Turning Into Plastic

•May 23, 2008 • 1 Comment

Kim let me know about another article with information about plastic in the ocean. This one takes a closer look at the effects on the human body.

Our oceans are turning into plastic…are we?

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Issue: The Plastic Ocean

•May 21, 2008 • 1 Comment

I grew up next to the Pacific Ocean. I have fond memories of playing along its beaches as a child, and there were many days as an adult when I found myself staring out into its immensity. If there is any natural place in the world for which I feel an affinity, it is the Pacific Ocean.

North Pacific Gyre

You can imagine my distress then, when I read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Technically, this area of the northern Pacific Ocean is called the North Pacific Gyre, a clockwise-swirling vortex of ocean currents twice the size of the continental United States. It’s called the Garbage Patch because the motion of the currents tends to accumulate marine debris.

In the past, this was not a problem for the Pacific and its denizens. Sea birds, marine mammals, and fish were well adapted to make use of driftwood and other debris in the Gyre. The last few decades, however, have seen a dramatic new threat to ocean health arise — plastic.

According to the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, more than a hundred million tons of plastic debris have accumulated in the North Pacific Gyre. A hundred million tons! There is so much plastic, that it outnumbers the zooplankton six to one.

This is plastic that will never disappear. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Instead it photo-degrades, which means that sunlight breaks it down into smaller and smaller pieces. Those small pieces drift in the ocean and are mistaken for food by fish and birds.

Plastic Jellies

For example, seabirds like the North Pacific albatross are often found dead with innards full of plastic. Things like cigarette lighters and toothbrushes. Also, sea turtles will mistake plastic bags for food, thinking that they are jellyfish. These turtles will often be found dead with their intestines clogged by plastic bags.

The result? One million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die each year due to ingestion of or entanglement in plastics. And even worse — these small bits of plastic act as sponges for non-water soluble pollutants and toxins. These poisons reach concentrations up to one million times higher in the plastic than in their free-floating state.

Filter feeders that eat these plastics are in turn eaten by fish, which are in turn eaten by larger and larger predators. In many cases, this chain concentrates the poisons even further and leads it directly to human beings.

Recycle Plastic

The scope of the problem is astounding, but I refuse to believe that nothing can be done. There are places around the world contemplating banning plastic bags, and I plan on supporting those efforts. On a more personal level, I will re-commit to using cloth bags and reusable drink containers.

If you think that won’t make much of a difference, think again. For each reusable bag, another 400 plastic bags will keep from being used. Every reusable water bottle will keep another 167 plastic bottles from entering the environment.

And as we all know, change is created a person at a time. Won’t you join me?

For more information on plastics and the ocean, check out:

Speed Racer

•May 13, 2008 • 3 Comments

My first memory of drawing anything was in the third grade, doodling the Mach 5 from Speed Racer. In fact, I can recall drawing the car over and over and over again. I was, apparently, quite the little fan.

Years later, when I was in college, I owned some of the episodes on VHS videotape.

I’ve always been a big fan of animation (and I still am), but I can’t figure out the appeal of Speed Racer for me — the plots were thin, the action not very exciting, the animation quality only so-so. And I truly detested Spritle and Chim Chim, even as a child.

It must’ve been the car. That glorious car with its ultra-sleek lines and the promise of speed and gadgets. A car that could leap obstacles or cut through them, that would protect you from bullets and other misfortunes. I don’t know that I loved the show so much as I loved its main star, the Mach 5.

That may not be completely true – Racer X was also pretty damn cool.

As for the film version out in theaters, I went to see it over the weekend, in magnificent IMAX no less. The reviews have been terrible, but you know what? I didn’t mind it. The film is clearly meant for kids, and it does a fine job in that regard. As long as you don’t go in expecting magic from the Wachowski Brothers, you should be okay.

Would I have liked to see a modern, more adult re-telling of the story? Sure, of course. Who wouldn’t want entertainment tuned to their sensibilities? But this other direction is okay too.

The truth is that super-cars are a dime a dozen now. Look at the James Bond films, the Knight Rider TV series, or even the Pursuit Special in Mad Max/The Road Warrior movies. As sad as it may be, the Mach V is star out of TV’s past, who’s heyday is remembered fondly, nostalgically, but whose chances of being able to sustain an entire film are slim. This is the era of the Interweb, and technology is an uncertain in film. People are too used to miracles. Even Ironman, which is also out in theaters, is more about Tony Stark than it is about the suit.

Do I recommend going out to spend $10 on Speed Racer? If you’ve got kids, I’d say yes. If you’re in it for the nostalgia, then I’d say maybe. It depends on your tolerance for kids’ movies. I had a good time, but I don’t know that I’d call myself typical.

Another Issue: Wetlands

•May 12, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Note: This is a parallel post to the one at http://care2campaigns.wordpress.com.

WetlandsMay is American Wetlands Month, and as such it provides an opportunity to explore these amazing places. For too long, wetlands were perceived as wastelands, whose value came only once they were drained and converted to other uses. This was the prevailing view for centuries. In the 1600s, in the area that would later become the lower 48 United States, there were approximately 220 million acres of wetlands. Today, there is less than half that amount remaining.

And yet wetlands are the link between land and water, where the flow of water, the cycling of nutrients and the energy of the sun combine to create a unique ecosystem sometimes called a “nursery of life.” In addition to their importance for the sustainability of terrestrial and aquatic plants and animals, wetlands replenish and clean water. They provide needed rest places for migratory birds, and help reduce the risk of floods. They provide opportunities to get away from our cities and get in touch with the natural world. They are precious resources.

American Wetlands Month was first established in 1990, and it signifies a recognition that wetlands are not wastelands — that they are important to life and to the health of the larger ecosystem. But still more needs to be done to educate about their importance and encourage respect for them. The sad fact is that the United States loses approximately 80,000 acres of wetlands per year.

This alarming figure needs to be turned around. Required is more respect for the natural world, not less. If you can, this month pledge to do your part in protecting America’s wetlands.

One place to start is the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/573485811.

If you would like to learn more about wetlands, Wikipedia has very thorough article, although be warned that it’s slanted towards the biologists among us.

Writing Lessons

•May 10, 2008 • Leave a Comment

My writing is going slowly, but the reason (I realized) is that it’s because I’m teaching myself how to be a writer. Any new thing brings along with it new skills and processes, and it takes time to become familiar, to gain experience, to figure how things are done.

It’s been fascinating. Not easy, mind. But certainly fascinating — both for what I’m learning about writing but also what I’m learning about myself. I’ve taken to jotting down my observations. For example:

“Writing is about listening, not necessarily pushing through.”

and

“It’s important to get inside the feeling. In Third Chance for Resurrection, the ‘withered yellow walls’ and ‘the smell of old flowers and poison.'”

and

“My greatest fear is writing poorly.”

I’ll continue to post similar observations as I go along. I can’t guarantee that they’ll make much sense to anyone other than me, but I feel it’s important to share the experience as part of my own giving back to the community of writers.

Two things I should note:

The first is that I’m not trying to get above myself here. These are just things I’m encountering as I feel my way into being a writer. Everyone’s path is different, and these “lessons” are the milestones along my particular journey.

The second point is that (of course!) anything I might have to say owes an immense debt to all of the teachers, friends, guides, and writers who I’ve depended on. In fact, I’m sure I’m just parroting what other (wiser) folks have said before. It just taken a while to sink into my thick skull. *grin*

Two Samurai Films Worth Watching

•May 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

I watched The Hidden Blade last night and was struck by how much it reminded me of The Twilight Samurai. Both films eschew the super-heroic image of the samurai and both question the mythology around them. What happens when the lord you’ve pledged your loyalty to is unworthy of it? Are personal relationships more important than the relationship to the lord? And then there is the focus on the everyday, the realities of life for rural samurai.

It turns out that there’s a good reason for the similarity. Both films are directed by Yoji Yamada. Doh.

I really enjoyed both films though, and highly recommend them, especially The Hidden Blade. That film has some delightful acting, and the glimpses into the rural Japanese life are fascinating.

IMDB links for both films:

The Hidden Blade

The Twilight Samurai

Flight of the Conchords

•May 4, 2008 • Leave a Comment

OMG… Flight of the Conchords… these guys are hilarious.

And here’s another one.

Many thanks to my colleague, Emily, for introducing me to them. There was a day at work where – headphones on – I giggled all day listening to them. It made working with Excel so much more interesting.