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Archive for October, 2007

I was really disappointed when – on Blog Action Day of all days – real life once again disrupted my usual posting schedule.  It has been a really crazy couple of days, so my entry is a depressing three days late, but I have been determined to post something about it anyway.

The official statistics from Blog Action Day have been released.  I encourage you to look at their full report – it’s very inspiring!

At the end of the day…

20,603 blogs had participated.
23,327 posts about the environment had been made as a result.
The posts reached an estimated RSS readership of 14,631,038 subscribers.

You can see the rest on their site.

I thought for a long time about what I should say about the environment in this post, and decided on something that Wikipedia apparently likes to call “environmental vegetarianism”.  It matters a lot to me, personally, because I consider myself one of those environmental vegetarians.  It wasn’t the reason why I first became a vegetarian, but since then, it’s become my most important motivation for remaining a vegetarian.

Most people don’t usually associate vegetarianism with being good for the environment – if the two are ever associated at all, it’s because of the stereotype of environmentalists as tree-hugging, animal-loving vegetarian hippies.  The truth is that not all vegetarians are in it for the animals, or even the ideology against eating meat.  Some people become vegetarians for the health benefits, religious reasons, economic reasons, ideologies against how animals are raised in farms, and, yes, concerns about the environment.  The latter will be my focus.

Here are just three environmental reasons to go vegetarian, or at least reduce the amount of meat in your diet:

1. Reduced consumption of fossil fuels and reduced greenhouse emissions.
Animal agriculture produces a shocking amount of greenhouse gases.  It’s been estimated to account for 17-20% of methane emissions worldwide, and ten times more fossil fuel is required to produce one calorie of animal protein than one calorie of plant protein.  Think of all the energy needed to build animal farms, raise the animals, all the pollution put out by the machines, and the emissions made from trucking their food supply and the livestock themselves from location to location.  According to this article, the energy that goes into producing a single hamburger could drive a small car twenty miles.  A 2006 study from the University of Chicago showed that the average American with an omnivorous diet caused the emissions of 1485 kg more carbon dioxide than their vegetarian counterparts.  Driving a hybrid car supposedly reduces your emissions by just over a ton – so going vegetarian or vegan is actually better for the environment, and tens of thousands of dollars cheaper!

2. More efficient distribution of land and food resources.
It’s no secret that the world has a resource distribution problem (what is that statistic people are always throwing around – the wealthiest 10% of people own 90% of the world’s resources or something?), but how much of that is due to meat production for first-world countries is disgusting.  This site claims that 44% of the world’s grain production goes towards feeding livestock.  The Wikipedia article gives more local statistics: 90% of soy production, 80% of corn production, and 70% of grain production goes to livestock in the US.  This is more of an ethical issue than an environmental one: how much of the food that goes to feed our future hamburgers could go to feed the millions in the world that are starving?

Land use and distribution is another concern of animal agriculture.  Animal agriculture, not logging, is the number one cause of deforestation in the world.  According a study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture accounts for 90% of deforestation – this vegetarian site gives only 70%.  Either way, that is certainly not good for the environment.  This article claims that 55 square feet of rainforest is destroyed for every hamburger that is imported from Central/South America.  Consider the dark side of McDonald’s claims of however many billion they’ve served.


3. More efficient use of drinking water.

Think about how much of the world’s water is drinkable (3%) and how many people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water (27%), and then know that producing 1kg of animal protein uses about a hundred times more water than producing 1kg of plant protein.  On this site, which seems to be full of interesting examples, they say that the amount of water needed to produce one hamburger could supply enough water for you to have a “luxurious” shower every day for two and a half weeks.  That’s a lot of clean water wasted – and I won’t even get into the chemicals and waste products of animal agriculture that pollute the water supply every day.  To paraphrase all the articles on the subject: it’s just not good for the environment.

Since humans can clearly live a healthy (sometimes healthier) life without needing to eat meat, why are we wasting so much on animal agriculture?  What do we get out of it – a nice taste?  Cheap, questionably-produced fast food?  Nutrients that we can now get elsewhere?  If you live in the West, it’s easier than ever to become a vegetarian.  The more I talk to older vegetarians, the more I realize how spoiled the vegetarians of today are.  If you’re so inclined, you can replace every meat item in your diet with a vegetarian substitute that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing, if you know where to look.

Even just reducing the amount of meat in one’s diet can have a positive effect on the environment.  It may not seem like reducing it by say, 10%, could do much to save the environment, but what if ten people did the same thing?  That’s 1485 kg less carbon dioxide emitted right there.  But what if it was twenty people?  Fifty?  A small city’s worth of people?  The whole US – reducing by just 10%?  What if some reduced it further and stamped it out of their diet altogether?

I don’t need a calculator to tell you that that’s a whole lot of carbon, rainforest, and water saved.

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First of all, I’d like to announce my participation in Blog Action Day this coming Monday!
Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day
On “Blog Action Day”, October 15, thousands of bloggers will post about one topic – the environment – in many different ways. In the site’s last stats announcement, more than 12,000 blogs have been registered to participate, with a combined total of more than 11 million readers! If you want to include your blog, the banner on the right is linked to the site.

Speaking of the environment, pause for a brief thumbs-up to the IPCC and Al Gore for the Nobel Peace Prize!

And now I redirect back to my topic.

If you haven’t already done so, please read Gifted labeling: a force for good and evil, Part 1. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it helps to understand the controversy.

Here are my own thoughts on the matter:

I think that what being labeled “gifted” does for a student is separate intelligence from grades in their mind. This can be a force for good or for evil (hence the title) depending on how the student uses this information. The reason I used the flip of a coin to describe it before – it’s not actually that great of an analogy – is that there are typically two alternate results, both being “different sides of the same coin.” That’s why both good and bad results have been observed from informing kids of their giftedness, because it could easily go either way.

Result 1
We’ll start with the good result: the student is happier, or at least has a higher self-esteem after being told. There’s now a reason behind their always feeling different. If their identification means placement in a gifted program, there’s a chance for them to learn about themselves and meet other people like them – which is important for any gifted student. I can say that for myself and all the other gifted kids I knew at the time, being pulled out for the gifted program was the best part of our day, if only because we could hang out together and talk about things that other kids thought were weird. Almost like a support group.

For underachieving gifted students, being identified can be even more important. The separation of smarts from grades means that bad marks reflect their work habits, not intelligence. In means higher self-esteem and in some cases higher achievement, if they realize that they are capable of better if they tried for it. Again, placement in a gifted program should be ideal. Being surrounded by people like themselves can work wonders.

Result 2
The less desirable one: separation of grades and intelligence gives gifted students a new reason to slack off and be snarky about it. For this group, it means that there isn’t a reason to worry about grades anymore. If they really are as naturally gifted as everyone seems to think they are, they’ll do just fine, no need to sweat for anything. Additionally, knowledge of having a higher IQ than roughly 98% of the population (the traditional IQ-based definition of giftedness) will definitely inflate some egos and may create some precocious brats out of this group. Sometimes these people turn around in later life, sometimes they don’t. Their futures are much more uncertain than those of Result 1.

Sometimes, when identification doesn’t mean inclusion in an adequate gifted program or any program at all, students that might otherwise have been happy R1s can develop the traits of this other group. It’s not easy being a gifted kid with no one to talk to, and the lack of a support group might cause them to lose their motivation to achieve. That’s not always the case, but it happens, and with alarming frequency. Few gifted kids actually grow up into gifted adults.

Both of these results are the same sides of a single coin: the separation of intelligence from grades that being labeled “gifted” causes in one’s head. Calling them “results” might be inaccurate, because one can turn into the other over time… a better word might be “paths”. In the end simply telling a student that they’re gifted can change things for better or for worse. Regardless, I think kids should always be told of their giftedness anyway. It’s their right to know, and isn’t it worth it for the chance of making things better?

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When I started to write this, I realized that I wanted to say more than could fit in a single post. So, instead of trying to cram it in, I’ve divided it into two parts, the second of which will be posted on Wednesday or Thursday night. This first part will be mostly an introduction.

That said, there’s some controversy in the world of gifted education about whether or not to tell kids if they are gifted. The most mainstream article on the subject is Po Bronson’s in New York Magazine, The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids. It doesn’t explicitly mention an application with gifted kids other than the introduction, but it might as well. Even more recently, a Washington Post article, Labels Aren’t What Kids Need, takes the same stance and even cites the same Mindset theories of Carol Dweck. Both of these are against telling kids that they’re smart/gifted. On the pro side, Hoagies’ Gifted has the article Should we tell them they’re gifted?. Both the pro and con arguments are equally intriguing, and I highly recommend reading the articles linked – they’re not just applicable for gifted kids.

From the Washington Post article:

“What most parents don’t realize is that the gifted label can harm not only those who don’t receive it, but also those who do. Labeling can create what Stanford University psychology professor Carol Dweck calls a ‘fixed’ mindset of intelligence — the belief that your intelligence is set in stone… In 1998, Dweck conducted an experiment in which she gave two evenly matched groups of elementary school kids the same nonverbal IQ test. When one group of children did well, they were told that they must have worked very hard to get their results. The students in the other group, meanwhile, were told that they must be very smart to have done so well.

Dweck found that as time went on, the kids who were told that they were smart ‘fell apart when they hit a challenge. They lost confidence in their abilities. Their motivation dwindled and their performance on the next IQ test dropped.’ By contrast, the children in the group praised for working hard tended to seek out challenges and persist at difficult tasks and ultimately learned more.”

…suggesting that telling children of their giftedness will discourage them from seeking out challenging situations and taking risks. Po Bronson’s article goes more in depth about the study, and Dweck concludes: “When we praise children for their intelligence… we tell them that this is the name of the game: Look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” Kids told that they are gifted will apparently try and keep up their “smart” image by doing the minimum amount required, no more.

On the other hand, the Hoagies’ Gifted article approaches it from a completely different angle:

“What are you going to tell your daughter when she comes to you in tears, saying that the other kids are all mean to her because they won’t talk to her? It’s not that unusual for a gifted 3 to 6 year old to have a good working vocabulary that is 5, 10, or 20 times larger than the vocabulary of a ‘normal’ child the same age. They won’t talk to her because they can’t, they literally don’t know 80-95% of the words. Without discussing her exceptional abilities, how are you going to explain that to her?

It isn’t a question of feeling different – gifted kids know that they’re different – it’s a question of how they feel about being different. If adults treat that difference as something to be hidden, the intellectually gifted child will learn that intellectual gifts are shameful and intellectual ability is to be hidden from others like a dirty secret. Since it is a central part of the way they experience the world, they will learn to think of themselves as defective and shameful, and grow up profoundly ambivalent about themselves and about being successful.”

This one tackles the child’s emotional and psychological well-being, which I think is much more important than achievement. There are too many case studies I’ve read of people who’ve gone through most of their lives – or at least adolescence and college – before they realized they were gifted, and thought, “That explains everything.” And if only they’d known, maybe they wouldn’t have always thought there was something wrong with them, tried to develop it, and have done something with it instead of wondering what was wrong.

Optimally, we want gifted kids to grow up with both a work ethic and a healthy psyche; to be iconoclastic and challenge-seeking, but also at peace with themselves and their differences. Fantastic idea, but likely unfeasible in our lifetimes. Getting around the political incorrectness of admitting some students can be gifted long enough to think of tackling their problems on a wider scale is far enough away on its own.

And that’s your quick introduction – stay tuned for part 2: why giving the gifted label is like flipping a coin (but not really)!

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My impromptu vacation

Yes, I seem to have taken an impromptu vacation for the last month and a half!

It was completely unintended, but I have missed writing here so much. Since my last post (in August, wow), there’s been a little voice in the back of my head telling me that I should really sit down and write again. Then instead of my own inner voice, it was Dave Truss saying (sort of) the same thing to me, and I thought, okay, it’s time to actually cut some time out of my day and my week to start blogging again.

So. Regarding myself and the future of Wandering Ink

1. Wandering Ink‘s original update schedule of Mondays and Fridays will return starting on this coming Sunday or Tuesday night. This Monday is the Canadian Thanksgiving, and I probably won’t be home from visiting relatives in time to post something.

2. Weekend Readings will return as Weekly Readings on Wednesdays. I still haven’t decided whether it should be every week or alternating weeks, but I suppose that it could be flexible depending on how prolific I am with my link-finding over the week.

3. You may or may not have noticed that my name is now listed as “Kris Bradburn” instead of just “Kris”. It’s a pen name, but close enough to my real name that it doesn’t really matter. (Bradburn is my mother’s maiden name.)

4. One of the new things I’d to try on this blog is writing about topics picked by others. So, I’d like to start taking some requests. If you have any topic that you’d like to see here, please suggest it in the comments and I’ll write a post about it. If you have a website or blog you’d like me to link to, please include that as well, so I can give credit back where credit is due!

I hope that you all enjoy these new changes. I’m very pleased to be back!

And, there’s one more thing – John at the Jig-Saw History Blog tagged me for the “8 Random Facts” meme way back on my latest (ha) post, and I’ve very rudely put off posting it. So here it is…

The Rules

1. Post these rules before you give your facts.
2. List 8 random facts about yourself.
3. At the end of your post, tag 8 people and list their names, linking to them.
4. Leave a comment on their blog to let them know they’ve been tagged.

8 Random Facts About Me

1. My parents originally planned to name me Holly, because I was due around Christmas.

2. Back when she was popular, I was infamous among my classmates for sharing a birthday with Britney Spears. I wish I was lying.

3. By some strange coincidence, four members of my maternal family that were raised apart – my grandmother, my grandfather, my step-grandfather, and my uncle-to-be – majored in Economics with a minor in Political Science.

4. My grandfather (maternal) lives in Berlin. I have only met him once, when I was almost too young to remember it.

5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is my favorite book of all time, and Ivan Karamazov of the same is my favorite fictional character.

6. I am one of those people whose Western zodiac sign (Sagittarius) describes them almost perfectly.

7. I’m addicted to science podcasts.

8. I can read and write in Chinese faster than I can read and write in English, but I can’t form a single sentence orally without notes nor comprehend what is being said to me in that language.

Tagged

I’m not quite sure. If you read this and own a blog – consider yourself tagged right now! Yes, that means you. No, I’m serious. It does.

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