11.24.13 In NBN
This odd device, not the Mediterranean-looking fellow, is a door blower. It was used recently to measure how air tight, thus energy efficient, the New England offices of News by Nature had become following a five-hour energy efficiency upgrade. A similar measurement conducted at the start of the upgrade produced a reading of 3070 somethingorothers per sq. foot. Five hours of squirting sealing foam into floor, wall, and ceiling cracks; installing door sweeps, insulating the attic, and damming the edges of the attic access panel produced the numbers this fellow is looking at: 2926 somethingorothers per sq. foot. So, five hour's work by three “home energy efficiency experts” theoretically reduced air leaks into and out of the offices by 144 somethingorothers, or 4.69 percent. That 4.69 percent is probably well within the margin of error of both machine and Mediterranean. Let’s face it folks, it’s ridiculous to think that a 200 year old house could be sealed up in any measurable way in five hours. So, we take the somethingorother readings with a grain of salt, despite the serious expression on the face of this fellow. What is serious is the inescapable fact that the offices of NBN are much warmer for the effort and it only cost $200, thanks to a surcharge we never noticed on our utility bill. That’s right: $200 to have three workers do all the above and install a new attic ventilation screen and insulate the bathroom fan exhaust vent. For the few people we’ve talked to who have gone through the same process, this home energy efficiency tune-up is the deal of a lifetime. But, as we discuss in Alternative Energy News this week, the way such opportunities are presented to the public—the marketing—borders on comical and the laugh is on people in places like the Philippines and New Jersey. How common sense becomes comical in the eyes of the cynical in News by Nature this week.
10.01.13 In NBN
Reaching deep into the recesses of NBN’s distant and less distinguished past, we’d like this week to share a brief conversation between a father and son we went deer hunting with about 25 years ago. We were all sitting around the dinner table of this father’s 2,200-sq-ft hunting “cabin” when the son shared with us the entertaining hour he spent that day watching a lynx prancing—probably hunting—around in the snow. “And you didn’t shoot it,” the father asked incredulously. As the son stammered the conversation turned and the exchange was soon forgotten. Not by NBN. The next time we saw father and son together it was with forearms draped over the back of the son’s pick-up truck which held about a half-dozen dead mallards, a beautiful but largely inedible duck. It was living proof to NBN that the father’s admonition of son over the missed lynx shot was not lost on the latter. These recollections and watching our first—and definitely last—episode of “Duck Dynasty” this week, have us thinking about hunters, he-men, who pulls the trigger, when, and why these days. In our effort to tie together another tenuously themed issue, NBN thinks it is becoming increasingly important to ask such questions largely because other interests appear even more determined to not ask them. It seems to NBN that sportsmen, or for that matter anyone spending more of their lives outdoors than in, are increasingly presented to the public as the lynx-killing lot: men—and their womenfolk—who are hardened conquerors of an untamed wild. “Gold Rush,” “Most Dangerous Catch,” “Gator Men,” “Swamp People,” “Logger Men,” and so many other TV programs all document on a discouragingly frequent schedule, men wrestling a raw existence from the most tenacious of earth’s natural resources. At any and all cost to those resources. In fact, the greater the cost the more heroic the wrestler. Two years back, NBN watched with growing fury as a 21-year-old “gold miner” used a 400 horsepower excavator to denude a football stadium-sized stretch of pristine Alaskan wilderness to extract a Dixiecup full of gold flakes on the Discovery Channel program “Gold Rush.” Now the same producers are denuding similar stretches of Amazon rainforests for similarly meager returns in “Gold Rush South America.” (Tune in this week as bearded knucklehead No. 3 uses a backhoe to stand-down a tribe of natives while overweight wife with triple-D cup No. 3 takes in an orphan found clutching a teddy bear in the corner of a fresh clearing.) These programs kind of remind NBN of the father who wanted his son to shoot the lynx: Mother Nature is to be dominated, not accommodated for these people. Such programming should be deplorable to those who like to think before they act. Only, like everything else NBN writes about, it’s not that simple. People change. The kill-crazy dad we once went hunting with has become considerably less-so. Choosing bow-hunting over rifle and stealth over slaughter, he’s a more conservation-minded hunter who probably would not kill that lynx today. As evidence mounts these days that nature desperately needs more accommodation, it seems logical to expect the same maturity from others extracting their entertainment or occupation outdoors, right? Wrong. These programs, NBN calls it LCD TV for lowest common denominator, are popular as potato chips right now because, like potato chips, they appeal to the most base elements of human nature. This is bad, right? Not necessarily. What if LCD TV is really just turning these people the producers intend for us to admire, and or identify with, into items of curiosity? Icons of Americans, not anyone we’d actually want living nextdoor or visiting for Christmas. This theory starts to gain traction when you consider that LCD TV is not just directed at men. There’s also: “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” “Here come the Kardashians,” “Housewives of” –fill in-the-blank, “Teen and Pregnant,” “Long Island Medium,” and “Love & Hip Hop,” to name a dispiritingly small sample of the LCD TV directed at women. Now, one need only look at the picture above to know that this country, right now, has more than its share of real-life Mama Junes and Phil Robertsons. And the purchases of pictured products no doubt feel vindicated seeing themselves broadcast around the clock as lovable dolts embracing every form of ignorance that the P.T. Barnum’s of this world amassed fortunes exploiting. Instead of tickets, these modern day Barnums are selling beauty products, over-priced clothes, pick-up trucks and babe-catching booze. Here is the good news. NBN believes these programs are doomed to die and we look upon their surging popularity of as proof. Every week those same LCD TV stars must out-do the past episode’s displays of over-indulgence, ignorance, and embarrassing behavior to keep viewers believing—hoping—that this is acceptable behavior. At some point even these viewers are going to see the emperor has no clothes, at least none that he or she wants to wear and/or can fit in to. Sadly, that will be after the aforementioned sponsors will have made their profits and retired to their condos in Greenwich, CT. And, as guest writer Mark Lennon laments in Good News this week, it’s heart-wrenching to view the landscape that deliberately wasteful commercial interests have made of so much of American culture today. We say it’s good news because we believe LCD TV a sign of huge changes to come. So, hang in there Mark, and all the rest of you who think the human mind is a terrible thing to waste. Just as disco suddenly disappeared from the 1970s music scene when fans discovered it wasn’t music, LCD TV is going to vanish when the ever escalating antics change from entertainment to embarrassment. It may take a little while yet. After all, who doesn’t like to ogle a Dixie cup full of gold flakes. And that Honey Boo Boo can be downright adorable when Momma June is not making us cringe on behalf of the whole of humanity. So, have a great week folks, things are looking up. And please read Mark’s piece. It’s very good.
08.24.13 In NBN
NBN was walking out to dive for some lobster on Massachusetts' Plum Island alongside some surf fishermen recently when we overhead one say: “Beaches are for people not birds.” That utterance came just as we passed a 3-foot-by-5-foot sign that annually announces in eight-inch letters the closure of six miles of pristine Atlantic shores on Plum Island to allow endangered piping plovers a chance to make themselves a little less so. Now, that fisherman’s sentiment might seem selfish if this government-imposed six-mile maternity ward only lasted for the 57 days it takes plovers to hatch and learn to fly. But this closure starts April 1 and ends in Mid August. These beaches are some of the finest north of Cape Cod, for fishing and swimming. They are directly across from Ipswich’s famed Crane Beach. They are part of the tax-payer funded, federally owned Parker River National Wildlife Refuge. What’s worse, the state owns other beaches right alongside the federal refuge which are not closed every summer, despite the presence of the very same nesting birds. Instead, the state just ropes off the nesting sites and bathers are allowed access to the rest. Now, for the punch line. You have to pass through the federal land to get to the state land and the federal park officials collecting entrance fees do everything they possibly can to discourage visitors to the state beaches. They put out a sign saying the state park has no parking spaces, even when there are plenty. They put out more signs warning folks about the biting insects, complete with toothy drawings of same to terrify any six-year-olds that might be in the car. Trespassing and speeding restrictions are enforced with maniacal zeal by an army of officers and volunteers. But there is another, perhaps unspoken, element to consider here, it helps to note that the summer traffic up and down these roads kicks up tons of dust that choke vegetation and wildlife alike. Every car turned back is that much less dust in the air. This overzealous approach to protecting plovers might have some other, if not ulterior certainly concomitant, concerns. It used to infuriate us but now we’re thinking that maybe protecting natural resources from folks who feel “beaches are for people not birds” isn’t such a bad thing. The notion that natural resources are for human consumption first only means that humans will consume them. Such sentiments may play well with the James Watt, ultra-conservative-Christian camp, but it doesn’t give much consideration to our grandchildren and their grandchildren. There is too much proof all around us that if we want to keep our natural resources healthy for human enjoyment, there are a lot of humans who can’t be allowed to enjoy them. The problem with this approach, as we discuss in Commercial Fishing News this week, is you end up creating a market for "Piping Plover Tastes Like Chicken" tee shirts. People get really angry. We need creativity—and we’re not talking clever drawings of biting insects—if we want to preserve our natural resources for both people and wildlife. But in the meantime we need to look a little harder to see that apparently stupid environmental regulations are a little less so when you look harder at what's being regulated. It will mean more beach fun for all of us. Including the plovers. It might even mean more lobsters. Have a great end-of-summer folks and thank you for reading NBN. Now, excuse us as. We’re going diving.
07.18.13 In NBN
News by Nature this week: In Popular Wisdom we weigh a Tale of Two Cities, Andover, Me. and Disney World. Waste-Not-Want-Not vs. Waste-Lot-Want-Not.
Welcome to Andover, Maine. This neat-as-a-pin, unpretentious little town of 800 has a median income of $32,000—$20,000 for women— and 16 people per square mile. (The U.S. average is 88 people per square mile.) It’s a place where lumber products make up 30 percent of the economy and camouflage makes up 40 percent of the wardrobe. By liberal elitist standards this should be Tea Party country, but Andover is not so easily described. Their frontyards, like this village green, are free of major appliances and meticulously cared for, no doubt with a lot of help from Scotts lawn care products. The people, while not overly friendly to visitors from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, were quick to return a greeting from same. Everybody knows everybody in Andover, ME. They chat enthusiastically amongst themselves in tight little knots fixed at various points throughout the roughly six businesses that make up downtown. The entrees at Andover’s two restaurants are $7-$10. (The 8-0z ribeye at the Andover General Store and Diner ain’t bad for $1 per ounce.) Serving sizes however, are sensible. You finish everything on your plate. Money is tight in Andover. The all-you-can-eat pizza-and-salad night at one restaurant was $9 for adults and $7 for kids. It was packed and these folks get their money’s worth. Voters turned down a recent referendum seeking $5 per household to support the local ski area through the summer months. That ski area charges $15 for lift tickets and is no doubt a big help for the winter economy in Andover. At the same time residents are also fighting efforts by bottled-water giant Poland Spring to open a plant in Andover, despite the lure of badly needed, well-paying jobs (pardon the pun). One restaurant owner shared with her local patrons her difficulty in talking a local girl into taking a waitress job because the prospect didn’t want to lose her unemployment compensation. This same restaurant owner was clocking a 12-hour Saturday schlepping pizza for lack of that waitress. In short Andover, ME, is a hard-pressed yet proud, efficient, independent community that doesn’t waste a nickel. Why do we bring it up here? Because, as we discuss in Popular Wisdom this week, the weekend spent in Andover came on the heels of a week spent in Disneyworld where waste is the primary economic driver. NBN got the impression that, despite their frugality, the folks in Andover will defend to their dying breath the right of every American to waste as much as they please down in Disney. In our characteristically twisted reasoning we find common ground between the waste-not-want-not of Andover and the waste-lot-want-not of Disneyworld. Thanks for reading folks and have a great week.
06.11.13 In NBN
In News by Nature: We’re Baaaaaaack. In Weird Science this week we ask if we are living in the Age of Man and what that might mean to the bungled and the botched.
This barely visible flock of great white herons and snowy egrets has for the past four years chosen this dingy marsh next to Rt. 1 in an even dingier section of Salisbury, Mass., as an overnight roost. Why these birds prefer this riotous wart of wetland when the nearly pristine, completely undisturbed 4,600-acre Great Marsh beckons from just a quarter mile east is a mystery NBN attempts to address this week. Could it be the birds are more attracted to man-made ecosystems than those crafted by nature? They are probably not attracted to the blare of 18-wheel tractor trailers 50 feet away. Nor the endless procession of cars using this vital artery at the confluence of I 495, I 95, and access roads to famed ocean beaches. Nor is it the neighboring truck container depot, or sand and gravel business calling them hither. It’s the dead trees sticking up like knitting needles from what was once more woods than not. In recent years woods across Massachusetts are being flooded by the activities of a resurgent beaver population returning from the brink of extinction thanks to the state’s trapping ban. With the return of the beavers, forests that these ungainly birds could never navigate have lost all their leaves and most of their branches making them irresistible to skinny animals with huge wings. Welcome to the Age of Man. Scientists are theorizing that man is no longer a part of nature, rather that nature is a part of man. It adapts to us, we don’t adapt to it—leaving out, of course, cataclysmic climactic considerations. Everyday Natural Selection is now driven by survival of the fastest to adapt to the wild ecological changes that can quickly occur from state or federal policy decisions taken, as most are these days, with too little consideration of the wild ecological changes that may occur. Toward that end this week in Weird Science we take a look at the sorts of people who drive those decisions. No, not politicians profiting from those decisions. This week we discuss people more powerful than politicians: Geniuses. Or those folks popular wisdom deem to be geniuses. Have a great week, and sorry about the long delay in publishing. NBN needed a break.
03.21.13 in NBN
News by Nature this week: In Waste Water Woes and Wonders we ponder why Sarah Palin was shilling for soda companies at the recent CPAC convention yet not a word about billions in federal sewer improvement mandates being foisted on cash-strapped communities across the country.
For fans of temperate estuaries and watersheds as they once were New Hampshire’s Great Bay is a rare example of same. Here, eel grass still thrives. It’s home to one of just a handful of successful oyster reef reintroduction efforts nationwide. It’s also fed by one of New England’s cleanest watersheds in one of the most developed regions of the country. Great Bay is an estuary that discharges into what was once one of the country’s most productive open-ocean fisheries: the Gulf of Maine. The Great Bay is also an excellent example of how local decisions have national impact. Right now, Great Bay community residents and government agencies are wrestling with how much sewage to discharge into that estuary. They are among several hundred communities that discharge wastewater into the Gulf of Maine. In the Great Bay city of Dover, residents must pony up $1,200 to reduce by some 275%, or roughly 2/3, the amount of sewage—technically nitrogen—being discharged from its water treatment plant. The EPA is demanding a 733% reduction, from 22 milligrams per liter of nitrogen in Dover’s wastewater discharge to three. That lower level will cost property owners an extra $2,000 each annually. Dover elected officials are asking for an appeal of the EPA mandate as are officials in similar communities across the country also facing similarly sharp federal mandates to clean-up their wastewater treatment systems. The reason these government regulations have not been decried on Tea Party rally posters or discussed at the recent CPAC convention is that no special-interests other than everyday tax payers are affected. So there is no special-interest money funneling into the campaigns of politicians purporting to defend the interests of the everyday taxpayers. Yet the cost of these sewer plant improvements to the every-day taxpayer is right up there with the reviled carbon tax proposals special-interests killed before it could even be seriously considered. Many folks feel a carbon tax is the best and quickest solution to an environmental problem even bigger than coastal pollution: global warming. Toward that end in Waste Water Woes and Wonders this week we ask: Is our free spending political system the single biggest environmental problem facing this country? BTW, what CPAC and Tea Party disciples call the “Failed Stimulus Bill,” funneled billions nationwide into wastewater plant improvements. You never hear about that either. Look it up in Recovery.gov. Have a great week.
02.21.13 in NBN
News by Nature this week: Discretion may be the better part of valor but it’s a lot less fun, on the Opinion Page this week.
In roughly 24 hours the Winter of 2013 went from one of the mildest, snow-free events on record to what the season in New England was once normally all about. But there is no normal in the climate any more due in large part to global energy policy which NBN now devotes so much time to discussing. Another reason we shy from weighing in on any one of the myriad pressing environmental concerns out there can be found on the comments page of Invasive Species News this week. When we opened the letter there, our hearts froze because it was written by a retired scientist who knows northeast marine ecosystems far better than NBN. Far better than many Northeast marine scientists for that matter. Before we gush too much over this fellow’s laurels, NBN stands by the column he criticized. We’ll leave why to those who read both column and letter, and get back to the subtle political shift in this website’s weekly musings. It pains us to say this but, after publishing this website for four years we’ve come to realize that we’re not always 100 percent right. For example: While NBN argued in our last issue the futility of fighting invasive species, our letter writer uses New York’s Lake George to quite effectively argue otherwise. Over the years NBN has also found that fossil fuels can and will play a useful role in the planet’s future, fishing trawlers are not all bad, and not all Tea Party activists are ignorant, overweight red necks swilling beer, smoking cigarettes, shooting guns, and praying Sundays for forgiveness of same. With all that said, NBN really misses skewering those profiting from the proliferation of paid pundits telling the Tea partiers, fishing trawlers, Hummer drivers and gun nuts that theirs is the American Way of Life. Toward that end on the Opinion page this week we give free reign to guest writer Mark Lennon who offers up a delightfully sardonic comparison between gun rights, smokers’ rights, the right to go shopping in 6,000 pound cars, and the right to weigh 6,000 pounds whilst pounding down Big Macs and Big Gulps. It’s a fun piece, you will enjoy it. Have a great week folks.
02.04.13 in NBN
News by Nature this week. In Invasive Species News NBN proposes leveraging the passion in the war on invasive species to help reduce the costs.
No, this is not just another butt-ugly, pointless picture taken to tenuously tie together another weakly themed issued of NBN. This is the brand-new, state-of-the-art, gas-fired water heater and furnace keeping the New England offices of NBN at a toasty 61 degrees. (See thermostat inset.) NBN shelled out to have the Pierre Cardin of plumbers shoehorn this near-nuclear reactor into our office basement just before the mid-January cold snap. We could have installed a much simpler system for about 30 percent less, but we went with the Rolls Royce of domestic utilities because, now that the outside temperature is down around our ankles, the efficiency of these fixtures is a very impressive 91 percent. Our old utilities, which it’s instructive to note were working fine when they were ripped out, were about 55 percent efficient. There are all kinds of computerized sensors making this new system run so efficiently—note the black box at upper right—but that’s not why we use it for our lead photo this week. This hardware gets the place of honor because it shows the hard decisions, prioritizing and yes, sacrifice, we all need to embrace if we’re ever to beat back global warming. Who in their right mind spends nearly $4,000 more than needed to heat a building and its water? Those who see global warming as the single biggest threat, by far, to our ability to continue to enjoy hot homes and water. Toward that end we have an article in Invasive Species News this week on an effort to beat back the Asian clam which is running amok in New York’s Lake George. What possible connection is there between clams carpeting the bottom of a beautiful lake and this sublime collection of pipes and wires jammed into the corner of the office basement of NBN? For the next generation and those to come, the environmental heartbreak wrought by invasive species will be an afterthought in the face of the environmental havoc brought by global warming. Yet, billions are being spent in a losing war on invasives all while fossil fuel interests are spending spare change making sure we lose the war on global warming. (See snippet below on the Keystone Pipeline.) It’s all about priorities in News by Nature this week. That, and showing off our new furnace.
01.16.13 in NBN
News by Nature this week: In Popular Wisdom we have guest writer Mark Lennon’s perspective on the noisy children of the 1960s Silent Majority who are quietly killing the planet today. Sorry we’ve been absent so long. The staff of NBN were on strike seeking a shortened work week and less pay. Good news! We got both.
So, how does NBN establish a link between a painting of dogs playing cards and environmental issues? NBN plays poker with a similar range of characters many fewer Thursdays than we’d like. Using the dogs to illustrate our card companions works well because that’s just how different these folks are from each other. Yet, technically we’re all the same species. There’s a heavy equipment operator the size of a backhoe who good-naturedly endures regular ribbing for his union affiliations. A personal injury lawyer always willing to tip his hand, provided you’ve folded yours. There are two grumpy old retirees who, after exhausting a lifetime at blue collar jobs, would gladly give you the shirt of their backs. A virulently anti-Obama construction worker whose militant application of poker’s rules is balanced by his determination to make sure those less savvy collect pots they have no idea they’ve won. There’s a disturbingly crafty real estate owner who largely keeps his political cards close to his vest, and there are a handful of other characters less well known to NBN. As long as we keep quiet and keep losing we keep getting invited back by this cast of characters to play Omaha—an impossible-to-master game for anyone with attention deficit concerns. While such subjects never come up, it’s pretty clear to NBN that environmental issues like global warming and resource conservation are the last things on the minds of these card players. So why the heck has NBN been playing cards with these clowns for nearly 7 years? Because we’ve come to believe not doing so is a big problem in this country. For humans, aging is pretty much an evolution from ideological to practical, from altruistic to parasitic. We give up hope of changing the world to focus more on securing our place in it. Along the way we are forced to stop sharing our ideas and become less tolerant of the ideas of others. If nothing else these poker games provide the opportunity to keep sharing diverse perspectives, even if we seldom actually do. If every-day Americans keep sharing perspectives, maybe the folks we elected to represent us will do so as well. Toward that end, in Popular Wisdom this week we have a guest essay by inaugural Earth Day attendant Mark Lennon on that evolution as it played out for a green guru fighting that evolution. It seems the noisy children of the so-called Silent Majority have been getting a little too quiet for Mr. Lennon. Below we have a smattering of similar subjects pulled from not-so recent headlines. Have a great week folks.