Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stay At Home Dad

Today my smallest boy turned three years old.

And after watching children as a stay at home father for over six years, I've never specifically identified myself as that until fairly recently. I am, in fact, a stay at home father. I tend to remove myself from that category on the grounds that I also earn money as a contractor.....but at the end of the day, I'm a stay at home father. I'm at home, I have kids at home, I get my kids ready for school in the morning, watch them most days of the week during the day and then pick the older one up from school in the afternoon and hang with him and the younger one every day until 7 AM at night. I wash their clothes, cook their meals, clean up after them.

I am, in fact, a stay at home father. And I have been for over six years.

There are frequent periods where I tend to feel comfortable speaking with stay at home mothers, and I feel welcome to do so until my perspectives deviate from what a stay at home woman might experience. One such issue tends to be the issue of breast-feeding vs. bottle feeding. Obviously I'm personally limited in my options considering I've never been much of a lactator on account of I have a penis and more testosterone than is helpful for lactation. And despite that limitation I still have good, intelligent, well adjusted children. As it turns out an inability to lactate isn't the inhibition to healthy nurturing some might suggest.

There are always the little things that tend to set me outside the particular group I may be with at the time. I always feel a little on the outside with men who aren't sure how to navigate a grocery store...where to find salt, for example. It's occasionally embarrassing when I can rattle off the top of my head the cheapest places in the city to buy X, Y, Z...not just that I'm experienced enough with grocery shopping to know where to find an item in a large store, but I know which store has the cheapest X.

And there are always the daily comments from older women as I enter a building with my two young boys in tow "giving mommy a break today, eh?" or "you have your hands full today don't you?" as though the slice of my life they're seeing before them at the moment is an anomaly in my life rather than something I've been doing every day for six years. And of course they're the several times a year comment when I express frustration how I should try being with my kids and tending to food preparation and other house maintenance issues every though I couldn't possibly comprehend.

The notion that I'm at home, and a man, tends to conjure images of laziness.

And that sort of irritates me.

I've recently started to follow various blogs about stay at home dads. After six years. And you know what? It's nice to see similar thoughts and issues and challenges coming from others. It's nice to see that I'm not alone or incurably strange.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Plant Shelter

Looking around the house, it occurs to me that most of the plants I have are rescued plants. I've kind of got a soft spot for scraggly abandoned or neglected office plants. I went through a period where every time I found a plant in its final death throes, in an office, or a bank, or a restaurant, I'd either take a clipping of it or just take the whole plant and bring it home. A good number of the plants I have are survivors of that era in my life...and while I'm not necessarily giving them the best life possible, they're surviving.

This one sheflera plant I've had for about 14 years I originally found when I noticed a nice looking pot on the ground. I picked it up and there was a plant attached to it that had been buried under a pile of dry leaves. The li'l fella had about 3 scraggly leaves of its own left, mostly yellowed. Managed to nurse that one back to...well...survivability. The kids have abused it recently, and the cats attack it from time to time for unknown reasons. But it gets outside in the summer and has an explosion of growth for a while util I bring it back in for the winter and it seems to regress again as it's subjected to monkies and cats.

I should probably give it some attention. It could probably stand to have a much larger pot, maybe some nice new soil.

Rescued a dying cincta cane and a palm parlor that are both prospering though. I have a cactus that seems to have been static for a decade. I'm...not entirely sure it's alive now that I think of it. It's green and hasn't really rotted yet. There's the christmas cactus that we nursed back to life from its last remaining segment that seemed to have formed roots in its own desperate attempt to come back to life. Now it's about 50 segments or more with new growth. Bloomed last year...didn't bloom this year. The mother in law's tongue has seen better's been severely attacked by the 2 year old and is about half the size it was a year ago. Weird thing about that plant...a couple years ago our living room had an amazing smell and we thought somethign was flowering outside...but we couldn't find it. Turns out the mother in law's tongue had grown these tiny little green flowers and was emitting a delicious, sweet, perfume smell for a week or so.


........that's all I have to say about house plants I guess.

Obama's Asian Carp Head Honcho is in Traverse City, Michigan

The Obama administration's Asian Carp point man, John Goss, is up north in Traverse City this week rappin' with the locals and other interested parties about what the US Government is doing to address the Asian Carp threat to the Great Lakes and the 7 billion dollar fishing industry.

I've talked a lot about the subject of the Asian carps...and I'll just recap by saying the fish are pretty aggressive eaters and tend to dominate any non-native eco-system they get into. And that would be bad for local Great Lakes species as well as the very lucrative fishing industries in the Great Lakes states.

Let's just say people don't want them in the Great Lakes.

Unfortunately, some scientists believe it may already be too late
and Asian Carp are already in Lake Michigan. They defend their research showing DNA samples beyond the barriers meant to keep them out of Lake Michigan...what's less certain is if there is a viable breeding population beyond the barriers yet.

So there's still a serious chance at stopping or slowing the invasion.

So it doesn't much help that the Army Corps is sort of dinking around, taking their time with a long term solution to separating the Mississippi and Great Lakes water-sheds to keep invasive species from crossing from either body to the other unchecked. Great Lakes fishermen are pretty irritated about the time-line of the study which will take until 2015.

"Too little, too late," is what local fishermen and environmentalists are saying about a $25 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of the possible separation of the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds.

The study, to conclude in 2015, is designed to provide Congress with feasible options for separating the watersheds to prevent transfer of aquatic nuisance species, including Asian carp.

So basically John Goss is making his Great Lakes tour, trying to project a sense of urgency to solve the problem pointing that the administration has already installed new fencing to keep the fish from making their way to Lake Michigan when rivers overflow during flooding, and they've installed a third electric barrier.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Legislating by the Lowest Common Denominator


So here's the thing.

Kucinich suing over an olive pit in his sandwich is idiotic. And it makes opponents to tort reform look pretty damn silly.

But here's an article about a 5 year old kid who dropped a loaded .22 in his pre-school class and, yeah, that makes opponents to gun control look really really really really damn silly.

In both cases we're sort of looking at the lowest common denominator in a specific issue. Kucinich, a wealthy and well insured congressman sueuing for a hefty sum over biting into an olive pit...and somebody leaving a loaded handgun where a 5 year old can get it and bring it to school.

In both cases, depending on your political bent, they're cause to ponder certain laws to restrain idiots from being idiots. And in both cases, the law would be reactionary to stop the lowest common denominator from being a complete idiot with the system.

But doing so would prevent sane people, the majority of Americans who are responsible and thoughtful and sane, from exercising their rights within a reasonable framework for reasonable purpose. We can further restrict an American's right to sue based on the actions of a hyper litigous person, just like we can restrict gun ownership and child safety laws based on the actions of a hyper irresponsible person...

...though in both cases the laws meant to correct the problem would be based on addressing the behavior of the very lowest common denominator.

However we address issues of our day, the method should be codified for the sake of consistency, so that our legal structure is based on a consistent methodology rather than the changing whims of political agenda...if we're going to legislate based on the lowest common denominator, we should apply that method to all laws regardless of political ideology.

Cherries (and olives) have pits

My whole life my father has told me this from time to time:

"Son...Cherries have pits. Chew pie slowly."

Probably something Representative Dennis Kicinich should have been told growing up, considering he's suing a congressional cafe over a sandwich that contained an olive with a pit. Maybe if he was broke and didn't have full tax funded dental insurance, maybe, MAYBE I'd be sympathetic to his plight. But he isn't and he does.

In Michigan, the law goes something like this "cherries should be assumed to have pits." I can only imagine the same goes for olives.

What sort of thing is this lawsuit going to do? It's not going create a scenario where the occasional olive with a pit isn't going to make it into a sandwich.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Michigan Second in America for Dairy Production and Diversity of Crops

When I think of Michigan, one of the first things that comes to mind is the huge farmer's market here in Muskegon. Actually, there are several. And several times per week.


When I think of Michigan, I think of fresh fruit by the half bushel. I think a dozen varieties of cherries, I think dozens if varieties of apples in the fall, I think plums, blueberries, pears, peaches, strawberries, raspberries, and farmers who grow 30 some odd varieties of hot peppers and line them up in order of heat. I think asparagus.

Michigan, as it turns out, ranks second in America for variety of crops. Varietye of crops is underscored in Western Michigan where Lake Michigan creates micro-climates ideal for fruit growing.

Agriculture is a major part of Michigan's economy:

Food processing generates about $25 billion in economic activity in Michigan and employees 134,000 workers. A total of 1 million people — or about 25 percent of the work force — are employed in the state’s $71 billion agriculture industry, which leads the nation in the production of blueberries, beans, tart cherries, cucumbers and squash, with carrots, celery, apples and asparagus ranking second and third. Michigan also is second in the nation in the production of dairy products.


Much of this ties back into the theme of allowing individuals to have the means of production, and reducing regulations whose effect is to shut small time producers out of the pool.

Michigan's new cottage food operation law allows individuals to process foods, such as jams and breads, without a state license or a commercial kitchen up to $15,000 per year, opening a new avenue for Michigan to start competing in the trade of food processing as well as food production.

Michigan is also second in America for dairy production. A relaxing of pasteurization law would allow more small time cheese makers and dairies that cannot afford the equipment to comply with current would also allow an renaissance in cheese production in American and Michigan. Nations like France and England are far more relaxed with their pasteurization and life expectancy in those nations seems to be doing just fine. Laws like these serve only to sideline small dairy producers.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Granting the means of production: good beer, strong middle class

Here's a fine example of providing people a means of production and thereby offering social mobility.

In 1978 the US Congress and the Carter administration relaxed Federal laws on home-brewing beverages with an alcohol content higher than .5%...and thus began a new era in American beer. I don't need to remind folks that for half a century US beer, dominated by a few monolithic breweries, was an international joke.

But that small tweak top to the law in 1978 is one of the main reasons why I'm sitting at my computer tonight drinking a bottle of Founder's Dirty Bastard Ale from Grand Rapids, Michigan instead of a Budweiser. That's one of the reasons there's been an explosion of Michigan beers: Bell's, Founders, New Holland Brewery, Dark Horse, and still more local breweries that sell only in-house like Ol' Boy's tavern and Odd Side Ales in Grand Haven just 5 minutes to the south of me.

The beer renaissance has created jobs and a sense of pride in West Michigan. Some of the beers, most notably Bell's and Founders, have received national attention and the breweries are expanding to meet national demand for the excellent beers.

One change in the law, one restriction to the Small Guy was tweaked to allow people to legally experiment with beer production in their basement and it has grown to new industries from the bottom, up.

This is the heart of providing regular people the means of production.

The means to produce, to innovate, to create new industries and compete.

Michigan recently passed a law exempting small bakers and jam makers who make under $15,000 a year from requiring a state license or even a commercial kitchen to legally sell their goods. All they need is the means to produce bread at home.

These are the types of small steps that have huge impacts down the line.

There are countless insidious laws that were passed over the decades whose function is to slam the door on regular people having the means of production.

Distilling spirits is illegal, and procuring a license to do so requires the means to produce more then 10,000 cases of liquor, essentially sidelining small producers from competing. If toxic booze is the concern, there are far better ways to deal with this that don't remove a massive percentage of the US populace from the competitive pool.

Same with milk and dairy production. Federal requirements for pasteurization requires equipment prohibitively expensive to a small time dairy, or cheese producer.

Giving Americans the means of production is the single most important thing we can do to unchain middle class and lower class Americans from their fealty to larger corporations and lower wages, and give the larger corporations some much needed competition from the bottom for better quality goods for the rest of us.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Winter, Friends and Beer

I've had some transcendent beer experiences in the past week with some pals. I'm sure it's a mix of the beer itself and the good company, drinking beer inside on a snowy winters' evening. Tonight I met with some pals at a bar as the snow poured down and the roads quickly frosted over. Beer was the occasion. The bar had just gotten in some new Dark Horse Beer from Marshall, MI, and we had to go give it a try.

The funny thing is, there's enough excellent local beers popping up it's possible for small groups like ours to find bars carrying new local beers and make it an occasion to get together a couple times a month to try some new beers.

There's been some of excellent Michigan beers fermenting on the Western side of the state along the lakeshore. Most notably Founder's Brewing Company in Grand Rapids and Bell's Inc. in Kalamazoo, both of which were included in Paste Magazine's list of top-25 Best American Breweries of the decade. I'm not sure what Paste Magazine is...but what the hell. They're in somebody's top 25 new brewing companies out of other National beers, with Founder's coming in at 5th and Bell's coming in at 11th. And that's good.

And last night I had some incredible beer at a new restaurant in down town Muskegon...the beer is called Dragon's Milk from the New Holland Brewing Company.

The wife and I sat with friends over a couple pints in this new restaurant as snow fell like constellations of stars from the dark winter sky and our little ones munched on french fries and rosemary bread and lamb stew and played tic-tac-toe.

Winter and beer and friends go so well together.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

First Michigan Made Utility Scale Wind Turbine Installed in McBain, MI Wind Farm

For all the haters and doubters out there, and for all the renewable power fans out there, and for all the supporters of green manufacturing out there, the Stony Corners wind farm in McBain, Michigan has installed the first Michigan Made utility scale wind turbine.

Merrill Technologies Group, located in Saginaw, Michigan, manufactured the 2.2 MW wind turbine.

Although a company of Vermont owns the design, the turbine is being assembled in Michigan. The 136,000-ton machine has blades extending 150 feet and will be placed on a tower nearly 300 feet high at the Stoney Corners wind farm in McBain, southeast of Cadillac. It will be used to test the advantages of direct-drive technology in comparison to alternative designs, Merrill said.

The ability to produce the wind machine is a result of Merrill’s diversification, said Nate Jonker, public affairs official for the company. Merrill, which began as a General Motors supplier, has four manufacturing divisions that produce components for a variety of industries.

This is the perfect union of clean, green energy and job creator in the state of Michigan. We're well on our way to having the means to produce our own turbines and our own power.

The Pure Michigan Campaign Helps Vault Michigan to the Most Active Tourism Web Presence in America

Michigan rules the web, apparently, as a tourist destination.

According to Gammet Interactive, a resource that helps tourism organizations with the development of internet and social media marketing programs, Michigan as a destination has the biggest web presence in the country.


Using Facebook, Twitter, Google searches, traffic on state tourism websites, and more, Gammet measured how social each state's destination marketing organization — in Michigan's case the Pure Michigan site — was on the web.

The ranking was for the fourth quarter of 2010 and is the seventh time Michigan has come out on top.

Just one more reason the Pure Michigan campaign needs to be kept. Pure Michigan is a national marketing campaign that was launched in 2006 to boost Michigan's tourism. It's been successful as heck, ranked by Forbes Magazine as one of the all time ten best travel campaigns. Michigan is viewed by much of the country as an industrial rust belt state, not the Great Lakes State with more coastline than any other state besides Alaska, a place with sugar sand beaches, and one of the rare places with singing sands.

Not surprisingly, Republican political figures have objected to the successful campaign. It's going to be a tough couple of funding years for the Pure Michigan campaign...but hopefully continued news about the program's success will keep it going for a long time to come.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Muskegon ice fishermen assaulted with fish

Ice fishing, like hockey, is a full contact sport apparently.

Just outside my parents house on Black Lake there was an ice fishing altercation in which a women assaulted two men with fish. I arrived at my parents' home to pick up my children to find a TV News crew walking into the house to interview my father about the brutal fish attack.

Here's what the papers had to say...

Gale said officers were called to the lake by one of the men who claimed they were assaulted by “a female wielding a fish.”

The men, both in their early 20s, said they were ice fishing in a shanty when they were approached by a woman who “wanted to urinate on the ice,” Gale said.
“The woman said to turn their heads while she urinated. While their backs were turned the woman struck the first complainant in the head with a fish,” Gale said. “The female then approached them and struck the other man across the face with a fish.”

If I'm not mistaken, this is one of the signs of the apocalypse.

What's Industrial Policy?

Is it just me or is it slightly ironic to look at the economic directions of China vs. the US and suggest that the US's problem is that there's TOO MUCH Federal involvement in the US economy?

On one hand we have a booming economy that's aggressively luring industry, discouraging offshoring, and investing in the next generation of power generation.

And on the other hand we have a stalled economy with no Industrial policy at all and in fact rewards businesses for shipping jobs overseas.

This is what we call "cognitive dissonance"

An article in the Huffington post asks and answers an important fundamental question after suggesting the US needs an industrial policy, and that's simply...

What is an industrial policy?

What is an industrial policy, exactly? In the United States, it would entail a sustained program to encourage homegrown industry. It would include a more assertive trade policy (you block our goods, we'll block yours), but also such things as chartering a national development bank, ending the favorable treatment of foreign investments, creating new tax credits for research and development, and actively discouraging offshoring, for starters.

Basically, what overarching strategy does the US have as a way to encourage manufacturing and business?

Right now?

None. The US has no strategy. Right now the strategy is to do just the opposite and hope purchasing power parity, or goods that can be made elsewhere and then bought cheaper here, makes up for lost jobs and declining wages.

But alas...most US companies now shipping jobs to China no longer even seek to sell here. The market here is saturated. Instead they're looking to other markets and other nations. That means our jobs are leaving to china, but our good aren't getting cheaper anymore.

China has a great strategy for promoting and luring manufacturing and industry. The US has NO strategy.

Time to change that.

Snow day

The boy's school has been canceled today on account of snow.

I gotta say, though. The snow is deep but not that deep. And it's cold but not that cold. In fact it's downright warm, approaching 32 degrees. A balmy winter day. Though it's possible my standard of deep snow has changed from when I was 4 feet tall.

Why, back in my day, it seemed like the world had to crack in half, the snow had to be 47 feet high, the roads had to be glazed in an inch of ice before the school system would allow us to have a snow day. We had them once in a while.

But I clearly remember it.

I remember countless winter mornings when the snow poured from the sky like millions of tiny down feathers. My brother and I slowly at our coco-wheats, staring at the morning news or listening close to the radio for fear we might miss mention of our school system.

Today my son has a snow day. Though this time around there wasn't a radio announcement. At 6 AM I got a recorded call from the school system letting me know that school had been canceled.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Over 70 invasive species making their way to the Great Lakes

The lessons we should learn from the Asian Carps threat is that if we want to slow the rate at which the Great Lakes are threatened by invasive species, we need to act years earlier. It's not like we didn't know for the better part of a decade that Asian carps were swimming up the Mississippi and could enter Lake Michigan from the Chicago canal. We just didn't do much about it.

It would be a mistake to believe that the Asian carps are the only new creatures out there that are making their way to the Great Lakes and it would be an even bigger mistake not to take action early.

There are over 70 species that pose a known future threat to the Great Lakes as they make their ways closer to Great Lakes waters, including the northern snakehead that has already infested rivers and streams in Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and Maryland. That's the guy that grows up to three feet long, breathes air, and can squirm over land from one body of water to another.

Invasive species are an urgent concern...definitely something our representatives need to take more seriously.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Unprecedented Great Lakes Restoration on the Chopping Block

When World War II tore the world apart, Muskegon was there for the United States as factories worked 24/7 and the city swelled beyond its own housing capacity. The housing shortage forced the workers to rent sleeping arangements in 8 hour shifts. Meanwhile the factories belched smoke, stoking the fires of industry with coal, discharching coal ash and heavy metals into the land and into the waterways.

That's been the price of industry.

Heavy pollution and 11,000 toxic spots in the State of Michigan from its industrial legacy: Mercury, lead, cadmium, PCBs. The state's dwindling resources have made clean-up efforts look bleak, especially in areas where drinking water quality is affected. So Obama's annual $450 million Great Lakes Restoration funding was something of an unprecedented godsend.

But of course it's one of the first things on the budget cutting chopping block.

The Obama administration called for billions in funding for Great Lakes restoration to be doled out in annual sums of around $475 million for five years.

When I say this is an unprecedented effort to clean up toxic spots and beat back the effects of invasive species and restore wetland areas, I mean UNPRECEDENTED. The Great Lakes, the blue gem set in the North American continent has been abused and ignored and plundered for the centuries Westerners had known of its existence. And for the first time, one of our presidents decided to take some serious, aggressive action to clean it up, restore the damage that had been done after a century in the center of America's heavy industry belt.

If folks wonder why I'd been a fan of the President...THIS initiative was among the big five reasons. I can't express how amazing and unappreciated this restoration goal was. But it never escaped my notice.

And now it's endangered by the Tea Party mentality in the US House of Representatives.

New political realities in Washington may reduce funding for cleanup and restoration projects in the Great Lakes region.

The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, an unprecedented five-year program proposed by the Obama administration in 2009 to spend $475 million annually to remediate, restore and revive the region’s most environmentally damaged areas — or Areas of Concern — was met last year with much optimism among state and local environmental groups and officials.

In 2010, the full $475 million was allocated to the program, with hundreds of projects across the region’s seven states being funded.

This year, noting a new cash-conscious Congress, the administration is proposing $300 million for the program, a figure that could decrease more as Congress works the next few months to craft a budget for this fiscal year.

This is, to say the least...a bummer.

It's a major bummer.

It's the sort of thing that makes me want to smash things, but it's pretty snowy outside and cold and I don't generally chop wood in the winter cuz I've already chopped the wood that needs chopping. So my smashing outlet is gone, so all I have left to do is blog about it.

Cities and states are strapped for money and the grim reality is that some regions rely on pollution controls and clean-up efforts to have drinkable water...usually some of the hardest hit regions. Regions that have been chewed up and spit out.

The State of Michigan is already facing a crisis with its clean up funding. Reducing the Great Lakes Restoration initiative is going to put further strain on that effort.

That, my friends, is what's known as trickle down economics...Fed Cuts so the states have to shoulder the cost, the State can't shoulder the cost, so the regular citizens need to shoulder the consequences.

Canada makes another pass at Michigan to build the DRIC bridge

A nice article on the Detroit River International Crossing .

It's an article written by Roy Norton, Canada's ambassador to Michigan as he tries to clear the air of suspicion about the bridge.

It basically goes like this "Hey, Detroit-Windsor is the busiest commercial border crossing in North America. We want a new bridge, and so does the US Government, and so do many of your businesses. We'll pay for most of it! And you won't owe us a thing, AND we'll split the ownership!"

One would imagine that Michigan would be glad to expand our role as the biggest thoroughfare to our largest importing and exporting partner, and that we'd embrace the 10,000 bridge-building jobs it would create.

And one would be wrong because one has not factored in the Tea-Party think and fears that an infrastructure project that would benefit the state enormously would actually **gasp** cost money, or that the $550 million Canada is offering to kick in for the bride amounts to foreign aid,

...and of course there's the little matter of a major republican donor, Matty Moroun, who owns the Ambassador Bridge which currently holds a monopoly on commercial traffic between Canada and the US in the Detroit-Windsor area....apparently he's not keen on the idea of a second bridge.

With a new governor, a new house and senate, the battle to build an additional thoroughfare at the busiest commercial border crossing in North America starts back at the beginning.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Tonight I'm baking a bit more bread and finishing up some soap I've recently made.

Making soap is ridiculously easy while producing a ridiculous amount of soap.

If you're into hording for the coming zombie apocolypse, making soap is an economical way to enable your own personal insanity. And it's cheap.

It's one of those things you learned about in high school economics where a cost-benefit analysis is supposed to show you that it's not worth your time to do X yourself.

But as it turns out, soap kind of is worth it. Anything that you can do while watching a couple episodes of Lost that saves you cash and shopping time over the course of the year is worth considering if you're int the market to keep your money in your pocket.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Words that heal, rather than words that wound

I find myself withdrawing a bit lately from some of my favorite blog-o-haunts, and the assassination attempt on Representative Giffords last week that left five people dead set off reactions that really reinforced some of my feelings of distance from various online communities.

Within the first hours of the news I admit I engaged in finger pointing. I felt the caustic media tone from the Becks to the Angles and Palins had once again manifested in a deadly outburst.

And I suppose I still do.........

...and rather than seeing less of that, I've been seeing more suddenly. I've seen flair-ups of that all over, as people come out of the woodwork in comment threads to scream at one another that it's liberals' fault, that it's conservatives' fault, back and forth and back and forth.

There's a rash of ass covering, coming up with reasons to blame ideologies, sanctimony about dire predictions having been confirmed, trails leading from statements to violence, dredging up old grievances, wrongs, any mention of this or that pulled from the ground to conflate equivalencies or paint individuals or ideas or representatives as vile, or some even deserving of what they got.

Screaming and screaming and screaming and in the middle of it there were few actual just plain old calls for civility.

If this sort of activity is what it takes to choose a side and promote what I feel is best for America, I guess I'm not interested. I guess I don't care who started the vitriol. I only care who ends it.

I have a vision for my country. I want people who live here to prosper and lead full, productive lives and be all they can. And that's what I want. And I am good friends with people and have family members with people on all ends of the political spectrum. And I LIKE them. I AGREE with them on so many things. I find them caring, and funny, and fun to be around. And they're GOOD people. And they're SMART people. And they're REASONABLE people. I find insults to groups they belong to to be uncomfortable.

I'm very happy with our leadership today. I'm very proud of the Obama administration keeping its cool and acting the part of the voice of reason.'s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds...


More of that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Don't Buy Chinese [Solar Panels] Clause in the Military Authorization Law

Ah yes, another win for green manufacturing and yet another victory from the productive 111th congress lame duck session...

The military authorization law signed by President Obama on Friday contains a little-noticed “Buy American” provision for the Defense Department purchases of solar panels — a provision that is likely to dismay Chinese officials as President Hu Jintao prepares to visit the United States next week.

The new Military authorization law contains a Buy American (generally speaking) clause, requiring that any solar panels purchased by the military, and the military is quite the purchaser of solar panels, be purchased from US companies.


Now to be more detailed, it's not purely a Buy American clause, though it's effectively that. There's a work-around that more or less amount to that, though, in that it restricts purchasing from China while staying compliance with WTO rules:

Two prominent trade lawyers said in e-mails over the weekend that the law’s language meant that in practice, the Defense Department must buy solar panels from any country that signs the W.T.O.’s side agreement on government procurement. Earlier American trade laws require compliance with that agreement.

Virtually all industrialized countries have signed the side agreement, which requires free trade in government purchases. China vowed to sign it as soon as possible when it joined the W.T.O. in November 2001, but still has not done so.


Inland Chinese provinces and cities have strongly lobbied Beijing not to sign the agreement because they want to retain the legal right to continue steering government contracts to local companies, said a trade policy adviser to the Chinese government who insisted on anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the issue.

It's nice to see the Obama administration taking a more determined stance against China's one-sided trade practices in the realm of renewable energy. For one reason, these new technologies need to be nurtured in a fair and safe environment if the US intends to be competitive in them in the long run. And another reason, it's high time China be called out on its own protectionist crap with a stern school-marmish ruler across the knuckles.

The solar panel provision in the defense appropriations law comes as President Obama has ordered a broad investigation into whether Chinese export subsidies, local content requirements and other rules have violated W.T.O. rules. As a result of the investigation, the United States started a W.T.O. case on Dec. 22 against what it said were Chinese wind turbine manufacturing subsidies.

American trade officials said then that they were still examining other Chinese clean-energy subsidy policies to decide whether to file additional W.T.O. cases.

Michigan one of the fastest growing producers of solar cells i America, an industry growing even faster in the state than the production of wind turbine parts...which also seems like it's going to have some protections soon.

This new Buy American law is going to directly benefit the manufacturing states.

Along the same topic...Hey look! Ford is installing a massive 500 kw solar array into one of its Michigan automobile plants. It's estimated that it will save the company 116 grand.

When the plant is inactive, such as holidays, the collected solar energy will go into the energy storage system for later use, providing power during periods of insufficient or inconsistent sunlight, says Ford. In addition, the energy storage system will be able to recharge from the grid during off-peak hours when energy is available at a lower cost.

The combined systems are expected to save an estimated $160,000 per year in energy costs. Installation of the system begins later this year.


Sunday, January 9, 2011

The future success of the electric car is in our blood now

Electric cars are here, and likely here to stay in 2011. Competing directly with the 100% electric Nissan Leaf, the Ford Focus Electric will be hitting the market in late 2011: a 100% electric car with a 100 mile driving range that charges twice as fast as the Nissan Leaf with liquid heated and cooled batteries to allow it to drive in a greater range of temperatures than the Leaf.

Tesla, the exciting electric car start-up in California, latched on to an established auto brand and is teaming up with Toyota to beef up and bring to market the RAV4 electric SUV by 2012...a beautiful car.

And of course there's the Chevy Volt which takes a strategy closer to the Prius strategy: a plug in electric car with a 50 mile battery-only range, which can then be charged while driving with an on-board gas powered generator.

It's a new world out there and electric cars are hitting general markets this year, and the US government is backing the transition at the infrastructure level.

A company received received a grant to install 20 charging stations in Muskegon alone in anticipation of the emergence of electric cars. 350 in Michigan...and it's happening across America.

Think of them as the 21st century version of the gas station. Only instead of sticking a gas pump into a vehicle, customers will use a cord to plug their vehicles into electric charging stations.

To prepare for the onslaught of electric cars — the General Motors Chevy Volt will be available here around springtime — Muskegon County is planning to install 20 electric charging stations at various locations.


[ChargePoint America] received a $35 million “stimulus” grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to introduce the charging stations in nine regions across the country, including southern Michigan.

Michigan also received $1 billion out of $2 billion dollars in federal grants designed to lure advanced battery manufacturing to the US and to Michigan. Muskegon's new advanced battery manufacturing facility will employ up to 750 people, and the facility in Holland,Michigan just 20 miles south of here is set to employ 40 people.

The future and success of the electric car is getting into our blood. It's something that will put food on our tables, and give us a sense of pride and ownership.

Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

Ford hits the electric car market with the Ford Focus Electric

Neat! Ford leaps into the electric car market with the Ford Focus Electric, to hit the market later this year. A full electric vehicle with a 100 mile range and charges faster than the Nissan Leaf with liquid cooled and heated batteries allowing the car to operate at a greater range of temperatures than the Leaf.

The all-electric version of the popular Ford Focus is set to be launched in 19 markets in late 2011. The 100 mile range, five door hatchback provides many features that make it an enticing EV package, including higher speed charging, highly customizable displays, and liquid cooled/heated batteries.


What are those 19 markets?

According to a Ford press release, at launch in late 2011 the Focus Electric will be available to consumers in Atlanta, GA; Austin and Houston, TX; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Denver, CO; Detroit, MI; Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, CA; New York, NY; Orlando, FL; Phoenix and Tucson, AZ; Portland, OR; Raleigh Durham, NC; Richmond, VA; Seattle, WA; and Washington, D.C.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Asian Carp DNA Found: Nothing Between Them and Great Lakes

The thing I've heard about capitalism and business for most of my life is how dynamic it is as a system of distributing goods and services. Far more adaptable and dynamic than, for example, the lake sturgeon...a creature with a very long reproductive cycle and dependent on clean waterways and safe spawning areas. I would hope capitalism is more rapidly adaptive than, for example, a salamander mussel or the protected Michigan lady slipper orchid. I would hope.

Yet we tread so softly around commercial interests when there's a conflict between business and ecology as though capitalism is the more delicate dance. Breathe on it too hard, look at it funny, hurt the feelings of the CEOs and it's going to crumble to dust.

We've seen these priorities play out in the fight to keep Asian carps out of the Great Lakes as national leadership drags its feet on taking decisive, potent steps to halt the threat for fear of pausing a relatively small shipping interest.

And now, it seems, there's clear evidence Asian carps have spread to Lake Michigan.

The answer was pretty simple: close the locks of the Chicago shipping canal and build a mound of dirt, or berm, on the land between the Calument River and Lake Michigan.

Easy. Elegant.

That door there? Close it.

Michigan wanted it closed. So did Wisconsin, and Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and New York, and Minnesota, and Canada.

Who didn't want it closed? Mayor Daley of Chicago and a couple of shipping companies.

And now it's likely too late. The argument was "consider the shipping companies!" and now the argument is bound to be "well, it's too late now!"

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Scientists whose genetics-based research became a lightning rod in the debate over protecting the Great Lakes from Asian carp have made their case in a newly published article that says at least some of the dreaded invaders have gotten beyond an electric barrier meant to block their path to Lake Michigan.

In the paper released Wednesday, the four-member team reports Asian carp DNA was detected in 58 water samples taken from Chicago-area rivers and canals past the barrier over nearly a year. They caution that while the findings suggest the presence of live bighead and silver carp, it's unclear how many were in the waterways because individual fish could be responsible for multiple positive hits.

What's at stake? The remains of a what precarious ecological balance the Great Lakes has, the rare and struggling native species in the rivers and streams, and of course a 7 billion dollar Great Lakes fishing industry.

It really is the same old story repeated time after time.

When the St. Lawrence Seaway was opened, alarms were eventually sounded that ballast water of incoming ocean-faring vessels were introducing invasive species into the Great Lakes at an astonishing rate. The warning was sounded nearly a decade that these ships were loaded with zebra mussel larvae, but the reports were tabled. The oversight was loopholed away, or deferred, or ignored. Then, in 1988 zebra mussels were introduced into the Great Lakes and spread like wildfire...of course they would. 1 female can release up to a million larvae.

The mussels spread from one ship in the Great Lakes across America in just 20 years...all because a single agency couldn't find it in its heart to make shipping companies adapt to more stringent ballast water cleansing requirements.

They chose to make countless aquatic species nationwide adapt because asking the free-market to do so is forbidden...even though adapting is supposedly the capitalism's strong suit.

It's a damn shame. A tragedy. Perfectly predictable and entirely preventable. But for the lack of will to do it. Eventually, Ocean-faring shipping companies will load up on ballast water here in the Great Lakes and then carry the Asian Carps to other ports around the world, South America and Europe.

The State of New York has the right idea. They're looking to unilaterally create strict ballast water requirements. And since they are a thoroughfare for the St. Lawrence Seaway those requirements will be in effect by default for the rest of the states.

A New York State Supreme Court Justice dismissed a challenge brought by shipping interests against the state’s tough new ballast water requirements, which are designed to limit the introduction of more invasive species into the Great Lakes. Legal experts at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and National Wildlife Federation (NWF) hail the win as a huge victory for states in the region that have taken an aggressive stand to limit dumping of water containing biological pollution from ocean going vessels. Alien species have already cost the Great Lakes economy billions of dollars.

“These rules don’t just protect the ecosystem, they help defend multi-billion dollar tourism, fishing, and recreational boating industries in New York and throughout the Great Lakes,” said Thom Cmar, an attorney at NRDC. “New York is facing an alien invasion of its waters. By putting up these rules as a strong first line of defense, the state has joined Michigan and California as leaders in the fight to protect our waterways. It is time for the federal government to step up and join them.”

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Asian Carp May Already Be in the Great Lakes

Some sinking news as our representatives stall and drag their feet on taking serious steps to stop the spread of the Asian carps.

Scientists have published a paper defending their contention that DNA evidence shows Asian carp have gotten past an electric barrier designed to keep them out of the Great Lakes.

The paper is being released Wednesday by a journal called Conservation Letters. It describes how biologists with the University of Notre Dame and The Nature Conservancy gathered more than 1,000 samples from waterways near Chicago. Of those, 58 contained DNA from Asian carp and were taken beyond the barrier.

Sadly, now the argument is going to move from "What about the ships?" to "Oh, but they're already in the use closing the locks now."


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Letting the Sunlight Through the Canopy to New Growth

My wife. She's a good lady.

I went walking through the woods like I do on a snowy day. The wind was blasting me, even through the wool hat my lady knit for me with the words "hold on to your hat" knit beneath the fold-up brim in forest green. But when I got over the first ridge of dunes into the hollows between, sheltered from the wind, it was downright pleasant. Calm. Though the leafless trees above waved and swayed and reported a turbulent world above, down below I was sheltered in still air, and I walked through the snowy woods like I do.

I saw a cluster of new, sapling beech trees in an area where several larger trees had fallen. A massive beech, several small oaks and a large pine. something fell over and like dominoes took the lot of other trees with it.

Yet, here, by the decaying, moss covered fallen trees were hundreds of tiny two foot tall beech saplings.

I stood by the saplings for a long while, watching them. Looking around. No other area in the woods nearby had such a large population and cluster of saplings. Why here? In this one area. In such a dense cluster while the rest of the woods are filled with tall branchless beeches winding up in smooth gray trunks until the canopy 30 feet above?

I stood in the warm winter snow pondering the patch of tiny beech trees.

Then looked up.

The massive fallen trees had formed a clearing in the canopy above.

The fallen growth of the massive trees, you see, had allowed new growth to set in.

Throughout the woods the older trees reach into the sky and grab the sunlight, and little lives below but the general ground-cover and ferns. And where the sunlight is blocked, the woods are uniform in flora, and size of tree.

Where diversity in size forms is around fallen trees. When the giants of the woods have fallen, suddenly the standard life changes. A hole in the canopy lets light in, moss forms on the fallen trees, lichen, ferns and shelf fungus of brown and bright orange feast on the rotting wood and the sunlight feeds a space that had been starved for decades.

As I walked on, I found a similarly shaped patch of small green plants surrounded by snow, with an pile of fallen trees across the foot path. The new ground-cover as predicted corresponded to a set of fallen trees and an exposed canopy.

I picked a sprig of the strange plant and brought it home, and spend the evening trying to classify it, but didn't get very far.

I left the plant on the table, and the next day my wife found it

"What's this?"

"I don't know. I found it. I tried to find out what it was, but no luck."

She pulled the Audubon Society field guides and the American Horticultural Society "Plants for every Season" from the shelves and set to work.

We ate tomato soup together, the family, and grilled cheese sandwiches, leafing through Autumn flowering plants. And as I bit into my grilled cheese she said "calluna vulgaris. It's heather. Fine leaved heather."


Monday, January 3, 2011

New York to Implement Hard Core Ballast Water Restrictions: Environmentalists Cheer. Shipping Companies Cry

I gotta say, I love this new environmental law that may be implemented by the state of New York: higher ballast water regulations for ocean-faring vessels

a rule promulgated by New York's Department of Environmental Conservation that sets what many in the maritime industry consider an impossibly high standard for the purity of the ballast water carried by ships. The goal of the regulation is to curtail the introduction of harmful non-native fish and other organisms that disrupt the ecological balance of the Great Lakes.

Interlake's ships stay in the Great Lakes, but enforcement of the regulation would prevent passage into and out of the Great Lakes by any ship that doesn't meet the standard, labor leaders, port directors and shippers say. Failure to meet the standard would prevent ships from entering New York waters; that includes locks that ocean- going vessels must transit on their way to and from the Great Lakes.

Considering this is the largest thoroughfare for introducing new and destructive species into the Great Lakes, this is a fantastic move.

Of course the shipping companies are having fits about it, and I take those fits seriously. Shipping on the Great Lakes and access to international shipping from harbors in Great Lakes states is a draw for many manufacturers and businesses in the area that's already hit by high unemployment and a shrinking manufacturing base, with a U6 unemployment level of over 20% in Michigan.

I'd hate to see the region's economic situation hurt even further from this type of law...though considering the amount we spend on battling invasive species (see the previous blog entry) from quagga and zebra mussels to sea lamprey, it may in the long run cost us more to allow these ships through than we get from economic activity.

I would like to see some Federal or state help for the shipping industries to comply with stricter regulations if in fact it turns out they really can't afford to comply. We gotta make 'em squirm first, though. Those that can afford to comply will get to be the dominant shipping companies in the region...and in the long run, we'll shut off the leading vector for invasive species.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Breakthrough Weapon to Fight the Great Lakes Blood Suckers

A new tool in the battle against sea lamprey shows promise: specific scents to lure or repel lamprey to get them to go where you want so you have an easier time poisoning them. The goal is to keep the sea lamprey at bay to protect the native fish and the 7 billion dollar a year fishing Great Lakes fishing industry.

In the never-ending battle to prevent blood-sucking sea lamprey from wiping out some of the most popular fish species in the Great Lakes, biologists are developing new weapons that exploit three certainties in the eel-like parasites' lives: birth, sex and death.

Researchers are beginning the third and final year of testing lab-refined mating pheromones — scents emitted by male lampreys to attract females. They're also working on a mixture with the stench of rotting lamprey flesh, which live ones detest, and another that smells of baby lampreys, which adults love. If proven effective, the chemicals will be deployed across the region to steer the aquatic vermin to where they can be trapped or killed.

Sea lamprey have been rising in numbers in Lake Michigan and in Lake Superior once again despite a cost of $21 million per year to control the blood sucking varmints, so this is welcome news.

The eel-like, blood-sucking, fish-killing sea lamprey is making an unexpected comeback on Lake Superior.

Lamprey numbers have exploded -- nearly doubling in western Lake Superior -- during the past year as state and federal biologists try to determine whether the increase is a temporary spike or a major problem for lake trout and other fish.

And scientists are starting to battle lamprey larvae in new locations, including in the lake itself and not just in streams.

Crews trapped 9,478 lamprey in the Brule River lamprey trap this year, three times last year's catch and the most ever in the barrier's 20-year history, said Mike Seider, Lake Superior fish biologist for the Wisconsin DNR.

"It's not just the trapping numbers," he said. Lamprey-caused wounds also are up, especially on the larger trout to which lamprey attach. In the lake's western area, the number of lamprey scars on big lake trout is up more than 400 percent -- 26.9 scars per 100 trout compared to 6.4 per 100 trout last year.

They entered Lake Ontario from the Atlantic via the Erie Canal in 1825, and made their way into Erie and the upper Great Lakes via the Welland Canal in 1919, and from there their populations exploded.

To get an idea of why we work so hard and spend so much to control the sea lamprey:

Sea lampreys feasted on lake trout...

Lake trout were the staple of the great Lakes commercial fishery before sea lamprey invaded. Anglers harvested some 15 million pounds of lake trout each year in Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior. By the early 1960s, the lake trout catch dropped to 300,000 pounds. The lake trout harvest in Lake Huron dropped from 3.5 million pounds in 1935 to 1000 pounds in 1949. The catch in Lake Michigan dropped from 5.5 million pounds in 1946 to 402 pounds in 1953. In Lake Superior, the catch dropped from an average of 4.5 million pounds annually to 368,000 pounds in 1961. An unsightly fish with no commercial value was making quick work of the most valuable sector of the Great Lakes commercial fishery, lake trout.

-- Jeff Alexander, Pandora's Locks

It takes a massive, annual effort to beat back the sea lamprey and keep them in check. They spawn in rivers and streams, with the females laying over 60,000 eggs each. There's really no hope of full eradication.

Let's put this into perspective. Michigan alone has 3,288 miles of coastline, plus thousands more miles of river systems.

If ONE fertilized female survived anywhere in the the tens of thousands of miles of coastline and river systems everywhere in the Great Lakes, we'd be right back where we started.

We're never going to get rid of the sea lamprey. The best we can hope to do is control it. And the moment we stop finding ways to control the sea lamprey, or some crazed deficit hawk thinks cutting the control program is a good idea, the animal will come back in force to eradicate native species and the 7 billion dollar Great Lakes fishing industry.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Multigenerational households on the rise

The wife and I were recently discussing the number of people in their mid 20s to 30s that we know who have recently moved back in with their parents. All of them did so out of necessity...they had lost jobs in other parts of the nation and moved back to their place of birth.

As it turns out, it wasn't our imaginations.

Multi-generational households are on a dramatic rise in the United States. That is, households with more than one adult generation living under one roof.

Today, 49 million Americans - one in six - live in a home with at least two adult generations, or a grandparent and one other generation. That's 21 million more than in 1980.

A 133% rise in multigenerational households in the past 30 years is a significant number, considering a previous trend downward for most of a century prior...and compared to the less than 50% increase in the general US population.

A rise in multigenerational households is not a sign of increasing prosperity. Living with ones parents at an increasing rate isn't something an increasingly prosperous people do. It's a sign of a contraction. People consolidating.

Americans are consolidating. And have been more and more for the past 30 years.

This is a symptom of a trend that can be reversed, stretching from the dawn of trickle down economics.