actors scripts should not be part of medical care

a disastrous and suppressive ruling in south dakota. this forces doctors to read an unsound/unscientific SCRIPT to woman seeking an abortion procedure that references the procedure as one which: “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being.”


no match: power to the people.

— how beautifully metaphorical. it would be brilliant if we could gather up our consciousness and people-power like the Caribbean coral:

U.S. Military No Match for Caribbean Coral

By David Malakoff, ScienceNOW Daily News
When Bernhard Riegl began surveying coral reefs off the Puerto Rican island of Vieques a few years ago, he was prepared for the worst. For nearly 60 years, the U.S. Navy had used the island as a live-fire training ground for bomber pilots, naval gunners, and assault troops, who battered the area with tons of explosives. So the marine biologist wasn’t surprised when, on dives, he saw “shrapnel scattered around, this crater right in the reef, and a bomb sticking out of some coral.”

But things weren’t as bad as they seemed, Riegl and his colleagues report in the current issue of the Journal of Coastal Research. Surveys show that the reefs around Vieques are actually in slightly better shape than corals protected by nearby marine parks. “It wasn’t quite what some people expected,” says Riegl, a researcher at Nova Southeastern University in Dania, Florida.

That doesn’t mean that the Vieques reefs have had it easy. As at other Caribbean islands, disease and hurricanes appear to have devastated reefs in the island’s shallower waters. But overall, such natural disturbances appear to have done more damage than past military activity, the study concludes. “Germs and storms, rather than bombs … seem to have taken the worst toll,” the authors write.

Riegl’s team compared 24 coral plots at Vieques with six sites at the nearby island of St. Croix, where marine parks protect some reefs. Comparing features such as coral abundance and diversity, they found “surprisingly little differentiation” between the two islands–although some Vieques reefs were slightly more abundant. They also found few differences between sites squarely within the Vieques bombing range and those outside of it–although Riegl says it is clear that in a few places reefs were pulverized by explosions.

Ironically enough, the bombings might actually have helped protect the reefs, because the Navy closed much of the island to residential and tourist development during its occupation, says Riegl. And after the Navy left in 2003, much of the free-fire zone was turned into a wildlife refuge. As a result, Vieques avoided the polluted runoff and sediment from land-based development that have seriously damaged reefs elsewhere in the Caribbean.

“The take-home message seems to be that the most glaring problems–like bombing–might not be as serious in the long term as the quiet or silent problems, like runoff and development,” says David Niebuhr, a marine biologist who has done fieldwork at Vieques and now runs education programs at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida.

That’s true, but the new study may paint too bright a picture, says Edwin Hernández-Delgado, a marine biologist at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. He says other researchers have found that corals are less common in heavily bombed parts of the range and that nobody knows how thousands of unexploded shells may affect marine life. “These are major issues that need to be addressed” by scientists, he says, if they want to get “a more complete picture of long-term, sustained impacts of military operations.”

the verbosity epidemic

a very relevant piece in a time when the only NIH funding seems to be in completely ‘translational research’ that goes from ‘bed to the bedside’; case in point. well written.

The Verbosity Epidemic
Many public health initiatives cite the need for transparency in research. Clarity and honesty are integral to the value of study results, funding sources, and institutional, political, and individual involvement. However, transparency becomes more challenging as the language of international health becomes increasingly convoluted.The terminology used in the field of public health has developed into a code that is nearly incomprehensible. Commonplace vocabulary includes “capacity-strengthening,” “harmonization and alignment,” developing the “fiscal space” for countries “under stress” or with “special needs,” using “cluster strategies,” and “partnerships” between “NGOs, FBOs, CBOs.” But what do these terms actually mean?

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s Guidelines for Proposals (Round 7) is riddled with confusing language that puzzles even proficient English speakers and encourages misinterpretation. The response to frequently asked question number 76 (What is meant by “technical and management assistance”?) is “This phrase is intended to capture relevant forward-looking activities and costs identified as being appropriate to support and manage efficient, effective, equitable, and transparent implementation arrangements” (1). The language problem of this application process is so serious that the independent nongovernmental organization Aidspan has emerged with the goal of demystifying the application process (2).

Unfortunately, this new language is contagious. Applicants who use these terms are often successful. Large amounts of money have become available for research that involves important, expensive, but often ill-defined areas such as “minimizing the knowledge gap” (3). As a result, complexity and imprecision usually prevail. After all, who among us is going to risk losing millions of dollars in potential funding for programs or research by using plain English?

Rebecca F. Grais*
8 rue Saint Sabin
75011 Paris, France

Harvard Humanitarian Initiative
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:

References and Notes
1. The Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Round 7 Call for Proposals Documentation (
2. D. Garmaise, The Aidspan Guide to Round 7 Applications to the Global Fund (Aidspan, New York, 2007);
3. J. H. Remme et al., Trends Parasitol. 18, 421 (2002).

bike paths in real-time

neat piece from today’s tribune . . . i have used to gauge run/bike distances but this is pretty neat as well:
Imagine if…we could Mapquest bike routes

“The bicycle is the most efficient machine ever created: Converting calories into gas, a bicycle gets the equivalent of three thousand miles per gallon.” –Bill Strickland, The Quotable Cyclist.

They’re not fantasizing about a bike mapping tool in New York City; it exists. Ride the City, a much-needed Web site helps riders find the safest bike route between any two points in the five boroughs.

“The concept is pretty simple. Just like MapQuest, Google, Microsoft, and other mapping programs, Ride the City finds the shortest distance between two points. But there are two major differences. First, RTC excludes roads that aren’t meant for biking…Second, RTC tries to locate routes that maximize the use of bike lanes and greenways.”

I e-mailed the developers to find out when they’d be coming to Chicago. Programmer Jordan Anderson, an ex-Chicagoan, said he just needs “some local support to help with data cleanup.” You can e-mail him at

Stay tuned!

(If you live in Portland, Oregon or Milwaukee, Wisconsin, provides a bike routing service in those cities. You can also check out Google Maps ‘Bike There’ for other similar initiatives in other cities, according to the Ride the City FAQs section on its Web site.)

blue light lounge sutra for the performance poets at harold park hotel (yk)

the need gotta be
so deep words can’t
answer simple questions
all night long notes
stumble off the tongue
& color the air indigo
so deep fragments of gut
& flesh cling to the song
you gotta get into it
so deep salt crystalizes on eyelashes
the need gotta be
so deep you can vomit up ghosts
& not feel broken
till you are no more
than a half ounce of gold
in painful brightness
you gotta get into it
blow that saxophone
so deep all the sex & dope in this world
can’t erase your need
to howl against the sky
the need gotta be
so deep you can’t
just wiggle your hips
& rise up out of it
chaos in the cosmos
modern man in the pepperpot
you gotta get hooked
into every hungry groove
so deep the bomb locked
in rust opens like a fist
into it into it so deep
rhythm is pre-memory
the need gotta be basic
animal need to see
& know the terror
we are made of honey
cause if you wanna dance
this boogie be ready
to let the devil use your head
for a drum
(Yusef Komunyakaa)

world population day

(from the guttmacher instiute)
World Population Day—Six Reasons to Support Family Planning

July 11 marks World Population Day, an annual event that this year emphasizes the rights of individuals and couples to plan their own families. Currently, 500 million women in the developing world are using some form of family planning, thereby preventing 187 million unintended pregnancies, 60 million unplanned births, 105 million induced abortions, 2.7 million infant deaths, 215,000 maternal deaths and 685,000 children from losing their mothers due to pregnancy-related deaths each year.

However, another 200 million women throughout the developing world who would like to delay or limit their births lack access to contraceptives. Providing these women with the services they need would prevent an additional 52 million unintended pregnancies and 23 million unplanned births each year. Preventing pregnancies that are unintended and births that are unplanned means:

* Improving maternal health and child survival. Helping women avoid becoming pregnant too early, too late or too often benefits them and their children. Meeting the unmet need for contraceptives would further reduce global rates of maternal mortality by 35%, and a three-year interval between births in developing countries would further lower rates of infant mortality by 24% and rates of child mortality by 35%.
* Reducing the number of abortions overall, especially unsafe abortion. Closing the gap in the unmet need for contraceptives would further reduce the number of abortions worldwide by 64% each year. More than half of all abortions occurring in developing countries are unsafe, and fewer unsafe abortions would lead to fewer maternal deaths and injuries.
* Preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS. Improved access to condoms, both male and female, reduces the rate at which STIs, including HIV, are spread. Moreover, to the extent that HIV-positive women are better able to prevent unplanned pregnancies and births, they are also helping to reduce the rate of new HIV infections.
* Empowering women. Women who can control the number and timing of their children can take better advantage of educational and economic opportunities, improving their own future and that of their families.
* Promoting social and economic development and security. High population growth hampers poor countries’ economic development as their expanding populations compete for limited resources such as food, housing, schools and jobs. Rapid and unsustainable population growth renders societies more unstable and can lead to greater civil unrest.
* Protecting the environment. Since so many women worldwide want fewer children than their mothers did, increasing their access to voluntary family planning services will further slow population growth rates. Rapidly growing population exacerbates environmental degradation and strains the world’s resources.

Even though the benefits of investing in family planning are many and well documented, the United States is lagging far behind the financial commitments it made, along with other developed and developing countries, at the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development. According to that pledge, the United States should be funding family planning and reproductive health services at a level greater than $1 billion annually, twice as much as it is investing currently.
Please take a second and ask the 2008 presidential candidates to support the right to family planning:

voices of peace.

put together by friends and a few familiar faces from the bay. enjoy.

teen pregnancies and abstinence-only education (ridiculous)

Wrote a Letter to the Editor in response to an article (Teen pregnancies at 30-year low). I doubt it will get published, so here it is:


In the midst of pop-star teen pregnancies and the Massachusetts high school pregnancy-anomaly, thank you for publishing “Teen pregnancies at a 30-year low” (29 June 08). Nevertheless, though the 30-year trends of sexual activity in teens are down from 117 to 72 per 1,000 women (age 15-19), teens are having sex. The Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization focused on sexual and reproduction health research and education has compiled a focused epidemiological-analysis of sexual health practices of U.S. adolescents. By the age of 15, only 13% of teens have ever had sex. However, by the time they reach age 19, seven in 10 teens have engaged in sexual intercourse. If most of our youth are engaging in sex for the first time at 17, but are not in domestic-partnerships until their middle or late 20s this means that young adults are at risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for nearly a decade. Simply stated, a sexually active teen that does not use contraceptives has a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within a year. How do we morally juxtapose this with making sure that each child brought into this world is a wanted child and will be raised in a supportive environment?

Illinois has been on the forefront of many progressive health measures. In 2006 Blagojevich helped Illinois become the first state in the nation providing comprehensive health insurance for every child in Illinois. Just last week Senators Obama and McCain co-sponsored the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to allow for funding of health initiative to global HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Sexual education and family planning are health initiatives and in this vain we have to urge our elected officials to prohibit abstinence-only sex education funding in Illinois. Title V and Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grants are a misuse of tax dollars. Abstinence-only programs are inaccurate, ineffective, and incomplete in educating our youth on crucial sexual and reproductive health issues. Almost $8 million pours into Illinois each year from the federal government for abstinence-only programs. These programs censor what educators can teach and fail to provide teens with comprehensive information. Currently, funding for such comprehensive programs is not available.

Ninety percent of publicly funded family planning clinics counsel clients younger than 18 about abstinence and the importance of communicating with parents about sex. Strikingly, sixty percent of teens younger than 18 who use a clinic for sexual health services say their parents know they are there. Among those whose parents do not know, 70% would not use the clinic for prescription contraception if the law required that their parents be notified. Only 1% of all minor adolescents using sexual health services indicate that their only reaction to a law requiring their parents’ involvement for prescription contraception would be to stop having sex. We must urge Governor Blagojevich to reject Title V funds and the Illinois Congressional delegation to defund Title V and CBAE grants and educate and empower our adolescent community.

Yalda Afshar, MD/PhD candidate
Medical Scientist Training Program
University of Illinois, Chicago College of Medicine

a lesson in drawing (qabbani)

My son places his paint box in front of me
and asks me to draw a bird for him.
Into the color gray I dip the brush
and draw a square with locks and bars.
Astonishment fills his eyes:
“… But this is a prison, Father,
Don’t you know, how to draw a bird?”
And I tell him: “Son, forgive me.
I’ve forgotten the shapes of birds.”

My son puts the drawing book in front of me
and asks me to draw a wheat stalk.
I hold the pen
and draw a gun.
My son mocks my ignorance,
“Don’t you know, Father, the difference between a
wheat stalk and a gun?”
I tell him, “Son,
once I used to know the shapes of wheat stalks
the shape of the loaf
the shape of the rose
But in this hardened time
the trees of the forest have joined
the militia men
and the rose wears dull fatigues
In this time of armed wheat stalks
armed birds
armed culture
and armed religion
you can’t buy a loaf
without finding a gun inside
you can’t pluck a rose in the field
without its raising its thorns in your face
you can’t buy a book
that doesn’t explode between your fingers.”

My son sits at the edge of my bed
and asks me to recite a poem,
A tear falls from my eyes onto the pillow.
My son licks it up, astonished, saying:
“But this is a tear, father, not a poem!”
And I tell him:
“When you grow up, my son,
and read the diwan of Arabic poetry
you’ll discover that the word and the tear are twins
and the Arabic poem
is no more than a tear wept by writing fingers.”

My son lays down his pens, his crayon box in
front of me
and asks me to draw a homeland for him.
The brush trembles in my hands
and I sink, weeping

(Nizar Qabbani)

reproductive biology

When people ask me what I do, I say I study science or medicine, sometimes I say anthropology but in the end I really am somewhere on the track of my training to be a physician and reproductive biologists. Nevertheless, I’m still so weary of this field and I get a reminder of that each time I go to conference/workshops. I just got back from a 6-week course at the Marine Biological Labs, entitled Frontiers in Reproduction, in which despite the hours of stimulating lectures and discussions I spent a fair amount of time with micro-manipulators and a fancy scope injecting sperm into oocytes by ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection), attempting SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer), practiced with dyes and mercury and even was aghast how simple IVF (in-vitro fertilization) was. I guess I did learn that the lucrative field of infertility is NOT for me and that I have affirmed that reproduction is not a right as sometimes has been portrayed — when the maternal uterus does not get pregnant it is the body saying ‘i am not the perfect milieu for an implanting blastocyst’. We need to listen to our body’s physiology a little more instead of attempting super-ovulation and multiple rounds of IVF.

The advent of reproductive technologies goes hand in hand with the rising interest that genetics and promise the Human Genome Project has given. Genetics has been equated with our blueprint, the recipe to be human, and the promise of human control over human action – (wo)man steers destiny. The assurance that we put in genetics is hope ill invested. Physics, a discipline based on an ideal space and set of mathematical laws is a discipline with systems and structures that can be deduced, predicted, and articulated. Biology, and hence genetics, does not provide this reassurance because biology refutes the idea of static nature and is based on a series of ongoing feedbacks, regulations and control mechanisms. Biology is dynamic even in its attempt to maintain equilibrium and homoeostasis, as it relies on continuous positive and negative regulation. We must not believe that genetics allows us to control our fate. Knowing a gene sequence is not equivalent to knowing the aspects of human nature. Did we ever believe that naming the stars that make up Orion would make us able to control the mystical space entities? No, but at least it gave us a way to discuss them, own them, and bring them under theoretical human control.

We can have a child. We can also choose not to have a child. We can have a child this year, in five years, never. If and when we decide to have a child, however, we do not want just any child, we want a healthy child and in the case of any deformity/delay/retardation the obstetrician/anesthesiologists/et al will be happy they had malpractice insurance. Clearly, the ideology of procreative choice has become overbearing and significant in our society. A favorite anthropologists of mine, Ruth Hubbard, argues this as a basis for making some of the class-based medicine distinctions, as reproductive technology is available exclusively to the upper-middle class and upper-class —


hmmmm. reproductive health practices among iranians in the developed world: it seems that first-generational iranians, like most dual-generational persons, are at a bit of a quandary between their cultural manifestos of family/culture and the rampant layers of virtue that exist in their daily existence in the arena that they bath in: school/work/social-life. there has to be something to this discredited sexualized society. i’ve been toiling with the idea of designing an epidemiological approach to look at the youth, more so (perhaps selfishly) women and how their reproductive practices are distinct/similar to iranians in iran and ‘americans’. ok, so here i am declaring that this is yet another addition to my ‘to do’ list . . . i’m on it.