Oil spill and fire from derailed train in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia

About 15 train tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed Wednesday afternoon in Lynchburg, Va., plunging several of them into the James River, sparking a massive fire and spilling oil.

The derailment prompted evacuations in the downtown district near the railway for hours until the massive fire that spewed black, acrid smoke was extinguished. There were no reports of injuries or damage to nearby buildings.

Downstream more than 100 miles, a spokeswoman for the city of Richmond said utility officials stopped capturing water from the river as a precaution until the extent of environmental damage caused by the oil spill became clear. Instead, Richmond is relying on a backup canal for water…

CSX Transportation, which operated the Chicago-to-Virginia freight train, said the fire erupted from three punctured cars after the 2:30 p.m. derailment. In a statement, the company said it was sending safety and environmental experts to the scene…

Wednesday’s fire is the latest in a series involving trains carrying crude oil as the nation’s drilling boom fuels a surge in oil transportation. Fearful of seeing similar accidents in their own jurisdictions, some officials have called for tougher safety regulations for freight train operators.

A significant portion of the oil-carrying rolling stock on US railroads is about as out-of-date as the ideology of politicians who fight 24/7 against modernizing our railroad system. I’m not certain why they hate railroads so much. They certainly don’t give a damn about people killed or the pollution of environments around North America as a result of their idjit mentality.

Not that the owners of railway companies are spending much – yet – on updating the ancient tankers they’re using to haul boomtown oil from the Dakotas and elsewhere.

State of the Air — 2014

The American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report finds half of Americans still live in counties where ozone or particle pollutions levels make the air unhealthy to breathe. The 15th annual national report card shows that while the nation overall continued to reduce particle pollution, a pollutant recently found to cause lung cancer, poor air quality remains a significant public health concern and a changing climate threatens to make it harder to protect human health. Especially alarming is that levels of ozone (smog), a powerful respiratory irritant and the most widespread air pollutant, were much worse than in the previous year’s report…

What did “State of the Air 2014” find?

Nearly half of the people in the United States (147.6 million) live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.

More than 27.8 million people (8.9%) in the United States live in 17 counties with unhealthful levels of all pollutants measured in the report.

Twenty-two of the 25 most ozone-polluted cities in the 2014 report – including Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago – had more high ozone days on average when compared to the 2013 report.

Thirteen of the 25 cities with the worst year-round particle pollution reached their lowest levels yet, including Los Angeles, Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Bakersfield.

To learn more go to http://www.stateoftheair.org to see how your community ranks and to learn how to protect yourself and your family from air pollution.

Harass your Congress-critter to support Clean Air proposals. I’d especially suggest wandering through the State of the Air site and reviewing up-to-date info on climate change and how that’s affecting the air we breathe.

Obama sends transportation bill to Congress

The Obama administration…sent a bill to Congress that aims to cover an expected shortage in money to spend on America’s bridges, roads and transit systems, but Republican opposition could prevent its passage.

Wow…there’s a fracking surprise!

Funding for the four-year, $302 billion legislation would come partly from ending certain tax breaks for businesses, a provision opposed by many Republicans. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the administration would be open to other ideas to raise the money…

The Highway Trust Fund traditionally has been bankrolled by taxes on gasoline and diesel, but with fuel use stagnant the fund is not bringing in enough revenue to cover infrastructure needs. It is projected to run out of money as soon as August…

Congress has all but ruled out raising the 18.4-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline and the 24.4-cents-a-gallon levy on diesel, which is the main source of funding for the trust fund.

Democrats understand those are regressive taxes that mostly harm working families. Republicans are just worried about the Trucking Lobby.

Foxx said some states are already canceling or delaying transportation projects “because of the uncertainty at the federal level.”

The administration’s proposal would address the trust fund’s looming shortfall and provide an additional $87 billion to pay for a backlog of repairs such as structurally deficient bridges and aging transit systems.

A report last week by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association estimated that roughly one in 10 U.S. bridges, more than 63,000, is in urgent need of repair. Many are part of the interstate highway system.

Folks like me have been beating our heads against the wall of corporate defense the Republican Party and Blue Dog Democrats have built around Congress. Bad enough they spend every waking hour fighting to prevent the most wealthy in this land from coughing up a fair share of the cost of running this country [on their behalf]. But, even tax breaks that are starting to expire are considered sacred by the cows who milk us.

SCOTUS hearing arguments in mobile phone search case


Analysts say the court’s ruling will have a very broad impact on US criminal justice, because as many as 12 million people are arrested every year and many of them carry mobile phones

The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments over whether police may search a suspect’s mobile phone without a warrant during an arrest.

The high court is weighing appeals by two people convicted based on evidence found on their phones.

The defendants argue their constitutional protections against unreasonable searches were violated.

But the government argues phones are no more shielded from searches than other articles police find during an arrest.

The Supreme Court has previously ruled that during an arrest, police do not need a warrant to empty a suspect’s pockets and examine whatever they find in order to ensure officers’ safety and prevent the destruction of evidence…

Under the fourth amendment to the US constitution, police and other government officials generally need to obtain a warrant from a judge before they can conduct a search. A warrant requires evidence that a crime has been committed by the suspect.

Lawyers for David Riley and Brima Wurie argue that allowing police to search mobile phones during the initial arrest would radically broaden police powers, because many arrests occur for minor violations and never end in conviction.

They say a phone’s contents cannot be used as a weapon and that police could seize the phone without searching it to avoid the destruction of evidence.

The defendants are also backed by privacy advocates who say mobile phones, especially smartphones, contain enormous quantities of sensitive personal information that have no bearing on the arrest.

The worst possible argument – IMHO – is the concept advanced by the state of California and the department of Justice. They say a person who is arrested has a lower expectation of privacy. Therefore, it’s OK to actively diminish any rights to privacy we’re supposed to expect under our Constitution.

Sophistry 101, folks.

Canada’s airways are safe again – the Red Zeppelin is down!

Good news, Canada: Budweiser’s goal light blimp has been found.

Bad news, Canada: It is yet to be retrieved.

The 70-foot-long blimp that was made for the Olympics and is literally a big goal light in the sky, was stationed outside an event in St. John, New Brunswick when it broke free from its tethers and began floating away. That was on Saturday.

Aside from a few scattered sightings, the blimp was nowhere to be found by officials but it was expected to come down around Sussex, NB, some 70 kilometers to the northeast of St. John.

Indeed it has descended in New Brunswick and officials know exactly where it is. But getting to it is going to a challenge. From the CBC…”It’s in a wooded area in New Brunswick that doesn’t look like it’s going to be real easy to get to,” said Wade Keller, director of corporate affairs (Atlantic) for Labatt Breweries.

“We know there is a lot of interest and a lot of curiosity,” he said. “We haven’t even talked to to the property owner yet…We don’t want people going out to try and find it on their own, so at this point we’re not going to release the exact location…”

So the plus side here is the Red Zeppelin, as it is officially named, didn’t go down like another famous zeppelin. Hopefully it can live to light up the skies of Canada again. Just make sure it’s tied down next time.

It didn’t make it as far as PEI, eh? My kin up in the Great White North were watching for it.

Why was 1918 flu pandemic so deadly? New clues…

In 1918, as one global devastation in the shape of World War I came to an end, people around the world found themselves facing another deadly enemy, pandemic flu. The virus killed more than 50 million people, three times the number that fell in the Great War, and did this so much faster than any other illness in recorded history.

But why was that particular pandemic so deadly? Where did the virus come from and why was it so severe? These questions have dogged scientists ever since. Now, a new study led by the University of Arizona (UA) may have solved the mystery…

They hope the study not only offers some new clues about the deadliness of the 1918 pandemic, but will also help improve strategies for vaccination and pandemic prevention, as Prof. Worobey explains:

“If our model is correct, then current medical interventions, especially antibiotics and vaccines, against several pneumonia-causing bacteria, could be expected to dramatically reduce mortality, if we were faced today with a similar set of pandemic ingredients…”

Researchers reconstructed the origins of the 1918 pandemic virus, the classic swine flu and the postpandemic seasonal H1N1 flu virus lineage that circulated between 1918 and 1957, to find out why the 1918 pandemic was so deadly…

For their investigation, the researchers developed an unprecedentedly accurate “molecular clock,” a technique that looks at the rate at which mutations build up in given stretches of DNA over time…

Prof. Worobey and his team used their molecular clock to reconstruct the origins of the 1918 pandemic virus, the classic swine flu and the postpandemic seasonal H1N1 flu virus lineage that circulated between 1918 and 1957…

They found that a human H1 virus that had been circulating among humans since around 1900 picked up genetic material from a bird flu virus just before 1918 and this became the deadly pandemic strain.

Exposure to previous strains of flu virus does offer some protection to new strains. This is because the immune system reacts to proteins on the surface of the virus and makes antibodies that are summoned the next time a similar virus tries to infect the body.

But the further away the new strain is genetically from the ones the body has previously been exposed to, the more different the surface proteins, the less effective the antibodies and the more likely that infection will take hold.

Prof. Worobey notes…”We believe that the mismatch between antibodies trained to H3 virus protein and the H1 protein of the 1918 virus may have resulted in the heightened mortality in the age group that happened to be in their late 20s during the pandemic.”

He says their finding may also help explain differences in patterns of mortality between seasonal flu and the deadly H5N1 and H7N9 bird flu viruses.

The authors suggest perhaps immunization strategies that mimic the often impressive protection that early childhood exposure provides could dramatically reduce deaths from seasonal and new flu strains.

Biologists of this calibre are walking encyclopedias of science, history, chemistry and the knowledge to assemble it all within the guidance of evolution into a unique illuminating dialectic.

It is a delight to stand inside the cone of enlightenment made possible by dedication to science, the addition of something of value to human understanding.

OTOH, you may spend your spare time watching reality TV. 🙂

Thanks, Mike

Doctors continue to get million$ from Medicare after their licenses yanked

SouthernNM H&V Group

The first time cardiologist Robert Graor lost his Ohio license to practice medicine was in 1995, after he was convicted of 10 felony theft counts for embezzling more than $1 million from the Cleveland Clinic and sentenced to three years in jail.

The second time was in 2003, after he’d won back the license following his release from prison. This time, the Ohio Board of Medicine found he repeatedly misrepresented his credentials over a two-decade period and permanently barred him from practicing medicine.

That didn’t stop Graor from participating in Medicare, the government’s health insurance program for the elderly and disabled. In 2012, Medicare paid $660,005 for him to treat patients in New Mexico, which gave him a license to practice in 1998. Graor declined to comment…

At least seven doctors who’d lost a medical license because of misconduct collected a total of $6.5 million from Medicare in 2012, according to federal data. The list includes doctors accused of gross malpractice, a brutal sexual assault and violating prescription drug laws. Their continued participation in the $604 billion program reflects what some members of Congress and others call a permissive approach that lets providers with questionable backgrounds keep billing taxpayers. All the doctors notified Medicare of the loss of their licenses, records show…

CMS has “discretionary authority” to ban a doctor from the Medicare provider list if his license to practice has been revoked by a state, spokesman Aaron Albright said in an e-mail. The agency would not reveal if it has taken any action against the providers identified by Bloomberg as having lost their licenses to practice, saying such a disclosure would be a violation of the doctors’ privacy.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General also can ban a doctor from Medicare if a state has revoked a medical license. Like CMS, it isn’t required to do so. Donald White, an agency spokesman, says the revocation of a license falls into a “permissive area where they will not necessarily be excluded” from Medicare. He said doctors are “generally not excluded” in cases where one state has pulled a license but another allows that doctor to continue practicing, with the knowledge of the first state’s action.

In all seven cases identified by Bloomberg, the doctors stripped of a license in one state were allowed to practice in another state and continued to bill Medicare.

RTFA for all the gory details. Graor is practicing cardiology, etc. down in Deming, New Mexico. Wonder if folks know – or care – about his history. I wonder why the Feds consider doctor’s privacy a higher priority than patient safety. A doctor who lost his license twice.

Reconnecting severed nerves with liquid metal

When peripheral nerves are severed, the loss of function leads to atrophy of the effected muscles, a dramatic change in quality of life and, in many cases, a shorter life expectancy.

Despite decades of research, nobody has come up with an effective way to reconnect nerves that have been severed. Various techniques exist to sew the ends back together or to graft nerves into the gap that is created between severed ends.

Ultimately, the success of these techniques depends on the ability of the nerve ends to grow back and knit together. But given that nerves grow at the rate of one mm per day, it can take a significant amount of time, sometimes years, to reconnect. And during this time, the muscles can degrade beyond repair, leading to long-term disability…

Today, Jing Liu at Tsinghua University in Beijing and a few pals say they’ve reconnected severed nerves using liquid metal for the first time. And they say that in conducting electrical signals between the severed ends of a nerve, the metal dramatically outperforms the standard saline electrolyte used to preserve the electrical properties of living tissue.

Biomedical engineers have been eyeing the liquid metal alloy gallium-indium-selenium for some time (67 percent Ga, 20.5 percent In and 12.5 percent Sn by volume). This material is liquid at body temperature and is thought to be entirely benign. Consequently, they have been studying various ways of using it inside the body, such as for imaging.

Now a team of Chinese biomedical engineers say the metal’s electrical properties could help preserve the function of nerves while they regenerate. And they’ve carried out the first experiments to show that the technique is viable

What’s more, since liquid metal clearly shows up in x-rays, it can be easily removed from the body when it is no longer needed using a microsyringe.

…Their goal is to make special conduits for reconnecting severed nerves that contain liquid metal to preserve electrical conduction and therefore muscle function, but also containing growth factor to promote nerve regeneration…

So it’s just possible that liquid metal will become an important component in the treatment of nerve injuries in future.

Bravo! Something I’d volunteer for in a New York minute. RTFA for surgical details.

Even though I’m an old fart I’d gladly offer to participate if there was a chance of aiding folks in following generations. Good research always needs a few warm bodies to check on final results.

Oregon coppers arrest couple after 8-hour standoff which included mooning the SWAT Team

standoff

An Oregon man and his girlfriend were arrested Saturday after an eight-hour standoff with police that involved marijuana, Mountain Dew and the male anatomy.

James Marco Bryan and girlfriend Carrie Hurley refused to surrender to police when the authorities attempted to bring Bryan in on outstanding warrants for reckless driving and absconding.

The 44-year-olds were so uncooperative that the Oregon State Police SWAT team was called in.

“He was kicking out windows, yelling and screaming, standing in the window making gestures with his penis and showing his buttocks in the nude,” Clatskanie Police Chief Marvin Hoover told the Oregonian. “At one point, he was wanting a pack of cigarettes, a Mountain Dew, some marijuana.”

The house that Bryan and Hurley were holed up in also had signs outside that contained “some graffiti-style writings like supremacist-type group stuff.”

During the standoff, the couple called local TV station KATU to complain about the Clatskanie police…

After authorities eventually used tear gas to subdue the suspects, Hurley was charged with hindering prosecution and Bryan was charged with resisting arrest, indecent exposure and first-degree criminal mischief.

The United States is an equal opportunity country when it comes to looneybirds.

New York Congressman hit with 20-count indictment

grim Grimm

A two-year investigation into U.S. Rep. Michael Grimm’s campaign finances resulted in his indictment on Monday — on federal charges of cheating the government out of taxes on his restaurant.

Grimm was slammed with a 20-count indictment charging he fraudulently underreported the wages he paid his workers at Healthalicious on the Upper East Side and concealed the eatery’s actual income…

Grimm, 44, is also charged with obstruction and perjury for allegedly lying about his involvement in the business in a sworn deposition…

The feds said Grimm ran the day-to-day operations of the restaurant between 2007 and 2010, and “engaged in schemes to fraudulently under-report the wages he paid his workers — many of whom did not have legal status in the United States — and fraudulently under-report the true amount of money the restaurant earned to both federal and New York State tax and insurance authorities.”

He pulled off part of the scam by paying a “large portion” of employees’ pay in cash, “thereby lowering the restaurant’s payroll tax costs,” the feds said.

In all, prosecutors said, he hid more than $1 million in Healthalicious sales and wages…

FBI Assistant Director George Venizelos noted that…“As a former FBI agent, Rep. Grimm should understand the motto: fidelity, bravery and integrity. Yet he broke our credo at nearly every turn. Rep Grimm lived by a new motto: fraud, perjury and obstruction,” Venizekos said…

Last week, Grimm’s lawyer said the investigation into his Republican client was politically motivated and predicted he would be vindicated of whatever the charges were…

Grimm made headlines in January after threatening a New York 1 reported who’d asked him about the investigation.

In the exchange, which was caught on camera, Grimm said, “Let me be clear to you. If you ever do that to me again, I’ll throw you off this fucking balcony.”

A real class act – Congressman Grimm. As an ex-Marine, an ex-FBI agent, you’d think the concept of standing up for law and order might have made an impression on him. Though his behavior towards the press – and not so incidentally ordinary working people in his employ – makes it seem that exploitation is more in his line.