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Thursday, November 29, 2012

There Are Somethings That Only The Government Can Address (see The North Pacific Gyre story for an example), And Somethings They BOTCH Completely (see the Business Week story below).

P.S. After millions of miles and dozens of international flights, we gave up on air travel six years ago, and now devote our travel time to seeing America.  It is a beautiful country.

Airport Security Is Making Americans Less Safe

The TSA was created to replace the patchwork of private security companies that handled airport security in the pre-9/11 era. Its budget quickly ballooned: Since 2002 the number of TSA agents has risen from 16,000 to more than 50,000. Still, to a traumatized public, any amount of overreaction in the name of preventing another terrorist attack seemed acceptable.

More than a decade later, it’s time to move on. For one thing, the attention paid to terrorism in the U.S. is out of proportion to the relative threat it presents. Since 2000 the chance that the death of a U.S. resident resulted from a terrorist attack was 1 in 3.5 million, according to John Mueller and Mark Stewart of Ohio State and the University of Newcastle, respectively. Out of the 150,000 murders in the U.S. between 9/11 and the end of 2010, Islamic extremism accounted for fewer than three dozen. In fact, extremist Islamic terrorism resulted in just 200 to 400 annual deaths worldwide, outside the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq—the same number, notes Mueller, that occur in bathtubs in the U.S. each year.

Yet the TSA still commands a budget of nearly $8 billion—leaving the agency with too many officers and not enough to do. The TSA’s “Top Good Catches of 2011,” reported on its blog, did include 1,200 firearms and—their top find—a single batch of C4 explosives (though that payload was discovered only on the return flight). A longer list of the TSA’s confiscations would include a G.I. Joe action doll’s 4-inch plastic rifle (“it’s a replica”) and a light saber toy. For all the face cream, breast milk, and live fish that vigilant screeners collected in airport security lines last year, the TSA didn’t spot a single terrorist trying to board an airline in the U.S.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As long as passengers aren’t flying to the U.S., Canada allows them to keep their shoes on and their iPads in their bags (where they are less prone to being nicked). The U.K. will allow you to carry small decorative snow globes onto a flight, deeming tolerable the risk of onboard snowpocalypse. And those fancy new backscatter scanners where you stand with your legs apart and stick your thumbs on the top of your head as agents get to see what you would look like if you were naked and very furry? They’ve been banned in the European Union.

In the U.S., kids and old people can now keep their shoes on through security, while the backscatter scanners—which have been linked to cancer—are being moved out of major airports. These are small signs of progress, but they’re far from adequate. According to an estimate by the New York Times, the 9/11 attacks caused $55 billion in “toll and physical damage” to the U.S., while the economic impact was $123 billion. Costs related to increased homeland security and counterterrorism spending, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaled $3,105 billion. Mueller and Stewart estimate that government spending on homeland security over the 2002-2011 period accounted for around $580 billion of that total.

As Rand Corp. President Emeritus James Thomson argues, most of that expenditure was implemented “with little or no evaluation.” In 2010 the National Academy of Science reported the lack of “any Department of Homeland Security risk analysis capabilities and methods that are yet adequate for supporting decision making.” DHS (and the TSA in particular) is spending huge bundles of large denomination bills completely blind.

All this spending on airline security is worse than wasteful. Following the official rules while still attempting to show decency toward passengers all but forces TSA employees to delay, embarrass, and inconvenience many thousands every day. Faced with the prospect of such unpleasantries this holiday season, countless Americans will skip the flight to grandma’s house and drive instead.
Kenny is a fellow at the Center for Global Development and the New America Foundation.
And some of the comments are hilarious!!

Reader Discussion Showing 15 Comment now

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  • El Al has not been hijacked since 1966. Their secret? They lock the flight deck door. That simple. Since 9/11 we do too.

  • I got stopped by the TSA at LAX because I had a "laptop hidden in my carry-on" and didn't give it to the screeners.  Even though it was never mentioned to me anywhere, and it wasn't an issue at Reagan National, when i left for LA three weeks prior.
        The agent didn't even say anything to me until I reached for my gym bag, which she had her hand on and grabbed it back from me, saying nothing.  I politely asked if something was wrong and she simply nodded.  I asked what was wrong, and she said, "You have a laptop."
    "I thought laptops were allowed in carry-on." I replied.
       "You have to take it out for us to look at it."
       "Sure, no problem," I reach for the zipper.
       "Don't touch the bag."  She says.
       "But you JUST said you need to look at my laptop.  I can't show you the laptop without opening my bag, and it doesn't open by mind control."
       She simply cranes her neck in response.
    "You can open it yourself if you want, it's in that pouch right there."  She pulls it away as I simply point to the zipper.  "Are you going...
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  • Allen MacDiarmid, 11/25/2012 12:21 PM

    The TSA is not the only reason I no longer fly commercial. I also no longer fly recreational because of the idiots in the air, the unqualified pilots, the rudeness of people in the system and the fact that 4 hours of the flight are not even in the air, but the act of being hassled on both ends, from parking to boarding to deplaning to escape from the airport. At least when I drive, I get to choose the weather, the route, the time and whether or not to use my safety equipment.
  • Add to that, you can stop and get a good meal, enjoy the scenery, and not expose yourself to the most unsanitary conditions you will likely ever encounter.

  • They also Profile in Israel...saves a lot of time and grandma's and kids from being harassed and targeted. I stopped flying after 9/11.  I was a Flight Attendant for United and when we went back to work after the catastrophe's, nothing was the same, and the fun was over so I quit.  The whole reason I became a FA was to travel the world and come and go, not be a subject of BS harrassment and to have my nail file confiscated...Ttotally not worth it to me....the private security contractors DID NOT fail the system.  the TSA does not need to exist, at all.
  • anglocooler48, 11/25/2012 08:33 AM

    Excellent article. Incidentally, this is why former Federal Air Marshals, Red Team leaders, and FAA Security Special Agents refer to TSA as the "Terrorist Support Administration." Also note that those congested "security" checkpoints are a target-rich environment for  a bomber or shooter.
  • V Christine Bingham, 11/26/2012 11:03 AM

    I am a former US Army Interrogator. My family quit flying as soon as we heard about TSA abominations.  Not only because we refuse to give up our 4th Amendment Right that was hijacked by the US government as a pretext of 'keeping us safe', but because the entire premise is a lie. As anyone trained in interview and interrogation techniques can confirm, were the TSA and federal government truly interested in nabbing suspicious flyers, they would take the time to train the dolts who filter people to recognize truly suspicious behavior. Judges, FBI, CIA, police, investigators and Army personnel are trained to do this and the training works at all intellect levels.  Even a TSA agent could be taught. Hell, they train DOGS to sniff out suspicious behavior.  Why not the TSA? As it currently works, to treat EVERYONE as suspicious, in reality SO waters down the screening effort as to make a total waste of time and money. While the TSA clowns are frisking elderly citizens, a genuine suspect can be easily avoiding their focus. Yes, This article is painfully true. The abomination being passed off as 'security screening' at American airports, is making travel, in addition...
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  • I live in Oakland, California, where the mayor and city council maintain only half a police force compared with most major cities. TSA, please fund an offer giving 600 employees the opportunity to become real police officers in our city, which is dying in a tsunami of robberies, muggings, and forced-entry burglaries.

  • More citizens with firearms and concealed carry permits might help without having to give up more tax dollars and more liberty.

  • As to N606XQ's post, above, El Al's "secret" is a lot more complicated than a locked door.  In any case, people are always eager to draw TSA and  El Al and the Israeli model of airport security into this discussion, which is somewhat unfair.  Israel has ONE major airport.

  • Charles Kenny, please contact Freedom to Travel USA (, no www) and ask about the presentation given in May 2012 in Washington D.C. to Congressional staff.

  • "Washington should ask itself why it values the life of an airplane passenger so much more than a bus or train passenger (or the daredevil bath-taker) in terms of the time-wasting, expense, and invasions of privacy it’s willing to tolerate to protect them from harm."
    so true.  but nothing gets done in Washington these days...
  • KlashKlad, 11/25/2012 06:54 PM

    Your country would have to attain a level of autarky to be able do do that

  • If we are so worried about terrorist, why are the borders still wide open?

The Economist Provides Another View Of "The Skills Fallacy", And It Is Fascinating.

The new maker rules

Big forces are reshaping the world of manufacturing

“YOU can carry your own head in your hand,” enthuses Bre Pettis, inviting customers to try out a three-dimensional photo booth that will scan their head and then print a miniature plastic version of it as a solid object. This is useful, no doubt, for those about to audition for the role of Zaphod Beeblebrox in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

Mr Pettis, the founder of MakerBot, a maker of low-cost 3D printers, spoke at the opening of his firm’s first retail store on November 20th in New York. It will sell desktop MakerBots, which make things out of plastic, for just $2,200. It is still early days, but MakerBots and machines like them are “empowering people to make the things they want, rather than buy them from factories,” says Mr Pettis.

Certainly 3D printing is hot. Some firms are already using the technology, which is also known as additive manufacturing because it involves building up material layer by layer. It can be used to make such things as prototype cars, hearing aids, customised dolls and medical implants. On the same day that Mr Pettis opened his store, GE announced it had bought for an undisclosed sum Morris Technologies, a Cincinnati firm that uses industrial 3D printers (which cost $500,000 or more) to print objects for engineers. Morris will be printing metal parts for a new GE jet engine.

Yet 3D printing is just one of many production technologies and trends which are transforming the way companies will be able to make things in the future. The old rules of manufacturing, such as “you must seek economies of scale” and “you must reduce unit-labour costs”, are being cast aside. New machines can print every item differently. More flexible robots are getting cheaper and better at doing all the boring and dirty stuff.

Add to that another 1.8 billion consumers who will join the global marketplace in the next 15 years and “Manufacturing the Future”, a new report by the McKinsey Global Institute, has good cause to be optimistic. Demand will grow not only for basic goods (which are typically made in developing countries) but also for the costly, innovative gadgets and high-tech products that rich countries make. McKinsey reckons that rich countries will keep making such products better than anyone else.

Developing countries will continue to increase their share of global production. Measured by nominal value added, by 2010 China had surpassed Japan to become the second-largest manufacturing nation, after America. A decade earlier it was in fourth place. In the same period, Brazil jumped from 12th to 6th and India from 14th to 10th. Britain slipped from 5th to 9th.

As countries get richer, manufacturing tends to account for a smaller share of their GDP. The point at which this decline starts varies (the share usually peaks at 20-35%), as does the rate of decline. In the 15 largest manufacturing economies, manufacturing’s share of GDP ranges from 33% in China to 10% in Britain (see chart).

Rich countries’ relative position may be slipping, but their absolute manufacturing output is rising quite fast. What has fallen is the number of workers needed on the factory floor. Even though some manufacturing is returning to America and Europe from places where it had been offshored, such as China, this trend will not recreate all the factory jobs that once existed.

The term “manufacturing” nowadays describes a whole range of activities. McKinsey divides it into five categories. The biggest, accounting for 34% of the $10.5 trillion total worldwide manufacturing value-added in 2010, it calls “global innovation for local markets”. This includes industries such as chemicals, machinery and carmaking, where constant innovation is essential and high transport costs for heavy goods make it sensible to produce these things close to customers.

The next-biggest, at 28%, is “regional processing”, which includes industries such as fabricated metals, food and publishing. For obvious reasons, cakes are baked locally: not just because they go stale quickly but also because local tastes vary. “Energy and resource-intensive commodities”, such as wood, paper and petrol, account for 22%; “Innovative global technologies” (chips, computers and medical products) are 9%; and “labour-intensive tradeables” (textiles, clothes and toys) 7%. These last two categories have typically been offshored by rich countries and probably will be for some time.

In the other areas where rich countries compete, there is a dark cloud building. McKinsey sees a fast-growing shortage of people with the skills manufacturers require, particularly as ageing baby-boomers retire. That is why American firms such as Dow and DuPont keep clamouring for better education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Yet the rich world still leads in high-tech industries. In 2010 it ran a $726 billion surplus in goods such as cars, chemicals, drugs and machinery, but it had a $342 billion trade deficit in labour-intensive tradeables.

It’s all a blur, really
McKinsey sheds new light on another old saw: is manufacturing superior to services? It is becoming ever harder to tell the two apart, as many manufacturing jobs blur with service jobs. At American “manufacturers”, 34% of jobs are service-like, rising to 55% in the global-innovative-technology sector. If one counts the workers in supporting services and those who provide raw materials, total American manufacturing employment was 17.2m in 2010, rather than the official 11.5m. Remove all service-like jobs and it drops to 7.3m.

In the future, McKinsey predicts there will be more jobs for robots. Since 1990 the cost of automation has fallen relative to labour by 40-50% in the rich world, it says. The rise of the machines will continue in rich countries, and they will make inroads into developing ones. Wages in emerging markets are soaring. One Chinese manufacturer is talking of hiring 1m robots. Still, robots need people to build, program and maintain them. Humans have no cause to hold their heads in their hands.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Here Is An Important Problem The Anti-Science Wing Of The Republican Party Cannot Ignore!!

You have heard all the nonsense spouted by Republican "candidates for something" lately, i.e, Rubio (the world is only a couple of hundred years old), Romney (global warming is a myth), the wack job from Arkansas (you can't get pregnant from a rape), and the supreme wack job from Indiania (if you get pregnant from a rape, it is God's will), and on and on.

Well here is an environmental problem that cannot be disputed and it needs action, and that action needs to come from governments and from you!!  More in a minute.  Now the problem.

At several places in the world's oceans, there are places where the water just moves slowly around and around in a big circle.  Those places are called "gyres", as in guy err.  The largest one is in the north Pacific, and it is twice the size of Texas, and that is big.

"Stuff" is caught in the gyre and simply moves around and around seemly endlessly.  A U.S. pilot's jacket from WWII was recently found in the North Pacific Gyre so you know the "stuff" lasts a long time.  The "stuff" is mostly, but not all plastic.

The following story is a dramatic exploration of the North Pacific Gyre. 

The North Pacific Gyre: 100 Million Tons of Garbage and Growing

3 years ago Environment
Plastic Garbage Mass in North PacificPhoto: Plastic Garbage Mass in North Pacific Gyre Graphic art – GOOD
The Great Pacific Garbage Dump is Discovered
In 1997, American Charles Moore was sailing his yacht back to California after participating in the Los Angeles to Hawaii yacht race. He chose a short cut usually avoided by sailors and entered the North Pacific Gyre...
In a gyre, very little wind and extremely high pressure weather systems combine to greatly reduce ocean circulation. The largest marine ocean ecosystems are subtropical gyres which cover 40% of the earth's surface. These immense regions of slowly spiraling warm equatorial air pull in winds and converging sea currents. Everything in a gyre moves slowly. Yachtsmen avoid them because there is too little wind for effective sailing. Gyres are the ‘doldrums’ of maritime history and legends. They contain regions of ‘dead calm’ where no wind blows for several days. Surface chlorophyll density is low, plant and animal growth and biomass is low as well.

Expecting little excitement and a slow uneventful cruise towards California, Moore was soon to have a shocking, unexpected experience.
Ocean Currents in the Pacific OceanPhoto: Ocean Currents in the Pacific Ocean Graphic art – NOAA
The North Pacific Gyre is an immense region of slowly spiraling, warm equatorial air that pulls in winds and converging sea currents. The Gyre's current system has different names depending on location as seen in this map. Slowly turning air and sea currents expire long after the garbage they embrace has been added to the North Pacific Gyre. Gyres are found in all the world’s oceans; the garbage debris problem in the North Pacific Gyre has relatives elsewhere. In nine years, the North Pacific Gyre expanded 10X to 25X times faster than models of global warmng predicted and it is at least twice the size of Texas. It has expanded to the northeast into the eastern Pacific and portions of the Hawaiian archipelago – the northwest island chain and the Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument.
Monk Seal,  Laysan Albatross / French Frigate ShoalsPhoto: Monk Seal, Laysan Albatross / French Frigate Shoals Photo – Duncan Wright, USFWS / Wikimedia
The ocean area of Papahnaumokukea is an extraordinary recent addition to America's group of 13 National Marine Sanctuaries that are administered by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Encompassing 140,000 square miles (360,000 km) of ocean water, ten islands and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, Papahnaumokukea is the largest Marine Protected Area in the world. The Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge is also within the Marine National Monument boundary and is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Papahnaumokukea supports 7,000 species, one quarter of which are endemic.
Green TurtlePhoto: Green Turtle at Coral Reef / Hawaii Photo – Mila Zinkova & Keta / Wikipedia
The southwest quadrant of the North Pacific Gyre (NPG) is immediately north of the NW Hawaiian Islands and the huge National Marine Wildlife Sanctuary established in June 15, 2006. A huge, still pristine, invaluable habitat is in danger and it is already receiving pollution from the NPG. Prominent species include the threatened Green Sea Turtle and the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, Nihoa Finches, Nihoa Millerbird, Laysan Duck, seabirds such as the Laysan Albatross, numerous species of plants including Pritchardia palms, and many species of arthropods.
Great Pacific Garbage PatchPhoto: Plastic in Great Pacific Garbage Patch Photo – Vitauts Jaunarajs / Dreamways
Ninety percent of all rubbish floating in the world's oceans is plastic. In 2006, UN environment programs estimated that every square mile of ocean contained at least 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Floating in the surface layer are plastic products, tons of drift nets, plastic bags, packing straps, and common household items like soap, television tubes, automobile tires and deodorant bottles. One suspected spill of plastic bags was measured to have covered ten miles of ocean.

Moore became increasingly shocked as he looked out upon this quiet, isolated region of the North Pacific Ocean. He saw plastic everywhere for the seven days it took to cross the North Pacific Gyre.
The emotional low point of Moore’s initial voyage was the identification of a ten mile region of highest density plastic pollution that was dominated by plastic bags. Moore and his crew identified plastic bags from Sears, Bristol Farms, The Baby Store, El Pollo Loco, Fred Meyer and Taco Bell ‘Chalupa’ bags. The Taco Bell plastic bags were ‘T-shirt’ bags with two hand hold holes that were first introduced in the United States in 1979. Moore noticed that these Taco Bell plastic bags in the NPG showed little signs of breakdown.
Sailing A Sea of Plastic BagsPhoto: Sailing A Sea of Plastic Bags Photo – Mister Sustainable
Upon returning home, Moore sold his business assets – he was heir to a family fortune made in the oil industry – and founded the Algalita Marine Research Foundation to tackle the immense problem of plastic pollution in the North Pacific Ocean. Certainly Charles Moore was not the first person to see the Great Pacific Garbage Dump; we can project its origins back at least 50 years. But he appears to be the first person to not only be horrified but have had the motivation to take action, and the financial muscle to do so.
Joining his research and network was Curtiss Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer based in Seattle Washington known as the "Big Kahuna" of beachcombers. Ebbesmeyer works with a global network of at least 1,000 beachcombers who walk the sand and meticulously collect what has washed ashore. On the North American west coast, what is found reveals what has been kicked out of the North Pacific Gyre. Among the more interesting finds are aircraft parts, LEGO toys and medical waste. The big prize for resale are glass floats that are used by the Japanese on their largest fishing nets, which are worth $1,000 each.
Marine Debris Removal / Marine National MonumentPhoto: Marine Debris Removal / Papahnaumokukea Marine National Monument Photo – NOAA
The usual and expected input into the North Pacific Gyre is from endless mini-events. Sailors, yachtsmen, cruise ship crews, and passengers and merchant marine occasionally and casually toss unwanted objects overboard. Little noticed wind continually blows trash and light objects off ships and boats and into the sea. Other tonnage comes from the continents. Industrial waste and human callousness put plastics into local water environments. Rivers and streams bring plastic debris to the coast and ocean. Such events may be trivial if taken one by one, but they are awesomely terrible when their never ending summation is considered.

The earliest identified mega input into the NPG was in May 1990 when a strong storm caused 21 shipping containers to go into the ocean from a container ship, the Hansa Carrier. Five of these were filled with Nike sneakers and boots, perhaps as many as 40,000 pairs. The beach combers network swung into action in California to find and match sneakers, thereby creating pairs to sell at swap meets and make a research contribution as well. In 1992, tens of thousands of bath tub toys such as yellow duckies and blue turtles went into the mid Pacific ocean. In 1994, Hyundai in Seattle contributed 34,000 hockey gloves, chest protectors and shin guards to the North Pacific Gyre Garbage Dump.
Laysan albatross skeleton containing plastic fragmentsPhoto: Laysan albatross chick with adult skeleton containing plastic fragments Photo – Ian Jones / Wild Orchids for Trotsky:
Nurdles Live Forever... Almost
The scientific community began to focus attention on the trash in the gyre in the early 1990s. Located in the far offshore ocean, there is no clear international jurisdiction for the NPG Garbage Dump. Another problem is obtaining accurate maps and graphs of the pollution in the gyre. This ocean of plastic garbage is translucent, lies immediately below the water's surface and is not detectable in satellite photographs. You have go into the North Pacific Gyre to see what is there. Early research by W James Ingraham Jr. (NOAA) predicted that plastic objects in this gyre might slowly circulate for at least 16 years.
Moore soon discovered that the quantity of plastic junk in the NPG was huge and had 6X time the mass of the microscopic plant and animals (plankton) that dominate the biomass of all oceans. Early plastic formulations were often biodegradable over several years but this is not true for current generation plastics. 90% of the plastic garbage now in the NPG has natural degradable cycles that are not well understood but they likely range from 50 to 500 years. Plastic objects 50 years old have already been found in the NPG.
North Pacific Gyre / Water Under the MicroscopePhoto: Beauty In the North Pacific Gyre Garbage Dump Photo – tree hugger / Rock Permaculture E-zine
State of the art commercial and industrial plastic formulations do photo-degrade, sunlight breaking them down into smaller and smaller pieces. Plastic polymers are molecular chains built up from identical or similar subunits. Radiation from the sun breaks them down into smaller molecules which are still too tough for living organisms to digest. Sunlight will eventually degrade these molecules further, as will atmospheric oxidative processes where oxygen atoms are added to the plastic molecules, thereby changing molecular structure and function. These final breakdown products can be recycled into organic molecules that are not harmful and can be used by living organisms to build cellular mass and perform metabolic functions. But there is a huge 'catch' to this final degradation process: it likely takes 500 years or more.
Dead Laysan Albratross / North Pacific GyrePhoto: Dead Laysan Albratross / North Pacific Gyre Photo – Critoris
We are forced to consider what the plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre does during its first decade of residence. Every year some 5.5 quadrillion (5.5 x 10 followed by 15 zeros) plastic pellets – about 250 billion pounds of them – are produced worldwide for use in the manufacture of plastic products. When those pellets or products degrade – break into fragments and disperse – the pieces also become concentrators and transporters of toxic chemicals in the marine environment. These plastic polymers act like sponges to soak up pesticides such as DDT, well known plastic pollutant molecules such as PCBs and industrial nonylphenols which are highly poisonous and do not dissolve in sea water. Plastic polymers in the NPG concentrate these toxic molecules up to 1,000,000X the level they would be found by themselves in the ocean.
Pacific_Sea_Nettle_JellyfishPhoto: Pacific_Sea_Nettle_Jellyfish Photo ­- Anastasia Shesterinina / Wikipedia
Another horrific concentration process goes on with nature's most efficient vacuum cleaners, mucus web feeding jelly fish and salps which are the fastest growing multi-cellular organisms on Earth. Jellyfish and Salps are primitive invertebrates found in the oceans, with species that inhabit every ocean environment from shallow coastal waters to the deep ocean. Jellyfish belong to the Phylum Cnidaria and do not have the familiar physiological systems. They breath by diffusion through their thin skin and move by pulsation of their gelatinous body which is 90% water. They digest using the gastrodermal lining of the gastrovascular cavity, where nutrients are absorbed. A primitive nerve net in the epidermis suffices to transmit stimuli and some jellyfish have primitive light detecting organs called ocelli.

Salps are free floating tunicates that move by contraction and pumping water through their gelatinous body. This water is strained by feeding filters to capture and digest phytoplankton. Salps are not closely related to jellyfish which at first glance they resemble. They provide an important model for the creature from which primitive ocean vertebrates first evolved more than 300 million years ago. Salps and Jellies ‘eat’ and concentrate PCBs and industrial nonylphenols, the most lethal industrial molecules trapped by micro-plastic pellets. These jellies and salps are eaten by fish, which begins the upward progression through the food chain that often ends with a human dinner plate.
SteroidogenesisPhoto: Steroidogenesis Diagram ­– Mikael Häggström / Wikipedia
Hormones bind to receptor proteins on the cell membrane as the first event in their activation of specific metabolic processes. Early research data suggests that human hormone receptors for estradiol (natural estrogen) cannot distinguish between estradiol and plastic polymer pollutants of the type found in the North Pacific Gyre. If cell receptors are 'taken' – 'bound up' – by the attachment of pollutant molecules, then when the real estradiol shows up, it has nothing to bind with and will drift away in the capillary network of the circulatory system and eventually be excreted.

Less estradiol hormone activity in metabolism translates into less physiological activity in the processes that this hormone mediates. Lower several important hormone mediated physiological acclivities in human beings and the results will be extremely serious, although not yet predicable with precision. Estradiol mediates reproduction, sexual metabolism and bone physiology; reflect on that for a minute. Almost every multicellular animal has an endocrine system and critical aspects of metabolism that require hormones for regulation and activity.
Laguna GyrePhoto: Laguna Gyre / Art piece Made from plastic bags to call attention to North Pacific Gyre Garbage Patch Photo – Virginia Fleck / Flikr
Eat Plastic Until You Die
Plastic Particles and large debris were collected in each and every trawl during ORV Alguita's first 6000 mile transect across the North Pacific Central Gyre. The surface layer contained alarming amounts of plastic products, tons of drifting nets, plastic bags, packing straps, and common household items like soap. A soup of plastic fragments was seen in the water column on every dive to confirm findings at the end of a trawl. A suspected container spill of plastic bags covered more than 10 miles of the center of the gyre.
NurdlesPhoto: Nurdles on the Beach Photo – Algalita Marine Research Foundation / Heal The Bay
Plastic is believed to constitute 90 per cent of all rubbish floating in the oceans. The UN Environment Programs estimated in 2006 that every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. North Pacific Gyre plastic is 100 million tonnes and growing. Nurdles are tiny, pre-production plastic pellets and resin material whose annual production is at least 60 billion pounds in the United States alone. Much of the multi-billion tons of annual nurdle production ends up on beaches. A 2001 study of beach debris in Orange County California found that 98% was nurdles. Huge quantities of nurdles have been found in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the Bay of Bengal and offshore waters in the Philippines. Variations of the Garbage Dump crisis in the North Pacific Gyre are found worldwide.

Nurdles enter the environment when they ‘escape’ the plastic industry during manufacture, transport and packaging. Nurdles are also not retained by the usual trash capture devices such as storm drain screen grates. Sewer systems and waste water treatment facilities do not have any method to remove nurdles before their water is released into the local environment. Nurdles that end up in the coastal ocean ecosystem can be transported to the North Pacific Gyre by the North Equatorial Current.
Floating Islands made from NPG Plastic DebrisPhoto: Artificial Floating Islands made from NPG Plastic Debris Architect's Concept – Michael Barton / Punk Rock Permaculture E-zine
Much of the plastic has become brittle and broken down into smaller and smaller pieces. The tiny bits of colored plastic are mistaken by birds and marine life for food,and get eaten. One result is that birds have their bellies so crammed full of plastic that they can't take in normal food. You can find their bodies drying in the sun on islands of the bird-rich Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The poster child for the consumption of pelagic plastic debris has to be the Laysan albatross. Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds which mistake them for food.

"Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve, Monk Seals, the most endangered mammal species in the United States, get entangled in debris, especially cheap plastic nets lost or discarded by the fishing industry. Ninety percent of Hawaiian green sea turtles nest here and eat the debris, mistaking it for their natural food, as do Laysan and Black-footed albatross. Indeed, the stomach contents of Laysan albatross look like the cigarette lighter shelf at a convenience store they contain so many of them... " (Robert W Henry III, biologist at the University of California, Santa.)
Floating Islands in the Pacific GyrePhoto: Floating Islands in the Pacific Gyre Artist Concept – tree hugger / Rock Permaculture E-zine
There is no clear legal jurisdiction, no easily identified group of countries that can be identified as legally responsible for the North Pacific Garbage Patch. All of the plastic made in history still exists in some form with much of it accumulating in the oceans. In some regions of the North Pacific Gyre, there is more plastic than biological organisms. Is there any way to clean up the North Pacific Gyre? Do we dare think about all the world's oceans? Vacuuming is out of the question. Imagine vacuuming every square inch of the land area of the United States down to a depth of 30 meters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the United States is looking at techniques to remove concentrated debris and not kill everything in the area at the same time. As a government agency of the United States, NOAA's interest resides in the impact of this situation on the outer Hawaiian islands and the National Marine Sanctuary. The North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone (STCZ) is the N. Pacific area where marine debris concentrates for several years because of convergence, subsequently to impact the Hawaiian archipelago. The situation is complicated further because the STCZ shifts seasonally between 23 deg and 37 deg. N. latitude. It's location is also affected by other factors that include El Niño.
Small Floating Islands in the Pacific GyrePhoto: Small Floating Islands in the Pacific Gyre made from plastic garbage, then planted Digital Art – tree hugger / Rock Permaculture E-zine
During this summer of 2009, a privately funded research voyage of conservationists and scientists is making two trips through the North Pacific Gyre between Hawaii and San Francisco. They will test techniques for dredging waste without destroying the majority of sea life in the same area. This is an evaluation of variations in the micro-dimensions of netting. Other researchers are looking at possible uses for cleaned and recycled plastic waste taken from the ocean.

Heal the Bay is an excellent example of focused, local political action. The challenge posed by the Great Pacific Garbage Dump in the North Pacific Gyre is awesome and intimidating. However, aspects of the problem can be effectively attacked. Any action that reduces the flow of plastic debris into the environment will reduce the plastic flow into the NPG and reduce the health dangers created by plastic pollution.
Devoted to the protection of Southern California watersheds and coastal waters, particularly Santa Monica Bay, Heal the Bay and Assemblyman Paul Krekorian sponsored Bill AB 258. Major provisions of this legislation include ‘promoting’ zero discharge of nurdles, and implementing new, strict protocols for monitoring and reporting. AB 258 also requires all facilities involved in the manufacture, handling and transport of plastic to implement best management practices to greatly decrease the ‘escape’ of their plastic precursors and products into the environment. Signed into law on October 14, 2007 by Governor Schwarzenegger, the provisions of AB 258 were activated in January 2009.
TerminatorPhoto: ”Reduce Your Plastic Footprint Now!” – The Terminator Digital Art – fanpop
At the end of the day, let's get personal. You’ve heard what follows many times and it’s time to read it again :) This global problem emphasizes the need to reduce the use of plastic in all our lives and that is something that is very do-able on an individual and personal scale. The mega-scale problem in the North Pacific Gyre is the summation of the plastic used in hundreds of millions of individual lives. Take that canvas/cloth bag into the store when you go shopping.

Talk about evil plastics that cannot bio-degrade every chance you get at home, in school and in the community. Gorgeous Maui (Hawaii), is one of the most beautiful tourist islands in the world, and is almost one thousand miles distant from the nearest border of the North Pacific Gyre and its monstrous garbage patch. There is always a vast quantity of nurdles and large pieces of deep ocean drift nets on local beaches amidst quantities of plastic debris. Sadly as the NPG garbage patch grows, its distance to Maui is shrinking.
Clean and recycle the plastic you must use whenever possible. Organize and lead a family/school/church cleanup of your favorite trashed area. Do that with your mates on Friday afternoon before the pub weekend begins. "Yes You Can! Yes, We Can!!”

O.K., if you have read this far, you know it is a serious problem and that it cannot be denied by the anti-science wackos.

And there are actions you can take as an individual that are important.

1)  If you live near any water way (all rivers lead to the ocean) do not throw anything in the river or ocean....or let anyone else do so.

2)  Support local government bans on plastic bags.

3)  Get cloth bags for your groceries, et al, and USE them.  Trust me, I know how hard that plastic bag habit is to break.  It has taken us five years to get 90% compliant.  

4)  As you have read, the North Pacific Gyre is outside the boundaries of any one country, so nobody has any responsibility for cleaning it up.  But you can urge your Congress representatives to examine the problem and come up with some sensible actions the U.S. government can take to begin the clean up.  (Oh geezzzzz.......I can hear the Tea Party screaming already, but in the real world there simply are some important jobs that only the government can take on!)   

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Remember The Saving Fallacy?  Today, We Are Going To Invent A New One Which We Will Call The Skills Fallacy.

Adam Davidson makes a brilliant point in today's New York Times Magazine, e.g., that the decision to not invest in acquiring skills makes sense for the individual but is harmful for the larger society.  That is what we will call the "Skills Falllacy".  First, notice that the skills required to fill all those empty jobs are acquired in community colleges, and that is one of the places we have cut funding most deeply.

Secondly, learning welding inside a factory for a production line is one thing, learning welding outside on pipelines, building structures, etc. is quite a different thing.  I once spent a short time as working welder and it is damn hard work that takes a lot of training.

And thirdly, as Goldenberg and his cohort retire, where will the people with the necessary skills to teach manufacturing skills and other production skills come from?  That is not a faucet that can be turned off and on in a year or two.

Fourthly, this is more evidence that our government, primarily Congress, is actively destroying the entire country!!   We have to find some way to STOP re-electing 95% of Congress year after year!  The evidence is overwhelming that individual members are more interested in enriching themselves than in the future of the country.

Skills Don’t Pay the Bills

Earlier this month, hoping to understand the future of the moribund manufacturing job market, I visited the engineering technology program at Queensborough Community College in New York City. I knew that advanced manufacturing had become reliant on computers, yet the classroom I visited had nothing but computers. As the instructor Joseph Goldenberg explained, today’s skilled factory worker is really a hybrid of an old-school machinist and a computer programmer. Goldenberg’s intro class starts with the basics of how to use cutting tools to shape a raw piece of metal. Then the real work begins: students learn to write the computer code that tells a machine how to do it much faster. 

Nearly six million factory jobs, almost a third of the entire manufacturing industry, have disappeared since 2000. And while many of these jobs were lost to competition with low-wage countries, even more vanished because of computer-driven machinery that can do the work of 10, or in some cases, 100 workers. Those jobs are not coming back, but many believe that the industry’s future (and, to some extent, the future of the American economy) lies in training a new generation for highly skilled manufacturing jobs — the ones that require people who know how to run the computer that runs the machine. 

This is partly because advanced manufacturing is really complicated. Running these machines requires a basic understanding of metallurgy, physics, chemistry, pneumatics, electrical wiring and computer code. It also requires a worker with the ability to figure out what’s going on when the machine isn’t working properly. And aspiring workers often need to spend a considerable amount of time and money taking classes like Goldenberg’s to even be considered. Every one of Goldenberg’s students, he says, will probably have a job for as long as he or she wants one. 

And yet, even as classes like Goldenberg’s are filled to capacity all over America, hundreds of thousands of U.S. factories are starving for skilled workers. Throughout the campaign, President Obama lamented the so-called skills gap and referenced a study claiming that nearly 80 percent of manufacturers have jobs they can’t fill. Mitt Romney made similar claims. The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that there are roughly 600,000 jobs available for whoever has the right set of advanced skills. 

Eric Isbister, the C.E.O. of GenMet, a metal-fabricating manufacturer outside Milwaukee, told me that he would hire as many skilled workers as show up at his door. Last year, he received 1,051 applications and found only 25 people who were qualified. He hired all of them, but soon had to fire 15. Part of Isbister’s pickiness, he says, comes from an avoidance of workers with experience in a “union-type job.” Isbister, after all, doesn’t abide by strict work rules and $30-an-hour salaries. At GenMet, the starting pay is $10 an hour. Those with an associate degree can make $15, which can rise to $18 an hour after several years of good performance. From what I understand, a new shift manager at a nearby McDonald’s can earn around $14 an hour. 

The secret behind this skills gap is that it’s not a skills gap at all. I spoke to several other factory managers who also confessed that they had a hard time recruiting in-demand workers for $10-an-hour jobs. “It’s hard not to break out laughing,” says Mark Price, a labor economist at the Keystone Research Center, referring to manufacturers complaining about the shortage of skilled workers. “If there’s a skill shortage, there has to be rises in wages,” he says. “It’s basic economics.” After all, according to supply and demand, a shortage of workers with valuable skills should push wages up. Yet according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of skilled jobs has fallen and so have their wages.

In a recent study, the Boston Consulting Group noted that, outside a few small cities that rely on the oil industry, there weren’t many places where manufacturing wages were going up and employers still couldn’t find enough workers. “Trying to hire high-skilled workers at rock-bottom rates,” the Boston Group study asserted, “is not a skills gap.” The study’s conclusion, however, was scarier. Many skilled workers have simply chosen to apply their skills elsewhere rather than work for less, and few young people choose to invest in training for jobs that pay fast-food wages. As a result, the United States may soon have a hard time competing in the global economy. The average age of a highly skilled factory worker in the U.S. is now 56. “That’s average,” says Hal Sirkin, the lead author of the study. “That means there’s a lot who are in their 60s. They’re going to retire soon.” And there are not enough trainees in the pipeline, he said, to replace them.
One result, Sirkin suggests, is that the fake skills gap is threatening to create a real skills gap. Goldenberg, who has taught for more than 20 years, is already seeing it up close. Few of his top students want to work in factories for current wages.

Isbister is seeing the other side of this decision making. He was deeply frustrated when his company participated in a recent high-school career fair. Any time a student expressed interest in manufacturing, he said, “the parents came over and asked: ‘Are you going to outsource? Move the jobs to China?’ ” While Isbister says he thinks that his industry suffers from a reputation problem, he also admitted that his answer to a nervous parent’s question is not reassuring. The industry is inevitably going to move some of these jobs to China, or it’s going to replace them with machines. If it doesn’t, it can’t compete on a global level. 

It’s easy to understand every perspective in this drama. Manufacturers, who face increasing competition from low-wage countries, feel they can’t afford to pay higher wages. Potential workers choose more promising career paths. “It’s individually rational,” says Howard Wial, an economist at the Brookings Institution who specializes in manufacturing employment. “But it’s not socially optimal.” In earlier decades, Wial says, manufacturing workers could expect decent-paying jobs that would last a long time, and it was easy to match worker supply and demand. Since then, with the confluence of computers, increased trade and weakened unions, the social contract has collapsed, and worker-employer matches have become harder to make. Now workers and manufacturers “need to recreate a system” — a new social contract — in which their incentives are aligned. 

In retrospect, the post-World War II industrial model did a remarkably good job of supporting a system in which an 18-year-old had access to on-the-job training that was nearly certain to pay off over a long career. That system had its flaws — especially a shared complacency that left manufacturers and laborers unprepared for global trade and technological change. Manufacturers, of course, have responded over the past 20 years by dismantling it. Yet Isbister’s complaint suggests some hope — that there’s a lack of skilled workers; that factory layoffs overshot, and now need a reversal. As we talked, it became clear that Isbister’s problem is part of a larger one. Isbister told me that he’s ready to offer training to high-school graduates, some of whom, he says, will eventually make good money. The problem, he finds, is that far too few graduate high school with the basic math and science skills that his company needs to compete. As he spoke, I realized that this isn’t a narrow problem facing the manufacturing industry. The so-called skills gap is really a gap in education, and that affects all of us.
Adam Davidson is co-founder of NPR’s “Planet Money,” a podcast and blog.
November 20, 2012