Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why it is that I Am Whatever it is that I Am.

I've done more preparation for this post than most others.  I started out by calling it "Why I'm a Liberal," crossed that out, tried "progressive" but then I looked it up and seen what some of them did back before the modern equality movement and decided against it.  I was thinking about another post a few days ago and was wondering exactly how I got here from where I was.  I mean, I actually voted for George W. Bush in 2004.  Fortunately it didn't count because the vote was cast in Oregon, but nevertheless, it's been a trip.  So, I sat down and thought about it, and came up with a few reasons, what I've done in the last 5 or 6 years, and I went to bed and thought about it in the many hours it takes for me to go to sleep every night, and I sat down and brainstormed on a white board and organized some things, and now I've sat down and decided to lay words to paper or LCD as the case may be.

I guess this is mostly for my own personal curiosity, though some of those of you who know me may find some enlightening bits of epiphany.  It really is for me though, I'm a believer in the idea that you don't really know what you believe until you say it out loud.  That or until you actually have to put it into action.  So this is why I am who I am, mostly politically, but for the purposes of this blog, why I am what I am for the purposes of this blog.  Confusing I know, but I guess it will speak to why I write the things I do, why I ask the things I do, why I bring up the conversations I do, and why I do some of the things I do.

My political radar began blooping about the time Al Gore "lost" the presidential campaign of 2000.  I used to be in BrainBowl in high school and the nerds were all abuzz about who should have won and remember, this was Oregon, so the discussion was much less one sided than it would have been here in Arkansas.

After that, there wasn't too much going on until 2004 when 'Ol Horseface didn't get my vote primarily because in one of the debates he in the same breath as affirming his Catholic beliefs also affirmed his belief in a woman's right to choose.  Back then, I was more pro-life in a republican way than I am now, though I am still pro-life, just not in the standard republican way.  So I didn't vote for him.  I voted for Bush in Oregon and watched the election in Arkansas, then moved to Arkansas permanently January 1, 2005.

There have always been some things that I have disagreed with the conservatives on, and understand, I used to listen to conservative radio all day long when I worked at the steel yard.  I used to listen to the local talent, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and that one chick.  I have always disagreed with them on energy policy.  Oil is bad, coal is bad, efficiency is good, huge cars are bad, CFLs are good, wood heat is good, etc.  In my mind, if there is a good way to do something, then that's the thing we should be doing.  Renewable energy is renewable, meaning no fuel, therefore that's the thing we should be doing.  I have always thought this way, since a child.  I have always wanted to build a super efficient house, possibly underground, passively solar heated and just really awesome.

I also have never been able to reconcile the idea of lowering taxes on the rich being good for anyone but the rich.  That may be because I grew up poor, but even now as I hear the more sophisticated evidences for it, I still cannot match it up with reality.  It doesn't make sense, it's not intuitive, and real life shows that it doesn't work.

When I was young and of the lower class, pollution didn't bother me that much.  Oh, what an education can do.  When I was a kid, we burned our trash.  Not in burn barrels, we piled it up and about once a year, we burned the whole toxic pile sending up black clouds of toxic smoke.  We had fun getting out the cutting torch and melting the lead off cars that used to be used to smooth over dents before modern filler was implemented.  Then we would collect it and melt it into little ingots, all without any kind of breathing apparatus to keep us from getting lead poisoning.  When we found mercury, we played with it, sometimes spilling it, creating what I now know are hazardous waste conditions in our own home.  My dad told us that we really didn't need toothpaste, and consequently we took many trips to the dentist and even after I became an adult, I spent thousands of dollars having my mouth fixed.  My dad?  He has three teeth left.

One of the things my dad told us as kids was "Poor ways have poor people."  Now beside the fact that it's complete nonsense, what I got from it was that if somewhere there was a poor way to do something, somewhere there was a poor person doing it.  Listening for a while to conservatives, I got the idea that poor were poor because they were lazy.  They live in a world where they just sit in their cruddy little houses and watch Jerry Springer and collect welfare.  Well, when I actually got out into the world and first realized I was poor, then second realized I worked hard and was not lazy and did not get welfare and was still poor, there developed a little bit of cognitive dissonance.  When I looked around, sure, I saw some lazy people, but even most of them had jobs.  I found that the vast majority of the so called poor are working 40 or more hours per week. A person making minimum wage working full time will only make $15,000 per year.  That's poverty.  I discovered that real poverty has very little to do with money and has everything to do with the environment.  It is very difficult for anyone to end up in a different social class from the one they were born in.  When my wife was growing up, it was a given that she was going to college when she graduated school, and her parents were able to pay for it and are still paying for it.  In my world, college was something scientists and geniuses do.  It wasn't really something we hard working laborers do.  And for a person with such great intelligence, that was not the thing I should have been hearing.

In 2001, while attending my first year of public high school,  9/11 happened.  As I've written about before, I was naturally incensed and wanted to take the fight to those who brought it, though fearful of a possible draft.  But in the run up to the Iraq war, I couldn't understand why we were supposed to be attacking a guy who hadn't really done anything to us lately.  I had changed my stance on war greatly.  War is terrible.  I realized how many people would be hurt and/or killed unnecessarily.  In 2002-3 while all this was happening, I worked at a steel yard doing hard, hot/cold, dry/wet, dirty laborious work, and all the while, I had a radio to listen to tuned to conservative radio.  I further could not reconcile the permissive and even cheer leading attitude I was hearing from major American christian figures regarding Bush's campaign to start a war.

I met my wife and moved to Arkansas to be with her.  When I came to Arkansas, a notoriously red state, I noticed quite a few things.  I had lived in Oregon, a notoriously blue state, so I had a good comparison to make.  I noticed the level of education.  I noticed the level of pollution, groundwater, surface water and air.  I had never before seen so many people with lazy eyes and missing limbs.  While there are parts of Arkansas that are as modern and progressive as any state with a beach, the parts out in the sticks are the very same parts that Jay Leno makes fun of so often.  You know, the hicks who live in 30 year old trailer homes but drive a brand new 4X4.  The kind of people who have fights with their spouses and beat their children in the front yard while you're fiddling around outside next door.  I had never before seen the cloud of sparks a cigarette makes when tossed out the window at eighty miles per hour.  I had taken for granted things like wind turbines, biomass power plants, solar panels.  These are only some of the differences I noticed between a red state and a blue state.  Don't get me wrong, I love it here, but they are about 30 or more years behind.

Something that I cannot grasp completely is the effect of being flung into the middle class instead of working my way there.  When I left Oregon, I was mostly jobless, I had been selling scrap aluminum from my dad's stash to pay for gas and insurance for my truck.  When I got to Arkansas, I lived in an appartment with central heating and cooling, something I had never before experienced for more than a few days at a time in my entire life.  If I wanted something, my girlfriend/wife would consent to buying it for me.  For the first time, I was able to amass more than a week's worth of clean presentable clothing.  With no property and nothing really to do, my female and I watched "Friends" from beginning to end, every episode.  She fed me meaty foods constantly and I gained weight (my father was a vegetarian, a feat I hope to attain.)  When I needed tires for my truck, I got them.  When I wanted to eat at a restaurant, I got to.  I got a job that didn't amount to eight hours a day of hard labor.  I got married, I bought a brand new lawn mower, a motorcycle, a bed heater, and I started going to school.  It was a whole new world.  But how did it affect me?  I guess I got to see the differences in the life of a poor person and a middle class person first hand.  I worked less physically, more mentally, and got paid more.

I moved to Springdale, and was still in school, but started working for Total Document Solutions.  This was a dream job for me.  It was tons of fun, I got to drive all over NW Arkansas delivering stuff and driving a big zero turn mower, and blogging.  I also listened to conservative talk radio all day.  I listened to Glenn Beck, Rush, Medved, and whoever else while doing deliveries.  It was during that time that I started blogging and you can go back and check the tone of some of the older posts and see what I was thinking then.  But again, there was this dissonance.  I worked for a christian man who went to church every week, spoke of religious things all the time, but drove a Mercedes and lived in a huge house.  So in history class, when I heard about Andrew Carnegie and the Gospel of wealth, I looked it up.  The idea is that God blesses some because they are doing his will, and it is their job to dole it out in whatever way they want, it is their money after all, God gave it to them.  I rejected this idea immediately, though I didn't know exactly why, but it was mostly based on what Jesus said about wealth, that it is hard for a rich man to enter heaven.  How is it then that the rich are blessed?  They are cursed, in other words, blessed by Satan with good cash flow.  That's one way of seeing it anyway.  Another thing I found was the incredible level of dishonesty at the office.  I estimated that if you called the office for service or a question or anything, there was about an 80% chance that you'd get lied to.  And I hated that.  It got to the point that they wanted me to lie to dupe Xerox.  It depressed me and the quality of my work suffered, and eventually I got fired because I wouldn't put what God told me he wanted me to do on hold so I could be an employee of Total Document Solutions.

The 2008 Presidential campaign opened my eyes a little to a more clear view of what was going on in the world.  Bush was of course a terrible president, and really made the world a worse place.  I started listening to progressive talk radio at the urging of a conservative I know, and it really opened my eyes to what I thought might be out there, but really had known nothing about.  I saw people whose public policy was actually about people, and not about taking what they could get and giving to people who already have enough.  I decided to vote based on tax policy alone.  A progressive tax policy, as its detractors state, redistributes the wealth, and admittedly, downward.  But a regressive tax policy redistributes the wealth up.  To complain about redistribution of wealth and not mention that its already being distributed to you is disingenuous.  After listening to Rush Limbaugh go on one of his "greed is good" spiels, I sat down and thought about it and realized greed is not good.  It's greed that gave us child labor, and a lower class, and a tax policy that gives money to those who already have it.  Greed is not good, the Bible says so, and Rush is not a Christian.  He hijacks supposedly christian ideologies to further his own agenda.  I don't know why people would take advice on children from a man who has never had any and been divorced three times!

In 2008 and into 2009 as I continued to listen to progressive radio, I started to really think that progressivism and socialism and liberalism are not really all that bad.  Europe is actually doing quite well compared to how Glenn, Rush, Bill, and Sean say it is.  Most of the great environmental and renewable energy strides taken in the world are taken in Europe.  Europe was not hit nearly as hard as the US in the recession where we seem to be overtaken by greed and avarice.  I don't know why, but the mainstream media (which is what Fox is now that they are the most watched) seems to think that Europe is a terrible place where people die because there is no medical care due to the fact that everyone has medical care.  I care about people, and socialized health care seems to take care of the most people.

I started to embrace the progressive name.  I even ceased becoming incensed when people call me a liberal.  I don't know, I'm not a liberal, I'm a social progressive, a social liberal, a full socialist maybe?  I codified the progressive idea by coming up with a little saying, "Things are not so good that they can't get better, and they are not so bad that they haven't been worse."  That's why I'd rather be a progressive than a conservative.  I hear people say that Obama is taking our beloved country from what it was to something we don't want it to be.  But what was it?  Racist?  Polluting?  Discriminatory?  Poorly Educated?  You want to go back to this?  I don't.

And you know what continues to drive me to the left?  It's the vitriol from the right.  They are the people of NO.  They don't seem to care about the truth.  They want anger, fear, and dare I say hate.  I don't want those things.  I want a bright future, not one where I have to be concerned about corporations owning politicians.  I want to breath clean air, drink clean water, and eat toxin free food.  I want the ACLU there to defend me when the government doesn't like what I say.

Well, there it is.  I don't know if it explained anything, it's really nebulous in my own head, so I hope you can make sense of it. But one thing that overrides it all is Jesus.  It all comes down to what Jesus would do.  I know it seems kind of cliched, but that really is the case.  Would Jesus want everyone to have health care?  What did Jesus say about the rich?  What does the Bible say about immigrants?  What would Jesus do in response to a terrorist attack?  If you are a Christian, you must answer these questions, if you are not, then you need to hold responsible those who say they are for answering these questions.

I hope that gave you a little better view into my window, if you have any questions, leave a comment, and I should get back shortly.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Energy Consumption Update

The above jpeg shows a screen shot of our most recent information for our energy bills.  Click on it to get a more magnified view.

Notice the downward trend in our energy usage since we moved into the house.  Notice especially the first August when there was a peak.  After that August, I added radiant barrier insulation to the attic and from then on, there was no summer peak.  That speaks to its effectiveness even though it technically has no R value as an insulator, is paper thin, and is perforated.  Moreover, it's cheap, get some.  We usually set our thermostat to 78F in the summer, but lately we've been finding ourselves wanting to set it lower and it seems to be because the AC isn't on enough to draw all the humidity out of the air and make it seem cooler.

Since adding more than six inches of new insulation to the attic this last spring, I am wondering what the change in the bills will be.  Notice the difference between this November and last November.  There is a difference of 7 kWh per day, that is significant, though differences in weather could be to blame, I doubt all of that would be due to the weather.  The rest of the winter will bear out the differences, but I predict continued record lows.

If you look toward the upper right hand corner, you can see that I make a comparison between the average household and mine in terms of energy usage.  This doesn't account for gas and other forms of energy usage on the national numbers, but my house is almost completely electric.  Only the backup heat which comes on when it is lower than 25F outside is propane, and as you can see, I use 80 gallons or less a year.  As you can also see, right now I am using about 65% of the national average.

I also drew a comparison between the Passivhaus standard in Germany and my own energy usage.  I am running a little more than four times as much energy as my goal of a Passivhaus.  I use Passivhaus because Passive House doesn't really mean the same thing and isn't necessarily identified with the same standard.  The Passivhaus standard is very strict, it includes energy used from gas, oil, and wood, not just from electricity.

Hope this has been informational, I enjoy continued projects to try and lower the energy usage of the house.  This year as I mentioned, I added insulation, but also removed a window.  I replaced a window last year, but a single window won't show up on the stats in such a short term with little to compare to.

Happy savings,

Monday, January 25, 2010

Google Resists Chinese Censorship

I'm sure you've heard of Google's threat to pull out of China due to censorship.  I would support them in this decision, but I got to thinking.

Back in 2004, Yahoo gave up information that got a journalist sentenced to ten years.

So I'm considering dropping my long held Yahoo email address and switching to my Gmail account.  Does anyone have any opinions on the matter?


Saturday, January 23, 2010

50,000 Hits!

Three years, 284 posts, and several name changes later, the blog is still on.  This is the true meaning of freedom of speech.


Friday, January 22, 2010

The Pull

I'm struck by the tone of my posts of late.

Lately, many of my posts have been related to my faith, and often connected to politics.  My faith is very important important to me and really informs everything I do, including my politics.  But politics are such a divisive issue leading me do to things I'm not normally prone to do, like forget about my roots in this blog.

For instance, when I merged my two blogs to create this one, I merged a blog about religion with a blog about sustainable living, but in the process, sometimes I lose track of one or the other and tend to focus to heavily on one at the expense of the other.

I was just thinking about passive houses for instance.  Why haven't I blogged about passive houses lately?  They are the future of housing and really a fantastic solution to many of our energy problems.  Why haven't I blogged about my favorite energy source, wind power, lately?  Most of my posts are rants about something conservatives or Christians, or conservative Christians are doing that I don't think meshes with what Jesus wanted them to do.

And it's hard not to, I listen to progressive talk radio on my phone, NPR or conservative talk radio in the car.  I would listen to NPR more, but they play music half the day.  I don't like to listen to music on the radio, they don't play the songs I want to listen to.  I quit listening to KLRC because they play secular Christmas music, and Air1 doesn't play around here much to my dismay.

Politics are so depressing.  I fall probably a bit left of many democrats, bordering on socialist and definitely progressive.  But to me, that's inevitably where my beliefs in Jesus lead me.  I know that's a foreign concept to some people, but especially here in the south, people just don't understand.  I live in one of the most churched areas in the country, but with few real Christians it seems.  Of course, that concept falls under my definition.  Why can't anyone understand that there's no room in the Bible for "God and Country."  It's just God!

And with so little room for blogging anyway because of school, it's hard to gather my thoughts for anything that doesn't just straight out piss me off.  It's hard to sit down and develop the material I need to type up a good post with reasoned arguments and interesting prose.  There's a list of about a dozen topics to write about in my iPhone, but most of them I can't remember what I was thinking, and the rest are six months old.  The fire kinda goes away after a while.  Some of them I think I wrote about, but I'm just not sure.

And finally, very few people really read this blog anyway.  I mean, no one sits down and reads for the reading.  No one encourages me at all.  I have eleven followers, but the vast vast majority of the hits and comments I get come from people trying to find out what the most accurate Bible translation is.  Praise God for Jehovah's Witlesses right?  No one really cares about what I really care about.

So I guess the point to this is that I want to do more environmental stuff.  I am in school to be an environmental engineer after all.  I'm very in to the idea that "God is green."  But environmental issues are kinda hard to really get fired up about especially when there's health care, corporate personhood, and most of all, you're just too tired.

Maybe my purpose is too broad.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Edible Bibles.

Treehugger ( just posted an article about a church that has sent 600 solar powered audio Bibles to Haiti.

You might think "Solar powered audio Bibles, great idea, and green too." But remember, Haiti just had a massive earthquake and what people need right now is food, shelter, and medical care.

This particular operation was done very poorly if the secular environmentalists are picking up on it. Ask a non-believer what they would expect of a true Christian and it'd be my bet that they'd expect us to help the poor and to shine in terrible situations like the one in Haiti. Ask a non-believer what they see in the Christians they see before them now and you'll get some variation of "self-righteous" which is what they see when they hear that six hundred solar powered audio Bibles are being sent to a country where 100,000 people are dead and more are dying every day due to injuries.

My friend Mark and I came up with a new take on an old proverb. Remember "Give a man a fish and you'll feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you'll feed him for a lifetime." Mark and I added this to that same proverb: "But while you're teaching him, give him some fish because he's hungry." Sure, this directly applies to food, but what about the spiritual applications? You cannot clearly communicate the gospel to someone who is dying of starvation or gangrene. You must bring a state of healing to the body before someone will accept healing of the mind, and more importantly, the two are not just sequential, but interconnected.

If you are going to send Bibles to a disaster area, send food FIRST! If people tear through a pallet of food and find a few Bibles in it, when they are done eating, they might listen to the Bibles. If they tear through a pallet of Bibles, and find no food, they're likely to be angry. The Bibles may go to waste.

How we interact with the world is almost as important as the message we bring to them. If we do not communicate the message in a way that people will be willing to listen to, the message will not be heard.

There's a reason non-believers think so poorly of us, it's because we're doing a poor job.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Recent Trip to Oregon

Over Christmas break, I went to Oregon to visit my family for the first time in about a year and a half.

Last time I visited was in the summer, and the difference was depressing. In the summer it's very hot and dry which is fantastic for a guy who has become accustomed to the south with heat and high humidity. In the winter time here, it is often very cold but often dry or at least frozen dry. In Oregon, it was wet and nasty.

But I got to do some awesome stuff and brought back some awesome stuff as well.

I got to see Randy Grubb's Blastolene "Pissed off Pete" custom truck hot rod in person at his home. He's the guy who built the Blastolene Special which Jay Leno owns. He was also on Monster Garage where he embarrassed himself a little bit, you'll have to see the episode.

I got to ride quads on the dunes on the Central Oregon Coast. It was tons of fun even though it caused my cold to take a nasty recurrence.

I brought back 24 bee hive deeps which brings my total collection up to 54 which is enough for about 11 full beehives.

My youngest brother gave me a good quality welder for Christmas which I brought back.

My dad gave me some parts to finish my generator project. I now have a working CS-144 alternator with a double v-belt pulley to generate power with. I also bought from him a single cylinder air cooled Lombardini diesel engine to make a future generator upgrade with as soon as I figure out how to get it working.

My dad and other brother gave my son and I a bunch of HO scale freight cars and an engine. My son loves trains, and so do I. I'm working on a double layer 4x8 foot layout now.

They also found a little wheelbarrow my dad built for me when I was a young boy and refurbished it, replacing the wheel and powder coating it for my son. Now he has the same little blue wheelbarrow that I had when i was a kid. With the way it's built, his son is likely to have it as well. I think in about 25 years, I'll have it sandblasted and re powder coated and give it to my grandson for Christmas.

I also found a great plastic barrel for use as a water barrel. It has a removable lid with a wide mouth.

I built a way to attach the spare tire to my trailer.

And finally, I got to build a bunch of fires in three different wood stoves which I haven't done much in the past five years. I love starting fires.

Too bad I didn't really have any Christmas break to do any thing here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Wisdom of the Day

Today's Wisdom:

"Loyalty is an admirable quality, but only if you're on the right side." - WiredForStereo

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Public Displays of Christianity

Traveling around the country as I recently did, you get to see a lot of what I like to call public displays of Christianity. These include anything from street preachers to tee shirts to billboards and even conspicuous church buildings themselves. My thesis for this essay is that these conspicuous displays of religion, specifically Christianity, are a detriment to the church as a whole and are a sign of the inner rot of the American church specifically. Herein and henceforth, "church" is the body of followers of Jesus Christ. It's not the building they do business in.

If you travel through Texas on I-40, you can't miss it. Apparently it's the biggest cross in the northern hemisphere or something like that. I just checked the website, apparently it's the western hemisphere. Anyway, it's a big dang cross and it appears to be clad in some sort of metal roofing. While I do believe in the powers of metal roofing (can't beat the warranty) I cannot for the life of me figure out of what use this metal behemoth is. I'm sure it's a great tourist attraction for the religiously aware, but is this thing really gathering in the believers?

Second on this list is those little plastic chrome fish that people stick to the back to their cars. From what I'm told these are a way to tell others around you that if you are a jackass in traffic, they should blame God. "Thanks alot God for creating this jackass!!!" On second thought, whatever works as long as they are talking to God. If you are going with a Christian themed bumper sticker, I suggest "I found Jesus, he's in the trunk."

Next is those lit bulletin boards in front of churches. I'm not sure I have ever seen one that had anything useful on it besides the meeting times. Now I'm a biblically literate dude, and if I see the phrase "Seek his face" I know what it means, but to the average person driving down the street, what the eff does that mean? Bulletin boards are there to show how culturally irrelevant the church is.

Which leads me to my next bit of PDC, which is the church building itself. Many of these are rather small, house sized and roofed and sided as such and besides the fact that such a building is an obvious sign that no one wants to attend there, I have no problem with these. It's the gaudy megachurches that I can't stand. I won't name any names, yes I will, ahem, Church at Pinnacle Hills. How many millions did you spend on those giant effing crosses in the front yard? Yes, I have sound system envy, but your pastor is BORING!!! Another good one is the Crystal Cathedral. I feel like walking in and yelling "Is Jesus in here? No? Okay, I'll look somewhere else." What do these things say to non-believers? It says to me that they care more about your money than your soul. The only good church building is one you can't tell it's a church.

Finally, I can't handle those misguided billboards that say things like "you're going to hell" (paraphrased) in King James English. Think about what the thing is really saying. "I'm not only a bigot, but I'm also completely out of touch with the world." My wife says that from time to time she sees a billboard that uplifts her, but I must have missed all of those. Then there's the classic "The Pope is the Anti-Christ." This is a really fun one that not only shows the bigotry and out of touch that I mentioned before, but also a complete lack of understanding of the Bible. Thanks for that one Historic Seventh-Day Adventists (and whoever else.)

My whole point here is that what we do on the outside shows what's on the inside and as far as I can tell we as a group are bastard coated bastards with a bastard filling. And the problem with that is we are not willing to admit it. That's why nearly every non-christian confronted with the word "christian" in a word association quiz will come up with some variation of "self-righteous." That cannot remain for this thing to work. This is way to big for me to fix, I'm just saying that it's a sign.