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...

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