Monthly Archives: August 2007

Scaling up. human empathy. And saving the world.

http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/15-09/st_thompson

A researcher named Paul Slovic studies human empathy and decision making – and has discovered that we will race to rescue a single stranger in dire straits, while ignoring huge numbers of people in the same plight. Humans are very good at processing the plight of tiny groups of people but horrible at conceptualizing the sufferings of many.

In one of his his experiments – he showed subjects one starving child and asked how much they’d be willing to give to feed her. Then he showed a different group, a picture of 2 children – they gave 15% less! Then he showed them 8 children. 50% less!

Then this Wired article goes back to Bill Gates and his recent mission to tackle third world diseases:

Which brings me back to Gates. The guy is practically a social cripple, and at times he has seemed to lack human empathy. But he’s also a geek, and geeks are incredibly good at thinking concretely about giant numbers. Their imagination can scale up and down the powers of 10 — mega, giga, tera, peta — because their jobs demand it.

So maybe that’s why he is able to truly understand mass disease in Africa. We look at the huge numbers and go numb. Gates looks at them and runs the moral algorithm: Preventable death = bad; preventable death x 1 million people = 1 million times as bad.

We tend to think that the way to address disease and death is to have more empathy. But maybe that’s precisely wrong. Perhaps we should avoid leaders who “feel your pain,” because their feelings will crap out at, you know, eight people.

What we need are more Bill Gateses — people with Aspergian focus, with a direct sensual ability to understand what a million means. They’ve got to be able to envision every angel on the head of a pin. Because when it comes to stopping the mass tragedies of today’s world, we’re going to need every one of them.

link

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The Streets of West Chester, PA

Ashbridge, Virginia’s Marshall: “Lafayette and Biddle are visiting Washington about chestnuts sold by gay Marketers to Miners with St. Banards who were  in union biting mean Dean who was selling pricey sharpless nails (Nields).”

Wayne knew Darlington went to church high and tossed walnuts at Mattlock and Franklin

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I myself will help you

 8 “But you, O Israel, my servant,
       Jacob, whom I have chosen,
       you descendants of Abraham my friend,

 9 I took you from the ends of the earth,
       from its farthest corners I called you.
       I said, ‘You are my servant’;
       I have chosen you and have not rejected you.

 10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
       do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
       I will strengthen you and help you;
       I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

 11 “All who rage against you
       will surely be ashamed and disgraced;
       those who oppose you
       will be as nothing and perish.

 12 Though you search for your enemies,
       you will not find them.
       Those who wage war against you
       will be as nothing at all.

 13 For I am the LORD, your God,
       who takes hold of your right hand
       and says to you, Do not fear;
       I will help you.

 14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob,
       O little Israel,
       for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD,
       your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

Is 41:8-14

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Remember New Orleans on the Second Anniversary of Katrina

The quote of the day:

As we fought for our inalienable rights during the civil rights movement we must now fight for the rights of the residents New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward. We must hold all elected officials accountable for rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward and other devastated areas.
-Julian Bond, President of NAACP

Here is a good article about Living in  Lower Ninth  Ward

Two years after Hurrican Katrina hit, about 10% of the neighborhood of 19,000 is back, and they have put up homemade street signs and other things. Many people and many Christians have volunteered to help  people gut their houses and start over. Congress voted to generously send New Orleans money to help rebuild, but when push came to shove, one of the things that has been cut is government aid to help the poor get back on their feet. I guess they were hoping that nobody would notice.

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Dan’s Book

I just found out this morning that my brother-in-law, Daniel Ashlock, has a book published! You can look inside it at Amazon:

Evolutionary Computation for Modeling and Optimization

It is about using evolutionary algorithms to solve practical problems in computer science.  Dan is a full professor at Guelph University in Ontario, Canada.

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Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has just resigned

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has just resigned! This is wonderful news as he is one of the big defenders of the use of torture which is both (1) wrong stragically (in the war against terrorism) and (2) wrong morally.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/gonzales_resigns

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A Review of the Scientific American Global Food Issue – Sept 2007

Scientific American sports a double cheeseburger in a global bun on its cover this month in one of the most informative magazines so far this year. The “From the Editor” column sets the tone – the 20th century’s green revolution in farming has resulted in “billions and billions served” (apologies to McDonald’s). Wow, have we shown Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, author the 1968 book The Population Bomb, wrong! And all through scientific advancements! Exactly how do 6 billion people get fed breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday (or not) – and what are the remaining problems and how do we solve those?

The opinion piece Breaking the Poverty Trap by Jeffrey Sachs points out that poverty, internal violence, and political collapse tend to go together and points out that a lot of the problems are geographical in nature. Jeff suggests focused investment that enable farmers to gain access to fertilizers, high-yield seeds, small-scale management technologies and livestock management. Tropical diseases are easily preventable and completely treatable – we need a supply chain established of “crucial commodities”. We need a technological infrastructure that can break economic isolation. Check out The Earth Institute of Columbia University where there are success stories of malaria incidents being cut from 75% to 10% with the simple introduction of insecticide treated bed nets and a health clinic.

The Introductory Article: A Question of Sustenance by Gary Stix declares that for the first time in human history the number of overweight people is greater than the number of undernourished people worldwide (1.5 billion fat people versus 1.3 billion undernourished people). Poor Mexicans actually drink more soda than Americans do. There has been Coca-Colonization the world over. American-styled supermarkets selling corn, soy, and other vegetable oils are overtaking the village market the world over. The “green revolution” has forestalled mass starvation, but has made people all over the world overweight. What to do? There is a global paradox of obesity and malnutrition.

Eating Made Simple by nutritionist Marion Nestle is practical. It deals with the problem of conventional nutritional advice continually changing. Here are Marion’s main points:

  • Do not overeat
  • Exercise more
  • Consume mainly fruit, vegetable, and whole grains
  • Avoid junk food (especially soda pop)

She blames food marketing for almost all that ails us. Grocery stores provide a vital social service but they are not social service agencies. Their job is to sell as much food as possible. For instance – colorful, aromatic and enticing fresh produce when you enter, then long center aisles forcing consumers to pass by many items that they may buy on impulse, highly prominently placed junk food, and checkout lines with candy. Its all a plot to super size it! Marion says that you can have a study to justify almost any conclusion. The big problem for nutrition research is that you cannot lock large numbers of people in cages and feed them measured formulas of a complete diet, it is hard to make people stick to a restrictive diet protocol.

Then there is the requisite article debunking the myth that being slightly overweight may be good for you. The next article is about how we have caveman stomachs and minds that are physiologically designed to binge eat and store food in our stomachs for when food is unattainable. We are not designed for a world full of food, this article argues. So its not our fault that we eat so much and don’t work it off!

The next article This Is Your Brain on Food explains why we crave food the same way addicts crave drugs. It is caused by the same brain circuitry called dopamine – and some people are at greater risk for food addictions. Some mice diet go off a high sugar diet better when given naloxone – the same drug they give morphine addicts going through withdrawal.

The next article by Barry M. Popkin is entitled The World is Fat and declares obesity has become a bigger problem than malnutrition in virtually all of Latin Merica, Mexico, Egypt, and South Africa, the Middle East and North Africa. Even in Nigeria and Uganda! Why? Soda and TV. Mopeds instead of walking. Supermarkets. Fruits and vegetables are OUT and sweeteners are IN. In 1989 fewer than 10% of Mexicans were obese. In 2006, 71% of Mexican women and 66% of Mexican men were overweight to obese. This is about the same as in the US. Diabetes has gone from being almost non-existent to being a disease that 1 in 7 Mexicans suffer from. The poor are getting fat – with much less health care and health information than we have in the US. It is because people are designed to drink, and when they have a choice between Pepsi and water – they choose Pepsi. Wal-mart, Carefour and Ahold are opening up giant stores around the world selling cheap snacks and soft drinks. The super stores are putting the traditional markets out of business! Mexico has a GDP $10,700 and obesity has increased from 61.9% in 2000 to 69.3% in 2006. If food keeps on getting more and more tasty and our life styles continue to get more and more sedentary we will continue to get more and more unhealthy.

The next article is entitled Still Hungry – one eighth of the world’s people do not have enough to eat – by Per Pinstrup-Andersen and Fuzhi Cheng. 720 human being die of hunger every hour. Six million people are going to die of hunger this year. The lack of food causes much more hardship than death – it also causes handicaps people’s ability to function and live properly. 800 million – two and a half times the population of the US – live everyday with hunger. The problem does not stem from insufficient food production – but because people are unable to pay for food – poverty. Natural disasters, escalating military conflicts, and children being orphaned by Aids are also causes.

So what are the solutions? Rapid economic growth for poor people – including programs for rural development, with an emphasis on agriculture, basic education, and health services. Credit must be made available to poor rural people such as microloans. Development assistance should be increased from the current 0.3% to 0.7% from rich countries to poor countries. The more people who can buy goods, the more everybody prospers!

There are two more articles – one on biotechnology on genetically modifying crops in developing countries, and one about protecting the food supply from terrorist plot.

What would Jesus think if he read this Scientific American? First of all I think He would think that healthy well-fed people who are not redirecting their resources to the poor, sick and hungry in an ever shrinking world are being unloving. He tells a story about how all nations will be gathered before the Son of Man, and will be separated into two groups – goats and sheep. He will say to the goats – “I was hungry and you failed to feed me”, and the goats will say “when were you hungry?” and the Son of Man will say – when you sat on your butts while people died of hunger or died of malaria because they didn’t have a ten dollar mosquito net.

Ending hunger, disease, and poverty (as well as casting out evil spirits, and the dead being raised) is the essence of what the Kingdom of God is all about – and it will take all of our mind, all of our souls, and all of our strength, to wipe out poverty in our generation. It may involve moving to another country, or taking a job that does not pay as well, or giving of our resources, or making a micro-loan. We have not been given a new life in Christ so that we can continue to destroy our environment, vote for the interests of the rich, and ignore the poor. “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus TO DO GOOD WORKS” and the good works that need to be done in the twenty-first century is to wipe out poverty, wipe out disease, wipe out hunger by going, thinking, and giving. The Scientific American think scientists have a handle on these problems and they are working on solutions – but what about us – have we given up? Faith without works is dead. Food without work is obesity. We need fruit, vegetables and whole grains from heaven because man does not live on bread alone.

-To the Moon

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