Digging a Hole

Monday, March 30, 2009

Why We Fight

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This weekend, Eric and I decided to plan a camping and fishing trip to the Pine Barrens (also known as the "Pinelands", but I like the Barrens better). The Pine Barrens is a massive tract of land sandwiched between the Turnpike and the Parkway. At times, it has been considered for the site of a SUPER AIRPORT to serve Philly and NYC (conveniently located equally inconveniently from either city), a SUPER HIGHWAY to parallel the Turnpike, and a SUPER AQUIFER to quench the thirst of Pennsylvania. Luckily, a combination of features including its tendency to light on fire and its reputation for being the home of lost tribes of back country (true) inbred (false) homesteaders have kept most development at bay. Today, the vast tract of land is a preserve.

Whenever you plan a fishing trip in NJ (or anywhere for that matter), it's not a bad idea to check the local environmental warnings to make sure the fish you catch are safe to eat. For example, at the mouth of the Passaic River in Newark, there are a lot of delicious crabs. There is also a lot of dioxin. For this reason, studies have concluded that consuming blue claws in Newark Bay carries up to a 100% risk of cancer. Wow.

Most people know that Newark Bay is a bad place to catch dinner (except the many immigrants who supplement family meals with fresh catches, oops), but most people also assume that unspoiled natural spaces should be safe. That is why Eric and I were very surprised when we learned that I, as a woman who might ever have children, can not eat anything I catch in the Pine Barrens except sunfish. I can not eat anything I catch in the Delaware Bay, where my parents live, except one fluke or one weakfish per month. What is in these bodies of water? Mercury. Mercury from trash incineration and coal-burning power plants. Mercury is not good for the children I might one day decide to have.
I am furious.
Some people don't want wind farms on bodies of water because they might disrupt fishing. My fishing is already disrupted.

To Read the Newark Bay Study and Other Studies of Jersey Fish:

Monday, March 16, 2009

A Day at the Statehouse

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Extremely important legislation passed the NJ Senate and Assembly today with nary an objection from either party. The bill privatizes NJ's site remediation program (and we have a lot of sites to remediate) by handing the oversight of toxic site cleanups to private professionals hired and paid for by the polluters themselves. The Department of Environmental Protection used to oversee site remediation, but it has had its staff cut so many times and been so underfunded that the task is impossible.
"But Kerry," you inquire, "Isn't NJ broke? Like really broke? Like broke-ass California broke? How could the DEP be funded?"
I'm so glad you asked. Believe it or not, the state of NJ has rules. Apparently, when a polluter breaks those rules, they get a fine. Unfortunately, we don't do a very good job of making sure that the polluters actually pay their fines, but if we did, we could fund our DEP. Cool, right? It sounded cool to the vast majority of Jerseyans I have talked to.
KPd.: "We have a reputation as a place to dump things without getting in trouble... Like bodies. Please write a letter to your state legislators."
Contact: "Gross."
So, after thousands of letters, emails, and phone calls to Trenton, the bill came up for a vote today. Our lobbyist recruited some canvassers to come down and help him... well... lobby... so we did.
Lobby days are hilarious and crazy and at the end of the day you always wonder, "Did we accomplish anything?" but our lobbyist has assured us that when the canvassers storm the hallways of the State House, legislators take notice. They know we are with him and they know that we are relatively young and they know that we have not a clue what we are doing or where we are walking. Apparently, that warms their hearts and other lobbyists will approach him to complement his personal army when they all hang out at the State House cafeteria.
So, here is how lobbying works:
1) You need a legislative face book. Legislators don't want just any citizen to know who they are. They certainly don't wear name tags. Fortunately, you can pick up a complementary copy of a book of faces and names to help you spot legislators in a crowd. It's like a field guide.
2) You need a map. NJ's State House is conveniently split into The State House, the Annex, and the "South Wing" (which I don't think was real, but whenever we asked someone for directions they would say, "oh, you're in the South Wing, you *want* to be in the Annex" in a very condescending way). The laws of physics in the State House work a lot like the way they work in Donkey Kong. No matter which direction you walk, you end up in the basement of the Annex next to an elevator that only goes... for serious... down to the sub basement. There is a sign that reads, "For additional floors, use the lobby elevator." Where the fuck is the lobby?!
3) You need to spot a legislator. Legislators do not wear name tags (even though they would be waaaaay cheaper to produce than thousands of legislative face books). That is because they only want professional lobbyists to find them. The strategy for amateur lobbyists is to park yourself outside of a room that you know a particular legislator is hiding in... kind of like hiding in a bird blind. Whenever a person comes out of the room, you look to see if they are wearing a "visitor" badge. If not, they are either a legislator (!) or an aide (oops). Once you ascertain their legislatoryness, you quickly flip through the 120 faces in the face book. Much like the game Guess Who, it helps if they have a distinguishing feature like say... they're a woman... or...they're black. That narrows it down a lot. I bet black female legislators get approached by amateur lobbyists way more frequently than the Italian white men (who make up approximately all of the NJ legislature).
4) You need to be the fastest amateur lobbyist. Once you have successfully found the right room, spotted a legislator, and identified him or her, you must beat the other six people with face books to your 60 seconds of face time. Today, we were competing with gas station attendants, bow hunters, a ton of union employees, twenty-odd fire chiefs, and several Catholic schools. Obviously, in addition to our site remediation bill, they voted on other important things including two (2!!) bow hunting bills.
5) Oh, also, every Grand Marshall from every St. Patrick's Day parade in NJ was there to be... I think... certified...? Maybe? This resulted in several parades WITH bagpipers IN the hallways. So, to recap, after locating the correct building, finding a legislator, identifying him or her, beating the bow-armed gas station attendants to said legislator, and finally beginning the 60 second conversation you worked so hard for... a bagpipe parade passes by. I don't know if you have ever heard bagpipers indoors, but I'll just say they effectively end any conversation.
I did lobby and was lobbied by several other amateur lobbyists. I met a few State Senators and got my few moments of face time. I peed in the Assembly Democrats' caucus lounge. We lost our vote like a billion to 3.
The canvassers lobbied one of those three.
I heard he would have voted the right way anyhoo, but I'd like to think we helped.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Irish Marketing

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The Irish are extremely popular in America (though it wasn't always that way). The prevalence of Irish imagery in advertising and culture hits a peak, though, every time St. Patrick's Day rolls around...
Every twelve months or so, Irish Springs soap bars advertise their existence. In the most recent example of this advertising, blue-eyed girls in some sort of conglomeration of European traditional dress saunter through a field of green before being flushed down a magic drain filled with Irish Springs soap. A narrator with an Irish accent only believable to those who hang leprechauns outside their house every March describes the wonders of the soap while flute music bounces in the background. I'm not entirely sure what makes Irish Springs soap Irish other than the fact that it is dyed green.
I haven't watched children's television in a while, but I imagine that Lucky Charms are still represented by a leprechaun who has trouble with possessive pronouns. ("They've stolen me lucky charms!") In addition to his pot of gold, Lucky can't do without his red balloons which of course stem from the Irish tradition of.. um.. ballooning...? Lucky Charms cereal is definitely not part of a traditional Irish breakfast. To make Lucky Charms a more accurate representation of an Irish morning, you would need marshmallows shaped like bacon, baked beans, and various meat puddings. Also, ditch the leprechaun.
As I have knocked on doors the past few days, I have seen posters and stickers of mugs of beer, goofy looking leprechauns, and rainbows (which I honestly mistook for a political statement like, "I support Irish people and gay rights!...and beer!" but I was wrong). All I can say is I hope middle-America never decides to "celebrate" Black History Month by hanging posters of ethnic and racial stereotypes.
Oh, and green beer. What the hell?

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

No Line on the Horizon

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Way back when, when I started this blog, there was a new U2 album coming out, and there was no such thing as a tweet. Today, I joined my mom for a music ritual that few people still celebrate: the purchase of a physical album that you've been waiting for for years. I could have downloaded it on iTunes. Heck, I could have stolen it off the internet a week ago. Kevin pointed out though, "I know you can hear it all over the web right now, but it's more fun waiting for the radio to release a track every once in a while and then going to buy it!"
The album has been officially on sale since midnight, so my mom and I were already running behind. There really aren't record/cd stores anymore that I know of, so we settled for a Barnes and Nobles. The guy behind the register looked confused when we plopped three copies of the same record on the counter. Didn't we know that we could burn copies? Over coffee, we slowly peeled open the plastic on the outer cover and wrestled with the security stickers (I have broken more jewel cases because of those...). The packaging included a transparent equal sign that gets thrown away with the outer plastic. Why did U2 put that there? An iTunes customer will never know to wonder. We opened the lyric books and flipped through. My mom commented on some lines that she loved. When we got to the car, we popped the copy in and savored the moment of the first listen. "This reminds me of this song." "Remember when dad played that one song on repeat?" "Oh, that chord was perfect."
I know that the tactile experience of a cd pales in comparison to the tactile feel of vinyl, and for that matter, before recorded music, you had to experience all music live and in person, so really, the end of the album shouldn't really be that sad. But I prefer holding the newspaper and coffee in my backyard to reading the Huffington Post on a laptop, and I actually love having a crate of music to flip through rather than a spin dial on a hand-held device.

Oh, and the record kicks arse.

Thanks mom!