The Devil’s Lettuce

A close look at demonic vegetation

I apologize for the brief hiatus. My absence wasn’t due to anything extravagant or glamorous, just quotidian tasks and responsibilities one is often mired in. I offer the following post in recompense.

Marijuana: it’s just a plant, right?

Yes, and so much more. But, I mean, where does one start with such a divisive herb? Marijuana (or cannabis) has such a rich history and is currently one of most hotly debated topics, particularly when it comes to recreational use. Proponents of marijuana often cite potential medicinal applications and its benign nature relative to alcohol and tobacco, while opponents decry it as a gateway drug which threatens to vitiate the moral fabric of society. Historically, intelligent and sober discussions about marijuana have generally been stifled by an oppressive stigmatization that has, in part, successfully equated marijuana with immorality, corruption, debauchery, and licentiousness. (Politicians claimed legalizing marijuana in Colorado would increase adolescent marijuana usage… so much for that, eh?) It’s this condemnation that led to stern legal prohibitions and a poverty of knowledge of marijuana’s true benefits.

In writing this post, I wanted to briefly touch upon the relationship marijuana has had in human history, as well as discuss the opposition to it, the medical research that has been conducted, and what the future holds for this herb. (I may decide to explore these topics more in-depth at a later time.)

This is my longest blog post to date. You have been warned.

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My Chosen Path

Destroying that which impedes the way

I’m giving the reader another biographical entry into the happenings of my life. Consider this an extension of my 2 a.m. gym session., with more intimate reflections and disclosures from the author.

Since my late-night gym session, I’ve encountered death in its various guises and succumbed to quasi-debilitating injuries, the vicissitudes of life that remind one how tenuous it all really is. Yet, I have survived and thankfully recovered. And I often ask myself whether I can still be motivated to improve my health and wellbeing. As I have said, motivation can be derived from rather unlikely places; in the aforementioned post, it was hatred.

Motivation can come in the form of inducements. Sometimes, it comes in the form of supportive gestures. I have also been moved to action by speeches given by people I admire, and by music lyrics that resonated with something deep inside. More recently, I require fierce pushes from a friend—to whom I am eternally indebted—to help me control my negligent eating habits and to have something resembling a consistent workout schedule. Alas, this lack of endogenous drive for self-betterment has inexorably had some startling health implications. Which leads me to the final motivator—or impetus to immediate action—I wish to talk about, the one that comes into sharp relief when in close proximity to oblivion.

My primary care physician has assured me that my intemperate attitude towards food and drink have threatened to undermine several organ systems, namely my kidneys and liver.

I undoubtedly lack some internal self-disciplinary mechanism that keeps normal individuals consistent and focused on reaching their goals. Perhaps I’m missing the requisite allele for proper portion control or my brain chemistry doesn’t permit prolonged commitments to self-improvement. (I tend to be highly motivated in three-week bursts, imposing strict dietary constraints on myself and adhering to an even more rigid gym attendance.) Maybe these are just more excuses, attempts to sidestep accepting full responsibility for my actions (or inactions). Until quite recently, I found myself coming up with all the predictable and stale responses to avoid working too hard, to avoid sweating too much, to avoid going too far out of my comfort zone. That shit requires energy… and fortitude and resilience and determination. Do I have any of those things?

As a result, I truly don’t know how far I can physically push myself before my meat carapace yields. I don’t know my true potential. After my doctor broke the news to me, entreating me to abandon my bacchanalian lifestyle before I reached the point of no return, I lapsed into a dreadful session of self-sabotaging thoughts. We all slip deep into the recesses of our consciousnesses to debate and fight ourselves and lament certain things we regret doing. Some of my thoughts are merciless salvos whose only victim is I; that’s how it was when I departed the doctor’s office. I focused on the imminent deterioration of my organs, the hardships I would have to endure, the complacency—and, frankly, the laziness—that had precipitated these circumstances.

And then I stopped.

My thoughts were betraying me, proceeding as though I had been defeated. The termites of self-destruction had dined long and well on my self-esteem. I was focusing on all the wrong things. During my most recent three-week burst (it was admittedly longer), my knee had sufficiently healed to make cardiovascular exercise a viable option. I have, at the behest of my friend, increased my walking speed and improved my times, noteworthy and tangible progress. (Isn’t that what we all want?) I even received an unsolicited compliment from a coworker who had noticed I was less voluminous. Some of my work had started to pay off!

More importantly, I realized my mind, despite its willingness to periodically drag me through cerebral hell, had developed a defense mechanism for pernicious trains of thought. Don’t worry, brain. Allow me to assist:

Fuck those self-sabotaging thoughts! And… those termites, too! 

I’m neither infirm nor in extremis (nor in close proximity to oblivion for that matter). I can reverse the abuse and damage done to my body. When I set out on the journey to improve my life, I acknowledged that setbacks were temporary. But I must be willing to accept the possibility of future injuries, of grueling workouts with overwhelming perspiration and excruciating diaphragmatic spasms as I gasp for air. I must visualize my goals and turn my words (and thoughts) into unstoppable determination. I have to do it, as I have been, for moi-même, to become the architect of my own fate. I’ve equipped myself with knowledge and I’ve approached myself—and the flaws requiring remediation—honestly. Now, more than ever, it’s time to act.

Quarantine Protocols and Civil Liberties

When mandatory isolation reeks of benevolent dictatorship.

As technology and globalized markets reach further into previously inaccessible regions, our world veritably shrinks and we risk exposure to exotic diseases. Sometimes, as is the case in recent years, the diseases of old return for an encore performance. I’m sure we all remember the recrudescence of Ebola in West Africa in 2014 and the concomitant fearmongering by public health officials here in the United States; Thomas Frieden, then-director of the CDC, compared the Ebola outbreak to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s. Yes! He seriously said that.

Foolish comments notwithstanding, let’s not be mistaken. Ebola—otherwise known as Ebola virus disease (EVD)—is extraordinarily deadly with, according to the World Health Organization, an average fatality rate of 50%. And Ebola isn’t the only wee-beastie out there. Indeed, many health agencies worldwide acknowledge a category of communicable diseases that don’t receive their due attention and thrive in tropical and subtropical climes—appropriately named neglected tropical diseases (NTDs)—causing considerable hardship to more than a billion people. That’s quite frightening, but as I adamantly maintain: fear is the one true contagion.

Many admirable healthcare workers and volunteers returned from relief efforts in West Africa only to be imprisoned in their homes for twenty-one days, the incubation period for EVD. This is a scandal.

I don’t know as many of my rights as I ought to and I suspect this is true for a lot of people, not just Americans. We are all familiar with legal buzzwords like “freedom of speech,” “human rights,” “due process,” “informed consent,” and “probable cause.” Law & Order—and recent publicized encounters by police with people of color—have been rather instructive. Nonetheless, our civic and legal ignorance can leave us in rather precarious situations which perpetuate negative attitudes towards the justice system, and the government generally.

Would we, when stopped by airport security or customs agents, know whether our rights were being violated? Whether we could be detained based on a list of ambiguous symptoms?

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When Books Burn

Dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man auch am Ende Menschen.

With the emergence of the reprehensible term “alternative facts”—we can thank Counselor to the President, Kellyanne Conway, for this affront to truth—I couldn’t help but recall my reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It would seem I was not alone. I implore those who haven’t read the book to pick up a copy and compare the fictional work to our current reality under the Trump administration.

What a time to be alive.

With each passing day, we find ourselves in a world that more closely approximates the society in which Winston Smith lived, where Newspeak and doublethink are distressingly palpable. For example, the vetting of EPA information. The Trump administration ordered all information released to the public by the Environmental Protection Agency be reviewed. By whom, you ask? By bias politicians with little to no background or understanding of science, of course. It’s possible that the administration instituted this totalitarian edict only for the duration of their transition into power. Or perhaps this is an attempt by Big Brother and his cult to quash information against their interests, rewriting facts and history to fit their agendas.

I tend to think the latter is more likely. Get a load of this:

The only references to rising temperatures on the new Trump White House site are a commitment to eliminate “harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan”.

On top of the review process imposed on the EPA, the Trump administration would peruse all EPA webpages—especially those with information and data related to climate change—to remove anything unsightly. Can’t wait for Trump to hold a press conference where he declares, “no one does science better than me.”

I’m a member of the American Public Health Association and I subscribe to all their newsletters and emails. I awoke this morning to an explosion of cellphone notifications as my Gmail inbox was overcome by a deluge of exigent business. The emails contained various factsheets, links, and documents regarding climate change and its health implications, intended to create an offsite repository of crucial information lest it be extirpated by the current administration.

Did I wake up in the Oceania? What the fuck is happening?

Well, it’s not bibliocide in the classical sense, but a conflagration has started. The Trump administration is making big moves, some proving to be inimical to health and science—this much should be painfully obvious. With broad swipes, funding for important reproductive health services has been cut and the canker of fossil fuels can now spread unabated. And now, they want to get rid of climate change science altogether.

Although the Trump administration has abruptly halted its “book-burning” enterprise, we can only wonder for how long. As the Terminator warned us: “Judgment day is inevitable.” This is only the beginning. We would do well to remember that “it is there, where they burn books, that eventually they burn people.”

Health Literacy

Among an ocean of literature

What is health and what does it mean to be in good health? These questions and more have beset humanity prior to classical antiquity, as we continually struggle to combat disease and chronic ailments.

There are perhaps too many books and articles about health and wellbeing. Or are there?

One’s life could be spent dedicated to the singular task of reading every article and book published related to the topic, and one would only be at the outer margins of the field. Unfortunately, one must read quite a lot about to learn what constitutes good health and wellbeing. And that will always entail the capacity to discriminate between accurate, evidence-based information and unsubstantiated, false claims. Basically, one must be able to sift through the shit to arrive at the truth (or as close to the truth as possible).

I’m not going to tackle the first two questions I opened with. Instead, I want to address what it means to be health literate. As we approach the dawn of 2017, it behooves us to reflect on this as we prepare to craft our New Year’s resolutions.

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The Black Snake

Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides, Who cover faults, at last shame derides.

It would seem we are quite forlorn of adequate news coverage concerning the atrocities being committed on Native American land. Please don’t misunderstand me; a number of articles have been published in print and online that have covered some aspects of the events taking place just north of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. However, the mainstream media seems to be all too concerned with the tweets of the President-elect and the tirades of Kanye West to take notice of the roiling tumult that now besets North Dakota.

However, with the events that have transpired in the last twenty-four hours, I hope that the mainstream media will shift their attention towards this pressing matter.

As with all topics, we must do quite a bit of research so we can properly discuss this contentious pipeline, lest we are accused of intersecting any modicum of truth too briefly or accidentally.

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How to Move Forward in a World With Zika

The Once and Future Virus

As this U.S. election cycle should demonstrate—as is true of all election cycles—the problems that besieged society prior to the election still persist, and our concerted efforts are still required should we hope to solve them.

Disease outbreaks are one such problem.

Although I had previously admonished the media for giving too much time to the cousin of dengue, Zika still worries public health officials around the globe, worries that aren’t supported by a substantial amount of causal evidence, and our future in relation to Zika—among other diseases—needs to be discussed. What also needs to be discussed are possible alternatives to the cause of Zika. Don’t worry, I don’t intend to dwell on Zika for too long.

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