Monday, July 31, 2017


“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food. And that’s living.” — Ursula Andress, Swiss film and television actress and former model

WE HAVE four cats . . . or is more likely the case, they have us.

There's Shye, aptly named because she is.

Next came Shiva, also aptly christened. Shiva is the name of one of the principal deities in Hinduism — the "destroyer and the transformer." The only incongruity is that our Shiva is a she-god, not a he-god, but otherwise the name fits.

There's Sherman, better known as Boy Boy, who's gigantic, built like a tank, and consequently he too is aptly named.

Lastly, there's Shadow who is . . . you guessed it . . . also aptly named. He follows us and the other three around like a shadow, the loving-est cat there ever was.

We acquired the first two on purpose, adopted from the Animal Rescue League. We saved the last two ourselves, rescuing them from lives of disease and starvation — they were both feral. 

We live-trapped Sherman T. Boy Boy. Shadow on the other hand was eventually amenable to being lured inside. After months of feeding him outdoors, over time gradually moving the food dish closer to the back porch, one night I coaxed him onto it. I opened the backdoor into the house to see what would happen, and he walked in. 

I thought, "Now what the heck do I do?!" I closed the door, and that's how Shadow joined us.

I said all that to say this: there's a lot of peeing, pooping and scooping going on at our house. With four litter boxes, we were going through mountains of cat litter — lots of work, hard to stay on top of it, but of greater concern to me was the damage all that kitty liter was doing to the planet.

In 1984 Thomas Nelson, a Baylor University biochemist and cat lover, discovered that bentonite clay formed clumps in the presence of moisture. Since then clumping litter has become the most popular litter on the market, accounting for more than 75% of all sales.

Although bentonite is a natural occurring substance (Wyoming contains 70% of the world's supply), the problem is that producers are strip-mining to get it. Over two million tons are gouged out of the earth every year.

According to Greenpeace, strip mining — also known as surface mining — is as bad as it sounds. Everything at surface level is bulldozed, then the topsoil (or mountain top, depending on the location) is removed down to the clay, destroying the local environment, displacing wildlife and contaminating the water table. In addition, there are enormous energy costs in mining the clay, baking it dry and crushing it into a marketable texture.

Then it all has to be disposed of after it's used. Some sources cite amounts as high as eight billion tons a year. Two cats can generate more than 300 pounds on non-biogradable cat litter in a year, and we have four! I didn't like the wasteful, destructiveness the six of us were responsible for. Bentonite clay cat litter is also known to contain silica dust, which is classified as a carcinogen.

For all these reasons, I lobbied Paul to purchase a CatGenie, a flushable toilet for cats. He was skeptical, but it's been a success.

Here's how CatGenie describes its product: 

"It acts like a cat box, cleans like an appliance and flushes like a toilet. It's an automatic cat box that uses litter-like, permanent, washable granules that never need changing and are 100% dust free, biodegradable and septic safe." 

It scoops itself, washes and dries the granules, then pipes the effluent into the toilet. It can be set to clean every four hours or after every use. 

Naturally we were unsure whether our cats would take to it, but we figured that if even one or two of them used it some of the time, it would reduce our environmental footprint. My guess was that Shiva would figure it out pretty quickly, and she did. Shye was next. Sherman T. Boy Boy is just plain too big to fit in it, and we haven't quite determined whether Shadow has mastered it. Even so, we're going through a heck of a lot less cat litter, and spending way less time scooping and sweeping. 

A word of advice if you're considering purchasing one: I went to the CatGenie website and thought, "Yeah well, I can probably find one cheaper somewhere else." 

Paul, however, was diligent in his research, read various blogs and comments and learned that if you buy one from somewhere else online, you might not be getting the genuine article; you might be getting a knock-off that turns out to be a non-returnable, inferior product. 

One of the raps against the CatGenie that we read online was that its furry users would track the plastic granules around the house. They do track a little, but here's my take on it: the granules don't track very far — much less than ordinary litter which used to get basically all over the house, the granules are big enough for me to easily see and pick up, which takes maybe a minute . . . so the CatGenie still wins by a mile. Meow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Take me out to the ballgame

“Love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.” — Yogi Berra, American professional baseball catcher, manager and coach, almost as famous for the things he said

PAUL LIKES baseball. So do I, actually. He's a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan; meanwhile I root for the White Sox. Paul calls it a mixed marriage.

As usual, I have really sound reasons for my preference: I like the name better. 

Calling a team of grownups the Cubs is just too cloying, cutesy and syrupy for my tastes, and when I hear them referred to as the Cubbies, that's exponentially worse. Ewww! Plus the White Sox are blue-collar, south side, working class. They're a better fit for my philosophical shoes. (Little pun there . . . sox/shoes . . . you get it.)

I keep telling Paul that we need to drive into Chicago when the Cubs and White Sox play each other and catch two games: one at Wrigley Field and one at . . . wait . . . hold on a minute. Comiskey Park is now Guaranteed Rate Field? That's a game changer . . . literally! When Comiskey was rebuilt in 1992, it retained the old name at first, but as of 2016 it's GRF — can't bring myself to say it. That's it. I'm picking a new team.

In the meantime a high school classmate of mine, Jim Kinney, who is a serious baseball fan (he has a collection of signed, major league baseballs currently numbering at 1035) and is even more an earnest and committed Cubs and Iowa Cubs fan (he buys three season tickets every year) — invited us to attend an I-Cubs night game as his guests July 18.

A couple of rabid Cubs fans.

The Cub Club offers a stunning view of the field.

And what a game it turned out to be! We had dinner at the Cub Club before hand; when we relocated to our seats in the stadium, we discovered they were first row seats directly behind the Cub pitcher's bullpen. 

It was fun sitting so close.

The game started precisely at 7:08 (games always start at eight minutes after the hour because TV 8 is a sponsor), and we got home . . . at midnight! And not because we went anywhere afterward! The game lasted 3 hours and 46 minutes, the longest nine-inning game the Iowa Cubs have played in over five years.

I thought we'd never get out of the first three innings. 

1st inning: 7 hits, 5 runs, 1 error

2nd inning: 4 hits, 2 runs, 1 error
3rd inning: 8 hits, 6 runs

Things calmed down in the 4th with 1 hit, no runs 

5th inning: 5 hits, 3 runs, 2 steals 

The 6th inning was quiet with only two hits

7th inning: 6 hits and 1 home run

8th inning: 3 hits, 2 runs
9th inning: 1 hit 

There was, in short, what we doctors call A LOT of activity: 37 hits, 23 runs and 4 errors. And oh yeah, the Cubs won 16 to 7.

A new pitcher just brought up from the Double-A Chicago Cubs affiliate, the Tennessee Smokies, pitched the 8th. I thought he looked like he's got the right stuff, and as it turned out, whoever wrote the game story on the I-Cubs website agreed with me: 

"Dillon Maples made his Triple-A debut and was the most effective pitcher of the night, retiring the side in order, two on strikes."

Pitching coach, Rod Nichols, was amazingly patient with prankster pitcher David Rollins.

Thanks, Jim

I got curious as to what the longest professional baseball game was. It took place between two Triple-A teams: the Pawtucket Red Sox and the Rochester Red Wings. Beginning April 18, 1981, it wore on for 32 innings before being stopped. It was resumed June 23 for the final inning, settling the game in Pawtucket's favor, 3 to 2 in the bottom of the 33rd inning — a total of 8 hours and 25 minutes of playing time!

I also got to wondering what the record for highest number of hits in a single game is. According to minor league baseball historian Lloyd Johnson, one contender is a 55-run game that took place in 1896 between St. Paul and Kansas City. In the major leagues, the record is a 49-run, Chicago Cubs 26 to 23 win over the Philadelphia Phillies in 1922. 

Perhaps there's a future in baseball for me after all. Oh wait. Tom Hanks said there's no crying in baseball. I'm out.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The risks of staying safe

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.” — Mark Twain

IN CASE you're in need of some encouragement to make that move you're been considering, or perhaps you could use a little validation for having already taken the road less traveled . . . here's an op-ed piece from The New York Times about the risks of staying safe and the merits of taking a risk.

Credit Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos

How the Modern World Made Cowards of Us All

By Arthur C. Brooks
July 21, 2017

BACK in the late 1980s, Dana Carvey of “Saturday Night Live” used to do a funny impression of President George H. W. Bush, in which the character would justify his own supposed timidity by muttering “wouldn’t be prudent” to himself about every small risk. The impression neatly captured the contemporary notion of prudence: faintheartedness, caution and a general bias against action.

So perhaps it seems odd that this is my advice for young people heading out of school and into the world: Be prudent.

Yes, it sounds boring, but it may turn out to be a more radical suggestion than most graduates hear.

I thought prudence was not my cup of tea. When I quit college to go on the road as a musician, I was being imprudent. When I quit music to go back to school in my 30s, it was imprudent. When I left a tenured professorship for an unsecure job? You guessed it — imprudent.

Then I had an epiphany. When I finally read the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s “The Four Cardinal Virtues,” which had sat unread on my shelf for years, I was shocked to learn that I didn’t hate prudence; what I hated was its current — and incorrect — definition.

The connotation of prudence as caution, or aversion to risk, is a modern invention. “Prudence” comes from the Latin “prudentia,” meaning sagacity or expertise. The earliest English uses from the 14th century had little to do with fearfulness or habitual reluctance. Rather, it signified righteous decision making that is rooted in acuity and practical wisdom.

Mr. Pieper argued that we have bastardized this classical concept. We have refashioned prudence into an excuse for cowardice, hiding behind the language of virtue to avoid what he calls “the embarrassing situation of having to be brave.” The correct definition, Mr. Pieper argued, is the willingness to do the right thing, even if that involves fear and risk.

In other words, to be rash is only one breach of true prudence. It is also a breach to be timid. So which offense is more common today?

A new study by the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt helps answer this question. He started with the premise that people who agonize over important choices may systematically make wrong decisions, defaulting to either “yes” or “no” with too much regularity. To investigate, Mr. Levitt found several thousand people in the throes of a difficult decision, weighing choices like job offers and marriage proposals, who volunteered to let him make the decision for them — with the flip of a coin.

Heads meant to decide in the affirmative; tails meant to decline. (Let it sink in that thousands of people agreed to have their most important decisions made by a stranger — worse, an economist — flipping a coin.) When given heads, Mr. Levitt found people were much more likely to take the decision affirmatively than they would be if left to their devices, so the experiment was effective.

You agree to receive occasional updates and special offers for The New York Times's products and services.

But the really interesting result concerned the participants’ happiness. In follow-up interviews six months later, Mr. Levitt found that the average “heads” person was significantly happier than the average “tails” person.

Here’s what all this means: Our sin tends to be timidity, not rashness. On average, we say “no” too much when faced with an opportunity or dilemma.

Once you start looking for this imprudently risk-averse behavior, you see it everywhere, particularly among young people. According to data from the General Social Survey collected by the National Opinion Research Center, people under age 30 today are almost a third less willing than under-30s in 1996 to relocate for their careers. And as the economist Tyler Cowen observes in his new book “The Complacent Class,” the fraction of people in this age group who own their own businesses has plummeted by about 65 percent since the 1980s.

Economic changes have contributed to both trends, to be sure. But there is another culprit: a diminishing frontier spirit and an increasing paranoia about taking big leaps.

Family formation, perhaps the ultimate personal leap of faith, looks to be another victim of this imprudent hesitation. Census Bureau demographers recently reported that while only a quarter of 24- to 29-year-olds were unmarried in the 1980s, almost half of that age group is unmarried today. And delaying the jump to adulthood has real social consequences. Last August, the Centers for Disease Control announced that the United States fertility rate had fallen to its lowest point since they began calculating it in 1909.

My checkered past, it turns out, may not be a litany of imprudent decisions. True prudence means eschewing safety and familiarity in favor of entrepreneurial living. It requires clear eyes, a courageous heart and an adventurous spirit.

So take a risk. Be prudent. Don’t wait for social scientists to flip a coin on your behalf. Choose heads.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing opinion writer.

Subscribe to The New York Times

Thursday, July 20, 2017

An actual cathouse

"We humans cannot solve so many big problems, but we can solve little ones. Each cat we adopt from a shelter is one more sentient being that now has a home and love and care. It's that simple." — Peter Cohen, cat architect and catmanitarian extraordinaire

HERE'S a feel-good story from Pawpulous to help you forget about the mess this country is in.

Man completely transforms the inside of his home for his 22 rescue cats

By Erin Conley Cain

When Peter Cohen bought his California house in 1988, he couldn't have imagined the transformation that 22 cats would have on inside almost 30 years later. At the time, he cared for two feral cats who seemed to come with the property. But when both cats were hit by cars in separate incidents, Cohen feared for their lives and decided to renovate the indoors of his home to mimic the type of home cats could only dream about.

Cohen did some research about what structures were best to keep cats happy and entertained, and that's when he discovered catwalks. He decided to build some within his house. Those catwalks were soon followed by ramps, portholes, perches, platforms, and tunnels.

So what about all those litter boxes? Cohen found the solution for that, too. He constructed specially-designed litter box closets around the house that have exhaust fans to keep odors away. To handle all that cat hair, Cohen has five Roomba robot vacuum cleaners regularly prowling around the house.

In total, Cohen has spent over $50,000 to make his home cat-compatible. That total includes rope-wrapped poles in the home office, floating shelves and lofts in the master bedroom, and even a koi pond to capture their attention.

“I thought maybe the cats would just look at it, but they use it all,” Cohen says. “It’s like a freeway sometimes with them all over the place.”

And with the indoor additions came more feline additions, too! Cohen, his partner, and his roommate have all worked together to adopt 22 cats from shelters. They aren't just any cats: they are ones who, for various reasons, have the hardest time finding forever homes.

Cohen's cats are a constant inspiration for improvements and updates in his home. "We have been building catwalks for 20 years and have learned a great deal from our cats what they like and do not like," Cohen told Love Meow.

One rescue cat, in particular, named Peanut, gave Cohen a new direction for his cat building aspirations. Peanut was diagnosed with feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), an incurable, fatal viral disease. Peanut's valiant struggle and passing inspired Cohen to fundraise to find a cure for this feline illness.

"We humans cannot solve so many big problems," Cohen said, "but we can solve little ones. Each cat we adopt from a shelter is one more sentient being that now has a home and love and care. It's that simple."

One of the cats, Smokey, was found as a kitten. Unfortunately, Smokey has FIP, but Cohen adopted him anyway and now has the cat on medical treatments that so far have made Smokey feel much better.

What started out at a way to make a home better for two cats has morphed into a sanctuary for cats in need of love and affection. Cohen and company provide more than enough for all of their cats!

You can learn more about Cohen, Smokey, and their fundraising efforts for an FIP cure at their Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

One hundred and twenty-five feet of flowers

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman politician and lawyer who served as consul in the year 63 BC and is considered one of Rome's greatest orators and prose stylists

OUR HOUSE is 100 years old. It's also where I grew up, raised by my grandparents. Because the house has been here so long, the gravel driveway it originally had was grandfathered in by the city. 

But a gravel drive is difficult to maintain especially in winter, and ours is a l-o-n-g one — 125 feet. My goal became getting it paved so that Paul wouldn't kill himself shoveling it. First I got him an industrial snowblower, and 10 years ago I traded work for work for a concrete driveway. 

The deal was that I'd get him a paved driveway, but only if we covered it with an overlay. A driveway is, after all, a huge piece of visual real estate, and I wanted something that wouldn't make my eyes bleed. I worked my way to both. 

In order to put it in, the contractor scraped the gravel off onto the flower bed that runs the length of the driveway. I didn't think that was a very friendly thing to do to the plants trying to grow there, so every night after work I came home and picked gravel out of the soil till dark, night after night for at least a month. I believe Paul thought it was a Sisyphean task, but I kept at it; I'm good at monotonous, repetitive tasks that mostly require only persistence. Afterward, Paul added fresh top soil, and that became what we call the driveway garden. 

There are eight other flower beds. This season Paul was determined to plant, replant, resurrect or whatever else was required for all nine of them. I thought it was impossible, but he did it. He also put in a little vegetable area where we have tomatoes, peppers and mmmm-basil (that's my name for it). The only thing left besides maintenance, is adding crushed brick to a bed that we've decided to make into a potted-plants-only area because it's too dry for anything else.

Below is a pictorial tour and a link to a post called 
Lessons from the Garden from last year. It's a reminder that it's not just okay to need the kind of nourishment we uniquely require, it's necessary — and that not every place provides a growing environment that will allow us to thrive. Other plants maybe, but not us. It's natural. It's nature. So bloom and be stalwart and beautiful in your own way.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Iowa: trying hard to be as stupid as Texas

“If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.” — Florynce (Flo) Kennedy, American lawyer, feminist, civil rights advocate, lecturer and activist

WHAT DID you think was going to happen when you force reproductive health centers to close by eliminating their funding? 

Hmmmm. Wait, I know I know!

The rate of teen pregnancy rises and so does the abortion rate. And here in Iowa, we're trying hard to be just as stupid as Texas.

From the Austin Chronicle. FYI: Paul lived in Austin for six years. His brother and sister-in-law, former sister-in-law and niece and nephew still live there.

What Happens When Texas Blocks Planned Parenthood? Abortions Rise. 

By Mary Tuma
July 12. 2017

With the goal of eliminating abortion, Texas Republicans have stripped Planned Parenthood of funding and steadily obstructed patient access to care over the past few years. Turns out, their ideological, anti-choice crusade is having the opposite effect. A new study shows abortion rates have jumped since Planned Parenthood was blocked.

While at Texas A&M University, economics professor Analisa Packham found that when the Texas Legislature cut family planning funding by two-thirds, or $76 million, in 2011 and simultaneously defunded Planned Parenthood, teen abortions increased 3.1% in the following three years while teen births spiked by 3.4% in the following four years.

The budget cuts not only hit Planned Parenthood but shuttered a total of more than 80 family planning clinics altogether, impeding access to preventive women’s health care and low-cost contraception, a direct reason for unintended pregnancies, especially among teens. “Although the primary stated objective of the funding cuts was to decrease abortion incidents, I find little evidence that reducing family planning funding achieved this goal,” Packham sharply concludes.

Click here to read the entire article.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Why you need to know what phthalates are

“We still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven't become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Man's attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.” — Rachel Carson, American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose book Silent Spring and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement

AH RACHEL, you were right 45 years ago. You're still right. From The New York Times.

The Chemicals in Your Mac and Cheese

By Roni Caryn Rabin
July 12, 2017

Potentially harmful chemicals that were banned from children’s teething rings and rubber duck toys a decade ago may still be present in high concentrations in your child’s favorite meal: macaroni and cheese mixes made with powdered cheese.

The chemicals, called phthalates, can disrupt male hormones like testosterone and have been linked to genital birth defects in infant boys and learning and behavior problems in older children. The chemicals migrate into food from packaging and equipment used in manufacturing and may pose special risks to pregnant women and young children.

The Food and Drug Administration has not banned their presence in foods, though a 2014 report to the Consumer Product Safety Commission urged federal agencies to assess risks “with a view to supporting risk management steps.” The report concluded that food, drugs and beverages, and not toys, were the primary source of exposure to phthalates.

Now a new study of 30 cheese products has detected phthalates in all but one of the samples tested, with the highest concentrations found in the highly processed cheese powder in boxed mac and cheese mixes.

“The phthalate concentrations in powder from mac and cheese mixes were more than four times higher than in block cheese and other natural cheeses like shredded cheese, string cheese and cottage cheese,” said Mike Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, one of four advocacy groups that funded the report. Others were the Ecology Center, Healthy Babies Bright Futures and Safer States.

The groups tested 10 different varieties of mac and cheese, including some that were labeled organic, and found high levels of phthalates in all of them.

The tested products were purchased in the United States and shipped in the original packaging to VITO, the Flemish Institute for Technological Research in Belgium, where fat extracted from each product sample was analyzed for 13 phthalates using validated test methods, Mr. Belliveau said.

Some two million boxes of mac and cheese, a relatively inexpensive food that can be whipped up in minutes, are sold every day in the United States, according to 2013 figures from Symphony/IRI Group. Mr. Belliveau said consumers would have a hard time avoiding the chemical.

“Our belief is that it’s in every mac ‘n’ cheese product — you can’t shop your way out of the problem,” said Mr. Belliveau, who is urging consumers to contact manufacturers and pressure them to investigate how phthalates are getting into their products and take steps to eliminate it. Nine of the cheese products tested were made by Kraft, which makes most of the macaroni and cheese products sold, though the group did not disclose the names of specific products tested. Officials with Kraft did not respond to requests for comment on the report and its findings.

Devon Hill, a lawyer in Washington who has experience with companies that make phthalates, said many phthalates have been phased out of food processing and packaging, and that those still in use result in very low exposures. The cheese tests looked for the presence of 13 different phthalates and detected all but two, with some food items containing up to six different phthalates in a single product.

Environmental and food safety groups petitioned the F.D.A. last year to remove all phthalates from food, food packaging and food processing and manufacturing equipment, though the petition has been delayed temporarily for technical reasons, said Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, which is coordinating the petition process for 11 advocacy groups, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Working Group and others.

“A chemical is not allowed in food unless there is a reasonable certainty it will cause no harm,” Mr. Neltner said, adding that because of all the evidence regarding the potential harms of phthalates, “We don’t think the F.D.A. can say there is a reasonable certainty of no harm.”

An F.D.A. spokeswoman said the agency regulates all substances in food contact materials that can be expected to migrate into food, including phthalates, and said there must be “sufficient scientific information to demonstrate that the use of a substance in food contact materials is safe under the intended conditions of use before it is authorized for those uses.” The spokeswoman said: “The F.D.A. continues to monitor literature and research on these compounds as it becomes available.”

Phthalates are not deliberately added to food. They are industrial chemicals used to soften plastics and are used as solvents, in adhesives and in ink on packaging.

The chemicals migrate into food from food processing equipment like plastic tubing, conveyor belts and gaskets and other plastic materials used in the manufacturing process, and can also seep in from printed labels or plastic materials in the packaging.

Since they bind with fats, they tend to build up in fatty foods, including not just cheese but baked goods, infant formula, meats, oils and fats, and fast food, studies show.

Europe has banned many phthalates from use in plastics that come into contact with fatty foods, including baby food, but the F.D.A. allows the use of many phthalates in such materials and classifies them as indirect food additives.

Although the concentration of phthalates in food may be quite low, measured in parts per billion, they are still present at higher levels than the natural hormones in the body, said Heather B. Patisaul, a professor of biological sciences at the Center for Human Health and the Environment at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

There is strong evidence that phthalates block the production of the hormone testosterone. “That means there is less testosterone available to the developing male fetus, and since testosterone is absolutely vital to build his reproductive organs, the worry is that you will get malformations and other kinds of problems that translate to health effects later,” Dr. Patisaul said. Those include “infertility, low sperm counts, altered male reproductive behavior and changes in the area of the brain that are important for sex differences between men and women,” as well as a heightened risk of testicular cancer later on, she said.

“If you asked most scientists about the top 10 or 20 endocrine-disrupting chemicals they worry about, phthalates would be on that list,” Dr. Patisaul said. “We have an enormous amount of data.”

Emerging research has also suggested links between early childhood exposure to phthalates and neurodevelopmental and behavior problems in young children, including aggression, hyperactivity and possible cognitive delays, said Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle, who studies phthalates.

If you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, have young children or want to reduce your family’s exposure to phthalates for other reasons, here are some suggestions:

■ Eat more whole fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and minimize the amount of processed food you eat. “Avoid anything you find in a box that could sit around for many years,” said Dr. Sathyanarayana. “There are so many steps to get to that boxed product, and every step along the way, there’s usually plastic involved.”

■ Choose low-fat dairy products such as skim milk and low fat cheeses, and avoid high-fat foods such as cream, whole milk and fatty meats. “We know these more toxic phthalates accumulate in fat,” Dr. Sathyanarayana said.

■ Use glass, stainless steel, ceramic or wood to hold and store food instead of plastics, Dr. Sathyanarayana suggested, and if you are using sippy cups and baby bottles made from hard polycarbonate plastics, don’t put hot liquids in them.

■ Wash your hands frequently, and take your shoes off at home to avoid household dust that may be contaminated with chemical traces. Vacuum and wet dust frequently.

■ Food isn’t the only source of exposure. Many fragrances contain phthalates, Dr. Patisaul said, so choose unscented personal care products, from cleansers, moisturizers and cosmetics to shampoo and detergents as well.

Subscribe to The New York Times

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Even Republicans can't stand Republicans

“I am a Republican, but I’m not going to be a Republican anymore. I’ve got to become an independent.” — Joe Scarborough, conservative co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe

IF YOU watched The Late Show With Stephen Colbert Tuesday night, July 11, you heard conservative Republican Joe Scarborough announce that he's leaving the Republican Party

Admired New York Times writer Paul Krugman explains why everyone else should too.

Understanding Republican Cruelty

By Paul Krugman 
June 30, 2017

The basics of Republican health legislation, which haven’t changed much in different iterations of Trumpcare, are easy to describe: Take health insurance away from tens of millions, make it much worse and far more expensive for millions more, and use the money thus saved to cut taxes on the wealthy.

Donald Trump may not get this — reporting by The Times and others, combined with his own tweets, suggests that he has no idea what’s in his party’s legislation. But everyone in Congress understands what it’s all about.

The puzzle — and it is a puzzle, even for those who have long since concluded that something is terribly wrong with the modern G.O.P. — is why the party is pushing this harsh, morally indefensible agenda.

Think about it. Losing health coverage is a nightmare, especially if you’re older, have health problems and/or lack the financial resources to cope if illness strikes. And since Americans with those characteristics are precisely the people this legislation effectively targets, tens of millions would soon find themselves living this nightmare.

Meanwhile, taxes that fall mainly on a tiny, wealthy minority would be reduced or eliminated. These cuts would be big in dollar terms, but because the rich are already so rich, the savings would make very little difference to their lives.

More than 40 percent of the Senate bill’s tax cuts would go to people with annual incomes over $1 million — but even these lucky few would see their after-tax income rise only by a barely noticeable 2 percent.

So it’s vast suffering — including, according to the best estimates, around 200,000 preventable deaths — imposed on many of our fellow citizens in order to give a handful of wealthy people what amounts to some extra pocket change. And the public hates the idea: Polling shows overwhelming popular opposition, even though many voters don’t realize just how cruel the bill really is. For example, only a minority of voters are aware of the plan to make savage cuts to Medicaid.

In fact, my guess is that the bill has low approval even among those who would get a significant tax cut. Warren Buffett has denounced the Senate bill as the “Relief for the Rich Act,” and he’s surely not the only billionaire who feels that way.

Which brings me back to my question: Why would anyone want to do this?

I won’t pretend to have a full answer, but I think there are two big drivers — actually, two big lies — behind Republican cruelty on health care and beyond.

First, the evils of the G.O.P. plan are the flip side of the virtues of Obamacare. Because Republicans spent almost the entire Obama administration railing against the imaginary horrors of the Affordable Care Act — death panels! — repealing Obamacare was bound to be their first priority.

Once the prospect of repeal became real, however, Republicans had to face the fact that Obamacare, far from being the failure they portrayed, has done what it was supposed to do: It used higher taxes on the rich to pay for a vast expansion of health coverage. Correspondingly, trying to reverse the A.C.A. means taking away health care from people who desperately need it in order to cut taxes on the rich.

So one way to understand this ugly health plan is that Republicans, through their political opportunism and dishonesty, boxed themselves into a position that makes them seem cruel and immoral — because they are.

Yet that’s surely not the whole story, because Obamacare isn’t the only social insurance program that does great good yet faces incessant right-wing attack. Food stamps, unemployment insurance, disability benefits all get the same treatment. Why?

As with Obamacare, this story began with a politically convenient lie — the pretense, going all the way back to Ronald Reagan, that social safety net programs just reward lazy people who don’t want to work. And we all know which people in particular were supposed to be on the take.

Now, this was never true, and in an era of rising inequality and declining traditional industries, some of the biggest beneficiaries of these safety net programs are members of the Trump-supporting white working class. But the modern G.O.P. basically consists of career apparatchiks who live in an intellectual bubble, and those Reagan-era stereotypes still dominate their picture of struggling Americans.

Or to put it another way, Republicans start from a sort of baseline of cruelty toward the less fortunate, of hostility toward anything that protects families against catastrophe.

In this sense there’s nothing new about their health plan. What it does — punish the poor and working class, cut taxes on the rich — is what every major G.O.P. policy proposal does. The only difference is that this time it’s all out in the open.

So what will happen to this monstrous bill? I have no idea. Whether it passes or not, however, remember this moment. For this is what modern Republicans do; this is who they are.

Read Paul Krugman’s blog, The Conscience of a Liberal, and follow him on Twitter, @PaulKrugman. Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter. 

Subscribe to The New York Times