Seventy-two nations’ war/Jang-e haftad-o do mellat

Published March 28, 2015 | Share your thoughts
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جنگ هفتاد و دو ملت (حافظ)
دوش دیدم که ملایک در میخانه زدند
ساکنان حرم ستر و عفاف ملکوت
آسمان بار امانت نتوانست کشید
جنگ هفتاد و دو ملت همه را عذر بنه
شکر ایزد که میان من و او صلح افتاد
آتش آن نیست که از شعله او خندد شمع
کس چو حافظ نگشاد از رخ اندیشه نقاب
گل آدم بسرشتند و به پیمانه زدند
با من راه نشین باده مستانه زدند
قرعه کار به نام من دیوانه زدند
چون ندیدند حقیقت ره افسانه زدند
صوفیان رقص کنان ساغر شکرانه زدند
آتش آن است که در خرمن پروانه زدند
تا سر زلف سخن را به قلم شانه زدند

"A Hoary Man" by Ostad Mahmoud Farshchian A Hoary Man” by Ostad Mahmoud Farshchian

Seventy-two Nations’ War (Hafez)

Last night I saw angels on the tavern’s door beat
The clay of man they mold and they knead

The pure and noble dwellers of the shrine
With this vagrant beggar drunken recline

The sky could not bear its trusted burden’s load
Unto this madman was thus the deed bestowed

Seventy-two nations war, their follies let pass
Not seeing the truth they took fable-paved paths

The divine be praised for between us peace arose
Each dancing dervish’s cup with joy overflows

Fire is not that flame in which the candle burns bright
Fire is that blaze which sets the moth’s wings alight

None like Hafez can unveil the mind
And its tangled mane with the pen unwind

The above is my translation and interpretation of what is arguably Hafez’s most esoteric and well-know poem. I had always wanted to tackle this translation but my felt that no turn of phrase could ever do justice the original. But, with the new year at helm, I took the challenge on with the hope of capturing and transferring a sliver of meaning in my own way.

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Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

International Speech Contest: Finding the Body & Heart

Published November 18, 2014 | Share your thoughts
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The following post was written in Fall 2014 for a Toastmasters club Newsletter reflecting my own very memorable experience of participating in the Toastmasters international speech contest at the level of the district.

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Speech Contest: Finding the Body and the Heart
Marzieh Ghiasi (ACB, CL) Division G Governor, District 61 2014-2015

Visiting clubs and areas in this new contest season—the Fall Humorous speech and Evaluation contest— I’ve had a chance to see dozens of contestants give their best speeches, to make us laugh or to give feedback, and on occasion both. Being present for many of these contests as a division governor has been a unique experience, because it was only earlier this year when I was a contestant myself—standing in front of the room, first at the level of the club, then area, then division, and eventually the district.

When I was moving through the contests, I asked many other people what it would be like. Every person told me something different—which only reflected the uniqueness of each contestant’s experience. Of course, practice, integrate feedback, and watch previous contest winners are the tidbits everyone will tell you… so here are some less obvious lessons from the beginning and the very end of the journey.
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  • Aug 23, 2014 » The learning myth
    Salman Khan of Khan Academy published an Op-Ed a couple of days ago titled “Why I’ll Never Tell My Son He’s Smart”. Khan cites research that has shown better learning outcomes in children praised for work process rather than innate qualities, and describes how Khan Academy sees the same principles at play.
    “…students are spending more time learning on Khan Academy after being exposed to messages which praise their tenacity and grit and that underscore that the brain is like a muscle.”
    I was pretty intrigued by this idea a couple of years ago when I stumbled on the studies, it all seemed so counter-intuitive at first, but after some research the arguments and the evidence were pretty compelling. I wrote an essay focusing on the follies of praise, summarizing evidence of how praising effort instead of innate abilities can “empower children, [promote] the desire for challenges, for self-improvement, and other factors that can propagate self-esteem and achievement to the highest degree.” Years later, it’s pretty exciting to see Khan advocate a “national conversation” and perhaps global conversation about this. #
  • Aug 16, 2014 » Looking at a Lute Player
    1626_Orazio_Gentileschi_-_Lute_Player painting illusion I saw The Lute Player by Orazio Gentileschi at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC a couple of weeks back. I assumed I knew how to appreciate a work of art, at the very least just by looking and taking it in. But if it wasn’t for a great museum staff standing nearby that day, I wouldn’t have taken a second look at this particular painting before moving on. He said it was important to move beyond receptive appreciation and look at art more actively. I’m glad I did. Check out this great illusion: move your head from one side of the screen to the other all while looking at the scroll of the violin resting on the table. The instrument points at you whatever your position! As you might imagine, I spent the next little while doing all sorts of funny walks elsewhere in the museum. Nothing cool to report– no magical illusions, but it was kind of new and magical for me to approach some works in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. # #
  • The Adventure of the Cure That Wasn’t

    Published June 16, 2014 | Share your thoughts
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    The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis (2014)
    Thomas Goetz
    320 pages

    *Originally published in Speaking of Medicine (PLOS).

    Marzieh Ghiasi and Madhukar Pai from McGill University & McGill International TB Centre, Montreal, review “The Remedy” by Thomas Goetz

    No image is more iconic of the Victorian age than that of a detective with a deerstalker cap, pipe, and magnifying glass roaming the dark streets of London in search of criminals and murderers. Hidden in plain sight, the real killers of the nineteenth century were infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, responsible for as many as a quarter of all deaths in that era.

    In The Remedy (2014) science journalist Thomas Goetz recounts the stories of Robert Koch, the founder of modern bacteriology, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the physician-author of the Sherlock Holmes series. In two narratives that run in parallel and eventually intersect, Goetz introduces a cast of pioneering medical detectives, from Koch’s scientific rival Louise Pasteur, to Conan Doyle’s inspiration for Sherlock Holmes, Joseph Bell. We follow a search for causative agents, preventive vaccines, and remedies for some of the deadliest infections in the Victorian era. Goetz describes how the principles of evidence-based science and systematic experimentation guided these ground-breaking discoveries, and how overlooking these principles led to setbacks.

    Robert Koch, Louis Pasteur and other microbiologists made a cast of pioneering medical detectives.  A mural at The Ohio State University Social Administration Building. Source: The Short North Gazette.

    Robert Koch, Louise Pasteur and other microbiologists made a cast of pioneering medical detectives, illustrated in a mural at The Ohio State University. Source: The Short North Gazette.

    The Remedy begins by tracking Robert Koch working as a town doctor in Germany. Limited by resources, but moved by his experience tending the wounded in the Franco-Prussian war, he investigated the causative agents of infections. Secluded from the continental scientific community, he developed tools and methods to study bacteria which we still use, from the white mouse lab to culture media. He also developed a set of postulates, a step-wise checklist for demonstrating that a disease is caused by an organism. These real as well as thinking tools allowed him to find and track the life course of the causative agent for anthrax—Bacillus anthracis, an irrefutable proof for the then-nascent germ theory.

    The strength of the book is Goetz’s page-turning account of one of science’s greatest rivalries, between Koch and the French scientist Louise Pasteur who was gaining fame for his work on vaccinations for anthrax and rabies, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. Goetz masterfully weaves primary sources, including letters and conference notes, to describe a race driven by a clash of egos, nationalism, and ambition. This competition ended in a breakthrough for Koch, who became the first to identify the infectious agent for tuberculosis— Mycobacterium tuberculosis. According to Goetz, Koch’s ambitions went further as he sought to find a cure for tuberculosis.

    Continue Reading »

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi

    The neglected diseases of poverty

    Published May 11, 2014 | Share your thoughts
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    *Originally published in The Upstream Journal.

    The last week of April is World Immunization Week, promoting vaccines as powerful tools for protecting people against some of the most deadly diseases. However, there are no effective vaccines for many of what are called “Neglected Tropical Diseases” – NTDs. And where there are few vaccines and treatments available, people remain trapped in a cycle of poverty and disease.

    NTDs include seventeen parasitic, bacterial and viral infections that infect more than a billion people across the world. They include diseases such as leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, leishmaniasis, Chagas disease, dengue and sleeping sickness.

    Despite the name ‘tropical’ the NTDs thrive far beyond the tropics and represent a great health burden worldwide. These preventable “diseases of poverty” primarily affect the world’s poorest people and can cause severe lifelong disabilities such as blindness, deformities, and debilitation. However, the devastating impact of these diseases is often overshadowed by the “big three” – HIV, tuberculosis and malaria – leaving them neglected in discussions of global health, investment, and research.

    Velayuthan pillai (Age 69), a tailor. Elephantiasis turned his life into misery by taking away both his legs. Having lost his legs and job, he returned back to his home town and joined as a guard for a temple for the pay of (Rupess 800) 17.60$ per month. With the help of this little income he's struggling to make both ends in life along with his wife." Photo by Rajvinoth Jothineelakandan.

    Velayuthan pillai (Age 69), a tailor. Elephantiasis turned his life into misery by taking away both his legs. Having lost his legs and job, he returned back to his home town and joined as a guard for a temple for the pay of (Rupess 800) 17.60$ per month. With the help of this little income he’s struggling to make both ends in life along with his wife.” Photo by Rajvinoth Jothineelakandan.

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi
  • Nov 13, 2013 » The curtain
    Hercule_PoirotFor the past 25 years, David Suchet has brought Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot to life. It’s a thrilling but subdued show that I’ve enjoyed watching no matter where in the world, and as it draws to a close I must bid adieu!
    “It is the brain, the little grey cells on which one must rely. The senses mislead. One must seek the truth within — not without.” — Agatha Christie (Poirot Investigates, 1924)
    # #
  • Survivors: Age and isolation

    Published November 10, 2013 | Share your thoughts
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    One of the great things about living in downtown Montreal is I always pass by at least a dozen galleries on the way home, and one of these is FOFA Gallery at Concordia University. Earlier this week, I decided to take a look at some of the new work being showcased as part of the annual exhibition of the university’s Fine Arts undergraduates. Most of the work was interesting, but nothing really stood out to me until I saw the photo series ‘Survivors‘ by Yulia Grebneva and frankly — they stopped me, then moved me– emotionally and intellectually.

    YG Survivors Concordia*Click on photo to see original photograph & here to see full photo series

    Once I’d taken a close look at the series I read about the piece from the writer Greg Mattigetz. Here’s an excerpt:

    Survivors is a photographic series that reflects experiences of both the solitude and disregard, as well as steadfastness and persistence of elderly women living in urban environments… This series is based on Yulia Grebneva’s observation that these elderly women are lonely and forgotten within the context of the city. By removing the figures from the cityscape and placing them into harsh landscapes, the artist calls attention to how these women experience everyday city life by trying to keep up with the fast-paced and sprawling nature of the urban sphere.”

    Two years ago I did a project asking whether there were any social risk factors that put elderly people living in cities at risk of death during heat waves. One of the factors that I identified in literature was social isolation. In the 2003 heat wave in Paris, which I was using as a case-study, the social isolation of elderly during heat waves was associated with a sixfold increase in the risk of death. This was not an issue that I had thought about before, and learning about the extent of it genuinely surprised me.

    Since then, I’ve been paying more attention and every so often will read a story or a paper that mentions the same phenomenon. For example, a story in the BBC earlier this year described that “A study of 6,500 UK men and women aged over 52 found that being isolated from family and friends was linked with a 26% higher death risk over seven years.” The research accounted for other confounding factors and found that “after adjusting for factors such as underlying health conditions, only social isolation remained important.”

    In every discussion of public health, the issue of aging populations in developing countries invariably comes up. This issues is often framed as a “demographic time-bomb” that will send the health-care costs in Canada and other countries (the UK, Ireland, China, Russia… ) out of orbit, an apocalyptic image has been well-disputed. Nevertheless, the fact is populations are aging, and as described in this Canadian Medical Association piece “Health promotion/prevention… can contribute to offsetting the impact of the aging population on the health care system.”

    But what exactly is prevention in this context? I was reading a story earlier this year about climbing suicide rates among elderly here in Canada, and I found some of the comments unsettling. There was some discussion on how people are living longer than years before, often coping with severe illness in their final years, and should have the choice to depart their way. That’s a discussion worth having. But at the same time, we should acknowledge that we’ve created environments where growing old and requiring care is seen as a burden on families and society, rather than an obligation as it was in the past, and the life of elderly, their wisdom and their experience has become devalued.

    What elderly populations face today are what most of us will eventually face, should we be lucky to live for so long. The seriousness of these issues really hit me when I volunteered for a short period in a geriatric care facility where I saw a lovely woman of about seventy-five years break down into tears at the loss of her autonomy, because she had been told she couldn’t go home for Christmas. Or an elderly gentleman relay his deep worry that he was a burden to his children who visited him once or twice a week. We are slowly beginning to take depression, loneliness, isolation, and vulnerability seriously in youth. But when it comes to the elderly, these psychological and social issues treated as inevitable parts of aging– and the public health discussions become about how can we can best manage the physical symptoms of aging, spending the least money. I think that’s a shortsighted and callous approach. Aging may be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be undignified suffering.

    In a world where extended familial ties are waning, it is increasingly important for all of us to look after each other, and treat each life with respect. I think that providing support for home care and caregivers, supporting social programs that promote caring and cohesion (such as the Yellow Door here in Montreal), ensuring that there is good infrustructure that doesn’t inhibit mobility (i.e. Montreal’s winter street ice-rinks) may all help alleviate loneliness and isolation among our elderly –with positive health ramifications– and preserve that dignity so beautifully captured in Grebneva’s photo series.

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi
  • Oct 18, 2013 » Hofstadter’s Law
    I learn this at the end of every project, and forget it starting the next project. Hofstadters Law
    Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.
    Source: Sean Li #
  • Ecological public health

    Published October 12, 2013 | Share your thoughts
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    Ecological public health: the 21st century’s big idea? (2012) by Tim Lang and Geof Rayner is a superb essay in the BMJ I read today and thought I’d share here. Three things really make it worth a read. First, it really lays out the necessity of better models for understanding public health issues and implementing public health policies. Particularly, the authors identify the “diminution of perspective” as an issue plaguing modern approaches to public health. Essentially, there is so much focus on technocratic solutions and approaches at the personal scale, that we are in a sense losing sight of the big picture and the larger context in which people’s health is embedded. Second, the article identifies the different approaches to public health clearly and beautifully, as you can see in this table. They discuss each of these approaches and their historical context in detail.

    Click for larger view

    Five Models of Public Health (Click for larger view)

    Third, the article makes a compelling case for adopting ecological approaches to public health in the 21st century. The ecological model of public health is described as an integration of historical approaches to public health (i.e. sanitary environmental approaches) and modern approaches to public health (i.e. techno-economic). In the paragraph quoted below they really lay out the benefits of the ecological public health model (accompanied by a shoutout to Darwin/Wallace):

    A strength of the ecological public health model is that it draws upon and integrates parts of the other models). Secondly, it articulates modern thinking about complexity and system dynamics, addressing, for example, questions of non-linearity, variations in scale, feedback, and other emergent qualities of nature, biology, and human behaviour. In the UK, we see some of such thinking in the government chief scientist’s Foresight programme. Thirdly, ecological public health seeks to build knowledge as a continual intellectual engagement. This means more than just evidence, and includes the open pursuit of social values, highlighting the role of interest groups, and debate across society not just within restricted scientific circles. Think Darwin and Wallace, Beveridge or Roosevelt: big thinking about the nature of life, good societies, order and change. Fourthly, it incorporates an evolutionary perspective, from matters like nutritional mismatch to questions of biological feedback. Fifthly, this is an overtly interdisciplinary and multi-actor model. It celebrates that public health requires action on multiple fronts and embraces the argument familiar in the 19th century that public health action requires a public health movement.

    Great, brief article. Definitely worth a read.

    Cited

    Lang T, & Rayner G (2012). Ecological public health: the 21st century’s big idea? An essay by Tim Lang and Geof Rayner. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 345 PMID: 22915666

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    Permanent linkMarzieh Ghiasi