Friday, September 16, 2011

Tabs for a Fallish Friday

My clipping pile and open tabs are building up, so here are a few short ruminations.

Driving the Drink
In its Sept. 4 report on a bottled water ban at local colleges Macalester and St. Benedict's, Star Tribune reporter Jenna Ross wrote:

The bottled water industry argues that bottled water beats other packaged beverages -- both for the environment and for people's health. Bottled water has "the lightest environmental footprint of all packaged beverages," according to the International Bottled Water Association, and, unlike soda and juice, is sugar- and calorie-free.
While clearly this is true, all it does is point out the bad environmental footprint of packaged beverages in general. The vast majority of liquid in any packaged beverage is "just" water, most of it drawn from municipal water supplies in whatever town plays host to the bottling plant. In India, for instance, Coca Cola has been assailed for drying up community water sources. Does it make sense to take water from a drought-stricken region to make soda pop?

Does it really make sense to ship what is essentially water at all? I seem to recall Michael Pollan pointing out in The Omnivore's Dilemma that the foods that make the most sense to ship long distance are the lightest ones, which are the ones with the least water in them. Drinks of any kind would have to be at the wrong end of that continuum, let alone ones that have no or negative nutrition in them.

And speaking of sugary beverages that are mostly water, I had to laugh at a story from today's Strib. Apple Juice Dangerous? FDA Says No, the headline read. Wow, I thought, someone must have tried to point out that apple juice is basically sugar water, which is clearly a part of the cause of the obesity epidemic in children. But no -- the danger in question is arsenic in the juice, which TV-doctor Oz recently talked about on his show. So Dr. Oz will take a beating for saying something that appears to be exaggerated, but no one will say that training kids to drink sweet drinks sets them up for a lifetime of weight problems.

Lost Crops of Africa
From the Strib, September 6, a good news story: Nonprofit-beat reporter Jean Hopfensperger tells about Compatible Techology International, a St. Paul-based NGO that for 30 years has worked to improve traditional African crops and develop more efficient, low-energy ways of harvesting them.

The story focuses on the test fields at the University of Minnesota's agricultural campus, where they grow millet, teff and peanuts. Hopfensperger writes, "One reason [for the crops' neglect] is the crops don't get high yields, said Clarke, and they're time-consuming to harvest. Another reason is that corn, wheat and other crops were introduced years ago and offered more opportunities to export. Unfortunately, they can't survive drought, a frequent occurrence in Africa, said Salway. Traditional crops can."

The plants are only part of work, though. How do you turn what is essentially grass into food? CTI's hand-cranked millet milling machine, for instance, "stripped away hundreds of tiny grains in about 40 seconds. It's a huge improvement on the methods used by poor African farmers: They beat the millet on the ground or use a mortar and pestle, said Salway. Farmers lose up to 50 percent of their crop doing this, he said."

CTI's Ewing grinder converts grains into flour in seconds; in 10 minutes it does what takes an hour with a mortar and pestle. Its fuel sticks, made from rice hulls, are in production in Bangladesh, creating an alternative to burning wood.

When Rights Are Wrong
Today's Strib included a review of a new documentary called The Wrecking Crew. It tells about the group of L.A. session musicians who played backup on recordings by groups like the Beach Boys, the Righteous Brothers and Sonny and Cher. But get this:
Denny Tedesco worked on this film for more than 12 years. He still hasn't found a distributor, because he needs to raise more than $300,000 to cover fees for the use of more than 130 songs from the 1960s.
Three hundred thousand dollars to pay for what is clearly fair use in a documentary meant as a love note to the music and muscians. Meanwhile, Europe has extended the copyrights on music from 50 to 70 years. God forbid the music of the British Invasion should ever become part of the public domain!

More on Peak Oil
I was happy to find this bit of writing, more nuanced than Jame Kunstler can manage, on what's ahead for us when it comes to energy. It's by Goddard professor Charles Eisenstein.

By the way, I just started reading Ready Player One, a science fiction novel that takes place in 2045 in the ruins of post-oil America. It's a completely different scenario than Kunstler came up with in his World Made by Hand books... kind of a cross between Cory Doctorow's For the Win and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.

Not Obscene, It Just Looks that Way
If you need a laugh after all that, check out these photos (one, two and three) that appear to be not safe for work but are actually completely innocent. It's amazing what a little imagination can do with some two-dimensional color blobs to create what the blogger calls a "rude illusion parade."

Snapshot of two young blonde women. It appears the arm of one woman is exceedingly hairy and large, but it's actually the knee and calf of a man in shorts whose body is otherwise outside the frame


Michael Leddy said...

I remember posting about The Wrecking Crew in 2008, when the film was done and seeking distribution. So the exorbitant demand for fees keeps out of circulation a film that promises to bring renewed interest to the music therein.

Cinday said...

I'm always looking for science fiction novels set in the near future, Pat. Let me know how you like "Ready Player One" and pass on any other titles you liked!
Cinda @