Saturday, May 31, 2008

233: the people's power

A typical weekend on the news front. Well, actually slightly better than typical. Normally there is precious little positivity to be found amongst the newsflashes and agency wires on a Saturday or Sunday. Today, I found lots of 'good news waiting to happen'! The article from the UK's Independent newspaper linked here was by far the most hopeful, though. It suggests that UK households could produce sufficient energy through microgeneration (using e.g. solar panels on household roofs) to make current plans for new nuclear reactors redundant - if only the right policy framework were in place. The evidence comes in the form of a new government-sponsored report, which also suggests that microgeneration could reduce UK carbon emissions by an amount equivalent to taking all buses and trucks off UK roads. And other countries in Europe, such as Germany, are already demonstrating that microgeneration can work. Recently, it's seemed as if the UK government is ignoring success stories from Germany and elsewhere - but the new report may just tip the balance, and bring greater public investment... Come on, Gordon - you know it makes sense.

Friday, May 30, 2008

232: dreaming big in Djibouti

This is an interesting little story. According to today's linked article from the International Herald Tribune, the African nation of Djibouti is experiencing a bout of optimism at the moment. The country may be small, with a population of around half a million people, but it is perfectly positioned - with a port overlooking some of the world's busiest shipping lanes and just a short hop to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Dubai. As a result, the country is very attractive to foreign investors at the moment, who see Djibouti as a politically and economically stable 'gateway' to the Horn of Africa - and this in turn is aiding the development of new infrastructure. It's something of a boon for this tiny African nation, and one they must make the most of, now and with the future in mind. (Photo from IHT / NYT.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

231: competing to connect

Last week (post 223) I posted a story about the next installment of the '$100 laptop'. Today, yet another company, Dell, announced its intention to manufacture and market what it has called 'the perfect device for the next billion internet users'. Well, that remains to be seen, of course - not least since there are no details about specifications or pricing as yet, as today's linked article from BBC points out. However, the very intent of Dell - and increasing numbers of other companies - to compete at the 'lower end' of the market is encouraging. It demonstrates that we are now on a trajectory through which a range of communications technologies, from cell phones to netbooks, will become more affordable and accessible. The potential for commerce, education, cultural exchange and access to services (and other less salubrious persuits some are bound to point out) in low- and middle-income countries is nothing short of revolutionary. (Photo BBC online.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

230: cluster bombs disarmed?

Great news today from Dublin, Ireland, as progress was made in agreeing an international treaty to ban cluster bombs. These are widely considered a particularly horrific form of weapon, as they scatter tiny bomblets on impact that may not detonate until much later, often killing or maiming civilians as a result. As today's linked article from the UK's Guardian newspaper reports, more than 100 states met in Dublin and unanimously passed the new treaty. But there's more - the article also reports that the UK government will go even further in its efforts to phase out cluster bombs, requiring its own armed forces to immediately scrap such weapons and also banning US military bases in the UK from stocking them. (The US did not participate in the Dublin negotiations.) Welcome leadership from the UK, and others, for sure - and some hope that we may finally see the back of cluster bombs and other such indiscriminate weaponry.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

229: a second life

With so much debate about the merits (or otherwise) of 'virtual' second lives these days, it was refreshing to find this story about an American man who is living a kind of second real life right now. I found the tale in Reader's Digest, which I just discovered runs a series called 'inspiring true stories'. Worth a browse if you are in need of some additional inspiration - after reading RTBH of course! Anyway, the article linked above is about a doctor who was distraught after losing his wife a little over seven years ago, and felt his life had lost all meaning. However, after 9/11 he made a snap decision to go to Afghanistan. He joined International Medical Corps and went - and hasn't looked back since. He's worked in clinics in the wake of many recent disasters around the world, giving him a renewed sense of purpose. And the severe depression he suffered previously has lifted. It really is inspiring, that someone can bring relief to so many and mend themselves at the same time... (Photo from Reader's Digest.)


STOP PRESS: I just found out that Reasons to be Hopeful is 'Blog of the Day' today, on the 2008 Weblog Awards! How exciting! Thank you, Blog of the Day... :-) E

Monday, May 26, 2008

228: clean water for Darjeeling?

I write in haste tonight (before I get on a train!) but I found this nice little story in Indian newspaper The Statesman today, about local water supply. According to the article, after years of political wrangling, an agreement has been reached that will ensure the supply of clean water to communities in and around the Indian city of Darjeeling by 2009. I recall that the UNDP Human Development Report on water a couple of years back said that most barriers to people accessing water were political rather than hydrological - this seems to be a good example of political progress bringing some of those barriers down.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

227: thinking positive in Indonesia

I found this brief opinion piece on the Malaysian online news site, The Star, today. It was actually reproduced from the Indonesian newspaper 'the Jakarta Post'. It charts the significant political developments in Indonesia of the last decade, during which time the country moved towards democratic rule after many years of dictatorship. Sadly, as the article points out, this political progress has not been matched economically - growth remains slow and corruption is, apparently, rife. The answer, the article seems to suggest, is patience - and pride, given the fact that Indonesia is now the world's third largest democracy after the US and India. No mean feat.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

226: flame of hope for Tibet

I was fortunate to witness the 'freedom torch' on its path around the world today, as it passed through Boston, where I happened to be this weekend. The freedom torch is a kind of alternative Olympic torch, and the purpose of its journey is to highlight the human rights situation in Tibet and to enhance related advocacy. As today's linked article from Tibetan news site reports, torch bearers and Tibetan diaspora in the US are urging President Bush not to attend the Olympics opening ceremony unless progress is made in talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. They are also keen to prevent the Olympic torch from passing through Tibet. The article reports that the freedom torch will now travel to Denver, Monument, and on to Colorado Springs - the US Olympic committee headquarters, apparently. It's a vibrant symbol of hope. And it's a story the world is increasingly paying attention to. Let's hope the US Olympic committee is too.

-------- is a great site if you want to find out more about Tibet. You can also learn more about the freedom torch at

Friday, May 23, 2008

225: breakthrough in Burma?

Finally some good news from Burma today, as the country's military government agreed to admit international aid workers following the devastating cyclone on 2 May. The decision came after UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, met with Burmese leaders to discuss the growing crisis in cyclone-hit areas. As today's linked article from the BBC points out, there are many issues to be addressed around how the relief will be delivered in practice. But it's a start. At least now there is a little hope...


Thanks to RTBH reader, Matt, for sending in this story from Reuters. It tells of a convicted murderer in the US state of Georgia, who had his death sentence commuted to life imprisonment yesterday, just hours before he was due to be executed. He was one of the many US prisoners on death row whose executions are being 'fast tracked' (unbelievable as it may seem) now that the national moratorium on the use of lethal injections has been lifted. The Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles made its last minute decision based on evidence of the man's remorse and good behaviour in jail. It's a very personal example of how government decisions affect human lives directly - which has many parallels to the situation in Burma, if you think about it...

Thursday, May 22, 2008

224: life in unlikely places

I found this fascinating article in the New Scientist today, about progressive discoveries of single-cell organisms living many miles beneath the Earth's surface. Apparently, John Parkes, a geobiologist at the University of Cardiff in the UK, is the latest person to have documented such lifeforms - in this case at extraordinarily high densities, 1.6km beneath the sea floor and at temperatures as high as 100 degrees centigrade. He and other experts in his field believe this raises the possibility of living things being found in even more unlikely places - on our planet and perhaps on others. It also confirms just how much more there is for us to learn about Earth, and life... it's a world of tremendous potential, it would seem, and that must give cause for hope.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

223: cheap laptop that just won't go away...

It's an intriguing little project, One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) - and those of you who've been reading RTBH for a while may remember it featured in discussion around my post way back on Day Twenty. This week, though, commentators were writing it off. Sales have been very slow and some users have experienced teething problems. And its founder, Nicholas Negroponte, has many detractors - some say he's naive, others that he's egotistical or money-grabbing. But he just won't give up. One of the most frequent criticisms levied at his project - which has attempted to develop, manufacture and deliver a $100 'XO' laptop to kids across the developing world - is that it's moving ahead of literacy rates and that any available resources would be better spent on books. So how does Negroponte respond? Well, according to today's linked article from the BBC, by launching a $75 laptop-book! In addition to its capacity to store more than 500 e-books, the XO2 will have a touch screen that doubles as a keyboard should the user wish. It will also be lighter, smaller and more energy efficient than the original XO laptop. The new model should be available in 2010. Whatever else you think of Negroponte, you have to admire someone so tenacious and so dedicated to accessible innovation. The world needs such mavericks, I reckon. (Photo from BBC online.)

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

222: hope emerges from Chinese quake

The Liu Han Hope Elementary school in China's Sichuan province lived up to its name, it would seem, offering hope to all its 483 students when the region's recent earthquake struck. As today's linked article from the UK's Guardian newspaper reports, the school appears to have been constructed well - so when surrounding buildings collapsed and dust flew all around, the school stood. Eventually, its teachers decided that those children who had not been collected needed to be moved to safety - so they trekked with them all day and all night over mountains to a more secure town, where the children are now being cared for. It's a rare bit of good news from Sichuan right now, as well as a tale of great bravery on behalf of the teachers and students involved. And, as the article points out, it's also a testament to how good construction (and, some are saying, good governance) can save lives.

Monday, May 19, 2008

221: Afghanistan plays on the world stage

I found this uplifting article in the Times of India today, about Afghanistan's emerging cricket team. The team has set its sights on the 2011 World Cup and is in confident mood as it enters the first round of qualifying games - the ICC World Cricket League division five competition hosted by Jersey. Afghanistan only joined the ICC league as an affiliate member in 2001, but has made strong progress - including beating a Marylebone Cricket Club team led by Mike Gatting, the former England captain. I can't beat the words of the Afghan cricket captain, Norooz Khan Mangal, who said: "The qualifying event will mark the dawn of a new era for Afghan sport and it can show the war-torn country in a fresh light... Like any other team, we are travelling to Jersey with the objective to win the tournament and take the first step in the right direction. But at the same time, we would like to make more friends and try to learn good cricket."

Sunday, May 18, 2008

220: potential breakthrough against drug-resistant superbug

Today's linked article from the BBC shares progress from drug research that really could offer some hope. Apparently, researchers at a small UK pharmaceutical company, Destiny Pharma, are testing a product that treats the extremely drug resistant bug MRSA. Most importantly, though, even when the MRSA bacterium is exposed repeatedly to the drug concerned - which is actually applied as a nasal gel - it does not appear to develop resistance. Both the scientists and the UK government are cautiously optimistic about the research, but if product development continues to go well, the gel could be used in UK hospitals and elsewhere as early as 2011. (Image from BBC online.)

Saturday, May 17, 2008

219: love expressed, and shared

I think the message within today's linked article from China View (Xinhua) is probably 'love conquers all'... It tells of Chinese couples that have recently tied the knot via videoconference, in both cases with the bridegroom joining the wedding ceremony from the site of the earthquake rescue in Sichuan province. Indeed, one of the couples concerned turned their ceremony into a fundraiser for quake victims, apparently raising nearly $23,000. There's something very poignant about that, given the amount some couples spend on their wedding parties these days...

Friday, May 16, 2008

218: the cheetah is not cheating

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had to eat humble pie today, as South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius won the right to compete at the Olympics in Beijing this summer. The IAAF had ruled Pistorius ineligible earlier this year, claiming his two prosthetic legs gave him an unfair advantage over other athletes... Today, the Court of Arbitration for Sport overturned that ruling. Pistorius was born with no fibulas and had both legs amputated just below the knee as a baby. But, as today's linked article from the South African Times newspaper reports, this never kept him from sport. As a child, he played rugby, water polo and tennis, and wrestled - and then he took up sprinting just over four years ago, using a prosthetic called the Cheetah Flex Foot. This device has earned him the name 'Blade Runner' (easy to see why from the photo here, which is from the UK Times newspaper) and he has performed very well using it. This summer, he may get the chance to put his tremendous courage to the test again, if he is selected to represent South Africa in Beijing. Regardless, he has scored a major victory today, for himself and for other disabled athletes across the world.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

217: plan for peace in Lebanon

Following two days of negotiations in Beirut with Lebanese government and opposition leaders, the Arab League has announced a deal to end the current political crisis. As today's linked article from Al Jazeera reports, the two sides agreed to meet in Doha, Qatar, within the next 24 hours. The upcoming talks will attempt to agree a power sharing mechanism between the two sides, and will also tackle plans for a new electoral law. The impact of today's announcement seems to have been felt immediately, as roadblocks were dismantled and the airport reopened. But, most importantly, today's progress gives hope that substantive positive impacts will emerge over the coming weeks, which will be felt over the longer term. (Photo from Al Jazeera.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

216: defiant great-grandmother holds off mugger

I found this incredible story today, about a 75-year-old woman from Brooklyn, New York. As today's linked article from WCBS TV reports, Rafaela Tlatelpa was walking home when she was attacked from behind by a mugger on a bicycle. He tried to grab her bag, and hit her in the face, but she refused to hand over her belongings and started shouting. A couple of neighbours ran to her aid, chasing the man and eventually restraining him until the police arrived. Now Rafaela is resting and recovering. Thanks to her bravery and her neighbours' heroism, her would-be mugger is now facing several charges. What an amazing woman... (Video image WCBS TV news.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

215: hope for honeybees?

I'm sure you've seen the same articles I have of late, about the plight of the honeybee, the populations of which seem to be suffering collapse across the US and parts of Europe. There is increasing concern about their plight in the UK, too. But today's linked article from the UK"s Guardian newspaper suggests 10 ways in which we can all help. Taking up beekeeping is obviously one, but - more feasibly perhaps - the article also encourages planting 'bee friendly' plants in your own garden and encouraging local authorities to do the same, buying locally produced honey and lobbying governments to support relevant research. It's time to 'bee proactive' in protecting this critical creature. (Photo from Guardian.)

Monday, May 12, 2008

214: dog fosters kittens

I just had to post this. It is quite the most endearing tale, of a dog in Cheshire, England, rearing six motherless kittens alongside her own pups. Echo the Golden Retriever took the kittens under her paw (?!) after they'd been abandoned. Based on the evidence from today's linked story - a BBC news video - the puppies and kittens appear to be happily sharing Echo, and her bed, and her milk! However, new homes are being sought for them all once they're weaned. A heartwarming tale of cross-species generosity, if ever I saw one...

Sunday, May 11, 2008

213: fair fashion

I thought this was an interesting little article from the UK's Independent newspaper today, about whether the fashion industry is becoming more 'ethical'. It suggests some kind of shift, in the UK at least, citing evidence such as charity Oxfam's opening of an upscale boutique in central London, and designer Katharine Hamnett backing the new BBC ethical fashion magazine Thread. Even Visa is in on the act, apparently, with plans to open a 'recycling shop' for designer clothing in London's Covent Garden, in collaboration with actress Lindsay Lohan. It seems that alongside shopping for fair trade coffee, chocolate and fruit you may increasingly be able to shop for fair trade or environmentally friendly shoes, dresses, t-shirts, jeans... Call it 'smart dress' if you like...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

212: airtight energy consumption

There are elaborate steps being taken to make households and communities sustainable these days - particularly in the UK, but (as evident from RTBH post 208) in many other countries too. Today's linked article from the UK's Guardian newspaper suggests there is one simple thing you can do to make your home energy efficient, however - make it airtight. The article suggests that by sealing out draughts and using well-designed windows to capture the sun's energy when required (or to block it out when necessary) household energy use is significantly reduced. In its purest form, this is called 'passive housing' - and a great 'new build' example from Ireland is explored in the article. For the rest of us, draught proofing windows, insulating lofts and installing cavity wall insulation will all cut energy consumption in meaningful ways. Good news for the environment - and your wallet too.

Friday, May 9, 2008

211: Kashmiri conflict nearing the end?

Today's linked article from the San Francisco Chronicle sounds a note of hope for the people of Kashmir. Conflict in the region, particularly on the Indian side of the border with Pakistan, has raged for around two decades, during which time it has claimed around 43,000 lives. It has also devastated the region economically. But now, there are signs that peace is being restored. Violence in the region has reached its lowest level in 20 years, say analysts, and there were 777 conflict-related deaths in 2007, compared to more than 4,500 in 2001. Still too many, but there is a growing sense that fighting is drawing to a close, thanks in part to diplomatic efforts by India and Pakistan, and a desire amongst many Kashmiris to get back to 'business'. And they are - tourists are returning to the region and related infrastructure is expanding. As the article points out, until a political settlement is reached, the potential for violence remains. But for now there is hope - and some evidence of the prosperity that peace could bring. That may just be enough...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

210: empowering farmers in Tanzania

In the midst of a global food crisis, you would be forgiven for concluding that African farmers are battling against the grain (pardon the pun) in their efforts to feed themselves and their communities. But today's linked article from the BBC suggests otherwise. It details efforts in Tanzania, supported by the UN and others, to empower farmers to negotiate better prices in the marketplace - thereby keeping their farms going, feeding their own families and many others in the process. Alongside providing loans to farmers to help them buy high-yield seeds, equipment and fertilizer, initiatives such as the Agricultural Marketing Systems Development Programme are helping farmers get access to information about commodity prices, so they know when to sell their crop and for how much. In Tanzania, this includes 'market spies' texting information to farmers on their mobile phones! Another great example of new technologies and new strategies changing lives for the better. (Photo from BBC online.)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

209: private recital for taxi driver

This is a lovely story. You may already have heard about violinist Philippe Quint, who left his old and valuable violin in the back of a New York taxi recently - only to have it returned to him by the taxi's driver, who tracked Quint down (after the musician had frantically contacted the police and other local authorities). To demonstrate his gratitude, Quint gave a 30 minute concert in honour of the taxi driver, Mohamed Khalil - in the taxi waiting area at Newark Airport! He has also invited Khalil and his family to his concert at the more glamorous venue of Carnegie Hall later this year. Today's linked article from the BBC gives more detail on the story and a video of Quint's airport performance (though sadly I couldn't get it to play... boo...).

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

208: building the city of the future - today

This is the most exciting thing I have seen in quite a while! If you only click on my post title links once, do it today! For a start, today's linked article from NPR has it all - text, audio and video - so it's very entertaining. But the story itself is truly inspirational. It outlines groundbreaking plans for a carbon neutral city that will be built over the next decade in the United Arab Emirates. Masdar City, which will house 50,000 people, will run on renewable energy, recycle its waste and water, and blend modern and traditional architectural styles to create comfortable housing that can withstand a desert climate. But the centerpiece of this project is its 'personal rapid transit' system (reminiscent of Blade Runner, apparently - how cool is that?!) - communal transport pods that the rider can program to travel to their chosen destination. You really have to watch the video... It's a grand vision of how people could live more sustainably in future - except that the future is only 10 years away...

Monday, May 5, 2008

207: a stroke, but not out

A really moving and uplifting personal tale today, from BBC online. Dr Satinder Sanghera is a doctor in the UK - but she very nearly wasn't. At the age of just 20, she suffered a sudden and significant stroke, which robbed her of the movement on one side of her body and left her unable to speak for some time. She was told she would never recover sufficiently to continue medical school, but one consultant stuck by her, supporting her recovery and persuading her university to let her recommence training. Satinder threw herself into her recovery programme and, 22 years later, she is a general practitioner - a family doctor - in County Durham and celebrating her fifteenth year in the profession. She says it's only now that she feels able to talk about her ordeal and can feel proud of her achievements. Others seem proud of her, though, with the Stroke Association praising her determination and courage in the pursuit of her goals in the face of huge difficulty. I can only agree. Inspirational.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

206: the happy list

I came across an interesting initiative by the UK's Independent on Sunday (IoS) newspaper today. The paper has recently published a list of 100 people that make the UK a happier place to live. As today's linked article reports, 'the Happy List' was created as a counterbalance to the UK's annual 'Rich List' (the country's 100 richest people), which has been produced by the UK's Sunday Times newspaper for many years. The Happy List will now be an annual fixture, having proven very popular with the IoS's readership. If you click on the post title above, you can not only access today's article, but also the 2008 Happy List itself, which does make interesting and uplifting reading. (I was surprised to learn, however, that when the Wall Street Journal asked its readership whether the US should also have a Happy List, the response was negative... RTBH has loads of US readers! There is definitely demand for hope, inspiration and happiness here!)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

205: computing in Cuba

Some dramatic scenes from Cuba today, via this article from Associated Press. Raul Castro's government lifted yet another restriction yesterday, as PCs went on sale to the public for the first time in Havana. Only one model, the Chinese manufactured and Cuban assembled QTECH PC, is available. But even this drew significant crowds - some to buy and many others just to look... and dream: the PC retails for around $780 in a country where the average government wage is around $20 a month. Those who do splash out have often saved for many years to do so. And many of these customers are students - or parents investing in their kids' futures, hoping the PCs will be used for homework more than for entertainment. This hope may not be in vain, since Cuban households cannot yet connect to the internet, so surfing or online gaming aren't options - though surely that restriction can't survive much longer? Cuba is changing, and fast... (Photo one of a slideshow from AP.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

204: understanding trees better

This is an interesting little story. As CBS News reported today, the New York Botanical Garden is embarking on a new endeavour to map the genetic code of the world's tree species. Starting with a two-year project called TreeBOL (tree barcode of life), the garden's scientists and others from 40 institutions across the world will capture the DNA of thousands of species across the US, Malaysia, India and South Africa. This will form the basis of a new DNA database, which it is hoped will ultimately contain the DNA of all the world's tree species (some 100,000 or so). Why is this useful? Well, as the CBS article points out, we need to understand trees better to know what they offer us, where they thrive and how to protect them. TreeBOL offers all that, apparently for just $600k! Money well spent, I reckon. (Photo from AP/CBS News.)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

203: old treasures uncovered off Namibian coast

An amazing discovery has been made off the coast of Namibia, by diamond mining company Namdeb. As today's linked article from the South African Times newspaper reports, the miners exposed a shipwreck containing treasures that appear to be around 500 years old. They include bronze cannons, pewter tableware, navigational instruments... and thousands of Spanish and Portuguese gold coins, which appear to have been minted in the 15th and 16th centuries. The date marks the wrecked ship as a possible contemporary of the fleets of great explorers like Vasco da Gama, Columbus and Diaz, and it is therefore a potentially very significant find. It's also a great reminder of the rich history of human civilization: of how far we've come and how far we have to go...