Let’s build a research center for world’s deadliest diseases – on a hurricane-prone Texas island

Much of the University of Texas medical school on this island suffered flood damage during Hurricane Ike in September, except for one gleaming new building, a national biological defense laboratory that will soon house some of the most deadly diseases in the world.

How a laboratory where scientists plan to study viruses like Ebola and Marburg ended up on a barrier island where hurricanes regularly wreak havoc puzzles some environmentalists and community leaders.

“It’s crazy, in my mind,” said Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer in Houston. “I just find an amazing willingness among the people on the Texas coast to accept risks that a lot of people in the country would not accept.”

Words like “gullible” and “ignorant” come to mind.

The project enjoyed the strong support of three influential Texas Republicans: President George W. Bush, a former Texas governor; Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; and the former House majority leader, Tom DeLay, whose district includes part of Galveston County. Officials at the National Institutes of Health, however, say the decision to put the lab here was based purely on the merits. It is to open Nov. 11.

The laboratory is one of two the Bush administration pushed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The second is being built at Boston University Medical Center, where it met stiff community resistance.

Not so in Texas, where there was hardly a whimper of protest. For starters, the University of Texas Medical Branch is one of the largest employers on the island of 57,000 people.

The laboratory will do research into diseases like Ebola, anthrax, tularemia, West Nile virus, drug-resistant tuberculosis, bubonic plague, avian influenza and typhus.

On one hand, there will be no shortage of people who will say Texas really deserves a facility like this.

On the other, some will say even Texas doesn’t deserve this. 🙂

American children are starting to get kidney stones. WTF!

This 11-year-old developed a kidney stone

To the great surprise of parents, kidney stones, once considered a disorder of middle age, are now showing up in children as young as 5 or 6.

“The older doctors would say in the ’70s and ’80s, they’d see a kid with a stone once every few months,” said Caleb Nelson, a urology instructor at Harvard Medical School who is co-director of the new kidney stone center at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Now we see kids once a week or less.”

The increase in the United States is attributed to a host of factors, including a food additive that is both legal and ubiquitous: salt…

Forty to 65 percent of kidney stones are formed when oxalate, a byproduct of certain foods, binds to calcium in the urine. (Other common types include calcium phosphate stones and uric acid stones.) And the two biggest risk factors for this binding process are not drinking enough fluids and eating too much salt; both increase the amount of calcium and oxalate in the urine.

“What we’ve really seen is an increase in the salt load in children’s diet,” said Bruce Slaughenhoupt, co-director of pediatric urology and of the pediatric kidney stone clinic at the University of Wisconsin. He and other experts mentioned not just salty chips and French fries, but also processed foods like sandwich meats; canned soups; packaged meals; and even sports drinks like Gatorade, which are so popular among schoolchildren they are now sold in child-friendly juice boxes.

It’s not as if prevention is especially difficult, folks. Aside from sound and sensible nutrition – you know, the kind that ignores TV commercials for McFast foods – everyone needs to drink more water.

It’s as simple as that. Drink more water.

Illegal immigrants try for UK – hidden in a Bentley GT

An audacious bid by four illegal immigrants to enter Britain hidden in a luxury car has ended in failure after they were intercepted by immigration officers.

The four men from Iraq were found sitting in a Bentley GT, worth over $190,000, that was being taken from the Nurburgring race track in Germany in a lorry to Bentley’s factory in Crewe, central England.

They were discovered in Calais after UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers, using specialist detecting equipment, found high levels of carbon dioxide being emitted from the German-registered lorry before it boarded a ferry.

“It’s important we stop would-be illegal immigrants before they reach the UK,” said UKBA Director Tom Dowdall.

Pretty snazzy gear. Simple. Effective.

Of course, the fact that the British government has started enforcing immigration regulations sets it apart from our own government.

Iraq challenges U.S. raid in Syria

Mass funeral for victims of the raid on the village of Sukaria

Iraq will share with Syria the results of an investigation it has opened into a deadly U.S. raid this week into Syrian territory. “The Syrian side will be provided with all details and information when investigation is concluded,” the government’s National Media Center said.

Washington has yet to officially confirm the raid, but officials have said on condition of anonymity that the operation is believed to have killed a major al-Qaeda militant responsible for smuggling foreign fighters into Iraq.

Don’t you just love crap statements – anonymous, of course – you don’t own up to responsibility for what you did – then, you claim a stellar political justification for act you still won’t confirm.

Don’t start wondering about why Americans are never responsible for anything. Just following the government model.

The government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, after initially saying the raid targeted an area used by militants to launch attacks into Iraq…denounced the raid and said Iraq must not be used to stage attacks on other nations…

Baghdad has been hoping for rapprochement with Syria and other Arab neighbors, despite complaints since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that Syria has failed to staunch the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.

Does anyone expect citizens of the Middle East to sit back and twiddle their fingers in agitation over the American Crusade in Iraq?

Of course, terrorist bands will leap in and claim credit. But, the overwhelming reaction of ordinary citizens is “get these bandits out of here”. Wouldn’t you feel the same?

America’s schoolchildren pick Barack Obama for president

Just days before Americans choose our next president, voting has concluded in the Weekly Reader Student Presidential Election Poll. And the nation’s students resoundingly say that Barack Obama will be the country’s next leader.

In the 14th Weekly Reader election survey, with more than 125,000 votes cast from kindergarten through 12th grade, the result was Obama 54.7% and John McCain 42.9% (with “other” candidates receiving 2.5% of the student vote). The Obama victory in the classroom electoral vote was even more resounding: The Democrat won 33 states and the District of Columbia, garnering 420 electoral votes, while McCain took 17 states and 118 electoral votes.

For the past 52 years, the results of the Weekly Reader poll have been consistently on target, with the student vote correctly predicting the next president in 12 out of 13 elections. The only time the kids were wrong was 1992, when they chose George H.W. Bush over Bill Clinton.

Obama was the victor in every grade — except grade 10, which chose McCain. The results were the tightest in the 11th grade, where Obama slid by with a 1.5% victory, followed by second grade, where Obama won by a margin of 1.8%. The widest spread appeared in the ninth grade, where Obama’s gigantic 85.6% beat McCain’s 12.4% — a whopping 73.2% margin!

Many poll-trackers [I’m 2nd generation] credit the kids’ accuracy to telling the truth about parents who answer polls by saying they’re “undecided”.

In truth, they’ve made up their minds and their decisions aren’t disguised over the supper table. No reason to appear independent to the family. And children are very likely to be following their parents’ lead.

Thanks, Votemaster

Elvis remains top-ranked dead celebrity

Elvis Presley may have left the building several decades ago, but his earning power is far from diminished with Forbes.com ranking him the top-earning dead celebrity for the second year in a row.

Presley pulled in $52 million in the past year, helped by increased visitors to his Graceland estate to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death and new ventures like the Elvis Sirius Satellite Radio show.

“While things might be topsy-turvy in the financial markets above ground, it’s still a bull market in the boneyard,” Forbes.com said.

Presley earned more between October 2007 and October 2008 than some of the music industry’s biggest living pop stars like Justin Timberlake ($44 million) and Madonna ($40 million).

Not exactly the most interesting news of the day – for me – since I pretty much stopped listening to Elvis when it became obvious he was more interested in being a “star” than the quality and content of the music he exploited.

Christian Science Monitor drops daily print edition

The Christian Science Monitor has become the first national newspaper to stop its daily print edition and shift coverage online in an attempt to reinvent the crumbling newspaper business model.

Starting in April, the century-old, Boston-based publication that is known for its international and analytical news coverage said it will push daily stories onto a revamped website and roll out a magazine-style weekly.

Monitor editor John Yemma said the moves, which could result in a reduction of 10 to 15 percent of its business and editorial staff of 123, are aimed at cutting the company’s $25.7 million budget. He said the new model of shutting down the daily newspaper and focusing reporters’ efforts on the website could be a blueprint for other newspapers.

“By freeing people from the print production ball and chain, we make a much more competitive website and we will help the journalists be much more competitive,” he said. “Everybody seems to recognize that print is on its way out.”

In an effort to hold on to readers, many newspapers have been investing more time, money, and staff to make their websites better, while some smaller, local publications have stopped printing a daily paper altogether to focus on their online operations.

Unfortunately, just as often, many newspapers turn away from Web-based trials and draw back to their ever-diminishing print base. Two newspapers I’ve enjoyed for decades have done so in recent months – cutting loose staff who had built a significant online presence – a distinctively profitable operation in one of those examples.

My subjective analysis? Most of today’s newspaper managers grew up in a business where advertising sales and revenue was generated by order-takers. Anyone who’s ever worked in sales knows what I mean.

Aggressive, content and quality-based sales are rarely a premise of sales and marketing in American newspaper management. Price and cost, the twin virtues of beancounters predominate. The chickens are coming home to roost.

Final approval nears for rheumatoid arthritis medication

A monthly injection could halt rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in half of all patients, trial data suggests.

The antibody drug tocilizumab works in conjunction with an existing treatment, methotrexate, to stop the condition in which the body attacks its own joints.

The drug, which will be sold under the brand name RoActemra by Roche, is awaiting approval by drugs regulators in Europe and the US.

These trial findings are significant because it is critical to stop joint damage as quickly as possible to avoid joint deformity and to help people with RA maintain their quality of life

Nothing can be done to reverse the damage caused by RA but the new results show the two drugs taken together can achieve remission by stopping progression of the disease.

I imagine everyone knows someone with RA. One of my best mates in Scotland eventually ended up on permanent medical disability from the ailment.

Not a pleasant change moving from a skilled industrial job to the dole.

Germany opens first offshore wind farm

Germany opened its first offshore wind farm Tuesday which Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel called a key step toward more reliance on renewable energy in Europe’s biggest economy.

Gabriel pressed the start button at the Hooksiel complex some 500 metres (500 yards) off Germany’s North Sea coast.

The five megawatts produced at the pilot site will flow into the gas and electrical station in the coastal city of Wilhelmshaven, enough to serve 5,000 households.

“Offshore wind power is of key importance for our future energy supply and a decisive factor in achieving our expansion goals for renewable energy,” Gabriel said. “The start of operations at this pilot plant is an important step that shows we are making progress.”

By 2030, Germany would like to provide 15 percent of households with electricity produced at offshore wind farms, the equivalent of around 25,000 megawatts.

I live in a state that was determined to have wind generation potential capable of exporting excess to other states in the western United States – 10 years ago.

Just not yet.