Sunday, October 31, 2010


We have it all backwards

Kids should be required to have cell phones in school. Heck, schools should issue them instead of text books. It's the natural evolution of the UNIVAC, the beast of a machine that predicted Eisenhower's victory 58 years ago.

Let the kids roam the Internet. Let them ChaCha ("powered by people"), Skype, Poke ("Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life"), Tweet ("without a doubt the best way to share and discover what is happening right now"), and Google (who knows more about you than you do) their way to Network Nirvana, entering a state of High Holiness that prepares them for whatever standardized tests stand between them and the Glory of our Homeland.

And then, when the last bell rings, make them check them at the door. No phone, no net, no GPS, no electronic tether to the adult world that forgot what the Earth smells like in autumn.

Disconnect our children from the technological teat of tedium, let them wander around lost in the smoky November air. They will scrape off skin, break bones, maybe lose a tooth or two. They will do things that would make their mothers keel over (but will have enough sense to keep quiet).

They will squash bugs, torment cats, chase squirrels, and tease dogs. They will break windows with errant baseballs, and hearts with errant words. They will wreck good clothes and develop bad habits.

And through all this they will learn how to live in a world larger than themselves, a world larger than any of us.

And when they do, they will feel the weight of the first UNIVAC in their hands as they grab the now loathsome machines, sauntering back into the building full of professionals who try to mold them into something more than machine, but less than human.

Photo from the Library of Congress. Not sure where the guy's nose went--an alien, maybe?
Hops and morning glory mine, from yesterday.

Psycho metrics

I occasionally throw a piece of pedagogy out here--I'd do it more often, but I cannot pronounce "pedagogy," and even if I could, the word makes me feel like a pedantic ass.

(Yes, I know I am a pedantic ass, but knowing and feeling employ two very different parts of the brain.)

I may have an overly developed numbers brain. I've been accused of such, and it helps make up for my lack of a frontal lobe. A big reason testing drives me to pedantic assery is that so few folks using them have a clue what is being measured, putting a new meaning to "psychometrics."

(I lost a lot of hair trying to explain sensitivity and specificity to budding docs--I'm losing even more trying to teach validity and reliability to anyone who will listen....Teachers test. A lot. How many of us have a clue about what we're doing?)

Exhibit A

I love analyzing my numbers after a test. Who missed what? Why? What would have happened had I asked the questions in a different order? Just how much more do I know now about the students than I did before subjecting them to the test?

With the push to ask more higher level questions, I started using a ☆ system. ☆ means the question is a simple swish and spit question that requires little more than a pencil and a neuron, ☆☆ requires at least two neurons to fire in some semblance of order. The stars are right on the test.

The first question above is just plain silly. Turns out I was asking a bucketload of them--if nothing else, my system revealed just how bad my questions have been. (I think I lifted the first question from the professionals--if anyone from Pearson cares, let me know and I'll edit it out.)

There is no need for a child to ever memorize commensalism except for this course. There is a need for a child to learn how to find words they do not understand.

Five minutes of test time is open note. (OK, we call it The Open Note Extravaganza! in our room, but what happens in B362 stays in B362....)

Turns out a lot, maybe most (I'm still crunching) of my lambs do better on the ☆☆ questions. ***

Exhibit B

I've mentioned this before, but I think it's worth mentioning again.

Occasionally I will use a magic wand during a test. Each child may call on it once, and only once, to answer a specific multiple choice selected response question. I may learn more from this simple exercise than I do from class averages, means, standard deviations, or any other metric you want to apply.

I demonstrate the phenomenal powers of my wand a variety of ways. This week I made a bean plant dance. (Charge it up with a few wipes with the silk hankie, wave it around a skinny seedling, and the plant bends towards the wand. With a little practice you and your bean are ready for DWTS!

The kids love it (though they groan a lot when one's wasted--"I knew that!")

If kids are zooming in on the single
☆ questions I know they have not been diligently studying their terminology or plain forgot to bring their notebooks in for the test).

If most of the kids are tapping the same question, it might simply be a lousy question.

If nothing else, the kids get a freebie, I get exercise running from desk to desk, and I get to wear my nifty wizard hat.

There, enough pedagogy for a day lifetime....

The photo of Thomas Bayes' grave is by Glen Wood, igl on Flickr, and used under CC license.
If you look real close, you can see the tomb tremble as Mr. Bayes spins in his grave as we continue to abuse statistics.
Thanks, Glen!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Science snob

This one's for me. No need to read it, nothing to see. Move along, move along....

Everywhere plants
Flourish among graves,

Sinking their roots
In all the dynasties
Of the dead.

Seamus Heaney, from "A Herbal"

I believe, truly believe, that if you pay attention, real attention, to anything, you cannot help but be smitten by Seamus Heaney, soil, or horseshoe crabs.

Or smitten by any number of the seemingly infinite variety of life and circumstance around us.

So call me a snob. A science snob.

Yesterday I found two new "wasps" in my roly-poly terrarium. Then I stumbled upon Seamus Heaney's latest book, Human Chain, while warming up in the Montclair Book Store Center. I bought it.

Last night I saw Michael Franti. Hugged him, even. He reminds me why this human thing rocks.

Stared at morning glories at noon, flared open in the dying October light. Our brains tell us that daylight is daylight. The morning glories say otherwise.

Today I got to kick leaves with my toes on the Green.

I chatted with a new security guard at school--turns out I was her doc way back when when the big blue bus visited her neighborhood.

Then I learned that my black wasps were really harmless soldier flies--I got this from The Dirt on Soil, one of my favorite blogs.

All in 24 hours. None of this expected, none of it earned.

The soldier fly on the finger photo from Rock Hill High School, via The Dirt on Soil blog.
The morning glory is mine.

Leslie babysat Seamus' kids over 30 years ago.
Funny how that goes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hallowe'en safety is an oxymoron

Hallowe'en is coming.
I love Hallowe'en--death in small doses can be fun.
The dead reach across the dying sunlight, to tell us what?

The occasional glimpse at death, your death, your inevitable death, can tilt your priorities a bit. Most of us could use having our priorities tilted.

If you read any national, family-friendly magazine this month, you will see the usual, family-friendly articles about Hallowe'en and safety.
Know the neighborhood
Check the treats
Make sure no razors are in the apples (or else just chuck the only decent nutrition in the bag)
Don't wear costumes that drag on the street
Make sure your child can see through the mask
Don't carr
y a candle (this must be left over from the 1903 edition of Parade Magazine)
Wear reflectors
Don't trick-or-treat alone
Wear flame retardant costumes.

I don't have any real problems with most of the list--even the blade in the apple adds a certain pizazz to the Hallowe'en joy of fear. A fearful citizenry also helps keep Demagogic Party in power, and the world free from democracy.

I do have a quibble with the last one, though: wear flame retardant costumes. Flame retardant clothing (at least the kind found in the I-wanna-be-Hanna-Montana outfit in a box off the shelf in Walmart) may contain PBDEs, a toxin in large doses.

PBDEs may affect development of the nervous system, reduce thyroid function, and mimic estrogen. PBDE levels are higher in children than in adults.

Products containing more than 0.1% PDBE are outlawed in Michigan. It's the "Mary Beth Doyle PBDE Act." You could look it up.

If you're afraid to wrap your child in a plastic Hanna Montana outfit, just make sure she avoids lit candles.

Or you could just make a costume out of wool--I never saw a lamb burst into flames.

I've seen a lot of people die, most of them slowly, in buildings reeking of death and bleach. I've seen a few die quickly. Gunshots, MVAs, embolisms, arrythmias.

Dying doesn't look like a whole lot of fun, but dying quickly seems a bit more convenient than lingering.

I have smoke detectors all over the home. I do not want to die in a fire.

Each detector has some Americium 241 in it. I paid decent money to put some leftover stuff from a nuclear reactor in my home. It emits radiation.

My detectors will last about 10 years; the Americium has a half-live of over 450 years. (I love that it is called Americium.)

As a science teacher, I have a responsibility to teach my children how to think.

Is Americium dangerous? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? How do you decide?

As a science teacher, I might want to remind children that aged smoke detectors are supposed to be sent back to the manufacturer. (Bet you threw yours away in the garbage.)

The Americium in your home sits inside a disc wrapped in gold. The radiation is "minimal"--it is extremely unlikely (whatever "extremely unlikely" means) that it will ever harm you personally.

Americium happens to be water soluble. The Americium in your home will eventually end up in a landfill if you throw it out.

It is reasonable to assume a bit of it may leak into the food web within its lifetime of a few thousand years. You'll be dead before it's a your problem.

It has been estimated that "if ionization-type smoke detectors were placed in every U.S. home, they'd result in one additional cancer death every seven years."

No doubt smoke detectors save thousands of lives.

Now for the gruesome, meaningless question: If you were the one who developed the fatal cancer, would you rather die in a fire, or from your cancer?

I am a science teacher. I cannot answer the question for anyone except me, but I can at least point out to students why it's an absurd question. (I'd rather die in the fire.)

It's also an interesting question, not because it solves anything about smoke detectors, but because it exposes how we look at risks.

If anything can save our culture, it will be the return of a sense of mortality. All safety is momentary.

When you think of the dead this Hallowe'en, think of the dying. It's a process. What we do to our environment does not affect our chances of getting out alive. They are zero.

Our choices do affect, however, how we go about dying living.

Happy Hallowe'en!

I wrote this one two Hallowe'ens ago.
I'm still here.
So are you.
For now.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

So how's it going?

♪ ♫ You be doobie dooo...

We've plunged into Understanding by Design (UbD), yet another teaching program that takes good teaching, frames it with invented vocabulary and expensive consultants, led by a messianic figure or two.

This particular messianic figure, Grant Wiggins, has wed with Pearson to carve himself a nice little cubby hole in the habitat of edutestation. New Jersey has invested more than a few dollars in his program. We'll be doing the ♪ ♫ You be doobie dooo...♫ for years.

But here's the good news.

It's not bad once you squeeze the toothpaste back into the tube. Good teachers have always worked backwards from essential questions. Heck, Socrates thrived with Wiggins' program, and look where it got him.

So long as the thrust is on essential questions, on understanding, on grappling with how the world works, and as long as UbD looms larger in the administration world than the NJ Biology Competency Test, it's a win-win situation.

For the cost of squeezing lesson plans into a format that makes solving the Seven Bridges of Königsberg look easy, I get to teach the way the good ones have all along.

Madeline Hunter, Socrates, or even Mr. Hand--it all comes down to the same thing. Save the evangelism for Sundays....

The photo of Grant Wiggins is from his UbD site.
The photo of Mr. Hand is from Flixster.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Picking basil seeds in October

Spent a good chunk of the afternoon collecting basil seeds. Spring is less than 5 months away.

My basil never dies. I eat the leaves, true, but not so many that they do not flower. Bees steal a little nectar, dragging basil sperm around with them, pollinating flower after flower after flower.

And now I take each dried flower, tiny as they are, and strip out a few seeds from each, black dots not much larger than the period at the end of this sentence.

And each one of them is alive.

Late February, when the darkness has reduced me to a nervous psoriatic shell, I will plant them. I will not remember the sweet smell of basil as I picked at the dried fruit today. I do not have that kind of imagination. But I will smile anyway. I do have that kind of hope.

You can, of course, buy seeds, and avoid the "tedium" of manual labor. I love Pinetree Seed Company.

I sat on our back stoop, bent over my bag of dried flowers, stripping seed after seed, and my hands were happy.

My hands go back millions of years, my fingers a few hundred thousand. Fingers were meant for picking. I pick my guitar, I get music. I pick basil pods, I get seeds. I do both under the open sky, and both give me joy.

Time dissolved as the sun slowly crept across the sky--my hands picked and picked as my grandmother's had, as my great great grandfather's had, as some hirsute hominid did on a continent an ocean away did a hundred thousand years ago.

A honey bee harassed me for a few minutes, obviously drawn by the wafting basil oils. I explained to her that she was wasting her time, but she kept buzzing around my hands anyway. A cozy of cosmos waved just ten feet away, but she wanted to get inside the bag of dried flowers.

She has been evolving her sense of smell as long as I have been evolving fingers that need to pick. I'm sure our ancestors met before as I am sure our descendants will meet again.

Neither of us did much to help raise the GNP today, though I bet she did more than I did. All economies ultimately rise or fall on how much biomass we can raise from the ground.

On a very local level, the honeybee and I share a gift. We both hum from energy emanating from the sun captured by the basil.

And on a beautiful October afternoon, with sharp shadows reminding both the bee and me that the darkness is coming, we both felt joy.

The pictures are all from today. What a spectacularly gorgeous day here at the shore.
In Heaven as it is on Earth. We are truly of the land, nefesh, and all that. Just ask the bee.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Considering the snail

The snail pushes through a green
night, for the grass is heavy
with water and meets over
the bright path he makes, where rain
has darkened the earth's dark. He
moves in a wood of desire,

pale antlers barely stirring
as he hunts. I cannot tell
what power is at work, drenched there
with purpose, knowing nothing.
What is a snail's fury? All
I think is that if later

I parted the blades above
the tunnel and saw the thin
trail of broken white across
litter, I would never have
imagined the slow passion
to that deliberate progress.

Thom Gunn

Not sure I'm going with this--I never am--but I saw something in August I do not (and cannot) understand. Maybe someone out there can help me.

I have a large jar holding pond water that's been in B362 for years now. It sits on the windowsill where my lambs can witness generations of snails and duckweed and daphnia and planaria when they're less than inspired by memorizing biomes or parts of the cell ingloriously reduced to human activities. ("The mitochondria are the factories of the cell." *clumk*)


Here's something your grandma may have neglected to tell you. As you age, the "higher" functions, the jobs run by the cortical parts of the brain, start to sputter a bit. Edges start to blur.

It would be scarier if it happened quickly, but it's mercifully gradual.
It's still bloody scary.

Meanwhile, the amygdala, the ancient part of our brain that connects fear and subconscious memory, keeps on gliding through life like a shark's fin gliding through a calm bay at sunset--steady, stealthy, and, in its own way, beautiful.

I've taken a few bumps on the head, sustained at least 5 concussions, so you may want to judge this by someone whose led a more sane life. Or maybe you might want to chat with the snails. Or maybe you want to read the works by the greats on their fading years--they practically get giddy on death.

I'm just a teacher in high school who spends too much time staring at pond water in jars, and I share what I see.

And this is what I saw.

On a late August afternoon, I visited my classroom, something I do regularly even in August.

About a dozen snails lay evenly spaced around the jar of pond water, as though place there by the Almighty Himself. All were a foot away from the jar. All were dead.

Now I can hypothesize until the next tide ebbs, but my suspicion is that the conditions in the jar got intolerable for the snails. They left the "pond" en masse, and died nearly simultaneously.

Not sure why a few chose to stay in the jar (and are alive as I write), nor why this particular Jim Jones moment never happened before, nor since. But it happened.

And I wondered (as I will) what could drive a sentient being from its home. And I dwelled on fear and failing light and all the other nonsense getting older entails (while we pretend otherwise), and I wondered if snails even had amygdalas.

I do. My amygdala grows stronger every day as the cortical tissues withers away. The reptilian brain underneath rises up now, and fear frames the incipient fog.

Considering the Snail is by Thom Gunn who passed through his snail moments back in 2004.
The snail eyestalk is really a slug that was wandering near or back stoop.

The poem was suggested by Mary Ann Reilly, a fine arts photographer whose work can be seen here.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The NEA and me

The union exists for good reasons, but cheap life insurance is not one of them.

Today I received an email from them. Their records indicated that I do not have their free coverage ($150,000 worth) for"unlawful homicide on the job."

Which begs the obvious question: what kind of homicide is lawful at work?

The chalk outline is from SFWeekly.

Melomel, cosmos, and teaching biology

Yes, I know, same old same old...I write for Leslie.
When I walk, I walk with Leslie.
When I eat, I eat with Leslie.
When I sleep, I sleep with Leslie.
When I share melomel, I share it with Leslie.

This morning I watched a couple of bees trying to suck nectar from pink cosmos flowers. The breeze was topping 25 mph. I suspect the bees were spending more calories than they were getting, but they keep trying to get to the flowers, because that's what bees do.

And now I am writing stories about the bees, because that's what humans do.

And it's all good.

I'm drinking peach melomel--peaches from 2009 fermented with honey made from flowers in Michigan. A few dormant yeast rest in the bottom of the bottle, poisoned by the ethanol they created.

I took a walk on the today--October beaches have more carcasses than life. The light is fading, and life fades with it. We forget this when we pal around with modern 21st century humans. Except when we don't, and make a formalized ritual out of dying. Which is OK, I guess, but I think I can manage it on my own. I hope I die under the sun, and I hope I'm alone. But we don't talk about this in polite company.

We started farming about 10,000 years ago. It's why I can sit in a permanent structure sipping wine made from cultured peaches and cultured yeast.

I get a little sad when I reflect on the culture we pretend can be sated. It cannot. I get a little sad when I think about my death, too. Contemplating either, however, reflects an ingrained narcissistic and very human attitude contrary to this life thing.

I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
Without ever having felt sorry for itself.

-- D.H. Lawrence


I like being outside. Even when I think I won't, I always do. I have never regretted a single moment outside. And yet I teach my lambs inside.

I like walking barefoot. I am barefoot almost always, except when in school. I have rarely regretted a moment barefoot (though I have had the occasional spectacular bleed). And yet I wear shoes when I teach.

I like making bread, making beer, growing plants, singing, dancing. I have been sneaking parts of all of those into class. That I have to sneak them into the curriculum instead of trumpeting their presence in my classroom speaks to my cowardice and to my role as a government agent. It also speaks to a very weird social situation where I may talk more to a particular child than her parents.

I teach biology. It's messy. Always has been. It's wet, and chaotic, and real, and scary, and, ultimately, about death.

And life.

And what do I do?

I wear shoes in class.
I avoid death so I do not disturb my lambs.

But each and every one of us grows plants.
And every day, every day, I remind my students that the plants make stuff from their breath.
And in a few months, we will eat the fruit from the plants.

I do not, of course, call it communion, and would not for a whole lot of reasons.

But I will say this much. Though I have long given up on the Transubstantiation of the Host (but not the miracle of CO2 and water to food), and though I will teach what I am hired to teach, I am closer to death than birth, and I will not lie to my students.


You want a biology teacher? Someone who will put the logos (λέγω) of life in the classroom?

I'll do it.

A good biology course will change your child. If your child has not changed in my classroom, I've wasted her time.

The photos were taken today in North Cape May.
The cosmos were as alive as I'll ever be, and the crab as dead.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Infinite jest

I am very careful not to tip my hand in class. While I am responsible for teaching my puppies how to think, I am loathe to tell them what to think.

I trust that most humans with open minds and reasonable tools for observation are kind, rational, and loving, and I have yet to see anything that demolishes my hypothesis.

My job? Keep their minds open and teach them how to observe.

It doesn't make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is - if it disagrees with real-life results, it is wrong. That's all there is to it.
Richard Feynman

Why does this come up now?
I'm teaching our interdependence unit, ecology.

Not the hippy-dippy squirrel-kissing tree-hugging VW lovebug version (as much fun as that might be) but the real thing--interdependence.

It's a hard unit to teach, not the least of which is the creeping hubris that wanders into any discussion about "solutions."

Life changes the planet. It makes messes, it continuously molds the environment, often making it unliveable for myriad species. Heck, we polluted the atmosphere with a strong oxidizing molecules over two billion years ago when our ancestors were single-celled cyanobacteria.

Humans appear to be particularly good at changing things--we're in the midst of the Sixth Great Extinction, but life will muddle its way through, even if humans choose to step out of the party.

Still, it's not something I want to throw at sophomores before their 4th decade on Earth, and most of them will have graduated from high school by then.

We are consuming more calories than our green cousins can capture from the sun, literally living on borrowed time, energy stored over the millenia by organisms now reduced (that's a bio pun, son) to petroleum.
Should I share this?

Our current industrial agricultural practices are unsustainable for more than a few generations.

Should I share this?

Economic "growth," a cornerstone of our Federal policy, ultimately depends on what the Earth can give, not on what we can extract, no matter how much we posture. (We've just about made "capitalism" and "democracy" synonymous, no?)

Should I share this?

I do share this much.

Life requires an influx of useful energy, just about all of it coming from the sun. The amount of sunlight hitting the Earth daily is finite.

Ultimately we are, too.

None of us will live forever, shocking news to a sophomore, and no doubt I'll be a bit surprised, too, when my cells give up the ghost.

If by the end of the year my puppies realize that limits exist, unforgiving limits at that, yet still see the joy in the flutter of a swimming scallop, well, I've done my job.

The crab took us on just a couple of days ago.
He was, apparently, the self-appointed guardian of the Delaware Bay.
After I took its picture, we wandered away, but he continued his steadfast defense.
I think it's an Asian shore crab--any thoughts?

The scallop video was uploaded by Cas1920.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

And we wonder why folks complain about us....

TEACHER magazine (which seemingly has case issues), part of the network, carries a column written by teachers educators (excuse me) who belong to the Teacher Leaders Network, which, according to their logo, is a "center for teaching quality."

I got an email this week leading to "Teaching Secrets: Managing October Exhaustion."

I wasn't aware that I'm supposed to be exhausted yet, coming off a couple of very restful months, though raking up clams did make my muscles ache, and come to think of it, picking tomatoes in August may have tapped my reserve. Hey, maybe I am exhausted and don't know it.

So what's at the top of the list for exhausted educators who are collapsing under the strain of working, say, a month or two?

(T)ake a “personal day,” or two, and enjoy it. The kids will survive.
Elena "The exhaustion that typically hits teachers in
October assaulted me in mid-September this year" Aguilar

The kids will survive.

And we call ourselves professionals.

The logo was lifted from Teacher Magazine.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October light

Spent a good chunk of the afternoon on a kayak bouncing on the waves left by Nicole. Most of the power boats are gone now, so you can hear the water, the wind.

The shadows are growing long.

October, again.

The bees are cranky. The flowers give up less nectar as the sun gives up less light. For the annuals among us, this is it. We can learn from them.

My cosmos are exploding with blossoms. My squash still flowers, an exuberant waste. Dying puts things in perspective, even for a squash plant.

We only get so many October evenings. For a few years, each one finds you stronger. For a few years.

I'm not going to figure this whole thing out this lifetime. That used to bother me.

It doesn't anymore.

Last night I saw a million stars, a few thousand distinctly, the rest blended in as the Milky Way. The north wind chased errant water molecules down to Dixie, and we got treated to a show.

I can tell you what we think each blazing point of light represents, and I can get my students to parrot this.

Parrots do well in our culture.

If I could truly share what I think I know about this star or that one, as I end each day with fewer functioning cells than those I had at dawn, my classes would dwindle.

If I could share what I think I know, a few of my lambs would wander under the open sky, chasing light, chasing dreams.

It's October. Most of the world is dying. I teach the few who are growing, who believe they will always keep growing. If they knew otherwise, the school system would fall apart.

We pretend otherwise, we all do.

But the cranky bee never lies. The light is fading, winter is coming.

For all of us.

Two of the photos are from Dublin, one from my backyard. All are mine.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"Breast Cancer Awareness Month" is obscene

These words started as a visceral response to a friend who coined "The One-Boobed Systyrs of the Apocalypse." She's still fighting.

I remember the first breast I saw no longer attached to the body it once helped define. I had seen body parts in various forms before, but this one was fresh. A flap of sallow skin with a wizened nipple defining it, a long trail of fibrous fatty tissue trailing off the slab.

The pathologist, smoking as he dictated, handled the breast like a butcher handles meat about to be weighed, though not as kindly.

The breast had been part of a man who probably did not survive his bout with breast cancer. Most people back then did not fare well, and men fared worse than women.

Incidences of breast cancer change in populations as people migrate from one area of the world to another, suggesting that environmental factors contribute to this disease. There is a continuing effort at the NIEHS to identify these environmental factors and the role that exposures to specific chemicals could play in this disease.

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

I shaved my mother's head when the cancer recurred--bony metastases in her skull made the shaving more difficult. She walked like a marionette with tangled strings the weeks before she died. In a radiology reading room, we'd call them "goobers." Goobers on the brain.

Unless it was one of our mothers, our sisters, our daughters--then they were metastases.


Since 1985, Zeneca Pharmaceuticals has been the sole funder of October's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). Zeneca has promoted a blame-the-victim strategy to explain away escalating breast cancer rates, which ignores the role of avoidable carcinogens. Zeneca's parent company, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), is one of the world's largest manufacturers of petrochemical and chlorinated [organic] products -- including the plastic ingredient, vinyl chloride -- which has been directly linked to breast cancer, and the pesticide Acetochlor.

In addition, Zeneca is the sole manufacturer of Tamoxifen, the world's top-selling cancer drug used for breast cancer. In return for funding the "awareness" campaign, ICI/Zeneca has control and veto power over every poster, pamphlet and commercial produced by NBCAM.

" A decade-old multi-million dollar deal between National Breast Cancer Awareness Month sponsors and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) has produced reckless misinformation on breast cancer," said Dr. Epstein.

The media focuses on the strength of cancer survivors, and I have seen tremendously strong women live and die graciously through months and years of chemotherapy and radiation and surgery. The magazines will show glossy pictures of proud women, and these things matter, of course. Avon will sell "Kiss Goodbye to Breast Cancer Lipsticks," Mars, Inc., will sell you pink and white M&M's, and General Electric will sell you a Senographe 2000D mammographer.

They do not show a mother cowering in her bathroom, her bald head bare, blood all over the toilet from a nosebleed that will not stop, her teen-age son standing awkwardly, bravely holding her head.

They do not show the vomiting, the pain, the fear. They do not show a mother with her arm in a machine trying to squish out the fluid building up from lymphedema. They do not show the bony protuberances on a skull, the smell of dying cells.

They do not show a child wiping her mother clean because she is too proud to use a bedpan and too weak to use a toilet.


polychlorinated biphenyls


polychlorinated dibenzodioxins.

In 1991, these were the 6 most common carcinogens found in breast milk. The news has gotten worse since then. We are at the top of the food chain--toxins accumulate.

It has been known that breastfeeding reduces your chance of getting breast cancer. The longer you breastfeed your babies, the lower the risk. This has been attributed to hormonal changes related to breastfeeding--breastfeeding women cycle less, and had less exposure to estrogen.

There has been speculation (and it is only speculation), that breastfeeding may help reduce the chemical pollutant load on the mother. Guess who gets the chemicals.


The lifetime risk of a woman developing breast cancer was just less than 10% in the 1970's, or 1 in 10; it is now 13.4%, or almost 1 in 7 (NCI, 2005). In the 1940's, the risk was 1 in 22. Breast cancer is the leading cause of death in women 34 to 54 years of age.

Until recently, the incidence of breast cancer had gone up about a percentage point every year since 1940.


Janet Jackson flashes a breast, and our Federal Government now rushes to redefine obscene. Certain words and phrases will cost lots of money; Howard Stern has opted to put his voice into orbit.

Here's an obscene phrase that won't cost anything--in fact, in past Octobers you have might hear it dozens of times:

Early Detection is the Best Protection.

This makes no sense--once detected, you already have it. The best protection is prevention which, admittedly, would require massive, radical changes in the way we live. The NBCAM folks got wise--they now say "Early Detection Saves Lives"--if you go to their website, they pretend that this is what they have always said.

So it must be true.

I wrote this several years ago for a friend, who is still fighting, and for my mother, who lost.