Sunday, March 31, 2013

If "those Republicans" need to learn personal humility and readiness, what about the rest of us? There is no "they"!

For Easter Sunday, here’s a column by Marc A. Thiessen, “In the pope, a model for Republicans”, p A13, the Washington Post, March 30. 2013, link here

Here’s an important point: saying the right homilies about the poor is not enough. “You have to show up.” He says that “they” (those Republicans) need to “spend time with students struggling in failing schools” … they need to spend time helping those trapped in dependency…:

Well, the key phrase is “spend time”.  Get involved, personally.  But of course you can’t barge in on someone and say, “I’ll willing to relate to you personally.”  Particularly if you were unwelcome before.  Can you ask “What can I do for you?”

This sounds more like saying everyone needs the right psychological template of personal preparedness, and to step up when the need shows up.  Because it always does.

Remember, too, “There is no ‘they’”.
Funny, with my father the word “ready” had meant, “set ‘em up” for a chess game.  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Nelson, GA will require every household to own a firearm

CNN is reporting that the town of Nelson, GA (about fifty miles north of Atlanta) is requiring each household head to own a firearm and be licensed to use it, if possible.  CNN reported the story today.  There are many media stories, such as “Opposing Viewpoints” here .

The town has only one or two people in its police department, and the town actually looks at this as a measure of enabling police to be more efficient when they have limited resources. 

Perhaps it makes a bit of perverse sense.

The town says that there will be no attempt at pro-active enforcement. 

What will Piers Morgan say about this?  

In 1998, I visited the town of Cartersville, GA, to speak to Sharon Harris, of the organization "Advocates for Self-Government". 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Trickle down consumption really "doesn't trickle"

Brad Plumer offers an interesting perspective on the Washington Post “Wonk Blog” on p A13, March 29, “Keeping up with the Joneses is taking its toll, study finds; economists warn of ‘tricke-down’  spending as the rich get richer”, link here.
The study comes from the University of Chicago’s professors Marianne Bertrand and Adair Morse.  The paper is called “Trickle Down Consumption”, link here

It pretty much echoes what “Dallas” Ross Perot said way back in 1992, “trickle down didn’t trickle.”
Middle class incomes have dropped since 2007.  But middle class people feel pressured to compete with their “social superiors” in big consumer items (cars and homes) and go more deeply into debt.

The problem would tend to affect singles less, unless they feel that they need to spend a lot to impress future mates.  Income inequality will tend to exacerbate “family values” issues, drive birthrates lower, and cause women to have children later in life.

The Young Turks see it “this way”:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Oklahoma dentist may have exposed thousands to HIV, Hepatitis with poor sanitation of instruments

The media are reporting that a dentist in Oklahoma may have exposed over 7000 patients to blood-borne infections, including HIV and Hepatitis B and C, since 2007.  Patients have been notified by the Health Department.

Inspections of the offices of W. Scott Harrington showed inadequate sterilization of instruments and possible cross-contamination among patients.  Also assistants who had not been properly licensed were working in his practice.
The link for the Huffington Post story is here.
In 1991a few patients of a dentist David Acer were infected in Flordia, and one, Kimberly Bergalis, died.

Wikipedia link to story here. At the time, there had been some pressures  (from the religious right) not to allow people infected with HIV to work with patients.
In 1983, right wing elements in Texas tried to use AIDS as an excuse to strengthen the state sodomy law and to ban gays from many occupations, claiming that AIDS would follow a “dental chain” and “hospital chain”.  Incidents with dentists have been very rare.   

Monday, March 25, 2013

Student loan debt issue now debated on Twitter; new short film available

There is a Twitter battle going on about a Washington Post op-ed column Monday, “Don’t listen to those scary tales of student-loan woe”, link here.
Columnist Michelle Singletary, for one, tweeted Sunday night that she disagreed strongly. So do many comments.
It’s not pretty to have a large debt and then be able to get only interning jobs until your late 20s, while living with your parents. 
And, demographically speaking, this doesn’t help young adults start new families,  No wonder we have a growing pension and Social Security and Medicare crisis.
One solution would be to work out some debt reduction programs for military service (I think some of that exists), but moreover for “national service”.  Many faith-based and non-profit groups sponsor programs for engineering school graduates to work overseas on infrastructure development, especially water.   A distant relative of mine, now in a Ph D engineering program in Ohio, did this in Guatemala for two years.
 Programs could be designed to assist in debt repayment for this kind of global service in low income countries (especially in Africa).  This sort of creative solution needs to be explored, but the current mood of sequester and partisanship in Congress does not help.
I went to undergraduate school from 1961-1966.  Tuition at George Washington University then ranged from about $450 a semester to about $850 at the end.  Compare that to tuitions now!!  I was lucky in that my parents “bailed me out” after the debacle at Williamd and Mary discussed elsewhere on these blogs.
It is true that some young adults do very well indeed immediately after leaving school, or even after dropping out.  It helps to be a coding prodigy (like Mark Zuckerberg), or a music prodigy, and have unusually strong social skills – to be likeable and appealing.  It matters how you look on social media now, too. There is a Darwinian aspect to this problem (which Shea may be picking up on). 
You can watch the short film “Default: the Student Loan Documentary”, dated Feb. 2013 (26 minutes), here.

Note the appearance of Sallie Mae. One important point covers students who don't complete programs because of medical issues.  Only about 50% of students who enter "programs" complete them, according to the phone.  

The link for this film ("Deafult Movie") is here

Student loans aren't removed by bankruptcy and pose some of the most difficult financial issues we have.  "Forebearance" while in school alone can be expensive later (follow the concept "compelling interest"). Student loan interest debt has been garnished from Social Security payments and even from disaster relief FEMA loans.

Obama has proposed that student loan debts be forgiven after 20 years, or after 10 for those in public service. 

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Now, school districts want students to bring their own technology to class (a reversal)

Saturday, March 23, the New York Times offered a Business Day piece, “Digitally Aided Education, Using the Students’ Own Gear”, link (website url) here. This is BYOT, or “Bring Your Own Technology”. 

Is this a ploy for school districts to save money?  What about low income students?  What about policies regarding social media abuse on students’ own gear?  Also, in the recent past, schools tried to ban cell phone use at school.  So that’s a 180-degree turnaround.
Will some lessons work equally well on all smartphones or all PC’s?  Some software still isn’t cross compatible with the Mac and Windows environment (although with Windows 8, maybe it’s getting there).   
At least one high school where I subbed mid last decade actually taught some film editing in the technology lab (an AP chemistry class actually used it to make a “science fiction short film” about a new fictitious artificial element).  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

North Dakota legislature passes fetal personhood amendment, goes to voters in 2014; no exceptions, challenges Roe v Wade

North Dakota’s legislature has passed a fetal personhood amendment, which still must be approved by the voters.
It defines the person as having full legal rights at the moment of conception.  It would seem to contradict Roe v. Wade and would even prevent some forms of in vitro fertilization and contraception.  It would not allow exceptions for rape or incest.  The North Dakota House passed the amendment 57-35.
The Huffington Post story by Laura Basset is here.

The Alex Jones Channel has a report toward the end of this clip.  Listen also to what is said about North Korea and the TSA. 

Mississippi voters rejected a similar measure. 
Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Theodore Roosevelt National Monument, which I visited in May 1998. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

We're not well prepared for smaller asteroids

Budget problems and maybe the sequester could be hindering NASA or military sponsorship of research that could detect and provide deflection strategies for “city killer” asteroids, according to a New York Times story Thursday by Henry Fountain, link here.
The 60-foot meteor that hit  near Chelyabinsk, Russia February 15, 2013 caused injuries and minor damage in a thinly populated area.  But a 150-foot asteroid, the size that hit Siberia on June 30, 1908 could vaporize everyone in a major city like New York or Los Angeles with a direct hit.  Tunguska-sized asteroids are thought to hit the Earth somewhere once about every 100 years.

Many smaller asteroids capable of this damage have not been detected and are hard to see if coming from the same direction as the Sun.
The B612 Foundation is a private group seeking funding (and some technical funding from NASA) to build space hazard detection technology.  Certainly, the operation of the group comports with libertarian (or “Cato like”) principles.  The link is here

Another issue, beyond the trite calls for citizen preparedness that we used to hear during the Bush Administration.  Would special taxes be enacted ?  (The idea was at least mentioned in the media after Hurricane Katrina.)  Should people capable of doing so be “expected” to house families from other cities?

The video about B162 below is from “Calacademy” in Sam Francisco (link).  
I recall that when I was growing up, “612” was the name of an anti-chigger repellant!

Wikipedia attribution link fo Russianr Tunguska damage picture. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Conservatives should consider property rights before running away from environmentalism

Brad Plummer offers an interesting interview to the Washington Post today on a “conservative’s case for environmentalism”.  It could work in tandem with a libertarian’s case for property rights.  The link is here.
His arguments that deregulation could actually be good for endangered species might hold water, bit the most important part concerns climate change. 
Property rights, he argues, could mean that we eventually have to compensate people who live in low lying areas.  Morally, of course, that sounds compelling when you talk about poor coastal or island countries around the world. 
What is our “moral obligation” to high income people who build homes right on the beach, as with Hurricane Sandy?  What happens when these property owners aren’t rich but are middle class blue collar families (police, fire, etc) who have lived there for generations?
The reports I wrote last week on my own trip to the area could raise some of these questions. 
I still remember an evening in s hotel in the fall of 1973 listening to Richard Nixon warn, “We may have to ration gasoline.”  Not now, if there’s a shale and fracking boom.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

CVS requires employees to have physicals, submit health bloodwork numbers or pay more; horrific amputation cases from cigarette smoking reported

CVS Pharmacy is requiring its 200000 employees to submit health checkup vitals (such as height, weight, blood sugar, body mass, etc) by May or else be charged $50 more a month for group health insurance.
ABC News has a typical report on the story here.
CVS reasons that less healthy employees cause the premiums of all employees to rise.

My last year at ING in 2001, it offered a slight bonus (about $50) for taking an annual physical. 

Companies that self-insure can face large payouts because of a few claims from the sickest employees or family members.

The report didn’t say if family members had to submit numbers, or if same-sex partners are covered.
There is a question as to whether CVS is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Some ABC News videos today are prefixed with a CDC anti-smoking ad that shows a horrific case of a young man (perhaps under 30) who lost both legs to vascular damage due to cigarette smoking.  Such extreme cases (at a young age) are rare but sobering. Diabetes could make this more likely.  Young adults sometimes have amputations because of toxicity of bacteria associated with some forms of meningitis, which makes meningitis vaccines practically mandatory before going to college. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Teens: Use your abilities or lose them, when "pruning" performs its "layoff" of underused capacities; is too much media bad for the young brain?

High school teachers may scoff at “senioritis” about this time of year, but the most important aspect of teen development to watch may be the “synaptic pruning” that seems to occur in the teenage brain just before or perhaps during puberty. 
ABC Science has a typical report on the process here

This is important for several reasons.  One seems to be that, in a few years before puberty, kids may have their best shot at really becoming good at skills that require intense practice.  These could include playing musical instruments (especially piano), mathematics, chess, and even computer coding.   Another important observation is that it is easier to become very fluent in a foreign language when young than later.  For example, one could argue that in the US we could make everyone learn Spanish and become bilingual at an early age if politicians accepted it.

Practically all chess grandmasters were very good at the game by age 12 or so.  The pre-teen years may give the best chance to become very good at tactics and precise endgame calculations.
So kids who spend all their time in passive entertainment in these years may miss out on their best opportunity to be “good” at something. 

And it’s becoming increasingly apparent that this economy really favors young people who are unusually competitive in some mix of skills. In reviewing the movie "The Social Network", Roger Ebert noted how the young Mark Zuckerberg had been a prodigy at coding in his pre-teen years.  A Geek Squad technician (from Minneapolis) one time told me that he had learned java at 12.  

During “pruning”, the brain performs a mass “layoff”.  It gets rid of excess synaptic connections that it doesn’t think it will use.  So most kids turn out to be good at one or two things.  (Of course, this can include sports – the ability to hit a 100 mph fastball, too.)   But kids who have intense activity in several activities may attain unusual abilities in all of them simultaneously (that seems to work well in Hollywood).
“Errors” in pruning could be related to mental illness or schizophrenia in young adulthood.
Premature pruning may result in less ability in some areas, like motor skills.   (That may be what happened with me.)

Conceivably, an early puberty is not a good thing, as it could shorten the time when youngsters can really get good at certain skills.  Since girls reach puberty sooner than boys, it's possible that this issue could affect females more.  The fact that puberty is occurring earlier than it used to is not a good thing, and could be exacerbated by obesity.  Do less obviously "developed" late teens or young adults experience less pruning? I don't know but culturally it could be important to know. 
While genetics and epigenetics are obviously relevant to pruning, so are learning experiences and parental guidance.   The role of violent video games starts to look more important than we had thought. 
It’s also interesting that many pediatricians say that young children should not be exposed to the rapidly moving images of television (or movies) at all before the age of two.

All of these concerns seem important to media business models.

It’s also becoming more apparent (although not necessarily proven)  from recent media reports that both Adam Lanza and James Holmes had been planning their attacks for months, maybe even years.  (The history of Holmes is particularly disturbing, if you put all the pieces together.)  It is very important to the public to find out what made them “tick”. It does sound as something went very wrong before or during the “pruning”.    

Sunday, March 17, 2013

No wonder the Tea Party and Norquist are so adamant on tacxes

I’ve written before on my jobs blog about how I did not want to become a tax preparer when invited to try a few years ago.

In doing my own taxes this year, I’m struck by the complexity and arbitrary way cutoffs and limits are set, and the way things can be interpreted.  It sometimes seems as though the tax preparer is put in the role of playing guidance counselor as much as someone who prepares the return.  I have no interest in helping people shirt or reinterpret the rules.  That’s just like I have no interest in becoming a lobbyist.

It’s amazingly difficult to predict income and the necessary estimated tax payments until you do the math at the end.

I can see better why the Tea Party is so adamant on no more taxes.  No more rice pudding , it seems.  I recall fondly the proposals by Steve Forbes for a flat tax.  

At the same time, we can see what happens if rogue politicians can "decontruct government" and try to return us to doomsday-prepping anarachists.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

The New Jersey shore after Sandy (Part II)

I continued my “inspection trip” looking at Sandy’s wrath down the New Jersey coast yesterday.

Right off the Garden State Parkway, I found Sayrevlle, which is reported to have severe flooding problems because of the confluence of the Raritan and South rivers.  Yet most of the town seemed to be appreciably above the water level.  I saw little damage.  One aspect that I did notice was some home developments built right next to huge transmission towers.  Does this affect property values?  Could it affect electronics within the homes?

I continued down the GSP to exit 98, and got on to state route 35.  I stopped for lunch at a McDonald’s in Point Pleasant Beach.  I was told that power there had returned just two days after the storm.  We had a heated debate in the restaurant, among the teen serving food, and older female customer, and a  couple other people, about “personal responsibility”.  (One employee had gotten a personal tour of the destruction in Mantoloking -- below -- with the sheriff's department.)  Should people really knowingly build on the coast, knowing that there will be more storms and floods for society to pay for?  Or do people have a real choice?
For example, suppose someone inherits a home in a danger zone, retires and lives in it. How does “morality” play out then?  If I had been in that situation, I would want to have an arrangement with a hotel or a place much farther inland, and the ability to pack up my computers, electronics, papers, and important stuff and take if before any mandatory evacuation.  That would really apply if I lived on the Gulf.

Yet, even “safe” areas can be destroyed by storms,  As noted here March 9, an F4 tornado occurred “in the mountains” in Frostburg MD back in 1998.  It can happen anywhere.  This is not the place for “moral complacency” or smugness.  Other hazards, link sinkholes (common in Florida) give no warning at all.
I drove through Mantoloking, which has the worst damage of all.  Police do not allow people to stop in the town and take pictures, for obvious privacy and security reasons.  Many homes on the east side of 35 (the ocean side) have been toppled over, with the second floor on the beach, pancaked.  On the west side of the highway the damage becomes less severe, quickly. 

Farther south is Seaside Heights, which was actually imperiled by a gas leak after the hurricane (a similar hazard had destroyed part of Breezy Point, NY, noted yesterday).  I stopped at a CVS store and bought  a coke.  The store manager said that the outlet had only opened March 9.  He agreed that the best thing visitors could do is spend money and give merchants business and income.  The town seemed to be in much better shape now than Mantoloking.

Many wealthier people seemed to have completely rebuilt already.  But remember, the area has a reputation as an area for resort homes for high income people anyway.  That doesn't appear to be true everywhere on foot.  
I saw the roller coaster still in the water. 
I went down to Atlantic City, and to Brigantine, which is where the “eye” had supposedly come ashore. 

 In Atlantic City, low or moderate income apartments and homes are mixed with casinos and luxury.  Lower income properties seemed to have some damage.  

As I went inland on US 40 (why is so much of it still 2-lanes to the Delaware Memorial Bridge?), I saw sporadic damage for perhaps fifteen miles inland. 
So does "grab a hammer" mentality work here?  I doubt it. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

NY, NJ areas affected by Sandy appear to be recovering quickly, but there is more than meets the eye

I made my own field visit to see just how the damage and repair from Hurricane Sandy look when compared to media reports.

Most of the “obvious” external damage to homes on Staten Island and in the Rockaways (except for the Breezy Point area) in New York City occurs within about three blocks of waterfront exposure.  In moderate income homes, there is still quite a bit of damage that would make them uninhabitable.  In higher income areas, all the damage appears repaired.  There is considerable evidence of roof damage and patching over the area.

Much of Staten Island is actually high (up to 400 feet), and the Island is relatively scenic.  The media did not focus on this.  Did people on higher land feel obligated to house their less fortunate neighbors? 

But things are pretty much “normal” in most areas.

During Sandy, people from Long Beach and Oceanside and Rockville Center, below Sunshine Road, had been evacuated.  But all the area appears to be in good shape, even the condos near ocean in Long Beach.
But, according to residents and employees in the area, many homes have interior damage, especially mold. 

There are still new condos going up in the Rockaways. People still “choose” to live right on the ocean.

Is this the sort of communal disaster that should encourage church groups to organize “grab a hammer” campaigns?  It doesn’t look like it.  There were signs for contractors everywhere.  “Free enterprise” is handling it.  But construction companies could be more efficient in doing quick rebuilding.

Media reports were filled with stories of volunteerism after "Hurricane" Sandy.  There are plenty of high rises around, and it’s hard to fathom that so many were without power for days or even weeks, some with elderly residents
Make no mistake, elevation has a lot to do with this.  People living above 25 feet elevation had many fewer problems.   I lived in NYC in the 1970s and was generally not aware how low much of the City is (compared to much of the DC area, some of which is on the “Piedmont” and at least 300 feet high).  A storm like this could have happened at any time (and did in 1938), not just after global warming.  It is a basic geographical trap in the way the land is configured when strong SE winds blow from a big storm.  The worst damage was 70 miles away from the “eye” of Sandy, on the NE (“bad”) side of the storm.  


I visited the entrance to the Breezy Point site Thursday morning. NYPD does not allow any non-residents (except contractors and certain people with specific clearances) into most of the area.  However a good portion of it did not burn (contrary to reporting) and much of that portion appears to be repaired, from what can be seen at the entrance.  Repair operations appear to be organized with large contruction companies (not volunteers)  There are low-income dwellings near the entrance that are heavily damaged.  There is a nearby Park Service property (Gateway National Recreation Area) that is damaged.

According to Wikipedia 111 houses were destroyed by the Breezy Point fire.

Wikipedia has a US Army search-rescue photo of damage to Long Beach, Long Island that, while PD, is too large in space to import into Blogger.  You can view it here.  Amazingly, it appears that all this external damage has already been repaired.

I stayed in a motel on Sunrise Highway (Route 27) in Rockville Center, which was the northernmost extent of the evacuations in Nassau County.  People say that many homes have interior damage that is not visible to casual visitors and is still not repaired.  But despite the widespread reports of slow response in cleanup in restoration, the area appears to be in good shape now generally speaking.  

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

VA hospital chain closes employee child care centers, creating outrage

There is a bit of a public outcry over INOVA Health Systems’s announcement that it will close its in-house child-care centers for employees, mostly working moms who must work irregular hours.
As the indie film “Nursery University” (Movies 23) shows, it is incredibly difficult for parents to find adequate placement for their kids.  An inhouse day care center at the work place, paid by parents at market rates, would seem to make business sense. As a practical matter, it’s hard to understand INOVA’s reasoning.
All this fits into a discussion with other matters, such as the twentieth anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which doesn’t do a whole lot of good, because the leave is unpaid.
And there is the idea of government’s mandating paid family leave, which is done by most other western countries. 
But there is also a question, if there is paid family leave, to the people who don’t choose to have children subsidize those who do by doing more work for the same pay?  Is that how it should be?  How does eldercare fit in?  Everyone can face that (and it will become more of an issue, given more recent attention to filial responsibility laws). 
The material in the March 12 Washington Post (including a letter by Ann B. Barnet, from Jubilee JumpStart, isn’t online yet, but Petula Dvorak has a major piece on the problem from March 8 here
I recall, when working as a substitute teacher, being surprised one time at the Arlington Career Center by an assignment in “child care”.  I felt ambushed.  I’ve never done anything that can produce kids. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

NYTimes: Just Say No to more fossil fuels

The New York Times ran an editorial today “When to say No” (that is, “just say no to fossil fuels). It grants that the newer Keystone Pipeline location is “safer” than the first, but seems to be adovocating that the American consumer go cold turkey on any more petroleum-like products, even though tar sands and natural gas could turn the US into the Saudi Arabia of energy and put the Middle East away politically.  The link for the editorial is here
I visited the Sand Hills area in Nebraska (potentially affected by pipeline routes) during Thanksgiving weekend of 1999 (when I was living in Minneapolis).  Perhaps I felt prescient. 

Just how should the American public prepare for this?

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Tonight, NBC Nighty News ran the report above on how the melting of glaciers is disrupting the food chain of Happy Feet.  The March of the Penguins, just for procreation and nurturing by males, will get more difficult. 
The melting of polar glaciers does seem to be happening faster than expected.  Now it is said that some of the historic Jamestown site (near Williamsburg) may be underwater by 2100.
I am a bit more concerned about the dangers associated with fracking, as to earthquakes, sinkholes, toxins, fires and the like. But that’s just based on seeing movies.  My journey to eastern Ohio in November (and an earlier one in August) didn’t prove much. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Sand Hills photo 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Presbyterian group sends volunteers to rebuild homes from wildfires in Texas

Today, at a special service at the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, I did pick up a flyer describing volunteer relief efforts to rebuild homes destroyed by wildfires in 2011 in Bastrop County, Texas, east of Austin. 

I’ll give the link of the supporting PCUSA ministry, here

The flyer discusses the volunteers’ living at “Faith Village” near Smithville, TX.
I have a posting and my own photos of my own visit to the Bastrop County area on Nov. 17, 2011 here.  
The flyer is interesting right now because Friday night I saw the film “Greedy Lying” about climate change, 
which presented the horror of the Colorado Springs fires in 2012 (movie reviews, March 8).

The sermon, by Pastor Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt, “A Place Called Gilgal”, discussed the possibility of someone’s or some group’s becoming complacent in its illusion of “self-sufficiency” when reaching a supposedly better or safer place (“Gilgal” in the Promised Land). 
I guess with climate change, we can’t afford to become complacent about any location. And more places are going to seem less safe than they did. 

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Examining a past tornado outbreak "in the mountains"

Today, I paid a visit to Frostburg, MD, on the Allegheny Front plateau, about 2500 feet, to enjoy the last of the snow. 

I was curious how an F4 tornado could have occurred here in June 1998, as explained here, in the mountains, in Maryland's "Alps".
The popular conception is that tornadoes don’t happen near mountains. But in this storm, the cell apparently followed the ridge stops, destroying some houses on Armstrong Ave., near the café, and then dove into a valley to the east, Eckart Mines.
In fact, some of the houses on Armstrong look like they were rebuilt or substantially repaired. 
The storm apparently came from the northwest, around Salisburg, PA, instead of the SW, as usual. 
Even though this is high country, it is like a rolling plateau, with some flat areas west of town that would not stop tornadoes.
On June 1, 2012, the NWS warned that a Midwest type scenario could develop in the middle Atlantic states because the torque in the atmosphere was much arther East than usual.  In fact, some small tornadoes did form east of the Blue Ridge in the Maryland Piedmont. 

In the DC area, many of the most severe storms occur to the SE, in southern Maryland, away from the mountains, or move through the Harper’s Ferry gap into northern Montgomery County or Howard County.  Topography usually matters.  But with climate change, it may matter less than it used to.  The spring tornado season is about upon us.  

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

New superbug in hospitals is totally untreatable with antibiotics

Hospitals and acute care facilities (and probably nursing homes) are facing a new “CRE” superbug bacterium, which resists all known antibiotics, and which can transfer resistance to other bacteria.
No drug is being manufactured that can resist it.

About 4% of hospitals and other facilities in the US have encountered it.  There is a fatality rate of 50% from infection.

Hospitals are now using cameras to make sure that staff (including medical students) do thorough handwashing before leaving patient rooms.

Will more dramatic scrub procedures be developed? I cover that in my novel.  This may not suit some male students and nurses. 

It seems so far that this bacterium mainly attacks people with compromised immune systems, such as chemotherapy patients or HIV+ patients. 

People with normal immunity rarely get these at home, because they tend to become immune to their own germs, or those in their regular environment.  People can become immune to antibiotic resistant bacteria through normal immune function.   It is cuts or wounds in unusual places (like when swimming in a creek) that could present the greatest risk.

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Dr. Nancy Snyderman prepared this report for NBC.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Sequestration affects TSA overtime now, causing longer lines at airports; effect on FAA controllers uncertain but may be minimal

CBS is reporting that sequestration is already causing longer lines at TSA checkpoints at some airports, because TSA screeners are no longer allowed to work overtime, and it has been common practice to use screeners on overtime.  Media reports had earlier said that passengers shouldn’t notice effects until about the first of April.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has asked passengers not to complain to TSA or customs officials, who are not responsible for the sequestration. 

It is not clear whether this is happening everywhere, at most airports.  

In 2002, after my layoff, I had actually looked at the possibility of becoming a TSA screener. I would be surprised to learn that overtime is used that much.  This seems like a tiring, tedious job.
The link for the story by Lucy Madison is here

The FAA has produced a list of air traffic control facilities that could be closed under sequestration, here.   There are two in Virginia, in Manassas and Lynchburg.

AOL and the Huffington Post, however, ran a story Tuesday morning suggesting that sequestration’s effect on air traffic control of planes should be minor, here

But the complete effect of the automated budget cuts on the FAA is not completely clear yet. 
Air traffic control work is, of course, tedious and it is not good for Congress to play with it.  

The stock market rose today, despite sequestration, or maybe because of it.  Wall Street in the short run seems to like it.  

Picture: that's a toy helicopter, that actually flies.  Does the FAA care? 

Saturday, March 02, 2013

On Sequestration Day 1, a field trip: notes about transit, park closures, and extreme weather

Well, the World did not end this first day of sequestration, and no one thought it would.

After a visit to a train show at Upper Marlboro Race Track (to be discussed later), I happened to visit a small park in Charles County MD run by the Park Service, the Thomas Stone National Historic Site.  Stone (“A moderate Revolutionary”) was a lawyer during the time of the American Revolution who somewhat stayed out of the limelight, and according to the short film about him, he taught that “goodness” was more important than “greatness”.  Maybe Congress needs to learn that.
The Park Service said that their hours had been already cut back to six a day (from eight).  I had thought the reduced hours wouldn’t start until the end of March.
I would be concerned how sequestration could affect Metro in DC, as outlined in this suburban (or exurban) newspaper from Manassas VA here. I would wonder if the after midnight service on weekends could be jeopardized.  I still think that “quasi-light-rail” bus service (like they run in Cleveland on Euclid Ave) could provide necessary service at low cost.  (Metro does that now in some areas that aren’t near Metro, like the new H-street corridor in NE).  But is all this in jeopardy?  Those Republicans don’t like yuppie city slickers who actually need an infrastructure and who don’t have guns.

I looked around the town of La Plata, which was hit by an F4 tornado in 2002, the second strongest ever on the East Coast.   This was part of a widespread outbreak in late April.  History ways the tornado tore a 24 mile swath, damaging over 600 homes and destroying over 100.  There is little evidence of damage today, and it’s hard to see many devoid of trees.  The Park Service says that the twister crosses the Stone property but did not hit any buildings.  

A local business said that the Burger King on 301 had the worst damage of all in 2002. 
This account from station WJLA gives some perspective on how long tracking tornadoes can occur in the mid-Atlantic (link).  Be sure to look at the still photos at that site, made by Akex Liggitt of the National Weather Service, showing the path (photo 14) and the devastation in downrtown La Plata near Highway 301.   But it is true that the Blue Ridge, especially the Central Section (over 4000 ft), directly SW of DC., does tend to protect the immediate DC area from the worst storms, whereas 30 miles to the SE the storms tend to be stronger.  I even noticed when living in Annandale in the 1990s, to the SE of DC, that the storms were stronger than they usually are in north Arlington (and usually there is more snow to the SE with most big winter storms, like the 1996 blizzards).   

There is a hamlet near La Plata with the unhealthful name, "Port Tobacco".  
I also passed a Chick-fil-A on Maryland Route 5.  It reminded me of “another” controversy. 
Here's one other question:  what did this sign outside a Bob Evans restaurant in Waldorf, MD on Highway 301 mean? Warm soup?  That sounds like David Lynch on "Twin Peaks".