Economist 4/9/15

  1. Central venous catheters, or central lines, are commonly used with critically ill patients to administer drugs, fluids, food or blood products close to the heart. However, placing needles inside veins deep in the body is notoriously difficult. Some 15-30% of attempts suffer complications, mainly punctured arteries that can lead to infection but also bleeding, collapsed lungs and even cardiac arrest.A team led by Hugo Guterman, a robotics expert, has built a prototype device that uses ultrasound, machine vision and a robotic needle-dispenser to make placing a central venous catheter a push-button affair.The operator lays the wireless device on a patient’s arm, leg or neck and views an ultrasound image on a nearby computer screen. The system then identifies the centre and edges of each blood vessel, as deep as 15cm inside the body and as narrow as 0.5mm in width, making it particularly useful for treating children. Using a joystick, the operator aligns a target icon over a vein. The system uses a tracking algorithm to keep the blood vessel aligned. When ready, the operator simply presses a button to insert the needle.
  2. The gentrification of small sections of inner-city Johannesburg is generally welcome. There is nothing romantic about the decay of the past two decades. As apartheid waned, white middle-class residents fled to the northern suburbs and companies shifted their headquarters.Johannesburg became a fearsome place of filthy streets, a horrendous crime rate and the phenomenon of criminals “hijacking” buildings from their owners and forcibly collecting rent from poor tenants.The city is slowly changing from dangerous to pleasantly thrilling. Young creative types of all ethnicities have been drawn to such areas as Braamfontein and Maboneng, where refurbished buildings offer downtown living at reasonable rents.
  3. Criticism of the Kenyan government’s tardy and incompetent response to the slaughter in Garissa has welled up fast. Yet journalists were on the scene in Garissa hours before Kenya’s General Service Unit, a supposedly elite force which took seven hours to arrive from near Nairobi, 360km away, by road and aircraft. With time seemingly on their hands, they discussed where the Kenyan soldiers might be positioning themselves. Meanwhile, they tested the students’ knowledge of the Koran, killing those who failed. Some students had their throats slit. Others were shot. A few were reported to have been beheaded. Female students were tricked out of their hiding places by the gunmen’s assurance that the Koran forbids the killing of women. Some victims, before being killed, were made to call their parents to blame their death on Kenya’s government for policies that have supposedly led to the killing of Somalis and Muslims.Islamist assaults on Kenya have been mounting since 2011, when its government sent troops into Somalia to fight the Shabab, which proclaimed its allegiance to al-Qaeda in 2012 and still controls swathes of the country in the centre and south.
  4. Since employees at Radio France, which runs seven public stations, began a strike on March 19th, a rotating playlist has been interrupted only for the occasional news update and apology for the disrupted service. The longest strike in French radio’s history, it has paralysed programming and exasperated listeners. It encapsulates the difficulties of reforming the French public sector.The strike began as a protest, mostly by production and technical staff, against a cut in the public subsidy and an attempt to control Radio France’s deficit, which will reach €21m ($23m) this year. This could involve 250-330 job losses as well as other rationalisation plans.But resistance to reform hardened after it emerged that Mr Gallet, who took over a year ago, had refurbished his office in Radio France’s headquarters at the cost of €100,000. Part of the problem is a culture clash. Mr Gallet, who talks about branding and about a digital transformation, is regarded by journalists as a sharp-suited bean-counter.Between 2010 and 2013 the payroll bill increased by nearly 10%, even as the headcount remained stable—and the audience dwindled at two flagship stations, France Info and France Inter.Journalists with over eight years of service, it noted, get nearly 14 weeks of paid holiday a year. Fully 388 staff are union representatives enjoying protected jobs.
  5. Over Easter Lexington learned a thing or two attending a $79m mock Senate that just opened on the shores of Boston Harbour. The students took it seriously: one even staged a mock-filibuster, full of high-falutin’ rhetoric and puff-chested outrage. Great care has gone into the Senate Immersion Module (SIM) used at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, following a vision described by the late senator before his death in 2009, and made real by his family and a bipartisan group of backers.  Each day the institute, housed in an elegant white and grey complex beside the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, will focus on a single issue.School groups spend a total of two hours in committee meetings, party huddles and a final debate in the chamber. Each visiting pupil receives a detailed Senate identity via a digital tablet.Some may scowl at a Kennedy Institute promoting bipartisan governance. In more than 46 years representing Massachusetts, the senator was a divisive figure—a big-government Democrat who often called conservative policies not just wrong but heartless. In addition to school groups, his institute hopes to lure 175,000 individual visitors a year.
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