Month: January 2007

New York Odor from the Marshes?

Turns out that the fugitive emission of nasty sulfur gases in New York that had Fox News suspecting terrorism for a while may have come from more mundane sources.

Sniffing Out the Truth – New York Times

But we haven’t, and we think we can support one of the theories of the odor’s source that has been suggested. Based on our familiarity with the local aquatic environment and regional meteorology, we believe that the odor was caused by gases released from saltwater marshes in the metropolitan area. Let us explain. The intertidal sediments in this region are home to micro-organisms that produce sulfur compounds. When these sediments interact with saltwater that contains low levels of oxygen, gases are released. These gases include hydrogen sulfide and a variety of thiols (like the gas additives thiophane and mercaptan) — all of which have an odor similar to rotten eggs.

First, there was a low tide in the coastal marshes from roughly 4 a.m. to 6 a.m. Second, we experienced winds from the south and an atmospheric inversion, which created something like a low-lying bubble of air.

The result of the two factors? The low tide exposed the marsh sediments and hastened the release of sulfur gases into the atmosphere. The inversion trapped the odor close to the groundand the southerly winds then carried it to Lower Manhattan, where it remained until atmospheric conditions changed.

Damn, this is CSI NY (Atmospheric Chemistry and Modeling Division), good stuff!

Our explanation highlights the consequences of excessive nutrient loading and the resulting low oxygen levels in local coastal waters. (By nutrient loading, we mean exposing water to sewage, fertilizer, chemicals or other pollutants.) Of course, these consequences go beyond odor — they kill marsh vegetation, degrade the wider marine habitat and make it unsafe to swim or fish.

Indeed, so the cause, while natural is not really natural, it is from untreated sewage. New Yorkers, stop blaming New Jersey! Look at yourself!


Pakistan and the Taliban

At Border, Signs of Pakistani Role in Taliban Surge – New York Times

The most explosive question about the Taliban resurgence here along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is this: Have Pakistani intelligence agencies been promoting the Islamic insurgency?

The government of Pakistan vehemently rejects the allegation and insists that it is fully committed to help American and NATO forces prevail against the Taliban militants who were driven from power in Afghanistan in 2001.

Western diplomats in both countries and Pakistani opposition figures say that Pakistani intelligence agencies — in particular the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence — have been supporting a Taliban restoration, motivated not only by Islamic fervor but also by a longstanding view that the jihadist movement allows them to assert greater influence on Pakistan’s vulnerable western flank.

Read the whole article, it is instructive. Most South Asians (including Pakistanis) would say “D’uh”! We’ve known this for years! It’s considered a well known fact that the Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency ISI helped create the Taliban with US assistance and coordinated the Mujahideen resistance in Afghanistan. Read this article from 2001 for a good summary.

My point is not to discuss the rightness or wrongness of these actions. Most competent countries will do whatever is in their best interests. Everyone’s known this piece of information about the ISI for years, and the U.S government knows this as well. It is in every country’s best interest to be as hypocritical/devious as possible in the pursuit of foreign policy. 

But  it is incumbent on any newspaper covering the government to not participate in this hypocrisy. The NY times writes three pages on the Taliban without providing any background on U.S involvement. It is an article of faith among South Asians like me that American mass media is an organ of U.S diplomacy and/or propaganda. Articles like these only confirm this hypothesis.


Mercury Exposure in India?

Ex-workers ask HLL to accept liability for mercury deaths

The death of a 47-year-old man who had worked for a Hindustan Lever thermometer factory for 18 years brought out hundreds of ex-employees, who had also been exposed to toxic mercury, to the streets.

Scores of people in the area suffer from skin diseases, premature greying, incessant headaches, stomach pain, kidney problems and blood in the urine, say the former workers who approached the Supreme Court in 2005 demanding compensation.

Well, I don’t know what to say. This tragedy goes on in India continuously, occupational pollution exposure is through the roof in most factories. Safety equipment is not used, enforcement is minimal, all in all, in a country of 1+ billion people, some are more expendable than others.

I suspect this one is getting more play because a large multinational is involved. But Indian factories are equal opportunity killers, whether owned by large behemoths like Unilever, or by your local rotary club small businessman.

It looks like they have not even done an autopsy/blood test to look for mercury in this man’s system, so it’s early days.


An off patent miracle cancer cure?

Interesting news coming out of Canada from a Dr. Anselm at the University of Alberta about a well known chemical dichloroacetic acid (like vinegar with two chlorines!).

Cheap, safe drug kills most cancers – health – 17 January 2007 – New Scientist

It sounds almost too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their “immortality”. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe.

It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.

Here’s the PubMed citation for the article, filled with biology I will have no hope of understanding! I read the press release on sciencedaily a few days back and did a little background digging.

A clinical trial conducted by Colombia University studying the effects of dichloroacetate on MELAs (stroke like symptoms) was halted early because everyone taking the medication showed significant effects of neural toxicity. This study was commented on by Dr. Anselm who theorized that the effect could be caused by a specific gene mutation not seen in a lot of the patients he works with.

So, there is some reason for caution on this wonder drug, it may be toxic at certain doses to certain people. Most chemotherapetic drugs are horrendously toxic too. But if this is not a concern, Dr Anselm, meet Sunil Shaunak and his wonderful proposal to setup an alternative pipeline for drug approval that does not involve big/small pharma. I Am sure between Bill Gates, or George Soros, a few million bucks can be rustled up for a cancer cure.


South Asians: Watch your Heart

Seems like us South Asians die earlier from heart attacks.

ScienceDaily: South Asians Have Higher Levels Of Heart Attack Risk Factors At Younger Ages

Deaths related to cardiovascular disease occur 5 to 10 years earlier in South Asian countries than in Western countries, according to background information in the article. This has raised the possibility that South Asians exhibit a special susceptibility for acute myocardial infarction (AMI; heart attack) that is not explained by traditional risk factors.

But why?

The prevalence of protective risk factors (leisure time physical activity, regular alcohol intake, and daily intake of fruits and vegetables) were markedly lower in South Asian study participants compared with those from other countries.

Um, it is mainly behavioral, not genetic according to the authors, and hence can be mitigated by lifestyle changes.

Well, I guess it is time to take a personal stock as of 1-18-2007:

  • Weight – Well, I am in the lower end of the healthy BMI.
  • Exercise – 4-5 days of 45 minutes – 1 hour per day, pretty good.
  • Food – Well, mostly good, especially if the candy can be avoided. I need to eat more vegetables, but I eat a lot of high fibre, and whole wheat food, probably not enough protein, mostly vegetarian.
  • Alcohol (1-2 drinks is apparently a heart protector) – Amen, I am a religious one drink a day partaker, more on weekends :-;
  • Smoking – Well, gave that up a while back, now to quit that occasional “party” smoke.
  • Stress – Well, not so good, this is probably the area I would need to work on the most.
  • Hypertension – Well, I am borderline on my blood pressure readings 🙁 Need to work on that.
  • Cholesterol – Still waiting for results on my physical.

On the whole, I seem to be in decent shape. It’s good to take stock once in a while.

Compare and Contrast these two energy stories

Read both these stories and go bang your head on a wall repeatedly.

Europe creates attractive clean energy scene – International Herald Tribune

But a commitment by European governments to budding clean-energy entrepreneurs is creating a more welcoming environment than in America, where erratic support and onerous financial rules have given pause to some start-ups and investors.

American ‘Coal Rush’ Hits Some Hurdles

The nation’s demand for electricity is growing, and utilities want to build new power plants to satisfy that appetite. Most of those plants — perhaps as many as 150 — would burn coal.

Well, at least the coal rush is hitting a few hurdles. But even if half those plants don’t come about, that’s still 70+ coal fired power plants, nice!

The interesting part of the IHT story to me was this.

Venture capitalists and private equity investors in North America have been more bullish, providing $3.5 billion to clean-energy developers in 2006, roughly triple the amount raised in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, according to New Energy Finance, a research firm based in London.

So, if the US had the right incentives, Americans would be investing there, creating jobs there, improving infrastructure there instead of in Europe. I guess those very “patriotic” American lawmakers don’t think that far ahead. Note also that all the tax cuts to wealthy Americans leaves a lot of cash floating around for them to invest in projects in other parts of the world. These are investments the US won’t reap a benefit on as a country, or create jobs for the working proletariat – Nice tax cuts, more patriotism, I guess. Such a poor return on investment on these tax cuts.

US Senate Bill on Global Warming

Sanders, Leahy re-introduce Jeffords global warming bill –

“The good news is that we know how to address the problem. The bad new is that, for many years now, government policy has been totally inadequate,” Sanders said. “The forward-thinking legislation will put the United States on track to lead the way toward a cleaner future for all and I look forward to strong support as we push to protect our planet.”

The bill was originally introduced in July of 2006, when it (predictably) went nowhere. Here is Sanders’ summary of the bill.

The Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act calls for carbon dioxide (CO2) and other heat-trapping emissions to be reduced to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

80% is the reduction called for in the Stern Review as well. The point is to stabilize global concentration at 450 ppm.

It is still early to say what the prognoses in the Congress and Senate are, but one thing is sure, the US emperor will veto it. The point is, however, to establish this bill as the starting point of any negotiation/bargaining that will surely occur.

Doonesbury and "Situational Science"


Image courtesy Doonesbury

Situational science is about respecting both sides of a scientific argument, not just the one supported by facts.

But, Doonesbury is to kind to assume that the people making these arguments actually believe them. This is not really about actually believing in the “controversy”. It’s just a well orchestrated set of PR campaigns to keep the status quo going. All hail the Plutocracy Protectionary Principle