Spread the Word, Shake the Interweb

Today started as one of those days that was bound to be memorable.  The sun was shining, the leaves were turning, and the air was not quite to cold.  The world smells of briskness and new life, even if it is just a last flash in the pan before winter.  The world is waiting for all of us to scamper about, flinging limbs, in some final furious effort to enjoy ourselves before winter hibernation.  And I myself am ready to fling.

But there are other vibrations about as well.  Thanksgiving is coming up, the first marker of the holiday season, which is supposed to be all about gratitude, love, and sharing.  And what better way to begin the early edge of that season than with Blog Action Day, a day to really educate others on a single topic and hopefully do something about it. This year, the focus is on poverty.

And what can we say about it?  We are, after all, going through a financial crisis.  Many of those who were not feeling the bite of poverty now are.  And how are we, on the whole, responding?  Many of us are looking to the government for support.  Some of us are looking to each other, which is a start.  But I personally haven’t felt the bite too much.  And what have I been doing about it?  Very little.

I can remember first moving to Boston and being completely strapped for cash.  And yet, every week, I would put a little something aside to give away to people who might need it.  It might have been a small donation to a food pantry or a shelter.  It might have been just paying for a friend’s lunch.  But I remember those small expenses as something I couldn’t really afford, that I gave anyway.

Now that I’ve been steadily employed for several years, the savings all go somewhere else.  Sure, I make a much more sizable charitable donation every month, and I do still set aside some time to volunteer.  But by percentage, it’s nowhere near the same amount.  When you’re making ends meet, you don’t worry about setting aside money for health care or as savings.  Now that I actually have money and can afford nice things, I feel I’ve become much more materialistic and scroogy.

So where is the line drawn?  At what point do I stop spending for myself and start spending for others, or vice versa?  And how much do I try to save, even if in trust for those who will need it later?

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Sludge the Poor

ABC news reports yesterday indicate the EPA and various research initiatives did not follow up on studies initiated to show industrial and human waste could be beneficial in reducing lead poisoning in low-income households.  Federal money in East Saint Louis and Baltimore started programs in which several low-income households were given food stamps in return for allowing sludge to be tilled into their yards and then replanted with grass.  The minerals in the sludge were then thought to bind to lead ingested by children and prevent lead poisoning.  This way, when kids in the neighborhood eat the dirt, they have less risk of lead poisoning.  In addition, researchers did not disclose that the sludge could be potentially dangerous.  As one researcher says, ‘composting, of course, kills pathogens’.  Hm.  Must be one of those facts known only to those in the realm of science.

The thing that really gets me though, is the sham-science of these supposed ‘studies’.  The way the scientific method is supposed to work involves the testing of a hypothesis.  Testing the hypothesis that phosphate and iron in sludge can bond to lead and other dangerous chemicals is one thing, but it’s the kind of hypothesis that can most readily be tested in a lab.  Testing whether or not the sludge makes the ground less dangerous generally to humans in particular requires entirely different tests, possibly the consumption of sludge and lead poisoned dirt combinations on lab rats or other animals, before any results are released.  The idea that results were released saying that the sludge made the eating the dirt safe for children, when no studies were done on the actual effect of ingesting the dirt, and absolutely no part of the survey took participant’s health into account either before, during, or after the study, is ridiculous.  We might as well go back to quack docs and superstition if what science gives us is such shoddy research.  I mean seriously – have you had your magical sludge tonic yet today?

I can accept that research is somewhat politically and somewhat popularly motivated.  I can accept that research is sometimes skewed by personal interest or ambition.  What I refuse to accept is research like this that so intensely disregards both the moral intent and basic methods of science, namely, to ameliorate the condition and understanding of modern man through the application of the scientific method.

A Story

So Mike gave me a story idea, and then I was thinking about interactivity and such, and treasure hunts. So I’m going to ‘have a go’ at linking them all together. I’ll bold the story parts below so you know what is story and what is instructions to the next part of the story.

I was born in the space between a white picket fence and a giant weedy tangle of evergreen bushes. After being run off by some angry suburbanites, my mother had really no where to go. Wherever she went, she was treated as a leper, as a thief, as something unclean. She was alone, and near to giving birth to me and my 3 siblings.

I don’t remember opening my eyes at first. I don’t remember the brightness of that first day. I don’t even remember the sense of loss I must have felt at being separated from my sister, my brothers, my mother. Perhaps the shock is lost somewhere in my memory, occasionally brought forward as nostalgia or melancholy, brought on by a familiar sound or smell.

My early life was hard – scavenging, moving all the time, living off the leavings of others. It wasn’t that bad though. I didn’t have time to be envious, to watch the twinkle and gleam of inside lives. I had my family. We kept each other warm, looked out for each other. But it was always a little different after the first time I heard my mom get really angry.

It was an odd sort of situation. My brothers, Cerne and Cassis, were trash diving at a local park for some useful odds and ends and maybe some food. The whole family was there. My mother and sister Cassy were washing up a bit after their own ‘dives’, and I was playing lookout. The park was mostly deserted at this time of day – late afternoon – except for a few bums lounging.

A woman trotted towards us with her dog. Seeing us, the dog went crazy – barking, tugging at the leash, and generally furious. I called to my brothers, and they quickly turned to face the danger. But still the woman approached. She tried to contain her dog, but he was a big dog. Despite our family outnumbering him, we were all small. And afraid.

But we were quick. Cassy darted around the dog and away, and Cassis quickly followed. Cerne jumped up on top of a garbage can and made to go up into the trees, but the branches were too small. One splintered beneath him, knocking him back onto the ground. The dog moved in to wring him by the neck, but my mother stopped him. She deliberately put herself in front of my brother and snarled.

I’ve never heard such an ugly sound. I couldn’t believe it, coming from my own mother. The hairs stood up all along my body. Even the big dog was a little afraid. He stepped back, and looked around for his master. She tried to quiet him, but I knew that his courage was coming back. While his attention was distracted, it was now or never.

The story continues with perspectives from a variety of sources on the events.

To complete this story as if the narrator runs away and escapes, click here.

To complete this story as if the narrator stays to help his family, click here.

To complete this story on your own or give opinion on the process thus far, please  comment below.