Category Archives: miscellaneous

This is leadership?

I find myself outraged at something I heard on the radio this morning, yet it’s not entirely surprising. The proposed leader of the military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gen. James Mattis, has publicly come out in past bragging about how much he loves killing the enemy, and what a joy it is to shoot and fatally kill another human being.

“Actually, it’s a lot of fun to fight,” he said in a 2005 speech in San Diego about killing members of the Taliban. “It’s a hell of a hoot. It’s fun to shoot some people. I like brawling.”

Fun?!? It’s fun to shoot people? I find this attitude disgusting. And while I realize that this is part and parcel for the military, I am appalled that it is mentioned so openly and casually.

With all the talk about how he has the qualities of a good leader, all I could think was how is it possible that one of the things we’d celebrate about a person is that he loves to kill? I don’t care if it’s the enemy; in my head this does not set the right tone at all for the conflict, any conflict.

Perhaps I am deluded, but I would say that one of the qualities I would look for would be a person that respects and acknowledges the value of life. If they don’t, I expect they will have no qualms about overstepping their bounds and making decisions that risk lives (innocent, enemy and soldier). A true leader would not view people as expendable, let alone enjoy dispatching of them. What a callous, horrible, outrageous attitude.

Information clutter

I’m a self admitted information junky and the Internet fuels this obsession. I spend a good portion of every day reading news, articles and generally doing a lot more non-work related research than I’d care to admit to my boss.

As part of this obsession, I have about a million email newsletters, lists and RSS feeds that I subscribe to. My email boxes are bursting at the seams with hundred of unsorted messages, a lot of them unread. I continually end up with a dozen or more tabs open in my browser with content I fully intend to read.

Lately, the signal to noise ratio has seemed overwhelming. In addition somehow when online I lose track of time, time that could be better spent reading books, cleaning up actual clutter, or undertaken any number of other more useful or interesting pursuits. So how to weed through the information clutter and otherwise get myself back on track?

As a first step I’ve started to unsubscribe. There were some sources that were easy to eliminate. For instance, why get emails about Delta Sky Miles when I fly very rarely and have never flown Delta? Some are harder to eliminate, since I know the topic is of interest to me if only I had the time to read it!! However, 25 back issues of the Organic Bytes newsletter tell me that it’s unlikely I’ll make it a priority. I’m hoping that cleaning up my mailboxes will be a start and if nothing else will help ensure I don’t miss something important. It’s all about balance, something I think we could all use more of in our lives.

Any suggestions for me? I’m afraid if I look up the topic I’ll get started down a bunny trail leaving me with another ten tabs worth of material to read. 😉

Fragrance, chemicals, cancer and the environment

For some time now, I have had been having allergic reactions to the fragrance found in products such as perfume, soap, candles, etc. Early morning meetings and trips in the elevator are hard for me to handle, with perfumes and colognes competing to make my nose itch and eyes water. Recently while walking through the mall, I walked by the Bath and Bodyworks store (not even that close to it) and got an instant headache! It seems like it’s gotten worse since I gave birth to our son.

Curious to know how prevalent this reaction is, I looked it up online and found that fragrance sensitivities are common. WebMD offers an excellent article on the topic, that includes fascinating information such as:

  • Some 5,000 different fragrances are used in products today.
  • The fragrance may not be the real problem, as it’s just one part of a mix of chemicals (sometimes as many as 200 or more!) used to create the smell or that act as the masking agent in unscented products.
  • How our bodies respond to a particular fragrance lies in our individual physiologic makeup.
  • Women, particularly during their reproductive years, have the ability to detect odors much more vividly than do men, and they become more sensitive with repeated exposures
  • Doctors don’t agree on what’s behind any fragrance reaction, and whether it’s even a true allergy or simply a response to an irritant.
  • As a health problem, this sensitivity alone affects more than 2 million people, and studies suggest that sensitivity is on the rise.
  • Sensitivity to one fragrance or odor can snowball into a crippling disorder known as multiple chemical sensitivity.
  • There have been several recent legal actions taken on the topic of fragrance, relating exposure to second hand smoke.

So it’s not just me!

In related news this week, a study conducted by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Environmental Working Group found that 17 of most popular fragrances contained 38 secret chemicals, including alarming things like hormone disrupters. I’m wondering if there’s a way I can subtly bring this up to coworkers to get them to tone down the scent use, perhaps post it on the mirror in the bathroom? 😉

All joking aside, I really believe that consumers have a right to know what’s in the products they buy, whether it be the food they eat or perfume they wear. By taking advantage of the loophole that allows chemicals to be lumped together as fragrance, it makes it hard for consumers to truly assess the product and identify potential allergens. While true that most would not read it anyway if all listed out, there’s something to be said for making the information available for those that do care and/or need the info.

The FDA has the ability to restrict or ban any ingredient they consider unsafe, should they desire to do so.  Perhaps they may reconsider the role of fragrance and other related chemicals in light of the landmark report by the President’s Cancer Panel?

It concluded that the government has failed to prevent unnecessary exposures to carcinogens, potentially causing cancer, and suggests that the challenge for the Obama administration is to intensify research efforts into environmental toxins. “Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in use in the United States have been tested for safety,” the report says. It adds: “Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.” Obviously, more studies are needed to determine the effects of pollutants all around us.

It also includes the suggestion that America must rethink the way we confront cancer, including much more rigorous regulation of chemicals. Instead of solely focusing on self screening and preventitive care visits to the doctor, they are finally making other practical recommendations such as to avoid microwaving food in plastic and get your house tested for radon!


Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that means “to do no harm”. I’d like to think that I live by this concept, but what I’ve determined is while I’m doing a good job of making sure cruelty doesn’t touch my plate, I’ve been doing a poor job of consistently applying this principle to other spheres of my life.

As I read recently, “Ahimsa or non-injury means entire abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, either by thought, word, or deed. Non-injury requires a harmless mind, mouth, and hand.”

My vegan status goes a long way towards the avoidance of killing other living beings, however there are other ways to inflict harm. My consideration needs to extend to treatment of others as well. I seem to have little problems exhibiting willpower when it comes to food, but I need to gain some mastery over my mind and mouth. Unkind or villifying behaviour, things like dishonesty, hate and gossip, are all incompatible with the ideal.

In order to become more consistent with what I believe, I’m going to try my best to improve in this area– focus in on the positive and try to avoid the negative thoughts and speech. I’ve got some ideas on why I slip into injurious behaviours and need to consciously make an effort to cut back and quit.

Self improvement is never ending, a vast continuum.

100 years of science and medicine

A couple of recent NPR radio pieces talked about the state of medicine in the late 19th century, how doctors were educated largely by private medical schools that let anyone in that could pay tuition. Those doctors were not trained in the scientific method, had no labs, and did not necessarily study anatomy or physiology. Going to them had about a 50% chance of being beneficial for the patient!

It was after the automobile, the airplane, the telephone and other discoveries that people begin to see the value of science and started to believe in the use of a learned medical professional. Doctors eventually became ingrained in our culture and known as respected members of a community rather than as snake oil salesmen.

One of the main things that started to change medical schools for the better was the Flexner Report. This was a comprehensive report commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation that reviewed all the major American medical schools at the time. It was a game changer. It brought curriculum that was based on science, created standards and pushed medical education to the realm of universities.

I think lately we’re seeing the reversing trend. After 100 years faith in experts many people are increasingly skeptical of those who claim to know it all. (I find myself among that group.)  Medicine seems to be based on science less and less, with business influence and profit taking a lead again. A negative outcome from going to the doctor is still a very real possibility, with an increasingly likely chance of picking up some nasty bug at a hospital or getting the wrong dose of prescription drug.

On the 100th anniversary of the Flexner report, academics are wondering what the focus would be if a similar study were underway today.  I surmise a new report might include information on how doctors should deal with patients who disagree with them or bring them research they find on the Internet. There would be a recommendation for training on complementary and alternative therapies (if nothing else but to better converse with their patients on these topics). There should also be a major focus on wellness and prevention rather than just treatment. Good science would take precedent over the recommendations of professional organizations, lobbyists or big business.

A rethink of medical education is in order and I’m remaining hopeful that we’ll eventually see a trend towards better care  that takes a holistic approach to health.

Cell phone radiation exposure

For a long time now I’ve been considering getting a new cell phone. I simply don’t like the hardware or the interface for my existing phone and it may be just my imagination, but using it for any length of time makes my face and teeth on that side feel “funny”.

Ever since learning about the potential dangers of cell phone radiation, number one on criteria list for a new model (after the simple ability to place and receive calls) is that it emits only a low level of radiation. Since I’m changing phones anyway, there’s no better time to get a safer phone and reduce exposure for myself and my family.

As I’ve been considering different options, I’ve been evaluating them using the Environmental Working Group’s cell phone radiation look up tool, however not all potential phones are on there. (With the rate cell phone manufacturers produce new models I don’t expect them to be able to keep up either!)

When looking at phones today it occurred to me that for those not in the database, I could research to find the radiation level from the manufacturer. I found that what I need to search for is called the SAR Value. SAR stands for Specific Absorption Rate and gives an indication of the amount of radiation absorbed by your head when using the phone. The higher the number, the more that is absorbed. Using the EWG scale as a model, it looks like the best phones on the market right now have a maximum SAR under 0.55 W/kg.

Some manufacturers have pages or search engines that allow you took to look up the SAR value for all their phones. For others you might have to resort to a Google search. Typically if you use the phone model plus SAR you will find the number.  You can also attempt to look them up on the Mobile Manufacturers Forum site.

Alternatively, if you just happen to have the phone handy, or can capture the information from a display model or other source, you can also look this up using the FCC ID number. This info is found on the label under the battery — hardly practical when researching a new phone.

As more consumers learn about the potential dangers, especially to kids whose brains are still developing, I feel confident we’ll see a rise in the number of phones designed to emit low levels of radiation. In the meantime, in addition to getting a low radiation phone, following some of the EWG’s safety tips seems like a wise move. I’m hopeful that the FCC will soon wake up and re-examine the regulations in order to improve the standards. There’s also a lot that could be done to make this kind of information more readily available to consumers.

Corporal punishment in schools

A recent New York Times piece brought it to my attention that corporal punishment is still used in schools, stating that, “More than 200,000 schoolchildren are paddled, spanked or subjected to other physical punishment each year.”

I have to say that I was shocked to realize that it’s still allowed anywhere within the US public school system! In fact, 20 states do not prohibit physical punishment, with some places using it much more often than others.

While the piece focused on how disabled students are subjected to this type of punishment more frequently, I find it a travesty that children are subjected to it all, and worse yet that it is condoned by the state. By allowing this in schools, it gives the subtle message that this is an OK behavior for those in authority.

Many comments, including those within the article and attached to the article, argued basically that “It happened to me and I’m fine, so why not?” I find this cowardly and certainly no excuse or argument for something so abhorrent. Perpetuating the cycle of physical and emotional abuse will not bring about positive change.

Again from the article – “Corporal punishment is just not an effective method of punishment, especially for disabled children, who may not even understand why they’re being hit,” said Alice Farmer, who wrote the report.

I’d argue that it’s not effective for ANY child, and that many don’t know why it’s happening to them, disabled or otherwise. It’s not a logical or natural consequence for their misbehavior.

Punitive discipline may make the behavior issues disappear, at least initially. Kids that are hit learn to do what they can to avoid being hit! They don’t learn what exactly they did that was wrong, how to avoid or fix it. It stops them from developing their own inner conscience that tells them right from wrong. All that’s remembered is the punishment and the upset with the person that inflicted it.

What they do see instead is that the more powerful person should feel free to take the upper hand and that if you don’t know what else to do to gain control, hit! This can be very damaging to the relationship with the authority figure, and set the children up to themselves use violence in the future.

As The Natural Child Project web site says, children reflect the treatment they receive. No child should be mistreated this way, NONE.  Children, like all beings, should be treated with dignity, understanding, respect and compassion.

Hitting children for misbehaving does not bring out the best in the children, or humanity.

Bottled water vs. tap

Bottled water has been a hot topic in the news lately, in part due to a report by the Environmental Working Group disclosing that the 10 best-selling brands of bottled water contain contaminants similar to those allowed in tap water.

This is not altogether shocking when you consider that in some cases, the tap water comes from the same source as the bottled watered. What was more of a surprise to me was learning that bottled water is not closely regulated and is not required to undergo testing as often or as thoroughly as municipal water systems.

This could be because bottled water is regulated as a food under the jurisdiction of the FDA, while municipal water is overseen by the EPA. As long as the bottle contains a “label of substandard quality” the contaminants are allowed, water can be treated with antimicrobial agents, and companies can continue using advertising that conveys a misleading level of purity.

According to WebMD,”Americans drank 9 billion gallons of bottled water in 2007, or slightly more than 29 gallons for every man, woman, and child in the country. They also shelled out $22 billion on a product that critics of the bottled water industry say they should be getting for free from their home faucets.”

We’d been wanting to get a water filter for our house for a long time, to make use of the existing tap water but improve on its taste and chemical makeup. We finally settled on an Aquasana, one of the lower priced under-counter models. While filters will be an ongoing expense, it’s a bargain compared to the estimated 1900% markup on bottled water. Factor in the environmental impact created by plastic containers and product shipping, and it should be easy to make a case for dumping the water bottle in almost any scenario.

Holiday consumerism

I had this post ready to go before Christmas and didn’t get it posted, but decided to put it up now anyway.

I was already planning to blog about Christmas and consumerism when this tragic story about Black Friday came along. A temporary worker at a New Jersey Wal-Mart was trampled under a stampede of eager shoppers, suffering fatal injuries.

What kind of person tramples another to death without care? One that prioritizes financial gain over compassion. There is nothing more important than life. And that a life was taken away by a group of sheep trying to save money, probably while seeking presents to give to others, is digusting. Unless there is a life-threatening emergency, I can see absolutely no justification for such behaviour. I would rather pay double than stand crowded in the cold November weather to save a small sum. When compassion is disregarded and replaced by greed, we all fall down.

On a more positive note, I recently came across an awesome site via the Holistic Moms Network leaders group. It’s called the Center for a New American Dream. They have a great section and brochure on their site called Simplify the Holidays that is all about getting away from the commercialism and stress of the season and returning the focus towards peaceful celebration and personal fulfillment.

EMF Hazard, Unbelievable?

Nearly every day lately a new topic for concern is brought to my attention. It can be very hard to sort fact from fiction, to determine- is this topic something to worry about and will it cause my family harm? In areas where I have some expertise or have done research I can more easily discern which sources to trust, but that can be difficult when topics seem to require in-depth knowledge or specialization.

My newest area of concern has been the health impacts of electromagnetic fields and electromagnetic radiation (EMF and EMR). I’m talking about the fields put off by things like cell phone towers, power lines, microwaves, wireless internet and Bluetooth devices. Admittedly, I don’t know a lot about electrodynamics, but with recent reports saying mobile phones are more dangerous than smoking or asbestos and that wi-fi may be harming children in schools, it’s hard not to pay attention.

Once I made the leap into this new area of interest, I discovered there’s a lot to take in, more than I had initially realized. I joined an online discussion group to get a feel for the topic, as I find people with a passion for a subject are often the best sources of research. They are most likely to be up on the latest discoveries, try experimental treatments and post all the news articles, a veritable fount of information as good as any RSS reader can provide.

Before joining the discussion (albeit from the sidelines) I had no idea that there were people in the world with extreme electrical hypersensitivity, meaning exposure to the local cell phone towers or the neighbors wi-fi may be keeping them up at night or causing them physical distress. These people are often told they are crazy, that it’s all in their heads and there is no scientific basis for their problems. Still they are frequently experiencing the effects to the point that it’s severely disrupting their lives. Real or no, some have even gone to the point of uprooting their families and forming their own communities to get away from the electrosmog. They’re fighting community wi-fi installations, opposing the construction of cell phone towers and otherwise going to great lengths and expense to shield themselves from something they believe is causing them harm.

Meanwhile all over the world studies are being undertaken to determine the true safety of these technologies. Many suggest there are reasons for concern and that potential health implications to humans from EMR include things like cancer, miscarriage, cataracts, brain tumors, leukemia, auto-immune and neurodegenerative diseases. There’s credible evidence to suggest EMR hazards are threatening wildlife in great numbers — especially frogs and insects. Even low frequency electromagnetic fields have shown the potential to severely disrupt life. Still other studies do not show a true problem and suggest it’s nothing more than an enviro-scare

There are definitely some conspiracy theories and crackpot cures floating around the web, but also a lot of truth in what is being said. I can’t help but sympathize with those who feel that their concerns are being dismissed and that if only the topic could get some attention by the right people it might bust wide open. I haven’t concluded how to handle EMF exposure in our home, but I’m leaning towards the prudent avoidance approach advocated by the EPA.

Sometimes I wonder why I started down this path, researching topics like this until all hours of the night. Then I remember; his tiny body is sleeping between us now. I just hope I’m not irreversibly harming him with my wi-fi.