Corn, Corn, Corn..

Ever wondered what’s in a twinkie? Wondered how they produce that wonderful food called ‘Cheeto’?

Well, I recently began listening to a shocking book about the food we eat and it’s uncomfortably monoculture origins. The Omnivore’s Dilemma traces the life of commodity corn and the crazy ways in which it finds it’s way into food.

I never really thought about it, but here’s basically what I got from the first section of the book. We take Petroleum & turn it into Ammonium Nitrate (chemical fertilizer). Then, we put this on large monoculture farms to produce corn that is not edible by humans, but rather, commodity corn. We then turn this corn into (a) feed for cattle, a species that is not predisposed to survive on grains, but rather, needs grass. Thus, we have to give pharmaceuticals to the cows to keep them alive long enough to fatten them up. They produce all kinds of methane and other gross stuff while living a sad life in the feedlot, and producing the delicious meats that I love so much.

Or, (b), we turn that corn back into ethanol.

Or, (c), we turn the corn into High Fructose Corn Syrup, Xanthan Gum, Corn Starch, and all sorts of other items you read on the back of your Twinkie label and some 50% of the food in the average supermarket. Pollan even details the outrageously high % of corn that makes up an average McDonalds meal, etc (something like 30% into your French Fries! (corn oil), >50% into your Chicken McNugget…corn even goes into the Salad Dressing & Milkshake (HFCS), the burger (poor, poor cows), the ketchup and mayo, etc. I used figure that french fries come from potatoes – which IS true – but I never really thought I was getting my daily dose of corn in them as well. I also used to buy cans of corn, because I thought it was a healthy vegetable. Nevermind that!

I’m no production efficiency guru or anything, but it sure does seem backwards to take oil and pump it into our food system, only to produce an oil substitute and less healthy foods. Then again, I love those foods. So does the generation of children in N. America that are developing early onset diabetes and are likely to be the first generation to actually have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Health care system, you reading this book?

Anyways, it’s an important, seminal work on the evolution of food in the developed world and gives a plain-english yet scientific explanation of what’s going on with our food. Check it out…

Not Everyone Believes In Climate Change…

It’s mostly just scientists and climatologists.

So lots of people have come around on this ‘global warming’ and ‘climate change’ thing. Very good development, indeed. Is it too late to apologize for kyoto et al? Well, as the gas pumps illustrate, the sweet crude is now up over 130 buck$. Ouch. And still climbing? Will it ever stop?

(image source)

Why is this happening? Well, as legendary OK/TX oil & natural gas man T. Boone Pickens describes in the video below, it’s quite simple.

The cost/barrel is rising because demand for oil is now greater than supply. Crazy right?

Sounds like a joke. But, Pickens explains, we’re no longer in a situation where OPEC is manipulating production, but rather, the global demand for oil has now recently outpaced production capacity. See the video here????????.

Well, to see more about that there oil production capacity, check out the graph below. As you can see, the experts predict that we are about to reach the world production peak and then start falling. This is serious stuff! Notice that not long ago, the US produced over 1/2 the world’s petroleum. Yikes. Unfortunately, the global production curve is heading in the same direction that the US production curve followed some years ago.

Let’s see. What might happen at that point? Well, world supply is expected to actually start decreasing and here we’ve got a 6+ billion world population headed north of 9 billion…3 billion of them all looking to go from relatively impoverished to developed/industrialized nations. Less oil, more people, higher rate of consumption per capita…well, you get the idea.

How bout getting after ‘dem there renewables, eh? Wind turbine, anyone? Electric cars? Policy makers who can push forward a real energy policy that focuses on driving forward higher efficiency vehicles, construction standards, and alternate forms of transportation?

Anyone up for more aggressive subsidies for scientific research on (1) wind power (2) solar power (3) batteries and other means to save/transport power (4) electric vehicles.

US Vehicle MilesUpdate: Some good news in the graph to the left. Vehicle miles on highways in US. Notice the flattening? Sweetness! (Img S0urce).

Fortunately, there are a lot of really smart people out there working very hard on solving this problem. As oil prices continue to climb, more and more smart people will find their way into this field. It’s just disappointing that news media & the general public isn’t quite there yet. Ya’ll policy makers, come on now, you can help out, too!

While we’re putting together a wishlist, can we please drop the ‘corny’ joke of the oil alternative that comes from the same stuff that we use to make tortillas? I mean, I get it. Corn can make fuel. But really? We’re using up government subsidies, plant fertilizers (which come from oil), water, and our most valuable food-producing topsoil in order to entice a Food plant (corn) to convert sunlight into an edible substance. And then we’re going to turn that food into gasoline to feed our cars? All the while, corn (the food, not the ethanol) prices and just about every other commodity price has skyrocketed in the last few months. I mean, okay, as a stopgap it sure is a nice party trick that we can turn corn into fuel. And that’s cool, it really is. But if we’re really going to put our political might and economic prowess behind a plan to offset the impending global energy ‘whoops, why didn’t we fully see this coming, type of nightmare’….wouldn’t we put that effort & global fortitude into something more sustainable and rational than turning water and oil into corn and then turning it into a gas substitute? Again, I also understand that the corn fuel can be produced domestically and that is a plus. But to the detriment of figuring out other, more effective solutions. Shouldn’t we at least VERY aggressively push the electric car agenda, or the wind turbine agenda??? Shucks.

Oh yeah, and while we’re at it…we gotta take a look at the water scarcity issue. Say, oh, maybe in about 2014, I’d be willing to wild-guess that water’s going to be as big a societal concern as our oil and global climate volatility. Ya know, cause pollution won’t ever harm the global oil supply. But water, now that’s another thing. Just ask the guys in Yemen and Saudi what happens when population growth causes water demand to exceed supply.

I guess that begs an interesting question. Would you prefer to be the country with 5% of the world’s population that consumers 1/4 of its oil, importing $600 billion of it annually, but with a reasonably large amount of available water? Or a much smaller country with lots of oil but almost no water at all? Ya know, you can use oil to desalinate water. But then again, in 2012, we’ll be needing that oil for our plastic bags and as a supplement to our 80% corn ethanol driven high efficiency suvs, right?

The good news is, we’re still early on in this craziness and we’ve got some time to turn it around. Everyone voting in this year’s election?

(Disclaimer: I do not work in any of these fields and I am not even close to being an expert in any of them; I am an uninformed guy watching from afar. Please feel free to enhance, challenge, or re-frame the argument as you see fit in the comments below.)

Important, Smart Movie About Dignity in the 1935 South – The Great Debaters

“Keep the slave physically strong, but psychology weak and dependent on the slave master – keep the body, but take the mind. I…am here to help you find, take back, and keep your righteous mind.” I was born in the early 80s, so maybe I am naive and this stuff is new to me…but this movie overwhelmed my senses and gave me a new understanding of a very important issue.

“We do what we must, so that we can do what we want.” This ritualized lesson from father-to-son is emblematic of this movie’s message about how a young negro student needed to behave in order to excel during an oh-so-recent era, the 1930s.

So I happened upon a really important movie this week – “The Great Debaters”. It should be required reading. Oprah, I implore you, take one additional step to aid in our society’s moral maturation: buy a copy for every elementary school teacher in America and get Obama to champion it as required viewing for every Civil Rights history class in our country.

Here’s why it’s awesome:

(1) The man behind the plan: Denzel Washington (who starred in and directed this movie) is the inspirational leader of the debate team at an all-negro college in Texas during the 1930s. Also, it features an intense & exceptional actor, ??????Forrest Whitaker (wikipedia), who won practically every award possible for his performance in Last King of Scotland (wikipedia), another important exceptional movie.

Kudos to Oprah for producing and funding this tremendous timepiece:

(2) It was fast-paced, emotionally jarring, and informative.(3) The brilliant screenplay features enough quotables to make Kofi Annan jealous (famous quotes by the former UN leader).This movie teaches us that it’s cool to be intelligent. The young actors in this film are tremendous as well, and here you can get a feel for the young team. Special note: the youngest star, Denzel Whitaker, is not related to either one of his elder namesakes…This video shows the maturity and passion that the actors had for this movie:

Go see it. It’s worth you’re while. And Oprah, I’m serious about sending it out to history teachers and having every kid in America really understand the story this movie tells.

Petroleum Musings…by Mike Dorsey

I just thought of something…

If oil and plastic and rubber all come from non-renewable hydrocarbons that date back 300k years, and we are extracting them from every place we can find them, aren’t I glad that they pump other liquids back into the ground, so that the pressure of gravity on earth doesn’t cause all those empty caverns to collapse!

The future seems bright for entrepreneurs…

Well, if you’re thinking you want to be self-employed one day, take heart from this post: The Future Of Web Startups. This article articulates something that I’ve been thinking about for a while…with enough desire to go it alone, a few months of living expenses saved up, and some intestinal fortitude, just about anyone can build a business these days. With the proliferation of business opportunities in this “digital era”, people can start a business without building a warehouse, hiring scientists, or developing a supply chain, etc.

girl becoming entrepreneurWhen starting a startup was expensive, you had to get the permission of investors to do it. Now the only threshold you have to get over is whether you have the courage to…If startups are easy to start…founders can start them younger, when it’s rational to take more risk, and can start more startups total in their careers. When founders can do lots of startups, they can start to look at the world in the same portfolio-optimizing way as investors.

By hiring a few programmers, picking up a web template, and doing a few weeks of testing, entrepreneurs can now test entire business plans in a matter of weeks…The rapid testing and iterative improvements that are possible now make product development move very quickly and so young folks can start businesses quickly and without much cash…

We often tell startups to release a minimal version one as soon as possible, then let the needs of their users tell them what to do next….Instead of going to venture capitalists with a business plan and trying to convince them to fund it, you can get a product launched on a few tens of thousands of dollars of seed money from us or your uncle, and approach them with a working company instead of a plan for one.

Although written from the perspective of a VC, this article is definitely consistent with my experiences. Anyone else seen these trends lately? Disagree?

Top 16 Movies That Teach Us Something About The World

Electric Car1. Who Killed the Electric Car? – We should be driving them, but corporate capitalism has prevented it.
2. Why We Fight – Military Industrial Complex, we really ought to examine our nation’s decisions.
3. Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room – How the pursuit of profits mixed with loose morals led to a corporate scandal of epic proportions.
4. Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism – Woah, yikes. I knew it was bad, but…Newscorp is in your brain!
5. The Last King of Scotland – Idi Amin, the Ugandan Dicator, seen from within.
6. Uncovered: The War on Iraq – Ugh. Not good at all.
7. Tsotsi – A wakeup call about what it must be like to be a poor kid in South Africa
8. Thank You For Smoking – Hilarious movie about a smoking lobbyist and his gun-running and drinking compatriots. Apparently, smoking is bad for you, too.Earth
9. An Inconvenient Truth – It’s not ‘warming’, but rather ‘climate change’, and it’s definitely happening. Take a restroom or phone break while Gore waxes his political agenda.
10. Hotel Rwanda – Unusual courage, great story from the forgotten continent.
11. Gandhi – Incredible illustration of a world leader – but why was he played by a British man? Isn’t that sick? But to his credit, this was a fine movie.
12. Lagaan – Insight into Indian culture and colonial animosity, plus learn the game of cricket!
13. Babel – Communication, communication, communication…from North Africa to Japan to California…If everyone would just calm down and understand the other…
14. Crash – Why is everyone so hard on each other? It’s incredible how intertwined we are.
15. The Fog of War – Memoirs of Kennedy’s top brass and a chief architect of Vietnam.
16. The Future of Food – Crop seeds can be patented? Monsantos is Monsterous…Watch out for mutated food.

Update: A fellow Austin College alum pointed out that my blithe mention of mutated food wasn’t a fair representation of the facts. As James writes:

These cries against GMOs are no different than the church fighting the copernican revolution, or the scopes monkee trial, or any other development.
If you wanna bash Monsanto, bash them for focussing so much of their development on pesticides, or bash them for their economic policy. But realize that when you bash them because you don’t like GMOs, you’re just revealing that you don’t know much about GMOs.

He’s right. I don’t know too much about GMOs, but the movie was a decent introduction and as James rightly points out, the emphasis of the movie is on the impact of GMOs on farming practices (specifically their pesticides) and then the movie gives a ‘Michael Moore-esque’ intimation of the threat of GMOs – an interesting thing to learn more about, for sure…

So that’s it. If you’re like me and you want to learn something while watching movies – these are the top flicks that teach us something of consequence about the world.

What other good ones am I leaving out? Which of these movies do you dislike or disagree with? What else should I see to learn something new?

Recalling Cairo, Ulaan Baatur & Latinoamerica

In my college years, I went after travel with vigor and enthusiasm. I variously found, stumpled upon, applied for, and was given the opportunity to study and travel to many countries. Towards the end of high school, during study abroad programs supported by my alma mater, Austin College, during summer research programs, and then subsequently, a graduate program, I spent some two full years abroad, spanning an eight year period.

Enjoying these experiences during the end of the dot com bubble, the dark years of ’02 and ’03, and studying in developing countries freshly adorned with internet cafes, I could make websites! With the beautiful synergies created by digital camera proliferation + html + ubiquitous email and internet access, I could become an amateur publisher of online content about those countries – and that’s exactly what I did. I was just another example of the type of phenomenon that was possible for the first time in history, a concept that The Long Tail and The World Is Flat eloquently teach about – and are books that I highly recommend listening to.

So anyways, I put my scarcely-adequate web coding abilities to the task to communicate with my friends and family back at home, and created a couple of my very own 90s-looking websites. I did the first one using an old AOL hosting package, a dell laptop, and some text-only html editing editor. You can see a photo of us preparing to devour cooked scorpion in the streets of Beijing – salty, but good!

This page, Mike Dorsey International Studies & Travels might be a good starting point. It talks about the 3-months I spent in Asia, the semesters I spent in France and then Argentina, some other <2 mo trips I took, and chronicles a few of the interesting things I was exposed to.

I built the second – using the now-swallowed-by-Lycos – Tripod, which tells about my Rotary-funded year in Cairo, where I was an ‘Ambassadorial Scholar’ and really busted it to complete a Master’s Degree and learned a LOT. Some of my experiences there are highlighted here: Mike Dorsey’s Homepage.

Finally, I should mention that I can’t get in and access either of these old sites anymore, anmike dorsey egyptd so in many cases, the content is a haltering and incomplete picture of those places and overly emphasizes my travels, relative to the awesome people and places that define the majority of my life, in and around Dallas, TX. Finally, my apologies for the annoying ads everywhere on those two sites! Bagh! But, at least the existence of those ads does mean that AOL & Lycos are likely to allow those sites to continue to exist in their current form, because every once in a while, someone comes along and clicks on one of their dirty links and makes just enough money to justify continuing to host those files for me and everyone else who made websites in this way.

Living it up in Big D

So I’m loving my life here in Dallas. As an Internet Entrepreneur who works at home, I enjoy a lot of freedom to spend my evenings and weekends taking advantage of some good stuff Dallas has to offer.

Since I’m making a concerted effort to hit up all the good, cheap concerts, plays, arts galleries, and sporting events that this city has to offer, I’ve shared my Dallas Events Calendar. If you’re new to this site and don’t know much about me, then you can find a little info about Mike Dorsey here. (forgive me for repetitively saying my name, but I’m trying to get search engine placement for my name 🙂

New beginnings…

So here I am, with this new site. Testing plugins – just added the ‘tag’ cluster to get the ball rolling.

I wont often post sport or entertainment news here, especially while the mavs are down. But I couldn’t help but give my respect to ‘young’ Lebron, who put together a sleek 48, 9, and 8 tonight, scoring his team’s last 25 pts, and leading it to a double-overtime win against a formidable, veteran foe late in the playoffs. Kudos, sire.