Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Spread of Malaria Feared as Drug Loses Potency

TASANH, Cambodia — The afflictions of this impoverished nation are on full display in its western corner: the girls for hire outside restaurants, the badly rutted dirt roads and the ubiquitous signs that warn “Danger Mines!”

Chet Chen, 18, lying listless with malaria in Tasanh, Cambodia.

But what eludes the naked eye is a potentially graver problem, especially for the outside world. The parasite that causes the deadliest form of malaria is showing the first signs of resistance to the best new drug against it.

Combination treatments using artemisinin, an antimalaria drug extracted from a plant used in traditional Chinese medicine, have been hailed in recent years as the biggest hope for eradicating malaria from Africa, where more than 2,000 children die from the disease each day.

Now a series of studies, including one recently published in The New England Journal of Medicine and one due out soon, have cemented a consensus among researchers that artemisinin is losing its potency here and that increased efforts are needed to prevent the drug-resistant malaria from leaving here and spreading across the globe.

“Many of us think this should be treated on the same order as SARS,” said Col. Alan J. Magill, a researcher at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Maryland. “This should be a global emergency that is addressed in a global fashion.” SARS, the respiratory disease that spread rapidly through Asia and beyond in 2003, killed more than 700 people.
Different regions rely on different artemisinin combinations. The Cambodian government recommends that artemisinin be combined with mefloquine, which was developed by the American military and is known commercially as Lariam. Artemether, a derivative of artemisinin, is often combined with another antimalarial drug, lumefantrine. This was recently judged to be the most effective combination in a study of children in Papua New Guinea.

The same combination is also expected to be approved for sale in the United States soon, marketed by Novartis and mainly intended for people traveling overseas or for those who arrive in the United States with malaria.

The mosquito responsible for transmission of malaria is still endemic in the United States. But modern housing, better access to health care and the use of insecticides have virtually eradicated the disease in wealthier countries.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Coffee Linked to Lower Dementia Risk

After controlling for numerous socioeconomic and health factors, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure, the scientists found that the subjects who had reported drinking three to five cups of coffee daily were 65 percent less likely to have developed dementia, compared with those who drank two cups or less. People who drank more than five cups a day also were at reduced risk of dementia, the researchers said, but there were not enough people in this group to draw statistically significant conclusions.


Dr. Kivipelto and her colleagues suggest several possibilities for why coffee might reduce the risk of dementia later in life. First, earlier studies have linked coffee consumption with a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes, which in turn has been associated with a greater risk of dementia. In animal studies, caffeine has been shown to reduce the formation of amyloid plaques in the brain, one of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. Finally, coffee may have an antioxidant effect in the bloodstream, reducing vascular risk factors for dementia.

Dr. Kivipelto noted that previous studies have shown that coffee drinking may also be linked to a reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Desperate Children Flee Zimbabwe, for Lives Just as Bleak

Joao Silva for The New York Times
Williad Fire, 16, crossed illegally into South Africa from Zimbabwe with eight friends after the deaths of his parents and an uncle.

MUSINA, South Africa — They bear the look of street urchins, their eyes on the prowl for useful scraps of garbage and their bodies covered in clothes no cleaner than a mechanic’s rags.

Musina has 57,000 residents, plus 15,000 foreigners.
Near midnight, these Zimbabwean children can be found sleeping outside almost anywhere in this border city. A 12-year-old girl named No Matter Hungwe, hunched beneath the reassuring exterior light of the post office, said it was hunger that had pushed her across the border alone.

Her father is dead, and she wanted to help her mother and younger brothers by earning what she could here in South Africa — within certain limits, anyway. “Some men — men with cars — want to sleep with me,” she said, considering the upside against the down. “They have offered me 100 rand,” about $10.

With their nation in a prolonged sequence of crises, more unaccompanied children and women than ever are joining the rush of desperate Zimbabweans illegally crossing the frontier at the Limpopo River, according to the police, local officials and aid workers.

What they are escaping is a broken country where half the people are going hungry, most schools and hospitals are closed or dysfunctional and a cholera epidemic has taken a toll in the thousands. Yet they are arriving in a place where they are unwelcome and are resented as rivals for jobs. Last year, Zimbabweans were part of the quarry in a spate of mob attacks against foreigners.

Icelandic government becomes first to be brought down by the credit crunch

The government of Iceland today became the first to be effectively brought down by the credit crunch.

After several nights of rioting over the financial crisis, Prime Minister Geir Haarde, surrendered to increasing pressure and called a general election for May.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Quote of the Day

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Harold Whitman

Meetings Are a Matter of Precious Time

This article from Reid Hastie, Robert S. Hamada Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Busines, hit on one of my fundamental organizing principles: I don't have a vague feeling that there is plenty of time (as Professor Hastie alludes to in this article). For some reason, I know at a visceral level that one moment you exist, and the next you don't. The "ride" is over before you know it...and you can't predict it. I know that I will probably (and thankfully) never run out of money, but for sure I am going to run out of time....and there is so much to do in this world.

In business, we like to convert time to money, and the reverse. But in practice, time and money are different. We can get more money, save it, move it between accounts and use it on demand. These operations don’t apply easily to time.

Time is the most perishable good in the world, and it is not replenishable. You can’t earn an extra hour to use on a busy day. Nonetheless, we usually have a vague feeling that there is plenty of time — somewhere in the future — so we waste it now and carelessly steal time from our families, friends or ourselves when we come up short at the end of a workday and need to stay an extra hour.

Probably most important, we are blind to lost time opportunities. When we choose where to invest our time, as opposed to where to invest money, we are more likely to neglect what else we could have done with it.

And, once meetings are over, we don’t effectively assign responsibility for a bad meeting or take personal responsibility as we should. Sure, someone called the meeting, but we all leave it unhappy and blaming everyone, including ourselves. Psychologists call this “diffusion of responsibility” and one consequence is that no one thinks it’s his or her job to fix it the next time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Too Many Industries Suffering From “Detroititis”

Gary Hamel really hits the nail on the head in this blog posting...

Unfortunately, one can find Detroit-style thinking in industries other than autos.

Take the PC industry. Years ago, in an article written for the Harvard Business Review, I posed the following question: Why was the most expensive appliance in most homes—the personal computer—also the ugliest? PCs were clunky beige boxes that spewed cords and cables across your desktop like a disemboweled robot. A few years later Apple would introduce its first iMac, the candy-colored, all-in-one home computer that heralded the company’s creative renaissance.

The same myopic thinking that led America’s car companies to surrender product leadership to Toyota, Honda and BMW, has led U.S. airlines to surrender service leadership to international carriers like Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Lufthansa. (My belief: There are only two reasons to fly internationally on a U.S. carrier—to retain your frequent flyer status or keep your boss happy by complying with corporate travel rules. In the last 20 years I’ve crossed the Atlantic more than 300 times—and only twice on a U.S. airline, thank God.)

Unlike the auto makers, the big U.S. airlines have been able to maintain a domestic oligopoly. They haven’t had to face foreign competitors within their home market—thanks to a legal prohibition on the foreign ownership of U.S. air carriers. This blatantly protectionist policy should make U.S. consumers hopping mad. Why should we be able to drive a Toyota from New York to LA, and not be able to cross the continent on Singapore Airlines, for example?

BANG the drum to go to school

Aviwe (10 years) and Fuzile (8years) started their own band! They call them selves “Thandabantu”….this Xhosa word means: “the one who loves people”. Their father died in a car accident a few years ago. Their mother, Cordelia, is injured from the accident and unable to walk properly. She can’t really work. She didn’t finish school. She tries to sell as many home baked cookies as possible to her community in township Khayelitsha to make an income for herself and her 2 sons.

Cordelia and her kids constructed their own instrument! It takes: 2 buckets, 4 sticks, a piece of leather, some wire and lots of bottle tops!

The boys started making some noise on the streets of Cape Town, got some money and soon were able to buy a real instrument! The keyboard (600 Rand), together with the drums and the boys’ voices are the current ingredients for the Thandabantu-band.

They now play their music to collect money to go to school.
During this summer holiday they made 100-200 Rand a day. School is free, but lunch (3rand/child) and travel (5 rand/child) has to be paid every day.

Pound Takes a Pounding

From ControlledGreed.com...

The British pound reached an 8-year low Tuesday. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard is "Seriously Alarmed" about the slide being "disorderly." Key part:
England has not defaulted since the Middle Ages. There is a real risk it may do so now.And no -- just so there is no misuderstanding -- it would not have been any better if Britain had joined the euro ten years ago. The bubble would have been just as bad, or worse, as Ireland and Spain can attest. We have our disaster. They have their disaster. When the dust has settled in five years we can make a proper judgement on the sterling-EMU issue. Not now.

Killer part that rings true in many places outside the UK:
The Baby Boomers have had their moment in power. The most spoilt generation in history has handled affairs with its characteristic hedonism. The results are coming in. The blithering idiots.

And Bloomberg quotes Jim Rogers as saying the "UK is finished" and that investors should dump the currency. Rogers never shies away from issuing declarations. But taken together with Evans-Pritchard, it leaves me wondering not just about the pound, but most currencies.

Carrying Several Passports? It’s Not Just for Spies

Dual passports are no longer the sole province of people who grew up in more than one country. Millions of American citizens potentially qualify for various reasons — ethnic heritage, religion, country of birth or where their spouse was born.

“The fact is people don’t think about it until it is pointed out to them,” said Jan Dvorak, president of Travisa, a passport services company in Washington. Some Americans, he said, “don’t realize that they actually have dual nationality.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Photographic Eye

How Our Eyes See vs. How Our Cameras See

Quote of the Day

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
--Simone Weil
(via the Happiness Blog)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Win a Trip You Won’t Forget

I would be applying for this if I could...

A few years ago, soon after I returned disconsolate and shellshocked from a trip to Darfur, I found New Yorkers burning with moral outrage.

The spark wasn’t genocide, war or poverty, but rather homelessness — of a red-tailed hawk nicknamed Pale Male. Managers of a Fifth Avenue apartment building had dismantled his nest.

Fury! Television cameras! And public pressure that led to a solution for rebuilding the nest.

I wondered how some of that compassion for a hawk could be rechanneled to help human beings like those I had just seen dying in Darfur. The potential is vast: just imagine if we felt the same sympathy for the 25,000 children who will die today of poverty as we do for, say, a lost and terrified puppy on the street. But it’s very difficult to generate activism for distant people whom we can’t visualize.

So I concocted a contest to take a university student with me on a reporting trip to Africa. I figured that the student’s journey might help connect American students to truly desperate needs abroad.

We’ve held two of these student trips so far, and today I’m delighted to announce the third.

If you apply, you should know that within The Times, my colleagues say that first prize is one trip with Kristof. Second prize is two trips.

But they’re just jealous. The trip may not be comfortable, but if you don’t obsess about rats under the beds, bats in the outhouses or drunken soldiers at checkpoints, then the trip will be memorable and perhaps even life-changing.

If you win, you won’t be practicing tourism but journalism. You’ll blog for nytimes.com and file videos for The Times and for YouTube.

I’m doing this for two reasons. First, I want to engage young people about global issues that I’m passionate about. Second, it’s good journalism, for you’ll bring a tool to reporting from Africa that I no longer have: a fresh eye.
One of the failures of the American education system is that it rarely exposes students to life around the world. As Bill Gates put it in his 2007 Harvard commencement address, “I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world.”

Let’s hope that Barack Obama’s presidency makes public service more appealing. But if you want to save the world, you first must understand it.

So, embed yourself deep within a developing country for a summer or a year. I wish colleges would offer credit for such gritty experiences — and extra credit for getting intestinal worms.

I’ve posted some overseas volunteer possibilities, from helping at a maternity hospital in Somaliland to teaching English to brothel children in India, on my blog. Even if you don’t win my trip, you can still win your own.

Time for (Self) Shock Therapy

Friedman on the banking crisis...

I was walking by a TV the other day and CNN was on, airing a hearing of what seemed to be a banking committee in Congress debating whether to release more bailout money. CNN didn’t identify the lawmaker who was speaking. He had a bit of a Southern drawl. But I burst out laughing when he said something like: “I remember a time when banks lent money to people. Now it’s the other way around.”

Yes, kids, those were the days — when banks lent money to the people not the people to the banks!

“Right now,” said David Smick, author of “The World Is Curved,” “the bankers are sitting on mountains of cash, including our bailout money, because they know their true balance sheets are a disaster — far worse than publicly stated.” The situation will likely worsen as delinquent consumer and auto loans are piled atop bad mortgages. “Obama needs to inject some truth serum into the banking discussion. No one trusts the banks, and even the bankers don’t trust each other.” Bringing clarity to bank balance sheets, said Smick, “is the first step to fixing America’s bank lending problem.”

Only after we bring full transparency to the bank balance sheets will we see private capital buying into banks again at scale. But have no illusions. There are still real balance sheet problems that have to be surmounted. This is not just a psychological crisis.

Gut Reaction: Overeating Can Impair Body Function

The holiday season is pretty much over. But is your body over the holiday season? For many people, indulging during these food-filled celebrations can set the stage for routine overeating.

The problem, some doctors and researchers say, is that overeating causes biological changes in the body that can lead to more food cravings and cause your stomach to send mixed signals about when it's actually full. As the years go by, those holiday pounds add up.
A Vicious Cycle

Overeating "sets your body chemistry sort of into red alert," says Dr. Sasha Stiles, a family physician who specializes in obesity at Tufts Medical Center. "The kinds of hormone and metabolic processes that normally will try to metabolize food will go into overdrive to make sure they get rid of this huge food load," Stiles explains.

This means that much of what you eat will be stored as fat rather than converted into healthy byproducts.

Excess food can trigger an unfortunate cycle: The pancreas produces extra insulin to process the sugar load and remove it from the bloodstream. It doesn't stop producing insulin until the brain senses that blood sugar levels are safe. But by the time the brain stops insulin production, often too much sugar is removed. Low blood sugar can make you feel tired, dizzy, nauseous, even depressed — a condition often remedied by eating more sugar and more carbohydrates.

This feeling of low blood sugar sends many people after more carbohydrates, says Stiles, and they go for high-sugar foods to bring their blood sugar back up to normal and make them feel better.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Quote of the Day #2

If popular culture is to revive, it will have to take lessons from African-American church services, where intense, surging music remains the vehicle of spirituality and profound emotion.

--Camille Paglia

UnitedHealth Ponies Up $350 Million Over Out-of-Network Pay

UnitedHealth is shelling out $350 million to settle lawsuits that claimed the company shortchanged consumers and physicians when paying for medical services outside its preferred network.

Banking on Irish Nationalization

Ireland now has its own Northern Rock. The nationalization of Anglo Irish Bank marks a new phase in the country's financial crisis -- one in which questions over Ireland's own solvency will become increasingly urgent.
The Irish government will be determined to do whatever it can to avoid nationalizing the remaining large banks. The Irish banking system's total assets are equivalent to two times the country's gross domestic product. Bringing all those liabilities onto the country's balance sheet would overwhelm the public finances, raising doubts over Ireland's creditworthiness. The cost of insuring Irish state debt rose to more than 250 basis points following the Anglo Irish news.

Quote of the Day

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
-- Jim Ryun

(via RevShark at realmoney.com)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Alash: Tuvan Throat Singing Re-Imagined

This is a very cool link for some Tuvan throat singing...

WNYC, January 14, 2009 - For years, the territory that makes up Tuva spent hundreds of years changing hands. The semi-autonomous republic is now technically part of Russia.

But Tuvans boast a musical identity all their own, featuring a vocal tradition that has put them on the world-music map: throat singing. The Alash Ensemble honors that heritage with a modern twist. Its influences include all the modern throat singers, but also American innovators such as Jimi Hendrix and Sun Ra.

Alash recently visited WNYC's Soundcheck for an in-studio performance. Between songs, Sean Quirk, the group's manager and translator, fielded questions from host John Schaefer.

A Simple Surgical Checklist Saves Lives

A big fan of checklists myself, one of my highest priorities is trying to get everyone in my organization to use such lists...

Score another victory for the humble checklist. Adopting a surgical safety checklist reduced deaths and complications by more than a third in a study published online by the New England Journal of Medicine this week.

The 19-item list, developed by the World Health Organization, is pretty straightforward stuff. At various points in the procedure, team members confirm that they’re doing the right thing on the right part of the right patient, that they’re prepared for certain high-risk situations that might arise, and that key issues regarding post-op care are clear. (See the checklist by clicking on the PDF icon.)

But straightforward can be a good thing — especially if it encourages clear, systematic communication and behavior.

Seeking Self-Esteem Through Surgery

To the rigors of teenage grooming — waxing, plucking, body training and skin care regimens that were once the province of adults — add cosmetic surgery, which is fast becoming a mainstream option among teenagers. But with this popularity, some experts are concerned that the underlying motivation for many of the young people seeking surgery — namely, self-esteem — is being disregarded in the drive to look, as Kristen puts it, “normal.”

The latest figures from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery show that the number of cosmetic surgical procedures performed on youths 18 or younger more than tripled over a 10-year period, to 205,119 in 2007 from 59,890 in 1997. This includes even more controversial procedures: liposuctions rose to 9,295 from 2,504, and breast augmentations increased nearly sixfold, to 7,882 from 1,326. (The latter two procedures have been associated with the deaths of two 18-year-olds: Amy Fledderman of Pennsylvania, who died in 2001 of fat embolism syndrome after undergoing liposuction, and Stephanie Kuleba of Florida, who died last spring from complications because of anesthesia used during a breast augmentation and inverted nipple surgery.)

At this point, the recession is apparently having little effect on teenage cosmetic surgery.

Maggot Therapy

From the "Suture for a Living" blog, written by a plastic surgeon out of Arkansas

When I was a general surgery resident, we had a couple of patients come in with maggots in their wounds--both with venous stasis ulcers on their legs. As "icky" as it was to clean the maggots out of the wounds, it was down right impressive how clean the wounds were (and yes it was my job to do the cleaning). Those maggots sure had done a wonderful job of removing the necrotic tissue and leaving behind healthy granulation tissue. (photo credit)

Maggot therapy waxes and wanes in popularity throughout time. Ambroise Pare (1509-1590) is generally given credit for first noting the beneficial effects of maggots in suppurative wounds. Napoleon's famous military surgeon, Baron D. J. Larrey (1766-1842) noted larvae of the blue fly in the wounds of soldiers in Syria during the Egyptian expedition. He noted that the maggots only attacked putrefying substances rather than living tissues and that they promoted their cicatrization.
Maggots may be used intentionally as biological debriding agents. They are an effective alternative to surgical debridement in patients who cannot go to the operating room for medical reasons.

Anti-Love Drug May Be Ticket to Bliss

In the new issue of Nature, the neuroscientist Larry Young offers a grand unified theory of love. After analyzing the brain chemistry of mammalian pair bonding — and, not incidentally, explaining humans’ peculiar erotic fascination with breasts — Dr. Young predicts that it won’t be long before an unscrupulous suitor could sneak a pharmaceutical love potion into your drink.

That’s the bad news. The not-so-bad news is that you may enjoy this potion if you took it knowingly with the right person. But the really good news, as I see it, is that we might reverse-engineer an anti-love potion, a vaccine preventing you from making an infatuated ass of yourself. Although this love vaccine isn’t mentioned in Dr. Young’s essay, when I raised the prospect he agreed it could also be in the offing.

Could any discovery be more welcome? This is what humans have sought ever since Odysseus ordered his crew to tie him to the mast while sailing past the Sirens. Long before scientists identified neuroreceptors, long before Britney Spears’ quickie Vegas wedding or any of Larry King’s seven marriages, it was clear that love was a dangerous disease.

When a female prairie vole’s brain is artificially infused with oxytocin, a hormone that produces some of the same neural rewards as nicotine and cocaine, she’ll quickly become attached to the nearest male. A related hormone, vasopressin, creates urges for bonding and nesting when it is injected in male voles (or naturally activated by sex). After Dr. Young found that male voles with a genetically limited vasopressin response were less likely to find mates, Swedish researchers reported that men with a similar genetic tendency were less likely to get married. In his Nature essay, Dr. Young speculates that human love is set off by a “biochemical chain of events” that originally evolved in ancient brain circuits involving mother-child bonding, which is stimulated in mammals by the release of oxytocin during labor, delivery and nursing.

Earth Observed

23 amazing photos at the link.. including this one of fields in Sudan

The Earth Observatory is a website run by NASA's Earth Observing System Project Science Office (EOSPSO). Bringing together imagery from many different satellites and astronaut missions, the website publishes fantastic images with highly detailed descriptions, feature articles and more. Gathered here are some standout photographs from the collections in the Earth Observatory over the past several years. For more images and information, please visit the Earth Observatory site itself.

Where Sweatshops Are a Dream

I am in complete agreement with Kristof's point of view as outlined below...

Before Barack Obama and his team act on their talk about “labor standards,” I’d like to offer them a tour of the vast garbage dump here in Phnom Penh.

This is a Dante-like vision of hell. It’s a mountain of festering refuse, a half-hour hike across, emitting clouds of smoke from subterranean fires.

The miasma of toxic stink leaves you gasping, breezes batter you with filth, and even the rats look forlorn. Then the smoke parts and you come across a child ambling barefoot, searching for old plastic cups that recyclers will buy for five cents a pound. Many families actually live in shacks on this smoking garbage.

Mr. Obama and the Democrats who favor labor standards in trade agreements mean well, for they intend to fight back at oppressive sweatshops abroad. But while it shocks Americans to hear it, the central challenge in the poorest countries is not that sweatshops exploit too many people, but that they don’t exploit enough.

I’d love to get a job in a factory,” said Pim Srey Rath, a 19-year-old woman scavenging for plastic. “At least that work is in the shade. Here is where it’s hot.”

Another woman, Vath Sam Oeun, hopes her 10-year-old boy, scavenging beside her, grows up to get a factory job, partly because she has seen other children run over by garbage trucks. Her boy has never been to a doctor or a dentist, and last bathed when he was 2, so a sweatshop job by comparison would be far more pleasant and less dangerous.

I’m glad that many Americans are repulsed by the idea of importing products made by barely paid, barely legal workers in dangerous factories. Yet sweatshops are only a symptom of poverty, not a cause, and banning them closes off one route out of poverty. At a time of tremendous economic distress and protectionist pressures, there’s a special danger that tighter labor standards will be used as an excuse to curb trade.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard

Medical schools could benefit from such an approach as well...

The physics department has replaced the traditional large introductory lecture with smaller classes that emphasize hands-on, interactive, collaborative learning. Last fall, after years of experimentation and debate and resistance from students, who initially petitioned against it, the department made the change permanent. Already, attendance is up and the failure rate has dropped by more than 50 percent.

Personal Health New Thinking on How to Protect the Heart

The well-established risk factors for heart disease remain intact: high cholesterol, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, abdominal obesity and sedentary living. But behind them a relatively new factor has emerged that may be even more important as a cause of heart attacks than, say, high blood levels of artery-damaging cholesterol.

That factor is C-reactive protein, or CRP, a blood-borne marker of inflammation that, along with coagulation factors, is now increasingly recognized as the driving force behind clots that block blood flow to the heart. Yet patients are rarely tested for CRP, even if they already have heart problems.

Among foods that help to reduce the inflammatory marker CRP are cold-water fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel; flax seed; walnuts; and canola oil and margarine based on canola oil. Fish oil capsules are also effective. Dr. Ozner recommends cooking with canola oil and using more expensive and aromatic olive oil for salads.

Other aspects of the Mediterranean diet — vegetables, fruits and red wine (or purple grape juice) — are helpful as well. Their antioxidant properties help prevent the formation of artery-damaging LDL cholesterol.

Other Steps

Several recent studies have linked periodontal disease to an increased risk of heart disease, most likely because gum disease causes low-grade chronic inflammation. So good dental hygiene, with regular periodontal cleanings, can help protect your heart as well as your teeth.

Reducing chronic stress is another important factor. The Interheart study, which examined the effects of stress in more than 27,000 people, found that stress more than doubled the risk of heart attacks.

Dr. Joel Okner, a cardiologist in Chicago, and Jeremy Clorfene, a cardiac psychologist, the authors of “The No Bull Book on Heart Disease” (Sterling, 2009), note that getting enough sleep improves the ability to manage stress.

Practicing the relaxation response once or twice a day by breathing deeply and rhythmically in a quiet place with eyes closed and muscles relaxed can help cool the hottest blood. Other techniques Dr. Ozner recommends include meditation, prayer, yoga, self-hypnosis, laughter, taking a midday nap, getting a dog or cat, taking up a hobby and exercising regularly.

Afghan Schoolgirls Undeterred by Attack

ANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking through the muddy streets to the local girls school when a man pulled alongside them on a motorcycle and posed what seemed like an ordinary question.

“Are you going to school?”

Then the man pulled Shamsia’s burqa from her head and sprayed her face with burning acid. Scars, jagged and discolored, now spread across Shamsia’s eyelids and most of her left cheek. These days, her vision goes blurry, making it hard for her to read.

But if the acid attack against Shamsia and 14 others — students and teachers — was meant to terrorize the girls into staying home, it appears to have completely failed.

Love the Long Eyelashes. Who’s Your Doctor?

First it was frozen foreheads. Now it’s Betty Boop eyelashes.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

'Atlas Shrugged': From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years

Some years ago when I worked at the libertarian Cato Institute, we used to label any new hire who had not yet read "Atlas Shrugged" a "virgin." Being conversant in Ayn Rand's classic novel about the economic carnage caused by big government run amok was practically a job requirement. If only "Atlas" were required reading for every member of Congress and political appointee in the Obama administration. I'm confident that we'd get out of the current financial mess a lot faster.

Many of us who know Rand's work have noticed that with each passing week, and with each successive bailout plan and economic-stimulus scheme out of Washington, our current politicians are committing the very acts of economic lunacy that "Atlas Shrugged" parodied in 1957, when this 1,000-page novel was first published and became an instant hit.

Rand, who had come to America from Soviet Russia with striking insights into totalitarianism and the destructiveness of socialism, was already a celebrity. The left, naturally, hated her. But as recently as 1991, a survey by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club found that readers rated "Atlas" as the second-most influential book in their lives, behind only the Bible.

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises -- that in most cases they themselves created -- by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs . . . and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

Inside the Savant Mind: Tips for Thinking from an Extraordinary Thinker

Daniel Tammet is the author of two books, Born on a Blue Day and Embracing the Wide Sky, which comes out this month. He’s also a linguist and holds the European record for reciting the first 22,514 decimal points of the mathematical constant Pi. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Tammet about how his memory works, why the IQ test is overrated, and a possible explanation for extraordinary feats of creativity.

New Study: Autism Linked to Environment

California's sevenfold increase in autism cannot be explained by changes in doctors' diagnoses and most likely is due to environmental exposures, University of California scientists reported Thursday.

The scientists who authored the new study advocate a nationwide shift in autism research to focus on potential factors in the environment that babies and fetuses are exposed to, including pesticides, viruses and chemicals in household products.

Hack your brain

How to hallucinate with ping-pong balls and a radio

DO YOU EVER want to change the way you see the world? Wouldn't it be fun to hallucinate on your lunch break? Although we typically associate such phenomena with powerful drugs like LSD or mescaline, it's easy to fling open the doors of perception without them: All it takes is a basic understanding of how the mind works.

The first thing to know is that the mind isn't a mirror, or even a passive observer of reality. Much of what we think of as being out there actually comes from in here, and is a byproduct of how the brain processes sensation. In recent years scientists have come up with a number of simple tricks that expose the artifice of our senses, so that we end up perceiving what we know isn't real - tweaking the cortex to produce something uncannily like hallucinations. Perhaps we hear the voice of someone who is no longer alive, or feel as if our nose is suddenly 3 feet long.

A Tactic to Cut I.C.U. Trauma: Get Patients Up

For years, doctors thought they had done their jobs if patients came out of an intensive care unit alive.

Now, though, researchers say they are alarmed by what they are finding as they track patients for months or years after an I.C.U. stay. Patients, even young ones, can be weak for years. Some have difficulty thinking and concentrating or have post-traumatic stress disorder and terrible memories of nightmares they had while heavily sedated.

While patients may be suffering lingering effects from illnesses that landed them in the I.C.U., researchers are increasingly convinced that spending days, weeks or months on life support in the units can elicit unexpected, long-lasting effects.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quote of the Day

If you suffer, thank God! It is a sure sign that you are alive.
-- Elbert Hubbbard

Sunday, January 11, 2009

No crisis for the US dollar -- yet

From Jim Jubak at MSN Money...

The dollar is on the rise despite a crumbling economy and a teetering financial system, but a long-term decline for the currency looms. So what's an investor to do?

(via Inectious Greed)

We're Borrowing Like Mad. Can the U.S. Pay It Back?

From the U.s. Economics Editor of "The Economist"

In its battle against the financial crisis, the U.S. government has extended its full faith and credit to an ever-growing swath of the private sector: first homeowners, then banks, now car companies. Soon, President-elect Barack Obama will put the government credit card to work with a massive fiscal boost for the economy. Necessary as these steps are, they raise a worry of their own: Can the United States pay the money back?

The notion seems absurd: Banana republics default, not the world's biggest, richest economy, right? The United States has unparalleled wealth, a stable legal tradition, responsible macroeconomic policies and a top-notch, triple-A credit rating. U.S. Treasury bonds are routinely called "risk-free," and the United States has the unique privilege of borrowing in the currency that other countries like to hold as foreign-exchange reserves.

Yes, default is unlikely. But it is no longer unthinkable.

ORBIS US' photostream

Here are some flickr photos of orbis in action from professional photogapher, Raul Vasquez

Work on Stuff that Matters: First Principles

by Tim O'Reilly
I spent a lot of last year urging people to work on stuff that matters. This led to many questions about what that "stuff" might be. I've been a bit reluctant to answer those questions, because the list is different for everyone. I thought I'd do better to start the new year with some ideas about how to think about this for yourself.
First off, though, I want to make clear that "work on stuff that matters" does not mean focusing on non-profit work, "causes, or any other form of "do-goodism." Non-profit projects often do matter a great deal, and people with tech skills can make important contributions, but it's essential to get beyond that narrow box. I'm a strong believer in the social value of business done right. We need to build an economy in which the important things are paid for in self-sustaining ways rather than as charities to be funded out of the goodness of our hearts.
There are a number of half-unconscious litmus tests I use in my own life. I'm going to try to tease them out here, and hope that you can help me think this through in the comments.

20 Websites Every Apple Fan Must Bookmark

20 Websites Every Apple Fan Must Bookmark

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The thing about goals

Read this wise post from Seth Godin...

Having goals is a pain in the neck.

Caramel Macchiato

From the coffesage blog--a nice recipe for the winter...

Caramel Macchiato
Use a 12 ounce mug and remember that Starbucks uses .75 oz of syrup per 4 oz of liquid and 1 shot espresso unless you’ve ordered a double shot for their Macchiato coffee drink. Please note that I have added the use of caramel syrup which in actuality Starbucks does not use it in the drink they make but it does add an extra something. Try it!
Ingredients you will use:
1. 3/4 cup steamed milk
2. 1 shot espresso
3. 1/4 ounce or 1 tsp. vanilla syrup (.25 oz per 4 oz liquid)
4. your favorite caramel sauce for drizzle. I recommend Ghirardelli Caramel Sauce because it is just fabulous!
5. 1/4 ounce or 1 tsp. caramel syrup such as Da Vinci Caramel Syrup
In your coffee mug, add vanilla syrup, caramel syrup and steamed milk. Top with milk foam and add freshly brewed espresso through the foam. Drizzle with caramel sauce. Don’t skimp on the caramel. Cause “it’s soooo good!”

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Creature Comforts

But she wasn’t dressed up. The woman, Ann Edie, was simply blind and out for an evening walk with Panda, her guide miniature horse.

There are no sidewalks in Edie’s neighborhood, so Panda led her along the street’s edge, maneuvering around drainage ditches, mailboxes and bags of raked leaves. At one point, Panda paused, waited for a car to pass, then veered into the road to avoid a group of children running toward them swinging glow sticks. She led Edie onto a lawn so she wouldn’t hit her head on the side mirror of a parked van, then to a traffic pole at a busy intersection, where she stopped and tapped her hoof. “Find the button,” Edie said. Panda raised her head inches from the pole so Edie could run her hand along Panda’s nose to find and press the “walk” signal button.

Edie isn’t the only blind person who uses a guide horse instead of a dog — there’s actually a Guide Horse Foundation that’s been around nearly a decade. The obvious question is, Why? In fact, Edie says, there are many reasons: miniature horses are mild-mannered, trainable and less threatening than large dogs. They’re naturally cautious and have exceptional vision, with eyes set far apart for nearly 360-degree range. Plus, they’re herd animals, so they instinctively synchronize their movements with others. But the biggest reason is age: miniature horses can live and work for more than 30 years. In that time, a blind person typically goes through five to seven guide dogs. That can be draining both emotionally and economically, because each one can cost up to $60,000 to breed, train and place in a home.

What’s most striking about Edie and Panda is that after the initial shock of seeing a horse walk into a cafe, or ride in a car, watching them work together makes the idea of guide miniature horses seem utterly logical. Even normal. So normal, in fact, that people often find it hard to believe that the United States government is considering a proposal that would force Edie and many others like her to stop using their service animals. But that’s precisely what’s happening, because a growing number of people believe the world of service animals has gotten out of control: first it was guide dogs for the blind; now it’s monkeys for quadriplegia and agoraphobia, guide miniature horses, a goat for muscular dystrophy, a parrot for psychosis and any number of animals for anxiety, including cats, ferrets, pigs, at least one iguana and a duck. They’re all showing up in stores and in restaurants, which is perfectly legal because the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) requires that service animals be allowed wherever their owners want to go.

How Many Albinos Are in Tanzania?

More than you might think.
Three men armed with machetes killed an 8-year-old albino boy in Burundi last week and are believed to have smuggled his limbs to Tanzania, where witch doctors use albino body parts for potions. At least 35 albinos were killed in Tanzania in 2008, prompting police officials to set up an emergency hot line and a program to distribute free cell phones to all albinos. How many albinos are there in Tanzania?

Burger King's body spray

You know you're in the throes of hard economic times when one of the most talked-about gift ideas of the holiday season is body spray from Burger King. You heard me right. There's a new burger in town, and it's not a burger at all. It's a fragrance called Flame by BK (pour hommespour hommes, presumably).

Maybe you heard the late-night talk-show hosts joking about it and assumed the product was an urban myth spread by some truant, meat-obsessed teenager. Or maybe you were so intrigued, you threw on your bathrobe, jumped in the car and hit the nearest BK drive-through in search of a midnight Whopper and some beefy love potion.

Either scenario would have left you dismayed. Flame, which costs $3.99 a spray bottle and, according to the company, has "the scent of seduction, with a hint of flame-broiled meat," is no joke. Nor, alas, is it available at Burger King. You have to buy it at a Ricky's drugstore in New York, which has an exclusive deal, or on Burger King's "Fire Meets Desire" website, which features its king mascot reclining by a fire and clothed in nothing but an animal fur. Make that, you had to buy it at those places. By Monday, it was sold out at both and going for $73 and up on EBay.

Gorillas In Their Midst

Is it possible to protect Rwanda’s mountain gorillas while also helping some of its poorest citizens?
Across sub-Saharan Africa, women and children often hike miles to reach wells and families cope with a near-total absence of medical care. Even in remote areas, clinics and boreholes built by foreign groups with foreign money aim to relieve some of the most debilitating burdens of poverty. The improvements in Bisate are unusual because they are the result of work by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI), an organization originally devoted to saving the endangered mountain gorillas in the forest, not assisting depressed villagers.

With its temperate mountain climate and fertile soil, the Virunga forest fringe is one of the more densely populated areas of Rwanda, which is the most densely populated country on the continent. The large families here—it is common for women to have seven or more kids—aggravate pressure on limited land. And for most people, farming is the only way to survive.

Less than 15 years after ‘Rwanda’ became a synonym for hell, tourism has joined coffee and tea production as one of the country’s major industries, bringing in $42.3 million in 2007, including $7 million for gorilla permits.
However, the mountain gorillas living in the forest distinguish this area from countless other rural regions. Attracting tourists and money to Rwanda, they are more valued—by the government, by NGOs, by the entire world—than the peasants living nearby. Indeed, efforts to preserve these surprisingly delicate animals force farmers into competition against them.

Monday, January 05, 2009

If This Isn’t Slavery, What Is?

Anyone who thinks it is hyperbole to describe sex trafficking as slavery should look at the maimed face of a teenage girl, Long Pross.

Glance at Pross from her left, and she looks like a normal, fun-loving girl, with a pretty face and a joyous smile. Then move around, and you see where her brothel owner gouged out her right eye.

Yes, I know it’s hard to read this. But it’s infinitely more painful for Pross to recount the humiliations she suffered, yet she summoned the strength to do so — and to appear in a video posted online with this column — because she wants people to understand how brutal sex trafficking can be.

Pross was 13 and hadn’t even had her first period when a young woman kidnapped her and sold her to a brothel in Phnom Penh. The brothel owner, a woman as is typical, beat Pross and tortured her with electric current until finally the girl acquiesced.

She was kept locked deep inside the brothel, her hands tied behind her back at all times except when with customers.

Brothel owners can charge large sums for sex with a virgin, and like many girls, Pross was painfully stitched up so she could be resold as a virgin. In all, the brothel owner sold her virginity four times.

Pross paid savagely each time she let a potential customer slip away after looking her over.

“I was beaten every day, sometimes two or three times a day,” she said, add

For the Blind, Technology Does What a Guide Dog Can’t

A native of India, Mr. Raman went from relying on volunteers to read him textbooks at a top technical university there to leading a largely autonomous life in Silicon Valley, where he is a highly respected computer scientist and an engineer at Google.

Along the way, Mr. Raman built a series of tools to help him take advantage of objects or technologies that were not designed with blind users in mind. They ranged from a Rubik’s Cube covered in Braille to a software program that can take complex mathematical formulas and read them aloud, which became the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation at Cornell. He also built a version of Google’s search service tailored for blind users.

Mr. Raman, 43, is now working to modify the latest technological gadget that he says could make life easier for blind people: a touch-screen phone.

Scientists: True love can last a lifetime

Using brain scans, researchers at Stony Brook University in New York have discovered a small number of couples respond with as much passion after 20 years together as most people only do during the early throes of romance, Britain's Sunday Times newspaper reported.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Call America Free

Here is a site that will let you call back to the States free from anywhere in the world...
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