Thursday, May 22, 2008

Paul Stamets - Fungus Evangelist

Paul Stamets is a very focused man. He's made a career out of fungi from books like Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World and Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms to editing scientific journals and advising medical schools. His website Fungi Perfecti is full of resources and information. Spend a little while there and you'll get the idea that there's a lot more to the kingdom than stuff growing in the back of your fridge.

This video will give you a little peek into his world. It ranges from basic biology to the really amazing. Who knew that the world's largest organism is a gigantic fungus in Eastern Oregon or that they use ionizing radiation the way that plants use light? Then he gets into half a dozen ways that fungi can be used to address very real problems. They include his revolutionary patents for carpenter ant and termite abatement to breaking down the hydrocarbons in diesel-soaked ground and DoD research on agarikon mushrooms that produce the most specific and effective agents for each individual strain of bird flu as well as cellulose-based ethanol and carbon sequestration.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Infrastructure: Disturbing article Scholars and Rogues

One of my favorite sites is Scholars and Rogues. It's incisive, cynical, well-informed and goes after the truth like a starving dog after a pork chop. Today it discusses the United States' decrepit infrastructure.

Infrastructure is one of those boring things that people don't like to talk about. Photos of Brittney Spears' naughty bits? Oh yeah! Who Wants to Survive America's Top Apprentice Idol? Bring it on! Ferreting out the phantom terrorists in our hair gel and insoles? USA! 9-11! But roads and bridges and sewers and dams and airports and railways? That's boring. There aren't any boobies or big explosions. You can't wave a flag and send in the Marines or gossip about who gets voted off the island.

When a bridge in Minnesota collapses or the century old New York sewers spring leaks in several places at once there's a three day story. Politicians bang their hands on the podium in carefully measured cadences. Blue ribbon commissions are seated. The Secretary of some cabinet department makes a speech. Bechtel, Halliburton and Fluor's accountants wake up with enormous erections at the thought of the contracts. Afterwards people go back to sleep. The problem is shelved, and everyone figures that it couldn't have been that bad. Look! The gays want to get married! Everyone panic! (You're not thinking, guys. If you want to stop gay sex, then allowing gay marriage is a good first step...)

Well it is a problem. And like brushing your teeth ignoring it won't make it go away. The problem that is. The teeth will go away if you don't brush them just like the roads, dams, bridges, sewers, electric power grid, railways, runways, aqueducts and ports. The ACSE believes it's a more than $1.5 trillion (with a "t") problem over the next five years. That's just to get things back to decent repair.

The Parties and their candidates just don't seem to understand how big this is. Obama proposes $60 billion over five years against needs of at least $400 billion for transportation. Clinton boldly proposes $10 billion in funding. McCain doesn't even mention infrastructure as an issue. I suppose The Market will automagically solve the problem with unicorn farts and pixie dust. I suppose we need magic. We've already mortgaged our grandchildrens' future to the tune of half a trillion to three trillion dollars to take the oil in Iraq. Unfortunately, the spoils of war failed to materialize.

Multiply that by clean water's shrinking funding, crumbling sewers, aging water treatment plants, and declining quality. Or consider the degradation of levees all over the country and note that the Administration is right at the forefront, repairing the levees in Louisiana with the finest materials and workmanship. They're actually stuffing them with newspaper instead of using earth or concrete, but we're still doing a heck of a job. Our bridges and roads are in bad shape and not keeping up with maintenance. Many aren't safe at anything like their rated capacity. The US railway system isn't up to Bulgarian standards let alone Western European or Japanese which is a real shame. It's more efficient per passenger mile than cars or planes. But that gets into a whole different set of issues ably handled by my friend and unindicted co-conspirator, publisher Rustin Wright.

If Teddy Roosevelt were President he'd have turned the government upside down and shaken out all the incompetents and crooks. If it were Dwight Eisenhower we'd have started rebuilding the whole thing under an audacious master plan. FDR or LBJ would have the programs in place and an army of recently unemployed workers holding shovels and pay stubs while they dug in. But we have George W. Bush whose governmental philosophy is that government can't do anything, so it's time to take a vacation and pat himself on the back for a non-job that lived up to expectations.

For the most part the press isn't there absent the squawking when something falls down. John McQuaid calls us the Can't Do Nation. Bob Herbert, one of the New York Times' few columnists with his head screwed on straight talks about our loss of will and clearly identifies the problem and some solutions. But they're pretty much alone. The Press, the boardroom and the politicians are are engaging in their usual short-term thinking. Nobody is taking care of business.