Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for July 18th, 2010

USDA denying reality

leave a comment »

Once an agency is so immersed in making things good for businesses, it starts to lose touch with the real world and dwells instead among fantasies. Marion Nestle at Food Politics:

I’m just getting around to reading an optimistic report from USDA about how much more energy we are getting from converting corn to ethanol.

The report surveyed corn growers for the year 2005 and ethanol plants in 2008 and happily reports that energy yields are improving. 

Never mind that the mere thought of using food resources to feed cars rather than farm animals or people makes no sense from the standpoint of sustainability.   Early estimates of energy efficiency made it clear that it took almost as much—or, in fact, as much—energy to convert corn to ethanol as cold be obtained from the ethanol, and that the size of the energy yield depended on who was doing the estimating.  

This latest report says that “the net energy balance of corn ethanol has increased from 1.76 BTUs to 2.3 BTUs of required energy” since 2004.  If true,

Ethanol has made the transition from an energy sink, to a moderate net energy gain in the 1990s, to a substantial net energy gain in the present. And there are still prospects for improvement. Ethanol yields have increased by about 10 percent in the last 20 years, so proportionately less corn is required. In addition to refinements in ethanol technology, corn yields have increased by 39 percent over the last 20 years, requiring less land to produce ethanol.

I still think this is not a good idea.  A rational energy policy must develop sustainable sources, and corn is not one of them.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2010 at 1:25 pm

An alternative to the war on drugs

leave a comment »

Steve Rollins writes in the British Medical Journal:

Consensus is growing within the drugs field and beyond that the prohibition on production, supply, and use of certain drugs has not only failed to deliver its intended goals but has been counterproductive. Evidence is mounting that this policy has not only exacerbated many public health problems, such as adulterated drugs1 and the spread of HIV and hepatitis B and C infection among injecting drug users, but has created a much larger set of secondary harms associated with the criminal market. These now include vast networks of organised crime, endemic violence related to the drug market,2 corruption of law enforcement and governments, militarised crop eradication programmes (environmental damage, food insecurity, and human displacement), and funding for terrorism and insurgency.3 4

These conclusions have been reached by a succession of committees and reports including, in the United Kingdom alone, the Police Foundation,5 the Home Affairs Select Committee,6 The prime minister’s Strategy Unit,7 the Royal Society of Arts,8 and the UK Drug Policy Consortium.9 The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime has also acknowledged the many "unintended negative consequences" of drug enforcement,10 increasingly shifting its public rhetoric away from its former aspirational goals of a "drug free world," towards "containment" of the problem at current levels.

Problems of prohibition

Despite this emerging consensus on the nature of the problem, the debate about how policy can evolve to respond to it remains driven more by populist politics and tabloid headlines than by rational analysis or public health principles.

The criminalisation of drugs has, historically, been presented as an emergency response to an imminent threat rather than an evidence based health or social policy intervention.11 Prohibitionist rhetoric frames drugs as menacing not just to health but also to our children, national security, and the moral fabric of society itself. The prohibition model is positioned as a response to such threats,12 13 and is often misappropriated into populist political narratives such as "crackdowns" on crime, immigration, and, more recently, the war on terror.

This conceptualisation has resulted in the punitive enforcement of drug policy becoming largely immune from meaningful scrutiny.14 A curiously self justifying logic now prevails in which the harms of prohibition—such as drug related organised crime and deaths from contaminated heroin—are conflated with the harms of drug use. These policy related harms then bolster the apparent menace of drugs and justify the continuation, or intensification, of prohibition. This has helped create a high level policy environment that routinely ignores or actively suppresses critical scientific engagement and is uniquely divorced from most public health and social policy norms, such as evaluation of interventions using established indicators of health and wellbeing.

Emerging change

Despite this hostile ideological environment, two distinct policy trends have emerged in recent decades: harm reduction15 and decriminalisation of personal possession and use. Although both are nominally permitted within existing international legal frameworks, they pose serious practical and intellectual challenges to the overarching status quo. Both have been driven by pragmatic necessity: harm reduction emerging in the mid-1980s in response to the epidemic of HIV among injecting drug users, and decriminalisation in response to resource pressures on overburdened criminal justice systems (and, to a lesser extent, concerns over the rights of users). Both policies have proved their effectiveness. Harm reduction is now used in policy or practice in 93 countries,16 and several countries in mainland Europe,17 18 and central and Latin America have decriminalised all drugs, with others, including states in Australia and the United States, decriminalising cannabis.19

Decriminalisation has shown that less punitive approaches do not necessarily lead to increased use. In Portugal, for example, use among school-age young people has fallen since all drugs were decriminalised in 2001.20 More broadly, an extensive World Health Organization study concluded: "Globally, drug use is not distributed evenly and is not simply related to drug policy, since countries with stringent user-level illegal drug policies did not have lower levels of use than countries with liberal ones."21

Similarly US states that have decriminalised cannabis do not have higher levels of use than those without. More importantly, the Netherlands, where cannabis is available from licensed premises, does not have significantly different levels of use from its prohibitionist neighbours.19

New approach

Although these emerging policy trends are important, they can be seen primarily as symptomatic responses to mitigate the harms created by the prohibitionist policy environment. Neither directly tackles the public health or wider social harms created or exacerbated by the illegal production and supply of drugs.

The logic of both, however, ultimately leads us to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2010 at 8:14 am

Moroccan tomato soup

leave a comment »

This soup intrigues me:

Moroccan Tomato Soup

This appeared in an article by Barbara Kafka in The Times.

5 medium cloves garlic, smashed, peeled and minced
2 1/2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
Large pinch of cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/4 pounds tomatoes, cored and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup packed chopped cilantro leaves plus additional for garnish
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt
4 stalks celery, diced.

1. In a small saucepan, stir together the garlic, paprika, cumin, cayenne and olive oil. Place over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

2. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill fitted with a large disk. Stir in the cooked spice mixture, the cilantro, vinegar, lemon juice, 2 teaspoons salt, celery and 2 tablespoons water. Add more salt as desired. Refrigerate until cold. Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.

Serves 4.

Sounds tasty for a hot day. This post by The Wednesday Chef gives another version of the recipe, different and scaled down to one serving (though I note that both the one-serving version and the four-serving version use the same amount of olive oil 🙂 ). The olive oil levels in this recipe is perfectly acceptable on the diet. In fact, this who recipe would simply could as “vegetable” plus 1 “oil” (assuming I ate one serving).

UPDATE: I made it, using an immersion blender, and it was delicious. The cumin speaks firmly but does not shout, the celery adds nice crunch, and the paprika adds both flavor and color. Great served very chilled, or perhaps that was just my soup because I have a free hand with the cayenne. One addition for next time (and for the rest of this soup): chopped sweet (Walla Walla) onion.

UPDATE 2: I’m making it again. Improvements:

1. I bought heritage tomatoes

2. I sliced the tomatoes thinly and then used scissors to cut up the top and bottom (so no big piece of tomato skin). The immersion blender then worked much better.

UPDATE 3: Things to try:

a. Use diced yellow bell pepper instead of celery.

b. Add chunks of ripe avocado.

c. Try some pitted ripe olives.

Written by Leisureguy

18 July 2010 at 7:51 am

%d bloggers like this: