Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Environment P___ Agency

What is it that EPA stands for again? Environmental Protection? No, must be Passive or Push-over or Pathetic or "Patently wrong". Too bad for that grasshopper...

Grist says:

The Grass Is Half Empty
EPA and Florida sucking at Everglades cleanup, says judge

Florida and the U.S. EPA have been skewered by a federal judge for their Everglades cleanup efforts (or rather, lack thereof). In 2003, Florida pushed back a deadline for reducing phosphorus pollution in the River of Grass from 2006 to 2016. By doing so, the state "violated its fundamental commitment and promise to protect the Everglades," U.S. District Judge Alan Gold ruled Tuesday. He also turned his Gavel of Shame on the EPA, saying the agency violated the Clean Water Act by not holding Florida to its deadline. The EPA turned a "blind eye" in concluding that the delay meant no change in water-quality standards, said Gold, and was "patently wrong and acted arbitrarily and capriciously." The ruling forces the EPA to review Florida's water-pollution standards for the Everglades and determine whether they pass federal muster.

More info here.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Live life lightly, and announce it brightly

My brain was spinning with so many thoughts that I need to get down that I emailed myself, twice. I've occasionally done this to remind myself of something, but usually it wasn't a fact or quote, more like "Don't forget to ___ as soon as you read this." So, before I forget, this post is about stairmasters, placemats and coming out of the eco-closet. Have I piqued your curiosity?

Last week I was at a meeting with a bunch of teachers in my grad program discussing the idea of needing "real world applications" in math classes. I am a firm believer that my job is to teach problem solving; the quadratic equation is simply a context to place this habit of mind in. I have sometimes had trouble verbalizing this though. I did have a good response to the questioning of anti-derivatives and inverses: If you know how to do something (derive), hadn't you better know how to undo it (anti-derive)? But another teacher at the meeting had an excellent metaphor that applies far more generally: Do you get on the stairmaster because you need to be ready when you encounter an infinite flight of stairs? No, of course not, it is for exercise, and to develop a habit that can be applied in many situations. We're developling strong muscles, quick thinking brains.

I've realized this concept also applies to so many of the eco things I do. One woman I met recently has repeatedly reminded me that turning off my computer won't save the amount of electricity in ten years that turning off the AC for one year will. Meaning- why do you bother? When first accosted with this response, I dismissed it. Actually though, its a perfectly reasonable response. Turning off one light bulb is less than a drop in the ocean, but its a habit. Getting into the small habits makes the big ones easier. Its like the stairmaster- the point isn't the tiny amount of electricity (especially since mine comes entirely from renewable sources) the point is that in everything I do, my brain is trained to think about my impact and how to live life lightly.

Last night my family and I went to a steakhouse that my parents used to frequent when they lived in Boston. The placemats featured a drawing of a cow, with each cut outlined and labeled. The side margin featured these statistics: of a 1000 pound steer, 475 pounds are edible and 100 pounds are luxury cuts. I think this was supposed to make you feel really important about the choice piece of meat you were getting, but it just made me feel sad. I was mostly sad because of the waste but there was also the fact that they didn't have lobster and I'd spent the afternoon watching lobster traps, craving that really local meal. But back to the meat- it makes me wonder how much farm land was used to grow corn to feed to a cow that can't properly digest corn to feed a person who is only interested in 10% of the product? I've read plenty of statistics about the amount of grain required to produce one pound of meat, but I never considered the fact that more than half of the animal doesn't even get eaten. I ate salmon instead and felt bad about the suffering of that population too.

The reason I got to go out to dinner with my family last night is because they visited for the weekend. They hadn't been to visit since 2007 so a lot of eco-changes have occured since then. Before their arrival I went and hid most of my nutty environmental self in the (figurative and literal) eco-closet. I put away the grey-water collecting pot, tucked the cloth wipes in a corner and didn't ask them to bring vegetarian food. I am ashamed to admit this. Normally I am happy to announce across the internet everything I am doing and I talk to like-minded friends about changes we're making all the time. I offer little suggestions to my mother, and lament with my father when my brother can't remember to turn off the light, but I didn't want to reveal the full extent of my efforts. After the weekend is over, I fully regret that. Sure they laughed at me for hanging my laundry above my worm compost system, but really, who wouldn't? My father's response to his discovery that I am keeping my kitchen vegetarian was not to question my motivation or inquire if I'm eating healthfuly, but to ask if I wanted him to make me the vegetarian dishes he knows (he likes bringing me home made food frozen in individual servings, and I love being spoiled like that). I have realized that people can be surprisingly open and supportive of the green movement. Its okay to share things that are new and different. And honestly? Even if they had asked all the hard questions, I've read so many blogs and articles that I better know all the answers!

I think I'll make my new motto the title of this post:
Live life lightly and announce it brightly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

logic is lacking

As much as I wish I could avoid politics, they are everywhere and effect everything, so I cannot rightly ignore them. The lack of logic in so many of our policies pains me, but I will be the first one to say, I don't want to wade into the mire that is our government to fix everything myself. So, I will email my representative to thank her, I will appreciate HRC for doing all the hard work to get me this information in a timely manner and I will ask you to email your representatives if you support the stance below.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese writes:

"Eric Alva, the first American soldier wounded in Iraq, will testify before Congress tomorrow. He will speak out against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which forces people to be dishonest about their personal lives or face losing their jobs – or worse. Staff Sgt. Alva, who stepped on a landmine that resulted in the loss of his right leg, later came out as gay and is leading the fight against the law that forced him to deny his identity for so long.

With so many GLBT Americans serving courageously in Iraq and Afghanistan, momentum is rapidly building against this unfair, unsound policy. The law is exacting huge costs to the nation's best interests, even as it has dwindling public support. The military asks GLBT Americans to sacrifice for their country but won't give them fairness and dignity in exchange. Asked to defend freedom, GLBT Americans are denied their own freedom. I can't think of a policy less consistent with American values."

I recently read the book "Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers" and came upon a particularly insightful quotation which struck at the heart of this situation:

World War II WAC Sergeant Johnnie Phelps, in response to a request from General Eisenhower that she ferret out the lesbians in her battalion:

Yessir. If the General pleases I will be happy to do this investigation…. But, sir, it would be unfair of me not to tell you, my name is going to head the list…. You should also be aware that you're going to have to replace all the file clerks, the section heads, most of the commanders, and the motor pool…. I think you should also take into consideration that there have been no illegal pregnancies, no cases of venereal disease, and the General himself has been the one to award good conduct commendations and service commendations to these members of the WAC detachment.

General Eisenhower: Forget the order.
~Bunny MacCulloch interview with Johnnie Phelps, 1982

Please tell the military to do again today, as they did then, "Forget the order."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

hello brain?

Sometimes I worry about my brain. This weekend I have had multiple experiences to make me concerned. The first was yesterday morning- the train to Boston was running an hour late, so I decided to drive to the subway. I didn't really think this all the way through though, I just knew I was looking for a sign to Malden. It took me until I saw a sign informing I was in Worcester county for me to realize that the sign for Malden wasn't coming since I had taken the wrong highway! Had I been paying attention to the signs and if I knew the area better, I would have corrected this a very long time before. I was mildly impressed with my ability to get to another subway line from where I had gotten myself lost, but it didn't make up for the morning's stupidity. The worst part was, on the way home I looked at the map very carefully, planned out my route, and still managed to miss an exit completely without realizing it for 30 minutes. Am I really that out of the habit of driving?

Then, last night, after I finished reading my book (The Year of Living Biblically, I highly recommend it) I decided to look to see if I still had my favorite quotes marked in my bible from when I read part of it in high school. I found one, but vaguely remembered another about frogs that I couldn't find. I sat down and thought about it for a while, wondering what on earth it could have been about. Slowly, it dawned on me, that wasn't a bible verse, it was actually an Emily Dickinson poem. I'm curious what is going on in my brain that it groups Emily Dickinson and the bible into one lump of "quotes". The poem, by the way, is this one (I think!):

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

I suppose I should be comforted by the fact that I'm not as bad off as the people described in this article. The author claims that people can't read through a long blog post, let alone an entire book. I try to take regular breaks from the computer (all day yesterday even) and I finished an entire book this weekend, so I should be doing okay, compared to some of the world. But, I would like my brain to be, something, I don't even know what. And that bothers me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

crane again?

Another crane comes crashing down. This time at an oil refinery. Seems like I was just writing about this...
On a happier note, its Friday! I have completed half of my summer program and took a midterm today. Taking that test showed that I really have learned a lot, and the stuff I've learned is fascinating. The material itself won't be particularly useful in life, but the thought process and dedication it has required certainly will be.

Tomorrow is the "World's Largest Backyard Athlete Competition" sponsored by Life is Good. It promises to be a fantastic day of outdoor fun including sunshine, music and spectatorship. Assuming they are selling clothing, I may even splurge and buy a pair of shorts. 2 of the 3 pairs I currently wear are 10 years old, I think the need is valid. Plus, money raised goes to great causes. Win, win!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Life is busy!

So far this week 2 friends visited, I had 3 12 hour days of class/travel (plus a bit of fun) and no one is cleaning my apartment or taking care of my plants for me. However, there are 2 small green spheres that might turn into tomatoes soon! The test will be to see if I can wait until they are ripe, or if I get overzealous and pull them off. Somehow I don't think cherry tomatoes work well for "fried green tomatoes." I should probably just rent the movie to take care of that craving.

Also, I got some bills today. Last month I reached all time lows of 7% for Natural Gas and 25% for water. That's a 9% drop for water in just a month! Apparently flushing uses a lot and I've been filling the watering can with whatever clean waste water I have. I can't wait to see what those numbers look like in the winter when I'm only watering plants once a week (rather than almost daily for the veggies). I wish that I could send my water savings somewhere else; we've been getting tons of rain recently so its really not necessary here like it is in other climates.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

spiffy title goes here

I was just reading Chile's rant about blog pet peeves, including frequently listing how many devoted readers one has. She did say that she enjoys reading random search keywords though, so I decided to head over to Google Analytics to see if I'd had any good ones lately. I got: layers in gangs, linear equation lemonade, mon-esday and moneyfor fun. None of them found exactly what they were looking for and stayed a grand total of 0 seconds. However, the searcher of greenpa miami came back. People search for strange things... Also, thanks to my 5(?) loyal readers. :)

The past two weeks have been fun, but exhausting. It is totally and completely beyond my comprehension why anyone would willing live more than 15 minutes from where they work. I'm commuting into Boston to do a grad program at BU for 6 weeks. I get up at 6 (earlier than I had to for school), leave the apartment at 6:30 (or 6:35 or 6:40), drive 15 minutes, take the commuter rail for an hour, take the subway for 20 minutes, walk for 10 minutes and have 30 minutes to spare until class starts. Repeat in reverse in the evening, which gets me home around 7:15. Each part of the trip isn't bad- there's no traffic on my drive, the train is pleasant and I love the forced quiet time, I enjoy being surrounded by people in the city and the 30 minutes in the park doing the crossword is ideal. However, add it all up, multiply by two and stick 8 hours of number theory in the middle? That equals exhaustion. Plus, add in the occasional barbecue or concert and I'm left spending Saturday wondering if my brain will ever be ready for Monday. This makes me appreciate my regular year schedule very, very much. It also makes me pity those who are stuck doing this every day, or worse, those who are driving 1-2 hours to and from work every day. The village theory of town planning is sounding better and better every time I ponder it.

Today's plan- grand opening of a local farmer's market, apparently its a big party!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

civilization should be like ants

I have recently been inspired by ants. Between two experiences of having them take over my kitchen (still working on the proper moisture level in the compost bin) and listening to a Radio Lab episode about them, I think they are a great model for civilization.

Colonies of ants have no government or specific duties. Each day they all take random paths wandering around their neighborhoods. One day, one of them, we'll call him Fred, finds a good path. Since they have been leaving a pheromone trail everywhere they go, another ant may happen along and wonder what happens if they follow Fred's path. Two ants going along the same path means the pheromones are doubled. Eventually if enough ants decide this "good" path is worth traveling, the scent will be so strong the entire colony will be taking the same route. Out of chaos, comes order. Its not just a semblance of order either.

Last week I had a mini-outbreak in my kitchen and I got to see what the initial stage of this looks like- pure randomness. There was one ant on my computer, one at the edge of the carpet and one on the shelf. No one knew where they were going, they were just out to explore. A few hours later several of them were taking the same path along the wall and I was able to see that they had found the container that had held my plants at school, which still had some apparently delicious mushy vegetation.

I found the major outbreak when I returned home from a weekend away. There was a line of ants traveling from their home to a plant pot. They were taking the most direct path possible- along the floor, up the counter, along the edge, up a specific leaf and into the pot; repeat in reverse - none of them wavered from it. No single ant had told everyone, "Hey! Guess what? I found a whole pile of supplies, follow along and help me get it!" Each ant just happened upon it, wondering why everyone else had gone that way. They realized the dirt was useful, and took some. Hundreds of tiny creatures were completely organized and being very productive, without anyone ever telling them what to do.

All it takes is someone like you, wandering around and sharing your path. If it turns out to be a good one, others will follow, we will reach critical mass and the entire civilization will begin following the same path together. Sure, it would be great if the government would spread the message far and wide, but we can do it ourselves, just like the ants.