He’s Saved Billions of Lives, So Where is the Media?

July 31, 2007 at 4:34 pm (News articles)

I found this article in my meanderings on the internet, and it really struck me. It is absolutely amazing that this man has been ignoring by the media and popular culture. I have never heard of this man or any of his accomplishments, and I consider myself to be a fairly well-read individual, reading the newspaper everyday and every magazine I come across, cover-to-cover. This man is absolutely amazing and his accomplishments are even more astounding. So where’s the media?

How Superficial Has Our Culture Become?
By Jonathan Alter

July 30, 2007 issue – It’s a trifecta much bigger and rarer than an Oscar, an Emmy and a Tony. Only five people in history have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal: Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Elie Wiesel … and Norman Borlaug.

Norman who? Few news organizations covered last week’s Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for Borlaug, which was presided over by President Bush and the leadership of the House and Senate. An elderly agronomist doesn’t make news, even when he is widely credited with saving the lives of 1 billion human beings worldwide, more than one in seven people on the planet.

Borlaug’s success in feeding the world testifies to the difference a single person can make. But the obscurity of a man of such surpassing accomplishment is a reminder of our culture’s surpassing superficiality. Reading Walter Isaacson’s terrific biography of Albert Einstein, I was struck by how famous Einstein was, long before his role in the atom bomb. Great scientists and humanitarians were once heroes and cover boys. No more. For Borlaug, still vital at 93, to win more notice, he would have to make his next trip to Africa in the company of Angelina Jolie.

The consequences of obscuring complex issues like agriculture are serious. Take the huge farm bill now nearing passage, a subject Borlaug knows a thing or two about. Because it seems boring and technical and unrelated to our busy urban lives, we aren’t focused on how it relates directly to the environment, immigration, global poverty and the budget deficit, not to mention the highly subsidized high-fructose corn syrup we ingest every day. We can blame the mindless media for failing to keep us better informed about how $95 billion a year is hijacked by a few powerful corporate interests. But we can also blame ourselves. It’s all there on the Internet (or in books like Daniel Imhoff’s breezy “Food Fight”), if we decide to get interested. But will we? Sometimes it seems the more we’ve got at our fingertips, the less that sticks in our minds.

Born poor in Iowa and turned down at first by the University of Minnesota, Borlaug brought his fingertips and mind together in rural Mexico in the 1940s and 1950s to develop a hybrid called “dwarf wheat” that tripled grain production there. Then, with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation, he brought agronomists from around the world to northwest Mexico to learn his planting and soil conservation techniques. “They [academic and U.S. government critics] said I was nutty to think that it would work in different soil,” Borlaug told me last week. The resulting “nuttiness” led to what was arguably the greatest humanitarian accomplishment of the 20th century, the so-called Green Revolution. By 1965 he was dodging artillery shells in the Indo-Pakistan War but still managed to increase Indian output sevenfold.

The experts who said peasants would never change their centuries-old ways were wrong. In the mid-1970s, Nobel in hand, Borlaug brought his approach to Communist China, where he arguably had his greatest success. In only a few years, his ideas—which go far beyond seed varieties—had spread around the world and disproved Malthusian doomsday scenarios like Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 best seller “The Population Bomb.” Now the Gates Foundation is helping extend his innovations to the one continent where famine remains a serious threat—Africa.

Borlaug, who launched the prestigious World Food Prize, has little patience for current agricultural policy in the developed world. “The claims for these subsidies today by the affluent nations are pretty silly,” he says. So far, Congress isn’t listening. The octopus-like farm bill does little to curb the ridiculous corporate welfare payments to a tiny number of wealthy (and often absentee) “farmers” who get more than $1 million a year each for subsidized commodities that make our children obese. (Did you ever wonder why junk food is cheaper than nutritious food? Because it’s taxpayer-funded).

Borlaug scoffs at the mania for organic food, which he proves with calm logic is unsuited to fight global hunger. (Dung, for instance, is an inefficient source of nitrogen.) And while he encourages energy-conscious people to “use all the organic you can, especially on high-end crops like vegetables,” he’s convinced that paying more for organic is “a lot of nonsense.” There’s “no evidence the food is any different than that produced by chemical fertilizer.”

In 1960 about 60 percent of the world’s people experienced some hunger every year. By 2000 that number was 14 percent, a remarkable achievement. But as Borlaug cautioned at the ceremony in his honor, that still leaves 850 million hungry men, women and children. They are waiting for the Norman Borlaugs of the future to make their mark, even if they aren’t likely to get famous for it.


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iPhone –> iSmoke

July 31, 2007 at 10:40 am (Videos)

So we’ve all heard the hype surrounding the iPhone, how it shows video, plays music, checks the web and email, and is also a phone! So basically, its the best thing since sliced bread. Well, this wonderful gentleman decided to find out what happens if you put an iPhone in the blender. Its pretty amazing! Then he sold the results on eBay for $900 – more than the cost of the original iPhone! Not a bad profit…

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Morbid Much?

July 30, 2007 at 7:21 pm (Uncategorized)

Ever wonder what happens to someone’s MySpace page when they die? Well, wonder no more! You can go to mydeathspace.com and read an article about their deaths, then view their MySpace pages, exactly as they were when they died, and pay your respects. You can also go to MyDeathSpace’s forums and discuss whatever it is people who frequent such sites choose to discuss. Another interesting feature of the site is a map that has little skulls marking the places where the last 100 or 500 people died. The black skulls designate those who died in accidents or of natural causes, while the red skulls are for those who were murdered. When you hover over one of these grave markers, the person’s picture and date, place, and cause of death popup. You can also see their obituary article. Now, I must admit, this is a pretty cool feature, very easy to use, etc. But it is kinda weird and morbid if you think about it. I mean, do people actually want to see all this info about random people’s deaths? Well, obviously, yes, otherwise this website wouldn’t be getting the press/attention it does. But still, there simply seems to be something inherently wrong about it all.

On a broader scale, one of the saddest parts about the site is simply how populated it is with deaths. If you think about MySpace as a forum for mostly young people, with some exceptions, admittedly, then this is evidence at how many young people are dying. From my cursory scan of the website, the vast majority of deaths are from car accidents. MyDeathSpace can be simply seen as an example for teens to try to be safe. If this many of their peers are dying/being killed, you could be next. It’s a sobering thought, in more ways than one…

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Today’s Sign of the Apocalypse

July 30, 2007 at 3:37 pm (News articles)

Hollywood pigeons to be put on the pill

Hollywood residents believe they’ve found a humane way to reduce their pigeon population and the messes the birds make: the pill.

Over the next few months a birth control product called OvoControl P, which interferes with egg development, will be placed in bird food in new rooftop feeders.

“We think we’ve got a good solution to a bad situation,” said Laura Dodson, president of the Argyle Civic Association, the group leading the effort to try the new contraceptive. “The poop problem has become unmanageable and this could be the answer.”

Community leaders planned to announce the OvoControl P pilot program, which Dodson believes is the first of its kind in the nation, at a news conference Monday.

Dodson said representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals contacted her group with the idea to use OvoControl P. Other animal rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, support the contraceptive over electric shock gates, spiked rooftops, poisons or other methods.

It’s estimated about 5,000 pigeons call the area home. Their population boom is blamed in part on people feeding the birds, including a woman known as the Bird Lady, who was responsible for dumping 25-pound bags of seed in 29 spots around Hollywood.

OvoControl P has been registered with the state Department of Pesticide Regulation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Developed by Rancho Santa Fe-based Innolytics, the substance contains nicarbazin, which interferes with an egg’s ability to develop or hatch, said Erick Wolf, Innolytics chief executive.

The pilot program was expected to show results within a year, and the Hollywood area’s pigeon population is expected to shrink by at least half by 2012, Dodson said.

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With a purr, death comes on little cat feet

July 27, 2007 at 10:14 pm (News articles)

Another article of interest from the Boston Globe. I’ll want to respond later to this, I’m just not going to right now. So, I put this question to you: morbid or comforting?

With a purr, death comes on little cat feet
By Colin Nickerson, Globe Staff July 26, 2007

Oscar the cat makes his grand entrances just as life is about to leave.

A hop onto the bed, a fastidious lick of the paws, then a snuggle beside a nursing home patient with little time left. Oscar’s purr, when keeping close company with the dying, is so intense it’s almost a low rumble.

“He’s a cat with an uncanny instinct for death,” said Dr. David M. Dosa, assistant professor at the Brown University School of Medicine and a geriatric specialist. “He attends deaths. He’s pretty insistent on it.”

In the two years since Oscar was adopted into the third-floor dementia unit of the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, he has maintained close vigil over the deaths of more than 25 patients, according to nursing staff, doctors who treat patients in the home, and an article in tomorrow’s New England Journal of Medicine, written by Dosa.

When death is near, Oscar nearly always appears at the last hour or so. Yet he shows no special interest in patients who are simply in poor shape, or even patients who may be dying but who still have a few days. Animal behavior experts have no explanation for Oscar’s ability to sense imminent death. They theorize that he might detect some subtle change in metabolism — felines are as acutely sensitive to smells as dogs — but are stumped as to why he would show interest.

“It may just come down to empathy,” said Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, a leading behaviorist and professor at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, when told about Oscar’s eerie knack.

In any event, when Oscar settles beside a patient on the bed, caregivers take it as sign that family members should be summoned immediately to bid their loved one farewell.

“We’ve come to recognize him hopping on the bed as one indicator the end is very near,” said Mary Miranda, charge nurse in the Safe Haven Advanced Care Unit, the formal name of the surprisingly cheery floor that is home to 41 patients suffering in the final stages of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke, and other mentally debilitating diseases. “Oscar’s been consistently right.”

Said Dosa, who treats patients at Steere: “This is a cat that knows death. His instincts that a patient is about to die are often more acute than the instincts of medical professionals.”

Oscar’s tale is emphatically not one about people dying alone and neglected, with only an animal for company. The Steere staff has a reputation among geriatric professionals for dedication, compassion, and top-notch care. The center is sunny, clean as, well, a cat’s whiskers, and filled with antique furniture, flowers, and nature prints that impart the feel of a cozy country home.

“Caregivers are always there trying to make the patient comfortable until the very end,” said Brenda Toll, a registered nurse and unit manager. “But Oscar’s a component of dying… It’s kind of weird, but kind of lovely. He’s become part of the death ritual, along with lowered lights, aromatherapy, and gentle music.”

Keeping pets has been a trend in nursing home care for several years. The Steere Center, founded in 1874, has 120 residents, plus six cats, a slew of parakeets and a floppy-eared rabbit.

Oscar’s sole domain, however, is on the locked dementia ward. He came to the unit as a kitten in July 2005, brought by a staff member to replace the floor’s previous resident feline, Henry, who had died some months earlier.

A gregarious cat, quick to solicit ear scratches from a visitor, Oscar can be clownish at times. “Just go and try completing a medical form when Oscar’s near enough to whap the pen,” laughed Dr. Joan M. Teno, professor of community health at Brown and associate medical director of Home & Hospice Care of Rhode Island, an agency specializing in end-of-life care.

But it is Oscar’s keen sense of impending death, not his occasional kittenishness, that has made the mixed-breed cat legend.

“Medical people are skeptical at the start. But you wind up believing,” said Teno.

“Oscar is a normal cat with an extra-normal sense for death,” she said. “He is drawn to death. Either he wants to give comfort. Or he is just attracted to all the quiet activity that surrounds a patient close to dying.

“As a scientist, I want to offer a biological explanation for this,” she said. “But I can’t.”
Occasionally, families are spooked by a cat keeping death watch. And their wishes trump Oscar’s. The cat is shooed from the bed and locked from the room. Oscar doesn’t like this.

“He kind of rubs aggressively against the door, paces back and forth, yowls in protest,” said Teno.

Other families are deeply appreciative of Oscar.

Jack McCullough of East Providence lost both his mother and aunt at Steere; the octogenarian sisters, suffering from disease-induced dementia, shared a room. Marion, his mother, died in November 2005; Aunt Barbara died on March 9 of this year.

In both cases, Oscar predicted death: Hopping onto each woman’s bed near the final hour. Cuddling close and purring.

“Oscar’s presence gave a sense of completion and contentment,” said McCullough. “Both women loved pets.”

He added: “The staff was wonderful. But Oscar brought a special serenity to the room. What’s more peaceful than a purring cat? What sound more beautiful to fill one’s ears when leaving this life?”

And as with any feline, a hefty portion of Oscar’s days are given to zzzzs. He likes to sleep on stacks of patient reports. Or on the desk at the nurses’ station. Or in the linen closet.

When awake, however, and strutting about, Oscar the cat projects something very much like the quality that ancient Romans called gravitas — a solemn dedication to duty.

“He seems to take very, very seriously what he does, for whatever reason he does it,” said Dosa.
Oscar makes regular “inspection” rounds of the unit, sauntering in and out of patient rooms — as if checking on the condition of the occupants. But he never joins them for a snooze.


“He only shows great interest in individuals when they are about to die,” said Dosa.
Dodman, the Tufts professor, was puzzled by Oscar’s death fixation. “Sounds like a pretty scary cat — I’m surprised people don’t hold up crucifixes when it enters a room,” he said jokingly, referring to the belief that a Christian cross will deter vampires.

But Dodman, author of “The Cat Who Cried for Help: Attitudes, Emotions, and the Psychology of Cats” and other bestselling books on animal behavior, said felines don’t deserve their reputation for indifference.

“There are just so many stories of cats who sense when their person is sick, and how the cat will show special attention to them,” he said. “Cats give comfort and affection as much as they take comfort and affection.”

As for Oscar, Dodman said, “perhaps [he] senses some change in the metabolism or mental aura of the dying person.”

Meanwhile, Oscar is surely the only cat to have won official recognition for his dedication to the dying.

At the entrance to the dementia unit hangs a plaque from a hospice organization saluting Oscar “for his compassionate quality end-of-life care.”

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Shhh! I’m Hunting Wabbits!

July 26, 2007 at 8:26 pm (Facebook, UR)

Cruising around Facebook, looking for something to keep me entertained, and I came across a friend’s pictures of this seemingly huge scavenger hunt and it gave me an idea: we should organize a huge (campus-wide? or is that aiming too high?) scavenger hunt at UR next year! Bet you didn’t see that idea coming! But seriously, I think it could be a lot of fun! We would need to do a ton of research about the campus, and probably have people take picture evidence of their findings. I mean, I seriously think it could be awesome! It would actually be cooler if it could extend off campus, ie ever team (I think we’d need teams) would have to have a car, but that’s not a make-or-break requirement. I know I sound totally crazy, but what do you think? Honestly?

Update: here’s the website for the one my friends organized. It is amazing! I definitely think we need to work on this…

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One Tequila, Two Tequila, Three Tequila, Floor

July 26, 2007 at 7:05 pm (Drinking, Facebook, Rants, UR)

Well, I’ve become friends with a bunch of my advisees on Facebook, and I must say, it is astounding how many of them have pictures of them drinking and/or with large amounts of alcohol around them. Putting aside my normal qualms about drinking, don’t these kids have any sense? These accounts and pictures really aren’t as secure as they obviously imagine. I have read quite a few articles about people who have lost positions or been suspended or in someway had their lives disrupted because they put evidence of underage drinking on the internet for all the world to see. Admittedly, Facebook can be one of the more secure websites, but only if you set it up that way! Most people don’t bother to activate many of the safety features offered on Facebook. If you’re going to drink, as you obviously are, then do it, but don’t flaunt it. If you flaunt it, those who discover it have no choice but to do something about it. Its just stupid to put yourself in a position where your standing somewhere may be in jeopardy. You may be kicked out or put on suspension for a sports team. When you get older, you may not get a job. Either of these or a million other things may occur simply because you had to go out an flaunt your transgressions.

Now, I know that you may not want to take me seriously, perhaps try to assure yourself that this won’t happen to you, but I ask you: why take the risk? You don’t have to post pictures of you with alcohol in your hands or around you. It doesn’t make you cooler. Those to whom it may matter for whatever reason will probably be the ones there drinking with you. Just take out an insurance policy on yourself, if you will, and don’t post pictures of yourself around alcohol, and if your friends do, then make sure you are not tagged. Even better: pass this advice on to them so they protect themselves as well.

You may think I’m going overboard here, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right? And it really won’t hurt you or cause you as much hassle as it could should something come out of it. Just be safe and don’t give others ammo to shoot you down. Please.

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Tidbits of Life

July 25, 2007 at 8:09 pm (Uncategorized)

I don’t have the concentration currently to write a post about one topic, so here are a few, ok, a bunch of, small tidbits of my life:

A) My first article was on hangPROUD last week! Yey!!! And it was updated while my grandparents were here, so I got to show it to my grandmother. She was very happy, to say the least! Kinda cool, I must admit. Now I just gotta wait a few weeks/months before I see my name in lights again…Ah well, my ego doesn’t need a boost 😀

B) Girl Scout Thin Min cookies are really really good frozen!

C) There’s really not much on TV on Wednesday nights…

D) I saw The Departed last night, finally! It was a good movie, but I’m not sure I’d want to see it again anytime soon. It was very bloody, and about every other word was “fuck.” By the end of the movie, or the 7 or so main characters, one was left alive. I think they just got bored by the end and were simply like, “ok, let’s kill everyone off just for the heck of it.” Also, there was a really cool plot twist that I thought they should have expanded on, yet they never did, and it was really disappointing. I won’t say anymore, cause I don’t want to give it away if you haven’t seen it, but suffice to say, it could have been better. Also, people kept telling me that you really needed to pay attention, but I didn’t find this to be true. We, the audience, knew who was good and who was bad, and that never changed. The other characters in the movie were the only ones who would be confused. It would have been much more interesting if the snitches for each side switched sides on occasion, you know, keep everyone on their toes. Ah well…

E) I finally had my first contact with Catherine in weeks, and all it was was a text to ask me to verify rumors of an explosion in Dallas that had apparently been going around camp. I looked it up, sent the info back, and that was it. Next year will certainly be interesting…

F) Speaking of next year, I cannot wait to go back! I am so ready to go back to school! Only two and a half more weeks of my internship in Boston! Only three more tutoring sessions! And then I get to go back to school on the 24th! Yey! Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music!

G) Have I mentioned that I’m kinda busy?

H) GroupGain goes live on Monday, and I finally signed up a Seller! And she’s big! Yey!

I) I just saw an Easy-Bake Oven on an ad for Psych on Friday. Those things were so much fun! I haven’t thought about those in ages…

J) I discovered today that I can find more information about my high school from Wikipedia than I can from my high school’s official website. How sad is that?

K) Brittany introduced me to collegeconfidential.com today, and its accompanying discussion boards. Fun times had by all! If you want a laugh, check this discussion out. The author’s name is URdefect for a reason. Enjoy!

L) There are so many freshmen and such high demand for certain classes, that the University upped the capacity for a bunch of them, and even added additional sections of some classes.

M) Core books are on the bookstore website, but none others. 😥

N) Ok, I think that’s it for now, but I’ll be back!

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Busy, Busy, Busy

July 24, 2007 at 1:35 pm (Uncategorized)

So I know I have been slacking just a wee bit on my blogging, but in my defensive I:
a) was at the beach where the internet was fairly sporadic
b) was then in TN, where I was doing…other…things than being on the computer
c) started my advising job, which entails talking to about 100 freshmen via email
d) had to catch up on all the emails that came while I was away
e) am working full time on Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays for GroupGain
f) am attempting to write 2 articles a week for HangProud
g) am getting up wicked early to tutor on Tuesday mornings
h) read Harry Potter from 12-5am on Saturday and am still catching up from that
i) am not getting much sleep anymore for anyone of the above reasons + normal issues

I could probably keep going until z, but I shall stop now and simply say that I am very very busy and will do my best to keep working on this – promise!

And no, this was not intended as a pity party, simply an informative session for you 😀

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Dippin’ Dots and Dolphins

July 11, 2007 at 8:36 pm (Vacation)

This morning, I decided I didn’t really want to go to the beach since I was already sunburned and had no wish to become further burned, and since I don’t like sand or swimming in the ocean, there was really no reason to go. Then I realized I needed to get some postcards for my friends (esp Catherine, stuck in the boonies of TX with no connection to the outside world save for snail mail). Turns out to be a good thing I did!

When I got there, I went down to the beach to say good morning to my mother and she had just come back from a nice long walk down the beach and told me there were dolphins in the surf! We quickly pulled out the camera and snapped a bunch of pictures, though it was really hard as we were never sure where or when they would surface, and when they did surface, it was only for a few seconds. But I think I got some good ones! It was really cool!

Went shopping, got some postcards, and got some Dippin’ Dots. That was certainly a blast from my past! I think I remember when they came out, though that might be just me remembering my first experience with them. Anyway, I think Dippin’ Dots are the coolest thing ever invented (pun not intended)! Yummy!

So finally I finished shopping, headed home, discovered my advising job this summer had finally started, sent out a record 103 emails, and spent like 2 hours doing legitimate things on my computer! No procrastinating, just work! Shocking, I know! But three cheers for any excuse to get my family off my back about the amount of time I spend on the computer.

My presence was required back at the beach for dinner at this small restaurant in town, after which we went back to the beach to fly a kite. My first time flying a kite! It was awesome! And then the storms they had been predicting all day moved in and we had to leave when we saw lightning. So we got back to the house, had a 15 minute downpour, then went outside to play some frisbee. Now we’re just all hanging around. Leaving tomorrow morning!

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