Flower of the Week

Hanging Orchids from the famous flower market in Kowloon, Hong Kong. The market is comprised of 6 square city blocks devoted entirely to the sale of flowers. The air is so scrumptiously scented, and the pathways are so brightly adorned, walking down the street is like walking through a dream...


Pouring on the Pounds

No one can deny the New York City government's dedication to public health goals. Seven years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg caused a tidal wave of reaction when he decided to battle against the city's smoking culture. It started with a ban on smoking inside public areas such as bars and restaurants, a measure which now may be expanded to include some outdoor public areas as well. The offensive was then compounded upon by a hefty tax applied to all purchases of tobacco products in NYC. Although the unconventional taxation and social exile still brings furrows to the brows of many of NYC's smokers, there is no denying the positive impact of the counter-cigarette campaign, as at the time of its inception, help was offered by the city to any smoker willing to try and fight their addiction.

Now, Bloomberg is launching yet another public health battle. Along with Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, the mayor has released target health goals for 2012 which include a strategic health agenda to preemptively target preventable sickness and death, including lung disease and cancer, HIV, and heart disease. Recognizing that poor diet is directly related to poorer health, the city has released its newest campaign- against sugary beverages. The ads that are being run throughout the five boroughs feature the title "Are you Pouring on the Pounds?" and are accompanied by gag-inducing images featuring soda, sports drinks and other sugary beverages pouring greasy, fatty deposits into a glass.

Although the ads are somewhat sensationalized, they represent exactly the kind of shock doctrine which might just result in behavior change. As obesity and diabetes levels soar in the United States, at least one city is fighting back against one of the biggest adversaries to our health: high fructose corn syrup, found in most sodas and juice "drinks."

Is it enough, though? Some are suggesting that besides a media campaign, an economic extension should be included in the strategy to combat these sugary devils. Much like the formidable taxes placed against tobacco products, they think that taxing another harmful product would be a wise means of aiding public health goals, with a very opportunistic economic advantage tagging along right behind. It could be just what we need in these hard economic times. Then again, we have to wonder who this tax will effect. Like the smoking tax, a tax on sugary beverages would hit those of lower economic standing hardest, as their mobility to find alternatives is limited, and their budget for food products is more humble. As one friend put it, a 12 cent tax on a can of soda won't bother a guy who pays $3.50 for a latte each morning. And as Professor Edward L. Glaeser put it in the New York Times, comparing ads to taxes: "Both approaches try to reduce soda consumption by making it less pleasant to drink soda. One approach hits you in the wallet; the other hits you in the stomach."

Either way, the incentive for increasing public health is a legitimate one. As of yet no taxes have been imposed, but a sense of awareness about our bodies certainly has. The 'ick factor' of the city's newest ads are effective in their ability to inflict a sense of responsibility in our minds, so that maybe next time we will choose that water or that healthier option of drink. Basically, if it grosses you out, that means that it's working!


Fake Paper, Real Facts

The Yes Men have struck again! The culture jamming activist group distributed almost 1 million hoax copies of the New York Post this morning in New York City, all of which contained factual articles related to the climate change crisis. The articles in the post (which carry such titles as "Flopenhagen," referring to the the world climate conference to be held in Copenhagen this December, the outcome of which will be a "flop" if the U.S. doesn't front some real climate legislation soon; and the cover story, "We're Screwed," which warns of the environmental and public health catastrophes for which New York City is doomed from the consequences of climate change) are based on true facts and real reports by scientists and climate change experts. In fact, the fear-inducing cover story is based off of a report commissioned by the mayor's office in February of 2009 and carried out by a team of highly respected scientists.

Of course, the dramatic action of seizing one of NYC's most popular newspapers has brought heightened attention to the issues surrounding climate change, which are normally overlooked by news sources like the Post. But it is essential that the word is spread wide and often. As one of the Yes Men, Andy Bichlbaum put it: "This could be, and should be a real New York Post. Climate change is the biggest threat civilization has ever faced, and it should be in the headlines of every paper, every day until we solve the problem." A point very well made.

But the prankster paper wasn't completely devoted to doomsday warnings and frightening tales of our impending penance. There was also a congratulatory piece called "New York Fights Back," which detailed New York City's efforts at reducing carbon emissions and achieving sustainability. According to the article, residents of NYC produce only 1/3 of the emissions as the national average (probably thanks to our extensive bike lanes, public transport, and accessibility of provisions). It also mentioned the Million Trees NYC program, the new hybrid taxis and police cars, and the 1800 miles of bike paths that we boast here in the big apple. There were also whimsical advertisements for tote bags, bicycles, and tap water ("literally comes right out of your faucet!")

The paper had all of New York talking, and with close to 1 million copies distributed, it undoubtedly had some of us learning, as well. This amazing feat is highly commendable, and attracts some well needed attention to issues surrounding climate change as the G20 meetings take place in Pittsburgh this week, and as the U.N. gathers in New York to discuss the climate crisis. Like the Green Peace Activists who hung a large banner on Mount Rushmore during the G8 meetings earlier this summer, the Yes Men have found a way to make apathy seem boring, and dissemination of knowledge seem exciting, bringing climate change to the forefront of our newspapers and our minds.


Flower of the Week

Beautiful Blossoms &
an enchanted monarch,
at Snug Harbor's
Botanical Garden,
Staten Island

A Message from Van Jones

Van Jones sent the following message out to friends and supporters on Tuesday, Sept 15:

Dear Friends:

My family and I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of love and support that we have received over the past week or so. I resigned from the White House on Sept. 6, and I have remained silent since then- in keeping with my promise not to be a distraction during a key moment in the Obama Presidency.

Over the past few days, however, many people have been asking how they can help and what they can do.

The main thing is: please do everything you can to support President Obama and the green jobs movement. Winning real change is ultimately the best response to these kinds of smear campaigns.

I ask everyone to:

1. Support President Obama's efforts to fix our nation's health care, energy and education systems. His victory last fall did not represent the "finish line" in the fight to renew America; his election was just the "starting line." This autumn, it is time to make history again- with victories on health care and clean energy.

2. Sign up to support groups that are working for green jobs. As others seek to vilify or marginalize the movement for a clean energy economy, the leading groups deserve increased support. This is the year to ensure that the clean energy transformation creates jobs opportunities for everyone in America.

3. Spread the green jobs gospel. The ideas of the green jobs movement are grounded in fundamental American values- innovation, entrepreneurship, and equal opportunity. My true thoughts can be found in my book: The Green Collar Economy. Check it out from the library- or order a copy and share it with a friend. See for yourself why clean energy and green jobs are good for our country.

4. Stay connected and speak up for me via your favorite blogs (e.g. Huffington Post, Grist, Jack & Jill, etc.), on message boards and all of your favorite social networking platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). Supporters have set up a couple of them, to help you stay engaged, including I Stand With Van Jones and I Love Van Jones.

In due course, I will be offering my perspective on what has happened- including correcting the record about false charges. In the meantime, I must get my family affairs in order and sort through numerous offers and options.

I want to be clear that I have nothing but love and admiration for President Obama and the entire administration. White House staffers are there to serve and support the President, not the other way around. At this critical moment in history, I could not in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. The White House needs all its hands on deck, fighting for the future. Of course, some supporters actually think I will be more effective on the "outside." Maybe so. But those ideas always remind me of that old canard about Winston Churchill. After he lost a hard-fought election, a friend told him: "Winston, this really is just a blessing in disguise." Churchill quipped: "Damned good disguise." I can certainly relate to that sentiment right now. :)

Nonetheless, we must keep moving forward. Let's continue our work to make an America as good as its promise. These are historic times. And we have a lot more history to make.


Van Jones


Pants on Fire

Conservative media just loves to get you riled up, even when they aren't necessarily telling the truth. A few weeks ago FoxNews ranted and raved over a UNESCO Public Health Report which suggested sexual education for children under the age of 10. According to the lunatics at Fox, the main point of the UNESCO report, which was geared toward reducing rates of HIV and STI transmissions worldwide, was that the U.N. was advocating to "Teach Masturbation to 5 Year Olds." And Life News brilliantly reported that the UNESCO guidelines "Call on Children to Promote Abortions." Wow. Way to miss the point, guys. Instead of focusing on the fact that UNESCO was attempting to reduce the number of children who engage in dangerous sexual activity at increasingly younger ages by providing educational guidelines that could be implemented by teachers worldwide, they fell back on their small-minded "beliefs" about what children that age "should" be learning.

In fact, what the guidelines suggest is actually a gradual exposure to issues of sexuality, starting at ages 5-8, when basic sexual topics are explored, and becoming increasingly detailed as children age, culminating with a curriculum for 12-15 year olds about contraception, abortion, and abortion alternatives, including the risks of improvised pregnancy terminations.

Considering that at the end of 2007, 30 million people worldwide were living with HIV, 2 million of those being children, it would seem as if any measure necessary to impede the spread of this deathly illness would be a positive measure. But in the skewed world of Christian extremism, voiced by the right-wing punditry, outdated morals and cultural elitism are more important than working to solve a global epidemic.

What is frightening is the power that these pundits have to coerce us into agreeing with them by using sensationalized, and even falsified information. It is absolutely misleading to report that UNESCO wants to teach masturbation to children. In fact, according to Time magazine, the 102 page UNESCO document mentions masturbation only five times, twice to explain to 5-8 year olds what the term actually means. So beware the lying pundits, because if they can stretch the truth on a matter as important as children's health, there's no telling what else they could do to try and sway our opinions. They insult our intelligence by thinking they can make up our minds on our behalf, but we are stronger than they think. We have the ability to make a distinction between right and wrong despite and without any zealous persuasion. We are stronger than they think.

Thought is free. Peace.


Toxic Water Laws

The laws which seek to protect our health against dangerous contaminants in our water supplies are unfortunately not as reliable as we would like them to be. One of our main defenders is The Clean Water Act, which was passed in 1972, and intended to regulate public bodies of water such as rivers, lakes, and tributaries. But it does not necessarily guarantee the safety of these vital resources. Their health is directly linked to our own physical health, as we extract food from them, use them as locales for recreation and family getaways, and rely on them as major sources of our drinking water. Yet the Clean Water Act's loophole ridden nature almost ensures non-compliance on the part of major polluters, and the law is practically ignored by state regulators, allowing for dangerous contamination of our public water sources with very few repercussions.

In a major series related to this water contamination, The New York Times has released a study which found that in the past five years, there have been over 500,000 cases of violation of the Clean Water Act, by a total of 23,000 companies. 60% of the offenses were deemed to be "significant noncompliance," alluding to the fact that the danger levels for these violations are high, involving toxic chemicals being released into our waterways. The Federal Council on Environmental Quality reports that "up to two thirds of all cancers can be attributed to low level toxins [in water]," and that "once contaminated, our ground water will remain so for tens of thousands of years." But the most shocking aspect of this new study is that of the half a million cases of violation, only 3% were ever prosecuted or punished by state regulators. This sends the message, as do the loopholes of other laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, that the protection of our public water supplies is a frivolous endeavor, and that our public well-being is relatively unimportant when compared with the potential for profits by major corporations.

Besides the fact that both the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act are battered pieces of legislation to begin with, having been plagued by insufficient funding for enforcement and corrupt loopholes for those embedded with the Washington elite, they are practically ignored by those who are technically mandated to follow them. In an interview given to the New York Times, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that despite some progress having been made since the passage of the Clean Water Act, water supplies in the United States do not meet public health goals and the enforcement of water pollution laws is "unacceptably low."

Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, the New York Times was also able to compile a database of information related to water contamination across the entire country that is "more comprehensive than those maintained by states or by the E.P.A." To learn more about water contamination in your area, you may access this brilliant database by clicking here.

Thank you to Charles Duhigg, the investigative reporter who carried out this study, and to the New York Times for publishing such integral information related to our water safety and our collective health.

Positive News

I realize that the nature of certain realities in our world, coupled with the doomsday raving of many [most?] of our news outlets, can lead to feelings of depression, hopelessness, apathy, or nihilism among those of us who are receptive to the goings-on of the world. It is very easy for the empathetic-hearted to be affected by what they experience, even if that experience is read second-hand. It is human nature to care for our world and for our brothers and sisters, so there is no shame in reading a headline and reflecting on it seriously.

But it is also important to remember that there can be no shade without the sun, and that for every saddening story you hear, another one exists to lift your spirits. That is why I like Positive News, a UK website which is dedictaed to promoting those events and happenings around the world that bring peaceful resolutions to issues; highlights individuals who are striving toward noble causes; and discusses inspiring thoughts and ideas that are otherwise overlooked in news media.

It is a great way to hear about new and exciting developments and movements for which to involve yourself in!


Flower of the Week

Peruvian Lillies. Part of a whole bunch sent by my love from a few states away. Their array of color and their delicate details invite me to examine them for hours, their jovial smell delights my senses, and of course the representation of love that they carried for miles and left at my doorstep, waiting for me after a long day of work, leaves an indescribable feeling of happiness. Y

Food and Justice for All

The Engaged University is once again making front page headlines, but this time the news is not so good. After almost eight years of linking University of Maryland students with the communities around them and thus creating an enriched atmosphere, the E.U. is facing the chopping block by UMD administrators, who are seeking to cast off financial weights due to recent budget cuts.

Since the University of Maryland is now my
alma mater, I feel a close connection to the activites of the school, and the Engaged University was always something I could feel proud of. As the university attempts to project itself as a sustainable, service-oriented campus, this extension was a shining example of the types of programs that could be implemented in hopes of truly achieving substance to reinforce UMD's projected image. Perhaps it was a costly endeavor, but no more so than the university's selection of other superfluous programs, and with the added benefit of providing students with a chance to engage with their community and learn about sustainability in a hands-on manner. This type of learning benefits both the students and the community members they interact with at the E.U. The Master Peace Community Farm is one of the E.U.'s outstanding programs. As my partner stated in The Diamondback, UMD's school newspaper, the farm provides a meeting ground for people who "don't really mingle very much," indicating that it provides a unique opportunity for diversity and understanding that frankly may sometimes be lost on campus. His work, he says, provides "food and justice for all."

The farm, like the fabulous
Water Pod Project, is an innovative tool for getting people to connect with one another, as well as with their earth, providing a sense of meaning and purpose in a world where materialism often takes precedent and overshadows our vital relationships. Other programs, such as a biodiesel co-op, a bicycle shop, as well as arts and cultural programs, help to reinforce and integrate ideals of social justice, peace, and environmentalism through youth-centered activities that exist primarily to educate. The University of Maryland's SGA is now fighting to keep the Engaged University as an integral part of the school's mission of achieving sustainability and social service initiatives, and I hope they succeed, as UMD cannot afford to lose such a vital resource for its students as well as its community.

If you would like to make a donation to help to ensure the continued impact of the Engaged University, they are being accepted here: http://engagedu.umd.edu/

Click if you can help!


Frac Facts

Check out these fracturing facts from the U.S. Dept of Energy, which might give some insight into the [lack of] regulations related to natural gas extraction:

21 out of 31 of the states which employ hydraulic fracturing for
natural gas drilling have no regulations specific to the practice

only 4 out of 31 drilling states have detailed regulations
regarding hydraulic fracturing

only 10 states require that fracturing companies disclose
information on the chemicals they are using

0 states require that the volume of fluid left
underground for fracturing be recorded

Sources: State Oil and Natural Gas Regulations Designed to Protect Water Resources, May 2009, U.S. Department of Energy, office of Fossil Energy, National Energy Technology Lab, and the Ground Water Protection Council.


...What About the Green Jobs?

This past weekend, human rights activist and environmental visionary Van Jones resigned from his post as President Obama's advisor on Green Jobs. This action came amidst controversy, after a campaign of slanderous smears and allegations against him by several right-wing "news" pundits. Unfortunately, some of Mr. Jones' progressive beliefs fell inexcusably outside of the norm for mainstream politics, and were therefore besieged by the rabid pundits of conservative media, who painted him as a villain while ensuring the end of his career as a white house advisor.

But this man is far from villainous. Before joining the Obama office in his unprecedented role, Mr. Jones was an active, inspirational voice and an environmental leader for many. He is the author of the bestselling book The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems. It is a coherent breakdown of the complexities of our socio-economic system, as well as those involving our environmental effects and consequent policy. It addresses what Jones refers to as the "Green New Deal," an environmental program whose model is similar to that of FDR's post-depression restructuring, and places the government on the same page as the people, working sensibly to create reliable economies and stable jobs through the demand for all things "green." Besides founding and advocating for several human rights organizations, Van Jones was also listed as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people for 2009.

There is no doubt that Mr. Jones is a sound, forward-minded thinker who appreciates the demands as well as the barriers of our times, and understands the dynamics of action in the face of a looming ecological crisis. Yet the effect that his experience and knowledge would have had on Obama's handling of two of our nation's greatest threats will never be known, since past statements that he had made in an unofficial manner were so scrutinized and condemned by those of the right-wing punditry. They claimed that his views, which included a criticism of the Republican party and a call for truth about the attacks of September 11th, were proof that he was too partisan to be effective in the White House. As if no one in Washington has ever held a personal opinion, or sought out truth in the face of endless lies. They accused him unfairly in such a radically exaggerated measure that what followed was a resignation, not a resolution.

It is probably not surprising that the punditry took such vicious actions against Jones, considering that he is the founder of the organization Color of Change, which petitioned to have advertisers boycott Glenn Beck's Fox News show after Mr. Beck made appalling comments about president Obama being a racist. There was very personal fire taking place in this situation, and unfortunately the environmental policy of our country is being compromised in its name.

Our nation will continue to move forward, however, despite the ridiculous manic punditry frantically assailing us with negative falsities. Perhaps Mr. Jones no longer holds an official post, but as Ariana Huffington noted in her piece, Thank You, Glenn Beck!, he will continue to educate, inspire, and lead Americans as we search for new alternatives to the ecological crisis we find ourselves in. And a green collar economy still has every chance of being realized, along with the millions of jobs it will create for our struggling workforce, which is in desperate need of real change. It is absolutely in the interest of the American people, and is undeniably something that has gathered enormous attention in our popular culture. So the resignation of a potentially effective leader in the White House is meaningless, as the ideals and actions that he represents are still very prominent on the minds of the people in power ...us.


Frickin' Frackin' on Democracy Now!

The outstanding news program Democracy Now!, which is based out of New York City but broadcast on radio, tv, and podcast worldwide, reported yesterday on the case of water contamination in Wyoming and its possible link to hydraulic fracturing. The report includes an interview with Abrahm Lustgarten, an investigative journalist for Pro Publica, who has been researching the situation in Wyoming, as well as an excerpt from the documentary Split Estate by Debra Anderson, which touches on health issues related to fracturing chemicals.


Flower of the Week

Hot Pink Oleanders from Charleston, S.C. 

The Water Pod Project

It is just the kind of innovative creativity and ecological sensibility that our struggling food system and over-wrought welfare system need in this changing world. Part fantastical solution to an overly-populated earth, part urban farm, part artistic ingenuity, the Water Pod Project represents an unprecedented model of sustainable living that had not been seen before on New York City's waterways, or in the city at all, for that matter.

The concept represents a hypothetical example of a maritime lifestyle in the face of explosive population growth and a lack of essential resources on our earth's shores; a fertile lifestyle that is completely self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable. The pod is actually a fully functional farm home, located on a mobile barge which has been docking in and educating each NYC borough one at a time over the course of several months. It is powered by solar panels atop the inhabitant's quarters, nourished by an extensive grey water system which provides for all life on board, sustained by the intensive companion-planting methods of an urban farm, and staffed by some of the friendliest, most impressive examples of progressive thinkers that the area has to offer. On board is also a complete saltwater ecosystem, a kitchen and shower, a composting toilet, and four healthy, beautiful chickens.

The exhibition is open to the public for tours and education. It is currently located in the Bronx, at the Concrete Plant Park, an ironic name for the location of such a project. While it was on display on Staten Island a week ago, I had the sincere pleasure of spending time there, getting to know the crew and basking in the genius design that so optimized the use of a rather small barge to sustain life on board for such an extensive period of time. It is truly a feast for the mind as well as for the soul, as the creative influence of the artist who initiated the project is just as evident as the skill of the farmers who work on board.

I highly recommend a visit to anyone who is in the New York City area. There isn't very much time left, as the pod will only be docked in two more locations in the Bronx through the end of September. After that, the fate of the system is unknown. If it cannot be sold to a supporting organization, the pod will have to be dismantled and consequently recycled. What a shame it would be to lose such a prime and inceptive example of sustainable living, and such an excellent source of education for the city's children! Hopefully it is sold and installed on a permanent basis somewhere in the our waterways, so that we can continue to enjoy the generous beauty of this agricultural and artistic anomaly for years to come.