Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Chicken a la Carte (a short film) and Pastor Fred

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Near Christmastime I joined my friend Steve at his Barnabas fellowship potluck dinner. It was held at Richmond Hill Christian Community Church on Bayview between 16th and Major Mackenzie. It was nice to see some old friends again and meet some new ones as well.

After we ate Pastor Fred (the fellowship pastor) gave a short talk. He shared one story about this fellow who was quite depressed. This man spoke to his pastor about it. The advice he received was to think of people in the past who made a significant difference in your life and write them letters.

Out of the four letters he wrote, one person, his fourth grade teacher, responded. She was very touched by what he said. Out of the thousands of children that passed through her classroom over the years, she said his was the only letter of thanks she ever received. She was deeply appreciative of it. This pleased the man and he decided to write to other people he knew. Soon he felt much better about his situation in life.

But, this is not my main purpose for writing this blog. It's to pass on this link of a short film from Youtube that pastor Fred shared. It's about overconsumption and waste. Something quite common in western culture, but also something we rarely think about.

It was a powerful film. He was quite brave for showing it. Especially at a Christmastime gathering – a time of general happiness, and right after we ate a big meal. I believe it sent a sobering message to everyone.

Too often, I think, we're holed up in our tiny, sanitized cocoons. We choose to ignore the plight of the downtrodden amongst us so we don't offend our delicate sensitivities. We don't want to be associated with dirty, poor people. Sometimes I believe that how some churches feel. It's almost like a well-to-do person's social club.

We send our members to far off lands to do missionary work. They tell us they want prayer so they can be strong because they're "leaving their comfort zones". Well, my friend, you're going there for two weeks then you get to come back home. Think about the people living there. They don't get to leave to fly home to a four-bedroom home with three big screen TVs and manicured yard. To them, that's reality. That's life. Deal with it.

So, bravo, to pastor Fred. Good for you for showing the film at the risk of offending or upsetting some people.

And to you, my friends, take a few minutes to watch it. It's probably nothing new that you don't already know. But, it's a good reminder for us to waste less and not complain about the troubles we have. You do it and I do it. We all do it. But, really... millions upon millions of people would be happy to trade places with us in a heartbeat.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Nathan Philips Square, December 2008

I want to wish all my friends and family a Merry Christmas. I hope you've found the time to slow down and relax and enjoy this holiday season. I know it can be quite hectic for some, stressful even for others. I wish you an hour at the coffee shop of your choice with a warm mug of hot chocolate for a time of meaningful conversation with your best friend(s).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Day without Water

Not my image.

We take a lot of things for granted living here in North America. We have religious freedom, schooling for our children and many social services to name a few. But, here's one thing we may not have thought about - clean, potable water piped straight into our homes.

A few days ago they were fixing something with the water connection at my condo. The water was shut off to the whole building from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Think about it... no water for 1/3 of the day. Think about how many times you use water a day at home. When you wake up to go brush your teeth, wash your face, take a shower, flush the toilet. No tea, no coffee, you can't boil rice or pasta or eggs. After you eat breakfast or lunch and you want to wash the dishes, wash your hands, get a glass of water to drink or try to do your laundry... and nothing... nothing comes out of the faucet.

Try living without water for a day. Each time you go to the sink just pause and turn away. How long do you think you'll last? Not long I'm guessing. Try it and you'll see how many people around the world live. Where there is no running water and they have to walk across their village to a well or a kilometre or more to the nearest river to access it. Where they have to lug a heavy container back with them in the hot sun, the pouring rain, the cold, the dark of night... whenever they need it.

Think about it the next time you turn on the tap to brush your teeth and let the water flow down the drain. To many people that's life flowing down the drain. And we don't even give it a second thought. I suppose maybe now we should.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Watchmen - A Social Commentary

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A few nights ago I watched Watchmen on DVD. They had a copy at the library which I borrowed. It was my second time seeing it. The first was at the theatre when it first came out. I have to admit I was skeptical about whether or not I would enjoy it after seeing the TV commercials. They seemed a bit cheesy. But, I remember liking the film quite a bit.

Now, I have to admit, some details of the movie had slipped my mind over time. Especially the graphic violence. It was a comic book after all. But, when you translate that sort of violence onto film, let's just say, you'd better not be squeamish.

For those of you who, like me (at the time), had no idea who the Watchmen were, here's a brief description from Wikipedia:

Watchmen depicts an alternate history where superheroes emerged in the 1940s and 1960s, helping the United States to win the Vietnam War. The country is edging towards a nuclear war with the Soviet Union, freelance costumed vigilantes have been outlawed and most former superheroes are in retirement or working for the government. The story focuses on the personal development and struggles of the protagonists as an investigation into the murder of a government sponsored superhero pulls them out of retirement, and eventually leads them to confront a plot that would stave off nuclear war by killing millions of people.

I think part of the appeal to me about the story was the vigilantism of the characters. Where the law could only deal a slap on the wrist to the perpetrators of crime (or none at all) the Watchmen dealt on the spot justice.

That's something I think a lot of people in today's society are frustrated with. We see repeat offenders like those convicted of multiple drunk driving offenses set free only to take innocent lives on the road after yet another night of binge drinking. Or serial spousal abusers being let go by judges with their heads stuck in last century only to come back and murder their estranged wife and/or children. It happens far too often and I don't see why we should stand for it any longer.

And don't get me started on The Young Offenders Act (or whatever version they have of it now). There's a certain population of young people that know they can repeatedly get away with whatever they want and no one will do anything to stop them. Why, oh why, are we protecting them?

So when I see a movie like Watchmen where a child sex predator gets an axe to the head, I think, well, he certainly deserved that. Now, of course, I wouldn't say you need push justice that far. But, you understand what I'm getting at. When called for, the punishment should fit the crime. If you can rehabilitate the offender, by all means, do that. In all other cases... fasten your seatbelts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The REAL 99%

Top 40 Poorest Countries in the World

The headline on the BBC News blog read - "China increases rural poverty limit to $1 a day" ... $1 a day ... If you earned more than $1 a day in rural China you weren't considered to live in poverty. This is up from what the Chinese government previously considered poor (in the countryside) at 55 cents a day.

Take a walk down the street where you live. Go into a Starbucks. What can you buy for $1.00? A cookie? A bottle of water? Maybe, maybe not. Walk into a grocery store. What can you get for $1.00 there? A 500 ml carton of milk? A can of soup? A banana, maybe two? You'd be dead from starvation in less than a month.

Now, of course, I know the cost of living is different in China compared to North America. But, even if you multiplied the daily amount of $1 day tenfold do you think you could survive here? $10.00 a day to live on? Really?

So you want to occupy Wall Street? You want to occupy a park? Go to Somalia to occupy a park. Go to rural China to occupy a park. Go to Ethiopia to occupy a park. Go to Haiti to occupy a park. Because that's where the true 99% live. Not here in our backyards.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Racist Woman on Tram

After viewing a video of a racist woman ranting on public transit in the U.K. I thought a bit about the subject and came to this conclusion. Racists are dysfunctional people who can't think of any other reason but how others look for their own inadequacies.

For example, they may blame immigrants for their lack of employment saying, if it wasn't for them I'd have a job. The truth is they'd have a job if they didn't drop out of high school when they were sixteen because they enjoyed hanging out at the mall and smoking pot more.

They can't admit their own weaknesses so they try to blame others for the problems that have befallen them. How weak is that? Have the guts to take ownership of your failures and missteps. Only a coward looks for the easy way out.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Living with Schizophrenia

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I was reading this book I found lying on a table at the library the other day. It's called Living with Schizophrenia by Dr. Neel Burton and Dr. Phil Davison. Since I've been visiting a boarding home where many of the residents are coping with the illness I thought it would be good to brush up on what it's all about. Here's a recap (some of it copied straight out) of what the book said.

The term schizophrenia was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Paul Eugen Bleuler in 1910. It is derived from the Greek words "schizo" (split) and "phren" (mind).

The chance of developing schizophrenia is 1 in 100 (1%). The chance of any given person suffering from schizophrenia at any one time is 0.4% or one in 250.

Most cases of schizophrenia are diagnosed in late adolescence or early adulthood.

Schizophrenia more or less affect men and women in equal numbers. It exists in all cultures, climates and ethnic groups.

Stress can be a contributor to developing schizophrenia. Genes (family history) play a roll in developing schizophrenia, but they are "not the whole story".

People who smoke cannabis are up to six times more likely to develop schizophrenia. Other drugs that have been associated with schizophrenia include stimulant drugs such as amphetamines, ecstasy and cocaine.

Symptoms of schizophrenia -

Positive symptoms:

Cognitive symptoms:
Difficulties with attention, concentration and memory

Negative symptoms:
Impaired attention
Restricted amount and/or range of thought and speech
Restricted range of emotions, or inappropriate emotions
Loss or drive and motivation
Social withdrawal

Hallucination is defined as a "sense of perception that arises in the absence of stimulus." Hallucinations involve hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting or feeling things that are not actually there. The most common hallucinations in schizophrenia are auditory hallucinations - hallucinations of sounds and voices. Voices can either speak directly to the schizophrenia sufferer (second-person - "you" voices) or about the sufferer (third-person - "he or she" - voices). Voices can be highly distressing, especially if they involve threats or abuse or if they are loud and incessant.

Delusions are defined as being "strongly held beliefs that are not amenable to logic or persuasion and that are out of keeping with their holder's background". Although delusions are not necessarily false, the process by which they are arrived at is usually bizarre and illogical. In schizophrenia the delusions are most often of being persecuted or controlled, although they can also follow a number or other themes.

What causes the symptoms of schizophrenia?

According to the "dopamine hypothesis" of schizophrenia, positive symptoms result from an increased level of a chemical messenger, dopamine, in a part of the rain referred to as the mesolimbic tract. Antipsychotic medications that are effective in the treatment of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia block the effects of increased dopamine in the mesolimbic tract.

Negative symptoms result from a decreased level of dopamine in another part of the brain referred to as the mesocortical tract.

More recent research has found that a number of other chemical messengers in the brain, such as glutamate and serotonin, are also involved in schizophrenia, although their precise roles are as yet unclear.

Antipsychotic medication

Although there is no miracle cure for schizophrenia, the illness can be treated, and three out of four schizophrenia sufferers can expect either to recover completely or to improve significantly. Antipsychotic medication is the mainstay of treatment, but psychological treatments such as patient and family education, self-help groups, illness self-management, social and vocational skills training, and cognitive-behaviorural therapy can also play an important role in reducing symptoms, preventing relapse and re-hospitalization, and helping one take control over their illness.

How antipsychotic medication works

Positive symptoms of schizophrenia result from an increased level of the chemical messenger dopamine in a part of the brain called the mesolimbic tract. Antipsychotics are effective in the treatment of positive symptoms principally because they block the effects of dopamine in the mesolimbic tract.

How effective is antipsychotic medication?

Antipsychotic medication is effective in controlling positive symptoms in about 70-80% of schizophrenia sufferers, although it often takes several days before any effects are evident. Until then the schizophrenia sufferer may benefit from taking a sedative such as lorazepam if he or she is distressed or agitated. In some cases, several antipsychotics may need to be tried before the one that is best for them can be found. Unfortunately, antipsychotic medicine has relatively little effect on the cognitive and, especially, the negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

Is antipsychotic medication always needed?

Yes, it is always needed. Although non-pharmacological, psychological treatments have an important role to play in the management of schizophrenia as well.

Which antipsychotic medication?

Current treatment guidelines for the treatment of schizophrenia recommend start on one of the more recent "atypical" antipsychotics. The most commonly prescribed ones are risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel), amisupiride (Solian) and clozapine (Clozaril/Denzapine). Each has a slightly different side effect profile such as a disturbance in voluntary muscle function (for example).

Starting antipsychotic medication

The starting does of antipsychotic medication is usually small as to minimize any potential side effects.

What if the antipsychotic medication is ineffective?

If a person does not respond to the chosen atypical antipsychotic after a trial period of 6-8 weeks, the antipsychotic can be stopped and a different one started.

For how long should antipsychotic medication be taken?

Antipsychotics not only combat the symptoms of schizophrenia, but also prevent the symptoms from recurring. If one has improved on a particular antipsychotic, they should continue taking it at the same does for at least he next 6 months, preferably for the next 12-24 months and possibly much longer.

Psychosocial treatments

Managing stress and anxiety

Stress and anxiety can make you more vulnerable to a relapse in your illness. People with positive coping and thinking styles and good social skills are better able to diffuse stressful situations; for example, by doing something about them, putting them in their correct context, or by simply talking about them and "sharing the pain".

One common and effective strategy is called "deep breathing". Breath in through your nose and hold the air for a several seconds. Then purse your lips and gradually let the air out making sure you let out as much as you can. Continue doing this until you are feeling more relaxed.

LIfestyle changes also help. You can simplify your life, even if this means doing less or doing only one thing at a time. Have a schedule and stick to it. Get enough sleep. Exercise regularly; for example, walk, swim or do yoga. Eat a balanced diet based on starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, potatoes, pasta and rice. Eat five portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Eat some protein-rich foods such as fish, poultry, meat, eggs and pulses. Avoid fat, sugar and salt. Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol. Take the time to do things you enjoy. Connect with others and share your problems with them. Change your thinking style: have realistic expectations, reframe problems, express your feelings, maintain a sense of humour.

Coping with voices

Sometimes voices can in themselves be a significant source of stress and distress. Simple strategies to reduce or eliminate voices include: Keep a diary of the voices to help you to identify and avoid situations in which they arise. Find a trusted person to talk to about the voices. Focus your attention on an activity such as reading, gardening, singing or listening to your favourite music. Talk back to the voices: challenge them and ask them to go away. Manage your anxiety and stress using the techniques discussed. Take your antipsychotic medication as prescribed. Avoid drugs and alcohol.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Farewell to Tae Hoon

We had dinner at Tony and Iris' place today. It was in honour of Iris' brother Tae Hoon who was here studying English in Toronto. He'll be returning home to Korea on Wednesday.

After Tae Hoon, Tony and Iris, I was the next person there. I arrived half an hour after the stated starting time so I was surprised no one else came before me. I guess starting at 4:00 p.m. was a bit early for most people.

Ying came next. I let both her and Tae Hoon play the Camouflage and Airport games I grabbed from my nephews. They're puzzle games that I often bring to gatherings. People really like playing them.

Mike arrived at 6:00. We started dinner shortly after. Tony and Iris had made a lot of wonderful food (like they always do). Along with rice, vegetables and salad, there was a Korean boiled pork dish and soup. It was all very good.

Andrew showed up while we were eating and we saved John some food after he arrived at 7:30. He had been delayed by a detour on the subway he was taking. They were doing some track work there.

All in all it was a lovely evening. We played my nephews' games. We chatted a bit and listened to Christmas music on the radio. Tony and Iris had a crackling, fireplace video on their television set. And the wee Christmas tree they bought from Canadian Tire on Sunday was twinkling beside it.