Sunday, June 22, 2014

Yet another post on the costs vs quality of US healthcare...

I've often said that the costs of medical care drove us out of the US to resettle and live in Europe.

It doesn't take long for a person interested in such topics to find the relevant supporting data.  Here is a post from today on ZeroHedge.  Cutting to the chase:

"...a recent study by the Commonweath Fund, looking at how the US healthcare system compares internationally, finds, "the U.S. fails to achieve better health outcomes than the other countries, and as shown in the earlier editions, the U.S. is last or near last on dimensions of access, efficiency, and equity." In other words: most expensive, yet worst in the developed world..."

For what we were paying in monthly insurance premiums in the US we can rent an apartement somewhere outside the city of Paris AND pay our European insurance premiums.

What more needs be said?


Friday, June 6, 2014

... and on the 6th of June...

It seems to me that the Meaning of Things here in Europe can be measured very differently than in the USA.  We're currently experiencing one of these moments when differences become obvious.

Paris ~ City of Light

Years ago when Jude and I first came to Paris together, the map seller at the north entrance to Pere Lachaise cemetery smiled and warmly greeted us in excellent English when he learned we came from America.

In the hallway outside our apartment last week a normally rather reserved Frenchman reached over and squeezed my shoulder while he said "... thanks to our American friends..."

On Tuesday in our conversation group someone asked what we were doing on the 6th of June.  I mumbled something about "nothing special, why?"

Last night Jude and I watched part 7 of one of the BBC Farm series episodes and were struck by how deeply etched memories of the past remain.

This morning as Jude and I watched Telematin we realized the day's broadcast was to be cut short.  Broadcasting on France TV2 is given over to special programming with appearanced made by M. Hollande, M. Obama, M. Putin, Mme Merkel, and the Queen of England.

Paris ~ City of Light

Taken individually we could pass each event off as something inconnu.  Taken in total a Thread of Meaning emerges.

So what was all this about, then?

At Pere Lachaise, the map seller said "...we French remember how you Yanks helped us."  Our neighbor said "... we French are free thanks to our American friends."  People in our conversation group wondered if we were going to pay homage to our shared histories.  The BBC Farm episode we watched helped educate us as to the size and scale of the effort the US put behind England and France.  Telematin prepared the way for a day of memory, human loss, and celebration of ultimate victory.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy83,000 English and Australian soldiers and 73,000 Americans landed and parachuted onto France.  It was a huge, costly effort.  Omaha beach had not been properly bombed and the Allies met a much stronger than anticipated German force.  Over a 1,000 Americans died on the beach that day.  More than 4,000 English, Australian, and American soldiers were confirmed dead on the first day of the invasion.  By the end of June 875,000 men had crossed the channel from England to set foot on France.

Paris ~ City of Light

I have to admit that the importance and meaning of history hadn't sunk in.  My most vivid memories of war were limited to seeing a few WWI (not WWII) vets who had suffered severe chemical burns that caused their faces to droop and to wondering how I could find a way to afford a Victory Year 1945 Phillipe Rothschild wine (which was rated as highly as the 1961 vintage from the same cellar).  Pretty meaningless and shallow stuff, this.

It's humbling to feel, not just pass by and read and lightly ponder, but to really feel and thereby know in a different and deep way that some events in history are extremely important to the present moment.  Many of the people we've met appreciate America for the support our politicians, industry, and countrymen actively gave to the liberation of France.

They know.  They remember.  They honor those who enabled peace in the present moment.

Paris ~ City of Light

Monday, June 2, 2014

Beer in Europe ~ le cinquieme part

My conversation with Don The Oracle continues...
... it looks like my beverage selections 
have dwindled from a week ago... is it time
to restock...?

A quick look at a Wikipedia page about the History of Belgium Beer reveals a vast array of potentially confusing names and beer styles. Not one word about how taxes and The Church influenced choices of what to drink.  Yet, as Don The Oracle notes, One can imagine that over the centuries just about everything that can be taxed has been taxed and people have evolved strategies to avoid the tax.

What with the Church having been the vast, all pervading political and economic engine here in Europe, I can understand how Gruut fell out of favor as lower priced, tax evading, beer preserving, taste enhancing alternatives were developed.
On a different note, there seems to be little or no mention on the Wiki of Belgium Rocket Fuel called "Quadruple".  Many breweries ferment the stuff.  The alcohol content is typically between 9 and 14 percent.  A great example of this one of my All Time Favorites is Trippiste Rochefort #10 which has an ETOH level of 11 percent.  All malts.  No hops.

... the Real Stuff, this...
brewed only on Pleine Lune (full moon)...
hops are not used, either...

Meanwhile, a little closer to home, I find it fascinating that beer made in France is now predominantly industrial.  Ninety percent of everything brewed here is from one of the huge brewers.  It seems that with the Terror came a diaspora of Beer Making Monks.  They seem to have headed for Belgium and other points east.  The exception appears to be Bretagne. 
That Celtic region of what would later be included in the country we now know of as France was never, ever conquered by the Romans.  There is a wonderful series of graphic novels about the region which remain in print.  Asterix et Obelix books are Required Reading in the original language on the topic.  It's hilarious stuff, this.   With such a strong independent spirit, I suspect the Breton had more than a few things to say to the Clochards when they arrived, too.  In any event, I see I need to study the Beers of Bretagne a little more closely.
I've come to realize that the chief reason I enjoy beer to the degree I do is that it Tastes Great!  Wines, to me, while certainly very nice, just don't have a certain "body" to them that brew does.  I call it "chewiness." My taste buds being what they are, I know a good wine when I taste it, but I have no ability to predict which wines are "good" and which are not prior to uncorking the bottle.

The Gates of Heaven
The Bootlegger has a good selection of Belgium beer.

Which leads me to Don the Oracle's enlightening comments about the construct and depth of beer as compared to other ETOH-laden beverages -
The problem with preserving beer has to do with the amount of sugars, dextrin, and proteins left in the final product. Distilled spirits are almost entirely water and alcohol. The flavor components are probably in the range of parts per million. Wine is also more than 99% water and alcohol.  The flavor components being much less than 1%

Beer on the other hand can have a relatively large (couple of percent) amount of complex sugar, dextrin, even some protein left in the final product,Beer starts out as grain.  The grain is mostly complex carbohydrates, starches and protein.  To get anything fermentable the grain is malted.  It is soaked in water until it just starts to germinate. This releases a number of complex enzymes that start to metabolize the grain's stored energy to allow the plant to grow.  The germination is stopped to produce malt.

The malt is then mashed.  Mashing involves carefully heating the malted grain in water.  At various temperatures different enzymes become active and covert the proteins and starches into various forms of simpler carbohydrates (eg. sugars).  Depending on the malting and mashing processes the amount of grain converted into simple fermentable sugars can vary a lot.  Ultimately the mashed grain is boiled to dissolve out the sugars and add other flavorings such as hops.

Beer yeasts can only eat certain fairly simple sugars, there can be a lot of other more complex carbohydrates left behind.  Those remaining components contribute to the beer's flavor and texture.  There are things that can still eat those other sugars and those things are the ones that can spoil the beer.

Modern industrial brewing can pretty much convert all the grain's potential sugar to fermentable forms, plus they pasteurize the beer after it is bottled.  You can imagine that this form of complex chemistry was beyond the range of pre-industrial brewers.

... Nectar of the Gods...
There you have it.  A reminder of the common types of fermentation (Lager, Ale, Lambic).  A nearly rational understanding of how Belgium beer is made and labeled.   A rational explanation for why I like beer (finding that "chewiness" is real and that beer is more complex than, say, wine).  A clear understanding of what to try next and why.  Beers from Bretaigne are high on my list of things to seek out.  Gruut beer from Belgium must be found and sampled too.

So much to experience.  So little time to experience it in.  Don't you agree?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Beer in Europe ~ le quatrieme part

Enlightenment is at hand.  Truly.  It is.

... the Half Man Quadruple... at 11 percent ETOH...

I consulted The Oracle.  It is he I must thank for bringing my mind back to What's Important.

The Oracle happens to be a good friend and former colleague from the Software Engineering Wars we engaged in at a company we used to work for.  It is this trained in physics (as in science) Oracle who suggested that wherever you retire is where you'll put down roots.  Wise Man he is.  So it was natural that I would ask Don about beer.

Don has brewed beer for many years and shared a bottle or two of the delicious stuff.  His kind suggestions and comments have Cleared the Mind, as it were.  I can more clearly see the Lay of the Land of Beervana.  With these words -  I am no authority, but I have no objection to your passing my comments along - we begin.

... um... the year 1062?  Really??... WOW!...

First, a reminding comment about present styles of beer -
Beer, at least in modern times,  is generally divided into two main categories: Lager and Ale.

These are based on the type of yeast that is used.
Lager is generally fermented slowly at fairly cool temperatures.
Ale is generally fermented more quickly at normal room temperature.

Some people distinguish a third class of beers, Spontaneous.
This would be like one of the Belgium beers that is fermented by whatever happens to fall into the vat.
... what can a brewer learn in only
eight hundred years...?
Second, a few comments about hops and why they are used in present times -
Again over the millennia, preserving the fermented juice has always been problematic. An unimaginable variety of herbs and spices have been used in an attempt to preserve the product.  Hops are a relatively recent (in the grand scheme of things) solution to preserving the beer.  

Various styles have evolved often in response to conditions.  Scottish Ale for instance, brewed in a cooler clime, is high in malt and low in hops with a balance towards sweetness.
India Pale Ale, intended for shipment to the troops in sunny climes, is high in alcohol and was hopped very strongly to help preserve it before the days of refrigeration.
From this I take it that the introduction of hops in the beer making process was not an inevitability.  There have been many beer preserving solutions that were tried and discarded. I can imagine that this is because either the approach simply did not work, or because it was taxed by The Church or other Controllers of Local Economies.

I can also see where some of the beers I've enjoyed would not contain hops of any kind.  In particular, abbey beer recipes that pre-date the Age of Hops contain none of that preserving nonsense.  Perhaps it is that beer is meant to be Drunk Young?  One can only hope.
Barley wine. Expensive.  15percent ETOH.
Drink a bottle and go to sleep.
Third, a thought on beer terminology -
Terminology about styles of beer is probably as varied by region and the beers themselves.
Indeed.  Potentially confusing stuff, this.  Without a common language how can we know what we're drinking?
le cinquième part suivre...