Friday, December 30, 2011

MSN gives story on sustainable living communities, and they requirement commitment

Thursday, MSN gave us a story of places to “live off the grid” or to lead the “unplugged” life.  They are around the country, in Virginia, North Carolina, Vermont, Missouri, Oregon, and New Mexico, Arizona, Utah.

Generally, most of them have fewer than 100 residents who have a contractual agreement to share incomes.  It’s not clear how “unplugged” they are in their green, sustainable communities, although local production of food and goods is required.  Some probably to have satellite or cellular wireless Internet, some may not.  Some require an entrance fee, and some require a communal work commitment.

One of them, “Dancing Rabbit”, north of St. Louis, has homes covered with sod on top that look like they came right out of “The Lord of the Rings” as homes for hobbits.

I had some experience with these sorts of communities when I was younger.  There was Dan Fry’s (posthumous biographical link)   Understanding, on I-10 in Tonopah AZ, 40 miles west of Phoenix, consisting of UFO-shaped buildings (no longer there, now a cotton ranch).  It held major conventions twice a year in the 1970s.  There was the Lama Foundation (link) on a mountainside (at almost 9000 feet), facing west, north of Taos, NM, which I visited in 1980 and then again in 1984 for Spring Work Camp. The access road can get quite muddy and impassable even in summer. The place had a wildfire in 1996 but I understand is rebuilt.

While living in Dallas in the 1980s, I also learned about Richard Kieninger, author of "The Ultimate Frontier" (and links to the Great White Brotherhood). He held monthly meetings at the Unitarian Church in University Park, Dallas.  He did say that spirituality does not make one a "passive vessel".  His followers' community in East Texas (about 100 miles from Dallas as I recall) is called Adelphi (link).  Back around 1970, his group built a planned community called Stelle near Kankakee, IL, 80 miles S of Chicago. It claimed to be very progressive with underground utilities.  At one time, it required that only husbands work in families that live there (that only one-earner families were permitted), and then it dropped that requirement; it's not clear that this followed from Kieninger's teachings.  

Since Twin Oaks is near Richmond and accessible to me, I’ll give the link now.   

I’ll have to see about a Saturday visit early in 2012, winter weather permitting.  It looks like you need appointments.  I have already visited the general area after the August earthquake, the epicenter of which was very nearby.

Here is the MSN link.  

Picture: Mineral, VA shortly after Aug. 2011 quake, near Twin Oaks.  

Thursday, December 29, 2011

CT tragedy draws attention to loose home safety habits; what about faulty surge protectors?

The tragic house fire in Stamford, CT brings up a lot of material regarding home safety. 

The most complete story seems to be in the New York Daily News, (website url) here

My father preached about my learning to do the “chores” as a boy, and about correct form in doing these tasks; but he never made me learn to set a pilot light or to discharge fireplace embers as I remember. I don’t recall his trying to teach me how to start a fireplace, by opening the updraft first.

We used the living room fireplace a lot.  The dual basement fireplace was sometimes used (but not during my Science Honor Society “initiation” on home turf December 9, 1960).  Logs would take about two hours to burn completely. I used to have to fill the woodshed near the basement steps (using the embers there until the next morning, with the glass cover closed.  I think Mother disposed of the ashes the next day (12 hours later, at least).  There is flue downstairs.

So it sounds odd that a contractor friend would put the ashes in a mudroom shortly after the fire stopped.

Even so, it surprises me that ashes stay warm enough to ignite a house. It’s scary how easily this can happen.
We used to put a 6-foot Christmas tree in the dining area, around Dec. 21, and always took it down before New Years.  Father said “There is no connection between Christmas and New Years”.  We had old 1940’s light strings, where individual bulbs could burn out. It probably wasn’t safe.  The colors were very “pure”.  Some friends had all blue lights, and that fascinated me (years before Facebook).  My color vision is normal.

One year we tried to put the tree in a sand bucket and it kept falling down. 

How careful were we about turning off lights before leaving for outings or Church?  I wonder.

Appliances were not as safe then, in the 50s.  We had a Roper gas stove, only recently replaced to have “safer” electronic ignition (so gas can never build up when one is away for a long time and not available to relight a pilot; but even some older apartments have all-gas stoves).  The water heater and furnace now all have modern electronic ignition, which makes it power-dependent, but much safer.  Bray and Scarf says the manufacturing standards are much “stricter” because of house fires over the years, even if many of the appliances come from China (which I fear they may).  Likewise, most electrical outlets have been replaced with three-hole grounded outlets.  Funny, the cable box and cable modem doesn’t fail when you have the outlets (even for the surge protector) grounded correctly, in an old house.  With the generator came a master electrical control switch panel with modern, stricter fuses. As a result, a couple of light fixtures and switches then tripped and had to be replaced with modern equipment.

There have been other home tragedies around. In May, 2011, a house in Rockville MD exploded after a botched do-it-yourself gas clothes dryer installation (story).  So  I guess contractors who come and work in homes have a lot of responsibility.

Our parents  and grandparents just did not live that safely.   They were handier about doing things themselves than today’s yuppies.  If you have (buy or inherit) an old house, expect to spend $20000 on safety replacements by professionals. Even if you live in Massachusetts, watching “This Old House” isn’t enough education as to how to “do it”.

Here's another thing: faulty (or worn) surge protectors are said to be fire hazards.  This has been reported since the 1990s.  Here's a Consumer Watch story. It's a good idea to replace them every few years.  

Picture: The "Hot Sticks" were purchased at a 7/11 before a 2010 blizzard, before the generator. The chimney actually had some damage from the earthquake in August, about $3000 in repairs.  

What about smoke detectors? Yes -- have them as part of your security system. (I had one in Dallas send false alarms in 1987, though.)  Sprinklers?  I'd be afraid they would go off on false alarms and do property damage.  But I had one in New York City as early as 1974 without problems.  It wasn't a choice in a rental. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Corporate executives work with conservative lobbying groups to influence state legislators

The Washington Post this morning teed off on the title of a famous Summit Entertainment film, “Ghostwriter”, with the concept, at least, in a Metro story, “Ghostwriter at work for Virginia’s assembly? Conservative Group Influential; Corporate interests fuel agenda, critics say”, story by Anita Kumar, link here

The story concerns seats at the table of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) link here.    Generally the group has tended to try to influence legislators into business-friendly and anti-regulation policies, possibly in sensitive areas like climate change or environmental protections and in insurance regulation, especially health care.

The story compares the group to the theoretically non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
On a national level, such groups tend to throw issues into the hands of lobbyists, and reduce the ability of people in business to think independently or speak their minds publicly without creating conflicts of interest.

A good example on the national level could be the way old legacy media corporations (and their lobbying) are lined up against Silicon Valley companies regarding SOPA and how to handle “piracy”.  Old style media would have an incentive to try to control the market and limit the opportunities for low cost competition.

But the groups ALEC and NCSL would make good topics for discussion in high school government classes.  Teachers could make up test questions asking students to explain (or compare) their influence and to consider the ethics of belonging to such groups.  SAT essay questions on the problems they pose could be imagined.  Maybe even the SOL's!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas deliveries for Food and Friends

Today (Boxing Day, or Christmas Day II), I did a one-day (for now) Holiday volunteer assignment that I used to do more of in the 1990s when I lived here before, deliver for Food and Friends, link here
In the 1990s, the group had been located in SE DC, near the Waterfront and Navy Yard. Now it is located in a much larger space near the Fort Totten Metro in NE Washington DC.  There is major road work at the intersection of Riggs Road and S. Dakota Ave. but that did not cause problems.  By the way, there was major police presence watching for speeders on N. Capitol Street, where in some places the speed limit is just 25 mph despite being a divided highway with tunnels under major intersections and limited turn access.  (I think speed limits should be reasonable so they will be respected as posted.  Washington DC is one of the strictest locations in the nation for traffic law enforcement, including photo enforcement of limits.)
Previously, I had volunteered many Wednesday nights and dealt with donation collections.
Since about 2000, the group has expanded its focus on food for many clients, not just people with AIDS. 
On Dec. 10, NBC “American Giving” had honored a similar organization, “Move for Hunger” (link).
I can’t talk about where I went (finding addresses takes time, just as it did with Census), but I can say that in general, the client base is much more varied than it had been fifteen years ago, in many aspects.  Insofar as AIDS and HIV is visible in the community at large, it no longer seems to be targeting the gay male community the way official statistics say that it does. 

Will I do more?  I can say that, given my plans, I am reluctant to commit to another group's schedule.  One could pose questions for their own sake.  Do I cook?  No, I don't.  It's hard to do a lot of different things rally well.  Some volunteers do work in their large commercial kitchen.  I do have friends who are both artists and cooks at the same time. But there is only time to master so much. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Washington Post has Christmas Day op-ed on autism

Susan Senator, a writer in Massachusetts  (blog) and author of “The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide” has a Sunday Christmas Day piece “Tiger mother to an autistic son” online, called “When the autistic child grows up” in print, link here.

For those of us who did not or do not have children, I’m struck by the fact that any family could have a disabled child.  Even that observation gets lost when one goes to a typical upper middle class suburban protestant church, where it seems as though 90% of the high school kids are on honor rolls and in AP classes. 
It probably does not help that the medical establishment officially treats Asperger’s as part of autism (the practical issues are different).
It’s also noteworthy that some autistic kids overcome (as with the J-mac story on Larry King Live – book reviews March 18, 2008), and some even go to college (as with the case of a young woman depicted a few years ago on CNN’s forty-minute film  “Autism Is a World”). 
When I became a substitute teacher in 2004 (I would stop in 2007), I was stunned by how much of the school system’s resources were needed by special education. Every sub got these assignment whether profiled or not.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

PBS documentary forces FAA's hands in tightening rules for commuter pilots

Yesterday, the major media reported on tougher FAA rules on commuter airlines to deal with pilot fatigue.  The rules may not be tough enough, and pilots may still feel intimidated from reporting fatigue and not working.  

But the FAA may have felt pressured because PBS recently re-aired its late 2010 Frontline show  Flying Cheap”  (motivated by a tragic commuter air crash near Buffalo) and bloggers wrote about it again (about the pilot’s “barracks”).  This is a case of popular media forcing a change on public policy, however meager. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Idaho law prevents women from medicating themselves to end pregnancy, creating controversy

Recently, the media have reported litigation challenging Idaho’s state fetal pain law, particularly with the case of Jennifer McCormack, as reported Aug. 31 by the Huffington Post here.  

At particular issue is a requirement that pregnancy termination be done only by licensed Idaho physicians and in hospitals during second trimester.  It is illegal for women to medicate themselves, so the law effectively creates a legal catch-22.  Although charges against McCormack (who had medicated herself later in pregnancy than she realized) were dropped, she could be prosecuted again. 

McCormack has filed suit in federal court against a state prosecuting attorney.
I still wonder if it is really the life of the unborn that is the only issue in the minds of many in the right to life movement.  This seems to be about "control". 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Publication of results on H5N1 virus creation: government jawbones scientific journals into restraint on publication; some say experiment should not have been done, leak of virus to public is inevitable

Recently, major media have reported on the creation in the lab of a “bird flu” virus similar to H5N1 transmissible among ferrets, by a Dutch virologist, as for example reported by New Scientist in a story by Martin Enserlink Nov. 29, here.

As expected, the Obama adminstration is asking scientific publications to withhold details on how to make the virus, as reported tonight on NBC Nightly News by Robert Bazell. 

The virus seems to have been invented as a “proof of concept” but it is one of the most dangerous in the world, and it is thought it could have a 60% mortality rate. 

There is not a lot reported in the media about development of H5N1 vaccines. 

It’s true, however, that material that could be used by terrorist in other areas has been available on the web and even in print in public libraries: how to make various explosives, possibly how to make EMP devices.
So far, the information on the H5N1 experiment seems secure in the hands of a few labs and scientific journals.  It might be hard for the government to press ordinary news sites or blogs from such restraint of they got a hold of the details.  It would raise free speech questions.  

A couple of journals may publish redacted versions of the story soon. 

MSNBC tonight also has a story on a boy who recovered from a flesh-eating bacteria, possibly called a miracle.

Update: Dec. 27

The New York Times today has a story (by Denise Grady and Donald G. McNeil, Jr.) on the debate  over the experiments having even been done, let alone the idea of publication, because the virus will inevitably "get out".  What makes this virus more dangerous is that it is transmissible person-to-person as well as bird-to-person.  It says possession of the virus needs to be restricted so that at least it cannot get out as "soon".

Wikipedia attribution link for comparative diagram (H1N1 v H5N1).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Maryland county ordinance raises questions about closing bars because of conduct of patrons once they leave

Andrea Noble has a long story in the Monday Washington Times about a local Prince Georges County, MD issue that could set examples all over the country. The county recently passed an ordinance making it easier for police to shut down bars, discos and clubs with dancing when violence or crime is associated with patrons of the club, not necessarily limited to what happens on the premises, link (website url) here

Similar problems have occurred in Washington DC, as with a club on U Street, and more recently a club on Connecticut Ave. 

It’s a good question of the extent that owners of a bar should be held responsible for conduct of patrons once they leave the club, although DUI  has long been an issue. 

But it’s obvious that communities could use these laws to close down establishments they don’t like.
In the DC area, these laws haven’t particularly affected gay clubs, although some of the clubs have run into trouble expanding because of zoning issues in the Dupont Circle area and more recent objections of residents to more night life. 
However, back in the 1990s, a club called Tracks in the Navy Yard area, very popular with the gay  dances Saturday nights, would have “straight” nights other days of the week (Friday), and more incidents occurred on the “straight” nights. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scientists report increases in methane releases in Alaska, Siberia; accelerated climate change could result

Justin Gillis has a disturbing front page article in the New York Times Saturday about the growing appearance of methane gas bubbles from the permafrost in central Alaska. 
Methane is formed when plants decay under water, and traps much more heat (as a greenhouse gas) than does carbon dioxide. 

The link for the story is here.

This may confirm the “worst fears” of climate change scientists, who warn that quick release of methane (as from hydrates) could escalate to planetary catastrophe.  Climate change could become a runaway train, self-generating development. Is that what happened to Venus maybe just a billion years ago?

This YouTube video, about a year old, talks about the East Siberian ice shelf releasing methane.

Wikipedia attribution link for photo of methane hydrate.

There’s a nickname for all this, “farting ice”. 

Sarah Palin doesn’t seem to take it seriously.