Cellphones, antennas, towers… radiation happens

cellphone antenna pole in Wimsheim, Germany

Image via Wikipedia

Radiation from the A-bomb test witnessed by my then-Marine husband in the early 1950s was registered on a small badge worn around his neck. They double-timed from foxholes toward the site of the blast. As far as we and the U.S. government know, all of those guys went on to lead long and healthy lives — and we went on to deadlier bombs anyway. We do now know a little more about those sorts of radiation damage.

We don’t know much about the tiny emissions from cellphones, iPhones, cellular antennas, texters, Skypers, whatever. The suggestion that any of those cyber-issues could possibly cause harm draws scoffs and derision and denials, but the truth is we simply don’t know. Some folks would still like to find out; maybe even find out before harm is done rather than after. An ongoing mini-battle in San Francisco is typical of such citizen struggles everywhere:

The increasing popularity of smart phones is pitting companies looking to expand their coverage against city residents concerned about the dangers presented by a growing number of cellular antennas.

Nearly every week, the city Planning Commission hears from a company looking to add to the thousands of cellular antennas already in the city. And, like clockwork, local residents turn out to fight the plans.

“These towers should be away from residences, away from schools and away from other vulnerable populations,” said Doug Loranger, who, as founder of the San Francisco Neighborhood Antenna-Free Union, has been fighting the cellular companies for a decade.

That’s not easy to do in a city as densely packed as San Francisco, where hills and tall buildings have long made radio transmission a challenge.

The crowds that jammed local stores looking to buy the new Apple iPhones last month demonstrate another part of the problem. San Francisco has a reputation as one of the most tech-savvy cities in the country, and the people buying the various new smart phones want fast and easy access to the Internet on their handheld devices, which means more demand for service.

This demand for service drives the rush to install more antennas and modify the existing ones. As long as they meet emission standards set in 1996, they are deemed fine, and cannot be challenged on the basis of health, a frustrating reality for potential challengers. Because that actually is the issue: whether — or at what point — emissions can indeed become damaging to one’s health. And though radiofrequency radiation emitted by the antennas has not been proven to have any damaging effects, activist Beverly Choe, whose children attend school near one such installation says, “it doesn’t seem prudent to add more radiation until we’re sure of the effects.”

“People want service where they live, where they work and where they play,” said Rod De La Rosa, a spokesman for T-Mobile. “We’re trying to roll out more high-speed data transmission by increasing the size of the pipe and not just for voice.”

T-Mobile is just one of the service providers looking to boost their presence in San Francisco. Just last week, Clearwire, a new company providing wireless data service only, came to the Planning Commission with requests to add antennas to existing sites in Bernal Heights and by San Francisco General Hospital.

“Starting last year, we’ve had a big increase in requests for modifications (of existing sites) and for new antennas,” said Jonas Ionin, who oversees cellular antenna requests for the city’s Planning Commission. “What we’re finding today is that the increases aren’t necessarily based on voice traffic, but on data downloads.”

The city already is home to 709 cell sites, some with as many as 12 separate antennas. Although many of the recent requests have been for upgrades and additions to those existing sites, there is also a growing call for new spots for cellular antennas, which means more battles to come.

Those continuing battles have one interesting aspect that other battles can’t always claim. No one is waiting to find out who’s right. “The funny thing is that people call me on their cell phones to complain about the new installations,” said Diego Sanchez, a city planner. We may all be addle-brained from telecommunicating before we find out where it’s coming from. A lot of us grew up in asbestos-infused schools and homes, and we’re probably all eating mercury-infused seafood (not to mention drinking petroleum-infused water); life is hazardous to one’s health.

Tension over cellular antennas mounts in city.

Alcohol fee = 'cause for harm' money: A funding idea whose time has come

cocktails.JPG

Image by Bright Meadow via Flickr

Booze, it seems, causes some people to do drunken things, get in trouble (i.e., do harm, at times), go off to the E.R., occasionally in an ambulance. So why not tax the booze to pay for the E.R. and ambulances? This is being proposed by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos in one of a bunch of efforts to fill the gaping budget hole that this city, like virtually every city in the nation, is facing.

It is called a “cause for harm” fee. A fee, explains San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius, differs from a tax because it can only be spent for the specified purpose for which it was collected. We don’t like the word Tax these days.

No fair! say the bar and restaurant owners; five cents more per martini will kill the business! I doubt that. Having put in my time as a martini (among other things) drinker, I can absolutely certify that if you want a$6 cocktail you’re not going to pass it up at $6.05.

“Cause for harm” fees, in fact, seem like a pretty good idea:

  • Oil company digging fees (say, five cents a quart) for spills, etc.
  • Leaf-blower fees to mitigate noise, air and clogging-the-storm-drain pollution
  • A dead cell phone fee to ship dead cell phones to another planet if there’s one that wouldn’t really mind
  • Pigeon fees… well, just because

You can create your own list. Fees of this “cause for harm” type are collected in other states, though more often used to pay for things like treatment and education rather than transportation to the ER. In any event, they clearly make sense. And somehow the cause/effect principle seems like one that should pick up wider support.

Maybe Mr. Karzai could impose a few fees of his own, and use them to send all those troops back home.

Supervisor’s fee on alcohol a terrific idea.

Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus speaks on micro-lending — and world hope

Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Ban...

Image via Wikipedia

Recently, someone remarked to Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi banker/ economist/ crusader against poverty, that he must be a very rich man.

“I said, why would I be a rich man?” he tells an attentive audience. “Well, you have all those companies; you must be rich to have all those companies.”  Yunus scratches his chin and smiles the beguiling smile that makes you want to be a believer. “Oh. I start these companies, but I would never own them.” You are now a believer.

Yunus was in San Francisco Monday, at a social entrepreneurship program sponsored by the Commonwealth Club. He is winding up a U.S. tour promoting his new book, Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism That Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs. In the process, he is promoting a theory that social business — business operated for the benefit of society (such as the poor who are commonly the beneficiaries and owners of Yunus’ companies) — can and should be a viable segment of the global economy.

Grameen Bank, which was begun in 1976 with $27 out of Yunus’ pocket and now provides loans to more than 8,100,000 borrowers — no collateral, just good faith and trust — would seem to prove his point. Defaults on Grameen micro loans are so few as to make Fannie Mae weep.

From micro loans, Yunus expanded into business ventures on the same basic principle: to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company. The investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point.

There are now Grameen (the word refers to a rural village) companies in banking, agriculture, healthcare, telecommunications and other areas.  Yunus gave one as an example of why he believes the principle works:

Grameen and Group Danone went into a joint venture to create a yogurt fortified with micro-nutrients to decrease malnutrition for the children of Bangladesh. The yogurt is produced with solar and bio gas energy and is served in environmentally friendly packaging. The first plant started production in Late 2006. The 10-year plan is to establish 50+ plants, create several hundred distribution jobs and self-degradable packaging.

The environment is protected, children get healthy, grow up to create businesses. Yunus spoke of one skeptic saying, “where will I get a job?” and said he explained, “You don’t look for a job, you create a job.”

Grameen Bank has more than 2500 branches — now including three in New York (where Yunus would like to see payday loan and check-cashing operations go out of business), one in Omaha, and in the near future: one in San Francisco. If Yunus is enjoying the proving out of his theories and the lifting of vast numbers of people out of poverty, he may be enjoying most of all the reminiscences about those who scoffed at his notions in the 1970s.

“They said the poor were not credit worthy,” he smiles. “I was told, about non-collateralized loans, ‘You can’t do that!’ After 2008, I wanted to ask, ‘Who is credit-worthy?'”

Drill, baby, drill?

It’s going to be a long time fixing.

The Deepwater Horizon site is pouring some 200,000 gallons (5,000 barrels) of oil daily from a broken pipe into the Gulf of Mexico. Millions of dollars are being added to the leak’s cost, and despite BP‘s assurance that they will pay for the fix, long-term costs are beyond estimating at this point.

PBS NewsHour‘s Judy Woodruff got differing views Monday night from Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies and Sara Banaszak, senior economist for the American Petroleum Institute. Asked how the current catastrophe will affect his organization’s long-standing opposition to off-shore drilling, Davies said

Well, it reinforces what we have seen worldwide. As we drill for oil, it’s a dirty, dangerous business. And the farther afield we go, deep into the Amazon, into the Arctic, and into deeper water, the greater those risks are, and the worse the impacts when things go terribly wrong.

[daylifegallery id=”1272648400606″]

Things have gone terribly wrong. But not wrong enough to change much, considering our continuing dependence on fossil fuels. Banaszak seemed unshaken:

(A)t this point”, she said, “we don’t know what happened in that incident offshore. And that’s what’s going to be critical to find out.

What the industry has focused on doing over the years is using advanced technologies and multiple safety systems in order to prevent accidents. So, it’s a constant process of using the latest information and the latest technology, to incorporate that into developing technologies that can deliver the oil that we’re consuming in our economy today. And that’s the way the industry has approached the problem.

It was not an encouraging interview (but worth reading the entire transcript.) Banaszak mentioned that 63% of our energy comes from oil and gas, and repeatedly said that dependence will continue for at least the next 20 or 30 years. Davies mentioned, at one point, that if a similar catastrophe were to happen off the Virginia coast, where this writer grew up sailing on a pristine Chesapeake Bay and where offshore drilling could soon begin, damage would hit beaches as far north as New Jersey and beyond.

So far, one glimmer of good news for the west coast: Governor Schwarzenegger is thinking that perhaps opening up the California coast to drilling might not be such a grand idea after all.

Anthem Blue Cross 'doing the right thing'?

In testimony before the California Assembly Health Committee yesterday, Anthem Blue Cross President Leslie Margolin said of her company, “I think we do the right thing, and we try to do the right thing every day.”

What that means is, turn a profit for the company every day. If you are in business to make money, that is the right thing to do.

On the other hand, when Margolin says the company’s goal is to provide “care, comfort and coverage to those in need,” that is simply not true. Physicians and health care professionals provide care and comfort. Anthem provides coverage which sometimes pays for these things and often does not, if they can help it.

Is there no way to connect those dots? Care and comfort for those who need and deserve it — i.e., every human being — are not going to happen until we get the coverage people out of the equation.

OK, not going to happen any time soon. It could happen in California, except for Governor Schwarzenegger‘s probable veto. It should happen in Washington, except for the money and muscle of the coverage people. In lieu of those realities, a health bill that takes a tiny step in the right direction would be welcome.

Identity Theft: Crime without Punishment

Caitlin Kelly posted a raw but fascinating essay earlier today, My Con Man Wasn’t Madoff, but Just as Ruthless and Deceptive, that took me back to another cautionary tale worth sharing.

My son, who flies for a major U.S. airline, came home from a trip a few years back, got off the plane and called his then-fiancee (she married him soon, happily for all concerned.) “I’m at the park with a picnic,” she said; “come on out.” It was a beautiful summer afternoon. Changing into casual clothes, he drove straight to the park and found her at the designated spot, where they shared a lovely, leisurely time.

Things were not lovely when he returned to his car. It had been broken into, in broad daylight on a well-traveled street. The thief had made off with his pilot’s uniform and airline ID, his daybook, checkbook, wallet, computer, ID — his life. Plus the financial life of a family he’d been advising with a church group, also on his computer hard drive.

After reporting the crime to the police, my son began the arduous task of rebuilding his life: canceling credit cards, changing passwords, you may know the drill. Within a very short time he discovered that the thief — who had to look somewhat like his white, male, 30-something target since he was using photo ID all over the place — had left a paper trail any incompetent novice detective could follow. Problem is, nobody wanted to bother.

Why? Banks were unconcerned with those few several-hundred-dollar checks; they covered the losses. Retailers said insurance would cover the illicit purchases; they cared not one whit about losses that ran into the thousands. The police had other fish to fry, and explained with a galling indifference that even if they hauled the guy into court he’d probably get off, or quickly out of jail.

The thief eventually quit cashing checks with my son’s name inexpertly forged, and the credit cards soon lost their usefulness — so presumably he went on to another victim. But who picks up the tab for all this? You and I, Mr. and Ms. John Q. Public, thanks to those losses being passed directly along through jacked-up prices and hidden or not-so-hidden fees.

It is hard, when you’re the victim and know you could easily find the victimizer, to accept the fact that justice will not be done. Especially when a huge chunk of your life has gone to replacing and rebuilding that life. But just as Caitlin found with her con man, crimes that loom large to many of us simply go unpunished. So we swallow hard, lock our doors and learn not to leave everything in the car.

We are enjoying seeing Bernie Madoff’s stuff auctioned off while he sits in prison; he’s paying for a few of the fish that were too little to fry. But it doesn’t seem quite enough.

Your Money or Your Life

How old is too old to manage your money? Maybe Brooke Astor’s family could tackle that one.  Or a few of the folks who were living comfortably in posh retirement communities last year and now need charity thanks to investments — that seemed just fine at the time — with Bernie Madoff.

True/Slant contributor Ryan Sager has an interesting new post about “The Age of Financial Reason” that caught my eye thanks to its accompanying geezer-photo. (True disclosure: I am not Ryan’s grandmother — though I certainly could be.) He cites an abstract I find fascinating, although I tend to distrust any proclamation that plays fast and loose with phrases like “suboptimal use of credit card balance transfer offers” or misestimentation of ” home value.  Did these people ever take regular English? Nevertheless, they are seriously into their study, however convoluted their language.  They are concerned about us older adults and our potentially poor financial choices, since it seems “about half the population between ages 80 and 89 either has dementia or a medical diagnosis of ‘cognitive impairment without dementia'”. Good grief.

This is, truth be told, no laughing matter.

You would not want me making your financial choices. Numbers have never been my strong suit. This is despite the fact that I once wrote a pretty good little book titled “Money Management,” part of a 13-volume series designed to reach the functionally illiterate adult population (I was the creative part; co-author LuEllen Ransbottom was the brains.) What I did really smart was to marry Bud Johns; you should be so lucky as to have Bud make your financial choices.

But the point is, few of us can really predict when our sharp brains might slip right into that ‘cognitive impairment without dementia’ gray area. And the further point is, as noted in Ryan’s post, there is a limit to which government should not go in removing one’s control of one’s financial choices — at least, the financial choices we have left over after taxes.

Many of us geezers are less than pleased about the fact that careful choices past — such as optimization of credit cards, i.e. religiously paying balances on time; credit companies hate people like us — carrying only reasonable mortgages or other debt, investing in properly run, socially responsible companies — many who practiced fiscal responsibility (except Bud and I both, separately, did invest in Smith Corona just for old times sake) have found themselves penalized by measures taken to avert disasters brought on by the fiscally irresponsible.

What’s a body to do? I agree that families need to maintain awareness, at whatever age, of the financial choices being made by themselves and their loved ones. If they’ve had long-term investments with good investment companies or advisors, chances are those companies or advisors will not lead them astray. When checking out those links from Ryan’s blog, and a few dozen others on reputable senior and financial sites, I also found a zillion agencies out there eager to help. It is likely that the ones with .org after their names rather than .com might be preferable.

In a recent post I talked about the emergence of brain exercise, and its small promise for postponing ‘cognitive impairment without dementia’ (I’m beginning to detest that phrase.) For example: say six numbers out loud. Now say them backwards. You have exercised your brain. In an effort to forestall poor financial decision making, for the time being I plan to do my brain exercises. And leave the decisions to Bud.