Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Hope You're As Tolerant As Joe Brownlee

At 23, I had a boyfriend (Joe Brownlee) who tolerated me for a few weeks while I grew out the hair on my legs, and in those little pockets under my arms.  Because the time-honored rule among middle school girls is three of "those" hairs and it's legit to beg your mom for a razor, I'd never really seen my own body just the way God intended me.  I just wanted to see what it looked like.  What I looked like. 

Well, today I succumbed to an itch to see something else I probably won't want to keep around long.  I want to see what happens if I put AdSense on my blogsite.  AdSense is a Google-run service that, according to Google, is "...a free program that enables website publishers of all sizes to display relevant Google ads and earn."

I'm under no illusions that I am going to earn any money.  I think it's parts of a penny for each ad click readers make.  I don't know if you've noticed, but I keep an book carousel in the right margin, not because I think I'm going to make money selling books (and if I ever thought that, I've been disabused of the notion), but because when I find a cool book, I like to recommend it, and that's an easy way.  So far as I know, nobody has ever actually bought a book by clicking through the carousel and purchasing.  At least, if they have, nobody's let me know or fattened my wallet by even a dime. 

No, the reason I'm loading AdSense onto EcoCurious is because I'm, well, CURIOUS.  Google pushes AdSense to me nearly every time I open my blog, and the thing I've succumbed to is the idea that the ads are content driven:  "AdSense gives you access to Google's vast network of advertisers, so you can show ads that are suited to your audience's interests."  I'm curious what ads Google will generate, and whether they will really be related to the stuff I talk about on EcoCurious.  Whether it will be stuff about the environment, about politics, about the way government is run - the stuff I write about.  And if so, what kind of products could those be?

I don't imagine I'll keep AdSense around any longer than I kept the body hair.  The only plus on the body hair experiment:  I discovered that unshaven body hair is soft, not all prickly.  But it didn't have much else to recommend it.  I'm pretty sure I'll feel the same about AdSense.  I've seen blogs littered with ads, and I don't find it particularly appealing.  I haven't checked to see whether the most unsightly blogs are running AdSense or a different application, but I can't imagine how someone else's advertising might make this site more attractive, or that having ads in the middle of my content could improve the flow of the content.  And I have a thing about aesthetics.  I sometimes waste an hour fiddling with spacing, etc, on these blog posts when their formatting is screwy for some reason.  So, I doubt AdSense will be here for long.  But, please be like Joe, and bear with me while I do my little experiment.  We can discover together just how spot on AdSense really is.

By the way, if you know Joe (Joseph Brownlee, lawyer, Phoenix, from Peru, Indiana, also home of Cole Porter and Kyle Macy - yes, Joe, I did remember), do tell him I said "hello," and that I publicly thanked him for tolerating my curiosity all those years ago.  Not that he'd remember.  But hey, how much more fun could you have than to walk up to a man and say "I was reading a blog the other day, and the writer asked that we pass along her thanks for tolerating her underarm and leg hair growth experiment."  For sure you'll get at least a double-take.  By the way, he didn't look like this when I dated him.  Aside from looking a few years older, Joe must have taken my cue and decided to run with his own experiment, because when we were dating, he was clean-shaven!

And, I've tried to avoid TMI (that stands for Too Much Information, mom), but if you want to visit the issue of why women shave, you might check out this blog by once-hairy, now clean-shaven Ashley English, a women's studies professional, here:   That's where I found the lovely candle-lit leg-shaving photo above!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Reitman's next "Thank You For Smoking," or How Merck Turned a Normal Condition into A Profitable Disease

Blog fodder. While breaking for tea and news (less calories than tea and croissants) I find something I want to share with my friends on facebook. Then a healthy conversation ensues. Suddenly I realize I've struck a nerve and the topic needs airing.  Before I know it, I've postponed whatever I am supposed to be doing - in this case, getting my online courses up online - and I'm off and running right here.

Today, I hesitated, because my topic is not about the environment. And even though I've discussed health care reform here, this is not about politics. Not really. But it is about the power of the large corporation, and it's also about the ways in which that power has come home to roost very personally. Making it hard to say, "Gee, I wish they hadn't done that."

So, the story:  Merck developed a market for a drug to treat a condition that arguably doesn't need to be treated.

My story:  I am a beneficiary of Merck's consumer manipulation.

But really, am I?

Merck, according to the story, gives us a perfect (and I admit, fascinating - when you read the NPR story, you'll want to get Jason Reitman - "Thank You for Smoking" - to direct the movie) example of the power of the large corporation to use its money, influence, resources and even very questionable arm-twisting to manipulate the market to create a "need" for a product, in this case, Fosomax, a drug that slows bone loss in women with Osteoporosis and Osteopinia.

Except, wait. While Osteoporosis is definitely life-inhibiting and often life-threatening (one-in-five elderly women who break a hip will die within a year), Osteopinia isn't even a disease. It's a category of bone loss identified for research purposes. That is, it is "normal range" bone loss. But, you ask, shouldn't we be afraid of any amount of bone loss?  Well, that's an interesting question.  There's no danger of bone breakage or mortality is associated with Osteopenia. None.  It's more or less similar to the way our skin becomes drier with age.  It's aging without negative physical consequences.  Yet, today, thanks to Merck, millions of women with Osteopinia have folded Fosomax, or one of its next-generation pharmaceuticals, into their daily routines, and their budgets.

Me too.  Should I be mad at Merck?

Here is my story:  I am tiny. Small bones. A key risk factor. Under 100 pounds. Maybe five years ago, I was diagnosed with what my doctor considered "very early" Osteoporosis in my hip joints and Osteopinia at spots along my spine. My doc literally and intentionally scared me into taking it seriously. I don't know if that's her normal M.O., or if she was really spooked by the levels of bone loss in someone my age. Either way, I immediately began taking bisphosphonates (my drug of choice is Actonel, a second generation pharmaceutical), calcium, Vitamins D & K, and bio-identical hormones. [The hormone thing raised a flag on facebook, but we'll skip over it here. We can have that conversation another day, folks.]  I also got off a recumbent bike and onto my feet for weight-bearing exercise and stopped drinking soda with phosphoric acids. In the first year, those changes resulted in a cessation of bone loss. The second year, I exhibited a 3 percent bone density gain - the max my doctor said I could expect in a year. The third year, however, I had a remarkable 6.5 percent additional bone density increase, shocking my doc. I had succesfully pulled myself out of the Osteoporosis range. But, hey, I still "have" Osteopinia.

Am I still diseased?

Should I continue to take the drug?

My friend and mentor, Robyne Stevenson Turner, had this to say: "Tough call. Just because bones thin as we get older, doesn't mean we have to live with that condition. We use collagen to improve our skin tone, why not reverse the aging process with our bones. Q is would you have done this w/o the scare, but more importantly could u achieve this w/o the drugs? Would vitamins and weight bearing exercise do the same?"

I'm not sure. I suppose I will get some indication at my next bone density scan, because I've been rather spotty taking the pills this year, but I've been fairly good about the remainder of the regimin. The problem with the pills is that you have to take them weekly, in the morning before you eat. I tend to forget, eat and postpone. If I have slippage when I next get a bone density, I guess that will be some indication. Not very scientific, of course, because you'd have to control for other factors, for aging (yes, I suppose I am still aging, much as I prefer turning the clock backward) and other environmental factors. But something.

And, the bisphosphonates are so new that we don't know what side effects they may have.  You don't have to think back too many years to remember the medical field withdrawing a vast majority of patients off of synthetic estrogen replacements because of a newly found association between synthetic hormones and breast cancer.  Very recent studies seem to suggest a connection between bisphosphonate use and musculo-skeletal pain,, and even esophageal cancer  I think part of the answer to my question lies with information we don't have yet. I and millions of other post-40 women are the guinea pigs in Merck's profit-making venture. If we win, then everybody wins. If we lose, well, Merck still wins. By the time the world figures out whether the trade off between medicating Osteopinia and its side effects is worth the risk, Merck will have made money hand over fist.

I must get back to my course prep. I leave you with these closing thoughts. What Merck did makes me crazy. It's not Merck, per se. It's the way the American corporate machine manipulated the medical profession and we consumers by extension into considering something to be a disease that is not. It's the way any American corporation can create consumers out of whole cloth. It's the most dangerous form of alchemy, because it's shifted us into a nation of over-consumers. Just because it happens to be a medical product doesn't make it right. Corporate America is making decisions for us based on profit motive, and not social good.

And yet, I need to mention that, after my doctor scared me silly, I suddenly became afraid. Afraid like an old lady. Afraid to ice skate or roller skate or bike ride or ski for fear of taking a fall. Suddenly I saw myself as fragile and at risk. And not only am I too young for Osteoporosis, I'm definitely too young to slow down. And by the way, slowing down means depriving myself of the kinds of exercise and activity that will keep me young and healthy. It's a vicious circle. And it's at least in part because of Actonel that I have returned to my former, risk-taking self.

So what is the right thing? I probably would have been given Actonel anyway, because I actually had Osteoporosis. But would I want the medication to get a jump on the Osteopinia? Like we want Botox for our wrinkles? Should we want those things? Are eternal beauty and youth and good health consumer dreams fomented by the Mercks, Revlons and Banana Republics of the world?

I don't know. I think so. And yet, and yet... I wanna... I wanna... I wanna...

Full NPR article here: How A Bone Disease Grew To Fit The Prescription : NPR

More on Osteoporosis and Osteopinia here:

And for those of you drinking cola (this means you, daughters and friends addicted to Diet Coke), it's a trade-off between your taste buds and your future mobility and even longevity:

And while I'm at it, if your kids are drinking soda pop, here's a quote from Kern County Children's Dental Health Network (I have no idea where Kern County is. I was just looking for something succinct):

"Soft drink consumption poses a significant risk factor for impaired calcification of growing bones. Forty to sixty per cent of a person’s bone mass develops during their teenage years. When teenagers replace soda with milk, they are not providing their bodies with the necessary calcium needed for healthy bone growth and development. Not only does soda not contain any calcium, but it is high in phosphate. When phosphate levels are high in the blood and calcium is low, the body pulls out calcium from the bones to compensate. Therefore, those who drink large amounts of soda may be setting themselves up for osteoporosis and periodontitis (inflammation of the bones and supporting tissues around the teeth),$152.

Oh, and one more thing.  Merck has two new Osteo drugs in trials now, awaiting FDA approval.  One of them, it tested against its own Fosomax and it looks better.  Although it requires a shot, which is unappealing in a lot of ways, one of which is the expense of involving the doctor's office for every dose.  The other is a new technology.  I'll let you read it for yourself here:

Now, finally, back to the grind.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Snow Days & New Year's Resolutions

I'm snowed in. There's about 2.5 feet of the white stuff packed against my garage door, with more falling and the wind whipping furiously against my many windows and through the trees behind my home. The way my home is situated on my lot, all the drift is against the front of the house - front door and garage, but the back door is nearly clear, so Lucy and Simon can frolic, and they look adorable, double-sweatered, noses covered with the powdery stuff.   Yes, I double-sweatered them.  Please.  I'm a Jewish mother.  If I'm cold, so are you.  Don't argue.  (Re-read that with a Jewish grandmother accent.  Did I sound convincing? )  At any rate, it's 20 degrees outside.  They're staying double-sweatered.

Right about now, I wish I had snow shoes (and knew how to use them). My yard adjoins an agricultural field, and I enjoy a windbreak of trees along the property line. Bare trees against the pristine white snow and the grey-white skies is a beautiful site. I hit the grocery store for soup supplies and other goodies when the weather folk predicted the blizzard, and so I'm set for weeks! If the electricity goes off, I have logs for the fireplace, and candles. The homeowners' association folks will see to my sidewalks and drive after the Christmas holiday is past, but for now, being snowed in appeals to me - at least for a few days of peace and quiet. With Internet and phone to stay connected to the outside world, and puppies for entertainment... it's all good.

A sweet things happened after the snows began.  I received a note from a complete stranger - Tana - in Eagle River, Alaska.  I don't know if you've run across a website sponsored by Popular Front, called "Snow Days."  The site lets you "cut" virtual snowflakes out of virtual paper, using virtual scizzors, attach a message to them if you'd like, and then send them off into a virtual sky to fall. When you see one you like, you can "respond" to it by attaching your own message, which is emailed back to the flake creator. I sent out a message that simply said, "holed up in my home stranded, a few feet of snow in front of my garage door," and received condolences from a woman named Tana in Alaska!  

I admit to a bit of addiction to cutting snowflakes.  There's a link in the right margin if you want to go play! By the way, I capture all these screen shots with a program called Jing. It's free at Click on any of the pics below for a bigger, better visual.

Now, on to a great New Year's resolution idea:

Today, a something called Ecofx (eco fix) showed up on my facebook wall. Did I "join" an Ecofx fb page? Who knows. I don't recall. But it was touting a website with a mission: calculate the carbon footprint of everything you buy, before you buy it, to help you make a decision about whether you really want to make the purchase. In a way, it's like knowing the calories of your diet, knowing you don't want to eat more than, say, 1500 a day on your diet, and weighing food choices based on their caloric values. (I know many of us are counting carbs or fat grams or glycemic loads these days and not calories. It's just an illustration, guys. Let me off the hook.)

Here's my suggestion for a great New Year's resolution.  Choose a carbon footprint calculator and calculate your estimated carbon footprint.  Then set a goal, like reducing your carbon footprint ten percent in 2010.  Figure out how many carbs a month you'll need to reduce your consumption by in order to accomplish that goal.  Now, over the coming year, use the Ecofx calculator to help make decisions to achieve your personal goal. 

Here are some personal footprint calculators to consider using:


The Nature Conservancy:

And finally, here's a total ecological footprint calculator (which considers impacts on the environment beyond greenhouse gas emissions):

I'm going to do this too.  The last time I did one, I was living much more simply in Arizona, in a no-furnishings home!  So I'm sure my damage has increased.  I promise to come back around New Years with my updated footprint information, and try my own advice.  I hope you'll consider making this your New Year's resolution too.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Holiday Cheer Loads 1,100 lbs of CO2 per American!

Watching your calories this holiday season?  It turns out there's another carb it's easy to go overboard on, and I don't mean the kind that's in those mashed potatoes.  According to Alyssa Giacobbe, writing for AOL's "The Sphere," America adds nearly 1,100 pounds of CO2 per person every Christmas season.  For example, lighting displays alone increase our energy output by 27 percent between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

And about those trees:  85 percent of all trees are fake, constructed in China and transported overseas for sale.  The total CO2 cost:  137 lbs CO2 per person, and that includes people like me - the Jewish girl - without a tree.  If you calculate out all those who don't do the tree thing, the per tree owner average is even higher!

Gift wrap, cards and shopping bags lead to 4 million tons of paper waste, according to Giacobbe, and don't forget that turkey dinner and trimmings, entertainment, travel and even - get this - weight gain.  Every pound you put on adds to the travel talley, because it takes more CO2 to move your fatter behind across the country to see Aunt Betty!

For the entire article, read here:

And when you're done, please don't forget this year.  While you should still be minimizing your CO2 expenditures by choosing low-carb, low-trash gifts and wrap options (get tips here:, you can mitigate the remaining damage for relatively little money by purchasing carbon offset credits from 

And while you're at it, why not consider a CarbonFund offset credit gift certificate for the heavy carbaholics on your gift list.  You can find these here:

By the way, you'll find a permanent link to the CarbonFund along the right-hand margin of this blog.  Consider using it every time you travel, make a major purchase, etc.

For more resources and information, the gift wrap photo is from a HippyShopper blog article about how to make your own eco-friendly wrapping paper,, and the ornament is from CarbonFund's website.  See some mega-carbon lighting displays ranging from the magnificent to the truly gaudy at the webecoist blog,

Monday, December 14, 2009

"I'm Doing God's Work"

"I'm doing God's work." 

Those are the words of Mr. Lloyd Blankfein, captain of the ship at America's (and possibly the World's) most powerful financial institution, Goldman Sachs, as recorded by John Arlidge of The Sunday Times, a British publication.  I know I don't usually talk finance here, but this is fascinating stuff, all about over the top financial and political power.  Arlidge takes us deep into the throat of the firm, speaking with its highest level executives, laying down an excellent (and witty!) expose of its culture and influence.  If you caught Michael Moore's latest documentary, "Capitalism: A Love Story," you may or may not have realized that Goldman Sachs was the building Moore approached in an armored car, complete with empty money bags, demanding America's money back! 

Do make the time.  You'll be fascinated and appalled at once by the influence and implications of Goldman Sachs' participation in the financial and political worlds.  Here is possibly the most boring paragraph from the paper, but it lays out the Goldman Sachs political reach so explicitely:

"Taking type-A people, making them feel like type-B people and moulding them into kick-ass teams that work every hour God — sorry, Goldman — sends, is important, no doubt. But it’s not Goldman’s killer app. That is its extraordinary networking ability. The firm is the greatest talent network in the world. Unlike at other banks, top performers are encouraged to get on, make all the money they will ever need in their thirties, then get out to "do good". The average tenure of a partner is eight years. "You don’t join for the retirement programme," says one staffer. "You have your phase of the moon to make money and then f*** off." But doing good does not mean running an HIV clinic in Kinshasa, it means getting top jobs in treasuries, central banks and stock exchanges around the world. The list of former Goldman executives who have held key posts in the US administration and vital global institutions in New York and Washington alone is mind-boggling. It includes: the treasury secretary under Bill Clinton (Robert Rubin); the treasury secretary under George Bush (Hank Paulson); the current president and former chairman of the New York Federal Reserve (William Dudley and Stephen Friedman); the chief of staff to the treasury secretary Timothy Geithner (Mark Patterson); the chief of staff under President Bush (Joshua Bolten); the economic adviser to the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton (Robert Hormats); the chairman of the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (Gary Gensler); the under-secretary of state for economic, business, and agricultural affairs under President Bush (Reuben Jeffery); the past and current heads of the New York Stock Exchange (John Thain and Duncan Niederauer); the chief operating officer of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division (Adam Storch). Moreover, Goldman’s new top lobbyist in Washington, Michael Paese, used to work for Barney Frank, the congressman who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. To put this in perspective, imagine that Alistair Darling, the chancellor, and his key advisers, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, Xavier Rolet, the boss of the London Stock Exchange, and Hector Sants, head of the Financial Services Authority, all used to work at the same City firm before moving into government. Small wonder that another of Goldman’s nicknames is 'Government Sachs'."  

Hold onto your hats, all.  This is, figuratively speaking, a frightening ride!  Here's the link to the entire article:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Less is More in Gifting

The following story, on environmentally thoughtful gifting, is lifted in its entirety from the Environmental Defense Fund site without their permission.  I hope they don't mind.  I believe copywrite law requires me either to get their permission, or use only a portion of their article, in context of a larger article I wrote.  But I am laying here sick in bed, feeling lazy, and hoping that EDF will be happy for the exposure.  I am in a hurry to nap.  EDF, if you have a service that scouts the web for mentions, do me a favor and leave a comment letting me know you're ok with my little transgression.  I'll rest easier.

By the way, please don't forget to think about the environment while you're wrapping too.  Less can be more. 

Precycling: Shopping for Future Generations 

Posted: 01-Jan-1994; Updated: 07-Mar-2007;

Everybody shops. But not everybody realizes how environmentally important it is to shop consciously. To precycle is to make buying choices that support responsible products and packaging, make recycling easier and reduce the amount of garbage you throw away.

Precycling is a good way to start squaring your personal behavior with your principles. But don't forget it also sends a signal to manufacturers that responsible products and packaging are good business. The idea is that our behavior can change their behavior.

The following recycling tips focus on supermarket shopping because that's the kind we do most frequently. But the ideas apply to other forms of shopping, too:

Avoid the paper vs. plastic dilemma. Durable canvas or string bags are light and convenient to carry and can be used thousands of times. Reusable bags can easily become a habit and save an astonishing amount of paper and plastic over time. This not only uses less total packaging, it also saves you money.

Buy large single containers. For any item with a long or unlimited shelf life (e.g., laundry detergent) or non- perishable foods you use regularly (such as cereals and grains) buy the biggest container you can. Put manageable amounts in reusable, smaller containers for everyday use. For somewhat perishable foods (e.g. peanut butter) buy the biggest container feasible for your rate of use.

•Pass on styrofoam. Choose cardboard egg cartons, which are made from recycled newsprint. For paper boxes (such as cereal boxes) the rule of thumb is: If the unprinted side is gray and not white, it's made from recycled.

•Avoid single- or limited-use items. Don't buy plastic razors, throwaway cleansing pads and cigarette lighters, non-refillable pens and foil baking pans. Reduce or eliminate your use of disposable plastic diapers, which account for a startling two percent of total U.S. landfill volume.

•Compare the size of the package to the size of the product. If the package is designed to take up as much shelf space as possible, choose a competing product. Do without products that are sold inside more than one layer ("bric pac" juice boxes for children - with layers of cardboard, plastic and aluminum and a plastic straw attached - are a particularly wasteful example). Avoid miniaturized "single-helping" packages. Buy fruit and vegetables loose. Be wary of convenience gimmickry (e.g., pre-measured ground coffee in individually sealed filter packs, "soup starter" kits, melons and grapefruits pre-halved and vacuum- packed). Choose products that are not in plastic trays and do not have attached "promotional" materials.

•Choose the container that can be easily recycled. In states that have bottle bills, choosing among aluminum, plastic and glass may be a secondary issue, as long as you return the container. In states without a law, aluminum and glass are generally more recyclable. Avoid products that are difficult to recycle (e.g., many "squeezable" plastics, made of numerous layers of different plastics).

•Beware "recyclable". Advertisers have worked overtime to translate consumers' environmental sympathies into increased sales for their product - even if their product is not particularly good for the environment. Beware of the word "recyclable," which is not the same as "recycled," the word it so closely resembles. Many materials are technically recyclable, but what matters is what you can recycle in existing local programs. A "recycled" product or container is actually made from materials that have been used before.

•Beware "biodegradable". Particularly misleading are claims that certain plastic products are "biodegradable". The truth is that "degradable" plastics don't degrade in modern landfills and, at best, merely break up into smaller pieces that can release toxic substances. They interfere with plastics recycling and end up creating more problems than they solve. (Environmental Defense and other environmental groups have called for a boycott of all so-called "degradable" plastics. Don't buy them!)

•Spread the word. Tell grocers, store owners, restaurant managers and others that you are making your buying decisions based on the environmental impact of products. Let the manufacturers know, too (many companies carry addresses or phone numbers on their packaging).

By careful precycling each of us makes the vital connection between today's consumerism and tomorrow's environment. Small changes in everyday behavior can have positive consequences for generations to come.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

ClimateGate - Accused Scientists Take Questions from the Press

If you've been listening to the news lately, you've heard that a group of scientists' email archives were exposed for alleged attempts to suppress articles the group believed were unsound science that tended to disprove or counteract the notion of global warming as a trend.  In a more limited way, the emails suggest that some of the group may have manipulated data themselves.

While I don't think "ClimateGate," as it's been dubbed, in any way undermines the real science out there on global warming, it does bring into question the ethics of the scientific community (along with the ethics of those who hacked into the University of Anglia's historical email files).  The implicated scientists are claiming that verbiage from the emails has been taken out of context, but as you can see from the photo above, it is not difficult to imagine that one might infer unscrupulous behavior.  On the other hand, hacking into University archives is, in itself, unscrupulous behavior, and also leads one to doubt the accuracy and fairness of the hackers' excerpting and interpretation.  One of the scientists at the heart of the scandal, Phil Jones, director of the University of Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, has actually stepped down from his position for the duration of the investigation, and the heat is up on the others.

Because of that, Center for American Progress hosted an open press conference with Michael Mann (photo at left), another of the implicated scientists and Director of Penn State Earth System Science Center and author of over 100 peer reviewed studies, and two other climate scientists, Dr. Gavin Schmidt, a Climate Modeler at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Professor Michael Oppenheimer, Director of the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy of Princeton. I am lucky enough to belong to an environmental ethics list-serve, to which a transcript and the audio recording of the press conference was forwarded by Andrew Light, Director, Center for Global Ethics, Department of Philosophy, George Mason University.

The press asked some tough questions - as they should have.  Drs. Mann, Schmidt and Oppenheimer field the questions openly and honestly, and do not try to white wash the obvious "bads."  Overall, I felt they mostly acquitted themselves and their community.  Below are the opening quote from an audio discussion, links to the audio discussion and its transcript, and a video clip of John Stewart on ClimateGate.  The question of honest science is an important question. I strongly recommend you listen.

From Michael Mann, Director of Penn State Earth System Science Center and author of over 100 peer reviewed studies:

 "Unfortunately, despite this very strong consensus that exists, there are a handful of people and organizations that have tried to clout the debate, and they've frankly - they've not contributed to an honest scientific discourse but have engaged in this 11th hour smear campaign where they've stolen personal e-mails from scientists, mined them for single words or phrases that can be taken out of context and misrepresent what scientists are actually saying. And I think this is rather telling, the scientific evidence for the reality of the problem and the need to do something about it is overwhelming. Those advocating inaction don't have the science on their side, so they've turned to this last minute to smear campaign."

Listen here,

Or read here:

Link to the Phil Jones email and a story on how the hacking happened,

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Op-Ed - Cancer From the Kitchen? -

I've been traveling since my daughter's car accident, and haven't been as diligent here as I'd like.  But today I ran across this Op-Ed piece by Nicholas Kristof, in the New York Times.  He asks,

"What if breast cancer in the United States has less to do with insurance or mammograms and more to do with contaminants in our water or air -- or in certain plastic containers in our kitchens? What if the surge in asthma and childhood leukemia reflect, in part, the poisons we impose upon ourselves?"

Link: Op-Ed Columnist - Cancer From the Kitchen? -

I know I'm pretty much preaching to the choir on this blog.  But it's so difficult to make the hard choices - avoidance, behavior change - in the face of the instant gratification offered by convenience and the pleasures associated with eating certain foods - two I find nearly impossible to turn down are french fries and onion rings.  This article reminds us just how much lifestyle impacts our health and quality of life. Please, please take a few moments to read it.  And in the spirit of holiday giving, pass it on...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Implement, Evaluate, Adapt!

Today's email brought an article by Star Parker, entitled "Back on Uncle Sam's Plantation."   Although I don't personally know anything about Parker, she writes that she is a Horatio Alger type success story who lifted herself from poverty through personal perserverence.  From this perspective, she addresses the context of social entitlement programs and the way they tend to induce people to stay on the dole instead of working their way out of poverty.  Although the article was originally written early in 2009 and directed at Obama's stimulus package, the person who sent me the article was asking that I think about it in light of health care reform package.  As I have to get on the road today, I don't have time to summarize Parker's article, so I've provided a link to the whole thing, here:

I want to make a few comments on the political realities of implementing social programs to fix social ills.  I would ask that you consider this:  despite Parker's take, the social programs of the late 60s, early 70s did not cause African American poverty.   The problems of poverty - blight, unemployment, poor education, hunger, etc. in (primarily) the minority communities of America - obviously pre-existed the implementation of welfare programs.  And, even though we radically reconstructed the welfare system under President Clinton to reduce benefits and the dependence that such programs were thought to foster, poverty hasn't disappeared. 

Please note:  the 60s/70s welfare programs were not fully a success, but neither were they fully a failure. They solved some problems (e.g. more children had more meals) and complicated others ("should i take this job and become ineligible for AFDC?").

And though scholars suggest the programs did to some extent induce dependency, this does not prove that they caused or even purpetuated the welfare state. A study (here: demonstrates that  employment rates were undifferentiated across beneficiaries (recipients) and non-beneficiaries of both foodstamps and Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) programs. In both types of households,eligible heads of household were working about 17 to 21 hours a week, regardless of whether they received benefits. Those who received benefits did not stop working. So the benefits weren't directly responsible for the part-time work situation. More likely, it is the fact that recipients families were most frequently one-parent female heads of household who split their time between work and family care. Since the labor statistics don't vary, but the enrollment does suddenly blossom, we have to ask why the welfare rolls saw such an enormous increase. It turns out that enrollment shot up not because people were suddenly working less, but based on shifting eligibility requirements. When congress loosened the requirements, more people signed up. Period.

Unfortunately, every social program gets its start as an expensive social experiment.  Each social program begins as an idea or collection of ideas about how to fix something that's broken enough to attract the attention of our legislative bodies - untested ideas that have been shaped by committee - politically negotiated.  They've been pushed and shoved through the political system, where often they are reshaped to conform to the wishes and whims of the voting members of the legislating body. There is an Aesop-type fable elsewhere in this blog explaining this phenomenon.

There are also plenty of examples of the way ideology and politics impact the creation of social programs in today's Health Care bill.  Here are two:

The current bill negotiated by Congress makes illegals ineligible for federally funded insurance. Why? Because it is politically and ideologically unpopular among some voters to use taxpayer dollars to support the existence of illegals in our country. By insisting that the insurance reform eligibility rolls do not include illegals, a Congressperson can tell his or her constituency that s/he did not support the use of taxpayer dollars to help illegals. HOWEVER, those Congresspersons are being disingenuous at best.  They are neglecting to tell their constituents that health care for illegals is already taxpayer supported, and will continue to be - because emergency room services for the indigent is mandated and subsidized by the government, aka the taxpayers.  Uninsured illegals will continue to use hospital emergency health care services, which costs many times more than health care would cost if uninsureds had insurance, guaranteeing that taxpayers will actually pay far more to support illegals' health care than if they were simply made eligible for the new health insurance plan.  Refusing to allow coverage for illegals in the current health care bills not only ensures that taxpayers will continue to pay for illegals' health care, but it insures we will pay MORE for illegals' health care.

A second example: The first concession made by Obama's negotiating crew was made to shut up a formidable opponent of the health care bill - the pharmaceutical industry. The agreement ensures that any government health insurance program will not use its negotiating power to negotiate pharmaceutical prices. This is a great deal for pharma and a lousy deal for the American people, who often pay more for drugs than citizens of other countries. (See this study, showing that only the Japanese pay more for prescriptions, while other countries pay between 6 and 33 percent less

In sum, social welfare programs are not the cause of poverty, single-family African American households, hunger and blight - even if the way these problems are handled is not always the whole solution.  A health care reform program won't be the cause of the current problems with our health care system.  And it won't be the whole solution either.   Whatever health care reform passes will undoubtedly have parts that work, and parts that don't.

My point is this - you cannot blame the original problem on the proposed solution. You can, however, have some programmatic goals and stop every so often and say, "is this program working well?" Is this program getting us to our intended goals? If not, let's re-evaluate and monkey with it some more. This is called Adaptive Management.

What we cannot do is to say, simply, "social programs are bad and we will avoid them." We have a huge problem both with the number of Americans receiving inadequate health care, and with the skyrocketed costs of health care service provision. Something must be done. By saying, "social programs cause problems," we are avoiding the reality - the problems are already here and with us, and we cannot stick our heads in the sand. Experiments though they be, we have to try SOMETHING.
Try, evaluate, adapt.  Adaptive Management.

By the way, here is an interesting chapter exploring some of the complex reasons for poverty in the United States:

Friday, November 27, 2009

Back to the Land - And the Pursuit of Happiness Blog -

Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving.  You'll be pleased to know I am not going to engage in one of those, "what I have to be thankful for" monologues.  Instead, I want to redirect your attention to an article I ran across in the New York Times, by author Maira Kalman.  The visual is the opening from the article.  It's evocative, and there's nothing I can or want to say about it other than you won't regret reading it!   Back to the Land - And the Pursuit of Happiness Blog -

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What Kind of Creatures Have You Created Us, Adonai?

I warn you, I'm about to go a little religious on you. I won't be trying to convert you, though, so you can wade in without fear.

Two evenings ago I found myself preparing something akin to the delectable sweet-and-sour cabbage rolls my grandmother used to make. While draining the fat from my sauteed kosher hamburger, I prayed the prayer I always offer up when I eat meat. Actually, the prayer comes across more like one of those respectful grillings Tevya in "Fiddler on the Roof" puts God through, whenever he is puzzling out the latest challenge the Lord has handed his family. One of those "Just what is your purpose here, anyway?" kind of discussions. I always pray, "You have confused me, Adonai, by creating creatures who take life in order to live." I have puzzled over the possible reasons our Creator could have fashioned our world in this manner, but I will not bore you with that here. Instead, I want to report that each time I engage in this dialogue with God, it crosses my mind that I could choose to be a vegetarian. It crosses my mind in the same fuzzy way it crosses my mind that I could write children's books if I wanted to. I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

I should mention that I was, for two short years at the frontish end of my life, a vegetarian. I worked briefly during college at a vegetarian restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas, where I was more or less brainwashed into changing my eating habits. They made a nutrition monster out of me. Although I returned to a meat-eating lifestyle a couple of years later, meat no longer holds the place it held in my childhood - centerpiece of every meal - even if it was only a crowning meatball on top of a mountain of spaghetti. Don't sneeze. And the nutrition monster still resides deep in my heart.

So, every Thanksgiving, I hold a perfunctory and (so far) academic debate with myself. The me who knows I could choose to be a vegetarian engages in reflective dialogue with the me who thinks she understands what the Torah means when it says that God instructed the Israelites to bring sacrifices because they supply "a pleasing odor to Adonai" (Numbers 28:1–2). The me who finds irony in the fact that sentient lives are sacrificed so that we may celebrate our freedom. The me who is blown away by my recurring decision to choose the pleasing odor of roasting turkey (not to mention the sinfully delicious crisp turkey skin) over the chance to save a life. The me who has the chutzpah to even have this conversation in print, knowing full well that I am planning to cook a turkey for my daughter and her boyfriend. In fact, the bird is already in the freezer. What kind of creatures have you created us, Adonai, that you both wish us to aspire to holiness, and yet have created us nonchalant murderers?

Perhaps we were not always such nonchalant murderers. Perhaps when we were closer to the killing of the animals - when we raised the cow or knew the butcher or the butcher was us - we may not have been so nonchalant. It is something, but not much, of a comfort that these animals are kosher, slaughtered under the watchful guidance of trained rabbis in the sacred and (more) humane manner that makes each of them a sacrifice to the Lord of sorts. And maybe it's the fact that I've never encountered a turkey substitute that appealed to my taste buds, and after all Adonai surely created my tastebuds as part of the survival mechanism.

I know some of you are vegetarian. You are better people than I.

Maybe some of you, dear readers, are like me. Baffled but carnivorous.

But maybe some of you are betwixt and between myself and my vegetarian readers. Maybe, when you eat meat, you are more gutterally appalled by the trade-off of life for meat than as of yet I am. Maybe you are leaning in the direction of a new kill-free commitment.

Whichever you are, if you are willing, I would like to hear from you. I rarely ask that, but I am interested in the ethical, social and religious implications beyond my own thoughts. I hope you'll communicate with me here in the comments section - not on facebook, for those of you who come this way by that portal, but here.

And whichever way your palate leans, I have something for you. Three articles, two by Lou Bendrick, originally published in Grist. One from Amy's Gripping Commentary blog. The first Bendrick article is for those of you who either are already vegetarian, or are leaning that way. It's a report on a taste-test of vegetarian turkey substitutes. The tasters included vegetarians and meat-eaters, adults and kids (kids are the ultimate arbiters of what tastes good!).   A tasting of four meatless “turkeys” for the holiday table Grist.  To go with it, here is Amy, discussing her positive experience with a fake bird product.  The picture to the upper-left is Amy's fake bird, complete with real stuffing. The second Bendrick article is for carnivores, and published last year.  In it, he offers advice on greening up your turkey selection.

And if you happen to be Jewish and curious, or just curious, I've included a couple of websites that ponder God's reasons for requiring animal sacrifice, and why it is that the pleasing smell of the sacrifice is so important to God that it is mentioned multiple times in the Torah.  I hasten to say I have not adopted or rejected the views in these articles. I simply wander through them, Jew that I am, looking for answers.

There is much to be thankful for, so long as you are not a turkey.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Won't Temperatures Everywhere Be Warmer?

Kansas City has enjoyed a very temperate fall this year - three 80 degree days in October!   While we used to call this stroke of luck an Indian Summer, now, everywhere I go, I hear people saying we're reaping the rewards of global warming. So it did not surprise me when I received this question from one of my students:

"I just have an off the wall question and I have always wondered this but have not found an answer just yet. To my understanding, an indication of global warming is abnormal temperatures within seasons...i.e., 70 degree weather in November :) Global warming is supposed to be a "new age problem" and when I say new, I don't mean last year, but within the past 30-40 years. Well, how is it when I look at the news, it will say "Record High 87 in November 1917" LOL? Has global warming always existed? I think I read it somewhere but if that is the case why are people making it seem as if people that drive cars "created" this problem?"

I don't think her question is off the wall at all, and from what I can tell, I think her confusion is pretty widely shared.  I think the term "global warming" implies certain things, like warmer temperatures everywhere, or as this student misunderstood, unusually seasonable weather.  So, knowing that when one student asks, many have the question, I thought I'd clear this up a little bit for anyone else who's wondering.

The answer to this question is multi-layered, something that no doubt adds to confusion.  Weather patterns are effected by local events, meaning weather events that arise extemporaneously from local conditions, and also more generally by changes in global weather patterns.  El Nino, for example, was a blip - a local phenomenon, while temperature trending is considered to be a result of global warming.

To further confuse the matter, "Global warming" is one of those terms with a scientific meaning different than everyday language use might suggest.  While temperatures impacted by global warming are predicted to be warmer in some locales, they are simultaneously predicted to become significantly cooler in other locations. The warming part has to do with what happens, particularly at the poles, as greenhouse gases trap the sun's heat (that would normally "bounce" or be reflected off the earth's surface but instead are caught within the gaseous layer), causing ice caps to melt into the sea and other atmospheric changes.  The influx of cold water, in turn, cause a domino effect of change in temperature and density of ocean currents, and changing weather patterns.  So the greenhouse gas effect is just a trigger that starts a weather change ball rolling. Other factors have to be explored to understand the end result. Probably the biggest weather impacts will be the result of deep ocean current changes, which I'll explain in a minute.

Interestingly, the impacts of these trapped gases will not result in uniformly warmer climates. Using the term "climate change" would be somewhat more accurate, because the wind and the ocean's currents will move heat around the globe in ways that change snowfall and rain patterns, as well as heat and cooling patterns.

As for "hottest year" or "record high" data, there have always been cycles and "events." The ash from a rupturing volcano can change the atmospheric conditions in ways that temporarily cool.   El Nino caused a record high temperature in 1998 (some say a hotter temp occurred in 2005).  Those who don't agree with global warming theories point to that peak temperature (which has been followed by lower temps) as proof that global warming doesn't exist. Those who do agree with global warming theories just say El Nino, overlayed on top of warming patterns, created the blip on the temperature map, but the overall pattern is still trending up.

However, despite the fact that temperatures are trending up, there will be some places on earth that experience cooler temperatures over the long-run.  This is different than extemporaneous temperature events. A longer term cooling trend will be localized to certain areas of the globe, a result of changes to the movement of ocean currents - both surface currents driven by wind, and deep subsurface currents that move as a result of temperature/saline density changes - which distributes heat around the world.  Changes in heat distribution patterns will result in both warmer and cooler patterns, depending on the location.

One of the main factors impacting our weather is something called the "Ocean Conveyor," the system of surface and deep currents that moves heat from the tropics to the northern waters, where heat releases, moderating northern weather.  Rather than try to describe this myself, let me quote a pretty simple description from Woods Hole:

"The equatorial sun warms the ocean surface and enhances evaporation in the tropics. This leaves the tropical ocean saltier. The Gulf Stream, a limb of the Ocean Conveyor [what scientists call the current patterns that circulates heated water around the globe], carries an enormous volume of heat-laden, salty water up the East Coast of the United States, and then northeast toward Europe.

This oceanic heat pump is an important mechanism for reducing equator-to-pole temperature differences. It moderates Earth’s climate, particularly in the North Atlantic region. Conveyor circulation increases the northward transport of warmer waters in the Gulf Stream by about 50 percent. At colder northern latitudes, the ocean releases this heat to the atmosphere—especially in winter when the atmosphere is colder than the ocean and ocean-atmosphere temperature gradients increase. The Conveyor warms North Atlantic regions by as much as 5° Celsius and significantly tempers average winter temperatures.

But records of past climates—from a variety of sources such as deep-sea sediments and ice-sheet cores—show that the Conveyor has slowed and shut down several times in the past. This shutdown curtailed heat delivery to the North Atlantic and caused substantial cooling throughout the region. One earth scientist has called the Conveyor “the Achilles’ heel of our climate system.”

Global warming effects are predicted to result in significant change to water temperature/saline constituency, enough to bring about yet another change in these historic current movement patterns and the weather accompanying the currents. The results would impact both land habitat, and ocean ecosystems.  Slowing the movement of the conveyor system can mean colder winters in the northeast U.S. and Western Europe. But that is a result of the heat gains from greenhouse gas concentrations, not a negation of global warming.  Click this sentence to see Woods Hole's great set of frequently asked questions on frequent misconceptions about climate change.  It goes into much more detail than I have.

I hope this clears up some of the crazy inconsistencies between the words "global warming" and some of the stuff we experience. Here are some links, if you want to read more:

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Feel A Rant Coming On: Health Care, Illegals, Geo Metro NO

Hi all,

I've been swamped.  My daughter was in a serious car accident, I went into a serious funk over it, and my work piled up in the meanwhile.  A deer jumped in front of the car of 24-year old husband, father and Templeton police officer Jeremy Hempel.  He hit the deer, lost control, jumped the median and collided with my daughter head-on at 70 mph. Here's the story and a video.

My daughter's car is the blue Mazda with side airbags and a front-end propensity to collapse upon impact.  The other car - a red Geo Metro - did the thing where the front-end proceeds into the passenger compartment.  Jeremy suffered two broken legs, and extensive internal injuries that required multiple surgeries. He is still hospitalized, while my daughter, thank God, got away with extensive soft tissue injuries and some slight, temporary fuzziness.  She worked her first return shift yesterday - albeit slowly and not without pain.  The deer, btw, is dead. The moral of this story is...side airbags YES.  Geo Metro NO.

Sorry for the absence.  I can't say things have eased up yet, but my daughter seems to be recovering nicely, and it seemed time to return to the rest of the real world.  And I do have something to set before you today.

This morning I ran across a report issued by the Health & Human Services Department's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services' chief actuary, Richard Foster.  The document is 31 pages long, and a lot of it is statistical analysis.  But parsing through the explanatory materials (all I had time for) yielded a few pieces of information that I want to share.  The link to the entire report is below.  Source:

1. This is non-tax financial cost estimate for the program, for the years 2013 through 2019:  $935 billion overall cost; $529 bil net "reform" savings for medicare, medicaid etc, for net cost of $406 bil.

2.  Surcharges and other revenues generated by the legislation would approximately offset the $406 bil., for a very small net reduction to the Treasury.

3.  The bill would reduce number of uninsureds from 57 million to 23 million (e.g. add 34 mil to insured rolls).

4.  Of the 34 million newly insureds, 21 million would be newly added to the expanded medicaid eligibility rolls (legal residents making under 150% fed poverty level).

5.  Significant revenues expected to offset the costs will come in from businesses who pay a penalty rather than offer required insurance, and individuals who opt to pay a penalty rather than purchase required insurance.  It is assumed that the main body of individuals opting out will be young, healthy people for whom the penalty is less expensive than the premium.

6.  Approximately 2 million people who are currently insured by employers will be transferred to the exchange when employers decide to stop offering coverage.

7.  Premiums for those under 150% FPL will be subsidized; premiums for those between 150-400% of FPL are capped at 12% of the payee's income.  DOES THIS MEAN OUR INSURERS GET TO COLLECT OUR INCOME INFORMATION?

8.  Individual penalties for failure to purchase insurance would be 2.5% of modified adjusted gross income above exemption amount; Public plan coverage would average 4% less cost to run, but for some reason, premiums are expected to be 5% HIGHER????

9.  The report does not identify a specific penalty amount for employers failing to offer coverage, but suggests that firms with many part-time, or low-earner employees would be doing their employees a favor to opt out, making the employees eligible for the heavily subsidized exchange insurance. $118 billion in employer penalties are estimated.

10.  Statistics on remaining 23 million uninsureds: 5 million undocumented illegals (who would still, i assume, utilize emergency room health care); 18 million will be opt-outs, prefering to pay a penalty over the higher premium. Some of these, too, will find their way to the emergency room.

11.  These statistics represent the meat from just the first 8 pages of this 31 page report. The figures are for the implementation years 2013-2019.

This is just a snapshot of the Health Care bill's financial impacts.  This is critical data for Medicare/Medicaid.  The agencies will have to gear up for an immediate and huge influx of new clients if the bill passes.  I am personally less focused on the costs and revenues generated by the bill than I am on the impacts for individuals - e.g. whether the bill will result in more, less, or different types of coverage.   I'm concerned about the fact that 5 million illegals will be without coverage, all because some Dems feel the need to pander to an ideological crowd hell-bent against tax-payer support of illegals in order to get the necessary votes.  This, even though our economic system is dependent upon the labor of our south-of-the-border brethren.  And even though these illegals will surely need health care, and we will be paying for it anyway when they show up at emergency rooms everywhere.  It seems to me to be nothing more than empty rhetoric to insist that we not use "federal dollars" to support health care for illegal residents, when taxpayer dollars will subsidize those emergency room visits anyway.  And emergency care always costs more, so technically, we'll end up paying MORE for those illegals' health care than we would if we'd included them.  So who benefits from including them?  Politicians who cowtow to the ideologues who support their campaigns.  Not real men and women.  Real men and women would stand up with real solutions, not succumb to political ones.  Where the hell is Barry Goldwater when you need him?  And where the hell is the business community?  I know a local business owner whose primary work force is Hispanic.  They do collect the documentation they're supposed to collect from their employees, but they also know there's underground traffic in forged documents.  This business last year lost a husband and wife team who were sent back to Mexico after they'd worked the shop floor for many years.  Where are these business owners?  Why doesn't the business community ever rise up and defend and protect their workforce?

It's hard for me to forget that my grandparents were immigrants.  Unless you are a Native American, you, too, are descended from immigrants.  They work hard, they pay taxes, they contribute.  What is your problem, America?  Oh, I forgot.  You're worried we're going to end up with an Hispanic majority and then what kind of country would this be?

Whoa!  Somebody pull me off this soapbox.  Sorry...

Ok, ok.  Breathing deeply and getting back to business.

And what about the other 18 million opt-outs?  They will be paying a penalty and yet, receiving NO coverage.  I hope these penalties will be adequate to subsidize emergency care services for the 23 million who still won't be insured.

This is far from the extent of my concern.  I personally would have liked to see an Administration with the cajones to set up a universal health care option to truly cover everyone.  It's not that it would have cost more.  The cost of a tetanus shot is the cost of a tetanus shot, no matter who administers it.  It would simply have shifted the revenue sources.  It will always come out of our pockets one way or another. 

And I would have liked to see Obama stand up like the Commander-in-Chief that he is supposed to be and keep the Health Care bill off the abortion battle field.  Instead, we have the the anti-choice Stupak amendment that not only makes the Hyde amendment (prohibiting federal dollars from use to subsidize abortion services) permanent, but as a practical matter will also reduce privately-funded insurance coverage for abortion - thus changing the abortion-availability landscape as a cost of passing the Health Care bill.  Where the hell is Barry Goldwater when you need him?

Well, that felt good.  What pieces of the Health Care bill do you love and hate?  I'd love to hear what you think.

And remember, side airbags YES.  Geo Metro NO.

Friday, October 30, 2009

On Afghan Heroin Farmers and Other Consumption Factoids

I am just back from a trek to Kansas State University in Manhattan (Kansas, not NY), for a workshop on adult learning assessment.  The day has been long. The alarm jangled everyone's nerves at 6 a.m..  I gave myself another five, then pulled myself from the bed.  I let Lucy & Lexie relax while I got ready, but even though they had at least 30 minutes' more sleep than I did, they weren't awake enough to pee on command.  They have internal clocks set to 7:25 a.m.. Hmm... I wonder what happens when we "fall back" for daylight savings time this Sunday.

Finally, I loaded the girls into the car, and 2-plus hours later, dropped them off at a swanky Manhattan doggy day care called "HOWL-A-DAYZ INN."  By that time, they were awake enough to be excited, and Lexie did on the Inn floor what she'd refused to do hours earlier in my back yard.  Lex!  How embarrassing. 

Wishing I was in jeans and boots instead of heels, I made my way across campus to the conference site.  I picked up a tidbit or two at the conference, then lunched with the Poli Sci department chair Jeff Pickering and my lighthouse beacon in a foggy academic world, administrative assistant Cheryl Heverin.  That was followed by tea and conversation with Dr. Krishna Tummala, head of the department's MPA program. It was a lovely, productive and tiring day. Fortunately, the girls were also worn out from their day, and are pretty much leaving me to my typing this evening. My first order of business was to catch up on my reading, starting with my class's discussion board conversation.

To my great delight, my Managing for Sustainability class is engaged in a zig-zaggy conversation about water shortages in China, the ecological and health risks of drinking milk, the reasons for and against glass bottling beverages (recyclable, but heavy to ship, larger carbon footprint, air results in more bacteria) vs. plastic-coated cartons (stay fresh longer, but more trash, plastics leach into product), the woes of overconsumption (and whether it's possible for America to change this problem behavior), fair trade issues around the farmer's cut of the profits, and more.  And, did I mention, they are comedians?  One of my students said, in regard to the last topic, "The Afghan heroin farmers should be getting paid more. It's like a 2 or 3 billion dollar industry and the farmers receive next to nothing from it."  It started me thinking about a sitcom. 

I love my class.  Call me a romantic, but their discussion transports me to a bistro somewhere in Paris, lounging with a table full of expats, earnestly discussing the problems of the world over a bottle of wine, enjoying the camaraderie.  They've posted over 700 posts in the first eight weeks of class.  I am lucky.  They are a smart and passionate crew.  Sometimes I spout off, but usually, if I look before I leap, someone has already offered my thoughts before I've even arrived.  I don't know how much I'm teaching them, versus them teaching each other.  It's a different world, teaching on line.

It's my blog, so I can ramble about my life like that.  But the talk tonight did make me want to google down some additional information about our over-consumptive habits.  There was plenty to choose from, but two of the sites were particularly visual in very different, very dramatic ways, and I want to share both. 

The first site is called, simply, "Global Issues."  A cross between a website and a blog, the author (whomever that may be) found some interesting and stark data showing the disparity in consumption between the world's haves, and have-nots.  I found the above pie chart, created from World Bank statistics, on the site.  The statistics are four years old, but I doubt we've either curtailed or increased our consumption enough to worry that the data is irrelevant. 

There's more, and it's shocking when you put it this way.  E.g., the world spends $8 billion on cosmetics, but $6 billion on education.  Yes, this is what the article says, and here's the citation, (Source: The state of human development, United Nations Human Development Report 1998, Chapter 1, p.37).

I urge you to go to the site and read the rest of the article. It offers very telling statistics.

The second group of images is entirely different.  They are the work of Seattle photographer Chris Jordan, who says about his display, "Running the Numbers,"

"'Running The Numbers' looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming."

I've reproduced below one of his series, and then, to whet your whistle and make sure you make it to his website, I've given you a couple more of the "far" view, hoping you'll want to go see the "near" view.

Now for the whistle-wetters:


PHOTOS FROM ABU GRAIBS (beware, very disturbing)