Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rent-a-Ruminant : Winning the War on Blackberries The Eco-Friendly Way

I've been reading about people using goats as a green way to clear brush and was particular curious about how goats can eat blackberry brambles.

Himalayan Blackberry and Evergreen Blackberry are European species that were brought into Washington State as a fruit crop. They are now one of the most invasive species in this part of the state and in some spots cover more area than all of the other invasive species combined.

If you are curious about goats in general, or using goats to clear blackberries or other brush, Rent-a-Ruminant has a cute website with some good information. Rent-a-Ruminant is a company based in Vashon Island, Washington that rents out a goat herd to clear brush. Really quite fascinating - the woman who started it was a paramedic and worked in the burn unit at a Seattle Hospital. She decided she needed a break from that life and started with 10 goats and eventually grew her herd to over a hundred. She rents her goats out to people who want to clear brush off of land. The goats are confined inside an electrified fence while they work the land and can clear blackberries, ivy and other invasive species from about 1/4 acre in 3 days.

Goats, like cows, goats, sheep and deer, are ruminants with multi-compartmented stomachs. They regurgitate their food (cud) and chew it again, which helps explain how they can eat woody things like blackberry canes and the bark off trees. Unlike sheep who graze and will eat grass to the ground, goats are browsers who like to munch on things higher up. When goats are used to clear brush, any trees that the owner wants to keep have to be fenced off.

There's a 3 part interview with Tammy Dunakin, the owner of Rent-a-Ruminant, on YouTube where she talks about her goats. She has Snowflake her "ambassagoat" with her. She says the goats favorite food is blackberry bushes, but they won't eat the big blackberry canes. From the looks of the before and after photos they eat enough of the blackberry bramble to make it a lot easier to clean up what they leave, and if the goats are brought back to the same area for a few seasons they will get rid of the blackberry brambles. In the interview she says she has more business than she can handle and would like to involve people in franchise rent a goat operations.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Double Nickle

I've been celebrating my birthday this weekend. Today's my legal birthday and tomorrow's my traditional birthday. Fifty five feels like a good age. This has been one of my best birthday's, right up there with last year when we went to Elk Horn and Fairmont Hot Springs in Montana. I'm very fortunate.

I grew up in Montana but I was born in Cody Wyoming where my Mom and Dad had traveled to a cattle auction. My parents went to Wyoming to get a cow and came back with me. My family always celebrated my birthday on the 25th and I was surprised when I got my birth certificate, so I could get a drivers license at fifteen, and found out my legal birthday is the 24th. My Mom told me I was born after midnight and the nurse filling out the birth certificate got it wrong. It's worked out fine - although I have to stop and think for a second when people ask me my legal name and date of birth. My legal name is John, which no one has ever called me, and my legal birthday is on the 24th, but my real birthday is the 25th.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

August Weekend

Originally uploaded by Jack Crossen
Bill, Buckley, Edgar and Ralph (front to back) playing in the backyard this afternoon. Edgar's all tuckered out now, asleep on my lap. It was a fun day and weekend. Got to eat at Sutra where the food is wonderful and the chef comes out and rings a nice gong reminding people to give thanks before the meal. They have a nice selection of wines. I had the juniper berry DRY Soda. They serve 4 courses, and the food is fresh and vegan with no tofu or fake meat in sight.

I received a huge variety of vegan food from the Sno-Isle Natural Food Co-op, we stopped at Peets in Fremont, Archie McPhees in Wallingford and we went to the Everett Farmers Market to get fresh flowers, blueberries, corn, peppers, and some tasty baked goods - and then spent the afternoon enjoying an August Backyard Lunch

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Setting the Record Straight on Health Care Reform

From the website Organizing for America -
"It seems like a new lie about health insurance reform crops up each day. These lies create fear and anger – and we're seeing the results around the country.

It's time to work together to set the record straight and expose the special interests and partisan attack groups who deliberately spread these rumors and lies in a desperate attempt to preserve the status quo."

It's going to take a broad based citizen effort to push Congress into enacting meaningful health care reform. It will be interesting to see if the grass roots effort that helped elect Barack Obama can make another positive change to ensure quality affordable health care is available to all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Who Opposes Health Care Reform?

Richard L. Scott is on Hannity tonight talking about his group Conservatives for Patient's Rights that is funding ads "intended to pressure Democrats to enact health care reform based on free market principles."

It's too bad Fox doesn't provide a more complete biography of their guests.

Richard L. Scott was the head of Columbia/HCA, a for-profit hospital chain. Mr. Scott was forced out of that job amidst what turned out to be the nation’s biggest health care fraud case to date. Columbia/HCA reached a plea agreement with the U.S. government to avoid criminal charges and ended up paying more than $1.7 billion to settle.

In the New York Times article Health Critic Brings a Past and a Wallet Jim Rutenberg writes,
“He hopes people don’t Google his name,” said John E. Hartwig, a former deputy inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, one of various state and federal agencies that investigated Columbia/HCA when Mr. Scott was its chief executive."

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Health Care - What's The Problem?

If you are lucky enough to have good health insurance or receive socialized medicine via Medicare it's easy to forget about the millions of American's who can't afford to go to the Doctor, Dentist or Optometrist.

The Independent has a sad article about thousands of people, who can't afford to see a dentist, get prescription eyeglasses or have basic medical tests and treatment - lining up for a temporary free clinic staffed by volunteers in Los Angeles.

The clinic is made available by the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps which was originally created by Stan Brock to deliver basic medical aid to people in inaccessible regions of the world - but which now does 60% of their volunteer work in the U.S. - doing their best to help the hurting and helpless, those who don't have medical insurance or are under-insured and can't afford the deductibles.

The article Hidden Hurt from the Washington Post describes the work this organization does in Appalachia and this CBS video, describes the work they do in Knoxville.

If you watch these videos and read the associated articles - it's very clear how dysfunctional our society is in providing basic health services to the approximately 60 million people (about 1 person in 5) without health insurance. It's sad to think that in a country as great as ours that we would be so callous when it comes to something so basic to human dignity.

Depending on which measurement you look at in the World Health Organization study the U.S. is either 37th or 24th among the 191 nations in quality of health care but we spend 13.7% of our GDP on health care - compared with a socialized program like in the U.K. which spent 5.8% of GDP or Norway that spends 6.5% of GDP.

The people that don't want change in health care policies are those with money to lose. They are willing to spend money to convince relatively affluent people who can afford health care via private insurance and those who already enjoy the benefits of socialized medicine (Medicare), that the status quo is fine. They are of course also willing to spend money lobbying members of Congress to keep whatever facet of our current health care system provides them with a profit.

I'm guessing that the people who showed up at the Remote Area Medical free clinics in Knoxville, Virginia or L.A. hoping to get some free basic medical care; are not the same people holding signs and yelling about the evils of the government intervening in what they know to be a broken system. I'm hopeful the millions of thinking and caring Americans can work together to do something we should have done a long time ago - make health care available to everyone and find ways to reduce health care costs.

Change will be hard with the big money special interest groups lobbying, and tabloid news going for the idiot angle, but it isn't impossible - Norway and Great Britain are just two examples of nations who provide quality universal health care while spending half what the U.S. does as a percentage of GDP.


I was watching Sean Hannity present the non-thinking person's view of health care reform while writing this. It was a weird juxtaposition to think about working people queueing up in L.A. at 3 am in hopes of getting an abcessed tooth pulled for free, and what the cable news and radio talk show hosts are feeding the sheeple who take their drivel seriously.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Health Care Reform Scare - History Repeats Itself

In 1961 Ronald Reagan was shilling for the AMA in their opposition to Medicare. He tried to scare people with a prediction that if Medicare passed, the government would among other things - force Doctors to live in certain locations, tell your children where to go to school, what job they could have, how much they'd be paid and we'd end up spending our not so golden years, telling our children that freedom ended in 1961.

The great actor was talking about the evils of Medicare, with a few jabs at Social Security thrown in for good measure. He asked people to write to Congress supporting the "continuation of our traditional free enterprise system."

He wrapped it all up saying -
"And if you don't do this and if I don't do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children, and our children's children, what it once was like in America when men were free."
Of course Medicare passed thanks to John F. Kennedy and the Democrats, and has turned out to be a very popular, and necessary, program for senior citizens.

This Sunday on Meet the Press, Dick Armey picks up the Reagan mantle and gets skewered by Rachel Maddow. There's some funny (I guess) video of Ronald Reagan's 1961 Medicare ad in the video as well.

This is a much more in depth description Ronald Reagan and Medicare if you are interested in learning more.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Improved Health Care Reform Plan Being Created by Pitchfork Wielding Mobs

Why are some people expressing so much irrational anger at the health care reform town halls being held around the country?

I'd say it's because working together to reform health care is hard work and we are lazy. It's a lot more fun to dream up some evil Bogeyman and then yell with other people in a crowd. Sort of like going to a sporting event.

Watching Faux News, listening to Rush (the talk radio guy not the band) and getting a few made up emails about death panels and the conspiracy to take away Medicare is like the pre-game warm up. We should get a keg of beer for the party at the house, tail gate before the town hall and paint our faces.

We spend a greater percentage of our GDP on health care than any nation in the world with the exception of East Timor yet the U.S. quality of health care is 24th out of industrialized nations (Japan is number 1). Insurance companies take their cut with excessive administration costs while denying claims and cherry picking who will be covered to maximize profits. Pharmaceutical companies are allowed to spend huge sums to advertise prescription drugs targeted at the uninformed, with the intent of getting the patient to lobby the Doctor to prescribe something they may not need and often times with a scary list of possible side effects. We ration health care based on a persons ability to buy insurance, pay for care directly or their employers ability/willingness to provide them with a insurance. We have sick people who don't get preventative health care and end up with catastrophic illnesses that cost society much more than simple solutions that would work early on. Health care costs impact businesses ability to compete in a global market.

Forget all that - it's too hard to think about and change is scary. Lets leave things as they are and if anyone wants to change anything we'll yell about socialism and big government.

On the other hand we could open up our minds a bit, become informed and offer solutions.

From the Seattle Times article about Congressman Rick Larsen's health care reform town hall event in Everett -

"The event at Memorial Stadium in Everett began with the singing of the national anthem.

Get it?

We are all Americans who love this country.

Common ground."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mariners Baseball

I've followed the M's off and on since the late 70's when I was stationed in Bremerton and went to games in the Kingdome on a military discount. I could get good seats behind home plate or along the baseline back then - because attendance was so low. A fans biggest hope in those days was that the M's would have a plus 500 record. As someone wrote in Wikipedia "the Mariners teams of the late 1970s and the entirety of the 1980s were characterized by perennial non-achievement, gaining a reputation for poor performances, low attendance, and losing records." The M's first game was in 1977 and they didn't have a winning season until 1991.

As of today, the M's are 70% through the regular season with 48 games to go through August, September and then 4 games in October.

They've played 114 games and I've probably watched or listened to 100 including the 14 inning win against the White Sox last night. They are 60 and 54 which puts them 9 games back of the Angels in the West and 5.5 games from a wild card behind Boston, Texas and Tampa Bay. Their .526 winning percentage is good - they'd be in first place today in the Central division.

I liked playing baseball as a kid and like listening to the games or watching them on TV now. The game is a nice combination of individual and team effort, mental concentration and athleticism. The mental part is big - a batter is trying to concentrate on hitting a ball with a good swing like a golfer - except in golf there aren't 30,000 screaming fans, and the ball you are trying to hit is stationary, not coming at you at 90 miles an hour. It's a long 162 game regular season from April until October where a team is bound to lose some games and has to have the mental fortitude to shake off the losses and come back the next day.

Baseball has lots of traditions that surround the game - sunflower seeds, rally caps, organ music, beer, peanuts, hot dogs, cracker jacks, homer hankies...players chewing tobacco and spitting. Baseball has a long history with the first professional game being played in 1869, seven years before Custer's last stand at the Little Big Horn.

Mostly baseball is a nice diversion from whatever serious things are going on in the world.

Listening to a baseball game on the radio with a good announcer calling the game is one of the most pleasant parts of summer for me.

It's a great game.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Just How Slippery is a Banana Peel?

You can find out from the Leonardo Centre at the University of Sheffield which specializes in research and development in Tribology and surface engineering.

Tribology is the science of interacting surfaces and covers all aspects of friction, lubrication and wear.

The study concludes that in regards to slip hazard - "A dry banana skin is probably ok, definitely don't step on any wet banana skins. But perhaps best of all deposit you banana skins in the rubbish bin."

I'd add that if you are a really bad housekeeper at least pick up the banana peels out of the tub or shower.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Share Something About Yourself Most People Don't Know

Sharing something about yourself most people in a room don't know is an ice-breaker that is fairly common in seminars, training classes and team building exercises - where strangers are put together and need to complete some sort of task or engage in conversation.

This request usually comes after you've separated into smaller groups to complete some task - although occasionally it's something the whole group does if it's not too many people.

Most people say something fairly innocuous and self-congratulating. I was staying at a Hotel in Florida and wrestled an alligator into submission that was threatening guests around the pool - or something in that vein. What people decide to share may be funny, touching, sad, or really surprising - to the point where you may ask yourself what sort of context filter they have on sharing personal information with strangers. As a student of the human condition I find that any time I've participated in one of these exercises it's always pretty interesting.

You'll find some interesting answers to this type of question in online forums. One problem with these, same as for any online activity, is that there is no context - you can't see what the person looks like, hear their tone or observe their body language. So their message loses something. Saying "I love the Jonas Brothers", or "I used to be quite a party girl" would be unusual if I said it but for someone else you'd think - sure, now tell me something I don't know.

The whole idea of sharing something most people don't know reminds me of the way I used to go to confession when I was a young practicing Catholic. I'd give the priest a taste of what I'd been up to in general terms - stealing, lying, using the Lord's name in vain etc. etc. etc. but never any details. I was lying while confessing my many sins, but I never mentioned that to Father Kelley because I was an altar boy after all. I guess I could have told him I stole a beer out of the basement of the church during summer bible camp and drank it with my friend Tim during lunch when I was 8 years old - but that's probably too much detail.

Monday, August 03, 2009

We Need Fewer Experts

I recall 45 years ago or so that my mother was playing Bridge with a group of people and afterwards told me she found one of them a bit hard to take. He was an engineer of some sort and according to Mom he thought because he knew a lot about something he also thought he knew a lot about everything (or at least many other things). He was boring..and a bit of a jackass.

Knowing a lot about a little and then thinking we know a lot about everything is not uncommon in experts. Aside from making a person very boring it takes away their ability to grow, learn, solve new problems, take on new challenges or otherwise expand their horizons.

The expert mantle also takes a lot of the fun out of life if you can't do anything that might make you look foolish, silly or stupid. Experts take pride in their ability to master something and get paid for it, but then may be too fearful or self-conscious to ever look like a beginner again.

Thinking we know more than we do in the wrong circumstances can cause real problems. Just because I'm an expert in say Molecular Biology it doesn't mean I'm an expert in wiring a house, advising people on taxes, recommending investments, or installing a gas hot water heater. We have electricians, accountants, and plumbers who are expert in those things - but we all know someone who is expert in something who's perfectly happy to give out advice on house wiring, taxes, investments or installing gas hot water heaters. They may actually have something worth sharing if they are amateurs who have done these things, which they are unless they are Molecular Biologists who moonlight as paid electricians, accountants or plumbers - but we could all lighten up a little on the expert mode.

There's another issue at work here in that people who are Molecular Biologists (for example) sometimes give the impression that, because they have a degree and have studied and work in an academically challenging domain that makes them somehow "smarter" than a waitress, cook, electrician, plumber, farmer, etc. Not only is this a bad assumption it also makes it hard for them to learn much from others because they can't listen or they shut down other people with their attitude.

As long as we have some experts (people who know all they need to know in their specific area) but hopefully more beginners (people who are pretty sure there is a lot to learn) society will continue to evolve.

Life is always providing us with something new to learn - if we just look with a "beginners mind".

This is a quote from the August 10, 2009 Time Magazine article The Avenging Amateur by Kurt Anderson -

"...frankly admitting that we aren't absolutely certain how to proceed is liberating, and crucial. I like paradoxes, which is why, even though I'm not particularly religious, Zen Buddhism has always appealed to me. Take the paradoxical state that Buddhists seek to achieve, what they call sho-shin, or 'beginner's mind.' The 20th century Japanese Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, who spent the last dozen years of his life in America, famously wrote that 'in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's mind there are few.' Which sounds to me very much like the core of Boorstin's amateur spirit. 'The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance,' Boorstin wrote, 'but the illusion of knowledge.'"

The specialist says - I learned more and more about less and less that I finally knew all there was to know about nothing. The generalist says - I learned less and less about more and more until I finally knew nothing about everything. Someone in between there's a happy medium.