Saturday, May 30, 2009

Roofs and roads

Here's something I've been thinking about -- a bit off topic from recent posts, but then again, it's all connected. Oil wars... marketing of petroleum products ... barriers to green building... the personal is political.

I just listened to the "Wait Wait.... Don't Tell Me!" segment on NPR that was taped in Austin this week. Jeff Salamon's piece about it in today's Austin American-Statesman is what alerted me to it, since I rarely listen to the show, even though NPR is my station of choice most of the time.
I have to say that I didn't find the show as hilarious as those in the audience seemed to. It was pretty white-centric. Interesting that quite a few of the jokes involved drug use, as though it's fun or funny to use illegal drugs and defer the risk of the drug trade to those who have to break the law in order to provide the goods. I'm just sayin'.

Here's what I really wanted to write about, though, based on a quick current event item mentioned in the program: white roofs. I think this news brief is what was being referred to, about the mayor of Phoenix suggesting painting roofs white to reduce energy costs. I believe a similar push has been made in Atlanta.

I've had roofing on my mind for the past year because our house needed a new one after the hail storm of last spring. We hoped to get a metal roof to replace asphalt shingles, but, in the end, we felt we couldn't afford the cost, so we went with customary shingles. Because we also needed new decking, we sprang for the plywood with a foil radiant barrier to hopefully keep the attic cooler. So far, that seems to be helping. We haven't used our AC at all yet this year.

Because we needed a roof, I began looking more closely at roofs all around. Why were so many roofs being shingled with dark colors in our climate? Our old shinges were "white" asphalt, and we wanted the same light color in the dimensional shingle we were choosing. But, when our roofer brought by the sample board, only one of the options was a light gray, not even as light as our old shingles. Most of the colors ranged, basically, from black to brown. When I asked the roofer about it, he said he didn't know why dark colors were more prevalent. Style? That was his guess.

When we chose the lightest color on the sample board, we were then told that it would be a few months before that color was available -- did we want to choose another? No, we didn't. The light color wasn't out of stock because it was in high demand, but because relatively few people chose it, apparently.

Eventually, the roofer told us that another company made a shingle in a similar light color and we chose that one. In that company's color selection, too, dark tones dominated.
Most new homes, condos and apartment buildings in Austin, even at the new green Mueller development, are roofed with these dark asphalt shingles. I was surprised to see so few metal roofs at Mueller. There are metal awnings, but the main roofs are dark shingles. Mueller would be the perfect place for metal, I'd think, since they don't yet have large trees to drop leaves and cause corrosion. I could picture every home collecting its own rainwater for their flower beds, but I didn't see personal rainbarrels when my partner and I tooled around the development on our bikes last weekend.

This year, I've used air travel several times, which felt novel because I usually use Greyhound. Since roofs were on my mind, I took note of the roof colors as we passed over the cites where we landed and took off. Black and dark brown asphalt were by far the norm, north and south.
I don't know about painting roofs white. Paint will peel. How about unpainted galvalume? How about light colored clay tiles? Now, clay tiles are very expensive, but if they were more common, would the cost go down? Roof framing would have to be stronger, I guess. I like the new, green (that is, actually green and growing) roofs that are being tried here and there, and solar panels on roofs will surely become more common. We looked into that, but our two large shade trees prevented viability of that option -- and solar panels are still quite expensive.

I do have to wonder if, someday, asphalt in our roofs and our roads is going to be considered just too unhealthy for us and the environment. Can the oil industry transition to safer alternatives? I think it's got to if we are serious about saving ourselves and the planet. In the meantime, are dark asphalt shingles a fad or a marketing choice by roofing manufacturers? I don't know, I'm just askin'.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Jackie's Memorial Day reminder

Kids are always teaching me things. On Memorial Day, after the historic march up the main drag of Killeen, TX to the gates of Ft. Hood, I hung out with the youngest daughter of Cindy and Tim Thomas, who hosted the BBQ fundraiser at the Under The Hood GI coffee house. Cindy manages the café, and throughout her organizing efforts over the past two years, she usually brought her two daughters along to meetings in Austin while Tim was in his third Army deployment to Iraq. When Cindy and her girls, Jasmyne and Jackie, walked into a meeting, they brightened up the room.
For Memorial Day, Jackie had decorated her own poster for the march. She said that it was a sign recycled from a previous use, with an “s” added to the “End the war” message. She also added columns of peace signs and flowers, which matched the flowery peace sign design on the shirt she wore for the march.
As I mingled with folks after our hot but triumphant return to the cafe, Jackie came over with her sign and a pack of colored markers to ask if I would write my name on the back of the poster. There were already a few other signatures, including her own: “Jaclyn.” Then, I became her assistant as she made the rounds of the other folks at the café, shyly but persistently gathering signatures until the poster became a bright montage of proof: “We were here!”
Jackie was our angelic provocateur, our informant who informed us, quietly going about creating a record of our presence that helped draw us together. Her collection of names lowered the barriers and heightened our joy in sharing the rare occasion of a peace march led by soldiers to the largest Army base in the world. We marchers represented different and sometimes divergent ideologies. Some of us have been at odds with one another for years over strategies and beliefs, and others of us met for the first time that day. But, I watched our differences become something beautiful as Jackie approached each person – socialist, anarchist, Christian, teenager, retiree, veteran, civilian, soldier -- documenting our uniqueness while inviting us to make a common affirmation.
We see the child, and we know the reason wars must not be pluralized. Peace is as necessary as water to the child and the flower. Marching won’t, by itself, end war; we know that, too. But we join our streams to water the earth, and we grow.
thanks to Heidi T. for the photo and to Jackie for the inspiration!

Got rights? First peace march in Killeen in decades is led by soldiers and military family members

The Killeen Daily Herald published a good story on Monday's Memorial Day March for Peace. Also, Dahr Jamail posted this article featuring Ft. Hood GI resisters, Victor Agosto (right, top photo) and Travis Bishop that was published yesterday on Common Dreams.

Here's the Killeen Daily Herald article. Thanks to Heidi Turpin for all the photos above!
Anti-war protesters exercise freedom to march

Posted on Tuesday, May. 26 2009 by the Killeen Daily Herald

By Rebecca LaFlure

"Get up. Get down. There's an anti-war movement in this town."A group of active-duty Fort Hood soldiers and nearly 70 other anti-war protesters took to the streets of Killeen Monday afternoon in the city's first peace march since the Vietnam War.

Toting picket signs that read, "War is not the answer," and "Blessed are the peacemakers," the demonstrators gathered for one common purpose – to call for an end to the wars in the Middle East.The action, held on Memorial Day, was organized to honor the nation's fallen soldiers, and help prevent the further loss of lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We're paying homage to the ones we've lost. We don't want to lose anymore," said Chris Saylor, an Iraq War veteran who traveled from Detroit to participate.

The protest was organized by Under the Hood Cafe – a local outreach center for soldiers. Members from peace organizations across Texas as well as college students, active-duty soldiers and veterans came out to show their support.The march began at the cafe house at 17 College St. and continued down Veteran's Memorial Boulevard to Fort Hood Street and then up to Fort Hood's East Gate.The demonstrators waved colorful flags decorated with peace symbols and chanted slogans like, "They're our brothers, they're our sisters. We support war resistors," and "What do we want? Peace! When do we want it? Now!"

Many people honked their car horns as they drove by. Not all the responses were positive, however. One man shouted, "You don't have the right to do this!" as he drove by.

Ben Fugate, an Army specialist who returned from Iraq two months ago, was one of several Fort Hood soldiers who came to the event. Wearing a black T-shirt with the slogan, "Got rights?" Fugate called the Iraq war "unjustified" and recently decided to speak out against it.

"They say they're there to build up Iraq, but all you see is destruction of Iraq," he said. "There are thousands of guys who are not coming home to their mom and dad. I lost three buddies in my platoon in Iraq and for what? Why lose more when we don't have to?"

Cindy Thomas, manager of Under the Hood Cafe and the protest's organizer, said she hopes the day's action will influence other military community members to speak out."We want to let the soldiers out there know that we're here. They have somewhere to come to," she said. "A lot of them don't know that they actually have rights. You're allowed to speak out. You're allowed to march."

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day: honoring war dead by refusing to add to the toll

Memorial Day. I mourn the dead of war, both soldiers and civilians, young and old, women and men -- all killed in a cycle of manufactured catastrophe.

While US Congresspersons buy more war by voting to pay for it with no exit plan, and the mainstream press neglects to ask them why, there are people still making sense by saying "No," extracting themselves from war's vicious cycle, using the free will they were born with, choosing life.

Last week, I heard about two Army soldiers stationed at Ft. Hood who have refused to deploy to Afghanistan. Their statements lift the veil of "good war." Terror is terror, whether it be suicide bombing, torture, death by predator drone, stoning, human trafficking, assassination, sniper attack, solitary confinement. A war on terror that terrorizes just keeps the cycle churning, sacrifing more lives even when we know that every life is sacred, filled with a universe of possibility.

You can agree or disagree with those who say "I will no longer participate in what I believe is wrong," but you can't deny that the words are being spoken and that resistance is happening.
On Memorial Day, I find it most appropriate to honor war dead by calling for war to end. Let's stop creating more unnecessary grief and pain. "War to end war" is a myth disproven by every successive armed deployment.

Read about the two GI resisters from Ft. Hood here.

“There is no way I will deploy to Afghanistan. The occupation is immoral and unjust. It does not make the American people any safer. It has the opposite effect.
These wars will continue until soldiers refuse to fight them. Almost every soldier I know is disillusioned with these wars. Most of them are opposed to the war in Iraq, and many are opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Some consider resisting but do not because they are not aware of a large community ready to support them." -- Victor Agosto

"I am a Patriot. I love my country, but I believe that this particular war is unjust, unconstitutional and a total abuse of our nation’s power and influence. And so, in the next few days, I will be speaking with my lawyer, and taking actions that will more than likely result in my discharge from the military, and possible jail time…and I am prepared to live with that.
My father said, ‘Do only what you can live with, because every morning you have to look at your face in the mirror when you shave. Ten years from now, you’ll still be shaving the same face.’
If I had deployed to Afghanistan, I don’t think I would have been able to look into another mirror again." -- Travis Bishop
photos: Victor Agosto celebrates his 24th birthday at Under The Hood cafe on May 9
photos from Under The Hood's flickr page

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Memorial Day peace march to Ft. Hood, TX

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the GI coffeehouse, "Under The Hood" that opened in Killeen, TX on March 1. Two UT film students, Sarah Garrahan and Lauren Sanders, recently completed a 10-minute documentary video about Under The Hood that includes footage from the grand opening and of soldiers visiting the coffeehouse since then.
Check it out
This Monday, Memorial Day, the folks at Under The Hood are planning a peace march from the cafe to the gates of Ft. Hood and back, to be followed by a get-together at the cafe. I plan to attend.

See more about Under The Hood at
photo by Carlos Lowry

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Living green, moving green

Bike to Work Day got me thinking green! Congratulations to my partner, Jeff, who, for the third year on this occasion, rode his bike to work from near UT all the way to Round Rock! Way to roll!

I worked at home on Bike to Work Day, but used my bicycle to do errands. The day's theme put me in mind of the green home we stayed in when we were in Houston last weekend to ride our bikes along with the Peacemobile in the Art Car Parade.

Claire Loe, one of our local CodePinkers who now is back in Houston working on her PhD in public health, arranged for all of us bicyclists to stay at the home of her parents, Lee and Hardy Loe, who are longtime Houston peace activists. Hardy is a retired medical doctor and professor of public health, and Lee produced the excellent journal, "Iraq Notebook," and co-edits the Houston Peace News.

Two days before Christmas in 2005, the Loes' home in Houston where they'd lived since 1967 suffered an accidental fire that totalled the residence. Fortunately, the Loes were away visiting family and no one was injured. When they recovered from the shock of losing their home, Hardy and Lee made a decision to rebuild on the same spot, and to rebuild green.
Hardy said that when they began doing research for their project, green builders in Houston were few, especially compared with Austin. An article in Sunday's AAS reports that almost a quarter of new homes built here are green homes -- a record to be proud of. One would think that a city of Houston's size and resources also would be a leader in green building, but apparently not so -- at least not yet.

Lee and Hardy rented an apartment a few blocks from their home site and oversaw all phases of the construction with keen interest. Lee showed me an album of photos documenting the building stages, and I was especially intrigued with the walls, which are pre-fabricated panels of agriboard filled with pressed rice and wheat straw. The panels went up quickly and with quite a different process than wood-frame construction. There were some challenges along the way, of course -- such as installing plumbing and wiring in concert with the new wall technology.
The roof, metal panels elevated above a flat surface beneath, is eye-catchingly beautiful and is designed to keep the house cooler in summer. The Loes also had two metal cisterns installed, one on either side of the house, to water their new plantings.

The house includes some recycled materials, notably its lovely maple flooring retrieved from an old gymnasium. The Loes also were careful to choose eco-friendly wall paint. Lee and Hardy just moved into their new house a couple of months ago, and I noticed how cleanly chemical-free it seemed compared to most new buildings.

The Loes are warmly hospitable people who like having guests, and the open design of the interior space reflects their sociable natures. Their peach-colored green "peace house," as Lee calls it, is still unusual enough to have elicited an article in the Houston Chronicle in February. Folks come by to take a look, so they've posted a sign out front with contact info for themselves and the architect and builder they enjoyed working with so much.

Hardy and Lee remind me a lot of my own parents -- their can-do attitude, hospitality, creativity, intellect, activism, and their generosity as octogenarians. Lee and Hardy said they wanted to use their insurance funds to create a healthy living space for future generations, and not only have they done so, their green home is also a useful model for greening the city of Houston.

Living green and making peace dovetail in all kinds of ways. Thank you, Hardy and Lee!
photo by makingpeace

Our Congressperson takes a stand against spending billions for more war

Unless I missed it, there was no mention in yesterday's Austin American-Statesman about the vote taken Thursday by the US House approving (368 to 60) supplemental funding to the tune of $96.7 billion for continuing the military occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan -- with no exit plan for Afghanistan.
I was very pleased to learn that Congressman Lloyd Doggett voted against the supplemental funding bill. But, he was the only Texas Democrat to do so.
CodePink activists who lobbied hard in Washington DC quoted Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston telling them Thursday, "I must tell you ladies that I voted for the bill this time but I don't feel good about it and I plan to revisit this. I want to thank you for being out here and tell you that you need to keep doing what you're doing. Keep the pressure on -- in fact, turn it up. That's the only way we'll ever get out of these wars."

On Wednesday, I joined a group of 9 local people representing several peace and justice organizations in a visit to Lloyd Doggett's office to meet with his District Director to express our concerns about continued military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Three of the people in our delegation have been to Iraq and/or Afghanistan in recent years. Peggy Kelsey, who has done a photodocumentary project focused on Afghan women, told Mr. Doggett's staff that she felt what would be most helpful to the Afghan people would be assistance in the form of mentoring in civil society, "sort of like a Peace Corps for old people," she said. Afghanistan has experienced more than a generation of societal breakdown in the midst of war, and people-to-people role-modeling in areas such as health, education and business, upon invitation, could be a positive influence that would help provide stability from the ground up.

Members of our delegation agree that continued use of weapons like predator drones that have killed so many civilians only increases instability in the region and escalates retributive violence. War -- and even uncarefully distributed humanitarian aid -- has led to widespread corruption, and we are worried about US plans regarding the opium industry in Afghanistan. People need alternative crops that can be stored and transported well. We oppose anti-drug measures like aerial spraying with herbicides because it is very harmful to people and the environment.
I am grateful to Congressman Doggett for hearing our concerns and for standing firm with his vote against buying more war.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Swords into knitting needles

Each Mother's Day, the original meaning and intent of the day is remembered by people, if not the press. Julia Ward Howe's proclamation of 1870 following the US Civil War is considered the first Mother's Day message, a plea to end war. Her eloquent words were both passionate and rational: why would women raise their sons with love, only to see them kill or be killed by the sons of other loving mothers?
Last weekend in Washington DC, people gathered to commemorate this essential Mother's Day message. Organized by CodePink, the 24-hour vigil featured the creation of a long, knitted blanket composed of thousands of 4-inch squares sent in by women and men from across the US and from knitters in other countries as well. The handmade pink and green squares were sewn together to spell out the message, "We will not raise our children to kill another mother's child." The completed 'peace cozy' was held in front of the White House gates.
Above are some photos from CodePink's Mother's Day observance in DC, along with a photo of several squares sent in by our own Heidi Turpin.

photos from CodePink's flickr site and Heidi Turpin

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Peacemobile (and bicycle entourage) roll with "war is not green" message in Houston Art Car Parade

This Mother's Day weekend, I had the good fortune to be part of the fabulous Art Car Parade in Houston. Our CodePink Austin group entered our Peacemobile in the parade, and we accompanied the car as a bevy of bicyclists. We decorated the bicycles and ourselves on the theme of "War is not healthy for children and other living things."
The parade is a huge event, drawing thousands to the streets to see the remarkable creations these art car artists have made. The parade had over 250 entries, and we were number 200. The crowd was largely positive about our peace and "war is not green" message, and, in fact, a number of cars had peace signs incorporated into their artwork. The CodePink Houston group had a great entry with the "make out, not war" message, and their car won second place in the "political statement" category.
Photos by makingpeace, Heidi Turpin and the two photos of us on the move are from flickr photo sharing

Monday, May 4, 2009

The planet's imperative: stop war, shine on

Thinking about Mother's Day, from the perspective of Earth Day -- an essay I wrote about our common mom -- published today at Common Dreams:

On Earth Day, I contemplated the pre-dawn sky, looking for shooting stars. The evening prior, my partner and I had scouted out a viewing spot adjoining a vacant lot just a few blocks from home. Though we live in a central neighborhood, the clear air and waning moon offered favorable viewing conditions for the Lyrid meteor shower even from our urban vantage point.
In a warm climate, the transition between night and day is a time of rejuvenation for the earth, when ground water rises into plant stems, pushing them upward. Planted in my camp chair, gazing upward, I thought I could feel the life force, too -- the magnetism of the heavens pulling gently against the gravity that held me down and drew the meteors in.
The night was balmy, and the quiet was actually filled with sound: insects humming, a mockingbird singing his brilliant medley, our neighborhood screech owl trilling his single note. There was some street traffic: a dumpster truck, a few cars and several bicycles that glided by. Above, two planes passed the spot we were watching during the hour we were there.
My partner and I saw 6 meteors each. The brightest was a burst of light with no visible trail. The others made brief but unmistakable dashes between the constellations. We welcomed each silent flash with an exclamation. Did the mockingbird and the owl see them, too?
Staring into space makes me think about time. I want the planet to celebrate an uncountable number of future Earth Days. But, the darkest hour reveals the starkest truth: the primary obstacle to the earth's longevity is the effect of my own species on our shared home.
In a quiet moment of reflection in the film, "An Inconvenient Truth," Al Gore asks himself, in voiceover, about the barriers that keep human beings from living more sustainably. It would have been the perfect opportunity to discuss the most inconvenient truth: our preoccupation with security is killing us. The drive to keep ourselves "safe" has become the greatest threat to our existence.
Many indicators point to the US Department of Defense as the largest institutional polluter in the world. Most tellingly, the US military is the world's largest single oil purchaser and consumer. If the invasion of Iraq, and perhaps Afghanistan, was about US oil interests, then military occupation serves mainly to perpetuate the military, like a snake devouring its own tail, feeding and destroying itself at the same time.
War is not only ungreen, it discourages greenness. I sometimes feel ridiculous sorting my recycling and installing low energy light bulbs while the massive pistons of the war machine keep pumping, consuming incalculable amounts of energy for every watt I try to conserve.
On Earth Day eve, Al Gore said that we are now at a tipping point. "This year, 2009, is the Gettysburg for the environment," he said. It's interesting that he should use a war metaphor for his call to action. The US Civil War caused untold environmental destruction along with its huge human death toll. All sides lose when home is a battlefield. Now, home encompasses the globe.
We human beings can decide to abolish war. The owl needs its prey, but we do not. Our most basic, most elegant tools are at hand: communication, education, international law, creative arts and sciences, nonviolent resistance. When we are threatened, we have these tools, mightier than the sword, to protect ourselves. In the process, we protect our descendants - and the owl, too.
If the Obama Administration is urging us to look forward, then we must take the long view of the future. The long view means valuing the history lesson along with the brain-storming session. If we care what happens to our progeny ten generations from now, we've got to consider the trajectory from ten generations back as equally relevant.
The life of our planet must not be a flash in the pan, a brief streak of light in time's expanse. Our ancient Mother deserves a future of infinite history, and so do we, her youngest children. To celebrate our common Mother's Day, let's give her bicycles, sustainable agriculture, windmills, solar panels, rain barrels. Because it makes no sense to give her bicycles with one hand and bombs with the other, it's time to acknowledge that the critical point we have reached is not a call to arms, it's a call to lay them down.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said it more directly when he told the United States that our choice was between nonviolence and non-existence. This is our Montgomery moment, our Letter from a Birmingham Jail. The planet can't wait, and neither must we.
above: "Peace For All," sculpture by Czeslaw Sornat
photo by makingpeace, May Day 2009, Ladybird Johnson National Wildflower Research Center, Austin

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Happy 90th, Pete Seeger!

Oh, how nice it would be to have a spot at Madison Square Garden tonight for the 90th Birthday concert for Pete Seeger, our national treasure. The line-up of musicians who've gathered in NYC to honor Seeger is tremendous.
Two years ago, my partner and I saw "The Power of Song" at the Dobie Theatre when the film came out, and we later took our teenage neighbor to see it. She learned about some US history that isn't widely taught, such as the attacks on First Amendment freedoms during the McCarthy witch hunts.
Pete Seeger rose above the ugliness of that period by standing firm for his freedoms and maintaining his community-mindedness and his fundamental belief in the goodness of human beings. The positive influence of his lyrics and music has reached millions, and he remains a man of the people.
I like the way the ticket prices for tonight's concert started at $19.19 (his birth year) and averaged $90, his age today. The concert benefits the Clearwater, his Hudson River Sloop that has done so much to raise environmental awareness in the Hudson River Valley.
Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger!