Enough Already! Time to Ban Roundup

spring 2013 053

By Madronna Holden

Update 4.23.2015

Monsanto is currently being sued for false advertising for claiming that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is safe.

Protecting our Children’s Future

Yesterday a kind neighbor stopped by to praise my garden in this wonderful blooming time of year. We got on the topic of dandelions and she eagerly shared how her children blew out their puffy white seeds to wish on.

Wishing on dandelion seeds is a tradition around the world linked not only to the visual delight in seeing those seeds drift—but the fact that the dandelion root is medicinal, helping to clean toxins out of our bodies. We have got things backwards when we spray poisons on these plants.

Dandelions also provide essential forage for the bees that pollinate our crops—and greens in early spring.

Indeed, as I pondered the image of the children sending their innocent wishes out on dandelion seeds, I thought about the way that poisoning those seeds may be poisoning our children’s wishes for the future in more ways than one.

Liver and Kidney Damage and Cancer

With the recent World Health Organization declaration that glyphosate (Round Up’s main ingredient) is a probable carcinogen and the recent re-publication, after a second round of stringent peer review, of the Seralini study indicating that ingesting both Roundup and a variety of Roundup Ready seed lead to “very significant chronic kidney deficiencies” and liver damage, it is time to take this chemical off the market.

Notably, the mice in the Seralini study that ingested Roundup’s glyphosate not only died earlier than the control group, but at a two to threefold rate. This two year study replicated Monsanto’s 90 day study for licensing of glyphosate, and Seralini argues that a 90 day trial was simply not long enough for the effects of Roundup to show up—although even the Monsanto study shows indications of the damage to come, which Monsanto labeled “insignificant.”

Further, though Seralini’s study was not specifically geared to test for cancer, the number of tumors in the mice fed both the gmo corn and Roundup alerted the researchers to the need for further investigation on this score.

This kidney and liver damage in all the treated groups is implicated in the epidemic of deaths among agricultural workers in Central America and Asia who work in Roundup Ready fields. They are dying of dehydration from kidney failure—often in their twenties. Following these deaths, Sri Lanka briefly banned Roundup, though they rescinded that ban under pressure from herbicide manufacturers.

2-4 D – a central ingredient in the innocuous sounding Weed and Feed, has its own serious health repercussions—which motivated a doctors’ panel in Quebec to urge the local government to ban it, following its ban in a number of European countries.

The last thing the US needs is “Enlist” seed genetically engineered to be resistant to both Roundup and 2-4-D, leading to the inevitable higher level of both these herbicides in our food.

The Addictive Process

Though Monsanto denounces the studies cited by the WHO as “inconclusive”, it doesn’t argue with one of Roundup’s inevitable results—the development of herbicide-resistant weeds. Indeed, this resistance is Dow’s argument for the certification of its Enlist seed. This is good for Monsanto and Dow’s profits—and bad for feeding the world.

Notably, this is the same process that helped big tobacco addict younger and younger smokers while more data came in regarding the harms of tobacco—until the facts were finally indisputable.

In this meantime, the burden of proof of such dangers must be financed by the public—or enterprising scientists such as those on Seralini’s team– rather than those who profit by the manufacture and sale of these chemicals. Big tobacco is finally being held accountable for its health harms on the basis of its foreknowledge of tobacco’s addictive qualities.

We might well hold Monsanto and Dow to the same standards.

Farmers now reliant on Roundup face an expensive dilemma. They need more and more of the chemicals to accomplish the same result.

The only effective cure for dependence on these toxic chemicals is stopping their use.

Banning chemicals with known or suspected toxicity will cause the agricultural industry to get smarter as well as more efficient. A switch from such toxic chemical usage will not be easy—or instant– but this is the only approach that removes the farmer from the merry-go-round of expensive chemical addiction—and removes exposure to these toxins from our homes and families as well.

Some smart farmers have already seen the handwriting on the wall. They are using such things as crop rotation and mechanical weeding to wean themselves off herbicides. The words of one such farmer turning to organic agriculture in California’s Central Valley after his son contracted cancer are haunting, “What should I tell my son—that my profits were more important?”

Human Guinea Pigs

Since Ronald Reagan ordered the labs at the US Environmental Protection Agency dismantled, the EPA has had no ability to test any products it approves or to verify research industry submits.

Indeed, the EPA operates on the principle that unless a chemical is proven harmful, it should be allowed. This means the real test of such chemicals comes after their release—when their harms on humans and other lives shows up. Thus natural lives become guinea pigs.

And it takes often takes many decades for the results to come in—as in the case of DDT. The smarter and safer standards is that of the precautionary principle used by many developed countries, which states that something should be proved harmless before it is released into the environment.

Meanwhile, the very fact that the EPA exists lulls the US consumer into thinking that whatever is sold here has been tested safe, as evidenced by the overwhelming springtime displays of pesticides in local garden stores. Indeed, household use counts for substantial chemical usage in the US.

Whereas agricultural workers and licensed pesticide applicators must follow label instructions or be fined, home applicators have no such restrictions–unless your next door neighbor complains about drift and (in Oregon at least) is economically damaged by it.

Our laws don’t compensate for “chemical trespass”, but I would rather have someone walk through my yard than spray Roundup that drifts onto my yard. Roundup’s carrier chemical—which allows glyphosate to penetrate living tissue and is in some respects more dangerous than glyphosate itself—may remain invisible and active for 42 days before it even breaks down halfway.[i]

The Destruction of Beneficials

Board spectrum herbicides like Roundup destroy plants that are the food sources of beneficial insects. This exaggerates crop losses from insects—despite growing chemical usage Today US agriculture suffers more crop loss from pests (weeds and insects and disease) than it did before agricultural chemical usage began in earnest in the 1950s.

What can we do to protect our families’ health?

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We can refuse to buy Monsanto’s genetically engineered foods.

We can refuse to use Roundup or 2-4 D (or the Weed and Feed containing it) on our yards and home gardens.

We can support organic agriculture.

We can lobby for banning these dangerous chemicals– and certainly, for prohibiting their use on school grounds and parks where children play.

We can add our voices to those working to reform the US Toxics law, so that health and good science are not compromised by profit.

We can utilize the resources concerning alternatives to pesticide use offered by the Pesticide Action Network and the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides.

And about those weeds…

If we can’t tolerate certain weeds, here is advice from the Eugene Stormwater Department:

  1. Let sleeping seeds lie. Digging and cultivating brings weed seeds to the surface.
    2. Mulch. Don’t give weeds the chance to see light.
    3. Weed early and often. Young weeds pull easier than older ones.
    4. Off with their heads? If you can’t yank ’em out, then deadhead before they go to seed.
  2. Boil or broil. Heat kills weeds and seeds. Boiling water or a torch (carefully applied) blasts them in sidewalks and driveways.
  3. Space your plants closely. Planting tightly shades the soil between emerging weeds.

[i] J. Giesy, S. Dobson and K. Solomon, “Ecological Risk Assessment for Roundup Herbicide”, in Reviews of Envrionmental Contamination and Toxicology, ed. G. Ware, v. 167.

Standing in Front of Speeding Cars and Other Modern Pastimes

By Madronna Holden

Andrew Light, director of the Center for Global Ethics at George Mason University, observes that just as we look both ways before crossing the street, we should exercise precaution in releasing new technologies.  Failing to do so is like assuming that if we don’t look as we cross a busy highway, no cars will be coming. In the European Union, the precautionary principle remedies this irrationality with its REACH program, which mandates that new chemicals be proved safe before their release.

The current US policy, by contrast, allows the release of over 2000 untested new chemicals annually—some of them taken directly into our bloodstreams through the use of untested Nano-carriers, as in sunscreens and cosmetics.   In this scenario, our own bodies become the experimental subjects with which to test these chemicals, creating what social historian Ulrech Bech terms the risk society”

Bech notes that untested technologies hurtle us into a fatalistic world in which society is at the mercy of technological effects rather than controlling them or nature.  In  a recent interview, Bech asserted that our survival dictates we reverse this “organized irresponsibility” through a global program of justice– giving those affected by new technologies a say in their release.

It is, after all, a basic premise of democracy that we get to approve or disapprove social choices that affect our lives.  Essential to such voting is knowledge. This is why the labeling of genetically engineered foods is so important—and the concerted campaign of the US biotech industry to stop such labeling is clearly undemocratic.  In a democracy, you don’t get to hide what you are doing just because your market research says you might lose profits if you reveal it.

Likewise, corporations fighting the passage of the US Disclose Act (which would require disclosure of funding sources of campaign ads) are clearly acting in bad faith. So are those who oppose the Safe Chemicals Act currently before Congress. Putting profit before ethics sets the stage for amplifying the “risk society” Bech outlines.

We need both the precautionary principle—and a change in worldview– to create a secure society instead. We are several centuries behind modern knowledge when we adhere to the worldview that sets humans apart from and above nature—asserting with Francis Bacon that all scientific technology is automatically good in its control of nature.

Take the case of the scientific management of ocean fisheries– in particular, of the cod fishery in Newfoundland studied by Dean Bavington. Bavington makes the case that the fishery collapsed as a direct outcome of management stemming from a dualistic worldview.  Such management quantified fish as “biomass” and ocean habitat according to its “carrying capacity” in an attempt to yield a rationally managed, predictable and sustainable cod fishery. But this representational approach to the fish missed a good deal, discounting the “anecdotal” observations of onshore fishermen that the cod were actually disappearing.

It turns out the onshore fishermen were right.  In attempting to smooth out the variation of the cod runs by location and year, management by numbers missed the destructive effects of their own technology, which took fish during spawning, allowing for huge by-catches as it scooped up whole schools of offshore fish, and changed the genetic populations of cod to smaller fish at older ages, even as it caught “mother fish” principally responsible for breeding.

Notably, the traditional fishermen—both in Newfoundland and in Britain—lobbied against the use of new technologies such as bottom-trawling nets on the basis of their destructive potential.  In effect, they asserted the precautionary principle.  But their voices were not heeded.  Pointedly, what Bavington refers to as an ethic of “honor” between the fish and fishermen caused them to observe essential factors that “value-free” management overlooked.

In fact, that management wasn’t value free: it was based on an ethic of dominating the natural world —and the assumption that living creatures could be adequately represented and dealt with as numbers. Today the once abundant cod fishery is in limbo, the result of a moratorium on cod fishing imposed by the Canadian government in the hopes that the fish will come back. But that moratorium has been in effect twenty years, waiting for the cod to come back.

Bavington cites a recent Dalhousie University report indicating that by the year 2050, ocean fisheries worldwide will go the way that the cod fishery if we don’t change our approach quickly. He concludes that wild fisheries are incapable of being “scientifically” managed—and the attempt to do so in a way that objectifies fish as catch numbers is leading to the precipitous decline of ocean fisheries everywhere.

One response has been to create fish farms that are more susceptible to human management:  but these have problems of their own, including the fact that farming carnivorous fish means drawing more protein stores out of the ocean to feed them than they actually yield.

Bavington proposes a return to “honorable” relationships between wild fish and fishermen to save the fisheries:  a return to the worldview, that is, of traditional Newfoundland fishermen, who once worked with the diversity and agency of the fish, rather than reducing them to numerical masses.

Science historianBruno Latour seconds this view:  he asserts that if we do not heal the dualism that sets ourselves apart from the natural world as its supposed “managers”, we are headed for sure disaster. We need a stance of both caution and care to replace the worldview of domination.

The need for such caution—or “fore-caring” (caring for the future) as the precautionary principle has also been called– is precisely why it is so important that we pass the Safe Chemicals Act instituting the precautionary principle in the US.

Even if we choose to stand in front of speeding trains, we have no right to push other lives in front of them.

This essay, along with other indicated material on this site other than comments (which should be attributed to their authors when quoted)  is copyright by Madronna Holden.  Please feel free to link here, but this essay may be used off site only with attribution and permission.

Caring and the “Fore-caring” of Precaution: Watching over the Commons

By Madronna Holden

One day when I visited a Chehalis grandmother that I sat and spoke with many times, she called my attention to the prairie in front of her house. She loved that prairie which brought her the smell of wild strawberries in June and remembered images of her ancestors with their slender digging sticks prying camas up carefully, so carefully, so as not to “disturb the prairie”. Over generations, the careful work of her people and that of other indigenous women resulted in the camas flowers everywhere on the prairies pioneers nicknamed “camas lakes” for their stunning visual effect.

But that day the prairie this elder loved was full of shoveled mounds of dirt.  It seems that some people on a quest for wild foods had been seeking camas and had tunneled away, turning over and uprooting soil everywhere.  It was something I myself did not at first notice, but it was immediately apparent to this woman who in her eighties watched over the prairie just as she watched over the Chehalis children playing outside the tribal hall during recess from the Headstart Program.  She had an all too extensive recollection of the assaults on Chehalis identity and language during the boarding school era, but observing these children who “knew who they are”; she could finally say of her people, “I guess we made it”.

She had strong eyes with which to do all that watching:  ones that could warm you even in the coldest days. Others (non-Indians) advised me to wear a coat when I came to see her in her unheated cedar house.  But sitting there before her bright watching eyes, often flashing with glee at a joke, I was never cold.

She had plenty of vision with which to observe that those folks armed with shovels had “really messed up the prairie”.  This violated her ethic of non-disturbance the same way the sloppy leavings of a modern hunting camp violated the same ethic in Henry Cultee’s eyes.  You should take and use all of what you shot-and should there be something you couldn’t use of the animal that had given its life for your survival, you should respectfully bury it. Honoring the life you had taken and leaving the land just as you found it.

In this sense the “precautionary principle”, which mandates that we take special care not to disturb other lives now or in the future, is nothing new.

Caring for the land and for the people is anciently intertwined in traditional indigenous views in which animals were hunted so that meat could be shared. In some areas of California, the hunter never ate any of his own meat.  He could justify taking the life of another natural creature only by giving it away to feed others. In the same way, girls who harvest their first roots berries on the Mid-Columbia River never consume these themselves-but instead give them away.  In wisdom gleaned from observing the reciprocity of natural systems, they realize that the one who gives away her first harvest will see nature return the favor to her in future years.

What we share of nature and society expresses the content of what environmental philosophers term the “commons”.  The commons includes things like air, water, transportation and storm water systems upon which modern developers depend-and for the Chehalis grandmother, the prairie in front of her house. That commons differs radically from “private property”. What was truly “private”shouldn’t matter to anyone else.  Thus the grandmother above thought it as peculiar as it was insulting that social service folks had knocked on Indian doors with the purported purpose of teaching Indian women how to arrange their housekeeping.  Once the word got out, the Indian women they targeted didn’t let them in the door.

Digging up the prairie by any means convenient and intruding on the home life  of Chehalis people to proffer their re-arrangement both violate the ethic of non-disturbance shared by many native cultures and the modern precautionary principle–originally called “fore-caring”, in that it was caring for the future.

It was the same kind of violation that saddened the Chehalis grandmother when she had, years before, gone to visit someone at the state mental institution at Steilacoom.  She was indignant that the inmates could be “paraded around like that-human beings!”  She did not recall that there were many who were “lost to us that way” before contact, but when there were, her people would work to “bring them home again”.

To bring them, that is, back to a place of honor and belonging, to include and embrace them rather than to isolate and regiment them.

There is exemplary tenderness in this stance:  in the stance that honors all life exactly as it is– and understands disease as lack of belonging.  Instead of remaking the world for its own purposes, this stance attempts to enlarge itself to embrace those who have been left out, thus bringing them home again.

Imagine a science that worked with this kind of tenderness toward our world. It is a possible vision. Indigenous Community Conservation Areas now account for a substantial portion of the world’s lands (up to an estimated twelve per cent), and they include global areas with the largest cultural and biological diversity (“biocultural diversity”). Such areas are managed in terms of the ancient partnership between native peoples and their land.

Imagine if global development and technology turned to such tender caretaking:  what if we defined “progress” as enlarging ourselves, embracing others (including natural systems) as they are?

What if we exhibited such tenderness and watchfulness over our social and ecological worlds?

What if we instituted the precautionary principle in all aspects of our lives, combining the stance of non-disturbance with intimacy (so that we have the knowledge to understand whether or not we are disturbing others) and the watchful protection that many indigenous worldviews have modeled?

If we honored our own potential in this way, then perhaps we might begin to expect our actions in this vast mysterious world to yield unexpected positive consequences rather than the unintended negative ones we all too often face  today.  Like those in the community of Gaviotas in Colombia, who have worked  so carefully to be in harmony with their environment that thousands of acres of recovered rainforest have serendipitously risen up in their wake.

Imagine what daily life might be like if we expressed such tenderness towad our environment that we woke up each morning expecting wonderful surprises– and secure in the sense  that those who followed us would inherit an even more vital world than the one that sustains us.

This is a vision that all of us might work to make a reality.


As a point of information, I have not used this wise Chehalis elder’s name since, in keeping with her traditional values of humility she asked me to “use my words but don’t mention my name”– even as she asked me to pass on what she and others told me– to “make a book of it.”

“Going on the Side of Life”: Managing Humans to Foster Nature’s Resilience

By Madronna Holden

Given the extensive impact of human actions on the natural world, it is improbable that we can restore our environment to a previously undisturbed state-in terms of climate change, for instance.  Even if it weren’t for the current environmental crises, it is problematic to decide what our “restore” point would be.  In the dualistic framework of the modern industrial worldview,  “wilderness” is that which has no human impact.  However, some lands pioneers in the Pacific Northwest considered “wilderness” since they were not altered by western-style development were in fact the result of thousands of years of a human-nature partnership which fostered the resilience of the local landscape.

More than ever, in the modern age, we need such models to honor and support natural resilience: which I define here as the ability of natural systems to sustain, heal, and regenerate themselves. This is in line with a native grandmother’s words. At a meeting in which her Muckleshoot people detailed the ways in which their sacred sites had been ravaged by developed, she said, “I guess we just have to go on the side of life.” Life has a sacred meaning among many indigenous Northwesterners as it should for all of us: as the animating principle of the earth we share. I cannot think of a more powerful sense of nature’s resilience.

I want to suggest four guiding principles for managing human behavior toward this goal.

One key element in an environmental philosophy that supports the resilience of natural systems is reciprocity. Reciprocity casts human and natural interactions in terms of balanced and mutual exchanges: As such, it enjoins humans to take (food, energy, shelter, medicine) from the natural world only what they return. Though some institutionalized religions link reciprocity with a mentality of accounting, earth-centered societies link it with gratitude, moderation, generosity, and sharing-in which giving back to the circle of life is done without knowledge of how and when a gift will be returned. Enacting reciprocity with respect to natural systems inhibits human actions that undermine the essential vitality of these systems by drawing too much from them. notably, those mid-Columbia River peoples who saw life as a sacred animating principle of our world also saw reciprocity as a key ethical standard.

The precautionary principle or “forecaring” is a second element of a standard of human behavior that supports the resilience of natural systems. Its main tenet is that human actions (especially new technologies) must prove themselves harmless before being enacted. This principle compensates for the intersection of the limits of human knowledge with the power of human actions. As instituted in modern law, this principle protects natural systems from harm in a way that echoes traditional stories stressing the importance of care in human choices-care that extends to future generations. The precautionary principle is linked to environmental justice in the ethical prohibition against inflicting harm on those who share our world both today and in the future.

Honoring the flexibility and diversity of natural systems is another way of supporting their resiliency. Flexibility is essential to the ability of any system to respond to and recover from stress. “Edges” and interstices between ecosystems as fostered by indigenous practices in the Willamette Valley are the most diverse and thus resilient parts of ecosystems. The value of diversity to the resiliency of ecosystems weighs in against practices that create “blank slates” for human use — such as clear cutting, non-contoured plowing for mono-cropping, and wholesale bulldozing for construction projects. Today wilderness set asides might be used to balance some of the diversity lost through human use of the land.

It is important to note that indigenous peoples throughout the world traditionally managed their landscapes for biodiversity and this is one reason that they now steward some eighty per cent of global biodiversity. Another reason consists of the tragic homogenization of nature and culture that results from industrialized development.  In creating such homogenization, we are undermining the options for both ourselves and the natural systems we depend upon to respond to stress such as global warming.

A fourth essential element supporting natural resilience is partnership. Traditional societies enact their partnership with the natural world through ceremonial or diplomatic relationships with other natural beings: animals, plants, and spirits of place. Such personalization (as opposed to commoditization) of others has the pragmatic result of fostering the protection of these natural beings and the habitats upon which both they and humans depend. We might take a first step toward enacting the partnership ethic today by assuming a stance of humility in our dealings with the natural world-and respect for those others that show us how to expand our own humanity. We might also work to learn the “language” of our natural partners, as did contemporary Nobel Laureate Barbara McClintock. Importantly, the partnership ethic shifts the social Darwinian idea of “survival of the fittest” from competition to cooperation. In terms of the partnership ethic, those most “fit” for survival are those who support the lives of the most “others”-and thus the diversity and resiliency of natural systems upon which they depend for survival.

From a somewhat different perspective, the Resilience Alliance works with natural resource managers to  foster natural resilience.

For a more detailed discussion of my sense of the relationship between partnership and resilience, see my “perspectives” piece in response to Brian Walker’s essay at Ecotrust’s online journal:

http://www.peopleandplace.net/perspectives/51

You are always welcome to link to this post.  Note it is copyright 2008 by Madronna Holden. Feel free to contact me if you wish to cite it rather than link here. Thank you.

Homeowner’s Association for Planet Earth?

Here is a funny story contributed by one of students:

A few years ago, our old neighbor put up a tasteful, unobtrusive, umbrella-type clothesline in his back yard. He erected it right next to the backyard fence that divided our property from his. The clothesline was invisible to the street. Not thinking we would mind, he decided to ask for our blessing since the clothesline would be in full view of our deck and yard. As our neighbor suspected, we did not mind in the least. In fact, his clothesline fit in nicely with our compost bin and chicken coop. The way we saw it, these rural amenities made our cookie cutter houses feel like home.

Of course, someone complained to the HOA, this being A Respectable Suburban Neighborhood, and all. So one afternoon, while my husband and I stood at the fence chatting with our neighbor about the blight on our squash vines and the wonders of fresh eggs, our neighbor’s doorbell rang. Our neighbor yelled, “Out in back.”
A man with a clipboard and digital camera walked into our neighbor’s yard. He made a beeline toward our neighbor and introduced himself without so much as acknowledging my husband or me. He was the HOA (Homeowner’s Association) Fun-sponge. The fun-sponge told our neighbor that someone had complained to the HOA about a clothesline in this yard. He verified our neighbor’s address and asked if there was a clothesline on the premesis. Our neighbor pointed to the clothesline that stood less than three hops from where we were all gathered.

“You mean that one?”

As if on cue, one of our chickens jumped the fence and roosted on the clothesline. Perfect timing. The fun-sponge cocked his head to one side for a moment, as if processing the image.

“What is that?”
“A clothesline.”
“No, on the clothesline.”
“Oh that. It’s a chicken.”
“Where did that come from?”

I couldn’t help myself. The answer just blurted out.
“It came from an egg.”

We and our neighbor were both “cited” for violating our HOA Deed Restrictions. Good thing the guy didn’t notice the other two chickens on our roof.

Just had to share.

Belen Audirsch
Suburbia, Pickastate, U.S.

=========

Many of us want to live in exclusive neighborhoods such as the one above, where exclusive indicates being removed from the natural world. Or at least giving the appearance of graciously controlling nature. Bel’s story is a great illustration of the outright folly of such designs.

But along with being funny, such homeowner’s association pacts are dangerous. One HOA pact in suburban Eugene mandates lawns that can only be maintained by the chemicals that the city’s stormwater committee asks its citizens not to use in a colorful postcard that begins, “Is your lawn pesticide free– maybe it should be”.

What is it taht causes some of us to prefer herbicides with their deadly consequences to the maligned dandelion– every part of which is edible and healthful. In fact, one way dandelions came to the Northwest is in the medicine bag of a pioneer doctor’s wife headed for Seattle.

We want exclusive golf courses with their perfect greens, but the herbicides used to maintain those killed a golfer a few years back. He was in the habit of licking his tee for good luck, and he keeled over dead mid-way through the course.

Here’s the bottom line: nature is us. And we can neither banish nor control it without taking ourselves off the planet.

So suppose we had homeowner’s association pacts for planet earth. What would they look like? Surely, they would allow us to take advantage of solar energy to dry our clothes. And they would allow us to cherish our dandelions along with our children’s future. The alternative consists of placing toxins in our homes that the European Union has found solid science to ban. All parents might want to check out this book released today:

http://www.poisonedprofits.com/

And wouldn’t you know it–as it we had wished for it, three days after we posted this, alternet posted this with some great info on how states and municipalities are protecting homeowners from anti-environment HOA regulations:

http://www.alternet.org/environment/94846/

Meanwhile, thanks for showing us how to laugh at ourselves, Bel. I can’t imagine anything healthier.