Letters to the Editor 

Alternative means

I read Ben Lefebvre's excellent article on ethanol ("Stalking the answers," July 19). Anyone who reads the whole thing will be well informed, so thank you for providing that service to the public.

I have just returned from the third international biofuels and bioprocessing symposium in Toronto that gathered many of the people working in this area and included, for the first time, BP and Chevron folks. The consensus there was what you describe — that the "first generation" of biofuels from food crops was only good for learning and that the real target is lignocellulosic conversion. Also, BP has teamed up with DuPont to scale up an alternative fermentation organism to generate butanol rather than ethanol because it is more compatible with the trillions of dollars of existing infrastructure.

We are still 5-10 years away from this vision (cellulosic to butanol), but there is every reason to believe that we can get there if research funding continues to grow.

This will be an interesting time for agriculture — probably more significant than anything since the introduction of hybrids in the 1930-'40s. —Steven Savage, Encinitas, Calif.

 

One cheer short

Two cheers for Ben Lefebvre's piece on ethanol, though its refusal to reach a conclusion about the value of ethanol likely left a number of readers unable to sort out the competing claims. The story forgot the most important rule in investigative journalism: Follow the money. In this case, we need to ask the age-old question, "Who benefits?" A really first-class piece on ethanol would have told us who funds the research projects and laboratories of Drs. Dale, Pimental and Patzek.

The world is at or near the peak in oil production, with natural gas soon to follow. That doesn't mean we run out soon — but it does mean that the amounts available of both is going to inexorably decline from here on, even as worldwide demand is exploding. Rather than helping us prepare for the post-petroleum world, people promoting ethanomania are telling America (and especially Michigan) exactly what it wants to hear: that we can maintain the easy-motoring one-car-per-person lifestyle forever and that the only thing we need to change is the name of the fuel that puts the tiger in our tank. It's a dangerous delusion that we cannot afford to entertain for long. The answer to bizarre and counterproductive subsidies for oil is not equally bizarre and counterproductive subsidies for ethanol, especially given that, as Lester Brown puts it, ethanol means that the poor needing food have to compete with our SUVs for it. —John Gear, Lansing

 

Cybelle strikes back

I'm gonna go ahead and need you to print a retraction regarding my terrified appearance preceding my roll down a hill at 4 g's in a giant ball. ("Have you got the balls?" July 19). As I recall, being the thrill seeker that I am, they had to talk me out of strapping myself to the exterior, as I was so eager to get the full experience. Sarah Klein, however, peed. She did not receive a free T-shirt.

And if my eyes hadn't been forced out of my head due to severe jostling, I'm sure I would've noticed the sheer horror on her face. Even if she was laughing and screaming with glee, and I was grimacing and praying that this adventure would result in a 16-page full color photo essay with three alternate covers. —Cybelle Codish, Detroit, www.cybellecodish.com

 

Due props

Thanks for giving Tom Barwin, a dedicated public servant, his due ("News Hits," July 12). I lived in Ferndale and worked as assistant to the city manager in Oak Park (Mich.) before coming to Ypsilanti in 2004, so I've known and worked with Tom for several years. During that time he's been pushing the envelope and made himself a lightning rod for criticism in ways few other appointed officials have. It's nice to see the outpouring of public support now that he's leaving, but I hope we don't lose any more Barwins. —Robert Bruner, Ypsilanti

 

Money spent

Contrary to Jack Lessenberry's bizarre rants and outright falsehoods, limiting government would not create a third world country out of Michigan ("Thugs and Muggers," July 12). Lessenberry claims that Colorado fell into fiscal oblivion because voters there enacted a tax and spending limit.

Yet, with the major tenets of the Colorado proposal still in place, the state has the highest per-capita income west of the Mississippi. And it boasts a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, compared to Michigan's 6 percent rate (the third-highest nationally).

So how exactly is spending more money and adding additional tax burdens going to make Michigan competitive with some states that don't even levy an income tax and are reducing the burden of government?

In addition, Lessenberry's accusation that the National Taxpayers Union Foundation was among those who "ponied up ... maybe a million dollars' worth" to support the Stop Overspending proposal is patently false. NTUF has not contributed financially to the Stop Overspending Committee (though our research wholeheartedly supports reasonable limits to government growth).

The Stop Overspending plan provides for budget reserves to help meet emergencies, a spending restraint clause based on inflation and population increases, and a voter approval safeguard should government want to spend at a faster rate — all key facts Lessenberry ignores. That's a pretty strange and ironic habit from someone who calls others "malevolent ... idiots." —Sam Batkins, Alexandria, Va.

 

Eight is great

Your choice of graphic was very negative and had little relevance to the actual story ("Forget Eight Mile," July 5).

I would be delighted if Metro Times would write a positive story about the Eight Mile Boulevard Association and all of the positive things going on along Eight Mile. Our organization is working tirelessly to erase the image that Eight Mile is a dividing line. I hope we can count on your support to help us do just that. —Tami Salisbury, Executive Director, Eight Mile Boulevard Association, Detroit

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