Medical Research and the North-South Divide

In the Harvard International Review, Richard Cash looks at medical research imbalances and the North-South divide.

Why should the world be concerned with this disparity in health research funding? What is wrong with counting on researchers from the West to do appropriate research, some of which can be carried out in the developing country, but some also from the safety of a laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts? After all, research institutions in developing countries are often poorly staffed and equipment is usually outdated and/or poorly maintained. In fact, why are developing countries unable to simply utilize the information generated in the developed world? In the end, information will gradually be disseminated. All people will eventually have the same problems, so is it not just a matter of time?

There are many responses to these questions. The days when a country could erect a cordon sanitairé around itself are long over. We are part of a global ecosystem in which human disease is but one factor. Every country has been affected by the global AIDS pandemic. The avian flu epidemic has the potential to threaten us all. The millions of deaths that might occur from this or any other global flu epidemic—well over 25 million died in the 1918 global epidemic—will be rapidly distributed throughout the world. Poor health and disease clearly contribute to instability within societies. The degree and speed of development is directly related to the health of society. In East Asia, good health preceded development. Societies burdened by HIV/AIDS, malaria, or similar conditions have a difficult time escaping the cycle of poverty.

Literature in the Native Tounges of the Americas

Words Without Borders has a special issue on literature in the native languages of the Americas. Here’s a excerpt from Marcos Matías Alonso’s “Dreams and Memories of a Common Man”, originally written in Náhuatl.

Over there, in “The Disenchantment,” it was said about the great city of Mexico-Tenochtitlan that, in addition to its beauty, one earns a lot of money there. It was said that there was more than enough work and since it was rarely hot, one could become a little fairer. No longer dark, no longer appearing so Indian. It also had big movie theaters. Some people even presumed to know Rigo Tovar and had shaken hands with El Santo, there in the Blanquita Theater. We were very moved when we heard the conversations of our countrymen, who now wore disposable electric watches, used disposable clothing, and sometimes even disposable women. Knowing the city of great lights was very impressive to my wife and especially to me, I even started to dream of returning to my village with a car and a lot of money.

One afternoon we came to a decision. We would leave “The Disenchantment.” Since then, we have lived for fifteen years here in the big city. Two of our children were born here, one in the district called “The Future,” and the other in the neighborhood called “Fate.” The other three children were born in “The Disenchantment,” the city of our birth, where our parents, grandparents, my wife and I were all born.

A new exhibit looks at the Design of Safety

An upcoming exhibit at the MoMA, SAFE: Design Takes on Risk, looks at the design and meaning of security. In Metropolis Magazine, an inteview with Paola Antonelli, the woman who is curating the exhibit:

[MM] You’ve mentioned cultural elements that came into play when researching concepts of safety. Can you tell me more about the differences you found?

[Antonelli] It’s all about culture, as contemporary design’s closest scholarly ally is anthropology. So for example, in Israel safety means rubber-sealed shelters to protect from blasts and chemicals. In Bangladesh it means finding drinkable water. In South Africa it means spreading awareness about AIDS and beating the government’s efforts to tell people that HIV drugs have no effect. In other parts of Africa it means providing moveable hospitals that don’t look like hospitals, so others don’t identify the women that go to them as HIV-positive or disease carriers. Here in the United States it means understanding what safety is for you and what it is for companies.

How do politics affect these designs?

Design and politics are intertwined, but often seem far from each other because the aesthetics of design neutralize the political discussion that you can have about it. But when you talk about safety, politics goes splat in the middle of the discussion. For instance, homeless shelters are all about politics; and with refugees, they are displaced persons, and that involves the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. When you get to safety and bulletproofing, that immediately becomes Homeland Security or activism. When you get to property, well, it’s the kind of politics you have at home.

Harold Pinter wins the Nobel prize for Literature

From The Guardian:

In an almost entirely unexpected move, the Swedish Academy have this lunchtime announced their decision to award this year’s Nobel prize for Literature to the British playwright, author and recent poet, Harold Pinter and not, as was widely anticipated, to Turkish author Orhan Pamuk or the Syrian poet Adonis.

The Academy, which has handed out the prize since 1901, described Pinter, whose works include The Birthday Party, The Dumb Waiter and his breakthrough The Caretaker, as someone who restored the art form of theatre. In its citation, the Academy said Pinter was “generally seen as the foremost representative of British drama in the second half of the 20th century,” and declared him to be an author “who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms.”



Composer Karlheinz Stockhausen has turned himself into a musical myth. This is the man who has influenced everyone from Brian Eno to Björk, and who appeared on the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s album, sandwiched between Carl Jung and Mae West. On his website, he credits himself as the father of electronic music, spatial music and universal music. He spent 30 years composing seven operas called Licht (“Light”), one for each day of the week, and recently he embarked on Klang (“Sound”), a series of 24-hour-long pieces to be performed in a single day – a sort of musical version of 24, but without the threat of terrorism. As if that wasn’t enough, this 77-year-old musical pioneer has claimed that he comes not from Burg Mödrath, near Cologne (listed as his birthplace on his biography), but rather from a planet orbiting the star Sirius, and that he was put on earth to give voice to a cosmic music that will change the world. He is, to put it mildly, a one-off.

more from The Guardian Unlimited here.



As its exclamatory title announces straightaway, the exhibition called Russia! at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is an event that commands attention. Fortunately, it’s also an exhibition that rewards however much attention we can give it. For newcomers to Russian art—a large and complicated subject that involves politics and religion almost as much as art itself—the show provides a comprehensive survey: It encompasses achievements in Russian art and art collection from the 13th century to modern times. Even for those of us who acquainted themselves with Russia and its art in the Soviet era, this is a show featuring a good many works that were not then accessible to foreign visitors.

more from Hilton Kramer at The New York Observer here.

Bees Battle “Hornets From Hell”

From National Geographic:

Bee A small but highly efficient killing machine lurks in the mountains of Japan—the Japanese giant hornet. The voracious predator pumps out a dose of venom with an enzyme so strong it can dissolve human tissue. Just a handful of these hornets can kill 30,000 European honeybees within hours. Watch an attack of giant hornets on a beehive, and learn the surprising secret that Japanese honeybees use in their defense. (Picture from Wikipedia).

Watch this stunning video here.

More Bones Support Mini Human Case

From Nature:

Skull The discovery of additional bones in an Indonesian cave support a stunning claim made last year that a new species of a very small hominid existed at the same time as modern humans. When Michael Morwood and Peter Brown of the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales, and their team announced last October that they had found the partial skeleton of a meter-tall human in the cave of Liang Bua on the island of Flores, they raised a few eyebrows. The evidence, including stone tools, signs of fire and the bones of a dwarfed elephantlike beast, dated to about 18,000 years ago and prompted the scientists to assign the human remains to a new species, Homo floresiensis. Rebuttals ensued.

When the team published their first report on H. floresiensis, they proposed that it was a dwarfed descendant of Homo erectus, which may have arrived on the island hundreds of thousands of years earlier and evolved into a smaller being thanks to the lack of predators and limited resources.

More here.

Charles Bainbridge enjoys the latest part of Christopher Logue’s reworking of Homer, Cold Calls

From The Guardian:

Logue’s focus here is on a very modern kind of voyeurism, one that has an instant and global impact.

Homer_sSeveral other poets have, in their recent work, also looked to Homer as a way forward, each responding in markedly different ways. Michael Longley, for example, has woven short extracts from both The Iliad and The Odyssey into wonderfully delicate lyrics that explore Northern Ireland’s recent history; Derek Walcott’s Omeros is a subtle and impressive reworking of The Iliad into the textures and history of the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

Logue’s way in was via Ezra Pound, especially the early Cantos. These themselves include extracts from both The Iliad and The Odyssey. But what Logue took to heart so effectively were Pound’s technical innovations, his cinematic evocation of place and landscape, his sensitivity to typography, his use of imagery and rhythm. The essence of Logue’s achievement has been to combine these features with an exhilarating narrative drive and a remarkable sensitivity to the energies of contemporary language.

More here.

Cellular (phone ringtone) Automata

From the brilliant and witty Cosma Shalizi:

Wolfram Research has now released what is, without question, the most convicing demonstration yet of the power and utility of Stephen Wolfram’s New Kind of Science: a cellphone ringtone generator. I will be terribly, terribly disappointed if these don’t contain subliminal commands furthering a plan for world domination.

Exploring the Cartesian Theatre

Christof Koch in Scientific American Mind:

Millions of neurons in all corners of our gray matter send out an endless stream of signals. Many of the neurons appear to fire spontaneously, without any recognizable triggers. With the help of techniques such as electroencephalography (EEG) and microelectrode recordings, brain researchers are listening in on the polyphonic concert in our heads. Any mental activity is accompanied by a ceaseless crescendo and diminuendo of background processing. The underlying principle behind this seeming racket is not understood. Nevertheless, as everyone knows, the chaos creates our own unique, continuous stream of consciousness.

And yet it is very difficult to focus our attention on a single object for any extended period. Our awareness jumps constantly from one input to another. No sooner have I written this sentence than my eyes move from the computer screen to the trees outside my window. I can hear a dog barking in the distance. Then I remember the deadline for this article–which isn’t going to be extended again. Resolutely, I force myself to type the next line.

How does this stream of impressions come to be? Is our perception really as continuous as it seems, or is it divided into discrete time parcels, similar to frames in a movie? These questions are among the most interesting being investigated by psychologists and neuroscientists. The answers will satisfy more than our curiosity–they will tell us if our experience of reality is accurate or a fiction and if my fiction is different from yours.

The Ethics of Intelligence-Enhancing Drugs

Michael Gazzaniga looks at the ethical implications of drugs that can enhance intelligence. (Via Sci Tech Daily)

[G]nawing concerns persist when it comes to artificially enhancing intelligence. Geneticists and neuroscientists have made great strides in understanding which genes, brain structures and neurochemicals might be altered artificially to increase intelligence. The fear this prospect brings is that a nation of achievers will discard hard work and turn to prescriptions to get ahead.

Enhancing intelligence is not science fiction. Many “smart” drugs are in clinical trials and could be on the market in less than five years. Some medications currently available to patients with memory disorders may also increase intelligence in the healthy population. . .

Why do we resist changes in our cognitive skills through drugs?

The reason, it seems to me, is that we think cognitive enhancement is cheating. If, somehow, someone gets ahead through hard work, that’s okay. But popping a pill and mastering information after having read it only once seems unfair.

This position makes no sense.

Chaos and controvery over the Nobel Prize for Literature

The strange story of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature appears to be drawing to a close with the notice by the committee that the prize will be announce Thursday, 11:00 a.m. GMT. But just before, judge Knut Ahnlund resigned in protest . . . of last year’s prize (given to Elfriede Jelinek)! All the more strange is the rumor that the committee has been split this year over the choice of Oran Pamuk.

“MYSTERY surrounded the resignation of a member of the Nobel Academy yesterday, 48 hours before the prize for literature is due to be awarded, amid speculation of a split over whether to honour a dissident Turkish writer.

Knut Ahnlund said he had resigned in protest over the awarding of the prize last year to the little-known Elfriede Jelinek, of Austria, whose work he described as ‘violent pornography’. Mr Ahnlund, 82, did not explain why he had waited almost a year before lodging his protest, increasing talk of a rift among members over the award for this year.

The announcement of this year’s literary honours had been delayed for a week after the academy was reported to have disagreed on whether to anoint Orhan Pamuk, 53, who has upset authorities in his country by campaigning for official recognition that Turkey had carried out genocide against the Armenians after World War I. He has been charged with ‘public denigration of the Turkish identity’, and a prize for him would be certain to anger Turkey.

Mr Ahnlund wrote in the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper that Jelinek’s work was ‘a mass of text that appears shovelled together without trace of artistic structure’.

The 2004 prize, he said, ‘has not only caused irreparable damage to all progressive forces, it has (also) confused the general view of literature as art. After this, I cannot even formally remain in the Swedish Academy.’

Jelinek is known to the right-wing Austrian media and political parties as ‘the red pornographer’.”

Here is a piece by Jelinek on Zacharias and Stefan Zweig.

Development and Dirty Money

John Christensen reviews Raymond Barker’s book on dirty money and capital flight in the LRB.

“Many in the global justice movement think that increasing aid to poor countries will be ineffective unless it’s accompanied by measures to tackle the causes of poverty, which include the problems of capital flight and tax evasion. In Capitalism’s Achilles Heel, Raymond Baker probably errs on the conservative side in his estimate that the flows of dirty money from poorer countries into offshore accounts managed by Western banks are currently $500 billion annually. Corruption, which attracted so much media attention in the run-up to the G8 Gleneagles summit, accounts for only 10 per cent of this total.

Some of this money might be round-tripping: going to an offshore company, before being re-invested in the country of origin under the guise of foreign direct investment, thus attracting tax breaks and subsidies for the ‘beneficial’ owners of the investing company, who may well live in the country being invested in. Most flight capital, however, leaves its country of origin permanently, much of it destined for the financial and property markets of the major Western economies. The current global aid budget of $78 billion is insignificant alongside these massive wealth transfers in the opposite direction. It’s anyone’s guess how much dirty money has accumulated offshore, but at least $5 trillion has been shifted out of poorer countries to the West since the mid-1970s.

The outflows of domestic financial resources and the wholesale tax evasion that goes hand in hand with capital flight have had a devastating impact on developing and transitional economies.”

Fenton on Music and Words

James Fenton in the TLS:

“I was looking for a text that would help me express what happens when words and music come together, but I chanced instead on a different thought: that there was once no place for a music without words, that a purely instrumental music was a concept that had no content. The aesthetics of European music, so I read, had their origins in Greek thought, and our musical theory was developed in the womb of the Catholic Church. There, until around the middle of the eighteenth century, music was held to be meant exclusively for the glorification of God, and this glorification should always be made through words. And from this argument, I was informed, came the resistance to the emancipation of instrumental music, the condemnation, the demonization of it. This notion came fresh to me, as it seemed to come fresh to the subject of an interview I was reading, Hans Werner Henze, for the composer asked, ‘Who actually is the chief representative of this school of thought?’ and was told by the somewhat evasive interviewer, ‘That was the general opinion of the theoreticians of those days’.

No music without song, no song without words, no words without the praise of God . . .”

The school for social awareness

Fe280911 Tamara Traubman and Yulie Khromchenko write for

“This year, over 30 years after the publication of Freire’s book, the Seminar Hakibbutzim Teachers College, Tel Aviv, is making history and for the first time in Israel, is opening a special program to train teachers using the critical pedagogy approach.

Freire, a professor of education from Brazil, taught reading and writing in the 1950s and 1960s to illiterate, lower-class adults in his native country. After a military coup in Brazil in the mid-1960s, he was persecuted politically and exiled.

When he returned to Brazil in 1980, he joined the workers’ party there and became responsible for the education department of the city of Sao Paolo. His theory is based on his teaching experience and sees conventional education as a means for preserving social classes. “A banking education” is how he referred to the process in which the teachers act like banks depositing knowledge in the students’ heads, and he proposed ways of reducing the social gaps through education…

…The director of Seminar Hakibbutzim, Dr. Yossi Assaf, is aware of the sensitive nature of opening such a program at a teacher training college that is funded by the Ministry of Education. “This ideology does entail a cry against the establishment,” he said, in an effort to explain why no such program had opened in any academic educational institution in Israel until now. “It’s an ideology with harsh messages, that describes the education system as one that maintains gaps, so that it is natural that the system would not be the most welcoming place to host such a program.” However, he adds, every teacher training program is continuously deliberating over and maneuvering between the need of the teacher, as an educational leader, to react to the political reality and the system’s requirement that the teacher be a proponent of the state and nonpolitical.”

More here

The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion

Eli Eshed writes for about a unique comic book:

EisnerThis comic book is not about superheroes or zany adventures. It is a documentary about the most notorious anti-Semitic diatribe of all time, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” And it is the swan song of Will Eisner, arguably America’s most famous and influential cartoonist…In 1999, Eisner learned the identity of the real author of “The Protocols” – Mathieu Golovinski, a Russian from an aristocratic family that had lost its fortune. His father had been a friend of Dostoyevsky. A Russian historian by the name of Mikhail Lepekhine was doing research in the archives of the Russian secret police when he found proof that “The Protocols” were written in 1898 by Golovinski, who was living in France at the time (ironically, this Golovinski ended up working for Trotsky, the man who so many anti-Semites regarded as the ringleader of the conspiracy described in “The Protocols”). Eisner decided to include this material in his book.

But what Eisner offers us here is neither a thriller, nor a “graphic” novel. Anyone merely looking for a story will be disappointed. In practice, it is a continuation of the educational work he did for the American army. The book articulates his credo that comics can convey complicated ideas in a simple manner, comprehensible to all. Eisner has put together a “graphic history,” admittedly fascinating, which traces the route of “The Protocols” in words and pictures – from Joly, who was hoping to bring about the downfall of Napoleon III, to the petty forger, Golovinski, a corrupt nobleman who cooked up a fake conspiracy on the orders of the Russian secret police, and finally, a power-crazed priest by the name of Nilus who sincerely believed in their authenticity.”

More here

qatar donates football stadium to israel


Qatar, the Gulf state that is home to al-Jazeera television, has made a multimillion-pound donation towards building a sports complex in Israel, it emerged yesterday. The gift – unprecedented for an Arab country – will provide a football stadium in the northern Israeli-Arab town of Sakhnin. The local team, Bnei Sakhnin, is the only club in the Israeli premier league with Arab players. The move reflects warming relations between Israel and the energy-rich Gulf state. At the UN last month, Qatar’s foreign minister praised Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and urged Arab countries to respond with new overtures.

more from The Guardian here.

Machine Makes Dishes on Demand

From Wired News:

Dishmaker10_fWhen Barbara Wheaton, culinary historian and honorary curator at Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library, told Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers that she longed for durable dishes that didn’t need to be washed and could be thrown away after a meal, she was surprised when they took her seriously.

MIT Media Lab’s Counter Intelligence Group, which develops innovative kitchen designs, has created a machine that makes dishes on demand and recycles them after diners have finished a meal. The dishes are made from food-grade, nontoxic acrylic wafers, which are shaped into cups, bowls and plates when heated, then resume their original wafer shape when they are reheated and pressed.

More here.