Sunday, January 28, 2018

On Conflict

We're raised to understand conflict from the perspective of good guys and bad guys. But it's rarely so clear. The battle for land and resources can be utterly nonsensical, particularly where there is plenty to go around. I watched the documentary Jane last night, in which Goodall described the horrors of the Chimp Wars of the mid-70s when a peaceful group of chimpanzees divided into two factions, seemingly randomly, and then one completely slaughtered the other over a period of about four years. They didn't stop until every single one was dead, even though some of the chimps were killing former childhood friends. Primates kill other primates. And we're primates. But we have something no other primates have: complex language. At what point will we use it instead of violence?

Turkey launched an assault on Rojava last Saturday, sparked by a US announcement that the US wants to create a border force 30,000 strong to patrol the area, which will include the Kurdish military. So far, at least 23 civilians are dead, and 5,000 displaced. It's a tragedy that must be stopped, absolutely. In the words of Sean Crowe, it's wrong on so many levels and must be condemned:

In one sense it seems simply a territorial war not entirely dissimilar to conflicts between animals everywhere who don't want that group in this place. But it's also very complicated. (Or complicated to me.) I'm just trying to figure it all out here.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Monbiot's Out of the Wreckage

The book cover says the book "provides the hope and clarity required to change the world." Well, he certainly tries. He's got a plan of action that's possible, but I didn't get the requisite hope necessary to be spurred to action. It's a bit of an overview of many ideas from different places, many of which are already in action somewhere in the world, and it left me with a solid  book list to peruse, but it also left me with a sinking feeling that this will never work. We're never going to get our shit together enough to do any of this. But I've been wrong before.

The first part is a mix of Charles Taylor's notion of social imaginaries, Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, Robert Reich's Inequality for All, and Noam Chomsky's talks on solidarity. Then he gets into specifics about our ideas around our communities, environment, economics, and democracy.

On School Holidays

If we can't move or shorten the "winter break" because, let's face it. we're running on a Christian calendar with lengthy holidays around Christmas and Easter and no time off for any other religion (well, we recognize Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, but would we if they were at a different time?), if we can recognize we're not quite secular yet, then could we start the school year in August and end it in May with a June-July summer? June is getting hotter (h/t climate change), and August is often rainy anyway, right? I know it's tricky to change things like this, but it's silly to continue on with a system that isn't optimal for the people being served. In many states, they've already shifted to an August start.

In the high schools, after two weeks of eating and sleeping excessively, we come back for just two weeks of learning, quickly followed by review and final exams. For grade 12s hoping to get in to college or university, this is the most important semester of their lives, and they often come back sluggish and in need of a refresher that we don't have time to offer. If we start in August, then the break will fall at the half-way mark between the two semesters. Kids can have a real break without assignments hanging over their heads--that most don't actually get done over Christmas despite their best intentions. This year I had many students completely forget about a major assignment that was due after the break - and I had changed the due date from before to after on their insistence that they'd do a much better job with more time. And then January is a nice, fresh start for everyone. It will take some adjusting as summer camps shift their schedules, but it's clearly do-able.

Then March break and Thanksgiving are both centred nicely in the middle of the semesters. But, while we're at it, can we attach the March break to Easter (or just ditch that Easter Monday invention) and shorten it, then add a few of those days to Thanksgiving to have more even semesters? October is a beautiful time for a holiday, and the number of holidays breaking up our second semester makes it difficult to have any continuity.

I know it's not all about me, but these are largely school holiday that are placed in the worst arrangement in respect of school success. Frankly, I'm all for year-round schooling, but that's likely going too far for some.

ETA - This is timely: WRDSB is considering year-round schooling. But the trustees make the mistake of suggesting that our current model is for outdated agrarian purposes. Historian Kenneth Gold says otherwise:
“What school on the agrarian calendar actually looked like was a short winter term and a short summer term....And if you think about farming needs, that’s actually what makes sense....Kids in rural, agricultural areas were most needed in the spring, when most crops had to be planted, and in the fall, when crops were harvested and sold. Historically, many attended school in the summer when there was comparatively less need for them on the farm....the current school year was really a conscious creation...A long break would give teachers needed time to train and give kids a break. And while summer was the logical time to take off, the cycles of farming had nothing to do with it."
ETA - BUT, as much as I support year-round schooling, I'm not in favour of their proposed calendar, which makes no sense in terms of balanced semesters:

The first semester looks fine, but why add in a week in February and then leave three months, April, May, and June, without any breaks. If they have a leftover week of holidays, give the kids a long weekend - or even one Wednesday "catch-up" day each quarter. Then make the spring break fall right in the middle of the semester, rather than have 8 weeks in one quarter and 13 weeks in the next. Who does that benefit??

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Long Wait - A Bandaid for the Emergency Room Crisis

This is just an off-the-cuff comment, but enduring a long wait in a crowded, infection-ridden emergency room just once should be enough to spur people into action - or at least into innovation. At the time of my first extended wait, I asked a nurse if I could just take a number or somehow find out where I am in line and/or have a means to hold my place so I could leave to get food and come back again later.

She said, "No, you just have to wait with everyone else."

Fair enough, but what if we could wait at home??

When we first sign-in at the hospital now, it's all on a computer. It seems feasible, to me, to develop a means of signing-in from home. I mean, we can check the general wait-times online already:

But because that time can vary depending on what type of illness or injury shows up after we get there, it doesn't tell us much. And the longer we wait to make our way to the hospital, the longer we could end up waiting there because there are no guarantees that the wait time will diminish.

The computer log-in provides the first line of triage, and that wouldn't change. But patients could provide more information to the triage nurses online instead of having a waiting period followed by a brief interview and then another waiting period. Most people can take their own temperature at least, provide a sense of their pain or distress on a scale of 1-10, and fill in a questionnaire about symptom onset, duration, and severity, enough to get a sense of if their condition is emergent, urgent, less urgent or non-urgent. I realize triage is a complicated process, so a trained nurse could ask further questions as needed or even ask for photos to be sent if necessary, and the system could be made to flag any typical symptoms that might indicate a fatal condition. The system could estimate wait time based on each patient's own specific need for treatment, and sick people could stay home until just 15 minutes  before their name is likely to be called. Anyone anxious about the system not working effectively, can wait the five hours on a hard chair potentially surrounded by people with contagious conditions and a TV blaring nearby. People would need to sign in with a valid health card number to prevent any shenanigans. Abusers of the system would have to face consequences similar to those faced by 911 prank callers.

Of course there's nothing that can match a professional seeing a patient in person to judge if they're just uncomfortable or scared and in need of reassurance rather than actually needing emergency care, and they'll have to err on the side of assessing people as more urgent, but, until we're able to actually fix the system, maybe something like this might at least make it more bearable. Any time I've called Telehealth, they've just sent me to emerge anyway. Maybe putting it in the hospitals as a first-line  assessment service could make the waiting easier. I wouldn't be as annoyed about waiting for hours if I could do it in my living room.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Oxygen Depletion in the Oceans

This can't be good:

"The oxygen content of the open ocean and coastal waters has been declining for at least the past half-century, largely because of human activities that have increased global temperatures and nutrients discharged to coastal waters. These changes have accelerated consumption of oxygen by microbial respiration, reduced solubility of oxygen in water, and reduced the rate of oxygen resupply from the atmosphere to the ocean interior, with a wide range of biological and ecological consequences."

From Science Magazine 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

War is a Terrible Back-Up Plan

Noam Chomsky is certain that the only two things we should be worried about right now are climate change and nuclear war. Adam Ellick and Jonah Kessel's article in the NYTimes from last month, "From North Korea with Dread," is terrifying. Some think it's not something to fear because of course the U.S. will win against them, but, living less than 500 km from Washington DC as the crow flies, we would definitely be affected by just one lone strike on American soil. The claim that North Korea wouldn't be dumb enough to strike at all against a country so much more powerful is somewhat eradicated by the video at the link.

The citizens interviewed, albeit largely prompted by the interpreter and some unnamed guy in the background, seem to view themselves as ants in a colony, willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the group. One young woman explains that "we all die eventually." Some of the people interviewed looked terrified and refused to speak, and it's hard to say if they were more afraid of the American reporters or of being caught speaking freely or of the prospect of impending doom. So who's to say what they really think. They repeated many times that the entire country has signed up for military duty, willing to fight on the front lines, but it's not clear to me how much that matters now that we have nuclear warhead and drones. And citizen support of war isn't necessary under a dictatorship except in an attempt to appear benevolent. But they want to be sure we know they're all in.

The video is frustrating in its lack of clarity, which might have been improved with a reporter familiar with the language at least enough to ask questions without prompts required. But maybe that's against the rules anyway.

Jeffrey Lewis, in Foreign Policy, backs up some of these concerns,
"We're like hack screenwriters who have written ourselves into a corner. We don't know how to write the happy ending, so we're looking for a deus ex machina to appear and solve it for us. At the moment, that's China. But that's not a very plausible ending, not even for a fairy tale. And so the war talk goes on."

North Korea did many terrible things to the U.S. before it had nuclear weapons, so it's not inconceivable it won't act now if we can't get Trump to settle down. Yikes.

ETA this interview with a South Korean general discussing what war would be like with North Korea:
“I try to explain to the Americans — if we have to go into North Korea, it is not going to be like going into Iraq or Afghanistan. It’s not going to be like toppling [ex-Iraqi President Saddam] Hussein. This would be more like trying to get rid of Allah....I have had the opportunity to speak to North Korean soldiers who have defected to South Korea — and you cannot imagine how indoctrinated they are. These are people who have defected, and yet there is still an innate belief in their system which is close to ridiculous....North Korean pilots would likely use their planes in kamikaze-style attacks, since the aircraft are too old to reliably fly well over long periods of time. That matters since the North Korean air force has around 1,000 planes. Plus, North Koreans receive 100 hours of training on how shoot a weapon a year starting at the age of 14, underscoring how militarized the society is.”
So, there's that.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On Fostering Illusions and the Qualitative Leap

What do you do when well-meaning people dear to you advise you to ignore your doctors? (And what if the doctors are wrong?)

I generally rally against non-scientifically verifiable medical claims. I'm pretty open minded and willing to try anything, but I also scrutinize any available research before I write off some new thing as the next solution to everything, like coconut oil or vitamin D. A year ago I wrote about people trying to peddle naturopathic cures to me after I was first diagnosed, but more recently I've been challenged by some scientifically-minded friends and family over some of the changes I've actually adopted in my life after all that cancer stuff.