Archive for July, 2009


Home Heating & Cooling: The Thermostat Myth

Friday, July 31st, 2009

Remember the days when you’d snap a Polaroid picture, then shake it out to speed up the development process? Yeah, that didn’t actually do anything. You probably know that now—heck, you probably knew it then—but the impulse was just too strong.

It’s that same impulse that causes people to crank the thermostat as high as it will go on a freezing cold winter night, and crank up the AC on a hot August day. Well, I’m here to tell you: “telling” your thermostat to go faster, damnit! just doesn’t do a darn thing. I picked up this bit of myth-busting knowledge from one of our original Chelsea Green Guides: Natural Home Heating: The Complete Guide to Renewable Energy Options by Greg Pahl.

There is a widely accepted bit of thermostatic folklore that I want to lay to rest once and for all. Turning up a thermostat to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or higher will not cause your house to warm up any faster than setting the thermostat at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (or whatever your normal comfort level may be).

A thermostat is generally a simple on/off switch.Your heating system cranks out heat at the same steady rate until it reaches the temperature set on the thermostat, no matter what that setting is. So if your house is chilly, just set the thermostat for the desired temperature—and relax.

Same goes for the AC. If your house is too warm and opening some windows isn’t enough, peel yourself off the Naugahyde loveseat, set the air conditioning for the desired temperature, and make yourself a margarita, ’cause it’s chill time.

Whole Foods Companion Presents: The Quince

Friday, July 31st, 2009

The following is an excerpt from Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods by Dianne Onstad. It has been adapted for the Web.

Lore and Legend

The Greeks and Romans held the quince sacred to Venus, who is often depicted with a quince in her right hand as the gift she received from Paris. Being the sacred fruit of the goddess of love, the quince was regarded as the symbol of love, happiness, and fertility. In Athens quinces were tossed into the bridal chariot in which the groom was conducting his bride to their new home, where she would be offered a piece of wedding cake flavored with sesame, honey, and, as a charm for fruitfulness, either a date or a quince. Quinces were also thought to be the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. In Roman times, as described by Plutarch, the quince was picked green, submerged in honey, and left to ripen in time to serve at Roman wedding feasts as a perfect symbolic dessert. The custom of a newly married pair sharing a quince as a token of love was handed down, and throughout the Middle Ages quinces were used at every wedding feast. The “golden apples” of Virgil are believed to be quinces, as they were the only “golden” fruit known in his time, oranges having only been introduced later at the time of the Crusades. Quinces were also reputed to protect against the Evil Eye, and were painted on the walls and eaves of Roman houses for that purpose.

Health Benefits

pH 3.12–3.70. The fruit has an acid taste, is slightly astringent, makes a good sedative, and is an effective stomach medicine, allaying gas and vomiting. When used in its fully ripened state without the addition of sugar, quince is beneficial for the liver, counteracts constipation, and helps alkalinize the system. Underripe fruits are extremely acidforming. The juice makes an excellent gargle.

Culinary Uses

Quince have a musky, penetrating aroma reminiscent of pineapple, guava, pear, or apple, depending on the variety you have in hand, but their flavor is rather bland and acidic. This green to golden-colored pome is unusual among fruits in that it is almost always eaten cooked. Its yellow flesh tends to be acidic, hard, and rather unpalatable (although on rare occasions one finds a fully treeripened one) but when cooked becomes tender, scented, and tasty, turning a delightful shade of pink. The fruit maintains its shape beautifully even with long cooking, and so it affords grandiose experimentation. Stewing, baking, poaching, or braising brings out the unique quince flavor, which complements meat, savory, or sweet dishes. Stewed, they make an excellent dessert, a breakfast dish with cream, or a side dish. Or add a small proportion of cooked fruit to pear and apple dishes (including pies and applesauce) for a surprising amplification of flavor. Most often, though, the fruit is simply made into preserves, either alone or mixed with other fruits such as apples and pears. It has even more pectin (the thickening agent of preserves) than apples and thus is well suited to this purpose. Although the peel cooks to an edible texture, it is best removed, as it tends to add an undesirable bitterness.

CONTEST: Pro-Marijuana People, Time to Win Big

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

It’s simple, really. Below is a list of 3 Myth/Fact combinations about weed. One of them is totally bogus. The other two are completely legit.

The 10th person to correctly say which one is bogus (posted to the wall of our Facebook page) wins a copy of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert.

The contest begins RIGHT NOW! Whenever you’re reading this.

1. MYTH: Today’s marijuana is significantly stronger and thus more dangerous than the marijuana of the past.

FACT: The potency of today’s cannabis is only slightly higher, on average, than the pot of twenty or thirty years ago. Marijuana’s increased potency, however, is not associated with increased health risks.

2. MYTH: Smoking pot with your children actually increases the likelihood they’ll get a high paying job.

FACT: This is up for debate. It has been noted to increase forms of filial bonds, on the other hand.

3. MYTH: Using marijuana will inevitably lead to the use of “harder” drugs like cocaine and heroin.

FACT: The overwhelming majority of marijuana users never try another illicit substance.

Countdown with Guest-host Howard Dean, Night Two

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Last night was night two of MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann guest-hosted by Howard Dean. In this segment, Howard Dean talks with HELP Committee member Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) about the different health care reform plans floating around the Senate and House. Brown promises the progressives won’t allow a strong public option to be stripped out and replaced with some phony regional co-ops plan, which, if true, is great news for American families.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Magic Boxes: Using Cold Frames to Extend Your Growing Season

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

As “Seaside Gardener” Nikki Jabbour is happy to report, simple strategies for extending your planting and harvesting seasons can be found in the pages of master organic gardener Eliot Coleman‘s books. You can make simple hoophouses, cold frames, and even greenhouses at a very low cost—and keep eating carrots, kale, and greens into November.

From Halifax News Net:

Many of us grew up with the type of vegetable garden that was planted in June, harvested in August and forgotten about until the next year. I’m happy to say that those gardens are a thing of the past. Today, Maritime gardeners often start planting directly outside in early April and the harvest can last well into the winter, thanks to a little ingenuity and simple protective measures.

Before rushing to the garden to plant more crops, there are several factors that will greatly increase your chances of success. First, pick the right crops. Certain vegetables thrive in cold weather, including types of kale, carrots, leeks, radishes, Brussels sprouts, Swiss chard, mâche, arugula, spinach and endive, to name a few.

The other important consideration is sowing time. Seeding at the proper time will ensure a crop that is large enough, but not too large by the time growth slows in late October. Many salad greens can be seeded throughout late summer and into early fall for a long succession of harvest, while others, such as carrots and leeks, should be about 85 per cent grown by the time the cold weather hits (I plant on Aug. 1 for a winter harvest). They will then “hold” in the soil all winter long, getting sweeter and sweeter as the temperature gets colder and colder.

How do you prevent these crops from becoming vegetable popsicles and freezing solid in the ground over the winter? There are several simple structures that you can build, which will add enough protection to prevent the ground from freezing. These include a cold frame, quick hoops or an unheated greenhouse structure.

‘Magic Boxes’

Cold frames are often called “magic boxes,” thanks to the bounty they provide. They can be basic structures made simply of straw bales arranged in a rectangle and covered with an old window pane or a piece of clear polycarbonate material. A cold frame can also be more permanent if it is built from wood with glass or plastic glazing. Design plans can easily be found on the Internet or in a good book, such as my favourites, Four Season Harvest and  The Winter Harvest Handbook, both by Eliot Coleman.

Using a cold frame will effectively move you about 1 1/2 growing zones to the south. So, if you garden in zone 6, you’ll be growing your crops in zone 7 1/2. That’s quite a difference. And, you can move another 1 1/2 zones further south by adding an interior layer of floating row cover on top of the crops in the cold frame.

A floating row cover is simply a spun fabric that is widely available in nurseries and garden centres. It allows light and moisture to pass through, but insulates the crops. By combining these two protective measures, you have just moved your garden about three zones to the south!

Read the whole article here.

Obama: Stop Driving Americans—and White House Guests—To Drink

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

All marijuana is dangerous, in any amount, but alcohol is just dandy. This is the message the Obama White House and Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske are sending to America. Well, says author Mason Tvert (Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?), that just isn’t true. But it seems the President and his cabinet aren’t prepared to have a rational discussion of US drug policy.

In this article from The Huffington Post, Tvert blasts the White House’s propaganda campaign against a substance that is much safer than alcohol.

At a press conference in California last week, President Barack Obama’s new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske declared:

“Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit.”

Meanwhile, the President was at the White House trying to defuse the situation surrounding the controversial and highly publicized arrest of his friend, Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., by inviting him and the arresting officer, Sgt. Jim Crowley, to the White House for a beer.

Yes, that’s right. Just after President Obama’s top drug policy official told the country that marijuana is “dangerous,” the President himself was touting the enjoyable effects of alcohol, a far more dangerous substance. But don’t take my word for it. Just look at every objective study that has ever been conducted on the two drugs, including these:

  • According to the American Scientist, the magazine of the Scientific Research Society, alcohol is among the most toxic recreational drugs, requiring just 10 times its typical effective dose to cause death. Marijuana, on the other hand, is among the least toxic recreational drugs, requiring more than 1,000 times the effective dose to cause death.
  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, with about 35,000 deaths attributed to its use each year, including hundreds from accidental overdose. The CDC does not report any deaths attributable to the use of marijuana, and there has never been a single documented case of a fatal marijuana overdose in history.
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), alcohol use is associated with an elevated relative risk of injuries, whereas the Journal of Trauma reports that marijuana use is not associated with such risk.
  • According to the Research Institute on Addictions, alcohol is “clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship,” whereas marijuana “reduces the likelihood of violence during intoxication.” Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that about 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking at the time of the offense. This works out to about 8,200 alcohol-related violent crimes a day!
  • According to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, alcohol use is associated with “significant increases in the daily likelihood of male-to-female physical aggression,” whereas marijuana use is “not significantly associated.” In fact, researchers at the U.S. Department of Justice found that two-thirds of victims who suffer violence by an intimate (a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been a factor.
  • According to a study commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is far less addictive than alcohol.

The facts go on and on, and so could I, but you get the point. Our president, however… well… not so much.

Read the whole article here.

 

WATCH: Howard Dean Hosts Countdown

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

No one around is talking about healthcare reform half as effectively or convincingly as Dr. Howard Dean. So when Keith Olbermann stepped away from the big desk at Countdown with Keith Olbermann for a few nights, Dean was the perfect choice to pinch-hit.

In this clip from last night’s Countdown, Dr. Dean looks at the perfect model and best argument for government-run healthcare: Veterans’ Affairs.

As a journalist, guest Phillip Longman (Best Care Anywhere) was on assignment to find the best healthcare system around. What he found surprised him: a model of efficiency and cost control that was, yes, government-run.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Back-to-School Resolution: Bring Lunch From Home! (VIDEO)

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Your kids are going back-to-school soon–and thus marks the new year. What’s your resolution? Will you try to carpool more? Will you walk your kid to the bus stop? Go to more of their soccer games? Inspire them artistically?

How will this school year be different? One suggestion: make your child’s lunch healthier.

There are a zillion reasons to do this. Besides the moral and ethical issues surrounding school lunch, there are health issues as well. And unless you live in Berkeley and send your kids to Alice Waters-influenced farm-fresh school lunch programs, it’s more likely than not your school’s cafeteria uses meat that’s pumped with hormones, raised on a feedlot, and filled with antibiotics. It’s likely those mashed potatoes were grown with pesticides, the fruit cup is sprayed, and even the healthiest section of the lunch buffet–the salad bar–is covered with damaging preservatives, and GMOs.

Not to freak everyone out. But there are hidden dangers in your kids’ meals. It’s worth it to know what’s in your child’s lunch.

And what about those little harmless cartons of milk they’re consuming at snack time? Those are filled with growth hormones, most likely. And are not organic, nor from grassfed milking cows. Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception: Exposing Industry and Government Lies About the Safety of the Genetically Engineered Foods You’re Eating, has a lot of good information about how our children’s milk is on drugs, and not good for them. You might want to consider packing juice boxes, or waterbottles (stainless steel, and BPA free) filled with milk from home.

It’s probably worth noting that in many cases, school lunch (the hot one, the one with GMOs) might be the only meal a family can afford for their child. So for those who can afford to pack some leftovers, it’s worth it. For those who can’t afford it–we encourage all to join the fight–both political and social–for an affordable food system. Food is a human right, after all.

Nuclear Power Not Emissions Free, Not Sustainable

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Besides the pesky little problem of where to stash nuclear waste, there are a few other issues with nuclear power. When they say “emissions-free,” for instance, what do they actually mean? If you’re talking about the few months the nuclear rods are installed and active, then yes, no emissions. But read the fine print. How did those rods get from the ground to the nuclear plant in the first place? What kind of emissions-spewing, energy-hungry refinement process produced them? And what happens to them after they’ve outlived their usefulness?

Environmental policy examiner Ben Williams explains the true cost of “emissions-free” in this article from the Manchester Examiner.

It’s funny.  People really believe that nuclear power is emissions free.  Powering cities with nuclear, they propound, is the panacea to climate change.  And yet, if you really take a look at the fuel cycle, it is obvious nuclear energy is, in fact, emissions intensive.

First off the ore needs to be mined.  This involves drilling, explosions, heavy equipment.  Even at the EPA standard of 15 grams of carbon per break horsepower engine hour, this translates to a lot of carbon.  Then the ore needs to be shipped to a processing facility, or mill. 

Here, twenty-four hours a day, heavy equipment loads the ore into a hopper, the intake into the semi-autogenous grinding mill.  This grinding mill uses electricity (coal) to turn an enormous steel drum filled with metal tumbling balls.  Additionally, tons – yes tons – of concentrated sulfuric acid are needed to help leach the uranium from the ore, among quantities of other highly caustic chemicals, all of which must be prepared on industrial scales and shipped to the facility.

After a number of other mechanical operations, all of them energy intensive, the ore must be dried in an oven, where, twenty-four hours a day, countless kilo-watt hours are burned heating the rock to temperature.

Finally, the processed ore, now ‘yellow cake’, has to be boxed up, sealed in steel drums (refined and produced industrially), and then shipped to market. 

Then, of course, it needs to be reacted with hexaflourine, or some other chemical, to be refined and turned into the uranium rods that are used in the reactor core.  Only now can the power be said to be emissions free:  once the rods are installed and operational, powering generators with their nuclear heat. 

Of course, after a few months the rods are spent.  They then need to be safely disposed of – or, more accurately, buried somewhere where no one will notice them, contained for 1,000 years, after which they become someone else’s problem (probably the DOE or EPA).  They must be safely interred for over four billion years.  Yes, they need to be baby-sat for an amount of time that exceeds the current age of the Earth.

Read the whole article here.

Secrets of the Farmers Market

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

It turns out there’s a lot more to this farmers market stuff than just packing up your veggies and laying them out on some tables for finicky customers to peruse. When Sara Lipka moved from the customer side of the table to the vendor side, she found that out for herself. When every green bean, cucumber, carrot, and head of lettuce corresponds to a drop of sweat, a twinge in your back, or an hour of lost sleep, suddenly $5 a pound for blueberries doesn’t seem so bad.

From The Atlantic:

On Sundays we’re up by 4:30 a.m. to haul boxes out of two walk-in coolers and a storage room into our refrigerated box truck. Two or three of us sit across the cab as we roll down our gravel driveway onto asphalt. It’s still dark setting off, but headed east, we see the sun rise.

The goal is to start setting up an hour and a half before the opening bell, maybe the only thing our market shares with that other one in New York. We line up our boxes along the curb, raise our tents and tables, and pile our harvest high. Layouts prompt much discussion and debate. What looks best? Features our marquee items? Lets customers flow through the stand? We weigh the relative merits of L shapes, T’s, and U’s; aisles, islands, and second tiers. Market design is about artistry and efficiency. And showing off.

Our farm’s and others’ bountiful displays–diminished by the time I used to arrive–still amaze me. Prices don’t. As a customer, I sometimes balked at expensive arugula or leeks, either passing them by or invoking Michael Pollan’s “hidden costs” of cheap food as I broke another 20. Now I look at string beans and remember how long it took me to pick them, in the rain; dry them on wire racks so they wouldn’t rust; and mix green, purple, and yellow varieties. Not to mention seeding, weeding, and releasing wasps to prey on the beetles that devour the plants’ leaves and dangling beans. $5 a quart? Bargain.

Prices do shift, I discovered. Just before we open, farmers surreptitiously scramble, eying one another’s signs. Cucumbers may go up if someone else is charging more; squash might fall. We add quickly in our heads as customers gather. The early bird regulars have been standing there since 8:55, their beets and blackberries packed, crisp bills in outstretched hands as they wait for the bell.

Chatting with customers makes my day. A smiling elderly woman who always comes during the week also showed up one Sunday. “I already ate all the peas I bought!” she said. “I won’t be able to last till Thursday.” Another woman once approached me and whispered, “There’s a very large spider on the chard.” Other customers share tips, like crushing sweet stevia leaves with mint in mojitos. And sometimes a question starts a conversation. One woman asked if we had lemons. A man held up a sweet white onion, greens still attached, and asked if you could eat the bulb.

Read the whole article here.

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