Asteroid impact simulation ends with a new hole in Europe

An international exercise to simulate an asteroid striking Earth has come to an end. With just six days to go before a fictitious impact, things don’t look good for a 298 km-wide region between Prague and Munich…

This may sound like a grim role-playing game, but it’s very serious business. Led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Centre for Near Earth Object Studies, the asteroid impact simulation is meant to prepare scientists, planners, and key decision makers for the real thing, should it ever occur…

…A key takeaway from this year’s simulation was the dramatic way in which key variables, such as the probable impact area and affected population size, were affected by new observations. At one point, for example, North Africa, the UK, and much of Scandinavia were inside the possible strike zone…

Previous tabletop exercises provided many years of warning time, but not this one. Accordingly, the focus of exercise was geared toward the disaster response and the importance of identifying dangerous asteroids in advance.

RTFA. Be prepared! Even if the only response possible in real time is RUN LIKE HELL!

Fake president fails explaining why he disbanded global health team

One of Donald Trump’s most important missteps in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak happened before anyone had even heard of COVID-19. In fact, the president’s first error came back in 2018.

It was two years ago when Trump ordered the shutdown of the White House National Security Council’s entire global health security unit. NBC News had a good report on this recently, noting that the president’s decision “to downsize the White House national security staff — and eliminate jobs addressing global pandemics — is likely to hamper the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus.”

It was against this backdrop that a reporter asked Trump late last week about whether he was prepared to “rethink having an Office of Pandemic Preparation in the White House.” The president replied:

“I just think this is something, Peter, that you can never really think is going to happen. You know, who — I’ve heard all about, ‘This could be…’ — you know, ‘This could be a big deal,’ from before it happened. You know, this — something like this could happen…. Who would have thought? Look, how long ago is it? Six, seven, eight weeks ago — who would have thought we would even be having the subject? … You never really know when something like this is going to strike and what it’s going to be.”

Which is exactly why reasonable, thoughtful people plan ahead for potential disasters. Especially if that’s part of your job description.

Planning for this weekend’s snowstorm — or any other snowstorm?

The East Coast might face a massive snowstorm this weekend, one that meteorologists say could be of “historic” proportions.

There are lots of fun things to do during a snowstorm, like drink hot chocolate and build snowmen. But there is one specific thing that pretty much everyone should avoid during a big snowstorm — the thing you should keep in mind as you make preparations for this week.

Do not, if you can possibly avoid it, drive anywhere.

Alan Black and Thomas Mote at the University of Georgia compared deaths from winter-related travel with those from other weather events. Between 2002 and 2011, there were an average of 842 deaths from winter-related automobile accidents annually. That’s more than the average deaths from lightning strikes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and rip currents combined.

So, be certain you have backup groceries, batteries charged for mobile devices, alternatives on hand for staying warm if and when the power goes out.

C-Sections remain a poor substitute for labor — additional reasons from a new study


Tim Robinson

For years, research has shown that babies born by cesarean section are more likely to develop health problems. Now, a groundbreaking study suggests that not all C-sections are equally risky.

The research looked at all full-term, firstborn births in Scotland over a 15-year period and tracked the babies’ long-term health. It is one of the largest and longest studies to explore how planned C-sections differ from other deliveries.

Surprisingly, the data showed more health problems among babies born by planned C-section than among those delivered by emergency C-section or vaginal birth, even though the planned surgery is done under more controlled conditions. The finding suggests that the arduous experience of labor — that exhausting, sweaty, utterly unpredictable yet often strangely exhilarating process — may give children a healthy start, even when it’s interrupted by a surgical birth.

The new findings…are important because the number of babies born by C-section has increased tremendously. In the United States, nearly one in three babies are born by C-section…

Dr. Mairead Black, the University of Aberdeen obstetrician who led the study, said that as cesarean births had increased in Scotland and worldwide, the researchers wondered what, if anything, children born by C-section “are missing out on.”

“Our thinking was: If a baby is born naturally, it comes into contact with bacteria from the mother, which might help with immune system development,” Dr. Black said.

Even attempted labor may provide some exposure to bacteria, she said. But babies delivered by a planned C-section, which is usually scheduled to take place well before the first pang of labor, may miss out entirely…

Studies have consistently found that children born by C-section are at higher risk for health problems like obesity and allergies. C-section birth has also been associated with a higher risk for Type 1 diabetes.

The Scottish study took advantage of the small country’s rich trove of linked birth and medical databases to track the long-term health of 321,287 babies. Nearly 4 percent were born by planned C-section and 17 percent were delivered by emergency surgery. The remaining 252,917 were vaginal births.

The researchers compared a range of health outcomes among the babies, including asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, Type 1 diabetes, early death and cancer…

No one knows exactly why labor may be protective, but the spontaneous onset of labor prompts fluid to clear from a baby’s lungs, said Dr. Aaron Caughey, who helped draw up 2014 guidelines for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that urged providers to let women spend more time in labor and avoid an unnecessary C-section…

The step is just one of a cascade of physiological changes that take place in mother and baby during the labor process, including surges in stress hormones and reproductive hormones like oxytocin that may help the fetus adapt during labor, preserve blood flow to the organs, and keep the baby alert and prepared for breast-feeding.

During labor, a newborn absorbs maternal microbes into its mouth and gastrointestinal tract…The theory is that maternal microbes “train” the infant’s immune system, so it doesn’t overreact or become destructive and precipitate autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes…

Dr. Josef Neu said the broad-spectrum antibiotics prescribed to the mother before a surgical delivery were another concern; the antibiotics can be transmitted to the baby through breast milk if not before birth, decreasing the diversity of natural bacteria.

Childbirth and labor are “a physiological process that we’ve evolved to over millions of years,” Dr. Caughey said. “It’s been really well-designed by evolution.”

I’ll second that emotion.

Bipartisan group in Congress tries for wildfire preparedness – again


Ain’t enough water here to make tea — much less put out a fire

Efforts to address the upcoming wildfire season are already under way in Congress and the U.S. Department of the Interior.

On Jan. 8, Reps. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., reintroduced H.R. 167, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act. The bill aims to fund activities to suppress large fires so that the Forest Service and BLM do not have to draw money from fire-prevention programs. A spokesman for the office of Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said Crapo and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., plan to reintroduce their identical bill in the Senate early next month.

Last year, the bills were co-sponsored by nearly 150 members of Congress and supported by a broad coalition of more than 300 organizations, but did not make it out of committee to be voted on by the full House or Senate…

The bill would budget for catastrophic wildfires in the same way that responses to other natural disasters such as floods and hurricanes are funded. Routine wildland firefighting costs, which make up about 70 percent of the cost of wildfire suppression, would be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process. Very large fires, which represent about 1 percent of wildland fires but make up 30 percent of costs, would be funded under existing disaster programs.

The question that remains for Congressional Republicans is will they join Democrats to protect the lives and homes of Americans in regions threatened by wildfire? Comparing the threat to hurricanes and earthquakes means nothing to the idjit votes in Congress. Tea Party and other rightwing nutballs have already demonstrated their willingness to screw over Americans who suffer from natural disasters.

They have refused to support funds either for preparedness or post-disaster remedies. The usual proposal from the Congressional conservative clown show is that funds be taken away from food stamps, unemployment insurance, programs to implement healthcare, education and the general welfare of anyone below the rank of corporate official in our national hierarchy of importance – in order to fund aid to ordinary citizens whose lives have been uprooted by disaster.

Think this will change with Republicans in charge of legislation?

US spied on the Vatican in run-up to choosing the new pope

The US National Security Agency allegedly eavesdropped on cardinals before the conclave in March to elect a new pope, Italian weekly magazine Panorama claimed on Wednesday.

“The National Security Agency wire-tapped the pope,” the magazine said, accusing the United States of listening in to telephone calls to and from the Vatican, including cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio before he was elected Pope Francis.

The allegations follow a report on surveillance website, Cryptome, which said the US intercepted 46 million telephone calls in Italy in December last year and early January this year…

“It is feared that the great American ear continued to tap prelates’ conversations up to the eve of the conclave,” it said, adding that there were “suspicions that the conversations of the future pope may have been monitored”.

Bergoglio “had been a person of interest to the American secret services since 2005, according to Wikileaks”, it said.

The bugged conversations were divided into four categories: “leadership intentions”, “threats to financial systems”, “foreign policy objectives” and “human rights”, it claimed.

The Vatican says they’re not worried about NSA bugging their phone calls. They didn’t make it clear whether that was because they think their conversations are boring – or because God is on their side.

A year after Superstorm, Hoboken prepares for the next disaster

A year after superstorm Sandy caused extensive damage to Hoboken, New Jersey, the city is looking to its past in order to plan for the future. “Hoboken: One Year After Sandy,” an exhibit that recently opened at the Hoboken Historical Museum, aims to not only remember the storm, but to highlight the city’s vulnerabilities and emphasize the need for long-term changes that Hoboken must make in order to continue thriving on the Hudson river waterfront.

The city of over 50,000 people…sits right on the Hudson River, as does much of its critical infrastructure. The Hoboken Terminal serves as one of the New York metropolitan area’s most important transportation hubs, with thousands of commuters passing through via New Jersey Transit, the Metro North Railroad line, Path train, and more each day. The waterfront is dotted with parks and offers spectacular views of Manhattan’s mighty skyline. Further inland (which isn’t very far at all) Hoboken is filled with pastel-colored buildings dating back to the late 19th or early 20th century, and many residents live in ground-floor or basement-level apartments.

According to Juan Melli, communications manager for Mayor Dawn Zimmer, Hoboken sustained over $100 million in private property damage from Sandy and $10 million in public property damage.

Hoboken’s peculiar topography caused uneven flooding throughout the city; much of the city sits in a flood basin below sea level but some areas occupy a higher elevation. Some streets were spared, while others were submerged beneath several feet of contaminated water.

The museum’s exhibit demonstrates this phenomenon with an interactive computer map of Hoboken that models how floodwaters engulfed the city during the storm; it poured in from the north and south, and quickly pooled in lower-lying areas.

Residents have been encouraged to submit multimedia to the exhibit, as well as to share their story of Sandy in a guestbook or record it in a quiet booth off to the side. The museum hopes to create an archive of the accounts and make them available to the public online once the exhibit closes next year…

A recent analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that sea levels are rising faster than previously – and Hoboken itself was mentioned by the report’s author as being in danger. Future planning is key.

“We’re very comprehensive,” Melli said of the city’s plans to protect itself from future storms. The city has partnered with the Department of Energy to create a “smart grid” that will be more resilient to power outages. The city has also purchased additional flood pumps, is growing its emergency response team, promoting greener and stronger infrastructure, in addition to exploring a plethora of other options.

Know-nothing conservatives, whether Tea Party ignoranuses or simply cheapskate Republicans, in state after state, city, shore or mid-American farm country continue apace in their denial of any change in climate. Rejecting science is considered holy writ in bastions of superstition. They rely on the American tradition of providing aid to communities too stupid to care for themselves, so perverse in their reliance on 14th Century ideology they refuse to allow investigation of future danger or preparation for safety of citizens at risk.

Cities like Hoboken will prove themselves representative of the best of American standards in political action – while bird-brains and turd-brains from North Carolina to Nebraska take chances with the lives of generations to come.

Barriers at home send students from India to the United States


Nikita Sachdeva – from Delhi – now a student at University of Chicago

Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one of India’s top schools…

Mohan, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. With about half of India’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 25, and with the ranks of the middle class swelling, the country’s handful of highly selective universities are overwhelmed…

“The problem is clear,” said Kapil Sibal, the government minister overseeing education in India, who studied law at Harvard. “There is a demand and supply issue. You don’t have enough quality institutions, and there are enough quality young people who want to go to only quality institutions.”

American universities and colleges have been more than happy to pick up the slack. Faced with shrinking returns from endowment funds, a decline in the number of high school graduates in the United States and growing economic hardship among American families, they have stepped up their efforts to woo Indian students thousands of miles away…

Indians are now the second-largest foreign student population in America, after the Chinese, with almost 105,000 students in the United States in the 2009-10 academic year, the last for which comprehensive figures were available. Student visa applications from India increased 20 percent in the past year, according to the American Embassy here.

RTFA. A multipliplex of incompetence, political foolishness, unwillingness to see beyond your nose.

India and the United States maintain differing allocations to the concept of an intellectual elite. The easier transition from country to country in an educational culture becoming globalized helps students otherwise marginalized, denied by inequity. But, responsibility still remains unanswered in both India and the United States.

Young people capable of learning, acquiring skills and knowledge, of contributing to the betterment of society lose the opportunity. The barriers in either nation may differ. The result is the same.

Upset over an invasive species? Try eating it.

With its dark red and black stripes, spotted fins and long venomous black spikes, the lionfish seems better suited for horror films than consumption. But lionfish fritters and filets may be on American tables soon.

An invasive species, the lionfish is devastating reef fish populations along the Florida coast and into the Caribbean. Now, an increasing number of environmentalists, consumer groups and scientists are seriously testing a novel solution to control it and other aquatic invasive species — one that would also takes pressure off depleted ocean fish stocks: they want Americans to step up to their plates and start eating invasive critters in large numbers.

“Humans are the most ubiquitous predators on earth,” said Philip Kramer, director of the Caribbean program for the Nature Conservancy. “Instead of eating something like shark fin soup, why not eat a species that is causing harm, and with your meal make a positive contribution?”

We’re already at consideration of three questions at this point in the article: 1. Ready access to the invader?; 2. How easy and cost effective is it to harvest? 3. Any cultural barriers to overcome [back to the marketing department folks].

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