Month: August 2007

Meanwhile, in the other India

While India prepares to spend many billions of dollars on fighter jets, it cannot provide clean water for its citizens.

Cholera-diarrhoea toll mounts to 164 in Orissa-India-The Times of India

Cholera and diarrhoea, having assumed epidemic proportions in three tribal dominated Orissa districts, have so far claimed 164 lives as officials confirmed five more deaths in worst-hit Koraput on Thursday.

The death toll, which had mounted to 159 on Wednesday, further rose to 164 with confirmation of five casualties in Dasmantpur block of Koraput district, Chief District Medical Officer (CDMO) R K Agarwal said.

While the toll in Koraput district went up to 73, the situation remained by and large unchanged in Rayagada with 64 casualties as the killer diseases claimed as many as 27 lives in Kalahandi, official sources said.

The water-borne diseases had assumed epidemic form in nine blocks of these three backward districts located adjacent to each other though separated by hills and the waterspread of the vast Indravati reservoir.

Despite state government’s claim to have effectively controlled the spread of the diseases, residents of the affected areas alleged that the administration had failed to provide adequate medical facilities to the patients.

This is disgusting and very symptomatic of the urban-rural divide that exists in India. Unless the government can provide basic infrastructure to its rural citizens, all those fancy malls and F16s mean little.

Infrastructure, Not Guns

Things that make me want to bang my head against the wall at 6:30 in the morning.

Building a Modern Arsenal in India – New York Times

Over the next five years, military analysts expect the country to spend as much as $40 billion on weapons procurement alone, more than its entire annual armaments budget today — upgrading systems as diverse as jet fighters, artillery, submarines and tanks in its largely Soviet-era arsenal. As a result, India will become one of the largest military markets in the world.

In terms of “potential for growth, India is our top market, ” said Richard G. Kirkland, Lockheed Martin’s president for South Asia.

Great, now we only need to start another war and American military contractors are set for life. After all, now they’ll be arming both sides. Meanwhile, the average South Asian is sitting in her hut somewhere wondering how to feed her family, send her kids to school, protect them from flooding and disease, all on less than a dollar a day.

Arsenic a rising risk?

This is new information? Tell that to the millions of Bangladeshis and Indians suffering from Arsenic for many years now.

As groundwater use increases due to population pressure and overexploitation of freshwater, expect this problem to get worse.

Arsenic in Drinking Water Said to Be Rising Risk – New York Times

Naturally occurring arsenic in drinking water poses a growing global health risk as large numbers of people unknowingly consume unsafe levels, researchers said on Wednesday.

The problem is bigger than scientists had thought, and it affects nearly 140 million people in more than 70 countries, according to new research presented at the annual Royal Geographical Society meeting in London.

Flood risks from global warming underestimated.

As CO2 levels in the atmosphere increase, plants uptake less water from the soil. Betts’ model indicates that there could be a 6 percentage point increase due to this effect on top of the 11% increase in global water flows due to direct climate effects.

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Climate flooding risk ‘misjudged’

Researchers say efforts to calculate flooding risk from climate change do not take into account the effect carbon dioxide (CO2) has on vegetation. Higher atmospheric levels of this greenhouse gas reduce the ability of plants to suck water out of the ground and “breathe” out the excess. Plants expel excess water through tiny pores, or stomata, in their leaves. Their reduced ability to release water back into the atmosphere will result in the ground becoming saturated.

Feedbacks, always a problem and hard to predict.

Good news on Diacetyl

It turns out that turning up the heat on popcorn manufacturers to replace diacetyl, the artificial butter flavoring ingredient that kills people exposed to it during manufacturing, has effects. Apparently, there are substitutes that work just as well and can be used without too much trouble.

Popcorn Maker Drops Chemical Linked To Lung Ailment – Local News Story – WRTV Indianapolis

Weaver Popcorn Co., one of the nation’s top microwave popcorn makers, has switched to a new butter flavoring, replacing a chemical linked to a lung ailment in popcorn plant workers.

The Indianapolis-based company began shipping new butter-flavored microwave popcorn a few weeks ago that contain no diacetyl, a chemical undergoing national scrutiny because of cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare life-threatening disease often called popcorn lung.

Company president Mike Weaver said that although his workers have experienced no such cases, the family-owned business wanted to lead the popcorn industry and allay consumer fears by eliminating the chemical from its product line

David Michaels of George Washington University’s Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy Project and writer on one of my favorite blogs, the Pump Handle has been at the forefront of documenting this issue, raising awareness and bringing pressure to bear. I am glad to see that we’re seeing positive change for diacetyl.

Hopefully, you’re going to start seeing “Diacetyl Free!!!!” signs on your microwave popcorn (and other artificially buttered products) real soon.

Dear American Public Media, Coal is not clean!

Overheard this morning on The Marketplace morning report…

“The use of scrubbers have made coal fired power plants much cleaner”

Umm, this only refers to the scrubbing of particulate matter and sulfur dioxide. Unless some marvelous scrubber has been invented and perfected (top secret, the coal fired power plants don’t want you to know about all the good things they do!) that picks up all the CO2 belching out of those smokestacks, no claim can be made that coal is cleaner.

Dear Marketplace, your own website says the following:

KAI RYSSDAL: And it’s official. Carbon dioxide is a pollutant. The Supreme Court says so. The Bush Administration had been arguing the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases

To argue this from a strictly legalistic standpoint, coal is dirtier now than it has ever been because we finally count CO2 as a pollutant (Yes, I know, Supreme Court only ruled on automobile emissions because that was the case in front of it, but gas is gas!).

Dear Marketplace, please stop using the words clean and coal in the same sentence unless and until CO2 emissions from coal are scrubbed!

Update 30Aug07: Apparently (see comments!), NPR does not like the use of the word NPR in the blog title because (and I quote)

“Marketplace” is not an NPR show. It is produced by American Public Media, a separate company, and has its own news operation”

True, so it’s not dear NPR anymore, it’s “dear American Public Media”. There, that takes care of that. My point obviously stands, coal is not clean!!

Hog Factories are Evil Part 1232

This rather interesting study tracks the movement and evolution of antibiotic resistance from hog cesspools (lagoons) caused by factory production (hog farming) of pig meat. You see, in order to pack that many hogs together and not cause them to keel over and die from disease, they have to be pumped full of antibiotics. Guess where the antibiotics end up? In their “refuse”.

As always, I leave you with The Meatrix if you want to know more about factory farming.

Antibiotic Resistance Tracked From Hog Farms to Groundwater

The routine use of antibiotics in swine production can have unintended consequences, with antibiotic resistance genes sometimes leaking from waste lagoons into groundwater, according to new research from the University of Illinois.

Researchers report that some genes found in hog waste lagoons are transferred, “like batons,” from one bacterial species to another. This migration across species and into new environments sometimes dilutes, and sometimes amplifies, genes conferring antibiotic resistance, they say.

The new report, in the August issue of “Applied and Environmental Microbiology,” tracks the passage of tetracycline resistance genes from hog waste lagoons into groundwater wells at two Illinois swine facilities.

Tetracycline is widely used in swine production. It is injected into the animals to treat or prevent disease, and is often used as an additive in hog feed to boost the animals’ growth.

Its near-continuous use in some hog farms promotes the evolution of tetracycline-resistant strains in the animals’ digestive tracts and manure.

This is the first study to take a broad sample of tetracycline resistance genes in a landscape dominated by hog farming, said principal investigator R.I. Mackie, a professor in the University of Illinois-Champaign department of animal sciences and an affiliate of the Institute for Genomic Biology.

Bomb blasts kill 30 in Hyderabad

Happens too depressingly often in India. There’s just too many people around, it’s very easy to hide,  counter-surveillance by police/intelligence agencies is lacking. Hopefully, it won’t ignite any  more violence, which is all the terrorists are hoping to do.

Over 32 killed as terror strikes Hyderabad-India-The Times of India

In two near-simultaneous terror attacks, at least 32 people were killed and 35 injured in two explosions at a crowded park and a popular eating joint here on Sunday evening, three months after the Mecca Masjid blasts.

Twenty six people died and 22 wounded when an explosion ripped through Gokul Chat Shop at Kothi locality at around 7.30 pm, Andhra Pradesh Home Minister K Jana Reddy told reporters here.

Six people, most of them from outside the state, were killed and 13 injured in another blast five minutes earlier in an open air auditorium in Lumbini Park near the state secretariat in the heart of the city when a laser show was on, he said.

The condition of ten to 15 people in different hospitals of the city was stated to be serious.

Chief Minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy and Police Commissioner Balwinder Singh, who both visited the blast sites, said it appeared to be a terrorist act.

A red alert was sounded across the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad and neighbouring Karnataka and the national capital Delhi in the wake of the blasts.

Senior police and central intelligence officials indicated that the explosives used in today’s well-planned blasts were similar to those employed in Mecca Masjid explosions which claimed 11 lives in May this year.

The good work that blogs do

Except this one of course, which is written by a single guy sittting in his mom’s basement, eating cheetos and playing video games all day and is full of spelling errors, spot one in this sentence!

Jay Rosen of the New York University School of Journalism writes an excellent opinion piece on journalism by bloggers. This list, which includes work on the pet food contamination issue, the U.S attorney politicization scandal, the Scooter Libby case, etc. would put a regular journalist to shame.

More evidence that the collective work and wisdom of the many, which blogs foster and promote, has greatly enriched journalism in this country. If I have a little time, I should look for more global examples of such efforts. I am sure China, Iraq and Iran are full of examples, not to mention India! Who can forget Baghdad Burning? The last post is from April of this year, hope everything’s still fine.

Bush Administration to enshrine destructive coal mining practice

Rule to Expand Mountaintop Coal Mining – New York Times

The Bush administration is set to issue a regulation on Friday that would enshrine the coal mining practice of mountaintop removal. The technique involves blasting off the tops of mountains and dumping the rubble into valleys and streams.

The journalist who wrote this piece lets some unsupported talking points just slip by. First of all, coal does not solve the US dependence on “foreign oil”. Coal is used for electricity, oil is used for cars, there is little overlap. Secondly, he claims that mountaintop mining is safer. I guess it is safer because it is cheaper to ensure the safety of the miners above ground rather than underground. But, that does not make it inherently safer!

For all the devastating effects of mountaintop removal mining, including death, water pollution, habitat destruction, flooding, landslides, read this grist article from 2006.

The go-to site for activism relating to this issue is IloveMountains. Go see it!

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