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Monday, November 30, 2009

Google Sends Texas Kids to Madville Times... for Algebra Help

At 2:19 this afternoon, some poor soul on the Dallas County Schools network Googled this question:

stephanie's phone plan charges her a price that is directly proportional to the number of minutes she talks. one month she talked 2010 minutes and paid $67. if she talks 1400 minutes, how much will she have

Google's first response: my blog.

Sorry, kids. When Google doesn't know the answer, it apparently turns to me. I'm flattered. Assuming the question concludes, "How much will she have to pay?" the answer is...
  1. ...less than $67, since she talked less, right?
  2. ...found by using fractions!
  3. ...sure to bubble up in the comment section, as I bet my readers will enjoy an algebraic diversion.
And if my readers can't get it, well, I'll provide an answer after supper in the comment section. Enjoy! Thanks, Google!

Another School Board Blogger -- Great Idea for Madison!

When I chatted with her at Prairie Village three months ago, Tammy Jo Zingmark made it sound like it would take an act of Congress to get the Madison Central School Board to start a blog.

Blogging Watertown school board member Fred Deutsch shows that school-board blogging is really quite simple and instructive. This morning he points to another school board blogger, Dr. James Woods, chairman of the Parkrose Board of Education in Portland, Oregon. Dr. Woods even encourages teachers to leave comments, anonymously if they wish. How's that for engaging your workers as well as your community?

It turns out the Parkrose district has a vacany on its board. Dr. Woods provides an excellent job description... as he tries to talk people out of applying. Among the anti-perks: the job offers negative pay: it is apparently illegal for board members to take compensation, and they expend a great deal of time preparing for meetings.

So Dr. Woods blogs (and Twitters, and Facebooks, and talks to people) because as a public official, he recognizes the importance of engaging with his community.

Tammy Jo—start that blog!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Mitchell Paper Misses Big Oil Mouthpiece Fib

A couple weeks ago, Badlands Blue ably covered the Mitchell Daily Republic's airing of Big Oil propaganda and failure to talk to in-state experts on what's at stake in surrendering our land rights and environmental security to foreign dinosaur power.

Tonight, as I reread the AP-RCJ reprint, I notice something peculiar:

Dan Gunderson, a communications specialist working for the American Petroleum Institute, says he's concentrating on the Midwest because states like South Dakota could end up with pipelines and a refinery as a means to handle the incoming crude oil from Canada.

...Gunderson, who said he has no affiliation with TransCanada, cited a study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute....

Hang on: no affiliation??? TransCanada is a corporate member of the American Petroleum Institute. The API is paying Gunderson to promote the tar sands oil TransCanada will pipe across South Dakota and the Great Plains.

And the local press couldn't check something that obvious?

Stip Auction Tuesday -- Chance to Boost Small Farms?

Advertising hype usually sets off my B.S. meter. When someone tells me a sale will be the "Absolute Auction of the Decade," I'm naturally skeptical.

Wieman Auction of Marion is making this claim straight-faced about the Stip Brothers estate auction Tuesday right here in Lake County. They may not be exaggerating. This auction is a "complete dispersal" of the accumulated farm wealth of Milo, Art, and Don Stip. The auction bill takes up nearly a full page of the Madison Daily Leader (and remember, MDL pages are still the good full size pages, not those wimpy skinny pages you get from that Sioux Falls paper). The Stip brothers had no wives or kids to spend their money on, so they bought equipment. Lots and lots of equipment, more than they could use themselves. Tractors, skidloaders, payloaders, excavators, semis, trucks, a Hummer (2006 H2, 12K+ miles, current bid $8750)... almost all with low hours or low miles. On auction day, the farm headquarters six miles south of town, 23989 454th Avenue, will look more like an implement dealership.

There's already all sorts of out-of-state interest and online buzz about the auction. I won't even begin to calculate how much all that equipment would sell for. But look ahead two weeks to the land sale, December at the Davison County Fairgrounds just west of Mitchell. 3356.37 acres of "mostly all tillable land" across six counties with some of the highest land values in South Dakota. At the rate for cropland calculated by SDSU in June 2009, the land could sell for over $10 million.

No word on the auction bill as to whether the land for sale includes the ditches Stips illegally filled. Buyer beware... and check with the courthouse!

Now just a wild thought: Imagine how many small farms we could equip with this enormous stock of machinery accumulated by just three old codgers. Imagine if we could take the 21 quarters of the Stip estate and turn it into 21 farms, where 21 families could make a living off the land. Sure, big land barons contribute to the local economy, but 21 new independent farm families would contribute even more, each building good homes, each sending kids to school, each buying groceries and gas in town, each bringing their own human capital to community activities and volunteer organizations.

Imagine if there were a visionary developer who could scoop up just the quarters here in Lake County and a portion of the equipment, divide the tracts, and market the land to folks eager to make a living in intensive human-scale farming. All those new families... all those kids bringing state money to the school district....

I don't need a tractor, but I'll probably drop by the Stip auction Tuesday to wonder at three men's riches. But I'll also wonder how much richer Lake County would be with men and women for each of those machines... or even every dozen of those machines.

Madison Press Loves Big Oil, Ignores Property Rights

Republicans love socialist redistribution... when it serves their big-business sensibilities. In the run-up to Turkey Day, Madison Daily Leader publisher Jon Hunter gave thanks for the TransCanada Keystone pipelines:

There are many challenges with acquiring rights of way, construction and financing to build such a pipeline. But in the bigger picture, we believe bringing oil from Canada and Alaska will be critical steps to help the United States free itself from its dependence on oil from the Middle East [Jon Hunter, "Despite Challenges, Pipelines Will Ease Energy Dependence," Madison Daily Leader, 2009.11.23].

Challenges—that's our man Hunter's convenient euphemism for the threat of eminent domain, the threat of forced socialist redistribution that TransCanada wielded to take property rights away from South Dakota landowners to serve its private business interests.

I remain amazed that we can't find one prominent Republican voice in this state who will stand up for South Dakotans' property rights against a foreign corporation.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Health Care: Small Business Sees Need for Uncle Sam Insurance

The Chamber of Commerce and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin obviously aren't speaking for small business. The Main Street Alliance recognizes that health insurance reform is good for business, not to mention our fellow Americans:

Rick Poore spent $61,000 in health insurance premiums last year for the employees of his Lincoln screen print and embroidery business.

Over the past 10 years, the premiums Poore helps pay for his employees' health insurance have gone up close to 120 percent, he said.

In early November, Poore joined a group of eight small business owners on a trip to Washington to try to persuade representatives and senators to support health care reform legislation.

"It'll put money back in the pockets of employers and employees," said Poore, who owns Design Wear.

He said he believes health care reform would put as much as $12,000 back in his pocket each year and up to $400 back in each of his employees' pockets.

He said soaring insurance premiums have prevented him from providing insurance to all of his 33 employees and from investing in his business to remain competitive [emphasis mine; Kevin Abourezk, "Small Business Owners Take up Health Reform Fight," Lincoln Journal Star, 2009.11.28].

And how do small business owners like Poore feel about the public option? Hannah Ledford, the Main Street Alliance's Nebraska director, interviewed 118 small business owners. She found 60% of them want Uncle Sam Insurance. 25% want only private insurance. 15% are undecided.

60%: these aren't raving liberal intellectuals Hedford visited with. These are local shop owners, good main street capitalists, saying straight capitalism can't solve the health coverage problem.

Take it from Main Street, Congress: help the economy recover by cranking up that public option!

Friday, November 27, 2009

My New Holiday Hat?

Quick holiday photo puzzle—what is that on my head?




New Russian hat?

Head-mounted battering ram for plowing through Black Frdiay shopping crowds?

Franken Mobile Satellite Uplink 2.0?

Nope. Something even more valuable:



Sometimes you're having so much fun, you don't notice your hat is covering your very funky sunglasses.

Friday Fun Foto: So Simple, So Elegant...

The holidays bring out my sense of irony.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Brighten Black Friday: Buy Less, Give More!

Mr. Gebhart picks up the theme of fighting Black Friday with some great suggestions for local giving. Instead of contributing to the bottom line at the Empire Mall, that Progressive on the Prairie plans to celebrate Reverend Billy's Buy Nothing Day by opening his wallet to the Community Food Banks of South Dakota and the Children’s Home Society.

Mr. Gebhart casts his avid reader's eye around the globe and plans an additional contribution to Words Without Borders, a group on a mission to bring more international writers into English translation to enrich culture for everyone... an interesting and admirable charitable choice.

His post also duly reminds us of the culture-jamming efforts of Adbusters, who continue to campaign to make the psot-turkey Friday Buy Nothing Day. Heck of an idea! Consumption is not your patriotic or religious duty. The people you love don't need more crap. If the people you love are Americans, they already have a hundred times more wealth than the typical Indian, Indonesian, or millions of other fellow men.

Skip the mall and Wal-Mart Friday. Spend time, not money.

Cause for Thanks: Spock Replaces Riley in White House

Dithering? No, John, that's called thinking.

Dr. Newquist hit a similar theme at the beginning of the month. Now Ned Hodgman reads Joel Achenbach's Washington Post assessment of President Barack Obama's Spock-like decision-making and leadership and offers this Thanksgiving thought:

The world is too complicated a place for even the best fact-based analysis to work every time. But logical, reasoned inquiry and decision-making are part of a process that can build on itself, like scientific inquiry. And when “mistakes are made,” it’s easier to find out where and why.

So let’s be thankful our present president favors his brain over other parts of his anatomy in making decisions. This makes him different from at least a couple of his predecessors [Ned Hodgman, "A Healthy Serving of Facts: Obama's Rigorous Approach to Decision-Making," Understanding Government, 2009.11.25].

There's no turkey in that thinking. Stay cool, stay Vulcan, Mr. President.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Smart Grid Saves You Money with Transparent, Timely Energy Pricing

Those darn greenies and their good ideas, saving us money....

I was just reading my Sioux Valley Energy newsletter when I came upon another really good explanation (available here in PDF) of how the smart grid will save you and me money.

Sioux Valley Energy is getting $4 million in stimulus money to cover about half the cost of installing 23,000 smart meters—that's a meter for everyone Sioux Valley juices up. Once those meters are installed, Sioux Valley will be able to implement variable power pricing based on peak load and time of day. When demand spikes, utilities have to buy more expensive supplementary power. The power I use for my computer during peak hours costs more than the power I use in the middle of the night. Smart meters will allow Sioux Valley to charge me different rates for the power I consume based on when I use it.

Sioux Valley CEO Don Marker explains it this way in his column in the December newsletter:

The idea is that these smart meters will allow you to monitor, whether that be through the Internet, via email or by text messages, your electric usage at any given point in time. So you can make the choice whether or not to run your dishwasger when the price of electricity is really high, or wait until the price goes down. In the future, "smart" appliances will allow you to program them to coordinate with the price of electricity [Don Marker, "$4-Million Grant for Smart Grid: Unique Opportunity or SVE Members," Sioux Valley Energy Connections, Dec. 2009].

Smart meters will let us see electricity prices on our computers the same way we see gas prices on the signs all over town. We'll see the numbers right in front of us, and we'll be able to adjust our power usage to save some money. (Of course, I suppose it's possible that there could be some crazy reverse feedback spike when we pennypinchers see the electricity price suddenly drop, shout "Buy Buy Buy!" and all crank up our washing machines at once. Smart meters should make a great thesis topic for some eager MBA!)

Sioux Valley says the smart grid technology will help it put off building new power plants and infrastructure, which means of perhaps $4 million a year. In other words, Sioux Valley's eight-million-dollar investment—half from customers, half from taxpayers and deficit spending via the stimulus—could pay for itself in two years. Hmmm... looks like all that deficit spending could actually leave more money in our grandkids' pockets.

Smart grid technology makes sense whether you're a treehugger or a pennypincher. Let a few fringe elements try to stir Big Brother fears; I'm ready for Sioux Valley to hook me up and save me some money!

Thank Family Farmers Michelle and Barack for Vegetarian State Dinner

As the Thank a Farmer® marketing campaign gets play on the usual industrial ag propaganda sites, I notice no grateful mention of the efforts of new urban farmers Michelle and Barack Obama, who've been returning land to productivity in a tough Washington DC neighborhood. The Obamas' microfarm has been feeding schoolkids and sparking a surge in interest in gardening and the kind of do-it-yourself spirit that would make our forebears proud.

And now, the Obamas' arugula is helping promote world peace. Michelle's garden greens were on the menu at the first White House vegetarian state dinner in honor of Indian Prime Minister and respecter of cows Manmohan Singh. The menu included arugula and herbs from the South Lawn, as well as pears poached in honey from the White House beehive. (But no whirled peas... just chick peas. More glittering state dinner details at Obama Foodorama.) As the New York Times reports, the dinner was a lovely outdoor affair emphasizing some of the Obamas' "favorite themes, including bipartisanship, diversity and a focus on healthy meals."

Healthy meals. Vegetarian menu. Somewhere the Farm Bureau propaganda machine is revving up to belch some more smoke.

Thank you, small farmers and gardeners, for working for health and local self-sufficiency.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Save Money, Save Lives: Skip Black Friday for Advent Conspiracy

What would Jesus do on Black Friday? I doubt he'd be clipping coupons.



It's consumer frenzy time again. Gorge yourself at the table Thursday, gorge your shopping cart at the mall Friday. I feel ill already.

KELO runs the usual "buy buy buy!" propaganda under the guise of sage advice for shoppers. "Especially with the economy absolutely, you have to get out there and get the most for your little bit of money and hopefully it will stretch further," shopper Joyce Plastrow tells KELO's Courtney Zieller. Coupon clipper Amanda Roth gets her second plug in a month for her blog efforts to help consumers buy-more-save-more.

So why not do something a little more Christmas-y: buy nothing. Give your money to someone other than Wal-Mart. Give your money to build water wells in Africa. Give to the Advent Conspiracy, which says $10 buys clean water for one child for life.

According to Living Water International, every 15 seconds, another child dies because of lack of clean drinking water. Run that countdown while you wait for an open cash register at Best Buy.

This Friday, do something that will matter more and last longer than any of the plastic junk you're thinking about buying from China. Do Reverend Billy proud. Stay home Friday. Donate online. Do the Lord's work, not the economy's.

Strong State Policies Mean Support Renewable Energy: Pass Those PUC Rules!

The PUC may have just gotten a some slam-dunk help from the feds to promote its Small Renewable Energy Initiative. The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory just issuedits 2009 State of the States report. Among the key findings: states that have passed renewable energy portfolio standards and net-metering policies have generally seen more progress in developing renewable energy.

Even though South Dakota is among the handful of laggards on such policies, 50% of South Dakota's electrical production comes from renewable sources (see Table 2.1 in the PDF report). 47.5% comes from the dams the feds built for us on the Missouri. (But remember, we consume more juice than we produce, and we import lots of smoky coal power from Wyoming and North Dakota.)

And even without strong state policies, we lead the nation in growth of non-hyrdo renewable electricity generation, a whopping 17,000% from 2001 to 2007 (see Table 2.4). But huge growth numbers are easy to achieve when you start from almost zilch: wind generation in 2007 still provided just 2.4% of our total electricity production (Table 2.17). 5.5% of Iowa's electrical production came from wind; in Minnesota, that figure was 4.8%. And we're still only 19th in the nation for total wind generating capacity; the top four states are Texas, Iowa (15 times our capacity), California, and Minnesota (9 times our capacity). Declining output from the dams meant South Dakota saw an overall decrease in renewable enrgy output of over 10% from 2001 to 2007; over the same period, 35 states, including all of our neighbors except Nebraska, saw growth in their renewable electricity production (Table 7.5).

Compared to Minnesota and Iowa, South Dakota is woefully behind on passing policies that support renewable energy development (see Table 3.1). NREL finds that, among other things, net metering policies and even green power mandates (that's more than what the PUC is asking for) produce faster renewable enrgy adoption. According to the NREL report, we could boost our clean energy percentages faster and catch up with those darned Minnesotans and Iowegians if we got with the program and passed rules like the PUC's proposals for small renewable generation.

Read the report yourself—I'm sure our friends Dusty, Steve, and Gary will! It's chock full of tables (101!) for your number-crunching enjoyment.

Sioux Falls Reinvents Education Wheel: What's Not "Real World" about My Classroom?

The Sioux Falls School District touts a new high school that KELO's Ben Dunsmoor says will focus on "real world skills." Perhaps this new school can teach Ben Dunsmoor the real-world skill of writing in complete sentences. A skill all professional journalists should have. (That's an example of the modifying sentence-fragment style that KELO appears to impose on all of its journalists. Dunsmoor commits this error twice at the end of his written report.)

Another real-world lesson the new "Performance Based Learning" school will teach that is specific to South Dakota: life is about the lottery. Instead of doing the hard work of reviewing applications and choosing the students best suited for this educational experience, the Sioux Falls School District will simply draw names out of a hat. That's just like how we fund our state budget, relying on the lottery instead of taking leadership and making hard tax choices.

But wait a minute: is the implication that all of our other schools are teaching imaginary skills? Must we all drop everything and join a project team in a one-to-one computing environment to learn anything useful?

Funny: I thought my years of lectures were helping pass on useful practical knowledge, not to mention instilling listening skills. I thought requiring students to spend hours in quiet contemplation of classic novels was developing appreciation of culture (which is part of the real world) and long-term attention spans (which should be part of the real world). I thought reading and discussion about literature, history, government, and philosophy developed critical thinking skills and well-rounded employees and citizens. I thought an education in the humanities helped make people more decent and interesting.

Silly me. Sorry to have wasted your tax dollars all these years on imaginary skills. Let's all do projects... until the next educational fad comes along.

Of course, if we want more projects and performance-based learning, we don't need to create a whole new high school and send money to California consultants. We could just encourage more kids to join the debate, interp, and theater programs in our high schools. Debate is a year-long project requiring research, writing, and collaboration. Interp requires months of cooperation and coordination with team members and coaches. Theater requires combination of creative and technical skills to produce a good show. Speech and drama activities require rigorous scheduling and test students' learning in the crucible of live performance. Our arts programs are already doing performance-based learning and long-term projects.

...But I guess educational trendiness requires that we reinvent the wheel. Sigh. (That's not a sentence fragment, Ben; that's an interjection.)
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Monday, November 23, 2009

3 Independent Analyses Agree: Stimulus Working

Conservatives like Sibby take predictable pleasure in citing increased unemployment as evidence that the stimulus package has failed. They further their schadenfreude by pointing out actual unemployment numbers have exceeded the overly optimistic predictions of job recovery cited by the Obama Administration at the beginning of 2009:

Well, let's turn those frowns and grim statistical curves upside down, kids: the New York Times article I discussed this morning includes this graphic to demonstrate that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is working:


Three independent companies—IHS Global Insight, Macroeconomic Advisers, and Moody's Economy.com—agree that, thanks to the February stimulus, more people are working and more money is flowing than if we had followed the Republican line and done nothing. Three independent sources—heck, that's probably more non-WorldNetDaily sources than Sibby will cite all week.

Did Obama's people botch their guess on the jobs picture? Sure. They underestimated the magnitude of the problem President Bush left them with. If Obama's number crunchers had adopted a more accurate and dire interpretation of job trends, they'd have had an argument for an even bigger stimulus package.

What the Obama Administration didn't get wrong was the net improvement the stimulus package would bring. And remember: there's still three-quarters of the stimulus money coming.

But hey, Moody's and I could be wrong. Watch Moody's Mark Zandi debate Obama's economic policies with a bunch of other economic heavy hitters (and Eliot Spitzer?!) on Intelligence Squared.

Madison City Web: 1830 Visits (Visitors?) in July

In other interesting news from tonight's city commission agenda packet, the City of Madison website continues to get some visibility. Page 32 of the packet offers what appears to be a list of web traffic by page for the city website in July 2009. The table doesn't indicate whether it is counting views or unique visitors or what. But it says that in July, the city website drew 1830... something. Following documents from previous years give stats for unique visitors, so I'll asume the unlabeled July 2009 numbers are also unique visitors.

The home page gets fully two-thirds of that traffic. The next most frequently visited sites on the city web are the City Departments index, the police department, the jobs page, ordinance book (bet you'd get more traffic if it weren't PDFs!), and community links. Hey, wait a minute: the community links page includes KJAM and the Madison Daily Leader, but not the city's best online media? What gives?!

Also worth noting: the Sex Offenders page drew slightly more traffic than the Elected Officials page. Apparently my neighbors are slightly more worried about the creepy guys living down the street than the characters in City Hall.

Meanwhile, according to StatCounter.com, during July 2009 the Madville Times received 9,181 unique visitors, including 4,028 returning visitors, and delivered 14,381 page loads. And that was my lowest month of the year, since everyone was out mowing and camping and roasting wienies.

p.s.: Remember the Alexa web rankings I mentioned back in June? The Madville Times was the only Madison website in the top 100 most popular South Dakota sites (well, the K-12 Data Center is hosted at DSU, so I suppose you could count that as a Madison site). This blog ranked #96 back in June. I check this morning and find the Madville Times ranked as the 32nd most popular South Dakota website, just below the Legislative Research Council and just above South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Madison's professional websites—KJAM, Madison Daily Leader, MadisonSD.com—still nowhere to be seen.

Madison to Discuss Wind Turbine Rules, Including Decommissioning Requirements

...decommissioning requirements: do we have that for pipelines?

The Madison City Commission has wind energy regulations on tonight's agenda. Evidently our city has yet to adopt any clear rules on wind turbines in city limits, and government naturally abhors a vacuum.

Actually, some clear rules on wind turbines are good for Madison. Established rules will make it easier for developers to calculate their cost-benefit analysis and get to work capitalizing on Madison's potential for energy independence.

The agenda packet (scroll down to page 20) includes a model ordinance draft from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. Section 14 of the model ordinance addresses decommissioning of wind power facilities. Here the PUC recommends laying out very clear rules establishing that the owner or operator of the wind facility is fully responsible for the cost of dismantling and removing the turbine and other equipment when it has reached the end of its useful life. The model ordinance requires the wind facility owner/operator to file a full decommissioning plan.

Holding developers responsible for the decommissioning of their energy facilities makes perfect sense. That same responsibility should apply to the owners and operators of oil pipelines, right? Dakota Rural Action thinks so; TransCanada disagrees.

The city of Madison is wise to get ahead of the curve and establish clear rules and responsibilities for any energy developers who might come to town to build big projects. The state should take its own advice and make the same requirements of big Canadian oil.

Liberal Stimulus Working; More to Come

The New York Times reports on the consensus among economists that the stimulus passed last February is working.

What's that I hear? Liberal spin from that elitist New York paper? Actually, reporters Jackie Calmes and Michael Cooper give White House a hard time for using overly optimistic economic assumptions last winter. And Michael Blake at Understanding Government says NYT overemphasizes bipartisan balance over the truth that the liberal side of the stimulus, government spending, is doing much more of the heavy economic lifting than the conservative side, the tax break concessions used to muzzle the Blue Dogs. Blake says Calmes and Cooper's "thesis statement" on the superiority of the combination of spending and tax breaks doesn't connect with the bulk of economic evidence finding that spending programs provide more bang for the buck.

Clearly, the evidence Cooper and Calmes martial about economists’ views on the stimulus should point to one conclusion: economists believe that liberal Democrats who wanted to spend billions of government money on economic stimulus are absolutely in the right. Republicans who instead want tax cuts not stimulus spending are absolutely in the wrong. Maybe Cooper and Calmes or their editor felt uncomfortable with the unmistakably partisan consequences of their analysis. But it was someone at the Times who chose the premise: What do economic experts, not politicians, think about the stimulus? It was a good idea for a story, but Cooper and Calmes obscure their results and, in the process, confuse their vast readership [Matthew Blake, "In Stimulus Piece, New York Times Chooses Bipartisan Balance Over The Truth," Understanding Government, 2009.11.20].

Also worth noting: we've spent only a quarter of the stimulus money. In other words, Captain Obama has managed to pull the Enterprise back from the economic black hole at one-quarter impulse. There's much more to come. Contrary to the desires of the instant-gratification Republicans, slow and steady is going to win this recession race.

Twitter Ads: Why I'll Never Get Rich Blogging

The New York Times reports on the continued depressing infiltration of every interesting nook of the Internet by advertising. Vancouver blogger John Chow got $200 for allowing online advertiser Ad.ly posting this one Tweet flogging customized M&Ms. Such simple ads in October earned him $3000.

I'll admit, my reaction is not pure anti-commercialism. I run ads myself here on the blog. If someone offered me $3000 a month for occasionally telling you to go get M&Ms, I'd jump at the chance. But I don't buy the advertiser Joey Carone's claim that “We don’t want to create an army of spammers, and we are not trying to turn Facebook and Twitter into one giant spam network.... All we are trying to do is get consumers to become marketers for us.” Turning consumers into marketers feels like a double dronification of the masses. It's not enough that we eat corporate stuff; the corporations want us talking about their stuff.

Twitter ads are a step up from brand-name clothing and other logo-laden consumer goods. Kids marching around in their Aeropostale and Adidas gear are actually paying for the privilege of acting like billboards for those corporations. Online advertisers are at least compensating their Twittering marketers for their button-pushing.

But when money buys speech, it changes the public discourse. Every moment spent talking about what to buy is a moment lost to talk about what we could make in our gardens, our garages, and our culture.

I'm guilty of the same compromise. I could certainly use the advertising chunks of my sidebars to promote good causes, run polls, promote more conversation. Instead I take some pocket change and allow others to promote their wares on portions of my online real estate.

Last spring, I did consider creating a separate, more aggressively commercial blog. I imagined sidebars stacked with Google Ads and main content consisting of nothing but fluff, search-engine-optimized celebrity gossip and images dutifully tuned to the fads of the moment.

I also imagined being physically ill over the complete surrender of authenticity such a meaningless website would entail. I couldn't bring myself to create a public space where all I care about is that you keep clicking and consuming. That media model doesn't even ensure financial security: corporate TV networks and newspapers have followed that model, and we can plainly see the decline in their quality and their profitability.

I'll still take ads. I especially love the ring of the tip jar. Voluntary donations don't buy speech or change the discourse; they're just another way of signaling the value of the service or entertainment you find here... and that signal just happens to help me buy a RAM upgrade, or dinner at El Vaquero for my lovely wife. (No, El Vaquero didn't pay me for that mention; I just like their food!)

But you won't see me turning my blog content or Twitter space over to any advertiser. My pockets remain light, but my words remain mine and mine alone.

---------------
p.s., arguably related: in the fledgling Cuban blogosphere, the government may be paying students to write pro-Castro comments on dissident blogs.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

DENR Cites Manure Violations at Millner Veblen Dairies

Factory feedlot owner Rick Millner continues to break the rules, threaten the environment, and blame everyone but himself. After flagrant and repeated environmental violations at his CAFOs in Minnesota, Millner's two cattle concentration camps in the Big Stone Lake watershed around Veblen are finally drawing attention from South Dakota's environmental authorities.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Tom Meersman, Millner's Veblen operations, including the biggest single dairy in the state, have been breaking the law, filling their manure lagoons to the brim, and risking pollution of the Little Minnesota River and Big Stone Lake. Dairy operators are supposed to keep the manure two feet below the edge of their lagoons to prevent heavy rain from flooding the lagoons and spilling manure. Millner's Veblen dairies have apparently let the manure levels rise so high that the dairy has piled hay bales around the lagoon edges in an attempt to stop crap from lapping over the edges.

On September 18, the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources formally cited Millner for his illegal manure levels at both Veblen dairies. However, it took citizen action to prod Pierre to do its job:

Big Stone Lake Association, a citizens' group with Minnesota and South Dakota members, complained to South Dakota regulators last July about ponds brimming with waste at the Veblen dairies, and submitted aerial photos showing hay bales stacked along the rims to keep liquid waste from lapping over.

...The company has been pumping manure out of the ponds and spreading it on nearby farm fields in recent weeks, but the citizens' group said the ground is too wet to absorb the wastes and manure is running into streams.

Steve Berkner, president of the Big Stone Lake Association, said he and Big Stone County Commissioner Roger Sandberg flew over the area on Nov. 9. They observed a chocolate-brown plume of pollution swirling into Big Stone Lake from the Little Minnesota River, and traced the pollution north for about 45 miles, up the meandering river and one of its tributaries to the dairies.

"The water the whole way up there was brown, and we saw lots of foam on the creek when it was going around rocks," said Berkner [Tom Meersman, "SD Dairy Producer Cited for Pollution Violations," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2009.11.18].

Meersman follows up on a Joe O'Sullivan Watertown Public Opinion article from Oct 31-Nov 1 (updated online Nov. 3, available to online subscribers). O'Sullivan and Meersman both note that the state has not confirmed any manure runoff, and both run Millner's usual assertions that he's not to blame for any problems. Millner blames wet weather last year and this year that hasn't allowed him to empty his lagoons as quickly as he'd like. Of course, he never mentions the possibility that, to obey the law, he might have reduce his manure output and stop bringing new cattle into the Veblen facilities. (Meersman mentions that Millner "removed all 1,500 cows from Excel Dairy last winter, and moved them to the company's four other dairies"—I wonder how many he moved into his evidently maxed-out Veblen dairies?)

In 2007, the state of Minnesota fined Millner's company $17,400 for dumping too much manure on neighboring fields and other waste-handling violations at its New Horizon Dairy near Hoffman, MN. In 2008, Millner's Excel Dairy near Thief River Falls, MN, stunk neighbors out of their homes. This year the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency shut down Excel Dairy, then issued a one-year permit with strict conditions for Millner to clean the place up. Millner has flouted those conditions and continued to violate state and federal clean air standards.

In other words, Millner has repeatedly conducted business in such a way as to poison the environment around his industrial operations. He won't obey legal orders or even contracts with suppliers.

Now I suspect that defenders of the ag-industrial complex will say I'm just an enemy of agriculture and that I'm "scared of family farmers telling their story." Nothing could be farther from the truth. I share a desire to protect family farms and see independent agriculture remain a strong part of South Dakota's economy. But as Jay Gilbertson, East Dakota Water Development District director, tells Meersman, Millner's factory feedlot "is not a mom-and-pop operation.... This is an industrial milk production facility and needs to be treated as such. This is no one's definition of a family farm."

Veblen East and Veblen West are environmental hazards, operated by a man with a history of breaking the law, breaking contracts, and showing no regard for the well-being of the land or his neighbors. South Dakota has waited far too long to take action against Millner and his bad business practices.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Humane Society Just Can't Win with "Advocates" for "Agriculture"

Troy Hadrick demonstrates the impossibility of rational discourse with Farm Bureau propagandists. In a Tuesday, Nov. 17 post on his Advocates for (Big Corporate Masquerading as Family Farm) Agriculture, Hadrick reasonably decries an act of CAFO vandalism in northwest Iowa that led to the death of 3800 hogs. Naturally, Hadrick has to turn this incident into spin for his anti-Humane Society agenda:

...does anyone think HSUS will come in and offer a reward on this case? If someone intentionally killed a dog or a horse in this manner, they would have already done so. I guess I won’t hold my breath, but it shows the hypocrisy of this group [Troy Hadrick, "Suspected Act of Vandalism Kills 3800 Northwest Iowa Pigs," Advocates for Agriculture, 2009.11.17].

This just in (Thursday) from the Humane Society:

The Humane Society of the United States is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the identification, arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for intentionally suffocating 3,800 pigs in Hull, Iowa.

Surely Hadrick and his readers celebrate this development, right?

Well, there's no apology, correction, or acknowledgment from Hadrick yet. But his commenters show the Farm Bureau's true spirit. Says commenter Dawn Heublein Rohrer from Kansas:

Oh, the hypocrites are at work! They will find a way to spin this to fit their agenda, just like always.

Hadrick publishes this comment, but leaves my query about hypocrisy unpublished in the moderation queue.

You just can't win with some people.

Why I Love Interp: Students Ask for Encores

As I'm judging the big George McGovern Invitational Forensics Tournament (follow on Twitter! #mcgovdb8!) in Mitchell this weekend, I recall with pleasure a scene from a Region interp contest in Harrisburg Tuesday that reaffirms my love of high school speech activities.

Region Interp contests can get pretty tense. Kids compete plenty hard at the weekend invitationals, but at those contests, you get to perform several times, and there's always the consoling thought that if we don't win here, we can go back, practice, and take another swing at finals next weekend. At Regions, students get one shot at the stage. The top kids in that one-shot performance go to State; the rest go home, done for the season.

There were two boys from Vermillion who presented a duet parody of Twilight. It was sharply executed and funny, skewering one of the most popular elements of contemporary teen mythos. I got to judge that Duet round, and I ranked the Vermillion boys first, complimenting them on producing a performance that wasn't just a competent interp performance but a real crowd-pleaser, the kind of show that could build buzz at a contest.

Talk about buzz. A couple hours later, I handed in my final ballot for the humor round, grabbed my hat, and headed for the door. In the commons area, I saw a crowd of interp contestants—lots of eager young people in black suits and skirts, a seeming hybrid congregation of Broadway hopefuls and MBAs. They were gathered around the two boys from Vermillion, who were performing their duet again. It wasn't a round; there were none of us adults writing critiques or marking ranks. Kids who'd missed the Duet round (Prose and Oratory happened at the same time) had heard about the Vermillion boys' duet and asked them if they'd perform it again. The Vermillion boys, surely flattered and recognizing a great chance to practice in front of an audience, acceded to popular demand. As I walked by, I saw kids from other schools running over to join the crowd and watch this funny impromptu performance.

Now think about this: when's the last time you went to a football playoff game and saw kids from one team asking the kids who just beat them to demonstrate their flea-flicker again, just for their enjoyment?

I love interp and all the speech events that I judge in South Dakota. I get to see kids making good speeches. More importantly, I get to see kids making connections, sharing their skills, and developing true respect for each other and their talents in the heat of competition.

High school speech contests: still the best way to spend a weekend!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Poet Cuts Cellulosic Ethanol Production Costs 43%

Expect CE commercial competitiveness by 2011, says CEO Broin.

April was right: Jeff Broin's Poet Ethanol has achieved a cost breakthrough on cellulosic ethanol

POET announced today that cost reductions achieved over the past year of operating their cellulosic ethanol pilot plant have exceeded expectations in their drive to commercialize the process. Reductions in energy usage, enzyme costs, raw material requirements and capital expenses have reduced POET’s per gallon cost from $4.13 to $2.35 over the course of the past year, and the company’s goal is to be below $2 by commercial plant start-up ["On first anniversary of pilot plant start-up, POET announces cost reductions in cellulosic ethanol," press release, Poet, 2009.11.18].

Poet CEO Jeff Broin expects to get production costs down a commercially viable level below $2 a gallon by 2011, when it plans to open its 25-million-gallon/year cellulosic ethanol plant in Emmettsburg, Iowa (brought to you in part by $100 million dollars from Uncle Sam—you're welcome!).

Dr. Mark Stower, senior Poet sci-tech VP, explains it all:



Forget sending that federal money back; let's roast those corn cobs and start sending oil back to Saudi Arabia and Canada!

Recession Thanksgiving: Upsides of the Downturn

You know me, always looking for the silver lining!

As Thanksgiving approaches, here are some more reasons that the recession may actually be doing some good for the country:

  1. AAA says South Dakotans will travel 2.6% less this year for Turkey Day. That's less fuel burned up, less pollution. Travel will be up slightly nationwide... but it almost has to be up from last year's amazing 25.2% drop in Thanksgiving travel.
  2. From the same report, air travel for Thanksgiving has dropped an "astounding" 62% over the past decade. Thank high prices... but also thank the Patriot Act: AAA cites "stricter airport security" as one of the factors in less air travel (so, the terrorists are winning?).
  3. Urban sprawl has been knocked on its can. Bedroom communities that relied on long-distance commutes to coax residents to join their housing booms now are looking for ways to develop rail lines, denser and more efficient housing, and local business.
  4. More folks are shopping at Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift stores. The National Association of Resale and Thrist Shops (yes, there is one) reports a 35% increase in resales. Of course, the recession has also cut back donations at some stores, as folks hang on to their old clothes to get as much use as possible from them... although NARTS counters that almost 70% of their members report increases in incoming inventory volume. Good thrift business is good news for the town of Wilmot, South Dakota, which holds the grand opening of its new a community thrift store tomorrow. The Replay Thrift Store is a product of the Whetstone Valley Horizons community revitalization project.
So darn that President Obama, trying to end the recession. Doesn't he see all the good this recession is doing for the country?

We're still far from the hard suffering of the Great Depression that made our grandparents such tough characters. But even the relatively small lemons of this recession may produce some cultural lemonade.

South Dakota Wants de Facto Raw Milk Ban

Anti-Nanny-State Free-Market Advocates Silent
on South Dakota's Continued War on Small Family Farms

Friends in the dairy industry let me know about a South Dakota Department of Agriculture proposal to effectively ban raw milk sales. Small dairy operators could still get permits to sell their product directly to local buyers, but the proposed rules would require small operations to buy the same costly equipment and testing as big factory dairies, a budget-buster for small operators.

Steve Miller of the Rapid City Journal gave the issue some Saturday coverage:

Lila Streff milks about 20 goats at her farm, south of Custer, which she says has passed all state dairy inspections.

But Streff said if she is required by the new rules to buy expensive equipment and conduct more testing, she will be forced to quit selling milk.

...Streff says the requirements are unnecessary and constitute a de facto ban on raw milk sales in South Dakota because most small dairy farmers can’t afford to comply.

She said the bottling machines cost about $9,000, and the specialized jars that fit the machines cost up to $3,000.

“There’s no proof that it’s more sanitary to have a machine do it than to hand cap it,” she said [Steve Miller, "State Proposes New Rules for Raw Milk Sales," Rapid City Journal, 2009.11.14].

The proposed rules also include this Big Brother treat:

Milk plants that provide or offer bottled raw milk for human consumption shall maintain a current list of persons to whom they have provided raw milk for human consumption. The list must be continually updated and include the data for at least 60 days. This customer list shall include customer names, addresses, phone numbers, and quantities of bottled raw milk for human consumption. This list shall be provided to the department upon the department’s request.


South Dakota's agricultural policies have already contributed to the growth of massive, polluting CAFOs and the near extinction of genuine small family dairies. The proposed de facto ban on raw milk sales is a travesty against small family farms and against the free market.

But where are the defenders of family farms and personal freedom on this issue? Pat Powers likens supporters of a smoking ban to Nazis and protest government "telling businessowners what they can do in their place of business," but he never says a word about Pierre regulating small farmers out of business. If Pierre proposed convenience stores record the names, addresses and phone numbers of their cigarette buyers, Powers would go ape.

Troy Hadrick, self-proclaimed "Advocate for Agriculture," is even more deeply hypocritical. He howls about the Humane Society and eco-vandals and vegans, slaps the word "family" on factory farms and takes the Big Ag line on pasteurization, but he says nothing to defend real family farmers who haven't adopted the industrial agricultural production model. Worse, Hadrick whines about federal legislation that would increase testing for e. Coli in hamburger at slaughterhouses and grinding houses (i.e., the meat factories) and says consumers should do their part to prevent food-borne illness.

Do you think Hadrick and the Farm Bureau for whom he propagandizes (at $2000 a pop!) will apply that same standard to protect small South Dakota dairy farms? I would welcome some consistency from my Big-Ag, free-market neighbors to defend the rights of small dairy farmers to sell their products locally.

--------------------
Update 10:35 CST: Dakota Rural Action is at least speaking up on this issue to protect small farmers. Dakota Rural Action: you know, the group Sibby tries to say is "not a rural South Dakota organization" (black has never been more white). The group Dakota War College mocks as cowardly, unscientific whiners. Seems to me Dakota Rural Action shows more courage than anyone else around here in standing up for rural South Dakotans.

Wasson Proposes Trade with North Korea, Cut DoD by Half

GOP U.S. House candidate Thad Wasson keeps the ideas coming: He extends his proposal for bear-hug diplomacy with Iran to include agricultural trade with North Korea. He also proposes the most serious federal deficit-cutting plan I've heard from anyone this year: withdraw from Kosovo, Italy, Japan, and Korea and cut the U.S. military budget by half. Wasson makes the interesting argument that other countries look at our enormous military spending and assume that such expenditures are the route to greatness. A paradigm shift to a less bristly America could lead to a paradigm shift in other nations.

Or so Wasson proposes, and so Wasson would like to discuss on the campaign trail. Not that the mainstream media or even the Republican Party chiefs are interested in hearing big ideas like that. They're more interested in R. Blake Curd's ability to count words. in the health insurance reform bill.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Governor Rounds on Big Stone II and Transmission for Wind: What, No Sales Pitch?

I sometimes criticize local and state politicians for putting a happy face on setbacks or ignoring real problems. Of course, mayors and governors have their agendae, their own need to keep the positive spin coming, to put the best face forward to keep investors interested and promote economic development.

So why, if he is really committed to promoting alternative energy, would Governor Mike Rounds (through spokesman Joe Kafka) so vocally bemoan the demise of Big Stone II?

"The governor feels it's a setback to development of the wind-energy sector in the state, because enhanced transmission capacity was tied to the project," Kafka wrote. "Without the ability to move larger amounts of wind energy to markets in large cities to the east, plans for future wind-energy projects may be sidetracked" [Ross Dolan, "End of Big Stone II Could Be Trouble for South Dakota Wind," Mitchell Daily Republic via Rapid City Journal, 2009.11.18].

Now I know the governor has obligations to his lieutenant and the Dakota Dunes donor base. I know it's oh so satisfying for the conservative commentariat to say President Obama and climate change legislation and we liberal bloggers killed Big Stone II and wind power all in one shot. We have to keep reminding the other side of the aisle that BSII backers themselves were saying all along that climate change legislation was actually making the plant a better deal.

But my question this evening is why would the governor insist on shedding his usual boosterism and being such a wet blanket about wind power? He dispatches his spokesman to tell alternative energy investors, essentially, gee, it's going to be awfully hard to justify building wind farms here in South Dakota. Golly, you investors, I don't know why you'd even think of spending your money here after a big setback like this. Does that sound like a sales pitch to you?

Governor Rounds sounds a lot more like the crabbing conservative bloggers who are big on blame but short on innovative thinking and solutions. They keep forgetting that Otter Tail bailed out of Big Stone II even while adding 180 megawatts of wind power over the last three years. The Western Area Power Administration is working on another 200 megawatts of wind power.

Instead of moping and fueling bogus anti-Obama, anti-environmentalist rhetoric, maybe the state's cheerleader-in-chief could show some leadership and salesmanship. He could make it his mission to sell utilities on the business case for building transmission lines to cash in on the Saudi Arabia of wind.

Or he could one-up his Republican counterpart in California, Governor Schwarzenegger, and sign an executive order requiring South Dakota utilities to get 33% of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. Maybe the governor could exhort the Legislature to pass real renewable quotas, not the fluff-ball paperwork charade that Senator Russell Olson likes to tout as progress. Utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric have responded to that mandate with all sorts of great energy initiatives (including poo-power!).

Of course, this argument assumes Governor Rounds really wants wind energy to thrive. It assumes Governor Rounds really wants to see alternatives rise to compete with the fossil fuel industry. If that's what I were selling, that's what I'd be saying.

But Governor Rounds isn't saying that, is he? Hmmm... I'm feeling contrapositive....

Madison Swine Flu Clinic Gives 775 Shots

I went to the Lake County H1N1/sine flu free vaccine clinic yesterday—not to get a shot (I'm not in Tier 1), but to enter data. That meant I got to be one of the first people to see the shot totals for the day.

Our vaccine clinic gave out all 775 doses of H1N1 vaccine it had available. 23% of the shots went to kids 5 and under. 50% went to kids 6-18. 19% went to young people 19–24.

Everyone [edit!] under 10 years oldwho got a shot yesterday has to come back in a month to get a second shot to make the vaccine stick (careful, moms: now those little ones know what's coming!). And given that we used up our full supply yesterday, there's that much more chance that, as more vaccine comes available, we may get another such clinic later this season.

And for my Glenn Beck readers, there were no signs of microchips in the injections or the lollipops. There didn't appear to be any government mismanagement either. The whole show at the Playhouse ran quite smoothly, ably planned and managed by local emergency director Don Thomson*. That's government for you: just getting the job done.

Update 12:15 CST: The local press adds to the list of folks deserving credit for a smoothly run ship yesterday: "Cathy Hanson from the Madison Community Hospital,
CHN Jen Fouberg and Peggy Young (also from the public health nurse's office)" also coordinated the Lake County vaccine clinic.

Lake County Water Data Shows Need for Environmental Action

Dakota Water Watch has issued a report on this year's water monitoring projects around eastern South Dakota. For Lake County lakes, the news mixed:
  1. Lakes Madison and Brant showed higher than average water clarity, as measured by Secchi disk readings. Lake Herman was a little murkier than the average for all bodies of water monitored. Round Lake was really murky in the summer, but cleared up fast come September and October.
  2. Brant Lake had the lowest E. coli readings in the county. Lake Madison had higher but still not bad bacteria counts. Lake Herman's bacteria counts were higher yet, including one spike in June to 232 colony-forming units per 100 mL, the highest reading found during the entire 2009 monitoring project. 232 cfu/100mL is still below the EPA standard (and newly adopted South Dakota standard) of 235 cfu/mL as the maximum single sample level for immersion recreation waters... but it's awfully close.
One way to read this data: Folks on Lake Madison continue to owe Lake Herman a big thank-you for filtering out the crap and supporting their McMansion property values (top current asking price: $870K on Woodland Drive). Of course, I'd still rather live on the rich folks' settling pond than the rich folks' jet ski range.

The non-class-warfare way to read this data: we need to take action to improve water quality on Lake Herman. While my neighbor Larry Dirks continues to fantasize about building a giant central sewer system with someone else's tax dollars, I would suggest some practical action we can take locally, through combined action of the Lake Herman Sanitary District and Lake County:
  1. Begin inspection of all on-site septic systems. There are some folks on Lake Herman and around the county who may have bought property and don't even know where their septic tanks and drainfields are, let alone whether they are in working order. Whether we require inspection and cleaning according to some timetable or pass a transfer inspection requirement like what Iowa just enacted this summer, we should inventory and monitor the onsite systems around the county.
  2. Enforce zoning regulations. I've heard some folks grumble about houses being built on land around the Madison Country Club that doesn't have the right soil for an effective drainfield. The county and the state DENR have some pretty clear rules about soil quality and other requirements for installing onsite wastewater systems. If a lot doesn't meet those rules, the county needs to get serious about saying to developers they either can't build there or they need to make improvements.
  3. Establish more buffer zones: the south side of Lake Herman has cattle pasture right at the water's edge. Many of our tributaries have cultivation very close to the watercourse. Lake County should seek funds to support its own CRP-style program to expand the riparian buffers in these areas to absorb more nutrients before they reach the lake.
  4. Continue monitoring. We can't make good policy without good data. The East Dakota Water Development District and Interlakes Water Quality Committee have provided a valuable service by starting the water monitoring project that has gathered this data about our lakes for three years now. Lake County's soon-to-be-formed water quality committee should recommend continuing this project so we can base our local water policies on science, not wishes and guesses.

New Study: World Does Health Care Better Than U.S.

As the Senate gets ready to debate health insurance reform, lets take a look at some of the latest data on the status quo that the GOP (and the Blue Dogs) will try to defend. A new study just published this month in Health Affairs finds the following shortcomings in the American health care system compared to ten other countries: Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom:
  • Americans can't get non-emergency room care after hours: Only 29% of American primary care doctors and nurses report making after-hours arrangements to see patients without having to resort to the emergency room. Norway and Canada are also low on this count (38% and 43%, respectively); every other country in the survey scored 50% or better.
  • Cost is a greater barrier to care in America than anywhere else: 58% of American doctors say out-of-pocket cost "often" makes it hard for their patients to get medicine or other treatment. Norway (37%) and Italy (33%) are next on the list. Everyone else is below 30%. In Norway, only 5% of doctors report cost creating a problem for patients.
  • American insurance is a barrier to care: 48% of American doctors report "a major problem" with insurance coverage restrictions getting in the way of giving patients the medicine and treatment they need. The problem is next worst on this count in Italy (42%) and Germany (34%). Everyone else is below 20%.
  • American health care lags in information technology innovation: Only Canada has been slower than the United States in adopting electronic medical records (EMR), which have been shown to save money and save lives, not to mention catch drug addicts faking illnesses. Various forms of government health insurance have not stopped the near-universal use of EMRs in places like Sweden (94% of primary care physicians report using EMR), the U.K. (96%), Norway (97%), and the Netherlands (97%).
  • American health care lags in improving chronic care: American doctors are at or below average in using written guidelines for treatment, using care teams to increase contact times with patients, and giving patients written lists of their medications. We only slightly outperform the average in giving chronically ill patients written instructions on managing their care at home.
  • American doctors get fewer performance incentives. For all our talk about how the free market rewards good work, more doctors in socialist dystopias like Canada and the U.K. report having the chance to receive incentives for providing better health care.
Americans pay more—way more—for health care than citizens of any other country, but we aren't getting better care. America's health care system—and the GOP's staunch defense of it—doesn't make sense.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Flush High Water Bills with Greywater!

Noting a recent surge in wastewater-related posts, an eager reader mentions greywater for conservation. He notes that long-time Madison resident and inventor Paul Redfield plumbed in a system that piped his laundry and shower water into his toilet tanks. I've heard others mention how silly it is that we Americans use gallons of drinkable water to flush away a cup of urine or a little bit of poo. My correspondent wonders how many millions of gallons of water we might save by repurposing our greywater.

Ah! A numbers question!

A little Googling takes me to this Miller-McClune article about California's relaxation of its greywater rules last summer. California officials estimate a family of four recycling just its laundry greywater can save 22,000 gallons of water per year.

Let's see... family of four... Madison has about 6500 people... carry the two... almost 36 million gallons of water per year, just from recycling laundry greywater. 36 million gallons: that's over a month's worth of the water the Lewis and Clark water pipeline is supposed to bring our fair city after 2019.

Or, for my dry little family of three, 22,000 gallons equals seven months of household water consumption. Yowza!

Now don't just go busting through your drywall and looping new pipes through your walls; greywater takes a little thought. And don't go running that shower drain straight out to your garden: the state has rules on that.

But if you plumbers out there are looking for a little recession business, greywater systems might be the ticket. Tell your customers you can save them money: Go green, go grey!

Madville Times Readers Want Primary Challenge to Herseth Sandlin

The most recent Madville Times asked you, dear readers, "Would you like to see a Democrat challenge Herseth in the primary?" 108 of you took time to tell us all what you think (thank you!). The results: we want a rumble!

Yes: Replace SHS with a real Dem!
42 (38%)
Yes: SHS will win, but she needs a challenge.
24 (22%)
Yes: Dem primary helps GOP!
9 (8%)
No: SHS is the best!
12 (11%)
No: SHS will win; why bother?
15 (13%)
No: Dem primary helps GOP!
6 (5%)

68% of you would like to see some brave Dem find his or her inner Wellstone (or Wasson?) and challenge the status quo. Only a handful of those respondents indicated they were Republicans chomping at the bit for a Dem bloodbath.

The number I'd worry about if I were sitting in 331 Cannon or the Sioux Falls office: only 11% of respondents on this Democrat-leaning blog rejected a primary on the basis of SHS being "the best."

Opportunity is knocking, young rising Dems! The incumbent is weak, voters want a discussion, and there's a new open primary offering the chance to draw Dems and Independents to your cause. Now's the perfect time to jump in and lead the conversation!

Repower SD in Madison Today: Put Your Energy Security Shout-Out on the Wall!

Repower America is coming to Madison today! Susan and Elana from the Repower South Dakota office in Sioux Falls will be at the Trojan Center on the Dakota State University campus from noon to 4 p.m., spreading the good word and giving students and other passersby a chance to add their support to the Repower Wall. (John Thune only wishes his website looked this good.)

The Repower Wall is filled with videos of regular folks (and a few famous ones) looking the webcam and the world in the eye and saying why they support legislation to promote clean energy, American economic independence, military security... oh yeah, and saving the planet.

As Badlands Blue ably reminds us, taking action to stop climate change is also about protecting wildlife habitat and hunting. Jordan LaRue from Helena, Montana, gets that message, too:


(My fellow DSU students: if you want to visit Susan and Elana at their table in the TC today, don't bring your hunting rifles!!!)

Wilmot farmer and veteran Orrie Swayze doesn't need to pack heat to make his point:



Marilyn Teske from Fort Pierre sees the benefits (remember, 5000 green jobs!) for small-town South Dakota:



State Senator Dan Ahlers (D-25/Dell Rapids) makes the argument for stewardship, efficiency, and just plain good business:



So does State Senator Pam Merchant (D-7/Brookings):



And there's fellow NFL alum Jennifer Chase, looking out for her own future:



Like jobs? Like staying out of global conflicts? Like the planet? Then get your voice up on the Repower Wall!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Farmers Union Holds Climate Change Forum in Brookings Wednesday

While the Farm Bureau gets a little free press for its pro-Big-Ag, anti-Michael-Pollan propaganda, the Farmers Union provides a forum Wednesday for all sides to discuss climate change legislation. Tomorrow night, Wednesday, November 18, 7 p.m., speakers and interested citizens will gather on the SDSU campus in Rotunda D to talk about what we need to do about clean energy and American energy security.

Among the speakers are two fellas known to be on opposite sides of the issue: Matt McGovern of Repower America and Rep. Todd Schlekeway (R-11/Sioux Falls). Rep. Schlekeway signed the misnamed "No Climate Tax Pledge" for the Americans for Prosperity last summer, but he did vote for limiting some local carbon emissions last winter; perhaps he and McGovern can find some common ground after all! Maybe they'll even promote conservation and carpool from Sioux Falls....

Also serving on Wednesday's forum panel:
  • Jay Bender, President of Falcon Plastics, Inc., Former Chairman, SD Chamber of Commerce (let's see if he takes the Apple line on the Chamber's climate change denial)
  • Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union (get ready for a check on the pro-corporate line)
  • Steve Wegman, Executive Director of the SD Wind Energy Association
  • Moderator: David J. Law, KXLG Radio News Director
Note to all forum participants: see the really cool map (maybe cool isn't the right word) Badlands Blue provides of NASA data on global temperatures. Pass the lemonade... or the supermodels.

Nelson Protecting Electoral Process, Not Playing Politics

Secretary of State Chris Nelson evidently has more than half a brain. Instead of listening to the mewling of the anti-nanny-staters, Sec. Nelson tells KELO he's concerned that allowing the smoking ban vote to go forward may weaken the integrity of the elctoral process:

"The court found that there were a number of areas where we had determined there were errors with the petitions that the court has the authority to find substantial compliance and essentially overlook those types of errors," Nelson said.

..."If a court says these types of errors are okay, where does that land us on the next petitions? What other things are going to be okay then, and then we get to a point of is there integrity left in the petition process?" Nelson said [Ben Dunsmoor, "Smoking Ban Ruling May Impact Petition Process," KELOLand.com, 2009.11.17].

Unlike some Republicans, I don't see Nelson playing politics with this issue. Unlike the editorial board of that Sioux Falls paper, which appears to believe a public vote is the quickest way to put the issue to rest, the Secretary and I share a belief that rules are rules. Our rules for referenda and other petition processes exist to level the playing field and keep monkey business out of the electoral process. Secretary Nelson is right to take a hard look at the lower court's ruling and determine whether this judicial activism (that is what you call it when a judge says the law means something other than what it says, right?) sets a harmful precendent worthy of appeal.

p.s.: By the way, Republicans, don't forget that your Tea Party candidate for U.S. House, R. Blake Curd, voted for the smoking ban in the House last winter... twice.