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A clip from the Republican YouTube debate

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you small-government conservatism:

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The corn industry hopes Congress will pull its fat out of the fire

I used to love to start my writing day by taking a poke or two at the corn-based ethanol industry -- you know, the biggest greenwash ever. Photo: mrobenalt These days, the debunking of corn fuel almost seems like it's piling on. Today, two major newspapers -- the LA Times and The Wall Street Journal -- ran front-page stories that essentially say: everyone hates government support for corn-based ethanol, except for people with a direct financial (or political) stake in it. A couple of years ago, I enjoyed a snippy back-and-forth with someone from the Minnesota branch of the American …

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Genetically modified sugar beets expected to be in widespread use in U.S. soon

The U.S. sweetener industry may soon have a new sugar daddy as it gears up for the widespread rollout of genetically modified sugar beets. GM sugar beets have been approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 2005, but resistance from end-users such as chocolatiers Hershey's and Mars had disrupted their widespread use. But now with that resistance largely overcome, the sweetener industry is gearing up for a quiet rollout of sugar produced from Monsanto's herbicide-resistant sugar beets. Much of the 1.3 million acres of sugar beets produced in the U.S. each year are expected to go over to the …

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Food prices going up, along with everything else

From an article in the Telegraph by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Hat tip to Gristmill reader KO): What has abruptly changed is the twin revolution of biofuel politics and Asia's switch to an animal-protein diet. Together, they have shattered the fragile equilibrium. Investors who want to take advantage of agflation must tread with care, both for moral reasons and questions of timing. Riiiight ... moral reasons. The way I see it, you can go the PETA route and call the closest thing the environmental movement has to a hero (Nobel Laureate Al Gore) a hypocrite for eating meat, replete with a bulbous-nosed, …

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Umbra on used cooking oil

Dear Umbra, It's always nice to look through cookbooks and to watch cooking shows that feature yummy deep-fried food, and I have often been tempted to try and cook my own creations. However, no one ever seems to mention what they do with the used cooking oil, especially after deep-frying. What is the best way of disposing the oil? I do not want to tip it down the sink, and adding it to compost will suffocate the earthworms. Perhaps it's better all round not to deep-fry anything? Liz Atherton, Australia Dearest Liz, Over here in America, people deep-fry entire turkeys …

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Europe may ban two types of genetically modified corn

Europe may end up sans two types of genetically modified corn, as E.U. environment officials have proposed a ban on the seeds. Officials say the GM corn, made by powerful biotech companies DuPont Pioneer, Dow Agrosciences, and Syngenta, could harm wildlife and disrupt food chains. E.U. Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the genetically modified corn could have "unexpected ecosystem-scale consequences" and that "potential damage on the environment" could be "irreversible." Well, we're convinced -- but the European Commission will have the final say.

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The NYT gets its hands dirty

In Italy and France, people don't love small farms just for the delicious food they produce. They also prize them for their looks -- small-scale diversified agriculture is pleasing to the senses. So city dwellers often head out to the country on the weekend and hang out on farms, and support them with their tourist dollars. Last week, Emily Biuso of The New York Times ran a good piece about how agritourism is slowly catching on in the United States. I direct you to it because it's an interesting read, not just because Emily stayed on my own Maverick Farms …

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How egregious are farm subsidies?

So egregious that they make the Bush administration look reasonable. I repeat my contention that completely eliminating this boondoggle that trashes the environment, increases incentives for obesity, and distorts the entire global agricultural trade should be a high priority for environmentalists. Step #1: call it what it is -- corporate welfare.

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Umbra on reheating coffee

Dear Umbra, As a web developer for a certain respectable online magazine somewhere in the Pacific Northwest, I drink a lot of coffee to keep me alert and my very demanding employers happy. However, in my constant imbibing of the dark elixir, I'm concerned about the energy use involved. Specifically, I can only drink coffee piping hot, and sometimes when I take a break from being wired and resume my regimen, what little coffee is left is ice cold. So I toss out the chilly remainder (about one-fourth of the original pot) and put in another pitcher of water. So …

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