Monday, January 30, 2006



More and more people are being caught up in a growing number of natural disasters

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction said the increase in numbers vulnerable to natural shocks was due partly to global warming. It said 254 million people were affected by natural hazards in 2003 [the numbers for 2004 and 2005 should be significantly higher] - nearly three times as many as in 1990.

Events including earthquakes and volcanoes, floods and droughts, storms, fires and landslides killed about 83,000 people in 2003, up from about 53,000 deaths 13 years earlier, the ISDR said. Releasing its statistics jointly with the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (Cred) at the University of Louvain in Belgium, it said there was a consistent trend over the last decade of an increasing number of people affected by disasters. There were 337 natural disasters reported in 2003, up from 261 in 1990. "Not only is the world globally facing more potential disasters but increasing numbers of people are becoming vulnerable to hazards," the ISDR said. The problems, it said, are exacerbated because more and more people are living in concentrated urban areas and in slums with poor building standards and a lack of facilities. ISDR director Salvano Briceno added that urban migrants tended to settle on exposed stretches of land either on seismic faults, flooding plains or on landslide-prone slopes. "The urban concentration, the effects of climate change and the environmental degradation are greatly increasing vulnerability," he said. "Alarmingly, this is getting worse."

Faster emergence for diseases

New infectious diseases are now emerging at an exceptional rate, scientists have told a leading conference in St Louis, US. Humans are accumulating new pathogens at a rate of one per year, they said. Most of these new infectious diseases, such as avian influenza and HIV/Aids, are coming from other animals. "This accumulation of new pathogens has been going on for millennia - this is how we acquired TB, malaria, smallpox," said Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University Of Edinburgh, UK. "But at the moment, this accumulation does seem to be happening very fast. We're going to have to run as fast as we can to stay in the same place. So it seems there is something special about modern times - these are good times for pathogens to be invading the human population." Professor Woolhouse has catalogued more than 1,400 different agents of disease in humans; and every year, scientists are discovering one or two new ones.

Some may have been around for a long time and have only just come to light. Others that have emerged recently are entirely new, such as HIV; the virus that causes Sars, and the agent of vCJD. The difference today, say researchers, is the way humans are interacting with other animals in their environment. Changes in land use through, for example, deforestation can bring humans into contact with new pathogens; and, likewise, agricultural changes, such as the use of exotic livestock. Other important drivers include global travel, global trade and hospitalisation.

The fast rate at which pathogens are appearing means public health experts will need to work harder than ever to control the spread of emerging disease threats. "Pathogens are evolving ways to combat our control methods. The picture is changing and looks as if it will continue to."

Monday, January 16, 2006



Comfort Level

Seoul's city authorities received many complaints about taxi drivers who were rude and whose driving scared the living daylights out of passengers. So they set up a complaint hotline. Now taxis carry a notice on the inside advising passengers of this facility called "Intercourse Discomfort Report Center."

Tootle With Vigor

From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo: "When passenger of foot heave in sight, tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor."


Spoken Turkish offers this cool exchange between two observers to a car crash: "The poor people are covered with blood. I wonder if they're suffering much?" Answer: "I don't think so, since they've fainted."

Crazy Finance

Full Explanation: The governor of Malaysia's central bank, Jaffar Hussein, resigned after announcing that the bank had lost 5.7 billion ringgit [$2.1 billion] by speculating in derivatives. This loss exceeded the central bank's entire capital and reserves. "Errors were made," Hussein declared.
Fuller Explanation: Fugitive developer Juergen Schneider borrowed $3 billion and went bankrupt. "Errors were unquestionably made," Deutsche Bank Chairman Hilmar Kopper declared.

Learning Curve

The New York City Board of Education maintains 6,000 bureaucrats to run its central office. The Archdiocese of New York requires a staff of 26 to serve about a fifth as many pupils.

Business Directory

Argue & Phibbs, Solicitors [Albert Street, Sligo, Ireland]
Brigadier Attack, Ministry Of Defence [Director of Army Management Services, Civil Services]
Cheatham & Steele, Bankers [Wallowa County, Oregon]
Climax Underwear Co. [Cincinnati, Ohio]
Dr. Croaker, Pathologist [University Of Florida School of Medicine]
Doolittle & Dalley, Estate Agents [Kidderminster, England]
Dr. Dotti, Psychiatrist [Rome, Italy]
Mr. Forecast, Assistant Director [Social Statistics, UK Civil Service]
W. T. Odor, Plumber [Corpus Christi, Texas]
Dr. Zoltan Ovary, Gynecologist [New York Hospital]

Correcter Than Thou

Rejecting subsidized student tickets to Romeo and Juliet, headmistress Jane Brown of the Kingsmead Primary School in Hackney, East London, excoriated the play as "entirely about heterosexual love."

Modester Than Thou

A sign at an African mammal exhibit in Washington's Smithsonian Museum apologizes for giving the impression that humans are "more important" than other animals.

Friday, January 13, 2006



The hokku, or more properly the haiku, is a tiny verse-form in which Japanese poets have been working for hundreds of years. Originally it was the first part of the tanka, a five-line poem, often written by two people as a literary game: one writing three lines, the other, two lines capping them.

But the hokku, or three-line starting verse, became enormously popular as a separate form. There are only seventeen syllables, the first and the third lines containing five, the second line seven. There is almost always a key word which denotes the season of the year - either directly or by inference. And there is always, in good haiku, more than a mere statement of feeling, or a mere picture-poem. There is a switch to a different viewpoint in the course of the poem - a switch signaled in Japanese by a "cut-word" - which makes the poem an implied metaphor.

Some favorites:

One fallen flower
returning to the
branch?...Oh No!
A white butterfly

Since there is no rice...
Let us arrange these
for a lovely bowl

Old dark sleepy pool...
green unexpected
Goes plop! watersplash!

Far across low mist
The lake
Lifts a snow-white sail

Don't touch my plumtree
My friend said,
and saying so...
broke the branch for me

In the city park
strangers are like friends