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Friday, February 15, 2013

Care2 Petition Fights to Stop Fire Department From Hunting Squirrels--While Children Starve, Killers Go Free, and Lizards Go Extinct

Folks on the activist site Care2 have raised the alarm and rallied the forces over a truly "cruel and barbaric event"--hunting squirrels.

Whatever shall we do now.

"Adults and children as young as 12 can participate, so long as they have hunting licenses. (Let's not even get into the idea of giving a 12-year-old a hunting license). Participants stalk and kill both grey and red squirrels with cash prizes for the heaviest catches," reads the e-mail sent out by Emily V. from Care2's Petition Site Team.

According to the mailing, the Holley, NY Fire Department plans to have a fundraiser where hunters win prizes for bagging the biggest squirrel--and if Emily and her team have anything to say about it, it's not going to happen.

I don't have a problem with this petition, really. If you hate squirrel-hunting, by all means use your free speech to try to get the rest of the world to stop.

What I have a problem with is that this mailing, out of all the petitions on the Care2 site, made it to the 'special selections of the week' that hit the mailboxes of millions of subscribers. They've got petitions on Care2 that deal with child abuse and sex trafficking, and they choose a squirrel hunt as one of the most important petitions on the site.

Their competitor site,, mails me a story every week about someone imprisoned for their free speech, or sex slaves sold on the internet, or at the very least someone who lost their house to a bank foreclosure. I don't always agree with the petitions--the notorious Trayvon Martin petition came out of, which I signed and now feel stupid about--but at least they're trying to improve the human condition. At the very least, writes to me about rare-dolphin-hunting.

Today, 18,000 children will die of hunger, according to the UN. 1,871 women will experience rape. For every 100 babies born in the African American community, wealthy doctors will abort 77. Inequality's everywhere, people are dying around you, and if you really love animals, 1 in 5 reptile species faces extinction.

But by all means save the cute little squirrels.

Emily, I love you. You've got awesome intentions, and I love you. But I've got one thing to tell you:

At least that 12-year-old with a hunting license will know how to eat during the zombie apocalypse.

At least she can eat now.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Mini-news Digest for Feb. 13, 2013: Possible E.Coli in Taylor Farms Spinach, Cool New Black Hole, & Salmon Genetically Engineered

The FDA sent out an alert today announcing that Salinas Firm has recalled some of its Organic Baby Spinach because of possible E. Coli contamination. Customers who purchased Taylor Farms Organic Baby Spinach products may want to discard the produce; symptoms of E. Coli ingestion include abdominal cramps, fever, and sometimes bloody diarrhea.

In brighter news, NASA issued a cool press release today. Their Chandra X-Ray suggests a newly discovered black hole W49B burst into existence in a formation pattern unique from other black holes. Why does this matter? NASA scientists don't understand black holes well, so abnormal holes may provide more insight into the forces responsible for their creation. Most supernovas that form black holes blow apart with relatively symmetrical explosions, but supernova W49 blew apart faster at the poles than at the equators, leaving the black hole remnant with a strange, glowing X-ray signature.

Researchers still aren't absolutely sure that what they're looking at in W49B is a black hole, but they haven't detected a neutron star, which usually forms after a supernova's collapse.

"It's a bit circumstantial, but we have intriguing evidence the W49B
supernova also created a black hole," said co-author Daniel Castro,
also of MIT. "If that is the case, we have a rare opportunity to
study a supernova responsible for creating a young black hole."

That's pretty awesome, I think.

"For an additional interactive image, podcast, and video on the
finding, visit:"

One more thing--if you care about genetically engineered Atlantic Salmon, the FDA's leaving the comment period open for a little longer on AquAdvantage Salmon Documents. These documents would establish a safe-for-the-environment classification for these genetically-enhanced fish, which reach market size much faster than other salmon. So if you feel yay or nay about this, there's your link! I think these sound great from a fish-farming standpoint, but I'm curious to read the final documents released by the EA, since I can't help but imagine super-fast-growing salmon having a predatorial advantage over other fish if they escape into the wild. I'm excited to see that final decision, actually.

Yeah, I know. Nerd.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Why Are TSA-Friendly Bags Important?

Red eyes from rising for early flights, heavy luggage digging into sore backs -- no one enjoys a long TSA line. Most of us worry about whether the scissors or shampoo bottle belongs in checked luggage or carry-on, but we don't always think to check if the bag itself is "TSA-friendly."

We should, and here's why.

1. Save Time

Americans spend about 37 billion hours each year waiting in line, according to the New York Times, and we feel every minute of it: last year a man in a post-office line actually stabbed another customer he thought had cut in front of him. While hopefully none of your fellow travelers will knife you for taking ten minutes to fumble with your laptop, TSA lines drag on enough already. Sticky zippers, wrapped packages, and oversized carry-on too big for the x-ray machine just exacerbate the problem. For laptops, the TSA says bringing the computer by itself in a butterfly-style, trifold, or sleeve-style laptop bag allows the x-ray machine to show exactly what's inside--and the TSA officer never needs to open the case.

2. Save Money--Prevent Damaged/Stolen Goods

TSA employees are concerned about public safety, not about those fragile eye-glasses or that pesky luggage lock--and they have a horrible record of reimbursement for damaged goods. In 2009, the TSA reimbursed passengers just 21 cents for each $100 claimed. Don't overstuff bags or cramp them with weirdly-shaped items, and don't bring bags with sticky or hard-to-open zippers--the harder it is to get in, the more likely a frustrated TSA agent might break something by accident. Bag sensitive film separately, and avoid wrapping that gift or souvenir: the TSA officer may have to unwrap it, and chances are he doesn't care as much about giving Aunt Sally a beautiful package as you do.

Organized bags also help avert theft. According to a TSA agent who stole more than $800,000 of carry-on goods, most common theft occurs while passengers leave their bags to go through metal detectors. With jumbled, disorganized packing, passengers don't notice anything's missing until too late: follow TSA guidelines to pack easy-to-check, organized bags so that you know exactly what you're carrying--or missing--at all times.

3. Avert Danger Like a Hero

Airport screeners already suffer the highest injury rate of all non-military federal employees, according to an AP Press report in 2004--and there's no point in making their job harder still. TSA-friendly bags and packing materials prevent injuries incurred during opening, searching, or carrying baggage. The TSA requests that travelers sheath or securely wrap all sharp objects in checked baggage to prevent injury to inspections officers, and TSA-friendly locks save screeners from having to slice through steel--which can easily result in slippage and painful cuts. Both SafeSkies and TravelSentry produce locks which open with universal TSA-certified keys; prices usually clock in between $11 and $15.

Becoming TSA-friendly takes a bit of foresight--Alienware, Briggs & Riley, and others do manufacture high-quality TSA-friendly laptop-cases and backpacks, but these can range upwards of $80. If you are a thrifty traveler, you may want to consider simply carrying two bags, one with organized, easy-to-open compartments and another just containing a laptop. For checked bags, select suitcases with multiple, easily-organized compartments and TSA-friendly locks that work with the universal transit services key. Remember, solid materials means less chance something will get stuck in the x-ray machine or rip all over the floor: double-check zippers and tender seams before departing.

Enjoy your flight!

Today's FDA digest--in which I laugh at Mushroom recalls, which aren't really that funny, and announce approval for pomalidomide, a new cancer drug

If you have bought "Curiosity of Dashan Dried Mushroom" lately you may want to consider throwing it away--at least if you or a loved one has severe sensitivity to sulfites. The FDA announced today that DZH Import & Export recalled their dried mushrooms because they contain sulfites that the company didn't declare on the packaging. Note that this recall is voluntary, and a good move on the part of the business to avoid potentially hazardous mistakes.

More bad mushrooms--today and yesterday the FDA's been repeating Nestle's voluntary recall of Lean Cuisine Culinary Collection Mushroom Mezzaluna Ravioli. No, it's not because they only made that food to win the box-food-poetry alliteration contest--apparently their machines misprinted the "Best Before Date." No biggie, unless you really intended to keep your mushrooms unfrozen til Dec. 2013.

Next, the FDA just announced a new training program for foreign seafood producers. According to the FDA the US imports nearly 90 of its seafood--and much of that seafood is produced by aquaculture, meaning it's grown rather than caught. To combat microbes in often-crowded conditions, seafood producers stuff fish with antibiotics--and the FDA's training program should tell producers what drugs they can and cannot put in the fish if they want to make it to American tables.
Here's the awesome bit of today: FDA granted accelerated approval to pomalidomide (POMALYST capsules, Celgene Corporation) for "patients with multiple myeloma who have received at least two prior therapies, including lenalidomide and bortezomib, and have demonstrated disease progression on or within 60 days of completion of the last therapy." This means that patients with the almost incurable bone-cancer, myeloma, have better hope of survival; a study last year found that this drug worked for patients who seemingly could not improve under other therapies. FDA approval for drugs takes after three phases of research, and it's frustrating I'm sure that the drug sat in phase three since last year--but such a long trial course is normal for most intensive prescription drugs. For now, let's welcome pomalidomide and hope it performs well to save many lives! For more Information:

NASA launches New Earth Observation Satellite

NASA's Landsat Data Continuity Mission (LDCM) roared into space at 1:02 p.m. EST (10:02 a.m. PST) Monday aboard an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, according to the Feb. 11 press release from NASA.

"Landsat is a centerpiece of NASA's Earth Science program, and today's successful launch will extend the longest continuous data record of Earth's surface as seen from space," said NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden, himself a former astronaut and Marine Corps general. 

"This data is a key tool for monitoring climate change and has led to the improvement of human and biodiversity health, energy and water management, urban planning, disaster recovery and agriculture monitoring -- all resulting in incalculable benefits to the U.S. and world economy," he said.

The LDCM spacecraft separated from the rocket 79 minutes after launch and the first signal was received 3 minutes later at a ground station in Svalbard, Norway.

The solar arrays--which generate power for the spacecraft--deployed 86 minutes after launch. LDCM should reach its operational, sun-synchronous, polar orbit 438 miles (705 kilometers) above Earth within two months.

After a three-month check-out phase, NASA will transfer operational control of LDCM to NASA's mission partner, the Department of the Interior's U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). 

USGS will rename the satellite Landsat 8, and the organization will archive and distribute LCDM's data free over the Internet from the Earth Resources and Science (EROS) center in Sioux Falls, S.D. The center should post this data within 100 days of launch.

LDCM is the eighth in the Landsat series of satellites that have been continuously observing Earth's land surfaces since 1972.
According to the NASA press release, scientists have used public Landsat data in the past to detect changes over time to our planet, while researchers for various firms, public and private, have created a myriad of applications and technologies based on the Landsat information.

The new LDCM carries two instruments, the Operational Land Imager (OLI)
and Thermal Infrared Sensor (TIRS), that improve upon previous technology, said Jim Irons,
a LDCM project scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

"LDCM is the best Landsat satellite ever built," he said.
OLI will continue observations currently made by Landsat 7 in the visible, near infrared, and shortwave infrared portions of the electromagnetic spectrum. It also will take measurements in two new bands, one to observe high-altitude cirrus clouds and another to observe atmospheric aerosols as well as water quality in lakes and shallow coastal waters. OLI's new design has fewer moving parts than instruments on previous Landsat satellites.

Meanwhile TIRS will collect data on heat emitted from Earth's surface in two thermal bands, as compared with a single thermal band on previous Landsat satellites. These thermal band observations are becoming increasingly vital to monitoring water consumption, especially in the arid western United States.

NASA's also planning to inaugurate a new SpaceX launchpad in 2015 with the launch of the Jason-3 mission, which will precisely measure sea surface height on Earth to monitor ocean circulation and sea level. SpaceX is the newest American company to demonstrate the capability to launch science missions for NASA and other government agencies. Jason-3 will be developed and operated as part of an international effort led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For more information about LDCM, visit:


What do you think? Good thing, bad thing? If I'm not mistaken this is more of the satellites, remember, that can see everything and everyone all the time. On the other hand, this is some seriously awesome public information scientists and researchers will access to make awesome things. What say you?

Monday, February 4, 2013

West Nile Virus--The Screams, the Stops, and the Cure

West Nile Virus--when those three words hit the media your relatives scream at flies and you itch just listening. With Mississippi reporting 17 more cases Aug. 20, and Texas spraying insecticide all over Dallas, mosquito-phobia's everywhere. Rightly so--the first 2012 West Nile death victim in New York died this week, and 2012 has suffered more WNV cases through August than any other year since we first detected West Nile. How does WNV work, and how do doctors fight it?

According to a 2006 paper in the Journal of Virology, the virus shares the Flaviviradae family with dengue and yellow fever. Molecules like its E protein help it attach to receptors on your body cells, then open their outer membranes to fuse with them. Unlike your cells, which have DNA and RNA, the virus only has one strand of RNA. Once it fuses with your cells, it takes over your endoplasmic reticulum--your cells' highway system--and makes a copies of its RNA that it wraps using your Golgi bodies--your cell's packaging system. The cell bursts, and these packages, virions, escape. Deadly WNV attacks the neurons on your brain stem; you can imagine you don't want the cells there bursting.

Right now doctors primarily treat the flu-like symptoms with rest, hydration, and anti-inflammatories, and try to reduce pressure caused by brain swelling. Doctors may prescribe the general anti-viral Acyclovir before they know which virus they're dealing with, just in case the encephalitis comes from something we CAN treat. They may prescribe Ativan for seizures.

In 2009 researchers found a possible way to block the virus from fusing into your neurons. Their antibody, MAb E16, blocks the chemical process on the E protein that allows the virus to penetrate the cell membrane. There's also a possible vaccine, as researchers just last month constructed a baculovirus with WMV's E proteins. Chemicals in the bacterium signal neighboring cells to release cytokines, or messages to the body's defenses to rush to the rescue. That test-mouse's body now knows next time it senses those E proteins to kill the virus, instead of letting it fuse with its cells.

Both these ideas still need further testing, so dump standing water, spray your backyard, and wear repellant--remember, mosquitos like dusk AND dawn. With the right precautions, you won't have to worry, and if medicine keeps moving in the right direction, soon you'll have to worry even less.