'/> Uncommon Hours: November 2011
Blogging on culture, politics, and the environment since 2008.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Chris Martenson: “Our job is not to grow as fast as possible…”

The exponential growth of civilization is unsustainable, according to Chris Martenson, author of The Crash Course. In this recent lecture at the Gold and Silver Meeting in Madrid, Martenson synthesizes the relationship of the three E’s – economy, energy, and environment – in a single model, demonstrating how quickly resources are exhausted at the end of an exponential curve. “We live in a world surrounded by exponential curves,” he points out.

Grab a notebook and set aside an hour to view this provocative and thoughtful lecture.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fair and balanced, but not so much news

Fox News viewers tend to be more ignorant about current events not only than people who get their news elsewhere, but those who don’t watch the news at all, according to a new poll.

Researchers at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind Poll queried a cross-section of New Jersey residents about current events and where they got their information. Among the results, they found that Fox News leads “people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all.”

Many Fox viewers did not know, for example, that Egyptians had overthrown their government in the historic and widely-covered Arab Spring earlier this year. Nor did they know that Syrians have not yet succeeded in doing so in the current uprising. Surprisingly, they also were not able to identify who was leading in the current field of Republican candidates for President.

The poll was controlled for partisanship, so the results don’t suggest that merely being a Republican makes you less informed.

“Rather,” said Dan Cassino, a professor of political science at Fairleigh Dickinson and an analyst for the PublicMind Poll, “the results show us that there is something about watching Fox News that leads people to do worse on these questions than those who don’t watch any news at all.”

Hmm, could it be that Fox News isn’t really a news network at all? Well, that’s hardly news.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving from Team Francis!

Team Francis dedicated the runLawrence 2011 Thanksgiving Day 5K to the memory of our beloved son and brother, Francis D. Sommer. From left: Alex, Raina, Bob, Heather, Erin, and Aaron in Lawrence, Kan., Nov. 24, 2011.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Remembering homeless vets on Veterans Day

Fund helps homeless veterans, remembers their sacrifice
By Bob Sommer

(Published in The Kansas City Star, Nov. 9, 2011)

My son Francis was one of the lucky ones. He knew it, too. Many of the soldiers he served with in Iraq and Afghanistan had no one to write to them or send packages. In these wars, a “Dear John” letter may come as an email or simply a drained bank account, while soldiers are posted to some of the worst places on Earth.

My wife and I saw this for ourselves — soldiers at Francis’s homecomings who had no one to greet them, nowhere to go, and then later, nowhere to go when they left the service. A report issued jointly by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that veterans account for 13 percent of America’s homeless population — nearly 145,000 men and women.

The unsettling numbers don’t stop there. The Department of Defense estimates that some 400,000 veterans have sustained traumatic brain injuries. Further, according to the VA, 20 percent of the suicides in the U.S. are veterans.

After he left the service, Francis struggled with health issues, cognitive problems and PTSD. He told us once that he’d be dead in six months if he didn’t live with us at home. Tragically, we did lose him about six months later in a car accident, one of the leading causes of death among returning vets.

He was being treated at the Kansas City VA, where he also served as a volunteer. He helped distribute clothing to homeless vets and served them his own recipe for chili. He’d become an exceptional chef and was near completion of the Johnson County Community College Culinary Arts program.

When he passed away, my wife and I contacted the VA to set up a fund for homeless veterans in his name. We thought a few hundred dollars might land there in lieu of money spent on flowers. Melissa Jacobson, Chief of Voluntary Services, told me that funds were needed for basic items like driver’s license fees or safety shoes for a new job.

But something unexpected happened. Melissa called several weeks after Francis’s funeral to tell me that thousands had poured in — from friends, family, soldiers, even strangers. She became choked up on the phone. So did I, but that happens often to me these days.

About 100 homeless veterans had recently been placed in housing through a program funded by the VA and HUD. But Melissa said these vets still needed food and the means to prepare it. Her idea: cooking kits, with utensils, pots, pans, and food, to help jumpstart them in their new homes. She thought this would be a good way to honor Francis. I couldn’t have agreed more.

These vets struggle with poor health, mental illness, addiction, unemployment, and more. Through this program, they have a chance for a fresh start, and their progress is monitored through the Kansas City VA.

My wife and I received dozens of very moving letters from veterans who benefited from these gifts. Their expressions of gratitude are overwhelming, but I can’t imagine they’re more grateful than we are, as we see Francis remembered so well.

To share in the gift of aiding homeless veterans in Kansas City, please send your donation to Kansas City VA Voluntary Services 135, 4801 Linwood Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64128. Make checks payable to the KCVA.

If you wish, please mention the Francis D. Sommer Memorial Fund on the memo line.

For more information, including photos and excerpts from letters written by veterans, go to http://uncommon-hours.blogspot.com/p/fds-memorial-fund.html.

State Dept. to reevaluate Keystone XL tarsands pipeline

Washington, D.C. - The State Department announced today that it is reevaluating the environmental review of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline project. The reevaluation will include consideration of rerouting the pipeline to avoid sensitive ecological areas in Nebraska. An alternative route would require a new environmental impact statement and would delay a final decision on the tar sands pipeline for as long as 18 months.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Michael Brune: 'The Keystone XL Pipeline is about whether right and wrong still matter'

'Let's Build the Future We Want to See'
By Michael Brune

One bus is coming from Maine. Another from Asheville, North Carolina -- one of several from that state. From points up and down the eastern seaboard, busloads of Sierra Club members and volunteers will travel to the White House this weekend. We won't be mingling in the Rose Garden. Instead, we'll stand, shoulder to shoulder, with thousands of Americans from across the environmental movement in a circle that stretches clear around the president's house to send this message:

Stop the Keystone XL pipeline and the dirty tar-sands oil it would carry from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

A year ago, few people had heard of the Keystone XL or even knew what tar-sands oil was. Today, thanks to lots of hard work and grassroots actions, the decision of whether to permit this pipeline -- a decision that Obama has acknowledged is his alone to make -- is a flashpoint issue not just for environmentalists but for anyone who believes our leaders should still be capable of making critical decisions based, not on some political calculus, but on right versus wrong.