Friday, May 27, 2016

Spanish Holiday - Antoni Gaudi

Any country that can give birth, over a 52 year period, to Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Salvador Dali (1904-1989) has to have had something in the drinking water. Last year we toured Dali's castle in Pubol and the museum in Figueres. This year we went to see three of Gaudi's famous architectural masterpieces in Barcelona.

The first stop was Casa Batllo, which was just a couple of blocks  from Place de Catalunya which is the "centre" of the city. This is a house that Gaudi did the remodeling design for a private business man (who could afford him).  We had bought tickets in advance, (@22.50 Euro, so skipped the line up.  It supposedly represents an underwater experience.  They say there are no straight lines or square corners in the entire building. (The dog house I built two years ago can make the same claim). One had to admire the craftsmen who built it to spec.  There are great pictures on the website (linked above) and also Google images. These are some I liked - woodwork!

Next stop was La Pedrera or Casa Mila. Tanya went through this one.  I can only take so much before my brain starts melting into one of Dali's paintings. The 27 Euro I saved on entry fee we spent on lunch. Great pictures on the website and on Google images.

After lunch we hiked to the famous La Sagrada Familia Cathedral.  It has been under construction for well over 130 years.  Gaudi worked on it until he died in 1926 and others took over.  These pictures are from the back of the cathedral.  There are great pictures on the website and Google images. We arrived at 2:00 pm and were told we would get inside with the 5:00 tour group.  So we figured out the Metro and went to the Cathedral of Barcelona instead (more on that another time).

It was a Best Day Ever for Tanya until 6:00 pm when we took the wrong train home,

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Spanish Holiday: Odds and Ends

Catalona Province
This year we stayed on the Costa Brava, NE of Barcelona, in Pineda de Mar at the Hotel Stella and Spa.  We would recommend this hotel to anyone.  Billed as 3 Star Plus, it is certainly plus.  It even has a Library/Reading/Music room. Great food, great service, great everything in our books. It is five minutes from the beach and five minutes from the railway station.

The mattress was quite firm 
Our plan was to take the train to Barcelona and see the "City of Goudi" (more on him later).  It is an hour and ten minutes from Pineda de Mar to downtown Barcelona.  (It is also an hour and ten minutes back again IF you catch the right train, otherwise it takes 5 hours to sort out the mess.  Don't ask.  At least I know Tanya really loves me.) We thought we could manage one day in Barcelona, one day off, etc.

The beach is reasonably fine sand.  It was warm enough to sunbathe.  The waves washed into shore constantly, day and night.  With shoes off, I approached the edge of the waves to get my feet wet and test the temperature.  The waves teased me closer and closer to the waters edge.  Then the next wave came in crotch deep, of course.  If I wanted to swim in water that cold, I could have stayed in Saskatchewan.
Kids were braver than adults in the cold water
It rained almost every day, usually late in the afternoon.  It had been sunny and warm until we arrived according to our tour guide. So we would go to the beach and keep one eye on the clouds.  One day I came back to the room first and Tanya stayed on the beach.  A couple hours later it started to pour rain.  The skies opened; it rained cats and dogs.  For a while I was afraid it would start hailing taxis and fellows well met. Fortunately Tanya had returned to the hotel shortly after me and was downstairs (free WiFi in bar and lounge) checking her smart phone.

The food and service were wonderful.  Every day was a different supper 'theme'. On Mediterranean Night, all the serving staff wore sailor hats and tops.  Tanya thought this young man was quite dashing so got a picture of him with me.  There was a young woman, long black curly hair, dark flashing eyes, filled out fit her sailor top to perfection.  Couldn't have been cuter or more Spanish if she tried.  Do you think Tanya would take her picture with me.  No way.  Wives are funny like that.

One evening an older chap set his plate down at the table next to us and sat down heavily heaving a great sigh.  I said, "You sat down like a man glad to get a load off your feet".  He replied, "Well, you see, mate, the problem is I only have one leg". "Oh, OK, then.  . . . a load off your foot". Not only one leg but he needs dialysis every two days, too.  He has holidayed in Cyprus, but had to pay for dialysis, while in Spain it is covered as both countries are part of the EU so he goes to Spain twice a year. Tanya said he was so brave and I agree.

Do people with flat brimmed baseball caps drive you bonkers like they do me?  I was in Cathedral Square in Barcelona and a family of three came by.  the little girl, maybe 10 or 12, had a baseball cap with a large, absolutely flat brim.  To myself, "Please, kid, roll your brim.  You look like a Japanese tourist".  Of course, they WERE Japanese tourists.

The shopping isn't as good in Pineda de Mar as it was last rear in Salou but it was adequate and there was Barcelona too. We managed to do sufficient to boost the Spanish economy 3 points.

Tanya of course took lots of pictures of flowers and was so tempted to smuggle some home from a greenhouse retailer but wisely chickened out.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Off to Barcelona and Offline

Tanya and I leave Sunday for Barcelona and will be away not quite two weeks.  I am not taking my computer.  First time in 20 years I will be that long off line.  I do not have a tablet (of stone or otherwise) Tanya has a smart phone (I am not smart enough) with which we will keep in touch with family.

See you in two weeks on the blogosphere.

My Next Wife

Sometimes it is nice to have your life all planned out in front of you. . . or not.

Tanya has a cousin, Gertrude*, who lives in Khakasia.  She is a few years younger than Tanya, mother of two lovely daughters and by now possibly grandmother to her second grandchild.  She is a wild woman and a bundle of fun.  She used to party hearty until diabetes caught up to her.  She has the vocabulary of a sailor and if it is inappropriate she will either say it or do it.  I just love her to bits.

Nonsense is genetic.  Her father once surreptitiously slipped a shovel under a colleague taking his morning constitutional in high grass and removed the object of his efforts.  The poor victim spent the rest of the day worried about what had happened and stripped down looking for it.

Her grandson, at age two, took the nuts off the wheels on his great grandmother's wheelchair.  When it collapsed under her, he said "Get up, Babushka".

Gertrude was married once for five years.  Her husband beat her up once.  The second time he tried it, Gertrude's mother and aunt happened by just before she had the man choked to death, saving her from prison.

Back in the fall of 2006, before Tanya and I were married, we were in the clothing market in Dnepropetrovsk looking for a shirt for me.  The lady asked Tanya if I were her husband.  Tanya said, "No, he is my next husband".

Gertrude is now known by all as my "Next Wife".  I can only hope Tanya lives forever.

*The name is changed to protect the guilty

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Saskatchewan’s Religious Diversity

There is a movement afoot in Saskatchewan to eliminate daily prayers in the Legislature, no doubt pushed by White liberals who never seem to have enough useful things to do.  (In the USA, it is the Religious Right that doesn’t have enough to do and I would not trade, believe me. The Religious Right is far more dangerous).

Discontinuing prayers is probably a good idea as whenever government and religion mix it leads to bad things.  There is a time and place for prayer. About 30 years ago I asked Tom Burgess how many Hail Mary passes he had thrown in his career and he said “All of them”.

A Facebook friend, who is in strong agreement with excluding religion from politics, shared an article from the local paper on their page and I commented my agreement and included this sentence.  Saskatchewan has diversified considerably since the days when everyone was Catholic or Protestant.

I was immediately challenged that Saskatchewan was NEVER only Catholic or Protestant (OK, I should have included Orthodox) and it was only biased historians that made it so. Not sure I would class Statistics Canada as a biased historian but. . .

If you grew up in Regina in the last 40 years, it is understandable that you think the corner stores have always been owned by a Shia from Iran or that nice Sunni couple from North Africa, that there have always been doctors named Patel and Vietnamese always owned and operated Robin’s Doughnuts. I am glad my kids grew up in this environment as they are far better equipped to deal with the modern world than I am, having grown up in the 50’s in West-Central Saskatchewan.

In the early days of settlement in the province, immigrants were European and were Catholic or Protestant (and Orthodox). History is not always politically correct.  Also there is a tendency to confuse ethnic origin with religion.  First Nations and Metis, who were the largest non-white group in Saskatchewan were predominantly Catholic or Anglican, not necessarily by choice and yes there were a very tiny number of religious minorities when Saskatchewan became a province in 1905 and since.

Source: Statistics Canada
The population of Saskatchewan was pretty small at the turn of the century, just over 91,000 people in 1901.  Ten years later it was 492,500 and by 1931, it was 922,000. We managed to top the million mark just twice in our history.  Our biggest export has been our sons and daughters.

Research into Saskatchewan’s religious diversity on The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan website revealed an almost complete lack of religious diversity until after 1971.

It was logical at the time of incorporation as a province that Christian observances be included in the ceremonies. Christians made up 95% to 97% of the population between 1901 and 1931 and was still 95% by 1971.  The most recent data on the stated religions practiced in Saskatchewan is from the 2001 census, by which time Christians of all stripes had declined to 79% of the population.  The dramatic increase in religious diversity began between 1971 and 1981 census.

Source: adapted from The Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan (from Statistics Canada)
If today’s figures were available, one suspects Christians, as a percentage of total population, may have declined even more.  Canada is an inclusive society and personally, I would rather include prayers from all religions on a rotating basis (including silence for the non-religious) but likely eliminating prayer is a better way to go.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Earl's Restaurants and Certified Humane

Alternate title, “It’s not the beef, it’s the bullshit”.

From a super article on beef in LIFE HACK
Last Wednesday, April 27, Earl’s announced they were switching from Canadian to US beef because they could not access sufficient Certified Humane beef in Canada. They will be buying all their beef from Creekstone Farms, a processing plant in Kansas. (Actually they are a slaughter plant but processing sounds more humane). This apparently took our industry by surprise, though Earl’s started looking two years ago. Anyhow, the feces hit the fan so to speak, especially in Alberta and rightly so, because it implied that Canadian beef was not raised humanely. To put it into perspective, imagine you ran a restaurant and a competitor put up a sign that said “Eat at our Restaurant. OUR food isn’t poisonous”.

Now Earl’s claims it was just meeting consumer demand and I am sure that is true.  Earl’s is billed as an upscale steak and burger joint.  Who are their upscale customers who would demand such a thing as “Certified Humane”.  Limousine Liberals and Chardonnay Socialists, of course.  They have been taken in by the fact-free headlines and stories that fill the media. They don’t really care if the stories are true or not, they just want to appear to care and check off the little box, massaging their consciences and padding their egos and giving them bragging rights.  

(This also applies to “Locally sourced”.  See this investigative reporters article on upscale Florida restaurants who “locally source”:

These are folks who wouldn’t pay $20 for a steak if they could possibly pay $50 or pay $25 for a Christmas turkey if they could find one for $75 as long as it has a good story; the better the story, the more they pay. And Creekstone Farms has a story. As does Heritage Angus, which is currently supplying beef “hormone and antibiotic free” to A&W but it isn’t Certified Humane.  As does Aspen Beef, which is the only source in Canada of Certified Humane beef but it is a small processing plant with limited supply and already supplying part of Safeway’s beef counter.

There is one other customer that Earl’s may be going after and that is the Muslim community.  Creekstone Farms beef is all Halal killed and this is well known in the Muslim community. Now can you imagine the uproar if Earl’s announced they were switching to American beef to cater to the Muslim crowd? Far better to piss off 70,000 beef producers in Canada than 7 million racist rednecks. I shudder to think.

I got trolled by a couple of friends who ragged me about the Alberta beef industry being rather dinosauric in nature.  Now they may have had that coming, given their response to Notley’s labour legislation earlier on but it did not sit well. The truth being that Canadian beef meets or exceeds the humane requirements, it just isn’t certified as such. 

Certification is not the future.  It is the here and now.  Of everything.  It began in industry with the ISO 9000 and all the related programs.  In the food processing industry it is called HACCP.  The Certified Humane requirements for beef cattle are excellent, other than the stuff about hormones and antibiotics, which I will deal with on another blog sometime.  Almost 60 pages of detailed best practices in beef cattle production, put together by a who’s who of beef scientists.  I did not do a line by line but it is virtually the same as the National Farm Animal Council of Canada’s almost 70 page Beef Code of Practice.  You can compare them HERE and HERE.

The Canadian Cattlemen’s Association and related agencies have invested a great deal of time and money into addressing the issues facing the beef industry.  And they do not in any way deserve the bum rap they just got.  It is not about American beef.  Other restaurants import their beef from America.  It is about Earl’s advertising that makes it sound as though Canadians were abusing their animals.  You can read Earl's message HERE. Most of it is just a marketing ‘story’. And marketing trumps science any day.

Ed Pajor, professor of animal welfare at the University of Calgary, is internationally recognized for his research on the behaviour and welfare of food animals and rodeo animals and one of the authors of Certified Humane requirements for beef cattle. He outlined steps the Canadian cattle industry was doing towards humane certification labelling:

I think (Canadian) producers don't really get the credit they deserve for the programs they are developing and moving forward with. We have the National Farm Animal Care Council's Code of Practice, which is brand new (2013). We have the Feedlot Assessment  Program, which is also an on-feedlot assessment that looks at the care the animals are receiving. There's also the Roundtable on Sustainable Beef. The issue here is that the programs in Canada are slightly behind in terms of timing. For example, the Feedlot Assessment Program that's coming out was only introduced in January.... So we're progressing along down the same line.

Just because Earl’s is saying they can’t find a supply of Certified Humane meat in Western Canada doesn’t mean that producers aren’t doing a good job.  Other programs include:

For the past 15 years, the producer run, mandatory Canadian Cattle Identification Program has been able to trace individual animals from slaughter house back to the home farm and then forward to all the places it traveled between the home farm and the packer.  This means that reportable diseases can be tracked and control measure in place in 48 hours.

The Verified Beef Production Program (VBP) is Canada’s HACCP type verified on-farm food safety program for beef – a dynamic program to uphold consumer confidence in the products and good practices of this country's beef producers.

None of the programs appear to be organized so that they can be incorporated into a Certification Program. I don’t know if that is good or bad but if the industry is to compete with the Fact-Free Infauxmation which saturates the media it has to market itself better.  Information is all there neatly arranged on industry websites but it doesn’t do any good because only producers see it.  Which in many ways is fortunate because some of it is atrocious.

I downloaded an excellent brochure from the Alberta Beef Producers called “Worried about Hormones in Cattle”.  The title of the pdf in my folder? 2014hormoneupdatesmpdf-452.  Doh.

Then there is a webinar “Hormone use in beef cattle: facts, fears, fantasies”. I will not post the link because someone who isn’t a producer might watch it.  It is an hour and fifteen minutes and boring. It was fine for a webinar aimed at producers but nowhere near polished enough for a general audience.  The first 20 minutes were of some guy explaining his job.  Good information for producers but it should have been edited out and posted separately under a different title. 

The main topic had good information and Reynold Bergen knew his stuff but it was not scripted and was slow and jerky.  Without a laugh track, I never knew if his dry subtle humour was appreciated or not. It needed to be edited, scripted and likely professionally voiced. And 45 minutes is too long and it would have been better as a video.

Video’s need to compete with these (sent me by my friends), courtesy of your competitors. How these are financed, I don't know but they sell the idea that folks with a competing actually truthful message are in the pay of the nefarious industry:
If a few of your friends suddenly went vegetarian back in 2011, there’s a good chance it’s because of “Forks Over Knives.” A number of celebrities and even professional athletes reported adopting a more plant-based diet after seeing the film, which explores how cutting out meat can improve our health and that of the environment. As it turns out, Netflix is a fountain of information when it comes to our food system, which may an indication of how ugly things are getting. If you’re hungry for more info, check out one of the many other sustainable food documentaries on offer, including “Cowspiracy,” “Food, Inc.,” “Fed Up” and “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.”

Why does all beef and beef cattle information come from obviously beef sites? It needs to come from everywhere.  Look at the number of organizations pumping fact-free fantasy about the beef industry? They have different names, different MOs, different target audiences.  Their bullshit makes them money.  Let’s take Anthropogenic Global Warming as an example.  I do not care if you consider it fact-free fantasy or the inerrant gospel and Al Gore the Second Coming. Every day, articles appear on my Facebook News Feed or in-basket and they do not come from the IPCC; some came from MSM, some from obscure sites.  They serve to keep the fear factor ramped up and the doubters beaten down.

This one appeared today. One-minute-long, one single simple message. No idea if the data is correct and no way to check without a great deal of work.  No idea who produced it or who paid for it but I guarantee it was not a philanthropic exercise. The cattle industry needs to have hundreds of these telling the verifiable TRUTH, coming from all directions into all the social media, programmed to show up in news feeds in response to Google inquiries. (I Googled info on Barcelona once and for three weeks I had stuff showing up promoting the city, tourism and Spain in general).

The codfish lays ten thousand eggs, the homely hen lays one.
The codfish never cackles to tell you what she’s done.
And so we scorn the codfish, while the humble hen we prize,
Which only goes to show you that it pays to advertise.

Certification is not the future.  It is the here and now.