Saturday, March 12, 2011

Energy Audit Your Home: A Lenten Carbon Fast Challenge

The old hotwater tank
sprung a leak, forcing
us to upgrade and save energy
Today's Lenten Carbon Fast challenge:

"Get a home energy audit from your local utility company. Find out how you can save resources and money by making small, inexpensive improvements to your home. Find out more from NSTAR and Energy Star"

This one happens to be easier for us than for most people, since we just bought a house in 2010. In the process, we looked at all the energy it used and pondered ways to reduce.
As luck would have it, the wash machine promptly died, forcing us to replace it. Luckily, we had a little extra cash and got ourselves a new, state-of-the-art Energy-Star rated machine. This gave us a nice tax credit to offset some of the price, and the water use is much less than with the older machine. Most of the water savings comes from it having a drum that rotates around a horizontal axis, rather than the traditional vertical access. Only the bottom of the drum gets filled with water, and the spinning tosses the clothes in and out of the water. It works great!
Also, the new machine has cheery electronic tones to signal its starting and stopping. This is much more pleasant than the old buzzer. Improving the sonic environment can be a neglected consideration, but it is important!
A few months later, luck struck again as the hot water tank died. Again, we got a nice, Energy-Statr rated replacement. Our electricity bills have ben noticably lower!

How I Got to Madison, Wisconsin ...a letter from Michael Moore

Reprinted, with permission. Because, in your heart, you know he's right!

"Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Early yesterday morning, around 1:00 AM, I had finished work for the day on my current "project" (top secret for now -- sorry, no spoiler alerts!). Someone had sent me a link to a discussion Bill O'Reilly had had with Sarah Palin a few hours earlier about my belief that the money the 21st Century rich have absconded with really isn't theirs -- and that a vast chunk of it should be taken away from them.

They were referring to comments I had made earlier in the week on a small cable show called GRITtv (Part 1 and Part 2). I honestly didn't know this was going to air that night (I had been asked to stop by and say a few words of support for a nurses union video), but I spoke from my heart about the millions of our fellow Americans who have had their homes and jobs stolen from them by a criminal class of millionaires and billionaires. It was the morning after the Oscars, at which the winner of Best Documentary for "Inside Job" stood at the microphone and declared, "I must start by pointing out that three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail. And that's wrong." And he was applauded for saying this. (When did they stop booing Oscar speeches? Damn!)

So GRITtv ran my comments -- and all week the right wingopoly has been upset over what I said: That the money that the rich have stolen (or not paid taxes on) belongs to the American people. Drudge/Limbaugh/Beck and even Donald Trump went nuts, calling me names and suggesting I move to Cuba.

So in the wee hours of yesterday morning I sat down to write an answer to them. By 3:00 AM, it had turned into more of a manifesto of class war -- or, I should say, a manifesto against the class war the rich have been conducting on the American people for the past 30 years. I read it aloud to myself to see how it sounded (trying not to wake anyone else in the apartment) and then -- and this is why no one should be up at 3:00 AM -- the crazy kicked in: I needed to get in the car and drive to Madison and give this speech.
I went online to get directions and saw that there was no official big rally planned like the one they had last Saturday and will have again next Saturday. Just the normal ongoing demonstration and occupation of the State Capitol that's been in process since February 12th (the day after Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt) to protest the Republican governor's move to kill the state's public unions.

So, it's three in the morning and I'm a thousand miles from Madison and I see that the open microphone for speakers starts at noon. Hmm. No time to drive from New York. I was off to the airport. I left a note on the kitchen table saying I'd be back at 9:00 PM. Called a friend and asked him if he wanted to meet me at the Delta counter. Called the guy who manages my website, woke him up, and asked him to track down the coordinators in Madison and tell them I'm on my way and would like to say a few words if possible -- "but tell them if they've got other plans or no room for me, I'll be happy just to stand there holding a sign and singing Solidarity Forever."

So I just showed up. The firefighters, hearing I'm there, ask me to lead their protest parade through downtown Madison. I march with them, along with John Nichols (who lives in Madison and writes for the Nation). Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and the great singer Michelle Shocked have also decided to show up.

The scene in Madison is nothing like what they are showing you on TV or in the newspaper. First, you notice that the whole town is behind this. Yard signs and signs in store windows are everywhere supporting public workers. There are thousands of people out just randomly lining the streets for the six blocks leading to the Capitol building carrying signs, shouting and cheering and cajoling. Then there are stages and friendly competing demos on all sides of the building (yesterday's total estimate of people was 50,000-70,000, the smallest one yet)! A big semi truck has been sent by James Hoffa of the Teamsters and is parked like a don't-even-think-of-effing-with-us Sherman tank on the street in front of the Capitol. There is a long line -- separate from these other demonstrations -- of 4,000 people, waiting their turn to get through the only open door to the Capitol so they can join the occupation inside.

And inside the Rotunda is ... well, it will bring tears to your eyes if you go there. It's like a shrine to working people -- to what America is and should be about -- packed with families and kids and so many senior citizens that it made me happy for science and its impact on life expectancy over the past century. There were grandmas and great-grandpas who remember FDR and Wisconsin's La Follette and the long view of this struggle. Standing in that Rotunda was like a religious experience. There had been nothing like it, for me, in decades.

And so it was in this setting, out of doors now on the steps of the Capitol, with so many people in front of me that I couldn't see where they ended, that I just "showed up" and gave a speech that felt unlike any other I had ever given. As I had just written it and had no time to memorize it, I read from the pages I brought with me. I wanted to make sure that the words I had chosen were clear and exact. I knew they had the potential to drive the haters into a rabid state (not a pretty sight) but I also feared that the Right's wealthy patrons would see a need to retaliate should these words be met with citizen action across the land. I was, after all, putting them on notice: We are coming after you, we are stopping you and we are going to return the money/jobs/homes you stole from the people. You have gone too far. It's too bad you couldn't have been satisfied with making millions, you had to have billions -- and now you want to strip us of our ability to talk and bargain and provide. This is your tipping point, Wall Street; your come-to-Jesus moment, Corporate America. And I'm glad I'm going to be able to be a witness to it.

You can find the written version of my speech on my website. Please read it and pass it around far and wide. You can also watch a video of me giving the spoken version from the Capitol steps by clicking here. I will be sending you a second email shortly with just the speech so you can forward a clean version of it without the above story of how I abandoned my family in the middle of the night to go to Wisconsin for the day.

I can't express enough the level of admiration I have for the people of Wisconsin who, for three weeks, have braved the brutal winter cold and taken over their state Capitol. All told, literally hundreds of thousands of people have made their way to Madison to make their voices heard. It all began with high school students cutting class and marching on the building (you can read their reports on my High School Newspaper site). Then their parents joined them. Then 14 brave Democratic state senators left the state so the governor wouldn't have his quorum.

And all this while the White House was trying to stop this movement (read this)!

But it didn't matter. The People's train had left the station. And now protests were springing up in all 50 states.

The media has done a poor job covering this (imagine a takeover of the government HQ in any other country, free or totalitarian -- our media would be all over it). But this one scares them and their masters -- as it should. The organizers told me this morning that my showing up got them more coverage yesterday than they would have had, "a shot in the arm that we needed to keep momentum going." Well, I'm glad I could help. But they need a lot more than just me -- and they need you doing similar things in your own states and towns.

How 'bout it? I know you know this: This is our moment. Let's seize it. Everyone can do something.


Michael Moore

P.S. This local Madison paper/blog captured best what happened yesterday, and got what I'm really up to. Someone please send this to O'Reilly and Palin so there's no mistaking my true intentions.

P.P.S. Full disclosure: I am a proud union member of four unions: the Directors Guild, the Writers Guild, the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA (the last two have passed resolutions supporting the workers in Wisconsin). My production company has signed union contracts with five unions (and soon to be a 6th). All my full-time employees have full medical and dental insurance with NO DEDUCTIBLE. So, yes, I'm biased.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Minimizing Standby Energy Use: Lenten Carbon Fast Challenge Day 3

Today's Lenten Carbon Fast challenge:
Address your "standby" habits. Unplug mobile phone chargers and any unused appliances. 8% of electricity consumed at home is from "vampire" appliances that we aren't even using.
Now THIS is one of my favorite things: saving electricity by unplugging unused applicances. But instead of physically unplugging things, I use the easy way out: I plug them into power strips. Then I can just flip the switch and effectively "unplug" several gadgets at once.

This has an incidental function of surge protection and also getting my various electronic things nicely organized.

WARNING: there is ONE exception to this rule. My internet connection seems to go fluky if repeated  power cycled. It got to the point, a few years back, that after a couple hundred power cycles, it would take several hours for the internet box to restore its connection. A tech finally hinted that I just had to leave it on all the time, or the problem would get steadily worse.

Otherwise, before I go to bed I run a circuit. I check the doors to make sure they're locked. I check the catfood dishes, to make sure they're need. And I flip the power bars "off" so I'm not burning juice all night. It's easy and, in a way, a comforting little evening ritual!

Corruption: Independent Expenditures in Judicial Races!

Anyone who thought that John Grisham's "The Appeal" was fiction should look at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which will undoubtedly be ruling on some pretty important issues in the near future.

Not really fiction:
How you can buy
a state court judge
It's an elected court. Four incumbents, lead by a guy named Prosser, voted in 2009 for a rule that "independent expenditures" in his favor do not require a judge to recuse himself from a case involving the guy who spent the money:

Now, any idiot can tell that if someone spends huge money in your election, he's going to expect something in return. The ethical standard for judges is not merely ACTUAL corruption; it is not the mere APPEARANCE of corruption; it is not mere ACTUAL conflict of interest; the standard by which a judge should recuse him or herself from a case is the APPEARANCE of a possible conflict of interest.

What kind of idiot would think that a judge who votes on a matter affecting someone who contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to support his campaign does not appear to have a possible conflict of interest?

Be serious. Is there a rational human being on our planet who sincerely thinks that a judge who has taken a wad of cash from someone might not APPEAR to have the POSSIBILITY of a conflict of interest?

Judge have to be more than objective; they have to appear to be objective - otherwise the system breaks. And it's not as if any the recusal of a judge stops the appeallate case. The law is supposed to be objective; if a judge recuses himself, no worry; there are six or eight others who can rule according to the law - without the appearance of a possible conflict of interest. Therefore, the ONLY reason a recused judge would want to vote on a matter where there is an apparant conflict of interest would be to cast a vote contrary to law.

By AMAZING COINCEDENCE Prosser is getting BIG MONEY for his election in April 2011:
I'm not going to tell Wisconsin voters whether Prosser is corrupt; that's something they can work out on their own. But I *am* telling voters throughout our nation to pay attention - our elected judiciary is in danger of becoming just another pack of sellouts.

EDITTED: as I predicted, an "independent expenditure" group from the Koch brothers is spending more than a million in the Prosser/Kloppenberg race, see "Koch Brothers' Heavy Hand"

Law And The Multiverse: Superheroes and the Law

James Daily and Ryan Davidson's delightful Law and the Multiverse, a blog on the legal issues that comes up with superheroes and supervillians, reports:
"Law and the Multiverse has inspired another episode of Pro Bono Radio, a program of CFRC, the radio station of Queen’s University. The episode can be downloaded here. Interspersed between law-themed superhero radio show parodies, the hosts discuss mind control, the necessity defense, and indestructibility and factual impossibility. We think you’ll enjoy hearing about the Canadian perspective on these issues. The radio show parodies are pretty funny, too."
 Law and the Multiverse is worth following on its own, but this program from Queen's helps explain odd bits of law in a memorable way.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lightening Up Helps With Light Out: Today's Lenten Carbon Fast Challenge

Bathroom Fixture,
Featuring Devil Ducky Option
Today's Lenten Carbon Fast challenge:
Remove one light bulb from your home. Live without it for the rest of this "carbon fast". This will decrease energy use and act as a reminder of why we are doing this. In addition, make a point of turning off lights when you leave a room or that you don't really need to have on. This simple act could save 55 lbs of CO2 emissions a year.
By complete coincedence, I just today noticed one of the bulbs in our bathroom fixture burned out. I had not expected this, since it's a compact flourescent and they're supposed to last a long time; perhaps it was damaged in the move.
I don't know when the burnout occurred, which is proof that we can do just as well without the extra light, and therefore the extra wasted energy. It may be significant that we'd repainted the bathroom in a light color; when we bought the house, the bathroom's oxblood red walls gave the room a dark and odd appearance. Perhaps the former darker walls simply needed more light, which suggests today's lesson from lighting: it may take less energy to light a room painted brightly than one dominated by light-absorbing colors.
Because this is a bathroom light, it is illuminated only a short time of day.
Please note the glow-in-the-dark devil ducky hanging from the mirror, which serves as additional source of illumination ;-)

Seattle Draft And Military Counseling Center Elevator Speech

As you probably know, servicemembers, veterans and their families frequently encounter legal and related issues associated with their service. When they want to get objective information about their rights from someplace other than a government agency, (whether from concerns of privacy or for some other reason), they may call the GI Rights Network, an informal association of volunteer organizations across the United States. Seattle Draft and Military Counseling Center is the Washington State "node" of the Network.

Various factors, such as the accelerated operational tempo of the last decade, have lead to a gap between the resources needed to assist callers to SDMCC and the volunteer resources available. SDMCC would like to work with Seattle University and other educational institutions to train volunteers for SDMCC and organizations with compatible missions, such as "Coffee Strong" in Tacoma. This will help us reach our goal of serving all callers in a timely and effective way. In addition, as students graduate and some move elsewhere, the information and experience received may be of help elsewhere.
SDMCC grew out of the peace movement and much of our history proudly reflects that origin. However, many of our volunteers are former servicemembers and/or current members of military families, and we enjoy a full spectrum of volunteer motivations. The only requirement is a commitment to serve the caller; for example, whether a caller wishes to stay in the service or to leave the service, our job is to provide the information that helps the caller make an informed decision.
I am eager to listen to SU's Veteran's Club, to hear how you think we might work together, to meet whatever goals you may have as a group or individually, in service to our community."

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A nation that cuts education cuts its own throat

We live in a world where education is key to the health of the nation. The movement afoot to cripple education in the name of saving money is irrational or unpatriotic.

I understand the motivation of the greedy faction of the Aristocracy. They have a lot, and they want more, and they don't care who they hurt to get it. It helps them for people to be uneducated; the Greatest Generation used the GI Bill to become the most educated generation in America to date, and they challenged the Aristocracy's rule. This lead to the ferment of the 1960s, and the Aristocracy didn't like it. It responded with a long campaign to destroy America's educational system. Reagan, in the pay of the oil barons, started the process of defunding California's previously free college system, and others followed.

Now Republican governors are, Moff Tarkin-like, assuming dictatorial powers and smashing the educational systems of Michigan, Florida and elsewhere. This can have only one result: America falls.
Why should the Aristocracy care? When America is reduced to a third world nation, with a few gated communities patrolled by heavily armed guards, surrounded by a sea of poorly educated, poorly fed unemployed Americans, they can just take helicopters or limos whereever they want. They are not patriots.
Not all rich people are this way. I know many rich people who are quite great citizens and have lead the way in fighting poverty, and so forth. Good for them! No-one could blame Gates and Penn and Jolie if they sat on lawn chairs and blew their money on mile-high chocolates, but they choose to use their hard-earned wealth and fame to help others. That's great!
The fall of America would be a great tragedy but we don't have to allow it. The Aristocracy may have overplayed its hand, by installing governors of a crude and unsubtle nature. Wisconsin Scott Walker, ejected from college for cheating, is likely to be recalled. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is using a fiscal crisis created by his tax cuts as an excuse to install an administration-selected manager who can dissolve school districts and towns without a vote of their people, a move likely to result in the ejection from power of his allies. And Governor Rick Scott of Florida, who presided over some of the most expensive felonies in American history, is not only cutting education but giving the money to his corporate buddies - he's not even pretending to cut the state deficit - it's purely a gift - graft on a scale that would make Boss Tweed blush!
These three corrupt Governors, and more accross our nation, are sacrificing America's educational system to enrich their friends. I don't know how this will play out, but one thing is clear: without education, our nation is in big trouble. That makes these Governors and their political movement among the greatest threats to the future of our nation.

Michigan Sells Itself: Disaster Capitalism Lives!

Michigan is posed to enact a law giving the governor the power to appoint an Emergency Financial Manager for any town, with the power to re-write any contract written by any local government, dis-incorporate towns and school districts (thus firing elected officials), so long as he first declares there is a financial emergency.

By a most amazing coincedence, Michigan has also passed a number of tax cuts that are very likely to create a financial emergency in many of Michican's towns.

Text of bill - note that it REQUIRES that a majority of the "Michigan Emergency Financial Commission" be executives of for-profit corporations.

On the plus side, this means that town residents may have their town's taxes spent not by their democratically elected mayors and so forth, but persons who are not only not elected by anyone but not even residents of their towns. This is classic "Disaster Capitalism" (Rachel Maddow discusses the details with Naomi Klein)

Didnt this sort of thing end up with tea in Boston Harbor?

Top 10 Worst Things about the Republicans' Immoral Budget

For people who are into reality, and don't reflexively reject facts just because they're found by, here's a list of things the Republicans are proposing that are, basically, an attack on America (reprinted by permission):
The Republican budget would (links to evidence below):
1. Destroy 700,000 jobs, according to an independent economic analysis.
2. Zero out federal funding for National Public Radio and public television.
3. Cut $1.3 billion from community health centers—which will deprive more than 3 million low-income people of health care over the next few months.
4. Cut nearly a billion dollars in food and health care assistance to pregnant women, new moms, and children.
5. Kick more than 200,000 children out of pre-school by cutting funds for Head Start.
6. Force states to fire 65,000 teachers and aides, dramatically increasing class sizes, thanks to education cuts.
7. Cut some or all financial aid for 9.4 million low- and middle-income college students.
8. Slash $1.6 billion from the National Institutes of Health, a cut that experts say would "send shockwaves" through cancer research, likely result in cuts to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's research, and cause job losses.
9. End the only federal family planning program, including cutting all federal funding that goes to Planned Parenthood to support cancer screenings and other women's health care.
10. Send 10,000 low-income veterans into homelessness by cutting in half the number of veterans who get housing vouchers this year.


1. "GOP spending plan would cost 700,000 jobs, new report says," The Washington Post, February 28, 2011
2. "GOP budget would cut funding for public broadcasting," The Washington Independent, February 14, 2011  
3. "NACHC Statement in Response to the Budget from the House Appropriations Committee," National Association of Community Health Centers website, accessed March 4, 2011
4."Bye Bye, Big Bird. Hello, E. Coli.," The New Republic, February 12, 2011
House Republican Spending Cuts Target Programs For Children And Pregnant Women
5. "Obama and the GOP's Spending Cuts: Where's the Outrage?" Mother Jones, February 18, 2011
6. Ibid.
7. "Deficit Reduction on the Backs of the Most Vulnerable," Center for American Progress, March 2011  (PDF)
8. "The GOP Budget and Cancer—Why New Research Is at Risk," Politics Daily, February 27, 2011  
"Republican Budget Cuts at Heart of Medical Research: Albert Hunt," Bloomberg, February 20, 2011
"Durbin: Cuts to NIH put research jobs at risk," Business Week, February 28, 2011
9. "GOP Spending Plan: X-ing Out Title X Family Planning Funds," Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2011
10. "House GOP Spending Cuts Would Prevent 10,000 Low-Income Veterans From Receiving Housing Assistance," Think Progress, March 1, 2011

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Taxing Girl Scout Cookies To Enrich Foreign Businesses

Taxing Girl Scout Cookies
Some people just don't like
those thin mints!
What an amazing idea: tax Girl Scout cookies to help fund tax cuts for foreign corporations!
Seriously - this is the latest Republican proposal, currently offered in the State of Georgia.

If this innovation succeeds in Georgia, how long before the Tax-Girl-Scout-Cookies-To-Enrich-Foreign-Business movement spreads across the nation?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Water Farming In West Seattle

Our homes are way-stations for the movement of water. Few of us may be professional water farmers like the Skywalkers of Tatooine, but all of us may find it useful to think systematically about the water we manage as it comes onto and leaves our land, with an eye toward making the "water crop" serve us as well and as inexpensively as possible.


Water is input to my "water farm" a couple of two ways:
  • Piped in deliberately (and paid for), or
  • Precipitated (free, but hard to control).
  • We don't have significant flow from other property, since we're at the top of a hill (and have no artisan spring).


Water is output several ways:
  • Piped out (we pay a sewage fee), or
  • Respirated back into the air (mostly by way of our plants, but a little bit directly)
  • Runoff, either down the street or by way of underground streams.
We know the runoff does something although it's hard to tell what. In a heavy rain, the manhole covers at the bottom of the hill become little fountains, shooting water up ... only a few inches, but even that little bit is somewhat disturbing.  There's also some sort of stream or seep that surfaces in the alley behind the houses across the street; we know that because it drains onto a sidewalk which freezes very slickly in winter.


We wish to control the use of water in the system, both to save money by minimizing the water that's piped in, and to limit the output, since we're good citizens and want to minimize the problems we cause others. It's especially critical to control runoff in times of heavy rain, but we'd also like to control overall usage.


The first thing I'm doing to help with runoff is to find ways hold on to water from heavy rain, then let it trickle away slowly, over time, at a pace the system can handle. Unfortunately the classical grass lawn is terrible for this; it's so tightly bound that it doesn't water well; the water that falls on the grass flows invisibly down until it hits something handy, like a street or a sewer. Fortunately, we're not that fond of the classical grass lawn; it's just more work to maintain for very little return.

My tree's duff area
Duff area helps control water
(and also doesn't have to be mowed!)
We are therefore gradually converting our lawn into a mixed-format. Much of it will eventually be raised-bed gardens, well designed to retain water. But for a quick and easy change, I'm expanding the area that is native duff - the detritus from native evergreens that form a spongy layer, good for holding on to water and releasing it slowly.
I started with a duff yard on the side of the house, and now we've built a duff area around our largest tree (see photo. We're gradually expanding it by moving its rock boundaries. One consideration with this project is integrating it with other uses of the property, such as walking from point A to point B.

Another consideration is esthetic. We want to keep a nice appearance and also indulge our penchant for idiosyncratic art-like objects, hence the "chalets" and the planter.
Observant readers will note in the photo some non-native ivy which is and will be a problem to eradicate. The area is small enough that I don't mind using physical methods to wipe it out, knowing that it'll be back next year. I don't want to use weedkiller anywhere never humans, such as myself.
While I like the appearance of the duff, I also like native primroses and other flowers. We will probably convert the parking strip into a garden, further improving the water control situation.
There's a lot more to water control, but this small change in lawn management was easy to implement. It nicely compliments our other efforts at dirt farming too!


I got thinking about this due to this week's Change the World Wednesday Challenge
This week do not use your garbage disposal (and save a bunch of water). Instead, find ways to reduce food waste, reuse veggie scraps (ie make stock with them), or compost items normally sent down the drain. If you MUST use the disposal, use minimal water, and consider if there are other options available for "next time".
Or ...
If you never use a disposal, please share your most creative water saving idea.
Now, I never use the garbage disposal. When you compost, the idea of washing perfecting good food scraps down the drain is even more irrational than usual. I need those peelings and tag-ends - especially since using the disposal wastes water as well as biomass.
Instead, I have to look at creative water saving ideas. I hope the concept of looking at our land (whether owned or rented) as a water farm will help us invent better water crops, whether out of a desire to save money or to change the world!