Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Cover story -- Essay: Do helping hands in Appalachia do more harm than good?

Insights relevant to charitable efforts anywhere...

Cover story -- Essay: Do helping hands in Appalachia do more harm than good?: "Do helping hands in Appalachia do more harm than good?"

Third World of the U.S.

But after a year there, I became convinced that the Christian Appalachian Project is not going to change anyone’s life, and in fact in some cases it will only perpetuate dependence and poverty. Instead of somebody like me teaching GED, what Kentucky needs is better schools. Instead of employment with the Christian Appalachian Project, Kentuckians need more job opportunities and improvement in those jobs that are already available. Kentucky needs more people who are appalled at mountaintop removal, the successor to strip mining (although much worse), rather than people who seem to feel they are helpless to do anything about it.

Some have called Kentucky the Third World of the United States, and in many ways it is. The state is rich in natural resources that are being removed and are benefiting others, not the local people. The people here are given meager government aid to keep them quiet, and they, like people we have seen in poor countries, believe that they can do nothing to change their situation.

Nor can Christian Appalachian Project volunteers. Only the people of Kentucky themselves can change things, and if the organization gets involved, it becomes that dirty word, “political.” Some donors will probably stop giving money if the volunteers and their participants start marching to Frankfort to protest the poor schools, the roads that are constantly being destroyed by overloaded coal trucks, the sludge from the mountaintop removals that poisons their rivers and destroys their homes.

Once again we are discovering what we found in Mexico: It is the people themselves who must change things. Kentuckians must be upset enough to want to change their own lives.

One of the things that struck me when I came here to Kentucky was how lacking in dreams and ambitions the people of Kentucky are. It is almost as if the hills limit their views of the world as well as their own horizons. Now there is something very good about being willing to live simply and without desire for material gain. But it is sad to see so much unused talent, so much that is so good lost.

As in Third World countries, the local religious groups tend to support a quiescent lifestyle. The vast majority of people are believers, going to a variety of churches, most of which are of an evangelical, Pentecostal or fundamentalist sort. They believe that God has a plan and provides for everything. I have known people who would not even look for jobs, trusting that God will make one available when and if the time is right. Others expect God to provide a home for them, as if God is a real estate agent. Whatever happens, they believe, is God’s plan. This has the effect that people do not strive to change or improve, only to accept.

This too seems to be part of the poverty of the people, the curbing of their desires and hopes.

Strategic Victimhood in Sudan

Strategic Victimhood in Sudan

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By Alan J. Kuperman

Published: May 31, 2006

Austin, Tex.

THOUSANDS of Americans who wear green wristbands and demand military intervention to stop Sudan's Arab government from perpetrating genocide against black tribes in Darfur must be perplexed by recent developments.

Without such intervention, Sudan's government last month agreed to a peace accord pledging to disarm Arab janjaweed militias and resettle displaced civilians. By contrast, Darfur's black rebels, who are touted by the wristband crowd as freedom fighters, rejected the deal because it did not give them full regional control. Put simply, the rebels were willing to let genocide continue against their own people rather than compromise their demand for power.

International mediators were shamefaced. They had presented the plan as take it or leave it, to compel Khartoum's acceptance. But now the ostensible representatives of the victims were balking. Embarrassed American officials were forced to ask Sudan for further concessions beyond the ultimatum that it had already accepted.

Fortunately, Khartoum again acquiesced. But two of Darfur's three main rebel groups still rejected peace. Frustrated American negotiators accentuated the positive — the strongest rebel group did sign — and expressed hope that the dissenters would soon join.

But that hope was crushed last week when the rebels viciously turned on each other. As this newspaper reported, "The rebels have unleashed a tide of violence against the very civilians they once joined forces to protect."

Seemingly bizarre, this rejection of peace by factions claiming to seek it is actually revelatory. It helps explain why violence originally broke out in Darfur, how the Save Darfur movement unintentionally poured fuel on the fire, and what can be done to stanch genocidal violence in Sudan and elsewhere.

Darfur was never the simplistic morality tale purveyed by the news media and humanitarian organizations. The region's blacks, painted as long-suffering victims, actually were the oppressors less than two decades ago — denying Arab nomads access to grazing areas essential to their survival. Violence was initiated not by Arab militias but by the black rebels who in 2003 attacked police and military installations. The most extreme Islamists are not in the government but in a faction of the rebels sponsored by former Deputy Prime Minister Hassan al-Turabi, after he was expelled from the regime. Cease-fires often have been violated first by the rebels, not the government, which has pledged repeatedly to admit international peacekeepers if the rebels halt their attacks.

This reality has been obscured by Sudan's criminally irresponsible reaction to the rebellion: arming militias to carry out a scorched-earth counterinsurgency. These Arab forces, who already resented the black tribes over past land disputes and recent attacks, were only too happy to rape and pillage any village suspected of supporting the rebels.

In light of janjaweed atrocities, it is natural to romanticize the other side as freedom fighters. But Darfur's rebels do not deserve that title. They took up arms not to stop genocide — which erupted only after they rebelled — but to gain tribal domination.

The strongest faction, representing the minority Zaghawa tribe, signed the sweetened peace deal in hopes of legitimizing its claim to control Darfur. But that claim is vehemently opposed by rebels representing the larger Fur tribe. Such internecine disputes only recently hit the headlines, but the rebels have long wasted resources fighting each other rather than protecting their people.

Advocates of intervention play down rebel responsibility because it is easier to build support for stopping genocide than for becoming entangled in yet another messy civil war. But their persistent calls for intervention have actually worsened the violence.

The rebels, much weaker than the government, would logically have sued for peace long ago. Because of the Save Darfur movement, however, the rebels believe that the longer they provoke genocidal retaliation, the more the West will pressure Sudan to hand them control of the region. Sadly, this message was reinforced when the rebels' initial rejection of peace last month was rewarded by American officials' extracting further concessions from Khartoum.

The key to rescuing Darfur is to reverse these perverse incentives. Spoiler rebels should be told that the game is over, and that further resistance will no longer be rewarded but punished by the loss of posts reserved for them in the peace agreement.

Ultimately, if the rebels refuse, military force will be required to defeat them. But this is no job for United Nations peacekeepers. Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia show that even the United States military cannot stamp out Islamic rebels on their home turf; second-rate international troops would stand even less chance.

Rather, we should let Sudan's army handle any recalcitrant rebels, on condition that it eschew war crimes. This option will be distasteful to many, but Sudan has signed a peace treaty, so it deserves the right to defend its sovereignty against rebels who refuse to, so long as it observes the treaty and the laws of war.

Indeed, to avoid further catastrophes like Darfur, the United States should announce a policy of never intervening to help provocative rebels, diplomatically or militarily, so long as opposing armies avoid excessive retaliation. This would encourage restraint on both sides. Instead we should redirect intervention resources to support "people power" movements that pursue change peacefully, as they have done successfully over the past two decades in the Philippines, Indonesia, Serbia and elsewhere.

America, born in revolution, has a soft spot for rebels who claim to be freedom fighters, including those in Darfur. But to reduce genocidal violence, we must withhold support for the cynical provocations of militants who bear little resemblance to our founders.

Alan J. Kuperman, an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Texas, is an editor of "Gambling on Humanitarian Intervention: Moral Hazard, Rebellion and Civil War."

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Ethiopian girl

Ethiopian girl
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Darfur: Moral Blindness

A critique of Eric Reeves, a leading proponent of intervention in Darfur followed by his response...

Darfur: Moral Blindness

A piece from David Rieff in The New Republic - via Sudan Watch

Obviously, the reason advocates of a U.S. military intervention in Darfur have not dwelt on these issues of global governance and of U.S. security is that they view them as insignificant when compared with the moral imperative of intervening in what Eric Reeves, the most eloquent and passionate proponent of intervention, has called the first genocide of the twentieth century. For Reeves, and for the many thousands of grassroots activists who have been instructed by him, the world that failed to prevent the slaughter of the Rwandan Tutsis must not fail the Darfuris. As Reeves has written, "Will the genocide be allowed to continue? Will international deference continue as the regime's génocidaires predictably and relentlessly assert the claim of 'national sovereignty?' How many must die before the world says, 'Enough?'"

Reeves's use of the term génocidaires reflects not only his moral commitment to stopping the killing in Darfur, but, more problematically, an analytical framework that is not beyond challenge. Yes, in the United States, it is universally believed--so much so that the claim is even enshrined in a unanimous congressional declaration--that a slow motion genocide has been taking place in Darfur. But many reputable groups abroad, including the French section of Doctors Without Borders, whose physicians have been on the ground in Darfur for a very long time, reject claims like those made by Reeves. Does this matter, since everyone agrees the government of Sudan has committed or abetted the most terrible crimes in Darfur? On the most obvious level, the answer is no. The Genocide Convention is itself a deeply flawed document, and the crimes of the authorities in Khartoum have been unspeakable. But, on another level, the recurrent use of the term "genocide" is a way of delegitimizing any questioning of the intervene-now-no-matter-the-cost line. We failed to intervene in Rwanda, and now we know we were wrong; Darfur is the Rwanda of today; hence the only correct thing to do is intervene at once in Darfur. Q.E.D.

The problem with this--the eternal problem posed by the assertion of this kind of Kantian categorical imperative in matters of war and peace--is the problem of politics. Except for those who frankly favor the anti-government insurgents in Darfur--and they are more to be found on the Christian right, which has supported Minni Minnawi's Sudan Liberation Movement as it once supported John Garang's insurgency in Southern Sudan--advocates of a U.S. deployment have been maddeningly vague about what will transpire in Darfur after foreign forces halt the killing.

To his credit, Reeves has written that any outside military force would have to ensure that the rebel guerrillas do not take advantage of the foreign presence to improve their position on the ground. But that is what an international deployment will almost inevitably do, which is why Minnawi and others have been campaigning so hard for one. The deployment of foreign troops, whose mission will be to protect Darfuri civilians, will allow the guerrillas to establish "facts on the ground" that will strengthen their claims for secession. That is what makes the interventionists' claim that the intervention will be purely "humanitarian"--that it will protect civilians being murdered, raped, and displaced by the Janjaweed but do little or nothing else--so disingenuous. For it is virtually certain that this is not the way events will play out if U.S. or nato forces deploy. To the contrary, such a deployment can have only one of two outcomes. The first will be the severing of Darfur from the rest of Sudan and its transformation into some kind of international protectorate, à la Kosovo. But, at least in Kosovo, the protectorate was run by Europeans--by neighbors. In Darfur, by contrast, it will be governed by Americans (who are already at war across the Islamic world) and possibly by nato (i.e., Africa's former colonial masters). Now there's a recipe for stability.

If anything, the second possibility is even worse. Assuming the intervention encounters resistance from the Janjaweed and the government of Sudan (and perhaps Al Qaeda), the foreign intervenors will arrive at the conclusion that the only way to bring stability to Darfur is, well, regime change in Khartoum: In other words, the problems of Darfur are, in fact, the product of Al Bashir's dictatorship, and these problems can be meaningfully addressed only by substituting a more democratic government. Such an intervention may well end up being Iraq redux, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise. But, then, it was disingenuous to pretend that the United States could democratize Iraq at the point of a gun.

The idea that, after Bosnia, Rwanda, Kosovo, and Iraq, intelligent activists can still speak of humanitarian intervention as if it were an uncomplicated act of rescue without grave implications is a testimony to the refusal of the best and brightest among us to think seriously about politics.

Is this what the marriage of human rights and American exceptionalism has led us to? If so, God help us. My own view is that the main culprit here is human rightsism, a worldview that is based, as John Gray has put it, "on the moral intuitions of the liberal academy ... a legalistic edifice from which politics has been excluded." Were politics present in their thinking, pro-Darfuri intervention activists would not use the reductionist dichotomy of victims and abusers that has been the staple myth of humanitarian intervention. The people being killed by the Janjaweed have political interests. So do the extended families of the Janjaweed themselves, who, lest we forget, are also Darfuris. To describe the former simply as victims deprives them of any agency. To describe the latter simply as killers precludes actually understanding the conflict as anything other than an eruption of human wickedness, rather like a volcano or an earthquake.

One debilitating defect of the liberal interventionism is that it ignores the political implications of what it calls for. Another is that, perhaps out of the honorable motives of despair and outrage, it champions the use of American hard power while acting as if American soft power, were it to be diligently and seriously applied, can never produce the intervention that might actually work--for example, one undertaken by African countries with, perhaps, the participation of forces from Islamic countries outside the region. Most gravely of all, liberal interventionism ignores the global political context in which it calls for the use of the U.S. military.

Leave aside Iraq--and the detestation with which the United States is now regarded--and focus on history. Reeves may sneer at the idea of national sovereignty and bemoan the African Union's insufficiently aggressive line toward the government of Sudan. The fact remains that the consensus in postcolonial Africa has been to maintain the national borders that existed at the time of independence, despite their obvious artificiality, because, in redrawing them, Africa might reap the whirlwind. But that is why there was so little sympathy in Africa for Katangese or Biafra secession; it is why most African leaders insist that the Eritrean secession remain an exception for the sake of continental stability. There is nothing stupid, venal, or contemptible about this. And, whatever Reeves may imagine, there are many thoughtful African leaders whose reluctance to confront Khartoum is based in large part on these considerations.

A sense of contemporary Africa should lead those concerned with the fate of Darfuris to emphasize an African--or, at the very most, a U.N.--response, rather than an U.S. or a nato one. To their credit, the interventionists can put themselves in the place of the suffering peoples of Darfur. To their discredit, they cannot put themselves in the place of most people in the world who abhor U.S. military action. Again, the reigning global interpretation of American power may be false, but it is also dominant. And unless, like the conservative writer Norman Podhoretz and his ilk, you believe the United States should be harshly prosecuting what he has called "World War IV" against radical Islam, you are obliged to acknowledge that an intervention, however good it may be for the Darfuris, may be terrible for the rest of the world. If, on reflection, Reeves and those who think like him believe that it is worth doing anyway, that is a perfectly defensible position. What is indefensible is not seeing--or pretending not to see--the problem.


Eric Reeves response: Darfur: RE: Moral Blindness

Eric Reeves responds to this recent piece by David Rieff - via the COC blog

All evidence is that the Abuja “peace agreement” of May 5, 2005---signed by one faction of the SLA (the least representative) and the Khartoum regime---is already failing. Unless the Abdel Wahid el-Nur faction of the SLM/A signs on to the agreement in the next day or two, it will collapse entirely. Rieff gives very little evidence of understanding the significance of the two factions of the SLM/A---indeed, he preposterously declares that in the US “the Christian right has supported Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Movement as it once supported John Garang’s insurgency in Southern Sudan.” The SLM/A is, if the creation of one man, Abdel Wahid’s, not Minni Minawi’s. In any event, most Americans in the Darfur advocacy movement can’t distinguish meaningfully between what Minni represents, or even identify his tribe. This is important because he is Zaghawa (perhaps 8% of Darfur’s population), while Abdel Wahid is Fur (perhaps 30% of the population) and much more ethnically ecumenical. Yet again, Rieff simply doesn’t understand the “politics” he declares so important, even its most important features. Perhaps this is why he can descend into ghastly nonsense when speaking of “the political”:

“The people being killed by the Janjaweed have political interests. [ ] To describe [them] simply as victims deprives them of any agency.”

In fact, we must wonder what “agency” a nine-year-old girl has when she is brutally gang-raped by the Janjaweed, or what “agency” a five-year-old boy has as he is thrown screaming into a bonfire along with his brothers, or indeed what “agency” a one-year-old boy has when the Janjaweed slice off his penis and he bleeds to death. “Political interests” here is an abstraction that can have meaning for very few besides David Rieff. There are real political issues in Darfur, including competition over natural resources and power in governance, as well as competing visions of equitable distribution of land and wealth. Rieff captures none of this in his account.

If the Abuja accord does fail, if violence then inevitably rapidly escalates in Darfur and Chad, it will be too late for hundreds of thousands of lives. We have simply waited too long, with too many sufficiently encouraged by specious arguments of the sort so abundant in Rieff’s account. In this sense it is perhaps useful to have Rieff articulate his factitious “realism,” to invoke so glibly the difficult “politics” of Darfur, to pretend that Iraq has somehow changed the imperative of responding to massive genocidal destruction.

Rieff’s ignorance, his disingenuousness, his cowardice are supremely instructive: for they are those of the world community at its worst.

posted by Eugene Oregon at 9:59 AM

PSD Blog - The World Bank Group - Private Sector Development

PSD Blog - The World Bank Group - Private Sector Development: "There has been a tendency to conclude that the difficulties for poorer countries to join the ranks of countries able to attract and use nonextractive foreign direct investment for development must be staggering and in the case of tropical countries—including most of sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, and the Caribbean—may be almost impossible to overcome. But the evidence indicates otherwise. Two of the most prominent success stories in the literature on foreign direct investment and development are Mauritius and the Dominican Republic. Their accomplishments required straightforward policy reforms, which are readily duplicable. "

TCS Daily - Why Ruin the World's Best Anti-Poverty Program?

An interesting and comprehensive take on the immigration issue...

TCS Daily - Why Ruin the World's Best Anti-Poverty Program?: "Why do economists think more favorably of immigration than the general public? I think there are three reasons: theory, empirical research, and ethics."

Blogging Bono's trip to Africa

Here is a nice entry from the blog, in which an individual who joined Bono on his recent trip to Africa writes of her experiences. The "Red"" movement by the way is a movement to get corporate sponsors involved in aid to Africa. American Express will soon have a "red" branded card in which a certain portion of transaction fees will be donated by AmEx to African charities. The Gap store is also involved in the "red" movement.

But what I like about this entry the most is that it really captures the generous and optimistic spirit that is characteristic of the African people, and is indeed a testimony as to the power of first-hand experiences in foreign countries in helping to have a realistic picture of other cultures...

We converge in sub-Saharan Africa. First stop – the mountain kingdom of
Lesotho. For me, this was the most amazing leg of the journey. I’ve
spent the past decade on efforts to buoy the economic competitiveness
of countries in this region. But no policy debate in Washington DC or
Brussels has ever been remotely as compelling as the sight of a dozen
factory workers vamping down the runway at the fashion show put on by
the Lesotho garment manufacturers association in the 100 percent
African t-shirts that they themselves produced. It was a beautiful,
beautiful moment, but hardly the last of the trip.

back, I don’t know that we ever passed a person in the street – man,
woman or child – who didn’t wave and smile. The vibe was infectious. I
think we all felt that incredible energy, so much in contrast our
“busy” “stressful” lives in America, London, Dublin… A third of the
population in Lesotho is HIV positive and they are fired up about
making a better future for themselves. Bono one night recalled a quote
that nailed this determination: “Don’t kick the darkness/make the light
shine brighter.”

I guess if I could communicate one thing that
most struck me in the visits to Lesotho and Rwanda, it’s the honest
lack of cynicism. Rwanda went through a horrifying civil war. The first
hand account given by one survivor was hard even to hear. And yet,
listening to everyone from government officials, health workers, the
hilarious guy that runs the coffee processing facility that supplies
Starbucks to the beautiful women who make baskets in their spare time
to sell to department stores in the U.S., they are determined to

It’s funny but sitting in the bar my last night in
Kigali, I realized that Bono wasn’t the only rock star on the trip. If
the commercial equivalent of an autograph is a business card, then the
admittedly groovy Leslie Dance of Motorola was the hot ticket that
night. Motorola has a legacy of engagement in Africa on business and
philanthropic ventures, but it was excitement over the new MotoSLVR for
red, and interest in building components of phones and packaging in
Africa, that really stirred up the crowd.

Wish I had been able
to stay on through to Mali to meet the women who make mudcloth. The
Converse mudcloth high-tops for (product) RED are the perfect
embodiment of the spirit behind this brand we’re building. What’s deep
is cool. Those shoes are the real deal!


This could develop into an interesting blog--there is no question that the poor often are amazing resourceful, as this blog aims to highlight...

AfriGadget: "The purpose of Afrigadget is to showcase African ingenuity with technology. Many times Africans do not have access to the same quality tools or items that are found in other areas of the world. What is available to be used to solve problems or fix equipment can be wide and varied. You would be surprised at what can be made, fixed or created with bailing wire, inner-tubes and wood.

This post has been filed under Gadgets on May 28th Comments (3) / "

U.N. Says India Now Has Most AIDS Cases

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- India now has the largest number of AIDS infections as the spread of the disease shows no sign of letting up a quarter-century into an epidemic that has claimed 25 million lives, the U.N. reported Tuesday.

"I think we will see a further globalization of the epidemic spreading to every single corner of the planet," UNAIDS head Dr. Peter Piot told The Associated Press in an interview.

The data released by UNAIDS shows that India now has the largest number of people living with HIV/AIDS. With an estimated 5.7 million infections, it has surpassed South Africa's 5.5 million.

But the epidemic still remains at its worst in sub-Saharan Africa, where per capita rates continue to climb in several countries. A third of adults were infected in Swaziland in 2005. By comparison, India's per capita rate is low, at 0.9 percent of its 1.02 billion people.

The 630-page UNAIDS report released Tuesday documents countries' progress and failures, and projects what must happen to keep some regions from experiencing disaster. The agency report was released a day ahead of a high-level meeting on AIDS in New York, and a week prior to the 25th anniversary of the first documented AIDS cases on June 5, 1981.

Nearly 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.

"It won't go away one fine day, and then we wake up and say, 'Oh, AIDS is gone,'" Piot told the AP in a recent telephone interview from Geneva.

He said one of the report's most disturbing findings was how few babies are being protected against infection. Only 9 percent of pregnant women in poor countries are receiving services, such as access to drugs, to help prevent mother-to-child transmission, despite a UNAIDS goal of 80 percent coverage.

"The thing I'm most disappointed with and surprised about is prevention of mother-to-child transmission," Piot said. "For HIV, the coverage is still very low and we didn't meet the target. "Here we have something that is non-controversial; it's about saving the babies."

Women's vulnerability to the disease continues to increase, with more than 17 million women infected worldwide _ nearly half the global total _ and more than three-quarters of them living in sub-Saharan Africa, the report found.

Stigma and discrimination still plague those infected worldwide, and young people's knowledge about HIV/AIDS remains low with less than 50 percent having adequate information about the disease _ a far cry from the 90 percent target UNAIDS set for 2005.

Piot said the situation in sub-Saharan Africa remains dismal, where 24.5 million people were infected and home to nearly 90 percent of the world's children living with the virus.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

A Plague of Orphans and Lonely Grandmothers

Watch the video that is linked to in this piece by Kristof--it really puts a human face on the AIDS crisis in Africa....

I am also glad that Kristof mentions in the video that 90% of people who are HIV+ don't know it in Africa...

n the early years of AIDS, the virus didn't get attention because the victims were marginalized people: gays, Haitians and hemophiliacs.

Then when AIDS did threaten mainstream America, it finally evoked empathy and research dollars. But now it has slipped back in our consciousness because once more the primary victims are marginalized people — this time, Africans.

Nearly three million people die from AIDS each year. Among them are half a million children under the age of 15, mostly Africans infected during childbirth.

The numbers are numbing, even paralyzing. So for a window into southern African village life today, meet two of those African kids whose lives are being destroyed by the world's inattention to AIDS: Wandile Shongwe and his sister, Temdoline.

Wandile, an 11-year-old boy speaking shyly in front of his hut in central Swaziland, told me his story. First his mother died, and then last year his father followed, along with his older brother.

So Wandile and Temdoline, who is 9, moved in with their grandmother, but a month ago she died of AIDS. They were shuffled off to their last surviving relative, an aunt, and now she is dying as well, and is too ill to care for them.

"Nobody will take care of them after my death," said the aunt, Buduzile Ngcamphalala.

But in fact, no one is really caring for them now. The aunt was too sick to plant corn in the family plot, so there is no food. She cannot buy clothes, so Temdoline's only dress is a school uniform so tattered that it has no seat and completely shows her underwear.

To preserve even that remnant of a dress, she takes it off when she gets home from school and puts on her only other bit of clothing: a pair of shorts, with no shirt. That would be too scandalous to wear to church, so she does not go.

To live such a childhood means not only unending trauma, but also unrelenting hunger. I asked the children whether they had had breakfast that morning. No. Dinner the night before? No. The only meal they regularly get is lunch at school, provided by the World Food Program's outstanding school-feeding program (

"Every day I go to school without breakfast," Temdoline said, "and every day I go to bed without dinner."

The children gather the firewood and water, and they wash their own clothes — as well as caring for their aunt. And soon the two orphans will be left to bury their aunt and then try to survive all alone.

"I feel very painful when she is sick," Wandile said of his aunt. "Because after she dies, no one is going to take care of us." (See video of Wandile, if you dare, in my multimedia report on AIDS at

After traveling in southern Africa to report on AIDS, on the 25th anniversary of the detection of the virus, I feel a compulsion to share stories of people like Wandile and Temdoline. They spill out of me.

The life expectancy in Swaziland, which has the highest infection rate in the world, with nearly 40 percent of adults infected, has fallen from 55 to 34. This is a land where parents routinely bury their children, and where mothers constantly learn that they have given their babies a death sentence — the AIDS virus — during childbirth or breastfeeding.

In rural Swaziland, a 74-year-old woman named Maria Shongwe told me that 9 of her 11 children have died, along with many of her grandchildren. (It's not certain that all died of AIDS, because so few people are tested that the cause of death is not always known.) I met her as she returned from preparing the body of a 24-year-old granddaughter for a funeral.

The only comparable apocalypse in historical times was the Black Death 650 years ago. But there is a difference.

In the 14th century, we didn't know how to fight the Plague. Today we know what to do, and we have the tools to overcome AIDS — and yet we still don't use them. A $4 dose of a medicine called nevirapine mostly blocks mother-to-child transmission of H.I.V. during childbirth, and yet because of poverty and governmental incompetence, at last count only 10 percent of pregnant African women with the virus got such a drug.

Maybe that's the saddest thing of all. Twenty-five years after we allowed AIDS to spin out of control because its victims were marginalized people, we're doing the same thing all over again. And so today, as every day, another 7,900 people will die of AIDS.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Bono in Africa

Bono is clearly in Jeffrey Sach's camp as opposed to the writer referenced in the previous blog entry from the L.A. Times...

Limits and potential of aid in Africa

May 25th, 2006, filed by Lesley Wroughton

(Ed. note: Reuters correspondent Lesley Wroughton has been traveling with Bono on a six-nation tour in Africa. She interviewed Bono at the end of the trip. Here is what he said.)

On working in Africa… There are multi-dimensional problems. You have to fight a war on at least three fronts and I would call them health, education and the interface with commerce. I couldn’t point you to a single time when these pennies, or dollars, or euros dropped on me and I’m not sure it fully came into focus until this trip.

I’ve moved a distance. We’re all seeing something. We’re more evolved than we were. We used to only see despair and we wanted to help and we wanted to make the funds available to ease that despair. For what was once called foreign assistance, we now need two names: one you can call mercy and response to pandemic-type aid and you can’t hold people ransom to their governments on that. Then there is other aid called investment.

On aid strategies… We have to be very careful where that (investment) aid goes and that is going to be unpopular with some of our activists and it is going to be very unpopular if you’re in a country where your government is not deserving of this new investment and you’re left carrying the can. Oddly enough, it is the activists here on the continent of Africa who are doubly hard on this point. We have to listen to them. They are saying, do not invest in our countries while we have crooked leadership. They’re saying it and I think we have to listen to them. That is hard. That is depressing.

We didn’t go to those countries, so in one sense, this one trip is being skewed in the direction of promise.

On aid limits… We are coming out of the adolescence of optimism, where we thought just putting on our marching boots and pulling a big number could transform the lives on the continent of Africa. You can’t.

There were people campaigning alongside without any conditionality. I don’t agree with them. I don’t agree with the burdensome conditionality that forces liberalization but I do agree with conditionality of tackling of corruption. I think we are growing up.

For somebody who by my trade should be more suited to barricades than the negotiating table, that is part of growing up. The problems are much more complex than we thought they were and I think Africans must have been smiling and cringing at times when they saw us just thinking that money could solve their problems.

To think when we started Live Aid, it was the first kind of aid, the response to famine in Ethiopia. Look how a whole generation has educated itself off the back of that to move from charity to justice and then to move from justice to debt and trade. It’s quite an arc and I think I’ve gone through that. That is the arc of my whole involvement.

The depressing thing again is there are still so many on the continent being held ransom.

(Pictures: (R) Bono visits a market in Ghana’s capital Accra, (L) Bono kisses Hajia Alima Mahama, Ghana’s Women and Children’s Affairs Minister. REUTERS/Yaw-Bibini)

Africa: the corrupt continent

POOR AFRICA! Seldom has debate about the fate of so many been shaped by so few from so far away — and with so little effect.

Increase aid, tackle health hazards and build model "development villages," argues Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute, and Africa can be pulled out of the poverty that makes life hell for six of every 10 of its 650 million people.

Not so, retorts William Easterly, economics professor at New York University. We've tried that and failed. Instead, aid agencies should focus on specific tasks — such as getting malaria medicine to the sick, clean water to the poor, textbooks to schoolchildren — coupled with home-grown political and economic reforms.

Yet 50 years after the first of the colonies won independence, Africa's capacity to follow any such advice or to manage its affairs is weaker than ever. Its dependence on foreign "experts" is greater than ever, and the influence of proliferating Western aid agencies is more powerful than ever.

And corruption is endemic. Hardly a country on the continent has enough honest officials who can deliver aid, medicines or schoolbooks without paying or receiving bribes or exploiting the aid for political patronage.

So when World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz put a crackdown on graft at the top of his development agenda, he had his priorities right. Wolfowitz's crusade against corruption is starting to be felt in Asia and South America. In India, the World Bank reportedly held up lending to health clinics because of concerns about possible misuse of funds. In Bangladesh, road contracts have been canceled because of improper bidding. Argentina, under pressure from the bank, has tightened anti-corruption measures. But the crackdown on corruption seems not to have reached Africa, the region that needs it most.

In Kenya, nearly 18 months have passed since John Githongo, the country's former top anti-corruption official, chose to go into exile and expose the details of top-level graft. Yet the response from the World Bank has been mild.

It is hard to believe that the tough Wolfowitz, the former U.S. deputy Defense secretary and architect of the Iraq war, is shirking a fight. Rather, it suggests that he has learned that what works elsewhere in the world does not necessarily work in Africa. That lesson is a prerequisite to change in Africa, which is undergoing a continental crisis distinct from the rest of the developing world. To grasp the depth of Africa's problems, consider two debilitating symptoms of its loss of confidence in itself: capital flight and the brain drain.

Every year, about $15 billion pours out of Africa — a sum that equals international aid. In other words, as fast as aid comes in, capital flows out into Western banks. Roughly 40% of African savings are held outside the continent, compared with 6% in East Asia and 3% in South Asia. Moreover, every year 70,000 of Africa's brightest and best leave to work abroad, and 100,000 foreign "experts" come to work in Africa.

So how should Wolfowitz proceed?

About 30 years after the World Bank warned of the continent's deepening crisis, it is surely time for the world's leading development agency to admit defeat. But the bank should not withdraw; it should reengage.

Admitting defeat means setting a time limit on phasing out development aid — at least five years but no more than 10 — to allow an orderly end to an effort that has cost donors more than $550 billion but left more Africans poorer than before it began. Reengaging means ending the unhealthy dependency that aid has helped create. The bank should, for example, make no new loans or grants unless the recipient government provides matching funds, dollar for dollar.

Africa's own resources must be tapped to replace donor funds. To do this, Africa needs to double its domestic savings, aiming at hitting Asian savings rates. It also needs radical reform of the largely communal land-ownership system. It must introduce a competitive business environment, one that does not, for example, require six weeks to register a new company in Kenya, compared to six days in Hong Kong. It needs a bill of business rights, with provisions to allow arbitration of disputes in a neutral venue abroad, circumventing the corrupt legal systems that have scared off investors. In short, Africa must create the business conditions in which African capital will return.

During a recent visit to Mozambique, British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown remarked: "In the 19th century, the issue was what we could do to Africa; in the 20th, what we could do for Africa; and now, in this century, the issue is what Africa, empowered, can do for herself." One hopes Wolfowitz and the World Bank were listening.

MIT poet develops 'seeing machine'

An MIT poet has developed a small, relatively inexpensive "seeing
machine" that can allow people who are blind, or visually challenged
like her, to access the Internet, view the face of a friend, "previsit"
unfamiliar buildings and more.

Recently the machine received
positive feedback from 10 visually challenged people with a range of
causes for their vision loss who tested it in a pilot clinical trial.
The work was reported in Optometry, the Journal of the American
Optometric Association, earlier this year.

The work is led by
Elizabeth Goldring, a senior fellow at MIT's Center for Advanced Visual
Studies. She developed the machine over the last 10 years, in
collaboration with more than 30 MIT students and some of her personal
eye doctors. The new device costs about $4,000, low compared to the
$100,000 price tag of its inspiration, a machine Goldring discovered
through her eye doctor.

Goldring's adventures at the intersection
of art and high technology began with a visit to her doctor, Lloyd
Aiello, head of the Beetham Eye Institute of the Joslin Diabetes
Center. At the time, Goldring was blind. (Surgeries have since restored
vision in one eye).

To better examine her eyes, Aiello asked
her to go to the Schepens Eye Research Institute at Harvard, where
technicians peered into her eyes with a diagnostic device known as a
scanning laser opthalmoscope, or SLO. With the machine they projected a
simple image directly onto the retina of one eye, past the hemorrhages
within the eye that contributed to her blindness. The idea was to
determine whether she had any healthy retina left.

It turns out
that she did, and was able to see the image -- a stick figure of a
turtle. But the turtle wasn't very interesting, Goldring said. So she
asked if they could write the word "sun" and transmit that through the
SLO. "And I could see it!" she said. "That was the first time in
several months that I'd seen a word, and for a poet that's an
incredible feeling."

She went on to use the device for many other
visual experiences. For example, she developed a "visual language"
consisting of short words that incorporate graphics and symbols that
convey the meaning of words and make them easier to see and read.

although the SLO held promise as more than a diagnostic device, it had
serious drawbacks. In addition to the prohibitive cost, the SLO is
large and bulky. Goldring determined to develop a more practical
machine for the broader blind public.

She did so by
collaborating over the past several years with Rob Webb, the machine's
inventor and a senior scientist at the Schepens Eye Research Institute;
Aiello; Dr. Jerry Cavallerano, an optometrist at Joslin; William
Mitchell, former dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning and
now a professor in the Program in Media Arts and Sciences; the late
Steve Benton, an acclaimed optical physicist and MIT professor; and
former MIT affiliate James Cain.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

UN says malnutrition slows growth of half Niger kids

NIAMEY (Reuters) - Malnutrition has retarded the growth of
half the children in Niger
, with food shortages compounded by
the world's lowest rate of breastfeeding for babies, U.N.
Children's fund 

said on Tuesday.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Lo difícil que es despedirse.

Fano Quiriego

Africa sinks deeper into despair as famine worsens

By Rob Crilly, Special for USA TODAYMon May 22, 7:12 AM ET

Hussein Abdi carries a gnarled wooden walking stick - a symbol of
his wealth and influence. Abdi, 57, is still a respected elder among
his tribe in this remote corner of northern Kenya. But his wealth lies
rotting at his feet.

Abdi's herd of 60 cattle, which marked him as a man of means in a
pastoral community little changed in centuries, has been reduced to
five by a three-year drought. Fresh carcasses lie around his simple
homestead of skin-roofed huts. Scattered among them are the
sun-bleached bones of the first to die.

While much-needed rains recently arrived in this part of Africa, aid
agencies such as Britain's Oxfam say people like Abdi may not quickly
recover. It could take him years to rebuild his herd.

His plight is familiar to many people across the Horn of Africa and,
according to the United Nations, much of the continent. While the
problem isn't new, famine no longer is a cyclical event that hits a
specific region. Each year, the continent is a little less able to feed
itself. And drought isn't the only or even the major cause of the

Much of the continent is suffering after a succession of droughts,
worsened by overpopulation, conflict and the devastation caused by HIV
and AIDS.

Situation critical

As a result, the U.N. World Food Program (WFP) estimates that this
year 11 million people in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti need
emergency food aid to stave off hunger. In all, 36 of Africa's 53
countries need help to feed their populations. The U.N. estimates that
nearly 5% of the 877.5 million people on the continent - about 40
million - need urgent assistance.

Africa is suffering on a greater scale, says the WFP's Peter
Smerdon, because the region-wide shortage of food and water comes after
years of localized shortages have stretched populations to the breaking
point. "Populations have a whole range of problems to deal with," he
says. "Often drought is the final straw."

Africa's problems vary by region, but the result often is the same: famine.

• Rapid population growth throughout the continent has
stretched the region's already limited food resources and placed a
greater strain on the land, says Todd Benson, a research fellow at the
Washington, D.C.-based International Food Policy Research Institute

• In countries such as Kenya, overpopulation has pushed people
into uninhabited areas. Farmers clear forests for crops or cut down
trees for fuel. The result is creeping desertification and the loss of
precious topsoil.

• A December report on Africa by the U.N.'s Food and
Agriculture Organization (FAO) says conflict is at the root of hunger
in countries such as Sudan and Uganda. It says millions of people have
been forced to leave their traditional farming communities to seek
protection in camps run by humanitarian agencies. There, they often
rely on handouts to survive.

• The World Food Program cites disease - particularly HIV - as
a leading reason for declining productivity in southern Africa.
Infection rates of more than 20% have mowed down a generation of people
who once would have been the breadwinners. The impact on food
production has been devastating.

In the past, there may have been a single country in a decade that
became the poster child for hunger - for example, the Nigerian area
known as Biafra in the 1960s and Ethiopia in the 1980s. Now, a new
country or region is added to a growing roster of desperation on the
continent nearly every year.

Last year it was Niger, in West Africa, where locusts combined with
drought forced millions to the brink of famine. Three million there -
more than 25% of the population - still need emergency aid.

This year, nomadic herders close to Kenya's border with Somalia have been added to the groups that face hunger and death.

Among them is Abdi, who has five children still living at home. He
uses his stick to prod one of his dead animals and looks despairingly
at the five surviving cattle.

There is no grass left after seasonal rains failed to come for the
past three years. "I just have to keep them here, and there's nothing
to eat," he says. "Sometimes they even share the children's food or
(eat) the trees as there's just nothing."

The drought has forced parents, including Abdi, to pull their children
out of school because they can't pay the tuition. "Every section of
life, from the young to the old, is entirely affected," says Mohamed
Mohamud Ali, project coordinator with the Arid Lands Development Focus
Organization, a Kenyan government agency.

Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs,
last month appealed for $426 million to help drought victims in the
Horn of Africa: Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Djibouti. The
U.N. says more than 40% of people in the region are undernourished and
thousands have died because of complications from hunger.

Effects of political problems

In its most recent Africa Report published in December, The U.N.'s Food
and Agriculture Organization names political problems, such as civil
strife and refugee movements, as primary factors in 15 of the countries
affected by famine. Drought is named in 12.

For example, about 2.5 million people in Sudan's western Darfur region
have been forced to flee their homes as a result of civil war between
farmers and nomads. Most live in refugee camps. As a result, farming in
the region has ground to a halt. Many families are dependent on food

Then there is the impact of HIV and AIDS. "It is a contributing factor,
especially in southern Africa, to the inability of a lot of rural
households to produce enough food to feed themselves," says Benson, of
the International Food Policy Research Institute. "It decimates
production systems."

The WFP estimates that 40% of Swaziland's population ages 15-49 is
infected with HIV. Most can't work the fields or do other work to earn
money to support their families or pay for treatment. That means
infected people die relatively soon. So a country with a population of
a little more than 1 million has to find food for about 80,000 AIDS

Africa's problems will grow worse, Benson says, mainly because of
explosive population growth. The U.N. says sub-Saharan Africa's
population was 751 million in 2005, double its 335 million in 1975.
"You are not seeing the increases in agricultural productivity that
would be necessary to meet the increased food demand that comes with
population increases," he says.

In northern Kenya, thousands of nomads have set up makeshift
settlements around towns and villages where they can at least receive
water and food from aid agencies.

"How am I going to rebuild my herd?" Abdi asks. "I have no money and no
way to buy any more animals. All I can do is ask people for help, but
that is not what I want to do."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Botox Appears to Ease Depression Symptoms

Botox for your brain!
Botox Appears to Ease Depression Symptoms: "The pilot study of 10 patients is the first to provide empirical support for what a number of clinicians say they have noticed anecdotally: People who get their furrowed brows eliminated with Botox (botulinum toxin A) often report an improvement in mood.

Until now, the assumption was that they were just feeling better about their appearance. But the new study by local dermatologist Eric Finzi suggests that something else may be at work. Finzi found that even patients such as Delano, who were not seeking cosmetic improvement, showed a dramatic decrease in depression symptoms.

'Maybe the frown is not just an end result of the depression; maybe you need to frown in order to be depressed,' Finzi said in an interview. 'I don't think it has anything to do with making you look better. These patients were not coming to me for Botox; they were coming because I was offering a new treatment for depression.'"

Sans Makeup, S'il Vous Plaît

CHIC French women don't wear makeup. At least they pretend not to.

goal is to glow, with invisible pores and highly polished skin. Too
much makeup, French women say, makes a woman seem older, or even worse,
as if she makes a living walking the streets.

"It really
astonishes me the way American women wear so much makeup," said Laura
Mercier, the French creator of a line of cosmetics and skin care who
lives in New York. "In America, even teenage girls are overly made-up.
And when you are overly made-up, you send out the message that you are
overly sexual, that you want to be visible to attract men."

contrast, Ms. Mercier said: "French women are not flashy. They must be
subtle. The message must not be, 'I'm spending hours on my face to look
beautiful.' "

Michèle Fitoussi, one of France's leading
social commentators and a columnist at French Elle magazine, described
the painted-doll look preferred by many American women with one word:

Chimp Virus Is Linked to H.I.V. - New York Times

Chimp Virus Is Linked to H.I.V. - New York Times: "By studying chimpanzee droppings in remote African jungles, scientists reported yesterday, they have found direct evidence of a missing link between a chimpanzee virus and the one that causes human AIDS.

Scientists have long suspected that chimpanzees are the source of the human AIDS pandemic because at least one subspecies carries a simian immune deficiency virus closely related to H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Keep A Child Alive

Keep A Child Alive: "Medicine for children and families

KEEP A CHILD ALIVE is an urgent response to the AIDS pandemic ravaging Africa. With 25 million already dead, the disease continues, wiping out whole societies, threatening economic infrastructure and creating tragic devastation in the family structure. There are currently 12 million AIDS Orphans in Africa alone. How much longer will we sit by while millions of people die from a treatable disease?

Anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment has transformed the lives of people with AIDS in the West, returning them from sickness to health. But less than 5% of Africans with AIDS have access to these life-saving drugs.

Keep A Child Alive is dedicated to providing life-saving anti-retroviral treatment to children and their families with HIV/AIDS in Africa and the developing world by directly engaging the global public in the fight against AIDS. "

The Drumroll, Please

 Congratulations to Casey Parks, the winner of Nicholas Kristof's contest to go on a tour with him in a neglected area of Africa. I completely agree with Kristof about mandating overseas studies. Most every other developed world has a much richer tradition than we in America have with regard to overseas travel. If we are to be increasingly involved in world affairs, as the world's only superpower, it is in my opinion, of extreme importance that U.S. citizens spend as much time as possible overseas...


The Drumroll, Please

Published: May 23, 2006

In March I opened a "win a trip" contest, offering to
take a university student with me on a rough reporting trip to a
neglected area in Africa.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristof.

On the Ground

Some 3,800 applications poured
in, accompanied by boxes of supplementary materials, ranging from
senior theses to nude photos. After weeks of sifting through the
applications, I finally have a winner.

She is Casey Parks
of Jackson, Miss. — an aspiring journalist who has never traveled
abroad. We'll get her a passport and a bunch of vaccinations —
ah, the glamour of overseas travel — and start planning our trip.

Casey, who turned 23 on Friday, attended Millsaps College in
Jackson and is now a graduate student in journalism at the University
of Missouri. She has won a string of awards for her essays and other

In her essay,
Casey wrote about growing up poor: "I saw my mother skip meals. I saw
my father pawn everything he loved. I saw our cars repossessed. I never
saw France or London." (The essays by Casey and a dozen finalists are
posted at

"I so desperately want to leave this country and know more," she wrote. Now she'll have the chance.

most likely start in Equatorial Guinea, bounce over to Cameroon and
travel through a jungle with Pygmy villages to end up in the Central
African Republic — one of the most neglected countries in the
world. We'll visit schools, clinics and aid programs, probably
traveling in September for 10 days. Casey will write a blog about it
for and will also do a video blog for MTV-U.

the point of this contest wasn't to give one lucky student the chance
to get malaria and hookworms. It's to try to stir up a broader interest
in the developing world among young people.

One of our country's
basic strategic weaknesses is that Americans don't understand the rest
of the world. We got in trouble in Vietnam and again in Iraq partly
because we couldn't put ourselves in other people's shoes and
appreciate their nationalism.

According to Foreign Policy
magazine, 92 percent of U.S. college students don't take a foreign
language class. Goucher College in Baltimore bills itself as the first
American college to require all students to study abroad, and the rest
should follow that example.

So for all the rest of you who
applied for my contest, see if you can't work out your own trips. Or
take a year off before heading to college or into a job. You'll have to
pay for your travel, but you can often find "hotels" for $5 a night per
person in countries like India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia,
Morocco, Bolivia and Peru — and in rural areas, people may invite
you to stay free in their huts. To get around, you can jump on local

Is it safe? Not entirely, for the developing world has
more than its share of pickpockets, drunken soldiers, scorpions, thugs,
diseases, parasites and other risks.

Twenty-two years ago, as a
backpacking student, I traveled with a vivacious young American woman
who, like me, was living in Cairo. She got off my train in northern
Sudan; that evening, the truck she had hitched a ride in hit another
truck. Maybe if there had been an ambulance or a doctor nearby, she
could have been saved. Instead, she bled to death.

So, yes, be
aware of the risks, travel with a buddy or two, and carry an
international cellphone. But remember that young Aussies, Kiwis and
Europeans take such a year of travel all the time — women
included — and usually come through not only intact, but also
with a much richer understanding of how most of humanity lives.

are also terrific service options. Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani anti-rape
activist I've often written about, told me she would welcome American
volunteers to teach English in the schools she has started. You would
have to commit to staying six weeks or more, but would get free housing
in her village. You can apply by contacting

there's New Light, a terrific anti-trafficking organization in
Calcutta. Urmi Basu, who runs it, said she would welcome American
volunteers to teach English classes to the children of prostitutes. You
would have to stay at least six weeks and budget $15 a day for food and
lodging; for more information go to

the 21st century, you can't call yourself educated if you don't
understand how the other half lives — and you don't get that
understanding in a classroom. So do something about your educational
shortcomings: fly to Bangkok.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

U.S. Plan to Lure Nurses May Hurt Poor Nations - New York Times

The Phillipino nurses I worked with in Saudi Arabia were without any question some of the best nurses I have ever worked with in my career. I will be eternally grateful for their compassion and skill in patient care, whether in the OR, the ER, or the floor.

U.S. Plan to Lure Nurses May Hurt Poor Nations - New York Times: "As the United States runs short of nurses, senators are looking abroad. A little-noticed provision in their immigration bill would throw open the gate to nurses and, some fear, drain them from the world's developing countries.

The legislation is expected to pass this week, and the Senate provision, which removes the limit on the number of nurses who can immigrate, has been largely overlooked in the emotional debate over illegal immigration.

Senator Sam Brownback, Republican of Kansas, who sponsored the proposal, said it was needed to help the United States cope with a growing nursing shortage.

He said he doubted the measure would greatly increase the small number of African nurses coming to the United States, but acknowledged that it could have an impact on the Philippines and India, which are already sending thousands of nurses to the United States a year."

AIDS Vaccine Testing Goes Overseas

A quick overview of the  history and difficulty of developing an AIDS vaccine...

CHONBURI, Thailand -- Inside a ramshackle Buddhist temple here on
the country's southeastern coast, curious villagers gathered last fall
as part of the United States' biggest gamble yet on stopping the AIDS

The informational meeting was almost like a game show
as attractive young hosts revved up the crowd, working up to the big
question, boomed out over loudspeakers: Would the audience be willing
to volunteer to test an experimental HIV vaccine?

The villagers
hesitated. No one moved for a full 60 seconds. Then, tentatively, they
approached the three stands set up at the front, marked "Join," "Not
Join" and "Unsure."

For the past three years, such gatherings
have been held all over Thailand, exhorting young adults to take part
in the largest, most expensive, most resource-intensive AIDS vaccine
trial ever. Funded by the National Institutes of Health, it ultimately
will involve 16,000 people and last 3 1/2 years.

But as the trial
moves forward, at a cost of more than $120 million, some researchers
are raising questions about its validity. They disparage its science,
question its ethics and doubt its efficacy.

One of the chief
dissenters is Robert C. Gallo, who helped discover the human
immunodeficiency virus. He scoffs at the notion that the trial will be
successful. "I thought we'd learn more if we had extract of maple leaf
in the vaccine," he said derisively.


Despite years of effort, investment in the billions of dollars, and
dozens of small tests in people around the world, there's still no
scientific proof that a vaccine is even possible. HIV is a diabolical
virus that disables the very immune responses a vaccine needs to
trigger in order to work.

And yet the need is so urgent that
scientists have gone forward with preliminary human tests of many
vaccines on the basis of data they acknowledge is weak. The one in
Thailand is the largest.


The U.S. government last year spent 22 percent of its $3 billion
AIDS research budget on vaccines and other preventive drugs, compared
with less than 8 percent a decade ago. (Most of the rest is devoted to
developing treatments or a cure for those already infected.) Meanwhile,
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this year designated up to $360
million for AIDS vaccine research, and Congress is encouraging more
research with bills that would provide liability protection and tax
benefits for drug companies.

But the science is daunting and
subjects hard to come by. Scientists have been forced to travel to
remote corners of the world to find communities where the infection
rate is high enough to show results in a reasonable amount of time.

With Bono the preacher man on his mission to Africa

With Bono the preacher man on his mission to Africa

Kamal Ahmed joins
the singer on an extraordinary week as he travels through Lesotho and
Rwanda, to cramped hospitals and plush hotels alike, in his campaign
against poverty and the continent's Aids epidemic

Dan Brown was Here

Newsvine - Treatments for 'Neglected Diseases' Urged

Newsvine - Treatments for 'Neglected Diseases' Urged: "NAIROBI, KENYA — The sickness starts with the bite of a tiny sand fly and mutates quickly from there — chills, then fever, then an onslaught of black lesions that will most likely prove fatal within six months without treatment.

Known as kala azar — a Hindi word meaning Black Death — the disease has killed more people than the 21-year civil war in Sudan, many of them extremely poor children.

'The people who are affected by the problem are poor. That's why we call it a neglected problem,' said Dr. Willy Tonui of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, or KEMRI, in Nairobi. 'Since you're dealing with a poor population, they won't be able to purchase the drug.'

With the United Nations' 192-member World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, the governments of Kenya and Brazil have sent a resolution asking the panel to urge governments to set drug research priorities based on disease burden. According to the U.N., less than 10 percent of investment in health research goes to diseases "

Medicins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, says the disease killed a third of the population in Sudan's Western Upper Nile region between 1990 and 1994 — 100,000 of 300,000 people. The organization says it is a tragedy comparable to the bubonic plague of medieval times.

Treatment involves a 30-day course of injections.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Laughing Yogi

Click on this link and get in a happy mood :) as the yogi leads you through a laughing exercise...

(Make sure your sound is turned on)


Engadget: "Sony BMG 'rootkit' class action settled: time to submit your claim

Posted May 23rd 2006 9:20AM by Thomas Ricker
Filed under: Home Entertainment, Portable Audio
Listen up anyone who 'purchased, received, came into possession of or otherwise used' music CDs containing Sony's flawed DRM software anytime after 1 August, 2003. Under the terms of the class action settlement approved Monday, you are entitled to file a claim for a replacement CD, free downloads of music from that CD (with Apple's iTunes named as one of the three download services, ironically), and even 'additional cash payments' which we presume are likely to amount to a stack of Abes not Benjamins, folks. Pretty much what Sony BMG was already offering to their customers when this whole fiasco hit back in November. Additionally, Sony BMG definitively agreed to halt manufacture or distribution of that XCP and MediaMax nastiness masked by the rootkit. Now be sure to get your claim in now consumers, so that Sony BMG hears loud and clear that you do know what a rootkit is, and yes, you care. Afterall, the settlement only lasts until the end of 2007 at which point Sony BMG is free to introduce copy protection software once again. Click the read link for a PDF copy of the settlement."

Venture capital nudge for microfinance

Venture capital nudge for microfinance

The Seattle Times has a long article on the VC approach to microfinance, and in particular the work of Unitus.

Unitus raises a fund and looks for small microfinance banks around the world that have good management teams and large market opportunities. It helps turn the bank into a for-profit entity, then it makes an investment.The money can give the institution leverage to borrow more money from traditional banking institutions. Unitus also takes a seat on the bank’s board and provides consulting services to set up the infrastructure designed to support fast growth. With the transformation in place, Unitus expects a bank that once served 3,000 people to help 100,000 to 200,000 people in five to seven years…

To make it all work, Unitus had to create a new way it do business. It set up an equity fund that would be an affiliated for-profit entity, registered in the Cayman Islands. The fund raises money from investors who expect a return. So far, it has raised $8.5 million in investments… In all, Unitus expects to raise about $20 million…The fund’s investors are not donors; the idea is that they will get back their money and a return in a traditional way — by an investment going public or being sold…

One of the companies that Unitus has invested in is SKS, the focus of a similar WSJ article last week.

Thanks to Unitus Blog for the pointer. A good opportunity to highlight some other microfinance blogs, many of which have started within the last year: Defeating Global Poverty, Master of 500 hats, MicroCapital, Microfinanzas, Silicon Valley Microfinance Network, and Unitus Microcredit Loans. More on the blogroll.

Posted by Pablo Halkyard at 12:06 PM in Access to finance, Creative approaches, Finance | Permalink


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Monday, May 22, 2006

Hashemi at yale

at Yale

The ultimate in diversity.

other leading universities, Yale attracts students from all over the
world. But in Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi, it may have gotten more than
it bargained for, said Alan Finder in The New York Times.
Hashemi, who’s been taking courses at Yale since last summer, is
a onetime spokesman for Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.
Prior to Sept. 11, he toured the U.S. as a “roving
diplomat” who defended his government’s Islamic
fundamentalist policies, including its medieval repression of women.
Now, Hashemi has applied to a formal Yale degree program, and the
campus community is in an uproar. “It’s a betrayal of
Yale’s core values,” says alumnus Clint Taylor, founder of
a blog devoted to opposing Hashemi’s admission.
“We’re still at war with the Taliban. They’re
massacring schoolteachers in Afghanistan and fighting American

Hashemi’s admission, unfortunately, may actually reflect Yale’s core values, said John Fund in The American Spectator.
“Richard Shaw, Yale’s former admissions dean, has all but
admitted that Hashemi got in precisely because of his Taliban
background.” It may seem nuts, but in the politically correct
world of academia, this is called diversity. What could be more
open-minded, more progressive, than enrolling an apologist for the
regime that harbored Osama bin Laden and made 9/11 possible? Yale
contends Hashemi has reformed his views, but he hasn’t, said Natalie Healy in the New York Daily News.
Last year, he wrote an essay that called Israel “an American al
Qaida.” When someone asked him about the Taliban’s public
stoning of adulterers, he retorted, “There were also executions
happening in Texas.” As the mother of a Navy SEAL killed by the
Taliban, I’m astonished that one of America’s most
prestigious colleges can’t find a student more worthy than this

Hashemi is no thug, said USA Today in an
editorial. He may still be critical of some U.S. policies, but he
“no longer sees the world framed as a religious conflict”
between righteous Muslims and evil infidels. That’s why the State
Department has officially cleared Hashemi to study here. Lately,
he’s been telling friends that he wants to return to Afghanistan
to promote education—without which, he says, no country can make
a transition to democracy. Earlier this year, he told a reporter,
“You have to be reasonable to live in America. Back home, you can
win any argument if you bring up the Islamic argument.” If
Yale’s admissions staff is wise, they’ll resist the
“bullying protesters,” and welcome Hashemi as a living
symbol of “the value of cultural exchange.”

Hope Amid Malawi's Aid Crisis

Hope amid Malawi's Aids crisis

Last year, the BBC News website published pictures of the village of Njoho in Malawi, highlighting its battle against the HIV epidemic. Patricia Lucas from the World Food Programme returned to see what had changed.

Aids severely affects the school - but they still find the time to play

Despite an HIV prevalence rate that remains close to 50%, it is possible to find signs of hope for the village of Njoho in its ongoing struggle with Malawi's HIV/Aids pandemic.

Last year, Sister Josephine of the Nsanama Convent was pessimistic, warning of villagers' fatalism in the face of HIV/Aids.

"Too often, they have anger in their hearts and voluntarily destroy their and other people's lives by behaving as if nothing has changed," she said.

Six months later, Sister Josephine's outlook is more comforting.

"What I find positive now is the awareness of needs among the leaders, the sense of family in the community," she tells me.

"The children now no longer feel shy to say: 'I am an orphan.' People want to help each other."

Entrepeneur Gets Big Banks to Back Very Small Loans

This is an interesting article from the May 15, 2006 issue of the Wall Street Journal on how an individual went to India one summer and upon seeing the discrepancy of lifestyle between the poor in India and his suburban lifestyle decided to embark on a microfinance project, which eventually drew in major banks such as HSBC and Citigroup. It is a great example of a single individual making a difference in the world. Unfortuantely, I can't get the link to work. However, if you are interested in the entire article just send an email to

A great site for microfinance is You can pick a project by theme, e.g. education, health, gender and equality as well as by region. You can then give money online...check it out...

Microlending-for-Profit Effort

In India Draws Business

From Citigroup, HSBC

Ms. Dobbala's Baby Buffalo


May 15, 2006; Page A1

SHIVNOOR, India -- Vikram Akula runs a company that doles out loans of $100 or less to desperately poor villagers so they can buy a water buffalo or a bicycle. But he's hardly a typical do-gooder.

Mr. Akula, the 37-year-old founder of SKS Microfinance Pvt. Ltd., is at the forefront of the latest trend in "microlending," or making tiny loans that help entrepreneurs lift themselves up from the lowest rungs of poverty. Long the province of charitable institutions, microlending is starting to attract the attention of big business. Intrigued by India's red-hot economy and potential market of more than a billion consumers, financial giants such as Citigroup Inc., ABN Amro Holding NV and HSBC Holdings PLC have already provided millions of dollars for SKS to lend out. SKS, in turn, says it has notched up healthy profits for the past three years.

[Vikram Akula]

"This can work driven only by greed," says Mr. Akula, a one-time McKinsey & Co. consultant who was born in India and grew up in Schenectady, N.Y. "That's the magic of it."...

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bono on Tour

Bono on tour

Travelling star keeps up pressure on aid and debt for Africa

By Steve Bloomfield

Published: 21 May 2006

If it's Sunday, this must be Nigeria. Bono, the rock star and

anti-poverty campaigner who was guest-editing The Independent less than

a week ago, is already past the halfway mark in a lightning tour of six

African states. The U2 singer arrives today in Nigeria, Africa's most

populous nation, having already visited Lesotho, Rwanda and Tanzania to

highlight the benefits of his Product RED campaign. But the tour was

almost aborted before it began.

Fresh from his day in the editor's chair on Monday, Bono flew to

Johannesburg, but he was initially barred from entering South Africa.

The reason: so extensively has he been travelling the world to whip up

support for debt relief, increased aid and fairer trade terms for

Africa, he didn't have a blank page left in his passport. A quick call

to Nelson Mandela solved the problem, and the rock star and his

entourage were waved through.

In Lesotho, the tiny, mountainous kingdom surrounded by South Africa,

Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson, visited a textiles factory that was

almost forced to close after an agreement which had protected textile

industries in developing countries ended last year.

The factory, the only major employer in the remote town of Butha-Buthe,

was saved after an order from Ms Hewson for a range of T-shirts to be

sold at U2 concerts. Nakadi Jabbie, the owner of the factory, said the

order was better than aid. "When people work, and they can buy their

own food and take themselves to the clinics, then it means they are

doing it themselves and they are not just receiving food parcels."

Lesotho has one of the highest HIV/Aids infection rates in the world.

Unlike its neighbour, South Africa, the Lesotho government has

encouraged its citizens to take an HIV test. The Prime Minister,

Bethuel Pakalitha Mosisili, has even subjected himself to a test.

Bono said it was "scandalous" that Lesotho had not benefited from debt

cancellation under a global scheme managed by the World Bank and

International Monetary Fund to write off the debts of the world's poor

countries. "The reason Lesotho has not received debt cancellation is

because it has been disciplined, it has been punished for the fact that

it has been a good borrower in the past and has paid back its debts."

There was another indication of the rock star's frenetic pace of

travelling on Thursday. In Rwanda's capital, Kigali, he promised to

keep up pressure on the US and other wealthy nations to make good on

their promises of increased aid for Africa, saying there were signs the

G8 industrial countries were back-tracking on last year's promises to

double aid to Africa by 2010 to $50bn (£27bn).

Ten days earlier, he said, he had been in Washington: "They welcomed us

with open arms ... shook our hands and their eyes misted up at the

right place. When we left town, they slashed the budget."

The G8 is scheduled to meet in Russia in July, and Bono is almost

certain to be there. By then, one presumes, he will be filling up a new

passport with stamps.

Friday, May 19, 2006

BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Bono promotes work to aid Africa frontman, Bono, helping out in Lesotho...

BBC NEWS | World | Africa | Bono promotes work to aid Africa: "Rock star Bono has a more personal stake in Lesotho than in any other African country. In the remote mountain town of Butha-Buthe his wife Ali Hewson is sourcing t-shirts for a new fair trade line being sold in the US."

My pain, my brain

This is a fascinating though long (6 pages) article form the new york times which looks at the application of modern medicine (functional neuroimaging) as applied to pain control and other maladies...

Violent Rebel Rift Adds Layer to Darfur's Misery

This article illuminates some of the complexity in the Darfur conflict...

Violent Rebel Rift Adds Layer to Darfur's Misery

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Rebels in Darfur, Sudan, have split into warring factions divided by ethnic tensions and territorial ambitions.
More Photos >

Published: May 19, 2006

TINA, Sudan, May 16 — A grisly new battle between rebel factions is raging here in Darfur, casting doubts on the future of a peace agreement to end the war.

Skip to next paragraph

Michael Kamber for The New York Times

Villagers were forced to abandon their homes in Tawila because of the
fighting between factions of the rebel Sudan Liberation Army in Darfur.
More Photos »

The New York Times

Tina was attacked in April after a split between rebel leaders.
More Photos >

Two of the main rebel factions
fighting the Sudanese government and its allied militias have turned on
each other, spurred by ethnic tensions and what appears to be a
relentless grab for more territory. Now the rebels have unleashed a
tide of violence against the very civilians they once joined forces to

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Cholera Spreading Rapidly in Angola

It still blows me away how many people die because they can't have access to safe water, while many other inhabitants debate the merits of volvic vs perrier vs evian etc...

Contaminated drinking water, poor sanitation and dense urban living
have caused the worst outbreak of cholera in the history of Angola,
with 1,298 dead and tens of thousands of others infected, international
health officials said.

The outbreak began in February in Luanda,
the rapidly growing capital where most of the more than 4 million
residents live in squalid, trash-filled slums without reliable sources
of clean water. It has since reached 11 of Angola's 18 provinces and,
in some areas, continues to grow worse. Nationwide, officials report
600 new cases a day, more than anywhere else in the world and a pace
more than four times faster than in the world's second-worst-hit area,
southern Sudan. On Tuesday alone, 31 Angolans reportedly died from

"I have never seen anything quite like this," David Weatherill, a
water sanitation specialist for Doctors Without Borders, a French
medical aid group, said at a news conference in Johannesburg on

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