Sunday, April 26, 2009

flu suspected in new zealand

Voxy NZ | An Auckland school group is being tested for swine flu after returning from Mexico with flu-like symptoms.

More than 80 people in Mexico are believed to have died and over 1300 are sick as a result of catching swine flu. Cases have also been reported in New York, California and Kansas and a British Airways pilot has been hospitalised in London with flu symptoms after returning from Mexico.

Three teachers and 22 senior students at Rangitoto College, New Zealand's largest secondary school, on Auckland's North Shore, yesterday returned to Auckland on a flight from Los Angeles, after a three week trip to Mexico .

Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) said today some had symptoms of an influenza-like illness and were remaining in home isolation as a precaution while tests to exclude or confirm swine influenza were carried out.

One student was believed to be in hospital.

Ministry of Health spokesman Michael Flyger told NZPA the results of tests were expected this evening.

He said at this stage other passengers on the flight were not being sought and the next step would depend on what the tests showed.

"We don't believe at this point that there is a need for that.

"We might get no positives, we might get one, we might get all of them. It's a pretty big step to be taking (and) it's something that would be considered."

In the meantime the students and teachers had been told to stay at home in isolation and ARPHS was briefing their families and the school on infection control precautions.

While the virus' spread was considered serious enough for WHO declare a health emergency, Mr Flyger said hit had proven responsive to drugs.

"It is concerning for sure. You've just got to look at the WHO's advice on this, but it has shown it reacts to treatment so it's not as bad as it could be.

"We're not looking at (the horror film) 28 Days Later."

flu on the ground in mexico...,

BBC News | I'm a specialist doctor in respiratory diseases and intensive care at the Mexican National Institute of Health. There is a severe emergency over the swine flu here. More and more patients are being admitted to the intensive care unit. Despite the heroic efforts of all staff (doctors, nurses, specialists, etc) patients continue to inevitably die. The truth is that anti-viral treatments and vaccines are not expected to have any effect, even at high doses. It is a great fear among the staff. The infection risk is very high among the doctors and health staff.

There is a sense of chaos in the other hospitals and we do not know what to do. Staff are starting to leave and many are opting to retire or apply for holidays. The truth is that mortality is even higher than what is being reported by the authorities, at least in the hospital where I work it. It is killing three to four patients daily, and it has been going on for more than three weeks. It is a shame and there is great fear here. Increasingly younger patients aged 20 to 30 years are dying before our helpless eyes and there is great sadness among health professionals here. Antonio Chavez, Mexico City

1918 flu pandemic


Wikipedia | The 1918 flu pandemic (commonly referred to as the Spanish flu) was an influenza pandemic that spread to nearly every part of the world. It was caused by an unusually virulent and deadly Influenza A virus strain of subtype H1N1. Historical and epidemiologic data are inadequate to identify the geographic origin of the virus. Most of its victims were healthy young adults, in contrast to most influenza outbreaks which predominantly affect juvenile, elderly, or otherwise weakened patients. The pandemic lasted from March 1918 to June 1920, spreading even to the Arctic and remote Pacific islands. It is estimated that anywhere from 20 to 100 million people were killed worldwide, or the approximate equivalent of one third of the population of Europe, more than double the number killed in World War I. This extraordinary toll resulted from the extremely high illness rate of up to 50% and the extreme severity of the symptoms, suspected to be caused by cytokine storms. The pandemic is estimated to have infected up to one billion people: half the world's population at the time.

The flu probably originated in the Far East. The disease was first observed at Fort Riley, Kansas, United States, on March 4, 1918, and Queens, New York, on March 11, 1918. In August 1918, a more virulent strain appeared simultaneously in Brest, France, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and in the U.S. at Boston, Massachusetts. The Allies of World War I came to call it the Spanish flu, primarily because the pandemic received greater press attention after it moved from France to Spain in November 1918. Spain was not involved in the war and had not imposed wartime censorship.

Scientists have used tissue samples from frozen victims to reproduce the virus for study. Given the strain's extreme virulence there has been controversy regarding the wisdom of such research. Among the conclusions of this research is that the virus kills via a cytokine storm (overreaction of the body's immune system) which explains its unusually severe nature and the concentrated age profile of its victims. The strong immune systems of young adults ravaged the body, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and middle-aged adults caused fewer deaths.

pandemic in the u.s.

NYTimes | Tests show that eight students at a Queens high school are likely to have contracted the human swine flu virus that has struck Mexico and a small number of other people in the United States, health officials in New York City said yesterday.

The students were among about 100 at St. Francis Preparatory School in Fresh Meadows who became sick in the last few days, said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, New York City’s health commissioner.

“All the cases were mild, no child was hospitalized, no child was seriously ill,” Dr. Frieden said.

Health officials reached their preliminary conclusion after conducting viral tests on nose or throat swabs from the eight students, which allowed them to eliminate other strains of flu. Officials were also suspicious since some St. Francis students recently had been to Mexico, where the outbreak is believed to have started.
UPDATE: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed that students at a city high school were infected with swine flu.

New York officials previously had said they were eight "probable" cases, but tests later confirmed that it was indeed swine flu. Bloomberg stressed that the cases were mild and many are recovering.

The city is awaiting the tests of additional samples to see if more St. Francis Preparatory School students were infected.

About 100 students complained of flu-like symptoms at the school. Some students went to Cancun on a spring break trip two weeks ago.
The president in Mexico assumed emergency powers to deal with the crisis, which has killed at least 81 people and infected about 1,300 others. All public gatherings have been banned, including more than 500 concerts and sporting events and the popular bicycle rides on closed boulevards.

Dr. Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organization, said the events in Mexico “constitute a public health emergency of international concern.”

The W.H.O. convened an emergency meeting of experts on Saturday, but the panel adjourned without raising the global pandemic alert level, saying it wanted more information. Some experts expressed surprise that no action was taken since the Mexico outbreak seems to meet the definition of a Level 4 alert — sustained human-to-human transmission of a new virus. The alert has been at Level 3 for years because of small clusters of human cases of avian flu.

In the United States, so far, at least 11 swine flu cases have been confirmed. Seven were confirmed in San Diego and Imperial Counties in California and two in Kansas. In Texas, two 16-year-old students at Byron Steele High School in Cibolo, near San Antonio, were confirmed to have swine flu, and one of their classmates was suspected to have the virus. There have been no deaths, and officials said most of the 11 seemed to be recovering.

fighting pandemic?

Associated Press | Mexico's president assumed new powers Saturday to isolate people infected with a deadly swine flu strain as authorities struggled to contain an outbreak that world health officials warned could become a global epidemic.

New cases of swine flu were confirmed in Kansas and California and suspected in New York City. But officials said they didn't know whether the New York cases were the strain that now has killed up to 81 people in Mexico and likely sickened 1,324 since April 13, according to figures updated late Saturday by Mexico's health secretary.

Tests have confirmed swine flu as the cause of death in 20 of the cases.

Mexican soldiers and health workers patrolled airports and bus stations as they tried to corral people who may be infected with the swine flu, as it became clearer that the government may have been slow to respond to the outbreak in March and early April.

Now, even detaining the ill may not keep the strain — a combination of swine, bird and human influenza that people may have no natural immunity to — from spreading, epidemiologists say.

The World Health Organization on Saturday asked countries around the world to step up reporting and surveillance of the disease and implement a coordinated response to contain it.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

sixty swine flu fatalities in mexico confirm pandemic start

Recombinomics | A rare outbreak of human swine flu has killed at least 60 people in Mexico and spread to the United States where authorities are on alert, the World Health Organisation said on Friday.

"To date there have been some 800 suspected cases with flu-like illness, with 57 deaths in the Mexico City area," Chaib added.

Twenty four suspected cases and three deaths were also recorded in San Luis Potosi in central Mexico.

The above comment confirm that the swine H1N1 in southwestern United States (see updated map) is the leading edge of a H1N1 pandemic that appears to be centered in Mexico.

These deaths should increase the pandemic phase to 6.

Release of sequences from fatal cases in Mexico would be useful.

Mexico is cancelling classes for millions of children in the heart of the country today after influenza killed 60 people. Mexican Health Minister Jose Angel Cordoba said schools and universities in Mexico City and the surrounding area would be temporarily closed and advised people with flu symptoms to stay home from work.

exotic respiration...,

The Scientist | Members of a microbial community from a pool of water deep under the Arctic ice power their metabolism by "breathing" iron, a study in this week's Science reports. The previously unknown mechanism may explain how microbes survived during a period 600 million years ago, when the earth's oceans were covered in ice, the authors say.

The identification of the bacterial ecosystem's oddball respiration is a "remarkable discovery," said Alan J. Kaufman, a biogeochemist at the University of Maryland in College Park, who was not involved in the study. It's impressive, he said, that the group was able to "look with such detail at the microbiology of the consortium of organisms that is basically eking out a living in an environment where there's no new food."

Jill Mikucki, a geomicrobiologist at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH, who led the research, first discovered the microbial community several years ago in a pool of marine brine seeping out from Blood Falls, a frozen, rust-laced waterfall at the mouth of the Taylor Glacier in East Antarctica.

In this study, Mikucki's team investigated the microbes' metabolism by studying their use of different minerals.

carcinogenesis revisited...,

The Scientist | Fifteen years ago, John Dick, a molecular biologist at the University of Toronto, discovered that not all cancer cells are created equal. Specifically, he showed that only a small population of self-renewing leukemia cells could create tumors, dubbing these cancer stem cells (CSCs). So, scientists asked: Can we wipe out cancer by targeting just these few rogue cells?

The model really took off in 2003 when Michael Clarke, Max Wicha, Sean Morrison, and their colleagues at the University of Michigan discovered CSCs in breast cancer—the first evidence of the cancerous supervillains in a solid tumor. Since then, CSCs have been reported in various other human tumors, including brain, lung, colon, and pancreatic cancers. "You practically can't pick up a major science journal now without seeing an article about cancer stem cells," says Wicha.

In 2007, the CSC hypothesis was thrown for a loop, however, after a team led by Kornelia Polyak, of the Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, probed a bit deeper into the Michigan team's findings. In this month's Hot Paper, Polyak's team compared the genetic profiles of the putative breast CSCs with other more differentiated cells, and found several genetic differences between the two cell populations. This "raises doubts about whether they are direct descendents of one another," says Polyak.

The findings imply that cancer cells are moving targets, Polyak argues, which is more in line with the "clonal evolution" model of tumor generation—the long-standing idea that normal cells mutate to become cancerous, and abnormal descendants transform again, creating a mass of competing, genetically-varied cancer cells. Thus, eliminating the so-called CSCs might not be sufficient to halt cancer dead in its tracks, because the remaining cells might be able to fuel tumor growth and develop drug resistance, too.

Friday, April 24, 2009

pre-empting the inevitable?

LATimes | The Obama administration agreed late Thursday to release dozens of photographs depicting alleged abuses at U.S. prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Bush White House.

The decision will make public for the first time photos obtained in military investigations at facilities other than the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Forty-four photos that the American Civil Liberties Union was seeking in a court case, plus a "substantial number" of other images, will be released by May 28.

The photos, examined by Air Force and Army criminal investigators, are apparently not as shocking as those taken at Abu Ghraib, which became a symbol of U.S. mistakes in Iraq. But Defense Department officials nevertheless are concerned that the release could incite another backlash in the Middle East.

Some of the photos show U.S. service members intimidating or threatening detainees by pointing weapons at them, according to officials who have seen them. Military officers have been court-martialed for threatening detainees at gunpoint.

"This will constitute visual proof that, unlike the Bush administration's claim, the abuse was not confined to Abu Ghraib and was not aberrational," said Amrit Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU, which reached the agreement as part of a long-running legal battle for documents related to anti-terrorism policies under President George W. Bush.

The decision comes as President Obama is trying to quell a drive to investigate Bush-era practices, which was spurred in part by his release last week of Justice Department memos detailing the Bush administration's legal justifications for harsh interrogations. But the photos and other possible disclosures stemming from the ACLU lawsuit threaten to stoke the controversy.

Other disclosures to be considered in the weeks ahead include transcripts of detainee interrogations, a CIA inspector general's report that has largely been kept secret, and background materials in a Justice Department investigation into prisoner abuse.

In each instance, Obama and his administration are being forced to decide whether to release the material entirely, disclose it with redactions, or follow the lead of the Bush administration and fight in court to keep it classified.

illegal, unnecessary, and useless

WaPo | As President Obama met with top advisers on the evening of April 15, he faced one of the sharpest policy divides of his young administration.

Five CIA directors -- including Leon E. Panetta and his four immediate predecessors -- and Obama's top counterterrorism adviser had expressed firm opposition to the release of interrogation details in four "top secret" memos in which Bush administration lawyers sanctioned harsh tactics.

On the other side of the issue were Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair and White House counsel Gregory B. Craig, whose colleagues during the campaign recall him expressing enthusiasm for fixing U.S. detainee policy.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had said he supported the disclosures because he saw the information's release as inevitable and because the White House was willing to promise that CIA officers would not be prosecuted for any abuse. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mike Mullen sided with Gates.

Seated in Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's West Wing office with about a dozen of his political, legal and security appointees, Obama requested a mini-debate in which one official was chosen to argue for releasing the memos and another was assigned to argue against doing so. When it ended, Obama dictated on the spot a draft of his announcement that the documents would be released, while most of the officials watched, according to an official who was present. The disclosure happened the next day.

Obama's aides have told political allies that the last-minute conversation, which ended around 9:30 p.m., demonstrated the president's commitment to airing both sides of a debate that was particularly contentious. But it also reflected widespread angst inside the White House that a public airing and repudiation of the harsh interrogation techniques that the last administration sought to keep secret would spark a national security debate with conservatives that could undermine Obama's broader agenda.

Several top aides had argued, for example, that the question of whether to release the memos should be put before a "truth commission," effectively postponing resolution of the issue for months. But Obama vetoed the idea on the grounds that it would create the divisive debate his closest advisers feared -- a viewpoint he reiterated at a meeting with lawmakers yesterday. Craig also argued persuasively, other officials said, that the federal judge in New York overseeing a lawsuit seeking the memos' release was unlikely to approve any significant delay.

Now Obama is being lashed by former Bush appointees and is facing growing pressure to accept such a commission. Some liberal activist groups presented petitions with 250,000 signatures to Holder at a House hearing yesterday, asking him to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the originators of the interrogation tactics. Meanwhile, debate is swirling in Washington not only about the merits of the techniques but also about the wisdom of Obama's decision to exercise his unique authority to instantly transform the "top secret" documents into public ones.

This account is based on interviews with more than a dozen officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk about the internal deliberations

they've been ignoring bacteria...,

NYTimes | In 1971, flush with the nation’s success in putting a man on the Moon, President Richard M. Nixon announced a new goal. Cancer would be cured by 1976, the bicentennial.

When 1976 came and went, the date for a cure, or at least substantial progress, kept being put off. It was going to happen by 2000, then by 2015.

Now, President Barack Obama, discussing his plans for health care, has vowed to find “a cure” for cancer in our time and said that, as part of the economic stimulus package, he would increase federal money for cancer research by a third for the next two years.

Cancer has always been an expensive priority. Since the war on cancer began, the National Cancer Institute, the federal government’s main cancer research entity, with 4,000 employees, has alone spent $105 billion. And other government agencies, universities, drug companies and philanthropies have chipped in uncounted billions more.

Yet the death rate for cancer, adjusted for the size and age of the population, dropped only 5 percent from 1950 to 2005. In contrast, the death rate for heart disease dropped 64 percent in that time, and for flu and pneumonia, it fell 58 percent.

economic depression's sharp edge


In the economic crisis, public hospitals are needed now more than ever. If you're down on your luck without insurance, the county hospital can be your last resort.

Recently thousands of letters went out across Las Vegas telling cancer patients that the only public hospital in the state was closing its outpatient clinic for chemotherapy.

It's the next thing in the recession - communities cutting back on services like schools or cops or public hospitals because tax revenues have fallen with the economy.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

so busted....,

NYTimes | FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.

It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.

strangely unsurprising.....,

WaPo | At a time when the Justice Department is deciding whether former officials who set interrogation policy or formulated the legal justifications for it should be investigated for possible crimes, the timeline lists at least a dozen members of the Bush administration who were present when the CIA's director or others explained exactly which questioning techniques were to be used and how those sessions proceeded.

Rice gave a key early green light when, as President George W. Bush's national security adviser, she met on July 17, 2002, with the CIA's then-director, George J. Tenet, and "advised that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaida," subject to approval by the Justice Department, according to the timeline.

Abu Zubaida, a Saudi-born Palestinian whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, was captured in Pakistan in March 2002. He was the first high-value detainee in CIA custody, and the agency believed that the al-Qaeda associate was "withholding imminent threat information," according to the timeline.

Rice and four other administration officials were first briefed in May 2002 on "alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding," the timeline shows. Waterboarding is a technique that simulates drowning.

A year later, in July 2003, the CIA briefed Rice, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Attorney General Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John B. Bellinger III on the use of waterboarding and other methods, the timeline states. They "reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy."

"This was not an abstract discussion. These were very detailed and specific conversations," said Jameel Jaffer, director of the National Security Project at the American Civil Liberties Union. "And it's further evidence of the role that senior administration officials had." Interrogation timeline.....,

trickle-down torture

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ignorant and enthusiastic...,

NYTimes | In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

The process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,” a former C.I.A. official said.

rumpus rooms readied early..,

WaPo | Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods -- and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded.

Previously secret memos and interviews show CIA and Pentagon officials exploring ways to break Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, up to eight months before Justice Department lawyers approved the use of waterboarding and nine other harsh methods, investigators found.

The findings are contained in a Senate Armed Services Committee report scheduled for release today that also documents multiple warnings -- from legal and trained interrogation experts -- that the techniques could backfire and might violate U.S. and international law.

One Army lieutenant colonel who reviewed the program warned in 2002 that coercion "usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain," according to the Senate report. A second official, briefed on plans to use aggressive techniques on detainees, was quoted the same year as asking: "Wouldn't that be illegal?"

Once they were accepted, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations not only in CIA secret prisons, but also in Defense Department internment camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said.

torture makes for bad public relations...,

WaPo | The administration's chief intelligence officer has told the White House that harsh interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda officials produced "valuable" information, but he added that it is impossible to tell whether the same intelligence leads might have been obtained using less controversial methods.

In any case, the damage to the country's image caused by the use of waterboarding and similar techniques exceeded any potential benefit, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said.

"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances," he said in a statement yesterday, "but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."

Blair, Obama's appointee to oversee the 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, summarized in the statement an assessment he gave his staff in a memo last week, according to U.S. officials familiar with the document. Blair is a participant in a White House-ordered review of CIA interrogation methods used on high-value terrorism suspects between 2002 and 2006.

"The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world," Blair said in the statement. "The damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

where have i heard this before.....,


Comedian Joe Rogan spits fire. There's no video going on here, just an audio clip which you should listen to in its entirety. Big ups to Dale for putting this into the mix.

Monday, April 20, 2009

abject lucidity...,


"Venezuela is a country whose defense budget is one-six hundredth of the United States. They own Citgo, the oil company. It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or that having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we endanger the strategic interests of the United States," Obama said.