Drug use, decision-making and the blunders of Rob Ford

I’ve got a new piece in The Guardian today on the unfolding debacle that is Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

His consistent pattern of bad decision-making – including death threats, drunken driving and public boasts about his sex life – have all the signs of problem drug and alcohol use. Substance-dependent individuals frequently show impairments in decision-making abilities, with difficulties in impulse control and executive function, as well as corresponding abnormalities in relevant brain regions.

However, as Mayor Ford has vehemently denied any accusations of addiction, it could just be incompetence.

Check out the full piece here.


Pop a squat

Today is World Toilet Day!


And toilets these days are big business.

Last year, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced the prize for their highly publicized competition to Reinvent the Toilet, awarding the honor (and $100,000) to a team from the California Institute of Technology for a lavatory that runs on solar power and converts our “contributions” into hydrogen and electricity.

The original challenge was to construct a commode that didn’t run on piped water or electricity and created a positive output, like clean water or energy. The project stemmed from the enormous problem of poor sanitation that affects over one-third of the world’s population, an estimated 2.5 billion people, especially in areas of South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The public health consequences of inadequate sanitation facilities are astounding, with reports of up to 1.5 million children dying every year from diarrhea-related illnesses.

The Gates project successfully tackled the gross inefficiency of our current sewage systems, wasting both water and the energy potential of our own waste. However, an Op-Ed in the New York Times today by Jason Kass, an environmental engineer and founder of Toilets for People, points out that the winning entry didn’t actually address the main problem of improving sanitation in impoverished nations. Because the new and improved toilet costs an astronomical $1000 to build. And for countries where the average daily income is one dollar, a $1000 toilet just isn’t going to do much good, no matter how fancy and efficient it is.

And what about the rest of us?

Well it turns out we’ve been pooping all wrong as well. In fact, the squat toilets that are popular in many areas of South East Asia are actually superior for colon health than our cushy porcelain thrones.

Sitting while expelling creates greater pressure on the colon, which can apparently result in a slew of anal-related ailments, including hemorrhoids, constipation, diverticulosis (the forming of holes in the colon), and possibly even a heightened risk for colon cancer as fecal matter builds up in our tubes. Conversely, squatting is supposed to provide the ideal angle (125 degrees) and results in a quicker trip to the bathroom.

To help solve this problem, the team at Squatty Potty (seriously, I’m not making this up) have taken it upon themselves to build their own version of a better toilet, providing a step-stool-like product that eases the release of your own stools by increasing the anorectal angle.

So this World Toilet Day, be aware of both how you and those less fortunate than you are having to perform this most basic of human functions. A little embarrassing, a bit gross, but still a deadly serious issue.

Besides, you’ll have plenty of time to think about it as long as you’re sitting comfortably.