Follow the PCB and Mercury trail in our oceans

Marine biologist Stephen Palumbi gave a talk at TED about the massive problem with pollutants in our oceans, and the disease and death this causes everywhere in the world, throughout the food chain, including us.

Keep in mind what he says, then read this article, where the problem of toxins found in whales is shown in grim detail. Quoting from the article:

“The researchers found mercury as high as 16 parts per million in the whales. Fish high in mercury such as shark and swordfish — the types health experts warn children and pregnant women to avoid — typically have levels of about 1 part per million.”

“Ultimately, he said, the contaminants could jeopardize seafood, a primary source of animal protein for 1 billion people. ‘You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this is what’s going on,’ he said.”

“‘The biggest surprise was chromium,’ Payne said. ‘That’s an absolute shocker. Nobody was even looking for it.'”

“He said another surprise was the high concentrations of aluminum, which is used in packaging, cooking pots and water treatment. Its effects are unknown. The consequences of the metals could be horrific for both whale and man, he said.”

“‘I don’t see any future for whale species except extinction,’ Payne said. ‘This is not on anybody’s radar, no government’s radar anywhere, and I think it should be.'”

Guess who is the largest manufacturer of PCBs in the world? Monsanto.

Is the US government doing anything about this? No. They’re too busy blocking the press from seeing and reporting on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oh, the paperwork…

You can get buried in paperwork in this modern, electronic, paperless society of ours. Bank statements, tax records, property tax statements, mortgage statements, credit card statements, store receipts, business expenses, insurance records, car records, the receipt for last Tuesday’s gadget purchase that you have to keep for two years because you also got an extended care plan, the restaurant receipt from last August’s meal with a client that you have to keep for the IRS since you’re deducting it from your taxes, etc., ad nauseam.

Can’t we have it simpler? Can’t it all be truly electronic? Can’t everyone just send us email receipts and statements instead of giving us paper ones? I like the way the Apple store does it. You buy something, you have the option of getting an email receipt. They have these neat credit card swipe machines they carry with them (they’re wireless), they check you out where you are in the store, and you get an instant receipt listing your purchase. It’s beautiful! Why can’t restaurants do this too? Why can’t the vehicle emissions and inspection stations do this? Why can’t all stores do this? Why can’t all banks and credit card companies handle everything electronically? My bank (USAA) has been doing it for years, and it works beautifully. Why can’t city and county governments do this? Why can’t mortgage companies do this?

On a larger and more important scale, why don’t hospitals and insurance companies handle EVERYTHING electronically, without any paper of any sort? If you’re a doctor and you have to file claims, you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, then your secretary or claims specialist does… You have paper records for everything. Everyone has electronic systems, but very few talk to each other, and paper is still the only way to transfer information. This is pathetic. Hospital information systems ought to be able to send an electronic record of a patient consultation filed by a doctor to that doctor’s medical records system, which in turn ought to be able to process that information and send it to insurance companies electronically, who in turn ought to be able to process that claim and send an electronic notification to the doctor’s medical records system to update the claim status, then issue an electronic funds transfer to that doctor’s bank account. There should be no paper involved whatsoever, but those of us who deal with this stuff know it’s a far cry from it.

If there’s overpopulation, and we’ve got dwindling resources, and forests are being cut down at alarming rates all over the world, why do we have this constant avalanche of paper rolling toward us every month of the year, burying us under? If you’ve got multiple credit cards and bank accounts, a mortgage, a couple of cars, and a business on the side — and it’s your misfortune that the business is a medical one — you’re likely suffocating under paperwork. It’s nuts.

Helping the giant salamander breed

In their effort to control flooding, the Japanese have dammed up their rivers. But that move shut out giant salamanders from their natural breeding places and have made it impossible for them to get upstream. Scientists in Japan have worked out a way to allow their legendary giant salamander to get around dams, through elaborate staircases and small waterfalls that preserve the salamander’s natural surroundings. Now they hope the species will thrive in the wild once more.

An interview with Robert Kenner about Food, Inc

David Brancacio from PBS’s Now program sat down with Robert Kenner, the director for a documentary about food and the food industry called, appropriately enough, “Food, Inc”, to talk about the making of this very interesting film.

You can watch the interview here, and the trailer for the documentary here. It comes out on DVD and Blu-Ray in a couple of days, on November 3rd, and can be purchased directly from the movie’s official website or from stores like Amazon. I highly encourage you to get it and watch it.

Turning trash into usable products

Ann Wizer from XSProject Foundation (as in “excess”) is making custom-designed bags and other products from non-recyclable plastic waste found in Indonesia and the Philippines. She buys the raw materials from trash pickers, whom she pays at above-market rates, and, using trained artisans, creates beautiful products from trash that would be clogging landfills, streets and waterways in those countries.

Through its work, the Foundation is protecting the environment, reducing poverty, and teaching locals how to sustain themselves through the work of their own hands. The end results are beautiful, as you can from the photos and the embedded video below. The cause is noble, the work is noble, the means are innovative, sustainable and ennobling, and so I think Ms. Wizer and her XSProject Foundation deserve our applause for the wonderful work they’re doing.

Embedded video from CNN
Turning trash into usable products (CNN)

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* I would have linked to their online catalog of products, but at the time of writing this, it seems to be down.

Images used courtesy of XSProject Foundation.

The cat house – part 8

This is part eight of a personal carpentry project whose stages were recorded on video: building a cat house for our two kittens. Here are the other parts:

In this post, you’ll see the finished cat house, hear a bit more about the thinking behind the project, and find out my final opinion about what I’ve built. At this point, the cat house is pretty much complete, although a couple of small touches — like a frame around the window and a rubber door at the entrance — still need to be done. This means there will be a part 9 at some point in the near future, likely within the next 1-2 months.

As mentioned in the videos and in one of the first parts, the cat house was built using both leftover and reclaimed wood and thermal insulation. Pretty much everything I used in its construction I already had lying around my yard from ongoing renovations to our home. The only things I bought specifically for it were the two casters, the asphalt roof tiles, and the wood screws, which added up to a cost of 100 RON or about $33.

See this video on blip.tv, SmugMug or YouTube.

The cat house – part 7

This is part seven of a personal carpentry project whose stages were recorded on video: building a cat house for our two kittens. Here are the other parts:

In this video, I’ve already completed all of the carpentry work and the cat house is assembled. It’s also been stained and it’s about to be treated with wood wax. Lots of details about what’s been done and what’s about to be done are offered in the video, such as what I’m going to do about the entrance and how the roof has been mounted and how it seals against heat loss.

See this video on blip.tv, SmugMug or YouTube.