Energy Independence – when the wind dies down



Last weekend when I was visiting my brother I was introduced to his neighbor. The neighbor, was an engineer who spent last winter trying to come up with a useful way to produce energy from wind.

My wife, who works with an Energy Company that is investing in wind energy always points out that the chief obstacle to wind generated energy is that people need energy even when the wind stops. Imagine having your work stop because your plant has to end production because of the wind dying down. This is exactly what happened to ships in the day of wind power. Out in the middle of the ocean a ship would sit in the water until the wind picked up again.

My new engineering colleague has a solution. Instead of turning wind power into electrical energy he wants to use the energy immediately to produce hydrogen from water. Hydrogen is nearly limitless. Two thirds of the molocules in the ocean are hydrogen – H2O.

The chief difficulty with this plan is that for the moment no one is making Hydrogen powered engines. Changing the entire manufacture of car engines overnight is prohibitively expensive.

Still, this plan would turn energy from wind into stored energy just like water stored behind a damn.

This engineer also says that wind energy could be increased ten fold using another Canadian innovation. Instead of wind mills he would use blimps shaped like corkscrews. He’s not the first to discover this firm. Looking for it on the Internet I found it written up by the arch liberal blogsite the Daily Kos.

My engineer also suggests stringing up the floating wind turbines on a wire like a string of hydrogen baloons six to a wire. There are two big advantages of such a formation. It would take up less ground space and because friction with the ground slows down the wind it would be able to take advantage of faster wind speeds. This is his diagram for a single guy wire with six wind turbines.
 wind generation blimps

Energy Independence Rumpelstilskin

We subsidized the growing of corn to produce ethanol. What if we just used grass to make it. It turns out that the much more complicated fibers of grass evolved over the eons to resists digestion from microbes. During WWII, however, a kind of mold was discovered that turned military gear made from tough fibers into mush almost overnight. Now a Canadian firm is using the enzymes from that mold to turn straw into gold or at least into ethanol.

Americans- Yea or Nay on NSA phone monitoring?

Polls have varied widely on whether Americans approve of the NSA’s phone monitoring. Mystery Pollster explains:

“Well, another day, another — very different — set of poll results on the NSA phone records surveillance issue.  On a new survey out today from Newsweek (story, results) 53% of Americans said the “program goes too far in invading people’s privacy” while 41% agreed with the alternative statement, “it is a necessary tool to combat terrorism.”  A similar question on the ABC/Washington Post released yesterday showed 63% endorsing the NSA program as “an acceptable way to fight terrorism,” 35% found it unacceptable.  So what gives?”

Gotch yer number?

I heard an interesting and partly reassuring conversation on NPR this afternoon. The USA Today reporter who had broken the NSA phone record story as well as retired Admiral Bobby Ray Inman. Inman was once the Director of the National Security Agency. My recollection is that he was working hard on developing the NSA’s computers.

Inman agreed that it was troubling that the Bush Administration seemed to be so unwilling to seek Congress’s help in crafting some sensible restrictions on the NSA’s intelligence gathering of phone calls. On the other hand, he said the ability of the NSA to keep track of conversations was all but nonexistant.

Small World

Speaking of the Bye family. . . its such a small world. My next door neighbor in Mankato, Minnesota, Mary Lofy was a friend of Don Bye’s wife, former City Councilor, Meg Bye. 

I used to get a kick  out of watching Mary’s kids play in their backyard down below my bedroom window. They kept a big mellow St. Bernard in their yard who lumbered around after the kids. Mary and my Mother were both partners in a small botique shop called Harpies Bazaar along with a dozen other women. My Mother did the store’s ads.

Mary and Meg were both active DFLers, City Councilors and ex nuns. I recently heard Mary’s son Bill on NPR talking about the book he had just authored on Paul Wellstone. I sent Mary an email commenting on her son’s eloquence and telling her that I was going to buy the book. As for Meg, she currently overseas the City of Duluth’s Human Rights Commission.

A former City Councilor chimes in

I just got a call from a former city councilor. The Councilor too enjoyed the column. The Councilor also told me that that the UGLRC scandal helped convince them to switch to the Republican Party. Since then the Councilor has switched to being an Independent.

The Councilor had a friend on the periphery of the UGLRC stew who had witnessed how hard Duluth Democrats worked to get Oberstar the DFL nomination. That friend had also told the Councilor who the next Mayor of Duluth would be (thirty years ago that is). The friend had been handed an envelope with $5,000.00 in it to give to this mayoral candidate’s campaign. The friend refused to be a bag person so someone else had to pass the money on. I think I’d like to talk to the friend. I have a feeling that there are lots of interesting stories out there.



After my last post I returned to the manuscript and found it a little quicker read. Thank goodness. Before setting it aside to get in a my first mile swim in eight days I got a call from Duluth’s former Mayor, Ben Boo. Ben was calling to tell me that he’d enjoyed my column about the Million Dollar Man.

Ben helped put the Upper Great Lakes Commission to bed after the scandals. Most of the commissions were axed by Ronald Reagan. Appointed by Republican Governor Quie Boo told me the place had been a rat’s nest. Those are my words not his but that’s what he meant. My column was a trip down memory lane, so to speak.

Its nice to know someone is reading my columns. So far only 36 people have visited the Old News site. I’ll have to upload some more info soon to keep them coming back.

And if they didn’t like what they heard when they were tapping you?

Matt Yglesias has a few comments on the NSA’s phone tapping everything and everybody a la Big Brother. If you think the Bush Administration wouldn’t misuse such information just remember how his Secretary of Housing boasted at a conference that he’d withdrawn the government contract from a contractor critical of the President.

“Last month, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson told a minority business group in Texas that he had retracted a HUD contract after learning it had been awarded to a qualified vendor who happened to be critical of the Bush administration.”



Reading the Boyd manuscripts is going to be a challenge. Its death by a thousand details. I know that in the end a simple and straight forward story about one guy getting screwed has to emerge but finding it is going to be like cutting a path in the rain forest with a machete. I’m going to get big fat calluses on my poor old brain.

Only the vegitation I’m having to machete down is TMI. That’s an acronym kids on the Internet use meaing too much information.

If I get around to interviewing other people who were involved I can expect a lot resistance, not so much because of the financial implications but because of the Peyton Place kinds of things that happened. Today these folks are all grandmas and grandpas. None of them will be eager to have somebody digging around in the sexual dalliances of their past? And yet these relationships help explain why people looked the other way or didn’t look the other way for the financial misdeeds that took place.

I wrote a column for the Reader a couple weeks ago which touched on the freewheeling sexual attitudes of the seventies when the Upper Great Lakes crimes took place. I began that column by talking about John Grunseth’s exposure for child molestation.

I had run across Grunseth in 1972 when I worked for the State Republican Party. He was a Party fieldman for one of the Congressional Districts. He was older and I barely recall him at all. I do recall the anything goes seventies however like when I attended the state convention that year along with my new College Republican buddies. People today would barely recognize the party then. Before religiously conservative folk innundated the party all the politicians hospitality suites had free flowing booze. One of the CR’s I was mingling with was given the key to a hotel room by a pretty young women at one of those hospitality suites. It was a like that moment in the movie Happy Days when one of the boys is trying to hook up with a “divorcee.”

In later years I heard from other sources that Grunseth had been a swinger but that was a far cry from the married father of teenaged daughters chasing his daugher’s friends around the pool. That’s the sort of thing that almost makes one welcome the influx of morally rectitudinous people into the party. Its so ironic that it was amoral folks like Grunseth, Ralph Reed, and Jack Abramoff that brought them into the party.

Don Boyd keeps telling me about the optimistic boy who sifted through piles of horse manure sure that he was about to find a pony. If I have to stop reading his manuscript every couple of pages to wax philosophic like this it will take me a heck of a long time before I find my own horse.

Oberstar’s endorsment

Today the 8th Congressional District DFL endorsed Jim Oberstar at their Convention. I had been tempted to distribute a brochure with the lovely picture of Jim hobnobbing with all the Republicans during one of their crudest bids for votes in the last couple years but eventually decided that there was little to be gained by this.

Besides’ since I was spending the last half of the week with my better half in the Twin Cities while she attended her safety convention we extended our stay through Saturday to stay with my brother and his family. Family should always trump politics.

In the morning my Brother took me and my niece for a drive around his neighborhood in the Minnetonka, Wayzata area. When we drove into a particularly secluded and well healed neighborhood I saw the names of all the residents on a little directory of the neighborhood. I’d seen rustic signs like that in cabin country before but never in a really tony neighborhood. One of the names was John Dasburg.

I haven’t followed the NWA news carefully enough to know who’s leading the corporation today as it struggles for survival but I sure recognized that name. How many John Dasburg’s there are in Minnesota I have no idea but it’s probably not many. Certainly it’s not many who live in three, four or five million dollar homes which is what all the homes in this little haven looked to be worth.

So, even though I didn’t go to that DFL convention I still managed to feel a little connection to the Congressman today since he has worked so closely with NWA over the years. A quick check of the Internet demonstrated that Oberstar had received a small contribution from Dasburg on at least one occasion, that being in 1997. I’m sure if I took the time to look I’d find other donations.

Lots of people give Jim contributions. I even saw the President of my old high school Senior class among the contributors in 97 and he was listed as having given even more to Oberstar on this report than Dasburg had. 

When I got home I set to reading all the local newspapers I’d missed while I was away. Tom West of the Budgeteer had some interesting insights to share about the Grams challenge to Oberstar. I rather think West would like to see Grams do well but he was honest in pointing out some of our ex-Senator’s liabilities. I’m willing to bet he doesn’t quite realize how empty a shell Oberstar is. Lucky for Jim it’s going to be a good year for Democrats running for Congress.


The Devil Made Me Do It

USA Today reports that 19% of Americans think that the book and movie “Da Vinchi Code” is the work of the devil. I wonder if they think the “Left  Behind” series is too or whether its the work of God?

When I was in high school it didn’t occur to me than anyone really believed in the devil until the movie “The Exorcist” came out. We were talking about it in our home room when I asked Sue Weber, who sat in front of me, if she believed in the Devil. Oh yes, she did. Heck, Sue wasn’t even a Baptist. She was a Lutheran for crying out loud!

My Mother always told me that she didn’t believe in Hell. She said that if there was such a place it was right here on Earth which is a theory that our newspaper headlines seem to bolster daily. I suppose that fundamentalists would just say that Mom was full of the Devil.

Well if she was she should have gotten over that after I was born.

Old News

I’m writing a book online. Its not the book I had planned to write. Two others were already in the waiting. One was an account of my Mother’s career as an artist. The other was a fictionalized account of my Grandfather’s experiences in the First World War.

This new writing project came out of left field after a column I wrote last November about one of the biggest political scandals to hit Minnesota. It rather mysteriously died with a whimper when, surprise surprise, a couple low level functionaries got all the blame.

I’ve given it the accurate but lack luster name “Old News” as its working title. I hope to come up with something better over the Summer. I’m looking for help in writing it.

Blogging away from home

The worst part of blogging away from home is using the smallish keyboard on our new laptop. My big clumsy fingers punch all the wrong buttons or keys.

When I’m at a hotel and try to log on in the morning before work all the business types doing they’re last minute work before they head off to do battle clogs the wireless connections I’m still getting used to. I’m in the second day of a four-day visit to the Twin Cities and I have a few comments to make. I’ll see how long it takes to upload this now that its 9:30 in the AM.

Million Dollar Man

The Million Dollar Man  Published May 11, 2006  “Last November I had great fun writing about the dirty business which may have helped launch Jim Obertstar’s career as one of Washington DC’s preeminent pork chasers. My column casually mentioned, Don Boyd, a man who was endlessly described by the press during the scandal as the principal suspect behind the embezzlement of a million Federal dollars…”My latest Reader Column.

Will Democratic Demons sabotage Democratic Hopes?

Thomas Lifson editor of “The American Thinker” writes this short piece on the anger of the Democratic Party’s “secularist fundamentalists.”

Over the weekend I met a former State GOP Poobah at my brother’s home. I told her husband that I had changed parties; that I had once been a bad Republican and was now a bad Democrat. Lifson’s article helps explain why I’ll be a bad Democrat.

I’ve always narrowed my eyes and looked with suspicion on usism and fringe politics. (of course that was before moderates and centrists were pushed to the fringe of American politics) Here’s an old column of mine which tries to get that point across: “Limbaugh’s Bastard Child.”

The official source for all the blather of the eccentric Harry Welty – Duluth School Board member, off and on, since 1995. He does his best to live up to Mark Twain's assessment: "First God created the idiot. That was for practice. Then he invented the School Board."