Saturday, December 31, 2005

NPR : Building a University, and Hope, in Ghana

NPR : Building a University, and Hope, in Ghana: "2005 · After living in the United States for nearly 20 years, Patrick Awuah moved back to his native Ghana, in West Africa, to start a new university in hopes of educating Africa's next generation of leaders. Ashesi -- which means new beginnings -- recently held its first graduation.

Awuah, the 40-year old founder and president of Ashesi University, left Ghana in the mid-1980s, when the country was under military rule. He graduated from Swarthmore College with an engineering degree in 1990. Soon after, he joined Microsoft, moved to Seattle and became a millionaire before he was 30.

'I left Ghana quite idealistic,' Awuah says. 'I felt that I would get a great education, I would get some expertise, I'd be very needed here and come back. Well, having worked at Microsoft, having lived in the United States for five years, I changed. And I just felt like, if I ever come back here, I lose everything.'

But becoming a father made Awuah reconsider moving back to Ghana. 'Having a son caused me to reevaluate all my priorities,' he says. 'This was something that was eating at me. What kind of world is it that my son is going to grow up in? And how is Africa represented in that world?'

That question prompted Awuah, to relocate to Ghana with his American wife, Rebecca, young son, Nana Yaw, and infant daughter, Afia. His goal: to establish an Ivy League-quality university in his home country and train the next generation of African leaders, with a focus on ethical entrepreneurship and integrity. His wife bought into that dream, and the Awuahs invested more than half a million dollars in the Ashesi project.

Awuah still travels to Seattle to fund-raise for Ashesi. He counts some of his former Microsoft colleagues among those -- including private foundations and corporations -- who have contributed to the $4.5 million used to build the university since 1999."

Did Early Humans First Arise in Asia, Not Africa?

Did Early Humans First Arise in Asia, Not Africa?: "Two archaeologists are challenging what many experts consider to be the basic assumption of human migration—that humankind arose in Africa and spread over the globe from there.

The pair proposes an alternative explanation for human origins: arising in and spreading out of Asia.

Robin Dennell, of the University of Sheffield in England, and Wil Roebroeks, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, describe their ideas in the December 22 issue of Nature.

They believe that early-human fossil discoveries over the past ten years suggest very different conclusions about where humans, or humanlike beings, first walked the Earth.

New Asian finds are significant, they say, especially the 1.75 million-year-old small-brained early-human fossils found in Dmanisi, Georgia, and the 18,000-year-old 'hobbit' fossils (Homo floresiensis) discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia.

Such finds suggest that Asia's earliest human ancestors may be older by hundreds of thousands of years than previously b"

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - New York Times

Don't Think Twice, It's All Right - New York Times: "IT'S navel gazing time again, that stretch of the year when many of us turn our attention inward and think about how we can improve the way we live our lives. But as we embark on this annual ritual of introspection, we would do well to ask ourselves a simple question: Does it really do any good?

The poet Theodore Roethke had some insight into the matter: 'Self-contemplation is a curse / That makes an old confusion worse.' As a psychologist who conducts research on self-knowledge and happiness, I think Roethke had a point, one that's supported by a growing body of controlled psychological studies.

Not sure how you feel about a special person in your life? Analyzing the pluses and minuses of the relationship might not be the answer."...

What can we do to improve ourselves and feel happier? Numerous social psychological studies have confirmed Aristotle's observation that "We become just by the practice of just actions, self-controlled by exercising self-control, and courageous by performing acts of courage." If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our lives, one of the best approaches is to act more like the person we want to be, rather than sitting around analyzing ourselves.

Social psychologist Daniel Batson and colleagues at the University of Kansas found that participants who were given an opportunity to do a favor for another person ended up viewing themselves as kind, considerate people - unless, that is, they were asked to reflect on why they had done the favor. People in that group tended in the end to not view themselves as being especially kind.

The trick is to go out of our way to be kind to others without thinking too much about why we're doing it. As a bonus, our kindnesses will make us happier.

A study by University of California, Riverside, social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and colleagues found that college students instructed to do a few acts of kindness one day a week ended up being happier than a control group of students who received no special instructions.

As the new year begins, then, reach out and help others. If that sounds suspiciously like an old Motown song or like simplistic advice from one of those do-gooder college professors, well, it is. But the fact is that being good to others will ultimately make us kinder, happier people - just so long as we don't think too much about it.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Accessories to genocide

Accessories to genocide: "Why does genocide in Darfur continue? One reason is that there is no real international pressure on the architects of the genocide--the National Islamic Front security cabal in Khartoum--to bring the killing to a halt. On the contrary, as the genocide enters its fourth year, the international community continues to defer to Khartoum, or even to suggest disingenuously that the regime has somehow reformed itself. Either way, the clear implication is that the lives of Darfur's civilians are not worth the diplomatic price of confronting Sudan's brutal leaders.

There is no more appalling illustration of this phenomenon than recent announcements by the African Union and the Arab League that both groups will hold their upcoming summits in Khartoum. These summits will represent symbolic triumphs for Sudan's genocidaires. And they will reinforce in very public fashion what Khartoum already knows: that none of its neighbors really cares what it does in Darfur."

Women's Rights Laws and African Custom Clash - New York Times

Women's Rights Laws and African Custom Clash - New York Times: "LAMONTVILLE, South Africa - In theory, what happened to 14-year-old Sibongile in this hilly, crowded township outside Durban in November could not happen today - at least, not legally."

On a broiling Saturday morning, as more than a dozen women looked on, Sibongile joined 56 other Zulu girls outside a red-and-white striped tent. One by one, they lay on a straw mat beneath the tent; one by one, they received a cursory inspection of their genitals by a woman in a ceremonial beaded hat. As the inspector pronounced judgment on the state of each girl's hymen - "virgin," "nice," "perfect" - each departed to the excited trilling of the women who were observers.

Until Sibongile lifted her red pleated skirt and submitted to her examination. Near silence followed her out of the tent.

"Only one of them cheered," she said, looking stricken at the determination that she was not a virgin. "I feel very bad because I haven't done anything." To many Zulus, such virginity tests are a revered custom, one that discourages early sex and, after falling into disuse, has been revived to fight the spread of H.I.V. But to many advocates of women's and children's rights, the practice is unscientific, discriminatory and - to girls who are publicly and perhaps falsely accused of having lost their virginity - emotionally searing. This month, their arguments persuaded South Africa's Parliament to ban some virginity testing, with violations punishable by up to 10 years in prison.The ban is an example of how sub-Saharan Africa is slowly, but inexorably, enshrining into law basic protections that have long been denied women. But it also hints at the frailty of the movement toward women's rights in the region. Not only is the new law a watered-down version of what was proposed, but few here believe it will curb a tradition so deeply embedded in Zulu and to a lesser extent Xhosa culture....

In a part of the world where modern mores often collide with ancient traditions, women themselves are sometimes divided over what constitutes progress. Some advocates for women say their movement has come together over continentwide needs to promote peace and reduce violence against women. Beyond that, unity is often elusive.

In Uganda this year, hundreds of Muslim women protested legislation that would have banned polygamy and female genital cutting, guaranteed equal rights in marriage and divorce and raised the legal age of marriage to 18. One in six Ugandans is Muslim. The Ugandan Parliament shelved the bill, which had been in the works for nearly 40 years....

In Pietermaritzburg and in Durban, hundreds of bare-breasted women and girls in traditional Zulu short skirts and beaded necklaces marched in opposition to the ban. Inkosi Mzimela, the chairperson of South Africa's House of Traditional Leaders, an assembly of tribal chiefs, called the legislation outrageous and warned that communities would defy it.

Even South Africa's deputy president at the time, Jacob Zuma waded into the debate last year. Mr. Zuma, a Zulu, personally attended a virginity-testing ceremony, endorsing the practice as a way to shield African values against the corrosive effects of Western civilization.

"This is none of the government's business," said Nomagugu Ngobese, a Zulu virginity tester in Pietermaritzburg who says she has identified rape victims and perpetrators of incest through testing. "People are devaluing our things, but we are not going to quit. They must come and imprison me if they like, because this has helped our children."...

In Lamontville, a busy township of plywood shacks and modest concrete dwellings, Jabu Mdlalose, a volunteer community health worker, holds a monthly virginity testing session. November's ceremony was also a coming-of-age celebration - a sort of Zulu bat mitzvah sponsored by the families of two girls who had reached puberty, featuring prayers to ancestors, bathing in a moonlit river and the slaughter of a goat....

If the new law is enforced, there will be no examinations without gloves, no white dots on the foreheads of girls deemed virgins.

And there will be no 14-year-olds like Sibongile, who began the morning in buoyant mood and ended it hiding in the rear of the tent, insisting tearfully that, whatever her tester's judgment, she remained a virgin.

A Drier and Tainted Nevada May Be Legacy of a Gold Rush - New York Times

A Drier and Tainted Nevada May Be Legacy of a Gold Rush - New York Times: "ELKO, Nev. - Just outside the chasm of North America's biggest open-pit gold mine there is an immense oasis in the middle of the Nevada desert. It is an idyllic and isolated spot where migratory birds often alight for a stopover. But hardly anything is natural about it."

This is water pumped from the ground by Barrick Gold of Toronto to keep its vast Goldstrike mine from flooding, as the gold company, the world's third largest, carves a canyon 1,600 feet below the level of northern Nevada's aquifer.

Nearly 10 million gallons a day draining away in the driest state in the nation - and the fastest growing one, propelled by the demographic rocket of Las Vegas - is just one of the many strange byproducts of Nevada's tangled love affair with gold.

An extensive review of government documents and court records, and scores of interviews with scientists and present and former mine industry workers and regulators, show that an absence of federal guidelines, of the sort that are commonplace for coal or oil, allowed gold wide latitude to operate here in the rural fastness of the desert, perhaps more than any other American industry.

The costs - to Nevada, its neighbors and even to the rest of the country - are only now coming into focus as diminishing ores foreshadow gold mining's eventual demise and a more urbanized West begins to express concerns over water shortages and mining's other legacies.

Barrick says the effects of its pumping will last at most a few decades. But government scientists estimate it could take 200 years or more to replenish the groundwater that it and neighboring mine companies have removed, with little public attention or debate, as they meet soaring consumer demand for jewelry and gold's price tops $500 an ounce.

While You Were Sleeping - New York Times

While You Were Sleeping - New York Times: "IT was a year of apocalyptic events. Hurricanes and floods and earthquakes humbled us. Holy wars raged at home and abroad. Deep Throat was unmasked, but the hero of Watergate, Bob Woodward, re-emerged in a strange new guise, covering up White House secrets. Avian flu lurked. Brad dumped Jen, the girl next door, and took up with the enchantress Angelina.

Amid such catastrophes, it was easy to miss news of more subtle significance. Here are just a few of the developments that may have slipped your notice in 2005:"

The poor | The mountain man and the surgeon |

The poor | The mountain man and the surgeon | "When Americans hear the words “poor” and “white”, they think of someone like Mr Banks. He has half a dozen cars in varying states of disrepair parked outside his trailer, car-parts everywhere and a pile of crushed Pepsi cans below his porch.

He “draws” $521 a month in supplemental security income (a form of cash assistance for the elderly, poor and disabled). He laments that the authorities deduct $67 a month because he won $3,600 on the slot machines. Why, he asks, won't they take account of all the money he has lost gambling?"...

Mr Banks would probably be surprised to hear that, thousands of miles away in central Africa, there lives a prominent surgeon whose monthly income is roughly the same as his. Mbwebwe Kabamba is the head of the emergency department at the main public hospital in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. After 28 years as a doctor, his salary is only $250 a month, but by operating on private patients after hours, he ekes it out to $600 or $700.

Given the lower cost of living in Congo, one might guess that Dr Kabamba is better off than Mr Banks. But the doctor has to support an extended family of 12, whereas Mr Banks's ex-wife and three sons claim public assistance. Indeed, the reason Mr Banks split up from his wife, he says, is because they can draw more benefits separately. She still lives in the trailer next door.

Why juxtapose the lives of a poor man in a rich country and a relatively well-off man in a poor one? The exercise is useful for two reasons. First, it puts the rich world's wealth into context. A Congolese doctor, a man most other Congolese would consider wealthy, is worse off materially than most poor people in America. That, in itself, is striking.

The second purpose of the exercise is to shed light on some ticklish questions. What is the relationship between wealth and happiness? And what is the significance of relative poverty? Mr Banks makes $521 a month in a country where median male earnings are $3,400 a month. Dr Kabamba earns $600 a month in a country where most people grow their own food and hardly ever see a bank note. The two men's experiences could hardly be less similar. But which of the two would one expect to be happier?...

r Kabamba's hospital is healthier than it was during the war, or under Mobutu Sese Seko, the leopardskin-hatted crook who ruled Congo until his overthrow in 1997. There are no medicines unless patients can pay for them, and many of the sick lie huddled on the ground. But it used to be worse. In the early 1990s, patients who could not pay were sometimes held hostage for weeks until their families found cash to free them.

Dr Kabamba's income fluctuates with his country's fortunes. His $250-a-month salary is a fivefold increase from last year, and the fact that it is paid only two months in arrears is an improvement too. The cause of his good fortune is that Congo was given a huge debt write-off when the civil war ended in 2003, so there is more money around. What do Dr Kabamba's wages buy? He has a four-bedroom house with a kitchen and living room, which would be ample if there weren't 12 people under his roof. His home would be deemed unacceptably overcrowded in America. Even among the 37m Americans officially classed as poor, only 6% live in homes with more occupants than rooms.

Having seen how doctors live elsewhere, Dr Kabamba would quite like running water and a regular power supply. His family fetches water in jars and the electricity comes on maybe twice a week. Air-conditioning would be nice, but “that's only for VIPs,” says Dr Kabamba. In America, three-quarters of poor households have air-conditioning.

Dr Kabamba earns enough to feed his children, but not as well as he would like. The family eats meat about twice a month; Dr Kabamba calls it “a great luxury”. In America, poor children eat more meat than the well-to-do. In fact, they get twice as much protein as their government says is good for them, which is why the Wal-Mart near Mr Banks sells such enormous jeans.

“Poverty” describes two quite different phenomena: utter penury, of the sort experienced by the billion or so souls who subsist on $1 a day or less; and the situation of people in rich countries who are less well off than their compatriots.

For the first group, finding enough to eat is a daily struggle, and a $2-a-day job hand-washing mineral ore in a river is a lucky break. Shortly before meeting Dr Kabamba, your correspondent interviewed a group of Congolese ore-washers who were delighted to have found such lucrative work....

bread, the poor in Kentucky complain about the price of motor insurance. Fair enough—they need to drive to work.

Granted, the poor in America do not starve. But their relative poverty can hurt in other ways. To be poor in a meritocracy implies failure. Eastern Kentucky is one of America's least meritocratic enclaves, but failure still carries a stigma. Though few Americans say that the poor have only themselves to blame, many believe it. Many of the poor believe it, too.

For a Congolese peasant, there is no shame in living in a hut made of sticks. Everyone you know does too. In America, by contrast, the term “trailer” denotes more than a mobile home, and the people who live in one know it. They are also acutely aware of how richer folk live, because they watch so much television. A typical poor household in America has two televisions, cable or satellite reception and a VCR or a DVD player.

Dr Kabamba, though hard up, enjoys the respect that doctors receive in all societies. Perhaps more, for people can see that he does an essential job under the toughest of conditions. That his hospital still functions despite years of war, corruption, economic decline and the occasional “grand pillage” by unpaid soldiers is, he sighs, “almost a miracle”. His compatriots might add that it is almost a miracle that Dr Kabamba, whose skills would allow him to emigrate, has chosen not to.

Those who know Dr Kabamba treat him with deference. When your correspondent was detained by the police outside his hospital, for the crime of appearing to possess a wallet, one telephone call to the doctor was enough to fix the problem. The officers even apologised.

Mr Banks, by contrast, though outwardly cheery, has no illusions about how other Americans see people like himself. Of the officials who hand him his monthly cheque, he says: “Some are okay, but some act like the money's coming out of their own pockets.” His great-niece, Rosie Woolum, tells a story about growing up in the hollows. She was the girl on the school cheerleading team who could not afford shoes. A teacher who lived nearby could have offered her a lift home after practice, she says, but never did. So she had to wait a couple of hours for her mother. At the time, she did not understand why her better-off neighbours shunned her. Now that she has a good job (running a project that provides health care for the homeless), she finds they no longer do.

It is hard to guage the pain of relative poverty because no one knows how to measure happiness. Simply asking people “Are you happy?” only gets you so far. The answers people give depend in part on cultural factors. Few English or Japanese will offer anything more ecstatic than a “mustn't grumble”, but that does not necessarily mean they are glummer than say, Americans, 86% of whom told Gallup this year that they were “completely” or “somewhat satisfied” with their jobs.

Indirect evidence of unhappiness is equally hard to gather, since so many potential proxies, such as drug abuse and wife-beating, are hushed up. Nonetheless, for what it is worth, when your correspondent asked Ms Woolum and three of her local social-worker colleagues to share their life stories, those stories shared a common thread.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Chicago Tribune | Limbo appears doomed by Vatican theologians

Chicago Tribune | Limbo appears doomed by Vatican theologians: "ROME -- It may seem half a shame to get rid of a church tradition, however cruel and antiquated, if it can inspire poetry like 'The Inferno' or spooky lines like these from Seamus Heaney: 'Fishermen at Ballyshannon/Netted an infant last night/Along with the salmon.'

But limbo, that netherworld of unbaptized babies and worthy pagans, is very much on the way out--another lesson that while belief in God may not change, the things people believe about him most certainly do.

This month, 30 top theologians from around the world met at the Vatican to discuss, among other quandaries, the problem of what happens to babies who die without baptism. What they were really doing, as theological advisers to Pope Benedict XVI, was finally disposing of limbo--a concept that was never official church doctrine but has been an enduring medieval theory of a blissful state among the departed, somehow different from both heaven and hell.

Unlike purgatory, a sort of waiting room to heaven for those with some venial faults, the theory of limbo consigned children outside of heaven on account of original sin alone. As a concept, limbo has long been out of favor anyway as theologically questionable and unnecessarily harsh. It is hard to imagine depriving innocents of heaven. These days it prompts more snickers than anything, as evidenced by the titter of headlines here along the lines of 'Limbo Consigned to Hell.'

But it remains an interesting relic, strangely relevant to what the Roman Catholic Church has been and what it wants to be. The theory of limbo bumps up against one of the most contentious issues for the church: abortion. If fetuses are human beings, what happens to their souls if they are aborted? It raises questions of how broadly the church--and its new leader--views the idea of salvation.

NPR : African Clinic Struggles to Help Children with AIDS

NPR : African Clinic Struggles to Help Children with AIDS: "All Things Considered, December 29, 2005 · AIDS killed nearly half a million children in Africa last year. Hundreds of thousands more are in need of treatment for the disease or the virus that causes it. But few get that treatment.

Efforts to provide HIV/AIDS drugs on the continent reach just a small percentage of the people in need, and those efforts tend to focus on adults.

The group Doctors Without Borders says treating HIV-positive children is even more difficult because of a lack of pediatric AIDS drugs.

Kibera, one of the largest slums in Nairobi, has been hit hard by the AIDS pandemic. Even by the most conservative estimates, thousands of Kibera's children are HIV positive. But conditions there illustrate the difficulty of treating children for HIV/AIDS.

Available HIV tests can't be given to children until they're at least 18 months old. Most of the available drugs were manufactured primarily for adults. Some AIDS drugs used by children have to be refrigerated, which is almost impossible in slums like Kibera. And others need to be crushed and mixed with clean water which again can be difficult in places with no reliable plumbing.

Experts say that if HIV/AIDS drugs are going to be rolled out in Africa to the millions of people who need them, the drug regimens -- particularly for children -- need to be simplified.
" - Many Americans Still Believe Hussein Had Links to al Qaeda - Many Americans Still Believe Hussein Had Links to al Qaeda: "Sizeable minorities of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had 'strong links to al Qaeda,' a Harris Interactive poll shows, though the number has fallen substantially this year.

About 22% of U.S. adults believe Mr. Hussein helped plan 9/11, the poll shows, and 26% believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the U.S. invaded. Another 24% believe several of the 9/11 hijackers were Iraqis, according to the online poll of 1,961 adults."

In Pursuit of Unhappiness - New York Times

In Pursuit of Unhappiness - New York Times: "HAPPY New Year!' We seldom think of those words as an order. But in some respects that is what they are.
Doesn't every American want to be happy? And don't most Americans yearn, deep down, to be happy all of the time? The right laid out in our nation's Declaration of Independence - to pursue happiness to our hearts' content - is nowhere on better display than in the rites of the holiday season. With glad tidings and good cheer, we seek to bring one year to its natural happy conclusion, while preparing to usher in a happy new year and many happy returns."...
Sociologists like to point out that the percentage of those describing themselves as "happy" or "very happy" has remained virtually unchanged in Europe and the United States since such surveys were first conducted in the 1950's. And yet, this January, like last year and next, the self-help industry will pour forth books promising to make us happier than we are today. The very demand for such books is a strong indication that they aren't working.

Should that be a cause for concern? Some critics say it is. For example, economists like Lord Richard Layard and Daniel Kahneman have argued that the apparent stagnancy of happiness in modern societies should prompt policymakers to shift their priorities from the creation of wealth to the creation of good feelings, from boosting gross national product to increasing gross national happiness.

But before we take such steps, we might do well to reflect on the darker side of holiday cheer: those mysterious blues that are apt to set in while the streamers stream and the corks pop; the little voice that even in the best of souls is sometimes moved to say, "Bah, humbug." As Carlyle put it, "The prophets preach to us, 'Thou shalt be happy; thou shalt love pleasant things.' " But as he well knew, the very commandment tended to undermine its fulfillment, even to make us sad.

Carlyle's sometime friend and long-time rival, the philosopher John Stuart Mill, came to a similar conclusion. His words are all the more worth heeding in that Mill himself was a determined proponent of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. "Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so," Mill concluded after recovering from a serious bout of depression. Rather than resign himself to gloom, however, Mill vowed instead to look for happiness in another way.

"Those only are happy," he came to believe, "who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way." For our own culture, steeped as it is in the relentless pursuit of personal pleasure and endless cheer, that message is worth heeding.

So in these last days of 2005 I say to you, "Don't have a happy new year!" Have dinner with your family or walk in the park with friends. If you're so inclined, put in some good hours at the office or at your favorite charity, temple or church. Work on your jump shot or your child's model trains. With luck, you'll find happiness by the by. If not, your time won't be wasted. You may even bring a little joy to the world.

Darrin M. McMahon, a professor of history at Florida State, is the author of the forthcoming"Happiness: A History." - In Swaziland, U.S. Preacher Sees His Dream Vanish - In Swaziland, U.S. Preacher Sees His Dream Vanish: "MBABANE, Swaziland -- In 2002 Bruce Wilkinson, a Georgia preacher whose self-help prayer book had made him a rich man, heard God's call, moved to Africa and announced his intention to save one million children left orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.

In October, Mr. Wilkinson resigned in a huff from the African charity he founded. He abandoned his plan to house 10,000 children in a facility that was to be an orphanage, bed-and-breakfast, game reserve, bible college, industrial park and Disneyesque tourist destination in the tiny kingdom of Swaziland.
What happened in between is a story of grand hopes and inexperience, divine inspiration and human foibles. Mr. Wilkinson won churchloads of followers in Swaziland, but left them bereft and confused. He gained access to top Swazi officials, but alienated them with his demands. And his departure left critics convinced he was just another in a long parade of outsiders who have come to Africa making big promises and quit the continent when local people didn't bend to their will.
The setback stunned Mr. Wilkinson, who had grown accustomed to operating on a larger-than-life scale, promising that God would enable him to achieve the impossible. 'We're going to see the largest humanitarian religious movement in the history of the world from the U.S. to Africa to help in this crisis,' Mr. Wilkinson predicted in June, when he believed his orphan village was about to sprout from the African bush.
Just a few months later, he found himself groping with his failure to make that happen. 'I'll put it down as one of the disappointments of my career,' he says.
Mr. Wilkinson's life has been all about miracles: He routinely asks God to perform them, and God, he s"

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Global Polio Largely Fading

Global Polio Largely Fading: "The 17-year effort to eradicate polio from the world appears to be back on track after nearly unraveling in the past three years.

A new strategy of using a vaccine targeting the dominant strain of the virus appears to have eliminated polio from Egypt, one of six countries where it was freely circulating. That approach is on the verge of doing the same in India. Twenty-five years ago, India had 200,000 cases of paralytic polio a year. A decade ago, it was still seeing 75,000 cases annually. Through November this year, it recorded 52."

A Cry for Respect in a Sudan Camp

A Cry for Respect in a Sudan Camp: "KALMA CAMP, Sudan -- Boys in tattered clothes were waiting in food lines, girls were hauling water on donkeys, crippled orphans were begging on crutches. Suddenly, a call went out across this vast camp of stick-and-rag huts filled with civilians displaced by the conflict in Darfur. Abandoning their routines, thousands of children converged at key spots.

There, teenage leaders rallied the crowds. They spoke of the persistent lice, the filthy latrines, the longing for home among the camp's 90,000 inhabitants. They described a humiliating incident that morning in which a camp leader had been beaten and dragged off by Sudanese troops amid contradictory explanations.

And then they made a proposal that both shocked and exhilarated the gathered adolescents: that they kidnap humanitarian aid workers to protest their miserable conditions.

'It was a scary idea,' said Nazira Sulliman, 12, who attended one of the rallies. 'Many of us had never done anything that wrong. But it also made us feel strong.'"...

After three days of negotiations, the hostages were released unharmed, and so was Taha, though he was later detained again and is still in jail.

But the unprecedented armed threat from the children of Darfur illustrated how a passive, victimized generation of young people, driven from their villages and confined in camps, could suddenly became a dangerous mob.

"Okay, it wasn't really the so-called 'right thing to do,' " said Al Tieb Mohammed Adam, 27, a charismatic youth leader in Kalma. "But here we are living in this horrid camp with no money, no hope for marriage, no security to go home. The jobless youth of Darfur are angry. We are sick and we are rising."

Across Africa, an estimated 18 million children are growing up in impoverished camps like Kalma. They are refugees from fighting in parts of Uganda, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Congo as well as Sudan, according to the U.N. High Commission for Refugees.

The Darfur conflict has driven nearly 2 million people into camps since 2003, when groups of mostly African rebels launched an uprising, protesting discrimination by the Arab-dominated government. Authorities responded by bombing villages and arming Arab militiamen, known as Janjaweed, who looted and burned villages.

More than 60 percent of the displaced Darfurians are children. They are dependent on food aid, stripped of their culture, mostly uneducated and unskilled. According to the United Nations, such displaced children are especially susceptible to forced labor, sexual exploitation and recruitment by armed groups. Isolated and frustrated, they can become desperate.

Chad May Alter Its Pledge on Oil Funds

Chad May Alter Its Pledge on Oil Funds: "Six months after assuming the presidency of the World Bank, Paul D. Wolfowitz is facing his first big test in his new job. An avowed hard-liner on corruption, he must decide whether the bank should wash its hands of one of its most controversial projects, in a country with a notoriously corrupt regime.

At issue is a 650-mile pipeline that the World Bank helped finance for Chad, a landlocked central African nation of about 10 million, to transport oil from the country's interior to a coastal port. Despite objections by critics that oil money in such countries is almost invariably squandered or stolen, the bank backed the pipeline in the hope of showing that Africa could use its mineral riches to benefit the poor. It secured an agreement with Chadian leaders that most of the government's oil proceeds would go into a closely supervised escrow fund in London, to be disbursed and invested on the nation's behalf in areas such as education, health and rural development."

Now that the oil has been flowing for two years, the wisdom of the bank's gamble is coming under renewed questioning because the government is threatening to unilaterally change the terms of the deal....

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Michael Dirda

An interesting new biography on Rousseau...

Michael Dirda: "The thinkers who matter are those whom the world can't agree about, and usually the more a writer, philosopher or artist polarizes opinion, the better for all of us. In modern times probably no genius of the Western world still ignites such passionate controversy as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Only Marx, Nietzsche and Freud -- in many ways, his successors -- come even close.

Why is this? Because Rousseau blew up the edifice of 2,500 years of classical and Christian thought about the fundamental nature of the soul and society. Until Rousseau, nearly everyone agreed that humanity was by nature sinful and vicious, and that the state, religion and other social structures imposed a needed order on our conduct. Without higher authority to moderate passions, men and women would spend their short, nasty and brutish lives like jungle beasts. From religion and education, we learn self-control and the ways of righteousness; from the laws and customs of society, we are shaped into good and useful citizens.

Not so, said this political visionary: 'Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.' Our natural impulses are healthy and good; it is society that makes us wicked. Where once we lived in harmony with ourselves and with the world around us, now we dwell in a snake pit of appearance and inauthenticity, of competitiveness and conspicuous consumption, of inequality, prejudice and pervasive baseness. Our institutions and governments disfigure and corrupt everything they touch. We long for happiness, without recognizing that it is the system we live under that taints our souls and leaves us alienated, despairing and hungry for something we cannot even name.

How did we go so wrong? In the myth or thought experiment that Rousseau offers in his discourse On the Origin of Inequality (1755), he concludes that the serpent in the garden was nothing less than Reason. When people lived unmediated existences in accord with Nature and themselves, when they dwelt like Peter Pan in a perpetual present, they found life simple, fulfilling and harmonious. But on some evil day, one man began to compare himself with another. This led to reflection, self-awareness and eventually competitiveness, then to specialization and a division of labor to maximize individual strengths and weaknesses, and before long the floodgates were opened to envy, accumulation and excess. The clever soon exploited their fellows, stockpiled provisions and gained superfluous wealth -- and these inevitably needed to be protected by guards, by armies, by laws and statutes. And so paradise was lost."...

We still argue about the answer to that question. Whether you agree or disagree with Rousseau's view of man's natural goodness and the evils inherent in civilization, his is nonetheless a voice that simply won't go away. Why are we not happy? Why? Why? Damrosch's biography provides an ideal introduction to both this complex man and his troubling ideas. It is an important book, but also a provocative and exceptionally entertaining one.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Diabetes Study Verifies Lifesaving Tactic - New York Times

Diabetes Study Verifies Lifesaving Tactic - New York Times: "A 17-year federal study has finally answered one of the most pressing questions about diabetes: Can tight control of blood sugar prevent heart attacks and strokes?

The answer, reported today in The New England Journal of Medicine, is yes. Intense control can reduce the risk by nearly half.

And, the study found, the effect occurred even though the patients had only had a relatively brief period of intense blood sugar control when they were young adults. Nonetheless, more than a decade later, when they reached middle age, when heart disease and strokes normally start to appear, they were protected."

Saudi Women See Changes, and Reasons to Expect More - New York Times

Saudi Women See Changes, and Reasons to Expect More - New York Times: "JIDDA, Saudi Arabia - Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi journalist in this Red Sea city, was in Manhattan when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. She scrambled to contact her editors and send reports, but was rebuffed because they did not trust the work of a woman."

Ms. Sharif, who has since been promoted to a midlevel editor position, said it would be different today because much has changed for Saudi women - and Sept. 11 is one of the reasons. Wrapped in black, still paid less than her male counterparts and still barred from driving, Ms. Sharif sat in her office inside the cramped "ladies section" of the newspaper Al Watan, sighing about the difficulties someone like her faces.

Nonetheless, she ticked off numerous substantive changes, beginning with something that happened recently. Two women were elected to the 12-member board of directors of the Jidda Chamber of Commerce, the first time that women were elected to, or even permitted to run for, such a visible post in the kingdom.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Wired News: Think Away the Pain

Wired News: Think Away the Pain: "Pain can be mysterious, untreatable and debilitating, and its causes can be unknown. But if you could see the pain -- or, at least, your brain's reaction to it -- you might be able to master it.

A study from researchers at Stanford University and MRI technology company Omneuron suggests that's possible, and the results could lead to better therapies for those suffering from crippling chronic pain."

The researchers asked people in pain to try to control a pain-regulating region of the brain by watching activity in that area from inside a real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, machine. Initial results showed subjects could reduce their pain, some quite dramatically.

It's the first evidence that humans can take control of a specific region of the brain, and thereby decrease pain, said Stanford professor Sean Mackey, who co-wrote the paper, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"(Similar to) going to a gym and working muscle using weights, here we're using the real-time fMRI technology to exercise a certain brain region," he said. News - International - Stalin's half-man, half-ape super-warriors

Moscow archives show that in the mid-1920s Russia's top animal breeding scientist, Ilya Ivanov, was ordered to turn his skills from horse and animal work to the quest for a super-warrior.

According to Moscow newspapers, Stalin told the scientist: 'I want a new invincible human being, insensitive to pain, resistant and indifferent about the quality of food they eat.'"...

The Soviet authorities were struggling to rebuild the Red Army after bruising wars.

And there was intense pressure to find a new labour force, particularly one that would not complain, with Russia about to embark on its first Five-Year Plan for fast-track industrialisation.

Mr Ivanov was highly regarded. He had established his reputation under the Tsar when in 1901 he established the world's first centre for the artificial insemination of racehorses.

Mr Ivanov's ideas were music to the ears of Soviet planners and in 1926 he was dispatched to West Africa with $200,000 to conduct his first experiment in impregnating chimpanzees.

Meanwhile, a centre for the experiments was set up in Georgia - Stalin's birthplace - for the apes to be raised.

Mr Ivanov's experiments, unsurprisingly from what we now know, were a total failure. He returned to the Soviet Union, only to see experiments in Georgia to use monkey sperm in human volunteers similarly fail.

A final attempt to persuade a Cuban heiress to lend some of her monkeys for further experiments reached American ears, with the New York Times reporting on the story, and she dropped the idea amid the uproar.

Mr Ivanov was now in disgrace. His were not the only experiments going wrong: the plan to collectivise farms ended in the 1932 famine in which at least four million died.

For his expensive failure, he was sentenced to five years' jail, which was later commuted to five years' exile in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan in 1931. A year later he died, reportedly after falling sick while standing on a freezing railway platform.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hong Kong Holding Pattern - New York Times

Hong Kong Holding Pattern - New York Times: "The World Trade Organization might as well just adopt the slogan, 'Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow?' Because, once again, negotiators have postponed until next year difficult decisions to open up closed markets in agriculture.

The global trade talks that ended in Hong Kong on Sunday weren't a complete bust. Trade ministers from 149 countries agreed to eliminate export subsidies for farm products by 2013, to offer technical export assistance to poor countries and to get rid of cotton export subsidies by next year.

But this lame stopgap measure isn't even in the same ballpark as what was envisioned when this latest round of trade talks began in Doha, Qatar, in 2001. The talks were supposed to move countries toward eliminating all of the trade-distorting subsidies that America, Japan and Europe employ to give their coddled farmers an unfair leg up on the global competition. Doha also called for liberalization in services, which would be extremely beneficial to rich countries. But since those countries, egged on by France, balked at making good on their promises to liberalize farm trade, which would help poor countries, those poor countries weren't exactly feeling very amenable to liberalizing services.

Now ministers are supposed to gather in Geneva next March to figure out how they plan to get Doha done. But that doesn't leave much time to get a deal completed before President Bush's authority to get a bill through Congress expires in 2007.

This is all really sad. After more than 50 years of reaching agreements that have largely helped wealthy industrialized nations like the United States, France, Britain, Germany and Japan, this round of trade talks was supposed to finally put the needs of developing countries at the top of the agenda. But the interests of textile companies in America and farmers in France and Japan continue to mean more in the trade negotiating world than the fate of a hungry child in West Africa.

This raises the question of what, exactly, is the point of the W.T.O.? Free trade is not sustainable unless there's something in it for everyone. If the rich world can't figure out a way to get poor countries on board, then America, Japan and France might as well kiss goodbye any trade liberalization that will help their companies. And that would be tragic for the global economy."

Monday, December 19, 2005

BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » The principality of profit

Interesting discussion here on philanthropy....

BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » The principality of profit: "So Time names the hyperrich and megagenerous as its people of the year and that’s a fine and and due honor. But occurs to me that this is one more indication how we are reentering an age of leadership by the very rich: Bloomberg of New York, Corzine of New Jersey, Bush of the White House, Gates and Bono for charity. Of course, the people do band together to give generously — should the millions who gave billions after the tsunami have been the cover subjects, perhaps? And I blather endlessly about the democratic power of this medium you’re touching at the moment. But thanks to many factors — campaign-finance laws, corporate scandal and regulation, the never-ending rise of the power of celebrity — the rich get not only richer but also more powerful. As long as they use that power for good, helping society through service and giving, it’s a good."

A Gruesome Sport With Executions at Halftime

“The Gladiators: History’s Most Deadly Sport,” a new book by Fik Meijer, a professor of ancient history at the University of Amsterdam.

A Gruesome Sport With Executions at Halftime: " “Why did the Romans have such a passion for the gladiator games?” he writes. “Why did they let themselves

get carried away by such an orgy of bloodthirsty violence, time and again over centuries?”

Yet the question of why human beings would enjoy watching female gladiators fight dwarfs by torchlight seems like the wrong question. It’s a line of inquiry better fit for psychologists, moral philosophers, theologians, or movie directors — anyone with a penchant for speculating about human motives. Thankfully, Mr. Meijer soon abandons it.

Instead, he turns to describing how the games entertained. Along the way, he devotes chapters to gladiators’ backgrounds, training, life expectancies, and love lives. In case there was any doubt, Mr. Meijer’s careful academic research shows that, yes, gladiators had groupies. "...

At one point, Mr. Meijer pulls together his research to re-create the program for a typical day at the Colosseum. According to the author, the day of games would begin with hunting and animal fights.To warm things up, a bull might fight an elephant — followed by, say,a rhinoceros versus a buffalo.Afterward,a bunch of hunters might roam through the arena picking off gazelles by the hundreds.

At midday, the games paused for an intermission, during which the crowd ate their lunches and watched public executions. Sometimes, the organizers would dress up the condemned criminals as famous villains or doomed characters from mythology — all of which lends credence to the previously unimaginable notion that perhaps halftime shows actually have improved over the past 2,000 years.

But everyone’s favorite part was when the gladiators squared off in oneon-one combat. Gladiators, Mr. Meijer notes, were trained as specialists, differentiated according to their weapons and armor. He provides a taxonomy of gladiatorial types explaining, for instance, the difference between a thraex (small shield, sword like a dagger) and a retiarius (shielded left arm, trident, net).Organizers continuously would pit different specialists against each other, mixing and matching gladiators for the remainder of the afternoon. - Change Online Shopping for Good. - Change Online Shopping for Good.

...up to 26% of each purchase you made went to your favorite worthy cause? Your shopping at hundreds of online stores helps a cause close to your heart with each purchase! It´s all free & private. Join today and change online shopping for good

Gifts | GlobalGiving

More Christmas gift ideas...

Gifts | GlobalGiving: "This holiday, give a gift that makes a difference

For the cost of a book, a sweater, or an iPod, you can give any project on as a gift. Choose any geographic area and pick from themes including disaster relief, education, economic development, or environment. For example,

* $15 provides a child in India with clean water
* $25 buys medical supplies for earthquake victims in Kashmir and Pakistan
* $50 provides a girl in Afghanistan with an education

The recipient of your gift will receive a beautiful card providing project details, the impact the contribution will have, and a personal message from you."

Oxfam Unwrapped - How Your Gift works

Christmas gift ideas...

Oxfam Unwrapped - How Your Gift works: "When you buy a gift from Oxfam Unwrapped you actually give so much more.

The cost of your gift includes extra elements which will ensure that it has the biggest possible impact on the lives of people living in poverty. The diagram gives an example of how this works.

* · The animal goes to where it is needed most
* · Transport for the animal to reach its new home
* · Vaccinations to keep animals healthy
* · Vaccination training for families
* · Training for families in animal husbandry
* · Market awareness training so families can make the most of their assets
* · The costs of Oxfam Unwrapped

ReliefWeb » Document Preview » Northern Uganda: Children paying with their lives for UN Security Council inaction

ReliefWeb » Document Preview » Northern Uganda: Children paying with their lives for UN Security Council inaction: "The United Nations Security Council must put the crisis in northern Uganda on its agenda and pass a resolution urging an end to the violence, international agency Oxfam demanded ahead of a top level Security Council briefing on the situation today.

'The United Nations Security Council has been silent on the war in northern Uganda for two decades,' said Greg Puley, Oxfam's Policy Advisor in New York. 'In that time over 25,000 children in northern Uganda have been abducted by the Lord's Resistance Army and many forced into sexual slavery and made to become child soldiers.'

'One thousand people die every week as a direct result of what is now Africa's longest running war. Every single night, up to forty thousand people leave their homes and sleep in town centers in order to escape abduction.'

Despite the horrific statistics, Oxfam's Greg Puley said the Security Council's response up to now to the 19-year conflict had been silence and inaction.

'The Security Council cannot plead ignorance to the tragedy taking place in northern Uganda yet they have not passed one single resolution. The Council must act now,' Puley said."

Allthings2all: Spotlight on Darfur 3: Christmas Edition

Allthings2all: Spotlight on Darfur 3: Christmas Edition: "Welcome to the Christmas Edition of Spotlight on Darfur. In the Western world Christmas has become a time of glitz and tinsel, and also for many a time to give and receive gifts. The contributors to this Spotlight on Darfur are diverse and do not represent any one organization or group. But we share in wanting to give something to the people of Darfur at this time, and we hope for peace in that troubled and conflicted area. We are pleased you could join us. The contributions cover politics, ethics, Christmas, and ways to help, and are arranged under relevant headings (all links open in the same new window):"


Sudan: "December 17, 2005: Darfur has fallen into anarchy, with army troops, pro-government tribal militias, bandits, anti-government rebels and AU peacekeepers all fighting one another. It's a low key war, with the main objective being to rob, rape and kill civilians, or loot UN relief operations, or trying to stop the all the lawlessness. There are only about 7,000 AU peacekeepers, and, technically, they are only supposed to be observing, not protecting. Such is the chaos, that few countries are willing to offer more peacekeepers. Historically, this sort of widespread tribal warfare is nothing new. But in the past, news of the atrocities took a lot longer to get out to the rest of the world. Getting the news faster has not made it any easier to stop the violence. Since Arab Sudanese run Sudan, they have the rest of the Arab world to protect them in the UN, and make it difficult for sanctions or war crimes investigations to get anywhere. Officially, the Arab world denies that there are any Moslem-"

Study Shows the Superrich Are Not the Most Generous - New York Times

Study Shows the Superrich Are Not the Most Generous - New York Times: "Working-age Americans who make $50,000 to $100,000 a year are two to six times more generous in the share of their investment assets that they give to charity than those Americans who make more than $10 million, a pioneering study of federal tax data shows.

The least generous of all working-age Americans in 2003, the latest year for which Internal Revenue Service data is available, were among the young and prosperous - the 285 taxpayers age 35 and under who made more than $10 million - and the 18,600 taxpayers making $500,000 to $1 million. The top group had on average $101 million of investment assets while the other group had on average $2.4 million of investment assets.

On average these two groups made charitable gifts equal to 0.4 percent of their assets, while people the same age who made $50,000 to $100,000 gave gifts equal to more than 2.5 percent of their investment assets, six times that of their far wealthier peers.

Investment assets measures the value of stocks, bonds and other investments assets held in the tax system. Excluded from this are retirement accounts, which are generally held outside the tax system, personal property like furniture and art and equity in homes"

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Time Honors Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono - Yahoo! News

Time Honors Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono - Yahoo! News: "NEW YORK - Time magazine has named Bill and Melinda Gates and rock star Bono its 'Persons of the Year,' citing their charitable work and activism aimed at reducing global poverty and improving world health. "

The magazine said 2005 was a year of extraordinary charity in which people donated record amounts in response to extreme natural disasters, from the tsunami in South Asia to Hurricane Katrina.

"Natural disasters are terrible things, but there is a different kind of ongoing calamity in poverty and nobody is doing a better job in addressing it in different ways than Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono," said Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor.

"For being shrewd about doing good, for rewiring politics and re-engineering justice, for making mercy smarter and hope strategic and then daring the rest of us to follow, Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono are Time's Persons of the Year," the magazine said.

Time praised the Gateses for building the world's largest charity — The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has a $29 billion endowment — and for "giving more money away faster than anyone ever has" in 2005.

The foundation has saved at least 700,000 lives in poor countries by investing in vaccination programs, has donated computers and Internet access to 11,000 libraries and has sponsored the biggest scholarship fund in history, the magazine said.

Time said Bono's campaign to make rich countries address the debt of poorer ones has had an equally impressive impact on the world.

In 2005, "Bono charmed and bullied and morally blackmailed the leaders of the world's richest countries into forgiving $40 billion in debt owed by the poorest," the magazine said.

Bono has earned a remarkable number of political allies around the world and in Washington, where he has courted politicians from both major parties, Time said.

"Bono's great gift is to take what has made him famous — charm, clarity of voice, an ability to touch people in their secret heart — combine those traits with a keen grasp of the political game and obsessive attention to detail, and channel it all toward getting everyone, from world leaders to music lovers, to engage with something overwhelming in its complexity," it said.

Even archconservative former Sen. Jesse Helms had praise for the Irish singer.

"I knew as soon as I met Bono that he was genuine," Helms, who has allied with Bono on AIDS awareness, told Time.

Bono, who first met the Gateses in 2002 to discuss their mutual interests, told Time that the Gates foundation is the second enterprise for Microsoft founder Bill Gates that has changed the world. "And the second act for Bill Gates may be the one that history regards more," the rock star said.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Scientists to check Nepal Buddha boy

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Scientists to check Nepal Buddha boy: "A meditating teenage boy in south-central Nepal is drawing the attention of scientists after attracting huge crowds in the past six months and earning himself the name Buddha-reincarnate.

They are mulling over how to examine him without disturbing his meditation.

Ram Bahadur Bamjan's friends, relatives and managers say he has been meditating without drinking water for six months now and that he will carry on for another six years until he gains enlightenment.

Siddartha Gautama, who Buddhists believe later attained Nirvana, was born in 560 BC."

Imani: The Centre for Humane Education

Imani: The Centre for Humane Education: "Famine in Niger is no surprise -- desert wastes, locusts and decades of Marxist rule keep it second-to-last on the world poverty list. Famine in the fertile climes of southern and eastern Africa, however, seems more shocking. But there's a common thread: centralized state rule -- incompetent at best -- marked by corruption and sustained by aid. These are the shackles that keep Africans poor: It would be nice if EU and U.S. trade barriers were removed at trade talks in Hong Kong this week, but exports are a distant notion to the 75% of Africans who live off the land."...

Niger is little-blessed by nature, but it has also spent its postcolonial era trying various forms of failed government, with Marxism reigning longest. A quarter of the population -- 2.5 million people -- faces starvation.

Yet more temperate southern and eastern African countries are on the edge of famine, too, with 10 million affected in southern Africa alone. Again, we find the same economic profile: Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho all lack economic freedom and property rights; all have economies mismanaged by the state; all depend on aid.

All these countries have a history of utopian schemes that failed to produce everlasting manna. State farms, marketing boards, land redistribution, price controls and huge regional tariffs left few incentives or opportunities for subsistence farmers to expand. Despite torrents of aid, these cruel social experiments could not turn sands verdant or prevent the granaries of southern and eastern Africa from rotting.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi believes that allowing Ethiopians to own their land would make them sell out to multinationals. He seems to have overlooked a basic market principle: It demands a willing seller and a willing buyer at an agreed price. If that price is worth selling for, the farmer might have some money to reinvest elsewhere; if that price is worth buying for, the purchaser must have plans to make the land profitable. If there is no sale, owners might have an incentive to invest in their own land and future, having, at last, the collateral of the land on which to get a loan.

After decades of socialism, Ethiopia's agricultural sector -- the mainstay of the economy -- is less productive per capita than 20 years ago when Band Aid tried to defeat famine. Although 60% of the country is arable, only 10% has been cultivated. Ethiopia is entirely dependent on donations; but instead of grasping reality, Mr. Zenawi, a member of Tony Blair's "Commission for Africa," is forcing resettlement on 2.2 million people.

In Zimbabwe, the murderous kleptocrats of Robert Mugabe's regime deny that land seizure has pushed their rich and fertile country into famine: Some three million people face starvation today.

Meanwhile, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, the U.N.'s Chief Advisor on the Millennium Development Goals, believes Africa needs more cash for an African "Green Revolution" -- a pale imitation of the very different Asian agricultural revolution of the 1960s and '70s. The equivalent of "some 40 euros per villager" (roughly $50) in aid, Prof. Sachs says, holds the key. His Green Revolution would spend that money to improve agricultural infrastructure, soil nutrients, water quality and seeds ability to survive harsh climates and insects, and better agricultural infrastructure. These, however, are precisely the benefits that come from property rights, which also inspire the motivation to invest in, improve and preserve the land -- motivation that does not come from aid, central control and state serfdom.

Prof. Sachs is right about tougher seeds but not about more aid. By his own calculation, "out of every dollar of aid given to Africa, an estimated 16% went to consultants from donor countries, 26% went into emergency aid and relief operations, and 14% went into debt servicing." He could not account for how much of the remaining 44% got siphoned off by corrupt officials, nor could he explain why $400 billion dollars of aid over the last 30 years has left the average African poorer.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame told Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda in April, "There are projects here worth $5 million and when I looked at their expenses, I found that $1 million was going into buying these cars, each one of them at $70,000. Another $1 million goes to buy office furniture, $1 million more for meetings and entertainment, and yet another $1 million as salaries for technical experts, leaving only $1 million for the actual expenditure on a poverty-reducing activity. Is this the way to fight poverty?"

The only way to give food security to 200 million sub-Saharan Africans is to give them the tools, not to rely on yet more aid and government mismanagement. World food production has increased with population by 90% in the last 50 years; the real price of food has declined by 75%. Yet Africa has none of the factors that made this possible: greater agricultural productivity, internal economic freedom and international trade.

The one thing that could give us drought-resistant and highly productive seeds is biotechnology. Experience shows that genetically modified (GM) crops could increase yields by 25% and cost less than Green Revolution techniques. But GM produce faces bans from rich countries, especially the EU, using unscientific "biosafety" protocols under the guise of environmental protection. This kind of hysteria made Zambia, Angola and Zimbabwe reject famine aid because U.S. or South African maize could not be certified GM-free. Africans therefore have to hope that the U.S., Canada and Argentina win their case against the EU barriers to GM crops: The World Trade Organization is due to rule early in 2006.

African leaders must be pushed to reduce economic intervention, free financial markets, remove bureaucratic obstacles to setting up businesses, establish property rights and enforce contract law. These are the forces that release entrepreneurial energy. But the ruling cliques will do none of these unless forced to do so as a condition of aid.

The Sachs aid model has financed tyranny and corruption for 40 years, leaving Africans destitute. The world trade meeting in Hong Kong will hear cries for "Trade Justice" for Africa, representing more protectionism and more state-run, aid-fueled schemes. What we really need is economic freedom and the rule of law at home: We are perfectly capable of improving our own lot if only allowed to do so.

Mr. Cudjoe is director of Imani, a policy think tank in Ghana. This is the third in a series this week on world trade.

URL for WSJ subscribers:

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

NPR : 'Hungry Planet: What the World Eats'

NPR : 'Hungry Planet: What the World Eats': "All Things Considered, November 9, 2005 � Imagine inviting yourself to dinner with 30 different families... in 24 countries. Imagine shopping, farming, cooking and eating with those families... taking note of every vegetable peeled, every beverage poured, every package opened.
Well that's what photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Aluisio did for their new book, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.
The husband-and-wife team wanted to see how globalization, migration and rising affluence are affecting the diets of communities around the globe.
Each chapter of their book features a portrait of a family, photographed alongside a week's worth of groceries. There's also a detailed list of all the food and the total cost." - Million-Dollar Baby: World's Most Expensive Car - Million-Dollar Baby: World's Most Expensive Car: "After seven years of false starts, a $1 million car billed as the world's fastest factory-produced automobile is about to arrive on American shores.

Volkswagen AG is launching early next year the Bugatti Veyron, a curvaceous two-seater with air-intake scoops and a large radiator grille that prominently displays the Bugatti badge. For the German car maker, it represents an unusual bet on the high-end market at a time of cost cutting for the company and as U.S. car makers continue to struggle with slow sales.

The Bugatti Veyron boasts a massive, rear-mounted 16-cylinder engine with 1,001 horsepower -- roughly the equivalent of a couple of Porsche 911s combined -- and a rear spoiler that helps keep the car from spinning out of control at high speeds. It needs just 2.5 seconds to accelerate from zero to 62 miles per hour, and burns rubber so quickly that its makers had to hire France's Michelin SCA to develop a special compound for its tires. Its top speed: 252.9 mph."

playlimit Posted by Picasa


PlayLimit: "How many of you know that the house chores are not done and there’s some work left to do, but inexplicably you remain glued in front of the TV set watching your favorite serial or zapping aliens on the latest console? The $99.95 PlayLimit is just the thing for you (and your kids). Parents can give tokens that amount to a specific amount of time to their kids in order to teach that life’s more than sitting in front of the idiot box. A great tool to govern the family’s TV habits. (features below) Via Red Ferret "
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San Bartolo Mayan painting Posted by Picasa

Oldest Known Maya Mural, Tomb Reveal Story of Ancient King

Oldest Known Maya Mural, Tomb Reveal Story of Ancient King: "Archaeologists today revealed the final section of the earliest known Maya mural ever found, saying that the find upends everything they thought they knew about the origins of Maya art, writing, and rule.

The painting was the last wall of a room-size mural to be excavated. The site was discovered in 2001 at the ancient Maya city of San Bartolo in the lowlands of northeastern Guatemala."...

The mural was painted by skilled artisans and reads like a Maya book, telling the story of creation, the mythology of kingship, and the divine right of a king, according to Saturno, who leads the San Bartolo excavation project.

The painted wall dates to 100 B.C., proving that these stories of creation and kings—and the use of elaborate art and writing to tell them—were well established more than 2,000 years ago ago, centuries earlier than previously believed.

"There are kings, they have art, they have writing," Saturno said. "All these things we attribute to the Classic [Maya period] are all in existence in the Preclassic. Now if we want to talk about origins, we need to be going back further in time."

The Classic period dates from about A.D. 250 to 1000. The Preclassic period dates from about 2000 B.C. to A.D. 250.

Prior to this find, researchers believed sophisticated Maya painting and writing wasn't firmly established until the seventh century A.D.

"In that way it really is like you didn't know the Renaissance ever happened—you have no knowledge that anyone ever painted anything in Florence in the 16th century, then all of sudden you see a Michelangelo," Saturno said.

In addition to the mural, the researchers found the oldest known Maya royal burial, dating to 150 B.C. It serves as further proof for the existence of early Maya kings... - At Medical Journals, Writers Paid by Industry Play Big Role - At Medical Journals, Writers Paid by Industry Play Big Role: "It's an example of an open secret in medicine: Many of the articles that appear in scientific journals under the bylines of prominent academics are actually written by ghostwriters in the pay of drug companies. These seemingly objective articles, which doctors around the world use to guide their care of patients, are often part of a marketing campaign by companies to promote a product or play up the condition it treats...

The practice of letting ghostwriters hired by communications firms draft journal articles -- sometimes with acknowledgment, often without -- has served many parties well. Academic scientists can more easily pile up high-profile publications, the main currency of advancement. Journal editors get clearly written articles that look authoritative because of their well-credentialed authors.

[Hidden Role]
See excerpts from documents showing the relationship between medical writers, communications firms and articles in scientific journals.

Now questions about the practice are mounting as medical journals face unprecedented scrutiny of their role as gatekeeper for scientific information. Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine admitted that a 2000 article it published highlighting the advantages of Merck & Co.'s Vioxx painkiller omitted information about heart attacks among patients taking the drug. The journal has said the deletions were made by someone working from a Merck computer. Merck says the heart attacks happened after the study's cutoff date and it did nothing wrong."

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Chad Backs Out of Pledge to Use Oil Wealth to Reduce Poverty - New York Times

Chad Backs Out of Pledge to Use Oil Wealth to Reduce Poverty - New York Times: "ACCRA, Ghana, Dec. 12 - When the World Bank said more than five years ago that it would help Chad build a $4.2 billion pipeline to export the oil discovered in the southern part of that landlocked, deeply impoverished nation, it seemed an opportunity to give the lie to the resource curse that is the painful experience of virtually every oil-rich African nation: that oil wealth typically creates more problems for poor countries than it solves.

In exchange for World Bank loans to build a 670-mile underground pipeline through Cameroon to export its oil, the Chadian government passed a law requiring that almost all of the money it earns on oil exports be spent for poverty reduction and that 10 percent be put aside as a 'future generations fund,' to leave something behind once the estimated one billion barrels of oil have been exhausted.

But in October, Chad's government abruptly announced at a meeting with the World Bank in N'Djamena, the capital, that it plans to alter that law and funnel more money into its general budget and increase spending on security.

Under the new proposal, the future generations fund would be scrapped and military spending would be added to the list of 'priority sectors' that until now focused on spending in areas like agriculture, housing, health care and education.

'These are fundamental changes to the agreement Chad made on oil revenue management,' said Ian Gary, an expert on oil at Oxfam America who has written several research reports critical of the Chad oil industry.

The changes, he said, make it far less likely the people of Chad will see any benefit from the billions of dollars Chad's oil fields are likely to pump into the economy, which in turn undermines the antipoverty rationale of the World Bank's role in the project."... - Chinese Doctors Tell Patients To Pay Upfront, or No Treatment - Chinese Doctors Tell Patients To Pay Upfront, or No Treatment: "BEIJING -- As soon as the money dries up, doctors warn, so will the drugs that could save the life of Cui Guangshun's 7-year-old son, Dejie, in the leukemia unit of Beijing Children's Hospital.

Such are the rules of China's pay-as-you-go health system: cash upfront, or no treatment.

Mr. Cui's wife, Yang Deyin, traveled more than 300 miles by bus to Beijing from their small farm on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia to be near her only child. For weeks, she camped out on a blue plastic chair in one of the hospital waiting rooms to save money on lodging, like dozens of other parents.

Back home, her husband pleaded with relatives and village neighbors for more loans to keep the boy's care going. Most nights, the mother queued up in a drab hospital lobby, littered with food wrappings and possessions, to use a touch-screen computer that told her how much of the family's cash was left. Sometimes the number flashed red, meaning the family was in arrears and prompting a frantic call to her husband.

In the past few weeks, Mr. Cui and Ms. Yang have been forced to accept a terrible reality: Even though their son's leukemia is considered highly treatable, they may never raise enough money to cure him. The hospital's estimated fees of $18,500 to complete an initial 6½-month course of treatment are impossibly high set against the family's annual income of less than $350. Like two-thirds of China's population, they don't have health insurance.

'There's nothing for it,' Mr. Cui sighed, slumped in the doorway of his red brick home on a recent afternoon. He said he had dug up his potato crop and sold it all. He had threshed his corn and sold most of that, too, leaving barely enough to make the steamed bread that keeps his family going through the winter. 'I'll just have to fetch Dejie home to die,' he said."...

Health care is an issue vexing the world's most developed countries, including the U.S., where people without insurance can lose all their savings if they get sick. But in worst-case scenarios, people who need urgent care generally receive it. In the U.S., a poor family such as Mr. Cui's would be eligible for Medicaid. Japan and most European countries cover everyone through universal health-insurance programs.

That's not the case in China, where patients are routinely denied care if they cannot come up with the money to pay for it in advance -- even in emergencies...

The crisis in China's health-care system is already showing signs of holding the country back. Health-care costs are one of the main reasons Chinese save as much as 40% of their incomes. That is money they are not spending to consume more goods, as U.S. officials have been hoping amid concern about the big U.S. trade deficit with China. Fewer than one-third of China's 1.3 billion people have health insurance. More than half of all health spending is out of pocket, according to the think-tank report....

As recently as the 1970s, China's health-care network covered just about everybody. Collective farms offered basic treatment and immunization. In cities, health care was a perk of jobs in the government and state factories, which often ran their own clinics and hospitals. But as China embraced free markets, the "People's Communes" were disbanded in the countryside, and thousands of state factories were shut down or privatized. Starting in the 1980s, hospitals were ordered to turn a profit.

Today, China has plenty of large hospitals packed with state-of-the-art equipment to compete for paying patients. To maximize revenue, hospital doctors routinely overprescribe drugs and diagnostic procedures, according to studies by the Chinese government and international bodies like the World Bank. Hospitals sell many drugs directly to patients and add a profit margin.

A World Bank study estimates that drugs account for more than 50% of all Chinese health spending. In the U.S., prescription drugs account for less than 15% of total health spending, according to U.S. government figures. The World Bank study says 12% to 37% of Chinese national health expenditures are wasted because of unnecessary drug prescriptions.

"Hospitals have become huge corporate profit centers," says Chen Bowen, an official with the Society of Community Health Service, a nonprofit organization based in Beijing that advises authorities on health reform....

Government officials acknowledge the gaps in the system that make stories like Dejie's common. A Ministry of Health study in 1998 showed that 42% of people who checked out of hospitals discharged themselves, mainly because they had run out of money. Mr. Chen's research shows that in rural areas, 30% of children who die end their lives at home because their families can't afford hospital care.

At the Beijing Children's Hospital, doctors in the cancer ward quickly got to the bottom line. They explained to Dejie's mother that if the family's account dipped into arrears, that would be the end of the boy's treatment...

Mr. Cui knew better than to expect any help from the government. He says the head of his village, a collection of 30 dilapidated homes reached by a potholed mud road, turned down his request for a loan, declaring Mr. Cui's collateral -- his house -- to be worthless. The local Communist Party secretary wasn't much help, either. "People die every day in China," Mr. Cui recalls him saying.

Mr. Cui imagined he had heard his son's death sentence. But at the Beijing Children's Hospital, a doctor put him straight. "If you have money the child can live," Mr. Cui recalls her saying. "If not, he will die."

Beyond that, there seemed to be nobody to guide a bewildered farming couple through the hospital bureaucracy -- even as the hospital's touch-screen computer showed they were burning through the equivalent of almost a year's income every day. "In this hospital," said Mr. Cui, "you get through money faster than toilet paper."...

The strain of health-care costs is so severe it is plunging growing numbers of people back into the poverty from which they so recently escaped. At age 38, Mr. Cui is ruined, his debts of nearly $4,000 already amounting to more than 10 years of income. His relatives and neighbors who lent him money are worse off, too.

Medical horror stories have become a staple of Chinese state newspapers and investigative television shows. Last month, the China Youth Daily reported that the impoverished family of a 47-year-old migrant worker left her for dead at a crematorium in the eastern city of Taizhou after checking her out of a hospital where she was admitted with a brain hemorrhage. The woman was saved after undertakers noticed her hand moving and saw tears in her eyes. A hospital official confirmed the details of the story, and said the woman was now back in the hospital after donations poured in. The family apparently left her because they were too poor to pay for the treatment.

Such stories are fueling public anger. Mr. Chen, the Society of Community Health Service official, is helping the government stitch together a network of publicly funded community health centers, in effect replacing the system that was destroyed. But Mr. Chen says the effort will take up to 20 years. The government is also trying to build up the health-insurance system....

On a late November day, Mr. Cui finally admitted defeat -- he couldn't pay for all his son's treatments. He tidied up the only heated part of the house back in Inner Mongolia, a cramped room with a concrete floor and bare walls. Mr. Cui and his wife were married there, and it contains their prized possessions: a thermos flask, a small television set, a red sofa. Below the window is a traditional heated platform bed, where Dejie used to snuggle warmly at night next to his parents and Mr. Cui's 80-year-old father.

The next day, Mr. Cui made the long road trip to Beijing and stood meekly by his wife as one of the doctors scolded them for getting behind on their payments. "We warned you about this at the very beginning," the doctor said, barely glancing up as her fingers tapped out a message on her mobile phone. "Now you've lost all your money and you'll lose the boy too." Mr. Cui stared down at his feet. His wife said nothing, but her eyes filled with tears.

Dejie is now midway through the second of five rounds of chemotherapy. Instead of resting in the care of nurses in the isolation ward, his parents checked him out to save money. It's a dangerous gamble with his compromised immune system. The boy is staying with an aunt in a village outside Beijing. This past weekend he picked up a cold. His father took him to the hospital briefly for treatment of the cold and as of yesterday, Dejie was resting again at his aunt's house.

His parents say they will deliver him back to the hospital in a week or so to try to complete the second round of chemotherapy with their last remaining money. But having checked Dejie out of the hospital, they will have to wait in line to get him back in because there are no beds available.

Healthy Policy: Ignorance Goes On...

Healthy Policy: Ignorance Goes On...: "oday I attended a lunch for society ladies. I always get pretty interesting stories when I tell society people about wanting to work in health policy, and this meal was no exception.

The current display of ignorance was on the subject of being uninsured. The woman I talked with didn't really understand what it meant to be uninsured until her housekeeper had a health problem and couldn't get seen by a doctor.

She turned to me, 'Did you know that if you're uninsured the hospital and doctors won't see you? Isn't that unbelievable? I had no idea! I just thought they'd see you!'

I responded, yes I knew that. Hospitals and doctors are only required to see you if you are in immediate danger of dying or giving birth. And even then they're allowed to bill you for the services you used. There are 46 million people in this country without health insurance, and that's how hard it is for them to get care."

KidneyNotes: Links to New CPR Guidelines from the American Heart Association

KidneyNotes: Links to New CPR Guidelines from the American Heart Association: "Links to New CPR Guidelines from the American Heart Association


FINDINGS: "Just like boys and girls, male monkeys like to play with toy cars whereas female monkeys prefer dolls, a research project has found.

The discovery is one of many signs of deep-rooted behavioral differences between the sexes that scientists are exploring with the latest tools of genetics and neuroscience."

Human Brain Cells Are Grown In Mice

Human Brain Cells Are Grown In Mice: "By injecting human embryonic stem cells into the brains of fetal mice inside the womb, scientists in California have created living mice with working human brain cells inside their skulls.

The research offers the first proof that human embryonic stem cells -- vaunted for their potential to turn into every kind of human cell, at least in laboratory dishes -- can become functional human brain cells inside a living animal, reaching out to make connections with surrounding brain cells."...

The human cells had no apparent impact on the animals' behavior. About 100,000 cells were injected into each animal and just a fraction survived in their new hosts. That means the animals' brains were still more than 99 percent mouse -- a precaution that helped avoid ethical objections to creating animals that were "too human."

The finding that the human cells are working in their new environment provides encouragement for those who hope to develop stem-cell-based therapies for neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's.

NPR : Live Your Life So That You Will Have No Regrets

NPR : Live Your Life So That You Will Have No Regrets: "was growing up, I remember my mother saying dozens of times, 'Live your life so that at the end of it you'll have no regrets.' She sure did. She was her city's first licensed female pilot, went alone in 1936 on a six-month bicycling tour of Europe, raised three girls and helped my dad build their retirement house. She did all the things she wanted to do and died at peace with her life in 2001 at age 88.

Living my life so I'd have 'no regrets' was a lesson I took in and believed in."...

I never worried, though, because I abide by this life-affirming passage I found a few years ago. This, I believe: "Everyone is dying all the time. Everyone is also living all the time. It's all in your perspective which one you're experiencing! Choose wisely." It's so much like my mother's advice. And it's helping me now.

Eight months ago, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with colon cancer. Since then, I've had surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy. Statistics say I have about another year to live. Maybe I do, or maybe I'll have more. No matter: I refuse to let cancer change my philosophy. When I feel well, I pack in as many experiences as I can. I visit friends, travel, laugh, read wonderful novels, play with our grandchildren and cherish those I love.

I believe in living my life. At some point -- hopefully much later than the doctors predict -- I'll feel too poor to enjoy what used to give me pleasure. Then, I hope to do just as my mother did. I'll reminisce with family and friends about my wonderful life experiences. I'll savor my memories. And I'll say to anyone who'll listen, "I believe you should live your life so that at the end of it you will have no regrets."
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