Wednesday, August 29, 2007

the history of the American banana industry

In 1866 a seafaring Yankee named George Busch began bringing bananas to Boston, thus igniting the modern banana industry. Another captain, Lorenzo Dow Baker, created the Boston Fruit Co., which morphed into United Fruit Co.

Friday, August 24, 2007

why God made North American deserts

No one is talking about the Nellis AFB project in Nevada, soon to be the largest PV installation in North America. The primary contractors are SunPower and Xantrex. The power output will exceed the base's needs, so that I suppose the surplus can keep all those lights on in Las Vegas. This is a great project that has both military and civilian benefits, makes excellent use of the Nevada desert, and will hopefully inspire other desert and sunbelt states to better use use their natural and renewable resources. I don't see how this doesn't bode well for both SPWR and XARXF shareholders.

the new improved Latin America

Everyone has heard of Hugo Chavez but no one is talking about Tabare Vasquez, the current leftist president of Uruguay.

Is it that his is a sort of bourgeois leftism, a spin-off of Brazil's Lula in the form of a retired oncologist, in contrast to Bolivia's Evo Morales, the spin-off of Chavez's proud indigenous Bolivarian populism?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

kayaking minority seeks attonement for roadkill

Took Lockwood-Paris Valley Road to Lake San Antonio, an aesthetically appealing alternative to the usual route. I played a cassette -- yes, a cassette, they still work in my car -- of a radio show I taped in the late 1980's while living in New York. It's amazing to have frozen this random slice of radio and then listened to it every now and then for the last ten or twenty years. It still sounds fresh. The station, WFMU, actually broadcasted out of New Jersey, but was the best alternative radio station I knew of in the NYC area. The tape starts with some sort of Third World chanting, which is then overlaid with menacing electronics. The effect is amazing, and combined with the parched, desolate country road, it pretty much made my day.

I should mention that that was after I hit a squirrel that bolted out in front my car. That made me feel awful. Had I not decided to go kayaking on this sunny Sunday, this creature may still be alive.

To ensure that the squirrel was not sacrificed in vain, I proceeded with my plan. I had never kayaked at this lake before. For the most part it was really nice -- ducks, herons, and the skeletons of sunken oak trees. On the other hand the lake was full of jet skiers and speed boats, rendering me -- the guy trying to kayak back to nature -- a minority and no less a target than a squirrel on a country road. Unlike the squirrel, I studiously avoided the drunken boaters and the wakes they created. I probably got more exercise than they did -- which was the whole point. A little swimming, a little sunburn, and I was spent. Back at the marina a large screen TV was showing live footage of Kingston, Jamaica getting hammered by Hurricane Dean.

$1.99 or $2.99?

The best bar of shaving soap I know of is at Whole Foods -- the ingredients are wholesome, cruelty-free and whatnot, the packaging couldn't be more minimal (paper wrapping), and the cost is a mere $2.99. But to buy this virtuous product one needs to drive 70 miles. My local Rite Aid, which is less than a mile from home, also sells a round bar of shaving soap, slightly larger, with plastic packaging inside the cardboard box, made in Texas of Lord knows what, and a mere $1.99.

Environmentally speaking, which is the better choice? Which one would you buy?

Sunday, August 05, 2007

another interesting tangle of facts uncovered

The recent firing of Native American activist professor Ward Churchill had me checking Wikipedia to get my facts straight, and among other things I learned that he was alleged to be involved with the Weathermen Underground in the late 1960's. They of course were perhaps the last major domestic militant left wing group our country has seen, the likes of which are conspicuously absent in our present era of unchecked neo-imperialistic conservatism run amok. The Weathermen accidentally blew up a building on West 11th Street in Manhattan, which interestingly was the former residence of Charles Merrill, founder of Merrill Lynch, and his son James, a successful poet who memorialized the event in a poem. James Merrill was a thoughtful and talented homosexual poet whose best known work is called "Lost in Translation". That poem, not to be confused with the Bill Murray movie, was about spending time with his governess at the Merrill's sprawling Southampton estate while awaiting the arrival of a jigsaw puzzle from the city. The "Lost in Translation" title alludes to the fact that the governess spoke French and German as well as English and used the languages interchangeably so as to expand the young poet's mind. It turns out she was Alsatian, but never volunteered this information due to her self-consciousness of her latent German-ness at a time the US and Germany were at war. The Southampton estate was called "The Orchards", which sounded familiar to me, and sure enough it is one I have a very old post card of in my collection, a delicate, hand-tinted thing that identifies the owner as J.L. Breeze. My guess is that Mr. Breeze built the place that was eventually bought by Mr. Merrill. James Merrill, the son, died of AIDS in 1995. This is all ancient history now.