Archive for the ‘Life Science’ Category

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What If We Lost Seattle

January 10, 2011

Imagine if you woke up on January 1, after a fun New Year’s night, made your coffee, tuned in the news and heard every person (man, woman, and child) in Seattle, Washington suddenly died, roughly 616,000 people gone from the planet forever.  It would shock our nation; it would shock the entire world.

Describing the instant magnitude of such a loss is beyond the power of words.  What if the loss spread out over the course of a year, is it any less devastating?  Take Afghanistan, our emotional house would be no less devastated if we lost the 100,000 or so U.S. service members currently serving in a year, much less a number like 616,000.  No, spreading such a massive loss over a year does nothing to negate the impact.

So why is it, in our society, we happily ignore the loss of a Seattle’s worth of population every year?  Over 1,800 people a day, every single day, lost!  The major news organizations do not bother to report it, at least not with the same sensationalism a 22-year old idiot with a gun commands.  Do not misunderstand, the unfolding tragedy in Arizona, with its senseless brutality, requires immediate coverage if we, as a people, wish to understand it.  The question is, given the overwhelming magnitude of loosing over six-hundred-thousand Americans yearly, why we show it such little concern.

Now, Seattle is in no more danger than any other place, in fact, it seems less likely something dire happens there than in other cities.  Seattle simply has a convenient population size to compare to the number one killer of Americans – heart disease.  According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions (CDC), in 2007, the most current year for such data, 616,067 people died in the United States from heart related issues[1].  Seattle’s population, in 2009, reported in at 616, 627 making it the 23rd most populous city in the country[2].  In other words, enough Americans die each year from heart disease, alone, to populate any city in America except the top 22.  For example, heart disease kills more Americans, each year, than live in the following cities:

o  Atlanta, Georgia – 540,922 people

o  Omaha, Nebraska – 454,731 people

o  Miami, Florida – 433,136 people

o  Washington, DC – 599,657 people

o  Sacramento, California – 466,676 people

o  Cleveland, Ohio – 431,369 people

[Population figures taken from U.S. Census data[3]]

Oddly enough, we already have the answer to reduce the impact of heart disease.  It does not require some newfangled program, discovery, invention, or billions of tax dollars.  What we need is awareness and the ability to correct our behavior (easier said than done for sure).  Perhaps that is the reason heart disease receive the relatively low attention it does, the answers are with individuals and not in some pill.  According to the Mayo Clinic’s website[4], here are five easy steps to reduce the risk of heart disease:

  1. Don’t smoke or use tobacco products. By now, everyone knows the danger of smoking.  It leads to atherosclerosis as well as introducing as many as 4,800 chemicals into the body, but the danger does not end with smoking tobacco.  Snuff and chewing tobacco present a danger to the heart as well.  Nicotine restricts or narrows blood vessels making the heart work harder to supply oxygen to the body.  Not to mention, smoking also increases the chances of the number two killer in America – cancer.  In other words, want to kill yourself, smoke like a chimney.  It may not be the most pleasant way to go but you cannot argue with its success.Another point, car companies spend millions, if not billions, to make safer cars.  In 2007 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 41,259 car related deaths[5].  That is less than 10% the number of deaths by heart disease.  While not all heart disease related deaths are attributable to smoking, large portions are.  How much money do tobacco companies spend to make their product safe?
  2. Get active. Participating in physical activity for at least 30-minutes on most days of the week provides benefits in just about every aspect of life.  It reduces the chances of developing conditions that place strain upon the heart, conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.  While these condition carry problems all their own, they also adversely affect the heart.Remember, things like gardening, housekeeping, taking the stairs, and walking the dog all count.  You do not have to exercise strenuously to achieve benefits.  Need another reason to exercise?  Many study show moderate exercise improves the sex life.  Who needs more reason than that?
  3. Eat a heart-healthy diet. There are many diets and plans out there, most focus on dropping weight rather than improving heart-health. Eating a special diet called the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)[6] can help protect your heart as well.  Following the DASH diet means eating foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt.  The diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that can help protect your heart.  Following this diet along with being active will reduce your weight as well.The Mayo also goes on to say “Heart-healthy eating isn’t all about cutting back, though.  Most people, for instance, need to add more fruits and vegetables to their diet — with a goal of five to 10 servings a day.  Eating that many fruits and vegetables can not only help prevent heart disease but also may help prevent cancer.”  What does all that mean, people do not have to starve to lose weight and have a healthy heart.
  4. Get regular health screenings. High blood pressure and high cholesterol can damage your heart and blood vessels.  But without testing for them, you probably won’t know whether you have these conditions.  Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are and whether you need to take action.
  5. Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight lends itself to a healthy heart.  Carrying too much weight is simply all around bad for the body.  It stresses the joints, lungs, and circulation as well as the heart.  A modest reduction of 10% is beneficial for heart health.  According to The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a couple of key guides are Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist size[7].  As muscle weighs more than fat, the index can give high numbers for people with a healthy weight.  For that reason, waist size also comes into play.  Anything over 40” for men and 35” for women is overweight when the BMI is over 25.  Here are the basic guidelines:

o  Underweight = <18.5

o  Normal weight = 18.5–24.9

o  Overweight = 25–29.9

o  Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater

While these steps are not a guarantee in preventing a heart attack or developing a heart related disease, they do greatly reduce the risk as well as provide for a generally healthier life.  So often, in today’s world, we depend upon science or some invention to solve a particular problem.  In this case, there is no need to wait.

Heart disease, being the number one killer of Americans, is something we can address without the help of technology or waiting for some pharmaceutical miracle drug.  It is up to us, through our individual action, to change the reason for heart disease not being in the news from apathy, to its being only a minor cause of death.  Let’s make it a story with no need to cover in the first place.


[1] “FASTSTATS – Deaths and Mortality.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm>.

[2] “Population Estimates.” Census Bureau Home Page. Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.census.gov/popest/cities/SUB-EST2009.html>.

[3] ibid

[4] Staff, Mayo Clinic. “Heart Disease Prevention: 5 Strategies Keep Your Heart Healthy – MayoClinic.com.” Mayo Clinic. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-disease-prevention/WO00041>.

[5] FARS Encyclopedia. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx>.

[6] The DASH Diet Eating Plan. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.
<http://www.dashdiet.org/>.

[7] “Calculate Your BMI – Standard BMI Calculator.” Web. 10 Jan. 2011. <http://www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi/>.

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When No One Says No To A Bad Idea

February 20, 2010

There is a saying that deals with getting input from many sources before a making a decision, it goes “no one of us is as smart as all of us.”  If only we would follow that advice, the world would be a much better place.  Still, even when the “us” part is consulted, there is no guarantee the outcome will not be patently boneheaded.

This particular idea turned out so bad, we have one “Big Brother” outfit, the FBI, investigating another that’s not normally thought of as “Big Brother,” the Lower Merion School District in Lower Merion Township, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.  It seems the school district gave itself the ability to remotely activate the webcams on 2,300 laptops issued to high school students, even when the laptops are located within the student’s home.  What parent, in their right mind, would allow strangers to monitor their children, even in their bedrooms?  That’s just it, they didn’t; parents did not even know the laptops had the capability.  While current civil legal action brought this to light, the FBI is now investigating whether or not the school district violated various federal laws, including wiretapping.

Here’s what we know so far: last November, a vice principal at Harriton High School confronts a sophomore about inappropriate activities the student was involved in within the student’s home and produced photographic evidence to prove it.  The student stated the issue concerned drug use, which he denies.  The VP claims he took drugs, the student claims he was eating candy.  In fairness to the school district, they dispute that they took any improper images, state the vice principal never confronted the student, and that the only time the feature is ever used is to recover a lost or stolen laptop.  Here is a link to their website and their statement concerning this issue: School District Response.

As intriguing as this is (there is bound to be a made for TV movies soon) focusing on this particular incident misses the much broader problem, the school district gave itself the ability to monitor students anytime they have the computer open.  They can claim to the end of days that the ability is only used to recover lost property but they cannot get around it amounting to a government agency placing a “bug” in the home of every high school student that received a laptop.  It brings several questions to mind, does the school district have a legal department?  If so, why don’t they use them?  What morons made this unbelievably bad decision?  What are the odds that voters keep the current school board members in the next election?

The school district seems to be positioning itself behind a claim of oversight regarding consent to this invasion of privacy.  A case can equally be made they deliberately held back this information to prevent tampering with its ability.  Regardless of their true intent, when ability exists, it is used.  An ironic example being the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently found the FBI, the organization investigating the school district, abused a prevision of the Patriot Act designed to gain intelligence to prevent terrorist attacks without a warrant.  In other words, they used the act to circumvent the need for a warrant in non-terrorist related investigations, what the OIG called “a systemic abuse of power.”

The point is no agency should be allowed unchecked power.  The school district is not the police and they do not have the right to investigate crime and gather evidence.  More importantly, they do not have the right to serendipitously monitor students within their homes.  As the case with the FBI illustrates, regardless of initial intent – ability will be used.  This school district may or may not have abused the power, the courts will decide that, but they cannot deny they have the ability.  They cannot deny they did not inform parents of this ability.  Had they, parents would have revolted against the school board.  They had to understand that going into it.  It is the only way educated people, with the intent of improving the education of children can possible make such a stupid decision.

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Punishment Beyond the Crime, Way Beyond!

February 19, 2010

Alexa’s thoughts were no different from most twelve-year old girls that morning, thoughts about her friends and how much she cared for them.  Nothing at the start of her school day at  Forest Junior High (School 190), in Queens, New York led her to believe it would end with her being handcuffed and hauled away to the local police station.  Of course, when you commit a crime that is what happens.  Alexa Gonzalez’s crime – doodling “I love my friends Abby and Faith.  Lex was here 2/1/10” along with a smiley face, with a marker on her desk.

After the initial shock of hearing a twelve-year old girl winds up in custody of the police for something this trivial, it is easy to think there must be more to it.  Maybe she was out of control – nope.  Perhaps she had drugs on her – think again.  It must be she had done this time and time again – not even that.  By all accounts, Alexa is a normal well-behaved young lady who simply had a lapse of judgment.  How have we come to a place were school systems are so dysfunctional, the police become involved for the smallest infraction?

When I was in seventh grade, I remember being paddled for saying the word “damn” in class.  I did not even make it to the principal’s office, the teacher handled things right then and there.  Of course, I was given the choice of going “down the hall,” as it was called, or taking my corporal punishment.  I took my licks, returned to my desk and went back to work learning, case closed.  Rather than debate corporal punishment, I heard some of you gasp when you read that, the larger point is a minor infraction was dealt with quickly and effectively and normality resumed in the class.  By not addressing small infractions at low levels of authority, that resumption of normality is what is lacking today.

A student finding herself tangled up with the law seems commonplace today and happens coast-to-coast (click here to read a West coast example).  Before we criticize the school system, we need to understand their point of view.  Parents often sue school systems when they take corrective action and the systems become gun-shy regarding discipline.  Schools have a legitimate responsibility to provide for the safety of each student and student body, as a whole.

The line we ask them to walk, with regard to discipline, is thin, very thin.  Over time, we’ve lost something, or forgotten it.  When we send our children to school, in addition to educating them, the school fills a quasi-parental role during that time.  To that end, a level of order and civility must be maintained, requiring the schools to provide parental-style guidance when called for.

Does this mean we allow schools to beat our children, of course not.  In the case of doodling, even Alexa expected punishment, something along the lines of detention or cleaning all the desks in class.  When schools loose the ability to exercise judgment regarding various levels of punishment for small infractions, we end up with the draconian result of a “zero-tolerance” policy.  Effectively, schools have turned over all matters of discipline to the police department, which is not equipped or trained in the areas of child development or education.

We give the school systems the responsibility to educate our children; a large portion of our tax dollars goes to that end.  With responsibility comes rights, schools have a right to expect our children to behave and follow the rules that allow for education to take place.  When one child disrupts a class, the disruption affects the other children.  We need balance, we need a way that allows schools to function, and infractions dealt with at the lowest level.

Alexa paid the price of a society that is out of balance.  For the high crime of drawing on a desk, she wound up in the custody of the police.  Who benefited… not Alexa, not the other students or the school system, not even the police.  The answer is nobody gained anything.  The system must change and that change has to restore to schools the ability to punish students that break the rules.  Let’s accept that corporal punishment is off the table.  If not that, then what?  What tools are we to give schools that allow them to maintain order and not worry about ending up with a lawsuit?  This is the debate that needs to take place before we end up with all our children having police records for simply being tardy.

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Formula For The Day: Life = X–X(Z/X)

February 18, 2010

Each person has a fixed number of days to live; it is an abstract thought but one worth examining.  Thankfully, we don’t know that number, but we have it nonetheless.  Given that it’s unknown, let’s call it “X.”  Think about a historical figure, Benjamin Franklin for instance, he lived 30,580 days so that is his X number.  Other than instances of self-destruction, we have no absolute control over X.  Even if we did, it would still be X.

“What good is knowing this?” you might ask yourself about now.  You need to understand life does not last forever, at least here on earth.  The argument regarding life post-earth, though interesting, is for another day.  You also need to understand that you do not control X, as a whole, but you do control the individual days that make up your X.  Franklin did not control X either; just like you, his control was over how he spent each day.  Given the vast volume of work he produced, he did not waste many.

That is the point, it is not the number of days lived that matters, it is what you fill them with that holds value.  Looking at it another way, wasted days do not add value to life, so why count them.  That is where the title’s formula comes in; it calculates the days that matter by removing the days that don’t (Z).  Now, some smart math genius will point out that my formula is overly complex and X-Z will accomplish the same thing.  While that is true, people often refuse to believe simple things hold any value, besides “Life = X-Z” is not nearly as catchy.

How will you reduce the number of Z-days you have; are you one to sit idly by as more and more slip away?  Another point, the closer you are to X, the more important Z becomes.  We cannot have our Z-days back, once spent they are gone forever.  The good news is no one can define for you what a Z-day is, that is something you must do for yourself.  For some, simply reading may be enough to hold a Z at bay, for others reading may be the very definition of a Z-day.  Some days are filled with work; they have value, though they may not be fun.  A wasted day is one where you sit around bored for no reason.  Think about that the next time you have nothing to do and reach for the remote control and have a mind-numbing experience.  Wasted days are not limited to boredom; they include the days we allow petty obstacles to eat away at our time, obstacles like holding a grudge and allowing that to isolate us from the ones that care about us.  Life is hard enough without making it harder on ourselves.

Regardless of what you do, avoid wasting a day in useless pursuits that, in the end, add nothing to the quality of your life.  We will all have our share, for sure, even Franklin did, but we can reduce the number by simply doing things that matter.  Think about what matters to you, spend your days on that.  Keep your Z-days low.  Remember, it is not about how many days you have, but how you choose to fill them.

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