Monthly Archives: May 2008

Post-traumatic stress soars in U.S. troops

Reuters | May 27, 2008

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Newly diagnosed cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan surged 46.4 percent in 2007, bringing the five-year total to nearly 40,000, according to U.S. military data released on Tuesday.

The statistics, released by the Army, showed the number of new PTSD cases formally diagnosed at U.S. military facilities climbed to 13,981 last year from 9,549 in 2006.

The numbers rose as President George W. Bush poured extra forces into Iraq to try to quell sectarian violence and extended Army tours from 12 to 15 months. The United States has also sent more forces to Afghanistan.

The figures, encompassing all four branches of the U.S. armed services, showed that the Army alone had 10,049 new PTSD cases last year.

This brings to 39,366 the number of PTSD cases diagnosed at military facilities between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2007, among troops deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The totals include 28,365 cases for the Army, 5,641 for the Marines, 2,884 for the Navy and 2,476 for the Air Force.

Army officials said the larger number of PTSD diagnoses in recent years partly reflects greater awareness and tracking of the disorder by the U.S. military.

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Quakes can be triggered from other side of globe: study

Breitbart | May 25, 2008

A major quake such as the one that left at least 60,000 dead in southwestern China this month can trigger other earthquakes half way around the world, according to a study released Sunday.

This unexpected finding could one day help make better predictions about the frequency and intensity of aftershocks, the lead researcher told AFP.

A team of geologists in the United States found that 12 out of 15 major quakes — registering a magnitude of 7.0 or higher — since 1990 generated surface waves that set off smaller seismic events in fault systems on distant continents.

The China quake, which measured 8.0 on the Richter scale, was not included in the study, which was published in the British journal Nature Geoscience.

“It was known that these surface waves could travel,” explained co-author Tom Parsons of the US Geological Survey.

“But most scientists thought these so-called dynamically-triggered earthquakes were a special case. In fact they happen all the time, everywhere, and that was something of a surprise,” he said in a phone interview.

The terrible December 2004 mega-quake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, for example, provoked seismic events as far away as Alaska, California and Ecuador.

There is a better than 95 percent likelihood that the earthquake rate in distant areas will be much higher in the immediate aftermath of a big quake than before or after, the study found.

And while the seismic movements triggered by far away quakes were generally smaller — in the three-to-five magnitude range — there is no reason they could not be as big or bigger than the first.

“They could be any size,” said Parsons, who in previous research identified eight cases in the last quarter century in which a 7.0-or-bigger earthquake led to another that was even larger.

To measure the impact elsewhere on the planet of major tremblors, Parsons and colleagues analysed broadband seismographs from over 500 stations, part of a worldwide monitoring network.

By searching for the lowest frequencies and filtering out the highest, they detected a sharp increase in the number of distant quakes triggered by a main quake, even though the tectonic environment of the two regions were independent.

“The big question is aftershocks, and what happens after you have a big earthquake,” said Parons, adding that there are two competing theories as to how such follow-on quakes are unleashed.

Static triggering occurs within a few fault lengths of the main rupture, often in a cascading effect. But impact generally peters out beyond a 100-to-200 kilometre (70-to-140 mile) radius.

The spike in quake activity further afield can only be explained by dynamic triggering, explained Parsons.

Such seismic waves travelling along the surface of the earth “keep their amplitude and do not diminish that much even over great distances,” he said.

The key to predicting the aftermath of a quake such as the one in China will be teasing apart the role of static and dynamic triggering.

“We can look at the aftershocks and start to learn, but we need to know what percentage of those are dynamically triggered because the effect isn’t lasting, it’s transient,” Parsons explained.

“Once those waves are gone, the effect is mostly over with, we really don’t have to worry about that any more.”

Children in Katrina trailers may face lifelong ailments

Associated Press | May 27, 2008

By JOHN MORENO GONZALES

BAY ST. LOUIS, MISS. – The anguish of Hurricane Katrina should have ended for Gina Bouffanie and her daughter when they left their FEMA trailer. But with each hospital visit and each labored breath her child takes, the young mother fears it has just begun.

“It’s just the sickness. I can’t get rid of it. It just keeps coming back,” said Bouffanie, 27, who was pregnant with her now 15-month-old daughter, Lexi, while living in the trailer. “I’m just like, `Oh God, I wish like this would stop.’ If I had known it would get her sick, I wouldn’t have stayed in the trailer for so long.”

The girl, diagnosed with severe asthma, must inhale medicine from a breathing device.

Doctors cannot conclusively link her asthma to the trailer. But they fear she is among tens of thousands of youngsters who may face lifelong health problems because the temporary housing supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency contained formaldehyde fumes up to five times the safe level.

The chemical, used in interior glue, was detected in many of the 143,000 trailers sent to the Gulf Coast in 2006. But a push to get residents out of them, spearheaded by FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not begin until this past February.

Members of Congress and CDC insiders say the agencies’ delay in recognizing the danger is being compounded by studies that will be virtually useless and the lack of a plan to treat children as they grow.

“It’s tragic that when people most need the protection, they are actually going from one disaster to a health disaster that might be considered worse,” said Christopher De Rosa, assistant director for toxicology and risk assessment at the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC. “Given the longer-term implications of exposure that went on for a significant period of time, people should be followed through time for possible effects.”

Formaldehyde is classified as a probable carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, by the Environmental Protection Agency. There is no way to measure formaldelhyde in the bloodstream. Respiratory problems are an early sign of exposure.

Young children are at particular risk. Thousands who lived in trailers will be in the prime of life in the 10 to 15 years doctors believe it takes cancer to develop.

FEMA and CDC reports so far have drawn criticism.

A CDC study released May 8 examined records of 144 Mississippi children, some of whom lived in trailers and others who did not. But the study was confined to children who had at least one doctor’s visit for respiratory illness before Katrina. It was largely inconclusive, finding children who went to doctors before the August 2005 storm were still visiting them two years after.

A bigger, five-year CDC study will include up to 5,000 children in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, and CDC officials said it should begin next year. But members of Congress point to the decade or longer it could take for cancer to develop and say a five-year look is inadequate.

“Monitoring the health of a few thousand children over the course of a few years is a step in the right direction, but we need commitment,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Thompson has introduced legislation to force FEMA and CDC to provide health exams for trailer residents who believe formaldehyde made them ill. The bill is similar to $108 million legislation for workers who labored at the World Trade Center site.

Arch Carson, professor of occupational medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, said preliminary exams alone for trailer residents could cost more than the trade center bill. But he said class-action lawsuits over the formaldehyde — at least one has been filed — could be even more expensive, costing many billions of dollars.

“It would be best for the government to get its act together now,” Carson said.

More than 22,000 FEMA trailers and mobile homes are still being used in Mississippi and Louisiana.

FEMA and the CDC say they will create a registry of those who stayed in trailers for possible future study. But they admit that the task of keeping track of everyone is made difficult by the rush to get families into other housing.

The parents of McKenzie Whitney, a 1-year-old girl with wavy auburn hair, are running low on money and options for caring for the sick girl.

Born into a FEMA trailer, McKenzie was out of the dwelling in August 2007 after a 10-month stay. Her mother, Kacey Whitney, 22, a housekeeper, and her father, Kevin Whitney, 30, a maintenance man, juggle the pressures of post-hurricane life with tending to the child.

“Sunday night when I was going to work, as I was walking up to the front door, she just threw up. She had a fever. We went to the hospital and they wound up keeping her overnight,” the girl’s mother said. “She’s always had a cold, always.”

Like Lexi, McKenzie is treated with a nebulizer, a boxy breathing machine that turns medication into mist. It is prescribed to patients with moderate to severe symptoms, and requires children to inhale for 20 minutes.

Dr. Shama Shakir, a Bay St. Louis pediatrician who treats Lexi and Kacey at the Coastal Family Health Center, said that before the storm she prescribed nebulizers about twice weekly. Lately, she is doing so up to 12 times a week.

“You give them the most potent steroids, the most potent antibiotics, and still they have the symptoms,” Shakir said. “I worry about what will become of these children long-term.”

Deven Galloway, 27, lived in a FEMA trailer in Bay St. Louis for seven months with 4-year-old son DeReion. The boy uses a nebulizer for asthma.

“One day he was like, `I’m going to take more so I can go ahead and be finished for a long time,'” said his mother. “I had to tell him it didn’t work that way.”

Every adult in Britain could be forced to carry ‘carbon ration cards’

Daily Mail | May 27, 2008

By David Derbyshire

Every adult should be forced to use a ‘carbon ration card’ when they pay for petrol, airline tickets or household energy, MPs say.

The influential Environmental Audit Committee says a personal carbon trading scheme is the best and fairest way of cutting Britain’s CO2 emissions without penalising the poor.

Under the scheme, everyone would be given an annual carbon allowance to use when buying oil, gas, electricity and flights.

Anyone who exceeds their entitlement would have to buy top-up credits from individuals who haven’t used up their allowance. The amount paid would be driven by market forces and the deal done through a specialist company.

MPs, led by Tory Tim Yeo, say the scheme could be more effective at cutting greenhouse gas emissions than green taxes.

But critics say the idea is costly, bureaucratic, intrusive and unworkable.

The Government says it supports the scheme in principle, but warns it is ‘ahead of its time’.

The idea of personal carbon trading is increasingly being promoted by environmentalists. In theory it could be used to cover all purchases – from petrol to food.

For the scheme to work, the Government would need to give out 45million carbon cards – each one linked to a personal carbon account. Every year, the account would be credited with a notional amount of CO2 in kilograms.

Every time someone makes a purchase of petrol, energy or airline tickets, they would use up credits. A return flight from London to Rome would, for instance, use up 900kg of CO2 credits, while 10 litres of petrol would use up 23kg.
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Mr Yeo, chairman of the committee said personal carbon trading rewarded those with a low carbon footprint with cash.

‘We found that personal carbon trading has real potential to engage the population in the fight against climate change and to achieve significant emissions reductions in a progressive way,’ he said.

‘The idea is a radical one. As such it inevitably faces some significant challenges in its development. It is important to meet these challenges.

‘What we are asking the Government to do is to seize the reins on this, leading the debate and coordinating research.’

The Government is committed to cutting CO2 emissions to 20 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010.

The Climate Change Bill going through Parliament aims to cut emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. The Government has said it backs the idea in principle, but it is currently too expensive and bureaucratic.

Environment Minister Hilary Benn said: ‘It’s got potential but, in essence, it’s ahead of its time. There are a lot of practical problems to overcome.’

A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs report into the scheme found it would cost between £700million and £2billion to set up and up to another £2billion a year to run.

Tory environment spokesman Peter Ainsworth added: ‘Although it does have potential we should proceed with care. We don’t want to alienate people and we want everyone to be on board.’

But critics say the idea is deeply flawed. The scheme would penalise those living in the countryside who were dependent on their cars, as well as the elderly or housebound who need to heat their homes in the day.

Large families would suffer, as would those working at nights when little public transport is available.

It would need to take into account the size of families, and their ages. There is huge potential for fraud.

Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayers’ Alliance said the cards would be hugely unpopular. ‘The Government has shown itself incapable of managing any huge, complex IT system.’ he said.

HOW THE SCHEME WOULD WORK

Every adult in the UK would be given an annual carbon dioxide allowance in kgs and a special carbon card.

The scheme would cover road fuel, flights and energy bills.

Every time someone paid for road fuel, flights or energy, their carbon account would be docked.

A litre of petrol would use up 2.3kg in carbon, while every 1.3 miles of airline flight would use another 1kg.

When paying for petrol, the card would need to swiped at the till. It would be a legal offence to buy petrol without using a card.

When paying online, or by direct debit, the carbon account would be debited directly.

Anyone who doesn’t use up their credits in a year can sell them to someone who wants more credits. Trading would be done through specialist companies.

Nepal’s Prime Minister asks Maoists to lead new government

People’s Liberation Army poster of communist leaders in Kirtipur, Nepal. Photo: Brian Sokol for The New York Times

Saturday’s agreement paves way for the formation of Maoist-led government two years after the ex-rebels gave up their decade-old insurgency that killed more than 13,000 people.

AP | May 27, 2008

Kathmandu (AP): Nepal’s prime minister asked the country’s former communist rebels on Saturday to form a new coalition government after they won the largest number of seats for a constitution-drafting assembly.

Peace Minister Ram Chandra Poudel said the former rebels, formally known as Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists), were asked by Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala at a meeting Saturday to “go ahead and make the new government.”

It had not been decided when Koirala will step down and the Maoist-led government will take over.

“The prime minister asked the Maoists to form the new government and take necessary initiatives to bring other parties in the coalition government,” Poudel said.

Saturday’s agreement paves way for the formation of Maoist-led government two years after the ex-rebels gave up their decade-old insurgency that killed more than 13,000 people.

Since giving up their armed revolt in 2006 to join a peace process, they have joined mainstream politics, confined their combatants in U.N. monitored camps and locked up their weapons. They contested last month’s election for the Constituent Assembly and won the most seats.

The Constituent Assembly was scheduled to meet on Wednesday for the first time and is expected to begin work by abolishing the Himalayan nation’s centuries-old monarchy.

Poudel said a meeting between the top leaders would again take place later Sunday to decide other details.

The assembly would debate and draft a new constitution, decide the future political system for Nepal and govern the nation.

The new government is expected to be a coalition government since the Maoists does not have a clear majority in the newly elected assembly.

Koirala’s Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist-Leninist) are the two other major political parties in Nepal.

It was decided even before the election that monarchy would be abolished by the first meeting of the assembly and Nepal declared a republic nation.

Kremlin will reward prolific mothers to stem population decline

The Kremlin is to revive the old Soviet tradition of honouring women who give birth to many children.

The government has spread the message that it is the patriotic duty of all women to bear at least three children – and many have taken up the cause. Pregnancy is now the height of fashion among wealthy women.

Telegraph | May 25, 2008

By Adrian Blomfield

The initiative, the latest in a series of measures harking back to Russia’s communist past, represents the latest attempt to reverse a population decline that Vladimir Putin described as the country’s biggest crisis.

A decree establishing the “Order of Parental Honour” was signed by President Dmitry Medvedev and candidates include women with many children who can show they are raising them as “heroes”.

The award is the latest in a series of responses to the demographic crisis. Russia’s population of 142 million is shrinking by more than 700,000 a year and may have halved by 2050.

The government has spread the message that it is the patriotic duty of all women to bear at least three children – and many have taken up the cause. Pregnancy is now the height of fashion among wealthy women.

But experts believe the chances of reversing the population decline are slim, partly because there are too few women between the ages of 20 and 30.

But the main reason, they say, is Russia’s low life expectancy, which for men is 58. Critics say Mr Putin has failed to address the true cause of the crisis – “rampant alcoholism” – for fear of damaging his popularity.

Lindbergh sought god-like transhuman immortality with Rockefeller eugenicist

Charles Lindbergh and fascist eugenicist Alexis Carrel, with their perfusion pump at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan.

Carrel was a eugenicist with fascistic leanings. He believed the world was split into superior and inferior beings, and hoped that science would allow the superior – which included himself and Lindbergh, of course – to dominate and eventually weed out the inferiors.

He thought the planet was “encumbered” with people who “should be dead”, including “the weak, the diseased, and the fools”. Something like Lindbergh’s pump was not intended to help the many, but the few.

BBC | May 26, 2008

Lindbergh’s deranged quest for immortality

By Brendan O’Neill

Flying had a strange effect on the great aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, leading him to team up with a French surgeon and embark on a quest for ever-lasting life… for a chosen few.

What do you know about Charles Lindbergh?

You probably know he was an American aviator. He achieved overnight world stardom when he became the first person to fly non-stop across the Atlantic, solo, in 1927.

You might also know that Lindbergh was a peace activist who opposed American involvement in World War II – until Pearl Harbor, after which he volunteered to fly combat missions in the Pacific.

And you might know that in later life he became a prolific author, an explorer and an environmentalist.

But did you know that he was also a machine-obsessed inventor, who entered into a macabre alliance with a French-born surgeon to try to achieve immortality?

Forget aviation hero. On the side, Lindbergh was a Dr Frankenstein figure, who used his mechanical genius to explore the possibility of conquering death – but only for the select few who were considered “worthy” of living forever.

“Beating death was something he thought about his entire life”, says David M Friedman, American author of the new book The Immortalists. “Even as a small child, he couldn’t accept that people had to die. He would ask: ‘Why do you have to die to get to heaven?'”

Machine-enabled people

Friedman’s The Immortalists relates the untold story of Lindbergh’s frequently bizarre efforts to cheat death by creating machines that might sustain human life.

In the 1930s, after his historic flight over the Atlantic, Lindbergh hooked up with Alexis Carrel, a brilliant surgeon born in France but who worked in a laboratory at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan. Carrel – who was a mystic as well as a scientist – had already won a Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on the transplantation of blood vessels. But his real dream was a future in which the human body would become, in Friedman’s words, “a machine with constantly reparable or replaceable parts”.

This is where Lindbergh entered the frame. Carrel hoped that his own scientific nous combined with Lindbergh’s machine-making proficiency (Lindbergh had, after all, already helped design a plane that flew non-stop to Paris) would make his fantasy about immortal machine-enabled human beings a reality.

“Both of their needs were met in this rather strange relationship”, says Friedman. “Carrel benefited from Lindbergh’s mechanical genius and inventiveness, and for Lindbergh – well, Carrel became the most important person in his life, effectively steering the way he viewed the world and the people who lived in it.”
At the Rockefeller lab, Lindbergh and Carrel – almost like a real-life Jekyll and Hyde double act – made some extraordinary breakthroughs.

Lindbergh created something that Carrel’s team had singularly failed to: a perfusion pump that could keep a human organ alive outside of the body. It was called the “Model T” pump. In later years, Lindbergh’s pump was further developed by others, eventually leading to the construction of the first heart-lung machine.

Eugenics

“Some people, even academics and science students, are still shocked when they hear about the contribution that the aviator Lindbergh made to developing life-saving cardiac machinery,” says Friedman.

But there was a serious downside to what Friedman refers to as Lindbergh and Carrel’s “daring quest” to live forever.

Carrel was a eugenicist with fascistic leanings. He believed the world was split into superior and inferior beings, and hoped that science would allow the superior – which included himself and Lindbergh, of course – to dominate and eventually weed out the inferiors.

He thought the planet was “encumbered” with people who “should be dead”, including “the weak, the diseased, and the fools”. Something like Lindbergh’s pump was not intended to help the many, but the few.

Lindbergh himself sympathised with the Nazis.

“I wouldn’t say Lindbergh was the philosophical partner of Himmler or Hitler,” says Friedman. “But yes, he certainly admired the order, science and technology of Nazi Germany – and the idea of creating an ethnically pure race.”

Friedman says Lindbergh considered himself a “superior being”.

“Let’s not forget that, as a pilot, he felt he had escaped the chains of mortality. He had had a god-like experience. He flew amongst the clouds, often in a cockpit that was open to the elements. Flying was such a rare experience back then. In taking to the skies, he did something humans have dreamt of for centuries. So it is perhaps not surprising that he ended up trying to play god in a laboratory.”

Ethical ever-lasting life

Even contemporary transhumanists – the name given to those who want to extend human longevity and possibly conquer death – are surprised to hear about Lindbergh’s contribution to machine-assisted life.

“I never knew that”, says Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University and President of the World Transhumanism Association.

For Bostrom and his colleagues, aware that some people think transhumanism is the same thing as eugenics, the key today is the “ethical use of technology to extend human capabilities”.

“There are many ways we have used science and technology effectively to ‘cheat death'”, says Bostrom, “whether it’s through antibiotics, organ transplantation, or even lightning rods to deflect electrical currents from the sky. You know, when they were first invented some people said it was ‘playing god’ to try to deal with lightning in this way.”

Bostrom believes that reversing the ageing process, or at least using stem cell therapy to slow down the negative effects of ageing, should be “the next frontier” in medical science.
“But it should be for the benefit of everyone and it should be done ethically – somewhat different to what Lindbergh got up to”, he argues.

Stuart Derbyshire, a leading expert in pain based at the University of Birmingham, says it is certainly “desirable to live a long and healthy life” – but from Lindbergh’s experiments to today’s ethical question for longevity, he says there is also a “troubling” side to the “quest to live forever”.

“Any life, long or short, is only worthwhile if it is lived towards some purpose. The zealous pursuit of health and longevity can too easily become a substitute for real purpose.

“Health itself becomes a quasi-religious crusade against the old sins of the flesh – gluttony, sloth, lust – with all the attendant odious associations of physical impairment or disease with moral turpitude or a bad life.”

His implication is clear – while Lindbergh and Carrel’s quest had all the hallmarks of Nazi-promoted eugenics, it’s perhaps impossible to separate the pursuit of ever-lasting life with notions of supremacy.