Saturday, December 30, 2006

As Health Middlemen Thrive, Employers Try to Tame Them

Perdue and Caterpillar are grappling with a big issue in U.S. health care: the role of middlemen. Employers are trying to make sure they get their money's worth from intermediaries, some of whom are reaping bonanzas as they stand between patients, doctors and those who pay the bills.

But a lot of the money goes more toward fattening middlemen's bottom lines than toward improving the quality or efficiency of American health care. "At the end of the day, the only reasonable conclusion is that we waste a huge amount of money on the most nuttily cumbersome administrative system in the world," says Henry Aaron, a Brookings Institution economist.
While the middleman business booms, health-care costs keep rising, the ranks of the uninsured grow, and paperwork expands as each party in the system tries to enlarge its slice of the pie. "There's more money to be made by monitoring cash flow than monitoring patients," says David Cutler, a prominent Harvard University health economist.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Yes, There Are Two Americas

Review from the WSJ:
WHO REALLY CARES
By Arthur C. Brooks

(Basic, 250 pages, $26) The book's thesis is offered not as a sermon or platitude -- telling people what they ought to be doing -- but as a work of skillful and intensive empirical research, revealing what people are doing already. Our most pervasive cultural assumptions about the generosity of liberals and the stinginess of conservatives turn out to be almost completely wrong.
(..)

If Mr. Brooks is right, our era's common sense of the matter -- that the political left is more compassionate than the political right, and that America is a remarkably ungenerous nation by world standards -- is demonstrably inaccurate. In fact, Sen. John Edwards's repeated claim that there are "two Americas" turns out to be correct but misstated: The line of separation runs most saliently not between the haves and have-nots but between the gives and the give-nots, between those Americans who respond to social needs with their own money and time and those who do not.

Mr. Brooks speaks here with the authority of a liberal who has been mugged by the data. "These are not the sorts of conclusions I ever thought I would reach,"...
(..)
By consulting a wide range of metrics, ranging from rates of charitable giving to hours of volunteer work donated, Mr. Brooks concludes that four distinct forces appear to have primary responsibility for making people behave charitably: religion, skepticism about the government's role in economic life, strong families and personal entrepreneurship. Those Americans who have all four, or at least three, are much more likely to behave charitably than those who do not...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Parrot's Oratory Stuns Scientists

The finding of a parrot with an almost unparalleled power to communicate with people has brought scientists up short.
(..)

The bird, a captive African grey called N'kisi, has a vocabulary of 950 words, and shows signs of a sense of humour.

He invents his own words and phrases if he is confronted with novel ideas with which his existing repertoire cannot cope - just as a human child would do.

N'kisi's remarkable abilities, which are said to include telepathy, feature in the latest BBC Wildlife Magazine.

N'kisi is believed to be one of the most advanced users of human language in the animal world.

About 100 words are needed for half of all reading in English, so if N'kisi could read he would be able to cope with a wide range of material.

Polished wordsmith

He uses words in context, with past, present and future tenses, and is often inventive.

One N'kisi-ism was "flied" for "flew", and another "pretty smell medicine" to describe the aromatherapy oils used by his owner, an artist based in New York.

When he first met Dr Jane Goodall, the renowned chimpanzee expert, after seeing her in a picture with apes, N'kisi said: "Got a chimp?"

N'kisi with picture card and teacher Grace Roselli
School's in: He is a willing learner
He appears to fancy himself as a humourist. When another parrot hung upside down from its perch, he commented: "You got to put this bird on the camera."

50 Things We Know Now (That We Didn't Know This Time Last Year) 2006 Edition

50 Things We Know Now (That We Didn't Know This Time Last Year) 2006 Edition

Beyond Charity: Micro-Lending as Good Business

A good listen on how microfinance is evolving as well as a tribute to Mr. Yunus...

The year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank, for their pioneering work in the field of micro-finance, lending money to the poorest of the world's poor.

For the most part, the bulk of the money used in micro-lending has come from philanthropic groups.

But that is beginning to change. High-tech millionaires are providing venture capital. And mainstream investors and institutions are looking at micro-lending as a way to make money while doing good.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Case Against Ladies Night:Drinking Has Hidden Health Risks for Women

Toasting the new year with an alcoholic beverage is probably good for your health -- if you're a man. If you're a woman, the impact of that glass of alcohol is far more confusing.

Overall, science shows that for both men and women, drinking a small amount of alcohol each day is better for you than never drinking at all, and it likely lowers your risk of heart attack, diabetes and mental decline. But for women, moderate alcohol consumption also carries risks you may not know about.

Even small amounts of alcohol consumption are linked with higher risk for breast cancer. Women who drive after drinking are at higher risk than men of dying in a car accident, even at similar blood-alcohol concentrations. And women are at higher risk than men for serious health problems related to alcohol abuse, including liver, brain and heart damage.
(..)

One of the most troubling effects of alcohol is that even small amounts increase a woman's risk for breast cancer. A pooled analysis by Harvard researchers of all the data on alcohol and breast cancer shows that a woman's risk increases by about 9% for every 10 grams of alcohol a day that she drinks. In the U.S., the typical serving of 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor delivers about 12 grams to 14 grams of alcohol, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

That means a woman who consumes just two drinks a day has about a 27% higher risk of getting breast cancer than a woman who doesn't drink alcohol.

It's worth noting that the absolute risk of alcohol consumption to an individual woman is slight. Consider that the typical 50-year-old woman has a five-year breast-cancer risk of about 2.1% -- so two drinks a day would boost her risk to only about 2.7%....

Monday, December 25, 2006

R.I.P. James Brown

ATLANTA - James Brown, the dynamic, pompadoured "Godfather of Soul," whose revolutionary rhythms, rough voice and flashing footwork influenced generations of musicians from rock to rap, died early Christmas morning. He was 73.

Happy Holidays

Wishing all who visit this blog a Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, and Happy Eid!

The Universe Within

Visit the Molecular Expressions Website Galleria Photo Gallery Silicon Zoo Chip Shots Screen Savers Museum Web Resources Primer Java Microscopy Win Wallpaper Mac Wallpaper Publications Custom Photos Image Use Contact Us Search Home Secret Worlds: The Universe Within View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Charities in Africa

At this time of the year many of us make our charitable donations.
If you are interested in contributing two charitable causes in Africa,
I would wholeheartedly recommend:
orphansofrwanda.org
and
greeneyesinafrica.org

I know the founders of both of these organizations. They are upstanding and trustworthy individuals with huge hearts..


A sincere thanks to those of you who have already given to these organizations...

Nadia--Jeff Beck

Perhaps while you click on the link to the previous article about global poverty, you might want to let Jeff Beck's wailing guitar play in the background...and let the collective tears of humanity touch your soul...

It was at a concert three years ago, seeing Beck play "Nadia" live after a series of rocked out songs from "You Had It Coming," that sent me into another stratosphere...a moment when time stood still and...well, it was just indescribable

Thank you Brother Al for insisting that I continue to seek and learn of Jeff Beck, even after I mistakenly bought an album from a techno-pop namesake,"Beck," and was utterly confused as to why Brother Al was insisting on the greatness of Jeff Beck.

Thank you Brother Freeze for the tickets to the most transcendent musical moment of my life...

I bow down to both of you....and of course to Jeff Beck--click NOW!

What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?

The iconoclastic Princeton philosopher, Peter Singer, asks what to me is one of the most important questions for all of humanity...As usual the metaphor of children drowning in a well in the midst of a group of adults partying has more impact than the drier logical arguments regarding charity put forth....PLEASE READ...

What is a human life worth? You may not want to put a price tag on a it. But if we really had to, most of us would agree that the value of a human life would be in the millions.
(..)
With Christmas approaching, and Americans writing checks to their favorite charities, it’s a good time to ask how these two beliefs — that a human life, if it can be priced at all, is worth millions, and that the factors I have mentioned do not alter the value of a human life — square with our actions. Perhaps this year such questions lurk beneath the surface of more family discussions than usual, for it has been an extraordinary year for philanthropy, especially philanthropy to fight global poverty.
(..)
According to the Global Forum for Health Research, less than 10 percent of the world’s health research budget is spent on combating conditions that account for 90 percent of the global burden of disease. In the past, diseases that affect only the poor have been of no commercial interest to pharmaceutical manufacturers, because the poor cannot afford to buy their products. The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), heavily supported by the Gates Foundation, seeks to change this by guaranteeing to purchase millions of doses of vaccines, when they are developed, that can prevent diseases like malaria. GAVI has also assisted developing countries to immunize more people with existing vaccines: 99 million additional children have been reached to date. By doing this, GAVI claims to have already averted nearly 1.7 million future deaths.

Philanthropy on this scale raises many ethical questions: Why are the people who are giving doing so? Does it do any good? Should we praise them for giving so much or criticize them for not giving still more? Is it troubling that such momentous decisions are made by a few extremely wealthy individuals? And how do our judgments about them reflect on our own way of living?
(..)
More important than questions about motives are questions about whether there is an obligation for the rich to give, and if so, how much they should give. A few years ago, an African-American cabdriver taking me to the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington asked me if I worked at the bank. I told him I did not but was speaking at a conference on development and aid. He then assumed that I was an economist, but when I said no, my training was in philosophy, he asked me if I thought the U.S. should give foreign aid. When I answered affirmatively, he replied that the government shouldn’t tax people in order to give their money to others. That, he thought, was robbery. When I asked if he believed that the rich should voluntarily donate some of what they earn to the poor, he said that if someone had worked for his money, he wasn’t going to tell him what to do with it.

At that point we reached our destination. Had the journey continued, I might have tried to persuade him that people can earn large amounts only when they live under favorable social circumstances, and that they don’t create those circumstances by themselves. I could have quoted Warren Buffett’s acknowledgment that society is responsible for much of his wealth.
“If you stick me down in the middle of Bangladesh or Peru,” he said, “you’ll find out how much this talent is going to produce in the wrong kind of soil.” The Nobel Prize-winning economist and social scientist Herbert Simon estimated that “social capital” is responsible for at least 90 percent of what people earn in wealthy societies like those of the United States or northwestern Europe. By social capital Simon meant not only natural resources but, more important, the technology and organizational skills in the community, and the presence of good government. These are the foundation on which the rich can begin their work. “On moral grounds,” Simon added, “we could argue for a flat income tax of 90 percent.” Simon was not, of course, advocating so steep a rate of tax, for he was well aware of disincentive effects. But his estimate does undermine the argument that the rich are entitled to keep their wealth because it is all a result of their hard work. If Simon is right, that is true of at most 10 percent of it.
(..)
Is there a line of moral adequacy
that falls between the 5 percent that Allen has given away and the roughly 35 percent that Gates has donated? Few people have set a personal example that would allow them to tell Gates that he has not given enough, but one who could is Zell Kravinsky. A few years ago, when he was in his mid-40s, Kravinsky gave almost all of his $45 million real estate fortune to health-related charities, retaining only his modest family home in Jenkintown, near Philadelphia, and enough to meet his family’s ordinary expenses. After learning that thousands of people with failing kidneys die each year while waiting for a transplant, he contacted a Philadelphia hospital and donated one of his kidneys to a complete stranger.
(..)
If we are obliged to do no more than our fair share of eliminating global poverty, the burden will not be great. But is that really all we ought to do? Since we all agree that fairness is a good thing, and none of us like doing more because others don’t pull their weight, the fair-share view is attractive. In the end, however, I think we should reject it. Let’s return to the drowning child in the shallow pond. Imagine it is not 1 small child who has fallen in, but 50 children. We are among 50 adults, unrelated to the children, picnicking on the lawn around the pond. We can easily wade into the pond and rescue the children, and the fact that we would find it cold and unpleasant sloshing around in the knee-deep muddy water is no justification for failing to do so. The “fair share” theorists would say that if we each rescue one child, all the children will be saved, and so none of us have an obligation to save more than one. But what if half the picnickers prefer staying clean and dry to rescuing any children at all? Is it acceptable if the rest of us stop after we have rescued just one child, knowing that we have done our fair share, but that half the children will drown? We might justifiably be furious with those who are not doing their fair share, but our anger with them is not a reason for letting the children die. In terms of praise and blame, we are clearly right to condemn, in the strongest terms, those who do nothing. In contrast, we may withhold such condemnation from those who stop when they have done their fair share. Even so, they have let children drown when they could easily have saved them, and that is wrong...

Sudan 'accepts UN Darfur force'

Sudan will agree in principle to the deployment of UN troops as part of an expanded peacekeeping force in Darfur, a top Sudanese envoy has confirmed.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Your Turn to Tell the Story: The Darfur Genocide

Stories can be told in countless ways and understood in countless forms. Here’s an invitation to try your hand at a little interactive journalism.

Here’s a link to a collection of columns, videos, and photographs from my recent trip to Chad to covering the spread of the genocide in Darfur. Take a look at the material and, if you’re interested, I’d like to see how you would’ve told the story. Use some of the quotes, the stories, the facts and weave together your own column, essay, article — or some other kind of quilt. I can imagine someone writing a poem, a song, a map, video or audio slide show. Don’t let convention get in the way of your storytelling. And don’t feel as if it needs to be long; hey, a haiku is sometimes more effective than an epic.

I’m eager to see how you’d approach things – what you’d do differently. I hope you do better – these stories are too important to
be told only once.

Please use this form to send me your story by Jan. 10. If it’s a multimedia presentation send us the link via the form. The best will posted here in “On the Ground.”

* Link
* Comments (2)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Body Worlds

I saw this exhibit last month in, of all places the MGM Casino, in Las Vegas. As a physician, it was like a refresher course in gross anatomy. But I must say I found the exhibit somewhat distasteful, as the bodies were exhibited in various poses, e.g., throwing a dart. I am relatively sure that the people used in this exhibit did not "consent" to such posing. In fact, I had the eerie feeling that the people in the exhibit were not "asked" whether or not they wanted to be carted off for exhibition in various museums around the world as part of a capitalistic enterprise. Rumors are that these are in fact cadavers of political prisoners. As expected, an email query (by my son) to the website associated with this exhibit elicited no response...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006 "Body Worlds" Heard about the "Body Worlds" exhibit, in which actual eviscerated and dissected human bodies are turned into a plastic-like substance, then posed and exhibited for museum crowds? It's here in Dallas now, and I asked two smart guys to go see it and write their opinions for the section I edit.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Window in the Skies



From the Rolling Stone Magazine:
We think this video for U2’s new song “Window in the Skies” is the most sentimental yet ballsy clip we’ve seen in a while. Who besides U2 could appropriate footage of every famous musician — from Sinatra to Elvis to Iggy Pop to Karen O and about 400 others — for their own purposes and end up with something uplifting and tasteful instead of self-congratulatory and distasteful? To Bono we rhapsodize.

Even though we know Elvis isn’t actually singing “oh can’t you see-he-he-heee” in that last black-leather-jacket-featuring frame — but this video makes us feel like he totally meant to.

Which scene is your favorite

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Another video of one of the greatest guitarists ever, Jeff Beck.

Helping Trafficking Victims

Advice from Nicholas Kristof if you want to help organizations fighting human trafficking...

Helping Trafficking Victims

Gotta read it!

This is a great book I read last year...Tom Peters, business guru, apparently agrees!

Okay, it's last year's book. But I just found it in Logan airport at the start of my current Madrid-Paris-L.A. trip. Wow! Fantastic! Amazing!
The book: The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power, and Politics of World Trade, by Pietra Rivoli. The complex issues of trade, globalization, market-power, and market imperfections are brilliantly told via the life of a single T-shirt. Made in China? Obviously! Sorta. How about "Teksa"? The T-shirt "maker," Chinese, patiently explained to the author that this saga starts in Teksa. That is, West Texas, where the cotton is grown. And why is Texas-the U.S.A. still tops in the global cotton market? Um, our markets are not quite as open as we'd like to make the rest of the world believe. There is no "big political message" here. As a professional economist, the author began the story with a very "open markets" bias. It's not that she lost that bias, but that the can of worms (T-shirt) she opened turned out to be, well, full of worms. Nothing is as it seems; think of this as a product of the John LeCarré School of Economics. Though published in 2005, this is my 2006 "book of the year." No issue.

Mad Biking Skills

How the Public School System Crushes Souls

Thoughtful and provocative post here...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Editorial: Dr. Lawyer

Only in America...

Dec. 14, 2006
Las Vegas Review-Journal

EDITORIAL: Dr. Lawyer


Fearless prediction: Within 20 years, when you visit your family physician seeking relief for that sore throat or stomach bug, you'll have company in the examination room. And your guest won't be a nurse or a medical assistant. Joining you and the good doctor will be ... the doctor's lawyer.

What other recourse will physicians have, given the coming wave of malpractice lawsuits forecast in the journal Tobacco Control?

According to the periodical, research suggests that tobacco companies aren't the only parties at fault in keeping Americans hooked on smokes. The study says doctors can be successfully sued for failing to browbeat their patients into quitting the nasty habit.

"Experience clearly suggests that, faced with a sympathetic and very ill plaintiff who swears that he would have heeded a warning if it had been given, the jury's sympathy for the plaintiff will incline them to award him some damages, even if empirical evidence as well as common experience suggests how hard it often is to quit," John F. Banzhaf III, a George Washington University law professor who's active in tobacco litigation and supports obesity-related lawsuits, wrote in response to the research. Juror "sympathy" could overpower "dry empirical and statistical evidence and related arguments put forth by 'rich doctors and their greedy insurance company lawyers.' "

In fact, the only greedy party here is the trial bar. Such ridiculous litigation isn't about righting a wrong, it's about creating new revenue streams to support golf and yacht club memberships.

So in the near future, don't be surprised to see a lawyer sitting in on your routine physical exam -- or to see him snap on rubber gloves.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

That Ring Makes a Difference

For Ms. Hymowitz, the two Americas do not divide between the poor who are supposedly in need of government assistance and the rest of us. The division is best defined in another way: between those who see marriage as an indispensable condition of child-rearing and those who don't. If we are becoming two Americas, it is one America in which parents are married and another in which they are not. The Marriage Gap, as Ms. Hymowitz calls it, appears likely to have a more profound effect on the future of both Americas than the gender gap so lamented by the feminists.

Despite the "unmarriage revolution" ushered in by the noxious 1960s, the anti-civilization decade, marriage is again flourishing among well-educated women. Today's educated mothers may work outside the home or not, but they and their husbands are committed to what Ms. Hymowitz calls The Mission -- the project of shaping their children into adults (and citizens) who have the requisite skills and self-discipline to prosper in a complex, postindustrialist society.

The Mission, notes Ms. Hymowitz, requires not a village but two married parents. And, no, cohabitation doesn't do the trick. Even cohabiters who have the education levels of their married counterparts are less effective as parents. "As the core cultural institution," Ms. Hymowitz writes, "marriage orders life in ways that we only dimly understand. It carries with it signals about how we should live, signals that are in line with both our economy and our politics in the largest sense."
(..)

The answer, in Ms. Hymowitz's view, is that many among the urban poor have lost the "life script" for future-oriented child-rearing. Policy makers may assume that the problem is a shortage of employed, marriageable men. But the problem is more existential, a loss of a sense that marriage and children are connected.

Circumcision May Cut Risk of HIV

WASHINGTON - Circumcising adult men may reduce by half their risk of getting the
AIDS virus through heterosexual intercourse, the U.S. government announced Wednesday, as it shut down two studies in Africa testing the link.

Advice I'll Pass Along to My Daughter

In 1985, I graduated from college. This past August, I dropped off my daughter Hannah for her freshman year.

Despite the two decades in between, I can still vividly recall the financial struggles of early adulthood, including grappling with credit-card debt, scrambling to come up with a house down payment and watching as one of my stocks plunged 80% in a few short months.

Hannah, of course, will have her own financial struggles, and those will teach her far more about money than I ever could. Still, there are nine key financial insights I'm hoping to pass along -- and most have precious little to do with picking stocks and buying mutual funds.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

TimesSelect A Cambodian Girl’s Tragedy: Being Young and Pretty

Is there any greater evil?

Slavery seems like a remote part of history, until you see scholarly estimates that the slave trade in the 21st century — forced work in prostitution and some kinds of manual labor — is probably larger than it was in the 18th or 19th centuries.


Or until you take a rutted dirt path in northwestern Cambodia to a hut between a rice paddy and a river, and meet a teenage girl named Noy Han. The girl, nicknamed Kahan, suffered the calamitous misfortune of being pretty...

(..)
Typically, a girl like Kahan would be imprisoned in a trafficker’s house, tied up and beaten if she resisted, inspected by a doctor to certify her virginity, and sold for hundreds of dollars to a Cambodian or Thai businessman. Virgins are in particular demand by men with AIDS because of a legend that they can be cured by having sex with a virgin.

Afterward, Kahan would have been locked up in a brothel in Pailin, and sold for $10 a session for the first couple of months. The price eventually would drop to $1.50, and by then she would be given greater freedom.
(..)
And slavery is what this is. The real problem isn’t prostitution or trafficking, it’s the enslavement of people.

The Lancet, the British medical journal, once estimated that 10 million children 17 and under may work in prostitution worldwide
. Not all are coerced, but in the nastier brothels of Cambodia, Nepal, India, Malaysia and Thailand, the main difference from 19th-century slavery is that the victims are mostly dead of AIDS by their 20’s.

“It seems almost certain that the modern global slave trade is larger in absolute terms than the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries was,” notes an important article about trafficking in the current issue of Foreign Affairs...

Craisglist Meets the Capitalists

I love this story!...

Jim Buckmaster, the chief executive of Craigslist, caused lots of head-scratching Thursday as he tried to explain to a bunch of Wall Street types why his company is not interested in “monetizing” his ridiculously popular Web operation. Appearing at the UBS global media conference in New York, Mr. Buckmaster took questions from the bemused audience, which apparently could not get its collective mind around the notion that Craigslist exists to help Web users find jobs, cars, apartments and dates — and not so much to make money.
Wendy Davis of MediaPost describes the presentation as a “a culture clash of near-epic proportions.”
(..)
The Tech Trader Daily blog ponders this question: “If YouTube was worth $1.65 billion, who knows what Craigslist would be worth if Jim and [site founder] Craig Newmark ever considred becoming — what’s the word? — capitalists.”
(..)
Larry Dignan, writing on Between the Lines blog at ZDNet, called Mr. Buckmaster “delightfully communist,” and described the audience as “confused capitalists wondering how a company can exist without the urge to maximize profits.”

Conflict Diamonds In the Spotlight

Charmian Gooch, director and co-founder of Global Witness, will be online Tuesday, Dec. 12, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss the issue of "conflict diamonds" and their links to violence in parts of Africa. The new movie "Blood Diamond," starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is a story of the human cost associated with the mining of diamonds in Sierra Leone.

Monday, December 11, 2006

'Heartless Stone' Tracks Rough Diamond Trade

This insightful interview gives an overviews of the dark side of the diamond trade in West and Central Africa. In speaking with various individuals when I was in Sierra Leone last month, it is clear that diamond mining is the equivalent of gambling here in Nevada. However, instead of sticking coins in a slot machine, these desperately poor people engage in back-breaking labor for pitiful wages in hopes of finding the "big one"...

The film Blood Diamond is about the violent underbelly of the international diamond trade. Writer Tom Zoellner's book The Heartless Stone chronicles how diamonds are mined in some of the world's poorest countries.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Blood Diamonds' Decline, but Not Poverty

More on "Blood Diamonds"

DAKAR, SENEGAL — Hollywood's take on "conflict diamonds" has brought attention back in a big way to how gems associated with wealth and glamour have too often meant war and suffering in Africa.

The film "Blood Diamond," which opened Friday in U.S. theaters, is set in late 1990s Sierra Leone, when the West African country was in the throes of a civil war in which untraceable diamonds allegedly funded fighters who hacked off people's hands with machetes and burned entire villages.

The Best Unlocked Cellphones

If you are thinking of buying a cellphone for a Christmas gift, make a political statement to U.S. wireless carriers, by buying an unlocked one...

Cingular Music applications. Relatively few unlocked phones are sold in the U.S., because they're more expensive than subsidized, locked models. That warps our market, giving the carriers veto power over which phones Americans see. If we buy more unlocked phones, more advanced models will come to our shores as cell phone manufacturers decide we're friendlier to phones that the carriers don't necessarily love.

Blood Diamonds

Check out this link for a preview of the movie coming out, "Blood Diamonds.:

http://video.msn.com/v/us/fv/fv.htm?http://video.msn.com/v/us/v.htm

There are two links in the middle of the page to click regarding the movie.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

If you need a Laugh...

If you need a laugh this morning, as I do...check out this video:

Monday, December 04, 2006

What it Takes to Make a Student

This is a fascinating (albeit long) article on the interesection between class status and academic achievement

...In the first few years of this decade, two parallel debates about the achievement gap have emerged. The first is about causes; the second is about cures.
(..)

Hart and Risley showed that language exposure in early childhood correlated strongly with I.Q. and academic success later on in a child’s life. Hearing fewer words, and a lot of prohibitions and discouragements, had a negative effect on I.Q.; hearing lots of words, and more affirmations and complex sentences, had a positive effect on I.Q. The professional parents were giving their children an advantage with every word they spoke, and the advantage just kept building up.

In the years since Hart and Risley published their findings, social scientists have examined other elements of the parent-child relationship, and while their methods have varied, their conclusions all point to big class differences in children’s intellectual growth. Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a professor at Teachers College, has overseen hundreds of interviews of parents and collected thousands of hours of videotape of parents and children, and she and her research team have graded each one on a variety of scales. Their conclusion: Children from more well-off homes tend to experience parental attitudes that are more sensitive, more encouraging, less intrusive and less detached — all of which, they found, serves to increase I.Q. and school-readiness. They analyzed the data to see if there was something else going on in middle-class homes that could account for the advantage but found that while wealth does matter, child-rearing style matters more.

(..)
Lareau found that the middle-class families she studied all followed a similar strategy, which she labeled concerted cultivation. The parents in these families engaged their children in conversations as equals, treating them like apprentice adults and encouraging them to ask questions, challenge assumptions and negotiate rules. They planned and scheduled countless activities to enhance their children’s development — piano lessons, soccer games, trips to the museum.

The working-class and poor families Lareau studied did things differently. In fact, they raised their children the way most parents, even middle-class parents, did a generation or two ago. They allowed their children much more freedom to fill in their afternoons and weekends as they chose — playing outside with cousins, inventing games, riding bikes with friends — but much less freedom to talk back, question authority or haggle over rules and consequences. Children were instructed to defer to adults and treat them with respect. This strategy Lareau named accomplishment of natural growth.
(..)
Concerted cultivation, she wrote, “places intense labor demands on busy parents. ... Middle-class children argue with their parents, complain about their parents’ incompetence and disparage parents’ decisions.” Working-class and poor children, by contrast, “learn how to be members of informal peer groups. They learn how to manage their own time. They learn how to strategize.” But outside the family unit, Lareau wrote, the advantages of “natural growth” disappear. In public life, the qualities that middle-class children develop are consistently valued over the ones that poor and working-class children develop. Middle-class children become used to adults taking their concerns seriously, and so they grow up with a sense of entitlement, which gives them a confidence, in the classroom and elsewhere, that less-wealthy children lack. The cultural differences translate into a distinct advantage for middle-class children in school, on standardized achievement tests and, later in life, in the workplace.
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But the real advantages that middle-class children gain come from more elusive processes: the language that their parents use, the attitudes toward life that they convey. However you measure child-rearing, middle-class parents tend to do it differently than poor parents — and the path they follow in turn tends to give their children an array of advantages. As Lareau points out, kids from poor families might be nicer, they might be happier, they might be more polite — but in countless ways, the manner in which they are raised puts them at a disadvantage in the measures that count in contemporary American society.


What would it take to overcome these disadvantages? Does poverty itself need to be eradicated, or can its effects on children somehow be counteracted? Can the culture of child-rearing be changed in poor neighborhoods, and if so, is that a project that government or community organizations have the ability, or the right, to take on? Is it enough simply to educate poor children in the same way that middle-class children are educated? And can any school, on its own, really provide an education to poor minority students that would allow them to achieve the same results as middle-class students?(read on)

"Frikkin Amazing" how nets stop kids' malaria

Video from Sports Illustrated writer who went to Nigeria to distribute bed nets. If link below doesn't work, you can find the video on cnn.com

javascript:cnnVideo('play','/video/us/2006/12/03/stouffer.nets.cnn','2006/12/10');

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Puffing on Polonium

WHEN the former K.G.B. agent Alexander V. Litvinenko was found to have been poisoned by radioactive polonium 210 last week, there was one group that must have been particularly horrified: the tobacco industry.
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The tobacco industry of course doesn’t like to have attention drawn to the more exotic poisons in tobacco smoke. Arsenic, cyanide and nicotine, bad enough. But radiation? As more people learn more about the secrets hidden in the golden leaf, it may become harder for the industry to align itself with candy and coffee — and harder to maintain, as we often hear in litigation, that the dangers of tobacco have long been “common knowledge.” I suspect that even some of our more enlightened smokers will be surprised to learn that cigarette smoke is radioactive, and that these odd fears spilling from a poisoned K.G.B. man may be molehills compared with our really big cancer mountains.

Robert N. Proctor is a professor of the history of science at Stanford University
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