Saturday, December 29, 2007

Houston's air quality CAN improve

I've been in Houston for 4 days now, and I'm leaving for Austin today... and not a moment too soon, as the air quality here leaves much to be desired...

I feel what seems like chemicals searing through my nostrils... and I've been told that it's due to the refinery and chemical plants located in areas such as Pasadena and Texas City. It's a shockingly vast expanse of industry, as I noted it from the buildings as I was touring a medical complex in town here on my visit.

Lackadaisical environmental regulation from the Bush Administration and the lack of EPA enforcements contributes to this problem.

...but it doesn't have to be that way. The citizens in Houston can choose to NOT TOLERATE their city and air being awash in the toxic soup spewed forth by this industry. They can demand accountability from industry and better air quality.

Folks protest and bring to the attention of the world-at-large the behavior of what I refer to as "eco-saboteurs" everyday. Environmentalists in Oregon strap themselves to trees to battle insane policy on the management on our national forests and unreasonable practices by the logging industry. Also in the Pacific Northwest, similar groups organize and find solutions to preserve and enhance river habitat to further healthy salmon spawning runs. Native American tribes and the populous of Arizona and Colorado keep mining industry at bay to make sure they behave and are accountable to the damage they have created with their practices.

It's all about choices... we all have the choice to decide what we are going to stand up for, or if we're going to accept the status quo. The citizens of Houston and Texas can choose to not tolerate the status quo...

Frankly, I don't understand why they do. I simply don't get it. S

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wow, we can actually agree on something...

The President signed it yesterday... he signed a bill sent to him by the Senate... yes, it's true... the first since Democrats took over Congress last January.

It was the Energy Bill, which Democrats and Republicans spent the last several months bickering about... and while in my opinion it isn't effective enough, at least it's a start in the right direction.

I'll let Peter Baker of the Washington Post elaborate further:

After a year of partisan combat and legislative stalemate, President Bush and Democratic congressional leaders came together yesterday for a holiday season consensus as they enacted legislation to promote energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) joined Bush for their first bill-signing ceremony with him since Democrats took over Congress in January, using the occasion to look past the disputes that marked a year of divided government.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined President Bush for their first bill-signing ceremony with him since Democrats took over Congress in January.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) joined President Bush for their first bill-signing ceremony with him since Democrats took over Congress in January. (By Evan Vucci -- Associated Press)

"The legislation I'm about to sign should say to the American people that we can find common ground on critical issues," Bush said with Pelosi, Reid and other Democrats at his side during the event at the Energy Department headquarters. "And there's more we can accomplish together."

The rare show of solidarity followed a year of clashes over the war in Iraq, children's health care, spending priorities and other issues. Bush has vetoed six bills this year, compared with the one veto he issued during his first six years in office when Republicans controlled one or both chambers of Congress. Democrats have complained bitterly that he does not accept the mandate they claimed after last year's midterm elections. But along the way, many Americans have grown disenchanted with the Washington impasse, and public support for Congress has fallen to levels as low or lower than that for Bush.

Even the energy legislation that Bush signed yesterday emerged only after a stare-down over $21 billion in tax increases that lawmakers had included until the president threatened to veto if they did not remove them. But by the time they showed up for the ceremony, both sides were focused on the areas of agreement and claiming credit for pushing it through.

The new law increases the fuel-efficiency standards for passenger vehicles for the first time since 1975, requiring new cars to average 35 miles per gallon by 2020 instead of the 25 mpg now required. It also requires fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels by 2022, a fivefold increase over the current standard, to reduce the dependence on oil. And it includes new rules and incentives to encourage greater efficiency in light bulbs and buildings.

Bush used the occasion to reach out to Pelosi and Reid. "I appreciate your leadership on this important issue," he told them. Pelosi said later that she was "pleased to join the president at the signing ceremony" and called it a harbinger of future achievements. "It did not come easily," she said during a news conference. "It took a lot of struggle, a lot of convincing. And much more needs to be done. But nothing signaled change more clearly, I think, to the American people than the successful passage of the energy legislation."

Even as they joined together, though, both sides tried to suggest that the other was the follower. Bush noted that he had proposed increasing alternative energy and fuel-efficiency standards in his State of the Union address to reduce projected gasoline consumption by 20 percent over 10 years. The alternative fuel provision that Congress ultimately passed largely tracked his proposal, although it permitted producers five extra years to meet the goal.

Bush went on to note that he called for higher fuel-efficiency standards in his speech. "The bill I'm about to sign delivers on that request," he said. But in fact, Bush proposed giving his administration the authority to set the standard for cars. "Congress should not legislate a particular numeric fuel economy standard," the White House said in a position paper at the time. Congress did just that by setting the 35 mpg standard.

Those were distinctions lost in the comity of the moment. Asked whether the bill-signing ceremony signaled the first of many, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said, "Hope springs eternal."

Let's hope the two sides can bring their heads together and make more progress in the next year, assuming King George II doesn't "lose his faculty" anymore than he already has. S

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Bozo Bus: from THE MITCHELL REPORT, here's the list of dopers in MLB

The Mitchell Report is out... and it ain't pretty...

Most of it involved former players. Those highlighted in red are current players. Those highlighted in blue are former Mariners (my personal favorite), and those highlighted in purple are former Diamondbacks (had season tickets to them for 6 years).

I've literally gone through The Mitchell Report myself to reveal the full listing here. Read it and weep.
  1. Barry Bonds
  2. Ken Caminiti
  3. Jose Canseco
  4. Wally Joyner
  5. Mark McGwire
  6. Derrick Turnbow
  7. Jason Giambi
  8. Jeremy Giambi
  9. David Bell
  10. Matt Williams
  11. Lenny Dykstra
  12. David Segui
  13. Larry Bigbie
  14. Brian Roberts
  15. Jack Cust
  16. Tim Laker
  17. Mosias Manzanillo
  18. Todd Hundley
  19. Mark Carreon
  20. Hal Morris
  21. Matt Franco
  22. Rondell White
  23. Roger Clemens
  24. Andy Pettitte
  25. Chuck Knoblauch
  26. Jason Grimsley
  27. Gregg Zaun
  28. David Justice
  29. F.P. Santangelo
  30. Glenallen Hill
  31. Mo Vaughn
  32. Denny Neagle
  33. Ron Villone
  34. Ryan Franklin
  35. Chris Donnels
  36. Todd Williams
  37. Phil Haitt
  38. Todd Pratt
  39. Kevin Young
  40. Mike Lansing
  41. Cody McKay
  42. Kent Mercker
  43. Adan Piatt
  44. Miguel Tejada
  45. Jason Christainson
  46. Mike Stanton
  47. Stephen Randolph
  48. Jarry Hairston, Jr.
  49. Paul Lo Duca
  50. Adam Riggs
  51. Bart Miadich
  52. Fernando Vina
  53. Kevin Brown
  54. Eric Gagne
  55. Mike Bell
  56. Matt Herges
  57. Gary Bennett, Jr.
  58. Jim Parque
  59. Brandan Donnelly
  60. Chad Allen
  61. Jeff Williams
  62. Howie Clark
  63. Exavier "Nook" Logan
  64. More to come...
Now that these dopeheads have been exposed, Seling NEEDS TO TAKE ACTION. Common sense (of what's left of it) tells me that this list doesn't tell the whole story... there's more of them out there.

I say put the guillotine on standby for those guilty as charged.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Helpful hints: laundry... and how to make it an environmentally friendly experience!

I recently had someone suggest I do a post on laundry -- since I did one on showering -- so here it is...

...I figure since I've already broken into your bathroom to dictate my in-your-face showering methods to you, now I'm moving onto the laundry room... so get your pen and paper on standby and be ready to take a few notes...

Attention! Role call!

I'll give you a short list today, for added convenience with your note-taking:
  1. When given the chance, use front-load washers. They use 50% less water.
  2. Detergent is important too... try purchasing one that's biodegradable and does not require hot water... an Earth-friendly brand that comes to mind is "Seventh Generation," but there's others out there.
  3. Be mindful and economical with the laundry load versus the water level... and typically the water level difference in the settings isn't that significant, so it's definitely better to wash with a full load considering the power and water use.
  4. If you think your load can get away with a shorter cycle, go with that.
  5. Try to avoid, whenever possible, the use of the extra rinse setting.
I realize chatter about environmentally-friendly laundry methods might seem a bit over the top, but I can guarantee you won't be laughing at energy and oil prices as they continue to sky-rocket, and as water starts becoming a harder commodity.

We need to be prepared for what is going to feel like an unrelenting ambush on our way of life, the many conveniences we take for granted, and the false perception that we have unlimited resources to waste.

...the keyword being SUSTAINABILITY. Think big picture.

All I can say to that is READ UP ON IT, THINK IT, LIVE IT... and spread the word. It's really no skin off your back, and simply involves a little education and awareness. It can only serve your life, and those around you, in a positive way.

At any rate (hopefully lower rates), happy laundering!

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Helpful hints: saving water in the shower

Ooo laa laa, it's shower time.

I apply a special practice to about 90% of the time I shower... actually, more like 75% of the time (as if I'm keeping track with a calculator on standby as I towel off each day)...

I've been doing this for probably the last 10-15 years... not the showering, I mean... well I mean the practice I'm about to describe... I mean, I've been showing longer than that... oh shut up, man!

In the morning (or whenever) I'm planning to shower, I turn the water ON, get in with the water running from my water-saving shower head, and proceed to get wet. Then I shampoo and rinse.

Then I shut the water OFF... yep, that's what I do... I won't deny it.

I then put in a very small amount of conditioner (being the conservationist that I am), and then turn to the next step, as I lather up with soap... actually as many as 3 different kinds of biodegradable soap.

There's absolutely no reason to have the water on during this portion of the shower -- as you'll simply detract from the lathering up and lufa work that you're trying to achieve... yes, we must "achieve" EXFOLIATION UTOPIA with the illustrious lufa every other day.

After you've lathered and scrubbed, then turn the water ON again to rinse... then promptly turn it OFF again when you're finished... and please make sure you're PROMPT, or the shower police will enforce your ass.

Some might say this takes away from the pleasure of a hot shower waking you up -- and even I will occasionally treat myself to that... but you will be amazed how much water this practice saves. you get cleaner anyway, because of more accurate and comprehensive soap lathering... so there you are, try it out!

...and don't screw it up, or you'll get an earful! S

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Environment prevails in Texaco case!

This is something that came in from the NRDC publication Nature's Voice, which I thought was worth sharing.

Of all the environmental organizations I've given my money, time and attention to, NRDC seems to reap the biggest results and have the most fingers plugging holes in the dam. S

After an epic 19-year battle, NRDC has struck a breakthrough court settlement with Texaco that will pour millions of dollars into environmental restoration projects on the Delaware River.

The oil giant relented just as NRDC litigators were preparing to head back to court in October for the fourth trial of the longest-running "citizen suit" in history.

Under the eleventh-hour agreement, Texaco will hand over $2.25 million to local groups that are working to restore the very stretch of the Delaware that the company illegally polluted over the course of a decade.

"This fantastic victory belongs to our Members," said Mitch Bernard, NRDC's director of litigation. "They have backed this case since 1988, and today we have shown that no company -- no matter how rich or powerful -- is above our environmental laws."

NRDC won the first round of this historic case back in 1992, when a federal judge ruled that Texaco had violated the clean water law on a total of 3,360 days and ordered the company to pay a fine of $1.68 million, stop its illegal pollution and assess the damage it had caused to the fragile river ecosystem.

After repeatedly defying court orders and suffering legal setbacks at the hands of NRDC and our local partners, Texaco paid the fine, reduced its pollution and produced a multiyear report on the impacts of its contamination of the Delaware.

Now, the company has granted long-awaited restitution to the ecosystem itself. Texaco's hefty payout will fund groups that include Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research, the Delaware Native Plant Society, the Delmarva Ornithological Society and Delaware State Parks.

The monies will advance projects like tree planting, wetland restoration, meadow management and osprey nesting.
--Nov/Dec 2007 issue of NRDC's Nature's Voice

Monday, November 19, 2007

Informative response to the 11/17 "Carbon Negative" post

Here's an interesting response I received with respect to my post 2 days ago.

"30% of carbon emissions in the US comes from the burning of fossil fuels for home heating and electricity. The majority of this is attributed to coal-burning power plants. If people lived in smaller houses and moved away from coal and oil for those houses, that would make a huge difference. Driving less, or driving smaller, hybrid vehicles would make a huge dent in the 40% of our carbon emissions that comes from cars. The other 30% is attributed to the use of fossil fuels by business and industry, so the individual really needs to focus on homes and cars.....the rest is small potatoes if we're talking about global warming. To make a significant impact, we should spend our time getting everyone closer to carbon neutral, then we can worry about carbon negative."

I decided to post this because it's from a source who's reliable and knows what he's talking about.

Typically the best way to respond to posts is by inserting them in the comments section that you can click on, and I totally invite you to do that... I'd love to hear from all of the readers who have taken the time and interest in The P-patch.

However, I'll make exceptions occasionally and post comments that are uniquely interesting, engaging, or informative, as I've done here.

United Nations IPCC Fourth Assessment Report is out

The new UN report on climate change and global warming assessments is out---and as you can imagine, things don't look pretty... as if we expected anything different.

Read it for yourself. There's actually some interesting details in the study, especially in terms of what they're able to determine vs. what the jury is still out on.

For example, it doesn't look like they're able to make any hard determinations as to whether or not the urban heat island effect contributes to global warming. It also mentions that as ocean temperatures warm, water expands; thus adding to the rising levels. I can't say that ever occurred to me before. S

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Being "Carbon Negative"

In most discussions I have with folks who really want to engage on the environment, the topic of how we're modifying our lifestyles, routines, and habits to be carbon-neutral is brought up.

I've decided that despite being college educated, to fully grapple with this topic I need to continuously educate myself. Reading. Dialing in on specific channels, news reports and programs. Watching specific documentaries related to the subject matter. Focusing in on resources and bastions of information online. Being part of online environmental watchdog groups. Online discussion groups. Finding the time and any means necessary to get smarter about this critical subject.

In a recent conversation related to the carbon-neutral issue, I decided to take the concept a step further---how does one become "CARBON NEGATIVE?"

This essentially means that one not only ends the carbon emissions they put into the atmosphere, but they figure out how to put "good air" (in the form of oxygen I guess) into the atmosphere, or make meaningful decisions that put into motion the wheels of environmentalism to reverse a negative carbon effect.

For example, a close friend of mine, who works for the EPA, is in a unique position of being able to "declare" himself as carbon negative due to the nature of his background and the work he is doing; such as helping communities around the world to build wastewater treatment plants, or serving as a consulting environmental engineer to advise communities on renewable energy choices that are independent of oil.
He does not own a car, and walks to work. He's a guy who talks the talk AND walks the walk. That's great for him, and for us, and he makes the world a better place because of it... but even though he's making a great impact, that's the actions of only 1 person.

We need to find the tools for the everyday person, address larger matters domestically in America, and break down the cause and effect of our everyday lives to successfully find the pathway to being CARBON NEGATIVE.

I'll start by identifying what I DO know, and make a quick list of the areas in our lives that are oil dependent.
  1. transportation; such as auto, rail, watercraft, mass transit, air travel, space travel, and what related technological advancements bring to bear
  2. energy; powering the grid, heating, cooling, etc.
  3. infrastructure; such as streets, underground PVC pipe, etc.
  4. construction
  5. everyday tools and utensils; such as plastics, your toothbrush, etc.
  6. industry and manufacturing
  7. machinery
  8. agriculture
  9. novelty and luxury items; such as vinyl records, picture frames and other collectibles.
  10. Other? There must be more. Any suggestions?
Then here's a list of what I don't know, or may not be completely clear about, in terms of the subject matter that's been brought up as I've been writing:
  1. Identifying tangible ways and means, or critical pathways, to arrive at an action or event that produces a CARBON NEGATIVE result.
  2. What exactly is CARBON NEGATIVE? Oxygen being released from a tree that you planted? Is it only oxygen, or are there other elements involved (that are the antithesis of carbon)? Not having a strong chemistry background, this is probably my weakest area.
  3. Is it theoretically possible for a community, or the American public for that matter, to become CARBON NEGATIVE?
That last question is probably the overlying question who's answer we won't be able to get to until we've done further research and engaged in a very protracted discussion---and arrived at some determinations... and we may never be able to answer that question.

I don't really have a plan for the CARBON NEGATIVE discussion, it's really evolving even as I write it---at least initially. Maybe as things unfold we can break it down into more specific sub-topics, focus on individual issues, and identify correlations and relationships amongst certain sub-topics... then maybe we'll be able to come up with some solutions and, I'm hoping, a blueprint to follow in being as effective as possible (and hopefully CARBON NEGATIVE) in our everyday lives.

Feel free to post any comments and help out, as you're all part of this discussion too! S

This blog needs "a little focus."

I'll be the first to admit it.

The P-patch has been a bit unfocused. Barry Bonds rants... hither and tither with this environmental anecdote and that greeny thingy. News spots here and there.

I'm going to try to sit down and really make an effort to focus more clearly on the environmental issues facing us today. I'm working on a few ideas.

All I can say is that I'm learning, and trying to develop something meaningful here. Bear with me as I work out the kinks a bit... hopefully I can evolve what I'm passionate about into some meaningful topics for discussion. S

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Green Bag Company

Here's a company worth checking out, the maker of green grocery bags: Green Bag - Making a Difference. You have probably started to see these pop up in grocery stores.

The vision this outfit embraces is, in a sense, a microcosm of the environmental movement as a whole---in that it's about the continuous effort to modify human behavior and daily routines---a major component of ensuring the success in the battle to save the planet.

This outfit is also part of the growing economic sector of green and earth-friendly products that are becoming available.

We use these reusable green bags whenever we go shopping---and yes, it took a few times of remembering to get them from the car to haul them into the store. Just keep them in the trunk of your car that you usually use when you go shopping. After a couple of times you'll remember to bring them in with you.

Or better yet; if you walk to the store or take the bus, you can feel really cool carrying the bag around with you as you perpetuate the cause! It might even make for a conversation piece with a stranger... who could turn out to be the person you settle down with!

So there you are. The Green Bag Company even manufactures love connections and creates families. Not bad, eh? Just remember to keep the door closed and the noise down a bit.

Like I said previously, it's about just modifying---ever so slightly---your daily routine... and hey, you might actually feel better about doing it, too. S

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Our beloved anti-hero---the ANTICHRIST of baseball himself---is... in... the... NEWS!

"Wow!!!" YOU say: "No kidding, Sweva? Really?"

In which I respond: "No, I'm only kidding. It's just all a dream... along with the doping... and the lying... and the years of 'tude... and the complaining about no shoe endorsements... and the bitching about getting paid millions to walk and stand... and the tarnished records spanning nearly 150 years of the national pastime... it's all a dream..."

Wowwy, zowwy, wake up!

I wish that were the case, but unfortunately not... I can say, however, that the latest news on Mr. Dopehead has to do with... um... dope... ITSELF!

Then you respond: "Kinda like that line Tim Curry used in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, about 'Having the key to life... itself?' Really?"

"No, no, no, not really. Close, though."

Pardon my digressing... and pardon me if I'm a little giddy with... gid, I guess. I hate to say I told you all so, but it looks like the fun's about to begin... okay, I'll try to be fair, with the innocent until proven guilty thing... yeah, whatever.

I'm sure he'll be courting all sorts of offers from other clubs now. Read the news below.

SAN FRANCISCO, California (CNN) -- A federal grand jury indictment on Thursday charged Barry Bonds, baseball's record home run hitter, with perjury and obstruction of justice and accused him of testing positive for performance-enhancing steroids.

The indictment charges Barry Bonds with lying when he said he didn't knowingly take steroids.

Bonds, 43, repeatedly denied he had knowingly taken performance-enhancing drugs during his December 2003 testimony in an investigation that focused on a San Francisco-area laboratory.

The grand jury in San Francisco returned a five count indictment against Bonds, which includes four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice and accuses him of lying when he said he didn't knowingly take steroids given to him by his personal trainer, Greg Anderson.

The indictment includes the first official public acknowledgement that Bonds allegedly tested positive for steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.

"During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances for Bonds and other professional athletes," the indictment said.

Perjury convictions carry possible prison terms of up to five years, while obstruction of justice can bring a 10-year sentence.

Bonds is scheduled to make an initial court appearance December 7, the Justice Department announced.

Shortly after Thursday's indictment, a federal judge released Anderson from prison, said his attorney, Mark Gerragos. After admitting to distributing steroids, Anderson was jailed for refusing to cooperate with prosecutors investigating whether Bonds lied to the grand jury.

"I'm gratified that Greg is walking out," Gerragos said. "However, after reading the indictment there doesn't appear to be anything new. I think keeping him in there for a year was punitive."

In a written statement Thursday, Bonds' attorneys expressed disappointment that "the government did not extend us the courtesy of sharing a copy of the indictment."

"It goes without saying that we look forward to rebutting these unsupported charges in court," said the statement.

Bonds has denied taking steroids at any time in 2001 when he was pursuing the single-season home run record. "During the criminal investigation, evidence was obtained including positive tests for the presence of anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancing substances for Bonds and other athletes," the indictment reads. He is also charged with lying that Anderson never injected him with steroids.

President Bush, a former baseball team owner who has spoken against steroid use, is "very disappointed to hear this," said White House spokesman Tony Fratto. "As this case is now in the criminal justice system, we will refrain from any further specific comments about it. But clearly this is a sad day for baseball."

Bonds was granted immunity for his December 4, 2003, testimony before the grand jury. The indictment states Bonds was promised his testimony would not be used against him except in the cases of "perjury, false declaration or otherwise failing to comply with the court's order."

Bonds filed for free agency last month on the first possible day after the World Series ended with Boston's sweep of the Colorado Rockies -- severing his tenure with San Francisco. Giants owner Peter Magowan told him last month the club would not bring him back for a 16th season.

Bonds, who has hit 762 homers, broke Hank Aaron's record with a shot into the right-center seats off Washington Nationals pitcher Mike Bacsik at San Francisco on August 7. But his achievements on the field have long been shadowed by the drug-use allegations.

He has been selected for 14 All-Star games, a record seven National League Most Valuable Player awards and eight Gold Glove awards.

Looking forward to the outcome of this one! Best of luck in your free agency endeavors, Barry! S

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Solar tower technology

Check out this article on solar tower technology in Spain. It's one of the better advanced power technology options I've seen lately.

This looks like something as a viable
option in the American southwest, where there's a reliable amount of sunlight---it would be great to see Big Oil do something positive for the environment, for a nice change of pace, and invest in something like this.

...but what am I thinking. Of course, that idea would be all too easy and actually make sense.

There is a scene in one of the Austin Powers films where Dr Evil unleashes a giant "tractor beam" of energy at Earth in order to extract a massive payment.

Well, the memory of it kept me chuckling as I toured the extraordinary scene of the new solar thermal power plant outside Seville in southern Spain.

From a distance, as we rounded a bend and first caught sight of it, I couldn't believe the strange structure ahead of me was actually real.

A concrete tower - 40 storeys high - stood bathed in intense white light, a totally bizarre image in the depths of the Andalusian countryside.

The tower looked like it was being hosed with giant sprays of water or was somehow being squirted with jets of pale gas. I had trouble working it out.

In fact, as we found out when we got closer, the rays of sunlight reflected by a field of 600 huge mirrors are so intense they illuminate the water vapour and dust hanging in the air.

The effect is to give the whole place a glow - even an aura - and if you're concerned about climate change that may well be deserved.

It is Europe's first commercially operating power station using the Sun's energy this way and at the moment its operator, Solucar, proudly claims that it generates 11 Megawatts (MW) of electricity without emitting a single puff of greenhouse gas. This current figure is enough to power up to 6,000 homes.

But ultimately, the entire plant should generate as much power as is used by the 600,000 people of Seville.

It works by focusing the reflected rays on one location, turning water into steam and then blasting it into turbines to generate power.

As I climbed out of the car, I could hardly open my eyes - the scene was far too bright. Gradually, though, shielded by sunglasses, I made out the rows of mirrors (each 120 sq m in size) and the focus of their reflected beams - a collection of water pipes at the top of the tower.

It was probably the heat that did it, but I found myself making the long journey up to the very top - to the heart of the solar inferno.

A lift took me most of the way but cameraman Duncan Stone and I had to climb the last four storeys by ladder. We could soon feel the heat, despite thick insulation around the boiler.

It was like being in a sauna and for the last stages the metal rungs of the ladders were scalding.

But our reward was the cool breeze at the top of the tower - and the staggering sight of a blaze of light heading our way from down below.

So far, only one field of mirrors is working. But to one side I could see the bulldozers at work clearing a second, larger field - thousands more mirrors will be installed.

Letting off steam

I met one of the gurus of solar thermal power, Michael Geyer, an international director of the energy giant Abengoa, which owns the plant. He is ready with answers to all the tricky questions.

What happens when the Sun goes down? Enough heat can be stored in the form of steam to allow generation after dark - only for an hour now but maybe longer in future.

Anyway, the solar power is most needed in the heat of summer when air conditioners are working flat out.

Is it true that this power is three times more expensive than power from conventional sources? Yes, but prices will fall, as they have with wind power, as the technologies develop.

Also, a more realistic comparison is with the cost of generating power from coal or gas only at times of peak demand - then this solar system seems more attractive.

The vision is of the sun-blessed lands of the Mediterranean - even the Sahara desert - being carpeted with systems like this with the power cabled to the drizzlier lands of northern Europe. A dazzling idea in a dazzling location.

By David Shukman
Science correspondent, BBC News, Seville

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Q: What does an emu do?

A: Not much. But when it comes towards you, the ground shakes.

-- Neil Young

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Solar Decathalon

Check out this site on the solar competition that went on this month in Washington, D.C.: BP Solar Decathlon Blog » BP and the Solar Decathlon.

I'll step out of the way and let the amazing and brilliant design ideas from these students speak for themselves. Very very cool stuff; check it out! S

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Legacy of John Denver

Many critics out there have referred to his music as cornball or too mellow, and some of you may feel the same—and that’s okay—but in my opinion he’s a prophet for his stance on environmental issues.

He was a man ahead of his time, who embraced environmental causes way before many of us even understood what environmentalism is.

John Denver introduced me to the environment through his music.

In particular, he exposed me to the stories of the beauty and majesty of the Colorado Rocky Mountains; a place which, shamefully, I still have yet to visit and explore. I'll get there someday physically, as I visit the place every time I put his music on.

My first exposure to Denver was probably around the age of six, when he was all over television in the mid-1970s. He was one of the first “tele-genic” pop stars, and very kid friendly, so my folks probably saw my interest and an opportunity to “culture” me, encouraging the matter by giving me John Denver’s Greatest Hits for Christmas 1975. I believe it was the first bona-fide record I ever owned—the one where he has his hand on his hat, with those nerdy specs and the sun in his eyes—how could I ever forget it...

...oh excuse me, my first record was one by Burl Ives, and it WASN'T the one with "Frosty the Snowman."


The most intriguing part of Denver’s music is the lyrics and themes, in that many of the songs deal with his very personal and spiritual kinship with the environment. Certainly they mean something different to a 6 year old kid than they do to an adult, but the imagery in his music definitely took hold back in the day. I saw visions of majestic mountains, grassy meadows, and mountain streams. I also took note of the concerns expressed in many of his songs; in that the environment is a living, fragile entity.

Looking back, I think I "got it" even at the age of 6... I guess I figured it's a no-brainer. Protect the planet to ensure it's longevity.


What’s so funny about all this is the fact that my mother, who once stated that “she has no connection with nature,” and is the only person I know who refuses to recycle—essentially representing the opposite of everything I value in this world—is the exact individual who pushed the music of John Denver on me as a child. That’s what planted a seed for a big part of the belief system, and the stewardship for the environment, that I carry around to this day.

Damn it, I digressed again... somebody stop me.

Shifting gears, this month marks the 10-year anniversary of his untimely death in 1997, when he died piloting an experimental Long-EZ aircraft which crashed just after takeoff from the Monterey Peninsula Airport in Pacific Grove, CA. He was 53 at the time.

After establishing his musical career in the mid 1970s, Denver used his celebrity to further the environmental sentiments expressed in his music. In addition to focusing on humanitarian and sustainability work, his main focus involved conservation issues—and he went after them aggressively—actually helping to create the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (I assume we all know the context of that locale).

Denver founded his own environmental group, the Winstar Foundation out of Snowmass, CO—which pursues conservancy and environmental causes in Colorado to this day, and furthers environmental education. You can visit their website here: John Denver's Windstar Foundation. Check out the site and offer some support!

If you ever want to know any detail of what was on Denver’s mind with the environment, just visit his music. I’ll warn you that much of it’s folk-based, and some of it might make you snicker a bit at first at what might come across as a cornball element—but if you give it a chance I think some of it should take hold. Try going to your local library and check out his Country Roads Collection, or try out the one above I mentioned having above as a kid (nerdy-looking squinting fella in the funny hat).

So the story goes… thank you, John Denver, for the inspiration and example you set. S

Monday, October 1, 2007

Absolutely poetic!

If you've read through my posts last summer, you'll see that I'm not a very big fan of Barry Bonds.

That's couching it very very very nicely.

From his doping, the man has tainted not one, but in my opinion THE TWO most sacred records in baseball; the single season home run record, and the career home run record---the latter of which he broke this last regular Major League baseball season, which ends today with a 1-game playoff between Colorado and San Diego to determine the National League wildcard team.

Well, it just so happens that something interesting is happening with the ball that Bonds broke the record with---check this out!

The baseball from Barry Bonds's much-debated 756th home run will soon land in the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. When it gets there, it will be branded with an asterisk. Marc Ecko, the fashion designer who bought the ball for $752,467, asked the fans to decide how he should treat the memento.

After more than 10 million online votes, 47 percent of voters wanted the ball to be adorned with an asterisk, 34 percent said it should not be changed and 19 percent wanted it to be shot into space. The first two options included the addendum that the ball would be donated to the Hall of Fame.

While representatives of the Hall were thrilled to get the ball from the most hallowed record in sports, they said their acceptance of the asterisk-laden piece of history did not mean that they supported the inference that Bonds used performance-enhancing substances to achieve his home run total.

"As far as we're concerned, the asterisk represents the voices of the fans for this one moment in time," said Jeff Idelson, the Hall's vice president for communications and education. "For this one week, in September of 2007, this is what the fans wanted. We felt it was worth it to take it."

By accepting Ecko's soon-to-be branded donation, the Hall, which operates independent of Major League Baseball, has put itself in the unusual position of taking, and then displaying, a ball that has been defaced. Idelson said that the Hall "does not support the defacing of artifacts," but that this ball was too monumental to ignore.

Absolutely poetic---I couldn't have imagined a more perfect ending to an otherwise despicable situation. ...and it was brought to you in Giant orange even... ...with a little Mariner blue too... S

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Bozo Bus: Hargrove's unconscionable departure from M's transcends cowardice

My jaw dropped when I heard about it the day he announced it. The Mariners manager, on the heels of a seven game winning streak, was suddenly quitting... ON JULY 1, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SEASON. He had no real reason, either... no health issues... no family emergency... no crisis of any kind... nothing.

We were just insulted with a bunch of garbage about "how I've lost my passion."

Huh? Excuse me? You're kidding, right?

Come on Mike, you can do better than that. At least make an effort to come up with something that appears to be a creative excuse.

Hargrove's time in Seattle was a failure. It's not like this guy won as a manager in the first place, and he had no presence as a leader anyway, so it was probably better that he left... but not in the middle of the season. Christ, the guy even failed at quitting... or what did Timothy Leary say? "Tune in and drop out." Maybe that's more appropriate, as the use of very very hard drugs is probably not out of the question.

I thought I'd seen it all. Apparently not.

There was zero notice to the Mariners front office also, I might add (Gee Mike, thanks for the heads up---we're really prepared now). It was beyond baffling. If there's a word that goes beyond apathy, I guess that would have to be it... but then there's the shock value element of it all that needs to be described too, so it's pretty much beyond words...

Maybe Wikipedia can shed some light on it, as I'm still confused nearly 3 months later, and everyone I've discussed it with---from Mariners fans in Seattle to Cardinals, Indians, White Sox and Reds fans---all seem to be at a complete loss. Nobody can figure this one out.

On July 1, 2007, Hargrove resigned his position as manager of the Mariners, saying in a prepared statement that his "passion has begun to fade" and it would not be "fair to myself or the team" to continue. The departure was unusual, since the Mariners had been playing quite well at the time. Hargrove became the first big league manager since at least 1900 to depart while on a winning streak of more than seven games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.[1] Bench coach John McLaren was named as Hargrove's replacement, effective July 1. Hargrove managed his final Major League game on that same day, a 2-1 ninth inning comeback victory over the Toronto Blue Jays. On September 14, 2007, it was announced that Hargrove would manage the Liberal BeeJays, a semi-pro summer team in southwest Kansas. Hargrove played for the BeeJays in 1972, while on the roster of Northwestern Oklahoma State University.

I still don't get it. I don't buy the "I lost my passion" rhetoric as any semblance of a valid excuse. If you're a deer caught in the headlights, you splash water on your face. You do something. If you're passion is lacking, you pull the reigns on yourself and power through it. People do it in their jobs every day without complaint. I did it working for two wacko mayors, and in a crazy tribal setting as a planning director, even when I'd lost my passion for the field (as a staff planner, a.k.a. political pawn) way back on the road.

So then I stand corrected... I'm sorry... that was an eight game winning streak the club was having, then they were basically abandoned
to fend on their own. Why couldn't Hargrove finish out the season? Was that too much to ask?

I'm sorry, but when you're the manager of a ballclub---its leader and guiding
light---you don't up and leave in the middle of the year for no reason. It certainly didn't help the club in the long run, as they tanked in the month of August. Did his departure have an affect on the season's outcome? Sure it did. Kudos to bench coach John McLaren for trying to keep things together under very difficult circumstances.

If I ever meet Hargrove face to face, I have only one word to say to him.


...and I think I'm being nice and letting him off the hook in that scenario.

But not today.

I have a huge issue with this man's decision to bail on the club. It basically tells me everything I need to know about his character. Since he has no valid reason for leaving, what am I left with. Let's see... self-absorbed? Spineless? Insensible? Anesthetized? Comfortably Numb? On LSD? How exactly do you put it? I
simply don't know where to go with this, the whole thing is just too bizarre.

I know what comes to mind now... this story of Mariner manager apathy reminds me of an opposite scenario; the story of a manager who held himself together and inspired his team to go all the way to the College World Series while fighting for his life.

I speak of former ASU baseball coach Jim Brock, who led the club for 23 years and to two CWS titles in 1977 and 1981. He coached the Sun Devils to a 1,100-400 record from 1972-1994; an amazing .733 winning percentage.

Jim Brock gives the baseball manager not only a good name, he puts them in the stratosphere next to Godliness. After being diagnosed with liver cancer in 1993, and going through an operation that took 80% of his liver, he powered ahead managing the following season, despite a relapse, and led the Sun Devils to the CWS in 1994. When sitting on the wood bench became too painful, his wife brought him a plastic chair to sit in so he could continue managing on the field. While the team was on a run in Omaha, he collapsed on the field and unfortunately had to be flown back to Arizona to watch his Devils, now in the CWS, from his hospital bed. He passed soon thereafter.

Jim Brock's fight to keep managing, and fight to stay alive to guide the team, only inspired those kids to do better. Brock is the Rock of Gibraltar. For his example, leadership, guts, determination, and passion for those kids---Jim Brock is more than a hero---he's immortal.

Brock's #33 now proudly hangs on the outfield wall in what is now called Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark. If you're in Phoenix sometime, from Sky Harbor airport take the 202 loop freeway to Tempe, and the Scottsdale Road exit and head south. You'll cross the Tempe lake on the Salt River, and you can't miss it. On the SW corner of Scottsdale /Rural Rd. and the Salt River. Take your first rt. then a left into the parking lot to check it out. #33 proudly hanging on the outfield wall.

So I'll leave all of you with that inspiring story. That's the sort of example a manager should set for his club, that's the making of a true hero. A true winner.

Unlike the apathy of a cowardly quitter.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Thanks Slowpoke!

A tip of the top hat to Jen over at Slowpoke Comics for passing along some credit for her cartoon last week, titled Green Arms Race - while I tend to rant and get carried away with green shtick and imaginary characters sporting Italian/Russian accents, she framed the Daddy Bomb thing a bit more concisely.

Keep Slowpoke Comics in your bookmarks - there's always some really funny and interesting observations coming from her desk, and she's on top of the political landscape. It's essentially your weekly news source. Very cool! S

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The boys aren’t playing nice in the sandbox again, BUT it just so happens that I’m in the market for a “Daddy Bomb” today.

American gov't: I have the MOTHER of all bombs, and can blow YOU up with it.”

Russian gov't: (scoffing) “Well, I have the DADDY of all bombs and can blow YOU AND YOUR MOTHER up with it.”

American gov't: “Fine then. I’ll just go make the GRANDADDY of all bombs and show you who's boss.”

Let me guess what happens next. The GREAT-GRANDADDY of all bombs?

Nark: "Excuse me, uhh teacher? The boys are fighting during recess again…"

Mumbling teacher from Peanuts: (in garbled voice) "Time out children, go to your corners. …and since I’m going to call your Mommy to tell her about your behavior, get ready for a spanking when you get home from school today…"

This is all referring to this "non-nuclear" arms race we appear to be getting into with Russia… again… Yes, the neighborhood bullies are starting to duke it out in the larger p-patch… again…

Cool explosion though, huh? Check that out! Wow!!! ...oh, uh, excuse my digressing...

Testosterone levels are on the rise, as we all know it's typically a bunch of cocks that are misbehaving in these situations involving things such as missiles and explosions. It seems like wherever there's boys, eventually something is gonna get blown up. It all begins with the ants under the magnifying glass, then ladyfingers, then black cats... then bottle rockets... then those sparkling spinny things... then it's the Roman candles... then the M-80s... and you know where it goes from there... (none of that being from personal experience, of course.)

So the international political opera continues… Oh boy! ...and you might ask how do we make the drama go away? Take away the boy behavior, which means taking away the boys. Maybe that means "cutting it off" in this opera. Now a castration live on stage, that's something I'd like to see, but then the opera would be over, and we'd be devoid of the musings of missiles and things that blow up.

However, I must submit that a side of me is very amused at this silly turn of behavior in the sandbox. The “Daddy” labeling actually conjures up imagery of a silly statement made by Pedro Martinez during the Red Sox-Yankees ALCS a few years back, descriping his previous pitching woes against New York by saying “The Yankees are my Daddies” which led to NY fans chanting “Whose your Daddy?!” for the rest of the series—so sorry Comrades, the Daddy label has already been taken by Pedro.

…and this is what really puts me in stitches. The Russian government, in the most eloquent fashion worthy of only a used car salesman, felt compelled to reveal a “selling point” of the bomb as being “Hey, it’s friendly to the environment.”

Prospective “Daddy bomb” client: “Huh? Caaaaan you saaaaay that again?”

Russian gov’t: “The bombza is-a friendly to ze environment-a.” (in Russian accent that appears to be more Italian)

Prospective “Daddy bomb” client: REALLY now. Is that so? …but what about the environment that’s incinerated within the blast zone? Is it friendly to that?”

Russian gov’t: “If you-a no-a get it, I can’t-a explain it to you-a. It says here in da brochure-a that it’s-a friendly to ze environment-a.” (pointing a shaking finger at a crumpled piece of paper in the other hand)

Prospective “Daddy bomb” client: “Uh huh, I see. So then does it come with a chrome or bronze finish? I want to impress the ladies.”

Russian gov’t: “Whatever you-a want-a, but that will take-a more time and cost you extra.”

Prospective Daddy bomb” client: (quickly checking calendar on a PDA) “How much longer?”

Russian gov't: “Thirteen-a days.”

Prospective “Daddy bomb” client: “Whoa! Thirteen days?!?! That's waaaaaay too long... wait a minute... wasn't that the name of that movie about that Haitian Missile Crisis back in the 30s or something like that? Is this some kind of sick joke?”

Russian gov't: “Thirteen-a days.”

Prospective “Daddy bomb” client: (starts walking away) “Hmmmm… I’ll have to get back to you after I talk to the Mommy bomb people.”

Russian gov’t: (chasing the client off the Daddy bomb lot) “Wait-a! Can we make-a deal?”

Oh Yuri, or Boris, or whatever your name is, get ahold of yourself.

We’ll definitely need to stand by and see how the next act of this opera unfolds… that is, after the naughty little boys get spanked for fighting in the sandbox. S