Must be Friday, so it must be time for a rant.
I think I've written before how I wake up at least once a week by writing in my head. Something awakens me and words seep in, latch onto ideas and take off. I think so I write, or so I think I write. Wait, what?
I'm in a hotel, checking out today. It's Friday so others are checking out. Some neighbors got up at five to shower, dress and check out. The walls and floors aren't thick enough to keep out their thuds of walking, and opening and closing doors and drawers. Common pipes rush with water as showers are run.
It's a whole system thing, I decided.
My mind has been toying with whole systems this week. Writing a novel is about telling about a whole system. Murder mysteries, family relationships, kings and queens, coping with diseases, deaths and accidents, affairs, spy and adventure stories, slice of life, science fiction, fantasy, romance, it's all about telling about the relationships and discoveries and the impact, plotting and investigation of these things as they're revealed. It's all about discovering the fascinating, the different, and putting them into context, helping us understand, by telling a story and revealing the whole system.
This retreat, away from everyone and everything except the contacts I chose, put me into a relative vacuum. That allowed me to think about myself and observe myself.
Whole system thinking is not new. Spaceship Earth demonstrated the ideas long before I started thinking about it. That's what the birds and the bees is all about, whole systems. But it's funny how individuals, societies, civilizations and cultures like to pretend that we're different, that everything is not part of a whole system.
Let's start looking at food. We've created business models based on scaling up agriculture and using everything that can be processed until we process the shit out of everything we can - think back to just a short time ago when America suddenly became aware of pink slime being injected into meat to make it more like meat.
So many articles and studies appeared recently to show us the impact and relationships of this thinking. The FDA is going to change its chicken inspection requirements to speed up processing. Right now, birds are processed at 90 a minute with three inspectors watching. Now they'll do it with one inspector watching the birds past by at 175 per minute.
Think about that. 175 birds per minute, BPM. 10,500 birds per hour.
Projections for growing obesity and its impact as a health issue were released this month. 40% of the US population may be obese by 2018. Go, America. The Pentagon is concerned because frankly, it's getting harder to find people fit enough to be soldiers. Meanwhile, another study since came out with results that showed 96% of national restaurants' entrees exceed daily recommended limit. They're laden with fats, salts and sugars while not offering much in vitamins.
These meals will make you full but nutritionists are saying many still want to eat after eating this huge meals and becoming stuffed because our bodies aren't getting the nutrients needed. Craving the nutrients, they put out an urge to eat, and we eat more. When the nutrients do come around, they're considered so rare, our bodies add fat to store them, because God knows when it will get it again.
Is that surprising to anyone? Our nutrituional standards have evolved into how much food can you get for a dollar and how much fun you can have while you're eating. Who can forget The Dollar Meal, and its message about how smart you are for getting this great value for your dollar? How can you forget it when the message saturates the internet, radio and television? As adults we want to treat ourselves as children, make meals fun. For children, we have The Fun Meal; for adults, we have Dave & Buster's. Or we have beer. Let's go to the beach and drink a couple bottles of empty calories, woo hoo!
An ideal example exists in a Jimmy Dean commercial. A woman is about to eat her breakfast. It's granola and it's a small portion. She seems despondent about it. It's 300 calories, she tells a spokesman who asks her what's going on. And he replies, why, for 300 calories, you can microwave a Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwich. Everyone is happy. That is actually the line used at the end: Everyone is happy. The sum value of the meal has been reduced to calories. Sure, it's less than 300 calories but how much sugar, salt and fat is in that breakfast sandwich and how does that compare to the bowl of granola? How much actual nutritution that your body can use is in that pre-cooked, processed, microwaved sandwich?
There are two ironic sidebars in the story about restaurants and their meals' nutritional values. One is that restaurants classified as fast food now offer healthier choices than dine-in restaurants. The second is that the worse offender in many restaurants are the appetizers.
Thank about the fast food paradigm first. It wasn't so many years back that fast food chains were being blasted for offering nutritionally bankrupt meals. The result was that they added healthier alternatives, such as salads and apples. On the other side of the situation, sit down restaurant chains are trying to compete by adding more food for cheaper prices. That's the new paradigm. Like a little meat and cheese? We will double your meat and cheese, we will triple your meat and cheese, and if you don't eat it, you're not a man or you don't like having fun. You are so boring. Look how much fun these skinny, young people are having as they eat and drink. Gosh, makes you wonder how and why there can be a growing obesity and diabetes issue. I just don't understand.
The second irony is that the study discovered that the worst offenders were often appetizers. Doesn't that make you sadly laugh?
In economics, many are trying to pretend that our growing consumer, throw away culture is all about fulfilling needs and that our industrial efforts are all about creating wealth, that wealth is being shared equally, and that none of it affects the planet or our climate. Did you see the photos of Earth taken from space released showing pollution, droughts, fires and flooding,or the lakes disappearing because the water is being diverted? Already there are people trying to kid themselves, telling everyone, there has always been pollution, drought, fire and flooding. These things have nothing to do with what we do as humans. They're try to spin and twist words to show that there is nothing to worry about because if we worry about it, we might think about it, and we might need to make changes, and that will interfere with our most important right and freedom, making money.
I do need to pause to chuckle. USA Today is delivered to my door every morning. Headlines from May 14th included, "43% of Americans don't think economy will improve soon," and "More families have no savings". That second article went on to say that the number of families with no savings at all increased in 2011 to 23.4%, compared with 18.5% in 2009. The next day's edition's headline said, "2 in 3 say a better economy is ahead". So 43% don't think it'll improve soon, 71% say it'll get better, and over one in five families no longer have any savings.
How about this from the May 14th USA Today: "Low-cal Slurpees to juice sales". Yes, 7-Eleven is coming out with low cal Slurpees. I like Neal Bernard, from George Washington University. He said, "Now it's just a different kind of junk food. This should not be mistaken as any kind of corporate responsibility. They're just trying to sell you the same stuff in a different package." He went on to warn, "Slurpee had zero nutritutional value then, and it has zero nutritional value now."
The USA Today story went on to say 80% of US consumers say they're interested.
The whole system doesn't lie. How many times in the past have we tried to fool ourselves? We mined and built shafts and years later, huge sinkholes appeard, swallowing houses and closing off roads. We turned the skies black with industrial pollution, blotting out the sun, and saw consequential rises in asthma, black lung, and other heart and lung diseases and worked hard to turn it back.
Oh, wait, that's a photograph of China from 2009. I mean to post an older photo of Pittsburgh, PA. Here it is:
There are other examples. Remember Love Canal? Dupont's Bhopal India disaster? How about Beatrice Foods and Woburn, MA? Or the Niger delta and Shell oil. The Exxon Valdez. BP oil rig explosions and fires. PG&E gas leak explosions. Chernobyl. Three Mile Island.
Now we're playing with fracking. People are coming up with diseases, water is being set on fire as it comes out of their taps, their wells are exploding, but there's no connection with pumping high pressure secret sauces into the ground to fracture and crack rock to release gas and the subsequent drinking water and health problems. The government says so. And government agencies, never, never, never lie. Besides, what is more important, the nation's energy independence, or a few people's health? More correctly, which is more important, making money...or...anything else?
Over in politics, we're trying to pretend that money doesn't buy influence and doesn't lead to corruption. We're pretending secret donors can give as much as they want to candidates and secretly campaign on their behalf without wanting anything back. We're trying to pretend that greed is self-regulating, that the market will adust if we just keep our hands off it, and that putting our noses into bank and corporation business is just going to cost more money and destroy jobs. We're trying to pretend that ALEC is just a friendly, non-partisan charity that just happens to get donations from corporations, writes corporate friendly legislation, and rewards legislators with scholarships (that are secret - of course!) that lets their legislature members and families be flown around and vacation for free or hugely discounted rates not available to the rest of us non-legislative, non corporate people.
People in Congress are trying to figure out how to spend billions of dollars to protect America's east coast from Iranian and Korean nuclear missiles by establishing missile defense systems that have proven not work. These will defend us against nuclear missiles that don't exist and are being planned and built although the military leaders say they're not needed.
And me? I've done the same. I've tried pretending that my work life, personal life, writing life are all compartmentalized, sanitized for my protection. Yes, I'm aware of spillage, collateral impact on my relationships, but those were exceptions, right?
Not really. Part of being away from my routines was that I'm away from my routines. Time was suddenly a vacuum. I needed to create new routines to fill the vacuum. The vacuum's emergence allowed me -- forced me -- to think about all of my habits, routines, and patterns.
We're all aware of how work affects our whole systems. We say little prayers to ourselves, Lord, just let me make it through this day. We give ourselves mental pep talks about keeping our spirits up, about keeping positive attitudes, and we meditate. We gain momentary refuge and respite in personal achievements, gardening, nature, and family. Some of us, by nature, genetics, or repetition, are much, much better than others of us at coping and adjusting our whole systems to address the various impacts.
But our work affects our lives, our lives affect our health, our health affects our work, our work affects our incomes, our incomes affect our family, our family affect our lives, our lives affect our politics, our politics affect our economics, our economics affect our security, our security affects our freedom, our freedom affects our independence, and it all affects our relationships with one another, our country and planet, and our reason for being here, and what we want to achieve as people.
It's a whole system.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com