Tag Archives: public health

The Disease of War

I recently read a disintegrating little paperback on my bookshelves.  It probably belonged to my father, who was a public health doctor, with a masters in public health from Columbia University.  The book, Eleven Blue Men, consists of twelve stories about mysterious cases of sickness and death that came under the New York City Public Health Department’s purview in the mid-1940s.  The stories were originally serialized in The New Yorker magazine.  My edition of the book, by Berton Roueche, was published in 1955.

The stories involve cases of superlative medical detection, and they describe the extensive efforts exerted by epidemiologists and other investigators to identify and contain the culprits.  Cases of botulism, tetanus, smallpox, psittacosis, leprosy, typhoid fever, and others are described in detail.  There is a chapter on antibiotics, including the discovery of penicillin from mold, and the methods by which it was mass produced during World War II.

The outbreak of smallpox in New York City in 1947, a most contagious and deadly disease, led to the most massive emergency vaccination program in history, with 6,350,000 people being vaccinated, including the mayor of New York, within 28 days.

A new disease, which came to be named ricksettialpox, began striking inhabitants of a specific apartment complex in the borough of Queens in 1946.  It took significant sleuthing and the inspiration of an exterminator to discover the vector, a mite that fed on mice.

In the case of leprosy, the author goes into the historical discrimination and cruel torture of lepers, and the Bible-based fear of the disease, even though it is extremely sluggish and only marginally contagious.

While the stories are dated, and many of the diseases now rare in the US because of better sanitation, nutrition, and vaccinations, the afflictions themselves still exist and crop up from time to time.  The World Health Organization officially declared smallpox eradicated worldwide in 1980.  Other killer diseases like polio or tetanus now are virtually absent from the US and other developed countries.  Antibiotics like penicillin have completely changed the face of bacterial diseases and their treatments.

Medicine has made extraordinary strides in the past century, but I wonder about diminishing returns.  I read in newspapers about the starving children in Yemen and Ebola in the Congo, where there are also ongoing armed conflicts.  I think about microbiologist Hans Zinsser’s 1934 book Rats, Lice, and History, in which the author claims the bacteria win every war.  Zinsser was the original author of the microbiology text still used in medical schools today.

So, while medicine may have advanced, the social disease known as war has not, and it’s as deadly as ever, if not more so.  The starving children in Yemen are civilian victims caught in the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, with the US assisting the Saudis through arms sales and military cooperation.  There’s no medicine that cures starvation or unsanitary conditions.  Malnutrition, impure water, and stressful living conditions are breeding grounds for diseases like cholera, which, like Ebola, is transmitted through contaminated bodily fluids.

Eleven Blue Men softened my views on vaccines.  I can’t argue with vaccines for polio, smallpox, or tetanus, but I wonder about the proliferation of vaccines for an array of milder diseases, like influenza, which are generally self-limiting.  Vaccines themselves cause risks.  American children receive some 70 vaccines before they are 18 years old.

The medical clinics in Yemen are full to overflowing, but there’s little they can do for starvation.  Clinics in war-torn or infection-ridden areas may have vaccines or medicines, too, but they can’t provide the food, sanitation and clean water that do a longer-lasting and more effective job of preventing and healing disease.

When it comes to public health, the simplest measures are usually the best.  They have to do with sanitation, nutrition, and clean water.  In the case of civilian victims of war, the “collateral damage”–as the military likes to rationalize it–most of the trauma comes not from the bombs and bullets, but from the diseases that meet no resistance in debilitated populations.  It’s no wonder that the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918, at the heels of World War I, was the deadliest epidemic in history, killing more people in one year than the bubonic plague killed in the four years of the Black Death.  The flu epidemic killed ten times more people than the war itself.  The flu has not been that deadly since, but neither have the people been so lacking in resistance.

We don’t think of war as a disease, but maybe we should.  It’s a social disease, and no one is immune.

 

 

 

 

 

“We don’t intend to honor patents”

In my wildest dreams, I envision Fidel and Raul Castro refusing to honor foreign patents.  Think of it:  dream dirt, fertilized by oxen and horses since the USSR collapsed in 1991.  Cuba lost its oil source and its sugar market at the same time.  Cubans almost starved, so Fidel invested in the improvements necessary to life:  food and health care.  As a result, he has grown generations of healthy, self-sufficient individuals.

Because of ongoing US spitefulness, in the form of trade embargos, torturing operations, and general scapegoating, Cubans have been forced to remain stuck in time, before tools were made of plastic, before bulldozers and pavement planted thermals in over-heated cities.

Much to United States’ embarrassment, the Castro team has proved that Cuba can survive and prosper without US help.

Hahaha.  Well, if Cuba refused to honor foreign patents, Monsanto and Dow/Dupont’s stockholders would poop in their pants.  Patents are hot commodities, a bloodfest for lawyers, who win either way the FDA blows.  I’ve read that up to 80% of America’s corn is already mutated, so the time for labeling is long past.  Just assume it’s patented food until otherwise proven.

Cuba could then thumb its nose at the FDA, whose nose is up its ass.  (I know this because FDA recommendations stink.  I’m horrified at the succession of FDA-launched food scares, intentional panic-creation with too little or misleading information.)

Beware the patent industry, is all I gotta say to the Castros’ Communal Capitalists, who believe the product is its own patent.  Let the lawyers and government do the paperwork on their own time.

Also, don’t let them trap you into debt.  Eminent domain all foreign assets, including Guantanamo Bay, and especially assets held by corporations like Pfizer, Walmart, and McDonalds.  Use the reclaimed land to pay off any debt, then party with unpatented drugs, and drink to everyone’s health and wealth.

The more I think of it, the better it sounds.  As America drowns in its environmental toxins, it continues to churn out more of them, with no thought of tomorrow.  I think about the growing cesspool of “unintended consequences” now.  I also hate seeing deformed birds, strangled porpoises, and sickly babies that “progress” (downhill fast) is bleeding us to pay for.  Cuba is relatively plastic and packaging free, I hope, at least so far.  Let’s hope they can keep it that way.

Cuba:  A New History, by British journalist Richard Gott, was published in 2004.  I reviewed it on this blog 10/22/15.

In 2005, Harpers‘ published “The Cuba Diet: What will you be eating when the revolution comes?”, by Bill McKibben, April, 2005.  The following month, the ecologist came out with  “Cuba: Health Without Wealth,”  by Brendon Sainsbury, June, 2005.

 

To Pay the Piper

Highest tide on record, Savannah, GA, October 27, 2015

Highest tide on record, Savannah, GA, October 27, 2015

I need $500 to pay the piper. Literally.  That’s the last of the $3000 bill for replacing my old water pump and clearing a calcium blockage out of the well shaft.

Dropping the new pump into the well. July, 2015

Dropping the new pump into the well. July, 2015

This isn’t just any old well. This well taps into the great Florida aquifer, source of water for South Georgia, Florida, and part of Alabama.  One of the most productive in the world, according to the US Geological Survey.  Its most predominant cations (positively charged ions) are calcium, magnesium, and sodium.  Most common anions (negatively charged ions) are bicarbonate, chloride, and sulfate.  Note these are elements, part of nature’s natural cycle.

When it comes to the Savannah River, we have a different story. The Savannah River floats atop the Florida aquifer, upstream from me. This puts me in direct line of fire should anything go awry with the much touted Savannah Harbor deepening project.

The Savannah River. Hutchinson Island and Convention Center at right.

The Savannah River. Hutchinson Island and Convention Center at right.

The Savannah River has a sordid history. It is rated among the ten most toxic rivers in the country.  It is full of human and industrial waste from the last 280 years.  We have an untold number of rusting and decaying pipelines running under the river, pipes that carry an unreported variety of potentially toxic chemicals. We also have the chemicals, litter, garbage, and human waste dumped along its navigable course, all washed downstream toward the ocean. We have the daily oil leaks and other pollution from the nation’s 4th largest port, exhaust fumes, and all the industrial muck generated by modern civilization.

The Savannah River supplies the city of Savannah’s drinking water. Beneath the industrial pipes and the river-bottom sludge lies the pristine Florida aquifer, source of my drinking water, as well as that of all points south of Savannah. Corporate giant International Paper also gets its water directly from the Florida aquifer, through its eight 6-inch wells.

The current Savannah harbor deepening project was initiated by the Department of Defense d/b/a the Army Corps of Engineers, to expand military capacity in the Southeast. This is not stated outright, but one need only look at the multiplicity of military bases located in the area, and the fact that deployments for our interminable foreign wars fly 200 feet over my house.

The harbor deepening, which has already begun as I write this article, has a few logistical problems ahead. A primary problem is where the Corps is going to dump six feet of river bottom sludge.  The Savannah Harbor is 17 miles inland, and the channel is about 500 feet wide.  There is separate funding for Tybee Beach “re-nourishment,” engineered simultaneously with some harbor deepening money by former US Representative Jack Kingston.

At the same time, retired Corps insiders worry about intrusion into the Florida aquifer, but this is not discussed in public meetings.

The Army Corps of Engineers is also responsible for the largest mosquito nest in two states. This site is the last AC of E dump site for dredged river muck.   This sits on the north side of the Savannah River, where international ships with their passengers and vectors float daily by.  (Point of reference:  The Savannah River was originally 12 feet deep.  It is now 42 feet deep with plans to deepen it to 48 feet.)

Hutchinson Island exit off Hwy. 17

Hutchinson Island exit off Hwy. 17

The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA), the Georgia Ports Authority, the State of Georgia, local government, and the Corps have ganged up in support of the harbor deepening.   SEDA’s home is on Hutchinson Island, an earlier dump site for Savannah River dredging.  Hutchinson Island now boasts a SPLOST-funded convention center and a SPLOST-funded exit off Highway 17, to help bury value in toxic waste.

By further deepening the river and dumping toxic waste from the bottom of the river onto an as-yet-undetermined site, the Corps will further concentrate the toxins above land and breed more mosquitoes, now filled with lead, arsenic, and mercury.

“Yes, but it’s great bird habitat,” says a retired Corps employee.

My point exactly. These mosquitoes are eaten by birds, which are eaten by raccoons, hawks, and other creatures, and up the food chain the toxins go.  Remember that mosquitoes carry disease, like West Nile Virus, and a host of other mosquito-borne illnesses.

The United States Geological Survey has noted effects of metal contaminants in dredge material, including elevated levels of arsenic, copper, mercury, selenium, and zinc in birds and raccoons, as well as “significantly elevated” levels of cadmium, mercury, lead, and selenium in raccoons, with the bioaccumulation in their livers.

And then we have the rats, which carry fleas, eat through walls and wiring, and fill Savannah sewers. Their fleas spread bubonic plague, among other diseases.  Ships bring mosquitoes and rats as a part of their cargo.  There is no human being on the planet as smart as a rat.  If there is food, a rat will find it.  They have fleas to feed.

But this sexagenarian remembers when we still had lightning bugs and could see the north star at night. Over the years, she has observed the drainage ditches clogging, the mosquitoes growing bigger and meaner than ever, the streets flooding, and the rampant public safety hazards on public land.  Streets, sidewalks, curbs, and parking lots are concrete obstacle courses.

The Savannah Economic Development Authority (SEDA), the Georgia Ports Authority, Southern Company, International Paper, Imperial Sugar and other mega-corporate air, water, and earth polluters, are fine with poisoning Savannah, since their shareholders live mostly out of town. It appears that since we are busy selling last year’s weapons to our past and future enemies, to stimulate “the economy,” we are heavily invested in suicide.

Local officialdom is all for this. Bureaucrats, who work behind the scenes but who manipulate the publically accountable elected officials, can’t be fired, and their tenures last through many elected mayors and county commissioners.  Bureaucratic pensions and benefits are also invested on Wall Street, the commodities markets, corporate bonds, and treasuries.

But, back to my pump problem . . .

My water pump died at six p.m. on a Friday in July. I saw it coming.  Water pressure dropped too fast, and the old pump was working too hard to re-fill the 120 gallon tank.

Last fall, the last time I needed pump service, Mr. Turner told me it was only a matter of time before I would need a new one. “The old pumps lasted longer,” he said.  “Now you can expect about a 20-year life span.”  He replaced the voltage regulator and used his air compressor to put a head of pressure in the tank.

He’s an octogenarian who has been in the business since the 1940s, along with his 76-year-old brother.   Mr. T. hoped to retire by the end of the year but despaired there was no one he could recommend to replace him.

So when the pump died this time, I tried calling Mr. Turner, but his number had been disconnected. I noticed a small display ad in my old 2011 telephone book yellow pages, for L&S Pump and Well Service.  The “24/7 service” notation jumped off the page.

At 6:30 p.m. on this particular Friday, I called Louis Smith of L&S. He said Mr. Turner had retired two weeks ago.  Louis (Loo-ie) said he would be happy to come to my house immediately, but he would have to leave his granddaughter’s birthday party.

I said my problem can wait until the morning. I have jugs of water stored for emergencies.  What time in the morning can you come?

“I like to sleep late on Saturdays,” says he. “At least until 6:30.”

We agreed to a 7:30 a.m. appointment. He was here by 7:20.  Yes, my pump was dead and needed replacement.  Yes, he would have to roll back the panel on my greenhouse above the well shaft.  Yes, he could do it today, but it would take some doing, as suppliers and crew take weekends off.  Yes it would cost $2000.  He doesn’t usually extend credit, especially to customers he has never met, but I’m land poor, living on Social Security, and can only pay half up front.

So he says he’ll do the job, and I say let’s wait until Monday. Enjoy your weekend.  I know how to make water last.

Typical Chatham County drainage ditch, August, 2015

Typical Chatham County drainage ditch, August, 2015

I also know how to make the most of a difficult situation. I have been particularly interested in water issues lately, everything from the river deepening to the mosquito nest, to Savannah’s clogged drainage ditches, to the nuclear power plants upriver from me.

The Savannah River site, home of an old nuclear bomb factory and nuclear power plants, near Augusta, GA and 100 miles upriver from my well, has been cited as the “most severely radiation-polluted place on Earth,” by brainz.org. There are rumors of tritium and other radioactive isotopes downstream as far as Savannah, but this has not been substantiated.

At the moment, Southern Company is busy building two new nuclear power plants at this site, the first new reactors approved in the United States in over 20 years. We are already paying in taxes and increased utility bills for this, despite the fact that energy usage is going down nationwide.  Southern Company is reporting cost overruns and wants more money.  This is a Fortune 500 company, mind you, that routinely reports huge profits and pays large dividends derived from its double-dip into taxpayer wallets.

Nuclear power plants use enormous amounts of water for cooling, a third of which evaporates, with the remaining heated water discharged back into—in our case—the Savannah River. Raising the temperature of the water unbalances the ecosystem and contributes to further problems with fish and wildlife habitat.

Meanwhile, Atlanta is worried about its drinking water supply. Three states are fighting over water from Lake Lanier, near Atlanta, and the Chattahoochee River that flows out of it.  The state of Georgia is considering piping water upstream from the lower Savannah to supply Atlanta’s future water needs.

Can you find the drainage ditch? It is impassible.

Can you find the drainage ditch? It is impassible.

This validates my assertion that my individual problems are intimately connected to the world’s problems. Rather than clear the drainage ditches, including the one alongside my property, our local government purchases helicopters to dump malathion on our collective heads. The Corps pays local government to provide this overkill and to discharge its responsibility for its mosquito breeding grounds.

Apparently the Corps has forgotten what its own Walter Reed and William Gorgas discovered in the first Panama Canal project in 1900. Attending to drainage and destroying habitat for pests is far more cost effective and gentler on all of us than the pesticides dumped over the entire coast at random.

In an ideal world, common sense exists in the public domain. The drainage method for combating mosquitoes, reducing flooding, and potentially assisting irrigation, discovered by Gorgas and Reed in 1900 and thereabouts, successfully eliminated yellow fever and malaria in this country the first time.

Johnston Street flood. Savannah, GA. June, 1999

Johnston Street flood. Savannah, GA. June, 1999

Besides breeding mosquitoes within Chatham County, the clogged drainage ditches and stagnant water contribute to massive flooding, mold, mildew, and a variety of disease-producing microorganisms. The 12 inches of rain that fell during high tide in 1999 flooded my office on Johnston Street, across Abercorn from 12 Oaks Shopping Center.  The site of the flood is now home to two huge new developments, a Hilton, and some huge monstrosity where Konter Realty used to be.  This will only exacerbate the flooding problems in mid-town Savannah.

Local government, meanwhile, has now extended its water lines into the marshy part of the county where I live, and does whatever it can to discourage private wells. However, considering the high potential of flooding into the county water supply, this taxpayer prefers to keep her private well. Already, 20 years ago, the county was working to ensnare as many taxpayers as possible into dependency on government for water.  Even then the bureaucratic hassle for getting a well permit was a nightmare.

So back to my current saga, which ended with a sigh of relief, but not before we encountered an unanticipated $1000 problem.

Louis, left, and Roy at work. July, 2015

Louis, left, and Roy at work. July, 2015

On Monday, Louis and his helper, Roy, arrived at daylight. The weather was hot and muggy, already 83 degrees.  They worked quickly, unscrewing the fiberglass panel over the well shaft, pulling up the old pump, and putting the new one down.  Water gushed and stopped, gushed and stopped.  This happened repeatedly, at which point Louis finally determined there was a blockage in the shaft.  He rubbed his head and looked serious.

“You might have to get county water, after all,” he said. He added he might be able to clear the blockage, but he would have to find a welder to make a special bit to drill through the deposit, and that it would cost an extra $1000.

Knowing what I know about county government, and knowing it would cost at least that much to run a pipe from the county’s water line, I urged Louis to try to clear the blockage. He left for lunch and to find his welder, and I left for errands, wondering when, if ever, I would have running water again.

By the time I returned from errands, he and Roy had cleared  the well shaft, and water was gushing out of the well. They had removed a calcium deposit at 185 feet in the 300 foot shaft.  The water level was at 57 feet.  He showed me the bit, which was four inches in diameter, with teeth on three rollers that ground down the calcium.

But here’s the real kicker to this story. Louis looked confused when I mentioned his ad in the yellow pages.  It seemed he didn’t know what I was talking about, so I went to look for the ad and couldn’t find it.  I wondered if I had the wrong phone book, checking several pages, over and over, but the ad I so clearly remembered—and used to call him the first time—was not there.  His listing, I discovered, was on an entirely separate page from all the other well drillers and servicers, but there was no ad.   He had told me the phone company had done him dirty, and now I understand what he meant.  Lucky for me—and for him, I suppose, once I pay him off—that the phantom ad brought us together.

Universal Domain Technology and Patents

bikerack0515

A decent bike rack is hard to find in Savannah.

My reusable shopping bag collection

My reusable shopping bag collection

I have a future in product design.  I plan to specialize in universal domain technology, remain small and focused, invent things that I need, use all the potentially useful materials that clutter house, yard, and tool shed, and produce prototypes rather than patents.

Neither Benjamin Franklin nor Thomas Jefferson believed in patents.  I’m on their side.  Patents foster secrecy, such that everybody is so busy working alone and spying on “competition,” that we have a technological revolution of incompatible electronic equipment.

Above left is a bicycle rack, with my lone bicycle parked in it.  Above right is my reusable shopping bag collection, two of them hand-sewn by yours truly.  I used left-over drapery material to make the floral one.

The bike rack is part of a local campaign to embarrass our city and county government into making our streets and sidewalks more wheel friendly.  I’m also on a picture-taking campaign of public safety hazards on public land, planning to e-mail said pictures to those who are wasting taxpayer money on new highway construction and new schools where nobody lives.

Public safety hazards on public land abound in Savannah, where I live, but this appears to be a national problem.  Think of all the wheels that must traverse these areas.  Not only bicycles, but wheelchairs, rolling walkers, shopping carts, delivery carts, skateboards, roller skates, as well as cars and trucks.  In Savannah, tree branches hang in front of traffic lights and street signs.  High curbs, speed bumps, little islands of bushes at eye level prevent drivers from seeing small children and oncoming traffic.

Drainage is another major problem in this backwater burg.  The city and county do not maintain the drainage ditches, such that the mosquito problem is magnified.  When we have heavy rain and high tide together, downtown and midtown Savannah are prone to heavy flooding.

Our city parents (fathers and mothers) solve these problems by purchasing cute but loud little yellow jacket helicopters to dump malathion on the entire coast.  They purchase street signs to tell us the street is closed when flooded.  The helicopters pay special attention to the largest mosquito nest in Georgia and South Carolina that sits on the northern bank of the Savannah River.  This is site of previous Savannah River dredgings.  Our famous Hutchinson Island is an earlier site.  These toxic waste dumps come to us courtesy of the Army Corps of Engineers, but the Corps pays Chatham County to control the mosquitoes with malathion.  They do not want to drain it, because it attracts birds, but the birds and racoons are showing dangerous levels of lead and other toxins.

Yet the Corps and the county and the state of Georgia are hot to deepen the Savannah River even more, from 42 to 47 feet, even though nobody knows where they will put the millions of tons of toxic waste accumulated over 250-plus years of industrialization.

This ambitious project to stimulate imports and exports comes at a time when the “global economy” is dying on the vine.  The dollar is strong right now, great for the domestic economy.  Domestic goods are cheaper, labor is cheaper.  Only the bankers, the governments, and Wall Street are suffering, because they are the profit-skimmers who produce nothing of value on their own.

How do I get from bike racks and reusable bags to the global economy?  It’s simple.  Anyone can make them.  No patents or patent attorneys required.  They give solid, dependable returns on time and money investment for years, and cost nothing in taxes.