More on Walkaways
12/29/2007 11:13:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
I was predicting people staying put in their homes, "walking away" from their obligations:
The first groups truly did leave their home, packing up family and belongings and moving in with relatives and friends, leaving behind empty shells of homes in their wake. It was rumored that in Detroit, 10% of homeowners stopped paying their mortgages in the prior month. In an unwinding clusterfuck, never seen before in this country - financial institutions losing liquidity, stock values plummeting, nest eggs evaporating, even credit unions folding - people began ignoring their obligations, but staying put in their homes. Even families that had the means to make payments stopped doing so, seeing it as a fools errand.
This post puts a different approach/perspective.
I got an agreement of sale today from a realtor looking for a prequal on a shortsale , the buyer lives next door , he has a current mortgage for $800,000 on a home he purchase in 2005 with no money down , the home he has under contact is right across the street from his present home , the offer is for $500,000 and it looks like the bank will accept it

The borrower plans to buy it as a primary , once he moves in , they will stop making payments on the $800,000 loan that they have with CW
He qualifies full doc and has a 770 FICO , he figues letting his credit tank is not a big deal when he is lowering his mortgage debt by $300,000 .
Explanation (via Atrios):
Someone owns a house with a mortgage they either can't afford or don't want to keep paying (maybe it's about to go up, or maybe they just don't want to keep paying it). They plan to buy the now much cheaper house across the street, and since they have good enough credit someone might be happy to lend them the money. After moving to the reduced rate home across the street, they plan to mail the keys of their old house to the bank.
ESF Adds 23 kW Photovoltaic System / Willow Project
12/22/2007 03:39:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Via WTVH:
It's another feather in SUNY ESF's "green" cap, as one more portion of the campus switches over to solar power. On a chilly Friday morning that reminds us all where we live, the switch was thrown on another chunk of solar panels at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry. This latest 23-kilowatt system is mounted on the side of Baker Laboratory and is part of an overall $29 million rehabilitation project using the latest in green construction practices. This past summer the first photo-voltaic array, a 15-kilowatt system, was installed on the roof of nearby Walters Hall. The flat panels are maintenance-free once installed and do not need full sum to operate efficiently. The 2 systems combine with a fuel cell to provide 20 per cent of campus power needs. It's more than smart business practice at this college. President Neil Murphy says the green technology market is worth about a trillion dollars a year. "It's increasing at a rate of 25 per cent a year," Murphy said. "And so it's important to the institution from an educational standpoint, to meet the needs of that industry, but also to reflect that industry in our practices to the local community," Murphy said. Next on ESF's agenda, possible installation of a geo-thermal system. Raising underground water for heating in winter, and cooling in summer.

Watch the video here: WTVH
I am so happy to attend a school that is walking the talk. Getting 20% of the college's power from renewable energy is no small feat.

I am really interested in their biomass programs. I look forward to learning more about this project. Check this slide out from their Willow program:



And a close up of the three year growth:



Amazing work. I know that my college experience will provide me with a wealth of information, and articles to inform our community. 23 days until I am a "student" again.
Taking Things to the Next Level
12/21/2007 03:58:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Republished from Groovy Green. (Originally posted 7/3/07)

rainbow_for_article.jpg

After some deliberation and discussion with my friends and family, I've decided to go back to school to pursue my masters degree in environmental science. I have been writing about peak oil and environmental issues since April 2005, and have been making adjustments to my lifestyle, and encouraging others to do the same. Blogging has opened many doors for me, and I have made valuable friends and contacts in the process. The whole process has inspired me to take my informal education via internet, books, and conversation to the formal masters level.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will face a myriad of challenges in the coming years. Climate change, coupled with declining energy supplies, will present a host of problems we have not faced in the past. I believe that these exigent challenges will require leadership and direction, something that I hope to provide to my community and region.

I relish opportunities to help educate others on ways to reduce their impact on the environment. If I can convince one other person to conserve electricity, eat locally, or reduce their waste, I have effectively doubled my ability to do the same. Groovy Green has allowed me to extend my reach to an even larger audience, and I am thankful for every reader that has read our work.

I realize that helping business and municipalities reduce their impact could allow me to have an exponentially greater impact. Helping readers and friends start composting is a great step towards reducing waste - helping a food processing plant do the same thing is the "next level". Replacing all of the incandescent bulbs in my home with flourescents is a great step towards conserving electricity - helping a municipality roll out a subsidized CFL bulb program that reaches 10,000 area residents is the "next level". Promoting the local farmer's market in the company newsletter helps encourage 50 people to increase their food security - helping an area supermarket chain procure food primarily from local growers could help improve the food security of thousands.

I realize that I want to be up there, on that "next level" making the largest difference that I can make.

When I was considering whether or not I should go back to school, I did a little mental exercise where I pictured what "a day in the life" would be like after I gained employment after school. This essay came about from it:

I ride my bike or take public transportation to work. My office travels with me in the form of a laptop and several paper files. I have an early a.m. meeting with management, where I'll pitch my proposal for the upcoming summer hours-shift and telecommuting. Mid morning there's a meeting scheduled with building maintenance regarding the industrial hyper-recycling program to ensure we are on track to meet our goal of halving our solid waste, and to make sure that we've renegotiated with local recyclers for next years contracts. They'll give me a tour of the new bio-waste digesters under construction, and give me notes on how the non-toxic cleaning solutions have been performing.

I'll check financial statements from our utilities over lunch to see how the conservation methods we've employed are paying off. Later I'll draft an email to the CFO encouraging re-investment of that savings into additional panels for the solar array - now producing a modest 5% of all our energy needs, and providing insurance against rolling brownouts.

Though 7 months away, I've set aside two hours in the afternoon to research heating options for the facility this winter. The biomass pellet boiler seems our best choice, and I need to begin a list of contacts for a supply contract. Perhaps we'll be able to provide delivery to employees if the logistics can be worked out for financing and supply. "Guarenteed Heating" would be a benefit that could attract high caliber workers in the years to come. Our company's investment in the local CSA brought us big dividends last summer when grocery store prices spiked on imported foods. The participation rate is now 60% and growing for the upcoming season. Productivity levels have been running at all time highs, despite stagnant wages. Workers have been less concerned with raises since the economy began slowing - most are happy to be working at all. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, the company providing flex-time employment at full benefits for a larger workforce means workers have more time at home and increased job satisfaction. I must convince the board to approve the guarenteed heating program - we'd become one of the top employers in the city for sure.

My meeting with the city council is next week. I'll be working with them to try to attract a component factory to the area, as the high cost of shipping and import have begun to eat into our budget. Relocalizing component production will add jobs and increase the tax base, both are very needed items as of late. Hell if PILOT programs were approved in the 00's for shopping malls, I think we have a good chance at approval for one for the component factory. I'll have to remind them that we purchase 100% of our power from the municipally owned local hydro station brought back on-line 3 years ago.

Other projects that I have been working on, include the Smart-Jitney program. Despite persistent gas prices in the $5-6 per gallon range, it got off to a slow start. Not all projects have caught on like the ones that I've mentioned previously. I do believe that we can reach a critical mass this summer, allowing the jitney program to become sustainable and financially viable. Too many people still hang on to the "personal freedom" aspect of auto travel, and are willing to devote a large aspect of their dwindling discretionary income to keep driving to work each day. Running a smart jitney program to the suburbs could keep many of these cars off the roads.

Another initiative that appears to be gaining steam is the Local-Bucks program. Our company is now the number two purchaser of Local-Bucks, second only to the university. Employee groups voted down options to get a portion of salaries paid in local bucks twice in the past 2 years. We pushed ahead with the program, paying out year end bonuses and increasing incentive pay in L-B's. Those who participate in the carpool program receive 30 L-B per week (a $33 value) to help offset the maintenance and upkeep costs, as well as provide an incentive for participating. Any worker who helps reduce our company's energy costs or waste stream can see bonuses of 100 L-B or more. We also subsidize employee purchases of the local currency, by providing a higher exchange rate, $0.85 per L-B vs. the standard $0.90 per L-B. This encourages employees and managers to keep their spending among local retailers, and increases dollar circulation in the community. Three of the four lunch vendors now take Local-Bucks, and the increased availability of the currency has doubled the number of shops and service providers on our street, revitalizing a previously direlect area of the city. There's rumors that landlords of these buildings have begun to take partial payment of rent in L-B (hey, what's better a vacant store front, or one that is paid for in L-B's?). Hopefully our business will be able to take payment for our goods in L-B's in the near future. This would allow the currency to come full circle. In any case we are proud of our support to the program.

Beyond the expansion of the solar electric panels, some other plans that I'd like to see enacted:

A water catchment system and wetland (a green roof wasn't feasible due to the inability of our roof and walls to handle the increased weight)

A geothermal heating and cooling system (waiting on tax credits and regional pipe manufacture)

The Natural Light project - to increase sunlight penetration into the building (architects and environmental engineers will need to be brought on to move the project forward)

I realize that many of these ideas may be naive, and over generalized. However, this was merely an exercise to look at the potential good that could come from obtaining higher education, and a new career path. I do believe that many of the ideas in the essay are worthy of consideration and implementation.

I welcome your thoughts about continuing education, and my essay above.

BEEF!
12/17/2007 07:51:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
My wonderful friend Meg, who was never the same after I lent her my copy of "The Omnivore's Dilemma", ordered and arranged to pick up a side of local grass-fed beef. We purchased it from the same woman at the farmer's market where we've been getting our local grass fed chicken and beef, and delicious local pork - Sweet Grass Farms.

We split the side of beef among 4 couples. Here are the 3 shares that she took with her after we divvied it up at my place:







Each family got an assortment of steaks, stew beef, ground beef, soup shanks, roasts, and misc. beef parts. 80 lbs. worth. As you can see, the meat is vacuum sealed in freezer bags which should prolong the freezer storage, and each cut is labeled.

We are excited to dig in! Anyone know any good roast or soup recipes?!?
Walkaways
12/12/2007 10:39:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
No one at the top saw it coming. Business leaders, agency heads, fed presidents, nor the US president had a clue. Funny thing, no one at the bottom saw it coming either. Three and a half weeks was all it took, twenty four days. Sure, I guess one could argue that the signs were there - increasing foreclosures, decreasing job creation, stagflation pushing up food, energy, and living expenses, while the housing crisis deflated personal asset values. The election debacle, leaving neither side happy, a congress and presidency destined to do little for the average citizen.

It started in Detroit, though some in Miami and Southern California would disagree. It's tough to define the beginning when a movement has no leaders, no goal, and no direction. Hell, it doesn't even have a "branded" name on the evening news that sticks yet.

As the housing crisis deepened in the fall of '08, many fixes were enacted by the fed and by congress, most helping no one, a few helping to prop up multinational banking institutions enough to keep the earnings cycle rolling along. After ***redacted*** was sworn in on January 20th, and the 111th congress took over the reins, it was clear there would be no more easy answers, no more quick fixes. Discontent ratings were high, but not yet above last years historical ranges. The stock market managed a meandering 8% decline last year. Things were bad, but there began to be a whiff of something stranger in the air. People had been struggling hard to hold on to their homes, working to refinance or join government programs to lock in interest rates. Scrapping to make payments and keep food on the table.

Then the March foreclosure data came in, and all hell broke loose.

A 1000% increase in Detroit, and eleven times more foreclosures in South Florida and in pockets of Southern California. People had stopped struggling. They walked away.

The first groups truly did leave their home, packing up family and belongings and moving in with relatives and friends, leaving behind empty shells of homes in their wake. It was rumored that in Detroit, 10% of homeowners stopped paying their mortgages in the prior month. In an unwinding clusterfuck, never seen before in this country - financial institutions losing liquidity, stock values plummeting, nest eggs evaporating, even credit unions folding - people began ignoring their obligations, but staying put in their homes. Even families that had the means to make payments stopped doing so, seeing it as a fools errand.

The banks weakened further. Amounts over the $100k FDIC limit were another casualty. The dollar fell off a cliff as foreign holders ran for the door. Three and a half weeks later, things had ground to a halt. 75% of mortgages were delinquent according to the following month's report.

"WALKAWAYS!" someone spray painted on the side of a house in an exurban housing development.

An accusation? A curse? A subversive rallying cry?

The great walking away had begun.
Last Years Resolutions
12/11/2007 08:19:00 AM | Author: baloghblog

I was reminded of of this article (by one of our editors), it is my goals for 2007. I figured I'd repost it, and then go back and let you know how things turned out, and how they look for the future.

-------------------------------------------------------

Back on the Wagon by Stephen Balogh

12/28/2006

It's so easy to slip.
It's so easy to fall,
And let your memory drift,
And do nothing at all.

(Kibbee, played by Weir)

I have realized just how easily, over the past 6 months. Gone was the urgency I once felt, gone the cloud of doom hanging over my head. Life just became "too busy" again. Too much of the real world got in the way of my post-peak preparations, and sustainability projects. While reflecting on 2006, I became acutely aware of how the rest of the world can drift idly busily by, without considering peak energy, global warming, and other approaching problems. I think that is what we (who write about peak oil) sometimes fail to grasp when we are exasperating about why we cannot convince others that trouble is approaching and preparations need to be made - the world is just too damn busy to deal with these things.

New Years is a time of reflection, a time of redemption and of optimism. We take time to give our thanks for the past years graces at Thanksgiving and overindulge into the end of the holiday season. But, New Years is different. The new year gives us that blank sheet of paper to start writing those resolutions for the next year. Despite the trials, tribulations, and unfullfilled ambitions of the prior year, January 1st allows us to look forward to another year and another chance for us to live the life that we truly want. The writing of goals resolutions helps us sort out all of those random nagging thoughts in our heads, and gives us a framework for moving forward.

Of course I tend to err on the side of optimism for my resolutions: drop 25 lbs., wake up early each morning, give up sweets, and save a substantial amount of money, etc, etc. This years resolution will be slightly different - for me it is not to be "too busy".

Its a conundrum, I know. How to get all of the countless things that need to be done, done, without being "busy". To be not "too busy" to get things done for the future, not "too busy" to make my lifestyle more closly match my ideals. Not too busy to enjoy time with family and loved ones.

This year I realize that time is growing short. How many more New Year's Days will I get filled with the prosperity and promise that I feel now. I fear not too many.

I re-read Kunstler's The Long Emergency over the past week. I read it this time as a much different person than the first time I picked it up, many moons ago. It is still a good kick in the butt and slap up side the head for me. I will not take up your precious time debating what I do and do not agree with in the book, but will say that I am now officially "back on the wagon". The urgency's back, the weather forecasting a few black clouds on the horizon. But, I refuse to give up my optimism while I still possess it. I refuse to give in to doomerism, and inertia. I know that there is plenty that I can do know to make my life much more bearable in the future, no matter what shape it may take.

I'm going to keep my life less busy, using the KISS principle. I've boiled my resolutions down to three sections:


The Essentials

A Roof Over Our Heads:

There are two very different paths that Mrs. B and I are considering taking. Lets start with the most drastic and least likely. That is, attempting to find a house sitting/long term low to no rent situation, and selling our home. This would carry a long list of pros and cons, as well as one big "if". If we could find a long term (6 months to a year) arrangement, it would allow us to pay off our current mortgage with the sale of our home and use the value remaining to put towards our other obligations. It would free us up to tackle our still substantial student loan debt, and could allow us to become debt free with in a short time frame. Keeping that big "if" aside, it would also force us me to pare down my belongings and get rid of much of the clutter in our life. A year or two with slightly less freedom, or should I say security in owning our own home could reap huge dividends in the freedom we could experience owing nothing to no man.

The second and more probable path is hunkering down in our present location (which both do like, but don't love) and becoming more serious about our sustainability efforts. This would include making extra payments in order to own a larger proportion of our home and to pay down (off?) our mortgage as quickly as possible. In this case the student loans would become secondary as making sure that we own where we live takes higher priority. Staying put would also mean a rededication of resources towards projects that we had originally put off for later. #1. A secondary home heating system to be able to weather natural gas price hikes and shortages. #2. Insulating our walls and replacing the remaining first generation windows. #3. Generating some portion of our own electricity with room to expand/scale it up. How we plan to do that has been covered in other posts, and I am sure that I will revisit the topic in more detail if it is the path that we choose.

A Full Pantry and a Means to Fill Our Bellies

What ever the roof over our heads looks like, we have to figure out how we are going to keep the cupboards full. I plan on giving greater emphasis on maintaining our pantry. Starting with a one month's supply of food, that doesn't just consist of pork and beans, soup, and bottled water. We'll strive over the month of January to store a month's worth of good hearty staples - food that can be rotated in and out of the pantry, but maintaining a long shelf life.

Another food related goal that I would like to work on in 2007, is to look beyond the home garden and supermarket for reliable sources of food. Don't get me wrong, I love my garden, and plan on expanding it in the spring, as well as adding fruit trees and bushes as a edible landscape. However, I am realistic that as green as I want my thumb to be, the garden will only be able to provide a small percentage of the food my family will consume. Besides my time should be spent treating patients and earning an income through those means, than spending countless hours trying in vain to be a suburban farmer. So I will be looking beyond the garden, to developing stronger relationships with the local farmers at our Regional Market, and in our immediate area. I have already met a great lady who we get a majority of our meat from, but it wouldn't hurt to find another local source. Finding a local dairy farm is a must, as well as someone we could count on for locally produced potatoes and vegetables. I enjoyed my CSA last year, but it was high on variety - too much for us less adventurous eaters. Perhaps we can find a way to make bulk purchases of organic veggies to share among friends and family and have a more "a la carte" co-op. The goal will be to know these farmers on a first name basis and develop a good bond with them to ensure continued access to healthy local food.

Community

2007 is the year the I'd like to break out of my shell and enter more "in real life" situations in my community. There are many progressive thinkers in my area, and while I enjoy the geographically diverse group of friends and acquaintances I have now on the internet, I look forward to trying to engage some of the people in my neighborhood. I'd like to retool my "relocalization" piece, and get it published in the Syracuse alt-weekly. I am going to resume writing on my local blog and start looking for allies in the local business community.

I will also continue to write for my company's newsletter, and hope to make inroads into management in order to make more broad positive changes in our environmental impact. In writing this small column 1-2 times a month, many people who I assumed had little interest in the environment and sustainability have come up to me and told me how they appreciated my tips and looked forward to them.

In Groovy Green's end of year poll: What Is Your Top Green Resolution for 2007? I voted for "convince others." I believe that this is the most important difference I can make. Yes, "be the change you want to see in the world" is an important mantra. I will be more diligent in 2007 in improving my lifestyle and becoming more sustainable. But as I strive to improve my life, I realize that it is important to share all the tools and tricks with others, for in convincing one other family to do the same I will have made twice as much impact.

Working on these essentials, a roof over my head, a full pantry and expanding my community connections will take up a fair bit of time, but I am determined on not getting "too busy" to lose sight of the finish line and lose focus. Happy New Year everone!

Destiny USA and OnTrack
11/18/2007 10:36:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
The discussion about what to do with the OnTrack local rail system has been reignited over the past few weeks. Michael Bragman wrote an op-ed in today's paper, pleading for city and county officials not to give up on the beleaguered train. He believes that control of the project should be given to the New York, Susquehanna, & Western Railroad as a way to speed the completion process of the Park St. bridge, which would link OnTrack to the Regional Transportation center. This project has been funded and abandoned several times.

I posted several years ago - believing that the connection to the Regional Transportation Center would be the push that OnTrack needed to get moving again. I also called for any Destiny USA expansion to be required to include an expanded mass transit program. Bragman fails to mention any link between OnTrack and Destiny USA in his op-ed. I believe that this is an omission of a large piece of the puzzle. No self proclaimed "green" hotel or mall should be given LEED certification, in my eyes, if the primary access to the site is by automobile.

From my post:
The connection to the transportation center is a key step that must go forward to improve ridership on OnTrack. Hotels in the downtown area would benefit, as those taking Amtrak or the bus into Syracuse would have a direct, and cheap way to get to their hotel. Next, if you could get the train to extend to the airport, we would really encourage a larger ridership and a much more accessible city. As an aside, no DestinyUSA plan should be drawn up that doesn't include using public transportation using light rail, and given the proximity of the R&D park to both the Airport and Transportation Center, this seems like a great time to start talking about the expansion of OnTrack.
Congel would be crazy not to push for an expansion of OnTrack to Hancock International. What an easy way to fill rooms at the proposed hotel? For example, a sustainability or green building conference could be held at the hotel, with participants flying in to Hancock, taking OnTrack to Destiny USA and the hotel. Or regional attendees could come into town via Amtrak and catch the commuter rail to their final destination. During their free time, they could use Centro or OnTrack to venture down to have dinner and drinks in Armory and downtown, or catch an SU game up on the hill. Better yet, a regional transportation pass could allow them to jump on the Connective Corridor and attend a play at Syracuse Stage, an art exhibit at the Everson Museum, or a Crunch game at the War Memorial.

Destiny USA could sponsor the train, and power it with biodiesel, keeping the project fossil fuel free. New York, Susquehanna, & Western Railroad could get the tax breaks, to keep the trains running on time and to upgrade and maintain station integrity.

Bragman goes on to dream of a Montreal Line via the CSX rails up through the northern burbs, Oneida Lake, the Salmon River and points northward. I think that this is a wonderful idea. Though, the opinions I've heard are that CSX is stingy with its freight lines, and tends to hold up commuter and long distance trains for its freight trains. Boston appears to be grappling with this very issue now.

What I dream of is more local. What about a resurrected trolley line running north and south along Salina Street? One end could reach the Destiny USA project, then come down Solar Street past the inner harbor, before making a turn towards Salina and making it's way past Clinton Square and into the Centro Station downtown. Future expansions could extend the rail line further south along Salina St. allowing for a quicker trip into the city from the South Side as well as boost to revitalization efforts in the South Side neighborhood. The line would help connect the Little Italy section of North Salina to downtown, a transition that has been lacking, and slowing the regrowth of the North Side.
The same could be said for the lack of connection between the North Salina St. area and Hanover Square. The two are separated only by a few blocks. There happens to be a large highway interchange that presents somewhat of a physical barrier, as you must pass underneath the elevated highways to get from one neighborhood to the other. I believe that the barrier is more a mental one than a physical one. That stretch of sidewalk at first glance is a long, lonely and empty one. Just foreboding enough to compute as a distance that should be driven when in fact it is less than 1/2 a mile.
A streetcar line that runs along this route would be an attraction in itself. Who in Syracuse has ridden a streetcar, besides those who are old enough to remember the last gasps of the early 1900's lines prior to the dismantling to make room for the automobile, or those that have traveled to places like San Francisco?

I think that it is time for us to ask more of Robert Congel than a sparkly new "green" hotel and more shopping options. Congel has a great opportunity to show that Destiny USA can be a part of our county, our city, and our community. I hope that he'll consider linking the mall expansion and hotel with Hancock International, the Regional Transporation Center, downtown and the SU Hill, and sit down with the newly elected Mahoney administration and become part of the OnTrack discussion.
Why Can't Syracuse Get Themselves One of These...?
11/13/2007 07:42:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
Erie, PA:
Mike Batchelor invited the heads of 46 charities into his downtown office for one-on-one meetings to personally deliver the news. Nearby, on a small table, sat a box of tissues. Mike Batchelor accepted a $100 million donation from an "Anonymous Friend" to benefit Erie charities.

And then he proceeded: A donor had given a staggering $100 million to the Erie Community Foundation, and all of the charities would receive a share.

That was when the tears began to flow -- and the mystery began -- in this struggling old industrial city of 102,000 on Lake Erie, where the donor is known only as "Anonymous Friend."

Batchelor, president of the Erie Community Foundation, has been sworn to secrecy and will allow only that the donor worked with the organization for years to identify deserving recipients before the announcement over the summer.

Is the donor dead or alive? No comment, Batchelor says. What is the donor's connection to Erie? No comment.

What could Syracuse do with $100 million? I think that we could do a lot - starting with the near west and south side. If anyone has $100 million they'd like me to oversee. I'll get started on that right away...

Any idea's what you'd like to see done with $100 mil? NYCO, is that your hand up?

CNN via Americablog

If you've been wondering where I've been...
11/08/2007 08:11:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
I've been stumblingupon:



go check my blog out over there, jakdmsy.stumbleupon.com

(*you know your stumbleupon addiction is bad when you start neglecting your own blog!)
Oct 15th 2012
10/15/2007 10:44:00 PM | Author: baloghblog


I just renewed our lease on our apartment for another year, at a 15% increase. Demand for quality rental property, inflation, and my unwillingness to start a relationship with a new (and possibly shady) landlord made the decision to re-sign easier. I am hoping that my efforts to help our landlord renovate the home and bring up its energy efficiency will pay off in defrayed costs. Jim and I replaced the dinosaur of a boiler in the basement last fall, after I talked him into a pellet/biomass boiler with the capability to burn wood pellets, corn, or recycled paper. Jim had to move back in to his rental property after he could no longer hold on to his mortgage on his primary residence. Given the property tax increases we've faced to keep the schools running, I'm not sure that my monthly rent will help defer even half of his current payments on the 2 family house - so, again, I don't begrudge him the bump in the rent. Another 15% next year, and we'll be considering "consolidated housing" ourselves. Many of our friends and family have had to do the same, moving in together, or back in with family to help keep a roof over their heads.

It's amazing how quickly public perception can change. After the "consolidated housing" meme hit the cover of Time and Newsweek eight months ago, the stigma was lifted, and what was a terrible housing market became even worse as a flood of young professionals, families, and struggling friends gave up their homes and moved in together. Aging baby-boomers welcomed their families back in with open arms, as their meager retirement savings are now a shell of their former selves. (A good number of privileged people are also a "shell of their former selves" as well, as dreams of 5 day a week golf and winters in Florida have faded...)

Our winter preps are nearly complete, many of the changes pragmatic rather than aesthetic. Windows with no appreciable solar gain have been taped off, packed with old newspapers and draped with heavy blankets. We keep at least one window in each room uncovered for natural light, but keep furniture and beds against inside walls to fend off the cold. We could afford to heat the home to 68 degrees all winter, but we decided as a household that daytime heating would be keep at 65 degrees and nighttime temps allowed to drop to 62. The little things like sealing out all drafts, additional insulation on the windows, and our project this winter to seal around all pipes and insulate electrical outlets will allow our house to hold onto that heat longer and reduce the heating portion of our budget. We also fill large bladders of hot water at night and keep them below (and sometimes in) our beds to stay toasty at night.

Our back hallway was left uninsulated, and now has been converted with shelves to a cold locker for food storage. A few more nights in the 40's and we'll be able to unplug the refrigerator for the winter. A few old beer coolers help keep food and drinks just above freezing, rather than their prior function of keeping things cold. Why spend nearly half our electricity bill on a refrigerator fighting against the warmth of our house, when the temperatures outside supply plenty of cold dry air. We've also commandeered a small section of the attic to hang our curing meats. Italian and Hungarian sausage, and cured hams hang from the rafters - our great grandparents would be proud (but not necessarily surprised) that we've rekindled the practice. An ultra-efficient freezer hums quietly in our friends' basement, holding pre-packaged cuts of beef from our fall purchase of a locally raised, grass-fed cow that we were able to split amongst four families.

We've also put our small backyard garden to bed for the winter. I picked the last of the winter squash, putting it up in the basement for a few weeks worth of meals. I kept a small bed of greens and beans at our apartment, getting quite a bit out of the 80 square feet that used to be a decorative flower garden along the side yard. Not knowing if we'd spend the summer here, I didn't want to invest too much in to our rented plot. The fresh green beans and seemingly endless supply of kale helped add plenty of green to our dinners.

Our main garden was grown at my parents home, with my father, his neighbor (a surgeon), and I, getting our hands dirty and expanding our "farmlet" to nearly a 1/3 acre. I suggested adding a long mounded row of potatoes, and an extra plot of beans to dry, and the fruits of our added labor included 150 lbs of potatoes, and a fairly impressive sack of dried kidney and navy beans which should store nicely for the winter. And, when mixed with the corn we've purchased from the farmer's market should provide us with a good source of protein. If I were living there we'd add a chicken coop for our own fresh eggs and meat, but I don't want to add any additional chores to my father's list, especially a daily trudge out in the cold to feed and water them. Besides, with the number of people skirting the "backyard chicken law" - there is a surplus of fresh eggs in the community.

School's been back in session for the past month and a half, and the kids seem to be adjusting to the changes. After 3 consecutive increases in property taxes to pay for the additional cost of heating the schools, and fueling the fleet of yellow buses, the school board voted to combine elementary and middle school bus trips, and increase "winter break" from 1 week to 1 month. There had been talk of going to a 4 day school week, but so far, the 5 day a week tradition has held. All after-school and extra-curricular activities have been canceled, including nearly all sports. Parents have volunteered for transportation to keep some teams like soccer, basketball, and baseball going. Football programs were cut at all but the larger schools, or those that could raise the funds to purchase equipment. Austerity budgets also cut many of the art and music programs, and many are even cutting foreign language classes. Unfortunately, many schools' curricula have contracted to lifeless "teach-to-the-test" programs designed to keep the federal aid coming in. Many parents have pulled their kids from school, preferring to homeschool them and provide a well rounded education. "Tag-schooling" also developed as a way for kids to socialize while being taught at home. This "you're it" style of rotating students to different homes, allows kids to stay with a group of friends - while not overwhelming a single parent to do so. Mothers and fathers take turns hosting classes, and split up teaching time during the day, pooling the educational background of the parents as well as reducing the individual burden. Who knows if this will just be a fad, or will hold promise as an alternative method of teaching.

With no kids of school-age yet, I participate in education by heading up the "Johnny and Janey Appleseed" program at the elementary and middle schools in my immediate neighborhood. We pool together money each spring and fall to purchase bulk orders of vegetable seeds and fruit cuttings to distribute to each family. I spend one weekend with a group of parents to divvy up the seeds in to family size packets, print out planting brochures, and instructions on how to compost and maintain soil. We hand them out in a informational meeting that we hold each Tuesday night in April, where we give a short presentation on the amount of food that each family is capable of growing. For those families that can't make the meetings I do a last ditch round of in-class education for all grades K-6 on how to plant a seed, keep plants free from weeds, and when to harvest. Then I tell them the story of Johnny Appleseed, and turn them loose to plant the seeds in any patch of dirt they can find in their yard. I noticed that this year's meetings were nearly double the size of last year's, filled with new parents who were shocked when they were able to harvest tomatoes, zucchini, and beans from seeds they didn't even realize their kids had planted.

It's strange, things are grim, and people have a real sense of insecurity about the future. Gas is expensive, but not yet unaffordable. There haven't been any real shortages of fuel, demand destruction has been stronger than expected. The job market is drying up, and there are many more out of work than even a few years ago. People have less "work", but more work to do feeding their families. Families and community have grown stronger. Crime is up. Morale is down. Government is inept. The ramifications of peak oil have begun to permeate our community. There are large defeats and small victories each day. Food is more expensive, less available - yet more people care about making sure every child gets fed than when our cup overfloweth. Leaders emerge out of people who never thought they had it in them. The elderly are in many cases neglected, in others revered for their knowledge of frugal practices. Things are worse than many expected, better than others thought. We haven't collapsed (yet), we haven't persevered either. We're floating down shit creek with a few paddles. A few less than we need to turn this ship around. I am both happier and sadder than I have ever been in my life.

Life goes on. Although it's rough, I feel more alive than ever.
Grooming The (Gen Y) Consumer Generation
9/24/2007 08:32:00 PM | Author: baloghblog

As I prepare to head back to school, I've been thinking about how interesting it will be to interact with the next generation of students. Many of them will have grown up with the ability to log on to the internet and gain instant information, the ability to contact friends and family at a moments notice, and an overall different perspective on life. Not that I am that much older that they will be, but 10+ years is difference enough to grow up with a completely different set of ideas, beliefs and interests.

I came across a blog post that gives me pause, however. I wonder how many of these students will have spent a lifetime being groomed to grow up and be consumers.

This past weekend I had the occasion to visit a dorm at George Washington University. I hadn't been in a dorm in years and was shocked at how nice it was. Each room in this particular dorm had its own kitchenette and bathroom. Some rooms have their own washer and dryer. Apparently, this is the norm. When I was in college we were crammed into tiny rooms with no amenities and sharing a bathroom with 6 other girls was the norm. We shared the laundry room with the entire dorm.

Apparently, today's college students have grown up with certain standards and aren't going to lower them just because they are in college and away from the comforts of home. In fact, they expect those comforts to follow them there. When deciding where to go to college, dorms and dining halls play as much a part as do the classes and football team.

(emphasis mine)

Not that I can deny being on the cusp of some consumerist ideas when I was in college (free gift for signing up for a credit card!, etc.), but the trials and tribulations of college are what made it part of growing up into an adult. You had to share a bathroom and kitchen with others on your floor, you had to keep it reasonably clean, and you had to wait in line to do your bi-monthly load of laundry (yes - we were gross in college).

double-room.jpg

Just to make your blood boil a little more: (via LA Times)

The trend toward the four-star dorm is a convergence of several factors: a generation of students who have grown up sharing neither the bedroom nor the bathroom with siblings, parents who are accustomed to high tuition costs and don't object to paying a few hundred more per month for better accommodations, and universities competing for enrollment and using posh new residence halls as marketing tools.

Callaway Villas, in College Station next to Texas A&M, is a gated ACC complex of three-story town houses plus a 16,000-square-foot clubhouse, a resort-style pool, basketball courts, a sand volleyball court and shuffleboard. Living units have faux-hardwood floors, ceiling fans and, for those light sleepers, white-noise generators.

And take a high blood pressure pill before this one: (Washington Post)

Some have given single rooms to students not used to sharing. Others have offered maid service and microwaves. Now they're giving them a larger space on which to lay their heads. At AU, the move toward double beds came after complaints by students that the twins were too small and too childish, said Rick Treter, director of residence life. When a dorm designed with suites of larger single bedrooms was built, the double beds were the ticket.

veruca salt.jpgYeah, yeah, I know that I am a little too young to sound like Grampa, "in my day we walked 4 miles uphill to school both ways..." But I can only imagine that these amenities add to the yearly increases in tuition, and a few months on to the students loan payback time frame. It also adds to the phenomenon of "I don't care how, I want it now!" The unrealistic view that we can have something for nothing.

Kunstler rails against this way of thinking:

The Las Vegas-i-zation of the American mind is a pernicious idea in itself, but it is compounded by another mental problem, which I call the Jiminy Cricket syndrome. Jiminy Cricket was Pinocchio's little sidekick in the Walt Disney Cartoon feature. The idea is that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. It's a nice sentiment for children, perhaps, but not really suited to adults who have to live in a reality-based community, especially in difficult times.

The idea - that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true - obviously comes from the immersive environment of advertising and the movies, which is to say, an immersive environment of make-believe, of pretend. Trouble is, the world-wide energy crisis is not make-believe, and we can't pretend our way through it, and those of us who are adults cannot afford to think like children, no matter how comforting it is.

Combine when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true with the belief that it is possible to get something for nothing, and the psychology of previous investment and you get a powerful recipe for mass delusional thinking. As our society comes under increasing stress, we're liable to see increased delusional thinking, as worried people retreat further into make-believe and pretend.

College is supposed to be difficult. It's supposed to be uncomfortable. It is supposed to be a community event. Yes, it's supposed to be fun too. But most of all, it has to get you ready for the real world. The real world where you might not be able to afford an apartment with a washer and dryer in it, maybe not even in the building! The real world where you might have to live on mac and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches to get your start. The real world where it's easier to collaborate with family friends and neighbors to tackle a problem, rather than on your own. Where it's better to solve disputes rather than retreating to your solitary room.

But I guess that is the "real world" that I entered out of school. The "real world" of today is more about ringing up a new flat screen TV on your charge card at 24 1/2 percent, living in an apartment that you can't afford, on a salary that barely pays your student loans, even though you've stretched them out for 20 years.

Sigh. [/rant]

Life Imitates (Pink Floyd) Art
9/13/2007 09:32:00 PM | Author: baloghblog


Via reddit.com and here

Pink Floyd - Animals cover here.
Quick Post - Little Gem Diner Closes for First Time Since 1955
9/13/2007 12:35:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
You have to love the reporters comments, something to the effect of, "Everyone knows about the Little Gem Diner, whether it's for the eggs or other breakfast material..."

I loved late nights at the Little Gem growing up. I feel bad for the owners and patrons, and hope that they can get back on their feet soon.

Video report here:

http://blog.syracuse.com/wtvh/2007/09/fire_damages_docs_little_gem_d.html
Vaca
8/26/2007 01:52:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
I spent the week in Martha's Vineyard. Absolutely beautiful. Saw The Samples in concert, with 70 other lucky souls at Outerland. Here's "Feel Us Shaking" from the show. Intimate and acoustically perfect.

It's Coming...
7/10/2007 06:56:00 AM | Author: baloghblog


If I could figure out how to get this blog to play the Jaws attack theme - da-DUNT.... da-DUNT. I'd do it. For some reason TPTB started letting peak oil out of the bag yesterday. Gone are the forecasts that pushed in 20-30 years out in to the future. The type that rang out "It's 2007 and alls well..."

Nope now we've gotten this:
World will face oil crunch ‘in five years’

By Javier Blas, Commodities Correspondent

Published: July 9 2007 13:25 | Last updated: July 9 2007 13:25

The world is facing an oil supply “crunch” within five years that will force up prices to record levels and increase the west’s dependence on oil cartel Opec, the industrialised countries’ energy watchdog has warned.

In its starkest warning yet on the world’s fuel outlook, the International Energy Agency said “oil looks extremely tight in five years time” and there are “prospects of even tighter natural gas markets at the turn of the decade”.

and this:

Oil experts see supply crisis in five years
By David Litterick in Chicago

Stormy outlook : oil producers will be unable to increase production in line with demand and prices cold soar

The International Energy Agency has predicted a supply crunch in the world's oil markets that could send prices soaring and place a severe dent in global growth.

In a report that painted a bleak outlook for the global economy, the IEA said spare capacity in oil production would dry up over the next five years, even as demand continues to jump significantly.

I thought that I'd feel a great sense of satisfaction at being vindicated about the timing and impact of peak oil. I figured I'd think to myself, I was there in the beginning writing and reading about this, getting prepared, learning about solutions, etc.

Last night, that wasn't what was on my mind though. I kept thinking, 5 years is a really short period of time. We better get a move on things.

More coming soon on my personal plans.

[pic via EGMbrooks]
Lyrics
6/28/2007 10:57:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
My latest iTunes purchase is Boxer, by The National.

Lyrics from Fake Empire:

Stay out super late tonight picking apples, making pies
put a little something in our lemonade and take it with us
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire

Tiptoe through our shiny city with our diamond slippers on
Do our gay ballet on ice
bluebirds on our shoulders
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire

Turn the light out say goodnight
no thinking for a little while
lets not try to figure out everything it wants
It’s hard to keep track of you falling through the sky
we’re half-awake in a fake empire
we’re half-awake in a fake empire


Listen to MP3 here (Pitchfork)
Cleaning Up Syracuse's Front Doorways
5/24/2007 09:21:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Cross-posted from Cleaning Up Syracuse blog, at Syracuse.com:

The recently released Brookings Institution report refocused attention to the downtown revitalization effort. Sean Kirst's article in yesterday's paper very elegantly summed up the report and how we can move forward:
To change Syracuse - to really change the patterns draining strength from the region - we need to dare to begin thinking in that way. The simple truth is that these big Upstate cities essentially operate like old eight-cylinder Buicks. Reform has usually meant tinkering with the engines, but in the end - no matter what you do - those engines are obsolete.

We need leaders who are ready to start trying out new models, and citizens with the courage to at least contemplate the switch.

Central New York, in many ways, remains a fine place to live, and the Brookings report is right: Syracuse has great potential. But it cannot and will not revive unless we all make a commitment, on some level, to be part of the change.
I hope that this blog will grow to be "part of the change".

Imagine instead of entering downtown Syracuse via corridors of abandoned warehouses, deserted sidewalks, scrub brush, and crumbling walls you were greeted with a welcoming atmosphere, with signs of growth and hope. Where you were met with a proud "Welcome to Syracuse - [enter upbeat motto here]" sign as you came off the exit ramp into downtown. Where sidewalks were lined with lamp posts and trees.

The crumbling and decaying buildings that separate the west side of the city from Tipp Hill and the burbs create not only a physical barrier between two areas of city, but a psychological one as well. I love the hand painted "warehouse district" signs stapled to the telephone poles along West Fayette Street, a sign that there is a spark of pride in that neighborhood - A rally against the destitution that has plagued that area. The city should tap into that energy, and help break down those psychological and physical barriers. Right now West St. is cutting that area off from the vibrant Armory Square area. I am not proposing the city re-route West St., but it certainly could work to make it more pedestrian friendly. How about an elevated cross-walk on Fayette over West? Or widening sidewalks and extending crossing times? How about a similar effort such as down by the Inner Harbor, with new sidewalks, lightposts, and landscaping extending down from SU's Warehouse to South Geddes St.? It has been proposed in the past, but how about letting some of Delavan Art Galleries' finest paint a mural along the sidewalk underneath the train tracks? There are many ways that we could stoke the optimism and growth of Armory beyond its current boundaries, into the Near West Side.

The same could be said for the lack of connection between the North Salina St. area and Hanover Square. The two are separated only by a few blocks. There happens to be a large highway interchange that presents somewhat of a physical barrier, as you must pass underneath the elevated highways to get from one neighborhood to the other. I believe that the barrier is more a mental one than a physical one. That stretch of sidewalk at first glance is a long, lonely and empty one. Just foreboding enough to compute as a distance that should be driven when in fact it is less than 1/2 a mile.

The separation between SU Hill and downtown has been discussed ad nauseum. "Should 81 be torn down?" is a question that I have been hearing since the 1980's. Let's just stipulate that it will not be torn down, and look at other psychological barriers to movement from the University Hill to downtown. I believe that the barrier is much taller than the height of the 81 overpass. How can we encourage people to travel down the hill after SU games, or to head into the city for dinner and drinks, and perhaps take in a concert? I think that we need to encourage a mixed re-development of this area. When I drive down Adams or Harrison, or look on the overhead view from Google Maps, you know what I see? Parking. Tons of parking lots. Oh, and a few buildings. The path from SU Hill to downtown has been designed for the auto, and not the pedestrian.

Lets imagine walking under the 81 overpass, past Harrison Center, to a new row of restaurants, coffee shops, walk-up apartment buildings all on the sidewalk, hiding new parking buildings behind them. The Oncenter hotel, doesn't stand alone, but instead is incorporated to this new "Harrison Square" area. Pedestrians walk from an evening at the Everson, to sip coffee on sidewalk tables. Residents of the renovated Hotel Syracuse Condos spend warm summer evenings walking down to do some window shopping. Now you've given people a reason to walk downtown from the hill. Employees in the Axa towers now have a great spot for lunch. People who live in the Pioneer Homes have a reason to cross Adams St. and the Near Southside can become more incorporated into downtown. 81 doesn't even cross your mind anymore.

Cleaning up Syracuse must go beyond keeping litter off of the roadsides. We must clean up these vital entryways into the downtown area, and encourage the type of growth the Brookings Institution spoke about. Let's treat these three areas (W. Fayette beyond West Street, The Northside-Hanover Square connection, and the newly named "Harrison Square" area) as the welcome mat to downtown. We as a city can overcome both the physical and psychological barriers that stand in our way.

poison.jpgI wrote to my local grocery store - Wegmans - to see how they intended to keep melamine and cyanuric acid tainted food off of store shelves. They tend to be a very proactive store, that prides themselves bringing local products, and had a organic food section prior to it becoming mainstream.

After waiting for several days, I was pleased to get a response to my inquiry today. I have replicated the letter in full, below.

I hope that our readers take the time to write to their supermarkets and groceries to ask them the same question. To me it is unconscionable that these poultry and pork products that may contain poison have been allowed to enter the food stream. I will gladly publish any responses that you get back.

Without further ado, here is their response:

Hello. Thanks for your e-mail. We can certainly understand your concern about the possibility that some products could be implicated in the tainted wheat gluten/pet food recall and thank you for contacting Wegmans. Pardon the length of this e-mail but I think you'll agree there are no short answers and we want to be thorough in responding.

Our food science and quality assurance team have been keeping us up-to-date on this very complex situation almost daily, since the original pet food recall, and will continue to do so as necessary. We pride ourselves on providing concise and accurate information to our customers in a timely manner.

The issue has caught us, and the entire food industry, by surprise. This is the most current information we have about the product(s) in question, but new information becomes available daily. We are monitoring the issue very closely and staying in close contact with our supplier partners.

I'd like to share with you what our suppliers have told us:

Chicken

Mountaire Farms (Wegmans' fresh chicken supplier)

"Mountaire Farms does not directly feed our poultry any wheat gluten, rice protein, or any other high protein ingredient sourced from China. This applies to both the broilers and the breeder stock. We also do not incorporate into any of our poultry diets any of the raw materials from the pet food industry that have been recently contaminated with the identified adulterants."

Murray's (Supplier of Wegmans Food You Feel Good About Chicken)

"Please rest assured that Murray's chickens receive a 100% antibiotic free vegetable diet comprised of corn and soybean meal. The corn used to feed Murray's chickens is grown in Eastern Ohio, South New York and Pennsylvania. The soybean meal is from Iowa. None of the grains used to feed our chickens is ever imported."

Pilgrim's Pride (Wegmans' rotisserie chicken and frozen IQF supplier)

"Pilgrim's Pride's flocks are fed a wholesome mixture of corn, wheat, and soybean meal, all of which are sourced in the United States. Pilgrim's Pride does not import any corn, wheat, wheat gluten, soybean meal or rice ingredients from China."

Perdue

"Our feed formulations are developed by our company nutritionists, and all of the protein ingredients are from the United States. We have standardized quality control procedures for all of our ingredients and finished feeds, and have full-time feed quality control associates in each of our feed mills. In light of recent news stories, we have also begun a program of random sample testing of our feed ingredients to ensure no traces of melamine found....Perdue does not have any chicken flocks in Indiana, nor have any Perdue flocks anywhere been affected."

Wegmans Eggs

Wegmans' own egg laying hens are fed a corn and soybean meal diet. Much of the corn is grown on our farm; the rest is grown locally in New York State. The soybean is sourced domestically. Flaxseed used in the Omega 3 diet is imported from Canada. Wegmans Egg Farm does not import any of the ingredients recently identified in the pet food industry as having been contaminated, nor do we import any feed ingredients from China. This also applies to our breeder stock.

Turkey

Plainville

"Plainville Farms' turkeys are fed a wholesome vegetarian diet consisting of corn, soybean meal, vitamins, minerals, proteins, and oils. No meat, bone meal, animal fats, or wheat glutens are procured or added to our feed. All of our feed is either produced on our own farms or sourced from suppliers with the U.S."

Fish

The only fish carried by Wegmans that is grown in China is (farm-raised, frozen) tilapia. Tilapia does not require as much protein as other species, and we have been assured by our supplier that the protein used is free of the contaminated ingredients recently associated with other recalls. (Wegmans' Director of Seafood Operations Carl Salamone was in China when this story hit the media and got this information directly from our supplier.)

Farmed Raised King Salmon

Taplow Feeds (feed supplier for Creative Salmon, our supplier of farm-raised king salmon) "This letter confirms that none of fish feed supplied to Creative salmon contain any contaminated wheat gluten." The only wheat products used in the feed formulation are from Canada and are certified organic.

Frozen Salmon

Aquagold Seafood (supplier of frozen salmon)

"Cultivos Marinos Chiloe certifies that all the protein sources, including Fish meal, Soy Bean Meal, Wheat Flour, Wheat Mids, Corn Starch, Gluten Meal, Shrimp meal, Feather Meal and Fish Oil, that we use in our Salmon feed production, are not purchased from Chinese suppliers.

In response to the recent Melamine events, we are implementing a testing and monitoring program to ensure that our feed supply does not contain Melamine." (Wegmans clarified the last sentence. It means that they are confident with their current feed. But since they've never had to test for melamine in the past, they are now implementing additional testing and monitoring procedures to ensure that there won't be a problem in the future.)

Fresh Farm-Raised Atlantic Salmon

EWOS Canada Limited (this company owns MainStream, supplier of farmed Atlantic salmon, and produces and supplies its own feed) "EWOS Canada Limited does not and has not used wheat gluten as an ingredient in the feeds we have supplied to you [Wegmans]. As such, there is no exposure to the issue of contamination of melamine coming from wheat gluten originating from China."

Hogs

(It's been reported that pet food contaminated with melamine may have been mixed into the feed supply of a limited population of pigs in California, North Carolina, South Carolina, New York, Utah, and possibly Ohio. None of the pigs entered the food supply.)

Hormel (Wegmans' supplier of fresh pork)

"The purpose of this letter is to assure you that none of the hogs used by Hormel Foods Corporation are raised in any of the locations implicated thus far, and thus, have not been affected by this issue."

Aliments Breton Foods Canada - duBreton Meat(supplier of Food You Feel Good About pork)

"Aliments Breton does not use grain that comes from China in any of its feeds. Aliments Breton never used any grain from China in its feed manufacturing process, (nor) plan to use any. Pigs produced by Breton farms and processed at duBreton Meat are fed by Aliments Breton feeds." (It is forbidden to import into Canada any grain or grain by-product from any country, except for corn, soybean or soy meal. To do so, one needs a Canadian Wheat Agency permit.)

Fresh Mark (supplier of Wegmans' hams)

"We have diligently investigated this issue with various government agencies, our food safety consultants, suppliers, and the American Meat Institute and can confirm no raw materials procured by Fresh Mark were from the population of animals that consumed the contaminated feed."

Cattle

Meyer Natural Angus (supplier of Wegmans FYFGA beef)

"Meyer Natural Angus does not use any wheat gluten and/or rice protein concentrate in any beef feed products."

Bakery Products

Wegmans' Bakeshop

All of the vital wheat gluten used in the production of baked goods is sourced within the U.S.

I hope this helps to answer your questions. We appreciate your feedback and your business. Food Safety is a top priority for Wegmans for both our customers and our employees and their families. We're doing our best to stay on top of this issue and will continue to do so.

Thanks for giving us the opportunity to respond.

Wegmans Consumer Affairs Team

I think that this is a very thorough response, and I am satisfied with it. I am happy to learn where the farms are located that provide the store with their meat too.

Lewis Black on Earth Day
4/26/2007 09:58:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Via Greenthinkers:



Highlights -

Diane Saywer: "...Is your pole thinning?"

Black: "It's a shame cars don't run on cognitive dissonance."
Garlic is easy
4/25/2007 08:21:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
While perusing the farmer's market last fall, and buying some garlic bulbs from a nice farmer and his wife I noticed berry containers filled with less than perfect garlic bulbs (a quart of them) for $1. I asked what they were, and he said "they're seed garlic" and handed me a wrinkled photocopy of planting and growing instructions. So I plunked down my dollar, and took home my garlic "seeds". I put them in the ground in an area that we are transforming after the installation of a patios, figuring if the grass seed wouldn't take that late in the season, I might as well put it to use. Here's what has been coming up this spring - 21 garlic plants.



I plan on mulching them this afternoon, to prevent further "erosion" from the hill. I read up on harvesting them, and it looks like by mid July I should be ready to dig them up. When planting garlic, think of them like a tasty tulip. Drop them in in the fall (right side up!) and by summer you'll be enjoying them.
Quick Post - Thoughts on cleaning
4/24/2007 09:01:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
Isn't the definition of an "environmentally friendly" paper towel: a dish rag?



That is all. Back to your regularly scheduled lives.
(pic via Karen Hibbard Art Project)
Final Backyard Update
4/19/2007 06:12:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
The tree guys came (TreeLanders) and did a quick and thorough job on our 3 trees. Beautiful evening light now streams in the upstairs and basement windows. We made the right decision.



Now I have to remove the mulched stump pile and put in topsoil and seed and we'll be good to go!
Backyard (Spring!) Blogging
4/19/2007 06:08:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Blogging in January:



Blogging this evening:



No comparison!
Update on driveway
4/16/2007 06:48:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
Just wanted to give a quick thanks to the Colonel (my Dad), and to Andrew Bozo of Professional Lawn Care and Snow Plowing (my plow man and classmate) for helping me clear out that mess.

If you are in the Syracuse area, and are looking for a good snow-plower, email me and I'll give you his phone number. He also does complete lawn care and landscaping.



Freaking snow.
Aaron's thoughts on knowledge
4/16/2007 03:07:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
I've been meaning to put in a plug for this post since I first read it.

are we past peak knowledge?
Speaking of trees
4/16/2007 03:01:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
I was stuck at home today. No not the nor'easters snow on the roads, but the accumulation of it over the past 24 hours on my trees. Here's why:



I will never underestimate the value of a good chainsaw, and the ability to use and maintain it. That reminds me...

Note to self: buy a chainsaw, and learn how to use and take care of it.
Ode to a Tree
4/11/2007 07:15:00 AM | Author: baloghblog


I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

-- Joyce Kilmer

This is my big backyard tree, which as of next week will be no more. I imagine it will be campfire wood for local campers. I hate to see such a big tree get cut down, but in this case it is old and 1/2 of it is sick, and it is smack dab in the middle of our back yard. I knew it was eventually going to need to be cut down the day we bought the house.

So I figured, hell, this is my blog, and if I want to have a tribute to a big tree. I can do it.
Organic Cotton
4/09/2007 10:12:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
How much is a F*ing yard of this stuff, and should I be telling people to go buy it?
Barneys New York is giving consumers an added incentive to buy its pricey products: The retailer is donating a percentage of all sales to One Percent For the Planet, an environmental organization. Barneys partnered with organic-cotton company Loomstate to launch an exclusive apparel line this spring that includes a $145 organic cotton hooded Henley sweatshirt and a $125 organic cotton halter dress with flower print.
Gag me with a luffa. I am so sick of organic fashion.

Hwerf.

[/soapbox]
Blog Roll Updated
4/07/2007 07:23:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
It's always a sad day when you have to delete people from your blog roll. There are so many blogs that I have enjoyed reading over the past 2 years. Yes I know, people come and go, but unsubscribing from bloglines is like raiding the closet and having to throw out your favorite old sweaters and shirts - even though you don't even wear them anymore.

Blogging is tough sometimes. There are so many things to do in a day, finding something interesting to comment on is not always at the top of the list. I've been guilty of abandoning baloghblog for weeks at a time. I am sure that there will come a day that I will have to give it up all together.

That still doesn't make me feel better about permanently deleting a link to a writer that I kept up with. Like saying goodbye to someone that you've met at a conference, or on the opposite side of the country or globe, knowing you'll never see them again.

Weird, huh? This sentimentality. However, I can't imagine what I'd do if some of my favorite bloggers permanently threw in the towel. Aaron? Ianqui? Sharon? NYCO? Liz? Atrios? The first-draft gang? Some day I suppose it will happen.

Jeff, has been torn away from his personal blog to "greener" pastures. It's a shame, but I don't blame him in a way. If I could get paid full time for this type of gig, I would find myself in the same situation. Pat was a great writer that hung up his laptop. Liz seems to be working her magic more in the real life than the digital one (hmmm... there could be something said for that.)

There are new writers out there that I seem to find each day. Many are very talented and I hope that they keep up the writing. This blogroll purge needs to stay a once a year (or two?) event...
Cammuso = Right on the Money
4/01/2007 12:32:00 PM | Author: baloghblog


The Sunday Post-Standard's opinion section regarding the Bigger Better Bottle Bill being dropped (I won't bother linking as their links expire within 2 weeks):
Because he budget deals were cut behind closed doors, the public has to assume the bottle bill was used as a chit in some longer negotiation. What it was traded away for we may never know.
Once again, business interests trump ecological common sense in the NY State government. I have to reiterate that this is a real let down right out of the gate, Governor Spitzer.

See more of Frank Cammuso's brilliant political cartoons here. *including this other take on the BBB
birthdays/getting older
3/28/2007 12:31:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
This card is a perfect example that my wife truly knows me (and a reasonable representation of my birthday night!):

Syn-gas Plant Revisited
3/26/2007 03:10:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
-------------------------------------------------------------

So I stand corrected, after reading the Sunday Post-Standard, I see that the syngas facility slated to be built in Dewitt has come out and said that no carbon sequestration will be done at the plant for at least 10 years. This is the amount of time they believe that it will take for a cost effective method of carbon sequestration to be invented.

Therefore I change my baloghblog editorial opinion to against the plant.

No plant should be built in that location without a full (or nearly full) carbon sequestration solution.

--------------------------------------------------------------

Now that I've made that opinion clear, I need to hear how we are going to heat our homes when the gas stops flowing from Canada. Believe me, at some point it will. Or at least it will become unaffordable to the point that it is no longer a viable source of home heating for a large portion of the population.

Phil contacted me by email and wanted to know why I am doing the dirty work for the syngas plant by not initially opposing it.

My question to him and others is a practical one: Please tell me how we are going to heat our homes.

It is a grave concern of mine. More so than the difficulty in powering our vehicles to get from A to B, the ability to keep our homes heated through the cold NE winters is life threatening. Yes, syngas is unknown and possibly environmentally devastating. So is deforestation (see Haiti, Easter Island), coal furnaces (see 1800's), and we're going to need more than pellet stove retrofits (unaffordable to many on fixed incomes) to solve our future heating needs.

I took a flight recently, and when I was flying over the Central New York area, you know what I saw? A lot of homes - that's what I saw. A lot of homes, occupied by a lot of people. A lot of tendrils of white smoke coming out of those homes, each representing a furnace burning most likely natural gas. A lot of natural gas. We have a huge infrastructure in natural gas piping to a majority of the urban and suburban area.

Maybe it's not time for a syn gas plant yet. There is abundant (though declining) Canadian gas available to us. It is relatively cheap. I am certainly not for a plant that does nothing to sequester its carbon, and pollutes at a level on par with a coal fired electricity plant. But the thought keeps creeping into my head, "how are we going to keep all of these people warm through the winters?"
Changing Your World - A Little at a Time (and Contest!)
3/08/2007 11:31:00 PM | Author: baloghblog

holysnow.gifCross-posted from Groovy Green:


I feel pretty good today. That's pretty odd, considering it's peak doldrum season here in the northeast, in a city that just received 4.1" of snow this moarning, bringing our season total to 117" glorious inches of the white fluff. (yes, that's my front yard one week and 8 inches of snow ago).

Why I feel good is for the following reason: I sat in on a "mission committee" meeting at my company today. At least I thought that I would just be sitting in on it, but it turned out that I had top bill as a presenter on "how we can make changes at [company x] to reduce our environmental impact". I soon found out that I had the plenty to talk about. The 20 extemporaneous minutes flew by. I dived right in to the "low hanging fruit" in our company, and the committee and I decided on 4 goals to reduce our waste, conserve materials and energy and reduce our carbon emissions. I'll get back to those in a minute. First, what I want to point out, is that I told a few anecdotes today, based on information that I've gathered reading blogs, environmental magazines and articles in newspapers, and have seen in news reports. These were things that I thought that everyone had been at least exposed to, or at least have been given a chance to ignore. Boy was I wrong. The committee members faces lit up as I rambled off a few things that they could do to reduce their energy consumption at home.

  • reduce phantom loads - first defined phantom load. Let them know how all of the electronic devices are sucking a steady (though small) stream of power 24/7, 365 days a year. Then I told them how they could get rid of it - power strips, unplugging equipment when not in use. The jaw dropper to them is that the microwave clock uses more power during the year than the actual operation of the microwave.

  • a computer left on is like steadily burning 2 60 watt lightbulbs - one for the monitor and one for the computer. I taught them to put computers to sleep when not in use, and at least to turn it off at night.

  • conversion to CFL bulbs - a few members were aware of this, but I did notice a few pens jotting it down.

  • lastly - that "green power" is a choice in our area. I go with Green Mountain, which adds about $8 or so to my bill and would add only $8-12 to an average household to get 100% renewable energy (small hydro and wind). No one at the table had heard of this. This was a perfect wrap-up to my talk, and I am glad that it popped into my head at the last minute. "Now that I've gotten you feeling guilty about wasting electricity, here is a way that you can feel better while you cut back on your use..." I explained how the program worked and how they can easily sign up for it.

As you can see this meeting focused on electricity and ways to conserve energy. As "energy" goes, electricity seems the easiest for people to grasp, and most likely there is the most "fat" to trim out of that section of the household's total energy use.

Here are the 4 goals that we came up with:

  1. Get large "blue bin" recycling containers for our office / post reminder notes on garbage cans. I was shocked to find out that we are not as diligent at recycling as I thought. There are large containers for shredding (and recycling) confidential paperwork in our office - due to HIPPA laws anything with someone's initials has to be shredded, meaning about 60%? of our paper is recycled. That leaves all of the office memos, calendars, etc, that we could improve on.

  2. Make an announcement on Friday afternoons to make sure that everyone shuts down their computer for the weekend. (This may also be on a a daily basis.)

  3. We will be incorporating education on reducing vehicle miles driven into the orientation process, and encouraging time management into grouping travel to appointments.

  4. We will be joining in the "These Come From Trees" guerrilla public service announcement. Placing stickers on the paper towel dispensers in the bathroom and in the lunch room. I'd like to see one on every ream of paper too (or at least above the "copy" button on the copier.)

Yes there are many other things that we could be doing to reduce our companies impact, and we did touch on some of those. (I heard complaints about styrofoam coffee cups mentioned, as well as the lack of recycling in the lunch room.) Like I said, I could have gone on for an hour or more once those ideas started spilling out of me. This was a decent first step in the right direction, IMHO.

I realized two things today at that meaning. #1. I sure have been reading too many blog posts about the environment. #2. Yes, it is important to "be the change" in order to inspire others to do the same, but it is equally important to get out there and inspire! Yes it's impressive to get your household impact down to 1.7 planets, or whatever measure you choose to impress your on-line buddies with, but how much impact on the earth can you have by convincing others to make a change? How far into negative planets does the scale go? How many tons of CO2 can you personally stop producing? Now, compare with the amount that you could reduce by making sure everyone turns their computer off each night before leaving the office? In a big office, that's a lot of computers, and a lot of coal being shoveled into that energy plant.

Now, it's your turn. Leave me a comment [over at Groovy Green] with what you are doing in your place of employment, church, friendship circle, bowling league, or other group of people that are in "your world". Make sure to leave your email info in the box so I can get in touch with you. I'll randomly draw from the commenters and send you our groovy copy of "Green Design".

aurora borealis in Geddes tonight
3/06/2007 10:50:00 PM | Author: baloghblog
I was able to take some pictures of a beautiful Aurora Borealis over my home tonight. Here is a sample, and more pictures and my exposure settings can be found at geddesblog.



click picture to enlarge
Where Do All Those Miles Come From?
3/05/2007 07:24:00 AM | Author: baloghblog
Odometer2.jpgCross posted from Greenthinkers:

Like a good book on reeling in your household budget will tell you, you have to know where your money is going to prior to determining where you can make changes. In this light, Eric Boyd - the Digital Crusader, kept a log for 3 months and 3 days to see where all those miles on his car were coming from.

I kept records from Monday October 16th, 2007 to Tuesday December 19th, 2007, a period of three months and three days. During that time, I got in my car 258 times, traveled 1278.6 miles, filled my gas tank 4 times, and made my girl friend think I was obsessive-compulsive about record keeping :-). Each of the 258 records consists of the date, where I got out of the car, and a reading from the trip odo.

What an interesting idea. One that maybe more of us who purport to be environmentalists and live "green" lifestyles should do. How else can we know where to cut trips from? Maybe I'll get my Palm Pilot set up to help me track the same thing for a month. Who knows, maybe a "miles travelled budget" will be easier to tackle than the home finances.

Here are a few of Eric's conclusions: Hit the jump for his full "experiment" and his results.

In terms of climate change and sustainability, the car remains my second biggest contribution, after air travel. Surprisingly, if I biked to work three days a week, I could conceivably save about 20% of my total miles. If I also used public transit for the rest of my Journeys, I'd be getting close to cutting my miles traveled in half, without sacrificing much of anything in terms of the real convenience of a car