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December 2003

Industrial Beef

I've been poking around on the Internet over the past few days, following up on my feeling that the underlying cause of the mad cow problem is fattening cows feedlots: the cattle aren't getting th disease from grass, and if they were eating grass like they're supposed to, they wouldn't be exposed in the first place.

The practice of fattening cows in feedlots kills a lot more people through heart disease by reducing the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fatty acids in beef and by increasing their fat content. Even if one assumes that mad cow disease is out there in the food supply, if one eats industrial beef, the odds of dying of heart disease caused by modern feedlot practices are vastly higher than the chances of contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. I haven't seen any discussion of this in the frenzy of media coverage of the Mad Cow of Washington.

My researches showed me that the situation is more complex and worse than I had imagined.

First of all, I learned a few new euphemisms: depopulated (which means killed, and is somehow distinct from slaughtered which for some implies killed for consumption, as distinct from euthanized; I don't know how to compare euthanized and depopulated), as in Both the mother cow and the offspring will be depopulated and tested for BSE. And non-ambulatory, (too sick to stand), as in USDA announced that a single non-ambulatory cow that had been slaughtered on December 9 at Vern's Moses Lake Meats in Washington State was presumptive positive for BSE.

That there would be controversy over whether cows too sick to stand should be allowed to be slaughtered for human consumption, I had never imagined. This is just common sense, right? Don't eat sick animals. But apparently, this is a contested issue. Ugh. And I like my meat rare.

Howard Dean, who is good on the subject of public health, remarks:

Congress has attempted to ban the slaughter of cattle that are too sick to walk but administration has blocked them. Such a ban [might] have prevented the current situation in Washington. The Bush administration has also resisted attempts to implement a better cattle tracking system despite the urging of scientists such as Nobel Laureate Stanley Prusiner, the scientist who identified the proteins that cause Mad Cow Disease.

Mike Allen remarks in the Washington Post:

Bush donned a cowboy hat when he spoke last year to the annual convention of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, and livestock interests have been among his most reliable supporters. The Center for Responsive Politics found that 79 percent of the livestock industry's $4.7 million in contributions for the 2000 elections went to Republicans. Of the $1.1 million the industry has given so far for next year's election, 84 percent went to the GOP.

There's a lot of fun data to be found on opensecrets.com. For example, check out the 2004 data for livestock industry and the meat processing industry.

We already knew that big Bush campaign contributors get what they pay for. Here are some other examples of what these contributions bought:

  • Bush School Lunch Proposal: Yet Another Favor to Special Interests That Funded Campaign (April 2001)
    President BushÅfs proposal to reject a Clinton administration requirement that all beef served to children in the school lunch program be tested for salmonella and instead be irradiated is the latest in a series of moves intended to weaken consumer protection laws for the benefit of his corporate supporters, Public Citizen said Thursday.

    Numerous companies and industry groups that would benefit from the proposal not only contributed heavily to BushÅfs presidential campaign, but their executives assumed key roles on the presidentÅfs transition team, according to research by Public Citizen.

    During 2000, food companies and industry groups with a major stake in the proliferation of irradiated food gave $3.3 million to national Republican Party committees and federal candidates. Those same companies gave $654,000 to national Democratic Party committees and federal candidates. The companies include IBP (formerly known as Iowa Beef Packers) and Tyson Foods. The industry groups include the Food Marketing Institute and National Food Processors Association.
  • Bush administration opposes releasing retailer lists during meat recalls (March 2003)
  • and Bush against Oprah:
    Bush is inconsistent with his vision of tort reform. He did not consider the Texas Cattlemen Association's suit against Oprah Winfrey and Howard Lyman (ex-cattle rancher) for questioning the health and safety of the beef industry, a "frivolous" lawsuit. He supports the use of Texas "food disparagement laws" to bring lawsuits which will limit first amendment rights of free speech.

And here's another thing I never would have thought of: Dairy cattle are more vulnerable to mad cow than beef cattle. Why? Because many are taken from their mothers a day after birth and are then formula fed and given protein supplements which contain cow's blood. They are deprived of mother's milk and all its immune globulins, and fed the blood of their own species at a time when their immune system is not yet developed. There is something deeply perverse about formula-fed calves, and even more deeply perverse -- even Bluebeard-like -- about feeding calves the blood of other cattle. But perverse or not, this is not something that should be happening in the human food supply.

It seems to me that the meat industry is due for a serious house-cleaning. In the meantime, if you eat beef, eat free-range grass-fed beef.

Our local health foods store, Mrs. Greens, carries free-range beef from Adams Farm, 775 Bearsdon Road, Athol, MA 01331, (978)249-9441. It's nice to know exactly where it comes from.


Another Amusing Industry Front Group

Center for Global Food Issues

Their official slogan is Growing More Per Acre Leaves More Room for Nature. While this slogan makes some sense in other parts of the world, in the US, a truer statement about the situation of farmland would be, Growing More Per Acre Leaves More Room for Suburban Tract Housing.

And check out their book: Saving the Planet with Pestcides and Plastic. (I'm not making this up! Somethings are impossible to satirize.)

And here are their organizational goals:

The Center for Global Food Issues staff conducts research and analysis of agriculture and the environmental concerns surrounding food and fiber production. The Center uses its worldwide overview of food and farming to assess policies, improve farmers' understanding of the new globalized farm economy, and heighten awareness of the environmental impacts of various farming systems and food policies. The key to the Center's success has been its global perspective, the only relevant viewpoint for the 21st century.

The Center for Global Food Issues is a project of the Hudson Institute and is based in Churchville, Virginia. The Center's main goals are to:
  • promote free trade in agricultural products for both economic efficiency and environmental conservation;
  • combat efforts to limit technological innovation in agriculture, the foundation or continued agricultural sustainability;
  • heighten awareness of the connection between agricultural productivity and environmental conservation.

They don't say who funds them.


Fortune Names Diebold Electronic Voting Machines 2003's Worst Technology

WINNERS AND LOSERS OF 2003
Worst Technology

Paperless Voting
Remember all the chads and dimples that made voting for President so chaotic in Florida three years ago? In a well-meaning effort to fix the system before the 2004 elections, many communitiesÅ\in Florida and in other statesÅ\have begun to install direct-recording electronic machines (DRE), which instantly record and tabulate votes; some even use fancy touch-screen technology similar to automated-teller machines in banks. Computer scientists are alarmed, however, by the potential to manipulate the new machines. Internal documents from Diebold Election Systems, which has sold more than 33,000 AccuVote DRE machines, acknowledge that there have been security flaws, although the company denies that the flaws could allow a hacker to cast multiple votes or alter the votes of others, as critics suggest. Diebold asserts that the problems have been or are being fixed, but it is waging a legal war to have the embarrassing documents removed from the Internet.

;->


A Thought

As we were driving on the Jersey Turnpike on our way back from Washington, DC, yesterday, David and I wondered: Wouldn't it be a different experience traveling the Turnpike if you knew what was coming out of those roadside smoke stacks, if you could identify those foul odors? What if you had a GPS in your car that could look up specific factories on the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory Explorer as you drove? It's technologically possible today. I wonder if someone will make it happen.


Verdict First, Trial Afterwards, etc.

Maybe it's because it's first thing in the morning and I'm not drinking coffee anymore. But I'm having a hard time distiguishing between the criticism of Dean for asserting that bin Laden needed a trial before Dean was willing to pass judgement and the proclaimations of the queen in Through the Looking Glass.

Assuming Dean is elected and bin Laden is caught, a President Dean would be in an awkward spot to have the US try the man if he'd already proclaimed bin Laden's guilt and expressed a preference as to the sentence. (Someone else is currently in a similar predicament.)

And isn't this a bit premature, given that the suspect has yet to be aprehended?


Iran Quake

There's been a really bad earthquake in Iran. CNN reported casualty estimates up to 20,000. I hope that the Bush administration offers significant assistance. After all, they have all this mobile, state of the art medical equipment and personnel in Iraq for the war. They have all this heavy machinery. If Bush acts fast and if Iran is willing to accept US assistance, thousands of people could be saved.


My Excuse

David and I have an ongoing communication problem since Elizabeth was born. He'll tell me something and often I will have no recollection of him having mentioned it at all. At times, I have worried that maybe I was getting Alzheimers or something because this isn't like me. A paragraph toward the end of this article, Parents' brains tuned to babies' tears, on Nature's news site, sheds some light on my problem:

Men and women also respond differently to infant sounds, according to the study. When females hear baby noises, activity drops in a brain region called the prefrontal cortex, which filters out irrelevant sounds. Males are unaffected.

Crying may open up the noise filter in the prefrontal cortex, so that a woman interprets the toddler's sounds as important. Electrical impulses are then relayed to other brain areas, triggering strong emotions, as well as caring behaviour such as feeding or cuddling.

The main point of the article has to do with brain imaging and comparing parents and non-parents in how they respond to infant sounds:

The brains of mums and dads are tuned in to the sound of toddlers' cries, reveals a brain-imaging study. Non-parents, on the other hand, remain largely oblivious.

Researchers at the University of Basel, Switzerland, played parents and childless adults recordings of babies' cries and laughter. They measured their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Parents' brains fired up more in response to sobs than giggles, the researchers found. The cries activated one brain region in particular, called the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotions.

This is so obvious to me that my first reaction was to wonder why they needed brainimaging to figure this out. One of the researchers comments "Childless grown-ups, by contrast, reacted more to infant laughter than whimpers. This shows that the parental brain activity is learned." I think he's really pushing the envelope on the definition of learned here. I suggest he try this study with first-time mom's with newborns who haven't had the chance to "learn" yet. I suspect he'd find that this effect is much stronger in them than in experienced moms. I think much of this kinds of "learning" is hormonally mediated.


Let's All Thank the Kurds

In many parts of the world, though not in North America, it is being reported that Saddam Hussein was captured by the Kurds, not the US, and was left drugged for US forces to find. Here are a few samples:

ABC News Australia: Saddam held by Kurds, drugged and left for US troops: report

The Sydney Morning Herald: We got him: Kurds say they caught Saddam

These are triggered by a new report in a Scottish tabloid, the Sunday Express.

This new version seems to me much more plausible than the initial Pentagon made-for-TV version. (See my previous remarks, The Stagecraft of a Capture.)

One further thought: If the Kurds captured Saddam, what is the provenance of the intelligence information gleaned from the contents of the briefcase found with him? Is it also a gift from the Kurds?


Looney Industry Front Groups

I enjoy a looney industry front web site from time to time. I've just been browsing consumerfreedom.com, a food industry front site. I love their declaration on who funds them:

The Center for Consumer Freedom is supported by restaurants, food companies and more than 1,000 concerned individuals. From farm to fork, our friends and supporters include businesses, employees and consumers.

The Center is a 501(c)(3) corporation. We will file regular statements with the Internal Revenue Service, which will be open to public inspection. Our first such filing is expected to be complete sometime in 2003.

Many of the companies and individuals who support the Center financially have indicated that they want anonymity as a contributor. They are reasonably apprehensive about privacy and safety, in light of the violence some activist groups have adopted as a "game plan" to impose their views.

Why bother to mention it at all if you're going to refuse to name major donors? Amazing.

Given this guy's hysterical tone and affection for cheese burgers and such, I expect he'll be having a coronary and minute now.


Hormesis

In the Wall Street Journal, Sharon Begley writes about Edward Calabrese's work on the Hormesis Effect: Scientists Revisit Idea That a Little Poison Could Be Beneficial:

Edward Calabrese still has the peppermint plants that changed his life. Or at least he has the plants' descendants, propagated from cuttings over almost 40 years.

Working with their ancestor one day as a college student, he spritzed the plant with the common herbicide Phosfon, planning to measure how much the poison stunted the plant's growth. But instead of shriveling up, the Phosfon-treated plant grew some 40% taller and leafier than untreated plants.

The herbicide had been mistakenly overdiluted, and thanks to that accident, Ed Calabrese rediscovered a paradox of toxicology that had been in the doghouse since the 1930s: Low doses of a poison can be not merely harmless, but actually beneficial. . . .

To be sure, the benefits are in the range of only 20% to 60% better growth or fewer tumors or greater longevity. That makes hormetic effects hard to distinguish from chance.

Hormesis is winning converts, however, as scientists decipher the mechanisms that underlie it. Organisms respond to poisons by unleashing molecular repair crews. Exposed to a heavy metal such as mercury, for example, cells produce toxic-clean-up proteins called metallothioneins. Exposed to X-rays that tear DNA, cells produce enzymes that stitch it up.

Sometimes, the organism overcompensates. It churns out more clean-up proteins or more seamstress enzymes than needed to repair the immediate damage. That leaves cells with extra defense against the slings and arrows of everyday life, such as natural DNA breakage.

This research will come as welcome news to the chemical industry and other polluters. This is too fascilly framed. And I think the fascile message is what the WSJ's readers will take away from this.

While I'm willing to grant that some toxins may have a Hormesis effect associated with them, I also wonder how many of the toxicologists doing this sort of reseach would be willing to indulge themselves at this Japanese spa:

The Hormesis Effect and the benefits of Misasa hot springs.

Receiving a small amount of weak radiations such as radon stimulates the body's cells, revitalizing them and developing capillaries. This renewal improves immunological defenses and natural healing capacities. That's what is called the 'Hormesis Effect'.

Moreover, when you breath radon, it improves your anti-oxidation functions which was made clear by the results of an inquiry engaged in Misasaonsen. The anti-oxidation functions eliminate active oxygen , which is said to be the cause of aging and a lot of common everyday life diseases. Radon also activates the SOD anti-oxidation material work of oxygen elimination. For that reason, you can expect that prevents diseases and arteriosclerosis.

The radon inhalation process.

Radon is an element which appears when radium decays, in normal temperatures it takes the form of a gas. Once hot water has emerged from the ground, it evaporates and disperses in the air. It is inhalated and penetrates the lungs, from the lungs it goes to the blood and then into all the body's cells. Since radon radiation (rays) can barely pass the barrier of the skin, it penetrates into the body while breathing, goes from the lungs to the blood, and then stimulates all the body's cells.

Don't all jump in at once!

In any case, given the average person's body burden of toxins, I'm sure we've all had our minimum daily requirement -- and then some.


I Like this Guy

Not only is MoveOn having a 30-second ad competition, bushin30seconds.org. Howard Dean is too: Project DeanLight. The Dean campaign is at an earlier stage and won't have the spots available to view until January. But they have a couple up now. For example, R. J. Robinson, Howard Dean Volunteer. I like this guy. I wish he and his friends would come to my house. I think we'd get along.


Missing Mercury: An Intrigue

There are some really creepy bits in today's Washington Post story, EPA Issues New Rule for Mercury. Apparently, the chlorine industry has some difficuly accounting for its mercury:

"The fate of the mercury consumed" by chlorine manufacturing plants across the country "remains somewhat of an enigma," the agency said in the final rule published in the Federal Register. The new rule provides work practice guidelines aimed at preventing spills, leaks and emissions of mercury, but the EPA said it is "not feasible" to take more aggressive steps to pinpoint the "fugitive" mercury or enforce a tougher emissions standard.

Environmentalists say that chemical companies such as Occidental Chemical Corp. and Olin Corp. use 100 tons of mercury annually to replenish the amount lost in the manufacturing process, but they cannot explain what happens to the mercury being replaced. If that mercury is escaping in the form of vapor, it would dwarf the estimated 48 tons of currently unregulated airborne mercury from the nation's coal-fired power plants.

The EPA earlier this week proposed two rules for reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Mercury that enters the food chain can cause severe neurological and developmental damage, especially to the fetuses of pregnant women who eat mercury-tainted fish and shellfish.

Nine chemical plants in Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin still use the practice, which has gradually been phased out in other places, of producing chlorine by subjecting large cells filled with thousands of pounds of mercury to an electrical charge.

The Natural Resources Defense Council and Earthjustice said the regulation issued yesterday does not address most mercury emissions. They have called on the EPA to require chlorine manufacturers to stop using the mercury cell process. According to the most recent data in the government's 2000 Toxics Release Inventory, 65 tons of mercury consumed by industry that year could not be accounted for.

"There's nothing in this rule that tells us we won't have hundreds of tons of mercury a year from these plants for the foreseeable future," said Jim Pew, a lawyer with Earthjustice. "The EPA says we don't have any data on these fugitive emissions and, therefore, they can't set standards."

Perhaps the missing mercury is turning into gold? Or maybe it's just vanishing into thin air.

Why do these companies think they can get away with dumping an extra 65 tons of mercury into the air? Why are we expected not to notice?

Perhaps this is why:

The Dallas-based Occidental Chemical Corp, a $20,000-plus Bush contributor, also has lobbied Texas officials on laws regarding pollution. The company loaned its jet to Bush five times and was reimbursed $7,708. Other companies that have interests before Texas state government: Texas Utilities, which was paid $3,437 for use of its jet; Union Pacific ($6,808); and PilgrimÅfs Pride ($5,085).

And the Olin family, through its corporation and through its foundation, have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to conservative causes:

The Heritage Foundation, widely recognized as the architect of ReaganÅfs conservative agenda, was founded by Joseph Coors and John Mellon Scaife in 1973. It received $537,000 from Olin in 1994, and $2.7 million from Joyce and the Bradley Foundation between 1990-1992. Another leading conservative think tank, The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), received $653,000 from Olin in 1994, and $2.38 million from Bradley between 1990-1992 (Buying a Movement, 1996). AEI is now home to The Bell Curve author and Bradley Fellow Charles Murray, who received $100,000 in annual funding from Bradley for his controversial book (Buying a Movement, 1996).

Olin Corp. has a page on its site on the environment entitled "The Goal is Zero." The word mercury does not appear anywhere on the page, not anywhere else on its pages on the environment.

These are the companies that brought us Love Canal. Check out this 1999 press release from the Department of Justice, headlined:

OCCIDENTAL CHEMICAL AND OLIN TO PAY $7.1 MILLION
FOR SUPERFUND SITE CLEANUP AND RESTORATION IN NEW YORK
Case Represents Last of Four Cases in Love Canal Area

No wonder Occidental was giving Bush such plush treatment.

Hey, Eric Pianin, how come you didn't mention any of this background -- which I found in about 5 miniutes on the Internet -- in your Washington Post story?


The Bush Tax

The Dean campaign has come up with a clever way to show people how the Bush administration has redistributed wealth: www.bushtax.com:

George W. Bush talks a lot about "tax cuts," but he doesn't mention how much his fiscal irresponsibility costs. Call it the Bush TaxÅ\what we are all forced to pay because the president gave away your money in tax breaks mostly for people making over $300,000 per year. The Bush Tax shifts tax costs to states and communities, which then raise your taxes to make up the difference.

Because of the Bush Tax, the typical American family will owe $52,000 more on the national debt. Because the President refuses to fund his own education plan, property taxes have skyrocketed more than 27% in Dallas, 25% in Houston and 18% in New York City.

We've started a new website, BushTax.com, where you can find out how much the Bush Tax is costing you.

The Bush Tax costs the vast majority of families far more than they received in their so-called tax refunds. George W. Bush did not give you a refund. He spent all the money you sent to Washington, and then took out a loan in your name to cut you a check.

Demonstrating externalized costs is hard to do, and I think they've done a nice job.


The EPA's Toxic Release Inventory Explorer

I found a new Internet toy this morning: Explore toxic releases in your area with the EPA's TRI [Toxic Release Inventory] Explorer. Westchester, being one of of the places the suburbs were invented, is not heavily burdened with polluting industries. The GM plant in Tarrytown was Westchester's biggest polluter, and they've closed down. 1990 was the worst year in Westchester for toxic emissons since the TRI reporting began. In that year, the GM plant accounted for two thirds of the toxic releases in the county. I don't see the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in the data, but maybe I missed it.

I did, however, find that in 1988 the company that occupied the building where our pediatric dentist is currently located released 9,629 lbs. of Ý1,1,1-TRICHLOROETHANE into the air.

Entering Kevin Maroney's zip code in Yonkers reveals that STEWART EFI NY L.L.C., 630 CENTRAL PARK AVE., YONKERS ( Public Contact: PHILIP REJESKI; Phone Number: 914 965-0816) released 7,319 lbs. of DICHLOROMETHANE and 2,918 lbs. of ÝTRICHLOROETHYLENE into the air in 2001, the most recent year for which data is available in the TRI Explorer. According to Mapquest, Stewart EFI is a mile away from Kevin's house, adjacent the Yonker's Raceway.

I chose Kevin's zip code to punch in because his family pet rats have health problems, respiratory problems among them. Their previous pets, rabbits, died of cancer. Since Kevin's family believes in vetenary care for small mammals, their pets' health problems are very well-documented. In Steingraber's Living Downstream, there's a passage that made me think about the rats with respiratory problems:

In the late 1980s, [anthropologist Martha] Balshem served as a health educator in an industrial, working-class community near Philadelphia where cancer rates were discovered unusually high. In response the cancer control program of which she was part launched a public outreach campaign urging residents to adopt healthier lifestyles. The residents themselves suspected environmental causes and reported to the educational team that many neighborhood dogs were also afflicted with cancer: Did their pets have faulty personal habits as well?

Is there something intrinsic to Kevin's rats that makes them have respiratory problems, or is his household inadvertently running an experiment that shows that the air in his neighborhood causes respiratory problems in rats? The Toxic Release Inventory suggests the later. (Kevin replies in the comments.)

Explore: Try your zip code or county and tell me what you find.

AND FOR MORE INTERNET FUN, check out tabaccopapers.com: UK Tobacco Industry Advertising Documents Database

Welcome to tobaccopapers.com. Here you can search, view and download over 650 documents from the UK tobacco industry's main advertising agencies ranging from 1994 to 1999.

You can use the search box for free text searches to see examples of letters and memos sent between tobacco companies and their advertising agencies as they planned their campaigns to promote cigarettes, cigars and rolling tobacco to people in the UK.

In 1999, the Centre for Tobacco Control Research at the University of Strathclyde was asked to examine these documents by the House of Commons Health Select Committee who was investigating the UK Tobacco Industry and its practices. Funding by NHS Health Scotland has allowed these documents to be scanned and made into a searchable electronic archive for the public.

Steingraber in the Second Person

Sandra Steingraber's Living Downstream: A Scientist's Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment came in the mail today. I've only just begun to read it. But there's a passage I can't resist quoting right away because of Steingraber's sheer mastery of craft:

Like a jury's verdict or an adoption decree, a cancer diagnosis is an authoritative pronouncement, one with the power to change your identity. I sends you into an unfamiliar country where all the rules of human conduct are alien. In this new territory, you disrobe in front of strangers who are allowed to touch you. You submit to bodily invasions. You agree to the removal of body parts. You agree to be poisoned. You have become a cancer patient.

This is what writing in the second person is for.


Medical Correctness & Humpty Dumpty

Here's a bit of Internet frivolity:

Nursery rhymes put kids 'at risk'

Some nursery rhymes send dangerously inaccurate messages to young listeners, according to Canadian researchers.

They are concerned that characters in popular rhymes suffer major injuries without receiving proper treatment.

The characters include Humpty Dumpty, who had a great fall, and Jack and Jill, who tumbled down a hill.

Children are told these stories "without people stopping to really look at what's happened", according to the tongue-in-cheek research.

The page includes a "medically correct" nursery rhyme. It is a joke.

This inspires visions of preschoolers, taught the proper response to true emergencies, dialing 911 and administering CPR whenever they judge they are called for. Or, better yet, conducting surgery when they think it's needed.

Um, why did they take on nursery rhymes when TV provides much more fertile ground for this sort of analysis?


Deer in the Snow

I missed a great picture this morning: nine deer in our yard in the snow at dawn. Our digital camera didn't have it's batteries in -- they were in the charger -- and when I looked up from reloading the batteries, the deer were gone.

TreeHere's a nice picture I took night before last when we put up the Christmas tree. I wanted a real tree this year, but decided that the plastic one in the basement was probably more childsafe. This decision makes me feel very wise now. The tree's been overturned twice so far. Elizabeth finds it irresistible. As the ornaments have been repeatedly removed and replaced, they have gradually migrated toward the top of the tree, so it's less evenly decorated now.

During this cold, I've tried using breastmilk as eardrops when my ears hurt. It works surprisingly well. To the best of my knowledge, I don't have an ear infection, just congested eustation tubes. But it's quite soothing and the effect is faster than I would have expected. I have a very stuffy nose and almost no voice this morning, so imagine this post rasped hoarsely punctuated by an occasional dry cough.

Somewhat to my consternation a post from October 30th is attracting a constituency of those who believe the world is spying on them. They are busily exchanging tales of persecution. Their feelings are real, whatever the veracity of their persecution. I'll have to be more careful about what topics I raise in the future.

Similarly, I have mixed feelings about being Google's #2 listing for male lactation. Somehow I doubt the flush of traffic of those coming here to find out about this topic consists of men wanting to know how they might participate in the feeding of infants. Nonetheless, guys, here's a non-fetishist reason to lactate even if it's purely recreational: lactation reduces your body load of toxins. Lactate for detoxification. Your only cost is the breast pump, making it a lot cheaper in the long run than detoxifying products found in health food stores. (Sorry to tell you, but adults lack the tongue reflexes to efficiently get the milk out.)

Anyway, time to get Peter off to school.


The Stagecraft of a Capture

In this morning's New York Times, there's a story I read, thinking it was going to explain what legal procedures would be used when Hussein stands trial. Instead, A Careful U.S. Plan to Dispel All Doubt on Hussein's Fate is solely concerned with the stagecraft involved in planning Hussein's capture:

The announcement of Saddam Hussein's capture followed a careful plan devised over months and intended, according to those who worked on it, to dispel any doubt among Iraqis and a skeptical Arab world that he was in American hands.

Code-named HVT No. 1 Å\ for High-Value Target No. 1 Å\ the public relations playbook that the Pentagon followed was written back in the summer, in response to the widespread disbelief that greeted the announcement that American soldiers had killed Mr. Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, in July.

According to officials at the State Department and the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, the plan, which President Bush approved, stipulated that Iraqis were to have a role in announcing the news and that the images of the quarry were to be broadcast worldwide as quickly as possible, to leave little time for conspiracy theories to course through Iraqi towns and villages.

Crucially, the American military, Iraq's administrators and officials in Washington were able to keep the news of Mr. Hussein's capture on Saturday secret for 18 hours.

One wonders why Jim Runtenberg, Jacques Steinberg, and David Carr failed to ask Gary Thatcher, an author of the media strategy and the director of strategic communications for the Coalition Provision Authority, the obvious question: How did the "those who worked on this plan" go about planning for the manipulation of American media and audiences? Surely, after Jessica Lynch, there can be no doubt that this was part of the plan. Why didn't they ask?

Is it my imagination or did someone, maybe Paul Bremmer, announce -- like 3 weeks ago -- that the US was very close to catching Saddam Hussein? I tried to find the statement I remember, but it has been overwhelmed in the search engines by Hussein's capture and also by the many claims in the past that the US was very close to finding this or that. Anyway, some matter of weeks ago, as I recall an administration official claimed this in a news conference and I thought, That's an awfully bold claim. If they're as close as they're claiming, why don't they just go get him?

So. Saddam was caught, "like a rat," in a hole. It's nice that Hussein is in custody. But capturing him at this late date does not save lives the way as capturing or killing him would have at the beginning of this misbegotten war. While the manner of his capture and the circumstances are probably sufficiently humbling to send the message the occupying authorities desire, they raise as nearly as many questions as they answer. A man in the circumstances described does not seem to be in much position to coordinate the Iraqi resistance to the extent that has been recently claimed. The more miserable the description of his circumstances upon capture -- "We didn't stay there long. It smelled really bad." said one of the soldiers who participated to the A.P. -- the more irrelevant militarily is his capture. DEBKA file has gone so far as to suggest that he was already a captive when captured. Whether he was actually a captive or merely a fugitive at the end of his rope, his capture seems unlikely to diminish the level of resistance to US occupation.

So, returning to the subject of stagecraft, how can we untangle the stagecraft from the truth of this made-for-TV event? Hussein's capture seems to have released in many right-wingers the pent-up desire to celebrate the war's success and has given Joe Lieberman a venue to express his bitterness about losing out on the Gore endorsement. From the tone and content of some of what's being said, one would think the Hussein was stuffed full of the still-missing weapons of mass destruction when found.

But clearly after two failed attempts to take out Saddam, the first televised to a huge audeience when the war started, the pressure was on to put on a good show. My thought is that following the Gore endorsement of Dean, the Bushies got nervous and laid their best card on the table before the endorsement story could hit the covers of the news magazines. Note this passage from the NYT piece:

The breaking news was of such magnitude that both Time and Newsweek decided to redo issues that were already being printed.

When the phone rang at 5 a.m. on Sunday, Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time, thought that it was more bad news, following the bad wounds suffered last week by a correspondent, Michael Weisskopf, and a veteran war photographer, James Nachtwey, in Baghdad. Instead, it was news of the capture.

Where does this leave us? In the hands of the same propagandizing, foolishly unquestioning news media we were in two days ago, except that they're excited. Relax boys. We will shortly be returned to our regularly scheduled dreary war.


More than Our Share of Ice

Following yesterday's snow, there was sleet and freezing rain. We are at one of the higher points in the area, and this tiny difference in altitude seems to have made a big difference in our ice accumulation. We seem to have gotten an extra half inch to inch of ice on our driveway out of that difference. Also, since we are on the north side of a hill, the sun is doing less than it might to solve this. What appears to be happening is that the sun melts the snow a little and the runoff runs down onto the driveway and refreezes -- it's 34 degrees, but there's a 25 mph wind with much higher gusts, cooling things back down below freezing. With great effort, I could probably make getting in and out substantially safer by hacking away at the ice and administering really large quantities of salt. But I have a bad cold and am at home alone with a lively toddler. Unless she decides to take a long nap, progress is unlikely. Sometimes life is just not fair!


Mine Tailings & Agriculture

From the Daily Journal, Park Hills, MO, some good news on what the EPA is doing: Area farmers critical of EPA ruling

PARK HILLS -- There was heavy criticism directed toward the U.S. Environmental Agency for banning the sale of mine tailings for use as agricultural lime during a public meeting here Thursday night at Central High School concerning the cleanup of the Elvins chat pile and tailings field.

David Moore, a farmer from the Bismarck area, said the EPA action halting the sale of tailings for agricultural use was done without any scientific information to support such a move. He called on the federal agency to come up with a solution to the problem at the Elvins chat pile that would allow the continued use of material for agricultural lime.

"Farmers have used tailings for agricultural lime for 75 years," Moore said, noting that until recently there have been no concerns expressed by the government. . . .

While he is not disputing the finding that plants do not absorb the lead from the tailings when it is used as agricultural lime, Morrison said the EPA's concern is about its uncontrolled use. Local farmers might be aware of the lead and cadmium content of the tailings, but those not in this area might not know about that and thus not be aware of the risks involved. . . .

Morrison said it is the EPA's position that the best solution regarding mine waste is to contain it and to halt the spread of it.

Mine tailings added to the soil used to grow food -- good God, the thought had never crossed my mind.

(Via Environmental Health News.)


Oh Kerry, Don't Go All Nader on Us.

A new ad attacking Howard Dean, produced by supporters of other democratic presidential candidates, has provoked an interesting and clever response from influential bloggers. I reprint their letter in its entirety:

Open Letter to Kerry

Dear Senator Kerry,

We write this open letter as a group of bloggers whose audience you respect enough that you advertise on our web sites.

We are deeply disturbed that former staff members of your campaign and other Dean rivals now working at the so-called ÅgAmericans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive ValuesÅh have resorted to the Willie Horton campaign tactic of linking Howard Dean to Osama Bin Laden. Vigorous competition among Democrats is expected and welcome, but all
Democratic leaders should denounce these kinds of tactics.

Given your staff link to this attack through your former press secretary, Robert GibbsÅ\the new groupÅfs spokesmanÅ\ we feel it is incumbent on you and your campaign to make it clear that this kind of attack is unacceptable. Otherwise, there will be the appearance of covert cooperation by your campaign in supporting this effort.

If your campaign does not make clear that you have no link to this scurrilous attack, all of us will have to reevaluate our willingness to allow advertising by your campaign on our web sites.

We donÅft expect to have to make that decision, since we have faith in your integrity and expect you to quickly make clear your denunciation of this destructive and anti-democratic operation.

Yours,

Atrios- Eschaton http://atrios.blogspot.com/
Jeralyn Merritt- Talk Left http://www.talkleft.com/
Nathan Newman- NathanNewman.org http://www.nathannewman.org/log/
Oliver Willis- Oliver Willis http://www.oliverwillis.com/
Jesse Taylor and Ezra Klein- Pandagon http://www.pandagon.net

I would dump my links to candidates whose former staffers are involved with this, but I removed links to all candidates except Dean a couple of days ago after the debate. Come on, Kerry, you were wrong about Iraq and it's probably cost you the nomination. Get on with your life and try to redeem yourself on the strength of your ideas. Don't go all Nader on us.

(Via Eschaton.)


Hussein Captured

Finally something to cheer about in the Iraq situation: Saddam Hussein has ben captured.

TIKRIT, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. forces have captured Saddam Hussein in a late night raid near his hometown of Tikrit, according to the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority.

"Ladies and gentleman, we got him," L. Paul Bremer announced Sunday. The announcement was greeted with cheers from the audience.

Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez showed video of Saddam, who had graying hair and a long beard, undergoing a medical examination after his capture.

Several Iraqi journalists stood up and shouted "Death to Saddam" after the video was shown.

Sanchez said the former leader was not injured and has been "talkative and cooperative," after 4th Infantry Division and special operations forces nabbed him at a "rural farmhouse."

It seems obvious to me that he should stand trial in the Hague. Whether the Bush administration lets that happen or whether instead subjects him to its own "infinite justice" remains to be seen.


See the Geoff Hartwell Band Tonight

Loitering in Westchester wondering what to do? My stepson Geoff Hartwell is playing Bedford Hills this evening:

GREETINGS FROM THE GEOFF HARTWELL BAND
-Tonight-
TAP HOUSE CAFE
in Bedford Hills
10pm

*BLUES JAM EVERY TUESDAY AT JEAN-JACQUES*
featuring Mike Bram, Rich Kelly,and Chris Burke :-) (9:30-1:30pm)

For questions about dates, locations and bookings please E-mail or you can call Rich Kelly (bassist) at 914 552 0945 or Geoff Hartwell at 914-646-9670

Be sure to check out Bandblast for schedules of local bands and venues (the good stuff!!)

Jean-Jacques, Marble Ave. & Bedford Rd., Pleasantville, NY, 914 747 8191
Tap House Cafe, 13 Adams St., Bedford Hills NY (across from train) 914 244 8591
The News Cafe, Rte.9 & I84, Fishkill, NY, 845 896 7600

Finally an Internet quiz that matters

From Body Burden: the Pollution inside People, an Internet quiz that matters: What environmental contaminants are inside you or around you every day?

Here are my results:

Summary Results

Non-organic produce may contain residues from any of the 500 active ingredients registered as pesticides with the EPA.

The processed food industry adds 3,200 chemicals to food as antioxidants, chelating agents, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers and thickening agents.

Over 5,000 chemicals are used in personal care products such as deodorants, soaps, shampoos, and cosmetics.

Outdoor or pressure-treated lumber is infused with a chemical cocktail known as chromated copper arsenate (CCA) which leaches arsenic , a known human carcinogen.

EPA has estimated that chlorination byproducts found in tap water cause up to 7,000 cases of bladder cancer nationwide every year.

Despite its many nutritional benefits, seafood can also be a source of many classes of contaminants in the human body, including PCBs, the flame retardant chemicals known as PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), and methylmercury.

Based on the 89 products that you chose, a database of consumer product ingredients lists from U.S. EPA lists 399 chemicals that have been used in those products. This does not include the hundreds of chemicals contained in 9,295 products whose purpose is hidden behind the legal title "Confidential Business Information" (CBI).

No matter what lifestyle choices you have made, chances are that you are polluted with major families of industrial chemicals. We found 10 Organochlorine Pesticides, 7 Dioxins, 8 Furans, and 48 PCBs in our nine study participants. You can also expect that your body buden profile would inclue perfluorinated chemicals (Scotchgard and Teflon) and PBDEs (flame retardants).

November Tabouli

David has gone off to Philcon. The kids and I have stayed home -- if we went, we'd never get the Christmas tree up at the rate things get done around here. I have a longer, deeper post cooking in the back of my head, but this has been a supernaturally busy day. I've had to be extremely organized, and even so I for got to put the dirty diapers out for the diaper service. I gave an hour-long presentation on fossils to Peter's first grade class. First I passed around, trilobites, fossil coral and bones, a fossil fish, a couple of amber necklaces with inclusions, and some stone tools. Then I let them make their own fossils with shells and Playdoh. Then I gave them a set of plastic T-rex bones, declared them paleantologists, and told them to assemble the creature. It was a big hit, but I was horribly late with the cat to the vet, but she got her shots anyway. Then off to grocery shopping and Christmas shopping, all before I picked up Elizabeth at noon. And the whirl isn't over: in a half hour, we're off to the Cub Scouts Pack Meeting.

MEANWHILE, here's a recipe of mine from November of 2001 I've been meaning to drop into my blog:

November Tabouli

This is an extremely nutritious tabouli high in omega-3 fatty acids (from the flax), iodine and other vitamins and minerals (from the alaria), fiber (from the whole grains), iron (from both the amaranth which is very high iron and also the bulger wheat), and niacin (bulger wheat). Also, the bulger wheat/amaranth combo is supposed to have the amino acids to make a complete protein, in the manner of beans and rice. This is what I seem to want to eat in vast quantities right now, a bowl every 2 hours or so.
Ingredients
6 cups of water
1/4 cup flax seed (Arrowhead Mills)
1/4 cup whole grain amaranth (Arrowhead Mills)
4 cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups bulgur wheat (Arrowhead Mills)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (optional)
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup lemon juice (may require less if using fresh lemons; four large lemons seem to do it)
4 large ripe organic salad tomatoes or an equivalent quantity of organic sundried tomatoes chopped into small chunks (sundried chunks should be very small)
bunch of dried Alaria (Maine Coast Sea Vegetables), soaked quantity: about 1/2 a cup
fresh herbs, if available: parsley, basil, rosemary or mint

Instructions
Soak alaria in a bowl of water and put to side. In a large pot, bring water, flax seed, amaranth, garlic, olive oil, sea salt, and bay leaves to a boil. Add bulger wheat. Turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Put tabouli in a salad bowl. Add chopped tomatoes. Chop alaria and stir into mixture. Chop herbs and add. Let stand for 1/2 hour or more. Enjoy room temperature or chilled.


Environmental Health News

I discovered a very interesting news web site today, Environmental Health News:

www.EnvironmentalHealthNews.org is published daily by Environmental Health Sciences, a not-for-profit organization founded in 2002 to help increase public understanding of emerging scientific links between environmental exposures and human health.

Among other things, it carries a report of a study suggesting that Dioxin, not lampreys, drove the Lake Ontario lake trout to extinction.

Definitely worth a daily look.

AND SPEAKING OF THE ENVIRONMENT, how did I miss this Henry I. Miller guy's crazy attempt to exploit West Nile hysteria in order to reintroduce DDT? Sick, sick, sick.


Day 3 without Coffee

This is working fine. I only had a withdrawal headache on the first day. I'm puzzled that this has been so easy. I didn't manage to kick coffee during either pregnancy -- only cut back to about a cup a day first thing in the morning. So why is this working?

Well, first I cut my caffeine intake without trying to quit outright. Secondly, I'm eating a lot better. Or maybe it's the mud baths.


More on Steingraber's Having Faith

I'm about halfway through Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood. It's a very intimate read. It's full of things I didn't know but also facts and anecdotes that resonate with my own life.

I read her discussion of thalidomide with interest. In June of 1961, my father and mother both graduated from Rice University in Houston, my father with a Ph.D. in physics, my mother with a B.A. in History. Shortly after graduation they got married and boarded the Queen Elizabeth (or some such ship) for England. Upon their arrival, they picked up a brand new, bright red TR3 with a convertable top and set out to spend four months exploring Europe. (Neither had ever been out of North America before.) I'm told that they believe I was conceived in Barcelona, Spain. By the time they got to scandinavia and were shopping for the teak Danish-modern furniture that graced our livingroom for much of my childhood, my mother was suffering from bad morning sickness and was throwing up a lot. My parents discussed whether to go to the doctor and get my mother a prescription for something to help. But these two Texans in Europe for the first time felt timid about trying out European medicine. So my mother went without. I was born in Bloomington, Inidana in April of 1962. When the thalidomine story broke, my parents felt as though they'd dodged a bullet: What was being prescribed for morning sickness in Europe at the time they were there was thalidomide.

Steingraber's discussion of rubella is another touchstone. My brother was born in 1964, the year of the major rubella outbreak. (As far as I know, my mother didn't catch it.) My sister was born in 1967. The rubella vaccine didn't come out until 1969. Steingraber mentions in passing women who'd contracted rubella during pregnancy between 1964 and the advent of the vaccine either going out of the country for abortions or obtaining illegal abortions in the US. (Steingraber's husband's mother aborted her fifth child after having rubella during pregnancy.) It had never occurred to me that my siblings were born against this backdrop. Also, I can't help but wonder whether Roe v. Wade would not have come out differently without the rubella outbreak of 1964.

It also seems to me that the right will never succeed in banning abortion until much stricter environmental laws are in place. Having Faith is a kind of Silent Spring for the unborn. One would thing that really good records were being kept of fetal malformations, deaths and birth defects, etc. and that we would know about it if there were epidemic levels of damage to fetuses. But Steingraber's shocking discovery during her own pregnancy is that no such centralized record-keeping is being done.

People my age were exposed to lots of lead -- lead in paint, lead in gasoline, etc. Lead, and a lot of other things. One thing I hadn't realized was that the lead had squirreled itself away in my bones and was delivered to my firstborn along with calcium from my bones. His blood serum lead levels are good. But I wonder what's in his bones, and what they were at birth. There's one horrifying little anecdote in the book about how pregnancy cures lead poisoning in the mother. (The babies mostly die.)

In the early 70s, I had a poster in my bedroom wall which said There's DDT inside of me. Inside of me there's DDT. If you could see inside of me, then you'd see DDT. I gather I've passed a good bit of mine on to Peter. However, I'm sure that my DDT load was much smaller than David's. When david was a kid, he and his friends used to run behind the DDT truck when it sprayed because it smelled so nice.

Anyway, this is a marvellous, marvellous book that everyone should read. The trade paperback has a pregnant tummy on the cover because they are marketing it with the pregnancy books. But everyone should read it.


Caffeine

I went without coffee this morning. I'm trying to kick caffeine, since I have a bone density issue which can't be dealt with until I quit nursing, and I don't plan to quit nursing any time soon. Caffeine apparently carries off bone calcium. So I'm trying to replace my morning cup of coffee with goatsmilk cocoa. So now I have withdrawal, though in the grand scheme of withdarawl, caffeine is not a bad one. But I've found myself unthinkingly wandering toward the coffee pot today a couple of times.

David is going to a William Gibson/Margaret Atwood program in NYC this evening. Sweet fellow, he bought a ticket for me, too, imagining that there was some way I might come along. But I cann't imagine Elizabethsettling down happily to sleep without nursing, and I wouldn't get home till late, coming bak from the city. So I suggested a freind who would especially appreciate the ticket whom he might invite along.


Blizzard Ostrich

There's no time like a blizzard to cook ostrich! Here's what we had for dinner:

Blizzard Ostrich

Ingredients:
1 lb. ground ostrich
1/3 cup nonfat yogurt
1 small finely chopped onion
1/4 cup white raisins
1 tablespoon almond oil
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1/4 teaspoon corriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin seed
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon cillantro

(The seasoning measurements are approximate. Some cardamon would probably have worked well, too.)

Blend ingredients together and form into hamburger-sized patties. I then let them sit for an hour since I wasn't ready to cook them and also to let the seasonings soak in and the raisins soften. (One might consider soaking the raisins in white wine beforehand. That would also do the trick.)

Gently saute (I used almond oil) until medium rare.

It was really good. Peter liked it, though picked the onions out of his. Elizabeth kept asking for more. David and I loved it.


Blizzard

Photographing a blizzard is hard. For one thing, what you're trying to show doesn't hold still. And also, it's likely to blast you in the face while you're messing with the camera. (Officially, we've only got a blizzard warning, but by my judgement the windspeed mostly meets the technical definition of a blizzard. The visibility certainly does.)

Here are some pictures:

Continue reading "Blizzard" »


Breastfeeding in the News; Breastfeeding celebrities, volunteer your services for public service announcements.

Just when I felt like I'd blogged enough about breastfeeding for a while, three different breastfeeding news stories come along. The weirdest of them, and the most problematic, is Breastfeeding driver stuns police. There are a number of versions of this story out there in the news, but the BBC's seems to have more of the relevant details:

Catherine Donkers, 29, was nursing her baby daughter on an Ohio highway while driving at 65mph.

She said she did not stop because she was talking on the phone to her husband and taking notes on the steering wheel.

Donkers is said to belong to a sect which requires her to follow her husband's orders. She was  convicted of breaking child restraint laws. . . .

Donkers reportedly said she fed the baby on her husband's orders to save time.

Donkers and her husband are believed  to be members of an organisation called the First Christian Fellowship for Eternal Sovereignty which instructs that the husband is the head of the family and a wife can submit to punishment only from him.

First of all, I should say that I have breastfed in many circumstances -- while signing a copy of The Hard SF Renaissance, while tying Peter's shoes, while introducing a paper at an academic conference. But never while driving. I could probably drive while doing it. But I have the sense not to.

Now, about Catherine Donkers: This woman doesn't so much need to be arrested or convicted of anything as she needs a deprogrammer and a divorce. She was doing what her husband -- for whom the proper feeding and care of an infant was too inconvenient -- told her to. She needs to get out of this crazy sect and divorce the guy. He's a creep for endangering his wife and child this way.

Meanwhile, lobbiests once again triumph over the very young: Breastfeeding Ads Delayed by a Dispute Over Content:

Federal officials have softened a national advertising campaign to promote breastfeeding after complaints from two companies that make infant formula, according to several doctors and nurses who are helping the government with the effort.

Take a moment now to donate money to your favorite presidential candidate running against Bush. Perhaps it's time to up my monthly contribution to Howard Dean.

And in Australia, there is a fuss over a television personality, Kate Langbroek, breastfeeding on the air: Australian breastfeeds live on TV. While she didn't expose her breast, the very act of using her breast for what it's for instead of, say, to sell cars is apparently shocking to some. (This happened in September, but I only encoutered the news story yesterday.) Anyone who has seen me regularly at conventions with either of my children as infants knows that I breastfeed without hesitation in many public situations including on panels. What I find shocking about the new story is that Langbroek is allegedly the first celebrity to breastfeed on TV. Since I rarely watch TV, it had not particularly occurred to me that no celebrities had breastfed on TV. (Surely, someone like Madonna had done this if noone else had? And what about that woman who as naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair?)

Here's what I propose: Breastfeeding celebrities, volunteer your services for public service announcements to encourage breastfeeding. While I'm not nearly famous enough to qualify as a celebrity, I volunteer.

Nursey

Anyone else?


Second Snow

This is supposed to be a NYRSF workweekend, but none of our staff managed to make it here yesterday to work on the magazine and I doubt they'll be making it today. I heard something about a blizzard warning last night, but we don't seem to have one this morning, though we're in for a whole lot of snow in the next 18 hours.

Snow flakes, Pleasantville, New York, December 6, 6:44 AM. Taking this picture involved standing barefoot in the snow for a moment. (I stood on the heat vent to get warm afterwards.) The picture came out a lot differently than I'd expected.

I thought there was enough light for a snowscape shot and had turned on the outside floodlights to make sure. The camera didn't think so and instead flashed, picking up the falling snow rather than the fallen snow. I couldn't have done this on purpose if I'd tried.

And this was taken at 7:04 AM:


Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd.

Sandra Steingraber's Having Faith: An Ecologist's Journey to Motherhood came in the mail yesterday. It's really good. I've only just begun to read it. But checking the index for references to methylmercury, I happened across a passage I have to share:

Obviously, a public health policy that asks expectant mothers to give up certain foods while allowing industries to continue contaminating them is absurd. There is, however, one shred of good news concerning mercury ingestion: Unlike lead, methylmercury persists in human tissue for a matter of months rather than years.

Avoiding fish both during pregnancy and in the year preceding conception is protective against prenatal exposure.

But even if we all planned our motherhoods with this much foresight, an approach to fetal health that relies on nutritional sacrifices by mothers is still unsound. Cutting back on fish is not like forfeiting cigarettes and beer. Fish is good food. It is low in saturated fat and high in protein, vitamin E, and selenium. It is also  a leading source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. Fish oils prevent blood platelets from clumping together, which lowers the risk of stroke. For many women, pregnancies and lactation fill significant years of their adult lives. Deciding between protecting the babies' brains and protecting their own cardiovascular health is not a choice they should have to make. [See the fuller context on Amazon]

The months right before I became pregnant with Elizabeth were the period of heaviest tuna consumption of my life. Mostly, I have never been too keen on canned tuna. But in October of 2001, I became very ill. My illness lasted until February of 2002: just when I became resigned to being sick for a long time, I mysteriously got well. I was pregnant, and pregnancy has reset my rambunctious immune system which had spent the previous four months attacking various of my bodily systems. While I was sick -- probably because of omega-3 depletion -- I craved tuna, really craved it. I would go to make a tuna salad. I would open the can, intending to put the tuna in a mixing bowl and add other ingredients. Sometimes the tuna never reached the bowl at all, but got eaten straight out of the can, so strong was my craving. Given this, I would expect that at the moment of Elizabeth's conception, my mercury levels were probably at their highest point for my entire life.

One other point, inspired by Steingraber's mention of cardiovascular health in the passage: in our culture, and indeed in our household, women do most of the cooking. As I recall, during my pregnancy I did even more of the cooking than usual because of the strength of my food whims. So not only was I cut off from much fish as a source of nutrition, but David's fish intake also dropped substantialy. His cardiovascular health is much more of an issue than mine. And it is apparent that changes in our diet may have contributed to the sudden rise in his cholesterol levels and the necessity of an angioplasty. Husbands' health is also compromised by this sort of policy on mercury emissions.

By the way, I'm surprised at how little comment my remarks on mercury emissions have attracted. Really people, you should get upset!


New Species: amazing swimmer with large penis

From the CBC News: Oldest male fossil 'amazing':

They found it had six pairs of gills, eyes, limbs designed for swimming and the oldest known male organ in the fossil record.

It was named Colymbosathon ecplecticos, which is Greek for "amazing swimmer with large penis."

The article did not have an accompanying picture.


Black Hole Rain?

This is tricky for me to visualize, or perhaps just a bit difficult to wrap my scienfictonal mind around. New Scientist:

Exploding black holes rain down on Earth

Are mini black holes raining down through the Earth's atmosphere? It is possible, says a team of physicists. They think this could explain mysterious observations from mountain-top experiments over the past 30 years.

Fiction as Usual

There are a couple of lovely paragraphs at the end of the Washinton Post article, The Bird Was Perfect But Not For Dinner: In Iraq Picture, Bush Is Holding the Centerpiece:

Some of the reporters left behind at Crawford Middle School, where they work when Bush is staying at his Texas ranch, felt they had been deceived by White House accounts of what Bush would be doing on Thanksgiving.

Correspondent Mark Knoller said Sunday on "CBS Evening News" that the misleading information and deception were understandable, but that he had been "filing radio reports that amounted to fiction."

"Even as President Bush was addressing U.S. personnel in Baghdad, I was on the air saying he was at his ranch making holiday phone calls to American troops overseas," Knoller said. "I got that information from a White House official that very morning." [italics mine]

Apparently, the reporters following the president's movements don't mind being spoonfed PR releases and propaganda as long as their stories are not demonstrably false. It seems to me that these reporters were in the business of fiction as usual, except that the administration had the bad grace to pull back the curtain and expose them.


New Species of Prehistoric Mammals

Peter's going to love this Washington Post story:

Six New Species of Prehistoric Mammals Discovered in Africa

Five of the new species are Proboscidea, or "trunked animals," the report said. These included three species of Palaeomastodon, four-foot-tall one-ton mammals with short trunks and tusks on the upper and lower jaws:

"They probably seemed like weird-looking pigs," said University of Michigan paleontologist William J. Sanders, another member of the team. The Chilga discoveries are the most recent palaeomastodons ever found. The animals apparently went extinct in Africa and never crossed to Eurasia.

The team also discovered remains of a new species of Deinotherium, another short-trunked animal with downturned tusks on its lower jaw. The Chilga fossil -- the oldest deinothere ever found -- was "about halfway between a large pig and a small hippo" in size, Sanders said. Deinotheres migrated to Eurasia, dispersed widely and evolved to elephant size before dying out about 1 million years ago, he said.

Chilga's fifth trunked animal was the earliest known species of Gomphotherium, a one-ton ancestor of modern elephants, which migrated to Eurasia and spread everywhere on Earth except Australia and Antarctica.

And finally, the excavators also discovered the largest and latest example of Arsinoitherium, a fearsome-looking beast with two divergent horns in its forehead. Before the Chilga discoveries, scientists speculated that the arsinoitheres lost a battle for habitat with the later-arriving Eurasian rhino, with which it shares a resemblance -- but no relation.

Howard Dean on Mercury Emissions

I checked Howard Dean's website to see if he specifically mentions mercury in his discussion of the environment. Here is his statement:

Forty-four states and territories had issued fish consumption advisories for mercury, warning citizens to limit how often they eat certain types of fish because the fish are contaminated with mercury.Ý A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in January 2003 found that 1 in 12 women of childbearing age has mercury levels above EPAÅfs safe health threshold.Ý Children of women who were exposed to high levels ofÝ mercury during pregnancy have exhibited a number of developmental problems.

To reduce these health threats, one of the first actions Dean will take as President is to reduce power plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, mercury, and carbon dioxide by fully enforcing the Clean Air Act and seeking new legislation to further strengthen that law.Ý (In contrast, President Bush has dramatically weakened clean air safeguards and proposed so-called ÅgClear SkiesÅh legislation that would actually allow more power plant pollution than current law.Ý Bush also refuses to curb carbon emissions that cause global warming despite his pledge to do so in the 2000 campaign.)Ý A Dean administration will also protect our health by directing the EPA to accelerate adoption of health-based standards for other toxic air pollutants.

Dean should take the mercury issue and run with it. This is a clear-cut case of the administration favoring a few lobbiest and campaign contributors over the interests of the nation's mothers and infants. This is about as much about motherhood as an issue gets.


Selling the Right to Emit Mercury into My Breastmilk

One item on today's to-do list is to make a doctor's appointment to get my mercury levels checked. Since David's angioplasty in June, we have substantially increased our intake of fish, especially coldwater fish rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, this despite rising concerns about unsafe levels of mercury in the fish we eat. I had been thinking about this problem and had decided to have my mercury levels checked, and probably Elizabeth's too. Mine probably won't be elevated because I'm nursing and would therefore be passing dietary mercury on to the baby.

So you can imagine my upset when I encountered this article in this morning's news:

U.S. Proposes Easing Rules on Emissions of Mercury

The Bush administration is proposing that mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants should not be regulated in the same way as some of the most toxic air pollutants,  reversing  a stance on air pollution control taken by the Clinton administration in 2000. 

. . . The agency is suggesting   that mercury emissions be removed from the most stringent regulations of the Clean Air Act that have been used to limit  the most toxic air pollutants. Among those are asbestos, chromium and lead, which have been known to cause cancers and neurological disorders.

. . .The upcoming regulations have been the subject of intense lobbying by utilities that argue the rules would force them to switch to more expensive fuels or install  costly  equipment on power plants to reduce the amount of mercury being spewed into the air.

"If you were to regulate mercury in an overly inflexible way, the result would be substantial fuel switching from coal to natural gas," said Scott Segal, the spokesman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group formed by some of the largest energy companies. The group welcomed the looser interpretation for mercury. "The Clean Air Act is flexible and pragmatic enough to have different reservoirs or authority for dealing with mercury,"  Mr. Segal said.

Under the  proposal submitted  to the White House last week,  power plants  would be able to buy and sell the rights to emit mercury into the air. A similar trading of emission credits is currently in use to handle sulfur dioxide, the pollutant that is a component of acid rain. In addition, the agency's  proposal would push back the effective date of the new regulations to 2010 at the earliest.

Let me be blunt: Rising levels of mercury in the environment are a serious and growing problem our supply of foods which provide DHA, an Omega 3 fatty acid essential to brain development. ANYONE WHO IS BREASTFEEDING, PREGNANT, THINKING ABOUT BECOMING PREGNANT, OR WHO KNOWS ANYONE WHO MIGHT should be REALLY UPSET about this proposal! I'm planning to write to the White House, the EPA, and my congress people today. You should, too.

FURTHER INFORMATION:
* FDA: AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FOR PREGNANT WOMEN AND WOMEN OF CHILDBEARING AGE WHO MAY BECOME PREGNANT ABOUT THE RISKS OF MERCURY IN FISH
* FDA: Mercury Levels in Seafood Species
* The situation is even worse: Mercury  In Fish -- The FDA Knows And Doesn't Tell!
* And see also that radical leftist propaganda rag, The Reader's Digest.


Alice in Nutritionland

I was going to wait with this one, but a health article in this morning's New York Times in lowering kids' cholesterol has me sputtering: Prevention Can Start Young, Studies Suggest; but How?

About eight years ago, after learning that her husband, Rod, suffered from elevated cholesterol, she started having their children's cholesterol checked, too. Bryce, at 16 their oldest child, went on a low dose of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs three years ago. Alyssa, 14, has also gone on statins. Eight-year-old Brady is not on medication, but he, too, joins the family in a diet low in fat; to the Youngquists 2 percent milk tastes like heavy cream.
. . . Dr. Daniel Bernstein, the pediatric cardiologist who treats the Youngquist children, says he uses the medication only cautiously. He put Bryce on statins only after a cholesterol test revealed a reading close to 300.

Why does this make me start muttering to myself? Lowering bad cholesterol is a reasonable enough goal, but nutritionally, the situation in much more complex than just lowering fat intake and taking the right drugs. And these people are lowering cholesterol and fat intake in kids whose brains are still growing. Cholesterol is what insulates the nerves. Fat is what most of your brain is made of. I find the description of this family's diet and medications very worrisome.

Also, if the family's on a low-fat/low-cholesterol diet in the first place and their kid comes in with a cholesterol of 300, it isn't coming from cholesterol in his diet. It's coming from his body's reaction to the mix of fats he's eating -- your body manufactures more cholesterol than you eat.

David has been on a low-cholesterol/low-fat diet for nearly two decades. (Nonetheless, he required an angioplasty in June.) Since I have for the most part seemed to require no particular diet, I have mostly eaten what he's supposed to eat. While his diet was a substantial improvement over what he ate before he changed his eating habits, I'm coming to understand that both of us are dealing with its unanticipated longterm consequences.

I should say, first, that for most of my adult life I have had a body mass index between 15 and 16. (The normal range starts at 18.5 or 20 depending on the chart.) Other than when I was pregnant, the only time when I've had something approaching a "normal" quantity of body fat was when I was sickest in my life. I have a peculiar metabolism which peculiarities clearly involve either fat storage or fat metabolism. It runs in the family, back three generations, forward one. No one in the medical profession has ever seen it necessary to probe the nature of my peculiar metabolism, beyond establishing that my weight is stable and I do not have an eating disorder. It is an extremely convenient metabolic oddity, in that I've never had to diet with the intention of losing weight in my life. The few times I've dieted with the intention of gaining weight, it hasn't worked.

I won't go into too much detail involving our health histories, but instead will cut to the chase -- where the family diet went wrong and what that means: David carefully researched cholesterol and diet two decades ago when he formulated his diet. He replaced butter with Shedd Spread margarine, stopped eating red meat, replacing it with chicken and turkey, tried to eat more coldwater fish, switched to nonfat milk, stopped eating eggs, etc.

His cholesterol dropped by a large amount. His doctor was impressed. He lost weight. He felt better, had less indigestion, etc.

At the time he did his research, the health hazards of partially hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids were not well known. The margarine he chose, which seemed to be the most healthy one on the market at the time he did his research, carries more coronary risk than the butter it replaces.

While eliminating the kind of red meat available in the grocery store and in restaurants cut his fat intake and indeed lowered his cholesterol, it had the unintended consequence of focusing the longterm diet quite tightly on chicken and turkey, which are higher in arachidonic acid than the beef they replaced. Arachidonic acid is one of the precursors of the prostaglandins that cause inflammation. In general, chicken and turkey was a good thing, but our diet became too focused on these two foods. During my pregnanacies, I was advised to steer clear of fish because of possible mercury contamination, so we ate less fish. It is now clear to me that many of the various health problems I've had involved a depletion of Omega 3 fatty acids leaving me vulnerable to inflammation. Both of us have had problems with arthritis and joint pain.

What makes me angriest at the moment is the realization in retrospect that the reason why I had six weeks of contractions before delivering each of my children was that their growing brains had depleted my Omega 3s. I cannot tell you how uncomfortable I was at the end of my pregnanacies. Why didn't anybody figure this out? Why didn't anyone tell me that grass-fed beef is high in Omega 3s (that come without the mercury risk)? Pregnant women are told to take their prenatal vitamins and not to use any other dietary supplements unless instructed by their doctors. I did what I was told.

Regarding David's angioplasty, I think what set the stage for it was dropping coldwater fish from our diet during my pregnanacies. The Omega 3s offered protection against the other flaws in what we ate. If we had known that there was a wider range of sources of animal protein available to us, both of us would have been healthier.

Hence, I worry about the longterm health of the kids in the NYT article.

Elizabeth woke up, so I have to stop now and get on with my day.

For those who've been following my sunrise reports, not much color in today's sunrise. But it snowed last night, so I took a picture anyway. Maybe I'll post it later.


The Golden Age Exchange

I direct your attention to Cheryl Morgan's review of The Golden Age at Emerald City by John C. Wright and Wright's response on Fantastica Daily.

Since I count both Wright and Morgan as my friends, am married to the book's editor, and have not read the book itself, I shall not offer further comments except to say that the exchange raises interesting issues about writing and reviewing.

UPDATE 12/5/03: David tells me John Wright had a heart attack and bypass surgery and in just home from the hospital. Get well, John.