Tin Roof Days

[From Connect Column Archives]
My morning ritual several years ago was to get out of bed, half stumble down the stairs, put on the coffee, and head for my home office to check email. There was a window close by that gave me clear view of the outside world. I checked out the weather, watched the birds, squirrels, and a black and white cat that visited most every morning. I saw, too, the old, tin roof of a neighbor’s garage that once was home for a carriage and horse. That tin roof caused me to think about how life must have been in this neighborhood when that building was built about 100 years ago. That tin roof took me back in memory to my own growing up days in this town.
I think about how things have changed over the years. I think about the absolutely wondrous scientific and technological innovations that have become a normal and expected part of our lives in the last seven and one half decades.
My earliest memories though are of Victory Gardens and Block Wardens and of a father gone off to war. They are of milk being delivered to our home by the Med-O-Bloom Dairy horse-drawn milk wagon and of the fresh homemade butter, eggs, and vegetables coming directly to our door. And of the doctor making a house call from time to time when we were sick. They are of times of racing home after school to gather by the radio to hear programs that stimulated the imagination like ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘The Green Hornet’, ‘Inner Sanctum’, ‘The Shadow Knows’ and ‘Tennessee Jed’. They are of times when children just old and tall enough to put money into the bus coin box could travel downtown to Kresge’s or Woolworth’s or Penny’s or to see the movie serials each week and be safe.
Everyone walked to school. No problem. It seemed the adults in our town looked after each other and any children around. Even the dogs and cats were friendly and free. Most folks did not lock their homes when going off to shop or work. I ask myself whether we have really made any progress in our quality of life here in these past 75 years? Certainly, there is bigger and more of everything, but is it better?
Things were not all roses over those years, though. Racism and religious prejudice were pretty ingrained in our society in those days. We have not gotten through those even yet.
We did some pretty stupid things, too: things that we were told were wonderful and harmless at the time. I remember going to the dentist again and again to get a cavity filled. As a reward, the dentist would give me a gel-capsule filled with mercury. I loved holding that marvelous, liquid metal in my hands and using it to polish coins by rubbing the mercury and coins between my fingers. Today we would say, “Mercury in you hands! Are you crazy?”
I remember going to Eby’s Shoe Store to get new shoes. To check the fit, the store had a wonderful machine into which one would insert a foot with a new shoe on it, push a button, and see how the shoe fit. Gosh, you could see all the bones in your foot, too. The machine was an X-ray machine. I often have wondered what happened to Mr. Eby and the other employees of the shoe store.
I remember the hot summer days in our neighborhood. Sometimes the bugs, particularly mosquitoes, were kind of bothersome, but there was a fix for that, too. The city would send around the truck to take care of the bugs. We looked forward to it. It was great fun to ride our bicycles in the cloud coming from the truck. The DDT smelled pretty good. We were told this miracle chemical had saved the world from malaria and from being over run by insects. We believed it, because the chemical companies said so.
We are now in a time when science and technology are moving much faster than then. It is important we learn from our past, take the best from the past and move on. This means carefully examining change and innovation to be sure they lead in directions good for people and the planet. One huge lesson is not to be so quick to believe all that is new and claimed to be so wonderful, particularly if the message is coming from those who stand to make money or gain politically from whatever the message conveys. We have been fooled before. There are those who would fool us again and again and again.

Attitude & Growth

[From Connect Column Archives]
We have an attitude problem; an attitude problem toward the idea of growth. All of our lives, we have been handed the message that all growth is good. From the day we were born, our parents told us to eat our food so we would grow big and strong. As we grew, family and friends told us about how tall we were getting or that we were becoming a ‘big boy’ or ‘big girl’ now. We have heard this all of our lives.
In our culture, we have been told that growth and development are good things, always. Growth and development bring more money into our community. They bring more jobs, goods, and services to the people here. We measure our progress by the number of people who live here. Heck, we even get state and federal money for schools, highways, and other projects based upon how many people are here. We get representation in the United States Congress that way as well. So, growth and development have to be good. Right?
Then a question came to mind. What is the end of this process? Is there ever a time when we have had enough growth and development? Even the human body at some point reaches maturity and grows physically no more. We transition to devoting our time and energy to personal and internal growth in the realms of the spiritual, psychological, and creative aspects of our lives and leave physical enlargement behind; at least most of us do. Could this same process be the healthy and maturing one for a community?
Is our ultimate goal to become the size of Indianapolis or Chicago or even New York? Is our goal to bring more and more people to our community without limit? Is our goal to bring more and more industry and business here, forever? Is there ever a time when enough is enough? Is there a time when it is time to concentrate our energy on the quality of life in our community rather than quantity?
Globally, we are in a real mess. Global gets global by adding up all of the small pieces like Greentown, Tipton, Logansport, Kokomo, Indianapolis, Chicago, New York, Paris, London, Tokyo, Mexico City and so on and so on. When Jesus Christ walked the planet 2000 years ago, it has been estimated there were around 130 million people on the whole earth. That is about half what is in the United States alone right now. In 1999, we passed 6 billion worldwide or almost 50 times the number when Jesus lived. And we are growing in numbers at an astounding rate. We are adding 216,000 people a day to our planet. Population scientists tell us that we are on our way to 12 billion or more in the next few decades.
Such growth cannot continue because the planet cannot support it, period. Just as cancer cannot grow indefinitely in your body without eventually killing you, so humanity cannot continue to grow in numbers unchecked in the biological world without killing it.
What does this mean to us who live in central Indiana? Maybe it means thinking about what kind of community we want in the end. Maybe it means understanding more about a quality of life and less about more and more all the time. Maybe it means taking a look at how we are using water and land and air in our town and around our area; and understanding we have physical limits on resources. Maybe it means a thorough discussion about what our community goals are and then doing some tough planning.
From a state and national standpoint, maybe it means talk about population matters including immigration policies. The United States of America takes in more immigrants annually than all other nations in the world combined. And what about all of the illegal immigration? As the world becomes more and more populated, the pressure to bring more and more people to the USA will only increase. Are there limits?
Maybe it means, too, that a re-examination of the policies of our federal government toward supporting family planning is needed. This does not mean we have to come to agreement regarding the hottest of issues: abortion. It does mean, though, that some intelligent decision should be reached concerning the education of women world wide about other reproductive options and health. The current policies of our federal government are questionable at best. We have quit supporting several major family planning programs.
We can affect global results on growth of all kinds by doing our part in our own community to think and act in responsible ways. We are not now doing that. The resources of planet Earth are limited. It is essential for the survival and quality of life of our children and grandchildren for us to become acutely aware of this. It is time for the taking of concrete steps toward a sustainable society. It is time for an attitude adjustment.

Monsanto Benches

[I bumped into four Monsanto sponsored benches in Greentown, IN, this week. The letter below is what was sent to the Greentown Town Council]
To the Council:
I was in Greentown yesterday. What caught my eye were the four benches at the corner of Main and Meridian Streets; the ones sponsored by Monsanto. I found this disturbing.
Monsanto is the company that has given us DDT, Agent Orange, PCBs, Dioxin, and most recently, Roundup. We know the impact of the first four on people and the environment. Dioxin is likely the most toxic substance ever created by man. Agent Orange has caused devastating damage to the health of our veterans. PCBs cause cancer. DDT has been banned due to its incredible environmental damage.
Most recently, Roundup (glyphosate) has been determined to be a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization: International Agency for Research on Cancer. This is the highest designation for cancer cause possible for testing on animals. In short, it causes cancer. And Roundup is everywhere sprayed on genetically engineered corn and soy beans in our part of the world.
And a word about the genetically engineered corn and soy beans: there now is sound scientific evidence, mostly from testing in countries outside of the USA, that GE crops pose health risks to both humans and livestock.
I am reminded of the history of the tobacco industry. It was filled with deception, denial, secrecy, and lies even when testifying before Congress. And Monsanto, et al are doing their very best to deny people knowing whether the food they eat is genetically engineered or not. Some 64 countries worldwide require labeling or ban GE foods. The USA does not.
One has to wonder why the expected life span for men in the USA is last when ranked with 17 industrialized countries. For women, they rank 16th out of 17. Food?
I urge you to consider whether you really want to promote Monsanto with benches on your corners.

Rokita's Betrayl

Representative Todd Rokita has betrayed you, again! On May 12th, he signed on as a co-sponsor for HR 1599, a Congressional bill that would effectively block required labeling of foods that contain genetically engineered ingredients. A labeling requirement on such foods exists in 64 countries worldwide.
This is not a new story. Rokita signed on as a co-sponsor of the same bill introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas in the last session of Congress. Pompeo is a darling of big chemical/seed and big food corporations. It appears Rokita wants to be one as well.
HR 1599 carries the name, “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act”. It is far from that. Those of us that believe the public has a right to know how food is produced and what is in it call the act, “The Deny Americans the Right to Know Act” (DARK). Take a look at food labels now. There is a great deal of information on them, but big chemical/seed and food corporations want no one to know if genetically engineered components are a part of the food you eat. Secrecy is the word.
Contrary to claims about the safety of GE or GMO foods, there have been no long term human health safety tests. Tests on laboratory animals, mostly outside of the United States, have shown all sorts of health concerns with measurable damage to digestive systems, liver, and other organs. In the United States, GE foods were simply declared safe by government decree under the George H.W. Bush/Dan Quayle administration. The decision was political and not based in sound science. The scenario continues. People have become the laboratory test animals without their knowledge or consent.
There is a new reason now for even greater concern. Glyphosate (RoundUp, typically) pesticide has been declared a “probable human carcinogen”; that is, causes cancer. This comes from the World Health Organization: International Agency for Research on Cancer. This designation is the highest possible through laboratory animal testing.
The primary reason for genetically engineered corn and soy beans to date has been to enable them to withstand massive doses of glyphosate pesticide and live. All vegetation around them is to die. It is known pesticide residues follow the crop to the dinner table. Now we know there may be an increased risk for cancer. But, you are not supposed to know that.
I am taken by the parallels I see between the tobacco industry and the present day big chemical/seed and processed food industries. Secrecy and lies dominated the tobacco industry.
So, here we are with a Representative that prefers to keep you in the dark. He does not want you to know if the foods you feed your family contain genetically engineered ingredients or have been dosed with a cancer causing pesticide. He does not want you to be able to make informed decisions for yourself, but rather have the big federal government make them for you. He wants all power to rest with federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency that have failed to protect you in the first place. He wants to take all power away from states to be able to make decisions and act for their respective citizens.
I, for one, fail to understand this kind of reasoning unless it again is yet another case of follow the corporations, lobbyists, and the money. It certainly is not to protect the interests or health of Indiana citizens.
Nice going, Representative Todd Rokita. You are one for the books.

Age of Disbelief / National Geographic Magazine

[There is an article in the March 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine that caught my eye. The article, “The Age of Disbelief”, by Joel Achenbach describes several scenarios wherein the common public does not believe what science tells. The part that got me was that about genetically engineered foods. It was false. My letter to the National Geographic editor is below.]
As a holder of a masters degree in aquatic toxicology and a doctorate in genetics, I want to call your attention to what I believe to be a grossly erroneous statement in Joel Achencach’s article, The Age of Disbelief, concerning foods containing genetically modified ingredients. He said, “…. there’s no evidence that it isn’t (safe) and no reason to believe that altering genes precisely in a lab is more dangerous than altering them wholesale through traditional breeding”. This statement is blatantly false.
Point one: the genes are NOT altered PRECISELY. Genes are inserted via gene gun, microinjection, or via bacteria or viruses infection. There is no precise insertion but rather random mass insertion into the host genome. There is no measure of damage or alteration to the host genome which can happen in dozens of ways. And there is an abundance of evidence of serious health consequences in laboratory animals in studies conducted outside the United States. Read the literature.
Point two: genetic modification or engineering cannot in any way be compared to traditional breeding. Traditional breeding respects biological barriers that have developed over millions of years. Genetic engineering grossly violates those barriers with unknown consequences. The resulting plant or animal on the molecular level is total different than the original plant or animal. There is a significant difference and there is always the potential of rogue proteins appearing.
Point three: to date the primary reason for genetic modification has been to create plants able to withstand massive doses of glyphosate (most commonly in RoundUp) and live with all vegetation surrounding those plants dying. Now one sees the development of super weeds and the recent determination by the World Health Organization that glyphosate is a “probably human carcinogen”. This is the highest designation possible with lab animals. Pesticide residue follows these crops to the dinner table.
So, Achencach did not do his homework. He swallowed the tale told by big chemical/seed and big processed food corporations. National Geographic is supposed to be a truth teller. In this case, readers were fed a story that puts them at risk.
Regards, Kent Blacklidge PhD

Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Wall Street Journal

[Ms. Pamela Bailey, President and CEO of the Grocery Manufacturers Association had an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal in support of genetically engineered foods (GMOs) on May 7th, 2015. Below is a copy of an email response sent to her.]
Ms Bailey….. I happened to purchase a copy of the Wall Street Journal for reading while eating lunch. I ran across your opinion piece about GMOs. It is clear where your pay check originates, but I am wondering about what background you have in biological science.
I, for one, applaud Chipotle’s decision to remove genetically engineered ingredients from the food they offer. I applaud Vermont, and for that matter Connecticut and Maine, for passing legislation that would require labeling of foods containing GE components. I applaud all efforts, and there have been many, to pass GE labeling legislation in the many states where legislation has been introduced. I just hope Rep. Mike Pompeo’s bill will go down in defeat.
I noted that your piece could have been written right out of the Monsanto public relations department. What you failed to mention is that 64 countries world wide require labeling or ban GE foods all together. What you failed to mention is that food companies have been able just fine to serve markets in those countries. What you failed to mention is that GE crops were brought to the market and declared to be safe simply by government decree during the Bush/Quayle administration with Michael Taylor at the FDA. What you failed to mention were Taylor’s close ties to Monsanto and even being a VP there for a time. What you failed to mention is that there have now been several animal studies, mostly in other countries, where test animals fed genetically modified feed developed a whole range of health issues. What you failed to mention is that the primary reason for GE crops to date has been to enable them to withstand massive doses of the herbicide, glyphosate, and live. What you failed to mention is that pesticide residue follows the crop to the dinner plate and that glyphosate has now been designated as a “probable human carcinogen” by the WHO. And, I might add, the use of pesticide has gone up, not down.
And why do I care. My background includes over 20 years in the newspaper industry with several as publisher of an Indiana daily. At middle age, I returned to Purdue where I garnered a MS in aquatic toxicology and a PhD in genetics. I was with a research group that did some of the early genetic modification in fish. I know the inside story.
You have partaken of the Kool-Aid served by big chemical/seed corporations. Last year, the AARP reported that the expected life span for men in the USA is last among 17 industrialized countries and that of women is 16th of 17. Further they reported the span has grown wider over the past 30 years. Something is seriously wrong and I happen to believe it is our food supply when compared to the other 16 countries.
You claim “GMOs have been in the food supply for decades without a single documented illness”. I would appreciate knowing of long term safety studies, human or animal, carried out by independent researchers in the United States without ties to big chemical/seed or big food.
Finally, I am about as staunch an advocate as one might find for the public right to know. There is a long list of information on food labels. Whether a product contains genetically engineered ingredients needs to be in that list. Secrecy is not the answer. I am taken by the parallels I see with the history of the tobacco industry. Secrecy and lies were the order of the day.
Regards, Kent Blacklidge


That is the last number I read of the dead that had been trying to get from Libya to Italy. The boats they were on sunk. The people drowned. This is a catastrophe without end.
Europe does not want to be the destination of choice for the thousands who want to flee the conflicts, lack of food, and lack of jobs of the Middle East and of Northern Africa. But, it is. Australia ultimately adopted a no immigrant policy for those trying to enter from South East Asia. Europe is already faced with thousands of immigrants who came from very different cultures and faiths than what had been traditional in Europe for centuries. Assimilation has been very difficult at best. All sorts of civil unrest has resulted.
Now there is a proposal being considered to use military power to destroy the boats that are being used by human traffickers. The idea is to make people stay where they are; to make it much more difficult to travel from one continent to another. This is a good idea. The flow of people from over populated, resource poor and war areas needs to be stopped or it will ultimately destroy the receiving countries.
The one issue no one will talk about is population. Virtually all of the pressure for immigration comes from already over populated countries. The long term solution is for populations to shrink, not continue to grow. It is only then that there can be economic progress made that will provide people with opportunities to take care of themselves. Do I think this is going to happen. NO.
The pressure for immigration will continue to grow as human population on the planet heads toward 12 billion. The numbers are not growing in already developed countries. They are where population is already a major problem. Take a look at Niger, Mali, Somalia, Chad, Burundi and Nigeria. The average number of births per woman in those countries still exceeds 6 and in Niger it is 7.6. Or how about Yemen and Iraq at over 4. They have no chance. By contrast, the birth rate in the United States and in other developed countries is less than 2, where it needs to be to stabilize population. The USA would have a stable population if immigration was not a factor.
The pot boils.

The Trolley

Little things do mean a lot. Kokomo had a bus line decades ago that had routes all over town with the main hub being on the north side of the downtown square in front of the then Turner Department Store building. There was a drugstore, dime store and a couple of others along the block between Buckeye and Main on Walnut Street. That was the transfer point for people coming off one route and proceeding on another.
What I remember as a pre-teen was that if could you could put your money in the coin box as you entered the bus, you could ride anywhere in town. That was the way all the kids in town went to the Saturday afternoon movies, all of which were within a couple of blocks of the center of town. None remain. All of the cities’ kids were watched over by all the adults in town. Safety was not an issue.
Times changed. The bus line disappeared. Shopping centers sprung up east, west, and south. People had to get themselves there and back. This was tough on those who did not have a car or physically had difficulty getting around. That was the case for decades. The downtown deteriorated. Some public transportation existed but only on a limited basis.
Times have changed again. The downtown of Kokomo is alive with activity. Kokomo added the Kokomo Trolley system with a hub about a block south of city hall. It is a real joy to see KokomoCityLineTrolleypeople who now depend upon the trolley to get all over our city from the far reaches in every direction. It has been a blessing for a whole collection of people. My hat goes off to a city administration that had the guts to give this a try. There were voices that said the system would not work and that people would not use it. They were wrong. The trolley is part now of the character of Kokomo. Good.

Open Letter to the Associated Press

The Kokomo (IN) Tribune published an article from the Associated Press on April 7th about genetically modified (engineered) foods. The headline in the KT was “Food of the future?”; New wave of GMOs: pink pineapples, purple tomatoes.
In my opinion, the article was very biased toward genetic engineering in food. It was completely inadequate in coverage of the risks and concerns about this technology as it applies to crops, feed, and foods. This includes risks for human and animal health and for the environment. The article did not mention there had been no long term testing of the safety of GE foods and that they had simply been declared safe by government decree beginning in the early 1900s. This was over the objections of the scientists within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It did not mention the several lab studies, mostly from outside the United States, that resulted in adverse health conditions in lab animals. It did not mention that 64 nations require labeling of GE foods and several ban them altogether.
Further, there was no mention of the pesticides typically used on GE crops including glyphosate (Roundup) and soon to be dicamba and 2,4,D (a component of Agent Orange). Glyphosate has just recently been designated a “probably human carcinogen” by the WHO: International Agency for Research on Cancer. Glyphosate has been detected everywhere.
In short, you did not do your homework. As the past publisher of the Kokomo Tribune (20 years there) and a holder of a MS Aquatic Toxicology and a PhD in genetics from Purdue, I can tell you the party line from big seed/chemical and food industry is not the whole story by far.
So, please do not drink the Kool-aid from big seed/chemical and food corporations. Do your homework and present a complete picture from both sides. As both one who spent his primary career in newspapers and as a scientist, I conclude this technology, the way it was introduced and the way it is used in agriculture, is both risky and reckless. I strongly believe the public has a right to know what is in food and how it is produced. The industry wants to keep secrets and will spend millions to keep it so.
I go back a long way with the Associated Press and with its once competitor, United Press International (UPI). We depended upon accurate, unbiased, and complete stories.
Regards, Kent Blacklidge Ph.D.

Voter Identification

Count me in on the side of those who want photo identification at the polls for everyone that wishes to vote. The argument by the liberals and ACLU just does not fly. They claim requiring a photo ID for voters will prevent millions of young people and minorities who are legal citizens of the United States of America from voting. Bologna. Identification is required for driving, cashing a check, boarding an airplane, buying alcohol, buying tobacco products, and more. It is even required to buy some over the counter medications like Zyrtec D. In fact there is even a nationwide data base for those type of meds.
Every state that has enacted a voter ID law has been careful to provide a means for people to get one easily. If individuals cannot handle the “inconvenience” of getting a free ID after proving citizenship, I am thinking voting is not on the plate either.
The argument goes like this: “Minorities, poor people, college students, and seniors are less likely to have driver’s licenses than other Americans, often live miles from the nearest DMV or post office, and may lack transportation”. I am sure that if any of such individuals would contact an office of the political party of their choice, transportation would be provided for them to obtain both identification and for getting to the polls on Election Day.
The one thing we do want to prevent is someone voting twice or voting under the name of some dead person or some other fraudulent way. A member of my family witnessed firsthand rampant voter fraud in Texas in the Democrat primary when Hillary Clinton was running against Barack Obama. In the United States of America, every citizen’s vote should count and no phony vote should. Elections do matter. Fraud is unacceptable. Requiring voter ID will not discourage anyone who is a legitimately eligible voter.