Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Is there a link between enterovirus-68 and paralysis, high altitude, or even polio? Also, CDC announces first US Ebola case in Texas


News sources report that ten or more children are suffering from progressive limb paralysis.  Four or more patients seem to have evidence of Enterovirus-68, which is causing severe respiratory disease in some children (especially those with asthma, sometimes resulting in the need for ventilators). 
  
There is no evidence of polio virus (although, as in the video below, some people believe that the enterovirus could be biologically related to polio).   However, at least in the early stages, many of the cases of both the respiratory disease and then paralysis started in Colorado or high altitude areas. It’s not clear if this is coincidence, or elevation could mean anything. 
  

It is interesting that adults do not seem to get the disease.  That suggests that the virus has been around before and that older generations have immunity due to previous exposure.  Otherwise, we could have a tremendous "social distancing" issue looming as a public health measure. 
    
In my own novel manuscript “Angel’s Brother”, there is a bizarre virus epidemic that starts in the highest elevations (around Leadville, CO) and gradually moves down.  The virus in my book causes skin symptoms (in areas of less circulation) and neurological symptoms (some patients believe they are in someone else’s body).  Most cases are fatal in the beginning, but some people benefit from infection.  But this is a sci-fi scenario.
  
Live News Radio has a story about the enterovirus and paralysis here
  
I was weaker than normal for a male, both as a kid or an adult.  I have less upper body strength than normal, and less endurance for explosive activity.  Was this genetics?  Could it have to do with having the measles in 1950 just before my seventh birthday?  There is some evidence of developmental issues in my narrative report cards in first grade, but the problems really became evident in third grade.  Oddly, it was then that I suddenly wanted to take piano and was very good at it.  In Army Basic at age 24, I wound up recycled into Special Training, but I did improve in physical strength and get out of there more quickly than other soldiers did.  So it is really hard to explain my “disability”.  
  
I had very severe "Asian flu" in tenth grade at age 15, but never anything as severe as an adult.  Some viral and infectious diseases do seem to strike the young harder, until they have built up natural immunity.  



Update: later Tuesday

The CDC announced that the first case of Ebola to be diagnosed in the US is being treated in Dallas, after returning from Liberia.  The master CDC reference is here. The CNN story is here

Monday, September 29, 2014

WSJ poohs the concept of "peak oil"


An Energy insert in the Wall Street Journal Monday explains “Why peak-oil predictions haven’t come true, and probably won’t,” a long historical survey of oil supply by Russell Gold, link here

Peak oil had been predicated as early as 1885.  There was a documentary film about it in 2004, and for a long time some observers said that domestic production had already peaked around 1970, before the Arab oil embargo of 1973-1974.

The main concern, of course, is the environmental cost of the new sources of fossil fuel energy – carbon emissions, the dangers of fracking (which might be overstated) and the debate over shale and the Keystone pipelines.
  
I moved to Dallas in 1979 and lived there until 1988.  But during the Reagan years an oil glut developed as the Saudis pumped more oil; history in Wikipedia here. The glut would lead to the Savings and Loan crisis in oil producing states in the late 1980s. 
  
Bloomberg is reporting that the US has passed Saudi Arabia as the world's biggest oil (or liquid hydrocarbon fuels) producer, here.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Dominion Power headquarters tower over site of Virginia Pride in Richmond, sending a quiet message about freedom's dependence on technology


Yesterday, Saturday, September 27, 2014, as I visited Virginia Pride on Brown’s Island in Richmond, and looked up at the new real estate development along the James River that aims to bring Richmond’s skyline up to the artistic standards set up other cities in the south (Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville, Tampa), I noticed what appears to be Dominion Power’s corporate headquarters. 

And then, at the south-tip end of the Island, I noticed a significant power generating station.

All of this gives pause to remember that our modern individual freedoms, free expression, and personal autonomy seem to have a lot to do with technology, and our dependence on the electric power grid.  In recent posts, I’ve talked about the vulnerability of the grid, to big solar storms, and possibly terrorists.  There are a variety of strategies available to increase resilience, including some decentralization (more use of net metering), increased redundant capacity (which doesn’t help the immediate bottom line of a publicly traded company), new electrical grounding technologies for transformers, and more police security. 
  
It’s well to remember that Virginia is the home of at least two significant companies that make transformers, but unfortunately these companies (in the Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley) depend on overseas imports heavily.  That’s not a healthy thing given the national security implications.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Maryland county will outlaw "rooms by the hour" to counter sex trafficking


Prince George’s County, Maryland (directly east of Washington DC) will seek to outlaw the practice of hotel rooms renting rooms by the hour.  Few hotels do this, and sometimes it has happened at the discretion of employees.  The Washington Times has a story here.

The measure is supposed to counter human sex trafficking.
  
In a whole life of travel, I’ve only encountered one hotel that openly offered this, and that occurred in Birmingham AL in 1985.  I’ve been more troubled by the lack of availability of no-smoking rooms, in California once (in 2002, in San Jose), and in Charleston WVa in 2012.  The aroma of tobacco makes me sick now, since I’ve gotten used to “no smoking” and lost tolerance for tobacco smells.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is still an issue


Think Progress is reporting a story of a pregnant woman who says she was fired by a nursing home in Mississippi three hours after starting her new job in the kitchen and telling her supervisor she was pregnant.  She was replaced by a non-pregnant woman;  story link is here

The story indicates that discrimination against pregnant women is still common in rural areas or in the South. The article also reports that some employers don’t make accommodations in the physical environment, and that sometimes miscarriages result (or disabilities of babies after birth). It also reports that most pregnant women work into the eighth month of pregnancy.

   

It’s almost a simple result of logic that others have to make accommodations so people in the workplace can have families.  Nothing in life is completely “equal”. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Retroactive action against "tax inversions" opposed, said to be bad for stock market (better for workers?)


A group called “Fair Reform” has been running television spots warning against retroactive taxation. 
      
The US Chamber of Commerce reports on a survey showing public sentiment against “retroactive limits on tax inversions”, according to this site here. I hadn’t heard that term used.  It’s the relocation of a business to a lower-cost nation (Wiki  ).  On Tuesday, Reuters reported that “new rules” would “chill” tax inversion and that for some companies, shares were diving, link here.  This could be bad news for some retirees.
  
I couldn’t find a regular site for “fair reform” (the domain name was for sale);  It has a Facebook site here. It wants “likes”. 
  


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

CNN: Ebola really could mutate into an airborne disease among humans; then why couldn't HIV?


Elizabeth Cohen writes in CNN today, “Ebola in the air? A nightmare that could happen”, article hereClinical samples from Africa show rapid mutation, although none have changed its transmissibility. CBS has a more toned down story here
  
President Obama had raised that speculation a few weeks ago on a television interview on NBC’s Meet the Press. 
  
Some past speculation has been fueled by the "Ebola Reston" virus in a DC-area lab in 1989, but it never infected humans (it's covered in Robert Preston's "The Hot Zone"). 
   
The rapid explosion of cases, which CDC says could reach 1.5 million in West Africa by January 2015, add to the probability of a change in transmissibility.  Laura Smith-Spark and Miriam Falco discussed the CNN article today here.   CDC says that it isn’t so much the virulence of the virus itself, but the social mobility patterns, distrust of authority, and poor infrastructure that led the epidemic to explode.   CDC’s page on the West Africa outbreak is here
   
Vox Media weighed in with a grim worst case scenario today, bit did not get into the mutation speculation, here
  
But back in the 1980s, the right wing, the group “Dallas Doctors Against AIDS”, tried to leverage speculation of what would happen were HIV to become more contagious, to try to justify a harsher sodomy law in Texas.  Their attempt was unsuccessful, but I remember the political scare as I lived in Dallas in 1983. 
   
Is there an intellectually justifiable reason to speculate over Ebola this way (and bird flu for that matter) but not retroviruses like HIV? 
   
Back in the mid 1990s, there was a smaller Ebola scare in Africa, which I mentioned at work from newspaper accounts, and coworkers nicknamed me “Ebola Bill”.  It isn’t funny today.  But I had bought Preston's "The Hot Zone" at a book fair in the company cafeteria. 
    
CNN has also reported that ISIS threatened to bring Ebola to the US, but that is much easier imagined than actually done. 
  
The media may seem to resorting to supermarket or tabloid-style sensationalism today on the Ebola issue, but these are big, responsible news organizations, not Florida rags. 
   
Imagine the damage to the economy done by “social distancing” if Ebola or bird flu comes to the US.  I don’t know why we don’t move faster on vaccines.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Net metering and customer generation by solar cells could help make grid more stable in the long run


Michael Grunwald reports in Time, September 29, 2014 issue, p. “Business 4”, that utility companies are resisting “net metering” of customers who are capable of generating their own solar power and selling it back to the grid, link here. The title is “The case for staying connected; we don’t need to ditch the grid; we need to fix the power business”.  That’s putting it lightly, given the dire possibilities covered here recently.

  

However, consumers who can generate their own power, whether by solar or even by natural gas, arguably could help safeguard the entire system (at least their communities) against catastrophies, especially those possibly related to solar storms.  Decentralization of power generation could be a good national security strategy.  And so can having more unused capacity. 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

College students should get the Type B meningitis vaccine now as well as the usual


There have been more reports of college student illnesses and deaths from meningitis this fall, especially Type B.

There is some confusion as to how to protect oneself against type B meningococcus.  There is a separate vaccine, which is in the approval process.  The CDC says that it now should be given in most cases, and college and universities should normally offer it.  Here is the link.  Type B seems to be responsible for some of the most gruesome cases, where unusual bacterial toxins clog blood vessels and result in amputations. 

  
A student at Georgetown University in Washington DC died of Type B recently, story here
  
A study of the limb damage problem from Britain is available here  (St. Mary’s).
   
A number of students in college residential environments know me and sometimes see my blogs.  I encourage everyone to get these vaccines, including B, as soon as possible.  Bacterial meningitis is sometimes hard to treat successfully with standard antibiotics.
 
 The Washington Blade has been reporting that HIV-positive persons are more likely to develop any form of bacterial meningitis and more likely to have grave complications, including amputations.

Friday, September 19, 2014

So, maybe artificial sweeteners are "bad for you" after all


Artificial sweeteners may indeed mess with the body’s ability to metabolize glucose and might tend to induce Type 2 diabetes if overused, according to a recent study reported by Kenneth Chang on p A4 of the Thursday New York Times, here

It seems counterintuitive that a substance with no calories could have a metabolic effect.  But “health nuts” have said this for years.  I remember, back at one of Dan Fry’s “Understanding” conventions in 1976 in Arizona, a speaker claimed that ‘one coke” could destroy your psychic abilities. 

The fact that this could have anything to do with glucose and the pancreas (that is, that the pancreas could be affected somehow by some artificial sweeetners) is of interest.  Maybe the story will get the attention of young researcher Jack Andraka. 
  
Actually, Type 2 diabetes occurs in large part because insulin-receptors on many body cells “wear out” with age and misuse.  It rather like the mechanism that makes a computer get slower with time.  I remember those workplace walkthroughs in Dallas in the 1980s. with plenty of coffee and sugary doughnuts (and employee would get to go out and do the “doughnut run”), leading to plenty of headaches and hypoglycemia.   




Update: Sept. 26

A study published by the Cleveland Clinic (link) and broadcast with a promotional tweet  maintains that regular use of soda drinks, even if with artificial sweeteners, increases the lifetime stroke risk by 16%.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parents of Aurora shooting victim sue four online arms retailers, all of whom appear to have acted within the law


The parents (Sandy and Lonnie Phillips_ of a woman (Jessica Ghawi) killed in an Aurora, CO theater July 20, 2012 are suing four online arms retailers in federal court for not exercising safeguards to keep “dangerous people’ from buying guns. Brandon Johansson has a story in the Aurora Sentinel, link here.  The Guardian has the AP story here
   
It would appear that the suit has a difficult hurled, the 200t Protection of Commerce in Arms Act (Wikipedia here).  On the surface, it appears that the sites probably complied with federal and state laws.
     
It sounds as though the kind of background checks proposed (and sometimes required now) would not have caught Holmes.  What would be needed would be a database that can track and warn sellers if someone is “accumulating an arsenal” in an unusual manner.  Congress would need to provide legal requirements on how such a database would be used. It is true that some of the items Holmes bought sound unusual, but it seems that the sales were lawful. 
  
The idea reminds me of Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (and the DMCA Safe Harbor) which protect online service provider from liability for most behavior of users.   

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New York Times presents interlocking views on parenthood, marriage (and so does Vox)


There’s new (really recycled old) attention to marriage – restoring its social expectation – as a way to address inequality, as in a New York Times story in the Sunday Review by Isabell V. Sawhill, link here.  That story is reinforced by a Vox story this morning by Danielle Kurtzleben, “Two parents, not just two incomes, are what helps kids get ahead”, link here  Both articles report the shift from “don’t have kids before marriage” until “don’t have kids until you’re both ready to be parents”. 

It’s fair to mention a new wild card character in the debate: gay marriage, assuming that same-sex couples were encouraged to adopt whenever economically able. 
  
The readiness is a big haul.  It’s arguable that we’ve made it too risky and too expensive, and too emotionally demanding to have children at all, thereby bringing on, among people with ample incomes, a “demographic November”.   For all the media hype about charity and helping those in need (enhanced by the Internet and sometimes, as with ice-bucket, carried to silly lengths), we’ve created a society where turning inward, along with increased reflection and self-absorption, is rewarded.  My own personal life track suggests a particular irony: other men feared that my own homosexuality could indirectly show up their own potential inadequacies as marriage partners and fathers than they would have feared straight romantic rivals.
  
This is a good place to mention a corresponding piece in the Sunday Review in the NYT, by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WaDunn, “The way to beat poverty: To fight inequality, give help early, even before birth”, link here.  In the print layout on an orange page, that op-ed actually leads off.  That would suggest that parenthood needs to be encouraged, and that cultural distractions are a real issue. It would be tempting to conflate this issue with the paid parental leave debate, as well as the arcane issue of the "family wage". 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vox Media publishes detailed news story on space weather (solar flare, coronal mass ejection) threat to power grid


Brad Plummer, now a senior editor at Vox and previously a major technology contributor to the Washington Post, has a detailed article on “Voxdotcom” on the solar storm and coronal mass ejection threat now, here   It was published late Friday September 12 but was tweeted early Monday morning, today.
  
The article emphasizes that the region of the power grid likely to be under the most stress from coronal mass ejections is the Northeast, from New York City up into New England and Quebec.  The greatest technical threat comes from a CME particles, if the plasma cloud is dense enough, inducing ground currents and overloading major transformers.  The danger might be reduced with some advance warning systems that could lead to blackouts or at least brownouts.  The most logical permanent solution is for utilities to have enough unused capacity that they don’t get easily overloaded, and this is a serious economic issue for stockholders, including me (Dominion and Pepco).  It’s also a serious problem that American manufacturers (two of them are in Virginia) aren’t prepared to replace transformer hardware quickly without importing a lot of parts of finished pieces.   The ability to maintain a hardware infrastructure and component supply is a national security issue that should trump normal “just in time” business practices.  We need to keep some parts in the Virginia Shenandoah Valley or North Carolina Piedmont (not too close to coasts) and not in India and China. 

Power outages would very likely by regional, but a big question is how well major Internet companies could function in such a situation.  These would include social media companies, ISP’s, small business service platforms.   Google and Facebook don’t talk publicly about their disaster resilience plans, except that we know that all of these companies have multiple servers, including farms in Ashburn VA and around Charlotte or Raleigh NC.  Apple, and most major financial companies, have a lot of capacity around Charlotte, Panther country. 

It doesn't appear that home or business electronics are at risk from CME's (except from voltage surges, which can be prevented with proper shielding and UPS)..  The situation is much more dire from a deliberate EMP attack, which adds other kinds of particles or flux to the attack.  Presumably a home with its own full backup supply (whether from a propane or natural gas generator, or a solar setup) would be much better off. 


Slate News predicts a 1 in 8 chance of a Carrington sized event by 2020, although the Sun seems to be coming out of its most active period.  The Sun actually emitted a CME in October 2003 on the same day that “Smallville” aired an episode about a catastrophic solar flare, filmed months before.  (Ironically, the opening of that show in 2001 had been filmed about a month before 9/11, but is prescient.)  Vox does point out our narrow miss in 2012, which we indeed “missed”.

Vox hasn't produce a yellow "cardstack" on the power grid issue yet, but I would urge Vox to do so.  Vox has a staff to do this much detailed work and editing; I don't.  I had emailed Vox Press about this and a few other critical issues on Aug. 26, 2014, two weeks before the "flare".  

It doesn't appear that CME's present a risk (through induced magnetic fields) to home electronics that are turned off, and unplugged.  On the other hand, EMP blasts do present that risk, as they have other components not present in CME's.  A similar question might be posed for electronics very close to major power lines, but I have not heard that this is a problem. 
    
Wikipedia attribution link for northern lights over Calgary, link here.  I visited Calgary in Sept. 1983.  No early fall snow that time (but there was snow at Lake Louise). 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

National service proposal for 18-28 emerges again from McChrystal: some info about "carbon intensity"


There is a term called "carbon intensity", "the amount of carbon we emit into the atmosphere to generate a dollar of economic activity".  To stop global warming, we would have to reduce it by 6% a year until 2050.  The world is reducing it by 0.9% a year.  Australia is doing the best but has eliminated its carbon tax.  The US is actually not reducing at all.  Here’s the “carbon intensity” chart according to Vox Media,  here   , 
    

Not completely unrelated to all this is a reinteration by Stanley McChrystal on CNN, on Erin Burnett’s program (Sept. 12), that American’s should be expected to do a “service year”, link here.  I see that I had discussed an earlier similar proposal here Jan. 30, 2011.  There is a group called the Aspen Institute with a subordinated Franklin Project, which calls “a service year” to be “a cultural expectation, a common opportunity, an a civic rite of passage for every young American”, link here . One important question (and a big debate in some circles around me) is, does this become a personal experience of living other people’s lives (around the world), more than just “paying your dues”?  Anderson Cooper did that as a reporter in Southeast Asia as a young man, however privileged his background.  And so to journalists now who do conflict reporting.  They are definitely “serving”.   

McChrystal emphasizes ages 18-28 (the old draft expired at 26-1/2).  In my own experience, I find that most young adults have little grasp of what the “draft”, with the deferment issue, was like for my generation.  

Another question about his proposal would be: does he think young adults should offer themselves to serve as "civilians" (if they don't want to join the military) in dangerous areas of the world, whether because of terrorism, radical Islam, drug gangs, kidnappings, and the like, or disease (Ebola), and then face the life of a "victim" when returning if they come back.  That's my immediate reaction now. I wonder about this as churches often send youth group on summer missions in Central America where teens and college students learn to mix with people in more earthy cultures.  

Update: Oct. 30, 2014

Picture below, of posters available at a US Post Office, remind us that Selective Service is still male-only, even given the fight for gender and sexual orientation equality.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Significant coronal mass ejection from solar flare likely on the way to Earth on 9/11; experts say little danger to power grid "this time"


While the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic brace for possibly severe weather, most major outlets at first paid little attention to large “solar flares” Tuesday and Wednesday.  The second of these was the largest, an X1.6 flare (smaller than the X4.9 flare in February).  Experts were not sure if a sizable coronal mass ejection was produced, but it if was, it will probably arrive Friday and can indeed disrupt some communications on the daylight side (more in polar latitudes) and conceivably some power grid disruption.  The “Space” link for the story is here

AOL and the Weather Channel sensationalized the event, as if to draw visitors for ads.

  

I checked with two weather professionals by Twitter on local Washington DC stations and both said that significant power disruptions from this sized event were very unlikely.  But a much larger one could be, and we may have barely missed “a big one” in July 2012.  

NBC Washington, around 10:30 AM today, said that cell phone communications and Internet access could be adversely affected by a CME starting late today.  That could include wireless Internet in general. 
  
The official NOAA (Space Weather Prediction Center) forecast is for a moderate geomagnetic storm Sept 12 becoming strong Sept 13 because of the second larger coronal mass ejection, link here.  There is a chart PDF that explains the terms. A "strong" storm could cause some voltage problems and spike false alarms (maybe in home security systems).  It doesn't sound like Armageddon. Maybe electronics should be unplugged or well shielded by UPC's or only stronger surge protectors,  

The European Space Agency has a blog posting suggesting that the strength of a CME will not be known until the flare passes a Lagrange Point near the Earth, about one hour before first impact.  Get out your calculus and physics books;  this sounds like a good free response question for an AP test.  
       
CNN's Amanda Barnett makes a flippant comment "You might want to keep a flashlight handy" in her article Thursday, and I don't think that's funny. 

Generally, power companies could make their big transformers more resistant to big CME's by building in excess capacity, over what customers use, to handle the overloads and short circuits created by CME magnetic field reversals.  But in an area with heat waves, that's hard to do.  The wrong-loop in the 2003 failure in the northeast, while manmade, is similar to what a CME could simulate.  
        
Picture:  Mars, from Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  Mars has almost no magnetic field, which is one reason it lost most of its atmosphere and would be very hard to live on even after terraforming.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Is having fewer kids (intentionally) "decadent"?


Jedediah Purdy, of Duke University Law School, has an interesting perspective on Huffington, “Against ‘Decadence’, Fewer Kids, Better Future”, link here  (from Feb. 12, 2014).  He is responding to an earlier New York Times op-ed by Ross Douthat, “Don’t Mention the Decadence”, link here.   This seems to respond to earlier papers, about ten years ago, concerning “the Natural Family” by social conservatives like Carlson, Mero, and even Rick Santorum. Carlson and Mero specifically sees today’s yuppies of riding on the sacrifices of parents of “other people’s children” or OPC. 
   
I’ve always perceived old social mores as a kind of “great equalizer” (like, as we said in Army barracks at Fort Eustis back in 1969, the razor).  That is, the idea that sexuality should always risk procreative responsibility (a Vatican idea) does spread risk around, and demands that everyone learn to “love” with some degree of “complementarity”, and not take the 3rd-down punt of “upward affiliation” (a favoroite term of George Gilder – the “he can do better than that” problem).   Needless to say, with an aging population needing eldercare, and with cultural pressures related to inequality (and the indignation it spawns), family responsibility can precede heterosexual intercourse.  

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Alarming new report on climate change from WMO; world's oceans not absorbing greenhouse gasses


Global greenhouse gasses, including carbon dioxide and methane, are increasing at a much faster rate than had been assumed, according to report from the UN’s World Meteorological Organization, with the Washington Post giving us a link to it here,  accompanying a front page story Tuesday by Joby Warrick. The ability of the ocean to absorb CO2 is a big issue.  
  
Yet, as I have seen in other work, the most immediate threat from nature to our “way of life” may not come from climate change, but from space weather (solar storms) which are not caused by man’s activity.  The main issue is that we have quickly built a technological dependence without safeguarding the infrastructure against sudden environmental changes (in this case, invasions of the Earth’s magnetic field) that we don’t completely understand.
  
Lifestyles may well affect climate change.   People who live alone, like me, cut it both ways.  When we live in urban centers in apartments and use public transportation, we use less energy.  But in another sense, goods and services have to be brought to us, and argument that the survivalist community likes to use.  And some of us can be wasteful when alone, like renting cars with unlimited mileage for westem state vacations.  

Monday, September 08, 2014

It's all about values after all


A few threads about social values came together yesterday in Sunday papers.
       
One was a column in “The Upshot” in the New York Times, maintaining that fathers earn more than childless men, but mothers earn less than single women, link  in a “Gender Divide” column.  I thought this was rather offensive when I was a younger adult.  “They prefer married” for male employees (all the way back to the sitcom “My Little Margie”).  So someone like me gets punished for not performing sexual intercourse with women and making babies.  But in a crude way, all of this makes sense -- to Darwinism. 
  
Then there is Nicholas Kristof, “When Whites just don’t get it, Part 2”, link.  I remember getting some personal emails to this effect, especially about 15 years ago after moving to Minneapolis having published my first book.  True, we don’t all start at the same place in line.  It’s not easy to set the start points on curved tracks.   Then, when people don’t do as well, we personally like them less, which indeed sets up a moral vicious circle, which has such a bearing on how any of us would perform if suddenly stressed by hostility or bad luck.  I talked about this point yesterday on my main blog in conjunction with volunteering, and the attitudes toward the bureaucracy that often runs it.  

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Civil asset forfeiture goes on, and it isn't limited to drug money


The Washington Post has a major front page headline and story in the paper Sunday September 7, 2014 about “stop and seizure” by police, and civil asset forfeiture, link here.  The focus of this story is the seizure of cash from motorists in routine traffic stops. In one case, cash from a church offering was seized.  
   
As a constitutional matter, apparently people don’t have an automatic right to claim back their property under due process, because it is defined as a civil matter.
  
This was a big talking point by the Libertarian Party back in the late 1990s when I was in Minnesota and networked with the LPMN. Typically, the seizures have occurred most often in conjunction with drug investigations.
  
However, another possible danger could be seizure of a person’s information resources – personal computers, electronics, data storage, even cloud data (given the recent fiasco).  This is a kind of danger that could set someone up to be framed, as for child pornography.  The person doesn’t seem to have a constitutional guarantee that it would be returned (or to operate with “asymmetry” or without gatekeepers). One weak point could be home routers.  This could also happen when a computer is repaired. This subject is serious and could deserve another Post, New York Times, CNN or Vox Media report. 
  
  
Libertarian reporter John Stossel reports above on “policing for profit”.
   

I rarely get stopped.  The biggest problem is missing signs (No Turn on Red, which can be hard to see in Arlington), or in a few communities, expressway-style divided streets with low traffic that have low speed limits.   

Friday, September 05, 2014

Migrant minors from Central America pose challenges of compassion for school systems, especially for substitute teachers


Migrant children from Central America are taxing public school classrooms, especially in northern Virginia, according to a Washington Times story on Thursday by S.A. Miller and Stephen Dinan. In Fairfax County, migrant account for about half of the county’s 2200 new students, At the sane time, Dinan in another story writes that the number of illegal immigrants in the US holds at about 11.3 million and the influx of children seems to have slowed appreciably.

School budgets may indeed be stressed by this development, but I think that there can develop an interesting issue with substitute teachers.  Subs in Virginia typically fill out profiles of subjects and grade levels they will accept.  But, at least when I was subbing, all subs could get calls for ESL (English as a second language), special education, and physical education, obviously the most personally challenging assignments for those mainly living in academia.  Such students, having dealt with violence and gangs back home and a whole culture of the street, will obviously present behavioral challenges for subs who don’t know them.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

DC Circuit will hear Obamacare "defunding" case en banc, vacates earlier ruling, disavows partisanship


The District of Columbia Circuit has withdrawn or vacated an earlier ruling effectively “defunding” Obamacare (indirectly, through tax breaks for those who use state exchanges), and will hear the case en banc, according to a breaking story by Ian Millhiser on Think Progress, link here.  Millhiser offers considerable analysis as to how the federal circuit wants to look less partisan, and wants to make sure that the Supreme Court doesn’t want to be goaded into taking a case that is essentially a partisan dispute among circuits.   That’s interesting, since the DC Circuit has often regarded itself as the “baby Supreme Court”, especially in intellectual property areas like patent and trademark. 
     
Vox also tweeted about the matter, with the most direct cardstack link here
  


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Maryland county tries to recruit more male teachers


On NBC Washington, Aaron Gilchrist reported on the low percentage of male teachers, in the Prince Georges County (MD) high schools. 
Less than 25% of teachers even in high school in the county and many other areas are male.  The percentage of male teachers is even lower in elementary school.  (In some areas, like Nokesville VA, school systems are experimenting with putting grades 1-8 – elementary and middle school; in others, middle and high schools are combined as “secondary”).  

When I was in high school (10th grade started in 1958), I had a male for English in 10th grade, History in 11th, and both physics and chemistry.   The chess club sponsor was a male English teacher.  

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Ebola vaccine trials start, as epidemic is out of control overseas; why not a vaccine for avian influenza, SARS, MERS, etc?


Trials on safety for an Ebola virus vaccine will begin at NIH in Bethesda, Maryland.  At least 21 people will receive a vaccine containing Ebola proteins but no live virus.  At least six will receive placebos.  Three specific individuals may get the vaccine first.  It will be possible to determine an effective cellular and humoral immune response to the material (the T-helper response is probably what matters most). 

There is a detailed story on “Medicine.Net” here.

The CDC said today that in Africa, Ebola is running out of control, but there is still little concern that a significant outbreak could be brought to the West.  Still, a third American doctor, who had not treated patients directly, was reported infected;  major CNN story here

I would wonder why there isn’t more effort into building a vaccine for “bird flu” (there are several strains) or for SARS and MERS viruses, which appear to be more transmissible.  Again, maybe we need to resume smallpox vaccination, too.  It’s about national security.  
Dr, Kenneth Brantly talks to Matt Lauer on NBC Sept. 3, He says he almost stopped breathing just before he got the emergency serum.