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.
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