Cheap food is history?

Twenty per cent of our corn is now sold for use as ethanol, blended into gasoline.

Over the last year wholesale corn prices have roughly doubled.

Food companies are warning that high corn prices will feed through to everyone’s grocery bills.

The price of agricultural land has started to rise.

The use of ethanol is government subsidized.

This trade-off between greener fuels and higher food prices is one of several difficult issues thrown up by the rapid development of the biofuels industry.

The world has already witnessed the absurdity of virgin rainforests in Asia being torn down to make way for palm oil plantations.

Palm oil, like corn, has become hugely profitable because of demand from biofuel producers.

But the environmental benefits of the biofuels are outweighed by the loss of the rainforests.

Biofuels can make a contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the processes by which they are produced need to be kept under constant review to make sure that they do not have perverse consequences.

And that includes forcing up the price of essential foods.

Story at the BBC

Hybrid cars can’t do it all

Our buildings produce 100 million metric tons of carbon more than our cars do, according to architect Edward Mazra, who founded to lay out a plan to the building / designing community for building and renovating our buildings to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Buildings consume 40 percent of the world’s resources and produce 48 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, according to Mazra.

Anti-methane pill for cows

Livestock – predominantly cattle – are responsible for a fifth of all emissions which is more greenhouse gas emissions than all the transport on earth [earlier interesting post].

The Guardian reports on a new pill to trap some of the energy from the methane, which is naturally produced in the fermentation process when a cow digests grass and is later mostly burped out through their mouths.

Cut down on flying, sell the car and recycle your bottles. But if you really want to tackle global warming, you should stop your cow from burping.

According to scientific estimates, the methane gas produced by cows is responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions.

And now, German scientists have invented a pill to cut bovine burping.

The fist-sized plant-based pill, known as a bolus, combined with a special diet and strict feeding times, is meant to reduce the methane produced by cows.

FAO report,
“Livestock’s Long Shadow”- Celsias report
“The Cow – Public Enemy Number One?”

One cow supplies heat for 10 people

More on poop power:

rural upfloat biogas digesterBackyard Biogas
GEI trains farmers to manage and maintain the “upfloating” biogas systems, small tanks that employ simple technology and require only one cow or three pigs to provide 1–2 five-person households with year-round heating and cooking fuel.

Each cubic foot of methane has about l,000 BTUs. A gas stove burner produces 8,000 BTUs. It’s possible to produce about 45 cubic feet of gas from one day’s manure from a 1000 pound cow, theoretically operating 5 burners.

The University of Florida calls this approach an “animal manure management system

“It’s not often that one technology can solve several major problems, but our innovative animal manure management system is a sustainable option for dairies and other livestock operations that produces renewable energy and protects the environment.”

There are billions of livestock – predominantly cattle – responsible for an astonishing proportion of global warming gases – 18 per cent of the total – a fifth of all emissions – which is more greenhouse gas than all vehicles produce.

Remote artery travel

Canadian researchers have achieved what they say is a major technological breakthrough in the field of medical robotics. They have succeeded for the first time in guiding, in vivo and via computer control, a microdevice inside an artery, at a speed of 10 centimetres a second. read more

Neuwirth’s circle of caveats

We must be careful not to overstate the case. Let us not forget that in this situation it must be noted: nothing could be further from the truth. Because, as they say, it is the exception that proves the rule. Of course, rules are made to be broken and so, in this case, we must make allowances. For the time being, all we can state with certainty is that, given this set of assumptions, all things will be equal. Context is everything. Thus, this is not the final word on the subject. And yet, because of the foregoing doubts, we must be doubly sure. So, in light of current developments and taking stock of all our cultural preconceptions, the conclusion is neither obvious nor buried. It is conditioned by the very factors that condition us all. Beneath all this lies the substratum of unreason, which itself provides the basis for all knowledge. And lest we make too much of this, we must avoid the temptation of turning to speculation, to specious imagining, as it were. We must steer clear of that pathway at all costs—or at least in most instances. In that eventuality, the two sides are further apart than ever. And yet they are closer and closer. Bridging that gap is our task here, and yet we must be careful: a bridge built on quicksand will sink in a snap. It is best to avoid such constructions. Considering the preceding, we must put aside all pretense. The answer lies in the dispassionate pursuit of the truth, wherever that takes us. We must not fail to mention that, generally and in specific, the road is long and hard. Suppositions must be avoided and, conversely and in equal proportion, we cannot avoid them. A house of cards will not sink in the sand but a slight wind will blow it down. The situation, then, is perilous. However, we must press on. Indeed, it is only through that propulsion, that forward seeking movement, that we will find, ultimately (or penultimately), in the worst or best possible case scenarios, that unmistakable aura of glacial impenetrability. Then, and only then, given the parameters outlined above, will there be enough data to suggest a course of action (and its equal and opposite reaction) leading us to a state of wide-eyed suspicion. To put it simply: on or about or perhaps with or above all. Needless to say, this does not always hold true. Sometimes, it is true, it is untrue, depending on circumstances and freak accidents and natural disasters and acts of God. Next to nothing is inessential. We arrive, then, at the central conundrum—-and we must be very careful with words here so as not to state more than we actually know. To recapitulate: given the current state of knowledge, taking into account our biases, and rolling with the punches, we can draw one almost inescapable conclusion from our diverse and disparate researches into our subject. To wit: we must be careful not to overstate the case. Let us not forget that in this situation it must be noted: nothing could be further from the truth.

at grand hotel abyss

Poverty that rolls with the punches

Robert Neuwirth has a thing for squatters.

This good fellow – who spent two years living in squatter communities in four continents – compiles research in his book on the struggles and successes of some of the world’s most resourceful poor people, among the one billion urban squatters in countries like Brazil, India, Kenya and Turkey.

Neuwirth is able to dismantle many common preconceptions about the so-called slums in which they live.

His blog at Squattercity reveals years of insightful posts.

Urban squatters – families that risk the wrath of governments and property owners by building dwellings on land they don’t own – represent one out of every ten people on the planet.

“Never judge a man without putting yourself in his place.”
This old proverb makes all judgment impossible,
for we judge someone only because, in fact,
we cannot put ourselves in his place.
E. M. Cioran, (1911–1995)

Facing modern culture

Barry Lopez is the author of a dozen books, including Desert Notes, Of Wolves and Men and Arctic Dreams (for which he won a National Book Award).

He said,

“The Enlightenment ideals of an educated mind and just relations among differing people have become problematic in our era because the process of formal education in the West has consistently abjured or condemned non-Western ways of knowing, and because the quest for just relations still strains at the barriers of race, gender and class.

If we truly believe in the wisdom of Enlightenment thought and achievement — and certainly, like Bach’s B-Minor Mass, Goethe’s theory of light or Darwin’s voyage, that philosophy is among the best we have to offer — then we should consider encouraging the educated mind to wander beyond the comfort of its own solipsisms, and we should extend the principle of justice to include everything that touches our lives.

I do not know how to achieve these things in the small valley where I live except through apprenticeship and the dismantling of assumptions I grew up with.

The change, to a more gracious and courteous and wondrous awareness of the world, will not come in my lifetime, and knowing what I know of the modern plagues — loss of biodiversity, global warming, and the individual quest for material wealth — I am fearful.

But I believe I have come to whatever I understand by listening to companions and by trying to erase the lines that establish hierarchies of knowledge among them.

My sense is that the divine knowledge we yearn for is social; it is not in the province of a genius any more than it is in the province of a particular culture. It lies within our definition of community.

Our blessing, it seems to me, is not what we know, but that we know each other.”

at resurgence

And Lopez also said this:

“The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory. This is how people care for themselves.”

Undivided attention not always productive

Giving people a chance to let their minds wander can actually be quite good for productivity.

Mind wandering is actually how the brain tries to increase productivity, by making use of “spare cycles” to continually work on random problems even when it’s not the immediate focus. The fact that the wandering sometimes is unproductive is simply a natural side-effect of that. Basically, it’s a recognition that not everything we’re doing requires full attention — and perhaps “continuous partial attention” is how are brains were originally wired for some very good reasons.

more at techdirt

Thrown off the grass

Americans consume 140 billion gallons of gasoline a year.
That will grow to 161 billion gallons by 2017 without change.

It may be we are prematurely trumpeting biofuel. The facts are slowly becoming clear, and doubts remain.

Without sugar crops, the USA is increasing starch crops – corn – which may place serious inflationary pressures on feed and food, threatening our precarious dollar. But we cross our fingers by promoting hi-tech and emerging research that may brew fuel from a greater variety of plant material, such as grass.

The Des Moine Register agrees that

“Making ethanol from something other than corn, such as crop residue or switchgrass, would lessen climate change.”


“Harvesting, storing and trucking massive amounts of non-corn biomass could make it uneconomical to make ethanol from other sources such as stover — stalks, husks, cobs — left after corn is harvested.

and another but,

“Some Iowa farmers already know what it takes to grow crops like switchgrass for energy, one of our hoped trump cards, and their experience raises questions about the feasibility of turning biomass into motor fuel.”


Switchgrass costs nearly twice as much as corn

corn: $35 per ton
switchgrass: $60 a ton
plus it costs another $25 for storage and transportation costs,
and then farmers will need an additional $30 to $40 a ton in profit to make it worth their while


Sugar cane is ideal for making ethanol and has a long history in Hawai’i, but it is an especially thirsty plant.

It takes as much water to grow 10,000 acres of sugar cane as it does to keep 67 golf courses green.

Experts estimate Hawai’i will need to increase sugar cane acreage by more than 80,000 acres by 2020 to meet local demands for ethanol. To quench Hawai’i’s thirst for ethanol, the state’s sugar cane industry would need to at least triple in size…

Hawai’i’s large landowners abandoned sugar cane in the past two decades. As they exited the business, the water previously used to irrigate their fields was diverted to other purposes.

Returning that water to the fields will likely draw opposition.

Growers are nervous if they don’t have a long-term contract on water…
If you can’t get water to crops, you’re dead in the water…
This is a huge issue that has barely touched the surface…

Next year’s headlines will mark an era of water wars. – Hydrodomus 2007

Criticizing Obama

Ali Abunimah:

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front.” He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, “Keep up the good work!”

But Obama’s gradual shift into the AIPAC camp had begun as early as 2002 as he planned his move from small time Illinois politics to the national scene. In 2003, Forward reported on how he had “been courting the pro-Israel constituency.” He co-sponsored an amendment to the Illinois Pension Code allowing the state of Illinois to lend money to the Israeli government. Among his early backers was Penny Pritzker — now his national campaign finance chair — scion of the liberal but staunchly Zionist family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain. (The Hyatt Regency hotel on Mount Scopus was built on land forcibly expropriated from Palestinian owners after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967). He has also appointed several prominent pro-Israel advisors.

Obama has also been close to some prominent Arab Americans, and has received their best advice. His decisive trajectory reinforces a lesson that politically weak constituencies have learned many times: access to people with power alone does not translate into influence over policy. Money and votes, but especially money, channelled through sophisticated and coordinated networks that can “bundle” small donations into million dollar chunks are what buy influence on policy. Currently, advocates of Palestinian rights are very far from having such networks at their disposal. Unless they go out and do the hard work to build them, or to support meaningful campaign finance reform, whispering in the ears of politicians will have little impact. (For what it’s worth, I did my part. I recently met with Obama’s legislative aide, and wrote to Obama urging a more balanced policy towards Palestine.)

If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama’s about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power. Palestinian-Americans are in the same position as civil libertarians who watched with dismay as Obama voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, or immigrant rights advocates who were horrified as he voted in favor of a Republican bill to authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the border with Mexico.

via Business As Usual, Obama Brand

Ultimate questions before war

Religious people are overridden by a smug superficiality.

Is the order of respect for belief adequate?

It’s beside the point. I even believe the expression is dangerous. It confuses two things. What we must respect are the believers. But the intangible right to disrespect beliefs, that is, the right to subject them to critical examination like any other system of thought, is an altogether different thing. Nothing may be set aside from this acid of public discussion. That’s our world’s order. To attempt to assign limits to it is absurd. That amounts to disowning ourselves without any possibility of achieving the desired result.

The West Is Blind to the Impact of Globalization on the Economy and on Morals: an interview with Marcel Gauchet in Le Monde, Saturday 11 March 2006

Why is resentment more intense in Islamic countries than elsewhere?

Because proximity works as an aggravating factor. It’s the third monotheism, a religion that believes itself to be the continuation of Judaism and Christianity and claims to be the seal of Prophecy, the ultimate and definitive revelation. Yet today, the Prophet’s faithful find themselves inexplicably in the position of the vanquished, the dominated – and at more than one level. They have suffered colonization. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is experienced as a symbol of the perpetuation of that colonial humiliation. To top it all off, they experience that Western-style development to which they are subject as an aggression that doesn’t work.

That’s the difference with countries like India or China. Nationalist feeling is certainly no less, but these countries can count on collective cohesion and political structures that allow them to a successfully appropriate Western technology and the economic thinking that accompanies it, as Japan had done before. For them, it’s possible to harbor the ambition of beating the West on its own ground, all the while mastering the process and remaining themselves. There’s nothing similar in the Arab-Muslim world. Their governments are both weak and tyrannical. The tools for modernization are missing. In those conditions, they suffer the damage from runaway Westernization without enjoying any of the benefits. That exacerbates the impression of being dispossessed. How can they avoid the deep uncertainty about the solidity of their religion that animates the pretension of putting it outside and beyond any discussion?

via wood s lot

“Be not too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not merely good – be good for something.” – Henry David Thoreau

A good society will doubt itself.

How big are the trees in your backyard?

cabin under huge redwood trees
[click pic for larger image]

Imagine living under trees this large?

Or gathering the needles after a windstorm?

Another collection of vast huge wonderful forest and pioneer pictures, including redwood scenes like these is posted at the The San Joaquin Valley Digitization Project

Avoid corporate employment

10 Reasons Jobs Suck

“Here are some reasons you should do everything in your power to avoid getting a job:

1. Income for dummies…
You only get paid when you’re working…Smart people build systems that generate income 24/7, especially passive income. This can include starting a business, building a web site, becoming an investor, or generating royalty income from creative work. The system delivers the ongoing value to people and generates income from it, and once it’s in motion, it runs continuously…

2. Limited experience….
The problem with getting experience from a job is that you usually just repeat the same limited experience over and over…

3. Lifelong domestication.
Getting a job is like enrolling in a human domestication program. You learn how to be a good pet…

4. Too many mouths to feed…
You only get paid a fraction of the real value you generate…

5. Way too risky.
Does putting yourself in a position where someone else can turn off all your income just by saying two words (“You’re fired”) sound like a safe and secure situation to you?…

6. Having an evil bovine master.
When you run into an idiot in the entrepreneurial world, you can turn around and head the other way. When you run into an idiot in the corporate world, you have to turn around and say, “Sorry, boss.”…

7. Begging for money…

8. An inbred social life…

9. Loss of freedom…

10. Becoming a coward.
Have you noticed that employed people have an almost endless capacity to whine about problems at their companies? But they don’t really want solutions – they just want to vent and make excuses why it’s all someone else’s fault… It’s as if getting a job somehow drains all the free will out of people and turns them into spineless cowards…”

Read more in this provocative post from Steve Pavlina.

Timely conscience

People have not been horrified by war to a sufficient extent … War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today. – John Fitzgerald Kennedy

Wait without the consciousness of time

Book: Heights of Despair
All men have the same defect: they wait to live, for they have not the courage of each instant.

Why not invest enough passion in each moment to make it an eternity?

We all learn to live only when we no longer have anything to expect, because we do not live in the living present but in a vague and distant future.

We should not wait for anything except the immediate promptings of the moment.

We should wait without the consciousness of time.

There’s no salvation without the immediate.

But man is a being who no longer knows the immediate.

He is an indirect animal.

via bookofjoe

Even leaders lose

At the end of the 80s I was paying Ziff-Davis Publishing over $12,000 per month for full page ads in newstand PC/Computing mags in order to sell over 3,000 titles of $3 floppy disks crammed with freeware and shareware. In those days, it was a labor and an art to index and fill a 5-1/4″ floppy.

This was a helluva library for its era.

But Howard Ziff then bought a worthy competitor’s library in Texas called Public Shareware and began to give titles away free as part of PCMagazine promotions.

Within four months my cashflow sunk.

sun day poem

As we love, we invent.
We are enterprise, families, and nations.
We are tying the the best of us into the grand of us.

We are the effort of love.
We are the glorious gift we carry in our arms.

We are night and day.
We print where we step.
We bring better color to day.

Our reach is what breathing brings.
Our imagination is refusing colder winds behind us.
Our glance across infinity is where we repair each moment.

We cannot satisfy ourselves pleasing each other.

We are instead to walk toward more tremendous tasks.

All is.
We are.
There is no waiting.
Dark we revel and ignore.
Our ache we blame on each direction.

Inside the red and blood is history,
that noise of our gloom,
our best yet,
then bright,
our flame,

Reality in Baghdad

Many folks say that reporters look for bad news in Iraq.

But the reality might be that only a bit of each day’s bad news is published.

This pic “shows the whiteboard at the NBC correspondents bureau in Baghdad on March 6, with all the relevant news for the day.

[click pic for larger version]

Only a tiny fraction of those make it into the Western media.”

The real reality in Baghdad at Lunch over IP

Dark spirituality

Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher has won this year’s Templeton Prize – worth more than $1.5 million.

Taylor investigates people’s desire to seek meaning and spiritual direction, and has suggested that the world’s problems can only be solved by considering both their secular and spiritual roots. He argues that by failing to take individuals’ spiritual needs into account and focusing only on the economic and political, politicians have left out a large part of how people of all religions find meaning in their lives.

“I think the reason why young children turn to violence in Gaza City is not just through socio-economic factors but also through the meaninglessness of their lives,” (Taylor) said yesterday. “They feel no purpose and people come along and offer them a ’cause’.

“Or take the people who were involved in the July bombings in London. What we know is that some were highly successful and integrated in British society and yet they did what they did, because they were excited by some greater cause of Islam on a global level. They were giving some sense to their lives by becoming fighters. We need to understand this ‘dark spirituality’ as the West is very unschooled in this.”

Found at hurryupharry

Losing land in Louisiana

The Mississippi River built south Louisiana over 7,000 years. These pics show how it’s disappearing.

The Rise and Dissappearance of Southeast Louisiana

Each year the state loses 24 square miles of wetlands – approximately a football field every 45 minutes.

By 2020, New Orleans will be surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico.

The Rise and Dissappearance of Southeast Louisiana is a 15 minute Flash presentation of the current situation, very well done, that provides insight into the challenge faced by New Orleans.

Katrina may be only a part of the disaster facing Louisiana.

They love to make you mad

I discovered some words to help explain my feelings surrounding a recent experience with an odd fellow I was recently stuck too near while in Sacramento:

“It’s kind of striking that angry expressions are a very negative signal to almost everyone, yet making others angry can be a tasty morsel that some people will vigorously work for.”, said Oliver Schultheiss, University of Michigan associate professor of psychology.

A parade of rightness is a stimulant for some folks.
Many people love to make other people mad.
It’s an addiction.

angry man thumbnailUnlike a true reward, this addiction is an arrangement as hurried and impulsive as administering weekend drugs. Some people find that raising anger from others is so rewarding they go out of their way.

Perhaps reinforced by annoying someone, some people continue to heckle. Instead of offering wisdom, peace or love, this addiction seeks only to justify a greedy stimulant.

A small person raises small threats, thus the behavior is not perceived as a threat and becomes a reward.

Testosterone levels and dominance motivation is a learned sequence.
Recent work has been published in the journal Physiology and Behavior.

This snippet helped explain to me a zonko dingy oddwall experience.

I recall a good and vigorous heart that once exclaimed, “All beings seek attention in order to grow.”

They love to make you mad

Be busy plus be practical

Over much of the years after the crisis of the 1973 oil embargo, I was reading NASA technical bulletins delivered by mail each month.

I learned that a coil of cheap black pipe is the most cost effective solar water heater period — a loop on the roof. The pipe can degrade and requires attention to be safe and secure, but it works.

That anything dark brown, green or blue absorbs no less than 97% as effectively as anything costly solid black in order to capture heat. The cost benefits of hi-tech and ultra-absorption systems usually fail.

That piles and piles of cheap rock or huge tubs of (safe) water under and near where you live at night will keep and convey more heat (or cool) than a dozen new technologies, tax incentives or sales discounts.

That discovering the heat gain/loss angle within 10 or 15 degrees of a window or a wall can alter a monthly utility bill more than 30%.

Temperature is where you find it. Often three feet above or fifteen feet under.

I was the State of California’s #88 license as a Certified Energy Manager, founder of the western branch of the Assoc. of Energy Engineers, held an 8000 store contract with the Independent Grocers Association to teach owners how to insulate, install usage timers and heat curtains that you might remember over the milk section, plus energy manager of 11,000 church buildings for the Cal. Ecumenical Association.

Because so much of “new energy” merely boils down to dark surfaces, shadows, angles, and old fashioned “brains”, the commerce of “new energy” did not become profitable during my generation. Even these days, it’s a risky gamble to expect any new energy option to suceed.

For cheap energy at home: Color, angle and mass remain the most effective, the least costly, the most neglected.

Temperature differential is the first tool to move energy. Shade, height and mass are the methods.

Time to improve convenience food stores

When new owners purchased a gas station and convenience store in 1986, it was mainly a gas station and convenience store.

They immediately expanded the business by adding a fresh produce section. Since the addition of produce, the annual sales have gone from $200,000.00 to $1.3 million.

I am ashamed of and worried about the poor food quality sold at 100,000s of small and gas station food vendors. I rarely spend a dime inside when I fill my tank. But I often picture the billions of dollars being funnelled through American bodies into the coffers of Coke and Pepsi and the breweries that dominate the shitty sector of the food business.