01 August 2010

An old farm

Death of a Farm
It was founded in 1632. I hear its sweet corn is legendary. The year 1632 is unimaginably distant. In 1632, Galileo was still publishing, and John Locke was born.

I was struck by the sheer age of the East Coast when I went to college in the Mid Atlantic. There were graves in the cemetery near the beach that had lain there longer than white men had been in Minnesota. What had been the capital of the state, had sunk into disrepair before the American Revolution. Old in the Midwest is a different scale than the East Coast.

Each year it has become harder for family farms to compete with industrial scale agriculture — heavily subsidized by the government — underselling them at every turn. In a system committed to the health of farms and their integration with local communities, the result would have been different.

This is not news to the Mid West. I'm a city girl by just about any measure, I know corn and soybeans mostly by speeding past them at seventy on the interstate. But I know how big the ADM silos on the Mississippi are, how long the trains coming in from the plains are, and how low in the water the barges sit when they are full of corn and soybeans.

I would like to think that maybe we can change this system, but it's easier for the government not to, to just let this broken system stay broken until it crashes down around us. Big agribusiness would rather things just keep humming along, and will throw money at congress to make it so. What would that "crashing down around us" look like though? The decline of the family farm? Old news twenty years ago. Undernourished overweight children in food deserts? We've got that. I would like to think that things are getting better, there is a lot more knowledge about what is healthy out there now, and a rise in a foodie culture, but what are a bunch of foodies and food nerds against agribusiness?


I gotta go figure out how to cook a big ole fennel, bulb and stems and leaves and all. Plus that patty pan squash should get eaten soon too.

12 May 2010

Not Me did it.

'Don't Blame Me' Is Refrain At Gulf Oil Spill Hearing

As if you hadn't been able to guess what would happen at this hearing.

Newman (CEO of Transocean) countered that there is "no reason to believe" the blowout preventer didn't work and that it might have been clogged by debris shooting up the well. Instead, he put the focus on subcontractor Halliburton, which was encasing the well pipe in cement before plugging it just hours before the deadly blast that killed 11 workers.

When I heard that Halliburton was the subcontractor used at the Deepwater Horizon, I cringed. But I've read enough about how this drilling site was unusual in a number of ways to not automatically blame this particular bad guy this time. Just because they sucked at drilling in Iraq doesn't mean they are the only ones that fracked up this time.

Salazar wants to divide the embattled Minerals Management Service into two agencies: one charged with inspecting oil rigs, investigating oil companies and enforcing safety regulations, and another to oversee leases for drilling and collection of billions of dollars in royalties.

This sounds like a very obvious idea, one which other countries have already done. It seems pretty obvious to me that the part of the agency that collects money if the oil is flowing shouldn't be the same as the part that decides if it's safe to keep the oil flowing. I'm pretty sure MSHA doesn't collect coal revenue, but I'll be rather upset if I'm wrong.

And lest we forget part of the reason MMS needs to be put back in order...

Besides Shell, the energy company employees mentioned in the report worked for Chevron, Hess and Gary-Williams Energy. The social outings detailed in the report included alcohol-, cocaine- and marijuana-filled parties where certain employees of the Minerals Management Service were nicknamed the "MMS Chicks" by the energy employees. The companies paid for federal workers to attend football and baseball games, PGA Tour events, Colorado ski trips, paintball outings and "treasure hunts," investigators found. Washington Post

11 May 2010


Food Allergies Less Common Than Believed, Study Says

So I was going to post something about Kagan and the Supreme Court, but I'm not sure I really have that much to say. (Except that it's weird to have a nominee younger than my mother. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.) And I know I said I wanted to rely less on my dear NYT, but this one is about food allergies! I love/hate food allergies!

...the true incidence of food allergies is only about 8 percent for children and less than 5 percent for adults, said Dr. Marc Riedl, an author of the new paper and an allergist and immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Yet about 30 percent of the population believe they have food allergies.

Firstly, drop all those people who are "allergic" to milk. That's an intolerance to lactose sugar, not an immune response. Then there are all those people out there who subjectively feel better when they exclude some item from their diet. Don't tell me your "corn allergy" presents as lethargy and irritability; if eating a watermellon only made me sleepy and crabby, I eat all the watermelons on earth, forever. Then you have to wonder about people who may have out grown their allergies, but still avoid foods because, how are they to know? Would you eat the peanut butter and risk anaphylaxis? I wouldn't, but I gave up ambulance rides for the recession.

For their report, Dr. Riedl and his colleagues reviewed all the papers they could find on food allergies published between January 1988 and September 2009 — more than 12,000 articles. In the end, only 72 met their criteria, which included having sufficient data for analysis and using more rigorous tests for allergic responses.

When I first started having a reaction to foods, I was in college and had access to a goodly number of journals through the library. I looked up my particular syndrome, I found very little. It was interesting to see lists of "if you can't eat this, watch out for this" but I wanted more numbers, and more about the proteins that were the trigger. Yea... no.

I read what I could, even if I didn't totally understand what was being discussed, and was left with the impression that there was still a lot to be figured out. It's good to know that some one has waded into this mess and is going to make some sense of it.

09 April 2010

Someone told me I should do this again.

Time to re-evaluate.

I started this blog with the idea that it would force me to keep up on reading the news. I had just left college a few months before and college (especially a rural college like I went to) is not conducive to staying informed about the world.  I spent most of my time in class, studying, sleeping, cooking, and dancing. What time was left was usually spent out doors. When I started the blog, I was looking for a job, when I got one (though not in my field) the blog waned. When I got a job in my field, and moved to a new state, the blog pretty much fell off. Now the job starts very early, 5am, and ends in the early afternoon. That does leave me time to write up a little something something should I put the effort in.

But the other thing that has changed is the way news works today. Well, I should say it is still changing. My beloved NYT might switch to a partial subscription service, betting that junkies like me will pay for quality content. I probably would, if the cost is not too great. I mean, I'm not paying for dead trees to be shipped to me, I can't be expected to pay the dead tree price.

Locally, the consensus seems to be that the Chi-Trib is, ah lets say, lacking. The website is the news from a coalition of news outlets (TV, newspaper, radio) with the Trib banner up top as opposed to the TV station's or the radio's. It doesn't help that Chicago politics are foreign and confounding to me, my knowledge of local geography is shaky at best, and out here in the 'burbs it all seems so distant. It can also be said that my heart is still back in the Twin Cities and I just can't get into Chicago period, much less care about the news.

When I started this blog I got most of my news from newspapers on the internet, with some TV on the internet thrown in. I still get most of my news from the internet (hello, blog), but I have diversified. For one, my google reader blog list has grown, leading to more blogs with original news content. Two and three have to do with the way I work. For the first four hours of my day I work by myself, so for the first two hours I listen to Morning Edition on WBEZ. It's a fairly good ratio of local and national/international news, with still-some-what-enigmatic traffic reports ("It's 34 minutes inbound on the Ike.") After my co-workers show up I have time to take a break, drink some tea, and read my Newsweek. I know that Newsweek underwent a dramatic restructuring and layout change recently and there are serious questions about the viability of print news in general, but it works for me. I like the layout with a huge opinion section, page after page of full page text. I like that I can sit, drink my tea, read one or two of those pages full of text and then get back to work.

So when I restart this blog things will be different. I think I might move away from the prescribed topics and just trust that I'll get a balance of national and international, politics and science and other. Local will probably be dropped, it might get picked up again when I move back to the Twin Cities. I might post about books I'm reading because books are awesome. IF a blog has original news content I may very well use it.

I'm still not going to blog about blogs that are blogging about blogs. You can see what blog things I have shared on google over there somewhere in the margins.


24 November 2008

At a New York Seminary, a Green Idea Gets Tangled in Red Tape
At one point, the seminary waited three months for the city Department of Transportation’s permission to drill into the sidewalk, Ms. Burnley said. “The conversation went like this: ‘What is the status?’ ‘It has no status.’ ‘Do you need more information?’ ‘No, we have what we need.’ ‘Then how can we get it moving?’ ‘You can’t get it moving.’
Lets get one thing clear from the start, I do not think that bureaucracy is always the problem. Most bureaucracies were put in place because there was an issue that needed to be addressed. People were putting bad wiring into houses, the electricity would short, start a fire, and burn down three houses; answer, electrical inspections. But we all know there comes a point when the bureaucracy becomes so dense it takes on a life of its own, and halts progress.

I think we might see more of this as individual groups take the Green Energy movement into their own hands. From making sure solar panels are installed on homes properly, to deciding if your neighbor gets to put up a small wind turbine, to colleges installing larger turbines and geothermal heat pumps. We need to be able to get this technology in use, but we can't give it a free pass. Look at corn-based ethanol and the damage it has done to local aquifers; we can't let the Green-ness of a thing blind us to the potential problems. But neither can we let a good idea die in the thickets of red tape.

But are there enough people like Ms. Burnley and Mr. Frawley — human drill bits — to drive through the crust of the status quo? She laughed. Not drill bits, she said, “human battering rams.”
I hope so, we badly need them.

10 November 2008

Small nuclear reactors, Safe?

Mini nuclear plants to power 20,000 homes
I don't know how I feel about this at all.

The miniature reactors will be factory-sealed, contain no weapons-grade material, have no moving parts and will be nearly impossible to steal because they will be encased in concrete and buried underground.
Because the reactor is based on a 50-year-old design that has proved safe for students to use, few countries are expected to object to plants on their territory. An application to build the plants will be submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year.
First off, I'm pretty much opposed to nuclear power across the board. The reactors may be safe, but it's the waste that is dangerous for millennia. Then again, I'm not sure I trust the reactors either. That said, these do have a pretty strong potential to bring electrical power to many people without producing CO2 on site.

CO2 output is only part of what we need to look at when trying to make decisions about new sources of energy. We have to look at every component, and we have to look at each one from cradle to grave as it were. Where would they get the radioactive fuel? Where would it go in the end? So they're encased in concrete, what about regions that are prone to earthquakes?

'You could never have a Chernobyl-type event - there are no moving parts,' said Deal. 'You would need nation-state resources in order to enrich our uranium. Temperature-wise it's too hot to handle. It would be like stealing a barbecue with your bare hands.'
I beg to differ Mr. Deal, the whole contraption has to move to get there, as does the spent fuel and the refill fuel. Transport of spent fuel rods around the US has been opposed time and time again.

I think I would want to hear a LOT more about how this works before I let them install one in my neighborhood. But I live in a nation where we have the luxury of opposing things like this. I'm sure there are plenty of places where the need for electricity outweighs the (apparently minimal??) risks.

09 November 2008

Obama's Speeches

Some time back in the fall of 2004 I downloaded Barack Obama's keynote address from the Democratic Convention. I don't even remember how I got it. But here it is for you to enjoy. Keynote 2004.

And to have things come full circle, here is his victory speech from Tuesday. Victory 2008.

I do have the acceptance speech from this year's convention, but weighing in at 42 minutes and 39 mb, (even after I edited out him being introduced and about five minutes of "Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you so much.") I don't know where anyone would host it for free. If you want it (cause you're a huge nerd like me) let me know.