Flying Eye Hospital


Click to enlarge

The Flying Eye Hospital, currently parked on Moffett Field in Mountain View, is a mobile ophthalmological hospital, technological marvel, and surely one of the most extraordinary vehicles on the planet. It is a converted MD-10 wide-body airliner that flies all around the world — it just got back from Bangladesh — performing eye surgeries on needy patients in developing nations while also helping to train their doctors, nurses, and medical technicians.

…One of the most technically amazing things about the Flying Eye is that it is an entirely self-contained hospital: its systems, which run purely on jet-fuel-powered generators, include its own medical gases, its own clean room, its own water purifiers, its surgical equipment, etc., including extremely sensitive equipment (again, this is eye surgery we’re talking about) which has to be stowed such that can survive serious turbulence or bumpy landings on difficult runways without requiring major maintenance…

The Flying Eye is a largely volunteer organization (and part/most of the charity Orbis International.) They have 400 volunteer faculty, including many of the best of the ophthalmological world, many of whom come back every year to work on the Flying Eye for a week or two unpaid. The pilots are also volunteers…

I wonder if the pilots have to worry about being shot down by one of our Free World cowboys [as much as ISIS] when they’re somewhere out of direct sight of journalists?

China, developing countries, surpass industrial nations in renewable energy growth

China blazed ahead of the rest of the world in terms of investment in renewable energy last year, spending a total of $103 billion, or 36% of the world total.

China…invested more than the US, the UK and Japan, put together, the United Nations Environment Programme’s annual report on global trends in renewable energy found.

In total, countries around the world invested $286 billion in renewable energy capacity, early-stage technology and research and development in 2015 – more than six times higher than investments in 2004 and setting a new global record, adding $13 billion to 2014’s investments.

As also revealed by Climatescope 2015 in November, developing countries outpaced their developed counterparts for the first time last year. The UNEP found emerging economies invested $156 billion last year, a 19% increase on 2014, surpassing the developed world’s $130 billion, which marked an 8% decrease…

The falling cost of renewables is also a factor in their rise across the globe. Worldwide, clean energy sources added 134 gigawatts of capacity last year, compared to 106GW in 2014 and 87GW in 2013.

Michael Liebreich, chairman of the advisory board at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which launched the report along with the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate & Sustainable Energy Finance, noted that this was true despite the tumbling oil, gas and coal prices…

Nations adopting scientific study – ranging from climate to technology – as their guide for energy construction and expansion are succeeding in building a better life for the planet. Those lands stuck into greed and profit as their sole valuation of life continue to degrade the potential for all species of life on earth. Their politics are short-sighted and self-centered. The worst of the past.

Developing nations urged to cut use of hazardous pesticides


Now-empty classroom where meal contaminated with pesticide served to children – Click to enlarge

Developing countries should speed up the withdrawal of highly hazardous pesticides from their markets following the death of 23 children from contaminated food in India, the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization said on Tuesday.

The children in the Indian state of Bihar died earlier this month after eating a school meal of rice and potato curry contaminated with monocrotophos, a pesticide considered highly hazardous by the FAO and the World Health Organization…

Monocrotophos is banned in many countries but a panel of government experts in India was persuaded by manufacturers that the product was cheaper than alternatives and more effective in controlling pests that decimate crop output.

Although India’s government argues the benefits of strong pesticides outweigh the hazards if properly managed, the food poisoning tragedy underlined criticism such controls are virtually ignored on the ground.

The FAO said many countries lacked the resources to properly manage the storage, distribution, handling and disposal of pesticides and to reduce their risks…

Monocrotophos is currently prohibited in Australia, China, the European Union and the United States, and in many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America…

India doesn’t have the market cornered in greed and corruption though some of their neighbors seem to be working more seriously at turning their own cultural history around. The point remains that the suggestions from United Nations FAO should be taken as a mandate.

If Indian politicians want to look like heroes they can name the law after the children their profiteering buddies killed.

Do you plan on living to be 1,000 years old?

On which problems should we focus research in medicine and the biological sciences? There is a strong argument for tackling the diseases that kill the most people – diseases like malaria, measles, and diarrhea, which kill millions in developing countries, but very few in the developed world.

Developed countries, however, devote most of their research funds to the diseases from which their citizens suffer, and that seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Given that constraint, which medical breakthrough would do the most to improve our lives..?

In developed countries, aging is the ultimate cause of 90% of all human deaths; thus, treating aging is a form of preventive medicine for all of the diseases of old age. Moreover, even before aging leads to our death, it reduces our capacity to enjoy our own lives and to contribute positively to the lives of others. So, instead of targeting specific diseases that are much more likely to occur when people have reached a certain age, wouldn’t a better strategy be to attempt to forestall or repair the damage done to our bodies by the aging process?

Aubrey De Grey believes that even modest progress in this area over the coming decade could lead to a dramatic extension of the human lifespan. All we need to do is reach what he calls “longevity escape velocity” – that is, the point at which we can extend life sufficiently to allow time for further scientific progress to permit additional extensions, and thus further progress and greater longevity. Speaking recently at Princeton University, de Grey said: “We don’t know how old the first person who will live to 150 is today, but the first person to live to 1,000 is almost certainly less than 20 years younger…”

We still need to pose the ethical question: Are we being selfish in seeking to extend our lives so dramatically? And, if we succeed, will the outcome be good for some but unfair to others?

People in rich countries already can expect to live about 30 years longer than people in the poorest countries. If we discover how to slow aging, we might have a world in which the poor majority must face death at a time when members of the rich minority are only one-tenth of the way through their expected lifespans.

No doubt De Grey has interesting conversations with Ray Kurzweil. Peter Singer does a nice job of masking his own position on the questions he asks of De Grey. And he offers each of us a chance to scratch that particular curiosity itch on our own.

Regular readers of this blog know my answer – no doubt. Go for it!

Access to web, phones elemental to helping the poor

Governments worldwide must boost internet accessibility in order to nurture democracy and economic development, entrepreneur Loic Le Meur said at the prestigious LeWeb technology conference in Paris which he founded.

The conference brought together some 3,500 of the world’s top digital experts and entrepreneurs from 60 countries to discuss the state of the technology industry and its relationship with economic growth.

“Stage one is to help provide those tools to help people express themselves and get more democracy,” Le Meur told AlertNet, the global humanitarian news service run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“The next stage is economic development…”

But, while delegates focused attention on how to develop internet technology and smart phones, others outside the conference have pointed to how the more accessible, standard mobile phone can aid social and economic development.

Millennium Development Goal 8 – one among a framework of global targets set in 2000 by the United Nations to be met by 2015 to try and alleviate poverty – stipulates that new technologies, especially information and communications technologies, should be made available to all, in cooperation with the private sector.

Currently, at least 5.4 billion of the planet’s seven billion people have access to mobiles, which means the MDG 8 target is achievable…

Further development of the existing technology used for text messaging known as SMS (short message service) on basic mobile phones could help African farmers get their products to market in Europe for example, said Raul Zambrano, an ICT policy advisor…in New York.

“Most people have a simple, basic SMS voice phone – there are only about 15 percent of people in Africa who can use the Internet,” Zambrano added. “Most of those people are in Egypt and South Africa, the big countries, but in the smaller, poorer countries like Malawi and Mozambique there are very low penetration rates,” he told AlertNet…adding that by 2015 about 80 percent of people will have a device which can connect to the Internet.

Developing countries also need Internet service centers where people can undertake basic business transactions and access basic documents such as birth certificates, land titles and passports to help achieve other MDG targets, he added.

RTFA for details and differences. The Millennium Development Goal is something the best geek journalists [like Om Malik] have been covering for a spell. I expect there will be more coming as the swell of discussion and decision resulting from the conference gets out online.

Much of the developing world is skipping the landline infrastructure and going straight to cellular communications. Software developers already have systems in place in much of South Asia for online banking using SMS. Developments in agriculture marketing and sales can be accomplished without smartphones. That doesn’t mean they are better – but, adequate also often means sufficient.

Bringing solar light bulbs to the world one local vendor at a time

It started with such a simple concept: A solar light bulb that charges up during the day and lights the night when the sun sets. Inventor Steve Katsaros perfected his design in June 2010, and four days later he had a patent in hand.

“It wasn’t until after we created it that we asked ourselves, ‘How do we market this,'” Katsaros says. “And we learned that the largest market was the developing world.”

As Katsaros began researching markets in developing countries, he began to realize that his solar light bulb could potentially make a huge impact on the 1.4 billion people around the world who don’t have access to an electrical grid. Many use fuel lamps that burn kerosene, which is costly, dirty and can also be unhealthy.

He dubbed his company Nokero — short for “No Kerosene” — and set out to get his bulbs into as many hands a possible in the developing world…

Katsaros sells “business in a box” kits that entrepreneurs in Kenya and Tanzania can sell to villages at a profit…144 bulbs along with displays and fliers. Would-be entrepreneurs can go village-to-village selling the bulbs and establishing a network of customers.

In the future, Katsaros hope to use this budding network to distribute new solar products to further help people who live away from the power grid.

Being a for-profit company also allows Katsaros to keep working on new ideas without being tempted to move to a high paying corporate job.

Yeah, we could cash out at some point, but there’s really no reason for that,” he says. “We have a healthy company, we have good people working, and we’re improving the lives of a lot of people already. We’re happy.”

RTFA. Lots of background, detail. Katsaros is bright enough to have discovered the principles best exemplified in the States by the Rocky Mountain Institute, e.g., you can be the most altruistic person/collective in the world; but, the easiest way to lead people down more economic and ecologically-friendly streets is to allow them to make money – or save money.

Six months of breastfeeding alone could harm babies

To the outrage of breastfeeding campaigners and probably the utter confusion of most women with small babies, scientists today advocate rewriting the rulebook to drop the current guidance that says mothers should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their child’s life.

It was 2001 when the World Health Organisation announced that exclusive breastfeeding for six months was best for babies. In 2003 the then Labour minister Hazel Blears adopted the recommendation for the UK.

But today, in the British Medical Journal, doctors from several leading child health institutes say the evidence for the WHO guidance was never there – and that failing to start weaning babies on to solids before six months could be harmful.

Mary Fewtrell, from the childhood nutrition research centre at the University College London Institute of Child Health, said probably no babies had been harmed, as few mothers in the UK manage to stick to six months of nothing but breastmilk with a baby who by then is taking an interest in the contents of people’s plates. “About 1% were doing it in 2005, although probably more now,” she said. “But only about 20% breastfeed at all at six months. It is not a common behaviour…”

Fewtrell said she supported the WHO recommendation, but argued that it needed to be interpreted differently in different countries. Exclusive breastfeeding protects against infections, which is critical in developing countries, but less important in the UK where hygiene and sanitation are better. “There’s only one piece of evidence relevant to babies in the UK – a slightly decreased risk of gastroenteritis,” she said…

Pro-breastfeeding groups were dismayed, however. Unicef pointed out that it did not contain any new experimental data and said the UK policy had been a success as greater numbers of mothers now delayed the introduction of solids until after four months. It added that most early foods “are not nutrient dense and do not provide quantities of iron and zinc”…

Fewtrell was unapologetic. Ideally, mothers would give their babies fresh food, including meat, for iron. “This is not an attempt to promote commercial weaning foods,” she said. “We are a university and Medical Research Council-funded group.”

They had advised babyfood manufacturers because they were specialists in child nutrition, she said…”Some organisations are all too happy to quote our data when it supports breastfeeding,” she said. “They are choosy in what they will allow.”

Folks who never have spent any time at scientific research do not understand that not only do the wheels of experiment and study grind exceedingly slow, conservative and redundant; but, they do not cease and become immobile once a group of conclusions are reached.

Sound science requires continued study, verification, additional avenues always suggested by the course of study. Sometimes – as in this case – modifications result. It ain’t a catechism, folks.

Tata’s Nano – world’s cheapest car rolls out into Indian market


Daylife/AP Photo

India’s Tata Motors will launch its extra-cheap 10 feet (3 metres) long Nano car in Mumbai on Monday, selling for 100,000 rupees or $1,979. It will enable poorer citizens in developing countries to move to four wheels for the first time.

The four-door five-seater car has a 33bhp, 624cc engine at the rear. It has no airbags, air conditioning, radio, or power steering.

There are about 4 stories here. The BBC article [above] wanders off into worrying about the recession. Which accomplishes little.

I’ve posted about the Nano a few times in the past – telling of the run-up to production. Here and here. Here’s the newest I chose to add today because it offers a first-person response to the car:

For the last 40 years, Gopal Pandurang has lived a life without many luxuries.

He has worked as a chauffeur for top businessmen in Pune and Mumbai – ferrying them around the country, to important meetings in big, fancy and expensive cars.

He has sat behind the wheels of dozens of cars, from an old British Morris to the Land Rover he’s driving now.

It’s been an honest, hardworking life – albeit austere.

The salary of a driver in India can only afford you so much. Mr Pandurang has worked hard to support his family – putting his children in English language schools, so that they would get opportunities he never had.

He’s never been the kind of man to want anything for himself, working night and day to feed his family instead. But throughout his life, he has had one dream: to own a car of his own.

Continue reading

Shock revelation of sources of South Asia’s Brown Cloud


Daylife/AP Photo by Sucheta Das

A gigantic brownish haze from various burning and combustion processes is blanketing India and surrounding land and oceans during the winter season. This soot-laden Brown Cloud is affecting South Asian climate as much or more than carbon dioxide and cause premature deaths of 100 000s annually, yet its sources have been poorly understood.

Uh, if there’s anyone who doesn’t have a clue about the origins of this Brown Cloud they must work either in newspaper publishing or for one or another government of half-wits.

In the journal Science Örjan Gustafsson and colleagues at Stockholm University and in India use a novel carbon-14 method to determine that two-thirds of the soot particles are from biomass combustion such as in household cooking and in slash-and-burn agriculture.
Brown Clouds, covering large parts of South and East Asia, originate from burning of wood, dung and crop residue as well as from industrial processes and traffic.

These findings provide a direction for actions to curb emissions of Brown Clouds. Örjan Gustafsson…leader of the study, says that the clear message is that efforts should not be limited to car traffic and coal-fired power plants but calls on fighting poverty and spreading India-appropriate green technology to limit emissions from small-scale biomass burning. “More households in South Asia need to be given the possibility to cook food and get heating without using open fires of wood and dung” says Gustafsson.

South Asia has to deal with the worldwide whine – based in Wall Street and Washington, DC – which uses the Brown Cloud as an excuse for reactionary nationalist politics.

Some of us recall exactly the same brown cloud over Glasgow and London when they still were urban centers of cesspool-level air quality – because half the population cooked and heated in their homes with open coal fires [as does China, today]. It took decades but the “Auld Reekie” syndrome eventually dissipated with access to sufficient electricity and gas for cooking and heating.

No doubt Asian nations will achieve the same.

Sarkozy calls for the G8 to be broadened, modernized, replaced


Nicolas Sarkozy takes the stage at Doha
Daylife/AFP/Getty Images

The G8 has become “obsolete” as emerging economies change the global economic order, Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has said.

Speaking on Saturday at the formal opening of the Doha-hosted UN summit on financing development, he said: “We [Europe] believe the G8, when it was formed, was useful but it is now obsolete…you could not resolve the current global economic crisis without China, Brazil…[and other emerging economic powers].”

Sarkozy also called for the Bretton Woods Institutions – the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – to be more inclusive and for better African representation within the UN Security Council.

“Africa, you must have your seat, you must have a fair place within international finance institutions. There is not a single African country that is a permanent member of the the UN Security Council,” he said.

“Within the IMF developing countries must have a seat and a much more important role to play…”

The reactionary concept of pre-qualifying participation is a leftover from days of imperial fiat, decades of colonialism. Somewhere along the timeline, representation is what has to count. Who do you speak for?

The farce of western industrial nations having a corner on democracy has been especially put to the test – and failed – by the New American Century hogwash. Even the sectarian duds who voted the Bush League politicians into power never really had any voice inside the ruling chambers.