Thursday, March 27, 2008

Green Energy Development

The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and wasteful.

---Wendell Berry

The essence of the problem is about consumption, recognizing that a society that consumes one third of the world's resources is unsustainable. This level of consumption requires constant intervention into other people's lands. That's what's going on.

---Winona LaDuke

What we are calling for is a revolution in public education. When the hearts and minds of our children are captured by a school lunch curriculum, enriched with the experience in the garden, sustainability will become the lens through which they see the world.

---Alice Waters

The quotations can be found in the April/May 2008 issue of Mother Earth News, and at the website .

Perhaps your idea of food production in the future resembles the illustrating photo (which I found here ) and you may be right. Many people are preparing for a post-petroleum world by forming small self-sustaining communities of like-minded individuals. Fortified by stocks of food in individual cellars and possibly an arsenal of collective weapons, they await the apocalypse. I understand Tom Cruise is building an underground shelter.

With that kind of worry, on Tuesday I entered Ohio University's Walter Hall Rotunda (not the most environmentally sound structure, we discovered) for something called the Green Energy Development Summit. The forum was sponsored by US Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, OU's Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment (CE3), and the Pew Environment Group (which is one of the Pew Charitable Trusts). That's a pretty formidable team for a small college town in one of the most destitute parts of Appalachia. Was rescue coming at last?

Apparently the idea for the summit was cooked up by Tom Bullock, a representative for Pew in Ohio, and Scott Miller, who directs the energy and environment programs for CE3. They both contacted Senator Brown's office to get at least his name connected and some representatives here, remembering perhaps he visited Athens during his campaign for office to bless the solar array then opening on the roof of Athens Middle School. The senator himself came to Athens yesterday for a review of the conference and to meet with university and business leaders. I sat next to a representative of Governor Strickland. So there we were: a lot of suits and a bunch of blue jeans.

A half dozen of the people in neckties turned out to be presenters, each alloted about 20 minutes to tell us of business initiatives in which they were involved. Now I had 2 problems with this already. First of course is my prejudice that it's free market capitalists that have messed us up to the point where chunks of Antarctica the size of an average country are falling off and dissolving. Second is my ignorance, both about business marketing and the engineering that invents the products. That means I'm not such a great candidate to be telling you about this...but I'll try my best. What I want to accomplish is at least to get something on the Internet about what we learned that day, and hopefully attract some reaction from people who do know what they're talking about.

The first to present were managers of Bellisio Foods whose main plant is in nearby Jackson, Ohio. Bellisio is the third-largest producer of frozen food entrees in the United States, turning out something like 2 million packages a day. That's a lot of food and, as Ryan Wright informed us, eventually tons of organic waste. Bellisio used to pay truckers to come and haul it away someplace. To cook the food the company has 9 huge boilers full of water and heated with natural gas. So somebody got the idea of turning all that good compost into biogas and heating the boilers with that. As a result Bellisio became more environment friendly, saved $650,000 a year hauling costs, and estimates another $900,000 savings this year by waste conversion into biogas.

And you ain't heard nothing yet. The next colorful character to step up was Ben Schafer, an engineer himself and President of American Hydrogen. What Mr. Schafer's company does involves a process developed by research at OU, and then licensed to him. It reduces the amount of electricity needed to split hydrogen from nitrogen in the ammonia molecule, bringing cost of producing hydrogen to less than $2.00 a kilogram. A kilogram of hydrogen is equivalent in its energy content to one gallon of gasoline. No pollution. His assembly line is being set up in neighboring Meigs County, and will create a hundred jobs.

But the biggest jaw-dropper of all was the next gentleman, complete with Capetown accent. Neill Lane is President and CEO of Sunpower, with headquarters right here on Mill Street. Sunpower has emerged over the past 30 years as the world's leading developer of free-piston engines, including something called the Stirling engine. For those of us who thought solar just means a little flickering of electricity but hardly anything that could power---say---space exploration or something, these people have news for us! Here's where my lack of afternoons tinkering in gas-powered motors brings this article shuddering to a halt...but I can direct you to Wikipedia's page on the Stirling engine. And I invite you to click around Sunpower's site for some really amazing applications. Sunpower had a little humming machine going in a corner of the rotunda, which I guess was an air conditioner that had us all occasionally shivering in that place.

After a break, we spent the next 2 and a half hours in small sessions discussing barriers to and opportunities for more green energy development. I have to tell you that in each of the 3 sessions, public education K-12 was mentioned again and again. The Dean of Energy and Transportation Technologies at Hocking College told us students coming to them from high school are miserably prepared in math and science. Hocking's new Energy Institute was visited by Barack Obama just before the Ohio primary. I suggested preparation for the testing required by No Child Left Behind fills up all teaching time in science and math---and from what I hear is not only impractical but not directed to student needs.

It was an intense day and I'm glad to say my wife, who advocated we go to it, brought our 16-year-old daughter with us. As usual, she was the youngest person there. What was important for us all was the feeling of hope with which we left the building. Profitable innovation is underway that is helpful to our world...but most people don't know enough about it. That's going to change.

An overview of CE3 is here~~~

and this PDF was our agenda~~~

Scott assured us all the materials we developed will show up shortly online. He also plans to develop a forum on these topics in which anyone can become involved. I'll try to keep you updated.

The Pew Trust Tom represents is here~~~

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Barack Obama: Rock Church, Rock

Chen-Lang approached Shih-Tou and asked: "What is the idea of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?""Ask the post over there," Shih-Tou said."I don't understand," said Chen-Lang."Neither do I," said Shih-Tou.Suddenly Chen-Lang saw the truth.
---Zen saying
There ain't no answer. There ain't gonna be any answer. There never has been an answer. There's the answer.
---Gertrude Stein
Let Him be only that He is and as He is, and make Him no otherwise. Seek no further in Him but subtlety of wit.
---The Cloud Of Unknowing
The photo shows the soundboard and interior of the Trinity United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago. It appears at a blog entry by audio engineer Matt Satorius from last September. More about the church can be found at its website .
The response to Barack Obama's speech on Race In America has been all over the place. I thought the response would be almost as interesting and profound about us as the oration was about him. I needed some time to observe it and feel things settle inside my own being.
Nothing really confused me about the speech. I loved it. Some people know my own personal background with integration goes back to childhood---and I don't know why. My family didn't promote it particularly...and my mother discouraged relationships even with people who didn't have blue eyes, for Christ's sake! (I know some people from various races have blue eyes, but she didn't.) Once jazz entered my picture in the form of Benny Goodman's Sextet Session in 1947 or so, I knew integrated music was magnificent in every way---and represented democracy too.
I hadn't rushed right out to investigate Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons. I didn't need to. The man's name is Jeremiah, and I've read that book in the Bible. I grew into manhood hearing Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. I lived on Chicago's South Side during the summer of 1961, and trained for Freedom Rides. I knew there were streets there that, if I crossed over and walked on the other side, I could encounter Black Muslims who might insist I get back where I "belong." I'm not shocked by black rage and understand where it comes from. I understand white rage too, and resentment from any group that senses preference granted to another. But I like integration better, and celebration of differences.
My own experience of Chicago clouded my impression of what Mr. Obama's church might be like. I pictured something old and dark and maybe run down. I had heard yesterday that many professional African-Americans are members, but I figured even if the congregation was upscale it still probably was a humble facility. This morning I finally visited the website. The joke's on me.
Americans know what black worship is like. Everybody's at least seen The Blues Brothers I hope. It's a jumpin' joyous business! A preacher in there is a jazz solo to me. The guy takes off and goes. If he honks on that tenor, falls down on his back, still blowin' with his feet kicking in the air, that's the way it's done sometimes. And if you're into that way of expression, you know white players and red players and yellow players all do it too. And when it's done, everybody's let off steam---and hopefully nobody got hurt.
So if Barack Obama didn't like what his pastor said sometimes, why didn't he leave and go to some other church? I know there are people who stomp out of a church because they don't like the minister. That's happening in the Episcopal church---except we're too refined for anybody to "stomp." Episcopalians just sort of fade away...taking their checkbooks with them. But most people don't change churches because of that. They don't go to as many services maybe and wait for the guy to retire, but the church tends to be more important than the momentary management.
No, all of this hints the same old swift-boating we've probably become too accustomed to. Swift-boating to me means slipping some distraction, as Obama called it, into a political discussion and hoping it stumbles up the opponent. Michelle Obama reminded her audience here in Athens that her husband is an experienced veteran of Chicago politics. You don't emerge from a struggle with that power structure unless you have some skills rising above some dirty fighting. It seems to be so far Barack Obama has fielded every wild pitch. And when he's at the plate, he knocks 'em out of the park. That happened Tuesday. Representative John Conyers told talk show host Ed Schultz that his staff considered it the greatest speech since I Have A Dream.
What follows is my own review of response you can access on the Internet. In Ohio, I tend to watch 3 of our papers. (I don't respect the Columbus Dispatch usually.) The Toledo Blade has supported Obama, and yesterday carried the straight Associated Press version of the story. The Cincinnati Enquirer surprised me yesterday with an in depth study of response in that city. The article's entitled Was Pastor Misunderstood, and interviews a black minister there about what it's like to get blowback from your congregation. There's also the interesting viewpoint of a student in Cincinnati at the moment, who's a lifelong member of Rev. Wright's church. Even the Cleveland Plain Dealer confided the positive elements of the Obama address. Columnist Kevin O'Brien yesterday gave I think a balanced view.
This morning's New York Times has done a terrific job of scouring the media and blogs for reaction. Of real significance is their notice at presstime that 1.6 million clicks have occured at YouTube's version of the Obama speech. They mention even the Fox foghorn, Bill O'Reilly, had to admit that race has been a problem for America. Of special interest in the article are interviews with clergy and university profs about reaction they're getting. The Times yesterday had a glowing editorial about the speech titled Mr. Obama's Profile In Courage. Maureen Dowd confessed some skepticism though. Nicholas Kristof has a column this morning about the whole dialogue this topic is creating.
Dan Balz gives us a fine analysis of the speech and Obama's future in this morning's Washington Post. The Los Angeles Times' Michael Meyers, a black columnist, titles his provocative column this morning Obama Blew It,0,4038350.story . The San Francisco Chronicle shares the view of an Asian-American columnist this morning.
Now I guess I'd better get myself to work and see what things are like there. Happy Spring!

Sunday, March 16, 2008


I know what the great cure is: it is to give up, to relinquish, to surrender, so that our little hearts may beat in unison with the great heart of the world.

---Henry Miller

Wonderful! Wonderful!
New Year's morning
in the house where I was born.


For the raindrop, joy is in entering the river.


I thought Friday was particularly black. I envisioned it being called Black Friday someday. The bottom was dropping out of the American and world economy. Had anyone even bothered to construct a bottom for it? To save the day the Fed was starting to bail out greedy banks again...and using our taxes to do it. China was killing the marchers in Tibet. Bush overruled the Environmental Protection Agency, even in its pathetic weakened state, to benefit coal-fired power plants and other industries that emit ground-level ozone that gives us smog. I sent out and posted Tom Toles' cartoon for that day showing Uncle Sam in bed with a barrel of oil and oozing extra excitement at how expensive "she" was. It was a black day dawning.

I began to get replies to the cartoon from resonating friends. Reid Sinclair, a lecturer in management systems at OU and active Episcopalian in Appalachian ministries, sent me a copy of a letter from his brother-in-law in Houston. It so happens the man is none other than the esteemed Rolfian analyst Nicholas French. He was sharing the dour forecast of a close friend of his named Jim Swayze. I thought if these guys can feel bad too, I must not be completely out of synch.

Here's what Mr. Swayze had to say. His piece is called The Fallacy Of The Last Move~~~

Here we go again…

Elections are near at hand, and despite best efforts to blow it off, I find an old nagging bugaboo won’t leave me in peace, and so please allow me to write it out and be done. A warning: this has to do with nuclear arms, so some should be prepared for vehement disagreement, while others for another “ho hum.” I’ll even pre-warn that I plan to use another Einstein quote – sorry, but his fault he was so danged quotable. Something different, though, is that I plan to include an honest to goodness serious job for religion, giving it a project to work on, you might say. And with those few disclaimers, here we go…

When Carl Sagan died, I mourned his passing, but not that much. Since he has been gone, I find myself missing him very, very much. Surely, I mourn his loss more today than I did when he died. Sagan, as famous as he was, was vastly underrated by the public, probably because of his celebrity profile, always out-front with his “billions and billions.” Scientists knew better and so, in retrospect, I should have realized how much I would miss him. One of his favorite sayings was, “Extinction is the rule; survival the exception.”

A thousand years from now, people will look back at our age as the most critically important turning point in the history of mankind. There should not be a soul among us who would argue that statement, simply because if it is not said, it will be because there are no people around to say it.

I should explain the title to my little piece, “The fallacy of the last move.” It’s actually from game theory, and it has always been the overarching “theory” behind the nuclear arms race. It goes like this: say a player is studying a game board, about to make a move, and he thinks, “If this is to be the last move I can ever make, what should it be?” And do you see, therein lies the fallacy. Only if the move fails miserably in its objective will it truly be the last move the player can ever make. Otherwise, the opponent countermoves, sitting up yet one more “last move,” one more time. Reagan’s SDI, the Strategic Defense Initiative, Star Wars as it was “affectionately” known, was, or would have been, a prime example. To date, it was the stupidest idea the human mind has ever conceived, and it came from none other than my old arch-nemesis, Edward Teller. (Bush and Cheney’s bunker buster nuclear bombs may indeed be even stupider, but SDI still wins, simply by order of magnitude…and yes, those nuclear bunker busters are secretly being designed and built, despite what Congress says or thinks about it.) But let me explain what I mean about the SDI.

There are right now on the planet approximately 20,000 ICBMs with nuclear warheads poised and ready to strike, each capable of obliterating a large city. There are approximately 2,300 cities on the entire planet. In other words, do the math. (If you have not seen it, please watch the demonstration by Ben (of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream) at: . It only takes a few seconds and is worth the time.)

So what was so stupid about the SDI? It was to be a 20-year, trillion dollar project which, if successful, its proponents claimed would take out somewhere between 50% to 80% of missiles launched against the US. Great, huh? Now again, those numbers come from the people who wanted the SDI, not its opponents. So based on current technology – in other words assuming the pesky Russkies made no further enhancements to overcome the defense system, as well as assuming they didn’t decide on a preemptive launch before the system was completed – then of the approximately 10,000 missiles expected to head our way, maybe as few as a mere 2,000 would actually make it to target. Which, ta da!, would mean the SDI had been absolutely as successful as could ever have been hoped for!!!

Does anyone else get the sense of insanity in this way of thinking? The scientific community was up in arms against the SDI madness until finally, and thankfully, Congress did get the balls to pull the funding, thus stopping it at least this one time (also remember the hawks later used its cancellation as justification for stopping work on the supercollider), but that doesn’t mean that a trillion dollars a year has since not continued to be spent around the world in refining and enhancing those damned bombs. They still exist and if there is one law of the universe that never fails, it is that nothing goes to waste. If they exist when the time comes, and it will come, they will be used.

But it is election year once again, and soon we will be electing the 11th consecutive President who buys into this insanity. Eleven who have not figured out that when we invent something fancier, the Russians, or more likely Chinese now, invent it back, followed by us inventing something even fancier (and more expensive), which is again reinvented back, and on and on, one last move after another until we finally make one which succeeds by failing. All in the name of a “strong defensive posture,” as we so bravely call it. And then of course, there is the cost. Hundreds of billions of dollars diverted annually from health and education and human welfare programs like Social Security to maintain weapons systems which, if ever used, can and most probably will destroy us and everything else on the planet.

Why does the madness not stop? Lack of leadership, of course, but it runs deeper than that. For one thing, the military-industrial complex of which Eisenhower warned us, without the support of which no one can get elected, but it runs still deeper than that. It’s a cultural problem, maybe even, heaven help us, a genetic problem. There are many ways to begin an explanation of what I mean, but let me choose this one:

One of the most sacred things we humans do is revere our ancestors. This is an old, old trait, no doubt hundreds of thousands of years old, and why not? It makes sense. Wisdom comes with age and why not listen to the old timers who have been through it all? “Our fathers taught us…” Isn’t that how it begins? Let’s think a little more about that. In the beginning were the small tribes, fighting for survival, figuring out ways to defend what they had as well as take what they wanted, and so there existed what I will term intergenerational wisdom to be had and passed on. The wisdom accrued, and so we learned to listen in order to prevent making the same mistakes. But back then life advanced so slowly that intergenerational wisdom worked well. Spears which made excellent weapons 100,000 years ago were still working well into the 19th century.

Since I like using religious examples, let me do so here. Look at science. The Old Testament was written down during the Babylonian Captivity 2,600 years ago, and the writers wrote into it the prevailing science of the times. According to the Bible, the world is flat and the sky is a multi-layered crystalline affair with water surrounding everything. Back then, the world needed people so the word was, “Go forth and multiply,” and boy, did they ever!

All that began to change with the Industrial Revolution when things began to change faster and faster until now, even our birth fathers can’t recognize today’s world of electronics and light speed gadgetry. Crises in population, crises in natural resources, crises in civilizations now exist which the wizened ancients never dreamed of! Intragenerational change: that’s the term I use for today’s world, intra- for the need to adapt to changes occurring within each generation. Intergenerational is hopelessly outmoded and long past the time it should have been laid to rest. It is time we start thinking for ourselves, while we still have the chance.

Now it’s time to talk about religion. Who can lead us toward a new horizon of peace and stability? Certainly not the politicians. They are bought and paid for and trapped in yesterday’s world. Establishment hawks say the idea of disarmament is foolishly naïve. Their strength is fear. President Bush may not be the brightest light in the White House, but he is smart enough to know that if he can scare you badly enough, he can lead you anywhere. Fear is the strongest of the emotions. I only know of one anodyne to fear and that is faith. Yes, this is the place religion should stand and be counted.

I would mention here Christianity’s vaunted Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As well as the other old bromide, “Love thy neighbor.” I hear these sayings repeated ad nauseam in our supposedly Christian country, and yet I have yet to see anyone meet the standard. Or even come close. I mean, seriously, do we not have the right to expect our clergy to practice what they preach? We have a sitting President who believes the creation of the state of Israel along with the Middle East crisis portends Armageddon and the Rapture! And we are about to elect another who half-believes it, so the threat of self-fulfilling prophecy is not going anywhere. Where did they learn that crap? From the pulpit! And you may think from pulpits like Jerry Falwell’s but I can tell you G. W. is a card carrying member of mainstream Highland Park Methodist Church, where he will be returning next year. I mean, whatever happened to “world without end”? No, it is high time for the clergy of this country to lead the way into the 21st century with a real Come to Jesus movement, but this time for the good of mankind, a concept that seems to have gotten lost somewhere between the Gospels and Revelations.

I mentioned genetics, and it is true that we are no more than the meanest of animals (by which I mean ignoble! You all know I love critters). But like animals, we have within us both the competitive savage and compassionate kindness. Our failing has always been in how to choose between the two, and too often it has been a choice made by emotion. We can hardly afford that anymore. Time has come to use rational thought in deciding whether to unleash the killer within or to back off and turn the other cheek. In the final analysis, this, and things like this, should be common sense decisions. Emotions based on the morals and perceptions which are 2,600 years out of date are going to get us all vaporized.

Einstein (sorry, but here it comes) asked the only question which really matters: “What is the alternative?” By that he means if we do not, if we cannot, change then we are doomed, and therefore, there is no alternative. But just getting rid of nuclear weapons alone does not solve the problem. We humans are very, very clever at killing and we will find other ways if the nukes are gone. This is a key aspect when I spoke of a turning point in history: our ability to make informed, perceptively intellectual decisions based on compassion and the preservation of our species. Doing so involves a change in human psyche, change which entails the question of which side, killer or compassionate human, gets precedence in the teaching promoted by our government, our schools, and most importantly by our churches.

It will not be easy. Sagan was right: extinction is the normal course of the universe, and only by great fortune does life continue. The bishop of the Catholic diocese of Amarillo, in a remarkable show of courage, told his flock that it was immoral to work at the nuclear weapons plant there. To my knowledge, not a single person quit. But that bishop stood alone and was widely objurgated, even within the Church. He needed the support, not just of the Church but of all Christianity. In my eyes, that he stood alone encapsulates the weakness of the Christian religion. Let’s hope it finds its true moral path soon.

With that, I will stop. Short and sweet, sort of. Don’t get me wrong: I expect the game to continue to the bitter end. That’s the way we humans do things: we react to catastrophe, we don’t prevent it. Only this time I doubt anything will be left to react to. I am merely the really bad salesman who says, “You don’t really want to buy this, do you?” It just seems like someone ought to be making some sort of sales pitch, and so now you have mine.


Then Bob Sheak wrote. I quote him all the time, largely because he's certainly the most well-read person I know...especially in all areas of his fields of anthropology and sociology. He titled his message Unrestrained Debauchery...but, get ready for HOPE, watch how he concludes this~~~

As I wake up here, I'm stunned by the cartoon's aptness, a small symbol of what powerful interest groups, corporate capitalists, neo-cons, and an assortment of tens of millions of other fellow travelers are doing to us. Cartoons like the one you sent give me a momentary relief from what is unfolding around us. A bit of fleeting sunlight. But this bigger reality seems to be happening so fast: record setting oil prices, rising prices in food, medical services, prescription drugs, a falling dollar, approaching a $10 trillion national debt, continuing movement of jobs abroad, more coal-fired plants, a snail's pace in gains in fuel efficiency, water problems, a collapsing infrastructure, deforestation, degradation of soils, food contaminated with all sorts of junk, an unchallenged military establishment and budget, a war based on delusions, the ludicrous call for more nuclear power. It goes on. You know well the long list. Amidst all this, a laugh is good but fleeting, though it can be extended through the retelling or savored in a quiet moment, but not without its irony. It serves to conjure up more vividly what is enveloping us. Ironical, funny, uplifting, relief, a good cartoon deserves another cartoon or, at least, an uplifting thought.

The setting for the uplifting thought came with Dahr Jamail, occasional guest on Democracy Now and author of the recent book, Beyond the Green Zone, who appeared on C-Span not too long ago. Jamail has spent years in Iraq covering the US occupation, in places like Fallujah. From first-hand experience, he describes how the occupation has caused enormous harm. At the end of his presentation, he referred to the following poem by Marge Piercy so as not to leave the audience with a complete sense of doom and gloom.


The low road

What can they doto you? Whatever they want.They can set you up, they canbust you, they can breakyour fingers, they canburn your brain with electricity,blur you with drugs till youcan't walk, can't remember, they cantake your child, wall upyour lover. They can do anythingyou can't stop themfrom doing. How can you stopthem? Alone, you can fight,you can refuse, you cantake what revenge you canbut they roll over you.

But two people fightingback to back can cut througha mob, a snake-dancing filecan break a cordon, an armycan meet an army.

Two people can keep each othersane, can give support, conviction,love, massage, hope, sex.Three people are a delegation,a committee, a wedge. With fouryou can play bridge and startan organization. With sixyou can rent a whole house,eat pie for dinner with noseconds, and hold a fund raising party.A dozen make a demonstration.A hundred fill a hall.A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;ten thousand, power and your own paper;a hundred thousand, your own media;ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,it starts when you careto act, it starts when you doit again and they said no,it starts when you say Weand know you who you mean, and eachday you mean one more.

-Marge Piercy

From "The Moon is Always Female", published byAlfred A. Knopf, Copyright 1980 by Marge Piercy.

Well, the Piercy poem certainly set me up for spending all day yesterday in Columbus, where there were two meetings we wanted to get to. The first was in the offices of America Votes Ohio, where a quarterly meeting of various progressive groups and coalitions all over the state was scheduled. I particularly like supporting this group because it is multi-generational, and seems to be getting stronger and more innovative all the time. The young people at the helm of our branch of America Votes are smart, open, and great organizers. I love to participate in this kind of dialogue---and there's one guy there from Licking County who's even older than me! I was beginning to cheer up.

Unfortunately we had to leave early to get to the second one. This was around the corner and less than a mile to Broad Street Presbyterian Church, where the first public meeting of the newly forming Ohio Interfaith Power And Light was gathering. Interfaith Power And Light, or The Regeneration Project, began 10 years ago when the Episcopal priest Sally Bingham started a group of spiritual concern for environmental issues in her church in California. Outreach went to other churches, and now there are 4000 congregations, synagogues, temples, ashrams involved in 26 states. The illustrations from their splash page decorate this article.

Reverend Canon Bingham was the keynote speaker yesterday, and it was easy to catch her inspiration. I picked up so much information at the exhibits that I need to do more research before I can write about these developments with any authority. There were a number of alternative energy groups and startups there as well, and we left feeling this is a great moment of hope in Ohio---and apparently elsewhere in the country. High time too, since so much of Europe is far ahead of us. I'm particularly impressed with the website and new publication of Green Energy Ohio, which give current updates on both technological and legislative progress.

It's good for me to feel hopeful on Palm Sunday. This is the day we celebrate the humble entrance into the Big City by a small-town young man, whose rising fame made this arrival inevitable. And there also were all those prophecies. He went straight to the temple, and waded directly into the corruption he found there. Confrontation with the Big Money, and we have a lesson---even in gloomy times---a lesson of Hope we must remember and act upon.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

What Will It Take?

In the photo, President Nixon greets released POW Lt। Commander John McCain, future U.S. Senator, upon his return from years in a North Vietnamese prison camp, 1973.
Our lives are lived in intense and anxious struggle, in a swirl of speed and aggression, in competing, grasping, possessing, and achieving, forever burdening ourselves with extraneous activities and preoccupations.

---Sogyal Rinpoche

Awareness of emptiness brings forth the heart of compassion.

---Gary Snyder

Simplifying our lives does not mean sinking into idleness, but on the contrary, getting rid of the most subtle aspect of laziness: the one which makes us take on thousands of less important activities.

---Matthieu रिकार्ड

We were sitting out Saturday afternoon, trapped in our house by the storm that buried the Ohio Valley in rain, flood, sleet, hail, ice, inches of new snow, and a whopper of a thunderstorm in the middle of the night. Only emergency vehicles were allowed on the roads. We were putting off clearing the driveway yet again and hauling more wood for the stoves...maybe until the power went down as the final stroke of doom. But the electric stayed on for some unknown reason, so Dana was on the computer hunting the blogosphere for news of potential Diebold corruption of primary results. There had been increasing rumors through the week about this, and everywhere I went the buzz was Republicans crossing over to vote on the Democratic side. Some were doing it because they were fed up with their own party, but others were trying to screw the results so that Hillary will go up against McCain. I figured who knows who is who...and it's hopeless, and I was trying not to think about it.

But I also knew Diebold was being mentioned again, the company that makes the legislatively mandated voting machines. The business suffered such colossal blowback from corruption charges after 2004, that they changed the name to Premier. But what, if anything, was done about it? Some states, like California and Ohio, got busy and started throwing them out. But was Diebold at work controlling who wins? Blogs were saying it was Diebold and not the voters that delivered Tuesday's results to Clinton. The satirical site got the biggest laughs of the week, claiming Diebold accidentally leaked the results of the '08 Presidential race. The New York Times combined its story of the spoof with the news that mighty defense contractor United Technologies is trying to buy out Diebold. If the military runs the elections, what do we have? And is there any significance in the fact Hillary's chief pollster is CEO of the public relations company that Diebold uses? So what have the bloggers come up with?

Of course continues to hammer away, as he has done for the past 4 years, on stolen elections through computer tinkering. The one Dana found yesterday though is by some guy who used to work as an engineer in a company for 15 years, until he uncovered dark, inner secrets at the place. His name is Bill Noxid, and it's possible he's part of . His blog entry Thursday seeks to prove Diebold handed Ohio to Clinton. In that article is a referenced link to his analysis of the New Hampshire primary, which has a county-by-county statistical breakdown. One flustered reader at the blog left the comment I decided to use as a title: What will it take?

Well yeah, that's what I've been waiting for! When is the Congress or some reputable news organization going to go after this? (I get accused of being naive a lot.) It was at this point that an interesting coincidence occured. While Dana was working the computer, I was in the next room watching the commentary by Oliver Stone for his 1995 film Nixon. There are TWO commentaries by Stone in the collector's edition which restores 30 minutes of footage to a film already about 3 hours long. The purpose of the commentaries is for the director of such films as Salvador, Wall Street, Platoon, JFK, and Born On The Fourth Of July, to provide documentation for his extraordinary biography of the 37th President of the United States. What scenes are word-for-word transcripts, what are composites, and what did Oliver Stone actually make up "out of wholecloth," as he says? The coincidental point shows, early in 1969, the Cabinet is floating around on a yacht, and Nixon announces he's going "to give history a nudge" and bomb Cambodia. Somebody worries, "What about congressional oversight?" and Nixon replies, "F--k congressional oversight!" Stone maintains, in the commentary reportedly recorded in 1999, Nixon actually said it.

The implication for the matter at hand, of course, is that Congress hasn't been able to control the Executive Branch for 40 years---and if we count J. Edgar Hoover and CIA overthrows, longer than that. All that's in the restored film, plus the hazy, secret budgets of those organizations and the Pentagon, and the crucial downfall of Cambodia to further plans for restored relations with China. Many credit that move with the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union during Reagan's tenure. What finally undid Nixon and brought forward the Watergate Hearings was not Congressional oversight. It was 2 years of seige upon the White House by student and activist demonstrators. And with that mood to bolster them it was 2 relentless journalists. Blogging's not the same and it won't do it. Even the bumper sticker I saw the other day and like a lot ("Sorry W, I'M the decider: Vote Democrat '08") isn't going to do it. It's what it's always been. It's what tyranny cannot avoid. People in the streets.

Last month Scientific American, which I imagine is reputable enough for anybody (except believers in "church science"), published an article about E-voting technology. Below the title the editors remind us, "Eight years after the controversial 2000 presidential election, electronic voting systems still fail to deliver on their promise of accuracy and security." The article concludes~~~
Whereas certain technology—such as pacemakers and other medical devices—are heavily regulated and must adhere to strict design and construction standards, voting machines are still mostly unregulated. "There's no validation of how the software for these systems is designed and built," (Seth) Hallem (CEO of Coverity, Inc., the San Francisco–based maker of the source code analysis software that SAIT used during its probe of Diebold's system) says, adding that this is "surprising given the importance of voting machines to our national infrastructure."
This has caused problems throughout the U.S. as different states attempt to assess the effectiveness of their e-voting technology. Following a review of e-voting machine security vulnerabilities and source code, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen in August decertified all e-voting machines in her state, other than those designed for disabled voters. Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner recently released the results of a probe into her state's electronic voting systems that concluded they, too, were riddled with "critical security failures" that could impact the integrity of elections.
"In the year 2000, when the Florida election went nuts, there were some electronic systems, but by and large the vast majority was done on handwritten ballots and punch ballots," SAIT co-director Yasinsac says. In the wake of the controversy, e-voting was held up as a way to restore integrity to the process. "We pushed this technology even though it was not ready," he adds. "Much of the software that the machines used is more than 10 years old and has been revised heavily, making it harder to review."
Any significant changes in election technology will come too late for this year's bid for the White House. In states such as Maryland, where Democratic Governor Martin O'Malley has proposed spending $6.8 million to buy new optical-scan machines to improve the accuracy of that state's elections, the technology will not be ready to go until 2010. Meantime, legislation introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives last year by Rep. Rush Holt [D–N.J.] that would require voter-verified permanent paper ballots (amending the tech-friendly but misguided Help America Vote Act of 2002) is languishing in committee and will not impact this year's elections.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Energy Efficiency Makeover: One Homeowner's Story

Coastal ice melts in the city of Longyearbyen, in Norway's Svalbard Islands, on Feb. 27, 2008. Record-high temperatures have left people here wondering whether the melting ice is all a fluke in the fluctuating weather system, or a troubling sign of a warming world. (AP Photo/John McConnico) Full story here
Energy efficiency---using improved technology and operations to deliver the same energy services with less fuel---is the foundation on which all of our other recommendations are based.
---Sierra Club Energy Policy Statement
When you do something, you should burn completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.
---Shunryu Suzuki
My religion is to live and die without regret.
The March-April newsletter of the Appalachian Ohio Group of the Sierra Club is out. A feature article in Footnotes From The Foothills this time was written by my wife to describe weatherization work she initiated on our house last summer. It was a major operation, employed 3 different workcrews (sometimes all at once) and cost a lot. There's a teeny tax credit you can get for this stuff, but mostly we did it to reduce our footprint and hopefully save money in the long run.
Energy Efficiency MakeoverBy Dana Carlson
Last summer, we bit the bullet. Our circa 1969 ranch house needed a new roof and gutters at the very least---and with the drought already well under way in May 2007, it seemed prudent to think about rainwater catchment.
Other droughts we'd been through in our 10 years here have meant cutting back significantly on water use to avoid a dry well: doing laundry in town, using grey water for flushing toilets, letting the garden dry up, washing dishes in a gallon of water, 'showering' with a couple of gallons in a portable camp shower.
We finally invested in a couple of stock tanks to fill with water from a small seasonal stream by the garden so that we could have some water resources for the garden during dry times, but that was spit in a bucket during a drought like '07. We were near to paying off our mortgage and, after some discussion of the pros and cons, decided that we'd suck it up and take out a home equity loan---as long as we were having the roof done, we might as well put our money where our environmental sensibilities were and get an energy audit and retrofit.
My brother recommended R.W. Davis to do the work. R.W. had saved our lives back when we'd moved into the house: the furnace was suspect and we'd had him check it. His machine detected dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, so he'd installed a high-efficiency propane furnace at that time. He also told us we should do some weatherization of the ducts and crawl space. R.W. had previously worked with COAD Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development), and in the ten years since installing the furnace, he'd formed an energy audit/weatherization business called ECS Group.
After a walk-through of the house (checking insulation, windows, etc.), he did a blower door test (to detect leakage) and gave us a workup of possible fixes using the NEAT (National Energy Audit Tool) software to determine the most cost-effective retrofits.
We ended up having the crawl space sealed with two-part foam ($2200), the ductwork sealed ($225), air seal bandjoists ($550), cellulose insulation blown in the attic ($950), low-flow showerheads installed, a timer put on the water heater, new bathroom fans, and sealing around electrical sockets and ceiling lights. We also had two ultra low-flow Toto toilets put in ($600 each).
R.W. and I also tossed around the idea of replacing the windows and five sets of sliding glass doors. He suggested framing in at least two doors and putting smaller windows in to save significantly on energy loss. We contracted with Quality Windows (Pomeroy) to have all the windows/doors replaced with R10 triple pane vinyl windows.
This was the most expensive retrofit at $18,000, including a 9' three panel sliding door, two 6' sliding doors, 20 windows and two 6' doors framed in. Finally, at the same time the roof and gutters were redone, we had the gutters re-routed to empty into a 450 gallon water tank on one side of the house and a 550 gallon tank under the deck for rainwater catchment. This water can be used for the garden and toilets, and if necessary, filtered for drinking.
We made the decision to have this work done for environmental reasons--- we wanted to significantly decrease our use of carbon-based energy and, of course, we wanted to save money on utility bills.
We'd had a solar-wind power evaluation done and were told neither one would be suitable for our poorly solar-sited house, so weatherization was our option.
The good news is that our propane consumption has decreased by almost half. Our electrical use has also decreased significantly--- thanks to use of compact fluorescents and using power strips to turn off phantom loads--- and using drying racks in the winter and clotheslines in the summer instead of the dryer. We expect to recoup the money we put into the retrofit within 10 years, probably sooner, if energy prices climb as expected.