Wednesday, August 18, 2010


This one sounds like it's apples and apples. But first, let's figure out relationships: in 2007, the company Cadbury Schweppes spun off it's American beverage unit, creating the company Dr Pepper Snapple. Dr Pepper Snapple makes Mott's Apple Juice at its plant in Williamson, New York. Workers at the Mott's plant have been on strike since May.

What's this about? According to a NY Times article, Dr Pepper Snapple wants to cut wages and benefits, despite earning record profits last year. According to Mott's, they want to get their worker's pay and benefits more in line with "local and industry standards," claiming that average pay and benefits are less in the area. The company motive seems to be to further increase profits, based on the "fiduciary responsibility to operate in the best interests of all its constituents, recognizing that a profitable business attracts investment, generates jobs, and builds communities."

Oh what a steaming heap of bullshit! The translation here, in case it's not too obvious, is that corporate greed is the name of the game - "hey, the financial industry got away with it, why not us?" Contrary to Dr Pepper Snapple's statements, the best way to attract investment, generate jobs and build community is to demonstrate that a company can pay and treat it workers well and respectfully and still be profitable. Touting the fact that their workers are well paid and the company is profitable could help lift the "local and industry standards" that are likely less than a living wage.

Wouldn't it be nice to see more companies talking about corporate responsibility in terms of social, economic and environmental sustainability instead of more profits for shareholders (and I bet Dr Pepper Snapple execs aren't taking a pay cut)?

Mott's workers aren't the only ones being set up for a loss; area apple growers are about to start harvesting, and lower production at the Mott's plant - which is still operating with replacement workers but at about 1/3 capacity - can have a devastating impact on growers.

There are some good companies around, but I would say Dr Pepper Snapple isn't on that list.

Sunday, August 15, 2010


Sitting on the back deck, reading the Sunday Times and Oregonian, drinking espressi, and reading about the things we eat. Damn!

Eggs for breakfast? Were they "cage free," "free range," "naturally laid?" According to an article in today's NY Times, 97% of the eggs produced in the USA are from hens in battery cages. Each cage has 7 hens, and the minimum cage floor space for each hen is about the size of my 13-inch MacBook screen. Cage free means the hens aren't in cages, but in a big warehouse where the hens are packed in, each with about 120 square inches of floor space, minimum. Ah, but you can get free range, can't you? Yep. This means the birds in the big warehouse have access to the outdoors through a small door, usually too small for the whole flock, and typically open for limited time each day. Scrambled or sunny side up?

How about some sugar in your coffee? About 30% of sugar produced world-wide is from sugar beets. A recent ruling by a federal judge has put planting of genetically engineered sugar beets on hold - these already grow on about 1 million acres in 10 states in the USA. The biotechnology beets are a product of Monsanto, and they were developed to be resistant to the herbicide Roundup, also produced by Monsanto. Farmers can kill weeds in their beet fields without killing the beets. But the FDA didn't do an environmental impact statement (EIS) before approving the biotech beets, and organic farmers and some organizations worry about these altered beets passing their genes to non-biotech plants. Read about it here.

Did you eat something that could kill you because of your allergies? Ah, now we get to food labeling, and what the labels don't tell you. I was shopping at New Seasons yesterday, and watched a young woman intently studying her iPhone in front of the toothpaste shelves. Turns out she has serious allergies, and was trying to find the hidden ingredients in the many toothpaste choices, including the "natural" ones. It's a difficult task, as described in this article.

Trying to eat healthy foods presents many challenges in modern times. I understand that large-scale production methods are needed to feed the number of people in any city. But do we have to sacrifice our health and morals in order to feed ourselves? Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to go out and buy a few hens for my backyard (been there, done that), but I do have some control over what I buy, and I try to be an informed consumer. Kids need to learn about healthy food in school, and also about eating locally-grown and healthy foods. So I was happy to also see in this morning's paper a column about moves in this direction resulting from U.S. Senate passage of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act.

Enjoy your lunch today. Really!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


"Three wheels, six batteries, one extension cord, no gas tank!" That's what I say when asked about my pickup truck. A lot of people think it's "cool," and some, mainly my sons, find endless ways to make fun of me because of it. Even grandson Jake calls it the motorcycle with training wheels.
It's not a very practical vehicle in a number of ways: goes about 20 miles on a full charge, it's a rough ride (especially on Portland's rough streets), it has no vent/fan or air conditioning (it's close to 100 F today), and needless to say, I don't want to think about how it would do in an interaction with a normal car, SUV or truck.

One colleague remarked that I must have a lot of self confidence - this was when I pulled into a job site next to all the big rigs driven by contractors.

So why did I buy it, and why do I drive it? Part of it is certainly image - I like to be a bit quirky in the face of normalcy (hence the hybrid recumbent bicycle with a small red and black propellor thingy I added on the front). But a large part of it is trying to do something logical and practical in an otherwise very strange world.

Let me explain. My wife and I moved into a very urban neighborhood 9 years ago from a semi-suburban part of the city. We sold one vehicle and became a one car family; I bought a bike and started riding the 5 miles to work every day. We walk a lot in our neighborhood to all the shops, restaurants, pubs, theaters, etc. I signed up for Zip car and used one for times when I had to go to a meeting farther than biking distance, or needed to carry lots of stuff, or had back-to-back meetings with no time in between to bike to the next one. This worked very well.

But I kept looking at the electric car concept, and liked the idea. I saw the Zap cars at a local dealer a couple of years ago and test drove a sedan and "truck," but the prices were high for something I didn't absolutely need. However, I liked the idea, so I kept looking for a good deal on a used one. I finally found my Zap PK (the pickup model) this year, and bought it from a very nice guy who had bought it new and improved it with some important add-ons.

The Zap has worked out well; it's useful for carrying large objects, gets me almost everywhere I need to go in the city, and I guess makes a statement about cars, energy and etc. I don't yet have a good "story" to tell about the sustainability and green footprint of my Zap. It doesn't directly produce harmful emissions, doesn't use petroleum, and presents less danger to others compared to a larger vehicle. But I can only imagine the environmental and social harm done by the manufacturing of a Zap (it's made in China), and the lead acid batteries will need to be recycled properly (I can get a lithium ion battery pack for more than I paid for the Zap!). I just bought a meter to measure how much electricity it takes to charge my Zap, and electricity is produced somewhere and by various methods.

The most important aspect of driving the Zap, however, is the different mind set I have developed. First, I have to plan my trips carefully to be certain I can get home or somewhere else where I can plug it in before running out of juice. This is truly different from having a gasoline vehicle in which I can ignore distance and simply pull into a gas station when I'm getting low on fuel. I don't think many drivers normally plan their trips carefully before leaving home.

Second, driving the tiny Zap gives me a different view of the world of motor vehicles - there are a lot of huge vehicles on the road, and drivers like to drive fast. I can go 45 mph in the Zap, but that's top speed, and I rarely do it (uses a lot of battery power).

Third, if you've ever driven a hybrid car, you know the light bulb moment when you realize that the machine turns off at red lights, waiting in line at the drive-in restaurant, etc. I'm sure there are statistics for how much fuel is consumed and how many tons of emissions are spewed by gas-powered vehicles that aren't moving, and the numbers are certainly large.

Driving the Zap has given me a new vision of urban planning. In this vision, those who want or need a vehicle have small electric cars and trucks to get around the urban area, and only these vehicles are allowed on most streets. Key arterial roads are designated for larger gas-powered vehicles, and these are mostly for service vehicles and travelers going between urban areas (I won't discuss the need for lots more trains and buses here). Strategically located parking garages are on these arterials, and people can park their small electric there when they need their larger vehicle. Life in the city would be slower, quieter, and much more sustainable.

I'm glad to see the major car manufacturers coming out with electric vehicles (EVs); although I don't understand the logic of building electric cars that cost $40,000 like the Chevy Volt. This prices most people out of the market, particularly those who could benefit most from owning an EV.

So if you see me driving by (you won't hear me), flag me down and I'll give you a ride. The Zap is a lot of fun, and I always have a smile on my face when I'm in it.