Shaken in the mountains

A man is pulled from the rubble in Kathmandu

SEISMOLOGISTS, politicians and ordinary residents of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, have long feared a big earthquake striking the sprawling city. It lies within a bowl-shaped valley, and as the population has poured off the fields over the years (hurried along by a decade of civil war), Kathmandu has swollen. Shoddy concrete buildings, narrow alleys and few building standards—combined with prevalent corruption among inspectors—meant the city was at risk. Over 5m people  cram in and around Kathmandu.

On April 25th a  big (magnitude 7.9) earthquake hit, striking 80 kilometres (50 miles) to the west of the city. As far away as Delhi, India’s capital, windows rattled and water sloshed in jugs, and the metro service was suspended. India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said his country would send rescue teams and assistance. A Nepalese minister, Minendra Rijal, spoke of enormous damage and called for help from international agencies. By the evening the police had confirmed over 1,000 deaths. The last quake of such size to hit the region, in Sichuan in south-west China in 2008, killed 90,000.

A resident in Kathmandu, speaking moments after the first shock, spoke of watching buildings collapse; older buildings proved the most vulnerable. A symbol of the city, the Dharahara tower, an eight-storey step tower  constructed in 1832, was toppled. In Patan Square, a historic site in the centre of the city, monuments that have long drawn pilgrims and tourists were reduced to rubble. The Kathmandu valley is on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites, with scores of brick and timber palaces and Buddhist temples dating back to the 15th century. A 72-year-old man said the earthquake was the strongest he had ever felt: “It was  what everyone was afraid of.” It is unclear how many people are trapped beneath the rubble.

Earthquakes are common in or near the Himalayas, where the Indian tectonic plate pushes five centimetres north a year, coming up against the Eurasian plate. In Nepal the last quake of similar magnitude was in 1934. Seventy or 80 years appears typical between big earthquakes. The quake’s hypocentre was relatively shallow, about 11km below the surface, exacerbating the ground-shaking, says David Rothery, a professor of geosciences at Britain’s Open University. Without the bedrock in the mountains, the impact of the earthquake in the silt plains of southern Nepal and northern India may have been even worse, he says.

The quake triggered an avalanche on Everest, burying part of a base camp used by climbers and killing at least eight people. Given the remoteness of many settlements in Nepal, it is likely that reports of death and destruction will take days to be heard.

Anticipating big earthquakes, foreign aid donors have provided funds and expertise in helping to prepare Kathmandu, for instance, by strengthening schools and hospitals. But Nepal is one of the poorest countries in Asia and suffers from prolonged political dysfunction. No sustained efforts have been made to protect people against earthquakes, including earthquake education and preparedness.

There is scope for regional help, and Mr Modi, whose country is closely allied with Nepal, looks inclined to offer  leadership. Nepal recently hosted a summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation, at which national leaders pledged that barriers between countries should be reduced and greater help  given across borders. This earthquake is an early test of whether such words will be met with action.

Obama’s Piecemeal Climate Policy Is Gradually Paying Off – By Eric Holthaus APRIL 24 2015 4:39 PM

Obama's latest move on climate change involves incentives for the agriculture industry to cut back on methane emissions. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Obama’s latest move on climate change involves incentives for the agriculture industry to cut back on methane emissions.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

While Obama’s Earth Day speech in the Everglades turned out to be a big nothingburger—except if you’re the parent of a fourth-grader who’ll now receive a free annual National Park pass—there are renewed signs this week that his nickel-and-dime approach to fighting climate change is finally starting to pay off.

I’ve been critical of the president’s climate policy in the past for lacking ambition. Even the much-celebrated deal with China last year only puts our planned domestic carbon cutting at about the middle of the pack, globally. We need to do much more than that to “lead the world,” as Obama said on Wednesday. The proof is in the numbers: America’s greenhouse gas emissions have now risen two years in a row, while global emissions last year stayed flat.

But the fact that current U.S. climate policies probably don’t yet match with our stated goal of reducing emissions by 26-28 percent in the next 10 years is partially offset by Obama’s growing climate influence abroad. We’re not yet leading the world on fighting climate change, but at least we’re not being as willfully obstinate as we had been during past administrations.

On Wednesday, as the president spoke in the Florida swamp, diplomats were gathering in Bangkok to discuss a possible global deal to phase out hydroflorocarbons (HFCs), one of the fastest growing contributors to climate change. This deal wouldn’t be possible without help from the Obama administration.

HFCs, which are used primarily as refrigerants in air conditioning, were phased in as a replacement for CFCs in the 1980s and 1990s in an attempt to stop the growth of the hole in the ozone layer. Since then, they’ve become a big problem in and of themselves—even though viable alternatives are readily available.


When I first met my shrink, I wasn’t so sure about him. He’s handsome, fit, not much taller than me, reticent. I couldn’t tell if his reticence was disapproval and judgment or if he was just doing his job: staying quiet, staying neutral. I’m new to therapy, and, frankly, had wanted a woman therapist, but here I was with this silent, unreadable man and I didn’t know how to feel comfy about it.


So I Googled him. I found his Facebook page, saw that he might be a band geek (like me), that he seems generally empathetic and that he has a cute dog that sometimes wears clothes.

That’s how I got comfortable.

A couple of weeks ago, Anna Fels wrote for the New York Times about patients Googling their therapists. Written from the perspective of a Googled therapist, the piece cautions against the ways in which knowing about your doctor’s personal life can affect the experience of therapy. She also acknowledged it happens in the other direction, too: ER nurses, for instance, are Googling their patients to find out if they’re criminals, or if they’re famous, or just if they’re anything interesting at all.

“The experience of evaluating a patient with fresh eyes and no prior assumptions may, for better and for worse, disappear,” Fels wrote.

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Ten unforgettable Shakespeare lines – BBC News 23 April 2015

Screen Shot 2015-04-25 at Apr 25, 2015 6.49

Ten memorable Shakespeare lines

William Shakespeare is widely considered to be the greatest dramatist of all time. Often called England’s ‘national poet’, his work consists of about 38 plays and 154 sonnets which capture the complete range of human emotion and conflict. His plays have been performed and reinterpreted throughout the world for more than 400 years, both on stage and screen.

Shakespeare’s lines continue to impress us to this day. To celebrate his birthday – he is believed to have been born on this day in 1564 – BBC Culture asked readers to share their favourite quotes.

(Credit: The portrait of William Shakespeare/Martin Droeshout/Wikipedia)


Why Is Freddie Gray Dead? – By Benjamin Wallace-Wells April 24, 2015 3:58 p.m.

Photo: Shawn Hubbard

Photo: Shawn Hubbard

Photo: Shawn Hubbard

Demonstrations over the death of Freddie Gray have been continuing in Baltimore for more than a week now, and yesterday’s was the largest yet. But despite the alarming details of Gray’s death (he came out of a police paddywagon with his spine snapped), the protests have not escalated as they did in Ferguson. One reason is that virtually everyone in Baltimore — even virtually everyone in power in Baltimore — seems to be on the same side. The Gray family’s friends and the minister leading the neighborhood protests have had kind words for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Anthony Batts, both of whom are African-American, and were photographed with their arms draped around Batts in solidarity.  The police department yesterday tweeted its thanks to the protestors for remaining calm. When a protestor accidentally dropped a sign saying Police: Public Enemy #1 over a barricade, a cop on the other side (“Mr Friend, who we grew up with”) calmly picked it up and handed it back to her. In the midst of the demonstration yesterday, the Baltimore Sun‘s Colin Campbell overheard a protestor asking a black sergeant why he was a cop, anyway. “Shooting on Harlem Avenue? Someone’s gotta be there for that family too,” the sergeant said. Good points all around.

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The NFL’s Concussion Settlement Is Approved, But Its Problems Are Far From Over by Travis Waldron Posted on April 24, 2015 at 2:04 pm

The late Junior Seau, in 2011, at his induction to the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame. CREDIT: (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, archive)

The late Junior Seau, in 2011, at his induction to the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.
CREDIT: (AP Photo/Denis Poroy, archive)

On Wednesday, a federal judge finally granted approval to a proposed settlement between the NFL and more than 4,000 former players who had sued the league over its past handling of concussions. Judge Anita Brody had twice denied approval, forcing both sides back to the negotiating table, over concerns that its caps on the overall benefit amount paid to former players and future medical monitoring were too low. As a result, the caps were scrapped, and under this settlement, the NFL could pay out more than $1 billion in benefits to players suffering from an assortment of diseases related to brain trauma that occurred during their years in professional football.

Both sides have hailed the settlement as a victory for former players, and its approval could soon bring an end to more than a decade of litigating over the league’s past misdirection and covering up of the risks concussions and brain injuries posed to its players. Both the league and the players’ attorneys have argued that these players will finally get some sort of financial help and restitution, though there were and still are major concerns over the terms of the settlement and how much it will benefit former players suffering from diseases like ALS, Alzheimer’s, and dementia.

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