SF Chronicle: Health Care Lessons from Europe

 

European health care is universal, but contrary to popular perception, it is not all nationalized. Facing rapidly aging populations, many European countries have gone much further than the United States in using market forces to control costs. At the same time, regulations are stronger and often more sophisticated.

Most of Europe spends about 10 percent of its national income on health care and covers everyone. The United States will spend 18 percent this year and leave 47 million people uninsured.

Europe has more doctors, more hospital beds and more patient visits than the United States. Take Switzerland: 4.9 doctors per thousand residents compared with 2.4 in the United States. And cost? The average cost for a hospital stay is $9,398 in relatively high-cost Switzerland and $17,206 in the United States. […]

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Not speaking up

 

Following 911, I was among the ones reminding people that this in itself was not a big issue. More die in traffic in North America every week, and there are far more important issues in the world, impacting far more people. I had of course sympathy for the ones directly impacted by the event, but that was a quite small group of people.

As a consequence, I repeatedly encountered people who was shocked by this attitude, including several who personally agreed but publicly wanted to hush such a perspective. (I lived in the US at the time, and this was of course different other places.)

Through this attitude of wanting to hush more reasoned and level-headed takes on the situation, these people became silent allies to (a) the stupidity in making it into something bigger than it was, and (b) the awful policies that was justified by 911. Policies that have been immensely more harmful than that one – relatively insignificant – situation, killing and injuring thousands as many people.

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Happiness, and lots more, is contagious

 

Obesity is contagious. So is happiness.

At least, these are the results coming in from long-term studies of social networks — the networks of friends and families, neighbors and colleagues that we all belong to. Such studies have found that one person’s change in behavior ripples through his or her friends, family and acquaintances. If one of your friends becomes happy, for example, you’re more likely to become happy too. If you’re great friends with someone who becomes obese, you’re much more likely to become obese as well.

And the effect doesn’t stop there. If your friend’s friend becomes happy, that increases the chance your friend will become happy — and that you will too. Conversely, if you become obese or depressed, you may inadvertently help your friends, and your friend’s friends, to become fat or gloomy. (Intriguingly, happiness and obesity seem to spread in different ways. Obesity spreads most easily between friends of the same sex who are emotionally close. Happiness spreads most readily between friends who live near each other: a happy friend on the same block makes more difference than a happy friend three miles away.)

From Social Medicine, NY Times.

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Wired: An Epidemic of Fear – How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

 

Before smallpox was eradicated with a vaccine, it killed an estimated 500 million people. And just 60 years ago, polio paralyzed 16,000 Americans every year, while rubella caused birth defects and mental retardation in as many as 20,000 newborns. Measles infected 4 million children, killing 3,000 annually, and a bacterium called Haemophilus influenzae type b caused Hib meningitis in more than 15,000 children, leaving many with permanent brain damage. Infant mortality and abbreviated life spans — now regarded as a third world problem — were a first world reality.

Today, because the looming risk of childhood death is out of sight, it is also largely out of mind, leading a growing number of Americans to worry about what is in fact a much lesser risk: the ill effects of vaccines. If your newborn gets pertussis, for example, there is a 1 percent chance that the baby will die of pulmonary hypertension or other complications. The risk of dying from the pertussis vaccine, by contrast, is practically nonexistent — in fact, no study has linked DTaP (the three-in-one immunization that protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) to death in children. Nobody in the pro-vaccine camp asserts that vaccines are risk-free, but the risks are minute in comparison to the alternative.

A good article in Wired about the mostly irrational and overblown fear of vaccines.

It seems that with even the most rudimentary knowledge of the history of health, medicine and epidemiology, it is clear what a beneficial impact vaccines have had on human health. (The most obvious example is smallpox, with 300-500 million dead during the 1900s and zero today.) As the article mentions, there is of course a tiny risk with vaccines, but it is a very small cost to pay for the benefits we gain from it – individually and especially collectively. It seems thoroughly irresponsible to decline common vaccines, mainly for the risk we then place others and the community in.

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The Sun: Who will heal the healers?

 

The most important therapy I deliver is a human relationship. I’m not doing anything controversial or woo-woo. I never thought of myself as practicing alternative medicine until a colleague pointed out that spending time with patients is now “alternative.” We live in a world with all this electronic communication, but is anyone sitting down for an hour and making eye contact and talking, relating on a spiritual, emotional, and physical level? When patients come into this office, it’s a refuge from the frenetic outside world. They tell me things they might not have told anyone else in their lives — not even their spouse. They open up to me.

From an interview with my medical doctor in The Sun Magazine. Well worth reading.

Note that the full interview is only in the paper version of the magazine.

Indexes of thrivability and well-being

 

There is general agreement that GNP alone is a poor measure of how well we are doing. It is limited to measuring the flow of money only, whether it is used for wars or schools, and it leaves out many other factors equally or more important to our well-being.

A good index would probably include some of the following:

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Godless society

 

Here is another of those questions easily answered by reality: Can a goodless society be a good society?

Of course it can.

“First of all, I argue that society without God is not only possible, but can be quite civil and pleasant. This admittedly polemical aspect of my book is aimed primarily at countering the claims of certain outspoken, conservative Christians who regularly argue that a society without God would be hell on earth: rampant with immorality, full of evil, and teeming with depravity. Well, it isn’t. Denmark and Sweden are remarkably strong, safe, healthy, moral, and prosperous societies…”

p. 6 – “…their overall rates of violent crime – such as murder, aggravated assault, and rape – are among the lowest on earth. Yet the majority of Danes and Swedes do not believe that God is “up there,” keeping diligent tabs on their behavior… In fact, most Danes and Swedes don’t even believe in the very notion of “sin.” Almost nobody in Denmark and Sweden believes that the Bible is divine in origin. And the rate of weekly church attendance in these Nordic nations is the lowest on earth…”

p. 10 – “When they say they are “Christian” they are just referring to a cultural heritage and history. When asked what it means to be Christian, they said ‘being kind to others, taking care of the poor and sick, and being a good and moral person.’ They almost never mentioned God, Jesus, or the Bible in their explanation of Christian identity. When I specifically asked these Nordic Christians if they believed that Jesus was the Son of God or the Messiah, they nearly always said no – usually without hesitation. Did they believe that Jesus was born of a virgin or that he rose from the grave? Such queries were usually met with genuine laughter – as through the mere asking was rather silly.

From Can a Godless Society be a “Good” Society? on Neatorama.

Simple changes, big effects

 

Bans on smoking in public places have had a bigger impact on preventing heart attacks than ever expected, data shows.

Smoking bans cut the number of heart attacks in Europe and North America by up to a third, two studies report. [….]

His team found that heart attack rates across Europe and North America started to drop immediately following implementation of anti-smoking laws, reaching 17% after one year, then continuing to decline over time, with a 36% drop three years after enacting the restrictions.

– from BBC, Smoking Bans Cuts Heart Attacks

Simple changes can have big effects….

Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better

 

The leading countries in life expectancy, Sweden and Japan, are also among the most equal of the wealthy nations. Interestingly, they have accomplished this relative equality in completely different ways: In Sweden, the tax system redistributes income; in Japan the income is given out relatively equally before any tax adjustments. Combinations of the two methods are also possible. [….]

The core message is that the countries that distribute their incomes the most equally have the longest life expectancy and the highest quality of life.

From an AlterNet article based on The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. To learn more, go to their Web site, www.equalitytrust.org.uk.

As I like to say, the proof is in the pudding.

Support of torture among the faithful

 

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.
Source: CNN

This is a small study so not much can be said based on the data, but it would be interesting if other studies looked into it further.

I wonder – based on my own prejudices – if not self-righteousness is related to support of torture. The more certain we are that we are right and others are wrong, or even worse, that we are good and others are bad/evil, the easier it is to dehumanize them in our own mind and justify torture. (And ignoring the obvious: Torture gets people to say what they think you want to hear, whatever it may be.)

The question with these things is always: How does this relate to me? How do I find it in myself and my own life?

When do I think I am right and others are wrong? What happens then? What am I afraid of would happen if I didn’t see myself as right and them as wrong?

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Open medicine

 

A story on Open Medicine (as in Open Source) from BBC:

Britain’s Sir John Sulston says that profits are taking precedence over the needs of patients, particularly in the developing world. ….

Sir John shared the 2002 Nobel Prize for medicine for his work on the genetics controlling cell division.

He is well known for his commitment to public medicine and his opposition to the privatisation of scientific information.

Eight years ago he led the fight to keep the data being derived from the Human Genome Project open and free to any scientist who wanted to use it.

If there is any field where free access to and use of information is obviously of value, medicine is it.

And if there is one question that is important in health care, it is this: Do we want a medical system that is primarily aimed at profit, or service? Of course, it is not necessarily one or the other, but the way it functions globally today, it is far too often narrowly in the service of profit, at the expense of people.

It is also good to keep in mind that what has the most substantial positive effect on health for groups and individuals is the quite simple things: Clean water. Healthy food. Enough sleep to feel rested. Basic exercise. Psychological well-being. And basic medicines and surgery for the most common diseases and problems.

And that too shows how skewed the current medical field is today, with an enormous amount of resources spent on research and treatment of illness that benefit only a few percent among the richest of the world’s population, while large number of people globally suffer from illnesses can easily be prevented and treated with simple means – if only resources were directed to it. And in some cases, if there was a free access to and use of current proprietary information.

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Charles Schwab story continues

 

I wrote a post last year on a Salem News story on Charles Schwab. If there is some truth to this story, it deserves far more attention than it has received so far. If you know something about this case, contact Tim King with Salem News.

The reporter just sent this message to me:

This is Tim King from Salem-News.com. We have generated another story on Schwab and Wayne Pierce and some slightly strange things have transpired since then. Let’s just say there is a relationship between Wayne’s email hacking and what we have experienced. I do not want to elaborate as we are investigating, but this is the tip of an iceberg from the way it appears and any agencies or individuals that have anything to offer on this are encouraged to send me an email at newsroom. FYI, we are TV and newspaper professionals with many years under our belts as mainstream reporters. Salem-News.com is independently owned and operated and that is the only reason we were able to get these stories off the ground in the first place. Thanks, Tim King

Take a look at the new Salem News story and interview with Wayne Pierce, and also this video interview:

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Bamyan Buddhas

 

Giant Buddhas - Christian Frei

I watched The Giant Buddhas earlier today, a documentary about the Bamyan Buddhas shown as part of our local/international archaeological film festival.

It is a very well made movie, weaving together several different stories and perspectives: A Chinese monk traveling along the Silk Road around year 630. A woman from Kabul visiting the Buddhas that her father has visited in his youth. A family living in a cave between the Buddhas, and then relocated by the current regime. A French archaeologist searching for the location of a 300 meter long reclining stone Buddha in the same valley. An Al-Jazeera reporter who filmed the destruction in 2001.

Some of the information is not so well known in the west, such as the claim that Saudi Arabian engineers were called in and helped with the destruction. And that the destruction of the statues was ordered in response to western money coming in to restore artifacts, instead of as much needed aid to the people of Afghanistan. (It may be just a way to blame the west for something people in the west were upset about, but there could also be a grain of truth in it.)

When I first heard about the destruction in March of 2001, I thought of how well it illustrates the essential teaching of Buddhism – impermanence.

If we really get impermanence, if we see it and feel it, over and over, not only in stories of impermanence but as it happens here now in immediate awareness, there is no foothold for identification within content of awareness. And this invites a shift into Big Mind, into finding ourselves as that which experience happens within, to and as.

Exploring impermanence, thoroughly, over and over, as it happens in the sense fields here now, is one of the many ways to discover what we really are, and probably a sufficient one as well.

Also, it is an invitation for me – and us all – to see what stories we cling to as true, and examine them and find that is already more true for us.

It is a reminder that iconoclasm is maybe not so useful when targeted at artifacts, but has more value and meaning if we target the real icon worship: Taking stories as true. Making a thought – a story, an image – into a God for ourself.

And a reminder that we all are at different places in regards to all of this. Some of us take a modern western view on it, emphasizing the value of culture, art and tolerance. Others take a more fundamentalist view, seeing literal iconoclasm as a pretty good idea. And others again see it as a reminder of impermanence, and of iconoclasm having its value if targeted with some wisdom and applied with gentleness.

And if we want to be practical about it, we see the validity in each of those views, work on ourselves with impermanence and investigation of beliefs, and in the world in trying to prevent these things from happening using whatever – hopefully skillful – means seem appropriate.

Btw: Here is a link to the German version of the movie, although it is also available in English.

Torture doesn’t work?

 

It is well known that torture doesn’t work. All it does is breed resentment and make people say whatever they think you want to hear.

Yet, is it true that torture doesn’t work?

It seems that torture works well if what you want is that feeling of revenge and to vent frustration rather than useful information.

In the same way, the Iraq war is a success if the aim is to establish an US foothold in the middle east, and keep a large army there for a long time.

It can be helpful to look at politics and one’s own life in this way.

If there is support for a policy that doesn’t seem to work, in what way does it work? What do we get from supporting that policy?

Similarly, on a personal level, when I keep on doing something that doesn’t seem to work, in what ways does it work for me? What desirable results do I get? Maybe I can find another way to meet those needs?

It can help us understand the dynamics a little better, while keeping in mind that these are just assumptions. Questions rather than answers. A what if that may yield insights and suggest different strategies/solutions to try out.

It goes without saying that in conversation or public discourse, assigning views and motivations to others they themselves don’t admit to is a recipe for disaster. It too easily derails the discussion and fuels defensiveness.

Much better then to stay on topic, informed by the new perspectives we may have found through these explorations.

One in a hundred in prison

 

The prison industry in the US has lobbied long and hard for longer and harsher sentences for more and more crimes, and it is paying off well for them. For the first time in the US, one in a hundred is in a prison, according to a new PEW report.

This is easily the highest incarceration rate in the world, with China a somewhat distant second. The rate is more than ten times higher than in my home country of Norway, and the US has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s incarcerated population.

Maybe the most disconcerting information is in the details, from this New York Times article:

  • 1 of 36 Latinos are in prison.
  • 1 of 15 black men are in prison.
  • 1 of 9 black men between 20 and 34 are in prison.

Equally disconcerting is how the strategies of the prison industry align so well with the mindless opinions around punishment among mainstream Americans, and how they also fuel and guide these mainstream opinions. A people gets the politicians, and the policies, they deserve, as this is just another example of.

As with the health care system in the US, the prison industry is expensive, inefficient, and made possible by an uninformed public.

Erased lifestyle boundary between Christians and non-Christians

 

It is my experience too, and research agrees: The difference between Christians and non-Christians in Norway – when it comes to views and lifestyle – is hardly noticeable anymore.

Christians are more and more progressive and liberal minded, and non-Christians are more and more into spirituality.

It is maybe not so surprising. Strong humanistic values is a shared ground for Christians and non-Christians, as are post-modern and liberal views.

(I guess it is what happens when you hardly have any fundamentalists around, either at the religious or the non-religious side. It gets far less polarized in general.)

Here is an article in Norwegian on the topic.

Not going far enough

 

Initial draft… 

This seems like a simple thing… If we go far enough, we come out on the other side.

And this seems true for radical relativism, realizing all as perfect as is, loving what is, seeing all as pure innocence, seeing how all human actions come from fear, then love, noticing the inherent neutrality of all situations, and much more.

If we go far enough in any of these, see it clearly enough, feel it in our bodies, love it as it is, as what is already more true for us, we come out on the other side. We are free from it, in terms of our actions.

We see any story as just a story, the inherent neutrality of any situation, all as pure innocence, so we are free to use stories as practical tools in daily life. We are free to act in any way that seems appropriate to the situation.

We are free to have an open heart, receptive view, a sense of nurturing fullness, and act from compassion and care, meeting people exactly where they are.

And meeting people where they are, sometimes means tough love. It sometimes means a clear no to what they are doing, in our words and actions, if it harms others.

Quite the contrary from hindering action, as some seem to think, it frees up action. It frees up our range of possibilities, the repertoire of stories we use as practical tools only to guide actions in the world.

So why beat people over the head when they explore radical relativism and the other things mentioned above? Why make it “wrong”, as for instance some in the integral world like to do? At best, it stops people where they are, it prevents people in going far enough in exploring it, which means they don’t come out on the other side.

Why not instead encourage it? Encourage going all the way, exploring it all the way through to the freedom on the other side. The freedom from identification with stories, and instead finding them as tools of practical value only.

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Ban on holy dots and other silliness

 

tilak-sadhu.jpg

I see that government officials in India are now banned from wearing the tilak, which may be another drop in the ocean of post-911 silliness. (Of course, I don’t know if there is a real connection, but it fits into a pattern of attitudes and behaviors that have turned legitimate in the world following 911.)

Some random, onesided and relatively uninformed thoughts about the banning of burkas, turbans, dots and other signs of religious (or ethnic) affiliations…

  • It serves mainly to polarize. Both sides tend to get more entrenched and oppositional.
  • It target the symbol/symptom more than anything else. If you want to target what you see as oppression and so on, do that directly rather than targeting something as silly as what people wear. (For god’s sake…!)
  • It started with the burka, in the anti-muslim frenzy following 911, and then expanded to other symbols of religion to make it appear fair. As with so much else post-911 legitimized behavior, it has also been used by different groups as an excuse to target traditional enemies.
  • Even the burka is not necessarily a symbol of, for instance, oppression of women. Many women apparently experience it as liberating, as a protection.
  • It is another example of those with a more rational/worldcentric view adopting a flawed strategy in trying to deal with the more absolutist/ethnocentric (orange vs. blue in Spiral Dynamics terms). They are confused, don’t know how to deal with it, and feel threatened, so try this silliness which only muddles and polarizes the situation further. (Or, as maybe in this case, someone wants to be seen as rational and worldcentric, so adopt this strategy without thinking too much.)
  • Finally, by adopting a strategy of banning symbols of religions affiliation, we do exactly what we say we try to remove. We ourselves act in ways experienced as intolerant and oppressive. It is OK when I do it but not when you do it, because I am right and you are wrong. How is that for teaching people tolerance and western values?

Postmodernism and The Work

 

I suppose the topic of the previous post also relates to the discussion around postmodernism.

We can use an exploration of the grain of truth in reversals to (a) free ourselves from taking any story as an absolute truth and (b) invite a glimpse of the inherent neutrality of any situation.

But if we stop there, we get stuck in the same way as (some forms of) postmodernism.

The next step is now to engage with the conventional stories of our society, this time from a more differentiated clarity, and a more receptive mind and heart.

We find a freedom from beliefs and identities, which is also a freedom to use and work with the conventional views, stories and frameworks.

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Biocracy

 

As Aldo Leopold pointed out, one aspect of cultural evolution seems to be a movement towards wider circles of concern, care and compassion. As our numbers increases and technology develops, this is not only in our own self-interest, but essential for our survival.

In a seamless planet, and with the impact of our current civilization, we cannot make decisions while leaving out the effects on ecosystems and future generations.

Our current ideal of democracy, which is a form of tyranny of one generation of humans, has been a phase of our cultural evolution, and one that is now outdated. We need to move from a democracy to a biocracy. A process of decision making where the interest of nonhuman species, local and global ecosystems, and future generations are taken into account, because their interest is our interest.

In the seamless whole of Earth, the health of the whole and the parts are intimately connected, as is the health of current and future generations.

Our health and existence as individuals and society is dependent on the health of local and global ecosystems, and the health of these ecosystems are – now – dependent on the health and maturity of individuals and human society. In the same way, the health of future generations is dependent on the health and maturity of our current human generations, and life-centered choices of our current generation is dependent on taking future generations into account (bringing them into our circle of concern).