The Pedestal on which We Sit

I have remembered what I said to my dear professor that may have irked him. Immediately after his class (Cities & 3rd World Development), I emailed the two other instructors who encouraged this thought, thanking them for their insight. The thought was in regards to Academia having all the answers: if we do have all the answers, and we’re so enlightened, why aren’t the problems of the world solved? The obvious answer is that we don’t have all the answers. When discussing 3rd World Development, my dear professor seemed taken aback that I would suggest the university system may be flawed.

The point is that there is no panacea to our problems. I’ve said this before in various writings for class or otherwise, but there are many different problems of this world that haunt many different people. If we have such diverse problems, regardless of any connections or similar roots, it will require diverse solutions if we would like any semblance of a solution.

It seems we can classify us, us peoples, in several different ways. For the sake of this blog, I will do it in two ways, those who think we have a problem and those who think the problem seekers should be squelched. I would fall into the category of believing that we have a problem. Someone who feels simply that might is right would likely fall into the latter category. Us Tree-Huggin’ Hippies, as my brother likes to call me, would fall into the former category. Those thinking that Bush was too liberal for them would fall into the latter. This reference is only used as an example to showcase The Myth of the Panacea (I need to copyright that).

The former group, the problem seekers, generally believes that more education will right the wrongs done to our earth and to each other. The problem squelchers believe that eliminating the problem seekers will solve the problems, because ultimately there is no problem that those with know-how cannot fix. Both sides believe they are right and that they have the solution, but unfortunately neither side is talking to the other. Without intercommunication, the other side can be vilified more easily and made to be less human. Once the other side is dehumanized, it is much easier to vilify, hence a nasty cycle. And, once the other side is vilified, then The Myth of the Panacea really comes into play, for if you just eliminate the other side then you will win and your problems will be solved (see above). Notice that now both sides can switch and become each other, problem seekers turning into eliminators and vice versa.

But that’s not how the real world works, not completely anyway. If the other side were to succeed in eliminating their supposed enemy, soon they will be called to testify for their genocide. The wrongs of history must be righted, although not necessarily today. But, where does that leave us in the meantime? Where does that leave us when dealing with obtuse professors and people that only see black and white? I don’t know, and I suppose that’s what I would like an answer to – how do you speak reason to someone who doesn’t want to understand logic?

Any thoughts?

Bus Rides

I enjoy riding the bus. This, among other things, makes me an anomaly. (It’s difficult to type with a little-guy pulling at your arm and trying to type with you.) I enjoy watching the punk rockers with the stiff colored hair, the teenagers who think they are punks, the true punked teenagers, the yuppies who just got done shopping downtown, the dreary person getting away from work, and the average Joe reading a book with his messenger bag. Now keep in mind, a lot of these views are specific to the current place I call home: Portland, Oregon.

Upon moving to Portland late 2003, I became a frequent Bus Rider. I got a temp job downtown, and the bus stop was only 4-7 minutes, walking, from home. Pregnant Kate and I would sometimes walk (she’d waddle) to the stop, we’d chat, we’d comment, we’d fall asleep once on the bus. I got off at 6th & Columbia, while she road further to 6th & Washington. Currently, the stops are all changed around because of The Next Big Thing going on downtown. My stops that were on 5th, are now on 4th, and my bus was switched, so I have to connect closer to City Hall than before, just to get home. But, as good Bus Riders, we take these changes in stride, and ask questions while going along.

This past year has felt like an abyss in so many ways, and overall I felt in a funk without my regular bus riding. But, now I’m in school fulltime again, and I’m working on a project that puts me downtown everyday. I have resumed my bus riding instead of that boring car riding. I can now eavesdrop on conversations and people watch.

During my people-watching on the MAX headed home, today, A girl with an Elephant’s Deli bag sat near me. I didn’t pay too much attention to her, assuming she was headed off to a party with all those sandwiches, until she pulled a small bottle out of the bag and proceeded to squirt herself with perfume. A huge plum wafted my way, practically making me gag. (I’m very sensitive to smells.) She continued to arrange herself, finally pulling the hood on her cape up over her head, and pulling it down so low that you could not see her face. Why wear the perfume to be noticed if she didn’t want to be noticed? Soon, I noticed that to accompany her warm, black cape, she was wearing very short shorts.

This is why I love riding the bus. Where else, besides LA or New York do you get to see such ironies and fantastic sights? The kids so skinny they look like skeletons, but they still exude a scary confidence juxtaposed with the Baby Boomers who just did their shopping at Macy’s and Nordstrom’s, or caught a flick at the NW Film Center Theater Guild. Where else do you get such a lesson on human nature that is so in your face, than when on public transit open to all?

Clearly, lots of places, but to me, it seems that there is no other place, so condensed where you gut such a variety of personalities. That’s why I enjoy riding the bus, it’s never a dull moment and there is lots to entertain you.

A question: where do you like to people watch and what are the things that stick out most from the people watching?

Tonight’s Blog

I have been trying to get in the habit of writing more in order to continually jog my mind, reflect on the day’s or week’s events. I like to write to synthesize what’s going on around me, comment on something I think is funny or ridiculous, and vainly hope I’ll get a following someday.

That said, I’m going to let someone else do the talking for me.

Check it out!

Professors are sheep too?!

It’s been almost two years that I’ve been Wisdom Tooth Free. I finally had a job with insurance, and quite respectable insurance at that. There was a $20 co-pay, they didn’t argue about the chiropractic benefits, and they covered nearly everything for dental. Sadly, one of my wisdom teeth impacted, which decayed the tooth in front of it. I had a porcelain crown put in, and after checking benefits for the year, we had to wait until the year rolled over, which was soon. Then, we scheduled an appointment for me to get checked by their orthodontist. After the consultation, we scheduled a date for me to get all four wisdom teeth taken out at the same time. I’d be put under and everything. They just had one disclaimer, you need to have a ride home, and the person giving you the ride had to stay there the entire time, which would be a little over an hour.

Kate was quite perplexed, when she had her wisdom teeth out a few months before, her dentist had a room where the patient slept until their ride was there to take them. So, I questioned the office. The receptionist threatened, what if something were to happen? Well, that didn’t make sense, because if, God forbid, you were to get in a car accident on the way there or home, the person giving you a ride would too! No one would make it! No one said they’d be libel. In a follow-up appointment after the operation was over, not having liked the receptionists fear mongering reasoning, I questioned the doctor after he gave me the A-Okay. I chastised the office for fear mongering as a reason (it only perpetuates hate and the problems in our society), and I begged (practically) for better reasoning. It didn’t come, although he did say they didn’t have beds there, and they didn’t babysit. He clearly didn’t’ like my questioning, and in irritation, I muttered, “So you would just prefer everyone to be like sheep then.” The thing that pissed me off the most, and still does, was that he agreed. He noted my comment and he agreed that he would prefer everyone to be like sheep. To agree with him, mindlessly nod, never question, and move on. It would certainly make his job easier, but where’s the challenge? Where’s the learning? Where’s the learning new ideas, experiencing new things?

Fast-forward two years. This school term has been hard, really hard. I’ve been having a very difficult time managing all of my roles as mother, wife, and student, not to mention those side roles like friend, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, and aunt. Take out a few roles, and it seems like life would be more manageable. But, as they say, you made your bed, now you have to lie in it. And, furthermore, who would trade being a mother when you’ve got such a cute bug like Levi? I wouldn’t’ trade his chipmunk cheeks and watching him grow up for anything. The husband is nice too; it’s nice watching how quickly our relationship has progressed in such a short time. I’m getting teary-eyed just writing this!

As Kate will attest, I am not passive aggressive. I’ve noticed that my passiveness occurs only when I’m trying to figure out what to say. After that, I will tell you what’s on my mind, and usually, I will try diplomacy (years of customer service work, thank you). Nevertheless, like my mother, I am blunt, and I don’t stand idly watching while I can do something about something. If that means speaking at a City Council meeting, writing a letter-to-the editor, telling someone if they’ve been rude, or disagreeing with a doctor or professor.

The classes I signed up for this term were more unrelated and diverse than other terms or semesters. One of the classes I enrolled for was Cities and 3rd World Development. I had purposely avoided that class because I had an idea what it would be like, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with those mindsets. But, this fall, I had to change a lot of things around, and I was going full time again, versus the previous part-time, new mommy term. I had to take classes during the day to accommodate Peter’s new night schedule. And since this was offered at noon, and was on my minor list, I finally relented and signed up. Meeting only once a week meant you had to pack a lot in during the two and a half hour meeting time.

Three books were assigned, Global Rift, Globalization and the Postcolonial World, and my least favorite, Planet of Slums. For the most part, this class was very informative in giving a good solid ground on how 3rd world countries came to be. It was very interesting learning that a lot of this was repeated patterns from colonialism and slave trade; the same nations that were subjugated then are worse off now. The powers to be have only shared roles, they have not relinquished them. During an early class, I did not agree with something our dear professor said, and I told him so. And, I kept going back to it during his long winded lectures where he often forgot to give breaks and frequently had to be reminded. I told Peter after class that I hope that day’s episode didn’t come back to bite me in the ass.

On the day of the midterm I did not feel well. Simply, I was menstruating again, after having an absence of nearly a year-and-a-half, so I was in pain. My doctor even prescribed me Vicodin, which wasn’t working. I felt so sick that I felt I was going to throw up. After missing nearly every other class that week, I had to go to this one, it was the midterm. I answered the two chosen essay questions, the best I could, and I left, mentioning I wasn’t feeling good, but not staying to explain because I needed to leave right then and not linger while some jerk face idly nodded. A week later, when we got our scores, I was not surprised to see I got a “C”. I didn’t give it my all because I was physically unable to do so. But, that’s life, what’s done is done, and I certainly didn’t feel like explaining further to him my physical aliments, what it’s like to be a woman, and beg why I should get a retake. It wasn’t worth it, and I didn’t care.

The next assignment was a series to get the student primed to turn in the paper. The first step was to turn in the proposal which included a narrative, research question, a paragraph how one plans to answer the research question, and an outline defining the steps one would take. After we turned it in, me and a handful of other students had their proposals returned, “Resubmit” was the instruction with a vague reason why. After five grueling resubmits, all of which were rejected, he sends an email to me and three others saying we should consider taking an incomplete for the class as we’re nearing the 8th week and it’s far too late to write an adequate paper. I wanted to scream in his face, “No shit Sherlock, it would help if you would have told me what the fuck was wrong with my proposal.”

His instructions in the syllabus were confusing and convoluted. He had instructions scattered over several pages, and no one set seemed coherent to my feeble brain. After complaining to another student, it was revealed that our dear professor’s criticisms of our proposals being too vague was vague in and of itself. This is sick irony, I realized. I’ve had another professor like this, the type where you constantly get worse in the class instead of better. In retrospect it seems to coincide directly with what you say in class. The more vocal you get, the worse you do.

If in my other classes I was also getting a “C”, it would be a different story, I wouldn’t have complained, I would have assumed it was a product of my work. But, in my other classes I get As. Consistently. In fact, my time here at PSU has been my best college thus far. I’ve felt direction, improvement, and beamed at being on the Dean’s List, if only once. I took 16 credits, something I would never have done at MSU, the term I got pregnant, and got a 4.0. And, now I have a vague proposal and a “C” on the midterm.

The final comes around, and I studied as before in a group. Tami and James were quite helpful. I spent the entire two hours on the exam this time. I made my standard outline, jotted down several notes for each of the two chosen questions, wrote for about 40-45 minutes each, double checked my work, more than twice, and after I was satisfied, it was almost two hours past, I turned in my exam. I spent twice as long on the final as compared to the midterm, I should get a grade that two-times better, right? Not so, this time I received a “C+”, which was realized after being chastised during my lame presentation for NOT BEING specific enough. Again, I wanted to scream, “Well no shit Sherlock, you think you could have told me that earlier this week when I resubmitted my proposal, four days ago!” His answer was that he just hadn’t gotten to it.

So, now I have until January 11th to finish this ridiculous paper. Now, I will try paper topic number four, and resubmit number eight.

Then, I will complain, but to whom? Will anything be done? Will it be worth it in the end? I complained on the evaluation, but seriously, I’m going to be one of 30 students, maybe the only one who didn’t like him. All the other students seemed awed by his presence, as if he was the god. So many times during the class, I felt like I was in a remake of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Was it only me seeing the naked king? Can’t anybody else see it? The books we are reading are not good, they are long-winded, dry, and redundant, so how can everyone in the class really enjoy it? The realization I had was that Professors are sheep. They want to go along spouting their truths they have learned while in Academia. They do not want to be challenged. They want to be reassured why they are right. They want to follow what they already know. Professors, they are sheep too.

After this nearly 2,000 word Blog, I have a few questions for those reading.

Have you ever challenged an authority figure and paid for it by getting a poor grade in class or being chastised at work? If so, what did you do about it? Do you agree with my ending assumption that most professors are sheep just like the normal Joe?

Technology Challenged

The first developers of IBM PC computers negle...
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I ordered a SanDisk 1 GB MP3 player from WOOT! on Thanksgiving Day, and it came today! Two weeks later, but it is seemingly worth it. The MP3 player was only $15.99 plus the mandatory $5 shipping. A $21 refurbished MP3 player, how could I go wrong? I read a review on CNET that explained this one was good for the beginner! My husband later translated saying it meant it was probably crap, come on, he goaded, it comes with an FM tuner! How could it possibly work up to par?

As soon as I got it, I ripped the package open with the razor blade that sits in the junk drawer, like a kid on Christmas Day, so eager to see what lay hidden in the box. It was an Amazon book sized box, so I was startled to see that the giant postal service air bubble took up 7/8 of the room inside! The MP3 player consisted of three small plastic-wrapped packages: one bubble wrapped MP3 player, one USB plug in sealed a plastic bag, and one set of ear buds in a small Ziploc type baggy. At first, I tried to take out the battery, but I was afraid I’d use too much force, so I gave that up. Then, my husband looked at it, and he hit the power button, and the thing immediately lit up! It even held a charge! This was something the Wooters warned against, shipping will probably drain the battery, and mine had a charge! I tried to sync it, again, according to the Wooters, and it didn’t work. Maybe the first-timer tragedy was appearing. I unplugged it from the PC, and turned it back on, tested out the choices such as the FM turner. It seemed to be working, and quite well for something that was doomed to be crap. After fiddling with it for a bit longer, I was able to get it Synced, added a small horde of songs stashed on my PC, and after the baby was put down for a nap, sat on the couch, doing what I wanted all along, study with music stuck in my ears. This is the extent of my technological insight now a days.

Growing up, we played Oregon Trail in 5th grade, I was typing 20 wpm in 8th grade while playing that silly space-alien game on our IBM 386s, and by 10th grade, my speed was up to 65 wpm, and when I was a senior, it was 75 wpm. I knew how to manage most software programs that I came across. I started on the blue screen version of Word Perfect 5.1. I gradually learned when it changed to the GUI 6.0, I started on Works 3.11 for Workgroups at home, and when Word really was rockin’ and rollin’, I used that too. It was especially handy that my favorite math teacher had the Windows 95 educational version of the Office Suite where I was able to play with PowerPoint for the first time, and it was wonderful. We made our math presentations on a projector that was placed on top of the projector to translate the computer screen to the big screen. We thought we were so cool.

I went to college in ’96, and MSU had PILOT email, a telnet based email program that was so slow, and you had to flip through email pages manually. There was no reading it on one screen. I got a job in the computer labs, where you babysat labs for 20 hours a week. Off duty, I helped a girl “fix” her computer by closing down a new document she accidentally opened, I was a hero. New friends were into text-based games, and I started playing Eternity’s Trials, a modified version of Zork, which was introduced to me by Barry and Chad in our high school computer class. In that computer class, we learned basic BASIC. But Mr. Carlton suggested that knowing software was far more transferable than knowing how to program. Maybe he just understood my personal limitations. In that on-line computer game, I eventually was “promoted” to immortal, and that trek lead me to sub-imp, which showed me the inner workings of the MUD. I learned how to reboot the mud from the UNIX server by logging in via telnet. I felt like I could learn anything.

College wasn’t working for me at the time; I just couldn’t get my head in the game. So, I moved back home. The next 6 years were spent working, trying to go back to school, and working some more. I stopped looking at office catalogs regularly. I stopped seeing what new software was out there. I stopped hanging around people where forever interested in Linux. But, I still knew Word, even backwards and forwards; Excel a little less so; and Access even less, but a great working knowledge of Access. I had managed databases, and created flow charts, so although my software skills were improving and expanding, I was in a technological funk. There was limited new information being processed, and I was beginning to feel like the older women I would teach to use a computer at whichever job I held at the time.

Now, I have an MP3 player. I’ve always been slow on the musical end of things, slow to get tapes, slow to get CDs, slow to put music on the computer, just slow musically. So, naturally, I have been quite slow getting an MP3 player. It chafes at my ideas of community and bonding. It goes against many things I hold dear, like why someone doesn’t need a cell phone. But, I have one of those now too. Studying and focusing has become harder lately, and it feels like the problem-solver will be an MP3 player. My future brother-in-law, Min, introduced Peter and me to WOOT! WOOT! was this site where they get new or refurbed products, and they sell only one a day. Min and Stacy bought two sweet looking, sweet performing cameras from the site. So, when we got home from Justin and Gina’s wedding, we started watching WOOT! everyday. One day, we saw a 2GB MP3 player for a price that seemed reasonable, just more than what we wanted to pay. Then, on Thanksgiving day, a reasonably priced, memory charge MP3 player was posted. I saw it at 10PM Pacific time, and when I was starting to prepare for the meal Thanksgiving morning, I researched it, checked to see if we could really use it here, and then I bought it.

My MP3 buying, as alluded to, is late coming. I’m getting a refurbished, first-timers MP3 player when most people have moved on to iPhones and other synced Apple products. I’m getting an MP3 player maybe as the wave of musical players is at its peak. They are all sleek, slim, and handy. This low-grade MP3 player has a color screen, basic options that let me do what I want with it regarding music listening, and I can even record voice. How can this be low-grade? Wouldn’t low-grade be an 8-track in your car? We’ve moved so far beyond 8-tracks and personal CD-players it’s dizzying. So, although I feel in many ways that I’m behind on the technology bandwagon, I think it’s just fine. Technology changes so fast, it seems almost better to be behind so you don’t get the first-run screw ups. You can wait for the $21 refurbished deals and have mild confidence, better than no-confidence, that it will do exactly what you want. For now, I’m happy to be behind the technology know-how.

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Soggy Days are Here Again

While the other parts of the country are blasted with snow and freezing temperatures, Oregon is blasted with rain and wind, the Pacific Northwest Winter. I’m taking a class at PSU this term about the Pacific Northwest, taught by a tall red-headed Prof. with a fantastic dry sense of humor; too bad he doesn’t see that we laugh at the same things. Regardless, this has been an insight on PacNW history and culture. We learned about the early explorers, a base understanding of how Oregon was settled and current issues that plague our society. A breath of fresh air has been breathed into the insight on the pride Pacific Northwesterners hold for their beloved region. An understanding has been formed on why people west of the Cascades are so damned proud of their webbed feet.

One thing we learned is that many of the first explorers to the Oregon Coast, Spanish and English, dreaded it. They hated the un-land-able rocky coast, they hated the wind, they hated the rain, and they hated the soggy. So many of the things Oregon prides itself in where detested by the early explorers. Even Lewis & Clark, regional (and national) icons of adventure and exploring hated the weather. They hated walking in the water all the time, they hated, as stated previously, just being soggy.

In Today’s age, now that we “tamed” the Pacific Northwest, we brag that we have webbed feet, the rain isn’t so bad, and we tell the exact opposite to Californians, thank you Gov Tom McCall. In addition, this weekend should be a testament to those webbed feet of ours. If we love the rain so much, we should love this soggy weekend. It was so soggy, and still is, that our beloved Sitka Spruce, 700 years old, and although nearing the end of its lifespan, will be missed by all due to an unfortunate wind gust that knocked it down from half way up. Hurricane force winds of bogged down the coast, and so much soggy, windy weather that the Governor has called a State of Emergency. What happened to our webbed feet?

The question begs, what would the early explorers have thought about the Pacific Northwest if they had Gortex Rain Coats and weatherproofed hiking boots to help them? Imagine if Lewis & Clark had plastic coated tents and an unlimited supply of tarps to keep the ground warm. Imagine if any of the early explorers stepped foot on the Oregon Coast with a fancy pair of hikers that would keep feet dry for a week without taking them off. Imagine Lewis & Clark marching along the Columbia balancing a kayak and wearing a slick outer shell from Marmot. What would their opinion be of the PacNW then?

We can claim that we have webbed feet, but it’s only with the help of the technology that has grown up with living here. Many of the people who helped raise this area to the civilized society it is now did it with an ingenuity and desire to tame nature. Of that taming was born icons like Columbia Sportswear, Leatherman, and Nike. Without these technological tools to help us, many of us would be complaining worse than Lewis & Clark. We have technology to thank for our webbed feet.

The irony lies in the self-reliance that is the base of the Pacific Northwest pride. The “man can do anything” attitude boosts confidence and makes people feel like they can accomplish anything. No Goliath will stand in the way of someone who holds the PacNW attitude. The realization is bolstered by invention. Pacific Northwesterners would not have the confidence they do without the technology created to tame the environment in which they live. So, the next time someone brags about their webbed feet, remember that they would not have those webbed feet without their protective gear.

Perhaps that protective gear is the real accomplishment of the Pacific Northwest. It is gear that enabled people to appreciate the land in which they live and create laws to protect it.


I figured it out! What the editing does, how it looks, and hopefully how to get this emailing a blog thing to sync formatting. Nope, didn’t work. C’est la vie.

The early morning rant was in regards to internet images. What are we portraying here on the internet? Who will see what sort of persona? I really didn’t think of a perspective job, a perspective employer using this medium to check me out. And, now I wonder, what if they have and they didn’t like what the see?

I am also surprised that there is another Michelle Lasley out there. I grew up with a name few had, Michelle Lee Debelak. I added my Alexis when I was confirmed, so Michelle Lee Alexis Debelak. Before Peter and I married, I questioned changing my name. We are not that old, neither are we that young. I have established certain things, or some things, under my maiden name. So, now I was faced with the choice, do I keep it or change it? The name that is. I opted for changing to further symbolize the union we created when we got married, and because I had no real good reason for not changing it. Before the paperwork was put in, a friend pointed out a website that claimed to tally if your name was rare. Debelak and Lasley came up about the same when combined with Michelle, so again, no real good reason not to change it.

Again, I am surprised to learn that there is another Michelle Lasley out there, especially after having grown up with a pretty rare name. For years, when I Googled Michelle Debelak, only I came up. Now, one other does. But to have more than one page, let alone five, with Michelle Lasley, is quite surprising, and even annoying. I am not unique in my name anymore. I’m working on some projects where it would be helpful to have a unique name, so when someone Googles “Michelle Lasley” and “said project”, what will come up? Just me?

Or will this other Michelle give me a bad name?

Web Names

In August, MSNBC posted an article warning job-candidates of their internet image. The article used an example of a “well-qualified young female psychiatrist”, where upon doing a due-diligence check that led the interviewer to Facebook and MySpace, she was featured removing her top in several photos.

Who hasn’t Googled their name? I’d venture a guess as to not many now a days. But, maybe because I’m a little slow, I didn’t think about what my internet image would be or is.

Back in 1998, shortly after Google landed with a smash on the web, and I started to go back to school at MSU, I began Googling myself, mostly to see if my MSU web page came up, and it did. As the months and years went on, I noticed that a friend here or there had a link to me, or my name, so I’d pop up there too. At most, I had 5 entries, a half Google page. In fact, Google couldn’t Google me further than that!

Now, I’m married. Now, I have, in a way, two names, my married and my maiden name. What would happen if I Googled my married name? Oddly, several entries appear, and it seems that as I’ve been married nearly one year, even more entries appear than when we first were married. The most prolific entry is from a blond girl, slightly older than I am, from California. She seems bubbly enough, but perhaps a bit flirty, especially for the internet. Now the thought occurs, what if someone Googled me for a job search? Is this why my job search of several months has continued to run up dry? Are these other names on the internet blowing my chances to work with the place I covet most, TriMet?

I could go on with my thoughts, but I fear it would be too conspiratorial. Then, of course, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean their watching you, right? I really did just roll my eyes there. I cannot believe there is a human-made grand design, so I cannot believe that all these jobs that have evaded me is because of someone else who shares my name, and who clearly has had my married name as her birth name a heck of a lot longer!

So, the question begs – do you address this in a cover letter? “And, while you consider me for the candidate you are looking for, please disregard anything you may find while Googling my name through your due-diligence report. As you can see from the enclosed photograph, the personas featured on the web are not me, therefore I remain the most qualified candidate.” How would that go? Horribly, I fear. So, perhaps, it’s juts another Catch-22.

Allergy, Asmtha & Immunology vs. Farm Life

Farm residents with livestock, except poultry, have protection against allergy later in life

Michelle Lasley | Environmental Science & Resources 428, Professor Alan Yeakley


There has been a worldwide increase in asthma and allergies over the last half century. Many studies link this to the Western lifestyle and increased standard of living. In addition, the rise of atopic diseases has been linked to the decline of infectious disease. Furthermore, several studies have linked the use of antibiotics in infancy and early childhood to prevalence of asthma, eczema, and allergy rhinitis. The post-industrial period saw changes in the development of allergies, increased risk of asthma and allergy rhinitis, or hay fever.

To discuss why these changes are happening, numerous European studies have linked less likelihood to experience allergies if children have parents who are farmers, and more specifically children who live on farms in the presence of animals. These children, who live on farms with animals, have decreased adult asthma, allergy rhinitis, and eczema. A New Zealand study found that this was null when children were on farms with poultry. This is important because pediatricians find asthma and allergies, during the late 1970s, to be difficult to treat. Farm environment for children protects against allergic rhinitis and asthma. Exposure to environmental mycobacteria and actinomycetes could be the explanation. If planners could incorporate these findings in urban designs, perhaps symptoms of allergies in children would decrease, increasing the quality of life for all.


Society’s quick change from an agrarian society to an industrial society has had many unforeseen affects on the urban landscape, or in the urban ecology. One such unforeseen affect is in allergies. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, there were few documented cases of hay fever, asthma and other allergies. Victims of allergies can tell you that allergies have a debilitating affect on the sufferer. Because allergies affect every facet of the sufferer’s life, allergy has a direct correlation to Quality of Life (QOL) issues and measurements. As QOL decreases, the potential to treat allergies gets harder.1 Treating allergies and the occurrence of allergies has startling costs to society. Additionally, allergy is so prevalent that new professions have arisen out from this increase and formation of allergy.

With such a wide ranging affect, it is helpful to know what is included in allergy. Recent papers include in allergies the following types: allergy rhinitis (hay fever), asthma (inflammation of the bronchial tubes), and atopic/eczema/dermatitis syndrome (AEDS) (skin rashes and conditions).2 Several studies over the past two decades indicate a strong correlation between protection against allergies in adulthood and exposure to farm animals, except poultry, as a child. This paper will show the debilitating affect allergy has on young people, a basic introduction on what happens in allergy sufferers; a discussion of the studies showing links between livestock and allergy protection; a discussion of the studies that show an adverse link, especially in regards to poultry; and finally a summary of what was shown with suggestions on where studies should next proceed.

Allergy – Symptoms & Basic History

For one hundred years now, modern science has known that synthetic antihistamine would protect an animal from induced anaphylaxis, meaning that for one hundred years we have known what allergies look like and a basic idea of how to control allergies. Then, about 65 years ago, immunoglobulin E (IgE) was discovered as the acting carrier of ragweed, and later other allergens, the main component whose sensitivity chooses who has allergies and who does not.3 It was learned that allergies occur when people have a hypersensitivity to triggers, and in this instance, ragweed. This sensitivity follows across the board from allergy rhinitis to asthma, and as Leffert describes asthma as an immunologic hypersensitivity, sometimes where emotional stress triggers and exacerbates symptoms. One of the key components of asthma is when antigens sensitize a child and then these antigens trigger an immunologic reaction, i.e. an asthma attack. Likewise, for allergy rhinitis, it would seem that exposure to allergens, the body developing a hypersensitivity to these allergens, and then triggers by the allergens force allergies in the sufferer, i.e. hay fever or sneezing attacks such as when a burst of pollen from sniffing a flower itches the sufferer’s nose.

Through the past 100 years, medicine has continued to study allergy, the causes of allergy, and how to treat allergy. Questionnaires have been issued, studies have been tallied, and the basic findings are that allergies are expensive to treat, can often confound the pediatrician in charge of care, and clearly makes the victim of allergy suffer sometimes year round. Some questions used to decide if someone suffers from allergy are found in Table 4.4 The questionnaires studied for this paper generally follow an if-then format. If the sufferer experiences this symptom, then continue here, if not, go to this place. It is important to differentiate between colds, flu, and actual allergy symptoms. All studies used had a 95% confidence index, suggesting strong credibility.

Livestock as an Allergy Protection

Beginning with studies in the mid-90s, several European scientists in Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, and other places in Europe, have been curious about the connections to allergies comparing urban and rural children. In the early 19th Century, it was thought that urban children had fewer allergies than rural kids did because at the time, rural places were cleaner than urban places, making exposure to allergens higher in urban places, rather than rural. Modern studies have found the opposite to be true. Ironically, studies from the past twenty years, mostly in Europe, have shown that exposure to farm animals has a protective affect against allergens, especially in regards to allergy rhinitis, or hay fever. Bråbäck illustrates the relationship between occupations and habitat in his 2004 article in Clnical & Experimental Allergy.5 Data is taken from Swiss conscript data from 1952 on. Alhtough occurences of allergy increased for habitants from both rural and urban dwellings, urban people had a higher increase and the gap between urban and rural grew larger.

Braun-Fahrländer and colleagues found, in 1999, that farming as a parental occupation decreased the risk of children developing symptoms of allergies.6 This paper has been documented in many following, suggesting a leading insight into this allergy conundrum. Braun-Fahrländer and colleagues hypothesized that children growing up ion farms were less likely to be snesitied to common allergens and then that they wold suffer less from allergic disease. To carry out their study, Braun-Fahrländer and colleagues used the Swiss Study on Childhood Allergy and Respiratory Symptoms with Respect to Air pollution (SCARPOL), a data set used by most of the European studies examined. Methods were questionnaire at the school health services, a routine visit for the three ages groups studied, and blood samples for the older age groups. Of note in their findings was that farming familes had a lower socio-economic status; had more children; had more humitidy or visible mold in their home,;used traditional heating such as coal and wood; were more likely to keep furred pets, but the furred pets were less likely to be in the children’s bedroom; had mothers that were less lilkely to smoke; and had less hay fever, asthma, and eczema in their family history. From their findings, they discussed that the possiblity exists that the living in an agricultural enviroment could provide a model of primary prevention. If this proves to be true, then, these findings could be taken into the urban environment as preventive maitenance for alleryg sufferers.

Poultry – An Adverse Affect

Contrasting the European studies, a New Zealand study also looked at farms, children’s exposure to animals, and resistance to allergies as an adult.7 This study found that the children in the sample, their risk increased with exposure to farms. The most striking difference is the New Zealand study had more poultry, or in general poultry farms. The European studies did not, indicating that it is exposure to poultry that either increases or does nothing to the risk of being affected by allergy. Wickens, in Table 5 shows incidence where exposure to poultry nearly doubles the risk of hay fever compared to other triggers studied, such as cats and residence, the farm abode.8 Additionally, this study noted a higher incidence of allergy in regards to pigs and hayfever, farm abode in current allergic rhinitis, farm abode for asthma, and cats (inside or outside) regarding AEDS (skin problems).

The study discusses that all children living on farms had increased risk of all studied forms of allergy: hay fever, allergic rhinitis, asthma, wheezing, and eczema. Of the European studies examined, they concluded that living on farms with livestock had the protective affect against allergy later in life, but the published results did not pare down which animals were on the farms like this New Zealand study. On the other hand, the New Zealand study did not mention animals like cows (a European animal attributed to the protective affect), horses, goats, or other farm mammals besides pigs. Regardless, examining these causes in more detail and from a different vantage point, this study pushes further research to examine more fully which animals actually have the protective affect. If this is not done, one could believe that it maybe something in the air in European farms rather than the animals present.

As a rebuttal to the New Zealand study, Braun-Fahrländer points out that having contact with farm animals shows the substantial decrease in the development of hayfever and asthma comparing children living on farms and non-farming children.9 He introduces in this editorial the ALEX study (ALlergy and EndotoXin) where dust samples were obtained from enrolled children and tests were done to see the development of IgE sensitization. Although not well supported, it was this sensitization that farm animals protect against, a known cause of allergy. Subsequently, although growing up on a farm does not suppress the process of IgE sensitization it protects against it. Still, though, animals remain undefined, and the New Zealand study, of the obtained articles, is the only one that specifies which animals were tested against.


In this paper I showed the debilitating affect allergy has on young people, studies showing links between livestock and allergy protection; and studies that show an adverse link in that protection, especially in regards to poultry. Several European studies over the past two decades have shown that when children live on farms with livestock, this experience later in life acts as protection against allergies, allergies that are increasing in society. This is important because of the discomfort and adverse affects to Quality of Life, the costs of health care for the afflicted persons, and the cost of healthcare for the public. If we can pinpoint what causes allergies, what can keep allergies at bay, and lastly how to overcome allergies, we would live in very different places than we do now. To take these findings further would be to introduce them into the planning stage of urban centers. If these findings could be more pinpointed for policy gurus, then we could try to make our cities allergy free. This would allow us to cure or control allergy at a local level with less cost to the individual and public. The next question could be, “Besides livestock, which animals that protect against allergies could be introduced as part of the urban landscape?” We’ve seen that poultry does not, so does that mean we need more dogs? Should every household enjoy the company of a dog, further reducing the need for places such as the Human Society?


  • Asher, M.I., U. Keil, H.R. Anderson, et al. 1995. International study of asthma and allergies in childhood (ISAAC): rationale and methods. European Respiratory Journal. 8:483-491.
  • Bråbäck, L., A. Hjern, and F. Rasmussen. 2004. Trends in asthma, allergic rhinitis and eczema among Swedish conscripts form farming and non-farming environments; a nationwide study over three decades. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. 34:38-43.
  • Braun-Fahrländer, C. 2002. Do only European cattle protect from allergies? Allergy. 57:1094-1096.
  • Braun-Fahrländer, C., M. Gassner, L. Grize, et al. 1999. Prevalence of hay fever and allergic sensitization in farmer’s children and their peers living in the same rural community. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. 29:28-34.
  • Emanuel, M. B. 1999. Histamine and the antiallergic antihistamines: a history of their discovers. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. 29(supplement 3):1?11.
  • Gerth van Wijk, R. 2002. Allergy: a global problem; Quality of life. Allergy. 57:1097-1110.
  • Kilpeläinen, M., E.O. Terho, H. Helenius, and M. Koskenvuo. 2000. Farm environment in childhood prevents the development of allergies. Clinical and Experimental Allergy. 30:201-208.
  • Leffert, Fred, M.D. 1978. Asthma: a modern perspective. Pediatrics. 62(6):1061-1069.
  • Wickens, K., J.M. Lane, P. Fitzharris, et al. 2002. Farm Residence and exposures and the risk of allergic diseases in New Zealand children. Allergy. 57-1171-1179.

Tables & Figures

Table 11

Association of physician-diagnosed asthma during lifetime with background factors in young Finnish adults. Adjustment performed by logistic regression model for all the other factors in the table and parental education.

Total N* Prevalence (%)* Crude OR* 95% CI P-value Adjusted CR† 95% CI P-Value
Place of Residene at Age 0-6 years
Rural non-farm 1,243 5.3 1.00 1.00
Farm 1,095 3.7 0.68 0.45-1.01 NS 0.70 0.46-1.06 NS
Urban 7,276 4.5 0.81 0.64-1.10 NS 0.81 0.61-1.07 NS
Day care outside the home at 0-2 years
No 9,324 4.5 1.00 1.00
Yes 1,127 5.1 1.14 0.86-1.52 NS 1.09 0.80-1.49 NS
Passive smoking at age 0-2 years
No 8,292 4.3 1.00 1.00
Yes 2,257 5.6 1.32 1.07-1.62 <0.01 1.30 1.03-1.64 <0.05
Male 4,142 5.1 1.00 1.00
Female 6,488 4.2 0.81 0.67-0.97 <0.05 0.72 0.59-0.88 <0.01
Parents’ asthma or atopy
No 6,258 2.9 1.00 1.00
Yes 4,299 6.39 2.46 2.04-2.97 <0.001 2.32 1.89-2.84 <0.001
Number of older siblings
0 5,672 4.9 1.00 1.00
1 3,597 4.3 0.88 0.72-1.08 NS 0.94 0.76-1.17 NS
2 920 4 0.82 0.58-1.16 NS 0.91 0.62-1.33 NS
3 256 3.5 0.71 0.36-1.40 NS 0.74 0.36-1.53 NS
?4 144 3.5 0.70 0.29-1.73 NS 0.90 0.36-2.25 NS

* Using all available information.

For subjects with complete data on all the background variables.

1 M. Kilpeläinen, E.O. Terho, H. Helenius, and M. Koskenvuo. “Farm environment in childhood prevents the development of allergies” in Clinical and Experimental Allergy. 2000. 30:201-208.

Table 21

Association of physician-diagnosed allergic rhinitis and/or allergic conjunctivitis during lifetime with background factors in young Finnish adults. Adjustment performed by logistic regression model for all the other factors in the table and parental education.

Total N* Prevalence (%)* Crude OR* 95% CI P-value Adjusted CR† 95% CI P-Value
Place of Residene at Age 0-6 years
Rural non-farm 1,243 20.80 1.00 1.00
Farm 1,095 13.90 0.61 0.49-0.77 <0.001 0.63 0.50-0.79 <0.001
Urban 7,276 22.40 1.10 0.95-1.27 NS 1.08 0.92-1.26 NS
Day care outside the home at 0-2 years
No 9,324 20.50 1.00 1.00
Yes 1,127 25.20 1.30 1.13-1.51 <0.001 1.22 1.04-1.42 <0.05
Passive smoking at age 0-2 years
No 8,292 21.00 1.00 1.00
Yes 2,257 20.60 0.98 0.87-1.09 NS 1.03 0.91-1.17 NS
Male 4,142 21.90 1.00 1.00
Female 6,488 20.20 0.90 0.82-0.99 <0.05 0.82 0.74-0.91 <0.001
Parents’ asthma or atopy
No 6,258 15.40 1.00 1.00
Yes 4,299 28.90 2.23 2.03-2.45 <0.001 2.25 2.03-2.49 <0.001
Number of older siblings
0 5,672 22.30 1.00 1.00
1 3,597 19.50 0.85 0.76-0.94 <0.01 0.86 0.77-0.96 <0.01
2 920 20.40 0.89 0.75-1.06 NS 0.99 0.82-1.19 NS
3 256 19.80 0.86 0.63-1.17 0.99 0.71-1.37 NS
?4 144 9.00 0.35 0.20-0.61 <0.001 0.47 0.26-.84 <0.05

* Using all available information.

For subjects with complete data on all the background variables.

Table 32

Association of respiratory and allergic symptoms1 and allergic sensitization with farming as parental occupation.

Symptom prevalence accounting to parental occupation Association with farming as parental occupation
Total study population (n,%) Farming (n,%) Non-Farming (n,%) Crude OR (95%, CI) Adjusted3 OR (95%, CI)
Questionnaire (N = 1620)
Repated cough 594/36.7 103/33.6 491/37.4 0.85 (0.65-1.10) 0.90 (0.63-1.29)
Bronchitis 156/9.6 31/10.1 125/9.5 1.07 (0.71-1.62) 1.37 (0.77-2.40)
Wheez 135/8.3 16/5.2 119/9.1 0.55 (0.33-0.94) 0.77 (0.38-1.58)
Asthma (ever) 150/9.3 24/7.8 126/9.6 0.80 (0.51-1.26) 1.17 (0.64-2.13)
Sneezing during pollen season 125/7.7 8/2.6 117/8.9 0.27 (0.14-0.54) 0.34 (0.12-0.89)
Hay fever (ever) 197/12.2 22/7.2 175/13.3 0.50 (0.32-0.79) 0.89 (0.49-1.59)
Itchy skin rash (ever) 193/12.0 27/8.9 166/12.7 0.67 (0.41-1.02) 0.86 (0.49-1.50)
Eczema (ever) 305/18.8 48/15.6 257/19.6 0.76 (0.54-1.07) 1.15 (0.74-1.81)
Serological test2 (N=404)
Postive SX1 test (CAP-class?2) 139/34.4 16/18.6 123/38.7 0.33 (0.18-0.59) 0.31 (0.13-0.73)
Specific IgE’s to outdoor allergens (CAP class?2) 119/29.5 15/17.4 104/32.7 0.43 (0.24-0.78) 0.38 (0.16-0.87)
Specific IgE’s to indoor allergens (CAP class?2) 81/20.1 4/4.7 77/24.2 0.15 (0.06-0.38) 0.15 (0.04-0.57)

1 During the past 12 months if not otherwise specified.

2 318 serological tests were done in children from non-farming families, 86 in farmers’ children.

3 The logistic regression model included the following variables: age, sex, parental education, a family history of asthma, hay fever, eczema, number of siblings, maternal smoking, pet ownership, indoor humidity, study area, and heating fuels.

Table 43

SAMPLE – Core questionnaire rhinitis module for 13-14 year olds NOT INCLUDED

Table 54

Adjusted odds ratios for the association between various exposures and having hayfever ever, allergic rhinitis in the last 12 months, asthma ever, wheeze in the last 12 months, atopic eczema/dermatitis syndrome (AEDS) ever, and skin prick test (SPT) positivity

n (293) Hayfever ever Current allergic rhinitis Asthma ever Current wheeze AEDS ever SPT positivity
First year of life
Farm abode 94 1.3 (0.4-3.9) 0.5 (0.2-1.2) 0.7 (0.3-1.8) 0.5 (0.2-1.4) 0.7 (0.3-1.8) 1.3 (0.5-3.6)
Regular poultry 36 1.8 (0.5-6.6) 2.0 (.07-5.9) 2.7 (0.9-7.7)* 2.1 (0.7-6.6) 3.7 (1.3-0.7)** 1.1 (0.4-3.5)
Regular pig 29 0.4 (0.1-1.9) 0.6 (0.2-2.0) 1.0 (0.3-3.3) 0.6 (0.2-2.3) 0.6 (0.2-1.8) 0.2 (0.1-0.9)**
Cats inside or outside 223 0.4 (0.1-1.0)** 1.4 (0.6-3.1) 1.4 (0.6-3.1) 1.0 (0.4-2.4) 0.4 (0.2-0.8)*** 0.6 (0.3-1.3)
Dogs inside or outside 185 0.5 (0.2-1.3) 0.7 (0.4-1.4) 0.4 (0.2-0.8)*** 0.6 (0.3-1.2)* 0.8 (0.4-1.5) 0.8 (0.4-1.6
Current exposures
Farm abode 95 1.3 (0.4-3.9) 2.7 (1.0-6.9)*** 2.0 (0.8-5.2) 1.9 (0.7-6.6) 1.7 (0.7-4.1) 0.8 (0.2-1.7)
Regular poultry 45 2.2 (0.7-7.0) 1.5 (0.6-3.8) 0.8 (0.3-2.0) 1.0 (0.4-2.6) 0.5 (0.2-1.2) 2.8 (1.0-6.9)**
Regular pig 22 2.8 (.6-12.2) 1.0 (0.3-3.6) 0.7 (0.2-2.3) 1.6 (0.4-5.9) 0.7 (0.2-2.2) 3.3 (0.9-11.8)*
Cats inside or outside 234 0.7 (0.3-1.9) 1.0 (0.5-2.2) 1.5 (0.7-3.3) 0.9 (0.4-2.1) 2.8 (1.3-6.1)*** 1.4 (0.6-3.3)
Dogs inside or outside 214 1.5 (0.5-4.0) 1.0 (0.5-2.2) 1.6 (0.8-3.5) 1.5 (0.7-3.4) 1.3 (0.6-2.7) 2.0 (0.9-4.3)
Geomean endotoxin 0.9 (0.6-1.2) 1.0 (0.8-1.3) 0.9-0.7-1.2) 1.2 (0.9-1.5) 1.0 (0.8-1.3) 1.0 (0.8-1.3)
Diet at < 2 years
Yoghurt once or more a week 225 0.3 (0.1-0.7)*** 0.3 (0.1-0.7)*** 1.1 (0.6-2.4) 1.1 (0.4-2.3) 0.6 (90.3-1.20) 0.8(0.4-1.7)
Unpasteurized milk ever 38 1.1 (0.2-5.0) 0.3 (0.1-1.1)* 0.7 (0.2-2.4) 0.6 (0.2-0.8) 0.2 9 (0.1-2.20**) 0.6 (0.2-1.9)
Pasteurized milk once or more a day 192 1.7 (0.7-4.6) 1.5 (0.7-3.3) 1.3 (0.6-2.7) 1.1 (0.5-2.5) 1.4 (0.7-3.00) 0.8 (0.4-1.7)
Cheese once or more a week 200 2.1 (0.8-5.6) 1.3 (0.6-2.8) 1.1 ()0.6-2.4) 1.4 (0.5-3.3) 1.3 (0.6-2.7) 0.7 (0.3-1.4)

* P = < 0.10

** P = < 0.05

*** P = < 0.01

Adjusted for all variables in table, plus gender, ethnicity, mother’s education level, family history of allergic disease, family size, antibiotic use in first year, mother’s smoking in the first year and currently, coal and wood fires in the fires year and currently, having a history of measles and whooping cough infection and current dairy food consumption.

Per unit increase in endotoxin per gram of dust.


Not Included

Do Buy Nothing Day Like a Pro

There was an article in The Oregonian Wednesday that instructed people how to buy like a pro on Black Friday. I sent this in, rather late, to the letters to the editor.
Why support our piggish consumer culture while lining the pockets of already rich CEOs on Black Friday? Why not actually do something with your family, something they will remember a lot longer than Black Friday gifts. The following fifteen is from me; Ad Busters has more on Buy Nothing Day.
  1. Don’t go shopping, for anything
  2. Stay at home, relax
  3. Play with your kids
  4. Enjoy time with your spouse
  5. Play board games
  6. Call up that friend you’ve been meaning to call during the holiday season now
  7. Make cookies, decorate with your family
  8. Make Christmas wreaths with your friends
  9. Enjoy hot cider
  10. Sit by the fire
  11. Sing carols
  12. Volunteer at a soup kitchen
  13. Volunteer at a school with the SMART program (Start Making a Reader Today)
  14. Make Christmas cards
  15. Make Christmas ornaments