Friday, October 29, 2010

CNN Raises Awareness of Bullying And Homophobia

On CNN, anchor reporter Anderson Cooper (left) has taken up the cause of bullying more than any other journalist. In this video, he very skillfully and politely persuaded an anti-gay man, C. McCance (right), to publicly back down on homophobic rhetoric in his writing and to concurrently resign from his position as vice-president of an Arkansas school board.

Anderson Cooper did a fine job on air of publicly connecting a face with homophobia for millions of viewers around the world. This elected member of an education board in Arkansas clearly seemed surprised to find himself caught on international television. I have to commend Mr. Cooper for  using his platform to confront this official. (If only certain other right-wing American talk show hosts could be as helpful.)

More than that, Mr. Cooper should get a special award for raising public awareness of the ongoing social issue of bullying, since it overlaps and underlies so very many social issues and timely matters of current public policy socially, in the workplace and at schools. At the same time, spotlighting outrageous instances of outright homophobia can't hurt the LGBT community (not that I belong, but I happen to think homophobia is wrong).

It might interest my international readers to know that America's free public schools are controlled by locally elected school board members. These board members are obviously American, in my experience, and mostly Americans of many generations.

...At the same time, it might interest my American readers to learn that most free schools in other countries are not controlled by anyone other than school heads.

These American school boards in general worry me because they aren't necessarily filled with educators and the most educated and experienced people in the community. School boards get filled with citizens whose wish for board membership coincides with having the time and inclination to serve. The busiest and most experienced professionals and educators rarely serve on school boards. The trouble is, in America these board members make academic decisions on school matters in which they are far from expert.

We can only hope school board members do the right thing for  the sensitive, vulnerable young minds, the children like mine, on whose shoulders the future rests. The work Mr. Cooper did to expose this official is valuable to all whose children's educations rely on a fair and balanced school board, sadly an oxymoron. They should be accountable to communities; yes, that is definitely the least they should be.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Slavery: An Important Old Problem Revisited with an Expert: Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves

Did you know there are 27 million slaves in the world in 2010 and that many of them have been slaves for generations? So says Kevin Bales, President of Free the Slaves, U.S. sister organization of the world's oldest human rights organization, Anti-Slavery International.

Here are excerpts as a quick synopsis from an interview by Bales on Big Think with apologies for errors.

Slavery has always been the same thing. It's about a person who's completely controlled by another. 

There are many types of slavery, many of which have been unaltered for hundreds of years. In the 20th century, the price of human beings collapsed and changed the dynamics of slavery. There has been a population explosion in the world. Lack of the rule of law has made people vulnerable to slavery. Huge population and lack of the rule of law has an overlap, whereby people live on extreme deprivation and citizens are harvested, and there is a glut of humans. A given is the pool of potentially slaveable population group of 700 million. The number of 27 million could be far higher and thankfully, it isn't.

Nowadays enslavement starts with asking the question: "do you want a job?" Slaves are not initially usually taken by violence, or bought. People walk into slavery, as we all would, sometimes to feed children and then the enslaved are separated, and the threat of violence begins.

There is not a single way to stop slavery. There is not a silver bullet. Liberation workers do the dangerous work of kidnapping the enslaved. Community organization has to stop it. Direct intervention creates liberation. We wish governments would step in and stop it and do what they should do.

Domestic servitude is a form of slavery. Stopping slavery in any random location requires the sharp eyes of people around to liberate the enslaved. 

Warning signs of slavery:
  • underage of employment
  • not in school during school hours
  • not well dressed
  • working all hours
  • frightened 
  • hungry 
  • injured
  • fearful
  • not knowing where they are
  • sleep-deprived 

    Slavery is a hidden crime. It's impossible to collect solid numbers. The academic world and the United Nations have estimated there are 27 million slaves in the world at the present time, plus or minus 5 million. 

    Slavery is worst in: 
    • India (largest number) 
    • Burma (worst percentage-wise) 
    • Nepal
    • Pakistan (hereditary forms)
    • Japan (worst in that police overlook it; they could improve it)
    • Congo 
    • 1 in 10 children live in slavery in Haiti (at
    Governments could do better, even in America.

    Myth: Slavery is not in America. Truth: It is.

    Myth: Slaves are all prostitutes. Truth: America has numbers of 50,000 or more slaves. In U.S. sexual exploitation (prostitution) is less than half of that number. But it exists all around, and we are unaware of it.

    The U.S. has always had slavery. We could be a slave-free country. The government has promised we will have a slave-free country. 17,000 are brought into America each year to be slaves, same number as homicides, but much less is spent on slaves than homicides. A crime almost as serious as murder getting little attention.

    Slavery is prehistoric. It existed then in a fairly sophisticated way. Violence exploited people. Familial exploitation existed.  Changed from family exploitation to animal domestication model, e.g. Aristotle: the "ox is the poor man's slave".

    Slaves are pre-legal; 30% of code of Hammurabi is about slavery. It is pre-monetary; slaves come after records of money. Slaves do not exist in every society. Slavery as a semi-permanent condition has evolved over 5,000 years. Slavery bankrolled payrolls of army legions and is linked to productive regional growth. Now, slavery generally involves the physical possession of people temporarily, rather than land.

    American Drug Companies Pay Doctors To Sell Drugs

    Do you ever worry a trusted doctor accepts secret payments from pharmaceutical companies at the expense of your life and health? Here's a place to check.

    Investigative journalists have made an astounding report in ProPublica detailing how drug companies have cleverly managed to pay so little to get so much in many cases. Many payments they made are for a few hundred dollars in "speaking fees" where doctors tout a drug. It's not surprising doctors would accept the money, since they can be bombarded by drug company incentives. In fact, it's surprising how few did accept payments, at least according to this report, and most payments were surprisingly small (in the hundreds of dollars). But many doctors have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars. Whether they earned it is not within the scope of this article, although the article mentions doctors sometimes only had to attend seminars to get paid.

    ProPublica's report includes a national American database, check-able by state and by name of doctor, linked here. It says there is nothing wrong or illegal about doctors taking money from companies manufacturing drugs. In fact, some doctors assert they do so because they are "so good" at what they do. We cannot verify that advice.The problem is, more than seventy drug companies did not disclose their payments publicly, so this list may potentially be the tip of the iceberg. 

    The database is restricted in many ways, unfortunately:
    • Payments to group practices were also excluded from this database; only  doctors practicing alone were included.  
    • Some doctors evidently have not received board certifications. 
    • The government removes older disciplinary procedures from websites.
    • We cannot be sure how long these doctors have accepted payments from drug companies. 
    Perhaps that is the true point of the article: not only do we as patients not know how much money doctors make from drug companies and where it comes from, we can't find out how long it's been going on or how it influences their  practice of medicine without asking them, which we wouldn't.

    The investigation found proof of practices as sleazy as one would suspect and fear possible. Doctor speakers were dropped if they did not write substantial prescriptions for a company. Doctors accepted "preceptor-ship programs" to allow sales representatives to spend time observing their practices, when in fact the sales reps were paid to use the time to push drugs to doctors. The report found evidence of illegal marketing of "off-label" uses of the drugs, i.e. those not approved by U.S. government regulators. Doctors rewarded for being "top injectors." Even vacation resort fees were covered.

    While whistleblowers have tried to level the field,  skepticism about the purity of prescription-givers abounds in America. Consumer Reports found in  a study that 58% of Americans assume doctors give speeches paid for my drug companies, 51% believe that less than $500 could influence a doctor's judgment and 40% would not feel comfortable asking their doctors if they accept payments from a drug company for a drug they prescribe...a low number when considered, as if 60% would ask.

     Do you think all doctors should post how much and exactly what they accept from each and every pharmaceutical company on their waiting room walls and on their websites? Do you think they ever will?

    ProPublica has achieved a victory with this report and found a great deal of truth however limited to disclose.

    Full-disclosure: hip and spine injections by a Physiatrist have improved my own life immeasurably. While, doctors and drug companies by themselves are not the problem, our problem is with secret payments to doctors from drug companies possibly compromising the judgments of doctors.

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    Restoring Power to The Powerless With Love

    The statistics in my last post regarding the zero percentage divorce rate of line repairmen challenged me to find out about it. Today, I got to put the idea to the test. The electrical power to the house had an outage and in came repairmen from the power company to fix the buried line going out to the street that is half a mile away. At first, I was upset that the company had hung up on my phone call when I reported it and they hadn't taken my address, causing me to call back. (I was upset when they asked for my customer service number in the pitch black when it was all I could do to get through to the toll-free number for outages.)

    Anyway, Luis, the repairman, was very kind when I talked to him outside, and he noticed my necklace and complimented it. After getting over my surprise, I told him about my friends making jewelry and my own blog, and how I like to make jewelry, and he said he helps his wife make jewelry, too, part-time as well as elevating himself four floors above ground in a cherry-picker to cut cables as his full-time job.

    The point is, he spoke very lovingly about his wife over and over again, and I was very impressed with his sweetness. He also told me about a location where his wife would be selling jewelry today, so I would have the opportunity to meet her. Of course, I went over and introduced myself to her. She also had enjoyed a very successful real estate career for nineteen years, which I wanted to hear more about. I had not ever heard two people so in love with each other and talking so well of the other for decades. 

    It was very beautiful and at the time, I had forgotten about the statistic that line repairmen are among the least divorced of men. Turns out they were both divorced years before they met each other, thus challenging that statistic (not that I disapprove). They were in the same second grade classes and then met up many years later. Both of them say the other is the very best thing that happened to them, and so on. It was very nice and refreshing to hear such love and devotion in their voices, and it made a very romantic story.

    So, while it may be true that the very first line repairman I spoke to would render the statistic false, at the same time, he proves that it doesn't make any more sense not to love another woman any more than it would be to stop eating and breathing, and restoring power to those without it. Thanks for the lesson, Luis!

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    Telephone Repairmen Have Most Solid Marriages On Average
    According to Business Insider, divorce rates are lowest in the following professions:
    • Media & communication equipment workers -- 0% divorce rate
    • Agricultural engineers -- 1.78% divorce rate
    • Optometrists -- 4.01% divorce rate
    • Transit and railroad police -- 5.26% divorce rate
    • Clergy -- 5.61% divorce rate
    • Directors of religious activity -- 5.88% divorce rate
    • Sales engineers -- 6.61% divorce rate
    • Podiatrists -- 6.81% divorce rate
    • Nuclear engineers -- 7.29% divorce

    Portrait of a farmer [unidentified], [ca. 1910]
    John Boyd
    Archives of Ontario, I0003403

    In case you are wondering about the opposite, most divorce-prone professions, here's a link for more information. I have to admit, these are riveting statistics, if true.

    My angle is that marriage, in its essence, is the relationship between two private people. Individually, as far as the people we know, relationships aren't really any of our business, unless we are called upon as marriage counselors (as few of us are). So it's wise to steer clear with casual judgments about marriages and help let marriages keep their inscrutable mystery and ineffable romance. 

      How Ink is make

      Thanks to Huffington Post:
      "Set to Alfred Brendel's lyrical Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat major, it shows the process from top to bottom of how ink is made. And it turns out that that process is not only more interactive than we would have expected, but its also vivid and even balletic."