Monday, April 30, 2007

Going Green - Part 1

This is my first post in an ongoing series where I try to document our continuing attempts to green up our lives, our house, our cars, etc. This will include all the starts, stops, frustrations caused by availability, cost, usability, whatever.

Things that we already do include fairly fastidious shutting off of electronics and lights when not in use. This even extends as far as Michelle frequently completely unplugging the microwave and her computer. Sounds nutty, but devices still use power even when off. Standby consumption can be equivalent to a 75 or 100 watt bulb continuously on. Of course, there are power strips that will serve the same purpose, but we have not went that far yet. I didn't just want to get a cheap strip that doesn't do what we need it to.

During the summer and when we're not in the house, our thermostat is set at 84. Even when home, we rarely set it below 80. We have always used the local electric company's "Time-of-Use" plan which rewards you shifting some of your electricity usage to off-peak times. We have used compact fluorescent bulbs for years.

Just this week, we've stopped using paper napkins (and will try to stop using paper towels) and will use cloth napkins. We're even going to order hemp napkins. You can't get much more birkenstocky than that. In shopping around, I found several pretty cool sites that sell organic items:

Grassroots Natural Goods

Every year, we try to use our tax refund to get something that improves the efficiency of our house. A few years back, it was high-efficiency, low-water Bosch appliances. This year, it was going to be something along the lines of solar power. Nothing major, maybe just a panel that could power a few devices. But, unfortunately, it's not quite that simple and not that cheap. To really get something that will generate any sizable amount of power, you've really got to spend some money (on-grid residential solar). There a lot of incentives from the electric company and from both local and federal governments that reduce the price, but you are still talking a big outlay. If we had it all to do again, we'd have set it up at the time of building our new house. It's disgusting that in Arizona, where the sun pretty much shines all the time, solar power is pretty much an afterthought.

There's a cool tool at Nature Conservancy that helps you estimate the impact that you are having on the planet with your choices. With each change that you make, you can get a tangible feel for how much of an effect it makes.

This is not about doing something because it's trendy or because you think you are viewed better for doing so. Or at least it shouldn't be. But too much of anything - even a good thing - is a problem. Here's an interesting article that likens the selling of carbon offsets to that of the Catholic Church's selling of indulgences before the Reformation:

Carbon-Neutral Is Hip, but Is It Green?

That's like a double-bonus for me ... making fun of the Catholic Church and trendy hypocritical hipsters at the same time.

The environment and conservation weren't always "liberal" issues. You know, "stewardship of the earth", and all that crap. Conservative and conservation didn't use to be mutually exclusive. When did it become a partisan issue? Morons like Rush Limbaugh certainly have accelerated the process. Look, I don't care if you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, whatever. I don't care if you believe in God, Vishnu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I don't care if you don't believe in global warming. It's just smart to conserve what you have and to not crap in your own house. The earth is our house.

If you have 1 kid, don't have a 4,000 square foot house and a Hummer that you only drive to the grocery store. Don't be wasteful just because you want to get back at Democrats. Shopping and consumerism, despite what W says, aren't "patriotic". Don't be a friggin' skidmark on the Earth.

I'd be interested to know any further suggestions that you guys have. I know some of you don't have cars. Some telecommute. Some are vegetarians. (all things that reduce your carbon footprint)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

This Blog is Not Yet Rated

In an odd bit of synchronicity, I just finished watching This Film is Not Yet Rated last night, which I had DVR'd off of IFC. I then woke up this morning to find that Jack Valenti had died. See, Jack Valenti, for better or as this movie suggests, worse, is the father of the movie rating system.

It is this movie's contention (and I'd have to agree) that our current movie rating system and board unduly penalizes movies for sexual content while being lax on violence. A movie with sexually suggestive content (especially what puritans would call deviant) is four times as likely to be slapped with an NC-17 than a violent one. This hang-up is exclusive to the U.S. and can be correlated with the rise of the Religious Right.

Movies like Boys Don't Cry and The Cooler were initially given NC-17's because of scenes of female pleasure. Apparently this is taboo but decapitations and gun violence in just about any Swarzenegger, Stallone, etc. movie is OK, perhaps even OK for PG-13.

The item that I found most interesting was that the appeals board for the MPAA included movie and theater industry people (which one would expect) but also two clergyman, an Episcopalian and a Catholic. Why the hell would there be any religious representation here at all? And if you decided to have such representation, why those two to the exclusion of all others (and atheists)? The answer is that the movie industry is about 95% big movie studios, which in turn are owned by just a few huge media conglomerates. And those conglomerates are owned by people like Rupert Murdoch. You have to kiss the ass of big business and big religion lest you get boycotted by groups headed by James Dobson. I guess they're not so worried about organized boycotts by atheists. lol.

This is a movie with an obvious slant, but the facts that are laid out are not disputed. It does an effective job of pointing out the problems with the current movie ratings system. There are a lot of insightful interviews with actors, directors, etc., including Kevin Smith and Matt Stone (of South Park). I recommend it. Grade: B

Monday, April 23, 2007

Conspicuous Wealth

So, there I am, 80 degrees, beer in hand, swaying palm trees, sitting beside the pool at the lovely Palm Springs Tennis Club. The very picture of conspicuous consumption. Except:

Believe me, the irony of all this was not lost on me.

In the article, Reversal of Fortune, in the latest Mother Jones, what we value and what we work for are explored.

Is our sin in getting away and living a little or in the exact opposite (not taking the time to enjoy life)? We work harder to get more things that we enjoy less and less.

"...according to new research emerging from many quarters, that our continued devotion to growth above all is, on balance, making our lives worse, both collectively and individually. Growth no longer makes most people wealthier, but instead generates inequality and insecurity. Growth is bumping up against physical limits so profound—like climate change and peak oil—that trying to keep expanding the economy may be not just impossible but also dangerous. And perhaps most surprisingly, growth no longer makes us happier..."

Every day is a battle to determine exactly what our role should be. Should we feel guilty for occasionally letting our hair down? I don't think so, but as we walked around Palm Springs and watching people and cars and house, I couldn't help feeling that something was just off-kilter. Most people didn't seem to be there to enjoy themselves or to relax. They were there to prove that they could be ... to show off. Young trophy wives. Rolls Royces. Maybe I'm just being cynical. We were there to enjoy ourselves ... and we did. We weren't trying to impress anyone.

We try and make a trip to San Diego or Manhattan Beach every year. Nothing fancy. Sometimes stay with relatives. Sometimes get a simple condo. Are we trying to impress someone or are we making these trips because we have fun? Would our money be better spent by saving or giving to charity? Sure. But we do both of those things also. I don't know what the right balance is. I just know that we're constantly re-evaluating exactly what that balance should be. That's all that anyone can do, I guess.

Classic economics would say that if we are spending money, then we should be happy. Our economy has been built on the model that if we are producing and buying and selling, all is good. But is that model still valid?
"...An orthodox economist has a simple happiness formula: If you buy a Ford Expedition, then ipso facto a Ford Expedition is what makes you happy. That's all we need to know. The economist would call this idea "utility maximization," and in the words of the economic historian Gordon Bigelow, "the theory holds that every time a person buys something, sells something, quits a job, or invests, he is making a rational decision about what will...provide him 'maximum utility.' If you bought a Ginsu knife at 3 a.m. a neoclassical economist will tell you that, at that time, you calculated that this purchase would optimize your resources." The beauty of this principle lies in its simplicity. It is perhaps the central assumption of the world we live in: You can tell who I really am by what I buy.

Yet economists have long known that people's brains don't work quite the way the model suggests. When Bob Costanza, one of the fathers of ecological economics and now head of the Gund Institute at the University of Vermont, was first edging into economics in the early 1980s, he had a fellowship to study "social traps"—the nuclear arms race, say—in which "short-term behavior can get out of kilter with longer broad-term goals.""

"...We all know in our own lives how irrationally we are capable of acting, and how unconnected those actions are to any real sense of joy ... "

"... Since happiness had increased with income in the past, we assumed it would inevitably do so in the future. We make these kinds of mistakes regularly: Two beers made me feel good, so ten will make me feel five times better ... "

So, that's what it comes down to. More is not always better. Spending does not equate to happiness. Taking it easy and spending time with family and friends does equate to happiness. It's about doing things for the right reasons and not living beyond your means (or the planet's means).

"Wealth is the ability to fully experience life." -- Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

A new survey ... by Pew Research Center ... found that despite the mass appeal of the Internet and cable news since a previous poll in 1989, Americans' knowledge of national affairs has slipped a little ...

... Pew judged the levels of knowledgeability (correct answers) among those surveyed and found that those who scored the highest were regular watchers of Comedy Central's The Daily Show and Colbert Report. They tied with regular readers of major newspapers in the top spot ...

Virtually bringing up the rear were regular watchers of Fox News. Only 1 in 3 could answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly.

Big shocker ... not.

But look into the stats a little closer and there are some surprises. From Mother Jones:

Daily Show/Colbert Report 54%
Major Newspapers' Websites 54%
NewsHour w/ Jim Lehrer 53%
Bill O'Reilly 51%
NPR 51%
Rush Limbaugh 50%

O'Reilly's and Limbaugh's audiences score surprisingly (to me, at least) high. I'm not completely sure why this might be but I suspect their shows attract the more serious idealistic true conservatives who, while making the wrong conclusions about how to change the world, at least are informed about what is going on in that world.

Newsmagazines 48%
Local Newspaper 43%
CNN 41%

The obviously painful one in this group is CNN. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. What used to be a fairly serious news channel has become the Anna Nicole channel. Their CNN Headline News Channel is manned by trained monkeys. There is no better indication of how big a joke they are when they have Glenn Beck and Nancy Grace plastered all over it. Glenn Beck is a straight-up Right Wing racist masked under an aw-shucks-"I'm just telling the truth"-common man veneer. Nancy Grace milks manufactured indignation and fake concern for ratings.

Network Evening News 38%
Blogs 37%
Fox News 35%
Local TV News 35%
Network Morning Shows 34%

No big shocks here. The scary part is that there is a huge majority of the country that get their news from one (and only one) of these sources. Fortunately, that is an aging part of the population.

It's not very complimentary to see blogs listed but if one exclusively got your news from blogs, you'd be hurting ... especially if that blog was, say, ... The Drudge Report.

"Your intelligence is measured by those around you; if you spend your days with idiots you seal your own fate." -- Mary M. Illigassch

Monday, April 16, 2007


I was going to write something on today's events at VA Tech, but my words would have paled in comparison with Shawn's at Cheese is Moldy Milk:


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Whose Morality Are We Talking About?

"Morality is of the highest importance - but for us, not for God." -- Albert Einstein

A long-awaited national study has concluded that abstinence-only sex education, a cornerstone of the Bush administration's social agenda, does not keep teenagers from having sex. Neither does it increase or decrease the likelihood that if they do have sex, they will use a condom.

... eight states that used to receive funding for abstinence programs have decided to stop doing so ...

... The federal government spends $176 million a year on abstinence-only education, and millions more are spent every year in state and local matching grants. Harry Wilson, a top official in the Department of Health and Human Services, said yesterday that the administration has no intention of changing funding priorities in light of the results.

"This study isn't rigorous enough to show whether or not [abstinence-only] education works," Wilson said.

Courtesy of Campus Progress

That last quote is a common and unfortunate response from the Right. There have been many studies on the efficacy of prayer on patients in hospitals. When they seems to indicate a positive effect, religious leaders are quick to say, "I told you so!". When there is no correlation shown, they are quick to say that God must have know there was a study going on or that there were flaws in the methodology.

For the case of abstinence-only, the responses are similar. I have even heard some suggest that the fact that the study shows that abstinence-only doesn't work is all the more reason to increase funding. They say that the reason it is not working is because it's not extensive enough. Sound familiar? Maybe the war will go better if we just send some more troops.

Abstinence-only is yet another case (along with the marriage amendment) that has nothing to do with helping people and everything to do with pushing some perversion of religious "morality". If they were truly concerned with our young people's health, they would encourage abstinence as part of a comprehensive sex education program that also included discussions of birth control and safe sex.

Pushing one's own morality to the exclusion of personal rights and practicality is also at the forefront of a controversy right in my back yard. The famous and nauseating publicity whore, our county sheriff Joe Arpaio, was recently rebuked by the State Appeals Court for his department's policy of not transporting prisoners for abortions:
An Arizona court of appeals recently struck down as unconstitutional a policy denying women in Maricopa County jails access to abortion care. The ACLU filed the lawsuit to defend the rights of women prisoners to obtain timely, safe, and legal abortions.

"... Sheriff Joe Arpaio cannot ignore the medical needs of prisoners simply because he does not agree with the decision to end a pregnancy," said Alessandra Soler Meetze, Executive Director of the ACLU of Arizona. "A woman in jail has a right to make her own decision about whether to have a child."

At issue was an unwritten Maricopa County policy prohibiting jail officials from transporting a prisoner to obtain an abortion unless she first received a court order. The ACLU argued that the policy served no legitimate purpose because the jail regularly transports prisoners without a court order for all other necessary medical care, including prenatal care and childbirth. The jail also regularly transports prisoners for various non-medical reasons, including to visit terminally ill family members or attend relatives' funerals.

... Sheriff Arpaio has maintained this policy throughout his tenure, consistent with his well-publicized stance against abortion and his 'America's toughest sheriff' persona. In fact, Arpaio himself has admitted that under this policy, "The gal may have the baby by the time [the case] gets through the court system."

Are you telling me that it is better to force a baby to be born to an incarcerated mother, who is unable logistically or financially to care for it? The way in which so-called "moral" politicians and lawmen neuter the law of the land to fit with their own needs is reprehensible. You cannot arbitrarily decide for others which laws you feel should be upheld and which should not. You are making a decision for that woman and her child that will affect them for the rest of their lives. Are you going to take that child into your home and care for it, Joe? Do you really care about anything but getting your mug on national TV?

"Morality is the best of all devices for leading mankind by the nose." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Blog Roundup

Since I've been busy lately (or lazy), I thought I'd point you to the funnier highlights of some of my fave blogs. At least they've been doing some thinking and writing:

  • James at Genius of Insanity has a clever take on the tendency of this president to create a Czar of everything -- WTF is a War Czar???
    It's all very consistent with his king (or God) complex.

  • ===============================================
  • "It was a dark and stormy night" ... or something like that. Shawn from Cheese is Moldy Milk channels Raymond Chandler -- The Big Orange Moon

  • ===============================================
  • Iraq war as prep-school football game from Shrimplate -- Snap. I love the line, "And why is that stupid cheerleader quarterbacking?" Wicked funny but way too true.

  • ===============================================
  • Josh at Schulzone has a link to a version of Fuck Tha Police that you could actually show your kids -- Help the Police


And as always, some very sober and intelligent discussions on dominionism, and gays in the military from Sadie at Sadico Junction and Laura at Sarchasm, respectively.


Finally, some smokin' movie reviews:

Grindhouse from Laura
Grindhouse from Reel Fanatic

Friday, April 06, 2007

Republican Cartoonish Behavior

Ah, the beauty of the Internet. Everybody thinks that something that they say will only be heard by the people right around them. Luckily for us, not so:

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney explains hunting
The former Massachusetts governor has called himself a lifelong hunter, yet his campaign acknowledged that he has been on just two hunting trips _ one when he was 15 and the other just last year.

"I'm not a big-game hunter. I've made that very clear," he said. "I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter. Small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times."

Romney has also supported gun control. When he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1994 he backed the Brady law and a ban on assault-style rifles. As governor, he supported the state's strict gun-control laws and signed into law one of the nation's tougher assault weapons laws.

He joined the National Rifle Association last August as a "Lifetime" member.

And before you right wing nuts get your panties in a bind, yes, I realize that Kerry did something similar a few years back. It's kinda ironic to read that article and see some of the quotes that administration stooges said about Kerry:
"... The NRA ... accusing Kerry of suiting himself up as a sportsman while opposing gun owner rights. Kerry has said he supports hunters and sportsmen's rights to own guns, but gun advocates have assailed him for supporting the ban on assault weapons and for requiring background checks on gun purchases."

"If John Kerry thinks the Second Amendment is about photo ops, he's daffy ..."

A spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign called the orchestrated event "another example of John Kerry presenting himself as someone he is not."

"It's a fraud," said Steve Schmidt, the Bush spokesman. "He has fought against the interests of gun owners throughout his 20-year Senate career."

Wow, pretty much all of those things could be said about Romney. But there's pretty much silence from the NRA now. Hmmm. Maybe it's not really about liberty, the Bill of Rights, etc. It's really about political partisanship and money. Hypocrisy, thy name is Romney/NRA/Republicans.


courtesy of monk

I am the walrus, coo-coo cachu. The man who put the "dip" in diplomacy recently decided it was time to lecture a foreign leader, Saudi's King Abdullah on the legality of the US Iraq invasion:

"With all due respect to the King, it's a mistake to characterise the US presence in Iraq as illegal," -- Bolton said the US was in Iraq at the invitation of its government and its presence was further sanctioned by a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Right. We listened to a couple of rich Iraqi expatriates (hardly the Iraqi government) and we lied to the UN about the Iraqi threat in order to get them to sanction the war. Sounds like the Saudi king pretty much has it correctly pegged as an illegitimate war.

John Bolton, you ignorant slut. What a pompous ass. He goes around with an air of righteousness and is consistently proven wrong. Recently, after repeatedly telling Jon Stewart that Stewart was wrong on issues of policy, history, etc., it was quite easy for the Daily Show to prove Bolton wrong. In other words, the man that was the ambassador to the UN, a position of great influence in which one should have a fairly encompassing knowledge of history and foreign policy, was schooled by a comedy show. In an administration full of people without the slightest bit of self-awareness or modesty, Bolton still stands out.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Jesus Camp

The Exorcist is not the scariest movie I've ever seen now. It's been replaced with ... Jesus Camp. I'm tellin' ya, Linda Blair has nothing on the 9-year-old Rachel in the film. I was half expecting her head to swivel 360 degrees. And don't get me started on the whole speaking in tongues thing.

Jesus Camp follows several kids raised in Evangelical families and their trip to an Evangelical summer camp. The parents of these kids and the proprietors of the camp work very hard to inculcate these kids to worship George Bush, to see all judges as evil and to disregard all science. From a very early age, they are forced to insulate themselves from any views outside the narrow ideological slant of their church. Harry Potter is evil and the earth is 6,000 years old.

To those that criticize this movie for casting fundamentalists in a bad light, blame the movement itself. There is no narration and it is the words and actions of the followers themselves that are used to show what it stands for. The Evangelical movement as a whole is not necessarily represented by this movie as there are many liberal evangelicals (most notably, Sojourners' founder Jim Wallis). But an all too vocal fundamentalist group of Evangelicals ARE represented by the group in this movie.
"I want to see young people who are as committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as the young people are to the cause of Islam. I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are over in Pakistan and Israel and Palestine and all those different places... Excuse me, but we have the truth!" -- Pastor Becky

I'm really trying very hard to figure out exactly how this is different than any of these other groups we call "cults". The obvious big difference is that we have a so-called "religious" President that panders to this particular cult, so they are given a free pass.
indoctrinate -- teach doctrines to; teach uncritically

There's the rub - "teach uncritically". That is why 75% of home-schooled kids are Evangelicals. Is it that they are afraid that in the open marketplace of ideas, their doctrines will not hold any water and even a child would see their shortcomings? Any belief system that only works under isolation from any competing or critical views is not really a belief system. It's brainwashing. And that is what is going on at camps like the one shown in Jesus Camp.

As if the footage needed to be any more chilling, there is an appearance by these kids at the mega church where Ted Haggard used to preside over. The footage and the movie were completed before the revelations of his duplicity became public. But the strange thing is how slimy and fake he comes across when speaking to the kids. You get the feeling that even these little Christian soldiers thought he was bad news.

"Pastor Ted's" subsequent fall from grace casts an even worse light on the footage. His revealed homosexual activity and drug use are not so much the problem. His hypocrisy in preaching against them are. This is a man who on a weekly basis had the ear of the President and preached to congregations of 2,000+ weekly about the "sanctity of marriage".

To those who have not seen the movie, they might assume it is a smear piece intended to attack the Evangelical movement. But it's fairly straightforward and without editorializing. The main stars of the movie even approved of it:
"Though opposing viewpoints are sporadically proffered by Air America radio host Mike Papantonio, a practicing Christian appalled by the fundamentalists' political agenda, the film employs no exposition and professes no overt bias; indeed, Fischer was apparently delighted with the finished product. Both the camp's children and the adults welcome the camera as a witness to their crusade." -- from Variety

If anything, this movie shows that the building of this country into a theocracy starts young. Catch kids before they are able to cast a critical eye on their indoctrination and it might be too late to save them later.

And don't think that it stops with kids of this age. A recent article revealed that there are more than 150 Regent University graduates in the Bush administration. Yep, that's Pat Robertson's Regent University.

This has all been building for 30 years plus. It's no wonder that it feels like our foreign and environmental policy is being made by people who expect the Rapture is right around the corner.

For anyone who wants to get a glimpse into the world that has spawned zealots who are threatening judges, killing abortion doctors and pushing the marriage amendments, check out this movie. Grade: B+

"Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." -- Lucius Annaeus Seneca