School Surveillance

Surveillance systems in schools are a $3 billion dollar industry. Several security companies now offer their services in several states. Basically they monitor, mainly via a number of algorithms, students’ emails not only those written at school but also those written from home. Google searches are also monitored. Although the official word is monitor, the word track seems more apt. The algorithms look for certain key phrases which could, they say, alert them to danger. The rationale for all this, which began after the Sandy Hook massacre, is to save lives. The companies can share dramatic examples of how suicidal thoughts were uncovered, or an instance of when within minutes after 2 boys were overheard going to the bathroom to smoke spot in secret, they were stopped.  Since there are no gun control laws, schools feel the need to engage in whatever they can to protect their students. Many schools now have police officers on their campus, sometimes with dire results. And while the algorithms alert people, the possibility for taking phrases out of context exists and is a real drawback.

 Surveillance is now a fact of life, and it is time we define where and how it is appropriate and demand the implementation of those limits. While some parents have welcomed the monitoring of their children’s emails and have asked for the results, there is something very scary about monitoring the emails of minors who have no say so and do it because we as a society are not able to pass gun control legislation.

“Blood” Crystals

Crystals are now part of a billion dollar industry. They are in demand by many New Age followers and others who believe in their power, usually healing power. But most of the crystals commercially available to us come from one of the world’s poorest countries, Madagascar, which is rich in several of those which are in demand. The miners, without whom those crystals would not end up in the hands or homes of those who believe in them, live in dire and abject poverty. A writer for The Guardian  shadowed them for a period of time to have a better understanding of not only how much they are exploited, but also of the harsh conditions they end up having no choice to live under. And a picture of this situation would be remiss in not mentioning that child labor is part of this system. One way to encapsulate the problem would be to say that a piece of quartz which may well sell for say a $1000 was perhaps bought for something like at most $10. The beneficiaries of this difference are the big corporations which act as middlemen. And according to the Guardian’s expose there is little evidence that the corporations making up the industry are willing to make changes. We know about blood diamonds, we know about the exploitation of many in several industries, we ought to know about the exploitation behind our use of crystals. The consumers who buy and use crystals, certainly those I know, think of themselves as conscious, as people with integrity who believe in human rights. They may now be faced with a reality as to whether their values are real or merely given lip service and also with a decision along with the rest of us—to continue and be blind to the consequences of these facts, or to take action that will work toward ending the exploitation and the dire poverty of the miners.

Hope on Death Row

A friend  began corresponding with a death row inmate in Alabama and shared the he belonged to an organization called Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty.  I was intrigued by the organization’s title and was not familiar with it, so I googled them. They are a group began in 1989 founded and run by death row inmates. They even publish Wings of Hope, which circulates among death row, the prison and links them also with the outside world.  Given the restrictions in any penal institution and particularly on death row, running an organization and publishing a bulletin is nothing short of impressive.

Project Hope to Abolish the Death Penalty is linked to the Equal Justice Initiative, a group led by activist Bryan Stevenson, and to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty which inspires the creation of similar organizations in other states such as Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina.

These men, and women, on death row whom we think of as the worst of the worst,  whether or not one believes in the death penalty and I am strongly opposed, are fallible like all of us, but they are also capable of not only hope despite their seemingly hopeless circumstances but also of fighting to do something worthwhile. Their spirit soars beyond prison bars reminding us that they—as all of us—are certainly more that their worst deed.

Healthy Eating Instead of Weight Loss

The number of Americans who are sick is greater than those who are healthy. More than 100 million adults have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. 122 million have cardiovascular disease (2300 deaths each day) and 3 out of 4 adults are overweight or obese. This of course comes with corresponding costs. For example cardio vascular disease cost $351 billion a year in terms of health care costs and lost productivity, diabetes costs $327 billion while the overall cost of obesity is said to be $1.72 trillion (yes with a t). Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and  Dan Glickman former US Secretary of Agriculture argued in a NYT Op-Ed that better nutrition is the answer, that what we eat –or don’t—is largely responsible for the large proportion of Americans being sick and correspondingly for a large proportion of health care costs. They talk about how little our culture pays attention to nutrition and suggest remedies. One suggestion is a program of medically tailored meals for the sickest patients. This alone could save $9000 per patient per year.  Also such an approach of better focus on food and nutrition could be sustainable and environment friendly.

Weight loss consumes so much of our time, energy and resources, why not switch our focus to health. Why not place our attention, our very time, energy and resources, on healthy eating instead. Weight loss affects our appearance, and healthy eating is more substantive. Somehow I can’t help wonder if that switch wouldn’t help us in other ways, perhaps move away from the superficiality of our culture and towards its more meaningful aspects. If we did, if we could, just think of the benefits— to our health, well being, sense of joy and purpose, not to speak of how a focus on health instead of weight would work towards a society with better health care delivery. And should we ever get past the superficiality around us, we might even be more likely to elect better leaders!