Sunday, December 30, 2012

980. Birdsong Study Pecks Theory That Music Is Uniquely Human

By ScienceDaily, December 27, 2012 

A White-Throat Sparrow
A bird listening to birdsong may experience some of the same emotions as a human listening to music, suggests a new study on white-throated sparrows, published in Frontiers of Evolutionary Neuroscience.

"We found that the same neural reward system is activated in female birds in the breeding state that are listening to male birdsong, and in people listening to music that they like," says Sarah Earp, who led the research as an undergraduate at Emory University.

For male birds listening to another male's song, it was a different story: They had an amygdala response that looks similar to that of people when they hear discordant, unpleasant music.

The study, co-authored by Emory neuroscientist Donna Maney, is the first to compare neural responses of listeners in the long-standing debate over whether birdsong is music.

"Scientists since the time of Darwin have wondered whether birdsong and music may serve similar purposes, or have the same evolutionary precursors," Earp notes. "But most attempts to compare the two have focused on the qualities of the sound themselves, such as melody and rhythm."

Earp's curiosity was sparked while an honors student at Emory, majoring in both neuroscience and music. She took "The Musical Brain" course developed by Paul Lennard, director of Emory's Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology program, which brought in guest lecturers from the fields of neuroscience and music.
"During one class, the guest speaker was a composer and he said that he thought that birdsong is like music, but Dr. Lennard thought it was not," Earp recalls. "It turned into this huge debate, and each of them seemed to define music differently. I thought it was interesting that you could take one question and have two conflicting answers that are both right, in a way, depending on your perspective and how you approach the question."

As a senior last year, Earp received a grant from the Scholars Program for Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Research (SPINR), and a position in the lab of Maney, who uses songbirds as a model to study the neural basis of complex learned behavior.

When Earp proposed using the lab's data to investigate the birdsong-music debate, Maney thought it was a great idea. "Birdsong is a signal," Maney says. "And the definition of a signal is that it elicits a response in the receiver. Previous studies hadn't approached the question from that angle, and it's an important one."

Earp reviewed studies that mapped human neural responses to music through brain imaging.

She also analyzed data from the Maney lab on white-throated sparrows. The lab maps brain responses in the birds by measuring Egr-1, part of a major biochemical pathway activated in cells that are responding to a stimulus.
The study used Egr-1 as a marker to map and quantify neural responses in the mesolimbic reward system in male and female white-throated sparrows listening to a male bird's song. Some of the listening birds had been treated with hormones, to push them into the breeding state, while the control group had low levels of estradiol and testosterone.

During the non-breeding season, both sexes of sparrows use song to establish and maintain dominance in relationships. During the breeding season, however, a male singing to a female is almost certainly courting her, while a male singing to another male is challenging an interloper.

For the females in the breeding state every region of the mesolimbic reward pathway that has been reported to respond to music in humans, and that has a clear avian counterpart, responded to the male birdsong. Females in the non-breeding state, however, did not show a heightened response.

And the testosterone-treated males listening to another male sing showed an amygdala response, which may correlate to the amygdala response typical of humans listening to the kind of music used in the scary scenes of horror movies.
"The neural response to birdsong appears to depend on social context, which can be the case with humans as well," Earp says. "Both birdsong and music elicit responses not only in brain regions associated directly with reward, but also in interconnected regions that are thought to regulate emotion. That suggests that they both may activate evolutionarily ancient mechanisms that are necessary for reproduction and survival."

A major limitation of the study, Earp adds, is that many of the regions that respond to music in humans are cortical, and they do not have clear counterparts in birds. "Perhaps techniques will someday be developed to image neural responses in baleen whales, whose songs are both musical and learned, and whose brain anatomy is more easily compared with humans," she says.
Earp, who played the viola in the Emory orchestra and graduated last May, is now a medical student at the Cleveland Clinic.

So what music makes her brain light up? "Stravinsk's 'Firebird' suite," Earp says.

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Emory University. The original article was written by Carol Clark.
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.

Journal Reference:
  1. Sarah E. Earp, Donna L. Maney. Birdsong: Is It Music to Their Ears? Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, 2012; 4 DOI: 10.3389/fnevo.2012.00014

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

979. Los Angeles Weighs Law Banning Elephant Shows

By Ivan Lovett, The New York Times, December 25, 2012
Ringling Brothers elephants in Los Angeles last year. Critics object to the animals’ treatment.
Photo: Stefano Paltera/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus train has been bringing four-ton Asian elephants to this city since 1919.

Los Angeles is poised to ban elephants from performing in circuses within its city limits, after pressure from animal welfare advocates who have for decades condemned the methods used to train and transport elephants as abusive and cruel.

If the City Council adopts the ban early next year, Ringling Brothers, the oldest continuously operated circus in the country, will be barred from the nation’s second-largest city unless its owners agree to abandon one of the show’s signature acts.
“The treatment of elephants in traveling circuses is one of the crueler practices, and it’s time for us to stand up for them,” said Paul Koretz, the City Council member who sponsored the ban. He predicted that once Los Angeles outlawed circus elephants, other communities would follow. “At some point, this will be universally banned throughout the country,” he said.
The movement to ban elephant acts, which had until recently made little progress in this country, may now have found a foothold in Southern California, a region that has emerged as a hub of animal welfare legislation of all kinds. (It is illegal for pet owners to declaw their cats in this city, while in neighboring West Hollywood, the city government went so far as to officially deem pets “companion animals” and their owners “guardians.”)
Six Southern California cities already ban circus elephants, more than in any other state, according to animal welfare organizations. In addition, over the last year, the Santa Ana Zoo and the Orange County Fair both stopped offering elephant rides.
Ringling Brothers has fought back, arguing that its treatment of elephants, tigers and other animals is humane, and pointing to frequent inspections by the Department of Agriculture as proof that the animals are receiving exemplary care.
But the fight over whether elephants should be allowed to perform in traveling shows is only partly about how they are treated: an endangered species, Asian elephants are part of a broader debate over how, and whether, humans should interact with wild animals.
Trainers argue that letting people interact with elephants makes them more likely to support conservation efforts.
“Seeing animals up close is one of the main reasons people come to Ringling Brothers,” said Stephen Payne, a spokesman for Feld Entertainment, which bought Ringling Brothers in 1967. “Animal rights organizations want no human-animal interaction, period, regardless of how the animals are cared for.”
Elephants had been trained to work with humans for thousands of years before they became fixtures in circuses and roaming carnivals (just ask Hannibal). Intelligent and normally docile, they can learn tricks like headstands for wide-eyed children.
But pressure on circuses to drop wild animal acts has grown steadily, as activists have waged a campaign to convince the public that it is cruel to haul animals back and forth across the country to perform in front of crowds.
Animal rights organizations have criticized the conditions in which the animals are kept, offering what they say is evidence of mistreatment, including undercover videos of handlers hitting elephants over the head with bull hooks, rods with a curved, sharp end long used to train and control elephants.
Some organizations, like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, want to remove animals not only from circuses but also from zoos, even though those animals are not made to travel in boxcars or perform tricks.
“For the circuses, profit is always the priority,” said Lindsay Rajt, a spokeswoman for PETA. “Any time animals are used for profit, you’re going to see corners cut on their welfare, because it’s not the top priority.”
Even people who are not actively involved in animal rights have grown more receptive to this argument.
Rebecca Goldstein, a Los Angeles resident, said it would be a shame if she could not take children of her own to see a circus with live animals, like the one she went to when she was young.
“But if the way they’re treating animals is inhumane,” Ms. Goldstein, 29, said, “I’ll take them to see people instead.”
More than a dozen countries have banned at least some wild animals from performing in public. Several major American circuses have voluntarily eliminated animals from their shows, instead focusing on human acrobatics, while zoos, including the Los Angeles Zoo, have moved away from use of the bull hook.
But the pull to see elephants up close has proved a difficult force to overcome. Lawsuits designed to force Ringling Brothers to abandon elephant acts have been dismissed. Only a scattering of relatively small cities have adopted bans of their own.
About 10 million people nationwide came to see Ringling Brothers circuses in 2012, according to Feld Entertainment, including 100,000 in Los Angeles.
Despite the continued popularity of elephant acts, though, some elephant trainers fear that their work may soon be outlawed.
Kari Johnson, a co-owner of Have Trunk Will Travel, a company that trains and rents elephants for shows, including Hollywood movies, said the end of elephant rides in Orange County had hurt her business. A ban in Los Angeles could be ruinous.
“I believe if something drastic doesn’t happen, then we will be the last generation that trains elephants,” said Ms. Johnson, whose stepfather was also an elephant trainer. “People love elephants because they get to be around them a little.”

Monday, December 24, 2012

978. UNAC Statement: Hands Off Syria

By UNAC, December 24, 2012

Hands off Syria and Iran!    End the Drone Wars!
We Need Jobs, Education and Healthcare, Not Endless War!

The ominous signs of impending war wit Syria escalate.  NATO is massing troops and military equipment on Syria's borders, and preparing to install missiles aimed at Syria.  U.S. warships are stationed off Syria’s coast. ‘Special operation’ units are readied.  The U.S. government has been supplying arms and logistical support to a few selected Syrian paramilitary groups favored by the U.S. as “replacements” for Assad.    The media bombards us with arguments that support foreign intervention, supposedly for “humanitarian reasons”.   Like WMD’s in Iraq, alarms are sounded, with no credible evidence, that Assad may unleash chemical weapons, thus establishing a pretext for

These are the facts that impel us to oppose any military, economic, diplomatic, or covert intervention aimed at controlling the internal affairs of Syria or any other country:

·        The Syrian people in their majority, regardless of their political positions re: the current government, have rejected calling for foreign intervention.
·        Sanctions harm the people of Syria by causing food shortages, power outages, and blocking the distribution of goods.
·        The U.S. is directly involved in arming and training a few selected Syrian militias favorable to the U.S., contributing to the escalation of violence, direct foreign military intervention, and total destabilization. The people who always suffer the most are the people not engaged in the armed
·        We see the results of ‘humanitarian’ U.S. wars and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya today, where the people, especially women and children, are worse off than before, with millions dead, injured, and/or displaced, an infrastructure and economy in shambles, and where there is no peace.  A country that has a river of Iraqi, Afghan, and Libyan blood on its hands has no right to tell other countries what to do.
·        The U.S. government’s goals in Syria are to gain dominance in a part of the world that holds the vast majority of the known oil reserves and to gain strategic advantage as it seeks to isolate and contain competitors like Russia and China.  The U.S. has no interest in democracy or the humanitarian well-being of a country’s peoples anywhere in the world, especially in areas where the U.S. has economic or strategic interests.
·        The U.S. has a long history of thwarting the emerging economies and progressive initiatives of the third world while supporting repressive regimes.

While activists may hold different views of Syria’s internal political system, we must all agree that the U.S. government has no right to impose its will on other countries, especially those formerly colonized and exploited by the West.  In all cases, we must support the right of nations to self-determination – that is to be able to decide on and resolve internal conflicts free from any foreign intervention.

The United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) demands:
No U.S. or NATO intervention in the internal affairs of Syria!
No War!  No Sanctions!  No Intervention!
Self-determination for the Syrian people!

977. Scientists Report Faster Warming in Antarctica

Warming map of Antarctica
By Justin Gillis, The New York Times, December 23, 2012

West Antarctica has warmed much more than scientists had thought over the last half century, new research suggests, an ominous finding given that the huge ice sheet there may be vulnerable to long-term collapse, with potentially drastic effects on sea levels.

A paper released Sunday by the journal Nature Geoscience reports that the temperature at a research station in the middle of West Antarctica has warmed by 4.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1958. That is roughly twice as much as scientists previously thought and three times the overall rate of global warming, making central West Antarctica one of the fastest-warming regions on earth.
“The surprises keep coming,” said Andrew J. Monaghan, a scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., who took part in the study. “When you see this type of warming, I think it’s alarming.”
Of course, warming in Antarctica is a relative concept. West Antarctica remains an exceedingly cold place, with average annual temperatures in the center of the ice sheet that are nearly 50 degrees Fahrenheit below freezing.
But the temperature there does sometimes rise above freezing in the summer, and the new research raises the possibility that it might begin to happen more often, potentially weakening the ice sheet through surface melting. The ice sheet is already under attack at the edges by warmer ocean water, and scientists are on alert for any new threat.
A potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is one of the long-term hazards that have led experts to worry about global warming. The base of the ice sheet sits below sea level, in a configuration that makes it especially vulnerable. Scientists say a breakup of the ice sheet, over a period that would presumably last at least several hundred years, could raise global sea levels by 10 feet, possibly more.
The new research is an attempt to resolve a scientific controversy that erupted several years ago about exactly how fast West Antarctica is warming. With few automated weather stations and even fewer human observers in the region, scientists have had to use statistical techniques to infer long-term climate trends from sparse data.
A nearby area called the Antarctic Peninsula, which juts north from West Antarctica and for which fairly good records are available, was already known to be warming rapidly. A 2009 paper found extensive warming in the main part of West Antarctica, but those results were challenged by a group that included climate change contrarians.
To try to get to the bottom of the question, David H. Bromwich of Ohio State University pulled together a team that focused on a single temperature record. At a lonely outpost called Byrd Station, in central West Antarctica, people and automated equipment have been keeping track of temperature and other weather variables since the late 1950s.
It is by far the longest weather record in that region, but it had intermittent gaps and other problems that had made many researchers wary of it. The Bromwich group decided to try to salvage the Byrd record.
They retrieved one of the sensors and recalibrated it at the University of Wisconsin. They discovered a software error that had introduced mistakes into the record and then used computerized analyses of the atmosphere to fill the gaps.
The reconstruction will most likely undergo intensive scientific scrutiny, which Dr. Bromwich said he would welcome. “We’ve tested everything we could think of,” he said.
Assuming the research holds up, it suggests that the 2009 paper, far from overestimating warming in West Antarctica, had probably underestimated it, especially in summer.
Eric J. Steig, a University of Washington researcher who led the 2009 work, said in an interview that he considered his paper to have been supplanted by the new research. “I think their results are better than ours, and should be adopted as the best estimate,” he said. He noted that the new Byrd record matches a recent temperature reconstruction from a nearby borehole in the ice sheet, adding confidence in the findings.
Much of the warming discovered in the new paper happened in the 1980s, around the same time the planet was beginning to warm briskly. More recently, Dr. Bromwich said, the weather in West Antarctica seems to have become somewhat erratic. In the summer of 2005, the interior of West Antarctica warmed enough for the ice to undergo several days of surface melting.
Dr. Bromwich is worried that this could eventually become routine, perhaps accelerating the decay of the West Antarctic ice sheet, but the warming is not fast enough for that to happen right away. “We’re talking decades into the future, I think,” Dr. Bromwich said.

Monday, December 17, 2012

976. Dialectics in Science: An Interview with Helena Sheehan

By Ben Campbell, The North Star, December 15, 2012
While today’s left has frayed into many strands, there was a time when the left presented, or at least aspired to present, a coherent Weltanschauung. This was Marxism, founded on Karl Marx’s brilliant synthesis of materialism and the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel, which led him and his collaborator Friedrich Engels to an unprecedented coalescence of existing human knowledge.
Today’s crisis of capitalism has, unsurprisingly, led to a renewed interest in Marxism. Yet any “return to Marx” will not be found in an exegesis of ancient texts but in grounding Marx’s materialist dialectic in the present. Just as Marx critiqued 19th-century advances by incorporating them into his thought, so too must the most promising developments of the last century be synthesized into a radical understanding for the present. Unfortunately, today’s left has for too long been relegated to social and cultural studies, ceding the “hard” discourse in economics and science to a new generation of vulgar scientistic “quants”. The resulting left has too often neglected a dialectical critique, in favor of a dichotomous relation to science.
It was not always so. In an attempt to recover some of the lost spirit of the scientific left, I will be interviewing subjects at the interface of science and the left. I begin today with Helena Sheehan, Professor Emerita at Dublin City University. Her research interests include science studies and the history of Marxism, and she is the author of Marxism and the Philosophy of Science: A Critical History (available on her website).
Ben Campbell: The advances of 19th-century science were inseparable from the rise of “materialist” philosophy. While Marx certainly belongs to this tradition, he was also strongly influenced by German idealism, specifically the dialectical system of G.W.F. Hegel. What did a “dialectical” materialism mean for Marx, and how did he see it as an advance over the materialism of his day?
Helena Sheehan: The materialist philosophy of the 19th century was tending in a positivist direction. It was inclined to stress induction and to get stuck in a play of particulars. Marxism pulled this in the direction of a more historicist and more holistic materialism. It was an approach that overcame myopia, one that looked to the whole and didn’t get lost in the parts.
BC: You’ve written, “It is no accident that Marxism made its entry onto the historical stage at the same historical moment as Darwinism.” What do you mean by this, and what do you see as the connection between these two monumental figures?
HS: The idea of evolution was an idea whose time had come. It was in the air. Historical conditions ripen and set the intellectual agenda. Great thinkers are those who are awake to the historical process, those who gather up what is struggling for expression. Marx and Darwin were both great thinkers in this sense, although others were also coming to the same conclusions. Marx and Engels were far bolder than Darwin, carrying forward the realization of a naturalistic and developmental process beyond the origin of biological species into the realm of socio-historical institutions and human thought.
BC: Engels also wrote extensively on science, particularly in his manuscript Dialectics of Nature, unfinished and unpublished during his lifetime. What is it about this document, and Engels more generally, that has been so controversial in the history of Marxism’s relation to science?
HS: There is a tension in Marxist philosophy between its roots in the history of philosophy and its commitment to empirical knowledge. For the best Marxist thinkers, certainly for Marx and Engels themselves, it has been a creative interaction. However, some of those pulling toward German idealist philosophy, particularly that of Kant and Hegel, have brought into Marxism a hostility to the natural sciences, influenced by the Methodenstreit, an antagonistic conceptualization of the humanities versus the sciences, which has played out in various forms over the decades.
The critique of positivism has been bloated to an anti-science stance. The tendency of some to counterpose a humanistic Marx to a positivist Engels is not supported by historical evidence, as I have demonstrated at some length in my book.
BC: It seems to me that this synthesis of dialectical philosophy with materialism has always been contentious. On one hand, as you say, there is the danger of reducing an anti-positivist stance to an anti-scientific stance. On the other hand, there is the threat of “the dialectic” being reduced to a mere rhetorical flourish for an otherwise bare scientism. Other writers, like John Bellamy Foster, have argued that Marxism after Marx and Engels split along these lines. Do you agree with this assessment? After Marx and Engels, what or who best demonstrated the potential of a “dialectical” science to transcend this divide?
HS: No, I don’t agree with it. There have always been those who synthesized these two streams. Most familiar to me is the 1930s British Marxism of Bernal, Haldane, Caudwell, and others, and post-war Eastern European Marxism. Regarding the latter, it suffered from the orthodoxy of parties in power, but it wasn’t all catechetical dogmatism. In the United States, Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin. This would still characterize my own position today.
BC: Yet despite the ability of some to transcend it, there does seem to have historically been much ambiguity concerning what a “materialist dialectic” would really entail. Some, like philosopher David Bakhurst, have traced some of this ambiguity back to the philosophical writings of Lenin. Bakhurst argues that while Lenin appeared at times to advocate a “radical Hegelian realism”, at other times his philosophy failed to transcend a rather vulgar materialism. How did any such ambiguities in Lenin’s own writings contribute to subsequent debates in Soviet science?
HS: Yes, I would agree with that. Lenin could be very philosophically and politically sophisticated, but I never thought his philosophical position quite gelled. Some of his texts on reflection theory were epistemologically crude. As to the effect on Soviet debates, these were beset by the tendency to deal with writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin as sacred texts. This rigidified further after the Bolshevization of all academic discipline, when there had to be one and only one legitimate Marxist position on every question. A quote from Lenin stopped any further debate.
BC: Such talk about the rigidity of Soviet science inevitably leads to the specter of T.D. Lysenko. For readers who may not be familiar, could you briefly describe Lysenko’s work? How would you respond to those who use Lysenko as a cautionary tale about the danger posed by Marxism or dialectical thinking to biology?
HS: T.D. Lysenko (1898–1976) was a Ukrainian agronomist who came to prominence in the U.S.S.R. in 1927 when his experiments in winter planting of peas were sensationalized by Pravda. He became lionized as a scientist close to his peasant roots who could serve the needs of Soviet agriculture in the spirit of the first Five-Year Plan. He then advanced the technique of vernalization to a theory of the phasic development of plants and then to a whole alternative approach to biology. This was in the context of wider debates in international science about genetics and evolution, about heredity and environment, about inheritance of acquired characteristics. It was also in the context of the Bolshevization of academic disciplines and the search for a proletarian biology and the purges of academic institutions.
The issues were many and complex. There has been a tendency to flatten them all out into Lysenkoism as a cautionary tale against philosophical or political “interference” in science. However, I believe that philosophy and politics are relevant to the theory and practice of science. Lysenkoism is a cautionary tale in the perils and pitfalls of certain approaches to that.
BC: If we turn from the Soviet philosophy of science to that of the non-Marxist West, you see a greater reluctance to mix philosophy with the content of science. Instead, a lot of canonical  “philosophy of science” (e.g., Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos, Feyerabend) has more to do with scientific method. What does Marxism, with its emphasis on contradiction, have to say about the scientific method? I wonder specifically about Lakatos’ background in Hegelian Marxism and whether there are affinities there.
HS: One big difference between these two traditions in philosophy of science is that Marxism pursued questions of worldview, exploring the philosophical implications of the empirical sciences, setting it apart from the narrow methodologism of the other tradition.
However, Marxism also addressed questions of scientific method. There is an elaborate literature dealing with epistemological questions from a Marxist point of view. There have been many debates, but the mainstream position would be critical realism. What is distinctive about Marxism in this sphere is how it cuts through the dualism of realism versus social constructivism. Marxism has made the strongest claims of any intellectual tradition before or since about the socio-historical character of science, yet always affirmed its cognitive achievements.
The fact that Lakatos had a background in Marxism made him inclined to take a wider view than his later colleagues, but I find that he left a lot to be desired in that respect. Nevertheless, contra Feyerabend, I think that the project of specifying demarcation criteria, so central to the neo-positivist project, is a crucially important task.
BC: Karl Popper famously invoked a “falsifiability” criterion as a means of solving the demarcation problem, which refers to the question of how to distinguish science from non-science (or if that is even possible). Popper’s solution has influenced many scientists but has been strongly critiqued in philosophical circles. How does a Marxist approach inform this demarcation problem?
HS: There is a need for criteria to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate claims to knowledge. The positivist and neo-positivist traditions contributed much to the formulation of such criteria. They did so, however, from a base that was too narrow, employing criteria that were too restricted, leaving out of the picture too much that was all too real, excluding historical, psychological, sociological, metaphysical dimensions as irrelevant. Marxism agrees with the emphasis on empirical evidence and logical coherence, but brings the broader context to bear. It synthesizes the best of other epistemological positions: logical empiricism, rationalism, social constructivism.
BC: Today, Marxism stands at its weakest historically, right as the global economic crash seems to have most vindicated it. Similarly, Marxism has almost no direct influence on 21st-century science, yet discoveries and perspectives seem increasingly “dialectical” (e.g., biological emphases on complex systems, emergence, and circular causality). What do you make of the situation at present? Would it be possible to develop a “dialectical” or even “Marxist” science without Marxism as a political force? Or will science always be fragmented and one-sided so long as there remains no significant political challenge to capital?
HS: Yes, Marxism is at a low ebb as far as overt influence is concerned, precisely at a time when its analysis is most relevant and even most vindicated.
I think that people can come to many of the same realizations and conclusions as Marxists without calling themselves Marxists. However, I don’t think there can be any fully meaningful analysis of science that does not analyze it in relation to the dominant mode of production. Such an analysis shows how the capitalist mode of production brings about intellectual fragmentation as well as economic exploitation and social disintegration.
I don’t think that left parties having any chance of taking power in the future will be Marxist parties in the old sense, although Marxism will likely be a force within them. I am thinking particularly of SYRIZA, with whom I’ve been intensively engaged lately. One of the leading thinkers in SYRIZA is Aristides Baltas, a Marxist and a philosopher of science.
Thank you, Helena.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

975. Jamaica Grateful for Cuba’s Support in Healthcare

Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency
Yuri Gala Lopez (left),is warmly greeted by Permanent
Secretary in the Ministry ofHealth, Dr. Jean Dixon.

By Alicia Smith-Edwards,  Jamaica Information Service, December 14, 2012

Minister of Health, Hon. Dr. Fenton Ferguson, has expressed appreciation for assistance, particularly in the area of health, which the country has been receiving from the Republic of Cuba, for the past 40 years.
“Our country has benefited much from Cuba’s internationalist goodwill. The government and people of Jamaica appreciate the sacrifice of the Cuban government and people in making this a reality especially in the field of health,” the Minister said.
He was addressing a celebratory function marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba and CARICOM/Jamaica, held Dec. 11, 2012 at the Ministry in Kingston.
The Minister cited the “operation miracle” eye care project launched by Cuba in Jamaica in 2005, which he described as one of the most outstanding medical projects in Jamaica’s history, “and one which has earned the eternal gratitude of the Jamaican people”.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Jean Dixon (right), exchanges pleasantries with President of the Cuban Institute of the Friendship with the People, Kenia Serrano, when she arrived at the Ministry’s offices in Kingston on December 11 to participate in a celebratory function marking the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Cuba and CARICOM/Jamaica.
“This programme has brought immense benefits to eye patients in the country and has been extended to the wider Caribbean region,” he said, noting that more than 66,000 Jamaicans have been screened under the programme while over 9,000 patients received free eye surgeries.
Dr. Ferguson further stated that Cuba has provided training for close to 600 Jamaican doctors in various facets of medicine and supplied a host of professionals, primarily doctors and nurses for service in the public health sector in Jamaica since the 1970s.
“At the request of the Ministry of Health in January this year, an agreement was signed between our Ministry and the Ministry of Public Health in Cuba for some 499 medical professionals including doctors, medical technologists, cytotechnologists, nurses, nursing tutors, physiotherapists and clinical dieticians to serve in Jamaica over the next two years, particularly in underserved rural areas as well as in major hospitals,” he informed.
Also, as part of this agreement, more recently, 45 male and female nurses from Cuba covering specialist areas such as ophthalmology, burns, accident and emergency and haemodialysis were contracted to work in Jamaica. This is addition to the 19 specialist doctors in the area of primary health care that were deployed throughout the four regional health authorities across Jamaica in May this year. 
The Minister noted that Cuba has also provided critical assistance in the biomedical area to help restore vital medical equipment in local hospitals and health centres. The Cuban biomedical project has also been involved in retrofitting and refurbishing many hospital departments, with over 140 pieces of dental equipment have been serviced and repaired, and a revised flow, redesign and complete layout plan for the central sterile service departments has been developed. 
“The project is saving millions of dollars worth of medical equipment, which could otherwise have been rendered useless,” he said.
Additionally, over 180 pieces of a combination of anaesthetic, ventilators, incubators and infant warmers were checked and serviced, and some are awaiting the arrival of spare parts, he informed.
“We look forward to deepening this commitment in areas such as trade in pharmaceuticals and cooperation in health research between our countries,” he said.
For his part, Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba, His Excellency Yuri Gala Lopez, noted thatsince 1972 to date, Cuba has been supporting its Caribbean counterparts’ efforts at regional integration, by implementing “its novel modest co-operation in the fields of education, culture, training of human resources, health, energy saving, agriculture and other sectors”.
“During these 40 years, more than 20,000 Cuban specialists have provided their services in all CARICOM countries, mainly in the health and educational sectors. Cuba’s scholarship programmes have benefitted over 3,000 CARICOM nationals. Besides, more than 2,000 students from those CARICOM countries are currently studying in Cuba,” he informed.
Turning to Jamaica relations, the Ambassador said that the Cuban Embassy is pleased to have a strong contingent of health specialists in Jamaica, noting that currently there are more than 200 Cuban specialists in Jamaica supporting bilateral programmes, mainly in the fields of health and education.
He committed the Cuban Government’s “unwavering will to continue strengthening and expanding the relations of brotherhood, solidarity and co-operation between Cuba and Jamaica”.
He argued that for Cuba, co-operation with other countries of the south is a duty and a matter of satisfaction. “For Cuba, it’s not simply about providing what we have to spare, but to modestly share the little resources that we have as a contribution to the building of a better world,” he stated.

Friday, December 14, 2012

974. Cuba Continues to Expand the Private Sector

A watch repair stand in Havana
By Peter Orsi, Associated Press, December 13, 2012

President Raul Castro declared Thursday that Cuba's two-year experiment with market reforms is working and has the wind at its back, but said much work remains to breathe life into the sputtering economy.
In a speech devoid of any new policy announcements, the military khaki-clad leader sounded a generally positive tone in discussing the Marxist country's progress, though he conceded that the island faces a "colossal psychological barrier" in shedding old habits and "concepts of the past."
"The updating of the Cuban economic model ... marches with a sure step and is beginning to delve into questions of greater reach, complexity and depth," Castro said, according to an official transcript of his remarks before lawmakers at the second of their twice-annual sessions.
The proceedings were closed to foreign journalists, but state television later broadcast tape-delayed highlights.
Cuban economy czar Marino Murillo told the assembly that the government is planning more measures to support and increase the ranks of independent workers and small business owners.
Real estate broker, delivery person, antiques dealer and produce vendor will all be newly legalized private jobs in a country where the government has long dominated the economy and employed nearly the entire workforce.
The self-employed "are gaining space," Murillo was quoted as saying by the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina.
Economists have said Cuba needs to expand the number of allowable private enterprises, with an emphasis on white-collar work. Real estate has been a particular concern. Cuba legalized the buying and selling of property 12 months ago, but has yet to allow agents to facilitate transactions.
Some 400,000 people now work in the private sector in 180 legally approved job areas, Prensa Latina said. That's up from 156,000 in late 2010, the onset of Castro's five-year plan to reform the economy with a dash of free-market activity.
Cuba intends to keep control of key sectors, however, and Castro and other top officials insist the country is not abandoning a half-century of socialism for freewheeling capitalism.
Murillo also said that in the future, state-run businesses including tourism concerns will be paying independent contractors via bank transactions in hard currency.
Meanwhile, lawmakers passed a 2013 budget with a deficit of 3.6 percent of GDP and heard an update on the country's economy.
The government announced recently that GDP rose 3.1 percent this year, below expectations of 3.4 percent. Growth of 3.7 percent is forecast for 2013, low for a small developing economy, but Castro called it "acceptable in a scenario of continuing global economic crisis."
Economy Minister Adel Izquierdo said the construction sector is expected to expand 20 percent in the coming year, worker productivity should rise 2.6 percent and the country has a goal of topping 3 million tourist visits for the first time, according to Prensa Latina.
In its first order of business, the assembly unanimously passed a resolution of support for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who earlier this week underwent his fourth cancer-related surgery in the Cuban capital.
Chavez is a key ally of Cuba, and during his presidency Venezuela has sent billions of dollars' worth of oil to the island on preferential terms.
"At this crucial hour for Venezuela ... we will be like always," Castro said, "together with President Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution he leads."
The unicameral parliament will reconvene in February with a new membership following elections and is then expected to name Castro to another five-year term.