Archive for March, 2007

Love to Lotan

March 31, 2007

Yes…the blog has experienced a bit of a dry spell… such is the desert.

Speaking of desert life, I want to give love to the Israel folks and share a little of what they’re doing. The website for the permaculture program I took part in at Kibbutz Lotan has been recently updated to include not only pictures from my program (yes, that’s me with the chubby cheeks covered in mud, and also in the practice dome) but also some of the work that’s been done since. I’m really proud to see that one of the domes we were so diligently applying layers of mud to is now a fully-functioning off-the-grid home (see their blog post). The oasis below is another piece that was just beginning to be constructed during my stay there.

.Oasis at Kibbutz Lotan


Other cool things I’ve been checking out lately: BOINC – a software that can use your computer’s idle time to run models on climate change, malaria control, etc; green collar jobs as the #1 gap in the environmental movement (so true); how one woman’s story could expedite the process of making John Paul II a saint (fascinating!); equally fascinating story behind Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s black eye (that one’s for Sarah W – thanks Abe!)


“We dance to the earth, we dance to the water…”

March 21, 2007

I realized that in writing that last post, I neglected to mention one of the ways I personally will be celebrating World Water Day – I will be playing the synthesizer in the pit band for my old junior high school’s version of “Once On This Island,” a musical which features, among other things, a god of water.

This show has in the past year become one of my favorite musicals – it was the last musical I taught at the summer camp and easily one of the best. It’s full of great harmonies and island-y dance beats. And it tells a beautiful story.

If you’re interested, and you’re in the area, come check it out – it’s at Alice Deal Junior High School (on Fort Drive, a few blocks from Tenleytown metro) and starts at 7:30 tomorrow and Friday.

Getting Pumped for World Water Day

March 18, 2007

I realize only now the punny nature of that title…sorry.

In any case, I just discovered that this coming Thursday, March 22, is World Water Day, with the theme “Coping With Water Scarcity.” In light of this news, I’ve come up with a list of ways to celebrate:

1) Drink tap water – it’s not as scary as it sounds. Why? Bottled water is no safer than tap water, and some of the biggest bottled beverage companies (including Nestle, Coke, and Pepsi) are pumping aquifers dry in places where people are poor and water is scarce.

Visit The Water Project to learn more about water scarcity and take the No Bottled Water Challenge.

2) If you’re in DC, visit the screening of the Long Walk at Union Station (a 7.5 hour documentary tracking one woman’s daily 7.5 hour commute to bring water home to her family – starts 8am March 22 in the main hall). If you’re not in DC, check this list of other World Water Day events.

Also, the DC Environmental Film Festival includes a number of films about water, including on March 21 “Dead in the Water,” and on March 22 “The Journey of the Blob” and “Come On Rain!”

3) Limit your own water consumption: Take a bucket shower, take a shorter shower, and/or shower every other day instead of every day (if your body will let you – for those of us who tend toward dry skin, it’s actually healthier too). Also, among the obvious & oft-ignored techniques: try not to leave the water running while you’re brushing your teeth, shaving, or even between washing dishes.

Flush less (remember “If it’s yellow let it mellow…”?). Also, even if your toilet is not a low-flush toilet, reducing the amount of water used per flush is as simple as putting a plastic milk jug filled with water (or other weight) in your toilet tank.

Feeling especially water-conscious? Consider rain barrels, grey-water systems, and/or composting toilets (my personal fav).

4) Limit water pollution by producing less household waste (hint: reduce, reuse, recycle), less water waste (see above), and not using pesticides or fertilizers. Consider rain gardens.

5) Find out how to cope if a natural disaster leaves you without safe drinking water by watching the Open Water Project‘s five-minute informative and visually entertaining video.

6) Learn about some of the existing efforts to respond to the water crisis by playing these games from WaterAid America. Or try solving the Mystery of the Missing Water.

7) As with any other campaign, or any other day for that matter: Share the love. Spread the word. Consider posting information on your office’s water cooler or by the kitchen sink. Offer a friend or co-worker a glass of tap water.

Post your own suggestions in a comment here.

Docent training at the National Building Musem

March 16, 2007

Quick life update – I’ve started training to be a docent at the National Building Museum. This means at the end of training I’ll actually be able to give tours of the building itself – the history, architecture, etc. A year ago I probably never would have gone out for this, but seeing as how buildings are now very relevant to my work, I thought I’d give it a go.

It is fascinating. Did you know, for instance, that the National Building Museum was one of the first consciously-designed “green” buildings in Washington? When it was built for the Pension Bureau, there were no air conditioners, and most of the government buildings in the area were pretty miserable in the summer, as you can imagine. But this was the primary purpose for the big open space in the middle of the building – ventilation. The air came through the windows and doors on the first floor, rose up to the top and exited through the windows and vents at the top, as a passive cooling system. The windows in the upper floors were also placed to allow maximum natural light to flow into the space, and as a result of these factors, absenteeism in the Pension Bureau dropped dramatically. Now of course for security they have to keep windows and doors closed and use air conditioning instead. Sigh.

An alternative perspective on microcredit

March 14, 2007

So, I’ll be honest here in that I know next to nothing about the economics of poverty. That said, I pretty much took it at face value that microcredit, a la the Grameen Bank (whose founder Mohammed Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize this year), was a good thing. My understanding is that the idea (ideal?) of microcredit is to empower poor people (esp. women) to start small enterprises using very tiny loans. Sounds pretty awesome to me – finding solutions within capitalism to give a leg up to the poor, right? Does that make me a neoliberal?

Today, Women’s E-News ran a commentary that pointed out the shortcomings of this system. Co-authors and economists Susan Feiner and Drucilla Barker argue that microcredit is not enough, that it keeps women working at home or in hazardous or inequitable working conditions, without legal protection, health care, child care, or opportunities for growth in their enterprises. They point to an existing organization in India, run by poor women for poor women, called the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which not only offers loans through its bank but many other services as well to enhance the wellbeing of its members. It is not only an organization but a movement for social change.

Hmmm, that sounds pretty good to me too.

Bus poem

March 11, 2007

I took the bus home –
A route not long and still
I could have walked but
A drop of rain, and the bus was there waiting so
The doors unfolded, and I got on.

Then looking down I see beneath
The seat in front of me, a paper
In pieces. Ruled,
Like high school. Handwritten,
Like homework. Perhaps.

A closer look-
The top left piece starts “I…”
Another from the middle “falling…”
Another, “wing…”
And yet another “drops…”

Poetry, I think, inspired by
The harsh and beautiful life of one who must
Take the bus – but then
Why tear this piece of art?
(Or is it art because it is torn?)

More clues must lie under there and so
With my foot I coax another
piece into view – “from S–”
A letter? Torn by the writer or
By the one addressed?

And was it left to be
Forgotten? Or to be found?
I must pick up the pieces and yet
Oh wait, this is my stop, and so

Not in My Chef Boyardee

March 9, 2007

It seems only fitting that I should be starting to write this post as I sit down to a nice hot bowl of Amy’s minestrone. I was aware of toxics in plastic products (esp. PVC – check out the cartoon “Sam Suds and the Case of PVC, the Poison Plastic”), including some food containers and plastic wraps (even your precious Nalgene bottle), but canned food?? Not cool. I like my canned soup, thanks.

The Environmental Working Group this week released a study that found bisphenol A (BPA) at toxic levels in a number of canned foods, with chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli among the worst in toxicity. BPA is used in the plastic and resin lining of cans, and it is a known endocrine disruptor, which basically means your body can absorb it thinking it’s a hormone, and throw your system off. The reason it hasn’t been regulated as much as it ought to be is partly because for the longest time, research on toxicity of BPA and other toxics was based on the assumption that if it’s not harmful in high doses, it won’t be harmful in low doses. Problem with that assumption is that while high doses are often detected and taken care of by one’s immune system, low doses often go under the radar in our bodies. BPA in low doses, for example, has been linked to a host of health problems, including breast and prostrate cancer, diabetes, and birth defects.

So really now, with Dow Chemical, DuPont and the like in their pockets, is the NIH really going to be taking care of us?

Urban fractals

March 7, 2007

fractalcity.jpgCall me a geek, but if this isn’t the sexiest paper ever written, I don’t know what is. Dr. Salingaros, where have you been all my life? If you know me, it shouldn’t surprise you that the mere mention of fractal geometry having anything to do with ecologically sound urban environments gets my blood circulating. In fact, the human circulation system, or more specifically the concept of capillarity, is one of the geometric models described in Salingaros’ “Connecting the Fractal City” (hereafter referred to as “The Sexypaper”).

Stepping back a bit – a fractal is a geometric structure in which the same shape is repeated on all different scales (see visual examples). I stumbled across the phrase “urban fractals” quite by accident yesterday, and the mere phrase conjured up images of the most superbly ecological and efficient cities – where within the whole city there are near-self-sufficient neighborhoods, each containing a microcosm of the whole with all of its parts (residential, commercial, governmental, parks, etc). And within each neighborhood, smaller details within that – homes which produce their own energy, food, and services, and so on.

So where does The Sexypaper come in? The Sexypaper takes this concept of the urban fractal, describes it in all of its mathematical, ecological, cultural, historical, and architectural beauty, and lays out a (rather convincing) argument that fractal properties are not only natural but necessary to the living city, that the extreme densities of contemporary cities (with skyscraper-filled centers and suburban sprawl) are “pathological.” Plus it then goes on to offer that it is indeed possible to integrate the pedestrian network with the car city, that the electronic city should serve as a model for the ideal structure of the physical city (seems intuitive enough – take the efficiency of traffic on Wikipedia for example), and it offers the beginnings of a pattern language to aid in this challenge.

And it has pretty pictures.