Thursday, July 31, 2008

294: several new species discovered in Guyana

There were some wonderful tales - and pictures - from the BBC today, of several fish and other species recently discovered in the Amazon. As today's linked article reports, a team of researchers and film-makers recently spent six weeks in the rainforest in southern Guyana, searching for new species to document. They apparently found and captured hundreds of species, as many as 10% of which may be newly documented. These include two fish species, one frog species and several types of bat fly. The aim of their documentary series is to highlight the uniqueness of the Guyanese rainforest environment and the need to protect it. With images like the one here, of a sabre-tooth fish, they're certainly going to attract attention!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

293: breakthrough in Alzheimer's research

I must say that, since I started this daily blog nearly 10 months ago, I've read a lot of promising news about Alzheimer's research. Indeed, two major stories appeared in the media today about completely different strands of research. I'm posting one of these here, with a linked article from the UK's Sky News website. Apparently, UK scientists have developed a new drug, Rember, which slows the progression of Alzheimer's by as much as 81%. It does this by targeting the 'tau tangles' that develop in sufferers' brains, which first destroy nerve cells related to memory and then attack other parts of the brain. If further tests are successful, the drug could be available by 2012.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

292: Iraq will go to the games

As the world gears up for the 2008 Olympics, at least two athletes now look set to represent Iraq in Beijing. As today's linked article from Al Jazeera reports, Iraq had been banned by the IOC from fielding a team at the games, following irregularities in the appointment of its national Olympic committee. However, today, the IOC rescinded and allowed two track and field athletes to register - though five other Iraqis have missed their chance as the registration deadline for their sports has passed. It would have been sad indeed for Iraq to miss out. At the Athens Olympics in 2004, team Iraq was 25 strong - and its football (soccer) team reached the semi-finals to the surprise and delight of Iraq's citizens. As the article points out, sport has the potential to bring people together and offer them hope even when life is at its harshest. And for the athletes concerned, many of whom train outside Iraq for their own safety, Olympic competition is a rare reward for their significant efforts. Not something to take away lightly... (Photo of Iraq's Olympic team in Athens from AP/Al Jazeera.)

Monday, July 28, 2008

291: thousands of electoral observers due in Rwanda

News today that Rwanda is to host at least 3000 local and international observers when it holds parliamentary elections in September. As today's linked article from Rwandan paper The New Times reports (via, accreditation of the observers is now underway and some have already arrived in Rwanda from the EU and elsewhere. All eyes will be on Rwanda following the electoral disputes and violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and elsewhere across the continent. So it's good to see democratic safeguards in place here, in a country that has managed to rebuild itself in recent years following the 1990s genocide. There is much at stake.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

290: the benefits of slow development

I am totally exhausted tonight so won't be long... But I was intrigued by this story in the UK's Guardian newspaper today (though it was actually published a few days ago I noticed). It discusses some of the potentially positive impacts of the current economic downturn - namely the opportunity to take stock of our development pathway and its sustainability. The article cites the slower pace of UK house building specifically, suggesting that there is now a chance to reevaluate the siting, architecture, energy supply etc of proposed developments, as some will be put on hold. It's an interesting perspective. Certainly, it's evident in the US that the current concern over oil prices is beginning to focus minds on sustainable energy supply. Could this prompt a broader reassessment of the established growth model? Well, maybe...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

289: stimulating change through film

This is a very interesting article, from today's BBC online coverage. Apparently, a groundbreaking film has been released in Egypt, which tackles the issue of mutual suspicion and intolerance between the country's Muslim majority and its Christian minority. The film, Hassan and Morqos, focuses on two men from either side of the religious and cultural divide. Both have gone into hiding after being threatened by extremists in their respective communities - and so they meet. They become friends, open a business together and their children fall in love. So it is a tale of possibilities won through tolerance - though many characters in the film give voice to commonly held prejudices (apparently this frankness is a first in Egyptian film). The film's cast and director believe it will prompt discussion - and hopefully greater understanding - between the two religious communities. Film is one of the few media that may have the power to do that, so it's definitely worth the investment. I'd love to see it myself!

Friday, July 25, 2008

288: further steps towards peace in Cyprus

Regular RTBH readers may remember post 162 back in March, when Cypriot authorities reopened the crossing point in Nicosia between northern and southern Cyprus. At the same time, they agreed to restart talks on reunification. As today's linked article from the Turkish Press reports, a process has now been outlined for these talks. In a meeting earlier today, President Demetris Christofias, a Greek Cypriot, and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat settled on 3 September as the date to launch fresh negotiations and also agreed that any outcome would be put to simultaneous referenda in north and south. Slowly but surely, what would seem to be a serious and committed peace process is evolving. Let's hope this constructive spirit continues.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

287: gender equality achieved mathematically

The results of an interesting study have just been released, showing that the US gender gap in mathematic achievement appears to have closed. As today's linked article from CBS News reports, a team of researchers analyzed test results for more than 7 million students across ten US states, something that can now be done following test standardization through No Child Left Behind. They found no difference between boys' and girls' results, from second grade through to eleventh. The researchers believe this underscores the argument that expectations, rather than aptitude, have driven girls away from mathematics and related career choices, at least until now. This is important not just for mathematics, but for the way we educate our children. How often do we make assumptions about what kids can do, or who they are? Hope - and equality of opportunity - would seem to arise from a change in attitude. (Photo from AP/CBS.)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

286: new HIV drug hailed as a 'breakthrough'

Some promising news today in the fight against HIV and AIDS. As today's linked article from The Canberra Times reports, Australian researchers have reported excellent outcomes from the trial of a new HIV drug, raltegravir. The 500 patients involved in the trial had stopped responding to their previous treatments. Raltegravir offered hope as it is an 'integrase inhibitor', a completely new type of drug. As such it has been described as a 'breakthrough' - and certainly the results from Australia are exciting. The new drug has to be used in combination with others, but, when it was, the Australian researchers found it rendered the HIV virus undetectable in 62% of patients. For those with diminishing treatment options, this could be very good news indeed.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

285: keeping girls at home and in school in Nepal

Today's linked article, from the San Francisco Chronicle, is a great insight into one woman's quest to help others. Olga Murray lives in Sausalito for six months of the year, but she spends the rest of her time in Nepal. She has lived there on and off since the mid-1980s when she was a volunteer. She discovered then that many poor families were selling their daughters into servitude to make ends meet. Shocked and disturbed by this, Murray came up with the idea that if the families had pigs or other animals to raise and sell, coupled with support to put girls through school, then the daughters might be able to return and stay home. She convinced 32 families to try this experiment at first, and it worked. Since then, her organization, the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation, has kept around 3000 girls from slavery in the Tharu district and has begun to replicate this success in nearby Bardiya, where about 500 girls have been freed from indentured labour since January this year. Many of these girls have become passionate advocates against servitude. Meanwhile, Murray - now aged 83 - continues her own fundraising, campaigning and oversight of NYOF schools, scholarships and other activities. What an inspiration!

Monday, July 21, 2008

284: Karadzic to face trial at last

I don't think I've yet had a day when a story leapt out at me quite like today's linked article did. As reports, one of the world's most wanted men, the war crimes suspect Radovan Karadzic, was arrested in Serbia today. He was immediately turned over to the investigative judge of the Special War Crimes Court in Belgrade. Karadzic was indicted in 1995 by the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, for genocide relating to the deaths of around 8000 Muslims in Srebrenica during the Bosnian war of 1992-1995, but it's thought he may have ordered the killing of many more people. Since then, he has been in hiding, and less than 24 hours ago Serbian officials maintained they had no idea where he was. Now, however, subject to formal confirmation of his identity, Karadzic looks set to face trial. It is hoped that he will ultimately be joined at the tribunal by other fugitives implicated during the Balkan wars, such as Serb military leader Ratko Mladic. Maybe the road is finally running out... (Photo from

Sunday, July 20, 2008

283: Costa Rica's best athelete carries hope to Olympics

This is a lovely story, about determination to succeed against the odds but with the love and support of one's family. It's from the BBC, who are running a series currently on athletes overcoming significant challenges to get to the Olympics in Beijing. (That reminded me of the earlier RTBH post about Oscar Pistorius, the South African 'blade runner', who sadly just missed the Olympic qualifying time for the 400m the other day and will now compete in the Paralympics.) Today's linked article is about Costa Rican sprinter, Nery Brenes, who has been hailed as the best athlete ever to emerge from the small Central American nation. He comes from the run-down port of Limón, which is currently plagued with gang violence. He trained as a youngster on a track that is now overgrown and struggled to get financial support for many years - though his family believed in him, as did his coach. He made it to the World Indoor Championships earlier this year, where he came fourth in the 400m, then donated his prize money to poor families in Limón. What an inspirational athlete. I'll definitely cheer him on in August! (Picture from BBC online.)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

282: stolen Picasso found accidentally in Brazil

Today's linked article, from the International Herald Tribune, reports that one of the Picasso paintings stolen from a gallery in Sao Paulo earlier this year has been recovered. Interestingly, though, the Brazilian police who found the painting weren't looking for it. They were wire-tapping three men they suspected of planning thefts from banks and ATMs when the Picasso was mentioned. The men were then arrested, and one revealed the location of the painting - in an attic, in a plastic bag, apparently in perfect condition. I suppose that's what you'd call a happy accident.

Friday, July 18, 2008

281: hope at ninety

If there is one person on this planet who epitomises hope it is Nelson Mandela. To keep hope alive, not just in his own heart but in that of so many others, during the many years of his imprisonment and beyond... an amazing achievement in itself, ultimately rewarded with freedom for the nation. Today, Mandela turned 90. The birthday celebrations began long ago, of course, and will continue for much longer, with his main party tomorrow. He used the opportunity today to make a speech calling upon the wealthier segments of South African society to do more to help the poorest. I've linked to the rather nice compilation of photos from Mandela's birthday celebrations (and a few older photos from last year) on South African news site Tonight. Happy Birthday, Madiba! Here's to many more years of hope and happiness. (Photo from AFP / Tonight.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

280: US Senate votes to repeal travel ban on those with HIV

I hadn't even realized that, as things stand currently, the US prevents HIV-positive people from entering the country. According to today's linked article from All Headline News (AHN), 12 other countries maintain similar restrictions. But things may be about to change in the US at least, as the Senate voted yesterday to repeal the ban, which has been in place for more than two decades. The provision to end the ban was sponsored by Democrat Senator John Kerry and Republican Senator Gordon Smith, as part of the PEPFAR reauthorization measure (aimed at tackling HIV and AIDS in developing countries). The Senate passed that measure 80-16, allocating more money to it than President Bush originally requested! All in all, a hopeful day in both the fight against HIV/AIDS and the battle against discrimination.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

279: record number of rare white lions born in Germany

Hmm... another animal story. Though this is really a tale of survival - the relative resurgence of a species. According to today's linked article from German newspaper Der Spiegel, a record seven white lion cubs were born at a safari park outside Dortmund recently. This is pretty significant, because white lions - the result of a genetic mutation in lions originally from South Africa's Kruger national park and a nearby game reserve - are extinct in the wild. Indeed, there are thought to be only around 200 remaining worldwide. Of these, the German safari park, Stukenbrock, hosts 24. They live alongside other rare animals including a zebroid (yes, that's a horse-zebra hybrid)... How's that for celebrating diversity? (Photo from Der Spiegel online.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

278: koala has narrow escape

I'm never too sure about cutesy animal tales, but this one's a little different - and definitely good news for the animal concerned. According to today's linked article from the BBC, a koala in Australia had a narrow escape recently when it was hit by a car, then found later with its head wedged in the car's front grill. The woman driving the car said she saw the koala but she assumed she hadn't hit it when she checked in her rear view mirror and saw nothing - she saw it (from the rear) later, though, when she made a stop just outside Brisbane. The koala, now known as Lucky Grills, had a health check at a wildlife hospital, which showed that he had - amazingly - suffered no injuries. (Photo from BBC online.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

277: sticking it to the malaria parasite

There was some very interesting and promising news about malaria research today. I am linking to the report from the Times of India, which was the most comprehensive. Apparently, Australian scientists have identified the eight specific proteins the malaria parasite uses to produce a 'glue', which in turn makes the red blood cells they've infected 'sticky'. The red blood cells then latch onto the walls of blood vessels, allowing the parasite to rapidly reproduce. But, the Australian research team found that removing just one of the eight proteins rendered the parasite unable to make 'glue'. As a result, the human body can clear affected cells more easily. Fascinating! It's thought that this new discovery could aid the development of both drugs and vaccines for malaria. A long term goal, perhaps, but today saw a promising head start.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

276: a good night's sleep does you good

Today's linked article, from the UK's Guardian newspaper, is definitely good news - provided you can get a good night's sleep, I guess! Apparently, scientists from the University of Geneva have recently concluded research indicating that our brains do indeed work on problems and consolidate learning whilst we're asleep. So, there you go. If something's bothering you (or you have an exam tomorrow) 'sleeping on it' really should help. Talking of which, it's my bedtime...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

275: sports facilities open their doors - for free

Today's linked article, from the UK's Independent newspaper, documents a very interesting experiment being carried out in Blackburn, England. Apparently, the area's local authority - Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council - has decided to introduce free leisure services to those living and working there, in response to recent figures showing that local people exercised significantly less than the average Briton and died 8 years earlier. The scheme is being phased in gradually and by early 2009 a wide range of activities - such as swimming, aerobics, volleyball and badminton - will be free to all. Early signs are positive, with many new membership cards being issued by local sports centres in response to much higher demand - over-50s have free access as of now. Sounds like something worth replicating. In fact, it will be replicated in part: by 2012, all public swimming baths will be free according to current UK government policy. It will definitely be interesting to see whether and how this translates into improved health and well-being, and lower healthcare costs, over the long term.

Friday, July 11, 2008

274: Long-lost siblings reunited after 66 years

This is such a beautiful story, which seems to reflect so much of life's joy and tragedy. The article, from CNN, tells of Irene Famulak and her brother, Wssewolod Galezkij. The two Ukrainian siblings were separated in 1942, when Nazis came and took Irene and her older sister away to a labour camp in Germany. Later, Wssewolod also went to work in a camp. Somehow, both Irene and Wssewolod survived the Holocaust, but whereas he returned to the Ukrainian SSR, she stayed in Germany for a while and then moved to the US. For many years, they were unable to trace one another, as relevant papers were withheld by the Soviet authorities. But in the late 1980s and 1990s, the USSR collapsed and policies towards Holocaust survivors changed. So eventually, aided by the Red Cross, Wssewolod managed to trace his sister. This week, Irene flew to Ukraine to be reunited with her brother. Naturally, there were many tears - for the years lost, but also for the joy of finding each other once again. (Photo from CNN.)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

273: cricket league for Sierra Leone's women

This is a fascinating article from Sierra Leone's online newspaper the Concord Times (via Apparently, just a few months after women's cricket was introduced to the country, a female league is about to be established. Competitive league games will start in October, alongside the established men's league. The Sierra Leone Cricket Association started the women's team with just 8 players, but already has 45. And, as campaigns are underway to bring girl's cricket to schools, it is hoped that the sport will be well-supplied with future players. In a country that only recently emerged from civil war and where any human rights, including women's rights, were almost impossible to realize, it's amazing to see how far things have come - this is yet another expression of that progress.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

272: Australia cleans its coal

Well, I am having one of those great blogging experiences tonight - accessing the Internet through a weak phone signal in the middle of nowhere... Joy! But I did manage to find this story in The Australian, about new technologies being tested in Australia that can remove and sequester the CO2 emissions from coal fired power plants. Australia isn't the only country testing such technologies, but as local households currently get around 80 percent of their energy from coal the situation is pretty urgent. You have to hope that renewables will play a major role too, but that transition will take a long time and in the meantime this could help make energy cleaner.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

271: Brazil lifts millions out of poverty

Amidst all the articles documenting economic woe, it was great to find one giving a contrasting tale. Today's linked article from Reuters charts recent patterns of economic growth in Brazil, which would seem to be benefiting some of the country's poorest people. The article reports World Bank statistics showing that the incomes of the poorest 10% of the population grew by 9% between 2002 and 2006, compared to around 2% to 4% for the richest. As a result, millions of people have shifted into Brazil's 'middle class'. In part at least, this is the result of government investment in infrastructure and services. However, access to financial services, enabling people to borrow and save - and invest in consumer goods like washing machines and TVs - has also played a major role. Of course, many remain distanced from this new prosperity, and the Reuters article tells this side of the story too. But if the government can sustain the right levels of public investment in the right places, and ideally introduce a more progressive tax regime, there is surely hope that many more millions will leave poverty behind them in the years to come.

Monday, July 7, 2008

270: China tackles corruption in quake relief

Regular RTBH readers may remember an article I posted a while back (post 222) that suggested corruption in construction projects had resulted in poor quality buildings not able to withstand the recent earthquake in Sichuan. With that still in my mind, today's linked article from the BBC leapt out at me. It tells of recent efforts by the Chinese government to cut down on corruption in the use of funds and goods donated to earthquake victims. These efforts include no fewer than 10,000 auditors being dispatched to Sichuan to ensure funds are well spent! So far, 12 local officials have been sacked and a further 31 have been reprimanded. As the article says, corruption is endemic across Chinese society, but it's possible that this crackdown - in response to public outcry and donor concerns - may start to shift expectations. (Photo from BBC online.)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

269: UK drive to cut over-consumption

For years jokes have been made about the 'EU butter mountain'. Since I was a kid, and probably longer, parents have urged their children to finish their suppers and not to waste food that could otherwise feed those less fortunate. Today's linked article from the UK's Independent newspaper picks up on the sad irony that - according to a UK government report to be released tomorrow (Monday 7th) - UK consumers throw away around 4.1 million tonnes of excess food and that, even before then, poor processing, storage and transport result in about 40% of groceries going to waste. But, at last, it seems that the UK government is planning to act, by working with consumers, supermarkets, restaurants and others to reduce this waste. And it's hoping to persuade other G8 countries to do the same, and to take other steps to address the global food crisis, at the upcoming G8 Summit in Japan. Now, we shouldn't get too carried away - every year hope abounds prior to a G8 Summit, and everyone feels let down afterwards. But this policy move struck me as different - for a start, a 10-month research project precedes it, but it also makes good economic, social and environmental sense domestically. For example, the average UK household could save around £420 per year (about $800) if their food purchases more accurately reflected their needs. 'All things in moderation' is a maxim worth living by, it seems, and not just for one's own benefit. Come to think of it, that's another thing I've been hearing since I was a kid...

Saturday, July 5, 2008

268: Kenyan village gets return on investment

This is a lovely story, which has so much hope in it. Today's linked article comes from the Boston Globe. It tells the story of Milton Ochieng' and his brother, Fred, who hail from the small Kenyan village of Lwala. The village residents funded Milton's airfare to the US eight years ago so he could attend Dartmouth College. Fred followed a few years later. To repay their community's investment, the brothers decided to establish a clinic in their village and set about fundraising in the US. In fact, a documentary has recently been made about their efforts, which have resulted in a popular clinic that now sees around 100 patients a day. (At the end of the Boston Globe article, you can also link to the Lwala community alliance's website, which gives a lot more information about the village, the clinic and other projects that funds raised in the US and elsewhere are supporting.) It's a great story about giving back to one's community, about establishing links across borders, and about using modern technologies to aid development - there's even a YouTube video linked from the website...

Friday, July 4, 2008

267: Japan's environmental showcase

Japan's energy-efficient enterprises will have a chance to showcase their work next week, when several world leaders and their entourages drop in for the G8 Summit. And, as today's linked story from the New York Times reports, there will be plenty to look at - and think about. Japan's drive towards energy efficiency began in the 1970s when its high-tech economy was hit hard by the oil crisis and there was a pressing need to conserve fuel. As the article reports, even when that crisis abated, investment in clean, energy-efficient technologies continued, and conservation has become central to Japanese culture. As a result, the nation has a head-start when it comes to reducing natural resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, and is innovating in ways that could benefit us all - for example, by designing buildings that capture their own heat to generate electricity. Further, the Japanese government specifically wants to use the upcoming G8 Summit to push for commitments on energy-efficiency by the world's leading industrialized nations (see earlier posts, such as 106, for background). Now, who's gonna turn up and spoil that party, eh? Let's hope nobody does...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

266: Wal-Mart gets progressive

I do love it when I find good news in a trade journal. And today I found it in Progressive Grocer! Today's linked article can be found in the journal's rather interesting section on corporate social responsibility, and reports that supermarket giant Wal-Mart has recently made a number of commitments to source fresh produce locally. The company is defining 'local' as being within the same state as the store concerned, and says that such produce already makes up about 1/5 of its inventory. It is working with state and local departments of agriculture, too, to expand or reintroduce the growing of key crops in certain states - for example, corn in Mississippi. It will save Wal-Mart money by reducing transportation costs, but the trend has other benefits too. Reducing 'food miles' helps cut pollution and CO2 emissions. Customers often like to know where their food has come from and are reassured by local sourcing. So this is good news all round, especially if you are willing the world's largest retailer to be a more progressive grocer...


It's a leap year this year, so I reckon that means I have exactly 100 days to go until my 1-year experiment is through. I'm kind of surprised I got this far, actually! Keep on keeping on...

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

265: Joy as Colombian hostages freed at last

The day finally came. Today, the highest profile hostage held by FARC rebels in Colombia, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, was rescued along with 14 others. As today's linked article from Time magazine reports, Betancourt was seized by the FARC six years ago and has been used as a bargaining chip by the rebels ever since. Her rescue today is widely seen as a huge blow to the FARC, who are losing popular support, seeing their members defect, and witnessing the demise of their leadership. The nature of the rescue was itself humiliating - Colombian military officers had infiltrated the FARC and ultimately tricked the rebels into handing the hostages over and letting them board disguised military helicopters. Amazingly, nobody was hurt. It's too early to say whether the FARC might be ready to do a deal and put down their arms, but their options are narrowing. Meanwhile, for Betancourt and her fellow (now ex) hostages, the options just got a whole lot better. (Photo from Time.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

264: environment prioritised above economy in UK

This is a tale of the unexpected... Today's linked article from the UK's Guardian newspaper suggests that UK citizens wish to tackle environmental challenges ahead of economic woes. A recent poll conducted for the newspaper by ICM found that 52% of respondents thought the environment should be the UK government's top priority, compared to 44% who favoured the economy. This contradicts the assumption often made, for example by environmental economists, that people's support for environmental protection grows once they become well-off and diminishes when times are tougher. Indeed, middle-class respondents were least likely to prioritise the environment in the ICM poll. What does this tell us? Well, many respondents also said they would live more frugally as the recession bites. Could it be that moves to reduce consumption are now seen as both economically and environmentally sustainable, at least from a household perspective? In the UK at least, it seems as if pressure is building for a paradigm shift in economic thinking... An end to public policy myopia? That would be something!