The Thin Line between Ingenuity and Ridiculousness—between a Brainstorm and a Brainfart

On the ingenious end of the scale, the state of Wisconsin has begun spraying cheese brine onto its roadways to keep them ice-free during the long winter months. Cheese brine is essentially salty water used during and then leftover from the cheese-making process. If it is not recycled into some non-cheese-related use, it goes into the waste-water treatment plants.

As reported in the New York Times, Emil Norby, who works for Polk County, Wisconsin, has explained, “’If you put dry salt on a roadway, you typically lose 30 percent to bounce and traffic.” But by mixing the salt with the brine, the rural county saved $40,000 on its rock salt bill in 2009 (the year it started the  experiment) and has increased that amount every year since.’” And those savings don’t even include the reduced need for treatment of the wastewater.

In the middle of the scale—that is, I am not sure what to make of it– is this item from New Zealand. A farmer who specializes in the production of cervine milk—that is, he operates a dairy farm but milks deer, rather than cows—is collaborating with a cheese producer to market cervine cheese.

Here in northwest Ohio, there are lots of deer that shelter in the wooded areas that provide windbreaks among the broad fields of corn, soybeans, and winter wheat. But the idea of keeping deer in barns and milking them like cows seems, on the surface, ridiculous. Still, the Laplanders and other people who live at the edge of the Arctic herd reindeer and subsist off every part of the animal, including its milk.

Moreover, as the demand for grain-based alternative fuels has grown, scientists at many universities across the Great Plains have been working on creating such fuels from the original prairie grasses. The premise is that the grasses could simply be mowed several times a year; because of the grasses deep root systems, farmers would be freed from worries about the cyclical droughts that impact the high plains; and the ecosystem would actually become much more durable, with the elimination of plowing essentially eliminating the risk of dust-bowl conditions.

This sort of scheme has a parallel in the proposals for restoring large buffalo herds to the high plains. Not only can the buffalo be raised to maturity much more cost-effectively than cattle, but there is the added benefit that the buffalo meat is much lower in saturated fat.

So perhaps there is a further parallel—equivalent benefits—in the idea of raising deer for milk and other dairy products, as well as meat, as we now raise cattle.

But it does, nevertheless, seem weird.

At the indisputably ridiculous end of the scale is another item from Wisconsin. Milwaukee has passed an ordinance permitting “pedal taverns.” These contraptions are basically bars with eight stools on each side. They are rigged so that each patron can help to propel them by pedaling. But two employees are responsible for most of the pedaling, for the steering, and for the braking.

Milwaukee has apparently borrowed the concept from Seattle, Washington, San Diego, California, and Boulder, Colorado. And it seems largely a tourism-promoting device, for the “pedal taverns” convey patrons from one specialized tavern to another around the downtown.

Here is what a “pedal tavern” looks like:

Pedal Tavern in Milwaukee

In an earlier post, I simply presented two photos that I thought illustrate our lingering ambivalence toward drinking on campus. One of the photos showed table after table covered with Dixie cups filled with liquors.

That photo was posted by a fraternity at Lehigh University and led to the fraternity’s operating charter being suspended by the university.

I might have acknowledged in that post that I received both my M.A. and my Ph.D. from Lehigh. I want to say upfront that while I was very conscientious in meeting my responsibilities as a graduate teaching assistant and in doing my own graduate work, I spent most of the “free time” that I had during graduate school in one or another of the dozen or so bars in the immediate vicinity of the campus. So I acknowledge that I am now clearly more cognizant of the downside of on-campus drinking–in particular, binge drinking–than I was then.

When I was at Lehigh in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the drinking culture was pronounced. Thursday night was party night at the fraternities, and, continuing a tradition that went back decades, the beer trucks would be rolling up the narrow drives to the fraternity houses on the hill literally from sunrise until mid-afternoon. Even more memorably, each May, there would be a bed race across the hill, with each fraternity’s team stopping in front of each of the three to four dozen fraternity houses to knock back a shot of a different kind of liquor. The race went west to east across the hill, and by the time it was two-thirds completed, there was all sorts of projectile vomiting, with run-away beds careening off the drives onto the steep lawns and frat boys doing unintended cartwheels while still spewing vomit. I always thought that someone should have filmed it in slow-motion, like the bloodbath at the end of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. It was that kind of cinematic spectacle.

Maybe it’s just me, but the concept of “pedal taverns” seems to me perilously close to those bed races.

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