The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Name:
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hams, Beefcake, and Hogs

MTC's artistic director Stephen Shipper was wistful when he talked to theatre reporter Kevin Prokosh about staging Phantom of the Paradise in the not too distant future.

He'd like to, he said. But chances are slim because of a problem with securing all the rights.

That's the spirit. Winnipeg's can't-do spirit in spades.

Haven't we learned anything from the City Summit? About action instead of words. About taking risks to make Winnipeg a more exciting city?

If there was ever a time to hop onto the Phantom bandwagon, this is it.

Paul Williams, who wrote all the songs for Phantom of the Paradise, was the feature guest at Phantompalooza II, the second annual lovefest for the movie that was a hit only in Winnipeg and Paris.

In the middle of his performance, he stopped and confessed to being overwhelmed by the response he was getting from fans at Phantompalooza. He said he was currently working on a play headed for Broadway, and that he still hoped to see Phantom of the Paradise on the Great White Way.

And if that play was ever produced, he said, it's premiere had to be here in Winnipeg.

The Broadway-bound play he referred to is a musical based on the television show Happy Days, produced by the show's creator Garry Marshall. It had its debut in Los Angeles two months ago. Former New Kids on the Block singer Joey McIntyre stars as Fonzie.

A theatrical version of Phantom of the Paradise has been kicked around for several years. In 2003, Brian de Palma, director of the movie, and Ed Pressman, its producer, came onside with the idea of taking it to the stage. Actress Gina Robello tried to produce a version and take it to Las Vegas, but that fell through.

Williams wrote some new songs, although he now says that if there's going to be a stage show, "We'd start at letter A again. I'd certainly use all of the stuff that's in the picture but I'd add to it. I'd love to see that happen." (Nerve magazine, April 2006)

And with Broadway welcoming plays based on movies (Grease, The Producers, The Graduate, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), a new Phantom is not an unlikely prospect.

But Schipper will have to move fast. It seems producer Pressman is also thinking about Phantom of the Paradise, these days.

As a movie.
As in remake.
His website says it is "in development."

Paul Williams is no stranger to Broadway, but that connection has a strange echo for Winnipeg.

In 1989 Williams starred in the one-man Broadway show Tru. He played Tru-man Capote. Winnipeg, of course, was where much of the acclaimed movie Capote was shot.


- And still on the topic of movies, Brad Pitt fans can mark Sept.15 on their calenders. That's the day set for the release of his movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

We're sure it had nothing to do with shooting parts of the movie here in the Wholesale City, but Pitt was paid only $1.55 million for the movie, a steep cut from his normal asking price of $32 million.

You can catch a trailer for the movie at:http://movies.yahoo.com/feature/theassassinationofjessejames.html

- And on a completely different subject.....here's the kind of story that gets us excited---a scientific discovery that would have a tremendous impact on Manitoba if it works as planned.

UI researcher makes crude oil from pig manure
AP Wire http://www.belleville.com/mld/belleville/news/state/14449289.htm
Posted on Fri, Apr. 28, 2006 DAVE ORRICK

HAMPSHIRE, Ill. - Can the other white meat's manure make black gold? They say you can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, but University of Illinois researchers are working some interesting magic at the other end of the animal. "We are the first to actually do this," professor Yuanhui Zhang says proudly of his team's ability to turn swine manure into crude oil. He's a bio-environmental engineer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who has led the 10-year research project that recently announced a breakthrough in porcine petroleum.

That neat trick may sound crude.

But it also sounds good to a pork industry swamped with oceans of swine manure, and it sounds like the national anthem to those looking to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

A typical pig produces about 6 gallons of waste a day.

For a hog farmer like Pat Dumoulin of Hampshire, who has about 1,200 sows, that's enough stinky and potentially hazardous fumes that he has a pair of 500,000-gallon tanks to properly store the stuff.

Like most farmers, much of the manure from Dumoulin's hogs winds up as fertilizer.

"Most of the farmers in our area are open to taking the hog manure," says Dumoulin, whose farm has been in his family for more than 50 years. "Sometimes it's done for no cost, sometimes they pay us a fee to spread it on their fields."

Either way, scientists have agreed for years that the chemical and capital potential of pig manure, like almost all organic waste, could have other uses.

Zhang's breakthrough wasn't that he and fellow researchers had become excrement alchemists; in about 1998, he figured out how to convert some of a pig's byproduct to an energy source. Turning garbage into natural gas, cow manure into fuel for power plants, and even fast-food grease into auto fuel are other examples of recent advances in the sub-field of icky-but-renewable energy.

Zhang's big breakthrough is that he's designed a more efficient process: a continuous reactor. Instead of converting hog waste one batch at a time, Zhang's lab, which is funded in part by the Illinois Pork Producers Association, has developed a method to feed waste continuously into a reactor, which is essentially an industrial-strength pressurized oven. And, Zhang boasts, "We don't even need pre-drying."

Chemically, pig dung isn't as different from oil as one might think. In Zhang's reactor, a process known as thermochemical conversion partially breaks down hydrocarbon molecules that make up most of the excrement, and voila: porky petrol.

Similar but not identical to the black gold it took Mother Nature eons to brew, Zhang's fuel behaves like diesel.
Now the plan is to move from the lab to a full-sized pilot reactor on a farm somewhere Downstate. Zhang predicts the process could get 3.6 gallons of crude oil a day out of each pig. Illinois brings some 7.2 million hogs to market each year and the nationwide industry is about 100-million hogs strong.

Theoretically, the resulting millions of barrels of crude a day could make a significant dent in America's dependence on nonrenewable, and often imported, oil.

But converting the nations automobile fleet to hog-oline isn't what Zhang or the hog industry is thinking about right now. No research has been done into how many current commercial vehicles could run on the fuel.

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