links for 2009-10-22

  • A few weeks ago, photographer Chris Jordan visited Midway Atoll, in the middle of the Pacific, and photographed the rotting corpses of baby albatross chicks. Thousands of them die on that island alone every year, a result of the parents scooping plastic out of the ocean and feeding it to the chicks, believing it to be food. Their bodies are stuffed full of bottle caps, lighters, and other manufactured bits and bobs caught in the Pacific gyre of garbage.
  • An study of 183 people conducted on the day of and day after the 2008 presidential election found that men supporting John McCain had significant drops of testosterone after he lost, while supporters of President Obama maintained testosterone levels. Their conclusion: "The findings indicate that male voters exhibit biological responses to the realignment of a country's dominance hierarchy as if they participated in an interpersonal dominance contest."
  • Wow, nature *loves* gay sex. Homosexuality is pervasive, throughout animalkind. Most male big horn sheep are gay. Male-only orgies are held by giraffes, gray whales, manatees, and dolphins. 450 vertebrate species have been counted routinely engaging in same-sex coupling. The theory is that it's inherent in any sufficiently complex social system as a means of establishing and maintaining communal bonds.
    (tags: sex animals gay)
  • Investigative historian Mark Dowie reports on Detroit's painful slide into depopulation, arguing that they are perfectly positioned to become the nation's first self-sufficient city, food-wise. They've got lots of open space, enough that they're now producing 10-15% of their own food on hundreds of garden plots throughout the city. One fact that he reports—which is a little hard to believe—is that Detroit now has not a single full-service chain grocery store. Kroger, A&P, Farmer Jack, Wrigley, and Meijer were all there recently, but they're all gone. No Walmart, no Costco, no Trader Joe's. People buy their food in the suburbs. Eighty percent of residents shop for food at gas stations and convenience stores, which is a pretty lousy diet.
  • A backpack, loaded with gear, that provides internet access to groups of people from any location in the world. It's intended for disaster relief. The whole kit costs just $3,000.
    (tags: internet wifi)
  • International Food Safety Network (iFSN) at Kansas State University rounds up some popular ways to serve horse meat in countries around the world. I didn't know it was so common.
    (tags: meat horse food)

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

10 replies on “links for 2009-10-22”

  1. Wow, this is one of the most fascinating sets of links I’ve seen on one page in quite some time. :)

  2. While awful… I’m not sure the science is with you on your first link. Yes, chicks die and they have plastic in them… but that may not have been the cause of death.

    An interesting read:

    While it would obviously be better not to have crap floating in our oceans/littering the beaches, we have to rely on facts. While plastic may contribute to adverse health effects, it may not be causing the actual deaths.

    Thus it appears that plastics may add considerable stress to individuals, but probably have little or no direct impact at the population level.

    I realize this study is ~15 years old, and the plastic problem has likely increased, but we should be careful about using perhaps misleading images to try and shock or sway our decisionmaking. We need to accurately describe what’s going on.

  3. Oh, and it’s sad that they had to kill the injured birds they collected. But I guess that’s science.


  4. To be fair, Meri, that study concludes that it’s not possible to determine cause-and-effect based solely on the presence of debris in seabirds’ stomaches, and the bit you quoted seems (to me) to be saying that while birds may well be dying from consuming the plastic, the number isn’t great enough to serve any kind of a threat to the population’s continued existence. Flipping through a few of the other papers that have cited that one, the emerging consensus seems to be that either the plastic is killing them or the plastic is causing them to die via other means—for example, if their stomach is full of undigestible plastic, they don’t have a desire to consume other foods. A bunch of other studies appear to have been conducted on the biochemical effects of plastic consumption, which the author of the paper you cited mentions in her conclusion (“The effects of plastics may be far more subtle than mechanical blockage or reduced food consumption”).

    But, yes, it does appear that it’s fair to say that it’s not known for a fact that eating plastic is the cause of death of all or even most albatross chicks found dead with stomachs full of plastic. But it also seems fair to say that it’s somewhere between possible and quite likely.

  5. The Detriot thing is really a good program– a friend of a friend is up there, working on the urban gardening movement. It’s really very sad- the organization she’s with will hold events on the weekends or in the evenings, becuase people have become so used to buying packaged food from bodegas and gas stations* that they do not know what to do with food they’ve grown. I’m not even joking. It’s not as bad with the middle aged adults, but people my age, or teenagers quite simply will get fresh foods home and then… it’s the alone in your kitchen with an eggplant experience. People aren’t quite sure what to do. They have to hold cooking classes where they teach people what to do with an ear of corn, for example.

    Before the organizations knew this, they had just set up the gardens, bu the fresh food all went bad, because people don’t know what to do with it anymore- the organization has even had people complain about the color of the fruits and vegetables– which is just, you know, normal fruit and vegetable color– because they haven’t seen actual fresh food growing often enough. This woman told my friend that they even had one family ask why the carrots “were so orange.”

    PS: “Eighty percent of residents shop at gas for food at stations and convenience stores, which is a pretty lousy diet”

    Try reading that one out loud, Jaquith. :)

    *unbelievable it may be, but there is literally not one grocery store in Detroit. One will come in every once in a while, and be gone with a month.

  6. I like how the Guernica author glosses over Eastern Market. It really is a great place. One has to wonder why Detroiters reject going to the market. You can find great deals there.

    There is a lack of grocery stores in the city. No doubt. Read here for an experience in a grocery store in Detroit. And you can read and interview here with a gentleman who kills raccoons in Detroit and sells them for meat (most likely the person mentioned in Guernica article). detroitblog has some of the best stories on a Detroit that I will never know.

    Detroit has too many political and corruption problems. The constant pitting of Detroit vs. the burbs; black vs. white; haves vs. have-nots vs. have-too-much vs. those-who-think-they’re-entitled-to-more. It really is sad. Whenever I drive through the city and see these remarkable old buildings and neighborhoods in such a state of disrepair, I always wonder what the city looked like a felt like when it was booming and new. There really is a chance to turn things around. Let’s hope many of the barriers can be overcome.

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