Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Gadfly Proclaims the International Year of Peace

It has been agreed by most all scientists (who are not in the pay of Exxon-Mobil or the Koch brothers) — climatologists to oceanographers to geologists to botanists and entomologists — that human activity has has heated Planet Earth wantonly by increasing the greenhouse gases in its atmosphere. Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are the two worst culprits. They are produced principally by burning coal for electric power plants, drilling for gas and oil, and using gasoline and diesel fuel for cars, trucks, airplanes and ships. But, not far behind on the short list of worst offenders are: war and the military preparations for war. Just compare how many (or few) miles to the gallon you get in your SUV, with how many gallons to the mile an F-16 uses every minute. It’s even worse with Navy ships, especially destroyers (how creatively named). Then add the CO2 when the shells and bombs and missiles explode. And what pilot of a plane or ship or tank drives cautiously, using a minimum of fuel?

The Gadfly Revelry & Research team, noting that April was National Poetry Month proposed that April 2017 to April 2018 be proclaimed the International Year of Peace. The Year of Peace would start with a competition for the best poem of peace. A vote was taken among the Gadfly membership, and the proposal was passed unanimously. A priceless, autographed copy of the Lilac Book of Peace—Axioms & Quotes will be awarded to the best poem.

The members of the GR&R team immediately started at work, and produced three poems, but were informed that they were ineligible because of their Gadfly membership. They reluctantly offered their poems as samples to motivate the vast readership of the Gadfly column.

1) Mild today at seventy two, 
    gentle winds play chimes
    pianissimo, streams add their

continuo, a woodpecker
    beats a tremolo
    on a leafless tree.  Not far from 

here, West Point trains the young in
      the arts of war to 
    keep us safe from terror untold.

2) The first flutes, fashioned of
    the hollow bones of vulture wings,
forty thousand years ago,

never were a call to 
    arms,  but just for music making,
dance, and sociality.

Millennia on, through
    reeds and keys, yet always one with
the glorious art of peace.

3) As primates
    are the highest form 
of life, I wonder if

it’s all about
    opposable thumbs,
or vocal cords, or minds

that thrive on
    signs and symbols.  Some 
say:  it’s not the ways we
live, but how
    we contend, each with
each, that makes us Us.  They

point to all
    our glorious wars.  I 
offer them:  bonobos.
And now, let the competition begin.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Very Pure Chemicals

Over the winter, the more than 80,000 artificial chemicals in common use that have entered our environment, did not go into hibernation. They were still in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods grown in the Southern Hemisphere. [For such accounting, Mexico is in the Southern Hemisphere.] Soon, the farmers in the US will start planting genetically engineered (GMO) seeds and spraying pesticides and herbicides like Roundup.

In a sneak attack, Monsatan (er, Monsanto) has slyly convinced farmers, especially the industrial  farms raising single crops, to plant GMO corn, GMO soy, GMO canola (still called rapeseed in Canada), GMO cotton, GMO sugar beets, and GMO alfalfa. In fact, over 90% of these crops that are grown in the US are genetically engineered to be resistant to the chemicals in Roundup and such friends, but to kill everything else – grasses, weeds, dandelions … earthworms? bees? butterflies?

Monsanto and the other Big Biotechs have enlisted the help of rogue wordsmiths to find synonyms for those words of the trade that might turn off fussy consumers. So far as I know, no poets have accepted their employment. Yet, they have come up with: bovine somatotropin (BST) to replace bovine growth hormone, genetic modification (GMO) for genetic engineering, and pure canola for rapeseed oil (packaged in plastic bottles, not glass).

The FDA, the supposed guardian of consumers, doesn’t do its own research on the safety of the products that we eat or use on our bodies. It relies on the research submitted by the companies that apply for FDA approval – studies financed by the chemical giants who have been known to cut the funding of any research, before completion, that looks like it may demonstrate harm from GMO foods. Speak of the fox guarding the chicken coop. 

Independent research, largely done in UK, Germany, Italy, Austria, and Australia, has indeed shown: severe inflammation of the stomach lining, tumor formation of the intestinal wall, interference with reproductive function, and suppression of the immune system — of mammals that are fed GMO food.

When a small experimental plot in California was found to contain GMO wheat, despite Monsanto’s promises to the wheat farmers of the mid-west, their substantial wheat exports to South Korea, Taiwan. and Japan were cancelled by these Asian countries.

The fall-out extended to non-GMO produce. The apple growers of Washington State who use diphenylamine (DPA) to prevent the stored fruit from turning brown, are stuck with 400 million apples because the Europeans want nothing to do with them. DPA has been banned on all fruit treated with that chemical in the 28 EU nations since 2012. To be sure, anything grown in the US is suspect — rightly so, in light of the recent scientific analyses of many common foods for glyphosate (Roundup) residues. Alarmingly high levels of the chemical were found in 29 different foods commonly found on grocery shelves, including: Cheerios, Oreos (ohh!), Doritos, baby foods, even spinach (wait till Popeye hears of this). 

Even before this recent disturbing news came out, a few states had ballot initiatives to require labeling of products with GMO ingredients, and let consumers decide for themselves. The industry poured millions of $$ into the campaign and barely defeated these initiatives in California, Oregon, and Washington. But, if GMOs were so advantageous to society and so harmless to consume, why didn’t industry join the campaign to “Just Label It?”

One of the Gadfly Revelry & Research gang wondered, “Whatever did farmers do before 1950 when there were few if any chemicals to spray on crops?” Another gang member looked at him in a tone of eye that said, “Mr. Pollyanna, they call it organic farming, now.”

Going back to when Monsanto applied for a patent on the warped form of life created by gene insertion, they told the Patent Office that it was unique, never invented, and never found in Nature. After the patent was granted, they told the public skeptics, “Don’t get so excited. It’s nothing more than farmers have done for centuries by breeding plants and animals —simple hybridization.”

Going forward, the next candidates are GMO grasses and GMO salmon. What will the hunters and fishermen say? They may suggest, instead, that Monsanto executives need a few genes inserted for ethics and honesty.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Global Heating? Well, Do Something

Global Heating? Well,  Do Something
The weather devils have been escaping from Pandora’s box, and the climate feedback loops are becoming self sustaining chain reactions. But, waiting at the bottom of Pandora’s box we still have Hope. Can we can reverse the death spiral that has already brought us: heat waves and wildfires, droughts, superstorms, and floods? Perhaps … if we 1) immediately and sharply reduce the amount of greenhouse gases entering the thin atmospheric envelope of the Earth and 2) rapidly increase the sequestration of carbon and methane in such natural storehouses as forests and coastal wetlands.
In the US, it’s not hard to identify the sources of the principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide:  1) the coal and gas fired power plants and 2) the cars, trucks, planes, and ships that transport our goods and us around. We must convince our government to close the coal burning plants and stop drilling for oil and “natural” gas. Wind farms can be installed in a matter of months. Solar panels take even less time. Battery technology has improved so much that electric vehicles have a carbon footprint almost as small as rickshaws.  Government fleets of cars can certainly be all electric. Light rail lines can connect nearby cities and suburbs . Bicycle lanes and walking paths (sidewalks) would be epic. Then, governments can place slow speed water turbines in rivers and tidal estuaries. On oceans, we can establish a merchant marine fleet of high tech sailing vessels carrying American made exports. We’ll call them Clipper Ships. 

Call the roof top solar panels, wind mills, and bicycles “distributed generation” — that sounds official and accredited.

Ten more things we can do individually and as The People:
1, 2, and 3.  Call, mail, and visit our elected representatives (supposedly, public servants), and hold their feet to the fire. 
4.  Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Recycle — in that order.
5.  Plant trees … in forests, parks, and backyards. Trees are geniuses at capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it as wood and maple syrup. We haven’t figured that out yet. No, lawns don’t count for carbon storage; they are little better than Astroturf.
6.  Keep and protect coastal wetlands — salt marshes and mangroves. An acre of mangrove captures three times as much carbon as an acre of tropical forest. Require the Army Corps of Engineers to issue a environmental impact statement before dredging rivers or estuaries.
7,  Charge a fee (not a “tax”) for emitting greenhouse gases: diesel generators and pumps, fossil fuel power plants, fitness centers where heavy lifting causes heavy breathing … 
8.  Eliminate monocrop farming, which invariably requires heavy pesticide/herbicide use.  Return to farming that respects earthworms and honeybees. Call it “organic farming.” 
9.  Eat much less beef. Cattle produce massive amounts of methane. The 100 million cattle in the US pass 5.5 metric tons of methane per year.  
10.  Abolish war. War produces plenty of heat and tons of CO2 from all the shells and bombs and missiles that explode. Depleted uranium shells, most egregious, explode at 4,000 to 5,000º F. Of the tanks and planes and warships that merely patrol, the Abrams tank is the most efficient at 8 gallons per mile. Just turning an aircraft carrier around? Don’t ask. 
What is really efficient is statecraft: diplomacy, negotiation, mediation, patience, persistence, and creativity. No matter how hot tempered the disputants are, only metaphorical heat results. If a satirist is among the “honest brokers,” the worst would be a little carbon dioxide from a fit of laughing.
Nature has provided us with more energy than we can use, from:  sun, wind, rivers, tides, waves, and geothermal. The time to use them is immediately, if not yesterday.  Good planets are hard to find.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Our health and the environment

Gadfly has been accused, in the past, of neglecting the nitty-gritty and addressing nothing less than planetary matters. Gadfly pleads guilty and sheepishly explains that grand matters matter.
For this issue of the Sylvanian, the Gadfly Revelry & Research team has investigated family farming. What could be more local than family farming?
Family farming goes back to 13,000 BP (Before the Present), but we need to go back only to mid-20th century for our story of the epidemic in cancer we see today. My residency training, 1956 to 1959, was a time of intensive medical/surgical education. I went through the pathology accession books of cases from 1945 through 1950 to identify
cases of inflammation, cysts, tumors, and relevant systemic disease — anything that
would be important for a young hospital resident to study. Among all the cases of
cancer, I found only two of prostate cancer, and relatively few of breast cancer. Re-
member, this was a large hospital with an active operating room, sending lots of tis-
sue specimens to pathology lab for analysis. Today, every man knows more than two
friends, neighbors, and relatives afflicted with prostate cancer; and every woman
knows several with breast cancer. Between those early post-war years and today, there has been an explosion in prostate and breast cancers, a literal epidemic.
Here’s the story.
During WW II, the chemical companies were busy making ex- plosives for shells and bombs. When the war ended, they were less celebratory than the rest of the country, for they suddenly had idle production capacity. Their best [amoral] minds identified any groups who might be customers for the large quantities of chemicals they could and would produce. Ah, the farmers! So, they promised the farmers of America higher yields by killing off the insect pests that ate up a goodly portion of their crops. They also promised to make farming less labor-intensive by killing off all the weeds that competed with the food crops for the nutrients of the soil.
The farmers bought it. The use of chemicals in farming soon was soon advertised as “conventional,” and the use of the farmers’ families to weed the rows and pick off the bugs from the growing food crops was disdained as crazy and called “organic.” Chemicals were advertised to bring “Miracles through Chemistry.” But, chemicals became pervasive in our air, soils, foods, and bodies. Many of these chemicals that infested our environment were harmful to our tissues and organs, and some even were proven to cause cancer. Eventually, the word chemical became associated in the public mind not with “miracles,” but “toxic.”
Still, the chemical companies — Monsanto was their poster child — would not be deterred. By the 1960s, only 20 years after WW II, chemical warfare [remember Agent Orange] was used in Vietnam. PTSD rates soared. The main culprits were: proven Agent Orange exposure and the lies behind the war.
Now in the 21st century, the chemical companies complain bitterly when Michelle Obama plants an organic garden on the White House grounds. The First Lady has stood her ground and didn’t cave in to industry demands. She, unlike her husband, is one tough hombre for the greater good. She is a model for the rest of us.
All told, there was one major change from the time when nylon was the only synthetic plastic — and when I could find only two cases of prostate cancer in five years of reviewing everything that went through the Pathology Department of a large City Hospital — until now, when prostate and breast cancer is epidemic. That change is the flooding of hundreds of thousands of artificial chemicals into the environment. All of us, were we to have blood tests, would show, literally, dozens of toxic chemicals in every system of our body and brains. Other changes — our diets, our sedentary activities, computer use — all are minor compared to the soup of chemicals in our environments since the mid-20th century.
It is time to become angry, maybe to get mad.

[Also published in the Sylvanian, Winter 2017]

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Reality Check for Donald Trump

Donald Trump doesn’t want to appear stupid. When he paid no taxes on one recent return [the other nine of the last ten years were not made public], he said, "It proves I’m smart."

The Donald needs to show he’s just as smart as the scientists who say the Earth is heating up. It’s only about 97% of them, and the new President says it’s not absolutely certain. He may be figuring on a couple of fall-back positions. If it does turn out the climate is heating up, he can always say, “Maybe, a warmer climate will mean a longer growing season for crops, and besides, I like tropical fruits.” The next fall-back position is if it’s really Global Heating and not just Global Warming, that could stimulate some great new technology that will have spill-over benefits for society. 

Where will we get all the money to develop technology on such a scale? It’s already there! We merely take our military economy, and use the money currently spent on battle-ready carrier groups and new planes like the F-35 that crash on test flights. Then, there are the 800 plus US military bases around the world, costing hundreds of billions every year. Also, don’t forget the plans for modernizing our Triad of Nuclear Weapons that we no longer need now that Russia is the new President’s personal friend, and China has substantial business interests with the US. Whom are we aiming our ICBMs at anyway? Both these Capitalist economies should pay their share, come war or peace. Donald Trump, the new leader of the Western World, is the acknowledged master of the art of the deal. So, let our new slogan be “Make Deals, Not War.”
The second Reality Check for the Donald is the number of fancy properties he owns around the world, especially the jewels in his crown of fortune such as the golf courses at the edge of the sea in Scotland at Aberdeen and Turnberry, the one at Doonbeg in Ireland, and the one in Palm Beach Florida. Some of the other 13 Golf Clubs around the world must be hardly higher than sea level, as well. 

Two of Trump’s other holdings are in great danger — Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach and Trump Towers in the middle of Manhattan — both at the mercy of the coming higher tides.  Mar-a-Lago, His Palm Beach Club has been described as “lavish,” “splendrous,” “ornate” and more, all set upon a barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth. Trump Tower is on the Island of Manhattan between the tidal Lower Hudson River and the tidal East River. 

Donald may think that he and his wife Melania are safe in his penthouse suite at Trump Tower (shades of Henry VIII). But, the elevators will short out in a second when the salt water from rising storm surges come in. He also must think that when oceans rise from the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and the Greenland ice sheet, he can just plant another couple of rows of palm trees at the shores of Mar-a-Lago to soak up the water from the coming high seas at Palm Beach. I bet the Dutch never thought of that.

The Donald must live in the mental illness of “wishful thinking.” How else can we describe a man afflicted with tiny hands and thin wrists, who buys up all those championship golf courses. 

All those millions of Americans (especially in Oklahoma and Texas) may have thought, like Donald Trump, that Global Warming and Climate Change were a great hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of European scientists and business interests in Denmark and Germany who want to corner the market in windmills. Unfortunately for all the climate denialists, Mother Nature is unimpressed by money. She is, however, perturbed by all the people who have followed a profligate lifestyle that has turned the Earth into a gigantic greenhouse. So, She has upped the ante by visiting upon them a multifaceted Reality Check: droughts in Texas and California, record heat waves in the SouthWest, wildfires in Tennessee and western North Carolina, and floods in the upper MidWest — numbers of people enough to believe in climate change, at least.

Donald Trump may not read much, living as he does in his own bubble of wealth and elegance, but some of the Donald’s wannabees must already believe in climate change, if not Climate Extremes. They will surely tell him that the water traps his vaunted golf courses will soon become estuaries of the sea, and Mar-a-Lago … don’t ask. Perhaps his own children will have the courage to tell their father that Mother Nature has many more ways and means, more than Papa Donald has millions, to convince them all that Global Heating has begun and Climate Chaos is already a tradition. If he needs a Court Jester to tell him, Gadfly will apply for the job. 

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Election Lemonade

Election Lemonade

Let us look at the good side of the US "election." It was 180º opposite to the “elections” of Joseph Stalin, where you could only vote yes for the one candidate. In the recent US “election,” there were more votes against the candidates of the two major parties than for one or the other. Lawn signs advised “Anybody but Clinton” or “Anybody but Trump.” 

Now that Donald Trump has won, and received the congratulations of Vladimir Putin (formerly of the KGB)‚ why couldn't Trump and Putin celebrate their newfound friendship with a Deal?  And why not also Kim Jong Un?  Our new bumper stickers could be: 'Make Deals, Not War.' The Donald is the self-proclaimed Master of the Art of the Deal. Let’s hold him to it.

In North Korea, Kim Jong Un may not be as crazy as he seems. He doesn’t seem to want to lie down and play dead before threats from Washington, whether Republican or Democrat. And, he does have nuclear weapons, if only about three all told. [That’s 50% more than the US had as a result of the Manhattan Project.] He may just be trying to parlay those few into a peace treaty. You mean the Korean War is not over, only at the armistice stage? Yes, just a cease-fire, no peace treaty has ever been signed. The Kim Jong family, father and son, have offered to dismantle all nuclear testing and uranium enrichment in return for a peace treaty. Perhaps, the Korean War can finally be ended with a Deal.

Right up to November 2016, the US has been making ‘overflights’ through North Korean airspace with B2 bombers. We are holding war exercises practically right up  to the DMZ. It’s time for, not contention, but cooperation. Donald Trump  and Kim Jong Un even see eye to eye as to lifestyle. Kim has a taste for fine French brandy, and he has an eye for pretty young damsels, much as the Donald does. After Donald arrives in Pyongyang with well selected embassadresses, the two can sit down over a VSOP smooth brandy or two and make a permanent Deal. Nixon already set a precedent with China. We can show that we’re serious, not by ‘modernizing’ our own nuclear arsenal of nuclear missiles and bombs, but by dismantling 90% of them. That would still leave ten — enough [in Churchill’s words] to make the rubble bounce. Trump’s friend Putin would need no convincing to do the same. That 90% reduction would set the standard for India and Pakistan — a diplomatic impossibility up to now.

Back home in Washington DC, if any political types incur the displeasure of Commander in Chief Donald, he would not hesitate to say, “You’re fired!” On Jan 20, 2017, when he is sworn in as President, that dictum can be applied to the CIA, the first agency that ran the drone program, and of which Barack Obama has said, “The CIA gets what it wants.” The Donald will be able to trump not only the CIA but also the FBI, the NSA, and the whole Pentagon, if need be.

He already has an avid group of inspectors general in the existential circle of whistleblowers, which Obama has tried to jail or intimidate out of existence. Our Number One Whistleblower, Edward Snowdon, is under the protection of Vladimir Putin, Trump’s friend.  What a development! 

The rest of us already have the precedent of candidate Trump speaking his mind without inhibition. Let us follow his example by addressing contentious issues, with only our conscience to guide us. May the moral compasses of We the People be a reliable model for our politicians to follow.

There is, however, a disturbing negative to Donald Trump as President. The Donald thinks that a) Global Warming is a myth, b) there’s no shortage of water in California and Texas still has plenty of oil, and c) we can continue to use fossil fuels, even coal, with impunity. The Gadfly Revelry & Research team is already working on changing his mind. Trump owns too many properties which may be at risk from Superstorms, and Trump Tower is on the island of Manhattan, not much above current sea level. Yet, Donald does not appear to be a canoeist or kayaker, which skills could some day save his life. Watch this space.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Chemistry On The Hoof

Salud, Salut, Gesund—As Long As You’re Healthy
by Mort Malkin
Chemistry On The Hoof
The reasons for not eating hamburgers in fast food establishments, or even greasy spoons, are many and varied. First, over 80% of US beef is treated with hormones while still on the hoof a short time before slaughter. Bovine growth hormone (BGH) makes for nice fat cows in quick order. To make doubly sure the animals wear enough weight, they are moved off the range and into feed lots to be beefed up for the slaughterhouse. In the feed lots, corn and soy mash is the soup de jour (and appetizer, entrée, and dessert). The grain and legume combination is high in protein and available in all-you-can-eat quantities to increase the weight of their steaks and chops. No more delicate grasses, Bossy.
A further advantage of the corn/soy-fed beef is that the animal feed is mostly genetically engineered. The Black Angus, of course have no First Amendment rights and rarely take to the streets to demonstrate against such artifice. There will be no mass protests in Chicago .
Another concern, beyond hormones and GE feed, is the beasts’ reaction to fright and fear and the resulting chemical changes in their bodies. The noise, the smells, the lines of animals being coerced toward the slaymaster all must evoke extreme anxiety, fear, panic and, soon enough, depression. We all know how rotten we feel when subjected to such stress as misplaced car keys or too many choices on someone’s automated answering tape. The brain contains over 30 different neurotransmitters: acetyl choline, serotonin, dopamine, nor epinephrine ... all in various states of balance. Their interactions determine our mood, our energy level, our blood pressure and heart rate, and whether we are ready for fight & flight or rest & repair.  The chemicals float around not only the brain but the rest of the body, too. The meat of stressed animals can’t be as nutritious, or tasty, as from a calm one.
A neighbor-friend, aware of these chemical changes, follows his own strict hunting guidelines. He is careful to be downwind of the deer, and he waits till he gets a clean shot at the animal’s head. No time for the deer to be taken by any negative thoughts and emotions. Hunters whose prime aim is a trophy don’t give the body chemistry of the deer a second thought. A buck’s antlers are not much changed by adrenergic chemistry. The only worry my hunting friend has is that the deer that will provide him with many meals over the winter may have been browsing on the lawns of neighbors who use herbicides to suppress the growth of dandelions and other weeds. Herbicides such as 2,4D (dichlorophenoxyacetic acid) are toxic to fish and frogs and irritant to humans. Back in the 60s and early 70s, an herbicide called Agent Orange was used on the broadleaf foliage of the Ho Chi Minh trail. It, too, was supposed to be only irritant to human eyes and skin. My hunter friend says the saving grace is that the fertilizer-weed killer is applied in the spring, and hunting season waits till the late fall and winter. Of course, the weed problem and the dietary habits of the deer are amenable to other, less toxic solutions. That will be worth an essay of its own.
The last matter the beefeaters and deerslayers might be apprehensive about is wasting disease – mad cow disease and mad deer syndrome. It is not an infection in the sense of bacteria or viruses causing encephalitis or meningitis. Rather, the condition involves rogue proteins called prions that form inventive abstract sculptural shapes in the gray matter. It may occur in cows, deer, elk, mink, and people. In humans it is called variant Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease. An English friend tells of many cases of mad cow disease and several cases of vCJD in Great Britain in the 90s. Millions of cows had to be destroyed. In the US, only a few proven mad cows were found, but “downer” cattle are common. Mad elk and deer disease, moreover, became common in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Mad deer syndrome in Wisconsin erupted into political contention between the DNR and hunters. It was reported that thousands of deer in one county had to be destroyed. Official counsel in various other areas of the state reporting only sporadic cases advised hunters who were concerned about wasting disease to donate the deer they killed to food pantries. Shame in spades.
Various establishment agencies and organizations – the USDA, states issuing hunting licenses, and Big Beef – were scared to death of finding any cases of bovine spongiform encephalitis (BSE). Though the testing technology quickly became simpler and the results more certain, they tested only a tiny sampling under their respective jurisdictions. Feed lots avoided testing “downer” cows even though the steer exhibited one of the cardinal signs of BSE. States that derived considerable revenues from selling hunting licenses tested deer and elk taken in areas where wasting disease had been identified but rarely in others. In contrast, Japan tested every single cow destined for human consumption in the Land Of The Rising Sun.
With all the reasons to eschew meat in our diets, must we conclude that the American way of life is under threat? The vegetarians are surely gloating just a little.