Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Best Thing You Will See Online March 31, 2015

Pesticides and Sperm Abnormality

Click for photo credit.
The bad news keeps coming in on pesticides and public health. Last week, On the Brink highlighted news about the World Health Organization report on pesticides and cancer. This week comes news of the linkages between pesticide residues on foods and low sperm counts and irregular sperm in men.

According to the Washington Post, as noted in the Journal Human Reproduction, the sperm count of men who eat fruits and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residues is 50% less than men who eat fruits and vegetables with low pesticide residues. They also have about a third less normal sperm cells and lower volume of sperm ejaculate.

Guys, if this isn't a case for eating organic, I don't know what is.

The Environmental Working Group lists the fruits and vegetables that tend to have the most pesticide residue. They are:
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Cherry tomatoes
Snap peas
Sweet bell peppers
Hot peppers
Kale/collard greens

They also list fruits and vegetables (non-organic) that tend to have the least amount of pesticide residue. They are:
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Sweet corn
Frozen sweet peas
Sweet potatoes

To learn more about the Environmental Working Group, click here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Presidential Art at Hofstra University

Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
Vote McGovern, 1972
Screenprint on paper
41 11/16 x 41 11/16 in.
Courtesy of Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Kenneth Walker, 1992.125
Image: © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual 
Arts, Inc./Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York
The Hofstra University Museum curated an interesting exhibit on portraiture of the American presidency called From Portraits to Tweet: Imagery, Technology and the U.S. Presidency. You can read about the exhibit here.
The exhibit begins chronologically with a portrait of President George Washington by Gilbert Stuart and ends with a portrait of Present Barrack Obama made with hundreds of shaded images of Abraham Lincoln. The exhibit focuses on the changing technology of portraiture craft. Indeed, when one imagines the time it took to create the Stuart portrait of Washington compared with a selfie tweet with Vice President Joe Biden and President Barrack Obama, it is clear that we have had a progression of technology on how we represent ourselves and our leaders.

Pitcher (Theodore Roosevelt), ca. 1910
Lenox porcelain
7 5/8 x 6 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.
Courtesy of Collection of The New-York Historical Society, 
Gift of Dr. Arthur H. Merritt, 1961.342
Image © New-York Historical Society
The exhibit also contains a fair amount of images of the presidents used in campaign materials. Roosevelt's image of an optimistic outdoorsman for example provided ample material for propagandists for and against his leadership. Campaign buttons, bandanas, and mugs have been used throughout our nation's history to promote candidates. Today, many of these materials are valuable cultural artifacts.

The exhibit also contains a number of photographs and films that show different aspects of the presidency. Importantly, photographs started to show the Presidents as real people. Lincoln had a carefully crafted image that showed him as a thoughtful, although pained, president. This is largely because it was next to impossible to get a candid photo of Lincoln given the photographic technology of the day. Yet in our modern era, images of presidents tripping off an airplane stairway (President Ford) or trying to leave a stage via a locked door (President G.W. Bush) show the presidents as somehow more human and real--even though their images may suffer as a result of the realness.

Alex Guofeng Cao (Chinese, b. 1969)
Lincoln vs. Obama, 2009
Chromogenic print with Dibond Plexiglas
60 x 40 in.
Courtesy of the artist
It is worth noting that some of the greatest artists in the U.S. focused on the Presidency as a theme. Besides the noted Stuart portrait in the exhibit, there are pieces by Warhol and Rauschenberg. The Warhol piece is a portrait of President Richard Nixon and was commissioned by the Democratic National Committee. It is a fascinating piece in that it uses Warhol's distinct style of using existing images with silk screen color overlays to create an almost nauseous feeling of Nixon. The Rauschenberg piece focuses on Kennedy and the 1960's. His use of multiple layers of images to represent time and space work well to capture the sentiment of the time. The complex mixing of pop culture imagery communicates the key historic elements of the era in a complex graphic image that presaged Google Image Search functions. The piece is perhaps the most striking image in the entire exhibit in communicating the complexities of a particular time and a particular presidency.

While the focus of the exhibit is largely on the changing technology used to represent the American presidency, it also provides an opportunity to reflect on how our country has changed in the almost 250 years of our existence. In many ways the changing representation of the American presidency represents the changes in our society. We have indeed gone from portraits to tweets not only in the representation of the presidency but also in the representation of ourselves. Now that we are a country that embraces the fast culture represented by tweets, what will this mean for the future of the American presidency and our country?

The exhibit is in the Emily Lowe Gallery on the Hofstra Campus until May 8th. For more information, click here.

Joe Biden (JoeBiden) “The First Selfie.”
April 16, 2014, Twitter Post

Sunday, March 29, 2015

DNA--A New Poem by Stan Brunn


Who we are on any given day
Is based in part on our DNA,
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Whether at work or at play
Hair is blond, black or a shade of gray.

DNA is more important than we know
For it influences physically how we grow,
How our mind’s growth and emotions flow
The children we have, the seeds we sow.

A “cultural DNA” is integral to our being
The languages we learn and practice speaking
Our caring, laughing and loving
And accepting, singing and praying.

We are not just material genetic
But prehistoric, contemporary and geographic
But also hermitic, mystic and poetic
Humanistic, artistic and scientific.

Biological and cultural DNA together hold sway
How we behave and what we say
In March, June, July and May
Yesterday, tomorrow and even today.
                    Stan Brunn, March 28, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saguaro National Park

Today I continue my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks. In this post we go to Saguaro National Park in Arizona. 

I'll run through all 59 National Parks in alphabetical order. If you have any photos that you would like to share from any national park that I could post, please send them along. Following the photos, you'll find links to previous On the Brink posts of the National Parks. Check them out to see the beauty of the U.S. National Parks as captured by visitors.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
North Cascades National Park
Olympic National Park

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Round Up of News on Glyphosate

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A recent report was published in the Lancet titled "Carcinogenicity of tetrachlorovinphos, parathion, malathion, diazinon, and glyphosate" that summarizes recent findings on the carcinogenic properties of commonly used pesticides.  You can read it here.  The World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group, the authors of the report, assessed the cancer risks associated with these chemicals.

The bombshell from the report is that glyphosate, used as an herbicide in over 750 commercially available products (including Roundup), was classified as probably carcinogenic to humans.  This is in direct contrast to the EPA that has not found any significant risk to people and the environment from the use of glyphosate.

The Des Moines Register published an article yesterday highlighting the critique of the WHO report while also noting that others are calling for a review of EPA policy regarding glyphosate.

I don't think we've heard the last on this issue.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Bridges--A New Poem by Stan Brunn

Photo by Bob Brinkmann

12 March 2015                                


Life is a bridge of daily journeys

            Work to leisure; awake to sleep; darkness to sunrise.

Each day and hour is a bridge to the next

            Each year a bridge to the next.

We celebrate bridges: birthdays, holidays and year’s end

            Some with joy, others with anxiety.

We witness the bridges of weather and seasons

             From rain to sun; from winter to spring.

Our bridges are boundaries into the known and unknown

            Sometimes crossed without thinking, other times with risks.

Some bridges crossed are deeply personal

Adolescence, marriage, parenting and grandparenting.

While teen and retirement bridges may be defined with ease

Gender, identity and intellect are far more fuzzy.

Our personal maps are some bridges we traverse with ease,

            Work spaces, social classes and heritage sites.

And those school, religion, language, health and planning districts

            And jigsaw puzzles of local, state and international boundaries.

Crossing bridges for some bring fear, despair, uncertainty and sadness

For other bridges no ends exist:  freedom, learning, justice and hopes.

And some bridges we cannot enter and will not cross

            Religion, gender, lifestyle, citizenship and ideology.

Some bridges bring newfound joys when finally crossed

            And healing, loving, forgiving, unexpected growth.

Some bridges are visible: play spaces, streets and roads

Others invisible - time zones, space travel, internet and Facebook.

Those songs we sing, languages we speak and prayers we utter

Are bridges of the soul, the mind and the spirit.

Our personal geographies contain “maps of bridges”

            Some visible, some known, some we create, others created.

Each journey is a bridge across time and space

Life itself is a journey of bridges.

                                                                                           Stan Brunn

Photo by Bob Brinkmann

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Best Thing You Will See Online March 23, 2015

Sedna Epic Expedition

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Yesterday at the Explorers Club in Manhattan I heard a talk by Susan Eaton, the leader of the Sedna Epic Expedition.  The goal of the expedition team is to snorkel the Northwest Passage in 100 days. This is a daunting goal given the risks of cold, ice, animals, and general weather conditions.  They team is trying to draw attention to issues of climate change in the Arctic.  They are conducting scientific experiments and providing educational opportunities about the ocean for native peoples along the way.

The team uses the name Sedna because the snorkeling will be done by a team of 10 women in a relay using motorized snorkeling systems.  Sedna is the goddess of the sea in native Inuit religion.

The team is looking for others to participate in the exhibit in a support capacity.  They are looking for all kinds of people (especially women) including scientists, artists, photographers, etc.  For more information please see the expedition Website here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Spirit of Exploration Celebrated at the American Museum of Natural History

The Explorers Club gala last night under the blue whale at the
American Museum of Natural History.  Photo by George Veni.
 Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Explorer's Club Annual Gala at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan.  It was a great event and I got to meet some terrific people.  Awards were given to many who are pushing the edge of exploration.

I was representing the National Cave and Karst Research Institute (NCKRI) with the Director of the Institute, George Veni, and the institute's Director of Development, Suzanna Hernandez and her husband.  Some highlights:

I got to hang out with Bill Steele, one of the most famous cave explorer's in the world.  He received a Citation of Merit from the Club.  He has pushed the edges of caving and has explored some of the most interesting caves in the world.

Noted Cave Explorer Bill Steele and George Veni, the Director of the
National Cave and Karst Research Institute.
Besides my NCKRI dinner companions, I had the pleasure of meeting Ellen Prager and her family at our table.  She is a writer and ocean explorer and has a personal mission of bringing good science to the general public.

l also got to meet some of the crew of the Paragon StratEx Team that organized the 135,000 foot jump from the stratosphere.  The team won the President's Tribute award.

Your's truly and George Veni.
Neil deGrasse Tyson was also present and won the Explorers Club Medal for his contributions to education and exploration.  He gave a very inspiring acceptance speech that got everyone motivated to continue to push the edge.

If there is someone who knows about pushing the edge it is the Honorable Alexandra Shackleton, the granddaughter of Sir Ernest Shackleton the famous Antarctic explorer.  This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the famous Shackleton Expedition and she was on hand to mark the occasion.

Teddy Roosevelt loomed large over the proceedings. He was very influential in the founding of the Natural History Museum and the Explorer's Club.  I often teach about the importance of TR in the development of the modern sustainability movement at Hofstra University where my office is in Roosevelt Hall, named after the President.  In reflecting on the evening, I was struck how much the spirit of exploration infused my life and the lives of so many of my colleagues throughout the years.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Day of Equinoxity-A New Poem by Stan Brunn

The Day of Equinoxity

On this day of equal night and darkness

All should seek to be extra-nice.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann

Discover ways to promote a world of closeness

And harmony in all forms of justice.

Equal this day are those named Phyllis and Alice

And those gents named Maurice and Elvis.

And those living in Connecticut and Kansas

And those in ghettos and who are stateless.

We think of the shy and voluptuous

And the self-righteous and the religious.

Yes, and don’t forget the priest and the waitress

The struggling student and members of congress.

Remember those on Facebook and wireless

And those who are wild and those sleepless.

Those who live in worlds we call placeless

And those in places which are timeless.

Let’s not forget those in worlds of loneliness

Who constantly are in need of an atlas.

                                                                                                               Stan Brunn 21 March 2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Best Thing You Will See Online March 20, 2015

Is here on this snowy first day of spring.

77% of Native Rabbits Eaten by Pythons in the Everglades

A Burmese Python in Florida.  Click for photo credit.
I've written several pieces about the invasion of the Burmese Python in Florida.  They have been seen as far north as Tampa and are finding quite a home in the Everglades.  There was a recent report in the Miami Herald about a recent study that demonstrated that 77 percent of native rabbits that were released in the Everglades were eaten by the python.  Check out the report here.  Plus, researchers are seeing declines in possum and raccoon populations as well.  It is estimated that there has been a 90-95% decline in their populations.

The new rabbit study suggests that the invasive snakes are having a larger impact on native populations than feared.  While there have been some efforts to try to reduce the python population in the state, so far they have been unsuccessful.

Check out earlier On the Brink reports on pythons in Florida here, here, and here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Best Thing You Will See Online March 19, 2015

Sustainable Canada Dialogues

A group of scientists have published a report called Sustainable Canada Dialogues about climate
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change science and policy in Canada.  You can check it out here.

The report emerged as a result of Canada's pullback from international climate change agreements in recent years by the current government and the overall lack of national climate policy.  

The report highlights six areas of action

  • Transition to a low-carbon economy
  • Transforming the energy system
  • Urban planning and transportation
  • Governance and institutions
  • Land use
  • Education, information, and research
This approach is a positive move for Canada.  It provides a sound counterbalance to the lack of action by the government.  It keeps the dialogue open on climate change policy and management at a time in which the government is unlikely to move forward on these issues.  Governments change, so the vetting of science, policy, and management options will seem like a wise move when a new government is ready to move on these issues. 

So many feel hopeless when governments fail to act on scientific information.  This is an example of the positive action that can be taken to move the conversation forward.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Best Thing You Will See March 18, 2015

Is below.  For more info about the organization, click here.

Guns on Campus

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For some reason, forces external to universities have been pushing the idea of allowing guns on campuses. Check out what is happening in Florida here.  I won't get into the reasoning behind the arguments. I thought I would review some reality.

There are already guns on campuses.  I remember when I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, many students had hunting rifles stashed away under their dorm beds or in the closets.  It wasn't a big deal and people looked the other way.  Oshkosh is in a relatively rural part of Wisconsin with lots of hunters.  I would imagine it is still the same way.

When I was teaching in very pro-gun Florida, it wasn't that uncommon to find out that students or professors were packing heat.  I never worried about it because the ones that I heard about through the gossip mill were responsible people and they never showed the guns to me or to others.

The gun ban on campuses is a deterrent like a marijuana ban.  We all know that marijuana is present on campuses.  So are guns.

However, I have to say that I do worry about an overt openness of guns on campuses just like I worry about an overt openness of marijuana.  Here's the thing.  Responsible gun owners already have guns on campuses and they are not really open about talking about it.  Opening up campuses to guns means that students will be encouraged by gun sellers to purchase and carry weapons.

In my experience, most college students have one big melt down during their four years due to pressures from school, family, and/or relationships.  Putting guns in the hands of these individuals who are inexperienced gun owners is not a great idea.  Just take a look at the news that is coming from some of the fraternity scandals and you can see the environment that exists in some circles on campus.  Do we want to encourage guns within such settings?

I also think it is a workplace safety issue. We have many professors around the country who are assaulted by students every year. Putting guns into the hands of inexperienced gun owners at a time when they are growing in maturity and at the same time under stress due to constant evaluation from professors seems unwise. Plus, there are a few nutty professors out there too who do battle against their colleagues in inappropriate ways.

In short, those who are promoting guns on campuses should know that guns are already present and are carried by responsible gun owners.  I don't know any professor, administrator, or professional higher education organization that thinks that opening up campuses to guns is a good idea.  I hope those that are pushing this in the state legislatures listen to reason on this issue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Best Thing You Will See March 17, 2015

Is below.

Drink Sustainably This St. Patrick's Day

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St. Patrick is not only the patron saint of Ireland, but he is also the patron saint of college bars. This year, On the Brink is urging all of you to enjoy your St. Patrick's Day by drinking sustainably. 

Check out what Sierra Nevada Brewing Company is doing on sustainability here.  They have a full sustainability report with lots of facts and figures. Some highlights:

  • They get 20% of their energy from solar.
  • They get 40% of their energy from hydrogen fuel cells.
  • They divert 99.8% of their waste from landfills. 
  • Their organic waste from brewing is composted and returned to agricultural fields.
  • They report on their carbon dioxide emissions.
There is much more in the report on water conservation, packaging, and transportation. As I have reported several times on this blog, most corporations have some type of sustainability reporting.  Before you begin your celebrations, look to see what your favorite brewery, winery, or spirit maker is up to in the sustainability field. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Best Thing You Will See March 16, 2015

Is here.

Utility Companies Try to Dim Rooftop Solar

Click for photo  credit.
There was a fascinating piece in The Washington Post this weekend about the efforts to slow the advance of rooftop solar in the United States. Check it out here. Utility and energy companies are starting to see loss of revenue in their bottom line as a result of the rapid growth of home solar energy production.

The utilities are responsible for maintaining expensive grid infrastructure whether or not a home has solar or not.  In other words, if you have a home solar system, a utility company is likely losing money on the energy you purchase on cloudy days and on evenings because the amount you spend does not cover the long-term costs of the infrastructure that delivers your energy.

We are clearly in a transitional point in home energy use.  There are many emerging sources of energy that can keep us off the utility power grid.  However, we all want a reliable supply of power when these energy sources are not available.  Thus, we need utilities to provide us a steady supply of power when these emerging technologies are unavailable.

Emerging home energy production technologies are not going away and in fact they are getting better all the time. Tesla, for example, is making a home battery that is much more efficient than other batteries that will allow for greater efficiency in solar energy production and storage.  It can keep a home largely off the utility grid. Yet what about the times when a home with such a battery needs energy?

The rapid growth in these home energy systems will impact utilities in big ways. The utilities and energy companies are starting to look like last century's organizations and technologies. According to The Washington Post, their efforts to limit the growth of home energy systems looks bad in the eyes of both conservative and liberal Americans. Overall, I think Americans viscerally understand that it is time to get off of dirty energy--especially imported energy. Yet at the same time, we need utilities to maintain energy grids to provide safe and reliable energy for times when home energy production is not enough and for those who cannot afford the investment in home energy production. Stopping the growth of home energy technologies is not good policy. It might be time for utilities to rethink their pricing and business model.