Thursday, January 31, 2008

Happy Kidney Birthday - 24 years

Something rather strange just happened. I don't usually "surf" the web, but tonight I did.

I receive a weekly email called Neat New Stuff from a fellow librarian by the name of Marylaine Block. She scans the web for interesting sites and shares them with anyone interested. She posted her weekly list of a dozen or so sites this evening and one of the sites was, a U.S. Government website focused on organ donation and transplantation. I am interested in this site because I am a kidney transplant recipient. So I looked around and found out that if you need a kidney and are put on the waiting list you will wait an average of over 1100 days.

I was put on the kidney recipient list in December 1983, 6 months after graduating from high school. By then I was feeling run down and enervated. I was living with my parents still and I sat and read most days in the flower pattern rocking chair that I swivelled to face the front window to take in the low winter sun. I assumed that I would have to wait quite a while before I would get a call to come to the hospital. At that time the waiting period was considerably less than 1100 days. But in the late evening of January 31, 1984 I received the call that there was a kidney for me and that I should come to the hospital as soon as possible.

What was so strange about the web surfing I mentioned above? It was that I had totally forgotten about my kidney birthday, yet here I was surfing the web for links about transplantation. Celebrating my kidney birthday is a rather low-key affair, usually nothing more than a reminder of what happened and how lucky I was. Easily forgotten. But what I'm not factoring in is that without that transplant I wouldn't be alive. I received a cadaver kidney, meaning someone had died and their kidneys were donated so that someone else could live a longer and healthier life. What a wonderful
gift that is!

Something else I learned from the website is that organ donation can be as easy as filling out a form online. In New York State it's that easy. To find out how to register as an organ donor in your state visit:

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


We went to the NOFA-NY conference over the weekend. NOFA stands for Northeast Organic Farming Association. It was held in Saratoga Springs, New York at the Saratoga Inn. Frankly, we splurged and got a room at the Saratoga, tickets for all meals, pre- and full conference admission. The food was very good and we learned a lot from the individual sessions. Here's some of the highlights:
  • learning about domestic fair trade from Elizabeth Henderson, author of Sharing the Harvest: a guide to community supported agriculture;
  • two unique and engaging half day sessions on gardening and permaculture;
  • a keynote by Brahm Ahmadi of People's Grocery in Oakland, CA., which was one of the few times during the conference that the focus was on non-white folk;
  • going to a session on beginning livestock farming by Jim and Adele Hayes, parents of Shannon Hayes, the author of The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook, then when we were talking to her father after the session, Shannon called her father's cell phone and he handed her over to Phil to ask her why she wasn't at the conference;
  • meeting Bobby Watson and Abu Talib of Taqwa Community Garden in the Bronx who are also in "Escape From Suburbia".
But not all was well and good in NOFAland. We ran into a friend who is the executive director of a non-profit in NYC and she was not having a good time. We asked why and she said that she was not feeling very welcome at the conference. This individual is an African-American woman. She felt hurt that folks at this conference were actually acting rudely to her. Unfortunately, she had assumed these folks would be on the same page as her, as would I. What I took away from that conversation was a greater sense of isolation that this woman was feeling as well as the realization that NOFA-NY is overwhelmingly white folks. It's too bad that some of these white folks haven't gotten over their racism.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

NYC Premiere of Escape From Suburbia

The long awaited sequel to End of Suburbia will premiere in NYC on Feb. 1 and 2 at Wollman Auditorium at Cooper Union. Take a look at the event flyer for more info. I'll be on the panel
after the film along with Greg Greene, the filmmaker, Martha Ma, Editor of Eater's Digest, Paula Lukats of Just Food and a good friend who is also in the film, Sarah Williford as well as other assorted local activist types that love local, organic food. Don't miss this opportunity. Oh, and we may have a very special green guest. Can't say who it is yet as the plans haven't been finalized yet, but, our fingers are crossed and we're nearly squealing with excitement.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Leaving NYC

Here's a discussion between some folks who either live in NYC or used
to live here and have now moved away:

The focus is mostly on food and costs, not reasons that we're thinking of leaving but interesting nonetheless. Phil and I are lucky. Phil has owned our 1 BR for over 20 years and our maintenance in under $500. So we're not really in the same boat as these folks. But the thought of selling our apartment and moving to another still in NYC sickens my stomach. $2000 for rent! I'd move back to the midwest before paying that too!

Lopsided Economies

Take a look at this map.

It's an interesting statement about how large the economies of each US state are. It's also interesting in it's sheer totality as the notes say, the total US GDP almost equals the next four economies: Germany, Japan, China, and the UK.

What I think of when I see this information though is the quandary of alternative energy. Often when Phil and I talk to people about peak oil or energy alternatives people immediately gravitate toward solutions, or what they perceive to be solutions, like wind, solar, hydro, etc.
The reality is that none of these alternatives alone can match the amount of energy oil offers.
All of these alternative used together looks a lot better but still can't match what we get from oil.
Think about how much easier it must be for one small country to refocus their attention on renewable energy as opposed to how difficult it is for that to happen here in the US.

The operative word in a discussion about energy alternatives is scalability. The amount of energy used from oil in the US is astronomical. But scaling up an alternative like ethanol would require vast amounts of farm land for corn production. That's farm land that grows food for people. It's not easy to create a balance there and when folks are changing what they grow with a profit mindset, they often don't consider the impacts.

For a more informed discussion about biofuels specifically, David Fridley is the guy to talk to.
Here he is making the case.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Adventures in Healthcareland, Part 3

Well, as you can see I made it out alive. Nobody told me till the last day I was in that I could unplug my ball and chain (the IV) and walk around on battery power. I also found out that someone from the TV and phone company come around everyday to collect $5.75
for the phone or $6 for the TV for rent for the day. That's outsourcing at it's best and no, I do want to miss the football games! I did have to rent the phone though as I had to conduct some work by phone (the other ball and chain). Anyway, only today did I call up my insurance company to find out if I needed to do anything about this hospital stay. They said I'm 100% covered. I didn't say anything for a couple seconds because I was so surprised that I would not have to face some obstacle. What a relief. This is how it should work for everyone not just me, a privileged white man with a cushy white collar job. It's just too bad the system doesn't work this well for everyone.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Adventures in Healthcareland, Part 2

Luckily for me, my roommate is sensitive to pain and groans a lot so the nurses come in to attend to him quite often and check on me in the process. But overnight it's tough to get a good night's sleep, someone's always there to take your temperature or check the IV, the my roomie starts groaning again. His percocet has worn off.

I awake in the morning to more groaning and other noises I can't place so I put in my hearing aid. My IV machine is dinging, a dinging at a high enough pitch that I couldn't hear it before. There's also a woman screeching over and over about being hungry. "I'm hungry. Can I eat please?" "It's time to eat. Can I eat please?" This goes on and on until she seems to break into sobs. No one responds that I can tell, apparently her laments aren't important enough to warrant action. Eventually she gets fed as do the rest of us. I get a liquid diet. I feel slightly hungry, a good sign, but still have a slight fever.

After breakfast my roomie starts in again with his groans, oy.....oy.....oy. At one point the woman was at it at the same time. "I need to go home. Call me a cab so I can go home." "OOY" "I need a cab to go home" "OOY" "Will someone call me a cab" "OOOY" and so on. I was tempted to turn off my hearing aid. But when the TV and phone must be rented, this entertainment comes cheaper.

Later, Phil stopped by to keep me company. We made friends with one of the nurses. She'd been working as a nurse for a while and told us that she'd worked at a posher hospital in Manhattan but found the patients too self-important for her. She liked the neighborhood feeling of this hospital. But she also shared something disturbing. She doesn't get healthcare insurance through her job. Is that amazing or what? A healthcare worker working with sick folks everyday, but doesn't get healthcare insurance for herself. OK, that's it for tonight. I'll try to finish this tomorrow so I can move on to other things. I hope you'll stick with me.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Adventures in Healthcareland, Part 1

Yep, I had an adventure in healthcareland last week and I had to take a couple days to recuperate.
I got the flu on Wednesday. Came home from work at noon and gradually felt more miserable as the afternoon wore on. I've had this flu before, one where my stomach is in active revolt and has pulled the switch on accepting any new donations. Phil took me to the emergency room soon after he came home around 7:30. I didn't think I'd be able to get up and around, but I did and made it to the hospital OK. Thanksfully the emergency room wasn't too busy. I have a trump card that I can play in the situations that gets me seen quicker than most folks. I let them know I'm a kidney transplant patient (which I am). Of course that wouldn't trump any true emergencies like heart attacks and stabbings.

Phil was upset that when I was asked about next of kin, I said him but was corrected that it had to be a family member. I gave my father's name and was asked what the phone number is and I said I don't know (and I don't). Maybe that got through. Anyway, stuff like that really rattles Phil's chain. Then later when the doctor came in he asked Phil if he were the father. Obviously we weren't giving an overt enough picture of a gay couple.

So they admitted me and I was wheeled up to a semi-private room on the third floor. My roommate was recovering from knee surgery and seemed to be in a lot of pain from all the moaning he did. By the time Phil left for the night I was still fighting a fever and nausea and now had an IV stuck in my arm. I soon found that a few things were wrong with my room. The call bell didn't work. The TV and phone had to be rented per day and the phone didn't even have a cord to the wall outlet. And that my IV was controlled by electricity, thus I was tethered to my bed pretty much, unable to go the the bathroom. Luckily, one of the nurses gave me a portable urinal, because I was getting saline in my IV, and a lot of it, and it was going through me without a problem. More later...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Notable Articles

There were a couple of good articles in the New York Times yesterday, January 7, 2008.

One was about plastics containers for water: The (Possible) Perils of Being Thirsty While Being Green by Alina Tugend. I got several things out of this article. One is a better sense of the differences between plastic containers. Another is an understanding of the numbering system used on plastics. I also learned how bad things can get in your body from plastic containers. And finally, but also most importantly, I learned not to microwave food in plastic containers. As a result, I'm going to buy those glass microwavable containers I saw in the Lehman's catalog.

The other article was about how folks in New Hampshire are concerned about energy prices. It seems that many folks there drive quite a ways to get to work or to where ever they're going and many are feeling pinched by gas prices. And if that's not pinching them, then they're feeling it from the price of heating oil for their homes. Unfortunately, few of the politicians slugging it out there this past week were talking about energy. Surprised? Don't be. They're afraid of talking about energy. Bill Richardson isn't, thankfully. And of course Dennis Kucinich doesn't shy away from many issues. It's just unfortunate that the majority of candidates think they can skip around important issues like this. Sooner or later, they'll be forced to take a good hard look at the looming energy problems waiting on the horizon.

Fundamental Economics

Phil and I started a free class last night on Fundamental Economics at the Henry George School. It was an interesting experience. The majority of the class period was taken up answering a questionnaire that introduced many economic elements. The point, in part, was to make those introductions but also to acknowledge that people in the class think differently about various aspects of the economy.

I'm very challenged by economics and I don't know much about it. Thankfully I was able to avoid it in high school and college because I would have been thoroughly overwhelmed. So I was of two minds when filling out this questionnaire. Some questions completely baffled me, like "Are periods of recession and unemployment unavoidable in a market economy?" I don't understand enough about market economy or recessions and unemployment to answer so I answered based on my distrust of the market and said no, that these are avoidable. But in answering other questions I tapped into non-economic learning I've had. For instance, the question: "Can earth's resources support an increasing population?" prompted immediate no's from both Phil and I because we've often discussed overpopulation especially what Albert Bartlett has to say about it (

What I found most interesting about this first class was listening to how entrenched the other students are in the current economic mindset. Some of those students answered the last questions by saying yes. Another question asked us whether we consider various circumstances as wealth. Two of the items listed were: "Trees in a virgin forest" and "Wood in a lumber yard". I said no to the first one because I believe that just because you have a virgin forest doesn't mean that you need to create wealth with it. It has value outside of wealth just as it is. Others in class looked at it as potential wealth, that you could hold onto it with the intention of eventually selling it when you can make a good profit on it, much like a house or stock.

I was reassured about where the class was going to go when the instructor concluded the class by writing down what he called the Georgist Syllogism:
All human beings have a right to live.
No one can live without natural resources.
All human beings have a right to natural resources.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Inside Burt's Bees

There's a story in the New York Times for January 6, 2008 about Burt's Bees. It's quite enlightening and sad because it talks about how the company started and grew and was sold to big corporate interests. But I'm more angry than sad after reading it because it's a good example of greenwashing.

A little background.
Apparently, Burt Shavitz kept bees at his home in Maine, a converted turkey coop, the article says. He went into business with Roxanne Quimby, a woman he helped when she was down on her luck. There company grew in popularity but at some point the two decided to split up with Burt trading his share of the company to Quimby. Eventually Quimby sold the entire company and made about 325 million. Shavitz got 4 million and a $130,000 house. He also gets money for the use of his name and likeness on Burt's Bees products.

Here's where it turns sad. Quimby sold Burt's Bees to AEA Investors who kept the sustainability mission of the company but expanded the brand into large retailers like CVS and Walgreens. Then Clorox bought the company for over $900 million and continued to extract the company roots by bringing in an executive from Unilever to run Burt's Bees.

An interlude.
This past summer I attended the Northeast Organic Farming Association Conference at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. One of the workshops I attended there was a make your own lotion class. As you can guess I learned to make my own lotion: what ingredients (all natural, of course), how to combine them, etc. During the class I learned a couple important lessons outside of the main topic.
  1. Lotions and other personal care products that are produced by large corporate manufacturers want you to believe that they are natural, but if the word "fragrance" is listed in the ingredients, you are not being told the truth about that product. Fragrance is a catch-all for anything the manufacturer doesn't want you to know is in their product, very likely a synthetic fragrance. While we were talking about this several people pulled out different product they use, one was the famous Burt's Bees lip balm. Fragrance is not listed in its ingredients, but several people said they no longer trust them since they were bought out by corporate interests. I went to their website to see for myself and found several products that list fragrance in the ingredients but they try to mask it with a slick "natural bar" trumpeting the ratio of natural to synthetic ingredients used to make it (Hey, I'm 99.33% natural, congratulate me!).
  2. The other lesson I learned was a mantra the teacher repeated during the class: If you can't eat it, don't put it on your skin. The lotions she showed us how to make were made with water, different types of oils (olive, grapeseed), beeswax, and vitamin E. All things that are edible.

Back to the article.
I was rather annoyed when I read that the current president of Burt's Bees repeated this teacher's mantra in a publicity stunt where he ate a spoonful of Burt's Bees hair conditioner. I doubt that he got this from her, but I do see this as the height of hypocrisy. Why? For several reasons:

  1. The article goes on to say that Burt's Bees gets most of its beeswax from Ethiopia burning up a lot of carbon along the way. I know several people around New York who would be glad to offer up some beeswax for compensation. Which brings up my next reason...
  2. Where does your $3 go for that tube of lip balm? North Carolina. Not to your local economy, but out of state. I'll give Burt's Bees credit for being community minded and helping build homes through Habitat for Humanity and other worthy causes in North Carolina, but they miss the real message about supporting local economies.
  3. What keeps Burt's Bees from making all their products 100% natural. Why do they have to add any synthetic ingredients? Especially if, as the article goes on to say, Burt's Bees has taken on the role of industry policeman, testing competitor's products for "natural" authenticity. If you ask me, I'd tell Burt's Bees to get their own house in order before they start telling other companies what to do.

So in the end I trust Burt's Bees even less and won't buy their products if my life depended on it. What you can trust though is people like Burt Shavitz and Roxanne Quimby. Turns out Roxanne is helping conserve land in Maine and Burt Shavitz moved back to his (now expanded) turkey coop.

It is possible to get personal care products that don't have "fragrance", parabens, or other synthetic ingredients and support local economies. I buy many of mine (except lotion!) from a friend in upstate New York. You'll probably have to pay more, but after all, if you can't eat it, you shouldn't put it on your skin.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

New Books of Interest

Here's some new books I came across that look interesting:

Rogak, Lisa. A Boy Named Shel: The Life and Times of Shel Silverstein.
I loved "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and used several poems from it in a poetry project I did in high school. The reviewer says Silverstein was good at any art he picked up, screenwriting, poetry, songwriting, etc.

Dowd, Michael. Thank God for Evolution!: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World.
I add this in part because the title is great, but also because it brought back a specific memory from high school too. I went to a private, Protestant-Church run high school and in biology our teacher told us that he believed in both creationism and evolution. Of course to a class of naive 10th graders this was heresy and some vigorously debated evolution with him (I wasn't one of them, already having doubt, even then). But thankfully, that teacher had the courage to be honest about his beliefs, much like the authors of this book. It's that type of honesty that we need n order to face down fundamentalist of all stripes.

Youngs, Bettie B. The House That Love Built: The Story of Millard & Linda Fuller, Founders of Habitat For Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing.
Obviously, this book is about the folks who started Habitat For Humanity and according to the review, not everything is chocolate and roses, but it looks interesting simply because this group does such good work.

Vileisis, Ann. Kitchen Literacy: How We Lost Knowledge of Where Food Comes From and Why We Need to Get It Back.
Any books list has to have one about food or cooking and here's a good one. That title says it all, almost. Sounds like a book that spells out why real food is better than fake food pushed on us by food manufacturers (You know who they are). Get thee to a farmer's market.

Building Intelligence Group. Intelligent Building Dictionary: Terminology for Smart, Integrated, Green Building Design, Construction and Management.
I'm throwing this one in because I would have bought if I still worked at my last job, running the information center for an environmental engineering firm. Nevertheless, this type of info is fast becoming needed info that folks will need to understand if they want to keep up with changes in the construction industry.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Years Thoughts

Bill Moyers had the author Thomas Cahill on his show a while back. One of the questions he asked was what Cahill would focus on if he were alive in a thousand years and wanted to tell folks about the early 21st century. He responded by saying that in this society we have a shared nightmare and a shared dream. I can't recall what he said the dream is, but his discussion of our shared nightmare gave me food for thought. He said our shared nightmare is racism, and he gave examples like our slaughter of American Indians, enslavement of Africans, and bombing of the Japanese.
As a New Yorker I'd like to think that life here is a celebration of diversity and it is to a certain extent. It's also a hotbed of racial tension that you don't necessarily see in the paper but you do see if you look close enough to everyday interactions. But racism doesn't just involve whites, we're all guilty of racism whether it's a simple thought or unconscious action and we can all do ourselves some good by thinking about our own racist feelings. It's just too bad that we don't think about it enough. Happy New Year.