23 November 2012

Buy Nothing Day

“Today, humanity faces a stark choice: save the planet and ditch capitalism, or save capitalism and ditch the planet.” – Fawzi Ibrahim

 Reject the consumerism that is plunging the planet, and every living thing on it, into ruin ... and while you're at it, stand with striking Walmart workers!

16 November 2012

It's About Time - Boycott Walmart NOW!

This is partially why I have not set foot in a Walmart store in 15-20 years. The corporate owners have more wealth than many small nations, yet they cannot seem to pay their employees a living wage? That kind of act defines immorailty and evil. And the labor problem is only the beginning... The destruction that Walmart has wrought upon the earth knows no bounds...

12 November 2012

Chris Hedges' latest

"For a poor family in Camden, N.J., impoverished residents in the abandoned coal camps in southern West Virginia, the undocumented workers that toil in our nation’s produce fields, Native Americans trapped on reservations, Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans, those killed by drones in Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or those in the squalid urban slums in Africa, it makes no difference if Mitt Romney or Obama is president. And since it makes no difference to them, it makes no difference to me. I seek only to defy the powers that orchestrate and profit from their misery..."
Once Again—Death of the Liberal Class (Chris Hedges)

10 November 2012

Speaking Truth To Power

Brother Dr. Cornel West and Brother Tavis Smiley tell it like it is:
  • Our biggest threats are poverty and the ecological crisis.
  • Obama is a Rockefeller Republican - socially liberal, politically conservative.
  • Pundits like Michael Eric Dyson and Melissa Harris-Perry (among so many others) have regrettably sold out.

08 September 2012

Stand up to Cancer or Bow Down to Industry? (Part 2)

In 1900, the first year from which we have health statistics about the leading causes of death in the United States, cancer was eighth on the list. Today, cancer is the second leading cause of death in this country and, any moment now, is poised to usurp heart disease as the nation’s number one killer.

I am four years past my own cancer diagnosis, which occurred when I was 36 (and, ironically, in the midst of finishing a Master’s degree about environmental risk prevention, an interest of mine for almost twenty years). The many doctors I have visited since then all repeat the mantra that I was far too young for such an occurrence of cancer. Like most people, physicians think that cancer is an old person’s disease, and that cancer incidence is increasing due to an aging populace with an increasing lifespan. This, despite the fact that cancer is actually the second leading cause of death in U.S. adults aged 25-44, after accidents. Within four years, I and three friends, all in our 30s, had cancer. Two of us are alive. Two of us are not.
My doctors all seem to regard my cancer as simply a fluke, never inquiring about, investigating, or even considering potential causes save for “genetic predispositions.”  Because I had no previous history of illness of any kind, and no risk factors (I maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, eat a vegetarian diet full of whole, natural foods), and because I now seem to be back to being disease free, most of the half-dozen doctors I have visited since my diagnosis do not concern themselves with the reasons why I acquired cancer. They either assume a “genetic susceptibility” and urge me to undergo genetic testing, regardless of the fact that my family history does not support that hypothesis, or they ignore the question of etiology entirely.

The population-level statistics about cancer deaths in relation to other causes of death belie the notion that cancer runs in families and that genetic predisposition is an important factor in cancer etiology. If cancer were mainly due to heritable genetics, it would almost definitely be decreasing due to natural selection. Evolution normally does not maintain deleterious genes that do not confer any known benefit. Certainly, genetic susceptibility may account for differential diagnoses among individuals and populations, but just as some people are more susceptible to cold, flu, allergies, or poison ivy outbreaks, neither these ailments nor cancer are caused by heritable factors. They could not and would not occur without exposures to certain agents.

The recent Stand Up 2 Cancer telethon aimed to raise money for cancer research, most of which goes toward studies about genetic factors related to the disease and toward treatment. As I previously mentioned, genetic factors merely increase one’s odds, but without exposure to a causal agent, they would, for the most part, be nullified. Those who study risks know the general formula of:  Risk = Hazard + Exposure. In the case of cancer, genetic susceptibility is simply a hazard, without the exposure to the other underlying hazard, the carcinogen, risk is eliminated. Of course, people require treatment. But how much money does cancer treatment cost us all? What about those who cannot afford treatment? How much harm do the treatments – themselves carcinogenic – wreak?

I heard a scientist speak on the radio about how, with the advancement of cancer therapies, we will soon be more likely to live with the disease, much like people live with diabetes. But what happens when we use up our natural resources needed to provide such therapies? While our society seems concerned about what might occur when our energy resources are exhausted, we seem to forget about the many other resources we so mindlessly consume, as if there exists an endless supply. They are not never-ending. What happens when we run out of the chemicals needed for chemotherapy or radiation therapy? Although this scenario is still quite distant, it is far from implausible. When this occurs, will we be left with a world rife with often long-lasting carcinogenic pollutants and no means to deal with their effects on our health?

When not implicating heritable genes, we like to attribute cancer to lifestyle factors, particularly obesity, but obesity is merely related to cancer in that it increases the body’s ability to store carcinogens, in adipose tissue (i.e., fat cells). Likewise, poor diet increases exposure to potentially carcinogenic agents in food, and along with lack of exercise, decreases immune and endocrine function, which help the body prevent and rid itself of cancer. None of these lifestyle factors are a direct cause of the disease.

While some carcinogenic agents are naturally occurring, the vast majority are now man-made. Though we know what causes cancer – ionizing radiation (e.g., nuclear radiation), non-ionizing radiation (e.g., ultraviolet light from the sun), chemical agents (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), biological agents (e.g., human papillomavirus), and materials (e.g., asbestos) - we rarely talk about avoiding and abolishing the causes, save for sun exposure and viral agents. Why do we work on remediation rather than precaution?  Clearly, it is because every other known cause is explicitly linked to capitalism and industry. No one is allowed to disrupt the corporate industrial machine. It is verboten to speak ill of the main drivers of the economy, which coincidentally, are also the main drivers of human (and other biological) death.

So, while the celebrity contingent of the 1% are on TV asking us 99% to donate our hard-earned and paltry wages toward cancer research, we might want to think about why we are not being asked to contribute to cancer prevention. And to be clear, prevention is not equivalent to detection. Mammograms (also carcinogenic) and colonoscopies, for example, merely detect breast or colon cancer. They do not prevent oncogenesis. Prevention means, at the very least, the elimination of the carcinogenic exposures, and at best, the eradication of cancer-causing agents themselves.

We might want to consider how much agony is felt from a diagnosis of cancer by patients and friends and family of those patients. We might want to ponder how much excruciating pain cancer therapy inflicts upon its subjects. We might want to reflect upon how much heartbreak cancer deaths bring to those who are left behind. And we might want to remember that cancer is, to an extremely large extent, preventable. We merely need the will and effort to value biological and ecological health above economic growth.

06 September 2012

Some of what global capitalism has wrought

In impoverished African lands, anything for a dollar ... Hard to imagine where those kinds of values came from!

The slaughter of tens of thousands of intelligent, sentient elephants, for the global market commodity that is their tusks, continues unabated.

In a world so morally (and rationally) warped, money is always worth more than life itself...

Photo courtesy The New York Times

09 June 2012

Pure Transformation or Persistent Deterioration? What Next Wisconsin? America? The World?

And as it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end
That bullshit is bullshit, it just goes by different names …
Paul Weller (The Jam)

We all know the old Albert Einstein adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. What does that say about Wisconsin? June 5th 2012 saw an exact rematch of the 2010 gubernatorial election between Republican Scott Walker and Democrat Tom Barrett – and the exact same result, the only difference being that Walker won by an even wider margin than before.

While pundits have been pontificating about the causes of such a seemingly absurd victory by Scott Walker after the enormous groundswell of citizens fighting for sixteen months against the governor and his Tea Party Republican administration, most of the discussion has been shallow and fraught with inaccuracies. Furthermore, mere speculation on the causes of the Walker win only point to the ease with which our society retreats back to often unfounded conventional wisdom. Walker outspending Barrett 7 to 1, an ignorant electorate hell bent on voting against their own interests, and poor “messaging” by the Democratic party/candidate may all have played a part in the crushing Walker win, but these observations only scratch the surface of the problems facing Wisconsin, the country, and the world and serve to fuel the media's incessant focus on the horse race. This insistence on focusing on the superficial always serves, by design, to impede the discourse on substantive issues.

The following represent some of the points directly and indirectly connected to the Wisconsin election which I failed to hear in the media discourse on the subject:

In Wisconsin:

  • Scott Walker did NOT originally campaign on taking away collective bargaining rights. Thus, when he and his cronies claimed that he just carried out his campaign promises, they lied.

  • The right to collective bargaining has nothing to do with and does not preclude balancing a budget.

In America:

  • The fact that private sector and non-union employees do not have living wages, full benefits and access to health care is a travesty, but their friends and neighbors in unions in the public sector are not to blame. ALL workers should have such benefits, which all humans should be entitled to. By demonizing fellow workers who have these basic human rights, we only allow the elite to sit back with their excess riches while the rest fight for scraps. The haves promulgate the falsehood of entitlement abuse through exploiting the fear and selfishness of the have-nots. It is a divide and conquer strategy through which the elite pit the working class against one another in a race to the bottom. In reality, the hoarding by the super-rich few is to blame for the lack of basic resources for the many.

  • An entitlement is a right, not a “handout.”

  • The decline in wages and benefits across all sectors has mirrored the decline in unions in America; when unions are strong, ALL WORKERS benefit.

  • Blind support of Democratic candidates by unions over the past several decades has resulted in no gains or benefits for workers. On the contrary, in the country as a whole as in Wisconsin, Democratic candidates have erroneously blamed public employees for financial woes and have demanded concessions from public workers while remaining unwavering in their support for corporations and the wealthy.

  • The budget crises facing our governments on all levels are due to the enormous expenditures on subsidizing already wealthy and large corporations, the lowering of taxes on the rich, the virtual raping of the citizenry and our federal government by Wall Street millionaires and billionaires, and the unrelenting military spending on illegal and immoral wars and on redundant and unnecessary weapons.

  • Corporate subsidies only enrich corporations and their upper management, not their rank and file employees and not citizens. Increased tax breaks and monies to corporations do not trickle down to workers. Corporations do not create more jobs through such measures as lower taxes and increased subsidies; they simply create more wealth for themselves.

  • While Democrat and Republican politicians stress their minor differences through their socially more liberal or conservative beliefs, these amount to little in terms of concrete societal change, as both parties adhere to the identical dominant economic, plutocratic, oligarchic paradigm which is destroying the nation and the world. It is not by chance that all of the presidents of the past twenty-four years have been Ivy League graduates, as the next president will also be. The vast majority of these people are not admitted to elite institutions based simply on their merit; they are admitted due to their family wealth, power, and/or prestige. And for those like Bill Clinton who do not come from such pedigrees, the only way they are able to sustain their status after having been accepted into the power elite is by implicitly promising to maintain and propagate the dominant paradigm and the status quo.
  • For those who decry the lack of a clear, cohesive, and compelling message by Democrats to counter Republicans, there lies a simple answer: Democrats do not have their own message because their message is the same as that of Republicans.

In the world:

  • The ritual of voting is illusory; the pretense that it represents democracy is a complete fabrication. When people do not have choice in their candidates, as when the elite of the moneyed political parties choose their “electable” politicians, voting is simply an exercise in futility.

  • The poor have always been and continue to be marginalized by all major political parties. Vast majorities of people around the world - including the poor themselves -  have bought into the false propaganda revering wealth and equating it with quality of character, while demonizing poverty and equating it with depravity. As psychological studies have shown, the exact opposite is true. The growing number of poor in the shadow of the more highly concentrated rich is a local and global concern addressed by virtually no one in politics.

  • Wealth inequality is an immoral blight in our society. The obscene concentration of wealth in America and around the globe is emblematic of the lack of democracy, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as, “the principles of social equality and respect for the individual within a community.” We absolutely do not live in a democracy, not in the U.S. nor in the world community.

  • Until ecology is prioritized ahead of economy, all other points are moot. Our already occurring global ecological decline will soon eclipse any of our current economic crises. We cannot live without ecological resources and we will poison ourselves to death in our quest to further create synthetic resources that do not fit within our natural ecological systems and our biosphere. NO ONE will dare address this reality in political circles.

While Scott Walker’s administration represents one of the most morally bankrupt, scientifically inept, and socially despicable governorship seen in recent decades, real change was not to be found among any of the Democratic candidates who opposed him, just as it is not found among the Democratic governors of other states in this nation.

By utilizing electoral politics as our source of change, our choice becomes thus:
We can be shoved off the cliff by the Republicans while being told that free-fall is freedom, or we can be coaxed along the path toward the cliff, while being distracted by trivialities and assured that the cliff does not exist (and when the cliff is in sight, being told that those who led us there really tried their best not to do so) by the Democrats.

Change can be very difficult, which is why people tend to cling to their jobs, their towns, their bad marriages even as they move toward dysfunction. We humans, particularly we industrialized, “civilized,” American humans, are creatures of habit, and we fear an alteration of our rituals. So we try our best to remain in our comfort zones, even as they become increasingly more and more uncomfortable – sometimes even untenable. That is why last year’s uprising in Wisconsin, like the entire Occupy movement across the country, was so remarkable. People changed their routines, relinquished their security, and finally stood up after enduring decade after decade of servitude, abuse, and disrespect. They said to their corporate overlords – at the state capitol of Wisconsin, on Wall Street, and in Washington – that they were not willing to complacently stand by and take it anymore.

But apparently people are not mad enough to realize that the real change they may be seeking will never come through the voting process. It will never come through returning to “normalcy.” It will never come through adhering to and worshiping the inverted power structures that have been erected to maintain our complacency and servitude. These structures created the economy, the educational system, the workplace, the industrial infrastructure, the electoral process, and the law. Only when enough people – including all of us who intellectually, ideologically, and physically remain complicit – understand that our entire system is the problem will we have enough people power to work toward the genuine solution: changing our society.

True change is extraordinarily difficult. It generates tremendous amounts of uncertainty, distress, and fear of the unknown. But it has the potential also to produce the most profound joy, creativity, and opportunity. And at this point, it may be our only chance at survival.

So, what next?

05 May 2012

"Licensed to Ill"

(Photo courtesy USA Today)
I am not usually one to be affected by celebrity events. I tend to treat these “momentous” celebrity news stories with an eye roll and an angry rant about all of the important news in the world being supplanted by the trivial. But oddly, the reports yesterday of the death of Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch hit me hard. I could not understand why at first. Sure, I grew to like the Beasties, after forgiving them for their peppy frat-boy (yet admittedly funny) tunes of the mid-eighties. As a diehard music fan, particularly in my 20s, I know I saw them live at least once during what now in my mind is a blurry haze of my concert-going days. I distinctly recall the throngs of tens of thousands of Beasties fans jumping up and down in unison at one of the Tibetan Freedom Concerts that Yauch organized in Washington, D.C. Nevertheless, why was I moved by the death of a rich, famous musician I did not know and of whom I was merely a casual follower? One word: Cancer.

My generation, X, comprise the population aged from roughly early to mid thirties, to about fifty. That age range corresponds quite closely with the age at which cancer has seemed to first strike at many people I know. When my parents and grandparents were that age, they knew few if any people who had suffered or perished from the disease. Yet, beginning six years ago with the untimely deaths of my childhood neighbor as well as my dear college friend, the number of my peers living through and dying of cancer has surpassed the fingers I have on which to count them. Of course, my anecdotal evidence of increasing rates of cancer in my age group is not enough to prove a trend. As a trained scientist, I know that a systematic gathering of unbiased data needs to occur to provide true evidence of anomalous rates of cancer in aging Gen Xers. But I also know that gathering reliable data of such trends is difficult.

Obtaining precise records of cancer incidence and potential causal factors associated with the disease is nearly impossible given our record keeping methods. Barring immoral human disease experimentation (such as the horrendous Tuskegee incident), public health researchers must rely on retrospective studies to derive data. They must have medical records of patients that take into account all potential causal factors related to disease, and/or create questionnaires which account for all possible variables. If any data is inaccurate or incomplete, as it always is, few valid results may be obtained. Questions that may implicate environmental exposures are rarely asked of patients, often because our society does not wish to connect the dots between our "convenient" lifestyle and its consequences. We would rather blame victims of cancer than those who introduce cancer-inducing pollutants into our environment and our bodies. I know this not only as a scientist, but as a cancer sufferer myself.

The conventional wisdom about cancer, echoed in doctors’ offices throughout the country, is that one contracts a tumor either from detrimental personal lifestyle choices and/or from defective inherited genes which render one more “susceptible” to the disease. Let us destroy both of these myths once and for all.

First, lifestyle factors such as poor food choices or lack of exercise are only tangentially tied to cancer. There may be some correlation, but certainly no causations, unless one speaks of food tainted with carcinogenic substances. While eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and maintaining a normal body weight may certainly help you - especially because many carcinogens accumulate in fat tissue, and healthful foods can increase the immune response - these factors are not enough in and of themselves to significantly reduce cancer rates in a population living in an environment rife with carcinogens.

Second, though DNA certainly plays an inextricable role in carcinogenesis, as cancer is derived from the mutations of DNA, inheritance is only peripherally related to the disease. The inheritance of “susceptibility” is merely relevant if one is exposed to carcinogenic agents. Even in the most studied cancer susceptibility genes, BRCA1 and BRCA2 (for breast cancer), women with the gene who were born before 1940 are shown to have little increased risk of cancer while those born after 1940 have a much greater risk.[i] So what is the difference between these two groups of women? The limiting factor that determines increased susceptibility is not the gene itself, but the exposure to carcinogens. Women with the same "cancer" genes born before World War II, before the widespread, common usage of tens of thousands of synthetic chemicals, have a far lesser chance of being diagnosed with cancer than their younger counterparts. Moreover, inherited lethal or highly problematic genetic diseases tend to be rare in populations. But as of 2004, one in three Americans will be diagnosed with cancer; it is the second leading cause of death in the United States. As natural selection – the cornerstone of evolution, which is the principle theory in all of biology – tells us, any highly deleterious or fatal gene will decrease in the population rather than increase. Cancer rates have increased exponentially over the past century or more, which is incompatible with the notion that the presence of widespread cancer today is due to mere heredity.

Rather than focus upon the plethora – over 100,000 – of synthetic chemicals in our air, water, food, and general surroundings, rather than recall the many that are classified as potential or known carcinogens, rather than recognize that most of these hundreds of thousands of chemicals are completely unregulated and untested for health effects, and rather than ask patients about their potential exposures to such toxic substances when diagnosing patients with cancer, doctors revert to the standard pat question: “Do you have a family history of cancer?”  To be fair, physicians are rarely if ever trained in environmental toxicology or environmental health; they rarely if ever seek root causes of disease, let alone etiologies related to environmental toxins. Even if they were to try to do so, honing in on one carcinogen among the thousands or more to which we have all been exposed and carry within our bodies would, in most cases, prove to be a feckless task.
I grew up along the Hudson River in northern Westchester County, NY. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the river in which I waded and swam had been deemed the largest Superfund site in the nation due to  PCBs dumped into it decades ago by General Electric. For sixteen years I lived on this river, less than two miles from the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which has been leaking low levels of radioactive substances for years. Furthermore, I spent a decade in D.C. drinking highly chlorinated tap water, the byproducts of which are linked to colorectal cancer. I also spent six years in smog and air-particulate-laden Los Angeles. Any of these exposures, in addition to exposures from consumer and cosmetic products that I utilized throughout my life, as well as from the radiation I received via routine dental and chest X-rays, and other non-routine medical radiation diagnostic procedures, could have contributed to my own cancer diagnosis. Unless one endures a sustained exposure to one highly concentrated known carcinogen, such as might occur in an occupational environment, cancer remains relatively untraceable due to the ubiquity of carcinogenic agents in our environment. What better way to prevent the tracking of responsibility to the specific culprits of the disease? (Deliberate “Sabotage?”)
I was diagnosed with colon cancer almost four years ago now, during a two-year stint in North Dakota. Not once did anyone ask me about where I had been born, where I had lived, or to what I may have been exposed. Given these circumstances, surely no accurate record of any variables related to my diagnosis exist. Thus, any public health study on cancer that might include me would be missing innumerable pieces of key data. Besides asking about my family (most of whom had never had cancer, and certainly not at my young age), my medical practitioners did not delve into my cancer causes at all. They merely kept repeating “what a fluke” my cancer was in such an otherwise healthy young woman with no medical history of anything whatsoever. The experience of friends and peers in the few years prior and since then would appear to confirm the ignorance of such a statement.

Adam Yauch had a handful of years on me, yet still had far too many left ahead to be lost so soon to such a disease. Though I of course know nothing of his situation, I would wager a guess that his doctors also reassured his family that his cancer was merely a fluke of nature, a random misfortune in an otherwise healthy man. Only a willfully ignorant society in utter denial could tolerate statements that demonstrate such a callous disregard of all that is obvious. We are all somewhat complicit as we remain complacent in the face of such overwhelming evidence of the detrimental effects of our polluted civilization. The randomness of cancer is highly overstated. We who suffer it are victims of a toxic environment created by an utterly toxic culture. Cancer is less an arbitrary occurrence than an inevitability. It would seem that as the title of the Beastie Boys debut album states, our industrial capitalist society has been fully "Licensed to Ill."

[i] Langston, Nancy. Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES

10 January 2012

Our American Dream is the Nightmare of the World

The bipartisan American mantra about needing more jobs is nothing but a continuation of the ecologically and socially destructive paradigm that leads to increased monetary wealth for the already profligate, and increased enslavement for the 99% and for the rest of the world's organisms.

Photo courtesy of This American Life

While I hope to soon reiterate the many reasons why our current modus operandi of American life cannot be maintained ecologically, here I'd like to share a piece about why it is immoral and unethical socially.

A great storyteller named Mike Daisy is currently performing a one-man show, part of which is airing on This American Life (for only a short time - so listen now!) wherein he shares the horrors behind the production of all of our gadgetry. Many of us already know these horrors and are met with contempt and disdain when we attempt to acknowledge them among company; many of our friends and family seem to feel that we are so deserving of our consumerism and technology, no matter what the costs. "These modern gadgets are just things we simply cannot live without!"

Of course, Mike's story is just one piece of the puzzle and does not quite go far enough. It does not touch upon the human exploitation and harms in  obtaining the resources for the products, nor the ecological harm in all steps of creating our products. Nevertheless, it reveals our racism and ethnocentrism. It is a piece of importance and worth a listen:

This American Life - Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory

* Well, by now we have all heard about the "poetic license" that Mike Daisy took in the recounting of the Foxconn factory stories. It is a shame that one person's hubris should discount the importance of knowing about the horrid labor conditions in factories throughout the world that produce our products. Nevertheless, I leave this post here because unlike the countless accounts of  horrendous labor conditions reported in decades prior, this was one of the first to finally touch a mainstream audience, perhaps because it involved one of their most precious gadgets ...

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...