Archive for August, 2009
By Shawn Dell Joyce
Americans are the world’s leading consumer of bottled water, downing about 4 billion gallons per year in little plastic bottles. This is roughly equal to one 8-ounce bottle per person per day.
There is much more to the ubiquitous water bottle than meets the lips. It actually takes three to five times more water to make and fill one plastic water bottle than the bottle contains. If you add to that the average energy cost of making the plastic, filling the bottle, transporting it to market and then processing the empty bottle, you begin to see the hidden environmental costs.
“It would be like filling up a quarter of every (water) bottle with oil,” says Peter Gleick, a water policy expert and director at the Oakland, Calif.-based Pacific Institute. Water bottles, like other plastic containers, are made from natural gas and petroleum, which are both nonrenewable resources.
More than 1.5 million tons of plastic are used to produce polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is the plastic used in water bottles. The manufacturing processes that produce PET cause serious emissions, affecting both the environment and human health. The Pacific Institute calculates that the process of making the plastic bottles consumed in the U.S. uses approximately 17 million barrels of oil per year, which could fuel 100,000 cars.
Once the plastic bottle is manufactured and filled with water, it has to be transported by diesel truck, ship or airplane. The source of this sometimes-exotic water is often as far away as Fiji or Finland. The Pacific Institute estimates that nearly a quarter of all bottled water sold around the world crosses national borders to reach consumers. For example, in 2004, Nord Water bottled and shipped 1.4 million bottles of Finnish tap water 2,700 miles, from its bottling plant in Helsinki to Saudi Arabia.
Twenty-five percent of bottled water sold domestically is simply reprocessed municipal or tap water, according to a 1999 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council. Both Aquafina, from PepsiCo Inc., and Dasani, from the Coca-Cola Co., are reprocessed from municipal water systems.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates bottled water and reports that about 75 percent of bottled water sold in the U.S.
comes from natural underground sources, which include “rivers, lakes, springs and artesian wells,” while the other 25 percent comes from municipal sources. These “municipal sources” are often the same tap water that flows through your kitchen pipes.
There are actually more regulations governing the quality of our tap water than governing the quality of bottled water in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency sets water quality standards that are more stringent than the FDA’s standards for bottled water.
Even if the water itself is pure, a plastic container can leach chemicals, such as phthalates and bisphenol A, into the bottled water. A recent study linked breast cancer to these chemicals from plastic water bottles that heated up in the sun or hot cars. Storing the bottles in cool and dark places, such as purses and backpacks, helps reduce the leaching of these chemicals.
Reusing plastic bottles also is discouraged, because bacteria can breed inside them, as they are difficult to clean between uses. On the other hand, glass doesn’t leach chemicals, and sturdy plastic bottles can be washed repeatedly, so consumers don’t have to worry about breeding bacteria. The production of glass uses about the same amount of energy needed to produce plastic bottles, but glass can be used over and over again.
The sustainable solution is to carry your own glass or hard plastic bottle and refill it from your kitchen tap. This is also the cheapest solution, because drinking the recommended eight glasses a day from the tap costs about 49 cents per year, compared with $1,400 from bottled water.
Photography by Rich Gigli
By Beth Quinn
We are Gammy and Gamps, my husband and I.
It was up to our second grandchild to so name us. Our first grandchild, Sam, doesn’t speak. At the age of six, he’s never said Mommy or Daddy. He’s never called me anything. It’s more than possible he never will.
Lest you think this is a sad tale, however, I hasten to assure you otherwise. Yes, autism is bear to wrestle with. And yes, Sam’s parents – my son Sean and his wife Melissa – have known despair. I am no Pollyanna, and there’s no such thing as sugar-coating in our family.
Even so, this is not a sad tale.
I first wrote about Sam when he was three years old and had just been diagnosed with an extremely rare disorder called Bannayan Riley Ruvalcaba Syndrome. What a name, huh? It took three researchers to discover it, and they all put their names to it.
Sam is like a unicorn. He’s one of only a handful of people in the United States to have this particular batch of missing chromosomal material. As a result, he has an issue or two:
Skeletal abnormalities (club feet, which must be periodically casted to keep them on the straight and narrow – Sam doesn’t mind the casts); a tendency toward polyps so that he must have a colonoscopy at regular intervals (he does mind this); low muscle tone (he has no idea he works harder than others to overcome gravity); some mild retardation (maybe – we’re not sure); food allergies (he can’t eat Ritz Bits, his very favorite food, along with a host of other foods that he doesn’t care for anyway); and the autism.
That’s a summary of what he – and his parents – cope with, but it is not a summary of who he is. Who they are. There are so many stories I could tell to let you know the real Sam and Sean and Melissa. I will tell just one.
Last fall Sean told me he planned to teach Sam how to ski. They live in the Berkshires, near Jiminy Peak, and Sean has been an avid skier all of his life. Teaching a child of his own to ski has long been part of his life plan.
“But Sam hates the cold,” I reminded him. “And he won’t wear mittens or a hat. And – remember? – he hates new things.”
“Um hmm,” said Sean. “That’s true. We’ll see.”
Sean’s goals were modest. On the first day out, his plan was to help Sam get into his gear (anyone who has ever skied knows how much trouble THAT is for an adult, let alone an autistic five-year-old who isn’t much of a communicator), then take his gear off, have a snack (he was still eating Ritz Bits last winter), then go home.
Melissa found mittens online that went all the way up to his armpits in hopes he would keep them on. Sean had him practice wearing a helmet in preparation for the big day of going to the ski lodge to have a snack.
And so they did. Only thing is, that first day didn’t turn out at all like Sean expected. It happens that Jiminy Peak hosts a program called Stride – a group of volunteers who show up to help handicapped kids and adults enjoy sports. In this case, skiing.
One of the Stride volunteers saw Sam eating his Ritz Bits in the lodge and suggested they go outside. Sean got Sam geared up again. Then Sean and the volunteer walked Sam up a small hill. At the top, they each took hold of the end of a pole and they draped Sam’s arms over it.
And Sam skied down the little hill between his dad and the volunteer. And he smiled, then he grinned, then he laughed. And then he did it again. And again. And again. He was outside, in the cold air that he hates, for 2½ hours that day.
My son took Sam skiing three times a week all last winter. Sam learned how to get on and off the chair lift on his own, with just a bit of help. He learned how to snowplow. He learned how to stop. He learned not to run into people and to stay out of other skiers’ way.
Sam learned how to ski. He skied when it was freezing cold. He skied in the rain. He skied until there was no more snow left on the hill.
Good thing, too. Sean always wanted his son to be a skier. And when the Stride program was featured on the Albany news station in March, it was Sam and Sean who represented them.
Meantime, while Sam and Sean were off skiing, Melissa was home trying to figure out how to make some hypo-allergenic food for Sam and disguise it as Chicken and Stars, which is pretty much the only food besides Ritz Bits that Sam actually enjoys.
Oh yeah, and did I mention she was also taking care of two new additions to
the family – extremely premature twin boys who were born in the one-pound range last August? Do these two people know how to have fun or what??!
I’m happy to report that the twins are coming along just fine. And I’m equally happy to report that Sam often pats them on the head and smiles sweetly at them. Beyond that, he’s just happy to get the heck out of the house with his dad for this season’s sport, which is swimming.
He’s now doggie paddling all over the place. If Mom and the twins happen to go along and are in the water too, he paddles over to pat each of the babies on the head and smile his sweet smile at them.
Melissa told me a few weeks ago that she’s a different person because of Sam. “I’m not the person I expected to be when Sean and I first got married,” she said. “We aren’t living happily ever after, but we’re living happily. I like who I am better than the person I might have been, and a lot of it is because of Sam.”
When I worked for the newspaper, I occasionally heard from a reader who talked about his daughter and autistic grandchild. His daughter was his hero, he told me. He said it often, and his voice always held pride and happiness when he spoke of her.
I now know how he felt. The world doesn’t offer the mentally challenged a lot of breaks, but Sam has caught the two most important breaks any child could hope for – his parents.
As for those long mittens, well, Sam never did develop a liking for them and wouldn’t keep them on, so Sean bought a roll of duct tape. When it’s time to gear up, Sam hands Sean the mittens and holds out his arms while Sean puts them on him.
Then Sam hands his father the duct tape and holds out his arms to let Sean tape the mittens to his jacket.
Sam’s a little quirky, but they work things out.
Beth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Goldenrod is blooming on the roadsides and the hillsides, promising autumn. See Carrie’s paintings at the Wallkill River School Gallery in Montgomery, Route 17K, Sept. 1-30. You’re invited to the reception, too, Sept. 12, from 5-7 p.m. See www.wallkillriverschool.com for information, hours and directions.
By Bob Gaydos
You never know when life’s going to reach out and touch you in unexpected ways. About a week ago I was sitting in a waiting room (they all blend together) flipping through a July copy of ESPN the Magazine when I came across an update of a quirky old story that had mildly piqued my interest when it happened, but had been quickly filed in my future trivia look-it-up file. It concerned a minor league pitcher named John Odom who had the dubious distinction of being traded in May of 2008 for 10 baseball bats.
The trade, of course, immediately became the punch line on TV and radio sports shows, but I remember thinking at the time how insulting that must be for an athlete. How does your psyche make sense of it? Of course, the trade was a fleeting hit on the Internet, where no humiliation is so bad it can’t be made worse by frequent repetition and mockery. Such is the world in which we live, in which John Odom lived. But it turns out that Odom’s psyche was more fragile than others. Six months after the trade and apparently despite his own efforts to laugh it off, Odom, 26, died in relative anonymity of an accidental overdose of heroin, methamphetamine, alcohol and benzylpiperazine, a stimulant. That story didn’t get nearly as much play as the trade.
Which may be why reading about it last week in that waiting room saddened me more than I might have expected. Not only was John Odom’s life trivialized by a callous business decision, but when it ended it was devalued to the point of being barely noted. In fact, Odom died last November, but the story did not come out until March of this year. Even then, the people directly involved had a tough time dealing with it. And they certainly didn’t want to entertain the idea that maybe they had contributed to his untimely death.
But clearly Odom didn’t do anything to deserve the unthinking, unfeeling treatment he received, first from team owners, then from “fans.” Unlike the losers who populate reality shows on what passes for much of prime time TV these days, he did not volunteer to be mocked, to be made a fool of, to have people laugh and shake their heads when his name was mentioned. And unlike the people who show up on recorded TV shows where they have been unwittingly put into embarrassing or even humiliating situations, he did not sign any waiver to allow himself to be made the object of ridicule and entertainment for millions of others. Nor did he make an embarrassing video of himself and sell it to some TV show.
He just wanted to play baseball. To throw his 93 mph fastball and, just maybe, live up to the promise he held as a teenage athlete. That promise was derailed by some poor judgment and behavior on his part — alcohol and drug use and a fight that resulted in rehab and an assault conviction at age 17. That conviction got him kicked off his high school team in Georgia in 1999 and returned to haunt him in 2008, leading to the infamous trade. A musician with a free spirit and a quick smile, Odom kicked around a couple of years before winding up pitching for Tallahassee Community College in Florida. He eventually was drafted by the San Francisco Giants, but a series of injuries and some questionable behavior hampered his progress. He was released in 2008. That’s when the Calgary Vipers, an independent league team, signed him.
And that’s when the assault charge again changed his life. Because Canadian immigration officials had been unaware of his youthful conviction, they would not allow Odom to cross into Canada to play baseball. Calgary team president Peter Young figured he had to trade Odom. Laredo’s general manager offered a player, but Young didn’t want to pay to fly him to his team. Laredo said it would offer $1,000 for Odom. Young said no, that taking cash would cast doubt on the team‘s financial condition. Instead, he said he would take 10 maple bats, double-dipped black, 34 inches long, total price $665. Somehow, he figured that wouldn’t look as bad as a straight cash-for-player deal.
Odom immediately became known as Bat Man and, to his credit, tried to shrug it off and go along with the kidding. (They even played the Batman theme when he came into a game.) But when he had a bad game, the “kidding” became unmerciful. Even umpires called him Batman. Laredo officials saw it affecting Odom and put an end to all Batman talk or promotion. But Odom had had enough.
He left the team after three weeks., saying was going home to get his life straightened out. He apparently never did. After the trade he insisted that he was about more than baseball. “I don’t want people to think this is what defines me as a person,” he said. He figured people would come to see him out of curiosity, but see that he could pitch and his career would progress. He didn’t figure on American society’s short attention span and lack of empathy and compassion.
And the men who traded him for those bats? Laredo’s GM says he won’t ever do something like that again. But Calgary’s Young doesn’t like to think he had anything to do with Odom’s death. Young said the bats, stamped with Odom’s name, were never to be used. They were supposedly to be auctioned for charity, but he got a better offer from Ripley Entertainment, which paid $10,000 to the team’s children’s charity. Ripley’s plans to use the bats in a “Believe It or Not” exhibit.
That makes me saddest of all. John Odom made some mistakes in life, but he also was trying to change his way. A lot of people — friends, teammates — liked him and thought, at 26, he was finally on the right path. Then he got traded for 10 stinking bats. Hey, that’s life in the minors, right?
Not funny. Not even close.
Bob can be reached at email@example.com.
By Jeffrey Page
I read about the “compassionate release” from prison of the mass murderer Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and, like a few billion other people around the world, I was nauseated.
Al-Megrahi was convicted for the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie resulting in the deaths of 270 people. It took 12 years to bring him to trial. He was sentenced to life imprisonment with a required minimum of 27 years behind bars.
Now, after eight years, he’s out and back home in Libya, freed by the Scots minister of justice, Kenny MacAskill, because Al-Megrahi has terminal prostate cancer and is not expected to live more than three months. Al-Megrahi was welcomed home as a national hero with flowers tossed at him by cheering crowds. The son of Col. Moammar Khadafy hugged him.
Compassion for al-Megrahi? There are people who can summon up such feelings for individuals like al-Megrahi but I’m not one of them. I’ve been opposed to capital punishment for as long as I can recall, and am saddened that the work of this one man made me believe that in his case the death penalty would have been appropriate. This is a man whose bomb killed 259 passengers and crew, plus another 11 people on the ground. If there’s been talk of compassion for the families and friends of the victims I haven’t heard it.
After I read the news of al-Megrahi’s release, I thought about Theo Cohen. Theo, you may recall, was the 20-year old woman from Port Jervis who was flying home on Flight 103. She was a theater major at the University of Syracuse and had just completed a semester in Great Britain.
To say I knew the Cohens – Theo and her parents, Susan and Daniel – would be an impossible stretch. But 11 years before al-Megrahi’s treachery, my wife, my daughter and I were at a picnic at a friend’s house in the hills over Cuddebackville. The Cohens were there, too. Daniel wrote science books for children. Susan was writing romance novels. Theo was about 9, my kid was 7. They played together on the grass.
And that was it. I don’t think I ever saw any of the Cohens again.
Then came Flight 103 and my admittedly tenuous connection to it. I remembered Theo and of course thought about my own daughter. How could any dad not? And how could I not wonder about the Cohens’ horror, first of not knowing, and then of understanding how their only child died?
The very idea of freedom for al-Megrahi is an abomination. Do the math and you come to the sickening realization that he served precisely 11 days in jail for each of the people he murdered. I think that if anyone deserves to die frightened, alone and friendless in a prison hospital, he does. I don’t often have such thoughts. It took the likes of al-Megrahi to bring them out.
What about compassion for the Cohens, I wonder, and for all the relatives and friends of everyone else on Flight 103? MacAskill said he based his decision to free the prisoner strictly on al-Megrahi’s health, though there are stories circulating that British-Libyan trade and oil may be part of the deal.
I wonder how MacAskill would explain his reasoning if he were seated across a table from Susan Cohen.
Jeffrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography by Rich Gigli
By Carrie Jacobson
The story so far: Zoe, a little, blind lhasa apso, was left at the Pike County shelter when her owner lost his job and had to move in with his wife’s mother, who’s allergic to dogs. He left her at the shelter in the middle of the night, and Kaja, a big red dog, came and took her away. They have made their way through the woods, and crossed the Delaware on a rickety bridge. In Barryville, at the very edge of the river, Samantha and Ashton Morrone are building a fort that’s also a raft. The dogs and the kids have just seen each other.
At the sink in the kitchen of their house/hotel in Barryville, Angie Morrone looks out the back window and sees Samantha gesturing at something in the bushes. Angie can just see something red there, the color of a fox. Sam would know better than to approach a fox, Angie thinks. She would, wouldn’t she?
Angie goes out onto the deck. Over the sound of the river, she hears the kids now, and they’re calling, “Come here, come here!” As she watches, the red animal edges out of the bushes, and Angie sees that it’s the color of a fox, but bigger. It’s a dog, a big red dog, and it looks dirty but friendly. She watches as Samantha holds out her hand, palm down, and lets the big dog sniff her.
Then she watches as Sam opens a box in the fort she and Ashton have been building, and pulls something out. It looks like a cookie or a cracker. Sam offers it to the dog, who takes it, gingerly.
Then Angie sees the second dog come out of the bushes. This one sort of bumps into the big dog, and then into Samantha, and even from here, Angie can tell that this one has some vision issues.
Angie walks down the steps of the deck, and down the bank toward the kids and the dogs. Samantha starts in, right away.
“Mom, can we keep them, can we keep them, please? Please? Please? I’ll wash the dishes for the rest of my life. Please?”
Ashton starts in pleading, too.
“Sam, introduce me,” Angie says.
“This is Foxy,” Sam tells her, pointing to Kaja, “and this is Peanut,” she says, patting Zoe. Angie sees the cataracts in Zoe’s eyes then. “Peanut doesn’t see too well,” Samantha says.
Angie would love for the kids to have a dog. One dog. She’d really love it if they had a big dog. She grew up with big dogs, big strong dogs who could run and play all day with them. She’s missed dogs in her life here in Barryville. But Pete isn’t nuts about dogs, and they’re running a hotel here, and that means you don’t always get to do whatever you want in your home. She’ll have to talk to Pete about it when he gets back. She finds she’s already working on how to present it so he’ll say yes.
It’s been years since Kaja has been inside a house, but as soon as she’s inside, she remembers. She smells food and cooking, and her mouth begins watering. It’s been so long since she’s eaten anything but small animals and garbage, but the woman is cooking meat, and it smells so good, she can hardly stand it.
There are the smells of people, too, these people and a man, and other people, lots of them, but their smells are lighter, less true. The woman runs water into a bowl, and Kaja drinks then, savoring this, clear, clean taste, cool from a tap. She drinks deeply, and then settles to the floor, under a table, where she can see everything, but stay out of the way, too. She watches as the kids fuss with Zoe, trying to figure out just what she can see.
In a moment, Kaja is asleep. But when the door opens and closes, and a loud man’s voice hollers, “I’m home!” she wakes up.
The mother goes to the hallway, and there is soft talking. Then the man’s voice rises, and the kids, who have been brushing Zoe with an old hairbrush, look at each other.
“No,” he says. “No dogs. This is a hotel we’re running here. We’ll have the health department all over us, Angie.” The kids keep looking at each other. Sam bites her lip.
“Tonight,” Pete says. “They can stay here tonight, but that’s it. Tomorrow they go.”
Carrie can be reached at email@example.com
By Michael Kaufman
Although this has been a horrific season for the New York Mets and fans of the team, I, for one, am finding it quite enjoyable. Not the injuries, of course. I hope all of the injured players make full recoveries and flourish for the rest of their careers. But this train wreck of a season has nonetheless produced many wonderful and surprising moments, each a reminder of the greatness of a game that has survived decades of stupidity, greed, and mismanagement on the part of those who run it and some who play it.
In the past few days alone we have seen a game-ending unassisted triple play (by the opposing team), a perfectly pitched inning by Billy Wagner in his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery, and sparkling plays at third base by Fernando Tatis, filling in for the injured David Wright. (Who knew?) As befits a future Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez got a warm ovation from the crowd at the appallingly named Citi Field when he was introduced as the starting pitcher for the Phillies. Pedro later contributed a run-scoring base hit to the cause despite coming to bat with a lifetime average of .099. (If you do not follow baseball and are still reading this column, a batting average of .099 is not so ai-ai-ai.)
With the Mets no longer involved in the pennant fight, or even the race for the “wild-card” spot in the playoffs, fans have angrily taken to the airwaves with calls to sports radio shows to demand the firing of Omar Minaya, the general manager and/or Jerry Manuel, the manager, or to complain about under-achieving players who are paid millions of dollars. I don’t know that anyone should be fired but I wonder if there would have been fewer injuries had there been a better conditioning program in place. In any case the callers are often the same loudmouths who had hailed Minaya as a wunderkind when he arrived on the scene a short while ago and who sang Manuel’s praises when he replaced Willie Randolph after he was fired as manager early last season.
Better they should complain about how their tax dollars were spent to put up an expensive new ballpark named after one of the banks that helped put this country into its deepest financial hole since the Great Depression. (The only banks a ballpark should be named after is Ernie Banks.) Like its American League cousin in the Bronx, the new Yankee Stadium (at least they didn’t change the name to something like “AIG Stadium”), it has been built with tax dollars for the comfort of the wealthy, complete with expanded areas of luxury seating for the corporate elite. Who cares if even the TV and radio announcers—let alone the fans in the (relatively) cheap seats—can’t see who is warming up in the bullpen?
And speaking of the announcers: It seems that now that the Mets have no chance of getting into the post-season games, they spend more time talking about the great food at the new ballpark and about the 1969 and 1986 Mets teams than they do covering the game currently being played before their eyes. I don’t care about the overpriced culinary delights. I want to eat peanuts and hot dogs when I go to a ballgame and maybe drink a couple of beers that don’t cost as much as a fancy martini at a trendy watering hole in Tribeca. Years ago I started cooking my own hot dogs at home, wrapping them tightly in foil, and sticking them in my pocket before going to games. Try it some time. Just make sure the dogs are well wrapped.
As much as I loved the 1969 and 1986 seasons, there were plenty of fine moments to be savored during the years that preceded 1969. Granted, most of them were provided by the visiting team. I was there for some of them: Jim Bunning’s perfect game, a no-hitter by Sandy Koufax, and a bizarre 23-inning second game of a Sunday doubleheader against the Giants. The first game started at 1 p.m. The second game didn’t end until around 11:30 p.m. Talk about entertainment value! And get this…if memory serves, Eddie Kranepool played every inning of both games after being called up from the Triple-A minor league team in Tidewater, where he had played every inning of both games of a double header the day before. Baseball. It is still a great game I tell you.
Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.