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Lessons from History

History is rich, and includes everything except today and our tomorrows.   Hopefully we learn as we go . . . 
George Santayana, a Spanish American philosopher and writer, famously said: "Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Aug 26

The Dangers of Willful Blindness

TED Talk by Margaret Heffernan

Gayla Benefield was just doing her job -- until she uncovered an awful secret about her hometown that meant its mortality rate was 80 times higher than anywhere else in the U.S. But when she tried to tell people about it, she learned an even more shocking truth: People didn't want to know. In a talk that's part history lesson, part call-to-action, Margaret Heffernan demonstrates the danger of "willful blindness" and praises ordinary people like Benefield who are willing to speak up.

 " . . . This wasn't ignorance. It was willful blindness. Willful blindness is a legal concept which means, if there's information that you could know and you should know but you somehow manage not to know, the law deems that you're willfully blind. You have chosen not to know. There's a lot of willful blindness around these days. You can see willful blindness in banks, when thousands of people sold mortgages to people who couldn't afford them. You could see them in banks when interest rates were manipulated and everyone around knew what was going on, but everyone studiously ignored it. You can see willful blindness in the Catholic Church, where decades of child abuse went ignored. You could see willful blindness in the run-up to the Iraq War. Willful blindness exists on epic scales like those, and it also exists on very small scales, in people's families, in people's homes and communities, and particularly in organizations and institutions.

"Companies that have been studied for willful blindness can be asked questions like, "Are there issues at work that people are afraid to raise?" And when academics have done studies like this of corporations in the United States, what they find is 85 percent of people say yes. Eighty-five percent of people know there's a problem, but they won't say anything. And when I duplicated the research in Europe, asking all the same questions, I found exactly the same number. Eighty-five percent.

"That's a lot of silence. It's a lot of blindness. And what's really interesting is that when I go to companies in Switzerland, they tell me, "This is a uniquely Swiss problem." And when I go to Germany, they say, "Oh yes, this is the German disease." And when I go to companies in England, they say, "Oh, yeah, the British are really bad at this." And the truth is, this is a human problem. We're all, under certain circumstances, willfully blind. . . .

Aug 10

Link to Messy Nessy's  Original Article

" . . . In the early 1920s, the radium girls started to experience the first symptoms of their demise. Their jaws began to swell and deteriorate, their teeth falling out for no reason. There was a horrific report of one woman going to the dentist to have a tooth pulled and ending up with an entire piece of her jaw being accidentally removed. A local dentist began to investigate the mysterious phenomenon of deteriorating jawbones among women in his town and soon enough discovered the link that they had all worked for the US Radium plant, licking radio-active paintbrushes at one time or another . . . .

Mar 1

The Power of One

history is full of martyrs and heroes

Feb 17

Lessons From History

Speech/Essay - Victor Khong, February 16, 2013

This article is intended for anyone to use as a speech to fight Wi-Fi in public schools. Every parent, doctor and teacher deserves to read, and hear, it.
It has been said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. . . .

" . . . At the powerful intersection of commerce, politics, education and public health, public health is often the loser. With regards to Wi-Fi in public schools, the question we should be asking is "What environmental toxins can we avoid while preserving the best of what technology has to offer for public education?" The answer to that is to promote the use of wired computers and to disallow devices that emit microwave radiation in public schools.

"Make no mistake: by opting to ban Wi-Fi from public schools, we are being forward looking. We understand the lessons from history. We are choosing to protect life over commercial interests and lucrative service contracts. We choose uncompromised safety over convenience. We choose health over planned obsolescence.

"When we KNOW better, we should DO better.  Isn't it always better to be safe than sorry?"

Jan 24

Late Lessons from Early Warnings 2013

Major Report from European Environment Agency

Part A Lessons from health hazards

Part B Emerging lessons from ecosystems

Part C Emerging issues
Part D Costs, justice and innovation 

Part E Implications for science and governance 


The European Environment Agency published a major report today to alert governments about the need to attend to early warning signs about technology health risks, including mobile phones.

Jan. 24, 2013 - The 750-page volume, "Late Lessons from Early Warnings," includes twenty new case studies and has major implications for policy, science and society.  Although the report was prepared by the European Environment Agency to provide guidance to the EU nations, its implications are global. (1)

Brain tumor risk associated with cell phone use is addressed in one of the report's chapters. (2) The report highlights the classification of this form of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) as "possibly carcinogenic", or cancer causing, by the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in 2011.

The research that has found increased brain tumor risk associated with long term mobile phone use is reviewed. The authors note that governments and industry have been slow to respond to the WHO's precautionary warnings and urges policy makers to respond to early warnings more quickly.  It argues that industries that cause future harm must pay for the damage and suggests that taking early precautions can stimulate rather than stifle innovation.

The report accuses the mobile phone industry of "inertia in considering the various studies and taking the IARC carcinogenic classification into account," criticizes the media for not "providing the public with robust and consistent information on potential health risks," and attacks governments for shirking "their responsibilities to protect public health from this widespread source of radiation."

Although the report acknowledges the many benefits of mobile phones to society, it recommends the need for precautionary actions to reduce cell phone radiation exposures to minimize the extent and seriousness of the risks to the brain and other organs. 

The report makes four specific recommendations about cell phones:

a.       Governments, the mobile phone industry, and the public should take all reasonable measures to reduce EMR exposure, especially from mobile phones, particularly exposure to children and young adults who are likely most at risk for brain and salivary gland tumors. The report recommends texting, use of hands-free sets, and improved design of phones which generate less radiation and make hands-free use more convenient. 

b.      Governments should reconsider the scientific basis for the present exposure standards "which have serious limitations such as reliance on the contested thermal effects paradigm; and simplistic assumptions about the complexities of radio frequency exposures." 

c.       Mobile phones should be required to have effective labeling and warnings about potential risks for users.  

d.      Adequate funding should be provided for the "urgently needed research into the health effects of phones" and base stations.  Funding could include industry grants and a small fee on the purchase and/or use of mobile phones. 

It is time for the U.S. to end its two decades of denial and assume a leadership role in adopting precautionary measures to reduce the potential harms associated with exposure to mobile phone radiation. Otherwise we may a steep price in terms of preventable health care costs, lost productivity, and reduced quality of life. A nickel a month collected on each cell phone subscription would generate sufficient funds for the U.S. to undertake the needed training and research to head off this potential epidemic.  (3)

For more information about the health risks of cell phone radiation and other forms of EMR see the new BioInitiative Report at http://www.bioinitiative.org and http://saferemr.com

(1)  "The cost of ignoring the warning signs - EEA publishes 'Late Lessons from Early Warnings, volume II' 

New technologies have sometimes had very harmful effects, but in many cases the early warning signs have been suppressed or ignored. The second volume of Late Lessons from Early Warnings investigates specific cases where danger signals have gone unheeded, in some cases leading to deaths, illness and environmental destruction. 

News Release, European Environment Agency,  Jan 23, 2013. URL: 

(2)  Lennart Hardell, Michael Carlberg, and David Gee. "Mobile phone use and brain tumour risk: early warnings, early actions?" Chapter 21 in Part C-Emerging Issues. "Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation." European Environment Agency. EEA Report No 1/2013. Pp. 541-561. January 23, 2013. URL: 
Part C: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/late-lessons-2/part...

The full 750 page report is available at http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/late-lessons-2

(3) Joel  M. Moskowitz. "Comments on the 2012 GAO Report: 'Exposure and Testing Requirements for Mobile Phones Should Be Reassessed.'" URL: http://saferemr.com.

Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D.

Director, Center for Family and Community Health

School of Public Health

University of California, Berkeley

Aug 9

Lessons from a Swim in the Gorge

Rafe Mair Reflection

"We went for a swim Monday, about two blocks from home, in the Gorge waterway. We swam in the salt water as the tidal currents swept under the Tillicum Bridge toward Portage Inlet.

"It was just a swim. And it was more. Because even 15 years ago, I wouldn't have ventured into the questionable Gorge waters. The swim was a reminder that even when things are truly wrecked, we can fix them. All it takes is one person with the will to start . . ."

Apr 4

Lost Public Opinion

American Public Opinion and the 1964 Surgeon General's Report on Smoking

Paper presented at the Western Political Science Association's annual convention 2010

Abstract: Recent and present-day polling evidence may seem to suggest that the federal government can do little to change attitudes on health-related issues. However, an earlier, and by now largely forgotten episode suggests the contrary. The 1964 Surgeon General's report on the dangers of smoking caused a short-term increase in beliefs that cigarette smoking was a cause of lung cancer. The passage of time did not reduce the growth in those beliefs, but rather magnified them. At least under limited circumstances, the federal government can apparently change health- related beliefs of the American public. . . "

Mar 6

Robert Bruce was known as 'Good King Robert' and was undoubtedly one of Scotland's greatest rulers, bringing peace and freedom to his country.

"On the lonely island of Rachrin, off the Irish coast, stood a mean and miserable hut. The chill wind of winter rattled its wooden door, demanding to be let in, sending icy fingers in through cracks and knotholes in the flimsy wooden walls. Inside, a man, his cloak wrapped close about him, lay on a straw pallet set against the wall opposite the door. A fire smoked in the centre of the rough earthen floor, and the remains of a frugal meal lay on a small wooden table.

The man was no other than Robert Bruce, crowned king of Scotland, made an outlaw in his own country by Edward I, King of England. Edward I, better known as Edward Longshanks because of his long legs, had defeated Robert and harried him and hunted him, forcing him at last to leave the lochs and craggy mountains of his native land. He had left behind his queen in Kildrummie, his only remaining castle, in charge of his brave and valiant younger brother Nigel. But alas, Kildrummie had been taken by the English, his brother executed, and his queen held captive . . ."

Feb 24

Discussion Paper:  This report aims to show the correlation between current health trends and the research into adverse health effects of EMR.  

Diabetes and Obesity, Cancer, Heart Disease, Strokes, High Blood 'Pressure, Asthma, Allergies, Alzheimer's, Depression and Anxiety, Sleep Disturbance, Arthritis, Memory Loss and Concentration, Male Infertility

It is extraordinary that in Australia telecommunications carriers can still install antennas on rooves of shops, churches, schools and other public buildings without permission from owners, local councils, or those nearby, in spite of regular protests." Sarah Benson

Also Included: Benevento Resolution, Salzburg Resolution, Freiburger Appeal, Precautionary Principle

Feb 24

Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Towards Realism and Precaution with EMF?

David Gee, European Environmental Agency - January 30, 2009

"The histories of fourteen well-known hazards and their harm, which include some chemicals: tributyl tin(TBT), benzene, polychlorinatedbiphenyls(PCBs), chlorinated fluorocarbons (CFCs), methyl tertbutyl ether (MTBE),sulphur dioxide, (SO2) and Great Lakes pollution; two pharmaceuticals (diethylstilboestrol (DES) and beef hormones); two physical agents (asbestos and medical X-rays); one pathogen (BSE); and fisheries, have been reviewed by the European Environment Agency. The purpose of the review was to see how societies had used, or not, the available scientific information in order to avoid or reduce hazards and risks, and at what overall cost. /

Twelve "Late Lessons" were drawn which attempted to synthesise the very different experiences from the case studies into generic knowledge that can help inform decision making on potential hazards from, for example, GMOS, nanotechnologies, mobile phones, and such endocrine disrupting substances as phthalates, atrazine and bisphenol A. These emerging issues are all cases for which the luxuries of hindsight are not yet available but where there is some plausible evidence of harm, and where exposures are widespread and generally rising. The purpose of the twelve late lessons is to help societies to make the most of both past experience and current knowedge in order to anticipate and reduce the impact of future "surprises" from technologies,without stifling innovation . . . "

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