Posts filed under 'citizenship'

Point Well Taken

Just got a very reasonable email from a viewer:

Hi Josh:

I am watching your show right now. Am I alone in seeing the absurdity of you exploring the "greening" of Berkeley while holding a DISPOSABLE FAST FOOD CUP AND LID?

That is one of the things YOU can do. Stop using disposable cups.

Absolutely right! Lots of habits to change in these challenging times.

1 comment April 23rd, 2007

Life Nell

In recent months, as I've tried to do my own little part to help save the Earth via the nascent (meaning still disorganized) Project Quixote, I've had the great pleasure of meeting people who've actually been devoting their lives to the cause of fighting global warming. Some are neighbors of mine. Some -- bless their patient souls! -- are in government. One is a friend of my brother's who taught himself about energy and then actually wrote energy legislation for several states, including ours. Oh, and I also met Al Gore, who I think has been doing pretty good job of getting the word out.

The cumulative effect of hanging out with these people has been to give me a sense of hope -- albeit, nothing close to certainty -- that people may yet respond to this unprecedented global challenge with unprecedented global resourcefulness. The one thing that I am sure of is that it feels a helluva lot better to try than to stick to my usual practice of drawing the blinds and curling up in a ball. And I know, too, that I'm intensely grateful to folks who, by example, show that it's possible to move forward through our finite lives even while facing infinite-seeming obstacles.

A bonus is when they also provide lots of free food for me and my crew! Such was the happy case when Nell Newman swung by our studio to tape the interview that will be broadcast tonight (at 7:30). Newman, the head honcho of Newman's Own Organics, had arranged for a, like, huge box of their stuff to precede her. (I can assure you all the products found happy homes.) I found her to be remarkably unscathed by a relatively happy childhood with famous actor parents -- and in remarkably good shape, too, considering all the snacks she has access to. Perhaps it's all the surfing she does.

In any case, we talked about her helpful, down-to-earth book, Newman's Own Organics Guide to a Good Life, and other stuff, like predatory birds (a passion of hers). She also checked out the "Wandering Josh" piece we did for this show, which features a visit with Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates (an energetic advocate of green-osity), a trip to the educational, inspirational Berkeley Marina Shorebird Nature Center, and an off-the-grid experience at the offices of Local Power -- an organization run by Paul Fenn (pictured), the friend of my brother's I alluded to up top.

Between the studio conversation with Nell and the field visits for the WJ, my crew and I learned a ton of stuff about how we can help make things better. (And, yes, we collectively probably gained a ton of weight as well -- but we can probably work it off by building windmills and such. ...)

video Get the podcast, download now, or stream the video (requires Real)

April 16th, 2007

Citizen Foyle

America just got taller and smarter! Adonal Foyle, the hyper-articulate Golden State Warriors center (and an excellent guest on this show last season), recently gained his U.S. citizenship. I'd learned of this through my favorite Warriors blog and subsequently had it confirmed by Adonal's parents, who join him in running Democracy Matters. Congrats to Adonal! (Now maybe our country will start playing smarter defense.)

February 19th, 2007

Counter Culture

Tonight's episode, a tasty rebroadcast from earlier this season, is titled "Food and Wine Challenge." (It airs tonight at 7:30, and will repeat itself -- like history -- on Friday night at 10:30.) But perhaps since my thoughts today have been focused on Martin Luther King Jr., I've been reflecting on a much more serious "food challenge" -- one that changed history, in fact: the early-'60s series of sit-ins at Woolworth's lunch counters throughout the country. Recalling these actions by nonviolent protesters -- and the often-violent reactions from the forces of segregation -- in turn reminds me of a great quote from the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, whose writings were a major influence on Dr. King: "Man's inclination to justice makes democracy possible; but man's capacity for injustice makes it necessary." Amen.

January 15th, 2007

Step It Up 2007

My pal Scott Rosenberg -- whose terrific book about the perils of software-writing, Dreaming in Code, arrives in bookstores this week -- passes along an email from his friend Bill McKibben. (Scott and Bill are part of a frighteningly talented group of writers who all went to Harvard together while some of of us -- cruelly rejected by Harvard -- were reduced to wandering through the educational wilderness, gathering nuts and berries and occasionally reading "Family Circus.") Bill's 1996 book The End of Nature was, to my knowledge, the first account of the global-warming crisis written for the general public. Now he's got a new project: Step It Up 2007.

In typical Bill fashion, the project is both modest and ambitious, and very well thought out. The text of his email follows (minus all those weird symbols that tend to accrue in forwarded emails, which -- as a small gift to the struggle -- I have deleted):

Dear Friend:

I'm writing to ask your help. I know you've already made changes in your own life to deal with climate change; I'm guessing that, like me, you feel a little helpless about the scale of the problem. Some of us who are eager to do something more are organizing a day of demonstrations for April 14. We're calling ourselves, and we need you to be a vital part -- to organize a rally in your neck of the woods. If everyone pitches in, we'll have by far the largest action yet in this nation about global warming -- large enough that Washington will notice and start to act. It's going to be an unusual day. People will be rallying in many of America's most iconic places: on the levees in New Orleans, on top of the melting ice sheets on Mt. Hood and in Glacier National Park, even underwater on the endangered coral reefs off Key West and Hawaii. But we need hundreds of rallies outside churches, and in city parks, and in rural fields. It's not a huge task -- assemble as many folks as possible, hoist a banner, take a picture. We'll link pictures of the protests together electronically via the web -- before the day is out, we'll have a cascade of images to show both local and national media that Americans don't consider this a secondary issue. That instead they want serious action now.

We're not an organization -- we're, in essence, a few people sending out invitations to a party. A potluck. This is going to be a homemade day of action. So go to our website at and say, "Here's where I live -- I want to help organize." We'll coordinate the responses, introducing you to others from your area, and give you everything you need to be a leader, from banners to press releases. You don't have to have ever done anything like this -- you're not organizing a March on Washington, just a gathering of scores or hundreds in your town or neighborhood. We need creativity, good humor, commitment. If you are active in a campus group or a church or a local environmental group or a garden society or a bike club -- or if you just saw Al Gore's movie and want to do something -- then we need you now.

And by now, we mean now. The best science tells us we have ten years to fundamentally transform our economy and lead the world in the same direction or else, in the words of NASA's Jim Hansen, we will face a "totally different planet." We're calling for 80 percent carbon cuts by 2050, which would be a good first step to warding off that future. But the exact numbers are less important than the underlying message to Washington: get serious. The recent elections have given us an opening, and polling shows most Americans know there's a problem. But the forces of inertia and business-as-usual are still in control, and only our voices, united and loud, joyful and determined, can change that reality. Please join us.

Bill McKibben

P.S.: It would be a great help too if you could forward this plea to anyone you think might embrace it.

January 13th, 2007

Buck Stopped Here

BuckAt least, that's what I infer from this bit of graffiti on the fence at the end of the Berkeley Pier. My son and I biked back there yesterday, to continue pondering the possibilities of a windmill farm on the Pier. We're hoping that Berkeley will commit to providing its own mostly green energy -- possibly including windpower -- and we're calling our quest Project Quixote.

Will it happen? We don't know. We're not experts. Okay -- we're way not experts. But we want to do something about global warming -- something real -- and this is what we're trying. Plus we dig windmills.

As I mentioned in my previous blog item about this stuff, my son and I recently spent a fascinating few hours with energy expert Paul Fenn, who is a friend of my brother Jake's. Paul and his family live in the Canyon, which I believe is just outside of Berkeley (I'm really bad with geography), and they are totally "off the grid": that is, they receive no electricity from anyone. Their home is lit with kerosene lanterns, and they have no plumbing, so they use an outhouse. (Paul invited us to visit, and we plan to; I just want to fast for about 48 hours beforehand.) The prospect of raising two small children in those conditions is not one that I would wish for myself, but there's something fiercely admirable about their ability to do so.

"How do you use the telephone?" I asked.

Paul explained that the "old" phones supply their own electricity.

Indeed, whenever I've called, I've gotten this tinny, scratchy outgoing message -- it sounds as if they're using some pre-Edison equipment or something.

But even though Paul and his family live in these Luddite circumstances, it would be a drastic mistake to take him for an opt-out, antisocial, anti-government type. Paul writes laws. His "community choice" laws -- allowing each municipality to choose its own energy sources -- are the on the books in California, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, and (if I'm reading my scrawled notes correctly) Massachusetts. He's also written a bunch of energy laws for San Francisco.

"What about Berkeley?" I asked -- focused as I am on my beloved home base.

Turns out, he said, he tried five years ago to get the Berkeley city government to back his alternative-energy plan, but was unable to get anything going. And the problem right now, he explained, is that there's a window of opportunity that will soon close, due to existing power contracts. In fact, according to my notes -- which, admittedly, became especially scribblicious at this point, as we were now strolling along the Ohlone Greenway -- Berkeley may only have a year or less to act.

San Francisco recently committed to achieving 51 percent green power by 2017. And it seems to me that, given our Free Speech history and the fact that our sandals have 15 percent greater traction, we Berkeleyites ought to be able to match that.

But how? I wondered.

  • Would we need to try to pass some sort of ballot measure?

    No, Paul explained -- our city government could simply take over power-providing duties using its power of "eminent domain."

  • How might such a project be funded?

    Through bonds, which could be secured by ... (Here my notes become somewhat illegible -- possibly a byproduct of the grand mal-type seizures that begin to afflict me whenever anyone starts using words like "fiscal." I realize that this is something that I must get over, if I am to be any sort of a citizenly mensch.) Well, let's just say "bonds" for the moment, and leave it at that.

  • Could all the energy be provided by windmills?

    No -- only about a third (which is a lot, actually!). The rest could be provided by other technologies -- for example, something called a solar concentrator, supplemented by a hybrid steam-gas turbine.

  • Might the windmills be a hazard for birds (as I'd heard somewhere)?

    This, it turns out, was a major concern when Paul approached the Berkeley folks several years ago. He says that there are a variety of windmill designs, and some are bird-friendly.

  • Could Berkeley really do this on its own? (Generating your own power seems like a really big deal.)

    Yes it could, he said. But even better would be a collaboration between, say, Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, Vallejo, and Emeryville. He explained that it's best to have a wide variety of energy consumers: some residential, some industrial, etc. With several East Bay cities banding together, you could have a nicely diverse assortment of electricity-users.

As Paul drove off in his biofueled car, I thought: Phew! So this is the kind of stuff the grownups have been dealing with all my life!

Pier ViewAnd a couple days later, as my son and I stood on the Berkeley Pier, near the spot where Buck had once stopped and made his mark, I felt giddy -- with excitement at the possibilities, with fear of failure, and with awe at the beauty of this place.

I can just follow my instincts and do my best. Let's see what happens.

3 comments January 3rd, 2007

Project Quixote

Berkeley PierSo first off, Happy New Year! I hope you, unlike me, have not already completely violated your New Year's Resolution (um, getting up early and sticking to a schedule).

But I am hopeful about 2007. And I have a project as well: trying to get my adopted hometown, Berkeley, to commit to 51 percent green power by 2017.

Many years ago, as our family was facing a crisis, a friend of my father's accused him of being quixotic. As it turns out, his friend was wrong: my dad, who did indeed dream many impossible dreams in his short lifetime, was being very practical in that case. His "quixotic" solution to the crisis worked.

Lately I've been reading Don Quixote and thinking about windmills, which the famous knight errant famously attacked, believing them to be giants. And at the same time I've been freaking out about the global warming crisis: scientists say we have 10 years to change our ways, or else disastrous climate change will be inevitable and irreversible. In addition (with continual coffee drinking, much pondering is possible) I've been thinking about what I can do, as a citizen and a dad and a husband and a friend (and eventually as an ancestor), to help solve the problem. ... So naturally my thoughts turned to windpower. Might windmill-generated power help fight global warming? In Berkeley, say?

I called my brother Jake in L.A. He drives a car that's powered entirely by vegetable oil, and tends to know about this stuff. He in turn referred me to a friend of his, Paul Fenn, who wrote California's Community Choice law, which passed in 2002. This law allows cities to choose their own electricity provider. A couple days ago my son and I chatted with Paul and strolled around our neighborhood. I'm still digesting all the stuff he told us, but the gist of it was this: Berkeley can go green with much of its energy -- probably through a combination of wind and solar power.

I asked him where the windmills could go, and he said a great place would be the Berkeley Pier, which gets lots of wind and has a floor made of reinforced concrete, which could support the weight of a windmill farm. The thing for me, aesthetically, is that it would be great if the windmills looked like, you know, "real" windmills -- the picturesque ones I associate with Holland -- rather than the more robotic-looking ones you see at the Altamont Pass. Paul said he thought that might be possible, and agreed that those kinds of windmill are the coolest-looking.

loonYesterday my son and I biked down to the Pier, to do some reconnaissance. Man, it's lovely there! People were strolling, fishing, and -- in one case -- engaging in a tense domestic argument while fishing. A loon was hanging out in the water nearby. A cheerful guy at a hotdog stand wished us a happy New Year. Over in Richmond you could see a huge chimney spewing some dangerous-looking stuff into the sky. But what I grooved on most was all that air over the Pier -- nice, potentially power-providing air.

Could there be a windmill farm here, we wondered? How would it affect the fishers, the fish, the birds? At the end of the walkable part of the Pier we came to a somewhat crude wooden fence. A woman was looking out through the fence at the Bay. We got into a conversation with her, and I mentioned our idea of trying to get Berkeley to go green with most of its power -- possibly including windmills on the Pier. She loved the idea! And, as it turns out, before she retired she used to be a grant-writer. She gave me her contact info, saying she'd love to help.

So now there are four of us: me, my son, Paul, and that woman (her name is Nancy). I think our next big step will be to go to the folks in Berkeley's government and see if they're into the idea.

It feels incredibly weird to try to do something practical about global warming -- rather than my usual, time-honored practice of cycling through anger, depression, and despair. But it also feels good. It feels ... quixotic.

What do you think?

2 comments January 1st, 2007


I want to build a windmill in Berkeley. Does anyone out there have expertise in this area? If so, I'd be grateful for your input!

More to come! ...

2 comments December 30th, 2006

Tom Says, “Get to Work!”

TomJust got back to the Bay Area from Washington D.C. -- but not before spending some quality time with Thomas Jefferson. It seemed as if he was kind of staring down his nose at me, in a sort of disapproving way. Sure enough, now that I'm back home I've found this quote from him (in the book Sins of the Parents, by my friend and former college classmate Brian A. Weiner): "Every constitution ... and every law naturally expires at the end of thirty-four years." What I take from this sentiment -- which Jefferson expressed in a letter to James Madison, after referring to mortality tables -- was that he felt each subsequent generation would have the responsibility to re-evaluate the Constitution, and if necessary to revise or even rewrite it.

Well, my generation first had to invent roller disco and then drive our nation's politics and economy into the sewer. But now that we have all that under our belt, have no fear, Tom -- we're all over the Constitution thing!

December 24th, 2006


So I was just working out in the gym that's downstairs from the guest apartment where I'm staying in D.C. In front of every other treadmill, etc., they have little TV's on the wall, so you can watch while you tread. I got on an elliptical trainer and started blasting Sonic Youth's Rather Ripped album on my iPod, but I noticed that in front of the unoccupied treadmill next to me there was a movie playing on TBS.

It's hard for me not to keep glancing at a TV in my range of vision. Plus, the film was closed-captioned, which had the dual effect of giving me snippets of dialogue and also eliciting my own closed-captioned thoughts. Helen Hunt was in it.


Her hair is all teased out and bleached, to indicate her stolid working-class-osity. She seems to be on a date with ... either Kevin Spacey or Jim Belushi. Further viewing indicates that it is, in fact, Kevin Spacey.


Spacey is wearing a toupée that's meant to make him look like a fictional character, so that you forget it's actually Kevin Spacey, but he ends up looking like Kevin Spacey wearing a bad wig in an SNL sketch. There is an earnestness pervading the frame -- a Hollywoody earnestness, very professionally lit. ...

Holy cow! Now we have Haley Joel Osment! Or the infinitely superior Joel Haley Osment! Either way, he seems to be playing Helen Hunt's son -- and, apparently, a student of Spacey's character, who is a schoolteacher. The situation, as best as I can tell from my occasional catch of a closed caption, is this: Spacey's schoolteacher character has been dating Hunt's working-class-teased-hair character. Spacey is well-educated, Hunt not. This causes some friction -- do they really belong together?

Plus, they are both Haunted. Spacey had some horrible experience with (I think) his dad. Hunt has an abusive husband, or ex-husband, played by ... Is that Jon Bon Jovi??? I think it really is Jon Bon Jovi!! I contain multitudes, and nothing human is alien to me -- but, darn it all, this I cannot accept! Jon Bon Jovi as an abusive husband is too big a leap of faith -- bigger than Hunt's perfectly teased trailer-trash hair, bigger than the dead marmot on Spacey's head, bigger even than the sensitive saucer eyes of Haley Joel Haley Osment ...

... who is now saying to Spacey, [YOU HAVE TO DO IT.]

[DO WHAT?] Spacey asks.

[PAY IT FORWARD], Osment earnestly explains. And I do believe his eyes are tearing up.

But clearly, Spacey is not yet ready to Pay It Forward. For we are only about halfway through the Hollywood screenplay, and have many plot points to go before we sleep.

I vaguely remember reading reviews of Pay It Forward when it came out. As I recall, there was kind of a karmic vibe to the story: something like, someone has done a big favor for each of us, out of love, and it is our responsibility, in turn, to do the same. (Maybe I have this totally wrong -- it's just what I kind of remember.) I actually think that's a beautiful idea. I think it's true, pretty much. Moreover, it's the kind of earnest idea that people -- like, oh, say, me -- could find easy to casually mock and dismiss. ...

But the thing is, Hollywood movies tend to reduce all challenges and triumphs to the purely personal. Hunt and Spacey must slay their own, internal demons in order to receive their "payment," and to pay it forward. ...


... And once they learn this lesson -- probably from the bizarrely adult-faced Haley-Joel-Haley, who has the wisdom that Hollywood (and Washington, for that matter) tends never to ascribe to adults -- they will finally be able to tearfully join each other as lovers. Brainac will merge with Working Stiff, Red will mix with Blue, and we'll all live Haley Ever After. ...

A man with a bigger potbelly than mine got on the treadmill next to me. "Are you watching this?" he mouthed, indicating the TV. (On my iPod I had finished the Sonic Youth album and was now blasting The Arcade Fire's Funeral into my rock-ravaged ears.) I indicated that I wasn't. As he started treading, he picked up a remote and flipped to another channel. PBS! Tavis Smiley was interviewing a young man about James Brown. The man was talking about how [JAMES BROWN HAD SHOWN HIM THAT HE, TOO, WAS A FULL CITIZEN OF THE WORLD].

I picked up my pace a bit. Things were getting better. To start with, people in gyms were watching interview shows on PBS! But I was still thinking about Paying It Forward -- well, at least my, closed-captioned version -- as well:


I glanced back at the TV, for another comforting dose of Tavis. But my fellow exerciser had switched to the Weather Channel. A short time later, he turned off the TV and moved on to another machine. Apparently, that had only been the Preamble for him.

In my continuing, elliptical journey, I was back on my own.

December 13th, 2006

Next Posts Previous Posts

Watch Mondays at 7:30pm
Comcast On Demand & KQED 191
email reminder Sign-up for email reminders


May 2015
« Sep    

Posts by Month

Posts by Category

The opinions expressed on
The Josh Kornbluth Show blog
are those of the author and not necessarily those of KQED.