There Is No “Away”

Ever wonder what happens when you throw a piece of plastic “away”?

The CNET Green Tech Blog reports on a recent oceanographic expedition that took a long hard look at a shameful situation; the floating islands of our garbage in our oceans.

Plastic contamination in the world’s oceans is worse than previously imagined and no amount of technology can clean it up, according to Charles Moore. The oceanographer returned February 23 from a five-week odyssey in the Pacific Ocean with samples showing 48 parts plastic for every part of plankton.

“We are damned to a future of pollution by plastic,” said Moore, who has spent more than a decade investigating Pacific plastic pollution. “There’s no evidence it will end in a millennium.”

A plastic “graveyard” double the size of Texas swirls in the Pacific Ocean between San Francisco and Hawaii. There, his crew had found in the water six parts of plastic for every part plankton, with a fivefold increase in the amount of plastic between 1997 and 2007.

But their latest voyage found the pollution even thicker in the “highway” of ocean leading to the great Garbage Patch, according to Moore, who founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation in Long Beach, Calif. Moore said that area comprises 2.5 million square miles.

In the Pacific alone, heavily polluted plastic zones amount to the size of the continent of Africa, Moore estimated.

More at link above.

I want to get mad; I just want to cry;
I want to do something, not sit idly by;
The problem is huge; the problem is drastic;
The oceans are choking with thrown-away plastic:

Plastic bags and sandwich wraps,
Toys and lighters, bottle caps;
One-use razors, plastic combs,
All the junk that fills our homes;
One part plankton, six parts trash—
The ecosystem’s bound to crash.

The plastics are forming new habitats too,
With small crabs and barnacles eating this goo,
And seagulls fly over to feed on crustaceans,
Though toxins are higher in these new locations.

A plastic graveyard, twice the size
Of Texas has been formed, and lies
Off Southern California’s coast.
This, only one among a host
Of garbage masses, giant isles,
Some 2.5 million square miles.

These plastics are coming from us—me and you—
We can’t simply wait; there are things we must do.
As much as we can—though we’re set in our ways—
We must change, and change quickly; no time for delays!
Demand greener packaging; vote with your dollars—
They say money talks; we can make sure ours hollers.
This cuttlefish fears for his relatives’ fate;
We have to get moving… or soon, it’s too late.

Image from Green Tech Blog–Credit: Algalita Marine Research Foundation

The Doomsday Vault

In the news this week, the “Doomsday Seed Vault” opened in a Norwegian island north of the Arctic Circle. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, deep within the permafrost inside a frozen mountain. It is far from any substantial human activity, cold enough to keep seeds frozen even if the power goes out, high enough to survive the melting of the polar ice caps, and secured by armored airlock doors with electronic keys. It was financed by Norway, but the seeds will remain the property of whichever nations send them for storage. Other seed banks have been attempted in the past, but none so large, so well protected, so well thought out.

The seeds are, among other things, a bank of genetic diversity. Our cultivation of crops means we depend on fewer and fewer varieties; with less genetic variability, a drastic change in climate conditions (or pests, disease, etc.) could have disastrous consequences. These seeds represent the opportunity for new (old) strains, hybrids, or models for genetic engineering.

And it is a wonderful idea. Especially if the drastic change is not too quick. My first thought after hearing about the vault was “ok, so I am the Omega man, one of very few survivors of [insert catastrophe, war, or plague here]; how the hell do I get to Svalbard? Just where the hell is Svalbard, anyway? And how do I get through the locked, armored doors to get to the seeds?”

The doomsday seed vault, way up North
And deeply set in permafrost
Could be the savior of mankind
A second birth when all is lost.
(No, not the fake religious sort,
But hope in case of global crisis,
In case our species sees collapse
From space, or war, or plague, or vices)
The seeds are kept in frozen store,
Preserving the diversity
Of plant genetics, just in case
Of unforeseen adversity.

The site could hold two billion seeds
With airlocked doors, securely locked;
They’ll run it by remote control,
For safety, once it’s fully stocked.
Varieties now in decline
Can be preserved, so we don’t lose
Genetic lines which hold some trait
That later decades need to use.
A safety net, a Noah’s ark,
Insurance for the worst disaster:
If catastrophic change occurs
These help us to recover faster.

But… safely stored in armored vaults,
Surveillance cameras standing guard,
I think, although the seeds are safe,
Retrieving them might well be hard.
Suppose that, say, a comet hits,
Or World War III , or global plague,
And farms all fail—ok, now what?
Instructions are a little vague.
Suppose survivors even know
This treasure trove exists at all—
It’s deep within the permafrost
Behind a locked and armored wall!

A couple million years from now
When aliens arrive on Earth
The doomsday vault, if ever found,
Incalculable will be its worth.
They’ll see our species looked ahead,
Cooperation in our plan,
Intelligence, technology,
But will they find a living man?
Or will our epitaph be writ,
A lesson that our deaths will teach:
“They saved the seeds to save themselves,
But kept them safely out of reach.”

Ethics, morals, religion, and swarms of breeding squid.

Ok, not much time today–tests to make, papers to grade, that sort of thing. So I am simply putting a comment from last week on Pharyngula into some context.

A recent Pew report on religion in the US was one of the lead stories on all the networks last night. On CBS, they spoke of a “secular, morally void America”, implying that morals come from religion.

I would (as would many others–I am not unique in this by any stretch) argue that morals have evolved with our culture (through selection by consequences, though not through genes), and that religion springs from morality, rather than the popular reverse. The customs, habits, rituals and mores that help a culture to survive in the long run are selected for, and the ones that do not promote long-term survival, no matter how religious, are selected against. (The easy example is the Jonestown cult, which was not conducive to long term cultural survival, but the more mainstream example is the Shaker sect, whose long-term cultural survival was doomed by a very moral prohibition against sex.) The things we see as virtues are the things that worked for our ancestors. Other cultures might have had vastly different cultural selection pressures, leading to very different moral virtues, and perhaps religions with very different sets of commandments.

Of course, Ogden Nash put it much better than I ever could–and used people instead of squid as his example…

Why does the Pygmy
Indulge in polygmy?
His tribal dogma
Frowns on monogma.
Monogma’s a stigma
For any Pygma.
If he sticks to monogmy
A Pygmy’s a hogmy. (Ogden Nash, “The Third Jungle Book”)

My own verse was a comment on the Friday Cephalopod: breeding swarm! post on Pharyngula…

For squid or starfish, perch or porgy,
There’s nothing like an ocean orgy
Where, unlike silly human rules,
Of course we want more sex in schools
Monogamy’s against the norms
For those who have their sex in swarms!
Indeed, were there some fishy prude–
Who found such conduct simply rude,
And lectured others on their morals,
Preached of Sodom in the corals–
This Jerry Falwell of the waves
Would be the one who misbehaves!
The squid who do their moral duty
Join the swarm and shake their booty!
It’s good, and not just glamorous,
When squid are polyamorous,
For in the moral code of shellfish,
Rule number one is “Don’t be selfish”.

The Enzyte Song (The Biggest Dicks Of All)

Well, it looks like “Smilin’ Bob” won’t be smiling much for a while.  The (Cincinnati) Enquirer reports that Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, the makers of Enzyte, are in court, accused of defrauding customers… to the tune of $100 million. That’s an awful lot of male enhancement.

James Teegarden Jr., the former vice president of operations at Berkeley Premium Nutraceuticals, explained Tuesday in U.S. District Court how he and others at the company made up much of the content that appeared in Enzyte ads.

He said employees of the Forest Park company created fictitious doctors to endorse the pills, fabricated a customer satisfaction survey and made up numbers to back up claims about Enzyte’s effectiveness.

“So all this is a fiction?” Judge S. Arthur Spiegel asked about some of the claims.
“That’s correct, your honor,” Teegarden said.

In their honor, I give you The Enzyte Song, or The Biggest Dicks Of All.

I once was meek and unassuming;
Walked around with storm clouds looming,
Awkward, sad; an isolated loner
I thought that I would be more happy,
Tell jokes better, dress more snappy,
Only if I had a bigger boner.

The TV said that I’d be smiling,
Witty, charming, smooth, beguiling–
Men in lab coats gave their solemn promise.
Studies showed I’d make more money,
Skies above would be more sunny,
If I had a Major League John Thomas.

Bob, Bob, Bob! Quit polishing your knob!
You always knew that Enzyte didn’t work.
Hey, hey, hey! We’re gonna make you pay!
That’s what you get for being such a jerk!

I sent away to get a sample
Knowing I’d soon be more ample;
Nervous, ‘cos of how much was at stake.
I knew that there was nothing less
Than all my future happiness
Dependent on a giant trouser-snake.

I took the capsules as directed,
Waited till the change affected;
Gradually, I realized, in shock–
Nothing changed; I still was geeky,
Shirt still wrinkled, shoes still squeaky,
Most of all, no difference in my cock!

Bob, Bob, Bob! Quit polishing your knob!
You always knew that Enzyte didn’t work.
Hey, hey, hey! We’re gonna make you pay!
That’s what you get for being such a jerk!

Now I hear they’re all on trial;
Records show, despite denial,
Lab results and surveys worse than iffy.
If customers weren’t satisfied
The company just simply lied,
And wrote “I’m so delighted with my stiffy!”

So, yeah, right now they must be bumming,
But surely they all saw it coming:
“The bigger they are, the harder they will fall.”
And in a twist a bit ironic,
No thanks to their useless tonic,
They’ve shown themselves the biggest dicks of all!

Bob, Bob, Bob! Quit polishing your knob!
You always knew that Enzyte didn’t work.
Hey, hey, hey! We’re gonna make you pay!
That’s what you get for being such a jerk!

Tip o’ the cuttle to Jake Young at Pure Pedantry.

A Charge To Keep… (yeah, that’s the ticket…)

This painting, I do not think I am understating, is important to President George W. Bush. He even took the painting’s title as the title of his autobiography: “A Charge To Keep”. And… it kinda looks like him. Don’t you think? The real story of the painting, though… well, it’s all right here.

A noble horseman leads a gallant charge–
Full gallop, up a steep and rocky trail
The group he leads is small; their courage large,
And heart and God ensure they will prevail.

This painting is a message to us all,
The very spirit of the Lone Star State,
That when our cause is just, we cannot fall–
Serve God, and you need never fear your fate!

Except…the painting here depicts a thief,
Who only narrowly escapes the noose;
The story may be Bush’s true belief,
But his interpretation is… well… loose.

A realistic painting, but at best
For Bush, a diagnostic Rorschach test

Hat tip to Pharyngula

Matters Of The Heart (… in a jar)

It’s all over the news–researchers at the University of Minnesota have “created a beating heart in the laboratory“. Basically, they used the protein fiber matrix from one heart, stripped of muscle cells, as a scaffold upon which to grow a new heart, using a solution of cells from another rat. Yeah. I know, all this talk about hearts is so romantic. So, in a bit of a reversal from my previous position, I return to the romantic view of the heart as the foundation of love, with a trio of little verses inspired by the heart in the jar. I can see it now… the picture above, on the front of the Hallmark card, with one of the following verses inside…

I’m new at this game,

And I don’t know your name,

But I love you, whoever you are;

My heart may be true

But it’s also brand new

I grew it myself, in a jar!

I can feel my heart grow,

So I love you, you know, 

And not like a cousin or brother;

I will give you my heart–

Every bit, every part;

If you break it, I’ll grow me another.

My heart is yours; it’s in a jar
That sits upon your shelf;
It’s happy being where you are
And not all by itself.
You asked me for a souvenir
To keep while we’re apart;
I thought a bit, and it was clear—
It had to be my heart.
And now, although my heart may soar,
It is no longer mine;
A message that forevermore
I’ll be your valentine.

A rat cadaver’s donor heart
Is stripped of every cell
The protein fiber matrix left
Looks like a ghostly shell;
This matrix, in a sterile flask,
Is bathed in rat-heart goo
With both adult and baby cells,
And starts to grow anew.
In only days, the growing heart
May beat, or merely twitch,
Then work, at roughly two percent…

Like yours, you heartless bitch.

What the…Huck?

In case you were the one who missed hearing this story, it turns out that presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee really truly actually for-real is a Man of God ™. Whether speaking from his heart, or in a bid to outflank his opponents and capture the fundamentalist vote, The Huckster announced to a Michigan crowd Monday that he wishes to change the United States Constitution, to bring it in line with “the word of the living god”. Really, he said that.

When you think about it, though, it is not all that radical. What were his other choices? I mean, you could bring it in line with the word of all the dead gods, but frankly I don’t see that garnering a lot of votes. Or you could choose to have a constitution that draws authority from “We the People”. As someone much more gifted with words than I am put it, it would be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

And who needs that?

There’s too much pollution in our constitution
As any good Christian can see;
Compare with the Bible, and anyone’s liable
To note that the two don’t agree.
And so, if we tell ’em it’s just ink and vellum,
Not sacred like God’s Holy Word
The people might buy it, and let someone try it
Although it seems wholly absurd!
A nip and a tuck ‘d be just fine for Huckabee–
Really, I don’t like the odds–
He already said it; he’s ready to edit,
And substitute Man’s law with God’s.
This ludicrous scheming (I wish I were dreaming)
Must surely be nearing its end;
Voters, open your eyes, and say your goodbyes
To the Huckster’s invisible friend!

Verse originally posted as a comment on Pharyngula.

Kick off your Sunday shoes, Missouri!

Afarensis reports on life imitating art imitating life. It’s Footloose, but in St. Charles, Mo. “The proposal would ban indecent, profane or obscene language, songs, entertainment and literature at bars.”

So if Kenny Loggins wants to cut the soundtrack to Kevin Bacon’s “Footloose 2: The Documentary”, I scribbled down a few lines for him…

It’s the limit! It’s the end!
From now on it’s “What a friend
We have in Jeeeeeeeesus!”
It’s a blizzard, not a flurry,
Cos the people of Missouri
Say Hell freeeeeeezes!

I’ll take everything to God in prayer,
And hope to hell that God is there
From what to sing, to what to wear
Let God decide, cos I don’t caaaaaaaare…

Grow a backbone, you amoeba
Or you’ll nevermore hear Reba
McEntiiiiiiiiiire
Cos St. Charles is making you sick
And the Devil loves rock music
And hellfiiiiiiiire

I’ll take everything to God in prayer,
And hope to hell that God is there
From what to sing, to what to wear
Let God decide, cos I don’t caaaaaaaare…

Hurry, scurry, time to worry, no more sinning in Missouri
Onward Christian soldiers, now advaaaaance!
Shakin’, quakin’, god-forsaken, send the call for Kevin Bacon
Maybe he can teach the kids to daaaance!

And what’s more, the city’s thinking
Let’s ban table-dancing, drinking,
Yes, and sweeeeeaaaaaring
We can see throughout these verses,
And the famines, plagues, and curses
That God’s caaaaaaaaaring

I’ll take everything to God in prayer,
And hope to hell that God is there
From what to sing, to what to wear
Let God decide, cos I don’t caaaaaaaare…

Hurry, scurry, time to worry, no more sinning in Missouri
Onward Christian soldiers, now advaaaaance!
Shakin’, quakin’, god-forsaken, send the call for Kevin Bacon
Maybe he can teach the kids to daaaance!
Six degrees from maybe our last chaaaance…

It’s A Miracle!

Man survives after God pushes him off a skyscraper…

“If we can talk about medical miracles, this certainly qualifies,” said Herbert Pardes, president and chief executive officer of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, during a news conference.

Moreno, whose brother Edgar died in the Dec. 7 accident, broke at least 10 bones, including multiple ribs, his right arm, vertebrae and both legs after the 500-foot fall from an apartment building on East 66th Street following an apparent malfunction of the scaffolding. Edgar Moreno, 30, also of Linden, struck a fence and was killed instantly. Neither man was wearing a safety harness.

I always found it rather odd
When people think to credit God;
The doctors helped, at least a bit,
The rescue workers didn’t quit,
The strangers there, who saw him fall
And made the first responder call
So many people did so much
But still we see His Holy Touch–
You see, it seems the signs are there
That show this man has seen God’s care:
The shattered ankle, broken shin
The shards of bone that pierce through skin
The massive bleeding in his gut–
Yes, every fracture, every cut–
This is the way that God Above
Displays His omnipresent Love.
And just in case He’s still denied
Remember, this man’s brother died.
Such agony makes Man aware
Of just how precious is God’s care
And when Humanity forgets,
God has a way to hedge his bets:
He’ll find a patsy, just some guy,
Like this Moreno, way up high–
When disbelievers start to scoff
God simply pushes this guy off;
With bleeding, pain, and broken bone,
God shows us that we’re not alone,
With just a little Godly shove,
He gets a chance to prove His Love.

Of course, Orac got there first.

A song for the season

Said the Little Boy to the Working Mom
Do you see what I see?
Cable channel three-seventeen—
Do you see what I see?
A toy! A toy! A laser-action gun
It will bring me hours of fun
It will bring me hours of fun!

Said the Working Mom to the Absent Dad
Do you hear what I hear?
Listen to your son, Absent Dad
Do you hear what I hear?
Your kid! Your kid! Is driving me insane
And your check is late once again
And your check is late once again!

Said the Absent Dad to the Learned Judge
Do you know what I know?
Sitting on your bench, Learned Judge
Do you know what I know?
My job! My job! Was outsourced to Bhopal
Now I have no money at all
Now I have no money at all!

Said the Learned Judge to the President
Do you see what I see?
On your Crawford ranch, President—
Do you see what I see?
The time, the time, for posturing is past
We must all do something, and fast
We must all do something, and fast!

Said the Prez, to the People Everywhere
Listen to what I say!
Go and shop, People Everywhere!
Listen to what I say!
Just swipe your card, and don’t forget your PIN
You must shop like thrift is a sin!
If you don’t, the Terrorists win!