Mislead Over and Over

Greetings from Philadelphia, where I’m spending a few days with good friends.

Upon my arrival in the US this month, I did notice a reasonable amount of buzz in the media and the occasional conversation about toys that had been discovered to have dangerously high levels of lead. Manufactured in China, these toys made the news and toy companies carried out what is called a re-call; requesting that people who have purchased them please return them as they could be dangerous.

My favorite shop on earth for buying food is Trader Joe’s, it is the first place I go when I arrive in the US.  The thing I most like is that I can look at the ingredients of anything, and read the short list.  Normally the ingredients are words that I know and never is there artificial colors or preservatives of any kind.  The thing that is strange, is that Trader Joe’s is considered “Alternative” in many ways.  Normal supermarkets have the big commercial products that have a long list of ingedients many of which start with the prefix poly or mono.  That is considered standard, and many people use those products all their lives.

Whether it is toys, food, or other products that we use regularly in our lives, it seems to me one of the mostparadoxical realities of this society we’ve created in much of the world; we sell each other goods made from materials that can ultimately poison someone, often times while tasting good or smelling good or bringing some short term joy.

Not that I’m against the joy of a nice cookie or a children’s toy. But it seems perposterous that in regular mainstream thought, you buy the cookies or the toys made by the big manufacturer that has uses some really questionable, incomprehensible ingredients to produce them.

How did the world get this way? Why didn’t the masses cry foul and take these producers to court or simply demand they clean up their act? Why is it that even in 2007, with all the experience and time that has passed that humans exist on this earth, that asking for a product made from healthy and simple ingredients is considered somehow alternative or “different”.

Just to add one more thought to all my semi-rhetorical questions today, many people will point to the new kinds of supermarkets and alternative companies that are emerging like the body shop that do things in a sustainable and healthy way. I would agree this is a positive development and a sign of some sort. But what still baffles me is that these companies are so small in terms of the big picture.. so once again.. too little and for many people suffering from the health problems this type of consuming has brought, too late.

Flattr this!

Inspiring versus Annoying

First of all welcome to all the new people who have probably met me at this conference here in Paris. Many of you probably aren’t into the world of blogs and podcasts, so the fact that you clicked over to my website is a major milestone… maybe.

It was day two of the transport strikes, and officially day 1 of the TBLI conference. I did my best not to go around handing people cards to explain who I am, I also avoided explaining myself too often. I’ve worked too dam hard and have too many issues on my mind to take the constant trouble of explaining what I do to strangers at conferences.

At one point I ran into some very laid back new friends who work in the world of press releases. They liked my flickr cards, the ones that I made purposely almost too small to read, with photos of my adventures on the back. In their case, I described what I do on this site, and the topic came up of what would I say if I were having a drink with one of the big corporate representatives at this conference. The thought was fairly disturbing.. to have a drink with the likes of Suez, Shell, Coca-Cola (ha!).. they’re all here.

As much as I might want to challenge them with questions about their human rights records and the human suffering their actions have caused in the world, I must admit I don’t think – in the moment – I would have the nerve. I bet they would even be polite, or charming in some way, so that I’d almost forget who they worked for. Thats the worst part, potentially, of attending too many of these events… you rub elbows with individuals working for some of the most notoriously inhumane companies in the world, and you might find – as if probably often the case- they are actually nice people. But then what happens to everything you know about their companies actions? You put it to the side maybe.. separate the person from the corporation, perhaps.

For my part I’ve steered clear of them. Instead I’ve enjoyed the company of people who work for organizations dedicated to making real change in the world, respecting the rights and health of humans everywhere. And let me tell you, there are some very inspiring individuals here.  In the coming days I will feature some of these stories in both text and podcasts, so stay tuned.

Flattr this!

Toxic Chemicals Again

Beautiful night here in Amsterdam that I managed to get out and enjoy, spending some time with a new friend and catching jazz at ye old bimhuis. As I set out on my bike in the direction of centrum, On Point (one of my favorite podcasts) was on, doing an episode on a topic I often come back to that is highly under-reported, the toxicity of regular things all around us. Plastics, personal care products, even the finish they use on your ikea desk… once you start digging below the surface you’ll find that we’ve been lied to and in many ways slowly poisoned for decades.

Most importantly today I recommend you listen to this episode, especially to the first guest that talks about the inequality between the standards and testing of consumer products in the European Union versus those same products in the US. The fact is the EU has higher standards, to the point that many items that appear on the shelves in the US are not allowed to be sold here due to their links to all sorts of health problems.

I don’t mention this to gloat or even praise the work of EU officials, to me they are doing what should be the standard job and should probably be even more strict as more and more items are manufactured in places where standards are almost non-existant. It should be unacceptable what is going on with things like children’s toys and makeup in the US.. the entire FDA should be investigated, fire whomever is corrupt and unwilling to do their job, and get people in there who can enforce some real standards comparable if not MORE STRICT than the EU.

With all the useless garbage discussed at the so-called presidential debates in the US, how often has this issue come up? It should be right there in the top ten list of issues to grill candidates about and if they have no plans to improve things, boot them out of the running right now.

Lastly here is an excellent website for anyone concerned about consumer products, including my personal pet-peave: children’s toys. It is an excellent resource, bookmark it; use it. Don’t sit back and accept the poison they’re trying to sell you just because it looks nice or the price is right!

Flattr this!

Instant Debate – Mention Islam to Europeans

It is certainly no new discovery, but as you can see from my vlog entry about the far-right demonstration in Brussels, a sure way to get people commenting and yelling (well not really yelling) at you is to defend people’s right to be muslim. So while I’ve lots of other issues I’d like to bring up, I’ll first come back to this one. And I should mention I do appreciate all comments and I especially appreciate criticism and debate that is carried out in such a way that is not insulting or name calling, but rather about saying I disagree, and here is why. So thanks to all of you who continue to do that.

There were a great deal of comments, including some heartfelt ones from a good friend in Chicago who is originally from Lebanon. (hi dear!) The underlying theme was that I shouldn’t be so in favor of welcoming all things islam into the social and political stage in Europe because, as many people insisted, it is a religion that seeks the joining of church and state, that excludes women, that refuses democratic principles etc, etc.

Now I must state here, because going any further, I don’t claim to know the muslim faith. I’ve never read the Koran or lived in a country where it was the dominant religion. So I don’t honestly know how it all works and what the ultimate goals are, etc. Some of you say you do, and that is good, I’m a big believer in learning, researching for yourself and understanding. All I do is study history, closely observe the present, and learn from my interraction with those in my daily life who I know are of the muslim faith, most of whom I have a great deal of admiration and respect for as kind and honest humans trying to live their lives.

>Here comes something I rarely reveal on the blog, overall, religions and their power over people, scare me. All of them. Places of worship, religious leaders, the artifacts and traditions in general.. I don’t much care for them. HOWEVER. I realize that lots of people do. I see the importance they have in people’s lives, the positive aspects, and I try to respect that. I have a curiosity and a desire to learn from the past, including time honored traditions… because maybe many of them have something to teach us. There are plenty of traditions that I don’t like, and even some I would consider flat out wrong, where humans are tortured or killed for example… I try to draw a line there. You might draw the line somewhere else altogether… fine.

But here’s my little conclusion for today. Generally speaking, the greater the amount of poverty, desperation, and lack of education, the higher the level of religiousity and especially of the irrational fundamentalist kind. In many countries in Europe we see empty churches and few people willing to go to war on the whims of the pope or if someone insults the Catholic or Protestant faith. But a few hundred years ago, those two religions wielded tremendous power and did terrible things in the name of their god. So when people start touting all the dangers and problems of the growth of another religion in Europe, I don’t see it that way. Rather than talking about stopping or in some way stemming the growth or influence of islam in Europe, why not look at the conditions people live in, especially in terms of economics and social mobility. Are people from certain countries really seen as equals and able to have the same access to power and wealth as the “native” population? Are we doing all we can to provide a solid education and social services to people regardless of what neighborhood they live in or their class? I say, learn from history, address these issues, and no matter what your background or your religion, Europe will have a bright future, with civil and healthy disagreement and debate.

Flattr this!