December 31, 2004

Fly-eating Robots

We're not getting any of these anytime soon.  Fly-eating robot powers itself  Scientists at the University of the West of England (UWE) have designed a robot that does not require batteries or electricity to power itself.    Instead, it generates energy by catching and eating houseflies.

Sounds like a good idea?  Wait, to attract the houseflies, they're using human sewage as bait.  I'll think I'll stick with the batteries.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 6:55 PM | Permalink

December 30, 2004

America and the world getting better

Despite war, hunger, and the terrible tsunamis in Southeast Asia, take heart, America and the world is becoming better.

  • America's kids are all right.
  • America is healthier
  • America is cleaner
  • the world is less violent
  • the world is freer
  • the world is healthier
  • the world is getting cleaner

Radley Balko put together the list and the supporting sources at Straight Talk - The Good News

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:51 PM | Permalink

Pregnant with Twins at 67

We are truly going where no humans have gone before when a Romanian woman is pregnant with twins at 67  after fertility treatments.  Optimistic about her future, Adrian Iliescu, an author and academic, said her family has a history of longevity.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:19 AM | Permalink

December 29, 2004

Chaos and Tsunamis - Look Back in Terror

A satellite view of the tsunami in Sri Lanka.  This is what chaos looks like.

Before And After-1

And this is what it looked like on the ground as people looked back in terror.

Sidney Morning Herald Look Back

from the Sidney Morning Herald.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:25 PM | Permalink

Mobile phones used to locate stranded in Sri Lanka

Many stranded people are being found in Sri Lanka because they had Mobile phones

Thirty six stranded British tourists were rescued in Sri Lanka thanks to a mobile phone with one of them and technology that could pin-point the user, an official involved in the rescue told AFP. The Britons were picked up from the southern beach resort of Hikkaduwa where they were stranded after the tsunami lashed three-quarters of the island's coastline, killing nearly 13,000 people.

A private initiative involving all phone companies here began monitoring mobile phones with international roaming and traced the call patterns to figure out the location of the phone users. "There were 10,252 international roaming phones working on Sri Lankan networks at the time of the tragedy," Chris Dharmakirti, who is heading the Tidal Wave Rescue Centre said. "We sent everyone an sms and got responses from 2,321.

He said 5,983 roaming phones had gone dead since the disaster while 4,269 phones had been used to make at least one call after the tragedy. "Whenever anyone used the phone, we could track where the person was and restrict our search to affected areas of the country."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:14 PM | Permalink

Waves that change everything.

It's quite impossible to take in the immensity of the tragedy of the tsunamis in Southeast Asia.  The numbers boggle the mind.  It may be over 60,000 lives lost now.  There are few things we can do.  First, contributions of course to pay for emergency relief of water, clothes and shelter.  Click on How to Help  for a list of organizations accepting contributions to help the victims.

The stories are heart-wrenching and there so many. The people lost and the people left behind. 
From The Guardian

"My house collapsed and I had my daughter's hand in mine as we ran back from the water," said her distraught father, Raja. "But the wave took her from my hands."    From the same spot Shiva Prakashan, 26, saw his father swept away by the waves."He was sitting by the street and suddenly the water came," he said. "I looked back and he was gone."

From The Age in Australia

This was the worst day in our history," said Sri Lankan businessman YP Wickramsinghe as he picked through the rubble of his dive shop in the devastated southwestern town of Galle.  "I wish I had died. There is no point in living."

From the New York Times

Mulyana, a 24-year-old housewife, had just sat down to a wedding party on Sunday morning when the tsunami struck. She ran and held on to a coconut tree. But the water pulled her away anyway, far out to sea.
"I was alone in the middle of the ocean," she said from her hospital bed in this town on the northeastern coast of Aceh Province, the area of Indonesia hit hardest by the disaster. "I was afraid of being pulled all the way to India."
Mulyana, who cannot swim, grabbed to a coconut tree floating nearby and clung to it. With the weight of her clothes pulling her down, she ripped off everything but her bra and prayed to God to help her. Four hours later, a group of fishermen found her as they were pulling bodies from the water.

Norm Geras at Normblog has a terrific post  Perspectives on the calamity.  He quotes Simon Day at the University of California

As a scientist working on the causes and effects of tsunamis, I find editorialising along the lines of "a readiness to accept the hardness of our condition is the only proper attitude" quite excruciating. For me, the deepest horror of the event lies in the one to three hours between the recording of the earthquake on the worldwide seismic network and the arrival of the tsunami waves on distant coasts, while their victims lived out the last hours of their lives all unawares.

With less than an hour of warning and a simple lesson in advance on what to do, most would have been able to simply walk a mile inland to safety and the death toll would have been counted in the hundreds rather than the tens of thousands. Providing these things is not advanced science.

The most thought-provoking  is Waves by 'Cicero'  at Winds of Change. 

Living consists of enduring tsunamis -- unexpected waves rising out of the sea, changing everything. If asked only a minute before the first wave hit, “what threatens you the most,” the bin Laden bystander might have postulated that George Bush was his greatest threat, or American capitalism. Or perhaps he would have lamented diminishing fish supplies, or pointed at a deforested tropical coastland. Maybe he would have expressed fear for Tamil rebels, or government army men. Then, only one minute later, the sea’s horizon would tilt upwards, sweeping away the expected.

Change tends to come in waves -- deep, silent swells that knock every atom of presumption aside, overturning accepted prejudices, ideas, fears and dreams. 9/11 was one such wave. It was a great surge that overcame our meticulously constructed reality, seemingly impervious to the dark motives of bearded men living in 12th century Afghanistan. That wave rose out of the sea, on a beautiful, sunny day. And a new world was born in its wake.

In this last nod to 2004, we should remember waves. We can look back on human history and see that fundamental change rises from nowhere, and is revolutionary. Waves like the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, or the 1929 Crash; waves such as Pearl Harbor and Trinity, or a crumbling Berlin Wall, or the World Wide Web. In retrospect, there were impending signs, and surely their coming could have been foretold if anyone was attuned and heard. We should recognize that our greatest asset as living beings is our capacity to absorb waves. In so doing, we transform ourselves, and move ahead. The waves of this world make us a better people. We will endure only if we create opportunity from the abrupt realities that rise from the sea.

Change comes in waves.  Being prepared, being resilient, being compassionate is what we all must do as we endure the Business of Life and the waves that change everything.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:39 AM | Permalink

Ecstasy Study for Cancer Patients

Dr. John Halpern, a Harvard psychiatrist, has won FDA approval, authorization from the Lahey Clinic and McClean hospital for a pilot study to see whether the recreational drug Ecstasy or MDMA "can help terminally ill patients lessen their fears, quell thoughts of suicide and make it easier for them to deal with loved ones," according to the Associated Press.

Halpern said anecdotal reports of people dying from cancer who take Ecstasy and were able to talk to their family and friends about death and other subjects they couldn't broach before.  Unlike other pain medications, Ecstasy does not make people foggy but reduces their stress and increases their empathy. 

"I'm hoping that we can find something that can be of use for people in their remaining days of life,"  Halpern said

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:02 AM | Permalink

December 28, 2004

The Protein You Don't Want

When you lose someone you love to melanoma, any sign that this cancer can be beaten is good news. Scientists at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute  in Boston have discovered a protein that plays a critical role in the growth of that terrible deadly skin cancer.  Normal cells don't need the protein CDK2, but malignant melanoma can't grow without a steady supply.

Early research showed that suppressing the activity of the CDK2 gene which produces CDK2 protein significantly slowed the growth and spread of melanoma cells.  About Melanoma from the  American Academy of Family Physicians.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:44 PM | Permalink

December 24, 2004

Cowgirl Smarts

When I was young, I wanted to be a cowgirl when I grew up, so am I ever happy that I learned about Cowgirl Smarts.

Gutsy, brave, and undaunted they set out to lasso more out of life. These cowgirls were more than boots and spurs. They were women with inner strength and trailblazing attitudes, women who lived life on their own terms.
“Please excuse the pants,” some cowgirls said as they unashamedly traded their shirtwaists for flannel and their sidesaddles for riding astride. They were initially starred at, poked fun of and some even banned from town. By choosing to assume lifestyles and jobs normally reserved exclusively for cowboys, and quietly proving their equality, these cowgirls unintentionally moved women from suffrage rallies to voting booths. They did it by burning their sidesaddles—not their bras. They are the Americana spirit that sets American women apart from any other nationality.

Here are some Cowgirl rules of life from Ellen Reid Smith:

1. Sometimes you have to buck the norms to pursue your dreams
2. Adventure and Excitement Beat Housework
3. Be tough, but revel in your femininity
4. When life throws you to the ground, get back on the horse
5. Don’t let others belittle your achievements
6. Accept the nature of things
7. Work hard and look after other cowpokes
8. Never steal another cowgirl’s horse or thunder
9. Attack life like it’s a 1000 pound steer
10. Act on your beliefs rather than protesting for them
11. Use common sense, if you don’t, the cattle will knock it into you
12. Let the land rejuvenate your soul
13. Walk beside your pardner, not in front
14. When cow poking doesn’t pay, be resourceful
15. Embrace urban cowgirls

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:33 AM | Permalink

December 23, 2004

Your MRI on your iPod

"Technology coming from the consumer market is changing the way we do things in the radiology department," iPod Helps Radiologists Manage Medical Images, via Virginia Postrel

Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:13 PM | Permalink

December 22, 2004

Physicians' Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles

I found this survey quite astonishing. Holiday Season Survey Reveals Physicians' Views of Faith, Prayer and Miracles.

  • A majority of doctors (55%) said they have seen treatment results in their patients they would consider miraculous.
  • Most physicians pray for their patients as a group (51%).
  • Even more, 59% pray for individual patients.
  • 67% encourage their patients to pray

A national survey of 1100 physicians conducted by HCD Research and the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC over the past weekend.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:42 PM | Permalink

Happiness: Purpose or Meaning

As if we needed to be reminded, Technology Review, MIT's Magazine of Innovation, explores "Technology and Happiness: why more gadgets don't necessarily increase our well-being." James Surowieki writes that Americans are no happier today than they were in 1946 when happiness studies first started. This despite television, xerox, 800 numbers, cell phones, walkmans, ipods and the World Wide Web. In fact, for many life seems worse. A significant minority of citizens are more anxious, trust government less, get divorced more often, and get depressed far more often.

Strikingly, the Amish who forswear modern technology are as happy as members of the Forbes 400. Surowieki reviews the literature and notes Richard Easterlin whose 1947 paper concluded that once a country was solidly middle-class, getting wealthier doesn't make its citizens any happier. He then goes on to explore the impact of technology on our humanity.

"Hedoinic adaption" is what psychologists call the phenomenon of how quickly people adapt to new innovations and soon take them for granted. That's why we complain when we can't get a cell phone signal or why we're annoyed that a website is loading too slowly. Taking things for granted is a sure sign that you haven't developed the attitude of gratitude, an essential component in one's personal development for the Business of Life.

Having a wealth of happiness means never taking life for granted. It means developing a sense of appreciation for the smallest things - the light of a new day, the smell of coffee in the morning, the pure pleasure of a hot shower after a morning spent shoveling. You can say that the more you appreciate, the happier you are. I particularly appreciate Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine mystic with his own web page, A Network for Grateful Living. In an essay entitled Word, Silence and Understanding, he writes:

The purpose of anything we do is determined by its usefulness; not so the meaning. What a thing or an action means to me is determined not by its usefulness, but by my appreciation. Meaning is the value of even the useless.... In order to accomplish a given purpose I must be able to control the situation. And in order to be in control I must first grasp what it is all about: ‘to grasp’ – that is the right word with regard to purpose. I must grasp all details firmly, take hold of them as of so many tools. But when it comes to meaning, what is there to be grasped? On the contrary, I must allow myself to be grasped by whatever it is, before it can become meaningful to me. As people sometimes say: “How does this grab you?” Only when it “grabs” you will it mean something to you. But there lies a risk. As long as I am in control, not much can happen to me. As soon as I allow reality to “touch me,” I am in for adventure. The quest for meaning is the adventure par excellence, and happiness lies in the thrill of this adventure.

Finding meaning in life is part of the Business of Life. When something grabs you, it becomes part of you. It's the fullest expression of all parts of you - body, mind, heart and spirit - that makes for the richest life.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:41 AM | Permalink

December 16, 2004

Healthy Heart, Healthy Brain and Improved Memory

Another reason to pump up your heart. Improving cardiovascular health may slow dementia according to a review published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

I never heard of mixed dementia before - a combination of Alzheimer's disease and a gradual cognitive decline caused by ministrokes or vascular dementia. But the study authors Doctors Eric Larson and Ken Langa at the University of Michigan say that the distinctions among them aren't as important as "pushing cardiovascular treatments that could prevent or slow down memory loss and confusion."

I seem to be focusing a lot on the heart lately. I believe our hearts are the center of our well-being. Anything that improves our hearts from physical exercise to spiritual exercises like meditation and prayer to emotional healing and ever greater expressions of love enlarges, deepens and lengthens our lives.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:40 PM | Permalink

Heart Attack or Joy and Meaning

Are you under a lot of pressure at work? At a job you don't even like? Consider this: Stressful deadlines boost heart attack risk six-fold.

    "The pressure of meeting a work deadline can produce a sixfold increase in the risk of suffering a heart attack over the course of the following day. And competition at work could double the ongoing risk, according to a new study.
    Previous research has shown that intense anger, sexual activity and emotional stress can all lead to heart attacks. But this is the first time having an intense work deadline has been singled out as a trigger for heart attack over such a short timescale.
    The study questioned nearly 1400 heart attack survivors from the Stockholm area, aged 45 to 70, about the period leading up to their first heart attack. They were compared with a control group of about 1700 people who had not had a heart attack.

Maybe it's time to consider something Worthwhile - work with joy and meaning. Maybe it's time to embark on a new Occupational Adventure. If fear of the unknown is holding you back, ask yourself if you are creating Hard times that will never happen. Better a leap into the unknown than a heart attack.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 4:24 PM | Permalink

December 15, 2004

The Sound of Your Cells

Your body has about 10 trillion cells, each of them busy growing, reproducing and dying. Just how each of them know what they are supposed to do is an awesome mystery to me.
Now I was never very good at high school science so I accept what scientists say about How Cells Work.

    "At the most basic level, a cell is really a little bag full of chemical reactions that are made possible by enzymes. Enzymes are made from amino acids, and they are proteins. When an enzyme is formed, it is made by stringing together between 100 and 1,000 amino acids in a very specific and unique order. The chain of amino acids then folds into a unique shape. That shape allows the enzyme to carry out specific chemical reactions -- an enzyme acts as a very efficient catalyst for a specific chemical reaction. The enzyme speeds that reaction up tremendously."
As I said it's a awesome mystery to me. But I can accept easily the idea that cells make sounds since I've listened to Molecular Music.

Dr. Linda Long is an award winning biochemist and musician who has translated the three dimensional positions of a protein's amino acids into note sequences. This sonic way of describing protein structures is another way of perceiving and recognizing patterns in very complex structures. On her site, you can hear MP-3s of medicinal plants like pokeweed, mustard and and parsley in a collection called "Music of the Plants" or you can listen to MP-3 clips of note sequences derived from protein hormones in "Music of the Body" and hear the calcium chimes or the voice of metabolism. What I can't describe is how wondrously lovely and soothing the music is. It's unlike anything you've ever heard, yet it's still very appealing. She is now marketing CDs of her music.

For her work, Dr. Long has been awarded an Invention and Innovation award by NESTA, the UK's National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. She says,

    It’s about viewing science from a different perspective, so that people who may not be able to look at scientific data in an analytical way can still connect with it and get something from it.
Because I can easily grasp the idea of the cells of the body working together in a wondrous symphony, I can understand this story in the New York Times, Listening for Cancer by Clive Thompson.
    Three years ago, the nanotechnology expert James Gimzewski realized something startling about human cells: since they have many tiny moving parts, they might be producing tiny vibrations. And since all vibrations produce noise, it would be theoretically possible to listen to the sound of a cell. Gimzewski set about adapting an extremely small device to measure these vibrations and then with another device proceeded to amplify them loud enough for human ears. He discovered that a yeast cell produced about 1,000 vibrations a second. When he amplified the signal, a musical hum filled the room. ''It wasn't at all what I expected,'' he recalls. ''It sounded beautiful.''

    Beautiful, and also potentially revolutionary. Gimzewski says that his technique could become a unique tool in the war against cancer: to figure out if a cell is malignant, doctors could simply listen to it.

    When a cell turns cancerous, its internal machinery alters: it might divide more rapidly, and its walls could take a new shape. Those changes, Gimzewski surmises, would produce distinctive rates of vibration and thus distinctive noises. He has already measured the acoustics of some cells going through death cycles. When he measured an inert yeast cell, its lack of movement produced a dead-sounding hiss. And when he immersed a bunch of yeast in alcohol, the cells emitted a creepy ''screaming'' sound as they suddenly perished. Even minute changes -- like getting warmer -- make the cells sing differently. Gimzewski calls his technique sonocytology, and in August he published the first paper on this field in the journal Science.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:50 PM | Permalink

Money doesn't buy happiness

The wife of the lottery winner who took home the richest undivided jackpot in U.S. history says she regrets his purchase of the $314.9 million ticket that has thrust her family into the public spotlight. CNN quotes his wife Jewel Whittaker as saying
I wish all of this never would have happened," "I wish I would have torn the ticket up."
The report from The Charleston Gazette.

  • UPDATE. December 22. Sadly I read that Jack's grandaughter Brandi Bragg was found dead, wrapped in a blanket and tarp outside her boyfriend's home. The title of the Charleston Daily Mail piece is "From Riches to Sadness, Death"
    May she rest in peace. My condolences to her family. My best wishes that Jack and his family have a better and happier New Year.
Posted by Jill Fallon at 2:09 AM | Permalink

December 14, 2004

Impressive results with worms

I don't know about you but this sounds kind a creepy -Parasitic worm hope for Chron's Then again, I don't suffer from the type of agonizing attacks Chrohn suffers do, during which, they will try anything if it promises relief.

    Parasitic worms may be an effective treatment for the inflammatory bowel disorder Crohn's disease, research in the US suggests.
    University of Iowa team found most of 29 Crohn's patients who swallowed a type of parasitic worm over a 24-week period showed an improvement.
    It is thought that helminths, such as roundworms and threadworms, may prevent Crohn's in the developing world.
    The research is published in the journal Gut.

Don't you love it when the BBC is quoting the prestigious research journal, Gut.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 8:55 PM | Permalink

Empathy and the Golden Rule

Bringing you new ideas and new advances in caring for our health and wealth are part of what the Business of Life™ blog is all about. We don't often get to announce the discovery of a new emotion and when we hear about one, we race to tell you as we did about elevation and how other people's good deeds can make you a better person.

So imagine our surprise when we learned that the term "empathy" was first used only a century ago. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines empathy as "The ability to imagine oneself in another's place and understand the other's feelings, desires, ideas, and actions. It is a term coined in the early 20th century, equivalent to the German Einfühlung and modelled on "sympathy."

The feeling of empathy is not new, so what did they call it before? "Pity" implies sorrow that inclines one to help according to dictionary.com. while "compassion" denotes a deep awareness of the suffering and a wish to relieve it and "sympathy" denotes the capacity for sharing in the sorrows or troubles of another.

I think the term empathy came into being after Sigmund Freud developed his theory of the human mind with his conception of the unconscious. He was really the first to focus on how we think, what we feel and what we repress. Attention shifted from the external world to the internal one, from actions to thoughts and feelings.
Empathy was a necessary coinage to describe thoughts and feelings that may never be expressed in the external world but which exist solely in the mind.

Before that there was only the Golden Rule about which Harry Gensler , a Jesuit, writes a short essay with links

    The golden rule is endorsed by all the great world religions; Jesus, Hillel, and Confucius used it to summarize their ethical teachings. And for many centuries the idea has been influential among people of very diverse cultures. These facts suggest that the golden rule may be an important moral truth.
Golden rule

The Golden Rule incorporates the imagination and understanding necessary for empathy but goes beyond it to include action. You never hear people talk or write about the Golden Rule anymore. Maybe it sounds too treacly or old-fashioned. Instead, everyone talks about "empathy", even when what they describe is empathy and action which is the Golden Rule.

Five Lessons in Empathy: The from Brian Alger at the Experience Designer Network who writes about the way we treat people.
1. Cleaning Lady
2. Pickup in the Rain
3. Always Remember Those Who Serve
4. The Obstacle in Our Path
5. Giving When It Counts

Here's Pickup in the Rain:

    One night, at 11.30 p.m., an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway trying to endure a lashing rainstorm. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down the next car. A young white man stopped to help her, generally unheard of in those conflict-filled 1960s. The man took her to safety, helped her get assistance and put her into a taxicab.

    She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console colour TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached.. It read: "Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others."

    Sincerely,
    Mrs. Nat King Cole

Posted by Jill Fallon at 3:22 PM | Permalink

The Nose Knows

Ten scents prove to be the best predictors for Alzheimer's Disease which affects 4.5 million Americans and worries many more. They are strawberry, smoke, soap, menthol, clove, pineapple, natural gas, lilac, lemon and leather.

    People with mild cognitive impairment who cannot identify these scents will develop Alzheimer's disease, according to research from the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
        Based at Vanderbilt University, the 700-member research group released the findings yesterday during an annual meeting.
        The "10-smell test," which takes only a few minutes, is as accurate a predictor for the disease as a more complex memory test or an expensive magnetic resonance imaging that measures brain volume, researchers say.
        "Early diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease is critical for patients and their families to receive the most beneficial treatment and medications," said study author Dr. D.P. Devanand, professor of psychology and neurology at Columbia University and director of the Memory Disorders Center at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:11 AM | Permalink

December 7, 2004

From tooth fairy to stem cell bank

In an earlier post, I wrote about baby teeth as a source of stem cells. Here's a report on baby teeth from the Australian Stem Cell Conference in October

    "Parents will want to store the stem cells found in the pulp inside these juvenile teeth in liquid nitrogen" says Dr Stan Gronthos, a haematologist at the Hanson Institute in Adelaide, South Australia. "That way they could be used to grow new teeth and perhaps even cure neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease."

    He predicts they will become effective for growing replacement brain tissue to overcome stroke damage as well as basal cell degradation linked with Parkinson's.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 10:13 AM | Permalink

Sleep more, Lose Weight

If this sounds too good to be true, take a look at these recent studies from Stanford and the University of Chicago that show too little sleep can make you fat.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 9:33 AM | Permalink

December 3, 2004

Grades for Doctors and Hospitals

A not-to-be missed article in the New Yorker by Atul Gawade, The Bell Curve . He asks the question "what happens when patients find out how good their doctors really are" and then examines it in best New Yorker detail by focusing in on the patients and doctors dealing with cystic fibrosis in Cincinnati and Minneapolis. At the same time, he discusses Don Berwick at the Boston Insisture for Healthcare Improvement and his drive to bring transparency to our health care system, which means grades and so a Bell Curve.

    In December, 1999, at a health-care conference, Berwick gave a forty-minute speech distilling his ideas about the failings of American health care. Five years on, people are still talking about the speech. The video of it circulated like samizdat. (That was how I saw it: on a grainy, overplayed tape, about a year later.) A booklet with the transcript was sent to thousands of doctors around the country. Berwick is middle-aged, soft-spoken, and unprepossessing, and he knows how to use his apparent ordinariness to his advantage. He began his speech with a gripping story about a 1949 Montana forest fire that engulfed a parachute brigade of firefighters. Panicking, they ran, trying to make it up a seventy-six-per-cent grade and over a crest to safety. But their commander, a man named Wag Dodge, saw that it wasn’t going to work. So he stopped, took out some matches, and set the tall dry grass ahead of him on fire. The new blaze caught and rapidly spread up the slope. He stepped into the middle of the burned-out area it left behind, lay down, and called out to his crew to join him. He had invented what came to be called an “escape fire,” and it later became a standard part of Forest Service fire training. His men, however, either thought he was crazy or never heard his calls, and they ran past him. All but two were caught by the inferno and perished. Inside his escape fire, Dodge survived virtually unharmed.

    As Berwick explained, the organization had unravelled. The men had lost their ability to think coherently, to act together, to recognize that a lifesaving idea might be possible. This is what happens to all flawed organizations in a disaster, and, he argued, that’s what is happening in modern health care. To fix medicine, Berwick maintained, we need to do two things: measure ourselves and be more open about what we are doing. This meant routinely comparing the performance of doctors and hospitals, looking at everything from complication rates to how often a drug ordered for a patient is delivered correctly and on time. And, he insisted, hospitals should give patients total access to the information. “‘No secrets’ is the new rule in my escape fire,” he said. He argued that openness would drive improvement, if simply through embarrassment. It would make it clear that the well-being and convenience of patients, not doctors, were paramount. It would also serve a fundamental moral good, because people should be able to learn about anything that affects their lives.

UPDATE: James Frederick Dwight is quite skeptical about this article. He argues that Dr. Gawande's study is sloppy because he never accounts for the disparity in the patient population. There are about 30,000 Cystic Fibrosis patients and 1000 variations of the disease.

    Regrettably, Dr. Gawande’s article is at best logically weak, at worst perhaps recklessly irresponsible. By handling the data he received from the CF community in a flawed manner, there exists the possibility that Dr. Gawande has done that community a grave and unwarranted disservice. There is a real chance this article will profoundly harm people who don’t currently want for hardships

Posted by Jill Fallon at 5:06 PM | Permalink

What is the Shape of the Water Within You

When we were children we learned the impossible fact that no snowflake is alike. What no one thought to do before Masuru Emoto was to freeze water crystals in different conditions, then photograph its crystalline structure. Not a traditional scientist, his college degree from Yokohama University is in International Relations and his graduate degree is in alternative medicine, he began his water research as an original thinker.

What is so startling about his water crystal photographs is that the crystals change depending upon the thoughts, intentions and prayers of the people viewing the water. They appear to show that thoughts and feelings affect physical reality. Since the earth is 70% water and so are we, this has earth-changing implications especially if his work is replicated in more traditional universities. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle formulated by the German scientist Werner Heisenberg states that in the world of subatomic particles, the very act of observing alters the reality being observed. Could Emoto's photographs be proof that the energy of our thoughts and intentions can alter the molecular structure of water? If so, the implications for our personal health and our environment are extraordinary.

Take a look at these examples. The first comes from a very clear spring in Japan, the second is from the Fujiwara Dam, before offering a prayer, and the third is from Fujiwara Dam, after offering a prayer. Click on any image for a larger view.
Sanabu-ichi Yusui spring water
Fujiwara Dam, before offering a prayer
Fujiwara Dam, after offering a prayer

I first saw these images in a lecture some two years ago and was so struck by them that I tried to buy the self-published book in Japanese but was unsuccessful. Today, these images are more wide-spread since being featured in the movie What the Bleep Do We Know. You can read more at Masuru Emoto's website, or in this magazine interviewMore Messages in Water, or buy the book, The Hidden Messages in Water at Amazon which I have ordered in English.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:07 PM | Permalink

December 2, 2004

Confirmation that Stress Speeds Aging

No one who looks at photos of US presidents as they enter office and as they leave can deny that presidents age a great deal during their terms of office. We "know" that the stress of caring of a chronically ill child or loved one can prematurely age the care-giver. Now, scientists have confirmed that stress speeds aging.

    Chronic stress appears to hasten the shriveling of the tips of the bundles of genes inside cells, which shortens their life span and speeds the body's deterioration, according to a small, first-of-its-kind study involving mothers caring for chronically ill children.

    If the findings are confirmed, they could provide the first explanation on a cellular level for the well-documented association between psychological stress and increased risk of physical disease, as well as the common perception that unrelenting emotional pressure accelerates the aging process...."This is a real landmark observation," said Robert M. Sapolsky of Stanford University, who wrote a commentary accompanying the paper in today's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "This is a huge interdisciplinary leap . . . a great study."


Dr Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel headed a research project on aging that focused on a piece of DNA, called the telomere. Next they plan to test the effect of meditation, mindfulness training and yoga on both perceived stress and telomere length.

Those old wives tales that told of a severe emotional stress turning a person's hair grey overnight seem to have a scientific basis.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 12:57 PM | Permalink

December 1, 2004

Healing Power of Love

One of the key elements to a successful blog is the personal voice. When someone speaks from their heart about what they learned in their lives, you pay attention. Doubly so, if they also bring their business experience to the table. I happened upon this post How do we learn the things we value most by Brian Alger on The Experience Designer Network.

He reviews a recent article by Dean Ornish entitled Love and Survival in which Dean Ornish talks about the healing power of love and intimacy.

    Love and intimacy are at the root of what makes us sick and what makes us well, what causes sadness and what brings happiness, what makes us suffer and what leads to healing. If a new drug had the same impact, virtually every doctor in the country would be recommending it for their patients. It would be malpractice not to prescribe it-yet, with few exceptions, we doctors do not learn much about the healing power of love, intimacy, and transformation in our medical training.

Brian relates his experience of isolation and lack of purpose while at the supposed height of a professional career. Regaining his sense of authenticity in life, he suggests that any meaningful ideas about lifestyle which he often writes about must be intimately connected to ideas about love.

    What I sense I have learned about love, however incomplete that may yet be, I know precisely that the meaning I possess largely flows through to me through my family, and as only a father could feel through my two children. I have read a number of articles about the idea of authentic learning that make little to no reference to love, compassion, empathy, intimacy, connection, relationship, etc. Does this not seem at least unusual? There is, perhaps, a fear of making reference to things religious, a topic that organized education tends to side-step. Yet if we are to apply the word authentic to the word learning then love, like death, are unavoidable experiences that essential to living life as widely and broadly as possible.

Posted by Jill Fallon at 1:57 PM | Permalink

Inactivity Deadlier Than Smoking

Researchers, looking at records of Hong Kong residents 35 and older who died in 1998, found that a lack of physical activity caused more than 6,400 deaths a year, compared with just over 5,700 from smoking, according to Agence France Presse, citing a report in the South China Morning Post.

The research was done by the University of Hong Kong and the Department of Health. "We calculated that about 20 percent of all deaths in Hong Kong people aged 35 and above could be attributed to a lack of physical activity. This amounted to 6,450 deaths," the Post quoted Lam Tai-Hing, head of the university's department of community medicine, as saying. Lam added, "It is fine if you do not smoke. But if you do not exercise, then you are [still] at high risk."

Posted by Jill Fallon at 11:20 AM | Permalink