“getting into cage with wild, flesh tearing animal for selfie purposes is ill advised” says anyone with brain

The Internets has made us all dumber,” says degenerate author and regular writer of a blog.

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One of nature’s great killing machines.  Awww, just look at the dude sleeping.

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the plastic straw ban is futile

We’re back! We have no idea why. We’ll speak no more of it. Did you miss us? Please hold your applause [claps hands in an empty room].

So, what the most consequential recycling (“re-cy-cling”) news of the year? Is it:

a) That science still hasn’t solved replication technology thus forcing us to constantly throw away empty food packages when we want them instantly refilled with their sweet goodness?

b) That members of both American political parties still cannot be melted down to make something more useful, like office building support beams?

c) That beer brewers consistently still use glass even though much of glass isn’t recyclable and cans are 100% so, and still hold the same tasty beer? (more on this later)

d) I would hope nobody said plastic straws. But I’m sure a whole bunch of people would say plastic straws.

For you see, plastic straws were once fine. Now they are evil. For some reason.

We already wrote about this last year, but it’s gotten worse since then.

It’s now gotten to the point where the government (in Washington DC, of course) has to employ their own Brown Shirt goon equivalent to threaten your local neighborhood restaurant.

Here’s the reality check:

1) Plastic straws make up about 0.000004% of discarded non-recyclable plastic waste

2) The vast, vast, vast majority of plastic waste that gets into the ocean or into landfills is due entirely to the extremely poor basic waste collection practices of East Asian countries

3) The major recycling news of the year is not straws, but the Chinese government’s ban on the importation of high error rate recycled waste from aboard. Almost nobody is talking about this, but it’s a big deal folks. Every municipal recycling program in America is impacted, as in, yours. But because standard American news sources are terrible, you have to go bathe in an article written by Gizmodo of all places to get a good story on the issue.

Every aspect of American recycling is currently in flux. But, for some reason, in early 2019 the hate is on plastic straws.

One of the goals (cue laugh track) of this degenerate blog has always been to question the easy answer, or the lunacy of the current fad. The fallacy of being seen, or being felt, to “do good”. Often to the exclusion of larger problems, or more concrete action.

The municipal recycling planner at your local town hall (who probably makes $34K a year) will make major decisions this year that have a greater impact to the planet than any one of the rest of us will do the rest of our lives. These folks at least deserve our attention.

Fixing China’s non-existent recycling program is hard. Getting into the nitty gritty of recycling costs per ton per waste category per overall waste gathered by your local town hall is hard to get around. But banning plastic straws is easy, and refusing to use them is an instant self-check gratification for somebody who has decided (because they were told so by somebody else) that said straws are now a big problem.

But easy answers don’t save the planet. Hard work does.

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Too easy

the false promises of doing good

It seems every few weeks something that was once benign is placed in the crosshairs and suddenly becomes beyond the pale.  Did you know plastic straws were evil?  Well, I guess they are now.  Because a bunch of people said so.

Accordingly, Starbucks is set to ban the use of all plastic straws within two years.  This will supposedly help do better for the planet by removing a source of plastic that for the most part can’t be recycled.

Here’s my problem though.  People might feel good about this, but in the end it’s not even a rounding error.  Plastic straws were fine, now they’re bad.  So folks will hate on them and get rid of them.  Just like plastic bags.

In the end though, what does all this actually accomplish?

I read an article that said in order to overcome the carbon footprint of making a reusable bag verses a plastic bag that you have to use the reusable bag like 150 times.  Let’s say the average shopper goes to the grocery once a week.  That’s three years of using your reusable bag before you were better off asking for plastic.

Are folks actually using their reusable bags for north of three years?  I do, but I’m not sure most people do.  And so banning plastic bags may have done some good, but not nearly as much good as folks probably think.

Think banning plastic straws is going to help the planet?  It might, but not nearly as much good as folks probably think.  Just take a gander as this report from The Economist which shows the life cycle of plastic throughout the planet.

The vast, vast majority of plastic that enters the oceans comes from Asia where consistent recycling and landfills do not exist.  So Starbucks can ban all it wants, but that’s not going to stop rivers of plastic from flowing down the Yellow River into the sea.

And Starbucks also doesn’t seem to love the planet enough to stop using disposable coffee cups that can’t be recycled.  I hope folks realize this.  That over 99% of disposable coffee cups are in fact not recycled regardless of what’s claimed or where they’re tossed.

But do you think Starbucks is going to do something about getting rid of disposable coffee cups?  I doubt it.  Why?  Because: $

There are ways to help the planet.  And even executing rounding error efforts like banning plastic straws helps.  But false promises can also be dangerous.  Solving ocean plastic is hard.  Just comprehend what it’d take to help all of Asia establish coherent trash and recycling policies.

But when all you’ve got from folks is easy answers like: “Oh, I’m not using a plastic straw, I’ve done good for the planet today. [pleasing sigh]”  Then that’s a false promise and in the end doesn’t really help the planet.  Particularly if the thought stops there, and doesn’t move on.

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Niagara Falls – on a cloudy workday

You’re not supposed to visit wonders of the world ad hoc. You’re supposed to plan this stuff out, make a day of it, or whatever. As always though, when work sends you somewhere you need to remain flexible.

I was supposed to be in Buffalo with my boss for two days of stupid meetings. In his typical manner (I don’t like my job) this trip was booked on about two days notice. We get stuffed (for his loyalty points) at a hotel well to the east of Buffalo itself.

We get into Buffalo–Niagara International late Monday morning, and go straight to an office. But instead of taking the allotted four hours, it goes for like 90 minutes. Then the dude looks directly at me and he’s like, “Are we done?” Uh, yeah sure, why not. Don’t have to ask me twice.

So all of sudden it’s like 2pm and I have the rest of the day. I’m in Buffalo, so now what? Hell, Niagara Falls, that’s down the road right? Sure, why not. But he’s got the rental car. Fortunately, he’s probably more of a loser than I.  He just wants to sit in the hotel. So I get the rental car keys he kindly offers. So, apparently, now I’m unexpectedly driving to Niagara Falls. Okay.

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American Falls.

Once upon a time, before cheap discount air travel changed all of global travel, people vacationed or traveled to where a train or car could get them. If you lived in the American Northeast or Middle Atlantic, you didn’t jet set to Cancun or visit London or Iceland. Instead, you drove to places like Niagara Falls. For a good long while Niagara was the number one honeymoon destination on the planet. No more.

As I drove the back roads to Niagara from east of Buffalo I was struck by the starkness of the typical rust belt urban / suburban wasteland I’ve previously encountered. More than half the billboards were for things like opioid addiction, plastic surgery, and the like. It was like driving through other formerly paramount Northeastern tourist destinations that have been gutted by cheap air travel, such as New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

The swankiest looking building in downtown Niagara is (sigh) the freaking casino. Everything else looked burnt out, old, nostalgic from a different happier age. What’s been Cancun’s gain, is Niagara Falls’ loss. I’m not sure what to entirely make of all this, but it is what it is. That being said, Niagara Falls doesn’t disappoint.  It’s an awesome place to visit.

I was there on what turned into a cloudy summer afternoon. I kept fearing it would pour rain but I figured it was worth the risk. It misted a bit here and there, but otherwise the weather cooperated.

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Long distance shot of Horseshoe Falls from Prospect Point.  Note tourist boat getting a good soaking.

Niagara Falls is actually a series of falls. Combine them all together, and depending on how you count, it’s essentially one of the top three waterfalls on Earth.

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Handy map for reference.  Not my shot.

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Looking north down river into Niagara Gorge.  Note Rainbow Bridge, aka Department of Homeland Security parking lot #428.4b.

I ended up at Prospect Point. You can park there for a small fee. Walk over and you’re at American Falls.

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Out of all the places I’ve visited in America, this was the most international I’ve ever seen a tourist crowd. I was one of the only home team members there. Almost everybody else was from elsewhere on the planet. This was on a summer weekday. So my only conclusion is that the international community is more into Niagara Falls than regular Americans. I guess USA folks take it for granted? Or maybe Americans prefer hanging out on the beaches of Cancun over seeing a big waterfall? Not sure.

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American Falls Rapids.

Prospect Point is very crowded. You get a good view of the American Falls though. In the distance you can see Horseshoe Falls. But the best way to go is to walk a bit. Head across the bridge to Luna Island and Goat Island. It’s less crowded and your view of the Falls are better.

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American Falls Rapids with American Rapids Bridge.

You could truly make a whole day at Niagara. Maybe not a whole week, unless it was actually your honeymoon and you were otherwise occupied, but a whole day yes. You could walk the Falls on both sides of the border. You could take the old fashioned boat to get soaked by the Falls. There is also a walkway near the Cave of the Winds where you can get soaked on foot at the base of the Falls. You could also hike all the trails and get a good view of all the preparatory rapids. It’s truly a full day awaiting you.

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American Falls from Luna Island, where your doom over the Falls is literally three feet away from your face.  So awesome.

I was there for a few hours. I’ll be back.

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PS I posted this groundhog a few weeks back. The answer to the riddle was Niagara Falls. This dude was just going about his day about four feet from the edge of Niagara Falls. You can see the mist in the background of the shot. The little guy (or gal) knows his (or her) stuff. I’m sure the groundhog fatality rate at the Falls annually is zero percent.

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Toke up little buddy!

the groundhog knows all

What if the groundhog does or does not see his shadow in August?  What are the consequences of that?

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What if the groundhog taunts you, death, and fate by placing itself in mortal danger but barely bats an eye?

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The groundhog knows all.  Even where work sent us for travel next.  Do you?  If so, the groundhog owes you money.

San Diego – Cuyamaca Rancho Park

On travel for work?  Got that rare day off?  Get outside, run.  Run away before they change their minds.  They know where you live, it’s how they pay you.  Run!

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Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, about a hour or so east of San Diego depending on whether you exceed the posted speed limit.  The park itself is massive and you could spend weeks there without seeing it all.  I had a day.

I did no research other than just to drive to the park.  The state highway snakes through it and you can get off at various campgrounds, trails, etc.

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Stonewall Peak.  One of the greatest feelings on the planet is to see a mountain and you’re like, “I want to climb that.”  So you do.  A campground sits at the base, you can park there for ten bucks or so with the park rangers.  It’s two miles up and two miles down.  It’s not too difficult if you regularly hike.  I did some other shorter hikes off the highway, but this was the longest and best part.

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The climb for the most part is a series of switchback trails carved into the side of the mountain.

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After a while you get the creepy idea that this place burned in the past.  Turns out I was right.

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In 2003 a lost hiker lit a signal fire in Cuyamaca Rancho and started one of the largest wildfires in California history, which is saying something.  Nearly the entire park burned including just about every long growth tree.

Once upon a time, the firefighters of the American West were dedicated to putting out every fire no matter how natural, no matter where it was.  This was a mistake.  It allowed decades worth of growth to accumulate into the forests.  Nature needs fire.

A forest of the West needs to burn as part of the natural progression of its ecosystem.  It cleans out brush, certain species of plant need the flames to reproduce, etc, etc.  By putting out every fire folks got in the way of this.

So when Cuyamaca Rancho burned for the first time in like five decades.  It burned hot and massive.  If you have a wildfire once every ten years or so, the ecosystem can recover.  That’s the way it’s meant to be.

But it seems when it burns once in a century, that the system can’t recover.  They’ve waited for Cuyamaca Rancho to regrow for these near 15 years and it’s become clear that some species aren’t coming back.  They were wiped out by the intensity of the flames.  So the park service has begun replanting by hand instead.

When you hear people talk about allowing natural wildfires pay attention.  This stuff is important.  It’s also why some folks who build brand new swanky houses up in the forests and then demand the state protect them are in many cases actually doing their surrounding forests genuine harm.

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Stonewall Peak and the nearby abandoned mine were named after Jackson by former Confederate veterans who’d come out West after the war.  What a tale some of those lives must have been.

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Immune to fire.

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At the summit.  The folks who put this up here were the real deal.  They got to the top before proper trails, before online park maps, and so on.

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Just one hill among many.  So much else to see.

Wisconsin – Kettle Moraine Forest

We’re back, after an unexplained 13 week absence. During that time we had the pleasure of enduring work, more work, a visit with a self-described crypt-keeper-leprechaun, some more work, and we fought a dragon. Now we’re back to mindlessly telling stories and share the breadth of humanity’s experiences. Because it’s what we do. Side note: don’t ever fight a dragon. This was a bad choice.

Anyways, as part of their desire to endlessly prove their incompetence, I ended up in Milwaukee again for work a whole day early. Rather than tool around downtown again I decided to venture out away from the concrete. So I planned a hike through Kettle Moraine Forest, Lapham Peak Unit. It’s about a half hour drive west of Milwaukee via I-94.

I hiked the Moraine Ridge trail which they clock at 6.6 miles. I broke with my usual practice and didn’t carry any weight. I even left the boots aside and just used my running shoes. I was just too tired to get crazy with anything.

I saw something new in that all the trails are actually made for cross country skiing. In most places the paths are cut through the woods with a very wide diameter. It’s weird. Though they probably don’t have any choice for skiing.

When I was there it was still the end of winter, only the very barest of green saplings were beginning to appear.

The various trails constantly cross each other at multiple points.  Accordingly, the park unit labels each intersection and provides an updated map.  Beyond that they don’t really label the trails at all.  I had to check multiple times to ensure I didn’t take a wrong turn.  Even so, I did actually take the wrong way once and had to backtrack.

Dude is glad winter is ending.

There were many other folks on the trails, but I would not call them crowded.  Like a dummy I dropped my gloves and had to go back and get them at one point.  A couple put them where I could see them after finding them on the ground.  I passed them later and they were happy to see I’d found them.  I thanked them, though was a bit embarrassed.  I was a nice human moment.  I think they were Quebecois.

According to the trail marker, the Native Americans that used to inhabit the park grounds bent these trees on purpose as their own markers.  This one marked the way to a water source.  Here is another example.

Note the difference between the trees just emerging from winter, and the pine trees who laugh at winter.

I didn’t time myself, I stopped here and there.  Again, I was tired to begin with so it didn’t matter.  But I had a great time.  It was a good release from paperwork and all the stuff that doesn’t actually matter.  So nature did it’s job.  Hail nature.