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: