September 23, 2007

I talk a lot with my friends and acquaintances about all the issues covered here. Something that repeatedly comes up is how overwhelming it all is, and how impossible to stay informed and keep up with all the fronts where we’re in trouble, as a society, as a planet and in our personal lives. I absolutely see that. It is overwhelming to think about global warming, dependence on foreign oil, erosion of our civil rights, incursion of marketing and consumerism into our minds, health challenges, our lack of time & the enormous number of demands on it, the horrible environmental and humanitarian crises worldwide, pollution, wastefulness and you name it.

It’s tempting to be immobilized by it.

But I see two things.

One, on how very, very many fronts we’ve taken a wrong path. Indeed, it’s hard to find an area of life where we couldn’t stand to find a less selfish way of doing things and where we don’t need to take a good look at the long view and the bigger picture and adjust our behavior accordingly.

But two — the fact that we are so overwhelmingly screwed up is very freeing. It means that we have a huge range of possible improvements to make, an enormous number of possibilities for changing things in a way that works for us. Thousands of places where our money, time, effort, and voices can make a difference. Not all starting places are easy for all of us. But each of us has some starting places that are simple, virtually painless, and worth doing.

One of my friends still shops at Wal-Mart (no matter how many nasty and uncalled-for cracks I make about it to her face, and I’m hoping to reform her yet) but she also knits squares that make charity afghans for disadvantaged people and baby hats for a local neo-natal intensive care unit.

My parents both drive small SUVs — they don’t want to, but they can’t get into and out of low-to-the-ground cars anymore. Yet they recycle.

Another friend built a house 30 or so miles (maybe more!) from where she works. But she bought a Prius.

As for me, well, I’m documenting our good changes. But we have weaknesses — I still eat meat (although I object to it philosophically and it’s an enormously wasteful source of fuel for humans because of the amount of food that has to be grown to raise a single beef cow, pig, or chicken). I gave up walking to the grocery store this summer (temporarily) because of a bad case of plantar fasciitis. And I can think of a host of other ways in which I’m wasteful or environmentally or humanitarianly (I’m sure that’s not a word but you know what I mean) inconsiderate, wasteful or prone to perpetuating the problem.

But I, like many other people I know, have at last made a start. Let’s keep going.

Many of you know I just canceled my Hotmail account. I want to tell you why. Early in September, Hotmail stopped forwarding my subscription e-mails from Note the use of the word “subscription” there — I CHOOSE to receive e-mails from Truthout and, despite the fact that I’m well past the age of majority and legally able to make my own choices, AND that this country allegedly enjoys freedom of speech, HOTMAIL unilaterally decided to call my subscription “spam” and stop forwarding it.

Mind you, it did NOT stop forwarding me “get your viagra here” e-mails, phony stock-scam e-mails, “easy russian bride” e-mails or a host of e-mails offering me advice on how to enlarge my penis. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m a woman.) THOSE aren’t considered spam, apparently.

But my e-mails from Truthout — which generally consist of links to stories from respected news outlets worldwide — apparently are. I’m not talking the Wack-Job Sun Times, here, people. I’m talking about the Washington Post. The New York Times. The LA Times. The New Orleans Times- Picayune. The Miami Herald. Reuters. The Associated Press. The Christian Science Monitor. A host of foreign news outlets.

I asked Hotmail to justify its actions and it quickly put the blame on Truthout. But it admitted to Truthout that it was “blocking and throttling” its e-mails. And it’s doing it to everyone who subscribes to Truthout from a Hotmail account, not just me. (There are also allegations that it’s doing it to the Independent Institute, but I don’t have confirmation on that.)
There are also allegations that AOL is doing the same thing.

Guys, this is serious. Communication consists of a speaker, a listener, and a medium of transmission — be it spoken voice traveling through air or electrons passing over the Internet. Those who would control our access to information can’t stop me from listening, and they haven’t yet dared shut down the media outlets from investigating and writing, so they’re attacking the vulnerable link between. This is censorship. And it’s wrong.

Everyone, regardless of where they sit on the political spectrum, should be up in arms about this. The party in power in this country changes regularly. Our right to be informed by anyone we choose to listen to should not.

I CHALLENGE YOU TO DO WHAT I DID: Vote with your dollar. Ditch Hotmail. If you’re having the same trouble with AOL, ditch AOL. Tell them why. Donate what you would have spent on Hotmail or AOL to Truthout, so they can continue their effort to put a stop to this censorship. More is at stake here than just Truthout — they’re small, non-corporate sponsored, and vulnerable, which makes them a good starting point. They’re also the place where this needs to end.

Cross-posted at Buck Naked Politics.

Some Tidbits About Obesity

September 5, 2007

BTW — I’m not beating anybody up here. I need to lose 20 or 25 lbs myself, and the reading and research I’ve been doing started out being for my own benefit. I think the more reasons I can give myself for exerting the self-discipline necessary to lose the weight outside my own appearance, health and psychological need to win this battle, the easier the weight will be to lose. But it falls in line with my theories about getting healthy as a way to help the planet, so here it is:

I just finished reading “Fat Land” by Greg Critser (excellent reading, by the way). The data I’m sharing here comes from his book and, I think, lends a small idea of the scope of the problem.

“Obesity takes its toll on our daily quality of life too. Between 1988 and 1994, the number of days of lost work due to obesity increased by 50 percent – to 39 million days, worth $3.9 billion. There were also 239 million restricted-activity days due to obesity, 89.5 million bed-rest days, and 62.6 million physician visits, the last equivalent to an 88 percent rise over 1988. As A. M. Wolfe and G. A. Colditz of the University of Virginia concluded in a study of such costs among a population of 88,000 U. S. residents, “The economic and personal health costs of overweight and obesity are enormous and compromise the health of the United States (emphasis added by Critser).”

Oh, and long as we’re looking for practical applications to personal health, take these two pieces of advice from Critser — ditch the palm oil and ditch the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Palm oil is so highly saturated that “its proponents secretly touted it as ‘cow fat disguised as vegetable oil.'” HFCS, in addition to a number of other problems (like, for example, its high caloric content), apparently actually helps increase insulin resistance — which can lead to blood-sugar regulation problems like diabetes and make obesity harder to combat. (I’m greatly oversimplifying here: Critser explains it beautifully and if his explanation doesn’t make you immediately start reading labels at the grocery store, start having yourself psychologically examined for a death-wish.)

Also, it turns out that constantly bombarding yourself with frequent small snacks and meals (instead of eating periodically and allowing yourself to actually become hungry between meals) probably contributes to insulin-resistance also — yet another way we are actually making ourselves fat. (This one is often done in the name of increasing the likelihood that a diet will be successful. Go figure.)

Oh — one last thing. That stuff that came out in the 1990s about how it was ok to be heavier if you were older? Bunk. Absolute bunk. Some Harvard scientists went back and looked at the data the original researcher had used to draw his well-publicized but erroneous conclusion, and found severe biases, chief among them the failure to control for cigarette smoking (which is more prevalent among thin people). I quote from Critser here (who is himself quoting from the Harvard reworking of the studies):

“‘After controlling for smoking,” they wrote,”the risk of death…increased by two percent for each pound of excess weight for ages 50 to 62, and by one percent per extra pound for ages 30 to 49.’ The same conclusion was reached after reanalyzing an American Cancer Society survey of 750,000 men and women: There was no basis for recommending more lenient weight guidelines. In fact, the numbers suggested just the opposite: Weight guidelines needed to be stricter.”

I see this as a series. Here’s the basic idea which we’ll explore in many posts: The healthier you are, the less of a drain you’ll be on the world’s resources, in oh, so many ways.

For example:

• You won’t be sucking down prescription meds that 1) cost a fortune, 2) generate a tree’s-worth of paperwork at some doctor’s office and some insurance office; 3) use up oil in being developed and transported and encased in oil-based plastic bottles; 4) cause side effects that, themselves, have to be treated; 5) take up expensive doctor-time in a world where in many places doctors are scarce, etc.; and, which, in many cases 6) are intended to be taken long-term, thus compounding the costs to our resources.

• You won’t be as reliant on oil-based transportation because you’ll be healthy enough to walk where you need to go more often, or healthy enough to make taking public transportation feasible (you’ll be able to climb onto the bus or negotiate the stairs to the subway, etc.).

• You won’t be using a host of resources relied on by the unhealthy — meds, social services, medical services/ facilities and the host of drains those pose on resources, equipment (everything from special shoes to those little carts people drive in the grocery store, all of which require oil and resources to manufacture and transport), special (read, usually, “large and gas guzzling”) vehicles, and the energy of those around you who must do more to compensate for your having to stop at doing less.

• You won’t be using a host of non-prescription meds, which have all the same sins as the prescription medications above, except for those which are doctor/insurance-related.

• You won’t be using as many of other resources. If, for example, you’re overweight, by losing the weight you will not only probably solve your involvement in many of the above-listed problems, you also require less cloth in your clothing — and the savings redounds to the planet’s credit on a host of fronts. A field of cotton goes farther making size 8 clothing than size 24, and size 8 weighs less, so it costs less to transport (or more of it can be transported at the same time, which is more efficient). Your car will weigh less when you drive it — therefore it will be more fuel efficient. You may be able to drive a smaller car. You’ll doubtless eat less, leaving more for others and using fewer resources throughout the food industry and its host of support industries. Another example: If you smoke or drink, you are not only harming yourself, you are using resources unnecessarily and probably repeatedly, and it wouldn’t hurt to remind yourself that more than just your health is at stake.

• You won’t be as limited in your ability to choose earth-friendly and society-friendly options.

• You won’t be as limited in your ability to give back.

I find this idea especially cogent as we’re in the juxtaposition of two phenomena: the largest generation of Americans ever is about to enter late-middle or old age, and the world is in serious environmental and climate trouble. We are not going to be able to solve this as a society if a huge segment of us prematurely becomes unable to take itself to the john, thus tying up another huge segment of us in care-taking. I’m not saying that everyone can be healthy. I’m saying all of us can try harder to ensure that we are as healthy as possible for as long as possible, and for reasons outside the benefits to our personal lives.