January 25, 2007

Diamonds are Forever

I just opened my email this morning to find this quote in the Global Development Briefinf Newsletter:

"It's either some colossal cluelessness or remarkable indifference to that reality that would somehow try to equate raising one's hand with a diamond on it as a promotional counter-measure to the effect of the film."

-- Edward Zwick, director of Hollywood film Blood Diamond, attacking a campaign to get film stars to display gems at awards events. The US diamond industry is donating USD 10,000 to African charities for each star raising a hand with a ring at events including the Oscars. Zwick, whose Africa-set film highlights the issue of illegal diamond profits funding wars, called the move a "charitable bribe" and "distasteful." The World Diamond Council (WDC) said so-called "blood diamonds" made up less than 1 percent of new diamonds, compared with 4 percent in the late 1990s. Conflict diamonds have been linked to armed struggles in Sierra Leone, Liberia, the DRC (Congo) and the Central African Republic.

January 22, 2007

First Snow

Yesterday, Washington D.C had its first snow of the season. The weather has been incredibly mild and sometimes downright warm (mid 70s in winter). At this point, if George W. Bush even utters the phrase "I don't believe in Global Warming", I think that everybody in the world would laugh. Surely he's joking right?

Anyways, it suddenly dawned on me that I hadn't experienced snow for a good three years! For those readers that haven't seen snow either, there are three things that charaterize this phenomenon:

(1) Snow is white. This is where the expression "its fleece was white as snow" comes from.

(2) Snow is wet. All proper winter footwear should be plasticized. If you choose to be stubborn and walk around with your suede "city shoes", you will soon find that your socks and toes are wet, and your shoes don't look so trendy anymore. D'oh!

(3) But above all, snow is cold. Actually, it's damn cold. People cope with this in different ways. Some women would rather look hot than cover up. And they will walk around with little shirts and short skirts. But people stare at them with disbelief and snickering. Others pull out their most expensive fur coats, fur-lined hat and furry boats. I am more of the bundle-up-in-layers persuasion.

I would recommend the following attire:
-A big puffy coat. If you are a rap star, go ahead and buy the biggest, puffiest, less form fitting coat out there;
-A hat. No matter how you slice it, hats look dorky. Even if you have the half-beret, hat-baseball caps that young, trendy women wear, it's silly looking. But a hat is incredibly useful because it prevents the heat from escaping your body through the top of your head. It works. Trust me: tried, tested and true;
-Good gloves. I would recommend mittens or cashmere gloves. Nice and toasty;
-Sturdy boots and thick socks;
-If you are like me and you happen to have gone out to dinner BEFORE the snow, and suddenly realize that the rapdily falling snow will damage both your large leather bag from India and your computer case, throw your pride out of the door and cover them both with garbage bags. You may look like a homeless person, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.

When it snows, whatever you do, you are bound to look like a crazy person, a Yeti or the Pillsbury Doe Boy. Ah, snow, the great equalizer.

The Medical School Paradox

You know, being a Public Health graduate, I have had plenty of time to study with pre-med students and contemplate whether being a doctor is the right path for me. I concluded a long time ago, that treating warts and bunions on middle-aged men’s feet was just not for me.

However, I have immense respect for doctors. Mainly because they have to treat bunions and warts on middle-aged people’s feet.

However, I found that there is an inherent flaw to the recruitment of doctors and I am reminded of it as my sister is neurotically trying to finish her medical school applications and competing for interviews with people who have rafted down the Amazon River or spent years working for medical consulting firms.

The paradox is this.

(A) The Hippocratic Oath
The Hippocratic Oath is a vow that physicians take to promise that they will do their utmost to take the best course of action for their patients. Therefore, a doctor is a surrogate parent of sorts.

(B) Technical Skills
There are few things harder than being a doctor. This is because being a doctor takes precise, correct, well-tested, time-sensitive, case-by-case and sometimes innovative approaches to care.

(C) Pre-Med Student Selection
Because these technical skills are so important to becoming a good doctor, you look for students that can retain large amounts of information, take quick decision after long hours of work and are particularly compassionate and driven to see the patient get better. Some students distinguish themselves by working hard, volunteering in local shelters and having good social skills. Other students retain their competitive edge by being unwilling to cooperate with fellow students, ripping articles from academic journals used for school work and convincing other students that they are not driven/smart/connected enough to be in this field.

Which brings me to the following equation.

A + B + C ≠ Good Doctor

Hyppocritic Oath + Technical Skills + Student Selection doesn’t necessarily equal being a Good Doctor.

January 17, 2007


I’m totally obsessed by Dr. Sacks.

I do not like green eggs and ham,
I do not like them Sam-I-Am
I do not like them with a fox,
I do not like them in a box,
I do not like them here or there,
I do not like them anywhere!

No, no, you’re thinking of Dr. Seuss silly. But that’s fun too!

I’m talking about the neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks. He studies disorders that stem from the nervous system (anything from stuttering, to autism, blindness and Parkinson’s disease). What is particularly interesting about Dr. Sacks is that he always studies a person as a whole instead of as a person suffering from a set of disorders. His books are packed with detailed case studies that also detail talk a patient’s family, social life, and general outlook on things. In addition, he is also very inquisitive and shares this with his reader. When talks about deafness for example, he briefs his reader about the history of deafness and deaf schools, references to the deafness in literature, corrects misconceptions on deafness and explains how the deaf community interacts with hearing individuals.

But the best part of his books is when he talks about those patients for whom there is no cure. Instead, he talks about how the patient has used the disorder as strength and not a limitation.
  • Take the case of young man whose sense of balance has so deteriorated, that he often fell flat on his face. He decided to add little water-levels in his glasses so he could monitor his angle respective to the ground.
  • Or the story of Temple Grandin, a woman born with a mild from of autism (also called Asperger’s syndrome). She finds it incredibly hard to relate to other people and has to carefully study people in order to understand how they feel. She often feels like she’s An Anthropologist on Mars (this is also a book title of Dr. Sacks'). On the other hand, she has a keen sense of how animals feel, has a PhD in animal behavior, and is a well-published author.
  • He also talks about a young man who slowly becomes blind due to a tumor growing in his brain. But the strange thing is that he has no idea that he is blind and is convinced that he can still see. He quickly becomes a buddha-like figure to the other hospital patients who appreciate his calm sense of understanding.
  • A man has a particularly rare neurological disorder that prevents him from recognizing people's face and objects. He once tries to pick up his wife and place her on his head, temporarly confused by her brown hair matching his brown suede hat (The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat).
  • Martha’s Vineyard’s used to have large deaf population. As a result, almost everybody was fluent in signing. The hearing elders can still be heard and seen conversing with each other in both speech and sign language.

Intrigued? Start reading The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. You won't regret it, I promise!

[Note: this is not a paid advertisment. Though if you wanted to pay me for this, that'd be OK too]

January 12, 2007

I'm so sick

I am getting just so sick of my blog's template. Would anybody have a good idea of a template or simple changes that can be made to 007 in Africa?

In particular, I would love to switch my sidebar from the right to the left, and have the picture of the Red Glass on the bottom posted as this blog's title...

Thanks for the ideas!

Post Note: Thanks to all who emailed me suggestions on where to go for templates. Very useful. I ended up creating (yet another) a new blogger account and using its beta features. The google people are pretty impressive geniuses.

January 11, 2007

Minimum Wage--The Living Dilemma

You may have heard that the House of Representatives has recently passed a bill to increase the minimum wage. For those readers who may not be Anglophone, the minimum wage is a law that sets a minimum price that an employer has to pay an employee per hour.

The minimum wage is currently set at $5.75 an hour which, will seemingly reasonable, is actually quite low. The bill would require the new minimum wage to be set to $7.25, in incremental steps over the course of 26 months.[A few people will be exempt from earning the minimum wage. For example, restaurant servers earn about $2 per hour, that’s why tipping is so important. But that should be the topic of another post].

As you can imagine, people are already complaining and raising a fuss. Here are a few reasons that have been mentioned:

1. Employer: If I have to pay my employee $1.50 extra per hour, I will not make a good profit. This will force me to cut the working hours of my employees or fire some staff that I can’t afford.
2. Employer: If I raise the lowest employee’s hourly wage, I will have to raise everyone else’s, and then I’m really spending a lot more on wages.
3. Employee: If you raise my wages, I will not be able to qualify for subsidized housing. I will end up homeless or I will have to spend a lot more money on rent.
4. Economist: If you raise wages, the more fragile mom-and-pop store won’t be able to absorb the difference in expenditures. These stores will close or raise the prices on the goods they sell.

I like to think of it this way.

Yearly salary at $5.75 per hour—$11,960
Yearly salary at $7.25 per hour--$15,080

Bare Minimum Yearly Living Expenses
Room Rental-------------------$6,000
Medical and Drugs-------------$300
Cleaning/hygiene products---$300
Support to child or parent---$1200
Water and Electricity---------$720
Basic Phone--------------------$360
One Sick Day-------------minus $48
Movie and Entertainment----$240*

Note: The Movie and Entertainment line comes up to about $20 per month which represents going to see two movies, renting 4 videos, buying a few magazines or buying two books. Come on, even poor people need to do interesting things.

If you are interested in getting a better idea of what life is like at the minimum wage, read this great book called Nickle and Dimed—On (not) getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich:

Millions of Americans work full-time, year-round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- could be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour? To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered as a woefully inexperienced homemaker returning to the workforce. So began a grueling, hair raising, and darkly funny odyssey through the underside of working America.
Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, Ehrenreich worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you intend to live indoors.

Source: Henry Holt and Company

January 08, 2007

Craig's List

One of the perks of being back in the States is being able to use Craig's List. It's a website where people can place advertisements for furniture, classes they teach, cars for sale and meeting groups. In return, you can contact them, agree on a price and pick up your new item.

Of friend of mine is even using the "personal ads" section to find a woman who might be interested in having a casual encounter with him (this is a thinly veiled term for sex with no strings attached).

Occasionally, you'll find great ads. I want to share with you this particularly eloquent ad found on Craig's List (with the owner's permission of course).

"Sliding Scale of Couch Justice" Sage Green couch, big chair, ottoman

Posted on: 2007-01-02

Okay...so I'm moving in a week into a new house. My beautiful bride and I purchased this set for about a grand -- but about 7 years ago. It was great for us at the time...very Pottery Barn/Pier 1-ish.

Well, it's still in good shape....it's got some stains and some wear spots where the cat took a claw to it once or twice...and my 2 year old son scribbled in pen in one of the back cushions...but that's no big deal because you can just flip the cushion...and besides, it adds character.

Oh ya...it's severely urine stained from a night of partying....NAH, I'm just kidding there...no pee, vomit or other bodily fluid stains....that is DEFINITELY a plus for a craigslist couch....and, dare I say, practically unheard of for a matching couch, oversized chair, ottoman combo. Oh ya...we don't smoke either....so, it doesn't smell like an ashtray.

So, anyway...we're moving and bought new stuff. You see, my wife got obsessed with some new paint color for our basement. The $20 paint color, unfortunately, does not match our $1,000 (albeit 7 year old) couch.

The Couch Posted by Picasa

However, I am a smart man...and I know that "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy"...so, I gladly sign off on the purchase of said paint color and a new sectional/sleeper thing that, apparently, coordinates perfectly....I don't ask questions...this is her castle and she can decorate as she pleases.

Now my dilemma...I am faced with what to do with my Sage Green "Ashley" Couch with matching oversized chair and ottoman. But, I don't just want to give the thing away...after all, It was one of the first major purchases we made together and it blessed us greatly over the years. I would love for this couch (and, of course, it's matching oversized chair and ottoman) to find it's way into the hands of someone truly thankful for it. Therefore, I propose the following "sliding scale of couch justice" to ward off any evildoers that might otherwise attempt to use this Sage Green beauty for any purposes other than intended.

Therefore, the price of the couch will vary, for example:

(1) Are you a young couple...just starting out...got big dreams of building a future together and conquering the world together...but, don't have the cash right now to make it happen? If so, I feel you...and I've been there...and for you...how about $50. And my prayer for you will be that you look back on your Sage Green Couch Craiglist purchase with great notalgia.

(2) Or, you are a Frat boy, just out of college looking for a sweet couch to bang hot chicks on....for you....$1,500...never, ever disrepect my couch like that....unless, of course, you're willing to pay. Besides...this couch is not a leather ensemble from Haverty's...it's good and all...but, it's not exactly going to make the ladies clothes fall off just by looking at it, you know?

(3) Or, maybe you're single mom...struggling to make ends meet and your piece of crap husband left you for his whore of secretary. And now you're looking for a couch for the basement for your kids...well...I feel your pain as well. If that's the case....$25 for you....come pick her up and she's yours.

The Chair and Ottoman Posted by Picasa

(4) You're active duty military or retired military. You have fought for and admirably served this wonderful country. You realize that America cannot be the land of the free unless we are also the home of the brave. Though you'd rather not, you are willing to be shot at and shoot back in the name of protecting our freedoms....and you do so for chumps like me who sit firmly entrenched behind our desks in an office w/a view collecting our comparatively over-inflated salaries. That, my friend, is priceless...so for you, the sage green beauty is free of charge...come pick her up.

(5) You're a craigslist troller...looking for something cheap to re-sell on ebay...sorry, charlie....can't let my Sage Green Ashley couch get pimped out like that.....$700 for you.

(6) Or, perhaps, You've got a decent income and Maybe you just bought a house or are renting a new one and need a decent couch to fill some space...but you don't want to spend a bunch of money on something that you know you'll want to replace in a a few years....if so, I respect that...there's something to be said for living within a budget and not worrying about "keeping up w/the Jones's"...in that case...how about $75 for you.

(7) Or, you are a Washington Redskins fan...and you are looking for a couch to put in your sport room that is not all floral and crap and embarassing. You want it to look decent...but you also want to be able to spill your Milwaukee's Best on it when cussing at the TV....I, also feel you...and I WANT you to have this couch. I, too, have done the same on this very same couch as my beloved team has given me season after season of futility. For you, $70.

(8) You are a Giants fan and looking to do the same: $85
(9) Philly fan (the green would definitely complement the team colors)? $100
(10) Cowboys fan? $2,790 -- sorry...I could never allow my much cherished sage green couch to adorn the sports basement of a Cowboys fan. I'm sorry...I just can't...unless of course you want to pay me $1,790 more than I paid for this beauty 7 years ago.

So, what's your story? Do you want the couch? The mathching oversized chair? The ottoman? Tell me your story and tell me your price. It's gotta be out of my house in a week. Hit me with an email.

January 02, 2007

French Fortune

Though I have had a (admittedly) tough time coming back to the United States, I still feel incredibly fortunate to be back.

I live in an "up-and-coming" part of town in Washington D.C. Which basically means that it's a ghetto and there are lots of drug dealers around. But they're nice and they wave hello every morning. And at least they are not Congolese military people.

I have a temporary job but 1/2 the people in my office are contracting too. The electricity is very reliable and I have a cubicle four times the size of the one I left in Kinshasa.

I can walk almost everywhere and no one will bug me. I even forgot my wallet at a counter once and someone ran after me! To give me my wallet back! And didn't ask for a ransom! And no money was missing! Ah. It's nice to be free.

But then again I guess I'm not that free. Because I have to pay my grad school loans, and my electricity bill, my monthly rent, have to get presents for people's birthdays, Valentine's day and any other crappy made-up Holidays.

But wait, I digress. I feel incredibly lucky because I can finally keep in touch with my friends. I've come back to good friends in Washington D.C and the rest of the United States (you know who you are y'all). Plus, PLUS, friends from abroad have transited through my apartment and stayed at my house. They have even slept in my bed which, in my opinion, truly takes a lot of dedication!

Anyways, friends, thanks for being around and being good to me.

At this point, you're probably wondering what the hell the title of the post means. Well, while I was having this thought of being incredibly lucky in 2007 at the same time, my roomate was enjoying some excellent french chocolates called Papillotes. These chocolates are traditional in my hometown of Lyon. They are generally consumed around the Christmas and New Year season. Because the food just isn't fattening enough for the Holiday.

Anyways, you'll be surprised to find out that the Chinese don't have a monopoly on fortunes that come in food. Oh no they don't! When one unraps the shiny papillote paper, one is rewarded by: (1) one sweet chocolate, (2) one cracker that snaps when pulled, and (3) a proverb/saying/fortune. This is true! I swear!

This is the one she got: "Les paresseux ont toujours envie de faire quelque chose-Vauvenargues". Which is loosely translated as: "the lazy ones are always on the verge of doing something"...

I couldn't help but think that the fortune was actually directed at me. I mean, my roomate doesn't even understand French! Is God trying to speak to me through Papillotes?

Thanks for reading through this long post. You are truly admirable.