Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Stick With Which To Beat Dick

by Xavier Conolly

The Carbon cucle of a tree (Image source)

Billionaire self - publicist Richard Branson has offered a $25million prize for the first scientist to come up with a machine that will suck carbon dioxide out of air.

Sorry to be the one to break the bad news folks but such a machine already exists, it called a tree and a lady named Mother Nature has been growing them for millions of years.

Ma. N. is unlikely to claim Dick’s money however, she is an old hippy and has never had any interest in money. On the up side she will be happy to keep providing us with as many tress as we need free of charge so long as we promise to stop cutting them down to make room for more houses, offices, factories, roads and shopping malls.

So the answer is simple and the Branson prize for reinventing the wheel is just another publicity stunt.
But Mother Nature is no meanie, she tells me if we all start being nicer to her she will ask her trees to provide each of us with a stick with which to beat Branson for being a Dick.

When we get down to the fine detail, the billionaires who suddenly develop an interest in saving the planet can always be linked to schemes to suck CO2 (an essential trace gas without which carbon based life forms cannot exist) out of the air, or clean up the oceans, and pocket vast profits in the process.

Electric cars are another scam that control freak technology billionaires are trying to hype as an alternative to reality:

from The Tap:
VW scandal opens up the way for electric cars.

Automobile research analyst at Bernstein Research, Max Warburton believes that the VW scandal could mark the beginning of the end for the global diesel car market, In an interview on the subject he stated that: “The move against VW is going to act as a catalyst to speed up the fall in diesel market share in Europe and halt it in the US.” Diesel cars already have a bad reputation amongst those consumers with an environmental interest, because of the high levels of emissions that they produce, and diesel cars are already around 10-15% more expensive to insure than petrol cars (with adequate car insurance coverage being a legal requirement in most markets) making them generally more expensive for consumers to run. This is devastating news for Europe, which has seen billions of euros extensively invested in diesel technology over the last decade, in a bid to find a cleaner and more environmentally friendly diesel engine. The fraudulent activity of the region’s largest manufacturer means that this money has been, effectively, wasted. No doubt because on of their biggest exports sits at the heart of the scandal, the German government has raised its concerns over the lack of regulation within the car industry, and costly new regulations are sure to be implemented in the short term.

Not the first electric car this has happened to while the batteries were charging (Image source)

The VW scandal will open nothing. The case is electric cars simply do not work adequately to be a realistic replacement for the internal combustion engine. Performance drops of quickly as the batteries discharge, the range is poor, recharging takes too long and they are too expensive to be an affordable choice for most people. And they are not clean, they simply move the pollution (far nastier stuff than CO2) away from the street to the mines, smelting plants, battery factories etc.

And as for Googles driverless joke, who would pay £20k to be ferried around in a pimped up mobility scooter that doesn’t work in bad weather. Ignore the hype, electic cars are a pipe dream.

And even if they did work you would have to prise the keys to my Alfa Romeo out of my cold, dead fingers to take that car away from me.


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Friday, February 09, 2007

Cold Comforts #1 - Shepherd's Pie

I could not bear to think of my American friends shivering through another winter of arctic conditions without the comfort of some traditional dishes from the North of England. So here we go with the first of a series of recipes that add a new dimension to the phrase "hot and substantial." Now Shepherd's Pie is confusing on two counts, first it is not truly a pie, there being no pastry involved and secondly a lot of people mistake it for cottage pie (it is Shepherd's Pie if made with lamb or mutton and Cottage Pie if made with beef.

Traditional Shepherd's Pie can be bland and dull so we will be zapping this up with a few additions to the basic "school dinners" recipe.

Now, as the famous Mrs. Beeton might have said, "first catch your shepherd..."


Ingredients (to serve 6 to 8)
2 lbs. Potatoes (mashed with a little milk or butter)
1 medium onion
2 carrots
1 stick celery
1 to 1½ lbs. minced (ground?) lamb or mutton
a small clove of garlic
2 tablespoons (2 Ounces) tomato puree
equal amount of water
Salt, Black Pepper to taste
½ teaspoon each, Thyme & Cumin
A shake of Worcestershire or Soy sauce.

Heat your oven to 200 Celsius, 400 Fahrenheit

Peel, the potatoes and set them boiling. There will be plenty of time to prepare the rest prepare before they are ready to mash.

Mince or finely chop the onion, carrot and celery and gently fry them in a little of your favourite oil or fat.

Once the onion is translucent set the vegetables aside and fry the lamb with the garlic until it is brown (traditional British chefs would recommend not doing this, but if you don’t the meat will look grey and unappetising.)

When the meat is browned stir the tomato puree and Worcester / Soy sauce into the water and add it to the lamb.

Add the thyme, cumin, salt and pepper and return the vegetables to the pan.

About now the potatoes should be ready to mash with the milk and butter.

Let the meat simmer while you do that.

Put the meat and vegetables in an oval baking dish (it doesn’t have to be oval, but somehow it looks better) Now lightly spread the mashed potatoes on top and fork the surface into a "ploughed field" pattern (kids of all ages like it like that) and bake at the top of the oven for 30 minutes.

British cooking has a reputation for blandness. It was not always so - before the Protestant reformation enjoying one’s food was not considered sinful. Do not skip on frying the vegetables and meat here, it improves the flavour immensely and follows the method described in Elizabethan cookery books.

To make Cottage Pie simply substitute beef for lamb.

A very tasty vegetarian version can be made with a soya based meat substitute


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