Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Trumped Up Logic

I never gave much thought to Donald Trump, pro or con. I knew he was a very rich guy from Queens, New York, who owned casinos and lent his name to buildings for a licensing fee. He married very attractive women, got bored with them and then moved on to the next. Occasionally, he teetered toward bankruptcy but always seemed to bounce back.

He has a reality television show that I have never watched. In keeping with the theme of our current economy, his show apparently involves him going around firing people. It wasn’t until he recently grabbed the news media by its lapels for a possible run for president that I took notice of this man with the comb-over hairdo. (Hey, Donald, you're not fooling anyone. We all know you’re balding.)
Donald Trump and his traveling bad-hair day.
These days, it's difficult to miss Donald. That’s because when he opens his mouth, really strange stuff begins coming out of it. He's the Salvador Dali of rhetoric. He starts off making sense then wanders away like a crazy homeless man badly in need of psychotropic medications. Let me explain.

Let’s start with the perennial nonissue of abortion:
"I'm totally pro-choice."—Interview with Fox News Sunday, October 1999
"I want to see the abortion issue removed from politics. I believe it is a personal decision that should be left to the women and their doctors." —Remarks to reporters, December 1999
“No one is pro-abortion.” —CPAC conference, February 2011 (Okay. Fine. What does that mean?)

What are his views on healthcare?
"I'm very liberal when it comes to health care. I believe in universal health care." —Interview with CNN's Larry King, October 1999
"The Canadian plan also helps Canadians live longer and healthier than Americans... We need, as a nation, to reexamine the single-payer plan." —Writing in his book, The America We Deserve, January 2000
"They're all good men [the other Republican candidates], but you need somebody that is going to beat Barack Obama. You need somebody that's going to knock out Obamacare." —Fox News, March 17, 2011 (So, Donald, are you saying that Obama is not liberal enough for you?)

Then there’s his unflagging, long-standing loyalty to the Republican party:
"I probably identify more as Democrat." —Interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, March 2004
"I've been around for a long time. And it just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans." —Interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, March 2004
"Bush is probably the worst president in the history of the United States." —Interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, March 2007
"I think he [Obama] has a chance to go down as a great president." —Interview with NY1, November 2008
"I heard he [Obama] was a terrible student, terrible. How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?"—The Associated Press interview, 2011. (Huh?)

So why should we vote for this bastion of humility?
"Part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich." —Fox News, March 17,2011 (Hubba, hubba)
“Show me someone without an ego, and I'll show you a loser.” —Writing in his book, How to Get Rich, 2004
“If I run and win, our country will be great again.” —February 2011 (It’s... just... that... easy!)

What does his special counsel have to say about Trump’s buckshot viewpoints?
“People change their positions all the time, the way they change their wives,’’ says Michael Cohen, executive vice president of the Trump Organization and, founder,

Well, that certainly explains it all.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Caught in a Net of Wonder

Several years ago, my mother had a brain hemorrhage and I found myself suddenly in charge of her finances. She and my father had worked hard all their lives to save a modest nest egg. Imagine my shock when I looked at the numbers and realized that their 40-plus years of savings would be used up in five years if she entered a nursing home.

Luckily, she recovered and that didn’t happen. But the experience served as a wake-up call for my husband and me. We were in the process of saving money for our retirement. The realization that what we were really saving for was to pay a nursing home to take care of us was disturbing. That inspired the decision to take our first substantial vacation in years.

One of us, for health reasons, is not able to fly, so cruising seemed like an ideal mode of travel. Many people recoil at the idea of being "stuck" on a ship. To the contrary, we fell in love with cruising. Sitting on our balcony with a good book, listening to the lapping of the ocean against the ship and feeling the invigorating sea air was a little piece of nirvana. Sometimes we just fell into an alpha state watching the undulating ocean waves.

"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever."—Jacques Yves Cousteau

Our cruise ship as seen from a museum in the port of Tortola, BVI.
We have seen schools of dolphins frolicking near the ship and witnessed the marvel of flying fish gliding above the waters. From the main decks, we have tracked storms as they traveled from the distant horizon all the way to our ship. We have seen incredible rainbows, breath-taking sunsets, and a night sky filled with sparkling rivers of stars. All this, between ports along the Atlantic or Caribbean coasts. The pace is slow and we like it that way.

Passenger liners originally were a way of transporting people long distances prior to the development of air travel. The concept of pleasure cruising came later and was generally an off-season way of keeping ocean liners full. Cruising has only been around since the late 1800s. Here are some highlights, thanks to Paul Timmerman at
Blazing sunset off of Maine.
  • 1867—the paddle wheeler, Quaker City, makes the first transatlantic cruise from New York to Europe and the Holy Land. One of the passengers on board was Mark Twain, whose book (1869, The Innocents Abroad) offers a detailed account of the voyage
  • 1881—the Ceylon, one of the first real cruise ships, sails under the English shipping company, Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) after being converted from a liner to a cruise ship. Ships were organized as “excursions for travelers who look for adventure
  • 1899—the American Line SS Paris (former USS Yale) sails on a three-week voyage to the West Indies to visit the battle sites of the Spanish American War (not sure why battlefields of a ten-week war would be a draw; perhaps the same reason why history buffs flock to Gettysburg and Omaha Beach)
  • Post-1900—passenger liners returning from New York and Canada to Europe were often half empty. So, gradually, these return trips were marketed as pleasure cruises. On-board standards were improved, and liners were built with an emphasis on luxury rather than speed: White Star Line's Adriatic in 1907 introduced the first swimming pool on the high seas. HAPAG Lloyd's Amerika featured the first a la carte restaurant, the Ritz Carlton, and the first electric elevators aboard a passenger vessel
  • Between WWI and WWII, new liners were built for the transatlantic route including the Normandie, Queen Mary. Rex, Conte di Savoia, Nieuw Amsterdam, Bremen and Europa. Passenger ships, referred to as “Floating Palaces,” were lavishly decorated, reflecting the interiors of land-based hotels or country estates. The luxurious accommodations were meant to draw the attention of the traveler away from the raging seas they had to cross. This style of passenger ship interiors lasted until the beginning of the 1930s
  • 1920-1933—America’s Prohibition, banning the consumption of alcohol, made cruises to nowhere, or the so-called Booze Cruise, very popular. It offered Americans an opportunity to drink legally outside US territorial waters. Ships like Cunard’s Mauretania and Berengeria offered these trips between their Atlantic crossings
  • 1922—Laconia, owned by British Cunard Line, made the first ever world cruise. She departed from New York, transited the Panama Canal, then visited Japan and other countries in the Far East, and continued via the Suez Canal, through the Mediterranean and back to New York. The following years, Cunard offered world cruises with a duration of six months, almost twice as long as a world cruise offered today
The fog envelops our ship off a New England port.
  • 1927—the world’s first purpose-built luxury cruise ship, the Norwegian Stella Polaris was introduced. This vessel resembled a large yacht, and 200 passengers were looked after by a crew of 130. The impeccable service and her long cruises to remote places, only to be enjoyed by the happy few with enough time and money to spare, set her apart from other cruise ships and made her probably the most famous cruise ship of all time
  • 1927—the French introduced the Ile de France, which is regarded the first passenger ship completely decorated in a modern, contemporary style. This ship introduced the modernistic art-deco style. The Ile de France marked the end of the Floating Palaces
"I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky; and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by." —John Masefield
When a ship can't dock, a tender boat carries passengers to shore.
  • 1930s—The German Labor Ministry organized cruises for German workers (a kind of incentive cruise). The NAZI-fleet included the Wilhelm Gustloff and Robert Ley. They were called the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) ships. These ships introduced a new feature in cruising: large numbers of cabins with exactly the same layout, found today on every cruise ship afloat. All cabins were outside cabins, making the Wilhelm Gustloff and Robert Ley forerunners of the All Outside Cabin layout, re-introduced by Royal Princess in 1984
  • 1948—After WWII, most surviving passenger ships were still engaged as troop transports, and after their service in this role ended, they were returned to their pre-war owners. Among these ships were a handful of full-time cruise ships, mostly in the luxury segment, like Cunard’s Caronia and Bergen Line's Stella Polaris
  • 1959—Six months after the first commercial flight crossed the North Atlantic, for the first time, more people flew across the Atlantic than sailed; the passenger liner era came to an end
  • 1950s-1960s—The standard of living improved significantly and more people had money and time to travel. Cruising wasn't just for the rich anymore. Borders between classes on board diminished
Rainbow after a storm.
  • 1964-1972—four companies that today are often referred to as the Big Four were founded: Carnival Cruises (now includes Cunard and Holland America), Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (now includes Celebrity), Princess Cruises and Norwegian Caribbean Line.
"At night, when the sky is full of stars and the sea is still, you get the wonderful sensation that you are floating in space."—Natalie Wood

Of course, this all transpired long before we stepped across our first gang plank. From our maiden voyage, the sirens of Titan mesmerized us, as surely as they had woven their magic with previous generations of travelers. Our adventures have instilled a deep sense of kinship and respect for the restless power of the sea. As John F. Kennedy once observed, "We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch, we are going back from whence we came."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thirsting for Greed

The old-fashioned soda fountain.
What could be more American than soda pop? The genteel term "soda pop" originated in the 1860s from the popping sound of escaping gas as a soda bottle was opened. Today, soft drinks rank as America's favorite beverage, representing 25 percent of the total beverage market.

Some of my earliest memories of this drink involve putting a dime in a vending machine and being rewarded with a bottle of carbonated manna. And who, of my generation, does not remember the local soda fountain where you could get an ice cream soda or cherry cola on a hot summer afternoon? A local restaurant used to make homemade birch beer by the pitcher that was heaven in a glass.

Why all this reverie over a fizzy drink? Well, it would seem that this carbonated joy has a dark side. I know. You’ve had it with people telling you that the things you enjoy most are out to get you. In this case, however, it may be worth a read. Some recent studies have said some less than wonderful things about soda pop. I'm not a scientist and wouldn't represent myself as one. Fortunately, there are many scientists out there who are concerned about their own health and we can benefit from that. That said, what I discovered from my research into this subject is that you may want to back away slowly from your favorite carbonated beverage and even some fruit juices. Here’s why:

Liquid Energy

Everyone knows that both caffeine and sugar cause dehydration, so no big surprise there. Many people are not aware that these ingredients also cause the depletion of minerals from the body. A study was done in which two groups of children, 13 to 18 years old, were given one of two drinks, a caffeinated sugar-free drink, or a drink containing both caffeine and sugar. When caffeine was added to their diet, calcium excretion in the urine increased by 25 percent. When sugar was added as well, urinary calcium loss almost doubled. I have not seen any studies on adults so I do not know if the effects would differ.

Soft drink enthusiast enjoying his beverage.
In addition, eating sugar lowers immune function by reducing the ability of white blood cells to ingest and destroy bacteria. This lowered immune function can last for five hours or more after the ingestion of sugar. This effect is particularly strong with liquid sugar such as soda or juice, which shoots quickly into the bloodstream. An Israeli study from 2009 found that when the body filters sugar out of the blood from soda or fruit juices—even "healthy" fresh-squeezed juices—over time, that can result in a fatty liver, which may lead to diabetes and heart disease. The study suggested drinking water and eating whole fruits, which digest more slowly, as a healthier approach.

Phosphoric Acid

Phosphoric acid is added to sodas to give them a tangy or sour taste. This chemical is also used  in fertilizers, detergents and can melt rust. My father, who had a machine shop, told me that soda was commonly used to clean industrial machinery. Phosphoric acid also can erode your bones and the enamel on your teeth.

Calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus must be maintained in the proper balance for bone health. When too much phosphorus is in the blood, calcium is leached from the bones, causing osteoporosis. Even in citrus sodas, which contain citric acid instead of phosphoric acid, bone calcium is needed to normalize blood pH. That may be because most citric acids these days, rather than being made from lemons and limes, are actually formulated from fermented Aspergillus niger mold from scrap molasses, waste starch hydrolysates, and phosphoric acid. I have no idea what some of that stuff is, but I cling to the old food label adage that if you don’t know what it is or have problems pronouncing it, you should not be putting it in your mouth. One website indicated that the fastest growing group of people with osteoporosis in this country is teenagers because of the huge number of sodas they consume.

Caramel Color

Caramel coloring may be processed with caustic chemicals, sulfites or ammonia. Caramel coloring is currently on the FDA list of substances to be tested for teratogenic (biological deformities), mutagenic and reproductive effects. It is a suspected carcinogen and may cause inflammation of the tongue, scalp lesions, dandruff, and hair loss. I am a little puzzled as to why this is on a list to be tested for potential health problems AFTER it has been approved for use in our beverages.

Natural Flavors

The word natural may be a misnomer. Natural flavors can be chemically extracted and processed, and in combination with other food additives, are not required to be listed on food labels. They may include free glutamates, which can cause brain damage, especially in children, and can also cause headaches, itching, nausea,  reproductive disorders, high blood pressure and allergic reactions.

Benzene Anyone?

As of 2007, the FDA was investigating the formation of benzene in sodas. They had known about this for more than 15 years. I do not know why they dragged their feet in investigating it, nor do I know what the final outcome was, if any. However, you would be well advised to read the labels of any soda or juice you buy to make sure they do not contain the combination of these two ingredients: sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Gee, how could something as wholesome as Vitamin C be unhealthy? Ah, chemistry. 

Unfortunately, these two preservatives, while in storage, react to produce benzene, which is a known human carcinogen. The warmer and older the soda, the more benzene. The FDA and soda makers have known about the problem since 1990 but the FDA assumed that the health-conscious soda producers would solve the problem. It wasn't until the FDA re-opened an inquiry into benzene in 2006 that manufacturers reacted. One of the worst offenders at that time had benzene levels as high as 90 parts per billion. The drinking water standard is 5 ppb. The manufacturers reformulated the drink and it went from 90 down to 4 ppb in 1 liter bottles and below 1 ppb in 16 oz. bottles. Not all sodas that were tested had benzene in them. In fact, there was tremendous variation in what the FDA found.

According to the The, a partner of, benzene exposure is commonly associated with leukemia and a large number of blood diseases. Also, sodium benzoate, all by itself, has been associated with recurring rashes, asthma and eczema, according to Dr. Marcia Zimmerman, author of The A.D.D. Nutrition Solution.

Artificial Sweeteners—Sucralose

In 1975, sucralose was discovered during research on insecticides. An Indian researcher misunderstood his supervisor, so when he was told to "test" the substance, he thought he was being told to "taste" the substance. He did, and found it was sweet. Consequently, it was sold to the food processing industry. Few human studies of safety have been published on sucralose. One small study of diabetic patients using the sweetener showed a statistically significant increase in glycosylated hemoglobin (Hba1C), which is used to assess long-term glycemic control in diabetic patients. An increase in Hba1C is associated with increased cardiac mortality.

Sucralose breaks down into small amounts of 1,6 -dichlorofructose, a chemical similar to chlorinated pesticides such as DDT. According to a legal article written at Harvard, opponents of the FDA's approval of sucralose have said that "sucralose contains chlorine, a key ingredient in many bleaches and pesticides and not a substance one would normally consider suitable as a food additive. Furthermore, though it is marketed in the United States as a 'no-calorie' sweetener, sucralose is not in fact entirely non-nutritive; 11-27% of any amount consumed is actually absorbed by the body. Finally, there have been no long-term studies of the effects of sucralose ingestion on human beings, and most of the existing short-term studies were conducted by the manufacturer." While there may not have been adequate testing of this product before it was released for public use, there have been some post-approval studies. I do not know the sources of all of these studies, but have seen these results listed on a number of websites:
  • Shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage)
  • Enlarged liver and kidneys
  • Atrophy of lymph follicles in the spleen and thymus
  • Increased cecal weight
  • Reduced growth rate
  • Decreased red blood cell count
  • Hyperplasia of the pelvis
  • Aborted pregnancy (maternal & fetal toxicity)
  • Decreased fetal body weights and placental weights
Very depressing. Enough on that. Now let's go major depressive disorder and talk about aspartame.

Artificial Sweeteners—Aspartame

Aspartame was originally listed by the Pentagon as a biochemical warfare agent, according to Pat Thomas in The Ecologist. It is not clear from what I have read how it transitioned from that status to a food additive. It is banned for use in any products for children in Europe. That may be because earliest toxicological tests were not optimistic.

Biochemist Dr. Harry Waisman, director of the University of Wisconsin's Joseph P Kennedy Jr Memorial Laboratory of Mental Retardation Research and a respected expert in the toxicity of phenylalanine (which comprises 50 per cent of the aspartame formula), conducted a study of the effects of aspartame on primates. Of seven monkeys fed aspartame mixed with milk, one died and five others had grand mal epileptic seizures. In 1971, Dr. John Olney, professor of neuropathology and psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, whose research into the neurotoxic food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG, a chemical cousin of aspartame) was responsible for having it removed from baby foods, conducted studies that found that aspartic acid, one of the main constituents of aspartame, causes holes in the brains of infant mice. That finding was confirmed in a second study by the manufacturer. According to a legal article written at Harvard, "in November 1996, an article in the Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology suggested that the incidence of brain tumors in the United States might have increased due to the introduction of aspartame in the food supply." This article was refuted by the FDA.

Okay, so aspartame does not appear to be good for monkeys and mice. What does it do in humans? Methanol is the third ingredient in aspartame. When ingested in the human body, methanol converts to the poison, formaldehyde, which in turn converts to formic acid, another potent toxin that can depress the central nervous system. The justification for claiming that the methanol in aspartame is safe is based on the position that methanol may also occur in fruit juices.

The difference with naturally occurring methanol in fruit juice, apparently, is that naturally occurring pectin and ethyl alcohol are counteracting agents. There are no such counteracting substances for the free methanol in aspartame. What does formaldehyde do in the body? Formaldehyde is a toxic substance that damages both the central nervous system and the immune system. Studies show that formaldehyde may accumulate in our cells and react with our DNA, causing permanent genetic damage and/or cancer.

How did aspartame get approved by the FDA? They based the approval on industry-funded research while ignoring contradictory independent aspartame research. The head of that agency overruled the board of inquiry he had appointed to look into the dangers of aspartame, then left the agency to go and work for—you guessed it—the marketers of aspartame. Mission accomplished.

Oh, FDA, Where Art Thou?

No one wants to believe that the FDA is not protecting us and that our food supply is a "buyers beware" proposition. It would appear, however, that the people who run our regulatory agencies may be ignoring our safety in pursuit of their thirst for greed. My Italian husband has this proverb. "It doesn't matter if the glass is half full or half empty when the drink has been poisoned." Unaware, Americans are drinking beverages of questionable safety every day. In the early 1990s, per capita consumption of soft drinks in the U.S. was 49 gallons, 15 gallons more than the next most popular beverage, water. The evidence would suggest that for many reasons, despite the pleasant memories most of us associate with soda pop, filtered water may be the healthier alternative in beverages.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Zombie Spring

In 2011, I decided to do things differently than in years past. Instead of being sick in the fall, as I traditionally am, I caught a bad cold in April and am doing a personal reenactment of Night of the Living Dead (the original black & white version from 1968, mind you). In that movie, the radiation from a fallen satellite causes the recently deceased to rise from the grave and seek out the living to use as food.

Field Reporter: Are they slow-moving, chief?
Sheriff McClelland: Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up.

The horrors of a spring cold.
Yep. I know how they feel. 

I spent this past weekend, lying in bed, coughing up a lung and moaning in incomprehensible zombie-speak to the marked annoyance of my husband. My unkempt home taunted me as I weakly lay in bed, surveying it through hostile, glassy eyes.

Something is terribly wrong here. Spring is not the time of year to lie around in bed sick. I should be frolicking in my front yard with the emerging daffodils, the only flowers I have been able to plant that aren’t brutally devoured by malicious neighborhood deer. I should be rejoicing that the oversupply of last winter’s snow has finally receded into mounds of gooey mud.

It is comforting to know that somewhere in the world, while I am suffering from an undignified post-nasal drip, happy people are gaily celebrating their culture's embodiment of the season. Here is a partial list of their April festivities:
  • April 4, Tomb Sweeping Day, Taiwan
  • April 6, Drop of Water Is a Grain of Gold Day, Turkmenistan
  • April 9, Martyrs Day, Tunisia
  • April 14, Orange Day, Japan (couples profess their love by exchanging... err... oranges)
  • April 15, Recollection of the Deceased Day, Republic of Georgia
  • April 16, Queen Margrethes' Birthday, Denmark
  • April 19, Landing of the 33 Patriots, Uruguay (celebrating Uruguayan independence fighters)
  • April 21, National Tree Planting Day, Kenya
  • April 23, Aragon Day, Spain (region in northeastern Spain that celebrates itself)
  • April 23, Peppercorn Day, Bermuda (not much to celebrate there, I guess)
  • April 26, Confederate Memorial Day, United States (Wonder what Walmart has planned for this holiday?)
  • April 27, Day of Resistance, Slovenia (commemorates heroes of WWII)
  • April 28, Day of Mourning for People Killed or Injured in the Workplace, Canada (A real holiday, which begs the question, just how common is this occupational carnage, anyway?)
  • April 30, May Day Eve, Finland
  • April 30, Witches Day, Sweden/Germany (see photo below)
As if to mock my brain-nomming state, when I finally dragged myself out to my car today to pick up some badly needed groceries, my gas gauge was below zero. I had just filled the car a few days ago. Had some enterprising teenager siphoned my petrol? I drove to the gas station to discover that the tank was still nearly full; my gas gauge was broken. I could either cough up my remaining lung to the tune of $400 to get it fixed or learn to guess when my car needs fuel. With the help of my trusty odometer, I have opted for the latter.

It's no mistake that April is Alcohol Awareness Month. It is also, coincidentally, Counseling Awareness Month and Irritable Bowel Syndrome Awareness Month. Doesn't that say it all?

Happy pyromaniacs burn things to celebrate Walpurgisnacht, or Witches Night, a traditional religious holiday celebrated by Pagans, Satanists and Roman Catholics (no joking)  in parts of central and northern Europe.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Radioactive Postcards from Japan

"Genetic heritage is the most precious property for human beings. It determines the lives of our progeny, health and harmonious development of future generations. As experts, we affirm that the health of future generations is threatened by increasing development of the atomic industry and sources of radiation… We also believe that new mutations that occur in humans are harmful to them and their offspring."—World Health Organization, 1956, before they signed an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on May 28, 1959, at the 12th World Health Assembly, not to issue statements on health and radioactivity without that IAEA’s approval.

Godzilla was borne of radiation; so was the IAEA.
When the nuclear plants in Japan began melting down and spewing out radiation, did you heave a sigh of relief that it was happening on the other side of the world and not in your own backyard? Think again. The weather patterns take the fallout from Japan across the Pacific and over the United States. Have you been reassured by news reports that by the time the radiation reaches our shores it is too dissipated to affect us? Really?

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to release new data showing that various milk and water supply samples from across the US are testing increasingly high for radioactive elements such as Iodine-131, Cesium-134, and Cesium-137, all of which are being emitted from the ongoing Fukushima Daiichia nuclear fallout. According to, as of April 10, 2011, 23 US water supplies (including some in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey) have tested positive for radioactive Iodine-131, and milk samples from at least three US locations have tested positive for Iodine-131 at levels exceeding EPA maximum containment levels (MCL).

But before going into details on this, let’s talk about radiation.

"There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period. Exposure to radionuclides, such as Iodine-131 and Cesium-137, increases the incidence of cancer. For this reason, every effort must be taken to minimize the radionuclide content in food and water."—Jeff Patterson, DO, former President of Physicians for Social Responsibility

External radiation that we are exposed to includes everything from radiation leaking from the Japanese nuclear reactors to normal background radiation from space. It is external because it is outside of us. And as long as it remains outside of us, all is well. However, when it gets inside of us, it is called internal radiation and that is an entirely different story.

Internal radiation comes from radioactive elements that enter the body through inhalation, ingestion or skin absorption. Hazardous radionuclides such as Iodine-131, Cesium 137, and other isotopes currently being released into the sea and air around Fukushima increasingly concentrate along each step of various food chains (for example into algae, crustaceans, small fish, bigger fish, then humans; or soil, grass, cow's meat and milk, then humans). After they enter the body, these elements—called internal emitters—migrate to specific organs such as the thyroid, liver, bone and brain, where they continuously irradiate small numbers of cells with high doses of alpha, beta and/or gamma radiation. Over many years, they can induce uncontrolled cell growth, better known as cancer. Many of the nuclides remain radioactive in the environment for generations, contributing to increased incidences of cancer and genetic diseases over time. That's right, we're talking grandchildren here.

For instance, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred in 1986. The World Health Organization in 2005 issued a report attributing only 43 human deaths directly to the Chernobyl disaster and estimating an additional 4,000 fatal cancers. I guess they are still honoring their agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency. In contrast, the 2009 report, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, published by the New York Academy of Sciences, comes to a very different conclusion. The three scientist authors, Alexey V. Yablokov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko compiled and translated hundreds of scientific articles on the effects of the Chernobyl disaster that appeared in Slavic language publications over the past 20 years. They estimate the number of deaths attributable to the Chernobyl meltdown at about 980,000. Somehow I missed that shocking statistic when it was announced as lead story on every news station in the US back in 2009—or was it?

"Against this background of such persuasive data some defenders of atomic energy look specious as they deny the obvious negative effects of radiation upon populations. In fact, their reactions include almost complete refusal to fund medical and biological studies, even liquidating government bodies that were in charge of the 'affairs of Chernobyl'. Under pressure from the nuclear lobby, officials have also diverted scientific personnel away from studying the problems caused by Chernobyl."—Professor Dimitro Godzinksy, Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences

The grave effects of those internal emitters, mentioned earlier, are of great concern at Fukushima. It is inaccurate and misleading to use the term "acceptable levels of external radiation" in assessing internal radiation exposures. Confusing the terms "external" and "internal," in terms of radiation, floods the news media with dangerous misinformation at a time when the public worldwide is seeking the truth about radiation's hazards. So let’s talk about that truth on a local level.

When it comes to water supplies, the EPA is only testing for radioactive Iodine-131. There are no readings or data available for cesium, uranium, or plutonium—all of which are being continuously emitted from Fukushima—even though these elements are all much more deadly than Iodine-131. However, we can only work with what they have collected, so I have presented what we know in the below Radiation in the US Water Supply chart.

Water is not the only problem. New EPA data just released on Sunday shows that at least three different milk samples from various parts of the US have tested positive for radioactive Iodine-131 at levels that exceed the EPA maximum thresholds for safety, which is currently set at 3.0 pico Curies per Liter (pCi/l).

In Phoenix, Arizona, a milk sample taken on March 28, 2011, tested at 3.2 pCi/l. In Little Rock, Arkansas, a milk sample taken on March 30, 2011, tested at 8.9 pCi/l, which is almost three times the EPA limit. And, not surprisingly, in Hilo, Hawaii, a milk sample collected on April 4, 2011, tested at 18 pCi/l, a level six times the EPA maximum safety threshold. The same Hawaii sample also tested at 19 pCi/l for Cesium-137, which has a half life of 30 years, and 24 pCi/l for Cesium-134, which has a half life of just over two years.

Why is milk contamination significant? After all, not everyone drinks milk, anyway. Milk is considered a gauge of the overall condition of the food chain because cows consume grass and are exposed to the same elements as food crops and water supplies. So when cows' milk starts testing positive for high levels of radioactive elements, this is indicative of radioactive contamination of the entire food supply.

Radiation continues to leak from the Japanese nuclear plants, and those who advocate atomic energy interests will do their level best to silence or discredit any information that sounds negative about this energy source. Of course, we all know that our standard of living requires a never-ending supply of energy and it has to come from somewhere. That's on the assumption they we keep on living, business as usual.

What if... we began to question the real price we are paying to live in unsustainable homes with energy-devouring lifestyles? What if... we decided that as an investment in the future health of our families, it was essential to start lobbying for ways to decrease our need for the energy supplies that threaten our health and our national security? What if... everyone, on a grassroots level, began demanding affordable zero-energy homes, good public transportation and a fundamental rethinking of our consumption-based economy? If the late John Lennon could imagine a better world, then why not the rest of us?

"The rejection of consumerism arises out of the belief that the meaning of life does not and cannot consist in the consumption and accumulation of material things. The affirmation of simplicity arises out of the recognition that very little is needed to live wellthat abundance is a state of mind, not a quantity of consumer products."—Samuel Alexander, lecturer, Melbourne Law School, and leader of Voluntary Simplicity movement (see

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Moving Beyond Horatio

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."Hamlet, William Shakespeare

When my late mother-in-law, Connie, was a girl, her mother, one day, told her not to leave the house because if she did, she would break her arm. Her mom, known as Grandma to the rest of us, was psychic—something that ran through the Italian side of my husband’s family. Connie resented her mom always being right, so she went out anyway. Unfortunately, she tripped, fell and broke her arm. Not wanting to give her mother any satisfaction, she tried to cover it up and endured the pain silently through dinner that night. Finally, she confessed, vindicating the prediction.

I know that many people think that psychic phenomena are nonsense. I certainly had my doubts before I met my husband and his prescient family. But when you live with mystics, you begin to soften in your skepticism.

My husband's grandma at age 99, now watching us from the Other Side.
A few summers ago, my husband woke up early one Saturday morning with tightness in his chest. He was having difficulty breathing. That is unusual for him. We decided to get some fresh air at a park nearby. As we walked around a small lake there, his breathing became more labored, so we sat down. His chest pain increased and I suggested a ride to the local emergency room. He resisted, and suddenly at 8:15 a.m. all the pain stopped and he had an immense feeling of physical and emotional relief. We were both happy about that. We returned home and five minutes after we got into the door, the phone rang. It was a family member. She was calling to say that my husband's father had had difficulty breathing that morning, suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Time of death? 8:15 a.m. When my husband received his father's watch from the hospital, it was frozen at 8:15. The timepiece had profoundly stopped the moment his father died.

It has been said that everyone possesses psychic ability but some people appear to have a more natural talent for it than others, according to former Harvard professor Diane Hennacy Powell in her 2008 book The ESP Enigma: The Scientific Case for Psychic Phenomena. She says that researchers think that genetics may be behind psychic ability—something certainly borne out by my husband's family. There are also some people, like well-known medium George Anderson, for instance, who develop their unusual abilities after a serious illness or head injury that changes the structure and function of their brains.

"I like to think of psychic energy as akin to radio waves. Even without the radio on, the air is filled with invisible signals from countless radio stations operating on their various frequencies. All you have to do to receive them is to flick the radio on and tune the dial."—John Edwards, medium

Altered brains may have abilities that normal brains do not, Powell adds. Einstein thought of the space-time continuum as a place where all time co-existed. That means that the past, present and future all exist at once. Brains are set up to experience time as a series of linear moments. Hypothetically, without the normal linear constraints of the brain, which may be weaker in psychics, it may be possible to see across time into the past or future.

People have long had a fascination with psychic phenomena. Duke University started a psychical research facility in 1935, which eventually moved off campus where it remains today. The founder, botanist Dr. Joseph Rhine, turned to parapsychology research after his college professor and mentor shared the story of an intriguing paranormal experience. A young couple who lived near the professor knocked on his door—no telephones for many in those days—to ask if he could do them a favor. The woman had experienced a vivid dream the night before where she saw her brother go into his barn and shoot himself in the head. She was so distraught by that vision that she wanted to go to his farm to make sure all was well. She asked the professor to drive them there. When they arrived, they walked into the barn and found her brother just as she had described him in her dream. Dr. Rhine became obsessed with developing a scientific approach to solving how such a thing could happen.

"Ay, there's the rub, for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause."Hamlet, William Shakespeare

Today, the Rhine Research Center is respected as a facility that scientifically conducts parapsychology and consciousness studies. They have unmasked psychic frauds as well as validating genuine psychic events. Many other institutions have joined them, including:
  • Boundary Institute - Saratoga, California
  • Mind-Matter Unification Project - Cambridge University, UK
  • Division of Psychiatry - University of Virginia
  • Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab - Princeton University
  • Stanford Research Institute International - Menlo Park, California
Additionally, there are numerous labs and colleges in Europe that actively research psychic ability. And U.S. military intelligence communities have taken an avid interest in parapsychology studies since at least the 1950s.

My tactfully psychic brother-in-law.
Now back to my husband's family and what they shared with me when my beloved father died. When were planning his funeral, we decided to call the minister who had led our church congregation when I was growing up. Little did we know, he had long since retired, was well into his eighties and was somewhat eccentric. During the eulogy at the funeral home, the good minister rambled on aimlessly, leaving us stranded with the gradual and oddly amusing epiphany that he was no longer of sound mind.

During his captive monologue, I remember my husband leaning over and whispering that he saw my father standing next to the minister, impatiently tapping his foot. (My father was not known for his patience.) I did not think much of it until my brother-in-law, Tom, called me later that week. He had delayed calling to avoid upsetting me on the day of my father's funeral. He wanted me to know that during the eulogy, he had seen my father standing by the minister, arms crossed, impatiently tapping his foot.

So is everyone who claims to be a psychic, a psychic? Probably not. Does psychic ability really exist, despite numerous frauds? Apparently so. At least according to some fairly prestigious universities around the globe. And that's fine with me. I like the idea that there may be an unseen world as populated and quirky as the one in which we live, filled with a flurry of invisible, opinionated and nosy friends and relatives. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Fuels Rush In...

“I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmitted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmitted into a power that can move the world.
—Mahatma Gandhi

I don’t mean to be a spoil sport, but all the articles I have read about reducing energy consumption are crap. Why? Listen to the news. All you hear from politicians and insipid "news" programs is the same recycled suggestions about shifting from one type of energy generation—say coal and oil—to another type of energy generation, say nuclear, solar, wind, etc. I have not seen a strong drive to do something equally or perhaps MORE important—to begin building a humbler lifestyle that is more sustainable. Oddly enough, the ability to do this already exists.

Let’s talk homes. When articles expound on energy-efficient homes, they talk about such band-aids as double-paned windows, improved insulation and fluorescent light bulbs. Lame. If we really want to make a dent in energy consumption, it has to begin with our concept of what a home is in the first place. It’s time to walk away from environmentally defiant homes to something more meaningful. I’m talking truly sustainable homes, from the ground up. Homes that completely reject the current notions about what a home looks like, how much space we really need to live and how a house functions. There are numerous examples out there, but for the purpose of this piece, I'll showcase two.
The self-operating, completely solar, zero-energy LUMENHAUS.

Let’s start with the LUMENHAUS™. This amazing example of solar housing was designed and built at Virginia Tech. Its innovative design combines architecture with technology and won the international Solar Decathlon Competition in Madrid, Spain in June of 2010.

LUMENHAUS has open, flowing spaces. The north and south walls are all glass, maximizing the exposure to daylight. Its design uses technology to make the owner’s life simpler, more energy efficient and less expensive.

LUMENHAUS is a zero-energy home completely powered by the sun. Its sustainable architecture features compact volume, little air infiltration, strategic insulation, natural/cross ventilation, passive heating, and integrated geothermal energy sink. (Geothermal energy is derived from wells drilled deep into the surface of the ground to tap into the Earth's natural heat.) Design and material selection aim to reduce indoor pollutants, minimize global warming, reduce waste, include recycled content, represent low energy in manufacture and harvest, limit destruction to habitat, and rapidly renew resources. Sign me up!

Homes built into hillsides, courtesy of the Swiss.
Now let’s move to Switzerland. Here, they are building Hobbit-like homes into hillsides. Inhabitants of these earth homes in Dietikon, Switzerland, are said to live not under the earth but with the earth. The homes are constructed from various natural and recycled building materials and then blanketed by grass for protection from rain, low temperatures, wind and abrasion. Homes are clustered around a lake and situated towards the south to maximize exposure to daylight. Natural light is brought in via skylights whenever possible. The compound, which includes an underground parking lot, was built using recycled glass and sprayed concrete, and then topped with a protective, natural green roof. Nice.

This low-impact woodland home was built by a gentleman in Wales.
"If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago."—Sir George Porter

If we're really serious about sustainability, forget the pointless squabbling over drilling versus mining versus construction of nuclear plants. It's time to replace the desperate search for more energy with a feverish sense of immediacy over reducing or eliminating what is gluttonously feeding that need. Let's completely re-tool the way we approach our homes, appliances, vehicles and overall consumption habits.

Beddington Zero Energy Development housing units near London.
Granted, there is little financial incentive with status quo energy producers, builders and manufacturers to move in this direction. The demand for sustainable homes and lives would have to be a grassroots movement with some visionary entrepreneurial companies leading the way. And those corporate standard-bearers would have to demonstrate a commitment to making what they build affordable for the average person. Ideally, the government—and I'm not holding my breath—would offer grants to knock down existing nonhistoric, energy-gobbling homes to be replaced by these zero-energy babies.

Yes, re-tooling factories and thought processes is financially and emotionally painful. Still, until there are substantial changes in the way we live, not just in how we scramble to amass greater volumes of energy generation with the aid of our military, it is difficult to believe that we are in any way serious about living sustainable lives. Nor is it possible to feel any sense of optimism for the future of humanity or the planet we so ineptly inhabit.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

When All Appears Lost....

"When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that, in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight."Kahlil Gibran

This past week, I suffered a professional tragedy that I hope few of you will ever experience. While en route to a meeting, a portable water thermos snugly packed in my briefcase gave my beloved MacBook Pro a bath. When I opened my briefcase at the meeting, my laptop emerged glistening with reverse-osmosis-filtered water. My professional associates gathered around the dripping silver remains, offering words of comfort. One of them gave me the name of a man—who hereafter shall be referred to as the Data Retrieval God—to see if the entirety of my business could be saved.

There were also some quiet yet tasteful suggestions regarding online backup systems and additional hard-drive backups I might want to consider for the future.

I called the Data Retrieval God at 6 p.m. I wanted to find out if there were any data that survived the onslaught of my carelessness. A chipper (automated) British voice answered the phone and I left a pathetic message of woe. To my surprise, about 20 minutes later, the phone rang and it was He. I offered to drive wherever he might be if he would just look at my damp computer. I had no idea where he lived or worked, so this was a gallant and desperate gesture on my part.

He lived 25 miles away and if I wanted to come over that evening, it was fine with him. I put on my coat within milliseconds after hanging up the phone. It was a dark, rainy night with a new moon and my night vision is extremely poor—such was my determination to learn if my business data were alive or no more. The computer, itself, would not start and was surely in a coma, if not dead.

"For some moments in life there are no words."David Seltzer, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

A half hour later, I stood on the threshold of the Data Retrieval God's door and rang the bell. A tall Englishman answered the door. I thanked him for seeing me with so little notice. He smiled knowingly. He had seen many a feckless laptop user humbled in his presence. Within five minutes, he had the machine completely stripped down with the guts of my computer resting in an electronic life-support device that extracts data. Like a skilled surgeon, he displayed the beating heart of my data on his diagnostic computer screen. I sat in hushed awe. All was not lost.

My newly beloved MacBook Pro.
Someday, my Apple laptop might dry up again and work. In the meantime, I had projects to finish for clients so I had no choice but to transplant my living data into a new MacBook Pro. Those of you who are techies are probably thinking, “Oh gee, you HAD to buy the latest version of the most exquisite machine known to computing.” I don’t deny the worldly pleasures of a new and updated Mac. However, having just bought a $7000 boiler for my house, this was not the ideal time to go frolicking into my bank account for this purchase.

So what have I learned from this unfortunate and expensive experience? There are Data Retrieval Gods in this world who wield the power to reanimate the data of dead computers. DropBox and Carbonite are the holy altars of data backup. And most importantly, it is better to die of thirst than to pack a container of liquid with a laptop.