Thursday, January 28, 2010

PBDE's and the Mary Beth Doyle Act

We are awash in strings of vague capital letters--and it's easy, so easy, to gloss over them like names in a Russian novel.

BPAs, PCBs, PBDEs--yawn....

The PBDEs get the stage this week--flame retardants found in just about everything. Now while I am (mostly) rational, and while I frown on babies in flaming pajamas, seems that the PBDEs designed to protect the little people may prevent the little people from ever arriving.

Looks like PBDEs are fecundability busters.

My sister knew PBDEs were a problem years ago, worked hard to get them banned in Michigan, and she (with many others) did just that.

"The Mary Beth Doyle PBDE Act" got two forms of PBDE banned in Michigan back in 2004, not long after she was run off the road by a devout Christian missionary, who later assured me her death was all part of God's plan; this week the Michigan assembly added a third form of PBDE to the act.

Mary Beth was not a professional scientist, but she was a keen observer. She danced through life. If I could teach anything in science class, it would be how to open your senses to the world. She did just that.

So here's a Mary Beth story, lifted word for word from a friend of hers, Darrin Gunkel. She changed a small corner of the world by her sheer will and her fearlessness, and this story serves her memory well.

Twenty years ago today, Mary Beth and I arrived in the fabled Hunza Valley, the model for Shangri-La, in northern Pakistan. We stayed in a town on a cliff 4,000 feet above the valley floor, in a hotel that cost about 5 bucks with a view of 4-mile-tall Himalayan peaks. The poplars lining irrigation canals – brimming with pearly and opalescent glacier runoff, feeding stone terraces of apricot wheat, mulberry, grapes – had just come to full flame. An orange and yellow hearth fire lapping at the feet of the mountains 18,000 feet high, capped in blue glaciers.The altitude started getting to me. So, Mary Beth took a walk.

A few hours later, she came back, her fancy scarf from the Sindh – the one with real silver threads, presented to her by relatives of the mayor of the town of Khaipur – traded in for one of the rough cotton veils Hunza women wear working their terraced fields.

“I traded my scarf! And got some presents!!” She was carrying a huge bunch of grapes and a loaf of bread that smelled like a fire place and was so dense, huge, and nutritious it took us a week to finish off.

“I met some farmers! Check it out!” She’d spent the afternoon in the compound of a Hunza family, a rare privilege. “They all thought I was insane once I got them to understand I wasn’t lost. Kept asking ‘where’s your husband? (in this medieval world, it was just easier, and more sensible, to claim we were married)
Why did he let you come here alone?’ How the fuck am I supposed to explain I’m the one who dragged my ‘husband’ to Pakistan.” (Coming here was Mary Beth’s idea. That’s another story.)

She was glowing from the encounter. Not a lot of people are served tea in the kitchens of Hunzakot matriarchs. Not a lot of people are like Mary Beth. Travel is like being a rock star in that to succeed,
it takes a certain talent – the kind Mary Beth possessed in spades, wheel barrows, truck loads full.

Later, we shared this experience: that evening, Hunza was celebrating an Ismaili Muslim festival. After sundown, people scaled the surrounding mountains and set bonfires. As the peaks faded into the night, the whole valley – dozens of miles long, and thousands of feet deep – came alive with bonfires. The sight left even MB speechless. Unforgettable stuff like this made Pakistan her favorite location of the whole year we spent in Asia.

Mary Beth, who I miss more than life itself, was thrilled I decided to become a teacher.

She was no Pollyanna, and knew as well as anyone where we're headed in our current madness, but she danced easily knowing she was part of this wonderful whatever were living through, and she did what she could to make it better.

A terrible landslide devastated the Hunza Valley earlier this month; you probably did not hear of this, no reason to.

We have been bombing tribal villages using drones, aircraft without faces.

If one student of mine wanders happily around this planet because of something that happens in Room B362, I'd say I've done good. I'm not Mary Beth, but I was her big brother.

Who knows who I may be shepherding in class....

"Who's That Girl" was written by Dick Seigel for Mary Beth.
And I'll be poking Darrin for permission when I get roundtuit,


Sue VanHattum said...

I'm so sorry. Is this the anniversary? Or was it just a missing her kind of day?

I love Dick Siegel's song about Angelo's, "Eggs over easy, hash browns and toast". Did you live in Ann arbor? Did you ever go to Angelo's for breakfast? I used to go there a lot.

I'm from Michigan. I lived 15 years in Ann arbor, grew up mostly in GR, 6 years most recently in Muskegon.

My body misses Michigan.

doyle said...

Dear Sue,

Oh, I always miss her, no getting over that (sorry K├╝bler-Ross). What brought into the blog yesterday was the news that PBDE undermines fertility in women and the announcement that the Michigan Assembly expanded the "Mary Beth Doyle PBDE Act.".

I was out in Ann Arbor for 5 years, Mary Beth lived there.

As beautiful as Michigan is, I need tidal waters to keep centered.

lucychili said...

Your tale of travelling makes me restless.
There is so much to see isn't there.

I need trees like you need tides, proper ones that are taller than people. I worked in the Northern Territory for a while and there are some desert areas where the scrub is only head high. It makes me breathe easier when they are tall and architectural. It feels humbling and healthy to stand under tall trees.

doyle said...

Dear lucychili,

We are defined by our geography, by the local.

This may be the century we forget this. It may be the century we forget everything.

John Spencer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
doyle said...

Dear John,

I think it's just the usual profits over people.

When Union Carbide killed thousands in Bhopal, Warren Anderson, their CEO, had a very human response initially: he accepted "moral responsibility."

As the CEO, though, Anderson backed off--his primary responsibility was to protect the corporation. That's what CEOs do.

Profits over people, over and over again.