German Nuclear Meltdown

Another day, yet another conversation with my bathroom tissue recycling friend, only this time she was phoning me to tell me some news and not berate me as usual because I was killing the earth by actually driving my car and still insisted in using plastic shopping bags.  “Great news… I’m moving to Germany – and I love Sauerkraut!”  she breathlessly announced, “but I have a question.. What power adaptor will I need for my electric toothbrush?”  Now as I know these things, I instinctively replied “anything compatible with CEE 7/16 – 2.5amp 250volt ungrounded or possibly CEE 7/4 ‘Schuko’ 16amp 250volt grounded” and quickly ended the call before she could start complaining that my clothes dryer had just made a penguin homeless.

I will admit that I have a few good memories about Germany, especially the time I drove into the country without my passport, got kidnapped by some Germans in Italy (well, that was my excuse for being falling down drunk in a bar) and driving way too fast on their autobahns.  I even have a liking for Berlin, especially the tracks with Dave Gilmour on guitar and the love theme for Top Gun.  I was thinking about this and how I didn’t think that Stuttgart was ready for the sight of recycled bathroom tissue drying in the sun when I realized that I didn’t know why my friend was intending to leave.  I was sure that they hadn’t suddenly voted in another mad head of state again (like an Austrian ex-catholic choirboy) and the 101st Airborne were working for Exxon somewhere hot, so I started looking on the interwebs.

It took all of a couple of seconds to find the reason.  Apparently, Germany has announced that the country is going to phase out nuclear energy by 2022 and proudly states that the country will now be at the forefront of renewable and alternative energy research.  All because the Japanese nuclear power plants did what they were designed to do and survived one of the biggest earthquakes in recent history and have so far refused to blow up, despite the best efforts of a tsunami that inflicted the severe damage.  Whilst there have been small earthquakes in the North Sea (that’s the bit of water between the UK and the rest of Europe for our geographically challenged readers), research published in 2006 concluded that even a mega-quake and Norway falling into the sea would only produce light flooding on Germany’s northern shores.  Bit of a difference between high tides and a tsunami.   Still, better safe than sorry.

So in ten years Germany is going to switch off nearly a quarter of its generating capacity, replacing  it with renewable energy and reduced demand through energy efficiencies.  Ok, highly commendable and maybe on paper it works: You switch off 23%, you double the current share of renewables to give you 17% and you reduce demand by 10%, leaving a surplus of 4%.  But whilst this may fool the local kindergarten math class, if it is really is that simple, why on earth did it take politicians, some of them who will probably be educated, over 14 hours in an overnight sitting to come up with this conclusion?   (Just a thought: this has nothing to do with a rightwing politician facing political defeat at the hands of the Green Party has it?)

I am not a trained scientist or economist, but even I can see a few problems.  A quick check, remembering that nearly half of Germany’s current renewable energy comes from wind – you must have seen some of those 75-240ft towers with 90-180ft diameter rotors – to double the amount from wind would require at best another 18,000 wind-turbines, covering an area roughly twice the size of Berlin.  Then you would need the national grid to be renewed to carry the power, with pylons and transmission towers springing up around the country.  So, in order to eliminate nuclear power you will need to cover the country with power lines, windmills, bio-mass plants and photovoltaic cells and hope that everyone is going to reduce their power consumption to make up the shortfall.  (Just a note:  France currently generates almost twice as much as its electricity from renewable sources than Germany and still has 58 nuclear plants.)  And no-one has counted the cost:  A 2mw wind-turbine costs roughly $3.5million installed at 2007 prices.  So, for wind turbines alone, Germany faces a spend of over $6.3bn and remember that just because you switch a nuclear plant off does not mean it disappears – you still have to decommission it.  And that costs too, so does the grid and the replacement infrastructure.  But the biggest problem will be telling all those nice ‘green’ Germans to stop using their electric toothbrushes and use their hand motions for something else instead.

I phoned my friend back.  “Forget the toothbrush – you will not need it.  There will be no power, toothbrushes will be banned in order to save electricity, you will not be able to afford the windfarm taxes and the Ruhr will be covered in a blanket of smog from the coal powered electricity plants used to make up the shortfall,” followed by an explanation of the enormity of the problems Germany industry is going to face, although this may be good news for me as I dislike BMWs and the Mercedes I want is made in Mexico anyway.   Sounding rather disappointed, my friend hurried off the phone and I am sure she said she was busy knitting some beefburger or was it Bratwurst substitute?

My mother used to warn me to be careful what I wished for, just in case my wishes came true.  It’s a pity she didn’t tell the German green parties the same.  Because now they have their wishes granted and the Chancellor is going to switch off nuclear power.  So instead of being really nice to the planet and reducing their carbon footprint (nuclear generation produces no CO2), they are going to cover Germany with steel, build transmission lines everywhere and get the country to run out of electricity to recharge their toothbrushes and cars.  Well maybe that’s a good thing, because at least we’ll know where all the green-o-crites will be because they wouldn’t dream of flying would they? (unless of course it’s to that world climate conference held somewhere hot and remote, like a four star resort in Mexico)  In the interim, China will start manufacturing all the things German industry used to make and the world will start looking at the German government wondering if they have yet another mad Chancellor on their hands – or just maybe a really clever woman who is going to put an end to the protests against nuclear power once and for all by calling the Green Party’s bluff.


Naomi, Cadbury and the Tristan conspiracy

I wonder how many of you know or even care that Naomi Campbell, one of the world’s top models and a dedicated charity worker, parodied herself in a series of commercials for Dunkin Donuts?  Did you also know that in late 2010 the Kraft subsidiary Cadburys decided to expand its range of Bliss chocolate, focusing on the female market? Both these facts are relevant because Kraft now stands accused of racism, amid a clamour for a boycott of its products.  Oh, and the story has been picked up by news agencies and papers across the world, from New Zealand to the Americas.  Well, of course, not all of the story, just the more sensational bits that allows you to accuse a big bad multinational of being immoral and picking on some poor hardworking person.  But please, before rushing to judgement and adding to the scandal, spend five minutes examining the facts, and that includes you, Al Sharpton, because I am sure some people have your number on speed-dial for any perceived racist case in the same way as they keep the Doctor’s office on hand.

Cadbury is seeking to position the Bliss chocolate bar as the “perfect treat for the ladies” and the advertising campaign has personified the confectionary and has the Bliss bar attending traditional pampering scenarios, such as spa days – a spoilt rich indulgent lady.  They have carefully built brand values and have said this bar is well, a Diva.  But by Diva, I mean spoilt rich prima donna, not the traditional meaning of the fat (ooops, I mean differently sized) lady who sings at the end of an opera to tell everyone to go home.  But I am sure that some advertising and PR type called Tristam remembered the commercials that featured Naomi Campbell parodying herself playing – yes, that right – a Diva who threw a tantrum because she broke a heel on her stilettos.  As a result, a series of adverts were produced with a photograph of the Bliss bar with the line “Move over Naomi, there’s a new diva in town”.  Job done, a witty advertising poster and Tristam can go and drink his Chablis in the latest trendy bar with all the others.

But no.  Naomi’s family took offence.  Not that they had called her a diva and not that the poster had mentioned any of the reasons why Naomi has earned the reputation for being a diva. (for you who may be unaware at this stage, let me tell you: she several convictions for assault, she is an ex cocaine user and is banned from flying with British Airways for life following an incident at Heathrow concerning so called lost luggage and an assault on two police officers.) I will admit the poster did feature the chocolate bar surrounded by diamonds, but most people would have seen that as a reference to the opulence of the Bliss bar itself, not as yet another one of the stories surrounding Naomi, as to exactly why she received so called ‘blood diamonds’ from the ex-president of Liberia who is currently in detention following trial on charges of war crimes by the United Nations, a trial that for all her humanitarian charitable works, Naomi had to be subpoenaed in order to give evidence and actually told the court that this “was a great inconvenience to her.”

So why are they not commenting on this but accusing Cadburys of racism?  Because Ms Campbell is of Afro-Jamaican decent and because chocolate is brown, then obviously you are calling her a what? A luxury Bliss chocolate bar that’s good enough to eat?  Perhaps former boyfriends like Mike Tyson, Robert De Niro or Flavio Briatore could tell you, but I am absolutely positive that being likened to Dove or Galaxy for example would not be used as a racist term when there are a quite a number of more abusive words and maybe a few words that have no basis in race whatsoever that anyone wishing to insult Ms Campbell could have used instead. (Well, maybe if it had been Hersheys, but that’s that different matter).  

Real racism is vile and I applaud the efforts to eradicate it, including Ms Campbell’s who has campaigned against bias in the fashion industry.  Yes there are real racists out there, but racism is where you refuse to accept that a person can be equal or better than you because of skin pigmentation or where their ancestors were from.   Racism is when you are made to use separate bathrooms and denied equal civil rights.  Recall Apartheid in South Africa?  Well, just remember that it ended in 1994 , only 20 years after the race riots of the 1970s in America.   I can once remember being surprised that some friends of mine refused to purchase their dream house because they saw the couple next door were Americans of African decent, pointing out that this would affect future resale values and that was just two years ago in a state in the American Mid-West.  Yes, racism does exist, but this whole new ‘manufactured’ spat between Kraft-Cadburys and Ms Campbell has nothing to do with racism, not really.

There are a few clues, one of which is the fact that the reporting of Ms Campbell’s perceived ‘outrage’ appeared in a piece in New Zealand and another in the UK within five hours of each other.  The second clue is the fact that when TV shows obscure the Ford badge on what is obviously a Ford F150 pickup because they didn’t have clearance to use the Ford name; you can bet that the lawyers working for Cadburys ad agency made sure that the advertisement had all the permissions going.   Forgive me for shouting collusion here, but have any of you heard of ‘The Outside Organisation’?  No? Well they just happen to be Ms Campbell’s PR agents and have represented her for quite a few years, in fact there is a case study on how they managed the media when Ms Campbell was explaining to the International Court of Justice in The Hague just how she was given two blood diamonds.   So, is it just possible that people working for ‘The Outside Organisation’ just happen to know people working for Cadburys advertising agency?  Perhaps, just perhaps, the Tristams of this world are going to earn their bonuses this year because Kraft can rest assured that product awareness has widened and The Outside Organisation must be grateful that their client is now getting sympathetic press at last.  But Racism?  Give me a Kit Kat, sorry, a break.

Superman, not the president please

I was reading in the newspapers both in the US and in the UK the story of how a media show host was forced to issue a groveling apology because he used an inappropriate term to describe the female host of a rival show.  Now I cannot state if the term was appropriate or not (apparently he stated that she was a lady of professional virtue but without the monetary transactions), but I do know that somewhere in the uproar the actual context and the reason behind it was lost.  Whilst the term may or not be accurate and whether he should have used it is not really important here.  What is important is the reason behind the utterance.

Now unless you have been living on another planet, you will have heard that the Midwest of America has been suffering extreme weather that resulted in the death of many and serious loss of property.  As is the way of most civilized nations, the whole host of emergency services has responded admirably to aid the survivors and victims alike.  But apparently, this is not enough to satisfy our talk show host because she criticized the President for being seen drinking a pint of Guinness in a bar in Ireland, with the subtext that he should be back in the States, directing operations.  I don’t know about you, but if I am stuck up to my neck in water from an overflowing river or buried under the remains of my house, I want to be rescued by trained personnel equipped with the necessary tools and accompanied with boats, helicopters and all types of specialist vehicles.  What I don’t want is some politician in a 3 ton Lincoln town car flanked by police outriders and SUVs full of Secret Service agents to drive up to reassure me that he was in charge and tell the rescuers what a fine job they are doing.  For a start, they will be forced to abandon me as they salute the President and surely if there are enough Police available to help safeguard him, why the heck aren’t they helping me and everyone else instead? 

The President was in Ireland as part of a European tour before attending the G8 Summit where they would discuss trifling things like what the heads of state were going to do with the whole uprising in the Middle East, how far to prosecute the war – sorry, I mean humanitarian efforts – in Libya and how to get away with ignoring Syria.  There was also that that whole thing about the world economy currently in meltdown and Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain ready to pass the sombrero around for lots of dollars.  Oh, and the President was due to address Parliament and stay with Queen Elizabeth.  When Mr Obama’s  aides were planning the logistical nightmare that is a tour, making sure that the Leaders of Ireland, Britain and France would actually be in and not planning a night out with the lads, I doubt very much that President Obama looked as his diary and said “sorry, can’t do that date, there is going to be a tornado and I must be seen to be shaking hands with Hank from Fire Station Six… Liz and Phil and say we’ll do dinner some other time.”

If you are making an effort to go to Ireland in the first place to spend all day talking politics, listening to a bunch of other politicians asking you to force your industry to invest, after a couple of days of pretending to be nice you will be entitled to some downtime.  So a drink in a bar would be welcome (i.e., a cleverly arranged marketing opportunity by Diageo, the British company that owns Guinness, Smirnoff vodka and Jose Cuervo tequila amongst brands).  After all, Ireland is a bit short on natural monuments to visit, so a pint of beer based on a British recipe and made by a British company surrounded by press, politicians, aides and secret service agents is the best way to experience the real Ireland.   

There are also a couple of other things to consider.  The President is a lawyer and worked in the civil rights area.  When I last checked, nowhere does it say that he is a trained in search and rescue.  So although you may need to consult a lawyer after a disaster when the nasty insurance companies try to say that your claim is invalid, your immediate need is for a specialist to help you get out in the first place.  Mr Obama’s job as head of state is to ensure that the country has enough money to pay the bills and that the country is not invaded by the Canadians.   It’s the State that ensures that we have FEMA and all the other first responders and it will be the Government’s job to provide extra money to aid reconstruction.  It’s not in the job description that the President should be on hand to help dig through the rubble of a town that has just be wiped of the map.  In an emergency you phone 911, not the White House.

But for one minute, say that the President took off his business suit and put on a pair of overalls, commanded his pilots to fly Airforce One, Airforce Two and the C17 full of ground transportation back to the United States and the scene of the latest tornado.  I am sure that the same commentator who criticized him for being in Ireland would be the first to start shouting “Photo – Opportunity” and raving about how the President’s visit was diverting resources away from rescue efforts to clear the airport and provide security.  And people know that.  So when another commentator says “get real” perhaps he shouldn’t imply that the female in question is an unpaid lady of professional virtue, but he would have been quite correct if he pointed out that the last thing you need in the middle of a disaster is a presidential visit, in the same way that you don’t want your local mayor walk in when you are in the middle of a sewer overflow in the guest bathroom (unless of course he really is a trained plumber).  And I am sure that the ‘zoo-plane’ full of other journalists accompanying the president would have something to say if that instead of being in London and Paris they were diverted to Boondocks, Missouri.

So I don’t envy the President, he is in a no-win situation and will be attacked from both sides irrespective of what he does.  But not from me, because when I’m stuck in my tornado shelter buried under the remains of my house, I will not be phoning Washington and asking the President to put his underpants over a leotard to come and single-handedly dig me out.  Instead I will be phoning my local fire department and the emergency services first then followed by all the radio stations to see if I can sell my story of how I had to rely on trained professionals and how disgusted I was that Mr Obama took a few hours off.  If I can’t get a real journalist, I’ll even speak to someone who may just be a little bit bitter that she wasn’t considered to accompany the President.

Journalist needs a deep throat

I have a great deal of empathy for the 52,000 newspaper journalists in the US and the thirty five thousand in the UK (if you can believe anything they report:  the UK figure is the membership of the National Union of Journalists).  The life of a journalist is not easy because trying to come up with something to report on every day must be difficult.  You are not only in competition with the reporters from other newspapers, you face competition with others in your same newsroom, so when a story does come along – then ooops, you have to compete with every other newspaper, tv station and internet based news-blogger going.  It’s no good going back to your editor and saying “sorry, Fox got there first and anything I write will have been better written by the Times (either London or New York)”   Not every journalist is going to get a deep-throat in a Washington parking garage and I suspect that the majority of them will never get a deep-throat in their lives.  And as interesting as it may be, Mrs Carter’s liking for the butcher’s sausage is widely known thanks to my mother and her friends.

So when your editor screams at you that he needs 800 words for page 10 and you know that if you don’t come up with something quick you will at best be forced to cover some small town court where the only thing of interest is 300lb Mrs Jones suing the local council because they objected to her sun-bathing nude in her back yard but allowed Miss ‘36-24-36’ to do it; or; at worst you will be replaced by the generic reports from a press agency and you will not be able to buy your son that latest game for the Xbox, the one with the really good graphics of soldiers and terrorists in London.  Eureka!  A story!

These thoughts ran through my brain when I read the latest Shock Horror Scandal piece in one of the UK’s papers, subsequently reported elsewhere.  Although this is only ‘Fury’ with ‘calls for it to be banned’, all the story is really about is how a company called Activision is releasing a new version of one of its successful game franchises, Call of Duty, that is going to be set in London.  But some enterprising or lazy journalist saw this and immediately turned this into a non-story about insensitivity to the families of victims of the 7/7 bombings and then turned to an organization called Media Watch to get a rent a quote about it.  And yeah, it happened.  The Chairman of Media Watch UK (who describe themselves as an independent voice campaigning for family values in the media) promptly said “I have concerns as these games are hyper-real and take place in a landscape we are familiar with.  In light of the fact we have just had the 7/7 inquests, it is in incredibly poor taste.”  That is not surprising, as Media Watch UK complains about everything in the media and even criticized Strictly Come Dancing because one of the contestants had once taken cocaine and had previously insisted that Apple should withdraw an application that draws a gun on the screen of an iPhone because of its insensitivity to the Northern Ireland troubles.  Perhaps they should talk to the NRA and the people of Iraq and Afganistan.

But then I smelled a rat and a stinking big one too.  The same article shouting ‘Fury’ also has screenshots from the game and the video trailer for it, as well as the a quote from a gaming review site on the interwebs and announces that the game can be pre-ordered for £45 in advance of its November 8th release.  It also goes on to say that other scenes show aerial attacks on New York and grenades exploding on the streets of Paris and Berlin.  No mention of the poor insensitivity to New Yorkers or Berliners who survived the world war, but a nice way of informing everyone that the game has an international setting and is not just confined to London.  So, is this a real story or just an extended press release for Activision?  Much in the same way as in an attempt to drum up trade, the Lady of professional virtue stands outside her house and says ‘poor little ole me, being run out of town for being nice to men’ when the town council has absolutely no thoughts of doing so (after all, they need someone to be nice to them as well), this is perhaps all part of the marketing campaign for the game.

But think of the poor reporter.  There are days on which the world doesn’t end (that is postponed until October now), when all the top reporters have flown to London for the President’s European Barbeque and everyone knows that some Austrian actor slept with his housekeeper.  Sarah Palin’s daughter didn’t get stopped for speeding – hang one, stop, drop the dead donkey from the front page, apparently Sarah Palin is ‘furious’ that her other daughter is going out with someone.  Yes that’s right, her other daughter is now dating a man a year older than her and therefore this is big!   

No, I am sorry that is not news.  Real news isn’t a press release or some idle chit-chat over the fence about Mrs Palin’s children.  And I am not furious or outraged or shocked or even interested that Gordon Ramsey’s father-in-law had an affair or that Simon Cowell wore glasses on TV for the second time.  I am almost positive that journalists have much bigger stories, especially as the world has got tired of the Terminator’s love child and there is a limit to how many photographs of Kate Middleton’s sister’s derriere you can print.  Even my mother used to stop talking about Mrs Carter and butcher’s sausage after a while and moved on to someone else.  But she didn’t pick up a brochure for something she would never buy and turn it into a scandal.  “Well, I never, Look, they should know better than to sell half cucumbers… golly, some poor man will feel inferior and Mrs Carter will be down the greengrocers in a flash…..”

Buried in today’s headlines are some more disturbing stories.  A whole town in the US has just be wiped out by tornados, Britain is about to put ground attack helicopters into Libya (a third war? Syria next?), Yemen is about to start a civil war, the US government is now about to keep passenger flight data for 15 years.  And yet by comparison, mock outrage by carefully placed marketing press release is more important.   Perhaps I should try it:

The regular reader of a blog expressed outrage today and accused a popular weblog of racism when it was announced that the site would publish a story about kittens.  Cryptothinking has announced that on October 22nd it will be writing about cute tabby cats and intended to publish pictures.  Shockingly, the story will be available free and without subscription on WordPress.  Whilst wishing to remain anonymous, the reader was quoted as saying “it’s outrageous.  Everyone knows that these pictures could be seen by children who will then pester their parents for a cute kitten. And it’s racist because they only show young tabby cats and don’t include pictures of Persian Blues or Siamese.”  Cryptothinker could not be contacted for comment, but a spokesman denied all allegations. “Cryptothinking  is only publishing these pictures as part of its ongoing authoring process and they will be in good taste.”  Religious leaders refused to be drawn into the debate, stating that they will be slightly busy as the Rapture has been rescheduled for the 21st October so perhaps it may be worth asking the Catholic Church to comment afterwards.

Green plastic

I am not in the habit of kicking a man when he’s down.  I always follow my mother’s advice that a double tap from a nine millimetre takes far less energy and you don’t risk scuffing your Jimmy Choos.  (But assuming that some nice airport TSA official had confiscated that pretty little Beretta PX4 9mm along with your hair-conditioner and under-arm spray, my mother recommended that a quick stamp to the eye with a Jimmy Choo stiletto may work just as well AND you can always get them re-tipped afterwards.)  So when my friend who knits her own sandals and recycles her bathroom tissue called back to say “thank you” for going green and helping save the planet, I didn’t really have the heart to tell her that my efforts involved lots of steaks, as I am sure I heard that she crochets her own meat out of soybeans.  Especially as her concern for the planet had set me off thinking about what I could do to help and I was positive that she would not like me for saying that from now on, I would be using plastic grocery bags in preference to paper.

I can remember a few years ago standing in line to checkout my groceries at a fairly good supermarket in California.  As my goods were being scanned, a young assistant walked over to bag my purchases for me and automatically said “paper or plastic?”  The answer should have been really obvious  as my purchases included a fair mix of frozen and tinned food together with freshly sprayed vegetables (the better stores in California spray a fine mist of water over their vegetables to stop them drying out.)  I didn’t want to explain the tensile strength of wet paper bags and the anatomical contortions I need to go through in order to carry handle-less paper sacks from my car, or explain that my frozen goods and fresh veg would soak the bag that would then tear open and result in me having to chase dropped and rolling groceries across a parking lot or end up crawling under the large SUVs and minivans to extract bruised fruit and dented tins.  So because the answer was fairly obvious and I didn’t want to insult the girl’s intelligence, I thought I would make a joke.  “Is it paper or plastic that kills dolphins?” I asked with a smile.  “The plastic ones,” was the immediate and rather earnest response.

There are whole list of things that you shouldn’t say in public and there are a whole lot of words that have become taboo. Well, it appears that there is a whole lexicon of things that you cannot say to the nice young lady who has just asked you if you wanted a plastic or paper shopping bag even though it was patently clear that the answer would be plastic.  The ‘save the whale’ and ‘Greenpeace’ stickers on her uniform should have given it way.  So in hindsight, replying “Plastic then, because that kills dolphins and I hate them” was not the best thing to say.  From the look she gave me, you would have sworn that I had just suggested that I was going to sell her grandmother into white slavery and said that her mother was a girl with professional virtues.  I really remembered that look as I unpacked the damaged tins, crushed boxes, split tomatoes and leaking bottles from the plastic bags when I got home.

But, seriously. Much to the disappointment of my friend who knits her own toilet paper and the girl at the cashiers in California, it could be that the much maligned and hated humble plastic shopping bag may be a better option if you care for the environment.  For a start, think about where paper bags come from and how you make them.  Yes, the answer is trees, but you cannot go into the forest and pick ready made bags from the Safeway tree.  Most paper is made from pulpwood, from the bits of trees left over from timber production, approxiametly 28% of all tree use in the US.  But to make pulp, you still have to cut down a tree and whilst it may be replaced by new saplings, you cannot tell me that a couple of twigs in the ground are going to absorb the 10lbs of CO2 that a mature tree absorbs each year. Oh, and half of the dry weight of a tree is carbon, just waiting to oxidise and get into the atmosphere.   But when it comes to the pulping process…. This is where the fun stuff starts

The majority of wood pulp (93% in the UK) is made by literally cooking the wood in various chemicals, including caustic soda and sulphates, and then bleaching it with chlorine  in a process that  is both highly water and energy hungry, in fact it takes almost 400% more energy to make a paper bag than a plastic one and you don’t use water in plastic film production.  There are also numerous studies into the environmental deficits caused by pulp mills and the US EPA has cited that pulp mills are one of the biggest producers of air pollution.  It’s no good shouting ‘recycled’ either:  it takes 91% less energy to recycle a plastic bag and don’t forget that at a pulp mill it is necessary to remove the ink from your waste paper, producing volatile organic compounds and heavy metals. A report by Health Canada from 2007 states that 47 pulping mills released over a million tonnes of chlorinated organic compounds into the aquatic environment in one year.   On top of all this, it’s been estimated that you require seven trucks to transport the same number of paper bags as one truck full of plastic bags.  It is also estimated that paper forms over half of the volume of landfills, yet plastics less than one tenth.

I know that plastic is made from oil and gas, and yes I know that oil is not renewable, unlike trees.  But only two percent of output is used to make plastic films from which your shopping bag is produced.  But like paper, plastics can also be recycled and again and this is becoming more common, according to US industry sources, there was a 24% increase in plastic bags recovered in 2006 over 2005. But I am not going into the merits or demerits of oil exploration, production and pollution here: there is too much, from warfare, global politico- economics, deep sea drilling and the occasional accidents that have environmentalists in a spin for years.  I am well aware that plastic bags never degrade and have been found all over the globe, from the Arctic to Antarctica.  But that is the fault of humans for littering.

I started this piece by saying that I am not going to kick a man when he is down and I am not.  I am not going to tell my bathroom tissue recycling friend that I prefer plastic bags at the grocery because in a couple of weeks I think that my friend will be very pleased that I will have stopped using bags at the grocery full stop.  But not out of choice, it will be because I will have stopped using grocery shops.  All my cupboards are now so full of ‘bags for life’ that I haven’t any room left for food.

Be green, eat a cow

I recently received an alarmed phone call from one of my friends, you know, the one who knits her own sandals and recycles her bathroom tissue to save the planet.  Breathlessly, she asked what I was going to do to stop some Pacific Island with 23 people living on it from drowning because they are only 6 inches above sea-level and in 100 years their house will be flooded, all because I drive a car and I am single-handedly causing global warming.  I thought about this for all of two seconds.  “Help buy their grandchildren a house on higher ground” would be the obvious answer, but I knew that my friend would want more.  So, I decided that I would help by going ‘green’.  That’s right, I have decided that I will do my bit for the planet – or at least try to minimize the damage caused by the extra electricity I have used since I started writing, especially as I write slowly as I know a lot of you cannot read very fast.

Realising that locking my pet hamsters on their wheel would only provide enough energy to recharge my electric toothbrush and anyway, I would probably have to spend more on feeding them, I thought I would aim bigger.  As there is some law against putting my children on a treadmill to generate electricity, it was no good; I will have to think of something else.   But when I asked for some uranium suitable to start nuclear fission at my local Home Depot (sort of like B&Q in the UK, but at least Home Depots have staff, even if they don’t know what on earth they sell),  I got arrested, all because I wanted to build a nuclear reactor in my back garden (apparently, you have to be a bona fide terrorist or an evil dictatorship to be able to buy uranium and, anyway, I can’t have an atomic power station where I live because I am not on an active seismic fault line and I will not be hit by a tsunami. I phoned my friend back and asked her is there another way to be green.  “Just offset your carbon” she replied, “that way you can do it and be guilt free.”

This sounded promising and a little bit of thinking later gave me the perfect way to go about it.  I realised that the best way was to eat a cow.  Yes, I do mean all those tasty rib-eye steaks, New York strips, short ribs and tenderloins, followed by roasts and ground meat dishes or if I want to eat the whole animal, the lips, hoofs, ears and connective tissue that is used to make my local supermarket’s ‘premium’ 100% Beef burgers.  That is it.  Eat a cow to save the planet.  Now before anyone says don’t be silly, let’s have a look at the facts.  The whole issue of global warming first gained prominence in the late 1980s and apparently summers are getting hotter every year.  It may just be a coincidence, but there is a correlation between eating cows and atmospheric carbon dioxide.  The consumption of beef in the United States, according to the US Department of Agriculture, had declined by almost 17% between 1985 and 2006.  Compare that to atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii, by the US National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration.  Carbon Dioxide measurements grew from 1.45ppm in 1985 to 1.72ppm in 2006, a rise of roughly 18%.  Wow.  That would be good enough for Al Gore and probably meet the scientific rigour of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so that should satisfy me. 

But realizing that Al Gore had used two sources to make his hockey stick graph and a subsequent fortune, I thought it prudent to do a little more research, especially as I would like to be sure that eating a cow was a good thing and not just me running away with the thought of a rare steak, served with all the trimmings and cooked to perfection on the open grill at the Big Texan Steakhouse in Amarillo.  So, I thought I would check to see if cows were harmful.  Well, even my limited search has revealed that instead of picketing a coal plant, any self-respecting friend of the earth should be camping out in the farmer’s fields pointing out to anyone listening just how much potential a cow has to damage the atmosphere.  Don’t be fooled by those sweet eyes: Ethel really is just a big dangerous cloven hoofed beast that the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation has blamed for crimes such as poisoning rivers, polluting drinking water, producing acid rain, desertification, destroying forests and of course, contributing to global warming.  See the 2006 report, ISBN 978-92-5-105571-7, that I quote here: “Livestock contribute 9% of CO2 emissions, 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide.”  More impact than road transport, especially when you consider methane is twenty times worse than carbon dioxide in respect of global warming.  (I almost forgot to mention that livestock produces 68% of ammonia emissions, linked to acid rain and that dewy-eyed monster is also a serial killer and causes traffic congestion.)

So let’s break this down a bit.  Cows are serial killers?  Yes, cows have killed 18 and injured 481 people in one eight year period in the UK alone, with 4 people killed in only eight weeks.  Take this traffic report from Udaipur City: “Jagdish Mandir , HathiPole, Delhi Gate,  Sector-13,14 ( housing main roads), Town hall, Thokar Choraha, Sector 3,4,5,6 (Hiran Magri) , FatehPura (crossroad), PratapNagar (highway)… stray cattle occupy the roads and it’s too troublesome to travel through these roads.”  But it is the emissions that are crucial:   a cow emits almost 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of smog-forming gases known as volatile organic compounds each day, 59lbs of manure, 110kgs of methane, 242lbs!  So each cow produces the equivalent of 5,070 lbs of CO2 a year. Over two tons!  According to the US EPA, the average car doing 21miles to the US gallon produces 11,000lbs a year.  Therefore, I can drive for six months just by eating a cow a year.

I just did a quick calculation:  the average cow yields about 450lb of lean meat.  My family buys on average 8-9lb of meat a week, about 468lb, say a whole cow.  So as we already eat a cow a year, all I have to do is fire up the Barbie, dig out the patio heaters and with only 84lbs of steaks on a carcass, my friends will soon help rid the world of a second beast in less than a summer.  And with carbon offset at about $25.00 per ton, you will owe me $59.  In the interim, I’m off to phone my friends in India to tell them that I have a solution to global warming and their traffic problems so would they like to buy some A1 steak sauce and a hibachi…………

Think of the teacher…

Imagine your reaction if you discovered that a teacher in your child’s elementary school belonged to a group that believed it was ok to go to other lands and use the people there as slaves whipping stripes into their backs,  that it was ok to beat their children’s heads against rocks, that in hard times you can eat your own babies, that you can indulge in genocide and use biological weapons, that you can take the farm of someone else because their grass is greener, that civil insurrection and protest in a religious building was ok, that it is permissible to push a metal rod through the ear of someone who works for you and if someone was nasty to you, go out and kill them, their children and the rest of their decendents in horrific ways, usually using fire.    And not only did your child’s teacher encourage this, but openly associated with like minded people and a couple of times a week went to meetings where not only was this message reinforced, but they would also they would drink the blood and eat the flesh of another person, they believed in a ghost and that you can raise dead people.  They admire someone who allowed their child to be nailed to a tree for telling people to be nice to one and other and to top this off,  they were teaching your child to believe the exact same thing.

Before you say anything, let me tell you what your reaction would be:  Even if this teacher didn’t personally teach your child or even tell them about it, you would still be writing to the Daily Mail or FOX News, calling Child Protection Services, changing schools and demanding that this person is sacked from their teaching job whilst both you and little Joey has state-funded counselling to deal with the trauma.   A few of you would be in the middle of phoning a lawyer and trying to see if Oprah or Trisha would pay you to go on their show to tell ‘how I survived this sick perverted teacher’ when someone with a bit of common sense said to you “Hey, don’t be so stupid, your teacher is just human and is doing normal things. Like being a Christian and going to church for one.”  (Re-read my first paragraph – All of what I wrote is in the Bible and I thank my friend for the BDSM group)

I read in a newspaper today that a group of female teachers went out to a bachelorette party (hen-night for my UK friends), imbibed of a little alcohol and some photos of the night appeared on Facebook.  Now some really kind person saw said photographs and probably because she wasn’t invited to the party, saw fit to print them and post them through the doors of her neighbors.  Shock horror.  Little Joey’s teachers are human too and do the same things as the rest of us.  Wow. I never knew that.  This same person is also quoted as saying “‘If you are as appalled as I am by these images which these tramps post freely for the world to see, how safe are our children?”  Well, let’s see.  Unlike parents, these teachers must have University Degrees, attend teacher training school on top and have specific qualifications in child care as well as courses in how to safeguard children.  A criminal records and background check is also mandatory, as is an interview with the school’s governors.  So you tell me how safe they can be, especially as anyone can have children; even those who think that nailing your kids to trees is a good idea or allow their sons to become alter boys.  After all, a priest is more virtuous than a teacher…..

Now I don’t Facebook.  But I will quote Facebook’s own statistics here:  There are more than 500 million active users and each average user has 130 friends, half of users log on every day and over 700 billion minutes are spent on Facebook each month.  500 million is rough 1 in 12 of the world’s population.  But let us just concentrate on the United Kingdom where this outraged and shocked parent lives.  The UK has over 18.5m users over the age of 19 out of a population of 62m, roughly 29% or one out of every three.  The UK also has over 441,200 full time teachers, so if the same ratios apply, you can extrapolate that there could be up to 127,000 teachers on Facebook.  Whilst I cannot say that none of them drink, smoke or go to parties to celebrate that one of their friends is getting married, I definitely know that they wouldn’t allow their kid to be nailed to a plank of wood.

Two of my best friends are teachers whilst a third managed to escape.  And I can honestly say they are as human as the rest of us and I even have photographs of one sleeping on their sofa after drinking too much wine. I have listened to them moan and complain and know of some of the outrageous things they have done.  And whilst I have heard them threaten to disown their children, I have also seen them support their kids through University and into successful careers. To be truthful,  I cannot think of any better people and after listening to some of the stories about little Joey’s and sweet little Gabriell’s antics in class, I thank my lucky stars that I am not teaching Mrs Carter’s offspring and buy the drinks.  When my own children used to complain that their teacher was mean today, I used to point out that perhaps before they came to school they a spat with their partner, the car had broken down and the dog had just deposited something warm and steaming on the carpet after chewing through the really high credit card bill that had just arrived.  Then they have to put up with thirty kids who would rather be playing on the Xbox, behind the sheds or concentrating on what Heather and Jason Dean were actually doing in the cellar.  Teachers have earned the right to relax, big time.  

But back to our complainant.  So she objects that some teachers actually have a life and go to the parties to which she isn’t invited and that there are a few pictures of them enjoying themselves, just in case a few of the kids log in to Facebook and see them.  Well, my partner has warned me that on the interwebs there are many places where ladies of professional virtue like to display their bodies and that these sites would upset our computer’s aunty violet system.  So given that these are elementary class teachers, children in their school should never see them, especially if they have responsible parents who actual monitor their kids use of the interwebs.  Oh, you have to be at least 13 to use Facebook by the way.

So let’s conclude.  A few teachers had a drink at a party and showed their friends the pictures.  So what?  Ask Monica what Bill did in the Oval office or Jackie exactly what Marilyn et al were actually doing in the White House.  Heck, presidents can have affairs, but teachers cannot celebrate a forthcoming marriage.  Our complainant should perhaps get a life and then she may actually be invited to the party.  But I am sure that this self-righteous person has done the mothers of children in that school a huge favour:  I have seen the photos in the UK’s Daily Mail and I am willing to bet that the majority of fathers will be insisting on taking little Joey and little Cassandra to school from now on.  Perhaps this is what our friend is really scared of:  not that the children will see the photos, but husbands will.