Seven Months

It’s been seven months since my last blog post, and the situation of humanity on this earth has only worsened. In March, an 8.9 earthquake followed by a huge tsunami hit Japan, caused complete destruction of many areas on the east coast of the country.  The video that came from the scene was astonishing. The tsunami came as far as 6 miles inland, pushing cars and buildings out of its way as if they were styrofoam cups.

The tsunami also damaged a nuclear power complex and three reactors suffered partial meltdowns, producing large regions of dangerous radiation. This is a problem still affecting the country, because the area was partially agricultural, and all their food products are radioactive to some degree. One of the worst contaminated products is milk.

The Missouri, Mississippi, and other rivers had passed far beyond flood stage this year. In a controversial move, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a spillway in Louisiana that allowed waters to flood areas of Central LA all the way to the coast. This decision was made because the central areas are much less populated, and if the spillway had not been opened, flooding in the cities of Baton Rouge and New Orleans would have been worse, affecting a large number of people.

Forest fires have been raging, due to extreme drought in the southwest. The drought is worst, in magnitude and in area affected, in Texas. A heat wave has been breaking records since May, not just in the South but also in the Midwest and Northeast. Currently DFW stands at 36 consecutive days at 100 or above and is approaching the all time record of 42 consecutive days which occurred in 1980. Given the forecast for the upcoming week, we should have no problem topping that record.

Fortunately (as far as comfort is concerned), it is a very dry heat. That also makes it easier for fires to occur. I receive e-mails from FEMA about disaster areas and have frequently seen Texas counties on the list because of fires.

Notice the fire between Longview and Marshall!

Tornadoes rampaged in the spring, with the most famous one destroying parts of Joplin, Missouri.

Most recently there has been difficulty with Congress, i.e. the stubbornness of the Republicans, especially the Tea Party, with regard to raising the debt ceiling. They spent at least a month arguing, digging in their heels, threatening each other (Democrats too!) and engaging in other non-productive activities, while citizens worried more and more (and felt disgusted), and who knows what the rest of the world was thinking.

Earlier this week, on the last day (8-2), a compromise was finally reached and signed into law. Not a good compromise, of course. I don’t even want to think about it right now. Tomorrow I’ll post an op-ed I did for Associated Content.

And in spite of the compromise, Standard & Poor’s lowered the U.S. from its triple-A credit rating to double-A.

At the moment, I’m too depressed about all this to write anything more.


Another number trick

As reported at American Prospect blog, the Republicans have found a new way to massage the numbers concerning health care reform: simply choose another source, specifically, themselves. The apparent reason for this choice is the fact that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that the health care bill (ACA) will produce a surplus, rather than increased debt. Naturally they can’t allow that, because it doesn’t fit into their viewpoint. Thus they have decided to select the answer that they want, even though it isn’t connected to reality.

Meanwhile, the world keeps turning and people get poorer and the environment becomes poisoned and we may all die next year. Well, c’est la vie.

Camera Phones for Diagnoses

The uses for camera phones continue to expand, as more users think creatively about ways to take advantage of quick snapshots on the go. A person who accidentally stumbles on a newsworthy event can get extra cash by sending the first pictures to news sources, particularly local television stations. If the camera on the phone has a sufficient number of pixels, the image will be clear enough for even a large plasma screen.

Now a new use for camera phones has turned up: diagnosis of flesh wounds and other skin problems, including  rashes and infections. In a study conducted by Neal Sikka of George Washington University, individuals who come to the ER for skin-related issues are recruited to participate by completing a questionnaire and taking pictures of the problem area with their camera phones. Physicians in the study look at the pictures and the questionnaires to inform a diagnosis, which is then compared with the ER diagnosis for accuracy.

Since May, when the 6-month study began, accuracy has averaged 90% ( This positive outcome suggests that mHealth may continue to expand and become a common service of physicians.

However, there are pitfalls to this new use for technology (as always!). What if your email is not protected by appropriate security measures, such as encryption? Medical data and financial data are the most sensitive kinds of personal information, and emails for diagnoses are likely to contain both.

An obvious way that information could be acquired is by hacking into the system itself. However, that isn’t always necessary with wireless signals. Just as wireless Internet can be stolen, mobile phone connections can also be tapped.

The results of the study are not complete, and if physicians volunteered participation they were self-selected. Thus the reports are only preliminary and may be biased in favor of doctors who are already technology users. There is no way at present to establish a “control” group — another issue with the study methodology.

Finally, liability will certainly be a huge problem for doctors who diagnose using mobile phones pictures, in a similar way that diagnosing a psychiatric illness over the phone would be. The inability to view the wound from different angles, to touch it (with gloves, of course), or check circulation both proximally and distally could prevent diagnosis of a serious problem. Until and unless the extravagantly high awards for malpractice suits are managed with new legal statutes, the expansion of diagnostic possibilities available through technology such as camera phones may languish due to fear on the part of doctors.

Tort reform in Texas (my home state) has been an effective strategy to limit non-medical awards to $250,000 and thereby put a lid on the amount of money a physician can be charged for vague issues such as “pain and suffering.”

Final opinion from WideEyedBohemian: Diagnosis via camera phone may help doctors diagnose some types of illness, particularly for people who live in remote rural areas. However, caution is still needed at this time.

Hazardous Waste — again

The number of deaths from cancer near the town of Frederick, MD, are reminiscent of the movie “Erin Brokovich,” and in fact, the law office where the famous lawyer works has been tapped to manage a class action lawsuit brought by Frederick residents against the nearby Army post, Fort Detrick.

Agent Orange, a well known defoliant and carcinogen, was researched and developed by the military at Fort Detrick (and other locations) during the ’70s.  Testing of groundwater near the fort has shown contamination by Agent Orange and other related chemicals.

Fort Detrick has just recently finished capping its hazardous waste dumps to prevent them from entering the groundwater — a task it began back in 1992.

This is another example of technology rushing ahead with no thought of the possible consequences.  Technology typically develops much faster than safe practices and morals; thus humanity is forever cleaning up messes that could have been prevented. The BP oil spill is another good example.

Right now there is a great debate on who should be responsible for making sure that safety rules are followed: should it be the company itself (or similar entity), or should a governmental agency set standards and provide accountability through inspections?

The question isn’t easy to answer. Government can get out of control, particularly if a gung-ho over the top employee is head of the agency. On the other hand, companies look out for their shareholders interests first. They have to. A conflict develops between doing things safely and doing them cheaply. Typically the scale tips towards cheaply, and the company just prays that nothing will ever happen….

Until it does, at which time they begin chasing their tails, trying to find someone to blame, and maybe spending a bit of time and money on fixing the actual problem.

I know that Stockholders Are People Too. I don’t disparage their right to make money in the stock market — that’s what it’s there for. However, companies and agencies (like Fort Detrick) cannot, must not forget that there is a larger world beyond their stockholders. And this larger world deserves consideration.

Iran’s New Bomber

Now that Iran has a nuclear power plant, the next logical step is making nuclear weapons. Forget for the moment that Iran’s leader, Ahmadinejad,  says they won’t make any.

Iran has, however, just unveiled its new unmanned drone bomber, named Karrar (Farsi for striker). Ahmadinejad calls it Iran’s “Ambassador of Death.” Is this the means by which Iran can attack Israel as well as other countries (even America)?

Msnbc reports,

“The scope of Iran’s reaction will include the entire earth,” said Ahmadinejad. “We also tell you — the West — that all options are on the table.”

As far as I’m concerned, this is clearly a warning to Western Europe as well as the U.S.  It is more likely that Europe would be hit rather than the US, but no possibilities can be excluded at this point.

Modern poorhouse, anyone?

It appears that the Tea Party (Republican) candidate for governor of New York has a surprising-but-not-new idea for dealing with poverty.

Carl Paladino’s plan includes consolidating inmates and possibly privatizing prisons, then opening the empty prisons for the poor to enter “voluntarily.” He compares his program to the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps.

There are several differences, however.

Paladino has previously said that his state’s social services programs encourage poor and illegal immigrants to move there.  He also states that his “poor prison” plan will teach needed skills and “personal hygiene” to those who enter, and that they will need to do work for the government as needed in return for their keep.

Requiring work from those helped in this way is similar to the CCC and to current social programs like welfare. According to Jessica Pieklo at, however, Paladino does not comprehend the causes of poverty in the US.

While I appreciate the irony in Paladino giving credit to the CCC for his idea, I’m more than a little disturbed by his overall misunderstanding of poverty in this country.  For a large percentage of the population, poverty is not simply a function of a lack of skills or poor hygiene.  Those who do receive some kind of public assistance already work in exchange for those benefits.  They have to.

I perceive that Paladino does not miss any meals or wonder where he will sleep each night. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean he can’t empathize… except that he doesn’t, quite.

The Huffington Post also covered this story, emphasizing Paladino’s plan to have the poor work in various types of service including military service. He has not specified whether they would get pay or not, nor from where the money for this program will come. However, he promises a 20% reduction in New York’s budget and a 10% reduction in income tax.

I believe that Paladino’s plan could work, with certain caveats.

  1. Moving into the former prison wards would be strictly voluntary.
  2. Families would be able to live together.
  3. Children would go to school as usual.
  4. Workers would receive payment, at least minimum wage, but hopefully more since the minimum wage is below poverty level.
  5. Every person living in the dorms would receive medical, dental, optical, and mental health treatment free of charge. The reason for this is that a healthy individual is better able to take his/her place in society as a functioning, contributing member.

IMHO, this plan is good, IFF (if and ONLY if) the above characteristics are met. If done properly, it could totally change the economy and crime level of a state.

Mankind’s Giant Puzzle

I have been reading news stories as well as watching the 3 main cable news channels, trying to piece together the puzzle of what is really happening on our planet. What would an alien race think of us if they were watching us invisibly, able to go everywhere and see everything?

They would see hypocrisy in the moralizing preachers and public figures who claim to stand for “family values” then are caught in adultery, prostitution, or pornography. And in particular, “Christians” whose life choices are so far from Christ’s –who welcomed foreigners rather than fearing them — that the term “Christian” seems like a travesty.

They would see the United States slipping in economic stability, infant mortality, civil rights (read the Patriot Act) and education while legislators play games of “musical  amendments” and “hot issue”. Childishly they guard their fortresses, the donkey and the elephant scarcely remembering that they are both animals.

They would see our impulsiveness and widespread inability to wait for anything. Perhaps they would wonder why we didn’t pay more attention to long term goals, and instead polluted the air, tore down the mountains, contaminated the water, and designed ever new and ready means to check out of life for awhile.

I doubt that they would consider us a threat to them, at least not at present. They would consider it much more likely that we would destroy ourselves.

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