The Power of a Few


Often, when the subject of climate change is discussed, people begin to feel highly motivated to take action. However, it is easy to get discouraged when it is soon realized that the change that is necessary to save our planet meets with heavy resistance from large and powerful corporations who are more concerned with profit margins than securing a viable home for future generations. After all, most of these high-salaried executives, board members and executives will be long dead by the time humankind is suffering the worst devastation of climate change. But the gringa says, “Don’t give up. You’re voice does matter.”

Much like how a drop of water slowly becomes, over time, a stalactite or stalagmite, or a river can, over eons, cut a gorge as impressive as the Grand Canyon,  community action, even if it’s only a handful of people, can also build something lasting and impressive. By keeping continued pressure upon the neck of a company, by consistently bringing your cause to their attention, by employing multiple calls to action such as petitions that accumulate the voices of all concerned citizens in the local community, a small collection of individuals who are persistent can either:

  • A. Wear down the opposition in a war of attrition; or
  • B. Eventually create so much local awareness that a company realizes it is in the company’s best interest to respond to their demands if they want to continue to enjoy profiting from the local community’s patronage; or
  • C. The best outcome, the company comes around to the same perspective, seeing the value not in the almighty dollar alone, but actually sees real value in the issue.

A perfect example of this can be seen in the videos below featuring a small group of young people representing the cause “Value the Meal” which is pushing for accountability by community leaders in their local pediatric medical community. Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, Texas specializes in the healthcare of our most vulnerable population, our children. In this place of health and healing is a McDonald’s restaurant which aggressively markets their brand of food which is famous for its low nutrition value.

Linked to chronic health conditions like diabetes and obesity, it is hard to understand why physicians, who are endowed with public trust with regard to health, would be so irresponsible as to seemingly advocate for this kind of food, especially for children who are in recovery and even more vulnerable to a diet that woefully lacks anything that can contribute to strengthening them and improving their healing abilities.

Value the Meal rally at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

“Community health over corporate wealth”. Children’s hospitals shouldn’t have junk food brands like McDonald’s with contracted space in their facilities of health and healing.

No McDonald’s junk food poisoning recovering children patients at Texas Children’s Hospital.

They may not seem very powerful with numbers so small. But that is not where there power lies. There power lies in the “rightness” of their position, the persistence of their action, and the growing community support responding  as they continue to witness this same small group of committed activists maintain a voice and presence on one particular issue.

In your own community, whatever your noble cause, gather together whomever you can trust to remain committed and loyal, even if your numbers happen to be small. Because even one drop of water is powerful and you are much greater than a single drop of water.

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Poopbots Running Amok In The Muck


Yes, dear reader, you read the gringa’s post title correctly, poopbots. And they are literally running amok in Boston’s subterranean muck. Mario and Luigi are pioneering waste miners delving the stinky depths of Boston’s sewers. They are gathering data from human effluence for epidemiologists so they can uncover even darker secrets of human health and behavior. So what does the future of poop collection and dissection look like?

MIT researchers involved in Senseable City Lab’s project, aptly named Underworlds, are on a mission to help scientists predict outbreaks of dangerous and deadly diseases. They also want to help discover some of the causes of chronic diseases whose origins in human health remain a mystery. And they believe clues to solving these mysteries lie deep in the sewers, secreted in what’s been excreted.

Project leader, Carlo Ratti, uses the example of influenza to explain. Before a widespread outbreak is evident in local hospitals, the virus could have already been detected in the human waste produced by those first afflicted. Once a city makes poop monitoring a regular thing, they can isolate and respond to any outbreak much more rapidly. Hopefully, future widespread epidemics can be prevented.

Mario and Luigi scan for industrial toxins, human biomarkers, and other chemicals related to contagious disease and chronic illnesses such as diabetes. It’s kind of like an urban poop census. The Environmental Protection Agency is completely on board with the idea of an urban poop census. They see this ambitious project as the latest advance in an inexpensive way to monitor public health in a timely manner that is relevant. The gringa believes that EPA agents are probably just glad to say good-bye to the days of scooping poop to fill their sample quotas.

Luigi and Mario are controlled remotely and use a GPS system to navigate. Within fifteen minutes of a flush, a fresh sample can be collected. By gathering samples so soon after a dump event scientists can determine the difference between chemicals a person is exposed to as opposed to chemicals a person ingested. The most common food products found in human waste thus far in the project are rice, wheat and beans. However, the occasional pomegranate seed collection makes for a nice surprise.

If the underworld of human poop analysis by robots interests you, Underworlds has its own website. Interested poop fans can gaze in wonder as data is disseminated to reveal what types of viruses are in the local water supply right alongside any bacteria or chemicals. If all goes well with Mario and Luigi, the state of Massachusetts may expand their poop inspection territory. The gringa suspects this will, indeed, be the case considering that even Kuwaiti poopers have been so impressed they have implemented their own poopbots in partnership with Underworlds.

Although MIT has long been heralded for the many scientists and engineers and mathematical geniuses who have graduated there, now, it will forever be remembered as the institute of poop pioneers. Better a pioneer than just a lowly pile, is what the gringa says!

Sources:

qz.com

underworlds.mit.edu

senseable.mit.edu

 

Image Credit: https://blog.adafruit.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2368.jpg

 

 

 

What Does Your “SNIP” Say About You?


A team of researchers have been studying 17 “snips” and recently published their findings in Nature Genetics. “Snips” are known as genetic tweaks found in DNA. These scientists delved deep into the genetic material of thousands of humans who participated in the study, all hoping to contribute to the future of medicine by doctors and patients, alike, being able to discover reliable genetic markers that will indicate certain diseases.

One of the lead researchers involved in the project is a Harvard psychiatrist, Professor Roy Perlis, who serves as Associate Director of the Psychiatric Genetics Program for Massachusetts General Hospital. His greatest hopes have been realized in the findings of the research. Discovered were genetic variations that occurred consistently in people who suffered with depression. What is the potential of this discovery in providing relief for depression sufferers and possibly preventing its development in a person who is genetically marked as a potential candidate?

There exists private genomics companies where a client can basically spit in a cup, have their DNA analyzed and learn any number of secrets that may be hiding there, like the potential for developing depression. This type of information, long before the onset of an illness, can transform healthcare as we know it. Rather than show up at a psychiatrist’s office in a full-blown state of debilitating depression, a person can begin preventative measures far in advance, thus improving their chances for a depression-free life of the highest quality.  This could potentially save patients and health insurance providers thousands of dollars per patient throughout that patient’s lifetime (and this could possibly be the motive behind some of the loudest critics).

The findings of the research determined 17 DNA markers linked with Major Depressive Disorder. Some of these variations are also connected with other psychiatric disorders thus connecting depression as a role player in the development of other forms of mental illness. If depression is, say, step one down the road of developing schizophrenia, imagine how many lives can be saved from such suffering if that single step can be avoided altogether.

Because effective treatment of any mental illness depends on patients self-reporting their symptoms and cooperating with treatment measures, mental illness is often under-reported and under-treated as a natural result of the mentally ill not having the capacity to recognize symptoms, or in denial of what they indicate, and often inconsistently participating in the critical component of treatment. By establishing awareness and beginning preventative treatment long before a patient becomes symptomatic, the chances of long-term success are greatly increased because medical professionals are dealing with a psychiatrically healthy  individual from the beginning.

The gringa sees all the critics and naysayers have to say. They are worried about misdiagnosis. They are worried about genomics companies offering unauthorized medical advice. But the gringa is not a Negative Nellie. The gringa is a Positive Polly. I believe that any person who is seeking out the services of a genomics company, willing to pay their own hard-earned money to get an analysis of their DNA in order to better understand their health risks, is a person who is not going to make bad decisions such as exploring medical treatment and advice from non-professionals. I also don’t believe they will be the type of people to be hampered with a misdiagnosis. I believe they will be some of the best informed patients a doctor will ever deal with. So enough with the criticism and embrace an advance in medical science that will most certainly save lives, preserve lives and improve the quality of those lives, as well as the lives of the loved ones surrounding them.

Sources:

www.nature.com

http://chgr.org/index-faculty_perlis.html

www.businessinsider.com

www.theguardian.com

Image Credit: images.boomsbeat.com

 

 

The Big Mac Boot


The gringa’s oldest son is doing her proud. Like many millenials, my son has a strong desire to make the world a better place. He has aspirations of doing this by becoming a community organizer and rallying people around important issues of social justice, working together to bring about public awareness and positive change. He has taken his first steps toward achieving his goal by volunteering with a local organization and participated in a press conference.

As a proud and supportive parent, and a bit of a rabble-rouser myself, I simply had to devote a post sharing the good work this organization is doing. Please see their press release below. Links are provided to other media coverage or research documents for your own browsing pleasure!

MEDIA RELEASE

Doctors, dieticians, parents call on Texas Children’s, Ben Taub hospitals to give McDonald’s the boot

Coalition announces campaign to eliminate junk food marketing in hospitals

HOUSTON –Today, as part of coordinated actions in five cities nationwide, doctors from the Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, and Texas Children’s Hospital joined more than 35 health professionals and community organizations to demand that McDonald’s and other junk food corporations end all marketing inside Texas Children’s and Ben Taub hospitals. The coalition is calling on the CEOs of Texas Children’s Hospital and Harris Health System, which oversees Ben Taub Hospital, to close on-site McDonald’s stores, citing health concerns.

The call comes on the heels of Cleveland Clinic’s decision in August and Allina Health/Abbott Northwestern Hospital’s decision in December to sever ties with the burger giant, due to concerns for their patients’ health. It also amplifies the voices of more than 3,000 health professionals and advocacy organizations like Corporate Accountability International who have called on McDonald’s to stop marketing to kids and 12,000 physicians of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine who have urged hospitals, including Texas Children’s Hospital, to go “fast-food-free.” Increasingly, hospital administrators are equating McDonald’s in hospitals to the tobacco industry’s tactic of selling cigarettes in hospital gift shops decades ago.

“In the midst of an epidemic of diet-related diseases, it makes no sense for kids to be treated on one floor of Ben Taub and Texas Children’s and see a McDonald’s on another—it sends the wrong message,” said Rosalia Guerrero, president of Healthcare for All Texas.

Texas Children’s and Ben Taub hospitals would become the twelfth and thirteenth to sever ties with McDonald’s since 2009, joining the ranks of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Truman Medical Center, Vanderbilt Medical Center, and others.

“I was shocked and disappointed to find McDonald’s in the world’s largest medical center,” said Azeen Anjum, first year Baylor College of Medicine student and member of Choosing Healthy, Eating Fresh (CHEF). “McDonald’s symbolizes the toxic dieta ry climate that contributes to America’s current epidemic of diet-related illness. It should not be allowed to continue damaging health in hospitals that serve our community’s most vulnerable populations.”

Siting stores in hospitals is one of the many ways McDonald’s attempts to “nutriwash” its brand.   Increasingly, health professionals are linking the skyrocketing rates of diet-related diseases like Type 2 diabetes to pervasive junk food marketing. Research from the Institute of Medicine and the National Bureau of Economic Research has found that ending kid-targeted junk food marketing could benefit the health of millions of children.

Dietitians from across Houston also weighed in on the issue.

“We are learning more every day about the roles of preservatives, refined sweeteners, oxidized fats and their role in diabetes, blood pressure, cancer, obesity and more” said Ali Miller, RD, LD, CDE author of Naturally Nourished: Food-as-Medicine for Optimal Health. “As a nutrition expert I am confident in saying processed fast food like McDonald’s has been shown to have harmful deleterious effects not neutral.”

This week, hundreds of people in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis and Tampa are also calling on McDonald’s and other junk food corporations to end targeted marketing through schools and other institutions. The groups are organizing to support of school boards and hospital administrators to strengthen existing policies and sever ties with junk food corporations.

In the coming months, the Houston coalition will continue to build community support for Ben Taub Hospital and Texas Children’s Hospital to prioritize its patients’ health over corporate profits.

 

Here Comes The Sun, Little Darlin’


China may be one step closer to saying, “Bye, bye,” to fossil fuels. With their latest invention, an artificial sun of hydrogen gas, in fact, an incredibly dense artificial sun of hydrogen gas that is triple the power of that glorious glowing ball of gas high in the sky, they may very well have a limitless power source.

The first thought is, “Hurrah! The global energy crisis is over! Human caused acceleration of climate change can be ceased with no more use of fossil fuels!” However, the gringa hates to be the cynic and rain on everyone’s parade. I will withhold my judgement that this incredible invention will work successfully, everything going as planned. And, if it does, that it will be put to use for humanitarian purposes for the benefit of mankind. The gringa will “wait and see”.

China’s Institute of Physical Science in Hefei is the brainchild and creator of a magnetic fusion reactor that has produced this seemingly inexhaustible source of hydrogen based energy. This is a direct outgrowth from technology developed over 60 years ago by Soviet scientists who created the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST). It is a metallic chamber shaped like a figure-8.  The reactor can produce hydrogen energy up to 50 million Kelvins (that’s almost 50 million degrees Celsius or 122 million degrees Fahrenheit). Wow, that’s enough to curl my hair! Consider that the sun burns at about 15 million Kelvins. So, China’s man-made sun is more than three times as hot as the real McCoy. It’s not as big a deal as it seems because scientists were only able to maintain this core temperature for less than two minutes.

Now, really, this artificial sun news is really no new news. The Germans claimed to have created such a thing already. The real news is the length of time the existence of the “sun” lasted. However, at two minutes a pop, the gringa doesn’t see how this is really going to change the energy game around the world. China, Germany and Russia are still years, probably even decades, away from perfecting the technology to the point that it will even matter to mankind.

And really, despite all the fuss being made over China, artificial suns are actually a dime a dozen. The technology has been around for ages. And every nation that has a decent scientific community has one. Consider Coelux. This Italian invention uses nano technology to create the natural lighting of the sun and sky. This technology is being used around the world in museums, shopping malls, airports, subways, garages, and even homes.

However, the gringa’s favorite use of Italy’s artificial sun is in healthcare. The medical community is responding to the human aversion of being confined. By introducing artificial natural light (if THAT’S not an oxymoron!) into treatment rooms that are usually windowless, medical professionals are seeing patients respond positively through the psychological and physiological benefits of being in a space illuminated by the sun and sky.

People can even enjoy this at home. Even on a rainy day you can be enjoying the rays of a tropical sun. And the Italians are not just scientifically sterile in their lighting craft. Channeling Italy’s deep roots within the art community, they offer lighting perspectives for every taste: dramatic tropical sun, a gentle Mediterranean sun, or a cool Nordic sun. The gringa thinks this is sensational, um, I meant “sunsational” (darn you, auto-correct)!

Sources: South China Morning Post, www.scmp.com, www.coelux.com

Photo credit: www.coelux.com