5 Things I Didn’t Know Last Week

1. Biodiesel is bad for the environment.

Sorry Willie. Rain forests are being torn up and plowed under to grow palm trees to be turned into biodiesel. However the emissions are shifted from mostly European, first world countries, to less developed third world countries. The net effect is an increase in global CO2. This enables Europe to come closer to meeting its Kyoto targets without actually having to reduce its power consumption. It’s a shell game, and one we’re losing.

And if that weren’t bad enough, it’s also diverting land and crops from food production. Increased usage of biodiesel may well increase starvation among the poorest people in the world.1

2. Britain became the largest economy of the 19th century by deliberately pursuing a policy of keeping gold out of the country.

Unlike many other countries that pursued an anti-import, pro-export mercantilist strategy designed to keep gold in the country at all costs, Britain deliberately tried to increase the velocity of money and keep the minimum amount of gold in the country consistent with a necessary money supply. In essence they were viewing national wealth in much more modern terms of good and services produced, rather than in old-fashioned terms of how much yellow metal one had in the vaults. Many other nations didn’t catch up with this line of thought till the 20th century. 2

3. The Meadowlands is a salt marsh.

In fact, it’s one of the biggest. It’s fed by the Hackensack River, but is very brackish and tidal. It’s over 8,000 acres and used to be much larger before large chunks were filled in for development. It supports some surprising species including Fish Crow.3

4. Most blind people can’t read Braille.

Thank God for screen readers.4

5. You can pre-reserve an exit row seat on JetBlue

So the next time you’re stuck on the tarmac for nine hours, you can stretch your legs.


1 George Monbiot If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels, The Guardian, March 27, 2007

2 Duncan K. Foley, Adam’s Fallacy, Harvard University Press, 2006

3 Wikipedia, New Jersey Meadowlands

4 Mark Pilgrim, Dive into Accessibility, Day 1: Jackie

4 Responses to “5 Things I Didn’t Know Last Week”

  1. Gordon Weakliem Says:

    There’s also the point that given modern farming techniques, it takes a great deal of energy to produce crops for biodiesel, so it’s not necessarily especially energy efficient.

    I saw your Amazon ads had Robert Sullivan’s “The Meadowlands” – that’s a great and somewhat depressing book. If you haven’t read it, I’m guessing you’d enjoy it.

  2. Dolan Halbrook Says:

    I think it might be better to just specify “biofuels” in general instead of Biodiesel in particular.

  3. Dave Says:

    You say “Biodiesel is bad for the environment”, but that type of statement is not sufficiently specific, and fails to promote clear thinking. What you should say is “Biodiesal-related raw materials produced in third-world countries to satisfy an uninformed market demand is harmful to the environment”. (And is therefore inconsistent with the goals of most of the real alternative fuel enthusiast.)

    People also say things like “Ethanol is bad, it takes more energy to make than it gives back as a fuel”, and this is also an irresponsible stand to take. While it is certainly the case that our country’s corn-ethanol subsidies are for the most part misconceived, and that existing agri-businesses tend to pursue production in ways that ignore efficiency for the sake of short-term profits, it is those companies and their methods that should be criticized, and not the general idea of trying to create a healthier market for renewable fuels.

  4. SusyQ Says:

    4. A major reason that US children who blind or visually-impaired from birth can’t read braille is that they aren’t taught to read braille. Blind children who are taught properly can learn to read braille in kindergarten or first grade just as sighted children can learn to read print at the same age.

    Why aren’t they taught braille? A big reason is the expense of braille materials. (In other words, schools attempt to persuade parents to choose a less expensive alternative such as listening or — in the case of children who aren’t completely blind — reading using a CCTV.)

    Why are braille materials expensive? The expense is primarily in converting print to braille, not in embossing. It should be possible to develop software to fully automate the conversion process. However the market for such software is too small for any new development to be a commercial success.

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