A Larger View

a commentary on how current events reflect— or not—our search for higher values

  • Volume XXIV
  • No. 1
  • January/February 2019
  • Bulletin of The Inner/Outer Partnership

The pieces are reposted from some of the entries in InnerLifeDirections.com

in this issue:

  • Heath Span
  • Feeding The Planet
  • BBL, Dangers and Other Issues
  • Space Travel and Billionaires
  • Rights For Sex Workers
  • Student Debt Crisis
  • To Ponder On

Health Span

Heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders, cancer, stroke are all diseases which increasingly occur as people age. In fact old age is the biggest risk factor for disease. A large number of people want to avoid disease and extend their lifespan. After all Star Trek’s Mr. Spock taught us to live long and prosper. New drugs are being tried, and of course there are many who might want to try whatever they think is available, anything that might prolong their life. But scientists apparently see the issues differently. The body is not constructed to last as long as some might wish. Although there is some dispute as to how long that might be, and as to whether or not there would be an upper limit of 115 years or if there is one at all. Instead of tackling some of the diseases individually some are targeting old age itself. In fact animal studies have shown possibilities in terms of better understanding old age. In a recent JAMA article old age was characterized by processes which can fit into 4 categories: chronic inflammation, cell dysfunction, changes in stem cells that make them fail to regenerate tissue, and cellular senescence which is something in tissue that is like an accumulation of aging cells that invite disease.  What is to be noted in all this is that some researchers think that pushing the limits of lifespan may be creating consequences, and it is possible that Alzheimer’s is one of those consequences.  The emphasis though is that by preventing age related diseases, mortality can in some way be affected. This means that the idea is not to lengthen lifespan but instead to create a health span.

Feeding The Planet

More and more statistics tell us people need to lose weight and it turns out that has an important consequence: Feeding the planet. By 2050 the planet will grow to 9 billion people. And it seems people getting larger will pose a challenge to feeding the planet while hopefully not increasing world hunger. The researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology say this greater caloric intake has not been factored into previous calculations and forecasts of the food needed. The scientists say, ”Based on the discovered trends, feeding 9 billion people in 2050 will require significantly more total calories than feeding the same people today.” They analyzed data from 186 countries (almost all the world’s existing countries) from 1975 to 2014 and not only are people getting heavier they are also getting taller. When seen country by country, the needs of each country varies. In Tonga the average person weighs 205lbs but in Viet Nam it is 114lbs. There are obviously a lot of variables, but the trend still is that people consume more calories, and that means more food.

Let’s hope another batch of scientists figures out how to meet the growing food needs. What concerns me about all this, however, is whether this discovery or issue or problem can avoid expanding the number suffering from hunger. Given how soon 2050 is in light of the growing number of refugees in the world along with the number of existing conflicts and therefore the millions of disrupted lives, it seems to foretell a troubling scenario.

BBL, Dangers and Other Issues

For those not in the know BBL is a Brazilian Butt Lift, currently one of the most popular cosmetic procedure and also one of the most dangerous, 33 women have died in the US. It’s a trend that began in 2014 with nude photos of Kim Kardashian and the popularization continued with Jennifer Lopez.  Surgeons in both the UK and the US have issued warnings about the procedure.  What usually happens is that fat is taken from the thighs and injected into the rear end.  It’s expensive, up to$10,000 in the UK and has become a big business. Complications have been increasing, the injected fat is either injected into or can reach big veins, veins which can reach the heart or the brain and cause serious problems including death. There are also severe bacterial infections, particularly since many of these procedures may not be done under sterile conditions, including reported instances of flesh eating disease. Tissue dying can occur, so can wound ruptures, abscesses and scarring.  As the use of cosmetic surgery to improve body image keeps rising, the trends keep changing as to which body part is to be made more prominent. Some psychologists dealing with this problem say it all has to do with body acceptance or lack of it.   From my perspective, however, we are more than our bodies, and while it will be many generations before that truth takes hold into the general consciousness, emphasizing the body at the expense of other parts of ourselves cannot be a good thing. I wonder sometimes if focusing on body image in this way isn’t a failure of feminism. Perhaps like the Me Too movement it’s something that is late in coming. Regardless, for women to be under the spell of cosmetic surgery trends under the guide of body acceptance doesn’t seem healthy. One can look good without plastic surgery. One can look good regardless of the size of one’s breasts, one’s buttocks or of one’s dress size for that matter. The body images created by the media and business interests ought not to determine our view of our bodies—neither should the vanities or priorities of celebrities.  Women’s empowerment has become a cliché, yet here where we need to practice it, we don’t.

Space Travels and Billionaires

Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk are 3 billionaires who are engaged in space research and more specifically space travel. Many think that a good thing. Is it? How good is it to exploit space for profit? If that question makes sense to you, you are not alone. Space exploration and the results it brings ought to be part of a national resource, belonging to the nation, that is to all of its people, and ultimately to humanity. Besides, space may not be conquerable the way some countries conquered others in the past or the way Russia walked into Crimea. True, it may be that those who endeavor to own space may not succeed in the end. In the meanwhile however, they are endeavoring to profit. Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space company announced it will make space travel available for $200,000 to $300,000 a trip and be able to start them in 2019. The New Shepard is slated to fly 6 passengers about 62 miles above the earth autonomously. The travelers will be able to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and then the pressurized capsule will reenter the earth by parachutes. One must admit such a trip will be quite an experience—Even a priceless one. And since each trip will cost about $10 million, it is obvious the venture will begin by operating at a loss. For all we know Jeff Bezos will use the same techniques he used with Amazon. Not only did Amazon for several years operate at a loss  too, Bezos also applied hard tactics to crush competitors.

Branson’s Virgin Galactic who is also planning space travel has already sold 650 tickets at $250,000 each. Elon Musk’s goal is slightly different, he says it is to enable people to live on another planet.

The issue is deeper than who can afford space travel, those who have means have always been able to afford things others can’t. The issue is the commercialization of space for profit.

Rights For Sex Workers

Revolting Prostitutes: the fight for Sex Workers’ Rights is a new book by Juno Mac and Molly Smith which puts the focus on the rights of sex workers. In making its point the book draws a distinction most of us are not familiar with, the difference between decriminalization of sex work and legalization of it.  Legalization as it does in Nevada and the Netherlands means that sex work is legal within a context and is usually heavily regulated. The problem is that those regulations do not put the welfare of the sex workers as a priority. New laws may then be enacted which may not be to their advantage or reduce their independence by placing them under the control of a manager as it does in Nevada. Decriminalization means sex work is legal, period. From this framework the rights of sex workers can emerge, they can have the same protection as other workers, there is no special contexts, no special conditions. New Zealand has such a system. We are tending towards what is called the Swedish or Nordic system where the buyers of the sex service are penalized instead of the sellers. The authors see that as a system where in practice workers essentially end up with the short end of the stick. They may have to hide to protect clients, or lower their prices and while those systems may be better than the criminal models they still push sex workers towards the margins.

I regret the book does not address the issue of sex trafficking, or of how decriminalization would affect those sex workers. Still the issue of the rights of sex workers remains. The authors  strongly argue that the voices, experiences and  welfare of sex workers must come first which means they must be involved in determining what  that welfare is. And if that can be accomplished, it would indirectly at least be of some benefit to trafficking victims.

Student Debt Crisis

The economy may be booming but it doesn’t look that way to those who have student debts. Wages are stagnating and tuition as well as interest rates are also rising. For students still in school or contemplating higher education it adds up to daunting prospects. Jerome Powell the head of the Federal Reserve is beginning to acknowledge student debt as an economic concern.  For one thing the total amount of student debt is $1.5 trillion. Indeed when those young people cannot afford homes, and all that goes with it, such as buying new furniture, it ends up slowing the economy. Another aspect of the problem is the default rate which is higher than that of cars or home ownership. Not surprisingly the default rate is higher for people of color, for those attending for-profit colleges and strangely enough for those with smaller amounts to repay. There is also the group who were not able or did not graduate with a degree, for them the debt still exists but is even harder to repay. Many of those are predictably from for profit colleges. The one group which fared well in terms of loan repayment are those who received professional degrees, medicine for example, where the post-graduation salary enables them to meet their obligation. But for most there is a long term effect. For people who can’t pay off student loans, the debt affects at least half their lives, hurts their credit rating and certainly impacts  a lot of  the economic decisions they will have to make.

It is a function of government to enable the society and the marketplace to provide the education current and future citizens will need to sustain the economic life of all. That is a function that is not being currently addressed and while there is hope in that the Fed Chairman is aware, it will take a lot more for this problem not to have dire consequences

To Ponder On

“Power consists in one’s capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.”

Woodrow Wilson

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