Thursday, April 30, 2009

more good news

Senators want to expel junk food from U.S. schools
By Christopher Doering Christopher Doering 1 hr 10 mins ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. schools with vending machines that sell candy and soda to students could soon find the government requiring healthier options to combat childhood obesity under a bill introduced on Thursday by two senators.

While school meals must comply with U.S. dietary guidelines, there are no such rules on snacks sold outside of school lunchrooms. Many are high in fat, sugar and calories.

Senators Tom Harkin and Lisa Murkowski said their bill would allow the U.S. Agriculture Department to establish "common-sense nutrition standards" for food and beverages sold in school vending machines, stores and similar outlets.

Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, which oversees school lunch and breakfast programs that cost an estimated $11 billion a year in federal money.

U.S. child nutrition programs such as school lunches and the Women, Infants and Children feeding program are due for renewal this year. An Agriculture Committee spokesman said one option would be to include the legislation introduced today as part of the broader reauthorization later in 2009.

"Poor diet and physical inactivity are contributing to growing rates of chronic disease in the United States," said Harkin, a Democrat. "We must take preventative action now."

An estimated 32 percent of U.S. children fit the government's definition of being overweight and 16 percent are considered obese, at risk for serious health problems. Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, said the bill was a response to "the youth obesity epidemic."

Harkin and Murkowski have offered similar legislation in prior years. The measure could have a better chance of passing this year with U.S. President Barack Obama's administration recognizing obesity as a top U.S. health threat.

Consumer and health advocacy groups including the American Dietetic Association, American Heart Association and the Center for Science in the Public Interest support the legislation.

Reginald Felton of the National School Boards Association said states and local communities should determine what is sold beyond federal programs because a "one-size fits all policy" would not sufficiently address the needs on a smaller level.

He also noted that some schools rely on snack sales to help cover costs.

"It's intrusive for the federal government to establish requirements beyond the programs that they fund, particularly when states are addressing the issue," said Felton. "If local boards want to restrict they should."

(Reporting by Christopher Doering; Editing by David Gregorio)

this is a great idea, long overdue.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

good news

April 22, 2009

From food scraps and paper to fertilizer

Local business, Costco pair up to transform green waste

K Kaufmann
The Desert Sun

It's an unlikely partnership — an environmental scientist from that bastion of tree-huggers, UC Berkeley, and a big-box discount giant.

But in the Coachella Valley, Thomas Azwell and Costco have forged a partnership — with the help of several million worms on a worm farm at the Salton Sea — turning green waste from Costco's Palm Desert and La Quinta stores into high-grade organic fertilizer.

In other words, it's an Earth Day story with real earth.

Paper, cardboard, food scraps — anything that was alive at one time, Azwell said — are collected at the stores and then sent to California Bio-Mass, a composting facility in Thermal.

The next stop is Salton Sea Farms, also in Thermal, where about 100,000 pounds of red wiggler earthworms chomp through the compost, refining and enriching it with beneficial microbes and bacteria.

“They stabilize the organisms,” said John Beerman, a partner at the farm and Cal Bio-Mass. “It's beneficial bacteria that help plants convert nutrients in soil, make them available.”

The resulting fertilizer, called Vermigrow, is now sold at 27 Costcos in California and is being used at organic farms.

“It worked well,” said Bill Jessup, an organic citrus farmer in Thermal who has used Vermigrow on his 25 acres of oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, in addition to organic compost.

“We had more fruit; our output increased,” Jessup said.

This model of sustainable business — environmentally and financially green — is all the more significant because of the valley's and Costco's more conservative profiles, Azwell said.

“It's really easy to do things (in Northern California),” Azwell said. “The best model for these programs is to do them in the Coachella Valley, where people don't expect it.”

“If a low-cost operation like Costco can do it, then everyone can figure it out,” said Chris Marmon, regional bakery manager for the chain who worked with Azwell on the project.

“We live and die on half a penny,” Marmon said. “We've developed the process where it works out in a good (way) for us as a big-box operation.”

Getting started

Azwell didn't choose the Coachella Valley and Costco as his green business laboratory at random.

After a varied career working on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles, he landed at Indio High School, teaching environmental science to low-performing kids.

“It was profound for me to talk about rainforests — it's all doom and gloom — and we move on to the next chapter,” Azwell recalled. “There was no substance. I started building gardens. If you can get them involved in horticulture, they can learn real skills.”

His work in Indio eventually led to his decision to return to school for a Ph.D. at Berkeley.

The Costco project grew out of his valley connections with Beerman and Marmon, an old friend from his undergrad days at the University of Redlands.

With the success of the pilot programs in La Quinta and Palm Desert, green waste recycling will launch at Costco stores in El Centro, Fontana and San Bernardino, Marmon said.

“The sales product (Vermigrow) is doing really well, especially when we tell the story to members,” he said.

The Costco project also comes at a pivotal point for green or organic waste recycling in California — and the Coachella Valley.

Cities are already under a state mandate to divert 50 percent of their trash from California's landfills, and the statewide average is now 58 percent, said Charlene Graham, spokeswoman for the Integrated Waste Management Board.

But, the state Legislature could soon up the ante with a new law requiring a 75 percent diversion rate by 2020. Green waste will be key to hitting that target, Graham said.

“Organic waste makes up 15million tons of the waste stream,” she said. “If we can divert that waste into other uses, specifically compost, it's one of our goals.”

At Costco, one of the main challenges was training the employees to separate organic waste from cans, bottles and other recyclables, Marmon said.

“That's the toughest part,” he said. “We would look at our location almost as waste streams, plural — bathroom, break room, produce. Each one of those waste streams we attacked individually, one at a time, so we didn't overwhelm ourselves.”

Graham said, “Projects like this are incredible. It's a movement within our state, where people are trying to figure out — what can I do with this waste material? How can I make a profit from this stuff?”
Additional Facts
At the worm farm

John Beerman is standing on a heap of compost at the Salton Sea Farms — the worm ranch he owns with Steve Lee in Thermal — enthusiastically digging up a handful of moist, dark material loaded with small red worms.

“This is dead fish, manure, green waste-food waste,” Beerman says. “Whiff it. It's almost no odor. Once the worms get in, they deodorize it.”

Eating compost and turning it into rich organic fertilizer is the life mission for eisenia fetida, the red wiggler earth worms at the 5-acre farm. Measuring 1 to 3 inches long, the worms can eat up to their own weight in green waste every day — a pound of worms eat a pound of compost — and Beerman estimated the current “herd” at the Salton Sea weighs in at about 100,000 pounds.

Red wigglers are hermaphrodites, containing male and female sex organs. To reproduce, worms exchange sperm, which is mixed with their eggs to form a “cocoon.”
The cocoons can hatch 10 or more new worms, out of which typically only a few survive. But with new worms becoming sexually mature in eight to 10 weeks, a pound of red wrigglers can become two pounds in about three to four months.

And they can live and keep reproducing for up to four years.
They are also considered good fish bait because they survive under water longer than other worms, continuing to move and attract fish.Riverside County Waste Management will present a free workshop on backyard composting at 10 a.m. Saturday at the San Nicholas Gardens, on the corner of San Nicholas and San Pablo avenues in Palm Desert.

Attendees will learn how to recycle organic resources, fruit and vegetable waste and tree trimmings into sweet-smelling soil conditioner.

Info: 346-0611 Ext. 331

A carbon-free farm?The labels on the oranges, grapefruit and tangerines from B&J Ranch in Thermal cqalready say “organic.” But in the future, they could also say “carbon-free.”B&J owner Bill Jessup cqfertilizes his trees with organic compost from California Bio-Mass, a company that processes green waste from Coachella Valley cities and businesses. “It seems to be much better than using composted manure,” Jessup said Tuesday, picking up a handful of the rich-looking compost from the base of one of his trees. “The balance is better.”He is also working with Nate McKeever of McKeever Energy and Electric in Thermal, cq both on plans to make the 25-acre ranch a model project, with a solar installation to cover 100 percent of the operation's energy use. “More and more, people are interested in where their food is coming from, completing the whole cycle of food,” McKeever said.The project is in its early stages, but even with solar, Jessup's operation may not be completely carbon free. When he started out 30 years ago, the only profitable market for organic fruit was in San Francisco, and he continues to ship his crop north. The new farmers markets in the valley are great, he said, but not cost-effective for him.“Citrus has not been the best thing in the Southland; it's very competitive,” he said.

this explains a lot!

Olivia Judson - A New York Times Blog
April 21, 2009, 10:00 pm
Guest Column: Larks, Owls and Hummingbirds
By Leon Kreitzman

Teenagers are notoriously difficult to rouse in the mornings. For the sake of parental authority it may be best that we keep this an adult secret, but . . . it may not be the youngsters’ fault.

In many cases, it is not laziness, but a part of normal development and determined by the genes. Human circadian clocks are often geared to “owl-like” behavior during adolescence. Fortunately, boys tend to grow out of this by about age 20 and girls a year earlier. But there is a good case for schools opening later and experimenting with the timing of the curriculum and of examinations, so that there is a better match between organizational requirements and the capabilities of the students.
Lark by Daniel Pettersson, Creative Commons (some rights reserved); Spotted Owl by Don Ryan/The New York Times; hummingbird by Yuri Cortez/The New York Times Which one are you?

The teenagers are doing what teenagers do because, left to our natural devices, we would eat, sleep and drink (along with many more biological functions) not when we decide to, but when our biological clock tells us to. Only cultural norms and the alarm clock give us the pretense of choice by overriding our inner rhythms — and there is increasing evidence that we are paying a high cost in terms of our health. Disruption of the circadian clock is linked with cancer, cardiovascular diseases, gastric illnesses, asthma, schizophrenia, learning disorders and other conditions.

Charles Czeisler of Harvard University established a decade ago that the mean for the intrinsic, or “free-running,” activity rhythm is 24 hours 11 minutes, plus or minus 16 minutes. It is not 24 hours 11 minutes for everyone, of course, as there is considerable variation among individuals and over the course of one’s life.

Czeisler’s arduous study involved a month’s intensive monitoring of 29 adults. The participants were denied time cues (food, for instance, was made available more or less constantly), kept in a semi-recumbent posture and in a “forced” 28-hour sleep-wake cycle. This complex and carefully controlled regime was necessary to disassociate the intrinsic rhythm from the normal light signals that synchronize the rhythm to the solar cycle.

Our circadian rhythm is synchronized with the 24-hour solar cycle by light signals received by non-rod, non-cone receptors found exclusively in our eyes. While the 70-80 percent of us who are dubbed hummingbirds manage this well, the “larks,” who tend to be up early, and late-rising “owls,” who turn in usually well after midnight, have difficulty resetting their internal clocks.

Larks tend to be older; college students and twenty-somethings are well-known owls. Larks are most aware around noon, work best in the late morning and are chatty, friendly and pleasant from about 9:00 a.m to around 4:00 p.m. Owls, on the other hand, do not really get going until the afternoon, are at their most pleasant (if that is not an oxymoronic term for college students) later in the day and are at their most alert after 6:00 p.m.

It might be envy on my part, but those early-rising larks I have known have often seemed to my bleary early-morning eye to adopt a smug moral superiority based on Benjamin Franklin’s maxim, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” But there is no basis for Franklin’s claim. Catharine Gale and Christopher Martyn of Southampton University followed up a 1973 survey that had included data on sleeping habits. More than 20 years later they found no evidence among the survivors that following Franklin’s advice was associated with any health, socioeconomic or cognitive advantage.

If anything, owls were wealthier than larks, though there was no difference in their health or wisdom. Gale and Martyn wryly offer the thought that “it seems that owls need not worry that their way of life carries adverse consequences. However, those who cite Franklin’s maxim to encourage their children to go to bed early may wish to consider whether their practice is entirely ethical.”

This evening/morningness is less a matter of choice than of genetics. Being bright-eyed and raring to go first thing in the morning is not just a case of how much sleep someone has had, nor is it a reflection of willpower. Genes may largely determine it.

While at the University of Utah, Louis Ptácek and colleagues studied three families with familial advanced sleep-phase syndrome (FASPS), an extreme form of lark behavior. One family included a grandmother, daughter and grandchild, all with the same sleep disturbance. The family members with the disorder have an aberrant wake/sleep cycle. Regardless of work schedules or social pressures, they cannot stay up much later than 7:30 p.m. and they tend to wake up around 3:30 a.m. In other words, the disorder shifts the normal wake and sleep pattern forward by three to four hours.

By studying the family relationships, Ptácek found that the disorder is inherited, and he has found the genes involved. The genetic implications prompted two senior researchers to comment, “It seems that our parents — through their DNA — continue to influence our bedtimes.”

Apart from its importance in helping to understand the relationship between the circadian clock and the sleep process, the work on FASPS was the first time that scientists have uncovered a genetic mutation leading to a change in a complex human behavior like sleep.

The traditional classification of people into larks, owls and hummingbirds may be too simplistic. A study of a large sample of the workforce at a Volkswagen car plant suggests that people fall into a spectrum of chronotypes between the extremes, depending on a range of factors, notably their genetic makeup and the amount of light they are exposed to during the day. This last may be much less than many people think. In brightly lit offices, the light levels are some 200-300 times less than they are outside on a sunny day. Even a cloudy day is some 20-30 times brighter.

Bright light has a powerful effect in shifting the phase of our body clock, and if we don’t see much bright light — and many office workers do not — then our circadian health suffers. One idea is that commuter buses and trains should have glass roofs, so that at least some of the workforce will get a daily dose of outdoor light.

Till Roenneberg, a professor at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, has developed a robust questionnaire that determines an individual’s proclivity to “morningness” and “eveningness.” He has coined the phrase “social jet lag” to describe the persistent mismatch between people’s biological clocks and the demands of their jobs or education.

It is bad enough for the larks and owls whose genes cause a mismatch between modern life and the ancient human body clock. For hummingbirds working night shifts or burning the proverbial candle at both ends, the implications are far-ranging concerning learning, memory, vigilance, performance and quality of life.

Society pays far too little attention to circadian disorders. Roenneberg’s call to employers to say to their workforce, “Please wake up in your own time and come in when you are ready,” is provocative but a challenge that we have not been facing up to.

Humans have broken many links with the natural world. Our food comes pre-packed, our drink pre-bottled and we take pills instead of chewing leaves. Electricity turns our nights into days, and central heating our winters into spring. But if we go deep into a dark cave without a watch, after a few days we revert to ancient patterns. Deprived of time cues, our rhythms slowly drift out of alignment with the outside world.

Over 20 percent of the working population now work at least some of the time outside the normal 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. working day, and the trend is increasing. Living outside the “natural” circadian pattern has undoubted health risks.

But we have choices. We can use what we know about the molecular mechanisms of circadian rhythms to mitigate the biological harm of our “24/7” world. We could better manage the effects of this world by re-organizing work patterns and schedules. We could match chronotype to suitable schedules. We could try to create a world in which we can offer a time paradise or “Uchronia” for a time-stressed populace.

Or is it too late, and we have become trapped in the materialistic time hell of “Dyschronia”?



For more on determining the human circadian rhythm as 24 hours 11 minutes plus or minus 16 minutes see Charles A. Czeisler, Jeanne F. Duffy, Theresa L. Shanahan, Emery N. Brown, Jude F. Mitchell, David W. Rimmer, Joseph M. Ronda, Edward J. Silva, James S. Allan, Jonathan S. Emens, Derk-Jan Dijk, Richard E. Kronauer. “Stability, Precision, and Near 24-Hour Period of the Human Circadian Pacemaker,” Science, June 25, 1999, Volume 284, pp. 2177-2181.

On the link between multiple sclerosis and vitamin D see Ramagopalan SV, Maugeri NJ, Handunnetthi L, Lincoln MR, Orton S-M, et al. (2009) Expression of the Multiple Sclerosis-Associated MHC Class II Allele HLA-DRB1*1501 Is Regulated by Vitamin D. PLoS Genet 5(2): e1000369.

Michael Smolensky and Lynne Lamberg applied the term hummingbird in “The Body Clock Guide to Better Health,” Owl Books 2000

Benjamin Franklin’s motto was tested in Gale, C. & Martyn, C. (1998) “Larks and owls and health, wealth, and wisdom.” Br Med J, 317, 1675–77.

Our parents determining our bedtime, see Singer, C. M. & Lewy, A. J. 1999 “Does our DNA determine when we sleep?” Nat Med, 5, 983.

A discussion of the importance of chronotypes is T. Roenneberg, A. Wirz-Justice, M. Merrow “Life between Clocks: Daily Temporal Patterns of Human Chronotypes Journal of Biological Rhythms,” Vol. 18, No. 1, 80-90 (2003)

A description of the molecular basis of larks and owls is at Steven A. Brown, Dieter Kunz, Amelie Dumas, Pål O. Westermark, Katja Vanselow, Amely Tilmann-Wahnschaffe, Hanspeter Herzel, and Achim Kramer “Molecular insights into human daily behavior” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 February 5; 105(5): 1602–1607.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

my alma mater

Obama may get ASU honor after all
Mike Allen
2 hrs 39 mins ago

Michael M. Crow, president of Arizona State University, tells POLITICO that the school is reconsidering its widely mocked plans not to give President Barack Obama an honorary degree when he speaks at commencement on May 13 and will “honor him in every way possible.”

“There was no intended slight,” Crow said by telephone from his office in Tempe. “We had not yet talked about what honors we might give him as our commencement speaker, and we still have a month to work all that out. We don’t want anyone to think we do not recognize what he has achieved and what he means in America.”

A formal decision has not been made, but it was clear from Crow's comments that the university is headed in that direction. ASU risked becoming a national punch line if it did not quickly retreat from its policy against conferring honorary degrees on a sitting politician.

Past recipients of ASU honorary degrees included an aloe-vera magnate, the director of "Victor Victoria," a Chinese official, a Canadian politician, and lots of donors and fundraisers.

Four days after addressing ASU, Obama will give the commencement address at Notre Dame, which is conferring an honorary degree despite some local criticism of the choice of speaker.

Obama has received honorary degrees from Knox College in 2005, Northwestern University In 2006, UMass Boston in 2006, Xavier in 2006, Howard University in 2007, Southern New Hampshire University in 2007, and Wesleyan University in 2008.

ASU’s student daily, the State Press, touched off a firestorm this week when it reported under the headline, “Obama won’t receive ASU honorary degree":

"University spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said Tuesday that the University awards honorary degrees to recognize individuals for their work and accomplishments spanning their lifetime. ‘Because President Obama’s body of work is yet to come, it’s inappropriate to recognize him at this time,' Keeler said."

Crow said the resulting brouhaha "kind of wounded my heart." He said ASU hasn’t “had a commencement speaker in over 30 years, so this is a big deal for us.”

“Typically, the university’s policy relative to honorary degrees has been that people who are sitting politicians, we don’t given an honorary degree,” he explained. “It’s kind of a local thing. We’ve gotten a huge reaction from a lot of folks as if some decision was made not to give him one. Far from it.”

Crow said he found the criticism ironic because he found Obama's "agenda and objectives,” as outlined in his address to a joint session of Congress, were so aligned with “the institution that we’re business.”

“We’re a true public university that has remained committed to our public mission,” Crow said. “We have egalitarian admission standards and we provide the finest faculty and programs we can put together, and don’t constantly try to cut out the bottom of the class.”

In inviting Obama, the university had said it was "America's largest effort at institutional transformation in public education."

Crow had said in a statement when the school was selected by the White House: "The progressive leadership he has already displayed and the values he espouses are a great example for our students and for the extended community that surrounds us.”

ASU's president said officials now are considering conferring an honorary degree, regardless of local custom. “We intend to recognize him in multiple ways,” Crow said. “As to this issue relative to the honorary degree, we don’t know where it came from.”

Here are some of the previous honorary degree recipients, none of whom was elected president at age 47 in a landslide of electoral and popular votes:

--Blake Edwards, “whose more than 50 films include such memorable titles as ‘Days of Wine and Roses,’ ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s,’ ‘The Pink Panther,’ ‘Victor Victoria’ and ’10.’”

--Wu Qidi, “the Chinese Vice Minister Of Education Who Previously Arranged Lucrative Partnership With China’s State-Owned Enterprises.”

--William Polk Carey, a real-estate investment banker and $50 million donor.

-- Rex G. Maughan, a beauty-products billionaire whose company touted aloe vera and bee pollen as miracle age-reducers.

--Jane Dee Hull, Arizona's first elected woman governor.

-- Alice Wiley Snell, ASU fundraiser.

--John R. Christian, ASU fundraiser.

--Lord John Browne of Madingley, a BP executive.

--The Right Honorable Kim Campbell, Canada’s first woman prime minister.

--Peterson Zah, president of the Navajo Nation.

--Rafael Rangel Sostmann, president of Tec of Monterrey, a Mexican university that had signed a business partnership with ASU.

--Jerry Colangelo, a sports executive involved in plans that would have benefited ASU.

--L. Roy Papp, a mutual fund manager and his wife, Marilyn A. Papp, huge ASU donors who helped establish a Chinese art program.

-- Barbara McConnell Barrett, a former Reagan administration official involved in airline deregulation.

-- Craig E. Weatherup, a huge donor who was the benefactor for the Weatherup Center.

so exactly how much do i give to get an honorary degree?

Thursday, April 09, 2009

great idea!

Coming Soon to the Sunshine State: The Sunshine City
By MICHAEL GRUNWALD Michael Grunwald Thu Apr 9, 9:10 am ET

Coming soon to the Sunshine State: the sunshine city.

An NFL lineman turned visionary developer today is unveiling startlingly ambitious plans for a solar-powered city of tomorrow in southwest Florida's outback, featuring the world's largest photovoltaic solar plant, a truly smart power grid, recharging stations for electric vehicles and a variety of other green innovations. The community of Babcock Ranch is designed to break new frontiers in sustainable development, quite a shift for a state that has never been sustainable, and lately hasn't had much development. (Read "Is Florida the Sunset State?")

"Some people think I got hit in the head a few too many times," quips developer Syd Kitson, who spent six years in the trenches for the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys before entering the real estate business in the mid-1980s. "But I still believe deeply in Florida. And the time has come for something completely different." (See the top 10 green stories of 2008.)

To anyone familiar with southern Florida's planning-nightmare sprawl of golf courses, strip malls and cookie-cutter subdivisions named after the plants and animals they replaced, Kitson's vision for his solar-powered, smart-growth, live-where-you-work city of 45,000 people east of Fort Myers is breathtakingly different. That's why the press conference held today revealing his development plans for the historic Babcock Ranch property will feature representatives from the Audubon Society, the World Wildlife Fund and the Sierra Club.

The history of Florida is littered with spectacular, landscape-changing proposals that never made it past the drawing board. The watery wisp of Everglades National Park known as Flamingo, population zero, was once touted as the next Chicago. Kitson's financial partner, Morgan Stanley, has had a rough time lately, and some locals remain skeptical that he can turn his $2 billion green vision into reality. "We've been hearing a lot of very exciting ideas, but we have no idea how this is actually going to happen," says Conservancy of Southwest Florida CEO Andrew McElwaine.

Then again, Kitson has already cleared two of his most difficult hurdles: getting the land and the right to build on it. In 2006, he engineered a deal with then-Governor Jeb Bush and the previous owners of the 91,000-acre ranch in which the state spent $350 million to purchase 73,000 of the most environmentally sensitive acres - the largest preservation buy in Florida history. Kitson paid about about the same amount for the remaining 18,000 acres, and he says half of that will remain green space within the new community.

Kitson has been promising unprecedented sustainability all along, but today's shocker was the announcement of Florida Power & Light's plan to provide electricity for Babcock Ranch with a 75-megawatt photovoltaic plant nearly twice as big as the current record-holder in Germany. Solar power has been slow to catch on in the gas-powered Sunshine State, but FPL hopes to start construction on the 400-acre, $300 million plant by year's end. The utility expects it will provide enough power for Babcock Ranch and beyond. At $4 million per megawatt - FPL estimates the costs to its customers at about 31 cents per month over the life of the project - it should be more than four times as cost-effective as the nuclear reactors FPL is trying to build near the Florida Keys.

Kitson's slick website also promises "groundbreaking" strategies to promote energy efficiency for all Babcock Ranch buildings. And that's not all: "Ultra-modern electric vehicles will glide along avenues beneath the glow of solar-powered street lamps, plugging in to recharge at convenient community-wide recharging stations. Revolutionary Smart Grid technologies will monitor and manage energy use, while Smart Home technology will allow residents to operate their homes at maximum efficiency." Kitson's goal is to reduce carbon emissions, oil dependence and energy bills, while turning Babcock Ranch into a mecca for clean-energy research and development, attracting high-tech companies that will provide high-wage jobs.

The idea is to create a self-contained community where people can live and shop and work and go to school and have fun without long car trips. Kitson's construction plans start with a walkable and bikable downtown that will include a magnet school, a wellness facility and sustainable retail as well as 8,000 homes - including affordable homes for local workers. "In Florida, everyone has to drive everywhere they want to go," Kitson says. "And everyone thinks the solution to congestion is to build more roads. I think the solution is to design communities so you don't need more cars on the roads."

Of course, talk is cheap. It's no secret that growth has been Florida's primary economic engine for decades. Yet Fortune 500 companies haven't flocked to its sprawling bedroom communities with lousy schools and overpriced houses, and the paving of paradise has left the state with overtapped aquifers, overcrowded hospitals, overstretched services, traffic jams, a dying Everglades and a vanishing sense of place.

Kitson promises to avoid the mistakes of the past. "We're impressed with their commitments," says Wayne Daltry, Lee County's director of smart growth. "Now we have to pound them to keep their commitments. No plan survives contact with reality - and in this case the reality is called the bottom line."

Given the dismal state of the economy in Florida and the dismal environmental track record of developers, it's easy to be skeptical. Kitson already had to lay off some of his southwest Florida staff. But unless the sun stops shining, the current housing collapse won't last forever. Florida is always going to be nicer than Brooklyn or Cleveland in the winter. It's about time someone tried to make growth environmentally and economically sustainable. And it's about time someone tried to use that sunshine for something other than getting a tan.

Monday, April 06, 2009


Original 'Schindler's List' found in Sydney
Mon Apr 6, 7:37 am ET

SYDNEY (AFP) – A list of Jews saved by Oskar Schindler that inspired the novel and Oscar-winning film "Schindler's List" has been found in a Sydney library, its co-curator said.

Workers at the New South Wales State Library found the list, containing the names of 801 Jews saved from the Holocaust by the businessman, as they sifted through boxes of Australian author Thomas Keneally's manuscript material.

The 13-page document, a yellowed and fragile carbon typescript copy of the original, was found between research notes and German newspaper clippings in one of the boxes, library co-curator Olwen Pryke said.

Pryke described the 13-page list as "one of the most powerful documents of the 20th Century" and was stunned to find it in the library's collection.

"This list was hurriedly typed on April 18, 1945, in the closing days of WWII, and it saved 801 men from the gas chambers," she said.

"It?s an incredibly moving piece of history."

She said the library had no idea the list was among six boxes of material acquired in 1996 relating to Keneally's Booker Prize-winning novel, originally published as "Schindler's Ark".

The 1982 novel told the story of how the roguish Schindler discovered his conscience and risked his life to save more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazis.

Hollywood director Steven Spielberg turned it into a film in 1993 starring Liam Neeson as Schindler and Ralph Fiennes as the head of an SS-run camp.

Pryke said that, although the novel and film implied there was a single, definitive list, Schindler actually compiled a number of them as he persuaded Nazi bureaucrats not to send his workers to the death camps.

She said the document found by the library was given to Keneally in 1980 by Leopold Pfefferberg -- named on the list as Jewish worker number 173 -- when he was persuading the novelist to write Schindler's story.

As such, it was the list that inspired Keneally to tell the world about Schindler's heroics, she said.

Pryke said she had no idea how much the list was worth.

Schindler, born in a German-speaking part of Austria-Hungary in 1908, began the war as a card-carrying Nazi who used his connections to gain control of a factory in Krakow, Poland, shortly after Hitler invaded the country.

He used Jewish labour in the factory but, as the war progressed, he became appalled at the conduct of the Nazis.

Using bribery and charm, he persuaded officials that his workers were vital to the war effort and should not be sent to the death camps.

Schindler died relatively unknown in 1974, but he gained public recognition following Keneally's book and Spielberg's film.

Friday, April 03, 2009

good news and progress

Iowa court says gay marriage ban unconstitutional
By AMY LORENTZEN, Associated Press Writer Amy Lorentzen, Associated Press Writer 25 mins ago

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa's Supreme Court unanimously struck down the state's gay marriage ban on Friday, making Iowa the third state where same-sex couples can tie the knot.

In its decision, the court upheld a 2007 district court judge's ruling that the law violates the state constitution. It strikes the language from Iowa code limiting marriage to only between a man a woman.

"The court reaffirmed that a statute inconsistent with the Iowa constitution must be declared void even though it may be supported by strong and deep-seated traditional beliefs and popular opinion," said a summary of the ruling issued by the court.

The ruling set off celebration among the state's gay-marriage proponents.

"Iowa is about justice, and that's what happened here today," said Laura Fefchak, who was hosting a verdict party in the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale with partner of 13 years, Nancy Robinson.

Robinson added: "To tell the truth, I didn't think I'd see this day."

Richard Socarides, an attorney and former senior adviser on gay rights to President Clinton, said the ruling carries extra significance coming from Iowa.

"It's a big win because, coming from Iowa, it represents the mainstreaming of gay marriage. And it shows that despite attempts stop gay marriage through right-wing ballot initiatives, like in California, the courts will continue to support the case for equal rights for gays," he said.

It's opponents were equally as dismayed.

"I would say the mood is one of mourning right now in a lot of ways, and yet the first thing we did after internalizing the decision was to walk across the street and begin the process of lobbying our legislators to let the people of Iowa vote," said Bryan English, spokesman for the conservative group the Iowa Family Policy Center.

"This is an issue that will define (lawmakers') leadership. This is not a side issue."

The Rev. Keith Ratliff Sr., pastor at the Maple Street Baptist Church in Des Moines, went to the Supreme Court building to hear of the decision.

"It's a perversion and it opens the door to more perversions," Ratliff said. "What's next?"

Technically, the decision will take about 21 days to be considered final and a request for a rehearing could be filed within that period.

But Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said his office will not ask for a rehearing, meaning the court's decision should take effect after that three-week period.

"Our Supreme Court has decided it, and they make the decision as to what the law is and we follow Supreme Court decisions," Sarcone said. "This is not a personal thing. We have an obligation to the law to defend the recorder, and that's what we do."

That means it will be at least several weeks before gay and lesbian couples can seek marriage licenses.

Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat, said the decision addresses a complicated and emotional issue.

"The next responsible step is to thoroughly review this decision, which I am doing with my legal counsel and the attorney general, before reacting to what it means for Iowa," Culver said in a statement.

The case had been working its way through Iowa's court system since 2005 when Lambda Legal, a New York-based gay rights organization, filed a lawsuit on behalf of six gay and lesbian Iowa couples who were denied marriage licenses. Some of their children are also listed as plaintiffs.

The suit named then-Polk County recorder and registrar Timothy Brien.

The state Supreme Court's ruling upheld an August 2007 decision by Polk County District Court Judge Robert Hanson, who found that a state law allowing marriage only between a man and a woman violates the state's constitutional rights of equal protection.

The Polk County attorney's office, arguing on behalf of Brien, claimed that Hanson's ruling violates the separation of powers and said the issue should be left to the Legislature.

Lambda Legal planned to comment on the ruling later Friday. A request for comment from the Polk County attorney's office wasn't immediately returned.

Around the nation, only Massachusetts and Connecticut permit same-sex marriage. California, which briefly allowed gay marriage before a voter initiative in November repealed it, allows domestic partnerships.

New Jersey, New Hampshire and Vermont also offer civil unions, which provide many of the same rights that come with marriage. New York recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, and legislators there and in New Jersey are weighing whether to offer marriage. A bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Vermont has cleared the Legislature but may be vetoed by the governor.

The ruling in Iowa's same-sex marriage case came more quickly than many observers had anticipated, with some speculating after oral arguments that it could take a year or more for a decision.


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