24 March 2011

Hospital Food With Intensive Care

Reposted in full from
The Telegraph, 23 March 2011

'Mike Duckett doesn’t seem like an obvious revolutionary. Softly spoken and grey-moustached, he has a year to go before retirement from his job as catering manager of the Royal Brompton Hospital in west London. But his approach to food could destabilise the received wisdom about feeding people in large organisations, through a truly radical concept. Provide freshly cooked, locally sourced, seasonally appropriate meals – yes, the sort of food anyone would like to eat. It sounds an impossibility: the equivalent of a farmers’ market brought to the hospital bedside every mealtime. Mike has shown that this miracle can be achieved, even within the cash-strapped NHS, where yesterday it was disclosed that patients’ meals can cost little more than £1.

To understand the immensity of this innovation, you need to know the way that mass catering has gone in recent years. When the flagship NHS Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, a few streets from the Royal Brompton, opened in the 1990s, it had no kitchen. This was not an oversight but part of a trend – other hospitals have been closing their kitchens to provide linen rooms and other services. ''Efficiency’’ dictates that food should be prepared on the airline principle, perhaps in a factory in South Wales, and merely ''regenerated’’ on site.

This system, which must delight the bean counters, has only one drawback: the end product is – how shall I put it? – disappointing. ''How can you regenerate fish and chips and peas?’’ cries Mike, indignation throbbing in his voice. If there is one category of person who needs proper, sustaining food, it is the hospital patient, for whom good nutrition is an aid to recovery. Fortunately for the heart and lung cases in the Royal Brompton, Mike has his own kitchen. Every meal served in the hospital is prepared and cooked in it.

That, however, is only where the revolution begins. With its 300 beds, staff canteen and hungry visitors, the Royal Brompton is a prodigious consumer of food. Every year, 50,000 eggs, 9,000kg of sausages and 40,000kg of potatoes will pass through the kitchen. Mike realised that he could buy better if he bypassed the NHS supply chain (which he uses only for dry goods such as flour) and went straight to farmers in the South East. This was partly a matter of conviction: ''Public catering should support regional British food,’’ he told the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival stoutly last year. But it also ensures freshness and quality. The eggs from Kent are free range. The milk from Bedfordshire is organic. The sausages from north London and Bedfordshire are bespoke recipes. While most government-procured bacon comes from Denmark, Mike buys his from farms in Essex and Hertfordshire. Each year, orchards in Kent crush enough apples and pears to provide him with 250,000 litres of pure juice. It sounds too much like traditionally based common sense to be true of a modern bureaucracy.

There is a modest cost implication. Mike’s meals work out as slightly more expensive than the NHS average, although still within the budget set by the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust. The nutritionists in the hospital evidently think that the price is worth paying. Besides, there are other advantages. Many more people are eating in the staff canteen, which is also open to visitors. Mike’s changes have therefore increased revenues, while also contributing to the welfare of staff, some of whom rely on the canteen for their main meal each day.

The menus will surprise anyone familiar with government catering. Venison is served. ''We weren’t sure about wild rabbit to begin with,’’ remembers Mike, ''but it proved so popular we had to put it on again. It’s cheap.’’ Unlike Jamie Oliver, he doesn’t expect to tempt children out of their food comfort zones. “We offer them additive-free burgers and chicken nuggets made from 100 per cent breast meat, rather than skin and feet. In the burgers, we replace salt with herbs. They love them.’’

The loss of Mike’s menus would surely be a sadness to the young patients of the Royal Brompton’s children’s heart surgery unit, currently threatened with closure as part of major NHS reorganisation.

As Mike admits, there is nothing complicated in what he does. The techniques are those used when he started his career with the NHS, 44 years ago. ''Then, patients were served only one meal option, and if they didn’t like cabbage, it was bad luck. Now, budgets are stretched by the number of choices you have to provide, not least because of allergies. Nobody seemed to have allergies in the old days.’’

Clearly, it takes passion and commitment to break the mould. Mike loves visiting his suppliers. He is proud of having saved 60,000 road miles a year. He is thrilled that the Royal Brompton food waste is composted, rather than put down a waste disposal unit. But could other catering managers lift their eyes from the 120-page government rule book on food procurement and do likewise?

Yes, and more, is Mike’s answer. Why don’t groups of hospitals collaborate on menus and buy in greater bulk, with concomitant savings? The Swedish government has noticed what has happened at the Royal Brompton: it has asked him to speak at a conference in Malmo. If only British institutions could pick up on it too, we would be a happier nation.'

23 March 2011

The End of the Growth Ethic

Sourced from YouTube, 18 March 2010

'UBC Professor William Rees argues that the current growth ethic has put us into ecological overshoot, citing his ecological footpr UBC Professor William Rees argues that the current growth ethic has put us into ecological overshoot, citing his ecological footprint analysis tool he developed, and may result in a breakdown in civil order and conflict over scarce resources - with Iraq only the first shot in the wars of the future.'

22 March 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy

I wonder what Mao would think of the Bobby McFerrin-ing of The Middle Kingdom?!

Reposted in full from The Economist, 17 March 2011

'The pursuit of happiness, runs one of the most consequential sentences ever penned, is an unalienable right. That Jeffersonian sentiment seems to have influenced even China’s normally strait-laced, rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which has just wrapped up its annual session. Increasing happiness, officials now insist, is more important than increasing GDP. A new five-year plan adopted at the meeting has been hailed as a blueprint for a “happy China”. The prime minister, Wen Jiabao, however, appeared downright miserable as he described the challenges he faces.

At the end of the ten-day meeting, Mr Wen told journalists that his remaining two years in office would be “no easier” than the preceding eight. Keeping the “tiger” of inflation in its cage would be hard enough, he said (the NPC approved a target of 4% this year, compared with inflation of nearly 5% in February). But corruption was the “greatest danger”. A few days before the session began, the railways minister, Liu Zhijun, had been dismissed in connection with a huge bribe-taking scandal.

The five-year plan called for 7% annual average growth in GDP between now and 2015, compared with a far-exceeded target of 7.5% set in 2006-10. Mr Wen said lowering growth without raising unemployment would be an “extremely big test”. But, he said, China had to change its pattern of economic growth, because it was (using a hallmark phrase) “unbalanced, unco-ordinated and unsustainable”.

The idea of promoting happiness spread over the country like a huge grin early this year when provincial governments began laying out their own five-year plans. Guangdong province declared it would become “happy Guangdong”. Beijing (which is a province-level administration) said it wanted its citizens to lead “happy and glorious lives”. Chongqing municipality, another province-level area, said it wanted its people to be among the happiest in the country. Officials now often talk of setting up “happiness indices” by which government performance should be judged.

The word’s popularity among bureaucrats is more an attempt to please leaders in Beijing and show sympathy for the less well-off than a sign of any real determination to change their ways. Many lower-level governments have continued to set investment-driven GDP-growth targets that are far higher than Mr Wen’s. Some of his goals, such as building another 36m subsidised homes by 2015, will require the co-operation of local governments. They are adept at evading such tasks.

Mr Wen does not see political freedom as having much to do with happiness. In August last year he raised hopes among some liberal-minded intellectuals when he made a flurry of statements about the importance of political reform. Since then, the repression of dissidents has been stepped up. Dozens have been rounded up or put under surveillance in order to prevent them from responding to anonymous internet-circulated calls for an Arab-style “jasmine revolution” in China. To deter any protests, police security during the NPC was even heavier than usual.

At his press conference, Mr Wen repeated some of the language he had used last August on the need for political reform. This included a warning that China’s economic gains could be wiped out if the country failed to reform politically. He also said people needed to be able to “criticise and supervise” the government. But he offered no guide to how this should happen, and stressed the need for change to be “gradual”, “orderly” and “under the leadership of the party”. He said it would be wrong to draw comparison between the situations in the Middle East and north Africa and that of China.

The NPC’s chairman, Wu Bangguo, went further, telling delegates that the country faced an “abyss of internal disorder" if it strayed from the “correct political orientation”. He also declared China had achieved its goal of setting up a “socialist legal system with Chinese characteristics”. The Communist Party said in 1997 that it would do this by 2010, but never made it clear how progress would be assessed. China’s struggling band of independent lawyers, who are often spurned by courts and harassed by police for trying to defend victims of official wrongdoing, are probably not celebrating.

The government’s crackdown on dissent apparently includes a strengthening of China’s internet firewall to make it more difficult to use software to evade blocks on sensitive foreign websites. Some websites in China recently carried a report that 11% of respondents to an opinion poll believed national happiness is boosted when they express themselves freely on the internet. If only they could.'

Bring on the Participatory Sensing

Crowdsourcing environmental protection with IT...

Reposted in full from
Shareable, 15 March 2011

'For decades, Congress has delegated the fate of our public lands, the air, water, and wildlife to federal agencies, where a familiar dynamic of regulatory capture and corruption quickly takes root. It’s depressingly routine: Industry foxes are appointed to guard the chicken house; they make politically motivated judgments about scientific data; they engage in legalistic subterfuges and throw blankets of secrecy over the data and decisionmaking. A complicit Congress cuts budgets in order to cripple regulatory effectiveness.

So here’s an interesting idea for changing the political ecosystem of regulation: Use Web 2.0 platforms to let citizens participate directly, and let the data be seen by everyone, in near-real time, on the web. Reinvent regulation as an open-source project, as it were, so that everyone can participate, and industry money and interventions cannot so easily corrupt the process.

This is the implication of a series of experiments in “participatory sensing,” or “eco-crowdsourcing.” The rise of online social networks, wikis, smart phones, and other digitally networked devices and platforms are enabling dispersed bits of information to be aggregated and sifted in amazingly fast and complex ways. Marketers already comb through vast databases of web traffic, cell phone geo-location data, and credit card purchases to make highly specific inferences about you and your behavior.

Why not use these same capabilities to improve environmental regulation? All you need is a cell phone, laptop computer, or wireless device, and enterprising regulatory agencies willing to reach out to the public and change their procedures in innovative ways.

The idea is to take the Wikipedia model of distributed participation to new levels, and give people the chance to make a difference. Already the North American Butterfly Association invites people to submit counts of butterflies in their locality in order to monitor the health of various butterfly species. The result is a rich databse of empirical, on-the-ground, timely data. Similarly, Rarebirds.com invites volunteers to submit data to a location-based database of rare bird sightings.

Some of the possibilities for using Web 2.0 platforms to improve regulation are detailed in a short report called “Participatory Sensing: A Citizen-Powered Approach to Illuminating the Patterns That Shape Our World,” published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 2009. The report notes that, with the proliferation of cameras on inexpensive mobile phones, motion sensors, and GPS systems — and with pervasive connectivity to telephone and Internet systems — it is possible for new forms of collective knowledge to be gathered and analyzed.

This has enormous implications for how distributed communities of people can help monitor natural systems in direct, reliable, and real-time ways, facilitating rapid identification of patterns and trends affecting the environment.

Citizen-scientists (as they are often called) have collected valuable environmental data for such events as the Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count, World Water Monitoring Day, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research's Project BudBurst, a national field campaign to harness the power of citizen-scientists to observe plant responses to climate and record environmental conditions. In one study, participants took cell phone photos of plants at the fruiting stage of their life-cycle, which on a large scale can yield important information about the state of climate change.

“Using people’s everyday mobile phones to collect data in a coordinated manner could be applied to scientific studies of various sorts, such as accessing fishermen’s extensive knowledge to identify and locate fish pathologies in the field,” the report notes. It could document the spread of an invasive species. GPS-equipped mobile phones might be used to photograph diesel trucks as part of a campaign to understand community exposure to air pollution.

WeTap is an Android application that enables people collectively to contribute to a map of public drinking fountains and other free water sources. The idea is that people should be able to find free water supplies, and rate them, instead of having to buy wasteful and expensive bottled water. The information could also help improve the public infrastructure for water foundations.

In India, the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library is a repository of traditional knowledge about medicinal plants and formulations used in Indian systems of medicine. The website invites people to contribute to the Library in order to document the existence of various traditional remedies, and classify them. Once they are so documented, no one will be able to use the international patent system to claim proprietary intellectual property rights in the knowledge. The database serves as a massive body of “prior art” that can be used to challenge patent applications that seek to privatize traditional knowledge.

The problem with centralized bureaucracies is that they think they know everything and can control everything. They don’t and they can’t. They are often inefficient, and they simply cannot be as versatile and responsive as decentralized networks. If they could, then the recording, broadcasting, book publishing, and newspaper industries would not be in such bad shape. The State Department would not be surprised by insurgent movements in Egypt.

So why not leverage the power of distributed networks and invite citizens to participate in abating environmental harms and protect the commons? The U.S. Government is constantly consulting the high tech giants to develop new forms of surveillance and national security systems. Why not use these technologies to remake the regulatory system and take advantage of some powerful eco-crowdsourcing?

Types of data that were once too expensive or unreliable to collect, could be gathered and applied in conventional policymaking and standards enforcement. New types of wiki-style knowledge could be conjured into existence. Citizens could even self-organize their own commons' management systems to assert some measure of control over a local stream or mountain or lake. They could identify and call out corporate polluters through social shaming, and pressure regulatory agencies that fail to do their jobs.

Oops. Now I understand why there might be little enthusiasm within regulatory agencies for some of these innovations — they just might work too well.'


Facilitating sharing, renting and selling among neighbours...

20 March 2011

Dealing With US Deficit: Outdoor Playtime For Kids

Inspiring initiatives to reclaim outdoor play...

Reposted in full from YES! Magazine, 8 March 2011

On a crisp, clear day last October, 50,000 parents and children gathered in New York’s Central Park to play. There was a drum circle and dancing, a giant game of “Simon Says,” and an adventure playground built by kids out of wood, cardboard, and fabric.

The Ultimate Block Party, organized to demonstrate the importance of play, drew five times as many participants as the organizers had expected.

With overbooked family schedules and restrictions on physical freedom, experts in child development worry that many American children are missing out on playtime. According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, American children spend an average of 7.5 hours per day in front of a TV or computer screen.

“For a child to reach their full potential, unstructured outdoor play is essential,” says Fran Mainella, co-chair of the US Play Coalition at Clemson University. “Without the opportunity for play, decision-making, creativity, and imagination are restricted.”

The US Play Coalition, an organization of educators, is just one of many groups around the country who are working to correct America’s play deficit. Another is KaBOOM!, a nonprofit that helps parents set up neighborhood playgrounds. Their play campaign has established 1,900 playgrounds so far, often starting with community-building play day events.

Play for Tomorrow, a new coalition of educators, researchers, and businesses, organized The Ultimate Block Party in New York, and is working with other cities to host similar giant play day events throughout North America.'

Enjoy The Ride

A new ad campaign about speeding on the roads, and speed in life in general incorporates all the right elements - links issue to the wider cultural context, tells a story, promotes the benefits instead of the 'shalt nots'.

Sourced from the Office of Road Safety, Government of Western Australia, March 2011

Carl Honore, Slow Movement Author and Speaker, who helped launch the campaign:

'Forget the tired old shock tactics of yesteryear. Instead of trying to browbeat or terrify people into driving more slowly by bombarding them with gory images of mangled corpses, bashed up cars and severed limbs, the Enjoy the Ride campaign puts the stress on all the benefits that flow from following the speed limit.

‎Fewer accidents, to be sure, but also: Less money spent on fuel. Fewer toxic emissions into the environment. A calmness that allows you to take in the scenery, listen to music or talk radio, chat to your passengers or just let your mind wander (not too much, obviously.) Your car becomes a Zen refuge rather than a torpedo of road rage.'

This approach is incorporating all the elements that could be expected to make it 'sticky' - time will tell, but there is still the underlying 'why people speed' question.

Its often time pressures, which in part is influenced by the distance to cover, particularly in sprawling cities. Can we get Aussies to consider that maybe life *could* be a bit better with a more sensible design than urban sprawl (which causes us to spend more time travelling/rushing) and even slightly higher density living...since we are so keen to fly to the other side of the planet to marvel at walkable, and often car-free towns in Europe!

This links strongly to the University of South Australia's Centre for Life + Work's research eg:

Lending Merry-Go-Round

Like a 'Who's on First?' of the global financial folly!

Clarke and Dawe, sourced from YouTube, May 2010

People and Planet - David Attenborough

...in which Attenborough refers to 'sustainable growth' as an oxymoron.

Sourced from
RSA Events, 16 March 2011

'Broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough presents the 2011 RSA President’s Lecture.

The dangers facing the earth’s ecosystems are well known and the subject of great concern at all levels. Climate change is high on the list. But argues Sir David Attenborough, there is an underlying and associated cause – population growth.'

A Real-Market Alternative

Reposted in full from YES! Magazine, 15 February 2011


In America we are taught from birth that capitalism is synonymous with markets, democracy, and individual liberty. Whatever its flaws, the only alternative is communism, or so we are told.

This sets up a false and dangerously self-limiting choice between two economic models both of which create concentrations of power that stifle liberty and creativity for all but the few at the top.

Communism is dead. As we now look for solutions to our current economic crisis, the relevant distinction is not between capitalism and communism, but rather between Wall Street and Main Street.

The Wall Street economy is centrally planned and managed by big banks and corporations for which money is both means and end. The primary goal is monopoly control of markets, physical resources, and technology to maximize profits and bonuses.

Main Street economy is comprised of local businesses and working people who self-organize to provide livelihoods for themselves, their families, and their communities producing real goods and services in response to community needs. Main Street exemplifies the market economy envisioned by Adam Smith; Wall Street is the antithesis.

Smith believed that people have a natural and appropriate concern for the well-being of others and a duty not to do them harm. He also believed that government has a responsibility to restrain those who fail in this duty.

Smith and the political economists who followed in his tradition developed an elegant theory of the market’s capacity to self-organize in the community interest based on a number of carefully articulated assumptions, including the following:

  • Buyers and sellers must be too small to influence the market price and must honor basic principles of honest dealing.

  • Income and ownership must be equitably distributed.

  • Complete information must be available to all participants, and there can be no trade secrets.

  • Sellers must bear the full cost of the products they sell and incorporate it into the sale price.

  • Investment capital must remain within national borders, and trade between countries must be balanced.

  • Savings must be invested in the creation of productive capital rather than in speculative trading.

These are the characteristics of a real market economy. Wall Street capitalism violates them all.

Capitalism is a term originally coined to refer to an economic and political regime in which the ownership and benefits of capital are appropriated by the few to the exclusion of the many who through their labor make capital productive. It describes Wall Street perfectly.

The “free market,” a code word for an unregulated market, is a contradiction.

Markets work wonderfully within a framework of clear rules and a caring community. The stronger the relations of mutual trust and caring and the more equitably power is distributed, the more the market becomes self-policing and the less need there is for formal governmental intervention. An economy comprised of powerful corporations governed by a culture of greed and a belief that their only legal duty is to maximize their profits requires a strong and intrusive governmental hand to limit the abuse and clean up the messes.

The “free market,” a code word for an unregulated market, is a contradiction. A market without rules facilitates and encourages the unlimited concentration and abuse of corporate power unconstrained by market discipline and democratic accountability.

Market fundamentalists selectively cull bits and pieces of market theory to argue that the public interest is best served when economic power is concentrated in unregulated globe-spanning mega-corporations engaged in monopolizing resources and externalizing costs for short-term financial gain. They distort market theory beyond recognition.

Like cancer cells that attempt to hide from the body’s immune system by masking themselves as healthy cells, Wall Street institutions attempt to conceal themselves from society’s immune system by masquerading as agents of a healthy market economy.

The credit collapse penetrated the facade to reveal the inner workings of Wall Street capitalism as a criminal syndicate engaged in counterfeiting, predatory lending, usury, tax evasion, fraud, and extortion. It may be legal because Wall Street buys the politicians and writes its own rules, but it should be illegal and treated accordingly.

A criminal syndicate is “fixed” by shutting it down through the enforcement of laws that protect the public interest. You “fix” a cancer by removing it and rebuilding the healthy tissue. Main Street is the healthy tissue from a healthy real market economy can be built.'

The Social Animal

Everybody in government needs to watch this!

Sourced from TED, March 2011

'Tapping into the findings of his latest book, NYTimes columnist David Brooks unpacks new insights into human nature from the cognitive sciences -- insights with massive implications for economics and politics as well as our own self-knowledge. In a talk full of humor, he shows how you can't hope to understand humans as separate individuals making choices based on their conscious awareness.'