Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I Prefer the Foam on Beer

I don't normally go into details about the ins and outs of green building specifics and techniques but of late insulation has been the driving questions as it relates to the largest energy efficiency payback. And the number one question is about spray foam insulation.

I am not a great fan of the product except in crawl spaces such as attic and below grade.

The reason being is that it is messy for a retrofit, expensive and has a long long shelf life. (In other words it does not biodegrade nor recyclable). And I question the effect it has on indoor air quality.

All spray foams contain petroleum-based chemicals Some spray-foam manufacturers, including BioBased Insulation, Demilec, and Icynene, have "greened" their spray-foam formulas by reducing the percentage of petroleum-based chemicals in their B component, but not their A component.

Foam based insulation is comprised of two components called A and B (which are mixed together at the job site). Only a portion of the B component in these products has been replaced with a resin derived from soy oil or castor oil (the green stuff). And this is essential to understand that it is not 100% "green" and simply can't be.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has ruled that only 7% of a spray-foam product needs to be made of a renewable resource to be labeled as a bio-based foam.

So if that is important to you know this up front and while its the superior insulation product available its one reason why I say use it judiciously and carefully.

Understanding what foam is and isn't and the types of foam available is essential if you decide to go that route.

There are two kinds open and closed:


Open cell foams are approximately a half pound (0.5) per cubic foot. It is relatively vapor-permeable. And has a R-factor of approximately 3.5 per inch.

Some of the low-density foams (as those mentioned above) are made from bio-based raw material, such as soybean, in place of a portion of the petrochemicals; in these the blowing agent is either water or carbon dioxide.

Open cell products use significantly less material which from a resource standpoint makes them appealing, however, open cell foams have a lower R-value per inch than the closed cell foams.

Depending on the climate vapor retarders (such as paint) may be required.

Cost: about $0.44 to $0.65 per board foot


It has a density of two pounds per cubic foot and therefore is more expensive than the open cell "half pound" type.

Closed-cell foam is a vapor retarder. And offers a higher insulation value and lower permanence barrier. Meaning less air transference and simply better at insulating the home which explains the cost differential. It also lends structural support and strength to your building.

Cost: about $0.70 to $1 per board foot

Neither of them are for the DIY'ers. Frankly you need to hire a professional who is used to working with both/either of the materials and can offer the right type of suggestions on which will work best regarding the project, current code requirements and climate the home is in.

Again, price options and understanding all options when it comes to insulation is the key to finding your right shade of green.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Stepford Wives meet the Truman Show

LEED in its infamous desire to take over the Green World has devised a set criteria to guide metropolitan areas into what makes a city "green."

I already have my issues with this as well this is overstepping the bounds I think of any group to come up with a definitive urban plan as one size fits all for all cities. Wow just wow at the hubris of that. But also its just unrealistic in this economic crisis to start preaching to cities that are struggling on how they could improve their infrastructure by following this simple checklist and attain Platinum/Gold/Silver.

The NAHB of course has the same plan (I mean who doesn't?) but they at least are addressing some issues such as well the proof isn't in the green house gases. Like anything measuring carbon footprints and the like are rather difficult if not impossible but it doesn't mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It does mean really examining how a city provides an infrastructure that reduces waste, improves the environment and provides an affordable quality of life for its residents. But on that note I don't want to live in Stepford or the Truman show to make it work.

High-Density Housing Reduces Travel, Green House Gas Only Modestly, NAHB Study Says

The creation of higher-density communities is likely to alter travel behavior only modestly and have a similarly modest impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), according to new NAHB research.

“NAHB strongly supports higher density, mixed-use, walkable and transit-oriented development, and we support local land-use policies that make it easier to create that type of development, but it is not a panacea” said NAHB CEO Jerry Howard.

“Not everyone wants to, or is able to, live in a high-density community,” he said, “and consumers continue to require a range of housing types and neighborhoods because of a complex set of interacting market, demographic and other factors.”

Conducted for NAHB by Abt Associates, a research and consulting firm based in Cambridge, Mass., the analysis was based on a review of almost 200 studies on residential density and its relationship to travel behavior and climate change.

“With Congress and several federal agencies considering sweeping mandates and targeted incentives on density, transit and climate change, we feel it is important to make sure policy makers understand the actual research on this issue and the complexities involved,” Howard said. “Before the government starts dictating how Americans should live and the types of communities they can live in, we should make sure that sound research validates that as a sensible policy approach.”

The study found that while much of the vast volume of research on the topic shows a link between higher density communities and the number of vehicle miles traveled (VMTs), it is an oversimplification that higher density equals lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Instead, vehicle miles traveled are determined by a complex set of interactions between density and other factors — such as the socioeconomic characteristics of residents, the availability of public transit, neighborhood accessibility to jobs and services, the time and cost associated with various forms of transit, and many other factors.

“Indeed, the decision to encourage or require higher-density residential development is more complex still, because an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is only one reason for presumably favoring a particular development pattern,” the authors wrote. “Other important features of residential development include the affordability of the homes, their appeal, the cost of production, the privacy they provide and the comfort and protection they offer to the residents of the housing.”

The study found that a number of factors must be considered in assessing the relationship between density of the built environment and travel behavior. These include:

The continuing trend toward decentralization of employment away from city centers
The growing importance of non-work trips, which represent the majority of trips taken, often involve multiple destinations and are thus less well-suited to public transit
The increasing number of households with two workers who often commute to different locations. The availability and efficiency of public transit options

In fact, the review of the literature found that density at the destination — the place of employment -— was more important than residential density. New Urbanism-type street patterns have only weak or no impact on auto usage. And densely developed cities with an employment center are the best candidates for rail transit. Cities increasingly do not fit this description, so massive investments in new rail lines would be required to substantially increase rail transit ridership.

“Few studies include the impact of travel cost — either in terms of time or money — on travel behavior, but those that do conclude that pricing may play a more important role in explaining travel behavior than characteristics of the built environment,” the study says.

“They conclude that changes in policies that affect the monetary or time cost of car ownership and use — such as increases in gas taxes or the price or availability of parking and the supply of roads — are more effective in changing travel behavior than any other policy. If policy makers find these types of economic incentives to be unpalatable, they suggest that increasing the supply of transit or implementing policies that change land-use patterns are a distant second-best alternative.”

Saturday, June 26, 2010


It should be no surprise that I watch the Green channel. Frankly I got hooked on the compelling story to rebuild Greensburg but then ended up watching Green Renovation a show that did not have me green with envy. It is a green knock off of This Old House, down to its host. But unlike This Old House - the original in GREEN renovation - it had a tone of smugness that I found annoying (by the way a frequent critique of Seattle and its people is that quality but I will leave that argument for another day...) I knew many of the guests/homes featured on the show as it was filmed here and well let's just say I don't really connect much with many of the greenies here but again that is for another blog so I will pass on commenting.

I still watch the Green channel as well I like it and the new addition of The Fabulous Beekman Boys brings a touch of Bravo without the drama. The story of a very urban gay couple who opened a farm in upstate New York. Most of their knowledge comes via Google and their goat farmer, Farmer John, as they market and sell their goat milk soap and cheese. Its hilarious, real and really interesting about going green Martha Stewart style.

Other shows I love are Work of Art on Bravo. A reality show about artists trying new mediums and winning a showcase of their art brings the "process" of another type of creation to reality TV. Bravo home of Top Chef and formerly Project Runway they load up on characters but also with a diverse array of talent that gives people I think a great introduction to what can seem intimidating - the art world. We need to embrace our Artists as another way of supporting local and sustainable culture.

I of course still love Dirty Jobs and Deadliest Catch. Despite the loss of the patriarch on the latter these shows bring dignity, humor and tragedy to real jobs about real people. They are far more interesting than the mock celebrity housewives and slutty bimbos that seem to be the dominant in reality television.

Summer be it a hot day or well a cool one as we have here in the Northwest is a perfect time to discover a great thriller or book that offers a distraction. Even I have put down the non-fiction for awhile and checking out the bestseller list for the Dragon Tattoo series.

With the world at such disarray watching people who struggle with love and humor and passion about what they do is always a great way to find some joy in your life as well.

Friday, June 25, 2010

America on the Forefront of FAILURE?

I have long said that our (as in America)greenest resources are its people. When you provide a solid infrastructure, as in Education, Employment and Opportunity then you will have a population vested in making and keeping it success.

When you have less than 10% of the population controlling and succeeding in that effort you have an Oligarchy. And that is what we currently have. And yet we seem to want to do nothing to change that.

Unemployment hovers "officially" at 9.7% but we know its much higher. This does not take into account the millions of underemployed or self employed. And of late it appears an increasing number of homeless if we don't find ways of getting support to those desperately in need.

The Republicans in their infinite wisdom are of course sure that right now tax breaks will somehow miraculously create the 10 plus million jobs we need and in turn reduce that pesky deficit that has they and their ilk in arms. Of course they also blame any of those on Unemployment or Food Stamps (which for many is their only lifeline and means of support) as lazy or as one Congressman referred to as Hobos.

Several Republicans are equating joblessness with laziness and many of the upcoming midterm Candidates share that sentiment. Equating any aid as encouraging laziness, a sense of entitlement and corrupt individuals prone to reckless breeding like wild animals and drug taking. Yes those analogies have been making the rounds when it comes to the reasons why Republicans feel they need to be in control.

I have nothing more to say with regards to that but I will reprint this article from Salon that I believe fairly assesses the current Republican party's feelings on the matter.


Do Republicans actually want America to fail?
By Alex Pareene

Tomorrow, more than a million people who've been out of work for six months or more will lose unemployment benefits, because Senate Republicans and theoretical Democrat Ben Nelson joined together to block an already too-small package of half-measures designed to provide some modicum of help for the nation's millions of jobless people.

The vote was 57-41. Oddly, the side with 41 votes actually won. Because that is how the Founders wanted things to not work in this god-blessed nation.

Hundreds of thousands of public- and private-sector employees will also soon to joint he ranks of the unemployed (and hope they don't become the long-term unemployed, because no one much seems to care about them), because the bill could not be made quite weak and ineffective enough to win the support of the only two "moderate" Republicans alive (two women from Maine who never actually act on their "moderate" beliefs).

"It's unpleasant to think about, and I really hope it's not true, but it may be time for a discussion about whether GOP lawmakers are trying to deliberately sabotage the economy to help their midterm election strategy," Steve Benen wrote.

Senator Debbie Stabenow suggested much the same thing after the vote:

It is very clear that the Republicans in the Senate want this economy to fail. They see that things are beginning to turn around. You know the numbers. When this president took office, we were losing 750,000 jobs a month. … Now we are gaining jobs. … Unfortunately, and cynically [on their part], in cynical political terms, it doesn’t serve them in terms of their elections if things are beginning to turn around.

Do Republicans actually want the economy to fail? Greg Sargent says they just want the government to fail, and they don't care if they take out the economy in the process. Ezra Klein says they've just deceived themselves into believing that tackling the deficit is more important and responsible.

I think Republicans don't want to hurt America, but I also think they literally don't give a shit about the poor and unemployed. Philosophically, Republicans are not concerned about a huge and growing underclass of desperately impoverished people, and instinctively they just dislike the unfortunate. That's why Orrin Hatch want's to drug test the unemployed.

Obviously that's not true of all conservatives -- some of them do, indeed, think there are conservative policies that will help the poor or unemployed lead more comfortable and dignified lives -- but it's apparently true of the vast majority of elected Republicans.

Republicans don't hate America, they just don't care about lots of Americans. (And many of them don't count about half of Americans as Real Americans.) They don't want the country to fail, they just don't think it counts as a failure when millions of people can't find work or afford healthcare or buy groceries.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cash For Caulkers

My friend Houston at Software Advice put together a really nice article on the current Cash for Caulkers bill in Congress.

I cannot stress enough that this is needed more than ever. With new housing sales at record lows (currently below numbers in our last recession in 1981) the only way to really keep our Contractors and related building professionals working is through Energy retrofits.

These type of retrofits are not just good for business, they are good for the environment. By reducing consumption and emissions Consumers can see very quick and easy benefits to their energy bill while also contributing to sustainable housing. Having a tax credit to allow for what is necessary and almost routine maintenance can't be a bad thing or even a partisan thing. Leaving politics aside encourage Congress to pass The Home Star bill and get your home working for you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Google Ain't for the Old

I caught this article in Gawker and I am very interested in what the results will be.

I recall the early days of Microsoft and Bill Gates declaration that philanthropy was not something he could see himself be involved with.. well of course most white rich men who are single say that they are all Randians until the wife and kids arrive and suddenly well Gates Foundation. But of course his book about the Internet Highway is rich with quotes that well belie Microsoft's unfortunate missing that bus on the highway to well Google - and well to quote Alanis Morisette, Isn't it Ironic?

Now all founders eventually get over 40 but in the highly competitive and male dominated culture of the tech field you have a lot of arrested development. But to read how Google diminishes the roles of what they perceive as "oldsters" is neither surprising but nonetheless appalling.

At Google, You're Old and Gray At 40

At Google, You're Old and Gray At 40Google faces an imminent California Supreme Court decision on whether it engaged in age discrimination. But that hasn't kept the Internet company from patting itself on the back for how it supports old "Greyglers" — that's any Googler over 40.

At a company of about 20,000 full-time employees, there were at last count fewer than 200 formally enrolled Greyglers working to "make Google culture... welcome to people of all ages." But Google has been keen to highlight the group on its "diversity and inclusion" Web page, where the poster boy for the Greyglers is a 46-year-old cycling enthusiast from New York named Scott.

Athletic in build and, per his bio, philanthropically hyperactive, Scott is much in the mold of Marissa Mayer and other members of Google's young inner circle. The significantly older fellow now suing Google had more trouble fitting in; before Google higher education executive Brian Reid was let go at 53, he said he was called an "old fuddy-duddy" who was a weak "cultural fit" at the overwhelmingly young company.

The California Supreme Court is to rule on his appellate case by the end of August. In the meantime, old 40+ Googlers who want to fit in might take their cues from Scott; he definitely won't ever be mistaken for a fuddy-duddy."

The Three Bears Process

I look at everything with a very simple analogy: The Three Bears.

How I decide if something will work for a client is by looking at at least three different elements in a product. They should include need, cost and performance. Three right there. Its like anything Goldilocks did she tried all three before she found what was "just right."

In buying green products be they building materials - exterior or interior, finishes, design or larger scale elements such as appliances, HVAC and even landscaping you have to ask yourself "is this going to work for my project?" Its that simple of a question. And I find people don't like asking many questions. They stick with what they know its easier and they also fear looking dumb when they don't know something. I must be really dumb - I ask a lot of questions. I also am not afraid to share what I know or have heard, read or learned about from others. Feedback and exchange is the best way to know what works and well what doesn't.. but also why.

So what are the steps to finding your right shade of green?

1 Define the Essentials

You can do so by borrowing a set of criteria and do your own evaluation (as in those from your local build green guild, LEED or NAHB for example) Evaluate what you can and can't do or is needed for the project. If time or knowledge is a factor then its time to reach out to any number of professionals with the experience or expertise regarding product and procedural knowledge. All of the green criteria require a third party and even if you are not going the full route finding a green consultant (like Vida Verde) is a great way to start.

2. Get a Checklist of what you NEED: From insulation to appliances list those out and then go to the appropriate guides - from Green Building Products or Treefrogger, Energy Star, Cradle to Cradle or any number of other green source sites to find out recommended and tested products. They are the Green Housekeeping Seal of Approval

3, Test and Evaluate the product. When it doubt try it out. My garage is my lab and many products often get a trial run. I am also not afraid to go to any number of green websites and post questions or do searches on the product to see if any others have used them and what were their results. Green Building Talk is one such resource. Talk to the manufacturers reps about their products get a comparative quote and find out from suppliers what is selling and their feedback.

Again this is what a Green Consultant does as well and this may be simply an easy and affordable option. Here at Vida Verde I am at trade shows and professional workshops a great deal so I am always on the cutting edge of what is new and what is old and still works.

And evaluate total OVERALL cost (not just the purchase price) include the long range: operational costs, durability, and especially replacement/maintenance costs. Green products may and do have shorter lifespans and if that is an issue it needs to be addressed first. Maintenance and upkeep are essential components in any use.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Life and Cycle

Again as I sit her "blogging" on my MacBook Pro it would be hypocritical to criticize Apple for their innovations on the technology front.

But I have to laugh at those that queue up to be the first to attain the latest gadget calling themselves early adopters. I call them fools and a fool and his money are soon parted.

Many of the innovations that line our waste are filled with the rejects of our early toys. They are replaced no because of a lack of usefulness but because a new shiny toy with a new "feature" was added to make that old thing obsolete.

The Electronic graveyards are overflowing and like other jobs outsourced to countries it is there where they are broken down in unsafe conditions with workers paid subsidence wages. But its "recycled" right? So its all good.

And while almost all the technology advances as Apple creates - software, design and product concepts are American made - the actual products themselves are NOT. They are made in China at factories that run 24/7 with wages and conditions that have contributed to suicides and strikes by its workers.

Meanwhile as they try to demand a sufficient wage the wages in this country decline and yet we are almost obliged to buy a continuing array of modern products for fear of obsolescence means being "behind." Well when more and more of your decreasing disposable income goes to stuff you will have less for the the real stuff you need.

I am very careful to replace electronics when I HAVE too. My IPhone was purchased when ironically my Virgin phone was lost and the IPhone had just come out with it 3GS version dropping the price to $99 bucks. Cost benefit analysis led me to also realize for about a few dollars more I got more bang for the buck for the phone. I am still debating on how to reduce my monthly fees and recently when my 5 year old Ipod died it was more affordable to buy a reconfigured one, smaller, but it allowed me to sit down and think about how to use it more effectively and intentionally.

Many of the features of the Iphone are on the IPod and the IPad(which I don't own but when this laptop goes it may make more sense to replace it with that) so really should have to wonder what or why you want more stuff? I also cannot understand it when we have an economy where there are fewer jobs with less benefits and pay as before is it the time to encourage more consumption? Yes it is helping our business at what costs?

And then I am reminded when I read this a.m. that the remaining Whirlpool plant in Indiana is closing. For years it benefited a community offering great wages at $18/hr but now no longer can afford to do so and remain competitive so they are moving the plant to Mexico where they are paying the workers $4/hr.

Something is not right about any of it. How do people make sufficient wages to buy anything from Whirlpool and Apple? Seriously how do you expect this country to come out of this recession/depression when over 10 million people are unemployed and the number underemployed is double that. The average pay is about $10 bucks an hour and no benefits yet you have to have the latest gadget or be feared out of touch and out of date.

Yet everyone thinks they are green. Really tossing out stuff that still works, buying stuff that is redundant, buying stuff because you have to be the first to have it. The way marketing works you would think everyone is a winner baby and a millionaire too.

I met a man recently at a bar in SF who was on a two year hiatus from his job at Google to get to know San Francisco. A city he has lived near for over 20 years. Okay then. Of course he told me that like all the tech people I knew there "he was somehow making a difference." I said the only difference he could make was getting America to work, making the goods that are now being made in China, Mexico, etc and recycling all that shit here, paying decent wages that the tech sector gets to others and really seeing how that free market economy works for EVERYONE not the SELECT few.

People like that believe their bullshit. They have to. I don't. Free Market is good until the mortgage market or the oil well explodes then well I can't see Google really helping me there.

An Apple a day keeps the Doctor away. Well with the rising cost of health care it may be more true than necessary but buying an Apple product a day it keeps the Jobs happy.


The Half-Life of Phones
Published: June 18, 2010

June comes, and a new iPhone is introduced to the world, creating a shock wave of obsolescence. In the aftermath of first-day preordering chaos last week — caused, apparently, by a major computer glitch — it is worth thinking about the cycle of novelty and the very brief half-life of handheld electronics. There is something feverish in the rush to adoption, something almost obsessive in the way our desires are driven by these objects. The question is rarely ever, do I need a new phone? It is almost always, do I want one?

Few objects on the planet are farther removed from nature — less, say, like a rock or an insect — than a glass and stainless steel smartphone. And yet the materials of which it is made have ultimately all been abstracted from nature, resources consumed in the long chain of the manufacturing process, very few of which — apart from the packing materials — have been recycled. Nearly everyone who buys an iPhone 4 will be replacing an older phone, which means a cascade of discarded phones, some handed down to other users, some recycled, some disposed of in appropriate ways, and some simply junked.

How many cellphones have you owned so far? The answer will depend on your age and technical savvy. But if you have been using cellphones, as many of us have, since the mid-1990s, the answer may well be a dozen or more. And the pace of change — the in-built functionality of smartphones — is only increasing, which is likely to mean an even faster rate of replacement. We are not immune to techno-lust or the seduction of great product design or even the unattainable quest for call clarity. But we look forward to a day when new phones are made from the carcasses of our old phones and the cost of obsolescence is not so high.

A Father's Day Dialogue

I read this in the opinion page of the NY Times this morning. It is an engaging exchange between a father and son. It is one I have had with myself, others and on the pages of this blog many times.

I have been disappointed but not surprised about Obama and his continual "lack of engagement" with the American people on what are critical issues facing out Country. In a Country so divided by partisan politics that NOTHING gets done and when done is so marginal and inadequate that you wonder what was the point - Health Care reform anyone? Although ironically the issue that had the country in arms 6 months ago is now receiving 60% approval ratings. Okay then!

As we face issues such as financial and immigration reform and the need for a real solid energy plan I wonder if Obama has the steam to push progressive legislation through a Congress divided by a less a Continental one and more like a Stratospheric one.

I have complained that the only people who seem to be fighting out loud are the self described teabaggers.. you know the Christian Coalition of the 21st Century. Well everyone needs to re brand now and then. And while I disagree with EVERYTHING they have to say I at least respect them for well getting out there. Its more than the ironic liberal majority are doing.

I reprint the exchange below and appreciate the sentiments of both writers. They make salient valid points that are worthy of any Dad's day dinner table.


Generations in the Balance
Published: June 18, 2010

DANIEL Had I been 18 in November 2008, I would have voted for Barack Obama. However, being 14, I settled for voicing my support for him and expressing joy at his election. I believed, innocently, that his administration would put its foot down, stamping out the environmental crisis that his predecessors had allowed to fester unnoticed. I felt Mr. Obama knew how to do the right thing morally, even if it meant going against the “right thing” politically.

Less than two years later, I have become hugely pessimistic about the moral resolve of our government and corporate world. Deepwater Horizon has been the tipping point. I was already skeptical: an increase in offshore drilling, our government’s passive stance at Copenhagen and the absence of any environmental legislation saw to that.

But BP made me realize that the generation in office just doesn’t get it. They see the environmental crisis in the same light as they see political debacles and economic woes. Politics pass and economies rebound, but the environment doesn’t. It’s that sense of “We’ll get that done right after we have dealt with everything else” that makes me so angry. The world is not an expendable resource; fixing the damage you have inflicted will be the issue for my generation. It is that simple.

TONY Well, I am 62 and I did vote for Barack Obama. I held out no great hopes. It was clear from the outset that this was someone who would concede rather than confront — and that’s a shortcoming in a politician, if not in a man. We have seen the consequences: not in the Middle East, nor in economic regulation, nor over detainees, nor in immigration reform has Mr. Obama followed through. The audacity of hope?

As for the corporations, we baby boomers were right to be cynical. Like Goldman Sachs, oil companies are not benign economic agents, serving a need and taking a cut. They are, in Theodore Roosevelt’s words, “malefactors of great wealth.” But our cynicism dulled our response to truly criminal behavior: “They would do that, wouldn’t they?” It is one thing to watch while Goldman Sachs pillages the economy, quite another to be invited to stand aside while BP violates the Gulf Coast. Yes, we should be a lot angrier than we are.

We are staring into our future and it does not work. The gush of filth is a reminder that we have surrendered our independence to a technology we cannot master. Our energies are misdirected to expensive foreign wars whose purposes grow ever more obscure. We rail at one another in “cultural” clashes irrelevant to our real problems.

Meanwhile, the clockwork precision of our classical constitution has ground to a halt — depending as it does on a consensus that no longer exists. Taking the long view, this is how republics die. “Someone” clearly has to do “something.” What do you propose?

DANIEL Just as you are too forgiving of unacceptable corporate behavior, maybe you are too resigned politically. To actually effect change, you need to come in thinking that real change is possible. My generation saw things that way; that is why so many young people supported Mr. Obama. Perhaps more than any other constituency in the United States, we believed that engagement would make things happen. But the more we are told that crises are to be expected and cannot be prevented by those in power — that we must put our faith in God, as the president advised on Tuesday — the more our faith in government slips away.

Politicians depend on the public: given a strong enough consensus, they will act. That’s what I would have had you do — and that’s what we have to do now: build a consensus and act. Your generation talked a lot about engagement. So engage. Use the lever of public opinion to force strong environmental legislation.

In reconciling ourselves after BP to “getting back to normal,” we will have missed a vital opportunity. We need a new “normal.” And we need to ask ourselves new questions: not whether we can afford to invest in a different way of life — solar energy, mass transportation, the phasing out of our dependency on oil — but how long we can afford not to. You owe us this.

TONY I am a little queasy about all this generation talk. After all, I am the same age as Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, but I take no responsibility for them. Actually, while I agree that we need to build a national consensus, I don’t think the challenge is to convince Americans about pollution or even climate change. Nor is it just a matter of getting them to make sacrifices for the future. The challenge is to convince them once again of how much they could do if they came together.

But that requires leadership — and I can’t help noticing that you rather let the president off the hook. After all, if you and your contemporaries have lost faith in the man and “the system,” that’s partly his fault. But you, too, have a responsibility.

Coming together to elect someone is not enough, if you then go back to texting and Twittering. You have to stay together, know what you want and fight for it. It won’t work the first time and it won’t work perfectly, but you can’t give up. That, too, is politics.

You are wrong to think that I have lost faith in government. Big government built this country. Without it there would have been no transcontinental railroad. Land-grant colleges — the glory of American public education — were the work of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The nation invested substantial sums of money for the public good: remember the Marshall Plan, the G.I. Bill and the Interstate highways, without which our postwar economy could never have boomed as it did. And don’t forget the Civil Rights Act: a hugely controversial moral revolution that took great political courage.

I have not lost faith in government — but I worry about whether today’s politicians are up to the challenge.

DANIEL You’re right — I do let the president off a little. But to have so many young people help elect a government after years of skepticism is no small feat. He almost single-handedly instilled political vigor in those of us who knew only shame over the previous administration. Without that surge of hope and thirst for action it is very possible that most members of my generation would have abandoned politics in disgust before they even began. For that mobilization, we have Mr. Obama to thank.

Of course he deserves criticism. But what we must not do — both as a generation and as a nation — is to let our disillusion devolve into pessimism and laziness. What we now face is a moral challenge from which we cannot back down.

I was afraid that in your skepticism you had lost faith and given up — you have to admit that the radicalism of your generation never quite lived up to its potential. You always say that politics is “the art of the possible”: but if we could turn our anger into positive action, then surely the possible becomes a whole lot more probable. Is anger a wise guide to action? Admittedly, if used for the wrong causes or taken the wrong way, it can be disastrous. But isn’t it better than sitting back and complaining while we are led over the edge?

TONY Yes, it is not beyond us to sacrifice in the present for long-term advantage, to set aside the pursuit of quarterly economic growth as the supreme goal of public policy. We offer ourselves easy choices — high taxation or free markets — and are then surprised to learn that they do not speak to our needs. Technological fixes are the hubris of our time. But as the folks at BP have helpfully demonstrated, there is a limit to how many caps you can put on a leak; sometimes you need to start afresh.

The challenge goes beyond oil slicks and moral revulsion. In the bigger picture, big oil has no long-term future: sooner or later the contemptible little sheikdoms that have arisen upon a pool of liquid greed will sink back into the desert. But why should BP and the emirs script the endgame? Nothing manmade is inevitable: Chinese capitalism — unregulated profit accompanied by serial environmental catastrophe — is not the only possible future.

The president spoke on Tuesday of pressing forward with Congressional legislation. But at the moment that amounts to little more than “cap and trade”: a shell game for corporations that has been tried in Europe and already been found wanting.

What we need is a Marshall Plan for the 50 states. Federal money raised from defense savings and, yes, taxes — a loan to our successors — should be made available on condition it is spent on public infrastructure, mass transit, renewable energy and education. Anything less is unworthy of the crisis that a 60,000-barrel-a-day leak has unleashed. Are you up to it? If you want to change the world, you had better be willing to fight for a long time. And there will be sacrifices. Do you really care enough or are you just offended at disturbing pictures?

DANIEL We have no choice but to care enough. The sacrifices you foresee are nothing compared to the ones we will be forced to make if we sit back and wait. Most important, we don’t have the luxury of fighting for a long time.

Look, we are powerless and will be for a while to come. In fact, we are in the worst possible position: we are old enough to understand better than you what has to be done, but far too young to do it. All we can do is say it.

Daniel Judt is in the ninth grade at the Dalton School. Tony Judt is the author of “Ill Fares the Land” (and his father).

Friday, June 18, 2010

In Defense of Women

Of late I feel that on one had there is the triumphant cry that this is the year of women as noted by the rise of women in the current mid term elections. Then I look at the women and wonder where these women come from. Distinctly uber conservative, many of them from wealthy backgrounds and most "tea party" endorsed. These are not qualities I find common to women I know.

A recent article in Newsweek discussing the appeal of "Saint" Sarah Palin; the article claims her popularity stems from her pro life stance and strong family values that appeal to the religious right. Seriously? Is the best woman our political climate has to offer? I don't even care about her politics as much as I find her simple lack of intelligence and her refusal to even acknowledge the road feminism offered her to even get where she is seems hollow, artificial and hypocritical. To eschew the road women have taken and the road we still travel is something I cannot ignore. Is that what contributes to my political leanings? Gender, as in any other issue - race, religion or sexual orientation - has some place in where you find your voice. Mostly it comes from my opportunity to be exposed to Education and travel. Without the chance to see other countries and know other people I am sure that much of my views and philosophies would be different. That said I am very much a product of gender.

So I question of course when women like Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are attacked for their aggressive management style. Ms. Whitman and Ms. Fiorina, while I do not agree with their politics, were CEO's of major Technology companies where few women lead. They have been criticized for their style and strategies in business, while I am not interested in that debate, but if they were valid I wonder how many men would be given a pass and have been for similar "styles?"

Women still are not leading the way and most evaluations are often based on physical appearance and sexual desirability. That seems to be the primary reason Sarah Palin remains such a force... a MILF is often an acronym used. Yes I want my political leaders elected on their "fuckability" quotient vs their skills, knowledge and experience. Even Ms. Fiorina could not resist a jibe about her opponent, Ms Boxer, regarding her hair as "so yesterday." Is that the best she can do or is that all she can do to level the playing field. Resorting to denigrating looks. I don't know have you looked at some of the males of Congress, other than Scott Brown, none of them can claim model looks. And I wonder if that wasn't again the major factor in his appeal - at attractive truck driving DILF?

I worry when I see the Wal-Mart discrimination suit brewing with the news that the Company knew since the 90s that their practices in hiring had discrimination potential. That Novartis, a company touted as woman friendly, in fact has now been demonstrated as anything but.

Then of course there is the entertainment media with Sex and the City 2 and the varying Housewives of Bravo TV who demonstrate good old fashioned unabashed vulgarity and cattiness. What was ground breaking in its view of sex and womanhood in the 90s now seems dated. The most positive thing I read was the design of specialized Laptops that reflected each woman...of course more expensive than traditional models but hey let's pay more we are worth more? How is that parity?

As for the Housewives well desperation breeds desperation and if bringing world wide wrestling in Loubitans is what we need during our times of troubles then bring it! After the last season in NYC and the upcoming DC version undoubtedly BRAVO has a new cash cow unseen since the arrival of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. At least that was positive.

We've come a long way baby was the slogan in the 70s? Well I ask myself have we? Women possess more degrees and are better educated than ever before; the opportunities to move into both professions and politics are there but at what cost and at what sacrifice? I wonder when people ask why as article after article states the hours of extra house work, the lack of men available to marry or the "need" to marry down. If these are the real issues - not pay, not promotion, not are you too pretty or too old, not pretty enough to hold a job then I wonder where or what the role of women truly is?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Why I am not blogging about BP

I have made a very conscious decision to NOT blog about the BP oil crisis in the gulf. The reason being is there is nothing I can add to the long and even longer discussion about the spill.

I remember about 3 weeks ago, what was that day 35 or so and listening to a rebroadcast of a news story in 1979. It sounded so contemporary that I was sure it was happening today and I wondered if I was now going insane.

What I have said time and time again is that we have made little headway with regards to weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels and developing alternative forms of energy and moving towards better public transportation the last 30 years.

It was ironically over 30 years ago that President Jimmy Carter made a similar speech from the Oval Office mirroring again the very speech tonight by President Barack Obama regarding a move into alternative energy. The difference is Jimmy was much more angry and more so at us the American people for really not getting the message.

I got the message then and I have always had it... I may not be the most conventional messenger but I am hardly the only one. We are WAAAAY behind most countries in accepting the fact that we have to reduce our consumption of oil. Its that simple. Nixon said it, Ford said it, Carter said it. But after Reagan that message got lost.

This is not about BP, a company that has had serious problems in regards to compliance and safety as today's hearings demonstrate, BP could be any of the companies; they all had the same procedures in place down to dead people's names as contacts and walrus protection. So I am not vilifying BP in fact they seem to actually confirm that Tony Hayward is more Ricky Gervais/David Brent in the Office than Michael Sheen as Tony Blair in well all Brit movies.

So what other than protesting or boycotting BP what are we do? Yes conserve, think about what it means in your life to be oil dependent. Think about contacting Congress about that Energy bill; think about shareholder activism. There is no better time than now than finding a group to buy a lot of shares of BP stock. Change comes from within... meaning you and inside the company itself. Owning a lot of stock can have tremendous significance.

I don't blame BP I blame us.. we are addicted to oil, to cheap oil. We need an intervention not a accusation and excessive media coverage to tell us what we already know.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lost is the Best TV Show Ever!

****this is a paid advertisement blog entry*************

Thanks for the guest post Phil Barker.

There really isn't anything difficult in making your house safer. The first thing we did was find out if we could get adt surveillance near sacramento, and luckily we could. I know, because I've taken all reasonable steps in what is know as hardening my home against criminal attacks. What I've done is to ensure that my wife is secure when I'm not home. She can handle a firearm, but I've made sure that that situation won't come up.

I have followed basic security procedures to preempt an attack inside the home. The procedures include personally evaluating the general security of the house, then enhancing my home security through strengthening all perimeter doors. This step included changing all door locks to high-security locks, reinforcing door jams, and adding secondary security doors which make entry to the existing doors difficult.

Once the entrance ways were secured, all windows were secured through the use of multi-laminate security film. The final touch was the addition of a security alarm system, which, even with an attempted break-in, is extremely difficult by breaking window glass, due to the window security film, prevents the burglar's continued entry attempt, because of the local alarm sound. If we are home during the attempted invasion, there is sufficient time to call the police; if we had an active responder, the system would perform in the same way. Not only is the cost for this enhancement low, but it reduces our home insurance rate.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The LEED Debate Continues

As anyone who has read me knows I have my "issues" with LEED. And while I don't go out of my way to decry the program intentionally or deliberately tired to malign the program... in fact it was my introduction into Green Build. I am a great advocate and supporter but it was when I realized that there were inherent problems and my concern over insurance and litigation that led me to spend more time understanding the elements of building science as a whole building approach vs a Green build approach as is LEED.

I found two recent articles which address some of the claims that I have felt will "leed" to misrepresentations and misconceptions....

Do LEED-Certified Green Buildings Protect Human Health?

Hartford, Conn., May 25, 2010—Do “green” buildings protect human health from environmental hazards? The answer is “not necessarily,” according to a new report released today by Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI), titled “LEED Certification: Where Energy Efficiency Collides With Human Health.” EHHI is a non-profit organization composed of doctors, public health professionals and policy experts who specialize in research that examines environmental threats to human health. The organization receives no funding from corporations or businesses.

The lead author of this study is John Wargo, Ph.D., professor of Risk Analysis and Environmental Policy at Yale University. Wargo summarized the study, “Although the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program has effectively encouraged energy efficiency in buildings, tighter buildings often concentrate chemicals released from building materials, cleaning supplies, fuel combustion, pesticides and other hazardous substances.”

Wargo continued, “The underlying problem is that thousands of different chemicals, many of them well recognized to be hazardous, are allowed by the federal government to become components of building materials. Very few of these chemicals have been tested to identify their toxicity, environmental fate or the danger they pose to human health. Although the primary stated purposes of the Green Building Council are to promote both energy efficiency and human health, even the Council’s most prestigious Platinum award does little to ensure that hazardous chemicals are kept out of the certified buildings.”

Dr. Philip Landrigan, Ethel H. Wise Professor and chairman, Department of Preventive Medicine, at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, reviewed the report and commented, “This is a lucid, well reasoned and balanced critique of the LEED certification process. The authors argue on the basis of carefully assembled scientific data that LEED needs to be amended to better account for the potential health hazards of the toxic chemicals used in modern building materials. Energy efficiency and sustainability are laudable goals and LEED has done much to advance them. But health is important, too, and now it needs to receive careful consideration in building design.”

Dr. Mark Cullen, chief of Internal Medicine at Stanford University Medical School, reviewed the report and concluded, “Dr. Wargo and colleagues warn us now of the potential for green building technologies—even while they bring important energy benefits—to jeopardize the indoor air we breathe, the water we drink and the overall safety of our habitats. This is a timely lesson from a very sage group.”

EHHI discovered that LEED standards have been incorporated into numerous federal, state and local laws by way of legislation, executive orders, resolutions and tax credits.

Many corporations and other institutions also have adopted LEED standards without fully understanding that energy conservation efforts often reduce the exchange of indoor and outdoor air, which can cause synthetic chemicals to concentrate within buildings.

EHHI is especially concerned that the LEED program is now providing the false impression that the buildings it certifies protect human health. LEED’s highest rating, “Platinum,” is attainable without earning any credits for indoor air quality protection.

Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, director of Clinical Services at Yale School of Medicine’s Occupational and Environmental Medicine, said, “This ground-breaking report provides clear and disturbing evidence that a ‘green’ building does not necessarily protect human health. There is an urgent need to include human health in the definition of what it means to be ‘green’ or ‘environmentally responsible,’ and this important report will help policymakers, health care professionals and the public recognize and address this need.”

EHHI is recommending that numerous changes be made to the Green Building Council’s LEED program that will encourage it to become more health protective.

The Green Building Council (GBC) should simplify the LEED scoring system within categories. Rather than issuing awards of “platinum,” “gold” and so on, the GBC should require performance within each category (health, energy, sites, neighborhoods, etc.) on a 0-100 scale.

The Green Building Council should expand its board expertise to include people in the area of human health. The board is now dominated by developers, engineers, chemical and materials manufacturers, and architects.

The government should categorize building products to identify: a) those that contain hazardous compounds; b) those that have been tested and found to be safe; and c) those that have been insufficiently tested, making a determination of hazard or safety impossible. This database should be freely available on the internet.
The chemical content and country of origin of building materials should be clearly identifiable on building product labels.

The Green Building Council should support federal efforts to require the testing of chemicals used in many building products for their toxicity, environmental fate and threat to human health.

Weighing the energy savings
Forest Service experience shows newer doesn’t always mean greener
By Marshall Helmberger

S. StowellNewer doesn't always mean greener as energy use results from the Forest Service's headquarters in Ely demonstrates.

In the building trades, green is the color of choice these days. With an increasing public focus on issues like climate change, building designers are touting energy efficiency and lower “carbon footprints” as a key point in favor of new construction.

But newer doesn’t always mean greener. When it comes to green buildings, the story is more complicated than you might think.

That was certainly the discovery of a team of Forest Service engineers, when they were tasked with calculating the energy consumption of the agency’s buildings on the Superior National Forest.

The Forest Service, like many federal agencies, is under direction to improve the efficiency of federally-owned buildings— and that push for improved efficiency is prompting federal agencies in some cases to abandon older buildings in favor of new and presumably greener buildings.

But as recent studies have demonstrated, even buildings certified for their green design (a certification known as Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, or LEED) often aren’t as energy efficient as promised.

Take the case of the Forest Service’s new headquarters on the Kawishiwi Ranger District, in Ely, the first building on the Superior to obtain a LEED-Silver certification.

“It’s a real nice building,” said Forest Service engineer Art Johnston, who worked on the analysis of the energy efficiency of federal buildings on the forest, “but it didn’t meet our energy objectives.”

In fact, the results of the 2009 analysis of building efficiency came as a shock to Forest Service officials. Of the seven headquarters buildings examined, the brand new Kawishiwi headquarters was the least energy efficient per square foot and had the third-highest carbon footprint. “It has been surprising and a little bit worrisome,” said Johnston. “If we’re building these new facilities and they aren’t that efficient, it takes away the incentive to replace old buildings,” he said.

Johnston notes that the energy analysis was done shortly after the Kawishiwi headquarters opened, and he said the energy usage has been reduced since then as the agency has fine-tuned its operation. In fact, according to Kawishiwi District Ranger Mark Van Every, the building’s propane usage has been cut from almost 16,000 gallons in its first year of operation, to 12,600 gallons the following year.

Still, says Johnston, “it’s not an energy efficient building.”

The Kawishiwi example, it turns out, is not an isolated case. Recent studies that examined the energy efficiency of LEED-certified buildings have found that while many perform well from an energy perspective, a surprisingly large percentage perform no better than average for existing commercial building stock, and some perform worse.

According to Environmental Building News, a recent study from Massachusetts found that, on average, LEED-certified buildings examined in that state performed substantially worse (40 percent worse) than predicted by energy modeling developed prior to construction.

A study by the Green Building Council, which analyzed the energy use of 121 new LEED-certified buildings in 2006, found that 53 percent did not qualify for the Energy Star label, a prominent standard for energy efficiency developed by the Environmental Protection Agency. In addition, 15 percent scored below 30 in the Energy Star rating system, meaning they used more energy per square foot than at least 70 percent of comparable existing buildings across the country.

Such surprising results have led LEED officials to consider moving towards the Energy Star model, which would require LEED buildings to be re-certified as meeting energy efficiency goals on an annual basis.

Why aren’t new buildings more energy efficient?

Johnston said one of the factors that seems to be reducing energy efficiency in newer buildings is the amount of fresh air that is now required by most building codes. While increasing the flow of outside air makes buildings healthier for occupants, Johnston said it can come at a price.

Many modern buildings use heat exchangers, which recapture some of the heat from inside air before it is vented outside. But such systems, which rely on large fans to move a high volume of air, can consume a surprising amount of electricity, which adds to a building’s energy demands and its carbon footprint. Johnston has calculated that every kilowatt-hour of electricity generated in northeastern Minnesota (a region largely dependent on coal-generated power) creates about 1.8 pounds of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. And with large fans that run almost continuously for heat exchange in many “green” buildings, the environmental costs can be surprisingly high.

“You find out that it can take more energy to operate than you actually save,” said Johnston. “Depending on your heating source, you’d be better off opening your window for fresh air,” he said.

In too many cases, worries Johnston, building designers are relying too heavily on high-tech equipment that can be inefficient if not maintained for peak performance. He said a focus on sensible operations can yield big energy savings, even in older buildings.

A case in point is the Superior’s main office in Duluth (known as the Supervisor’s Office, or SO), located in a former school building built decades ago.

For years, it was a heavy energy consumer, in part, says Johnston, because the building’s mechanical system was not set up properly. In one part of the building, he discovered a large duct heater that operated around-the-clock, and that drew 10,000 watts continuously. Shutting it off reduced the SO’s total electrical usage by a whopping 7-10 percent, without affecting the comfort of occupants.

At the same time, through interior retrofitting to add insulation, and daily monitoring of energy usage, the Forest Service has made significant progress in reducing its carbon footprint at the SO.

“It’s simple things, really,” said Jim Sanders, Superior Forest Supervisor. “If you look at the carbon reduction, we had a 49 percent reduction here, and this is an old building and it was achieved at minimal expense.”

According to Sanders, timers were installed on building thermostats, coffee makers, copiers, and pop machines, so energy consumption was cut dramatically at nights and on weekends. Officials replaced older computers and monitors with newer, more efficient models, which also helped cut energy usage. “It’s actually fun,” said Sanders. “It’s also a challenge and now what we’ve learned here, we’ve continued across the other districts.”

The energy improvements at the SO were achieved because the occupants essentially took ownership of their energy usage, and put someone in charge of the task. Johnston said that’s not the case for many large buildings, and that means inefficient operations can continue, often for years. He said it’s not uncommon in large buildings to find air cooling and air heating systems operating simultaneously, and needlessly wasting energy.

“Buildings don’t save energy by themselves,” said Johnston. “But if you pay attention and operate it wisely, you can really find some savings.”

That’s equally true at the Kawishiwi office, notes Sanders. “We’re still fine-tuning in Ely,” he said. “It takes time to understand these systems. The HVAC systems, you really have to learn how to run them. The potential is there, but it takes a while to really get the efficiencies out of it.”

Other ways to be green

Van Every notes that many other factors need to be considered when determining how green a building actually is. “The construction materials are another consideration,” he said. “Getting materials from nearby matters. We purchased many of the supplies from northeastern Minnesota.”

The siding, for example, was milled near Grand Rapids, while decorative rock came from a local quarry. Rock removed during site preparation became part of the building’s landscaping, and even the interior wainscoting is a paperboard product manufactured from recycled newspapers. A display in the building’s visitors’ area shows many of the other efforts to utilize local and recycled products in the building’s construction.

Even the location of the building was designed to be more efficient, according to Van Every. “Being right on the Trezona Trail, allows more workers to commute by bike,” he said. “A lot of employees appreciate that.”

And the efficiency of any operation, said Van Every, needs to be compared with what existed before construction of any new building. “Now, we’re all in one building, rather than the three sites we had in the past,” he said. “The old office was not energy efficient,” said Van Every. “And it was not a comfortable environment at all.”

I don't want these articles to fuel the argument that basically goes "why bother" what I want to inspire is the debate and argument to make it better. Building green should just be synonymous with building SMART.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Home Improvement Addiction

***The following is a guest blog paid for submission****

by Amy Saunders

My husband is a gifted mechanic but put a paintbrush in his hand and he is lost. So when I decided to start giving our home a face lift from the primer white rooms and country floral wallpaper I knew I was on my own. I decided to tackle the project of painting our home by taking on one room at a time. After completing the first room, I found there are two invaluable secrets to any home improvement project.

First is preparation. Taking the time to thoroughly clean the walls, spackle any holes, apply a good primer, and tape off areas for a nice clean edge were time consuming but actually saved time in the long run. Second is spend a little extra with SEARS home improvement and buy the right tools. A new paint brush and new rollers can mean the difference between having a bunch of nappy residue left from trying to re-use an old roller and having a nice smooth finish to your walls.

After the first few rooms were completed the difference was so inspiring my husband decided to lend his mechanical aptitude to changing out our disco era lighting fixtures. Soon after we decided to replace the carpet with hardwood flooring.

Something as simple as a fresh coat of paint on the walls can spark a home improvement addiction that’s hard to quit.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Education and Value

I spend a lot of time talking about cost vs value when it comes to remodeling, renovation and investing in energy efficient upgrades. That same approach is one that I used to (and still do to a degree - pun not intended) with regards to Education.

For all of America's triumphs we still hover with about 25% of the population receiving upper level degrees. Yet we are told time and time again that a degree will earn you significant more - up to a million dollars in a lifetime than one without a degree. Then meanwhile we tout successful multi millionaires who never completed or went to college let alone finished high school. The one who really comes to mind in this scenario - Bill Gates. But we neglect to mention that he was admitted to Harvard and enrolled, went to an exclusive private school and had a family wealthy and connected that surpassed his need for further Education if he so chose. Ironic that the Gates Foundation is one so involved in the renovation of Public Education - a system that he nor any of his family have had any involvement or experience (but that is for another time).

But how do you decide what kind of Education you want? Can afford? Will be in demand by the time you finish your studies?

These are questions that I asked myself and when I was teaching advising students to wait. Getting out of University/College with the debt equivalent of a luxury car or small starter home is something I never understood. But you see in a designer society with boomer parents wanting more the leveraging of your home, the taking on excess debts was something you just did and of course would "pay for itself." Well we know now that is anything but the truth.

I have been writing copiously on the failings of boomers to make it work to the end of their work life, the rising suicides, the collapse of their lives and now finally what it means to Education.

I have always said that it doesn't matter the source if the opinion is valid. And I read two editorials today both by Conservative writers who have strong opinions when it comes to Education and the future of it as we know it. I know that many people right now are going back to schools and there are tons of both public and private schools offering training, certificates and degrees that will somehow make you more employable. But in reality some of it is impossible to gauge let alone guarantee. For those coming out of school now as I did in the 80s there is little opportunity and the work being offered is not commensurate for many degrees let alone the salary. I faced that and went back to school to get an Education degree and well even today that once fallback job is no longer.

I am reprinting the articles from both the Washington Examiner and two different articles the New York Times and let you ponder what the long range affects this DEPRESSION (if you not personally Depressed over the state of the world right now then I want what you are having/taking.)

Glenn Reynolds: Higher education's bubble is about to burst
By: Glenn Harlan Reynolds
June 6, 2010

It's a story of an industry that may sound familiar.

The buyers think what they're buying will appreciate in value, making them rich in the future. The product grows more and more elaborate, and more and more expensive, but the expense is offset by cheap credit provided by sellers eager to encourage buyers to buy.

Buyers see that everyone else is taking on mounds of debt, and so are more comfortable when they do so themselves; besides, for a generation, the value of what they're buying has gone up steadily. What could go wrong? Everything continues smoothly until, at some point, it doesn't.

Yes, this sounds like the housing bubble, but I'm afraid it's also sounding a lot like a still-inflating higher education bubble. And despite (or because of) the fact that my day job involves higher education, I think it's better for us to face up to what's going on before the bubble bursts messily.

College has gotten a lot more expensive. A recent Money magazine report notes: "After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439 percent since 1982. ... Normal supply and demand can't begin to explain cost increases of this magnitude."

Consumers would balk, except for two things.

First -- as with the housing bubble -- cheap and readily available credit has let people borrow to finance education. They're willing to do so because of (1) consumer ignorance, as students (and, often, their parents) don't fully grasp just how harsh the impact of student loan payments will be after graduation; and (2) a belief that, whatever the cost, a college education is a necessary ticket to future prosperity.

Bubbles burst when there are no longer enough excessively optimistic and ignorant folks to fuel them. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen already.

A New York Times profile last week described Courtney Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt -- debt that her degree in Religious and Women's Studies did not equip her to repay. Payments on the debt are about $700 per month, equivalent to a respectable house payment, and a major bite on her monthly income of $2,300 as a photographer's assistant earning an hourly wage.

And, unlike a bad mortgage on an underwater house, Munna can't simply walk away from her student loans, which cannot be expunged in a bankruptcy. She's stuck in a financial trap.

Some might say that she deserves it -- who borrows $100,000 to finance a degree in women's and religious studies that won't make you any money? She should have wised up, and others should learn from her mistake, instead of learning too late, as she did: "I don't want to spend the rest of my life slaving away to pay for an education I got for four years and would happily give back."

But bubbles burst when people catch on, and there's some evidence that people are beginning to catch on. Student loan demand, according to a recent report in the Washington Post, is going soft, and students are expressing a willingness to go to a cheaper school rather than run up debt. Things haven't collapsed yet, but they're looking shakier -- kind of like the housing market looked in 2007.

So what happens if the bubble collapses? Will it be a tragedy, with millions of Americans losing their path to higher-paying jobs?

Maybe not. College is often described as a path to prosperity, but is it? A college education can help people make more money in three different ways.

First, it may actually make them more economically productive by teaching them skills valued in the workplace: Computer programming, nursing or engineering, say. (Religious and women's studies, not so much.)

Second, it may provide a credential that employers want, not because it represents actual skills, but because it's a weeding tool that doesn't produce civil-rights suits as, say, IQ tests might. A four-year college degree, even if its holder acquired no actual skills, at least indicates some ability to show up on time and perform as instructed.

And, third, a college degree -- at least an elite one -- may hook its holder up with a useful social network that can provide jobs and opportunities in the future. (This is more true if it's a degree from Yale than if it's one from Eastern Kentucky, but it's true everywhere to some degree).

While an individual might rationally pursue all three of these, only the first one -- actual added skills -- produces a net benefit for society. The other two are just distributional -- about who gets the goodies, not about making more of them.

Yet today's college education system seems to be in the business of selling parts two and three to a much greater degree than part one, along with selling the even-harder-to-quantify "college experience," which as often as not boils down to four (or more) years of partying.

Post-bubble, perhaps students -- and employers, not to mention parents and lenders -- will focus instead on education that fosters economic value. And that is likely to press colleges to focus more on providing useful majors. (That doesn't necessarily rule out traditional liberal-arts majors, so long as they are rigorous and require a real general education, rather than trendy and easy subjects, but the key word here is "rigorous.")

My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether -- as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, "DIY U" -- the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of "edupunks" who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.

I'm betting on the latter. Industries seldom reform themselves, and real competition usually comes from the outside. Keep your eyes open -- and, if you're planning on applying to college, watch out for those student loans


June 7, 2010, 9:00 pm
A Classical Education: Back to the Future

I wore my high school ring for more than 40 years. It became black and misshapen and I finally took it off. But now I have a new one, courtesy of the organizing committee of my 55th high school reunion, which I attended over the Memorial Day weekend.

I wore the ring (and will wear it again) because although I have degrees from two Ivy league schools and have taught at U.C. Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Duke, Classical High School (in Providence, RI) is the best and most demanding educational institution I have ever been associated with. The name tells the story. When I attended, offerings and requirements included four years of Latin, three years of French, two years of German, physics, chemistry, biology, algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, English, history, civics, in addition to extra-curricular activities, and clubs — French Club, Latin Club, German Club, Science Club, among many others. A student body made up of the children of immigrants or first generation Americans; many, like me, the first in their families to finish high school. Nearly a 100 percent college attendance rate. A yearbook that featured student translations from Virgil and original poems in Latin.

Sounds downright antediluvian, outmoded, narrow and elitist, and maybe it was (and is; the curriculum’s still there, with some additions like Japanese), but when I returned home I found three new books waiting for me, each of which made a case for something like the education I received at Classical. The books are Leigh A. Bortins’ “The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education,” Martha C. Nussbaum’s “Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities” and Diane Ravitch’s “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.”

Three more different perspectives from three more different authors could hardly be imagined.

Leigh A. Bortins writes as an engineer, a home schooling advocate and the C.E.O. of Classical Conversations, Inc. She sees learning “as a continuing conversation that humankind has been engaged in for centuries” and believes that the decisions we must make today will be better if they are informed by “classical content,” that is, by an awareness of what great thinkers of the past have made of the problems we encounter in the present. She wants her children and ours to “hear the collective wisdom of the ages” and “regularly consult the advice of wise and virtuous men and women” when faced with modern “predicaments.”

To this end, she proposes a two-pronged program of instruction: “classical education emphasizes using the classical skills to study classical content.” By classical skills she means imitation, memorization, drill, recitation and above all grammar, not grammar as the study of the formal structure of sentences (although that is part of it), but grammar as the study of the formal structure of anything: “Every occupation, field of study or concept has a vocabulary that the student must acquire like a foreign language . . . . A basketball player practicing the fundamentals could be considered a grammarian . . . as he repeatedly drills the basic skills, of passing dribbling, and shooting.” “Every student,” Bortins counsels, “must learn to speak the language of the subject.”

“Classical content” identifies just what the subjects to be classically studied are. They are the subjects informed and structured by “the ideas that make us human” — math, science, language, history, economics and literature, each of which, Bortins insists, can be mastered by the rigorous application of the skills of the classical Trivium, grammar, the study of basic forms, logic, the skill of abstracting from particulars and rhetoric, the ability to “speak and write persuasively and eloquently about any topic while integrating allusions and examples from one field of study to explain a point in another.” Assiduously practice, or as Bortins puts it, “overpractice” these skills, and “a student is prepared to study anything.”

Notably absent from Bortins’ vision of education is any mention of assessment outcomes, testing, job training (one of her sub-chapters is entitled “The Trivium Replaces Careerism”) and the wonders of technology. Her emphasis is solely on content and the means of delivering it. She warns against the narrowing distractions of “industrialization and technologies” and declares that “students would be better educated if they weren’t allowed to use computers . . . until they were proficient readers and writers.”

Martha Nussbaum, philosopher, classicist, ethicist and law professor, starts from the same place. She critiques the current emphasis on “science and technology” and the “applied skills suited to profit making” and she argues that the “humanistic aspects of science and social science — the imaginative and creative aspect, and the aspect of rigorous critical thought — are . . . losing ground” as the humanities and the arts “are being cut away” and dismissed as “useless frills” in the context of an overriding imperative “to stay competitive in the global market.” The result, she complains, is that “abilities crucial to the health of any democracy” are being lost, especially the ability to “think critically,” the ability, that is, “to probe, to evaluate evidence, to write papers with well-structured arguments, and to analyze the arguments presented to them in other texts.”

While not the language of the Trivium (which Nussbaum knows well), it breathes the same spirit, and we might well be reading Bortins when Nussbaum praises the kind of course that pays “attention to logical structures” and thus “gives students templates that they can then apply to texts of many different types.” But this and related abilities will look “dispensable if what we want are marketable outputs of a quantifiable nature,” if we embrace an “economic growth” paradigm rather than a “human development paradigm.”

For Nussbaum, human development means the development of the capacity to transcend the local prejudices of one’s immediate (even national) context and become a responsible citizen of the world. Students should be brought “to see themselves as members of a heterogeneous nation . . . and a still more heterogeneous world, and to understand something of this history of the diverse groups that inhabit it.” Developing intelligent world citizenship is an enormous task that can not even begin to be accomplished without the humanities and arts that “cultivate capacities for play and empathy,” encourage thinking that is “flexible, open and creative” and work against the provincialism that too often leads us to see those who are different as demonized others.

Unfortunately, at least according to Nussbaum, the trend toward a narrower and narrower vision of education is not being resisted by the Obama administration. Rather than decreasing the focus on testing and test preparation — a focus that reverses the relationship between test and content; the test becomes the content — “the administration plans to expand it.” Obama and his secretary of education, Arne Duncan (who, says Nussbaum, “presided over a rapid decline in humanities and arts funding” as head of the Chicago public schools), continue to implement the assumptions driving the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind, chiefly the assumption that “individual income and national economic progress” should be education’s main goals.

Diane Ravitch, noted historian and theorist of education, writes as someone who once strongly supported the promise and goals of No Child Left Behind but underwent a de-conversion in 2007: “Where once I had been hopeful, even enthusiastic, about the potential benefits of testing, accountability, choice, and markets, I now found myself experiencing profound doubts about these same ideas.”

Her conclusions, backed up by exhaustive research and an encyclopedic knowledge both of the literature and of situations on the ground, are devastating. The mantra of choice produced a “do your own thing” proliferation of educational schemes, “each with its own curriculum, and methods, each with its own private management, all competing for . . . public dollars” rather than laboring to discover “better ways of educating hard-to-educate students.” The emphasis on testing produced students who could “master test taking methods, but not the subject itself,” with the consequence that the progress claimed on the basis of test scores was an “illusion”: “The scores had gone up, but the students were not better educated.” A faith in markets produced gamesmanship, entrepreneurial maneuvering and outright cheating, very little reflection on “what children should know” and very little thought about the nature of the curriculum.

Ravitch, like Nussbaum, finds little hope in the policies of President Obama, who promised change but seems to have picked up “the same banner of choice, competition, and markets that had been the hallmark of his predecessors.” The result is that we continue to see “the shrinking of time available to teach anything other than reading and math; other subjects, including history, science, the arts, geography, even recess, were curtailed.”

Ravitch’s recommendations are simple, commonsensical and entirely consonant with the views of Bortins and Nussbaum. Begin with “a well conceived, coherent, sequential curriculum,” and then “adjust other parts of the education system to support the goals of learning.” This will produce a “foundation of knowledge and skills that grows stronger each year.” Forget about the latest fad and quick-fix, and buckle down to the time-honored, traditional “study and practice of the liberal arts and sciences: history, literature, geography, the sciences, civics mathematics, the arts and foreign languages.”

In short, get knowledgeable and well-trained teachers, equip them with a carefully calibrated curriculum and a syllabus filled with challenging texts and materials, and put them in a room with students who are told where they are going and how they are going to get there.

Worked for me.

History for Dollars

When the going gets tough, the tough take accounting. When the job market worsens, many students figure they can’t indulge in an English or a history major. They have to study something that will lead directly to a job.

So it is almost inevitable that over the next few years, as labor markets struggle, the humanities will continue their long slide. There already has been a nearly 50 percent drop in the portion of liberal arts majors over the past generation, and that trend is bound to accelerate. Once the stars of university life, humanities now play bit roles when prospective students take their college tours. The labs are more glamorous than the libraries.

But allow me to pause for a moment and throw another sandbag on the levee of those trying to resist this tide. Let me stand up for the history, English and art classes, even in the face of today’s economic realities.

Studying the humanities improves your ability to read and write. No matter what you do in life, you will have a huge advantage if you can read a paragraph and discern its meaning (a rarer talent than you might suppose). You will have enormous power if you are the person in the office who can write a clear and concise memo.

Studying the humanities will give you a familiarity with the language of emotion. In an information economy, many people have the ability to produce a technical innovation: a new MP3 player. Very few people have the ability to create a great brand: the iPod. Branding involves the location and arousal of affection, and you can’t do it unless you are conversant in the language of romance.

Studying the humanities will give you a wealth of analogies. People think by comparison — Iraq is either like Vietnam or Bosnia; your boss is like Narcissus or Solon. People who have a wealth of analogies in their minds can think more precisely than those with few analogies. If you go through college without reading Thucydides, Herodotus and Gibbon, you’ll have been cheated out of a great repertoire of comparisons.

Finally, and most importantly, studying the humanities helps you befriend The Big Shaggy.

Let me try to explain. Over the past century or so, people have built various systems to help them understand human behavior: economics, political science, game theory and evolutionary psychology. These systems are useful in many circumstances. But none completely explain behavior because deep down people have passions and drives that don’t lend themselves to systemic modeling. They have yearnings and fears that reside in an inner beast you could call The Big Shaggy.

You can see The Big Shaggy at work when a governor of South Carolina suddenly chucks it all for a love voyage south of the equator, or when a smart, philosophical congressman from Indiana risks everything for an in-office affair.

You can see The Big Shaggy at work when self-destructive overconfidence overtakes oil engineers in the gulf, when go-go enthusiasm intoxicates investment bankers or when bone-chilling distrust grips politics.

Those are the destructive sides of The Big Shaggy. But this tender beast is also responsible for the mysterious but fierce determination that drives Kobe Bryant, the graceful bemusement the Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga showed when his perfect game slipped away, the selfless courage soldiers in Afghanistan show when they risk death for buddies or a family they may never see again.

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy.

Technical knowledge stops at the outer edge. If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either, because the fast, effortless prose of blogging (and journalism) lacks the heft to get you deep below.

But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

It’s probably dangerous to enter exclusively into this realm and risk being caught in a cloister, removed from the market and its accountability. But doesn’t it make sense to spend some time in the company of these languages — learning to feel different emotions, rehearsing different passions, experiencing different sacred rituals and learning to see in different ways?

Few of us are hewers of wood. We navigate social environments. If you’re dumb about The Big Shaggy, you’ll probably get eaten by it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Well Death is an Option

I reprint this from Mother Jones' blog.. again in line with my never ending blogging about this issue I cannot stress enough the long term problems with business that refuse to hire and media that ignores the "shadow people".

The Baby Boomers' Suicide Spike

— By Stephanie Mencimer
| Mon Jun. 7, 2010 5:17 AM PDT

The recession has hit the baby boomers hard. Not only has it affected their earnings, their ability to own a home and other trappings of middle-class life, but also, of course, their sex lives, which AARP reported last month had taken a major hit during the recession. But now, in perhaps a related bit of news, the New York Times reported this weekend that for the second year in a row, middle-aged people have suffered the highest suicide rate in the country. Normally, people over 80 are the most likely to take their own lives. But since 2006, baby boomers in the 45- to 54-year-old range have been killing themselves in record numbers, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.

In hindsight, the suicide numbers look like a warning sign about the coming collapse of the economy, suggesting that many people in their prime working years were already feeling the economic stress of what would become an epidemic of foreclosures and job losses before those losses actually started showing up on anyone's radar screen. The middle-age suicide rate jumped first in 2006, at the peak of the housing bubble, a sign perhaps that it wasn't just John Paulson who understood back then that the bust was imminent.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Job News.. it ain't pretty

I have been writing a great deal about the employment situation in this country from many angles. Being a woman in a male dominated field, the annihilation of this field from the economic meltdown, the boomer generation or as I call them the "shadow people" trying to find work and meaning in a world that no longer finds them as significant as they once were and generally ways to rethink how we work and respond to our most sustainable of products - our people.

Today in Crooks and Liars was this little fact.

Unemployment Length of 34.4 Weeks Sets Longest U.S. Record. Whee!

Hey, this oughta cheer everyone up -- we set a new record! We're in the history books! June 4 (Bloomberg) -- Unemployed Americans are facing the longest wait on record to find work, a sign faster economic growth is needed to reduce the jobless rate from close to a 26- year high. Hey, I have an idea! Why don't we stop paying unemployment, cut jobless programs by 50%, and start slashing social programs to cut the deficit?

That'll fix the economy! The average duration of unemployment jumped to 34.4 weeks in May from 33 weeks the prior month and 16.5 weeks in December 2007, when the recession began, a Labor Department report showed today in Washington. The number of unemployed has almost doubled to 15 million since the start of worst slump since the 1930s. “We need faster growth, because without it, we won’t get the jobs,” said Henry Mo, an economist at Credit Suisse in New York. “We are working in that direction, but it’ll take a very long time to resolve the long-term unemployment problem.

The Federal Reserve acknowledges that the labor market will take time to fully recover.” How, exactly, are we "working in that direction" when Wall Street is pressing for deficit reduction? Private payrolls rose by 41,000 in May, today’s Labor Department report showed, trailing the 180,000 gain forecast by economists. Including government workers, employment rose by 431,000, boosted by a jump in hiring of temporary census workers. The jobless rate fell to 9.7 percent from 9.9 percent as Americans discouraged by the lack of available jobs dropped out of the labor force.

“If that level of private job creation continues, it will not make a substantial dent in the unemployment rate,” Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart told reporters today after a speech in Braselton, Georgia. “It is my view we will make progress on unemployment. Perhaps by the end of 2011, we will be below 9 percent.” And really, it might even be 8 percent, if enough of us die from hunger -- or suicide. Isn't this a great country?

Are we entering the lost decade? Paul Krugman believes so and frankly this crisis tops the one in the gulf. I get that there is a problem but in reality we really need to focus on why people are NOT working PERIOD?

Lost Decade, Here We Come
Paul Krugman
New York Times, blog.

The deficit hawks have taken over the G20:

“Those countries with serious fiscal challenges need to accelerate the pace of consolidation,” it added. “We welcome the recent announcements by some countries to reduce their deficits in 2010 and strengthen their fiscal frameworks and institutions”.

These words were in marked contrast to the G20’s previous communiqué from late April, which called for fiscal support to “be maintained until the recovery is firmly driven by the private sector and becomes more entrenched”.

It’s basically incredible that this is happening with unemployment in the euro area still rising, and only slight labor market progress in the US.

But don’t we need to worry about government debt? Yes — but slashing spending while the economy is still deeply depressed is both an extremely costly and quite ineffective way to reduce future debt. Costly, because it depresses the economy further; ineffective, because by depressing the economy, fiscal contraction now reduces tax receipts. A rough estimate right now is that cutting spending by 1 percent of GDP raises the unemployment rate by .75 percent compared with what it would otherwise be, yet reduces future debt by less than 0.5 percent of GDP.

The right thing, overwhelmingly, is to do things that will reduce spending and/or raise revenue after the economy has recovered — specifically, wait until after the economy is strong enough that monetary policy can offset the contractionary effects of fiscal austerity. But no: the deficit hawks want their cuts while unemployment rates are still at near-record highs and monetary policy is still hard up against the zero bound.

But what about Greece and all that? Look, right now sovereign debt problems are taking place in countries with a very specific problem: they’re part of the euro zone, AND they’re badly overvalued thanks to huge capital inflows in the good years; as a result they’re facing years of grinding deflation. Counties not in that situation are not facing any pressure from the markets for immediate cuts; as of this morning, 10-year bonds were yielding 3.51 in Britain, 3.21 in the US, 1.27 in Japan.

Yet the conventional wisdom now is that these countries must nonetheless cut — not because the markets are currently demanding it, not because it will make any noticeable difference to their long-run fiscal prospects, but because we think that the markets might demand it (even though they shouldn’t) sometime in the future.

Utter folly posing as wisdom. Incredible.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Scrapping Reviews

As the job numbers show there are not a lot of jobs to be had. I posted a blog regarding the state of "self employment" and what that means for many Americans, myself included.

I did well in good times and well they ended. And I miss working fully. Being engaged and part of a team. Working alone is fine some times but collaboration and exchange is mostly relegated to solo efforts and the time it takes takes away from other earning endeavors. For me to fully find I think employment in Construction I will have to expand my skills and that means going back to school which means I will have little to minimal time to build, market and maintain the business. I need steady income and hours on which to work my school and life around. Self employment is anything but reliable and steady.

Going back to work or currently being at work has a great deal of stress. There is always a concern about how to manage new skills, systems and the dreaded getting along with people. Then you add the "Performance Review" or "Evaluation".

I don't remember the last time I experienced a review. I certainly did not do them in my business. If you sucked at your job you were fired. I worked with crews and teams and sub contractors and frankly I think work is evaluated when and as its completed.

I find most reviews of course subjective. When I was a teacher you could be evaluated in the first few years and then it stopped after tenure. The evaluations did nothing to help you be a better teacher they were simply a reflection of the Principal's feelings or attitudes towards you. Anyone who has ever been in the profession can attest the quixotic nature of that and the constant revolving doors of Principals, Superintendents and Teaching Strategies lead to further confusion and well frankly irrelevance of the procedure. Today its why you see Unions so ferociously fighting against the removal of tenure its been the one way to protect a Teacher from some of the personal agendas that permeate a school. However it has also done little to help both Students and Teachers from truly succeeding.

I read this article awhile back in the NY Times regarding this concept of reviews and frankly I could not agree more. We have so many millions of unemployed and underemployed who will take time to transition. Businesses have been already decimated by the changing times and frankly I don't see how they can develop meaningful ways to evaluate employees that will lend itself to fostering long term professional and business growth. Why alienate and intimidate people more. How does that sustain and inspire anyone?

People are our greatest resource and our key to getting us back economically.


Time to Review Workplace Reviews?

Stuart Bradford
After years of studying the ill effects of workplace stress, psychologists are turning their attention to its causes. Along with the usual suspects — long hours, bad bosses, office bullies — they have identified some surprising ones.

The focus on workplace health comes as worker satisfaction in the United States appears to be at an all-time low. The Conference Board reported recently that just 45 percent of workers are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61 percent in 1987. The findings, based on a survey of 5,000 households, show that the decline goes well beyond concerns about job security. Employees are unhappy about the design of their jobs, the health of their organizations and the quality of their managers.

A number of studies have documented the health toll of workplace stress, showing that unhappy workers are at higher risk for heart problems and depression, among other things. This month, Danish researchers reported on a 15-year study of 12,000 nurses finding that nurses struggling with excessive work pressures had double the risk for a heart attack. And a British study tracking 6,000 workers for 11 years found that those who regularly worked more than 10 hours a day had a 60 percent higher risk for heart disease than those who put in 7 hours.

Samuel A. Culbert, a clinical psychologist who teaches at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, says too many people work in a “toxic” environment, and the title of his new book (from Hachette) throws a spotlight on one of the culprits: “Get Rid of the Performance Review!”

Annual reviews not only create a high level of stress for workers, he argues, but end up making everybody — bosses and subordinates — less effective at their jobs. He says reviews are so subjective — so dependent on the worker’s relationship with the boss — as to be meaningless. He says he has heard from countless workers who say their work life was ruined by an unfair review.

“There is a very bad set of values that are embedded in the air because of performance reviews,” he told me.

Not every expert agrees that reviews should simply be abolished. Robert I. Sutton, a Stanford University management professor, says they can be valuable if properly executed. But he added, “In the typical case, it’s done so badly it’s better not to do it at all.”

Frank Cordaro, 56, of Ontario, N.Y., said years of good performance were undone by one bad review from a new manager. He refused to sign the review and ended up taking medication to cope with the anxiety and stress at work. Eventually he lost his job.

“It played hell with my physical health, my mental health, too,” said Mr. Cordaro, adding that he is much happier since he started his own business. “When you’re always fearing for your job, it’s not a good situation.”

Gary Namie, director of the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Wash., says office bullies have been known to use performance reviews to undermine a worker.

“I say, ‘Throw it out,’ because it becomes a very biased, error-prone and abuse-prone system,” said Dr. Namie, the author of “The Bully at Work” (Sourcebooks, 2000). “It should be replaced by daily ongoing contact with managers who know the work and who can become coaches.”

Mark Shahriary, president and chief executive of Lucix Corporation in Camarillo, Calif., said he stopped doing performance reviews after witnessing the emotional havoc they created for workers at his previous job. “People confuse the review with who they are,” he told me. “If they get a review saying, ‘You’re not effective at work,’ they would hear, ‘You’re not effective as a person.’ ”

Another area of interest in workplace health is “destructive leadership,” which studies the role that supervisors play in the psychological health of their employees. Even if a workplace can’t eliminate stress, research suggests that employees cope better when they have a good relationship with their boss.

“If I’m consulting in an organization and there are morale problems, the first thing I would look at is the relationship with leaders,” said Robert R. Sinclair, an associate professor of psychology at Clemson University. “One of the findings we can be pretty confident in is that people who have more support from supervisors tend to do better in stressful situations.”

And bad bosses are an enormous source of stress. In one British study of nurses, workers who didn’t like their supervisors had consistently elevated blood pressure throughout the workday.

Although there is little an individual can do about such a boss, the American Psychological Association offers some tips, including finding a mentor within the company to discuss strategies for dealing with a problem supervisor.

The association notes that one of the hazards of such a relationship is self-defeating behavior, like submitting poor work or waging a personal attack on the boss. For that reason, it says, workers need to focus on managing their own negative emotions.

But the reality is that employees are relatively helpless in the face of an abusive supervisor. Problems with a boss are among the most common reasons workers quit their jobs. Dr. Sutton, whose new book “Good Boss, Bad Boss” (coming from Business Plus) argues that good bosses are essential to workplace success, said skyrocketing health care costs should motivate businesses to focus on ways to lower stress.

“Who is the biggest source of stress on the job? It’s your immediate supervisor,” he said. “The pile of evidence coming out shows that if you want to be an effective organization or an effective boss, you’ve got to strike a balance between humanity and performance.”