Sunday, July 29, 2007

Debating Debates on Youtube

Well, I never would have believed it - Democratic presidential candidates fighting for little soundbytes on Youtube. The Republicans, of course, are refusing to do the same, for a variety of reasons - however, I strongly suspect it is due to a) lack of credibility of YOUTUBE as a debating forum, b) questioning the validity of being questioned by young, inexperienced people, many of whom do not even know their own state capitol, and c) wondering if they will next be asked to debate on eBay.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ethanol vs Fossil Fuels

There have been a number of people who have been trying to convince us that ethanol is a viable source of energy. But is there any truth in what they claim?

According to David Pimental (agricultural expert, Cornell University) it would take 11 acres of farmland to grow enough corn to make enough ethanol to run the average U.S. automobile for one year, if blended with gasoline, as it now is. This is equal to the amount of farmland required to feed seven people for one year. More important, 131,000 BTUs are needed to make one gallon of ethanol, while one gallon of ethanol has an energy value of only 77,000 BTUS. This means it takes 70 percent more energy to produce ethanol than the energy that is actually in the ethanol. Every time you make one gallon of ethanol, there is a net energy loss of 54,000 BTUs. In other words, production of ethanol creates a substantial LOSS of energy, making ethanol production unsustainable.

An acre of U.S. corn yields about 7,110 pounds of corn for processing into 328 gallons of ethanol. But planting, growing and harvesting that much corn requires about 140 gallons of fossil fuels. But even more important is the fact that we cannot replace the fossil fuel with ethanol, because ethanol is so much more expensive than fossil fuels when you add the costs of converting the corn into ethanol. The growers and processors can’t afford to burn ethanol to make ethanol. U.S. drivers couldn’t afford it, either, if it weren’t for government subsidies to artificially lower the price.

Now, here is something the ethanol crowd won't tell you. Corn is a "heavy feeder" - it requires more fertilizer, more nitrogren and phosphorous than most other crops, erodes soil about 12 times faster than the soil can be reformed, and irrigating corn uses up groundwater 25 percent faster than the natural recharge rate of ground water. In short, corn is not a sustainable energy source, especially in the amount that would be required.

And then we must consider costs to consumers. Using all the corn necessary to make a difference results in higher prices for meat, milk and eggs because about 70 percent of corn grain is fed to livestock and poultry in the United States. Increasing ethanol production would further inflate corn prices. Your food costs would increase significantly. And if a drought occurs, food for human consumption could disappear. And, to make matters worse, the U.S. Census states the world population is expected to double over the next 40 years. With food resources already strained, can we really afford to turn food into fuel?

If all the automobiles in the United States were fueled with 100 percent ethanol, a total of about 97 percent of U.S. land area would be needed to grow the corn. Corn would cover nearly the total land area of the United States.

I would like to see America become self-sufficient insofar as energy is concerned. But before we jump onto any bandwagon, we really need to look at the bigger picture, and ask ourselves what the ultimate cost would be. What are the long term effects? Is it sustainable? Does it cost more to make than what you get? What are the dangers?

I just hope we do not run out of time before we find answers.

Thursday, July 5, 2007


Sometimes I cannot help but get discouraged.

The other day on the radio, a talk show host was on the phone with someone who said her occupation was a teacher. He asked her why we celebrated the 4th of July. She was not sure. He asked who we won our independence from - she said "France" (it was actually England - France was our ally). And when he asked her the name of the war, she did not know (it was the Revolutionary War, or the War for Independence).

And she is a teacher! Have to wonder just exactly what she is capable of teaching, but it certainly is no wonder why our kids are not getting a good education.

And several months ago, Sean Hannity arranged to show people on the streets of New York City certain photos of prominent, important people - Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Britney Spears and others. Of the people who were shown the pictures, most did not have a clue who any of them were. Of the ones who knew some of the people in the photos, they were able to pick out Ms. Spears, first and foremost.

When citizens of New York City were asked their state capitol, most did not know. And when I told a New York State Trooper that I was from a town near Concord, New Hampshire, he had no idea where New Hampshire was - or that it was even a state!

Now, here is why this discourages me - these people are allowed to vote! They can help choose who our leaders will be in this very dangerous time in human history.

And, looking at Congress, that explains a lot!

I once proposed a sensible solution to uninformed voters, but no one took it seriously. Too bad. I suggested a non-partisan website be built, and operated like We could call it "". Every citizen could go to this website, and answer some very basic and pointed questions to determine what issues are important to him/her, and what they believe in. The answers would then be used to search the database of all politicians - local, state and federal - whose actions, statements and voting records are in accord with the visitor's own beliefs. In this way, the voter would not be affected by hype, lies or distortions, and would know exactly which candidates would be most likely to serve him/her effectively, regardless of party.

In this way, everyone could rest assured that they will be voting for the best candidates suited to serving them as they wish to be served.

And our politicians would no longer be able to hide behind half-truths, innuendo, lies and distortions. They would have to become more aware of the importance being placed on where their record says they stand.

Git r dun

While Larry the Cable Guy may not appear to be the sharpest tool in the shed, his famous "Git r dun" phrase makes a sound point - success is determined by getting the job done.

But what if that "job" is too big? What if the task at hand is overwhelming? What to do?

As one wise man was fond of saying, it's a lot like eating a cow. If you try to just sit down and eat a cow, you will fail. But if you cut it up into burgers and steaks, and eat one each day, eventually you will eat that cow, eventually. And that is how successful people tackle great tasks - they break them up into bite-sized pieces.

Taken in small bites, each bite becomes a success, because it was so easy to do. One success leads to another as they build upon themselves, and give you a sense of accomplishment. And in the end, the task is completed.

This is true whether you are trying to "eat a cow", or build a vast fortune and empire.

And one last point to consider - plan backwards. If you want to get to a certain point, it is easier if you create your route by planning backwards. For example, let's say you want to have a million dollars in 5 years. In order to accomplish that, you need to know how much you must have in 4 years in order to have a million in 5 years. And you need to know how much you need in three years in order to be on schedule in four years, and so on. By planning backwards, you will find out how much you must earn today in order to have one million in 5 years. You now have a plan; a schedule. And it is in bite-sized pieces, which makes it easier to accomplish.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Still planning ahead...

I am uncertain about taxes, and where they will be going in the future. And I am not sure about the effects of "global warming", or even if it is real science. But there is one thing I am relatively certain about - the world supply of oil is limited, and is being depleted at an alarming rate, particularly since two very large and heavily populated "third world" countries (India & China) have only just begun using petroleum. And as of this writing, there is absolutely no feasible alternative that can keep everything running.

And, while I like to believe that American ingenuity will bring us an alternative in time, I have serious doubts that anything based on current knowledge could be a viable alternative to oil. I believe it is likely that, as the oil reserves run out, there will be a period of time where entire economies are shut down until new alternatives become available. Without sufficient oil, goods cannot be produced, nor shipped. Store shelves will be empty. People will panic. Economies will shrink, and there will likely be a period of disaster on a world-wide basis.

I would expect this scenario to begin taking shape within the next 30 years - sooner, if radical terrorists have their way. Therefore, just to be on the safe side, I am taking a cue from Noah (of the Ark). I am preparing for my family. I am taking steps to insure their survival in the event of long-term food shortages, for example. And, living in New England, I am insuring the ability to keep the homefires burning in the Winter. I guess it's the "Boy Scout" in me, with the motto of "Be Prepared" - hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Some may believe I am being an alarmist, or some kind of "doomsday" quack, but that simply is not the case. I am just a man who believes it is wise to be prepared for things that could happen, even if they are unlikely to happen. I certainly do not want to be the person who gets caught in a bad situation, facing disaster or even death because I did not take some basic precautions. In our lifetime, we face a number of serious threats to our existence - global warming and oil shortages are just two possibilities.

For those who are interested, here are some steps I have taken. Most are simple and inexpensive:

1) I purchased "heirloom" seeds of vegetables ( - they can produce seeds of the same quality for planting year after year. Seeds you buy in stores are hybrids, and the seeds they produce cannot be used for the following year's crop. By planting just a few seeds of each vegetable each year, I can keep producing another year's supply of seed. Then, if food becomes scarce, we will have sufficient seed to produce much of our own food. I currently grow enough crops for our own needs, and the excess helps feed four other families in need. It's a "feel good" thing.

2) Some good books on gardening and canning for my children and grandchildren to learn from, if it becomes necessary. These are quickly becoming lost arts.

3) For shortages or emergencies, I keep a one year supply of MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) for each family member, as it can take months to grow a crop, and the crop may not last until the next one. Since MRE's can last 10 years or more, in 9 years we will donate them to the local food pantry for the needy, replace them with a fresh supply and write off the donation on our taxes.

4) We have a woodstove, and I have purchased a woodlot close to home. All the firewood we could ever possibly need. If there is a shortage of fuel oil or gas, the demand for wood will be so strong that you may not be able to buy a suitable supply when needed. So it is wise to have your own supply, close to home (there may be a shortage of gasoline for transporting for long distances). In addition, I have saws and axes that do not require gas and oil. However, I do not think I will need to use them - I would simply allow another family to harvest some wood for themselves in exchange for them cutting and splitting mine.

A pellet stove is not a good choice - if fuel becomes scarce, you would still be dependent upon supply and delivery of pellets, which would also be in short supply. And pellet stoves require electricity - if a storm knocks out your power, or the grid goes down because of oil shortages you had better have other alternatives for heat.

5) We have set aside adequate fishing gear and supplies. You can get sick of eating fish, but it is high protein and low on fat, and will keep you alive in a pinch.

6) We have purchased an old, rebuilt steam generator (and spare parts) with an AC inverter and have it stored in the shed. If energy shortgages become a problem, we can provide our household with basic electricity by burning wood.

Not everyone can afford a woodlot - but several families together might be able to pool enough to buy a lot. And if you do not have enough land for a garden, most people can arrange to use a small portion of someone else's land, in exchange for part of the crop.

Now, there is only about 1 chance in 5 that there will be a need for these precautions in this generation. If not needed, they can still be used to save money. And if they are needed, they will provide a path to survival.

In any case, if you are not prepared to provide food, water, shelter, and heat for your family for a period of at least 90 days, without relying on outside sources, you are simply not prepared for your family to survive a disaster. Just ask those who survived Katrina...