Earth Hour

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

World AIDS Day 2021

The theme of World AIDS Day 2021 is “End inequalities. End AIDS”.  With a special focus on reaching people left behind, WHO and its partners highlight the growing inequalities in access to essential HIV services. 

Despite significant progress, the world has made in recent decades, HIV remains a major public health issue that affects millions of people worldwide.  While important global targets for 2020 were not met, COVID-19 exacerbates inequities and disruptions to services,  making the lives of many people living with HIV more challenging.

An estimated 37.7 million people live with HIV at the end of 2020, over two-thirds of whom or 25.4 million are in the WHO African Region.  The same year, 680 000 people died from HIV-related causes, while 1.5 million people acquired HIV.

This year, the World Health Organization calls on global leaders and citizens to rally to confront the inequalities that drive AIDS and reach people who are currently not receiving essential HIV services.  These problems need a renewed effort to end HIV as a public health threat by 2030.  

Source: WHO World AIDS Day 2021

Saturday, June 12, 2021

If You Tell: A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood

It took me some time to finish this book because it's hard to read. Not because it was badly written, but because reading about what the three sisters in this story went through for years is not for the faint-hearted or squeamish. While I like reading and watching true crime stories, I had to put down the book several times because the details were just too much.  

If You Tell chronicles, the abuse three sisters had to endure while living with their sadistic mother.  The mother, Michelle "Shelly" Knotek, is someone who could go  "zero to sixty, from calm to rage, in less than five seconds."  She subjected her daughters Nikki, Sami, and Tori to all kinds of abuse, torture, and degradation. Such acts of sadism extended to relatives and friends, which eventually led to murder and her incarceration.  As manipulative as she was, she even convinced one of her daughters to participate in one of her crimes.

Gregg Olsen described the events in a raw, graphic, and sometimes sordid way.  He interspersed the recollection of people who knew Sherry, including her stepmother, her daughters, and her ex-partner. You'd be forgiven to think that the book is fiction, but it's not. It all happened. What happened to the sisters was so horrific that normal everyday objects would trigger memories of their fears and anguish. He also underscored that despite the horrific events,  the sisters remained resilient and how, through the strength of the bond between them, they became empowered to end their mother's reign of terror.  To this day, they remained in contact with each other.

I just wonder how such terrible acts could happen, and nobody could even notice it.  Especially that these events happened in a small, rural town in Washington where everybody supposedly knew each other. Of course, nobody could blame the sisters because years of manipulation and mental abuse would make them submissive to their mother.  In fact, the police and other authorities did not act when the sisters reported to them earlier and acted only after someone has died.

While the narrative is simple, the details became repetitive in several parts and did not contribute to the story anymore.  Olsen also did not completely tell what drove the mother to such heinous acts.  Was she born evil? Was her troubled past responsible for the behavior her stepmother already noticed when she was still very young?  Clearly, the book was not to psychoanalyze Shelly or her victims.  However, these are unanswered questions that should have been addressed to better understand how this monster came to be. 

If You Tell: 
A True Story of Murder, Family Secrets, and the Unbreakable Bond of Sisterhood
Gregg Olsen
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer 
Publication date: December 1, 2019
Kindle Edition (File size: ‎ 4464 KB)


Tuesday, June 1, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy, Myths and Misinformation

Earlier this year, we asked our colleagues whether they would get vaccinated against COVID-19.  Almost 7 out of 10 said that they will get the vaccine once it becomes available. The remaining three were either unsure or will definitely not get vaccinated.  

Unfortunately, our survey results are better than those conducted by private agencies with respondents across the country.  One survey showed that 61% of their subjects will say no to the vaccines, another 23% were uncertain, and only 16% were willing to get inoculated if the vaccines were available at the time of the survey.  The other study had better results, with 32% of their informants willing to receive the vaccine, while 35% were uncertain, and 33% were unwilling. 

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Not surprisingly, the reasons given by those unwilling and uncertain participants to our survey were almost the same as those of the other surveys. Both sets of respondents were worried about the safety of the vaccines that they might get sick of COVID-19, and the vaccine would not help them.  

It does not help that so much information, both right and wrong is readily available on social media and other online sites.  Health experts are worried about the amount of misinformation that they even called an "infodemic."

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Many of the misinformation focus on the vaccine's safety.  Most people are concerned that the laboratories rushed the development of the vaccine that they did not go through all the required steps.  Authorities with John Hopkins Medicine assure that the developers of the COVID-19 vaccines did not rush on testing for safety and efficacy, and they used processes that have been developed and tested over many years.  These procedures are really to develop — and thoroughly test — vaccines quickly in an infectious disease pandemic like COVID-19.

My favorite myth is that the vaccine carries a microchip that could detect and track the recipient.  When switched on, the chip could alter the person's DNA and turn him into a zombie.  Well, sorry, but no, the vaccine will not turn anybody into a zombie.  WHO explains that the mRNA used in some vaccines only has instructions to produce a protein, and then our natural immune system responds to it.  The mRNA can't turn into DNA, nor can it change the DNA of human cells.  That means there won't be any zombie apocalypse because of the vaccine.

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You will not get COVID-19 from the vaccines since they do not contain live coronavirus. John Hopkins Medicine further explains that you might experience a sore arm after the shots, a mild fever, or body aches, but this doesn’t mean you have COVID-19. These symptoms are temporary, usually lasting only a day or two if you get them. These are signals of a natural response as our body’s immune system learns to recognize and fight the coronavirus.

The other fallacies that continue to circulate are the vaccine could cause infertility among women, and those who had previous COVID-19 infections do not need to get vaccinated.

Of course, the vaccines themselves will not put an end to the pandemic.  We must all go out and get our shots.  Doing so will not only protect us but also our loved ones and our community as a whole.  Even when we get our vaccines, the Department of Health advises that we continue observing the minimum health standards, such as frequently washing our hands, wearing face masks, and going outside our homes only when necessary.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

You Can Now Hide Post Like Counts on Your Instagram Feed

Instagram has just announced that it is giving its users the option to hide like counts of posts on feeds they follow.  The decision came after testing the feature since 2019.

Instagram also allows us, its users, to choose whether we want to see the Like counts on others’ posts. You will also be able to turn off Like counts on your own posts if you want to.

According to the news online, the company wants to make their users' experience more pleasant, without the pressure that "Likes" and similar reactions usually cause. 

In a blog post, Instagram and Facebook admit that people have different views on like counts - some are bothered by them, while others use the count to know what is trending and popular online.  That is why they give their users a choice.  The company hopes that this option will allow us to focus more on our photos and content from other users.  

You can hide like counts on others’ posts through the new Posts section in Settings. This control applies to all the posts in your feed.  You can also hide like counts before sharing a post and turn it on or off anytime.  These controls will also come to Facebook "in the weeks to come."

I don't really mind how many likes or reactions my posts on Instagram and Facebook receive. I'm just happy posting and sharing my photos and activities.  But some people I know actually ask their friends to like their posts! I think it gives them fulfillment to see the little red hearts on their posts. 

The downside to this is it could lead to issues with one's self-esteem.  A friend once told me that one of her kids felt sad when their vacation photos didn't get many likes.

For some, however, they capitalize on these metrics to gain popularity and monetize their activities.  It really boils down to individual preferences and purpose. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Animal, Vegetable, Junk: An Account of Man's Relationship with Food

This book takes a long look at how we have transformed the way we get and consume our food.  Bittman -- a bestselling cookbook author, journalist, and food writer--  gives a comprehensive account of how man obtains his food, from hunter-gatherers to early agriculture and industrial farming.  He argues that the food we eat now is not the same as what our early ancestors ate.  He noted that deceptive marketing techniques made us unhealthy through the years.  How we presently produce our food is also not sustainable and harms us and the environment than good.

Bittman also touched on the politics of American agriculture.  He cited how its expansion excluded black Americans from some government programs and how current practices continue to disadvantage certain groups.  His most damning arguments include how the US Department of Agriculture continues to favor big companies and disregard the people’s and the environment’s welfare.  

Despite painting a bleak scenario for the agriculture industry, Bittman says that a systemic overhaul of the sector could still save it.  He offers an ecological solution he calls "agroecology.” However, he admits that there would be resistance, especially from those in power.  

Most parts of this book sound like a scathing criticism of modern agriculture and American politics by an outraged man. To be fair, Bittman did a lot of work and research to cover not only agriculture and food production but also the underlying socio-political issues. The effort shows in the number of references he cited and the pages dedicated to his endnotes. However, he started proselytizing his ideas in the final chapters and sounded like a propagandist for veganism and social organizations. 

A History of Food, From Sustainable to Suicidal
By Mark Bittman
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Kindle Edition (4087 KB)
Published on February 2, 2021