Monday, December 22, 2008

Climate related investments will pay

The message from today's linked article from Scientific American is clear: invest significantly now in tackling climate change and its worst impacts will likely be avoided. But cautious investments may well be wasted - they simply won't be enough to make a difference. This is the conclusion reached by researchers in Germany and the Netherlands, who studied how much it would take to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above 19th Century levels (generally considered the 'tipping point' for catastrophic impacts). They found there was a 90% chance of meeting this goal with average annual investments of 2% of GDP globally, made from 2005 through to 2100. That's definitely a big commitment... It's a wake-up call to leaders across the world as they consider the consequences for their environmental policies of the global economic downturn. But it's also a hopeful sign, as it underscores the value of acting collectively and boldly today to secure our future. If those same leaders are listening, they may find their policy decisions easier to make...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Concerted acts of kindness

This is a great story of some young men trying to spread festive cheer. I found it in the UK's Independent newspaper. The four men concerned are housemates in London, and some time ago they decided to try and brighten the lives of others by making their wishes come true. For example, they managed to persuade Yamaha to donate a red guitar to a child, and helped send people to see a soccer game at the new Wembley stadium and others to see the Moscow State Circus. More recently, though, their "Kindness Offensive" project has focused on gathering donations of food and toys to share with unsuspecting, but deserving, members of the public, such as asylum seekers. It's a great example of how - not so much random as calculated - acts of kindness can have a knock-on effect... not least of all on those being kind, as these guys seem to be really enjoying themselves! (Photo from the Independent.)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Guinea worm may soon be eliminated

Woah - I just realized how long it was since I last posted. Sorry folks. I've been consumed by work over the past two weeks. Fortunately, RTBH reader Stacey reminded me of a story I'd seen but was too tired to post! (Thanks, Stacey!) It's from the BBC, and it documents the progress made in preventing guinea worm infection. The worm is present in water in many poor countries - when people drink water containing guinea worm larvae, the little critters stay in their bodies and grow. They can reach a meter in length and eventually emerge from the skin - as you can imagine, it's extremely painful and disabling. There's no vaccine or treatment for the disease - you avoid it by filtering water and taking other precautions. Thankfully, through such measures, the disease has already been eliminated in many countries, and worldwide infection rates have dropped by 99% since 1986. 80% of all remaining cases are in Sudan. Former US president, Jimmy Carter, is spearheading the final push towards worldwide elimination - with additional support from the Gates Foundation and the UK government - and he thinks it could all be over within 2 years! That really would be quite an achievement... (Photo from BBC.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

HIV positivity in Lesotho

It is World AIDS Day - as it is each year on 1st December - and there was plenty of coverage of the topic on the newswires. In general, it was rather muted and somewhat overshadowed by other big stories (such as the fallout from the Mumbai attacks last week, and the global economic crisis). However, once again the BBC produced a great photo-journalism piece to mark the event - linked from the post title above. For the last month, the BBC has been covering the day-to-day lives of HIV positive people in the small African nation of Lesotho. Today's photo montage focused on Joseph Ramokoatsi, an HIV and AIDS counsellor in the remote community of St Rodrigue, who is also HIV positive. Joseph's openness about his own HIV status has inspired many other people to discover theirs, and to seek treatment for HIV or TB if they need it. He's even appeared on posters advertising HIV testing services, and has motivated others to work as counsellors (such as Mamatsoele Leseo, pictured here in the red t-shirt next to Joseph). In short, he's a symbol of hope in the fight against this disease - across Lesotho and beyond. (Photo from BBC online.)

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Bloggers Unite for World AIDS Day 2008 - challenge site
Bloggers Unite

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nature's own remedy for turtles

This story from The News and Observer (a local paper from North Carolina) caught my eye the other day. Apparently, vets at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center are using a new remedy to treat rare loggerhead turtles that have been injured by boat propellers, and it's proving very successful. It's nothing high-tech, though: it's honey, mixed up with beeswax. Honey has great antibacterial properties - which have been well-recognized since Roman times - and when mixed with wax it can plug a tear in a turtle shell, keep out water and bacteria and help it to heal. This story underscores once again the importance of the humble honeybee to our planet - and reminds us that many of life's best remedies are really very simple.

Friday, November 28, 2008

A gift for life

Thanks very much to RTBH reader, Karn, for sending in today's touching tale. The article comes from a local paper, the Bemidji Pioneer from Minnesota, US. It tells of an incredibly generous young woman, Tausha Smith, who recently donated one of her kidneys to her ailing grandfather. She decided to donate when her grandfather became increasingly tired after his dialysis sessions and tests suggested that, with an O-positive blood type, she could be an ideal donor. As her grandfather, Don Cook, intimated, he's received a pretty extraordinary gift - one that will be appreciated daily, long after both Don and Tausha have recovered from surgery and well beyond the upcoming holiday season. It's a gift that is, quite literally, for life. (Photo from the Bemidji Pioneer.)

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As you may already know, RTBH was nominated for a Divine Caroline award this year - and voting ends soon! (The end of November, I think.) If you are enjoying RTBH, please cast a vote by clicking the button to the right and following the on-screen instructions. Many, many thanks.

Also, although the RTBH blogger's challenge for Donors Choose was running throughout October, you can in fact donate to this fabulous cause any time. The kids' clay art projects selected for funding by RTBH are now fully funded - yeah! - but the two other projects (for musical instruments at a school in Massachusetts and for books at a school in New York) are not. Please consider donating by clicking the button to the right - there is literally no donation too small, as the idea is to gradually amass enough from different donors to buy the classroom equipment needed, and your donation is tax deductible. THANK YOU so much...! (For background, you may want to take a look at RTBH post 356 from October 1st.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Women drive towards independence in Iran

This story from the BBC caught my eye today. It reminded me of one of my favourite stories from RTBH's past, about the Taxi Sisters of Senegal (Day Forty-Three, posted almost exactly a year ago in fact). According to today's BBC report, a women's taxi service now operates in Tehran - run by women, exclusively for female customers. On the one hand, of course, this reinforces the separation of men and women in Iran's conservative society. On the other hand, the female taxi drivers are thriving in a male dominated trade - and many of them have gained financial independence and new skills. Women run the call centre, drive the taxis and maintain them too - the only man about the place seems to be the company's owner... He now plans to expand the service in Tehran to around 2000 cars and take the business model to other cities across Iran. it sounds as if these taxis will bring increased independence to many more women in the years ahead. Maybe they'll be the next generation of business owners too? (Photo from BBC online.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

The electric bay

News today that San Francisco Bay is leading the way - in rolling out alternative transportation. The UK's Guardian newspaper reports that the bay area – which is home to around 7.6m people - intends to replace 1 million gas-guzzling cars with electric ones by 2015. Billions of dollars will be invested in developing the infrastructure, such as charging stations, that can support this major shift in the way people get around. The plan is supported by local politicians and officials, including San Francisco's mayor, and California state governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's not the first time California has led the way on the environment and it probably won't be the last. The state, which is in effect the world's eighth largest economy, aims to reduce greenhouse gas levels to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 and has environmental legislation that is very progressive compared to the rest of the US. Hopefully it won't stay that way - we all need to catch up! Call it an electric car chase, if you like...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A letter full of reasons to be hopeful

This is a very moving and poignant story from the BBC in the form of a letter written to Noel Martin, a man attacked and paralysed by neo-Nazis in Germany 12 years ago. Noel currently plans to travel to Switzerland to have an assisted suicide. The letter is written by disabled broadcaster Liz Carr who met Noel when she interviewed him for a BBC Radio 5 Live report. She asks "Is your life really not worth living?", before reminding him of some of the reasons he has to be hopeful. She cites the fundamentals - feeling powerful emotions, being surrounded by people who love and care for him, reaching out to others through his writing... the kinds of things that make all our lives worth living, in short.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The genius in all of us

Well, this article from the UK Times newspaper is certainly encouraging. It explores what we know - and don't yet know - about the human brain: how it works, and how it maintains its abilities as we age. On the latter, the evidence appears to suggest that the 'use it or lose it' maxim is a good one to live by - play chess, do puzzles or mind games, or just read a lot. It's all good for your brain, which can grow new cells when challenged in this way. But there is also evidence, apparently, that everyone can experience 'eureka' moments - bursts of creative genius - when faced with difficult challenges. In other words, we plug away trying to find the answer to a particular question, analyzing the options, then all of a sudden - just as we have given up hope - we break through and solve the problem. This likely relates to use of the brain's 'prefrontal cortex', which has the ability to 'freewheel' (allowing us to generate unusual or surprising associations between different ideas) and then pull everything together. This ability is particularly well-developed in 'divergent thinkers', including creative geniuses, but we are all capable of it. So, there you go - let your brain freewheel! You may be surprised at the ideas you generate or the problems you solve...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

It's never too late to say sorry...

This is a lovely story. It comes from a local newspaper in the UK – the Bristol Evening Post. According to the article, a Bristol shopkeeper recently received a letter of apology from an former drug addict, who stole 400 cigarettes from his shop - seven years ago. The anonymous letter-writer said they'd been 'a mess' at the time but had now given up drugs and wanted to make amends - indeed, the letter contained £100 in lieu of the stolen cigarettes! The shopkeeper, Imran Ahmed, displayed the letter in his shop, where it's attracting a lot of positive attention. He's also said he will give the £100 to a drugs charity, to help other addicts turn their lives around. It's never too late...

Friday, November 7, 2008

The youth of today...

Many thanks to RTBH reader Suzie for sending me this story from the BBC. It's about a man and his dog who owe their lives to a few skilled and dedicated local students. Stephen Kelly and his dog Molly became stuck on a cliff ledge in Somerset, England, after Molly went over the edge of the cliff and Stephen attempted to rescue her. Fortunately, some pupils from a nearby school were in the area with (as fate would have it) their abseiling gear - and they set about winching both man and dog to safety. What brave young people! The story is also a reminder that we all possess skills that can be put to good use, one way or another - even at the most unexpected moments. (Photo from the BBC.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hope personified


If ever a man carried the hopes of a nation - indeed, of the world - upon his shoulders, this man does. Barack Obama. Sí, se puede!! Let's hope we do... (Photo from NDTV.)

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Thanks to RTBH reader Jack for alerting me to today's linked article from NPR, about a 109-year-old woman who voted yesterday for Obama - and herself personifies the huge changes in American society over the last century, which have culminated in Obama's election as the next US President. Amanda Jones' father was a slave until he was freed at age 12. He went on to have 13 children. Only Amanda survived to witness the election of America's first black President. It's a world away from the segregated America of her youth. Now that's change we can believe in...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bat returns from brink of extinction

Although it was only yesterday that I was reading about declining bat populations in the US, today Science Daily carried this story, about the resurgence of the 'Pemba flying fox', a bat from Tanzania. The bats had been hunted for many years and were considered a local delicacy. Sadly, as a result, their numbers were so depleted by the 1990s that they were thought doomed to extinction. But with support from conservationists, and a local community now proud of this unusual creature in its midst, the bat population has soared to at least 22,000. And they do sound quite amazing - with a wing span of around 5.5 feet but with a weight about half that of a guinea pig. Let's hope this flying fox soars even higher in the years ahead. (Picture from Science Daily.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Living a dog's life

I found this interesting column in the Star Tribune, a local newspaper from Minneapolis-St Paul, today. It offers some useful lessons on how to life a good and happy life - but from an unusual perspective, as the author draws his lessons from the way dogs live their relatively short lives... with deep loving and loyalty, knowing when and how to rest, and taking plenty of exercise, for example. Oh, and demonstrating real persistence, of course. Never giving up. Perhaps we should all be a bit more 'dogged' in our approach to life?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beginning of the end for West African slave trade

A landmark ruling on slavery was reported by the BBC today, which could hasten abolition of the practice across West Africa. Hadijatou Mani from Niger was sold into slavery at age 12 and then forced to work and to bear her master's children - all despite the fact that slavery is outlawed in Niger. With support from Anti-Slavery International, Hadijatou sought compensation from the government of Niger, which she says failed to protect her. She took her case to the ECOWAS (West African regional) Court of Justice... and won. Niger's government has been ordered to pay her $19,750, which she says she will use to feed, educate and house her young family - so they can avoid her fate. She may have helped many other victims of slavery too - the ECOWAS ruling will be binding on all West African states, and has also drawn much-needed attention to the extent that slavery persists across the region. Certainly it's an important step towards eradicating this evil trade, once and for all. (Photo from BBC online.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Heroes sharing hope

As it did last year (see post Fifty-Eight on this blog), CNN is running a 'Heroes' special for 2008. Ten inspiring individuals, who spend their lives helping others, have been shortlisted by CNN - and now you can vote for those whose stories you find most compelling. I'm not sure whether it's deliberate, but this year more than half those shortlisted work with children - helping them learn, ensuring they eat, and in one case making it possible for them to stay in touch with their parents who are in prison... and all these heroes have an interesting story to tell about their work and how they got there. Well worth a read.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Environment not to be sacrificed during recession?

Somewhat surprisingly, WTOP news reported today that the 15 original European Union countries are on target to meet their Kyoto targets on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Three countries - Denmark, Italy and Spain - are making slightly slower progress than hoped, but this is offset by the rapid progress being made by the UK, Germany and Sweden. Elsewhere in the news today, European leaders committed themselves to sustaining their efforts to tackle climate change regardless of the economic downturn. For now, of course, we have only their word - but at least today's confirmation of progress suggests they're on the right trajectory.

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I wanted to let you know about this year's Stand Up campaign from UNIFEM and others, which aims to mobilize people across the world to press for an end to poverty and inequality. Last year, 43.7 million people joined Stand Up, setting a new world record. This year, you too can join Stand Up between 17–19 October 2008, by clicking the link above and signing up to the campaign.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fighting poverty by restoring women's dignity

Today is Blog Action Day 2008. The idea of Blog Action Day is that all participating bloggers post on a chosen theme - and this year's topic is 'poverty'. In recognition of that, I am sharing an article from the BBC, about a community in Uganda that has banned the degrading practice of female circumcision. Also known as female genital mutilation (FGM), the practice generally involves removing the clitoris and partially sealing the vagina of young girls. The Kapchorwa district council in Uganda banned it on the basis that it was 'outmoded' and 'not useful' for women, but it's also dangerous - circumcised women are more likely to suffer from sexually transmitted and other infections and they incur significant risks to themselves and their babies during childbirth. Further, there's a good deal of evidence to suggest that improving women's rights and position in society - and specifically supporting women to take control of their sexual and reproductive health - is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Where women are empowered, households are better off economically and children - especially girls - fare better in terms of their health, education and general well-being. Banning female circumcision is both a practical and symbolic step towards realizing women's rights in Kapchorwa. For the sake of the 3 million women and girls at risk of FGM annually across Africa, let's hope others follow their lead.


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Thank you to RTBH reader Suzie for sending in this article, also from the BBC, about a new technology that may help people overcome paralysis. The 'brain-machine interface' works by interpreting brain signals and converting them into electrical impulses to stimulate muscles. US scientists have been testing this device on monkeys with positive results. Now they must test it in humans. So it's early days, but it's definitely promising research. Thanks again, Suzie!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A bitter pill, made sweeter

I was very glad to see this article, from Reuters, today. I have a bit of a 'thing' about how few infectious disease treatments in developing countries are formulated so children can - and might actually want to - take them. After all, we have the technology to flavor medicines, and to make them chewable, meltable, dispersable... and we use it in many over-the-counter children's medicines in the US and Europe. Now, the makers of one of the most effective anti-malarials on the market in Asia and Africa may follow suit. Researchers in Tanzania have been treating children with cherry-flavored chewable Coartem pills. These are more palatable than the original pills, which are very bitter and often crushed by hand so children can take them. The researchers think that if the pills are easier to take, kids are more likely to complete their treatment course - so they're more likely to get well and there is a lower chance of drug resistance emerging. Sounds good and tastes good...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

366: keeping yourself sane, even if others aren't!

This article, from the UK's Times newspaper, seemed a very appropriate way to end the RTBH 'year of good news' in these uncertain economic times. It is an excellent assessment of the ways in which fear and panic can be contagious - the old 'madness of crowds' at work, basically. But it also gives some helpful hints on how to build your own resilience and resist the wave of mass anxiety. Not surprisingly, the tips include employing techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and meditation, and drawing on communities you're involved in, including religious groups. Other tips are more interesting. The article's author urges us to stay curious and not to lay too low - in other words, don't avoid doing new things, even though you may feel particularly risk-averse right now. Another tip is to keep a 'gratitude journal' - some kind of record of things that bring you joy in your life, or just things that help you keep going. I suppose that's what I've been doing all year, in fact. And, no, I'm not going to stop just because the 366 days (it's a leap year) are up. RTBH will keep going - I'm going to try and post regularly, particularly if readers keep sending in the helpful tales they find. Because there are always reasons to be hopeful - even if sometimes you have to hunt around a bit to find them...

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I'd like to thank all those readers who have sent articles to me over the course of the last year, as well as those who have sent messages of thanks, encouragement and support. I can't tell you how much that has meant to me. It's been a great source of inspiration, truly. Some of my favourite messages include those from the young man who wrote to say that RTBH had helped him keep going through tough times in his life, the woman who let me know that she sometimes saves stories from RTBH and reads them out in church, and several people (from places as diverse as Japan, South Africa and the US) who wrote to urge me to keep going... I am so grateful for your kind words, and am so glad that RTBH has brought you some solace and some smiles. :-)

Friday, October 10, 2008

365: multi-party democracy in South Africa?

I chose this editorial from Gulf News today, as it struck a cord with me. South Africa is a country I know pretty well, and one of the things that's troubled me about that great nation of late is its 'benevolent dictatorship'. Since 1994, when democracy came to South Africa and the ANC came to power, it's essentially functioned as a one-party state. That has probably served the country well in some respects - it's aided economic and political stability for example - but for democracy to mature the electorate needs choice. And, as today's linked article points out, it may be about to get it. The ANC appears to be on the cusp of splitting in two, as Mbeki's supporters play out their differences with Jacob Zuma and his followers. There is little doubt that this will be an ugly situation for some time to come, but in the long run it may be just what's needed - if, as the article suggests, the differences between the resulting political parties are based on policies, not just personalities.

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NEARLY THERE! It's the penultimate day of my year-long experiment today. And with the amount of bad news about at the moment, particularly on the economic front, I've been reflecting on what it's been like hunting for good news for the last year. It hasn't always been straightforward - some nights (though not the majority!) it's taken me several hours to find a story positive enough to post! But generally there is good news around. Some sources are better bets than others, and there are topics that reflect more hope than others (science, health and environment sections of newspapers are always good places to look). I have noticed that a greater number of publications now include sections with inspirational stories etc. But where the newswires dominate - which is in many places (this, I've discovered, is one of the media's great cons - you see the same stories, from the same agency reporter, and just different vehicles for transmission, with plenty of ads thrown in...) - the news tends towards crises or trivia, with the odd hopeful tale popping up every now and again. I'm sure there's more good stuff going on out there. If we want to read about it, we need to ask newspapers and broadcasters to report it - and then read it when they do...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

364: breathe in the benefits of red wine

This story may surprise you. Today's linked article from Scientific American suggests that drinking red wine may actually reduce your chances of developing lung cancer. Not quite the association you'd expect, perhaps, but the results of a recent study cited in the article were pretty conclusive. Specifically, even people who had smoked at some point in their lives were 60% less likely to suffer lung cancer if they drank at least one glass of red wine a day. And apparently - and this is a statistic I find really hard to believe – men who were heavy smokers saw their risk of lung cancer drop by 4% for each glass of red wine they drank per month. Drinking white wine, or other types of alcohol, had no effect. So it's yet another testament to the power of red wine (and specifically compounds such as flavonoids and resveratrol). Cheers, everyone!

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THREE DAYS TO GO until the end of my year-long experiment. A time to reflect, I think... Today, I'm reflecting on the challenges of daily blogging. As I'm sure you've all realized, posting every day isn't easy! It takes time - in this case to find an appropriate article and then draft a post - and there are some days when you really don't feel like it. It takes ingenuity - there have been times when it really wasn't evident exactly how I was going to post, and I had to go in search of wi-fi signals, or access the internet through my cell phone and painstakingly note down and then type in URLs of articles to link! Crazy stuff... On the plus side, though, there's nothing like having made a commitment to keep you going. If I hadn't said I'd do this every day, I might not have done it at all. And that would have been a great shame. This is, after all, a pretty amazing hobby - bringing people some positivity, something to brighten their day. It's been worth the daily effort.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

363: community collaboration feeds on itself

This is a great story! I found it in the New York Times today. It's about a small community in Vermont - a town called Hardwick - which has recreated itself as a kind of food-lover's paradise. Hardwick fell on hard times after its granite companies shut down, it seems. But in recent years, local entrepreneurs have banded together to revitalize the local economy - by making great cheese, growing wonderful vegetables, processing soy, creating lovely soups and more besides. Most interestingly, though, all these local entrepreneurs work collectively - they loan each other money, support each other with training, market each other's products, and of course they use each other's ingredients in their recipes! And they are keeping the local industry as natural and sustainable as possible - most produce is organic. As word of their success gets round, many more people are looking to join the team. Apparently, other agricultural entrepreneurs are actually asking if they can move into the area! It's a great testament to the benefits of collaboration - and I should think it's a pretty nice place to live too. (Photo from NYT.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

362: clean energy that's worth a punt (or barge)

Thanks very much to RTBH reader Paul for sending in today's linked article from the BBC. (I must say I have been very fortunate in this, my final week of the original RTBH experiment - I've had some great articles from readers! Thank you!) The article showcases just the type of innovation we need - small-scale but appropriate, and meeting the demands of tough economic and environmental times. Apparently, British Waterways (a public body) is planning to install about 50 wind turbines and additional small hydro-electric turbines along Britain's canals, which will power around 45,000 homes. That's not all though. It is thought the scheme could generate more than £1m a year to protect and maintain Britain's waterways. It sounds like a genuine win-win: historical bridges, locks and canals are conserved, while clean, affordable energy is generated. More of that, please! (Photo from BBC online.)

Monday, October 6, 2008

361: breast cancer prevention hope

Thank you to RTBH reader Tasha for sending in today's linked article, from the UK's Guardian newspaper. It suggests a vaccine to prevent breast cancer could be a real possibility - that is, if all avenues of research are pursued. We know much more about this disease now, thanks to the results of a huge study - The Million Women's Study - into the causes of breast cancer. The study confirms that the women at greatest risk are those who do not experience the hormonal changes associated with childbirth and breastfeeding. Meanwhile, genetic factors appear far less important. The study co-ordinator, Professor Valerie Beral, is calling for more research into which hormones are most critical and how their effects might be mimicked to produce an effective vaccine. Such research will require significant investment. The wealth of information yielded by Beral's study can't be ignored - let's hope her message on vaccine research isn't ignored either. (Photo from the Guardian.)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

360: justice for Pitcairners

Today's linked article from the UK's Independent newspaper suggests justice may be imminent for many women abused as children in the Pitcairn Islands. The tiny, isolated group of islands - only one of which is inhabited, currently by about 50 people - was settled by the famous Bounty mutineers. It later became a British colony, though apparently it was neglected by its foreign administrators in recent years. When it became evident that many young girls had been abused on the island, Britain eventually agreed to take the accused to trial, and in 2004 six men were convicted and later imprisoned on Pitcairn. Three more have been convicted subsequently. Many believe the men's sentences were too lenient, and Britain has been urged to compensate the victims. Now it seems they may do just that - an announcement is expected this week. It would be unusual for the UK's compensation arrangements for victims of crime to be extended to an overseas territory - but there's nothing 'usual' about Pitcairn. And though the compensation will not undo the past, it would bring some kind of justice for the women affected, whose childhood the British government arguably failed to protect. (Photo from the Independent.)

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A quick reminder to PLEASE support the fundraising campaign at DonorsChoose.org, which supports America's public schools. You can donate by clicking on the button to the right of this page. THANKS!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

359: communities reunite in Baghdad

One of those lovely BBC photo-journalism pieces again today. This time, the subject is peace and unity in Iraq. Apparently, today saw the dismantling of a wall that had divided - physically and symbolically - two districts in Baghdad: one Shia, one Sunni. The reunification of these communities has been made possible by the Sunni and Shia 'Awakening' movements, which have worked to overcome the sectarian violence they say was instigated by foreign militants. As the wall came down today, people rallied. Reportedly, one leader of the Sunni Awakening cried out: "Iraq is one family... We are united now, Sunni, Shia, Christian, Turkmen and Kurd. One Iraq." And the crowd cheered. (Photo from BBC slideshow.)

Friday, October 3, 2008

358: climate change prioritized in UK government shake-up

Good news for all those concerned with climate change and energy security today, particularly if they happen to live in the UK. According to today's linked article from the BBC, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has just created a new government department to focus on climate and energy, headed by a Cabinet-level minister. Given the importance of the two agendas, both in the UK and globally, this kind of attention is certainly merited - long overdue, some have said. It's definitely a bold move, since it raises expectations that the UK will deliver on climate change - and soon. It would be rude to disappoint...

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Thanks very much to RTBH reader, Steve, for sending in this article from local newspaper Asbury Park Press about World Orphan Week 2008. The week exists to raise awareness about the 133 million orphans (children that have lost one or both parents) across the world. According to the article, one organization celebrating World Orphan Week is Sylvia's Children, a New Jersey charity that supports orphans in Uganda and helps them go to school - sharing hope community to community, you could say...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

357: time to 'get it right' on HIV/AIDS

Anyone watching the South African political situation currently will know that former President Mbeki's deeply unpopular health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, was replaced in that role by veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Barbara Hogan last week. Hogan's appointment was met with acclaim by AIDS activists - and it seems their faith was well-placed. As an article (linked above) from South African news site The Citizen reports, Hogan today stated her firm commitment to expanding AIDS treatment and to urgently addressing gaps in healthcare provision across the country. She is, she said, "passionate about getting things right". And there's a lot to put right, given that her predecessor denied the seriousness of the AIDS epidemic and suggested that sufferers eat beetroot, lemon and garlic rather than take ARVs... Hogan has an incredibly difficult job to do, but I suspect that if anyone can get it right, she can.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

356: resourcing the future

Thanks to DonorsChoose.org for sending in today's linked article from Fortune magazine. It's about... er... DonorsChoose.org! The article documents the highlights from last year's bloggers' fundraising challenge on DonorsChoose.org, a website that allows teachers across the US to showcase their potential classroom projects and then request modest donations to make them happen. According to the article, last year's challenge was very competitive - but most importantly it raised $420,000 for classrooms across the country. It's a great idea - all year round, not just during the bloggers' challenge - and a chance for all of us to help teachers and kids add something special to their educational experience. It's an investment in the future, really...

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This year, DonorsChoose.org asked RTBH to participate in the Blogger Challenge - so I've set up a challenge page, I've selected three projects from three of the most underprivileged US communities, and they've attracted two donations already! The challenge started today and will run for the month of October. If you would like to help, please give a small donation (or a large one!), by clicking on the link opposite. THANK YOU SO MUCH in advance! Hope shared is hope squared... (My hapless attempt at a vaguely educational allusion there...)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

355: promising prognosis for those with Down syndrome

Many thanks to RTBH reader Paul for sending in today's linked article from CNN. The article reports that, a century ago, the average life expectancy of someone with Down syndrome was just 9-years-old. But medical advances and stronger support mechanisms have now dramatically improved these odds, and those with Downs generally live well into middle-age, with high levels of functioning and greater independence. By way of an example, CNN cites the story of Zach Wincent, a 19-year-old with Down syndrome who works in Target, coaches ice hockey and attends community college. Oh, and he was 'Prom King' at his high-school. In other words, he enjoys life - though his mother has had to fight for access to certain services and Zach's whole family has had to protect him from intolerance and misunderstanding. So there is some way to go, but also much progress to be celebrated, and certainly greater hope for children diagnosed with Down syndrome and their families.

Monday, September 29, 2008

354: strengthening hearts... and minds

Woah... I think I may have voluntarily taken on one of the most difficult tasks on the web! Finding good news today was, well, something of a struggle. (No prizes for guessing which story dominated the headlines on the newswires today.) But this story - once again from the BBC - caught my eye and suggested some hope. According to today's linked article, new research shows that statins may not only help lower your cholesterol, they may also slow the aging of your arteries. In other words, they keep your arteries fitter for longer. They do this, apparently, by increasing the body's levels of a protein that repairs DNA. All of this suggests that statins could be of value to many more patients, not just those suffering high cholesterol. Though given today's financial system fall out, heart medicines will be in enough demand...

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I was given another blog 'bailout' today by RTBH reader Charlotte - many thanks, Charlotte! - who alerted me to this article from a local website in Winchester, England. The city will launch a new Centre of Real-World Learning on Wednesday, to focus on helping people develop the skills they need to survive in the workplace, using lots of different learning techniques. They will draw on scientific data suggesting that much of the capacity to learn comes from one's attitude. I liked this quote from the article: ' “At the heart of our work is the realisation that practical intelligence is, contrary to much received wisdom, learnable,” said Professor Lucas. “Human beings have capacities which can be expanded. And our mind-sets – what we believe in our own minds – really matter. Research has shown that those that believe they can expand their mental powers generally do so and are more successful in life.” ' How's that for encouragement?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

353: beautiful mosque brings cultures together

I found today's intriguing story on the BBC website. Apparently, a female designer is making history in Turkey as she changes Istanbul's skyline. She's leading a project to construct the city's newest mosque, which she says reflects a blend of Islamic and Western influences - one of the original aims of the project. Its centerpiece is a metal sphere designed by a Brit, William Pye. The designer, Zeynep Fadillioglu, is a strong supporter of Turkey's secular status and its emphasis on equality for men and women. But she is the first woman to lead on the construction of a mosque, and she says she's been well-supported in this role by the traditionally conservative local community. In this sense, the Sakirin Mosque and its designer symbolize Turkey's apparent ambitions: to act as a bridge between East and West, and to draw on the best of its religious and cultural heritage whilst preserving the secularity of its state. It's a difficult balance to strike, but Zeynep Fadillioglu's design hints at what is possible. (Photo from BBC online.)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

352: amazing mathematic discovery

Fascinating news today from the BBC. Apparently, a team of mathematicians in California has discovered the world's largest prime number - a number that can only be divided by itself and the number one. The newly identified number has 13 million digits! Yes, you read it right... Needless to say, it wasn't discovered with a pencil and a piece of paper. The team linked 75 computers across the world via the internet and used their combined power. As a result, the mathematicians look set to gain financially too, having picked up a prize for 'co-operative computing' through their work (the prize amount doesn't have 13 million digits though...). We all win in the end, of course, as human knowledge advances in this way.

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So, here I am with two weeks left of my original experiment. I almost can't believe I've got this far myself! Over the next couple of weeks, I have to decide how best to continue this blog, but I'm also going to be making some changes to its layout and content. So look out for those! Hope you like them. As always, send me your thoughts at eazibee@gmail.com

Friday, September 26, 2008

351: scientists discover possible autism 'switch'

There was some promising news in Scientific American today. It seems that scientists have identified a gene - called Npas4 - that, by releasing a protein, can calm nerve cells down if they become too active. This is important for sufferers of neurological disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, because this discovery may one day lead to treatments that can manage those conditions by balancing brain activity. it's early days for this research, but promising nonetheless. (Photo from Scientific American.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

350: sustainable learning?

Still feeling under the weather, so will keep it brief! I liked this story from the BBC today, about a new museum in the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. It's huge, for a start, with an aquarium, rainforest dome and an ambitious sounding planetarium... and more. But it's also been designed by a prize-winning architect to be as green as possible, with non-toxic insulation, a passive heating and cooling system, a 'living roof' (a garden essentially) and solar-generated electricity. Plus the entire structure is made of recycled steel, apparently. It sounds amazing - an educational experience even before you get to the exhibits...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

349: 95-year-old finally inspired to vote!

I have a terrible cold at the moment and feel pretty tired, but this story lifted my spirits today. According to the TV segment linked here, from Channel 3000, a 95-year-old woman from Virginia has finally registered to vote for the first time in her life. Florence Washington was first eligible to vote when Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover competed for the White House, but until now she hadn't been moved to do so. It was her grand-daughter, apparently, who persuaded her to register - though Florence cites Barack Obama's candidacy as the source of her inspiration. Whatever the reason, it all just goes to show it's never too late to exercise your democratic rights!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

348: Burmese prisoners released

A little sign of hope from Burma today, as the military junta released four political prisoners including the prolific U Win Tin, one of Aung San Suu Kyi's former advisers and a well known writer. As reported in today's linked article from news site Democratic Voice of Burma (based in Norway I believe), the prisoner release follows the junta's announcement of an amnesty that will, it says, allow opposition party members to prepare for elections scheduled for 2010. Up to 9002 prisoners may be released. So far, however, it seems that most of the freed prisoners are not 'political' but others released for 'good behaviour'. Nevertheless, the release of U Win Tin and other NLD members is encouraging, not least since U Win Tin says he will start campaigning again right away. After 19 years in prison, that kind of commitment and resilience is truly inspirational. (Photo from Voice of America.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

347: eye gene therapy could bring hope to thousands

Thanks to what sounds like an important medical breakthrough, a cure for several forms of blindness could be in sight. Today's linked article, from the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, reports that a new therapy - which involves injecting genetic material into the retina - has restored the sight of three new patients, following one other successful operation on a UK teenager earlier this year. So far, all those treated had an inherited condition called Leber's congenital amaurosis, which was previously untreatable. But the US scientists developing the gene therapy believe they'll be able to treat other inherited conditions within two years and age-related macular degeneration within five years. In Britain alone, this means the new therapy could restore sight to hundreds of thousands of people. An amazing thought.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

346: environmentally friendly fridges

As the world becomes more concerned about climate change, there is a definite trend emerging whereby 'old' technologies with lower environmental impacts are re-examined. Now, one of Einstein's abandoned concepts is up for scrutiny. As today's linked article from the UK's Observer newspaper reports, Einstein and Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard patented a design for a refrigerator back in the 1930s, which used ammonia, butane and water to keep things cold and had no movable parts. Today's fridges generally use freons, particularly potent manmade greenhouse gases. Though Einstein's and Szilard's design was inefficient at the time, engineers from Oxford are working to improve it and they think they will have a working version of the fridge - powered by solar panels rather than mains electricity - in a month or so. If they manage that, the implications are potentially very exciting - not only would a fridge of this type be better for the Earth's atmosphere, it could also be used in areas where there's no electricity (very useful when transporting vaccines or other medical supplies, for example). Cool idea, or what? (Image from the Observer.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

345: tree of promise?

I found a very interesting article today in the Christian Science Monitor. It's about a tree called the moringa, native to South Asia but found in many countries across the world, which some think could help families battle malnutrition in Sub-Saharan Africa. Apparently, the tree's seedpods are highly nutritious, as are its leaves - indeed, to quote the article, its leaves contain "more beta carotene than carrots, more calcium than milk, more iron than spinach, more Vitamin C than oranges, and more potassium than bananas" and are rich in protein too. The tree's also pretty drought resistant - useful in dry regions, particularly amidst a changing climate. Sounds good - but experts say more studies are needed to ascertain the dietary benefits of the moringa before extensive tree planting can be justified. Let's hope the evidence comes quickly - and that the tree's promise is born out. (Photo from Christian Science Monitor.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

344: a visible existence for Namibia's children

Interestingly, yesterday Namibia became one of the few African nations to have introduced routine registration of children's births. As today's linked article from Namibian newspaper New Era reports, the Namibian government will work with UNICEF to pilot birth registration in public health facilities such as hospitals and clinics. Uganda and Angola have launched similar initiatives, alongside several other African nations that already have more systematic recording of births, deaths and marriages - so called 'vital statistics'. Sounds like a formality, perhaps - but without a recorded name, date and place of birth, many children find themselves unable to access education and welfare services and they also become more vulnerable to exploitation. So this is an important step for Namibia's children - one that should help them realize their rights in future years.

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I found out today that Reasons to be Hopeful has been nominated for another award - the Divine Caroline 'Love this Site' award, 'neighborhood and world' category. I'm not sure who nominated it, but many thanks to whoever that was! In any case, voting isn't open for long - just until the end of November, I think - so if you'd like to lend RTBH your support, please register and vote by clicking on the button opposite. THANK YOU!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

343: English hospitals clean up

Reassuring news for all hospital patients in the UK today, as the English National Health Service (NHS) released statistics on the cleanliness of its wards. As today's linked article from the UK's Guardian newspaper reports, the NHS has struggled with a large number of cases of MRSA and another 'superbug' called C difficile acquired in hospital. To tackle the problem, huge sums of money were invested in cleaning wards from top to bottom and ensuring staff practice impeccable hygiene. The result? MRSA cases have dropped by a third in the past year, and other superbugs are on the retreat too. Quite some success. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown also thought so - apparently he's written to NHS staff congratulating them. As annual appraisals go, that's probably as good as it gets...

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

342: women rise through Rwandan democracy

The African nation of Rwanda broke a symbolic record today, as it became the first country in the world to elect more female than male Members of Parliament. As today's linked article from the UK's Independent newspaper points out, recent election results aren't yet all in, but already women have taken 44 of the 80 available seats. Positive discrimination policies introduced following the Rwandan genocide of 1994 have helped, but the number of women elected this time far exceeds relevant quotas. When you consider how slowly gender equality in senior political and management roles has advanced in 'developed' nations, Rwanda's achievement is all the more impressive. The country and its women have come a very long way since 1994. (Photo of election in progress from the Independent.)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

341: influencing your DNA for the better?

Well, I'd just about gone to sleep in front of my laptop tonight, when this fascinating article grabbed me and shook me awake! It's an intriguing commentary, from the UK's Times newspaper, which documents new research suggesting our genes are more influenced by environmental factors - or 'nurture' - than we'd previously thought. This means your lifestyle could modify your DNA, affecting you but also future generations. Obviously, this can cut both ways - treat yourself poorly and you (and your kids, and their kids...) could pay the price; but on the other hand, if you treat yourself kindly, this new evidence suggests you could reduce the likelihood of suffering ill health even if you've inherited 'less favourable' DNA, benefitting your future offspring too. There's a lot more research to be done, to discover the extent to which DNA can be modified and what that might mean for humanity - but such advances in knowledge could alter the way we live in profound and potentially very positive ways.

Monday, September 15, 2008

340: how to enjoy life a little more

I have to say, finding good news hasn't been easy in recent days. Stories of economic decline abound, alongside those predicting the political and social collapse of Pakistan and/or North Korea...and more... It's enough to make anyone feel anxious. So I thought I'd post this really clear and helpful article from the UK's Independent newspaper about the relatively simple strategies we can all adopt to help us cope. They include - not surprisingly - eating well and exercising (though not too much, the experts tell us), relaxing fully and learning to breathe properly. Saying 'no' - e.g. to additional work, people you don't want to spend time with - is also advised. Not easy by any means, but worth it to enjoy life, surely...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

339: being the change you want to see in the world

I thought I'd post an ongoing series today, rather than a one-off article. I just discovered a bit of the CNN website dedicated to a program called Be The Change, which follows a group of young people working as volunteers across the world. The news channel has equipped them with cameras and laptops so they can record their experiences, which they'll be doing for a whole year. These
journal-style reports are then uploaded in video and blog format to the Be The Change site. It's not just an insight into the societies the volunteers wish to support, it's also an interesting chronicle of the joys - and frustrations - of those seeking to change the world for the better. A 'hope experiment', if you like...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

338: symbols of hope in Costa Rica's forests

An article full of hope from the BBC today. It's a report by biologists from Manchester University and Chester Zoo, in the UK, who have been working with Costa Rican conservationists to seek out rare amphibians in local rainforests. They've had some success - several species previously thought to be extinct have been sighted, including a pregnant female 'Isthmohyla rivularis' and several groups of green-eyed frog. But what's really given them hope is the passion and commitment of Costa Rican scientists, who seem to be dedicated to protecting the country's forests and the rich diversity of species within them. Given the number of stories I've featured on this blog about Costa Rica's stunning wildlife, it would appear they're doing a sterling job! (Photo from BBC online. There's also a video with the linked article.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

337: how to live to 100

Some mindblowing statistics from Japan today, as reported by the BBC. Apparently, according to today's linked article, there are now 36,276 people in Japan who have reached the grand old age of 100 - and it's thought there could be as many as 1 million Japanese centenarians by 2050. This brings its challenges demographically, of course, but for Japan to have achieved this standard of population health and well-being is quite remarkable. The hope for the rest of us comes through learning - and replicating - the secrets of Japan's success. These are thought to include "healthy diets, strong communities and excellent medical care." There are very many people across the world who would benefit from that recipe... (Photo from BBC online.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

336: a chance that Zimbabwe can move on

I thought long and hard before posting news of today's long-awaited power-sharing deal between the MDC and Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe. Partly because I am very disturbed by the idea (gaining currency not just in Zimbabwe but elsewhere) that those who lose elections can have a second chance by forming a 'unity government'. And partly because I'm sure there's a lot more to the deal than meets the eye - and there's a reasonable likelihood of it unravelling. So is there hope in it? Well, yes - because Zimbabwe needs it urgently. Stability is key to rescuing the nation's economy and its people, many of whom are destitute - and desperate. So the deal is an important first step. Also, in searching for different versions of the story, I came across a great Zimbabwean news site - The Zimbabwe Times - with balanced and considered journalism and some thought-provoking opinion pieces too. Click on the post title above to get their simple, factual account of the deal - but also to browse the rest of their site.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

335: still happy together after all these years...

This is such a sweet little video, I had to post it. According to today's linked article (well, it's actually a news segment from ITV in the UK, via CNN) records were broken today, as Phyllis and Ralph Tarrant became Britain's oldest couple. He is 105, she just turned 100 - so they have a combined age of 205! They've been married for 75 years, and are still totally devoted to each other. How have they lasted so long? Well, according to Phyllis, at least in part because her husband lets her get her own way much of the time. Now we know! Sounds like a great lesson to me... ;-)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

334: Bangladesh will adapt to the future

Some hope was handed to Bangladesh today, in the form of UK aid to support the low-lying nation's adaptation to climate change. According to today's linked article from the BBC, the aid will be used to strengthen sea defences and to 'climate proof' buildings - for example, building schools on stilts to protect them against flood waters and constructing multi-purpose cyclone shelters. New, more resilient crops will likely be needed too. Developing country governments and NGOs have argued for fast and flexible funding from international donors to help poorer communities prepare now for the likely impacts of climate change. Up to $50bn per year may be needed. The new support to Bangladesh is just a drop in the ocean, therefore, but it gives the country a fighting chance. And it may be - should be - a sign of further support to come.

Monday, September 8, 2008

333: peace deal signed in Tripoli

Some positive news from Lebanon today, as leaders met in Tripoli in an effort to end sectarian violence, which has dominated the port and surrounding area in recent months. According to today's linked article from Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper, Sunni and Alawite leaders agreed and signed a truce deal committing all parties to refrain from violence. It also confirmed that those displaced through the fighting should return to their communities, with compensation for those whose homes have been damaged and temporary shelter for those in need. The Lebanese Armed Forces have been drafted in to keep the peace. Those engaged in the talks have stated their optimism that the truce will hold, as all parties were involved. The stakes are high - so let's hope they're right... (Photo from Daily Star.)

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

332: India offers friendship to Pakistan's President-elect

Some promising news from India today, as the country's Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, extended a welcoming hand across the border. As today's linked article from Gulf News reports, Singh congratulated Asif Ali Zardari upon his Presidential election victory in Pakistan, and said he was hoping for increased friendship and partnership between the two South Asian nations. Zardari - the widower of former Pakistani premier and recent Presidential candidate Benazir Bhutto - has given positive signals about co-operation with India in the past. So it's an opportune moment. Let's hope both leaders can make the most of it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

331: city hotels as sign of greener times

This is a very interesting article - because through a relatively narrow story it hints at bigger changes taking place. The article, from the UK's Independent newspaper, highlights the many eco-hotels springing up in cities across the world. Though the idea of environmentally sustainable getaways is nothing new, the article points out that these have largely taken the form of rural retreats. Now, however, both boutique hotels and bigger city chains are going green - employing everything from kitchen gardens to microgeneration to composting, in an effort to strengthen their environmental credentials. As you will see from the article and accompanying photos, many of the hotels in question are very comfortable and stylish too - so you can still have a great, relaxing holiday in beautiful surroundings, without compromising on cutting waste and reducing your carbon footprint (though best if you travel by train, I suppose). Green doesn't have to be mean - or boring! (Photo from the Independent.)

Friday, September 5, 2008

330: 'Garden of Eden' to be protected

According to today's linked article from the New Scientist, the ancient Iraqi wetlands - which some people think may be the original Garden of Eden cited in the Bible - could soon be listed as a World Heritage Site. This status would afford them greater protection, which is why the UN launched the plan to list them. Unfortunately, during Saddam Hussein's regime, the wetlands were drained following a dispute between the then president and the Marsh Arab communities living there. It wasn't just the Marsh Arabs who lost their long-standing homes - birds and fish did too. Following Saddam's downfall, however, local communities and UN agencies have worked to revive the wetlands and are already making progress. With a WHS designation, the wetlands may yet be restored to their ancient glory...

Thursday, September 4, 2008

329: waste-free village models sustainable future

Time for a bit of photo journalism, I think. This story-in-pictures comes from the UK's Guardian newspaper. It showcases the Japanese village of Kamikatsu. Five years ago, the people of Kamikatsu set themselves a very high goal - by 2020, they aim to go waste-free. To do so, they are attempting to recycle or reuse every last bit of household waste, putting an end to landfill and incineration. The photographs are fascinating, with several showing local residents composting, sorting recyclables, even washing plastic containers and hanging them out to dry. Kamikatsu has only 2000 residents, but their committed efforts show what can be done - what we all should try to do. Setting the goal together and putting the facilities in place to make the goal easier to achieve - futuristic, yes, but not rocket science... (Photo from the Guardian, of a sign that apparently says 'Zero waste by 2020'.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

328: Cypriot peace talks start in earnest

Regular RTBH readers will know that I've been following - for many months - the cautious steps now being taken towards peace and reunification in Cyprus. The European island has been divided for more than 30 years, but today UN facilitated peace talks began between the Greek Cypriot President and the Turkish Cypriot leader. And according to today's linked article from the Associated Press, the two leaders were upbeat about the prospects of achieving success where previous efforts have failed. Indeed, the talks have been billed as the 'most promising' since the island was first divided - so let's hope they live up to their promise!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

327: democracy to return to Angola

This is a truly hopeful story about the Southern African nation of Angola, as it prepares for its first elections in 16 years. As today's linked article from the BBC reports, Angola is still recovering from years of civil war, during which millions of people were displaced and many others died. For this reason, and as there has been no recent census, it's now very hard to know where people are living - an important prerequisite for voter registration in most countries. And voting will be made yet more difficult when polls open on Friday, given the lack of basic infrastructure such as roads and telecommunications in many areas. But Angolans are determined to overcome these challenges. To do so, they are employing a range of new technologies - PDAs, solar-powered fax machines, voting cards complete with fingerprints and holograms... plus many 'old fashioned' human observers, local and international. These measures will help ensure votes are counted efficiently and without risk of fraud. And where ballot boxes cannot be collected by road, the electoral commission has said it will use helicopter or boat. People will be sent text messages to remind them to vote. It's a massive financial commitment, of course - but what price the restoration of democracy?

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Monday, September 1, 2008

326: the power of community

I found this fascinating article in the UK's Independent newspaper today, which assesses the phenomenon of 'crowdsourcing', whereby people - often 'amateurs' rather than 'professionals' in a particular field, from across the world - come together online to create, innovate and solve problems. As the article sets out, crowdsourcing takes many forms - sometimes led by big business, but more often by small enterprises or just a small group of people with a project idea - but it always involves people freely pitching in to achieve a shared goal, often for little or no remuneration. And the article gives examples of many projects tackled in this way - from designing t-shirts, to developing software, and even to searching for extra-terrestrial lifeforms! Anything that benefits from teamwork, in short, which must account for most challenges humanity faces... Makes you wonder what we could achieve if we put our collective mind(s) to work, doesn't it? Decisively addressing climate change? Finding innovative solutions to seemingly intractable conflicts? Who knows? Who dares to hope...?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

325: beetle provides cancer research clue

A major breakthrough in basic science, which could accelerate cancer research, was announced today - all thanks to a team of scientists from Philadelphia ... and the red flour beetle. As today's linked article from philly.com reports, scientists had been trying to decipher the protein telomerase for many years, since its role in helping cancer cells multiply was first identified around two decades ago. But they'd had little luck. The human form of the protein was too unstable. As a result, the Philadelphia scientists searched through data on other species - and eventually found the red flour beetle, which produces a less complex form of the protein that could be studied, and this enabled its structure to be mapped. This is the first step of many that will be required to develop new cancer drugs, but it's a vital step. Researchers will now know more about this important protein, and that's key if they're to work out how to deactivate it.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

324: kids helped to lose weight, get fit - and feel better

This is a really promising tale, about a couple of kids from Rotherham in the UK, who had been bullied because of their weight and totally lacked confidence. That is, until they attended a six-week fitness camp this summer - so today's linked article from the BBC reports. The camp helps kids make healthy eating choices and to take regular exercise. Throughout the camp, participants are told how much weight they are losing, and this builds their confidence. It certainly seems to have worked for the kids in the BBC article - who have said they feel taller, slimmer, and generally better. When they get home, they and their families will be supported for a further four months to make sure their progress - and optimism - is sustained. What's more, it's all funded by the National Health Service - so families needn't lose weight from their wallets at the same time. Based on my time in the US to date, I can't help thinking that the Rotherham experience could translate well to the other side of the Atlantic, though I've never heard of anything like it here. Definitely something worth watching though...

Friday, August 29, 2008

323: Afghan Olympian given hero's welcome

I'm on vacation at the moment, in Jamaica - blogging in the middle of a hurricane! This is a new and interesting experience, to say the least. As I browsed through the web, and simultaneously wiped my laptop free of rain every few seconds, my attention was grabbed by this lovely story from the BBC. As the linked article reports, Afghanistan's first Olympic medallist, Rohullah Nikpai, returned home today and received a hero's welcome. Even during his layover in Delhi, he was paraded through the airport and decorated with flower garlands - and when he arrived in Kabul he was met by the country's Vice-President, and then driven through the streets in a open-top truck to the national stadium, which was packed with well-wishers. Nikpai won a bronze in Taekwondo, which is a hugely popular sport in today's Afghanistan, with more than 700 clubs training around 25,000 athletes. And it looks set to become more popular with this Olympic success. (Afghanistan's previous best performance in the Olympics was a fifth placed wrestler in 1964.) As Nikpai said "I hope this medal will bring a better future for my country, both in terms of peace and friendship... what matters is showing the world that our flag can rise as well." (Photo from BBC online.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

322: junk ship proves its point

A ship called 'Junk' - and made from it too - docked safely in Honolulu today, at the end of it's 3-month trip from California to raise awareness about plastic debris and its effect on marine life. As today's linked article from MSNBC reports, the two-man crew had constructed 'Junk' from ocean debris - part of a Cessna's fuselage, salvaged boat masts and 15,000 plastic bottles for floatation. They'd had some scary moments, running low on food and watching as some of the plastic bottles filled with water and sank after a storm, but they made it in the end. The trip was arranged by the 'Junk' project run by the Algalita Marine Research Foundation. In addition to the crew, another member of the project team provided remote support and raised money and awareness. The project's key message is that single-use plastics should be banned as they generally end up in the ocean or persist elsewhere harming fish, flora and fauna. As if to prove this point, a fish caught by the crew - which they'd hoped to eat - was found to be filled with pieces of undigested plastic. I hope that 'Junk' (the raft, the project and the problem) gets the attention it deserves.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

321: hope that tourists will return to Baghdad

I love the optimism that emanates from this story. According to today's linked article from Newsday, officials in Iraq are calling for designers to submit proposals for a huge ferris wheel that will one day grace the city's skyline. It is hoped that the ferris wheel, which is being called the Baghdad Eye, will be 650 feet tall - making it much taller than the famous London Eye, which comes in at 450 feet. While hugely ambitious, it's not the only tourist attraction in Baghdad. The city has a zoo, pools, parks and restaurants, and there are plans to recreate the 'lovers island' in the middle of the Tigris, once a favoured destination of honeymooners. The private sector is beginning to invest in this infrastructure (e.g. building luxury hotels) alongside the government. All in all, it's a sign that Baghdad's spirit has been undiminished by the violence of recent years. The city and its people have a vision for the future - one it seems they want visitors to share.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

320: paraplegics may walk again

Thank you very much to RTBH reader Titus for sending in today's linked article from Reuters. I must say, it's a fascinating read and also really good news. As the article reports, an Israeli man has invented a device that can enable those paralyzed below the waist to walk again. It's similar to a crustacean's exoskeleton in terms of how it supports the body, and it can be manipulated using controls attached to crutches operated by the arms. Users can choose to sit, stand, walk, descend or climb. The robotic device then moves, when body sensors detect the user leaning forward. Experts say the benefits are both physical and psychological: as well as exercising different muscle groups and extending the torso, standing up enables users to make eye contact with others and to get on 'level terms' with them. This is very empowering, as user Radi Kaiof - paralyzed 20 years ago while serving as an Israeli paratrooper - testifies in the article. Although the inventor won't be able to use the device himself, sadly - he's paralyzed too, but does not have enough control of his arms to operate the suit - it will be on the market in 2010, and will cost about the same as an advanced wheelchair. Definitely a breakthrough invention. Let's hope that healthcare providers step up to the plate, to make it available to those who need it. (Photo from Reuters.)

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If you want to see the ReWalk in action, click here for a Reuters video.

Monday, August 25, 2008

319: hope at last in Zimbabwe

There were cautious expressions of hope in Zimbabwe today, as the new Parliamentary speaker was sworn in. As today's linked article from the BBC reports, Lovemore Moyo - a member of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change - hailed the beginning of a new era, in which the Parliament becomes a more effective check on Mugabe's regime. Only time will tell whether this hope is well-placed, of course, but today certainly ushered in some change.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

318: Chinese civil society boosted by Olympics

Post 237 on this blog, back in June, brought you an article from Yale's news site that suggested China's civil society was maturing and having greater impact, particularly on environmental agendas. Today's linked article, from German news site Die Welt, would seem to support that thesis. The article argues that the Beijing Olympic games - which closed today, of course - have given impetus to certain segments within China's civil society. Specifically, those working to tackle pollution and reduce waste have been able to rally people around their cause as the country worked to 'get in shape' for the games. Meanwhile, those working to improve the rights of disabled people have been given a boost by the attention-grabbing Paralympics, which will open in Beijing on September 6th. As the article points out, there are many other issues that appear to have made less progress, but the recent successes of the few may nevertheless give heart to others seeking change.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

317: dog saves abandoned baby in Argentina

A dog in Argentina has rescued a newborn baby after it was abandoned by its teenage mother, CNN reported today. According to the article linked above, the dog found the baby in a field and carried it home, eventually placing it amongst its own puppies. Apparently, the temperature had dropped to 37 degrees Farenheit, and doctors said the baby would have found it difficult to survive the night had the dog not rescued it. The baby was taken to hospital but is said to have suffered very few injuries. The 14-year-old mother later presented at the hospital and is also being treated. Meanwhile, according to various news reports today, the dog has become something of a celebrity and is being hailed as a hero by the local community. It certainly is an amazing tale, revealing a depth of maternal instinct that cuts across species. (Picture from Channel 9/CNN.)

Friday, August 22, 2008

316: rebuilding Liberia's education system

Way back on day Forty-One of this blog, I posted a story about a Liberian teen who was about to start university at age 14, having educated himself against the odds. Today, I found this hopeful article on allAfrica.com, reporting on the priority that President Sirleaf's government has given to expanding the country's education infrastructure and supporting poorer families to keep their children, especially girls, in school. Fortunately, it seems that NGOs, UN agencies and foreign donors are lining up in support of the Liberian government's goal - and this support will be necessary to make progress, given the extent of the challenge. The country has a literacy rate of just 20% currently. But commitment from the top, and money in the budget to back it up, give Liberia a fighting chance. Hopefully it won't be too long before all Liberia's children are in school and doing well, even if they can't all get to university at 14!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

315: follow your nose to detect cancers

Fascinating story this one, from the BBC. As today's linked article reports, US researchers have discovered that certain types of skin cancer - basal cell carcinomas - give off a scent, which they can pick up using a machine they've developed. In a similar UK study, researchers are exploring whether bladder cancer might be identified in a similar way, through subtle changes in the smell of a patient's urine that dogs can be trained to detect. And it's even been postulated that lung cancer tumors might be detected through specific odors in a patient's breath. Certainly, if deemed sufficiently accurate, such tests would be a welcome non-invasive method of diagnosis - and I suppose it would give further weight to the idea that dogs are mankind's best friends.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

314: hope for a sustainable future, by design

I really enjoyed today's linked article from this week's Newsweek, which gave me a lot of hope that industry can become greener and energy cleaner, with a little imagination and investment. In the piece, Fareed Zakaria interviews the visionary green architect William McDonough, whose company has already designed many energy-efficient and visually sympathetic buildings - including an office tower shaped like a tree, which would produce more in the way of nutrients and oxygen than it consumes (see the photo gallery linked to the article for that). In interview, McDonough also discusses the potential of new technologies to make industrial production extremely low-impact and effectively zero-waste, citing a Swiss textile mill that takes in and emits crystal clear water fit for drinking! McDonough's take on this topic is reassuring, because he's not just imagining the possibilities but realizing them too. It shows what we could achieve, if we only had the collective will - and a few creative folk like McDonough.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

313: revitalizing Zambia's copper mines

Tragedy struck Zambia today as the nation's President, Levy Mwanawasa, died in hospital in France at the age of 59, following a stroke several weeks ago. However, hope also emerged from Zambia today, as reported by the Inter Press Service. As outlined in today's linked article, after years of decline, Zambia's copper mines are being revitalized, bringing new jobs and boosting the local economy. This time around, however, the government is determined to share the benefits more evenly, with a new tax structure for the industry. The upgraded mines will also incorporate technologies that limit their CO2 emissions and cut pollution. A more sustainable mining sector would bring huge benefits to Zambia - and it would certainly leave the country better off than when Levy Mwanawasa took up the Presidency six years ago.

Monday, August 18, 2008

312: lucky escape from suspended plane

From blind luck (post 309) to life-saving luck today, as news broke of a German couple's amazing escape from their light plane. As reported in today's linked article (and video without commentary) from the BBC, they had taken off from a small airport and were due to land in another one nearby when they struck a power line. Somehow, rather than crashing to the ground, their plane remained there, suspended precariously. After some time, they were removed from the aircraft via small rescue cranes or 'cherry pickers' as they are apparently known. They are now safe - though I imagine their plane may not make it...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

311: East Africa gets connected

Long-awaited good news for the East African region today, as reported in the UK's Guardian newspaper. Apparently, the region is one of the world's last remaining coastlines to be connected to the global fibre-optic cable network. As a result, existing internet connections are prohibitively high for most people and too slow for institutions such as universities to function optimally. But that will change. This October, the Seacom cable - 9300 miles long, owned by mostly African investors and costing more than $600m - will begin to roll out. Next year will see the completion of the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy), a thinner cable that will connect 21 countries in East Africa to each other - and to the rest of the world. The result will be much faster and cheaper connectivity, giving a tremendous boost to commerce and the exchange of knowledge across the region. Indeed, it seems as if many people and businesses, in Kenya, Rwanda and elsewhere, are desperate for greater connectivity... They won't have to wait much longer.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

310: rare clouded leopard spotted in Borneo

Good news for conservationists today, as motion-activated cameras in Borneo's Sebangua National Park caught a rare type of clouded leopard on film. As today's linked article from the BBC reports, the cat had not been spotted in the area previously, though conservationists were already aware of several other wild cat species there. They hope the recent clouded leopard sighting will strengthen the case for protecting the region, including from logging. Either way, the fact that Borneo's diversity is still being uncovered is very encouraging. (Project photo from BBC online.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

309: one man's blind luck

This is a nice light-hearted story with which to end the working week. As reported in today's linked article from The Journal Gazette (a local newspaper from Fort Wayne, Indiana), a Roanoke man had an amazing run of luck recently. Bobby Guffey has been playing the local lottery regularly for nearly two decades, using the same numbers. However, having left his glasses at home on one occasion recently, he entered one number incorrectly on his ticket. He realized shortly afterwards and bought a second ticket to correct the mistake. Well, you guessed it - the ticket with the 'wrong' number won him $3m! (And of course he won an additional $1000 with his other ticket, for having all but one number correct.) A very happy mistake indeed... (Photo from The Journal Gazette.)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

308: hope shared in 15.24 carats

I'm not much of a shopper - pretty much can't stand it, in fact - and I'm definitely not a hunter of luxury goods. But this story about a diamond necklace, from Reader's Digest, grabbed my attention nevertheless. You see, it's not really about the necklace. It's about a group of women who bought the necklace together, finding friendship and confidence in the process, and worked together to raise funds for various charities. It's a very unusual story, and I can't do it justice in summary here. You'll just have to read it for yourselves! (Photo from Reader's Digest.)

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

307: rapid test for avian flu could save lives

Good news in the battle against avian flu today, as reported by the BBC. Apparently, scientists in Nottingham, UK, have developed a rapid diagnostic kit - a portable testing machine - that could identify whether a patient is carrying H5N1 or another bird flu virus using a saliva sample. Rapid diagnosis greatly increases the chances of treating a patient successfully. As things stand, with treatment often coming too late, most sufferers die - more than 80% of those infected in Indonesia, for example. But the new machine could yield a result within two hours. If it can be manufactured and rolled out, therefore, it really could save many lives.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

306: UK car dumping down as scrap prices rise

This is a great 'happy by-product' story, which caught my eye in the UK's Times newspaper today. As the article reports, the UK had become something of a used car dumping ground over recent years, as owners had to actually pay scrap dealers to take their old vehicles away, so unattractive were they. As I recall, slip roads leading on or off major roads were a favoured dropping off point - most abandoned cars had their license plates removed and some were burnt out for good measure. Apparently, far fewer cars are dumped in this way now, as prices of key metals such as steel, aluminium and copper are up and dealers are paying over £100 for many makes of car. And so, at least for now, British side streets are slightly less cluttered. (Photo from The Times online.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

305: humpback whales resurgent

Great news for whale watchers today, as reported by the UK's Guardian newspaper. According to today's linked article, the number of humpback whales globally is on the rise, due to the long term impact of a worldwide hunting ban enacted 40 years ago. It is thought that there are now about 40,000 adult whales and 15,000 juveniles across the globe, and as a result the IUCN has reclassified the species from 'vulnerable' to 'of least concern'. Many other marine species remain endangered, of course - some critically so. But the success of conservation efforts affecting the humpback whale shows what can be done. (Beautiful photo from EPA/Guardian.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

304: thermoelectric efficiency

How's this for recycling? According to today's linked article from syracuse.com, scientists are competing currently to develop technologies that can harness heat from car exhausts, turning it into energy that can then (re)power the car. Necessary technology too, since up to 70% of energy from internal combustion engines is wasted apparently, 40% of it through exhaust heat. General Motors has said that if they can reach their goal of 10% fuel economy through these imminent technologies, that would save around 100 million gallons of fuel per year just in GM cars driven in the US! And of course the same thermoelectric technologies could have so many other applications too, saving energy everywhere they are deployed (even in zero emissions cars, I assume?). A potentially great scientific advance.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

303: tackling taboos in India

To India today, and an interesting article from BBC news. As the article reports, new initiatives are being piloted across India in an effort to promote condoms for women and gay men - and they are proving far more successful than anyone thought. There are about 2.5 million HIV positive people in India, homosexuality is illegal, and women in particular lack control over family planning options. But those women involved in the pilot schemes have embraced the female condoms and, apparently, persuaded their husbands to embrace them too. And, according to the BBC article, they are more than happy to talk openly about their experiences, shattering local taboos in the process. Many have said they feel empowered - giving hope that women across the country can take greater control of their lives as these new initiatives are rolled out.

Friday, August 8, 2008

302: amputee swimmer leads and inspires

Another uplifting flag-bearing tale today! This time, as South African website News 24 reports, the athlete concerned is Natalie du Toit, who carried South Africa's flag for her team at the Olympic opening ceremony today. Natalie is a long-distance swimmer, whose left leg was amputated at the knee in 2001 after a motorcycling accident. She had competed at the Commonwealth Games before that, and this year she qualified for both the Paralympics and the Olympics - the first amputee ever to have done so. Like Lopez Lomong for the US, Natalie was the obvious choice to carry the flag for South Africa today. Her own words sum up the Olympic spirit better than anything I could craft: "Everybody has problems, everybody has things that get them down. It's just saying, 'I can go out there, if I have a dream, I can really, if I work hard and I believe in it, I can achieve it'."

Thursday, August 7, 2008

301: 'lost boy' will carry US flag in Beijing

Do you remember post 243 about the 'lost boys of Sudan' and the great things they were doing with their lives having settled in the US? Well, today it was announced that one of the 'lost boys' will lead the US team at the Olympics in Beijing, carrying the nation's flag at the opening ceremony tomorrow. As today's linked article from CNN reports, Lopez Lomong came to the US after fleeing his war-torn community in southern Sudan at the age of 6, becoming separated from his family and spending 10 years in a refugee camp. He will represent the US in the 1500 meters at the Beijing games, having gained citizenship in 2007. His fellow US team mates chose him to bear the flag. Lopez is also a member of Team Darfur, a group of athletes committed to raising awareness about ongoing violence and rights abuses in western Sudan. The flag he carries tomorrow will therefore represent hope in many more ways than one. (Photo from CNN.)