Toxic lessons from the history of lead pollution



“So what lessons can we draw from the story of lead? First, that society will enthusiastically adopt new technology without considering the consequences. Second, that you cannot rely on industry to act in the public interest, even when their practices are going to pollute the entire planet. Third, that politicians are no more responsive to issues of public health than they were in the 18th century. Fourth, that remedial action only happens when individuals make their voices heard above the clamour of vested interest. And finally disinformation is a standard industry tactic whenever profits are under threat.”

Robin Russell-Jones, “Fracking debate: what does the battle for lead-free air teach us?” The Guardian. 19 Aug 2013.


Legitimate Acts


“So the question, then, clearly is not whether or not one can work. It’s who has power? Who has power to make his or her acts legitimate? That is all. And that [in] this country that power is invested in the hands of white people, and they make their acts legitimate. It is now, therefore, for black people to make our acts legitimate.”

-Stokely Carmichael, “BLACK POWER” (29 OCTOBER 1966)

Too much faith invested in epigenetics?



Quoted from “We can’t undo what our parents have given us in terms of our genes“:

[M]uch has been made of the idea that such changes can be caused by the environment and passed on to subsequent generations. Too much, [geneticist Edith] Heard says. “People are going around saying that any environmental influence that can change your gene expression pattern we can call epigenetic. And from that people are saying that what you eat and drink, or what you breathe, will actually influence not just you but maybe even your children and grandchildren.” This may happen in plants, and in some other organisms, but in humans, Heard says, “there is no good evidence that this can be heritable across several generations. It’s overhyped”.


Yet Heard points out that even epigenetic changes are likely to have a genetic trigger in the first place. “Even our epigenetic changes are genetically driven. The code of genetics is the code. It’s the only code.” But now with epigenetics, “people are hoping we can pray our way out of faulty genes”.

-Catherine de Lange, The Guardian, 22 June 2013

NYC’s Huge-Soda Ban

Quoted from “Bloomberg vs Beyoncé: The Real Dilemma with NYC’s Soda Ban“:

The proposed soda ban highlights one crucial tenet about Americans: We do not like being told what to do. Rather, we prefer to be seduced by slick marketing and sexy ad campaigns. This way, it’s as if we have chosen one particular product based on a sense of self-identification — the ultimate goal of advertisers and corporations. The most obvious recent example of this is the marketing confluence of Beyoncé and Pepsi. Here we have the glamorous (svelte and healthy) mega pop star hawking a product that we know leads to obesity, diabetes, and a host of other health issues.


The question of choice is a sticky one in this soda ban debate since the billion dollar advertising industry has led Americans to believe they have unlimited choices when it comes to food and drink. Most Americans scoff at the idea of their “choices” actually being dictated to them by some outside force; but the reality is that we actually don’t have unlimited choices when it comes to our food. In fact, most options on grocery store shelves boil down to choosing products from roughly a handful of large corporations, often made using the same ingredients — corn and soy. Four companies make 75 percent of breakfast cereals and snacks, 60 percent of cookies, and 50 percent of all ice cream. Four companies slaughter 81 percent of all beef and control 70 percent of all milk sales.

Bloomberg can certainly wield great power with the soda ban, causing critics to cry overreach and nanny-state — but what about these corporations? And the billion dollar advertising industry? The difference is in the presentation: Bloomberg is no Beyoncé. When Beyoncé tells us what to drink we listen; when Bloomberg does, there’s outrage.

It’s worth asking the NAACP and Hispanic Federation why they don’t oppose Beyoncé’s marketing of Pepsi when we know that diabetes rates are 77 percent higher among African Americans and 66 percent higher among Latinos than their white peers. It’s been widely reported that both organizations receive funding from Big Beverage corporations, and thus opposing them has become too risky. As Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a New York Times article, “Their opposition makes the battles harder. It gives credibility to the industry’s arguments, which are typically self-serving.”

These organizations argue that the ban will unfairly harm bodega or other small business owners, which has validity since the ban seems arbitrary in its application. Why is a 20-ounce Frappuccino from Starbucks, with a whopping 79 grams of sugar, exempt from this ban simply because it contains dairy? By comparison, a 20-ounce bottle of Coke contains 65 grams of sugar and is not exempt. This example highlights two key contradictions: Large corporate stores won’t suffer financially from the ban; and there is an air of class discrimination between the people who typically buy these beverages.

Bloomberg vs Beyoncé: The Real Dilemma with NYC’s Soda Ban

Epigenetics and Disease


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But what was thrown up by these sessions and the research carried out on the twins left geneticists puzzled. Instead of finding a dozen or so genes for common conditions such as obesity, researchers found that hundreds were involved. “In the case of osteoporosis, which we once thought was caused by a single mutant gene, we now believe that there may be 500 genes involved – interacting to trigger the disease in people at different ages,” says Spector.

“These are genes that individually only account for 0.1% of susceptibility for a condition. And even then, these genes, in total, only seem to account for a fraction of the variance we see in the prevalence and severity of these conditions in the population. This phenomenon has a name: it is called missing heritability.”

It is an effect you can see directly from the studies of identical twins carried out at St Thomas’. “We now began to look not at the similarities between identical twins but the differences. It was a shift in perception really. Our work shows that the heritability of your age at death is only about 25%. Similarly, there is only a 30% chance that if one identical twin gets heart disease the other one will as well, while the figure for rheumatoid arthritis is only about 15%.”

It is a baffling observation: individuals with identical genes and often very similar conditions of ubringing but who experience very different life outcomes. What could be the cause? The answer, says Spector, came to him in a Damascene moment four years ago. The causes of these differences were due to changes in the human epigenome, he realised.

“Essentially, epigenetics is the mechanism by which environmental changes alter the behaviour of our genes,” he says. “This involves a process known as methylation, which occurs when a chemical known as methyl, which floats around the inside of our cells, attaches itself to our DNA. When it does so, it can inhibit or turn down the activity of a gene and block it from making a particular version of a protein in our bodies.” Crucially, all sorts of life events can affect DNA methylation levels in our bodies: diet, illnesses, ageing, chemicals in the environment, smoking, drugs and medicines.

Thus epigenetic changes produce variation in disease patterns. And recent experiments carried out by Spector and his colleagues, in which they have looked at methylation levels in pairs of identical twins, back the theory. “We have studied identical twins who have different tolerances to pain and shown that they have different states of methylation. We have also produced similar results for depression, diabetes and breast cancer. In each case, we have found genes that are switched on in one twin and switched off in the other twin. This often determines whether or not they are likely to get a disease.”

Epigenetic changes are not just simple environmental changes, however. They influence a person’s genes and can have an effect that can last for two or three generations in extreme cases. For example, studies of the children and grandchildren of pregnant women who endured starvation in the second world war and in China in the 50s have revealed they tended to be smaller and more prone to diabetes and psychosis. These trends are put down to epigenetic changes.

“Essentially, they are a way to make short-term changes to a generation,” says Spector. “A famine strikes but you cannot instantly alter your genes. But epigenetic changes allow you to produce children who are fatter or skinnier or whatever is best suited to the new circumstances. These changes will last for at least two or three generations, by which time you would hope the change in the environment will have passed. It may not, of course.”

-Robin McKie, “Why do identical twins end up having different lives?The Guardian. 1 June 2013.

Vietnam War



You let us all go off to war and said “Yay team!”, fightin’ Vietnam and all this kinda shit in 1965 through 1968. Now 1968 comes along and “Boo team, come on home,” and all this shit.

And “Don’t say nothin’ about it, ‘cause we don’t wanna know about it, ‘cause it’s upsetting around dinner time.” Well God damn, it upset me for a whole God damn year. It upset a lot of people to the point where they’re fuckin’ dead. Now you don’t wanna hear about it – I’ll tell you about it every day. Make you sit down and puke on your dinner, ya dig?

Because you got me over there, now you done brought me back here and you wanna forget it so somebody else can go do it somewhere else. Hell no! Now you gonna hear it all, every day, as long as you live, because hey, it’s gonna be with me as long as I live.

-William Marshall, Vietnam veteran, in Hearts and Minds


“There are a l…

“There are a lot of people I’ve heard, many people say, ‘Well anger [is] not helpful.’ Actually anger is helpful, depending on what you do with it. And I think if people actually knew what was happening, they would be really pissed off. They should be.”

-Barbara A. Brenner on breast cancer, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action, Pink Ribbons, Inc.