Sunday, March 30, 2008

Degradation of Women

Sorry to blog on this morose topic, but I came across this article about Afghan farmers needing to sell off their daughters to repay loans. It is amazing to me that we can have a woman being a strongly viable candidate in the U.S., while 14 hours away (by jet), woman are being treated like livestock.

Read this excerpt to get an idea:

Six months ago he gave the hand of his 13-year-old daughter, Bibi Gula, to settle an opium debt of $700, with roughly $1,500 cash thrown in. That's what they're living on now. At least his creditor agreed to let Gula stay home until she turns 15. "I'm not happy with what I did," Khan says. "Every daughter has ambitions to marry with dignity. I fear she'll be treated as a second-class wife and as a maid."

Angiza Afridi, 28, has spent much of the past year interviewing more than 100 families about opium weddings in two of Nangarhar's 22 districts. The schoolteacher and local TV reporter already had firsthand knowledge of the tragedy. Five years ago one of her younger aunts, then 16, was forced to marry a 55-year-old man to pay off an older uncle's opium debt, and three years ago an 8-year-old cousin was also given in marriage to make good on a drug loan. "This practice of marrying daughters to cover debts is becoming a bad habit," says Afridi.

Even so, the results of her survey shocked her. In the two districts she studied, approximately half the new brides had been given in marriage to repay opium debts. The new brides included children as young as 5 years old; until they're old enough to consummate their marriages, they mostly work as household servants for their in-laws. "These poor girls have no future," she says. The worst of it may be the suicides. Afridi learned of one 15-year-old opium bride who poisoned herself on her wedding day late last year and an 11-year-old who took a fatal dose of opium around the same time. Her new in-laws were refusing to let her visit her parents.

I don't know how these parents can treat their own daughters this way. Don't they have any shame? Are they really that desperate? I know I'm used to the Mediterranean culture where parents sacrifice for their kids, and always compromise their own financial needs for the well-being of their children, so I have little perspective on this type of behavior. Is it really financial desperation or just a general disrespect of women in the culture? Certainly, in "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini (author of the bestseller the "Kite Runner"), women were not exactly treated well. In fact, they were treated terribly, and the book, while fiction, is at least based on current the principles and practices of Sha'ria law in Afghanistan. And, it is well documented that "honor killings" still occur in some of these countries if a girl has a pre-marital relationship or, worse yet, is the VICTIM of rape. It's quite appalling that women still face this treatment in 2008. I don't have anything else to say about this...

Friday, March 28, 2008

Earth Hour

Tomorrow night (3/29), at 0900 GMT, 371 cities worldwide will celebrate "Earth Hour" by shutting down the power on major landmarks, and businesses and homeowners are encouraged to do the same. The purpose is to encourage people to be more aware of energy usage.

With the price of oil well over $100 per barrel, the US in an economic slowdown/recession, huge chunks of Antartic ice sheets breaking and collapsing, conservation is the ONLY rational choice. We must all do are part to help out and not be gluttonous energy pigs. Here are some suggestions I came across:

1. Cool it- If the thermostats in every house in America were lowered 1 degree Fahrenheit during the winter, the nation would save 230 million barrels of crude oil—enough to fill an oil tanker 400 times. (That’s the amount of oil being imported into the United States from Iraq each year.)

2. Shorter showers- If the 300 million United States citizens were to spend 1 minute less each day in the shower over their lifetimes, they would save 30 trillion gallons of water—8 times the total amount of snow and rain that falls over the entire lower 48 United States in a day.

3. Rake instead of blow- One hour of using a gas-operated leaf blower produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as a car driving 4,400 miles—that’s a round trip from Salt Lake City to New York City.

4. Paperless delivery- If every American switched to receiving just one bill as an electronic statement instead of a paper one, the one-time savings would be 217,800,000 sheets—enough to completely blanket the island of Key West in a single layer of paper.

5. Collect it- If every American collected 1 gallon of water once a week while waiting for the shower or bathwater to get hot (use it to water your houseplants!), the total saved would be 15.8 billion gallons of water a year—enough to fill the Reflecting Pool at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., 2,338 times.

6. Plan ahead- If one 20-mile trip per week was cut out (by combining errands) for every registered vehicle in the United States, 145 million fewer tons of greenhouse gases would be released into the air each year. That’s equal to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from 36 coal-fired power plants.

7. Dim it- One dimmer switch replacing a regular on/off switch in every U.S. house would save the electricity necessary to light 1.2 million homes—that’s every home in the state of Arkansas. (please no jokes about Arkansonians).

Tomorrow, turn off your lights for one hour (the plan is for 8 PM local time in the U.S.) and do your part to reduce your carbon footprint. You'll feel better about yourself, and maybe you'll realize that it's not so bad to do things by candlelight! Doesn't it blow your mind that human beings have only had electricity for about 120 years...the vast majority of the existence of humans has occurred sans electric power!! It is so hard to TV, no computers, no iPODs, no cell phones, no microwaves. We certainly are spoiled, but I must admit, I do love my gadgets. Unfortunately, all of the electric powered goodies (computers, video games, etc) have most likely led to deterioration of interpersonal relationships. This is the unintended consequence of the advancement in technologies.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"Under sniper fire"

Did everybody hear Hillary try to exaggerate her foreign policy street credibility? She claimed that when she landed in Bosnia in 1996, she had to duck down because there was heavy sniper fire.

Well, CBS news has the video of her "scary" landing in Bosnia. Instead of heavy sniper fire, she is peacefully shaking hands with people. Today she admitted her mistake about her claim about the potentially deadly situation at the time of the landing. How does one forget this? This is a blatant lie.

Watch this video for the actual footage:

Random Musings on Greece

Hi All,

Sorry for my absence. I was away in Greece the past week. Overall, it was a nice trip. Here are some thoughts on Greece:

1. The Greeks love their leisure time. They essentially work from 7 am- 2 pm, then go home to have a big lunch, take a long nap, hang around, go out to eat dinner around 9 or 10 pm, and then go out to bars/clubs after midnight until around 4 pm. They wake up 3 hours later and start all over again. The saying is "If you sleep, you die".

They love sitting around at cafes and just talking and talking. They certainly seem to enjoy life.

2. The Greek economy is not too strong. The introduction of the Euro caused severe inflation, as prices for goods and services skyrocketed instantly when the Euro replaced the Drachma in 2001. Average salaries for college graduates are only about 1000 Euros per month. I am not sure how they afford life, because the rent for an apartment in downtown Athens is about 800 Euros per months, and coffee is about 4 Euros for one cup (Tall latte at Starbucks was 4.20 Euro and venti was 6 Euros). That's about $6 and $9 in U.S. dollars.

There were strikes there for my first 2 days in Athens. The metro was shut down, as were a lot of other businesses (except for the retailers). They were striking because they were annoyed about the goverment wanting to increase the retirement age to 65 for women (it was previously only 50 years of age, if the woman has a child less than 18 years of age). I personally think 50 years old is too young to retire. With the weak economy, people need to work, not suck up more governmental funds for retirement payments.

3. Everybody there seems to smoke. People smoke everywhere and anytime. It's amazing that the Greeks live so long given their heavy smoking. However, I believe that at least three things serve to counteract the detimentral effects of smoking on their health. A) The food is fairly healthy...lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and lots of fresh seafood was abundant in Athens. B) The leisurely lifestyle. Siesta has been proven to reduce the risk of mortality from heart disease.
C) Moderate alcohol consumption- another factor shown to reduce heart disease. There is no drinking age in Greece, and some type of alcohol (typically wine) is consumed with every meal.

4. Politics: I asked 4 people about their views on our current Presidential race. All 4 (women) were unequivocally rooting for Obama. They feel he would provide the most hope for a change in America and for change away from war in the Middle East.

5. The toilets: the plumbing is too narrow to handle toilet paper, so all dirty toilet paper must be placed in garbage bins next to the toilet. Yuck.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Don't forget to tip your barber/hairdresser

This is a terrible story from Moscow. Some man, presumably deranged (although it is not indicated if this is truly the case in the article) bludgeoned his hairdresser because he felt it was "too expensive". How much was the haircut? Four dollars and 10 cents (less than 3 Euros). Unbelievable.

Not to make light of this horrific story, but I would like to make 2 comments on the current state of barbershops. First, I really wish they would still use a straight-edge razor to shave the face and neck. Unfortunately, the word on the street is that they have not done this for several years now because of fear of hepatitis and HIV. Second, although I love my barber, Tony, a great Italian-American, he does not shampoo the hair prior the cutting it. I think I am missing out. The few men I know that see hairdressers in a salon, rather than an old-fashioned barber, admit that the best part is the shampoo and scalp massage. Is this the case? Should I switch to a "hairdresser" and break-up with Tony?

Operation Chaos

Very interesting story from regarding a signficant proportion of core Republicans voting for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Why would they do this?
the answer: to cause chaos in the Democratic election process, keeping Hillary and Obama in a close match-up, and preventing a clear-cut winner, leaving John McCain a clearer path to the White House. In fact, most Republicans feel that Hillary is more "beatable" and thus, want her to beat out Obama in the race.

And who is behind this unorthodox voting strategy? None other than Rush Limbaugh and the right-wing radio faction, who just love to mess with the normal election process. Is it smart on their part? Well, yes, I does make sense. Is it fair? Not really. Not that it is illegal, but it certainly amounts to a type of conspiracy and/or collusion.

Read the article below for the facts. Some of the details would suggest, however, that the "conspiracy" is not completely operational, as many of the Repub cross-overs are, in fact, voting for Obama rather than Hillary.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"He Cards Read Good"

Anybody catch that 'Simpsons' reference? It was Homer proudly exclaiming how he 'helped' Bart prepare a speech that he was giving on stage. Homer's English was nothing to be proud of, but at least he's a cartoon character, rather than the President of the United States.

How did Bush make it through all of the debates? How can anyone take him seriously given the way he speaks? He says "Uh" way too often. I heard a part of his speech he gave yesterday at the Economic Club of New York, and I found it painful. Apparently, Gail Collins from the NYTs agrees. Check out his article today, with some of George's literary prose from the speech yesterday. It's horrific.

Now, watch some of these video montages of Bush's 'best' moments behind the podium.

Finally, watch this video of Bush trying to explain what tribal sovereignity means. It is so funny.

Don't Smell Your Armpits

Caught this very funny list of "interview blunders" from an article on I have had a few blunders in my past. A few examples: at the Cleveland Clinic, I began talking about the history of Christianity and the schism between Catholicism and Orthodoxy to a female interviewer. After her giving me some puzzled looks, she finally said, "Well, I'm Jewish". Also, at an interview in Florida for med school, I mentioned that I had been interested in "alternative medicine" for some time to the Dean of the osteopathic med school. He promptly leaned forward with a scowl and informed me that osteopathic medicine was certainly not alternative medicine.

Check out this much funnier list and then share some of your most embarrassing interview moments in the comments section.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Death Penalty

Over the past few years, I have shifted my stance on the death penalty. I am now against the death penalty for 3 reasons: 1) The judicial system is too flawed to make decisions to end someone's life; 2) I think the "penalty" of a life sentence is prison is actually a greater punishment then a peaceful lethal injection; 3) Because of multiple appeals while on death row (often takes up to 20 years from sentencing to death because of the appeals), it actually costs MORE to put someone to death rather than keep them in jail for life.

However, when you hear about the horrific story about the student at the University of North Carolina class president who was brutally murdered last week, it is very hard to prevent the immediate visceral reaction of desiring death for those animals. They have arrested one suspect and are searching for a second suspect. There was no way to really prevent this crime. We do need tougher gun control rules, but there will always be a black market for guns. Unfortunately, nothing can be done to bring back the very promising and unfufilled young life of the poor student.

Currently, my only solice is that these two men, if proven guilty, will receive their "real punishment" in jail. My trainer at the gym says that there is an unwritten code in jail that the guys who commit these types of crimes (child rape, etc) get their due in the prisons, and guards will look the other way.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tough "librarians"

Remember those pesky little library fines for keeping a book checked out too long? As much as those may have hurt your wallet, I came across a much worse punishment for borrowing a book.

A South Korean astronaut has lost his chance to be the first person from his country to enter space when he borrowed a book from a Russian space training center. He apparently violated the rules by not asking permission and sending the book home by accident. He tried to return the book, but he was too late. He is out, and instead a female engineer from Korea has taken his place.;_ylt=AsgV7USxc_fRGbpIynVBMnjQOrgF

Prescription Drugs in the Water

Is this the reason why placebo drugs also improve outcomes and it has become harder to show superiority of medications in recent randomized controlled trials? Or, is this the reason why you've been feeling so happy lately?;_ylt=AhftqtnOnNl.GiF6jEcmHX0DW7oF

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Hillary Clinton had a big night last night. She won Ohio decisively and won Texas narrowly (51-48%). She also won the Rhode Island primary. From the looks of her speech last night, she intends to continue this campaign until the end. She still trails Obama by about 100 delegates (including the superdelegates). The next HUGE challenge is going to be the Pennsylvania primary on April 22nd. Again, because of the sharing of delegates (there is no winner take all system for the Dems), Obama has a pretty insurmountable lead, at least among the pledged delegates.

Hillary also hinted today that she would be willing to share the ticket with Obama.

Here is what I think. If Hillary can somehow squeak out the nomination, she MUST choose Obama as her running mate. On the other hand, if Obama wins, he can choose her or choose someone else, and in fact, he would prefer someone else because he does not want Bubba lurking around and controlling his White House.

Why does Hillary need to choose Obama? The reasoning is simple. Remember, the last two races for president have been very close. The Repubs and Dems are split pretty equally across the counry. No one doubts that "Obamamania" is widespread throughout the country. At the same time, while Hillary is pulling out some big victories in Democratic primaries, she is loathed by about 50% of the voters in the country (all affiliations). So, when it comes down to the general election, Obama could carry current Hillary supporters and challenge McCain to a very close race. In contrast, if Hillary is the nominee, ardent Obama supporters and Hillary haters would likely abstain from voting, or may even vote for the "Maverick" John McCain. Hillary, therefore, must put Obama on her ticket to keep the votes from the Obamamaniacs. In conclusion, I think Hillary needs Obama and not vice versa.

Speaking of "Strategery", here's a good Bush impersonation from Frank Caliendo.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I've been meaning to write a piece on this topic for a long time. Too many do-gooders and policy-makers think that they have the "right solution" for a multitude of problems. The unintended outcomes as a result of actions are often not carefully thought out and weighed into the decision-making process.

Let's look at some examples that I have thought of, and then you add some to the list in the comments section.

1. Ethanol- the government has been POURING money into ethanol subsidies in an effort (albeit a weak one) to decrease our dependency on fossil fuels. Well, what are the consequences? Food prices are going through the roof, because now corn has become such a valuable commodity. Big deal about corn, you may say, as you only buy some ears of corn in the summer to have at BBQs. WRONG! Corn is used to feed animals, thus the price of meat has increased. Corn syrup is used as a sweetner in many dessert products, thus these are more expensive. Finally, now farm land, farm equipment, fertilizer, etc are much more important and valuable. Thus, the price of wheat has DOUBLED in the past year. That means breads and cereals are more expensive.

2. CAFE standards- Congress enacted higher fuel economy standards by auto makers a few months ago. Nice move to decrease the consumption of gas and fossil fuels, right? Probably not...people will just drive more often and for longer distances in their fuel-efficient vehicles. To wit, a recent study has demonstrated, that for the first time since 1980, Americans are driving less.

3. Minimum wage increases- Congress gets all hopped up on passing minimum wage increases. Great, people will make more money? Wrong...smaller employers will probably hire less people since the total payroll costs will increase. Larger companies will decrease the rate or size of annual wage increases for their employees. Or, they may cut back on other 'perks' for their existing employees.

4. Afghanistan- Covert funding of the mujahideen by the CIA helped the Afhanis defeat the Russians. However, the mujahideen did not establish a united government, and many of the larger mujahideen groups began to fight each other over the power in Kabul. After several years of devastating infighting, a village mullah organized a new armed movement with the backing of Pakistan. This movement became known as the Taliban.

5. Rats- In India, a program paying people a bounty for each rat pelt handed in, intended to exterminate rats, led instead to rat farming

6. Higher taxes to increase revenues- big deficits generally push law-makers to think about increasing taxes on individuals and corporations to increase revenues to the IRS and decrease the deficit. What happens? Corporations move "off-shore" to avoid taxes, or get lawyers to devise sneaky tax-saving schemes. Individuals have less incentive to work as hard or as long, since ever dollar is taxed at a higher amount. Thus, tax increases may actually lead to a decrease in revenues.

7. No Child Left Behind- laws passed to "improve" the education system in the US mandate schools to improve to certain levels as measured by standardized exams. Are kids getting smarter? Probably not, since it appears that teachers are just teaching towards the test.

I will post more as I think of them in the next few days. Post some of your favorite examples.

Medical News

Quick update on some very interesting medical data:

1. Placebo pills work, and the price matters. Such a great study in JAMA this week from MIT researchers. Patients who were told that their pills cost $2.50 cents a piece experienced significantly less pain than another group of patients who were told that their pills cost only 10 cents. Both pills were nothing more than vitamin C. This is unbelievable. It shows what control the mind has over the body. And it shows why some patients say that they "don't respond to generic medications". There was an amazing efficacy rate in both groups (85% and 61% reported improvement in pain in both groups, respectively). This may be the way to help save tons of money for the health care system. Granted, it can't be done for life-threatening cardiac conditions or cancer or diabetes, but for non-specific pain syndromes (chronic headaches, fibromyalgia, etc), why not try placebo pills first?

2. Bacteria-filled snow - Another "fear" story about bacteria and food by the media. The title reads "Snow Eating Now Endangered Pleasure". And, yes, there was bacteria found in snow. But, as they point out later in the story, has anyone really ever gotten sick from eating snow? The fact is we eat bacteria on regular food all the time, and our liver and immune systems do a great job at clearing the little bugs. So, I'm still going to eat snow, ask for the lemon wedge with my water at the restaurant, and eat out of the bowl that was "double-dipped" (see previous posts for those stories).

3. Airborne is a fraud- Has anyone ever taken that tablet called "Airborne" to prevent (and treat) the common cold? Well, the makers of Aiborne have lost a class-action suit and have to pay back $23 million to customers for making false claims about the benefits against the common cold. It turns out that Americans spend $300 million a year on this ineffective product, so it looks like the manufacturers are still making out. Note to all: stop wasting your money on this stuff. Watch this video:

If you do want to try to abate the symptoms related to the common cold, you may have more success with the zinc-containing products (e.g., Zycam).

There have been 10 randomized controlled trials of these products, and 5 of the 10 have shown benefit in reducing symptoms and duration. Here is one of the studies:

4. Loud snoring- Loud snoring is not just annoying for one's bed mate, but is bad for your health. Researchers in Hungary found that people who snore loudly are at much higher risk for hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. A lot of this is mediated through obstructive sleep apnea, which is a treatable condition with proper medical care. So, if your loved one is snoring loudly at night, don't just kick them to make them shut-up...have them see their primary care physicians to get screened for obstructive sleep apnea and have their blood pressure monitored.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


As most of you in the Northeast know, driving on I-95 is often quite slow and tedious. There is just so much congestion at so many times of the day. I don't think the population of southern Connecticut is going to decrease any time soon, nor will I-95 be expanded to more lanes, nor will people use public transportation in any significantly increased amount in the near future (even with crude oil currently greater than $100 per barrel and gas prices that will probably approach $4 per gallon in the next few months if the trend continues). Thus, I am not hopeful to experience less traffic on I-95.

However, there is one thing that completely frustrates is rubbernecking. It is bad enough that the traffic on the side of a car accident is stalled until the scene is cleared. But, it is almost criminal that the traffic on the OPPOSITE side of the accident slows to such a degree because people are trying to get a good look at the accident scene. Why do people have to gawk? OK, OK, I know the's human nature to see what's going on, especially if it could be gruesome.

I have been thinking about this for a while. Here is my solution. The police or fire department should bring in a folding shade, about 8 feet tall and maybe 25 feet long (unfolded) to block off the scene from the other side of the highway. You know what I'm talking would look something like this one in the photo, just bigger. It wouldn't cost much and I think it would be greatly improve the flow of traffic during accidents. Let me know what you think.

SNL is Back

Saturday night live has gone through its ups and downs over the years. I will not chronicle the successes and failures of SNL in this post.

However, I would like to point out that SNL has continually strengthened over the past year. The writers and actors are hitting their stride just at the right time...they have PLENTY of material with the 2008 Presidential Race.

After a 4 month hiatus because of the writer's strike, SNL has had 2 new shows. Last night's was one of the funniest episodes I have seen in some time, and included notable cameos from Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

The first skit was a mock democratic debate by NBC News in Cleveland. "Brian Williams" and "Tim Russert" couldn't help but show their bias and praise for Obama, and their disdain for Sen. Clinton. Hillary then followed with a live rebuttal, in which she confronted Amy Poehler. Darrell Hammond was excellent at impersonating Russert and his style, and, overall, it was quite amusing...check it out:

For fans of Hillary, this may be the last time she will be smiling for some time. She would need to have HUGE wins in the upcoming primaries in Ohio and Texas. Many Democratic party insiders reportedly will urge Hillary to step aside if she doesn't have significant wins in either of Tuesday's races. They feel the sooner a nonimee is chosen, the sooner the battle can start vs. McCain for the general election.

If you don't believe the facts, check out this delegate calculator. Manipulate the future results as you see fit. You will see that it would be highly improbable for Hillary to overtake Obama.

Anyway, back to SNL. There was a very funny cartoon of Obama trying to avoid having both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton be active supporters of his campaign. It's so true...Obama wants nothing to do with the 2 previously most prominent black candidates for president, probably because of their very polarizing image in society, and their tendency to say some ridiculous things.

The Weekend News was also very good. Here are two clips from part of the news.

Rudy was quite a good sport by essentially making fun of his monumental collapse in the Republican primaries and his ill-fated decision to wait until Florida to start "trying".

Again, I will be eagerly awaiting the upcoming parodies of the debates and presidential race.