Lessons learned while doing – or at least trying to do good!


I worked for three years in Africa and really came to appreciate how complex an ICU is. You’ve got the ventilators, that’s the thing that you can see. But all the little pieces have to be sourced, someone has to clean it, someone has to order the cleaning solution, someone’s got to write the protocol to train the person that cleans it. It’s this really complex ecosystem, and each of the pieces of the ecosystem are required for the thing to work. Everyone’s focused on producing more ventilators, but the real capacity is the smallest thing in that ecosystem…

This is #1 of 3 important things Dr. Runnels learned in less developed hospitals in disaster areas. Click the link up above to read the next paragraphs that make his point…and the 2 that follow:



Rising anthropogenic nitrate levels in North Pacific Ocean

Human-induced changes to Earth’s carbon cycle — for example, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide and ocean acidification — have been observed for decades. However, a study published this week in Science showed human activities, in particular industrial and agricultural processes, have also had significant impacts on the upper ocean nitrogen cycle.

The rate of deposition of reactive nitrogen (i.e., nitrogen oxides from fossil fuel burning and ammonia compounds from fertilizer use) from the atmosphere to the open ocean has more than doubled globally over the last 100 years. This anthropogenic addition of nitrogen has reached a magnitude comparable to about half of global ocean nitrogen fixation (the natural process by which atmospheric nitrogen gas becomes a useful nutrient for organisms). David Karl…teamed up with researchers from Korea, Switzerland and…NOAA…to assess changes in nitrate concentration between the 1960s and 2000s across the open North Pacific Ocean.

Their analysis, which could discern human-derived nitrogen from natural nitrogen fixation, revealed that the oceanic nitrate concentration increased significantly over the last 30 years in surface waters of the North Pacific due largely to the enhanced deposition of nitrogen from the atmosphere.

“This is a sobering result, one that I would not have predicted,” said Karl. “The North Pacific is so vast it is hard to imagine that humans could impact the natural nitrogen cycle.”

…Their assessment revealed a consistent picture of increasing nitrate concentrations, the magnitude and pattern of which can only be explained by the observed increase in atmospheric nitrogen deposition.

Enhanced nitrogen deposition has several potential ecological ramifications. Because biological activity is limited by nitrate availability in the North Pacific Ocean, the input of new nitrogen from the atmosphere may increase photosysnthesis in the sunlit layers and export of carbon-rich organic material out of the surface ocean into the deep.

“The burgeoning human population needs energy and food — unfortunately, nitrogen pollution is an unintended consequence and not even the open ocean is immune from our daily industrial activities,” said Karl.

Given the likelihood that the magnitude of atmospheric nitrogen deposition will continue to increase in the future, the North Pacific Ocean could rapidly switch to having surplus nitrate. Thus, past and future increases in atmospheric nitrogen deposition have the potential to alter the base of the marine food web; and, in the long term, the structure of the ecosystem.

…If similar trends are confirmed in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, it would constitute another example of a global-scale alteration of Earth system. Further, the findings of this study of the North Pacific highlight the need for greater controls on the emission of nitrogen compounds during combustion and agricultural processes.

The short answer is – if we don’t succeed in wresting control of the politics and power of our nation from the Know-Nothings – we’re screwed. We will be no different from fishes swimming in a steadily heated cauldron until they are killed and cooked. And the Koch Bros, the John Boehners and Rand Pauls of our political world ain’t even dropping in some onions and garlic to make our end a savory one.

Seven members of Bolivian Mennonite colony jailed for serial rape

A court in Bolivia has sentenced seven members of a reclusive conservative Christian group to 25 years in prison for raping more than 100 women. The men, members of a Mennonite group, secretly sedated their victims before the sex attacks.

The victims’ lawyer said the 2000-strong Mennonite community where the rapes happened welcomed the sentence.

The group follows a strict moral code and rejects modern inventions such as cars and electricity.

An eighth man was sentenced to 12-and-a-half years for supplying the sedative used to drug the women.

The rapes happened in the Mennonite community of Manitoba, 150km north-east of the city of Santa Cruz.

The court heard that the men sprayed a substance derived from the belladonna plant normally used to anaesthetise cows through bedroom windows at night, sedating entire families.

They then raped the women and girls. The youngest victim was nine years old…

Prosecutor Freddy Perez said colony elders suspected something was wrong when they wondered why one man was getting up so late in the mornings, and they decided to shadow him.

He was then spotted jumping through a window into one of the victim’s houses.

Tough enough being part of a non-Catholic religion in most of Latin America. An often-reclusive group like these Mennonites will now have to deal with years of innuendo and rumor – even though they caught these thugs and turned them over for prosecution.

Doesn’t have to be that way. There are some really successful Mennonite communities in northern Mexico. They coexist peacefully with local Catholic families and provide full employment at many of their organic farms.

Perennial grain crops – next agricultural revolution

Earth-friendly perennial grain crops, which grow with less fertilizer, herbicide, fuel, and erosion than grains planted annually, could be available in two decades, according to researchers writing in the current issue of the journal Science.
Perennial grains would be one of the largest innovations in the 10,000 year history of agriculture, and could arrive even sooner with the right breeding programs, said John Reganold, a Washington State University Regents professor of soil science and lead author of the paper with Jerry Glover, a WSU-trained soil scientist now at the Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.
“It really depends on the breakthroughs,” said Reganold. “The more people involved in this, the more it cuts down the time…”

“People talk about food security,” said Reganold. “That’s only half the issue. We need to talk about both food and ecosystem security.”
Perennial grains, say the authors, have longer growing seasons than annual crops and deeper roots that let the plants take greater advantage of precipitation. Their larger roots, which can reach ten to 12 feet down, reduce erosion, build soil and sequester carbon from the atmosphere.  They require fewer passes of farm equipment and less herbicide, key features in less developed regions…

Developing perennial versions of our major grain crops would address many of the environmental limitations of annuals while helping to feed an increasingly hungry planet,” said Reganold.

Can’t you just see the beancounter marketing directors of Monsanto or ConAgra reading this article? They’d have to change their drawers afterwards.

OTOH, there is hardly a class of human being more reluctant to adapt to change than peasants and other farmers. It will take progressive agriculture to implement progressive science – and perennial grains.

Japan’s military commitment to Afghan War will end in January

Daylife/Getty Images used by permission

Japan’s has confirmed that its refuelling ships will be withdrawn from the Indian Ocean in January – the first real sign that the new Tokyo administration is honouring its election pledge to break free from decades of subservience to US foreign policy…

Since 2001 Japanese vessels have provided fuel and water to US and allied warships in support of the war effort. Hatoyama, whose Democratic party of Japan (DPJ) has consistently opposed the mission, will instead attempt to ease US concerns with a raft of humanitarian measures. He hopes to have a comprehensive plan in place before Barack Obama arrives in Tokyo on 12 November for a two-day visit.

“We believe that civilian support for the people’s livelihood in that country, such as agricultural reconstruction, will lead to a fundamental solution to what constitutes the basis of terrorism,” said the government’s chief spokesman, Hirofumi Hirano.

Japan’s determination to offer new, non-military solutions to Afghanistan’s problems was evident at the weekend when the foreign minister, Katsuya Okada, made a surprise visit to Kabul to discuss long-term reconstruction with the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Japan has already committed itself to paying the Afghan police force’s salaries for six months and is funding several education projects that it hopes will weaken the lure of the Taliban among disaffected Afghan men.

Although the US and Britain have urged Japan to extend its refuelling mission beyond January, Washington has indicated it will accept a withdrawal in return for deeper involvement in Afghanistan’s reconstruction. Among the extra measures being considered by Japan, which has pledged $2bn in aid over the last eight years, is job training for former Taliban fighters…

Further evidence of the shift in Tokyo’s foreign policy priorities came last week when Hatoyama met his South Korean and Chinese counterparts, Lee Myung-bak and Wen Jiabao, in Beijing for talks on the formation of an “east Asian community” inspired by the European Union. The leaders said they would explore the idea of a free-trade pact and co-operate more closely in other areas, including climate change and sustainable growth.

Nations which stand to benefit from cooperation and commerce are talking about developing forms and protocols for doing just that. I guess some people think that more beneficial than waging war.