Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Train Madness

Okay, this high-speed rail madness needs to get addressed.  Most of the opposition to HSR attacks it either as a wildly expensive boondoggle, which it is, or comes from people who aren't concerned about the fundamental expected benefit of HSR, emissions reduction.  But HSR doesn't work even on its own merits.  Adding nationwide HSR would increase net emissions.  Let me explain.  A friend of mine recently shared this infographic from Yglesias:

Yes, but. The thing missing from this infographic is that these numbers need to be broken down by BTU per passenger mile per pound and compared to the other things they're replacing, that is, the marginal cost of what else we could be using those rails for. Air travel is fuel-inefficient, so we only use it for lightweight, time-sensitive cargoes like passengers and priority mail packages.  Rail is very efficient, but isn't currently very fast, so we generally use it to move the heaviest things that need moving, i.e. bulk goods and freight.  All the HSR proposals out there right now are trying to get comparatively lightweight passenger trains onto our rails and make them go faster than freight trains currently do, but none of these proposals address the reality that this will displace several times that weight of freight onto comparatively inefficient trucks on our highways, multiplying net emissions. Even if we built brand new dedicated rail corridors for HSR (which is what we'd have to do if we actually want shiny 200mph bullet trains, instead of just 90mph express trains like we had in the 1930s) we'd still reduce more emissions using those new rails for heavy freight than for  light passengers. We'd save a lot of money on highway maintenance, too, since semis are responsible for the overwhelming majority of wear-and-tear on our roads.  If we really wanted to be preventing emissions, we'd certainly be looking at ways to encourage and expand use of our nation's railways, only for freight rather than passengers.  We would also be looking at what it would take to get our canal networks back into commission, since barges are an order of magnitude more efficient even than trains. As it stands, the current advocates for HSR are more interested in seeing shiny, sexy new passenger trains (and handing multi-billion-dollar construction contracts to political backers in the case of the politicians) than in actually reducing net emissions.  It is fundamentally unserious.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Going in Circles

Do you ever feel like you're just going in circles, like no matter how long you drive, you find yourself back where you started? I've felt that way in these first 850 miles of my epic post-Army cross-country road trip.  And for a good reason: I have been going in circles, one big one, specifically:

I had to come back to Fort Bragg this morning to tie up some a few loose ends, and tomorrow morning I'm taking the GMAT here in Raleigh, my last big hurdle in the business school application process.  After that's done, the road trip proper can commence.  Up 'til now I've been making my way around Virginia and North Carolina, enjoying the natural and historic beauty of this part of the country, as well as good times with some old friends in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Norfolk.  

You'll notice my path on the map above looks for all the world like I took an extended detour into the Atlantic.  They're too narrow to show up on this zoom level, but I assure you North Carolina's Outer Banks are there, and they are absolutely beautiful.  They have easily the nicest beaches I've visited in the US, and I'd put them comfortably in the top three beach regions I've enjoyed worldwide, along with Egypt's Mediterranean coast and Thailand's Andaman coast.  Prices for vacation rentals are also shockingly reasonable, particularly in the off-season, and things just get cheaper the further down the banks you go.  Most of the construction boom in the Outer Banks happened in an era when Americans were much more willing to drive a couple hours of two-lane road to spend a week doing nothing much, rather than just flying off to an all-inclusive resort. Which is to say, if you make the Outer Banks your next vacation destination, you will be being simultaneously counter-cultural and nostalgic.  All right, enough boosterism.

Friday, October 22, 2010


I apologize for the lack of posting these past ten days.  I was a bit overwhelmed with the process of getting out of the Army, and since then I've been trying to focus all my energies on studying for the GMAT, which I'll be taking a week from today.

You read that right, though, I'm out of the Army.  Getting out was a miserable process, but I managed to get all the checks in all the right boxes and all the signatures on all the right forms, and I am now officially a civilian again.  It's a great feeling.  One day I'll get around to reflecting on my Army experience generally, but right now I've got a bit too much on my plate for that.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

On Failure

Everyone can celebrate the accomplishment and heroism of a man like Joseph Kittenger, who took the "long, lonely leap", skydiving from the edge of space in 1960 and setting a record that is yet to be broken.  The Art of Manliness blog recently profiled his story for their "A Man's Life" feature.  But what about the "magnificent failure" of the man who tried to break his record, Nick Piantanida, whom Art of Manliness profiled in a sequel to Kettinger's story.  After a life of shoestring exploits, Piantanida died from the effects of a failed attempt to beat Kittenger's record. AoM sums up the question of Piantanida's legacy well:

Was Nick a reckless daredevil? His jumps were never about the thrill; he genuinely wished to aid scientific progress, to push the limits of what was out there, and to accomplish something no other man had done. Did he prepare enough? He did the best an ordinary civilian could have but inevitably lacked the opportunities for rigorous testing and the access to the very best and most experienced minds in the field.

What are we to make of a man like Nick? Was his inability to admit the risk of failure, and the chance he might leave his children fatherless a form of hubris? Or should we cheer his adventurous spirit, DIY effort, and manful demonstration that great daring is not reserved for the loners or the lucky?

I'm reminded of another great failure in history, Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova expedition to the South Pole.  Sure, that Norwegian fellow made it there first.  And none of Scott's party made it back alive.  Still, I think there is a place to celebrate heroism even in failure.  Scott himself thought so, as he wrote in his journal these words, recorded on a memorial to the Terra Nova expedition in Queenstown, New Zealand:

For my own sake, I do not regret this journey, which has shown that Englishmen can endure hardship, help one another, and meet death with as great a fortitude as ever in the past. We took risks; we knew we took them.  Things have come out against us, and therefore we have cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last. Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Indexed is a charming little webcomic that's almost always good for a quick morning chortle.  It's a lot of fun to see the way she plays with graphs to tell stories, but it does often betray a somewhat blinkered lefty view of the world, though in a way that's not at all off-putting.  Today's comic is a particularly good example.

The commenters spot the problem right away. Do you?

Dinner: Fasinjoon

I finally got a chance to try out the recipe for fasinjoon that I got off one of my Iraqi teachers three years ago.

It turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself, so I figured I'd share the recipe again, including my updates of what I changed. It's truly one of the world's great sauces. It would pair just as well with other meats, particularly lamb, but here's how I made it with chicken:

2+ lbs. chicken thighs
1 large onion
1/2 bottle (2 dl) pomegranate molasses (available at Middle Eastern groceries or online)
8 oz. walnut pieces
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp salt
Parsley and lemon to garnish

Chop the onion and begin sautéing in a deep frying pan with a little vegetable oil. Meanwhile, rinse the chicken thighs and skin. Toss skins into the pan to sauté with the onions so they release their chickeny deliciousness. Once the onions begin to caramelize, add the chicken thighs and enough water just to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Remove chicken skins. With a blender or food processor, grind the walnuts finely. Add walnut meal and pomegranate molasses to the pan, stir to combine. Cover and continue simmering for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add cinnamon, pepper and salt when 10 minutes remain, uncover as needed to allow sauce to thicken to desired consistency. Serve over rice (basmati is most appropriate, but any will do). Garnish with parsley and lemon slice (I didn't, and the dish suffers visually, as you can see above).


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why They Hate Him

I wrote a bit the other day about the ongoing hate speech trial of Dutch politician Geert Wilders.  The Wilders trial, of course, encompasses issues broader than  freedom of speech.  There's an apparently credible allegation (I can't really judge, other than that the Dutch media is covering it in earnest) that his trial has been orchestrated by his political opponents, who hate him perhaps more than his Islamist enemies do.  Despite the fact that his party's platform on every subject but one is mainstream European social-democratic -- which is to say hard Left by American standards -- he and his party are regularly described as "far right" by their opponents and the media.  Why the disconnect? It comes down to that one subject left out: immigration, which in the Netherlands mostly means Muslim immigration.

Wilders is loathed by his political opponents because he dares to argue that European nations should be proud of their cultures and should pursue policies of immigration and assimilation that will maintain and strengthen those cultures for the future.  Why on Earth is this controversial to the point of being labeled hate speech?  Firstly, the practical matter: there is simply no other way for a nation like the Netherlands to remain anything you or I would recognize as Dutch while continuing to welcome immigrants. Secondly, being a culturally-defined nation is one half of being a nation-state, and such cultural definition is positively uncontroversial elsewhere.  The Arab League is made up of 21 countries that proudly declare themselves Arab nations and seek to maintain and strengthen their Arab cultural identity.  The Organization of the Islamic Conference consists of 57 nations that declare themselves officially Muslim and enshrine Islamic jurisprudence in their constitutions.  Is it really so offensive then for a Dutch political party to argue that the Netherlands should be proud of her Dutch culture and Enlightenment political philosophy?  If this is hate speech, Europe is surely doomed.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Justified Jingoism

In his September Diary, John Derbyshire shares a quote from the American music critic James Huneker regarding Chopin's Etude Op. 25 No. 11: "Small-souled men, no matter how agile their fingers, should not attempt it." Derb kindly linked a video of a performance of this piece by young Korean pianist, Yeol Um Son, who made quite an impression on him. Me, too. Here's the video:

I had an interesting thought on watching this. I emailed Derb about it; I'll just share what I wrote him:

Reading your follow-up today I was struck by something you didn't explicitly address: Ms. Yeol is Korean, and yet she's devoted her life to studying and sharing music written by a bunch of dead white Europeans. How many Westerners have taken the time and effort necessary to become virtuosos of another culture's classical music? I would guess the answer is in the dozens. I say this not to tut-tut the West, but rather as a bit of unashamed cultural jingoism. Our culture produced this, and its surpassing worth is so universally evident that millions of students in east Asia -- confident and economically-successful cultures all -- choose to study it rather than the products of their own well-developed cultures. We're happy to share it, of course. Makes me awfully proud of my heritage, and also a bit guilty that I haven't studied it better, at least in this particular realm. I think Ms. Yeol has inspired me to fix that.

And she has. Also to get back to practicing piano.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Speech and Freedom Thereof

This is quite the week for the discussion of speech and freedom. The Supreme Court is currently hearing the case of Snyder v. Phelps, which hinges on the determination whether standing outside a fallen Marine's funeral with signs reading "GOD HATES FAGS" and "THANK GOD FOR IEDS" qualifies as protected speech. This, of course, is the penchant of the aforementioned "Reverend" Phelps, who with the few dozen blood relatives who make up his "church" has made an avocation of tormenting the bereaved beloved of this nation's fallen heroes, as well as those of gay victims of AIDS. The premise avowed by Phelps's Westboro Baptist Church is, as far as I can stomach to gather, that God is punishing the U.S. with military defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan for our collective sin of allowing closeted homosexuals to serve in the military under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. Presumably God would be appeased if we only cleansed the Armed Forces in some sort of gay-baiting witch hunt, after which our Certified Straight® military would win the War on Terror. I'll admit, I'm not exactly clear on the theology involved.

In any case, the question before the court is whether the "Reverend" Phelps, his minions, and their odious ravings fall under the protection of the First Amendment. I believe they do, and I'll be rather surprised if the court doesn't come to the same conclusion. The protest in question was held at the statutory thousand-foot distance from the funeral, and was thus unable to directly interrupt the proceedings. The remaining argument is that their protest might constitute "hate speech".

Ahh, "hate speech". We are right to be a bit queasy about limiting any speech at all, so if we are going to say that hate speech is unprotected, clearly the definition of what constitutes hate speech becomes a very important matter. Much political advocacy is hateful to its detractors, after all, so it would seem obvious that to define hate speech based on the perceptions of the aggrieved effectively grants censorship authority to the thinnest-skinned in society. Our Supreme Court seems to have recognized this, as I understand they have historically worked from an exceedingly narrow definition of hate speech.

Not so in the Netherlands (you knew I was getting to this, right?). After prosecutors chose not to file hate speech charges against the Dutch politician Geert Wilders, Muslims aggrieved by his short film Fitna took the issue to the Court of Appeals, where they succeeded in forcing his currently-running trial. There is considerable evidence that Wilders's political opponents have been involved in orchestrating his trial. In a way, seeing this trial as just another function of machine politics as usual is comforting, more comforting anyway than seeing it as part of the "legal jihad" to put criticism of Islam off-limits worldwide (as in the UN's ridiculous "Combating Defamation of Religion" resolution). European countries are increasingly embracing a definition of hate speech based on grievance, and the result of the Wilders trial will signal whether Europe continues on the road toward mass censorship by the aggrieved. Speech doesn't become "hate speech" simply because it makes someone cranky. Be thankful that our Supreme Court has upheld that narrower standard.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Blog Bomb for Geert Wilders

Geert Wilders is a Dutch politician who lives under police guard because his life is threatened by radical Islamists.  Dutch Islamists have already murdered the filmmaker Theo Van Gogh and forced Van Gogh's collaborator, the Somali-Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to take asylum in the US.  These three have been targeted for the same deeply ironic reason: they have all alleged that political Islam's penchant for violence makes it incompatible with Dutch society's traditional ethic of tolerance and commitment to Enlightenment values.  Not to be outdone by the Islamists where irony is concerned, Dutch prosecutors have chosen to put Wilders on trial [Correction:] after Dutch prosecutors chose not to pursue charges, the Dutch Court of Appeals has ordered Wilders to be tried in response to public complaints regarding his outrageously hateful comments about how the people who are trying to kill him are, you know, trying to kill him.  The Netherlands, see, despite her aforementioned Enlightenment history, has no freedom of speech protections that approach the weight of America's First Amendment (for what that's worth anymore).

This story needs to be told, so I was glad to hear from John Derbyshire that someone's gone and designated this Thursday to host a little blogoriot on the subject.  Parapundit's got the scoop on how this works, but short of it is this: if you support freedom of speech no matter who feels cranky when they hear it, if you think the Wilders story is something America and the world needs to be paying attention to, then you should blog about it this Thursday.  Tell your friends.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Education, and Essentials Thereof

I spent the past long weekend visiting a dear friend, an old Army buddy from all the way back in Basic training, Empty-Handed Army, as well as his lovely and perceptive wife.  We three spent nearly the whole waking portion of three days in deep discussion of a huge variety of topics, usually approaching them from a philosophical angle well outside my own comfort zone of practical applications and real-world historical proofs.  The topic of education popped up again and again, mirroring and developing conversations I'd had with friends during my past month on leave.  What are the goals of modern education?  Who ought to be seeking higher education?  How much does public policy contribute to educational success?  Previous conversations with a wide variety of educators -- Masters of Education students, inner-city "alternative" school teachers, radical unschooling homeschoolers --  all came back to the same point:  the overwhelming contributor to education success is cultural while public policy plays an important but fundamentally marginal role.  I was reminded of all of this by a reader comment shared by Jay Nordlinger:

If you asked a thousand people at random about their favorite teacher, how many would bring up how well the teacher employed education software, or whether she had a master’s degree from an ed school, or whether she took the class on fancy field trips, etc.?

To which Nordlinger follows up a quote from Dr. Gerrit Jan van Heuven Goedhart, a former UN High Commissioner for Refugees:

Many years ago I participated in a discussion on the problem of international education. After many experts had presented their complicated theories, an old headmaster of a certain school got up and quietly said: “There is only one system of education, through love and one’s own example.”

Nordlinger responds, "I don’t think I have ever read anything truer on the subject of education."  I can only agree.  The children of the radical unschoolers I know are well-adjusted and whip-smart.  I have no doubt at all that my other friend's inner-city alternative school students would end up the same if they were brought up in a similar loving environment with good examples, no matter what the outward form of their schooling.  Public education policy cannot solve cultural failings that are antithetical to education.  Meanwhile, a functioning culture can mold successful youngsters even in the most dismal of school settings (cough cough Asians cough).  All of our arguments over education policy that are based on the presumption that the right policy will produce success are just wasted breath.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On Leadership

Leadership means responsibility -- responsibility for the failure of one's subordinates just as for their successes.  It's an old-fashioned definition, I know, but I'm not the only one who still believes it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

On the Surge

It's a week late, but Walter Russell Mead's reflection on the 9th anniversary of 9/11 is still worth reading.  In particular, his commentary on the turning point in Iraq circa 2006 is spot-on:

[But] the Sunni Arabs of Iraq made a choice. They saw Al-Qaeda at its best — volunteer freedom fighters come from around the world to fight for them — and they saw America at its worst: incompetent, insensitive, vacillating and violent.  And they chose the United States... What those Sunni Arabs in Iraq came to understand is the basic truth of this conflict.  The war unleashed nine years ago is not a clash of civilizations between Islam and the west.  It is a clash between civilization and barbarism, and in that clash the Americans and true Muslims are on the same side.
The strategic realignment that occurred in the Iraq theater during 2006-2007 -- what was sold in the US media as "the Surge" -- laid a foundation for a far more momentous and far less heralded realignment of the Iraqi Sunni tribal leadership.
I wholeheartedly agree with Mead that the (self-)rehabilitation of Iraq's Sunni Arabs was more pivotal than any US Forces strategic decision.  Furthermore, I attest (from my own conversations with Iraqis themselves) that a significant element of that realignment was distinctly generational in nature.  The worst of the sectarian violence circa 2005-2006 was committed by Iraqis of my own generation, those with birthdates of roughly 1980-1990.  These young Iraqis came of age during Saddam's most desperate struggles to hold on to power by playing sects against one another, and after the US invasion were egged on by foreign extremists, primarily from Saudi Arabia and Iran among the Sunna and Shi'a, respectively, who both looked to a bountiful harvest in political influence and cold hard cash resulting from the bloody collapse of Iraq.  The violence finally ebbed when Iraqis of my parents' generation -- who fondly remember a long-ago era when nobody knew or cared who was Shi'i and who was Sunni -- stood up and said, "This is not the Iraq we remember, this is not the Iraq we hope for."

I, like Mead, am optimistic for the future of Iraq, and am guardedly so for the future of the Arab world as a whole, and that of the "Muslim World" beyond that. But it is worth remembering, with humility, how limited the American role in directing that future really is.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An Excuse, or No Excuses

I apologize for the lack of posting this past week. I really did intend to, in fact I'd put off posting I was reasonably confident I could post regularly.  Look how that turned out.  This past week was spent in a leisurely journey from my homeland of Wisconsin back to my place of sojourn here at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  It was a lovely trip, during which I visited the Soprano in the Real World, A Round Unvarnish'd Tale, the Rebellious Pastor's Wife, the Elephant's Child, Excuses Excuses, Wit & Whim, Indiana Jane, the Scruffy Rube, and many other dear friends from high school, college, and beyond.  I attended the service of the installation of Reverend Matthew Harrison as my church body's president, and was blessed to hear the sermon delivered by Archbishop Walter Obare of the Lutheran Church of Kenya.  Does my personal life eerily mirror my blog following? Yeah, kinda.  Am I a ridiculous theology geek? Um, yupp.  No excuses.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

On Mom's Basement

Over brunch with a college friend, the Soprano in the Real World, we chatted a bit about changing family structures in America.  An interesting point came up: American society in general is not particularly aware of how much we've lost as a culture with the loss of the extended multigenerational family and the enshrining of the nuclear family as the archetype.  Specifically we spoke of the loss of support structures for young people and particularly young parents, and how our culture strangely treats the 1950's-era nuclear family archetype as if it were something deeply traditional, when it isn't at all.  Yet there's very little general awareness that this significant cultural change even occurred, certainly far less than that of other contemporary changes such as women entering the workforce in large numbers.

Also, there's a really strange disconnect at work, where youth are expected to be more or less socially independent of their parents at the age of 18, while it is acceptable for them to remain economically dependent until their mid-20's at least.  I mean, which 26-year-old does our society consider more respectable? The auto mechanic who lives with his folks because he's still single and thus has no particular reason not to, or the grad student who is entering his eighth year of spending other peoples' money?  Living with one's parents in adulthood is often interpreted as a sign of hopeless immaturity, and yet our society doesn't seem to expect financial independence much before the age of 30.  This is almost a reversal of the situation that would have been the norm a century ago, where an 18-year-old might quickly be expected to become a productive member of society (and indeed likely be engaged in productive work much earlier), but would not be expected to move out of his parents' home until he married.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

On Baseball

I don't care for baseball.  While I don't care enough about any sport to really follow it, I'll still enjoy watching a good football or soccer game if I happen to catch one. But baseball fandom is just mystifying to me, so it's mostly with bemusement that I follow Peanuts From Heaven, the wacky baseball blog of two of my good school friends.  But today, the Scruffy Rube explains baseball fandom in terms I can understand and respect.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

On Flags and Freedoms

Now that I'm back up and running on this whole regular blogging thing, I fear I'm obliged to make a comment on this Florida Koran-burning brouhaha.  Firstly, I'll make perfectly clear that this so-called pastor's plan to celebrate 9/11 with a ritual Koran-burning is both un-Christian and thoroughly contemptible.  It would be entirely appropriate for fine dining establishments to refuse him service and for elderly ladies to curse him in the street.  I do not think it appropriate, however, for a US general to advise a civilian on the proper use of constitutionally-protected speech.  Yes, if this church goes through with their imbecilic plan, US soldiers' lives will certainly be further endangered.  But there are all manner of ways that adherence to the Constitution makes the military's day-to-day work more difficult.  We could save more soldiers' lives if we set aside the fourth through eighth amendments, for example, but the Constitution of the United States is the very thing that we soldiers have sworn an oath to defend.  That is the fundamental mission of the armed forces, and that doesn't change just because a particular exercise of that constitutional freedom is foolhardy and reprehensible.

Road Trip of Freedom 2010

In early November, I'll be getting out of the Army after five years of service.  I've got some complicated feelings on the subject that I might eventually share, but one very uncomplicated feeling will certainly be the most incredible sense of relief and release.  What better way to celebrate my newly recovered freedom than to spend a few weeks roadtripping across this great country I spent five years of my life defending? Here's what my tentative itinerary looks like:

The only schedule so far is that I leave point A on the 4th of November, I need to be at point E by the 12th, and I'd like to finish at point L by Thanksgiving. Anyone anywhere within a couple hours of this general route who'd like me to stop by for a cup of coffee, a meal, or feels like offering me a bed (or couch) for the night, drop me a note and we'll see what we can work out.  Oh, and anyone who'd like to join me for this, or even just for a leg of it, we should talk.  I do really enjoy driving solo, but for 6,000 miles I'd certainly prefer some company.

Monday, September 6, 2010

P.J. O'Rourke on Afghanistan

If you're having trouble pinning down exactly what exactly our involvement in Afghanistan is all about (and anyone who isn't is lying to himself), you could do worse than reading P.J. O'Rourke's turn as the 72-hour expert:

Afghans think Americans have sided with the wrong people. It’s not that Afghans think Americans have sided with the wrong people in a systematic, strategic, or calculated way. It’s just that we came to a place that we didn’t know much about, where there are a lot of sides to be on, and we started siding with this side and that side and the other side. We were bound to wind up on the wrong side sometimes.

This parallels my own experiences in Iraq, where our leaders were very much focused on determining which factions in the government, tribes, and security forces were "good guys" and which were "bad guys", when most of the time it was really just "these guys" and "those guys".  At the same time, our leaders genuinely didn't think of this good-guy/bad-guy categorization process as "picking sides" while the locals most certainly did. Whichever faction in a given area first figured out the rules of the game and presented themselves to the local US forces as the "good guys" thus won the support of the world superpower, who nonetheless maintained delusions of impartiality.  Has it been mentioned recently that counterinsurgency is really really difficult? Sure,  and foreign societies are awfully tricky to understand even when you're not dodging bullets. On the other hand, sometimes I get the impression that we really weren't trying that hard.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On Locavorism

I'm fascinated by food trends and issues of agricultural policy, and as someone who dreams of someday becoming a yeoman farmer himself, these are not purely abstract concerns.  The "locavore" movement is certainly good news to one who hopes to be able someday to market the produce of a small, diverse operation. So it's not with great enthusiasm that I agree with the analysis that several of the primary reasons people cite for buying local really don't add up, namely the environmental and food-security.  Here, a small local producer explains why the "buy local" food movement is just another sentimental feel-good trend, and why it would be an environmental disaster if it were actually embraced throughout the culture.

In short, the energy costs of agriculture and food shipment and processing are really quite small: we Americans use more energy powering our televisions than producing the food we eat. Without question the most significant environmental burden of our food production system is the sheer amount of land it takes up, so making a marginal reduction in the already-tiny transport costs at the expense of using more land is hardly a win for the environment.


Last night we celebrated my homecoming with a bonfire at my brother's place. Good food, good beer, good company.  A classic Wisconsin evening.

In one way the party was sort of late, since I got back stateside in July. And in another it was early, since I'm not quite done with the Army yet; I'm on leave right now and still have to go back to Fort Bragg, NC for a while after my leave is up.  But for now I'm home, and soon enough I'll be home for good.

A good friend of mine recently shared his own reflections on homecomings. I'd be hard-pressed to do better, so I'm happy just to share his.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Visit to the Ovine-Infested Austral Isle of the Antipodes

Hello, friends. It's been a while. Don't get too excited, I'm not breaking my blogging moratorium quite yet, but I just wanted to share some things. Consider this a hiatus from the moratorium.

A little while back I got my two weeks of mid-tour "Rest and Recuperation" leave. I knew I wanted to take advantage of the taxpayer-funded airfare (thanks guys!) by going somewhere with expensive fares, and I knew I wanted to get to the greenest, most un-desert-like place I could think of. So I went to New Zealand's South Island, and it was amazing. This picture sums it up pretty well:

From Enn-Zedd

Seriously, I could go on and on about it, but I'll just let you look at all the pictures. Oh, and yes, that album "outs" my real name. I'm okay with that at this point -- really effective internet anonymity being nearly impossible anyway -- and eventually I'll get around to fully onymizing this blog, once I figure out exactly what I want it to be and start posting again.