Sunday, June 29, 2008


It has been about six or eight years since the Jitterbugs (Popillia japonica) showed up here for their usual cycle. They began on the giant pole bean bush we had next to the Eco-hostel. It ran up three stories on the side of the building, weaving through a column of hogwire and onto the fire escape.

We countered with Milky Spore (Paenibacillus popilliae) powder and beetle traps, but for several years the infestation got worse, and then last year, after the exceptionally late frost, we had a very light beetle year. This year, with a mild Spring and plenty of moisture in the ground, they failed to show up by mid-June. I had my fingers crossed that we might be done with them. But now, just before Independence Day, they are back.

This time they are not in the yard around the Eco-hostel where they first appeared. Usually our cherries are threadbare by the end of May and they are working into the apple trees and wild plum. This year they showed up inside the garden, still relatively few, but steadily gaining numbers. I went to town yesterday and picked up some traps and fresh pheromone bait and this morning I emptied a 30-gallon water barrel from the greenhouse (where we keep it to hold heat in the winter) and set it out by the wild plum to start catching bugs.

My experience is that those plastic bags that come with the traps fill up in a couple days and have to either be emptied (ugh!) or tossed (where?), so a few years back I went to first 5-gallon buckets and then 30-gallon barrels. We’ve been known to fill two or three barrels in a season.

I have also been known to get out the Shop Vac and vacuum the beetles off the leaves of plants that are especially valued.

This year we are experimenting with full-sized chickens, which is unusual for us, because we are bantam lovers. We like the little guys because of the light touch they give to weeding the garden. Still, we have more egg-eaters on staff this year, so the big chickens — Dominics and Reds — make sense, if we can keep them from uprooting the vegetables.

When I set out the barrel trap, I immediately attracted the attention of our sitting hen, roosting on her “secret” nest of eggs in the geodesic dome. She immediately started catching the beetles out of the air as they flew towards the trap. That told me the big chickens like sushi beetles better than our bantams did.

So I set a smaller trap, in a 5-gallon bucket, out in the fenced yard that we use to keep the flock out of the garden except under supervision. Within minutes, the bait’s scent was wafting on the wind and beetles were vectoring in through the fence from the garden. The chickens all came running and did this crazy dance, leaping and twirling in the air, catching the bugs as they circled the bucket or slowed to land on the bait. They were really quite elegant and athletic, these old hens. The rooster just stood back to coach the team.

In permaculture we say every problem is also a solution. Did we have a beetle infestation or a chicken deficiency? We seemed to have matched the predator to the prey for now, and any that the chickens don’t get will eventually make it from the drums to the compost pile.

My neighbor takes it a step farther and attaches his beetle trap to a length of 4-inch pipe, which he suspends over his fish pond, leaving a space between the bottom of the pipe and the surface of the water. As the beetles swoon from the intoxication of the pheromone bait, they fall through the pipe, onto the water, and into the open mouths of perch hovering at the base of the pipe. In a further improvement, he added a string weed-eater and a 12-volt light to his dock on the pond, and powered it with a small PV panel and a car battery. He put a motion sensor on it and when he turns on the light at night, moths and bugs are drawn in, get hit by the rotating string, and fall into the pond, where the fish, who also associate the light with food, are waiting.

And, of course, the man who turned on the light can just reach down and net his dinner any time. After a few days, he doesn’t even need the bugs. The fish are trained.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Whither Nashville?

"There can be no solution to the problems of community within a corporate-controlled consumer society."
— Pat Murphy
Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change

I had to surrender my carabiner key ring to get through the door to the Mayor’s office, so I guess they were worried I might need to rappel out the window after killing the mayor, except that we were on the first floor, so really, why bother? Was I going to hit him on the head with it? It’s aluminum.

My talking points regarding the city's preparation for Peak Oil are summed up in the memo I left with Jim Hester, aide to the Mayor, and Jenna Smith, Environmental Sustainability Manager for Metro, below. They had already seen the Brookings Report and were also up on the latest NIE on Climate Change. My briefing on Peak Oil seemed to fit right in with the disaster scenario sequence.

We spoke of Cuba in the Special Period, the gas lines and bread lines in the former Soviet Union, the empty filling stations I had seen in Southern Ohio. I told him about the RTE documentary that had aired in prime time in Ireland and the work of Eamon Ryan and the current governing coalition to get the fossil monkey off that country’s back. I promised follow-up DVDs.

Hester walked to the vinyl map on the wall that showed all the council districts, with the photos of the council members around the margins. For a politico like Hester, this is where the rubber meets the road, and I offered the obligatory kowtow to the math he has to crunch every day.

He has 5 solid green votes among 40. He can pick up maybe another 5 if he can show some economic benefits on a green ledger and get them to buy that kind of voodoo. But he needs 21 to do anything, and that last 11 is an ice cliff he has to scale with crampons and axe. Nashville is not Portland or Seattle, he reminded me. “Ahh, yes, Ecotopia,” I lamented.

The scant consolation I could offer was the example of Albuquerque, a nuclear bedroom community like Oak Ridge, plunked down in the arid Goldwater and Sandra-Day-O’Connor Southwest where guns and prostitutes are legal and you can get shot knocking on the door of a trailer to hand out Watchtowers.

Albuquerque currently relies entirely on pumping groundwater to sustain life. Only about 50% of the water pumped from its aquifer is replenished. However, Albuquerque has contracted for rights to 48,200 acre-feet of Colorado River water per year. There is just one hitch. It is in different watershed, and the Sandia Mountains are between it and Albuquerque.

Because the water Albuquerque needs has to cross state lines and be pumped through mountain tunnels, the supply is by no means assured. Notice how eager Georgia is to annex Chattanooga.

To its credit, by resolution and compact, the city has called for an immediate 50-percent reduction in fossil fuel energy consumption in new and renovated buildings, and it seeks to eliminate fossil fuels from new construction by the year 2030.

In other words, within 25 years, Albuquerque will not use oil, natural gas, or coal in the heating, cooling, lighting, or construction of its buildings.

Albuquerque City Council has adopted a budget that will invest greater resources in transportation options, promote energy efficient building in both the public and private sector and at all levels of government, encourage automakers to increase production of energy-efficient vehicles and persuade consumers to purchase them, provide additional incentives for investment in renewable and alternative energy, encourage additional mixed-use development, and promote energy conservation on all levels.

Working on a regional basis, Albuquerque has developed alternatives to the commuter car that include Rapid Ride intrastate rail, D-Ride light rail, Alternative Fuel Buses, Bike Rack, Free Parking For Hybrid, Alt Fuel, and Fuel-Efficient Vehicles and more. In 2006, Albuquerque was named one of "the 21 Best Cities for Cycling" in America by Bicycling Magazine.

It is Mayor Chavez's goal to purchase 20% of Albuquerque’s municipal electricity from the wind farm at Clovis NM. Methane gas is already being co-generated from landfills and sewage treatment facilities.

All new city buildings will meet LEED Silver standards for energy efficiency. Public lighting is being converted to LED and CFL, with occupancy activation sensors. Funds have been appropriated for city energy audits and conservation retrofits.

Albuquerque Parks and Recreation has set a goal of 60% canopy cover for the City. 11,000 trees will be planted, “appropriately placed with sufficient species diversity,” and selected and arranged so as to reduce the water requirements of city parks and public spaces.

Albuquerque’s Achilles Heels are population and water. As of the 2007 census estimate, Albuquerque's population was 523,590, the 32nd-largest as well as the 2nd fastest growing city in the USA. Albuquerque has grown 16% in 7 years. At present rates of growth, it will be larger than Baltimore by 2015, San Francisco by 2024, and Detroit by 2029. There will be more than a million residents in 2034, and double today’s population by 2036.

Bicycles won’t fix that.

Still, if Albuquerque can muster Mayor Chavez’s brand of political moxie in John McCain’s back yard, they must be doing something right. Could it be that they appeal to that rare breed of conservative that still remembers “conservation?” It is not a far stretch to appeal to family values involving leaving something more to the kids and grandkids than a dry radioactive wasteland.

Whether Mayor Dean can sell that in the Athens of the South remains to be seen.

Here is the memo I left with the Mayor’s staff.

MEMO TO: Jim Hester
FROM: Albert Bates
DATE: 22 Jun 08
SUBJECT: Nashville’s vulnerability

Nashville is just now beginning to experience the foreshocks of Peak Oil. World demand has exceeded world production with the result that prices for oil and gas have doubled in the past year and will likely more than double again in the next. We may see $200 per barrel oil by year’s end. $1000 per barrel oil is only seven to ten years away.

Nashville is more vulnerable than many similar cities its size because it has a much higher carbon footprint than average. A recent report from the Brookings Institution ranks Nashville 95th among 100 U.S. cities for per capita carbon emissions from transportation and residential energy use (3,222 metric tons/person). Only Louisville, Toledo, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Lexington are worse.

Metro areas with high density, compact development and rail transit offer more energy and carbon efficient lifestyles than more sprawling, auto-centric counterparts. From the standpoint of smart city planning for the turbulent next few years, Metro Nashville is strictly out of luck. Creating high density, compact development, alternative fueled buses and trolleys, and light rail transit will take years or decades and millions or billions, and given the economic effects of the bursting fossil fuel bubble, the declining dollar, and collapse of Metro’s tax base, the likelihood that resources will be available, on a sustained basis over the requisite time, is extremely unlikely. The State and Federal governments will also be in crisis, with far more demands than resources to meet them.

The seriousness of the situation cannot be overstated. Extreme weather or geological events, political and economic stagnation, or other factors could further exacerbate the dilemma.

Supplies of food, fuel, and other essentials arrive into the city primarily by semi-tractor trailers; to a lesser extent by rail, barge and air freight. All of these supply lines are prone to disruption in the event of a national liquid energy supply shortfall. Most are also especially vulnerable to labor strikes or the practical inability of workers to go to work.

Metro has 3 days supply of food for its population within city limits.

If wholesale deliveries of gasoline and diesel stop, most service stations would run dry within one week, and sooner if people immediately fill up and hoard gasoline and diesel, as they already are beginning to.

City buses do not have a strategic reserve, nor could they provide an immediate substitute for the commuter, school, and other transportation services now provided by private vehicles.

Police, fire, and emergency medical services do not have a strategic reserve, nor does the Tennessee National Guard. It is unlikely that any fuel availability crisis would be local, which means that National Guard resources will be required everywhere simultaneously.

Many other cities that are similarly situated have begun to examine their predicament and make belated but necessary moves to address their vulnerability. Among the options they have chosen to initiate on a crash basis:

• Tasking Emergency Services to prepare plans for sustained energy outages
• Expanding light rail and alternative transit — urging people to DRIVE LESS
• Engaging in regional rail and barge planning for more energy-efficient freight operations
• Stimulating energy efficient retrofitting, alternative energy installations, and recycling
• Issuing a metropolitan challenge to develop innovative solutions that integrate land use, transportation, energy, food supply, emergency preparedness, and related areas
• Set an energy descent goal, such as 3% reduction of fossil fuel use per year, across the board
• Begin the process of gradually redesigning the city as a collection of urban villages so that residents can reduce their automobile dependence
• Develop and implement a public transit master plan
• Develop and implement a commercial freight delivery master plan
• Move Metro employees to a 4-day work-week and develop telecommute options
• Inaugurate car-share and ride-share services
• Provide start-up funding for the establishment of a Food Policy Council
• Develop and implement pedestrian and bicycle master plans.

Just at first pass, here are some direct actions the Mayor might take to get the ball rolling:


1. have a contingency for operating government in the sudden absence of gasoline
2. have a contingency for operating government with the periodic absence of electricity
3. have a contingency for operating government with unheated buildings
4. training and public education courses, workshops, events and films


1. have a contingency for city functioning with the periodic absence of electricity
2. planning for a business environment that lacks discretionary spending
3. develop a local currency
4. develop a micro-lending incubator system
5. training and public education courses


1. work with Education and Social Services to identify at risk children when school bus service is suspended or restricted
2. work with Health in designing home and neighborhood health delivery systems
3. training and public education courses

Agricultural Extension Services (George Kilgore)

1. provide organic agricultural and nutritional educational products to individuals and families so they can increase personal food and water supply and improve public health and welfare
2. create supplemental local emergency food supplies by growing and storing staples in many locations

Metro Soil and Water Conservation (John Leeman)

1. provide rainwater catchment and storage educational products to individuals and families so they can increase personal water supply and improve public health and welfare
2. create supplemental local emergency water supplies by capturing and storing water in many locations
3. drought and heat wave planning

City Planning Dept (Michael Skipper, Matt Meservy)

1. have a contingency for operating government with the periodic absence of electricity
2. have a contingency for moving people in the absence of gasoline
3. regulation of existing buildings with potentially unusable elevators or other services


1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. specialized training
3. develop neighborhood first responder system


1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. drought and heat wave planning
3. monitor supplemental local emergency water supplies


1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. food and water reserves
3. pharmaceuticals


1. Walkable/bicycle school distances
2. Buses restricted to handicapped, outer zone residents, high risk

Health Services

1. The Havana model – neighborhood based care
2. Strategic petroleum reserves for generators/power
3. Solar powered health modules
4. Home grown pharmaceuticals
5. Malnutrition – Nashville has less than 3-days supply of food
6. Rationing system

Law Enforcement

1. strategic petroleum reserves
2. special training
3. more bike patrols
4. replace select cars with golf carts, motorcycles, foot patrols
5. ground helicopters except for emergency operations

Social Services

1. special training
2. replace cars with golf carts, motorcycles, bicycles

Nashville Gas

1. Contingency plan for nationalization of services
2. Rationing system

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Albert’s Homebrew Recipe for Water

Here’s my chance to split three rounds in one swing. I was at The Farm’s Land Use Committee meeting last week, where the chairman, Alan Graf, is attempting to rope me in as regular attendee. The conversation turned to water, and Alan asked me to comment on rainwater collection, so I launched into an exegesis about what I had first observed in the Australian ecovillage, Crystal Waters, where rainwater collection exists on all homes and public buildings, and my good friend and ecovillage designer, Max Lindegger, authored an Owners Manual for residents, with basic lessons on composting, tree planting, doing without a car, and yes, home water storage. I pointed out that the alternative collecting and storing our own water at home, as I have been doing for 20 years, is adding more 25,000 gallon towers to the Farm water system every few years, along with the pumps to fill them.

The second round was a promise to Gwynelle Dismukes, the editor of the Free Press, our community’s weekly paper, that I would write something about cisterns and how to build them.

The third and most compelling incentive to get this done was my need to teach the 90-minute section on water storage as part of our annual Permaculture Design Course now on Day 7. One of the things I did was to take the class over to Earth Advocates Research Farm and show them Adam and Sue Turtle’s massive rainwater management system. When the exceptional drought last summer finally broke in October, they still had more than 30,000 gallons in reserve. One of their cisterns, collecting water from a large barn roof and taking it by pipe across their pathway, holds more than 40,000 gallons and was made from a recycled cement grain bin.

Here is my illustrated recipe for collecting, storing and cleaning rainwater. It is simplified for this space, but you’ll get the main ideas and then can go to more detailed downloads from my friends Art Ludwig at Oasis Design or Brad Lancaster at Sonoran Permaculture.

Rainwater Collection System

  • Some cement block or bricks
  • High-tensile steel banding
  • About a half dozen brackets
  • Portland cement, sand, and gravel
  • A few short sections of ¼-inch steel re-bar
  • A small amount of hog-wire fencing, preferably recycled
  • A pre-fab tank
  • Screws and nails
  • A whole bunch of plastic pipe (PDE is better than PVC), of various sizes, along with couplings and fittings as required.

You will notice that I am very unspecific about quantities in my ingredients list. That is because those will vary, depending on the size of your storage, distance to the home, run of pipe, number of tanks, etc.

There are lots of kinds of tanks, although the easiest are pre-made plastic ones from Tank Depot. I ordered two 750-gallon upright ones for my home, in green, that cost about $400 each, and arrived in 5 days. Fiberglass and polyethylene tanks are relatively inexpensive, lightweight and available in large sizes (up to about 10,000 gallons).

Galvanized steel is probably the most common cistern material. Off-the-shelf farm tanks are available up to about 3,000 gallons at your county Farmer’s Co-op or Tractor Supply Co. Because most farm tanks are not approved for potable water, some rainwater catchment system designers recommend coating the inside with an epoxy-based sealer. Above are some Brad Lancaster photographed in use on a rural house in Australia.

Concrete tanks are generally site-built using forms, though smaller pre-cast tanks are available. My friend Adam Turtle always integrates a cement tank into the basement of any new building, adding multiple benefits. At the ETC, we made a 5,000 gallon concrete tank using 4-inch block and high-tensile steel wire. It has worked flawlessly for more than a decade.

Ferrocement tanks are made by spraying or plastering a cement mortar over a wire mesh form. Wall thicknesses as thin as an inch can be produced, depending on the materials and the skill of the contractor. Because cracks can develop, some maintenance is required, and I usually build partly into the ground to help buttress the base and prevent a blow-out. Ferrocement is potentially one of the least expensive cistern materials. To the right is an example I saw at Eco-Centro in Brazil.

Mortared stone is traditionally used in some areas for cisterns. Construction cost is high, but they sure look good, and the water might even taste better. The 100,000 gallon community cistern at Ecoaldea Huehuecoytl in Mexico is mortared stone.

Durable wood, such as redwood or cypress, also can be used for tanks. If properly built, wood tanks can last 50 years or longer. Salvaged wood such as old wine vats and whiskey-aging casks can serve. At Findhorn they used the vats for houses, but they could have as easily used them for water tanks.

A polyethylene liner over a non-watertight frame is the least-cost alternative, but it also is the least permanent. Liners should be 20 or 30 mil. and made of a UV-stabilized, FDA-approved material. Another cheap alternative is culvert pipe. Brad Lancaster describes erection of modular culvert pipe cisterna in some detail on his website.

Sizing Your System

In the USA, per-person usage can range from 55 to 75 gallons per day. In Europe, 30 gpd is more common. Study your monthly water bills to get your average household usage, or meter it yourself.

Then use less.

Here is how to calculate the rainwater potential from your roof:
1. determine your region's annual rainfall, and minimum and maximum rainfall on a per-month basis, usually in inches, and convert that to feet. Notice we are not using metric, which is the world standard. Sorry, rest of the world, I assume you already know this.
2. determine the size of your roof catchment area – the part that is guttered and can be made to flow into your storage tank (area = length x width; for an angled roof, imagine a flat, two-dimensional shape through which rain travels downward onto the roof)
3. determine maximum runoff (catchment area (ft2) x rainfall (ft) x 7.48 gal/ ft3 = maximum runoff (gal)).
Lets take a roof that is 1,000 square feet. The average house sold in Nashville in 2007 was 1,832 square feet, roughly 61 square feet larger than the prior year, but we don’t need something that large to meet our water needs. There are 50 inches of rain annually, on average. Take the area (1,000 square feet) and multiply it by 4.17 (feet of rainfall). Take that number (4,170) and multiply it by 7.48. The amount of runoff in a year is 31,167 gallons. Or, in a dry year, that same area receiving 25 inches of rain will have 15,583 gallons of runoff. At 50 gal/person/day, the average runoff would last a person 622 days, and if you reduce your needs to 30/gal/person/day, a family of 4 could meet its needs for 260 days.

Wash your roof

The best roofing material for rainwater catchment is uncoated stainless steel or factory-enameled galvanized steel with a baked-enamel, certified lead-free finish. Living roofs are also fine, but retain much more of the water, depending on how dry it has been. Asphalt roofing has a "collection efficiency" of about 85 percent while enameled steel has a collection efficiency of more than 95 percent. With asphalt roofing, although more efficient than a living roof, more of the rainwater stays on the roof than for steel, though the actual percentage will depend on the duration of the storm.

Roofwashers capture and discard the first several gallons of rainwater before sending the rest to the cistern. A very simple roof-wash system can be made out of a 6- or 8-inch vertical PVC, PDE or polyethylene pipe installed beneath the gutter.

Ready-made roof washers: Rainwater System; Tank Town.

Here is a sketch of the roofwasher we built during the urban permaculture course in Nashville:

The roof in Nashville divided its guttering between three 300-gallon tanks, so we had to repeat constructing a roofwasher three times. Each time, we set the tank on a reinforced concrete pad (water is heavy — 8.34 pounds per gallon — so 300 gallons will weigh more than 2500 pounds) and fastened the tank to the building exterior with steel bands. Three 300 gallon tanks are only 900 total gallons, so in a rain event dropping more than 2 inches, storage capacity would be exceeded even if collection efficiency were only 80-percent. (1000 ft2 x 2/12 ft rain x 7.48 gal/ft2 x 80% = 997 gal.) Because of this, it is a good idea to have your overflow pipe on the tank be as large or larger than your intake pipe.

After the tank was up and the gutters of the house were attached to the roofwashers, we installed a drip irrigation system, with timers, at the base of the tanks. The irrigation ran through the terraced beds and cold frames of the urban garden that was formerly front and back lawn, sidewalk median, and alley margin.

A similar system, albeit much larger, is on my home, and also nearby at the Ecovillage Training Center on The Farm, where tens of thousands of gallons are caught and stored in the rainy months of the year. One of the important considerations is keeping nasty stuff from growing in your storage tank; keeping it sweet and smelling good. The lime in the cement seems to help this naturally, by neutralizing the pH of the rain, which tends to be more acid by the year.

We sometimes throw a big limestone rock into a cistern made of metal or plastic to accomplish the same purpose. Covering the lid tightly enough to keep out light is wise, because without light, algae cannot photosynthesize, and a tight seal will also keep out mosquitoes. The ancients also used to oxygenate their water before storage, so having flow-forms, rain chains, and drops from pipe to tank are all good additions.

If you are planning to use this water for drinking or preparing food, I recommend (a) not doing it from an asphalt-shingled roof, and (b) adding a ceramic filter system after it leaves the tank and comes to the house. We use an AquaStar filter, which is referenced in the water chapter of my book, but another good choice is the Doulton Jade Ceramic Gravity-Fed Water Filter
Jade Ceramic Gravity-Fed Water Filter Doulton
that removes 6 gallons per day, eliminating 95% of chlorine, pesticides, and heavy metals including iron, aluminum, lead and radioactive fallout, and 100% cryptosporidium, giardia and more typical roof sediment, like road dust and bird droppings.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

This is Boumediene, my friend

"I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General -- having pursued, having looked at what's out there right now -- are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it's important-- one of the things we've got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity."
– Barack Obama

When Sandra Day O’Connor, a Goldwater Republican from Phoenix, left the Supreme Court, Anthony Kennedy became the “swing” vote. O’Connor’s last great trapeze performance, we should recall, was Bush v. Gore, which won her that comfortable retirement overlooking the 9th hole, her seat filled by someone younger and much more dangerous.

In Europe they say the right end of their political spectrum is somewhere to the left of our left end. So when Kennedy became the new swing in town, it signified the more rightward shift of the Court. As the swing man, Kennedy has voted with Justices Scalia, Thomas, et al. against affirmative action and campaign finance laws, and for States' rights except when it comes to choosing a President.

But Kennedy is a europhile and history buff, and in his travels in England and the continent he has soaked up some of the views that underpin the rationality of international law. He has been slowly trying to educate his fellow clerics, with only limited success, such as when, in 2005, he wrote the decision ending the juvenile death penalty, reversing his earlier 1989 position, in which he joined Justice Scalia in deciding to stop the 17-year-old heartbeat of Kevin Stanford and the 16-year-old heartbeat of Heath Wilkins (he had, that same day, joined Scalia and O’Connor in painfully halting the heartbeat of Johnny Paul Penry, who was 22 years old at the time of his crime, but had the mental age of a 6 1/2-year-old, and whose case was championed by Amnesty International, International Human Rights Law Group, Defense for Children International, the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry, and the American Bar Association).

Kennedy has mellowed since 1989, and if presented with a case about land mines, torture, or depleted uranium, there is a stronger chance today he would take the European point of view over that of his President and party.

Kennedy proved the swing man in both Hamdan, which reaffirmed the Geneva conventions as supreme law of the land, and Boumediene v. Bush, that rejected the autonomy of the Guantanamo torture camp and reinstated habeas corpus as a fundamental right to everyone in US custody, regardless of their status or alleged crimes.

Kennedy’s opinion in the Boumediene case handed down last week, on June 12, is a real pleasure for an old firehorse such as myself to read. Early in the opinion he moves into his historical element and quotes a statement co-authored by Patrick Henry, concerning the rationale of habeas:
“[t]hat every person restrained of his liberty is entitled to an inquiry into the lawfulness of such restraint, and to a removal thereof if unlawful; and that such inquiry or removal ought not to be denied or delayed...."
He quoted The Federalist No. 84 (written by Alexander Hamilton, under the pseudonym Publius in 1788):
“[T]he practice of arbitrary imprisonments, have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious Blackstone . . . are well worthy of recital: ‘To bereave a man of life . . . or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.’”
Kennedy’s history lesson to his fellow justices is not without irony. The cases he has to cite to discern the applicable law in Guantanamo are all places of unspeakable inhumanity, their sordid histories for the most part papered over by the Supreme Court’s predecessors. So we learn of cases coming from Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, when the U.S. detained and tortured political dissidents; Hawaii, where the U.S. deposed a peaceful monarchy at the behest of a clandestine plantation-owner cabal; Scotland in the 17th century, during the clearances (where habeas was not extended); and Ireland in the 18th century (where, although a separate country, it was). Even the Bechuanaland Protectorate in South Africa in 1910 gets mentioned. This is the notorious and vile company the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay finds itself in. How extraordinarily apt.

The “Torture Nine” were those nine men who held out against their 91 fellow Senators when the McCain bill was voted out, prohibiting the military (not CIA or private contractors) from engaging in torture on behalf of the President. They were: Allard (R-CO), Bond (R-MO), Coburn (R-OK), Cochran (R-MS), Cornyn (R-TX), Inhofe (R-OK), Roberts (R-KS), Sessions (R-AL), and Stevens (R-AK). Senator McCain has since voted to permit the President to torture, as long as uniformed military are not present.

Addressing the issue of whether Guantanamo is outside the reach of the Constitution because it belongs to Cuba, Kennedy says:
“[T]he Government’s view is that the Constitution had no effect there, at least as to non-citizens, because the United States disclaimed sovereignty in the formal sense of the term. The necessary implication of the argument is that by surrendering formal sovereignty over any unincorporated territory to a third party, while at the same time entering into a lease that grants total control over the territory back to the United States, it would be possible for the political branches to govern without legal constraint. Our basic charter cannot be contracted away like this. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply.”
So why not just remand to the Court of Appeals for further proceedings, or wait until after the Military Commission does its work? Kennedy says these are just more delaying tactics.
“The gravity of the separation-of-powers issues raised by these cases and the fact that these detainees have been denied meaningful access to a judicial forum for a period of years render these cases exceptional.”
He then piles it on, making the Military Commissions moot.
“[W]hen the judicial power to issue habeas corpus properly is invoked the judicial officer must have adequate authority to make a determination in light of the relevant law and facts and to formulate and issue appropriate orders for relief, including, if necessary, an order directing the release.”
That is so up in the face of the Commissions Act (which was not at issue in this case and so still operates), that it cannot escape the notice of those few now being tried in Guantanamo. The Commissions Act denies federal courts (or even the commissions themselves) any power to order the conditional release of an individual, saying in advance that even if individual defendants win and prove themselves innocent of all charges, despite not being allowed to learn what evidence is brought against them, have effective counsel, or to confront their accusers, they don't get released.

What is the definition of a show trial, if not one in which the accused still spends his life in prison even after being found innocent of all charges?

What is the practical distinction between the trial of Charles I in 1649, the Moscow Trials of the 1930s, the Hungarian (1949) and Czech (1952) purge trials, or the trial of the Gang of Four in Beijing in 1976, and what is happening this month in Guantanamo? There is none.

Kennedy telegraphs his own impatience with the "War on Terror:"
“Because our Nation’s past military conflicts have been of limited duration, it has been possible to leave the outer boundaries of war powers undefined. If, as some fear, terrorism continues to pose dangerous threats to us for years to come, the Court might not have this luxury. This result is not inevitable, however. The political branches, consistent with their independent obligations to interpret and uphold the Constitution, can engage in a genuine debate about how best to preserve constitutional values while protecting the Nation from terrorism.”
Bottom line:
“The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law.”
In the concurring opinion, the Constitutional defenders (Kennedy, Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer) draw down on the four dissenters (Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito), in a poison pen fight:
“These suggestions of judicial haste are all the more out of place given the Court’s realistic acknowledgment that in periods of exigency the tempo of any habeas review must reflect the immediate peril facing the country. It is in fact the very lapse of four years from the time Rasul put everyone on notice that habeas process was available to Guantanamo prisoners, and the lapse of six years since some of these prisoners were captured and incarcerated, that stand at odds with the repeated suggestions of the dissenters that these cases should be seen as a judicial victory in a contest for power between the Court and the political branches. The several answers to the charge of triumphalism might start with a basic fact of Anglo-American constitutional history: that the power, first of the Crown and now of the Executive Branch of the United States, is necessarily limited by habeas corpus jurisdiction to enquire into the legality of executive detention. And one could explain that in this Court’s exercise of responsibility to preserve habeas corpus something much more significant is involved than pulling and hauling between the judicial and political branches. Instead, though, it is enough to repeat that some of these petitioners have spent six years behind bars. After six years of sustained executive detentions [and extended torture and even murder – ed.] in Guantanamo, subject to habeas jurisdiction but without any actual habeas scrutiny, today’s decision is no judicial victory, but an act of perseverance in trying to make habeas review, and the obligation of the courts to provide it, mean something of value both to prisoners and to the Nation.”
For their part, the Bush bunch adhered to the talking points memo and reframed the discussion from one of human rights to one of mere political bickering, with Scalia’s opinion providing the scathing rebuttle:
“… so long as there are some places to which habeas does not run — so long as the Court’s new “functional” test will not be satisfied in every case — then there will be circumstances in which “it would be possible for the political branches to govern without legal constraint.” Or, to put it more impartially, areas in which the legal determinations of the other branches will be (shudder!) supreme. In other words, judicial supremacy is not really assured by the constitutional rule that the Court creates. The gap between rationale and rule leads me to conclude that the Court’s ultimate, unexpressed goal is to preserve the power to review the confinement of enemy prisoners held by the Executive anywhere in the world. * * * What competence does the Court have to second-guess the judgment of Congress and the President on such a point? None whatever. But the Court blunders in nonetheless. Henceforth, as today’s opinion makes unnervingly clear, how to handle enemy prisoners in this war will ultimately lie with the branch that knows least about the national security concerns that the subject entails.”
The branch that knows least has now allowed court assistance for the 40 to 60 people who have already been determined not to be enemy combatants, culled from among those as young as 11 when captured, or those over 100. These innocents still linger in endless detention in dark dungeons, at Bagram Air Force Base, aboard floating prison ships, or frying in the hot sun.

How many women are being held captive in Iraq, Afghanistan, or in secret CIA torture camps? Those who know won’t say. Kennedy’s ruling does not specifically address any of these, outside Cuba, leaving ample wiggle-room for the President to carry on his heinous detention and torture gulags world-wide.

At least a third of the more than 750 prisoners at Gitmo have never received a Combat Status Review. Fewer than a tenth will be put on trial before a Military Commission. More than a hundred have filed habeas petitions, and had them dismissed prior to last week’s Boumediene decision. Those men have 7 more days to restart the process or be time-barred.

If nothing else, Boumediene established that there can be no law-free zones, no matter where we, the taxpayers, try to build them. While Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito might prefer that there were, and that the President can do with those prisoners whatsoever gives him pleasure, they did not prevail in that view, at least not last week.

The end of these justices’ term on the Court draws closer by the day. Let us hope you can find some more humane replacements, when given your chance, brother Barack.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Thank You For Pumping

David Blume was here this past weekend as an invited speaker at our Transition Towns’ style Sonnenshein Festival in Hohenwald, our county seat. This is the third annual one of these and this year we brought in Dave and Catherine Austin Fitts to speak, first to a theater full of townspeople, then at the Ecovillage Training Center, and then at the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber liked it so much they want a follow-up.

Dave made an interesting point before the various assemblies that I have heard him make before, but he has taken to making it sound like clever business by evil oil companies to help the audience digest it, and I want to strip that sugar coating off. The point is about how gasoline is made, which is not unlike how sausages are made – you don’t want to know.

When someone like Exxon-Mobile or Chevron gets a barrel of light sweet in from OPEC, that 42-gallon barrel is now costing them nearly $140 on the open market. The refinery's distillation process separates it into various raw cuts, from gaseous fuels and naphthas at the top, to jet fuel, kerosene, gasoline in the middle, and then to diesel, fuel oil and asphalt at the bottom of the barrel. All these various primary products are pumped to other specialized refineries for further processing and upgrading. The secondary refiners also make the products environmentally acceptable by removing sulfur and various trace components that would be toxic if burned.

Incidentally, all these processes use tremendous amounts of energy, materials, and labor, so it is reasonable that they add value to the oil.

About 4% of every barrel goes into the light fuel gases that will be made into exotic and expensive chemicals: Nylon, Kevlar, high-tech polymers, Saran Wrap, plastic bags, and Twinkies. Currently that 4% is worth around $50 per barrel or $2 per gallon before secondary refining, but after the secondary processes, it becomes worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars per gallon. This is the part that makes the business worth being in for Exxon, Shell, Total, and all the rest.

About a quarter of the barrel goes into jet fuels, diesel, industrial lubricants, and the like. Those bring another $160 as raw products, but far more after they are refined into things like STP, pesticides, herbicides, and cleaning solvents, often through separate divisions of the same companies.

The gasoline blends are about 55% of the barrel, and since the oil companies have already made their money back on the top fractions, they don’t really need to keep going, except that they have a small problem. Refining the oil to get those nylons and polymers produced a lot of nasty long-chained byproducts that are terribly toxic. So they go ahead and continue the practice(s) begun by John D. Rockefeller and make various blends of gasoline, and they spend a small fortune on defeating climate change legislation, bidding up corn futures, and bribing politicians to ensure a profitable market awaits those products. Also, they sponsor NASCAR.

The 16% left after gasoline winds up as fuel oil or asphalt, about another $50 worth from every barrel after the primary refinery. The gasoline made from that original barrel is sold for about $170 at today’s wholesale price, but that is not its greatest value to the refineries.

The gasoline, which has to go through numerous blending stages, is a carrier for the toxic waste that would otherwise have to be somehow disposed of, at considerable expense and under tight regulations. By blending those unusable byproducts, which vary from barrel to barrel, day to day and hour to hour, the companies get rid of their biggest headache. They sell it to you and me.

Those of us who pay at the pump are now shelling out $4 per gallon to burn and then inhale those toxic wastes, but actually that is less than half of what the oil companies are being paid for that product.

Currently the various tax incentives, depletion allowances, and other subsidies (which Congress failed again today to repeal, blocked by the oil companies allies on the Republican side and a threatened veto from the White House) are worth $5.60 per gallon. If you added in the military costs, including veterans’ benefits and later war reparations, the subsidy is at least triple that, paid by U.S. taxpayers, but from the company standpoint, the $9.60 is what they collect. When their CEOs testify before Congress that they only make a nickel a gallon, they really have to work to keep from laughing, and that ability is probably why they get paid so much.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Optimizing Optimism

Richard Heinberg asks some pregnant questions in How Do You Like the Collapse So Far? written for The Ecologist. Sometime back, while I was developing the themes of the Guide, I had to make a decision about whether optimism was important or just hogwash. I think it is necessary to give the gloomy part of the message, otherwise you sound like Pollyanna and nobody buys into your spiel when you get to the good stuff. What ultimately counts is the call to action, and the action has to be meaningful, alluring, and credible.

Nate Hagens makes an interesting point in this regard. He says that “An optimistic outlook actually is neurochemically self-fulfilling. Optimism leads to increased frontal cortical activity which itself is a strong predictor of idea generation, positive emotion and overall liveliness of thought. Similarly, sadness is marked by decreased activity in the frontal cortex, which has the negative side affect of reducing the number of overall thoughts and ideas produced."

Choosing strategies that will produce meaningful results is, as Heinberg observes, a spiritual path, involving discrimination and ethics. One must extend the time horizon of the analysis and do the "what if" conjecturing about scalability and unintended consequences. Then you have both a strategy and a practice, and it is the practice, day in, day out, that provides more and better ideas, satisfaction with your lot, and even joy.

Martin Luther probably never said "If I knew I was to die tomorrow, I would plant a tree today" but the sentiment is good.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

This Season's Cicadas

"[N]o unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow."
Alfred Russel Wallace

Every year, tree people from around the Midwest gather in the annual Heartwood Forest Council, like so many ents. Because there is much to be said, and the council is a very patient, it takes several days to say it all or decide what to leave unsaid for another year. Hosting all this is an old treekeeper named Andy Mahler, who puts in the time each year, both inside and outside of the meeting, to make sure from small acorns emerge giant oaks.

At the opening of the council meeting this year, in the endangered Shawnee State Forest near the Ohio River, he stepped to the center of the circle and paused to observe a natural phenomenon. “Those pencil holes all around your feet,” he said, as everyone turned and looked down at the ground, “those are the cicadas emerging from 17 years underground, sucking on tree roots.”

I paraphrase. “Imagine that today is the day you felt the call, and emerged from the dark, damp earth that was all you knew, into a world of light, and sound, and breezes. It is blinding, disorienting, completely strange. And you start to climb. And as you are climbing you are getting stiffer, your body is becoming hard, and it is slowing you down, becoming hard and brittle, but then you discover that you have wings.

"You stop and back out of your old shell and you let loose of the tree and fly. And to your amazement you discover that there are millions of others, just like you, flying around all over the place. And you can sing! Everyone is singing and flying and having a fantastic wild orgy! For the next 2 weeks you have this crazy party, and it seems like it will never end, but and at the end of the 2 weeks you begin feeling very, very tired, so you nibble at some branches, lay your eggs in the cut you made, and die. This might be the end of the story, but then that branch falls to the ground, and those eggs get buried in the soil, and eventually hatch some larvae that suck on tree roots and after 17 years the process repeats.”

Andy was trying to imply the Forest Council is sort of like the wild orgy part of the cycle, ending with the eggs, except that some of these old cicadas will be back again next year to spread their wings again. So perhaps it is more apt to consider this a metaphor for our civilization, incubating for millennia, emerging from underground with the advent of the modern technological era, fueled by fossil sunlight, flying around like crazy bugs for a few hundred years, and then coming to the realization that this is the fin de siécle, and when we are done this night, nearly over now, we are going back to ground, not to emerge again, as our offspring, for a long, long time.

I have been using this tag from Bill McKibben in my email signature: “Civilization is what grows up in the margins of leisure and security provided by a workable relationship with the natural world. That margin won't exist, at least not for long, as long as we remain on the wrong side of 350.”

The 350 refers to the parts per million, by volume, of carbon-equivalent greenhouse gas concentration in the globally-averaged atmosphere. We are at 387 and climbing. We used to think we were relatively safe up to around 450, which would allow us to mid-century to curtail our emissions, well into the post-petroleum era. Now we know better. Crossing 350 had consequences that are unfolding with breathtaking speed. We need to get back down to that without delay. And yet, we industrious humans are still increasing our annual additions, not reducing them.

The McKibben quote prompted an exchange with Mark Robinowitz, who wrote:

“McKibben is delusional. The idea that we are somehow going to reduce existing carbon in the atmosphere before the end of oil is Disney thinking. He knows about Peak but will not mention it in his greenwashing pontifications. He has no interest in asking why we didn't make the necessary changes, and his ‘80% reduction by 2050’ mantra is one of the most ridiculous slogans ever invented - since it allows politicians to claim they are green while voting for more highways and clearcuts and skyscrapers and all sorts of nonsense. Do any of the people praising this slogan plan to be in office - or alive - in 2050? Did Exxon-Mobil invent this slogan as a sly trick? Why is the environmental movement so full of this absurdity? Sigh.”

I was interested to hear what Professor Tim Flannery said at a business and sustainability conference in Parliament House, Adelaide, on May 19. Like Jim Hansen and other top rank climatologists, he said the science shows the world is much more susceptible to greenhouse gas emissions that had been thought eight years ago, when 450 was the old 350.

Regardless of what happens to emissions in the future, there is already far too much GHG in the atmosphere, he said. Echoing McKibben, he proposed that we now actively launch efforts to take greenhouse gases out of the air. He proposed adding sulphur to jet fuel to reflect more sunlight back into space, a process called “enhanced global dimming.”

He also suggested carbon be taken out of the air and converted into charcoal, then ploughed into farmers' fields to make terra preta, replicating the black soils of the Amazon. He proposed that developed countries with scant land, soils or climate to plant forests pay poor farmers in tropical zones to do it, possibly through a direct purchase scheme like eBay.

Finally — and here is where Hansen, Flannery, Gore, and most enviros come together — all conventional coal-fired power stations which do not use ‘clean coal’ technology (a will-o'-the-wisp that is touted by coal lobbyists and echoed by politicos as if it actually existed – or will ever exist) — should be closed by 2030. The Romans had a term for the will-o'-the-wisp that seems apt when applied to our coal plants: ignes fatui (from ignis ("fire") + fatuus ("foolish").

Like my friend Mark, I have reached a realistic assessment of our prospects and decided its all over but the graduation party. It is no fault of our generation — the species was flawed to begin with. We are linear thinkers with opposable thumbs. How lame is that?

It is ironic that Alfred Russel Wallace was right in a sense but had the timing wrong when he wrote in the seminal essay on evolution he sent by packet boat from the Malay Archipelago to Charles Darwin in 1858:

“The action of this principle is exactly like that of the centrifugal governor of the steam engine, which checks and corrects any irregularities almost before they become evident; and in like manner no unbalanced deficiency in the animal kingdom can ever reach any conspicuous magnitude, because it would make itself felt at the very first step, by rendering existence difficult and extinction almost sure soon to follow.”

The flaws of homo sapiens sapiens only manifested their self-extinguishing potential when played out against the backdrop of planetary homeostasis manipulation. In so doing, our species broke with Wallace's assumption that there is a fail-safe mechanism in nature that would prevent bad apples from spoiling the barrel. At 6 degrees, 12 degrees, or 24 degrees warmer, all possible and even inevitable scenarios now, although perhaps centuries distant, it seems unlikely lifeforms much higher than thermophilic bacteria will survive on our desert world.

One delightful irony I noted in the talk I gave at the Forest Council is that in sending probes to Mars in search of extraterrestrial life, we inoculated Mars with microbes from Earth. A billion years from now, something may come of that.

And so the carousel goes, round and round, the painted ponies up and down.




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