Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Less Violent World?

While reading the news, a couple of articles caught my attention.

The first is entitled, “World Becoming Less Violent: Despite Global Conflict, Statistics Show Violence in Steady Decline.” The article speaks to the thesis of three new books that outline how statistics reveal dramatic reductions in war deaths, family violence, racism, rape, murder, and all sorts of mayhem.  A quote from prominent Harvard psychologist, Steven Pinker, reads as follows: "The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."  The article’s author writes that Pinker “makes the case that a smarter, more educated world is becoming more peaceful in several statistically significant ways.”  The writer then refers to stats suggesting that prior to the advent of organized countries, 500 of every 100,000 people were killed in battle.  Today, deaths on the battlefield are down to three-tenths of a person per 100,000.  Other stats affirm that the rate of genocide deaths per world population was 1,400 times greater in 1942 than in 2008.  In 1946, there were fewer than 20 democracies as compared to nearly 100 today.  Authoritarian countries have gone from a high of close to 90 in 1976 to more like 25 today.

Commenting on the claims suggesting that the world is a less violent place, in his article entitled, “Three reasons the number of refugees is as high as it is today,” Brian Stewart says, “But try telling that to the current wave of some 48 million refugees and displaced people from today's wars and conflict zones.”  Stewart proposes that the first reason is that conflicts are prolonged, some going on for decades.  He offers as a second reason the “shrinking of humanitarian space”—as the UN calls it—where the clashes are instigated by “non-state forces such as militias, insurgent groups, bands of religious fanatics, and bandits who terrorize civilians and aid workers alike.”  He suggests that the nature of these forces make it such that fewer rules are respected.  The result is that refugee camps are unsafe and aid workers are considered key targets.  He adds, “the more terror, the more refugees.”  Third, finding asylum elsewhere is quite difficult since more countries are literally putting up barricades to prevent the mass movement of these desperate people—including economic migrants and refugees alike—in their hunt for sanctuary.

I don’t know about you, but I am left shaking my head, trying to make sense of it all.  What is portrayed in the media would seem to paint a different picture.  If we accept the statistics suggesting that violence has declined, the number of refugees living throughout the world who are impacted by conflict seems to contradict the stats.  Admittedly, I have not read the books that were cited, but nevertheless, as a lay person, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Is it only the number of deaths by violence that has decreased, rather than the number of incidents of violence?  Could it be that the underlying message conveyed by the stats be a matter of semantics?  Since terror is surely a form of violence—in many instances—I’m wondering: Might there be more people affected by violence today than ever before?  If the numbers of refugees are correct, those numbers might help corroborate the answer to this question.  If someone accepts the proposed idea that a smarter and more educated population contributes to a more peaceful world, on the surface, there may appear to be some truth to the idea.  On the other hand, the insidious aspect of “terror” might suggest that the world has only become “smarter” about how it uses, dishes out, and handles violence.

Once again, this whole business and talk about violence has caused my brain to hurt!  I submit that violence is a tool used to get things out of or from others.  In fact, it appears as though it is often purposeful and designed to inflict pain and suffering on others.  I believe that there is something else at work behind the need for violence…  “What is it,” you ask?  As always I:  Blame it on fast foods.

- B. J. T. Pepin

Monday, May 19, 2014

Election Time!

For many, there are two topics that are taboo: religion and politics.  So, let’s talk politics!  I wish to make it clear, however, that I am not going to go into minute detail on each and every aspect of politics.  If I were to do so, I would be writing myself into a grave!

From time to time, elections are necessary.  We, the citizens of the so-called democratic countries, are called upon to go to the polls to elect the next federal, state, provincial, or “whatever,” government.  From one person to the next, “democracy” can mean something quite different; some are more fervent in their values and beliefs regarding the democratic process and an individual’s responsibilities, while others are more “laisser-faire.”  And during these elections, candidates and their various parties try their best to woo the majority of the electorate to their side and secure the votes of the people.

The upcoming election in my part of the world has left me rather bewildered.  In a recent survey, respondents were given an opportunity to list the most important issues in this election.  With varying percentages attached to each, the responses included words deemed to be synonymous with the economy, jobs, and taxes.  Health care was the second-most frequent answer, while accountability, education, energy, transit and infrastructure, the environment, and social justice/inequality rounded out the top ten.

Although I agree with the majority of these concerns, I am still having difficulty deciding how I’m going to vote.  “Why,” you ask?  Well, the various parties’ platforms suggest that they will do this or that to rectify the current state of affairs, but to me, it’s all rhetoric.  Considering that accountability actually made the list in the first place, I think that it’s the issue that is most often overlooked and forgotten by the governing party.  During campaigns, the various parties put their best foot forward, but once a party gets into power, accountability goes right out the window!  In essence, we always wind up getting the same result: corruption, waste, and of course taxes.  The reason for this is simple: once in power, what is of utmost importance is paying off the folks that contributed to the success of the campaign!

When it comes to politics and the results that come out of any electoral process, I believe that there are a few things that are certain: 1. The rich will get richer; 2. The poor will get poorer; and 3. The middle class will pay for it all!  Part of me says that the only sure way to change this reality is to take everything apart and start from scratch.  Only then could we ensure that things are put in their proper places and everyone pays their fair share.  Being the pessimist that I am, however, even if we were to do this, greed would most certainly entice some people to sway their votes in a different way.  The whole situation exudes uncertainty, and I think that Benjamin Franklin nailed it when he said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."

What will come out of the elections that we face?  I do not know.  But with humans being who they are, one thing is for sure: There will be plenty of finger pointing throughout the process, laying blame for this, that, and the other thing.  How did we get to where we are today?  As I said earlier, greed and corruption play a major role.  And finally, how do I deal with it all?  I choose to blame it on fast foods.

- B. J. T. Pepin

Friday, May 02, 2014

Fast food outlets in hospitals? You’ve got to be kidding me!

Just the other day, a work colleague passed on a copy of The Medical Post (April 22, 2014).  She pointed out an article that she thought would catch my attention…and it did indeed!

The article entitled, “Why hospitals can survive, and thrive, without fast food,” by Allison Dunfield, raised concern about the kind of food being served in some hospitals.  At one hospital in particular, staff complained that they couldn’t get through the lunch line.  It appears that after a nutrition policy at a nearby school banned deep fryers, the students were going to the hospital to get their fix of french fries and poutine!

The article pointed out that in a 2002/03 survey of 200 hospitals with pediatric residency programs, 29.5% had fast food restaurants in their cafeterias.  Also, 50% of Canadian hospitals were found to have non-cafeteria food service outlets in a 2004/05 study.  Later on, the exposé outlined that one of the major arguments hospitals were using against the notion of getting rid of fast food outlets and/or carb-loaded items was that they would lose money.  Another argument related to the need to allow staff and visitors the freedom of choice.

To that, all I can say is: “Wow.”  Fast foods—and might I add the fast food conglomerates—have even taken a foothold in institutions that are supposed to promote health.  They do anything they can to make a buck!  Although I do believe in freedom of choice, I submit that it is difficult to freely choose healthy options when you are constantly being bombarded with ads steering you toward fast foods.  This is brainwashing at its best!

The piece underlines how there are advocates who suggest that hospitals are supposed to be examples for the community.  Furthermore, the article emphasizes that preventing disease before it starts is an urgent health care issue, and that changing the environment to one that supports healthier eating can significantly reduce the incidence of numerous chronic diseases.  At last!  It is such a relief to find that there are others out there who also take this subject seriously and who have taken steps to rectify the problem!

Let’s follow their example and make the necessary changes that will help ensure our good health!  It is time to fight back and make the right choice!  And if people are too lazy to do any of this, all I can do is…blame it on fast foods!

- B. J. T. Pepin