Fordlandia, Flying Machines and Formulas for Success

An American town in the Brazilian jungle, J. Paul Getty and Mark Twain. Miscellany from Douglas G. Pearce’s Countryside Digest.

June 15, 2010 | | Back Issues | Countryside Digest | Departments | Environment | Summer 2010

Rich Man’s Utopia

“In 1927, Henry Ford bought a Connecticut-sized piece of the Amazon and built an authentic American town in the Brazilian jungle, complete with electric lights and indoor plumbing. In Ford’s conception, Fordlandia would be an independent source of raw materials for his burgeoning auto empire, and a way to preserve the vanishing America of his Michigan childhood. His enormous wealth and willpower enabled him briefly to establish a utopia in the jungle, complete with golf courses, ice cream parlors, movie theatres and Victrolas. But these were succeeded by brothels, bars and disease … Ford’s experiment finally foundered in the wilderness, and in 1945 he sold the whole property back to Brazil.”
Greg Ross, in American Scientist, Mar-Apr/10.

Mondragon On Main Street

“On October 27, 2009, the United Steelworkers of America issued a press release headlined ‘Steelworkers Form Collaboration with Mondragon, the World’s Largest Worker-Owned Co-operative.’ That is to say, the largest industrial union in North America, representing 1.2 million workers, has entered into an agreement with a firm hitherto virtually unknown in the United States to ‘transform manufacturing practices in North America. According to USW International president Leo Gerard, ‘We see Mondragon’s co-operative model with “one worker, one vote” ownership as a means to empower workers and make business accountable to Main Street instead of Wall Street.’” David Schweickart, in Worldwatch, Mar-Apr/10.

Wright Wrong

“When my brother and I built and flew the first man-carrying flying machine, we thought that we were introducing into the world an invention which would make further wars practically impossible. That we were not alone in this thought is evidenced by the fact that the French Peace Society presented us with medals on account of our invention.” Orville Wright, quoted in CCPA Monitor, Apr/10.

Fare of Flying

“German scientists have figured out why tomato juice tastes better aboard an airplane than on the ground (and coffee tastes worse). Low atmospheric pressure dampens the experience of sweet and salty tastes, whereas sour comes through unchanged and bitter is slightly intensified, says flavour chemist Andrea Burdack-Freitag of the Frauenhofer Institute for Building Physics in Holzkirchen.

“She and her colleagues asked thirty taste testers to rate their perceptions of different foods and wines while sitting in a partial Airbus A310 in a chamber with adjustable pressure. At ground pressures, tasters perceived tomato juice as musty, but at a low pressure typical in flight they found it fruitier, with cool notes. The complex aromas picked up by the nose that give coffee its flavor were barely perceived at low pressure, unmasking coffee’s bitterness, Burdack-Freitag says. Lufthansa’s catering arm, which sponsored the study, wants to use the data to improve its menus.”
Science, Feb 19/10.

Formula One

“My formula for success? It’s simple: Rise early. Work late. Strike oil.”
J. Paul Getty

Milky Way

“Milk has nourished young mammals for millions of years, but only humans skim, shake, ‘chocolify,’ and other-wise alter and commodify the milk of other species. Yet before cattle were domesticated some 9,000 years ago, milking a cow was an extreme sport and humans avoided or just ignored their milk.

And after weaning, they had no need for the enzymes that separate lactose sugars, so most older humans were lactose intolerant. But geneticists guess that 5,000-7,000 years ago in Europe a rare adventurous lactose-tolerant individual dared to drink the milk from his or her cattle. Those with similar genetic advantages eventually followed in a similar milky way.”
Ben Block, in Worldwatch, May-Jun/10.

Moon Birds

“Each spring and fall, our skies fill with the beating wings of birds making their annual migrations – a phenomenon that has intrigued scientists for millennia. Aristotle was among the first to suggest an explanation for the birds’ mysterious appearances and disappearances. Some species, he thought, simply hid themselves in the ground until spring. ‘Swallows, for instance, have often been found in holes, quite denuded of their feathers,’ he wrote.

“Eclipsing all other far-fetched migration theories, though, was the one presented in 1703 in a booklet titled Whence Come the Stork and the Turtle, the Crane and the Swallow, When They Know and Observe the Appointed Time of Their Coming. Birds, suggested the publication’s author, fly to the moon to spend the winter.”
Terry Krautwurst, “Lunar Nature,” in Mother Earth News, Apr-May/10.

Earth Invaders

“While gardeners love to see earth-worms in their soil and eco-conscious apartment dwellers rely on them to compost food waste, most people do not realize that the vast majority of worms in Ontario are invasive species. The majority of the approximately two dozen species of worms we see today arrived with European settlers more than two centuries ago, in ships’ ballast and agricultural products. (Before that, only two species of worms were in Ontario.)

“But the very trait that makes the worms the darling of gardeners everywhere also makes them a menace in Ontario’s hardwood forests. European worms are much better than native species at munching through leaf litter. In doing so, they alter the structure of phosphorus and nitrogen – nutrients on which northern hardwoods trees and plants depend – such that they are no longer bound up with organic matter and they leach away with the rain.”
Sharon Oosthoek, in Ontario Nature, Spring/10.

Numerical Aids

“There are children in Tokyo, trained in after-school abacus clubs, who can sum up to 30 large numbers using only the mental image of an abacus, and do it faster than someone with an electronic calculator. And there’s a mathematician in New York whose intricate crocheting has allowed her colleagues to visualize various surfaces in hyperbolic space for the first time. These are some of the delightful char-acters that populate Alex’s Adventures in Numberland.”
From Celeste Biever’s review of the book by Alex Bellos, in New Scientist, Apr 24/10.

Formula Two

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence. Then your success is assured.”
Mark Twain

About the Author More by Douglas G. Pearce

Douglas G. Pearce is a retired scientist who lives in Mono, you can read more miscellany in other issues of Countryside Digest.

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