April 29, 2009

Swine Flu Spreads Terrorist Germs!!

     Like any flu, swine flu can kill, especially people who are weak. There are sensible things you can do to strengthen your immune system, like eating healthy food (no white flour/rice/pasta/sugar or processed ready-to-eat products), and getting plenty of sleep, and exercise outdoors in the fresh air. And if you do get sick, there is no shortage of natural substances, like medicinal herbs and fresh garlic, that germs don't like.
     Many people are ready to blame hog farms in Mexico for this threat of a pandemic. But even if there turns out to be a connection, these farms are only one symptom of the presenting problem. What kind of farming is unhealthy and why are people working that way? What are the trade-offs? What role does mobility play when half the world is jetting around and the other half are illegal immigrants?
     We don't know if this flu makes people sicker than other flu bugs. If mortality is higher in Mexico, it could be due to poor health due to economic exploitation.
     And could the black market drug trade be a disease vector? If law enforcement can't stop illegal drugs, how can public health officials stop germs from hitchhiking on them? And while this flu is probably not that dangerous, other diseases are. The most cost-effective way to track such vectors is to decriminalize, the only way to shine a light on a black market.

April 23, 2009

Newsflash! TV Makes You Stupid!

     A concerned parent, Allen Kanner, wrote in the last 2008 Tikkun describing his (and his wife's) decision to raise their kids without TV. They want to shelter their children from the blizzard of corporate capitalist advertising, what Zappa called "the slime oozing out of your TV set." In particular, it's the "corporate materialism" the Kanners object to. Others have demonstrated a link between materialism and low self-esteem.
     But there seems to be another scary effect of TV programming, which is that kids don't know how to play. Teachers report kids don't know what to do with themselves when left alone during recess. Research indicates kids playing with toys they have seen on TV shows limit their play to just the stories shown on those TV shows.
     However, I'm not sure I totally agree with the Kanners' solution of total isolation, particularly as the child progresses toward puberty. I would install exactly one TV, and inoculate my kids by making fun of the ads - a form of play that will empower and sharpen growing minds. Pointing out the hypocrisy and greed that goes along with all that money seems a far more effective way to prepare children to avoid another market meltdown.
     I'm also not sure TV is the only villain here. Kids can't learn to play - or act - on their own if parents never leave them alone. Too many parents are too afraid to let their kids travel alone in their own towns, not to mention out in the woods. Again, inoculation is a better defense than too much protection. Gavin de Becker's book, "Protecting the Gift," has some great ideas about how to do this, from an author with substantial professional experience.

April 9, 2009

Campaign Finance Reform

     I cannot tell a lie. I am a bad progressive who doesn't believe in public financing of campaigns. I think it's a waste of money that doesn't really address the problem. The last thing we need is more ads when the nature of advertising has gradually been rotting our brains and our schools.
     The problem is locked in place by Supreme legal precedence that any personal money spent on one's campaign is protected by the principle of free speech. The constrained freedom to contribute is also protected. Unfortunately, pandering speech enjoys equal protection not just under the law but by customary acceptance and approval. Such acceptance is close kin to people's approval of local pork.
     Many years ago, I advocated in a letter to the Bee that half of all campaign contributions be allocated to local general funds. Another great idea would be requiring more open-ended, calm, and equal time access to be provided by all news media. We could limit campaigns to a month or 2, as in Europe.
     Another campaign reform available to everyone is to never vote for anyone you see advertised on TV.