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A pandemic by any other name? Swine Flu spreads quickly across globe.

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Swine FluWhen I arrived at the gym this morning I jokingly asked if anyone had been to Mexico recently… But I was really only half joking. My trainer promptly told me not panic and keep my hands washed as I jumped onto the treadmill.

While certainly not in the same league as Ebola or the Spanish Flu, the H1N1 virus—aka the swine flu—is still a killer, with a death toll passing 150, and it’s meteoric spread across the globe has been nothing less than astonishing. Originating in Mexico, the virus has spread as far as Europe and Australia, including over 40 cases here the United States, and that’s only 2 weeks after first documented case. The outbreak hasn’t been classified as a pandemic. Yet. (See the map to the the right for real-time tracking of the documented cases)

Despite the name, swine flue didn’t originate in pigs, and is actually made up of components of avian, swine and human flu viruses. Currently there is no vaccine designed to combat the virus, but Tamiflu is being used with some success.

While I think it’s a little early to be stocking up on dry goods and surgical masks—ask me again later in the week—it is a wakeup call to how small and how connected this planet really is. That something so tiny could take us all out, without so much as a thought or regret.

As an aside, it’s really  unfortunate that the Republicans cut pandemic funding from the stimulus bill. If people weren’t falling ill and dying, the irony would be truly delicious. I’m sorry, I couldn’t let this slide by without a mention.

So back to my trainer. Not only does he give a good workout, he gives sage advice… see the Swine Flu Q & A below from the CDC:

Q. What should I do to keep from getting the flu?
Most important for preventing the spread of flu is washing your hands. Also, try to stay in good general health. That means get plenty of sleep, be physically active, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious foods and manage your stress. Also, try to avoid contact with people who are sick.

Q. What is the best technique for washing my hands to avoid getting the flu?
Wash with soap and water for 15 to 20 seconds If soap and water is not available, use an alcohol-based hand cleaner, rubbing your hands until the gel is dry. The alcohol kills the germs on your hands without water.

I’ll be heading out to buy some more hand soap. How about you?

Earth Day is about saving this pale blue dot we call home…

activism, science, video No Comments »

Earth DayIt’s been difficult these past few days with the blog and all—more on that tomorrow—and I’ve almost let Earth Day pass me by without so much as a sidelong glance. But I’m reminded just now of one of the Earth’s most passionate advocates who unfortunately is no longer with us, who called this world ‘a pale blue dot.” I am of course referring to Carl Sagan, the well-known astronomer and bestselling author of Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. In his followup A Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, there is an eloquent passage where he describes the view of Earth from beyond Saturn, as seen through the lens of the Voyager 1 space probe.

The piece, set to music and video below, reminds us that our planet is little more than a point of light in vast, encompassing cosmos… but it is our “point of light,” and it’s the only one we’ve got. Perhaps the implied message is that we better take care of this place we call Earth, because if we don’t, no one else in the universe will even notice… when we are gone.

I know you’ll probably be reading this the day after Earth Day, but this will still be just as important and definitely worth the time.

I’ll close with another quote from Carl Sagan, as relevant today as it was almost 30 years ago…

“Our own planet is only a tiny part of the vast cosmic tapestry, a starry fabric of worlds yet untold. Those worlds in space are as countless as all the grains of sand on all the beaches of the Earth. Each of those worlds is as real as ours. In every one of them, there’s a succession of incidents, events, occurrences which influence its future. Countless worlds, numberless moments, an immensity of space and time. And our small planet, at this moment, here we face a critical branch-point in the history. What we do with our world, right now, will propagate down through the centuries and powerfully affect the destiny of our descendants. It is well within our power to destroy our civilization, and perhaps our species as well. If we capitulate to superstition, or greed, or stupidity we can plunge our world into a darkness deeper than time between the collapse of classical civilization and the Italian Renaissance. But, we are also capable of using our compassion and our intelligence, our technology and our wealth, to make an abundant and meaningful life for every inhabitant of this planet. To enhance enormously our understanding of the Universe, and to carry us to the stars.”

Happy, belated, Earth Day.

Tuesdays with TED: New thinking on the climate crisis with Al Gore

environment, politics, science, video No Comments »

Former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore returned to TED in 2008 with an updated slideshow to warn us of the accelerating rate of climate change and to challenge us to act.

It seemed appropriate to focus on global warming this time around thanks to the success of Earth Hour last Saturday and the same day announcement by the White House of a global warming summit to be held next month.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there will finally be some progress.

Some conservative states at odds with Obama, stem cell research

politics, religion, science No Comments »

stemcellsNot surprisingly, a number of states — many of them conservative — are at odds with the easing of stem cell research restrictions put into effect by President Obama ealier this week. Currently Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina have bills that would impact stem cell research.

As reported by AP

While Louisiana already bans the destruction of fertilized embryos, the courts have not yet weighed in, Charo said.

In Georgia, a measure that would ban some forms of stem cell research on fertilized embryos is moving quickly through the state Senate. The bill would outlaw the destruction of fertilized embryos, which the legislation defines as a person. It is expected to face a vote in the full state Senate on Thursday.

Similar “personhood” measures have cleared one chamber each in Montana and North Dakota.

They come in the wake of a Colorado ballot initiative that said human life begins at conception. It failed to win voter approval last year.

David Prentice, senior fellow for life sciences at the Washington, D.C.-based Family Research Council, said Obama’s announcement Monday that he will free federal funds for embryonic stem cell research will rally conservatives.

“This is the beginning,” Prentice said. “I think there will be more to come.”

Many would suggest that any state that hampers or bans stem cell research shouldn’t be able to enjoy the fruits of its research. While I certainly wouldn’t go that far, the state should be penalized in some way without harming its constituents.

The true irony here is that nearly half of those states have some of the highest rates of heart disease and incidences of diabetes in the nation. Chronic conditions that could easily be reduced by breakthroughs in stem cell research.

It brings back that tired but true refrain “always voting against one’s self interest.”