Tuesday, November 20, 2007

On slowing down:

In a world where the U.S. mail is now compared to a snail rather than a pony, a dial up modem-- which can bring information from all over the world in a matter of minutes-- is considered intolerably slow, and where slow is defined unflatteringly as:

apathetic, crawling, creeping, dawdling, delaying, deliberate, dilatory, disinclined, dreamy, drowsy, easy, gradual, heavy, idle, imperceptible, inactive, indolent, inert, lackadaisical, laggard, lagging, lazy, leaden, leisurely, lethargic, listless, loitering, measured, moderate, negligent, passive, phlegmatic, plodding, ponderous, postponing, procrastinating, quiet, reluctant, remiss, slack, sleepy, slothful, slow-moving, sluggish, snaillike, stagnant, supine, tardy, torpid, tortoiselike,

it’s easy to forget what’s so good about slow.

All kinds of clich├ęs and pop songs point out the wisdom of taking things slowly at least some of the time:

Take time to smell the flowers.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Slow down. You move to fast. Got to make the moment last…

Truth is:

Slow food tastes better and is usually better for you than fast food.

Hypermiling (coasting and slow acceleration) saves gas and the planet.

Relationships which have developed slowly often seem to last longer.

But if conventional wisdom and anecdotal evidence isn’t enough to convince you to slow down, maybe scientific evidence that slow is better for your health will do it.

According to the American Institute of Stress, 75 - 90 percent of doctor visits stem from stress. Though itself somewhat intangible, stress causes various undeniably real physical reactions:

• “heart rate and blood pressure soar to increase the flow of blood to the brain to improve decision making,

• blood sugar rises to furnish more fuel for energy as the result of the breakdown of glycogen, fat and protein stores,

• blood is shunted away from the gut, where it is not immediately needed for purposes of digestion, to the large muscles of the arms and legs to provide more strength in combat, or greater speed in getting away from a scene of potential peril,

• clotting occurs more quickly to prevent blood loss from lacerations or internal hemorrhage.

These and myriad other immediate and automatic responses have been exquisitely honed over the lengthy course of human evolution as life saving measures to facilitate primitive man's ability to deal with physical challenges. However, the nature of stress for modern man is not an occasional confrontation with a saber-toothed tiger or a hostile warrior but rather a host of emotional threats like getting stuck in traffic and fights with customers, co-workers, or family members, that often occur several times a day. Unfortunately, our bodies still react with these same, archaic fight or flight responses that are now not only not useful but potentially damaging and deadly. Repeatedly invoked, it is not hard to see how they can contribute to hypertension, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, ulcers, neck or low back pain and other "Diseases of Civilization".” American Institute of Stress http://www.stress.org/americas.htm

“In conditions of stress, our adrenal glands must work very hard to create numerous hormones that regulate the blood sugar and help the body heal.” What Causes Heart Attacks by Tom Cowan, Wise Traditions, Fall 2007. If the adrenal glands are worn out by chronic stress or repeated episodic stress, they can’t do this essential work.

Slow. Because the tortoise beat the hare (who had a stress-related heart attack). Best of all, the tortoise got to smell the flowers along the way.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

On election day:

It was quiet at my polling place tonight. No, city council elections aren’t all that sexy, but we Americans need to start exercising that voting muscle before it atrophies completely.

According to Naomi Wolf (The End of America) and some other non-crazy students of society, it’s entirely possible that our rights are being chipped away, so this is no time to stop using them.

Our founding fathers, in their infinite wisdom, gave us the electoral college and a diluted democracy. It works pretty well when citizens do their duty and vote. When they don’t, a few people can exert disproportionate power over our national destiny.

Relatively few votes were coerced (by Fox News) in 2000 and (by post 9/11 fear mongering) in 2004 and even stolen (mostly from black Americans through what might be called voter profiling). These crimes were magnified through our (probably flawed) electoral process to change the results of an election and, yes, even the course of history.

Today members of our government are defying our Constitution and the Geneva Convention and Naomi Wolf (among others) says they’re starting to act like a fascist dictatorship. And Americans don’t vote. By shirking our civic responsibility we are tacitly allowing our democracy to be hijacked.

Through the institution of the electoral college, the founders were trying to protect their own aristocratic asses from the whims of the “riff raff” (aka the people). It’s ironic, but it turns out that the riff raff are the only ones who can save us now.

With respect, Riff Raff: get out and vote.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

On getting the lead out:

I’m looking for an apartment for myself and my 3 year-old son. In the great state of Massachusetts, we have a lead law that says if a landlord rents to a family with a child under 6 years old, s/he must delead the apartment. This seems like it can only be a good thing but turns out to be a double-edged sword. It’s expensive to delead, so landlords—being in business to make money, or at least to cover costs-- find ways to refuse renting to people with young kids if they don’t want to delead. This is discrimination and is technically illegal, but unenforceable since no one can say a landlord didn’t have another legitimate reason.

And realtors are complicit because they don’t even want to waste their time showing tenants with young children apartments that aren’t deleaded, making it that much easier for landlords to avoid facing the issue.

Some landlords seem to have plenty of money to do extensive renovations to make their units able to demand more rent, but they don’t go the extra mile to delead. So deleaded apartments are rare and in high demand. Having also cost a substantial sum to be deleaded, they are not surprisingly, more expensive than non deleaded apartments with the same features in the same areas.

A law that must have been intended to help families with young children ends up reducing drastically their choices in housing and increasing their costs.

There must be another way.

When we as a society realized that it was completely unfair that many buildings were inaccessible to the significant segment of the population with disabilities, we didn’t make a law that made it voluntary for building owners to add ramps and elevators. We made a law—the Americans with Disabilities Act-- that required that buildings be changed. It wasn’t overly onerous. Some buildings didn’t have to be changed right away, but when major renovations were to be done, they had to include measures to bring accessibility in accordance with the law. The effectiveness of the (decidedly non voluntary) ADA is apparent all over our built environment (lower light switches and door handles among other details). At my alma mater, venerable old buildings now have wheelchair ramps artfully designed to blend with 19th century architecture. Ramps have become an integral part of today’s new buildings and it’s a good thing.

There must be at least as many families with young children as there are people with disabilities, and the lead issue really is a matter of accessibility too.

We need a law that-- either now or over a reasonable period of time (maybe 15 years)-- actually solves the problem of toxic lead in homes and makes affordably-priced, safe apartments accessible for families like mine.