Until recently, Cairo had a refuse-collection system unlike any you'll find in the United States, but it worked—and might even be commended for its efficiency and environmental responsibility.  Cairo's households enjoyed free or inexpensive garbage collection, right from the door, by the zabaleen ("garbage people"), an impoverished community of Egyptian Christians living in an area of Cairo known as "Garbage City."   The collectors and their families then sorted the trash, reusing, repairing, and recycling what they could, and feeding the organic waste to their livestock, primarily pigs.

Sanitation workers do not generally enjoy high status anywhere, and the zabaleen are despised not only for their jobs, but also for their poverty, their religion, and their willingness to keep pigs as livestock.  However, as even American cities discover during a protracted sanitation strike, we do not do well to devalue other human beings, least of all those responsible for keeping us from suffocating in trash. 

In a misguided effort to stave off a swine flu epidemic, Egypt ordered that all the pigs be killed, even though the disease is not, in fact, spread by pigs.  By the law of unintended consequences, Cairo's citizens are now more vulnerable to disease than before.  The zabaleen no longer collect the trash, and the government's effort to replace them with multinational corporations has largely failed.  The poorest of the poor have lost their only livelihood as well as their source of food, and Cairo's streets overflow with filth.

I don't write this to belittle Egypt or the Egyptian government, but as a warning.  Our country has a problem:  Our healthcare system, once arguably the best in the world, is falling apart.  (We can disagree over the causes, or even the definition, of "falling apart," but that's not the point here.)  There's no shortage of wrangling over what the intended consequences of a federally-imposed health plan might be, but whatever shakes out of that debate, I fervently hope that we will consider the possible unintended consequences before killing off the pigs.

(Sources used for this post included The New York Times and Wikipedia.)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 20, 2009 at 11:19 am | Edit
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My Swiss family doesn't let me forget that "universal health care" does not necessarily mean a system like that in the United Kingdom.  For this I am grateful, because of the horror stories that keep emerging from that system, such as the cases of Charlotte Wyatt, Leslie Burke, Linda O'Boyle, Jayden Capewell, and too many others to write about.  It's worth looking at alternatives, and T. R. Reid's The Healing of America does just that.

I haven't read the book; my opinion is based on the New York Times review. There's much I don't agree with in the review, and I'm sure in the book also, but I like the gimmick:  Reid had shoulder problems that were interfering with his golf game, and he decided to present the case to 10 different doctors around the world.  The results?  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Edit
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It would not be too strong to say that I loathe politics.  I vote, and have done so since I was first able to at age 19, but mostly without enthusiasm; choosing the least objectionable candidate is gritty, unsatisfactory work.  Other than that, I try to ignore politics.  Unfortunately, politics does not return the favor, so I occasionally give in to the prodding of my conscience and attempt to articulate a political opinion in a blog post, or write a letter to an elected official, or attend a political meeting.

The last is rare indeed, but that's what I did the other night.  Our state representative held a health care "town hall meeting."  On my list of preferred activities it was somewhat below scrubbing the bathroom floor with a toothbrush, but I put on my Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes and ventured out into the rain anyway.  Not without a bit of grumbling under my breath, but this was one of the few candidates in memory who actually impressed me in his campaign—or maybe credit goes to the campaign worker who rang my doorbell; those of you who know me know that it takes someone really special to impress me after starting out on such a wrong foot! Anyway, I decided to go because I can't very well complain about what they're doing to health care if I don't express my opinion, and because I think our representative is a good guy and what a shame it would be if he held a meeting to get people's opinions and no one showed up.  I thought I'd at least go and say hi and maybe get to know him better.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, September 6, 2009 at 11:30 am | Edit
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alt Chocolate Unwrapped:  The Surprising Health Benefits of America's Favorite Passion, by Rowan Jacobsen (Invisible Cities Press, Montpelier, Vermont, 2003)

Like chocolate, this delicious book goes down easily, and the facts about chocolate's health benefits are not hard to swallow.  At a mere 126 pages from introduction through references, it's a quick and easy read—I read most of it on the way to and from church today—and yet manages to cover the history and production of chocolate, a good deal of detail on why chocolate—which begins as a fruit, after all—should be considered a health food, environmental and labor issues in the production of chocolate, unusual chocolate recipes, and list of great chocolate sources.  It is necessary to ignore a few insults to Columbus, the Puritans, and anyone who likes milk chocolate, but on the whole these are minor annoyances. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, July 26, 2009 at 12:35 pm | Edit
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I'm thinking of moving to Canada, and it has nothing to do with avoiding the draft, nor with frustrations over our current political direction, nor because of the recent heat wave in which our near-100-degree daytime temperatures "cooled down" all the way to 85 in the middle of the night—and not even because Canada ranks close to Switzerland and New Zealand at the top of my list of the world's most beautiful places.  No, what makes being Canadian particularly attractive at the moment is this study of the relationship between body mass index and death of more than 10,000 Canadian adults.

Researchers found that while underweight and extremely obese people die earlier than people of a normal weight, people who are slightly overweight actually live longer than those of a normal weight.

[U]nderweight people were 70 percent more likely than people of normal weight to die, and extremely obese people were 36 percent more likely to die.  But overweight individuals were 17 percent less likely to die. The relative risk for obese people was nearly the same as for people of normal weight.

[T]his was the first large Canadian study to show that people who are overweight may actually live longer than those of normal weight.

But wait...there's good news...I may not have to move after all:

An earlier study, conducted in the United States and published in 2005 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed similar results.

Gotta love medical studies. You can find one that proves whatever you want.  Now to get my hands on a copy of Chocolate Unwrapped:  The Surprising Heath Benefits of America's Favorite Passion.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 24, 2009 at 9:50 am | Edit
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A friend alerted me to an article on midwives from the May 20, 2009 Orlando Sentinel.  It's about a recently-developed program of the Orange County Health Department that provides hospital-based midwife services for low-income women in the Orlando area, and told me some things I didn't know about midwives and Florida law.

Knowing from experience that links to Sentinel articles break after a while, I'll provide a few relevant excerpts below.  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 28, 2009 at 8:13 am | Edit
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Daniel Hauser, a 13-year-old boy with cancer, is being forced to receive treatment that both he and his parents have refused.

"It is imperative that Daniel receive the attention of an oncologist as soon as possible," wrote Brown County District Judge John R. Rodenberg in an order to "apprehend and detain....His best interests require it."

I often find myself in the minority when I argue for parental rights.  Doctors, teachers, social workers, and "concerned citizens" fret over the idea that parents should be allowed to make decisions that they believe are not in the bests interests of their children.  In one sense it's hard to blame them, as these are often people who are in a position to see better than most the consequences of physical, emotional, and educational neglect and abuse. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 20, 2009 at 7:00 am | Edit
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More random tidbits found while sweeping the corners of the Internet.

Professor John Stackhouse gives a cheer, a half a cheer, and a hiss to Charles Darwin in honor of his birthday:

[W]e can all cheer Darwin's work in bringing microevolution—the phenomenon of small-scale changes happening within species as they adapt to their environment—into focus. Even "creation science" proponents grant the reality of evolution on this scale.

 (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 1, 2009 at 9:00 pm | Edit
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Dr. Mark Gendreau offers some very reasonable advice, mostly about travel, for those who wish to avoid swine flu or any other airborne illness.  A combination of individual, corporate and governmental action could make a great difference.

[H]and hygiene is...the single most significant thing you can do to protect yourself and your family when you are traveling or out in public.  Study after study shows marked reductions in transmission in public spaces when hand hygiene is practiced, and a recent study found nearly undetectable influenza particle levels after hands contaminated with influenza were washed with either soap and water or an over-the-counter gel containing at least 50 percent alcohol.  Sanitize your hands before eating, drinking and after retrieving something from the overhead bin or returning from the restroom, and you have just cut your chances of getting infected by at least 40 percent. One of my disappointments with the airline industry is its lack of providing alcohol-based hand sanitizers to passengers. Such a service would go a long way in eliminating infection spread within aircraft.

Unlike antibacterial soaps, plain handwashing and alcohol-based hand cleaners have not been shown to promote the development of resistant strains of microbes.  I've always been in favor of handwashing (with plain soap), but it was the advice of a physician friend during the SARS crisis that led to the habit of carrying a pocket-sized bottle of hand sanitizer—particularly useful in restaurants and grocery stores, before the Eucharist at church, after changing diapers in public place, and before consuming airplane food.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 8:53 am | Edit
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(This is a follow-up to previous posts:   Options In Childbirth: A Personal Odyssey; The Trial; The Trial, Part II; and The Trial, Part III.)

I am not a lawyer, and I have no idea what Judy or her lawyer really think, but that doesn't stop me from pondering what happened in Judy's trial.  It has been an interesting look into our criminal justice system.  We know, personally, good policemen and excellent prosecutors who work hard for truth, fairness, and speedy justice, so any negative comments are not a blanket indictment, but food for thought. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 10:09 am | Edit
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Let's not do it again.  Back in 1976, panic over swine flu led to a mass-vaccination program in which nearly a quarter of the U.S. program received immunizations at a cost of $137 million—followed by millions more the government paid out in damages to victims of vaccine-related Guillain-Barre syndrome.  Working in a medical facility at the time, I stood in line and received my free shot and thought no more about it.  However, the whole affair is now considered a debacle, a textbook case of governmental over-response to fears of a pandemic, fears that turned out to be unfounded.  Let's not do it again.

Panic and misinformation are spreading online, aided and abetted by the mainstream news media, which I know from local hurricane reports are adept at the art of crying wolf, deliberately creating fear because fear keeps people glued to the news reports, no matter how little real information is imparted.

Should the government be aware, alert, and prepared to act if this becomes a true emergency?  Certainly.  But let the ordinary citizen take reasonable precautions of the kind we should always be taking (handwashing, keeping sick people home), and avoid spreading panic, which is itself a dangerous disease.

(Standard legal disclaimer:  I am an Ordinary Citizen, not a doctor.  If your doctor tells you to panic, don't let me stop you.)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 at 7:46 am | Edit
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Here's a perfect funding opportunity for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundatation, or anyone else who is interested in both technology and education:  Sponsor grants—available to both universities and private video game companies—for the production of really good educational games.

Although video game technology has made tremendous progress in recent years, educational software is for the most part stuck in the past.  Entertainment is where the commercial money is, but with proper funding there's no reason why the best and brightest of our video game designers couldn't revolutionize gaming as a learning tool.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 21, 2009 at 10:02 am | Edit
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From the frequency of my posting recently, my overwhelmed readers can see I'm hacking away at a hugh backlog.  Here's another  in the Casting the Net series, which makes the job easier for me, if not for you. The good news is, like the can't-pass-this-up offer at the bottom of my inbox, and that $1 off coupon that's been in my wallet for six months, several of my must-posts are enough out of date I can cheerfully hit the delete key and not trouble you with them.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 10, 2009 at 7:48 am | Edit
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Two of my favorite bloggers have written recently about the perils of allowing ourselves to be too busy.  (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 6:19 am | Edit
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Jon shared Controlling Our Food on Facebook, but as that leaves out most of my readers, I'll post it here.  I almost didn't, because whoever put it up on Google Video is some sort of anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist.  That doesn't negate the importance of what this French documentary has to say, however, so in the spirit of "the wise man recognizes truth in the words of his enemies," I recommend taking the time to watch this video, because it raises some critical issues about the environment and the future of our food supply. (It's nearly two hours long, but it not content-dense, so you can do something else while listening or be liberal with the fast-forward button.)

Controlling Our Food is primarily about the Monsanto Corporation.  To bolster the claim that Monsanto will do anything to increase profits, including lie and cover up and put people at grave risk of illness and death, the first part of the documentary is old news about PCBs and dioxin and industrial/agricultural pollution.  True enough, but old, and overly long, so that even in two hours there is not enough time given to the main points. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 10:07 am | Edit
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