Friday, October 9, 2009

A couple of quick and easy meals

Bean and brats (from Vegetarian Times, which I pick up once in a while): Slice a package of veggie brats (I guess you could use meat, there's not dairy in the recipe, but I never have) and brown them on both sides, then put them aside. Fry some onion, then put in a can of diced tomatoes and a (rinsed and drained) can of white beans, a little water and some salt, pepper, and molasses. Heat through, put the brats back in and cook the sauce down for a few minutes before serving. Goes well with rice.

Usually when I have to get a meal on the table fast I do something simple with pasta, but I can't tell you how sick I am of pasta right now. So on Tuesday, when I literally had 20 minutes to put dinner on the table, this is what I made: tofu - drained, broiled 3 mins each side, then coated with a paste of miso and 1 tbls each of wine and mirin, then broiled again. Green beans, boiled for 3-4 minutes, then tossed with a small amount of soy sauce and tbls toasted sesame seeds. Rice. We love anything oriental-ish, and this made a rather stahm mid-week meal a little more special.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cheap Jews

On Tablet, an interview with Lauren Weber, author of book, In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue. Sample:

There’s something paradoxical about the connection between Jews and money. There are stereotypes about Jews being tightfisted, but also about Jews being gaudy.

The stereotype combines both admiration and resentment, and that’s a particularly American combination. On the one hand Jews were called miserly, on the other hand they were called ostentatious. Jews would be closed out of certain resorts because they were vulgar. In the book, I talk about this stereotype of the Jew living in a hovel that was secretly opulent inside. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
One of the greatest challenges of being a Jew interested in frugality and simplicity is the (almost exclusively internal) challenge of the "cheap Jew" stereotype. Jews will make poor decisions about money because they don't want to appear cheap.

I wonder if Scottish people have this problem?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A neighborhood ride

On Sunday afternoon I went on a bike ride along the Gypsum Creek bike path with John B of the Cycling in Wichita blog. He organizes these monthly bike rides to check out various trails around town, and the Sunday ride picked up pretty close to my house and the stars aligned - meaning DW let me go - so I went. John's description of the ride is here, and his earlier review of the path is here.

I don't have too much to add to what he says except to emphasize that the weather was not cooperative. Earlier in the day I thought the ride might get cancelled; it remained quite blustery, and although the temperature climbed into the 60s, the strong head winds on certain parts of the path made cycling quite exertive, if that's a word. I rode in first gear most of the way, especially on the way back (which I rode alone, as John continued on to his home on the west side) and had to stop a couple times to rest. Of course, it was also my first major ride of the spring, probably around 10 miles round trip, so that probably had something to do with it as well.

The path is pleasant enough initially, the part along the creek, although further on it goes through some pretty decrepit areas of town -- Planeview and then the abandoned Joyland amusement park, which strikes me as a good place to do a photo shoot for a band but not a place you want to spend much time in alone. On the way back there were 3 stray dogs on the path there and that was disconcerting, although in the end they didn't engage me.

While I'm on the subject, John did a nice job before the municipal elections of reaching out to the candidates to ask their positions on bike infrastructure. He also had a longer think piece around the same time in which he made the point that bike infrastructure is a privilege, not a right.

Speaking for myself, this blog's implicit assumption is not to presume that the city and other governments owe cyclists anything in the way of infrastructure. Sure: I keep harping on wanting to see one or two genuine, right-through-the-middle-of Wichita, east-to-west bike paths or dedicated bike-lanes, that request isn't exactly on the Founding Fathers' list of self-evident truths. Or, at least it's not on the Kansas version of that list.
Well, I've less polite than John, and I do think that cyclists have the right to expect the infrastructure that we pay for through our taxes to accommodate us. Wichita sees biking as a recreational activity and that's why what we get is meandering bike paths; I see bikes as transportation and want to get from here to there. The twain don't meet.

But opening the streets up more to bikers is not necessarily an expensive proposition. In fact, a little bit of a public education campaign ("Share the roads"), a painted line on some of the major thoroughfares; these things don't cost much - less than a dedicated bike path along a creek, and a lot less than the repairs on streets that are necessitated by the car culture, and a hell of a lot less than a new access to K-96.

In other words, there's a lot of low hanging fruit here - it wouldn't take much expense to make Wichita a significantly more bike friendly place than it is right now.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don't get guilted into overspending now!

Conflicting signals are being sent by the Mainstream Media on the subject of thrift and frugality in the current economic crisis. Take for example Newsweek, which is one I happen to read. One week it carried had a story by a fellow whose parents were so frugal that they could have written the Tightwad Gazette:

In today's cratering economy, my parents are looking pretty smart all of a sudden. President Obama talks a lot about personal sacrifice, and we all need to look for ways to cut costs these days. Maybe he ought to consider Bill and Joyce Tuttle as the nation's first thrift czars, because when it comes to pinching pennies and saving for the future, my parents are extreme.
They dry their clothes outside, don't have cable TV and heat their (self-built) home with wood they chopped. Although the author acknowledges that the model is a tough one to replicate, the conclusion is admiring:

But there are still valuable lessons to be gleaned from their example, which boils down to this: the people who have been living the thrifty life all along, doing the right thing—crazy stuff like buying houses they can afford and saving up money for things they want to buy—are the smart ones now. And they'll be the ones who adjust most easily to a leaner time.
and the very next week there was a story whose title says it all: Stop Saving Now!

For our $14 trillion economy to recover and thrive, hoarders must open their wallets and become consumers, and businesses must once again be willing to roll the dice. Nobody is advocating a return to the debt-fueled days of 4,000-square-foot second homes, $1,000 handbags and $6 specialty coffees. But in our economy, in which 70 percent of activity is derived from consumers, we do need our neighbors to spend. Otherwise we fall into what economist John Maynard Keynes called the "paradox of thrift." If everyone saves during a slack period, economic activity will decrease, thus making everyone poorer. We also need to start investing again—not necessarily in the stock of Citigroup or in condos in Miami. But rather to build skills, to create the new companies that are so vital to growth, and to fund the discovery and development of new technologies.
The copious qualifiers notwithstanding, it is hard to believe that he's not talking about designer handbags and speciality coffee. After all, if one still has a job they're not likely not to be spending on food and other daily necessities - albeit perhaps at a lower level than before. What has suffered in this economy is precisely the credit-fueled consumerism of large-screen TVs and stainless steel kitchen appliances.

If you really want to see what the problem is, check out this posting from Nate Silver:

Per-family household debt increased by about 130% in real dollars between 1989 and 2007, from roughly $42,000 per family in 1989 to $97,000 eighteen years later. Most of that increase has come during the past six or seven years -- household debt increased by 52% between 2001 and 2007 alone.


All of his wasn't that much of a problem so long as the value of the housing stock was appreciating at 10 or 15% per year, keeping pace with the additional debt that households were assuming. But of course, it stopped doing so about 2-3 years ago. Translation: look out below. When people talk about the destruction of the household balance sheet, this is what they're referring to (or at least what they ought to be referring to).
In other words, the paradox of thrift notwithstanding, the growth in the economy and the reliance of it on consumer spending was built on an unsustainable bubble in the value of one particular asset - housing. The decline in those values -and the resultant tightening of consumer credit - means we couldn't return that economy right now even if we wanted to.

Which we shouldn't. It bears repeating that building an economy on handbags and Starbucks and large screen TVs doesn't do a single darn thing "to build skills, to create the new companies that are so vital to growth, and to fund the discovery and development of new technologies." That kind of activity is above the paygrade of most consumers anyway. For now, the best thing that we (the consumers) can do is to pay down debt, increase savings, and continue to sensibly buy those things we need to our daily lives - not foregoing them, but not buying more (in quantity or in designer label "quality") than we need.

That's the way to get our own "toxic assets" off our balance sheets. When, in the future, the economy and the credit markets return to some measure of normalcy, we will then be in a much better position to invest and spend planfully and wisely than we will be if we allow ourselves to be guilted into over-spending now.

So go ahead, hang your clothes outside. Drive your car till it dies. Pay cash for what you buy. You have my permission.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Drastic times call for hopeful measures

Thomas Friedman in the Times brings up a similar point to the one in the Alternet article I linked to the other day: that the current economic crisis shows that the economic-growth model of the last 50 years has run its course. Money quote:
We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese ...

We can’t do this anymore.
The piece points out that economic growth based on the exploitation of our natural resources isn't really wealth at all, but an elaborate Ponzi scheme, the consequences of which we pass on to our children.
“Just as a few lonely economists warned us we were living beyond our financial means and overdrawing our financial assets, scientists are warning us that we’re living beyond our ecological means and overdrawing our natural assets,” argues Glenn Prickett, senior vice president at Conservation International. But, he cautioned, as environmentalists have pointed out: “Mother Nature doesn’t do bailouts.”
The solution is sustainability, on the macro level:
For starters, economies need to transition to the concept of net-zero, whereby buildings, cars, factories and homes are designed not only to generate as much energy as they use but to be infinitely recyclable in as many parts as possible. Let’s grow by creating flows rather than plundering more stocks.
This of course is what this blog and other sustainability and frugality blogs have been advocating all along: living within our means, taking out only as much as we need, not wasting, recycling and reusing as much as possible. Unfortunately, the mechanisms of society as a whole are built to use exploitative and non-sustainable means and technologies. Changing that will be our biggest challenge.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It takes more than just a share-the-road sign

The death of an experienced cyclist in Chatanooga, Tennessee leads to this sensible, thoughtful and well-reasoned editorial in the Chatanooga Times Free Press (h/t Carlton Reid). It recounts the discourtesy and even hostility with which some drivers treat bikers who dare to utilize the road and makes this recommendation:
A remedy for such malicious disregard should hinge on enforcement of the law against such potentially lethal driving, and legal and public education policies. Local and state transportation agencies and governments should consider a range of changes to improve driver awareness and road safety for cyclists, and pedestrians, as well.

A focused public information campaign, particularly in urban areas where bicycling has become a widely popular method of alternative transportation and recreation, should aggressively inform drivers of their legal obligation for safe driving when they encounter bicyclists.

State and municipal governments should consider both tighter driver safety laws and penalties, and also broader efforts to establish designated and more clearly delineated bicycle lanes that contain barriers to vehicular traffic.

One can't really say that bicycling has become a "widely popular method of alternative transportation" in Wichita, but maybe it would be more so if the city government spent a little effort on educational and enforcement efforts like the ones described in this editorial.

Monday, March 9, 2009

How much nest with the nestegg?

Here's an interesting article from Alternet that asks whether, with the collapse of housing prices and people's retirement funds, there will be a rethinking among baby boomers of the one-house-per-family paradigm. To make housing costs more affordable and to stretch those entitlement funds (that are in many cases - more than we thought a couple of years ago - going to be the main means of support for many of tomorrow's seniors), people will be thinking about such "new" arrangements as co-housing, boarders, group homes and more.
“In the last few months we've experienced explosive growth in interest by homeowners age 50-plus to find rooms and roommates,” says Jacqueline Grossmann, Chicago coordinator for the National Shared Housing Resource Center, "The trend now is getting younger and younger. People in their 50s and 60s are losing their nest eggs and increasingly willing to give up their privacy in exchange for rents of $500, $600 a month.”
The article goes on to ask if this might not be one of those silver-lining opportunities of our current financial situation.
As more and more boomers scale down their retirement plans and consider alternative living arrangements, it's worth asking: Is shared housing such a bad thing for aging boomers? Does a return to the Communal idea, borne of economic necessity, also have emotional, social, and environmental benefits? Why wait for the retirement home or hospice to live with other people? With the nation full of worthless, ridiculously large, and mostly empty houses, why not fill them with the newly penurious and like-minded boomers in need of housing?
When Joe Rodriguez of Your Money or Your Life fame retired from Wall Street at the age of 30, he had investments that guaranteed him an income of $6,000 per year, and that was before the massive inflation of the 70s reset the value of the dollar. One of the main mechanisms I remember him mentioning as to how he made this arrangement work was the sharing of housing and housing costs.

In addition to the savings, as the article mentions, there are advantages in terms of environmental impact (more people in fewer houses means fewer homes to be heated and cooled) and social connectedness (as people form families-of-choice, they are emotionally invested in others' lives in a way that aging grandparents miles away from their kids rarely are). Not to mention that a more communal lifestyle will counter a lot of the YOYO (your on your own) propaganda of the past 30 years, which sees any social connectedness beyond blood and church as invasive. Is it any wonder Americans are so neurotic?

Our current financial mess can be useful if it causes us to rethink our goals, both individually and as a society. Rather than just Humpty Dumpty back together again, it may be time to move past the failed models of recent years and toward a way of living that is less focused on acquisition and economic growth, and more focused on sustainability and the sharing of resources.

The first bike entry of spring

I rode my bike to work for the first time this season on Friday. Right now it looks like, weather permitting and if I have no other appointments I need to drive to, that I'll be biking on Mondays and Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays I have to pick up the kids from school, and Wednesdays DW takes DKs 1 and 2 to Hebrew School and she drops DK3 off at my job on the way.

Anyway, getting out the bike led me to look at some of the links that I've accumulated on the subject, and here are a couple: a good one if your biking to work depends on the weather, a 50 page sampler of the "Bike to Work" book that I'm eagerly awaiting.

Another thought, inspired by gardening over the weekend

Pack your mishloah manot in those green plastic planters that plants come home in. There's always plenty of those around with nothing to do.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reconstructing Mishloah Manot

This posting on the Jew and the Carrot (the link is broken, but maybe they'll fix it later) led me to thinking about sustainable, eco-friendly, thrifty mishloah manot. For those who don’t know, mishloah manot is the custom of sending gifts of food to others on Purim – it is actually one of the four mitzvot that everyone is supposed to observe on Purim. As with every mitzvah, it’s possible to do it in a very over-the-top and expensive way; in a stam, fulfilling-the-ritual-obligation-but-not-very-attentive way; or in a way that fulfills the mitzvah in new and thoughtful ways – as an expression of our values and commitments.

Just jotting down some notes on issues that could be addressed in this manner, I note healthful, local, fair trade, low carbon and low packaging. Traditionally one is to give mishloah manot from at least two different food groups, which means giving the recipient the opportunity to make two different brakhot. So in a reconstructed practice, we could say that one should include in one’s package at least two different issues – two different ways to make a difference.

It’s still too early in the year to share locally grown produce, at least where I live. But dried fruit and nuts make a nice addition to any mishloah manot package, and they can be purchased in bulk from your local healthfood store. Supporting local, independently owned businesses is important too!

Also, make sure to include some fair trade chocolate. I’ve come to the realization (again) that much of what we get cheaply is gotten on the backs of someone else’s poorly paid labor. Plus, much fair trade is produced in ways that are more environmentally sustainable as well.

Making hamentaschen or other treats at home allows us to have control over the ingredients and therefore the healthfulness of the end product. Whole-grain hamentaschen, anyone?

Maybe making a donation to an organization working on climate change, and including cards in your basket saying, “In lieu of sweet treats, a donation has been made to such-and-such organization in your honor” would be educative as well as effective. I suppose one could buy carbon offsets as well, although I’m not convinced of their efficacy. How about postcards made out to your friends’ legislators, asking them to support clean energy?!

Buy baskets or coffee cups from the second-hand store for your packaging. Use newspaper instead of tissue paper for lining. Make ribbons from worn-out clothes or linens. Draw cards. Make stickers.

With a little thought and resourcefulness, our mishloah manot packages can represent what we care about, to those we care about. And of course, they’re fun and delicious, too!

Happy Purim!

Friday, February 20, 2009

No School Lunch Left Behind

Here's an oped from today's Times by the great Alice Waters, talking about how to make school lunches more healthful. She points out that while things like candy and soda machines often get negative attention when they're placed in schools (and rightly so), school lunches that are no better (chicken nuggets, pizza, etc.) are served every day.

Every public school child in America deserves a healthful and delicious lunch that is prepared with fresh ingredients. Cash-strapped parents should be able to rely on the government to contribute to their children’s physical well-being, not to the continued spread of youth obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other diet-related problems. Let’s prove that there is such a thing as a good, free lunch.
She points out that this would require a commitment by the Agriculture Department to provide and deliver fresh ingredients, and from the Education Department "to teach students to choose good food and to understand how their choices affect their health and the environment." This last part is especially important, given that school lunches are predominantly for kids of limited income, who may not immediately like healthier choices given the fact that the unhealthy choices are full of fat and salt and all the things kids (and adults, for that matter) love. Also, kids may not be getting much better fare at home, especially if they're low income.

I did a volunteer day in my kids' school a couple of weeks ago, and they served chicken nuggets, bags of chips, a little plate of peas and a cookie. The peas, of course, were the most unappetizing looking things you could imagine, and I would venture to guess that no more than 5% of them were actually ingested by the children. (My kids bring lunch every day.)

This would be a lot more likely to happen if parents took an interest in this issue and pressured their school boards and elected officials to help make it happen. Here's a sample page from a parents group in California, with a lot of links to material about junk food, some of the health concerns, and letters to school boards and Congress.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The wind in Kansas blows mainly in the ... state house

Cross-posted on the COEJL blog, To Till and To Tend

Sometimes in Kansas it feels that we are far removed from the decisions being made on the major issues of the day. But right now we are on the frontlines of the struggle to move America away from polluting energy generation technologies toward a more green and sustainable future.
Some background: last year the head of the Kansas Department of Health and the Environment (KDHE), Rod Bremby, overturned plans to build two massive coal burning plants in Western Kansas (known as Holcomb), on the grounds of their impact on global warming. Sunflower Energy, which had proposed the plant, sued in state court, but the courts have supported Demby’s authority to take the action. At the same time, the state is politically quite conservative, and majorities in both houses of the Kansas legislature passed laws a) to strip Bremby of his authority to veto the plants, and b) to specifically approve building them. Three times such laws were passed; three times they were vetoed by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius; and three times the Republicans failed to muster enough votes to overturn the veto.

But the issue dominated business for the whole of 2008, as very little else could get done, least of all any kind of comprehensive energy policy. For instance, net metering, by which it is possible to give the excess energy one generates oneself, through solar cells or wind power, back to the utility, has not been approved in Kansas; approval of it last year was included as a “sweetener” in the Holcomb plant bill, and therefore was vetoed as well.

So now here it is 2009, and climate activists have been waiting to see how this issue will be developed this year. Now we know:

The fight over building two coal-burning electric power plants in southwestern Kansas starts again today with a public hearing on House Bill 2182 in the House Energy and Utilities Committee.

The bill makes no mention of the proposal to build two 700-megawatt coal-fired plants near Holcomb in southwestern Kansas.

But it limits the authority of Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Roderick Bremby in a way that will require him to approve permits for the plants, according to opponents of the project.
If the KDHE secretary is stripped of his decision-making powers, then there would be no need to have a second bill specifically to support the plants. Of course, this bill is likely to be vetoed by Gov. Sebelius as well (and if she goes to HHS, by her Lt. Gov., Mark Parkinson).

There are two ironies in this whole thing. First, it’s quite clear that the “regulatory uncertainty” that Chamber of Commerce types complain about is actually coming, not from Topeka, but from Washington:

With concerns over climate change intensifying, electricity generation from coal, once reliably cheap, looks increasingly expensive in the face of the all-but-certain prospect of regulations that would impose significant costs on companies that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
The article also points out that, far from Kansas being unique in this, in fact

In the last two-and-a-half years, plans for 83 plants in the United States have either been voluntarily withdrawn or denied permits by state regulators.
The other irony is that Kansas is uniquely qualified to be a trailblazer in the area of alternative fuels, particularly wind – as you know if you’ve ever been here. Gov. Sebelius calls the state the “Saudi Arabia of wind power.” If only the state legislators and industry leaders would turn their field of vision from the past to the future, that is.

I am on the steering committee of Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, the local outpost of a national organization that engages diverse faith communities in the issue of environmental stewardship. We do this mostly on the retail level, by going from congregation to congregation to encourage them to green their facilities and to teach the religious imperative to care for the earth through the fight against climate change.

But we also realize that one Holcomb plant (two, actually) would do more damage to the environment than 1,000 churches caulking their windows could fix. That’s why we’ve turned our attention to the legislative process, to encourage our state officials to support conservation, energy efficiency, and green energy options rather than the continued reliance on the outmoded energy-generating technologies of the past.

After all, we are convinced, it's the godly thing to do.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tu B'shvat

This coming Monday is the 15th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, also known as Tu B'shvat, the "new year of the trees." This is based on the following mishnah:

There are four New Years days: the first of Nisan is the New Year for reckoning the reigns of kings and the feasts; the first of Elul is the New Year for the tithe of the cattle; the first of Tishrei is the New Year for reckoning of the years and taking stock of human lives; the first of Shevat is the New Year for the fruit trees. That is according to the school of Shammai; the school of Hillel says on the 15th of Shevat."- Mishnah Rosh Hashanah
The mystics of Safed developed a seder for Tu B'shvat; like other places in the Jewish tradition where the framework is there but the halakhic demands are not too developed, the Tu B'shvat seder has been reclaimed and repurposed in recent years as opportunity to put an awareness of the natural world around us into a religious context, and also to remind ourselves of the damage we can and do do to the world and the steps we can take to change it. After all, tikkun olam of course literally means "repair of the world."

Many resources for Tu B'shvat seders are available on the internet: a good overview from Shomrei Adamah is found on the COEJL website here, and in fact there are numerous Tu B'shvat programs on the program bank section of the COEJL website - click here and scroll down to T.

The gist of it is that there are four cups of wine/grape juice, as on Pesah - each cup corresponding to one of the "four worlds" of kabbalistic thought. Fruits and nuts that correspond to the "world" being spoken of are eaten, and readings and songs and crafts are included to fill the thing out and give it a festive air.

The first "world" is assiyah - the "physical, everyday world that we live in, the world of earth." The environmental message of this could be the profligate use of the earth's natural resources - oil, coal and others - and the reliance on landfills to get rid of so much of the waste that we generate with our rather profligate lifestyles and the way we have arranged our society and our economy.

The second world is yetzirah, "the world of water." Water, of course, is about the most necessary thing for human survival, yet we waste it terribly - particularly in rich countries. I think of Phoenix, with its desert climate but its myriad resource-intensive golf courses. I think of how it is illegal to reuse rainwater in Colorado without a permit. I think of the shrinking water resources around the world and how some experts are saying that water is one of the resources (along with oil, of course) that may cause wars in the next century. I think about how development and climate change are affecting the coral reefs along our shores, and how the damage may be irreversible if we don't make serious changes now.

The third world is briyah, "the world of air." Another of the things most necessary for human survival. This year I'm thinking about the increase in asthma rates, both in America and worldwide

Currently, experts are struggling to understand why the number of asthma sufferers is rising by an average of 50 percent every decade worldwide. In the United States alone, according to the WHO, the number of asthmatics has leapt by over 60 percent since the early 1980s.
and its environmental causes

In recent years, scientists have shown that air pollution from cars, factories and power plants is a major cause of asthma attacks. And more than 159 million Americans -- over half the nation's population -- live in areas with bad air. A research study published in 2002 estimated that 30 percent of childhood asthma is due to environmental exposures, costing the nation $2 billion per year. And studies also suggest that air pollution may contribute to the development of asthma in previously healthy people.
and how the way we behave, the way we heat our homes and power our cars and all the actions we take, how these affects our lives, the lives of our children, and the lives of people all over the world who's fates we never even consider.

And the fourth world is atzilut, the world of fire. Not represented by any food, this world is symbolic of perfection, of the spirit, of God. This is an opportunity to think of the godliness we experience through nature - of the natural world as an expression of holiness, of God's creativity. I'm not that outdoorsy a person, but I have been blessed many times to feel such a great sense of holiness in a beautiful natural setting.

As the liturgy says, "milo kol ha'aretz k'vodo" - "the whole world is filled with God's glory." It's up to us to help keep it that way. If our Tu B'shvat practice can in any way reinforce our ability and our willingness to do that, then it is a valuable practice indeed.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bread machine blues

A little before Hanukkah the pan on my bread machine cracked, so I couldn't use it. (The liquid would leak out.) It was under warranty so we called the company and they said to cut off the cord and send it back, and they would replace it. So we did that. In the month or so since then we've been relying on the 99-cent, day-old bread pile at the health food store.

In the end the company sent us back one that is a slightly higher-end model than the one we had. It's significantly wider, with two blades in it instead of one. We have enough counter space for it, but for some reason I haven't worked up the enthusiasm for it as I had when I first brought the original one home.

One complication is that because the machine is bigger, the size of the loaves is bigger. The first one had measurements for 1, 1.5 and 2 lb loaves; this one has recipes for 2, 2.5 and 3 lb loaves. So I can still use the measurements for the larger size loaves in the old book for the smaller sized loaves in this one. Also, the new book only contains one recipe for each setting (wheat, white, fast-bake etc.), as opposed to the other one, which had 4 or 5 recipes for each setting. Also, the new one relies heavily on milk as an ingredient, where the other one didn't; I was avoiding using milk so as to keep the thing pareve so I could eat the bread with meat if I wanted to.

So ... I need to find a recipe book for bread machines that gives measurements for the right size but doesn't rely on dairy. (The ones in the library mostly do rely on dairy, but I'll google it eventually, I'm sure I'll find something.) Then I need to get back into the rhythm of doing it a couple of times a week. Maybe I should re-read the chapter in Barbara Kingsolver's book, that might help. I'll get used to it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

On polar bears and politics

(cross-linked to the COEJL blog - To Till and to Tend)

At a recent meeting of the steering committee of Kansas Interfaith Power & Light, on which I serve, we heard two presentations back to back, and they could not have been more different. The first, on the most-current science of climate change, was similar in tone and content to the movie, An Inconvenient Truth; the second, by one of the two evangelical members of the committee (in a room full of liberal Christians and yours truly) was about how you can’t really talk about the science in churches, because when they hear “the science” they think “Al Gore” and “partisan politics” and won’t listen to it at all. At the time it struck me as an odd (to say the least) juxtaposition, and thought that ignoring the science in a community like mine – educated, largely secular in outlook - would have you laughed off the bima.

On the other hand, of course, we all know that you can lay science and the polar bears on people all day long and not have it affect their day-to-day decisionmaking one iota. So maybe, after a fashion, the second presenter was on to something.

Today on Daily Kos, Meteor Blades linked to a report on a study by the Pew Research Center showing that, on a list of 20 voter concerns, the economy ranks first, addressing the nation’s energy needs ranks sixth, while “the environment” ranks 16th and “global warming” dead last. The same study shows that the concern of voters for environmental issues has declined 15% in the past year – roughly the same timeframe as the collapse of the economy. Given the state of the economy and the fact that we’re still in two wars, this seems unlikely to change during the term of this Congress.

So does that mean we give up on addressing the environment and climate change? No, according to Pew, it means coming at the problem from a different angle – through the things people are concerned about: jobs, the economy, and energy:

The takeaway message for journalists is that those "stewardship" frames will not be sufficient in terms of galvanizing support for clean energy. In the pursuit of public engagement, the press would be better advised to link sustainability issues to economic growth and "green" jobs.

According to Matthew Nesbit of the Framing Science blog, analyzing the Pew report and also linked from Kos:

Only by "reframing" the relevance of climate change in ways that connect to the specific core values of key segments of the public - and repeatedly communicating these multiple meanings through a variety of trusted media sources and opinion leaders- can the Obama administration and allies generate the widespread public engagement needed to move major policy action forward. (snip)

It's also time to stop focusing narrowly on remote polar impacts, looming environmental disaster, or symbols such as polar bears. These exemplars are either not personally relevant enough to most audiences, are dismissed as remote and far off in the future, or easily re-framed as "alarmism" sending interpretations back into the mental box of lingering scientific uncertainty. ...

In order to generate widespread public support for meaningful policy action, the communication challenge is to figure out how to shift the climate change focus away from the traditional frames and devices towards a new perceptual context that resonates with the values and understanding of a specific intended audience. These new meanings for climate change are likely to be key drivers of public resolve and eventual policy action.

In other words, articulating the potential remedies to climate change through the frames of what people say they are concerned about – the economy, jobs and energy independence – in an intensive, unified way, will be much more effective in getting “the change we need” than 100 slides of Amsterdam under water. That’s just effective politics, which we need a lot more of in the environmental movement, especially now that we have a Congress and president who are willing to listen to what we have to say.

And speaking of effective politics, see also this post by David Roberts on, claiming that the carbon tax, a beloved approach of climate progressives, is a dead letter in Congress, and that judging by the support it has from business and the right wing, it probably isn’t such a great idea anyway. Rather, he encourages us to return to support of cap-and-trade, which can pass this Congress, may well be more effective than a carbon tax at least in the short term, and is much more easily “messaged” (and less easily demagogued) in the ways described above.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The vision thing

Excellent piece in the current issue of the Nation, by Benjamin Barber on the opportunity the current economic crisis presents to rethink the way we organize our society - economically, and in terms of the values we pursue. I wish that Obama's inaugural speech had had a little less talk of "responsibility" (although that's part of it, of course) and a little more soaring rhetoric like this:
Economists and politicians across the spectrum continue to insist that the challenge lies in revving up inert demand. For in an economy that has become dependent on consumerism to the tune of 70 percent of GDP, shoppers who won't shop and consumers who don't consume spell disaster. Yet it is precisely in confronting the paradox of consumerism that the struggle for capitalism's soul needs to be waged.


The convergence of Obama's election and the collapse of the global credit economy marks a moment when radical change is possible. But we will need the new president's leadership to turn the economic disaster into a cultural and democratic opportunity: to make service as important as selfishness (what about a national service program, universal and mandatory, linked to education?); to render community no less valid than individualism (lost social capital can be re-created through support for civil society); to make the needs of the spirit as worthy of respect as those of the body (assist the arts and don't chase religion out of the public square just because we want it out of City Hall); to make equality as important as individual opportunity ("equal opportunity" talk has become a way to avoid confronting deep structural inequality); to make prudence and modesty values no less commendable than speculation and hubris (saving is not just good economic policy; it's a beneficent frame of mind). Such values are neither conservative nor liberal but are at once cosmopolitan and deeply American. Their restoration could inaugurate a quiet revolution.
I've written in similar terms before. One of the enduring curiosities of the human condition is how little people are able to imagine things being to even the smallest degree different than how they are now. I'm not even talking about capitalism; I'm talking about the idea that the economy "has to" be based on consumer spending and the internal combustion engine. All current thinking about stimulus etc. are based on these assumptions.

The very best and most important thing about the triumph of progressivism in the recent election is that it allows us to dream again, to think about the world as we might want it to be and to begin to plan ways to get there. One important element of this at the current stage, perhaps the most important given the way Obama was able to harness this energy, is the bully pulpit of the White House. The president must continue to keep hope and change in the forefront as the primary goals of this administration, even as he works on the many difficult, intractable issues that he and we face.

In the campaign, suggesting convincingly that it could be done was the single important element in causing it to happen. And that needs to be applied ever more so the redefinition of the American economy - or is it American values? - that this article underlines.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Coming in from the cold

Well, obviously I haven't been posting too much on this site. Partially I've been pretty busy at work, but also the things that have been taking my attention are things that fit better on Fed Reb, like Gaza and the like. Some of the more political things that I was talking about on this blog earlier, like TARP, I've been moving over the Fed Reb site as well. The last couple of posts here have been cross-posted with the COEJL blog, where I've committed to posting twice a month. Even those might have been better at Fed Reb, if I'm really making that my political site, but environmentalism fits well with the sustainability aspect of this blog's subject matter so I've kept those here.

So all that's kind of left JS kind of out in the cold. The original idea for this site was that it would be frugality and simplicity from a Jewish perspective, but part of the reason I haven't been posting much is that I just haven't had that much to say about that topic for a while. I've been thinking that maybe I should just make this more of my autobiographical site, a la Mary at Pokeberry.

What I really need to do is treat this site more like a job. David Brooks has to write 2 or 3 columns a week whether he feels like it or not. I probably just need to decide to post twice a week and treat that commitment like it means something.

Anyway, here's a couple of things while I'm here. I went to Chicago last week for a meeting. When we lived in "Chicagoland" we actually lived in a suburb about 45 minutes west, and I worked in the same town where we lived. So I was somewhat protected from some of the disadvantages of living in a big urban area. But coming from Wichita to Chicago after a year was quite a culture shock! It took me longer to get back to where I was staying from an event on Sunday night than it would take me to get anywhere in Wichita at the busiest time of the day. I've been thinking that I'd like to get back into a more urban, connected area but it was actually kind of daunting.

Wichita has some real advantages from the simplicity perspective: it's cheaper to live here, and you don't spend a lot of time in traffic. There are a lot of disadvantages too, obviously, like it's really disconnected culturally and also (I'm sorry to say) that we are not satisfied with the level of the spiritual options available to us here.

The other thing I wanted to mention was that I had a real simplicity moment in the kitchen last week. I've been cooking more often since DW has been working two evenings a week. Last week I made a lentil soup with Indian flavors, curry and cumin and the rest, to go with some boxed Indian food that I sometimes buy to make when DW is at work - DK really likes it. I had a lot of the soup leftover and we didn't have any brilliant ideas for Shabbat last week - we really like to have a nice meal on Friday night, to make the Sabbath special - so I bought some fish, heated up the lentil soup, took out the lentils with a slotted spoon and then put the fish in the broth for 5 minutes, to poach. Then I served the Indian-flavored fish over the lentils and served it with brown rice. Yum! It would have worked with tofu, too, for you veganish people.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What exactly are we stimulating here?

As President-elect Obama prepares to take office next week, a lot of attention is being focused on his proposal for a huge economic stimulus package designed to shock the economy back into gear. I admire Paul Krugman as much as the next person, but there are a couple of elements of this that concern me. First, The New York Times reported on Saturday that the new administration’s focus on economic recovery will likely cause it to delay addressing the many other challenges that Obama focused on in the campaign – especially (for this site) the restriction of carbon emissions that cause climate change.

I don’t think I need to tell the readers of this blog that global climate change is not a boutique issue that can be dealt with if and when the “real” problems have been solved. This is an emergency – just as much as the economic crisis, perhaps even more so given the neglect or worse the issue has been dealt with over the past eight years.

Obama has promised that some of the stimulus package will be used as a “down payment” on projects focused on energy independence. I haven’t seen any details on this, which makes me think that there really haven’t been too many, which leads me to my second concern: the focus in the stimulus package on “shovel ready” projects. According to news reports
a large portion would go toward infrastructure -- highways, bridges, railways -- which would make this the largest such plan since the U.S. Interstate highway system was created under President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s.

The Minneapolis bridge collapse made it abundantly clear that there are major improvements in infrastructure needed in this country. But even more than that, we need to move away from the whole highway-and-car paradigm that has caused many of our current problems to an increase in mass transit options, the development of more locally based economies and in general giving people more ways of doing more things without cars. In addition, of course, to developing ways of dealing with our energy needs that don't involve the further burning of coal.

Given how this is being framed as an emergency solution to the economic crisis (and we all know that Congress responds to nothing like it does to an “emergency”), and given how quickly most of these old-tech approaches can be implemented, I wouldn’t be surprised if applying stimulus money to developing new technologies will be pushed even further down the list of priorities. And that would be a mistake – a lost opportunity.

Every dollar spent on fixing the highway system or other old-school tactics is a dollar not spent on the development of alternative approaches that, though harder to understand now, have much more potential for addressing our myriad needs – economic and environmental – in the long run.