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Some towns are steeped in history, offering a window into how our forebears lived their lives

Some towns are steeped in history, offering a window into how our forebears lived their lives

XWU18_181221 (c) Wolfgang Pfleger-0383
Source: Flickr

This town is mostly associated with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.
Some followers of the game trace its origins back to the Cooperstown NY area, so it is fitting that this collection of baseball memorabilia and artifacts should be housed here. Exhibits include art and movies with a baseball theme and the Hall of Fame contains star players such as Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.

Traditional rural ways of life are remembered at the Farmer’s Museum, which overlooks Otsego Lake. There are replicas of 19th century buildings, including those used by a weaver, printer and blacksmith. The original barn, creamery and herdsman cottage are on display and a hand made carousel. The museum is on the site of the original farm, once home to James Fenimore Cooper. This valuable resource in Cooperstown NY is also the location for the Fenimore Art Museum, containing permanent exhibits and traveling displays. Art works include 19th century painting, American Folk Art, Native American art and crafts and American photography.

Local history of a different kind is found at the Brewery Ommegang in the Susqehanna Valley, close to the town. The successful business brews Belgian type ales, some of which have won awards. The company presents a beer tasting festival every summer, known as Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. In addition to sampling the products, visitors enjoy live music and a bonfire.

The town is proud of the Alice Busch Opera Theater on Otsego Lake, eight miles from Cooperstown NY. It is home to the Glimmerglass Opera Company, renowned for its world premiers and support of new works and rare operas. The company hosts an annual summer season of productions and it is the second largest summer opera festival in the United States.

Family fun is guaranteed at the Barnyard Swing 18-hole miniature golf center. In addition to the farm themed golf course, there is a games room with air hockey and pool table and a children’s play area. Refreshments are available at the café and ice cream parlor and there are picnic spots and a farmer’s market.

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Recipe: samosas (2)

Recipe: samosas

3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus
about 3 cups for frying
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Pinch of asafoetida
1 finely chopped green chile
4 medium potatoes, boiled and mashed coarsely
1/2 cup peas, cooked
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
1 teaspoon dry mango powder or amchur
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Pastry (recipe follows)

First make filling. In large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil and season it with cumin seeds, asafoetida and green chile. Add mashed potatoes and peas, ground cumin, garam masala, pepper, red chili powder and mango powder and mix well. Cook covered 5 to 6 minutes. Add lemon juice and mix well. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Prepare pastry dough.

Cut pastry dough into 4 equal parts. Take each part and roll it out into a circle about 6 to 8 inches in diameter.

Cut each circle into two parts, forming half circles. You will have 8 half circles. Moisten straight edges of each half circle with a finger dipped in water. Then take one semi circle and fold it into a cone shape.

Stuff about 1 tablespoon potato-peas mixture in each cone and seal top edge with a drop of water on your finger and press edges together. Repeat with remaining pieces of dough. While making samosas, keep both unused dough and filled samosas covered with towel.

Heat remaining oil (to a depth of 3 to 4 inches) in medium-sized skillet. Deep-fry samosas, 4 to 5 at a time, cooking them 2 to 3 minutes or until a rich golden brown, turning once about halfway through cooking process. When done, remove with slotted spoon and set on paper towels to drain.

Serve hot with mint or tamarind chutney.

Makes 8 samosas.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/8 cup water
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon chili powder

Mix all ingredients to make a stiff dough.

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World Cup 2006 Preview – Australia

World Cup 2006 Preview – Australia

Outright Odds: 125/1
Group F Winners: 14/1

After a 32 year absence from the finals, Australia finally overcame their play-off hoodoo to qualify for Germany. Play off agony to Iran in 1997 and Uruguay in 2001 was vanquished last November as the Australians again faced Uruguay and beat them in a penalty shoot-out. Middlesbrough goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer was nearly taken off before the shoot-out commenced, but two stunning saves booked Australia’s World Cup place.

Under coach Guus Hiddink, Australia have progressed immensely. The former South Korea coach and England target took over from Frank Farina last July and even though teams such as Fiji, Vanatu and Tahiti were brushed aside with ease, Hiddink successfully completed what he called “almost mission impossible”.

Australia netted 32 goals in seven qualifying matches and even their two-legged final against the Solomon Islands was a farce as they ran out 7-0 winners in Sydney in the first leg. Indeed, only fifth-placed South American side Uruguay offered genuine competition, winning 1-0 in Montevideo only for Australia to win the return leg by the same scoreline and triumph on penalties.

When Australia switch to the Asian qualifying zone after the finals the quality of opposition they face will improve dramatically and will make for a better team. Entry to this year’s World Cup will be a step into the unknown despite the squad all having experience of European club football at some stage in their careers.

Despite their lack of success as an international team, punters in the UK may be inclined to lump on the Aussies due to their Premiership contingent. Players such as Blackburn Rovers’ Brett Emerton, Everton’s Tim Cahill and Liverpool’s Harry Kewell will provide plenty of midfield class while Middlesbrough striker and Australia captain Mark Viduka can be a frightening prospect when he’s in the mood.

While Kewell is capable of world class displays, as he showed in the second leg against Uruguay after coming on as a substitute, there are question marks over the team as a whole which should persuade you to invest your betting bank elsewhere.

There is plenty of flair going forward but there is a telling lack of pace in defence which will be Guus Hiddink’s main cause for concern. Full back’s Tony Vidmar at 36 and Kevin Muscat at 32 switched to the Dutch and Australian leagues respectively to see out the end of their careers while centre back Craig Moore is not noted for his lightening pace either.

Recommended Bet
Australia are capable of causing an upset but they are likely to fall just short of qualifying for the last 16. They could get their campaign off to a flying start with an opening match victory over Japan in preparation to switching to the Asian qualifying zone after the finals.

Australia to beat Japan @ 13/10

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Gemstones 101 – The Emerald

Gemstones 101 – The Emerald

Source: Flickr

The emerald is one of the most beautiful, popular and highly prized gemstones in the world. These fascinating radiant green stones are used in top of the line jewelries. Some of the finest emeralds can even cost more than diamonds.

For many mystics and energy healers, emerald stones are believed to help heal relationships and good for the heart and one’s health. The beautiful green color is said to bring about harmony, love and joy of life. It is also the birthstone for the month of May.

Emeralds have been used both as gemstone and mystical stone since the ancient times. Early emerald mines existed in Egypt in 2000 BC. In fact, the most famous of the ancient emerald mine is that of The Mines of Cleopatra, The Queen of Egypt. The word “Emerald” means “green” in Sanskrit. It also means “smaragdos” in Greek and “esmeralde” in Old French.

Emerald is as beautiful as it is delicate. Emeralds are highly included which means that they have other materials trapped in the stone. This makes the stones have little resistance to breakage. This also poses a great challenge even to skilled gem cutters because many fissures in the stone make setting, cutting and cleaning rather difficult.

Many emeralds are cut for jewelries into rectangular and square shapes with beveled corners to bring out the beauty to the full. There are other cuts as well but if the raw emerald contains delicate inclusions, it is commonly cut into round shape.

Many of today’s emeralds are enhanced with colorless oils or resins to give them more luster. This can be a delicate process as emeralds are sensitive stones. They should not be cleaned with ultrasonic bath like other gemstones. In fact, it is strongly advised that a wearer first removes the stone before putting his or her hand in water that has cleansing agent.

Because emeralds are rare and expensive stones, there are companies developing synthetic emeralds for many to afford. Carroll Catham first successfully developed a method to produce synthetic emeralds. Other producers of synthetic emeralds include Pierre Gilson Sr. which has been marketing since 1964 and IG Farben, Nacken and Tairus who are pioneers in hydrothermal synthetic emeralds.

Despite strict restrictions from the Federal Trade Commission which insists that gems should exhibit natural properties, synthetic emeralds continue to gain popularity due to its affordability.

To determine whether an emerald is natural or synthetic, luminescence in ultraviolet light is used.

Today’s top quality emeralds come mostly come from Colombia where emeralds have the best transparency and fire. The Trapiche, a very rare kind of emerald which shows a star pattern, is found in the country. The rarest emeralds in the world can be found in Muzo, Coscuez, and Chivor. Other countries with fine emeralds include Brazil, Madagascar, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Zambia.

The most famous emeralds in the world are the Gachala Emerald, Nidvin Emerald, Chalk Emerald, Duke of Devonshire Emerald from Colombia and the Mackay Emerald, Greenshorkire Emerald and the Edward the Confessor Emerald in the Imperial State Crown of Great Britain.

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Investing In China: Chinese Banks

Investing In China: Chinese Banks

Inauguracion obras de infraestructura Cesfam Hernan Urzua.
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China’s banking sector has traditionally served as a party-controlled feeding trough for its inefficient, unprofitable state-owned enterprises (SOEs), most of which were technically insolvent. The process was simple – extend a loan to an unqualified SOE applicant, then write off the loan as a bad debt when it failed to repay. This situation is beginning to change, and Chinese banks are attracting the attention of foreign banks that are beginning to view them as investment opportunities rather than potential competitors. Nevertheless, China’s banking industry is beset by several problems.

1. SOE Lending: The importance of the Chinese banking sector as a source of domestic capital is hard to overstate. Mainland China’s stock markets are anemic compared to the behemoths of Hong Kong, Tokyo and New York, and China’s bond market is virtually nonexistent. That leaves banks as the only major source of over-the-table domestic funding for private enterprises. Yet SOE lending continues to siphon off a good part of banking capital, notwithstanding that China’s stock markets were largely designed to provide SOEs with an alternative source of funding. Many domestic companies have resorted to the underground institutional loan sharks with their high interest rates, or rely solely on retained earnings for funding. Even though SOE loan defaults have declined dramatically at some banks for recent loans, the industry as a whole is still experiencing a hangover from imprudent lending under earlier, more politicized lending policies.

2. Corruption: There is a crackdown underway, but corruption is rampant in many sectors of the Chinese economy and the government is always cracking down on corruption in this or that industry. Meanwhile the cycle continues. It is tempting to predict that only the threat of bankruptcy due to foreign competition will ever be enough to create the political will necessary for consistent enforcement of the law.

3. Decentralization: China’s banking sector looks fairly centralized on paper, but the hidden problem is the de facto independence from headquarters of far-flung branches. China’s branch banks have been used to operating with a much greater independence than is the rule in the West (thus contributing greatly to the corruption problem), and any attempt to assert control from HQ is bound to be met with spirited local resistance.

The moment of truth is coming up fast, however, as China’s WTO commitments require it to fully open its banking and insurance markets to foreign competition next year. The government is responding by introducing a host of new regulations to rationalize lending practices and by cracking down on internal corruption (whether the new regulations will actually be followed by the branch banks is a question that only time can answer). Banks are responding by listing with IPOs on overseas markets and with American-style “downsizing”, closing branches and laying off staff.

Foreign banks are responding by investing billions of dollars into Chinese banks, surprising in light of the above problems. Furthermore, they are acquiring minority stakes that are unlikely to ever offer them operational control, in some cases mainly for the purpose of securing access to distribution networks for insurance, credit cards, and investment products after 2007.

Nobody wants to see China’s banks wither in the wake of foreign competition – not even their foreign “competitors”, because a Chinese banking crisis would have a significant negative effect on the entire world economy.