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...


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.


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.


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.)


DON'T FORGET TO VOTE! If you're enjoying RTBH, please vote for it in the Bloggers Choice Awards 2008, using the button opposite. Votes will soon close though, so do it quick!! Many, many thanks!

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?


VOTE FOR REASONS TO BE HOPEFUL! Voting is drawing to a close in this year's Bloggers Choice Awards, and RTBH is hanging on in there on the leader board for Best Blog of All Time... I'm up against some big fish, though, and it looks like I might drop off the leader board tomorrow... :-( So, if you enjoy RTBH and have not yet voted, please consider doing so. If you'd like to vote, click on the button opposite and register, and then vote. (You have to register before you can vote, and to do so you must enter a birthdate in the US format - month/day/year.) Many, many thanks in advance!

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...?