Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Gospel Music with Johnny and June

I know I posted this last song last Sunday by Alison Krauss and the Cox Family. I love the picture of Johnny and June and this song was sung at my parent's funerals 10 years ago. I still miss them.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bombs in Dnipropetrovs'k

Yesterday just before noon four bombs went off in Dnipropetrovs'k along the tram line on Karl Marx street, the main drag.  Kyiv Post carried the story here and updated here.

Twenty-nine or thirty people were hospitalized, including nine children.  Twenty-Two remain in hospital.

The bombs were placed in concrete trash containers located along the street at tramway stops; the concrete acted as shrapnel. The fourth bomb was located and people cleared out of the way before it exploded

President Yanukovych is in the city and has ordered "security measures"; instructing "Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, Security Service Chief Ihor Kalinin, and Interior Minister Vitaliy Zakharchenko to take measures to find those behind a series of blasts in Dnipropetrovsk and bring them to trial".

Yanukovych also ordered to set up a task force lead by the prosecutor general to investigate the incident at the site. Read more:

Whether or not they find anyone or anyone is brought to trial let alone convicted will depend on who did it and who is their their "roof", in local slang.  The government will call it a terrorist act and no doubt clamp down further on civil liberties, there being ample precedent for that in other countries.  However it was not likely terrorists in the Islamist sense but more likely home-grown mafia sending a warning to someone in the Dnipropetrovs'k City bureaucracy.

It is a larger repeat of a similar incident last fall. An unidentified explosive device detonated near a bus stop in downtown Dnipropetrovs'k in the early hours of November 16. The bomb was planted in a concrete trash container. A Ukrainian man was killed in the explosion. Read more:

However, one former top law enforcement official expressed doubts over the terrorism claim. “This doesn’t look like a terrorist attack, but more like a criminal act stemming from an economic dispute,” said Oleksandr Skipalsky, a former Security Service of Ukraine lieutenant general and ex-head of the military intelligence department of the Defense Ministry. Read more:

A businessman was murdered in the City a couple weeks ago and two or three years ago the Chief Prosecutor was gunned down, likely for favouring the wrong clique.  Dnipropetrovs'k is a tough enough city on its own but with the Donetsk crowd allegedly trying to move in on every profitable business in the country, it has become even rougher.

Aljazeera has more information here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Karlovy Vary aka Karlsbad or Carlsbad

Karlovy Vary is a beautiful little spa town in western Czech Republic.  A place where the rich and famous used to go to take the waters for their health, though today they apparently let in anybody with money, especially Russians who are buying up the city. 

The city was founded in the 14th century by Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Bohemia. According to legend he saw a deer wounded by wolves or dogs drink the water from one of the many hot springs and be miraculously healed.  (Somewhat similar to the claims made for the water at Truskavets where Tanya and I went three years ago.  My blog posts about that adventure start here.)

Thursday 12th was cold and rainy.  Our first stop was the Krusovice brewery.  Not bad beer as Czech's made a variety of very good beers but just not a day for a cold brew.  We had several hours to spend wandering Karlovy Vary and Tanya got some good pictures.  (My knees, hips, legs were giving me so much trouble that day, I could hardly keep up.  Need more practice walking I guess.  By Sunday I was doing very well.  Just needed to keep at it).  The town is lovely, all hotels and shops and geared totally to the tourist trade.

Lots of ducks on the river

Built by the Soviets in the Brezhnev era.  Fit the architectural style?

Banning Kids Helping with Farm Chores

Here is an another example of why if I were involved in agriculture in USA, I would vote Republican no matter how disgusting I find their social and economic ideology.  They are at least not trying to destroy my industry.  One honestly wonders if the American government doesn't have enough to do if they have time to "solve" problems that do not exist. No wonder Americans hate government and government regulations.

Rural kids, parents angry about Labor Dept. rule banning farm chores

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lean Fine Textured Beef

The anti-beef, anti-meat crowd has been having a field day with Lean Fine Textured Beef (LFTB). I had hoped that it would all go away while Tanya and I were in Prague but apparently not. It is quite amazing how much damage can be done to an industry by those with an agenda to harm it whenever and however possible.

Since I have been involved in the beef industry all my life, I thought a bit of background information on ground beef might be useful.

Over 40% of the value of a beef carcass is in about 25% of the high end cuts. These are the cuts along the longissimus dorsi or rib-eye muscle; Porterhouse, T-bones, and Rib steaks or variations there of. To achieve the desired tenderness and flavour a certain amount of intramuscular fat, called marbling, is required In general, the more marbling it contains, the better a cut of meat is; USDA Choice or Canada AAA has more marbling in the rib-eye than USDA Select or Canada AA.

Beef cattle fatten from the outside in and marbling is the last fat laid down. Steers and heifers (youthful, feedlot finished) going to slaughter carry a lot of exterior fat, though much less than in the past as genetic selection for faster marbling and better feeding regimes have greatly reduced the amount of exterior fat necessary to achieve the same desired level of marbling.

If you can remember back 30 years, that outside fat along with a lot of bone went onto the supermarket shelf with the cut of beef. I recall T-bone steaks with an inch of backfat. Consumers did not want either the fat or the bones. Eventually by the mid-80’s the industry got the message. Since that time, external fat was closely trimmed at the plant and at the time of processing into retail cuts, visible fat was again trimmed. Other than standing rib roasts and T-bone steaks all cuts were boneless.

About 50% of all beef in USA and Canada is consumed as ground beef. As much beef as possible is sold as various cuts (type and volume of cuts varies with season) and the rest is ground. According to Canadian regulations ground beef can be labeled as follows with the maximum fat contents specified (note that most supermarkets and meat stores have their own in-house standards which are actually lower in fat content than the allowed maximum):
Extra-lean: a maximum fat content of 10%
Lean: a maximum fat content of 17%
Medium: a maximum fat content of 23%
Regular: a maximum fat content of 30%

As you can imagine, grinding meat from youthful cattle “finished” to the degree of fatness required to meet USDA Choice or Canada AAA grades, results in some expensive and no matter how carefully trimmed, some higher fat ground beef. Cow beef which is leaner and cheaper is also ground and may be mixed with beef from feedlot finished animals. Lean trim from other cuts is also included in the grind.

Carefully and closely trimming cuts of beef results in “trim” made up of fat and lean meat. As much lean as possible is separated manually and included in ground beef. But it impossible to get it all. A couple of decades ago, a process was developed where the remaining high fat, low lean content trim was finely ground, heated to about 100°F and spun in a centrifuge to separate the lean from the fat, (much the same as a cream separator for anyone raised on a farm).

 The result is a product that may not look very appetizing in its raw form but is 90% to 95% lean beef. About 14 to 16 lbs (6 to 7 kg) per carcass of perfectly good beef are recovered that otherwise would go to the rendering plant. One of the pluses of this product is that when it is included in lean or extra lean ground beef and made into patties, you can actually eat the hamburgers. Otherwise lean or extra lean ground beef hamburgers are about as edible as rubber tire, only they smell better on the BBQ.

Now comes the issue of food safety. Going from live animal to meat requires a great deal of care to prevent contamination at every point along the chain because of course all living animals carry bacteria. Food safety is the number one priority of any meat processing plant and very stringent procedures (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point or HACCP) are in place to ensure so far as is humanly possible that the meat that leaves the plant is safe to eat. The plant has its own inspectors and they are backed up by government inspectors. And because no system is fool proof, every couple of weeks across North America, if you follow the websites, there is a recall of something that didn’t check out

Bacterial growth is a function of surface area. You can take a pound of sirloin steak home and eat it raw with a very large margin of safety because it has a small surface area: top, bottom, edges. Now think about ground beef. I have no idea the surface area of a pound of ground beef, though I expect someone figured it out. It is a huge number which is why recommendations are to cook ground beef thoroughly “until it is dead”.

Lean fine textured beef would have several times the surface area of ground beef so controlling bacteria was critical. Citric acid has been used. In 2001, I believe, Beef Products Inc. developed a process to control E. coli using ammonium hydroxide to raise the pH of the product. Ammonium hydroxide has been used in food production since 1974 and was approved by USDA and FDA for use with LFTB.

The American Meat Institute says that “USDA data show that the incidence of E. coli in fresh ground beef has been declining significantly over the past decade. The number of USDA ground beef samples testing positive for E. coli O157:H7 dropped 55 percent between 2000 and 2010”. And further that “all forms of lean finely textured beef are safe when produced in compliance with USDA regulations”.

Of course there is a system to totally control bacterial growth and make all foods safe to eat, which we have had for over 30 years. It is called irradiation. But you already know what the Luddites have to say about that.

Which brings up an interesting conundrum for someone who considers himself a progressive and a liberal. The Left believe in justice and equality of opportunity for all, that safety nets should ensure poor have money to buy food. The Right is dedicated to production of abundant, affordable, nutritious, wholesome food. One would think there might be some synergies here. But no. The right prefers to see the poor starve in the streets, while the Left’s food strategy seems to be:
1. prevent as much food production as possible
2. if food is produced it should be so expensive only Latte Liberals and Chardonnay Socialists can afford it.
3. if it is affordable, people should be too frightened to eat it.

From what I have gathered from reading the newsletters and comments on the internet these past several years:
The anti-women, anti-health care, anti-poor, anti-labour Right is trying to set social progress back some 200 years to save the earth.
The anti-food, anti-modern, anti-technolgy, anti-business Left is trying to set economic progress back some 200 years to save the earth.

“Sometimes I think the surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us” Calvin, from Calvin and Hobbes

Friday, April 20, 2012

Prague Spring Holiday - The Ossuary in Sedlec

One of the more unusual stops was at the small city Kutna Hora which I will get back too later.  Sedlec, a village on the outskirts of Kutna Hora was home to a Cistercian monastery from 1142.  Since it was located in the dead centre of town, a cemetery was established at the monastery in the ealy-mid 13th century.  In 1278, the King of Bohemia sent the Abbot to Jerusalem, from whence he returned with a jar of earth from the Grave of Christ which he scattered on the cemetery, thus making  it part of the Holy Land.

Make no bones about it, people from all over Europe were suddenly dying to be buried there.  The cemetery got a real boost in clientele in 1318 adding 30,000 bodies from an outbreak of plague.  Then the Catholic church threw a hussyfit over the deemed heretical teachings of Jan Hus and John Wycliffe which were quite popular and well accepted in Bohemia.  This set off the Hussite Wars, which not only added bodies to the graveyard but resulted in the burning down of the monastery.

So the All Saints Cemetery Chapel with two towers and two floors was constructed on the Monasterical grounds on top of the cemetery .  All the bones dug up from the construction of the Chapel and another church nearby were piled into the lower floor of the chapel which became known as the Ossuary of Sedlec, (Pile of Bones having already been spoken for).

Ossuary of Sedlec
In 1511 they hired a half-blind monk to stack the bones neatly into 6 pyramids, which were rearranged in 1661.  (You cannot make this stuff up). In the 18th century the Chapel and Ossuary underwent modifications and the entire Monasterial lot was purchased in 1784 by the Schwartzenburgs who also owned the Hluboka castle (see previous post).

They hired a wood carver to decorate the Ossuary.  The six pyramids of bones, estimated to represent some 40,000 persons, were disinfected and bleached, then bones from two pyramids were used to make the rather macabre decor in the pictures below.

The Chalice
Ceiling over chandelier
Family Crest of Schwartzenbergers

One of four remaining pyramids of bones

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Prague Spring Holiday - Chateau Hluboka nad Vltava

Tanya and I arrived back from Prague early Tuesday morning.  We left the house at 5:00 pm Sunday 8th, arriving in Prague at 8:00 am on the 9th.  We left at 3:00 pm on the 16th and arrived home at 7:00 am Tuesday 17th. Getting to Kyiv and back took the time as the flight is only 2 hours.  Coming back on (Orthodox) Easter Monday meant the trains were full and we had to take an overnighter.

It was a computerless holiday, 9 days away from my link to the rest of the world. And a nice break it was for the rest of the world no doubt but I will not do it again.

We had six excursions as part of our package.  Bus and walk; bus and walk; bus and walk.  By Thursday my knees were so bad I could hardly keep up but by Saturday I was doing not bad for an old fat man.

Our first excursion was to Vienna and I will come back to that when I get pictures better sorted.  The second day we visited the Chateau Hluboka nad Vltava and Czesky Krumlov (which I will come back to later).
Hlubolka started life as a Medieval castle on top of a hill over looking the town.  Over the centuries it was transformed several times by various owners into a huge luxurious chateau. It currently is owned by the Czech government.

Tanya got a few pictures of the outside of the castle (below) but for pictures of the inside you need to go to the official website (link above in Bold).  No pictures allowed inside the castle.  And the rooms were dark.  And our guide was in a hurry.  The schpiel was all in Russian but I imagined it went like this:

And this room is either Princess Gabriella's Bedchamber or the Knights' Dining Room; I'm not sure which...or maybe it was both.  If there was light in here you would see this and this and this and this and this...but since it isn't and you can't, we'll just move on to the next room which is either the kitchen or the library...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spirituality vs Religion

A friend of mine provided the following comments.

Spirituality captures all of the good things of religion. Religion is essentially spirituality with control and greed built in. My view of religion is it is someone taking spirituality and all the good and truth it has and saying
1. Heaven exists
2. You can get there and have everything you ever wanted or dreamed of
3. There is a road to heaven, a sure way to get there
4. It runs right through my religion
5. I know the road and can guide you on it
6. Trust me and you will get there – listen to my advice
7. And, the road to heaven
8. It is a toll road
9. Send your money to God (at my address)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My New Man Purse

Today, Tanya actually asked me to help in the yard.  Guess she figured nothing was growing enough that I could kill it where we were working.  We finished raking and cleaning the leaves and dead grass under the cherry and apple trees in the back of the yard and also in the strawberry patch.  She said if a few plants got pulled out when we were raking it was OK. 

We had six small fires going at one time.  Good thing the wind was south to north as we suddenly noticed Lucia (to the south of us)  had wash on the line.  Why neighbours kill each other. 

Gardening is in full swing all around the city.  Most are raked over nice and smooth and several people are planting something.  Not sure what.  After school a Grade 10 boy (grandson of neighbour Big Victor) showed up with a small section of diamond harrow and a big cement block and harrowed the kitchen garden for us, pulling the harrow himself with a rope.  We will also hire him and several of his friends to do a thorough clean up of the yard next door and then have a huge bonfire.  It is a mess as the house has not been lived in for several years and no one looks after the place.

An error in filling out a form caused us some excitement and grief.  The error was corrected at no cost other than excess adrenalin.  While there may be different versions of what caused the error, it undoubtedly was my fault.  I am the husband.  Forgiveness cost only two pairs of new shoes, black pumps and white sandals. Which made Tanya so happy, I got to buy a leather man purse.  It says Giorgio Armani on it which Andrei says should be translated as Made in Armenia.

I can hardly wait to go into The Swamp at Agribition in my European shoes and carrying a man purse.

The well dressed European

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Observations on a Sunny Day

Tanya has gone to Dnipropetrovs'k for the day, leaving me to putter about the house on my own, which I quite enjoy once in a while.  She is going to get insulin for Roman and to "check out" the flower market conveniently located near the bus depot.

We buy insulin for Roman that is made in Europe.  As Tanya says Insulin made in Ukraine or China (provided free by the health system) is only for people who want to die.  We started looking on Monday; only one drugstore in town carries it.  They didn't have any so Tanya phoned the best drugstore in Dnipropetrovs'k associated with the Medical Research Institute.  They were out of it too but would have some today.

Diabetes is a plague here in Ukraine and in Russia too.  I don't know the stats but I know two women who have lost a leg to it, each of whom may lose the other as well.  I should look up the stats for Canada.  From what I gather, much of the diabetes here is Type 2 ie adult onset and diet related but I don't know that for sure.  I do know that regardless, it all seems to be treated with insulin.

There does not seem to be much in the way of an education program in Ukraine for the public or even for the diabetics themselves.  Treatment seems to be a standard two injections per day.  Glucometers are available in most of the larger drugstores but they are the same price as in Canada and so are the strips at $1 each.  Using a glucometer to adjust insulin doses to maintain blood sugar at something approaching normal is totally beyond the reach of a huge percentage of the population.

Even if there were some kind of quality control on domestic and Chinese insulin it would save a lot of misery and likely lives too. There ought to be a special place in Hell for people who traffic in other people's misery (see also The Third Man) and the corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who allow it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Little Johnny again

The kids filed back into class Monday morning. They were very excited.  Their weekend assignment was to sell something, then give a talk on productive salesmanship.

Little Sally led off: "I sold girl scout cookies and I made $30," she said proudly, "My sales approach was to appeal to the customer's civil spirit and I credit that approach for my obvious success."

"Very good," said the teacher.

Little Jenny was next:

"I sold magazines," she said, "I made $45 and I explained to everyone that magazines would keep them up on current events."

"Very good, Jenny," said the teacher.

Eventually, it was Little Johnny's turn. The teacher held her breath...

Little Johnny walked to the front of the classroom and dumped a box full of cash on the teacher's desk. "$2,467" he said.

"$2,467!" cried the teacher, "What in the world were you selling?"

"Toothbrushes," said Little Johnny.

"Toothbrushes!" echoed the teacher, "How could you possibly sell enough tooth brushes to make that much money?"

"I found the busiest corner in town," said Little Johnny, "I set up a Chip & Dip stand and gave everybody who walked by a free sample. They all said the same thing, "Hey, this tastes like dog shit!"

Then I would say, "It is dog shit. Wanna buy a toothbrush? I used the government approach of giving you something shitty for free, and then making you pay to get the taste out of your mouth."

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Gospel Music with the Oak Ridge Boys

Finally, it is April

It is April 1st.  Mark Twain says the first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year. 

I like April.  The sun shines longer every day.  When it clears up and stops raining at least. It was light at 6:00 am this morning, even with DST. 

Flowers start blooming, even if it is only Tanya's crocuses for now, things are so late this year.  Lots of her bulbs are sticking up so we will have blooms later.  Birds are coming back; there are two more songbirds back. Though I don't know their names it is nice to hear them. Grass is starting to grow; perennials are coming through the ground in other flower beds. Trees are budding out and will burst into leaf after a few hot days.

Somewhere calves are being born.  With Victor's death last winter, there will be no more cows on our street as his was the last.  But soon the goats will be staked out to graze, with their new babies.  I see chickens, geese and turkeys out and about so there will be chicks around soon; there may be some in the market already. 

The roads are full of potholes again as repairs of last year have popped lose with moisture and frost and new holes created.  Driving to town is a slow process now. Time to put the summer tires back on, too. Maybe when we get back from Prague. It feels like it could still snow.