Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Norman Luxenburg Guest Opinion in the Press-Citizen

Professor Norman Luxenburg has some thoughts in a guest opinion piece in the Iowa City Press-Citizen on last week's meeting concerning the PorkForest:
If the already-functioning Biosphere could not attract top-flight biologists to Tucson, one wonders how such people would be attracted to an uncertain Iowa rain forest, which even under the best scenario would not be ready for four years. In addition, its continued existence would be dependent on a most questionable annual flow of a million and a half paying visitors.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Random Mentality
Read Random Mentality's fisking of yesterday's editorial in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Elephant In The Rain Forest

Nicholas Johnson has a guest opinion piece on the PorkForest in the Iowa City Press-Citizen this morning.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Random Mentality has a recent post on the PorkForest.

Heard On the Radio

I was going to put up a quick post on this yesterday, but I didn't get it done.

Tuesday morning, on the way into work, the 8:00 AM newsbreak included a blurb on how, and I quote, "Iowans are getting excited about the rainforest in Coralville that is slated to begin construction late this summer."

Really, are Iowans excited about this. Outside of the Ted Townsend rah rah supposed it "fiscal conservatives" (former Gov. Ray, David Oman, and Chuck Grassley) that are cheerleading for it, not one time have I heard somebody say, "Boy, I'm really jazzed about this rain forest in Coralville. I can't wait to take my kids to it." Or, "Man, this is just the thing to help keep our talented youngsters from fleeing the state."

The blurb contained no quotes from Iowans, no studies, and no polling data to support itself. It was just the assertion that sui generis Iowan are excited. Classic bandwagon propoganda. You've probably never heard of it, and you don't know what it is, how much it costs (to build or to operate) but you should be darned excited about it because everyone else is.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

It's A Floor Wax And A Dessert Topping

Oh my. Read this. Here's another PorkForest story in the Iowa City Press-Citizen and this one's pretty absurd.

While generating $85 million in annual spending for Johnson County, a proposed rain forest and education project also could help create 1,400 new jobs, officials said Monday.

The Iowa Environmental/Education Project will create 2,900 "ripple effect" jobs statewide

Says who? Massachusetts-based ConsultEcon. I wonder what their track record at being engineering psychics is?

Monday, March 22, 2004

PorkForest, Part Tree

Part three from the Press-Citizen's PorkForest spread came out on Monday.

To be honest, the only way this thing is going to make money is if they plant it full of Acapulco Gold.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

How Does A PorkForest Pay For Itself?

Part two of the Iowa City Press-Citizen's series is up today. Read the whole thing.

Oman is still dreaming for 3500 visitors a day, 60% from out of state. That's a laugh. How many people are expected to come in January when it's snowing and some days the high temps barely get into the single digits?

The Press-Citizen does some good investigation of other attractions which have failed to meet their "conservative" projections. Of course, I spent a half hour on a Sunday in January in my La-Z-Boy chair Googling and it wasn't difficult to find troubled projects.

Stay tuned for part three on Monday...

Saturday, March 20, 2004

PorkForest Town Meeting!

Ever wanted to ask David Oman or Robert Ray why they blindly support such a stupid waste of taxpayer money? Now you can.

There will be a public forum about the PorkForest on Monday night at Northwest Junior High School in Iowa City. Details are here.

Iowa City Press-Citizen Coverage of the PorkForest

Jim Lewers, the managing editor of the Iowa City Press-Citizen, has a refreshing editorial today about his paper's role in asking questions about things like the PorkForest. The Press-Citizen starts a series on the project in today's paper.

Is it me or does this thing look like a discarded ribbed-for-her-pleasure condom?

The first article is called "Creating power, building dreams"

The P-C also lists the key players in this project.

Sort-of similar projects
around the world...

Details of the project from 2000 to 2004.

Q&A with David Oman - what a bunch of fluffy answers....

And, finally, the project's timeline.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Ted Townsend

Ted Townsend gave $2000 to President Bush's re-election campaign.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004


According to the Iowa Child website, the Rainforest will create “400 permanent jobs with ripple effect of 2,000 jobs in eastern Iowa.” A ripple effect, also known as an “employment multiplier,” means that each original job created by a new business has the effect of creating other jobs, because the workers employed by the new business buy food, entertainment, housing, etc. Doing the math, Iowa Child has a ripple effect or employment multiplier of 5, five additional jobs for every one job created by the Iowa Child project.

This further suggests that the project is being oversold. I ran “employment multiplier of five” through Google, and that yielded no hits. I also ran “ripple effect of five” through, and it yielded one hit. The phrase appeared in a local newspaper, and it referred to manufacturing jobs page 16). Iowa Child is definitely not creating manufacturing jobs.

And if you run “average employment multiplier” through Google, you’ll notice that very few of the numbers are much higher than 2 (and some of the ones that are may not be employment multiplier from new jobs but from new investment.)

I wonder what happens when a project fails? Is it possible to have a negative ripple effect?

Monday, March 15, 2004

April Issue of Reader's Digest

The April issue of Reader's Digest will be exposing excessive pork-barrel spending.

Guess what's listed first

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Random Mentality fisks yesterday's guest opinion piece in the Iowa City Press-Citizen concerning the PorkForest.

Saturday, March 13, 2004


Here's a funny "guest opinion" piece in Saturday's Iowa City Press-Citizen by S. Richard Fedrezzi. A small portion:

Whether you look into the eyes of a 2-year-old or a 22-year-old, you see limitless potential, boundless energy and enthusiasm, a zest for living and an insatiable thirst to learn more, do more, and achieve more. Imagine the mind of a child engaged as they experience scientific technology, such as 3-D molecular imaging that can show the aspects of every creature and ecosystem like they've never seen before.

Huh huh, huh huh.... he said "insatiable" - that's cool...

Friday, March 12, 2004


Actually, I disagree with Cedar Pundit that the Register is “smoking crack.” I think dropping acid is more apt. To see why, let’s begin with the opening paragraphs:
They like the rain forest project.

There are good reasons other Iowans should, too.

A majority of Iowans have trouble envisioning what the proposed Iowa Environmental and Education Project in Coralville - better known as the rain forest - could mean to the state. The exception to this thinking? In a recent Register Iowa Poll, more than half of Iowans 18 to 34 considered the project a good idea. Maybe it's time to listen to this fresher generation for some guidance about the future of the state.

In other words, if you are over 34 your head is ensconced you-know-where. Your every day concerns of making a living, raising your kids, planning for retirement, taking your Geritol, etc. has completely blinded you to the realization of what a great idea the Pork Forest is. The folks over 34 probably have more mundane, boring, and ultimately stupid concerns like whether the Pork Forest will work as advertised, whether it is a good idea to fund it with taxpayer dollars, and, if it doesn’t work, will it be taxpayer dollars that are used to bail it out. And a few of them might even be concerned about the viability of the project given that the investment market didn’t seem too impressed by it. After all, Ted Townsend was only able to raise $40 million for the project--$10 million of which was his own money.

What fuddy-duddies those folks over 34 are!

One more thought on that passage: Doesn’t that really hark back to the 1960s ethos of “trust no one over 30”? As if you needed further evidence that the Des Moines Register editorialists nostalgically pine for the Age of Aquarius.
Because Iowa needs more big thinking.

This rain forest is big thinking.

Well, the 1984 World Expo in New Orleans was big thinking! So was the Denver Aquarium! Sorry to say, but because something is big thinking doesn’t make it good thinking.
Funding for the project is growing. Thanks to Senator Chuck Grassley, the rain forest will receive $50 million in federal dollars. Iowan Ted Townsend has donated $10 million of his own money and other sources have brought the amount raised to half the cost of the $180 million project. Discussions are under way about securing state Vision Iowa assistance, but the Legislature needs to replenish that fantastically successful but near-empty fund.

The funding is only growing because the Feds anted up! Like I noted above, Townsend was only able to raise $40 million. And for a little perspective, keep in mind that Townsend has been at this for more than 5 years.

Furthermore, if Vision Iowa is so successful, why isn’t Iowa’s economic growth so much better relative to other states? If, as the Register states, “Marketing surveys show workers and employers rank ‘quality of life’ high among reasons to locate in a place” then why haven’t the quality-of-life improvements from Vision Iowa resulted in better economic growth for Iowa? An interesting question, and one the Register will no doubt ignore.
Yet most Iowans polled are still reluctant about spending the dollars on this project. "It just seems to me our schools are hurting and we need money so many other places that it's kind of over the top right now. It's maybe a terrific idea for the future," said poll participant Marilyn Konicek of Belle Plaine.

Sounds like Ms. Konicek has her priorities straight. Unlike the Register.
Granted, it's hard to think about investing in the future when the state is barely staying financially afloat today.

But what the heck, we can just stick it to the taxpayers to solve those other problems.
But now is exactly the time to look ahead. Interest rates are low. Iowa will recover from these difficult financial times and this state will be glad it had the foresight to invest in a quality-of-life endeavor that attracts tourists and adds entertainment.

Or Iowa taxpayers may come to regret having to service a bunch of debt in the future while also having to help bail out a failed project.
Already, Coralville is in the early stages of building a $60 million hotel and convention center near the rain forest site.

So? Should the taxpayers be on the hook for Coralville's folly too?
Just inside the dome, 300 to 400 jobs will be created. It's estimated the rain forest will generate $120 million to $130 million for the state each year.

Oh, isn’t that phrase “It’s estimated” slippery? After all, who paid for the estimate? Why, it was one Ted Townsend! Imagine that! Hmmm...I wonder what journalistic ethics say about leaving out little facts like that, even in an opinion piece.

Let’s face facts: The Iowa Pork Forest represents everything that’s wrong with Iowa’s approach to economic development right now. Economic growth will occur if we have enough corporate welfare, pork projects, and community attractions. And the belief underlying that approach is that it is government which is best suited to manage the economy. Is it any wonder, then, that the Register editorialists are giddier than a teenage girl on prom night?

Thanks, Royce, for posting that link to the idiotic Des Moines Register editorial.

I have a short reply on my site.

Register - Gen X and Y Love Pork

Check out the lead editorial in the Des Moines Register. I don't have time for a proper fisking, but the gist of the piece is that "more than half" of Iowans who are 18-34 think the Pork Forest is a good idea. Hmmm... 51%?

And guess what? The editorial board wants us to throw $90 million plus of state funds at it.


Thursday, March 11, 2004


The projected cost of the Iowa Pork Forest is $180 million. With the $50 million from the feds, plus the $40 million that Ted Townsend has already raised, it would see that the project financing is about half way there.


Doing some research the other day, I stumbled on a few articles in the Cedar Rapids Gazette about the Iowa Pork Forest from 2000. One from March 12, 2000 put the estimated cost at $280 million. The article notes that, at the time, Iowa Child not only included a rain forest, but also a new public school. So perhaps that accounts for the extra $100 million. Of course, I don’t know how much the average public school is going for these days, so I can’t say for sure.

However, you might want to check out this article about government cost overruns (pages 4-6). Especially check out the chart on page 5.

Makes you wonder if the cost of the Pork Forest is being deflated to make it more attractive to those who want to secure government funding for it.


A new Heritage report on spending mentions the Pork Forest.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Following Don's thought experiment below has sparked my imagination. As Don points out there are many things about a real "rainforest" that would be highly undesirable in the Porkforest. Beside the mosquitos, heat, and humidity he mentions are things like protruding tree roots and changes in elevation. Surely the Porkforest will be ADA compliant. Accordingly, since we have no real interest in a true ecosystem from the perspective of flora, fauna, or climate, it would seem that fake trees would serve nearly identical purposes to real ones. Obviously, to become a true attraction, and to accomodate the large numbers of projected visitors, some sort of recreational activity space will have to be included as well. Perhaps an acre or so could be cleared and covered with synthetic turf so that visitors or people from the Iowa City/Coralville metroplex can partake in spontaneous or planned sporting events. This area would likely need a 20 foot perimeter for safety purposes and for those taking part in the activities to stand around and watch or strategize. Obviously, these recreational activities are likely to draw spectators. These spectators will need some sort of raised seating to see over the assembled participants. Perhaps some bleachers could surround the activity area in a bowl shape. All those fake trees are probably going to significantly block the view. Nix those. The total glass surround will provide far too much glare, concrete and and a couple hundred mercury vapor lights will nicely simulate an even daylight. Given the costs of the venture, wealthy patrons will have to be attracted as well. How about some skyboxes with complimentary beverages and hors de voures? Finally your going to have to have seating for 60-80 thousand people and ensure that the damn thing fills up at least 8 times a year to actually pay it off. I'm still trying to figure out an attraction that could do that. Maybe some of the others have an idea.

According to the Iowa Environmental/Education Project website, “the project will teach a global understanding of how life works on earth (sic) and how we can lead truly sustainable lifestyles in harmony with all of nature”. Having been an environmental engineer for part of my life and educated for another part, I’m curious just how this is going to work. In fact, I can’t wait the two and a half years construction will require; I need to know now just how this thing will contribute to my global understanding. So I researched my extensive reference library and selected a classic work by renowned world-traveler P.J. O’Rourke to give me some insight into exactly what a sustainable lifestyle in harmony with the rainforest might include. He explains,

"But what it is like to actually be in the rain forest is hot and sticky.
When you get out of your hammock and go nature hiking, you're immediately
covered in sweat. Your underwear clings, your shirt clings, your pants
cling, and things that EEK! aren't part of your clothing at all cling to
you. You're also immediately covered in bugs. And the rain forest is, as
the anem would imply, rainy. Hence, WHOOPS! slippery. You're immediately
covered in mud, too."

So now I’m a little concerned. Even we Iowans who have reservations about this being a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money, or who have silly Conservative concepts of limitations on the role of government, have to put aside our differences and get behind this thing to make it prosper. This is too important to all of us. Since the Grassley bill passed, columnists and pundits around the nation have been making it a laughingstock. Apparently the combination of Iowa and pork is too much to resist.

If we’re going to bring in the 4100 paying customers each and every day that we have to have to make this project a financial success, it needs to be a pleasurable experience they will rave about to friends and family. We can’t have people, or Heaven forbid, children, attacked by jungle bugs or worse! Granted, it would be extremely educational to be set upon by the various itch-producing entities of nature. People would soon figure out why our ancestors decided it was a good idea to drain the swamps – er, ah, wetlands. But that would not be profitable.

So, can we control the nuisances that tend to thrive in such environs as the PorkForest is intended to represent? Tree snakes and fire ants shouldn’t be too much of a problem; we should be able to hold them up at the Missouri border. Crocodiles can be confined to the aquarium. We don’t need monkeys or birds; some piped in jungle sounds will suffice. But what about mosquitoes? Uh-oh. Mosquitoes in Iowa in the summer – as inseparable as baseball and beer. And just to make it more challenging, let’s add extra humidity and a year-round warm climate! Can you say malaria?

I’ll make an executive decision here; the mosquitoes have got to go. Better living through chemistry, you know. Probably best not to tell anyone…So much for living in harmony with all of nature - we’ll settle for harmony with most of nature. Come to think of it, it was a silly idea anyway to think that we could replicate a natural ecosystem in a mere four and a half acres when the environmentalists have been telling us for decades that areas the size of Massachusetts are too small to maintain sufficient ecological diversity. The best we can do with a tiny building like this is a simulation of a natural habitat.

Think of it as a cartoon – kind of like the Jungle Ride at Disneyland but with fifty years of technological advancement. The important thing is to make schoolkids think that nature is wonderful and that interfering with nature is awful. That way we’ll be assured of good press reviews and plenty of repeat business from the schools. Let’s see, how many times per year does each schoolchild in the state have to visit to make 4100 customers per day?

Norman Luxenburg has an excellent guest opinion in the Iowa City Press-Citizen today concerning the potential cost overruns of PorkForest.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Child = Good... Rainforest = Good... Child + Rainforest = Pork

Everyone knows that rainforests are a good thing… right? There are essentially no people there to soil them, so they have to be good. And the native peoples who inhabit the rainforests live in perfect harmony with nature. They’re uncorrupted by civilization. Sure, they are savages, but they have a certain… nobility about them.

Now, “civilized” people from the industrialized world see a rainforest and they think of only one thing, slash and burn. They can’t help themselves. Rape the land… thousands of acres every day. Steal the resources from the innocent indigenous peoples. (Did I mention that they live in perfect harmony with nature…?) Kidnap all of the rare, beautiful, diverse animals and enslave them as pets, zoo exhibits or for (GASP!) medical research.

Yep… rainforests are good. You gotta love those rainforests.

And children… you just GOTTA love children. In fact, if you want to coerce… I mean convince taxpayers to fund something idiotic… I mean essential… you know what you have to do, don’t you? Everybody now… you say “IT’S FOR THE CHILDREN”.

How can anyone say no to the welfare of a child? You’d have to be heartless… inhuman really. And what could bring a tear to the eye and part a taxpayer from his hard earned pay better than an Iowa child? Well… maybe a child from one of those indigenous peoples who live in total harmony with nature. But, you have to admit it, “Iowa Child” has got snap. Iowa has its own innocent quality to it. Combine that with the natural innocence of a child and you’ve got it some heavy duty salable innocence goin’ on.

Whoa man… I just had a stroke of brilliance. Hey… what if you put the two together.

Okay… stay with me here. You build an indoor rainforest, okay? Yeah… in a really big dome. And, where do you build it…? IOWA! And you don’t build it in a major metropolitan area. Oh no… You build it in Coralville, okay? And you push it as an educational opportunity for… you got it… children.

Who could say no? This is a win/win baby.

This thing is going to be a nationwide venue. The state is going to pull in a boatload of tourism money. It will be the premiere destination indoor rainforest in the country… hell, in the world! Families are going to travel for hundreds of miles from Chicago, Minneapolis, St Louis, even the Quad Cities just to see the indoor rainforest in all of its resplendent rainforest-ness.

It’s going to be a flippin’ gold mine. And with the state and local tax revenues pouring in, this thing is going to pay for itself in a few short years. The Coralville/Iowa City metroplex is going to blossom like a desert flower after a spring rain.

And the educational opportunities for the children of Iowa! It will be the ultimate field trip. Two hours in a bus. Two hours in a humid dome filled with magical plants and natural lore. Oh my, the children will be like little sponges, sucking up the natural knowledge and wisdom of the rainforest. The media-induced scales will fall from their eyes and they will feel and know their place in the universe. Then it’s a sack lunch in a noisy cafeteria and a two hour bus ride home.

But the experience of the Iowa Rainforest will transform every one of those children into academic superstar, supercharged apprentice eco-warriors.

“Hey Johnny, remember when you used to play Xbox and watch violent movies all day? Now you’re a straight-A student, a junior member of Greenpeace and a weekend Habitat for Humanity volunteer. And it all started the day you went on that field trip to that Rainforest thingy.”

How could it possibly get better than this? Are there other lessons to be learned from the rainforest?

Well, maybe one. Remember Brasilia? It’s the capital of Brazil. It’s a planned city that was built smack dab in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest. There was no reason for it to be there except that Brazilian government planners thought it was a good idea. It was planned for a population of over 500,000. Less than half that number currently lives within the planned city limits. An army of low-income maintenance workers employed to keep the jungle at bay live in shanty towns surrounding Brasilia. One architecture critic called it a “utopian horror”. It was a city that nobody needed in a place that nobody lived built in way that nobody liked.

I think there’s a lesson there somewhere.


I was a little concerned that some of the hubbub about the Pork Forest had died down. But, thankfully, Dave Barry came through for us today, pointing out that the Pork Forest is a great necessity for getting Chuck Grassley's name in the news during this important election year.

(This Dave Barry column is in the today's print version of the Des Moines Register, but not in the online version. Hence, the link to the Miami Herald. Unfortunately, the Hearld lacks the pretty artist rendering of the Pork Forest that is included with the column in the Register. Bummer.)


Iowa Pork Forest is a website dedicated to the examination of what was once called Iowa Child, and is now called the Iowa Environmental/Education Project. This is the project, headed by Des Moines businessman Ted Townsend, to construct an 18 story indoor rainforest in the Iowa City/Coralville area.

This site probably wouldn’t exist were it not for the fact that this project received $50 million in taxpayer money in the 2003 Federal Omnibus Appropriations Bill. The politician that slipped this “pork” in there? Senator Charles Grassley.

Those of us who contribute to this website would likely have given Iowa Child scant attention, other than an occasional bit of criticism on the foolishness of the project, were it being financed entirely with private money. Now that it has received public money, we intend keep an eye on how that money is used.

Finally, the contributors to this website are: Cedar Pundit, Jeff Cordts, Don Cordts, and Chad Nicholl of Tusk and Talon, Jason Steffans of Antioch Road, Royce Dunbar of Iowa Libertarian, and David Hogberg of Cornfield Commentary.