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Stettin Station by David Downing – A “Sort of Review”

June 28, 2016
Tank Trap - anti-tank barrier used extensively by the Soviet during the Battle of Moscow - October 2, 1941 - January 7, 1942

Tank Trap – anti-tank barrier used extensively by the Soviet during the Battle of Moscow – October 2, 1941 – January 7, 1942. This is at the site of the memorial to that battle just outside of the city.


Anyone traveling from Moscow’s main Sheremetyevo Airport the approximate twenty miles to Red Square  couldn’t miss it, “it” being the anti-tank barrier sculpture marking the memorial to what is referred to as “the Battle of Moscow.” Despite the Cold War rhetoric of the times (late 1980s) downplaying the Soviet role in defeating the Nazis, every time I sped by the memorial in those years, it gave me chills. Still does more than twenty-five years since my last visit to what now is simply named Russia.

The memorial marked the precise place little more than ten miles from the center, a vivid reminder of  just how close the Nazis had come to storming the Soviet capitol in those cold and unpredictable days between October 2, 1941 and January 7, 1942, with the fate of Moscow, and perhaps, the world hung in the balance. But the Nazi army was over-extended and increasingly poorly supplied, denied winter clothing and equipment. Hitler had not just underestimated the weather, but  Soviet military strength.  Nazi overconfidence that the USSR would collapse like a house of cards in the face of the Nazi blitzkrieg led the German war machine into a “quagmire.” Hitler’s armies were unable to make the final thrust. By January 7, they were pushed back in some places more than 100 kilometers from the capitol. Read more…

Libya: Downward Spiral

June 25, 2016
Tripoli prior to the invasion

Tripoli prior to the invasion

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horses and all the king’s me
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.

What has happened in Libya since 2011 is heartbreaking. Its denials aside, the Obama Administration bears the lion’s share of the responsibility. Worse, nobody  cares – or hardly anyone – here in the United States. As far as the current American political discussion goes, the Libyan crisis is on the back burner. For the political class, the media, the ethical dimension of destroying a nation with the goal of getting cheaper and more plentiful oil is nonexistent. An example of how far off the deep end the country’s leaders could go in defending the indefensible, the Libyan invasion, Democratic Presidential hopeful, Hillary Clinton referred to it as “smart power at its best.” “Smart power at its best” or imperial power at its most arrogant?

In the case of Libya…”Humpty Dumpty” didn’t “fall” – but was pushed by NATO, an organization which gives the United States the veil of plausible denial for arranging what is nothing less than the wholesale destruction of a country. Perhaps “obliteration” would be a better word. NATO has not been able to put Libya back together again. Nor is it certain that NATO  intends to, at least not in the form it previously took: a centralized (if authoritarian state) which had the ability to negotiate hard with foreign energy companies and the governments that serve them. Read more…

Mr Hornaday’s War: How A Peculiar Victorian Zookeeper Waged A Lonely Crusade For Wildlife that Changed The World by Stefan Bechtel. Beacon Press, Boston: 2012. Part One

June 21, 2016
2016 - 06 - 08 - Cheyenne Bottoms - 2a

Great Egrets (also known as American Egrets) at Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, Kansas. June 8,2016

Molly and I went for a walk early Sunday (June 19, 2016)  morning at Denver’s Washington Park. In an effort to beat a forecast of temperatures reaching close to 100 degrees we started at 7:30. By the time we finished the 2 1/2 mile loop, the temperatures had spiked into the mid-to-high 80s. I could feel the sweat beads starting to form on my back. There was a good deal of active bird life along the way. A group of three pelicans who were diving for fish in unison (that was cool), Canadian geese and gaggle of goslings, ducks and ducklings (adorable little living things) and across the water we could see some egrets. One was a great white, the other I wasn’t sure of. Was it a cattle egret? but probably not as it had a black, not yellow beak.

On returning home, I turned to my spiritual guide in such matters, Kaufman’s Field Guide to Birds of North America(2000 edition). It was given to Nancy as a gift from our lifelong friend, Jo Ellen Patton, herself an experienced and knowledgeable bird watcher, now of Flagstaff, Arizona. While we have several other good birding guides (Peterson’s, National Geographic) we find ourselves relying on Kaufman’s more regularly than the others. Kaufman didn’t fail us. Closely related to a European cousin, known in French as an aigrette (little heron), the black-billed egret, easily identified, was a snowy egret, more common in east Texas and Louisiana, but whose  range includes the mountains and front range regions of Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Read more…

Overall Saudi Crisis Deepens (Part 2)

May 22, 2016
Technically they (Saudi women) can "Do It!", but legally, it is still forbidden, partially on the grounds that driving negatively affects their ovaries and interfers with child bearing, a dubious arguement. As recently as December 2015, Saudi women were given the right to vote and run in local elections...but they still can't drive.

Technically they (Saudi women) can “Do It!”, but legally, it is still forbidden, partially on the grounds that driving negatively affects their ovaries and interferes with child-bearing, a dubious argument. As recently as December 2015, Saudi women were given the right to vote and run in local elections…but they still can’t drive.

by Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince

The Saudi Crisis Deepens (Part 2)

Experts in space studies have asserted that when a star stands on the verge of its collapse, its core becomes unstable. It begins to expand far beyond its regular size, appearing to be greatly expanding – when, actually, it is in its weakest and most vulnerable state. This is the precise state in which Saudi Arabia presently finds itself.

In Al Muqaddimah, the great 14th century classic, Ibn Khaldun outlines a templet for the rise and fall of empires. He maintains that no society can achieve anything unless consensus exists concerning its goals and objectives and enjoys what he refers to as social solidarity ‘asabiyah’ – or consensus – supporting that goal. Jockeying for personal power, corruption, and the seduction of wealth creates a general lethargy that constitutes the dying phase of any dominant power.

All the indications suggest that current Saudi Arabia is going through such a phase. Read more…

Overall Saudi Crisis Deepens (Part 1)

May 16, 2016
100 camels are sold in Saudi Arabia every day

100 camels are sold in Saudi Arabia every day

By Ibrahim Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince

Perceptions can be very deceiving when it comes to Saudi Arabia, especially since Western media have mostly acted as Al Saud’s personal publicists over the decades. In 1974 Fred Halliday published a book focusing on the politico/economic structure of the Arabian Peninsula. In “Arabia Without SultansHalliday asserts that the conservative rulers of the Peninsula were, sooner or later, as doomed as was  Egypt’s monarchy in the early 1950s.

Some history is in order.

Modern Saudi Arabia was a creation of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in 1916, a secret understanding between Britain and France defining their respective spheres of influence after World War I. Britain signed the “Treaty of Darin” with Ibn Saud that incorporated the lands of the Saud Family as a British protectorate in December of 1915. Soon thereafter, the western coastal region, Hijaz, was seized by Ibn Saud along with Mecca and Medina in 1925. He then utilized his 22 marriages to shape and control his vast kingdom. But from almost the outset, it was his close alliance with the US that helped him ward off threats towards the nascent state. In 1935 Ibn Saud signed a concession agreement with Standard Oil of California (now Chevron) which included handing over substantial authority over Saudi Oil fields. Standard Oil later established a subsidiary in Saudi Arabia called the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco), now fully owned by the Saudi government.

There are three key pillars that the house of Saud rests upon, allowing it to play a role in the region. The first of these is the dominance of Ibn Saud’s descendants in Saudi politics. The Saud family is in effect an oligarchy that has crafted an absolute dominion, ruled by consensus of the leading figures enabling them to dominate the political landscape of Arabian Peninsula. Ibn Saud is believed to have had at least 70 children. His sons and their offspring form a core of about 200 who wield most of the power. Estimates of the total number of male members of Saud clan ranges anywhere from 7,000 upwards.  This allows the family to control most of the peninsula’s important posts and to be present at all levels of government. The key ministries are reserved for the family, as are the thirteen regional governorships. Read more…

Declining Deer Population: Blame It On The Mountain Lions

May 7, 2016
Clear Creek Canyon Deer. Notice how scrawny they are

Clear Creek Canyon Deer. Notice how scrawny they are


This is the time of year with Spring in full bloom that here in Colorado, we are likely to see more wildlife. It has been my good fortune to see a fair amount these past few weeks – beaver (which I had never seen until now), muskrat, avocets and then a few days ago a herd of seven mule deer grazing on the side of a slope above Clear Creek just beyond the entrance to Clear Creek Canyon. We had been hiking. Nancy went on a bit; as usual, I waited behind and took a seat on an inviting rock, looked up; there were all seven of them making their way down along a stream bed not far from me.

Alert, the deer were typically nervous, their ears going back and forth. Apparently deciding that in the end I was not much of a threat, they inched closer until they were no more than a hundred feet away, maybe closer. Common as deer are, it is still a great thrill for a kid (well, I’m 71 now) from Brooklyn to be in the presence of a deer herd wandering freely in the Colorado mountains. I don’t remember seeing them in Flatbush where I was born, not even in the wilds of Prospect Park.

Unlike the other wildlife described above, deer are quite common – not just in Colorado, but nationwide. It is not unusual to see small herds in the mountains either in the early morning or towards dusk. In some places, like Boulder, they are something between house pets and nuisances, enjoying garden produce sometimes more than the people who are raising the crops. On his farm in Lyons, I remember that my father-in-law would scare them away by firing blanks at them with is rifle. It worked pretty well for a short while and then they returned. Read more…

Colorado – The Northeast Corner, From Ft. Morgan to Julesberg – 1

May 6, 2016
Woman looking for petrified wood along the South Platte River at Ft. Morgan. (She told us that she finds a fair amount)

Woman looking for petrified wood along the South Platte River at Ft. Morgan. (She told us that she finds a fair amount)


“Why are you going there.”

“There” is the northeast corner of Colorado, north and east of Ft. Morgan to just past Julesberg where Colorado turns into Nebraska. Neither of our daughters could imagine why we would want to vacation there, little more than a way station in Colorado’s northeast corner that connects to I-80 in Nebraska and from there points east. We joked how we’d invite the girls to join us just to see how they might “politely” reject our offer.

But then, I’d have a hard time myself, explaining why it was we decided to pick that particular corner of the world for our enjoyment. I suppose several factors came into play:  it wasn’t a typical tourist destination. I simply didn’t believe there was “nothing” there…although exactly what life was like there – both past and present – was not so obvious to tease out. Still, we figured…what the heck…let’s go and check it out.  Its history – both human and geological interests me, especially the history of the flood of early Euro-American settlement in the area in the 1860s and how it impacted – decimated would be a more accurate term for it – the existing native populations.

How many times have we driven past Sterling and Julesberg on I-76 in the northeast corner of Colorado on our way to I-80 in Nebraska and points east? A hundred? More? My estimate is that it is somewhere between a hundred and a hundred and fifty times given that we often went to Eastern Nebraska, central Iowa (when Molly was at Grinnell) and western Illinois (when Abbie was at Knox College) at least twice a year and often more often than that over a period of 47 years. Who knows?

On those trips, how many times did we stop at Sterling, Julesberg or the small towns – more aptly called villages – Merino, Iliff, Ovid, Sedgwick – in Logan and Sedgwick counties? That’s easy. Once more than a decade ago, on a trip with Nancy and two  friends, we passed through Sterling and Julesberg, heading for Sidney, Nebraska, site of the original Cabella’s, but didn’t stop. I had to shake my sagging memory to remember that I did visit Sterling once in the distant past, sometime in early 1975. It was to attend the trial of Gary Garrison, Crusade for Justice activist who indicted for bombing the Boone Paint Store in Denver. (1) Read more…