Sunday, December 30, 2007

Good Find at the Recycling Center

I always dread going to the local recycling shed - I try to stick by the rule of not coming home with more stuff than I went with... but I couldn't resist the stack of "Victor Record" newspapers from 1919 -1924.

It seems that rural America was at it's apex - Victor had a grocery, men's and women's clothing stores, movie theatre, several car dealerships, implement dealer, hatchery, and more. They are all gone now, along with the town newspaper.

There are loads of fascinating articles and ads - the latest news on the violence in the middle east (Armenian massacres) and immigration issues (the house voted to ban immigration after the war). 88 years, and nothing has changed! How depressing is that....?

I was struck by the amount of D.I.Y. stuff that ran in the paper - how to sew the latest Paris fashions, how to customize (or "hack", as the kiddies say today...) your hay wagon or electrical generator, or how to build a cold storage box for your house (scan below - click it for a full-sized version).

I will try and post a bunch of the best stuff in the future - the patent medicine ads are amazing! I could sure use some "Nervine" about now...


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Buckminster Fuller Dome Demolished



According to a post on the website of the Buckminster Fuller Institute...

"On November 15th, Kansas City Southern destroyed the 49 year old dome on its property just north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. One of the biggest geodesic domes in the world and the first to be used for industrial purposes, Fuller himself oversaw its construction. Despite a strong local drive for preservation and less than a year from obtaining official historic status, KCS demolished the dome quietly without discussing its fate with any concerned parties.local news story..."

Wow, what a tragedy! This was a really historic piece of architecture. The dome now seems like a quaint and outdated vision of a future that never arrived, but it is a symbol of the optimistic future that Fuller envisioned - Humans using technology to rise to their highest potential.

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody. "

-R. Buckminster Fuller

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

Biofuels contribute to Indonesia's growing CO2 emissions

A pretty shocking story in New Scientist this week -

Indonesia is now the world's #3 CO2 emitter, not from industrialization, but from agriculture. They are draining peat bogs and building palm plantations. The decomposing peat creates more CO2 per acre than a modern city.

Why are they doing this? To meet the demand for palm oil, which is used in just about every form of junk food, but the fastest growing market is in Europe for ... Oh crap... biodiesel.

from the article... " razing rainforests to grow palm oil for biofuels is madness. Clearing a hectare of tropical forest releases between 500 and 900 tonnes of CO2. Since turning a hectare's worth of palm oil into biodiesel saves approximately 6 tonnes of fossil CO2 emissions a year, it will take 80 to 150 years of production to offset the one-off emissions from trashing the forest."

As they say in medical school - "Primum non nocere" (First, do no harm).

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

NAFTA Superhighway, Paranoid Myth Or Business As Usual?

During the CNN/YouTube Republican debate, candidates fielded canned questions from low-res cartoon characters on "serious" issues like what Jesus would do about capitol punishment and who they supported in the World Series. One smarmy questioner attempted to paint Congressman Ron Paul as a "wingnut" by asking him if he "believed" in the NAFTA Superhighway, as if it belonged in a category with Santa and the Easter Bunny.

Plans for an international trade corridor have been public knowledge and confirmed by government sources, private development groups and media sources for years. Still, as recently as August '07, The Nation reported, "There's no such thing as a proposed NAFTA Superhighway" . In the same article, they also state " Indeed, the image of the highway, with its Chinese goods whizzing across the border borne by Mexican truckers on a privatized, foreign-operated road, is almost mundane in its plausibility." As if to say, "You are crazy to believe the myth, even though it is totally plausible, and even if it were true, it would still be no big deal, right?

From the perspective of farmers in the Midwest, NAFTA has been bad for business, and the thought of a trade corridor rubs salt in that wound by bringing up eminent domain issues as well. The Nation article admits "Republican presidential candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire now routinely face hostile questions about the highway at candidate forums. Citing a spokesperson for the Romney campaign, the Concord Monitor reports that "the road comes up at town meetings second only to immigration policy." Yet somehow this isn't reflected in the priority issues we hear about in the mainstream media.

Is the superhighway a myth? The North America's SuperCorridor Organization (NASCO) is a multinational group made up of businesses and government transportation agencies that seeks to " ...maximize(ing) the efficiency of our existing transportation infrastructure to support international trade." They also say that there is no plan for a new "superhighway".

Here in Iowa however, the state legislature has taken the superhighway very seriously, and they see it as an opportunity to raise revenue for the state government. By using the simple search engine at the legislatures website we find the term "NAFTA Superhighway" appearing six times in the legislative record, including three pieces of legislation over the last ten years, including funding for:

"The department (IADOT) shall study the feasibility of joining the I-35 corridor coalition and the multistate highway transportation agreement and the effects on the state interstate system from designation of I-35 as a portion of the international NAFTA super highway."

And

"A Concurrent Resolution relating to the International NAFTA Superhighway and requesting the Director of the State Department of Transportation to join the I-35 Corridor Coalition and requesting private matching moneys to be solicited for payment of membership fees."

In fact, Dale Vander Schaaf of the Iowa DOT does indeed serve as the treasurer of NASCO, and the Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (DMAMPO) is a NASCO member group. NASCO executives have also addressed the International Traders of Iowa.

If Ron Paul is a paranoid wingnut, what does that make the Iowa Legislature? Iowa's lawmakers obviously "believe" in the NAFTA Superhighway, and see it as a major business opportunity and a way to draw more federal dollars into the state. Strangely though, a search of the Des Moines Register archives shows no stories on "NASCO" or "NAFTA Superhighway". It is not unusual for these types of far-ranging international trade efforts to happen out of the public eye - in fact, historically that is business as usual. As to the "right-wing paranoia" - as the old saying goes - just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2007

R.I.P. Evel



Last week, the world lost one of the last of a breed. On November 30th, Robert Craig "Evel" Knievel died of a terminal lung disease at the age of 69.

Those old enough to remember Evel either think of his daredevil exploits of the late 60's, or the avalanche of cheap plastic crap pumped out in the early 70's with his trademark stars and bars - but culturally, Evel was more than the sum of the detritus sold on eBay.

Evel was a product of a hardscrabble life in the high plains of Butte, Montana, growing up in the dawn of the modern era in an area still dominated by the cowboy spirit. In many ways, he was a sort of modern-era "Wild-Bill" Cody - a former hunting guide, miner, rodeo rider and ski-jumper who took his penchant for risk-taking out of the realm of the cowboy and in to the realm of the 20th century outlaw, the biker.

Evel was a motorcycle riding doppelganger for Elvis Presley - They each rode the wave of post-war youth culture, each climbing the ladders and eventually breaking through the ceiling of the redneck entertainment establishments. Elvis came up through hillbilly music business and Evel through the carnival thrill show circuit, and they each met their star-spangled jumpsuit-clad Waterloos in the polyester post-ratpack Vegas of the 70's.

Evel was an idol to all of us scruffy, long haired 12 year olds of the early 70's, building ramps made of pilfered wood from the new ranch homes going up on the edge of town and jumping our bikes and skateboards until something broke. Without him, I don't believe the bicycle would have ever made it in to the realm of extreme sports - bmxers and mountain-bikers take note, you owe it all to this guy. I think you can honestly make a case for his cultural influence extending far beyond that - to the realms of style, music, movies and even engineering. Even when he jumped the shark at the Snake River Canyon, Evel left behind an image of a DIY American spirit - the X-2 Skycycle project was just an older hillbilly cousin of the Ansari X prize. If only that 'chute hadn't popped too soon...


The machine fetish culture of post-war America came to a grinding halt in the oil-embargo days of the early 70's - the dark days of the K car, the Harley/AMF merger and Evel's backbreaking crash at the Cow Palace all signaled the end of an era. Now, 35 years later, he is gone - but the lunchbox will last forever.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Why conservatives should join the left's campaign against nuclear power

From our good friends at the Cato Institute - God I love it when Libertarians and Greens can get together and beat on the government!
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Hooked on Subsidies

by Jerry Taylor and Peter Van Doren


This article appeared Forbes on November 26, 2007.

Why conservatives should join the left's campaign against nuclear power.

When it comes to politics, we don't often find ourselves in agreement with Bonnie Raitt or Graham Nash. But now that they are campaigning against new nuclear plants, they're our friends. Raitt, Nash, the Indigo Girls and other vocal rockers are attacking a provision in pending Senate legislation that would award what they call "massively expensive loan guarantees--potentially a virtual blank check from taxpayers" for nuclear power plant construction.

Even without the new legislation there's plenty of federal money being doled out. In September NRG Energy, an energy wholesaler in Princeton, N.J., applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a license to build and operate a two-reactor nuclear plant near Bay City, Tex. The NRC is expecting 19 similar applications in the next 18 months. If approved, they will be eligible for loan guarantees under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Pro-nuclear groups herald the coming flood of applications as proof that nuclear energy makes economic sense. Nonsense. The only reason investors are interested: government handouts. Absent those subsidies, investor interest would be zero. More

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Welcome to the Terra-Dome


After a few years in storage, I decided to resurrect our 24-foot geodesic dome greenhouse. I built it in 2001 and it has been used as a shelter at the I-Renew expo as well as a greenhouse here at Catnip Farm.

It is made of 100% scrap electrical conduit salvaged from construction sites, and this year we decided to give it a new cover made of dura-skrim, a construction plastic reinforced with fiberglass threads. It isn't as UV resistant as the real greenhouse plastic, but it really takes a beating and it's pretty cheap. Ericka added a whole lot of security to the cover with a nice tie-down system to help keep the cover from flapping - she calls it the "world's biggest macramé project"... I'll be posting more photos soon, but for now check out domepage1....

The arugula and mustard greens are looking awesome (we are already harvesting) kale and chicory are lagging behind. The short days are limiting growth, but with the solar panel and battery bank, we can start giving them a couple extra hours with grow lights....

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