Who's really to blame for the Gulf?

June 12, 2010

For we radical environmentalists, whose warnings and arguments have been ignored, maligned and ridiculed since the Reagan Revolution dawned three decades ago, the Gulf of Oil disaster evokes a wicked brew of emotions and attitudes.

On the one hand, we feel the pain and horror of the unfolding environmental disaster as acutely as those who occupy the bioregion. We radicals have spent our entire lives fighting to protect the wildlife and natural features of the Gulf and every other coast, shoreline, riverbed or stream bank, wherever they've been threatened, which is everywhere. Despite the ennui that comes from witnessing first-hand decades of unrelenting ecological degradation, we still feel the pinch every time a special place is lost.

We can't help but revel in the never-ending spew of vitriol and venom aimed at BP, one of the planet's most contemptible corporate polluters. We delight in watching the arrogance and hypocrisy of the drill-baby-drills and political pimps -- like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and U.S. Senators Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, John Cornin from Texas and Lamar Alexander from Tennessee -- exposed with such laser-clear light.

June 12, 2010

In recent weeks, a handful of seemingly unrelated events -- the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, an Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound humanitarian flotilla, umpire Jim Joyce's blown call that cost Detroit Tiger's pitcher Armando Galarraga a perfect game and reporter Helen Thomas's abrupt retirement from the White House press corps over her controversial remarks on Israel-Palestine -- offer valuable lessons about taking responsibility for one's actions.

Call it an index of accountability.

Despite conflicting reports over the amount of oil that is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, there is no doubt this is the worst oil spill in U.S. history. To date, BP's efforts to control the leak have failed. And while the extent of the environmental damage is difficult to assess at this time, it is clear that the Gulf's ecosystem is in crisis -- and likely will be so for years to come.

June 12, 2010

There are many disturbing similarities between the United States’ disastrous war in Vietnam and the growing tragedy of Afghanistan: a corrupt ally unworthy of American bloodshed; a population historically adept at repelling invading forces; a promising presidency weighed down by runaway war spending.

But one difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan is even more disturbing than the similarities. In this war, we Americans are not being asked to take responsibility for the violence waged in our name.

This time, there is no draft to put my teenagers at risk of unwilling sacrifice. This time, we have yet to concede the domestic damage caused by a trillion taxpayer dollars spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

After 16 years, Asperger’s apparently doesn’t exist

June 6, 2010

I spent the past week organizing and reviewing my research on the connections between autism and the environment, which once again reminded me just how little anyone -- experts, doctors, parents, journalists, whoever -- actually knows about the subject. The only truth I’ve found in almost two years immersed in the subject is that definitive answers to the most fundamental questions about autism -- What is it? What causes it? What can be done about it? -- are virtually nonexistent.

On a journalistic level, that’s pretty damned exciting. There’s always something new to explore and write about. But on a societal level, it’s downright scary. Take the what-is-it angle. Here we have a range of mental disorders that, depending on how the spectrum is defined, impacts the lives and families of roughly one out of every 100 American children. Scientists and experts have studied it for more than 70 years. And yet, they haven’t even agreed to a firm diagnosis.

May 29, 2010

The end of the school year is always a bit hectic: meeting with students, reviewing assignments, tallying final grades and attending commencement ceremonies. Then there's all the head scratching that comes with the feckless decisions university administrators tend to make at this time of year. It all makes it difficult to keep up with the news and current events.

Now, with the semester's work behind me and a busy summer ahead, it's as good a time as any to catch up with the headlines and see what is -- and isn't -- making news of late.

From the Middle East to the Gulf to the Internet to the Tea Party.

May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper died today falling, at the ripe old age of 74, to prostate cancer. Hopper, a protege' of Indiana's own James dean, burst into the public consciousness with this 1969 film Easy Rider, a film about a drug-financed journey across the country, from Los Angeles to New Orleans, to find an America that didn't exist.

1969 was a remarkable year in many ways. It was the year Led Zeppelin's first album, the year of Elvis' comeback, the year of Concorde, the year of the first manned landing on the moon, and a year of oil.

It was the year of the 1969 oil well blowout in the Santa Barbara Channel, just offshore from the Los Angeles departed by Easy Rider's protagonists in their search for a country that didn't exist. It was my first year as a young boy in Southern California.

May 29, 2010

The WellPoint Inc. annual meeting on May 18 in Indianapolis was contentious and dramatic. The first story out was about the collapse of Board member William "Bucky" Bush, followed later by CEO Angela Braly's sudden adjournment of the meeting, while a line of concerned shareholders waited to have their questions answered.

That story went 'round the world, picked up by even the Singapore Straits Times, given legs by the irony of Mr. Bush getting assistance from the very doctor who had been regaling the board minutes before. That physician, of course, was me.

This was the fourth annual meeting of WellPoint that I have attended in my role as "a cheery thorn in [their] side," as the Indianapolis Business Journal called me in a May 29 article, "ER doc is affable WellPoint activist."

May 29, 2010

On a sunny spring afternoon, next to an alley on West Washington Street in Indianapolis, a half-dozen people gather around a portable wooden monument with dozens of names written on it. Cars slowly drive by as the people anoint the ground with oil and recite the 23rd Psalm.

This is the site of a recent murder -- a young man gunned down by a shooter who wounded several others -- and thus the site of the latest prayer vigil held by the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis. The vigil concluded with coordinator Joe Zelenka leading a unison reading from the fifth chapter of Matthew -- "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ...."

There has been a lot of such praying this year. As of early this month, there had been 47 homicides in Indianapolis since Jan. 1, far ahead of last year's pace, with 85 percent of the killings committed with firearms.

May 23, 2010

After having endured multiple viewings of the PBS documentary "The Vaccine War" and reconstructive surgery on my right knee in recent weeks, I can't say emphatically enough what a breath of sweet, clean oxygen it was to find a copy of Philip and Alice Shabecoff's book Poisoned for Profit in my P.O. box when I got out of the hospital.

The book, the subtitle of which is How Toxins Are Making Our Children Chronically Ill, is no feel-good read, to be sure. Not by any stretch. But it serves as a reminder that there are honest, truth-telling journalists out there who engage their craft the way it's supposed to be engaged.

The Shabecoffs are not stenographers to power, a role the FRONTLINE documentary on vaccines and autism and the mainstream media play so well and so profitably. They're don't regurgitate what experts or focus groups say and call it journalism. No, they seek out, recognize and tell the truth as they find it, as the facts and common sense dictate, despite the fact that their message is one that few humans understandably can, or want to, wrap their heads around.

May 15, 2010

Long-time Bloomington Alternative readers know that we operate on an academic calendar here in our utopian little university town. But in our case that doesn't mean we go on vacation when the school year ends at the beginning of May. It means we really get down to work.

My obligations as a lecturer at IU effectively end this time of year, allowing the time I truly need for my writing projects. More on those in a minute, but this summer they include a book proposal on my autism-and-the-Indiana-environment exploration, some investigative reporting in northern Kentucky and a series of first-person accounts of my experiences with the medical industry over the past two years, emphasis on "industry."

And one of the perks that come with teaching at a journalism school is access to some of the best aspiring journalists the place has to offer. The last two editions have introduced Alternative readers to three of them -- Clinton Lake, Megan Erbacher and Kara Gentry. They enable us to recapture some of the local focus that we tend to lose during the school year, not to mention adding some new young voices to our biweekly journalistic fare.

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