Dispatches > The Buzz

The Buzz

"The Buzz" Continued...

Issue: "The schools that Arne built," April 11, 2009

One reason the rates are high is because increasingly effective drugs are keeping more people with HIV alive, but new infections are still a central problem for health workers in the city. Most help to the infected comes from government programs and nonprofit organizations funded by the local government, and many operate on the premise that unprotected sex is the lead culprit in fueling the epidemic.

Across the country more than 450,000 people are suffering from AIDS-with the highest rates of new diagnoses found in Miami, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Washington, D.C., according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Finding his religion

Prominent French physicist Bernard d'Espagnat in March won the Templeton religion prize for a body of work that clashes with the views of modern materialist science. In a series of books on quantum physics, d'Espagnat has argued that there is an ultimate spiritual reality beyond science's grasp.

Quantum physics mysteries, such as the ongoing interdependence between subatomic particles that have been physically separated, led d'Espagnat to conclude that the universe is an interrelated whole that defies materialist attempts to explain it as the sum of observable parts. Raised a Roman Catholic, the physicist said he does not now practice any organized religion but considers himself a spiritualist: "I believe we ultimately come from a superior entity to which awe and respect is due and which we shouldn't try to approach by conceptualizing too much."

The Templeton prize, which carries a cash award of $1.4 million, is the world's largest annual award given to an individual. Previous winners have included Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Obama appoints envoy

President Obama listened to Sudan advocacy groups calling for him to appoint a special envoy to the crisis-riddled region as he has done in the Middle East and Afghanistan. On March 18 he named retired Air Force Major General J. Scott Gration to a post that was created in 2001 under President Bush. Gration oversaw the no-fly zone in northern Iraq in the 1990s but has little experience in diplomacy or Africa, even though he is African-born and speaks Swahili (a language not used officially in Sudan).

Prior experience for the post seems to center on Gration's service as an attaché for Obama's 2006 tour of Chad, where the then-senator visited with refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan.

The appointment comes as the Obama administration confronts tough challenges in Sudan: President Omar al-Bashir, facing an arrest warrant for war crimes in Darfur from the International Criminal Court, has announced he may kick all international aid groups out of the country within a year. And fighting in the south left over 400 dead March 8 in a village north of Pibor and could signal further unraveling of a fragile four-year-old peace agreement.

Count them in

The group that became notorious last fall for falsely registering the starting lineup of the Dallas Cowboys to vote in Nevada is back. This time ACORN wants to help with the Census. For the past few months, the Census Bureau has been signing up partner groups to help it recruit some of the 1.4 million temporary workers needed for the 2010 Census. ACORN is one of over 200 groups to join the campaign, but it's apparently the only one that has faced numerous accusations of voter fraud.

Republicans are objecting to ACORN's inclusion. "It's a concern, especially when you look at all the different charges of voter fraud," Rep. Lynn A. Westmoreland, R-Ga., told Fox News. "And it's not just the lawmakers' concern. It should be the concern of every citizen in the country."

Coalition building

Israel's Labor Party by narrow margins voted March 23 to join the incoming government of Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. The new prime minister had signed coalition agreements with two conservative parties with tough stands against Palestinians, but Labor, which has been at the forefront of peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, gives Netanyahu a more centrist coalition-and its 13 seats in parliament give him a 66-vote majority in the 120-seat house. But the Labor Party's vote, 680-507, revealed a divided party intent on continuing its own agenda. "We will be the counterweight that will guarantee that we won't have a narrow right-wing government, but a real government that will take care of the state of Israel," said Labor leader Ehud Barak.

Under 18 now allowed

A federal judge has ordered the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to permit the sale of Plan B emergency-contraceptive pills without a prescription to women 17 years of age and older. In 2006 the FDA authorized pharmacies to sell the pill without a prescription to women 18 years of age or older. The March 23 ruling, which requires compliance within 30 days, also tasks the FDA with reconsidering its policy of keeping the pills behind the pharmacy counter. Earlier the FDA had indicated it needed more time to review the safety of Plan B before deciding whether to make the pill available over the counter.

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