little brush swirls on top of the disk. I guess Bill Gates thought we were too dumb too figure out that if the whole bar is green, the bitch is done. Enough editorializing. At least, it's not "Bob the Paper Clip" from Word. He creeped me right the hell out!

Now, that that arduous chore is done, it's time to run Disk Defrag, or Disk Defragmentation. Briefly, when the computer is opening and closing files and performing operations, it "seeks" for information on your hard drive, analogous to an old 33 1/3 turntable. In the days of FAT, the "stylus" or "arm" would read the information and and write it to any available space, regardless of whether or not that space was contiguous to information that was similar to its neighbor. 

Think of waking up living next door to a family of people and coming home to find out that you live next door to a family of cats. It gets really bad when your home is moved across town to the city Zoo and you're cheek-by-jowl with a family of monkeys! But that is how data is picked up, used, transformed and saved, and not always in the same place. In time the files fragment and need to be neatly scooped together and made contiguous again. "Disk Defrag" does that. In XP, you can run a report first and I will say this: Windows LIES! Big fat LIES! Any fragmentation over 2% should be corrected. This will prevent a hard crash and damage to the drive itself.


I stand corrected. Windows 7 does have the ability to run a "report" but there are no statistics, percentages, or number of stacks, so I tend to not trust it; but then, I worked for IBM, so anything Microsoft is suspect. Did I mention Windows lies? Don't get me started on Apple.

So, in Windows, you got to Start > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defrag. If you are doing this for the first time, do it before you go to bed, or at a time when you do not have to use your computer for several hours. The last time I did this was on the 19th of February, 2014 and I think when it was done, it just went away, no message, no nothing. Typical Microsoft. So there you have it!

Next week, I'm going to look at some of the issues that plague users the most on Google and Chrome and see if we can't make some headway on some of the thornier issues that trouble users. If anyone has any ideas for future posts, or needs help, please feel free to comment, or drop me a line, here.


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

TECH TUESDAYS - NEW FEATURE! - (AT LEAST FOR NOW)


My attitude about "spoofware" or malware disguised as "helpers".

I yap a lot about music and I haven't talked much about computers lately. They're my second and abiding love behind the exploration of sound and the organization of it that is music. For what is really at the very bedrock of computers and their operations? Numbers. Numbers and the orders of their operations. But this is in the abstract and I am here to talk about something that is just a giant P.I.T.A. (Pain In The Ass)

I am being delicate, because this is the kind of thing that has me foaming at the mouth, not that I am too far from that state of mind generally anyway, but this is something that hits consumers and people who are not all the familiar with two things; one of them being, computers in general, and the other being, the absolutely sordid ways in which people who should know better will take advantage of consumers. The innerwebz is a dangerous place, and just because you're on a safe site doesn't mean you're entirely safe.

I'm an experienced computer user and then some. Beyond then some. I build virtual machines and run Backtrack, which is what hackers work with then they are learning the craft. I am on the fence as far as being a "white" or a "black" hat. Unfortunately, you'll never know until it's too late. I rebuild computer systems from the ground up around here for my neighbors continually, because they blunder onto some idiot site and end up with a spoof screen that threatens them with prosecution from the FBI, and I have a formidable set of tools that allow me to bring their systems back to life. When I worked at IBM, one engineer, in awe at some fix I cobbled up, proclaimed that I "practiced the Dark Arts!" No boast, but I understand computers; the curtains, carpet and furniture (software) may change, but the foundations (logic) remains the same.

That being said and to keep this short, and to illustrate a problem I run into continually, but know how to stop cold, I want to talk about a few things that less-savvy computer users are aware of: spoofing, fraud and "over the transom" malware.

Now, "spoofing" refers to a branding of a product that is not the real thing. It's the cybersphere's definition for counterfeit and in this case, it is Mozilla's Firefox that is being spoofed. For the time being, I am using FF to write my posts, because, Google will not allow my to insert images without using their f'ing Cloud Drive and I have my own back-up, thank you. But that's another story and I want to stay on task. 

Today, as I was trying to look at my stats before posting something else, I had written last week, I was "prompted" by Mozilla that my browser was out of date. All well and good. I clicked on the download button and saved the file to my Download folder. I closed my browser and navigated to the folder and saw this:


This is what I would expect to see for a normal Firefox update.

I ran the download through my AVG and Spybot programs before clicking on download, but after clicking on download, this is what I saw:


Admittedly, I was suspicious because the UAC (User's Access Control) screen prior was from "Premier Downloads" and not "Mozilla or Firefox". The download is also verified with Verisign™, which speaks badly for them, but I proceeded, knowing what was to come. This screen appeared, with no FF branding, and the screen was very small and hard to read. I clicked "Accept".



Even though Firefox and Search Protect** are mentioned together in the same sentence, this is not an endorsement! Again, the writing and screen are very small. In the lower left-hand corner is the option to install Search and Protect and it's already selected. I de-selected it and clicked "Accept".

I've already pulled up Chrome by this time and am typing in "Search and Protect" in Google. Then, I see this:

**search protect become searchprotect in Google

Now, I have two more search perimeters: "Browser Safeguard**" and "RocketTab". I add these to my Google search and hit "Enter". 


**browser safeguard becomes browsersafeguard in Google


I don't have to look any farther than this to know that this is what is known as "malware," and while not necessarily a virus or a trojan, it can hijack your system, or re-direct you to places you do not wish to go. Sites like CleanMyPC.com will advertise as free and then after the first "cleaning" will want money to continue the service. All of this is an unnecessary expense to consumers.



This is where this particular "spoof" originates from. As I said, just because this guy says he is protected by Verisign™ that means nothing, and is no imprimatur of honesty. Once a consumer is caught up into this, they will be hounded into paying, and will continue to get advertisements and unwanted spam. Mozilla is "openware" which means anyone can write apps for it, so if you use it, you have to be very diligent about what you download. However, the honest developers advertise their plug-ins or widgets as such and don't try to disguise their apps as Firefox itself!

Here are a few key things to follow when downloading any updates, whether for drivers, browsers, JAVA (which should be abandoned ASAP, it is unnecessary and is a horrible place! Known for bugs. It is what we termed a "bug-patch," or "bug-farm" at IBM and Verizon, more and more HTML5 apps are coming out. JAVA is strictly for Apple and was never meant for PC and DOS-based systems) and even operating systems, as Windows updates are not always necessarily. Remember, Windows and Microsoft lies!
  
  • 1. Save the file you are downloading.
  • 2. Before running the install, close all programs that are running, including your browsers.
  • 3. Scan the downloaded file, preferably with something like AVG and either malwarebytes and/or Spybot. One scans for viruses, the other scans heuristically, for trojans. NOTE: They will NOT tell you that a download is MALWARE necessarily! You have to use your judgment, after this!
  • 4. If you DO NOT see an authentic branding for the product itself, halt the installation immediately and delete the setup.exe file from your Download folder.



There. . . Now it's gone on to Software Heaven!



In Windows 7, you can right-click on the icon > Properties > General. Here is where I found that the program is "blocked". Which means nothing to Windows, because. . . Microsoft. Microsoft doesn't even see the spoof as it tells us this is "Firefox_Setup". Microsoft is like your elderly aunt who warned you not to drive all over town without gasoline, because she didn't understand how cars worked. I rest my case.


I already know this is at best a headache; but at worst? This can cripple a system and force a rebuild. I make no apologies for the fact that I live in a low-income neighborhood, but if it's a dangerous neighborhood, it's also a neighborhood full of proud grandmas and grandpas who have oodles of pictures of their grand kids saved to their desk tops. To our credit, my partner in this little enterprise and I have yet to lose a single precious moment. 

But this today, is a special kind of forgery, a spoof. I suspect this cat could be shut down easily and arrested, for he is not only spoofing, but blatantly using Firefox's brand to mask his malware and that's fraud. I've run these things down, but since the FBI doesn't have me on the payroll, let them pursue it and since I'm so damn lazy, I'm not even filling out reports anymore; I just send them links. I am just doing my bit to let my readers know that all of this is out there and you need to be damn careful. Next week, I think I'm going to put out some tutorials for maintaining your PCs, and laptops, Windows only, to start. 

I don't do anything with Apple products and thus have no use for JAVA. I keep my phones, Kindles and mobile stuff completely separate from my home devices, but that is okay, I'm pretty much a shut-in, anyway, and there is no need for me to synchronize stuff. At this juncture, iPads, iPods and PCs really don't mix. I hope Microsoft wakes up and dumps the Surface. Now, I'm editorializing.

As a side note, and a bit of hilarity, while I was pulling together the information for this post, I ran across an old nemesis, BrokenControllers.com. A while back, they stole a post of mine, "Playing the Violin, and How to Avoid It," and sold it on their website. I was alerted to this by another blogging buddy, of which I have legions! This is rather ironic and to me pretty funny, since I've never earned a penny for my writing. Enjoy my take on the violin, but take my advice on downloading anything, even from a supposed trusted sight to heart! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

List Of The Day: Crappy Photos Of Men With Cats (Of The Day)

List Of The Day: Crappy Photos Of Men With Cats (Of The Day)



Mirth and hilarity from my good buddy Cary McNeal who runs the insanity that is LOTD! I read his stuff for years and lurked. When I finally got the nerve to join in the fun, he welcomed me with open arms. Fun, random and stupid doesn't come any better than this! Thanks for the laughs over the years, Cary and thanks for these pics; not sure which is more hilarious, the men or the looks on some of these cats' faces! xoxo ViolaFury

 I added my own comments per each pic. They are pretty hysterical and some just cannot go without adding a word or 149...

The sixth one down looks like my late, beloved Russian Blue, Trotsky, only with far less dignity! 

The whole bird-cat montage and mountain guy thing of Number One could be interesting, but for the fact that it's looks like a whole bunch of pictures cut out of the PetCo Catalog and glued into a picture; plus the guy's head looks like a really horrible cut-and-paste job and doesn't really belong on that suspiciously much more fit torso. Judging by the position of number one's arm and the look on the cat's face, it could be interpreted as some proctology experiment, gone horribly awry, or just blatant bestiality; jury's out on that one. 

Number three could be a wedding; see number one. 

Number two is a show cat, but yikes!

Number four for some reason makes me think the guy took the mustache from the cat, and the cat is sad about it. 

Number five is the "many moods of Manny and Muffins". 

Number six is "DEWD! I DON'T DO SELFIES!" 

Number Seven Guy is abviously confused. He thought ordered 7 pairs of folded Argyll wool sweaters from Scotland and he somehow ended up with 7 Scottish fold kittens; he's trying to keep warm, or is waiting for them to grow out their wool. He probaably thinks he's supposed to shear them and knit the wool himself. He looks like a DIY'er.



Number Eight; both guy and cat look like they are going to eat Santa instead of having their picture taken with Santa. I bet they get coal in their stockings.


Number Nine; really? You tattoo'ed your Egyptian Hairless? I hope he claws your balls off. . .
Number Ten Hoodie and Hoodie. LMAO ROFL. Jesus; the looks on both of them. They look stunned; either somebody shit, or farted, or a nuclear bomb went off in the next block. Too funny! ha ha ha!


Number Eleven's cat has a bad case of Bald Belly and is he holding Kitteh or choking Kitteh?


Number Twelve has an interesting idea of romanticism and what sets the mood. I'm particularly taken by the awkward stance and the weird lighting but really intrigued by the television antennae on the roof. It doesn't help that Mittens' eyes are more hypnotic that douchenozzle's.


Number Thirteen's going for the same thing, but the Russian Blue is too stunning. Plus, dude looks like someone popped him in the left cheek, or else he has an infected molar; plus, he almost has a unibrow and his eyes are too close together. Lose the guy, keep the cat.


Number Fourteen is a perfect storm of horrible. Christmas Sweater, Senior Picture, cat and "many moods" montage. All we lack is some kind of weird Manger or Precious Moments and this could grace the fireplace mangle all year long. Kitty is obviously doped to the eyeballs here.


Number Fifteen's going for a muscular, friend-of-the-animals look. I have no words, except that his armpit hair scares me. Oh, and put down the weight, you might drop it on your pussy.


Nothing shouts "DEPRAVITY" like a nice relaxing evening, lounging bare-ass naked on the couch with Miss Fluffykins (who looks as if she's being pinned down here) with your favorite bottle of rotgut and a big pile of ye olde typewriter and strewn-around papers and sundry books. If it was creative you were going for Number Sixteen, you're about 3 good AUs (Astronomical Units) off the mark. Just a big pile of EWWWW.


Last but not least, Number Seventeen loves his kitty and that's a good thing. Kitty doesn't seem to mind and I suspect that between the two of them, there are about 3 working brain cells. A match made in heaven, or in the backwoods of Hillbillyville. Hopefully, Boots there has a few more teeth.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

#ROW80 - 1ST QTR 2014 - POST 9 - TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE

It is hard for me to take any one aspect of this magnificent country and write about it in one post. This huge, sweeping land, that has seen more than it's share of tragedy and bloodshed, much of it self-inflicted, is a testament to patience and hardiness; the people themselves, a blend of Mongol, Cossack, White Russian, Rus and little blobs of colonies that settled over the centuries, containing surprising mixes of Circassian near the Black Sea, and Yakuts in the north, are the true gold and wonder of this land. A land I have been passionately in love with since I was a kid and I asked my father why Communism was bad and for once, he had no answer.

His concession meant much to me later on; there really was no clear answer that he could give me in words I would understand at the time, as I was a child. It would be up to me to find out. I figured I already had a start because I was busy plowing through Tchaikovsky's ouvre of lighter works; “1812 Overture”, “Marche Slave”, and the “Nutcracker”; listening to them on first, a turn-table, then a Magnavox Stereo, wired-up by my father, so that the house shook with the sound of cannon-fire in the Overture's Finale. But all I was really exposing myself to at the time, was a Russian composer's depictions of Napoleon's ill-fated march on Moscow, the Crimean War, in which “Crimea Doesn't Pay” (a horrible, horrible Mr. Peabody and Sherman joke from 1961) and a much-loved ballet that was probably highly influenced by the French, who at the time, were pretty firmly entrenched within the Russian Court. So entrenched, in fact, that at one time, the Russian nobles didn't speak Russian, they communicated in French.


Some of my Russian History classes in college required French as a pre-requisite because for centuries, the Russian aristocracy didn't speak, read or write any Russian. For someone who is not a natural polyglot, it was a bit of an overload. My Spanish is worse than my Russian; my French is non-existent, yet I took Spanish for seven years and Russian for two. I skipped French altogether and relied on cognates. Go figure.

This may be partly due to the fact that during the reign of Peter the Great, he took the Busman's tour and spent approximately eighteen months in western Europe, incognito and learned how to build ships, learned about architecture and science and as much as he could about the art of warfare. He returned home precipitously as there was an uprising amongst the boyars (barons) called the Bulavin Rebellion. By the time he returned home, the rebellion had been crushed. Peter was determined to drag Russia kicking and screaming, if need be, into the 18th century; he made the boyars assume western dress, rather than wearing the loose, oriental-style robes they had worn previously, and Peter ordered them to shave their much-loved beards. If they chose not to do so, they were required to pay an annual beard tax of 100 rubles.

Autocratic, and often brutal, Peter is responsible for much of the modernization that occurred in Russia during that period. Once he had built a navy, he began a campaign of conquest, primarily in his search for warm-water ports, ever important, in a country striving to become an economic trading-partner and an even larger goal in the Russians' eyes; prove themselves equal, if not greater on the world's stage. After a little tiff with the Ottoman Empire, Peter made a temporary peace with the Ottomans, which allowed him to keep the fort at Azov and turn his attentions to building an even more formidable navy and, oh, yeah, this in turn allowed him to look to the north and Sweden, ruled by Charles XII.


Charles XII. Actually, his nose looked like it partook of the "Battle of the Cannons" with Peter and August II.

I should mention here that Sweden was once feared, and had its own Empire and a formidable army and Charles was no slouch when it came to being a Military strategist. Peter coveted control of the Baltic Sea, which had been taken from the Russians by the Swedes 50 or so years earlier. One thing about the Russians that is a constant: if they have owned or lived on, a piece of land and lost it, no matter how distantly in the past, they will move heaven and earth to reclaim it and protect it. Remember KAL flight 007, shot down September 1, 1983, over Russian Territory, called Sakhalin Island? I do, and while the rest of the world wrung its hands, I understood it perfectly in the context of Russia's history; during the 20th Century, they were invaded in 5 separate wars, 3 of which most Americans know nothing about, because most Americans are ignorant of world history and how it affects current Global Hegemony.

This is a given. The other given is that they are oriental, or Asiatic in their patience, much like the Scots (I. e. my father got his ass put in a jail cell in Heathrow, in 1985, for 48 hours for bitching about how the English stole Scotland. The Customs took one look at his passport, saw his surname and in the hoosegow he went. The incident he was referring to occurred in 1297 A. D. – ya gettin' all this, Lithia?), and they will wait, and wait, and wait, but by God, they will take back what was taken from them. But, again, I digress.


One thing that all cold-weather countries have in common; they love to drink and drink to excess. Being a Scot, I can totally relate; it was said that Boris Yeltsin had to have his blood completely replaced from time to time, he was so pickled. I can believe that. The Russian word for "vodka" is very close and kin to the word for "water". It is literally, life, and comes in so many different varieties and flavors it boggles the mind and pallet!
Peter The Great

Peter lost his first battle against Charles, but Charles went from there and stepped right into a big pile of Polish-Lithuanian Commonweatlh, which gave Peter time to re-organize his army. As a side note, it should be mentioned that Peter met with the Polish King Augustus II the Strong, where the two rulers, after several days of boozing it up, arranged a cannon-shooting competition. Augustus II the Strong won, which by that time, I imagine, he could have been called Augustus II the Deaf. Just kidding.Peter took advantage of the lull in battle, and as the Swedes and the Poles duked it out, he built a city. He founded the city of Saint Petersburg, in a province of the Swedish empire, which he had retaken, but that had originally belonged to the Russians. In typical Peter logic and behavior, he forbade the building of all statues outside of the city, so that he could hog all the stonemasons in Russia. It should be noted that when he returned from his “Grand Embassy” tour, he brought quite a contingent of brain-power and skilled artisans with him. If he couldn't coax, he would buy. He had a United Nations batch of shipwrights, naturalists, architects and scientists.

Saint Petersburg was built on a swamp and it was built with every possible resource and bit of manpower diverted from all parts of the country to that cause. It was to become a showcase city and in concession to the swamp, is a city of canals. Like Edinburgh, Scotland, it is called the “Venice of the North”. Saint Petersburg is also the city of “white nights”; being so far north, the sun does not set, but sits low in the sky. It is a city of magic and beauty.


The Mariinsky Theatre which houses both the Ballet and Opera; with the typical Russian confusion and re-naming of things, the Kirov Ballet is now the Mariinsky Ballet, yet is still referred to as Kirov, yet is housed in the Mariinsky Theatre. Got that?

The city is home to the Kirov ballet, not the Saint Petersburg ballet and there is a terrible and sad reason for this. Post-Lenin, after 1929 and into the 30s, Sergei Kirov, who was the Commissar, of Governor of Leningrad, (the former Saint Petersburg) had been a rising star in the Politburo and up until a party split over the more draconian implementations of party laws, when Kirov sided with the “Trotskyites” (in Stalin's view and in hindsight, anyone who wasn't four-square with him), Kirov was a devoted Stalinist. The split saw the majority of the Politburo siding with Kirov, who urged Stalin to basically cool his jets with the proletariat and lay off the executions and sending people off to Siberia.

In the spring of 1934, in a conciliatory and a mitigating move to the people, Kirov argued that a majority of people should be released from the prisons to work the collective farms and push forward industrialization; a realization of Lenin's dream. Once again, Stalin found himself a minority in the Politburo and after years of scheming and rearranging positions to put himself in a position of assuming total power and realizing that he could not count on rubber-stamp support from the people he had placed in strategic positions, he, in what would become recognizable as the beginnings of his paranoid-purge style of ruling, began to wonder if Kirov, a much younger man, was willing to wait for his mentor to die before assuming total power of the Bolshevik Party.

During their annual summer vacation on the Black Sea at the Dachas, Stalin, who treated Kirov like a son, tried to persuade the younger man to leave Leningrad and come back to Moscow and sit on the Politburo with him, rather than remain the Commissar of Leningrad. Kirov refused and Stalin believed that he had lost the support and loyalty of his young protegé. 

 
Kirov was viewed as a moderate and was a stalwart supporter of his people in his district. This had more to do with his refusal of Stalin's offer of a higher position within the party if he returned to Moscow, than any thoughts of betrayal of Stalin. His death changed the course of Russian history and Communism and certainly hastened the deaths of others within the inner party circle. Stalin's three-decade rule put the imprimatur on an economic and political system that was entirely different than what Lenin and Trotsky had in mind.

On December 1, 1934, Kirov was assassinated by a young party member. Many within the Politburo noted of the “hundreds of party members rounded up and summarily shot in Leningrad, while others were dragged from prison cells and executed.” The usual suspects were rounded up, meaning most of the other party members, particularly the inner circle, who had looked askance and verbalized there views to Stalin (something encouraged under Lenin, but not so much after his death) and they were interrogated.

Communist party members abroad weighed in on the brew-ha-ha and confusion reigned, until they finally managed to implicate practically the entire Politburo, including Trotsky, who was already in exile and had been expelled from the Communist party. He was safely ensconced in Norway, at the invitation of Trgyve Lie and had actually helped Kirov during the Civil War; Kirov was taught on the job, soundly beating General Antonin Deninkin of the White Army. Trotsky's Red Army became a superb fighting machine; an example of turning the pen into a sword and using it with skill, but it had to be done by putting on blinkers and elbowing other ambitious, yet ignorant party members to the side. Trotsky was not popular with others, but he was true to Lenin's original vision of what the USSR should be. As time went on, and Stalin gathered more and more power, the inner circle began to see the error of what they had, in fact, been warned about. But it was too late.

Of course, Stalin was a pallbearer at Kirov's funeral and there were several monuments, cities, towns and burgs named after him, most of which reverted back to their original names after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the most enduring and the loveliest of these remains, and it is one of the Russian traditions of high art: The Kirov Ballet. Located in Saint Petersburg (now, also renamed back from “Leningrad” although, when I was studying Russian history and this time period, World War II, it will always be “Leningrad” just as “Stalingrad” will always be Stalingrad, as it evinces a whole different set of pictures, for me than “Volgograd”) along with The Bolshoi Ballet, perhaps the oldest in them all and the crown jewel of ballets, this one city houses two of the finest ballet companies in the world.

It was far easier for Stalin to cover up the assassination of Kirov, with the “uncovering” of plots and then haul in his enemies, real and imagined, a tactic he employed for decades. He went from the party to the Red Army, shortly before World War II and that is one of the main reasons the early days of the war for Russia against the Nazis was so disastrous; the High Command and most of the Red Army Officers, Strategists and Field Officers were dead. People like Nikita Kruschev and Vasily Chuikov and his brothers emerged from the rank-and-file to become part of the new Red Army that would save Mother Russia.

Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин
 Iosif Vissarionovich Djugashvili

Stalin's porn 'stash and Hitler's upside-down soul patch could have fought it out and spared some 100,000,000 lives plus, just in Western Europe alone. Russia took the heaviest casualties, with estimates as high as 55,000,000. By contrast, the United States had approximately 460,000 casualties, military and civilian in World War II. As a country and as part of our zeitgeist, we have no clue what suffering really is, as a nation, and should be grateful for that.

Adolf Hitler













Kruschev is remembered for his shoe-banging during the 902nd plenary meeting of the UN General Assembly; this may have been in an attempt to liven things up. I can't imagine 902 meetings of anything that would be interesting. He's also remembered for his famous statement “We will bury you [America] upon the ash heap of History!” and for the Ten Days of October, when Kennedy went eyeball-to-eyeball with him, and Kruschev stood down. But within Russia herself, Kruschev was a reformer. He allowed the 1st publication of “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” a short novel, by AlexanderSolzhenitsyn. It quickly spread to the west and it was eagerly read by one and all. There were at least two copies of it in my house as I was growing up. I found a 3rd recently, as I was going through some old stuff I thought I'd lost, when I lost my 2nd house.

The book is a marvelous little gem that describes Ivan's (pronounced Ĭ·văhn, with the stress on the 2nd syllable) day; as he gets up, eats, does his chores, negotiates with the “guards” for extra goodies, talks to the other prisoners and finally goes to bed at night. An instant hit in the USSR, it has remained timeless and is a wonderful expression of one man's hope and ability to hang on and appreciate what he has around him.

Kruschev's little spring didn't last however, and he was more or less deposed. He was pensioned off to his dacha on the Black Sea (Sochi sits on the western coast of the Black Sea, and at the foot of the Caucasus Mountains) and a little apartment in Moscow. He was seen as too liberal; we used to play a game when they had their May Day Celebrations and everyone marched through Red Square in front of the Premiere and the other members of the Politburo. It was like reading tea leaves. Who was in favor and who was out of favor? Who stood closest to the Big Cheese and who had disappeared altogether? In those days it was a difficult game to play, since we had so few glimpses behind the Iron Curtain, and when we did, we weren't always given a play list to follow along at home.


This is Novedevichy Cemetery and is far more interesting than the tombs and columbarium in Krasnya Ploshad (Red Square) Both Kruschev and Kirov are buried here, along with many other heroes of the Great Patriotic War. It is also a "mom and pop" cemetery and it is not unusual for folks to come and sit with their ancestors. This is a headstone for a Major General. The tank is a T-34. They held 4 men and were the terror of the Wehrmacht up and down the 1,000 mile-front line, but they were especially effective at the Battle of Kursk, where the little, agile tanks caught German General Guderian's juggernaut and the tide turned, in 1943. Later, it was said, the "German Wehrmacht stuck its tongue in a meat grinder." The southern salient was broken and the Germans began their slow, hellish retreat back to Berlin.
That was a shame then, because as I studied the country and people; her leaders and artists, I've become quite fond of them; foibles and all. As Churchill said, Russia is an “enigma inside a riddle wrapped in a puzzle” or something. He forgot the labyrinth. The country, with all of her mixture of east and west, Byzantine and Occidental is a tantalizing amalgam of seeming contradictions. Fire and ice. Hot and cold. A people who are at once stoic, yet feel more passionately, than any I've ever encountered.

Of course, now I can go back and read all of the supposed “secret” histories and fill in the blanks and it's fun. This is more of a ramble through history than it is a true lesson. I know more about her music and composers and musicians (firsthand) than anything else about Russia. The second-most thing I know is the history of her Great Patriotic War, as seen through the eyes of composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich and oddly enough, through the best sniper's journal in history, Vasily Zaitsev, as he stalked the German High Command in the ruins of Stalin and fought a deadly, 3-day duel with his German Counterpart, Major Erwin König, fresh from the Berlin War College. But, once more, I digress.

I think if my father were alive today, he would articulate to me, that it wasn't Communism that was bad, but it was in the way it was employed within the USSR. Lenin's idea went sour with his early death and Marx-Engels were never meant for an agrarian society; "The Communist Manifesto" was written with the nascent industrialized era just beginning and with that in mind. I think he would also say that extremism; fascists, theocracies, tyrannical despots and absolute power always, always ends badly, whether right-winged or left-winged; fascism or communism. But, he wouldn't have to explain that to me, for I had already learned the precepts of freedom, human rights and the dignity every human being should be accorded. I learned that from him.


For the next several days, I plan on writing on some aspect of Russian history, or music, or people. I should mention that it hasn't been just the Olympics that spurred this outpouring of love for this magnificent country and people. I was looking at my stats for my blog. My second largest audience outside of the United States is. . . you guessed it, Russia.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A To Z Challenge Theme Reveal Blogfest #teamDamyanti

             Badge Courtesy of: Samantha Geary-Jones @ writerlysam.wrodpress.com                                                                           


 
I know, I know. It's not #ROW80 and it's not my usual ravings about stupid stuff that goes on here in da 'hood. It's something different; hopefully something with a little class! Even though it's still winter and the Olympics are roaring along in Sochi and I had a 232-page post (just kidding) prepared about life in Russia, that will just have to wait. Something much, much more important is taking place!

Today is the day we announce the Theme Reveal of the AtoZ Challenge that occurs each April. The theme part of the challenge is the brain-child of Mina Lobo who participates each year. Last year was the first year I participated and I enjoyed it so much that when one of the established co-hosts was looking for volunteer-minions I jumped into the breach!

I'm proud to be a member of Damyanti's team and you can find us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/atozchallenge or on Twitter with hashtags #teamDamyanti and #A2ZReveal. 

Be sure and check out the blogs of my fellow minions and my fabulous co-host Damyanti from her main page! If you have any questions or need help cooking up a theme, you can contact any one of us, or be sure and come to me! I am first-rate at whipping up a big batch of confusion. Some of you may remember that I followed myself last year on my own blog, trying to answer one of my commentators.

That was probably the least idiotic thing I did in 2013. But, I digress. The important thing is to join the Challenge at the A-to-Z for 2014 and pick a theme! Write about cats, or cupcakes as my co-minion Csenge did one year. Or not! Write about the letter C, like my friend Gina Valley did, when she couldn't remember the alphabet! I told her the funniest thing I ever saw was the drunk lady on "World's Dumbest Partiers" who sang the Alphabet Song at karaoke, which in itself is pretty stupid, and couldn't get past the letter "A" even when another drunk tried to help her. Hysteria and apoplexy followed, which really helped my parkinsonism! I almost had a stroke and a hernia! Just kidding. 

Anyway, you get the idea. Come on and join in the fun. You don't have to write War and Peace. You can write haiku if it suits u. . . That's bad, even for me. Well, I've been up way too long and it's time to get some sleep. Come and write. Come and read. Come and read and write, but sign up, first, here. You'll get a nifty badge at the end of the Challenge for finishing and feel good about yourself. Trust me.

My fellow minions are: Samantha Geary-Jones, Vidya Sury (who has 2 blogs) Anna Tan, Giulie Castillo-Oriard, Jemima Pett, and our own SteamPunk lady, Csenge Zalka (who also has two blogs!) Along with our intrepid leader, Damyanti, we hope to provide seekers with the very best, or at least non-mediocre ideas for themes, so stop by if you're in a quandary and need some inspiration! And sign up!



Friday, February 7, 2014

#ROW80 1ST QTR 2014 WED CHECK IN AND #IWSG A DAY LATE! PLUS, A RANT



2014 was supposed to be the year that I really got it together, because frankly, I had so totally "streamlined" (read "cocked-up") my life that there wasn't a whole lot left to get together. Boy, was I wrong! I've been running like a bat out of hell since January 1, and really don't have a whole hell of a lot to show for it, except that I've leveled up several times in Attack and am getting my 99 Cape of Achievement in two weeks. 

The electrician came because our lights have been flickering up and down, ever since we got new neighbors, but they're leaving because their freakin' drug dealer was pounding on the door day and night. Rather than dealing with it in my normal fashion, which would be to confront the asshole, and since I can no longer have a firearm, since I've been deemed mentally ill, and that is no longer an option, I went to my landlord who threw the bastards out. They are finally leaving after delay, after delay, after delay. I faced down the drug dealer after he showed up every 15 fucking minutes looking for his money, with the time-honored method of out-ballsing him; kinda the same way I did with the muggers.


For a long time, I could see out of only my right eye. I wish I'd had my eye doctor fuse my eyes together. This would have been neat!

I put my laptop in the front door and sat behind it, with my LifeCam facing out, after Mr. Dealer had buzzed by our place about 80 times in the course of 90 minutes. The dealer got the hint and instead of trying to look in my house and see what kinds of goodies he could steal, in lieu of payment from the welsher next door, he took a powder. Sometimes, ya just have to get slicker than the slicks running around here; I should become a crime lord. 

Anyway, the electrician should probably be on trial for murder or something; when he left the lights still flickered and now the water is the temperature of the Sun. He's been lurking around the other houses and when he sees us, he looks sheepish/happy as if he's glad/surprised we haven't burned to death. I'm calling the Electric Company and having them in to do a once-over ASAP.

 I never bought in to that happy Redy Kilowatt guy. Killerwatt is more like it. They actually have something called Killerwatz in Runescape as a slayer monster and I couldn't do them; they freaked out what little is left of my retinal and optical nerves. Electricity belongs in the ground or the sky, not in people, or at least not in great quantities.

This would just be business-as-usual, but JC is just getting over pneumonia and I have been trying to get my own doctor's appointments set up. This is a major undertaking for just him, but I've put off my own things, as I've felt well and he's been so sick over the past year. He's finally starting to come back around and get out more and I am really happy about that.

What I wasn't happy about was yesterday, when he came home, here right behind him comes the druggie-welsher neighbor, who while in the process of moving, ran into JC, as he was returning from an appointment. I had had a bad morning, complete with a dressing-down from Brighthouse who tried to tell me I owed them 68.00, when I pay them a month in advance. I called to cancel because I got a much better deal with Verizon, plus a land line, so I can go back to work part-time (VERY part-time) for an old company. I told Samantha of the Retention Department, that I would NOT be paying any 68.00 bill, as I was paid in full, and that I, in fact, was cancelling a day prior to my payment due date. 

 I'm fairly sure the people that have dealt with me sans bipolar meds would prefer I be somewhat, er, sedated. Were I able to skip the middleman, I would be first in line to do so, but it seems here lately, that customers are a plague. In the last month, I've been yelled at by my bank, Bright House and now, once again, my psychiatrist's receptionist. I worked with customers on the phones for years and never encountered the hostility I've run into here, recently and I make it a point to reward good customer service.
 
So, already pissed, I discovered that I had missed my own psychiatrist's appointment of February 4th. This is a special kind of hell; they never call and remind us of our appointments anymore and it took me 6 weeks to get a new prescription for my Cymbalta, back in October. This front office has done more to obstruct my psychiatric care than any other specialist I have and it's unconscionable. I have been Baker-Acted. I have a history of violence, when provoked. Wouldn't you want to keep that person placated, or at least go along with that person, while you're calling out the guys with the white coats and nets? I came so very, very close to saying "Y'know what? This is all a big pile of shit and fuck it!" Start taking hostages and barricading myself.

It goes that quickly and when I've had little to no sleep and am on edge and am trying to help JC and do 90 million other things and I get abuse on the phone, I just go starkers. It's really enough to push one over the edge. The so very, very frightening thing about this, is that I can gauge it. I know when I've reached my limit and there's always a point, where I can say "Stop". I haven't reached critical mass. But I am so afraid that one day, the set of circumstances will be enough for me to just let it reach critical mass. That's when I understand what people do when they take hostages or kill wantonly and it's not us, it's the society. God willing, the governor is in good shape. I have a good support system and I can laugh at the truly idiotic idea of my own psychiatrist's receptionist's being the trigger for my last two near-melt-downs. But really? Shouldn't she be in another line of work? I'm going to suggest that to my doctor at my next appointment, come February 13, 2014 at 2:45 pm.