Robin Williams was a wonderful, kind human being, the veteran genius comic and Hollywood star brought a lot of laughs to the world, his unconventional mixture of humour, melodrama and satire spread across over 60 films will forever remain a timeless memorandum of his 63 years on the earth.

As it emerged at the time of his suicide, Williams was suffering from manic depression, something which strikes down a lot of comedians, being able to make everyone laugh except themselves seems to characterize their whole make-up and persona.

Nonetheless, manic depression or not, Williams had three lovely kids to keep living for and a devoted wife, so his suicide by asphyxiation seemed to be a totally out of kilter and disproporationate path for a famous and still in demand Hollywood A-lister to take.

But revelations over the past 24 hours that Williams was diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease made his suicide make a lot more sense, although still very sad. He had 63 great years on earth, and I don’t blame him for ending it to escape such a terrible fate.



Every 40 seconds someone in the world commits suicide. But a new discovery in the US by Johns Hopkins University researchers could help lower this statistic.

The researchers analysed 150 brain samples of deceased mentally ill and healthy people, including some of patients who had committed suicide. They discovered that all of those who had taken their lives had a mutation in the SKA2 gene.

This gene is expressed in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, and it determines how the brain reacts to stress hormones such as cortisol.

“If the gene’s function is impaired by a chemical change,” explains Caelainn Hogan from the Washington Post, “someone who is stressed won’t be able to shut down the effect of the stress hormone, which would be like having a faulty brake pad in a car for the fear centre of the brain, worsening the impact of even everyday stress.”

To confirm their results, the scientists analysed blood samples of 325 participants in the Johns Hopkins Center for Prevention Research Study, and found that those who had suicidal thoughts or had tried to commit suicide presented chemical alterations in the SKA2 gene.

And their blood test predicted with 80 to 90 percent accuracy whether a person had suicidal thoughts or had made an attempt to take their own life.

“We have found a gene that we think could be really important for consistently identifying a range of behaviours from suicidal thoughts to attempts to completions,” psychiatrist and behavioural scientist Zachary Kaminsky, lead author of the study, said in a news release. “We need to study this in a larger sample but we believe that we might be able to monitor the blood to identify those at risk of suicide.”

This study, which was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, will help in the development of a blood tests that could predict if a person has mutations in the SKA2 gene and is prone to excess levels of stress and anxiety, which may lead to suicidal thoughts or attempts.


An article by Christine MacDonald (writer – Rolling Stone Culture)

July 28, 2014 11:50 AM ET

A converted garage in Asuncion, Paraguay, seems an unlikely headquarters for the crusade to save one of Earth’s last great wilderness expanses. But in a cluttered and fluorescent-lit room, three geographic information systems (GIS) analysts are hunched over their computer screens searching satellite maps for signs of fresh deforestation in South America’s Gran Chaco forest, doing the best they can.

“The Chaco is one of the most unknown remaining wildernesses on our planet,” says Alberto Yanosky, the activist in charge of those analysts. The problem though, is that “we’re losing the Chaco faster than scientists can study it.”

The Gran Chaco, which cuts across parts of Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil, is Latin America’s second most important forest, behind only the Amazon in terms of size and biodiversity. While the Amazon is a lush tropical world of wide rivers and towering trees, the Chaco, located to the south, is a dry 250,000-square-mile area with some of the highest temperatures in the world and some of the most meager rainfall.

But while the Amazon has an institutional charity system fighting for its survival, hardly anyone outside of South America has heard of the Chaco. That PR void has allowed U.S.-based agribusiness giants Cargill Inc., Bunge Ltd. & Archer Daniels Midland Co. aggressively expand in Paraguay with a minimum of international scrutiny or outcry.

Sustainable business gurus praise those companies for having saved the Amazon, and the companies themselves say they have adopted conservation policies that prove it’s possible to feed the world’s exploding population without putting much more land into cultivation. In Paraguay, however, the opposite has occurred. The factory farming system has advanced across the country’s most fertile areas.

Over the last decade alone, 2.5 million acres have been turned into soybean fields, displacing subsistence farmers and cattle barons alike. (Those with the wherewithal purchased cheaper land in the Chaco forest, part of the rush that’s helped make the Chaco one of the world’s top deforestation hot spots.)

Last year alone, the Gran Chaco lost 914 square miles of forest, the equivalent, according to Yanosky’s organization, Guyra, of 29 cities the size of Buenos Aires.

During the first five months of this year, 1,040 acres — a little more than 1.6 square miles of forest a day — were bulldozed and burned in the Paraguayan portion of the Chaco. GIS analyst Fernando Palacios, a boyish 29-year-old, says it’s dispiriting to watch what’s happening.

“Every month we detect all these areas that have been lost,” he says. “It doesn’t give you much hope.” Gurya sends its satellite images to members of parliament and the press, hoping to influence policy and public sentiment. But most shock about the ecological devastation has long since worn off.

What’s going on in Paraguay follows a familiar pattern in countries blessed with lots of biodiversity and saddled with a sluggish economy. Typically cattle ranchers are among the first to settle a virgin forest. Eventually their footpaths become dirt roads linking a once isolated area to ports and population centers.

Land prices soar and pioneers sell or get pushed out by deep-pocketed farmers with access to bank loans, Big Ag financing, influential friends and high tech machinery.

Once a former wilderness has been sufficiently tamed, the factory farmers often bypass the pioneers and bulldoze virgin forest themselves, going directly into the commodities production. This is what’s starting to happen in the Chaco.

There is one very big difference: Even as deforestation shifts into hyper-drive, the U.S. agribusiness companies that set this domino effect in motion are taking victory laps on the “corporate sustainability” circuit.

For instance, Cargill, the Minneapolis-based company (and the USA’s largest privately-held corporation) that has spent millions of dollars to brand itself as being a corporate conservationist, claims it has “figured out” how to make industrial scale agriculture environmentally sustainable.

To get its Amazon farmers to go along with those sustainability efforts, it has its own satellite monitoring system that is capable of detecting even the smallest amount of fresh deforestation. Next door in Paraguay, however, small rectangles flashing on a computer screen reveal just how different the rules are outside of Brazil.