Friday, December 12, 2008

Friday Hope Blogging

England has the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe. You'd think the logical thing to do would be to promote abstinence in schools. Or failing that, to treat pregnancy as a just punishment for female impurity, so that the nation's emotionally crippled busybodies can feel better about their unwholesome fascination with the sex lives of children. (Or both!)

Instead, they've decided to offer contraceptive pills without a prescription:

A pilot scheme allowing pharmacists to give women the contraceptive pill without a prescription has been given the go-ahead for next year.

Women and girls aged over 16 will be able to get the pill at two London primary care trusts, Southwark and Lewisham, Pulse magazine says.
The UK's purity brigade is displeased, and has resorted to the time-honored tactic of Making Shit Up:
A spokesman from the Family Education Trust said..."There is no evidence to show that increasing young people's access to contraception results in lower teenage conception rates or reduces abortion rates."
Which begs the eternal question: To what sort of truth can such a lie be preferable?

The EU has proposed the daring idea of extending the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to human beings.
The European Union (EU) wants this week's 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to also mark the expansion of the document to condemn the criminalization of same-sex relations.

A delegation from the EU hopes to convince the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday to formally condemn treating homosexuals as criminals. The proposed declaration is intended to pressure the 80 countries that still consider same-sex relations a crime, including a handful, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh, where the punishment is death.
In Iowa, meanwhile, the state Supreme Court is considering the delicate matter of extending full legal rights to American citizens:
Those speaking at the forum were hopeful that Iowa, a state that granted the marriage rights of interracial couples more than 100 years before the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, will once again flex its pioneering muscles. It is a hope voiced by Mary Mascher, a Democratic member of the Iowa House of Representatives from Iowa City.

“I think our constitution clearly, clearly prohibits [a ban on same-sex marriage],” said Mascher, one of several legislators and local elected officials who signed on to a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the lawsuit. “[The Defense of Marriage Act] is discriminatory and I voted against that law when it was put on the books for that very reason. I thought it was unconstitutional and I believe that’s what the Supreme Court is going to rule.”
Perhaps someday, historians will be amazed that any sane person would've expected them to do anything else.

In related news, New Jersey's Civil Union Review Commission has concluded that "the state's two-year-old civil union law doesn't do enough to give gay couples the same protections as heterosexual married couples."

In Angola, efforts are being made to strengthen (and enforce) domestic violence laws:
Addressing the meeting, the minister of Family and Women Promotion, Genoveva Lino, said that although the Angolan constitution makes provisions on equal rights between men and women, matters related to gender violence in the country are gaining a worrying trend.

She said gender violence constitutes a grave human rights abuse from the civic point of view and requires a law that guarantees the protection to the victims, mostly women, and appropriate punishment to aggressors.
In India, illiterate "untouchable" women are working as healthcare providers:
Training is an ongoing campaign: Every Tuesday many of the women return for two days to discuss problems in their villages, review what they learned the previous week, and tackle a new subject, such as heart disease. The women sleep on the floor under one enormous blanket they sewed together from small ones.

The health workers did not become village authorities instantly. It took months or years for a village to start listening, a process helped along by medical successes, such as delivering a high-caste woman's baby or curing a child's fever. The women also have backing from a mobile team—a nurse, paramedic, social worker, and sometimes a doctor—who visit each village every week in the beginning, then less and less often. The mobile team sees the hardest cases and reinforces the authority of the village health worker. Sadafule told me that she and the mobile team went to the house of a high-caste woman in her village. As the caste system requires, the woman made tea for the visitors, but not for Sadafule—an Untouchable. "The social worker put the cup in my hand," Sadafule said. She had prescribed medicine, but the high-caste woman didn't trust her, and asked the nurse the same question. The nurse confirmed the prescription and asked Sadafule to take the medicine back out of her bag and give it to the woman.
In Chicago, laid-off workers won an important victory:
Laid-off workers at Republic Windows & Doors agreed to leave the closed Illinois plant they've been occupying in protest for six days, accepting a deal Wednesday night that will give each of them about $6,000.

Workers will receive about eight weeks' severance pay, accrued vacation time and two months of healthcare coverage, officials said. About $1.75 million will be put into an escrow account to be supervised by the workers' union.
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service will extend ESA protection to Hawaii’s picture-wing flies:
“Protection of critical habitat is essential for the recovery of Hawaiian picture-wings, unique and extraordinary Hawaiian endemic species,” said Jeff Miller, conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The picture-wings are often overlooked, but have made significant contributions to science.”

Few Hawaiian species are as amazing as the 111 species of picture-wing flies that have evolved from a single female that migrated from the mainland some 5 million years ago. The study of the picture-wings, one of the most remarkable examples of specific adaptation to local conditions, has contributed greatly to humanity’s understanding of biology and evolution. Scientists recently determined that Hawaiian picture-wings and their associated ecological communities have traits that are enormously important in humanity’s search to cure diseases such as West-Nile virus, AIDS, and even cancer.
There's new evidence that elephants live shorter lives in zoos than they do in the wild.
A new study from Science provides disturbing evidence that one of the zoos’ most popular animals, the elephant, faces a far shorter lifespan in captivity than in the wild. The findings raise new ethical and scientific questions regarding the rightness of keeping elephants in captivity and the causes of their shorter life-spans.
That being the case, it's probably just as well that the Los Angeles city council has voted to halt a $42 million elephant exhibit at that city's zoo.

Scientists studying great apes have reported an instance of spontaneous whistling from an orangutan:
In a paper published this month in Primates, an international journal of primatology that provides a forum on all aspects of primates in relation to humans and other animals, Great Ape Trust scientist Dr. Serge Wich and his colleagues provide the first-ever documentation of a primate mimicking a sound from another species without being specifically trained to do so. Bonnie, a 30-year-old female orangutan living at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., began whistling – a sound that is in a human’s, but not an orangutan’s, repertoire – after hearing an animal caretaker make the sound.

“This is important because it provides a mechanism to explain documented between-population variation in sounds for wild orangutans,” Wich said. “In addition, it counters a long-held assumption that non-human primates have fairly fixed sound repertoires that are not under voluntary control. Being able to learn new sounds and use these voluntarily are also two important aspects of human speech and these findings open up new avenues to study certain aspects of human speech evolution in our closest relatives.”
Some odd worms have been found in an undersea mud volcano:
The worms absorb chemicals such as methane from sediment and deliver the substances, via their blood, to the bacteria, which in turn produce organic carbon. The carbon nourishes both creatures.

Hilario has already named another genus from the expedition Bobmarleya -- the worm's "dreadlocked" appearance reminded her of the Jamaican singer, she said.

New research that confirms the obvious may help to make doing the right thing comparatively thinkable:
Jacobson has conducted the first quantitative, scientific evaluation of the proposed, major, energy-related solutions by assessing not only their potential for delivering energy for electricity and vehicles, but also their impacts on global warming, human health, energy security, water supply, space requirements, wildlife, water pollution, reliability and sustainability. His findings indicate that the options that are getting the most attention are between 25 to 1,000 times more polluting than the best available options....

The raw energy sources that Jacobson found to be the most promising are, in order, wind, concentrated solar (the use of mirrors to heat a fluid), geothermal, tidal, solar photovoltaics (rooftop solar panels), wave and hydroelectric. He recommends against nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration, corn ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, which is made of prairie grass. In fact, he found cellulosic ethanol was worse than corn ethanol because it results in more air pollution, requires more land to produce and causes more damage to wildlife.
All the same, there's probably something to be said for making biofuels out of coffee grounds:
In the new study, Mano Misra, Susanta Mohapatra, and Narasimharao Kondamudi note that the major barrier to wider use of biodiesel fuel is lack of a low-cost, high quality source, or feedstock, for producing that new energy source. Spent coffee grounds contain between 11 and 20 percent oil by weight. That's about as much as traditional biodiesel feedstocks such as rapeseed, palm, and soybean oil.

Growers produce more than 16 billion pounds of coffee around the world each year. The used or "spent" grounds remaining from production of espresso, cappuccino, and plain old-fashioned cups of java, often wind up in the trash or find use as soil conditioner. The scientists estimated, however, that spent coffee grounds can potentially add 340 million gallons of biodiesel to the world's fuel supply.
A San Francisco company has found a logical use for waste products of a different kind:
Mary Risley, a well-known San Fran chef, started FoodRunners with help from a few other food professionals in 1987. The founders wanted to be proactive about addressing hunger in San Francisco. After years of creating massive amounts of food for banquets, parties, and cooking classes, only to throw the excess in the garbage, they came up with the idea to redistribute the leftover food using a few trucks and a phone line. Now, more than 20 years later, the organization has more than 200 volunteers and delivers more than 22,000 pounds of food per week to people who need it most.
I'm sure Bill O'Reilly will be sending these folks a sizable check, just as soon as he captures and kills the author of the Washington Atheism Plaque. 'Tis the season!

A UK development includes an interesting automated waste-collection system:
The building features a courtyard containing three collection points adjacent to the building entrances. Each collection point has three separate chutes which look similar to a post box. Residents separate their waste into three streams, organic material, recyclable items including glass, paper and plastic and non recyclable waste. The waste is placed in each chute through a door similar to a washing machine where it drops into a holding point.

Periodically the accumulated waste is sucked through underground pipes at speeds up to 70km/hr to the central collection point. Each holding point features a remote controlled valve which means only one pipe is needed for the three waste streams. Waste can be sucked from up to 2km away from the central collection point. The waste is sucked into a compactor before being deposited into a lorry sized container. These are collected by the council’s waste contractor.
Geothermal tests in East Africa look promising:
Geothermal energy generation in Africa could take a leap forward in 2009 after exploratory studies in Kenya exceeded all expectations, it was announced yesterday.

A new enterprise — the African Rift Geothermal Development Facility (ARGeo) — will drive forward the plan to harvest the steam locked among the rocks under East Africa, according to leaders of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP). They made their announcement at the UN Climate Change Conference, in Poznan, Poland.
You may want to join the World Community Grid's effort to improve solar panels:
IBM and researchers from Harvard University are launching a new World Community Grid project to discover organic materials to create a more efficient and lower cost solar cell. The path-breaking effort will use idle computer power from volunteers to create large supplies of new clean energy.
The BushCo has abandoned yet another daft anti-environmental scheme:
The Bush administration has dropped controversial plans that would have allowed some existing power plants to expand without having to install new pollution controls.

Environmentalists declared victory on Wednesday while a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency said there was not enough time left in its term for the administration to finalize the rules changes it had sought.

Abandoning a second proposed change, the EPA also said it will not seek to loosen rules concerning plants near national parks and wilderness areas, according to the environmental group National Resource Defense Council (NRDC).
Residents of a Kenyan slum have turned a garbage dump into an organic farm:
"It started with the removal of the garbage," Kahumbu told "This was done physically and took three weeks! From there we started the seed beds as we prepared the growing beds on the cleared land. The beds were dug up and levelled before adding farmyard manure... Drip irrigation and a water tank were installed just as the seedlings were ready to be transplanted, after which the transplanting was done. Later we added a vermiculture set- up. And all the while the guys were learning how to tend their future and budding crops. Voila!" Vermiculture refers to producing nutrient-rich organic fertilizer by composting with the help of particular species of earthworm.
And residents of Macedonia reportedly planted six million trees in a single day:
The project was begun by Macedonian opera singer, Boris Trajanov. "If Macedonia, a country of two million people, can plant six million trees, we can only imagine how many trees can be planted in other, bigger countries," he told Reuters.

Trajanov hopes to spread the idea to other nations.
Omaha is considering tough new rules on digital billboards:
Omaha By Design scored a victory Wednesday in its push to improve the city's visual appeal.

The group persuaded the City Planning Board to recommend tough regulations on digital billboards, including how many may be installed in Omaha and how long their images may be displayed.

In a 6-1 vote, the Planning Board approved a series of regulations that are much more restrictive than what billboard companies wanted and even more restrictive than what city planners were seeking.
In Australia, there's talk of turning swimming pools into living spaces:
The regions 360,000 swimming pools would first be emptied of their water and then transformed, through architectural intervention, into a comfortable domestic space, "complete with a small bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, garden alcove and rooftop windows."
Matthew DeLong offers evidence that Obama may not be too keen on building border fences:
Buried in an article about an interview President-elect Barack Obama gave to The Chicago Tribune yesterday is this little nugget that should reassure supporters of comprehensive immigration reform.
Asked if he would support the extension of the fence between the U.S. and Mexican border, Obama deferred to his nominee for the Homeland Security Department, Janet Napolitano.
This is good news for anyone who opposes on principle the construction of physical barriers between peoples. As governor of Arizona, Napolitano has long been a vocal critic of the fence and supporter of expanding the legal immigration process. It would be difficult to imagine that completion of the planned 700-miles of fencing — of which less than 250 miles was completed as of last month — will be very high on Napolitano’s list of priorities.
Cheryl Rofer discusses a new group dedicated to nuclear abolition:
Events seem to be moving toward nuclear abolition faster than I ever could have imagined.

There's a new organization out there with some pretty impressive names behind it: Global Zero....

Signers include Margaret Beckett, Richard Branson, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Chuck Hagel, Max Kampelman, Robert McNamara, Jack Matlock, Her Majesty Queen Noor, David Owen, Thomas Pickering, Desmond Tutu, Muhammed Yunus, and Anthony Zinni. And that's just within the first hundred. Check out the others.
You can add your own name to the list by clicking here.

Make of this what you will:
A Japanese research team has revealed it had created a technology that could eventually display on a computer screen what people have on their minds, such as dreams.

Researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories succeeded in processing and displaying images directly from the human brain, they said in a study unveiled ahead of publication in the US magazine Neuron.

While the team for now has managed to reproduce only simple images from the brain, they said the technology could eventually be used to figure out dreams and other secrets inside people’s minds.
This is also interesting, if true:
or breast cancer survivors, the idea of taking estrogen pills is almost a taboo. In fact, their doctors give them drugs to get rid of the hormone because it can fuel the growth of breast cancer. So these women would probably be surprised by the approach taken by breast cancer physician Matthew Ellis, M.B., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis — he has demonstrated that estrogen therapy can help control metastatic breast cancer.

In a study presented at the 31st annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, he showed that for about a third of the 66 participants — women with metastatic breast cancer that had developed resistance to standard estrogen-lowering therapy — a daily dose of estrogen could stop the growth of their tumors or even cause them to shrink.
You'll find more good news on breast cancer treatments here.

In other medical news, Revere has a fascinating post on a doctor who "wondered what would happen if he appended a photograph of the patient -- the real patient, not his x-ray shadow -- onto the x-ray itself so the radiologist could see the face before reading the film":
After interpreting the results of the exams, 15 radiologists were given questionnaires to gather data about their experience. All 15 radiologists admitted feeling more empathy towards the patients after viewing their photos. In addition, the photographs revealed medical information such as suffering or physical signs of disease.

More importantly, the results showed that radiologists provided a more meticulous reading of medical image results when a photo of the patient accompanied the file.
Now, then: Cavorting dolphins. The best photos of microscopic life, 2008. The Atlas of True Names. And The Ghosts of Antarctica.

The Southern Ontario Elephant. The perils of Orientalism. Lovely images of Aviation in Rio de Janeiro (via things).

Papercuts (the good kind). The return of the repressed. Photoessays galore at, "a new website that features documentary photography from around the world—images and words that explore the human condition." And paintings and graphics by Arthur Boyd:

Here's some pinboard animation to end with.

(Photo at top: "Interior of Le Géant Inflating" by Félix Nadar, 1863. Via wood s lot.)


four legs good said...

I now haz hope.

So where's mah nudibranch?

peacay said...

My first reaction to the 'free pill' story was to think that it was a bad idea simply because some people shouldn't take it based on their medical state (from obesity to family history of stroke to hypertension --- as best I recall). So I'm not sure if a pharmacist or a nurse would be qualified to carry out (and INTERPRET properly) a history taking and physical examination. I wonder if this isn't something to do with the 'inching forward' one finds in responsibilities of such ancillary medical professions like nursing and pharmacy that seems to have found favour in the 'socialist' health care nations in recent years. In other words, I think they both are vocal lobbyists for making their professions "more important" sorta thing.
{that's not to say that I would have any problem whatsoever with wide and free access to the OCP, but I'd still prefer the program was associated with an initial checkup by a doctor)

You wrote: "Make of this what you will:" in relation to that brain image thingy. They are exactly the words I would have used. I still don't know what to think/believe about it. I'm hoping someone with a subscription to (what was it?) Neuron magazine writes a decent elaboration in lay language. Interesting of course, but I'm not sure I'm convinced.

Also: that video was weird.

Anonymous said...

So good to see you back with hope, Phila!

And thanks for the link - I'm looking forward to seeing how many sign up with Global Zero!

Phila said...

My first reaction to the 'free pill' story was to think that it was a bad idea simply because some people shouldn't take it based on their medical state (from obesity to family history of stroke to hypertension --- as best I recall). So I'm not sure if a pharmacist or a nurse would be qualified to carry out (and INTERPRET properly) a history taking and physical examination.

I had the same reaction, initially. But on reflection, I'm not so sure. I don't know how things go in Australia, but here in the US, the interview for pill prescriptions at, say, Planned Parenthood is rather perfunctory...most of it involves explaining symptoms to look out for, most of which are less likely to be seen in younger women. It's mostly a matter of answering a few questions and getting a few informational handouts.

Given the health and psychological risks of unplanned pregnancy, I think the benefits outweigh the risks.

My larger concern is that easier access to the pill will make condom use less likely...that strikes me as a more serious problem. But one can only hope that giving young women more power and control will help with that issue, too. Plus, pharmacists can remind people of the disease risk when they come in. (Better yet, they could hand out a bunch of condoms along with the pills.)

Ultimately, what heartens me about this scheme is that it's refreshingly unsentimental and non-paternalistic. I'd rather go that route, and make a couple of adjustments later, as necessary, than stay on the current path.

Interesting of course, but I'm not sure I'm convinced.

Same here. I'm also not convinced it's a positive thing, on the whole, even if it's accurate. But it was too weird and interesting to overlook, IMO.