Category Archives: Science

Sci Fi with a twist: From European Space Agency


Starring Lord Peter Baelish — er Aiden Gillen — and Aisling Franciosi and using the latest in CGI technology, the video promotes a landmark upcoming rendezvous in space, the 12 November attempt to land an instrument package on a comet as it hurtles through space.

From the European Space Agency:

Ambition

Program notes:

Ambition is a collaboration between Platige Image and ESA. Directed by Tomek Bagin’ski and starring Aiden Gillen and Aisling Franciosi, Ambition was shot on location in Iceland, and screened on 24 October 2014 during the British Film Institute’s celebration of Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, at the Southbank, London.

More from BBC News:

The European Space Agency has released a short scifi movie to promote its audacious Rosetta comet mission.

Called, suitably, Ambition, it stars Game of Thrones’ Aidan Gillen and actress Aisling Franciosi as master and apprentice on an alien world.

In the seven-minute drama, the pair discuss the presence of water on planets and the origin of life.

These are themes Esa’s Rosetta probe hopes to address in its study of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

Next month, the spacecraft will drop a small robot on to the surface of the 4km-wide ice body to analyse its chemistry.

Theory holds that comets may have been responsible for delivering water to the planets early in the Solar System’s history. They could even have delivered important chemistry that helped to kick-start biology. The mission intends to test these ideas.

Like all cinematic releases these days, the film comes with it’s own “making of” featurette:

The making of ‘Ambition’

Program notes:

The making of the short film Ambition, a collaboration between Platige Image and ESA. Directed by Tomek Bagin’ski and starring Aiden Gillen and Aisling Franciosi, Ambition was shot on location in Iceland, produced in Poland, and screened on 24 October 2014 during the British Film Institute’s celebration of Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder, at the Southbank, London.

EnviroWrap: Ills, climate, water, & nukes


Plus a whole lot more.

We open with another deadly disease with a global rich, first with a graphic from disease which preys on the poor, via Agence France-Presse:

BLOG TB

More from BBC News:

WHO revises global tuberculosis estimate up by 500,000

The World Health Organization has revised up its estimate of how many people have tuberculosis by almost 500,000.

In 2013 nine million people had developed TB around the world, up from 8.6 million in 2012, the WHO said. However, the number of people dying from TB continued to decline, it added.

TB campaigners said that one of the biggest problems in tackling the deadly disease was gauging how many people were affected.

About 1.5 million people had died in 2013 from TB, including 360,000 people who had been HIV positive, the WHO said in its Global Tuberculosis Report 2014. And in 2012, there had been 1.3 million tuberculosis deaths.

Next, the latest move in a fight against a growing outbreak in the Caribbean from Public Radio International:

Jamaica declares a state of emergency to try to stop the spread of painful chikungunya virus

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced on Monday that her country is in a “national emergency” this week after the outbreak of the chikungunya virus.

Chikungunya is a mosquito-borne virus transmitted by Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes. “It’s very rarely lethal,” says Dr. Babatunde Olowokure of the Caribbean Public Health Agency — but it’s very painful.

The diesase shares many of the same symptoms as dengue: high fever, headaches, muscle and joint pains, nausea and rashes. The symptoms can last up to 10 months, and have lasted years in some cases.

“This [disease] tends to occur in people who have, maybe, an underlying disease, such as hyper-tension or a cardiovascular issue, and our elderly,” Olowokure says.

The disease has spread throughout the region since surfacing on the island of St. Martin in 2013. Now there are almost 800,000 suspected cases in the Caribbean.

The epidemic’s reach from the Centers for Disease Control:

BLOG Chimi

Antidepressants depressing avian populations?, via the Guardian:

Prozac may be harming bird populations, study suggests

  • Starlings who were fed same levels of antidepressant drug found in sewage earthworms suffered loss of libido and appetite

Increasing consumption of antidepressant drugs may be helping humans but damaging the health of the bird population, according to a new study.

An expert who has looked at the effects of passive Prozac-taking on starlings says it has changed not only their feeding habits but also their interest in mating.

Dr Kathryn Arnold, an ecologist from the University of York, said: “Females who’d been on it were not interested in the male birds we introduced them to. They sat in the middle of the cage, not interested at all.”

Big Agra bites back, from BBC News:

EU pesticide bans ‘could hit UK crops’

The EU’s decision to ban the use of some pesticides could threaten UK crops, increase food prices and hit farmers’ profits, a report has claimed.

The report commissioned by three farming bodies said the EU was on course to “ban” use of 40 chemicals by 2020 to reduce environmental damage.

It said this could lead to a surge in pests, affecting production of apples, carrots and peas, among other crops.

Conservation groups said reducing pesticides would help the environment.

From the Guardian, and now for a word from their sponsor?:

Former Environment Agency head to lead industry-funded fracking task force

  • Lord Chris Smith will lead a new ‘independent’ task force, funded by shale gas companies, to look into the risks and benefits of fracking in the UK

The risks and benefits of fracking for the UK are to be examined by a “independent” task force, led by the former head of the Environment Agency, Lord Chris Smith, and funded by shale gas companies.

“We will assess the existing evidence, ask for new contributions and lead a national conversation around this vitally important issue,” said Smith, who as chair of the Environment Agency oversaw key fracking regulation. “The Task Force on Shale Gas will provide impartial opinions on the impacts, good and bad, that the exploitation of shale gas will have on the UK.”

The government is “going all out” for the rapid development of shale gas in the UK, according to David Cameron. Conservatives say it can increase energy security, help reduce carbon emissions if gas replaces coal and be a boon to poor parts of the UK.

Fracktacular questions from Al Jazeera America:

Green groups say EPA underestimates methane leaks from fracking

  • The EPA touted decreased methane leaks during fracking, but environmentalists say the numbers are skewed

The EPA uses relatively low estimates of how much methane leaks during the natural gas production process. The agency’s estimates are based on a bottom-up approach to monitoring, in which data from individual sources is collected largely through voluntary reporting from the industry and analyzed to paint a broad picture of U.S. methane emissions. Through this method, the EPA has estimated that about 1.2 percent of the gas produced by fracking leaks into the atmosphere during the process.

But a growing list of studies — most of them using top-down approaches, in which monitoring equipment measures emissions over a wide area — throw the EPA’s estimates into question.

“Consistently, studies show [methane leaks] are between 4 and 17 percent,” said Seth B.C. Shonkoff, a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and the executive director at science policy think tank PSE Healthy Energy. “The most authoritative say the EPA underestimates methane emissions by about 50 percent. It seems the EPA is forgetting this big field of independent science.”

A scientific review led by Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University, also found that most studies on the topic estimate natural gas methane leakage to be significantly higher than the EPA’s estimates.

From the Guardian, toxic swap syndrome?:

UN climate debt swap is ‘fundamentally unjust’, say development agencies

  • A UN offer of debt relief for small island states to pay for climate change adaptation merges legitimate and illegitimate debt

A UN proposal that would see small island states offered debt relief to pay for climate change contains a “fundamentally unjust” blind spot, according to development groups.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) is working on an initiative that would see rich countries write off debt owed to them by Small Island Developing States (Sids) in exchange for the money being spent on climate change adaptation.

But development agencies are concerned the proposal conflates legitimate and illegitimate debt. So-called “dictator debt” – money lent by rich countries to poor countries ruled by strongmen, who commonly used it to finance military ventures or vast follies – is estimated at US$735bn, almost one fifth of the total debt owed by the developing world. Many concerned with development believe this debt to be unjust and that it is impossible to enter into any kind of equitable debt swap until these “dictator debts” are unreservedly cancelled.

The ol’ political grip-and-green from the New York Times:

Environmental Issues Become a Force in Political Advertising

In Michigan, an ad attacking Terri Lynn Land, the Republican candidate for the United States Senate, opens with a shot of rising brown floodwaters as a woman says: “We see it every day in Michigan. Climate change. So why is Terri Lynn Land ignoring the science?”

In Colorado, an ad for Cory Gardner, another Republican candidate for Senate, shows him in a checked shirt and hiking boots, standing in front of a field of wind turbines as he discusses his support for green energy.

And in Kentucky, a spot for the Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, depicts him flanked by coal miners as a woman intones, “The person fighting for our coal jobs is Mitch McConnell.”

The Los Angeles Times brings us Golden State water woes:

Amid California’s drought, a bruising battle for cheap water

The signs appear about 200 miles north of Los Angeles, tacked onto old farm wagons parked along quiet two-lane roads and bustling Interstate 5.

“Congress Created Dust Bowl.” “Stop the Politicians’ Water Crisis.” “No Water No Jobs.”

They dot the Westlands Water District like angry salutations, marking the territory of California’s most formidable water warrior. Their message is clear: Politicians and environmental laws are more to blame for Westlands’ dusty brown fields than the drought that has parched California for the last three years.

From the Guardian, the gondolier blues:

Death in Venice: long-admired gondola feature threatened by rising waters

  1. Gondoliers increasingly forced to remove iron ornament from stern to get their boats under bridges during high waters

Gliding through Venice, its brocaded velvet seats occupied by a sullen pair of tourists, the boat is almost everything a gondola should be: black, sleek and gleaming, with a genial man in stripes rowing it expertly to the canal-bank.

Just one thing is missing from this quintessentially Venetian scene, and while it is passes unnoticed by most visitors it is an absence that aficionados see as a cruel blow to the city’s heritage.

On the stern, where there should be a curved piece of iron recalling the skilled movement of the gondolier’s oar – or, say some romantics, the shape of a lion’s mane – there is nothing. “Shall I put it back on?” asks Stefano, the gondolier, bending down to pick the iron stern ornament up from where it is lying, discarded, beside the seats. “This morning there was acqua alta [high water] and I had to take it off,” he says. “It’s a necessity.”

Dammed if they do, via the Guardian:

India’s largest dam given clearance but still faces flood of opposition

  • The 3000MW Dibang dam, rejected twice as it would submerge vast tracts of biologically rich forests, is to get environmental clearance – but huge local opposition could stall the project

Dibang dam will not only generate power but supposedly control floods in the plains of neighbouring Assam state. The dam’s reservoir was estimated to submerge 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of dense forests along the Dibang river valley. The forest advisory committee (FAC), which examines the impact of infrastructure projects on wilderness areas, was appalled and rejected it.

For a project so large, the environmental impact assessment (EIA) failed to assess critical components of the project and was widely criticised for inadequately predicting the dam’s effects on the environment. Its evaluation of impacts on wildlife is a farce. The authors of the document list creatures not found in that area, such as Himalayan tahr, and concocted species not known to exist anywhere in the world, such as brown pied hornbill. Of the ones they could have got right, they mangled the names, referring to flycatchers as ‘flying catchers’ and fantail as ‘fanter’.

In his scathing critique, Anwaruddin Choudhury, an expert on the wildlife of north-east India, sarcastically concluded the EIA makes a case for the project to be shelved, as Dibang was the only place in the world “with these specialities!” Despite listing these amazing creatures, the EIA goes on to say “no major wildlife is observed”.

The Asahi Shimbun covers a seismic shift:

Nautical charts to be revised to reflect unprecedented changes caused by tsunami

Tsunami breakwaters were destroyed in the ports of Ofunato and Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture, where water depths lost a maximum of 10 meters. But in a July 2011 survey, the water was 15 meters deeper than indicated in the nautical chart at one location in Hachinohe Port, Aomori Prefecture. It is believed that the tsunami induced a big eddy that scooped out part of the seafloor.

Coast Guard officials said local governments that administer ports are in charge of surveying any small changes, such as those resulting from wharf construction. The Coast Guard uses those survey results to modify its nautical charts.

But the 2011 disaster created so many changes that the Coast Guard took the unusual step of conducting comprehensive surveys and republishing nautical charts for all 24 ports affected.

Antarctic conservation from the Antarctic Ocean Alliance via MercoPress:

AOA calls on CCAMLR to agree on marine protection of the Ross Sea and East Antarctica

  • As representatives of the 25 Members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meet this week in Hobart, where they will decide the fate of two key protection proposals in the Ross Sea and East Antarctica, the Antarctic Ocean Alliance (AOA) called on the member countries to honor their conservation commitments and finally agree to lasting and significant Southern Ocean protection.

A joint US-NZ proposal to designate a Ross Sea marine protected area (MPA) of 1.32 million km2 (with 1.25 million km2 area proposed as “no take”) is under consideration. The Ross Sea, is often referred to as “The Last Ocean” due to its status as one of the most pristine oceans remaining on earth.

Australia, France and the EU are once again proposing an MPA to protect 1.2 million km2 of East Antarctic waters. Their proposal would allow for exploratory and research activities within the MPA if they are consistent with the maintenance of the MPA’s objectives.

More marine peril from Yale Environment 360:

Drive to Mine the Deep Sea Raises Concerns Over Impacts

Armed with new high-tech equipment, mining companies are targeting vast areas of the deep ocean for mineral extraction. But with few regulations in place, critics fear such development could threaten seabed ecosystems that scientists say are only now being fully understood.

For years, the idea of prospecting for potentially rich deposits of minerals on the ocean floor was little more than a pipe dream. Extractive equipment
was not sophisticated or cost-effective enough for harsh environments thousands of feet beneath the ocean’s surface, and mining companies were busy exploring mineral deposits on land. But the emergence of advanced technologies specifically designed to plumb the remote seabed— along with declining mineral quality at many existing terrestrial mines — is nudging the industry closer to a new and, for some environmentalists and ocean scientists, worrying frontier.

More than two-dozen permits have been issued for mineral prospecting in international waters. And in April, after years of false starts, a Canadian mining company signed an agreement with the government of Papua New Guinea to mine for copper and gold in its territorial waters. That company, Nautilus Minerals, plans to begin testing its equipment next year in European waters, according to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), a regulatory agency established in 1994 under the auspices of the United Nations. A Nautilus spokesman, John Elias, said the plan is to award a construction contract in November for a specialized mining vessel. “All other equipment has been manufactured and is in final assembly,” he wrote in an email.

Chief among critics’ concerns is that seabed mining will begin without comprehensive regulatory oversight and environmental review. They say
dredging or drilling the seafloor could potentially obliterate deep-sea ecosystems and kick up immense sediment plumes, which could temporarily choke off the oxygen supply over large areas. And powerful international companies, they add, could take advantage of the lax or non-existent review and enforcement capabilities in many small island nations of the Pacific Ocean — precisely where seabed mineral deposits are thought to be highly concentrated.

After the jump, Japanese super-eruption odds, the dope on Afghan dope, battlin’ bees Down Under, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, starting with possible criminal charges, worker woes at the reactor complex, new radioactive particle scrubbers, demolition starts with the end point four decades away [if that soon], still no relief for evacuees and a plea for relief, the cruious semantics of Abve’s restart plans, controversy in Sendai, and Chinese coal-lessing. . .   Continue reading

Crowdsourced science and Fukushima


A remarkable story from Japan about the lingering radioactive legacy of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster and the groundbreaking citizen effort to crowdsource monitoring of the true extent of lingering hot zones in the country.

Needless to say, their findings challenge the government’s official findings while greatly expanding the scope of monitoring efforts.

This is another of those excellent documentaries from ABC Australia, the national broadcaster under continuing attacks from that nation’s neoliberal austerian government.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Catalyst: Radiation Fallout – How Japan is still faced with the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster

Program notes:

On 11 March 2011, a 9-meter-high tsunami wave, triggered by the Great To-hoku Earthquake, slammed into Japan’s eastern coast. The consequent meltdown of the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant brought the added risk of radioactive fallout to the already desperate humanitarian disaster. For the three years since, Japanese authorities and civilian groups have been struggling to clean up the environmental damage caused by this catastrophic fallout of radioactive material. Mark Horstman travels to Fukushima Prefecture in Japan to discover where the radioactive fallout has spread since the nuclear accident.

Journeyman Pictures brings you highlights from the cutting-edge science series, ‘Catalyst’, produced by our long-term content partners at ABC Australia. Every day we’ll upload a new episode that takes you to the heart of the most intriguing and relevant science-related stories of the day, transforming your perspective of the issues shaping our world.

From ABC Australia: Earth on fire


A chilling documentary from ABC Australia [itself the target of fossil-fuel addicted neoliberal Aussie ire and pending major budget cuts], this July documentary presents a chilling [er, scorching] vision of the future, in which vast fires sweep across landscapes around the globe.

Via Journeyman Pictures:

Catalyst – Earth of Fire

From the transcript:

NARRATION: Earth is the only planet in our solar system that burns … and there’s one main reason why. Plants.

Since they first evolved more than 400 million years ago, land plants have changed the world, from the soil to the atmosphere.

Even the origin of fire is tied to the origin of plants. Fire couldn’t exist here until the fuel and oxygen from land plants made this planet flammable. So for nearly half a billion years, the Earth has been in flames. In turn, fire shapes the patterns of life, the climate, and ultimately, our own survival. But fire is changing.

Over the past decade, every forested continent has seen an alarming surge in large, uncontrollable fires. Mega-fires.

Prof David Bowman: The sort of metaphoric equivalent of an atomic bomb, that’s what a mega fire is, it’s muscular, it’s mean, it’s big, it’s aggressive.

Prof Tom Swetnam: Really fast burning fires. And their local intensity is just amazing.… these are extraordinary fire events.

NARRATION: So extraordinary, they demolish the very ecosystems that have thrived with fire for millennia.

Anja Taylor: Here in the Southwest US, the fires have become so large and so intense that whole forests are transforming into entirely different landscapes.

NARRATION: No longer can we count on what we thought we knew about fire.

Mark Horstman: In Australia, catastrophic megafires are tearing landscapes apart. It means we all have to rethink how to live on this flammable continent.

Image of the day: The colors of light from space


From NASA Earth Observatory:

BLOG Lux

Explanation:

The Many Colors of Electric Lights

As anyone who has stood in a hardware store knows, light bulbs come in a wide range of types and colors. Incandescent bulbs have a warm glow similar to sunlight, while more energy efficient gas-discharge bulbs come in a variety of shades.

Some of the differences in artificial lighting are visible in photographs taken by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. For instance, several distinct colors of electric light are visible in this image of the Tsushima Strait, the shallow body of water that separates southern Japan and South Korea. A member of the Expedition 37 crew took this photograph on October 11, 2013.

A cluster of fishing boats is the source of the bluish light near the center of the image. The fisherman are likely luring Todarodes pacificus—a species known as the Japanese flying squid—to the surface with bright xenon bulbs. The city lights on the Korean side of the strait tend to have an orange glow, while those on the Japanese side are greener. The difference is related to the distribution of mercury vapor, metal halide, and high-pressure sodium lamps—the bulb types most often used for street and outdoor lightning. Mercury vapor lights tend to be green, high-pressure sodium is orange, and metal-halide lamps are bright white.

Astronaut photograph ISS037-E-12066 was acquired on October 11, 2013, with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 50 millimeter lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 37 crew. It has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station Program supports the laboratory as part of the ISS National Lab to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by Adam Voiland.

EbolaWatch: Fear, czar, alarms, meds, Africa


And a whole lot more, given the pace at which the outbreak is moving.

We begin with this from JapanToday:

World fears mount that Ebola battle being lost

The World Bank warned Friday the fight to stop Ebola was being lost, as the U.N. pleaded for more money to combat the escalating epidemic and global travel fears mounted.

As the death toll from the world’s worst-ever outbreak of the virus shot past 4,500, a glimmer of hope came from Senegal, which was declared Ebola-free by the World Health Organization.

The United States, meanwhile, named an “Ebola czar” to coordinate its response, after criticism of how a Texas hospital handled a Liberian victim, with two nurses who treated him now infected.

And a researcher at British pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline said a vaccine may not be ready for commercial use until late 2016.

“We are losing the battle,” World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim warned, blaming a lack of international solidarity in efforts to stem the epidemic. “Certain countries are only worried about their own borders,” he told reporters in Paris.

And a continuing alarm from BBC News:

Ebola crisis: No impact from pledges of help, MSF says

International pledges of deployments and aid for Africa’s Ebola-hit regions have not yet had any impact on the epidemic, a major medical charity says.

Christopher Stokes of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said the disease was still out of control. He said it was “ridiculous” that volunteers working for his charity were bearing the brunt of care in the worst-affected countries.

The disease has killed about 4,500 people so far, mostly in West Africa.

MSF runs about 700 out of the 1,000 beds available in treatment facilities Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The BBC’s Mark Doyle, at the UN Ebola logistics base in Ghana, says it is generally agreed that at least three times that number are needed.

Shanghai Daily covers a concession:

WHO admits it botched response to Ebola outbreak in West Africa

THE World Health Organization has admitted that it botched attempts to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, blaming factors including incompetent staff and a lack of information.

“Nearly everyone involved in the outbreak response failed to see some fairly plain writing on the wall,” WHO said in a draft internal document, noting that experts should have realized traditional containment methods wouldn’t work in a region with porous borders and broken health systems.

The UN health agency acknowledged that, at times, even its own bureaucracy was a problem. It noted that the heads of WHO country offices in Africa are “politically motivated appointments” made by the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo, who does not answer to the agency’s chief in Geneva, Dr Margaret Chan.

Dr Peter Piot, co-discoverer of the Ebola virus, said WHO acted far too slowly, largely because of its Africa office. “It’s the regional office in Africa that’s the frontline,” he said. “And they didn’t do anything. That office is really not competent.”

Piot also questioned why it took WHO five months and 1,000 deaths before the agency declared Ebola an international health emergency in August.

And Kyodo News covers a summit:

Asian, European leaders pledge at Milan summit to stop Ebola

Asian and European leaders wrapped up a two-day summit Friday, highlighting in the chair’s statement their determination to stop the Ebola virus from spreading.

“The spread of the Ebola virus constitutes a serious threat to global health and security,” the leaders of 51 countries attending the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, said in the statement released after the 10th biennial summit in Milan, Italy.

“They acknowledged the efforts by ASEM partners in providing aid to affected areas and called for further urgent action and greater national, regional and international collaboration to end the Ebola outbreak in a comprehensive and coordinated manner including an exchange of best practices,” the statement said.

From Britain comes another alarm, this one from the Tory-in-chief, via the London Telegraph:

Ebola is the ‘biggest health threat to our world in a generation’ – David Cameron

  • Prime Minister tells other world leaders to ‘look to their responsibilities’” in fighting ebola as Royal Navy sets sail for West Africa

Ebola is the “biggest health problem facing our world in a generation”, David Cameron has said, as he urged foreign leaders to “step forward” with more resources to fight the crisis.

The Prime Minister urged other leaders to “look to their responsibilities” to help tackle the Ebola epidemic ravaging parts of West Africa.

Britain, he said, was “leading the way” in providing assistance to the region as he backed a call by United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon for other countries to deliver more funding.

Speaking as he arrived at the Asia Europe summit in Milan, Italy, he said: “This is the biggest health problem facing our world in a generation. It is very likely to affect a number of the countries here today.”

The New York Times crowns a czar:

Ron Klain, Chief of Staff to 2 Vice Presidents, Is Named Ebola Czar

President Obama on Friday named Ron Klain, a seasoned Democratic crisis-response operative and White House veteran, to manage the government’s response to the deadly virus as public anxiety grows over its possible spread.

Mr. Klain, a former chief of staff for Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joseph R. Biden Jr., is known for his ability to handle high-stakes and fast-moving political challenges. He was the lead Democratic lawyer for Mr. Gore during the 2000 election recount, and was later played by Kevin Spacey in the HBO drama “Recount” about the disputed contest.

“Obviously right now, the news is dominated by Ebola, and we’ve got an all-hands-on-deck approach across government to make sure that we’re keeping the American people safe,” Mr. Obama said on Friday at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where he was announcing new antifraud measures for government-issued debit cards.

The McClatchy Washington Bureau backgrounds:

Obama’s Ebola czar is a government insider with no medical background

“He is a brilliant strategist and is known for his ability to manage large, complex operations,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on African Affairs.

But Klain’s lack of medical expertise also drew complaints.

“I think it’s a pretty pathetic gesture to appoint a non-medical person to be in charge of this response, which has already been dangerously futile,” said Richard Amerling, president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons and associate clinical professor at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

“This guy knows nothing about Ebola,” said Robert Murphy, director of the Center for Global Health and a professor of medical and biomedical engineering at Northwestern University. “He’s probably a smart insider political guy. He has no credibility in the field of public health and he has no credibility in Africa, where the Ebola crisis began. . . . I really think that this is a very inappropriate choice.”

From the Guardian, presidential backtracking:

Obama not ruling out travel bans as experts watch for more cases

  • President considers further interventions and appointing crisis leader, while concern grows over infected woman’s air travel

Barack Obama has hinted at possible policy shifts in US efforts to contain Ebola, revealing he is considering fresh leadership to co-ordinate the federal response and is open to implementing travel bans if expert advice on its merits were to shift.

Speaking to reporters at the White House after his second two-hour meeting with advisers in as many days, the president also said extra disease control specialists were being sent to Ohio amid fears that a second nurse infected with the disease may have been contagious for longer than originally suspected.

“It is very important that we are monitoring and tracking anyone who was in close proximity to this second nurse,” said Obama, who earlier spoke with the Ohio governor about sending more experts from the Centers for Disease Control to the Cleveland area.

Others disagree, via the New York Times:

Experts Oppose Ebola Travel Ban, Saying It Would Cut Off Worst-Hit Countries

Fear of Ebola is spreading faster than the disease itself, and the growing paranoia in the United States is fueling calls to impose a travel ban on people coming from the three West African nations struggling with the outbreak.

In a politically tense climate, with the Nov. 4 elections just weeks away, the issue is being supercharged by partisan considerations with prominent Republicans calling for a ban, including John Boehner, the House speaker.

But public health officials say a travel ban would be ineffective and difficult to carry out and would not entirely prevent people in Ebola-hit countries from entering the United States.

Ultimately, health specialists said, a ban would do more harm than good because it would isolate impoverished nations that are barely able to cope with the outbreak, and possibly cut them off from the international aid workers who provide critical help to contain the disease.

Bans legislation tabled from The Hill:

Texas lawmakers to introduce Ebola travel ban legislation

Two Texas Republican lawmakers plan to introduce legislation banning travel between the U.S. and Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa.

The Friday announcement from Reps. Kenny Marchant and Sam Johnson was made the same day the White House disclosed President Obama would appoint Democratic operative Ron Klain to oversee the interagency response to Ebola.

Marchant said the U.S. is “behind the curve” for combatting the spread of the deadly virus and called the pair’s bill, dubbed the Stop Ebola Act, a “proactive approach” to preventing more cases of Ebola in the U.S.

From Science, another surprise Obama move:

U.S. halts funding for new risky virus studies, calls for voluntary moratorium

The White House today stepped into an ongoing debate about controversial virus experiments with a startling announcement: It is halting all federal funding for so-called gain-of-function (GOF) studies that alter a pathogen to make it more transmissible or deadly so that experts can work out a U.S. government-wide policy for weighing the risks. Federal officials are also asking the handful of researchers doing ongoing work in this area to agree to a voluntary moratorium.

The “pause on funding,” a White House blog states, applies to “any new studies … that may be reasonably anticipated to confer attributes to influenza, MERS, or SARS viruses such that the virus would have enhanced pathogenicity and/or transmissibility in mammals via the respiratory route.” The government also “encourages those currently conducting this type of work—whether federally funded or not—to voluntarily pause their research while risks and benefits are being reassessed.” Research and testing of naturally occurring forms of these pathogens will continue.

An accompanying document describes plans for a two-stage “deliberative process” to determine the risks and benefits of GOF experiments and to develop a U.S. policy for approving new studies. It will begin next week when the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB), an advisory group that has not meet for 2 years, convenes on 22 October to begin designing a study to assess the risks and benefits of GOF research. The National Academies’ National Research Council (NRC) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) will also hold a symposium to discuss the scientific issues, then later review the NSABB’s recommendations, which are due within 6 months.

And from the New York Times, the fury:

Amid Assurances on Ebola, Obama Is Said to Seethe

Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.

Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.

“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “He was not satisfied with the response,” a senior official said.

From The Hill, a false alarm in Washington on sensitive ground:

Woman rushed to hospital from Pentagon does not have Ebola

A woman who was rushed to the hospital Friday after vomiting in a Pentagon parking lot has been cleared for Ebola, Arlington Country official Mary Curtius confirmed Friday.

The hospitalization of the woman, whom officials believe had recently traveled to Africa, set off a chain reaction of preventive measures by Pentagon and Arlington County officials.

Pentagon officials confirmed reports that the woman, a civilian, had briefly boarded a bus with Marines on their way to a change-of-command ceremony for the Marine Corps commandant, where Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was expected to be in attendance.

From ABC News 2 in Baltimore, a condition report on America’s first homegrown Ebola patient:

Condition of nurse treated in Maryland for Ebola updated to ‘fair but stable’

The Ebola patient recovering here in Maryland was downgraded to fair condition today.

Nina Pham is a nurse from Dallas. Overnight, she was flown to Frederick Airport and driven to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda.

When Pham left Texas, she was listed in good condition. Now, she’s in fair but stable condition.

And from USA Today, more allegations about the hospital where she contracted the disease:

Dallas nurse blasts her hospital’s Ebola response

Program notes:

A Dallas nurse is coming forward to describe the “extreme chaos” following the death of her hospital’s first Ebola patient. She’s now monitoring herself for Ebola symptoms and worried for her colleagues.

A denial from the Washington Post:

Mexico fails to grant access to cruise ship carrying Texas health worker

The cruise ship carrying a Texas health-care worker who “may have” handled lab specimens from Dallas Ebola victim Thomas Eric Duncan is headed back to the United States after Mexican authorities failed to grant permission for the ship to dock off the coast of Cozumel, according to a Carnival spokeswoman.

The Carnival Magic had been waiting off the Mexican coast since Friday morning for its scheduled port visit. Mexican authorities still hadn’t given clearance by noon, so the ship continued to its home port of Galveston, Tex., where it was due back on Sunday, according to Carnival.

The health worker, a lab supervisor who has not been named, has shown no symptoms of the disease but remains on board and in voluntary isolation, according to Carnival. “We greatly regret that this situation, which was completely beyond our control, precluded the ship from making its scheduled visit to Cozumel and the resulting disappointment it has caused our guests,” read a statement from Carnival.

From the Los Angeles Times, the American Ebola watch list:

Ebola in the U.S.: 1,000 people under some level of watch

Whether by land, sea or air, the fear of Ebola has been spreading at a pace far faster than the growth in the number of people diagnosed with the disease.

In recent days, the number of people who have been asked to monitor themselves for symptoms has been steadily growing, especially among healthcare workers who were involved in the original treatment of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian who died from Ebola on Oct. 8 at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.

As of Friday, a pool of about 1,000 people are being watched for symptoms, have been asked to monitor themselves or have been urged to check with a counselor at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group includes a handful of people who have been ordered into quarantine, a larger group that is being closely watched with temperatures taken at least daily and a much larger group of travelers who may haven flown on a Frontier Airlines jetliner used at some point by an Ebola patient traveling with a low-grade fever.

The Guardian covers a condolence call:

Ebola: Liberian president phones Dallas mayor about infected nurses

Exclusive: Mike Rawlings said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she felt accountable for the situation in the Texan city

The president of Liberia telephoned the mayor of Dallas and apologised for the fact that the Ebola virus had transferred from her country to his city and infected Americans, the mayor said during a conference call with religious leaders in Texas on Friday.

The mayor, Mike Rawlings, said President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had said she felt accountable for the situation in the Texan city, where a man who had recently returned from Liberia infected two nurses who treated him before he died, according to two people on the conference call.

“The mayor said that there was a call to him personally, and that the Liberian president had mentioned apologies, and, in his words, a little bit of responsibility that this was even happening,” Rex Howe, a pastor at Scofield Memorial church, told the Guardian.

And right here on San Francisco Bay, via the Oakland Tribune, the nurses who cared for esnl are marching over perceived lack of training and equipment at the same hospital where we lost bladder and prostate to cancer:

Nurses march in Oakland to demand greater safety for treating Ebola

Kaiser Permanente nurses marched Thursday morning in downtown Oakland to call for increased resources and training to treat Ebola patients.

Zenei Cortez, co-president of the California Nurses Association, said nurses are asking for the same kind of safety and training provided to hazardous materials workers who treat Ebola infected homes.

Following recent reports of nurses who became infected with ebola after treating a patient, nurses are asking for hands-on interactive training in how to handle possible Ebola cases, rather than the classroom training Kaiser is currently offering, Cortez said. They want to learn how to safely put on and take off gear, and the protocol to properly dispose of contaminated gear.

And if a hospital gets a patient, nurses want enough staff to be present to monitor the nurses to keep them safe, Cortez said.

The Washington Post covers a surprising case of Ebolaphobia:

Syracuse University disinvites Washington Post photographer because he was in Liberia 3 weeks ago

Washington Post photojournalist Michel du Cille, who returned from covering the Ebola epidemic in Liberia 21 days ago, has been disinvited by Syracuse University from participation in a journalism workshop this weekend.

Du Cille and his wife, Nikki Kahn, both Pulitzer prize-winning Post photojournalists, were scheduled to take part in portfolio reviews and critique sessions at the university’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. The school’s dean, Lorraine Branham, said a student who was researching du Cille prior to the workshop found out he had recently returned from Liberia and expressed concern. Provost Eric Spina spoke with health officials and made the call.

“It’s a disappointment to me,” du Cille said. “I’m pissed off and embarrassed and completely weirded out that a journalism institution that should be seeking out facts and details is basically pandering to hysteria.”

CBC News covers another one:

Ebola outbreak: diagnosis delayed after Air Canada refuses to transport blood sample

  • Lab tests were not completed for more than 24 hours after being collected in Edmonton

Air Canada refused to fly a blood specimen from a patient suspected of Ebola from Edmonton to Winnipeg last weekend, CBC News has learned.

Officials are blaming poor communication and unclear protocols for the delay of more than 24 hours between when the sample was collected in Edmonton and when it finally arrived in Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab.

Sources tell CBC News the patient in question came in to the emergency room of an Edmonton-area hospital midday last Saturday.

A British extension from BBC News:

Ebola screening extended to Manchester and Birmingham airports

Passenger screening for Ebola is to be extended to Manchester and Birmingham airports, Public Health England says.

Staff at the two airports will begin checking passengers from at-risk countries after it is introduced at Gatwick and Eurostar next week.

Screening of arrivals from West Africa, where 4,500 have died in the outbreak, started at Heathrow on Tuesday.

And the Russian screens are nearly up, via RT:

Russian govt orders extra airport facilities to prevent Ebola

Airports in Russia will be equipped with extra facilities to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading, the government’s press service reported on Friday. Over a thousand African students are already under special medical control.

Cabinet discussed the Ebola outbreak with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday. As the result of the meeting, Russian airports will soon receive special equipment to be installed, to prevent any possible spread of the deadly virus in the country.

According to press service, Russia’s top officials also discussed the vaccine development and medicine for extreme preventive care. Head of Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor health watchdog reported on the work of its special team in Guinea.

After jump, a Canadian vaccine heads for trials, a production push [assisted by Bill Gates] for another drug, a stark prognosis for India, false alarms in Costa Rica and Spain, on to Africa and a celebrity video campaign, a grim food warning for the hot zone, a Rwandan medical assist, East Africa promises medics and money, more Latin American assistance promised, medical staff recruitment problems remain, hot zone religious succor sought, South Sudan takes precautions, WHO outlines plans for African countries thus far spared, the plight of hot zone children, athletes stigmatized, on to Liberia and a stricken family, American/Liberian military bonding as the opening all promised treatment centers is delayed, numbers for one treatment unit, and heightened political divisions. . . Continue reading

Celestial arrivals, both ancient and new


Two remarkable celestial encounters to cover, the first a sight that we see today as it existed a very long time ago, the other very close and and happening Sunday.

First from the ODN [previously ITN] YouTube channel, and a long time coming:

NASA’s space telescope spots distant galaxy 13 billion light-years away

Program notes:

If you peered through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, you’d be able to spot a tiny, faint galaxy – one of the furthest galaxies ever seen. Spotted by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the object is estimated to be more than 13 billion light-years away. The galaxy measures merely 850 light-years across — 500 times smaller than our Milky Way galaxy — and is estimated to have a mass of only 40 million suns. The Milky Way, in comparison, has a stellar mass of a few hundred billion suns. Report by Claire Lomas.

And a report on that Sunday encounter from NASA Goddard:

Observing Comet Siding Spring at Mars

Program notes:

Follow Comet Siding Spring at #MarsComet

On October 19, Comet Siding Spring will pass within 88,000 miles of Mars – just one third of the distance from the Earth to the Moon! Traveling at 33 miles per second and weighing as much as a small mountain, the comet hails from the outer fringes of our solar system, originating in a region of icy debris known as the Oort cloud.

Comets from the Oort cloud are both ancient and rare. Since this is Comet Siding Spring’s first trip through the inner solar system, scientists are excited to learn more about its composition and the effects of its gas and dust on the Mars upper atmosphere. NASA will be watching closely before, during, and after the flyby with its entire fleet of Mars orbiters and rovers, along with the Hubble Space Telescope and dozens of instruments on Earth. The encounter is certain to teach us more about Oort cloud comets, the Martian atmosphere, and the solar system’s earliest ingredients.