25 February 2006

In case you had your doubts

    Revolutionaries need several ingredients to succeed: charisma, for one; organization, for another. But what they need most of all is an incompetent regime, one that makes their ideas look good by comparison.
      Michael Hirsh

Michael Hirch wrote a great commentarty on the incompetent leadership of George W. Bush. There are no new revelations in the story. We've heard about each failure before. Still, there is something about seeing them oulined one after another. The sheer weight of it all hammers home the fact that this is one of the worst presidents in history who has done great harm to this nation. In short, a miserable failure.

21 February 2006

Tough challenges when you renew and reuse

    Ooooh that smell
    Can't you smell that smell
      Lynyrd Skynyrd

"Organic recycler faces regulatory wrath" is the headline of this article in Monday'sTimes of Trenton, but you might wonder why after reading the opening paragraphs:

Eastern Organic Resources has big plans for the decomposing fruit, vegetables and grass clippings it collects at its composting plant in Springfield, Burlington County, hoping to enclose the pungent piles and generate enough methane gas to power a 5-megawatt cogeneration plant at neighboring McGuire Air Force Base.

If the company wins approval from regulators, it would be the first commercial food waste composter in the state to produce both soil and fuel, solid waste experts say.

Eastern Organic's plans sound like a win-win scenario. But read on and you'll
understand the problem in a story that highlights the pitfalls and promise of
recycling and renewable energy.

Over three years, the company increased production from 50 tons of material each day to 200 tons. In 2005, they sold about 200,000 cubic yards of compost produced from a combination of food waste, grass clippings, leaves, and shredded wooden pallets. They have also been assessed hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines by county health inspectors responding to local residents' complaints about the smell. Not the DEP may force them to stop operation.

Ironically, the complaints and possible DEP action threaten plans that could actually solve the odor problem. Eastern Organic is currently approval not only to generate methane in a "anaerobic digester" that would generate methane, but also to enclose the smelliest part of the operation, filtering out the stench. McGuire AFB, seeking to fulfill energy saving mandates, has already said they would buy the methane.

There is cause to question their ability to deliver. The DEP contends that Eastern Organic has failed to comply with environmental management issues like water storage and wetland protection, in addition to controlling the odor. The breakdown of a machine designed to turn the compost resulted in a more intense stench. Burlington County officials have complained about what they call the company's inaction.

There is a little bit of everything here. There is a company that is probably not doing all it can to minimize its environmental impact. There are regulations threatening to squash a valuable growth industry. And there are residents in favor of recycling but against having it in their back yard. These problems are incredibly universal, and solving them is undeniably crucial.

At the end of the article, local planning board member Lisa Specca sums it up this way:

"It's a great idea to take the waste from restaurants and supermarkets and turn it into soil -- the concept is absolutely sound," said Specca. "The problem is rotting garbage really stinks."

"We're all crossing our fingers and hoping," Specca added. "If they don't put in the digester, it will be shut, and that would be a loss for everyone."

It would indeed. We need companies like Eastern Organic to succeed. When they fail, we all lose. I hope we're up to the challenge.

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.

19 February 2006

There's a signpost up ahead

    Help, I'm stepping into the Twilight Zone
    The place is a mad-house
    Feels like being cloned
      Golden Earing

Carnival 40 is up at The Opinion Mill. Check it out!


17 February 2006

Senator Pat Roberts shows how good servants behave

    What is thy bidding, my master?
      Darth Vader

Senate Republicans have been getting a little unruly lately. I mean, folks like Arlen Specter were starting to act like they had a mind and will of their own. Well Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, stepped up today to show Congressional Republicans how a good lap dog behaves.

Some may have questioned his devotion to Presidential servitude when he promised a committee vote on whether to investigate unwarranted domestic surveillence. But there were no doubters yesterday when he broke his word and cancelled the vote. That wasn't enough for Roberts, though. He went one step further in demostrating his absolute subserviance when he announced that he would be working with the White House to amend FISA to permit warrantless spying. He really did that! Faced with a President that openly and unapologetically breaks the law, he decides we need to change the law.

Congratulations Senator Pat Roberts! You win the distinction of being this week's biggest White House Stooge!

There are many news stories on this, but I think this NY Times editorial says it best.

16 February 2006

Rediscovered! REM - Dead Letter Office

    I suppose if we had any shame we would have never allowed this little gem to see the light of day.
      Peter Buck

Often lately I find myself at a loss for what to post. I've decided I need a few recurring themes I can fall back on when nothing else strikes me. To that end, here is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series titled "Rediscovered!" Every so often, I dig a CD out of our collection and say, "I haven't listened to this in ages." Then I rip it, fire up the long neglected tracks, and remember why I liked them so much.

So, I figured I'd highlight some of this rediscovered music and talk about it a little. As the title says, today's rediscovered album is REM's Dead Letter Office. I dug this out after Jeri posted a Megashuffle that included "Ages of You," the second song on the second side (when there were such things as sides). The album is an apropos choice in that the album itself is a collection of dusted-off rarities and b-sides from their days at IRS records. Most bands put out one of these collections at some point. This came out as REM made the switch to the Warner label.

Not everyone likes rarity collections, and often you need to be a fan to appreciate this type of work. I think material Dead Letter Office is stronger than what you'll find on the average collection. There are several decent covers, including three of Velvet Underground songs ("There She Goes Again," "Pale Blue Eyes," and "Femme Fatale") and one of Aerosmith's "Toys in the Attic." Then there's the cover of Roger Miller's "King of the Road," the song REM guitarist Peter Buck is talking about in the quote above, taken from his liner notes.

While I'm on that subject, Peter Buck's liner notes are one of the particular treasures of this album. They're have a dry, often self-deprecating humor to them. Of "King of the Road," Buck goes on to say that, "If there was any justice in the world, Roger Miller should be able to sue for what we did to this song." They also provide insight into the band's musical influences, and they capture the pure fun they were having. (You can find the liner notes when you click on Dead Letter Office in the discography section of REM's web site.)

In addition to the covers, there are several straight-up songs reminiscent of REM's early years. "Ages of You," which I mentioned earlier, "Burning Down" and "Crazy" fit this build. Once track, "Burning Hell" is something of a window into the distorted guitars and growling vocals of REM's future work on albums like Monster. There are a couple catchy instrumentals, my favorite being the surf-rockin' "White Tornado." And of course, there's "Voice of Harold," where Michael Stipe sings the liner notes of a gospel album over the backing track of Reckoning's "Seven Chinese Brothers." That song is, a its "lyrics" proclaim, "A must!"

One last observation, then I'll call it quits and publish.... A nice thing about rediscovering an album is that you might find something you never noticed before. That happened with Dead Letter Office. Early on in "King of the Road" you can hear Mike Mills shouting in the background. I always though he was shouting along with the song, or saying "yeah!" or "yee-haw" of something. I'm not pretty sure what he is shouting out the chord changes, something I've seen bands do often when working out a new song.

14 February 2006

In good company

    Mangeons les French fries, mais surtout pratiquons avec fierté le French kiss!
    (Let's eat French fries, but above all let's French kiss with pride!)
      Anti-war protest organizer, Montreal (15 March 2003)

You probably remember how, on 11 March 2003, Representatives Robert W. Ney (R - Ohio) and Walter B. Jones, Jr. (R - North Carolina), under the authority of Congressman Ney's position as Chairman of the Committee on House Administration, ordered restaurants and snack bars run by the House of Representatives to replace all references to "French fries" and "French toast" with "freedom fries" and "freedom toast." The whole story is here.

Well, Ney and Jones aren't alone. Today Iran has declared that sweet, flaky pastries are now called "Roses of the Prophet Muhammad." Read all about it. The article, of course, notes the similarity to the "freedom" foods. There's an association we can be proud of. Thanks guys!

13 February 2006

This won't work with that

    Conceit is incompatible with understanding.
      Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy

And Apple's DRM is incompatible with Microsoft's DRM.

Digital Rights Management is how digital media vendors are attempting to protect copyrights. In the latest incarnation of VHS vs. Betamax, two competing DRM implementations have arisen. Microsoft is pushing their WMA format and every digital media vendor supports it. Everyone, that is, except Apple, who has their own AAC format that is only available on Apple's iTunes. This is, of course, no surprise, but it's what's got me peeved right now, because I'm getting burned by the incompatible formats.

Compatibility is what drove my purchase of the iPod in the first place. Apple and BMW joined forces to create an adapter that allows you to plug your iPod in to your car, but control it through the factory stereo. Since BMW owns MINI, this option would be available on my Cooper and I went for it. I was a little dubious on the iPod because of Apple's history of locking you into proprietary technology, but I went for it. (I did make sure to rip all my music as regular MP3, so I can play it anywhere.)

Well, now I'm getting burned by the format war. My public library signed on with a statewide service that allows cardholders to download audio books. You check them out, just like a library book, and you have a limited period in which to listen to them before you have to release them. This is accomplished by using a time-limited license on the audio files you download, or in other words, with DRM. Of course, they use Microsoft's DRM. So iPod users can't use their service.

I'm annoyed at everyone in this situation. I'm annoyed at Apple for the way they resist standard formats in favor of locking you into their hardware. I'm annoyed at Microsoft for their monolithic approach to DRM, strong arming the industry. I'm annoyed at the software company behind this audiobook service for shutting out the largest segment of digital music players.

Meanwhile, I'm stuck forking over another $15 to Audible for a service I should be getting for free. Oh, yeah, I'm annoyed at Audible because they don't have Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern books.

I'm just annoyed....

03 February 2006


    Without your space helmet, Dave, you're going to find that rather difficult.
      HAL 9000

As I type this, the ISS crew is about to push an old Russian space suit out the door. The worn-out Orlan spacesuit is outfitted with radio equipment, turning it into a makeshift satellite. SuitSat, as it's been dubbed, will broadcast a signal on FM frequency 145.990 MHz that HAM radios and police scanners can pick up on earth. You can read about it here and track its position here.

Here is one more story about the suit, and it notes that this dumping old suits is old hat for the Russians. Apparently MIR cosmonauts would entertain guest with a movie of one such suit which was posed with its arm waving as is floated away, just like countless sci-fi movies.

Do you sometimes get the feeling the Russians are having just a little more fun up there?

Update: It's away!

Middle East reaction to SOTU

    Example is leadership.
      Albert Schweitzer

Christopher Dickey wrote an article on the Middle East reaction to the SOTU. It's titled Battleground of Ideas. I read it yesterday, but it's stuck with me, so I figured I'd share it. Following are some exerpts that struck me, but you should read the whole thing.

So only a few people in the region listened to President George W. Bush deliver his State of the Union address last night. But they know the message, now, almost as well as they know the call of the muezzin; it has been repeated so often, so relentlessly, and so mechanically. The difference is that many believe the muezzin, and few believe Bush.

We shouldn't be surprised. The State of the Union, perhaps more than any other speech the president makes, defines the way the administration wants to see its world. But its narrative is so foreign to the thinking of most people in the Arab world that they've come to hear Bush's language as a kind of code: "liberation" means occupation, "freedom" means war, "victory" means victims, "reconstruction" means chaos, "democracy" means following directives from Washington. Bush, whatever his intentions—and I think he should be credited with some good ones—has come to be seen as a caricature, talking about strength and determination, projecting an image of stubbornness and confusion.

Those who are attacked or denigrated by the Bush administration, like the Baathist regime in Syria, find themselves lionized by the Arab public. Those applauded by Washington are dismissed as pawns. The result on the ground is often the opposite of the Bush administration's stated desires. "Democracy has a new enemy in the region, which is the support [for democracy] by the United States of America," says Safadi.

Ultimately, democracy is taught better by example than by declaration, and here, too, the Bush administration has failed in the eyes of many Arabs and Muslims. It's not that people in Iraq or Lebanon, Iran or Egypt do not want a voice in their governments, clearly they do. And they want change. They pray for it. But none of the changes they've been shown so far have been adequate to their hopes. Nor has their ever-growing contact with truth and justice the American way led them to see it as a shining example. The essence of democracy is public accountability.

There is so much more in the article. I found myself wanting to cut/paste damn near the whole thing. Check it out.

Cross-posted at BlueJersey.net.