December 14, 2009

Colonial Ecology Rules?

On the news last night I heard about doctors doing cutting-edge research on helping old people live longer and accident victims regain the use of various appendages. The problem here is the amount of money being spent on doing this when so many babies and mothers are so poor and hopeless as they are now. These doctors must be as clueless as Wall Streeters about people's daily reality around the world, for them to be patting themselves on the back when so many lack the basics of survival - clean air and water, healthy food, and snug shelter. It would be far simpler and cheaper for them to just write prescriptions for these necessities, whose absence sabotages more expensive health care.
Then in the paper this morning I read about Monsanto's uber-Frankenstein desire to not just imitate but monopolize Mother Nature. According to the classical theory of hubris, the plans of men are the jokes of the gods. And karma suggests that monetizing bits of the ecology, as Monsanto continues to do, is rather asking for it. Still, as Prof. Shapiro suggests, ordinary people en masse are already buying in to technology that is equally opportunistic, narrow, and risky.
But what does all this have to do with colonialism or ecology? Well, colonialism is when one entity infects another somehow, acting from within as well as without. And ecology is a system, a network, where the effects of such actions are seen. Both entities, as well as their surroundings, can be seen as systems, definable and interdependent. And so much intercontinental biological cross-contact and colonialism has already occurred, I think we need to talk about how to somehow reintegrate ecologies from where they are now.
For example, I still mourn the eucalyptus, a few giants cut to the ground at a newly-formed nature preserve south of Sacramento. The idea was to eliminate non-natives, but in a place where there were few trees, I didn't like the idea of getting rid of what was there without having something comparable to replace it. When I do that in my garden, I get self-invited botanical invaders.
So what principles should we use to make such decisions? How can we co-evolve with what's here to be more sustainable and less opportunistic, as a species?

December 11, 2009

Sustainable Business in Sacramento?

I read in the paper this morning that the chamber of commerce backs the strong mayor. Apparently the chamber thinks that sustainability is bad for business, and that a strong mayor will be good for business. But what does KJ think about sustainability?
The recent meeting of his new arena task force suggests he doesn't think much about it. I went to their kick-off town hall meeting last week, and they started off saying the task force was all about economic development. But it really is just about the arena, and jobs for developers.
Most of the people in the room were men, and I was the only woman who spoke to the panel. It's time for the men in the chamber of commerce to refocus on the true and original purpose of business, which is to serve consumers. And consumers' most basic needs are clean air and water, healthy food, and snug shelter. These are the first priorities of economic development for human welfare.
Sports and entertainment arenas are not a basic consumer need. And we don't need to spend a lot of money on them. If we want basketball, we can have a city league. If we want entertainment, we have local and state politics at our doorstep.

November 14, 2009

CA's Unsustainable Legislature

Why should our dysfunctional, money-addicted legislators get to dodge the pay cuts that have cratered the budgets of so many ordinary Californians?

Offhand, I can't think of any reason that we would not be better off with the part-time legislature we used to have, and I am not alone. But I am sure there are reasons, even if I'm not sure that survey results are based on discussion of complete and rational pros and cons.

Let's start talking!

November 13, 2009

Looking Busy

I don't understand why KJ's call for a tent city for the homeless hasn't been as popular with developers as his latest effort to make Sacramento safe for the NBA.

If developers want to do something that's really useful for the community, they could build more affordable housing for the homeless. They could build housing that ordinary people could afford to buy.

Or they could try to save some of Sacramento's money, like SMUD, instead of spending it on more sprawl.

October 30, 2009

Sports Arenas Of, By and For The People?

Mayor Stork announced a new task force to figure out how to get a sports arena at Cal-Expo, I guess because the old task force didn't work it out.
Or maybe it's because this task force will announce its results just about the time we get to vote on KJ's strong mayor proposal. Given the expected members of the task force - "City Hall officials, business leaders and attorneys" - I think one can pretty much predict that they will say what insiders dressed in fancy suits usually say. 'We're wealthy so if you follow our advice you will be too.'

October 24, 2009

Sustainable Health Care & Evolution

On UCTV this morning, I happened to tune in to Prof. Lucy Shapiro sharing some sobering information about some health care issues that are more boring and more important than the public option.
I am reminded of Pogo's warning about our true enemy - it's us. Our own search for individual security and survival lead us to take pills we don't really need, and then when we really need them they don't work because the germs have evolved.
Shapiro says that natural genetic engineering is far more hazardous to our health than what we cook up in the lab. She discusses the realities of quarantine, which would limit our personal freedom far more than the terrorists can. But she doesn't address the question of the effect of human genetic engineering on the ecological systems which provide our food and water.
For example, one recent proposal alleges we can protect ourselves from almonds contaminated by salmonella by sterilizing the almonds with heat, but then they are no longer raw and some of the enzymatic value of live food is lost. Similarly, bagged lettuce that has been contaminated by e. coli has led to scorched-earth plans to genocide all natural plants (that could harbor actual wild animals and their dangerous poop) if these plants are growing anywhere near the monocultural lettuce, even though this eradication will make farms less healthy overall.
But food that is fresh and grown in a natural way is healthier than food grown in an ecological desert and then incubated in a plastic bag. And healthier food is required for healthier people whose immune systems are strong enough to resist germs.
To paraphrase a quote often attributed to a famous musician, "evolution happens." It happens to germs and humans alike. And it happens to individuals.
And it is what makes or breaks a species. Germs can only make us strong if we let them, if we are strong enough to face the entropic economic reality of diminishing returns. Perhaps a modern-day Pogo can help.

October 18, 2009

Investing for the Future

There's good advice in the newspaper this morning about separating investment proposals which are too good to be true from those that rely on the real economic value that is always the foundation of actual monetary returns.
Discounting fancy restaurants and expensive suits is an excellent idea. Although Arden Fair recently banned hoodies, it's a fact that men dressed in expensive suits are responsible for far more monetary losses than those dressed like bums.
It's only under unusual circumstances that publicly-traded investments need personal scrutiny, and I believe we are now back in circumstances where attention to general market conditions is enough for the average person to invest safely. Private investment proposals, however, always require caution. Educated and personal examination is appropriate in these situations. If you can't see the tangible thing that you are investing in, be extra careful.
At all times, an understanding of the real economy - which is the foundation of the monetary economy - is the safest approach. Economic shocks are most likely to occur when the monetary economy fails to accurately reflect the real economy.
Recently, I visited an eco-village which is still growing that seems to me like a good place to put my money. And I am sure I will find more as I continue to travel around ecotopia. Be aware, however, that this kind of investment requires even more personal participation, because communities require co-operation.

October 15, 2009

Economic Efficiency?

The problem with economic efficiency as defined by economists is its widespread interpretation as "maximiz[ing] the production of goods and services." This unfortunate phrase overlooks the physical limits to growth on a finite planet. It would be more efficient to optimize the production and consumption of goods and services.
The basic philosophy of classical economics offers a deeper definition of economic efficiency. The concept of value is the key concept, rather than maximum production or profit. And value is a qualitative, subjective, individual estimate. The economy - and all transactions - are based on all our individual estimates.
Since we are all human, we share similarities in our needs and wants, and thus in what is valuable to us. Needs have a higher priority than wants, and we have a variety of needs - physical, emotional, social, spiritual, etc.

The physical needs that pertain to our perceived need for fossil fuel energy are: clean air and water, healthy food, and snug shelter. Although we are used to paying money and using fossil fuel to meet these needs, all of these - money, fossil fuel, food, water, etc. - actually come from the planet.
The engineering efficiency of using fossil fuels to work for us is a ratio of output to input:
Useful Work (e.g., miles driven)
Fuel Used (e.g., gallons)

But this ratio distracts many people from looking at the big picture. A more useful ratio would be framed in terms of our true priorities:
Clean Air and Water, Healthy Food, and Snug Shelter
Resources: Sunshine and Planet Earth

Naturally, a healthy planet will be the most efficient way to meet our needs.

October 5, 2009

God/s Make Men, Men Make Trouble

Just finished reading about what's now possible with engineering of genes and organisms. It's pretty creepy.
Not so much because it's necessarily more dangerous than existing GMOs, or nano-pollution, or climate change, or rusting nuclear weapons. They're all capable of freaking out most optimistic and sensible people.
The real problem is human nature. I just don't think we have the emotional sanity and spiritual stamina to avoid the corruptions of power. And many technologies offer too much power.
Power corrupts just the way the Ring of invisibility corrupted Smaug in the Lord of the Rings, just the way it would have corrupted Frodo had Sam not intervened.
Many human religions warn of hubris, of the vanity that built the tower of Babel, of the yang than always overextends itself to become yin, that pride goeth before a fall. And the only time Christ is known to have been angered was by spiritual pimps profiting in the temple.
Can spiritual wisdom enter into political decisions? Can we possibly learn the kind of peacefulness and cooperation that would solve the problems we have always known how to solve if we weren't so selfish and competitive?
For example, what good will it do us to design better children when we do such an overall lame job of taking care of them all and bringing them up happy and healthy? We can't even offer most of them the traditional benefits of old-fashioned breast-feeding and healthy food and water.
Until we learn how to do well the things we already know how to do, we aren't going to do that well with the new things either.

September 30, 2009

Watch Out! Mr. Bloatware Promises to Fix Education

Bill & Melinda Gates are on a mission to fix U.S. education. It amazes me that anyone who has witnessed Mr. Gates' obsession with profits would trust his opinions about their children's education.
I mean, here's a good programmer who happened to be in the right place at the right time when IBM needed an operating system for the PC they were getting ready to sell. Then, after he has control of the operating system, he milks it for all it's worth with constant upgrades, bells and whistles that clog up software operation, not to mention all the unnecessary hardware with toxic chemicals and plastic cabinets now littering the landscape worldwide.
If Microsoft software had been designed with the functional user in mind, it would be a cleaner and more efficient world world, and Bill Gates would be about as rich as your average Silicon Valley engineer.
Good education is the opposite of Bill Gates' recipe for success. You have to put students first, and really meet all their needs, not just the ones that are convenient or profitable.
The result of a good and sustainable education would be youth who can do what's needed to take care of themselves and others.

September 11, 2009

Who Gets the Victim Prize?

Local news has so far portrayed poor Mr. Hernandez, the neighbor of the Safe Ground campsite, as the persecuted victim of the homeless campers. But according to a Paula Lomazzi, a formerly homeless person who is involved in organizing SHOC and safe ground for living, the campers "have apologized to Mr. Hernandez and have tried many times to make friends, even sent a priest to his house and Spanish speaking ambassador." Apparently the Bee doesn't have enough reporting staff left to talk to enough people to get a fair and balanced understanding. It's also extraordinarily naive to blame the campers for all illegal activities in a problematic neighborhood.
Mediation would be an extremely sensible way to pass the time while waiting for the court hearing. Solving our own problems ourselves is far more cost-effective than paying for lawyers and judges, jails and probation.
Of course, that requires some emotional discipline. People have to sit down and actually listen to each other. They have to acknowledge that all parties have the same rights and needs. They have to take the time to completely understand the problem, instead of jumping to the first solution that wanders through their head.
And that's the only way I know of to find the win-win solutions that mean no one gets the prize for whining.

August 31, 2009

A Fate Worse Than Death

I don't understand why a Christian like Sarah Palin, or for that matter anyone who says they are a Christian, thinks a death panel would be evil. I mean, I thought Christians believed in eternal life. (Not to mention the fact that God, or whatever Immanence created this world, evidently meant death to be the end of every organism.)
So if Christians really believe that, then talking about how best to manage and experience life's end is just the doorway to eternal life. And no one, be he medical, political, or spiritual, can preempt another's personal right to decide when one's time has come. Living too long can be a fate worse than death.
And similarly, after a new life is sparked, sometimes omens are not favorable. While Life itself is robust like weeds in the concrete, some seeds fall on the compost and some on the asphalt. Some Christians think every fertilized seed must be nurtured, but then they want other people to take all the risks and do all the work. They don't understand that to garden properly, you must prune.
Especially when you keep cheating death on the other end, with all kinds of fancy gizmos that aren't in the Bible.

August 27, 2009

Breathless in Sacramento

The nattering nabobs of negativism are predictably upset by Matsui's plan for a telephone town hall. Maybe they're worried their message won't get through if they have to play 'telephone' and talk to staff or other voters. At least Barney is Frank enough to tell them the government is not their mom and they should show some leadership.
I think she just wants to save a lot of taxpayers money that would be needed to pay for security to protect sensible people who want to have a constructive conversation from the adrenaline-addicted kindergarten dropouts we have all seen way too much of on TV.
More hyperventilating was also reported between the mayor and the city attorney, more time and energy wasted on this strong-mayor restructuring distraction. Joe Serna showed us you don't need to change the rules to be a strong mayor. You just need to know how to do grassroots community organizing.
Last night's workshop about putting motor vehicles back on K Street raised more questions than it answered, which is not a bad thing at this stage of the process. But the idea of spending $2 million and up on rearranging the furniture can't be the most cost-effective way to spend the money. K Street will never be like it was, because back then there were no malls in the valley. And there also wasn't so much stuff already so available in thrift stores and garage sales. We are swimming in stuff, so more retail is not a good candidate for economic redevelopment.
Converting some storefronts to residential would put more eyes on the street, and 24/7, not just a few minutes here and there. Stop expecting state workers to spend their money on K Street; even post-furlough they won't stop being a cautious bunch, self-selected for a safe working life.
How about opening a hospitality storefront in one of the empty buildings the city owns and doesn't know what to do with? Instead of acting like people who are homeless or ride Greyhound are no longer members of the human race, how about providing some kind of community center, staffed by volunteers, where everyone from tourists to kids can get the information and networking that responds to their needs and desires.
We have plenty of stuff, plenty of square footage that's fallow. Instead of tilling again and again, let's plant some seeds and water them. It's the relationships between people that make a community; the buildings are just a place to get out of the rain and put your stuff.

August 24, 2009

Smart And Sustainable Growth?

Today's paper discusses the outlook for smart growth and renewable energy in Sacramento. But more compact housing in and of itself overlooks the important detail of - where's the food coming from? Smaller dwellings closer together is only smart when surrounded by sub/urban farms and local distributed energy generation.
If we were really smart, there would be housing for ALL income levels, including the hapless homeless who must always keep moving. Makes it hard to dress for success, let alone get an actual job-and-apartment, or is it apartment-and-job? Hard to tell which comes first, especially when a homeless person needs both of them to cross the freeway to get to the other side and to economic equilibrium.
And we would also be using local renewable energy rather than building new transmission capacity (and probably using fossil fuels in construction) and bringing in renewable energy in a nonrenewable way.

August 11, 2009

Entrepreneurs Who Reduce, Re-Use & Recycle

Business is rough these days. Layoffs, defaults and bankruptcies of all kinds sprout like weeds. Repo men work overtime selling crammed-down houses, and all the stuff left behind by the dispossessed gets trashed.
We all know there's a better way. It can't be more economical to just trash everything at the dump rather than reclaiming what's useful and offering it to Goodwill. We can no longer afford such wasteful attitudes, especially when we can kill two birds with one stone.
There are plenty of entrepreneurs in Sacramento who could help us maximize our collective wealth, by sorting all the orphaned stuff thrown off by our consumerism. Are we too foolish to ask them?

July 25, 2009

Reform For Sustainable Health Care

There are at least two big elephants that too few of us are talking about in the rooms nationwide where the political discussion about health care reform are going on. One is named triage. The other one is for-profit.
Triage is the kind of prioritization required in effective emergency rooms. You treat the asthma attacks before the broken bones. Then you treat the broken bones before the poor person who has no other form of health care. And few would not admit that our health care system belongs in the emergency room. Reform is urgently needed.
For-profit is the kind of health care we can’t afford if we are serious about reform. Making money the ultimate purpose of any endeavor means you will get more money out of it, more than any official purpose of the endeavor. But money greases the skids in legislatures across the nation, as well as in the families of health industry employees. And since so many other jobs have already been off-shored, health care is one of the few domestic industries left that pension funds can invest in.
So far, the discussion I have heard about has been rather polarized. Too many people are talking past each other, rather than really listening to each other’s underlying needs. But to be sustainable, we have to live within our planetary means, and we have to share. Universal health care will also allow us to reduce the work week and create more jobs to do the same total amount of work. We can work to live, rather than living to work.
But I think there is a win-win solution, based on a two-tier concept. We should have a basic tier that covers things like tooth decay, broken bones, acute infections like pneumonia, asthma attacks, eye exams and glasses, diagnosis, and prenatal and pediatric care. All the really cost-effective procedures belong in this category, and should be covered by a single-payer system similar to (but not exactly like) Medicare.
Then in tier two, we call on the insurance companies to cover ailments that are expensive, elective, or the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices. And we regulate them to make sure they live up to their actuarial promises; if the for-profit corporations take your premiums they can’t cancel you in a crisis.
Also, there several topics that seem so far to have been missing in action. One is the role of complementary and alternative medicine, aka CAM. Another is the sliding scale. There is absolutely no reason for someone like my financially secure mother to be getting subsidized health care from Medicare. Any premiums or co-payments for a basic Tier One must be means-tested. We have to share. Sharing is not socialism, it’s Christianity. And it’s also good for us.
As for alternative medicine, we need to integrate those aspects which are effective and inexpensive into both tiers. Some herbal remedies work as well or better than some modern pharmaceuticals. Acupuncture can help in some situations. Healing touch like massage can easily replace drugs in certain cases; and, like healthy food and exercise, it helps maintain really good health, rather than merely fixing the symptoms of bad habits or misfortune.
Alternative medicine also calls on people to become their own doctors, as much as possible. We need to take responsibility for our own bodies, for getting acquainted with them, and taking care of them. One cost-cutting measure would be to make each adult responsible for their own medical record and file. If a doctor’s handwriting is illegible, write down what they say and ask them to initial it. This would be a lot cheaper than a nationwide computer system, although it would not make anyone much money.
Lastly, the public health perspective has apparently also been MIA. Some kinds of medical treatment are reasonably close to being a public good, the kind of investment or activity that benefits everyone. Timely treatment of infectious diseases like TB, syphilis, and malaria are examples of public medicine that protects the rest of us. Let’s consider expanding this existing function into some functions of a Tier One.
And of course, living a sustainable lifestyle would improve public health dramatically. If we used no fossil fuels, we would get plenty of exercise. And we would have to eat local food fresh from the garden, because we couldn’t afford to ship it across the planet or use a lot of energy to store it in a giant American fridge until it turns into a science experiment that you can't eat anyway.

July 14, 2009

Two Reasons Why Bagged Salad Is Bad For You

Even if it's organic, that doesn't mean it's natural. Yesterday, Carolyn Lochhead reported on how food safety concerns are leading to anti-organic over-reactions.
And just because packaged produce may legally be labeled organic, that doesn't mean it's raised on anything resembling a family farm. Organic agri-biz is still agri-biz, and that's bad for workers and bad for farm communities.
So the next time someone offers you some plastic salad or other produce, just say no. Say no for the birds, bees, ants, mice, and all the other critters who God may have asked us to care for. Hold out for food that is alive and healthy enough to entice birds and bees to want some too. Only dead food has a long shelf life, like all store-bought California almonds, now that growers can only sell raw ones at farmers' markets.
Fortunately, there are plenty of farmers' markets nowadays, so we don't have to buy the products of corporate pushers, even 'organic' ones.

June 26, 2009

Sustainable Marriage & Family Rights

There's a certain irony in the gay marriage movement for feminists like my younger self who viewed marriage as a suspicious patriarchal trap. And truthfully, I wonder if the GMM has fallen into a trap - the nuclear family ideology.
Let's step back and ask ourselves: What is marriage for? Is it a romantic ideal or an economic institution? In fact, both functions are inevitable and desirable, though tricky to reconcile, as we see on Jerry Springer. (And those who doth protest too much the sanctity of marriage really ought to just take a deep breath; dictionary definitions have long since included partners which were nonhuman, even inanimate.)
So let's make it easier on ourselves by pulling them apart and creating two institutions. Let the couple institution carry the romance and let the family institution carry the household welfare. Both forms should be legal institutions, each with its proper rights and responsibilities.
The rights and responsibilities of the family would be focused on the welfare of its members, particularly children. A couple who conceive a child would have the responsibility of designating a family that would raise the child, either by the couple entering into a family contract or by selecting an existing and mutually agreeable family.
Thus, a family could contain any number of singles and couples, which would address the problem that the nuclear family is just too small (unless you're rich) to do everything everyone (especially the religious right) wants it to do. And both romantic couples and family members would have the same rights of hospital visitation, inheritance, and so forth.
Another reason for restructuring family in this way is for better consumption efficiency. Currently, big corporations' only criteria is production efficiency, and their size and organization enables them to attain legal and financial powers that now overwhelm nuclear families. But families of up to a dozen adults could get a far better consumption capacity factor by buying fewer appliances and other domestic capital investments, as opposed to one per person or two living apart.
As for sex, we should really just take Miss Manner's advice and not presume to inquire into and pass judgement on the private affairs of others. After all, very few adults wish to conduct their affairs in public. And I know of no one who would benefit more by examining the speck in his neighbor's eye rather than the beam in his own.
Expecting straight sex to provide a strong foundation for all of society is a red herring that distracts us from actually constructing such a foundation. Is that an abomination or what?

June 25, 2009

Sustainable Safety

Ralph Carmona from Gold River thinks we "are losing all sense of local public governance" because law enforcement staff are getting a budget haircut along with everyone else. He suggests that street chaos will result. But according to Tom Tyler, "people obey the law if they believe it's legitimate." He suggests that law enforcement "would do much better to make legal systems worthy of respect than to try to instill fear of punishment."
There are 5 principles of effective deterrence; the classic requirements of severity, certainty, and speed of punishment have been identified by many, and more recently 2 more have been added: provision of acceptable alternatives (to crime) and the credibility of punishers to those punished. Without these factors, deterrence won't influence potential offenders.
When people are deprived of the basics of survival, such as healthy food and shelter, 2 of the most important alternatives to crimes (such as shoplifting bread in Gold River) are MIA. Making sure people have enough good food, and a place to get out of the heat and the cold, are much more at the "heart of Sacramento County's social compact."
Providing for the survival needs of people who are homeless, unskilled, and/or unemployed will be more effective at avoiding chaos than protecting current law enforcement budgets. Community gardens, affordable housing, and a role in society are surely more cost-effective ways to prevent crime. We could even declare a truce in the War on Drugs, perhaps the most counter-productive law enforcement strategy ever devised.
After all, when this country was founded, we did just fine without any cops at all.

June 8, 2009

Confessions of a Plastiholic

     The only way to avoid plastic abuse in this country is to be a hermit like the Unabomber or never buy anything at any store.
     I used to use plastic picnic cups, forks and spoons as unthinkingly as anyone, but by the time plastic plates showed up, I had started to resist using them. And they're the standard for almost every potluck or party you go to. So I made a solemn vow that I wasn't going to use any plastic stuff to eat with. I put together a mess kit with stainless steel utensils and a reusable plastic container from the thrift store - it works great because when I'm done eating I just put the lid on and no mess.
     But then I realized that I'm still using lots of other plastic. Some of it I can re-use, but a lot of it gets trashed. You just can't help yourself when your whole country is abusing plastic.
     Making throwaway items of plastic when it is 99.44%  impossible to truly recycle is abuse. About 2/3 of all plastic packaging is made from natural gas, and 1/4 from oil. If we are going to just throw that gas and oil away, we might as well use it to keep someone warm in the winter instead. Next time you whip out another garbage bag, even if it's the grocery bag, think about it.
     A lot of people have heard about the plastic in the ocean that's killing more than a million sea animals every year.  If there are truly 46,000 pieces of plastic trash per square mile of ocean, as the U.N. says, it's a wonder there aren't more dead bodies. Your old Barbie doll could be a killer.
     The plastic bag industry claims that plastic packaging saves energy because it's lighter than glass, wood, and other things that actually are recyclable. But they don't mention that a lot of plastic containers are used for beverage products, which are extremely heavy. Drinking soda pop in plastic bottles rather than glass ones isn't really going to save any energy - for that you need to drink tap water.
     There are actually some cool ways to re-use plastic, even though it just postpones the inevitable trash.
     The easiest way to truly recycle it would probably be to burn it, the way utilities burn natural gas and coal. And even though plastic probably has fewer contaminants like chlorine and sulfur than oil and coal, burning plastic trash will probably produce a minute amount of dioxins and some other things that could smell like the tailpipe of a car that's burning oil.
     I think I'd rather take my chances with plastic combustion than with nuclear, or mountain-top rape - like the permits for coal strip mining that Obama recently approved.

May 13, 2009

City Council All Wet?

     If I had known the council was proposing a one-size-fits-all, zero-tolerance policy, I would have suggested some sustainable amendments.
     Food gardens are an obvious exemption here, since growing your own food displaces a certain amount of water use that would otherwise be required for transportation and display for sale. Gardens that are shaded by trees retain water far longer than those which are naked in the Sacramento summer sun. And of course, houses where composting toilets are installed and graywater systems route household wastewater to thirsty plants are conserving water automatically.
     Rumors that we are in a drought have been called into question but as usual politicians ignore impertinent critiques. 
     And of course this ordinance, like so many, depends on complaints for enforcement, which means more of the sort of anonymous complaints and neighbor snitching that sabotages true and sustaining community.

May 12, 2009

Rural Resistance To Green Veneer

     People who live in the country didn't move there so cities could build high-voltage towers in their fields and farms, as was pointed out in yesterday's Bee
     Large-scale, energy-intensive projects like this are not green. Sorry.
     One alternative to meeting Sacramento's sacred future energy demands would be to ban all Sacramento's inefficient and polluting fossil-fuel leafblowers and lawnmowers, and divert all that fuel to one highly efficient stationary turbine with good pollution controls. This would make a sizeable dent in the 'demands' for electricity that are expected for the next few years.
     Another alternative would be to take a close look at our 'demands,' which sound to me like the selfish whims of spoiled children. How much electricity is used for anything we actually need? How much is used for things we like but can actually live without?
     You can't be green, or sustainable, if you don't know the difference. 

May 9, 2009

Downsizing Government & Minimizing Pain

     Councilmember Ray Tretheway's op-ed in today's Bee advocates energetic enforcement of petty misdemeanors, based on the debatable 'broken-windows' theory that blight causes crime. Elsewhere, WEAVE reports that rape-crisis support for victims will be cut as part of the budget crunch. I hope Tretheway would give higher priority to addressing violent crimes such as rape, than to petty offenses such as graffiti, self-medication, or penny-ante theft.
     Minimizing pain can't happen if we stay inside the box of business-as-usual, which includes law enforcement retribution for underclass street crimes but old-boy bonuses for the upper-class suite crimes that continue to rape public budgets.
     The business-as-usual box also insists that we must fight blight by sticking to certain very unsustainable practices, such as having lawns and landscaping that are over-fertilized, over-pesticided, over-watered, and so manicured by fossil-fuel mowers and leafblowers as to appear made from plastic. No wonder the bees are dying.
     Any use of a fossil fuel is another small attack on Mother Earth, and on our long-term survival, not to mention future property values. 

April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Spreads Terrorist Germs!!

     Like any flu, swine flu can kill, especially people who are weak. There are sensible things you can do to strengthen your immune system, like eating healthy food (no white flour/rice/pasta/sugar or processed ready-to-eat products), and getting plenty of sleep, and exercise outdoors in the fresh air. And if you do get sick, there is no shortage of natural substances, like medicinal herbs and fresh garlic, that germs don't like.
     Many people are ready to blame hog farms in Mexico for this threat of a pandemic. But even if there turns out to be a connection, these farms are only one symptom of the presenting problem. What kind of farming is unhealthy and why are people working that way? What are the trade-offs? What role does mobility play when half the world is jetting around and the other half are illegal immigrants?
     We don't know if this flu makes people sicker than other flu bugs. If mortality is higher in Mexico, it could be due to poor health due to economic exploitation.
     And could the black market drug trade be a disease vector? If law enforcement can't stop illegal drugs, how can public health officials stop germs from hitchhiking on them? And while this flu is probably not that dangerous, other diseases are. The most cost-effective way to track such vectors is to decriminalize, the only way to shine a light on a black market.

April 23, 2009

Newsflash! TV Makes You Stupid!

     A concerned parent, Allen Kanner, wrote in the last 2008 Tikkun describing his (and his wife's) decision to raise their kids without TV. They want to shelter their children from the blizzard of corporate capitalist advertising, what Zappa called "the slime oozing out of your TV set." In particular, it's the "corporate materialism" the Kanners object to. Others have demonstrated a link between materialism and low self-esteem.
     But there seems to be another scary effect of TV programming, which is that kids don't know how to play. Teachers report kids don't know what to do with themselves when left alone during recess. Research indicates kids playing with toys they have seen on TV shows limit their play to just the stories shown on those TV shows.
     However, I'm not sure I totally agree with the Kanners' solution of total isolation, particularly as the child progresses toward puberty. I would install exactly one TV, and inoculate my kids by making fun of the ads - a form of play that will empower and sharpen growing minds. Pointing out the hypocrisy and greed that goes along with all that money seems a far more effective way to prepare children to avoid another market meltdown.
     I'm also not sure TV is the only villain here. Kids can't learn to play - or act - on their own if parents never leave them alone. Too many parents are too afraid to let their kids travel alone in their own towns, not to mention out in the woods. Again, inoculation is a better defense than too much protection. Gavin de Becker's book, "Protecting the Gift," has some great ideas about how to do this, from an author with substantial professional experience.

April 9, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform

     I cannot tell a lie. I am a bad progressive who doesn't believe in public financing of campaigns. I think it's a waste of money that doesn't really address the problem. The last thing we need is more ads when the nature of advertising has gradually been rotting our brains and our schools.
     The problem is locked in place by Supreme legal precedence that any personal money spent on one's campaign is protected by the principle of free speech. The constrained freedom to contribute is also protected. Unfortunately, pandering speech enjoys equal protection not just under the law but by customary acceptance and approval. Such acceptance is close kin to people's approval of local pork.
     Many years ago, I advocated in a letter to the Bee that half of all campaign contributions be allocated to local general funds. Another great idea would be requiring more open-ended, calm, and equal time access to be provided by all news media. We could limit campaigns to a month or 2, as in Europe.
     Another campaign reform available to everyone is to never vote for anyone you see advertised on TV.

March 22, 2009

Free Health Care! No Insurance Required!

The best way to get free health care is to learn how to take care of yourself. Of course, it helps to have the good sense to eat right, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep.
Eating right means eating healthy food - protein and fresh vegetables from healthy sources, not from factory farms and not from multinational corporations. No white flour, rice, pasta, etc. No sugar. No soda pop. "Eat food, mostly plants, not too much." Luckily, healthy food is often the most economical.
Exercise is readily available when you grow even some of your own food, and bicycle even some of the time instead of driving. Luckily, healthy exercise is often more economical than business as usual.
Getting plenty of sleep enables you to think clearly, and it also enables your body's immune systems to work properly.
When you get a cold or minor infection, you don't need all the stuff advertised on TV, and you usually don't need to go to the doctor. You just need to take the time, and feed yourself the healthy food, that your body needs to heal itself. Fevers and congestion are part of the healing process; let your body do the job it's evolved to do.
Trust your body. Learn to listen to it, and it will tell you what it needs. Learn to be your own doctor.
Don't be afraid of death. The death rate is always the same - one per person.
The true tragedy is realizing on your deathbed that you were afraid to live your life to the fullest, and to be the best person you could be.

March 6, 2009

What To Do About GM

     It's time for the creative destruction Schumpeter described. Rather than propping up the dinosaur with subsidies, it should be reformed into many small independent R&D manufacturing companies. If GM workers were put in charge of many small independent factories, they could liberate the creativity currently stifled by GM management's delusion that it's still 1950.   
     Remember who killed the electric car. Those are not the people who are going to design and build affordable sustainable cars and trucks. What if the GM staff who did design the EV-1, and who really cared about their baby, had been an independent company? 
     How many other ordinary people have great ideas that they could share with each other, and work together to come up with truly elegant designs that meet people's need for affordable alternative transportation and other sustainable tools? I'm sure the people who work for the parts companies (that politicians say we need to save GM for) could help out too.
     Heck, we could use some of the subsidy to hire some laid-off workers to drive the buses that transit agencies can barely afford to hire drivers for even though fares have been raised so high driving and parking is cheaper.

March 2, 2009

A Rule of Law

     One of the basic principles of making laws is that if the law contradicts cultural norms or human nature it will be an unenforceable joke. It's too bad the city council will doubtless make a mockery of this rule of law on Tuesday by approving the anti-scavenging ordinance, yet another ordinance that contradicts human nature. This will only diminish respect for the laws that already exist.
     Of course, many people who believe emotional reflexes are actual rational thinking will support the council's expected reflex approval. But people who are hungry, tired, and more or less desperate, are always going to heed their survival instincts rather than a foolish law based on wishful thinking and fear of an unlikely event.
     If Sacramento's laws allow cops to evict homeless people from their cars just because the registration is expired, or allow repo companies to trash perfectly useful items that have been left behind by former homeowners who have been foreclosed and evicted, then it is only poetic justice for those who still have houses to get ripped off too.
     If we allow these injustices to continue to injure other Sacramentans, we deserve the karma of victimization that this ineffective ordinance is designed to look like it will prevent.

March 1, 2009

March 3rd, 2pm Final Chance to protest the proposed Ant-Scavenging Ordinance in Sacramento

Please show up to oppose the passage of the proposed Anti-Scavenging ordinance that would criminalize scavenging from dumpsters. I believe this legislation is the wrong direction for the Sacramento City Council to be moving, as it shows a lack of compassion for those who need to scavenge for sustenance and is inconsistent with the ideals of reusing, recycling, and sustainability.

Please show up: 2pm Tuesday, March 03, 2009 at City Hall 915 I Street, 1st Floor Council Chamber

Sacramento City Council Agenda for March 3rd, see item 14
030309-14-Scavenging (PDF-255 KB)

"Trash or treasure?, Sacramento City Council considers ban on Dumpster diving", By Sena Christian in the "Sacramento News and Review"

February 26, 2009

Repo Trash

     I was shocked to see on Oprah yesterday all the perfectly good useful stuff that gets hauled off to the dump now that so many houses are getting repossessed. Apparently there's just too much for Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Amazing. And shameful.
     We have so much stuff that nobody can be bothered taking care of repo leftovers. But it's crazy to trash stuff that was made from pieces of Mother Earth, using energy taken from her without giving anything back - except of course, trash. We should be ashamed of ourselves. This isn't the market's failure, it's our failure.
     Most people have heard of the velveteen rabbit, the stuffed pet that was loved so well, and well-worn, that he came alive. Every piece of repo trash deserves to be as cared about as the velveteen rabbit.
     Every piece of Mother Earth deserves to be loved. Can you love them?

February 23, 2009

City Council Plans Almost $12 Million in Corporate Welfare

     A winter of economic and budget meltdown seems like a peculiar time for the city council to be spending this kind of money on projects that are far from essential, when it could instead use that money to save perhaps 120 jobs for next year (or 60 jobs for 2 years), rather than slashing almost 300 city staff as the Bee reports is expected tomorrow night.
     Claims that moving the Greyhound terminal will improve inter-city transit services are sabotaged by the fact that RT bus service there is spotty, the eventual light-rail station may be a 10-minute walk away from the new location, and there's nothing to stop Greyhound from staying in this 'temporary' location for 20 years. This will not improve services for those actual passengers who don't have cars or money for taxis. The $6 million plus destined for this project would be much better spent on things that are more essential for the unemployed, like food and shelter.
     The plan to spend $5.7 million on developing 4 entertainment venues at 10th & K, while selling the properties to the developer for $1, only adds insult to injury for citizens and taxpayers who might prefer something a little more useful for their money. Perhaps the reason this item was postponed to March 3 was that even the council was too embarrassed to approve a whole $12 million in corporate welfare Tuesday afternoon before slashing city staffing Tuesday evening.
     The class war is alive and well, unlike capitalism.

February 19, 2009

Sustainable Sacramento Blog Partners

     Recently, Ming asked to join this blog and post about local sustainable topics. Others are warmly invited to also join, and actively participate in the discussion.

     I have also started another blog at, for philosophical comments on a variety of topics. For example, on Feb. 17:
     Why is everyone so worried about Blagojevich, Burris, Daschle, Geithner, and other garden-variety funny business that's just about money? Why are we giving the international war criminals, Bush & Cheney, a pass? Where is our perspective?
     Do we really care more about traditional Chicago political games or cutting corners on one's tax return than we care about spending (eventually) $$trillions killing millions of Iraqis and destroying their infrastructure as well as the financial health of our own nation?
     Pretty pathetic.

February 9, 2009

Feb 10th at 2pm (tomorrow) is the proposed Anti-scavenging Ordinance for the City of Sacramento. Please show up and protest this proposed ordinance.


This week, in Sacramento, the Sacramento City Council, will decide upon adopting a proposed ordinance that would make it illegal to scavenge from the waste receptacles. I believe that this is a wrong direction for the City Council to be putting enforcement of the law. 1) In tough economic times, criminalizing survival methods of the impoverished seems just wrong. Compassion seems more appropriate. 2) Sacramento takes pride in being a "Sustainable City". The passage of this proposed anti-scavenging ordinance encourages landfill waste in that it criminalizes recovery and reuse of another person's trash which could be potentially useful to someone else.

Would you be willing to show up at the Sacramento City Council meeting, 915 I St., on Tuesday, February 10th at 2pm to speak against this draconian measure that would criminalize a survival method for the impoverished and would criminalize a method of recovery and reuse of less-than-new products ?

As background, the city seems to be worried about "identity theft" which they feel is caused by people going through trash. I believe there are better, more effective methods to counter "identity theft" than criminalizing and penalizing homelessness and methods to find and reuse reusable items.

Thank you for your consideration,

Sacramento Sustainability Action Group

More specific excerpted information is below:

"(Pass for Publication) Ordinance Amendment: Scavenging from Solid Waste Receptacles

Location: (Citywide)

Recommendation: 1) Review an Ordinance repealing Section 13.10.160 of the Sacramento City Code relating to the removal of recyclable materials placed for City sponsored program and adding Section 13.10.160 of the Sacramento City Code relating to scavenging from solid waste receptacles; and 2) pass for publication the Ordinance title as required by the Sacramento City Charter 32c to be adopted on March 3, 2009. Contact: Edison Hicks, Integrated Waste General Manager (916) 808-4949, Marty Strauss, Integrated Waste Planning Superintendent (916) 808-4934, Utilities Department." 021009-11-Scavenging (PDF-340 KB)

February 4, 2009

How To Make Your Own Sustainable Job

     If you used to be a GM executive, you should prepare to radically refocus your perspective on what's economical. If you used to wash dishes in a restaurant, you are probably already in the ballpark of understanding the real economy.
     First, be very clear on what you need: clean air and water, healthy food, and warmth. The first two are already in the bag; they are basically free and not that bad for you. Food is essential, and the healthier it is, the lower your health care costs will be. So in the short term, some kind of food-related job can put you ahead of the game. A kitchen job for a natural food restaurant would be ideal; people who work in kitchens are rarely hungry (unless they work for a fast-food chain). Even dishwashing has potential.
     Other places where food can be found include family farms, farmers markets, grocery stores, and dumpsters.
     Having a roof or a tent over your head is a key factor in staying warm, since they protect you from wind and rain. We could solve the housing crisis by taxing empty bedrooms, but don't wait until politicians come to their senses. Look around yourself for a cost-effective room to rent or barter for. Older people often live alone in houses with empty space, and often feel challenged by all the upkeep. Their fixed incomes often don't allow them to hire the kind of help they could use. If I were an single mom, I would be looking for an adoptive grandmother.
     Clothes are not such a problem. They aren't as inexpensive as air and water, but we are awash in a sea of clothes that overflow thrift stores and garage sales. And since most of them have some synthetic fiber content, they won't really wear out for an awfully long time.

     Once you have gotten back to basics like this, you are tuned in to the real economy. The real economy is just the sum total of what is actually happening underneath the "veil of money." The trick about money is that it works best when the players all have their eyes firmly fixed on what's real, and not on the veil of money. Looking at the man behind the curtain is a good idea.
     Now, things can only get better from here. To expand your economic horizons, start by thinking about the economy as a whole. Basically the economy has 2 parts:
1) the human race takes resources from the planet, and
2) human beings take in each other's washing, i.e., take care of each other.
     Currently, our economy is overweight on the resource part, and underweight on the caring part. So looking for some excess resources that you can use to take care of other people is a good strategy. Assess your skills, and compare them to people's needs and wants. People will always need clean air and water, healthy food, and warmth. Once they feel secure about those basics, they start thinking about social activities, which are free for those who are creative. They start thinking about education. What can you teach that is useful?
     Look for a job doing something that people need often, like cooking or farming, rather than something they only need occasionally, like construction or stock-brokery. Look for ways to get outside of the money economy, such as barter.
     If everyone who is unemployed put themselves to good use, by means of these principles (and those outlined by other sensible people) the economy will recover as quickly as possible. But if we persist in thinking that we need Wall Street or Congress to fix it for us, we will get what we deserve. They can't fix it, because the real economy depends on millions of people living individual sustainable lives.

January 15, 2009

We Don't Need A Mayor on Steroids

     Why did KJ run for mayor if he really wanted to be king? He hasn't done anything yet that really helps anyone who's not already rich, and already he wants more power. He's acting more like Bush - 'If the President does it it's not illegal' - than anything like Obama.
     He's already created a conflict of interest with his volunteer advisors, who work for local developers and their lawyers, sitting in on city meetings. Where is the city attorney? 
     Who's paying for all these clueless signature-gatherers, at $1.50 per signature? I don't think he's spending any of his money. In my youth, people like his deep-pocket pin-striped cronies were called "outside agitators." 
     Why are the signature-gatherers lying to people, telling them it's an initiative for a full-time mayor when that was passed back in 2002? Or misleading them by implying that the main purpose is to make the city manager our chief administrative officer? Where's the referee?
     And how did he manage to get away with these people gathering signatures out in front of Raley's, the same store that told me to get lost when I wanted to table there myself, the actual candidate, during the mayoral campaign last spring? I guess some people are just more equal than other people.
     I'm sure there are many other things to do with all this money that would be more useful to the community. Just Say No to the Steroid Mayor idea.

January 5, 2009

A Bad New Year's Resolution from the City Council

     Sometime soon, the council will hear a proposed ordinance revision which makes it illegal for the underclass to remove anything from your garbage and greenwaste containers, in addition to the recycling container which is already off-limits. Thankfully, residents are still allowed to retrieve items mistakenly thrown away and to allow extremely-low-income entrepreneurs to cherry-pick.
     This proposal is alleged to offer all kinds of vague benefits. Many terrible things that can happen will, it is implied, not happen because marginal people will be further restricted. But no data is presented about injuries, pests, identity theft or other crimes. 
      Have there really been any cases of identity theft by scavengers? If they are that sophisticated, why are they on the street? And fighting blight is like fighting terror; both are ideas and incapable of direct data. If the council wants to protect the public, how about cracking down on the many viciously loud motorcycles which blight our streets and assault our ears? Or we could ban leafblowers and create jobs.
       This ordinance should only be amended to make it illegal for anybody to throw away anything that's still useful. Reportedly, some neighborhoods are excellent hunting grounds for gathering perfectly edible food from garbage cans. Donation to Sacramento's hungry should be required for edible food.
     More durable goods, many still perfectly useful, can be found in the junk pick-up piles. This is an ideal opportunity for the city to demonstrate its commitment to sustainability, by making sure we minimize waste by using what we have and only landfilling things that are actually no longer useful to anyone. (Council items could be presented on much less paper than this one uses.) How many trips to Nevada could be reduced this way? Why don't we have an Urban Ore outlet here?
     This ordinance is as likely to solve the scavenging problem as for a rich man to enter heaven. Bandaids don't work for gaping wounds like PTSD, starvation and homelessness. The rationale for this proposal includes protecting scavengers from illness and injury, but until the city protects them from starvation and freezing I can't take their concern seriously. 
     If the city is serious about reducing crime, reducing hunger and hopelessness will be their first priority. Passing stupid ordinances will be off the list.