POEM: Ebola US Over

Ebola US over
When fear metes science
When we no what too due
Still, rabidly executing our will
As wee act in sanity
Cheap as rationed rationality
Upscale absurdity
As some fret butler
Frankly red-faced, not giving a damn
As long as they are on the winning genocide
As good as dread
Only wont
Too feel safe
Feverishly incubating terrors
In the timed, spaced continuum
Of the perpetual see of terminable daze
Enduring weaks
Of what dismay
Or may knot
Deliver us
Into harm’s weigh
Stamping out indignantly
Aversion of reality
We cannot except
Fomenting in a culture
Fixed on negative results
Mirrorly symptoms apprehended
Temperatures rising
Going viral
As the unexplained hemorrhages
Everything alarmingly scene
As through
A prism of fear
For which there is no anti-dote
Forever catching
US on the flip side
Little escaping what is in
Our nature
Passing
On that sore option
Liquefying our cells
Or seizing only
That which is key
To the beginning of our end
In courage unbolting
And open fortitude
That other wise will
To our enemies heel
Yet for all won knows
Bolus over with a feather
Joining farces with that gag reel
Fore what bitter medicine than that
Given the bird
That can’t swallow
Or a flee
In deed doggedly drug
A collar
Not worthy a copper or gumshoe
So give it a rest

I wrote this poem a while back, just after the first Ebola case showed up in the United States.  I have training and experience in public health, and I worked in the 1990’s in combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  Communicating risk accurately is difficult, particularly in an environment of fear and histrionics. Also, it doesn’t help that the scientific literacy level of the American public is disabling in this matter.  As a scientist and poet, I hope that this poem offers some insight into such conundrums.

Fear and ignorance are a lethal combination, and they have a nefarious synergy with infectious disease outbreaks.  Ignorance often leads to a dangerous undervaluing of prevention early in an epidemic.  Then, when the epidemic becomes visible, closer to home, fear often demands actions that are often useless or counterproductive.  If confusion prevails amidst a population, infectious disease can flourish, as energies are squandered on off-mark enterprises and scientifically-validated methods are not sufficiently adhered to, often because of ignorance and suspicion, even if plenty of fear and concern is present as a motivator.

The Ebola virus is particularly lethal, yet it is not easily transmissible nor transmissible in people without easily-identified symptoms (though not necessarily Ebola-specific symptoms).  The chains of Ebola transmission can be broken.  We need to persistently apply our abundant knowledge about Ebola, with a measure of courage, to defeat it.  If our unfounded fears overwhelm our capacity to address Ebola in a rational manner, then the legitimate fear that Ebola poses us will become unnecessarily magnified into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

May we drum up the courage and resolve to fight Ebola based on what we know well rather than that which is uncertain and subject to fear-mongering.

Testimony to NRC to Shut Down Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant

Below is my testimony for today’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s public hearing regarding the potential re-licensing of the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant:

My name is Dan Rutt.  So, what are my credentials for being here tonight?  I live in the kill zone of Davis-Besse.  I have lived in the kill zone of nuclear plants almost my entire life.  I suspect few could argue against the mournful reality that way too many people share these credentials.

I do have a B.S. in Biology.  Though, I must confess, my B.S. pales in comparison to the B.S. of the nuclear industry and the NRC.

I also have a masters degree in public health.  But I am not here to debate technical minutiae, nor to discuss the arrangement of deck chairs, the lack of lifeboats, nor the alleged unsinkability of the titanic nuclear industry.

Today, I am here as a poet and an activist.  I am here as a child of mother earth and as a planetary citizen.  Most importantly, I am here today as a prophet.  And let it be said: nothing today will truer be said than that the nuclear industry and the NRC listen to profits!

I am here to do the impossible.  I am here to topple a multi-billion dollar corporate empire with a mere wisp of democracy — approximately 3 minutes worth.  Unfortunately, the NRC’s plan to protect itself from democracy is much stronger than it’s plans to protect us from nuclear disasters.

When the NRC circus comes to town, their death-defying prestidigitations may very well make you gasp.  Still, we will be safely confined to grandstanding.  This dog and pony show might allow us to bitch until we are hoarse.  But, at the end of the day, the elephant in the middle of the big, flimsy tent, will do its thing, and the little people of this world will be left with the mess.  And the NRC circus will skip town, to continue their tour de farce.

So, I am here to do the impossible.  I am here to speak for a thousand generations in 3 minutes.   Usually such hope and possibility requires the venue of something like American Idol.  Well, my friends, we have an American idol: the nuclear industry.  This American idol has reigned for 70 years.  This American idol has rained nuclear waste across this great land.  And today, 70 years later, as the waste of the nuclear fat cats grows larger, they offer a 600-page tome as their litter.  And who dares wade through this litter box?  Who dares to think inside this box?  Who of us will not be pooped out?  Can anyone venturing into this 600-page tomb view it as anything but a deathly undertaking?  What box can possibly hold such eternally reigning transgressions?  Do you have a staff member called Pandora by any chance?!  There is only one sane solution: let’s idle this idol!  The solution is simple: we must end nuclear generations to end nuclear generations.

The ultimate question for today is: In our call to shut Davis-Besse down, will we be heard?

Sure, NRC staff will herd our comments into another neatly formatted tome.  But will we be heard?  Sure, the decision-makers have ears, and stenographers, and word processors.  But will we be heard?

Will the people affected by nuclear power generation be heard?  They call this a public hearing.  But the reality is that it is physically and metaphysically impossible for over 99% of those affected by Davis-Besse’s nuclear waste to be here — for the simple fact that they have not even been born yet.  Will we weigh the testimony today to account for their interests, the interests of future generations?

Can you hear our great grandchildren cry out into the not-so-great ears of today’s nuclear executives: Why did you poison our world for a few kilowatts?

Can you hear our great, great grandchildren cry out into the not-so-great ears of today’s First Energy shareholders:  Why did you rob our future for a few profits today?

Can you hear our great, great, great grandchildren cry out into the not-so-great ears of today’s parade of crooning cronies, sometimes called politicians:  Why did you sell out your communities for a little patronage?

But…what if we are truly heard today?  Then we might just hear:

The gentle whispers of our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren saying “good job” to the employees in the former nuclear industry — and by “good job” they don’t mean thanks for taking that decent paying job, but rather, holding out and demanding good jobs, jobs friendly to both working families and our environment.

If we are truly heard today, then we might just hear: the gentle whispers of our great, great, great, great, great, great grandchildren thanking the nameless thousands across this great land who worked for neither wages nor shareholder profits, but rather, worked freely for a world where it doesn’t pay to destroy our environment.

We must listen to our future generations.  If not us, who?  If not now, when?

As for me, in this generation, I will gladly live without Davis-Besse.  I will gladly trade the sliver of energy produced during my lifetime to spare thousands of generations the poison of nuclear waste.  Though make no mistake, even if the problem of nuclear waste disposal was somehow miraculously solved, I would still gladly trade this energy source simply to avoid the probability of a nuclear catastrophe from the safety disaster that Davis-Besse has so proven.   Shut it down!

Please listen to the prophets who seek the good of all, not the profits which only enrich the few, at the expense of the 99%.  THANK YOU!

Good Job
by Dan Rutt, alias “Top Pun” (it’s just, my pun name)

It was early Monday mourning
When the Davis-Besse nuclear plant
Finally ruptured
At the base of Lake Eerie
Weeping poison
From the once-great lakes
Now a watery grave for both sellers
And consumers
Of atomic drivel
For what human remains
The event became known
Simply as “The rupture”
Leaving sleepy millions
In its wake
Sucked into a glowing sky
For who knows watt
Feudal to press release
Fore their heavenly reword
A paradise rolled
Entranced buy snake eyes
In charge of all that meters
Relegating us to hoarse power
Silent partners
Dealt a roil flush
In a conniving casino
Pain only in skullduggery
Forging height reason
And absolute faith in stonewall
As a bet
A dark wager
Echoing in the empty halls
Of unions and congress
“Good job”

POEM: The Right and Wrong End of a Gun

I shot Bill
In the gut
He stood there
For a moment
Seeming like a lifetime
His blood flowing
Like
Well
Freely
Or
Might as
Well
Be
‘N aRiA
Souled
A Bill of goods
Now Kosher
A salt of the earth
A haughty boys’ game
So brand-ish
Shrouding
A right end
And a wrong end
Of a gun

This is another anti-gun violence poem in what is yet another recurring theme in my musings.  I can relate to the emotions leading to want to hurt someone, even kill them.  However, I am chronically puzzled by how humanity (or inhumanity?) allows these gut feelings to get the better of us.  This seems to be solidly within the immature stages of human development.  In this poem, Bill suffers from the incarnation of such a gut feeling, by feeling a bullet rip through his gut.  You may note that there is no context given for why Bill was been shot in the gut.  I suspect that many people might presume that Bill somehow deserved being shot in the gut. Our gun culture is moving us ever along a victim blaming worldview.  This thought process is similar to people’s reactions and inquiries when someone’s house has been robbed.  Were the doors locked?  Do you have a security system?  As if not locking your door or having a security system is justification for a robber to rob you!  Similarly, gun rights folks are selling Americans the wholesale paranoid notion that if you don’t have a gun then you are just asking for trouble, with no little irony, from a person with a gun.  The truth of such paranoia may very well be directly proportional to the self-fulfilling aspects of modern America’s love affair with firearms for personal protection.  As a trained public health professional, who has studied gun violence as a public health problem, there is a scientific consensus that the easy availability and increased presence of firearms leads to increased deaths.  Of course, most gun rights enthusiast deny such scientific evidence.  Who knows, maybe their being hot under the collar is confounding this whole climate change brouhaha.  What may be of some surprise to people is that increased gun deaths are very often suicides.  In fact, those with access to guns are more likely to kill themselves than be killed by someone else.  Perhaps this is some cruel twist of human evolution, but surely we can do better than killing off ourselves.  The polarization of views on the role of guns in American culture is stark.  Whatever your views, America is moving toward resembling the OKKK Corral, and I consider this a move toward increased terrorism, never knowing whose home and family might get caught in the cross fire.

POEM: Treatment…Like…Sewage

Treatment…Like…Sewage

I lived in Libertarianville
They said
“If you want sewage treatment,
Just go to some place that has it.”
So I did
Many don’t live there long

I find discussing politics with self-professed Libertarians a vexing experience.  Typically, we cannot converse for more than a few minutes before getting to some brutal logical endpoint, where I am requested to trump my heart with some rudimentary portion of a brain.  To the most fanatical, there is a “let them die” conclusion, met with way-to-comfortable stoicism.  To the less fanatical, it is usually some corollary of this, masquerading more humanely.

In this short poem, I take sewage treatment as an example of a common good escaping the grasp of Libertarians.  And dealing with sewage and the slippery slopes of shitty logic can be perilous.  I draw this example from my training and experience in public health.  The control of communicable diseases is the greatest public health accomplishment in the last century of humankind.  Only human unkind would create a political philosophy and practice that would wholesale-endanger such life-promoting accomplishments with a proverbial flush down the toilet of ideology.  This poem mocks the ridiculous notion that complex common goods can be manufactured and marketed like widgets in some free market. After all, few can afford the free market!  After the Libertarians’ wet dream, the remaining reality would not have such complex common goods even available for one to exercise their precious choice regarding.  The tough choices and hard-fought gains from balancing individual liberty with the common good, in my judgment, would leave us with a world where there is much less freedom, fewer choices, and a less robust life.  Choosing one particular thing over another particular thing, when done wisely, while destroying the possibility of the previous choice, thereby “limiting” our freedom, creates new realities with better choices, a more robust freedom.  Libertarians sometimes strike me as emotionally stunted, almost infantile, in their inability to sacrifice a present freedom to build a greater future.  Perhaps ironically, Libertarianism may actually manifest itself as some form of attachment disorder.

My typical experience of so-called Libertarianism strikes me as some dangerous addiction to some notion of absolute human freedom that routinely erodes every other value doomed to its presence, including public health. Now, I am not saying that Libertarians are necessarily stupid or do not hold values deeply.  I am saying that a steely brain is no substitute for wholehearted living, and Libertarianism seems to run freely, if not roughshod, over a myriad of insights and the wisdom of the heart, as well as everyday experience (such as the benefits of public health).  I am saying that Libertarians routinely hamstring all other values in favor of leaving all options open in the far-flung field of dreams called absolute human freedom.

I see the absolute part of the equation, the fundamental ideology or worldview, as corrosive, ironically, to any good fruits of good choices that freedom allows.  That said, Libertarians have it right, very right, that freedom is foundational, a first-order good, the fount of will.  The trouble necessarily follows when any freedom, or all freedom, must level anything built on that foundation, for lack of any ascendant, successfully competing, value.  Allowing any other value to rise either above or equally with freedom is necessarily a threat to the sacrosanct value of freedom.  The ultimate irony is that by not allowing any other value as great or greater than freedom, Libertarianism routinely finds itself standing dumb, unable to speak with authority, in a disabling self-censorship, for fear of undercutting its worship of freedom.  I find this worship of freedom idolatrous.  Libertarianism is the opposite of Authoritarianism.  In this sense, Libertarianism must fight any authority, refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, its own.  This may be the best definition of idolatry.  Perhaps somewhat mysteriously, this reveals an even deeper irony: Libertarianism and Authoritarianism share this truth of refusing to acknowledge any legitimacy, except, of course, their own.  As Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster.”  A common sentiment among Libertarians and Anarchists is “question authority.”  I find much resonance with this sentiment.  Of course, this implied imperative raises the deeply ironic question, “By what authority do you question authority?”  A recursive reality oft leading to cycles of swearing. Some would seemingly put this to rest by claiming “I question all authority!”  Yet, in the shadow persists another question: Is questioning authority equivalent to not questioning authority?  Some would answer no, resigning any discernment in a moral flatland. Still, some would retort that the discernment lies in the questioning: the important thing is to question everything, including oneself.  I would agree.  Nonetheless, the rabbit hole goes still deeper in at least two additional tiers.  First, questioning everything implies an absolute skepticism, or, put perhaps even more provocatively, a faith in skepticism.  Second, questioning everything, including oneself implies tentativeness at the heart of reality.  The Buddhists would call this the doctrine of impermanence, that everything arises and falls in relationship to everything else, or “impermanence is an undeniable and inescapable fact of human existence from which nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free.”  The Buddhist concept of impermanence is closely related to the concept of tentativeness or momentariness.  The Buddhist worldview is anathema to rigid ideology or fundamentalism of any unkind.  Amidst the flux of impermanence and the state of momentariness, arises the experience of compassion.  Rather than dissolving or devolving into nihilism and inescapable confusion, Buddhists have found that the experience of compassion is at the heart of reality, knitting together lives worth living.  I would love to infuse a healthy dose of Buddhism into Libertarianism.  Perhaps meditating on the highest ideal of bringing compassion to all living beings would moderate the sharp edges of Libertarianism in America.

There is truth in Libertarianism, and we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.  Nevertheless, Libertarianism needs to live more fully into the heart of humanity, embodying compassion.  Such a maturation process is good for all of us and each of us, whatever our ideologies of the day might be.  There are a host of fallacies founded on mistaking a part for the whole.  The process of integrating our experiences and understanding into an ever-larger whole, strikes me as the most fundamental developmental task of humanity, a transcendent task for those who have not yet anchored their skepticism in certainty.  In this journey, may we embrace one another with compassion.

POEM: BUCKET BRIGADE – Owed to Karen Krause

BUCKET BRIGADE

Owed to Karen Krause

While some pine
That faith
The size of a mustard seed
Can move mountains
Like magic
Perhaps with a wrinkle of their knows
Wiser women know
How mountains move
Bucket by bucket
By outstretched hands
And sturdy hearts
In awe ways
Moving
Forward
Crossing generations
And races
Not to the swiftest
But the truest
Seeking won peace
In couraging
When injustice seems beyond the pale
And hate appears justified
A brigade appears
As well
And in the shadow
Of a rising calvary
Appears victory and solace
Beyond belief
For what death cannot touch
We have firmly held
The mountaintop
In portions made human
Sizing us up
Long the weigh
Only making us stronger
Such trails and tribulations
Are now more plainly marked
And the eternal answer echoes more clearly
Be more
Karen
Be won for all
Not bewitched
By fancy
As some go before us
Surely, we must follow
And may we all be carried away
In the arms of friends
And when such days we face
The un-Karen powers that be
May we hear the call to arms
And just bucket

I wrote this poem, this ode, as a tribute to my friend and my public health mentor, Karen Krause.  Karen died Monday, October 21, 2013, at the age of 73.  [You can see her obituary and local news story for a small outline of her life.]  I shared this poem with her when she was healthy enough to take it in.  I would like to live in a world where everyone has poems written about them and for them.  This poem takes us one step closer to that world.  The idea for the poem was inspired by a conversation I had with Karen and a couple other friends.  I spoke of the commonly misunderstood scripture quote from Matthew 17:20 where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Of course, most people mistakenly refer to this as if faith were some magical spell, cast successfully if only you believe hard enough.  Karen’s life emulated its true meaning: that spending a lifetime, even generations, moving a bucket at a time, can move mountains.  [Check out one of my other blog entries for more background on the historical context of this scripture.]  I knighted Karen as “Leader of the Bucket Brigade” and this poem soon followed.

You can download a printer-friendly PDF version of this poem here: Bucket-Brigade-Owed-to-Karen-Krause

I was deeply honored when Karen asked me to write a letter for her, her last letter, to be distributed upon her death.  Karen and I, from our years working together in public health, drafted many letters and such, spending hours editing and re-drafting.  Perhaps as a fitting culmination and closure of our relationship as friends and colleagues, Karen, defying precedent, accepted the letter with virtually no editing. Here is that letter:

Karen Krause asked me to write this letter.  Karen died peacefully on Monday October 21, 2013.  She wanted to give thanks, especially for her friendships and experiences in her final months. She was in hospice care since July.  Karen decided to forgo treatment to maintain her quality of life in her remaining time.  She and her doctor were content with this decision.  She lived and died as a nurse and a patient, without regrets.  She was tremendously thankful to be able to stay home and maintain her independence for most of her hospice experience.

Karen was deeply grateful for her friends and colleagues — and Karen had a way of making friends colleagues and colleagues friends.  Karen continued to bring people together until the very end, just as she had brought people together her whole life.  She was heartened by the outpouring of visitation, food, medical help, pastoral counseling, assistance of all kinds, and abundant words of encouragement.

Her last months were invaluable for Karen recognizing her own humility.  Her often unsung work was just her way: “that’s Karen.”  Karen’s dedication and perseverance inspired countless others, yet, she was faithfully, even doggedly, focused on higher purposes than herself.  Many friends shared what she meant to them, the positive contribution that she made to who they are.  This enabled Karen to better see and more fully appreciate how important her life has been to others.   Hopefully, such realizations helped serve as just wages for decades of work serving others.

As in her life, her dying wish was for social justice.  Among other things, Karen was the moving force for Toledo Area Jobs with Justice/Interfaith Worker Justice Coalition (JwJ/IWJ).  She knew this work needs to go on.  Toledo JwJ/IWJ is reorganizing.  Karen made clear that her preferred way to be honored is to assure that Toledo JwJ/IWJ is able to continue its vital work.  Please contact Bob Lynn, Jr. to see how you can help out jwj@jwjtoledo.org ; PO Box 13048, Toledo, OH, 43613; or 419-787-5245.

Karen succeeded in making the world a better place for all.  Her life, and death, is a call to all of us to do the same.  Karen accepted the gift of gratitude for her life, and she asked that you accept her gratitude as her final gift to you.

Please see Karen’s obituary in the Toledo Blade Obituary, Foth Dorfmeyer Funeral Home and Toledo Blade Featured Article for more about Karen’s life.

Her legacy lives on, but we will miss her…

Peace,

Dan Rutt

POEM: Smoking Guns

Smoking Guns

Gun control is their aim
Bringing a bout
Sad states
And a stag nation
Wear points are sported
Big bucks are the game
Triggering depression
Beyond one’s cope
Looking down
The business end
Of a gun shaking
As one’s head
Worse than beating
Against the wall
Steadied boots
Quaking again
Mourning posthumous convictions
Of scofflaw abiding citizens
Accost paid
Wrapped in flags
Until free at last
Like taking life
Most like one own
Or another
Like black male
Against one’s will
No more amendments seconded
In this ultimate bill of rites
Pain in full
Coffin at the price
High as a kite
And nonnegotiable        
Hostage too smoking
Guns unlocked
And loaded
Still packing
In their sleep
Dreams of night stands
And steel pillows
Leaving red necks
And faces
Like a smothers love
Taking homicides
As common ground
All the wile
Shooting off their mouths
Making impossible Glock suckers
Deceasing and desisting
The Man
Behind the curtain
Firing the lynch pin
For all times
As smoking guns
Don’t prove anything
So says anyone with half a brain

The title of this poem, “Smoking Guns,” is at least a triple pun.  The first meaning, most literal, is a gun just fired.  The second meaning refers to a quest for direct evidence of something (like a gun being fired!).  The third meaning is a bit more nuanced and fleshed out in the poem: literally smoking a gun by holding it in one’s mouth and committing suicide by firing it and blowing one’s brains out.  While this may seem more crude than nuanced, it is referencing an oft overlooked reality about guns and public health and safety: guns kill more Americans by suicide than murder.  The bizarre notion that guns offer some great protection in a dangerous world is negated by the frightening reality that someone possessing a gun is more likely to shoot and kill themselves, then kill another.  Now, this may be some bizarre karmic feedback to those with guns, but it can’t get much stranger — another loaded pun!  If someone possessing a gun manages not to kill themselves, they are far more likely to mistakenly kill a family member than a truly threatening stranger.  Of course, this leapfrogs over the tragic reality of purely unintentional deaths from accidental discharges, most often of a gun owner’s family members or friends!  Only when guns are outlawed will outlaws accidentally shoot their kids!  So much for protection.

The reality is guns are lethal consumer products that have escaped safe, commonsense regulation — unparalleled by any other consumer product with such inherent lethality.  Guns and suicide are the perfect example of this public health problem.  Guns are a very effective means of killing oneself that doesn’t take any special knowledge or training.  Very few people “fail” when trying to kill themselves with a gun.  Combined with the nature of suicide attempts, guns become particularly lethal.  Firearms are involved in over half of all suicides.  Most suicide attempts are by people depressed or distressed who experience an acute episode of severe suicidal thoughts.  These episodes are most frequently minutes or hours.  Without easy access to lethal means, most suicidal episodes are survived.  The choice of suicide methods is key. Moderating easy access to firearms is the most effective means of reducing suicides.  For example, compared to men, women are about three times more likely to experience depression, twice as likely to attempt suicide, yet only about a fourth as likely to “successfully” complete suicide.  This is largely related to the suicidal methods chosen.  Simply put, women use guns much less frequently in suicide attempts.  Women are only about a third as likely as men to own a gun, and are less likely to live in households with guns.

The main alternative approach to preventing suicides is having an excellent mental health system.  Unfortunately, this approach is at least as complex, and perhaps similarly intractable, as altering easy gun access.  Plus, building and maintaining an excellent mental health system is surely more financially expensive and less cost-effective than sensible regulation of firearms.  Of course, pursuing both would have definite payoffs, reducing suicide and much more!

Having worked in public health for many years, I see the parallels in the battles to bring both tobacco use and guns into a reasonable place in protecting the publics health.  Frankly, I see gun right’s nuts as even crazier than tobacco company executives lining up in front of congress and saying that they don’t believe that nicotine is addictive.  It’s difficult to think of another area of public policy and public health where the political and societal realities are so divorced from science and reason.  May we escape the ideological traps that threaten the public’s health and well-being.  After all, guns don’t die, people do!

BP Tar Sands Refinery Expansion – PEOPLE’S HEARING Testimony

Below is my testimony at the PEOPLE’S HEARING to respond to the Ohio EPA’s sham public hearing on BP-Husky’ Draft Air Pollution Permit as part of their Oregon Ohio refinery re-tooling to process oil tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet.  This People’s Hearing was sponsored by the Toledo Coalition for Safe Energy.  I was speaking on behalf of Occupy Toledo and planetary citizens everywhere:

Welcome to Oregon, Ohio — now with 50% less stench!

My name is Dan Rutt.  I am a long-time resident of Toledo, a citizen of Ohio and these United States of America.  However, I have an over-arching allegiance; that allegiance is to our planet, which sustains our life and the life of all living beings from all nations and ecosystems.  I am a planetary citizen.  I am calling on all planetary citizens to rise above lesser allegiances and protect our planet from British Petroleum and other transnational corporations who stand against the interests of humanity and life on our planet.

I am standing outside the formal EPA hearing, so we the people can have our own hearing, a people’s hearing, that is not limited to narrow, technical matters, while BP and others are literally mining our planet in order to burn it.  BP wants to re-tool their refining to process tar sands, the dirtiest oil on the planet, the bottom of the barrel.  This is exactly the wrong direction we should be headed.  Spending billions on an infrastructure to process the most polluting, least economically viable and least sustainable fossil fuel will only lock us onto the wrong path for years — years that we and our planet cannot afford.  We need to switch to safe and renewable energy NOW — not next year, not next decade, not next generation, but TODAY, June 5th, 2013!

How about investing billions of dollars to switch to clean, safe, renewable, and sustainable energy?  Where is your plan for that BP?

Unfortunately, the Ohio EPA is powerless to stop BP from destroying Mother Earth.  The EPA may be able to regulate the lethal injection of Mother Earth while BP euthanizes her.  But I am here to say, that that is not good enough!  Merely deciding how we are going to destroy the planet is insanity of the highest order.  We need to end our addiction to fossil fuels or we will become fossils ourselves.  BP is a pusher, profiting from this deadly addiction, and should be treated as such. 

Real people suffer environmental destruction while corporate persons like BP are insulated from their crimes.   Three years ago, BP caused the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history.  This was not an “accident.”  It was a criminal act.  Now, they want us to entrust Mother Earth to them, again.  As the U.S. Department of Justice put it, “The explosion of the rig was a disaster that resulted from BP’s culture of privileging profit over prudence.”  BP has pled guilty of felony manslaughter, environmental crimes, and obstruction of Congress.  While no BP executives have gone to jail, planetary citizens resist their criminal behavior and fuelish business practices and these planetary citizens go to jail.

Inside, there will be a parade of people on the payroll of British Petroleum, some literally on the payroll, some just hoping to get some of the economic scraps from refining our planet into money.  This is on the heels of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, which in 2010 cited Oregon’s BP-Husky refinery for 62 safety violations and fined the company nearly $3 million for “exposing workers to a variety of hazards.”  Then, this year, on March 10th, the BP-Husky refinery malfunctioned and released extremely dangerous hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide pollution into the air.

Should we trust BP?  Is BP a good corporate citizen?  In the years leading up to the BP gulf oil spill, on about an annual basis, BP pled guilty to criminal acts, each time saying that they were going to change their ways.  Mother Earth is a battered women, BP is a batterer, and it’s time to end the cycle of criminal abuse.  Buying her flowers and offering her gushing words have not stopped BP’s gushing oil in the past.  We don’t want your sweet talk.  We want you to stop raping the earth!

The only real question here today is whether or not we can avoid the Native American prophecy that “When the last tree is cut, the last fish is caught, and the last river is polluted; when to breathe the air is sickening, you will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that you can’t eat money.”

BP will you fundamentally change your fossilized business practices and switch to clean, safe, renewable, and sustainable energy? 

I have in my hands 38 pages of documents from Ohio EPA regarding the draft Air Pollution Permit-to-Install for BP-Husky Refining, Limited Liability Corporation, with an accent on the “Limited Liability”!  I have a Bachelor’s Degree in biology, a Master’s Degree in Public Health; I’ve even had a graduate level course in environmental genetic toxicology.  I’ve spent years working in and with government bureaucracies.  How can one adequately address the issues raised in a few minutes?  What I conclude from this draft permit and tonight’s so-called public hearing is that they are a smokescreen.  Buried in this smokescreen of technocratic minutiae is our planet being buried; or perhaps more accurately: unburied and burned — literally, the cremation of our planet.  This Ohio EPA sham hearing today is lethal to democracy, thwarting the larger will of the people, as it stands by, impotent to protect our environment, the very environment it is sworn to protect.  Meanwhile, BP and others are destroying our planet.

Anybody who lives or passes through Oregon, Ohio, knows that BP doesn’t pass the stink test.  You don’t need a doctoral degree to know that our fossil fuels addiction threatens our planet and the life it sustains.  We can’t depend on British Petroleum or other fossilized corporations to protect our planet.  We can’t depend on politicians or bureaucrats to protect our planet.  If the planet is to be saved, then it depends on you and me, we the people.  Thank you for coming out to this people’s hearing.  Thank you for listening.

I will now conclude by reading a poem, entitled, O Children of Mother Earth, Arise!

Listen, O children of Mother Earth!
Hear, those who have ears
Hear the streams of clean water, our tributaries of life
Hear the streams of cars and trucks dirtying the air we breathe
See, O children of Mother Earth!
See, those who have eyes
See the beauty of fields and forests, mountains and meadows
See the scars of strip mines and cesspools of toxins
Smell, O children of Mother Earth!
Smell, those who have noses
Smell the fragrance of wildflowers and gardens
Smell the stench of oil and coal combustion, and chemical cocktails concocted
Reach out and touch, O children of Mother Earth!
Reach out and touch, those who have hands
Reach out and touch the soil and sun which fuels nature’s bounty
Reach out and touch the concrete and landfills, the Alpha and Omega of so-called “progress”
Taste, O children of Mother Earth!
Taste, those who have mouths
Taste the fruits of her plenty, enough for all
Taste the bitterness of her children’s petty scarcity, robbing brother and sister
Feel, O children of Mother Earth!
Feel, those who have hearts
Feel the call of nature
Feel the greed of those who would of nature relieve themselves
Speak, O children of Mother Earth!
Speak, those who have tongues
Speak of the splendor of a Mother’s care
Speak of the horror of an orphaned race
Arise, every living creature, O children of Mother Earth!
Return to her lap, and breast, and arms
Turn away from her desecration
Take your rightful place, to neither rule from above nor rule from below
Work side by side
Play together
Live neighborly
For we share the same fate
Whether we share or not
O children of Mother Earth

NOTE: There were an estimate 18 to 18,000 people at the People’s Hearing.  THANKS to all who showed up!

Here is the testimony of Kristina Moazed, Chair, Western Lake Erie Sierra Club:

The proposal that BP has revealed to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and to us, the public, has been improperly piecemealed and made to appear as if it will be just fine for this refinery to accept tar sands.
We must begin at the very source of these oil bearing sands. Canada’s government, and the province of Alberta are massively destroying Alberta’s pristine, northern ancient forests, poisoning the water sources of their native wildlife, and natives and other Albertans for one generation’s profit and greed. The desecration of this form of extraction is seriously forever.

   >  This permitting decision is being made in ignorance of recognized scientific principles that do predict increasingly worse consequences of global warming.

   >  The decision to go forward with tar sands as a source of petroleum rejects the scientifically-grounded conclusion that to even begin to slow down the global warming and that our over-use of fossil fuels has put into motion, we must keep as much of the remaining carbon fuels as possible in the ground: they must never be extracted and burned!

   >  There is no consideration in this decision process of public health effects on human populations in our Toledo-Oregon-Lake Erie shore region as a consequence of the higher volumes of known carcinogenic and other pollutants which will be emitted!

    >  There is no consideration given to otheralternate mitigation activities, such as the building and promotion of mass transit, which would consume less petroleum, create far more permanent jobs, and cause much less pollution than perpetuating North America’s one-car, one-driver folly.

    >  There is no certainty that high volumes of petroleum coke will actually be generated by the proposed altered refinement process.   And if it is, that coke will not be sheltered from the elements and will accumulate less than a mile from Lake Erie and one of its estuaries.
Have any emergency plans been put in place in case of explosion or fire while processing these dirty bitumen fuels so close to our source of drinking water?
Have possible impacts to tourism and the maritime and fishing industries been considered?
I’m sure if we contact the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, the birding crowd will have plenty of objections to the increased pollution in and desecration of the surrounding habitat!

Just one example of tar sands refining immediately to our north, in Detroit will give us an example of what happens. Emissions of sulfur dioxide did decrease, but emissions of hydrogen sulfide increased as they do everywhere bitumen is refined. Hydrogen sulfide is known for its rotten egg odor and is potentially fatal in sufficient concentrations. Residents near this Marathon Refinery in Detroit participated in Air Sampling which was overseen by Global Community Monitor, an environmental group based in California. In 2010 they found high levels of benzene, a carcinogen, and hydrogen sulfide near the refinery. IN one case, more than 20 chemicals, including benzene were detected in a resident’s basement. An EPA investigation traced the contamination to Marathon’s dumping of wastewater into the city sewer system! “We were shocked to learn they did not have their own discharge pipe into a body of water like, I believe, every other refinery in the United States ,” said Denny Larson, Global Community Monitor’s executive director. How convenient that the BP Refinery is right on the shore of Lake Erie! I think we will need to watch their discharges very carefully!

   >  These production changes are being undertaken by a global corporation which has seriously poisoned the Gulf of Mexico through crass, careless and dangerous negligence and deliberately ignoring safety regulations causing the oil spill in 2010, and its still incomplete remediation.
Now that we know BP has gamed the regulators and the public into bring tar sands cracking here to Oregon, Ohio, exactly what basis is there for any trust that consideration of public health and avoidance of environmental destruction hold any priority for BP?

We must promote green, renewable and sustainable energy! We must conserve and become more efficient our usage!

THANKS Kristina!

Just Eating For Life: New Web Site

I have been interested in nutrition pretty much my whole adult life.  This started out from a concern for world hunger and stewardship of our natural resources, as well has an interest in nutrition and health.  I became a vegetarian and took a nutrition class as a freshman in college in 1980.

I eventually went on to get a bachelors of science degree in biology from Hope College in 1983.  I also earned a Master’s degree in public health nutrition from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 1985.  I first worked as a nutritionist in a health and nutrition center operated by a progressive physician as a business and an adjunct to his private practice.  Then, I work as a health educator in a community health center, utilizing my skills in public health and nutrition quite actively.  Then,  I spent a decade working on HIV/AIDS through a local health department, not utilizing my nutrition knowledge very actively.  After this, I spent several years working as a health planner, covering a whole host of public health issues, nutrition only been part of this.  Then, for something completely different, I started my own business, Top Pun.com, which I have done for the last decade, which has virtually nothing to do with public health nutrition.

It’s time to get back into the nutrition game.  I’ve always maintained my interest in nutrition, and I have done a fair job of keeping up with nutritional science advances over the years.  The idea of teaching a community nutrition class has been brewing in my mind for several years now.  However, recently, with a series of awarenesses related to nutrition, as well as a number of significant changes in my own nutritional practices, I have decided to create a website, Just Eating for Life, and actively pursue creating a series of community nutrition courses, ranging from simple one-time lectures to longer more involved courses which entail active behavior change strategies as well as the steroidal increase in nutrition knowledge.

Hopefully, the gift of me being seriously under-employed will benefit the world.  Of course, I will enjoy it immensely, either way.  So, let the games begin!

Who’s the One percent and 99 Percent?

The Occupy Wall Street movement has been successful in framing much of the political debate in this country around the concept of who is the 1%, and who are the 99%.  Obviously, for those in the United States, it is usually quite easy to ascertain whether you are in the top 99% or not.  The confusion probably only arises among Americans whose income is at least a few hundred thousand dollars per year.  The actual break off for the top 1% income in the United States is about $380,000.

However, as Morgan Housel, the Motley Fool blogger, has written in his article, Attention, Protestors: You’re Probably Part of the 1%, the profile of who is the 1% and who are the 99% changes drastically when looked in the context of occupying the entire planet.  When considering all humans on this planet, earning about $34,000 per year or more will place you in the top 1% of incomes.  Further, an income of about $70,000 per year would place you in the top .1% of incomes worldwide.  Now, in dollar-denominated economies, you can probably discount such income about 10% or 20% when comparing incomes worldwide.  Thus, to be among the top 1 percent of incomes worldwide, would be about $40,000 per year or so in the United States.  Likewise, to be among the top .1% of incomes worldwide, you would need to have an income of about $80,000 per year or so in the United States.  This is a humbling reality for many Americans, most of whom consider themselves at least cash poor and middle-class.  Somewhat ironically, most of the 99% in the United States are actually the 1% in a worldwide context.  Even the poorest 5% of Americans are better off economically than more than two-thirds of the world’s population.  Thus, in American discourse, the discussion of rich and poor, wealth and poverty, would be greatly enriched my understanding and appreciating the massive income inequality both between and within different countries.  A common thread in the American discourse of rich and poor is about “earnings”, and about who are deserving poor.  To shed some light on this discussion, we need to realize that our country of birth determines more than 60% of the variability in incomes worldwide.   Apparently, picking parents who resides in the right country account for most of our economic success!

There many things that we take for granted living in the United States.  One example would be having access to clean water and adequate sanitation.  This is nearly universal the United States.  However, according to the blue planet network, over one billion people in the world do not have access to safe drinking water, roughly one-sixth of the world’s population.  Over two million people in developing countries, most of them children, die every year from diseases associated with lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.  Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled with people suffering from water related illnesses.  In the past 10 years, diarrhea has killed more children than all the people lost to armed conflict since World War II.  Half of people on earth lack adequate sanitation. Another way to look at it: Nearly half of the world’s population fails to receive the level of water services available 2,000 years ago to the citizens of ancient Rome.  80 percent of diseases in the developing world are caused by contaminated water.  The average distance that women in Africa and Asia walk to collect water is six kilometers.  The average person in the developing world uses 2.64 gallons of water a day.  The average person in the United Kingdom uses 35.66 gallons of water per day. The average person in the United States uses between 100 and 175 gallons every day at home.  It takes 5 liters of water to make 1 liter of bottled water.  It takes 2,900 gallons of water to produce one quarter pound hamburger (just the meat).  The UN estimates it would cost an additional $30 billion to provide access to safe water to the entire planet.  That’s a third of what the world spends in a year on bottled water.

If we are going to have an evolution or a revolution that changes the world, we certainly can’t settle for fixing the perceived problems in the economically developed world.  The vast income inequalities across the planet must be addressed with eyes wide open and hearts wide open if we are to have any hope of bringing justice to this planet and its inhabitants.

Blood Donor Deferrals Border on Insanity

I just returned from donating blood at the American Red Cross.  I have been a regular blood donor for a long time.  I usually donate blood two or three times a year.  Unfortunately, I have been deferred as a blood donor for two of the last four years.  I was deferred as a blood donor twice for one year each time, both due to traveling to an area where there may be some malaria risk.  The first time that I was deferred as a blood donor was because of travel to Haiti.  The second time was due to travel through rural Colombia.  In my case, these deferrals resulted in a loss of 4 to 6 units of donated blood to the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross is constantly trying to recruit new blood donors and to get previous blood donors to donate again.  From the regular calls and advertising campaigns, I get the impression that the US blood supply may be low at times and that my blood donations are greatly needed.  However, I am struck by the huge range of reasons for deferring willing blood donors.  It seems to me that the threshold for deferral is very low.  The willingness to accept any nonzero risk is very low.  This approach is insane, or least pretty darn close.  The vain quest for absolute security and zero risk is a dangerous fiction.  I understand the reasons for wanting to avoid blood transfusion related adverse events.  However, deferring extremely low risk willing blood donors and potentially depriving someone of a needed blood transfusions is not a zero risk enterprise either.  As stated by Richard Benjamin, MD, PhD, chief medical officer for the American Red Cross, “The most dangerous unit of blood is the one we don’t have.  Not having blood for someone who needs it is worse than giving someone a unit of blood that carries a 1-in-5 million chance of disease.”

I am not your average blood donor.  I have a master’s degree in public health, so I have training in epidemiology, the scientific study of the distribution of disease, health and their determinants.  Also, in the 1990s I worked in a health department managing an HIV-AIDS program.  I am familiar with the political and cultural forces that can distort our scientific assessments of risk management.  However, you don’t need a graduate degree to recognize that our culture has great issues around security and fear of losing or risking most anything.

Less than 38% of Americans are eligible to donate blood according to the American Red Cross.  Today, as I read through the pages of reasons for which you could be deferred from donating blood, I was struck most profoundly by the deferrals based simply on where one has lived.  If, in fact, the scientific basis for avoiding such blood donors is sound, then the entire continent of Europe should refuse blood donations from virtually its entire population.  This cannot be sound scientific reasoning.

In the last decade or so, there’s been a lot of hysteria about mad cow disease.  According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 22 cases of mad cow disease in the United States since 2003.  Three of these cases originated in the United States.  Most of the other cases were from Canada, which you may note is not one of the restricted countries that will put you on the blood donation deferral list by the American Red Cross.  The United Kingdom was the epicenter for the mad cow disease epidemic.  While in the United Kingdom there had been thousands of cases of mad cow disease in years past, in 2010 there were only 11 cases reported.  Maybe it’s time for the American Red Cross to relax its deferral requirements related to mad cow disease. Or, maybe we should come up with a new diagnosis for this irrational insanity, and declare that the American Red Cross has Mad American Disease.  You are literally dozens of times more likely to be killed by being struck by lightning in the US then getting mad cow disease.  I’m not sure what the chance is of lightning striking the American Red Cross, but I would settle for a light bulb above the head of somebody who makes these crazy decisions.

Over the decades that I have donated blood to the American Red Cross, I have noted the quickly changing and almost always growing list of reasons to defer a willing blood donor.  As a personal example, I had malaria when I was an infant in Haiti where I was born.  During the ensuing 50 years I’ve not had any symptoms of malaria.  However, how the American Red Cross deals with this distant case of malaria changes back and forth.  Many years ago, the American Red Cross simply asked whether you have ever had malaria, and if you indicated yes, the nurse would ask more specific questions.  This always made for an interesting blood donation visit as I suspect there were few Ohio blood donors who had ever had malaria, and the nurses often had to consult with other professional healthcare staff to figure out what to do with me as a blood donor.  Although sometimes it took a while for them to figure it out, it never prevented me from donating blood.  Then, at some point later, they changed the question as to whether you had malaria in the last three years.  I can answer no to this question, and this streamlined my visit quite a bit.  Now, in recent years, they are back to the more general question of have you ever had malaria.  Fortunately, there seems to be better training among the nurses during the screenings and they do not seem to need to consult anyone else to determine that I am, in fact, eligible to donate blood.

The American Red Cross’ quest for zero risk seems to be marching on.  Since I last donated blood less than three months ago, they have added yet another safety precaution.  Now, when they stick your finger with a needle to get a drop of blood to check your hemoglobin, they place a plexiglass barrier between your finger and the nurse.  Really now, how often does anyone ever got blood splashed in their eyes from giving a finger prick?  More importantly, does this represent any risk worth worrying about.  If it does, I’d hate to see what such risk assessment would do to health care workers in hospital settings.  Perhaps we should expect nurses in hospitals to soon be wearing spacesuits just to be sure.  According to the CDC, “Health care workers who have received hepatitis B vaccine and have developed immunity to the virus are at virtually no risk for infection…the estimated risk for infection after a needlestick or cut exposure to HCV-infected blood is approximately 1.8%.  The risk following a blood splash is unknown but is believed to be very small…The risk after exposure of the eye, nose, or mouth to HIV-infected blood is estimated to be, on average, 0.1% (1 in 1,000).” For instance, for hepatitis C,  “the risk is considered to be less than 1 chance per 2 million units transfused.”  That’s for a blood donation recipient who has an entire unit of blood transfused into them.  The risk of  the nurse getting infected by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor would be on the order of that one in a million TIMES the chance of getting a drop of blood splashed in their eye when pricking a blood donor’s finger TIMES the chance that such an event could cause disease.  You can do the math yourself.  For the example of hepatitis C, conservatively, we are talking about one in a million times one in thousands times one in a thousand.  In the end, we are talking about no more than a chance of one in many billions of getting infected by hepatitis C by pricking the finger of a potential blood donor without having eye protection .  For the number of blood donations every year in the US, it would take centuries for this practice to expect to prevent even one case of blood borne pathogens.  The risk for hepatitis C is the highest and adding in hepatitis C and HIV would not substantially change this basic calculation.  From the resource perspective, the question becomes how many billions of times do you want to place a plexiglass barrier between you and a potential blood donor to prevent a single case of infection?

I am well aware of the emotional place from which the quest for zero risk comes.  Unfortunately, the emotional experience of wanting to live in a zero risk world does not match up with a simple costs and benefits calculation of going very far down that road.  It quickly leads to unjustifiable contradictions.  Why defer blood donors due to a nearly incalculably small risk for mad cow disease from people who spend significant time in Europe but not Canada, where most of the US cases have originated from?  Well, I’ll tell you.  Starting a deferral process for people who spend significant time in Canada would expose the insane balance between actual risk and actual costs in trying to avoid the risk.  It seems that we can “afford” to ban, for example, military servicemen who were stationed in Germany or England from donating blood in order to “buy” some unscientific sense of security in our blood supply.  I recognize that plenty of people are willing to pay such prices.  I just ask that we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that these choices are based on scientific evidence and well-reasoned analyses of risk management.

Another example of blood donor deferral that rests more on cultural biases than scientific and well-reasoned risk management, is The Lifetime Ban on Blood Donations from Gay Men, where policy analyst Robert Valadez writes:

“So where did this policy come from? And why is it still enforced despite advances in technology that can identify HIV in a unit of blood within days of infection?

The policy dates back to the early days of the HIV epidemic, when knowledge of transmission was nonexistent. Recognizing the disproportionate incidence rates among gay and bisexual men, the FDA responded by enacting a policy that prohibited all men who had sex with other men from donating blood. The year was 1985. Twenty-six years later, the policy remains unchanged.

Current blood donor eligibility criteria are largely inconsistent, imposing significantly less restrictive deferrals to heterosexual men and women who engage in high-risk sexual behavior. For example, a heterosexual person who has sex with a partner who is HIV-positive is eligible to donate blood after only 12 months. Yet the policy permanently bans all gay and bisexual men, even those who are HIV-negative, consistently practice safe sex, or in monogamous relationships”

Like many experiences in my life, I find that even the wonderful experience of saving lives by donating blood, comes with the collateral costs of having to participate in the system that is driven by an insane quest for zero risk.  This insane quest has costs.  It has costs for the blood supply and the people who depend on it.  This insane quest for zero risk has costs for those who are subjected to its unscientific cultural biases, and for all of us who live in an environment that unnecessarily models for us this insanity and vanity.  Life has risks.  There are reasonable and scientific ways to reduce these risks.  We should pay attention to these.  However, we should not be driven and reduced by unreasonable fears, unfounded fears.  As is often the case in life, that which we feel threatens us gets a disproportionate amount of our attention.  Nonetheless, we should look at the full range of costs associated with trying to avoid some threat, and realize and accept that risk is an integral and unavoidable part of life.  I would hope that the entrepreneurial spirit of Americans, in its broadest sense, would kick in as we live into the fact that taking and accepting risks can far outweigh the costs of those risks.  Maybe even the American Red Cross will take a risk and pare down its blood donation deferral list.  We can always hope — though this entails some risk…