February 27, 2008


This morning in metro, I see a young man, in a manually-powered wheelchair, and a 2-year old on his lap.  The kid has a funny pink hat and seem to be relishing his bond time with daddy.  There is no way for the Dad to hold on to the kid while using his two arms to turn the wheels, so the whole contraption is a little bit precarious.
Morning are always a bit of a rush, and we are all eager to get to work as soon as possible to show our supervisors that we are dedicated, reliable employees who get to work early.  I hate missing a metro, but of course, I understand how difficult it must be to get anwhere in a wheelchair.  I take a step back, and let the man board the train first.
Of a crowd of 12 people, 10 people rush in the train, like their life depended on it, totally oblivious and uncaring of the man in the wheel chair.  The man waits patiently for his turn, and gracefully boards the train, and tucks himself in a corner and out of the way.  When we all get on board, the crowd looks away, ashamed - I hope - of their lack of consideration.
I can't believe people are so rude in D.C.  I consider myself a D.C.ite, but I find "professionals" to be rude and totally callous sometimes.  Please let me not become an insensitive, egotistical "professional"!

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February 22, 2008

Stories from the Congo

I've never mentioned it before, but when I was in Senegal and the Congo, I was working for Catholic Relief Services.  They have just posted a series of photo slideshows and videos on their work in the Congo.
I watched almost all them, and I recognize the people talking, and the places shown.  I couldn't watch this without crying.
Thanks for watching,

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February 21, 2008

Blood Curdling

Another drug contamination has been reported in the news lately.  This time it's Heparin, a blood thinning drug that is used to prevent clots from forming in renal dialysis machines, administered during open-heart surgery, or to treat deep vein thrombosis.


Here's an interesting (and heavily truncated) article from the Wall Street Journal.


The Heparin Trail: China's Role In Supply Of Drug Is Under Fire


February 21, 2008; Page A1


YUANLOU, China -- In a small, damp factory here, blood-smeared men wring pulp from pig intestines, then heat it in concrete vats.


The activity at Yuan Intestine & Casing Factory is the first step in the poorly regulated process of making raw heparin, the main ingredient in a type of blood-thinning medicine that in recent days has come under suspicion in the deaths of four Americans.


More than half the world's heparin comes from China. The chemical is often extracted from pig entrails in small factories -- many as rudimentary as this one, which also manufactures sausage casings from intestines. The heparin eventually ends up in drugs used world-wide by patients having surgery or who need dialysis.


(For a fascinating slide show: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120352438415380201.html)


Heparin goes through extensive processing in its journey from abattoir to IV bag. Nevertheless, because some of it originates in tiny Chinese factories like these, if there's a problem with the final medication, it can be nearly impossible to trace the raw heparin back to the source, the pigs whose tissue was used to make it.


The lack of a well-documented supply chain for medicines such as heparin is a problem that has come under the spotlight with last week's announcement of four deaths and some 350 allergic reactions among patients who received heparin sold in the U.S. by Baxter International Inc. Yesterday the Food and Drug Administration, which is trying to pinpoint the cause of the deaths, inspected a heparin-production facility in China.




The growing concern over heparin's safety brings to the forefront the question of whether the raw materials from which it is made -- for that matter, the raw materials for any drug derived from animals -- should be more tightly controlled. The FDA's position is that the purification steps in the drug-making process are sufficient to produce a pure product from pig tissue, and that 'companies are responsible for sourcing the materials' and 'appropriately processing the material.'


Heparin goes through numerous, intensive purification steps before reaching medicine cabinets. However, some doctors and industry executives say it's still essential that even raw materials be consistent, clean and traceable so that if a problem arises it can quickly be contained.




Heparin makers in China readily acknowledge the lack of oversight. Yuan Changkun, the owner of the small factory here, says health regulators don't visit his plant. Mr. Yuan doesn't keep records of where he acquires the intestines he uses. Nor is he sure who the end customers are.

'Basically, it goes overseas. It's for foreigners,' he says.


Selling to Middlemen


Like many small producers, Mr. Yuan sells his output to middlemen, making it tough to know where in the world it eventually ends up.




In contrast with the FDA's position that the heparin-purification process alone may be sufficient, Patrick Soon-Shiong, APP's chairman, contends that the ability to trace back to individual animals is important. Heparin is extracted from the guts of the animal, he notes, 'and lymph nodes in the bowel may harbor contaminants from infections.'


The raw heparin made by China's myriad small producers ends up in the hands of about 50 export companies, which sell to customers overseas. In the first half of last year, more than 85% of these heparin exports went to the U.S., Austria, France, Italy and Germany, according to an industry trade group.




Supply Workshops




An ideal system for tracing heparin back to the barnyard would involve tagging individual pigs, then keeping files detailing each animal's record of vaccination, feed and overall health. That record could follow the animal to the slaughterhouse, providing a paper trail which a drug company or the FDA could later tap into.




China Jurisdiction




A spokesman for the Chinese government's main product-safety watchdog, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, says his agency 'is not responsible for anything related to drug issues.'


That leaves makers of raw heparin with no regular government supervision, many manufacturers say.




Purifying Heparin


Heparin itself is a molecule related to sugar that's present in pigs, sheep and other animals. Because it is derived from living tissue, companies that purify raw heparin follow a range of steps -- filtration, heat treatments and other processing -- to reduce the risk that it contains active viruses or bacterial toxins.


Since mid-2006, China's pig herds have suffered serious outbreaks of porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, a viral illness commonly known as blue-ear disease. Sick animals are supposed to be rejected by slaughterhouses, but enforcement can be lax. Also, infected animals may be slaughtered before symptoms are recognized.


Some drug makers say it's important to be able to trace back to the pigs that served as raw materials. That way, if patients have adverse reactions to a drug, the root problem can be discovered and other possibly tainted batches can be pulled from the market.


Many Chinese heparin manufacturers say this is a very difficult standard to meet in China's business and agriculture environment. Wang Shengfu, manager of another raw-heparin maker in China's Shandong province, Linyi Meiyuan Seasoning Co., notes that unscrupulous businesspeople and middlemen can easily 'provide buyers with fake records.'


His firm uses pig intestines only from slaughterhouses owned by its parent company, he says, so it can keep accurate records.


Mr. Yuan, the owner of the heparin and sausage-casing factory in the village of Yuanlou, is a gregarious man who takes pride in the business he has built. Now 57 years old, he has earned enough money from heparin to send his two sons to university.


Mr. Yuan himself never graduated from high school because his family was too poor to pay for school.


He launched the original business in the mid-1980s making sausage casings from intestines. Later he added heparin production.


Mr. Yuan's four-room factory, which has a roof made of tile and thatch, is part of the compound in which he also lives. In a central courtyard, raw heparin -- a brown-and-white powder -- air-dries on a table.


Every day, his company collects barrels of pig intestines from slaughterhouses in the region. 'They give us a commodity. I give them money. We don't keep records,' he says. The intestines of about 3,000 pigs are required to produce a kilogram of heparin.


In his factory, men in thick aprons untangle intestines at a bench, flush them with water and pass them through a wringer. The resulting slurry is dumped into concrete vats, where it gets heated. Because coal is expensive, the factory sometimes burns rubbish -- old shoes and clothing -- to heat the slurry.


The slurry is later mixed with a resin that adheres to heparin. That mix passes through several more steps. Toward the end of the process the raw heparin is stored in old-fashioned, Chinese-style ceramic pots on the floor.


Mr. Yuan produces about six kilograms of the stuff a month, which he sells to middlemen. Recently it has been selling for 6,500 yuan, or about $900, a kilogram.


Not all factories are so primitive. Mr. Wang, the owner of the Anhui plant, recently invested in a larger facility that uses stainless-steel tanks and other more modern equipment. There, workers on three assembly lines process the intestines of 6,000 pigs a day.




Ellen Zhu in Yuanlou, China, and Anna Wilde Mathews in Washington contributed to this article.


Write to Gordon Fairclough at gordon.fairclough@wsj.com and Thomas M. Burton at tom.burton@wsj


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February 18, 2008

Becoming 30

I just turned 30 yesterday. Yeah! It's super exciting (said with heavy sarcasm). Coincidentally, one of my closest friends is turning 30 today. Here's my email to him:

Hey Ammo:

I was tempted to call you now to wish you a very HAPPY BIRTHDAY, old man, but I thought that it would be particularly rude (it's only 8:41 a.m.). I hope you have the day off today.

How does it feel to be 3-0? I can tell you that I remember it being particularly easy. It's kind of a relief - if you haven't met your deadlines for various things (get a better job, have kids, become a millionaire, etc...), you might has well relax about them. Because a deadline missed, is a deadline missed. What's another decade or two, trying to reach those goals?

In a way, being 3-0 is a kind of freedom. Right?

OK, I guess I still haven't wished you a proper HAPPY BIRTHDAY, so HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Must be the Alzeihmer's kicking in.

xoxo D.

February 12, 2008

Are you a Hillary of an Obama?

I still don't know whom to vote for, and Washington D.C. must vote for its Democratic and Republican candidates today! Here's an article that a friend shared with me:

Breaking NewsMonday, February 119:00 AM
Are you a Hillary or an Obama at work?

From Monday's Globe and Mail

You've paid your dues, worked long hours and taken on the tasks no one else wanted. You've earned that promotion, right?

But then, out of nowhere, some charismatic upstart waltzes in and starts dazzling everyone with his talk about change. How dare he!

If that scenario hits a little too close to your life at the office, you might be a Hillary.

If, on the other hand, you consider yourself a big thinker hemmed in at work by small-minded bureaucrats, you're probably more of an Obama.

More than fascinating political figures, the two contenders in the U.S. Democratic presidential primary represent two basic archetypes: the experienced striver and the charismatic visionary.

Of course, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are complex people with more to offer than experience and charisma, respectively. But on a basic level, those traits define them in the public imagination.

Translated to the office, the Hillary types work hard and earn respect but don't inspire people, while the Obama types fire everyone up with their grand visions but struggle to persuade people they can get the job done.

"Hillary Clinton is the person the executives, the senior people, would like to have working for them. Obama is the type of individual people would like to work for," says Bruce Snow, a partner with Halifax human resources firm Robertson Surrette.

Playing to the strengths of your own archetype can go a long way toward success at work.
And while a Hillary can't fake the charisma of an Obama, and an Obama can't pick up a truckload of gravitas overnight, both types can learn to compensate for their weaknesses.
The first step is figuring out which type you are. Do people admire you most for your hard work or your stirring rhetoric? You should choose an employer who values your contributions.

In a traditional industry such as banking, an Obama type may talk out of turn at meetings and be labelled a troublemaker, Mr. Snow says.

"Somebody like that is probably better off going to another organization where they can spread their wings a bit," such as a young tech firm, he says.

On the other hand, he's known successful executives - Hillary types - who joined start-up companies only to quit after a few weeks, frustrated by the lack of structure.

"The fundamental nature of a person is so difficult to change," Mr. Snow says. "It's better for a person to go to an environment that's a better fit for them."

Trying to fake charisma is a bad idea, says Toronto public speaking coach John Plank, using the example of Stockwell Day's ill-fated personal watercraft press conference in 2000 to illustrate his point.

"He was desperate to be charismatic, and it didn't work," Mr. Plank says. "If you pretend to be charismatic, you'll look like a really bad actor."

But all hope is not lost for Hillary types. Charisma can't be faked but it can be learned, Mr. Plank says.

"My advice to people who want to connect more in the workplace is, it's about being a great listener, an empathetic listener," he says.

"There's an old cliché: 'We don't care what you know until we know that you care.' "

Obama types who feel they're held back at work by lack of gravitas should first make sure they've really got the goods, Mr. Plank says. "If you have the skills and knowledge and experience, you have to look at whether you're communicating that."

Can the two types get along at work? Yes, experts say, but it takes some effort and patience.
Obamas must learn to appreciate their colleagues' attention to detail, while Hillarys have to tolerate occasional flights of fancy (no eye rolling, please). Organizations need both types of workers to succeed.

"An Obama type who is visionary, it's hard to imagine him with 10 Obamas working for him and getting anything done," Mr. Snow says. "I think they do need each other."
Vancouver life coach Laura North agrees, saying an ideal work team would include both types.

"It's remiss to say one is better," Ms. North says. "It depends on what your goal is - what are you trying to achieve? If you can meet in the middle, wouldn't that be amazing?"

The Obama

People admire your charisma, vision and dazzling smile.

You hate it when people don't have hope.

Office reputation Daydream Believer

Behind your back, your supporters remix your speeches into music videos.

Detractors complain you're a lightweight.

Notable quotable
"We've been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we shouldn't try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can." (Jan. 8)

The Hillary

People admire your reliability, work ethic and determination.

You hate it when people don't have all the facts.

Office reputation Bossy Britches

Behind your back, your supporters rave about your PowerPoint presentations.

Detractors complain you're unlikable.

Notable quotable:
"Some people believe you can get change by demanding it. And some people believe you can get change by hoping for it. Well, I believe the way you get change is by working hard for it. Persistence, perseverance, even some perspiration - that is how you change lives, you change institutions. That is what I have done my whole life." (Dec. 17, 2007)

The McCain

What about the McCain archetype?

Experienced and charismatic, with a nasty temper and a flair for survival, this personality type is a formidable one in the office and on the campaign trail.

John McCain, 71, presumptive Republican presidential nominee, would be the oldest U.S. president voted into office if he's elected. But as he has already taught his Republican rivals, you underestimate the wily old maverick at your peril.

The biggest workplace challenge for a McCain type is keeping one's anger under control. Yelling and occasionally shoving your way through disagreements may be acceptable behaviour in the U.S. Congress, but in most offices it would be grounds for dismissal.
Mr. McCain's greatest strengths are his personal story and his ability to connect with audiences, experts say.

"Leadership is essentially a story-telling contest, and whoever has the best story will win," says Toronto public speaking coach John Plank. "McCain is all about story."

Storytelling isn't just for the campaign trail, Mr. Plank says. Most business presentations are deadly boring, he says, so anyone who can turn a PowerPoint message into a story about people has a huge advantage. For example, instead of detailing the 15 advantages and 17 drawbacks to a new benefits plan, tell the story of how the new plan will affect "Mary" and "Bob."

Who knows, a good story may propel you to the corner office - if not an oval one.

Rebecca Dube

February 08, 2008

Triplets Interpreted

I’ve been pretty troubled by this dream of being pregnant with triplets, and decided to google the significance of it:

From http://nickm.com/dreams/alpha/t.html

To dream of seeing triplets, foretells success in affairs where failure was feared.

For a man to dream that his wife has them, signifies a pleasant termination to some affair which has been long in dispute.

To hear newly-born triplets crying, signifies disagreements which will be hastily reconciled to your pleasure.

For a young woman to dream that she has triplets, denotes that she will suffer loss and disappointment in love, but will succeed to wealth.

From http://www.dreammoods.com/dreamdictionary/t3.htm

To see triplets in your dream, suggests that you need to consider the physical, the emotional and the spiritual aspects of a situation or decision.

From http://www.glamour.com/horoscopes/dreamdictionary/viewsymbol?symbol_id=3216

A dream of seeing triplets predicts surprising news.

Since I am a relatively optimistic person, I will choose the one that best suits me, and hope to get some positive, surprising news soon.

It's Ticking

Last night, I slept better than I've slept in weeks.  For most of the night, I dreamt I was pregnant...with triplets.  And though my body felt heavy, there was this incredible, elated feeling of happiness and wonder over three lives moving inside me.
Oddly enough, I was dissapointed to wake up this morning and discover that this was just a dream. 
Now, I have to make sure the match.com people never, ever come across my blog.  I would just kill my dating potential.

February 06, 2008

Congo, we meet again!

Last week, I met with the Minister of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Discounting the fact that he was 1.5 hours late, it was super exciting to sit in a meeting with Congolese people once again.  This was my email to the meeting organizer :

Dear XXX,

I wanted to thank you for allowing me to join the meeting with the new Minister of Health of the Democratic Republic of Congo and his colleagues. It was very nice to reconnect with issues from the field, and hear the pertinent questions they asked – many of their comments (on rapid-testing, cost of health services, and strengthening of surveillance for example) resonated from my time having worked closely with hospital in rural and isolated areas.

Your Office has much to offer the Ministry of Health from the Democratic Republic of Congo (and vice versa), and I hope that collaboration between the two entities will last for a long time.

Again, thank you for this opportunity and best of luck in your future posting overseas!

Best Regards,

007 in Africa

Intelligent Indeed

I lost my metro Smart Card.  For those of you who don’t live in the District of Columbia, Maryland, or Virginia, the website describes it as:


a permanent, rechargeable farecard. It's plastic – like a credit card – and is embedded with a special computer chip that keeps track of the value of the card. The benefits of using SmarTrip include:


-Using SmarTrip is easy and fast! Instead of inserting a farecard through the Metrorail faregate slot, you simply touch the SmarTrip card to the circular target panels on top of or inside station faregates. Likewise, you can tap the SmarTrip farebox on Metrobus to pay your fare with SmarTrip.


-You may add up to $300 in Metro value on a SmarTrip card, so it can last a long time between charging.


-If you lose the card, you don't lose the value. For a $5 fee to replace the card itself, we'll issue you a new SmarTrip card with the value on the card at the time you notified us it was lost. For this important replacement feature, you must register your card.


-Does your employer provide the Metrochek transit benefit to you? Your employer can load the value of your Metrochek benefit onto your SmarTrip card using SmartBenefits. Ask your employer about it.


Well, as a matter of fact, my employee *does* provide Metrochek benefits, at the value of about $105 per month for my travel.  Yesterday, I loaded my card with the benefits for the month, and…promptly lost it somewhere between the metro station and the office.  


I didn’t think I had remembered to register it.  But I tried my luck and called the SmartCard office.  They were able to retrieve my information, find out that the card I lost had $105 left on it, and place an order to send me a new card with $100 on it in the next few days by mail.  It was so easy.  And I’m so relieved not to have to fork out $100 on my travel this month.


SmartCard's moto is:


More than a smart card. It's pure genius.


I would have to agree with it.

Voters, get ready!

I received my Voter's Registration Card in the mail today.  I barely made the deadline for signing up but now, I have my very own, flimsy, paper card.  The District butchered my first name, but apparently, I can still vote with it, and make a correction to my name after I have voted.


The only problem is that I still don't know who to vote for...


My two favorite candidates have received endorsements from very influential people, so now I'm more confused then ever!


Some of Hillary Clinton's endorsements are:

-Jack Nicholson (I always pegged him to be a misogynist - I guess I was wrong)

-A former Cherokee Nation leader

-The American Nurses Association (suggesting that her health-care plan is supported by health-care workers)

-Kimora Lee Simmons (Seriously, that's more of a negative than a positive)

-The New York Times and El Mundo (I didn't even know Newspapers could endorse candidates.  I thought they had to remain neutral)

-California NAACP President (given that this stands for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, it's a strong that this presidential race has transcended…well it has transcended race)

-American Samoa President

-International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts Union (Kooky but cute)

-Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

-Barbra Streisand (again, this is probably a point against her)

-the poet Dr. Maya Angelou, in a very touching video tribute: http://www.hillaryclinton.com/video/35.aspx (if nothing else today, you should watch this video)

-Steven Speilberg (hey, he *is* the King of the World, after all)


Some of Barack Obama’s endorsements are:

(note: endorsements for Obama are little harder to find because they don’t seem to be in a neat list on his website)

-Oprah Winfrey (I can’t figure out if that’s a good thing or a bad)

-Caroline Kennedy

-Kathleen Turner

-John Kerry (we all know what happened to Kerry.  Poor guy)

-Robert de Niro

-Maria Shriver

-George Clooney (he’s so dreamy…)

-Members of Pearl Jam (that’s almost enough for me to go into the Obama camp), the Grateful Dead

-Roseann Barr (oookay then)

-Ted Kennedy (a heavyweight in politics, for sure)