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September 29, 2005


Scary shit indeed.

A few months back there was a discussion about mad cow disease. Some people are very worried about it, like me, and others think it is overblown. A couple weeks ago my mother told me something interesting.

My step father's brother died from it a few years back. I don't know where he got the meat, my mom's 70 so she's a little scattered, but I do know that I did not hear about it anywhere when it happened. I wonder how many other times it has happened without anyone hearing about it?

National Geographic has devoted an entire issue to avian flu. Andrew Sullivan has a link up on his blog today. Arrrgh -- seriously scary shit. Not so scary that I can't enjoy the Delay indictment (or Safavian's or Frist's SEC investigation or...well, you get the schadenfreude picture.), but very scary indeed. Perhaps I'll be staying in a LOT this winter with our toddler just to be on the safe side for her.

It's not necessarily a 'this winter' thing. Alas, bird flu is a totally separate thing than regular seasonal flu. It can hit in summer, winter, spring or fall.

Want some reassurance? Here. Caveat emptor.

Mike S, I don't know much about this, but you may like to read a bit on Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease -- probably what she meant by mad cow, if it was in a person -- which is still fairly mysterious but is not necessarily due to eating meat (of any kind). Best analogy is to ice-nine, if you've read Cat's Cradle... a "seed crystal" can get it started but it can also, rarely (relative to all humans, not relative to all cases of CJD), get started spontaneously.

There has been a great scientific effort to discover the flue virus that caused the 1918 flu. This happened in 1990.

"The bodies of six young miners were discovered frozen in the permafrost of the the Norwegian island of Spitzbergen - they had lain there undisturbed since 1918. An expedition, led by professor of virology at the Royal London Hospital John Oxford, analysed tissue samples taken from the bodies in an attempt to discover the genes responsible. Sadly they drew a blank, and the search for the Spanish Flu virus goes on."

It is hard to believe that melting permafrost wouldn't find something else, maybe this time the real thing. Or something worse.

Global warming also greatly increases the range of some organisms. Tropical diseases may start appearing well above the tropics. DC was once a malarial swamp, as was Philly.

In this article (subscription required), Jeffery K. Taubenberger describes the 1918 virus.

This PBS site explains:

By spring of this year, Jeffery Taubenberger expects to have in hand the entire genetic sequence of the influenza virus responsible for 1918's devastating global epidemic. Taubenberger, a molecular pathologist at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, Maryland, is using the 1918 flu genome information to answer lingering mysteries about the flu virus, such as where it originated, why it was so virulent, and why it struck with such ferocity among presumably healthy young adults.

Maybe we'll find a Neanderthal or two when the ice melts, and learn even more.

Forget about 'farting in the Sistine Chapel' - I think I'll just whimper right where I am!

Has anyone seen (or care to make) a simple bar graph showing relative human cost of great disasters of the last 100 or so years? Tsunami, Katrina, AIDS, likely range for avian flu, September 11, Iraq... ok so that's like the last 20 years but perhaps you can fill in some others. (I hadn't even heard of the 1918 flu... there were Neanderthals then? in the Bush lineage?)

Bacteria and viruses from olden times are only a theoretical worry. Not theoretical is the release of methane (25 times worse than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas) as the permafrost begins to thaw and decay. It's the tipping point of tipping points.


Here's a link to 1918 flu.

50-100 million killed worldwide, 675K in the US. More died from flu than from WW I. That'd be tought to top.

Judy Miller's out of jail, and is apparently testifying tomorrow. This apparently after a conversation with Libby by phone from jail.

The 1918 or Spanish Flu killed more troops than did battle. My grandfather told me about its effects in the trenches in 1918 and my grandmother told me about the effects of it on the homefront. She told me that a family would not be at church on Sunday morning and when the congregation went to investigate, they would find the whole family dead or dying. No telephones in those days for rural America and most still relied on horse and wagon transportation which meant families could not see other members of the community for weeks or months at the time.
German TV last night announced the Max Planck Institute has re-examined the available information on global warming and decided we underestimated the effects. For example, instead of a 1 degree per century increase, it is more like a 4 degree per century increase.
In the meantime, the Congressional committee investigating global warming has invited Micheal Crichton to speak since one of his novels dealt with an extremist group using hysteria over global warming to advance their own goals. Mr Crichton has given speeches discussing the correlation bewteen alien interference on earth with global warming. His premise is that the willingness to believe in UFOs has laid the groundwork for a credulous public to now accept global warming.
What does the Max Planck Institute know anyway? I think Mike has the Brookings Institute in his corner.

What's new?

I't was a lovely party!
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