Friday Linkage 2/27/2015

February is almost in the books, but with about five inches of snow on the ground and more forecast over the next few days we should have good skiing into March. Just enough outdoor adventure to bridge until spring break.

On to the links…

Majority Of Republican Primary Voters Want To Violate The First Amendment—For people who tap little pocket copies of the Constitution every time they talk about President Obama, these clowns are pretty ignorant of the basic tenants of the document that they claim to hold so dear. Let me help them:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I do not think that the original intent of that amendment is very hard to interpret.  Even if your brain has been addled by countless hours of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.

Noted Climate Contrarian in Hot Water—Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon, a noted climate change denier, has been completely “outed” as a shill for the fossil fuel industry as details of the big bucks funneled his way have come to light. Granted, truth and objectivity have never been traits the extreme right wing has looked for in its pundits.

Himalayan Ice Shows Chemicals Ban is Working—Stopping the distribution of these chemicals is a good thing. Science, the bugaboo of the right wing, works.

Wind Produced 10 Percent of Texas Electricity in 2014—Wow, 10% of Texas’—yes, Texas—electricity came from wind. Now, it’s a far cry from Iowa’s over 27% wind power percentage but we will cut them a little slack.

Wind Power Hits Record High In China’s Coal Hub—Usually when I comment about China it’s about dirty air or failed expectations, but this is good news. Shanxi is a polluted mess, but maybe things can be turned around with enough effort to deploy renewables.

India’s Air Pollution Is Cutting 3 Years Off The Lives Of Its Residents—Here is what is going to drive change in countries like India and China with regard to pollution. People will no longer accept ridiculous pollution as a prerequisite of development.

Diesel Braces For An Avalanche Of Solar Water Pumps—Solar is just awesome.

An Innovative Congestion Charge That Could Help Fix Our Crumbling Infrastructure—U.S. infrastructure is screwed right now. It’s in bad shape and national politicians have no plans to address the situation. At the state level things look a little better—heck, Iowa just passed a gas tax increase to address the shortfall in road repair revenue—but solutions are needed to bring in more revenue.

Despite Low Gas Prices, Car Buyers Still Want Higher-MPG Vehicles—People understand that today’s low gas prices will likely be gone by summer, but a vehicle is a choice you have to live with for years. No one should buy an SUV expecting sub-$2 gas for anything longer than a week or two.

Proterra’s New Electric Bus can go 180 Miles Between Charges—I do not know what the average daily mileage is for a city bus, but this is an interesting development.

Cow Manure to Ethanol Plant Switches On in California’s San Joaquin Valley—Why not? I would totally fill the tank with some ethanol from cow shit.

Is the Junk-Food Era Drawing to a Close?—The government is finally coming around to the evils of added sugar and people are voting with their wallets.

Pol: Spy On Food Stamp Users to Make Sure They’re Acting Poor Enough—Glenn Grothman is just the worst. The absolute worst this side of Steve King. Steve King is really the worst.

Could Hops Help Fight Cancer?—Maybe that dry-hopped IPA is more than just a palate wrecker on a Friday night. Maybe it’s medicine. Dig it.

Chickens Help Small Brewery Dispose of Used Grain—I have imbibed at Lion Bridge more than once, so I have helped to feed these chickens.

Doing the Scott Walker Dance

Scott Walker is perfecting a new dance. When asked a question about the President of the United States, e.g. is he a Christian, the governor deflects. In essence, he is sending out the code words of the extreme right that signal he believes to some degree that the president is secretly a Kenyan-born Muslim out to destroy America. Never mind producing any evidence. That is Orly Taitz’s or Donald Trump’s or Joe Arpaio’s job.

The governor got caught in what he will claim is a “gotcha” question. However, when you spend time associating with people who make these outlandish claims—the president is Kenyan, the president is Muslim, the president hates America, etc.—it stands to reason that you should at least clarify where you stand. Especially since you are spending time in Iowa like you are a viable candidate for national office.

The tactic is to take offense at the nature of the question without ever addressing the substance of the question. A right winger wins on two fronts. First, he or she has blasted the mainstream media and that is always a winning strategy despite the fact that the mouthpiece of the right win is Fox News which is the mainstream media. Second, he or she never has to actually make a statement of belief so that person can always go back to the whack jobs and say, “I never said the president wasn’t a secret Kenyan!”

Taken to the extreme it results in a silly rhetorical dance. It’s Wednesday, I am bored, so let’s play the Scott Walker Dance Game:

Do you believe that Governor Scott Walker is a Minnesota Vikings fan? I do not know that the governor is not a Vikings fan, but we have never had a conversation as to the degree to which he is loyal to everything Packers related.

Do you believe that Governor Scott Walker is a fan of Justin Bieber? I do not know with certainty that the governor is or is not a Belieber, but Wisconsin is close enough to Canada to make it possible that he also likes Nickelback.

Do you believe that Governor Scott Walker is a Satanist? I have never had a conversation with the governor about his beliefs in the power of the dark lord.

Do you believe that Governor Scott Walker is a zombie? While I have never seen the governor on an episode of the Walking Dead I have not had a conversation with him about his current state of decomposition.

Do you believe that Governor Scott Walker is a pandering stooge and tool of the Koch brothers? Well…yes.

I could do this for hours.

The Many Evil Faces of Added Sugar

Start talking about added sugar, without even getting into the differences on a biochemical level of fructose versus other sugars, and the rebuttal is likely to be, “But fruit has sugar.” At the most base level this argument is true and, in fact, fruit contains the very sugar type—fructose—that appears to be the source of our dietary ills.

An apple, according to data sources that I averaged across the internet, will contain approximately 65 Calories, 13 grams of sugar in the form of fructose, and 3 grams of dietary fiber. Compare that with a twelve ounce can of Coca-Cola which has 143 Calories, 40 grams of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup, and no dietary fiber. Here it is in a simple chart form:

Apple Chart

Sure, fructose is contained within the natural sugar of an apple in roughly the same proportion as it would be in a can of Coca-Cola. However, to get the same amount of fructose as the Coca-Cola you would need to eat three entire apples. On par, you would still be slightly ahead because the apple contains dietary fiber and other nutrients beneficial to the body’s function. Your mother was right about soda being just a bunch of empty calories.

Not that I would suggest undertaking this experiment, but drink an entire can of Coca-Cola and tell me how you feel. Do the same thing with three apples and tell me how you feel. I am certain that there will be major differences in satiation. Three average apples will fill your belly with approximately 35% of your daily requirement. It’s not a pound of Brussels sprouts, but it will get your insides a moving if you know what I mean.

There is a problem in demonizing an entire category of nutrients. If you say fat is bad then you ignore the beneficial fats. If you say carbohydrates are bad then you have dismissed a key source of the body’s energy system. You get the idea.

Within those broad categories, however, there can be bad actors. All fats are not bad, but trans-fats might as well be the Red Skull of the nutritional world. Seriously, when have either the Red Skull or trans-fats done something good?

It’s the same way with carbohydrates and, specifically, sugars. If our body is capable of registering the calories from a sugar—i.e. every sugar except for fructose—than it has a role to play in our nutrition. Fructose, in the form added to our food, is a bad actor because it screws with our bodies in a myriad of ways.

It looks like the experts are finally getting on the “added sugar is pretty bad” bandwagon.  And maybe that egg yolk won’t kill you after all.

The Joni Ernst Watch 2/23/2014

Joni “Make ‘em squeal” Ernst is rarely without something to say.

Poor Lindsey Graham. Apparently his grand gesture of presenting Joni Ernst with a castration tool was apparently misguided. The tool that was mounted on the plaque was a burdizzo, which is used to crush a steer’s testicles without creating an open wound. The tool, however, is not used on hogs which is the animal that was so effectively used as a proxy for what Joni would do in Congress.

But, this is not the last we are likely to hear or see of Lindsey Graham. Rumor is that he is considering a run for President and will be gracing Iowa with his presence more in the coming months. Run, Lindsey, run!

Friday Linkage 2/20/2015

This week was hard. Vanilla Ice got nabbed for burglarizing a vacant home next to a home that he and his crew were remodeling. Stay classy ,nilla!

On to the links…

If People Treated Their Homes like They Treat the Earth—Pretty much says it all:

earthhome720

Statistical Realism—At its most basic, the shale oil boom is a momentary blip in the inevitable decline of readily available and economically viable fossil fuels. The sooner we come to the realization the better off the economy and environment will be.

Is Hawaii’s Solar Power Surge Slowing Down?—Hawaii has solar panels on ~10% of roofs statewide, which compares with ~0.5% in the U.S. as a whole, but as the technology disperses and penetrates the market further conflicts have risen to the fore. HECO, the primary provider of electric power on the islands, is no friend to this site and is claiming to have reached a point of saturation. Never mind the threat to their little monopoly.

Cloudy Prospects for Rooftop Solar Growth in Florida—Unlike Hawaii, Florida is trying to not even get the ball rolling when it comes to rooftop solar. Then again this is a state where the top elected official oversaw the largest fraud in the history of Medicare.

SolarCity Leasing 200,000-Sq-Ft Former Solyndra Manufacturing Facility In Fremont—Solyndra was Benghazi before there was a Benghazi for Republicans. It’s too bad the successes of the loan program were not highlighted, only the failures but that is the cost of doing business with a political party in the pocket of the oil and gas industry. SolarCity, however, is killing it now.

1 Million Solar Homes Project Announced By President of Tanzania—The developing world holds a lot of potential for distributed renewables because the investment in a centralized infrastructure was never made. Essentially, these nations can “leapfrog” that development step.

World’s Biggest Offshore Windfarm Approved for Yorkshire Coast—The numbers are pretty staggering…enough electricity to power approximately 2 million homes…covering 430 square miles…900 jobs…potentially 2.5% of the U.K.’s electricity needs. Damn.

Biofuel from Trash could Create Green Jobs Bonanza—This is an interesting development. Close by in Marion, Iowa a Dutch company is building a sorting facility that will provide an ethanol distillery with the feedstock it requires. The feedstock is the municipal waste stream. I kind of look forward to pulling up for a gallon or two of “trashanol.”

First Purebred Bison Roam Larimer County since Civil War—The problem with a lot of existing stock of bison is that the animals have been crossbred with cattle—remember the beefalo? Thus, genetically pure hers are an important reservoir of genetic diversity for this amazing animal.

Warmer Ocean Blamed for Struggling Sea Lion Pups found at Beaches—Raise your hand if you saw this coming when you read the stories about starving sea lion pups. Yep, pretty much everyone with half a brain and an eye on the changing planetary dynamics brought about by human derived climate change.

We Lock Up Tons of Innocent People—and Charge Them for the Privilege—We have privatized a lot of penal functions, so it should come as no surprise that the prison industrial complex has tried everything within its purview to maintain revenue in the face of public opposition to a continued crisis of incarceration.

At Chipotle, How Many Calories Do People Really Eat?—Watching people dive into burritos loaded with sour cream, cheese, and guacamole almost makes me want to scream because they have no idea how many calories are in the food. Just because it is prepared in front of you from well sourced ingredients does not mean that it is necessarily a good idea to pile on the toppings.

General Mills Cutting Sugar in Yoplait Original by 25 percent—The more I read and the more I think about nutrition—Sweet Poison by David Gillespie helped as well—the more I come to the conclusion that added sugar is the primary culprit in our national waistline problem. Yogurt is a great example of this. Just look at the ingredients and see how much added sugar is in this “healthy” food.

The Unnatural: How Mark Dayton Bested Scott Walker—and Became the Most Successful Governor in the Country—Nobody ever really talks about Minnesota as a laboratory for politics on a national level. It’s viewed with the same curiosity that other nations view Nordic countries. There must be something to all that cold weather and clean living.

A Room-by-Room Guide To Ousting The (Energy) Vampires Lurking In Your Home—There is a stunning amount of energy that gets consumed by appliances just standing at the ready. Take the time to cut down on these vampire loads and the planet will thank you.

You Must Read—Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World

Soda—or pop if you are of that persuasion—is a well-known public health enemy. It delivers a powerful one two punch of empty calories and a lot of sugar. The consumption of soda in the United States has risen dramatically since World War II. Take for example the average size of a soda bottle. Before the 1950s the standard container size was ~6.5 ounces. You know, those little glass Coke bottles that everyone tries to find in antique stores. Contrast that with today’s 12 ounce cans and 20 ounce bottles, which are considered single servings by everyone but government nutritionists.

9781613747223But, how did soda get to be such a big deal? Rather than spend more than two hundred pages demonizing an industry that has more than its share of detractors Tristan Donovan chronicles the rise of the soda giants in Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World.

While there are other major soda players there is one name that essentially defines the category: Coca-Cola. The Atlanta, Georgia-based company has become the proxy for all discussions about soda and this is for good reason. It’s marketing tactics have defined the category for the better part of eighty or more years coinciding with the introduction of the now-famous Santa Claus ads by Haddon Sundblom. It’s distribution channel is the model favored by the industry. It’s global reach and global brand identity are nearly unmatched anything outside of national governments. Heck, I bet there are corners of the globe where the Coca-Cola logo is more recognizable than the American flag.

The story is interesting because in many ways soda should have been a victim of World War II. Rationing of sugar and the lack of proper substitutes—high fructose corn syrup would not be available to soda makers until later—should have crippled the industry and taken the brand images outside of the consideration set of the world population. However, Coca-Cola allied itself quite amazingly with the U.S. military and, by extension, the victories of the U.S. military. Soldiers on battlefields across Europe and the Southeast Asia came to see a bottle of Coca-Cola as a piece of home and by permission of the U.S. military Coca-Cola was going to provide those bottles. It also helped that the U.S. military helped the company build bottling plants to supply soldiers all over the world and when the soldiers went home those plants supplied the populations left behind. I am sure that if you asked an official historian there would be little mention of this nice government subsidy in the history of the company.

More frightening, in my opinion, than anything else is just how pervasive soda has become in our modern lives. Take for example:

  • Soda now comprises approximately 9% of our daily caloric intake in the U.S. up from 4% in the 1970s
  • Children get nearly 11% of their daily caloric intake from soda or other sugar drinks

It’s easy to see how this has become such a problem. Think about how close the nearest soda is to you right now. If a soda is not in your refrigerator or on your desk, how far away is a vending machine or location that sells soda? I am guessing that within a few minute walk everyone who will ever read this blog has access to a Coke. I have been on the edge of the Taklamakan Desert and seen a small refrigerated case with the familiar red and white logo. About the only place I can remember being free of western soda brands was Cuba. Soda was still present, but just not the familiar brands back home.

But the health impacts of this sweet obsession are equally appalling:

  • If you regularly consume 1 or 2 cans of soda per day you have a 26% greater risk of developing Type II diabetes as opposed to a person who rarely consumes soda
  • In men, a 1 can a day habit has been shown to raise the risk of heart disease by 20%

A lot of these debilitating effects can be traced back to sugar and HFCS, which has for the most part supplanted real sugar in soda in the U.S. Don’t believe me? Read David Gillespie’s Sweet Poison.

Tristan Donovan’s Fizz is an excellent way to gain an understanding about how a sugary drink became such an integral part of our social and economic fabric.

What is this Stuff: Trader Joe’s Crunchy Peanut Butter with Flax and Chia Seeds

I am not one to jump on the “superfood” bandwagon of the week. So, when the world moved from quinoa—still a staple grain in my household—to chia I missed the boat. Still, when I saw a jar of peanut butter with flax and chia seeds at Trader Joe’s I bit:

Trader Joes Flax Chia PB

For a while Trader Joe’s and Target’s Archer Farms brand carried an almond butter with toasted flaxseed that was pretty tasty. It was a nice protein packed treat with some additional omega 3 fatty acids to top things off. It’s been year since I have seen either product, so my hopes were high for this new find.

The result is a crunchy peanut butter that is not like any other crunchy peanut butter you may have had in the past:

Flax Chia PB on Bread

The combination of crunch from peanut pieces and the two seeds is amazingly distinct and awesome at the same time. I was prepared for this to taste like a gimmicky health food… er superfood, that you have to choke down bite by bite with Herculean effort. Nope, it’s super tasty.

I cannot confirm whether the included chia seeds meet all of the health claims being touted—reducing blood pressure, making you feel full, reducing food cravings, etc.—but the seeds were tasty.

It’s also not loaded with sugar, like a lot of other packaged nut butters, so you are not getting loaded down with extra fructose. Fructose is the mind killer, to adapt a line from Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi classic Dune. There is some added salt. I will take a little added sodium over added sugar any day.

The stuff is also loaded with omega 3s. There are 320mg per serving (approximately 2 tablespoons worth), which is a nice boost to the daily need of this essential nutrient. If you are not into clearing the oceans of fish for a supplement pill—trust me, the menhaden will thank you for going to veggie route on this one—sources like flaxseed or chia are hyper critical to getting a daily dose of omega 3s. Eating it on a piece of toast via peanut butter makes the day’s medicine that much easier to swallow.

Get a jar and let me know what you think.