Monday, October 29, 2007

Video of the Day

Nifty Apple Ad parody about how toxic computing can be.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Quote of the Day

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Craptastic Climate!

"It turns out that global warming critics were right when they said that global climate models did not do a good job at predicting climate change, but what has been wrong recently is that the climate is changing even faster than the models said. In fact, Arctic sea ice is melting much faster than any models predicted, and sea level is rising much faster than IPCC previously predicted." - Alan Robock, associate director of the Center for Environmental Prediction at Rutgers University

Holy crap.

Where the heck is my old conservative republican friend, Charles Winslow, who would mock me abut my alarm about global warming way back in 1990? He said we didn't have enough proof to do anything about global warming, if it existed at all. I responded back then that by the time we had enough proof to convince him, it would be too late to do anything. I wish I could find him so I could tell him, I told him so. Last time I heard from him he was working for Forbes at the republican convention in 1996 in San Diego.

British researchers have found that the oceans are not soaking up as much carbon dioxide as they used to and atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) growth has increased 35 percent faster than expected since 2000. The Southern Atlantic oceanic CO2 sink is weakening. Then

Greenland's ice sheet melts as temperatures rise. It seems that Greenland's ice melt area increased 30% in 30 years and is losing more ice each year than it gains from new snow. More melting means that sea levels can rise around the world and low lying coastal areas can become flooded. Two or three warm consecutive years in the polar region can result in the Greenland ice cap will face complete collapse, raising ocean levels 23 feet. 23 feet is about 7 meters, so I plugged 7m on the old google flood maps and it looks like the Golden Gate Bridge will be underwater and so will access to the closest shopping mall from where I live.

Holy crap.

No wonder Guyana may consider moving its capitol to higher ground.

There is now a topical coffee mug that will show you what the world map will look like when the sea levels rise every time you "warm it" by hot coffee. Check it out at Check out the higher res version. Every morning you can be reminded of our future. Hurray for us!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quote of the Day

"A great war leaves the country with three armies - an army of cripples, an army of mourners, and an army of thieves." ~ German proverb

28,327 U.S. service members have been wounded
3,836 members of the U.S. military have died
75,598 – 82,369 documented Iraqi deaths
U.S. Government unable to account for 1.2 Billion paid to Dynacorp in Iraq
A Pentagon audit has found overcharges of up to $61 million for gasoline that a Halliburton subsidiary delivered as part of its no-bid contract to help rebuild Iraq's oil industry.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Beatitudes

Blessed are the poor (for yours is the kingdom of God.)
Blessed are the poor in spirit (for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.)
Blessed are they that mourn (for they shall be comforted)
Blessed are ye that weep now: (for ye shall laugh.)
Blessed are the meek (for they shall inherit the earth)
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness (for they shall be filled).
Blessed are ye that hunger now (for ye shall be filled).
Blessed are the merciful (for they shall obtain mercy.)
Blessed are the pure in heart (for they shall see God)
Blessed are the
peacemakers (for they shall be called the children of God)
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake (for theirs is the kingdom of heaven)
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake (Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.)

In the late Kurt Vonnegut's article, "Cold Turkey", Vonnegut notices that our current christain-based presidential administration hardly could be seen to embrace the teachings of Christ, the Beatitudes. He says the Beatitudes are, "Not exactly planks in a Republican platform. Not exactly Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney stuff." For all the talk of posting the 10 commandments in school rooms and courthouses, Kurt has never seen the same furvor towards the Beatitudes.

The bulk of organized Christianity (sans the Quakers and the few progressive progressive wings of denominations), especially those who are active in the culture wars from the right, ignore the Beatitudes. The will exercise more the more hail and brimstone parts of Deuteronomy or Leviticus and choose to interpret passages in the most demeaning and judgemental way. How is any of this consistant with the Beatitudes, the very teachings of Jesus? This current administration and the republican can hardly be described as being meek, instead they approach their sense of certainty with not a shread of humility.

For all the claims of this country being Christain-based, we are most certainly a country who don't like to be bothered by the actual teachings of Christ. Gays and Lesbians have long been persecuted in the name of Christ and the poor have been maligned and blamed. All that are blessed are the weak and maligned in society and this is backed up by Christ's actions.

I am looking for a religious faith to follow that reflects the real values of Christ: anti-greed, anti-hypocracy, anti-war, pro-equality, anti-death penalty, pro-poor, pro-weak, pro-civil and human rights, and resists the literal translation of the bible. If none exist, I may have to start my own church.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Quote of the Day

"This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it." - John Adams

So much for the idea that our country's founders intended this to be a Christian Nation. The men who wrote our constitution were men of the Enlightenment period. Recently, I read the book,Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism . The author really shatters the myths propagated by the religious right that this nation's birth was guided by Christianity. The biggest clue this was not true is that no where in our Constitution does it mention God, or "divine power". It was the first "godless constitution" which was a amazing in a world where there was still a divine right of kings or of government. Another innovation and clue to our secular founding is that the constitution spelled out quite plainly that there would be no religious tests to hold public office.

At the time of the drafting of our constitution, each state had its own laws regarding who could hold office based on religious affiliation. Some would allow Jews to hold office, but no Catholics, some were vice versa. Yet, the constitutional authors based their document on the state constitution of Virginia, which allowed rights for all beliefs and even those without belief.

One thing that informs secularism of that time was the history of religion and government in Britain and Europe. Princes of Europe would hold one sect as official and demand fidelity by force only to switch religious alliances to make former adherants into heretics. Much of the instability of government ruled by Churches and religion drove our ancestors to the New World. Religious and non-religious alike wanted to be left alone.

The key to freedom of belief and conscience is having a secular government which doesn't choose sides and treats all of its citizens equally despite what they believe. An American citizen needs to walk into a courtroom, city hall, or the halls of the legislature believing that they are represented and accepted regardless of their religion. Christians would feel out of place if there were Quotes from Allah in Arabic inscribed in stone as the walk through a courtroom, city hall, or the legislature, wouldn't they? The same holds true when citizen non-Christan citizens are confronted with Christian inscriptions or a post of the 10 Commandments.

I am currently reading The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason , it brutally argues that religion is failing to be a positive influence in the world. He argues that supporting moderates in religion do not help matters because moderates are just unfaithful to the original texts of their religions. In other words, moderate or progressive Catholics are bad Catholics because they ignore many of the brutal and backward parts of the bible and reject some of the dogma of their church. To truly believe in a religion, you must accept the notion that people who believe differently are condemned as the texts of each religion preach. The moderates and progressives among us are enabling those who interpret their texts literally and see us as misguided, unfaithful, and even condemned to be punished by their god. This book forces one to question whether religion is worth it for our world given that it causes so much conflict and violence. I have yet to finish this book, but it doesn't look good for religion.

Daydreaming a Better Way of Living

If I could, I would love to start over with our ouse and build in its place a green modular house. Pre-fabricated modular homes like livinghomes and Michelle Kaufmann Designs cut the construction time and costs by having pieces of the home pre-made offsite.

The first picture is a Michelle Kaufmann Design that comes solar ready and uses various passive systems to cool and heat the home. It is the The Sunset® Breezehouse. I also like the
Sidebreeze. Her website says costs excluding fees $250/sf and $275/sf for MKD pre-designed homes, and- $400/sf and up Custom Projects. Surfaces that come standard on these homes are extra on Livinghome houses, but have a great customizing tool that will allow you to pick and choose various options and calculate the total cost to you.

My custom home is Model: rk5.1 that has a base price of $585,200. This model has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2090 sq. ft, 75 sq ft of decking, 40 ft width and 72 ft length. I selected $95,100 worth of options: Solar Hot Water Collector and radiant heating system, a Gray Water system, a Rain Water Harvesting, and a Photovoltaic Panel system that adds 80% capacity. There are other fees that one has to factor in like getting permits that end up totally approximately $905,157 or $433/sq ft.

It really is hard to tell which is a better deal. Surfing around there seems to be a consensus that modular homes are in their infancy and are too pricey for average homeowners. The problem is that given the housing bubble burst it really isn't wise to make improvements that exceed what your house is worth in the market if you ever hope to sell or if you have to move and sell. It only makes sense if you know for sure that you will be living in this house the rest of your life and are planning to hand down the house to your kids and grandkids. The feeling in the eco-blogosphere is that modular homes will have to get down to $100 per square foot to really be accessible.

Our property is 7,800 sq ft with a requirement of a 20ft space from the sidewalk, but it is long and narrow, so a 40ft width is the safest dimension for any house plan. The price of the living home includes about 20k worth of landscaping, since we will have to move around some plants and install a drip system to take advantage of grey water and rainwater collection.

I selected Michelle Kaufmann since her office in Oakland is relatively local, but the modules are constructed in Washington State. Living Homes is based in Southern California in Santa Monica. It would be cool if there was a local company in Marin, that would construct their modules in Richmond or close enough that you are not burning excess fossil fuels to get them there. It would be cool to support a local economy as much as possible.

The next photo is an example of livinghomes dwelling, but it isn't the model that I am interested since this particular one is the more home than we need and the most expensive. It's base price is 868k. It has five bedrooms on two stories, 3100 square feet, 1435 square feet of decking, and is 40 feet wide and 80 feet long. The extras cost 100, 300 and include all of the extras on the other model i picked, but also include an ecosmart denatured ethonol fireplace that is flueless and clean burning. The total is approximately 1,229, 887 or $397 per square foot including 20k landscaping.

The other option is to retrofit our existing 1285 square foot house with eco-features like photovoltaic power system including a water heater system, and remodel the house to include passive solar lighting and heating. We would also have to insulate the house using recycled materials that will not give off any unhealthy gases. There is a spray insulation that is soy-based that looks interesting. A mix of passive and active solar seems to be the trick, but it is hard to get a price on this because it really depends how many panels we can put on the house and on the ground. Also, we are not DIY'ers, so we would have to pay someone to do this. We live in a mostly moderate sunny climate, but we do have occasional frosts below freezing and have very intense heat waves up to 114 degrees.

We can install a cool roof that can keep our home cooler and reduce heat islands that contribute to smog.

I am sure not all solar panels are equal, and if we are going to invest in a system, you want to get something that gets an additional 80% capacity. It would be nice to power our needs as well as sell back power to the grid. My dream is to live in a zero energy home, or where the net cost of running the home is at minum -- zero.
Another thing I would have to do is invest on replacing all our appliances to energy star models like Sun Frost and all our bathroom fixtures to be high water efficient. Counters would have to be replaced with enviroglass and any additional flooring be done with cork tiles. All lighting would need to be converted to LED technology. Another thing we can do is fit the house with skylights and tubelights that can light up dark places in our house during the day without turning on the lights.

I also found these composting toilets that can turn human waste into compost usuable in landscaping. It would be cool to be able to do this. Of course, you would have to make sure that all pathogens in the fecal matter were killed and would be able to be used without having to worry about runoff damaging the enviroment.

There is a local company based in Oakland called, Waterspout. They do systems for grey water and rainwater collection, as well as sustainable landscaping using native drought tolerant plants, edible landscape, succulant zeriscapes, subtropical and aquatic landscapes, and creative recycling of materials for hardscapes. With combination of water collection systems and drip systems we can have landscaping that can withstand the harshest droughts and can be low maintainance. When it rains, it would be nice to have a rain garden feature that will help filter run off before it goes to the bay.

Low maintanance is important to us since we are not green thumbs and are currently overwhelmed with our 20 feet by 40 feet backyard and significant front yard. I want an outdoor space that could allow kids to play, grow edible foods like our grapevines, and have people over for bbq and be protected from the elements somewhat. It would be cool to have a guilt-free fountain built with recycled materials, using grey water, and powered by solar. Right now alot of our land is underutilized because it is so difficult to get access and water our fruit trees consistently.

Some of the things we can do to make better landscapes are to reduce turf areas, use shade trees, group plants by water needs, and mulch all planting beds. Green roofs and walls are the practice of growing drought tolerant plants on the roof and climbing plants along the walls which actually insulates the home. There is a company called Greenscreen that can allow you to train plants along fences and homes.

I would also like to integrate a composting system that will be easy to maintain and avoid attracting pests or vermin that will easily create fertilizer for our landscape. Another thing I would be interested in is a permiable paving systems that filter rain water through paving stones and collect rainwater or move it safely to municiple drainage systems to the bay.

My question is: where is the money going to come from to allow every homeowner convert their home to an eco-home? I really think the answer is requiring all new housing to have water collection systems and solar and wind generating systems. We really need to focus on getting financing to allow every existing home to be retrofitted with these systems. Water and power will be our greatest crisis points in this century and will start being dire issues quickly as scientists become surprised at the rapid signs of global warming appear.

One of the things government can do is not add property taxation for remodeling existing homes to be eco-efficient even if they add square footage to their homes. If homeowners can submit a design that achieves water conservation, storage, and reuse and incorporates passive and active renewable energies -- I think local and state governments should reduce the cost of fees and permits and the overall cost of making these things happen.

I also think that what is needed is local companies to be supported who design, build, and maintain these eco-features. All residential and commercial buildings should have all these features all over the world. We need to retool our global economy as well as national and regional economies to provide these services accessible to everyone.

Green Transport

(Photo By Rat Phlegm) I ran across this bike that has been turned into a Sports Utility Bike that can carry a child and 4 bags of groceries. It is from a company called Xtracycle and you can either by a new Sports Utility Bike for around 900 bucks, or add on a kit to create one from an existing bike for 400 bucks. The childseat costs 200 dollars. For 50 bucks you can add footsies so you can have older passengers safely. Then for about 1350.00 you can turn your S.U.B into a human-electric hybrid drive. You can get electric charger and extra batteries to keep the bike going longer. Unfortunately, the human-electric system is not currently able to be ordered right now.

I would love to get this system and be able to get groceries without getting into my car, but one concern is that I live near a freeway with lots of cars and safety from being hit by these clueless drivers on their cellphones is a real concern.

A Poison Kiss

It is not just toys from China that contain lead, but lipsticks made in the USA.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has come out with a report called, "A Poison Kiss: The Problem with Lead in Lipstick." It turns out that 61% of named brand lipsticks contain detectable amounts of lead and 1/3 of lipsticks exceed the amount of lead the FDA allows for candy. Like candy, lipstick can be ingested, one study found that in a woman's lifetime she may inadvertently ingest 4 pounds of lipstick. Among the top brands testing positive for lead were:

• L’Oreal Colour Riche “True Red” – 0.65 ppm
• L’Oreal Colour Riche “Classic Wine” – 0.58 ppm
• Cover Girl Incredifull Lipcolor “Maximum Red” – 0.56 ppm
• Christian Dior Addict “Positive Red” – 0.21 ppm

Younger and younger girls are using lipstick. A 2004 survey of cosmetics use by 5,856 U.S. girls aged 7 to 19 found that 63 percent of the girls aged 10 and younger reported using lipstick. This means that females will have a longer lifetime of use and exposure to lead than a generation before. Given that lead is a neurotoxin that has been linked to learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, impulsiveness, reduced school performance, increased aggression, seizures and brain damage, anemia, and, after long exposure, damage to the kidneys, we need to make sure we force companies to take lead out of lipsticks. Lead has also been linked to effecting hormones, fertility, and delay of menstruation, it is important to deal with this lead problem.

There are lipsticks that do not have any detectable levels of lead, so it is possible and necessary to make sure that lead is removed from cosmetic ingredients. It is good to hear that the FDA is looking to investigate these findings, it remains to be seen if they come down on the side of consumers or bow to the cosmetics industry.

Industry groups have long claimed that lead exposure is an unavoidable byproduct, is no more than any other environmental sources and that they are within what the FDA and California's Prop 65 limits for lead. The problem is that exposure is cumulative as it stays in the system and builds up over time. Women wear make up 7 days a week all day, and can spread to people they have contact with -- significant others, husbands, relatives, and kids. While it is true that there are other sources of lead in our environment that makes it even more important to reduce exposures as much as possible.


Despite continuous allegations over the years, lead is not intentionally added to cosmetics. Lead is a naturally occurring element that is found everywhere in the environment. Consumers are exposed daily to lead when they eat, drink water and breathe the air. The average amount of lead a woman would be exposed to when using cosmetics is 1,000 times less than the amount she would get from eating, breathing, and drinking water that meets Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking water standards.

“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set daily safe levels for lead exposure for adults, children and pregnant women. The agency also has set strict limits for lead levels allowed in the colors used in lipsticks, and actually analyze most of these to ensure they are followed. The products identified in the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (CSC) report meet these standards. In fact, all the products tested in the CSC report meet the California standards for safety established under their Prop 65 process.

“Despite the negligible levels of lead found in some lipsticks, cosmetic companies are committed to reducing that level even further. For decades, cosmetic companies have worked to minimize all product contamination, including lead. They actively and continually review all raw materials to ensure that they contain the lowest levels of impurities possible. Cosmetic companies have some of the world’s leading chemists, toxicologists, and biologists to evaluate all the safety information.”

I have long supported FDA regulation of the cosmetics industry based on the precautionary principle not just in regards to lead, but a whole host of chemicals that have been found to be toxins or carcinogens. Congress and the next president (since Bush is hopelessly anti-consumer) need to create a fully funded and mandated FDA who will be more concerned about consumer health than industry profits. Both the EPA and the FDA are not stringent enough in protecting us from products sold in the US and contaminants found in the air and water. As many of the news stories of recalls of various products show, we cannot rely on industry or government to protect us and our children. It is time for consumers to put pressure on government to crack down on industry in regards to product safety.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gore for 2008

Despite the qualifications and positive attributes of the current Democratic candidates for President, there is only one American alive today who deserves to be president -- Al Gore.

Al Gore has won the presidency before in 2000, and would be our president if the Supreme Court hadn't betrayed their state's rights agenda to halt a fair count in Florida. Our country would have had the benefit of a man of intellect and good judgment to handle all of the challenges in the past 8 years and our country would have been in a better place. We would have found a better way to deal with Iraq and wouldn't have gotten trapped in this endless quagmire.

Al Gore has just won a Nobel Peace Prize and is internationally respected around the world. His top priorities are where they should be -- toward dealing with Global Warming. When the sea levels rise, Islamofacist terrorist cells will be the least of our problems. When the climate fundamentally changes where agriculture can take place or where water supplies are, the lack of democracy in the Middle East or the presence of Gay Marriage will seem petty. I want a president who believes that global warming is the most important thing to deal with, and Gore has proved that he is willing to go the extra mile to make change to prevent or at least soften the effects of global warming.

We need a president who has the respect and good will of the entire world to motivate other countries to help our country to solve problems. Gore is uniquely placed to completely turn our global reputation around. We need a president that can argue persuasively that all humanity must drop what they are doing and address global warming which will profoundly effect every political party, religion, and every socio-economic level on this planet.

I would love to see every democratic candidate to realize that Al Gore is the best person to be president and turn over their campaign war chests to help him get elected. It would require a miracle for this to happen.

Given the current line up of republicans, I will be voting for anyone who gets the democratic nomination. The only candidate that I would get excited by and actually work for is Al Gore. I would support a Gore-Obama, Gore-Clinton, Gore-Edwards, or Gore-Kucinich ticket.