benefits

Donating My Body to Science

Illustration by Ken Davis

AS A TEST subject in an ongoing medical study, I can report with confidence that, so far, I’m still alive—an important variable in research that measures the effect of Vitamin D and fish oil on heart health. At least, that’s the stated purpose. But, after taking the pills every day for two years of the five-year study, I’m thinking there may be something else going on.

It’s called a “vital study,” and it’s being run by the Harvard Medical School, a prestigious institution that typically leaves your average research projects to lesser entities, such as the federal government. But this is a “vital study,” and if Harvard is involved it must be big, probably top secret. And it chose me for a reason (other than my awesome averageness, of course).

But why? I admit I’m an older white male, the main population for the study, but since our contact has been exclusively by email, how did Harvard know? Were they tipped off by my habit of Googling subjects like calcium retention, wrinkle removal, and the name of the woman on Gilligan’s Island who wasn’t the movie star. (Editor’s Note: Mary Ann.) Doh!

Perhaps Harvard used email as a clever ploy to mask the fact that they’ve been closely monitoring me for years, observing my selfless nature and noble commitment to the greater good, except when I’m driving. To Harvard, I must have seemed the ideal subject for a secret project to build a lean, mean, elderly fighting machine!

BEFORE YOU think I’m making too much of an unsolicited email (like the time I sent $25 to the Obama campaign and assumed the reply was from Barack Obama himself—he called me by my first name!), I’m sure this Harvard thing must be real, on account of it’s “vital.” It clearly states that on the packages of capsules that I take every day.

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War on Workers

WITH A ONE-TWO punch, 2012 was bracketed by the speedy and unexpected adoption of so-called "right-to-work" laws to undermine labor unions in two Midwestern states—Indiana and Michigan. That was preceded in 2011 by other bad news for labor: frontal assaults on public employee unions in Wisconsin and in Ohio. The assault in Wisconsin succeeded despite the political firestorm it generated, but Ohio voters overrode the efforts of their governor and legislators to gut public-employee bargaining rights.

Yes, the labor wars are on full force in the Midwest—and they are challenging faith communities to dig back into their teachings about the dignity of work, the rights of workers, and the pursuit of justice.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of the Catholic archdiocese of Detroit, minced no words in his article for the Kalamazoo Gazette in mid-December. "Right-to-work laws go against everything we believe," he wrote. "At the core of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and all great religions are the values of dignity and respect, values from which economic justice and the right to organize can never be separated."

The phrase "right to work" sounds noble, but these laws are not about guaranteeing anyone meaningful employment. Instead, they prohibit union contracts with employers from requiring non-union employees—who benefit from the union's work negotiating wages and benefits—to pay dues in recognition of that fact.

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Can Any Good Come From Drones?

As an antidote to all the stories of killing by drone, I’ve been collecting stories of the good things unpiloted aircraft can potentially do, or are already doing. Many are tasks now being carried out by piloted airplanes and helicopters, but drones bring advantages. They can fly higher, can stay in the air longer, and can fly in more dangerous terrain or situations with no risk to pilots.

Here are 10 things.

1. Monitoring crop watering. “A researcher from Ohio State University envisions the day — less than a decade from now — when a farmer waters the crops then launches an unmanned aerial vehicle to monitor precisely where the water went.” (Dayton Daily News)

2. Acting as lifeguards for beaches. “Surf Life Saving Australia says unmanned aerial drones will patrol some Queensland beaches this summer. … the drones, which have a wingspan of one metre, use cameras to search for swimmers in distress. … the drones will be fitted with flotation buoys that can be dropped down to the ocean.” (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

3. Monitoring endangered species. “For the past few months, drones have been flying over the tropical forests of south-east Asia to map endangered species. A dozen of these unmanned aircraft, fitted with a video camera and an autopilot, have been deployed and will be joined by several more.” (Guardian)

Lawmakers Highlight Tragedy of Food Assistance Cuts

In an op-ed for Politico, two Representatives highlight the recent cuts to food assistance programs, and the damaging effects they will have on the state of the nation: 

The House gutted $16.5 billion from food stamps — our nation’s most important anti-hunger program, which gives low-income families modest aid during tough times. These cuts mean up to three million low-income Americans – largely families with children – can’t buy food.

These cuts in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also eliminate free school meals for 280,000 children. School breakfast or lunch is too often the only complete meal a child can eat all day. We expect our students to compete in a global economy. We expect them to come to school ready to learn — but we conveniently ignore the facts.

Poor nutrition negatively affects students’ academic achievement. Children who are hungry often miss more days at school and, when they do attend, they may have more trouble concentrating. They often have lower test scores.

Right now, 46 million Americans live in poverty, and more than 32 million adults and 16 million children live in food-insecure households. These families struggle every day to make ends meet — particularly as food prices continue to rise. As more and more families are getting by on less and less, food stamps help make groceries more affordable, so parents have more money to pay the rent, gas up their car and meet their children’s other basic needs. Food stamps kept 4 million Americans over the poverty line in 2010, including 2 million children, and lifted another 1.3 million kids above 50 percent of the poverty line. More than any other benefit program.

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