Archive for October, 2007

A new entry to my Blogroll

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

I’ve added Citizen Orange to my Blogroll.  It replaces an earlier site, Immigration Orange.   Both are the children of Kyle.

Kyle’s interests are focused differently than mine but I sense that we both sincerely want to help create a better world.

And there is no right or wrong about having different focuses.   There’s more than enough work for all of us to fill many lifetimes.

If immigrant issues and global migration interest you, you would be very hard pressed to find a better site than his.

Motorcycle – bye bye …

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Longing to get back onto a steady diet of end-of-the-world stories of doom and destruction? Yearn no more! Only this last bit of the motorcycle serial saga to slog through and you’re back to the hi-grade stuff:

Armageddamite to spread all over your reality sandwiches, coming up.

But first, this:

So, I was out of bed at six. Darker than hell. Back in bed til 6:20 and then up again, regardless (still very dark). Off to Starbucks for serious inspiration and then back home as the sun’s rising.

I Bubble-wrapped stuff until I ran out of bubble-wrap and then off to the UPS store for more. Strange, sometime you’re just overrun with Bubble-wrap and then one day you need it and you have to go pay five bucks for ten feet. If I was a pack rat, I’d have died right then.

More wrapping and then outside into the light rain to pressure wash off the biological goo-goo accumulating on the machine. Serious fear of NZ biosecurity at this point.

Wah! Wah! Wah! (sirens) – “Look, there’s a leaf under the tail pipe. Grab that evil polluting Yank and call the SAS boys – we’re going to have a hanging!

There was a bit of dirt up in the deep treads of the bike’s brand new tires. Sharon saw it last night. it was, therefore, there all night and so I slept restless. “They don’t want our dirt in NZ – got to get it out, get it out….” (circular dream – ain’t they fun?).

I tightened up all the rope tie-downs again. All of that looks good. Plan #2 is a good one. Then I strapped the various bubble-wrapped packages onto the pallet gathered around the bike and, finally, we’re ready to lower the top over the whole works. And we do so and it still fits. I mean, it should, right? But after yesterday, when I looked down and saw the entire pallet warped, I trust nothing now.

At this point it is 11:30 and the truck’s due at two to four PM. I’m feeling pretty on-top-of-it – on-schedule, don’t you know? This is until Sharon says, “Look, a big truck’s pulling in.” And it says Global on the side of the truck. Global is the name of the shipping company – this is bad news!

The driver backs up so the lift gate is facing the crate (still open) and basically his truck takes over the entire parking lot (we are open for business whilst all this is transpiring). He comes over and I have deja-vu. His voice is exactly like Sawyer’s voice on the show Lost. But, I manage to get by that and say, “You were not suppost to be here until 2 PM.” “Nobody told me anything about that.“, he replies, in Sawyer’s voice.

Furious brain activity ensues behind my shifting eyes. Shifting as they dart from the crate to the truck to the parking lot to everyone looking at me. Yow! We’ve got a problem, Huston.

A few minutes later, I’ve talked him into exploring the possibilities of a fast food lunch in Monroe and sent him off for an hour.

But, while he was here, we managed to establish that the lift gate on his truck is EXACTLY 8 feet wide – as is the crate. That’s a close but no cigar sort of a deal. His idea was that with four of us, we could man-handle the crate around and drag it onto his lift gate length-wise rather than sideways. The idea being that when unfolded, the lift gate extends out 5 feet from the back of the truck and with an 8 foot crate, it should balance on the gate as he lifts it.

The dragging and man-handling part is not appealing to me. The crate weighs a lot and forcing and stressing it around over gravel and rocks doesn’t sound like a good start to me. Especially when the NZ biosecurity folks are going to be looking at whatever gets embedded in it during the process.

So he leaves and I franticaly finish assembling the crate and screw everything down top and bottom and it’s done and sealed and then Jesus and Dino bring up big large tractor (rear wheels five foot tall) and they proceed to run straps under the crate and they lift it under the bucket.

The truck driver returns, still sounding like Sawyer. I mention this to him and he smiles. He knows Lost and he like Sawyer.

He lets the lift gate down and Jesus gingerly manuvers the crate onto it length wise and then disconnects. The driver pulls the lever and it rises and you can see the lift gate visibly sagging. He says, “That’s a lot heaveier than 500 pounds.” Exactly my thought. We find out later, when it’s arrived in Seattle and been offically weighed, that it’s 842 pounds.

But the gate does rise and now it ready to be pushed into the truck. The tractor approaches and carefully it is pushed inside.

Yahoo! I can see daylight now now. A few papers signed and he’s off and I’m blessing the truck as it departs and breathing a sigh of relief.

It’s a pirate’s life for me…

Of course, I have no idea what will happen from now until I see the beast on the docks in Littleton, New Zealand, on the South Island but … that’s fun for another day. I’ve got it all insured from here to there so it’s all out of my hands. I can only hope I’ve remembered to pack everything necessary into the crate.

There were tools to reassemble the bike there, There were helmets and gloves. There was even a heavy box of books I tossed in at the last moment. Since I know the shippers are charging me on volume and not weight, it seemed like a good idea.

It’s shipped!  Now look what New Zealanders have to look forward to:

Here I come.

Motorcycle on the brain

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

All day today I’ve worked flat out getting the motorcycle ready to ship. The truck’s coming tomorrow on Wednesday between two and four in the afternoon.


Everything always takes longer than you think. I pressure washed the bike and then I began to remove the parts that had to be taken off and placed into the shipping crate separately because they’d have made it too long or too tall.

Then, there was the matter of draining the gasoline. Easily said but tougher to do. I finally had to take the tank off and empty it and then put it back on. An hour or more shot.

The battery had to come out and I discovered that the cells were low on water so that took time to deal with.

Then there was the headlight assembly to remove. It makes the m/c two inches too tall for the crate. And, it didn’t come easy. Finally, after a lot of stressing and head scratching and resisting the urge to just give it a damn good yank, I sorted it out. Another hour vanished.

I received news from the shipping folks that I had to overnight FedX the bike’s title to them. And that took some time.

All the time, I’m watching the clock and pushing and pushing.

Finally, the bike’s ready and I roll it out to where I’ve got the pallet strategically placed for the truck’s lift gate. Once the bike’s on the pallet, we won’t be able to move it much, if at all.

I roll it up on the pallet and position it. It’s raining and a bit windy. No matter – got to press on.

Meanwhile, Sharon, my wife, is in the garage painting the crate’s top and sides with all the various things that need to be there like the destination address, this side up and that sort of thing.

I’m outside tying the m/c down to the pallet according to the plan I worked out a day or so ago. Tying and tightening. Tying and tightening. I get done – at least I think I’m done with that part – and I look at the pallet from a distance – and it is bowed – way bowed – impossibly bowed. I know, just by looking at it, that the crate’s top will never mate with the pallet correctly with that much bowing.

I’m bummed and tired so I go in and eat the second half of my lunch and have a bit of coffee. Sheron and I talk and it’s looking like I’ll need to contact the shipping folks first thing in the AM and wave off the truck for another week while I sort all of this out. But, I’m not sure yet.

After sitting and thinking for a bit about why the pallet’s bowed, I work it out and I see that I can strap the m/c down a different way and avoid stressing and bowing the pallet. Of course, a good question at this point is, if I undo the pre-stress on the pallet, will it rebound to it’s former shape? It’s 5:30 PM and the light willbe going soon. I decide that since I can’t contact the shipping people until morning anyway, I might as well wade in again and see what, if anything can be done.

I untie everything and start in again and I can see immeditely, that this is a much better plan. Less rope, better tensioning.

It is amazing. You try to think something out and then you implement it. And it is rarely as good as you’d imagined. But, having dented your ego, you go in again and redo things with the input of what you learned was wrong the first time and, with this empirical (and not so mental) approach, you end up with a better solution.

So it is here. The bike is more secure, the ropes are tighter and there’s no obvious reason what any of the tie-down stress applied should be bowing the pallet.

But, the pallet’s still bowed. I get Sharon to come and help me and we run some 2×4’s under the middle of the pallet so that the ends are suspended and then I stand on one of the ends. The pallet is now mostly straight. Yahoo! if it sits this way overnight, I think it will be good.

With this encouragement, I press on tying the remaining ropes. But, I have to stop as the light’s basically gone so I setup an outside light and continue. The rain comes and goes.

Finally, it’s all tied down according to plan #2 and the pallet’s looking good.

Still, I can’t stop. I’ll have to either call and cancel in the morning right away or let the truck come on. And, if it comes and I’m not ready, it’s a wasted trip, some pissed off shippers and probably a bill for not less that $165 for the truck’s time to ride out here and back.

I’d like to know if I’m close enough or not to pull this off. I’m worried because as I get down to the last minute under pressure, the chances of me forgetting to do something or pack something essential into the crate or whatever are growing with the pressure and the late hour. And, of course, if there’s biological debris in the crate because I was in too much of a hurry to keep it all clean for NZ BiSecurity, then all the cleaning was wasted and they’ll sterilize it all and charge me for the pleasure.

It’s 7:30 PM and cold and I’m down to the next step which I’m afraid is a big one. All of the small stuff like the bike’s luggage carrier, the front headlight assembly, the front fender, the battery, the tools I’m sending, the helmet, gloves and goggles and all such need to be placed on the pallet. I’ve been envisioning making custom wooden mounting brackets to hold and support these things and I know that will be a lot of small, detailed, slow and fussy work.

I carry the luggage carrier out and place it on the pallet behind the front wheel and the engine’s pipes. It just fits and nicely. Suddenly, I have an epiphany. Why not bubble wrap the hell out of all such pieces and simply wedge them into spots around the botton of the bike on the pallet. At worse, I’ll have to put a strap over a piece and attach the strap with a small nail which is quick and easy.

So, I bring all of the pieces out and lay them out on the pallet. All of them are easy except for the battery which does need specific support. But, this is WAY better than I’d been imagining.

I definitely have the kind of engineer’s brain that makes simple stuff way too hard sometimes. <sound of my hand slapping my face>

At 8 PM, I call Sharon out and show her the progress and the plan and tell her I’m thinking I am not going to wave off the truck. I can pressure wash the bike and pallet combo in the morning early to reclean it and buy a length of bubble wrap from the postal store up the road and pack all the stuff that’s going and have the top of the crate on the pallet by noon – so long as no more big problems come up. I decide to go for it.

I really want the m/c gone tomorrow. I’ve got several other big projects screaming for time before I leave for New Zealand on November 7th and time is a pressing me. If the m/c doesn’t go, it will continue to eat my brain and time. If it goes, I can change to the next project.

So, 7 AM tomorrow. Mr.Optimism is going out there again to slay the beast. Wish me luck.

Oh, and here’s the crate after Sharon’s painting improvements:

Beautiful crateMost glorious crate

Ps. for those of you obsessed with the impending end-of-the-world (crash-blogging and all that), I haven’t forgotten. I’m just saving it all up. Though it may not be until I arrive in the southern hemisphere that I gain sufficent time back to do that small matter the justice it deserves. I’m just steering this little paper-boat life of mine here along between the falling dollar and the rising insanity hoping it’ll all stay stable for a bit more. And, check air fares to NZ round-trip. They are running $2000+ and I don’t think they are ever going to get much better with fuel prices rising. It’s going to be damned difficult to make it down there in another few years. Boating, anyone?

Motorcycle shipping to New Zealand

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

Shipping a motorcycle to New Zealand is not for the faint hearted. I’ve spent weeks of time, on and off, getting clear about what’s required to be able to do this. At the moment, I’m deep into building my shipping crate as you can see in the following photographs.






I’ve had to deal with New Zealand Biosecurity which is why the entire crate is made from plywood to prevent the possible entry of pests into New Zealand.

I’ve had to deal with New Zealand customs to get clear about import duties.

I’ve had to determine how a vehicle which is new to New Zealand, is registered and inspected for compliance with NZ laws. Bring proof of ownership.

This last, in turn, led me to have to get a letter from Honda USA stating that this motorcycle was originally sold in the US and there are no outstanding recalls against it. That was not easy getting a vast corporation like Honda to deign to send me such an obscure letter on their letterhead.

And, finally, I’ve had to located a shipper here in the US who was willing to ship the crate with my motorcycle in it without charging an arm and a leg. We finally settled for a single leg which seemed to be valued at about $1200 – from my home to the dock in Littleton.

Most folks have told me I’m basically daft for doing this. “Why don’t you buy one there?”

I guess some folks just don’t appreciate genius – it’s the only explanation I can think of <smile>.

And, never one to let an opportunity for doing something techo-whizzie get by me, I’ve managed to build my crate with a bit of Titanium. Note the gray plate that the motorcycle’s stand rests upon. Boeing surplus Titanium, don’t you know. Just think how nice that’s going to look out on the coffee table to impress all my friends in New Zealand?

The Nature of the New World

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

– I first read Lester R. Brown’s Plan B – rescuing a planet under stress and a Civilization in Trouble in 2002 along with four or five other books of a similar ilk.

– A year of two later, I also read his next book, Plan B 2.0 – rescuing a planet under stress and a Civilization in Trouble

– It was the same information in more detail and updated to reflect changing conditions and better data.

– These were sobering books and essentially changed the course of my personal life as they convinced me more than anything else I’d ever read that mankind and our civilization are in deep trouble and that most of humanity hasn’t recognized the gravity of the situation yet.

– Below, is an excerpt from Plan B 2.0 which has been adapted from Chapter 1 of the book.

– Read this and then reflect that this information has been out on the table in plain sight for years – and still we, our civilization, our governments and all of us in aggregate, advance into the future much as we always have. We are bound for a global disaster and largely ignorant or in deep denial of the fact.

– This isn’t just some interesting intellectual stuff, folks. This is your future bearing down on you and those you love. You should begin to think about what you can do about it to (1) get those you love out of harm’s way and (2) join in the efforts many of us are making to wake others up to what’s going on around us.

– What Brown writes about so eloquently, below, is indeed the Perfect Storm I have been describing for some time now. If you have not been persuaded by my description – read his, please.


Lester R. Brown

We recently entered a new century, but we are also entering a new world, one where the collisions between our demands and the earth’s capacity to satisfy them are becoming daily events. It may be another crop-withering heat wave, another village abandoned because of invading sand dunes, or another aquifer pumped dry. If we do not act quickly to reverse the trends, these seemingly isolated events will occur more and more frequently, accumulating and combining to determine our future.

Resources that accumulated over eons of geological time are being consumed in a single human lifespan. We are crossing natural thresholds that we cannot see and violating deadlines that we do not recognize. These deadlines, determined by nature, are not politically negotiable.

Nature has many thresholds that we discover only when it is too late. In our fast-forward world, we learn that we have crossed them only after the fact, leaving little time to adjust. For example, when we exceed the sustainable catch of a fishery, the stocks begin to shrink. Once this threshold is crossed, we have a limited time in which to back off and lighten the catch. If we fail to meet this deadline, breeding populations shrink to where the fishery is no longer viable, and it collapses.

We know from earlier civilizations that the lead indicators of economic decline were environmental, not economic. The trees went first, then the soil, and finally the civilization itself. To archeologists, the sequence is all too familiar.

Our situation today is far more challenging because in addition to shrinking forests and eroding soils, we must deal with falling water tables, more frequent crop-withering heat waves, collapsing fisheries, expanding deserts, deteriorating rangelands, dying coral reefs, melting glaciers, rising seas, more-powerful storms, disappearing species, and, soon, shrinking oil supplies. Although these ecologically destructive trends have been evident for some time, and some have been reversed at the national level, not one has been reversed at the global level.

The bottom line is that the world is in what ecologists call an “overshoot-and-collapse” mode. Demand has exceeded the sustainable yield of natural systems at the local level countless times in the past. Now, for the first time, it is doing so at the global level. Forests are shrinking for the world as a whole. Fishery collapses are widespread. Grasslands are deteriorating on every continent. Water tables are falling in many countries. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions exceed CO2 sequestration.

In 2002, a team of scientists led by Mathis Wackernagel, who now heads the Global Footprint Network, concluded that humanity’s collective demands first surpassed the earth’s regenerative capacity around 1980. Their study, published by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, estimated that global demands in 1999 exceeded that capacity by 20 percent. The gap, growing by 1 percent or so a year, is now much wider. We are meeting current demands by consuming the earth’s natural assets, setting the stage for decline and collapse.

In a rather ingenious approach to calculating the human physical presence on the planet, Paul MacCready, the founder and Chairman of AeroVironment and designer of the first solar-powered aircraft, has calculated the weight of all vertebrates on the land and in the air. He notes that when agriculture began, humans, their livestock, and pets together accounted for less than 0.1 percent of the total. Today, he estimates, this group accounts for 98 percent of the earth’s total vertebrate biomass, leaving only 2 percent for the wild portion, the latter including all the deer, wildebeests, elephants, great cats, birds, small mammals, and so forth.

Ecologists are intimately familiar with the overshoot-and-collapse phenomenon. One of their favorite examples began in 1944, when the Coast Guard introduced 29 reindeer on remote St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea to serve as the backup food source for the 19 men operating a station there. After World War II ended a year later, the base was closed and the men left the island. When U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist David Kline visited St. Matthew in 1957, he discovered a thriving population of 1,350 reindeer feeding on the thick mat of lichen that covered the 332-square-kilometer (128-square-mile) island. In the absence of any predators, the population was exploding. By 1963, it had reached 6,000. He returned to St. Matthew in 1966 and discovered an island strewn with reindeer skeletons and not much lichen. Only 42 of the reindeer survived: 41 females and 1 not entirely healthy male. There were no fawns. By 1980 or so, the remaining reindeer had died off.

Like the deer on St. Matthew Island, we too are overconsuming our natural resources. Overshoot leads sometimes to decline and sometimes to a complete collapse. It is not always clear which it will be. In the former, a remnant of the population or economic activity survives in a resource-depleted environment. For example, as the environmental resource base of Easter Island in the South Pacific deteriorated, its population declined from a peak of 20,000 several centuries ago to today’s population of fewer than 4,000. In contrast, the 500-year-old Norse settlement in Greenland collapsed during the 1400s, disappearing entirely in the face of environmental adversity.

Even as the global population is climbing and the economy’s environmental support systems are deteriorating, the world is pumping oil with reckless abandon. Leading geologists now think oil production may soon peak and turn downward. Although no one knows exactly when oil production will peak, supply is already lagging behind demand, driving prices upward.

Faced with a seemingly insatiable demand for automotive fuel, farmers will want to clear more and more of the remaining tropical forests to produce sugarcane, oil palms, and other high-yielding biofuel crops. Already, billions of dollars of private capital are moving into this effort. In effect, the rising price of oil is generating a massive new threat to the earth’s biological diversity.

As the demand for farm commodities climbs, it is shifting the focus of international trade concerns from the traditional goal of assured access to markets to one of assured access to supplies. Countries heavily dependent on imported grain for food are beginning to worry that buyers for fuel distilleries may outbid them for supplies. As oil security deteriorates, so, too, will food security.

As the role of oil recedes, the process of globalization will be reversed in fundamental ways. As the world turned to oil during the last century, the energy economy became increasingly globalized, with the world depending heavily on a handful of countries in the Middle East for energy supplies. Now as the world turns to wind, solar cells, and geothermal energy in this century, we are witnessing the localization of the world energy economy.

The world is facing the emergence of a geopolitics of scarcity, which is already highly visible in the efforts by China, India, and other developing countries to ensure their access to oil supplies. In the future, the issue will be who gets access to not only Middle Eastern oil but also Brazilian ethanol and North American grain. Pressures on land and water resources, already excessive in most of the world, will intensify further as the demand for biofuels climbs. This geopolitics of scarcity is an early manifestation of civilization in an overshoot-and-collapse mode, much like the one that emerged among the Mayan cities competing for food in that civilization’s waning years.

You do not need to be an ecologist to see that if recent environmental trends continue, the global economy eventually will come crashing down. It is not knowledge that we lack. At issue is whether national governments can stabilize population and restructure the economy before time runs out.

# # # # #

Adapted from Chapter 1, “Entering a New World,” in Lester R. Brown, Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), available on-line at

Additional information at

Media & Permissions to Reprint Contact:
Reah Janise Kauffman
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 12
E-mail: rjk (at)

Research Contact:
Janet Larsen
Tel: (202) 496-9290 x 14
E-mail: jlarsen (at)

Earth Policy Institute
1350 Connecticut Ave. NW, Suite 403
Washington, DC 20036


– As an interesting and indicative postscript: I bought 25 copies of Brown’s second book, Plan B 2.0, and handed them out to our Mayor, to everyone on our city’s City Council, to everyone on the City’s Planning Commission and to several of the city’s senior planning staff. In the end, I think I got a ‘thank you;’ from two or three of these folks. As for the rest, I might as well have thrown a stone into a lake on a moonless night. My wife said that most folks don’t really like to have ideas pushed at them in the form of books. Apparently, that’s true – and unfortunate. Because these ideas are far bigger than any of our small egos and preconceptions.

Scientific Literacy and the Habit of Discourse

Monday, October 1st, 2007

– The First Prize Winner of the Second Annual Seed Science Writing Contest answers the question: What does it mean to be scientifically literate in the 21st Century

– This article seems very timely given what we were discussing yesterday here. To me, it’s all about how we work our way towards a more accurate picture of how existence works. And it’s also about the many pitfalls along the way.

– I’ve heard a number of good definitions of what science and/or the scientific method are. Martin, the author of this piece, offers yet another one that I really like:

Science works because its core dynamics—not its methods or techniques per se—are rooted in pitting intellects against one another. Science eventually yields impressive answers because it compels smart people to incessantly try to disprove the ideas generated by other smart people.

– Enjoy.


Over the past few decades, growing evidence from cognitive science has revealed significant limits on the ability of individuals to criticize their own viewpoints. Even the most analytically gifted and experienced among us are susceptible to bias and self-deception to an extent that we (ironically enough) generally fail to appreciate. As psychologist Daniel Gilbert puts it in his book Stumbling on Happiness, “Each of us is trapped in a place, a time, and a circumstance, and our attempts to use our minds to transcend those boundaries are, more often than not, ineffective.” The reason science does manage to be astonishingly effective is not because large groups are automatically wiser or less prone to self-deception than individuals. History adequately demonstrates that, if anything, the opposite is more nearly the case. Science works because its core dynamics—not its methods or techniques per se—are rooted in pitting intellects against one another. Science eventually yields impressive answers because it compels smart people to incessantly try to disprove the ideas generated by other smart people.

The goal of science is to find those ideas that can withstand the long and hard barrage of evidence-based argument. That lesson must be experienced anew by the members of each generation, irrespective of their careers. Mastery of scientific concepts and theories is a necessary starting point, but it serves only as a prerequisite to joining the never-ending dialogue. Students must learn first-hand how to both imaginatively create new hypotheses and to dispassionately critique them. Many commentators have rightly implored us to make certain that young people encounter the “thrill” of discovery. While this is undeniably desirable, it is arguably even more crucial that they experience the agony (if only on a modest scale) of having a pet hypothesis demolished by facts.