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Gourmet Dirt

Here's my story on how dirt isn't dirt cheap anymore.

Please also read Janet Marinelli's take on this:

" It's virtually impossible these days to find a bag of potting soil that isn't loaded with synthetic fertilizer. Chemical fertilizer, as David Wolfe, professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University, has pointed out, is the typical gardener's biggest contribution to global warming. The manufacture of synthetic fertilizer is extremely energy intensive. And the use of nitrogen fertilizers (whether synthetic or organic) releases nitrous oxide gas, which in Wolfe's words "has 300 times more global warming potential per molecule than carbon dioxide." Yet American gardeners have been hoodwinked into believing that applying fertilizer to their plants, whether in containers or in the ground, is as fundamental as brushing their teeth."

By Joel Achenbach  |  August 18, 2008; 1:53 PM ET
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I used to wait at train crossings for a half hour at a time as the strip-mined phosphate from Plant City went by on its way to the fields of the Midwest.

Phosphate being a very polite term for fossilized guano. Which is a polite term all in and of itself.

Posted by: yellojkt | August 18, 2008 2:52 PM | Report abuse

So THIS is why the bunker has needed so much sweeping recently... Dirt hoarding!


Posted by: Scottynuke | August 18, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

Oh my. I am devastated. And all along I thought I was so pure, so green, so Euell Gibbons-like in my ministrations.

Posted by: College Parkian | August 18, 2008 3:00 PM | Report abuse

Hey, I used to go to Johnson's all the time when I worked on Wisconsin Ave.

Still do from time to time when I'm in the 'hood...

I guess the dirt that I tracked into my car from that place might be worth something now - geez, I better vacuum my car out before I'm arrested for shoplifting.

On the other hand, I may consider making my own gourmet dirt at home, like a home vintner.

I suspect I can even change my diet to produce different types of dirt, and keep different vintages of it around...

Loved the language regarding the cost of dirt bags, too, Joel.


Posted by: bc | August 18, 2008 3:06 PM | Report abuse

You should call it "soil." All the soil professionals agree. Oddly, however, when the soil professionals get together and no one else is listening, they too refer to it as "dirt." This signals that they don't take themselves too seriously.

By-the-bag is always more expensive. Our prices of Home Lowepos soil is the same as anywhere. But for $30 you can get a scoop of fully composted wood mulch that will fill about a half a dumptruck: about 5 cubic yards, which is more than you want, from the county-run Compost Central. Out by the airport!

Posted by: Jumper | August 18, 2008 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Howdy boodle! Have no idea how many kits I've missed but dropped in to see what's up and what have we but a kit that's on topic-am headed out the door to buy potting soil from big-box-o-stuff. Have to pot up the plants we bought at the farmer's market yesterday in St. Paul.

In the frozen north we call it "black dirt" even the farmers call it black dirt so I get snarly when Pa Frost-in-law says "it's soil." Maybe in other places, but here it is dirt and I have a mega pile of it sitting beside the driveway and the receipt to prove that the combination of top-soil, composted manure, and peat moss is indeed "black dirt."

We gave up buying fertilizer years ago, guinea pig poo and horse manure tea are the way to go, and the guinea poo is just because it's easier to get rid of it (wood shavings and all) by tossing it on the garden or yard than bagging it to go to the land fill.

Toodles for now. Headed back up north this evening then a killer schedule until Friday.

Posted by: frostbitten | August 18, 2008 3:33 PM | Report abuse

So CP used to pride herself in being a dirty girl, only to discover that she's oily, to boot.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | August 18, 2008 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Little did I know that we have a bog export industry.

There's some lovely filth over here.

Posted by: SonofCarl | August 18, 2008 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Between the dirt and oil, this is becoming the mud-pie blog.

Posted by: yellojkt | August 18, 2008 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Dirt and oil?

Where are the Noxema Cleansing Pads?


Posted by: Scottynuke | August 18, 2008 3:49 PM | Report abuse

But do we have true grit?

Posted by: Wilbrod | August 18, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse

Don -- the best thing about swimming is that it takes care of gardener's fingernails. Not sure about the oil, though. Lava soap, anyone?

I guess that the mulch compost pile in the back, dressed with bone meal and powdered lime, exempts me in part from having a big oily petroleum footprint. Just a medium one.

Mud Pie Blog -- could be the name of a grunge-punk band.

Posted by: College Parkian | August 18, 2008 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I can't resist. This photo is one I took at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon in June. The name comes from the bat guano mine that is nearby.

Posted by: slyness | August 18, 2008 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Saw the musical Rooms in Alexandria over the weekend. It had some pretty funny faux-punk band names in it. I should have taken notes.

Posted by: yellojkt | August 18, 2008 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I don't see anyone getting on the rabbits' case. Their sh*t makes plants grow like something out of a magic pea pod--but do we ask the rabbits about global warming? Maybe if they would just take it easy now and then instead of going at it 24/7 maybe we would all get to enjoy a cooler environment. Damn rabbits.

Posted by: mouton | August 18, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Until recently, we had a prime source of compost, topsoil, and mulch just up the street--less than a mile away. I've mentioned our local "mushroom factory" before, I'm sure. The guy who runs it is named Michael. Michael is a very cool guy. He grows mushrooms and has piles of the aformentioned gardening resources that you can buy by the truckload, or if you make friends with him, you can have it for free if you haul it yourself. Back behind the mushroom building is a few acres of vacant land, and the local homeless people are welcome there--Michael puts them to work when they are sober enough, and keeps an eye on them, in a friendly sort of way.

I wrote that out in the present tense but that's not accurate. Sadly, Michael recently succumbed to market pressures and sold his property. He only held out so long because he is rich and doesn't need the money. But eventually it becomes indefensible to maintain vacant acreage when the land is so valuable, and so densely populated in every direction.

When I was in Oklahoma in May, we dug out a garden plot for tomatoes and my dad went down to the Arkansas River where there is a sand-dredging operation and ordered a truckload of soil from them. I'm fairly certain it didn't have any added chemical fertilizer--just good Oklahoma cow manure and dirt.

Posted by: kbertocci | August 18, 2008 4:20 PM | Report abuse

Plant Growth Media are indeed strange. To the best of my knowledge, serious propagators and botanical gardens use much different media from what's at the garden center. A good local palm and cycad grower uses sand (the local, superabundant kind) and peat.

We do need fertizer to some extent in much of Florida, if growing much of anything that's not native. Soils (if that's what you can call sand with varying amounts of organic matter) are almost invariably lacking potassium. Phosphorus is reasonably abundant, magnesium deficient. Iron deficient.

A few local nurseries sell local compost/much for "potting soil". I just got a couple of surplus bags out of the garage by spreading the contents among the heliconias (which are definitive Caribbean surfer flowers).

Thinking of the heliconias, maybe I should make cut flowers of some before tomorrow's anticipated tropical-storm winds arrive.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | August 18, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse

We need the sand here in South Louisiana. Oh yes indeed. There is not enough for the many wetland restoration projects, and the government agents must purchase it at great cost and from afar. The sand, we need. Where did you say you got that sand?

Posted by: mouton | August 18, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Now, see, if I didn't live in a condo and if I had a backyard (even a small one), I'd do the compost thing. Many of my friends in Sweden have a compost contraption and in Canada (Canukistani boodlers can confirm), our "Insinkerator" apparatus down here is illegal. I say -- let them earthworms earn their living, by doing what they do best, eh?

Although I still think it would be pretty enjoyable to smash a half grapefruit into the face of a particular politician. Although there are so many such politicians and entirely too few grapefruit.

Plan B. . . .

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | August 18, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

ftb, not sure if garbarators are illegal or not but uncommon now.

We now have 4 types of garbage - green waste collected weekly - everything compostable, recycling papers, plastic, glass collected weekly, yard waste everything but grass clippings in summer collected every two weeks, and finally regular garbage collected every two weeks

They just started the green waste collection - took awhile to get use to but now I really like it - but you notice how much food you waste.

The municipality composts the food and yard waste and several times a year you can go and get some for a food bank donation.

Posted by: dmd | August 18, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

This is a great article. Instead of feeling guilty that I have abandoned my plants to the native "soil" in which they flourish (or fail), I can feel virtuous and thrifty for not buying bags of dirt. Most of my dirt is sandy clay anyways. Some of it is brown, but most is good old Oklahoma red. I was truly shocked as a child to visit my farm-belt kinfolk and see black soil, as opposed to red dirt.

Posted by: Ivansmom | August 18, 2008 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the elucidation, dmd.

Okay -- Boodle alert!

My language abilities don't extend to Russian (or at least enough Russian to help me out in a particular matter). If there are any boodlers who can read the language (and, um, understand it), I need a brief favor. I am compiling a list of domain names operating in "bad faith" (i.e., as parking sites) using names either identical to, or really confusingly similar to, one of our client's marks. One of the domain names I'm trying to check out is in Russian, and I think part of it may be offering, ugh, pornography. But I need to confirm that. Is there anyone out there who can briefly help me out? Just let me know, and we can exchange email addresses through Joel, if he's amenable to that.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | August 18, 2008 5:10 PM | Report abuse

I really enjoyed this article because it shows how much you can learn by studying something seemingly ordinary. There are lots of books that apply this philosophy to history. You know, the history of salt, coffee, coal, oil, and even guano. (Learned more about bird poop then I ever really wanted.)

Right now I am reading "Garbage Land" by Elizabeth Royte. Many of her topics complement what Joel is describing with respect to dirt. I recommend it highly even if, as she laments, it isn't made from recycled paper.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 5:18 PM | Report abuse

Regarding fertilize I must again sing the praises of rabbits.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse


I can help you with that. (

Posted by: Brag | August 18, 2008 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I'm gonna brush my teeth with dirt.

Posted by: Brag | August 18, 2008 5:21 PM | Report abuse

And I feel virtuous for not fertilizing much, and for using the same potting soil in containers, year after year (but I use a couple of big bags of the stuff for new pots each year). It takes me a long time to get dirt from compost - I don't get the container hot enough. Most of my yard waste goes off to the big compost place. We're going to have to start separating food waste in our garbage soon.

Posted by: mostlylurking | August 18, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

SCC: fertilizeR

We need a term to refer to that horrible moment of panic when, nanoseconds after you hit the submit button, you realize you left in a typo.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

I have a compost pile whereupon I dump all the veggie kitchen scraps. Mr. T used some of its contents when he and I planted daylilies and we were rewarded with an acorn squash plant that volunteered and produced one squash. It was good...

The compost pile is unslightly. That wasn't a problem when it was behind the white pine, but since Mr. T cut that tree down I haven't figured out what to do with the pile. I moved a couple of roses in front of it, but so far they haven't climbed enough to hide it.

Mr. T bought me a compost barrel for my 50th birthday (true story, that was his gift). I haven't gotten the hang of grass clippings and shredded leaves to make that work. Oh well, the pile seems to work okay and the chipmunks like it.

Posted by: slyness | August 18, 2008 5:36 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Brag -- I just sent you an email.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | August 18, 2008 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Premature inarticulation?

Posted by: Wilbrod | August 18, 2008 5:42 PM | Report abuse

The point of no retur

Posted by: SonofCarl | August 18, 2008 6:02 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: yellojkt | August 18, 2008 6:04 PM | Report abuse

boodler's remorse

Posted by: kbertocci | August 18, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

I am not a big fertilizer user, but last year I purchased worm compost to add to my indoor plants, worked well but not a cheap option.

I am a little confused is composting/compost not "green"?

On our vacation I was fascinated at the plants and trees that grew in their natural environment, trees that grow out of the rocks were it is very difficult to find any soil and the native grasses and orchids that exist on the shoreline of a very cold and turbulent lake.

Posted by: dmd | August 18, 2008 6:11 PM | Report abuse

3.5 kilos of dirt will by a whole store(in Waterworld) that is.

Our WV dirt is very shaley,good for paving roads and filling in pot-holes,but not so good for planting.

Worm dirt has got to be the toughest dirt to get clean from.

That is all the dirt I got on that!!!

Posted by: greenwithenvy | August 18, 2008 6:18 PM | Report abuse

going and going
fertilizer bunny love
growing and growing

Posted by: Anonymous | August 18, 2008 6:20 PM | Report abuse

alas, i am agriculturally challanged... i can kill any plant...

my best friend in denver, tho, can grow ANYTHING - she composts and has a huge garden with more veggies that my local Safeway! i kid her that she's a granola... she hates it when i say that... (but, my goodness, she doesn't even have a microwave! i couldn't live w/out a microwave!)

Posted by: mo | August 18, 2008 6:28 PM | Report abuse

Granolahead, mo, granolahead. I knew quite a few granolaheads in California. That's one reason I know I'm not one.

I have a compost heap which is really just a place I put all the vegetable and fruit trash (eggshells and coffee grounds ok but no meat products). Bread gets scattered in the fields near it. It is far enough from the house to keep the deer and rodents out there rather than over here. I can't say it is really useful as compost because I don't take care of it the way one should - pitchforks and turning and hay and all that. Someday I'll get there.

Posted by: Ivansmom | August 18, 2008 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Good wishes and take care to Florida boodlers. Looks like too much wind and water and not enough dirt coming your way.

Posted by: Ivansmom | August 18, 2008 6:35 PM | Report abuse

In that book on guano I mentioned earlier, the point is made that chemical fertilizer probably prevented mass starvation many times in the last century. Which increased the population. And led to global warming.

This kind of thinking is dangerous because you find yourself rooting for killer flu.

Anyway, although I accept a legitimate role for chemical fertilizer in mass agriculture, unless we want food to get even more expensive worldwide, I just don't see the need for the home gardener. I figure few of us worry about starvation because our 'maters are undersized.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 6:41 PM | Report abuse

And lots of great ideas for that post-button moment of panic. I must admit though, that I laughed hardest at SonofCarl's response because it was so beautifully meta.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 6:43 PM | Report abuse

ftb, check the security of your firewall and anti-virus software before venturing out there!

RD, if your offer of bunny poop is still good, can I get some at the M-BPH? I'll trade you. What you looking for?

Got my 1st ripe Brandywine tomato today. Pinkish red, huge, juicy, delicious. I have about 12 Romas in the kitchen, and they're picking up speed. Sounds like sauce to me. I have so much basil I'll have pesto for the whole winter. As VL pointed out, the butterflies love the zinnias, pink, orange, red. . . and all in topsoil I bought at Lowe's for $1.99 a 40 lb. bag last Spring. Actually, discounted from that due to coupons, so it was about $.25 a bag. Such a deal!

Posted by: dbG | August 18, 2008 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Yes, SoC got it in one. Mine was rather more general.

Posted by: Wilbrod | August 18, 2008 7:10 PM | Report abuse

Sure dbG. I can probably scrounge together a bag. But don't worry. I will keep it in a tightly sealed plastic bag in my car.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, RD. I was afraid our exchange might go:
dbG "Give me all your bunny poop!"
RD "Go fish!"

If you need it yourself, I'll certainly understand. (I'll just ask Ivansmom to bring some on the plane).

Who had linked to that article on growing tomatoes for 5-star restaurants? Slyness? I think I need a composter barrel too, especially for seafood shells. I only used a little commercial fertilizer, but now I see the light.

Posted by: dbG | August 18, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

I didn’t realize all the chemicals that could be found in commercial soil. I only use that for houseplants. The stuff in the garden gets a bag or two of processed cow manure every year and the plants get some water soluable fertilizer a few times during the season. Everything is growing like crazy (except for what the bunnies ate). I went out to water some window boxes just now and nearly tripped over one of them. He only moved about five feet away. I don’t know if he’s trying to be friendly or he’s just not too smart. I do know he’s well fed.

I’ll be making gazpacho tonight and probably more pickles. I am truly sick of cukes. The tomatoes are starting to ripen in bunches and the corn looks almost ready to pick. Did someone mention basil? I still have pesto in the freezer from last year. I have no idea what I’ll do with all the basil.

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | August 18, 2008 7:26 PM | Report abuse

I think I'm finally computer-virus free. Last week one found a chink in my anti-virus (hadn't updated for a few days) and downloaded itself, changing my registry, firewall and anti-virus software to leave them wide open. All were virulent spyware, all from former Communist countries.

I caught it after about 10 minutes, but it's taken a week to get the viruses all out and change my accounts/passwords on other sites using a different computer. Downloading fixes, editing the registry, opening in safe mode, disabling startup programs which called them back, disabling system restore and wiping them out from there too. I don't think I'm going to have to reformat the hard drive.

Ironic since one thing I do at work is handle Microsoft's monthly upgrades, which are almost security fixes (and in the past I'd have been just as happy not to do any of them because I hate touching production and dr servers).

I was running Symantec, Spybot and AdAware, I've added SpywareBlaster and SpywareGuard's live update versions. I'll probably download AVG and run on that for a few days to test it out and see if it finds anything else.

So, I'm serious. Go update your systems! No bunny poop!

Posted by: dbG | August 18, 2008 7:32 PM | Report abuse

//which are almost security fixes //

Now there's a slip! I meant "almost always."

Posted by: dbG | August 18, 2008 7:38 PM | Report abuse

dbG - I have a small garden and two bunnies with a high fiber diet. I got lots.

What I typically use is simply the contents of the litter box - pellets mixed in with a few wood shavings. This works great as is, or makes a wonderful contribution to a compost pile.

Anyway, just how much can you use?

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 7:52 PM | Report abuse

calling the bird experts... there are these beautiful little birds around my condo - small bright yellow body with black wings - they seem to travel in bunches... i don't see them all year, haven't seen them since last year... just saw them for the first time last week... they are soooo cute! when i see one in the am i know it's going to be a good day. i think they are golden finches... anyone know?

Posted by: mo | August 18, 2008 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Hi mo!

Sounds like golden finches to me. Do they look like this? (Annoying cut and paste link follows:)

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 8:12 PM | Report abuse

that's them RD!

"One of the most conspicuous songbirds is the Goldfinch, often called
Wild Canary because the male, except for his black forehead, wings and
tail, is bright lemon yellow and has such a sweet ecstatic song. It is a
bird of the open places and so fond of companionship that, except while
nesting, they are usually seen in flocks and, like robins, have little fear
of people. With their bouncing flight, they seem as light-hearted and
gay as butterflies."

such a wonderful little bird!

Posted by: mo | August 18, 2008 8:25 PM | Report abuse

Speaking as one who was still giggling hours after Tropic Thunder, I prefer Wilbrod's description of post-button stress disorder.

I am DNA Girl and I laugh at dirt.

Oh and no more artsy fartsy movies at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas for me, for a while. I need to detox from Chabrol's Girl cut in two, which was undisciplined and moronic (although Ludivine Sagnier is adorable), and Vicky Christina Barcelona, which was execrable. There wasn't one moment when Woody Allen's hatred and utter contempt for every single character in the movie (even the extras!) wasn't on display. Came out feeling like I'd paid for a sh!t bath. @#$%@@* dirt bag!

Maybe I should see Roman de Gare again. That was cool.

Any recommendations?

Where is kurosawaguy?

Posted by: DNA Girl | August 18, 2008 8:59 PM | Report abuse

Actually, DNA girl, I think "post button stress disorder" has a lot going for it as a phrase. Especially since PBSD is a lot of fun to say.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 9:06 PM | Report abuse

I haven't seen a Woody Allen film I have really liked since "Husbands and Wives." (And even that was hard to watch sometimes.) I am afraid I am one of those who prefers, you know, his early funny ones.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 18, 2008 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Mo, the goldfinches love the seeds from my purple coneflowers, so I leave plenty of spent flowers for them. They are so much fun to watch.

Younger dottir told me she saw an owl in the backyard last week. I haven't spotted it. There is a crow who greets me upon my return from the morning walk. And so many different birds come to the birdbath.

Posted by: slyness | August 18, 2008 9:15 PM | Report abuse

Well, DNA Girl, you went to see a Woody Allen movie, so you knew in advance it was contemptuous( of women, particularly) (and of everyone else who isn't Woody Allen, generally). I will say, though, that I still think Allen is a great auteur artist. Just because his sensibility offends mine is not a reason not to admire the product, for me. (I also still think "A Young Girl" is a good painting, though pornographic, because of the use of light and diagonals and negative space.)

mo! Goldfinches are seen commonly on the eastern Seaboard, but don't take up residence in coldish Canada often (they just sort of fly by) and so you will appreciate our enchantment when one day c. 1986, Himself and I saw a flock of about 100 to 150 bright yellow and black birds in our back yard in Montreal, singing their hearts out. It was absolutely wonderful. They lingered for about 12 hours and then were gone. We do not have them at all in the West (but the Mountain Bluebird is compensation).

Posted by: Yoki | August 18, 2008 9:19 PM | Report abuse

Wow. When I left shortly after lunch today we were discussing where Georgia was, and when I come back after dinner I find I've missed an entire kit AND boodle that sounds like a Weingarten poop chat that had a collitch education.

Compost, huh? I got nuthin'.

However, goldfinches I got. While swimming at our neighbors' pool a few weeks ago we noticed they had a couple of goldfinches, and they (our neighbors, not the finches) told us about how finches need special feeders -- essentially a very fine mesh feed holder and extremely fine bird food/seed. So we bought a special finch feeder ourselves, and I hung it on a shephard's crook off our kitchen deck. Last week our neighbors went on vacation, so their finch feeder emptied out and didn't get refilled-- and all their goldfinches found their way over to our house and our new finch feeder. So now we have the goldfinches. And since we're on vacation this week, I guess our feeder is about empty-- and all the finchies have gone back to Ed's house. Poor little finchies -- they must be so confused.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | August 18, 2008 9:37 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Yoki and CP. Feels like I haven't talked to you guys in weeks and weeks. Howsa ribs, CP? How'd Telemachus do in his final meet?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | August 18, 2008 9:41 PM | Report abuse

I's just that this one felt particularly awful (sorry for the rant). Maybe the contrast between the beauty of the scenes and people and the ugliness of his gaze was too sharp for me this time.

Careful RD, they might think you're rooting for Parti Bashkim Shoqeror Demokrat!

Posted by: DNA Girl | August 18, 2008 9:42 PM | Report abuse

A friend e-mailed me this:

No matter who you supported in the primary, this is just simply a
**wonderful response by Jon Stewart to a stupid question:**
"Is America ready for a black president?"

In Larry King's interview with Jon Stewart, Larry brought up the subject
of the primaries and asked Stewart if America was ready for a woman or a
black president.

Jon looked at him quizzically and said "This is such a non-question. Did
anyone ask us in 2000 if Americans were ready for a moron?"

Posted by: Curmudgeon | August 18, 2008 9:52 PM | Report abuse

What a great response by Stewart. I've sent it to all my friends.

Posted by: Bad Sneakers | August 18, 2008 10:05 PM | Report abuse

That had me pounding my desk with my fists, Curmudgeon. Good one-liner.

Post-button stress disorder is good, DNA girl.

Although at first I thought you were talking about unbuttoning a woman for what might lead to premature articulation.

Posted by: Wilbrod | August 18, 2008 10:23 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to add a hearty cheer to Ian Miller. You just have to admire a guy for being the best since forever.

His Big Ben is probably the only horse I can name beside Secretariat, Northern Dancer, and since the movie, Seabiscuit (but that is only because of David McCullough's narration) without having to think about it.

(Editing carefully to avoid that nasty PBSD. Is there a cure?)

Posted by: dr | August 18, 2008 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, where IS that Kurasawaguy?

Posted by: Maggie O'D | August 18, 2008 10:36 PM | Report abuse

Find a copy of Repo Man, or Diva, DNA girl. I need something mindless like that right now. I just spent the past hour cleaning up after our Dane, as he has GI distress. Like a cow backing up into its stall. The perfect nightcap to the first day of school. My ribs are killing me. I think I'll wander off into the tapers corner and see this week's offerings out of the Dead's vault.

Posted by: jack | August 18, 2008 10:54 PM | Report abuse

'Mudge! mudge mudge mudge mudge

So very delighted to hear from you

DNA Girl said "Ugliness of his gaze." Wow. I love this Girl.

Posted by: Yoki | August 18, 2008 11:10 PM | Report abuse

I had great hopes for Vicky Christina Barcelona because I love Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem (did I spell any of their names correctly?). I haven't seen a lot of Woody Allen movies, not even Annie Hall all the way through. So I'm disappointed to hear DNA Girl's reaction. Probably wait for the DVD...I'm hoping kguy is on a fabulous vacation, too busy to boodle.

Jack, that sounds terrible. The Dead will help, no doubt.

I really liked Boodler's remorse - and SonofCarl's was great too. All very clever, really. I just cry "Nooooo!" silently.

We have goldfinches out here - they're amazing. I have a niger thistle feeder for them...which needs to be cleaned out, now that I think about it. Mine don't come all the time, I think I see them more in winter or early spring. If only I kept a journal...

Posted by: mostlylurking | August 18, 2008 11:23 PM | Report abuse

Already has, ml. Dark Star>El Paso>Dark Star>Deal. Plus, Pigpen belting out Lovelight and Midnight Hour.

Posted by: jack | August 18, 2008 11:37 PM | Report abuse

the male gaze

'nough said.

Posted by: Yoki | August 18, 2008 11:38 PM | Report abuse

A misandrist?

Posted by: Shiloh | August 18, 2008 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Americans were ready for a moron.

This fragment restates the obvious, that the halcyon days of the Clinton Administration, a federal financial surplus, a booming economy, job growth, and the casual licentiousness of a BJ in the oval office were due for a course correction. The only possible answer was the election, and re-election of a moron. The public was ready for it - and got it good and hard.

Posted by: Shiloh | August 18, 2008 11:57 PM | Report abuse

No, Shiloh.

It is a bit of modern literary critical language, a usage. An understood term. I'm trying to tell DNA Girl what a remarkable friend she is (very glad she's here) in code.

No offence meant and I hope none taken.

Posted by: Yoki | August 18, 2008 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Oh but all three were extremely easy on the eyes, and Rebecca Hall too. Don't go by what I said, please. I just scanned some reviews and absolutely everyone seems to love the movie, except mercifully my mate who winced in sync with me. That started early. And was funny.

Posted by: DNA Girl | August 18, 2008 11:58 PM | Report abuse

Gotta go with RD on his assessment of Woody Allen movies. He'll never be funnier than "Sleeper," IMO (DNA Girl, if you haven't seen it, please do).

Going back to the last Boodle, I hear that there was quite a stir at a physics conference in Philly last week where some Italian scientists showed slide indicating that they may have found evidence of a plethora of positrons (the anti-matter version of electrons) in our own ionosphere (via the European PAMELA sattelite), which is an expected signature of dark matter particles smashing together and anhiliating each other. Descriptions of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (yes, they're WIMPs), supersymmetry theory, and variations of the Standard Model of particle physics are left as an exercise for the reader (or not).

As would be the development of the positronic brain paths for those interested in DIY-ing Asimov-type robots.

Long and short of it, as usual, we humans look into the skies and a lot of other places, and we have very little idea of exactly what we're looking at, much less being able to actually *see* anything at all.

If you know what I mean.


Posted by: bc | August 18, 2008 11:59 PM | Report abuse

I got it, Yoki, thanks.
For you:

Posted by: DNA Girl | August 19, 2008 12:08 AM | Report abuse

So (a bit off-topic here!) why is it acceptable to limit the rights of San Antonio women to rent their bodies to other men for pleasure, but it's not acceptable to limit their right to vote for political candidates who might espouse precisely that freedom?

Aren't we in some danger of giving the Antonia's just a bit too much leash? Perhaps the chicas should only be allowed to vote for candidates who promise to keep them in line.

Posted by: Bob S. | August 19, 2008 12:34 AM | Report abuse

[Cough cough]

OK, perhaps the tongue was too firmly in cheek on that one.

Posted by: Bob S. | August 19, 2008 12:36 AM | Report abuse

slyness - We may have to trade Canyon tales some time. Most of my time has been spent on the South Rim side, but it adds up to over sixty days under the rim (and probably almost that much more bumming around near the rim), and I've made a few forays across the river, not all by authorized means!

Damn, I love the Canyon!

Posted by: Bob S. | August 19, 2008 12:46 AM | Report abuse

[Since I'm apparently the only one playing ...]

And another thing - I'm really tired of all these tree-huggers whining about "dead zones" in the oceans. Algae are MUCH more efficient at carbon-sinking than fish or whales. I'm sure that our good friends at One-A-Day can synthesize all of the omega fatty acids that we need from petroleum and coal, as long as they last. And eventually, all of those algae from the "dead zones" should produce more oil and/or coal.

(It's dark. I'm whistling.)

Posted by: Bob S. | August 19, 2008 1:19 AM | Report abuse

Not so tiny Olympic bubbles:

I always thought Stardust Memories one of the best.

Posted by: Jumper | August 19, 2008 1:39 AM | Report abuse

Tres cool! I've had friends who were bubblologists both amateur (a glassblower artisan type) and fairly professional (a mathematically-trained composite materials fabrication sort) who're both probably quite jealous about missing out on being part of THAT design team.

Posted by: Bob S. | August 19, 2008 2:01 AM | Report abuse

We have a couple of our supermarkets that sell soil for potting plants. The buyers are mostly westerners because they are used to buying soil. Majority of the others (locals and people from around this region) who are not used to buying soil just go get their soil from any area where the soil looks good and is not in someone else’s compound.

The fertilizer I bought for my plants come in very small pellets. I fertilizer my plants maybe once a year when I should do it 3 times a year (I forget!) Poor plants.

Posted by: rainforest | August 19, 2008 3:17 AM | Report abuse

love the bubble design article.

a kit late, but a fellow slavist gave me an excellent political analysis of the russia/georgia conflict: "the peeing contest between our thug saakashvili and the thugs in the kremlin."

it's all you need to know.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | August 19, 2008 4:19 AM | Report abuse

This is funny. Fans mob Steve Parry thinking he is Michael Phelps.

Posted by: rainforest | August 19, 2008 4:23 AM | Report abuse

and the geographical location of the peeing match is eurinasia.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | August 19, 2008 4:27 AM | Report abuse

rainforest, sorry for boodling out of order. that video is funny.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | August 19, 2008 4:32 AM | Report abuse

Georgia : I think Georgia situated where they are is pretty neat. Depending on the situation, if it suits them, they can say they belong to Europe. If not, they can say they belong to Asia.

Posted by: rainforest | August 19, 2008 4:33 AM | Report abuse

It's alright, L.A. Lurker. I'm boodling out of order, too. It's just us at this hour so we can do what we like.

Posted by: rainforest | August 19, 2008 4:35 AM | Report abuse

Wiping gourmet dirt off wings. Warming engine--ready for first light.

Posted by: Brag | August 19, 2008 5:48 AM | Report abuse

God loves us so much more than we can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Morning, morning, friends. I've been up for some time, but just getting here.

Mudge, glad to hear you're enjoying your vacation, and the one liner from John Stewart made me laugh out loud. I know my neighbor thinks I've really flipped.

Scotty, Martooni, Slyness, time to roll. Morning everyone. *waving*

Yesterday I dug out my little space, and boy did every bug in the place bite me. Ivansmom, I thought about you and that outfit you wear when gardening, and I certainly needed one. My little space turned out to be a forest with every bug in the state residing there. My neighbor's brother finally came over and put me out of my pain. He finished it for me, and planted my collards. He even cleaned up after. And one of my neighbors brought a pitcher of lemonade, nice and cold. We sat down and drank the whole pitcher. I did get to play in the dirt, and got really, really dirty, which was a lot of fun. Just wasn't crazy about those bug bites.

I think I have a doctor's appointment today. Last week I went on the wrong day, and that could be the case today. I can't find the card.

Have a great day, folks. I hope the weather doesn't get too bad for you folks in Florida. Please take care, and do what the officials suggest. We're hoping to get rain from that storm, but not the bad stuff. It was hot here yesterday.

Time to swim.

Posted by: cassandra s | August 19, 2008 6:08 AM | Report abuse

Almost forgot...

I don't buy "gourmet dirt" or the potting soil in the bag. I used to do that, but the stuff got so expensive. I did not have a clue as to what was in that stuff. Just thought one needed it to do plants in order to give them a boost. That is what most people will tell you when you buy plants. I don't plant stuff like I used to, just don't have the time.


I think the police gave my neighbor that had his swing stolen another swing because he is in a wheelchair. I don't see the new swing, so I don't know if someone has removed that one too. This is an apartment complex of elderly and disable folks, and I'm sure those that prey on us feel like it's okay to do that. If we complain, the manager is probably going to say there is nothing she can do about it. My hope is that it doesn't escalate.

Posted by: cassandra s | August 19, 2008 6:22 AM | Report abuse

Another one of those all-day meetings today. Gotta wear a tie and everything.

Posted by: RD Padouk | August 19, 2008 6:55 AM | Report abuse


And I'll bet you look so nice. Of course, the urge to throw it off, and get comfortable will be ever present, but just think, how good you look. Take comfort in that, RD.

I hope I didn't kill the boodle this early in the morning. Where's everyone?

Posted by: cassandra s | August 19, 2008 7:10 AM | Report abuse

Travel day for me. The boss likes to fly in jeans, so I think I will follow suit. Light boodling for several days as I am stretching a business trip into a long weekend empty nester trip.

Posted by: yellojkt | August 19, 2008 7:15 AM | Report abuse

Hey, who left the whoopie cushion in my pilot's seat???

The August recess is good in that things seem to slow down a bit, but it's bad in that things slow down a bit. Knowutahmean Vern?

*watching-the-world-go-by-as-I-steady-the-aerostat-at-Angels-30 Grover waves*


Posted by: Scottynuke | August 19, 2008 7:34 AM | Report abuse

I'm here, but I overslept a bit. The cellphone rang at 1:08 ayem and woke me up. It took a while to go back to sleep so I'm off my normal schedule. Yes, I called the number back and got voicemail. I'll do the reverse lookup in the white pages in a little while.

Jack, I hope the dog is feeling better this morning. I got to change a poopy diaper yesterday. Baby was sooo funny: he grunted and passed gas and then produced. When you've been a mother as long as I have, the physical side of life can only be hilarious.

Posted by: slyness | August 19, 2008 7:38 AM | Report abuse

Got one question slyness: Where's her HAT?

Posted by: omni | August 19, 2008 7:58 AM | Report abuse

Russia and Georgia have something in common today: They are both allowed to eat apples.

Russian and Georgian Orthodox churches celebrate the Saviour's Transfiguration

Posted by: omni | August 19, 2008 8:20 AM | Report abuse


I love it that Slyness was happy with a composter for her birthday present. Wish my wife were that easy to please. That new mop I got for her birthday just didn't do it. Go figure.

So the big October BPH is gonna be a poopy swap meet. Wonderful, I think.

I've been wondering about K-guy, too. However, he does seem to go on long hiatuses (hiatie?), only to return again.

My nomination for that moment RDP described is a unit of time: the "ohnosecond". Not my original idea, alas.

My feelings about Woody Allen are like those for Dubya. Started out liking him, but now, not so much.

'nuf guano for ya?

Posted by: Don from I-270 | August 19, 2008 8:46 AM | Report abuse

*L*, slyness. Thanks for the light moment. Our dog is feeling better, I think. I'll find out upon arriving home this afternoon.

Posted by: jack | August 19, 2008 9:01 AM | Report abuse

At the IMBPH, just don't get the rabbit compost and the tomato contest entries mixed up.

Posted by: yellojkt | August 19, 2008 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Two hundred gallons of exquisitely rotted compost.
Going once
Going twice

Posted by: Boko999 | August 19, 2008 9:05 AM | Report abuse

Good morning y'all. RD, Cassandra was right about the tie. Just think of yourself as sacrificing comfort for beauty.

Cassandra, I hope your bites are better. Even with my long pants and long sleeves, I got about 20 bites of various kinds, mostly little ticks, which itch. Fortunately I have a leftover tube of clobetasol propionate, which is some kind of great anti-bite ointment. Dot, dot, dot. A good drug-store remedy is Sarna anti-itch lotion. Smells funny but stops the itching.

It is still raining here. We got over 4 inches of rain in the last 24 hours. I know that's not much to you Fay-wracked Florida folk, but it is pretty soggy.

Posted by: Ivansmom | August 19, 2008 9:26 AM | Report abuse

G'morning all. Just to pick up on a thread of earlier (i.e., Woody Allen movies) -- I loved the earlier ones from his PI (pre-incest) period. While Annie Hall I thought was good, I think the one which remains in my mind the most is Hannah and Her Sisters. That was a really good film. But I just don't have the interest in watching his stuff anymore (PI -- post-incest).

And on with the day.

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | August 19, 2008 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Hi all.. one of my favorite movies, period, is Woody Allen's Radio Days. A great movie I can sit through time and again.

What's on the agenda today? Tonight's my "late night," so I guess I'll be groovin' with the West Coasters (and Rainforest) tonight. Be busy until then, prolly.

Posted by: TBG | August 19, 2008 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Stuever has a good article on how easy it is for modern people to believe all kinds of crazy nonsense about hidden monsters just out of view of science:

Posted by: ScienceTim | August 19, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Boko, your offer is mightily tempting but I have free access to moutains of rotten horsesh1t, so I'll pass.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | August 19, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Science Tim's 10:40 refers to a creature called the "Montauk Monster". I can state unequivicaly that this thing is real. I dated her in college. Went to Adelphi, IIRC.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | August 19, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Don, I thought Lizzie Grubman went to Northeastern University

Posted by: omni | August 19, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I like Woody Allen's earlier, funnier stuff. I don't get out much to movies, due primarily to my extraordinary cheapness, so I never see his stuff in first run. I liked Crimes & Misdemeanors, as I recall. That was a long time ago.

I don't think I have seen any of his "post-Incest" work. I don't recall any rampant aura of misogyny in his work, as suggested up above. I am willing to accept the possibility that I am not behaviorally equipped to identify sexism, although I think that an assumption that my gonads prevent me from perceiving such unfairness would, itself, be a form of sexism. I generally fancy myself pretty perceptive to misogyny. I think that Woody Allen's particular failings don't really fall into that category. The romantic and sexual failings of a heterosexual man inevitably involve women, so it's hardly fair to call that prima facie evidence of misogyny. And, of course, Allen is not technically guilty of incest. His actual ... situation ... is more weird, complex, and ambiguously skeevy than that. Or skeevily ambiguous. If it were easily categorized, it wouldn't be so disturbing. It can't easily be pigeon-holed and filed away from your conscious mind.

I tend to think that he is a heck of an artist. Like many artists, he appears not to perceive society's rules and norms as applying to himself. An artist explores the realm of human experience, but there still is a place for restraint in choosing which parts of human experience one explores by direct experiment.

I am aware of artists who are personally appalling to me who have successfully separated their wretched selves from their work -- at least for a time. Nevertheless, Woody Allen's post-Mia life is just too darned creepy for me, and I do not wish to reward him by patronizing his work, even if he should succeed in distancing his moviemaking from his icky real-life persona.

Posted by: PlainTim | August 19, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

So it's down to compost again. That's okay, I can share my discovery: paper towels, paper plates, remainder paper-towel cardboard tubes inside, all can be composted. They mulch down much faster than you might think, and provide the much needed cellulose to balance the rich food scraps (or grass clippings - "green manure" - for that matter)

Posted by: Jumper | August 19, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I watched an incredible 10 minutes of Olympic TV last night with the Russian pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva . I doubt it was presented on US networks after the US competitor Stuczinski was left behind but it was their loss really. There was a bit of ugly trash-talking as well between the women, unfortunately.
Yelena loves spotlights and cameras and cameras love her back. Wearing mascara and bling, painted nails and all the trimmings she raised her own world record for the 24th times to 5.05m ( 16’6”3/4) all the while leading the chanting crowd. It was quite a remarkable moment for a somewhat minor discipline.

Alexandre Despatie of Montreal slips between two Chinese to repeat his silver won in Athens at the 3m diving! Yeah!

Posted by: shrieking denizen | August 19, 2008 11:27 AM | Report abuse

What I like about Woody Allen is his ability to gather together talented actors and use them in surprising ways. Although, I agree that too often everybody in his movies sounds like they're taking his direction too literally: he says, "Say it like this" and they do a Woody Allen imitation.

What creeps me out is that he uses his power--he's rich, famous, and a successful movie director--to get beautiful women to act the part of characters who are in love with the character played by him. It's ridiculous to watch and unpleasant--like, this is HIS personal fantasy; why does he think I will be amused by it. And the fact that even in real life beautiful, intelligent women have been in love with him only makes it worse. The world, as Randy Newman has written, is not fair.

Posted by: kbertocci | August 19, 2008 11:30 AM | Report abuse

We also got what I think is a great surprise bronze in womens 100m hurdles - love this photo.

Posted by: dmd | August 19, 2008 11:50 AM | Report abuse

It seems the Boodle has hit a hurdle and is sprawled across the track...


Posted by: Scottynuke | August 19, 2008 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Staples off the skin graft on the arm and the plastic surgeon liked the looks of the graft, although that area of arm won't look normal for another couple of months, he says.
Plastic splint off the arm, as well as the really thick wadding or bandaging, including over the palm and around the thumb.
Leg and arm still bandaged, tape still over the 4- or 5-inch incision in the armpit.
Last sponge bath given this morning.
Husband back to work tomorrow, light activity only.
Best news: more melanoma found in the surrounding tissue around the area where the mole was. But lymph nodes free and clear of cancer--Yes! Doc says husband not completely out of the woods and will require six- and 12-month check-ups with an oncologist, but the results that lymph nodes are cancer-free contribute greatly to survivability (his words).

I'll take the good news on this, our 23rd wedding anniversary. Such a different scenario those years ago, when we exchanged vows in the morning along the southern shore of Lake Tahoe.

Posted by: Loomis | August 19, 2008 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Re: Woody Allen. (spits and continues..)

PlainTim's 11:19AM post exactly echoes the post I was putting together in my head, point by point. [Technically, I am echoing HIS thoughts since he posted first.] Your statement "...I do not wish to reward him by patronizing his work..." is spot on.

Unfortunate. I was looking forward to watching Ms. Johansson and Ms. Cruz. Pity.

Different topic entirely, this made me laugh the other day:

"D.C. water is abominable. It cannot sustain life," Andy Dehart, who directs biological programs at the aquarium, declared at a recent briefing."

Mr. Dehart was explaining how the DC National Aquarium fills its tanks.


Posted by: DLD | August 19, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

kbert's 11:30AM also.


Posted by: DLD | August 19, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Just to let you know: I am BOYCOTTING all links until they restore our hyperlinks.

So there!

Posted by: Maggie O'D | August 19, 2008 1:04 PM | Report abuse

Happy to hear the good news Loomis.

Posted by: dmd | August 19, 2008 1:08 PM | Report abuse

This clipped text comes from Thomas Reese, SJ, in his "On Faith" column. Reese is reflecting on the McCain/Obama sequential appearences at the Saddleback Church forum hosted by Pastor RIck Warren:

BEGIN QUOTE: For the most part, Pastor Warren's questions were appropriate. But I think the pastor crossed the line when he asked, what "would be the greatest moral failure in your life?" Whether a person took drugs and drank as a teenager or whether a person failed in his first marriage has nothing to do with the qualities we should be looking for in a president.

Also inappropriate was his question, "What does it mean to you to trust in Christ?" If he had rephrased it and asked, "How would your faith in Christ influence how you would be President?", that would be OK.

But in general, TV journalists tend to ask more inappropriate questions than did the pastor. Here are some of their inappropriate questions asked by journalists at the Sojourners Forum (June 4, 2007): What do you pray for? (addressed to Clinton). What is the biggest sin you've ever committed? (ironically, to Edwards). How did your faith help you get through the infidelity of your spouse? (to Clinton). END QUOTE

The rest is worth reading as a thoughtful analysis of faith life in political arenas.

Rest of column here:

About Woody Allen and early comments made by DNA Girl/Yoki: I think that understanding the framing posture known as "male gaze' is helpful here. Look it up on Wikipedia. In short, the notion is that the camera angles, tightness of shot, linger of film frames and indeed scene composition often reflect the notion that the viewer is male. Which means, that our film arts also reflect what we know in science: the viewer is an artifact in what is viewed.

I find Woody Allen to be uneven. Earlier is much better. However, that film called Interiors was such an eye-opening education into what chill might pass for the bonds of affection in a family. His personal life is so off-center as to be troublesome. I never like personages who believe that the rules do not apply to them. This is a kind of narcissism, malignant for all who brush past such people let alone share intimate space with them.

Hiya Mudge -- with a handle like Telemachus you have bestowed on CPBoy, do you think I can join a Daughters of Athens group? Would love to be taken for Greek. Can i pass?

Posted by: College Parkian | August 19, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Dahm the hyperlinks! Full speed ahead!

If it would do any good, Maggie, I'd be right behind you, but, alas, I fear, 'tis all for 'nought.


Posted by: DLD | August 19, 2008 1:20 PM | Report abuse

A slow day here on the Achenblog. Lots of time between posts.

Boss! Inspire us! We need motivation!

Posted by: ScienceTim | August 19, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

This looks like fun for you science g....

This is called The Presidential Physics Quiz from the NYT's John Tierney's Science Blob, Tierney Lab.

Since I'm boycotting links until we are restored our hyperlinks, here is the pertinent part.

1. How does the amount of energy per gram of TNT compare with the energy per gram of a chocolate chip cookie?

(a) The TNT contains about twice as much as much energy.
(b) The TNT contains nearly 10 times more energy.
(c) The TNT contains about 1000 times more energy.
(d) The cookie contains nearly 10 times as much energy.
(e) They contain roughly equal amounts of energy.

2. Based on the answer to the previous question, suggest an energy-efficient way to destroy a car.

3. To generate the electric power of a large nuclear-power plant (1 gigawatt), how much land on a sunny day would an array of solar cells (at 40% efficiency) have to cover?

(a) 1 square mile
(b) 16 square miles
(c) 160 square miles
(d) 1,600 square miles
(e) 16,000 square miles (the area of California)

4. Why aren’t more solar power plants being built?

To enter the contest, submit your answers as a comment to this post. To keep things interesting, I won’t publish any of the comments until Wednesday. And then Dr. Muller will look them over to pick out a winner and reveal the answers here on Friday.

Posted by: Maggie O'D | August 19, 2008 1:53 PM | Report abuse


Maggie, you mean bloG? But blob is so wondrously amoboidish. Thanks for making me LOL, in a guffaw sort of way.

Posted by: College Parkian | August 19, 2008 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Wouldn't it depend on the type of cookie?

Posted by: omni | August 19, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

My own skin cancer experience is limited to a small basal cell carcinoma (a small pimple with a hard center, in this case) that wasn't good for the appearance of my nose.

For your husband, the good news is good news.

Here, rain has been steadily increasing during the day, 0.85" during the last reported hour. We are under a tornado warning due to a nasty thunderstorm swell.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | August 19, 2008 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Here is a possible topic, right down Joel's alley. Or has he done this before? Planetary Politics.

Sorry Maggie, I had to do it.


Posted by: DLD | August 19, 2008 2:05 PM | Report abuse


Take your pick:

silver dollar-sized Entemann's chocolate chip cookie


Mrs Fields' Macadamia-white chocolate chunk palm-sized cookie.


Posted by: College Parkian | August 19, 2008 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Fields wins hands-down for my cookie vote. Also wins vote for mega diet buster of the year.

CP wins vote for Greek Goddess.

Error Flyn wins in 08.

Film at 11:00.

Posted by: Don from I-270 | August 19, 2008 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Isn't a generic chocolate cookie enough info?

I guess it was Dr. Freud rearing his ugly head when I substituted 'blob' for 'blog.' I really disliked Tierney when he had a brief stint as a NYT OpEd columnist. I found him on a spectrum somewhat between David Brooks and William Kristol.

Posted by: Maggie O'D | August 19, 2008 2:45 PM | Report abuse

(1) Are we talking about chemical energy or mass energy? Either way, I expect that they are roughly equal, so (e). However, if it's chemical energy, it's not quite fair to compare the chemical energy of the TNT to the cookie -- the cookie needs to combust with oxygen (or some other oxidizer), so the chemical energy of the cookie is not entirely stored within the cookie itself. TNT, on the other hand, can detonate in a vacuum. And of course, the TNT releases its chemical energy more rapidly when it is triggered. So, if it's chemical energy, I'd go for (a) or (b); if it's mass energy (E=mc^2, y'know), the answer would have to be (e), except we have no way to access that energy.

(2) Crumbled cookie or TNT in the fuel tank. Either one would do the job. Not so effective if it's not a liquid-fueled car. Cookie will destroy the fuel injectors or carburetor faster, and unspectacularly, so I'd select the cookie.

(3) 40% efficiency is pie in the sky. 15-20% is more realistic for commercial photovoltaics. Assuming 1300 W/sq meter, at 40% efficiency, it takes 0.743 sq. miles (3a), a square 0.86 mile on a side. At my more-reasonable value for efficiency, it requires 2 sq. miles at 15% efficiency, 1.41 miles per side.

More efficiency problems -- unless the arrays pivot to track the Sun, average power output through the day is about 50% of peak, due to varying slant angle. But a pivoting set of arrays is a lot of moving parts and poses other problems: At low sun angles, the arrays shadow each other and lose almost all capacity. At night, there is no power generation (obviously). Due to these factors, an AVERAGE generating capacity of 1-gigawatt will require 4 times the area of an array with a peak of 1-gigawatt. That means 8 square miles, 2.83 mile per side, at 15% efficiency.

Another problem: a large fraction of sunlight energy is not effective with photovoltaics (photon energy too low). I don't have the solar spectrum memorized, so let's call it a rough factor of 2 -- so now we're up to 16 square miles.

(4) 2 square miles sounds so small! Even 8 to 16 square miles isn't so bad. What's the problem with solar power?
(a) Hypothesis: present manufacturing capacity is not up to the job. Correctable, but not there yet. Thus, cost per unit installed power is quite high, although costs are near-zero after installation.
(b) Hypothesis: radiation degradation of photovoltaics will require frequent replacement -- it's not plug-and-play.
(c) Fact: continuously paving 8 square miles with anything, much less advanced electronics, is not so darned trivial. 'Not trivial' = expensive.
(d) Fact: maintaining 8 square miles of anything is hard = expensive.
(e) Fact: PV's produce DC electricity. For efficient transmission, power must be converted to AC unless it always is produced at the usage site (but this is a "plant", so that's not the case). Take another efficiency hit. 50%? Better? Worse? I don't really know. But we'll have to make the plant bigger.
(f) Fact: Need to be able to store power from the day for release at night, unless we have a trans-hemispheric power grid so that power always is being generated somewhere on Earth. A storage system that can store enough power to release 1 gigawatt is non-trivial. Also, another efficiency loss. Make the plant even bigger.

How much area is 16 square miles? My house has a footprint of about 40 X 25 feet, 1000 square feet. 16 square miles is the equivalent of about 446 thousand rooftops. There are roughly 80 million houses in the US (I estimate), so covering each one with photovoltaics would be roughly the equivalent of 185 1-gigawatt power plants. That's about 3-4 power plants per state, which sounds a little low to me, so we would still need dedicated power plants. Many of solar's problems are engineering difficulties that can be overcome with appropriate effort, but it requires an investment – the technologies and techniques are not all in place yet for photovoltaic generation to be viable. Getting there. Photothermal is a better bet for the short term.

I'm gonna go on over and post this pedantic rant at TierneyLabs now!

Posted by: ScienceTim | August 19, 2008 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Major SCC at 2:01. No typos. Nothing wrong grammatically.

I just totally missed 'chocolate chip' ...

I'm so embarrassed (hangs head)

Posted by: omni | August 19, 2008 2:57 PM | Report abuse

2.Fill car with Mrs. Field's cookies and let ants carry it away. Alternately, as energy and food prices keep rising, keep car and use it as your retirement home.
4.Solar costs about 2x average electrical cost per kwh, but costs are coming down and may reach parity with coal (cheapest) in a few years.

Posted by: Shilohcat | August 19, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Shilohcat said basically the same thing as I did -- with less than 3% as many characters (including spaces). Now THAT's efficiency!

Posted by: ScienceTim | August 19, 2008 3:08 PM | Report abuse

You rock, guys!

Posted by: Maggie O'D | August 19, 2008 3:12 PM | Report abuse

The cat can't do math. On a caloric basis per gram the TNT has about 100 times the energy of the cookie, not 1000.

Posted by: Shiloh | August 19, 2008 3:16 PM | Report abuse

About the solar (trick) question: we need, also, responsible and thorough true-cost, life-cycle accounting analysis that runs over, say, two generations, to really evaluate these energy choices.

Is this easy. No. Is this responsible? Yes.

The field of ecological economics tries to do this but is laughed at by most economists. Sigh. But, shall continue to cast my lot with wise fools.

Admission of honesty here: not all valuable "things" submit to cost analysis easily. We need a TRANSPARENT discussion about reasonable proxy measures to place value on what is really priceless or what resists trading in a market.

Posted by: College Parkian | August 19, 2008 3:17 PM | Report abuse

As pointed out by Science Tim, Tierney is comparing apple and oranges. Heat of combustion of TNT is about 850 kcal per mole or 3.7 kcal/g, thus about the same as most carbohydrate that are hanging in the range 3.8-4.2 kcal/g. The big difference is that for TNT 1 kcal/g is available without any form of combustion, this is the energy of detonation. The other 2.7 comes on-line when the flammable products of detonation, mostly C and CO, burn with the oxygen of the air.
Crack-Boom it goes.
Finely ground cookies dropped loosely into the air over an open flame would go wooosh, just like powdered sugar or coffee whitener sprinkled over a candle. With no crack and barely a boom it's pretty hard to destroy a car with cc cookies.
Better try to load the car with oxygen and set the plastic on fire.

Posted by: shrieking denizen | August 19, 2008 3:22 PM | Report abuse

Aw jeez aw jeez aw jeez...

*fingers crossed tightly*

Posted by: Scottynuke | August 19, 2008 3:26 PM | Report abuse

I'm an order of magnitude guy. I figured that the cookie and TNT both are made out of low-mass elements. A chemical bond is a chemical bond, and they differ by factors of a few (at most), not orders of magnitude. Given a roughly similar elemental composition and similar mass, the number and nature of chemical bonds waiting to be rearranged through combustion would be roughly the same. I am pleased to see that my intuitive approach is consistent with shrieking denizen's analysis. Shilohcat and Shiloh did not show their work (10 demerits!), so I can't compare.

Posted by: ScienceTim | August 19, 2008 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Early values for the explosive energy released by trinitrotoluene (TNT) ranged from 900 to 1100 calories per gram. In order to standardise the use of the term TNT as a unit of energy, an arbitrary value was assigned based on 1000 calories (1 kcal, 4.184 kilojoules) per gram. Thus there is no longer a direct connection to the chemical TNT itself. It is now merely a unit of energy that happens to be expressed using words normally associated with mass (e.g. kilogram, tonne, pound).[2] [3](Source: Wikipedia)
Cookies: Chocolate Chip Calories 11(Kilojoules 44)(Source: CalorieKing)

Thus, the cookie has more kilojoules of energy and d is the correct answer.

Posted by: Shilohcat | August 19, 2008 3:45 PM | Report abuse

I don't trust the cat's math.

Posted by: Shiloh | August 19, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

Carbs can too crack-boom
I heard rice krispies bubbles
go snap crackle pop
Hmm, got cold milk? Let's try some
Chinese water cube torture

Posted by: Anonymous | August 19, 2008 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I wouldn't either, Shiloh... I mean, how can shilohcat do chisenbop without thumbs?

Posted by: Scottynuke | August 19, 2008 4:11 PM | Report abuse


Good news for you, and your husband.

Just a quick question. Iraq is sitting on billions of dollars from oil profits, is this correct? If so, are we going to get any of that? Do they get to use that money for rebuilding their country, and perhaps paying America for the use of force in getting them those billions? Just how is that going to work out, because we've lost thousands of lives, and more money than my grandchildren or their children will ever be able to pay back. I really would like to know the answer to those questions. Perhaps I've asked this question before, but just don't remember the answer?

Posted by: cassandra s | August 19, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

My gross rule of thumb was TNT has "about twice" as much. Based on the extra N energy. I think there was a book called "Rules of Thumb." It may not be very good.

What IS good is to read the suggested Wikipedia article on "the gaze" (this article:)

And also some of the links at the bottom. And it made me proud of hating Fatal Attraction, which I did. Is it synchronicity that this is being discussed here? Because I just wrote a thing intended to be humorous the other day, and posted it on another blog (not mine) I call it "Walking while Beautiful."

Posted by: Jumper | August 19, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

One of the biggest problems with using chocolate chip cookies is that Mrs. Fields is going into bankruptcy.

And again I have to agree, for the most part, with *Tim's answers. However, not knowing how well a cookie or TNT will dissolve in gasoline, if at all, it is probable that the fuel filters will take care of any particulates. The consequences of burning the dissolved ingredients is also unknown (will a "ping" become a "BANG"?), particularly given that the amounts involved are unknown. I would go with crumbling the cookie into the intake manifold (after the air filter) for best effect.

Also some industry discussions on solar power here (Prowl around for Solar Power):

and SC Edison's plans for solar:


Posted by: DLD | August 19, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Hoo ha, "walking while beautiful" is a Googleuno. Soon to be more.

Posted by: Jumper | August 19, 2008 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Today our office had a lunch for our staff director who left a week or so ago. It was held at a restaurant that took over the space of the restaurant where we held our first BPH. This was the first time I had been in that space since than. The bar where we all sat is still there, although it didn't have a dozen or so intelligent and fun people sitting around it today. Since we are coming up on the anniversary of the first BPH, I thought it appropriate to mention this august occasion to y'all.

Posted by: pj | August 19, 2008 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Loomis, that's excellent news about your husband. Let's hope it keeps up.

Posted by: pj | August 19, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Great Energy Savings.
Make your car, toaster, and other acutrments run on cheap power.

Kaboombah Kookies!

Get your load of Kaboombahs today!

Send money to ME.

Posted by: Brag | August 19, 2008 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Loomis and Lommis-spouse -- congratulations! Very nicely done.

Just a brief note to Brag -- may need a certified translation, so watch this space (or the other one). To others, sorry about the cryptic nature of this, but it is what it is.

Now everyone -- back to work! (or maybe just to me)

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | August 19, 2008 4:30 PM | Report abuse

Hmm, let's see. You invade a sovereign country, smash its infrastructure to smithereens, let loose the hounds of sectarianism, allow or participate in the killing of tens of thousands of civilians, actively encourage corruption by contractors, force the passage of an oil law that benefits no-one except the American supermajors, ignore the pressing need to develop civil society, and now you want the Iraqis to *pay* you?! Are you out of your mind?

Posted by: Yoki | August 19, 2008 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Hey Jumper, cross post it here also!


Posted by: DLD | August 19, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Well said, Yoki.

Posted by: Jumper | August 19, 2008 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Okay, Yoki, I guess that pretty much answers my question. So who gets the money? Somehow I just don't see it being fair to the Iraqis now? I mean what's different or what has changed to make it better for them now, the Iraqis?

Posted by: cassandra s | August 19, 2008 4:37 PM | Report abuse

(The article was discussing the walkability of our city. With a certain number of trolls and short-fuse haters present, I had to attempt humor)

It's important to know HOW to walk. I recommend the Cesar Millan style of
"calm assertiveness." This is far superior to the style of walking down the
sidewalk with visible "furtive nervous guilt."

And it's important to know how to walk down the sidewalk if you're
Because although it's true that in a free society, we should all be able to
count on the sort of Hemingway-esque decency that demands we not judge
another human on the face they were born to carry, whether that face is
horrendous or whether it is beautiful; yet who among us will treat the ugly
person with democratic goodwill, and yet is jealous, resentful, and envious
when a human with the face of a god or goddess appears? Many of us, I submit.

Well, to cut to the chase, how do you walk when beautiful? Is carrying a gun
necessary, for the love of God? Is your constant stance to vigilantly laser
in on the chance observing eye, grimace and glare, signalling "Stop looking
at me!?"

No, being gorgeous requires a certain savoir faire, carries a certain
burden: from those to whom much is given, much is expected! The price is not
negotiable and only the heroic can survive this existential nexus. So let's
get with it; you who know who you are!

Posted by: Jumper | August 19, 2008 4:39 PM | Report abuse

The largest share of the oil money will go to the companies (American, as I say, with ExxonMobil leading the pack). What stays in the country is supposed to be applied to reconstruction, but the simple fact is that the government there is corrupt, and I'm not hopeful that much progress will be made.

No, its not fair to the Iraqis. Why would it be? The whole point of the war was to get that resource in American hands, and now it is. Lovely.

Posted by: Yoki | August 19, 2008 4:48 PM | Report abuse


I'm sure that's not my problem. I have a face that makes babies cry. I kid you not.

Posted by: cassandra s | August 19, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

i don't think any of the questions reese cites as inappropriate were in fact inappropriate. they were personal and got at religion, world view and character.maybe borderline the religious version of barbara walters, but not inappropriate. the real issue is relevance. however, i'd prefer to have any and all questions asked so that i have the opportunity to decide which questions and answers are relevant rather than have the questioners error on the side of caution.

that said, i agree that these forums should be held in a variety of religious settings, not just evangelical protestant ones. heck, throw in an atheist forum. i'd also love to see the candidates grilled on their views of science.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | August 19, 2008 4:52 PM | Report abuse

So when the President of the United States of America came on television and said that we needed to go to war in Iraq, and sent thousands of our young people to that war, and thousands have been killed, it was not to protect our country, but to line the pockets of oil companies here in America?

Posted by: cassandra s | August 19, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Tim, I view the boodle as auto-inspirational.

But I'm going to post a new microkit in a few mints. If that helps.

Posted by: Achenbach | August 19, 2008 4:59 PM | Report abuse

It was certainly not to protect our country. Iraq did not present any danger to us

Posted by: Brag | August 19, 2008 5:02 PM | Report abuse

Besides, the multinationals now run things. Many of them are no longer "American." They have the money, they tell our government what to do, and how fast.

Posted by: Jumper | August 19, 2008 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Next you folks will tell me there isn't a Santa Claus.

You know, I seriously would like to cry now. Later.

Posted by: cassandra s | August 19, 2008 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Jumper on the MultiNat corporate weight in geopolitics. We have a global class of super rich entities -- some people, some corporate --who benefit mightily from globalization.

(Jumper: Glad you found the "gaze" link on Wikipedia clickworthy; surely anything that Yoki and DNA gal reference is click worthy!)

Off to swim: our August weather is so sublimely NOT Mid Atlantic hot soup that the the pool water remains refreshing. Air quality is nearly perfect.

Take care on the way home, all. Cassandra, your face is cosmically lovely and shines upon us so clearly through the internet fogs.

Posted by: College Parkian | August 19, 2008 5:15 PM | Report abuse

(1) About using a religious space for political questions: I don't really have a problem with that. Religious folks vote, and deserve a chance to hear whether their concerns will be capably addressed by the eventual office-holder. However, I am bothered by something that E.J. Dionne brought up in his column, the question "What does it mean to you to trust in Christ?" This is asking the candidate to audition as a theological authority. That's not the job, and is begging the candidate to violate separation of Church and State. Whereas a question about "how does your faith in Christ influence your decision-making?" strikes me as perfectly all right. A Jewish, Muslim, or atheist candidate cannot possibly answer the first question in a way that would satisfy Rick Warren's audience -- trusting in Christ means trusting in a false authority in those philosophies, making this question an offensive religious litmus test. Decision-making, however, can be influenced by the same moral and ethical precepts as taught by Joshua bar-Joseph, precepts which are recognized and included in many philosophies and of which the candidates should be aware if they are to represent this country's people.

(2) How many billions of dollars in profits are we talking about Iraq getting/generating? Until we get up to numbers like "hundreds of billions" or greater, the amount of money resulting from Iraqi oil sales is not relevant to any decision about how to cover the costs of war, no matter who gets the proceeds and no matter how corruptly it is distributed.

(3) I don't really think the Iraq war was initiated to make money for oil companies, even as much as I despise Mr. Bush & Co. I think it was initiated to ensure national security (because like it or not, we need oil to maintain our technological economy -- and this may scare other oil-producers from closing the spigot) and it was initiated because of a foolish belief in the effectiveness of military power to persuade people to agree with us. Note that I do not agree with the national security argument -- I think it could readily be seen in advance to be counter-productive -- but I think that was the motivation. It just happens that close acquaintances of Bush & Co. were well-positioned to make profits from "national security."

(4) I definitely would like to see the candidates grilled on basic common-sense questions of science. Fat chance. Too much opportunity to have an opinion publicly refuted by pesky facts.

Posted by: ScienceTim | August 19, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Re: The male gaze. Ya gotta feel sorry for the guys, sometimes...

Re: Walking while beautiful, I think 'nique's got it down

Posted by: DNA Girl | August 19, 2008 5:30 PM | Report abuse

New kit!

Posted by: DNA Girl | August 19, 2008 5:34 PM | Report abuse

Tim, Iraq has 112 - 115 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, and reliable sources estimate probable reserves between 220 - 360 additional billion probable, and significant amounts of associated natural gas.

At even $75 a barrel for proven oil reserves only after exploration, production and transportation, we're talking value of, say, um, carry the 1, 115 billion x $75 = $8.5 trillion. So yes, I'd say that the value is relevant to the discussion.

Posted by: Yoki | August 19, 2008 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Cassandra, my SIL has a similar face that made my sister's son cry as a baby.

I think it's because it looked so big to him and a slightly disproportionate in one feature (although extremely pretty). None of HER babies cried at her face.

The same baby also went off at the sight of a friend of mine who was in a full Sikh turban and beard.

At a certain age babies will cry at ANY stranger anyway.

And I'm glad of the topic change from Woody Allen. His characterization can be too Gary Stu, although with a comic twist (twerp in glasses).

Of the three movies I'll admit to seeing, most were meta-storytelling, rather than storytelling itself.

My favorite is the dubbed Japanese movie he bought.... which says something about his filmmaking versus his ability to write dialogue. Filmwise, he can be gimmicky, all in the name of humor, of course.

BTW, I also read "Without feathers" as a kid, so I've grown up with him. And I refuse to watch another of his movies, particularly with him in it.

His personal life has kind of highlighted all the skeevy elements in his later movies. It's like the difference between early Michael Jackson and later... even before the scandals, he was getting stranger with his public persona and his work was pushing taste boundaries now and then.
I submit the same has occurred for Mia Farrow's ex-husband.

Now then, let's move onto happier kits and thoughts.

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