Category Archives: science and technology and knowledge

Medicine and Sustainability

Two important stories that will make sense to all of you, but specifically to those “I wanna be a doctor” folks among us.  As you’ll learn in the California story, doctors get paid by the task — office visit, exam, surgery, etc.  This is not sustainable given where health care may be headed; it’s certainly not beneficial to the consumer.   Also as you’ll hear, given the cost of medical school and the loans MD’s have to pay back after graduation, specialization in the system drives doctors away from where they are indeed needed — primary care.

In California, Facing Down a Family Physician Shortage

In another story that shows us how wonderful we are, this is concerns Global Health.  In fact, this link will take you to several stories concerning Global Health — cholera perhaps spreading to the DR and Miami, organ trafficking, and a global food crisis.

As you ponder your last “mini” essays, think about some of these challenges.

The Harry Potter Alliance

This, according to the famous Henry Jenkins, media scholar at MIT, could be the way the next wave of activists gets nurtured.  Jenkins calls this “Avatar Activism.”

About 100,000 Harry Potter fans have been mobilized by HPA for causes including marriage equality, genocide prevention and literacy. They raised enough money to send five cargo planes to Haiti bearing medical supplies after the earthquake there, and they’ve bought thousands of books for libraries in Rwanda and the Mississippi Delta.

Harry Potter: Boy Wizard … And Real Life Activist? addresses what may be an evolving phenomenon around activism.   Reading this, I am reminded of Plato’s Republic and how he warned that the poet is a threat to the State. I’m wondering whether this new form of narrating could be a place for storytelling for a new generation?

Geoengineering: People vs. Planet?

A new method of potentially earth-saving technology has come about, but its consequences may outweigh its benefits. Geoengineering is the process of changing the earth’s climate in order to counteract global warming. Scientists have adapted this idea and a large part of their evidence has come from the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991.

This massive eruption in the Philippines released 20 million tons of Sulfur Dioxide into the atmosphere. These particles of Sulfur reflected the suns rays back into space and lowered the earth’s average temperature by half a degree. Scientists are looking to utilize the same earth-cooling process without erupting any more volcanoes.

One plan to use Geoengineering was introduced to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity. This plan entails releasing sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere in order to cool the earth’s temperature. In addition to its effective results, this process would also be very cheap.

On the other side of the argument, some people are worried about the affects that these changes could have on our life. Is global cooling worth the potential for drastic rain changes that could cause massive issues in areas of the world that depend on constant rainfall? As of now, Geoengineering is halted until the scientific research has been concluded and regulations have been set up.

Understanding Social Determinants of Health

Understanding the Social Determinants of Health: Breaking the Link between Poverty and Health

Brown graduates working with Project Health (program where college students work in local health clinics) based in Providence, Rhode Island. Samantha Murder (Program Manager) and Hanna Nichols (National Talent and Technology Coordinator)

Cycle of Poverty

  • MONEY is needed for healthy food, healthy housing, childcare (so you can go to work), education and school, clothing (job interviews), health care, utilities, medicine
  • in order to get money you need a JOB
  • in order to have a job, you need EDUCATION

Need education and a good job for money, but need money for education and chance for a job! Not a linear path and a difficult cycle to enter.

Project Health works to provide resources and knowledge.

Social Determinants of Health- “economic and social conditions under which people live which determine their health”

  • The Big Five: Food, housing, energy, education, and employment/insufficient income.
  • Shaped by the distribution of money, power, and resources (influenced by policy choices)
  • Social determinants are mostly responsible for health inequities

What do we mean by Poor?

Mentioned that the federal poverty line has been used a lot throughout the symposium as a measure of poverty. They stressed that people are struggling for money well above the federal poverty line. The federal poverty line for a family of 4 is $22,050, but, in suburban Illinois for instance, a family needs at least $58,000 for necessities (study done by NCCP -see budget calculator)


Food insecurity greatly increases likelihood for poor health (ex. low birth weight for mothers)

Compared nationally, Vermont is doing well, subsidized lunches and breakfasts at school are critical (50% of kids in Essex county use this) Essex also has high levels of low birth weight.

What’s out there? Resources to combat food insecurity


Heat or eat?

Energy insecure households- 22% increased chance of being hospitalized since birth

What’s out there?

  • LIHEAP (covers a large amount of monthly winter heating bill, if you can’t meet cutoff your utilities will be shut off- difficult to pay back. Grants are getting smaller)
  • local neighborhood funds
  • Special protections for disabilities
  • Payment plans (utilites prefer some money)


Related to health. Household mold (makes you 2.2 times more likely to experience asthma!), cockroaches, cold, lead poisoning, unsafe housing conditions, stress from not being able to pay rent contribute to asthma and low nutrition, hospitalizations, poor health

Housing is considered not affordable when it costs more than 30% of income.

Housing in context- Vermont. Top 10 occupations in Vermont include retail salespeople, cashiers, janitors and cleaners- none of whom have a salary high enough to pay for housing. Not a livable salary! Poverty is “not just about getting a job”

What’s out there

  • public subsidized housing (projects)
  • private subsidized housing (contracted out)
  • housing choice voucher Program (Section 8)- pay up to 30% of income and government pays rest- HARD TO GET, 5 to 8 year wait for voucher in Rhode Island
  • shelters
  • transitional housing
  • rental assistance
  • legal action- something unsafe in house- legal pressure on landlord (less expensive than moving)


They highly suggested the film “Waiting for Superman”! (check out the trailer)

What’s out there

  • GED classes
  • ESOL classes (English is 2nd language)
  • Adult basic education
  • Computer literacy
  • Child enrichment
  • Head start and early head start (includes literacy classes for parents, checkup for kids, losing seats right now)


Related to obesity and other health issues. Not knowing what will happen raises stress and sickness- lack of locus of control.

People below the poverty line live an average of 9.6 health adjusted years less than Americans above the poverty line!

What’s out there

  • Child care subsidies
  • Food stamps


Founder noticed underlying health problems involved with evictions

Doctors could do nothing for patients suffering from unemployment, poor housing.

Student in project health connect families to resources/volunteers. For example, they often connect families to food pantries or call utilities to arrange payment plans.


  • guided referrals
  • resource knowledge
  • identification of barriers
  • creative solutions
  • education
  • advocacy
  • connections

Conversations about food security and housing are important to both doctors and patients, but those conversations weren’t happening. Health services often don’t have the time or the knowledge to refer people, which is where Project Health steps in. Project Health also works to collect data that can be used in advocacy movements and campaigns.

Located in 6 cities, with 600 volunteers, and has helped over 5,000 families.

If you’re interested, check them out here!

The Corrosion of America

Bob Herbert writes, in The Corrosion of America, that, “Aging and corroded pipes are bursting somewhere every couple of minutes. Dilapidated sewer systems are contaminating waterways and drinking water. Many local systems are so old and inadequate — in some cases, so utterly rotten — that they are overwhelmed by heavy rain.”

This is creating a very dangerous situation throughout the US.  And if you look at this “corrosion” and couple it to Fred’s post, below, about poverty, then

If this were a first-class society we would rebuild our water systems to the point where they would be the envy of the world, and that would bolster the economy in the bargain. But that would take maturity and vision and effort and sacrifice, all of which are in dismayingly short supply right now.

We can’t even build a railroad tunnel beneath the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York.

Improving water systems — and infrastructure generally, if properly done — would go a long way toward improving the nation’s dismal economic outlook. According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, every dollar invested in water and sewer improvements has the potential to increase the long-term gross domestic product by more than six dollars. Hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created if the nation were serious about repairing and upgrading water mains, crumbling pipes, water treatment plants, dams, levees and so on.

Millions of jobs would be created if we could bring ourselves to stop fighting mindless wars and use some of those squandered billions to bring the nation’s infrastructure in the broadest sense up to 21st-century standards.

The answer to our problems???

This article Powering the Planet With Solar Energy on the production of solar fuel was part of our assignment over break for my chemistry class.  I thought I’d share it with you guys as a more hopeful look at the future of our planet.  The conclusion of the article is especially thought provoking.

“We have an even grander vision. Some time in the future we will be able to put three components of our atmosphere — carbon dioxide, nitrogen and oxygen — along with sea water into solar reactors to make not only fuels, electricity and pure water, but polymers, food and almost everything else we need. We have been taking from nature since the beginning of time, consuming the oil, gas and coal given to us by thousands of millions of years of photosynthesis. This is the century in human history when we will start paying back with the capital generated through fundamental research in chemistry.”

What do you think of this idea of humans as producers as opposed to consumers? This seems to go against our natural niche in nature and as a result violates some major biological principles.  Do you think people will be open to the idea of scientific production of polymers that can be used to food? Is this idea any different than GMOs?

In Denial of Climate Change

In this editorial, In Denial of Climate Change, we learn about a perspective that’s being taken by some Republican candidates.

The candidates are not simply rejecting solutions, like putting a price on carbon, though these, too, are demonized. They are re-running the strategy of denial perfected by Mr. Cheney a decade ago, repudiating years of peer-reviewed findings about global warming and creating an alternative reality in which climate change is a hoax or conspiracy.

This is a perspective that’s not uncommon among many people across the USA. I wonder, then, what we have to do to demonstrate that we, indeed, have affected — and continue to affect — Nature?

These elections (November) and this mediated hype without debate comes at a time when we’re witnessing the questioning  the “value,” “worth” and significance of the Humanities in colleges and universities.  For instance, there is a debate, ongoing, in Do Colleges Need French Departments.

In her response, Martha Naussbum argues that,

Cuts in the humanities are bad for business and bad for democracy. Even if a nation’s only goal were economic prosperity, the humanities supply essential ingredients for a healthy business culture.

Nations such as China and Singapore, which previously ignored the humanities, are now aggressively promoting them, because they have concluded that the cultivation of the imagination through the study of literature, film, and the other arts is essential to fostering creativity and innovation. They also have found that teaching critical thinking and argumentation (a skill associated with courses in philosophy) is essential in order to foster healthy debate inside a business world that might too easily become complacent or corrupt.

We in the U.S. are moving away from the humanities just at the time that our rivals are discovering their worth. But a healthy business culture is not all that life in America is about.

What might be the connections between Republican rejection of man-made climate change, the media hype without debate or dialog, and the willingness of citizens to accept the notion that climate change is happening — and has happened — outside our influence?

What Democracy?

Following our discussion on Thursday, defining terms — Democracy, Socialism, Communism, Capitalism and The Yankees — several parallel stories have appeared that suggest the struggle and the tension we discovered in our exercise, in our discussion.

Please examine these, carefully, and again per group (each group, except one, still is behind and has to do the Scott Page post), determine HOW these stories define Democracy/Capitalims/Us and HOW these stories parallel Empire of Illusion.

The first story is from Terry Gross’s Fresh Air, ” ‘Citizens United’ Ruling Opened Floodgates on Groups’ Ad Spending.”

The next 2 are not stories, but rather, commentaries.  First, Bob Herbert, writing for the New York Times, in Policy at its Worst, tells us that, “We can’t put the population to work, or get the kids through college, or raise the living standards of the middle class and the poor. We can’t rebuild the infrastructure or curb our destructive overreliance on fossil fuels.”

The next opinion, also from the Times, is by  Charles M. Blow, High Cost of Crime.  Here, Blow informs us that, “Our approach to this crime problem for more than two decades has been the mass incarceration of millions of Americans and the industrializing of our criminal justice system. Over the last 25 years, the prison population has quadrupled. This is a race to the bottom and a waste of human capital. A prosperous country cannot remain so by following this path.”  Take a look at how much a single murder costs — then ask yourself: why do we incarcerate more people than anyone else in the industrial world?

The last story, which parallels Hedges’ chapter, “The Illusion of Wisdom,” and written by the indefatigable Camille Paglia, was sent to me by Izzy Ocampo.  In “Revalorizing the Trades,” Paglia asks, “what if a student wants a different, less remunerative or status-oriented but more personally fulfilling career?”  She responds to her question, saying that, “There is little flexibility in American higher education to allow for alternative career tracks.”

In a moment, Paglia sounds a lot like Hedges:

Jobs, and the preparation of students for them, should be front and center in the thinking of educators. The idea that college is a contemplative realm of humanistic inquiry, removed from vulgar material needs, is nonsense. The humanities have been gutted by four decades of pretentious postmodernist theory and insular identity politics. They bear little relationship to the liberal arts of broad perspective and profound erudition that I was lucky enough to experience in college in the 1960s.

Examine each of the stories and the editorials, then discuss, online, how all this fits our notion of the struggle for democracy, our struggle for the truth?

Will the Environment Survive Peace in the Middle East?

I attended the lecture given by Prof. Alon Tal of Ben Gurion University on Wednesday.

Below is the link to the recording of the lecture, and my notes from it.

Will the Environment Survive Peace in the Middle East

Professor Tal spoke about the prevalence of transboundary pollution, regional challenges in regards to resources, discussed the importance of environmental issues in peace talks. He is optimistic about the future of the region and emphasized the role of civil society and US involvement in peace talks.