Some Plastics Are Toxic

Here’s some information about plastics from the Reactual Institute that is troubling (what isn’t these days).

Plastics are not very meta-efficient. (For something to be considered meta-efficient it must be: Energy and Resource Efficient, Affordable, Reliable, Non-Polluting and Non-Toxic, and Portable.)
They are toxic to all forms of life, they don’t biodegrade, and they are difficult to recycle. Bioplastics have none of these issues. Also there are other materials that can substitute for plastic such as ceramics or rubber.

In terms of toxicity and environmental damage, plastics can be arranged in a pyramid, starting from the worst at the top:

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other halogenated plastics
Polyurethane (PU), Polystyrene (PS), Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene (ABS), Polycarbonate (PC)
Polyethylene-terephthalate (PET)
Polyolefins (PE, PP, etc.)
Biobased Polymers (Bioplastics)

PVC plastic (vinyl) is the worst plastic for our health and for the environment because it is produced using chlorine, and it releases dioxins throughout its lifetime. Dioxin is one of the most toxic chemicals ever produced. The EPA suggests that there is no safe level of dioxin exposure.

Also, because PVC is a hard and unusable material, chemicals must be added during manufacture — such as phthalates (pronounced “thay-lates”). Unfortunately these chemicals leak out of the plastic easily. When children suck or chew PVC toys, they can end up ingesting these chemicals.

Link Meta-Efficient: Not Very Meta-Efficient: Plastics:

John Mayer on Jimi Hendrix

Versatile guitarist John Mayer describes Jimi Hendrix:

Jimi Hendrix is one of those extraordinary hubs of music where everybody lands at some point. Every musician passes through Hendrix International Airport eventually — whether you’re a Black Sabbath fan or an Elmore James fan; whether you like Hanson or the Grateful Dead. He is the common denominator of every style of contemporary music. There were so many sides to his playing. Was he a bluesman? Listen to “Voodoo Chile” and you’ll hear some of the eeriest blues you can find. Was he a rock musician? He used volume as a device. That’s rock. Was he a sensitive singer-songwriter? In “Bold As Love,” he sings, “My yellow in this case is not so mellow/In fact I’m trying to say it’s frightened like me” — that is a man who knows the shape of his heart

So often, he’s portrayed as a loud, psychedelic rock star lighting his guitar on fire. But when I think of Hendrix, I think of some of the most placid, lovely guitar sounds on songs like “One Rainy Wish,” “Little Wing” and “Drifting.” “Little Wing” is painfully short and painfully beautiful. It’s like your grandfather coming back from the dead and hanging out with you for a minute and a half and then going away. It’s perfect, then it’s gone.

But when I listen to Hendrix, I just hear a man, and that’s when it’s most beautiful — when you remember that another human being was capable of what he achieved. I will always try to attain that kind of control on the guitar: Hendrix’s playing was sloppy, but it was controlled. Who I am as a guitarist is defined by my failure to become Jimi Hendrix. And that’s who a lot of people have become. However far you stop on your climb to be like him, that’s who you are.


Nature in the Backyard: Coopers Hawk

Hawk2 I walked into the bathroom after our Siamese alarm clock woke me up. Suddenly a number of blue jays in the back yard started screaming – not their usual yelling and whining, but full-blown war screams. I looked out of the window and saw a Coopers hawk crouching in the yard while the blue jays dived bombed it and shrieked. I ran downstairs, grabbed the camera, and ran to the bay window overlooking the back yard. I snapped several photos, which didn’t turn out as well as I hoped because I was shooting through a window and the light at 7:15am was not sufficient. The first photo shows the Coopers hawk trying to avoid the diving blue jays. You can see the a bit of the prey under the hawk. Hawk3 The hawk has changed position in the second photo. When it flew away, I could see why it changed position: it had killed a Brown Thrasher and it repositioned the dead bird so that it was aerodynamic (head forward) so it would be easy to transport. Scooter and I went outside. All the birds were making noise and squirrels were clucking. The wildlife were alarmed. Is a Coopers hawk that eats a Brown Thrasher cannibalistic?

Why Not Nuclear Energy?

This is why I don’t think nuclear power is the answer to the energy problem. The byproducts are too dangerous. Add the potential for terrorism into the equation and it doesn’t look like a good solution.

US nuclear clean-up carries major risks news service

There is a 50% chance of a major accident while the US government attempts to clean up its dirtiest nuclear site over the next three decades, a new study concludes. Even without an accident, the groundwater, a nearby river and fish could end up badly contaminated.

A decision to fast-track the rehabilitation of the vast Hanford nuclear complex in Washington State poses dangers and could lead to “costly and time-consuming mistakes”, says Bob Alvarez, formerly a senior environmental adviser to the Clinton administration. His study is due to be published in the September issue of Princeton University’s peer-reviewed journal, Science and Global Security.

Over the last 50 years nine reactors at the 1500-square-kilometre site have produced 67 tonnes of plutonium for the US nuclear weapons programme. In 2002 the US Department of Energy (DOE) embarked on a 30-year, $50 billion clean-up, which includes emptying more than 190 million litres of liquid radioactive waste from 177 underground tanks.

“The costs, complexity and risks of the Hanford high-level waste project rival those of the US manned space programme, but have far greater potential consequences to the human environment,” says Alvarez, who is now with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.

Political considerations
Allyn Boldt, who was a senior chemical engineer at Hanford for 25 years, fears that any problems at the site will jeopardise the expansion of nuclear power he believes is necessary to meet the world’s future energy needs. “The clean-up decisions at Hanford are being made by administrators driven by political and career considerations,” he told New Scientist.

That may not lead to the best decisions, he says. Even if the clean-up goes according to plan, Boldt claims there will still be 260 square kilometres of groundwater exceeding drinking water safety limits for over 10,000 years. And ground contamination means “several square miles will be a national sacrifice zone that cannot be excavated for hundreds of thousands of years”, he says.

Link US nuclear clean-up carries major risks | New Scientist

via Roland Piquepaille’s Technology Trends

Conservatives and Liberals

Dave Pollard provides his thoughts on conservatives and liberals and how they got that way. He says the war on terrorism illustrates what happens when conservatives in different cultures clash.

We all have more or less the same bodies, the same ‘perceptual equipment’, so that must mean that liberals and conservatives have had radically different life experiences with that equipment. Conservatives, believers in a world of danger and weakness, must have experienced first hand, through their senses and bodies, violence, the threat of violence, abuse, neglect, repression, deprivation, uncertainty, morally atrocity, and/or moral ‘failure’. We learn from what we see and what we are shown, not what we’re told, which would explain why children of conservatives who live very comfortable lives tend to be more liberal, why children who are abused tend to be both conservative and abusive, and why liberals, as they get older and experience more violence, tend to get more conservative. It would also explain why liberalism peaked in the late 1960s, a time of unprecedented comfort and peace (so that, unlike the Iraq War, most saw the Vietnam War for what it was — ideological aggression — not for what the conservative government portrayed it as — protection). By contrast, conservatism has peaked in depression, wartime and post-war times, when there is more physical evidence of violence, deprivation, danger and the other factors that promote a conservative worldview.

…I think the reason why there are still such an astonishing number of conservatives in the world is simply because the world is filled with violence, abuse, neglect, repression, uncertainty, threats of violence and danger. The fact that the media are obsessed with showing us these things adds to the general anxiety, as does the amazing rate of change in all fields of human endeavour, but these are not first hand things: Most of the world lives with, or has lived with, personal physical or psychological terror of one kind or another for much of their lives, and that has to affect their worldview.

What is particularly surprising to me is that the conservatives who are trying to make the world ‘safe from terrorism’ don’t realize that terrorism is, in most forms, an innately (if extreme) conservative act. Bush can bluster about terrorists “hating freedom” and “being evil” but the truth is that most terrorists are not anarchists who blow things up for a lark out of self-indulgence, but rather devout, conservative fanatics who are acting out of moral outrage against what they see as evil, and who kill others as acts of retribution that they see as profoundly moral. Very much as the American neocons saw their hysterical and immensely-costly destruction of two Arab nations as profoundly moral acts of retribution for 9/11. In this sense, conservatism is self-perpetuating and self-reinforcing, and what we have seen in the last three years is different sects of aggrieved conservatives attacking each other with increasing savagery and calling each other ‘evil’, while we liberals sit on the sidelines saying ‘huh?’

Link How to Save the World

Is Bill O’Reilly on Fox News really Fair and Balanced?

As I learn more about Bill O’Reilly’s intimidation of guests who disagree with him and his subsequent distortion of what actually happened, I see evidence of a self-righteous runaway ego. Why does fame grossly inflate self-importance so often?

Lawrence Lessig blogged a letter to O’Reilly about his treatment of a guest he interviewed .

You have declared a “war” on the New York Times. That’s good for you, good for them, and good for our democracy: Strong opinions deserve strong spokesmen. Your battle will help sharpen a debate about matters important to the Republic.

But in waging this “war,” you are continuing to abuse a man whom you have wronged, and to whom you owe an apology.

On February 4, 2003, Jeremy Glick was your guest on THE FACTOR. Glick had lost his father in the attack of 9/11. He had also signed an ad criticizing the war in Iraq. You were “surprised” that one who had lost his father could oppose that war. And so you had him on your show, presumably to ask him why. (Here’s a clip from Outfoxed putting this story together.)

You might not remember precisely what you said on that interview, or more importantly, what Jeremy Glick said. So here’s a copy that you can watch. Nor may you remember precisely what the ad that Jeremy Glick signed said. Here’s a copy that you can read. And when you’ve watched what was actually said, and read what was actually written, I’m sure you will see that the statements you continue to make about Jeremy Glick are just plain false. Not Bill Clinton “depends upon what is is” false, but false the way most Americans learned growing up: just not true.

Click on the link below if you would like clips of the interview.

Mr. O’Reilly, please just stop

Ted Turner’s Beef With Big Media

The always interesting Ted Turner says local programming, new ideas, and innovation suffer when small media companies are swallowed by giants or driven out of business.

Today, media companies are more concentrated than at any time over the past 40 years, thanks to a continual loosening of ownership rules by Washington. The media giants now own not only broadcast networks and local stations; they also own the cable companies that pipe in the signals of their competitors and the studios that produce most of the programming. To get a flavor of how consolidated the industry has become, consider this: In 1990, the major broadcast networks–ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox–fully or partially owned just 12.5 percent of the new series they aired. By 2000, it was 56.3 percent. Just two years later, it had surged to 77.5 percent.

In this environment, most independent media firms either get gobbled up by one of the big companies or driven out of business altogether. Yet instead of balancing the rules to give independent broadcasters a fair chance in the market, Washington continues to tilt the playing field to favor the biggest players. Last summer, the FCC passed another round of sweeping pro-consolidation rules that, among other things, further raised the cap on the number of TV stations a company can own.

In the media, as in any industry, big corporations play a vital role, but so do small, emerging ones. When you lose small businesses, you lose big ideas. People who own their own businesses are their own bosses. They are independent thinkers. They know they can’t compete by imitating the big guys–they have to innovate, so they’re less obsessed with earnings than they are with ideas. They are quicker to seize on new technologies and new product ideas. They steal market share from the big companies, spurring them to adopt new approaches. This process promotes competition, which leads to higher product and service quality, more jobs, and greater wealth. It’s called capitalism.

But without the proper rules, healthy capitalist markets turn into sluggish oligopolies, and that is what’s happening in media today. Large corporations are more profit-focused and risk-averse. They often kill local programming because it’s expensive, and they push national programming because it’s cheap–even if their decisions run counter to local interests and community values. Their managers are more averse to innovation because they’re afraid of being fired for an idea that fails. They prefer to sit on the sidelines, waiting to buy the businesses of the risk-takers who succeed.

“My Beef With Big Media” by Ted Turner

via Dan Gillmor

Photos for Pat Hite

My aunt Pat Hite (my mother’s sister) was diagnosed with terminal cancer in the spring of 2004. Being bedridden, she was missing the beautiful spring outside.

I decided to create a photo album of pictures taken in our yard to send to her. Pat passed away on June 1, much earlier than I expected. I was very disappointed that I was not able to complete the photo album and get it to her before she died.

I have posted it to my weblog as a tribute to Pat, who loved country living, nature, and beauty.

To see the photo album, click here.

NYC, Eight States Sue Utilities Over Emissions

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Five big U.S. power companies were sued for creating a public nuisance on Wednesday, accused by eight states and the city of New York of being the largest global-warming polluters in the country.

The lawsuit — the first by state and local governments against private companies over carbon dioxide emissions blamed for contributing to global warming — demands cuts in pollution but does not seek monetary damages, the group said at a news conference.

The companies named in the suit were No. 1 U.S. power producer American Electric Power Co. Inc., Southeast utility Southern Co., the Tennessee Valley Authority public power system and Midwestern power companies Xcel Energy Inc. and Cinergy Corp.

The lawsuit accuses the five companies’ power plants of being responsible for almost a quarter of the U.S. utility industry’s annual carbon-dioxide emissions and about 10 percent of the country’s total.

The power companies being sued said they are striving to cut emissions and had programs in place to cut even more.

The group of attorneys general filing the suit include New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who in the past has sued utilities running coal-fired plants and accused President Bush’s administration of not enforcing clean air regulations.

Reuters | NYC, Eight States Sue Utilities Over Emissions

via Mike Millikin / Green Car Congress