Thanksgiving

Amidst all the other items for which we gave thanks this year on Thanksgiving, I have a special item for which I am grateful:

Accessible books.

I can’t read printed books. I can’t repetitively flip pages, or hold a book open. Even if I could, many books are moldy or have other problems such as disgusting modern inks that give me migraines and asthma. Prior to becoming disabled, I was a voracious reader, inhaling books to the tune of one or two daily.

Since the early 1990s, I’ve read by getting “Talking Books.” The National Library for the Blind and Disabled provides the “Talking Books” service (books on tape), and has hundreds of thousands of unabridged books available to its patrons – at no charge.

It’s a great service. Truly.

But.

Imagine a world in which millions of books have been published. You, the reader, can only get books that a panel has decided should be made available to you. Resources are limited. One must understand.

One does.

Truly.

It’s like any other public library – the collection is limited by the resources at hand, and someone has to decide which books enter the collection.

Normally, when a reader can’t find a book they want at a library, they can purchase any type of desired reading. However, while both new and used books are widely available, finding an accessible unabridged copy of a book is a tad more difficult. And expensive, even if one exists.

Enter Bookshare.

Bookshare is

an online community [that] enables book scans to be shared, thereby leveraging the collections of thousands of individuals who regularly scan books, eliminating significant duplication of effort. Bookshare.org takes advantage of a special exemption in the U.S. copyright law that permits the reproduction of publications into specialized formats for the disabled.

The majority of books on Bookshare.org – over 40,000 titles now – are there because an individual with a disability – most often a volunteer – decided to share that book with the rest of the community.

Wrap your head around this, Oh Best Beloved: my friend, M, scanned over 400 printed books this last year as a volunteer for Bookshare. I could hug her to bits because a chunk of that total included books that she scanned specifically for me – books that I never would have had the chance to read otherwise.

M, by the way, is also disabled. She’s blind, as are most of Bookshare’s volunteers. She scans books using a standard flatbed scanner and then uses an optical character recognition program (OCR) to translate the books into a rich text format file. Another volunteer proofreads (or validates, in Bookshare terminology) the contents of the file. Bookshare’s staff then translates the file into electronic braille files and into special DAISY html files that both blind readers and sighted disabled readers, like myself, can download and read on any personal computer.

How cool is that?

So, on the occasion of Thanksgiving I want to say: thank you, M, and thank you, all the other volunteers and staff at Bookshare. What you are doing is amazing.

If you’d like to learn more about Bookshare, you can visit their site for more information. If you’d like to volunteer to help out by scanning or proofreading books – anyone with a computer can volunteer, although completed books are only available to the disabled – go read their page about volunteering.

It’s a good organization. Worth your time. What they do helps make the world a better place.

Trust me on this one. I know.

Gulf War Syndrome Report Released

I’m baaaaaaack…. been away from posting for too long… lots of reasons, a few excuses, and just too dang much in my life that has gone even further South than usual. Someday when it’s calmed down again I’ll post about it.

Maybe.

Onward.

The official recognition of Gulf War Syndrome as a biologically based illness has been a long time in coming. Too long. Finally, however, the official findings from the the U.S. Veteran Administration’s Congressionally mandated “Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses” were released on Monday, Nov. 17th, 2008.

My one-line version of the Executive summary: GWS sure ain’t psychsomatic or psychiatric in origin.

Well, duh!

It’s way past time for our medical community and citizens to quit misdiagnosing the victims of toxic exposures as slackers, malingerers and psychosomatic hypochondriacs.

Among the report’s conclusions:

“Evidence strongly and consistently indicates that two Gulf War neurotoxic exposures are causally associated with Gulf War illness: 1) use of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills, given to protect troops from effects of nerve agents, and 2) pesticide use during deployment.”

and

“Gulf War illness is associated with diverse biological alterations that most prominently affect the brain and nervous system. Research findings in veterans with Gulf War illness include significant differences in brain structure and function, autonomic nervous system function, neuroendocrine and immune measures, and measures associated with vulnerability to neurotoxic chemicals.”

and

“A question often asked about Gulf War illness is why some Gulf War military personnel developed chronic symptoms during and after deployment, while others who served along side them remained well. It is well established that some people are more vulnerable to adverse effects of certain chemicals than others, due to variability in biological processes that neutralize those chemicals, and clear them from the body. The enzyme paraoxonase (PON1) circulates in the blood and hydrolyzes organophosphate compounds such as pesticides and nerve agents, converting them to relatively harmless chemicals that are then excreted. Individuals who produce different types and amounts of PON1 differ, sometimes dramatically, in their ability to neutralize different organophosphate compounds.

In other words, if you are one of the unlucky 20 percent of the U.S. population who doesn’t have the form of the gene that tells your body to produce PON1, your body doesn’t have the ability to produce the enzyme that neutralizes chemicals like organophosphate pesticides - or at best has a severely reduced ability to neutralize these chemicals.

That means that vets who have Gulf War Syndrome – and individuals who have toxic injury, chemical injury and multiple chemical sensitivities – are literally missing the key enzyme that protects the rest of the population from the life-threatening effects of these substances.

It’s no wonder they’re ill – they’ve quite literally been poisoned.

For the full report in pdf format (it’s large – 450 pages, 7Mb), click here.

If you know a veteran who has GWS, or have a family member or friend that suffers from toxic injury, chemical injury, or multiple chemical sensitivies, tell them about this report. It’s a must-read.

The Visitor

Official Wildlife Transport Container

“So,” says Michael to me early this evening, poking his head around the door of our storage room, “Wanna see who just came in to warm his little toes in my shop?”

In his hands was the above wildlife transport kit (consisting of a large yogurt container covered by a folded sheet of paper)

Edgar the Toad inside his yogurt container

“Ah,” says I, peering down at a small rather worried toad, “And what’s your little visitor’s name?”

“Edgar.”

Indeed.

Edgar the Toad close up

He does look like an Edgar, don’t you think?

Edgar has been safely transported to a much safer place than Michael’s shop, in a spot of newly turned soil next to the foundation of our house. Last we saw, he was happily burying himself in the damp earth.

I suspect Edgar will stay happily burrowed down in his new digs until spring. For his sake, I hope so – it’s getting too late in the season here for a toad to be out and about.

It’s already snowed.