Flotsam & Jetsam
Gar Smith on: Green City Lofts, Doing the Green Living Tour, Charities -- What Gives, The IRS Agent Who Outgunned the IRS, The Hurricane Victim Handcuffed for Cussing Cheney and Groundhog Day Redux: A Monumental Media Glitch.
September 17, 2005
Green City Lofts
|Edge Editor Gar Smith (left) and Oakland Sustainability Chief Randy Hayes don hardhats to inspect the construction site of the new GreenCity Lofts. Photo credit: Michael Gosney / Cyberset (SF) www.cyberset.cc|
In August, The-Edge ambled down to the Oakland-Emeryville border for the debut of GreenCity Lofts (1007 41st Street at Adeline). A courtyard coffee-bar was cranking out free Fair Trade cappuccinos and organic nutcakes as Oakland Sustainability Chief Randy Hayes told The-Edge: "A lot of so-called 'green' projects that call themselves green are really a pale shade of green. But this one is a nice shade of emerald."
The Green City Lofts (GCL) followed the US Green Building Council's LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) standards to fashion a "diverse mix of loft, townhouse, and single-level plans." The chemical paint factory that formerly occupied the site wasn't demolished, it was "deconstructed." Oakland requires that at least 50% of demolition rubble be recycled but the GCL crew set a record, recycling 94.7 percent of the debris.
Mayor Jerry Brown bestowed Oakland's first Green Development Award on the Lofts and praised the project's "energy and water efficiencies, steel construction, radiant floor heating systems, formaldehyde-free wheat straw-based cabinetry, non-toxic paint and natural flooring materials."
One major obstacle the project faced was Emeryville's 30-foot height limit. Emeryville's eventual decision to allow the four-story complex was proof, Brown punned, that progress requires that we must all "lift our sites."
Donning a hard hat and ducking under a spray of red embers from a welder's torch, The-Edge was given a special "beneath-the-scenes" look at the GCL's trail-blazing hydronic heating system. In an apartment devoid of bamboo flooring, rooms were carpeted with twisting rows of red plastic tubing stapled onto thick pads of foam insulation. The tubes carry hot water from a natural-gas-powered boiler throughout the complex -- one of the most energy efficient forms of space-heating.
During a tour of a GCL apartment, The-Edge ran into eco-visionary Richard Register ("Green Cities," July 2005 CG) who inquired: "How many parking spaces does this building have?" The GCL press kit lists room for 81 cars, 3 electric vehicles and 45 bicycles. "And how many housing units?" The Lofts is described as a "62-unit luxury condominium urban village." Register harrumphed that Berkeley's Gaia Building offers 91 living units (19 low-income) but only 42 parking slots (including charging stations for electric vehicles). "So what makes this so green?
Berkeley's green buildings also sport rooftop gardens but the GCL is capped with a metal roof. Why no solar panels? Emeryville Public Works Officer Peter Schultze-Allen explained that solar panels were omitted after PG&E complained that it would be too difficult to "sub-meter" residents for individual electricity use. Maybe PG&E will reconsider in time for GCL to become part of California's Million Solar Roofs campaign.
Doing the Green Living Tour
The-Edge recently caught up with E Magazine Editor Jim Motavalli in the Oakland backyard of the Center for Environmental Health (CEH), one of the nicer stops on Motavalli's book tour (CEH thoughtfully provided bowls of tasty local, organic fruits and veggies). Having just authored Green Living, The E Magazine Handbook for Living Lightly on the Earth, Motavalli is a walking fount of green lore.
Motavalli greets the audience with a question: "Anyone here know what a Pezev is?" Only one hand pops up. A young woman who's writing a book about the psychological history of the oil-swilling ego-mobile replies: "Partially Zero Emission Vehicles!"
Motavalli gives her a smile and launches into a story with a local angle. Thanks to PZEVs, California's air quality laws "are better than Sweden's," he says. California's original clean-air regs would have mandated the sale of thousands of electric cars but the Detroit automakers raised a stink (nothing new there, say long-suffering ozone-phobes) and PZEV's were introduced as a compromise. (Anything containing the phrase "partially zero" should be treated with suspicion.)
Nonetheless, Motavalli observes the growing demand for foreign hybrids has moved a number of states to opt for tougher California performance standards. "If just one more state comes on board," Motavalli predicts, "this could force Detroit to go to more efficient designs." If they did, the improvements would only cost $200 per car and eliminate 90% or tailpipe gases.
The good news in this new book goes far beyond the redesign of climate-changing greenhouse-gas-buggies. There's info on clean food (40% of Americans are now buying organic products), chemical-free alternatives and healthy homes. But the kicker, of course, is how this information is put to practice.
Motavalli mentions something that recently rocked his socks: "Somebody offered me some bottled water that came from Fiji! Imagine the oil it took to move that bottle from Fiji!" The-Edge paused in mid-pour, noticing that the mineral water being served to hydrate the guests came from a mountain spring in Italy. Let's hope the book has a chapter on digging your own backyard water well.
Charities -- What Gives?
The phone rings. It's a caller from the Sisters of Charity Orphans and Fathers Fund (SCOFF). The mail arrives with a heart-rending letter from the Suffering Child-Amputee Mission (SCAM). Before you reach for your checkbook, you might want to fire up the Internet and look up SCOFF and SCAM on Charity Navigator, America's largest charity evaluator.
The CN website rates the claims of thousands of charities against their actual performance. It shows, at a glance, how much of the money raised was spent on relieving suffering vs. how much was spent on relieving administrative overhead. Charities are also ranked against one another with the best receiving a four-star rating.
If your would-be benefactors don't rate a single star, you might want to reconsider your gift. And if you want to cut short a call from a solicitor who's earned a Master's Degree in Guilt-Tripping 101, just tell him/her that you'll be happy to write a check just as soon as you've checked with Charity Navigator. That usually results in a quick: "God bless you and good-bye."
In August, the folks at Charity Navigator, added a new trick to their role as watchdogs of the charity biz: CN undertook an investigation of CEO salaries at the country's 4,257 biggest charities.
They discovered a huge gap between the highest and lowest CEO salaries. While some nonprofit CEOs serve without pay, one charity paid its top man $1,578,014. Educational charities offered the biggest salaries while religious charities offered the least. The study also revealed a link between ZIP code and VIP load -- CEOs in Boston, New York and Washington, DC pulled down paychecks that were 23% higher than those offered in Salt Lake City or Little Rock.
In a world awash in corruption, CN's overall conclusion was fundamentally reassuring: "With an average salary of roughly $150,000, our findings prove that the majority of CEOs do not earn excessive pay." Sandra Miniutti, CN's Director of External Relations, expressed the hope that the study "helps improve the public's confidence in the charitable sector as a whole."
A Local IRS Agent Outguns the IRS
Two years after graduating from San Jose State with a degree in Business Administration, Joseph R. Banister began a six-year stint as a gun-toting Special Agent with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service. (The government needs enforcers like Banister.
In 2003, the IRS estimates, $353 billion went uncollected and 17 percent of Americans surveyed said they found tax-cheating "acceptable.") In 1999, Banister plowed through the IRS's voluminous regulations and came to a surprising conclusion: there was no legal basis for mandatory federal taxes. Banister presented a 95-page report on his findings to his supervisor, Robert Gorini, and declared: "Unless you can show me that I'm wrong, I'll have to resign." Banister was told, in essence: "OK. Turn in your badge."
Banister returned to work as a CPA and, in the course of his duties, advised a local businessman named Walter Thompson, that there was no legal obligation to withhold taxes from his workers' wages. The IRS hit Thompson with a six-year prison term and charged Banister with filing false tax forms and "conspiracy to defraud." The IRS sent its best lawyers out to put and end to the pestiferous turncoat. On June 14, Banister's Sacramento Federal Court jury trial ended in a unanimous acquittal. In a key move, Banister's lawyers introduced a videotaped interview with Gorini (now retired). Gorini was asked if he could cite the law that required that citizens file tax returns and pay taxes. Under oath, Gorini replied that he could not. Even presiding Judge William Shubb was moved to remark that "the law is uncertain."
The fact that a local jury ruled mandatory taxation illegal should have merited some news coverage. Instead, both the nail-biting trial and its eye-popping verdict went unreported. Apparently, the media watchdogs were too busy down south, salivating over the Michael Jackson trial.
For more on this unreported story: www.josephbanister.com and www.freedomabovefortune.com.
Hurricane Victim Handcuffed for Cursing Cheney
|Dr. Ben Marbel took this videotape of Dick Cheney shortly before hurling a Cheneyese insult at the Vice President. Marbel was handcuffed and briefly detained shortly thereafter.|
Hurricane Victim Handcuffed for Cussing Cheney ....
On September 8, during Vice President Dick Cheney's post-storm tour of Mississippi, his appearance was disrupted by an unidentified man yelling what radio reporters described as "an obscenity that could not be broadcast." Thanks to blogger Jackson Thoreau (http://snipurl.com/hkbw), we now know the identity of Cheney's Mississippi. The hurler of verbal abuse was emergency room physician and alternative rock-band member Dr. Ben Marble
Dr. Marble, one of thousands who lost their homes due to Hurricane Katrina, was trying to reach his demolished Gulfport home when he was stopped at a military police checkpoint 200 feet from his house. He was told that no one could pass the barricade and ordered to take another route home, which would require an extra 20 minutes-worth of his remaining gasoline.
In a letter describing his encounter with Cheney, Marble explained: "Gas is really expensive and extremely hard to get anywhere Katrina has destroyed," "So needless to say, I was extremely aggravated that they wouldn't let me pass."
Before he could turn around, a convoy of dark cars approached, honking and demanding that Marble clear his vehicle to let them through the supposedly "closed" barricade. "I waved a middle finger at the caravan," Marble confessed.
After driving the extra 20 minutes, Marble reached his home. When he overheard a neighbor saying that Cheney was up the street talking to people, Marble approached a couple police officers and asked if he and a friend could stroll over to visit. The smiling officers agreed, adding that Cheney was "looking forward" to talking to "the locals."
"For those who don't know," Marble wrote, "Mr. Cheney is infamous for telling Senator [Pat] Leahy 'go f--- yourself' on the Senate floor. Also, I am not happy about the fact that thousands have died due to the slow action of FEMA -- not to even mention the wrong-war-in-the -wrong -place at the wrong time -- i.e. Iraq.
"So we grabbed my Canon digital rebel and my Sony videocamera and started walking down the street. And then, right in front of the destroyed tennis court I used to play on, Dick Cheney was giving a pep rally, talking to the press. The Secret Service guys patted us down and waved the wands over us, and then let us pass."
When Mable and his buddy got within 10 feet of Cheney, Marble suddenly yelled, "Go f--- yourself, Mr. Cheney! Go f--- yourself, you a------!" CNN and other media filmed the scene.
"I had no intention of harming anyone but merely wanted to echo Mr. Cheney's infamous words back at him," Marble explained. "At that moment, I noticed the Secret Service guys with a panic-stricken look on their faces, like they were about to tackle me, so I calmly walked away back to my former house."
Later, as Marble and his friend were salvaging remnants from the home, two military police arrived, brandishing M-16's. They explained that they were looking for a man who matched Marble's description who had cursed Cheney.
"I told them I was probably the person they were looking for." Marble wrote. "So they put me in handcuffs and 'detained' me for about 20 minutes. My right thumb went numb because the cuffs were on so tight, but they were fairly courteous and eventually released me after getting all my contact info. They said I had NOT broken any laws so I was free to go.
"Even with all our losses, we are still luckier than many people down here because at least we didn't die," Marble wrote.
Marble has put his unique video up for auction on eBay. Marble also has an Internet site with photos of hurricane damage at www.HurricaneKatrinaSucked.com. Marble can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Groundhog Day Redux: Monumental Media Glitch
|The Pope -- He Is Risen!|
If the March 19 glitch affecting the San Francisco broadcast of the ABC Evening News had happened just one week later, viewers might have seen Pope John Paul II rise from the grave to greet devotees with a wave from the Vatican balcony.
"It was a computer that didn't delete an old file, causing six minutes of the dated newscast to run," KGO-TV programming official Greg Giusso told The-Edge. "Our master control operator's scrambled to fix the problem and succeeded in quickly repairing an otherwise detailed issue."
And how many viewers were even aware of this epic flub? According to Giusso, "We received about 35 phone calls and two email inquiries."
It happened back in March but, as media flubs go, it deserves to be acknowledged. In an unprecedented slip-up on Friday, March 18, viewers of the ABC Evening News may have experienced a bit of déjà vu. The lead story detailed the exploits of fugitive Brian Nichols, the alleged "Atlanta courthouse killer" accused of murdering Judge Leftkow's husband and mother.
According to grim-faced ABC reporters, Nichols was still on the loose as Leftkow's mother was being buried. Halfway through the newscast, however, the show suddenly broke into a report on assisted health care for the elderly. And a new anchor popped up -- Terry Moran.
The problem was, Leftkow's mother had been buried for more than a week and Nichols had already been tracked down, arrested and re-jailed.
An ABC source tells The-Edge that ABC accidentally started broadcasting a newscast from earlier in the week.
Had this error happened just one week later, millions of Catholics mourning the death of Pope John Paul II would have turned on their TVs to witness a "live video" of the buried Pope waving to them from the balcony of St. Peter's. The repercussions of seeing the Pope rise from the dead could have caused many viewers to conclude that the world was finally experiencing The Rapture.
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