Secondhand smoke has lifelong impact on child in the womb

Newborns of non-smoking moms exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy have genetic mutations that may affect long-term health, according to a…study published online in The Open Pediatric Medicine Journal. The abnormalities, which were indistinguishable from those found in newborns of mothers who were active smokers, may affect survival, birth weight and lifelong susceptibility to diseases like cancer.

The study confirms previous research in which study author Stephen G. Grant, Ph.D., associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, discovered evidence of abnormalities in the HPRT gene located on the X chromosome in cord blood from newborns of non-smokers exposed to environmental tobacco smoke.

In the current study [.pdf], Dr. Grant confirmed smoke-induced mutation in another gene…that is representative of oncogenes – genes that transform normal cells into cancer cells and cause solid tumors. The GPA mutation was the same level and type in newborns of mothers who were active smokers and of non-smoking mothers exposed to tobacco smoke. Likewise, the mutations were discernable in newborns of women who had stopped smoking during their pregnancies, but who did not actively avoid secondhand smoke.

“These findings back up our previous conclusion that passive, or secondary, smoke causes permanent genetic damage in newborns that is very similar to the damage caused by active smoking,” said Dr. Grant. “By using a different assay, we were able to pick up a completely distinct yet equally important type of genetic mutation that is likely to persist throughout a child’s lifetime. Pregnant women should not only stop smoking, but be aware of their exposure to tobacco smoke from other family members, work and social situations.”

Sometimes I wonder how folks of my generation ever made it beyond wars, foolish habits, our self-destructive culture.

Mexican states voting under the shadow of drug war


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Mexicans will elect mayors and governors in a dozen states on Sunday amid drug gang intimidation and murders of several candidates, which highlight the government’s struggle to curb the escalating drug war.

The Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is expected to sweep the elections in part because the ruling conservatives of the National Action Party, or PAN, have been criticized for their handling of the economic downturn and raging drug violence. The PRI hopes its gains in Sunday’s election will lay the groundwork for a victory in the 2012 presidential election.

A big win for the PRI will test support for President Felipe Calderon, whose popularity is flagging, and could help launch a presidential bid for Enrique Pena Nieto, the fresh-faced new star of the PRI who has a wide lead in polls…

Opinion polls show support for PAN’s Calderon has slumped in recent months as Mexicans tire of a sputtering economy and a steady surge in killings since the president launched his army-led drug war in late 2006.

More than 26,000 people have been slain since then, mostly traffickers and police but also some bystanders and children. Campaigning for Sunday’s elections has been marred by a spurt in violence, including the murders of two candidates…

Surveys show Mexicans’ top concern is the economy, which is limping back from recession. But the bloodshed and weak courts that brings few criminals to justice are increasingly a worry.

I chat once in a while with a group of acquaintances from Mexico. They all share an apartment here in the county and travel back to their wives and family whenever they can catch an extended holiday weekend – or longer. Yes, they all have Green Cards.

They worry about the economy. They would prefer to have jobs back at home instead of being migrant labor.

They worry about the droggos, the gangsters who would murder their own children for a few dollars more.

And they have nothing but contempt for the police and judges in their home state – as corrupt and cowardly. Nothing has changed.

F.D.A. says antibiotics in animals need limits – will Congress?

Federal food regulators took a tentative step this week toward banning a common use of penicillin and tetracycline in the water and feed given cattle, chickens and pigs in hopes of slowing the growing scourge of killer bacteria.

But the Food and Drug Administration has tried without success for more than three decades to ban such uses. In the past, Congress has stepped in at the urging of agricultural interests and stopped the agency from acting.

In the battle between public health and agriculture, the guys with the cowboy hats generally win.

The F.D.A. released a policy document stating that agricultural uses of antibiotics should be limited to assuring animal health, and that veterinarians should be involved in the drugs’ uses.

While doing nothing to change the present oversight of antibiotics, the document is the first signal in years that the agency intends to rejoin the battle to crack down on agricultural uses of antibiotics that many infectious disease experts oppose…

Antibiotics are used in agriculture for three reasons: to promote animal growth, prevent illness and treat sickness. How antibiotics in feed and water help to fatten animals is not entirely clear.

The industrialization of animal husbandry has increased processors’ dependence on antibiotics because factory farm animals tend to be sicker and feed-lot diets can encourage bacterial infections.

The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated in 2001 that 84 percent of all antibiotics were used in agriculture and that 70 percent were used simply to promote animal growth, not to treat or prevent illness. The Animal Health Institute, a trade association, estimated that 13 percent of agricultural antibiotics were used to promote growth…

The distinction is important because F.D.A. officials said they were mostly concerned with the use of antibiotics to promote growth — not to prevent or treat illnesses. If the agency some day bans growth promotion as a use, there is a chance producers would simply relabel such uses as preventative.

There now is proposed legislation banning nontherapeutic uses of some classes of antibiotics on animals and poultry. I don’t think it’s even succeeded in getting out of committee.

Farmers who fear the removal of one of their more universal money-making schemes may become limited have the mid-term elections to look forward to. Nothing like moving Congress further to the Right to aid in ill health for our populace.

Feeding stray cats and building sandcastles now banned in Italy

Mid-year is when lots of new laws seem to kick-in throughout the Industrial West. That includes silly as often as useful. It appears Italy is attempting to corner the market on not-very-useful:


“Castles made of sand slips into the sea – eventually”

Bans on kissing while driving a car, feeding stray cats and building sandcastles are among a rash of new laws Italians say threaten to turn the country into the ultimate nanny state.

More than 150 “public security” laws have been introduced since Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister, granted extra powers to local councils to help them crack down on crime and anti-social behaviour.

In the latest episode in the fight to maintain “public decorum”, Vigevano, a town near Milan, this week slapped fines of €160 each on a young couple who dared to sit on the steps of a local monument.

“It was really hot, so we just sat down for a moment,” said Giada Carnevale, 24. “The only other alternative in the piazza is to go to a bar but there they charge you €5 just for a drink. We were just chatting – we weren’t eating or drinking or smoking.”

But the town’s mayor justified the fine, saying the council spent precious time and money each month cleaning up after idlers on the steps.

Passionate Italians caught kissing in a moving car in the town of Eboli, south of Naples, face a €500 fine.

The coastal town of Eraclea, near Venice, prohibits the building of sandcastles on the beaches because they can “obstruct the passage” of people strolling along the strand…

On the island of Capri, wearing noisy wooden clogs is banned.

In Bergamo, you can be fined €333 for feeding the pigeons, while Venice punishes the same offence with a €500 penalty. The town of Cesena on the Adriatic Coast extends the ban to feeding feral cats.

The Italian press has slammed what they claim is a return to the bureaucratic straightjacket of the Mussolini era.

The chuckle for me has been the erratic attempt by rightwingers to characterize nanny state laws and political correctness as a leftwing phenomenon.

While both sides of the aisle have their petty adherents to PC, the lead in “moral rearmament” has been a steady theme of rightwing politics for centuries. Especially with dependence on fundamentalist religion.

President Obama announces rural broadband grants

President Barack Obama has announced nearly $800 million in loans and grants for the build-out of broadband networks to reach homes, schools and hospitals.

The grants and loans, which will be matched by another $200 million in private investment, is part of Obama’s roughly $800 billion federal stimulus package, which includes $7.2 billion for broadband expansion projects. Obama said the 66 new infrastructure projects will directly create 5,000 jobs and help spur economic development in some of the nation’s hardest-hit communities…

The departments of Agriculture and Commerce are administering a total of $7.2 billion in grants and loans for projects in 50 states and Washington, D.C.

Increasing broadband access to rural and low-income families and small businesses is a major part of the National Broadband Plan issued by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this year…

The projects Obama announced will include laying communications lines to homes, hospitals and schools and expanding computer facilities in libraries, community colleges and other public areas…

“Broadband can remove geographic barriers between patients and their doctors,’ Obama said. “It can connect our kids to the digital skills and 21st century education required for the jobs of the future.”

I’ve had some reasonably humorous discussions with county officials in my neck of the prairie. They’re pretty much headed in the right direction at trying to fill in the broadband gaps in a county that is 2,000 square miles – with about 100,000 people outside the limits of the one for-real city in the county.

That city being Santa Fe. You know. The city where the Council is worried about the 30 people who have complained that wifi and cellphones – in their neighborhoods – is eating their brains. A truly chickenshit New Age political question.

Anyway, the two biggest problems the county has are [1] filling out all the bloody federal paperwork and [2] trying to keep our own solutions separate from whatever the city wants to do. Or not do.

ACLU suing over US ‘no-fly’ list

The American Civil Liberties Union plans to sue the U.S. government on behalf of 10 citizens or legal permanent residents who have been placed on a no-fly list and, in some cases, stranded abroad.

The number of names placed on the list has increased significantly since the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound aircraft on Christmas Day, U.S. officials said. Some Americans have been barred from flying home from overseas because their names were listed.

“It really is abominable that they would treat U.S. citizens this way,” said Ben Wizner, a staff lawyer at the ACLU’s National Security Project. “There is simply no legal basis for placing a U.S. citizen into involuntary exile. And to use a secret government list without any process to accomplish that goal is so un-American and so unconstitutional…”

“The government does not provide the individual with any opportunity to confront, or to rebut, the grounds for his possible inclusion on the watch list,” according to the suit, which will be filed in Oregon. “Thus, the only ‘process’ available to individuals is to submit their names and other identifying information to the Department of Homeland Security and hope that an unknown government agency corrects an error or changes its mind.”

An FBI spokesman declined to comment on the suit, noting that the agency had not seen it. He referred to a previous statement on the no-fly list that said that the “FBI is always careful to protect the civil rights and privacy concerns of all Americans…”

I’m glad I wasn’t drinking my morning cuppa when I read that line. 50 years in the civil rights movement gets you any number of confrontations with the FBI – at home, on the street, where you’re employed. I might have gotten tea on my monitor.

The 10 plaintiffs in the ACLU suit were barred from getting on planes since December; seven were stopped while attempting to fly to the United States and three while trying to leave the country or take a domestic flight.

Ayman Latif, 32, a former U.S. Marine, said he was attempting to return to Miami from Egypt with his wife and two children in April when he was told he could not board the aircraft and should contact the U.S. Embassy. Since then, he said, he has repeatedly visited the embassy, where the FBI interviewed him, but he cannot get the no-fly ban lifted.

“We are very stressed over here,” Latif, who said he moved to Egypt to study Arabic, said in a phone interview. “I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not a terrorist. . . . If I did something, fine, give me due process.”

One of the ten in the suit is from New Mexico. A former fireman in Las Cruces and at the White Sands Test Facility, retired Air Force officers – and he’s a convert to Islam and, oh yeah, the FBI told him one of the reasons for his ordeal is that he’s a graduate of New Mexico State University. And the father of a guy who is a terrorist once taught there.

Great reasoning power in our intelligence services.

Berlusconi needs 6 lapdancers to “perform” during visit to Brazil


One of Berlusconi’s favorite hookers, Patrizia D’Addario. Handcuffs?
Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, invited six lapdancers to entertain him in his hotel during an official visit to Brazil, according to reports.

The 73-year-old Italian leader reportedly watched a private exhibition of lap and pole dancing…during a trip which included meetings with Brazilian businessmen and the country’s president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The women were reportedly paid around £900 and promised jobs as showgirls and starlets on Italian television channels owned by Mr Berlusconi…

But one of the dancers, Alexandra Valenca, 28, said her performance in front of the billionaire prime minister included an erotic lap dance…

Miss Valenca, whose website promotes her as a “pole dancing pioneer” in Brazil and shows numerous photos of her performing in a bikini, said she danced for about 12 minutes and then left the dinner.

But the party with the other women continued, she said, with dining tables loaded with bottles of wine, sparkling Spumante and plates of Italian cheese, ham and salami…

“It was in this setting that a brief folklore spectacle was organised, with the participation of some Brazilian artists.”

If you have a problem with erectile dysfunction, I imagine it could take six beautiful showgirls lapdancing before you might be up for that old Italian folklore spectacle – called “hide the salami”.