Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Three Sisters - Wrapped up

The three sisters project has come to a close this year. We harvested and froze three bags (1 gallon each ) of corn, and had fresh corn on the cob nearly every night for a couple weeks. (Probably close to another half gallon.

We managed a couple meals of green beans - A rather embarrassing turnout, really. But the Zuchinni made up for that.

We had close to a dozen harvests like this one. Some ended up as bread, some were shredded and frozen, for later use in bread. Some went into salads and spaghetti sauce. Some were sliced and fried. And some became compost. The new application (which I have greatly enjoyed) is to slice them thinly, dry them to crispy, and use them as a replacement for chips in chips and salsa.(I recommend a little garlic salt before drying). Who new chips and salsa could be health food, right?

The pumpkins did very well also.

Too bad nobody in my house likes pumpkins. Oh well, they make great decorations, and will add to the compose pile. I might try to harvest an roast the seeds this year (though we will replant some as well). I am tempted to give pumpkin soup a try. What else can you do with pumpkins?
Here is one last look at the garden.

And here is a few days later after my sons Anakin and Yoda demolished the trade federation  corn troopers with their light sabres.

Pretty thorough, those two lads...

So, the experiment is done for this year. Lessons learned?

If I were to do it again, I would do pits rather then mounds, to reduce erosion, and to keep my watering efforts more controlled. I might also double plant the beans, to improve likelihood of success (that, or start and transplant). I would also wait an extra week or two on the pumpkins/squash, to ensure the beans had a good head start. Once the corn and squash start to fill out, if the beans are well established, they will get choked out and starved for sunlight by the other two.

That said, I probably won't repeat next year, for the following reasons:

1. Harvesting the beans is a pain,you have to step in and around the pumpkin vines, and hunt through the corn for them.
2. I don't have deer or racoon problems, so I don't really need the pumpkin vines to protect the corn and beans.
3. I can achieve the same (or better) weed control as provided by the pumpkins around the corn and beans, by planting a low growing green manure after the corn/bean plants are established (something like a red clover). Many green manures also serve the function of nitrogen fixing.
4. I can get the same soil building benefits by using crop rotation techniques. Plant a neat, tidy row of beans one year, and a neat, tidy row of of corn in that same spot the next year.

Nonetheless, it was a very enjoyable experiment. And it looked pretty cool too.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Taxing the 1%

I have recently seen several pictures on the web of individuals holding signs claiming they work two jobs, pay their way through college, etc… ending with some comment to the effect that the wall street protesters should quit whining and get to work, or that the few who claim to be part of the wealthiest 1% of the population, and who are more or less demanding that the government tax them more, should shut-up.

The core of their argument - as I read it- is that the wealthiest 1% of the American population already carries 50% of the tax burden, and since they are the hard working, chief job creators of the country, they and their money should be left alone, so they can use it to create more jobs and thus fix our economic woes (or at least prevent them from getting worse).

That argument is visualized in the following image. Poor Mr. 1% having to bear the same burden as the other 99%, all by his lonely self….

Looks pretty unfair, very progressive (in case you’ve forgotten, a progressive tax system is one in which the percentage of your income which is taken for taxes increases as your income increases [i.e. if you make  $10 you pay $1, if you make $20 you pay $5]. A regressive system takes a larger percentage of your income as your income decreases [if you make $10 you pay $5, if you make $20, you pay $5]. The midpoint between these two is a flat percentage [such as everyone pays 10% of their income]. The US tax structure, ignoring all loopholes, provisions etc..., is designed to be slightly progressive [the poorest pay nothing, the middle class pays a small percentage, the wealthiest pas a slightly higher percentage]).
There is a problem with the above picture however. It lacks context.
You see taxes are not a burden placed on the public, but a portion of resources (wealth) taken away. The number that really matters is percentage of income.  
Solid numbers on income distribution are difficult to come by. Percentage for the top 1% is claimed to be 50%, 80% and everything in between. Now, the lower end claims (50%) all appear to be based on 2007 numbers, and appear to include total wealth, not just income.  Numbers for 2007, income only range from sixty to seventy-five percent. Every report I could find was in agreement that the top 1% have experienced an increase in income over the past several years, while everyone else on average has experienced no change, to a slight drop in income.  So, income distribution looks something like this, (using the 70% value).

Let’s use some numbers now to see what’s going on (these are completely made up numbers. It is the percentages which are crucial here).

Let’s say there are 100 people in America, and a total wealth of $100,000. 

Then 1 of those people (we’ll call him Bill Buffet) owns $70,000,
and the remaining 99 people each own approximately $303.

Now, let’s assume a total tax burden of $20,000. 
As previously stated, Bill is paying half of it, or $10,000, 

which means his tax rate is approximately 14.3%. 

The remaining $10,000 is paid by the other 99 people, and amounts to one third of their income! 
A tax rate of 33.3%!!! 

What appeared to be very progressive is in fact regressive. Even if we assume the lower value of 60% for income distribution, then Bill is paying 16.7% and everyone else is paying 25%.

In the real world, you also have to consider that some percentage of those 99 are paying nothing (yes, some are lazy bum’s. But there are also many who are just having an extended “bad day”, whether it is medical woes, a recent job loss, and difficulty finding a new job…), which means the percentage goes even higher for the middle class.

This isn’t a matter of unfairly increasing the tax burden of the wealthiest. It is a matter of getting them to pay their fair share. Certainly, I agree with the sentiment that lazy people shouldn’t get a free ride. I don’t want to subsidize some deadbeat sitting on the couch eating Cheetos all day, but I also don’t want to subsidize Bill Buffet’s personal Jet.

 (Oh, and by the way. Wealthiest 1% don’t create most of the jobs. More than half of the jobs created are by small businesses. The middle class (Again) is carrying the bulk of the burden, on their ever shrinking share of the pie.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chicken and egg, meet behavior and gene...

I recently read “the Genius in All of Us” by David Shenk. An interesting and thought provoking book, which challenges commonly accepted ideas about how genetics works.

In it, he mentioned two particularly interesting bits of research.

The first involved mice, and diet. The original paper on this research can be found at http://chd.ucsd.edu/seminar/documents/Morgan.08.pdf. It reads like a Scientific Journal paper (most likely because it is a Scientific Journal paper), but the interesting bit is that the authors observed that by feeding a yellow mouse a specific diet, her offspring would have brown fur. And more interesting still, this genetic alteration would continue through future generations.

The second bit, from Washington State University was similar, and involved exposing rats to a couple agricultural chemicals (pesticide and fungicide). The result of this was a reduced fertility in the rats, and the next four generations of offspring (http://www.americanhealthcarefoundation.org/fibromyalgia-md/ArticleE.cfm is a nice, relatively non-boring summary).

There appears to be some debate about how significant a role epigenetic inheritance plays. It nonetheless causes one - upon hearing news that scientist have discovered the “anger gene” or the “alcoholism gene” or the “gay gene” or the "sociopath gene" or… - to ask oneself “Did the gene trigger the behavior, or did the behavior trigger the gene?”