Once upon a time I was in a serious quandary. I wanted some cheap, plastic, materialistic consumer shit made in China and I wanted it now. What to do, what to do?
As I saw it, there were two choices.
I could haul my fat ass up and out of my chair, somehow make it to the car, drive to a big-box store, somehow make it inside and navigate the maze to (hopefully) the right section where the object of my desire might be found. All the while being blasted by a tasty mix of songs scientifically designed to make me spend more money. (The mix is a rotation of two songs. Happy, by Pharrell Williams and anything by Mumford & Sons.)
I say “might” because I’ve tried this in the past and it didn’t quite work out. Ever go to the store to buy one specific thing? After expending incredible effort (see previous paragraph) you learn it isn’t even there. Out of stock. I do not believe there is a worse feeling in the entire universe.
And that other choice I mentioned earlier? Amazon. Duh.
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Factoid: In 2010 Americans expended 250 million tons of trash. 93.2 percent consisted of the Solo 2 oz Plastic Souffle Cup.
I often wonder what it would be like to explain certain aspects of my existence to an isolated indigenous person who was totally unaware of the modern world. I have the feeling that even mundane things like money, banks, interest rates, and mortgage-backed securities with post-load risk factors (fully assumable) would be hard to communicate with hand gestures. (Aside from the obvious one, I mean. I have a feeling they could pick that one up pretty quick.)
“You see, Ndugu, this is what we call a storage unit.”
“Meester Tom, what is this place? It is quite strange. I feel we should not be here.”
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I was taking my wife to dinner last night on Friday, September 30th, when – whooop! I had to stop the car and drive around the block. Yep, there it was. Spongebob Squarepants taking a dump on a pumpkin in a neighbor’s yard. Holy sheep shit and Merry Christmas!
So yeah. There it is. Christmas retail displays were out before Labor Day and the Halloween decorations went up while it was still October. Call me a fuddy duddy. Call me a stick in the mud. (That’s my costume this year.) Say I’m too old-fashioned and traditional. Well, phooey. I don’t like it.
Nothing says holiday spirit like a plastic piece of crap made in China that you purchased at the local WalMart. Now that’s festive!
A few houses down the block we spotted another one.
Yes, these are my neighbors. These are the “We Don’t Pick Up Beer Bottles In The Street” kind of people. They may not care about my car’s tires, but at least I can count on them when the chips are down, when it is time to dumb down the neighborhood.
Oh, the sound of rolling dice to me is music in the air, / ’cause I’m a gambling Boogie Man, although I don’t play fair. / It’s much more fun, I must confess, with lives on the line. / Not mine, of course, but yours, old boy, / now, that’ll be just fine.
Thanks for the early reminder, people. Now I know what I must do. Kidnap Mr. Sandy Claws!
For some reason, “G” was a real bitch. Oh sure, I considered writing about Greta Garbo. I considered “guillotine” but that word will figure quite prominently in “S” so it will have to wait.
I had a couple of other fleeting ideas, but they were not able to attach themselves to functional brain cells, so they are gone. For good. Maybe the title of this post should have been “Gone for Good.” Oh well.
Now it’s less than 90 minutes before I have to go to work and I’m staring at a blank form on my “new post” page. Arrrgh!
So there I was in bed, unable to sleep, so of course I was thinking, “What will I do for the ‘G’ post? Is ‘gyre’ even a word? If I played it in Scrabble I bet I’d get challenged!”
I knew I’d heard the word before. The internet provided the answer:
A gyre in oceanography is any large system of rotating ocean currents, particularly those involved with large wind movements. Gyres are caused by the Coriolis Effect; planetary vorticity along with horizontal and vertical friction, which determine the circulation patterns from the wind curl (torque). The term gyre can be used to refer to any type of vortex in the air or the sea, even one that is man-made, but it is most commonly used in oceanography, to refer to the major ocean systems. (Wikipedia.)
Oh yes! Now I remember. Isn’t that interesting? Eh, no? Perhaps we can add a little human drama that makes it more compelling.
The northern Pacific Ocean is the location of the North Pacific Gyre, one of the five major oceanic gyres. Besides that interesting factoid, it has another, more remarkable characteristic. It is also home to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Estimated to cover an area approx. twice the size of Texas, The Patch is the site of an unusually intense collection of man-made marine debris.
The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. The Patch is characterized by exceptionally high concentrations of pelagic plastics, chemical sludge, and other debris that have been trapped by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre.
It is estimated that the source of pollution which ends up in The Patch comes from land-based and ship-based sources. For example, “a typical 3,000 passenger cruise ship produces over eight tons of solid waste weekly, a major amount of which ends up in the patch, as most of the waste is organic.” Also, pollutants from the west coast of the United States can reach The Patch in about six years while pollution from the east coast of Asia can take one year or less.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has one of the highest levels known of plastic particulate suspended in the upper water column. As a result, it is one of several oceanic regions where researchers have studied the effects and impact of plastic photodegradation in the neustonic layer of water. Unlike debris, which biodegrades, the photodegraded plastic disintegrates into ever smaller pieces while remaining a polymer. This process continues down to the molecular level.
As the plastic flotsam photodegrades into smaller and smaller pieces, it concentrates in the upper water column. As it disintegrates, the plastic ultimately becomes small enough to be ingested by aquatic organisms which reside near the ocean’s surface. Plastic waste thus enters the food chain through its concentration in the neuston.
Some plastics decompose within a year of entering the water, leaching potentially toxic chemicals such as bisphenol A, PCBs and derivatives of polystyrene.
And, in a bit of planetary karma:
Some of these long-lasting plastics end up in the stomachs of marine birds and animals, and their young, including sea turtles and the Black-footed Albatross. Besides the particles’ danger to wildlife, the floating debris can absorb organic pollutants from seawater, including PCBs, DDT, and PAHs. Aside from toxic effects, when ingested, some of these are mistaken by the endocrine system as estradiol, causing hormone disruption in the affected animal. These toxin-containing plastic pieces are also eaten by jellyfish, which are then eaten by larger fish. Many of these fish are then consumed by humans, resulting in their ingestion of toxic chemicals. Marine plastics also facilitate the spread of invasive species that attach to floating plastic in one region and drift long distances to colonize other ecosystems.
Pollution from The Patch is estimated to impact at least 267 species worldwide.
This is my “G” post for the April 2011 “A to Z Blogging Challenge.”
The idea for this post came from two places.
First, some time back, I heard a news story about China wanting to develop their own company to build jumbo passenger jets. (Here’s one story I just dug up about this.) It seems they aren’t too keen on having to rely on buying Boeing aircraft made in the USA. For China it seems to be sort of a “control your own destiny” kind of thing.
Then I recently came across a story in Wired magazine that China wants to develop their own microchip company because, again, they don’t like relying on getting them from American companies. (Even though they aren’t made in the USA.) They especially don’t want military technology based on American computer chips.
Oh how very interesting! We’ll just go ahead and file both American computer chips and American-made passenger jets in China’s “do not want” column.
So, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what goes in China’s “want” column?
First and foremost I think an argument can be made that China wants us to buy cheaply made plastic crap, like the Google Marble Maze pictured on the left, which I received for Christmas a few years back. They are willing to make that crap at wages less than most Americans would be willing to accept, so the crap can then be sold at prices Americans find palatable.
By the way, I don’t think you can buy this toy from Google anymore. China and Google are having a little tiff right now. But I’d bet my paycheck that Google still happily sells plenty of other useless items manufactured in China.
China also wants a middle class with more buying power so they can dump walking and bicycles and ride around in gasoline-powered internal combustion engine vehicles like Americans. They want western-style fast food. Believe it or not, Chinese people in their new cars have to be trained how the drive-thru works. We’ve been trained on them for decades. It’s new stuff to them.
Something else that China wants is the United States in their debt. According to Wikipedia, China is the largest creditor of the United States. Says Wikipedia, “In May 2009, the US owed China $772 billion. In total, lenders from Japan and China held 44% of the [United States] foreign-owned debt.”
Now I’m no economist, but it sounds to me like China has no problem with us owing them big time (no doubt our own fault for selling them things like our treasury securities and what not) and buying their cheaply made pieces of plastic crap, but at the same time they don’t want to be beholding to us for our computer chip technology and our passenger jet aircrafts. Is it just me or does that leave a bad taste in my mouth?