Sunday, January 31, 2010

"The Jungle" redux

I've been sitting on this one for a while.

Ever hear that Teddy Roosevelt tossed his sausage out the window when he read a particularly revolting passage in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle at breakfast one morning?

The Roosevelt incident, I'm told, is apocryphal. But the impact of Sinclair's novel is not. It led to the Meat Inspection Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and, eventually, to the creation of the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Well, the New York Times broke a new "Jungle" story on December 30th last year. I didn't see it till a week later when Mike Adams of picked it up in his article,

Window cleaning chemical injected into fast food hamburger meat

The gist of the story? A certain company, Beef Products, Inc., has come up with what they thought was a brilliant plan to maximize efficient use of every scrap of beef trimming in their meat processing plants. And so, we are told, a majority of the hamburger sold in the United States, including "beef sold to McDonald's, Burger King, school lunches and other fast food restaurants" is being injected with ammonia. Why? Because at high enough levels, ammonia will kill the E. coli, salmonella, and whatever other bugs might be present in these beef scrapings.

The only problem? Well, actually, two:

1) It takes a lot of ammonia to kill the pathogens.

2) High ammonia content leads to customer complaints about taste and smell.

So Beef Products, Inc., has engaged in a not-so-delicate balancing act as it attempts, unsuccessfully, to fulfill its fiduciary duties related to health while it works even harder to avoid the problems of poor aesthetics.

Here's a summary of the story:
Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture endorsed [Beef Products, Inc.]’s ammonia treatment, and have said it destroys E. coli “to an undetectable level.” They decided it was so effective that in 2007, when the department began routine testing of meat used in hamburger sold to the general public, they exempted Beef Products.

With the U.S.D.A.’s stamp of approval, the company’s processed beef has become a mainstay in America’s hamburgers. McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast-food giants use it as a component in ground beef, as do grocery chains. The federal school lunch program used an estimated 5.5 million pounds of the processed beef last year alone.

But government and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August [2009] in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

In July, school lunch officials temporarily banned their hamburger makers from using meat from a Beef Products facility in Kansas because of salmonella — the third suspension in three years, records show. Yet the facility remained approved by the U.S.D.A. for other customers. . . .

The company says its processed beef . . . is used in a majority of the hamburger sold nationwide. But it has remained little known outside industry and government circles.

Federal officials agreed to the company’s request that the ammonia be classified as a “processing agent” and not an ingredient that would be listed on labels. . . .
Besides the fact that the USDA itself has gotten involved in a cover-up of sorts, reclassifying ammonia as a "processing agent," I think it might be helpful to consider what Beef Products' "processed beef" is really all about.

It's hamburger--"ground beef." Right?

Well. Not quite. . . .

The author of the New York Times article offered this mild description: "a mashlike substance frozen into blocks or chips." A USDA microbiologist, obviously not impressed with the . . . ahem . . . "product," described it a bit more graphically back in 2002. He called it "pink slime."

But what is in this "mashlike substance," this "pink slime," besides the "processing agent" that has now been revealed as ammonia?

Let's see . . .

It includes "fatty slaughterhouse trimmings" which includes "most of the material from the outer surfaces of the carcass" and, along with such "material," since E. coli and salmonella are more prevalent in fatty trimmings than in higher grades of beef, "larger microbiological populations."

And how does Beef Products, Inc. process these "materials"?

Well, they liquefy the fat and use a centrifuge to extract what protein they can. Then they send this mash "through pipes where it is exposed to ammonia gas, and then flash frozen and compressed."

The Times article, I think, makes clear: Beef Products, Inc. has permitted aesthetics to beat safety for many years, and only after the Times pursued the story did the USDA finally decide to rouse itself and reconsider whether maybe Beef Products, Inc. and its strange product ought to receive inspections like all its competitors do.


See what industrial food companies--and the U.S. government--will do to save three cents a pound on beef. Read p. 4 in the New York Times story.

But for another view of industrial food production, see this article from USA Today. --Interesting!
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Friday, January 29, 2010

Reduce some unnecessary landfill . . .

Current Yellow Pages logo.      Image via Wikipedia

No longer letting your "fingers do the walking" the way you once did? (Now they walk over your computer or smartphone keyboard rather than the print pages of a phone book?)

I can't remember the last time I perused our local phone book. Two years ago? Three?

I saw a brief article in our local paper the other day about how to stop the automatic delivery of phone books and Yellow Pages when you--as I--may never reference a print book for such mundane information as telephone numbers.

(Side comment: I pity the poor businesses who still advertise in the Yellow Pages. I imagine their return-on-investment must be less than a quarter what it was five years ago.)


You can get your phone book deliveries stopped by going to and "selecting your Dex" via ZIP code.

Simply choose "0" as the number of copies you want for each directory you're offered . . . and you can stop delivery on all phone books not scheduled for delivery within the next 60 days.

If your book is scheduled for delivery in the next 60 days, you'll still receive it. But at least you can stop delivery next year and in the future.

Your phone book published by someone other than R.H. Donnelley and Dex? Check out

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPad a game-changer

The marketing director at Sonlight Curriculum emailed me yesterday, just past noon, to inform me of the announcement, then being made, of the Apple iPad.

Interesting. Sonlight has been working on an "e" version of  its curriculum for some time, but the appearance of the iPad, I think, kicks development into high gear. Finally, there is a platform that can "do it all."

One wonders how the iPad will change the game for Amazon and its Kindle, let alone for Sony and its Readers, or Barnes & Noble and its Nook.
And while we're on the subject: I was impressed by Gary Trudeau's apparent cartoon scoop of the announcement.

Bouncing off of Trudeau's comment about people paying for content, and Apple and AT&T's working relationship with respect to monthly data plans, I wonder: To what extent is the iPad a potential heir to King Camp Gillette's "disposable razor" approach to profits? Really. I mean, it sounds as if I can do all the downloading I want for free as long as I use my home internet connection. So is Trudeau being unfair?
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Bernanke to be confirmed (?)

Yesterday evening I received an email from the Campaign for Liberty, a group closely allied with Ron Paul:
The critical vote for Ben Bernanke will come tomorrow. That’s when the Senate will vote on Harry Reid’s cloture motion.

Please call and email your senators (information is below) and continue to insist: “No Audit? No Bernanke!”

But we also need to send another message, and that is: “A vote for cloture IS a vote for Bernanke.”

That’s because some senators are looking to hide behind “voting for Bernanke before voting against him.”

You see, if Reid wins his cloture vote (requiring 60 senators), he only needs a simple majority on the final vote to confirm.

That gives nine senators political cover, while still putting Bernanke back in charge of the Fed -- with no transparency.

And they’ll actually think their “anti-Bernanke” vote will make you happy! That’s why it’s so important you call and email your senators now, and make sure they don’t try this cheap trick.

Remind them:

1) “No Audit? No Bernanke!”
2) “A vote for cloture IS a vote for Bernanke.”
Oh. And you question whether this is merely a "conservative" or libertarian concern?

Check out this article from the Huffington Post that, more or less, complains that Bernanke will be reconfirmed with a mere 50 votes, yet health care "reform," "a major plank in the Democratic platform for more than half a century," requires 60 votes!

In general, I really don't enjoy getting involved in these kinds of political fights. But I decided to write to each of my senators:

It is way PAST time to "do the right thing" and AUDIT THE FED.

Every other institution in America is audited. Even I, personally, am subject to review by the IRS at its whim. Yet the Fed, which seems to have virtually unlimited economic power over our nation, gets a pass.


Before permitting cloture on the Bernanke reconfirmation, I urge you, with all my being, to "do the right thing" and demand a full audit of the Fed. Then, if that is passed, if you really feel Bernanke is the "best man," go for it, vote for cloture and let him keep his job. Otherwise, throw the profligate spender out on his ear.

Thank you.
Are my notes going to make any difference?

Not likely! Especially when one of them, Mark Udall, had just released his confident statement that he was going to support Bernanke in the upcoming vote.

But I felt compelled to include my voice.

Well, after that, I receive the following item just this morning. An article by Dr. Mark Skousen, an economist whose views I usually find intriguing, to put it mildly. It was published in the free newsletter Money Morning.

Skousen describes a few questions he was able to ask of Mr. Bernanke . . . and Bernanke's answers . . . or lack thereof:
I showed [Mr. Bernanke] a copy of the talk he gave at the American Economic Association (AEA) meetings in January 2007. I circled all the times he used the words "panic," "crisis, and "stress" in his speech, entitled "Central Banking and Bank Supervision of the United States."

A total of 36 occasions.

I asked him point-blank: "Did you know in advance that a financial crisis was headed our way?"

He looked nervous. I could tell he was uncomfortable with my question. He looked at me stoically and smiled.

And he refused to answer.

But there was no doubt in my mind what the correct answer was. I think he was worried about his job if he said, "Yes." . . .

After our somewhat awkward confrontation, I sat down to listen to Bernanke's new speech: "Monetary Policy and the Housing Bubble."

He stepped up to the podium in a state of denial, rejecting the common-sense notion that the Fed's low-interest-rate policy in 2002-04 caused the housing bubble or the financial crisis. Bernanke said the housing boom was global and couldn't be blamed on U.S. monetary policy.

However, he did take some responsibility for the lack of proper banking standards that led to the housing crisis. According to Bernanke, the Fed's moves to regulate the subprime mortgage market were "too little, too late."

Once Bernanke had finished his speech, he took questions. He probably didn't want . . . any more from me - but I asked anyway.

Three Ways to Play the Fed's "ZIRP" Policy

Mark Skousen: "Mr. Bernanke . . . in your speech, you talked about interest rates and the price of money, but you said nothing about the supply of money. Will you comment on the fact that the adjusted monetary base [the Fed's checking account] is now growing at an 80% rate again? Does that suggest you fear another financial crisis or credit crunch soon?"

Ben Bernanke: "No, the rise in the monetary base is due entirely to the Fed's recent purchase of mortgage securities that we agreed to buy."

Mark Skousen: "I note that foreign central banks like Bank of India and Bank of China are now buying tons of gold. Is this a sign that foreigners are losing faith in the dollar-based world monetary system?"

Ben Bernanke: "The world financial system is sound."

What struck me about Bernanke's responses was his "What, me worry?" attitude. He showed no concern about the constant loss in the value of the dollar on the foreign exchange markets, or about the dramatic rise in the price of gold since he became chairman.

I came away from this meeting having reached the following conclusions: Don't count on the Fed chairman - or any other high government official - to admit mistakes or tell us what is really going on. No doubt many Americans share that view, too.

My advice: As long as the Fed's Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) is in place, the following three scenarios will play out:

* The U.S. dollar will remain weak.
* Gold prices will rise.
* Foreign stocks will perform better than U.S. stocks.
Skousen offers some more insights and practical advice in his article.

What do you think? Is the Fed out of control? Should Bernanke be given a pass?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Virginia is for Lykoshes"

Perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of the internet. (Not really. But I really do enjoy it.)

Our daughter Amy and her husband woke up one morning a couple of years ago and both said they had a dream--the same dream: They believed they should start a farm.

Now, of all our kids, Amy had always been the most . . . ummmm . . . literate, . . . or highbrow . . . or into books and art and music and all the finer things of cultured, urban life. She and Phil are the ones who made a point of going to Italy to visit all the cultural sites. She is the one who did all the research to enable our family to pack in as much cultural wealth as we could on a visit to Florence, Italy, in November 2007. She is the one who professes (or professed) a love for opera and such things.

And now, all of a sudden, she said, she wanted to give it all up and homestead a farm. Find some bare land somewhere and live off the land . . . and, if possible, off the grid. I.e., beholden to no one, disconnected from all the trappings of modern life.

Something like that.

Well, it took a couple of years. She and Phil did a lot of research. They took the time, at least, to try their hand at gardening while they still had a "regular" suburban home in Boulder, Colorado.

But back in the late summer/early fall of 2008, they took a trip across the country and looked at a number of potential areas in which to find their Shangri-La. Eventually they settled on a plot of close to 40 acres in north-central Virginia--about 20 miles south of Charlottesville, officially in a town called Esmont, but, if you look on Google Maps, halfway between Megan's Meadows and Turkey Run.

View Larger Map

Amy started a blog that recounts their adventures--and misadventures--beginning last July when they first moved to their undeveloped property.

It's been non-stop excitement ever since.

Want to read a modern-day Little House on the Prairie-style story? Go to Virginia is for Lykoshes. You will not be disappointed.

I have few doubts that one day what you read and see there (yes, there are photos!) will become a book most definitely worth reading. But you can read it in raw form today at no charge!

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Kenya safari

I left our house on Tuesday afternoon, January 12th, at about 2:30. I was scheduled to take a 5:20 p.m. flight to London's Heathrow Airport. After landing at 9:05 a.m. GMT Wednesday (2:05 a.m. Mountain Time), I was scheduled to fly on to Nairobi, Kenya, leaving at 10:05 a.m. GMT and arriving in Nairobi at 9:35 p.m. Nairobi time (6:35 p.m. GMT, 11:35 a.m., Mountain Time).

When I checked in at Denver, the ticket agent said the flight was delayed 20 minutes and faced some strong headwinds. She doubted I'd be able to make the connection. So to ensure I would have a replacement flight, she pre-booked me on a Virgin Atlantic flight out of London that would leave Wednesday evening at about 9:30 and arrive in Nairobi Thursday morning.

As it turned out, our flight took off on time and made good time over to London. Except, about an hour from London, the captain came on the intercom: "London is experiencing snow and so we have been placed in a holding pattern that, we expect, may last up to an hour and a half. Happily, we were warned of such a possibility, so we have enough fuel . . ."

Over the course of the next couple of hours, we received updates. We were finally permitted to come in at about 10:15 in the morning. But the inch of snow was so debilitating for Heathrow operations that there were no jetways available for us to park. "While jets coming in have been slowed, almost no jets have been permitted to take off," our captain informed us.

That gave me hope I might actually make my connection.

But an hour later, when we finally got off the plane, I discovered my flight had left long before.

So I was in for an extended stay at Heathrow.

After wading through a number of customer service waiting lines, I finally made my way to one of the Virgin Atlantic business lounges at about 2 in the afternoon and made myself at home for a few hours.

One of my first obligations: to send an email to notify my host in Nairobi that I would not be on my flight that evening, but should be seeing him Thursday morning.

The Virgin Atlantic business lounge is the most pleasant airline lounge I have ever been in. Not only do they offer the standard amenities of any high-end lounge (free snacks, drinks, newspapers and magazines, showers, etc.), but they offer an amazing sit-down restaurant food service at no charge.

I enjoyed my stay.

That evening, we finally took off at about 10:30 and arrived in Nairobi Thursday morning--about 10 o'clock local time, as I recall.

Having only my carry-on luggage, I was one of the first to get to immigration.

Oh! I needed a visa. (I hadn't known.) Charge: US$25.

Okay. I hadn't brought along much in the way of US currency, but I could cover that.

Except the officer scowled: "Where am I supposed to put your visa? I have no space in your passport for a visa!"

"Well, can't you use this page?" I asked, pointing to the very last page in the book.

"I am not permitted to put a visa on that page," he said. And he pointed to the barcodes at the bottom.

"But there is room," I countered.

"I should really send you back," he said. "I am not supposed to let you in."

But then he relented. And I realized I have to get additional pages for my passport before I venture forth on another international trip.

When I emerged from the terminal, I looked for my ride.

I saw no one who looked like he (or she) was looking for me.

I walked up and down the line.

No one.

I need to go to the bathroom. Hopefully they will show up while I'm in there, and then we can leave.

When I emerged, still there was no one.

I walked up and down the line once more.

No one.

"Taxi!? Taxi?!" called several entrepreneurial spirits a little apart from the crowd of greeters.

"No thanks," I replied.

But I was perplexed.

What should I do?

I had no phone number, no way to know what I should do.

"May I help you?" a nicely dressed man asked.

"I need to find the Waine Hotel," I said.

He called information. No Waine Hotel. He brought me to a friend in a booth. We looked it up in the Yellow Pages under Hotels. No Waine Hotel.

"I'm sure that's where I'm supposed to go," I said. . . .

A few minutes later, my new friend said, "Ah! It's not the 'Waine Hotel'; it is 'The House of Waine.'"

"Oh, yes!" I said.

"I can take you there," he offered. And a few minutes later I was on my way to the House of Waine.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Half an hour later, I was dropped off at the most astonishing hotel I could imagine seeing, much less staying at. And I walked in on a meeting of about thirteen fellow travelers who had arrived the night before and were now being briefed on missions work among the Deaf.

An hour later, we were told to gather a few things together for an overnight trip to the Kichwa Tembo tent camp on the border of the Masai Mara Game Reserve in southwest Kenya.

First we took a whirlwind tour of the current DOOR facility in downtown Nairobi, ate lunch, and then boarded a small twin-engine piston propeller plane for what turned out to be a 45-minute airplane ride that ended with what may have been the smoothest landing I have ever experienced . . . on a dirt runway in "the middle of nowhere."

Several 10-passenger Land Rovers were waiting, and before you knew it, we were heading off into the bush to see what we could see.

I figure I'll let some photos help tell the story. [Apologies to photographers: I was using a Canon PowerShot A480 and was pushing its limits at every turn. Sadly, the shutter lag time combined with poor quality batteries militated against shooting dozens of photos when it would have been helpful. And, further, I often pushed my lens into digital telephoto territory . . . which almost always destroys detail. Still, I want to illustrate what I saw!]

So. Let's see. . . .

First thing that caught our eye as we were driving away from the landing strip: a large herd of elephants.

And zebras. . . .

A rhino way too far in the distance . . .

Some of the most beautiful birds . . .

And ugly . . .

(By the way: the ostrich on the right is male: he has black plumage; the females' plumage is merely a dark gray.)

Here he is running away . . .

Ugly ducks?!?

Ahhh! Warthogs . . . Lots of warthogs! (Though I didn't get very many decent photos. The warthogs always seemed to scamper off at high speed whenever we came within 50 yards . . . their tails always high in the air.)

. . . Well. Except for this one . . . and one or two of its brothers or sisters . . .
This one was rooting around on the grounds of our campsite on Friday afternoon. Notice he is kneeling on his front legs so he can get his mouth down close enough to the grass to eat!

. . . Hyenas. This one crossed right in front of our vehicle as the elephant herd we saw right after getting of the plane passed by . . .

My camera wasn't fast enough to capture more than this one shot. . . . Until we found a mother with her pups . . . but then I couldn't get that mother's head, either.

Oh, well! The pups sure are cute!

How about baby Thompson's gazelles hiding in the grass . . .

And an adult Thompson's gazelle (one among thousands we saw, though this was the only photo I took that came out well). . .

Ah! One of my favorites: the elegant, multi-colored topi:

. . . Lots of giraffes!

(See them walking across the field?)

Ah! Here's a better shot! --Notice how rich their colors are! Way deeper and darker than I recall seeing on any of the giraffes I've seen here in the States. . . .

See the bird riding on the base of his neck? . . . Here's a better shot:

And . . . take a look at this guy: one horn shorter than the other!

Cape buffaloes . . .

. . . When he began to get up . . .

. . . our driver said we had best be going. --The Cape buffalo is, we were told, the fiercest of all the animals in that part of Africa.

. . . Oh. How about lions?

Early Friday morning, I was afraid this was going to be about all we would get to see of them: four cubs hiding in the grass on top of a mound:

Can you see their heads just barely popping above the top of the grass? (The fourth one is about a fifth of the way in from the left edge of the photo, slightly in front of his "brother" (or is it sister?) at the top of the mound.)

. . . But later in the morning we came across a couple of lions just lying beside the road. . . .

Our driver suggested that, considering how inactive they were, they must be on the tail end of their "honeymoon."
After about five minutes, the male woke up and took a gander at the humans looking at them . . .
The female kept sleeping. . . .
We continued to sit quietly for quite some time just watching.

I was astonished to notice how rapidly the female was breathing. (Our driver said they pant at a rate of about 200 breaths per minute. And that sounded about right.) But what was most amazing was how hard she seemed to work for each breath. Her entire body, including her head, bobbled about on each breath!

Eventually she roused herself . . .

And a giraffe decided to walk on by . . .

. . . and the female decided to go for a walk herself . . .

"Hey! Don't leave without me!" said the male . . .

"Just thirsty, Honey. . . ."

"Good idea!"

Let's see. What else?

Hippopotami . . .

. . . and crocodiles!

Dung beetles . . . rolling their ball of . . . dung . . .

Notice that the one on the right has his hind legs up in the air on top of the ball; the beetle on the left has his front legs up on top of the ball. . . . They were rolling the ball from right to left across the field of view in this photo. . . .

Oops! The guy on the right shoved just a bit too strenuously . . . and toppled his mate!

Probably the nicest photo I got in my entire trip: an impala! --What gorgeous horns!

. . . Well, that's about all of my decent animal photos.

While we're out in the "bush," however, I'd like to point out a few items I noticed about the environment in Masai Mara.

1) Our camp in Masai Mar was at 5,360 feet elevation--very close to our elevation here in the Denver metro area . . . which means the air was pleasantly warm, neither hot nor cold (though we were only a couple of degrees south of the equator).

2) We were told that if we had come just a few weeks earlier, the landscape would have been a dry and dusty brown. They had suffered a lengthy drought that was broken in just the preceding three weeks or so by massive rain. --You can see what a great difference that rain made!

3) We think of Colorada as "Big Sky Country" (though if I remember accurately, Montana claims that verbiage as its state motto). Sarita and I have never lived in a place that has such "big sky"--unimpeded views that extend "forever." . . . Well, if you noticed, the sky in Masai Mara was huge. It beats Colorado for enormity. The landscape seemed to extend at least twice as far as anything I've seen here in Colorado.

And then, finally,

4) I was taken by the trees. Such a strange appearance: flat across the top and "naked" until just the last couple of feet of canopy:

The trees' shape is so regular, from a distance, it can almost create the appearance of a river of light beneath the canopy and above the shrubbery beneath:

I discussed this phenomenon with our guide. Obviously, the reason the trees are denuded up to a certain height is because of the giraffes.

"But considering how thoroughly the giraffes strip the leaves below that particular height,"I asked, "how can young trees survive so as to get to the height where they can grow a foot or two of canopy?"

"That's very interesting," she replied. "Actually, if the giraffes eat enough of their leaves to begin to threaten the trees' survival, the trees change their chemistry and produce tannins . . . which are very bitter chemicals and make the leaves completely unattractive to the giraffes."

Okay. I'm stopping here.

Hope you found the photo tour interesting!

[NOTE: If you are reading this article on Facebook and can't use links or don't see photos, please realize it originally appeared and is still available on my personal blog.]