Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cutting Lamprey Control Funding is a Disastrous, Costly Mistake

Obama's new budget is proposing $3 million in cuts to the $18 million dollar lamprey eel control program: the only thing keeping the lamprey eels from devastating fish stocks in the Great Lakes again.

These are the same eels that collapsed the fish populations in the Great Lakes in the space of just 9 years.

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

We're way beyond the point that the Great Lakes are going to have a naturally ocurring ecological balance resembling what it originally was. It's too late for that. In the past 100 years we've let in hudreds of invasive species, we've created locks and channels and joined the Great Lakes watershed with the Mississippi watershed.

There's no going back to what things were once.

All we can hope for now is to make it something that we like, and something that gives native species a good sporting change of surviving. As it happens, we have managed to achieve something resembling a balance through hard work and constant investment, and it yields a 7 billion dollar fishing industry.

Reducing funding for lamprey control is a huge mistake, and will cost the region and the nation far more than the cuts save.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

More beer means more jobs

It's like I've been sayin'. There's a beer Renaissance in Michigan.

Michigan has had a rapid and steady climb as a craft beer producing state, now ranking 5th in the nation for most micro-breweries, with 80 and counting. I've occasionally been tagging along with a group of pals who get together at local bars to sample Michigan beers. By the sound of it, we could keep this tradition going for some time without sampling the same beer twice.

Interestingly, craft beer accounts for only 4% of all beer consumed in Michigan, with 2% being Michigan beers.

So there's a very very simple and pleasant way to help Michigan's economy: drink more beer. And introduce your pals to a yummy Michigan beer.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Drying vs. Canning

In the world of food preservation, I'm starting to prefer drying over canning.

It's easy, there's a significantly lower botulism risk, it reduces the amount of space required to store food, and it saves a little bit of money on the canning itself since the jar lids, which can cost as much as much as 10 cents each, can be re-used.

The disadvantages are you can't dry as much stuff at a time as is possible with regular canning and re-hydrating the food takes some extra prep-time.

I just dried an entire two pound head of cabbage and it now fits nicely into a pint jar. Three pounds of dried onions fit easily into a quart jar. And twenty-one cups of dried carrots reduces down to about 2.5 cups. Ten pounds of potatoes fits into about 2 quart jars.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

No Asian Carp DNA Found in Lake Michigan : It's not too late to stop them

Nice. Some positive news here. So far no Asian Carp DNA has been found in Lake Michigan.

This is fantastic news.

It's by no means a reason to relax or let down our guard, and it doesn't detract from the DNA evidence of Asian Carp found beyond the electric barriers in the Chicago canal system meant to keep the carp at bay. However, it does show that if some carp were beyond the barriers, they are not yet in Lake Michigan and may not yet be in enough numbers to be a sustainable breeding population.

The news that no DNA has been found in Lake Michigan means it's not too late to stop or significantly slow the spread of Asian Carp.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I've got one word for you. Aquaculture.

I've got one word for you. One word.


Not the marine type of aquaculture with floating cages that breed diseases for wild inhabitants. Rather, the land based fish farms that can help to meet the demand for fish, and the need for healthy food, while relieving pressure on wild fish populations.


I've recently been on a kick of finding the relatively small things that can have a big impact on social mobility, and agricultural policy is one of those things. If we're reinventing our economies and looking toward the core principles of Making production is a critical cornerstone. Why are regions in urban decline reaching toward urban farming? Because it's a fundamental building block of a healthy society and economy.

It also all fits into the whole eat local, buy local, produce local thing.

Now, back to aquaculture. The Michigan agricultural director has recently cited aquaculture as an important means to diversify the state's economy, and grow a little known but very important state industry: agriculture. In many states, including the state of Michigan, moving in to this industry takes only a few minor tweaks to the regulatory framework.

Say, did you know Michigan ranks 2nd in diversity of crops, and leads the nation in the production of all sorts of crops from black beans to tart cherries?

We do! We're an agricultural state. With lots of water. So of course there's a growing interest in farming fish and other marine foods here.

Let met talk a little bit about lake perch.

Lake perch is $14.99 a pound here in Muskegon if you buy it fresh at a store. That's a little strange since people fish for it here. Drop a line into the water for half a second, you'll catch a bluegill. Go ice fishing, you'll catch lake perch. Yet, it's crazy expensive stuff to buy, and the stuff they sell at the store is from Canada. Not because it's bad to eat here. To the contrary, some (not all) local restaurants sell locally caught lake perch.

See...the Canadian stuff is farmed, and can reliably meet demand...and folks here in Muskegon can't seem to get enough of it. Every local restaurant in town has its own fried lake perch sandwich. Whitlows has some of the best, but Handsome Henry's has a pretty fantastic one. would think that a place so perch crazy would farm the stuff here. But we really don't. Instead a favorite local food is subject to a constant assault of competing invasive species, and the fish seem to get smaller every year. So to meet demand...we import some of it. It travels hundreds of miles to our plates. Something we could very well do right here

Aquaculture is the confluence of many things that strike my interest: a local food source that reduces the need for transportation, a new industry for a limping economic region, and a sustainable industry that conserves existing ecosystems.

Self Employment Levels in the United States at Around 10.5%

Self employment in the United States has been at around 10.5% of the employed labor force for decades.

But today, it stands at around 10.5%.

That is, the number of self employed as a percentage of the employed really hasn't changed much in decades.

The Self Employed group tends to lean a little heavier in the direction of White or Asian Men, and as a group we have more than the national average of people with less than a high school diploma in our ranks.

This all, of course, runs counter to what I had been hoping for and expecting from 2009 and 2010. I was hoping and expecting those numbers to be higher and more diverse.

In general the numbers run counter to anecdotal experience, where many of the individuals I've known who could not find work ended up working on their own.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Republicans are Raising Taxes on the Middle Class

It turns out that Republicans found a tax hike they like. They're raising taxes on low to middle wage earners just a month after assuming office.

Oh sure, the GOP will scream like a train wreck at even the whisper of raising taxes on the top 2%. But taxing low wage earners is something they can't seem to do fast enough.

Michigan's newly elected Regressive Party government is getting rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax credit which reverses some of Michigan's extremely regressive tax code. Regressive tax code as in: Low wage people pay MORE of a percentage of their income in taxes than High wage people.

Michigan’s three-year-old tax credit for the working poor, worth $354 million in the current year, would be scrapped under Senate Republican legislation introduced today.

Michigan's economy has a Flat Tax, meaning that the higher your income is, the lower your tax as a percentage of your income once things like sales tax, gasoline tax, and to some extent property tax are included.

Michigan's rich, for example, pay about 5.3% in taxes to Michigan while a working class individual ends up paying about 10%. AS in, the more money you have, the less you're taxes as a percentage of your income. Why? Because sales taxes tend to affect low wage and middle wage earners more.

The argument made from folks on the right is that the Earned Income Tax Credits exceed the amount paid by the recipient, but that doesn't take into account things like sales tax on gas, toilet paper, soap, baby diapers, clothes...all paid to the state in tax form over the course of the year.

The Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit is a true tax credit to low wage earning individuals, evening out the upside down tax code that Michigan has which taxes low wage people more than high wage people.

And the Republicans are fine with that.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ground Water Levels Down 1000 Feet in Great Lakes Region

You know I love you, Chicago.

But guys, it's time come up with a less 19th century way to get rid of your water waste because it's a big sign that when Great Lakes states are actually getting warnings of water shortages, everybody needs to pitch in to make some changes.

We can start with the Chicago river.

Every single day for better part of a century Chicago, via the artificially backwards flowing Chicago River, has been diverting about 2.1 billion gallons of water from Lake Michigan. 2.1 Billion gallons. With a B. Every day.

I realize Chicago is the third largest city in America, and they naturally need a lot of water and also need to flush away a lot of waste. But most large cities manage to deal with their water and sewage needs without artificially reversing the flow of a river OUT of Lake Michigan. (SEE THE END OF THIS DIARY FOR MORE INFO IN THIS) Yes, yes, that seemed pretty clever back in EIGHTEEN FOURTY EIGHT. But it's the 21st century now.

Time to change.

Because it's no coincidence TEN new Lake County (Chicago region) cities need to abandon the well water systems they've had forever and start sucking water directly from Lake a questionable standing with the Great Lakes Compact, I might add...

...It's because the ground water table has dropped 1000 feet.

Yet groundwater levels have plummeted about 1,000 feet in the Chicago-Milwaukee region because of pumping for municipal supplies and could drop an additional 100 feet over the next three decades if withdrawal rates jump as expected, according to the five-year study by the federal agency.

The 2.1 billion gallons that Chicago diverts from Lake Michigan daily has lowered Lakes Michigan and Huron by about 2.5 inches
, according to the report.


Now, like I said. We ALL need to change our ways. We ALL need to chip in and reduce our wasteful habits. This isn't all on Chicago. A 2.5 inch drop in Michigan-Huron over a Century or so from the Chicago river...obviously the Chicago river is clearly not the sole cause of the Great Lakes water woes.

But a place to start SERIOUSLY looking if we want to conserve this natural resource for centuries hence, a place that would make one of the biggest impacts all at once, is the only major outlet that's sucking 2.1 billion gallons from the Great Lakes every day...the only major outlet that's grandfathered into the Great Lakes Compact designed to end Great Lakes water diversions.

Time to come up with a 21st Century solution to Chicago's water and sewer needs.

Now, for all of you who don't know about the Chicago used to be a Lake Michigan tributary. It used to feed water INTO Lake Michigan for, oh, several thousand years.

Chicago sprouted up around that area, and they would draw their water directly from Lake Michigan, and then they would flush their sewage into Lake Michigan. This turned out to not be a great what they did was they built things called "water cribs" which still exist today. The water cribs were built way out into Lake Michigan to draw in fresh water from far out, so the city could then flush its sewage into Lake Michigan and by the time it got to the water cribs it would be nice and diluted.

But then the city started to grow, and grow, and grow, and their waste output became so much that it wasn't diluted by the time it got to the city's water INTAKE, and thus began a horrible period of typhoid and cholera from unclean water and a lot of people died.

So the city came up with an idea...

...see...earlier they had built a canal between the Chicago River and the Mississippi for navigational purposes. So engineers thought it would be a great idea to reverse the flow of water in the Chicago river so it flowed OUT of Lake Michigan and INTO the Mississippi. That way they could take their clean water from Lake Michigan, and send their waste in the opposite direction to the Mississippi. They tried this for the first time in 1848, but they managed to make a successful go if it in 1900.

And ever since then, the Chicago river has diverted about 2.1 billion gallons every single day from Lake Michigan.

And not only that, but the new connection between the Great Lakes watershed and the Mississippi watershed became a rapid route for invasive species to cross from one to the other. It's how zebra mussels managed to so quickly spread to the Mississippi tributaries from the Great Lakes and how the Great Lakes are about to be invaded by Asian carps.

The reversal of the Chicago river really seemed like a good idea at the time. And it was great for Chicago. And it still is. But it's turning out to not be such a good thing for the Great Lakes, and also seems to be a significant portion of lower water tables.

Time for the Chicago river diversion to come to an end.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

We ate home-canned greenbeans and lived to tell about it.

Last night we took the leap of faith.

We ate green-beans.

And I'm here to report that we have not died from botulism.

Food at the farmer's market was so cheap last year that I took to canning my own vegetables to save some dough on foodstuffs. I can't endorse the Muskegon farmer's market nearly enough for the seasonal variety of foods they have, and the excellent pricing which often rivals grocery prices...much moreso if you spend some time wandering up and down the aisles pricing out the things you want or if you're into buying "seconds" or vegetables and fruits that are slightly discolored, mis-shapen, have spots. I have no problem with that, so I generally go in for the half bushel of seconds for absurdly low pricing. The Muskegon farmer's market has some organic farmers who go there, but there is also a year-round organic farmer's market in Muskegon called the Sweetwater Local Foods Market, which is located in the Hackley Health center on Harvey rd. near the mall.

I've canned fruits and high acid foods for years: tomatoes, applesauce, peaches and whatnot. But this is the first year I ventured into using a pressure canner and canning low acid, low sugar foods like green-beans, beets, and peppers. I made sure to follow the guidelines of the National Center for Food Preservation, a joint venture between the University of Georgia and the USDA...and of course tried to heed all the warnings about botulism, and ended up reading up on botulism and what a horrible, vile, nasty, way to die it is...

...and my low-acid foods sat in jars in the basement for months looking very pretty, and, I imagined, were probably silently squirming with botulinum toxin.

We ate the tomatoes, and the pears, and made headway on the million jars of apple-sauce I made...we ate the high acid pickled peppers and the sauerkraut and the plums and peaches and the jams and jellies and the pickled watermelon rinds...

But the beets and the green-beans sort of sat un-used.

Until last night.

I popped open an innocent looking jar of green beans, boiled the heck out of them for several minutes (which apparently nutralizes the boulinum toxin if it's there at all), and....

...we ate them. In a white sauce with onions and carrots on spaghetti.


To make a long story short, we're still alive. None of us is in a state of toxin related paralysis.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Where civilization ends.

The snow is finally falling. The blizzard has arrived. I personally judge a blizzard's blizzardness by how glad I am to not be driving in it. This one ranks pretty high. I'm going to assume right now that that the major highways are relatively empty around these parts. Or at least I hope they are, for the safety of the drivers.

It's getting late and I've been peeking my head of out the curtains every few minutes for the past four hours. I have to remind myself that the chain link fence is four feet tall. As the snow settles down around it, the part sticking out of a snow hill shrinks more. It's at at most 18 inches now, left above the snowline.

The gouges in the road from rare passing cars heal up rapidly from freshly fallen snow. Where wheels expose and stir up black chunks of iced over slush, layer after layer of white powder flutters over it.

The deep snow and rolling drifts is where civilization ends.

This is where people make a mad dash to the grocery store before the blizzard hits. They buy their own comfort foods, a diet for hunkering down in the home for 24 hours. The snow falls and turns the world into wilderness again.

It's very quiet here. Cars stay in their homes waiting for warmer weather. Sound is absorbed by the falling acustical cushion of snow.

Waiting for Da Snow

Sitting here waiting for a much-reported-on blizzard to start.

The claim has been 8 to 18 inches, with anticipation toward the latter.

So far it's pretty snowless outside despite the Doppler Radar showing that we should be overrun with snow by now. If we don't get a nice snow storm tonight I'm going to be pretty disappointed. I've been prepping for a healthy snow day.