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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Corn Ethanol's Enemy List

Photo courtesy of, er, Hidinhumiliation via Flickr

A short, relatively innocuous post on an obscure farming blog created a small stir last week when it caught the attention of some less obscure bloggers, Robert Rapier in particular, who was was on the corn ethanol enemy list presented in this article.

I didn't want to open a can of worms in that blogger's comment field, but the can got opened anyway so I finally chimed in. Mine was comment number 41.

I outed an anonymous commenter named "Cindy" who was critical of anonymous posts:


"If you believe so strongly in what you are saying, put more than just your first name on it!"

Ah, internet espionage. I suspect you are Cindy Zimmerman, the corn ethanol lobbyist who publishes the Domestic Fuel blog, and by using only a first name without a link, you can deny this should someone point it out, or have another person named Cindy deny it ...tricky ; )

These anon posters are taking reasonable precautions. Note that the corn ethanol lobby does not limit itself to critiquing research, they publicly attack individuals including the lead authors of published research (Pimentel, Searchinger, etc).

Note also the hint of militarism here (Corn Corps with Kernels in charge) as well as in the Domestic Fuel blog where a recent post talks about a general (Wesley Clark of Growth "Force") addressing the "troops."

The fact that corn ethanol enjoys broad support from both Democrat and Republican politicians (Bush, McCain, and Obama all used it to buy votes from the farm belt) is the only thing keeping this debate from degenerating into another intractable culture war.

Ironically, and irrationally, science-based debate is being drowned out to garner government handouts for the same crowd that purports to reject global warming and government handouts.

The bottom line is this. All through human history, our species has banded together into cooperating groups to take resources from other cooperating groups. The most extreme form of this is called warfare. In this case, the corn and corn ethanol lobbies are out to raid America's public larder (taxes collected from other citizens).

The power brokers know they are raiding the larder and being at the top of the pyramid scheme are planning to get out with their bag of money after riding the pony as far as they can.

Their propaganda machine has convinced the minions that corn ethanol is God's gift to humanity. They have been convinced that it creates jobs, which it does, in the same manner a single mom with kids who spends the welfare check on food and housing for her children will create jobs.

Welfare is a good way to help a struggling single mom care for her kids but it isn't hard to see why we can't all be on welfare. Do corn ethanol refiners deserve welfare? The corn ethanol lobby is hoping to net $100 billion of it in the next decade.

There are people out there now who have actually been convinced that corn ethanol is creating more food than it is consuming and it goes on and on.

It has always been this way. Power brokers all through history have found ways to get the little people to go to bat for them. Usually it is done by promising them riches and by controlling knowledge, keeping them ignorant and away from the truth. This is getting harder to do in the age of the internet.

The closing comment in the blog post shows how effective propaganda can be:

Waterman also notes that the number one slot could have easily gone to “mainstream media” who publish uninformed articles and are too lazy to complete adequate research, but he was trying to be more specific.

Although it's true that the mainstream media is generally quite inaccurate and definitely not the place to go for reliable information, it is still far preferable to reading websites published by lobbying front groups and blogs by dupes who have been brainwashed by them.

One commenter was appalled by all of the negative comments. In my experience, ethanol articles always draw about 95% negative comments. She just doesn't know that is the norm outside of her smaller world of corn farmers.

She also somehow managed to take the critique of corn ethanol to be a critique of farmers in general, and by association, herself in particular, as a farmer.

She has also bought hook, line, and sinker, the party line that farmer's are God's chosen people because they are in the business of providing food. But, restaurants are also in the business of providing food. When one goes bankrupt, another quickly fills the hole left behind, just like with farms. Farmers, like restaurateurs, are just businesspersons with thin profit margins, which are the norm for all mature industries.

Who do you suppose it was that convinced farmers that they are somehow better and more deserving than restaurant owners? Hint--somebody who wants to use them.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Best Buy to Carry A2B

The original Metro (not being sold at Best Buy) is actually more of a moped than a bicycle. It has a twist throttle, smallish wheels like a scooter (which enhances acceleration from a stop), along with front and rear suspension--pedaling optional:

  • Maximum road speed under power – 20 mph
  • Up to 20 miles* unassisted range (extendable to 40 miles**)
  • Battery chemistry: lithium ion
  • Nominal voltage: 36 volts
  • Continuous power output: 500W
  • Real-time state-of-charge indicator
  • Frame: TIG welded 6061 aluminum
  • Suspension (front): Ultra Motor shock-absorbing front fork (80mm travel)
  • Suspension (rear): Ultra Motor shock-absorbing swing arm (30mm travel)
  • Tires: 20 x 3.0 Kenda Kraze
  • Gears: Shimano Alivio Derailleur with 7-speed twist shift
  • Brakes (front and rear): Avid BB5 disc brakes
  • Saddle: oversized Ultra Motor comfort saddle
  • Weight of A2B Metro with battery: 72lbs

Model 13102 has an unspecified wheel diameter, but appears to be smaller than 26 inches on this photo-shopped image. There is no mention of this model on the A2B website. Front suspension only. Specifications are sketchy but this model may use a throttle instead of a torque sensor to call for power from the motor.

  • Front suspension and disc brakes
  • Help the bike come to a complete stop safely.
  • 400W electric motor
  • Helps you power up steep hills.
  • 36V lithium-ion battery
  • For great performance. Power-on-demand conserves battery power.
  • Reaches speeds up to 20 mph
  • With a range up to 20 miles (depends on rider weight).
  • Minimal assembly required
  • Note: The purchaser and rider of this scooter or bike are responsible for knowing and obeying all local, state and federal regulations regarding the riding and use of this bike or scooter.

This is model 13107 (click here for larger view), which appears to be a black version of the model 13108, which is painted blue. On the A2B website it is called the Hybrid. They all have standard 26 inch diameter wheels and you have to pedal to get the motor to help out.

  • From our expanded online assortment; not available in all Best Buy stores
  • TIG-welded 6061 hydroform-structured aluminum frame
  • Provides durability, strength and style.
  • Avid BB5 disc brakes
  • Provide precise control for coming to a safe stop. Also features a 7-speed derailleur with twist shift.
  • Brushless 400-watt direct-drive motor
  • For reliably powering up steep hills and variable terrain with on-demand acceleration and responsive torque.
  • Sanyo advanced 36V lithium-ion battery
  • To efficiently power the bike. Smart charger charges in up to 4 hours to keep you on the go. Charge status indicator near the throttle keeps you aware of charge status.
  • Reaches speeds up to 20 mph
  • With a range up to 20 miles (depends on rider weight).
  • 26" x 2" tires
  • Provide comfort and stability while you ride.
  • Full front suspension
  • Helps reduce impact from road obstacles for a smooth ride.
  • Comfort seat
  • For ergonomic support during long bike rides.
  • Minimal assembly required
  • Note: The purchaser and rider of this scooter or bike are responsible for knowing and obeying all local, state and federal regulations regarding the riding and use of this bike or scooter.

The Metro is rated at 500 watts while the others appear to be rated at 400 watts. My guess (by looking at the similar price tags) is that all models use the same motor, controller, and battery, which is good from a maintenance and supply perspective.

Laws vary radically from country to country and from state to state so an electric bike maker has standardization problems.

Best Buy was wise to choose a product made in the USA that uses the same basic electric components because customer support is critical for retail sales, however, they are about to embark on a steep learning curve. Many bikes will be returned because they don't meet the near infinite variety of customer expectations. A 300 pound guy who thinks he is getting a scooter will not be pleased to find his range is only five miles. As with all retailers, a stock of used bikes will begin to pile up and people are going to want some kind of warranty to buy them.

If they don't plan to provide bike servicing this experiment will fail. What will you do when your bike quits working? There are no electric bike repair shops. Are they going to teach the Geek Squad electric bicycle repair, and what will the hourly rate be?

There is also a liability issue to deal with. Electric bikes move and will have electromechanical failures, throttles can get stuck, people will get hurt and they will sue.

I called a store in Portland to see what I could find out. Nobody seems to know what is going on and there does not appear to be any kind of protection plan like you can buy for a computer. These bikes are not cheap. This is an investment you need to protect.

The best marketing strategy for now might be for manufacturers like Ultra Motors to do their own local retailing and repair, eventually transitioning to franchises later on, but I've been wrong before. Time will tell.