Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Marcellus Shale permits in Western PA

Despite protests, films, and a little bit of media coverage, the Marcellus Shale is the next major site for natural gas drilling.

This is bad news for my hometown.  At the right, you'll see a picture of the sites of drilling sites that have already been issued a permit in Washington County, outside of Pittsburgh, PA.

In case you are unaware of the method of extraction currently used to drill for natural gas, it's called fracking.  And it involves the pressurized blasting of rock hundreds of meters into the ground with a potent mixture of toxic chemicals.  It's such a toxic procedure that homeowners living near the wells across the country are able to light their tap water on fire (not to mention that hazard that poses to their health).  Here's a video in case you don't believe me:

For more information about this issue, check out the documentary Gasland.


I Love Charts

I Love Charts

Thursday, July 14, 2011

TED Talk: Paul Nicklen - "Taes of ice-bound wonderlands"

I think it's possible that if everybody was as passionate as Paul Nicklen is about the marine life that lives among the Antarctic polar ice, the world would have a lot fewer problems.

"Five-hundred bucks" - Superpoop

"Taxing the Rich" - Toothpaste for Dinner

Charlie Wittmack

"A FEW DAYS before he begins the push toward the summit of Mount Everest, during some of the monotonous downtime at base camp, Charlie sits in a tent with Brian Block, one of his climbing partners, and the two explore life’s bigger questions: Why are we here? What’s the purpose? And what does it mean to truly live?"

Human limits continue to be tested. Charlie Wittmack is the only person ever to have completed the "World Tri": swim the English channel (275 miles), bike from France to the Bay of Bengal (9000 miles), then run to the foot hills of Everest before climbing to the summit (950 miles). Incredible. Read the rest of the story HERE.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Petrol or bust

In Malawi, gasoline costs around 290 Kwacha per liter. At a rate of 150 kwacha per dollar, this is approximately $8 per gallon. Today, my colleague who was planning to drive me to a village on the outskirts of town called at the last minute to say that he couldn't drive me because he couldn't find a petrol station anywhere in town that had gasoline for purchase. Not a drop.

In Malawi, people will walk 10k to work if they can't afford to pay the rising prices of mini-bus transport (private minivan taxis). There is no public transportation in Malawi, so, if you have to get to work, but can't afford transport, you simply walk or you ride your bicycle.

The reason that gasoline is so cheap in the U.S. (relative to sub-Saharan Africa) is that there is a heavy tax on petroleum products in the latter's case. By imposing a tax on gasoline, the government forces people to ration gasoline to preserve their bank accounts. It's treated as a limited resource there as opposed to in the U.S., where we act as if the world has an unlimited supply.

At $4 per gallon, would you still insist on driving your car? Or are there more affordable ways for you to get around? With our national debt and trade deficits looking worse every year, perhaps taxes on resources such as gasoline (not to mention additional taxes on fast food and soft drinks) are something our government should consider? Hell, it might even motivate you dust off your old bike...

NOTE: correction made on 7/8/2011. Price of gasoline in Malawi is 290MK per liter, meaning the price per gallon is nearly $8.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Can't afford healthcare? Rob a bank for $1 and reap the rewards in jail.

You've got chronic back pain, and nowhere to turn for relief. Thousands of American work their butts off day in and day out are turned down for insurance coverage despite paying their taxes and living civilly obedient. There are only two demographics in our country that are guaranteed health care, active military personnel and inmates (and even the lines for these groups is blurred at times). So you can either continue to suffer without health insurance or you can achieve coverage by joining the military or going to jail. That's what this guy did.  His plan was flawed, as you'll discover in the article, but the care he's receiving in jail is better than nothing.  The important point to take from this article is that a system that leads a guy to do this is clearly broken.  He's not lazy or worthless; he's sick. 

 Read the full article HERE (1).  and HERE (2)


Saturday, June 18, 2011

TIA, bambo

I trust that you’ll
allow me the space
to share my thoughts
for a moment regarding
the uninhibited grace
of your tempt, Love.
The olfaction of
the trip has quartered
me in your arms.  The
sweet aroma of red dusted
roads runs miles through
my mind of memories past.
The sound of your straw
bristles across my stoop,
linens flapping in the breeze.
The warmth of your
beating bossom has grabbed hold
again with the site of your
barren landscapes.  I accept
your embrace, as in years past.
The smoky drip of your
charred flesh, the
gritty swig of your social circle,
a part of which I somehow belong.
With the wave of your hand
hesitation fades
revealing wholesome
sunrises burning like fires
speckling the horizon.
TIA, bamboo.  Welcome home,
my wayward friend.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Jeffrey Brenner's brilliant idea.

The majority of health care reform critics cited the assumed impossibility of reducing health care costs while improving care as reason to abandon efforts.  But what if we could have our cake and eat it, too?

Jeffrey Brenner is a physician in Camden, NJ.  He had a brilliant idea after analyzing crime data from the city, which revealed "hot spots" of crime in various parts of the city.  The presence of such a trend suggested that the deployment of police around the city to model these patterns of crime found in the data would both reduce costs and increase the effectiveness of the police force.  Naturally, he then considered applying the model to health care.

He crunched through some data and found that there were hot spots of sick people in Camden that were not only the sickest but also receiving the worst care.  If we took this population out of the hospitals and brought them into specialized clinics that would help them improve their health through lifestyle changes, could we save money systematically while indeed improving the the quality of care that they receive?

Thus far, Brenner's program - and similar programs that have popped up around the country - seems to be achieving what the critics thought was impossible.  Granted, they've only been in operation for a year or so, but, down the line, if the results are positive, Brenner may have uncovered a part of the solution to our nation's healthcare crisis.

A few points about his program that stand out to me:
-24-hour emergency hotline (would reduce costs by limiting calls to 911 in non-medical emergencies such as falling over and not being able to get back up)
-health coaches, recruited from backgrounds outside of healthcare
-morning meetings to get all of the staff on the same page about scheduled patients' recurring health problems and the barriers to their well-being
-constant nagging from clinical staff about patients' unhealthy habit: smoking, diet, exercise, etc.

Read the whole article ("The Hot Spotters" by Atul Gawande) HERE.

Friday, June 10, 2011


After a long drought, I'm ready to rain down some sweet rain in the form of some blogging.

I’m finished with my first year of med school, which makes me 25% MD. At this point, we've adjusted to the idea of accumulating $250k in debt. There's no turning back now. We're all going to be doctors. What isn't clear is what the hell that actually means in the grand scheme of things.

The waters have been muddied by the biomedical scientific flurry of information that has been forced into our brains. Many fresh MDs admit that, during your preparation for board exams at the end of your second year, you will have the ability to recall greater fundamental medical details than you will for the duration of your practicing years.

But one thing that can't be instilled in us is a sense of purpose. Since my time on Semester at Sea, I've felt some calling to the world, though I still don't know where I'm heading. Other friends that pursued medicine have described how the process has beaten the altruism out of them. My friend at Harvard Dental - who also happens to have been on the Semester at Sea voyage with me - told me that he held an altruistic view of dentistry until very recently. Now, he merely hopes to achieve a comfortable life for himself while performing his job as best possible. This is coming from a guy that has devoted a great deal of his time over the past years to servicing the poor.

I'm on a path to change the way that we think about health. The current stream of thinking in society is that our bodies either work well or they don't, which, in my opinion, isn't really a terrible way to simplify things. On the other hand, take, for example, the study of epigenetics. A great deal of research is now focused on how factors in our environment – including pollution, diet, and exercise – affects the expression of our genome. All of these things can influence the way that we feel and perform.

Cancer is a dysfunction that arises from within the body itself. It deals with the uninhibited division of cells, a process that is highly regulated in a normal cell. This dysfunction is usually the result of damage to genes that regulate cell division. Free radicals or some DNA-damaging agent such as radiation causes this damage. While inheritance of certain cancers must be mitigated by our role as physicians, providing the tools for people to minimize this damage by reducing the stresses on our bodies that cause them. Epigenetics research has shown that these agents range dramatically…from the food we eat to the amount of time that we spend on our cell phones.

This isn't about money, politics, economics, or health care policy. This is a throw back to what makes life possible. We must do our best to preserve our bodies. It’s the only way to optimize our wellness in spite of a poor genetic hand. The food, sleep levels, stress levels, and activity that we constantly expose our bodies to can and will affect gene transcription, and thus alter our mood, energy levels, focus, and general well-being.

A recent lecturer suggested we decide now where our interest lies in medicine: taking care of sick apples or preventing apples from getting sick in the first place. While care for already sick patients is critical, I think that we as medical professionals owe it to society to begin taking prevention more seriously. Considering the potential of epigenetics, this battle is not solely against obesity. It’s a battle to preserve our wellness and morbidity by devoting more resources and energy to mapping out an optimal way of life most appropriate for maintaining the integrity of our genome.