Lost opportunity for openness

INDEPENDENT MEDIA by Steve Anderson

Last month, the government had a perfect opportunity to address Canada’s deficit in Internet openness or “Net Neutrality.” In both the Speech From the Throne and the budget, it should have seized the opportunity to present an openness agenda. If the Conservatives are committed to lifting foreign ownership rules for the telecommunication industry, as mentioned in their speech, why aren’t they first ensuring that Canadians enjoy open access to all the Internet has to offer from our current providers? Seems like they’re putting the cart before the horse or, rather, the carriers before the users.

In what many consider a major victory for the open media movement, last fall the CRTC developed new “traffic management” guidelines. However, under these new guidelines, the CRTC will not enforce its own framework; instead, the onus falls on the consumer to file a complaint and prove that an ISP is unjustly throttling (degrading) the Internet. It is unfair to force consumers to somehow obtain the technical and policy expertise to present their case effectively before the CRTC, and to also outmanoeuvre some of the most powerful businesses in the country.

Unlike the US and other countries, several ISPs in Canada continue to limit access to content and services in this country. As Telecom law expert Michael Geist points out, it’s currently “a decidedly mixed bag” in terms of how ISPs are reacting to the CRTC’s new guidelines. Four of the dominant six providers continue to throttle Internet use and two of them do not make it easy to find their traffic management disclosures despite the CRTC’s transparency rule. The transparency guideline calls for ISPs to make known how their traffic management practices “will affect a user’s Internet experience, including the specific impact on speeds.”

While Bell and Rogers do reveal their practices, albeit coupled with a positive spin, Shaw and Cogeco do not reveal the speeds users can expect when they are throttled. This is important because when users experience artificial slowness, they often assume it is a problem with a particular website. If users have knowledge of the speeds associated with throttling, they will be better equipped to know when they have fallen victim to it.

It also appears that Rogers and Cogeco fail to limit their throttling activities to instances of actual congestion, opting instead for constant throttling of certain applications and the content that runs through them. Clearly, the guidelines alone are not enough to ensure that Canadians have open access.

The do nothing approach

Unfortunately, the government appears to have once again adopted a do nothing approach. The Throne Speech made no attempt to address Canada’s Internet openness deficit, despite overwhelming support for Net Neutrality from the other major parties, along with a clear majority of Canadians. When asked about Net Neutrality in the House of Commons last year, Industry Minister Tony Clement said he is “watching those providers very closely” and does not “want to see a situation where consumers are put at risk in terms of their access to the Internet.” Clement should be aware that several dominant ISPs are presently limiting access to bittorent applications and the content that runs through them. This limits consumer choice and stifles innovation and social change.

Case in point: innovative environmental groups like the Wilderness Committee and Dogwood Initiative are reaching more and more people through the Internet. It is essential for these groups to be able to access people on the Internet, unhindered by big telecom companies. For the sake of our ecological future, we cannot let the Internet head down the slippery slope of centralized control. Clement can stop Internet Service Providers from controlling our use of the Internet by asking the CRTC to conduct regular compliance audits of ISP traffic management practices.

The users, not the ISPs, should decide which applications and services Canadians use on the Internet. Canadians can send a letter to Tony Clement at http://saveournet.ca/action

Steve Anderson is the national coordinator for the Campaign for Democratic Media. He has written for The Tyee, Toronto Star, Epoch Times andAdbusters.
steve@democraticmedia.ca
www.FacebookSteve.com
www.SteveOnTwitter.com

Self-seeding veggies

ON THE GARDEN PATH by Carolyn Herriot

Imagine harvesting bunches of nutritious greens you didn’t even plant. You can do this simply by growing kales, chards, spinach, salad greens, mustard greens, parsley and coriander because they are all self-seeding vegetables. Let some of the best plants go to seed and you will have a steady supply of food all year long. Talk about the Garden of Eden! 

Arugula (or rocket salad) provides patches of volunteers in spring and fall. I relish the nutty, slightly peppery flavour of young leaves in sandwiches and salads and lightly sautéed in pasta dishes. As the plant matures, it develops a pungent mustard bite relished by some. The annual variety of arugula is very ornamental, going to seed with white flowers rather than the typical bright yellow flowers of the mustard family.

Mache (or corn salad) produces leafy rosettes of juicy greens with a mild but refreshing taste for winter salads and sandwiches. It sets seed as soon as the weather warms up in spring. Small, round, light brown seeds lie dormant in the soil until the weather cools down in October, ensuring corn-salad greens are available all winter.

Purple orach (or mountain spinach) offers pickings of deep purple leaves, which make colourful accents in the salad bowl, as well as in the garden. Make it even more attractive by pinching out leaf tips, which cause it to bush out and produce more leaves. Tip: grow in part sun/part shade; it won’t bolt to seed as fast and lasts longer.

Perpetual spinach is not true spinach, although it is used in the same way; it is a cross between chard and beet, with finer-textured leaves tender enough to tear into salads. It is also “squeaky sweet,” served as a side dish, lightly steamed. I frequently use it as a base for vegetarian lasagnes. Perpetual spinach will grow year round without going to seed and tastes even sweeter after hard frosts. Tip: cut it back severely if it attempts to go to seed before the year is out.

Silverbeet is a chard I originally encountered on a visit to the UK. It thrives in cooler conditions; it is very winter hardy and produces superior dark green leaves with succulent white midribs so you actually get two vegetables in one. It is always plentiful for steamed greens and can be used as a replacement for cabbage in roll-up recipes. The juicy, white stalks are crunchy and sweet when steamed or stir-fried and hard to distinguish from celery when covered with a sauce.

Five-colour silverbeet is a much more decorative version of chard that seeds around the garden and also looks great in containers. When it goes to seed, you can select the colours you like best and create your own custom-tinted mix. Serving up a platter of these vibrant-looking vegetables always leads to enlivened conversation.

Kale leaves are the most freely available greens volunteering around the garden. I choose ‘Russian Red’ or ‘Green Curled,’ which are tender enough for salads year round. The flower heads can be eaten in lieu of broccoli spears, raw or lightly steamed. This is best done while still in bud, before flowers open.

Radicchio (or chicory) seedlings pop up all over the garden, which is just fine with me because these plants are very appealing. Rossa di Treviso and Palla Rossa become an intense red as they develop into substantial, tasty hearts. These edible ornamentals look good for most of the year and work very well along the edge of borders.

Parcel is a variety of parsley with a pronounced celery flavour. Parcel can be chopped and used as a seasoning in generous handfuls. Toss it freely into omelettes, pasta, casseroles, salads and dressings and you will be helping your family maintain their intake of vitamin C. It has become my herb of choice in the kitchen.

 I’m a vegan and am trying to grow a steady supply of organic greens in a Vancouver community garden. What is the easiest, fastest-growing and most reliable green for someone who wants big results from little work?
 I would grow kale, chard, spinach, Oriental greens, mustard greens, parsley or parcel and coriander because these greens grow year round and are prolific self-seeders. Choose open-pollinated varieties (not F1 hybrids) to start with and let some flower and go to seed.

Carolyn’s new book The Zero Mile Diet – A Year-round Guide to Growing Great Organic Food (Harbour Publishing) will be released April 2010.www.earthfuture.com/gardenpath

Relationship sabotage

UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young

If you want to reach a state of bliss, then go beyond your ego and the internal dialogue. 

– Deepak Chopra

There are many ways in which ego can sabotage our closest relationships. Ego sees everything from its own perspective and is only concerned with fulfilling its own needs. Many ego reactions or responses to life situations are rooted in our early years. When we are children, the ego is the predominant aspect of our being and, ideally, we evolve beyond it. Often, however, the conscious evolution does not occur and even if it does, remnants of the old ego may remain.

Think of the kinds of interactions that often occur between siblings: competition, arguments, vying for attention or approval, controlling behaviours and victim dramas. There is a polarity dynamic based on opposites: mine/yours, right/wrong, good/bad and win/lose. This same polarity thinking often characterizes parent/child or couples relationships. Unfortunately, the participants do not see this polarity thinking as childish for ego has them convinced that they are right and the other person is the problem.

Ego brings its own interpretation to situations. Anger is an emotional response based on one’s interpretation of a situation. It can occur when ego’s desires are frustrated because it is very much an ego-driven emotion. In relationships, the energy of anger is often toxic. When expressed, it can lead to inappropriate behaviours; if repressed, it can create bitterness, resentment, depression and a host of stress-related health problems. When an angry outburst occurs, it is often an indication that ego has taken over. It results in hurt, distancing and a lack of trust.

Another negative quality ego brings to relationships when there are differences or issues is the need to be right. Often, arguments revolve around who is right, but because it is an opinion or point of view that is being debated, there will never be agreement. More damage is done to the relationship as the conflict rages, whereas, the energy would be better spent considering how to proceed given the different perspectives.

In its desperation to have things go its way, ego can cause one to become very controlling. This can result in relationships where one dominates the other. If the other resists being controlled, the relationship may be characterized by power struggles. Sometimes, ego’s control is more subtle so that rather than obvious controlling behaviour there is manipulation or passive-aggressive behaviour.

It is clear that when ego is operating, relationships will be difficult. When two separate egos are both battling to win, or at least to get their own way, it becomes even more complicated. The struggle between egos may also be an ongoing theme in intimate relationships. Unfortunately, these struggles prevent the relationship from growing into one that is more mature and satisfying. Relationships can be fertile ground for growing, learning and evolving, but this requires two partners who are open to this opportunity. It also requires the ability to be aware of when one’s own ego is operating and to transcend its self-centered or reactive perspective. Focusing on the ego of the other only keeps the process polarized.

It is not sufficient to change ego-directed behaviours. Change must begin at the level of our thoughts or our internal dialogue. As long as we are thinking in terms of polarity, or judging the other, we will still be sabotaging the relationship.

We humans are sensitive beings and we know when we are being accepted and loved unconditionally. Further, we cannot bring an open and loving heart to a relationship as long as ego is in the way.

If a relationship is beyond hope and egos are strangling the life out of it, to say nothing of the effect on the individuals, it is time to get out and move on. But if the love is there and it is worth saving, it is time for ego to move on.

Gwen Randall-Young is a psychotherapist in private practice and author ofGrowing Into Soul: The Next Step in Human Evolution. For more articles, permission to reprint and information about her books and “Deep Powerful Change” personal growth/hypnosis CDs, visit www.gwen.ca

Irish animation illuminates ancient secret

FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead

Secret of Kells was nominated for an Oscar

The Reel 2 Real International Film Festival for Youth, running April 9 to 16 in Vancouver, was established in 1998 to provide “culturally diverse, authentic programming for youth.” While the festival has a younger audience in mind, with audiences engaging in the event through question and answer sessions, and linked classroom discussions, many of the films will have a broader appeal.

In particular, there’s a chance to see The Secret of Kells, a wonderful feature animation by the makers of The Triplets of Belleville that has picked up numerous festival awards and was nominated for an Oscar this year.

The Book of Kells, in real life, is one of the oldest Celtic manuscripts dating back to the times when Norsemen terrorized communities along European shores, raping and pillaging wherever they went. The manuscript itself is revered for its intricate and beautifully hand-drawn illustrations, but it is also surrounded by mystery. Drawn in appropriately flowing, exquisite colours, the film tells the story of how the book survived the marauding invaders that ransacked Kells.

The Abbott of Kells is busy fortifying the abbey compound against the expected Norse invaders. In the midst of their preparations, a master Illuminator drags himself through their gates after surviving a pillaging of the monastery on the isle of Iona – where Saint Columba established Scotland’s first Christian settlement – clutching his unfinished manuscript.

Young, red-haired orphan Brendan, against the wishes of his guardian the Abbott, secretly helps the newcomer Brother Aidan complete the magical and powerful work, a job that involves dangerous missions beyond the protective walls of the Abbey. There are beautifully rendered scenes of Brendan gathering rare berries for green ink in the enchanted forest where he meets ferocious, four-legged beasts and the playful faerie Aisling. When the loving, but authoritative, Abbot finds out about Brendan’s activities, it drives a schism between the two and he locks Brendan up. But the boy has found his vocation and will combat Vikings and a serpent god to find a crystal to complete the Book.

The storyline follows a fairly standard mythical quest trajectory, with gentle humour and a sharing in Brendan’s sense of wonderment at this magical world. It’s gorgeous to look at and the dark forces are memorably menacing (perhaps too much so for young children).

Canadian production Hungry Hills is a fifties, western melodrama about 15-year-old, Snit, who is overcoming a pained history in an abusive boys’ welfare residence after returning to his family farm in Saskatchewan. Faced with the animosity of small town folk, the essentially good Snit falls in with Johnny, a bootlegger his age and another outcast struggling with his own demons. The film, adapted from the novel by George Ryga, has a brooding atmosphere although I felt there were too many gaps in the narrative for the story to gel. Scenes are thoughtfully composed, with impressive wide-open vistas. The cast is good, especially John Pyper-Ferguson as Kane, an unorthodox and laconic cop. Yet because of narrative shortcomings, the film misses the mark.

Also showing at R2R is Home is Where the Food Is, a chatty, six-minute animation made by Jodi Kramer for the 100-Mile Diet Society in Vancouver. As Vancouver Island resident Tina Biello cooks up a classic Italian pasta dish, the flowing black and white line-drawing (there are only a few splashes of colour here and there) traces the ingredients to their source: pasta made from Red Fife wheat grains (the popular heritage grain) sourced from a Cowichan Bay mill, prawns from the local marina, veggies from the garden, eggs from an honour stand, and cheese from a nearby farm. Only the cooking fat – butter packaged in Abbotsford, but sourced from Quebec – has a heavy carbon footprint. This slice of wholesomeness is also online at vimeo.com/7409888

The full program for Reel to Real is at www.r2rfestival.org

Robert Alstead made the Vancouver documentary You Never Bike Alone.www.youneverbikealone.com. He writes at www.2020Vancouver.com.

Earth Day Vancouver 2020

EARTHFUTURE by Guy Dauncey

Michelle woke her children early and got them dressed for Earth Day, the Fête de la Terre that would be held that day in the streets and parks of downtown Vancouver, attended by tens of thousands. It was the 50th anniversary of the world’s first Earth Day in 1970 and the whole day was a holiday, beginning with the morning’s huge Earth Parade, followed by a concert in the park.

As they joined the thousands in the parade, dancing and walking along Georgia Street, surrounded by music, balloons, bicycles and people on stilts, Michelle felt a wonderful sense of shared purpose. Why this very real sense of celebration when just a few years ago everything had seemed so hopeless?

Hardly so, Michelle thought, as she looked at the hats and long-sleeved T-shirts which her children wore to protect them from the searing rays of sunshine that would soon be pouring through the continuing hole in the planet’s ozone layer. Nor did the widespread hunger and the growing alarm about climate change make her feel particularly hopeful.

In the last few years, however, something had shifted. In towns and villages throughout the world, people were waking up and realizing that if they didn’t get off their backsides and do something, no one else would. The old idea that you could go on complaining and expect someone else to sort out the mess seemed suddenly passé. Cynicism was out; determination was in. And with that shift, a wave of new energy was being released into the community.

Building on the achievements of the past 10 years, Vancouver now boasted hundreds of organic urban farms. Streets all over the city had been closed off to cars, many being ploughed up and redesigned as winding footpaths, bicycle trails and urban gardens. Later in the summer, apartment blocks would blossom with beans and squash growing on trellises that climbed up their sides, and sunflowers on their roofs.

As the throng of people gathered for the day’s celebrations, Michelle looked around and wondered if her children would be celebrating Earth Day in 50 years time, with their grandchildren beside them. Earth’s problems were still so huge and pessimism could so easily return if people surrendered their hope.

“Rêvez, l’impossible rêve,” a man sang from the stage, keeping alive Jacques Brel’s intoxicating song for another generation. “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” That dream, she thought, that dream. All my life, I’ve worked for that dream. A world in which everyone would be able to experience personal fulfillment, community health and ecological harmony. Should that be so very difficult, so hard to achieve? Didn’t everyone share the same dream, at some deep level? And yet for years they had been so few, always trying to do too much, with never enough support to do what was needed. She felt so grateful to those who had kept the dream alive, including those who had crossed over and who were with them only in spirit.

“Regard, Maman, le ballon! Le voila! Le voila!” Mathilde cried out, as the first of a hundred hot-air balloons drifted slowly into view over Vancouver.“Regardez! Les ballons!” came the voices of hundreds more children, joined by the adults, followed by whistles, horns and drums. Then everyone stood up and started singing, “Rêvez, l’impossible rêve” –10,000 voices joined together in song, calling out their hopes for the world to hear.

Yes, we can do it, Michelle thought, feeling the energy of 10,000 hearts.“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world,” a small voice said inside her head, reminding her of the words of American anthropologist Margaret Mead. “Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” “Yes,” she thought, “it is possible. We can do it, if we really want to.”

Guy Dauncey is president of the BC Sustainable Energy Association and author of Earthfuture: Stories From a Sustainable World, in which this was first published in a slightly different form. www.earthfuture.com

Brain over brawn

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Many people say George Wald was the greatest lecturer in Harvard’s history. He was certainly the best I’ve heard. Dr. Wald won a Nobel Prize in 1967 for his work on the biochemical basis of colour vision. He and I became friends in the 1970s because we shared a common concern about the misapplication of science, especially during the war in Vietnam. Dr. Wald once captivated me with a story he told:

For close to 150 million years, dinosaurs dominated the planet and they were impressive. They were huge animals, armed with weapons like spikes on their tails, giant claws, and razor-sharp teeth. They were covered with armour plates. They seemed invincible and when they roamed the Earth, other creatures fled in terror. But they had a fatal flaw: a tiny brain in relation to their body size. Despite their impressive traits, they disappeared, victims, in part, of their low brain-to-brawn ratio.

About 64 million years after the dinosaurs went extinct, a beautiful animal appeared on the plains of Africa. This animal stood upright and walked on two legs and its skin was free of fur. Unlike the plentiful wildebeest, this animal was rare. It wasn’t as big as a hippo. It wasn’t even as fast as an elephant. It wasn’t as strong as a chimpanzee and it couldn’t see like an eagle, smell like a dog or hear like a gazelle.

But those first beautiful humans were endowed with the highest brain-to-brawn ratio ever achieved and in only 150,000 years, they had spread to every continent on Earth. Humans eventually outnumbered other mammals on the planet. Their high brain-to-brawn ratio served them well as they learned to domesticate plants and animals and to live in environments as varied as Arctic tundra, deserts, coral atolls, mountain slopes, wetlands and forests of every kind.

But then they invented guns and cannons and their brain-to-brawn ratio fell. They got into cars, tanks and planes, and dropped napalm and nuclear bombs. And with each innovation, the brain-to-brawn ratio sank toward that of the dinosaurs.

I love Dr. Wald’s story because it encapsulates much of our dilemma. The human brain was the critical factor that more than compensated for our lack of physical and sensory abilities. We had a vast memory, we were observant and curious and we were creative. In the past, our innovations such as the needle, bow and arrow and pottery had huge repercussions, but took centuries to evolve into the culture.

Agriculture was the big shift that released us from being nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers and village dwellers. Then the Industrial Revolution heralded a massive change. In only two centuries, people were able to harness the cheap, portable energy of fossil fuels to create machines of incredible power. In the movie Avatar, the giant robots have no heads, a symbol of what we have become as a species. We have acquired vast technological power but far too little of the brainpower or wisdom needed to use that power well.

Consider this simple example. When New Zealand fishers discovered a fish called orange roughy in deep-sea waters, they thought they had hit a bonanza. Technology to fish the deep sea – radar, sonar, GPS, freezers, giant nets – enabled them to exploit the abundant fish in massive numbers. Despite the fact that these were a new target species about which virtually nothing was known, the animals were taken in vast quantities. It’s called “harvesting,” but it was really a “mining” operation. Only years later did we learn these fish live more than 100 years and grow and mature far more slowly than inshore species.

When was the last time you ate orange roughy? They have been nearly wiped out all around the globe because our technology was too powerful in relation to our knowledge. We didn’t consider our limitations, which should have caused us to be far more cautious and conservative. The technology meant that brain-to-brawn sank toward a level closer to that of the dinosaurs.

Technology can provide great benefits, but unless we learn to use our heads in applying our technologies, we will also go the way of the dinosaurs.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

The next 500 years

by Leon Secatero, Navajo

The journey we are beginning now is for the next 500 years. What will be the sacred path that people will walk over the next 500 years? Even in the midst of all the changes taking place and all the things falling apart, we are building that foundation now. That’s something important for us to remember and to focus on. If we don’t do it, no one else will.

All anyone needs to do is look around. We have been destroying nature systematically for many decades. Now, nature is destroying us with winds and storms and earthquakes and volcanoes. All that was known a long time ago. The elders have been telling us for years that this would come. Now it’s here and it’s hurting us.

We need to take a close look at this and then really come to terms with ourselves. To move ahead into the next 500 years, we must leave some things behind or they will contaminate or even eliminate the future. We cannot go forward if we keep destroying the Earth. But we must also ask, what is good and healthy and helpful? Those good things can be part of our foundation, part of our pathway into the next 500 years.

The elders talked about positive things, focusing on the positive to make things happen, to bring in good energy so that life will continue. They said to use song, prayer, dance to focus on positive thought, and to help us go forward on the path to the future in a good way, in a sacred way.

What I was shown was the way we should be, how we must be to influence the future, and also to influence all the plants, the animals, the waters, the air and the fire. It’s important. I came to a knowing that the only way you can have the power is through the color and the light of positive thought and energy. Put all your concentration on this, not other things. Put your concentration on the positive. That’s how it’s done.

All the native knowings, or prophecies that have been passed down talk about a time when the five-fingered ones (human beings) would be so caught in the illusion of separation that they would forget their original instructions. This forgetting has caused terrible suffering for everyone and everything. It is very important for us to reconnect our life and our ways.

Things are changing and in the midst of this the most important thing is the sacred path to the next 500 years, creating that path in a sacred manner with positive thoughts and actions. We have experienced negativity on a mass scale. There is social illness; there is great pain and suffering in our world. Those kinds of negativity and social illnesses we do not need to take along this new pathway into the next 500 years. If we do, we only become sicker.

We can put everything forward that is sacred. You and I have to do it. Our children – and the generations that are coming – are waiting for this gift. So we are going to have to hold hands and go in one direction to give it to them.

What is so very important in our lives now – just like water, we need it all the time – is recognition that there is sacredness in every form. When you put all that together you have a process of what I call “sacredization,” a fundamental recognition of the sacredness of all things. That, I feel, is a part of our original instructions as human beings.

This is the time that we call the Winds of Change. It’s important to stabilize our way of being, the way we think, the way we do things. We can do that by deliberately planting positive seeds of culture and relationship and sacredization, seeds that will help carry us through the next 500 years.

For the next 500 years, the Winds of Change are blowing. Many of us have knowings about this. In fact, it’s a knowing we all have, but that most people ignore. They are confused, and they look the other way. But the knowing is there for all of us.

We are all asking ourselves ‘what do we do next?’ Our ending time has come and we are now asking for the best possible way to restructure, reset and put things back on track that give strength to us. So we have a huge task. We are going to have to come together. This pathway into the next 500 years has to be open so that we can bring in sacredness. We want to make a beginning, a pathway, a Blessingway for this next 500 years. That’s the task that is before all of us right now.

From Native Knowings: Wisdom Keys for 2012 and Beyond by Steven McFadden. Mcfadden wrote Native Knowings after travelling with many contemporary, Native American spiritual elders and hearing their teachings about the land and about the era of transition in which we live.

photo © Saniphoto | Dreamstime.com

The brain under siege

by Lee Gerdes

Young people everywhere are being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. In the United States, eight percent of children ages four through 17 are diagnosed with ADHD. Among adults, the percentage is between 2.9 and 4.4. However, it is believed that only a third to as much as a fifth of cases of ADHD are diagnosed. This wasn’t the case just a couple of generations ago. Why is attention deficit so prevalent today?

The input our brain receives has increased dramatically over the last 50 years. We are at a point where we are inundated with information and stimulation. Not only do thousands of bits of information flood into the brain from the natural world and our exchanges with other people every single second of a normal day, but to these we have added a vast input from technology. Think how much more challenging it is to drive in a modern city, with dense traffic, traffic signals and signs, pedestrians and cyclists, billboards everywhere, and all the hustle and bustle of city streets and storefronts, compared with riding a horse or driving a carriage down a peaceful country lane.

Some researchers suggest the input the modern brain receives may have risen as much as a thousand-fold during the last half-century alone. So every second of every day, we are receiving a thousand times more input than were our grandparents. Even if this figure were only a hundredfold, it’s still a huge increase in the input the brain has to cope with. It’s not difficult to understand how a child’s attention slips into deficit under such an onslaught.

When a child has ADHD, the prevailing wisdom is to medicate the brain with a stimulant. This increases the higher frequencies used for thinking, which overcomes the lower frequencies. However, increasing the higher frequencies with a stimulant causes the brain to become dependent on a chemical whenever it requires higher frequencies. Consequently, many who are medicated become addicted by the time they are 18.

Alongside the vastly increased input the brain receives in a technological society, such a society also generates a great deal of busyness, which in itself can be a cause of imbalance. But it isn’t only the way automobiles, trains and planes allow us to rush around at a helter-skelter pace – and the telephone calls, emails, video conferences and faxes that keep us interacting – that creates imbalance. We also wear ourselves out with all the pressure to perform that’s placed on us in this kind of society. Instead of increasing our effectiveness, such pressure actually impairs our performance.

Take the matter of making decisions. In a culture in which we are so pressed for time, it’s easy to fall into a habit of making decisions without the thorough attention each should receive. The trouble is that if we do this often, the low brain frequencies involved in such a decision take over as executive manager – a role they aren’t equipped to fulfill. Pretty soon, all our decisions circumvent logic and are executed from a “feel good” or “look good” mindset. Because this approach is hit-and-miss, it’s hard to consistently make the best decisions this way.

Living in a technologically complex world, being busy almost all the time and feeling pressure to perform lower the energy reservoirs of the brain. If there’s little reserve of energy, a brain running at high speed will crash once its energy is depleted. This is similar to running so hard in a race that you run out of steam before the finish line.

Even when our brain is attempting to perform at its peak, its state of imbalance causes it to be far too busy to allow information to flow freely. In western society, it’s likely that most who meditate aren’t able to spend sufficient time in meditation to achieve the kind of balance that facilitates maximum flow of information. We don’t become balanced enough because the chemical factory keeps pumping juices into the brain to generate activity – a function demanded by the brain activity itself, and hence a Catch 22.

When a person operates from this state, they don’t sleep well. Consequently, when they awaken, they experience a slow start. They may have to drink cofee to get themselves going because coffee causes the blood vessels to constrict, which creates pressure. So now they start the pump again, running and running and running, until they crash again. If a person continually repeats this cycle, they eventually become so tightly wound that they have to reach for a glass of wine or some other drug to unwind.

Living under pressure causes no small number of us to feel continually on edge, which means we become easily angered. If we were to take an assessment of the brain of a person who feels this way, it would reveal they have a high-frequency dominance in a specific location compared with other frequencies in that area. A person with such a dominance is usually sufficiently volatile to have anger management problems. We say such a person has a potential violent streak in them and is quick on the trigger. Yet it isn’t the high-frequency dominance that’s the real danger; it’s that the person’s brain runs in this state all the time. When someone is at rest, their high frequencies ought not to be dominant.

When the brain isn’t balanced and is firing too fast, it burns out sooner, which is eventually reflected in an impaired body. Also, with the brain so overactive almost all the time, a high degree of happiness is unlikely. Not impossible, but unlikely.

Running ahead of our evolution

Over eons of time, the brain has evolved filters that allow us to select which information from our environment will receive our attention. These filters enable us to concentrate on just a small portion of the available input, screening out the rest.

However, in our technological era, we suffer such an onslaught of information that it completely overwhelms the brain’s filtering capability. Because these new forms of input have been thrust upon us almost overnight, we have had no opportunity to evolve more advanced filters. In other words, the evolution of society has moved faster than the evolution of the person.

As a result, we are at the point in our journey as a species where a growing number of people on the planet experience an imbalance early in life – an imbalance that’s socially and technologically generated. Living in such a technologically complex society, we experience so much stress that our brain tends to run continually at a level of energy that’s far too high, a level that should be reserved for moments requiring peak performance.

Although we have become accustomed to living in a constant state of stress from the extraneous input we receive in our kind of society, much of the time the brain doesn’t need the throttle to be wide open. A balanced brain uses energy efficiently, which produces a harmonious result.

The brain’s natural state is to be in homeostasis and most of us are fortunate to begin life with a reasonably balanced brain. This state of homeostasis is the basis of health, happiness, creativity, and most importantly, love. It’s the key to being able to be truly present in every aspect of our lives.

Using this platform of awareness, a person can establish lifestyle patterns that act as filters, thereby protecting the brain to some degree. For instance, a person whose brain is balanced – and who is therefore very present – will intuitively tend to seek out quiet times, peaceful situations and the stillness of nature, all of which allow the brain a respite.

Excerpted from Limitless You by Lee Gerdes. (Namaste Publishing) For more information or to place an order, see www.namastepublishing.com

photo © Jas0420 | Dreamstime.com

Big Pharma’s solution for our health woes: more and more pills for the elderly

 

DRUG BUST by Alan Cassels

I-ro-ny [ahy-ruh-nee] – noun, plural-nies: the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.[From dictionary.com]

We’ve all heard a lot about the “greying of the population” and how the growing numbers of baby boomers entering retirement are going to make public healthcare around the world absolutely unsustainable.

We are told perennial stories of how old people hog hospital beds and fill up expensive “assisted living” facilities – where a growing number of them require more individualized care, more medical procedures and a lot more drugs, all of which cost a ton of money.

 Experts and other commentators point to the expensive care of the elderly as the likely straw that is going to break Canada’s camel-backed socialist medical system. The usual solutions put forth to deal with the coming demographic tsunami typically include:

1. Putting more private money into healthcare: nope, that’s a loser of a solution as everyone knows private health care is more expensive.

2. Raising taxes: also a difficult solution – look at the recent mudslinging over the harmonized sales tax in BC and Ontario and tell me a better way to effectively rouse the masses to insurrection.

3. Providing less healthcare: that’s a tough struggle too because every dollar saved on healthcare is either someone’s profits or someone’s income and who wants to take the blame for removing profits from those who depend on performing surgeries, selling drugs and treating people?

So while politicians and health policy makers are wringing their hands, searching frantically for solutions to a healthcare system groaning under the weight of the exploding numbers of elderly people, let me propose a modest solution: let’s increase prescription rates for seniors. That’s right, contrary to those nattering pharmaceutical nihilists, we must enact policies to get more and more pharmaceuticals to even more seniors if we want to make healthcare more sustainable.

We already know that pharmaceutical-induced deaths among the elderly are enormously helpful in freeing up more beds for other patients, reducing the workload of healthcare workers and the need for further expensive medical procedures. That’s why polypharmacy – the practice of taking multiple prescriptions – is the right solution to save our health system money.

We also know that taking many different prescriptions every day is a practice that is likely shortening the lives of many people doing it so a simple cost-saving solution is to get more patients to do more of it.

I have found it somewhat futile to be constantly promoting rational and sensible pharmaceutical use. Teaching doctors to be rational prescribers and educating patients to be sensible prescription drug users go against the grain of established medical practices and against the best energies of the pharmaceutical marketing machinery. Canadian seniors already take an obscene amount of drugs so let’s not fight it. Let’s go with the flow on this one.

A study released last month by the Canadian Institute for Health Information confirmed this in saying almost two-thirds of Canadian seniors (people 65 and older) take, on average, five or more prescription drugs on an ongoing basis. One in five seniors is taking 10 or more drugs and one in 10 are taking 10 or more. About six percent of Canadian seniors – over 250,000 people in Canada – are firm testimony to the slogan “better living through chemistry” as they swallow 15 or more prescription medications per day.

When I ask the experts for data showing that this kind of multiple drug use is safe and effective, they stammer, get red-faced, ask me to close the door and then admit that most drugs are never tested in combination with other drugs. We really have no idea what is happening in the innards of Mrs. McGillicutty when she slugs back a cholesterol-lowering drug, two blood pressure pills, an anti-anxiety medication, an aspirin for stroke prevention and a drug for her arthritis everyday. They don’t usually test drugs with other drugs. And the hospital pharmacist I once challenged on the practice of giving my mother a fistful of drugs (she was only taking one when she entered the hospital) answered, “But that’s the way we do things.”

How can you challenge that reasoning? Why give seniors lots of drugs? “Because it’s the way we do things” seems to be the prevailing logic. So let’s run with that.

It’s not just the sheer volume of drugs in the elderly that is helping to reduce the numbers of old people; it is the types of drugs they are taking. There have been numerous recent examples, such as the Cox-2 inhibitors like Celebrex, Bextra and Vioxx, which we know increase cardiovascular risks, heart attacks and strokes. The warnings on the labels say so. Seniors are the major consumers of arthritis drugs so is it possible that their consumption of the more unsafe ones is helping sustain our health system by booking them earlier appointments at the pearly gates? If the drug companies had their way, seniors would also still be taking Vioxx and Bextra in large numbers, but since the body count got too high on those two drugs, and the litigators got involved, the companies were forced to remove these from the market

There are many more rich examples of drugs used in the elderly that are likely increasing the death rate of seniors, instead of decreasing it, but none worse than the antipsychotic drugs, such as Seroquel (quetiapine), Zyprexa (olanzapine), Risperidal (risperidone) and Geodon (ziprasidone). These unusually toxic treatments are meant for people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, but that doesn’t stop doctors from prescribing them to adults with a range of mental illnesses and to unruly and anxious kids as well as grumpy seniors. Giving antipsychotics to seniors housed in long-term care facilities has become, in my mind at least, the most spectacular example of cost-efficient, cull-the-seniors prescribing in existence.

One study found that if you are senior in Ontario admitted to long-term care, you have a 20 to 40 percent chance of being prescribed an antipsychotic. That’s astounding considering there is a Health Canada warning that says the antipsychotics are strictly not to be used in the elderly who are suffering from dementia (which might be one of the main reasons people are put into care homes).

My hunch is that antipsychotic drugs are being widely used to calm down elderly people a little grumpy about life in seniors’ homes, despite the risk of side effects including sedation, falls and hip fractures. One of the most worrisome adverse effects is involuntary muscle movement – tics and spasms known as tardive dyskinesia – which can be irreversible. An important clinical trial of Seroquel and four other antipsychotics found that all five drugs caused tardive dyskinesia (affecting about 13 percent of the patients during 18 months of treatment).

In one study, elderly people in the community who were prescribed an antipsychotic drug were between 3.2 times and 3.8 times more likely to develop any serious event, such as a hospital admission or death, within 30 days, compared to those who received no antipsychotic therapy.

If antipsychotic drugs don’t actually kill or maim patients, they could increase their risk of developing another disease, like diabetes. The label on the drug Seroquel (quetiapine) in Canada says, “Increases in blood glucose (sugar) and hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar) have been observed. Also, occasional cases of diabetes have been reported.” The US medication guide for Seroquel says a similar thing: “High blood sugar (hyperglycemia): Increases in blood sugar can happen in some people who take Seroquel. Extremely high blood sugar can lead to coma or death.” It’s been known for some time that antipsychotics disrupt the body’s regulation of blood sugar, often leading to weight gain and diabetes and about 17 percent of Seroquel patients in one study experienced clinically significant weight gain.

I’m not the only one who believes that the risks of developing diabetes with antipsychotic drugs have been downplayed or hidden for a long time. On that very issue, there are about a zillion lawyers in the US currently suing drug companies like AstraZeneca, makers of Seroquel. And the data on the diabetes issue aren’t pretty. Quarter Watch, an arm of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices in the US (www.ismp.org) examines adverse drug reports made to the US FDA. In its most recent report, it found that Seroquel was the suspect drug in more possible cases of diabetes than all other drugs combined.

Not only is Seroquel a blockbuster drug and the 20th most lucrative branded drug in the US; it is the leading product sold in its class, holding 31 percent of the antipsychotic market. Quarter Watch’s new safety data related to Seroquel bode well for the expansion of the use of this drug in almost everyone. As of December 2009, the drug was approved in the US as an “add-on” treatment for major depression that will no doubt massively increase the numbers of people who get it.

Back to my premise: all indicators point in the direction of more and more prescription drug- induced death. Let’s face it; a prescribing pen is an extremely effective way to cull seniors at any age, and thus getting that pen writing even more prescriptions is likely to be an important and effective solution to our healthcare funding crisis.

More Seroquel. More Celebrex. More drugs for more and more seniors.

Let’s not be influenced by the naysayers who are alarmed at the growing amounts of drugs swallowed every day by seniors. While it sounds heartless, more prescription drugs swallowed by more elderly people is what the doctor must order to keep our healthcare system sustainable.

Alan Cassels is a modern-day Jonathan Swift wannabe, as well as a drug policy researcher at the University of Victoria and the author of The ABCs of Disease Mongering. Read his other writings at www.alancassels.com

SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT

Numerous environmental organizations in BC and throughout Canada are working to preserve the planet’s ecology. In this supplement, we highlight some of their ongoing efforts. For a comprehensive list of environmental organizations in BC – and the issues they focus on – visit the BC Environmental Network.

Full supplement (881 Kb PDF)

Supplement headings (PDFs):