Tag Archives: starvation

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Gardening

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S. Squire Rooster and Lady Brownie Hen, standing around and on concrete block herb garden. Chickens don’t bother herbs, but they love worms, grubs, termites, roaches, lizards, and fiddlers. I keep my yard as free of artificial chemicals and traps as possible, but I can’t stop the county from dumping malathion on our heads.

August 18, 2017

As people starve in Venezuela and other places, I remind myself Americans don’t know what starvation feels like.  We suffer from the opposite problem, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, life-style-related diseases resulting from consuming too much of the wrong things.

 

My herbs begged for pruning the other day.  It took several hours to cut, sort, wash, chop, and store, but I got a half-gallon of mint-stevia tea and almost a pint of basil-chive pesto.  My mind is free when I’m doing finger-trained things like chopping herbs.  I thought about how easily herbs grow on my deck, and how even urbanites with window sills, balconies, or patios could grow food.

I thought about my “green footprint” and how all greenery—even so-called weeds—contribute to cooling the earth and re-claiming oxygen from CO2.  So even growing an herb or a potted tomato on the patio adds to your oxygen green print.  Citrus grows well in patio pots, too, depending on where you live.

When the government controls the food supply, it’s a set-up for famine.  Julius Caesar used that to advantage, and so have rulers the world over.  That’s what makes centralized power so fragile.  We’re seeing that now, with President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.   He has the military guarding the food.  I’ll bet lots of folks now regret leaving the farms to work in factories and oil refineries.  At home, they could grow their own food.

We have the same situation brewing in the USA, but here the strategy is more insidious. We can see it being played out in all the mergers and acquisitions in the food, drug, and poison industries.  Most notable is the planned purchase of Monsanto by Bayer, based in Germany.  So Monsanto will go underground, should these two poison giants (depending on your point of view) merge.  Second, a little different but no less significant, is the merger of Dow and DuPont, two chemical giants.  Dow has the trademark on Styrofoam and has its own versions of genetically modified (GM) corn and other patented plant products.

Finally, we have the impending merger of Swiss Syngenta, the world’s largest crop chemical producer, and China National Chemical Corp., a state-owned outfit.  More than half of Syngenta’s sales come from “emerging markets.”  At a $42 billion price, Wikipedia reports the purchase of Syngenta to be the largest for a foreign firm in Chinese history.

The farming industry (which is often distinct from and at cross-purposes with “farmers”) is supposedly opposed to the Montsanto/Bayer merger.  The opposition claims it will increase prices and reduce innovation.  The poison companies say they will increase research and development.  (That’s what scares me most.)

In the US, the ethanol mandate represents the biggest government power grab of the food supply to date.  GM corn manufacturers are now making “ethanol-grade” corn.  Well, folks, what does that mean to you?  It means to me that Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, and other GM manufacturers are busy downgrading everyone’s food supply to generate electronic profits on Wall Street.  Of course Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Cargill, and other Big Food are all for burning perfectly good corn whiskey in cars.  Cars consume it faster than alcoholics do, and the government gets more in taxes, so of course the FDA, CDC, and EPA are complicit.

So with the mergers of the world’s six largest seed, agrochemical, and biotech corporations, which are in the business of poisoning us from the ground up, it behooves all of us to start producing our own food, individual by individual, as space and sunshine allow.

 

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Deck herbs, some in concrete blocks, others in clay pots.  Cat litter boxes do a good job of catching water.  Can water and/or fertilize from the base.

Herbs are probably the easiest plants to grow, and many are perennial.  My chickens don’t like them, the deer don’t like them, and they are amazingly bug-resistant.  Stevia, chives, mint, oregano, and rosemary are all perennial.  The rosemary bush is taller than I am.  Since stevia was approved by the FDA as a natural sugar substitute a few years back, corporate marketing has improved its image. Less well known is that it’s a perennial extra easy to grow in a small clay pot.

So I harvested overgrown stevia, mint, chives and basil.  I made stevia-mint iced tea and basil-chive pesto.

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Set-up for making mint-stevia tea.  Mint is on the chopping board.  kco081717

I use a one-half gallon container for the tea, fill with cold water, let the water come to a boil, and turn the burner off.  I stir in the chopped mint and stevia, replace the lid on the pot, and let it steep all night.  In the morning I strain the tea and transfer it to the refrigerator container.

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Set-up for making basil-chive pesto.  Curved knife blade with rocking motion works best for fast and safe herb and veggie chopping.   kco081717

Making pesto is a breeze with a mini-food processor.  Pesto keeps weeks in the refrigerator and infinitely in the freezer.  I freeze fresh pesto and gouge chunks out of the mix as needed.  I use it in salad dressings, spreads, sauces, marinades, and Italian dishes of all kinds.

I use a standard blend of ingredients with whatever herbs I have.  Two to three cloves of crushed or chopped garlic, a couple of handfuls of chopped herbs, a handful of grated parmesan cheese, a handful of chopped nuts, and enough olive oil to make the processor work right.  I use soy sauce or olive brine instead of salt.  I like red pepper, too.  If you overdo the red pepper, extra olive oil helps a lot.

More traditional pesto recipes call for pine nuts, but they are expensive, somewhat hard to find, and not worth the price.  I prefer walnuts or almonds, but any nut will do.  Put them in the processor early, as they take time to grind up right.

Cheese is also variable.  Hard cheeses, like grated parmesan or romano, tend to last longer in storage, but I’ve used jack and cheddar, too.  Pestos are as versatile as your imagination.

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My version of pesto pizza.  Rye toast smeared with basil-chive pesto, topped with parmesan cheese and salad olives.  Broiled in toaster oven 3-5 minutes. kco081717