Threats To Global Health
WHO, the World Health Organization, has issued its annual report of health threats around the world and you’d think it would be dull reading—I suppose it would for those who don’t care what happens in the world. I found it instructive, scary, helpful, and informing about what our priorities ought to be. It is also a reminder that no country is an island. What happens far away affects us eventually. Here is the list. Please note the first threat, due to air pollution and climate change, and note too the threat coming from what they term here vaccine hesitancy. While it is true that some have the right to not be vaccinated, we must now ask when does that right contribute to a public health threat?
- · Air Pollution and Climate Change (yes!!!)
- · Non Communicable Diseases (e.g. alcohol, tobacco, diet)
- · Global Influenza Pandemic (will come but don’t know when and how strong)
- · Fragile and Vulnerable Settings (drought, displacements)
- · Anti-Microbial Resistance (including diseases like TB)
- · Ebola and Other High Threat Pathogens (we already know what happens)
- · Weak Primary Health Care (lack, access and cost)
- · Vaccine Hesitancy (something that is growing in the US)
- · Dengue (390 million infections a year)
- · HIV (still affecting many millions)
Yoga Training Glut
In the Los Angeles area alone at least one hundred yoga teacher trainings began this month. It’s not a particularly demanding training assuming you are sufficiently expert with a number of poses. It only lasts a few weeks, save for the cost which can be quite steep—one I saw was $15,000—it can be available to a wide range of people. That’s a good thing, right? I am not sure. I began by looking at the name of those offering the training, 2 or 3 were unassailable experts, people with national recognition and as close to universal respect as one can in any given field. I couldn’t help but ask, how many are doing it out of commitment to their profession and how many are doing it for whatever financial gain? Then a bigger issue arose within me. When one reads about the history of how yoga developed and why, one ends us with deep respect, and I count myself among those. Yoga is more than making your body conform to certain poses. Yoga is a way to understand the relationship between the visible and the non, a way to achieve some understanding, however small, about what lies beyond us. That means that the teacher must be endowed with a certain wisdom to help the practitioner or would be practitioner of yoga move towards that greater goal. That is given to a few. Perhaps that’s why when I look around at the proliferation of yoga studios, at the existing number of yoga teachers and at the projected increase in those numbers I ask: Are we diluting a hallowed discipline, making it into an imitation of itself?
Composting humans instead of burying or cremating them? Why not? The Washington state legislature is considering it. It is the brainchild of Katrina Spades who has been developing it over a number of years as a greener alternative. The idea is to find an alternative to existing methods of treating bodies after death. Not only are cities running out of land for cemeteries, both cemeteries and cremation leave large carbon footprints. Spade’s idea is to use natural chemicals to allow the body to decompose and allow it to return to the soil in about 30 days. The method saves a metric ton of carbon each time. She founded Recompose, a human composting company where the body is placed in a vat with wood chips, alfalfa and straw which work to decompose it. Her idea includes creating a comforting peaceful space for families not only to say good bye to their family member or loved one but also a place where they could come and contemplate as people do in a garden. If the Washington state legislature goes ahead and legalizes such an option, it would be the first in the world.
The idea reminds me of my friend Sanora Babb who wanted her ashes to be used as fertilizer for her roses. No doubt had re-composting been legal when she died she would have chosen it. What I also like is how the idea of human composting chips away at some of the entrenched religious habits and traditions which many have outgrown.
Biosolids Into Bricks
Biosolids are the disinfected remains from the water treatment process once we’ve flushed. It’s a good fertilizer but now it can be made into bricks, the bricks used in construction. Civil engineers at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University in Australia developed the process. They look the same as fired bricks and when processed locally can save land, energy and reduce carbon emissions, thus becoming a green alternative. Daily, for example, New York City has 1200 tons or 50 truckloads of what would become biosolids. As it is, what’s not used as fertilizer goes into the sea or landfills. Since population is growing and human waste grows with it, there is pressure to find alternatives. Although biosolids bricks meet industry requirements, they may not be as durable. A proposed usage would be for biosolids to be mixed with soil in some proportion. And given that we make a trillion bricks a year incorporating some biosolids into them would not be a small contribution to the environment. As they decompose biosolids emit carbon dioxide, so the advantages of turning them into a green alternative become clearer and more compelling.
I may have a soft spot for viable green alternatives, but what impresses me about this one is that somewhere people had to overcome our usual reaction to human waste. They saw beyond!
How They Got To Congress
The NYT researched how each member of Congress arrived there and published a graphic which anyone can use. They compare Congress members as our unofficial aristocracy since they are in effect our ruling class. What they found is that they do not represent the average citizen. As a whole their history, opportunities, background, personal wealth, education can much differ from those of their constituents. An important conclusion they suggest is that it seems the US only has a limited number of ways to enter the halls of power. There may be some difference between Democrats and Republicans, for instance more Republicans house members were formerly in business are opposed to the number of Democrats. The implication is that one’s experience predisposes one to certain issues. In the case of those who were in business, they are more likely to be pro-business in their votes and the issues they sponsor and the type of bills they introduce. Congress members are wealthier than the average American and that too makes a difference, sometimes sponsoring legislation that benefits their own class at the expense of others.
The United States is a representative democracy, meaning that those who make decisions on behalf of the people ought to represent them. The variance that exists between citizens and their representatives has become troubling. I have not read or heard any real answer to this, but if we want our democracy to regain its vibrancy, if we want Congress to be representative of the needs and aspirations of citizens, it would seem one way to start is by electing people who are more like us. And let’s note, that means we have to vote!
Web Access For Those With Disabilities
If someone close to you has a disability then you know the importance of their having access to any number of things, things we don’t think about or take for granted. A few years ago we didn’t realize how important wheelchair ramps were. And lawsuits prompted by the Americans With Disabilities Act gave us ramps, wider doorways and lower counter tops. Now the issue is web access and the number of lawsuits has tripled in 2018. Henry Tucker, A blind New Yorker is systematically suing New York City art galleries because as it stands he does not have access to their websites. While this latest slate of lawsuits is aimed at art galleries, in alphabetical groupings, any business has been or will be affected, yoga studios, moving companies, fashion stores, wine shops, insurance companies, colleges… The cost of making a site accessible to those with disabilities varies from a few hundred to a few thousands. And often businesses comply and settle because it’s cheaper than the costs of a lawsuit. With the art galleries the settlement may be around $10,000 to $15,000 per. Many of these lawsuits, sometimes called “drive-by lawsuits” come from just a few law firms which seem to specialize in them. They can be lucrative. I remember meeting a lawyer a few years ago, who made his living this way. While on the whole these lawsuits have widened the experience of those with disabilities, there are at least two problems. One is that despite adjustments and changes, some websites remain inaccessible to the visually impaired. Another lies in how these actions are being carried out and perhaps why. Lainey Feingold a disability rights lawyer who specialized in digital accessibility says that they give a bad impression of the Americans With Disabilities Act and give a bad impression about web accessibility. If I were blind, for example, I would be willing to make some allowances but I would want access to the web like anyone else. Wouldn’t you? But I don’t think I would approve of lawyers using my disability as a means to enrich themselves.
To Ponder On
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”