Thursday, June 21, 2012

Cue the Apocolypse? Moody’s Cuts Credit Ratings of 15 Big Banks

This isn't good news that was just sent by an NY Times News Alert:

Moody’s Cuts Credit Ratings of 15 Big Banks
Moody’s Investors Service has lowered the ratings of some of the world’s largest banks, including Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.
The ratings agency said late Thursday that the banks were downgraded because their long-term prospects for profitability and growth are shrinking.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Villagize may help with de-anonymizing cities so we know our neighbors

One of the complaints about modern times is how the technology, and architecture of cities, gets in the way of the humans finding each other.  We can drive a 100 miles in the blink of an eye, travel to the other side of the planet in a day of air travel, but do we know our neighbors?  Those people who live next door, and are always trimming trees in the yard, what are their interests, their names, their needs, their hopes, and so on?  Do they have a set of socket wrenches you need to do a project?  Maybe your power drill would be perfect for their project.  We can read the mad ramblings of a blogger a thousand miles away, but how do we find out what our neighbors think?  We no longer live in old style Villages where everyone knows each other, but instead we live in anonymous cities where nobody knows each other.

Villagize may be a solution to this sort of problem.  Maybe.  See

You sign up with Villagize via a Facebook account, and it has some viral features to spread through your Facebook friends list.  

The main feature on Villagize is to show maps of people.  These people can be your "friends" (as defined by Facebook friend relationships), or friends of friends, or can be anybody in your city or region.  For searches of local people, you can narrow the search for people looking for a kind of resource like a Rake.  

Another feature is "deals" where Villagize collects special deals from businesses using various services like Yipit.

If you're looking for something, like a MIG welder, you can post on Villagize asking if anybody has one.  Or ask what the best deal on a Chinese restaurant is in the area.  

This could be a force for Relocalization, or the conscious purposeful effort to build local community, shop at locally owned markets, and know our local neighbors.  Suppose a significant portion of a local population began using Villagize, sharing connection with each other over who needs a rake, or who needs a lawnmower, or which Chinese restaurant is the best, this would help to build lines of connection within that city to form a web of connectedness.  But - does Villagize have what it takes to play a significant role?

One thing which stands out is that we-the-people don't seem to be able to post a Deal on the website.  

Another is that Villagize offers connections with our neighbors over things we're looking for.  Is this a sufficient range of possible connections to form a significant community?  I doubt it.  What about information on scheduled events?  Or what's the local news activity?  There's a lot of things we could connect with our neighbors over beyond who needs to borrow a rake.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Budweiser's "Grow One Save A Million" idea an example of greenwashing? Or real a water saving idea?

Budweiser, really, is this the best way to save a significant amount of water?  Anheuser-Busch, the parent company of Budweiser, proved recently the company should probably lay off drinking so much of its product, when the marketing department sent out a press release urging men to "Grow One, Save a Million".  The gimmick (beyond the near-pornographic headline) is to save water by growing a beard.  The formulation is that men who do not shave, are not spending water while shaving (because they're not shaving), and thereby consuming less water.

Budweiser, What have you been drinking?  Wait, I've been on the factory tour in St. Louis and I know just what you've been drinking.

Somewhat seriously ... some men who shave are consuming water while shaving.  Obviously these are the ones who use shaving cream and a razor.  The water is consumed to clear whiskers and cream off the razor, and to wash up the face later.  Other men who shave do not use water, those are the ones like me who use an electric shaver rather than a razor.  Another class of men who do not use water to shave are those who grow their beards, as Budweiser suggests.

The issue is the water which simply goes down the bathroom sink drain while performing the morning shaving ritual.  What other ways could we save water, while still performing this ritual?

  • Use an electric shaver rather than a razor with shaving cream.  The electric razor is simpler, has a much lower risk of butchering ones face, and does not require water.
  • Learn to turn off the faucet unless absolutely needed.  The problem with most faucets is they're designed to encourage you to leave the water running, because it's inconvenient to turn the water on and off.  If it were simpler to turn the water on and off I think we could start talking men into doing so.
  • Shave every other day?  Or skip shaving on weekends?  In other words, who says you must be totally clean shaven every day?  Okay, maybe it's She Who Must Be Obeyed who says so?  
However I still have to draw attention to the question:  Is this the most significant thing Budweiser could think of to save water?  Really?  This smacks me as an example of greenwashing.  What do you think?  The press release is replicated below.

Budweiser's "Grow One. Save a Million." Campaign Asks Guys to Skip Shaving to Help Save Water for World Environment Day

Actor Nick Offerman Helps Lead the Charge by Asking Both Men and Women to Join the Effort

ST. LOUIS, May 25, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Shave or save? That's the question Budweiser is asking men across the country to consider each morning as they pick up their razors, for with every shave a man skips, he will save roughly five gallons of water.* The initiative is part of Budweiser's Grow One. Save a Million. water conservation campaign leading up to World Environment Day on Tuesday, June 5.

For the second year in a row, actor Nick Offerman is serving as the campaign's spokesperson, seizing the opportunity to make an impact with his beard.

"Contrary to my usual philosophy, by doing nothing, you can actually do something," says Offerman. "Put down your razor. Step away from the sink. And know that by shaving a few minutes from your morning routine, you're also saving the planet."

Women can get involved by asking a guy to Grow One on their behalf. Both men and women can take additional pledges to shorten their showers and/or turn off the faucet while brushing their teeth. Consumers 21 and older can visit Budweiser's Facebook page ( to join Offerman in making a pledge and invite their friends to do the same. Participants can commit to a range of options, from a few days to multiple weeks, as well as upload photos of their stubble and full-grown beards to the Grow OnePhoto Booth.

"It's great to have Nick join us in celebrating World Environment Day and leading the charge to encourage adults to take simple steps to help conserve water," said Kathy Casso, vice president of corporate social responsibility for Anheuser-Busch. "Grow One is a fun way to spread the word about Budweiser's commitment to water conservation. In fact, our breweries have reduced water use by 37 percent in the past four years alone."

As part of its annual recognition of World Environment Day, Budweiser will again donate $150,000 to River Network to help support watershed conservation projects in each of the company's brewery cities, as well as Oklahoma City and Idaho Falls. Some of these projects include:
  • Cartersville, Ga. - Working with the Upper Etowah River Alliance to support watershed restoration and educate brewery employees on rainwater collection systems.
  • Merrimack, N.H. - Brewery employees are working with the New Hampshire Rivers Council (NHRC) to enhance the McQuesten Brook watershed. On Friday, June 1, volunteers will spruce up the shoreline with the NHRC and project partners from the city of Manchester and the town of Bedford.
  • St. Louis, Mo. - Brewery and corporate employees will participate in a cleanup along the St. Louis riverfront with Living Lands & Waters on June 2. This is the eleventh year Anheuser-Busch and its employees have led a large-scale cleanup effort along its hometown's riverfront.
World Environment Day is a day set aside by the United Nations to create awareness of the environment and encourage participation in sustainability programs. Anheuser-Busch and its parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, annually recognize this day and engage employees around the world in conservation projects that are beneficial to the environment and their local communities.

About River Network

River Network is leading a national watershed protection movement that includes more than 2,000 local, state and regional and local grassroots organizations whose primary mission is to protect rivers and watersheds. For more than twenty years, River Network has worked closely with watershed protection groups from coast to coast - building the capacity of state and local organizations, assisting people grappling with water and environmental health problems, protecting habitat for fish and wildlife, developing blue cities, and reducing our country's use of water and energy. To learn more about River Network, visit or Facebook.

About Anheuser-Busch

Based in St. Louis, Anheuser-Busch is the leading American brewer, holding a 47.7 percent share of U.S. beer sales to retailers. The company brews Budweiser and Bud Light, two of the world's largest-selling beers. Anheuser-Busch also owns a 50 percent share in Grupo Modelo, Mexico's leading brewer. Anheuser-Busch is a major manufacturer of aluminum cans and has been a leading aluminum recycler for more than 30 years. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, the leading global brewer, and continues to operate under the Anheuser-Busch name and logo. For more information, visit

*The average shave uses 3-10 gallons of water.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Used salsa containers filling up landfills needlessly

These salsa containers will be used once then thrown away to sit undecomposing on a landfill for a couple hundred years. Is that right?? It's really goofy from my perspective.

The alternatives are 1)) we bring the things home to drop in recycling bin. 2)) the restaurant uses compostable alternates, or reusable washable things.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Urban Roots - farming in the heart of a major U.S. city

What do you do if your city turns into a burned out husk of its former glory, abandoned buildings for miles upon miles, etc?  This is happening in several cities around the world.  Former hubs of massive commerce and industry, turn into crapped out urban blight when the tides of corporate success change.  I have an amazing movie to recommend that takes a close look at one of these cities, Detroit, and what some of the Detroit citizens are doing to take some control over their lives and rehabilitate their city.

The movie?  Urban Roots.  It takes a look at the Urban Farming scene in Detroit, in several variants of the practice, and it does a great job of making small scale farming look highly appealing.

First, what is Urban Farming?  It's actually one of those misnomer phrases like that joke about "Military Intelligence" being a contradiction in terms.  "Urban" refers to a certain geometry of building height, setback from the sidewalk, and streetscape that we would immediately recognize as "city".  You can have a small town, that has an "urban" core and two blocks away is houses with front yards.  The geometry of the urban core is no front yards, and buildings taller than 3 stories high.  When you take the buildings away it is no longer urban, but something else.

However, this is a bit of a nitpick, and what this "Urban Farming" is focusing on is the repurposing of land within the city limits of a large city, and placing some of that land to the use of growing crops.  In other words, a farm located within a city.

In the case of Detroit there has been many decades of flight away from the city, growing blight from mile after mile of abandoned buildings, squatters, drugs, violence, crime, and more.  I've never been to Detroit but what I hear it is or was pretty bad.  Yet that area of Michigan is home to some of the largest corporations in the world.  GM, Ford, Chrysler, etc are all headquartered there, and the suburbs around Detroit tend to be some of the richest in the world.

A statistic in the movie is that in the 1950's Detroit was home to 2 million people, today it's under 800,000.

The normalthink paradigm of cities is that each city continually grows in population, and cities do not shrink in population.  However the reality is that many cities, such as Detroit, shrink in population.  What happens to a city whose governmental infrastructure is sized to support 2 million people, but the population shrinks to less than half of that, and the economic base of the city craters?  Half the number of people means drastically smaller tax revenue for the city.  How can the city pay for the police and fire and other services it is responsible for on a drastically smaller tax base?

Basically, Detroit has lots of problems.

What the movie, Urban Roots, shows is a movement of people who see all the empty land -- that is, all those blighted neighborhoods full of vacant burned out buildings?  The city went in and razed all the buildings so that at least the drug people couldn't squat in the buildings and do their drug gang violence thing.  But, that resulted in many blocks with one house left per block, and oodles of vacant spaces between the houses.  The feeling of these areas became rural, and some people saw this empty land as an opportunity.

The city government likely sees that vacant land as a problem, because there's no businesses or houses on the land there is no tax revenue for the city.  However the people in this movie sees the land as an opportunity to garden, grow food, rehabilitate the land, get back in touch with the land, etc.

One of the people interviewed talked about the people of West Africa, who became the Slaves that were brought to America, those people in Africa have a rich agricultural heritage, which is why those people were prized as workers for farms in the Old South.  Many of the people interviewed in the movie were African Americans in Detroit, and the speaker talking about the African agricultural heritage likened this to a reawakening of their cultural heritage.

However, many of the young African Americans had to overcome a stigma that farm work was tantamount to slavery.  The African American heritage of being slaves has stigmatized, for them, the idea of manual labor.  The cure for this stigma is to separate "Working For The Man" (manual labor where someone else gets rich) versus "Working to Build Something for Your Own Benefit" (manual labor, to grow your own garden, grow your own food, that you don't have to buy from a store).

Another thing in the movie is a concept of ad-hoc people powered eminent domain.  That is, suppose you live in these neighborhoods, you want to grow a garden, and there's a vacant lot next door?  Is it correct to just go and plant a garden in that lot regardless of the wishes of the land owner?  Many speakers in the movie were proudly preaching that we should just inhabit the unoccupied fallow land, and put it to good use, consequences be damned.

I rather disagree with that tactic.  Someone owns that land.  The land owner should have the say over what happens on the land they own.  Perhaps it is the city which owns the land that had been abandoned by previous land owners?

Which leads to another issue discussed in the movie.  Zoning and other city regulations.  The land we're talking about primarily was zoned for residential use, where houses were the expected common thing.  The role of a city is to design the fabric of the city, and Zoning regulations are the means to do that.  However in Detroit the people were just going and doing what they wanted, with the city having little ability to exert enough control to enforce Zoning.  City employees, the current Mayor, the former Mayor, etc, were interviewed talking about the role of the city, the zoning regulations, and how the people in these small urban farming operations were working at too small a scale, under the radar, for the city to keep up with them.  But that these small urban farming operations also were not in conformance with the zoning regulations.

Again "What do you do if your city turns into a burned out husk of its former glory, abandoned buildings for miles upon miles, etc?"  If you want to ponder these ideas, I highly recommend the movie.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The following is an amazing video of a group of people in Seattle experimenting with reviving sailboats for commerce within Puget Sound. Prior to powered boats, there was zillions of sail powered ships ferrying stuff back and forth across Puget Sound, but today there are highways and trucks and large ferry boats and bridges and other paraphernalia of the modern transportation infrastructure.

However, those of us who know about Peak Oil etc know that it's likely in the not-too-distant-future that those highways and trucks will be useless. Hence, sailing ships could well become important again.

Sail Power Reborn - Transporting Local Goods by Boat - Peak Moment 208: "We are revitalizing an ancient form of transportation using just the power of the wind and the tides to move goods and people," says skipper Fulvio Casali.  In their CSA (community supported agriculture), the Salish Sea Trading Cooperative uses nearly no petroleum to transport organic produce and other goods from the north Olympic Peninsula to northwest Seattle.  By sea they use community volunteer sailboats, and by land an electric delivery truck. Come on board with cofounders Casali, Kathy Pelish, and Alex Tokar, who are patiently redeveloping the skills and infrastructure for the return of "a whole fleet of sailboats blanketing Puget Sound" in the post-petroleum era. []

Audio and transcript of this show at

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Arsenic found in baby formula? Grow your own food!

I saw the interesting juxtaposition of tweets below that appeared side-by-side in my twitter machine.  The first tweet is a "Food Safety" concern.  Generally, finding poisons like Arsenic in food is a big concern, that is currently known as "Food Safety", which has to do with various chemicals that find their way into the food we eat.  The second tweet is a simple reminder that gardening season is starting.  It may not be obvious, but the second (gardening, and growing your own food) is a solution to the first (food safety concerns like arsenic).

How?  To my mind the issue with food safety is the industrialization of the food system.  Maybe a food processing factory is having to spread arsenic to kill rats and the like, and then the arsenic finds its way into the food being processed in that facility.  On the other hand, when growing your you control what goes into that food.  Of course the gardening supply store does have a selection of poisons whose niceified name is "pesticide", so even growing your own food you can pour various -cide's (a.k.a. poisons) on the garden.  Doing so is your choice, and alternatively its your choice to use organic gardening practices.  The thing about industrialized food is you don't have any choice, because the choices are made by businesses who don't have your best interest in mind.

Let's remember some history.  The Food and Drug Administration came into being because of food safety scandals over 100 years ago.  Businesses at that time proved over and over they were willing to sell poisonous crap food to people, while paying off inspectors to stamp the food as safe even when it wasn't.

What isn't clear from the "Arsenic" article linked below is the amount of Arsenic found in food.  Is the amount well below the level the FDA considers to be safe?  That is, for all these extra bits finding their way into food, the FDA has safe levels.  Scientists have found that, supposedly, small amounts of poison are safe to eat, while large amounts are not.  It of course varies on the poison in question.

Even so, there are doubts over the actual safety of the levels the FDA considers safe.  Chemicals have a way of bioaccumulating, not just in our own bodies but in the environment.  If we eat foods laced with tiny amounts of poison, some of the chemicals bioaccumulate over time to build up to a dangerous amount.  The bioaccumulation occurs in the environment, as chemicals find their way into rivers or lakes, are eaten by the animals there, who in turn are eaten, each time the chemicals laced into this animals bioaccumulate to dangerous amounts.