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The irony of home brew

Ed Quillen | Apr 02, 2009 07:31 AM

At first glance, I thought it was an April Fool's Day joke, the front-page headline in the Denver Post which announced that "Utah to ease liquor laws."

But upon further reading, I discovered that it was no joke. As of July 1, Utah's liquor laws will resemble those of most other states. You'll be able to walk into an establishment and order a drink, without having to join a "private club," and there will be no more "Zion curtains" to separate bartenders from their patrons.

And in a related but different new law, the state government has legalized the hobby of making beer at home in your spare time.

Years ago, federal law allowed Americans to make up to 200 gallons a year of wine for personal use, but it didn't allow for beer until 1976. Not that I paid much attention to that law, or any Colorado regulation, when I took up brewing my own in 1975. After all, the local grocery store sold "Blue Ribbon Hop-Flavored Malt Extract," and what else would you use that for?

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Outlaws with guns

martyd | Apr 01, 2009 03:25 PM

Tomorrow Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will visit Mexico to discuss ways to halt the flow of guns across the border. Mexico has some of the strictest gun control laws in the world, but its drug cartels are armed with high-powered weapons smuggled over the border from the United States. More than 6,000 people have died in Mexican drug wars since 2006.

Caveat: I do not own a gun, and never have. The only gun I've ever shot was a BB gun, and yeah, it was fun to hit the tin can. Many of my friends are gun owners, gunsmiths, collectors and hunters, and I support the right to bear arms -- up to a point. But we're far beyond that point in this country, and the Second Amendment has been used and abused to defend an absolute right for anyone to purchase any number of killing machines. We see the results of that paranoia-with-a-weapon play out on U.S. streets, schools, post offices, businesses and campuses every day, resulting in more than 30,000 gun deaths a year, about a third of them suicides.

 Mexican President Felipe Calderon said this week there is a correlation between Mexico's drug violence and the end of the U.S. ban on sales of assault weapons (the ban expired in 2004). Ninety percent of the guns confiscated in Mexico come from the United States.

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Climate change is easy money

Terray Sylvester | Apr 01, 2009 03:20 AM
Filed under: Ennui

At their worst, carbon offsets are opaque, morally-ambiguous items that reek of guilt, arcane rites of penance and the potential for profiteering. When you buy an offset it's hard to tell whether your money will actually be used to plant the promised grove of trees or install, for example, a slew of compact florescent light bulbs. It's even tougher to ensure that those trees will sequester a meaningful amount of carbon, or that the light bulbs will remain intact. There's enough uncertainty in the whole process to leave you wondering what exactly you spent your money on, and whether your purchase had anything to do with the stated goal of combating global warming. 

So thank goodness the folks at Beef Producer Magazine have shed some light on the situation. They've gone right ahead and grabbed the truth by the throat with an article titled,  "Carbon Credits are Easy Money." (The link will connect you to a search page. Click on the top entry to read the Beef Producer article.)

You may have already guessed where this is going. Here's the lede from the story:

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James Herriot, we need you

Jodi Peterson | Mar 31, 2009 09:15 AM

How would you like to be a doctor with 37,000 patients? If you're the lone veterinarian in Washington's Adams County who treats food animals, that's how many cows, sheep and pigs await your attention. A fall 2007 survey showed that many counties don't have even a single vet trained to treat livestock. Three-quarters of newly-trained vets specialize in companion animals (dogs and cats), and the few practicing large-animal vets are starting to retire in droves.

The shortage is most acute in Midwestern farm states, but every Western state except Wyoming has at least one county with more than 5,000 food animals and zero large-animal vets. New Mexico and Montana are worst off, with at least five counties that have more than 25,000 food animals and no vets.  And that's risky for public health and for food safety, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. The Billings Gazette reports:

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A flick of the wrist...

Emily Underwood | Mar 31, 2009 04:18 AM

Yesterday, President Obama signed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009.  His signature ensures protection for more than 2 million acres of wilderness nationwide, and sets the long-awaited Navajo-Gallup water project in motion, delivering badly needed infrastructure and acre feet to the Navajo Nation. 

More than  70,000 people in the Navajo Nation do not have easy access to clean drinking water. At least 40% of residents have to drive considerable distances to fill water drums, which makes it difficult for communities on the reservation to exist, much less grow or thrive. In Gallup, New Mexico, city wells are often contaminated by chemicals like sulfate and uranium, and water levels are dropping between 7-29 feet per year. 

Historically, the Navajo have been excluded from western water allocation, as Matt Jenkins' 2008 story, "Seeking the Water Jackpot," explains. Last week, 247 Democrats and 38 Republicans voted to pass the omnibus bill, which guarantees an $870 million water delivery system that will transport 37,764 acre feet of water every year from the San Juan River in Shiprock to Gallup, New Mexcio, the Jicarilla Apache Nation in Arizona, and Window Rock, AZ.  The project is set to be completed by 2010. 

37,764 acre-feet is a drop in the bucket compared to the 600,000 acre feet in Navajo water rights that the Omnibus Act confirms. Infrastructure to deliver this amount of water could take up to 13 years to complete, depending on funding, but it will allow the Navajo to plan their future with more confidence.



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Jeff Chen | Mar 26, 2009 06:20 AM

The fruit farmers in Paonia have been a bit worried about our weird weather. Spring came early, so the trees started budding. And this week, it’s been cold – sometimes freezing. If it gets too frosty, we might be out of luck for the season.

Something else that’s on farmers' minds: H.R. 875, a bill sponsored by Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Conn. Organically-minded bloggers are saying that her husband is on Monsanto’s payroll, and we all know Monsanto is the arch nemesis of organically-minded people! But to clarify, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Monsanto hasn’t been a client of Stanley Greenberg’s (DeLauro’s husband) for more than 10 years.

Now all the organos are saying that this bill, if passed, will do in small-scale local farms.

The bill is called the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009. Basically, DeLauro seeks to establish a Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services, so that foods and drugs are not regulated under the same entity. It makes sense: you don’t keep your veggies in the medicine cabinet, do you?

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Paranoia, helicopters, herbicides

Emily Underwood | Mar 26, 2009 03:12 AM

March 25th: An association of Hispanic residents from two Texas barrios near the Rio Grande river file a lawsuit complaining that the Department of Homeland Security has acted "arbitrarily and capriciously" in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. The group, called Barrio de Colores, hopes to stop the Border Patrol from going forward with their plan  to apply the herbicide Imazapyr to the Carrizo cane lining the river. 

Carrizo cane (Arundo donax) grows in thick, claustrophobic stands along the Rio Grande. The forests can grow up to 30 feet high, and are scored by a maze of footpaths. One of the fastest growing plants on land, Carrizo cane has been used since ancient Egypt to make flutes and paper, and is still used by people in Mexico for baskets and pinatas.

carrizo cane
Photo courtesy of U.S.
Department of Homeland

None of these qualities endear it to the Texas Border Patrol. To them, the cane just provides excellent cover for illegal immigrants and criminals, and they're on a mission to eradicate it.

At first glance, comparisons of the Border Patrol plan to the application of Agent Orange in Vietnam seem hystrionic. It's easy to understand why people don't want a chemical contained in products with names like "Arsenal," "Stalker," and "Assault" drifting over their homes, but the EPA characterizes Imazapyr as a low risk to human or animal health. Tom Dudley, an expert in tamarisk control who currently works at UCSB, says that, although he's "one of the most anti-chemical people around...not all chemicals are the same." He considers Imazapyr "pretty non-toxic."

However,  disagreement about how dangerous the chemical really is, environmental concerns, and the Border Patrol's failure to invite public participation in their environmental assessment have sparked a battle between the Mexican government, the Texas Border Patrol, and communities who live along the river. Ground zero is Laredo, Texas, where the first test application of Imazapyr is scheduled to start today, unless Barrio de Colores can stop it.  

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Fire from the faucet

Terray Sylvester | Mar 25, 2009 07:05 AM

"Shock" and "terror:" that's how Colorado resident Amee Ellsworth feels about her tap water. The stuff stinks, it causes strange sounds in her toilet and washing machine; and worst of all, she's afraid it'll blow up her house. When she turns on her kitchen faucet and flicks a lighter, foot-high flames leap from the tap.

Ellsworth lives in Fort Lupton, in Weld County, home to nearly half of all active oil and gas wells in the state. Eight of them are clustered near Ellsworth's home, and at least one of those has apparently been leaking methane into her water supply. Plenty of folks may think about the collateral costs of our collective appetite for fossil fuels, but Ellsworth -- along with a handful of neighbors who've learned they too can light their water on fire -- is being forced to foot more than her share of the common bill.

You can watch a video of the flaming faucets here.

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Is the San Andreas slipping?

Judith Lewis Mernit | Mar 24, 2009 10:35 AM

Fill the water jugs and put the wrench back near the gas valve, Southern Californians, the Big One’s about to blow! Or not. You never can tell with these things. But geologists are watching closely a “swarm” of recent earthquakes on the Southern San Andreas Fault, the largest of which logged in at 4.8 on the moment magnitude scale at five minutes till 5 this morning.

“Science Dude” Gary Robbins of the Orange County Register reports that the many little quakes that slipped over the weekend had already prompted the Scripps Institution of Oceanography to issue what he calls a “highly unusual news advisory” about the minor temblors. “While earthquake swarm events are not precursors or indicators of a larger earthquake event,” it said, “they are jolting reminders that Southern California will experience the Big One soon.”

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Slums and tent cities

Urban planners love the fact that slums are “walkable, high-density, and mixed-use,” as The Boston Globe recently reported about Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums. In the article, reporter Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow says many governments are beginning to “mitigate the problems with slums rather than eliminate the slums themselves.”

The general consensus is that informal communities (read: slums, tent cities, squatter villages, etc.) arise out of neglect from surrounding communities. And at the same time, some local governments are at least willing to address the issue, if not throw some money at it.

In the case of the tent city in Ontario, CA, mentioned in Scott Bransford’s recent HCN article, officials spent $3 million to work with the situation, rather than simply raid and destroy. The story points out that the campaign formalized the living situation, and in the process, made it sort of an exclusive camp. Some were pleased; some were not.

 Dignity Village

Dignity Village in Portland, Oregon - Photo courtesy of Portland Ground

So if U.S. officials are trying to regulate these communities in a mutually beneficial way, what are some possible solutions? (Read on and feel free to express your thoughts below.)

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