Category Archives: Food

You owe your grandmothers some big hugs


And why? Well, because without them, you wouldn’t be here. And for reasons you might not suspect.

Unlike any other species on earth, grandmothers played a huge role in the chain of evolution separating us from the other apes.

Only in humans do females outlive their fertility, a phenomenon so glaring that it requires an explanation. Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have found it in the “grandmother hypothesis,” which holds that for a creature uniquely helpless for years after birth, grandmothers played a critical role in child-rearing, allowing hunter/gatherer moms more time for the all-important role of foraging [which provided most of the group’s caloric intake as opposed to much rare hauls of meat brought in by hunting males [whose bonding in the course of hunting may have played a greater role in evolutionary success than the calories they brought in only sporadically].

Here’s an eloquent and fascinating explanation of the role of grandmothers from University of Utah anthropologist [and, yes, they do teach evolution in Mormon country] Kristen Hawkes, delivered as the annual lecture here at the Unversity of California, Berkeley, in honor of psychologist Robert Choate Tyron.

From UC Berkeley Events:

The Robert Tryon Lecture – The Grandmother and Human Evolution

Program notes:

Kristen Hawkes, Distinguished Prof. of Anthropology, University of Utah

Hunter-gatherer ethnography, evolutionary life-history theory and mathematical simulations point to ancestral grandmothering as a key to the evolution of human life history. Possible consequences of grandmothering extend from distinctively human sociality to patterns of male competition and pair bonds. Questions about how we do it continue to uncover surprises.

EnviroWatch: GMOs, Big Ag, oil, and nukes


And lots of nuclear news there is after the jump, including problems in reactor complexes in California and Britain.

We begin with an apocalyptic warning from The Physics arXiv Blog:

Genetically Modified Organisms Risk Global Ruin, Says Black Swan Author

  • Experts have severely underestimated the risks of genetically modified food, says a group of researchers lead by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In 2012, for example, the American Association for the Advancement of Science declared that genetically modified crops pose no greater risk than the same foods made from crops modified by conventional plant breeding techniques.

Today, Nassim Nicholas Taleb at New York University and a few pals say that this kind of thinking vastly underestimates the threat posed by genetically modified organisms. “Genetically modified organisms represent a public risk of global harm,” they say. Consequently, this risk should be treated differently from those that only have the potential for local harm. “The precautionary principle should be used to prescribe severe of limits on genetically modified organisms,” they conclude.

Taleb and co begin by making a clear distinction between risks with consequences that are local and those with consequences that have the potential to cause global ruin. When global harm is possible, an action must be avoided unless there is scientific near-certainty that it is safe. This approach is known as the precautionary principle.

Other global ag woes from the Thomson Reuters Foundation:

Climate change a “threat multiplier” for farming-dependent states-analysis

Climate change and food insecurity are “threat multipliers”, and 32 countries dependent on farming face an “extreme risk” of conflict or civil unrest in the next 30 years, a global analytics firm said on Wednesday.

Food shortages and rising prices have the potential to worsen political, ethnic, class and religious tensions, the risk advisory firm Maplecroft reported in its annual “Climate Change and Environmental Risk Atlas (CCERA)”.

Analysts noted that several nations’ military leaders are ahead of their governments in focusing on such risks.

In Nigeria, for instance, the rise of the Muslim insurgency Boko Haram may be linked to population movements caused by a west African drought a decade ago, the UK-based company said.

Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Nigeria, Chad, Haiti, Ethiopia, Philippines, Central African Republic and Eritrea face the highest level of risk, the Maplecroft report said.

And controversy ensues, via Science:

A disagreement over climate-conflict link heats up

A debate among scientists over climate change and conflict has turned ugly. At issue is the question of whether the hotter temperatures and chaotic weather produced by climate change are causing higher rates of violence. A new analysis refutes earlier research that found a link, and the two lead researchers are exchanging some pointed remarks.

Last year, a team of U.S. researchers reported a robust connection between climate and violence in Science. But in a critique published online yesterday in Climatic Change, a team of mostly European researchers dismissed the connection as “inconclusive.” The Science authors are hitting back, claiming that the critics are fudging the statistics and even manipulating their figures. The new analysis “is entirely based on surprisingly bold misrepresentations of our article, the literature, basic statistics, and their own findings,” says Solomon Hsiang, the lead author of the Science paper and an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

Numerous past studies have found a correlation between heat waves and violence, manifesting as conflicts between individuals and between groups. Demonstrating a direct connection between climate change and violence on a global scale, however, is tricky. It requires a meta-analysis of hundreds of already published studies that have slightly different techniques and measurement scales. Hsiang’s team performed just such a meta-analysis and grabbed headlines with their findings that a changing climate appeared to be amping up conflict.

Still more ag woes from Al Jazeera America:

Salt-ruined farmland costs billions of dollars every year, study finds

  • Irrigation methods that fail to employ proper drainage leads to degradation of 5,000 acres a day

Salt residue from soil irrigation degrades around 5,000 acres of farmland every day at a global annual cost of $27 billion dollars in lost arable revenues, according to a study released Tuesday.

Using cheap, short-sighted ways to water land without adequate drainage methods are the chief reason behind the land spoilage, according to the report by the UN University’s Canadian-based Institute for Water (UNU-INWEH). The total area being affected, the report notes, has shot up over the last two decades — from 111 million acres in 1991 to 160 million in 2013, representing some 20 percent of the world’s irrigated lands.

Researchers warn that big investment is necessary to reverse the trend.

The authors of the study said the most vulnerable parts of the world are arid regions in developing countries, where pressure to increase crop yields in the short term may lead governments to forgo installing or maintaining the simple, but costly, drainage systems necessary to keep salt away from the soil.

Water woes on the Subcontinent from the Hindu:

Cut water, power supply to industries polluting Ganga: SC

Observing that its “last hope” rests on the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Supreme Court referred to it the responsibility to monitor and inspect industrial units along the Ganga and even cut off water and power connections if the units are found to be polluting the river.

A three-judge Bench led by Justice T.S. Thakur said official apathy and “failure at various levels” in both the State and the Central Pollution Control Board had led to the Ganga dying at the hands of “highly” and “grossly” polluting units, which flushed their untreated effluents into the river without any checks.

The inaction had continued even after numerous orders were passed by the Supreme Court directing the authorities to protect the river since 1980s, when a PIL was filed before the court by lawyer M.C. Mehta highlighting the alarming state of the river and its depletion owing to pollution.

Notable buzz from Al Jazeera America:

Tiny bugs could be the key to saving honeybee populations

  • Freshman student’s research on phages being touted as breakthrough against American foulbrood, a scourge of beekeepers

Tiny bacteria devouring viruses could hold the key to saving the U.S. honeybee population from a devastating disease that is destroying hives, according to research from a college freshman that is already yielding results.

American foulbrood, a bacterial infection that attacks bee larvae, has wiped out entire colonies and contributed significantly to worldwide agricultural losses. In order to prevent a larger infestation, affected hives are often burned to the ground to prevent further spread.

But a study into the use of bacteriophages — tiny viruses that infect and consume bacteria known as phages — to fight the bee disease by Bryan Merrill, a student at Brigham Young University (BYU), has raised hopes of a natural remedy to the bee blight. Merrill recently published his findings in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Genomics.

A beekeeper, Merrill is now working to identify the perfect phage for the job. So far, he has identified five phage candidates for honeybee treatment, a release from BYU said.

Hogging profiteers from MintPress News:

Density Of Industrial Hog Farms In North Carolina Prompts Civil Rights Investigation

People living near North Carolina’s large-scale hog farms have complained for decades about health and quality-of-life issues, with communities of color reportedly disproportionately affected. The EPA is now considering whether to launch a full investigation.

U.S. regulators are currently looking into whether the extraordinarily high density of industrial hog farms in eastern North Carolina is having a disproportionate negative impact on minority communities, as alleged in a new complaint.

In the coming days, the Environmental Protection Agency will make an initial decision on whether the filing satisfies basic administrative requirements. If EPA officials find that it does, the agency will then begin a full investigation into whether the North Carolina permitting process is in effect discriminating against minority communities in the state’s eastern regions.

While local frustration around this situation is longstanding, the complaint marks the first time that the issue has been appealed to the federal government on civil rights grounds.

“I was at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the early 1990s, and people from eastern North Carolina were telling us these swine facilities were destroying their lives – that they could no longer sit on their porch and that this was a civil rights issue,” Marianne Engelman Lado, the lead attorney on the complaint, told MintPress News.

The Ecologist covers an all-too-familiar crisis:

Ghana’s farmers battle ‘Monsanto law’ to retain seed freedom

Ghana’s government is desperate to pass a Plant Breeders Bill that would remove farmers’ ancient ‘seed freedom’ to grow, retain, breed and develop crop varieties – while giving corporate breeders a blanket exemption from seed regulations. Now the farmers are fighting back.

Farmers in Ghana are on the frontlines of a battle. The national parliament has just returned from its summer break – and the first item on their legislative agenda is the government’s controversial Plant Breeders Bill.

The proposed legislation contains rules that would restrict farmers from an age-old practice: freely saving, swapping and breeding seeds they rely on for their own subsistence, and to feed the country.

Under the laws, farmers that use seed varieties claimed under new intellectual property rights by individuals and companies anywhere in the world risk hefty fines or even imprisonment.

According to the Ghanaian government and its corporate backers, the new laws would incentivise the development of new seed varieties and ensure crops are safe and saleable.

From the New York Times, and dam straight!:

Reversing Course on Beavers

Once routinely trapped and shot as varmints, their dams obliterated by dynamite and bulldozers, beavers are getting new respect these days. Across the West, they are being welcomed into the landscape as a defense against the withering effects of a warmer and drier climate.

Beaver dams, it turns out, have beneficial effects that can’t easily be replicated in other ways. They raise the water table alongside a stream, aiding the growth of trees and plants that stabilize the banks and prevent erosion. They improve fish and wildlife habitat and promote new, rich soil.

And perhaps most important in the West, beaver dams do what all dams do: hold back water that would otherwise drain away.

From CBC News, scum of the sea:

BP spill left big oily ‘bathtub ring’ on seafloor

  • BP says researchers failed to identify source of oil

The BP oil spill left an oily “bathtub ring” on the sea floor that’s about the size of U.S. State of Rhode Island or a little larger than Canada’s Manitoulin Island, new research shows.

The study by David Valentine, the chief scientist on the federal damage assessment research ships, estimates that about 37 million litres (10 million gallons) of oil coagulated on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico around the damaged Deepwater Horizons oil rig.

Valentine, a geochemistry professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, said the spill from the Macondo well left other splotches containing even more oil. He said it is obvious where the oil is from, even though there were no chemical signature tests because over time the oil has degraded.

After the jump, the Great Barrier Reef in peril — and banksters are the solution?, killer amphibians proliferate, Chinese ports polluted, another source of pollution profiteering, while the Russians stake a huge Arctic oil claim, Japanese schools in tsunami peril, and on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, including a visit by decommissioning experts,  a nuclear dump site protest, a nuclear plant in a volcanic zone wins a restart vote while another complex gets a seismic green light, fire at yet another reactor complex, major violations at Japan’s fast breeder reactor, Taiwan mulls nuke checks on Japanese food imports, plus allegations of major problems at nuke plants in California and Old Blighty. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Quarantines, panic, pols, & Africa


We begin with root causes, starting with this from the Guardian:

Ebola is a product of a destructive and exploitative global economic system

Deforestation and increasing demands on habitats to produce food don’t just wreck the environment, they are increasing the risk of global pandemics like Ebola

Like a sleepwalker roused from his dream, the world is slowly waking up to the full nightmare of the Ebola outbreak decimating west Africa. With small numbers of cases turning up in western countries, governments here are belatedly pledging action to fight the disease, which has already claimed almost 5,000 lives.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – all countries struggling to recover from wars still fresh in the memory – have buckled under the onslaught of this horrific virus. Inadequate, creaking health services have been no match for a ruthless killer. But while the shocking poverty of these countries provides the fertile ground for the disease to spread, there are bigger issues at play that ought to cause us to think about the macroeconomic conditions that brought us to this point.

Ebola – like HIV, anthrax, Sars, avian flu and other pandemics of recent years – is a zoonotic virus, one that has crossed from animals to humans. It was first identified in 1976 during near-simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The strain of Ebola implicated in the current outbreak is thought to have originated from a mutant pathogen found in fruit bats. This is where we see a direct connection with economic development. The conflicts which have done so much damage to the affected countries have also attracted a range of activities – both legal and illicit – including logging and extractive industries like bauxite mining, which have deforested large swathes of the region.

More from The Ecologist:

Oil palm explosion driving West Africa’s Ebola outbreak

The medical response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has been monstrously inadequate, writes Richard Kock. But so has been recognition of the underlying causes – in particular the explosive spread of industrial oil palm, which disrupts the ecology of forests and farms, and undermines local economy and traditional governance, leading to a ‘perfect storm’ of disease.

It is poverty that drives villagers to encroach further into the forest, where they become infected with the virus when hunting and butchering wildlife, or through contact with body fluids from bats – this has been seen with Nipah, another dangerous virus associated with bats.

The likelihood of infection in this manner is compounded by inadequate rural health facilities and poor village infrastructure, compounded by the disorganised urban sprawl at the fringes of cities.

The virus then spreads in a wave of fear and panic, ill-conceived intervention and logistical failures – including even insufficient food or beds for the severely ill.

Take for example the global palm oil industry, where a similar trend of deep-cutting into forests for agricultural development has breached natural barriers to the evolution and spread of specific pathogens.

The effects of land grabs and the focus on certain fruit crop species leads to an Allee effect, where sudden changes in one ecological element causes the mechanisms for keeping populations – bats in this case – and viruses in equilibrium to shift, increasing the probability of spill over to alternative hosts.

Next, some possibly good news from the Guardian:

Ebola may have reached turning point, says Wellcome Trust director

  • Dr Jeremy Farrar says international community is belatedly taking the actions necessary to stem the tide of the disease

Writing in the Guardian, Dr Jeremy Farrar says that although there are several bleak months ahead, “it is finally becoming possible to see some light. In the past 10 days, the international community has belatedly begun to take the actions necessary to start turning Ebola’s tide.

“The progress made is preliminary and uncertain; even if ultimately successful it will not reduce mortality or stop transmission for some time. We are not close to seeing the beginning of the end of the epidemic but [several] developments offer hope that we may have reached the end of the beginning.”

Farrar’s comments come as the World Health Organisation confirmed that the number of Ebola cases in Liberia has started to decline, with fewer burials and some empty hospital beds. But the WHO warned against any assumption that the outbreak there was ending.

“I’m terrified that the information will be misinterpreted,” said Dr Bruce Aylward, assistant director-general in charge of the Ebola operational response. “This is like saying your pet tiger is under control. This is a very, very dangerous disease. Any transmission change could result in many, many more deaths.”

Science qualifies the optimism:

Liberia’s Ebola progress real, but epidemic far from under control

The apparent decline in cases could mean that  families are hiding patients and secretly burying the dead, but it is more likely that a combination of factors has reduced the spread of the disease, said Aylward. “There was a rapid scale up in safe burial practices in the month of September,” he said, adding that many people were isolated in Ebola treatment units, further curbing spread. There also has been intensive education of communities about the disease, including how it is spread, the value of seeking care, and self-protection strategies.

The situations in Guinea and Sierra Leone, the other two hard-hit countries, have not changed as dramatically.

In a disconnect with the drop of cases in Liberia, Aylward noted that WHO has tallied 13,703 cases—a jump of more than 3000 from the figures released 25 October. He said the steep increase reflects reporting on a backlog of cases “With the huge surge in cases in certain countries, particularly in September and October, people got behind on their data,” he said. “They ended up with huge piles of paper and we knew we were going to see jumps in cases at certain times that are going to be associated with more new data coming in that are actually old cases.” He said about 2000 of the latest cases came from old data collected in Liberia, where reporting of cases continues to be a problem. “Data for Liberia are missing for 19, 20, 21, 26 and 27 October,” the latest update from WHO notes.

And from Liberia itself, another caution via The NewDawn:

Ellen warns against early excitement – Chinese military team arrives

President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has warned against early jubilation over news of reduction in the infection across the country with news of less than 400 cases nationwide.

The Liberian leader is cautioned citizens and residents against a repeat of a scenario in March this year when people got “too happy too soon” over decline in Ebola infection, thereby giving room for the virus to resurface by June when preventive measures were largely downplayed.

“Yes we feel good, but we want to be cautious. We don’t want people to get happy too soon; we got to continue this fight, and we got to continue it with everything that we got,” President Sirleaf said Tuesday in Monrovia when she received an advance Chinese military delegation of 15 personnel to build ETUs here.

Judging from previous scenario, she warned, “This time we want to be careful, we’ll not be satisfied until we are declared that the last Ebola victim has been cured and is freed of this disease.” President Sirleaf’s warning comes as government prepares to conduct a mid-term election for 15 senators in December.

A video report from euronews:

Ebola: WHO announces ‘slowing rate of new cases’

Program notes:

Liberia may be experiencing a slowdown in the rate of new cases of the deadly Ebola virus according to the World Health Organization.

“We are seeing a slowing rate of new cases, very definitely,” WHO Assistant Director General Bruce Aylward announced.

The African country has reportedly seen a drop in burials and new hospital admissions, while the number of laboratory-confirmed cases has levelled out.

While the Associated Press adds more nuance:

Top UN Ebola official: new cases poorly tracked

Authorities are having trouble figuring out how many more people are getting Ebola in Liberia and Sierra Leone and where the hot spots are in those countries, harming efforts to get control of the raging, deadly outbreak, the U.N.’s top Ebola official in West Africa said Tuesday.

“The challenge is good information, because information helps tell us where the disease is, how it’s spreading and where we need to target our resources,” Anthony Banbury told The Associated Press by phone from the Ghanaian capital of Accra, where the U.N. Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, or UNMEER, is based.

Health experts say the key to stopping Ebola is breaking the chain of transmission by tracing and isolating those who have had contact with Ebola patients or victims. Health care workers can’t do that if they don’t know where new cases are emerging.

“And unfortunately, we don’t have good data from a lot of areas. We don’t know exactly what is happening,” said Banbury, the chief of UNMEER.

Meanwhile, the crisis remains both critical and costly. From Sky News:

Ebola: DEC Launches ‘Unprecedented’ Appeal

The charity group asks the public for money to halt the “explosive” virus – the first time it has done so for a disease outbreak.

The Disasters Emergency Committee is to launch a major television appeal over the Ebola crisis, the first time it has called for donations in response to a disease.

The committee, which is made up of 13 of the UK’s major aid charities, said it took the decision because the killer virus threatens to become a “catastrophe”.

The DEC described the spread of the virus as “explosive”, and said it was devastating communities, health services and people’s ability to support themselves.

Next, California joins the list of states with Ebola quarantine policies, via the San Jose Mercury News:

Ebola: California is latest state to impose 21-day quarantine for those exposed to Ebola

California on Wednesday became the latest state to order a 21-day quarantine for travelers who have been in close contact with Ebola patients.

In an attempt to avoid the criticism lodged against New York, New Jersey and Maine that had blanket quarantine orders, however, California will allow county health agencies to impose the quarantine on a case-by-case basis.

By working with county health departments to assess the individual risks, the California Department of Public Health said it “respects the individual circumstances of each traveler while protecting and preserving the public health.”

And a case at hand, via KCBS in San Francisco:

Stanford Surgeon Under ‘Modified Quarantine’ In San Mateo County After Returning From Liberia

A Stanford surgeon has been put on modified quarantine in San Mateo County after treating Ebola patients in Liberia for the past month.

Dr. Colin Bucks returned to the Bay Area on Friday, but no state or federal quarantine orders were in place at the time. Dr. Bucks is not experiencing any symptoms of Ebola, but he is the first Californian to be quarantined under the new guidelines. Bucks is considered by health officials to be at “some risk.”

The doctor contacted San Mateo County health officials. After consultation with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the California Dept. of Public Health, Dr. Bucks was told to stay away from work and to stay away from others for 21 days. However, he can leave his house to go jogging by himself. He is taking his temperature every day and has not developed any symptoms.

Politics of pain, via the Los Angeles Times:

Obama urges Americans to honor aid workers fighting Ebola in Africa

President Obama on Tuesday urged Americans to set aside their fears of the Ebola virus and make sure U.S. healthcare workers who go to West Africa are “applauded, thanked and supported” when they return home.

If those workers are successful in fighting the virus at the source of the outbreak, he said, “we don’t have to worry about it here.”

“They are doing God’s work over there,” Obama said, “and they are doing that to keep us safe.”

And a fundamental lack from the Associated Press:

Funding to tame an Ebola outbreak has fallen short

“We don’t really have a pharmaceutical response for Ebola,” said retired Air Force Col. Randall Larsen, the former executive director of the Congressional Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction. “But could you imagine if there were 20,000 sick people in 10 cities and we did not have a pharmaceutical response? We would be completely overwhelmed.”

Emergency preparedness programs ramped up significantly in the U.S. after the Sept. 11 attacks and the 2001 anthrax scare, said Dr. Gerald Parker, a former principal deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Health and Human Services preparedness office. Those efforts included research and development of vaccines and anti-viral drugs.

“It was recognized that there would be a dual benefit from research on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to counter bioterror threats and emerging infectious diseases,” said Parker, now a vice president at Texas A&M Health Science Center.

But a combination of budgetary constraints and politics has delayed many of those plans.

Other quarantine news from the New York Times:

New York State Ebola Policy Allows for In-Home Quarantine

Offering the first detailed account of how New York State’s quarantine order for health care workers returning from West Africa will be put into effect, the Cuomo administration has issued guidelines that go beyond federal recommendations but seek to allow individuals to spend their enforced isolation in a location of their choosing.

The state documents, copies of which were obtained by The New York Times, show an effort by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration to portray the quarantine in a humane manner.

The protocols are meant to ensure “a respectful and supportive approach” to arriving travelers, who are supposed to be “treated with the utmost respect and concern,” according to a document prepared by the State Health Department that outlines the screening procedures.

While the Guardian covers a controversy:

Ebola: Maine deploys state police to quarantined nurse’s home

  • Kaci Hickox, who was held for days in an isolation tent in New Jersey, says she doesn’t plan on obeying home quarantine in her home state

A nurse freed from an Ebola isolation tent in a New Jersey hospital declared on Wednesday the she will not comply with a quarantine request imposed by state officials, saying the policy is not based on science and infringes on her civil liberties.

“I don’t plan on sticking to the guidelines,” nurse Kaci Hickox told the Today show from her home in Maine. “I remain appalled by these home quarantine policies that have been forced upon me, even though I am in perfectly good health and feeling strong and have been this entire time completely symptom-free.”

The governor’s office said in a statement that Maine state police would monitor Kickox’s home “for both her protection and the health of the community”. A TV reporter with the local WLBZ news channel said as of 1pm ET on Wednesday at least two police cars were parked out front of the home.

More from the Washington Post:

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is seeking legal authority to enforce Ebola quarantine on nurse

Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is looking for ways to force a nurse released from mandatory Ebola isolation in New Jersey to abide by a similar 21-day quarantine in Maine.

“The Office of the Governor has been working collaboratively with the State health officials within the Department of Health and Human Services to seek legal authority to enforce the quarantine,” LePage’s office said in a statement Wednesday. “We hoped that the health-care worker would voluntarily comply with these protocols, but this individual has stated publicly she will not abide by the protocols.”

Still more from the Guardian:

Maine prepared to go to court to enforce nurse’s Ebola quarantine order

  • Officials plead with Kaci Hickox to abide by 21-day order
  • ‘I have been this entire time completely symptom-free’

Maine’s top public health official has said the state will if necessary seek a court order to ensure a nurse stays quarantined in her home after returning from treating Ebola patients in Sierra Leone.

Mary Mayhew, the commissioner of the state department of health and human services, pleaded with Hickox to abide by the state’s 21-day at-home quarantine order.

“We do not want to legally enforce an in-home quarantine unless absolutely necessary,” Mayhew said on Wednesday afternoon.

More quarantine politics from Reuters:

Obama sees different Ebola rules for U.S. military than for civilians

President Barack Obama on Tuesday appeared to back more rigorous procedures for dealing with soldiers returning from missions to Ebola-hit West African countries, even as he criticized moves by some U.S. states to quarantine returning civilian health workers.

Obama said that American military personnel were in a “different situation” compared with healthcare workers. While civilians may be discouraged from volunteering to help fight the Ebola if they are facing quarantine on their return, troops were sent as part of their mission and could expect such inconveniences.

“They are already by definition if they are in the military under more circumscribed conditions,” Obama told reporters at the White House. “We don’t expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians.”

More from USA Today:

Quarantine ordered for troops returning from W. Africa

U.S. troops returning from Ebola-stricken nations will be isolated for 21 days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday, a day after the White House raised concerns about states imposing strict quarantines of health care workers returning from West Africa.

Top commanders for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps made the recommendation to Hagel on Tuesday. The Army instituted an isolation requirement for 21 days — the incubation period for the deadly virus — on Monday.

Hagel directed the isolation policy be reviewed in 45 days to see whether it was necessary to continue with it, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.

Still more from the Guardian:

Conflicting Ebola guidelines put US defense secretary in a tough spot

  • Hagel’s choice on quarantining troops returning from west Africa involves rebuking either government scientists or military leaders

The Ebola outbreak has placed the US secretary of defense on the horns of a dilemma: whether to back the military service chiefs about a quarantine for troops or to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which recommends no such thing.

Defense chief Chuck Hagel has received a recommendation for a “quarantine-like program” for all US servicemembers returning from Liberia and Senegal, where they are supporting civilian efforts to contain the disease, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday.

The recommendation, made by the heads of the military services, would expand across the military a directive made on Monday from the army chief, General Raymond Odierno, to keep soldiers returning from Operation United Assistance in Liberia and Senegal under a 21-day period of “controlled monitoring”.

Kirby said Hagel has yet to make a decision, having received the quarantine recommendation earlier on Tuesday. But imposing a broader military quarantine for returning servicemembers goes beyond new guidance set on Monday by the CDC, which urged a home quarantine only for high-risk individuals, such as those whose body fluids have been directly exposed to Ebola. US troops have not been involved in treating Ebola patients.

And yet more from Reuters:

US isolates troops

The U.S. military has started isolating soldiers returning from an Ebola response mission in West Africa and Australia became the first rich nation to impose a visa ban on the affected countries amid global anxiety about the spread of the virus.

The latest measures, along with decisions by some U.S. states to impose mandatory quarantines on health workers returning home from treating Ebola victims in West Africa, have been condemned by health authorities and the United Nations as extreme.

The top health official in charge of dealing with Washington’s response to Ebola warned against turning doctors and nurses who travel to West Africa to tackle Ebola into “pariahs”.

From Reuters, intranational man of mystery:

In Ebola response, Obama’s ‘czar’ stays behind the curtain

It’s not often that a White House official gets mocked on both Saturday Night Live and a major daily newspaper before he makes his first public appearance.

But Ron Klain’s low-profile first week as President Barack Obama’s behind-the-scenes Ebola “czar” has become another attack point for a White House struggling to show it’s on top of the crisis.

Since starting last Wednesday, Klain has been seen only once, in a photo op on his first day, leaving health officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health – and Obama himself – to be the public “face” of the response.

The White House has declined to give details about his activities, especially what role he played as governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey undermined the White House’s attempt to keep the nation calm about the risk posed by healthcare workers returning from Ebola-stricken West Africa.

More predictable politics from the Associated Press:

Jeb Bush: Obama handling of Ebola ‘incompetent’

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday criticized President Barack Obama’s initial handling of the Ebola crisis as “incompetent,” saying it gave rise to unneeded fears among the American public about the virus.

Bush, who is the latest potential Republican presidential candidate to attack the president over Ebola, also said in a wide-ranging discussion at Vanderbilt University that he supports travel restrictions for people who have been to the most severely affected countries in Africa.

Bush said Obama should have been more “clear and concise” about his plans, and lent more credibility to health officials leading the response.

“It looked very incompetent to begin with, and that fueled fears that may not be justified,” Bush said. “And now you have states that are legitimately acting on their concerns, creating a lot more confusion than is necessary.”

Meanwhile, the Obama administration made a notable symbolic move sure to piss off some of Bush’s former Florida constituents, via the Associated Press:

US sends health official to Cuban Ebola meeting

The United States has sent a health official to a Cuban meeting on coordinating Latin America’s response to Ebola. The participation of the Centers for Disease Control’s Central America director is the most concrete sign to date of the two nations’ expressed desire to cooperate against the disease.

The two-day meeting that began Tuesday in Havana is sponsored by ALBA, a forum of left-leaning Latin countries founded by Cuba and Venezuela as a counterweight to U.S. influence in the region.

Cuba is sending at least 256 medical workers to West Africa to treat and prevent Ebola. The World Health Organization says it’s the largest contribution by a single government, although there may be more doctors of other nationalities who are sent by non-governmental organizations.

The U.S. has welcomed Cuba’s response.

Ebolaphobia from the New York Times:

Connecticut Child Barred From School After Trip to Africa; Father Sues

The father of a Connecticut third grader filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday, saying his daughter has been unfairly barred from school amid fears she may have been exposed to the Ebola virus while in Africa.

The daughter, Ikeoluwa Opayemi, and her family, who live in Milford, visited Nigeria for a wedding from Oct. 2 to 13, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in New Haven.

When the girl tried to return to the Meadowside Elementary School, she was told by the school district’s health director that she would have to stay home until Nov. 3 “due to concern from certain parents and teachers that she could transmit Ebola to other children,” according to the lawsuit.

More from Ebolaphobics from Science:

Been to an Ebola-affected country? Stay away from tropical medicine meeting, Louisiana says

Ebola fears are interfering with the world’s premier scientific meeting on tropical diseases. Today, Louisiana state health officials asked anyone who has traveled to Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea in the past 21 days, or has treated Ebola patients elsewhere, to stay away from the annual meeting of the American Society for Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), which begins on Sunday in New Orleans.

ASTMH doesn’t know exactly how many scientists will be affected, but there are several, says incoming president Christopher Plowe, including representatives from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “They are quite disappointed,” says Plowe, a malaria researcher at the University of Maryland. ASTMH sent all meeting registrants an email today containing a letter from Kathy Kliebert, secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Health & Hospitals, and Kevin Davis, director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness, that outlines the state’s position. ASTMH referred registrants to the state’s health department for further information.

“Given that conference participants with a travel and exposure history for [Ebola] are recommended not to participate in large group settings (such as this conference) or to utilize public transport, we see no utility in you traveling to New Orleans to simply be confined to your room,” the letter says.

After the jump, an infectious lie, a sole supplier, North Korean Ebolaphobia, Hong Kong preparedness, fast-tracking a vaccine, anger at Aussie exclusion, Japanese angst leads to a task force, then on to Africa and vigilance in the newest addition to the ranks of the stricken while a border remains open, a study of who survive in Sierra Leone, Tokyo lends mobile assistance, Brits train “Ebola warriors,” missing funds, and survivors are shunned, then on to Liberia and the crisis personified, the healthcare worker’s painful conundrum, another blow to overstretched police resources, long overdue pay for healthcare workers, a cultural belief hampering prevention efforts with specific voices heard, Christian leaders call a three-day fast, a Christian tradition invoked, a change in command of American boots on the ground, and a presidential birthday is deferred, thence to Nigeria and an unanticipated arrival, followed by a precipitous tourism decline in Kenya. . . Continue reading

John Oliver: How sweet [and deadly] it is


With Berkeley voters facing a ballot measure to slap a tax on those addictive, over-sweetened, high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden soft drinks, and facing a barrage of costly ads and endless pseudo-survey phone hustles. consider this not-so-saccharine segment form HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Sugar

Program notes:

Sugar. It’s in everything!

Is it good for us? Well, the sugar industry thinks so.

EnviroWatch: Disease, climate, critters, nukes


We begin with a gripper from the Independent:

Humanity’s ‘inexorable’ population growth is so rapid that even a global catastrophe wouldn’t stop it

The global human population is “locked in” to an inexorable rise this century and will not be easily shifted, even by apocalyptic events such as a third world war or lethal pandemic, a study has found.

There is no “quick fix” to the population time-bomb, because there are now so many people even unimaginable global disasters won’t stop growth, scientists have concluded.

Although measures designed to reduce human fertility in the parts of the world where the population growth is fastest will eventually have a long-term impact on numbers, this has to go hand-in-hand with policies aimed at reducing the consumption of natural resources, they said.

“The inexorable demographic momentum of the global human population is rapidly eroding Earth’s life-support system,” say Professor Corey Bradshaw of the University of Adelaide and Professor Barry Brook of the University of Tasmania in their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Side effects anticipated from BBC News:

Fears that Ebola crisis will set back malaria fight

A leading malaria control expert has said efforts to contain the disease may be jeopardised by the Ebola crisis.

Dr Fatoumata Nafo-Traoré, who heads the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership, said after visiting west Africa: “Understandably, all the health workers’ attention is on Ebola.” Children’s wards which used to be full of malaria patients were becoming “ghost areas,” she added.

In 2012, malaria killed 7,000 people in the three countries worst hit by Ebola. Most of these will have been young children – although malaria is curable. The disease caused almost 4,000 deaths in Sierra Leone in 2012 – as well as around 2,000 deaths in Liberia and approximately 1,000 in Guinea.

Now the three countries are wrestling with the Ebola virus and Dr Nafo-Traoré said she feared that recent gains in preventing malaria could be threatened by the crisis.

Another outbreak from Reuters:

Rise in MERS cases prompts Saudi warning to residents

Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry on Monday urged residents of the world’s top oil exporter to renew precautions against Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) after a rise in new cases of the disease since early September.

The Health Ministry has announced a total of 23 confirmed new cases this month of the virus, which causes coughing, fever and sometimes fatal pneumonia. In addition to the 12 cases detected in September, this brings the total number in the kingdom to 777 since it was identified in 2012, of which 331 died.

Other cases have been found elsewhere in the Middle East, in European countries, the Far East and in the United States, but many of those were found in people who had travelled in Saudi Arabia.

Neglect in the Pakistani polio outbreak from Reuters:

“Disastrous” health campaign feeds Pakistan’s worrying polio spike

Taliban militants have long been the scourge of Pakistan’s polio vaccination campaign, attacking aid workers and the police who protect them as they distribute doses to children.

But experts say there is another reason for the sharp spike in cases of the crippling disease in Pakistan this year – government mismanagement.

“Pakistan’s polio programme is a disaster. It continues to flounder hopelessly, as its virus flourishes,” the Independent Monitoring Board, which advises agencies fighting polio, will say in a report to be released this week.

The prime minister’s polio cell was disbanded during 2013 elections, the new government delayed reconstituting it, and in recent months the prime minister has been consumed with protests in the capital that have only just ended.

More from the Express Tribune in Karachi:

PM Nawaz took six months to appoint official responsible for polio

Despite an alarming rise in the number of polio cases reported in Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took six months to appoint an official responsible for the epidemic while a funding plan for the eradication was only approved last month.

Protests in the capital city in recent months have kept the PM consumed resulting in his government delaying the reconstitution of the polio cell which was disbanded during the 2013 elections.

That meant provinces did not pay workers their stipends of $2.50 a day on time, said Shahnaz Wazir Ali, a polio adviser to Sindh province.

“We had a loss of about nine to 10 months, which is a very big setback,” Ali said.

Climactic concerns from Deutsche Welle:

Climate experts meet in Copenhagen amid fresh warnings

The UN climate chief has urged world leaders not to lose hope in tackling the issue of global warming. Hundreds of researchers and government delegates are taking part in a five-day climate conference in Copenhagen.

Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said at the opening session of the Copenhagen conference that policymakers should “avoid being overcome by the seeming hopelessness of addressing climate change.”

“It is not hopeless,” Pachauri said in a speech relayed on the IPCC website.

The IPCC meeting is seeking to adopt a concise report – encapsulating the three documents released over the past 13 months – on how to tackle and mitigate climate change.

The 100-page document “will provide the road map by which policymakers will hopefully find their way to a global agreement to finally reverse course on climate change,” said Pachauri.

Chinese GMO complications for Big Agra from MintPress News:

Syngenta Facing Legal Blitz Over Genetically Modified Corn

Biotech giant Syngenta’s fact sheet on a genetically modified corn urges farmers to “plant with confidence,” yet when China rejected this corn because the country hadn’t approved that particular product for its market, the entire U.S. corn industry suffered

An unusual cluster of legal filings in recent weeks has capped a tumultuous year for the Swiss biotechnology giant Syngenta Corp., and highlights ongoing concerns over the inability of the United States to keep genetically modified crops separate from conventional crops.

This month, three class action proposals were filed on behalf of farmers in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska, with the potential to include almost anyone who grew or sold corn commercially across the country over the past year. The moves came just weeks after similar lawsuits were filed by two of the country’s largest grain exporters, Cargill and Trans Coastal Supply.

All of these legal actions revolve around genetically modified corn hybrids that Syngenta began selling in 2009. While those products have been approved for general use in the U.S., they have not been approved in China, and there is no formal indication as to whether they will be.

The problem for U.S. corn farmers and exporters is that the current commodities system in this country makes it almost impossible to compartmentalize the country’s massive corn production. Instead, corn from different farmers, fields and states is all consolidated as a single product.

Last November, Chinese authorities found traces of Syngenta’s hybrid – known as MIR162, under the brand name Agrisure Viptera – in massive shipments from the U.S. So, they rejected the entire sale, and have taken similar actions since then.

But that opposition doesn’t mean China does like GMOS, via MIT Technology Review:

China’s Growing Bets on GMOs

  • New technology and large government research initiatives in -genetically modified crops are giving China a storehouse for a more populous future.

How will China get enough to eat? More than 1.3 billion people live in the world’s most populous nation, and another 100 million will join them by 2030. China is already a net food importer, and people are eating more meat, putting further demands on land used to grow food. Meanwhile, climate change could cut yields of crucial crops—rice, wheat, and corn—by 13 percent over the next 35 years. Mindful of these trends, China’s government spends more than any other on research into genetically modified crops. It’s searching for varieties with higher yields and resistance to pests, disease, drought, and heat. The results are showing up in the nation’s hundreds of plant biotech labs.

Environmental devastation in China from Want China Times:

Over 50% of China’s coastal wetlands gone due to land reclamation

Unregulated land reclamation has caused serious coastal erosion across the intertidal zones of the Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea, threatening flocks of migratory birds and local environmental conditions, not to mention local residents’ daily lives, Shangahi’s China Business News reports.

Thus far, an total area of about 2,000sq km has been reclaimed from the Bohai Sea over the past two decades and the area is still expanding.

The coast of Bohai Bay and the northwestern Yellow Sea are critical for water birds migrating along the East Asia-Australasian flyway. Three major migratory bird sites are located in the reclaimed area.

Faced with the challenge of coping with a growing population and seeking economic development, the provinces and municipalities of the Bohai Economic Rim have sought to develop the coastal areas and reclaim land for industrial expansion, which has become an integral part of local authorities’ growth strategy, the report said.

And a violent protest in France from VICE News:

Protester Killed After Clash With Riot Police at Disputed Dam Site in France

A 21-year-old activist died Saturday night after a violent clash between police and demonstrators at the site of a controversial dam project in the Sivens Forest in southwest France. More than 2,000 environmental activists gathered in the woodlands for a rally that turned violent when militants attacked security forces.

Speaking to radio station France Info, local prosecutor Claude Derens said that the initial results of a post-mortem examination confirmed that the man died as a result of an explosion. Derens also stated that it was too early to know yet if the death was caused by a grenade blast, a hypothesis put forward by several witness statements. Investigations are still underway, and further results are expected tomorrow.

Body found near disputed dam site in France’s Sivens Forest. Read more here.

The timing of the autopsy coincides with the publication of a report commissioned by the French Ministry of Ecology that criticizes the decision by local officials to proceed with the construction of the controversial dam. Eco-activists argue that the dam, which would provide irrigation to surrounding farms, poses a huge environmental threat to the biodiverse Sivens wetland.

From ABC Australia via Journeyman Pictures, Down Under coal questions:

Catalyst: Coal Dust – How the consequences of Australia’s coal boom are choking the population of Newcastle, New South Wales

Program notes:

Australia is among the world’s largest coal producers and exporters – not something to brag about when you account for the worrying health consequences in port cities such as Newcastle. Since the mining boom in the late 1990s, respiratory diseases such as asthma have been climbing sharply, largely attributed to dust particulates given off in the extraction and transportation of coal. Mark Horstman heads to Newcastle, New South Wales, and investigates the efforts that are underway to identify harmful concentrations of coal dust particulates.

After the jump, avian slaughter in the Balkans, a seal hunting subsidy slashed, China’s flagrant disregard of oceanic fishing rules, a swan population clash in Britain, a remarkable viral resurrection, another American news medium slashes environmental coverage, an Asian partnership for the spoils of oceanic oil, asbestos in Japanese schools, and the latest Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Health, climate, carbon, water


And Fukushimapocalypse Now!

First, from New Zimbabwe, health infrastructural weakness consequences:

Shortage of eye doctors hampers cataracts fight

A CRITICAL shortage of eye doctors is hampering efforts by the Ministry of Health to deal effectively with the problem of eye cataracts in Zimbabwe, according to statistics released last week.

At least 60 000 people have eye cataracts across the country.

Statistics released in the National Eye Health Strategy (NEHS) survey by the Ministry of Health shows that a lot of people are remaining untreated due to the non-availability of eye specialists in hospitals near them.

From Reuters, another country, another weakness:

Amid Afghanistan’s escalating war, a battle to beat polio

Tens of thousands of volunteers fanned out across Afghanistan this week, braving deteriorating security and distrusting parents to administer two chilled drops of the oral polio vaccine each to millions of children.

Keeping the highly infectious polio disease in check in any country is a daunting task. But in a nation where Taliban militants are fast gaining ground against government forces, it’s also a dangerous one.

Afghanistan is one of only three nations where the polio virus is still endemic, along with Pakistan and Nigeria. For a nation at war, its anti-polio campaign has had remarkable success, bringing the number of cases down from 63 in 1999 to just 14 in 2013. Only eight new cases have been confirmed so far this year, compared to 108 in Pakistan.

But as fighting between Afghan forces and militants intensifies ahead of the withdrawal of most foreign troops this year, health workers risk losing precious access to the places – and children – they need to keep tabs on.

From the Contributor, frack-tious politics:

Santa Barbara: Beautiful Enough to Frack, Says Big Oil Companies Spending Millions on Ballot Measure

There are few in the mainstream media who challenge the political establishment’s false claim that California is a “green” leader, yet here is more indisputable financial data showing how Big Oil in fact is the largest corporate lobby in the state and owns both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The battle over Yes on Measure P, the initiative to ban fracking and other extreme oil extraction techniques in Santa Barbara County, is a David vs. Goliath battle that parallels the No on Proposition 1 campaign. Big oil companies are dumping millions into the coastal county to defeat the measure, just like corporate agribusiness, billionaires and oil companies are spending millions to pass Governor Jerry Brown’s water bond.

The Yes on Measure P campaign had a war chest of about $284,000 as of October 16, 2014, largely from hundreds of individuals and county resident, according to the Santa Barbara Independent. This amount notably comes to only a small fraction of the anti-Measure P funds.

The same article reported that Measure P opponents have raised $7.6 million. “Californians for Energy Independence” has funneled over $5 million of its $7.6 million war chest to the ‘No’ side.

“The two single-biggest donors to the committee have been Chevron ($2.5 million) and Aera Energy ($2.1 million), the latter of which is rumored to be contemplating applying for 300 cyclic steam injection wells here,” according to the Independent. “Other Santa Barbara County interests that have contributed to that state group include Santa Maria Energy and Pacific Coast Energy Company, both of whose future plans could be thwarted if the initiative passes. The regional fundraising team for ‘No’ has seen additional donations from Santa Maria Energy ($88,134) and Pacific Coast Energy Company ($157,035), as well as Venoco ($80,000) and ERG Operating Company ($90,893), which recently applied for 233 cyclic steam injection wells.”

From the Los Angeles Times, business as usual:

Despite California climate law, carbon emissions may be a shell game

California’s pioneering climate-change law has a long reach, but that doesn’t mean all its mandates will help stave off global warming.

To meet the requirement that it cut carbon emissions, for example, Southern California Edison recently sold its stake in one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants, located hundreds of miles out of state.

But the Four Corners Generating Station in New Mexico still burns coal — only the power that Edison once delivered to California now goes to a different utility’s customers in Arizona.

Similar swaps are taking place at coal plants throughout the West, and they underscore the limitations California faces as it tries to confront climate change in the absence of a coherent federal plan.

More carbon cash from the Japan Times:

U.N. climate chief urges Japan to slash emissions, and to shell out $1 billion

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, has urged Japan to set an ambitious goal of emission cuts from 2020 and contribute over $1 billion to a new fund for combating global warming.

“My expectation of Japanese contributions is the same as my expectation from every other country,” Figueres said in an interview on Saturday.

Parties to the convention are required to announce their reduction targets by the end of March. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on Friday began discussions on the matter.

Figueres also urged Japan to play an active role in the Green Climate Fund, which will be one of the major topics at the 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. framework convention (COP20), to be held in December in Peru. The fund is designed to facilitate the fight against global warming in developing countries.

From the Guardian, the complexities of nature:

Global warming has doubled risk of harsh winters in Eurasia, research finds

  • Severe winters are more likely over the next few decades due to climate change melting Arctic ice and sending freezing air south, according to new research

The risk of severe winters in Europe and northern Asia has been doubled by global warming, according to new research. The counter-intuitive finding is the result of climate change melting the Arctic ice cap and causing new wind patterns that push freezing air and snow southwards.

Severe winters over the last decade have been associated with those years in which the melting of Arctic sea ice was greatest. But the new work is the most comprehensive computer modelling study to date and indicates the frozen winters are being caused by climate change, not simply by natural variations in weather.

“The origin of frequent Eurasian severe winters is global warming,” said Prof Masato Mori, at the University of Tokyo, who led the new research. Climate change is heating the Arctic much faster than lower latitudes and the discovery that the chances of severe winters has already doubled shows that the impacts of global warming are not only a future threat. Melting Arctic ice has also been implicated in recent wet summers in the UK.

Power over nature [in both senses] via Al Jazeera America:

Dam-building boom could be electricity boon, environmental blight

  • Hydropower supply slated to double in next 10 years, helping developing world but posing risks to watersheds, climate

A dam-building boom across the developing world will bring electricity to growing, power-hungry cities across Asia, Africa and Latin America. But it can also put the world’s climate and people at risk, according to a new study by researchers aiming to reduce the host of environmental problems that can come with dam construction.

Researchers at Tübingen University in Germany have have compiled a database of the 3,700 different dam projects planned or underway worldwide. They predict that global hydropower capacity will double in the next 10 years — an increase set to reduce by 20 percent the number of free-flowing rivers left on Earth.

The building boom also poses a hazard to the rich biodiversity of major river watersheds, including those of the Mekong, Amazon and Congo, on which millions depend.

And from Agence France-Presse, water woes in a troubled nation:

Pakistan’s water supply facing an uncertain future

Program notes:

In northern Pakistan melting glaciers are raising concern that water reserves are under threat like never before with scientists warning that the country’s future food security is at stake.

Water watcher woes from the Observer:

After 42 years of charting the health of our seas, scientist’s studies now face the axe

  • Guillemot survey has provided wealth of data on climate – but funding could be cut

Tim Birkhead has been monitoring guillemots for 42 years – with intriguing results. His surveys, carried out on Skomer island in Wales, have provided key information about the wellbeing of the sea birds’ population around the British Isles and has also produced important insights into the health of our seas.

However, the zoologist’s four-decade-long project is now threatened with closure. The newly formed quango Natural Resources Wales has said it will not continue to fund the £12,000-a-year survey, as part of a cost-cutting exercise. Unless cash can be raised as a matter of urgency, this year’s survey will be the last.

The news has dismayed the 64-year-old professor of zoology at Sheffield University. “This is an incredibly short-sighted decision,” Birkhead said. “We have built an extremely important database of guillemot population parameters and breeding rates, which tells a great deal about variations in numbers of these birds, about the health of their populations and about the health of our seas in general. But that entire database is now under threat merely to save a modest amount of money.”

A lethal alien invader from the Independent:

Conservationists call for ban on ‘Tree of hell’ that threatens to damage native plants

Dubbed the “tree of heaven” for its eagerness to reach up to the sky, Ailanthus altissima has become a favourite in many UK parks and gardens.

But conservationists are now calling for the “tree of hell” – as some have renamed this import from China – to be banned because of the threat it poses to native plants.

For, despite the angelic common name, it has a distinctly sinister side. The tree emits a poison to stop other species growing nearby, has a smell like rancid cashew nuts and sends out a mass of suckers that smother other plants.

However, despite such traits, the call for the tree to be added to the Government’s official list of banned, invasive species is likely to be fought vigorously by the garden-centre industry.

A GM ploy from the Observer:

‘Silent revolution’ in biotech farming is overtaking GM, says Greenpeace

  • Pressure group accused of hypocrisy by geneticists who say the same science is behind genetic modification and Greenpeace-approved Marker Assisted Selection

The row over genetically modified crops should be a thing of the past because they have failed to live up to their promise, according to Greenpeace, which will publish a report this week highlighting the successes of biotechnology projects it claims are outstripping GM in improving food production around the world.

The environmental campaign group – which has long been against GM foods – claims that a “silent revolution” in agriculture is showing a stronger track record than the GM process, which it labels as having shown disappointing results.

“Whilst the debate between GM and non-GM has used up most of the political oxygen, this report shows it is not the only – or indeed, the best – show in town. There is a growing range of non-GM biotechnologies which show how a growing world population can be fed at a time when natural environments are increasingly stressed,” said Greenpeace chief scientist Dr Doug Parr.

And on to Fukushimapoicalypse Now!, first with yet another radiation spike from NHK WORLD:

High levels of radiation found at Fukushima plant

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant says it has found high levels of radioactive cesium in groundwater in the compound.

Officials of Tokyo Electric Power Company say water taken on Wednesday from a monitoring well contained 460,000 becquerels of cesium per liter. Water from another well contained 424,000 becquerels.

The wells are several meters west of the No. 2 reactor building. There are about 40 around the reactor buildings.

Officials say the levels are 800 to 900 times the previous peak level of 500 becquerels per liter.

And our final item, and certain to inspire your confidence in Abe’s nuclear dreams, via NHK WORLD:

Panel likely to drop plan to check nuclear workers

A panel to Japan’s nuclear regulator will likely shelve proposals for a system of criminal record checks and other screenings of workers at nuclear facilities designed to prevent terrorism. Facility operators will likely run background checks instead.

The panel of the Nuclear Regulation Authority has been studying the logistics of checking the personal information of workers, including criminal records held by the government and financial debt.
Similar systems are in use in other countries. A system was proposed for Japan as a way of preventing terrorists and collaborators from entering nuclear facilities.

Panel members agreed that the operators of facilities, such as utilities, should run background checks on workers based on worker statements.
Some members pointed out the limitations of a system based on voluntary declarations.

EbolaWatch: Panic, pols, Africa, fear & drugs


And much, much more.

We begin on the lighter side, given what follows.

From Reuters Plus:

Cuddly Ebola toy almost wiped out

Program note:

It’s probably the only time you’ll find Ebola associated with “Add to Wishlist”. Giantmicrobes.com’s fluffy rendition of the deadly virus is completely sold out.

A more serious note — much more serious — from Agência Angola Press:

World must stop Ebola in West Africa or face ‘pandemic’ – Cuba’s Castro

The world must confront Ebola in West Africa to prevent what could become one of the worst pandemics in human history, Cuban President Raul Castro said on Monday.

“I am convinced that if this threat is not stopped in West Africa with an immediate international response … it could become one of the gravest pandemics in human history,” Castro told a summit of the leftist ALBA bloc of Latin American and Caribbean countries in Havana.

Cuba is sending 461 doctors and nurses to West Africa, the largest medical contingent of any single country to fight the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

Another warning from the Independent:

Ebola outbreak: Nowhere is safe until virus is contained in Africa, claims the top doctor who beat it in Nigeria

Dr Faisal Shuaib, the incident manager for Nigeria’s Ebola response, told The Independent that Nigeria was still under threat, and that no state could afford to be complacent.

“Yes we have contained an outbreak, but there’s always a threat that we could be infected again by individuals travelling from affected states,” he said. “The outbreak in West Africa is two different stories, a success story in Nigeria, and a story of human tragedy [in the worst-affected states].

“There are still lot of resources required in Sierra Leone and Liberia to contain the outbreak. We need international clarity that as long as the outbreak continues in West Africa, then no country, no individual in the world is safe from contracting the disease. We need to mobilise resources – human, material and financial – to these countries to contain the outbreak there,” he said.

“Then and only then can we say we have dealt with this as a global community as one human race.”

From Shanghai Daily, a key reason for the win:

Nigeria declared Ebola-free thanks to doctor who died from the virus

The first case in Nigeria was imported from Liberia when Liberian-American diplomat Patrick Sawyer collapsed at the main international airport in Lagos on July 20.

Authorities were caught unawares, airport staff were not prepared and no hospitals had an isolation unit, so he was able to infect several people, including health workers at the hospital where he was taken.

But they acted fast after the doctor on duty, who later herself died of the disease, quarantined him against his will and contacted officials.

Ameyo Adadevoh, the doctor at the First Consultants hospital in Lagos, kept him in the hospital despite his protests and those of the Liberian government, preventing the dying man spreading it further, said Benjamin Ohiaeri, a doctor there who survived the disease.

“We agreed that the thing to do was not to let him out of the hospital,” Ohiaeri said, even after he became aggressive and demanded to be set free. “If we had let him out, within 24 hours of being here, he would have contacted and infected a lot more people … The lesson there is: stand your ground.”

From South China Morning Post, a promise:

WHO chief pledges ‘transparent’ review of its handling of Ebola crisis

  • WHO chief Margaret Chan says agency will be upfront about how it handled disease, after damning internal report details its initial failings

The head of the World Health Organisation said the agency would be upfront about its handling of the Ebola outbreak after an internal report detailed failures in containing the virus – while a senior WHO official praised the precautions China has taken.

In a draft document, the WHO says “nearly everyone” involved in the Ebola response failed to notice factors that turned the outbreak into the biggest on record.

It blames incompetent staff, bureaucracy and a lack of reliable information.

WHO director general and former Hong Kong director of health Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun said on Monday that the report was a “work in progress”. Chan, who was attending a conference in Tunisia, said: “I have promised WHO will be fully transparent and accountable.”

The Wire covers the political:

Democrats Defy Obama in Favor of an Ebola Travel Ban

  • The question of restricting flights to insulate the U.S. has become a classic campaign litmus test

Worried about the political fallout from the Ebola outbreak, vulnerable Senate Democrats are declaring their support for a U.S. travel ban from the afflicted countries in west Africa.

In multiple cases, the Democrats are shifting from their earlier positions on the question, despite arguments from senior U.S. medical officials and the White House that stiff restrictions would only make it harder to prevent an infected person from entering the country. Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire joined the crowd on Monday night, saying through a spokesman that she “strongly supports any and all effective measures to keep Americans safe including travel bans if they would work.” Shaheen said last week she didn’t think a travel ban makes sense, but she is facing heavy criticism from her Republican opponent, former Senator Scott Brown, on the issue. Under pressure from Republicans, Senator Kay Hagan came out in support of a ban late last week, and Senators Mark Pryor and Mark Udall have also called for travel restrictions.

More from BuzzFeed:

Democratic Congressional Candidate: Ebola Is Coming To Nevada, Ban Travel From Africa

  • “I wasn’t sure why they didn’t stop tourists visas a week ago from Africa. I wasn’t sure about that, why that hasn’t happened?”

A Democratic congressional candidate says Ebola is coming to southern Nevada and wants to ban travel from Africa.

In a video from last Thursday, Erin Bilbray, the Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Joe Heck in Nevada’s 3rd District

Bilbray said hospitals need to be equipped to handle Ebola saying, “I think it is gonna happen here in southern Nevada, god forbid.”

Next, from Gallup, the trend line revealing declining confidence in the ability of America’s government to handle an Ebola outbreak on this side of the Atlantic:

BLOG Ebola

Now that white folks are getting sick. . .from Homeland Security News Wire:

Congress ready to allocate additional funds to agencies working on Ebola

Some members of Congress are preparing to offer additional funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies, but according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, the Obama administration has not decided how much additional funding it will request from Congress to combat the epidemic.

Efforts to contain and eliminate Ebola in affected countries need more U.S. government funding, according to aid organizations and public health agencies involved in the matter. Some members of Congress are preparing to offer additional funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and other federal agencies, but according to White House press secretary Josh Earnest, the Obama administration has not decided how much additional funding it will request from Congress to combat the epidemic.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who heads the Labor and Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, has asked his staff to work with the administration to figure out what resources will be needed to fight Ebola in the United States and West Africa. “Areas of focus in these discussions on funding for the U.S. Ebola response include the need for resources to expand quarantine stations, train and equip health workers, test potential treatments and vaccines, and expand our response in West Africa,” an aide to Harkin said.

From the Associated Press, and why aren’t we surprised?:

Insurer considers Ebola exclusion in some policies

Global property and casualty insurer Ace Ltd. says it may exclude Ebola coverage from some of its general liability policies.

The Swiss company said Tuesday that it is making the decision on a “case by case” basis for new and renewal policies under its global casualty unit, which offers coverage for U.S.-based companies and organizations that travel or have operations outside the U.S.

Ace said in a statement that it is evaluating the risk for clients that might travel to or operate in select African countries with higher exposure to the Ebola virus. It did not specify how many policies this might affect and declined to say if it has put an exclusions of this sort in place yet.

The company appears to be one of the first insurers to disclose that it is making modifications specific to Ebola, but that doesn’t mean it is the only one.

Laying down the rules with the Guardian:

Ebola health workers must be covered head to toe, say new US guidelines

  • Nurses’ groups and others had called for revised advice
  • Stricter CDC guidance provides ‘extra margin of safety

Federal health officials issued new guidelines to promote head-to-toe protection for health workers treating Ebola patients.

Officials have been scrambling to come up with new advice since two Dallas nurses became infected while caring for the first person diagnosed with the virus in the United States.

The new guidelines issued on Monday set a firmer standard, calling for full-body garb and hoods that protect workers’ necks; setting rigorous rules for removal of equipment and disinfection of gloved hands; and calling for a “site manager” to supervise the putting on and taking off of equipment.

Nurses’ groups and other hospital workers had pressed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the new guidance, saying the old advice was confusing and inadequate, and workers felt unprepared.

From the New York Times, preparations:

New York Health Care Workers Gather for Ebola Training

Thousands of health care workers, including janitors and security guards, doctors and nurses, gathered at the Javits Convention Center in Manhattan on Tuesday for a combination training session and pep rally to prepare them in the event that the Ebola virus is found in New York.

The workers are being taught how to recognize Ebola and prevent it from spreading. Though many said they had already received training at their hospitals, the session was intended to address concerns that existing practices were inadequate, after two nurses in Dallas contracted the virus after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who died on Oct. 8. The session’s organizers planned to communicate the latest protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had been updated as recently as Monday.

Though several New York hospitals have taken in patients with symptoms signaling Ebola, like high fever, none have tested positive for the virus. To date the only three people to be diagnosed with it in the United States are the three in Dallas.

From CCTV America, another impact of the Ebola crisis in the U.S.:

Liberians in the US facing stigma of the virus

Program notes:

Liberians in the United States say they are facing social isolation as a result of fears that they will pass on the Ebola virus. CCTV America’s Daniel Ryntjes reports.

From TheLocal.de, a call form Germany:

Steinmeier wants epidemic task force

At the World Health Summit in Berlin, the Ebola crisis took centre stage at talks meant to create plans for how to handle future outbreaks.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier opened the conference on Sunday with his own ideas.

“One could possibly conceive of something like the White Helmets. Not an organisation that is always there, but a pool of experts, of doctors, of nursing staff, that one can call upon in these kind of crisis situations,” he said at his key note speech.

At a press conference, Steinmeier added that a coordinated effort is most important to stem the spread of the Ebola outbreak.

Consultation from Agência Angola Press:

WHO’s emergency committee on Ebola to meet Wednesday

The World Health Organization’s emergency committee on Ebola will meet on Wednesday to review the scope of the outbreak and whether additional measures are needed, a WHO spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

“This is the third time this committee will meet since August to evaluate the situation. Much has happened, there have been cases in Spain and the United States, while Senegal and Nigeria have been removed from the list of countries affected by Ebola,” WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib told a news briefing.

The 20 independent experts, who declared that the outbreak in West Africa constituted an international public health emergency on Aug. 8, can recommend travel and trade restrictions. The committee has already recommended exit screening of passengers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

From The Hill, case closed:

American journalist declared free of Ebola

An American freelance journalist has been cleared of the Ebola virus after he fell ill while working as a cameraman for NBC News and Vice News in Liberia, according to reports.

Ashoka Mukpo tweeted Tuesday night that he’s had three consecutive days of negative Ebola tests and called the discovery “a profound relief.”

Another Northerner cured, from TheLocal.no:

Norwegian Ebola victim free of virus

A Norwegian woman who contracted the Ebola virus while working for Doctors Without Borders in Sierra Leoneis now free of the virus and was released from an isolation unit on Monday.

“Today I am in good health and am no longer contagious,” Silje Lehne Michalsen told reporters just minutes after Oslo University Hospital announced she had recovered.

Profits aplenty, via the Associated Press:

Ebola causing spike in demand for hospital gear

Manufacturers and distributors of impermeable gowns and full-body suits meant to protect medical workers from Ebola are scrambling to keep up with a surge of new orders from U.S. hospitals, with at least one doubling its staff and still facing a weekslong backlog. Many hospitals say they already have the proper equipment in place but are ordering more supplies to prepare for a possible new case of Ebola.

This gear is made of material that does not absorb fluids and is crucial to preventing the spread of the virus, which has infected thousands across West Africa, many of whom caught the disease while caring for those infected. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact, through cuts or mucous membranes, with bodily fluids such as blood, vomit and feces, and proper protective equipment helps prevent doctors and nurses from accidentally getting any fluids in their eyes, nose or mouth.

Hospitals are paying close attention to the type of protective gear they stock after two nurses contracted Ebola earlier this month while caring for a Liberian man dying of the disease at a Dallas hospital. The nurses were exposed to the disease during what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called a “breach in protocol” at the hospital. But some medical professionals criticized the CDC for distributing guidelines that do not require medical staff caring for infected patients to don full-body suits or wear multiple layers of gloves.

Likewise, from Deutsche Welle:

Disinfection a growing market

  • Demand for disinfection and disease protection gear is booming amidst concern about the Ebola epidemic

The McClatchy Washington Bureau covers amelioration:

Ebola panic may be subsiding in Dallas

Panic over Ebola appears to be waning across much of the Dallas-Fort Worth region as residents drop off the quarantine list and more is learned about how the virus spreads.

Numbers of note from the Washington Post:

U.S. influx of travelers from Ebola-stricken nations slows

During the first five days of screening, there were an average of about 80 travelers a day from the three countries, down from the average of 150 that had been expected.

Enhanced screening at JFK — where about 43 percent of the passengers enter — began on Oct. 11, and was implemented five days later at Dulles and airports in Atlanta, Chicago and Newark.

The number of West Africans arriving in the United States has been closely held by the White House and the Department of Homeland Security.

More from the Los Angeles Times:

Passengers from Ebola-stricken countries to use five U.S. airports

Passengers flying to the U.S. from three Ebola-stricken countries will have to fly into one of five designated American airports for additional screening, including having their temperature taken, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson announced Tuesday.

The restriction was immediately criticized by House Republicans who want a complete ban on travelers coming from West African countries with high Ebola infection rates.

Starting Wednesday, airline passengers coming from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea must fly into New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport or Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Johnson said.

More screening from the Japan Times:

India to step up travel surveillance to stop any Ebola outbreak

India stepped up its efforts on Tuesday to prevent an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, conducting mock drills at its airports and installing surveillance systems.

Global health authorities are struggling to contain the world’s worst Ebola epidemic since the disease was identified in 1976. The virus has killed more than 4,500 people across the three most-affected countries, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

All international airports and seaports in India will soon be equipped with thermal scanners — similar to Nigeria, which has been declared Ebola-free — and other detection equipment, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Japan screens, and more from Jiji Press:

Fears Grows over Possible Ebola Outbreak in Japan

Japan has become concerned about a possible Ebola outbreak in the country, prompting the health ministry to take precautions such as training doctors and implementing preventive measures at airports.

Fears have grown since medical workers in the United States and Spain suffered secondary infections from sufferers who entered the countries from Africa.

In Japan, Ebola hemorrhagic fever is in the Type 1 category of most dangerous infectious diseases. Only 45 designated medical institutions nationwide are allowed to accept those believed to have the virus.    Each institution can admit between one and four patients.

More from the Japan Times:

Japan orders travelers from Ebola nations to report twice daily

Health minister Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Tuesday travelers arriving from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone are now required to report their health condition to officials twice daily for three weeks, regardless of whether they have had known contact with Ebola patients.

The move comes amid growing fears of a global Ebola pandemic. Japan’s response so far includes the introduction of a bill in the Diet that would give local governments greater power to require patients with an infectious disease to submit samples for testing for Ebola.

Shiozaki said the quarantine requirement for travelers will last 21 days.

Still more from Nikkei Asian Review:

Japan getting the lowdown on Ebola from US military

Japan sent five officials, including members of the Self-Defense Forces, to the headquarters of the United States Africa Command in Germany on Tuesday to collect information about the Ebola outbreak and help prevent the spread of the disease.

One of the five, an Air Self-Defense Force major, will remain at the facility in Stuttgart to gather information on the status of regions affected by Ebola and related activities by the armed forces of other countries. The officer is also expected to support the American military in coordinating transportation of personnel and supplies in affected areas.

Some in the U.S. government reportedly want the SDF to participate in activities in affected areas, including constructing medical facilities and transporting supplies. But Japan intends to stay put for now.

And tuurnabout’s fair play, from the Washington Post:

Now an African country is screening incoming Americans and Spaniards for Ebola

According to the U.S. Embassy in Rwanda, the tiny land-locked East African nation has begun screening passengers from the United States and Spain for the deadly virus.

From a note on the embassy’s Web site:

Visitors who have been in the United States or Spain during the last 22 days are now required to report their medical condition — regardless of whether they are experiencing symptoms of Ebola — by telephone by dialing 114 between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. for the duration of their visit to Rwanda (if less than 21 days), or for the first 21 days of their visit to Rwanda. Rwandan authorities continue to deny entry to visitors who traveled to Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, or Sierra Leone within the past 22 days.

The screening measures have been in place for two days, and images apparently showing the screening forms have been posted on Twitter.

After the jump, another Carribean travel ban, sparse preparations in Pakistan, British Columbia gets ready, scares and readiness in China, Europe boosts its donations, a new high-speed diagnostic tests as new treatments are rushed into production and vaccine trials commence, Cuba sends more medical teams with thousands of volunteers waiting in the wings, food woes intensify and care gaps wide, the Sierra Leone death tool continues to rise and dubious treatments flourish, retired soldiers are pressed into service, and recovered patients faces growing stigmatization, on to Liberia and a call for border monitors and Kenyans in Monrovia hankering for home, a call for blood, lost survivors, memories of civil war, and tightened controls on the press, Kenya orders border scanners, and the safari business in decline. . .    Continue reading