Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jurassic Pork

One of the most common myths perpetuated by dinosaurs in both industry and politics today is that renewable energy, as compared with fossil fuels, is nothing but a subsidized bubble industry that cannot compete on its own. Such a belief could not be further from the truth, and it flies in the face of facts on the ground (and up in the air) about what renewables can and cannot do, and the sorts of energy we do and do not need today.

So without any further ado, let’s get right to the facts, which I’ll give to you straight, since I am not beholden to any political interest, and nobody is paying my way to write this article (sidebar: any potential sponsors interested? Don’t worry, I’ll still call you out when you fail too, but I’m more than happy to take some of your money in the meantime).

“Just let the free market sort things out” is the sort of line you hear a lot from supporters of Big Oil these days, as if that didn’t include pricing currently unpaid externalities like that whole carbon thing. Well, it is worth noting that the largest producer of oil in the world, Saudi Aramco, is a nationalized firm that produces more oil than any other country or company in the world:

Exxon, eat your heart out! And as easy as it might be to criticize Saudi Arabia for being backwards when it comes to the country’s teatment of women or its attitude toward the Jewish people, to its credit, it has actually been a responsible steward of the Jurassic-era oil resources found in larger and more extensive deposits there than anyplace else in the world – a far better steward, in fact, than the original owners of Aramco, private American businesses like Exxon and Standard Oil of California who caused permanent damage to oil reservoirs by overproducing them in the 1970′s, during the waning years before they knew control over the company would be transferred to the Saudi government.

As a result of their shenanigans, oil fields like Ghawar, which has historically produced well over half of all Saudi oil, will never be able to produce as much as they could have if those developing the fields had been responsible and closed the valves on producing wells when necessary in order to prevent the water infiltration and formation of gas caps that make this oil so much more expensive to produce today.

Where do you think the name Aramco came from? I’ll tell you: it is shorthand for the Arabian American Oil Company. So whenever we start to come to terms with the most serious consequences of the decline in Saudi oil production, you’ll know where to point the finger: at those short-term-profit-motivated businessmen who forced it upon us.

Speaking of dirt, I’ve got some on the coal companies too. It’s not just subsidies (a few billion dollars a year) for research on pie-in-the-sky “clean coal” notions that sap taxpayer dollars for this energy source that is older than the hills. You know those lovely coal trains you see criss-crossing every corner of this great nation? Well, those run on railroads, as it turns out, and railroads are not free.

Someone has to pay for them, and that usually means you and me, the taxpayers. Schemes to hide the costs of transporting coal through subsidies are, like coal itself, nothing new: they are almost as ancient as the industry itself. But our legacy of enslavement to this dirty energy source did not end with the Civil War. It continues today, as railroad owners like the Tarbutton family of Georgia lobby in favor of constructing new coal generating capacity (and against the use of renewable energy sources like biomass) in order to ensure continued government funding for railroads to transport the product to facilities like Plant Washington in Sandersburg, GA.

Georgia politicos pork out on wild pig to begin each legislative session

There are a lot of peculiar political rituals we could talk about here at PolitiFact Georgia.

But few are more colorful than the pre-legislative feast laid out for the Georgia Legislature every year for the past five decades. It takes place at the old train depot near Underground Atlanta and is attended by hundreds of folks -- lawmakers, the governor, state officials, reporters, lobbyists and just about anybody else who can score a ticket.

"Since 1962 the Georgia General Assembly has opened its new legislative session each January with the 'Wild Hog Supper,' at which legislators enjoy such state delicacies as barbecued wild pig and Brunswick stew," notes the New Georgia Encyclopedia in its extensive entry on hogs in Georgia history.

No doubt about the Legislature kicking off the year with a "Wild Hog" feast. But in an age of "cloud computing" and factory farms, are they REALLY still serving "wild" pigs, the intrepid fact-diggers at PolitiFact Georgia wondered?

To get to the answer, PolitiFact trekked back into the legendary swamps of south-central Georgia.
Bob Addison, who runs Addison Wild Boar Hunting near Abbeville, and whose family and community still supply the victuals for the Wild Hog feast, knows the history as well as anyone. He's lived it most of his life.

The story begins with Addison's late father, E.C. "Boo" Addison, who for most of his 80 years pursued a cunning and dangerous animal that has roamed the wilds of south-central Georgia since the first Europeans arrived. Early settlers brought domestic livestock into the area and often let their hogs and cattle roam free. Some of the pigs became wild, and later were crossbred with a much larger Russian boar to produce the wild hogs that now populate the swamps.

Back in the late 1950s, "Boo" Addison was camping in a Dodge County swamp with Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Phil Campbell and state House Speaker George L. Smith when the idea of a legislative hog supper took root. Thousands of feral hogs still roam those river-bottom woodlands.

"They got some hogs and they barbecued 'em down in the swamp," Bob Addison said. "George L. said to Phil, 'This is mighty good eatin'. It's a shame the legislators in Atlanta couldn't have a chance to get some of this good food.' And Daddy said, 'I'll furnish the hogs.' Well, they went back to Atlanta and decided that the Sunday before the Legislature opened, they'd have this supper. And it's been happening ever since."

Addison said the first supper took place at the Henry Grady Hotel -- since demolished -- and was attended by about 300 people. The event moved to its current location about a decade ago and now attracts more than 1,000 guests.

Over the years, the Wild Hog Supper came to define the Legislature's return to the Capitol. About 15 years ago, organizers began issuing tickets to control the crowd. "Busloads of people would pull up, and we had no idea who they were," said former Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin.

One thing that hasn't changed much over the years is the entree.

The hogs that end up on dinner plates begin life in litters of up to 14 born deep in the dark undergrowth of Addison's swamp. Coyotes and other predators quickly thin their ranks.

The hogs that survive eat just about anything that won't eat them -- acorns, roots, even snakes and small animals. Addison supplements their diet with grain, peanut shells and barrels of discarded candy from a nearby factory.

The male hogs, the boars, are the wildest. They average 250 pounds but can tip the scales at 600. Their razor-sharp tusk can rip a man or dog to shreds.

"No matter how young they are, boars have a strong taste," said Bob Addison's wife, Jo Ann. "We don't use boars for the Wild Hog Supper."

The Addisons use only sweeter-tasting female hogs for the legislative shindig. The hogs -- very wild indeed as it turns out -- are captured in large "Jurassic Park"-looking cages several weeks before the supper. They are penned up and fattened on grain before they are slaughtered.

"It sort of tenders them up a bit," said Jo Ann Addison.

She said they used 20 wild hogs for this year's supper, which attracted a packed house even as a major snow and ice storm moved into metro Atlanta.

It turns out the hogs at the 49th annual Wild Hog Supper were indeed wild -- these critters never see a pen until they are captured. We rate this one True.

And in case you're still reading, we're including a bonus. Below you will find Bob Addison's recipe for cooking a wild hog -- just in case you ever need it:

Prepare oak coals two hours before cooking begins in the evening. Allow the coals to form a thin dusting of ash. Place the hog carcasses on metal racks 18 inches above the coals in special covered pits in the ground. Put the skin side up. Keep the pit temperature about 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Cook for eight hours. Just after sunrise, turn the meat. "That boils the grease back up through the meat as a natural tenderizer." Cook for a few more hours until the ribs separate from the meat. Total cooking time --- 12 hours. Serve with barbecue sauce and enjoy.