Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gregory Petsko: The coming neurological epidemic

The Quiet Coup

Wow--this is a must read for an insightful viewpoint on the current banking crisis. It is written by Simon Johnson, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund during 2007 and 2008. There is so much good writing here, that it is very hard to excerpt....

But there’s a deeper and more disturbing similarity: elite business interests—financiers, in the case of the U.S.—played a central role in creating the crisis, making ever-larger gambles, with the implicit backing of the government, until the inevitable collapse. More alarming, they are now using their influence to prevent precisely the sorts of reforms that are needed, and fast, to pull the economy out of its nosedive. The government seems helpless, or unwilling, to act against them.
Of course, the U.S. is unique. And just as we have the world’s most advanced economy, military, and technology, we also have its most advanced oligarchy.

In a primitive political system, power is transmitted through violence, or the threat of violence: military coups, private militias, and so on. In a less primitive system more typical of emerging markets, power is transmitted via money: bribes, kickbacks, and offshore bank accounts. Although lobbying and campaign contributions certainly play major roles in the American political system, old-fashioned corruption—envelopes stuffed with $100 bills—is probably a sideshow today, Jack Abramoff notwithstanding.

Instead, the American financial industry gained political power by amassing a kind of cultural capital—a belief system.

A whole generation of policy makers has been mesmerized by Wall Street, always and utterly convinced that whatever the banks said was true. Alan Greenspan’s pronouncements in favor of unregulated financial markets are well known. Yet Greenspan was hardly alone. This is what Ben Bernanke, the man who succeeded him, said in 2006: “The management of market risk and credit risk has become increasingly sophisticated. … Banking organizations of all sizes have made substantial strides over the past two decades in their ability to measure and manage risks.”

Of course, this was mostly an illusion. Regulators, legislators, and academics almost all assumed that the managers of these banks knew what they were doing. In retrospect, they didn’t.

From this confluence of campaign finance, personal connections, and ideology there flowed, in just the past decade, a river of deregulatory policies that is, in hindsight, astonishing: (read on)

X-Treme Censorship

Suzie, writes a great blog from Saudi Arabia. It is entertaining and really captures the flavor of the culture.
Her latest post on censorship of in Saudi Arabia, takes me back. Sometimes the "man with the magic marker" was so precise I would think that the girl was wearing an evening gown, without realizing that the photo had been doctored to cover up her bare flesh! Check out the precision in the photos below! I have always wondered how many chaps are employed in this sector (and how they get this job), what with the thousands of magazines coming in to the Kingdom weekly (not to mention cd covers)...

One of the CDs I got for Capt. Kabob is called "One of the Boys," by a female artist named Katy Perry. Ok, I have to admit here that 16 year old Capt. Kabob thinks Katy Perry is pretty hot, but he really likes her music too. When he opened up the CD, we were both astonished however. I hadn't noticed when I bought it, but the tightly sealed plastic wrap packaging had been removed and had been replaced with a clear plastic resealable envelope-type wrapper. The front cover of the little booklet tucked inside serves as the front of the CD cover. This little booklet insert has photos of the artist, a list of the songs and lyrics, as well as the artistic credits.

This is what the real cover of the CD should have looked like:

And here's what the actual CD cover that I purchased looks like:

Depending on Context, Bird Couples Sing in Harmony or Discord

It takes two to duet, and one question for scientists is how these coordinated performances arise — in birds. Are they the result of cooperation, a way in which one pair signals to others that they’ve got it together? Or are they the result of conflict, evolving to avoid one partner’s song interfering with the other’s?

A study of duetting in Peruvian warbling antbirds suggests that it might be a little of both, and that context is everything. Joseph A. Tobias and Nathalie Seddon of the University of Oxford show in Current Biology that sexual conflict can cause the female of a pair that normally cooperates to “jam” the male’s song by singing over it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Surgery Grand Rounds

Surgexperiences 220 is up with alot of good posts, including two on ophthalmology...

Waseda University's heartbeat compensation robot be stills our hearts

Look closely. No, closer. See that slab of pink meat in the middle of Waseda University's surgical robot? That's a heart... now imagine it's your heart. Don't worry, if you ever do pit flesh-to-servo against this device, it'll likely be saving your life during a coronary bypass. After making a small incision, the robot compensates for the natural shake and movement of the organ caused by heartbeats so that surgery can proceed as if the organ is still.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

As I Sat Sadly By Her Side

A Boy Living in a Car

This is a very informative article (by my favorite NYTimes editorialist, Nicholas Kristof) in its own right. It also reminds me of the people I work with in Orbis, who like Sasha and Sarah, "get it." They "get" that there are billions of people suffering and they have made a conscious commitment to help "right" the world. Incredible and inspiring are the Orbis crew, similar to Sasha and Sarah, profiled here...
The Orbis people are a fantastic antidote to those who fall into the orbit described by one of my favorite songwriters, Nick Cave in one of his seminal songs, "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side, in which he describes the "usual state of affairs"--
"But watch the one falling in the street
See him gesture to his neighbours
See him trampled beneath their feet
All outward motion connects to nothing
For each is concerned with their immediate need
Witness the man reaching up from the gutter
See the other one stumbling on who can not see"

As America’s unemployment rate rises, those paying the severest price aren’t necessarily in Detroit or Miami. One of the newest street children here in this northern Haitian city is a 10-year-old boy whose father was working in Florida but lost his job and can no longer send money home. As a result, the family here was evicted, the mother and children went separate ways to improve their odds of finding shelter, and the boy found refuge in an abandoned wreck of a car.

The boy is one of 46 million people in the developing world — more than double the New York State population — who will be driven into poverty in 2009, according to a World Bank estimate.
It’s natural in an economic crisis to look inward, to focus on America’s own needs, but it’s worth remembering that the consequence of a deep recession in a poor country isn’t just a lost job but also a lost child.

In Cité Soleil, a woman named Chantal Dorlus told me that her 5-year-old daughter, Nasson, starved to death last month, and neighbors confirmed the account. Ms. Dorlus said that her three other children would have starved as well if not for the generosity of her neighbors, who share their meager food supplies.

If slum-dwelling Haitians can share what little they have, I hope we can be equally generous during this downturn when needs are greatest.
On this trip, I met a couple of American women, Sasha Kramer and Sarah Brownell, both in their early 30s, who offer an example of outward commitment at a time when most of us are retrenching and focusing on ourselves. Sasha and Sarah run a hand-to-mouth aid group, called SOIL; they speak fluent Creole and get around on motorcycle taxis while waving back at legions of fans on every street. (You can watch a video of them at nytimes.com/ontheground.)

I was interested in their work because it addresses two of the developing world’s greatest but least glamorous challenges. One is sanitation, for human waste in poor countries routinely spreads disease and parasites. The second is agriculture, for poor countries must increase crop yields if they are to overcome poverty and hunger.

Friday, March 27, 2009

It’s Time to Make a Coffee Run

Any data that supports my morning cup of coffee is a good one ;)

So even as sports stars from baseball players to cyclists to sprinters are pilloried for using performance enhancing drugs, one of the best studied performance enhancers is fine for them or anyone else to use. And it is right there in a cup of coffee or a can of soda.

Exercise physiologists have studied caffeine’s effects in nearly every iteration: Does it help sprinters? Marathon runners? Cyclists? Rowers? Swimmers? Athletes whose sports involve stopping and starting like tennis players? The answers are yes and yes and yes and yes.

Staying in Touch Internationally, on the Cheap

For iphone users, this post highlights the application "Fring" which I use routinely as a conduit to skype--it works quite well...

The first thing you’ll need is an unlocked mobile phone — that is, a phone that’s not tied to one particular carrier. (In the United States, some carriers will unlock your phone if you ask; abroad, most phones come already unlocked.) Then, whenever you arrive in a new country, you can buy a local SIM card (the tiny, interchangeable chip inside the phone that actually lets you connect to a particular carrier; they’re sold at mobile phone stores and kiosks for $2 to $25, depending on the country) and make phone calls and send text messages without paying exorbitant international roaming fees.

Simple enough. But for folks back home to reach you, you’ll need Skype. In the last few years, Skype has revolutionized how global nomads like myself keep in touch. Install its software on your Mac or PC, and as long as you’ve got an Internet connection, you can make high-quality audio and video calls to other Skype users almost anywhere on earth. (A few countries, like the United Arab Emirates, unfortunately block the service.)

The Happy Hospitalist comments on Drug Reps

What Happened To All The Drug Reps?
My the times they are a changing. From American Medical News comes this piece about the changing landscape of pharmaceutical detailing in the doctor's office. With many blockbuster drugs going off patent, few in the pipeline, new rules regarding "gifts" and a recession, it appears that the days of the drug rep might be limited. Peaking at 102,000 reps in 2007, the industry expects no more than 75,000 by 2012.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Hippest Band You Don't Know

America's the only place where Amadou & Mariam are not stars. That's about to change.
Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia are unlikely pop stars. They’re a middle-aged couple from Mali’s capital city, Bamako, who started playing together in a house band for the city’s Institute for Young Blind People, where Amadou was a music teacher and Mariam a Braille student. Thirty years later, they’ve emerged as global pop’s band to watch—M.I.A. be damned—as heirs to the storied West African musical throne and as embodiments of the worldly, cosmopolitan flair that defines 21st century hipness.
The music of Amadou & Mariam, as their band is named, is certainly drawing universal acclaim. Their 2005 album, Dimanche à Bamako (Sunday in Bamako), took Europe by storm. Its bold mishmash of genres and sounds from around the world garnered barrels of approving ink, sold 600,000 copies and won a Grammy nomination. It was helped along a good deal by the work and support of Manu Chao, who is Europe’s reigning superstar producer.

The Welcome to Mali follow-up in late 2008 similarly gripped Europe, while stateside, it cemented Amadou & Mariam as one of those bands for which you earn cool points for knowing and loving. They’ve been in high rotation on Los Angeles’ renowned KCRW music shows (you should stream Tom Schnabel’s Café L.A.—really). And the music webzine Pitchfork ranked the album’s opening track “Sabali” (Because) 15th on its list of top 100 songs of the year.

Sanwa Throat Microphone: how the military does Bluetooth

Here is another cool gadget (via dvice)

Throat microphones, although popular in military and police applications, haven't quite caught on in the civilian ranks. Yet. The Sanwa Throat microphone might change that — if you can get past a few funny stares.

GlideCycle lets those who can't, run and ride again

Check out the link for a cool video of the GlideCycle in action...

Most of us take the ability to run or ride a bike for granted. Sadly, for some folks, running and cycling are just dreams. However, the GlideCycle might make those dreams a reality.

Developed by a sailor in Oregon, the GlideCycle can be powered with just one leg, or two disabled legs. Perfect for overweight individuals, disabled folks, amputees, or even injured able-bodied people, the no-impact GlideCycle lets folks exercise outdoors with ease.
via dvice (0ne of the best tech blogs out there imo).

Lost Generation

via presentationzen

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Drummer Comes Up With World's Best Tiered Pricing Structure For New Album

Trent Reznor and Radiohead have been dealt a serious blow in the tiered pricing war for album releases. Josh Freese, a member of Devo and A Perfect Circle who's also played for NIN, Sting, The Offspring, and more!, has just released his solo album today. Aside from the free single or vanilla $7 album download option, you can pay anywhere from $15 to $75,000 for increasingly more bizarre package deals.

At the cheaper end of the tier, $50 will get you the digital download, a double disc set, a t-shirt, and a 5-minute phone call with Freese to discuss anything you like—including what you liked or didn't like about the album. Too boring? Buy the $250 package and you'll get signed drumsticks, plus you can have lunch with Freese at The Cheesecake Factory or PF Changs. The $5,000 package includes (among other things) a letter from Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam telling you about his favorite song on the album.

But wait there's more! If you're willing to spend a sizable amount of money, the perks get even weirder...

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Religious Directives....hmmm....

Pope Decries ‘Clouds of Evil’ Over Africa at Mass
LUANDA, Angola (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for the largest gathering of his African pilgrimage Sunday, telling a crowd on the outskirts of this seaside capital that reconciliation on the war-ravaged continent would come only with a ''change of heart, a new way of thinking.''

The Vatican said as many as 1 million people turned out on the dusty field near a cement factory to hear the pope at the last major event of his seven-day trip, which began Tuesday in Cameroon.

Speaking from a tented pink altar, the pope said evils in Africa had ''reduced the poor to slavery and deprived future generations of the resources needed to create a more solid and just society.''

''How true it is that war can destroy everything of value,'' said Benedict, wearing a pink cape and mopping his sweaty brow with a white handkerchief kept inside his sleeve.

Later he was scheduled to meet with representatives of women's rights groups to praise the role of women in African society.
''It is nearly always the woman who maintains intact human dignity, defends the family and protects cultural and religious values,'' the pontiff said, lamenting that the importance of family ''is not given the consideration it deserves.''


Hardline Saudi clerics urge TV ban on women, music

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A group of Saudi clerics urged the kingdom's new information minister on Sunday to ban women from appearing on TV or in newspapers and magazines, making clear that the country's hardline religious establishment is skeptical of a new push toward moderation.
In a statement, the 35 hardline clergymen also called on Abdel Aziz Khoja, who was appointed by King Abdullah on Feb. 14, to prohibit the playing of music and music shows on television.
"We have great hope that this media reform will be accomplished by you," said the statement. "We have noticed how well-rooted perversity is in the Ministry of Information and Culture, in television, radio, press, culture clubs and the book fair."


French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, in town for meetings with Saudi officials, told a news conference that during lunch he sat between a female Saudi surgeon and a female journalist. He said while one woman is allowed to perform surgery and another is allowed to teach, neither is permitted to drive.
"I find that bizarre," he said.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Diet Bloggers Deal in Brutal Honesty in Quest for Weight Loss

In a world where New Year's weight loss resolutions routinely fall by the wayside, a growing legion of dieters like Schroeder have found their resolve within the blogosphere, documenting their daily successes and failures for a sometimes-anonymous audience.

Diet bloggers use their blogs and the community support built around them to not only record the progress of their health and fitness goals but also to examine the cultural and psychological stigmas of poor health and how they fell as far as they did. And often they find that it's the constant cheerleaders populating their comments sections -- providing a mixture of tough love and gentle coaxing -- that allow them to fight the cravings and pitfalls along the way.

"The interesting thing is even though you don't know these readers, you feel accountable to them," Schroeder told me. "They know your personal life, they see pictures of your hideous body on the internet that you've pretty much opened everybody to see...There are confessionals there. If I've fallen, I'm not going to bulls*** the readers. I want them to know that I'm human and I make mistakes. I eat poorly. I make bad decisions about food still. Although some people read the blog for entertainment value, I'm not just putting fluff in there. This is who I am and I'm trying to be as real as possible."

In fact many of these bloggers will say that brutal honesty is necessary for the diet blogging to work -- after all, most will post shirtless, unflattering pictures of themselves, exposing every physical insecurity for the world to see. "I don't think that it's like a Weight Watchers meeting, where you go in and everyone circles around and they clap for you," Schroeder said. "It's more raw than that. I don't pretend to be in that class of people."

Smart People Really Do Think Faster

The smarter the person, the faster information zips around the brain, a UCLA study finds. And this ability to think quickly apparently is inherited.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, looked at the brains and intelligence of 92 people. All the participants took standard IQ tests. Then the researchers studied their brains using a technique called diffusion tensor imaging, or DTI.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ignoring the Austrians Got Us in This Mess

Their ideas warned us of the bubble; their prescription for the bust is too harsh, however.

On the latter score, Minsky was indeed almost completely unknown by the current generation of economists. When I wrote of the economy having a "Minsky Moment" as the credit crisis first erupted in 2007, the name was met by a blank stare except from a few. Now, Minsky is widely cited as having discerned the link between market crashes and the economy.

But to say that anyone who is a serious student of economics is not thoroughly familiar with Keynes' ideas beggars credulity. The standard construct of the economy used by virtually all forecasters, from the Federal Reserve on down, is basically Keynesian, with varying opinions about how the model works. That none of them predicted the current crisis is telling, and indeed damning of the approach.

The Austrian prescription, of course, was rejected first by the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and now by massive response by both the purportedly conservative Bush administration and now the Obama administration. First came the $700 billion TARP last year to stabilize the financial system, followed by the $787 billion fiscal stimulus enacted last month. Across party lines, it's accepted that government's role is to prevent the economic pain that would come of "liquidate, liquidate, liquidate."

But the Austrians were the ones who could see the seeds of collapse in the successive credit booms, aided and abetted by Fed policies, especially under former chairman Alan Greenspan. While he disavows (again) the responsibility for the boom and bust, most recently on Wednesday's Wall Street Journal Op-Ed page ("Fed Policy Didn't Cause the Housing Bubble," March 11), monetary policy played a key role in creating successive bubbles and busts during his tenure from 1987 to 2006.

Greenspan always contended that monetary policymakers can neither predict nor prevent bubbles in asset markets. They can, however, clean up the after-effects of the bust -- which meant reflating a new bubble, he argued.

That had a profound effect on risk-taking. Knowing that the Greenspan Fed would bail out the markets after any bust, they went from one excess to another. So, the Long-Term Capital Management collapse in 1998 begat the easy credit that led to the dot-com bubble and bust, which in turn led to the extreme ease and the housing bubble.

Austrian economists assert the current crisis is the inevitable result of the Fed's successive efforts to counter each previous bust. As the credit expansion pumped up asset values to unsustainable levels, the eventual collapse would result in a contraction of credit as losses decimate banks' balance sheets and render them unable to lend. That sounds like an accurate diagnosis of the current problems.

7 Timeless Thoughts on Taking Responsibility for Your Life

From the positivity blog.....I especially liked Point 4:

4. Taking action becomes natural.

“Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It is often said that your thoughts become your actions. But without taking responsibility for your life those thoughts often just stay on that mental stage and aren’t translated into action. Taking responsibility for your life is that extra ingredient that makes taking action more of a natural thing. You don’t get stuck in just thinking, thinking and wishing so much. You become proactive instead of passive.

Africa, Business Destination

Up to a point. In Africa's case, the perception has long been that where you are renders all but irrelevant what you do. Africa is hopeless, a place of war and famine seemingly populated almost entirely by tyrants and children with flies in their eyes. According to this view, if Africa generates any kind of growth, it is in suffering—and in the overseas aid sent to address that, now a $40-billion-a-year industry. Naturally, with a new appeal every year and a new disaster every other, some people have begun to wonder if all that money is doing any good. They argue that aid creates dependence, fuels corruption, undermines democracy and stifles development. They have written books with titles like The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working (by an ex-spokesman for the World Bank in Africa) and Dead Aid (by a Zambia-born former Goldman Sachs investment banker).

And that debate is important, no doubt. But it is drowning out a more significant development. Ecobank's success is not an isolated blip, and aid is no longer Africa's main source of foreign income. Africa is becoming a business destination.

In 2006, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, foreign investment in Africa reached $48 billion, overtaking foreign aid for the first time. That gap has only widened, reflecting a quadrupling of foreign investment since 2000. As the senior adviser in Africa for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), David Nellor, noted in a report last September, sub-Saharan Africa today resembles Asia in the 1980s. "The private sector is the key driver," wrote Nellor, "and financial markets are opening up." War is down. Democracy is up. Inflation and interest rates are in single digits. Terms of trade have improved. Crucially, said Nellor, "growth is taking off." The IMF puts Africa's average annual growth for 2004 to '08 at more than 6% — better than any developed economy — and predicts the continent will buck the global recessionary trend to grow nearly 3.3% this year.
Perhaps the most compelling evidence that Africa is now a business destination is China's new love for it. While the old superpowers still agonize over Africa's poverty, the new one is captivated by its riches. Trade between Africa and China has grown an average of 30% in the past decade, topping $106 billion last year. Chinese engineers are at work across the continent, mining copper in Zambia and cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo and tapping oil in Angola.
Ecobank CEO Ekpe says part of the explanation for China's zeal for Africa is a new way of looking at Africans. "[The Chinese] are not setting out to do good," he says. "They are setting out to do business. It's actually much less demeaning."
And that gets to what, for Africans, is the emotional heart of the matter — and why joining the business world means so much. Though it rarely occurs to Westerners who've been instructed that Africa needs their help, charity is humiliating. Not emergency charity, of course: when disaster strikes, emergency aid is always welcome, whether in New Orleans or Papua New Guinea. But long-term charity, living life as a beggar, is degrading.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Guide to Most useful Bookmarklets

Amit Agarwal from India writes one of the most useful tech oriented blogs on the internet. Check out this entry on bookmarklets.

Twig and Turtle Launch Party!

For all locals, please check out the launch party of Candice Towell's new photography business, Twig and Turtle March 19th. Candice is an amazing photographer who has taken our family portraits as well as pictures of my daughter. She is also a skilled photojournalist who has braved incredibly dangerous situations to document the plight of many unfortunate people. For example, she went to Kenya last year around this time despite the political uprisings (which caused me to cancel my trip to Kenya during the same time) and published her work in the Reno Gazette. She also routinely does fundraisers for various causes in Africa.

From her website...
"Candice is an award-winning, independent photojournalist who graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1999. That same year she began her career working as a staff photographer at the RGJ, teaching photography at UNR, and working as a freelance photojournalist. She has earned numerous awards ranging from the William Hearst Organization, the National Press Photographers Association, the NPPA's Women in Photojournalism Conference and the Associated Press. She has extensive experience working in Africa and her intimate coverage in East Africa won five awards by the National Press Photographers Association. Candice has freelanced for several international press agencies and non-governmental organizations and her images have appeared in hundreds of publications, including US News and World Report, The New York Times, NEED Magazine, USA Today and Stern Magazine. Her favorite subject: documenting her very imaginative daughter. Candice teaches digital photography at UNR and works out of her home for Twig & Turtle,candicetowellweddings and ctowellphotos.com."

Mastery, Just 10,000 Hours Away

Forget All the Talk of Natural Prodigies -- Being the Best Really Takes Hard, Hard, Hard Work

Golf's Grand Illusion is that, secretly, we're a lot better than our scores would indicate. All we need is a little more practice and a few more rounds under our belt to get there. But who has the time?

The illusion stems from the ease with which all of us, on rare occasions, drain long putts from the fringe, pitch to tap-in distance from 85 yards and hit drives on the sweet spot. Surely learning to pull off such shots regularly could only be a matter of making a little more effort.

Two recent business books concur, provided we drop that phrase "a little" from the supposition. The common thesis of "Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell, and "Talent Is Overrated," by Geoff Colvin, is that super-high achievers are not fundamentally different from you and me, they just work harder and smarter.

Both books, for instance, debunk the myth that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a born supernatural. The musical works he composed as a child were not particularly good (and were suspiciously written in the hand of his father, Leopold, a well-known composer). Most of them, even into his late teens, were rearrangements of other composers' pieces. As for his precocious skills on stage, modern musicologists estimate that his abilities were actually only about half as advanced as those of a run-of-the-mill prodigy today.
In explaining the development of extraordinary talent, both Mr. Gladwell and Mr. Colvin zero in on seminal research by Florida State Professor Anders Ericsson and colleagues that suggests the threshold for world-class expertise in any discipline -- music, sports, chess, science, business management -- is about 10 years, or 10,000 hours, of persistent, focused training and experience. Mr. Gladwell leaves the work component of success mostly at that, and moves on to examine how other factors, such as obscure circumstances from their early lives, contribute to the achievements of hard workers.

Mr. Colvin, on the other hand, bores into the details of all that hard work to identify the most productive components. This is where things get interesting for golfers.

The most successful performers in any area, he writes, engage in "deliberate practice." This is activity specifically designed, ideally by an expert teacher, to improve performance beyond a person's current comfort and ability level. These activities are repeatable, provide clear feedback and are highly demanding mentally, even when largely physical. The training Mozart received as a youth is a perfect example.

Friday, March 13, 2009

As Indian Growth Soars, Child Hunger Persists

NEW DELHI — Small, sick, listless children have long been India’s scourge — “a national shame,” in the words of its prime minister, Manmohan Singh. But even after a decade of galloping economic growth, child malnutrition rates are worse here than in many sub-Saharan African countries, and they stand out as a paradox in a proud democracy.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Sandstorm Riyadh March 10, 2009

Well this will wreak havoc with your sinuses! It apparently shut down the airport as well!

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Saudis Race All Night, Fueled by Boredom

We used to witness a fair amount of drag racing in Riyadh as well and hence drove with extra caution on the weekends..

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia
This may be the most popular sport of Saudi youth, an obsessive, semilegal competition that dominates weekend nights here. It ranges from garden variety drag racing to “drifting,” an extremely dangerous practice in which drivers deliberately spin out and skid sideways at high speeds, sometimes killing themselves and spectators.

For Saudi Arabia’s vast and underemployed generation of young people, these reckless night battles are a kind of collective scream of frustration, a rare outlet for exuberance in an ultraconservative country where the sexes are rigorously segregated and most public entertainment is illegal. They are, almost literally, bored out of their minds.

“Why do they do it?” said Suhail Janoudi, a 27-year-old sales clerk who was watching the races from the roadside with a faint smile around 1:30 a.m. “Because they have nothing else to do. Because they are empty.”

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Rant List

I am having a tough time dealing with news that the former president of Countrywide Financial, the mortgage company that did so much to dig the hole in which we all now reside, is making a killing buying up delinquent mortgage loans from the government at bargain basement rates.

“It’s like Jeffrey Dahmer selling body parts to a clinic,” sniped one of my friends.

As Eric Lipton reported in The Times, Stanford Kurland, who was president of Countrywide during the years when it was selling mortgages with temporary low “teaser” rates that later turned into permanent unaffordable ones, now leads Private National Mortgage Acceptance Company, known to its friends as PennyMac.

In what one company official said was “off-the-charts good” business, PennyMac buys troubled mortgages from the government (which got them from failed banks) at rates like 38 cents on the dollar. Then it offers the beleaguered homeowners a chance to refinance at far more favorable terms. PennyMac makes money, the homeowner gets an affordable mortgage and the government gets a share of the profit.

Everybody’s happy! Except, of course, those of us who helped come up with the other 62 cents on the dollar.

Musicians Have Biological Advantage In Identifying Emotion In Sound

ScienceDaily (Mar. 5, 2009) — Looking for a mate who in everyday conversation can pick up even your most subtle emotional cues? Find a musician, Northwestern University researchers suggest.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Harvard Medical School in Ethics Quandary

Mr. Zerden’s minor stir four years ago has lately grown into a full-blown movement by more than 200 Harvard Medical School students and sympathetic faculty, intent on exposing and curtailing the industry influence in their classrooms and laboratories, as well as in Harvard’s 17 affiliated teaching hospitals and institutes.

They say they are concerned that the same money that helped build the school’s world-class status may in fact be hurting its reputation and affecting its teaching.

The students argue, for example, that Harvard should be embarrassed by the F grade it recently received from the American Medical Student Association, a national group that rates how well medical schools monitor and control drug industry money.

Harvard Medical School’s peers received much higher grades, ranging from the A for the University of Pennsylvania, to B’s received by Stanford, Columbia and New York University, to the C for Yale.
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