‘Cattle Car Syndrome’ Offers SARS Insights

Tuesday, May 20th, 2003

According to ‘Cattle Car Syndrome’ Offers SARS Insights, humans packed into airplanes resemble livestock packed into cattle cars:

Packed into cattle cars, young animals destined to be fattened up in feedlots get a disease called shipping fever. They develop cough, pneumonia and drip mucus from their eyes and noses.

It is caused by a coronavirus, the same class of viruses as the SARS virus, and the symptoms resemble those of SARS.

The conditions that can bring about shipping fever are similar to those affecting the travelers who spread SARS around the world, says Linda Saif, a professor of food animal health at Ohio State University.
Two human coronaviruses cause about 30 percent of common colds, but the viruses cause more significant diseases in pigs, chickens and other livestock.

Ireland Plans Alcohol Marketing Crackdown

Monday, May 19th, 2003

Ireland Plans Alcohol Marketing Crackdown:

Alarmed that Ireland has become one of the hardest-drinking countries in Europe, the government announced Monday it plans to require health warnings on alcoholic drinks and limit liquor ads that invade every corner of Irish life.

Becoming one of the hardest-drinking countries in Europe? The article addresses this:

The Irish have long been stereotyped as heavy drinkers, but past surveys have suggested the reputation was undeserved and Ireland was actually one of Europe’s more moderate drinking nations. In the past decade, however, figures show that has changed and Ireland has become a leading alcohol consumer.
A 1999 European Union-funded survey placed Ireland top among the 15 EU nations in terms of the percentage of citizens who consider themselves regular drinkers ? 51.5 percent. A World Drinks Trends survey in 2002 placed Ireland second only to tiny Luxembourg among EU members in per-capita volume of alcohol consumed, at 2.85 gallons of pure alcohol each year. The United States average was 1.77 gallons.

What are they going to do?

To that end, he said, the government plans to ban alcohol ads from buses, trains, cinemas and sporting events involving young people, while no ads for beer or other alcoholic beverages would be permitted before 10 p.m. on Irish television.

This part’s almost more shocking:

Together, the commitments represent as significant a shift in official attitudes to Irish traditions as the government’s recent commitment to outlaw smoking in pubs. That ban is supposed to begin Jan. 1.

Head Injuries May Hike Risk of Parkinson’s Disease

Monday, May 19th, 2003

Head Injuries May Hike Risk of Parkinson’s Disease presents some bad news for my kickboxing friends:

People who sustain substantial head injuries may face an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease years later, new study findings suggest.

Overall, those who had experienced head trauma were about four times more likely to develop the neurological disease than those who never had such injuries, results showed.
However, those who had experienced head trauma involving a loss of consciousness, skull fracture, prolonged memory loss or more severe complications were 11 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than those who had never sustained head trauma.
An average person’s lifetime risk of developing Parkinson’s is 1.7 percent, so those with the more severe head trauma may face almost a 20 percent risk, Bower explained.
One of the reasons researchers have suspected a link is that boxers are known to be at risk for a condition called dementia pugilistica that has some Parkinson’s-like symptoms.


Wednesday, May 14th, 2003

My recent post on Gaugin’s tragic death quoted a reference to “suppurating syphilis sores” — but what exactly does “suppurating” mean? Merriam-Webster OnLine comes to the rescue:

Main Entry: sup·pu·rate
Pronunciation: ‘s&-py&-”rAt
Function: intransitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -rat·ed; -rat·ing
Etymology: Latin suppuratus, past participle of suppurare, from sub- + pur-, pus pus — more at FOUL
Date: 1656
: to form or discharge pus
- sup·pu·ra·tion /”s&-py&-’rA-sh&n/ noun
- sup·pu·ra·tive /’s&-py&-r&-tiv, -”rA-; ‘s&-pr&-tiv/ adjective

Obesity Reported to Cost U.S. $93B a Year

Wednesday, May 14th, 2003

Obesity Reported to Cost U.S. $93B a Year reports some not-too-surprising news, but it gives some numbers:

Obesity is costing not only American lives, but dollars too. A study tallies that $93 billion per year goes to treat health problems of people who are overweight.

About half that tab is picked up by the government through Medicare, which provides care to the elderly, and Medicaid, which serves the poor.

What does it say when your country’s poor are fat?

Altogether, medical spending attributable to extra weight totaled $78.5 billion in 1998, or $92.6 billion in 2002, inflation-adjusted dollars.

The financial burden now rivals that attributable to smoking, the authors say, arguing that government and health insurance companies should offer incentives to help people lose weight.

In case $100 billion didn’t sound like a lot of money — and, ironically, it may not when we’re discussing the entire US — the article points out that obesity is costing as much as smoking. That’s a lot of money. And, naturally, once you start paying for other people’s bad choices with tax dollars, the government has to get involved in curbing those bad choices.

African Milkbush Plant May Cause Childhood Cancer

Wednesday, May 14th, 2003

African Milkbush Plant May Cause Childhood Cancer describes how a bush used to make glue — and used by children to mold toys — switches on certain genes, allowing a virus to cause cancer:

A plant used in Africa to make glue and herbal remedies may be an important cause of the most common childhood cancer in Africa, scientists said on Tuesday.

Children use the sap from the milkbush plant to make toys, but researchers believe exposure to the sticky liquid may make them more susceptible to the effects of a virus that causes Burkitt’s lymphoma, a tumor of the immune system.
When they studied the impact of the sap on the virus in the laboratory, they discovered low concentrations switched on three genes that were important in various stages of the virus, allowing it to replicate, kill cells and infect new ones.

California Autism Rate Doubles in Four Years

Wednesday, May 14th, 2003

If this is true, it’s really creepy. California Autism Rate Doubles in Four Years:

Autism cases in California nearly doubled over the past four years to more than 20,000 — a phenomenon whose cause may be difficult to pinpoint because it is not related to population increases or the way the disorder is diagnosed, a state study said on Tuesday.

Once a rare disorder, autism now is more prevalent than childhood cancer, diabetes and Down syndrome, the study’s author, Dr. Ron Huff, said.

The spectacular rate of increase for autism dwarfs rises of 35 percent to 49 percent for new cases of mental retardation, cerebral palsy and epilepsy in California, he said.

“We are convinced that this is for real,” Huff said. “It has to be taken seriously.” Huff’s study was a follow-up to an earlier report ordered by California lawmakers that showed a 273 percent rise in autism cases statewide between 1987 to 1998.

“All through the 1970s to the mid-1980s, we were looking at a couple of hundred (autistic) kids each year,” Huff said. “Over the next decade we were looking at thousands of new cases each year. Parents were reporting anecdotally that there were a lot more of these kids out there that anyone believed.”

Of course, if the number of functioning autistics increases, we can expect a boost to the tech sector. (Sorry.)

Amateur Astronomy Glows Bright with New Technology

Wednesday, May 14th, 2003

Amateur Astronomy Glows Bright with New Technology points out how amateurs with new, computerized equipment recorded the Columbia disaster:

Long minutes before NASA’s Mission Control or even the astronauts themselves knew there was trouble, a retired businessman, some off-duty Silicon Valley techies and a few dozen other ordinary people across the western United States had begun recording evidence of the shuttle Columbia’s demise.
About 15 of their home videos strung together gave the world the only composite look at the disaster, a patchwork of images that showed the orbiter streaking across the sky, losing a piece of its left wing every two or three seconds before finally breaking apart over central Texas, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

“I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams would have thought the public would have captured that much video,” said Paul Hill, a NASA flight director who took charge of gathering evidence in the disaster’s aftermath.
Today, with the push of a few buttons, affordable and computer-driven telescopes automatically fix on any celestial body. The new technology also makes it easier to photograph and videotape what astronomers see.

NPR : ‘Buffy Studies’

Tuesday, May 13th, 2003

On the way home today, I heard the following story on NPR, NPR : ‘Buffy Studies’:

Buffy enjoys a special following among academics, some of whom have staked a claim in what they call “Buffy Studies.” NPR’s Neda Ulaby reports there are serious academic studies on the characters and themes in the series — titles like “Buffy the Vampire Disciplinarian: Institutional Excess and the New Economy of Power.”

The program cited Slayage, the Online Journal of Buffy Studies, and interviewed some really, really nerdy professors. (Seriously, listen to the audio.)

In U.S. Drug War, Ally Bolivia Loses Ground to Coca Farmers

Tuesday, May 13th, 2003

According to In U.S. Drug War, Ally Bolivia Loses Ground to Coca Farmers, Bolivia almost eliminated coca farming — but it’s bounced back:

The coca bush emerged as the country’s principal cash crop in the 1980s, spurred by rising demand for cocaine in the U.S. and Europe. The hardy plant grows readily and the leaves are easy to harvest and transport. At its peak in the mid-1980s, cultivation covered about 100,000 acres of the lush Chapare region, a semitropical lowland. Coca sales generated about $500 million a year, or 6% of Bolivia’s $8 billion gross domestic product.

Times were good for the farmers. “Our lives improved greatly,” Mr. Torrico says. “We had more stores. We could eat better, dress our kids better and send them to schools.”

Then, after a decade of sporadic eradication efforts, in 1998 the government cracked down hard with Operation Dignity. It has uprooted more than a billion plants, slashing the total coca harvest to 30 million tons last year from 270 million tons in 1996, according to U.S. and Bolivian officials.

A few thoughts:

  • Coca emerged as Bolivia’s principal cash crop in the 1980s? It wasn’t already the country’s main crop?

  • Operation Dignity? If Orwell were alive today…

Anyway, here’s what I suspect is the real story:

Since 1983, AID has spent about $270 million on such programs, designed to provide farmers with legal alternatives to growing coca.

A lot of the money goes to private contractors, such as the program’s current chief contractor, Development Alternatives Inc. of Bethesda, Md. The consulting firm holds a $90.2 million contract that runs from June 1999 through November 2004. Development Alternatives and various subcontractors have carried out studies of alternative crops, provided agricultural training, repaired roads and boosted eco-tourism projects.

The GAO says the consultants and AID have failed to overcome “numerous business challenges” that have made it hard for Chapare’s farmers to get ahead. Among the difficulties have been the low yield and poor quality of crops, as well as inadequate transportation and limited access to credit, the report says.

Much of the millions of dollars spent on crop substitution “simply disappears because of administrative overhead and expensive consultants,” says Howard Clark, a former regional environmentalist with AID who worked in Chapare during the mid-1990s.

The programs keep getting money even though the alternative crops don’t grow:

“Coca just grows,” Ms. Ayalde says. “It’s a weed. Farmers don’t have to worry about markets and diseases. It always gets a good price.”
Juan Solis, 52, from the Chapare village of Chimore, bitterly recalls visits by technicians from Winrock International, an Arkansas-based nonprofit funded with money from the estate of former Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. “They told me to plant passion fruit, but there were never any good results,” he says. “Then, I paid $5 each, $250, for 50 coconut-tree seedlings. Seven lived and 43 died. Only one ever produced a coconut.” The foreign experts constantly came and went, offering one disappointing new crop after another, Mr. Solis says.
Mr. Torrico says that in 1989, he enthusiastically spent $15 each for 1,000 macadamia seedlings after extension agents told him he would earn $6,800 an acre. “It was a big disaster, a total loss,” he recalls. Apparently, agricultural experts didn’t take into account the difference in the length of days and nights between Chapare and Costa Rica, the source of the seedlings.

Mr. Torrico planted orange trees after advisers told him they would open a processing plant. The plant never was built, and the oranges developed cankers. He turned to palm hearts after agronomists predicted that the tropical delicacy would be a winner. When a glut ensued, he adds, the market couldn’t absorb all the production. “They said we could sell each plant for one dollar, but we got only 50 cents,” he says.

Medics Took Thousands of Brains Without Consent

Tuesday, May 13th, 2003

I expect the “based on a true story” movie version to involve brains taken from live victims. Medics Took Thousands of Brains Without Consent:

British pathologists removed the brains from tens of thousands of human corpses over a period of 30 years without the permission of the victims’ relatives, the government acknowledged on Monday.

In a sinister reminder of scandals in the late 1990s, when hospitals were found to have secretly kept the hearts of dead children for research purposes, the government said the illicit removal of brains had been “widespread in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.”

It said the true scale of the scandal would never be known because records from the 1970s were sketchy and many of the brains had been used for research or destroyed in the intervening years.

But the government’s Inspector of Anatomy, Jeremy Metters, told a news conference that of 30,000 brains in storage in 2000, when a major count of stored organs was carried out, more than half were probably taken without permission.

“Between 50 and 70 percent of those were not taken by consent,” he said.

Good-Looking Crooks Get Off Lighter

Tuesday, May 13th, 2003

This is disturbing, if not surprising. Good-Looking Crooks Get Off Lighter — even a written description of a criminal as “handsome” or “pretty” is enough to reduce the sentence people hand out:

Good-looking criminals are likely to get lighter sentences even when people only have a written description of their looks, a Norwegian study showed on Monday.

The 500 university students surveyed handed down far milder punishments for crimes by a man described as “handsome” or a woman described as “pretty” than when the word was left out.

All the students were given a written description of crimes ranging from theft to rape and murder, but only half had a description of the looks of the offender.
The students said punishment for a handsome or pretty burglar who broke into a house and stole $36,760 should be 24 percent lower than for an average thief. For more serious crimes, such as murder and rape, the advised sentences were about 10 percent lighter. ($1 = 6.800 Norwegian Crown)

Pentagon Turns to Auctions On Internet to Clear Out Attic

Tuesday, May 13th, 2003

The Pentagon has gone eBay. Sort of. From Pentagon Turns to Auctions On Internet to Clear Out Attic:

Lately, Mr. Doyle has been buying his trucks in one of retailing’s most unusual corners: the Pentagon’s online Web site for military surplus items. There, at govliquidation.com, collectors bid for tugboats, steel swords, big-screen televisions, diesel engines, heavy-duty cranes, pool tables and other things the military doesn’t want.

For years, a little-known arm of the Pentagon called the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service, or DRMS, handled public surplus sales. Buyers complained that auctions were disorganized, used inconsistent procedures and frequently required bidders to travel hundreds of miles to raise a paddle in person.

In 2001, the Defense Department tapped a closely held Washington company, Government Liquidation LLC, to handle surplus sales at 200 military installations, as part of a broader effort to operate more like a private business. As part of a contract that lasts until 2008, the Pentagon receives 80% of sale proceeds, after Government Liquidation deducts its costs. Government Liquidation gets the rest. The government received about $18 million in 2002 as its cut, up 50% from the previous year’s proceeds when the online auction system was getting started.

I love the list of items sold at auction:

In recent auctions, a ship propeller 9-1/2 feet in diameter sold in March for $1,520. A 15-foot one snagged $6,210. The buyers had to be U.S. citizens and send in a form saying what they planned to do with the former Navy equipment.

A Consew sewing machine with old-fashioned foot pedals ended up selling for $510 after the bidding began at $35, as it does for most items. Four electric autopsy bone-cutting saws fetched a total of $685 on March 4.

Two weeks ago, an aircraft hangar equipped with a noise-suppression system, dubbed a “Hush House,” sold for $6,157 to Adams Electronics of Belton, Texas. The hangar, which covered 5,318 square feet of ground, had 8-foot-thick filament walls and had been used by the Kansas Air National Guard.
Last June, Marion Smith paid $900 for a pair of 21-year-old quarter horses called Sundance and Joe. While the U.S. eliminated cavalries in the 1940s, the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, remains active, though its job these days centers on presidential inaugurations, Rose Bowl parades and the like.

The Daily Scan

Tuesday, May 13th, 2003

The Daily Scan reports some creepy WMD news:

In January, when officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency visited a nuclear facility near Baghdad, they reportedly found “nearly two tons of partially enriched uranium, along with significant quantities of highly radioactive medical and industrial isotopes,” according to the magazine.

But when U.S. troops recently secured the facility many items already had been carried off by looters.

Not so widely reported were stories that canisters designed to contain radioactive materials later turned up for sale at local markets. Some were being used to hold milk and drinking water, the Newsweek article noted.

Eyes on the Road

Monday, May 12th, 2003

I’ve been reading about fuel-cell cars for decades now. Today’s Eyes on the Road column describes Honda’s prototype:

The Honda FCX looks like a chunky subcompact hatchback, not a science project. But in fact, it is a science project — a serious one. Underneath the FCX’s front seat is a fuel-cell stack that converts hydrogen, supplied from pressurized tanks under the rear seat, into electricity that can propel the 3,713-pound FCX as fast as 93 miles per hour, emitting only water in the process.
Once the FCX flashes “ready to drive” on its electronic dashboard display, it behaves like an ordinary car — except it’s quieter and its power comes on more smoothly. There’s no clunky gear shifting, just smooth acceleration and deceleration.
The FCX’s fuel-cell system and the onboard hydrogen-storage tanks are capable of traveling 170 miles between refuelings. Three hundred miles is the target, Mr. Matsuo says. The FCX is too small to accommodate the hydrogen tanks needed to hit that number, he says. And there are other issues: One reason Honda and rival Toyota are testing fuel-cell prototypes in sunny California is that in colder regions, the water in the fuel-cell system would freeze.