Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Chinese President's social concept of honor and disgrace, and online response

over at china digital times there's a great post looking at the online response to the chinese president's recent moralizing campain. for instance, here's one of the 8 parts of the moral code, which focuses on honor and disgrace:

5) The honor of togetherness and cooperation; the disgrace of profiting at the expense of others

the most interesting part comes at the end of the above post, where a blogger points out that one obvious way of really reading the template "The honor of [goodThing]; the disgrace of [disgracefulThing]" is to read it as "More and more people must be doing [disgracefulThing]." Here's the rewrite of 5:

5) More and more people must be profiting at the expense of others

Larry Brilliant: The World's 4 Major Problem Areas and Challenges

larry brilliant gave an invited lecture at berkeley yesterday. the title of the talk was the health of humanity. larry has done many amazing: he was a leader with the WHO's smallpox eradication program, founded the WELL online community, started Seva, an international health nonprofit, a TED prize winner, and now, the director of Google.org, the charitable-wing of google. an interesting, if somewhat dated, article about larry can be found here.

at the very beginning of his talk, larry gave the WHO's definition of health:
Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (Link)
it's a great definition and was really the launching point for larry's talk. (aside: first larry stated this definition, but when he restated it, he added "spirtual" to "physical, mental and social".. i thought that was interesting. in fact, he peppered his whole talk with mentions of the spirtual and religion. i didn't particularly care for this but it was clear that some sort of spirituality stokes him)

larry outlined what he thought the 4 major problems facing the world are:
  1. Global Warming
  2. Diseases of Animals
  3. Poverty and Injustice
  4. Religious and Sectarian Violence
and then he stated some thoughts on each.

before giving notes on what he said, i'll first say that larry ended his talk by saying that everyone in the audience, esp. berkeley students, should strive to work in one of these areas and really make a difference for the world. that resonated with me. i've been trying to learn a lot about various aspects of world development on the fronts outlined above and my next step is to figure out how i want and can contribute... but that's for another blog post.

Now the 4 topics:

1. Global Warming
Larry said at first he didn't think it was a problem up there with the rest of the world's major problems, but he has since reconsidered. he pointed out one scary thought which quickly showed the negative effects of global warming. the grameen bank, in bangladesh, has given out billions of dollars and helped millions of people out of poverty. it has been an amazing success story. however, as larry said, the bank and its successes are on a "collision course with global warming." bangladesh is not much above sea level, and as the water rises, the hopes and success of many might wash away.

2. Diseases of Animals: the overpopulation of protein providers
larry pointed out that about 35 years ago there were 15 million chickens in china. today, there are about 15 billion. the growth of the chicken population has dwarfed the human population growth. this has increased the liklihood of diseases jumping from animals to humans. in fact, most of our most deadly diseases have had this jumping characteristic, which is made easier because of our encroachment into all areas of the planet, and our international transportation networks which quickly move all kinds of animals and diseases around the world.

the key take away from this point, however, was how this problem was a problem for all of humanity, the poor, the middle class, the rich and the ultra-rich. larry spoke of a slide he uses in presentations that shows 200 emperors, empresses and kings and queens killed by awful pandemics of the past. "we're all in this together!"

3. Poverty and Injustice
honestly, i was less interested in what larry said on these points so my notes are less copious. i noted the oft-stated fact that about 3 billion people in this world live on less than US$2 a day (the bottom, or base, of the pyramid, as the group is often called). larry went on to say that this group used to love america back in kennedy's time, because in some ways america stood for what could be achieved, but now it's unlikely that much of this group loves america, given the current administration's policies. i don't recall being very interested in what he was saying here, or the strange logic he was following...

4. Religious and Sectarian Violence
larry spoke of a civilization that lived in historic afghanistan that actually praised all religions, and took great strides to make people of all faiths feel welcome. they had coins depicting gods from all kinds of religions, and were stewards of many religious icons (like the giant buddha statues that were recently destroyed by the taliban).

anyway, i think larry's point was that this is the kind of model we need today, and it's even worse that we don't have such an acceptance today because the damage fanatics can do today trivializes anything that could've been done thousands of years ago, or even hundreds of years ago. today it isn't too difficult to create awful diseases, or weapons of horrible destructive power. angry and bad decisions can have huge repercussions!

i'm hoping that they'll post larry's talk at the webcasts site soon.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

jet lag, time delay, crazy faces..

yesterday while paying for lunch at the thai restaurant around the corner from my building i turned briefly to look at something on my right. i thought it was a brief turn, but the cashier nudged me with my change.. he couldn't have got the change that quick! i thought. but then i noticed that i was reacting very slowly to many things.

i think this is because of my jet lag on returning from india. jet lag is killer, and i get so little sun while in my berkeley office that i just want to fall asleep, right there, at the desk.

in possibly related news, i keep seeing people making odd faces, and i think i might be going crazy. the faces look something like this:

i hope these strange visions will also fix themselves up.

the medical establishment

while in india i learned, just by chance, that i may have a medical problem that has gone undiagnosed for, well, my whole life! but let's say its affected me for 20 years. (NOTE: i'm in the process of getting this problem diagnosed.. it may be nothing, but i have strong reasons to think otherwise.. though i have been called a hypochondriac)

the condition itself isn't so bad, but nevertheless this made me so angry! not spotting this problem was a failure on my part, my parents part, the medical professionals i have seen all my life, as well as the medical system itself. i was really down and angry, and got into a bit of an argument with my sister, who's about to graduate from medical school.

here are three areas where i have problems with the medical establishments i've been involved with (canadian and american)

  1. outcome evaluation
  2. patient training
  3. easy access to entire medical history, key diagnoses, chronic issues, etc..

outcome evaluation: i told my sister that i really felt that most of the time my doctors didn't actually evaluate the outcome of the treatment they prescribed for me. she told me that checking outcomes is huge in the medical profession, and gets a lot of emphasis in training. but my typical experience with outcome evaluation is that the doctor prescribes something, and if the patient doesn't reappear, they assume that everything worked out. maybe they don't even assume that, since doctors are so busy that it's hard to schedule time for everything. however, i feel that diagnosis gets the most time and attention, and outcome evaluation just seems like this fuzzy area. i'd love to know how outcomes are supposed to be tracked, and how good the profession is doing, if anyone has comments.

patient training: i didn't even know that the problems i was having were in fact problems! and even today when i feel some small ailment i don't always have a good language for describing it, and i'm sometimes not diligent enough to remember to track it, so that when i do see the doctor again, i remember to mention it. i imagine a few hours of training would go a long way in helping me do a better job of gauging my healthiness, and might help me to better understand when it makes sense to see a doctor. i've never heard of such training, anywhere.

medical history: coming from the area of computer science, and especially google, i'm astounded at the awful disorganization of my medical records. i've moved around a lot, and seen specialists from time to time, and so i have medical records in any number of places. even when i get one office to fax their records to another office, i've found it unlikely that the new doctor will actually take more than a cursory glance at these new records. instead, they will in fact ask me to identify what's important via questions and filling out a long form. sure, i have some ideas, of what's important, but really, this is laughable!

there are probably some excellent observations embedded deep within those records that will never again see the light of day. for instance, i had wrist problems in college and so had treatment there. some things worked, some things didn't. i don't even remember all the things we tried. but it won't be easy for me to discover what worked for me and what didn't. there are likely so many interesting and useful things pertaining to my health that can be gleaned from those records. but they aren't in any format that makes this easy.

i was recently reading a paper on a usb flash drive that is the soul of your computer -- all your data and programs. you could go around to another computer, plug in, and voila, it's your computing environment. it's called a soulpad. i want that for my medical records. i want my medical records securely stored on a flash drive that i can lug around with me. i can go into any doctor's office, plug it in to their computer, and the doctor can quickly grok my entire history, with hilights and everything. furthermore, when the doctor is done, i can get her report uploaded to my little medical flash drive before i leave the office. i am actually thinking of gathering all my medical records and going through a somewhat laborious process of making such a device.

perhaps one day all our medical records will be securely stored online and we'll be able to easily grant access and doctors will have excellent tools to understand medical histories and make highly informed diagnoses and recommendations that pool together the collected work of many diagnoses and analyses on innumerable patients. until then, having all my medical records in my hands, easily accessible to me and perhaps my health professionals is within reach, and hopefully it happens soon!