31 December 2008

so, here it is, almost 2009

so, i guess it is time for me to start paying attention to this blog again. i have recently begun to renew my knitting obsession, which i think is a sign that i finally have a handle on this commuting/island living thing. i mean, there are always things to work, aren't there? namely the kitchen, but that's a whole different story.

things that i'd like to focus on in the coming year (maybe if i write them down i'll pay more attention to them? cough cough.)
1. learning to be more responsible with my resources. (all types... money, food, time, energy, etc.)
2. focusing on preparation for each week, like, having healthy foods prepared ahead of time. maybe this one is really learn to think ahead.
3. living more sustainably/green what have you.
4. making more stuff. everything that i can make, i'd like to. knit, sew, stamp, cook, bake, even cleaning products and personal cleansers.... we'll see about that.

ok, those goals aren't too lofty, right? ha.
the only thing that i'm certain will happen in 2009 is my 10 year high school reunion. isn't that insane? i just can't even believe it.

anyhoo, here i am signing off for now. i am pledging to update more often in 2009. but, we all know how these things are.

feliz ano nuevo!

04 November 2008

vote vote vote, text fom the daily kos

*My whole day is devoted to this one moment in history, i never want to look back and regret that i was not involved in one of the most important moments in United States history.

*Considering that there are some that wait ....and sometimes fight a lifetime for the opportunity to vote, I will wait happily for as long as it takes to vote for my chosen candidate. I urge everyone to do the same!

*You take your pick: A few hours, or a few years. I’ll be voting tomorrow. Guaranteed.

*I’ve already waited 8 years. One day is nothing.

*Even though I’m 9 and 1/2 months pregnant and Obama will win California with or without my vote, I’ll wait in line as long as it takes. This election is too important to miss, and I don’t care how long and uncomfortable the wait is - I’m voting. It would be a lot more uncomfortable for me to sit by for the next four years knowing that I let my voice go unheard.

*I think if the veterns can do 3 one year tours of duty in Iraq, I can wait on line 24 hours if it will help get them home.

*I am prepared and willing to wait all day. I have cleared my calendar to make sure I can spend the whole day. And the time I don’t spend waiting or voting, I will spend poll watching and holding signs. This is far too important not to make a personal sacrifice to make sure my vote counts. And, as an Army wife, one day of work loss is meaningless compared to the days my husband has and will spend on deployment. To all within the sound of your voice: Get out and vote!

06 September 2008

designed by and available at http://obeygiant.com/ paper your cubicle!

12 August 2008

milky white goodness

Published on Monday, August 11, 2008 by Portland Press Herald (Maine)
Maine Dairy ‘Somewhat Vindicated’ As Monsanto Leaves Bovine Hormone Business
by Noel K. Gallagher

PORTLAND, Maine - Oakhurst Dairy owner Stanley Bennett welcomed the news that Monsanto was divesting itself of its controversial dairy hormone business, after taking on the agribusiness giant in an expensive David-and-Goliath legal battle five years ago.“We feel somewhat vindicated, given our position,” Bennett said. “I’d like to think that, in some small part, we played a role in that decision.”

The lawsuit centered on Oakhurst Dairy’s label, which read: “Our Farmers’ Pledge: No Artificial Growth Hormones Used.”

Monsanto, the St. Louis-based biotechnology company known primarily for its genetically engineered seeds, sued Oakhurst, alleging the label misled consumers into thinking there’s something wrong with milk from cows treated with the hormone.

After months of talks, the dairy kept the label, but added a disclaimer: “FDA states: No significant difference in milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones.”

Oakhurst was the first dairy in the nation to label its milk as hormone-free, something that is increasingly common. In the past year, Starbucks announced it would start using only hormone-free milk, and Wal-Mart announced its house brand of milk would be hormone-free.

At the time of the lawsuit, Bennett said he worried that people would think Oakhurst had caved in. That hasn’t been the case.

“Universally, people have congratulated us that we stuck by our guns, because we still have the label,” he said.

Although Monsanto settled with Oakhurst five years ago, the labeling issue has never gone away for the company. Most recently, several state legislatures have taken up the issue. All have essentially repeated the same argument as in the Oakhurst case, with Monsanto arguing for a disclaimer on labels for hormone-free milk.

“Some consumers prefer to purchase milk from cows that have not been treated with (growth hormone). Monsanto respects this choice, but we want to make sure that consumers have all of the information they need to make this decision,” the company said in an e-mail statement.

The statement describes milk processors as using the labeling issue “to profit from unfounded fears.”

Organic dairy farmer Spencer Aitel said the Oakhurst lawsuit was a major victory for consumers.

“Monsanto is really used to throwing their muscle around, and for Stan Bennett to choose to fight them, that was an awesome thing,” said Aitel, who owns Two Loons Farm in South China with his wife, Paige Tyson. “Stan listened to the consumers, and the consumer here has managed to change the industry, and you don’t often get that chance.”

Cheryl Beyeler, director of the Maine Dairy and Nutrition Council, agreed the lawsuit was a turning point.

“There wasn’t a lot of consumer knowledge about (the growth hormone). I think initially it was a very smart marketing technique,” she said.

With food recalls and other scares, the issue is becoming more important to consumers.

“They don’t like the idea that things are being put into our food supply that they don’t know about or have control over,” Beyeler said.

The growth hormone, a synthetic version of a natural substance, can boost milk production by 5 percent to 15 percent. Despite the FDA’s position that there is no difference in the milk, critics argue that the hormones increase stress for the animals.

Maine’s three major dairies, Oakhurst, Hood and Garelick Farms, all require that their farmers not use hormones, and they pay the farmers a premium for the milk.

“People want to know where their food is coming from, and more than that, they want to know how far away it was grown, who grew it and how they can support those farmers,” said Heather Spaulding, associate director of Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.

“Labeling has always been important to our constituent base,” Spaulding said. “(Consumers) want to be reassured that they know where their food is coming from and that the label means something, that there is integrity in what is on the label.”

At the time, the lawsuit was very difficult, Bennett acknowledged.

“It did take our attention away from the day-to-day business, and it was very expensive,” he said. “But it raised our profile, and it made us think about how we really do have not just a marketing interest but an obligation to do what’s best for dairy consumers.”

In the years since, many dairies have gone “hormone-free.” In fact, Bennett says Oakhurst has largely lost its competitive advantage.

“In a sense, we’ve become a victim of our own success,” Bennett said. “We’ve lost that hook for our consumers.”

Today, the company describes its label as “America’s first farmers’ pledge.”

The Maine Dairy Industry Association doesn’t have an official position on use of the growth hormone, because it represents farmers on both sides of the issue, said director Julie Marie Bickford.

“A lot of this issue is about marketing and perception,” she said. “It’s been a positive thing because it promoted a Maine product, but it took away from Maine farmers a production tool.”

Some farmers are still upset about that.

“It’s sort of the principle of the thing,” Bickford said. “We’re told to get more efficient and use modern technology, and this was an example of that. The people who used it really loved it. Then they were told they couldn’t do it. I have some farmers who are still very upset about it. And some farmers who are resigned to it - they grumbled, but they did it.”

Aitel agreed that the dairy community is split over the issue, describing it as an “industrywide identity crisis.”

“There are a lot of farmers who don’t like the idea that milk can be set apart from other milk,” he said. “It was important that Stan Bennett and the family stood up for the idea that there is a difference in producing milk.”

Bennett said that despite the lawsuit being the biggest controversy to ever hit the dairy, it isn’t something he dwells on.

“It has come and gone, and we deal with the here and now,” Bennett said.

05 August 2008

22 July 2008

25 June 2008


Slate Magazine
green room
A Tick's Life
The first in a series on revolting creatures.
By Constance Casey
Posted Tuesday, June 24, 2008, at 8:04 AM ET

Ticks, which live on blood and nothing but blood, are loathsome to us. We strongly prefer not to share our blood, unless the act is voluntary and we get juice and doughnuts afterward.

It's good that ticks are loathsome, because getting them detached from us as quickly as possible is the best way to avoid being infected by the diseases they carry. Ticks not only extract blood, they ooze pathogens from their salivary glands into the wound they've sliced with their tiny claws and penetrated with their barbed mouthparts. Normal human beings don't sit around and watch with interest for days and days as this process takes place. (Undisturbed, a tick could happily sup for up to a week.)

It's generally known the danger these small creatures pose, particularly the deer tick—Ixodes scapularis. This tick's saliva is the medium for delivery of a particular spirochete, or corkscrew-shaped bacterium, called Borrelia burgdorferi—famous for causing Lyme disease. I managed to locate Willy Burgdorfer, the scientist who identified the Lyme spirochete in 1982, and asked, "Why did God make ticks?"

"I don't have the answer," Dr. Burgdorfer said. "There are a lot of things we assign to the good Lord and we ask the question, why? All I can advise is to check yourself for ticks and remove them fast."

We know about the tick's danger to us, but we haven't thought much about how the ticks themselves survive life's competitive drama—how they reproduce and how they die.

The tick's life is simple, fairly boring, but urgent. No host, no blood meal, and the tick dies. There's only one blood meal for each of the three stages of a tick's life—larva, nymph, and adult. At each stage, every one of the tick's behaviors has been honed by evolution to sense a victim and latch on.

Deer ticks don't find the mice, deer, or us by sight; they have no eyes. On the tips of their front legs they have sensors, the Haller's organs, that allow them to detect, from as far away as a few yards, the heat given off by warm-blooded animals and the molecules of carbon dioxide that we mammals exhale. Blow into a tube of ticks at a lab, and you'll see them begin to wave like excited fans at a Justin Timberlake concert.

Exhale on those other bloodsuckers, fleas, and they jump. The good news about ticks is that they cannot jump or fly. The bad news is that if you find a tick on your scalp, it has probably crawled up your body from about sock-top level. Ominously, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises us to check for ticks between our legs and then in the belly button.

When the "mammal nearby" message is received, a tick's two front legs, equipped with claws that act like grappling hooks, thrust into the air while its three pairs of back legs hold on to a blade of grass, a twig, or a leaf. (Ticks are arachnids, with eight legs, in the family of spiders, scorpions, and mites. Insects have six legs. If you want to impress tick researchers, tell them that you know a tick in larva stage has only six legs.) A host brushes against a tick, and the tick hitches a ride.

He or she roams for a few hours looking for the right spot to attach. Then the two claws make the incision, and in goes the hypostome, shaped like a harpoon, with backward-facing barbs.

The tick then secretes a cementlike substance from its mouth, which glues it to the host and dissolves days later when the tick is sated and ready to drop off. Tick saliva also contains an anticoagulant to keep a host's blood flowing.

There they are, imbibing and drooling; it's the drooling that puts us at risk. Perhaps we should sympathize because the tick itself is a host. (We, too, by the way, carry spirochetes—harmless ones, in our mouths.) The parasitic spirochete sits in the tick's midgut until the blood flows in. Then, stimulated by the blood's nutrients and warmth, the newly expanded crowd of spirochetes migrates to the tick's salivary glands.

Entomologists estimate it takes more than 24 hours for the spirochete to move up and out, thus the importance of checking your body for embedded ticks and removing them as soon as possible.

An adult tick isn't as dangerous to us as a nymph, which is tiny enough to be mistaken for a freckle on light skin. The tiny adolescent is also likely to have fed on a mouse, the most efficient reservoir for the dangerous spirochete. (Though heavily infested with B. burgdorferi, mice don't get sick. In any case, no one has heard mice complain of fever, aching joints, fatigue, rash, and mood disorders.)

The male adult tick expands his repertoire to include finding females. He looks, logically enough, on the biggest moving mammalian blood supply around—a deer. Deer are in one way relatively innocent in the Lyme disease story—they have components in their blood that prevent the spirochetes from surviving. But they are also orgy enablers; if there were fewer deer, there would be fewer ticks, because the ticks would have a harder time finding one another.

Male and female engage in an impressive combination of gourmandise and lust. Maybe not lust exactly; for the female, it's more like being interrupted at breakfast by the UPS guy, with a package of perishables. Here's the setup: The female has her hypostome planted in the deer, imbibing. A long meal is the cue to her body to produce her 2,000 or so eggs. The male approaches from below, then uses his mouthparts to pluck a packet of sperm called a spermatophore from his genital pore. He delivers the packet into his partner's genital pore with his hypostome, the same barbed hollow needle that he sticks into mammals. The male frequently remains attached, mouthparts locked in the female genital aperture, to prevent other males from linking up with his chosen mate. After the female drops to the ground, full of blood and sperm, she lays her eggs, and then the fun is definitely over. She begins to atrophy. Her intestines spill out in a yellow blob. "When does the male die?" I asked Durland Fish, who studies tick-borne pathogens at the Yale University School of Public Health. "When he runs out of energy or sperm, whatever comes first," Dr. Fish replied.

So death for the tick comes from starvation, dehydration, egg-laying, or old age, rather than from predation. We don't seem to have any natural allies in tick control. It's not well known what kind of animal eats ticks, though the larvae are vulnerable to fungi. Dr. Fish scornfully dismissed the guinea hen as a form of pest control—"a Christie Brinkley-ism." (The former model advocates buying a flock of the cackling black-and-white birds to clear your yard of ticks.)

I repeated the question of why God made ticks for Dr. Fish. He responded with a growl to what he took to be my facetious tone: "Nobody makes them. They're just there. Their object, like ours, is to make a living any way they can."

And the tick's place in the great web of life? "They transmit disease. They control population."

"Including us?" I asked.

"Whatever is susceptible to the disease."

Next installment: Vultures!
Constance Casey, a former newspaper editor, was a New York City Department of Parks gardener for five years. E-mail gardening questions to gardening@slate.com.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2193879/

18 June 2008

not the banana!

from today's nytimes...
Yes, We Will Have No Bananas

Article Tools Sponsored By
Published: June 18, 2008

ONCE you become accustomed to gas at $4 a gallon, brace yourself for the next shocking retail threshold: bananas reaching $1 a pound. At that price, Americans may stop thinking of bananas as a cheap staple, and then a strategy that has served the big banana companies for more than a century — enabling them to turn an exotic, tropical fruit into an everyday favorite — will begin to unravel.

The immediate reasons for the price increase are the rising cost of oil and reduced supply caused by floods in Ecuador, the world’s biggest banana exporter. But something larger is going on that will affect prices for years to come.

That bananas have long been the cheapest fruit at the grocery store is astonishing. They’re grown thousands of miles away, they must be transported in cooled containers and even then they survive no more than two weeks after they’re cut off the tree. Apples, in contrast, are typically grown within a few hundred miles of the store and keep for months in a basket out in the garage. Yet apples traditionally have cost at least twice as much per pound as bananas.

Americans eat as many bananas as apples and oranges combined, which is especially amazing when you consider that not so long ago, bananas were virtually unknown here. They became a staple only after the men who in the late 19th century founded the United Fruit Company (today’s Chiquita) figured out how to get bananas to American tables quickly — by clearing rainforest in Latin America, building railroads and communication networks and inventing refrigeration techniques to control ripening. The banana barons also marketed their product in ways that had never occurred to farmers or grocers before, by offering discount coupons, writing jingles and placing bananas in schoolbooks and on picture postcards. They even hired doctors to convince mothers that bananas were good for children.

Once bananas had become widely popular, the companies kept costs low by exercising iron-fisted control over the Latin American countries where the fruit was grown. Workers could not be allowed such basic rights as health care, decent wages or the right to congregate. (In 1929, Colombian troops shot down banana workers and their families who were gathered in a town square after church.) Governments could not be anything but utterly pliable. Over and over, banana companies, aided by the American military, intervened whenever there was a chance that any “banana republic” might end its cooperation. (In 1954, United Fruit helped arrange the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala.) Labor is still cheap in these countries, and growers still resort to heavy-handed tactics.

The final piece of the banana pricing equation is genetics. Unlike apple and orange growers, banana importers sell only a single variety of their fruit, the Cavendish. There are more than 1,000 varieties of bananas — most of them in Africa and Asia — but except for an occasional exotic, the Cavendish is the only banana we see in our markets. It is the only kind that is shipped and eaten everywhere from Beijing to Berlin, Moscow to Minneapolis.

By sticking to this single variety, the banana industry ensures that all the bananas in a shipment ripen at the same rate, creating huge economies of scale. The Cavendish is the fruit equivalent of a fast-food hamburger: efficient to produce, uniform in quality and universally affordable.

But there’s a difference between a banana and a Big Mac: The banana is a living organism. It can get sick, and since bananas all come from the same gene pool, a virulent enough malady could wipe out the world’s commercial banana crop in a matter of years.

This has happened before. Our great-grandparents grew up eating not the Cavendish but the Gros Michel banana, a variety that everyone agreed was tastier. But starting in the early 1900s, banana plantations were invaded by a fungus called Panama disease and vanished one by one. Forest would be cleared for new banana fields, and healthy fruit would grow there for a while, but eventually succumb.

By 1960, the Gros Michel was essentially extinct and the banana industry nearly bankrupt. It was saved at the last minute by the Cavendish, a Chinese variety that had been considered something close to junk: inferior in taste, easy to bruise (and therefore hard to ship) and too small to appeal to consumers. But it did resist the blight.

Over the past decade, however, a new, more virulent strain of Panama disease has begun to spread across the world, and this time the Cavendish is not immune. The fungus is expected to reach Latin America in 5 to 10 years, maybe 20. The big banana companies have been slow to finance efforts to find either a cure for the fungus or a banana that resists it. Nor has enough been done to aid efforts to diversify the world’s banana crop by preserving little-known varieties of the fruit that grow in Africa and Asia.

In recent years, American consumers have begun seeing the benefits — to health, to the economy and to the environment — of buying foods that are grown close to our homes. Getting used to life without bananas will take some adjustment. What other fruit can you slice onto your breakfast cereal?

But bananas have always been an emblem of a long-distance food chain. Perhaps it’s time we recognize bananas for what they are: an exotic fruit that, some day soon, may slip beyond our reach.

Dan Koeppel is the author of “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World.”

11 June 2008


the green lantern
Bamboo and You
Are hardwood floors a crime against the Earth?
By Brendan I. Koerner
Posted Tuesday, June 10, 2008, at 7:26 AM ET

A flooring salesman recently tried to sell me on the greenness of bamboo. He claimed that producing bamboo planks is more sustainable than the methods used to create oak or maple floors. Is there really that much of a difference?

Bamboo does have loads of green potential. But as is usually the case when it comes to crops, much depends on how the bamboo is managed, harvested, and ultimately made into flooring. Many producers assume that consumers won't pay attention to such behind-the-scenes details and will be dazzled by smooth-talking salesman who toss around words like "sustainability" and "sequestration." It's up to you to do your homework and avoid being cajoled in such a manner.

As most Botany 101 students learn, bamboo is widely regarded as one of the planet's fastest-growing plants—some species can grow up to three feet in a single day. That means that the plants can be harvested and regrown in a jiffy: A bamboo plant reaches full maturity within three to five years, versus 40 to 50 years for many species of hardwood trees. If culled correctly, so that a viable portion of the stalk and roots remain, the bamboo needn't be replanted; it can simply regenerate.

According to bamboo advocates, this rapid cycle translates into increased carbon sequestration, since fast growing trees (such as the eucalyptus) absorb carbon more quickly than the likes of oaks and pines. (Though it's technically a grass, bamboo is usually compared to trees because of its woodlike properties.) The World Wildlife Federation estimates that an acre of bamboo can store 6.88 metric tons of carbon per year, about 70 percent more than an acre of hardwoods. If that bamboo is turned into flooring or furniture that won't rot due to the treatments applied, then that carbon can remain fixed for decades.

The last point in bamboo's favor is its robustness. The plant will grow in a variety of climates and soils and can flourish unaided by chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or gas-guzzling machinery. Bamboo producers also claim that the plant's extensive root systems prevent soil erosion, though the Lantern has yet to see evidence supporting this contention from sources uninvolved in the flooring trade.

But bamboo's environmental edge can evaporate if the stuff is heedlessly grown. Given the recent vogue for bamboo among Western consumers, producers in Asia (specifically China's Hunan Province) have been aggressive with their planting, often at the expense of old woodlands and their attendant ecosystems. To goose their yields, these plantations employ plenty of fertilizers and pesticides, thereby negating one of bamboo's primary advantages. And when the bamboo is converted into planks, the factories often use glues with high levels of formaldehyde, which can have serious health consequences for consumers (particularly those with asthma or severe allegies). Reading the label usually can't shed much light on these concerns. There just isn't much international oversight of China's bamboo plantations. While there are plenty of hardwood operations whose sustainability is verified by the Forest Stewardship Council, the Lantern knows of only one bamboo flooring company that has obtained FSC certification.

Manufacturers of hardwood flooring also point out that bamboo planks cause lots of fossil-fuel emissions when they're transported to the United States from China. The Lantern isn't totally swayed by this line of argument, however: While giant container ships certainly burn tons of fuel, they are also fairly efficient due to their massive capacities. (The shipping company Maersk, citing Sweden's Network for Transport and the Environment, contends that its ships are actually cleaner than trains, trucks, or cargo planes.) As a result, your specific geographic location will play a role in your flooring's transportation-related impact. If you live in California, shipping bamboo from China may result in less fossil-fuel consumption than, say, trucking in maple flooring from the Northeast.

The bottom line is that the onus is on you to ask questions before you fork over thousands of dollars for new flooring. Don't automatically assume that bamboo is the environmental winner, especially if there's a locally sourced, FSC-certified hardwood option. If you are tempted by bamboo, don't settle for the salesman's patter about his product's wonders—get in touch with the manufacturer and inquire about how the source material is raised and harvested. Some of the greenest bamboo doesn't come from monoculture plantations but, rather, from operations such as Madagascar Bamboo, which harvests naturally occurring plants from the edges of farms. (The farmers used to think of the bamboo as a valueless annoyance.)

Also look into whether the floors use low-formaldehyde glue. Don't be shy about asking for test results—reputable flooring companies should offer glues that emit less than 0.01 parts per million of the substance. (You'll probably have to pay around 75 cents more per square foot for such flooring, but it may be worth it.)

Above all, be sure to walk on an installed bamboo floor before forking over your hard-earned cash. There is a lot of variety in the feel of bamboo flooring, depending on how carefully the material has been treated and the finish applied. You want to make sure you're laying down planks that will grace your home for decades, not something you'll simply rip up in favor of maple five years down the line. As always in environmental quandaries such as these, the greenest decision is the one that will result in the least amount of turnover.

Is there an environmental quandary that's been keeping you up at night? Send it to ask.the.lantern@gmail.com, and check this space every Tuesday.
Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and a columnist for Gizmodo. His first book, Now the Hell Will Start, is out now.

Article URL: http://www.slate.com/id/2193239/

22 May 2008

jeez louise

Published on Thursday, May 22, 2008 by New York Daily News
New York 8th-Graders Boycott Practice Exam But Teacher May Get Ax
by Juan Gonzalez

Students at a South Bronx middle school have pulled off a stunning boycott against standardized testing.0522 03 1

More than 160 students in six different classes at Intermediate School 318 in the South Bronx - virtually the entire eighth grade - refused to take last Wednesday’s three-hour practice exam for next month’s statewide social studies test.

Instead, the students handed in blank exams.

Then they submitted signed petitions with a list of grievances to school Principal Maria Lopez and the Department of Education.

“We’ve had a whole bunch of these diagnostic tests all year,” Tatiana Nelson, 13, one of the protest leaders, said Tuesday outside the school. “They don’t even count toward our grades. The school system’s just treating us like test dummies for the companies that make the exams.”

According to the petition, they are sick and tired of the “constant, excessive and stressful testing” that causes them to “lose valuable instructional time with our teachers.”

School administrators blamed the boycott on a 30-year-old probationary social studies teacher, Douglas Avella.

The afternoon of the protest, the principal ordered Avella out of the classroom, reassigned him to an empty room in the school and ordered him to have no further contact with students.

A few days later, in a reprimand letter, Lopez accused Avella of initiating the boycott and taking “actions [that] caused a riot at the school.”

The students say their protest was entirely peaceful. In only one class, they say, was there some loud clapping after one exam proctor reacted angrily to their boycott.

This week, Lopez notified Avella in writing that he was to attend a meeting today for “your end of the year rating and my possible recommendation for the discontinuance of your probationary service.”

“They’re saying Mr. Avella made us do this,” said Johnny Cruz, 15, another boycott leader. “They don’t think we have brains of our own, like we’re robots. We students wanted to make this statement. The school is oppressing us too much with all these tests.”

Two days after the boycott, the students say, the principal held a meeting with all the students to find out how their protest was organized.

Avella on Tuesday denied that he urged the students to boycott tests.

Yes, he holds liberal views and is critical of the school system’s increased emphasis on standardized tests, Avella said, but the students decided to organize the protest after weeks of complaining about all the diagnostic tests the school was making them take.

“My students know they are welcome in my class to have open discussions,” Avella said. “I teach them critical thinking.”

“Some teachers implied our graduation ceremony would be in danger, that we didn’t have the right to protest against the test,” said Tia Rivera, 14. “Well, we did it.”

Lopez did not return calls for comment.

“This guy was far over the line in a lot of the ways he was running his classroom,” said Department of Education spokesman David Cantor. “He was pulled because he was inappropriate with the kids. He was giving them messages that were inappropriate.”

Several students defended Avella. They say he had made social studies an exciting subject for them.

“Now they’ve taken away the teacher we love only a few weeks before our real state exam for social studies,” Tatiana Nelson said. “How does that help us?”


05 April 2008

clean that s***

From Plenty Mag

Green spring cleaning: the bath

Washroom, loo, powder room, toilet—whatever you call the bathroom, it's probably most people's least favorite room to clean. While scrubbing away soap scum and stains won't ever put a smile on our faces, we do enjoy using green products that won't harm our health or the environment.

For instance, conventional bathroom cleaners often rely on chlorine bleach, which is caustic to inhale or touch and turns into toxic organochlorines in our waterways. If combined with ammonia, which gives off acrid fumes and is highly poisonous if swallowed, chlorine produces toxic chloramine gas. Hey, accidents could happen in a cleaning frenzy, so best to avoid these ingredients.

Spring is the perfect time to buy greener cleaners or mix your own. Do remember, though, to ventilate well and wear gloves as you work.

Glass and surface cleaners (including windows, mirrors)

For quick grime removal and sparkle, we recommend this easy all-purpose recipe: Mix ¼ cup white vinegar and a few drops of plant-based liquid soap with a quart of warm water. Shake in spray bottle, spritz and wipe with a clean rag.

Porcelain and tile

For more persistent dirt, a good D.I.Y. soft scrub is baking soda moistened with liquid soap and white vinegar. To toughen, add washing soda, a natural mineral product found in supermarket laundry aisles. Or, dip half a lemon in Borax, another mineral-based laundry cleaner, and rub the encrusted lemon face on tubs and tiles. Scents your bath with natural fragrance, too!

To buy, the following powders and soft scrubs work well and are healthily free of ammonia, chlorine, and potentially hormone-disrupting petrochemicals such as alkyphenol ethoxylates (APEs), phthalates (added to synthetic fragrances) and glycol ethers.

We also like the following companies because they freely list their active ingredients even though they are not required to disclose these so-called “trade secrets” by law. The Velvet Hammer, Ecover, Seventh Generation, Naturally Yours, and Bon Ami all-mineral scouring powder or soft scrub, found in most household supply and drug stores.

Mildew busters

Spray with a slightly stronger vinegar mixture, say, up to 1 cup with a quart of water and some liquid soap. Leave on for at least 2 hours, and wipe clean. Add baking soda for extra scouring. This removed four years’ worth of mildew on the "Honu" (green sea turtle) shower curtain with which our son will never part. Or use a vinegar-based product such as Eco Friendly Window Kleener, sold at drug and natural foods stores, or here.

The toilet bowl

Last but not least, the toilet can always benefit from a little brightening. A green chemist we know recommends a “two-step method”: Use a toilet bowl cleaner and brush to scrub off stains and mineral deposits with baking soda or one of the commercial powders or soft scrubs above: spray toilet seat, rim and lid with a cleaner containing hydrogen peroxide, let stand for five minutes, and wipe off with a sponge. Hydrogen peroxide, which is registered by the EPA as an antimicrobial pesticide—really, see for yourself!

That’s if you’re terribly worried about germs. In most cases, a wipedown with white vinegar should suffice for the lid and seat.

Now that your bathroom’s green and clean, treat yourself: Be the first to enjoy the facilities!