Sunday, June 25, 2006

Shining Stars of Charitable Giving

The recent announcements of the 2 richest men in the country, divesting themselves of their substantial personal fortunes to charitable endeavors, are reasons for some discussion. Both men well known as hardnosed businessmen, and their personal ventures are equally bold. They represent a departure from the greed that has become the hallmark of the elite class. The courage and leadership of these 2 men are laudable.

Mr. B.G., began his philanthropic venture some years ago, and now reigns amongst the largest charitable organizations of the world. Mr. G and his wife M., are now financing some of the largest humanitarian projects, even outpacing the economic powers, in scope and scale. Among them are pandemics near and dear to my persuasion, HIV/AIDS and malaria. Mr. G. will soon devote himself entirely to their charitable works. To their credit, they have inspired their children to give-back to society, and not expect a lavish lifestyle, from the sweat of their family empire. The G. family is a shining example of the proverb, “…much is given, much is expected…”

Next we read of another extremely wealthy individual who aspires to bequeath is fortune to charitable endeavors. Although I believe Mr. W. B. was the germinal basis for the G. Family’s commitment to “returning the wealth to society.” Mr. B. is someone I have immense admiration for, and who I think should be a role-model for businessmen around the world. I was fortunate to attend a discussion given by Mr. B. a few years ago, and he changed my view of wealth. He spoke of wealth in a manner that persuaded me it could be more of a burden, than a blessing. According to him, the only thing that a man who has $40 billion in assets can buy that I could not, was time. He could travel in a manner to accomplish more in a day than me. I have no basis for rebuttal, but I have confidence in his general principles to accept his assertion. As he puts it, “…a Big Mac costs a billionaire the same price as it costs someone from the middle-class.” More compelling though were his views on our responsibility for shaping a society that provides equal opportunity to everyone…regardless of sex, race, nationality. Too often, we seek shelter in the rationalization that “we inherited the world in this fashion, and that I as an individual cannot change it.” Of course when we do not initiate events, there is no genesis for change. Mr. B. is a remarkable man, and I hope more of us aspire to his views on entitlement and privilege.

In an era where people aspire to wealth for privilege, I am hopeful that this could be the beginning, not the end, for a new trend in redistribution of wealth. This country regales the world with stories of “self-made men,” while defining ourselves as the pre-eminent meritocracy. Sadly I think the hype cannot live up to the reality. The recent congressional change to inheritance laws proves we could be proceeding in the wrong direction. Well-intentioned acts of giving successive generations a “head-start” should not stifle their ambition. In truth, the most effective return on investment could be encouraging the next generations to follow their own passions, and doing the best to equip them to do so. For society, parents could commit themselves to creating an environment where opportunity is not the vestige of a few…where their children are free to pursue their dreams. No one promises that a revival in thinking will be an easy transition. Like any other undertaking, friction impedes progress, but as you gain momentum, movement success is sustained, in part, on previous success. We all can give our children the more enduring legacy of a better society, rather than the short-lived rewards of material inheritance.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Week of June 9, 2006

War of Words

The leaders of opposite sides on the Copyright Wars recently traded barbs on the future of digital content distribution. The MPAA, represents the movie industry, and the EFF, opposes restrictions on the digital rights for end-users. The MPAA maintains that the copyright laws are a necessary incentive to promote new content production and delivery. The EFF asserts that the erosion of rights for the end-users has resulted in the wide-spread hacking and mass-broadcasting of those copyrighted materials. What remains clear is this debate will not soon dissipate, as Internet-users continue to dictate the ways digital content should be distributed. To read more, go to:

India Proposes Adoption of “Gifted” Children

The Indian Army has proposed adopting children with special abilities, to further enhance them at specialized schools and training facilities. Borrowing on the success of the 4-year old marathoner, and sports icons like golf sensation TW, the Army asserts that early intervention would allow them to achieve their full potential. Education, training, competitive events, and nutrition would aid the 10 – 16 year old youth in realizing their potential. Perhaps it would be too much to ask for a great majority of the “not-so gifted” children to also receive the same treatment from their government. This article published in the New Delhi PTI News Agency circulation.

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Wins FDA Approval

A vaccine was approved as a cancer prophylactic for girls and young women 9 – 26 years of age. Currently more than 100,000 women are diagnosed and approximately 350 women die of cervical cancer each year. The vaccine was generally well tolerated, and proven effective against non-invasive cervical cancer caused by the HPV. A round of 3 IM injections at ~US$120 per dose would be administered to achieve protection. This vaccine must be made cheaper to reach the low-income women, who are not adequately screened or treated for cervical cancer. To further the effort to eliminate cervical cancer in the US, this vaccine would need approval from a governing board which sets vaccination guidelines for children. For more information, go to:

Language Switch in the Bilingual Brain

A multi-national team from Japan, Britain, and Germany conducted research to determine the area of the human brain most active in discerning different languages. German-English and Japanese-English bilinguals were tested to determine the nerve responses activated during the switching between languages. The Team’s results indicate the left portion of the brain called the Caudate Ganglia, becomes activated during language adaption. For more information, go to:

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

25 Years of AIDS

This week we observe a grim milestone…the 25th anniversary of the first documented AIDS cases in the CDC’s MMWR. Classified as a disease of sin and the poor, the storm was permitted to gather momentum. Hopefully everyone understands that AIDS doesn’t respect any borders; geographically, socially, ethnically, or religiously. Any life can be touched with AIDS…at any stage of life.

Today probably the most optimistic outlooks include HIV/AIDS on the landscape as for the foreseeable future. The experts hope for finding treatment regimes that facilitate infected individuals living productively with their viral infection. As someone who has worked on the front lines of medical establishment for more than a decade, in the remote corners of the world, that is a compromise I would settle for as well.

Naively we all entered the field believing eradication would occur in our lifetime. Amongst the informed, a truce seems an amicable conciliation. I remember when a representative of a government agency addressed my class with offers of fellowships specializing in AIDS. My reaction was “…what a waste of a career,” feeling that a cure was just around the corner. That was nearly 20 years ago. Interestingly, pursuing a more glamorous area, the gravity of AIDS still pulled me back. I myself have never been touched by AIDS amongst family or friends, but one only has to visit an AIDS ward to understand what the struggle is really all about. Look into the eyes of someone’s mother or father, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s wife or husband. Look into their eyes and recognize, “but for the grace of God, go I.” There isn’t much opportunity for retrospection, but I still believe my work, and that of my colleagues, makes a difference in the lives of those who are able to re-enter their lives following a positive diagnosis of HIV. Surfing the global current of technology, collaboration, and political will, we reclaim our humanity from the jaws of AIDS…one person at a time. Admittedly there are times when I feel like the little boy plugging the dam with my finger. I am sure that I am not the only one. Sustaining a person’s ability to love, contribute to society, and enjoy the best quality of life possible, my work does matter.

There has always been a sociological struggle…fighting against the AIDS-related stigma. An unforeseen consequence of gaining the upper-hand in that battle has been a newly-formed apathy towards HIV-infection. Regrettably, in some corners the success of treatment regimes has led to a false-sense of security. Young people may be unaware of the early images of AIDS no longer fear contracting it, resulting in surging new infection rates in Western nations. Now is no time to become complacent. Living with HIV still means fighting for your life…every single day! The HIV retrovirus is not sitting-still while we ramp-up our production of treatment cocktails. Treatments are trying to keep pace with a constantly mutating enemy. Our young people must aid in the struggle by exercising the only proven cure for AIDS…not to become infected at all. Avail yourself whatever means in your power to protect yourself, and those you love, from infection. In that way, we are all on the front-lines fighting the proliferation of HIV/AIDS.

Invoking the words of a period gone-by, “…if you see a good fight…join it!”
For an interesting retrospective, go to:

Friday, June 02, 2006

Week Ending June 2, 2006

U.N. Special Session on HIV/AIDS
The U.N. convened a special session focused on the single topic of HIV/AIDS. Sadly, despite serving as host country, the United States sent no high-level administration officials. The First Lady spoke, and in all fairness, did her best to tow the company line. More sobering remarks were delivered by U.N. Secretary General on the status of our global struggle with the pandemic. His assessment leans towards the need to be more aggressive in the battle, as the plague seems to be outpacing our efforts. Go to: for a review of the NY Times news piece.

Is Too Much Folic Acid Harmful to Babies
A recent study published in the journal Nature, has added more fuel to the controversy over Folic Acid supplements for expecting mothers. Deficiencies have been associated with spinal defects in developing fetuses, prompting the US to require supplementing all breads with Folic Acid. A research team in Houston has reported that elevated levels of Folic Acid in mice have been linked to excessive weight-gain. There are no reports of Folic Acid linked to weight-gain in humans. Already loosely linked to certain cancers, now the prospect of adding to the already epidemic obesity crisis is adding more scrutiny to the excessive use of Folic Acid. Perhaps this will widen the scope of research concerning the prolific use of mega-doses of vitamins in general. Go to:

Transgenic Goats Produce Human Drug
A US-based company has won approval to sell an anti-clotting drug, A Trypn, extracted from goat’s milk, in Europe. Human genes were spliced into the goat genes, and expressed in their milk. This is hailed as a break-through, as a single goat can produce nearly 100,000 times the amount of product extracted from a unit of blood plasma. Go to:

Medical Use for Cannabis in Mitigating Pain
Research reported in the journal Anesthesiology reports Cannabinoids, the active ingredients in Cannabis plants, has shown great promise in reducing pain following surgery. They are thought to complement the body’s natural pain management system. Side-effects of nausea and rapid heart rates were associated with higher doses. Cannabinoids could represent a new class of drug for post-operative pain management. Go to:

Earliest Evidence of Farming
A joint US-Israeli team has uncovered evidence that man has been farming figs for 11,400 years, which is about 6,000 earlier than first thought…predating even wheat and beans as the first cultivated crops. The team uncovered a species of fossilized figs in the Lower Jordanian Valley which appear to suggest they could have only resulted from human intervention. Go to:

Thursday, June 01, 2006

DC Sniper Gets Final Verdict

Considering this saga evolved in my own backyard, I am compelled to say a few words about this story. As is our usual custom here, no names.

Let us hope the final chapter of the DC Area sniper attack story was written today. Already sentenced to death in Virginia for one conviction, J.A.M. was sentenced to 6 consecutive life-terms in Maryland prisons for the shooting deaths of 6 others. Let’s examine what that means. If by some miracle, Mr. M followed the example of a famous figure about 2,000 years ago, he would still have to rise and additional 7 times before he’d be a free man. I’d say that should stamp-out any hope Mr. M.

For those who may not be familiar with the story, here’s a primer:

September 21, 2002: Two people wounded outside a liquor store in Montgomery, Alabama. One fatally.

October 2, 2002 5:20 p.m.: Fired shots at the windows of an arts & craft store in the Aspen Hill area of Montgomery County, Md. No injuries.

October 2, 2002 6:04 p.m.: Fifty-five year old J.D.M, of Silver Spring, Md., was killed in grocery store parking lot in nearby Wheaton, Montgomery County.

October 3, 2002 7:41 a.m.: Thirty-nine year old J.L.B., of Arlington, Va., was killed while mowing grass at an auto dealership in the White Flint area of Montgomery County.

October 3, 2002 8:12 a.m.: Fifty-four year old taxi driver P.K.W., of Olney, Md., was killed while pumping gas at a station in Rockville, Montgomery County.

October 3, 2002 8:37 a.m.: Thirty-four year old S.R., of Silver Spring, was shot and killed outside of a Silver Spring post office. (Montgomery County)

October 3, 2002 9:58 a.m.: Twenty-five year old L.A.L-R., of Silver Spring, was shot and killed as she vacuumed her van at a gas station in Kensington, Montgomery County.

October 3, 2002 9:15 p.m.: Seventy-two year old P.C., of Washington, D.C., was killed while standing on a street in Washington.

October 4, 2002 2:30 p.m.: Fourty-three year-old woman wounded in the parking lot of an arts & crafts store in Fredericksburg, Va. (Spotsylvania County).

October 7, 2002 8:09 a.m.: Thirteen year-old boy wounded as he was dropped off at school by his aunt in Bowie, Md. (Prince George's County).

October 9, 2002 8:15 p.m.: Fifty-three year old D.H.M., of Gaithersburg, Md., was killed while at gas station in Manassas, Va. (Prince William County).

October 11, 2002 9:30 a.m.: Fifty-three year old K.H.B., of Philadelphia, was killed while pumping gas at a station in Fredericksburg.

October 14, 2002 9:15 p.m.: Fourty-seven year old L.F., of Arlington, Va., was shot and killed at home improvement store parking lot in Falls Church, Virginia. (Fairfax County).

October 20, 2002: A man was wounded at the restaurant parking lot in Ashland, Virginia. (Fairfax County).

For all those directly, and indirectly affected by these proceedings, I hope the sentence provides you some closure, and you are able to resume your lives. We wish you all peace.