Sunday, June 29, 2008

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

This article describes what I found to be one of the most unique aspects of life in America, especially salient to me after living abroad for many years...

According to social scientists, from 1974 to 1998, the frequency with which Americans spent a social evening with neighbors fell by about one-third. Robert Putnam, the author of “Bowling Alone,” a groundbreaking study of the disintegration of the American social fabric, suggests that the decline actually began 20 years earlier, so that neighborhood ties today are less than half as strong as they were in the 1950s.

Why is it that in an age of cheap long-distance rates, discount airlines and the Internet, when we can create community anywhere, we often don’t know the people who live next door?

Anxious in America

My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Get Out of Your Own Way

Remarkably, Robert Pirsig wrote about this phenomenon from a humanistic background many years ago in the classic, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance--An Inquiry into Values."

Fishing in the stream of consciousness, researchers now can detect our intentions and predict our choices before we are aware of them ourselves. The brain, they have found, appears to make up its mind 10 seconds before we become conscious of a decision -- an eternity at the speed of thought.

Their findings challenge conventional notions of choice.
In ways we are only beginning to understand, the synapses and neurons in the human nervous system work in concert to perceive the world around them, to learn from their perceptions, to remember important experiences, to plan ahead, and to decide and act on incomplete information. In a rudimentary way, they predetermine our choices.

Friday, June 27, 2008

A Life's Lesson

When somebody dies, we tell his story and try to define and isolate what was special about it—what it was he brought to the party, how he enhanced life by showing up. In this way we educate ourselves about what really matters. Or, often, re-educate ourselves, for "man needs more to be reminded than instructed."
(..)The beautiful thing about the coverage (of Tim Russert's death) was that it offered extremely important information to those age 15 or 25 or 30 who may not have been told how to operate in the world beyond "Go succeed." I'm not sure we tell the young as much as we ought, as clearly as we ought, what it is the world admires, and what it is they want to emulate.

In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn't. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn't, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That's what it really admires. That's what we talk about in eulogies, because that's what's important. We don't say, "The thing about Joe was he was rich." We say, if we can, "The thing about Joe was he took care of people."

The young are told, "Be true to yourself." But so many of them have no idea, really, what that means. If they don't know who they are, what are they being true to? They're told, "The key is to hold firm to your ideals." But what if no one bothered, really, to teach them ideals?
After Tim's death, the entire television media for four days told you the keys to a life well lived, the things you actually need to live life well, and without which it won't be good. Among them: taking care of those you love and letting them know they're loved, which involves self-sacrifice; holding firm to God, to your religious faith, no matter how high you rise or low you fall. This involves guts, and self-discipline, and active attention to developing and refining a conscience to whose promptings you can respond. Honoring your calling or profession by trying to do within it honorable work, which takes hard effort, and a willingness to master the ethics of your field. And enjoying life. This can be hard in America, where sometimes people are rather grim in their determination to get and to have. "Enjoy life, it's ungrateful not to," said Ronald Reagan.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Eyes Bloodshot, Doctors Vent Their Discontent

I think that perhaps we are close to if not at the point that the attorneys and insurance companies, including medicare, have "won"--to the point that patients don't get care and doctors are "throwing in the hat/surgical cap..."

In a survey last year of nearly 2,400 physicians conducted by a physician recruiting firm,, 3 percent said they were not frustrated by nonclinical aspects of medicine. The level of frustration has increased with nearly every survey.

“It will take real structural change in the work environment for physician satisfaction to improve,” Dr. Mark Linzer, an internist at the University of Wisconsin who has done extensive research on physician unhappiness, told me. “Fortunately, the data show that physicians are willing to put up with a lot before giving up.”

Red Wine May Curb Fat Cell

Red wine appears to protect the heart and prolong life. Now a new study suggests it may also be a weapon against obesity.

A Search for Answers in Russert’s Death

It is not clear whether Mr. Russert’s death could have been prevented. He was doing nearly all he could to lower his risk. He took blood pressure pills and a statin drug to control his cholesterol, he worked out every day on an exercise bike, and he was trying to lose weight, his doctors said on Monday. And still it was not enough.

If there is any lesson in his death, his doctors said, it is a reminder that heart disease can be silent, and that people, especially those with known risk factors, should pay attention to diet, blood pressure, weight and exercise — even if they are feeling fine.

“If there’s one number that’s a predictor of mortality, it’s waist circumference,” said Dr. Michael A. Newman, Mr. Russert’s internist.

Blind Men and The Diabetes Elephant

Blind Men and The Diabetes Elephant

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wind-Powered Rotating Skyscraper in Dubai

Dubai continues to set standards and, why not with all the money the little kingdom has in the bank.

M-POWERED Car for Diabetics

At this year's ADA scientific session at Moscone Center in San Francisco, Medtronic Diabetes unveiled its new M-POWERED car, a Lincoln sedan equipped with a system that wirelessly incorporates a patient's continuous glucose monitor with a dashboard to make driving safer for those who can go from 120 to 60 mg/dl within a matter of seconds.

Boost for Africa green revolution

I am glad the UN, through this initiative, is targeting infrastructure, which affects not only food supply but also health care throughout the developing world.
I recall a conversation with a shopkeeper in Freetown who flew to Dubai to buy rice, even though 100 miles away in Sierra Leone there were verdant rice fields. The problem is that it took 8 hours by car each way to get to the rice fields. The roads were muddy, pock marked and quite hazardous--as I experienced on my way from Freetown to the eye clinic in Serabu, where I worked...

A US government aid agency has formed an alliance with a group headed by former UN chief Kofi Annan to try to boost African agriculture.

Mr Annan has called for a "green revolution" to solve the food crisis.

The new partnership aims to invest in Africa's inadequate infrastructure, as well as developing new seeds and fertilisers.

Mr Annan says that 40% of African crops are lost after being harvested - a problem which new roads could ease.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Pops Staples

Let's start Friday with some serious soul music!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Power of Kindness

“It is much safer to be feared than loved,” writes Niccolò Machiavelli in The Prince, a classic 16th-century treatise advocating manipulation and occasional cruelty as the best means to power. Nearly 500 years later, Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, the best-selling bedside reading of foreign policy analysts and hip-hop stars alike, would have made Machiavelli’s chest swell with pride.
These seductive notions are wrong. A new science of power has revealed that power is wielded most effectively when it’s used by people who are attuned to and engaged with the needs and interests of others. When it comes to power, social intelligence—reconciling conflicts, negotiating, smoothing over group tensions—prevails over social Darwinism.

Why social intelligence? Because of our ultrasociability. We accomplish most tasks related to survival and reproduction socially, from caring for our children to producing food and shelter. We give power to those who can best serve the interests of the group. Leaders who treat their subordinates with respect, share power, and generate a sense of camaraderie and trust are considered more just and fair.

Social intelligence is essential not only to rising to power, but also to keeping it. My colleague Cameron Anderson and I studied the structure of social hierarchies within college dormitories over the course of a year, examining who is at the top and who remains there. We’ve consistently found that it is the socially engaged individuals who keep their power over time.
They also mistakenly believe that power is acquired strategically in deceptive gamesmanship and by pitting others against one another. Here Machiavelli failed to appreciate an important fact in the evolution of human hierarchies: that with increasing social intelligence, a person’s power is only as strong as the status given to that person by others.

The Science of Sarcasm (Not That You Care)

There was nothing very interesting in Katherine P. Rankin’s study of sarcasm — at least, nothing worth your important time. All she did was use an M.R.I. to find the place in the brain where the ability to detect sarcasm resides. But then, you probably already knew it was in the right parahippocampal gyrus.

What you may not have realized is that perceiving sarcasm, the smirking put-down that buries its barb by stating the opposite, requires a nifty mental trick that lies at the heart of social relations: figuring out what others are thinking. Those who lose the ability, whether through a head injury or the frontotemporal dementias afflicting the patients in Dr. Rankin’s study, just do not get it when someone says during a hurricane, “Nice weather we’re having.”

Experts Revive Debate Over Cellphones and Cancer

What do brain surgeons know about cellphone safety that the rest of us don’t?
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