Adamant: Hardest metal

Venezuelan violinist reaps second place in international competition

Venezuela's Electronic News
Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003
By: Patrick J. O'Donoghue

Venezuelan violinist, Alexis Cardenas Marcano ( born in Maracaibo in 1976) has won second place at the International Youth Musical in Montreal, Canada last Saturday, June 7 ... Belgian Yossif Ivanaov just beat him to the first place

Matthieu Arama (France) came third, Nicolas Koeckert (Germany) fourth, Oleg Kaskiv (Ukraine) fifth and Julia Sakharova (Russia) sixth.

Cardenas has received an extra career boost winning the festival's Public's Favorite Prize, while Diana Galvydyte received mention for the best interpretation of an unpublished work.

Although Cardenas is not well known in Venezuela, the second place at Montreal has placed him on the map as a promising young violinist and is seen as a springboard to international recognition.

Latin America to set lower prices for HIV treatments

AidsMap
10 June 2003
Julian Meldrum

Ten Latin American countries meeting last weekend in Lima, Peru, have signed a letter of intent with a number of pharmaceutical companies which opens the way to lower prices for antiretroviral drugs, HIV diagnostic and monitoring tests. While full details have not yet been released, the effect should be substantial: the cost of first-line triple therapy is reduced by between 30 and 92% from the best prices previously available and second-line treatments are also included. The overall impact could be to allow 150,000 more people with HIV to receive treatment in the region without increasing current levels of spending on ARV drugs, according to REDLA+, the Latin American network for positive people and others close to the negotiations.

The process, chaired by Peru's Health Minister and facilitated by WHO's regional office, the Pan-American Health Organisation, had the goal of securing lower prices for the customers in return for access for the suppliers to a larger and more predictable market. The health ministers heard from individual companies privately on the prices they could offer for particular drugs, and then set a "reference price" as a maximum figure for future purchases of each product. Companies are free to offer lower prices, although there is no expectation that there will be further discounts for bulk orders, etc.

The agreement includes conditions on quality control and bio-equivalence studies for generic companies supplying ARVs in the Latin American market, which implies coordination among drug regulators in the region to simplify their procedures and speed product registration without risking patients’ welfare.

This agreement was jointly negotiated between the governments of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela and a number of pharmaceutical companies. Of the major international pharmaceutical companies, only Abbott (supplier of diagnostics as well as ARVs) has signed up, alongside the "generic" companies Cipla (India), Combino Pharm (Spain), Filaxis (Argentina), Ranbaxy (India), Refasa (Peru), Richmond (Argentina) and Rontag (Argentina).

Of these companies, four - Abbott, Cipla, Combino Pharm and Ranbaxy - now have ARVs "pre-qualified" for international purchase under the UNAIDS/WHO pilot scheme to assess compliance with good manufacturing practice. Full implementation of this agreement appears to depend on WHO examination of the manufacturing processes and product quality offered by all of the companies involved.

BMS, GSK, Merck and Roche declined to participate in the bidding process as they were unwilling to offer a single regional price. Effectively, the agreement now means they must match the prices of the generic companies where there is direct competition, or their products will not be purchased.

Gilead Sciences (makers of tenofovir) have also signalled their readiness to offer reduced prices in Latin America although no announcement on this has yet been made.

Similar negotiations have recently taken place between groups of pharmaceutical companies and groups of companies in the Caribbean and Central America, but until now the big international pharmaceutical companies have succeeded in excluding generic suppliers from the process.

Brazil famously secured large discounts on ARV prices through actual or threatened generic competition, as well as through bulk purchasing. Clearly, Brazil has now become the model for other states to follow. The key question will now be whether other countries will match Brazil's commitment to providing healthcare and treatment, as well as its readiness to stand up to political pressure from the USA and multinational companies.

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Researchers explore mysteries of dark matter, energy

Abram Katz , Register Science Editor 06/08/2003
Photo courtesy of NASA Earth was less than a speck in the old universe of planets, stars, galaxies, black holes, and quasars.
Now it turns out that our whole universe of visible matter, and gravity is but a mote in the cosmos.
Much of 20th century physics may have to be modified to accommodate two enormous oddities — dark matter and dark energy.
The latest research suggests that this "dark," undetectable stuff constitutes 99 percent of the mass of the universe.
Dark matter is mysterious, but it follows the standard laws of gravity.
Dark energy, on the other hand, is an enigmatic force that seems to behave like gravity in reverse.
While gravity should be slowing the expansion of the universe, dark energy is accelerating the spread.
"We have no clue what’s going on. That’s exciting," said Charles Baltay, Higgins professor of physics and professor of astronomy at Yale University.
Baltay and colleagues at Yale, Indiana University, and at a Venezuelan university and an observatory hope to shed some light on dark matter and energy.
Baltay will use the world’s largest telescopes and other instruments to observe quasars on the edge of visible space.
These incredibly bright beacons will help astronomers and physicists chart the geometry of the universe, estimate the mass of dark matter, and probe dark energy.
Baltay said the universal domination of dark matter and energy makes human science seem like a puny enterprise.
"The stuff we’ve been studying is a lousy 1 per cent of what’s out there," he said.
Scientists calculate that dark matter comprises about 30 percent of the universe and dark energy around 70 percent, meaning visible matter is indeed trivial.
Dark matter at least behaves like normal everyday matter — it just happens to be almost impossible to detect.
German astronomer Fritz Zwicky posited the existence of dark matter in the 1930s. Zwicky saw stars exceeding the expected speed limit around galaxies.
That could only happen if the galaxy had 10 times more mass, which could not be accounted for by stars, dust or gas.
At roughly the same time, Edwin Hubble realized that stars and galaxies were all speeding away from each other.
Albert Einstein and others supposed the universe was static, but here it was expanding.
Einstein had added a "cosmological constant" to his equations to save the universe from gravitational collapse.
When it became clear that the universe was expanding, Einstein removed the cosmological constant, calling it his biggest blunder.
Meanwhile, expansion raised the question of the universe’s mass.
A certain mass would produce sufficient gravity to pull the spreading galaxies back together in a big crunch.
If the universe were too light, matter would keep expanding.
And should there be exactly the right amount, expansion would slow but never quite stop. This is the "critical mass."
Depending on the mass, the universe could be "closed," "open" or "flat."
Closed meant collapse and curved space. Open meant eternal expansion and negative curvature, and flat implied perpetual slowing and uncurved flat space.
The amount and mass of dark matter became an important element in cosmology.
This whole model was thrown into disarray in the late 1990s.
Researchers at Princeton, the University of California at Berkeley and Harvard measured how fast a certain type of supernova was receding.
The astronomers found the universe is not merely expanding. It’s accelerating.
"Your first reaction is ‘That’s ridiculous,’" Baltay said.
A force like repulsive gravity must be pushing matter apart. Einstein’s disavowed cosmological constant appeared real, after all.
The weird reverse gravity became known as dark energy.
Since energy and mass are equivalent, the observations suggest that dark energy accounts for about 70 percent of the mass of the universe.
"The universe is more complicated. When we finally understand it, we’ll have a nice simple picture again," Baltay said.
Baltay and colleagues hope to clarify what’s out there, using a technique that Einstein would appreciate.
Massive things like galaxies can bend light enough to act like optical lenses.
A quasar provides the light. If the quasar is behind a galaxy, or a clump of dark matter, observers on Earth will see multiple images of the quasar. This is called gravitational lensing.
Lensing without a visible galaxy suggests the presence of dark matter.
"We’ll look at a lot of lenses to see if there is dark matter, if the lens is invisible," Baltay said.
Knowing the distance to the quasars and the mass of the lenses, researchers can measure angles like a prospector and calculate the degree to which space is curved, Baltay said.
"By drawing big triangles in space, we can see the geometry of space," he said, including dark matter and energy.
First, the researchers will use a large array of charge-coupled devices attached to a Schmidt telescope in Venezuela to survey the sky for quasars and lensing.
The 200-inch telescope at Mount Palomar and the world’s largest telescope, the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii, will be used to observe and confirm the quasars.
As part of the project, Baltay and researchers also will make their own measurements of supernovas.

Because only about one in 1,000 quasars are "lensed" the experiment will require viewing hundreds of thousands of quasars.

Abram Katz can be reached at akatz@nhregister.com or 789-5719.

Foreign exchange students need families to host stays

Tuesday, June 03, 2003
For the Cumberland Times-News

CUMBERLAND — Foreign high school students are scheduled to arrive soon for academic semester program homestays and the sponsoring organization needs a few more local host families.

According to John Doty, Pacific International Exchange executive director, the students are all between the ages of 15 and 18 years, are English-speaking, have their own spending money, carry accident and health insurance and are anxious to share their cultural experiences with their new American families. Host families are also eligible to claim a $50 per month charitable contribution deduction on their itemized tax returns for each month they host a sponsored student.

PIE area representatives match students with host families by finding common interests and lifestyles through an informal in-home meeting. Prospective host families are able to review student applications and select the perfect match. PIE can fit a student into just about any situation, whether it be a single parent, a childless couple, a retired couple or a large family.

For the upcoming programs, PIE has students from Germany, the Former Soviet-Union, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, Finland, Hungary, Korea, Switzerland, Mexico, Italy, Paraguay, Australia, Yugoslavia, China, Belgium, Vietnam and many other countries. The exchange has also been invited to participate in a special government-funded program to bring scholarship students from the newly independent states of the former of Soviet Union to the United States.

PIE is a non-profit educational organization that has sponsored more than 20,000 students from 40 countries since its founding in 1975. The organization is designated by the U.S. Department of State and is listed by the Council on Standards for International Educational Travel, certifying that the organization complies with the standards set forth in CSIET’s Standards for International Educational Travel Programs.

Allegany County-area families interested in learning more about student exchange or arranging for a meeting with a community representatives may call (800)-631-1818.

The agency also has travel/study programs opportunities available for American high school students, as well as possibilities for community volunteers to assist and work with area host families, students and schools.

Who is Joe Gwinnett?

Gwinnett Daily Post
By Douglas Sams

LAWRENCEVILLE — His description reads like this: 33-year-old white male. Lives in a $164,025 home with a family of three. Household income, $67,654. Spends his money on home loans, retirement plans and sports tickets.

It could be the profile of Everyman U.S.A. In this case, it describes Joe Gwinnett, the statistical representation of the county’s common man amid 684,494 residents, 233,368 households and 175,533 families.

The data comes from ESRI Business Information Solutions, a marketing research firm that helped the Gwinnett Daily Post draw a social and economic picture of the county. The data shows, at least in some ways, that Joe Gwinnett is better off than others.

His household pulls in $19,653 more every year than the state average and $21,039 more than the national average. His home value is $40,692 more than the Georgia average and $25,191 more than the U.S. average. He also has more buying power, so the retailers build stores all around him where he can spend his money, creating plenty of convenient shopping.

But this average Joe can be his own worst enemy, because people use him to form stereotypes about Gwinnett, said Charles Gallagher, a sociology professor at Georgia State University.

By concentrating on Joe, they might overlook that nearly one third — some 228,000 Gwinnett residents — are black, Asian and Hispanic, and gaining more social, economic and political power at city hall and the state capital.

They might not realize that in some parts of Norcross, Joe would be the minority. They also might fail to see the growing number of minority-owned businesses and the construction of several Korean churches in parts of Duluth and Norcross.

Joe: Perception and reality

Nevertheless, many, said Gallagher, think of Joe Gwinnett as being a “fat, balding, white Republican — someone who gets his news from Fox and thinks the market, if left alone, will fix everything.” They also have the impression, he said, that Gwinnett residents are generally “intolerant, gun-loving and homophobic.”

It’s unfair and inaccurate, Gallagher said, but it’s the common problem of perception versus reality.

“The suburbs are typically thought to represent middle class conformity, intolerance to religions other than Christianity and a narrow circle of like-minded friends, while the city is perceived to be inhabited by more urbane, open-minded, tolerant individuals,” he said. “It is also thought to house perverts and deviants. ... Each population has its own stereotype. Unfortunately, crass stereotypes like these are the way we define one another.”

Even so, the ways county residents view Joe Gwinnett are as diverse as the population itself.

Ismael Garcia, a 20-year-old University of Georgia student born in Caracas, Venezuela, is working this summer at JCrew at the Mall of Georgia. He thinks Joe is about 33-years-old and lives in a $150,000 home.

Jimmy Warren, a 32-year-old state trooper living with his family in Buford, says Joe is 42-years-old and owns a $300,000 home.

Sydney Kelley, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mother from Lilburn, thinks Joe’s household pulls in about $95,000 a year to support a family of four. But Alicia Chinnery, a 22-year-old from the U.S. Virgin Islands now living in Norcross, said Joe makes $10,000 less and still has to support a family of five.

What is considered typical Gwinnett also varies from one person to the next.

Kelley sees the growing threat of gang violence, the stability of home values and the continued strength in the school system.
Chinnery said “clean, big and beautiful,” best describe Gwinnett and that she feels much more safe in her apartment on Jimmy Carter Boulevard than she ever did in the “rough and tough” Clarkston neighborhood she first lived in.

Many said traffic and crowded schools are common, but Dave Shubeck, a 49-year-old military history buff who grew up in Chicago, finds Gwinnett ahead of other counties when it comes to protecting the environment.

“My experience is that we haven’t been overdeveloping,” said Shubeck, who lives near Stone Mountain. “We’re making good progress in our schools, too.”

Alissa Klinefelter, a 14-year-old freshman at Dacula High School this fall, said the abundance of malls and shopping define Gwinnett for her.

Joe in the future

Joe Gwinnett could look much different in the future given the way the county’s minority populations are gaining political and social clout, experts said. But no matter who Joe Gwinnett becomes in the next decades, Gallagher said he or she will most likely encounter the same common challenges Gwinnett faces today.

“We have gotten to the point that developers tell county planners what to do,” Gallagher said. “While more developments might make owning a house a reality for folks of all colors and class backgrounds, the roads can only accommodate so much traffic, a classroom can only hold so many students, landfills can only absorb so much trash and our waterways can only swallow so much run-off from new developments.”

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