Monday, December 31, 2007

Snorting a Brain Chemical Could Replace Sleep

In what sounds like a dream for millions of tired coffee drinkers, Darpa-funded scientists might have found a drug that will eliminate sleepiness.

A nasal spray containing a naturally occurring brain hormone called orexin A reversed the effects of sleep deprivation in monkeys, allowing them to perform like well-rested monkeys on cognitive tests.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Inside Apple Stores, a Certain Aura Enchants the Faithful

“They’ve become the Nordstrom of technology,” said Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at Jupiter Research, referring to the department store that is known for its service.

“The idea is that while people love to come to retail stores, and they do it all the time, what they really appreciate the most is that undivided personal attention,” Mr. Johnson said. The result is far fewer qualms among consumers about paying premium prices: $30 for an iPhone case, $200 for an iPod Nano or $1,200 for a computer.

“Whenever we ask consumers to cite a great retail experience, the Apple store is the first store they mention,” said Jane Buckingham, president of the Intelligence Group, a market research firm in Los Angeles. “Basically, everything about it works. The people who work there are cool and knowledgeable. They have the answers you want, and can sell you what you need. Customers appreciate that.

A Global Trek to Poor Nations, From Poorer Ones

Among them is Anes Moises, 45, a dark-skinned man with flecks of gray hair, who has worked the Dominican banana fields for more than a decade, always illegally. Farm bosses pay him $5 a day and tell him that Haitians stink. Soldiers have called him a dark-skinned “devil” and deported him four times.

Still, with the average income in the Dominican Republic six times as much as in Haiti, Mr. Moises has answered each expulsion by hiring a smuggler to bribe the border guards and guide him back in.

“We are forced to come back here — not because we like it, but because we are poor,” he said. “When we cross the border, we are a little better off. We are able to buy shoes and maybe a chicken.”

Across the developing world, migrants move to other poor countries nearly as often as they move to rich ones. Yet their numbers and hardships are often overlooked.
There are 74 million “south to south” migrants, according to the World Bank, which uses the term to describe anyone moving from one developing country to another, regardless of geography. The bank estimates that they send home $18 billion to $55 billion a year. (The bank also estimates that 82 million migrants have moved “south to north,” or from poor countries to rich ones.)
“South to south migration is not only huge, it reaches a different class of people,” said Patricia Weiss Fagen, a researcher at Georgetown University. “These are very, very poor people sending money to even poorer people and they often reach very rural areas where most remittances don’t go.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Congo: The invisible war

In need for compassion, Africa's deadliest conflict overshadowed by Darfur

This is a story about the enigma of American compassion.

It involves Angelina Jolie and the Holocaust, cannibals and President Bush, a long-dead Polish writer and, only incidentally, an old-young woman named Nyabyenda Masirika.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Young Tinkerer Builds A Windmill, Electrifying a Nation

MASITALA, Malawi -- On a continent woefully short of electricity, 20-year-old William Kamkwamba has a dream: to power up his country one windmill at a time.

So far, he has built three windmills in his yard here, using blue-gum trees and bicycle parts. His tallest, at 39 feet, towers over this windswept village, clattering away as it powers his family's few electrical appliances: 10 six-watt light bulbs, a TV set and a radio. The machine draws in visitors from miles around.

Self-taught, Mr. Kamkwamba took up windmill building after seeing a picture of one in an old textbook. He's currently working on a design for a windmill powerful enough to pump water from wells and provide lighting for Masitala, a cluster of buildings where about 60 families live.

Then, he wants to build more windmills for other villages across the country. Betting he can do it, a group of investors are putting him through school.

"I was thinking about electricity," says Mr. Kamkwamba, explaining how he got hooked on wind. "I was thinking about what I'd like to have at home, and I was thinking, 'What can I do?' "

The contraption causing all the fuss is a tower made from lashed-together blue-gum tree trunks. From a distance, it resembles an old oil derrick. For blades, Mr. Kamkwamba used flattened plastic pipes. He built a turbine from spare bicycle parts. When the wind kicks up, the blades spin so fast they rock the tower violently back and forth.

Mr. Kamkwamba's wind obsession started six years ago. He wasn't going to school anymore because his family couldn't afford the $80-a-year tuition.


The new power also attracted a swarm of admirers. Last November, Hartford Mchazime, a Malawian educator, heard about the windmill and drove out to the Kamkwamba house with some reporters. After the news hit the blogosphere, a group of entrepreneurs scouting for ideas in Africa located Mr. Kamkwamba. Called TED, the group, which invites the likes of Al Gore and Bono to share ideas at conferences, invited him to a brainstorming session earlier this year.

In June, Mr. Kamkwamba was onstage at a TED conference in Tanzania. (TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design). "I got information about a windmill, and I try and I made it," he said in halting English to a big ovation. After the conference, a group of entrepreneurs, African bloggers and venture capitalists -- some teary-eyed at the speech -- pledged to finance his education.

Can Greed Save Africa?

Fearless investing is succeeding where aid often hasn't

This is the investing world's final frontier, so undeveloped and impoverished that it makes other extreme emerging markets like Colombia and Vietnam seem like marvels of modernity. Airports open and close arbitrarily. Roads are often unpaved and clogged. Gasoline and diesel are scarce, and rolling blackouts common. The medical precautions are even more forbidding: Traveling to mosquito-infested interiors requires a round of injections and weeks of antimalarial pills that often induce hallucinations.

In many ways, Africa's economic situation seems hopeless. While $625 billion in foreign aid has poured in since 1960, there has been no rise in the region's per capita gross domestic product, notes William R. Easterly, economics professor at New York University. What's more, from 1976 to 2000, Africa's share of global trade dropped to 1%, from an already negligible 3%. The U.N.'s scale of human development, which considers health, education, and economic well-being, ranks 34 African nations among the world's 40 lowest. Thus far, foreign aid hasn't made a dent.

Greed, however, might. Thanks to the global commodities boom of the past few years, sub-Saharan Africa's economies, after decades of stagnation, are expanding by an average of 6% annually—twice the U.S. pace. And like bees to honey, investors are swarming into the region in search of the enormous returns that ultra-early-stage investments can bring.

After Clashes, Fear of War on Congo's Edge

The slideshow accompanying the article is quite poignant...

SAKE, Congo — A major confrontation between the Congolese Army and a renegade general is plunging the country back toward war, threatening to undermine the fledgling democratic state and set off a new regional conflict on a scale not seen here in years.
The fight comes only a year after Western nations helped organize and pay for an election that produced Congo’s first democratically chosen government. The violence is also unfolding despite years of military and diplomatic intervention by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to stem the tide of blood and create, for the first time since its independence, a stable and prosperous Congo.

“The fundamental issues that led to the Congo war have never really been dealt with,” said Anneke Van Woudenberg of Human Rights Watch. “We are seeing the results of that now.”

The current crisis again risks drawing in Congo’s neighbors, especially Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi.

Today in Goma, clinics are packed with spindly children so malnourished they must be fed through a tube. Outside the city, ragtag camps have sprung up, and more than 800,000 people are now displaced in the region.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Six Lessons of Kiva

Hope I don't seem to overhype Kiva on this blog--but I really love the organization as an example of an individual (in this case a couple) making a tremendous difference in the lives of many people in the world...

Stanford Magazine has a terrific article about Kiva called “Small Change, Big Payoff” by Cynthia Haven. This is the story of how Matt and Jessica Jackely Flannery created it to enable people to make micro loans to entrepreneurs around the world.

The results are awesome: more than 123,000 people have loaned more than $12.4 million to 18,000 entrepreneurs. In fact, there so many lenders that there’s are individual limits so that everyone can make a loan.

Here are some lessons that any entrepreneur can learn from the Kiva phenomenon

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Miracle Man Walks Again

He survived against all the odds; now Peng Shulin has astounded doctors by learning to walk again.When his body was cut in two by a lorry in 1995, it was little short of a Medical that he lived. It took a team of nearly 20 doctors to save his life.

On not winning the Nobel Prize

Doris Lessing's Nobel Lecture, describing difficulties of education in Zimbabwe...

Monday, December 10, 2007


Click here for an absolutely brilliant service for obsessives like myself...

The computer called, it said to get off the couch

BERKELEY, California - Fitness research shows that when a recording reminds them, even people who rarely exercise can be persuaded to get off the couch.

Researchers at Stanford University, who studied sedentary people for a year, found that automated exercise reminder phone calls had about the same get-up-and-go power as calls from human counselors.

"The recording had a very nice, kind of cheerleader voice. It sounded very natural...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Checklist

This is a very important article for anyone ivolved in medicine to read.
Given my predilection for notes and personal checklists, this article resonated in terms of the value of maintaining checklisted protocols in the work envirnoment. Every one of my staff will be given a copy of this article (and sign off on a checklist indicating the article has been read)...

If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do?

A decade ago, Israeli scientists published a study in which engineers observed patient care in I.C.U.s for twenty-four-hour stretches. They found that the average patient required a hundred and seventy-eight individual actions per day, ranging from administering a drug to suctioning the lungs, and every one of them posed risks. Remarkably, the nurses and doctors were observed to make an error in just one per cent of these actions—but that still amounted to an average of two errors a day with every patient. Intensive care succeeds only when we hold the odds of doing harm low enough for the odds of doing good to prevail. This is hard. There are dangers simply in lying unconscious in bed for a few days.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Your body has 10x more bacterial cells than human ones

Carolyn Bohach, a microbiologist at the University of Idaho claims that our bodies contain 10 times more bacterial cells than human ones (bacterial cells are a lot smaller and thus occupy less volume). Human genome researchers believe that at least 40 of our genes are bacterial in origin. Let the compulsive washing begin!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Inside India's Underground Trade in Human Remains

A constable in a sweat-stained undershirt and checkered blue sarong lays a ragged cloth over a patch of mud. He jerks open the back door of a decrepit Indian-made Tata Sumo SUV — what passes for an evidence locker at this rustic police outpost in the Indian state of West Bengal. A hundred human skulls tumble out onto the cloth, making a hollow clatter as they fall to the ground. They've lost most of their teeth bouncing around the back of the truck. Bits of bone and enamel scatter like snowflakes around the growing pile.

Standing next to the truck, the ranking officer smiles and lets out a satisfied grunt. "Now you can see how big the bone business is here," he says. I crouch down and pick up a skull.

Before the authorities intercepted it, this cache was moving along a well-established pipeline for human skeletal remains. For 150 years, India's bone trade has followed a route from remote Indian villages to the world's most distinguished medical schools.

Pal explains the factory's production process. First the corpses were wrapped in netting and anchored in the river, where bacteria and fish reduced a body to a loose pile of bones and mush in a week or so. The crew then scrubbed the bones and boiled them in a cauldron of water and caustic soda to dissolve any remaining flesh. That left the calcium surfaces with a yellow tint. To bring them up to medical white, bones were then left in sunlight for a week before being soaked in hydrochloric acid.

Come Together

Monday, December 03, 2007

Kenyan Runners

We've always known that running is culturally important in Kenya, in a way it isn't anywhere else in the world. But these are staggering numbers. A million 10 to 17 year olds running 10 to 12 miles a day? I'm guessing the United States doesn't have more than 5,000 or so boys in that age bracket logging that kind of mileage. 70 miles a week is an enormous amount of running--even for an adult. I ran middle distance at a nationally competitive level as a teenager, and never got close to 70 miles a week.

A New Debate on Female Circumcision

Should African women be allowed to engage in the practice sometimes called female circumcision? Are critics of this practice, who call it female genital mutilation, justified in trying to outlaw it, or are they guilty of ignorance and cultural imperialism?

Those questions will be debated Saturday morning in Washington at the American Anthropological Association’s annual meeting. Representatives of international groups opposed to this procedure will be debating anthropologists with somewhat different views, including African anthropologists who have undergone the procedure themselves. As the organizers of the AAA panel note:

The panel includes for the first time, the critical “third wave” or multicultural feminist perspectives of circumcised African women scholars Wairimu Njambi, a Kenyan, and Fuambai Ahmadu, a Sierra Leonean. Both women hail from cultures where female and male initiation rituals are the norm and have written about their largely positive and contextualized experiences, creating an emergent discursive space for a hitherto “muted group” in global debates about FGC [female genital cutting].

Dr. Ahmadu, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, was raised in America and then went back to Sierra Leone as an adult to undergo the procedure along with fellow members of the Kono ethnic group. She has argued that the critics of the procedure exaggerate the medical dangers, misunderstand the effect on sexual pleasure, and mistakenly view the removal of parts of the clitoris as a practice that oppresses women. She has lamented that her Westernized “feminist sisters insist on denying us this c
ritical aspect of becoming a woman in accordance with our unique and powerful cultural heritage.”

Monkey Business

After a diet of "bush meat" last year in Sierra Leone, I became vegeterian on my last trip to West Africa several months ago...

In a case now pending in a federal court in Brooklyn, Mamie Manneh of Staten Island stands accused of having brought smoked bushmeat – known colloquially as monkey meat – into the United States without proper permits, in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

Ms. Manneh’s defense is that in her religion the eating of bushmeat has both a cultural and a spiritual significance. In an affidavit, 17 of her co-religionists declared, “We eat bushmeat for our souls.” Manneh’s lawyer, Jan Rostal, has analogized the African-based practice to the consumption at a Passover seder of foods like bitter herbs “that might have some reference to the Exodus.” In a motion to dismiss, Rostal said that the case, while apparently novel, “represents the sort of clash of cultural and religious values inherent in the melting pot that is America.”

No, it doesn’t. It represents a more fundamental clash: between the imperatives of religion and the rule of law.

Graveyard shift work linked to cancer

LONDON - Like UV rays and diesel exhaust fumes, working the graveyard shift will soon be listed as a "probable" cause of cancer. It is a surprising step validating a concept once considered wacky. And it is based on research that finds higher rates of breast and prostate cancer among women and men whose work day starts after dark.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

A New Kind of Diva

Anna Netrebko is a gifted opera singer who at 36 has already mastered many of the roles — Mimi, Violetta, Lucia, Manon — that used to go to the queenly, temperamental sopranos of the old school, with their furs, their atomizers, their entourages. She is also a media-savvy entertainer from the new school, with the knockout looks, the fans, the celebrity of a pop star. Her “Traviata” at Salzburg two years ago was such a hot ticket that scalpers were reportedly charging $7,000 a seat, and her records regularly top the charts in Europe. In the summer of 2006 she was part of a concert in Berlin that filled a stadium.

Netrebko, whose appearance at the Metropolitan Opera on Dec. 15 in Gounod’s “Roméo et Juliette” will be broadcast live in movie theaters around the world, has a captivating voice that is both high and deep, lustrous and velvety, and she is one of that growing breed of opera singers who can actually act.

Some critics have called Netrebko the next Callas, which is both a high compliment and a bit of a stretch. Callas was more intense, more forceful and also more tortured. On the other hand, Callas never appeared on a music video. Netrebko has a whole DVD of them, “Anna Netrebko — The Woman, the Voice,” which when it first came out in Europe in 2004 outsold Beyoncé and Britney Spears. In one, Netrebko, wearing a white bathing suit, her hair marcelled, sings Dvorák’s “Song to the Moon” while floating in a swimming pool on an inflatable raft.

Ending Famine, Simply by Ignoring the Experts

LILONGWE, Malawi — Malawi hovered for years at the brink of famine. After a disastrous corn harvest in 2005, almost five million of its 13 million people needed emergency food aid.

But this year, a nation that has perennially extended a begging bowl to the world is instead feeding its hungry neighbors. It is selling more corn to the World Food Program of the United Nations than any other country in southern Africa and is exporting hundreds of thousands of tons of corn to Zimbabwe.

Farmers explain Malawi’s extraordinary turnaround — one with broad implications for hunger-fighting methods across Africa — with one word: fertilizer.

Stung by the humiliation of pleading for charity, he(newly elected president Bingu wa Mutharika) led the way to reinstating and deepening fertilizer subsidies despite a skeptical reception from the United States and Britain. Malawi’s soil, like that across sub-Saharan Africa, is gravely depleted, and many, if not most, of its farmers are too poor to afford fertilizer at market prices.

“As long as I’m president, I don’t want to be going to other capitals begging for food,” Mr. Mutharika declared. Patrick Kabambe, the senior civil servant in the Agriculture Ministry, said the president told his advisers, “Our people are poor because they lack the resources to use the soil and the water we have.”

The country’s successful use of subsidies is contributing to a broader reappraisal of the crucial role of agriculture in alleviating poverty in Africa and the pivotal importance of public investments in the basics of a farm economy: fertilizer, improved seed, farmer education, credit and agricultural research.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Most Dangerous Object in the Office This Month: The Photonic Disruptor

This laser is borderline illegal. With an output of 105 milliwatts, it's 21 times more powerful than your average presentation pointer. It was designed for SWAT and military use in nonlethal takedowns. The adjustable-focus green ray will do permanent retinal damage to anyone within about 60 feet, visually disorients people up to 1,150 feet away, and illuminates objects almost 2 miles out.

Uninsured Man Hopes His Symptoms Diagnosed This Week On House

HAPEVILLE, GA—After being laid off last year from his door-fitting job at the local Ford Motor Company plant, uninsured 35-year-old Chris Thaney has been watching Fox's hit medical drama House to find out why he experiences severe headaches, an inability to urinate, sharp lower-back pains, and numbness on the left side of his body.

How Yale Professors Lose Weight

A Yale economics professor and a Yale law school professor are hoping that the next diet trend to take off is their own, which involves getting dieters to sign binding contracts committing to pay significant sums of money if they fail to meet their weight-loss goals.

The economist, Dean Karlan, tested the method himself, promising to hand over $1,000 to a friend every week that he didn't drop one pound. Soon enough, he lost 10 pounds, getting down to 170 pounds without paying a cent.

Now, Mr. Karlan and Ian Ayres, the law professor who also teaches at Yale's school of management, are launching a company based on this strategy.
Mr. Ayres said he first used the system to lose some pounds, and he now has $500 a week at stake to maintain his weight. He calculates that he has put over $21,000 — or $500 a week for almost a year — at risk through this system. But it makes more sense than traditional weight loss systems, he said. "What's interesting is that Weight Watchers costs you $500 a year and gives modest results. I put $500 at risk every week, but it's cost me nothing because I've met my goals so far."

Weight Watchers declined to comment.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Success Depends on Others Failing

eward mechanisms in the brain depend on how well you think other people are doing, a new neurological study suggests. The findings, published in the Nov. 23 issue of the journal Science are the first to lend physiological proof to a longstanding theory among contemporary economists: that people are affected not only by their own achievements and income, but also by how they stack up against their neighbors.
"In a sense it goes back to Aristotle," says the paper's senior author, Armin Falk, an economist. "The fact that we are social beings is a well-known fact." But the idea that rewards are context-dependent challenges a key assumption behind most traditional of economic theories: the premise that humans are essentially self-interested, that they care about their own work, income, achievements, and purchases, and that whatever other people do is, if not irrelevant, at least not going to have a consistent or predictable effect on decision-making.
The practical implications? Many scholars believe that social comparison helps to explain why, even as much of the world gets ever richer, people today don't report being happier than people did 50 years ago. We might not be happy now if we had to give up the amenities of the last half-century computers, air conditioners, a bedroom for every child, and more — but back when no one else had them either, life was okay.

There's also a lesson here for company managers, says Falk. A wage scale should reflect job and performance differences fairly, or else firms risk alienating their staff.

Nigerian firm sues Negroponte, OLPC for patent infringement

ust months after a slew of OLPC XOs made their way into Nigeria, a Nigerian-owned company is filing suit against Nicholas Negroponte and the OLPC Association for patent infringement. Lagos Analysis and subsidiary LANCOR filed the lawsuit on November 22nd in Nigeria, claiming that the aforementioned parties willfully and illegally reverse engineered its keyboard driver source codes.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Solving Africa's Public Health Crisis

Solving Africa’s health and development problems takes more than statements of good intention, empty promises of aid — or movie stars’ adoption of African children. As César Chelala argues, many diseases affecting children and adults can be addressed with minimal resources — if they are used strategically.

Interview with Muhammad Yunus

A good read...
(CNN) -- Muhammad Yunus received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his pioneering work in microcredit, which has helped millions of people out of the poverty cycle. The first businessman ever to receive such a high honor, Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded revolutionized conventional ways of banking, creating a system of lending money to the poor, mostly women.

People lend a small amount of money to poor people in the village and practically take over the control of their entire life, just for a few cents or few dollars worth of money. It's not millions of dollars people are waiting for, it's few pennies that people were looking for that's not available. So I looked at that and I saw the problem is so serious, so big, but the solution suddenly appeared to me so simple. I thought if I give this 27 dollars from my pocket, the problem of this 42 people is solved. They can take this 27 dollars, pay back their moneylenders, no way they can control their lives anymore. They will be free people. Immediately I did that. I took the money from my pocket, gave it to them, and told them return the money, be free.

And it created such an enormous reaction, they were so happy. Looking at them later on, as I went the next few days, I thought if you can make so many people so happy with such a small amount of money, why shouldn't you do more of it? So I went to the bank. I thought, this was such a simple solution, he would be excited to do that. He said no. Bank cannot lend money to the poor people. I said this is such small money, you'll not miss this money. He said no, it's not the question of the amount of money, it's the principle: Bank cannot lend money to the poor peo

Monday, November 26, 2007

New York Manhole Covers, Forged Barefoot in India

NEW DELHI — Eight thousand miles from Manhattan, barefoot, shirtless, whip-thin men rippled with muscle were forging prosaic pieces of the urban jigsaw puzzle: manhole covers.

Seemingly impervious to the heat from the metal, the workers at one of West Bengal’s many foundries relied on strength and bare hands rather than machinery. Safety precautions were barely in evidence; just a few pairs of eye goggles were seen in use on a recent visit.

The scene was as spectacular as it was anachronistic: flames, sweat and liquid iron mixing in the smoke like something from the Middle Ages. That’s what attracted the interest of a photographer who often works for The New York Times — images that practically radiate heat and illustrate where New York’s manhole covers are born.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Give One. Get One

One learning child. One connected child. One laptop at a time. Since November 12th, OLPC has been offering a limited-time Give One Get One program in the United States and Canada. During Give One Get One, you can donate the revolutionary XO laptop to a child in a developing nation, and also receive one for the child in your life in recognition of your contribution. Thanks to a growing interest in the program, we are extending Give One Get One until the end of the year. Through this extension, and the increasing public interest in OLPC, we hope to give many more children the opportunity to grow, explore, learn and express themselves.

How Failure Molded Spanx's Founder

As a kid, Sara Blakely was advised to fail. The founder of Spanx, a $150 million hosiery company, says it was the best advice she ever received by

What's the best piece of business advice you ever received?

It probably came down to my father. When I was growing up, he encouraged us to fail. We'd come home from school and at dinner he'd say: 'What did you fail at today?' And if there was nothing, he'd be disappointed. It was a really interesting kind of reverse psychology. I would come home and say that I tried out for something and I was just horrible and he high-fived me.

Dr. Drug Rep

I applaud the honesty of this doctor in writing of his experiences as a paid rep. for big pharma. The tactics used by big pharma in some ways resemble those of big time "drug" lords as well-depicted in the excellent movie, "American Gangster."

On a blustery fall New England day in 2001, a friendly representative from Wyeth Pharmaceuticals came into my office in Newburyport, Mass., and made me an offer I found hard to refuse. He asked me if I’d like to give talks to other doctors about using Effexor XR for treating depression. He told me that I would go around to doctors’ offices during lunchtime and talk about some of the features of Effexor. It would be pretty easy. Wyeth would provide a set of slides and even pay for me to attend a speaker’s training session, and he quickly floated some numbers. I would be paid $500 for one-hour “Lunch and Learn” talks at local doctors’ offices, or $750 if I had to drive an hour. I would be flown to New York for a “faculty-development program,” where I would be pampered in a Midtown hotel for two nights and would be paid an additional “honorarium.”

Denial Makes the World Go Round

Nowhere do people use denial skills to greater effect than with a spouse or partner. In a series of studies, Sandra Murray of the University of Buffalo and John Holmes of the University of Waterloo in Ontario have shown that people often idealize their partners, overestimating their strengths and playing down their flaws.

This typically involves a blend of denial and touch-up work — seeing jealousy as passion, for instance, or stubbornness as a strong sense of right and wrong. But the studies have found that partners who idealize each other in this way are more likely to stay together and to report being satisfied in the relationship than those who do not.

“The evidence suggests that if you see the other person in this idealized way, and treat them accordingly, they begin to see themselves that way, too,” Dr. Murray said. “It draws out these more positive behaviors.”

World Wide Web: Land of Free Stuff

Be sure to check out the slideshow at the end of the article from businessweek:
You want it? It's yours. From a college education to your favorite shampoo, it's all happening gratis on the Internet

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Documentary on Organ Trafficking

From Scott Carney's blog. He helped in the production ofthis National Geographic Documentary:

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Saudis defend punishment for rape victim

I wonder if the fact that the woman was Shiia in the seat of Sunnisim, Saudi Arabia, impacted the severity of the sentencing...

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The Saudi judiciary on Tuesday defended a court verdict that sentenced a 19-year-old victim of a gang rape to six months in jail and 200 lashes because she was with an unrelated male when they were attacked.

The Shiite Muslim woman had initially been sentenced to 90 lashes after being convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's rigid Islamic law requiring segregation of the sexes.

But in considering her appeal of the verdict, the Saudi General Court increased the punishment. It also roughly doubled prison sentences for the seven men convicted of raping the woman, Saudi news media said last week.

The reports triggered an international outcry over the Saudis punishing the victim of a terrible crime.

A Health System’s ‘Miracles’ Come With Hidden Costs

The current state of Cuban ophthalmic care...very similar to that in Saudi Arabia...

HAVANA, Nov. 16 — A shiny new tour bus pulled up to the top eye hospital in Cuba on a sunny day this month and disgorged 47 working-class people from El Salvador, many of whom could barely see because they had thick cataracts in their eyes.

Among them were Francisca Antonia Guevara, 74, a homemaker from Ciudad Delgado whose world was a blur. She said she had visited an eye doctor in her home country but could not pay the $200 needed for artificial lens implants, much less pay for the surgery.

“As someone of few resources, I couldn’t afford it,” she said. “With the bad economic situation we have there, how are we going to afford this?”

Cuba’s economy is not exactly booming either, yet within two hours Ms. Guevara’s cataracts were excised and the lenses implanted, with the Cuban government paying for everything — including air transportation, housing, food and even the follow-up care.

The government has dubbed the program Operation Miracle, and for the hundreds of thousands of people from Venezuela, Central America and the Caribbean who have benefited from it since it was started in July 2004, it is aptly named.

Yet the program is no simple humanitarian effort, and it has not come without a cost.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Next Botox: A Drug for Longer Eyelashes

From the WSJ: In another century, Botox was a drug to treat eyelid spasms and other neuromuscular problems. Then Allergan, the company that sells the drug, seized on a side effect — the way it makes some wrinkles vanish temporarily — and turned the drug into a cosmetic superstar.
The same thing could happen with Allergan’s Lumigan, a glaucoma drug with a potentially lucrative side effect: It makes eyelashes longer.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Miss Landmine Angola -- beauty contest for landmine survivors

The Miss Landmine Angola 2008 competition was created by a Norwegian artist called Morten Traavik -- it's been controversial, but has some laudable objectives:

Amazing Real World Clock

This is rather mesmerizing. It is also disturbing to see that diarrheal diseases is #2 right between HIV/AIDS...

The Right Brain vs. The Left Brain Test

I am right side dominant according to the dancer...
The Right Brain vs Left Brain test

7 Habits of Highly Innovative People

Some good ideas here--I especially liked the one of trying to solve the opposite of a given problem. As suggested, I have for many years kept a notepad with me at all times to write down seemingly random ideas that have popped into my conscious. I am at my most creative in the crepuscular space between the sleep and awake states of consciousness--

Have you ever looked at super creative or innovative people, and felt they are special beings blessed with gifts? Have you felt that you are not as fortunate? I used to feel this way. I have since learned that creativity is more about psychology than intellect, and there are no secrets to being creative. Actually, there is no such thing as “being more creative”, you are already a creative being.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Last Chance for DDT

Thanks to the pragmatism of African health officials and the efforts of some in the U.S. government, the insecticide DDT is still repelling and killing mosquitoes in Africa nations, saving thousands of people from malaria and other infectious diseases each year.

ut its days may be numbered. While the Bush administration and the World Health Organization have argued articulately in favor of DDT over the past two years, so-called environmentalists and those companies selling alternatives to DDT are pushing to prevent it from being deployed.

President Bush launched the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) in 2005 with the explicit aim of using all the best methods for preventing the disease. As a result, last year DDT was procured with taxpayer funds for use indoors in tiny amounts in Zambia. The tactic, known as indoor residual spraying, or IRS, is cheap and highly effective, repelling and killing mosquitoes before they can bite and transmit disease while avoiding widespread, outdoor spraying. (The PMI has not procured this insecticide for any other nation, but has funded alternatives to DDT, such as deltamethrin, in Uganda, Angola, Tanzania and Rwanda.)

But developing nations are skittish. Their populations have been scared by environmentalists into thinking DDT causes cancer and birth defects; and their farmers have been frightened by EU officials and segments of the Western chemical industry into believing their crop exports will be boycotted. As a result, many African leaders have delayed re-introduction of DDT, perhaps indefinitely.
Meanwhile, vast swathes of the anti-malaria community, including the malaria teams within national donor agencies, are quietly opposed to DDT. Agencies include insecticide spraying in their literature, but then run No-Spray programs. Aid agencies -- including UNICEF and the World Bank -- have steered clear of DDT, choosing instead to support anti-malaria experiments such as mosquito bed nets for the past decade. The managements of the donor agencies offer spurious explanations as to why DDT and indoor spraying in general shouldn't be used.

The favorite excuse is that DDT campaigns are unsustainable because they require more infrastructure to be delivered than simply handing out bed nets. Yet the evidence is that the distribution of bed nets, without significant educational support on their proper use, is not as effective as hoped. Some of the recent bed-net success stories in Kenya highlight this fact.

With the notable exception of the PMI, and occasionally the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, no agencies seem to want to sustain a spray program. Yet Mozambique, which has very poor health infrastructure, has managed to sustain a well-run indoor residual spraying program for more than seven years by partnering with neighboring South Africa and Swaziland. As a result of this initiative, the country's malaria burden has dramatically decreased. Rates have dropped by 88% among children in the key target areas. Instead of excuses, regional leaders made malaria control sustainable.

Such success stories about spraying are rarely reported. What is reported is any bad news about DDT. And anti-DDT bias in the academic literature is accelerating. A recent article in The Lancet Infectious Diseases Journal alleges that superior methods for malaria-control exist, yet the authors do not provide a single reference for this claim. The authors also claim that DDT represents a public-health hazard by citing two studies -- studies that, according to a 1995 WHO technical report, do not provide "convincing evidence of adverse effects of DDT exposure as a result of indoor residual spraying."

In fact, after 60 years of use there is still no solid evidence of any human harm from DDT. Yet the article in The Lancet, like so many before it, will be used by those in the field to dissuade Africans from using the insecticide.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hello, India? I Need Help With My Math

Wow outsourcing is really going global!

Adrianne Yamaki, a 32-year-old management consultant in New York, travels constantly and logs 80-hour workweeks. So to eke out more time for herself, she routinely farms out the administrative chores of her life — making travel arrangements, hair appointments and restaurant reservations and buying theater tickets — to a personal assistant service, in India.

Kenneth Tham, a high school sophomore in Arcadia, Calif., strives to improve his grades and scores on standardized tests. Most afternoons, he is tutored remotely by an instructor speaking to him on a voice-over-Internet headset while he sits at his personal computer going over lessons on the screen. The tutor is in India.

The Bangalore butler is the latest development in offshore outsourcing.

Ebay: The Place for Microfinance

I have mentioned and on this blog as excellent sites to get involved in microfinace loans, now there is a new one--backed by ebay:

On the online auction giant's new MicroPlace site, investors can lend as little as $50 to would-be small business owners around the globe

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Sign petition here...

Save Your Favorite Magazine. Stop Postal Rate Hikes.

In March, the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) voted to implement a massive rate hike for magazines, which puts diverse, independent free speech at risk.

The new rates favors the nation's largest publishers -- like Time Warner who submitted the plan -- while unfairly burdening thousands of smaller and independent magazines with much higher postal rates, as high as 20 or 30 percent.

Now it's up to Congress to reverse the unfair rate hikes and save these important publications. Take Action today!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Continent-size toxic stew of plastic trash fouling swath of Pacific Ocean

In reality, the rogue bag would float into a sewer, follow the storm drain to the ocean, then make its way to the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch - a heap of debris floating in the Pacific that's twice the size of Texas, according to marine biologists.

The enormous stew of trash - which consists of 80 percent plastics and weighs some 3.5 million tons, say oceanographers - floats where few people ever travel, in a no-man's land between San Francisco and Hawaii.

Home-made helicopters hit northern Nigeria

A great example of African ingenuity...

KANO (AFP) - Mubarak Muhammad Abdullahi, a 24-year-old physics undergraduate in northern Nigeria, takes old cars and motorbikes to pieces in the back yard at home and builds his own helicopters from the parts.

"It took me eight months to build this one," he said, sweat pouring from his forehead as he filled the radiator of the banana yellow four-seater which he now parks in the grounds of his university.

The chopper, which has flown briefly on six occasions, is made from scrap aluminium that Abdullahi bought with the money he makes from computer and mobile phone repairs, and a donation from his father, who teaches at Kano's Bayero university.

It is powered by a second-hand 133 horsepower Honda Civic car engine and kitted out with seats from an old Toyota saloon car. Its other parts come from the carcass of a Boeing 747 which crashed near Kano some years ago.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Lifesaver Called "Plumpynut"

If you didn't watch this piece on "Sixty Minutes," you can catch it here:

You've probably never heard a good news story about malnutrition, but you’re about to. Every year, malnutrition kills five million children -- that's one child every six seconds. But now, the Nobel Prize-winning relief group "Doctors Without Borders" says it finally has something that can save millions of these children.
"Now we have something. It is like an essential medicine. In three weeks, we can cure a kid that is looked like they're half dead. We can cure them just like an antibiotic. It’s just, boom! It's a spectacular response," Dr. Tectonidis says.

"It's the equivalent of penicillin, you’re saying?" Cooper asks.

"For these kids, for sure," the doctor says.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Depressed at work? Get a new career

If you read through the article, it seems that the careers in which depression is least prevalent are those which involve the least contact with the public--a comment on the decline of society? It is amazing to me how many physicians and nurses I know are looking at an exit strategy from the profession in which they spent years preparing for...

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Child care workers, home health care aides and other people who provide personal services have the highest rates of depression among U.S. workers, according to a new survey to be published on Monday. ADVERTISEMENT It found that 10.8 percent of personal care and service workers and 10.3 percent of food preparation and serving workers -- both usually low-paying jobs -- experienced one or more major depressive episodes in the past year. The least depressing careers appear to lie in architecture, engineering, the sciences and in the installation, maintenance and repair fields, the survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found.

Staph Fatalities May Exceed AIDS Deaths

CHICAGO - More than 90,000 Americans get potentially deadly infections each year from a drug-resistant staph "superbug," the government reported in its first overall estimate of invasive disease caused by the germ.

eaths tied to these infections may exceed those caused by AIDS, said one public health expert commenting on the new study. Tuesdays report shows just how far one form of the staph germ has spread beyond its traditional hospital setting.

The overall incidence rate was about 32 invasive infections per 100,000 people. That's an "astounding" figure, said an editorial in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, which published the study.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Genentech to Limit Avastin Availability

Like most retina specialists, I am extremely disappointed in Genentech's decisions to limit Avastin availability, thereby costing taxpayers billions of dollars for what is likely an equivalent treatment for macular degeneration.

In addition, avastin is used for many other retinal conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy, for which Lucentis is not approved and for which insurance companies won't pay. It will be pretty difficult to now ask patients to pay 2000 dollars for a shot of Lucentis to avoid placement of 2000 spots of laser for diabetic retinopathy...

This decision by Genentech is exactly what economic theory would predict in an environment in which the largest purchaser of medication, i.e. medicare, has no pricing control (the anti-Walmart approach) whilst physicians fees are controlled by the government. (I was very disappointed that the Medicare D initiative didn't include some sort of price controls). Of course any drug company, whether Genentech, Novartis (with Visudyne) etc...will see what they can get away with in terms of pricing. Their primary concern is profit, not the budget deficit or the increased cost to taxpayers in an economy that is already on the verge of a serious recession. Since the connection between charging tax payers more to pay for these meds and the pricing of individual meds is separated by so many degrees, most tax payers will not revolt so the reasoning goes.

The only thing big pharma has to do is to figure out how to deal with patients who don't have a secondary insurance as medicare will only pay 80% of the cost, leaving the patients with a 400$ copay per month for Lucentis. In a flash of brilliance, big pharma trots out a program, with much grandstanding, that will provide financial aid to such patients. Of course no one knows how many patients will actually get any financial aid. Of course, the overstressed doctor's office will have no trouble filling out the reams of paperwork for each patient who will need such financial assistance...

The split between pharma and retina specialists started when Novartis broke all pricing barriers in charging 1200$ per visudyne treatment every 3 months (doctor gets about 100$ per treatment). Now Genentech even more brazenly not only about doubles the cost, but gets to charge this 2000$ every month! (Doctor still gets about 100$ to administer drug).

It is hard to remain an idealist while working in the midst of such greed and lack of shame in the world of big pharma...

Genentech Inc. said it will stop making its cancer drug Avastin available to certain pharmacies in a bid to curb its use in treating eye disease -- which has cut into sales of the company's high-priced eye drug.


Compounding pharmacies, which are licensed to mix and repackage drugs, put Avastin into syringes that contain a once-monthly dose of the drug for use in the eye and cost about $40. A once-monthly dose of Lucentis costs about $2,000.

Medicare, which offers health coverage for the elderly and disabled and is a big purchaser of the two drugs, has said curbing Avastin could cost taxpayers $1 billion to $3 billion a year. Using a cheaper drug not only would preserve Medicare funds, but would trim beneficiaries' exposure to high co-payments, program administrators say.

The question of the drugs' equivalence may be decided in a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Genentech has refused to support the head-to-head study, nor to provide the two drugs at cost, reasoning it already has invested seven years of research and development in validating Lucentis as safe and effective.

Battle lines over usage pit retinal specialists -- many of whom have opted to prescribe Avastin -- against the company and its backers, who say recovering profits is necessary to preserve the U.S. edge in health-care innovation.
(Interestingly retina specialists get no kudos from the government for saving medicare billions of dollars annually).

South Africa 'losing Aids battle'

South Africa is in danger of losing the battle against HIV/Aids, the United Nations children's agency has warned.

Unicef's South Africa representative Macharia Kamau said that infection and death rates in the country are outpacing treatment.

This was having a devastating effect on children whose parents die of Aids and sent out a dire message for the future.

Mr Kamau said if present trends continued there could be five million orphans in South Africa by 2015.

Hugh risk

South Africa is one of just nine countries worldwide where infant mortality is rising - from 60 deaths per 1,000 births in 1990, to 95 deaths today.

The main reason, Unicef says, is HIV/Aids.

The average infection rate is almost 30% of the population - in some regions it is closer to 50%.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Human-Rights Vacuum

I am currently reading "A Problem from Hell-America and the Age of Genocide," by Samantha Power. The book was a National Book Critics Award Winner. Ms. Power is is a professor of Public Policy at Harvard's John F. Kennedy's School of Governement and has won a Pulitzer Prize. Her writing is well worth reading...(She is the author of this article).

Rebel troops stampeded an african Union base in Darfur, Sudan, last month, murdering 10 African peacekeepers. That same week in Burma, the military regime killed a Japanese photographer and turned its machine guns on unarmed, barefoot monks. The violence in Darfur and Burma met with widespread international condemnation but scant concrete action. The perpetrators will almost certainly get away with murder.

What is going on? Even in an era of connectedness, when such outrages are beamed into living rooms around the globe, the world's major powers can't seem to agree on what should be done or who should do it. While many foreign critics of the U.S. express relief at the erosion of American influence, events in Burma and Darfur show the downside of the U.S.'s diminished standing: a void in global human-rights leadership.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Email the Olympic Corporate Sponsors

If you go to the link below there is a link on that page which will allow you to email corporate sponsors of the Olympics in Beijing--given China's support of the Sudanese and Burmese government it seems reasonable to me to exert pressure via such a campaign...

TAKE ACTION NOW Dear Friend of Darfur: We are asking for your help to end the suffering in Darfur.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Economics of Gold-Digging

The discussion of this craigslist ad and the response below are quite interesting...

What am I doing wrong?

Okay, I’m tired of beating around the bush. I’m a beautiful (spectacularly beautiful) 25-year-old girl. I’m articulate and classy. I’m not from New York. I’m looking to get married to a guy who makes at least [a] half a million a year. I know how that sounds, but keep in mind that a million a year is middle class in New York City, so I don’t think I’m overreaching at all.

Are there any guys who make 500K or more on this board? Any wives? Could you send me some tips? I dated a businessman who makes average around 200 - 250K. But that’s where I seem to hit a roadblock. 250,000K won’t get me to Central Park West. I know a woman in my yoga class who was married to an investment banker and lives in Tribeca, and she’s not as pretty as I am, nor is she a great genius. So what is she doing right? How do I get to her level?


Your offer, from the prospective of a guy like me, is plain and simple a crappy business deal. Here’s why. Cutting through all the B.S., what you suggest is a simple trade: you bring your looks to the party, and I bring my money. Fine, simple. But here’s the rub — your looks will fade and my money will likely continue into perpetuity … in fact, it is very likely that my income increases but it is an absolute certainty that you won’t be getting any more beautiful!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Doha or Die

How appropriate that the fate of global trade talks may be decided in Africa today when the leaders of Brazil, India and South Africa huddle in Pretoria. Developing countries stand to gain the most from the embattled Doha Round, which makes it all the more strange that these three regional economic powers are threatening to kill it.

What a switch from previous years, when the U.S. and Europe almost let Doha founder rather than reduce their agriculture subsidies. Now that dynamic has changed. The U.S. offered last month to cap annual farm subsidies to between $13 billion and $16.4 billion; current U.S. subsidies are even lower, at around $11 billion. Given that the U.S. walked away from the table earlier this year when a $17 billion offer was floated, that's a big concession.

This U.S. flexibility has created a spurt of goodwill, especially among European Union countries, many of which now look ready to do a deal. But the so-called advanced developing countries, led by Brazil and India, have turned up their noses. Bowing to their domestic constituencies, neither has even accepted the agricultural or industrial texts on offer with the World Trade Organization as a basis for discussion.

Extensive playlist of the most well-reported youtube videos on Burma

Video roundup of recent Burmese events

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sexual Violence in Eastern Congo

Willermine Mulihano said she was raped twice — first by Hutu militiamen two years ago and then in July by soldiers loyal to Laurent Nkunda, a Congolese Tutsi. Two soldiers held her legs apart, while three others took turns violating her. “When I think about what happened,” she said, “I feel anxious and brokenhearted.” She is also lonely. Her husband divorced her after the first rape, saying she was diseased.

Photo: Hazel Thompson for The New York Times

Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War

BUKAVU, Congo — Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist, cannot bear to listen to the stories his patients tell him anymore.

Every day, 10 new women and girls who have been raped show up at his hospital. Many have been so sadistically attacked from the inside out, butchered by bayonets and assaulted with chunks of wood, that their reproductive and digestive systems are beyond repair.

“We don’t know why these rapes are happening, but one thing is clear,” said Dr. Mukwege, who works in South Kivu Province, the epicenter of Congo’s rape epidemic. “They are done to destroy women.”


According to victims, one of the newest groups to emerge is called the Rastas, a mysterious gang of dreadlocked fugitives who live deep in the forest, wear shiny tracksuits and Los Angeles Lakers jerseys and are notorious for burning babies, kidnapping women and literally chopping up anybody who gets in their way.

United Nations officials said the so-called Rastas were once part of the Hutu militias who fled Rwanda after committing genocide there in 1994, but now it seems they have split off on their own and specialize in freelance cruelty.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

The End of an African NIghtmare

Positive developments in Liberia updated

I am witnessing a truly remarkable turnaround. I’m in Monrovia, Liberia, in the midst of what until recently was a horrible war zone, but is now a place of hope. Led by the indomitable President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman elected head of state in Africa, Liberia is beginning to rebound from its devastating civil war and the monstrous incompetence of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor that nearly destroyed the country. Liberia is at peace, the economy is growing, democracy is taking root, kids are going back to school, and families are being united.

It would have been nearly impossible to imagine these changes just four-and-a-half years ago. Monrovia was in chaos as rebel groups shelled the city in an effort to oust Taylor. By that point the 14-year civil war had killed 270,000 people – an astonishing one out of every twelve Liberians – and forced another 250,000 to become refugees. The economy had completely collapsed, with GDP falling by more than 90 percent between 1989 and 1996, one of the largest collapses ever recorded anywhere in the world. Children as young as ten had become pawns in the violence, with warlords abducting them from their families, stuffing them with drugs, and arming them with AK-47s (for a first-hand account from a former child soldier in neighboring Sierra Leone, read the riveting A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

African Air Safety...

The Sad State of the Airline Industry in Africa...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Stanley, I Presume

A review of "Stanley The Impossible Life Of Africa's Greatest Explorer" by Paul Theroux

Poor Africa, the happy hunting ground of the mythomaniac, the rock star buffing up his or her image, the missionary with a faith to sell, the child buyer, the retailer of dirty drugs or toxic cigarettes, the editor in search of a scoop, the empire builder, the aid worker, the tycoon wishing to rid himself of his millions, the school builder with a bucket of patronage, the experimenting economist, the diamond merchant, the oil executive, the explorer, the slave trader, the eco-tourist, the adventure traveler, the bird watcher, the travel writer, the escapee, the colonial and his crapulosities, the banker, the busybody, the Mandela-sniffer, the political fantasist, the buccaneer and your cousin the Peace Corps Volunteer. Oh, and the atoner, of whom Thoreau observed in a skeptical essay: “Now, if anything ail a man so that he does not perform his functions ... if he has committed some heinous sin and partially repents, what does he do? He sets about reforming the world.” Thoreau, who had Africa specifically in mind, added, “Do you hear it, ye Wolofs?”

Friday, September 28, 2007

Trashing Teens

Like the author, I also believe that alot of unnecessary angst occurs from parents treating teens as children, rather than adults in America. Nearly everywhere else I have been, from Iran to Africa, children are given a much higher level of responsibility/expectation at a much earlier age than here in the States...
They thrive on this...

Another thing that is missing here in raising young men and women is a traditional rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. For example, young Masai warriors in Kenya are given spears and told they must not come back until they come back with a lion, in order to mark their passage into manhood.

Psychologist Robert Epstein argues in a provocative book, "The Case Against Adolescence," that teens are far more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed on them.

In recent surveys I've found that American teens are subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as mainstream adults, twice as many restrictions as active-duty U.S. Marines, and even twice as many as incarcerated felons. Psychologist Diane Dumas and I also found a correlation between infantilization and psychological dysfunction. The more young people are infantilized, the more psychopathology they show.
Dumas and I worked out what makes an adult an adult. We came up with 14 areas of competency—such as interpersonal skills, handling responsibility, leadership—and administered tests to adults and teens in several cities around the country. We found that teens were as competent or nearly as competent as adults in all 14 areas. But when adults estimate how teens will score, their estimates are dramatically below what the teens actually score.

Other long-standing data show that teens are at least as competent as adults. IQ is a quotient that indicates where you stand relative to other people your age; that stays stable. But raw scores of intelligence peak around age 14-15 and shrink thereafter. Scores on virtually all tests of memory peak between ages 13 and 15. Perceptual abilities all peak at that age. Brain size peaks at 14. Incidental memory—what you remember by accident, and not due to mnemonics—is remarkably good in early to mid teens and practically nonexistent by the '50s and '60s.

Fighting Giraffes in Tanzania

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Cellphone without Borders

This sounds intriguing:
Early next month, a small company called Cubic Telecom will release what it’s calling the first global mobile phone.

But here’s the other dizzying news: Cubic’s cheap global dialing has nothing to do with the phone. The real magic is in the SIM card, the memory card that determines your account information.

So get this: For $40, you can buy this card without the phone. Cubic says that you can slip it into any GSM phone — even your regular T-Mobile or AT&T phone, as long as it’s an “unlocked” phone (one that works with other companies’ SIM cards). Then your own cellphone behaves exactly like the Cubic phone described up to this point, minus the Wi-Fi calling, of course.
f nothing else, this ingenious melding of the cellphone and the Internet should strike fear into the hearts of the giant corporations that are currently bleeding travelers dry. This is how the last great overpriced pre-Internet racket will end: not with a bang, but with a SIM card.

He’s Happier, She’s Less So

This intriguing — if unsettling — finding is part of a larger story: there appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women.

Bono's Liberty Medal Acceptance Speech Transcript

Hey, these are the reasons I’m a fan of America – and one more. America is not just a country. It’s an idea, isn’t it? It’s a great and powerful idea. The idea that all men are created equal. That “we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These are great lyrics, Mr. Jefferson. Great opening riff. The Declaration of Independence has a great closing line too – “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” Well the men who made that, the men who signed that pledge, had a lot to lose by signing - like their lives. So what then about you and me? What are we ready to pledge? What are we ready to pledge ourselves to? Anything? Anything at all?

What about this idea of liberty? Not liberty for its own sake, but liberty for some larger end – not just freedom from oppression, but freedom of expression and worship. Freedom from want, and freedom from fear because when you are trapped by poverty, you are not free. When trade laws prevent you from selling the food you grow, you are not free. When you are dying of a mosquito bite for lack of a bed net, you are not free. When you are hungry in a world of plenty, you are not free. And when you are a monk in Burma this very week, barred from entering a temple because of your gospel of peace, it is an affront to the thug regime, well then none of us are truly free.

My other country, America, I know you’ll not stand for that. So, look I’m not going to stand here, a rock star who just stepped off a private plane, and tell you to put your lives on the line for people you’ve never met or your fortunes – I haven’t. But our sacred honor might just be at stake here. That and a whole lot else. So what, then, are we willing to pledge? How about our science, your technology, your creativity…America has so many great answers to offer. We can’t fix all the world’s problems. But the ones we can, we must.

Enough of my voice. Listen to the voice of young Africa. Good night.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

"Miracle" Saved Teenager's Eye after Chair Assault

THESE X-ray images show the leg of a chair embedded into the eye socket of a Melbourne teenager who miraculously survived a random attack outside a city nightclub earlier this year.

The images of teenager Shafique el-Fahkri at the Royal Melbourne Hospital were taken as a team of five surgeons prepared for the complex three-hour operation that would save his life and his eye.

After leaving intensive care, Mr Fahkri spent a month in hospital and today has 95 per cent of his sight back.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Freedom Flight: Kid's Homemade Paraglider Leads to Fame

Cyril Mazibuko got his start in the sport at the age of 12, building homemade wings from plastic bags and rope.

Cyril Mazibuko grew up in the shadows of the mountains. Born in a small kraal at the foot of the Drakensberg range in the southern part of the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa, Cyril would often look up at the 3,000-meter basalt peaks, a playground for African paragliders. Enthralled, Cyril made a decision: He would build his own glider and join them in the sky.

Now 26, Cyril is the only black South African currently registered with the sport's ruling body. And it all started with a glider he made from plastic bags, purloined rope and baling wire, a glider that flew -- sort of -- though it both amazed and horrified the professional paragliders who saw it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is ‘Do Unto Others’ Written Into Our Genes?

Interesting article on morality, but in my view, the analysis breaks down when discussing differences in morality between conservatives and liberals...

Where do moral rules come from? From reason, some philosophers say. From God, say believers. Seldom considered is a source now being advocated by some biologists, that of evolution.


He likens the mind’s subterranean moral machinery to an elephant, and conscious moral reasoning to a small rider on the elephant’s back. Psychologists and philosophers have long taken a far too narrow view of morality, he believes, because they have focused on the rider and largely ignored the elephant.

Dr. Haidt developed a better sense of the elephant after visiting India at the suggestion of an anthropologist, Richard Shweder. In Bhubaneswar, in the Indian state of Orissa, Dr. Haidt saw that people recognized a much wider moral domain than the issues of harm and justice that are central to Western morality. Indians were concerned with integrating the community through rituals and committed to concepts of religious purity as a way to restrain behavior.


Thanks for all who have been valiantly attempting to get the correct diagnosis--the ideas put forth demonstrate brilliance indeed.
Okay here is blues clues #2--The Patient's Father:

Monday, September 17, 2007

Big Gamble in Rwanda

A concise summary of the history of Rwanda up to the present day from the New York Review of Books
(although it does not reference the most chilling book I have read on the Rwandan genocide:
"We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We will be Killed With Our Families" by Philip Gourevitch.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Dr. Fatima from Zaria brought a picture of this young lady to the Nigerian Ophthalmologic Society for a consult:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Drugs Banned, Many of World’s Poor Suffer in Pain

This article sheds light on the abysmal state not only of pain management but of the entire health system in places like Sierra Leone. When I was there last Fall, I was surprised to find that the country had not had an electricity for >40 years. Even the hospitals I visited depend on generators. However, most of the hospitals I visited either did not have functioning generators or could not afford the petrol required to run them. I visied the "ICU" in Kissey Hospital in Freetown, where there was a single patient being fanned by his relative. He had a high fever and was delirious. He had no I.V. nor monitors hooked up. The nurses said there were no bags of saline etc.. for the I.V. The monitors hadn't worked in years. Anyway, the generators weren't working. I asked the nurse what then made this and "ICU?" She repllied, there are two nurses per patient.....

Like millions of others in the world’s poorest countries, she is destined to die in pain. She cannot get the drug she needs — one that is cheap, effective, perfectly legal for medical uses under treaties signed by virtually every country, made in large quantities, and has been around since Hippocrates praised its source, the opium poppy. She cannot get morphine.

That is not merely because of her poverty, or that of Sierra Leone. Narcotics incite fear: doctors fear addicting patients, and law enforcement officials fear drug crime. Often, the government elite who can afford medicine for themselves are indifferent to the sufferings of the poor.
At pain conferences, doctors from Africa describe patients whose pain is so bad that they have chosen other remedies: hanging themselves or throwing themselves in front of trucks.

Westerners tend to assume that most people in tropical countries die of malaria, AIDS, worm diseases and unpronounceable ills. But as vaccines, antibiotics and AIDS drugs become more common, more and more are surviving past measles, infections, birth complications and other sources of a quick death. They grow old enough to die slowly of cancer.

About half the six million cancer deaths in the world last year were in poor countries, and most diagnoses were made late, when death was inevitable. But first, there was agony.
When he first saw her, her tumor was wrapped with clay and leaves prescribed by a local healer. The smell of her rotting skin made her feel ashamed.

She had seen a doctor at one of many low-cost “Indian clinics” who pulled at the breast with forceps so hard that she screamed, misdiagnosed her tumor as an infected boil, and gave her an injection in her buttocks that abscessed, adding to her misery.

Nothing can be done about the tumor, Mr. Lewis explained quietly. “All the bleeders are open,” he said. “Her risk now is hemorrhage. Only a knife-crazy surgeon would attend to her.”

Earlier diagnosis would probably not have changed her fate. Sierra Leone has no CAT scanners, and only one private hospital offers chemotherapy drug treatment. The Sesays are sharecroppers; they have no money.

Quote of the Day

"Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living."
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Global Coalition of Good

Dr. Tabin gets recognized by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs,the famous economist from Columbia and author of "The End of Poverty" in this week's Time magazine. According to the statistics below, Dr. Tabin and his team saw over 650 patients a day!!!

Geoffrey Tabin, an accomplished American ophthalmologist, sent me an e-mail recently reporting on the week he spent in a poor village in Ghana, in West Africa. "We examined 4,600 people and documented their visual status, refractive errors and any pathology or disease," he wrote. "We gave spectacles to all who needed glasses and gave away 500 pairs of reading glasses. My retinal partner and I performed 159 cataract surgeries. All of the patients were seen one week postoperatively. There were no infections or serious complications."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Note That Makes Us Weep

A PUBLICIST long ago gave Luciano Pavarotti the sobriquet King of the High C’s, for his remarkable ability to hit and sing the heck out of one of the highest notes of the tenor voice.
The tenor high C has a long and noble tradition, and a healthy dose of mystique.
“It’s the absolute summit of technique,” said Craig Rutenberg, the Metropolitan Opera’s director of musical administration — in effect, its chief vocal coach. “More than anywhere else in your voice, you have to know what you’re doing. To me it signals a self-confidence in the singer that lets him communicate to us that he knows what he’s doing and he has something very important to express with that note.”
“The reason it’s so exciting to people is, it’s based on the human cry,” said Maitland Peters, chairman of the voice department at the Manhattan School of Music. “It’s instinctual. It’s like a baby. You’re pulled into it.” When a tenor sings a ringing high C, it seems, “there’s nothing in his way,” Mr. Peters said.
Mr. Pavarotti once described the feeling this way: “Excited and happy, but with a strong undercurrent of fear. The moment I actually hit the note, I almost lose consciousness. A physical, animal sensation seizes me. Then I regain control.”

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Vitamin A Fortified Cooking Oil

This potentially seems like a great solution to Vit A deficiency which depresses immune function and is particularly relevant to measeles infection. Vit A deficiency in itself is a leading cause of developing world blindness.

HKI Announces $2.7 million multi-partner public/private initiative to produce vitamin A-fortified cooking oil in eight countries in West Africa.

Fortifying cooking oil with vitamin A has proven to be effective, widely-accepted, sustainable and low cost. Approximately 70% of the target population, including children, consume industrially processed oil. The cost of fortification per liter is only 1 cent, an imperceptible increase to the consumer since cooking oil prices normally experience slight seasonal variations.

Back Home

Well, Devin and I finally made it home last night. Perhaps the best part of the flight to JFK was the final approach when we hit major turbulence. Let me explain.

There was a large section in the middle of the airplane with many Nigerian children. They were whooping,hollering, and laughing as the airplane lurched up and down and sideways. To them it was like being on a roller coaster. Even though we were about 10-15,000 feet above ground, or so I judged looking out the window, they were oblivious. The joy that these kids were having made all the adults on the plane smile and erased the normal anxiety one might feel when one suddenly finds one's stomach in one's throat. When we landed the kids were absolutely ecstatic! I had never experienced anything like it on the numerous flights I have taken in the past. It was a great reminder of the vibrant character of Nigeria and its people.

Thanks to ORBIS INTERNATIONAL for a very successful trip!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Lagos Airport

The airport

9pm--After saying "Goodbye" (with some difficulty) to Ahmed and Amelia, we started the arduous process of going through the Nigerian check-in procedure. There were a total of 8 checkpoints that I can remember, including one where I was told that I had committed a grave error by not checking in my wooden statues with the Museum of National Antiquities.The two guards simultaneously, as if on cue, pointed to a rickety wooden sign which appeared to be at least 100 years old and hung askew on a concrete pillar behind them, stamped with the same message. The flimsy wooden tablet, crookedly hanging reflected,at least in my mind, the level of the gaurd's true concern about the two statues they had unearthed in my suitcase. I could tell that they had done this act before. I had never heard of the Museum of Natural Anquities. In fact I wasn't sure that such a museum existed. I wasn't sure where the gaurds were going with this, so I played it cool and they eventually let me go, despite my "sin."

10:30 pm--we are at the Boarding Gate, after going through our final 2 security checks. The fatigue starts to set in as Devin, Sandy, and I plop down on the blue metal benches. My mind a bit of a mush by this point, is easily distracted as my eyes wander over the boarding area. I am transfixed by multiple protuberant 2" inch high black pieces of rubber protruding from and screwed into the tile floor every few feet. Other than testing feet to eye coordination, what function could these multiple rubber stoppers serve? Perhaps an artistic attempt to simulate mushrooms at the boarding gate? Part of the randomness...

My sense of relaxation slowly starts to erode as our scheduled boarding time passes without comment from the staff of North American Airlines. I wonder why an airline that serves North Africa, with its fleet of 10 planes as claimed (Devin and I thought they surely had only one plane), would name itself "North American Airlines." Are they are trying to emulate our airlines not only in name but also consistent delays?

1:45pm--2 hours past the scheduled boarding time, and an employee at the Gate announces cheerily and sharply--in the tone of a bugle call and with the ubiquitous smile of Nigerians: "North American Airlines Flight 134" is having mechanical problems. We are working on it." Well at least we finally know why we are delayed, but there is no indication if or when the problem might be resolved.

Fortunately and inexplicably, Devin's cellphone, a Samsung Blackjack, is working for the first time since the beginning of this trip. This is a rather exciting development. Unfortunately we can't figure how to get the "+'"sign for international calls to come up. Devin recalls that he was able to text message his wife, Laurie, last week without the plus sign. So we try and text Laurie as well as Dolores Craig, travel arranger for Orbis based in New York City. The dice don't roll our way however, as the error messages abound from the Blackjack.

After numerous unsuccessful texting attempts, I decided that I must get into a zen relationship with the cryptic keyboard and "play" the Blackjack, instead of it playing me--like Einstein riding the photon to come up with his Theory of Relativity, E=MC2. Entering into a trance-like state, clarity strikes as I mentally ride the GSM bandwidth..I see what I must do to materialize the '+" sign on the keyboard--the mark of cultural literacy among the international cognescti and the culturally hip..."Ah ha" I exclaim as I push on zero and count to three.
Sandy, thinking that we have received a text message on our communication device, promptly stands up to walk over. At precisely this same moment, a large African flying insect flys right by Sandy's nose at rapid velocity, nearly knocking her glasses off and setting her back down in its wake.Another example of the random nature of the day.

+ sign leading the way, we are able to call Dolores Craig's contact number based on the information given us by Amelia..but unexpectedly we get someone other than Dolores on the other end. After a bit of oblique conversation (I don't want to say I am calling from Lagos, Nigeria as this could raise suspicion and result in her hanging up. She is our lifeline to Ms. Craig-must keep her on the line). We determine that I am calling Dolores Craig's friend. She puts me on hold and tries to call Dolores' cell phone. Given inernational cellphone calling rates, it is decided that she will keep trying to call Dolores and have her call us. Wait 20 minutes but don't hear back. We are in a bit of a dilemma as we don't want to bother Ms. Craig,, and don't want to bother Ahmed and Amelia who are both asleep in the "Hardly Suites" (true name) as they have worked so unbelievably hard for the Orbis team since we have been here the past two weeks.

Tonight probably represents the first night of real sleep for them. However, we do want to get on the next flight, which is a Virgin Atlantic Flight in the morning. lest we be stranded in Lagos, officially rated as the worst airport on the Earth, for an indeterminate amount of time. Our anxiety partially stems from difficulties another Orbis team member, Alicia, had in getting back to the States after missing a flight. (Of course she was flying from Nigeria to Columbia--two countries that are not exactly on the "no crime" radar of international transport authorities). The other concern of course is the connecting flights from New York to each of our individual destinations. We process all the options and resolve to relax and wait a bit longer.

Around 2:30 am we suddenly note large plumes of black smoke coming from the front door of the plane. Images of our airplane exploding into a ball of flames rush in as we rush over to the window to get a better view. We can see that it is actually petrol fumes comng from a large portable generator adjacent to the plane. Whew--big sigh of relief, sort of...I mean the airline surely wouldn't purposely allow such a visible anxiety-provoking "smoking" of the plane on purpose. The large clouds of black smoke keep recurring. There must be something terribly wrong and out of control. I could be wrong but I don't think that an American based airline would allow billowing clouds of black smoke to envelop a plane as the passengers-to-be looked on. Might..I don't know..make one think twice about boarding....Confidence levels indeed drop precipitously and I can hear the faint murmur of discontent growing increasingly audible as more and more passengers are pulling out their cell phones and trying to control the escalting sense of alarm --" Book me on the Virgin Air flight tomorrow am" seems to be the identical theme of these multiple conversations--an idea we have been considering as well--Now we are thinking that there will be a direct correlation to the availability of the Virgin flight seats and the height and duration of the black smoke continuing to envelop our vessel of return to the New World.

Devin and Sandy both seem content to wait a bit longer, while my fingers, holding the Blackjack,are itching to call Amelia and Ahmed--our "special ops."

3:00 am-- Devin makes the comment: "This is looking worse." As the word "worse" is being formed by his buccal cavity and not even vocalized yet, my fingers are already calling Ahmed's number. I wake the poor guy out of a deep sleep--pretty much as I expected I would, and explain the situation. He, as consistently as ever, responds with great kindness as he simultaneously and quickly throws off the mantle of sleepiness to jet into a "high alert" state of consciousness.
He will book flights on Virgin for us through the internet. He rapidly fires instructions:
"Find a local Nigerian phone as phone calls from Devin's U.S. sim card phone will be too expensive. In the event your flight does take off leave your phone on until the last minute before take off. On arrival to JFK check your email to find your new connecting flight information. I will call Amelia immediately after we hang up to enlist her assistance in obtaining seats. We will continue to contact Dolores as well."

I am marveling at his (and Amelia's) ability to yet again instantaneously shift into crisis solving mentality as I take mental notes on the above. I am sure that he either was totally unconscious from fatigue or dreaming of meeting up with his wife and two beautiful children in Cairo tomorrow when he received my call. Unbelievable people he and Amelia are. I feel much better, having these guys on our sides.

3:10am--Good news. An airplane representative (different one this time), crisply, happily, and authoritatively announces that everyone can now get on the plane. The whoops of excitement give way to a mad rush to the boarding gate. I call Ahmed and Amelia to tell them the seemingly good news. Ten minutes elapse... and we start to see the passengers stream back from the boarding gate--off the plane! The previous murmurs of frustration have now reached full shouting level as people retake their seats in the boarding gate area. The potential for the scene to get ugly starts to rear its head. We inform Ahmed of the latest development. By this time it is nearly 4:00am. Ahmed says he and Amelia are just going to come to the airport! Wow!!! I cannot believe the sacrifice and dedication of these guys. In fact I am so struck by their dedication to our welfare that this sentiment not only ameliorates but even supercedes any anxiety about how and when we will get back across the Atlantic.

Around 4:30am another airline employee in the same sort of stilted and Nigerian accented, cheerful delivery announces "North American Ailines Flight 431 will now begin boarding!." Surreally, there is no reference to the previous aborting attempt, nor explanation of why there has now been a 4 and 1/2 hour delay. At this point a few intrepid passengers tentatively head on to the boarding ramp; others, whose anxiety has now been combined with a liberal dose of indignity have to practically be coaxed to get on the plane--a total reversal of the chaotic boarding process that is usually the case for flights in the developing world and which occured on the first boarding attempt.

Once all the passengers, collectively bound by a huge leap of faith in the airline (and an astounding ability to shut out visions of aviation disaster) are on the plane, a very high-pitched whirring sound followed by staccato, grating "knife like" sounds (reminiscent of a horror movie soundtrack) rises to incessantly pound our eardrums at very high volumes. These are not the normal sounds associated with an airplane starting up--more akin to what might imagine--"mechanical failure" to sound like. I wonder if we are unknowing participants in a psychological experiment to see how much toruture can be administered to prospective passengers and still have them board the plane...

The captain gets on the P.A. and mumbles something which basically sounds like "blah, blah, blah" to me--something about the need to replace a battery. I am thinking that is really weird. Is it like jump-starting your car? Pull out the jumper cables, attach to monster generator, and if the battery doesn't start, run down the local Sears store for a replacement? Where do you get a replacement battery for a jet at 3am in Lagos, Nigeria? I don't know. Are my sleep-deprived neurons are at this point lacking in coherent connectivity, or I am in the set of the next movie version of "Airplane." Obsessing over whether or not key neurotransmitters levels are depleted or whether I really am a character in a slapstick comedy and just don't know it, I settle into my seat, next to Devin. (Nurse Sandy, due to an error at the scheduling gate, is not seated with us. Another random absurdity, as she was standing with me at the ticket counter, plainly visible to the ticketing agent when I announced that "all three of us would like to be seated together. Several minutes later (security check #5 out of 10 I believe it was) we did notice that she had been assigned a seat far from us. We felt that in the overall scheme of things, it was a minor inconvenice. Little did we know that was a sign--a sign; yes (sigh), a sign...)

We settle in, and Devin, peering through the window, notes that the airplane is unable to taxi backwards. A vehicle is called in to the runway to tow this tube of steel in which we will be hurtling over the Atlantic during the next 11 hours... backwards... Now the pilot is testing the wing flaps. Up, down, up, down--feel like I am watching a marionette show. Is the Captain really going through a safety check, or is he a really happy guy having fun? Is it hot in here of are my just catecholaminses just a little ramped? . Actually, at this point the butterflies in my stomach can't be roused --they have all gone to sleep. Some part of my consciousness, which is going up and down in rhythm with the wing flaps, and in parallel with my nodding head, keeps saying in a soothing manner "Relax, this is all a dream."

The Captain interrupts my slumber to cheerily announce in the exuberant tone that has become a trademark of this airlines, "We are almost ready to go...We just have to wait for paperwork in order to document the previous problems." Heavens to Betsy--Paperwork? Yes he said, "paperwork." "Can't you see that we are weary, hungry, sleep-deprived and..and...and... smell bad" I want to say. Well I for one sure am glad that we are committed to protocol. Definitely agree that we wouldn't want to say start out 5 hour delayed/11 hour journey without filling out the paperwork.... After all what possibly could be more important right now? Surely not 300 passengers mentally and physically fatigued, bordering on the edge of lunacy... and on track to miss all our connecting flights " from J.F.K.. "Should only be another 10 or 15 minutes to get that paperwork!" the same voice cheerily announces. Do they have some kind of Happy acoustical filter in the P.A. system, or is the Captain just a little too out of touch with reality for all of our good I wonder as I slump down into my seat, not quite yet in a foetal position..

Fianlly the plane starts to move in fits and starts. Or am I just imaging this as I dazedly gaze out the airplane window. It is real. The plane is picking up speed.
At 5:15 am, a "slight delay" from the 11:45 pm scheduled time, we are lifiting off....
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