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Archive for March, 2009

Three stories about orphans in Africa in today’s news are overlapping interestingly.

The first is a follow the the story I posted recently on the new flap over Madonna’s efforts to adopt again, and the reaction of a guy named Nutt from Save the Children.

He’s now ramping up the media attention with an appearance on CNN and rehashing his hash.

Well, would it not be better to solve the problems of Malawi and help Malawians solve their own problems by educating their children and feeding their children and helping their children so they can get off that cycle of poverty? Not just literally transporting the whole population of Malawi.

That dovetails nicely into this report out of Ghana that starts off with numbers:

Available statistics collated by Ghana AIDS Commission indicate that about 160,000 children have been made orphans through HIV/AIDS in the country.

Then, this one out of Kenya states that 2.5 million orphans in that country will be shifted from children’s homes to relatives.

It seems that the Kenyan government is looking to “trace the orphan’s relatives” because, according to the Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, “We want to ensure that these orphans lead a humane life. We want to link them with relatives, where they will live a good life with other children.”

Good luck with that.

How families as poor as most in Kenya are are to be expected to absorb 2.5 million children, in addition to the large families they already have, is a question not addressed, although the country is in the process of amending their Children Act to penalize abusers.

“We have had an increase in defilement, child labour and child neglect cases, and the amendments will ensure the perpetrators are equally punished,” she warned.

… Kenyan children were at a higher risk of trafficking since the country was a transit, selling and receiving centre.

Unhelpfully, Mr. Nutt chose to lob a crap grenade into any potential discussions that might include the fact that there are so few options for so many children:

But we know from our case studies in working in Liberian orphanages that in many cases, these children are [picked] off the Internet, without much research going on, and sometimes it doesn’t work out, and the children can be sent back to their own country. And all that has happened is that that child’s life has been messed around with.

I’d like to see his stats on that, then sit down with some Liberian kids without families their opinions.

So … what do we have here?

Save the Children attempting to prop up the notion that organizations like theirs have it within their power to turn Africa around and make it a peachy place to be born … soliciting donations all the way.

Ghana trying hard to address the issues of the devastation of AIDS in their part of the continent through education and development projects … just up Save the Children’s alley and part of their mandate for the past 30+ years. And, gee, problem solved, heh?

Kenya passing the buck big time as they shove 2.5 million kids off their rolls and into homes where they will do little but add to the strain of families barely making it, thereby guaranteeing that many of these children will be worked, starved and abused.

Three stories, one news day.

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_45430494_dementia_466-1A new study in Britain suggests that a rise in the age of compulsory schooling there some 50 years ago may be responsible for a slow down in dementia rates amongst the elderly today.

Referring to what a Cambridge University Professor calls an “epidemic of dementia”, it is reported that around 700,000 people in the UK have dementia with expectations of the number to rise to 1.7 million by 2051. (More on dementia … fact, figures, treatments, etc. here)

The study suggests that increasing the number of neural connections in the brain in youth, a natural consequence of learning, has benefits beyond just being smarter and more interested and interesting throughout life.

Makes sense to me all the way around. After all, like Doritos in a bag, the more there are to begin with, the later you’re left with just the crumbs.

One issue is, however, the fact that people are living longer, and although the knee jerk reaction to that is usually YIPEE, the reality is less chirpy.

Yes, there are the examples trotted out regularly of the spry 90-year-old kickboxing university professor who just fathered triplets … or something like that … but those people are so far out on the fringes of the normal that, although inspiring, the impression left is misleading.

Being old is hard. It is also uncomfortable, frustrating and frightening. And no matter what, it always ends up the same way.

Why it is that our species, or at least the culture most blog readers share, has a hard time getting their heads around the fact that everybody dies never ceases to amaze me. It is, after all, the one thing we can all count on.

The most basic premise before us all is: No one gets out of this alive.

Pushing the edges of the envelope on this is futile, and although long life sounds dandy to the young and healthy, ask most of the aged how much fun they’re having and the answer will very often be, “not much”.

Exactly what it is about dead that people find so scary and has them attempting to stay off the day is puzzling for me. For one thing, it seems to get in the way of the living part that life is really about. If a person accepts the fact that life is short and then you die, they’d be far more likely to enjoy the time they do have, not procrastinate on happiness and would spend far less precious energy fretting over details that are a waste of time.

In my mind, it’s about quality, not quantity, and if my life turns out to be short in comparison to others … well, I will have given up my seat on this bus, making room for someone else to enjoy the ride.

It is my job to use my time to justify my use of resources, do what I can to make other lives as pleasant as I can and enjoy what can be enjoyed. Not an easy mandate for sure, but that’s life.

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I did some bloggy housecleaning last night and accidentally deleted this post.
Forgive the rerun, but I like it and want to keep it up.

The moon is still a very long way from setting into the Indian Ocean, and so bright that it has dimmed my stars. The Big Dipper … upside-down on this side of the Equator, which is why here it is called the Plow … has lost its usual impact on the night sky, but is hanging before me, indicating, as always, North.

North … roots, history, family, Ernesto. I long for North, and sometimes the pull of that Pole is strong.

It’s the Southern Sky that covers me now, and has for thirteen years. I’ve grown to know it, and on mornings like this during the pause between darkness and dawn, I love it more than I ever recall loving a sky before.

Loving it, I worship.

Straight from my bed perched on the edge of sky, I rise, and naked I stretch out on my balcony and moonbathe. Even this grand and bright, this huge moon’s light brings no heat, unlike the golden sun that waits just over the island to brown my skin with its rays, but it pours through air that is amniotic … warm, wet, all-enfolding … and brushes my body with silver.

I would like to close my eyes and shine, but don’t want to miss a minute of the beauty before me, this gift of light, so I stare in wonder and search the moon’s well-known face that stares back at me and smiles.

Luna.

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Here we go again …

OMG! Celebrity adoption in the news … yawn … and it jump starts the backlash. Sheesh.

Okay, so it is Madonna, and although she may be named after the muthah of all mothers (in the Saddam Hussein sense, that is) there is consensus that June Cleaver she is not, but …

For Save the Children to react like this just annoys the socks I don’t wear right off my itchy feet.

Save the Children spokesman Dominic Nutt told the BBC’s Newshour programme: “For the most part so-called orphans in poor countries tend to have family still available to them, if not actually a parent still living.

“It is vital, we say, that children should not be taken abroad to be looked after but should be cared for in their own environment by their own community, ideally by their own family, particularly their extended family.”

Yeah … I do note that the guy’s a Nutt, which he proves nicely with:

“You cannot literally take every poor child who may only have one parent living, or no parent living, across the world and transport them all into Kensington in London. It’s not a solution.”

Gee … I wonder how much he gets paid to come up with such simplistic tripe?

Here’s a hint to agenda from him: “The thing to do is to support the community, to support local agencies and charities who can look after the child so that the child is at least cared for in their community.” (emphasis added)

Okay. One more time …

Malawi is in Africa. Much of Africa is dirt poor, disease-ridden, starvation-plagued, violent, corrupt and over-populated to the point where quality of life issues begin and end with millions of kids being dead before they are five years old.

Two kids who could end up in the category of dead will instead grow up in a rarefied atmosphere with an obnoxious mother who has more money than the GNP of some African countries.

This does in no way indicate that every poor orphan in the world will suffer the same fate as David and Mercy, nor does it mean that Save the Children execs are going to be put out of a job any time soon.

It may mean that the world will suffer the public personality flaws of two more publicity-hungry spoiled brats in a few years, but Paris Hilton … not an adoptee, by the way … will have faded into a Gabor sister by then and the rags will be needing new fodder.

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Writing the other day as I did on medical research that sounds hopeful, I was primed for sciency topics, so this post on my friend Grant’s blog … the ever-interesting and always entertaining Guild of Scientific Troubadours, where science meets music, shakes hands and dances … caught my eye and held it long enough to create no little despair.

Referring to an article from Science Daily titled American Adults Flunk Basic Science, Grant is apparently as bemused as I am over the results of a survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences that found that:

* Only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

* Only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time.

* Only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water.*

* Only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.

Also worrying is the discovery that “40% of U.S. adults say they are ‘not at all knowledgeable’ about sustainability.”

Well, of course they’re not, thinking that “The Flintstones” is a documentary series and clueless about what makes a year a year and all.

Feel free to test your science savvy here … and while you’re on the site you can launch the penguin cam and learn something about monogamy … and a species that needs ours to really grasp the concept of sustainability.

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Big thanks to a reader for the heads up on this article on the state of the economy in Seychelles.

… Seychelles now has the unenviable stature of being perhaps the most indebted country in the world. Public and private debt totals $800 million – roughly the size of the country’s entire economy.

In every country in the world … to a greater or lesser degree, of course … excessive spending, poor management and political ass-covering drop a bottom line below the bootstrap level that would allow pulling up in times of global economic meltdown.

Not all that long ago, I would have suggested that a move toward countries being run more like businesses would have been a step in a responsible direction, but now it’s pretty clear that the sort of mismanagement government machines are noted for is writ big in the corporate world after all.

The phrase “a world of hurt” comes to mind a lot these days.

Shit.

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NIBSC/Photo Researchers A colored scanning electron micrograph of a T-lymphocyte blood cell (green) infected with Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

NIBSC/Photo Researchers A colored scanning electron micrograph of a T-lymphocyte blood cell (green) infected with Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

With the high horse of self righteous condemnation being put out to pasture, many health issues … stem cell use is a good example … should see the glaring light of day.

One that’s new to me (Thanks, Robbie!) and has me jumping for hopeful joy is active research in microbicides … a possible method of preventing the transmission of HIV that would allow people to protect themselves without having to count on the cooperation of sexual partners.

There is progress on the development of gels that can be applied discreetly and are undetectable, but stop the virus from passing one from one person to another.

As this article from the NY Times illustrates, insistence on condom use can and does frequently result in immediate consequences that make safeguarding self impossible …

Women in poor countries need a vaginal gel that blocks the AIDS virus but not sperm because many still want children. They also need one that can be inserted secretly: for too many women, any action that implies that a partner is infected is likely to result in a beating.

Rape is also common in cases of resistance to sexual advances from infected husbands, and domestic abuse is not limited to adults, and if the simple application of a readily available substance can keep the horrible damage to the trauma of the time … and that truly is all that is possible for hundreds of thousands … the world will be a better place.

Please pass the word and support and encourage continuing research into this ray of hope.

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