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November 20, 2007

travel plans

"Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God"

I just finished "Cat's Cradle" and that was the line that stuck with me.

My grandfather died on Friday. Sunday morning I found myself on a plane to Colorado. I haven't moved this fast or spontaneously in ages. Going to my grandfather's memorial service is hardly peculiar but dropping all work and heading to Denver the week before thanksgiving was certainly startling. I would call it more of an "unexpected travel opportunity" than a 'peculiar travel suggestion". Either way it feels good - liberating.

In between Friday and Sunday I went dancing - just to limber up for the ride.

I am looking forward to the memorial service tomorrow when I can learn all about this amazing man who didn't talk much (especially to a granddaughter he rarely saw). Already the visitors who come by my grandmother's room bring interesting tales, reflections, and revelations.

Perhaps later, when I feel better informed I'll write an official obit.

November 07, 2007

Plastic Fantastic

Several months ago I read the most illuminating article in Orion Magazine about the permanence of plastic. This stuff just doesn't go away. We are like the Magician's Apprentice - only without a magician. According to Orion it has been like a plastic nuclear bomb exploding on the world 50 years ago and hasn't stopped. Only a small fraction gets recycled and other than the tiny bit that gets burned (which creates a different set of problems) all the plastic that has been created in the last century is still here, on earth, floating around. Most of it literally is floating around (in the ocean) choking sea animals, messing up boats, refracting sunlight, and being a big stewy mess.

Below is an article by the San Francisco Chronicle about this mess we have created.

Feds want to survey, possibly clean up vast garbage pit in Pacific

Justin Berton, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a stewy body of plastic and marine debris that floats an estimated 1,000 miles west of San Francisco, is a shape-shifting mass far too large, delicate and remote to ever be cleaned up, according to a researcher who recently returned from the area.

But that might not stop the federal government from trying.

Charles Moore, the marine researcher at the Algalita Marina Research Foundation in Long Beach who has been studying and publicizing the patch for the past 10 years, said the debris - which he estimates weighs 3 million tons and covers an area twice the size of Texas - is made up mostly of fine plastic chips and is impossible to skim out of the ocean.

"Any attempt to remove that much plastic from the oceans - it boggles the mind," Moore said from Hawaii, where his crew is docked. "There's just too much, and the ocean is just too big."

The trash collects in one area, known as the North Pacific Gyre, due to a clockwise trade wind that circulates along the Pacific Rim. It accumulates the same way bubbles gather at the center of hot tub, Moore said.

A two-liter plastic bottle that begins its voyage from a storm drain in San Francisco will get pulled into the gyre and take weeks to reach its place among the other debris in the Garbage Patch.

While the bottle floats along, instead of biodegrading, it will "photodegrade," Moore said - the sun's UV rays will turn the bottle brittle, much like they would crack the vinyl on a car roof. They will break down the bottle into small pieces and, in some cases, into particles as fine as dust.

The Garbage Patch is not a solid island, as some people believe, Moore said. Instead, it resembles a soupy mass, interspersed with large pieces of junk such as derelict fishing nets and waterlogged tires - "an alphabet soup," he called it.

Also, it's undetectable by overhead satellite photos because it's 80 percent plastic and therefore translucent, Moore added. The plastic moves just beneath the surface, from one inch to depths of 300 feet, according to samples he collected on the most recent trip, he said.

By Moore's estimation, the "floating landfill" is also simply too far from land to conduct any meaningful cleanup operation. It's about 1,000 miles west of California and 1,000 miles north of the Hawaiian Islands - a week's journey by boat from the nearest port. It swirls in a convergence zone located about 30 to 40 degrees north latitude and 135 to 145 west longitude.

There's no doubt that a stew of marine debris exists in the convergence zone of the gyre, said Holly Bamford, an oceanographer and director of the marine debris program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but there is some debate as to its size.

Moore has led most of the research and publicity surrounding the Garbage Patch, so Bamford said her federal agency, which oversees ocean conditions, is collecting its own data to assess the area and density.

Bamford said she has noted some "gaps in the research" that suggest the affected area is not as large as Moore estimates. Yet there's no question that marine debris is gathering in the area and is having a negative impact on marine life, such as fish who mistake the particles for food.

"But before we embark on a huge removal process," Bamford said, "we need to understand what we're dealing with."

Bamford added that the agency had attempted to take satellite photos of the area last year, but the overhead photos were inconclusive. "It's hard to distinguish a whale reaching the surface versus a piece of plastic," she said.

Still, Bamford said the agency is considering flying unmanned aircraft that can be launched from boats to skim the ocean's surface and collect data.

But launching the drones is 18 months away, Bamford said. It could be two years before a federal plan is enacted to remove the plastic - if it's warranted, Bamford said.

"Once we get to that stage, we'd need to ask, 'If we can remove it, what would be the best way? And what would we do with it afterward? If we collect it, would we bring it back to shore - and then what, put it in a landfill?' "

In the meantime, as the production and the use of plastic continue to grow, so will the Garbage Patch, Moore said. The only way to reduce marine debris, all sides agree, is to cut it off at its source - on land.

The dramatic growth in plastics use over the past two decades is what distresses activists like Moore. The annual production of plastic resin in the United States has roughly doubled in the past 20 years, from nearly 60 billion pounds in 1987 to an estimated 120 billion pounds in 2007, according to a study by the American Chemistry Council, which represents the nation's largest plastic and chemical manufacturers.

Keith Cristman, a senior director of packaging at the American Chemistry Council, said the plastics industry is aware of its connection to marine debris and said the council is working with federal and state agencies to put more recycling bins on California beaches in an attempt to stop plastic bottles and bags from making their way to the sea.

At the end of November, Cristman said, the council is co-sponsoring its first marine debris workshop with state and federal agencies.

Cristman said he'd rather see more plastic recycled than production slowed.

"Plastic is a valuable resource," he said. "It shouldn't be wasted, it should be recycled."

Asked if the council would assist in any cleanup of the Garbage Patch if the federal government called on it, Cristman said, "We're always interested in working with NOAA and the EPA."

Moore said his crew had collected new data that suggested more plastic is entering the gyre, yet he was hesitant to elaborate until he finalized the research.

"The ocean is downhill from everywhere," Moore said. "It's like a toilet that never flushes. You can't take these particles out of the ocean. You can just stop putting them in."

November 06, 2007


"No matter what side of the argument you are on, you always find people on your side that you wish were on the other."
- Jascha Heifetz

November 05, 2007


P]sychologists have had some pretty rough things to say about the immaturity and narcissism of love in our marketing society, in which it is reduced to a purely egotistical need that cries out for immediate satisfaction or manipulates others more or less cleverly in order to get what it wants. But the plain truth is this: love is not a matter of getting what you want. Quite the contrary. The insistence on always having what you want, on always being satisfied, on always being fulfilled, makes love impossible. To love you have to climb out of the cradle, where everything is "getting," and grow up to the maturity of giving, without concern for getting anything special in return. Love is not a deal, it is a sacrifice. It is not marketing, it is a form of worship.

In reality, love is a positive force, a transcendent spiritual power. It is, in fact, the deepest creative power in human nature. Rooted in the biological riches of our inheritance, love flowers spiritually as freedom and as a creature response to life in a perfect encounter with another person. It is a living appreciation of live as value and as gift. It responds to the full richness, the variety, the fecundity of living experience itself: it "knows" the inner mystery of life. It enjoys life as an inexhaustible fortune. Love estimates this fortune in a way that knowledge could never do. Love has its own wisdom, its own science, its own way of exploring the inner depths of life in the mystery of the loved person. Love knows, understands and meets the demands of life insofar as it responds with warmth, abandon and surrender.

Thomas Merton. "Love and Need" in Love and Living. Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart, editors. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979: 30-31

November 03, 2007


I recently learned of a recently created word:

Dehydrophobia - Fear of being parched.

That is me.