Thursday, August 23, 2007

A new shade for red America

Howard Dean's 50-state strategy for rebuilding the Democratic Party is turning out to work pretty well, Bob Moser writes in The Nation. His piece is worth reading, if only for the stem-winding courthouse speech by a grassroots organizer in Wilkes County, N.C. -- a "red" county where Democrats are growing in numbers, influence and confidence.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Florida's wager against nature

A sobering report from the magazine Florida Trend about how the state's recent insurance legislation puts the whole state on the line, financially, in the event of another big hurricane.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sunshine State a solar-energy laggard

Here's an update on our energy-intensive state's lack of progress toward using solar power to save on fuel consumption. It's worthwhile, though it commits a common error in assuming that Florida is ideal for solar energy. Actually, we typically have a lot of sun-blocking cumulus clouds overhead, which means we need more efficient solar technology than places where the sun hits more directly. (Our plentiful clouds, incidentally, were also the reason the movie industry grew up in California instead of Florida.) Anyway, today's report is in the Sun-Sentinel.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cheney is the shadow president

The Washington Post documents a chilling accumulation of power in the hands of Vice President Dick Cheney. It looks to me like he has served for most of the Bush administration as a shadow president -- placing his own people in key posts throughout the executive branch of government and reaching out into Cabinet branches to enforce his personal will. Most of what he's doing has been hidden:
Across the board, the vice president's office goes to unusual lengths to avoid transparency. Cheney declines to disclose the names or even the size of his staff, generally releases no public calendar and ordered the Secret Service to destroy his visitor logs. His general counsel has asserted that "the vice presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch," and is therefore exempt from rules governing either. Cheney is refusing to observe an executive order on the handling of national security secrets, and he proposed to abolish a federal office that insisted on auditing his compliance.

In the usual business of interagency consultation, proposals and information flow into the vice president's office from around the government, but high-ranking White House officials said in interviews that almost nothing flows out. Close aides to Cheney describe a similar one-way valve inside the office, with information flowing up to the vice president but little or no reaction flowing down.

The Post aptly calls the series A Different Understanding with the President.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A plea for the news that matters

My current favorite guru of newscraft, Jay Rosen, has been advocating that journalists find a new way of writing and thinking about political campaigns. Instead of simply reporting or even analyzing the polls that tell who's ahead among particular slices of the public, Rosen wants reporters to dig into what the candidates stand for on the big issues of our times.

Rosen is trying to overcome what many of us have long derided as horse-race journalism. A case in point was in this week's Milwaukee daily. Really, though, outside Iowa, does it matter to any of us if Tommy Thompson decides to campaign on the corn-filled plains? But don't we all have a stake in whether or how Mitt Romney tries to bring to the national level the kind of health plan he put over in Massachusetts?

I hope you'll check out Rosen's blog, then encourage your local press to write more about what the candidates actually propose (or fail to say) about America's needs. An example I think Rosen might approve of was in today's Miami Herald. It's a look at how Hillary Clinton, badly burned by her experience coordinating Bill Clinton's health initiative early in his first term, has refrained from offering health-care specifics in her own presidential bid.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

One part of energy solution: Amtrak

The Baltimore Sun said it as well as anyone could, so just check it out here.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Another electric inspiration

Ever looking for the angles, Florida Power & Light Co. runs up the balloon of building a wind-energy farm off the coast of St. Lucie County. News is in the Palm Beach Post.

The company is, of course, a leading player in wind power. If anyone can make it work, I think it would be these guys.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

FPL's next move

Without missing a beat, Florida Power & Light Co. rebounded from its rebuff at the Public Service Commission by seeking local approval to double the size of its Turkey Point nuclear power station east of Homestead. It may well have done so even if the proposed coal-fired Glades power plant had been OKd. Look for more of the same, even though the Florida geography has until now discouraged further construction of mega-sized nuclear plants.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A puzzling decision on Florida energy

Some of my greener friends will be cheering the Public Service Commission's 4-0 vote denying a request to build a coal-fired power plant on the west side of Lake Okeechobee. I'm puzzled, though, by the reasoning of Commissioner Matthew Carter II that the price of coal is too uncertain to make a coal plant a wise choice for Florida Power & Light Co. According to FPL, it proposed coal for the 1,960-megawatt plant near Moore Haven as an alternative to natural gas, which is already costly and subject to great price fluctuations. FPL is too reliant on natural gas anyway, in my opinion.

Coal does have an awful reputation, partly a legacy from the sooty smokestack past and partly due to the mountaintop-removal present. FPL did promise that the Glades plant would be the cleanest-burning coal plant in the country, and that is plausible given innovations during the past decade or two.

What killed the plant, though the commissioners seemed not confident enough to say it, was probably concern about mercury falling onto the lake and the Everglades from the plant's smoke. The amount of mercury seems negligible to me, but I really need to do some research on that. I certainly don't want to poison the fish or the people who eat them, so until I learn more I won't say the PSC vote was wrong. There's more on the Everglades angle, and the natural gas, in the Miami Herald.

An interesting sidelight was that the newest PSC member, Nancy Argenziano, sat out Tuesday's debate and vote. That surprised me because, during her six years in the Florida Senate, this Dunnellon Republican was an avid follower of public utility issues. She sought the PSC appointment by Gov. Charlie Crist, and when she got the job in April called herself a "quick study." Not all that quick, it would seem. Here's my hunch: She knew where the decision was going, and reasoned that a minority vote would do her no good.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Welcome aboard, brother

An old friend has joined the fellowship of bloggers, and I think you'll enjoy his cogent remarks. When you've got a minute, check out Barry Sez. He's only just begun, so you might check back after a while when he's broadened his range of commentary.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Fat chance of worker stopping pay bias now

Updated May 30
Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling in a job-discrimination case makes me wonder if the justices -- or the Congress that made the law being interpreted -- actually live in the real world. The ruling seems to mean that a worker who believes she was underpaid -- that is, paid less than peers in the same job -- loses the right to sue for redress if the discriminatory decision was made more than six months earlier.

Since most employers go out of their way to make sure their staffs don't know what coworkers are paid, that raises the bar pretty high for anyone to find out what they need to know to file a discrimination claim. I suppose now we'll have a lot of claims filed on thin evidence, and after some are thrown out of court we'll hear a round of laments about fee-hungry lawyers and reckless plaintiffs. That will be cited as grounds to repeal the anti-discrimination law itself. The law marches on toward a dog-eat-dog world.

The reporting that inspired this comment is from the McClatchy Washington Bureau.

This news, tucked away on page 3C of my hometown newspaper, is No. 1 in today's most-viewed list at the Washington Post. And here's the court's full opinion, in pdf format.

Who killed the honeybees?

There's a fascinating discussion of the progressive collapse of honeybee populations across the country. A sample:
we are facing a series of problems like this, problems that are environmental in nature, and this has been a real eye-opener for me as to how poorly prepared this country and countries around the world are in taking note of how climate change or global change will impact our ecosystems. Humanity is affecting our ecosystems, and it's very complex to determine whether this is due to environmental change or some disease. You can see now that it is very difficult to pull these things apart.
You can read it all on Salon. (Registration may be required)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Book-lover resorts to the torch

A bookstore owner in Kansas City burns his overstock because he can't even give it away. Makes me terribly sad. Reflect on how we share ideas as you read it here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Budget schizophrenia in Florida

Key members of the Florida Legislature, while beating up on local governments for their property taxes, just couldn't resist elbowing closer to the feeding trough to grab an unprecedented total in local spending projects. Here's comment from the St. Petersburg Times, and a slightly more neutral piece from the Gannett newspapers of Florida.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Tainted Chinese imports common

If the deaths of people's animal companions from tainted pet food scared you, I think you'll want to see what the Washington Post reported today. Here's a little bit:
For years, U.S. inspection records show, China has flooded the United States with foods unfit for human consumption. And for years, FDA inspectors have simply returned to Chinese importers the small portion of those products they caught -- many of which turned up at U.S. borders again, making a second or third attempt at entry.
You can read the whole alarming thing here.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Keep those Humvees rolling

Updated May 21
While farsighted leaders around the world try to lessen dependence on oil, the Miami-Dade County Commission plays to short-range political convenience by considering a summertime holiday from the motor fuel tax. This is the brainstorm of Commissioner Joe Martinez, taking a hint from that well-known bastion of conservation, Texas. Read it in the Miami Herald.

The background, of course, is that gasoline prices nudged upward again last week. There's a good look at the impact of the prices in the St. Petersburg Times.

And here's the text of the proposed county ordinance, which is being scheduled for a public hearing July 17.

Monday, May 07, 2007

'Poppy quarter' behind spy coin alert

There's a good laugh here, at the expense of our obsession with national security. The AP report is at Yahoo! News

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Making a business out of nature

You can count on Florida to commercialize God's green earth. I suppose this movement is why there's a charge for taking a bike tour in a Miami-Dade County park.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Take the challenge

Click here to sign up.

Cities fit for walking

The carcentric city of Indianapolis is studying how to make their community more walkable. In this they join the vision demonstrated with the Miami 21 project here in Florida. Thoughtful report and commentary by Neal Peirce.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mellow view of the boomers

You can see from the graying mug over in the About Me corner that your humble blogger is long since wet behind the ears. That's one reason I took interest when my friend Marty tipped me to his new venture, Boomvista. If you're a baby boomer, I think you'll enjoy the welcoming style and wide-ranging conversation over there. Do check it out.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Patriotism on the open market

There ought to be a use for this somewhere. I found it on Platial News.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Nations agree: Global warming a real threat

You've got to take this seriously. Here's this morning's AP report. Our children will feel the greatest impact, according to the Reuters report out of London. One result will be tropical storms in the American north, says Agence France-Press. As an illustration of the impact already visible, zoom in on this Google map of Lake Chad, a shrinking lake on the edge of the Sahara desert.
"It's a situation of the poor getting poorer and the rich getting richer when it comes to rainfall," said Yochanan Kushnir of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, one of the paper's authors. "From a climate perspective, these changes are quite dramatic."
There's more in that vein -- especially the impact on the U.S. Southwest -- at the Washington Post.

Want more? There's lots of it at the site of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Health insurance a life-or-death factor

If you ever doubted whether health insurance made a difference in anyone's getting needed medical care, take a look at this case from Oklahoma. A doctor tells the story to Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press.

Friday, March 30, 2007

A small step on a giant problem

At my home, everybody recycles -- soda bottles, newspaper bags, the papers themselves, flashlight batteries, whatever can be reused or made over into raw material. So it was heartening to read that in San Francisco, big retail stores are going to have to start packing merchandise in biodegradable bags instead of those polyethelene ones (in photo, my kitchen stash) that you see caught in bushes, hedges and street nooks of every city in the land. The ubiquitous grocery bag of the clerk's "paper or plastic?" refrain is made out of oil, perhaps 450,000 gallons a year of it for San Francisco alone, according to the green city supervisor who offered the bag ban. This will save some oil, save some landfill space, and gently point our nation toward better stewardship of our finite resources. Of course, you could always carry your own bag to the grocery, and use it over.

Here's more from the San Francisco Examiner.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Encouragement from the land of Agnew

The environmental movement gets its act together in Maryland, says the Washington Post.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Down the wrong road on saving oil

Updated March 27

The Detroit big three automakers sat down with President Bush today and talked about doubling their production of cars that run on a gasoline and ethanol mixture or on biodiesel. Not that their proposal was any surprise, since the president's state of the union address two months ago told everybody that ethanol was the way to go. I wonder if he'd cleared that path with the big three before declaring it? Several more details are in the Washington Post version, and here's the White House transcript of remarks by Bush and his visitors. That's a White House photo I used, by the way.

It all makes me sad and a little bit cynical. What about increasing CAFE standards, the fuel-economy yardstick? What about making cars smaller and lighter, and lowering speed limits? What about telling Detroit that fuel-efficient cars are the right thing to do, even if unit profits have to come down a bit? Where is it written that maximum profit is the ultimate goal of public policy?

Feel like some background reading? I recommend and this weekend piece from the Post, which includes this nutshell graf:
Biofuels, such as ethanol made from corn, have the potential to provide us with cleaner energy. But because of how corn ethanol currently is made, only about 20 percent of each gallon is "new" energy. That is because it takes a lot of "old" fossil energy to make it: diesel to run tractors, natural gas to make fertilizer and, of course, fuel to run the refineries that convert corn to ethanol.

If every one of the 70 million acres on which corn was grown in 2006 was used for ethanol, the amount produced would displace only 12 percent of the U.S. gasoline market. Moreover, the "new" (non-fossil) energy gained would be very small -- just 2.4 percent of the market. Car tune-ups and proper tire air pressure would save more energy.
(Emphasis added.) So check your tires, everybody!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Making sense about energy consumption

It's not just what we drive, and how fast, that accounts for the way America gobbles down petroleum. It's also how we build, and where, car columnist Warren Brown argues powerfully in the Washington Post.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Governor Crist wants action on global warming

Impressed by Al Gore's documentary about global warming, and by California's example in reducing the gas emissions blamed for the warming, Gov. Charlie Crist says he wants to put Florida on the front line in fighting the problem. His intentions are reported today in the Palm Beach Post, along with some of the legislative doubters he'll have to contend with.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Corn's flaws as an energy solution

I've posted on this topic before, but this is a particularly good piece. And it won't be the last one you see here. Check it out.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Thoughts on what's important

I haven't yet had the pleasure of meeting Barnie Day, though an uncle was and my sister is his friend. I admire his writing and his public service, though, and want you to take a minute and read his latest.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

China's market plunge

My friend Dan Kubiske, who spent a few years in Hong Kong as a journalist, has an interesting view of today's stock market news. As chairman of the International Journalism Committee in the Society of Professional Journalists, he's done a fair amount of speaking and writing about the comparative natures of free and controlled press systems. Here's Dan:
If there ever was an argument that free media help, not hurt, stability it is the financial news of the past 48 hours.

Depending on who you listen to, the Shanghai market fell because: a.) there was a rumor the government would impose a capital gains tax beginning March 1 or b.) there was a rumor the head of the Shanghai stock exchange was going to resign soon or c.) rumors the government was about to impose new measures to tighten the money supply and slow down the market growth.

The key word in each of these scenarios is “rumors.” Because China does not have independent news media that can dig into and explain the dynamics of the market, and because few people believe anything said in the state-owned papers, the coin of the realm is rumor rather than fact.

For decades the Communist Party of China has argued it cannot allow media to be free from party control because it could cause instability in society. (And this fear is the real big concern that permeates Chinese thinking in the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. The memories of the warlord period still dominate a lot of thinking.) Of course, the way Hong Kong and Taiwan handle the fear of stability is to be more open so more people can get information that then leads to stability because there is trust (at least more trust) in the business community and government entities. Beijing, however, still seems to think it can keep a lid on information and release only its version of reality. (And yes, this sounds like any other government.) But by doing so – and by not having many other reliable alternative means to check information – Beijing ’s policies of censorship and media restrictions actually promotes instability.

As usual, so far the American media are still hung up on the economic reasons for the fall. None have looked at the very system in China that promotes instability in society or market economics.

Bottom line, when rumors are the major source of action – as they are in any regime that limits press freedom – the society becomes more unstable.
And here's a market update from today, via the Washington Post.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hollywood loves "Inconvenient Truth"

I was pleased to see that Al Gore's environmental call-to-arms, An Inconvenient Truth, won the Oscar for best documentary. Here's the story, from Reuters via NBC. And here's more about the film from the producer's website. If you, like me, missed the film during its short stay in area theaters, you'll be interested to learn that it's available on DVD.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Step aside, bedroom coming through

I loved this piece of thinking from a writer in Washington, D.C. Except for the reference to snow she could well be talking about Miami. Check it out here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Another way to recycle

Several weeks ago I told you about a consumer movement called the Compact, in which people promise year by year to make do, re-use or recycle instead of buying new stuff. There's a parallel group called Freecycle, which helps closet-cleaners hook up with individuals who need what's about to be thrown away. I just discovered that they have a Miami node -- accessible, of course, via Internet.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Corn's no solution to oil depletion

Knowing a bit about the cost of running a farm, I've had an uneasy feeling about all the recent talk of making ethanol for motor fuel out of corn. Now here's a savvy commodities writer to explain it all to you, at Marketwatch.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Energy conservation and the mercury question

I read in the newspaper that Wal-Mart aims to make a big footprint in energy conservation by pushing the sale of compact fluorescent tubes in place of standard incandescent light bulbs. These compacts last years longer and they use less energy, so even at the higher initial cost the economics would seem attractive. What I haven't seen addressed is how to dispose of the tubes when they do burn out. Remember, fluorescent tubes contain elemental mercury -- a poison when it is released into the air. Just as you shouldn't touch the insides of a broken tube or breathe the dust when you clean it up, you shouldn't dispose of tubes where the insides will make their way into the water or the ground. And if we simply send them to the landfill, isn't that what's going to happen?

I called my local Department of Solid Waste Management (SWM) to find out what to do with fluorescent tubes. They switched me to the Miami-Dade County 311 operator, who gave me the address of the nearest of two hazardous-waste disposal sites in the county. I drove to the one at 23707 SW 97th Ave., which is just behind that "mount trashmore" that forms the backdrop to Black Point Marina.

What I found there -- if I was indeed at the right place -- was not very encouraging to anyone who believes in safe disposal of these fluorescent tubes. The SWM people had a sort of a trailer office there, and some open-sided tents with barrels and tables where we're supposed to leave our chemical wastes or chemical-containing hardware, such as computers and TV sets. There was some of that stuff, but no fluorescents that I could see. No attendant was there so I left my tubes on the cart where the sign invited me to leave stuff, and drove away, hoping that whoever returned would do the right thing with my leavings. I'm betting darn few South Dade residents ever trek out to this place with their junk. Where does it go? Probably right into the trash bin, where it will be smashed and ground up with the other stuff spread out on the growing landfill.

But I did find out that Home Depot promises to recycle any fluorescent tubes its customers bring in when they buy new ones. According to the supervisor I talked to at the Pinecrest store, the used tubes are shut away in a locker until a recycling company called 3E comes to take them away.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Right-tweaking the public enterprise

It's been visible in Florida for years that the Republican-dominated government was trying to spin off as many state jobs as possible into for-profit organizations. Followers of the national news could see much the same thing in the widespread use of contractors to support the Iraq war. Now comes the New York Times with a dramatic report on how widespread this kind of contracting really is -- to the point that sometimes it's contractors, not the government, who oversee contractors. I highly recommend Sunday's report by Scott Shane and Ron Nixon. (You'll need to register to use the Times site, if you haven't already.)

For background, I turned up a couple of useful links:

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Myths in the face of climate change

An editorial writer in Pakistan wrestles with the implications of the IPCC report on global warming:
Myth No. 4: Congestion can be solved by road building. This is another classic, often followed by the corollary that less congestion is good for the environment. But a 1994 SACTRA report on the generation of traffic suggests traffic increases beyond projections if new roads are built. Indeed, building roads to ease traffic congestion is much like the government printing more money in times of economic sluggishness: such a step will only create inflation and lead to more sluggishness.
The newspaper is called, simply, The News.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Coverage continues on this week's report on global warming, which should dispel all doubt as to whether we created this climate-disrupting mess. A key passage:
Their report predicted severe heatwaves, droughts, storms and floods resulting from an expected rise of 3 degrees Celsius in average global temperatures by 2100. It will be difficult for governments to ignore because it was agreed by all UN members, including the US and China.
Six years in the making, the report is the most authoritative ever produced on climate change and will form the basis for negotiations on a possible successor to the Kyoto treaty, the main provisions of which expire in 2012.
The most succinct of many reports was in the Financial Times.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Miami magic, at not quite midnight

I caught this shot of the new Carnival Center for the Performing Arts just as I was starting home last night. Doesn't it make you wonder what charms await inside those gleaming walls? Well, here's one critic's take on the sounds:
... The room sounds great. When the music goes loud and fast in the 4th movement of the 9th it was almost overpowering. But where it really shines is on the quiet bits. Bernstein gets all 20th-century-American experimental in the first movement of his symphony, and there are little one- and two-bar solos for various instruments. Each time, it sounded like the player was sitting in my lap. Your ear adjusts for dynamic levels the same way your eye does going from a darkened theater into bright sunlight, but the Knight hall made everything sound just right.
The rest of that piece can be found at Critical Miami.
Want to check it out yourself? Here's what's coming.

Climate panel: Earth warming our own fault

We've seen this coming for a while, but it looks like the scientific consensus is almost complete. Today's report is from Reuters via the Washington Post website. Check out that photo of the melting glacier in Greenland, and the Post's background coverage. Also, here's the site of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I'll look for some other good links to add.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A great wit silenced

(Updated February 2)
One of my favorite writers, Molly Ivins of Texas, will write no more. Here's the AP obit, via CNN's website. She is remembered in her hometown newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Love to see those kids run

A footnote to the ING Miami Marathon was a schoolkid exercise called Run for Something Better. Sixth, seventh and eighth-graders ran the last 1.2 miles of the official half-marathon course, after qualifying by running 20 miles in increments at school or home. I used to love running, and I still love watching runners -- of any age.

The satellite gap

In case you missed it, check out this scary report about the deterioration and likely failure of the weather satellites that have helped warn coastal areas about when and where hurricanes were likely to strike. Marty Merzer and The Miami Herald are doing us a real service by drawing attention to the concerns at the National Academy of Sciences -- that valuable forecast tools such as the QuikSCAT shown here may not be repaired or replaced before they wear out. Here's Merzer's article, and here is the document at the core of his reporting.

Otis Brown, dean of the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami, underlined the gravity of the situation with his own opinion piece in the Herald's oped page. He wrote, in part:
Nearly half of the country's environmental satellites -- most past their estimated life expectancy -- may stop working by 2010, which could lead to a loss of data used to study climate change, predict natural disasters and monitor land use. And, while the potential risk to residents in an area prone to natural disasters and in great need of this information is readily apparent, this is clearly not a budgetary priority for the agencies that maintain the current satellites and plan for new, equally (if not more) effective ones.

The two-year study contained in this report delineates how NASA's Earth science budget has declined 30 percent since 2000, with more funding reductions planned as its priority missions of manned trips to Mars and a station on the moon take further hold. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration likewise faces funding challenges with its National Polar-Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System that is now three years behind schedule and $3 billion over budget.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tech wise but half-smart

Lots of Americans have decided that they don't need to be good spellers or competent map-readers, because their computers fill the gap. You can read it and groan in the New York Daily News.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A new consumer movement

I'm back from the holidays, and greatly refreshed. I think I shall have a few new thoughts for you in days to come.

One springs from a brief disappointment during our holidays, and how we coped. We were spending Christmas at a country house in Virginia, where someone had promised to cut us a tree that we could decorate when we arrived late on Christmas Eve. We arrived even later than expected -- only to find no tree and no prospect of one until sometime on the 25th. Bummer!

But as you see from the photo, we made do with some white pine trimmings left by the power company's right-of-way maintenance. We just stuffed their ends into a big mailing tube, locked the tube into the tree stand and decked the branches with lights and a few ornaments.

Our make-do decorations, I think, fit the spirit of a new group I just heard about that's been under way in San Francisco for about a year. They're part of the anti-consumer movement, which has been around a long time, but the pledge they take -- to buy nothing new for a whole year -- takes commitment to a whole new level. You can read about their thing in a blog called Compact.

The Compact site reminds me of the "swap shop" at my wife's old hometown, Henniker, N.H. There, the community maintains a significant recycling depot for paper, cans and bottles, etc., and part of it is a shed where people take still-usable cast-off belongings that elsewhere might end up in a trash can or, too often, a roadside gully. Everybody contributes and anyone can take away anything they find that they have a use for. Our daughter loves the colorful airline flight bag we found there. Is there a swap shop in your community? Tell us about it, won't you?

And what are YOU doing to re-use, make do or do without?