Hey, What Happened to All Those Posts? (Plus Invective)

October 23, 2007

What happened to all my posts?

Since May? Huh? Oh, right, now I remember; they never did make it out of my head. But they were boiling away in there and I e-mailed myself many reminders and enticing ideas. I’ll try to revisit them and see if any had value that survived the moment.

(New job recently and other schedule-altering things. Transitions eat up time. (What’ll be my excuse in another five months?))

But one thing continually plaguing my mind and bringing on fits of sputtering invective these days is how we are poisoning our world. Not in a dramatic Exxon Valdez kind of way; in an incremental, dull, nonphotogenic kind of way.

Dry cleaning. Paint for toys. Plastic water bottles. Antibiotics (and antibacterials, don’t get me started) and hormones in strange places. Cellular phones and towers. Agriculture. New and improved products of every stripe.

It’s not stuff you can get high-minded about avoiding. Everybody should now know that smoking is very bad for your health. If you persist in doing it, you’re a dum-dum. Likewise, eating a Supersize Me diet or working in asbestos remediation without a respirator are bad ideas. Most people have a choice in these things.

And, sure, they have a choice about dry cleaning, buying toys, walking down the street, or drinking water. But it’s an uninformed choice since they don’t know these things are potentially hazardous in the long term. And have no logical reason to suspect them. Products and services are offered up without concern and consumed without question. Despite complaints to the contrary from free market champions, there’s too little regulation about what we put on or in our bodies, let alone in the water or earth or air. How can we be so stupid?

More to the point, why does the government, which historically loves to invoke the defense of the citizenry to back up all kinds of bold and improbable acts (overseas particularly), not step up defend us once shadowy killers have been identified near at hand? (This is an analogy that bears exploring and would bring a new twist to a war on “terror.”) How do we ourselves contribute to the flood of poison? When will the connection be obvious enough to force action?

Maybe it’s not fair to ask how we can be so stupid. Maybe we are intrinsically hopeful and optimistic and trusting people and until presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary, we prefer to go blithely about like Candide, all’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds (wasn’t that it?). But whether we (and I’m applying that collective pronoun back a generation or so) were trusting or wilfully ignorant, I think better living through chemistry has come around to bite us in the butt.

The reason I’m particularly pissed off about all this is that my close circle of friends (to say nothing of acquaintances or people at one degree of separation) now includes too many widow[er]s who are not yet at or past middle age. Bone, ovarian, pancreatic, and breast cancer killed their spouses. We do not live in Love Canal. We do not live in Hannaford, Washington, or Chernobyl, Ukraine. These friends who died took care of themselves, lived healthy, active, and athletic lives. Did not work in factories, mines, or incinerators. Did all they could to fight the disease. But where did it come from?

I know, thankfully, just as many survivors of cancer as people who have died from it. They too are young: in their 20s, 30s, 40s. Breast, brain, testicular, uterine…. And their survival would lead a lot of people to cheer: Hooray for treatment and advances in medicine. Send more money for cancer research! I’m glad they are still alive and grateful for what made that happen. So yes, keep the treatments coming. But what I still want to know is, where did the cancer come from?

Pharmaceutical companies enthusiastically pursue research into treatments, because they can sell these expensive life-saving tortures to people and doctors desperate to save lives. Where’s the profit in finding out the cause of these illnesses? Especially if the cause turns out to be within some other arm of your diversified business. (Check out The New Cigarette, reviewed in Slate.com.) Where’s the money to find and fight the genesis of this scourge instead of just swatting it back? (Yes, I know, in the same place as the money for finding and fighting the genesis for terrorism, but I digress.) Cynically, the return on the investment just isn’t as good.

I have a friend who takes this thinking a step further, with a so-far only privately expressed, completely heretical notion: Down with the Jimmy Fund!

That campaign platform would be a hard sell, even for me in my riled-up snit. But behind the memorably shocking slogan, his idea is serious. Spend at least as much on stopping the disease from occurring in the first place as on developing new ways to fight it once it strikes.

Somewhere there must be organizations or people researching exactly what we are putting in our environment that is killing us. (Let alone the fishes and frogs.) Anyone out there know? That way when next I’m asked to sponsor riders in the Pan Mass Challenge, a very fine event (money goes to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute), I can split my contribution between those riders and someone investigating further upstream.

Where does it come from? What unknown dangers wait in my cupboards? Where is the Upton Sinclair of our times?

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