Friday, August 24, 2007

After the human race is run...

...the only things that will miss us when we're gone is the head lice and E. coli :( Haven't read it yet, but this book by Alan Weisman looks interesting. Jon Stewart did a hilarious interview with the author, who teaches journalism at the University of Arizona. Damn Viacom, why can't they let the videos be on Youtube! It's not as if they make it easy to embed videos from their own godawful website. Anyhow, I summoned all my patience and did it, just this once:

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Globalization => no ginger in dinner :-)

From a forum I'm on:
It's been a few years since we have stopped buying our fruits and vegetables at the regular chain grocery stores, and have instead been enjoying fresh locally grown stuff from coop etc. So naturally (pun intended :-) ) we've been immune to what the local grocery chain store peddles as "fresh" vegetables.

I was highly amused when on Sunday evening we were sitting with a few of our friends, and one of them says "Hey, I couldn't find any ginger at the local Giant Eagle store", and another replied, "Yeah, there was some news about some problem with import of ginger from China"! So immediately, I piped up about Nature's Bin, our local foods store where one doesn't need to be worried about imports! :-)

There's our ad for our local coop :-) Maybe someone can make a youtube video!
Hehe! But I guess it's not so funny, after all, that not even the smallest, most ordinary things are consumed close to where they're produced any more. Even in a poor country like India, kerbside fruit vendors have big cardboard boxes of fruit from other countries, and it's not even all upper-crust exotic stuff like kiwi, just regular stuff, year round.

And I wonder, what is life like in the Chinese countryside, with just about anything being cultivated or manufactured for export? Bamboo, wood, paper, plastic, food, fabric... 50 years from now, who will be better off, India or China? The answer is probably Bhutan!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

"Our oceans are turning into plastic"

Below are links to two articles sent by my former colleague Sarah. I'm no fan of plastic, and try to be very careful to reduce and reuse -- the goal is to never let my stuff even reach the recycling stage, although I find I have to throw away plastic items sometimes. Still, these articles impressed upon me the urgency and magnitude of the problem. I shared them with many friends and fellow-volunteers.
A vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain. Scientists say these toxins are causing obesity, infertility...and worse.
...Except for the small amount that's been incinerated--and it's a very small amount--every bit of plastic ever made still exists.
Full article

The picture on the right brought tears to my eyes. It's a sea turtle whose shell has been strangled into an hourglass shape by a plastic band.

Really, we have no right. We have no right.

Plastic bags are killing us

...This morning, a turtle feeds serenely next to a half submerged Walgreens bag. The bag looks ghostly, ethereal even, floating, as if in some kind of purgatory suspended between its briefly useful past and its none-too-promising future. A bright blue bags floats just out of reach, while a duck cruises by. Here's a Ziploc bag, there a Safeway bag. In a couple of hours, I fish more than two dozen plastic bags out of the lake with my net, along with cigarette butts, candy wrappers and a soccer ball.

...The plastic bag is an icon of convenience culture, by some estimates the single most ubiquitous consumer item on Earth, numbering in the trillions...Only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled worldwide -- about 2 percent in the U.S. -- and the rest, when discarded, can persist for centuries. They can spend eternity in landfills, but that's not always the case. "They're so aerodynamic that even when they're properly disposed of in a trash can they can still blow away and become litter...."

..Following the lead of countries like Ireland, Bangladesh, South Africa, Thailand and Taiwan, some U.S. cities are striking back against what they see as an expensive, wasteful and unnecessary mess. This year, San Francisco and Oakland outlawed the use of plastic bags in large grocery stores and pharmacies, permitting only paper bags with at least 40 percent recycled content or otherwise compostable bags.
Full article

My reaction to the articles reminded me of a childhood moment. I must have been 6 or 7. I had borrowed a book from my school library, and it discussed endangered and extinct species. I don't remember what else was in there, but it's now apparent to me that it was an American book: it's where I first came across the black-eyed susan and the pink lady's slipper. The book described how passenger pigeons had been made extinct through excessive hunting. I read this and was furious and sad at the same time. I remember it so clearly! I remember asking my parents how people could hunt every last bird till the whole species was gone, and wondering why anyone would do such a thing. That's the kind of reaction I had when I saw that turtle.

Turtle photo: Dino Ferri/Audubon Institute. Source: Best Life

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Yay caffeine!

Photo source:

I knew it. Coffee had to exist for a noble purpose. From a news report from BBC Online:
Caffeine may help older women ward off mental decline, research suggests. French researchers compared women aged 65 and older who drank more than three cups of coffee per day with those who drank one cup or less per day. Those who drank more caffeine showed less decline in memory tests over a four year period. The study, published in the journal Neurology, raises the possibility that caffeine may even protect against the development of dementia. The results held up even after factors such as education, high blood pressure and disease were taken into account.
The report says confusing things about the interpretations of the study: there seems little agreement on whether coffee prevents dementia or slows it down, and whether other lifestyle factors could be linked to the tea- or coffee-drinking. Looks like the reporter could have done with a shot of espresso, hehe.

Monday, August 6, 2007

A toast to America's tap water

I originally posted this NYT editorial to a forum I'm on, and expressed hope that Pepsi was fighting a losing battle. Pepsi recently announced that Aquafina bottles would say they contain tap water. The edit highlighted the excellent quality of American municipal water, and the economic and environmental costs of bottling and shipping water.

Then someone shared this Canadian news item. Then I found this
news report about NBC's Today Show calling in professional wine tasters to judge water from 12 cities (turns out most American tap water is yummy, and the best tap water is from Salt Lake City). Excerpts:
To avoid bias, New York City’s water — whose quality is generally held to be among the best in the nation — was not entered. NBC affiliates in 12 cities were given two identical, clean plastic bottles which were filled from taps and shipped to New York, where they were stored at 60 degrees — cellar temperature — at the request of the judges. The tasting was done in the studio kitchen production area with clean glassware, cubes of French bread for palate-cleansing and spittoons.

Running close behind [Salt Lake City] in the unscientific, blind taste-test of the water from 12 cities were runners-up Boston and Columbia, S.C. Boston’s water, said Bastianich, "has a purity — it’s straight down the middle." "It’s very crisp and appealing," offered Lynch.

Columbia’s tap water, said Lynch, is "luscious — I like its guts."
The report also mentions an interesting San Francisco Chronicle investigation:
Last month, partially in response to a “San Francisco Chronicle” investigation that found that the city had spent $2.36 million of taxpayers’ money in 4 ½ years on bottled water, [San Francisco mayor Gavin] Newsom ordered all city departments and agencies to stop buying bottled water effective July 1.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has also told his agencies to stop spending tax dollars on bottled water.
Then, oddly, a couple of people on the forum responded skeptically, saying their friends and roommates drink bottled water. Well, we all have anecdotal evidence to show that people persist in drinking bottled water. I too could have mentioned the plastic bottles that litter train carriages and railway stations in Mumbai. But how many of us have "anecdotes" from bottlers, marketing professionals, and municipalities? I'm trying to say that bottled water is a growing concern of governments and municipalities. Apparently, even marketing professionals are concerned about it. It's obviously something the media are taking up, as a simple Google News search will reveal.

So I explained my optimism to my forum fellows. I don't think Pepsi's business is going to plummet or close any time soon; such battles are never won or lost quickly; such huge corporations have tremendous staying power. I was reckoning several years. But I do think it's significant that US municipalities are asserting themselves against bottled water. It's not unrealistic to expect that other municipalities may join San Francisco and LA. If the momentum gathers or even just keeps up, Pepsi and other bottlers will have to up their ad budgets (i.e. lower profits) and will see a decline in sales. It would spur them to re-evaluate the profitability of bottled water. It took years to make a dent in Big Tobacco, but much of it happened after governments woke up to the issues.

As for the media coverage, here is just the first page of results from my Google News search for Fiji drinking water. Remarkably, these are nearly all mainstream news media bringing the issue to the public, not environmentalists and progressive community newsletters preaching to the choir.

Americans rethink wasteful approach to water Independent, UK
Chugging bottled H2O is bad for earth Newsweek/MSNBC
Some upscale restaurants shun bottled water Associated Press, via MSNBC, from Berkeley, CA

Bottled water industry fights back through ads Newsweek
Bottled water trend hits dam of protest Albany Times Union
Let's bag those criticisms of plastic Baltimore Sun (weakly defensive piece, IMHO)

Drink to your health By a rabbi, in Five Town Jewish Times, NY.
Clean, cheap water vital to nation's health Monterey Herald (reproduction of NYT editorial)

All the above stories are from August 1 onwards. Below are some early stories, the first drops of the deluge, so to speak. Same Google search.

Bottled water=bad...right? Plenty Magazine, NY, July 18, 2007

Don't buy water from Fiji Groovy Green, Ithaca NY, July 9, 2007
Label change adds clarity to bottled water debate Arizona Daily Star, July 27, 2007

I'm willing to bet this onslaught isn't going to cease soon...



What is it about kitties that makes people all regressive and their English all weird? Cats seem to inspire goofy spelling and ungrammatical language all the time--first there was Krazy Kat ("lil ainjil!"), then Gigolokitty ("me not slut! me get paid!"), and now i can has cheezburger?

"Kitteh" even made headlines in Toronto!