Todd Hymas Samkara

Todd Hymas Samkara is Grist's assistant editor.

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities can drive sufferers into poverty as well as ill health

Consider the trappings of modern life: Calvin Klein Eternity, gasoline, Gore-Tex, Aveda hairspray, paint, particle board, polyurethane iPod cases. Is this the face of the future? Photo: iStockphoto. Now imagine that you’re allergic to virtually all of them. Environmentalists usually think about chemical toxicity as either a dramatic local crisis (Bhopal, Love Canal) or the simmering concern of those far away (breast-feeding mothers in the Arctic) or far in the future (our oft-evoked grandchildren). But for people suffering from Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, the chemical crisis is already here. Indeed, thanks to industrialization, it is already everywhere. And, like so many …

Move Thyself: My other bike is a pipe bomb

Careful about what stickers you put on your bike, people

Recent bike-related news offers an answer to the oft-posed question, "I'm a police officer -- when the hell am I going to need to know about pop culture?" The answer, of course, is when a sticker on a bicycle bearing an indie band name you're oblivious to prompts the destruction of said bicycle with the jaws of life in order to extract a nonexistent explosive device. To be fair, the band's name -- "This Bike is a Pipe Bomb" -- isn't quite like affixing a "NIN" or "The String Cheese Incident" sticker to your seat post, but still.

Stats on how much Americans pay for essentials

$1.99 — price of a gallon of 1% milk at Fred Meyer, a big-box chain store, in Seattle $5.69 — price of a gallon of organic 1% milk at Whole Foods in Seattle $4.29 — price of a Big Mac Extra Value Meal at a Seattle McDonald’s (Big Mac, medium fries, medium soft drink) $3.65 — price of a venti (large) latte with organic milk at a Seattle Starbucks 38.7 — average percentage of income that American households in the lowest 20 percent of income-earners spent on food in 2003, amounting to $3,178 1* 7.1 — average percentage of income …

Move Thyself: Birth of a semi-regular column

Bush bails on his bike, but unlike Critical Mass riders, gets away scot free

The British press is all atwitter today about what's likely the top story in cycling news. Remember back in July at the G8 summit in Scotland when President Bush, struggling to ride a bike, wave, and speak at the same time, ended up crashing into and injuring a police officer in full riot gear? Details of the incident were sketchy until now, as Bush and the ever-faithful Scott McClellan attempted to skirt embarrassment, but the official police report of the incident has just been released and, among other things, it describes Bush, amusingly, as a "falling object." What a lovely mental image. As the president passed the junction at speed he raised his left arm from the handlebars to wave to the police officers present while shouting "thanks, you guys, for coming." As he did this he lost control of the cycle, falling to the ground, causing both himself and his bicycle to strike [the officer] on the lower legs. [The officer] fell to the ground, striking his head. The president continued along the ground for approximately five meters, causing himself a number of abrasions. This story's got just about everything a progressive cyclist could want: heads of state crashing to the ground, sweet, sweet schadenfreude, a riot-gear-clad protest-quashing cop being felled by a human-powered vehicle, and a touch of public embarrassment.

Drunken cycling update

SD Senate passes drunk-cyclist-friendly bill

For all of you holding your breath (and your beer) for the day drunken cycling and horseback riding are finally sanctioned in South Dakota as a safer alternative to drunk driving, the latest update in the saga is that the state Senate passed a version of a bill on Monday that's just what the die-hard cyclist ordered.

It's a BUI!

Should bicycling drunk be illegal?

Some important bicycle-related debate has been going on in South Dakota for the last few weeks. That's right, South Dakota. Should cyclists and horseback riders be able to ride while intoxicated -- since it's usually a much safer alternative than drunken driving? The state Supreme Court just ruled that the current law says No: Bicycling can be considered "driving" because it qualifies as operating a vehicle. So cyclists still can be, and sometimes are, cited for DUIs in South Dakota. While this comes as bad news for imbibing anti-car velorutionaries (who needs a DD when you have your trusty cruiser? I mean, really?), from a legal standpoint it could provide a solid basis for enforcing cyclists' rights on the road. After all, as any Critical Mass rider will tell you, cyclists don't block traffic, we are traffic. Meanwhile, South Dakota's legislature, concerned about drunk driving but much less so about drunken cycling and horseback riding (and rightfully so, as I see it) have introduced a bill that would effectively make the court ruling moot and allow drunken cycling once again. The bill has already passed the state House, with a Senate vote expected soon.

EI, EI, Oh

Rare good news about Environmental Illness/Multiple Chemical Sensitivities

Finally a bit of good news about Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (aka Environmental Illness). And you thought there was no such thing as good MCS news. Or, more likely, you didn't know much about MCS/EI. Anyway, if that's the case, you're hardly alone. Even many who have the condition don't know much about it. First, a bit of background. MCS is a syndrome characterized by a range of adverse symptoms brought on by exposure to an equally broad array of chemicals, with symptoms usually appearing at exposure levels far below those that would affect the rest of the population. Symptoms vary enormously from person to person but often include severe headaches, confusion, memory loss, random food allergies, digestive issues, skin irritation, and more.

Climate change is pissing off the bears

Arctic Refuge bears driven by global warming to eat people — really

The tragic story of two kayakers killed this summer by a hungry grizzly in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the focus of a captivating cautionary tale about global warming's effects on wildlife in the latest issue of National Geographic's Adventure Magazine -- like unto Grizzly Man, but without the intentional disregard for sensible caution. Scarce food's been getting scarcer for caribou in the refuge and making already-hungry tundra grizzlies more and more aggressive, sometimes fatally so. According to a 2002 U.S. Geological Survey report, increased spring snow and ice [in the Arctic Refuge] -- a paradoxical result of global warming trends -- is burying the coastal plain plants essential to caribou and grizzly diets. The caribou are decreasing in number or seeking grazing land elsewhere, and the barren ground grizzlies, bereft of this supplemental protein, have been stalking the tundra for alternatives. And in June, one bear found an alternative in the two seasoned backcountry travelers as they slept in their tent. "The freaky thing," says area police officer Richard Holschen, "is that they did most everything right" in terms of bear-related precautions, and were killed anyway. National Geographic also touches on the possibility of more such incidents as the Arctic Refuge has gained increasing exposure in the news. As the refuge has come closer and closer to being drilled, more and more people have been inspired to visit. Each time the specter of Alaska oil drilling is raised in Washington, D.C., the number of visitors goes up: from 679 prior to 2000 to an annual average of 1,010 in 2004, not counting frequent trips by local indigenous people. But the bears aren't the only ones upset by all this. Apparently, a growing number of people think the end is more or less nigh.   So it looks like you're not alone thinking the world's ills get overwhelming at times. Sort of makes one want to escape to a remote wilderness somewhere ...

Tire-less activism

French SUV-haters deflate gas-guzzling tires

Most every cyclist who's rolled alongside cars for any amount of time knows the feeling, the one that makes you pump your fist at that driver who nearly ran you over, or that one whose tailpipe is emptying its contents into your face, or the one who's emissions are melting that glacier you liked so much (anger rising, rising). It's this sort of frustration that makes regular bicycle commuters and eco-conscious citizens of all stripes regularly curse outright at aggressive, too-large-vehicle drivers: "you just wait. You'll get yours." Now some activists in France are dishing out those just desserts to a growing number of SUV drivers in wealthy neighborhoods in the form of empty, but undamaged, tires. The Deflators (or Les Degonfles), a group of French SUV-dislikers tired of the massive vehicles clogging Paris' streets, have been quietly deflating SUV tires in the dark of night. Repeatedly. And without damaging the vehicles, it's essentially just setting free the air within, they argue, but with amusing side effects. It's not all late-night pranks, though. Their masked leader has braved a televised debate with the president of the French SUV-owners' association and is apparently working on some sort of a movement anthem, set to appear as both a children's song and a dance mix (oh, those savvy French). Though The Deflators, who also often post fliers and smear mud on the targeted vehicles, have been in touch with sympathizers and potential deflators on this side of the Atlantic, it seems the mischievous Parisians have much less cultural inertia to overcome than their American counterparts in their quest to spread the message that SUVs sucketh throughout the land, what with openly SUV-hostile city officials and a national SUV-owner tax. Also, SUVs in France, according to the Los Angeles Times, make up only about five percent of the market, whereas Americans would be up to their eyeballs in potential deflationary targets, with SUVs comprising about one-quarter of its market. Of course, that doesn't mean SUV deflations are a bad idea in America, just a lot of work ...

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