as a weekly practice I listen to npr and do a little sketch on one of the stories. take a look, you can click on the illustration to make it bigger!

Monday, January 25, 2010

How 'The Hidden Brain' Does The Thinking For Us

After making a silly mistake, it's not uncommon for a person to say, "Oops — I was on autopilot." In his new book, The Hidden Brain, science writer Shankar Vedantam explains how there's actually a lot of truth to that.

Our brains have two modes, he tells NPR's Steve Inkseep — conscious and unconscious, pilot and autopilot — and we are constantly switching back and forth between the two.

"The problem arises when we [switch] without our awareness," Vedantam says, "and the autopilot ends up flying the plane, when we should be flying the plane."

The autopilot mode can be useful when we're multitasking, but it can also lead us to make unsupported snap judgments about people in the world around us. Vedantam says that when we interact with people from different backgrounds in high-pressure situations, it's easy to rely — unconsciously — on heuristics.

Racial categorization begins at an extremely early age. Vedantam cites research from a day-care center in Montreal that found that children as young as 3 linked white faces with positive attributes and black faces with negative attributes.

"Now, these were children who are 3 years old," Vedantam says. "It is especially hard to call them bigots, or to suggest that they are explicitly racially biased or have animosity in their hearts."

Vedantam says the mind is hard-wired to "form associations between people and concepts." But he thinks that the links the children made between particular groups and particular concepts were not biologically based — those judgments came from culture and upbringing.

"We tend to think of the conscious messages that we give children as being the most powerful education that we can give them," Vedantam says — but the unconscious messages are actually far more influential.

He says that for every 50 times a year a teacher talks about tolerance, there are many hundreds of implicit messages of racial bias that children absorb through culture — whether it's television, books or the attitudes of the adults and kids around them.

"And it's these hidden associations that essentially determine what happens in the unconscious minds of these children," Vedantam says.

'Take Back The Controls'

In American society, colorblindness is often held up as the ideal. And though it's a worthy aspiration, Vedantam says it's a goal that isn't rooted in psychological reality.

"Our hidden brains will always recognize people's races, and they will do so from a very, very young age," Vedantam says. "The far better approach is to put race on the table, to ask [children] to unpack the associations that they are learning, to help us shape those associations in more effective ways."

Most of us think of ourselves as being conscious, intentional, deliberate creatures. ... I have become, in some ways, much more humble about my views and much less certain about myself.
- Shankar Vedantam
Going back to the autopilot analogy, Vedantam says it's not a problem that the brain has an autopilot mode — as long as you are aware of when it is on. His book, The Hidden Brain, is about how to "take back the controls."

So if the human psyche is just a big constellation of conscious and unconscious cognition — which thoughts represent the real you?

"Most of us think of ourselves as being conscious, intentional, deliberate creatures," Vedantam says. "I know that I think of myself that way: I know why I like this movie star, or why I voted for this president, or why I prefer this political party to that."

But doing research for this book changed all that, Vedantam says.

"I have become, in some ways, much more humble about my views and much less certain about myself. And it may well be that the hidden brain is much more in charge of what we do than our conscious mind's intentions."

-excerpt from NPR

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Death, Desperation Mark Haiti's Dark Hours

The lone morgue in Port-au-Prince is filled to overflowing, while a mass grave outside the city holds thousands of bodies. Yet three days after a titanic earthquake, the death count has barely begun in Haiti’s capital.

Hundreds of U.S. troops reached the city on Friday, but the nascent international aid effort had yet to show much impact and residents were becoming increasingly angry and impatient.

Photos: Rescue And Heartbreak In Port-Au-Prince

Amid reports of scattered looting, Haitians were in a desperate search for food and water, even as bodies still litter the streets.

Vox Haiti
Voices Heard Above The Earthquake's Roar
Urgent needs are being met in piecemeal fashion. Makeshift medical clinics — most of them outdoors — are struggling to cope with the injured, often with few or no medical supplies.

"Haiti is dead, is dead, is dead, is dead, is dead. Everything is breaking down," Philippe Mercier told NPR's Greg Allen. "It's like somebody who lives in the street, you know? Eat on the street, drink water on the street. There's no pure water."

Hundreds of thousands of survivors in this desperately poor Caribbean nation are believed to be homeless. Many have fashioned makeshift shelters on the sides of city streets, in parks, and wherever else they can take refuge as aftershocks continue to rattle the city.

Heard On 'All Things Considered'
January 15, 2010
NPR's Carrie Kahn Reports From The Port-Au-Prince Morgue
[5 min 3 sec]

January 15, 2010
Haitians Shaped By Years Of Poverty, Corruption
[2 min 40 sec]

January 15, 2010
NPR's Greg Allen Reports On A Woman Pulled From The Rubble
[2 min 56 sec]

"There are just thousands of people out on the streets," said NPR's Jackie Northam from Port-au-Prince. "Every inch of the grass in this city is now taken up with people who are just huddled down because they have nowhere to go."

People trapped under rubble are being rescued in many cases by their neighbors, as Haitians pull together. Roberta Joachim, a worker at Haiti's National Library, was carried into the hospital by several men whom she had never met. Another former stranger made calls to her hometown in Gonaives, a place far from Port-au-Prince and largely unaffected by the earthquake, in an effort to let someone know that the young woman from the provinces was still alive.

In the ruins of the Montana Hotel, American Dan Wooley and Haitian Lucson Mondesir were trapped side by side in adjacent elevator cars. In the darkness, they talked and encouraged each other until a rescue team from Fairfax County, Va., arrived.

There is still no firm count of how many people perished in Tuesday's magnitude 7.0 earthquake. The international Red Cross has estimated that between 45,000 and 50,000 people were killed in the quake, but U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday there was no point in speculating about the scope of deaths or injuries until more information was available.

At least six Americans have been confirmed dead, including one U.S. diplomat, but the U.S. casualty count is expected to rise.

So many corpses have been brought to the morgue at the national hospital that hundreds have been stacked up outside in piles that snake around the corner of the building.

"There are dozens of people lined up to try and attempt the gruesome task of identifying their loved ones," NPR's Carrie Kahn reported from the scene. "It's a horrific sight to go in and experience that many dead people in all levels of decomposition."

U.N. peacekeepers and Haitian government officials have begun to collect some of the corpses and taken them to a mass grave on the outskirts of the city. Haiti's president has said that 7,000 bodies already have been buried there.

The Two-Way Blog
Find Maps, Videos, Links To Aid Agencies And More

"It's not enough, so other sites must be created," David Wimhurst, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission, told NPR's All Things Considered.

But the needs of the dead are simple compared with the care required by a staggering number of injured survivors. And many obstacles exist. Taking a lesson from the South Asian tsunami, governments and humanitarian agencies have been quick to rush sophisticated, pre-packaged field hospitals to the earthquake zone, but there’s a real danger they could simply stack up at the overtaxed Port-au-Prince airport.

Elisabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, urged well-meaning donors to send something other than mobile hospitals, at least for now.

Haiti Quake
Complete NPR Coverage

"We need to avoid gaps and duplication and not waste the money of the donors," Byrs said.

Among Haiti's chief needs: surgeons who specialize in crush injuries, and nurses. Many of Haiti's medical personnel were killed or injured in Tuesday’s quake.

The human help on the way is moving slowly.

Interactive: Quake Damage From Above
Hundreds of U.S. troops already have arrived in Haiti, and several thousand are coming over the weekend after President Obama ordered an initial $100 million relief effort.

The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier also arrived offshore, with 19 helicopters and the capacity to produce hundreds of thousands of gallons of desperately needed drinkable water.

"There are going to be many difficult days ahead," President Obama said on Friday, after speaking with Haitian President Rene Preval. "As I told the president, we realize that he needs more help and his country needs more help — much more."

Bowing to pressure from Congress, the Obama administration said Friday that tens of thousands of Haitian immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally will be allowed to stay for the next year and a half. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said they're being granted temporary protected status, or TPS. That means that none will be deported to their devastated homeland for now. But any Haitians who attempt to flee to the U.S. will be sent back.

Back in Haiti, U.N. peacekeepers have seen "sporadic episodes of looting," according to Wimhurst. The Brazilian military, which makes up the largest contingent in the United Nations peacekeeping force, warned aid convoys to add security to guard against looting.

Indeed, some looters — young men and boys with machetes — roamed downtown streets on Friday.

"They are scavenging everything. What can you do?" said Michel Legros, 53, as he waited for help to search for seven relatives buried in his collapsed house.

There was still little evidence of aid being distributed downtown, and U.N. officials warned that Haitians are becoming increasingly fed up.

"Unfortunately, they're slowly getting more angry and impatient," Wimhurst said of the Haitians. "I fear we're all aware that the situation is getting more tense as the poorest people who need so much are waiting for deliveries. I think tempers might be frayed."

On the streets, Haitians expressed growing fears about their safety, particularly as there continues to be little sign of local police presence. Fueling these concerns, an estimated 4,000 prisoners were believed to have escaped from the collapsed main prison.

"We're worried that people will get a little uneasy," said gas station attendant Jean Reynol, 37, explaining his station was ready to close immediately if violence breaks out.

Haitians also complained that they see little evidence that their government is functioning, but U.N. officials insisted that the Haitian officials were working behind the scenes.

"The Haitian government is functioning on a daily basis, believe it or not, even though the prime minister's office has been demolished and the president's palace has gone down and the ministries have collapsed," Wimhurst told NPR's Melissa Block. "In spite of all that, they've regrouped very fast. They meet every day at 7 o'clock in the morning."

U.S. officials said that U.N. peacekeepers will have the main responsibility of maintaining security in the capital, but the U.S. military will take a lead role in coordinating relief efforts. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that he does not expect a hostile reception.

"Particularly given the role that we will have in delivering food and water and medical help to people, my guess is, the reaction will be one of relief at seeing Americans providing this kind of help," Gates told reporters on Friday.

The full extent of the damage is becoming clearer as relief workers fan out into more corners of the capital. Some 15 areas of the city have been hit particularly hard, with at least 70 percent of the buildings destroyed, according to assessments by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

One empty lot in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, where a building stood only a few days earlier, has been turned into an impromptu bathhouse where people gathered around a hose, filling buckets.

Rescue teams were continuing to extract survivors from crumpled buildings, but a lack of heavy equipment means that many people remain trapped. Rescuers from the Dominican Republic stood outside the wrecked Interior Ministry building where at least two people were believed to be alive amid the rubble.

"We can't do anything because it's a difficult situation there," said Miguelina Tactou, one of the rescue workers. "Our people can be in danger."

Gerald Emil Brun survived a three-story fall after the collapse of the building that housed his architectural and engineering firm, Tecina. His colleagues were not so lucky.

"We are recovering about eight cadavers so far from our building — senior engineers and architects, a lot of them are gone," he said. "The way the construction industry goes in Haiti, we are probably responsible for 3,000 families. Now it's all down. It's all gone."

In what has long been the Western Hemisphere's poorest nation, shock was giving way to despair.

"We need food. The people are suffering. My neighbors and friends are suffering," said Sylvain Angerlotte, 22. "We don't have money. We don't have nothing to eat. We need pure water."

Aid flights have been landing steadily at the Port-au-Prince airport. From Europe, Asia and the Americas, more than 20 governments, the U.N. and private aid groups were sending planeloads of high-energy biscuits and other food, tons of water, tents, blankets, water purification gear, heavy equipment for removing debris, helicopters and other transport.

In all, governments and international agencies have pledged more than $400 million in aid. The American Red Cross also reported a dramatic outpouring of support from the American public, saying that it received nearly $35 million in donations in the first 48 hours after the quake struck.

The massive international effort also yielded a rare diplomatic detente between the United States and Cuba, after Havana agreed to allow U.S. medical evacuation flights to fly through Cuban airspace to reach the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay.

But the port in Haiti's capital is too badly damaged to be used for aid deliveries, which has severely restricted the pace of relief supplies. Some flights into Port-au-Prince had to be diverted — and the airport had been forced to halt flights several times on Thursday and Friday — as the tarmac filled up with airplanes and jet fuel ran short.

Aid workers are beginning to worry that they are running out of time.

"There is a huge amount of people in need, but my fear is now how we're going to get to them all," Hauke Hoops, the regional emergency coordinator in Haiti for CARE, an international aid group, wrote in a dispatch from Port-au-Prince. "This is one of the biggest disasters I've ever seen, and it is a huge logistical challenge."

The WFP began organizing distribution centers for food and water, but by Friday, it was only managing to feed about 8,000 families a day, according U.N. officials. The U.N.'s Ban acknowledged this was just a drop in the bucket. The WFP is planning to scale up its efforts in to feed 1 million people within 15 days, and 2 million within a month.

But aid workers have been blocked by debris on inadequate roads and by survivors gathered in the open out of fear of aftershocks and re-entering unstable buildings.

"The physical destruction is so great that physically getting from Point A to B with the supplies is not an easy task," Emilia Casella, a WFP spokeswoman in Rome, said at a news conference.

- NPR's Greg Allen, Jason Beaubien, David Gilkey, Jackie Northam, Carrie Kahn and Michele Kelemen contributed to this report, which also includes information from NPR wire services

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Race Against Time For Aid In Haiti

Aid was trickling in slowly to earthquake-ravaged Haiti on Thursday, but the magnitude of the disaster was overwhelming the relief efforts.

Several planeloads of medics and search-and-rescue teams have already landed in the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince, and as many as several thousand U.S. troops were on their way to the Caribbean nation.

President Obama said Thursday that the U.S. government was launching "one of the largest relief efforts in our recent history" to help stricken country, but that it would take "hours, and in many cases, days" to get the aid there. He authorized $100 million in emergency aid for Haiti.

But in Port-au-Prince, there were few apparent signs so far of an organized plan to bring food and water to the 3 million or so Haitians that the International Red Cross estimates need emergency assistance.

"There is no government aid out here bringing anything to the people," said NPR's Carrie Kahn, reporting from Port-au-Prince. "They've been three days now without food and water."

Kahn said survivors were wandering the streets in desperate search of water, food and medical care.

The Two-Way Blog
Find Maps, Videos, Links To Aid Agencies And More

"You go into every building, you do down every corner, and there are people wailing, crying, bandaged up, and there are no doctors to help them," Kahn said.

She visited one clinic packed with several dozen patients lying on mattresses on the floor, many of them bleeding and moaning, but there were no doctors in sight. One 8-year-old girl lost her whole family —11 people — in the quake.

At least eight of Port-au-Prince's hospitals have been heavily damaged. The aid group Doctors Without Borders treated the wounded at two hospitals that withstood the quake and set up tent clinics elsewhere to replace its damaged facilities. Many of the hundreds of Cuban doctors stationed in Haiti also worked to treat the injured in field hospitals.

"This is much worse than a hurricane," said Jimitre Coquillon, a doctor's assistant who was working at a separate makeshift triage center set up in a hotel parking lot. "There's no water. There's nothing. Thirsty people are going to die."

There's no water. There's nothing. Thirsty people are going to die.
- Jimitre Coquillon, a doctor's assistant at a makeshift triage center
But aid will likely be slow to arrive. Deliveries of supplies by ship to Port-au-Prince were impossible because the capital's port was so badly damaged, according to United Nations officials. The city's airport is open but straining to handle dozens of incoming flights of supplies and rescuers.

Meanwhile, bodies were strewn on almost every street. The body of one mother was covered with the corpses of her children.

"People have nowhere to put them, so they wrap them in sheets and cardboards in the hope that the authorities will pick them. People have also piled bodies in front of the city's main hospitals," Cedric Perus, the humanitarian coordinator in Haiti for Oxfam, an international aid group, said in a statement from Port-au-Prince. "Bodies may stay under the rubble for a long time because it is difficult to access some sites and heavy lifting equipment is in limited supply."

There was still no reliable estimate on how many people were killed by Tuesday's magnitude-7.0 quake. On Thursday morning, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told several TV networks that she feared that tens of thousands of Haitians had died. Earlier, Haitian President Rene Preval had said the toll could be in the thousands. Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press the number could be 500,000, but conceded that nobody really knew.

"Let's say that it's too early to give a number," Preval told CNN on Wednesday.

Erika Santelices/AFP/Getty Images
A U.N. soldier walked along a street a day after it was destroyed by the massive 7.0-magnitude earthquake Tuesday in Port-au-Prince.
The first American death in the quake was confirmed by a State Department official, who said that at least 164 U.S. citizens have been evacuated. Hundreds more are awaiting flights out on Thursday.

Obama promised an all-out rescue and humanitarian effort including military and civilian emergency teams from across the U.S. The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was expected to arrive off the coast Thursday, and the Navy said the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan had been ordered to sail as soon as possible with a 2,000-member Marine unit. An advance group of more than 100 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division will leave Fort Bragg in North Carolina on Thursday to prepare for the arrival of about 3,500 more from the division by Sunday.

Speaking directly to Haitians, Obama said, "You will not be forsaken."

A U.S. military assessment team was the first to arrive, to assess Haiti's needs.

"We are going to do everything we can to maintain order," Clinton told CNN.

The global relief effort did pick up some steam Thursday with the arrival of an Air China flight carrying search-and-rescue teams, medics, trained search dogs and aid supplies. But it took six hours to unload the aircraft because the airport lacked the needed equipment, a possible sign of more bottlenecks ahead.

A British flight with a government assessment team and 71 rescue specialists along with heavy equipment arrived in the neighboring Dominican Republic. The crew prepared to head to Haiti. A Los Angeles County Fire Department 72-member search team left for the Caribbean island nation late Wednesday.

The United Nations released $10 million from its emergency funds, even as U.N. forces in Haiti struggled with their own losses. The U.N. headquarters building collapsed in Port-au-Prince, and at least 16 personnel are confirmed dead, with up to 150 still missing, including mission director Hedi Annabi of Tunisia and his chief deputy, Luis Carlos da Costa.

"We'll be using whatever roads are passable to get aid to Port-au-Prince, and if possible we'll bring helicopters in," said Emilia Casella, a spokeswoman for the U.N. food agency in Geneva.

Aftershocks continued to rattle the city overnight, jolting people awake.

Doctors stitched up head wounds on several children at a hotel compound where many surivors gathered for the night. "It was just excruciating to hear them screaming out in pain, calling out to their parents for help," reported NPR's Kahn. "You hear moans throughout the night."

At another site, about 200 survivors, including many children, huddled in a theater parking lot using sheets to rig makeshift tents.

Police officers carried the injured in their pickup trucks. Wisnel Occilus, a 24-year-old student, was wedged between two other survivors in a truck bed headed to a police station. He was in an English class when the quake struck at 4:53 p.m. and the building collapsed.

"The professor is dead. Some of the students are dead, too," said Occilus, who suspected he had several broken bones. "Everything hurts."

Around the city, ad hoc medical centers sprung up, including one at the airport where U.N. workers, foreigners and Haitians were being frantically treated.

Hundreds of patients were lined up in cot after cot in covered hangers, NPR's Kahn reported. One man arrived in a wheelbarrow; another made it after being trapped in rubble for 16 hours.

Doctors who arrived from Miami on Wednesday evening hustled to treat the injuries, which included broken limbs, spinal damage and internal bleeding. In the space of just a few hours, at least four people died of relatively minor injuries that doctors said would have been treated easily in a more advanced facility.

But calls from other victims seeking help from emergency services weren't getting through because systems that connect different phone networks were not working, according to officials from a telecommunications provider in Haiti.

Calls were being placed sometimes 15 to 20 times from the same phone, which was "painful to watch," said Jyoti Mahurkar-Thombre, Alcatel-Lucent's general manager of wireless voice.

About 3,000 police and international peacekeepers worked to clear debris, direct traffic and maintain security in the capital. But law enforcement was stretched thin even before the quake and would be ill-equipped to deal with major unrest. The U.N.'s 9,000-member peacekeeping force sent patrols across the capital's streets while securing the airport, port and main buildings.

Looting began immediately after the quake, with people seen carrying food from collapsed buildings. Inmates were reported to have escaped from the damaged main prison in Port au Prince, said Elisabeth Byrs, a U.N. humanitarian spokeswoman in Geneva.

-excerpt from NPR