2010-05-03, Los Angeles Times
Scientists are just beginning to understand the effect lifestyle choices and other environmental factors have on altering gene behavior, a rapidly emerging field called epigenetics. Your life story depends upon a combination of the DNA you're stuck with plus your environment, including all the little choices and events that happen over that lifetime. But in recent years, researchers have discovered that, while DNA lays out the options, many of those life experiences — the foods you eat, the stresses you endure, the toxins you're exposed to — physically affect the DNA and tell it more precisely what to do. The cause: a kind of secondary code carried along with the DNA. Called the "epigenome," this code is a set of chemical marks, attached to genes, that act like DNA referees. They turn off some genes and let others do their thing. And although the epigenome is pretty stable, it can change — meaning lifestyle choices such as diet and drug use could have lasting effects on how the body works. "The thing I love about epigenetics is that you have the potential to alter your destiny," says Randy Jirtle, who studies epigenetics at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. Jirtle compares the system to a computer: The DNA is the hardware — set and unchanging — and the epigenome is the software that tells it when, where and how to work.
Note: For a fascinating article by DNA researcher Bruce Lipton delving into the intriguing finding that our DNA can be altered by our life choices, click here.
Norway Builds the World's Most Humane Prison
2010-05-10, Time magazine
Ten years and 1.5 billion Norwegian kroner ($252 million) in the making, [Halden Fengsel, Norway's newest prison,] is spread over 75 acres (30 hectares) of gently sloping forest in southeastern Norway. The facility boasts amenities like a sound studio, jogging trails and a freestanding two-bedroom house where inmates can host their families during overnight visits. The scent of orange sorbet emanates from the "kitchen laboratory" where inmates take cooking courses. "In the Norwegian prison system, there's a focus on human rights and respect," says Are Hoidal, the prison's governor. "We don't see any of this as unusual." Halden ... embodies the guiding principles of the country's penal system: that repressive prisons do not work and that treating prisoners humanely boosts their chances of reintegrating into society. "When they arrive, many of them are in bad shape," Hoidal says, noting that Halden houses drug dealers, murderers and rapists, among others. "We want to build them up, give them confidence through education and work and have them leave as better people." Within two years of their release, 20% of Norway's prisoners end up back in jail. In the U.K. and the U.S., the figure hovers between 50% and 60%.
Nepalese doc is ‘God of Sight’ to nation’s poor
2010-03-21, MSNBC/Associated Press
For nearly a year, cataracts have clouded out all sight from the 70-year-old grandmother's world. With no money, she assumed she'd die alone in darkness. But now she waits quietly outside the operating room for her turn to meet Nepal's God of Sight. More than 500 others — most of whom have never seen a doctor before — have traveled for days by bicycle, motorbike, bus and even on their relatives' backs to reach Dr. Sanduk Ruit's mobile eye camp. Each hopes for the miracle promised in radio ads by the Nepalese master surgeon: He is able to poke, slice and pull the grape-like jelly masses out of an eye, then refill it with a tiny artificial lens, in about five minutes. It's an assembly-line approach to curing blindness that's possible thanks to a simple surgical technique Ruit pioneered, allowing cataracts to be removed safely without stitches through two small incisions. Once condemned by the international medical community as unthinkable and reckless, this mass surgery "in the bush" started spreading from Nepal to poor countries worldwide nearly two decades ago. Thousands of doctors — from North Korea to Nicaragua to Nigeria — have since been trained to train others, with the hope of slowly lessening the leading cause of blindness that affects 18 million people worldwide. No one pays for anything, and the entire cost is about $25 per surgery. That's $12,750 for all 510 patients, equal to only about three or four surgeries in the U.S.
Doctor claims he has evidence of the afterlife
A clinical psychologist, [Mary Jo] Rapini had long worked with terminal cancer patients. When they told her of their near-death experiences, she would often chalk their stories up as a reaction to their pain medication. But in April 2003, she faced her own mortality. She suffered an aneurysm while working out [in] a gym and was rushed to the hospital. She was in an intensive care unit for three days when she took a turn for the worse. “All of a sudden [doctors] were rushing around me and inserting things into me, and they called my husband,” she [said]. “I looked up and I saw this light; it wasn’t a normal light, it was different. It was luminescent. And it grew. I kept looking at it like, ‘What is that?’ Then it grew large and I went into it. I went into this tunnel, and I came into this room that was just beautiful. God held me, he called me by name, and he told me, ‘Mary Jo, you can’t stay.’ And he said, ‘Let me ask you one thing — have you ever loved another the way you’ve been loved here?’ And I said, ‘No, it’s impossible. I’m a human.’ And then he just held me and said, ‘You can do better.’ ” While Rapini’s account may seem far-fetched, [Dr. Jeffrey] Long [in his book Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences] says her recollections mirror nearly all stories of near-death experiences.
Note: For a powerfully inspiring online lesson focused on near-death experiences, click here. For intriguing investigations into the nature of reality from reliable sources, click here.
Fewer Law Enforcement Officers Died on Job in 2009
2009-12-28, New York Times
Law enforcement deaths this year dropped to their lowest level since 1959, while the decade of the 2000s was among the safest for officers -- despite the deadliest single day for police on Sept. 11, 2001. Through Dec. 27, the report by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund found [the following]. 124 officers were killed this year, compared to 133 in 2008. The 2009 total represents the fewest line-of-duty deaths since 108 a half-century ago. Firearms deaths rose to 48, nine more than in 2008. However, the 39 fatalities in 2008 represented the lowest annual figure in more than five decades. One female officer was killed in 2009, compared with 13 the previous year. There was no explanation for the decline. An average of 162 officers a year died in the 2000s, compared with 160 in the 1990s, 190 in the 1980s and 228 in the 1970s -- the deadliest decade for U.S. law enforcement. Seventy-two officers died on Sept. 11.
Note: Why wasn't this article titled something like "Law Enforcement Deaths Lowest in 50 Years"? Why is this inspiring news given so little attention? Did you know that violent crime nationwide in the US has decreased by 50% in the last 15 years? Click here to read about this. Why is news that inspires fear given such prominence while inspiring news gets so little notice? For a possible answer, click here.
Peanut Butter Plan to feed the homeless spreads
2009-09-15, San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco's leading newspaper)
The world is getting better, one peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a time. It's called the Peanut Butter Plan. Like many of the best plans, it's simple: Strangers get together, make peanut butter sandwiches and immediately pass them out to homeless people. No federal subsidy, no foundation, no vouchers. No official sanction from anybody. Just strangers, good will and peanut butter. Jory John, a San Francisco children's book writer, got the idea for the PBJ stealth campaign this spring. John put forth the idea on Facebook and, over the past few months, PBJ handouts have taken place in Los Angeles; Berkeley; Phoenix; Little Rock, Ark.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Austin, Texas; and London. "People are joining from all over the place," John said. "I thought it was about time to use a social networking site to do some good." The monthly gathering took place the other evening around a conference table inside a publishing house that had donated its office for the cause. Some sandwich-laden volunteers [went] to the Tenderloin and some others to the Haight and South of Market.There was no shortage of people who found the idea of a complimentary peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to be just the thing. Outside the BART station at 16th and Mission streets, a dozen folks accepted sandwiches. When the sandwiches were gone, [the] sandwich makers retired to a nearby tavern for a beer. The camaraderie of doing something nice, along with the beers, made everyone feel pretty good and some of the strangers exchanged phone numbers. "The smallest actions make the biggest difference," [John] said. "There are some cynics who say it's not really curing hunger, and it isn't curing hunger. But it's curing one person's hunger. There's nothing wrong with that."
Note: Information on the Peanut Butter Plan and its operations in various cities around the U.S. is available at www.peanutbutterplan.org.
Children Full of Life
2004-09-27, CBC News (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation)
In the award-winning documentary "Children Full of Life," a fourth-grade class in a primary school in Kanazawa, northwest of Tokyo, learn lessons about compassion from their homeroom teacher, Toshiro Kanamori. He instructs each to write their true inner feelings in a letter, and read it aloud in front of the class. By sharing their lives, the children begin to realize the importance of caring for their classmates. Capturing the intimate moments of the students' laughter and tears, the film explores one teacher's approach to allowing children the opportunity to discover the value of sharing powerful emotions. Classroom discussions include difficult issues such as the death of a parent or being the victim of bullying. In this "school of life," the simple message is learning to look after one another. Following Mr. Kanamori's class for a whole school year, the cameras were kept at the children's eye-level, giving their view of the world as they cope with troubled relationships and the loss of loved ones. Through their daily experiences, viewers see how they develop together a spirit of co-operation and compassion. Children Full of Life was awarded the Global Television Grand Prize at this year's 25th Anniversary Banff Television Festival, the festival's highest honour.
Note: Don't miss this, one of the most inspiring videos on the Internet, available at this link. If you watch nothing but the first five minutes of this touching 40-minute video, you will almost certainly be thankful you did.
Watching Whales Watching Us
2009-07-12, New York Times
Scientists have now documented behaviors like tool use and cooperative hunting strategies among whales. Orcas, or killer whales, have been found to mourn their own dead. Just three years ago, researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York discovered, in the brains of a number of whale species, highly specialized neurons that are linked to, among other things, the use of language and were once thought to be the exclusive property of humans and a few other primates. Indeed, marine biologists are now revealing not only the dizzying variety of vocalizations among a number of whale species but also complex societal structures and cultures. Whales, we now know, teach and learn. They scheme. They cooperate, and they grieve. They recognize themselves and their friends. They know and fight back against their enemies. And perhaps most stunningly, given all of our transgressions against them, they may even, in certain circumstances, have learned to trust us. For all of their inherent elusiveness, the gray whales of Baja baffle scientists for the opposite reason: They can’t seem to get enough of us humans. The question of why present-day gray-whale mothers, some of whom still bear harpoon scars, would take to seeking us out and gently shepherding their young into our arms is a mystery that now captivates whale researchers and watchers alike. There may be something far more compelling going on in the lagoons of Baja each winter and spring. Something, let’s say, along the lines of that time-worn plot conceit behind many a film, in which the peaceable greetings of alien visitors are tragically rebuffed by human fear and ignorance. Except that in this particular rendition, the aliens keep coming back, trying, perhaps, to give us another chance.
Note: For many important reports from reliable sources on the amazing capabilities of marine mammals, as well as serious threats to their well-being and survival from human activities, click here.
Canadian teen's process decomposes plastic bags
2008-06-05, Reuters News
As countries and cities around the world move to ban plastic bags, a Canadian teenager is tackling the problem of what to do with them. High school student Daniel Burd successfully isolated microorganisms from soil and used them to help degrade 43 percent of his polyethylene sample within a few weeks in a science project that recently won him the C$10,000 ($9,800) top prize at the Canada-Wide Science Fair. "The purpose of my project was to first of all prove that it's possible to do the degradation, and I just wanted to develop a beginning procedure that could be used," said the 17-year-old Grade 11 student, who also walked away with nearly C$35,000 in university scholarship offers. "We know that after 40 to 100,000 years, the plastic bags will be degraded naturally. Some type of microbe must be responsible for this. So the first step was to isolate this microbe and that's what I did," said Burd, who began his research in December 2006. To isolate the microorganism, he turned the plastic bags into a powder -- an important step, Burd said, because it increases the surface area and helps the microorganisms that can use the plastic to grow. Once he had the powder, he collected soil samples from a landfill, and combined the two with a home-made solution that would encourage microorganism growth. After months of experimenting, he isolated two microbial strains from the genuses sphingomonas and pseudomonas. Burd worked with the microbes to find the combination that would degrade strips of plastic bags best, and optimized the process by factoring in elements such as temperature and concentration of microbes. "In the end I was able to find that after six weeks incubation 43 percent of my plastic bag is degraded."
Note: Why wasn't this all over the news? Very few media outlets covered this highly inspiring story. For a more recent article on this fascinating topic, click here.
Torture tests say battery power's hardly nerdy
2009-03-30, Boston Globe
Bill Dubé gets giddy when he talks about batteries and speed. After all, his 500-horsepower Killacycle electric motorcycle goes from 0 to 60 miles per hour in under a second. He claims it is the fastest electric vehicle on the planet. In October, the Killacycle traveled a quarter mile in 7.89 seconds, topping out at 174 mph, a record. Dubé, 56, an engineer and Rhode Island native whose day job is designing air chemistry instruments at the University of Colorado, is the bike's designer, owner, and builder. He is out to prove that electric vehicles do not have to be "nerd-mobiles." At the heart of electric vehicles like the Killacycle are the batteries. A123 Systems Inc., based in Watertown, sponsors the Killacycle and provides its battery. Dubé read about A123's lithium-ion battery technology in 2003 and decided to approach company officials. He thought drag racing was a great way to torture-test the company's innovative battery cells. "I told them I'll take the battery cells out to the drag strip and set a world record," he said. Electric-vehicle racing hit the start line about 15 years ago, when pioneers like Dubé began building the machines. "Bill is quite amazing and does pretty good promoting electric-vehicle racing in general," said Mike Willmon, president of the National Electric Drag Racing Association, based in Santa Rosa, Calif. The mission of the group, whose membership stands at 100, is to increase public awareness about the performance side of electric vehicles.
Note: Why such a weak title for this amazing bike? Why not a title like "Electric motorcycle goes 0 to 60 in one second"? Could it be the media doesn't want us to know things like this? For lots more suggesting this may be the case, click here. And for more on this amazing motorcyle and an unassuming electric car that does the quarter mile in under 12 seconds, click here.
Apocalypse now? 30 days when the world didn't end
2008-09-09, Times of London (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
The beginning of the first serious experiments using CERN’s Large Hadron Collider this week has given rise to a welter of fanciful scare stories about the obliteration of the Earth by a pocket black hole or a cascade reaction of exotic particles. Similar predictions have been made around the launch of several other particle physics experiments and even the first atomic weapons tests. Predictions of the world’s end are nothing new though. We’ve picked out 30 of the most memorable apocalypses that never, for one reason or another, quite happened. 1: 2,800BC: The oldest surviving prediction of the world’s imminent demise was found inscribed upon an Assyrian clay tablet which stated: "Our earth is degenerate in these latter days. There are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end. Bribery and corruption are common." 4: Mar 25, 970 AD. The Lotharingian computists believed they had found evidence in the Bible that a conjunction of certain feast days prefigured the end times. They were just one of a wide scattering of millennial cults springing up in advance of that first Millennium. The millennial panic endured for at least 30 years after the fateful date had come and gone, with some adjustment made to allow 1,000 years after the crucifixion, rather than the nativity. 8: 1648: Having made close study of the kabbalah, theTurkish rabbi Sabbatai Zevi predicted that the Messiah would make a miraculous return in 1648, and that his name would be Sabbatai Zevi. 9: 1666: A year packed with apocalyptic portent. With a date containing the figures commonly accepted as the biblical Number of the Beast and following a protracted period of plague in England, it was little surprise that many should believe the Great Fire of London to be a herald of the Last Days.
The Assisi Decalogue For Peace
2002-02-01, King's University College, University of Western Ontario
What if leaders of the world’s major religions got together one day and denounced all religious violence? What if they unanimously agreed to make this plain, clear and bold statement to the world? “Violence and terrorism are opposed to all true religious spirit and we condemn all recourse to violence and war in the name of God or religion.” It could change the world. More than 200 leaders of the world’s dozen major religions did get together January 24 in Assisi, Italy. Pope John Paul II and a number of cardinals were at the meeting. So was Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of all Orthodox Christians. So were a dozen Jewish rabbis, including some from Israel. So were 30 Muslim imams from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan. So were dozens of ministers representing Baptists, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals, Disciples of Christ, Mennonites, Quakers, Moravians, The Salvation Army and the World Council of Churches. So were dozens of monks, gurus and others representing Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Zoroastrians and native African religions. They unanimously agreed to condemn “every recourse to violence and war in the name of God or religion.” They also said, “No religious goal can possibly justify the use of violence by man against man.” And that “Whoever uses religion to foment violence contradicts religion’s deepest and truest inspiration.” They called their statement the Assisi Decalogue for Peace. Maybe you missed the story. It didn’t even make the newspapers the next day, hidden inside or not. What if leaders of the world’s major religions got together one and denounced all religious violence - and no one cared?
Note: Why is it that news about war and terrorism so frequently makes headlines, but the amazing news that leaders of religions from around the world got together to denounce all violence in the name of God and religion did not even warrant an article or story in any major media?
Elephant 'self-portrait' on show
2006-07-21, BBC News
Art graduate Victoria Khunapramot, 26, has brought [remarkable] paintings from Thailand, [including] "self-portraits" by Paya, who is said to be the only elephant to have mastered his own likeness. Paya is one of six elephants whose keepers have taught them how to hold a paintbrush in their trunks. They drop the brush when they want a new colour. Mrs Khunapramot, from Newington, said: "Many people cannot believe that an elephant is capable of producing any kind of artwork, never mind a self-portrait. But they are very intelligent animals and create the entire paintings with great gusto and concentration within just five or 10 minutes - the only thing they cannot do on their own is pick up a paintbrush, so it gets handed to them. They are trained by artists who fine-tune their skills, and they paint in front of an audience in their conservation village, leaving no one in any doubt that they are authentic elephant creations." Mrs Khunapramot, who set up the Thai Fine Art company after studying the history of art in St Andrews and business management at Edinburgh's Napier University, said it took about a month to train the animals to paint.
Note: For an amazing video clip of one of these elephants at work, click here. For more on this fascinating topic, click here and here.
In Rwanda, visionary doctor is moving mountains again
2008-04-13, Boston Globe
It was November 2004, and Dr. Paul Farmer had agreed to bring his world-renowned Partners in Health model to Rwanda, which was still reeling from the aftershocks of the genocide a decade earlier. Now here he was, with Rwandan health officials, to scout out a location for a hospital to serve the poorest of the poor. Farmer, who teaches at Harvard, was taken to Ruhengeri, in the country's northwest corner. But there was already a clean hospital there, with employees and even an X-ray machine. "No, no, no. You don't understand," Farmer recalls saying. "Find me the worst possible place in the country." So they took him to Rwinkwavu, a remote area two hours east of Kigali. Even Farmer - who works in the world's worst regions - was taken aback. There were no beds, no patients, no staff, no medical equipment. "It was abandoned, dirty and scary," Farmer says. There were 200,000 people in the district and not a single doctor. It was the perfect place for Farmer. In the summer of 2005, the doors opened at Rwinkwavu Hospital, which now sees 250 patients a day, some of them walking hours to get there. Farmer, [Dr. Michael Rich, who is Rwanda country director for Partners in Health], and their Rwandan counterparts have built a second hospital in an equally remote area of 200,000 - also without a single doctor - and built or renovated 19 health centers that feed patients to them. A third hospital is on the drawing board, designed by Harvard architecture students. Ultimately, they plan to expand rural medical services to the entire country. Now 20 years old, Partners in Health, with its emphasis on treating poverty as well as disease, has expanded to nine countries.
Note: Five years ago, Farmer became reluctantly famous with the publication of Tracy Kidder's best-selling book, Mountains Beyond Mountains, which told the story of the brash Harvard Medical School graduate who changed the face of healthcare in rural Haiti.
For Modern Kids, 'Philanthropy' Is No Grown-Up Word
2007-12-30, Washington Post
In lieu of presents at her 12th birthday party this year, Maddie Freed of Potomac asked her friends to bring money, and she raised $800 for Children's Hospital. Eight-year-old Jenny Hoekman saves a third of what she makes walking dogs, and this month the Takoma Park girl donated it to help her Brownie troop sponsor an immigrant family. And in Club Penguin, a popular online game club for the elementary school set, more than 2.5 million kids gave their virtual earnings to charities in a contest this month. In response, the site's founders are giving $1 million to charities based on the children's preferences. Young children and teenagers across the nation are getting involved in philanthropy more than ever, according to research and nonprofit experts, who credit new technologies with the rise of the trend. As young people increasingly become exposed to and connected with the problems of the world via the Internet and television, experts said, parents are finding new ways to instill in their children the value of giving. At the same time, technology is democratizing philanthropy so giving is not only easier for people of all ages and means, but also trendier. And children are starting to organize at the grass-roots level to give. "We've globalized technology, we've globalized commerce, but we haven't globalized compassion," said Craig Kielburger, founder of Free the Children, a nonprofit network of kids helping kids. "But we're seeing a generation of kids, ages 10 to 15, who are aware of global problems, and they're really searching to help. The next step is to help kids move from that awareness to action." Eileen Barber, 10, of Charlottesville said she gave her Club Penguin coins to the World Wildlife Fund to help animals. "It sort of seemed like they have a lot more needs than us," Barber said. "With global warming and stuff, I figured it would be nicer to look beyond just myself."
Blind, Wheelchair-Bound Student Doesn't Fail to Inspire
2006-11-10, ABC News
When I met 18-year old Patrick Henry Hughes, I knew he was musically talented. I had been told so, had read that he was very able for someone his age and who had been blind and crippled since birth. Patrick's eyes are not functional; his body and legs are stunted. He is in a wheelchair. When we first shook hands, his fingers seemed entirely too thick to be nimble. So when he offered to play the piano for me and his father rolled his wheelchair up to the baby grand, I confess that I thought to myself, "Well, this will be sweet. He has overcome so much. How nice that he can play piano." But then Patrick put his hands to the keyboard, and his fingers began to race across it -- the entire span of it, his fingers moving up and back and over and across the keys so quickly and intricately that my fully-functional eyesight couldn't keep up with them. I was stunned. The music his hands drew from that piano was so lovely and lyrical and haunting, so rich and complex and beyond anything I had imagined he would play that there was nothing I could say. All I could do was listen. "God made me blind and didn't give me the ability to walk. I mean, big deal." Patrick said, smiling. "He gave me the talent to play piano and trumpet and all that good stuff." This is Patrick's philosophy in life, and he wants people to know it. "I'm the kind of person that's always going to fight till I win," he said. Patrick also attends the University of Louisville and plays trumpet in the marching band. The band director suggested it, and Patrick and his father, Patrick John Hughes, who have faced tougher challenges together, decided "Why not?" "Don't tell us we can't do something," Patrick's father added, with a chuckle. He looks at Patrick with a mixture of love and loyalty and admiration, something not always seen in the eyes of a father when he gazes at his son. "I've told him before. He's my hero."
Note: For amazingly inspiring seven-minute video clips of this unusual young musician on both Oprah and ESPN, click here and here.
For this club, life begins at 50 (%)
2007-07-29, Boston Globe
When David Ludlow's wife died in a climbing accident 11 years ago, her death transformed him into a multimillionaire: He inherited Vanda Sendzimir's share of her family fortune, a $5 million trust that generates an annual interest of about $300,000. Then a freelance photographer with a passion for social justice issues, the Jamaica Plain man was plunged into a swirl of shock, guilt, and confusion.
"I've always been very left-wing politically and all of a sudden I was living incredible inequality," said Ludlow, 64. "Suddenly I was in the upper 1 percent of the population in terms of wealth, and I felt terrible about that for a long time." So he did something radical, and something that many people might consider insane: He decided to give away half his annual income. In doing so, Ludlow joined a small, unusual, and growing community: The 50% League, an Arlington-based group of people who contribute at least half their income, business profits, or net worth to charity. Members from across the country have been welcomed into an elite circle of givers and asked to share their stories publicly, even if anonymously, to inspire other givers. Their motivations are manifold: Some give out of a sense of fairness, personal satisfaction or a desire for simplicity; others are driven by religious faith or dedication to a cause. Many are anonymous philanthropists, and not all of them have great wealth: Some are members of the middle class, but have chosen to survive on less so they can give more. Above all, they aim to stand as role models, and to encourage others of all income levels to think about their giving potential. "I feel incredibly privileged, and I still feel guilty about that," said Ludlow, who has used much of the money he inherited from his late wife ... to fund grass-roots groups led by low-income people of color. "But it's given me tremendous meaning in my life to give as much as I can away."
Note: The wonderful man featured in this article, David Ludlow, is a major supporter of our work in the form of a large monthly donation (http://www.peerservice.org/donations#monthly). This is a powerful example of how one inspired individual can make a big difference in the world. Let us all do our best to use our money in support of personal and global transformation to the best of our ability. We also invite you to make a difference by donating to support our empowering work at http://www.peerservice.org/donations. For two inspiring media clips of David and this great organization, click here and here.
A genius explains
2007-02-12, The Guardian (One of the U.K.'s leading newspapers)
Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant. He can perform mind-boggling mathematical calculations at breakneck speeds. But unlike other savants, who can perform similar feats, Tammet can describe how he does it. He speaks seven languages and is even devising his own language. Now scientists are asking whether his exceptional abilities are the key to unlock the secrets of autism. Ever since the age of three, when he suffered an epileptic fit, Tammet has been obsessed with counting. Now he is 26, and a mathematical genius who can figure out cube roots quicker than a calculator and recall pi to 22,514 decimal places. He also happens to be autistic, which is why he can't drive a car, wire a plug, or tell right from left. Since his epileptic fit, he has been able to see numbers as shapes, colours and textures. The number two, for instance, is a motion, and five is a clap of thunder. "When I multiply numbers together, I see two shapes. The image starts to change and evolve, and a third shape emerges. That's the answer. An estimated 10% of the autistic population - and an estimated 1% of the non-autistic population - have savant abilities, but no one knows exactly why. A number of scientists now hope that Tammet might help us to understand better. The blind American savant Leslie Lemke played Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No1, after he heard it for the first time, and he never had so much as a piano lesson. And the British savant Stephen Wiltshire was able to draw a highly accurate map of the London skyline from memory after a single helicopter trip over the city. Even so, Tammet could still turn out to be the more significant.
Note: Could the human mind be much more powerful than even science is willing to admit? For an astounding documentary showing how this unusual man managed to become conversant in a difficult language in one week and lots more, click here.
Do-Gooders With Spreadsheets
2007-01-30, New York Times
The World Economic Forum here in Davos is the kind of place where if you let yourself get distracted while walking by a European prime minister on your left, you could end up tripping over a famous gazillionaire. But perhaps the most remarkable people to attend ... are the social entrepreneurs. Nic Frances runs a group that aims to cut carbon emissions in 70 percent of Australian households over 10 years. His group, Easy Being Green, gives out low-energy light bulbs and low-flow shower heads after the household signs over the rights to the carbon emissions the equipment will save. The group then sells those carbon credits to industry to finance its activities. In the U.S., Gillian Caldwell and her group, Witness, train people around the world to use video cameras to document human rights abuses. The resulting videos have drawn public attention to issues like child soldiers and the treatment of the mentally ill. Now Ms. Caldwell aims to create sort of YouTube for human rights video clips. Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, demonstrated with Grameen Bank the power of microfinancing. His bank has helped raise incomes, secure property rights for women, lower population growth and raise education standards across Bangladesh — and now the success is rippling around the globe. “Politics is failing to solve all the big issues,” said Jim Wallis, who wrote “God’s Politics” and runs Sojourners. “So when that happens, social movements rise up.” A growing number of the best and brightest university graduates in the U.S. and abroad are moving into this area (many clutching the book “How to Change the World,” a bible in the field).
Molecule offers cancer hope
2007-01-17, Toronto Star (One of Canada's leading newspapers)
In results that "astounded" scientists, an inexpensive molecule known as DCA was shown to shrink lung, breast and brain tumours in both animal and human tissue experiments. The study was published yesterday in the journal Cancer Cell. "I think DCA can be selective for cancer because it attacks a fundamental process of cancer that is unique to cancer cells," said Dr. Evangelos Michelakis, a professor at the Edmonton university's medical school and one of the study's key authors. The molecule appears to repair damaged mitochondria in cancer cells. "When a cell is getting too old or doesn't function properly, the mitochondria are going to induce the cell death," lead study author Sebastien Bonnet said yesterday. Bonnet says DCA – or dichloroacetate – appears to reverse the mitochondrial changes in a wide range of cancers. "One of the really exciting things about this compound is that it might be able to treat many different forms of cancer because all forms of cancer suppress mitochondrial function," Michelakis said. Bonnet says DCA may also provide an effective cancer treatment because its small size allows easy absorption into the body, ensuring it can reach areas that other drugs cannot, such as brain tumours. Because it's been used to combat other ailments ... DCA has been shown to have few toxic effects on the body. Its previous use means it can be immediately tested on humans. Unlike other cancer drugs, DCA did not appear to have any negative effect on normal cells. It could provide an extremely inexpensive cancer therapy because it's not patented. But ... the lack of a patent could lead to an unwillingness on the part of pharmaceutical companies to fund expensive clinical trials.
Note: Even these scientists realize that though this discovery could be a huge benefit to mankind, because the drug companies will lose profits, they almost certainly will not fund studies. Expensive AIDS drugs with promising results, on the other hand, are rushed through the studies to market. For more reliable, verifiable information on how hugely beneficial health advances are shut down to keep profits high, click here and here.