29 December 2005

Another Externality, better known as Daughter, Sister, Wife, and Friend

On Christmas night a 31 year old woman died of cancer. I knew her. I hadn’t seen her in at least 15 years, but she was my neighbor growing up. I was a couple of years older than her and didn’t attend the same school, but we saw each other often in our condominium complex and played together sometimes, as did all the kids growing up in our little community microcosm. I remember her even as a child being a bright, intelligent girl and talented actor. By all accounts, she remained much the same as an adult. She should still be here, finishing off at least another half a century on the planet. Instead, she has become another corporate externality.

How does a woman who only spent three decades on earth become ravaged with terminal cancer? Just a stroke of bad luck, a curse from the heavens, faulty inherited genes? Those seem the only explanations we even venture to suggest, if we even seek explanations at all. Aren’t they simple, easy, convenient? And TOTAL B.S.!

In the past few years, cancer has touched upon my life a number of times. My father was diagnosed and treated, my dear friend has been battling it for far too long, another former neighbor recently underwent surgery and her first round of chemotherapy. CS lost his uncle to cancer at the age of 57. This “disease” is an epidemic! These people do not represent cases of inheritance or misfortune; they are victims of toxic, carcinogenic living conditions that we chose to ignore and expect, and of corporate irresponsibility and neglect. We should be holding those responsible accountable for what they have done to our lives and our planet, and trying to reverse and eliminate their effects. Instead, we seek panaceas and buy silastic bracelets. We need a change of paradigm in the case of cancer.

Since the industrial revolution and the introduction of synthetic chemicals in the early 1900’s, cancer rates simply SOARED. Though some naturally occurring chemicals are known carcinogens, synthetic chemicals bombarded our bodies with mutagenic agents that our cells did not recognize. Pesticides, herbicides, cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, detergents, cleansing agents, plastics. Most of the products that we use without question every day contain at least minimal traces of carcinogens. The particulates in our air from industry and especially automobiles do immeasurable damage as they pass through our cell membranes into our nuclei, where they are able to affect our DNA. Our water is replete with fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture as well as from manufacturing. Carcinogens like perchlorate (from the offense industry) and chromium 6, not to mention mercury have seeped into nearly every waterway in the country. There even exists great evidence that microwave ovens and cell phones promote tumor growth. Due to our constant exposure over the past 5 or 6 decades, we carry many of these chemicals, in absurdly dangerous levels, right in our bloodstreams. Couple all that with the fact that our diets have diminished amounts of nutrients due to our reliance on overly processed food products and beverages, and we have little chance to combat the assault. Our own immune system cannot function in its normal capacity to rid our bodies of cancer cells before they grow into a tumor and metastasize. Every second of our lives we receive an onslaught from all directions of known cancer causing agents, so we will likely have an extremely difficult time linking cause and effect to just one of these many chemicals we encounter daily in our particular environment.

Despite all of this evidence, some scientists still insist, and the rest of us gladly believe, that cancer is hereditary. First of all, even if cancer can be linked to supposed faulty genes, it is highly probable that these genes were originally intact, then became yet another byproduct of mutagenic agents in the environment. In addition, the supposed “cancer genes” that have been discovered only occur in a minimal percentage of people who contract the cancer. Of the women who have breast cancer, 95% of them DO NOT have the supposed breast cancer genes. This being the case, it seems absurd to focus on that connection at all. The reason for the great attention to genes and heredity is to enable multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies to capitalize on genetic counseling and gene therapy (a dubious venture). And by spotlighting cancer medicine rather than cancer prevention, corporations evade blame and exponentially win. They do not face any consequences for providing the lethal environments that promote human cancers, and they profit from the expensive, often highly painful therapies (ALL of which are cancer-causing themselves)!

Certainly, anyone who has unfortunately contracted cancer needs help and hope to fight it. However, our best bet on battling cancer may be in elimination rather than addition. In lieu of barraging our bodies with treatments that WEAKEN our immune system and potentially cause cancer themselves, we should focus on STRENGHTENING our immune system. Eliminating all superfluous non-nutritious foods and as many products with synthetic chemicals as possible is a good start for both cancer prevention and reversal. In fact, elimination of all food via a water fast can be a great therapy in which your body utilizes its own resources to expel toxins.

That a life is cut short at the age of 31 is horrendous beyond comprehension. That many corporations actually benefit (over and over again) by the deaths of those we love is unfathomable! We need to address cancer as the avoidable, preventable, environmentally induced syndrome that it is. We need to hold companies responsible for their products. We must stop letting a person we know become another corporate externality when those that loved her will miss her forever as a daughter, sister, wife, and friend.

28 December 2005

This is a POSITIVE Post

No need to cover the begonias in Hell. We’re still curmudgeons, so we’ll likely find things to complain about, but yes, something non-awful happened to us, even rather anti-discouraging.

As we’ve observed before, there are plenty of things down here that have been disappointing. Nature is all owned, whether it is for grazing, tree farms, or just to cordon off animals and slap a price tag on them. We had imagined a lot of virgin territory ripe with native bush, but those corners are far rarer than we had hoped. The teacher shortage is mythical, it seems, so CS still has no employment, though brands have been thrust to flame. The Kate Sheppard precedent hasn’t kept women from being oppressed by knuckleheads. We even witnessed domestic abuse as we were strolling through a wee neighborhood in Kaikoura. (A woman staggered past us with a bloody face and she said “I just got kicked out of me home. No worries.” Later the police showed up.)

HOWEVER, yes, one thing that has proved to be very true, indeed, is that we have encountered such friendly, laid-back, helpful, even ETHICAL people. This is a definite improvement over life in the U.S. Friends and family back home, upon hearing this, seem a little defensive, saying that people in _____ (their city) are nice like that, too, and that Los Angeles was just a ghastly, dreadful place, and that we are simply reacting to THAT hellhole. OK, well, the L.A. part is quite true. It certainly is a parody of a cesspool, a paragon of misbehavior, no argument. But still, we’ve never seen any people cut through bureaucracy and make us feel welcome like the people here. Sure, nice people exist in the States, but would a stranger in a money-making situation in the U.S. give up that opportunity just to be a good person? Watch it. Your nose will grow if you say yes to that.

We’ve been processing all kinds of paperwork down here in Kiwiland. In an effort to send off CS’s Teacher Registration, so he can legally obtain employment (this is separate from credential verification and any immigration processes) he had to put together nineteen documents and have them all certified before sending them off to the head office in Wellington.

K gathered information on notaries, all of them law offices, and CS called them. Most were on holiday till 4 January, 2006, but one office was open with their notary on hand. The receptionist (a woman, of course, just like in every other country—that’s the sound of Kate Sheppard sighing in her grave) connected CS directly with the notary, Mr. Nolan. He said that the notary service costs forty-five dollars per page, but that he is used to processing just a page or two for people. He offered to do the lot for a hundred bucks. This is about what it would cost in the States. Things, generally, aren’t cheaper here than in the States (except salaries), and some things, like furniture, are maw-gapingly expensive. (We saw a cheaply made office chair yesterday for $800 dollars. I’m still grappling with that one.)

So we made the appointment with Mr. Nolan for 2:30 that same day (you heard right) and we collated and copied documents at the library, then walked downtown. Mr. Nolan said his office was a block and half from the cathedral in the center of Christchurch—a beautiful structure, but you have to pay to step foot inside—and that it was on the Avon River, which snakes elegantly through town. Since the address indicated that it exists on the ninth floor of a building, we proceeded to the only possible candidate.

Once there, we were sent right in. Mr. Nolan, looked at the instruction that the Teacher’s Council had given me (they wanted every page to say a particular thing—a tedious lot, the Teacher’s Council) and then Mr. Nolan said:

“Well, it says here you can use a notary, but that you can also use a solicitor. I can do that for free.”

I sort of panicked then. Kind of like what a person does when an alien with twelve tentacles, seven eyes, and seventeen testicles appears in front of him and asks to be led to Bill Gates. All I thought to say was “Why would you want to do something like that?” I’m not sure if that was a rude comment, or just kind of silly, but I simply couldn’t fathom any lawyer anywhere saying to me, in his own office on a work day, that they would do something, anything, for free.

“Well,” he replied, “the holiday spirit and all that, you know?” He just smiled then and looked through my papers, saw that they were in order, then popped out to process them. He came back five minutes later with that correct wording printed on the back of each page of the copies, then he signed each page in front of us. He handed me the packet, shook my hand, and sent me on my way. All of it free of charge. Not a bloody cent, mate!

I’m still not elated about this. I’m too busy being bewildered for that. Our neighbor and landlady, Jodie, had us over for some fresh juice and a couple of hands of cards last night (we rather enjoy her and her boyfriend, Barry) and when I told her this story, she said “Well, some lawyers will give you the first service for free so you come back.” Then Barry quipped “So then, next time, you can go to the next law office and get their free service,” as a rebuttal, I think.

I still don’t know what the explanation is for why the solicitor did that work for free, but it is a pattern here in NZ. You folks in the States may live in a beautiful, albeit polluted, place with frogs and bats and an abundance of wild bunnies (we miss wildlife SO MUCH) but I challenge any American to find a lawyer that will work for free, or an immigration officer that will resurrect your paperwork from the dead, or a landlady that will allow you to pay your rent a week late as you scramble to get money wired, and then have you over for potluck and cards. No, it’s a pattern. It’s different here.

Other stuff still bugs us, though.

23 December 2005

Merry Christmas!!

Here’s to you and yours on this day of gluttony and excess! May the bows and packaging of blatant consumerism be reflected in our landfills for generations to come as we blindly celebrate in a tradition created for us by all the corporate entities that make America and all other “first” nations the plunderers that we are! May our laughter and cheer drown out all the cries of suffering around the world induced by our outrageously affluent lifestyles! Let the “third” world feel the digging of our heels into their backs as we buy cheap goods made possible by such practices as child labor, slave labor, and sweatshops around the world set up by the likes of Wal-Mart, K-Mart, JC Penney, The Gap, and many other of our favorite stores! Rejoice! For Jesus Christ would have wanted it that way! For certainly he was being ironic when he said such things as “The meek shall inherit the Earth” and “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of needle than it is for a rich man to pass through the gates of heaven!”

And here’s to a wonderful new year, one rife with the drudgery of the workplace that we chain ourselves to, despising every instant, just so we can gain enough purchasing power to buy the latest gizmo we are convinced we need, adding yet another created want to the heap, creating more waste, demanding more of our time, and consuming all our energies so we are totally unable to enter or maintain enduring relationships with our loved ones! Way to go, America! Your lifestyle stands out as a shining standard that all nations on Earth wish to emulate, ensuring the mutual and utter devastation of the planet due to air pollution, ground pollution, water pollution, destruction of natural resources, and the obliteration of all living systems on the planet! Keep up that denial and self-absorbed attitude! You will need that, since the worst is yet to come! God bless America!

Tree Hugging

Ah, Christmas. The time of year when we decapitate a member of one of five kingdoms of life on earth to put it in our house though it belongs outside. (Unfortunately, I have been guilty of such slaughter in the past.) Such good common sense we have. And such a respect for nature/God/_____ (take your pick or insert your own). Well, New Zealanders follow this common practice too, and they may have an even easier time doing so.

Guess what is one of the most common farms found in New Zealand? It is not one that raises livestock or grows crops. It is a tree farm.

From the moment we began driving around the country, we discovered patches of mountain with evenly spread trees of identical species at identical heights of growth. Then we discovered clearcut patches of these same mountains. Then we saw these words: Tree Farm.

Apparently, New Zealand sets aside acres upon acres of land to farm pine trees. These are not trees for use at Christmas, but trees grown for the ever increasing WANT of new timber. The land utilized is old pasture that is extremely fertile, so it grows these trees at a rate nearly double that in the U.S. or Canada. And guess whose timber companies have set up shop here?

Though the prospect of growing trees to farm is a slightly more sustainable notion than clearcutting the old growth forests that millions of species make their habitat and call home, there are still vital ecological health concerns. There is the major problem of erosion, which among other things, ends in polluting lakes and rivers with the fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides used in the soil. More ills include blight due to overpopulation with a single species, ecosystem disruption and dissolution, and just plain exploitation of natural resources. Not to mention a clearcut mountain is a sore sight to see. I think we humans often forget that when something looks all wrong and feels all wrong that is usually because it is all wrong. We do have instincts, though we rarely use them.

22 December 2005

Strike Out

I’m still sore about all of the “news” spewing from the mouths of the rich and powerful about the NY transit strike. For a multimillionaire financier to call low wage workers “selfish” or “thugish” is horrendous. Wonder how he made his bucks.

It is a well known fact that the disparity between rich and poor is ever increasing in America. The wealthiest people in America have more and more control, more and more money, and pay fewer and fewer taxes. Mayor Bloomberg has some nerve complaining about people who want a decent living for themselves and their family. People are biting themselves in the arse by not supporting strikers. Some people on the street are complaining that the transit workers should just “take what they can get” because they have it better than a lot of others. That’s not the point. No one should be relegated to take only the minimum of their worth. That’s precisely why everyone is struggling so much except the wealthiest 10 ro 20% of the country.

The argument that the transit strikers are being selfish and flippant in their decision to go forward with the strike just does not ring true. The Los Angeles Unified School District has given its teachers a 3% pay increase in the last three years. This does not even come close to reflecting inflation rates in Los Angeles, one of the cities in America with the highest cost of living. LAUSD has also been threatening to chip away at health and other benefits now enjoyed by its staff. Over and over again this particular school district violates teachers’ rights and the teachers’ union makes more and more concessions, yet the teachers refuse to strike. When the topic is brought up, teachers always worry about the practicality of not having their income, etc. This despite the fact that teachers pay hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars a year to pay for basic necessities for their classrooms not provided by the schools.

Strikes are NOT entered into lightly. Most people DO NOT want to strike, and fear for their financial safety and security when doing so. Strikers are brave people who are fighting for not only their own rights but the rights of fellow workers in all segments of society. Calling them selfish is a spurious comment.

If I didn’t make it clear before, this strike, as all strikes, is going to set precedents for all workers in America. Strikes are SUPPOSED to inconvenience people. They are SUPPOSED to make things difficult. That is how people realize the importance of the strikers and their work. The more that the less powerful concede to those in power (such as choosing Kerry as the lesser of two evil politicians rather than choosing a non-partisan selfless hero who’d actually help people), the fewer rights and privileges we are all going to have. Some democracy.

21 December 2005

Strike Three

Since arriving in New Zealand nearly two months ago, I have witnessed two service worker strikes, and soon to be a third. In the first, KFC workers were demanding fair and equal wages for all employees. Apparently, in New Zealand, there exists a practice of paying teenagers less than their adult counterparts for the same union job. I guess the employer takes it upon himself to determine who needs more money and why, and finds a way to curb even more spending that way by reducing already low wages for those he sees as the need-nots. I suppose that is better than in America, where most fast food employees are neither in unions nor teenagers making extra spending cash, but underprivileged people looking for simple livelihood. Or even overqualified, more privileged people who have run out of alternatives to make a living other than in the service sector. There is no way to do this working at McDonald’s or Starbucks. Regardless, just as with the worst transgressor, Wal-Mart, union upstarts are being squelched before any seeds can even be planted in America. Here in New Zealand, unions are more powerful and people seem to be allowed to fight for their right to work their asses off at an unglamorous, inglorious, unwanted job and at least be out of poverty. Thus followed the world’s first Starbuck’s strike in Auckland in November.

There also exists an ethical consciousness among workers in New Zealand. Far from the “it’s just business” attitude that leads neighbors to constantly screw each other in America, New Zealanders seem to give a damn. Here, we are on the eve of a strike of national workers at a bank called Wetspac. Their complaint? Pressure to lend money to people who already have huge debts. Tellers say that their pay is reduced if they do not meet targets to sell credit, so they are forced to try to convince customers to borrow as much as possible. The workers call it an ethical dilemma. Regardless of whether or not these workers are simply utilizing the fact of this commission-based practice as an excuse to receive fair wages, when are ethics ever brought up in American business discourse? I don’t even think union workers in America could come up with the “ethical dilemma” excuse if they wanted to, because those kinds of dilemmas rarely cross the mind of the average American worker (or employer). (Those brave corporate whistleblowers notwithstanding.) I look forward to following this story.

In the meantime, I hear news of the transit strike in New York. Far from the “liberal media” showing bias toward the unheralded working class, or worrying about the increasing loss of health care and retirement packages by most working Americans, the slant in the news from the AP is that the workers are inconveniencing the transit riders and Christmas tourists. And the transit union is being fined a million dollars a day for standing up for their rights to be treated as productive members of society (and more necessary members than most of the people doing all of the complaining and earning all of the money)? So, now it is illegal for workers to strike? And America is not fast becoming a fascist regime? This totalitarian style of U.S. capitalist control, which is clearly seeping into public organizations, since corporations own the government, is not unlike Soviet style communism. That worked well for the people, huh? Frankly, it’s appalling to see. I think of my grandfather who worked for years as a union electrician in New York City. He loved his union and he loved the opportunities he was afforded in America. Sorry Poppop, those days are no more.

19 December 2005

Health Authority

As part of my application for residency in New Zealand, I am required to have a physician examine my pee (among other things), have a chest X-ray to ensure that I contract cancer within my lifetime due to unnecessary exposure to X-rays, and have a battery of blood tests, all of which cost many hundreds of dollars. (Hooray! The economy is growing! The economy is growing!)

I hate doing these tests for many reasons, the most important of which is this: health authorities tell us nothing about our health except for the things they look for.

Sounds stupid, I know. When I think about that statement, though, so many things strike me about

• How we place our trust in authorities of all kinds rather than in our own, presumably good, judgment
• How arbitrary the criteria is for determining our health
• How the sway of popular paradigms in our culture affects that criteria
• The anti-critical thinking that makes up our medical establishment
• And of course the corporate influences of medicine.

As for the first of these things, so many times my points have been rebutted with “Well, how do you know? You’re not a ______ (fill in blank with authority of your choosing).” In our present culture, logic, research, and experience are meaningless unless a particular title or certificate or degree or secret tattoo is affixed to us by an external agency. We have handed over all knowledge to authority, and therefore we have handed over all knowledge to those who grant authority, for authorities can be controlled. The powers that be, and these are corporate powers, make no mistake, control how plaudits of whatever variety are distributed because they control what hoops are jumped through in order to gain a particular credential, such as M.D.

Our judgment may be fine, by the way. We’re just so used to being fed answers by “experts” that we no longer exercise our own judgment unless it has to do with comparison shopping, which is a process that requires us to choose between a narrow variety of predetermined choices.

The criteria for determining my well-being in this exam ignored the most important aspects of my health. They asked me if I have ever smoked or if I drank alcohol, since these are huge issues in mainstream culture, but they didn’t ask one thing about my diet or even about my exercise regimen. I am a vegetarian. I don’t own a car, so I walk everywhere, many miles more per week than the average person. But what was used to determine my physical condition? Blood pressure, which was high for me since I have been stressed. A chest X-ray, which—what the hell is that supposed to show, anyway? That I have organs? “Well, Mr. Pleb, you seem to have a skeletal structure. You don’t know how relieved we are to have discovered this fact.”

Yes, blood and urine tests can reveal important things. And I want to know if I have cancer, since one in two men, and one in three women will contract it in their lifetimes. But I don’t want to be forced to start chemo therapy or radiation or some other harmful remedy that just happens to make drug companies billions of dollars every year. Some options, like surgery, might be appropriate in some cases, but I still don’t like the idea of turning over my health and my reason to health authorities, who are taught by the powers that be to deal with ailments in a very narrow way, usually with pharmaceuticals developed in a hurry by greedy drug companies like Pfizer. I would rather exercise my own judgment and determine for myself how to help my body heal itself.

Daily Annoyances, Hassles, and Obstacles or It's Always Something

Perhaps this differs in different regions in the U.S., but does it not seem that every day serves you up another battle, whether at work, at home, with your car, house, boss, appliance, or with a government entity or corporate one? I’m not speaking of profoundly serious difficulties that warrant deep concern. I may be lucky enough to have never yet had to face any problems that grave, and for that I am grateful. I just recall nearly every day in America being plagued with at least one obstacle, and just when that one was conquered, yet another was there to take its place. Now, granted, overcoming challenges definitely does make you stronger and builds character, but being chronically plagued with them, especially when they are totally unnecessary, unwarranted, or in the global scheme, unimportant, just makes you angry. And frustrated. And it makes daily life quite a stress. Could it be that our anxieties and depressions are at least partially culturally and circumstantially induced rather than a curse of bad genetics and bad (innate) chemical levels? Could it be that the multibillion dollar pharmaceutical industry just exploits and perpetuates our general societal malaise? (Those thoughts not to be confused with a certain celebrity’s Scientology tirade, but mere observations about the oversimplification of cause and effect of socially as well as medically and psychologically complex maladies.)

New Zealand has been amazing in that people here generally do not focus on meaningless details. They tend to let things slide. No proof of address or phone number when applying for a bank account? No problem, we’ll open one anyway. No residency when applying for a library card? No problem, we’ll give you one regardless. No available New Zealand currency for your deposit on your home? Just get it to me when you can. Need a medical exam? Come right over. You’ll be treated promptly (and at a fraction of the cost you expect, even without insurance). Nor do they seem to promote antisocial behavior like “looking out for number one” (and only number one.) They call you back when they say they will. They treat you like they care, without insincerity. And when you are treated that way, you care more about treating other people that way in return. When you are constantly being cheated or shat upon, you feel like you want retribution or justice and need to stick up for yourself and your rights. You do not trust. I felt like that all the time in America. I have only felt that once here thus far (with our rental car). Here, they actually have laws against what is deemed “Dishonesty.” And their car commercials aren’t about “Zoom, zoom, zoom!” or conquering the planet by force. The Toyota ad here promotes “Everyday people.”

In any event, if you might be feeling the stress of it all, here's a little something funny to check out:


The Game Never Named, the Addendum Never Spoken

Remember that silly game we used to play with fortune cookies from Chinese restaurants? Maybe people still play it. It’s the one where...