Monday, October 29, 2012

Maggie's mind mumbles about voting

As the election approaches I cannot help but feel the need to write a post about voting. A lot of this post will be personal opinion, and while I can tell you I tend to base my opinions in fact and I try my darnedest to only deliver true information to readers I urge you to use a fact checker for any information you are skeptical about in this post. It's a good habit to develop whenever you see new information.

Getting (Reliable) Information

During election season we are bombarded with campaign ads. As with an advertisement for a car or brand of make-up, the propaganda shown in these ads is trying to sell you a candidate. The following may help you determine where the information you can trust will (and will not) come from.

Bad information:

  • Unsolicited mail
  • TV ads
  • Unsolicited calls

Intermediate information:

  • Government mailed information
  • TV debates

Good information:


Voting is one of the most important things you can do in your life. You are the only person who will fight for your beliefs, rights, opinions and thoughts (mumbles too). Whatever is important to you; stand up for it (even if you only fight – for your right – to PAAAAR-TY!) If you don’t hold your position, anyone who disagrees with you can come along and win by default.

It is now too late to register for the upcoming election (you must register at least 30 days prior). If you are registered great! Make sure you do your research and mail in your ballot or show up to the booth on election day. If you aren't, all is not lost, there are still some things you can do to help improve your community. 

Some Americans may fall into the mind trap that you only need to vote every four years. While the presidential elections are important, I believe that the elections that take place more locally are really MORE important. These elections determine how the schools in your district are run, whether to convert your favorite open space to a new homes development area, or where to build that new bike trail. These issues, seemingly small (especially compared to healthcare and tax reforms) are actually more likely to influence your life in a noticeable way.

Contacting Representatives

Government was established so that individual citizens would have their individual beliefs, values and concerns addressed, but they wouldn’t have to be active in the process; there would be someone out there who’s job it is to focus on these issues. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to find someone to represent every individual's beliefs, values and concerns. Politicians have their own beliefs, values and concerns to deal with on top of those they are representing. Additionally, some politicians are not always truthful when they make promises to the citizens they represent. Therefore, it's up to you to keep them honest.

Stay Informed

Democracy depends on informed citizens. Be one by keeping up with the important issues that face America. When hit with an indescribable urge to watch Here comes Honey Boo Boo and The Jersey Shore, instead flip to one of these great news programs:
  • The News Hour with Jim Lehrer (PBS, weekdays) - Unless Mitt Romney kills PBS (should he be elected) this show provides in depth analysis of current events.
  • All Things Considered (National Public Radio, every afternoon) - A radio show, which gives a recap of the day's news and analysis of pressing issues.
  • BBC News (PBS, weekday afternoons and late evenings) - For an international perspective that US media often brushes off in favor of celebrity gossip.
  • Washington Week with Gwen Ifill (PBS, Fridays after the News Hour) - Brings together liberal and conservative political and media commentators in a round table to discuss current issues.
  • Meet the Press with Time Russert (NBC, Sunday Mornings) - A long tradition of asking politicians the tough but fair questions.
  • The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report with Stephen Colbert (Comedy Central, weekdays) - While presented as "fake news" these comedy shows often present an incisive commentary on politics.

A List of the Top Issues America Faces Today

In my opinion the following subjects are the most pressing issues America is facing. Some of these topics create rifts in relationships due to disagreements and some bring people together. The important thing is to know where you stand as this country moves forward, so that you won't be left behind.

ONE: The Economy
We're in an awful mess when it comes to the economy. In my humble opinion the hole is so deep that no single person can fill it (I heard someone say once, that until we raise a generation that can live on what they earn, we will never be out of debt). Basically, the "debt" ceiling has been raised multiple times with no plan to repay what is owed.

TWO: Prisons
The US incarcerates a higher percentage of its citizens than any other country in the world. Few dollars are put into reintegration and rehabilitation, therefore prisons are used as a place to lock up societal problems in hopes that they sort themselves out. A safer, more humane and more effective system of crime prevention and treatment programs would benefit our society more than the current system. To educate yourself and take action on this issue, contact:
The Center on Juevenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ)

THREE: Reproductive Health
Reproductive health is essential to the economic, political and social empowerment of women around the globe. Access to family planning methods, sexual health information and abortion services are scarce, and/or unavailable to the majority of women. Women deserve the right to healthy, planned pregnancy and quality sexual and prenatal health. To educate yourself and take action on this issue, contact:
National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL)

FOUR: Energy, the Environment and Climate Change
Human-caused climate change threatens our future, As the temperature of our atmosphere increases, changes in climate have a significant impact on agricultural yields, habitat integrity and vulnerable coastal populations. It is crucial that we work toward a healthier more sustainable society, through greener industry and energy use. To educate yourself and take action on this issue, contact:
Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)

FIVE: Inequality
In spite of historical advances made in providing equal opportunities for all individuals, our society still faces challenges of overwhelming inequality.We need to demand a more inclusive society where  each and every person, regardless of race, religion or sex, has educational and occupational opportunities.

SIX: Medicare and Health Care
The parties are divided on how the social security and medicare systems can be made more financially sound. Reducing heath care costs remains one of the more divisive issues politically. The US is the only industrialized country in the world that does not have universal healthcare. Denial of treatment and fights with insurance companies are commonplace in America. Citizens should not have to make a choice between paying their healthcare or paying their rent. To educate yourself and take action on this issue, contact:
Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP)

SEVEN: Gay and Lesbian Rights
I intended to include gay and lesbian rights under the inequality heading, however after some thought I determined that it deserves it's own section. After all, minorities are not denied the right to marry or share benefits with loved ones. As long as rights are denied to any individual, couple or parent our society is not really free. To educate yourself and take action on this issue, contact:
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF)

EIGHT: Education
This nation is capable of a fantastic education system, we already have many fabulous teachers and schools, unfortunately something is happening causing the nation to fall behind other nations when it comes to education. We need to take a stand and remember that knowledge is power. To educate yourself and take action on this issue, contact:
The U.S. Department of Education (USDoE)

Alright, so you have all of these resources available to you that will give you (for the most part) reliable information and you have a list of the most pressing issues facing our nation. There is no excuse to keep yourself in the dark. Enjoy your new found knowledge vectors.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Can the ocean keep up with the hunt?

I watched this video in my Wildlife Ecology and Conservation class (FW104) and answer a few questions about it. I found the information to be very important, especially to a fish lover like myself. I also wanted to pass it on because, as anyone who has been following this blog or knows me will have heard me say before, it is critical for everyone to understand where their food is coming from and how it is produced. So here is the video; it's about 20 minutes:

 In case you don't have the time to view this video here are the main ideas:

Commercial Fishing

  • The ocean is what they call a biological desert. For it's size, diversity is actually very low.
  • The fish population in the open ocean is being exhausted due to over-fishing through commercial fishing operations and pirate ships (ARR!).
  • We aren't catching the same fish species for consumption as we have in past decades. As larger fish disappear, global fleets target smaller fish, lower on the food chain. This leads to further collapses in the ocean ecosystem.
  • 20 million metric tons of fish are discarded as waste annually. Untargeted fish are called bycatch. This unintended harvest is equal to a catch 4 times that of the US fishing fleet.
  • Fishing gear that have had considerable impact on bycatch include bottom-trawling nets (nets are run along the bottom of the ocean, capturing everything they come across) and long-line fishing (thousand of lines with hooks are trailed behind ships, with no system to discriminate species). Both forms are meant to catch large amount of fish at once and are prone to catching endangered species like sharks and sea turtles, who die before they can be returned to the water.
  • Hook fisherman leave the habitat intact by one fisherman, fishing with one pole and one hook. They catch one fish, keep it if it's what they want and throw it back if it's not. No damage is done to the ecosystem but it is not practical for the vast quantities of fish demanded by the public.
  • In extreme cases, it is very hard for fish stocks to recover, especially if fishing continues at the same rate. The solutions are to either stop fishing all together or...


  • The USA is the leader in aquaculture, or the practice of farming fish. The main type of fish that are farmed are tuna and salmon.
  • The problem with aquaculture, especially tuna and salmon, is that these are carnivorous fish. In order to farm these fish, we must feed them. This increases pressures on fishing, but instead of fishing for direct consumption we fish for smaller fish to feed the larger fish for indirect consumption.
  • It takes 17 pounds of fish to produce one pound of tuna; three pounds to produce one pound of salmon.
  • Tilapia, from the Nile River, is an omnivore and can be raised mostly on plant-based proteins.
  • Catfish farming in the Mississippi delta, has experienced great successes. Feeding them has gone from 10-14% fish meal to 1-2% fish meal today. 
  • Shellfish farming is also a good business. They stay quiet, they stay where you put them and they clean up the water. They also produce vast amounts of food in a small area; according to the video shellfish could be the answer to world hunger.
  • There are a few risks to human health associated with aquaculture due to bioaccumulation: PCBs and dioxins are two examples.
  • Natural salmon are less exposed to bioaccumulation problems because they consume mainly crustaceans whereas farm fish eat fish meal. In fact, natural salmon have pink flesh due to their diet of shrimp and crustaceans (much like flamingos), and farm salmon are dyed pink before they are sold at market. Gross!
  • With farmed fish we are concerned about disease and infection so we use antibiotics in feed as a preventative measure; this could lead to resistant bacteria. 
  • Disease and infection is more of a problem in farms than in the wild. They use this analogy to describe this: if you stood on a football field with someone who has a cold you probably won't catch it (the wild) but if you stood in an elevator with 11 people who all have colds you will probably also catch cold (fish farm).
  • Large number of escaped farm salmon may impact the integrity of the wild population by messing with thousands of years of natural selection.
  • Tropical areas have many mangrove wetland habitats (mangrove forests) that have been displaced by shrimp farming. This destroys habitat that the people and wildlife depend on (ex. crab production and medicinal plants). A particular example is salt water released from ponds contaminated fresh water aquifers.
  • Deep water aquaculture is where net cages are submerged and anchored to the sea floor. Could be better for ecosystems than near or on land aquaculture depending on implementation.
  • Improvements in vaccines have reduced antibiotic use. Improved nets and anchors have reduced escapes, land-based tanks protect wild populations from farm-waste and disease.

Want to do something?

Unfortunately, most people don't pay attention to where their food comes from. Do you think you'll pay more attention now that you have this information?

If yes, there are many resources available to you and I hope you'll check them out:

  • I keep this seafood watch guide in my wallet (mine's from April 2007, a friend brought it to me when she visited California's Monterey Bay Aquarium). You can print out your own from the website. 
  • Seafood watch also has and app for Apple and Android.

Now I love salmon as much as the next person (maybe more depending on who's next) but I know I'm going to always check where my fish is coming from, what about you?

Monday, October 15, 2012

10 Myths About "Green" Living

You may not notice it in everyday life but current trends show a decrease in agricultural lands and wilderness as urban areas spread. Consumerism rules the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens and pollution and species decline are on the rise. Turning these trends around will take action on the individual level. We can't leave it up to the arguably corrupt political system in this country, which panders to exploitative special interests. We can't leave it up to the extremist organizations. If the individual learns their own behavior and realizes their own impact and how these contribute to destructive trends we can create opportunities.

Adopting better habits doesn't require wealth, unreasonable time commitments or a complete overhaul of your life. These are just a few of the misconceptions about "green" living that many Americans believe. Consider these and the following myths and their corresponding truths in order to take the first steps in your commitment to creating a better world.

1. "Green" living is a virtuous trait, not an obligation

While some people do make their commitment to green living a personality trait, we have to remember that it is the obligation of every individual to leave the planet in the same or better condition than how we found it. Since it is now commonly known that human activities are the biggest threat facing the global ecosystem, the only solution is for humans to clean up their mess. Do you expect the hummingbirds to do it? Maybe some rocks will help out.

2. It will be too disruptive and difficult to change my current lifestyle

There will probably be a period of adjustment as one makes the commitment to living more simply and reducing their impact, but difficult and disruptive are not necessarily the descriptive words I would choose to describe this period. Especially since it will probably have to be a gradual change, little things over the course of many weeks. This study gives some insight into how to develop new habits including a Japanese technique called Kaizen. Any activity repeated over a period of time can become a habit.

3. "Green" products are hard to find and expensive

In some cases, for example energy efficient appliances, this is true however in the long run these products save money in other areas, like your energy bill. On the other hand many earth-friendly products are actually less expensive than their conventional counterparts because they are often made using recycled or reclaimed materials, which require less processing and output less waste. Additionally the sustainable products industry is growing as more and more costumers prefer the earth-friendly alternative. Just remember that every purchase you make is a vote for more of that product, and producers listen.

4. Earth-friendly preferences and behaviors will make me look cheap and eccentric

To some, yes, but only those that do not understand the needs of our society and environment. Anyway acute intelligence and enlightenment have always been perceived as eccentric. However, there are ways to be thrifty and chic, something I will elaborate more fully on in a later post. Additionally Dr. Seuss says it best, "Those who matter don't mind and those who mind, don't matter." Remember that.

5. "Green" living requires a frugality that will deprive me and my family of comforts and conveniences I've earned

Reasonable comforts and conveniences needn't be sacrificed when making this commitment to a simpler life. The scale or quantity to which you've become accustomed to may need to be reduced but you may be surprised to learn that designer home furnishings, state-of-the-art appliances, a fancy schmancy car, fine cuisine and exotic vacations are available in earth-friendly forms. By taking a step away from the consumerism which drives many peoples lives you may just find a more satisfying, healthier, simpler and more balanced life.

6. The economy will suffer if I stop buying conventionally

Businesses and companies follow the consumer; if the consumer wants more eco-friendly products available at a lower price, the producer will supply it. I've said it before and I'll say it again, every purchase you make is a vote for what you want to buy.

7. I don't have time to support environmental causes

You can choose how much time, if any, you want to give to support any cause that is important to you. The internet has made it simple to sign a petition or receive timely information at your convenience.

8. It's hypocritical to advocate and practice environmentally friendly behaviors in some, but not all, areas of my life

Living the earth-friendly way is not the end of the road. It's an evolution of states. No one can do it all because there is no all to do. There's always something else you can learn, something else you can start practicing, something else you can sign a petition for. This is not meant to sound over-whelming, it's meant to sound exciting, there are so many options for how you can do your part in a way that fits your lifestyle.

9. I can't change anything if some people aren't doing anything at all

Your efforts, no matter how small, in reducing your footprint makes a difference in that the collective footprint has been reduced. You must be the change you wish to see in the world. Ghandi said that so it must be true.

10. There's only one right answer to climate change

This is beyond not true. Experts can't agree on any answer to the problem because there is not one right answer. In my opinion the best answer starts with the individual and that means Y-O-U.

Now that you know the truth about some of the pressing issues surrounding living sustainably are you ready to make a pledge to be "green"? Comment below if you are.