What is “the blend wall” and why does it matter?

I happened to be passing by the TV the other night, and heard some ranting by a particular Presidential hopeful who promised to “tear down the blend wall”.

We should be incensed at such an incredible pile of ignorance! Yet people were applauding. Ay, yi, yi…

This is such a simple thing, and someone who wants to be a leader putting such gross ignorance on display makes my head hurt. He must have said it because it sounds good, perhaps imagining himself to be some incarnation of Ronald Regan. But at least Regan had his facts straight.

This is really a simple thing; let me show you:

Back in the Bush era, the EPA was convinced by Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) that we should blend corn-based ethanol into our gasoline motor fuels. Reduce our dependency on foreign oil! Give farmers a guaranteed return on their crops! Sounds like a great idea, right? But there are a few problems with this.

  1. Ethanol is corrosive. In any concentration, particularly anything higher than 10%, it tends to ‘eat’ fuel system parts, with the chemical byproducts passing through and damaging not only automobile engines, but outdoor power equipment. Your lawn mower, my tractor, my gas trimmer, they’re all at risk of the fuel systems being wrecked from ethanol. If you try to use more ethanol (a higher percentage) in your fuels, then many more parts – internal parts – in the engines will be wrecked.
  2. In the US, we together all use a certain average volume of gasoline motor fuel each year. It changes a bit with the seasons and with consumers’ car and power equipment buying habits. But it doesn’t change much.
  3. You just can’t blend more than 10% ethanol into our fuels, as stated above. Automobile manufacturers categorically state this, and have put together a powerful lobby against change from their side. Because everyone’s engines – yours and mine – will literally be trashed by too high a percentage of ethanol.

We take these factors, and now you can see that because we only use so much gasoline motor fuel, there is only a certain volume of ethanol which can be used in motor fuel blends. No more than this.

In simpler terms, think of a can of gasoline. This represents the US average use in a year. Now add 10% ethanol to it. You can’t add any more, because the total volume is fixed. There’s just plain nowhere for it to go.

This is what’s known as “the blend wall”.

Now you understand that trying to exceed it is irresponsible and ignorant of the damage you will do to everyone’s cars and trucks.

Yours and mine.

Look, as I’ve said a number of times: I’ll never tell you how to vote, but just to think about what you’re voting for.

An unfiltered, direct comment on how to control Ebola, from a person currently working in Sierra Leone

First let me attribute this comment. It was posted in the Financial Times, this morning. If I read the FT’s copyright statements correctly (and I’m sure I do, from having no small amount of experience with copyrights), I am allowed to pass this along in this manner.

This was written by John Galani. I’m doing some minor editing and formatting which the short-form commentary system the FT uses does not allow, and this will make reading easier.

His story is below; it makes for blunt and impactful reading.


As a person working in Sierra Leone and directly impacted by it, I can say first hand the issues are both complex and varied.

First, the issue of leadership: the problem is that you are dealing with governments in West Africa that are months behind salary payments, not staffed with knowledgeable public servants in the Western sense of the way, but “bureaucratic employees” and a merry-go-round of politicians, who are untrained in the field of public services to say the least.

It does not mean there is no goodwill, just that the machinery of government is dysfunctional at the best of times; let alone in such a major crisis.  Imagine a horror movie where the actors were oblivious to the mounting threat and then belatedly the government driver is now desperately trying to start the car when the epidemic is surrounding the broken down vehicle… and you get the picture.  Giving money to such institutions, although required, will not achieve immediate results, and even less the required one, hence why so much current funding is indirect.

The second issue revolves around the wider implications of Ebola, akin to firefighters destroying a building by dosing it with water trying to put out the fire on the top floor: medical facilities where doctors and nurses are neither trained for, nor equipped to combat Ebola, and have even collapsed as some of them were infected.

The medical map is now of major hospitals with Ebola wards and minor ones closing.  The population at large does not wish to use hospitals with Ebola screening and treatment wards for obvious reasons; therefore multiple health problems go untreated.  Food in locked-down areas is hard to come by and certainly more expensive, and this in a subsidence economy which cannot afford such price rises.

Seasonal planting, schools, jobs related to all these sectors and the wider public sector whose meagre funding is now being shifted to Ebola fighting, all these conspire to a breakdown of central governance.  It is also rather unfortunate, but true, that the local population has lived through such times in the past, and can bear it better than we in Europe could, but still.

Now what does one do about all this…?

The solution is actually quite simple, as it is in most major cases: you use a hammer:

The base case scenario is for Western armies to step in with the chemical and biological units. A form of martial law needs to be imposed with quarantine areas, and large scale assistance to the local population which will neither be able to feed itself nor continue normal life until this is over.  If we were to do this it would all be over in 3 to 4 months, with certain areas taking less time, and others going to the buffers, and potentially longer but only a regional basis.

Any other way, which would impeded less on the local democratic institutions and would take into account the human rights of the population, would take longer.  How much longer would be linked to the loss of efficiency versus the method described above.

It is for the local governments to decide their fate, but I would urge them to understand they are not equipped, nor could they ever be anywhere quick enough with whatever money could be thrown at them, to deal with the outbreak.  If they do not take such courageous decisions, the world will likely contain their countries rather than Ebola, as is happening now.  This should be linked to long term funding of their depleted reserves and infrastructure once this is over.

I remember conversing with a trauma surgeon who told me when they got an emergency case in their job was to save the live of the patient, nothing else, and if that meant scaring, amputating or any form of “butchering” in order to save a life, so be it…

Community Policing

There will continue to be all kinds of commentary on the events in Ferguson. I just want to make an observation:

Using all kinds of military gear regularly on the job tends to isolate the officer from those he is protecting. And serving.

Notice that last word: Serving.

To be in authority over others is a great burden. One must be of service, while in authority. Christ modeled that extremely well, as the servant-king.

This is the reason that the Highway Patrol Captain was able to calm things down. He walked among the people as a servant, not as an overlord.

And we, as the people being served, have a great burden also:

“Don’t go getting all pissed off until you have ALL the facts!”

That’s a familiar line from my past. Here’s a couple more:

“Yes, you have the right to free speech, but you don’t have the right to abuse it.”

“Everybody gets their turn to speak, even you. And don’t interrupt. I don’t care, DON’T interrupt!”

And yet another line:

“When you have a hammer in your hand, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Officers, please get rid of all the military gear, except your stick, radio, cuffs, Mace, and sidearm. Let the SWAT guys handle that tense stuff. Actually walk the beat instead of driving around in the car. Follow the example of police in the UK who walk a beat and don’t carry guns. They are trained to handle every situation without resorting to weapons, and manage to do remarkably well without resorting to deadly force in every situation. Get to know your community, and let them get to know you. Get into the schools, and talk regularly to the kids about what you do and let them ask questions. Be a part of the community, not just heavy-handed controllers.

My wife remembers that even in the busy community in which she grew up, the cops would show up at school and give out baseball cards. Then during recess, they’d play basketball or baseball with the kids. Heck, I even remember the local cop coming in and talking about his job, and how we could help him do it by simple things like being aware of traffic, riding on the sidewalk on busy streets, making ourselves visible to motorists on country roads, that kind of thing. We even got to climb all over his car and ask a million questions. Every time there was some community safety thing going on, we’d see the local cop right there at school.

And for us, the local cop is a guy like us, with a job to do.

Something to think about.

A way to fix both the VA and the crushing weight of student loans

Maybe my idealism is mixing too much with practicality, but this idea seems to make too much sense to not share.

We have two giant problems that we can solve here:

  1. Some experts on the economy say that the amount of student debt is a real drag on recovery; and
  2. The Veteran’s Administration (VA) is critically understaffed and could use a serious management tuneup.

Let’s for a moment imagine a program wherein a graduate student with a 3.0 GPA or better has access to a modified ‘enlistment’ in the Armed Services. In this ‘enlistment’, this person goes to work for the Veteran’s Administration for a certain number of years. For the sake of discussion, let’s make that number four. In return, they get half of their student debt cancelled. At the same time, they’re expected to put a minimum of 10% of their pay from the VA (yes, I know it’s the Government) into loan repayment. They can “re-up” at the end of that 4 years, but only half of the remaining debt gets cancelled. The 10% contribution still stands.

After sleeping on this, it still seems like a good idea. Let’s look at the benefits:

Young people get to experience first hand some serious values; of dedication, of respect, of selflessness. Working with vets will teach those values to cocky graduates in spades. And maybe it’ll soak in well, given that they’ll be totally immersed in it for four years. In return, our vets get people right out of school with the latest ideas and learning, people who will be full of energy. The VA gets people who have been sharpened in accounting, engineering, administration, and not the least of all, medicine. And coming round to the main point of all this: Our vets get the great care they deserve.

Meanwhile, Congress gets to get out of their passive-aggressive partisan dug-in positions and get something done. They continue to write the check to the VA without asking what help they can be. Well, it’s time for them to give that help that the VA so desperately needs.

If you think this idea is worth it, forward it on. You heard it here first…





Footnotes: I came up with the four-year idea because that would be approximately one-tenth of a career. (One-tenth, as in a tithe.) Drawing from Proverbs 3:9-10:

Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.

So then, our graduates – our firstfruits of our colleges –  could honor both God and those who served our country by themselves serving.

I have a respect for every veteran I’ve met; many have seen things that we would never care to see. And the place they come from is that of a quiet strength – something worth passing on. This is a way to allow them to do that, and to be honored in return. They deserve it.

Shout out to The Ed Show

I’ve never been any kind of a fan of a TV or radio “host” who stays isolated in a warm, dry studio and tells everybody what to think.

Likewise, conspiracy theorists and people (let alone so-called “news” organizations) who make up stories, falsify images with PhotoShop, and generally conspire to mislead people in the name of their point of view; these are people who must be ignored. I try not to make a judgement in any way; that’s God’s job. At the same time, I don’t watch a lot of this stuff, because I don’t appreciate “being yelled at”, which seems to be the style of presentation of many of these people. Sure, they can get enthusiastic, but talk TO me, not AT me. Employ some broadcast etiquette, wouldja? Okay, enough.

I have always had a respect for news-gatherers who actually take the time and shoe leather to find out the facts, and then report them as honestly as possible without coloring them to one point of view or another; no matter if the facts disagree with the reporter’s personal opinion. If you’re reporting the news, then you have a moral obligation to integrity. 

Which brings me to Ed Shultz, on MSNBC.  He has been talking about the Keystone XL pipeline, and has been on both sides of the project: First from an environmental point of view, he was against it, but then because of the hazards in transporting this more dangerous type of crude (fires and spills), he thought maybe the pipeline would be the safest way to move the product.

So he had been in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, but had heard from a number of viewers that maybe he ought to rethink that position. Which brought him to needing to know the facts.

And here’s the part that brings me more respect for him: He actually went there and found out for himself. 


Real, actual, in-the-field reporting.

And people in Nebraska noticed. It’s in the papers, and on their websites. Here’s a link to a sample. 

Good for you, Ed Shultz. Good for you for showing others how it’s supposed to be done.