Archive for March, 2009

Plastics make it possible… for us to smother ourselves?

Those who know me are aware that at my current place of employment, one of my tasks is writing and designing the newsletters that are emailed/faxed/printed every month/bimonth/quarter about goings-on in the environmental industry.  And those who know me even further are aware that I have things I choose to be incredibly anal and OCD-esque regarding.  For instance, while I choose to be anal towards the proper use of the word “whom” and other lame rules of grammar, I will probably never learn to correctly spell the word “definitely” on the first shot (yes, I typed it ‘definately’ there originally). *

One of things I’ve decided to embrace OCD with is doing the research for these newsletter articles.  The point that matters to me is namely that somebody reads these articles, and therefore I could potentially be the source of someone saying, “You know, I read somewhere that…” See that?? “Somewhere” could be within my reach of manipulation!  LOOK AT MY POWER!!!  Therefore, in my mind that means I better make sure this shit is as accurate as possible.

Fast forward to me doing a sidebar on why you should email us so that we can GIVE YOU FREE SHIT WITH OUR LOGO ON IT SO YOU REMEMBER TO USE OUR COMPANY. Specifically, this month, we’d like to give you reusable grocery bags, which is pretty bad assed and exciting. Instead of doing a lame article on how Maui has banned plastic bags in 2010 again, I decided I’d throw some paper v. plastic stats in there, since clients seem to enjoy clicking in to studies and stats like that.

And after spending far more hours on this than I should have, I have discovered this:  We’re going to fucking smother ourselves in garbage.

I mean, I figured that both paper and plastic bags are pretty wasteful, and – no surprise – they are.  But what’s shocking is just how insanely wasteful they are, and how we are burying ourselves in garbage.

The amount of energy it takes to create one bag (higher for paper), much less RECYCLE the bags (again, much higher required for paper) is already jaw dropping when you multiple it by the billions of bags used every. single. day.  Plus, the EPA estimates only 5% of plastic bags and 12% of paper bags were recycled in 2005.  Newspaper is recycled in the US an estimated 80% of the time.

Top that depressing news off with the fact the plastics can usually only be recycled into a lower grade plastic; therefore plastic bags, which are normally made of #1 and #2 plastics can only be recycled (“downcycled”) into plastics of lower grade than itself.  And this can usually only happen once.  My limited science readability tells me that this is because the bonds in plastic break while being recycled and cannot be reformed in the same way again. Yes, it’s way more complicated than that, but I refuse to attempt to exposit any further for fear of looking like a complete ass regurgitating sciencey knowledge.

Oh, and if biodegradable plastics accidentally get mixed in, the recycled plastic product is way less valuable. Plus regulations on food/soda/water bottles and containers are that they must be made of virgin resin materials, so nothing that ever touches food is going to be made from recycled materials.

So, therefore if

plastic bags : bad :: paper must : good,


Well, actually, paper bags are arguably worse.  Not only, as reported before, does creating and recycling paper bags require significant amounts of energy to produce due to its materials and thickness,but they also require thousands of gallons more over plastic bags, and strip the land of natural resources in order to make sturdy, high-quality paper.  But the one good thing paper bags really have going for them is their reputation as ‘natural’ products that will decompose significantly faster than plastics in landfills.  So that’s gotta be something, right?

Mais, au contraire.

There are several studies and reports, including one study quoted by the EPA, which state that paper bags, due both to their thickness as well as the lack of light, air, and moisture in landfills, won’t actually decompose any faster than plastic bags in landfills.  Now, I take this knowing the study quoted here was commissioned by the french equivalent of Walmart (Carrefour), so they have a vested interest in finding plastic bags, which are cheap to buy/produce/transport, as the environmental winner, but their full conclusion was more along the lines of “Nothing Ever Goes Away; We’re Royally Fucked.” (Okay, maybe I read between the lines of the conclusion.)

On top of that all, if you compost paper bags (which I have done), apparently it releases twice the amount of CO2 into the atmosphere as non-composting paper does.

But flipside the issues again and there’s the negative greenhouse issues of burning plastic bags. And the fact that plastics in landfills, no matter how much water, light, and air given, will never biodegrade completely, because small fibers always remain.

And then you just think of the fact that 95% of this shit just goes here anyways:

Massive Garbage Dumps That Go On Forever

Massive Garbage Dumps That Go On Forever

And then you realize that even if we stopped using plastic completely TODAY (which, for multifaceted and obvious legal, political and economic reasons, could never happen), this still wouldn’t go away for thousands and thousands of years.  And yet, we continue to consume upwards of 500,000,000,000 plastic bags Each. Effing. Year.

Sometimes researching shit like blows my mind and completely overwhelms me on its vastness scale.  Also because I don’t know if we’ll ever be ready as a global society to change our habits unilaterally fast enough to actually make a difference.

Le sigh, for the world.

* Fun sidenote: While I adore grammar, I am somewhat of a terrible speller.  I’ve improved greatly over the years, and I spell basic words properly most of the time (angry face to those who spell your/you’re either a) incorrectly, or b) ubiquitously as “ur”), even if I have to constantly pause and think “I before E, except after C….”  Despite this, in 4th grade, while I scored in the 99th percentile for all of my other standardized CAT** tests… er, in spelling? I scored in the 74th. Oops?

** Other fun sidenote: CAT = California Acheivement Test.  Where did I grow up?  Illinois.  Yeah. Riddle me stumped.


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*Zing!* HIV Negated!

Dear Grad School applications:

Please stop sucking.

No, seriously.

I’ve put up with your asinine requirements long enough.  I know, I know. I bitched about having to take a test that determines my academic worth and potential in four hours.  I whined about having to get recommendations which every applicant is required to have, but which all basically say the same thing.  I begrudged your insane fees to have the privilege to even apply to your institutions of higher(er) education.

But it’s all becoming a bit too ridiculous of a hoop-jumping act. Now one of you (COUGH*GWU*COUGH)  has the nerve to require possibly the stupidest essay question I’ve ever read.  Because at this point, not only do you already have my personal statement (which is essentially an extended answer to the “Who are you, and why the hell do you want a degree which will likely put you $60,000+ in debt?”), you also have my CV, my undergrad transcript, my 3 glowingly asinine recommendations and blah blah blah, but now you want me to PAY YOU SIXTY EXTRA DOLLARS to answer this question?!:

How will the degree from SPHHS advance your goals to become a leader in improving the health and well being of our local, national, and/or global communities?

But…?  But…!  BUT!

Here’s the thing:  You are basically asking why your own program exists.  I feel like I should send you that information packet with all of your brochures and booklets on your various programs and opportunities. No, honestly, do you want it?  Because it’s currently somewhere in the vast wilderness of ‘Under My Bed,’ but I’m fairly confident I can battle the many Dust Demons and unearth it.

In protest of this inane and unoriginal essay question, I would like to submit this as my response:

A degree from SPHHS will allow me to be awesome.  I will be so awesome in fact that I will fly around the world with a cape and tiara, fixing health problems willy-nilly.  *Poof!* Malaria eradicated!  *Zing!* HIV negated! *POW!* Cancer? What cancer?

Well, probably that… but on a slightly more bureaucratic stage.

*ZING!* HIV negated!

*ZING!* HIV negated!

Please reassess the absurdity of your question.  If you find it acceptable in its current state, please thwhack yourself in the face with a tennis racket. Repeatedly.  The second essay prompt (“Within the program area to which you have applied, what public health issue concerns you the most and why?”), to which I still protest the requirement of PAYING ADDITIONAL MONEY TO HAVE THE ADDITIONAL PRIVILEGE TO ANSWER, at least has a purpose involved in it, and provides insight into the individual applicant.

Thank you for your consideration.

Grad School Applicant #PO409873

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Can you claim workers comp for stupidity?

Setting: Office workplace, sunny day.

Human Resources/Office guru extraordinaire
Miguel: Idiot savant minus the savant


Miguel appears and limps over to Sienna’s desk.

Miguel: Uhh, Sienna?  I think there’s something wrong.

Sienna: You’re an incompetent moron?

Miguel: Well, no, something else.  I hurt my knee, I think I need to file a Workers’ Comp claim.

Sienna: You’re kidding me, right?

Miguel: Um… no?  See me limping?  It hurts really bad! Why would I be making this up?

Sienna: No, seriously, you’re trying to be funny, right?

Miguel: No! What? Why?

Sienna: Miguel! This would be your THIRD Workers’ Comp claim. IN A MONTH.

Miguel: Um, yeah?

Sienna: You’ve had TWO OTHERS in the past year before these three! I have NEVER filed this many Workers’ Comp claims for anyone; Not even for employees who have been here fifteen years!

Miguel: Aahhhh… Your point?

Seinna: In the last month, you’ve injured your shoulder taking equipment off one of the trucks incorrectly; sprained your wrist helping another employee get un-stuck from the boring rig; and just this morning you injured your knee jumping off the bed of a pickup truck.  In the past year, you can add injuring your hand with a goddamn hammer, and injuring your back jumping on the boring machine trying to make it work.

Miguel: Yeah. Sounds about right.

Sienna: [Slams head repeatedly on keyboard.] Miguel, how did this even happen?

Miguel: Well, I was getting down from the truck.

Sienna: [long pause] … Aaaaand?…

Miguel: That’s it. I jumped down. And my knee got hurt jumping down.

Sienna: You… hurt… your knee… jumping down?  … from a truck?…

Miguel: Yeah!

Sienna: When did this happen?

Miguel: About five minutes ago.

Sienna: Um. Okay, here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to go to the kitchen. You’re going to get a bag of ice. You’re going to go back to your desk, elevate your leg, and ice. your. knee.  You are going to not move for at least 4 hours. If you need more ice, someone in your department will get it for you.  Get it?

Miguel: Sure, I guess.

[Miguel leaves. Sienna immediately begins googling: ” ‘workers comp’ ‘stupidity’ “]

3 hours later

Miguel hobbles over.

Sienna: What are you doing? I thought you were supposed to be sitting down, elevating your knee, and icing it. Not moving. Remember? Not moving?

Miguel: I had to go outside. My knee still hurts. I think I should file a claim.

Sienna: I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but why do you want to file a claim?

Miguel: Well, I need a claim number to see an orthopedic doctor.

Sienna: Uuuuh… don’t you have a PPO?  You should be able to see whatever doctor you want and have it completely covered. Are you sure you want to file a claim?

Miguel: Well, yeah, but the orthopedic doctor who I keep going to when I injure myself really idiotically says they need a claim number?

Sienna: But…? You…? Insurance?…  Umm…?  Okay. SURE. Whatever. [Sighs. Picks up notepad.] I’m going to need to ask you some questions though for the claim.  So, how exactly did this happen? Which part of the truck were you jumping from?

Miguel: Well, I jumped down from the truck.

Sienna: [Pause] Yes, I understand. What part of the truck?  The roof, the hood, the bed?

Miguel: I just jumped down off the truck.


Miguel: Uh, I don’t really know?

[Sienna throws notepad at Miguel.]

Miguel: I guess a couple of feet. From the back.  Just one of those things, you know?

Sienna: One of those things… that has happened three times in a month?

Miguel: I guess.

Sienna: I hate you.

Miguel: Are we done now? ‘Cuz I’m going to go sit at my desk and stare at the wall.

Sienna: Great. Choke on a peanut while you do that.

Miguel: Can I claim Workers’ Comp for that?


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I have a tiny bit of OCD.

The supply closet is going to die.

Here’s a fun neurotic fact about me:  I am a  complete slob who loves organization.

I try to be a neat and orderly person, really I do, but it doesn’t work. Every couple of months I’ll go on a cleaning rampage and tidy my room/apartment/whatever and vow that from THAT POINT ON, any time I receive a piece of mail, or have an article of dirty clothing, or finish a tube of toothpaste, that whatever object it is will be placed precisely where it should be placed, instead of the random piles that I form wherever it seems convenient.  Of course, inevitably, within three days, this new found determination is shot.  Hell, not only do I not take 15 seconds to make my bed every day, but at night my sheets often come off from one corner, exposing the mattress below… and instead of fixing it and stretching the corner back on, I just sleep on the other side of the bed.

That all being unfortunately admitted, while I hate cleaning, I fuckin’ love organization. Files within files, piles within piles. I love it with an OCD amount of not-okayness.  When I clean, I can’t half-ass things.  Not only does everything have to be cleaned, it must be LABELED and in FILES or a series of SHELVES.

So, when our supply closet at work, which, for some reason I perpetually take on as a project and clean, comes to the point of looking like this:

Supply Closet Disasterousness

Supply Closet Disasterousness

I cannot take it anymore. I can’t even look at it, because the sight makes me physically angry.

Today I went to work to make up some hours from being sick earlier in the week, and, deciding to tackle the supply closet while no one else was around, I discovered my anger at the supply closet today became even more pronounced.  Now, I understand that when we get new shipments and office supplies in, there’s not always time to put them away properly.  On the other hand, if you are looking for a box of small paperclips, and you open a package of 20 when there are clearly TWO. OTHER. IDENTICAL. PACKAGES. ALREADY. OPEN. – directly on top of the one you opened – then I feel like you’re just mocking me.  And thank you, all, for leaving empty boxes after taking the last file folder.

Three hours and much OCDness later, the fruit of my self-righteous labor:

Supply Closet Victory

Supply Closet Victory

Paper Clip Shelf aka, I have problems

Paper Clip Shelf aka, I have problems

Currently taking bets on how long this will stay organized.

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The past week or so, I’ve been feeling rather peaked.  My favorite maladies of trigger-point headaches and mysterious nausea have combined to attack my immune system and make it physically uncomfortable to be awake, to the point where I’ve missed one day of work and left early another.

Now, on top of the general malaise, the universe has apparently conspired to compound my suffering by causing my office building to shake.

Every. Ten. Seconds.

No, really.  I’ve timed it.

It shakes to the point that a piece of paper taped to my monitor visibly vibrates.

It shakes to the point that there is an audible rattling from things on my desk.

It shakes to the point that I can feel it while standing, sitting, or doing the polka.

But apparently it doesn’t shake enough that everyone in the office feels it.

My department is mystified.  The shaking is so bad that we feel like it’s contributing to headaches and distracting us from our work, but people in other departments claim they can”t feel it.

The shaking must stop.  It must. I’m losing my bloody mind.

The supposition amongst my coworkers is that there is pile driving going on nearby due to construction on a bridge or the like.  And for the most part I buy that.

But a small part of me is a tiiiiiny bit afraid that the entire city of Chicago is going to pull a LOST moment:

Island there

Island there

Island Gone

Island Gone

The shaking must stop.

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Things that make me angry #4

Setting: Rainy day in the office. Office staff toiling away.


Carla: Diligent Office employee

Miguel: Soils employee

Me: Another Diligent office employee.

SCENE: “Abridged Stupidity”

*Ring ring!*

Carla: Good afternoon, how can I help you?

Miguel: Hey, Carla?  Um, so, I sort of messed up.

Carla: Uhh, why, what happened?

Miguel: Well, uh, I sort of have the truck, right? And I was driving to a site, you know? Um, and with all the rain, it’s, uh, stuck in the middle of a field now. I tried to move it and I can’t get it out. I think I need a tow truck.

Carla: (Long silence)  Uhhhhh…

Miguel: Uhhmmm, yeah. So, can you, like, do that for me.

Carla: Uh, Miguel, I’m not in your department at all. Have you called Peter yet? He is your supervisor.

Miguel: Oh. Well, no?

Carla: Um. Okaaaayyy…. Hang on, let me put you on hold for a second.  <Places call on hold>  Hey. So, Miguel is apparently stuck in the middle of a field with one of the trucks.  Can we send a tow truck?

Me: What the fuck?  Where is Peter, this is his department? Why the hell is Miguel calling us?

Carla: Well, I don’t think Peter is in the office today.

Me: Miguel has his cell number though. Plus, Charles is here.  This is NOT our department. This shouldn’t fall to us. Seriously.

Carla: Well, I think he wants us to look up a tow company for him.

Me: We don’t even know where he is. If they need a credit card number, fine, but Charles can look it up, right? I know this seems mean, but honestly? Not. Our. Business.  How did he even end up in the damn field?

Carla: Well, I just feel bad. I don’t know how he ended up in the field. Let me ask. [Takes phone off hold.] Miguel? Okay, I can look up a few companies and give you numbers. [I roll eyes hard as Carla begins looking up numbers online] Hey, Miguel, how did you even get in the field?

Miguel: Well, uh, I was going out to a site… and… I ended up driving into this field, ‘cuz I thought it was the site.  But… uh, I found out that it’s not the right site.  It’s sort of down the road a little more.


Miguel: Uh, heh heh heh? So… Carla? Can you give me those phone numbers?

Carla: So you’re not even at the right site?!  [Sighs] Fine. Yeah, here, I have three for you.

Miguel: Well, can you just call them for me, you know?

Carla: Miguel, I don’t know where you are, what job site you’re supposed to even be on, or how big the budget for this project is. I have no idea how much this should cost. You should probably discuss this with your supervisor or at least someone in your department.

Miguel: Uh. Okay. But then you can call the tow companies for me, right?

Carla: Why doesn’t one of them just call for you?

Miguel: Well, because, uh, I …. called… you… first?

Carla: [Throws shoes at wall]


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Science, HO!

I may or may not have inferred previously that I enjoy science.  I think I recall something along the lines of raving about space exploration and a giant ‘projector’ for the Chicago planetarium.  Plus, you know, we never really learned anything from science in the past 10,000 years or anything.  Excuse me while I go give some penicillin to my cow over in my irrigated field while calling my sister on my cell phone to tell her of the great new fact I learned on the internet.

I recently took the GREs and, as irony would have it, my ‘position’ essay was about whether or not government should have a say in regulating scientific research.  I believe my answer was along the lines of “FuckNOmothafuckahs, that ain’t the government’s job, YO.”  Naturally, I expanded upon that and whose job it should be, and surprisingly I scored higher than one would think after using such such fucking asshat profanities and slang.

Anyways, as it would appear, Obama agrees with me:

President Barack Obama will lift his predecessor’s restriction on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research on Monday and will give the National Institutes of Health four months to come up with new rules on the issue, officials said on Sunday.

Obama will not lay out guidelines himself but will let the NIH decide when it is ethical and legal to pay for embryonic stem cell research, science adviser Dr. Harold Varmus said.

Researchers and advocates have been invited to a White House ceremony at which Obama will make the announcement, said Melody Barnes, director of Obama’s domestic policy council. He will also sign a pledge to “restore scientific integrity in governmental decision making,” Barnes said.

And goes on to my favorite line:

“Hallelujah! This marks the end of a long and repressive chapter in scientific history. It’s the stem cell ’emancipation proclamation’,” said Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology in Massachusetts.

I often wonder: When we look back in history and great scientists and innovators, do we ever wish they had been given fewer resources so that we might be less knowledgeable than we are today?  Because countries so very often are frowned upon for advancements in science, yes?  And shouldn’t it be the scientific community, and not the government (the majority of which, last I checked, are actually not scientists) who says when science might be crossing the line?

In the mean time, a big fuckYAY for science today.

ETA: I love the smell of Enlightenment in the morning.

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