Monday, September 28, 2009

Helen Caldicott

I wonder if Helen Caldicott has any connection to the children's book illustration awards in America. Probably not.

Who is she?

Lord Wiki says she's an anti-nuclear advocate. That should be interesting. Jack and I recently did some major science-learning. We learned the basics about energy, chemistry, ecology, etc. Maybe all of that will help me better understand what I read today.

Baby Helen was born in Melbourne in 1938. Lord Wiki doesn't provide a month or date of birth.

She went to Fintona Girl's School, and then later got a medical degree at the University of Adelaide.

Oh. Then she came to America. She worked at a children's hospital in Boston, and also was a professor for Pediatric medicine at Harvard. That was from 1977-1978. I think the attachment parenting guru Dr. Sears went to Harvard. Maybe Caldicott was one of his professors. Although I have no idea when he went there.

Well, I just checked. He was born in 1940. The two doctors are close in age. It's more likely they'd have a colleague relationship than a professor/student one. But they DID both do medical stuff at Harvard. I'm just not sure if they were there at the same time though.

It seems what changed Caldicott's direction in life was the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1980. Caldicott ended her medical career to concentrate on that instead. Did she have enough money to do that? It sounds risky.

I've heard of the Three Mile Island thing, but I don't know much about it. I shall go and read.

It happened in Pennsylvania. That surprises me. I pictured it happening on some far off tropical island somewhere. An accident occurred, and a lot of radioactive gases were leaked into the atmosphere.

The accident didn't actually happen in 1980. It happened on 29 March 1979. I guess 1980 was the year Caldicott left her job. So it wasn't a rash decision. She must have taken several months to get obsessed and make the decision.

Here's something weird. Twelve days before the incident, a movie was released called The China Syndrome. It's about a radioactive leak at a nuclear power plant. In the movie, there's actually a line where a character says that a meltdown could contaminate an area the size of Pennsylvania.

So here the movie probably made people super paranoid....and then it actually happened. Yikes.

Lord Wiki has a ton of details on what happened. I'm not reading that. As for health damages.... It was said that people within a ten mile radius received radiation equal to a chest x-ray. That might not be so bad, but when you have a chest x-ray you wear those protective things on your body. It was also said that the people received 1/3 of the radiation that normal people receive within a full year. That's kind of a lot.

What I'm getting from this is that certain people and groups tried to downplay the damages. Other groups and people try to show that the health damages were significant.

In 1982, a documentary was made about Caldicott's work. It was called If You Love this Planet. The movie won the 1983 Oscar for best Documentary short. Not everyone loved the movie though. IMDb says that America's justice department had the movie declared as being foreign political propaganda. They hoped this would slow down it's distribution. Any place that sold the movie was required to submit the buyer's name to the justice department. Of course this made the movie MORE popular because anti-censorship activists got involved. When the director of the film did her acceptance speech, she thanked the justice department for providing marketing for her film. That's AWESOME.

Lord Wiki says that Caldicott got her hands on some confidential memos from the Hershey Foods Corporation. They're located in Pennsylvania, and they worried radiation might have leaked into the milk used in their products. A study done by the Pennsylvania State University, College of Engineering showed that radiation had been found in the milk of the local cows. The government had studies that disputed that.

Yeah, I think I'm going to believe the university over the government. I really don't trust the government when they assure us that something is safe.

While in the United States, Caldicott was involved with an organization called Physicians for Social Responsibility. They fight against nuclear war, global warming, and other environmental terrors. Caldicott also involved herself with similar international organizations.

In 1982, she won the American Humanist Association's award for Humanist of the Year. The AHA has some really awesome Atheist-pride stuff products on their site. They have other great stuff as well...including a pin that says Hatred is NOT a family value.

Now I need a site that has some good neo-pagan pride stuff. I'm sure it's out there somewhere.

Caldicott returned to Australia in 1986. In 1990, she tried to get into Parliament. She didn't get in. She tried again in 1991, but that didn't work either.

Caldicott doesn't just have problems with nuclear stuff. She also seems to be against space travel stuff. She claims that the Space Shuttle Program causes major ozone layer depletion. Lord Wiki says there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

I don't know who to believe.

In 1995, Caldicott returned to America. She worked at the New School in NYC. I remember that place. I always imagined it was new....I guess because of the name. But Lord Wiki says it has been around since 1919. I'm so gullible!

In 2004, another documentary was made about Caldicott. This one was made by her niece. It's called Helen's War-Portrait of a Dissident. It won best documentary at the 2004 Sydney Film Festival. It looks like YouTube has the whole documentary. I don't know if I want to watch the whole thing, but maybe I'll watch some of it.

It looks fascinating and well done. It's not just about nuclear dangers. It questions whether activism truly works. The niece, Anna Broinowski, says, I've marched against America's wars through the decades and it hasn't changed a thing. A few moments later she asks, and can a 80's era dissident like my aunt really make a difference in George Bush's land of the free?

I think we CAN make a difference. But I don't think we'll ever be able to achieve all that we want for this world. There's too much opposition. But if we didn't protest and try to make changes, I think the world would be even worse off than it already is.

Well, see. Look. I already have an answer. I don't need to watch the movie.

I'm joking. I'll watch at least the first bit of it.

In the movie Caldicott says, Certainly, the Bush administration has used September 11 brilliantly to enact all their laws and to stop... to destroy your constitution and your civil rights.

I totally agree with that. I'm not paranoid enough to buy into the conspiracy theories of the American Government directly CAUSING 9/11. But I do think the Republicans greatly used it to their advantage. They promoted the idea that if you voted for a Democrat, you supported Terrorism. It's just like today if you support Obama, then you're allowing America to become a Fascist Communist country.

If Caldicott had said these things more recently, she would have probably been cheered and supported by many Americans. But I'm getting the idea that she said this soon after September 11. A Publisher interviewed for the video talks about the enforced patriotism of this period. We were almost ALL patriotic. I doubt we'd be willing to hear anyone speak bad of our perfect yet horrifically victimized country.

This documentary has some reality-TV style stuff. Caldicott and the niece sit in a hotel room and bitch at each other. Caldicott becomes very passionate and says that the Iraq war could lead to nuclear war and kill us all. The niece responds. That's when you lose the media...when you say that stuff. Caldicott gets very angry and uses some colorful language.

Maybe they're not in a hotel room. Maybe it's their home. I'm not sure. It probably doesn't matter.

I'm going to stop watching the documentary for now. I may watch more of it at another date.

I'm going to feed myself and my child. Then I'll do some more reading....

Caldicott has her own website. It has a biography. She founded the Cystic Fibrosis clinic at the Adelaide's Children's hospital. I used to be very involved with Cystic Fibrosis. Cystic Fibrosis was kind of like my Australia of the 1980's...probably a little less intense though.

In 2003, Caldicott won the Lannan Foundations Prize for Cultural Freedom.

The Smithsonian Institute named Caldicott as being one of the most influential women of the 20th century.

She's had a lot of impressive honors.

Caldicott has written seven books. The most recent was called War in Heaven. It's about weapons in space...stuff like that.

She is the president and founder of an American organization called Nuclear Power Research Institute. Caldicott's site has a link to the organization, but it seems that it's a dead link. Maybe the organization doesn't exist anymore?

This page of her site links to articles. Maybe I'll read some of them.

Here's an editorial written for a newspaper in Albany, New York. The author says, I had the chance to attend a talk by this very real, down to earth, charismatic and brilliant woman. It was a life changing experience, intensifying my own level of commitment and activism. She was impossible to resist when she thoroughly detailed the dangers of radiation to the future of human beings and then asked each of us what we were going to do about it.

Can a person be down to earth and charismatic? I kind of think of very passionate people as NOT being down to earth. I know because I've been this way at times. I think sometimes we become fanatical and obsessed...we lose sight of the big picture. Our focus becomes very narrowed. I guess though it depends on what one's definition of down to earth is. My idea of it is someone who is easy to talk to and relate to. This online dictionary gives various keywords for the term. They include sensible, practical, realistic, common sense, matter-of-fact, unsentimental, plain-spoken. Does this describe Caldicott? From the little bit I saw in the documentary, I don't think so. Her speech was very extreme and her niece pointed out.

The author of the editorial says it was Caldicott's work with Cystic Fibrosis that helped her understand the genetics of children. It made her see the harm that radiation could cause in genes.

Her husband is a pediatric radiologist. That's interesting.... It's almost ironic. Caldicott is so into the negativities of radiation, yet her life partner works with the somewhat positive aspects of it.

This article in the Science Alert website talks about uranium in Western Australia. Caldicott is interviewed for the article, and she says uranium mining in WA can lead to cancer. I guess Uranium mining used to be illegal, but now the new state government has overturned that law. Caldicott says this might be a very bad thing.

Caldicott has a radio program called If You Love this Planet. I guess it was named after the documentary made about her. It has a link to many articles that can make us feel terrified and hopeless. There's one that says toxic chemicals are still being found in so-called BPA free baby bottles.

I don't know. I think these days it's close to impossible to live a toxic-free life. You just have to try your best.

Here's a holistic health magazine's interview with Caldicott. The Three Mile Island institute wasn't the first catalyst in Caldicott's passionate war against nuclear power. When she was fifteen, she read a book called On the Beach. Lord Wiki says it's a science fiction story about the after effects of a nuclear war. The bombs hit the Northern Hemisphere and kill all the animals. That includes humans, I presume. The Southern Hemisphere, including Australia survives. But the radiation poisons are flowing south.

It sounds very scary and depressing. I can see how it would influence a teenager like that. It's neat that she has kept up that passion through out her whole life.

I'm so glad to be reading this interview with Obama as our President. It makes me so relieved that Bush is gone. She talks about the Heritage Foundation and how it is an omnipresent right-wing advertising agencies for corporations such as Lockheed Martin and other military corporations and oil companies.

I think this is the group that sponsored the conference that Steve Fielding went to. Yep. It is. Fielding wanted to educate himself about global warming, so he went to America to attend one of these conferences.

Yeah. I'm not a fan of this Heritage Foundation. I talked about it on my Steve Fielding post, so I won't blab on and on about it again.

Caldicott says The Cheney energy policy was determined after consultation with oil and energy companies--with absolutely no input from knowledgeable academics or environmental groups who are deeply concerned about the rapid progress of global warming and its devastating ecological and economic consequences.

That's just scary.

Caldicott says, Nuclear power, apart from nuclear war, is the greatest medical threat posed to life on this planet. I would have to know much more before agreeing with her there. It seems to me that there's a LOT of medical threats on our planet.

She does say a lot of scary things. Nuclear waste lasts over five hundred thousand years. That's a pretty long time. She says this will cause cancer and genetic defects.

Maybe Caldicott is less of an Atheist then the Humanist Association imagined her to be. Or maybe you don't have to be an Atheist to win their awards....well, because Caldicott mentions God. She says, This is the ultimate spiritual and religious issue ever to face the human race. For what is our responsibility to God to preserve the creation and evolution? We are the curators of possibly the only life in the universe and our responsiblity is enormous. Maybe she found religion later? Who knows....

Oh. Later she also brings up Jesus. But she just uses him as a frame of reference in terms of time.

Here's an Andrew Denton interview with Caldicott. It was done in 2003.

Caldicott talks about how it's so easy for a nuclear war to happen. It can happen today. It can happen right this minute. That would suck because I'll never get to find out what happens between Edward and Bella. I'm in the middle of reading that right now. I left off with Bella and Edward heading off on a hike together. Well, I did see the movie, but I forgot what happens at the end. Plus, there's the three other books I need to get through.

Caldicott says the American government has decided to build 500 new nuclear weapons a year. What the fuck?

America is a very scary country.

I'm scared of us.


But if it wasn't for our people, there would be no Bella and Edward. There'd also be no Grey's Anatomy or Lost.

But you guys would still have Harry Potter.

Caldicott says, These people in this Administration, um, Wolfowitz, Richard Perle — the Prince of Darkness — Rumsfeld — really scary guy — and Cheney, they're really into using nuclear weapons now. They've written a Nuclear Policy Review about it, and they've got a new thing called the Project for a New American Century and they say they're gonna use nuclear weapons on anyone they want.
This is not the first time I've seen Caldicott say something like this. It was mentioned in the niece's documentary. I kind of ignored it because it seemed to scary to be true. I'm trying hard to be in denial here.

If the Bush administration isn't scary enough, Caldicott then talks about how terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda could get their hands on nuclear weapons.

Denton asks how we can make things better....put the genie back into the bottle.

Caldicott's answer is education.

I'm not sure that works. You educate the choir, and we just get really scared and paranoid. We get depressed. The other people don't listen. They don't care. They have their own fear....Obama and higher taxes.

Caldicott talks about meeting Ronald Reagen when he was president. When they met, she told him he probably didn't know who she was. He proved her wrong by saying she was an Australian who had read On the Beach as a teenager and was scared of nuclear war. He told her he was scared too, but he felt the best way to prevent the bad stuff from happening was to build more weapons.

I can understand that viewpoint. If we build more weapons, people won't want to attack US because we'll attack them back. But that just sounds stupid and cowardly. It sounds like a childish game. It's also a very expensive game.

She's very harsh about Reagan. She says, He's a nice old man. He was a nice old man, but tot… Would have been a nice chicken farmer or something, you know? But totally inappropriate to be president. Now, the one we've got now is not as intelligent.

That's not that nice, but I can't honestly disagree with her.

She talks some about her family. Her marriage broke up. Her passion was hard on her children. She says she was away a lot when they were teenagers. It sounds like in some ways she chose her cause over her family. She says, On the other hand, my family did suffer and, um… But if I had my time again, I couldn't not have done it again. I…I, in a way, was born to do it. And I'm not finished yet. I'm going to fix it in five years. I'm fed up with this.

No, this does not sound like someone who is down to earth. She seems like a fanatic. I agree a lot with what she's fanatic about. But still.... we can't limit the fanatic label to only people that we disagree with.

I think the world might NEED fanatics sometimes. They can make positive changes. But they're not always the most pleasant people. And I don't think they make the best parents. I also wonder if they alienate people when they become too extreme. Could they alienate those who'd otherwise join the cause?

Caldicott mentions Denton's own child. She says, I'm talking to you now as your paediatrician. It doesn't matter if the child cleans his teeth, or if he has his immunisations up-to-date, or he has a good education, if within the next 10 years, there'll be no planet for him to inhabit…Andrew.

Yeah. He could also get hit by a bus or killed in an earthquake.

We could all be hit by an asteroid tomorrow.

Jack and I watch these videos called Brainpop everyday. They're brilliant little education films. They're very gentle and kid friendly, but they do talk about scary things. Jack and I have finished watching all the science videos. We joke about some of the videos causing us to be paranoid. We both predict that when we get to the health section, we'll have major paranoia related to that.

So far, the video that has scared Jack the most was the one that said our sun is likely to die in 4 billion years. He was more bothered by that than the video on terrorism.

I tried to reassure him about the sun's death. Oh, it's okay. We don't be around. Even your great grandchildren won't be around. If there are people, they'll probably have moved to a new galaxy.
But then as I thought of it, I got sad too. I don't want our sun to die! It doesn't actually bother me that much to imagine one day humans becoming extinct. But I'd like to imagine our planet and galaxy will be around forever. It makes me feel safe. The sun will always shine. But now Brainpop says that's not true.

Caldicott has hope for the world because she has faith in the goodness of all people. That's where we differ. I used to have that faith. But I don't any longer. I mean I think ALL people have at least a tiny bit of good in them. But I think that little bit of good is overshadowed by greed, selfishness, ignorance, and stupidity.

I think we're doomed. Something is going to destroy us all eventually. Hopefully, the people with a LOT of good in them will help postpone that day.