Friday, October 10, 2008


One night recently I ended up watching the last half of Mississippi Burning on one of the free movie stations. I had seen parts of the movie before but had never seen all of it. It’s easy to say that America has come so far in its acceptance of all people of color since the Civil Rights Movement. Personally, I think that the bigotry and racism depicted in the movie remains a part of this country today, albeit just below the surface. Sure, there are places where people are progressive and willing to embrace diversity, but that open-mindedness can be found in only small areas of the country like Vermont and San Francisco. I’m tempted to include Lawrence, Kansas in that list of places, but I know from having lived in Lawrence years ago how deep-seated the negative attitudes toward Native Americans remain and how much risk the students run when they leave the campus of Haskell.

I think the smear campaign directed toward Barack Obama by Palin and McCain, one in which they label him a terrorist and a traitor, and one in which members of the audience yell out, “Shoot Him,” will end up causing some gun-toting Republican to take that campaign too far. James Howard Kunstler said in one of his columns early in the campaign that Obama could possibly end up losing his life if he were elected President. If Palin and McCain continue to hide their own ineptitude and continue to evade the more important issues facing this country (like the ten trillion dollar national debt) by finding fault with their opponent, it’s possible that the racism and bigotry lurking in this county will resurface in the kind of violence that I lived through in the 1960’s when political figures and cultural leaders were gunned down. If such an event were to occur, I don’t think that McCain and Palin would ever accept the responsibility but would instead delight in ridding the country of someone not like them.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Greasy Rider: A Review

I recently signed as on as an Early Reviewer at LibraryThing. My first review appears below.

Greg Melville’s Greasy Rider describes the author’s effort at converting a 1985 Mercedes wagon to run on used fry grease from restaurants and driving it from Vermont to California. Encouraged by the prospect of locating free energy, Melville opts to operate his car exclusively on fry grease instead of biodiesel, which still contains a percentage of petroleum. As a test of the feasibility of this alternative fuel, Melville decides to emulate the cross-country trip of H. Nelson Jackson, who, as Melville says, was the first person to cross the country in a car running on petroleum. Relatively challenged by auto mechanics, however, Melville enlists the help of Iggy, his former college roommate, to help maintain the engine and to help fill the container in the trunk with waste restaurant grease.

Prompted by Iggy, who gives Melville various challenges or errands to discover more about green energy, the narrative is broken up by six of these errands, most of which occur after the initial trip and are included as addendums or side-trips, so to speak. These errands include research into Al Gore’s own 10,000 foot mansion to determine whether his house is heated and cooled with green energy; how a few Minnesota farmers are in the midst of making wind power profitable; how cellulosic ethanol, the conversion of plants into energy without using corn and without using the expensive distillation process currently employed to create ethanol, could, according to Lee Lynd, a professor at Dartmouth, significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels; a visit to Google’s headquarters where solar energy is generated and could, conceivably, power a portion of the buildings on the Google campus if the energy weren’t sold to the energy grid in that area; the creation of geothermal energy at Fort Knox; and a visit to a green Wal-Mart in Texas. These explorations reveal not only the hypocrisy of Al Gore but also the individual and corporate efforts at adopting green alternatives.

Often humorous because of Melville’s initial attempts at locating restaurant grease at fast food restaurants, the narrative describes the system that Melville and Iggy adopt to fill their fuel container. By the time that these two guys reach California, it is possible as a reader to smell the grease stored and emitted by this Mercedes, a smell which is so strong, Melville says, that every article of clothing he brought along for the trip became permeated with the smell. Coupled with this problem, the narrator finds it difficult to remain in such close quarters with his former college roommate, eventually exploding at what he considers as his friend’s irritating mannerisms.

While this narrative proves that it is possible to make a cross country trip on the grease gathered from restaurants, it also calls into question the viability of such an alternative to gasoline because of the potential run on restaurant grease if enough people converted their own cars to operate on the same alternative fuel. It may be possible to subsist on this fuel when driving locally if the car owner reserves a constant supply of this fuel supply. Should the restaurant close down, or once enough other people start clamoring for the same fuel, the possibility of relying exclusively on this free fuel becomes remote.

Ultimately, I would have liked seeing more exploration into alternative fuels and green energy. If the narrative were widened to include what’s being done elsewhere in the world and how the oil corporations have resisted pumping their billions into green energy, the book would have been more than a trip across the country, one containing the adventure of pumping restaurant grease, the difficulty of maintaining a lengthy car trip with another male, and side trips to consult other mavericks and other sites of green energy.