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December 2004
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February 2005

Have our jet setting ways made us happier or filled us with terror?

Jet_plane Gregg Easterbrook points out that 30 years ago and more, only the wealthy were able to take vacations overseas. We even had a phrase for them. They were referred to as the "jet set". In 2002, over twenty five million Americans took vacations overseas. Adjusting for population this rate of overseas vacations is 30 times what it was in 1900. Now, 200 million Americans, or about 70% of the population are members of the "jet set", hardly an experience only for the wealthy any longer.

The world has certainly become smaller.

My wife and I had 9 kids and I make my living as a Social Worker one of the lowest paid professions in the world, and yet my third child, Kelly, was able to go to China in 1986 when she was a junior in high school as a "community ambassador" from our village in Western New York State, Brockport, NY. What a thrill to see our daughter go from Rochester, NY to Chicago, to San Francisco, to Tokyo, to Hong Kong, and eventually into mainland China.

While I have never been out of the country myself except to Canada many of my children have been places like Mexico, England, Ireland, Germany, France in addition to Kelly's trip to China.

Having watched the plane fares, there have been times when it was cheaper to fly from Buffalo, NY to Paris than it is to fly to Disney World in Orlando, Fl.

It is not rare any more for Americans to visit exotic far away distant places. These kinds of journeys are common place and while interesting and exciting for the traveler not uncommon or of particular interest to anyone else.

Has this mobility and contact with diverse cultures made us any happier or wiser?

If it did, why are we so full of "terror"?

Quote of the day

"It seems to me that self-confidence and the ability to stand one's ground are essential if we want to succeed in life. I am not talking of stupid self-assurance but an awareness of our inner potential, a certainty that we can always correct our behaviour, improve ourselves, enrich ourselves, and that things are never hopeless."

Dalai Lama

Kids' Passive Smoking Tied to Later Lung Cancer

Parent_smoking There is a report on the online edition of the British Medical Journal on January 28, 2005 which found that risk to kids subjected to second hand smoke of getting lung cancer was increased 34% and other respiratory diseases by 30%.

"As reported online by the British Medical Journal, Dr. P. Vineis, from Imperial College London, and colleagues analyzed data from 303,000 subjects who participated in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) study.

The analysis focused on 123,479 subjects who provided information about exposure to secondhand smoke. During more than 7 years of follow-up, 97 people were diagnosed with lung cancer, 20 were diagnosed with upper respiratory malignancies, and 14 died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

In the overall analysis, exposure to environmental tobacco smoke raised the risk of all respiratory diseases by 30% and lung cancer by 34%, the researchers report."

A practice I find especially troubling and which should be outlawed is smoking in automobiles with children present. In New York State we have the Expanded Clean Indoor Air Act implemented in July of 2003 which makes it illegal for any smoking to be indoors where employees working for pay are located. The next big expansion would be to outlaw the smoking in private automobiles when children are present.

Link: MedlinePlus: Kids' Passive Smoking Tied to Later Lung Cancer.

Dorothy Day - A Saint Among Us

Dorothy_day_1 Dorothy Day was the American version of Mother Teresa. She has not achieved the same international recognition because, when nominated for the Nobel peace prize, she was considered "too radical".

Dorothy was born in Brooklyn, NY on November 8, 1897. She died on November 29, 1980 in New York City. In the 19teens she was a pacifist and a suffragette. She had a love affair which resulted in an abortion, a short term marriage that ended in divorce, and then in the 20s she worked as a journalist writing for communist newspapers. She also lived in a common-law relationship and had a daughter out of wedlock. In the later 20s she converted to Catholicism and devoted her life to the poor opening storefront soup kitchens and founding, with Peter Maurin, the Catholic Worker Movement.

Sarah Horsely says in part:

"Throughout her life, Day unabashedly and consistently spoke out, condemning fascism, nuclear weapons, and the Vietnam War, and supporting WWII draft resistance, an undertakers' strike against the New York Catholic archdiocese, and the United Farm Workers' unionization of migrant workers. Day's balance of radical social beliefs and conservative doctrinal views enabled her to avoid being censured by the Church, and thus to raise awareness among Catholics and all people of struggles for social justice."

Archbishop Cardinal John O'Connor petitioned the Vatican to open Dorothy's case for canonization in the Catholic Church in the late 90s, and his petition was granted.

In October, 2002, Dorothy was inducted in the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY.

In spite of her own failings and personal difficulties, Dorothy devoted her life to social justice and became a social activist at great cost to herself. Her life has become a source of inspiration and courage to many who would fight for the poor and oppressed to improve life in our society for all.

Dorothy Day is my pick for this week's Saints Among Us.

For more information click here to go to the Catholic Worker Web Site.

Rejoice! We have built the best health care system in the world.

Continuing my reading and discussion of Gregg Easterbrook's book, The Progress Paradox, I run across his comments on page 25 that while currently 14% of Americans have no medical insurance, two generations ago nobody did and only the very wealthy knew any protection against ruinous medical expense because of their wealth.

Physicians, nurses and hospital staff lived humbly often bartering services with locals who traded the goods and services that they had for the health care they received. Of course, the locals often went without and died.

As health care has become more technological it has become more effective, getting better outcomes, but also more expensive, and the practice of medicine has shifted from a vocation, a calling, and a profession, to a business, a way for individuals and organizations to make money. What has been gained in effectiveness and efficiency has also been lost in humanity and caring.

I think many health care providers struggle with the conflicts between being a good business person who needs to generate revenue to stay in business, and being of service to people which is often time consuming, energy depleting, and not as efficient. People want to be attended to, not simply treated as objects, pieces of meat. There, unfortunately, is no billing code to be used with insurance companies for caring about patients.

As much as we may regret the conflicts between ministering, and fixing for money, the health care system has improved tremendously in two generations in terms of its effectiveness, its efficiency, and its coverage for the vast majority of Americans rich and poor alike.

A co-worker told me two days ago that her infant son who required cardiac surgery within a week of his birth or he would die, has been successfully treated now and is doing well at 2 1/2 months. She said the bill has come to over one million dollars. 30 years ago this infant son would have died.Without health insurance this young family would be bankrupted for the rest of their lives.

It's a grand world we are living in. Rejoice and be happy!

Unsafe Sex Burdens Health in U.S.

An article in the February, 2005 issue of the journal, Sexually Transmitted Infections, points out that 30,000 deaths occur in the United States every year from sexually transmitted diseases. That's the same number who die from street drugs. It seems a huge paradox that sex which can be life giving is also life ending in some circumstances.

I was taught as a young Catholic boy growing up that the two purposes of sex are procreative and recreative. The Catholic church teaches that the primary purpose that sex serves is procreative and any behavior that disrespects this life giving property is sinful. 80% of American Catholics no longer believe this, and the behavior of Catholics in regard to contraception, abortion, and extra-marital sex is no different than their Protestant and Jewish brethren. Sex has become the recreative preoccupation of the 20th and 21st century and while I am not a fundamentalist I understand the shibboleth, "the wages of sin are death".

"Dr. Shahul H. Ebrahim and colleagues in Atlanta, Georgia, point out that sexual behavior can lead to a variety of harmful consequences, such as unintended pregnancies and infections. They compiled data from the U.S. Burden of Disease Study for 1996 to estimate mortality and disability attributable to sexual behavior.

Included in their calculations were all major sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and the proportion of conditions such as infertility, abortion, HIV and viral hepatitis that is attributable to unsafe sex.

As reported in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections, they found that nearly 20 million cases of adverse health conditions (7532 per 100,000 population) and 30,000 deaths (1.3 percent of U.S. deaths) were a consequence of unsafe sexual behavior.

The majority of this public health burden falls on women - 62 percent of behavior-related adverse health events. Cervical cancer was the leading cause of sex-related mortality among women, followed by HIV.

Men suffered the majority of deaths (66 percent), primarily from HIV."

Link: MedlinePlus: Unsafe Sex Burdens Health in U.S..

Don't let schooling interfere with your education

High_school_classroom Four-fifths of Americans now are high school graduates, and one quarter have college degrees. Americans average 12.3 years of schooling, the highest average in the world. This is an astounding change from a couple of generations ago when only the rich from the upper class could have the leisure to pursue so much schooling. The typical American does not have to go to work out of high school, but can go on to college or some other training.

So with this signifcant change in the school experience of most Americans why don't we feel smarter and appreciate it more? This is the ongoing question from Gregg Easterbrook's book The Progress Paradox.

Perhaps the answer lies in the idea that it is not IQ and academic success that make people successful in life, but rather their EQ or emotional quotient. EQ has to do with empathy, self control and self discipline, and the ability to set goals for oneself and persist in their pursuit.

I also think that EQ has to do with the ability to think critically and systemically which is something that I find our school systems at all levels no longer teach or appreciate. In fact, I believe that schooling can be antithetical to one's education.

So, I would make a distinction between "schooling" and "education". They are not the same thing and in fact can be antithetical and contradictory. Years in school does not translate necessarily into education. There are lots of ways that people learn and get an education.

What is important to success in life is wisdom, good judgment, the ability to make good decisions, and develop and implement plans to improve the common welfare. Bureacracies and large institutions are not set up or structured to teach these things to their participants so I believe that our public schools' failure is endemic to their structure and organization.

So to ask whether we are the best schooled nation on earth or the best educated nation on earth is to ask two different questions.