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Farrah Fawcett Living Downstream

Dividing Breast Cell

Dividing Breast Cell

Farrah Fawcett’s death is both poignant and embarrassingly mundane. It is poignant because she gathered the energies she gained from being an “it” girl and used them to bring to light some common, and less common, plights of women in general. Farrah’s touch of America, brought America in touch with some of its hidden aspects.

Her death is embarrassingly mundane in the way that “The Burning Bed” examined the embarrassing mundane phenomenon of domestic violence. When we should be embarrassed by the commonality of a social practise, it is embarrassingly mundane.

Farrah’s death by cancer is merely one death in many that is the result of the societal choice to poison or chemically-load the places that provide our sustenance and give us shelter. In death, her personal struggle with cancer highlights our society’s embarrassingly mundane choice to slowly poison, or biochemically alter, ourselves, our children, and our children’s children, so that some of us can pay less for things.

Whom among us can claim a family that is untouched by cancer? How have we also been touched?

“According to the American Cancer Society, [cancer]… is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. with half of all men and one-third of all women developing some form of cancer during their lifetimes.” (The good news is that cancer rates have stabilized and even declined, since 1992, after steadily rising for many years.)

In terms of other touches, the growth in childhood asthma has reached epidemic status; the early onset of puberty in girls (precocious puberty) has become normal; and sperm counts in males, and the volume of healthy sperm produced, continues to steadily decline (due to environmental endocrine disrupters), to name a few.

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and cancer survivor, coined the phrase “living downstream” to describe the phenomenon of societies following development trajectories that lead to adverse health outcomes. The parable below is borrowed from a website tied to a documentary that is derived from her research:

There once was a village overlooking a beautiful river.
The residents who lived here began noticing increasing numbers of drowning people caught in the river’s swift current and so went to work inventing ever more elaborate technologies to resuscitate them.
So preoccupied were these heroic villagers with rescue and treatment that they never thought to look upstream to see who was pushing the victims in.
Living Downstream is a walk up that river.

One does not have to look far upstream to find Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, George Bush Jr. and the United States Supreme Court pushing their fellow citizens into the river. They’ve made, and continue to make, choices that chemically-load or poison the citizens they represent.

A mining company was given the go-ahead by the Supreme Court on Monday to dump waste from an Alaskan gold mine into a nearby 23-acre lake, although the material will kill all of the lake’s fish.
By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said a federal appeals court wrongly blocked on environmental grounds the Army Corps of Engineers’ waste disposal permit for the mine project. The Alaska mine, which had been closed since 1928, now plans to resume operation and will dump about 4.5 million tons of mine tailings — waste left after metals are extracted from the ore — into the lake located three miles away in the Tongass National Forest.
The court said that the federal government acted legally in declaring the waste left after metals are extracted from the ore as “fill material” allowing a federal permit without meeting more stringent requirements from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Clean Water Act.

The ruling was rejected by 3 moral voices in Ginsburg, Stevens, and Souter.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said it is “neither necessary or proper” to interpret the waterway protection law “as allowing mines to bypass EPA’s zero-discharge standard by classifying slurry as fill material.” She argued the lower court had been correct in concluding that the use of waters as “settling ponds for harmful mining waste” was contrary to the federal Clean Water Act.

Sarah Palin confirmed her status as a “pro-life without the chance of parole” candidate.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin called the decision “great news for Alaska” and said it “is a green light for responsible resource development.” The Kensington Goal Mine 45 miles north of Juneau will produce as many as 370 jobs when it begins operation.

In this regard, Governor Palin pales in comparison to President Obama, who continues to provide evidence that he is merely a better looking, more articulate version of George W. Bush. Following their standard modus operendi, the Obama Whitehouse, in the form of Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, stated that Bush’s policy on mountaintop removal mining did not pass the smell test and then proceeded to hold their noses and put Bush’s policy into practice. Thankfully, the Senate may yet have something different to say.

Farrah Fawcett, like the rest of us, lived downstream from the choices of others. She touched America and America touched back. Unfortunately, some of those touches gave her cancer, like they’ve done to too many others, and like they continue to do today in many different and harmful ways. This is unlikely to change anytime soon because, as related in Steingraber’s parable, the most prominent politicians in the United States today continue to push their fellow citizens into the river.

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49 Responses

  1. “Environmental interests were trounced in the 2009 Supreme Court term that ends Monday.”


    And it’s only going to get worse, IMO.

  2. Excellent post.

    I haven’t noticed anything being said about the connection between anal cancer (Farrah’s plight) and HPV.

    I’ve heard recently that more than 50% of the population is expected to have the HPV dormant in their systems.

    There’s a serious consideration to be looked at here. If more than half the population has HPV dormant, how much money does the drug company stand to make if they scare people into the vaccine against HPV?

    Anyone noticing these “scare tactic” tv advertisements claiming that the HPV test succeeded in keeping the mother of 4 from dying of cervical cancer, and YOU, TOO, should have this test in addition to your regular pap? Advertising medical tests for something they are pretty sure will lead more than half the patients into getting a vaccine. It’s hard to know who our enemies really are.

    • Maybe riverdaughter can clear that up when she gets here. I’ll see if I can bug Doctor Daughter into it or maybe Scrubs will show up later.

    • same with the swineflu its all just a scare tactic
      just wait ti will pop up everytime BO gets in trouble or needs a distraction . the same way bush used terrorism it the its the same scam just a different version.

      • if BUSH were XP.. BO is just THE BETA version.
        of the same old broken program

      • The H1N1 virus is quite real, boogie. RD has done at least one excellent post about it. See if you can find it here somewhere. It is likely to be a serious health threat for many when flu season comes this winter. I recently learned that someone in my small burg has been diagnosed with it so it is not confined to large populous areas only and will be a threat to anyone anywhere.

        It is unfortunate that he has that reputation, but even the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” was right once.

        • mabey so but not to the extent they are saying …..

          • H1N1 is spreading fairly quickly, although the severity of individual cases is not worsening overall.

            One worrisome aspect of the rapid spread is that with increasing numbers of cases, the vaccine has more opportunity to mutate into a more virulent form. If that happens, even is the spread is contained, the numbers of deaths may escalate. A pandemic is one thing, a virulent pandemic is another. That’s what makes someone like me, a garden-variety pediatrician in a non-affluent urban area, start losing sleep at night and sweat bullets at work in the day. The devastation from a virulent H1N1 could be astronomic.

            That’s why I am asking all my patients to get flu vaccine as early as possible this year.

        • recently saw i story on drudge that the headline said that half the population might be infected .
          now thats a scare tactic … more people have died of the pain JaneVerizon of the flu

          • Well, 50M people died in the flu epidemic of 1918 and they were far less mobile than we are. Medicine is more advanced but wouuld well be overwhelmed by the numbers. We have no immunity to this strain because we haven’t been exposed to it before. RD sayys get the flu shot if you can and I’m taking her advice. Hope there’s enough to go around.

          • Joan, you raise a really good point about mobility. It’s a game changer, especially air travel.

  3. Excellent post, Steven. Quite ironic how life is so important to us yet poisoning ourselves, and other living creatures, is integral to the way we live. I expect that eventually we will finish off the human race and the planet will heal in our absence. I hope that the next species who obtains dominance will tread more lightly.

  4. just have some common scene its not rocket science
    when reports of how many deaths are caused by the swine flu . just compare that with how many deaths the plain JaneVerizon of the flu causes
    i put my money that the plain JaneVerizon causes a lot more death

    • It does, about 35 thousand per year, which most folks don’t think about much, including medical personnel. Flu is a bigger problem than some health issues, but is not focused on much by the public unless we have a vaccine shortage or production problem, or when a new potential threat emerges.

      But if this new strain becomes markedly more virulent, 35 thousand deaths per year could start to seem like a distant, happy memory. (not to make light of it).

  5. J,

    TY. Your conclusion reminds me of Lovelock’s “The Gaia Hypothesis.”

    It seems quite likely that we are very near the fulfillment of a human-caused extinction of Permian disaster proportions.

    An irony worth noting is the claims of the power-mad that humans are too powerless to have impacts on a global scale. It is a bizarre kind of pseudo-Christian weakness hubris that doesn’t count mass extinctions of feed populations and ecosystems as evidence of humanity’s power to disrupt natural systems.


    • I have often wished that I could get on-board their crazy train but, sadly, I am too reality-based.

  6. J,

    Darn old inconvenient, recalcitrant reality.

    I’m off to play soccer. Have a good night.


  7. I miss 70s feminism and women of substance.


    Don’t forget, Charlie’s Angels was a television hit with several explicitly FEMINIST messages. Jill, Kate, and Sabrina were smokin’ hot badasses and, as far as I recall, they spent ZERO time agonizing over their love lives, marriage opportunities, or biological clocks (yes, i LOATHE “Sex in the City.” Sorry Third Wavers). Charlie’s Angels was of a thematic piece with The Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and One Day At a Time, even Three’s Company (DAMN! There was a LOT of feminism on TV in the 1970’s). Then along came the Dukes of Hazard, Dallas, Phyllis Schafly, Ronald Reagan, and the pornification of American girlhood.

    • DD,

      Academic anti-foundationalism, Abrahamic certitude, and a market driven by a “greed is good ethos” proved to be a potent combined force against second wave feminism and common decency.


      • Women spurred on by Hillary became too strong for the establishment in the 90s and BC was a proxy for her so Limbaugh spread lies about them and about feminism. Feminazis, etc. Third Wavers believe the lies about the Clintons and feminism. Women and men in their 20s and 30s believe the right-wing lies about them.

    • OMG. What are you smoking today? Usually I love your comments and insights.

      Charlie’s Angels inspired the phrase T&A. (At least, that’s when I first heard it.) It was empowerment on a ridiculously superficial level. All that hairspray and the hooters-style outfits? What a joke! The Angels were the precursor to Madonna’s boy toy shtick and Sex and the City. The show was silly eye-candy for adolescent boys and men who never grew up. As much as FF’s death was horrible and tragic, she is best known as a flake and an IT girl who didn’t have much to offer once her IT got old.

      • Did you actually watch the show? Charlie’s Angels spent zero time talking about men, dating and sex. The same with Wonder Woman and The Bionic Woman.

  8. In Farah’s video one will also see the German doctors who exploited her,c.aiing to treat her when there was no chance. That too is mundane.

    • F,

      Hannah Arendt did us a service when she noted “the banality of evil.”


  9. Oh, hooray. Another politician putting politics before not only her kids’ but all of our kids’ futures.

    I don’t get it. She really loves her family. She is now a grandmother. She’s an avid sportswoman. Does she really believe that dumping tons of waste into a lake is good for Alaska?

    There must be a better solution to the waste. Probably costs a couple more cents and sense a ton.

  10. G,

    There is no shortage of people doing the metaphorical fifth wheel tour and spending their grandchildren’s inheritance.


  11. Someday more people will look upstream and question the use of X-rays aimed at the blood forming ribs in women’s bodies.

    And then read about how X-rays cause cancer.

    And wonder why a simple blood test for breast cancer has not been found as it was for prostate cancer.

    • Indeed twandx.

      How long do you think a test would survive that made a man walk in and lay his, um, member on a plate, which would then have another plate squash it, oft times quite painfully, and then shoot exrrays through it? They wouldn’t stand for it.

      We do. And have and I suspect will.

    • I just had my annual mammogram. I think it’s revenge for the colon/rectal exam, I have no other explanation.

    • Well, there are some new machines that don’t require as much pressure and are, supposedly, even more accurate. (We can only hope.)

      And then there’s the blood test for ovarian cancer, one of the most deadly cancers, but it is (or course) not a routine screening.

      One day women’s lives will matter. I hope that day comes in my granddaughter’s lifetime.

  12. Don’t walk in the sun or you will get cancer. Don’t grill your food or cause it to carbonize, you will make polynuclear aromatics that cause cancer and you will die. Plants and trees make poisons and carcinogens that protect them from bugs and disease.

    Your argument about man made carcinogens and poisons is so simplistic. Modern man has a longer life span now than ever before. Based on your flawed thinking, we should have the shortest. Are you an epidemiologist? Michael Savage has a PhD in this field. Listen to him, you will learn something.

    • oh, and john galt is a fictional character mostly revered by high school students living on their parents’ dole … if you really want to know. He was never alive to experience cancer. Ayn Rand is dead and acolyte Greenspan just said he was wrong about the market self correcting based on self interest, imagine that!! Greed is just Greed after all.

      • dakinikat,

        There you go again, confusing the issue with logic and data points. You are incorrigible!


      • Dankinkat, I am disappointed in your ignorant response. You are the only reason that I come to this website. I am trying to understand the banking crisis and was searching for comments on the changing of mark to market rules. I find your posts on these types of issues informative.

        You obviously do not know anything about epidemiology. I am not an epidemiologist but I have consulted with them. Based on their input I allocated some of my research budget for Modified Ames Testing of compounds that the company I work for produces.

        Dan Rather tried to paint his critics as bloggers in their underwear when they were criticizing his phony Bush Air National Guard documents. Well it turns out that one of the bloggers was a Professor at Carnegie Mellon University that originally wrote the software to produce fonts for computers.

        A lot of ordinary people are skilled professionals. They are often very specialized and may be one of a handful of world experts in a small but important field. I consider myself one of these people. Tthere are hundreds of thousands of us in the country because of the diversity of our economy. You may be one in your field, but your harsh words concerning others in an area that you know nothing about does you a disservice.

        • You obviously don’t know anything about civility.

          Unlike some blogs we expect our commenters to be polite and not insult others, particularly those of us with moderator privileges.

          Well it turns out that one of the bloggers was a Professor at Carnegie Mellon University that originally wrote the software to produce fonts for computers.

          But was in in his underwear?

        • Sorry, my only authority on this is as a person that was diagnosed with an environmentally triggered cancer at 34 who had a 5 month old baby at the time of the inoperable, 4th stage cancer diagnosis. Fortunately, I’m a bit tougher to kill off than they thought.

          So, I don’t have degrees in epidemiology but I know environmentally triggered cancers intimately for whatever THAT anecdotal evidence is worth. I spent two years immersed in that world to the point that I now have a daughter that does research in estrogen receptive cancers as a result. I also had a very close relationship with a molecular biology prof whose lab I had to learn to work in just to have time with him so DNA/RNA transcription happens to be something I have some facility with … but any way, go on … I’ll just sorta pass on that backhanded compliment.

          • Well, it is funny that you dismiss a person’s factual statements based on their blog name. If you want to get stomach cancer, eat a lot of char-broiled foods, or sun cancer go lay out in the sun everyday. I am sorry to hear about your past troubles.

  13. wijg,

    It is quaint for a pseudonymic fan of Ayn Rand to accuse someone of oversimpliflication, especially when you lead off with a Dennis O’Leary-type mini-rant. Your shrug is hardly that of Atlas.

    This said, it is undeniable that my short piece presents a simplified case. This is the blogosphere, so why would you expect it to be otherwise?

    That said, how can I address your concerns and improve my argument, when the things you attack as simplistic and wrongheaded are not in my argument? For example, how does my “flawed thinking” yield the conclusion that our life spans should be shorter?

    Are you an epidemiologist? If not, how can you tell if Michael Savage has anything important to add to this discussion?

    Am I an epidemiologist? No. I’m merely an educated lay person. The A+ I received in a doctoral level interdisciplinary Public Health course with the world-renowned epidemiologist Colin Soskolne counts for something, but, frankly, too little to mean much in a weanie wagging competition, especially at The Confluence, where RD, our host, has forgotten more about epidemiology on a good night, than I’ve ever learned.


    PS I own a copy of the Playboy that contains “the Ayn Rand interview.” I think it’s fun that her interviewer was a young Alvin Toffler.

    • Was that Playboy article peer reviewed?

      • dakinikat,

        Not prior to publication, I imagine.

        It is an interesting time piece. It contains a short article by Getty on reasonable, honest negotiations with unions.


  14. well, dammit, S.-
    I always love a good “weanie wagging” competition 😉

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