New Movie Coming Soon: “The 11th Hour”

July 31, 2007

I’m not a huge movie-goer, but I saw a trailer today for Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary “The 11th Hour” that looks pretty intriguing.   I’ve known for a while that DiCaprio was one of the ‘green’ celebrities out in Hollywood, and that he had read Thom Hartmann’s “Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight,” but wasn’t aware that he was that much of a believer in Climate Change, Peak Oil and the like.

The trailer itself is pretty short, but looking through the move website, it appears that DiCaprio has lined up an impressive number of experts for the film.  Here’s a short list of names you may recognize:

  • Lester Brown
  • Mikhail Gorbachev
  • Paul Hawken
  • Steven Hawking
  • Thom Hartmann
  • Richard Heinberg
  • Bill McKibben
  • Matthew Simmons
  • David Suzuki
  • Joseph Tainter

There are 50 or more people appearing in the film, but those are some of the names that jumped out at me.   I’ll be curious to see what the overall message of the film is, since there’s a mix of viridians/technofix types along with some pessimists.   Based on the trailer, it appears to be trying to inspire Generation Y and the Millenials to take action as a sort of new ‘greatest generation.’    As a Gen-Xer myself, I think we’ll be shouldering plenty of the load as well, but we’re apparently too old to be lumped in with the cool kids..

The movie opens on both coasts on August 17th.

Monsanto Actually Loses a Patent Fight

July 30, 2007

Ever so often I get the feeling that humanity and the American public in particular might be able to somehow dig themselves out of the mess they’ve created over the last 100 years or so. I just got another one of those feelings today:

The Public Patent Foundation (PUBPAT) announced today that the United States Patent and Trademark Office has rejected four key Monsanto patents related to genetically modified crops that PUBPAT challenged last year because the agricultural giant is using them to harass, intimidate, sue – and in some cases literally bankrupt – American farmers. In its Office Actions rejecting each of the patents, the USPTO held that evidence submitted by PUBPAT, in addition to other prior art located by the Patent Office’s Examiners, showed that Monsanto was not entitled to any of the patents.


There appears to be a concerted effort among the agribusiness giants (including Monsanto) to force farmers to become perpetual slaves to them through terminator seed technology and other biotech tricks. To paraphrase Kissinger: “Control the food and you control the people.” For the most part the US Patent Office has been a willing player in this campaign, but for once it looks like some bureaucrat forgot his or her job and actually stood up for the people.

This battle is not over, of course, so I’m still planning on learning how to grow food at home for this reason and several others.

HT: Salon

Pepsi buckles under pressure

July 27, 2007

I haven’t written much about bottled water.  My wife buys some ever-so-often to hand out to guests, but for the most part we use the water from our reverse-osmosis filter, which works wonderfully.

I saw an article on CNN today about how Pepsi will now start labeling their Aquafina water with the words ‘Public Water Source.’   Both Aquafina and Coca Cola’s ‘Dasani’ are pulled from public water reservoirs just like the tap water people get for free.   Sure, the bottled products are filtered and purified, but you’re still essentially paying to drink pre-packaged tap water.   And, as some stories have pointed out in the past, there are no guarantees that bottled water is any cleaner than the stuff that comes out of your faucet.

I’ve always been a little leery of bottled water simply because it seems like I’m paying extra to generate a lot of extra waste products (bottles, cardboard flats, plastic wrap, etc.), and this just reinforces that fact.   Since several of the big labels come from a public reservoir, if you have to buy bottled water, why not save some cash and buy the cheapest store brand you can find?  Odds are low people can tell much of a difference in taste…

PEMEX: Mexico’s oil reserves may run out in seven years

July 27, 2007

Never a good sign when the #3 oil supplier to the US states that at current rates, Mexico’s oil reserve may run dry in seven years.  If necessary investments are made, it may take them ten years to run out.  Keep in mind that rising oil consumption in Mexico means that if this story is true, they’ll stop exporting oil to the USA long before that seven years is up.

I don’t think that the world is going to come crashing to a halt anytime in the near future, but unless we start making plans to radically change how we live and do business, the world is going to go through a long period of turbulence as the developed nations of the world 1) fight over the remaining oil reserves and 2) finally start adapting to the new energy paradigm.    It’s not Mad Max, it’s the Long Emergency.   If we can somehow keep things going more or less as usual until 2020, that just means that the ‘transition phase’ will start that much later, and with that much less (and that much more expensive) oil to help us through.

HT:  The Oil Drum 

A visual look at foreclosures…

July 27, 2007

We’ve been hit with regular doses of news about the subprime mortgage problem and how foreclosures are on the rise.  A picture is worth 1,000 words, right?  If so, a new interactive map from the Star Tribune showing foreclosed properties in Hennepin County will be of interest to you.

North Minneapolis and it’s surrounding suburbs have plenty of  representation, which won’t surprise anyone.  What may surprise people is the number of foreclosures in wealthier parts of the county:  southwest Minneapolis, Edina, Eden Prairie, etc.   People in all economic sectors are having problems, and with more ARM’s due to reset later this year, I don’t think we’ll see the end of the foreclosure wave anytime soon.

Notes from Vacation

July 26, 2007


Our trip north started by driving up 35 to Cloquet and then heading northwest along US 2 to Deer River. The farther north one drove, the more often I saw ramshackle or abandoned houses. Many of the homesteads appear to be either manufactured or trailer homes, and for every one you saw that looked to be well kept there was usually one that didn’t look so good. Lots of rusting vehicles in the yards, but usually a satellite dish, and often a boat that was in better shape than the house.   North of Deer River this trend got even more noticeable as we headed into the Indian Reservation. Lots of houses that had seen better days, lots of junk scattered around the houses, and a few trailers that had obviously been torched, whether on purpose or not I don’t know.

While the metro has it’s fair share of run-down properties, it doesn’t have a lot of abandoned ones, so seeing rusting gas stations and empty shells of houses is somewhat of a novelty to me.   The family plans to return to the same general area every year from here on out, so I’ll try and compare notes on the general condition of things and see how it changes every year.  I would expect to see blight such as this become more commonplace and creep closer to the towns and cities around here if the economy heads south, for many of these houses are simply unlivable without access to electricity and natural gas.  Pre-fab houses and trailers aren’t meant to survive a Minnesota winter without heat, and I don’t know how well many of those houses could be back-fitted with wood-burning stoves and the like.

Read the rest of this entry »

Notes on food and some other stuff

July 25, 2007

Some interesting tidbits I’ve found while surfing the net recently…

  • Lodge Manufacturing has stopped producing their ‘natural finish’ (i.e. unseasoned) cookware while a new  ‘Signature’ line of pieces has been released that are designed to look more modern ala Calphalon and the other expensive lines.   The old natural finish pieces are still available from online stores and some local shops I’m sure. The ‘Lodge Logic’ line is now their cheapest set… it’s a little more expensive than the natural finish line, but still quite serviceable.
  • F. William Engdahl has a new article up on Financial Sense dealing with corn, ethanol and food inflation. Worth your time, I think, and I agree totally with his argument that ethanol is nothing but a fraud.
  • The USDA reports that food prices are due to increase by between 3 and 4 percent this year. FWIW I shop at the local SuperTarget for food on a regular basis, and milk prices have gone from around $3.60 per gallon to over $4.30 per gallon. Some prices will go up only a little while others will shoot ahead. We’re now trying to buy meat only when it’s on sale.
  • If you’re like me and have trouble thinking of good recipes to make in the summer heat, here’s a list of 101 ideas.
  • The US economy is great if you live in Richistan.
  • Amanda Kottvattana has a nice article on the 7 habits of highly subversive people. I’ve got a couple of them down already… yippee!
  • The subprime mortgage contagion appears to be spreading according to Countrywide. The 2/28 ARM’s are starting to disappear, which is going to make housing costs drop. Anecdotal research I’ve been doing in the local market shows homes in the $300,000 – $600,000 range have already dropped by around 10% on average. I have a neighbor two house up that is desperately trying to sell his house at 2005 prices, and he’s getting no action whatsoever. He and his now ex-wife are both still living there since they have nowhere else to go and they both need the cash to find somewhere else to live. Will be interesting to see at what point they cry ‘uncle.’

One Possible Energy Source for the Future

July 25, 2007

I’ve been having trouble getting my thoughts collected from the trip… in the meantime I found a link to this story from Urban Survival and thought it looked interesting.

Radiation-free fusion at a relatively affordable price?   Sounds good to me.  We’ll see if it turns out to be a viable source of energy or not… Boron is a fairly common element from the looks of it, and if I’m reading this Wikipedia article right, Boron 11 is the more common of the two isotopes that are out there.

Back to Reality…

July 23, 2007

I’m back… it’s amazing how sometimes you end up being more tired after a vacation that you were before you left.   The place we stayed at was somewhat of a dump, but the kids had a good time, and I caught some nice fish (northern pike instead of walleye, but they both taste great!).

The place we stayed at was pretty far off the beaten track for Minnesota, but it still had all the amenities of home: wi-fi internet, cable TV, (spotty) wireless coverage.  Being an IT geek I brought the laptop with me but I only cracked it open once for about 5 minutes, I received not a single phone call, and I watched some TV but not too much.  The break from our 24 x 7 infotainment society was nice,  to be honest.  Evenings were spent reading or playing games with family instead of staring into one type of electronic box or another.

I had the opportunity to think about a number of things that relate to the themes of this blog and I plan on posting about them over the rest of the week.


July 13, 2007

I’m heading out for a week’s vacation tomorrow and won’t be posting for a week or so.

In the meantime, if you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to check out some of sites on my blogroll… plenty of excellent commentary and news to be had.

One article I’d encourage you all to read is Jeffrey Brown’s (aka Westexas on the Oil Drum) “Net Oil Exports and the ‘Iron Triangle’” over at The Oil Drum.   As Mr. Brown states, the real issue with peak oil isn’t the world running out of oil, or even that the amount of producible oil will drop.   The real issue is the amount of oil available for export to consumer nations, and that amount will drop faster than the overall amount of oil available will due to rising consumption in producing nations.  As pointed out in the comments, citizens of several producing nations feel that since the oil is under their ground, they have a right to extremely cheap petroleum products.   I read earlier this year that the average Iranian pays around a quarter for a gallon of gas; how will that encourage anyone to use less?

Anyway, I’m a big fan of Mr. Brown’s arguments and writing.  His comments at TOD can get somewhat repetitive over time,  but he has a very simple and powerful message:  “Get thyself to the non-discretionary side of the economy.”  Sage advice…

Talk to you in a week.  I’m off to hunt walleyes.