GasHole Review

The documentary Gashole talks about inventors who have supposedly developed automobile engines that can get over 100 miles to the gallon.  These inventions were either purchased by the oil companies and buried, or in one case, the inventor turned up dead.  We all know, on some level, that the technology is out there to improve gas mileage in cars.  We all also inherently accept that the oil industry wants demand to continue to grow for gasoline, and spends millions of dollars contributing to political campaigns in order to assure this. Why aren’t we more angry about this, especially after the gulf oil spill?

Think how many jobs could be created by retro-fitting cars with either biodiesel engines, or improved combustion engines!

In one very telling segment of the documentary, oil company executives are supposed to testify in front of a congressional committee and answer questions about gas prices.  The chairperson, who received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from oil companies, refused to swear in the executives.  They were never bound to tell the truth, so what good was the hearing?  It was a joke.

It is obvious that oil and gas companies are either not actively pursuing, or most likely actively undermining efforts to develop new technologies that would reduce our dependence on oil.  It simply is not in their best interest.  I don’t see how anyone can still buy into the Atlas Shrugged fantasy that corporate greed is good, when we see water in Wyoming being poisoned by fracking chemicals, and we see the polar ice caps melting while our cars still guzzle gas.

For more information on the documentary film:  GasHole – The Official Movie Website.


Waiting for Superman review

Watched the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” about our nation’s education system. By highlighting and following students who sought to go to “excellent” schools, many of whom were not selected in the schools’ lottery (spoiler alert, sorry), the director/writer effectively showed that those who must attend “dropout factories” have a tough road ahead of them if they hope to succeed. Watching the selected families celebrate their “winning” the lottery is gut-wrenching. The system is broken, the director says, and there is little arguing with him watching this win-lose system at work.

However, a big culprit, according to the movie, is the teachers’ unions, because tenured teachers can’t be fired. In the schools I’ve worked at, there were only one or two “bad” teachers, and most of those just lacked classroom management skills and needed guidance from a mentor or administrator. Instead, they were maligned. Firing them would just mean they would be replaced with another first-year teacher, most of whom are stressed and ill-prepared for dealing with disruptive and verbally abusive students and parents. The movie didn’t talk about the fact that a high percentage of teachers burn out within five years. That is not the teacher union’s fault. It is the system.

My brother worked in an at-risk charter school, where the students often competed to be the rudest. “It’s a culture where you show respect for yourself by disrespecting others,” he says. The film didn’t address that element at all.

The film highlights some outstanding schools and implies that if all schools followed this model, the system could be fixed. Perhaps. But….the thrill of winning the school lottery reinforces these schools’ “specialness.” It becomes self-fulfilling prophecy that these children are going to a high-performing school, and that they were specially selected to attend. Therefore, there will most likely be high levels of support and high expectations and strong involvement from the parents and family. If every school were like that, the exclusivity would be lost, which I think is a part of these schools’ success.

Highlighting a few outstanding schools and saying every school should follow that model is like saying every business should follow Apple’s business model in order to succeed. Many businesses have indeed tried to follow proven models and still failed.

What would be more instructive, I think, is to look at other nations’ education systems and see how they make them work on a large scale. It is easy to have a few excellent schools…but how do some countries do it en masse?

Food Matters

Watched a very compelling documentary yesterday called Food Matters.  From the title, I expected it to be another documentary attacking big farming and the chemical practices it requires.  Instead, this program focused on the concept of orthomolecular science.  Orthomolecular medicine is the practice of preventing and treating disease by providing the body with optimal amounts of substances which are natural to the body (i.e., vitamins and minerals).   One doctor interviewed for the program (Andrew W Saul) said that despite news stories saying vitamin supplements aren’t helpful and may be harmful, there have only been 10 deaths attributed to vitamins in the past fdecade, compared to tens of thousands who die from prescription medications.  I found the stories of cancer patients being cured by mega doses of vitamin C intriguing.  I was especially interested in the idea that Niacin may help depression.  Millions of people are on anti-depressants, and maybe they just need more Niacin.  Shouldn’t doctors be telling people to at least try it?

We’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars looking for cures to cancer.  What if it’s just nutrition?  I have done some research on the Gerson Institute, and it seems far more successful and legitimate than even the best clinic in its results, and especially its cost per patient.  It’s crazy and irresponsible that this method isn’t being taken seriously by the mainstream.

D. Sanjay Gupta just did a special on “The Last Heart Attack” which says that changing diet is more effective than medication and often surgery.  Perhaps he will be able to help people remember that “we are what we eat.”  The diet is strict and would take some effort, which is why most people will continue to opt for a pill or intervention.  But maybe, if this becomes a medical movement, and it teams up with the local food movement and the environmental movements, maybe more restaurants will start to serve healthy, nutritious food, and it will become easy and commonplace.

Of course, as Charlotte Gerson says, our abused and overused soils only typically receive phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium, when they ideally need dozens of nutrients. If our plants are vitamin and mineral deficient and our bodies cannot manufacture these essential compounds, where else are we supposed to obtain them from?  Supplements may be the key, yet the U.S. Congress is currently considering making these supplements more difficult to obtain, thanks to lobbying by the pharmaceutical companies.

learn more:

The Food Matters DVD is available online from netflix, or at the foodmatters website.


Inside Job – Exposing banking crisis



Inside Job – Exposing economic crisis shocking truths – Best documentary movie of 2010, produced and directed by Charles Ferguson.

Must-see documentary.  Well-researched and explains many of the factors leading to the financial crisis and housing bubble.  Most frightening is the realization that many of the same people seem to rotate between running Lehman Brothers, controlling the treasury, federal reserve, and regulatory institutions.  Hank Paulsen was warned repeatedly of an impending crisis, but ignored the signs.  College economics professors, who should be impartial analysts, often are paid consultants to Goldman Sachs and other companies, so they praised derivatives, even though they should have been skeptical until the new schemes proved to be trustworthy.

Sadly, nothing has been done to punish those who caused a catastrophe for millions of Americans, and the same machine is in place to possibly come up with more money-making schemes that may result in similar calamities.  We didn’t learn our lessons from Enron and the Savings and Loan scandals.  Will we learn from this one?  Only if people get educated and demand changes.  There are only a few voices of reason, such as Elizabeth Warren, who was ousted from the new consumer protection agency.

Those “Atlas Shrugged” fans who think that that corporations are inherently benevolent and need less regulation really ought to see this.  Wall street greed ran rampant, and now we are in a recession largely due to their folly.   Unfortunately, it wasn’t just wall street.  College administrators and professors are also part of the system, as are the lobbyists and the Congress members who take their campaign donations.

Prophets of Doom

The History Channel ran a show called The Prophets of Doom, with experts discussing the major global crises the country and world face.  The panelists discussed whether one of the topics was more urgent than the others, and most agreed that several if not all of these threats seem to be converging at the same time.  The threats to the future of the United States discussed included economic collapse, water shortages/contamination, peak oil, species dominance by self-aware robots, and nuclear terrorism.


Investigative journalist Michael Ruppert, who argued that the discovery of oil propelled unsustainable human population growth, and he predicts the population will crash with the arrival of peak oil.

Economist Dr. Nathan Hagens  asserted that the United States is insolvent and its debts will come home to roost.  He called the global economy a “giant Ponzi scheme” which can no longer continue to grow.  He predicts the economy will crash as natural resources run out and alternatives fail to come online in time.

Author John Cronin believes a shortage of fresh water is the most pressing threat to the United States because the world is a “water economy.”  He points out that the Oglalla aquifer is glacier-formed.  It is not rain-fed, which means it will not replenish.  As the glacier melts and the water is used, that’s it.

Investigative journalist/author James Howard Kuntsler says  Peak oil has arrived, and so the U.S. will experience a devastating energy crisis in the 21st century

Computer scientist Dr. Hugo De Garis presented a scenario that I hadn’t considered to be a realistic possibility.  He predicts robots (sold to consumers as helpers), will develop self-awareness by about 2040.  When this happens, they will no longer be under human control, and may kill us off.  On the bright side, because they will be so much smarter than us, perhaps they can solve some of these other world problems!

Executive editor Robert Gleason reminded us that nuclear terrorism is still a real and credible threat.

Oh, boy!  So many problems, so few answers.  The experts pointed out that many societies have fallen because they refused to face their great challenges.  It appears that America may be following that path, although we certainly have plenty of examples to learn from.

Several of the panelists on the show agreed that water is probably the most pressing problem.  It probably ties in with several of the other crises mentioned, as more water is privatized, bottled, and transported around to stores.  The sources of water are also potential targets for biological terrorism.

YouTube – The Story of Stuff

Great video about the true cost of the stuff we buy and throw out:

YouTube – The Story of Stuff.

I absolutely love this.  Yes, people have argued with some of her statistics, and she argues that she had to simplify things to synthesize years of research into a twenty-minute video.  One can always find fault, but I think this is brilliant.  I have been aware for a while that I buy more stuff than I need and that much of it is made in sweatshops and winds up in landfills (sometimes again in developing nations).  The guilt is assuaged, however, by recycling the plastic and cardboard that either make the item or package it.  I’ve also been aware of the sleazy advertising tactics to get us to buy things.  But as a woman, I do want to look nice, so while I don’t want to buy into the corporate consumer frenzy, I also don’t want wrinkles or yellow teeth or boring shoes.  There are many products I buy because they make me feel good, and that outweighs the moral righteousness of abstaining.  It’s also difficult when faced with a purchase to visualize the damage done by the making and transporting of the product.  This video’s analysis of the whole cycle really brought it deep into my subconscious–this cycle is deeply wrong and that it is possible for us to start to step off the crazy treadmill.  I haven’t cut down my purchasing to where it probably should be, but I am making progress–at least asking myself more questions before I buy something, to examine whether it’s worth it on a global scale.

Fixing the Future with David Brancaccio: Full Documentary

Fantastic documentary about thinking globally, acting locally:

Fixing the Future with David Brancaccio: Full Documentary.

The End of America by Naomi Wolf

It is perplexing that some people say that pushing green initiatives is the “government curtailing our freedoms” like the guy who said bike sharing programs were authoritarian.  Meanwhile, conservatives continue to be strangely supportive of the Bush-led encroachment on our civil liberties that are closing our society.  Naomi Wolf, in the documentary The End of America, outlines steps commonly taken to close society, by dictators and despots, from Nazi Germany, to our sworn enemies, the Taliban.  The closing of societies mean that people lose rights and freedoms, while the oppressor rules by fear and intimidation.  We supposedly went to Iraq to free people from a dictator.  Saddam Hussein used many of these tactics to main his tyrannical power.  Republicans, I implore you:  if you truly stand for freedom, stop these tactics started by President Bush and utilized by dictatorial regimes:

  1. Invoke an external and internal threat.  By fearing terrorism as a threat to our survival, people are accepting intrusive airport searches, and accepting of the possibility that phone and email is being monitored.
  2. Establish secret and unaccountable prisons where torture takes place.  Even now, a lot of Americans don’t care about Guantanamo because they figure they won’t end up there, so it doesn’t affect them.  But think of the families of the men who are still being held there, and how much they are suffering.
  3. Develop a paramilitary force.  I was shocked to learn that Blackwater, a private security force, is operating INSIDE the United States.  Who are they accountable to?  What authority do they have?
  4. Surveil ordinary Americans.  We have gotten used to having video cameras everywhere.  We give up our privacy and anonymity in order to “deter crime.”
  5. Infiltrate citizens’ groups.   It has become a common joke that activists assume they are on some watch list or have a file somewhere.  Activists may be willing to endure this pressure, but many people, especially with children, are not.  It is intimidation and keeps people from becoming politically active.
  6. Detain and release ordinary citizens.  Protestors being arrested for simply being at a protest is unconstitutional, and should have us all protesting!
  7. Target key individuals, such as Valerie Plame.  Even if you’re not a CIA agent, her outing sent a message to the rest of us that if you step out of line, you may be thrown under the train.
  8. Restrict the press.  We hear so much attack on the “liberal” media.  To my way of thinking, media should ideally be objective, but probably have more of a liberal slant, because conservatism is usually the movement of closing societies.
  9. Recast dissent as treason.   I hear the word “treason” being used an awful lot among Republican lawmakers lately towards anyone who questions our war on terror, or the war in Iraq/Afghanistan.
  10. Subvert the rule of law.  Bush even joked that things would be easier if it was a dictatorship and he was dictator.  As with most of his humor, it’s half-true.

No Impact Week

In honor of No Impact week, my husband and I watched the documentary No Impact Man.  I have to say he has many advantages living in New York.  Although it seems counter-intuitive, I have to admit that when I lived in New York, my impact was much lower than it is now living in a rural community.  In Manhattan, I lived in a small apartment, kept it cold, took the stairs, ate mostly salads from the Union Square farmer’s market, and walked or took the subway everywhere.  Things were expensive, so I rarely ate out, and found ways to get into plays cheaply (last minute tickets) or for free by ushering.  The city’s parks are endlessly entertaining, and there are great museums.

Now, even though we live surrounded by agricultural areas, we shop at Albertson’s (sorry La Tienda—you’re not unionized) and we don’t know where most of our food comes from.  There is a farmer’s market in the summer, but most of the produce is gone by the time we get there.  We have a large house and even though we’ve replaced the windows to low-E and beefed up the insulation, it still is not terribly energy efficient.  We don’t have $500 utility bills like we did in Japan, but I know we could do a lot better.

Sometimes I think most of us should live in cities, so that we could all use public transportation and consolidate services.  But then, cities like Sao Paulo, Brazil that had good subway and bus systems have become so congested that people now get around by helicopter.

I know that by developing rural areas and suburbs, animal habitats are displaced.  In spite of our interference, I really like having wildlife around—in our yard, we have squirrels and box turtles, lots of birds, and an occasional raccoon, hawk, and skunk.  Deer lurk in orchards just up the road.

The downside of a quiet, rural area is that everything here is spread out, so we drive frequently.  Most destinations are no more than ten minutes away, and I have an efficient Honda Fit, so I don’t burn much gas, but I do feel guilty sometimes for the number of times I start and stop my car driving from one location to the next to run errands.  Unlike many of the residents here, we don’t leave town on weekends very often.  But traveling for work means a very long drive to the airport.

There aren’t many locally-owned stores, so I do most of my shopping on the internet.  Probably too much shopping.   I like to think this has a lower carbon footprint than driving to Roswell or Midland to shop, but I could be wrong.

The recycling program here is growing, but nowhere near where I’d like it to be.  We create about two kitchen garbage bags of waste a week, most of that cat litter.   We have a large yard, and even though we are xeriscaping, we still use water for the garden and we fertilize the pecan trees.  I’m proud that we don’t use any insecticides on the land, and that I “mow” by using an electric weed whacker around my various plantings.  We’ve turned off most of the sprinklers.

We compost by dumping leaves in a large wooden box out back.  We’ve left a small layer of dirt and worms/bugs, and pile in the fall leaves and then toss kitchen scraps on top.  Composting instructions say you’re supposed to turn it frequently and maintain certain balances of different elements.  We don’t do this—too much dirt is too heavy to try to turn over.  We water it occasionally and by spring we have nice dark dirt.  It’s probably not perfect, but I figure it’s better than store-bought soil, and we cut down on garbage.  So, I have to say that composting doesn’t have to be as complicated as many make it seem.

So far, this No Impact week hasn’t been too hard.  No temptation to stop into stores to browse.  I have had the temptation to look for things online, but I’ve prevailed.  The only garbage I think we’ve created is cans of cat food.  One of our cats is diabetic and is not allowed to eat dry food.  The canned food he likes of course only comes in very small cans, which our community doesn’t recycle, to my knowledge (it’s not on the official list I cut out and posted on the fridge).  Okay, I just realized I ate a granola bar, so the wrapper is in the garbage.  I wonder if that was compostable?


Bloodline the movie

Watched Bloodline, a fascinating documentary that explores the “DaVinci Code” proposition that Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s bloodline exists in France.   Ben Hammott’s discovery was very DaVinci Code-esque and a lot of fun to follow.  Much of the documentary is shot in the dark, adding to the intrigue.  More info:

Many people have said that Mary Magdalene needs to be taken more seriously, and that if her teachings were uncovered and accepted, it would be a huge step forward for women in general. I found it fascinating that people in France seem to have accepted that she was the wife of Jesus, and that there is a church dedicated to her.   Upon further investigation, I found an introduction to the Gospels of Mary:

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