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Pakistan flood victims ‘forgotten’

November 17, 2010 Leave a comment

In the southern province of Sindh in Pakistan, Ghulam Uddin and his family of eight are all but marooned more than 100 days after floodwater started swamping huge chunks of the country in late July.Chest-deep water surrounds their house in a village in Dadu district, which has turned fields into lakes and destroyed all of Uddin’s carefully cultivated crops, and though it is possible to wade through the water, it is not easy.

“I cannot see how we are going to get back to anything resembling normal,” Uddin told IRIN. “My elderly mother insisted we come back because she hated life in the camps .” His house has been badly damaged, and the family is living in the open, dependent on hand-outs of food. Most of the other villagers have not yet returned.

“There are around one and a half million people in Sindh who are still primarily displaced and have not been able to return home, and about another one and a half million who have managed to get close to their houses, but not move back,”  said Thomas Gurtner, the UN Principal Humanitarian Advisor for Sindh. In Dadu district there were still a “few thousand people” marooned, but it was “very hard to know exactly how many,” he said.

Most people whose homes were surrounded by water had been “reached at least once if not twice by tractors, trolleys and so on for the delivery of humanitarian aid.”Life is not easy for those who have returned home. “Things here are tough. Our house is badly damaged and we have lost all our livestock,” said Saleem Ahmed, 50, who lives in the town of Khairpur Nathan Shah in Sukkur district. “We are being forgotten, and will just have to manage on our own.”

The right time to have that first baby

November 4, 2010 Leave a comment

What is the optimum age to have a baby? The answer is that there is no perfect age for every woman because biological processes differ from one woman to the other, but it is widely accepted that the age between 20-30 is good to have the first baby.

After 30, fertility starts to gradually go downhill. After 35, the ride down the slope accelerates, and it starts getting very difficult to conceive. Or carry a full-term pregnancy.

Unlike men whose bodies create sperm throughout the lives, women are born with a finite number of eggs. Every month, a percentage of a woman’s eggs are lost to attrition. By the time a woman hits the mid 40s, the total number of eggs has diminished and the quality of many of the remaining ones is poor.

Worth noting is that older eggs have more genetic abnormalities that limit the chance for pregnancy, or which result in an abnormal embryo, which is destined to miscarry.

According to a study published in Postgraduate Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 10 percent of women below 35 years are likely to suffer a miscarriage. Between 38 and 40 years, the risk doubles. Thirty percent of those between 41 and 42 years are likely to lose the pregnancy and after 42, she joins the 37% who are likely to miscarry.

You also have to bear in mind that the risk of medical conditions such as diabetes and hypertension increases with age, particularly after 40. As you grow older, the risks of other disorders that may adversely affect fertility, such as fibroids and tubal disease also increase.

Although older women do have healthy pregnancies and deliver healthy babies, as with all pregnancies, these women, and the babies they’re nurturing, do face unique risks, such as increased risk for stillbirths or preterm labour and preterm birth, prolonged or more difficult labour and/or cesarean birth as well as a risk for having a low-birth weight baby.

If you plan to have a child later, it is important to take care of yourself by living and eating healthy, since might lengthen the lifespan of your ovaries. The fact is that diet plays a role in the occurrence of early menopause. Cigarette smoking is also one of the most common and important factors that has been found to reduce ovarian reserve.

Other causes of declining fertility are ovarian atrophy, which tends to occur after chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment.

Some facts:

  • All of a woman’s eggs are present at birth. They can not divide or be “resupplied”, whereas sperm are produced constantly after puberty in men.
  • Eggs age over time, while new sperm are constantly coming off the production line.

Ivory Coast leader vows cocoa, infrastructure revamp

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment

Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo vowed to reconstruct a West African nation plagued by years of war, crisis and neglect on Saturday, promising to double cocoa production and revamp infrastructure if elected.

A failed 2002 rebellion against Gbagbo split the world’s top cocoa grower into a rebel north and government-run south, triggering a crisis that scared investment from what was once the region’s star economy.

Elections slated for Oct. 31 are meant to resolve the crisis and reunify the country. They are five years overdue, but look increasingly likely to happen at last, now that disputes over the voter register and rebel disarmament have been resolved.

At a ceremony to officially declare his candidacy to the coalition of parties backing him, Gbagbo said he would work quickly to repair the damage done by eight years of paralysis, paying special attention to infrastructure and cocoa.

“We have to double our cocoa capacity. Instead of 1.2 million tonnes, we must produce two million tonnes at least,” he told cheering supporters waving pom poms in the sky blue and white of his Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) colours in Abidjan’s palm-fringed Hotel Ivoire.

“We are going to resuscitate our cocoa industry.”

The presidential polls pitting Gbagbo against main opposition challengers Henri Konan Bedie and Alassane Ouattara are likely to be too close to call between the three of them and most forecasters expect the vote to go to a second round.

How Republicans could block healthcare reform

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

US Republicans could keep their promises to stop healthcare reform even if they cannot repeal it, simply by blocking legislation needed to pay for it, one expert argued on Wednesday. Control of one house of Congress could give the Republicans power to cripple the law, creating “zombie legislation,” healthcare expert Henry Aaron of the Brookings Institution wrote in a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine. Healthcare reform is President Barack Obama’s signature policy. The Affordable Care Act passed in March without a single Republican vote.

It is supposed to get health insurance to 32 million Americans who currently lack it, help set up local clinics to help provide needed care, set new standards for health insurance and, eventually, begin to transform the fragmented U.S. healthcare system. Many Republicans running for Congress in November have been promising to roll back as many of its provisions as possible or even to repeal it if they gain control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Repeal would be unlikely, Aaron said, as Obama would veto any such attempt. Republicans are headed for gains in both chambers in the Nov. 2 elections and could take control of the House, but are not expected to win enough seats to override a presidential veto.

Ecuador raises military wages after police revolt

October 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Ecuador has agreed to raise wages in the armed forces by up to $35 million annually, days after soldiers battled rebel police to rescue President Rafael Correa from what he called a coup bid, the defense minister said. The news of more pay for the military came on Monday amid debate over whether the police had tried to kill the left-wing leader during riots or were just protesting benefit cuts.

The pay raise for captains, majors and two other ranks had already been in the pipeline and does not affect the elimination of police and military promotion bonuses that sparked last week’s violence in the volatile OPEC nation. The armed forces had long complained that a salary adjustment several years ago had missed out four ranks. Under Saturday’s agreement, those ranks will receive up to $570 per month adjusted back-pay for the year so far.

Defense Minister Javier Ponce said it was chance the wage were agreed two days after the assault on Correa. He said the increases will cost $30 million to $35 million a year. On Thursday, armed police attacked the fiery president when he tried to talk with them about a new law that cut bonuses. He took refuge in the hospital before he was rescued in a nighttime storm of gunfire by loyal troops. Despite Ponce’s assurances, many Ecuadoreans will see a link between the pay increase and the army’s rescue operation. At least four people died in the confrontation, with four more killed and almost 300 injured across the South American nation during looting as the police went on strike.

Glenn Beck: The Politics of Hate

October 4, 2010 Leave a comment

Looking at the dismal output of the international media in recent days, the only thing one can say is, shame on the lot of you.

The international media has elevated a non-entity lunatic to the heights of worldwide stardom in nanoseconds. Someone with a near-zero base of public support who wants to upset as many people as possible has been given multiple tribunes from which to incite hate and possibly violence.

Every even moderately sane public figure has spoken out against the preacher’s intentions — and with the media pushing the story at full bore, this has meant top-level political leaders, who presumably have better things to do, having to waste time damning the obviously damnable. Are they now expected to do this for every nutter who raises his head?

About the only public figures who didn’t take this clear and sensible stand were the editors in newsrooms around the world. Why didn’t they dismiss this story out of hand like most of the world managed to?

“But it was a story, so we had to cover it”, will be the reply.

Bullshit. You made it a story. No one had ever heard of this guy until you gave him the chance to multiply his hate. And just because another TV news outlet covers a story, doesn’t mean you have to. You can make decisions independent of other news outlets. That is, after all, why you have a job: your company does not outsource its editorial decision making to the competition.

I remember many years ago in the UK, there was a racist skinhead propaganda push with the slogan, “let’s start a race war!” Any relatively sane person could only think, “um, why would anyone want to do that? That’s nuts.” Those hateful calls were, for the most part, completely ignored by the mainstream media, as they should have been. You didn’t get televised discussion between promoters of racial violence and those who take the opposite view as if there were a 50/50 split in the population on the issue.

Glenn Beck

Yet last month, we witnessed little such editorial self-restraint. The saddest part is that it not only affected the US TV news broadcaster one expects to relay intolerance and hate-speech regularly, but it also swept through the normally more professional media as well. The latter followed the former like lemmings off the cliff of incitement.

In conflict reporting, presenting the extremes of one side or the other disproportionate to their actual level of public support, is a classic mistake, one that stokes the embers of misunderstanding into a fire of confrontation, and sometimes even an inferno of violence. It’s one of the very hallmarks of unprofessional journalism in such situations.

To those usually professional news houses, we need to ask: Who decided to make this a story at all, let alone a top story? Why did you follow those with the worst journalistic standards rather than apply your own? Why couldn’t you have said “no, we’re not going to give space to every hateful weirdo who comes along”?

Saying this was news regardless of media decision-making is wilful blindness. It smacks of that desperately repeated “we just report it, we don’t make it” by those journalists who pretend to be above or beyond events. And it’s an argument that has rarely been more obviously wrong. The media have power, and with power comes responsibility. No amount of pretending will get you out of that.

This incident should be a warning to all major news outlets that they are just as capable of dangerously unprofessional journalism as any reporter covering conflict anywhere. It needs to spark some serious reflection in newsrooms everywhere.

Being Glenn Beck

September 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Glenn Beck was sprawled out on his office couch a couple of weeks ago, taking — as self-helpers like to say ¬— an inventory. “I think what the country is going through right now is, in a way, what I went through with my alcoholism,” he told me. “You can either live or die. You have a choice.” Beck, who is 46, was in the Midtown Manhattan offices of his production company, Mercury Radio Arts, which is named for Mercury Theater, the company created byOrson Welles.

He had just finished his three-hour syndicated radio show and was a few hours away from his television show. It was a Wednesday afternoon in the middle of September, and Beck had just returned from a week’s vacation in the Grand Tetons followed by a quick hop to Anchorage, where he and Sarah Palin appeared at an event on Sept. 11.

Beck has a square, boyish face, an alternately plagued and twinkle-eyed demeanor that conjures (when Beck is wearing glasses) the comedian Drew Carey. He is 6-foot-2, which is slightly jarring when you first meet him, because he is all head and doughiness on television; I never thought of Beck as big or small, just as someone who was suddenly ubiquitous and who talked a lot and said some really astonishing things, to a point where it made you wonder — constantly — whether he was being serious.

At some point in the past few months, Beck ceased being just the guy who cries a lot on Fox News or a “rodeo clown” (as he has described himself) or simply a voice of the ultraconservative opposition to President Obama. In record time, Beck has traveled the loop of curiosity to ratings bonanza to self-parody to sage. It is remarkable to think he has been on Fox News only since January 2009.

In person, Beck is sheepish and approachable, betraying none of the grandiosity or bluster you might expect from a man who predicted “the next Great Awakening” to a few hundred thousand people in late August at the Lincoln Memorial or who declared last year that the president has a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” He wore a blue dress shirt tucked into jeans and brown loafers, which he kicked off as soon as he sat down.

He showed little interest in the results from primary elections held the day before — upsets in Delaware and New York for Tea Party candidates whose followers often invoke Beck and Palin as spiritual leaders and even promote them as a prospective presidential ticket in 2012.

“Not involved with the Tea Party,” Beck told me, shrugging. While many identify Beck with a political insurgency — as Rush Limbaugh was identified with the Republican sweep of 1994 — to believe that the nation suffers from “a political problem” comically understates things, in his view. “I stand with the Tea Party as long as they stand for certain principles and values,” Beck told me. He is a principles-and-values guy.

Beck talks like someone who is accustomed to thinking out loud and inflicting his revelations in real time. He speaks in the language of therapy, in which he has been steeped through years of 12-step programs and the Mormon-affiliated addiction-treatment center he and his wife run in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut region. As he lay on his office couch, he recalled a very low moment. It was back in the mid-1990s. He was newly divorced, lying on the olive green shag carpet of a two-bedroom apartment in Hamden, Conn., that smelled like soup.

It had a tiny kitchen, and his young children slept in a bed together when they visited on weekends. “It was the kind of place where loser guys who just got divorced wind up,” Beck said. “You’d see a new guy come in, you’d say hello and he’d walk in alone, and you’d be like, ‘Yeah, I understand, brother.’ ”

Beck understands, brother. Communists in the White House are bent on “fundamentally transforming” the country; progressives speak of putting “the common good” before the individual, which “is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany,” as he said on his show in May. Or, as he said in July of last year, “Everything that is getting pushed through Congress, including this health care bill,” is “driven by President Obama’s thinking on . . . reparations” and his desire to “settle old racial scores.”

It sounds harsh, maybe, but this is the rhetoric of crisis and desperation, and so much of the population is too blind drunk to recognize the reality — which is that the country is lying on an olive green shag carpet on the brink of ending it all. “Some have to destroy their family and their job and their house and their income,” Beck told me. “Some don’t get it, and they die.”
WHILE THE RIGHT has traditionally responded to its aggrieved sense of alienation with anger, Beck is not particularly angry. He seems sorrowful; his prevailing message is umbrage born of self-taught wisdom. He is more agonized than mad. He is post-angry.

He often changes his mind or nakedly contradicts himself. “When you listen and watch me, it’s where I am in my thinking in the moment,” Beck told me. “I’m trying to figure it out as I go.” He will sometimes stop midsentence and recognize that something he is about to say could be misunderstood and could cause him trouble. Then, more often than not, he will say it anyway.

In the middle of his analogy to me about his own personal crash and the country’s need to heal itself, Beck looked at his publicist with a flash of alarm about how I might construe what he was saying. “He is going to write a story that I believe the whole country is alcoholics,” he said. And then he went on to essentially compare his “Restoring Honor” pageant at the Lincoln Memorial to a large-scale A.A. meeting. “When I bottomed out, I couldn’t put it back together myself,” Beck told me. “I could do all the hard work. I could do the 12 steps. But I needed like-minded people around me.”