Monday, May 11, 2009

music between worlds

Roederer | Speech and music both involve the transmission of information by acoustic waves—air pressure oscillations within given ranges of frequency and amplitude. We have a clear understanding of what kind of information is conveyed by human speech, and strategies and algorithms are being developed to configure electromagnetic signals that may allow an alien intelligence to learn about human language and its relation to events in the environment and abstract things like numbers. Similar considerations apply to our strategies and algorithms to find out about the possible existence of linguistic communication in other civilizations. But what kind of biologically relevant information is conveyed by music? From our subjective experience we know that it has to do with feelings, i.e., the emotional states of the organism—but how do we explain this to an alien civilization? And how do we look for interstellar messages that may carry information on emotional states of extraterrestrial beings?

A related aspect difficult to convey as an interstellar message is the fact that, in contrast to speech, music seems to serve no immediate “practical” purpose (this, of course, is common to all expressions of art). Again, we know from experience that an important purpose of music is emotional arousal. But can we explain why we respond emotionally to successions and superpositions of tones which seem to have little relationship with environmental events, current or in our evolutionary past? And if we do have an answer, how would we formulate it in an interstellar message? Must we assume that musical feelings are such a ubiquitous attribute of intelligent beings that our message would be understood at once?

The purpose of this chapter is to analyze “music” as a human endeavor in the most comprehensive, objective and scientific terms possible, and to argue on neuroscientific grounds that musical arts may indeed be ubiquitous in civilizations exhibiting human-like intelligence.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

music: complex shapes and memory stores?

Leyton | The book A Generative Theory of Shape (Michael Leyton, Springer-Verlag, 2001) develops new foundations to geometry in which shape is equivalent to memory storage. With respect to this, the argument is given that art-works are maximal memory stores. The present paper reviews some of the basic principles concerning our claim that, in particular, musical works are maximal memory stores. The argument is that maximizing memory storage explains the structure of musical works.

We first review the basic geometric theory of the book: A generative theory of shape is developed that has two properties regarded as fundamental to intelligence – maximization of transfer and maximization of recoverability. Aesthetic structuration is taken to be equivalent to intelligence. Thus aesthetics is brought into the very foundations of the new theory of geometry. A mathematical theory of transfer and recoverability is developed, using symmetry-breaking wreath products.

From this, it becomes possible to develop a theory of musical composition, as follows:

Musical works are complex shapes.

A theory of complex-shape generation is presented, in which any structure is described as unfolded from a maximally collapsed version of that structure, called an alignment kernel. This process is formalized by proposing a new class of groups called unfolding groups. The alignment kernel is a subgroup of that structure, consisting of symmetry ground-states which are themselves formalized by a new class of groups called iso-regular groups. In music, the iso-regular groups represent the anticipation hierarchies, for example the regular meters of the work. The process of musical composition is then described by an unfolding group, which "unfolds" the work, by successively breaking the iso-regular groups of the alignment kernel.

dry taps in mexico city


Time | The reek of unwashed toilets spilled into the street in the neighborhood of unpainted cinder block houses. Out on the main road, hundreds of residents banged plastic buckets and blocked the path of irate drivers while children scoured the surrounding area for government trucks. Finally, the impatient crowd launched into a high-pitched chant, repeating one word at fever pitch: "Water, Water, Water!"

About five million people, or a quarter of the population of Mexico City's urban sprawl, woke up Thursday with dry taps. The drought was caused by the biggest stoppage in the city's main reservoir system in recent years to ration its depleting supplies. Government officials hope this and four other stoppages will keep water flowing until the summer rainy season fills the basins back up. But they warn that the Mexican capital needs to seriously overhaul its water system to stop an unfathomable disaster in the future. (See pictures of the world water crisis.)

It is perhaps unsurprising that the biggest metropolis in the Western hemisphere is confronting problems with its water supply — and becoming an alarming cautionary tale for other megacities. Scientists have been talking for years about how humans are pumping up too much water while ripping apart too many forests, and warning that the vital liquid could become the next commodity nations are fighting over with tanks and bombers. But it is hard for most people to appreciate quite how valuable a simple thing like water is — until the taps turn off.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

conference of the birds..,

Come you lost Atoms

to your Centre draw,

And be the Eternal Mirror

that you saw:

Rays that have wander'd

into Darkness wide

Return and back

into your Sun subside

the chemist

Wikipedia | Information about Attar's life is rare. He is mentioned by only two of his contemporaries, `Awfi and Nasir ud-Din Tusi. However, all sources confirm that he was from Nishapur, a major city of medieval Khorasan (now located in the northeast of Iran), and according to `Awfi, he was a poet of the Seljuq period. It seems that he was not well known as a poet in his own lifetime, except at his home town, and his greatness as a mystic, a poet, and a master of narrative was not discovered until the 15th century.

`Attar was probably the son of a prosperous chemist, receiving an excellent education in various fields. While his works say little else about his life, they tell us that he practiced the profession of pharmacy and personally attended to a very large number of customers.[1] The people he helped in the pharmacy used to confide their troubles in `Attar and this affected him deeply. Eventually, he abandoned his pharmacy store and traveled widely - to Kufa, Mecca, Damascus, Turkistan, and India, meeting with Sufi Shaykhs - and returned promoting Sufi ideas.

`Attar's initiation into Sufi practices is subject to much speculation and fabrication. Of all the famous Sufi Shaykhs supposed to have been his teachers, only one - Majd ud-Din Baghdadi - comes within the bounds of possibility. The only certainty in this regard is `Attar's own statement that he once met him.

In any case it can be taken for granted that from childhood onward `Attar, encouraged by his father, was interested in the Sufis and their sayings and way of life, and regarded their saints as his spiritual guides.

`Attar reached an age of over 70 and died a violent death in the massacre which the Mongols inflicted on Nishabur in April 1221.[1] Today, his mausoleum is located in Nishapur. It was built by Ali-Shir Nava'i in the 16th century.

Like many aspects of his life, his death, too, is blended with legends and speculation.

Attar

Wikipedia | The word 'Attar', 'ittar' or 'othr' is basically an Arabic word which means 'scent'; this in turn is believed to have been derived from the Sanskrit word Sugandha, meaning 'aromatic'. The earliest distillation of Attar was mentioned in the Ayurvedic text Charaka Samhita. The Harshacharita, written in 7th century A.D. in Northern India mentions use of fragrant agarwood oil.

The story of Indian perfumes is as old as the civilization itself. Archaeological evidence shows the earliest inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent held plants in great reverence. With the passage of time, scented oils were extracted by pressing, pulverizing or distilling aromatic vegetal and animal produce. Such processes led to the development of the art of alchemy, the earliest indications of which are available from the perfume jars and terracotta containers of the Indus Valley civilization. That the art has survived for centuries speaks volumes for the Indian perfumes.

Integrated into India's daily life, scented plants are used to celebrate every aspect of Indian culture, from the ritual to the culinary, from the celibate to the erotic. Vedas mentioned a combination of numerous herbs, twigs, barks and flowers as offering to Gods in yagnas.

Archaeological excavations have revealed round copper stills, used for making attars, that are at least five-thousand years old. These stills are called degs. Following the seasons of the flowers, traditional attar-makers, with their degs, traveled all over India to make their attars on-the-spot. Even now, rural areas often lack good roads to quickly transport the harvested flowers, and a few traditional attar-makers still travel with their degs to be close to the harvest. Their equipment has changed little, if at all, in the last five thousand years.

In ancient India, an Attar was prepared by placing precious flowers and sacred plants into a water or vegetable oil. Slowly the plants and flowers would infuse the water/oil with their delicate fragrance. The plant and flower material would then be removed and a symphony of their aromatic beauty would be held in the Attar. These Attars were then worn as a sacred perfume or to anoint.

In Ain-e-Akbari, Abul Fazal, has mentioned that Akbar used ittar daily and burnt incense sticks in gold and silver censers. A princess’s toilette was incomplete without incense and attar. A very popular ittar with the Mughal princes was ood, prepared in Assam.

Ittar is an indigenous product of Kannauj Uttar Pradesh India. According to Mr. Afsar Ali Khan of Nizam Attars Hyderabad India. There is a legend on how the first ittars were made. The forest dwelling Hindu Sadhus, used certain perfumed jungle herbs and roots in their bonfires during the winters. The shepherds who grazed their sheep in that region, found the perfume lingering in the burnt wood, long after the Sadhus left the place. Word spread about this incident and some enterprising people, searched and found the fragrant herbs and roots. Then the experiments on ittar began and one of the first ittars to be made was Rose and Hina.

what does it mean?



NPR | Dancers Are Vocal Mimics

Schachner says the important thing is that, like humans — and unlike dogs or cats — parrots and elephants are both known to be vocal mimics. They can imitate sounds. "And that's really striking," she says.

It means dancing may be a byproduct of an ability that evolved for vocal imitation and vocal learning. After all, to mimic a sound, you have to listen to it and its rhythm and then use that information to coordinate movement — to shape the way you move your lips and tongue.

All of these findings have convinced Tecumseh Fitch, an evolutionary biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who is interested in the origin of music.

"The capacity to extract a beat from sound and move your body to it was, until these papers, believed to be uniquely human," he says, adding that if parrots can really dance, all kinds of new experiments are now possible.

"For example, what genes are turned on while a bird is dancing?" wonders Fitch. "What genes are turned on by listening to a beat, versus listening to sounds that don't have a beat?"

And what would happen if a bird never heard any music for the first few years of its life? Could it still dance later on? That would be an interesting study, Fitch says, and one that could never be done on

what is music?


Wired | Knowledge is passed down directly from generation to generation in the animal kingdom as parents teach their children the things they will need to survive. But a new study has found that, even when the chain is broken, nature sometimes finds a way.

Zebra finches, which normally learn their complex courtship songs from their fathers, spontaneously developed the same songs all on their own after only a few generations.

“We found that in this case, the culture was pretty much encoded in the genome,” said Partha Mitra of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, co-author of a study in Nature on Sunday.

Birds transmit their songs through social interactions, as humans do for languages, dances, cuisine and other cultural elements. Though birds and humans have clearly followed different evolutionary paths, birdsong culture can still inform theories of human culture.

Normally, male finches learn their complex courtship songs (MP3) from their uncles and fathers. But if there are no vocal role models around, the song will deviate from the traditional song and be harsh to female finch ears (MP3). Each bird, then, must learn from his father or uncles, as they learned from their fathers, and so on — but this can only take us so far down the lineage.

“It’s the classic ‘chicken and the egg’ puzzle,” Mitra said. “Learning may explain how the son copies its father’s song, but it doesn’t explain the origin of the father’s song.”

Dale one mo gin...,

this time, however, it's a MAJOR node on the dot map. It should go without saying that I find the "culture in the genome" implication a priori ridiculous. Not because I find questions of extended phenotype intrinsically dubious, but instead, because the questions begged by the phenomenon observed are so much deeper and more interesting than the tired trope that these monkeys parroted.

they're part of the biosphere...,


Wired | A virus so large and strange that it’s redefined the very concept of a virus has been photographed for the first time. It’s even weirder than expected.

The virus was originally discovered infecting amoebas in a Parisian water tower in 1992. It was orders of magnitude bigger than any other virus — so large, in fact, that researchers figured it was a microbe.

It took 11 years for the mimivirus to be officially defined as a virus, though the definition didn’t quite fit. In addition to its enormous size, many of its genes came from bacteria. Some researchers called it a “missing link” that blurred the boundaries between viruses and living cells, between living and dead.

“The new structural finds, along with previous genetic and morphological work, confirm that mimivirus is an odd mix of genes and parts found in viruses, bacteria and even eukaryotes, the organisms that sequester their DNA in a nucleus,” write the researchers.

fist tap to Dale.

Friday, May 08, 2009

the art of illusion...,

Wired | The trick is called Looks Simple, and the point is that even a puff on a cigarette, closely examined, can disintegrate into smoke and mirrors. "People take reality for granted," Teller says shortly before stepping onstage. "Reality seems so simple. We just open our eyes and there it is. But that doesn't mean it is simple."

"Tricks work only because magicians know, at an intuitive level, how we look at the world," says Macknik, lead author of the paper. "Even when we know we're going to be tricked, we still can't see it, which suggests that magicians are fooling the mind at a very deep level." By reverse-engineering these deceptions, Macknik hopes to illuminate the mental loopholes that make us see a woman get sawed in half or a rabbit appear out of thin air even when we know such stuff is impossible. "Magicians were taking advantage of these cognitive illusions long before any scientist identified them," Martinez-Conde says.


Fist tap to my man Dale.

preparedness plans in place...,

WaPo | The Bush administration implemented an $8 billion pandemic flu planning program that created a detailed national blueprint and funneled millions of dollars to state and local governments to create and rehearse their own plans.

After the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the World Health Organization instituted measures that heightened the world's ability to identify and respond swiftly to outbreaks. They included international regulations that call for countries to report worrisome outbreaks quickly and a revised pandemic threat alert system, which was ratcheted up quickly last week.

So when reports emerged from Mexico of a new virus that most people might have no immunity against, and that appeared to be spreading easily from person to person and -- in an eerie echo of 1918 -- was killing healthy young adults, the world went on high alert.

"If what was being reported in Mexico played out in the United States and elsewhere, this was a potentially serious epidemic that was getting underway," Inglesby said. "We had to respond quickly."

The reaction has also been influenced by political missteps in previous emergencies, including the mixed messages and poor communication about the 2001 anthrax letters and the slow reaction to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

AP | "If we do move into a pandemic, then our expectation is that we will see a large number of people infected worldwide," Fukuda said. "If you look at past pandemics, it would be a reasonable estimate to say perhaps a third of the world's population would get infected with this virus."

With the current total population of more than 6 billion, that would mean an infection total of 2 billion, he said, but added that the world has changed since pandemics of earlier generations, and experts are unable to predict if the impact will be greater or smaller.

to serve man...,

Reuters | Stephen Friedman, chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank's board of directors, resigned on Thursday amid questions about his purchases of stock in his former firm, Goldman Sachs (GS.N).

Friedman, a retired chairman of Goldman Sachs who has led the New York Fed's board since January 2008, said he quit to prevent criticism about his stock buying from becoming a distraction as the Fed battles a severe U.S. recession.

"Although I have been in compliance with the rules, my public service motivated continuation on the Reserve Bank Board is being mischaracterized as improper," he said in a letter of resignation to New York Fed President William Dudley.

"The Federal Reserve System has important work to do and does not need this distraction," Friedman said.

The U.S. central bank is comprised of a seven-member Board of Governors in Washington, and 12 regional Fed banks.

economic misinformation or bald-faced lying?


Knowing what we know about reduced exploration, precipitous oil-field decline, reduced overall production, and dire workforce sustainability issues - all of which information is in the public domain - this Associate Press International wire feed stands out as an obviously and patently false piece of propaganda. Oil prices are no doubt rising, but not for the reasons given by this "reporter". Is this an example of nonsense economics distorting the reporter's perception and narrative, or, is this just bald-faced lying from a propaganda organ as much in decline as global oil supply?

AP | Oil rises above $57 on economic recovery hopes
Oil prices rose above $57 a barrel Friday in Asia as investors bet that a year-end recovery in the global economy will boost oil demand.

Traders have shaken off weeks of dismal economic news amid signs that the slowdown has eased and a recovery could gain steam by the end of the year.

"Market psychology has clearly turned around," said Christoffer Moltke-Leth, head of sales trading for Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore. "I could see oil going above $60."

Benchmark crude for June delivery was up 53 cents to $57.24 a barrel by midday in Singapore, in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract rose as high as $58.57 a barrel, a six-month high, before settling up 32 cents at $56.47.

Until this week, oil had traded in a range near $50 a barrel since the end of March as investors looked for evidence that the U.S. economy had stabilized after a severe recession in the fourth and first quarters.

On Thursday, several U.S. retailers, led by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., reported better-than-expected April sales, and new applications for jobless benefits fell to the lowest level in 14 weeks, signaling a wave of layoffs may have peaked.

Still, some traders are skeptical that the recent run-up in prices is warranted, given the slump in consumer demand and surging crude inventories. The International Monetary Fund forecasts the global economy will shrink 1.3 percent this year.

"I think the market has gotten a little ahead of itself," Moltke-Leth said. "The fundamentals don't support this recent rally."

Investors will be watching for the monthly U.S. jobs report for April. The unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent in March, the highest since 1983.

"It's like the market is saying, `Hey, we're not in free fall anymore, that's good.'" Moltke-Leth said. "But you still have an economy contracting and more people unemployed, and that will continue for a long while."

In other Nymex trading, gasoline for June delivery rose 2.80 cents to $1.69 a gallon and heating oil gained 1.44 to $1.50 a gallon. Natural gas for June delivery jumped 6.8 cent to $4.12 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent prices rose 80 cents to $57.27 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

hyperbolic geometry of coral and crochet..,



The natural world is full of hyperbolic wonders and embodied knowledge....,

you need worms...,

Live Science | For instance, many fewer people are infected with worms than before.

"If you look back at the human race in the 20th century, every child and adult had worms in their gastrointestinal tracts," Weinstock said. "They were part of the ecosystem of the gut. As it turns out, worms are very potent at controlling immune reactions, in order to live happily ever after in the gut. Our theory is that when we started deworming the population, that is one factor that led to the rise in immunological diseases."

As part of this "hygiene hypothesis," Weinstock also notes that dirt roads, horses and cattle used to be far more prevalent in life than they are now.

"Our theory is that when we moved to this super-hygiene environment, which only occurred in the last 50 to 100 years, this led to immune disregulation," he said. "We're not saying that sanitation is not a good thing — we don't want people to jog up to river banks and get indiscriminately contaminated. But we might want to better understand what factors in hygiene are healthy and what are probably detrimental, to establish a new balance and hopefully have the best of both worlds."

fundaligion and drugs

Synchronium | The idea of a victimless crime is nothing more than a judicial reprise of the Christian notion of sin.

It is no accident that people of faith often want to curtail the private freedoms of others. This impulse has less to do with the history of religion and more to do with its logic, because the very idea of privacy is incompatible with the existence of God. If God sees and knows all things, and remains so provincial a creature as to be scandalized by certain sexual behaviors or states of the brain, then what people do in the privacy of their own homes, though it may not have the slightest implication for their behavior in public, will still be a matter of public concern for people of faith.

A variety of religious notions of wrongdoing can be seen converging here—concerns over nonprocreative sexuality and idolatry especially—and these seem to have given many of us the sense that it is ethical to punish people, often severely, for engaging in private behavior that harms no one. Like most costly examples of irrationality, in which human happiness has been blindly subverted for generations, the role of religion here is both explicit and foundational. To see that our laws against “vice” have actually nothing to do with keeping people from coming to physical or psychological harm, and everything to do with not angering God, we need only consider that oral or anal sex between consenting adults remains a criminal offence in thirteen states. Four of the states (Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri) prohibit these acts between same-sex couples and, therefore, effectively prohibit homosexuality. The other nine ban consensual sodomy for everyone (these places of equity are Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, and Virginia). One does not have to be a demographer to grasp that the impulse to prosecute consenting adults for nonprocreative sexual behavior will correlate rather strongly with religious faith.

The influence of faith on our criminal laws comes at a remarkable price. Consider the case of drugs. As it happens, there are many substances—many of them naturally occurring—the consumption of which leads to transient states of inordinate pleasure. Occasionally, it is true, they lead to transient states of misery as well, but there is no doubt that pleasure is the norm, otherwise human beings would not have felt the continual desire to take such substances for millennia. Of course, pleasure is precisely the problem with these substances, since pleasure and piety have always had an uneasy relationship.

When one looks at our drug laws—indeed, at our vice laws altogether—the only organizing principle that appears to make sense of them is that anything which might radically eclipse prayer or procreative sexuality as a source of pleasure has been outlawed. In particular, any drug (LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, DMT, MDMA, marijuana, etc.) to which spiritual or religious significance has been ascribed by its users has been prohibited. Concerns about the health of our citizens, or about their productivity, are red herrings in this debate, as the legality of alcohol and cigarettes attests.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

the bottom

Kunstler | For now, the "bottom" is in -- that is, the bottom of this society's ability to process reality. It may continue for a month of so, even after the "stress test" for banks is finally let out of the massage parlor with a "happy ending." But events are underway that are beyond the command of personalities. We're done "doing business" in all the ways that we've been used to, but we just can't get with the new program. Let's count the ways:

1. The revolving credit economy is over. It's over because we can't increase energy inputs to the system, which is one way of saying "peak oil." Of course hardly anybody believes this right now because the price of oil crashed nine months ago, along with global manufacturing and trade. But nothing has changed on the peak oil scene -- except perhaps that ever more new oil projects have been cancelled for lack of financing, which will boomerang on us (even if swine flu doesn't) in the form of much lower future oil production. In any case, the credit fiesta is over, and the "consumer" economy with it, because industrial growth as we have known it is over. It's over globally, too, though all regions of the world will not experience its demise the same way at the same rate.

2.) The suburban living arrangement is over, along with all its accessories and furnishings. Taken as "all of a piece," the suburban expansion was one sixty-year-long orgasm of hypertrophy. We did it because we could. We won a world war and threw a party. We had lots of cheap land and cheap oil. It made lots of people lots of money and all its usufructs have become embedded in our national identity to the dangerous degree that the loss of them will provoke a kind of national psychotic breakdown. In fact, it already has. The completely unrealistic expectation that we can resume this way of life is proof of it.

3.) The Happy Motoring fiesta is over. You'd think that with Chrysler crawling into the bankruptcy court, and GM just weeks away from the same terminal ceremony, the news media would begin to suspect that the foundation of everyday life in this country was cracking. Instead, all we hear is blather about "market share" shifting to Toyota. News flash: not only will we make fewer automobiles in the USA, but Americans will buy far fewer cars made anywhere. We'll keep the current fleet moving a while longer, but when it's too beat to repair, we won't be changing it out for a new fleet -- despite all the fantasies about hybrids, plug-and-drive electrics, and so on.

4.) Our food production system is approaching crisis. There's no way we can continue the petro-agriculture system of farming and the Cheez Doodle and Pepsi Cola diet that it services. The public is absolutely zombified in the face of this problem -- perhaps a result of the diet itself. President Obama and Ag Secretary Vilsack have not given a hint that they understand the gravity of the situation. It is probably one of those unfortunate events of history that can only impress a society in the form of a crisis. It also happens to be one of the few problems we face that public policy could affect sharply and broadly -- if we underwrote the reactivation of smaller, local farm operations instead of shoveling money to giant "agribusiness" (or Citibank, or Goldman Sachs, or AIG...). I maintain that this may be the year that the crisis gets our attention, because capital is suddenly harder to get than fossil-fuel-based fertilizer.

why inequality is fatal

Nature | The idea that income inequality within a society is more unsettling to health and welfare than income differences between societies has been hotly debated for more than two decades. In the past year alone, six academic analyses have been published in peer-reviewed journals, four of which contradict the hypothesis on statistical grounds. Yet Wilkinson and Pickett do not address these criticisms in their book. They might also have explained the occasional notable deviation from their theory, such as the unexpectedly high murder rates in egalitarian Finland and the unexpectedly low rates in very unequal Singapore.

How can inequality affect such a diverse set of social problems so profoundly? The authors make a compelling case that the key is neuroendocrinological stress, provoked by a perception that others enjoy a higher status than oneself, undermining self-esteem. This triggers the release of the hormone cortisol, which raises blood pressure and blood sugar levels, from which myriad health and social problems unfold. This seemingly hard-wired response has been well studied in social hierarchies of monkeys; low-status animals become predisposed to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. Humans experiencing chronic stress exhibit similar symptoms, accumulating abdominal fat under the influence of a part of the brain associated with addiction.

Cortisol overrides 'feel-good hormones' such as oxytocin, involved in establishing trust, and dopamine, the reward signal that reinforces memory, attention and problem-solving ability. Cortisol-induced stress predisposes some individuals to mental illness or violent behaviour. It can hasten the arrival of puberty, which may prompt premature sexual adventures, providing a plausible explanation of the high prevalence of teenage pregnancies in the most unequal societies. Cortisol also transmits stress to a fetus, with lasting consequences for physical and emotional development.

The stress response could even exacerbate illiteracy and unwillingness to engage with education. Wilkinson and Pickett argue that these are more common in less equal societies, not because of poverty but because school-age students may lose self-esteem when they realize that some of their peers are better equipped than themselves for educational challenges. The stress response may also lead to illicit drug use. Monkey social hierarchies provide a clue: dominant animals secrete dopamine and feel good about their place in the world, whereas monkeys at the other end of the status scale are more inclined to self-medicate — with cocaine if given the opportunity.

The Spirit Level is a brave and imaginative effort to understand the intractable social problems that face rich democratic countries. For Wilkinson and Pickett, economic equality is the best way to improve the quality of life for all. Governments can get there by using redistributive taxation and an extensive welfare state, as in Sweden, or by restraining income disparities and minimizing public spending, as in Japan. The book ends optimistically: whatever route is chosen, the authors argue, the current economic slump may be a providential opportunity to start righting the balance.

The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

genius; the modern view

NYTimes | Some people live in romantic ages. They tend to believe that genius is the product of a divine spark. They believe that there have been, throughout the ages, certain paragons of greatness — Dante, Mozart, Einstein — whose talents far exceeded normal comprehension, who had an other-worldly access to transcendent truth, and who are best approached with reverential awe.

We, of course, live in a scientific age, and modern research pierces hocus-pocus. In the view that is now dominant, even Mozart’s early abilities were not the product of some innate spiritual gift. His early compositions were nothing special. They were pastiches of other people’s work. Mozart was a good musician at an early age, but he would not stand out among today’s top child-performers.

What Mozart had, we now believe, was the same thing Tiger Woods had — the ability to focus for long periods of time and a father intent on improving his skills. Mozart played a lot of piano at a very young age, so he got his 10,000 hours of practice in early and then he built from there.

The latest research suggests a more prosaic, democratic, even puritanical view of the world. The key factor separating geniuses from the merely accomplished is not a divine spark. It’s not I.Q., a generally bad predictor of success, even in realms like chess. Instead, it’s deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft.

Coyle and Colvin describe dozens of experiments fleshing out this process. This research takes some of the magic out of great achievement. But it underlines a fact that is often neglected. Public discussion is smitten by genetics and what we’re “hard-wired” to do. And it’s true that genes place a leash on our capacities. But the brain is also phenomenally plastic. We construct ourselves through behavior. As Coyle observes, it’s not who you are, it’s what you do.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

wireless remains....,

NYTimes | In 1901, Nikola Tesla began work on a global system of giant towers meant to relay through the air not only news, stock reports and even pictures but also, unbeknown to investors such as J. Pierpont Morgan, free electricity for one and all.

It was the inventor’s biggest project, and his most audacious.

The first tower rose on rural Long Island and, by 1903, stood more than 18 stories tall. One midsummer night, it emitted a dull rumble and proceeded to hurl bolts of electricity into the sky. The blinding flashes, The New York Sun reported, “seemed to shoot off into the darkness on some mysterious errand.”

But the system failed for want of money, and at least partly for scientific viability. Tesla never finished his prototype tower and was forced to abandon its adjoining laboratory.

Today, a fight is looming over the ghostly remains of that site, called Wardenclyffe — what Tesla authorities call the only surviving workplace of the eccentric genius who dreamed countless big dreams while pioneering wireless communication and alternating current. The disagreement began recently after the property went up for sale in Shoreham, N.Y.

A science group on Long Island wants to turn the 16-acre site into a Tesla museum and education center, and hopes to get the land donated to that end. But the owner, the Agfa Corporation, says it must sell the property to raise money in hard economic times. The company’s real estate broker says the land, listed at $1.6 million, can “be delivered fully cleared and level,” a statement that has thrown the preservationists into action.

tussin....,

WaPo | Toward the start of Mexico's swine flu outbreak on April 24, Ángel Flores Maldonado had so many patients at his office that when he finally escaped at 10:15 that night, the line still stretched into the street.

The doctor does not work at a hospital, or a clinic, or the government respiratory center, but on the evening shift at a pharmacy in the poor, crowded neighborhood of Iztapalapa, in eastern Mexico City. "The same but cheaper," reads the sign at this popular pharmacy chain, Similares, and that is the calculation many Mexicans seem to have made while the virus spread through the capital.

"In Mexico, we are very unaccustomed to going to the hospital. Here, if someone has a cold or anything else, they buy something in the pharmacy, or they leave it be," Flores said. "This is why Mexicans are dying. Because we are very indecisive about going to a hospital until it's too late."

Several theories have emerged as to why all but one of the confirmed deaths from swine flu have occurred in Mexico. Much of it is speculation -- that Mexico City's 7,300-foot elevation exacerbates respiratory illnesses, that there may be a slight variation between the viral strain prevalent in Mexico and swine flu elsewhere, that Mexico is further along in disease transmission and other countries will eventually see severe cases.

But a critical factor, according to specialists here, is that flu victims have delayed checking into hospitals until their condition has deteriorated so much they cannot be saved. While medicines are plentiful and cheap at Mexican pharmacies, swine flu antiviral medication was often not available or prohibitively expensive.

"Some patients arrive late at the hospitals, and to a certain degree this is a problem of education," José Sifuentes-Osorio, an infectious-disease specialist at the National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, said in a radio interview Monday. "Many of our people, independent of their socioeconomic situation, self-medicate for three or four days, and they lose precious time."

Has Oil and Gas Collapse Sealed Fate of Peak Oil?

This is an interactive slide show. Click the image above to access the popup window link.

Monday, May 04, 2009

"peak oil" or "limits to growth"

The Oil Drum | There is a good deal of evidence that we are now a little past "peak oil". Many of us find it doesn't feel quite like we had imagined.

A lot of us had expected that peak oil would be basically a liquids fuels crisis, caused by geological limits. We expected that the solutions of the Department of Energy's Hirsch Report would be sufficient to forestall a crisis, especially if we had started 20 years ago, instead of now. These solutions included things like more oil from tar sands, improving automobile efficiency, and electrification of transport.

Now, when we seem to be at peak oil, we find the current situation feels a lot more like a "box" caused by limits to growth, rather than a liquid fuels crisis. The limits are of many forms--not just geological limits relating to oil--but other resource limits as well, such as fresh water, and concerns about climate change and the environment. The financial system is even behaving strangely.

The fact that the financial system is also in distress is a surprise to many people. There is good theoretical reason to expect that once growth in underlying resources slows, a financial system based on compound growth will run into difficulty. This was predicted by M. King Hubbert and many others. The connection is not easy to see, though, and it is understandable that many would believe that the financial system would have had problems, even apart from limits to growth.

The fact that so many limits are involved makes it difficult to substitute one resource, such as biofuels, for another, such as petroleum products.

The fact that so many limits are involved also means that it is not just liquid fuels that are being constrained by the limits to growth box. In the diagram above, I show electricity, the credit system, the industrial system, and the agricultural system as being fenced in by limits, in addition to liquid fuels. I could probably have included many other systems as well, such as the international trade system, governmental systems, and long term promises, such as pensions and social security systems.

The world is finite, so it should not come as a great surprise that the various limits are being reached, to varying degrees, simultaneously. Systems such as the electrical system, the credit system, and the agricultural system all depend on availability of finite resources, so are affected as we start reaching limits of various kinds.

what makes us human?

Scientific American | Language Clues - Whole-genome comparisons in other species have also provided another crucial insight into why humans and chimps can be so different despite being much alike in their genomes. In recent years the genomes of thousands of species (mostly microbes) have been sequenced. It turns out that where DNA substitutions occur in the genome—rather than how many changes arise overall—can matter a great deal. In other words, you do not need to change very much of the genome to make a new species. The way to evolve a human from a chimp-human ancestor is not to speed the ticking of the molecular clock as a whole. Rather the secret is to have rapid change occur in sites where those changes make an important difference in an organism’s functioning.

HAR1 is certainly such a place. So, too, is the FOXP2 gene, which contains another of the fast-changing sequences I identified and is known to be involved in speech. Its role in speech was discovered by researchers at the University of Oxford in England, who reported in 2001 that people with mutations in the gene are unable to make certain subtle, high-speed facial movements needed for normal human speech, even though they possess the cognitive ability to process language. The typical human sequence displays several differences from the chimp’s: two base substitutions that altered its protein product and many other substitutions that may have led to shifts affecting how, when and where the protein is used in the human body.

A recent finding has shed some light on when the speech-enabling version of FOXP2 appeared in hominids: in 2007 scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, sequenced FOXP2 extracted from a Neandertal fossil and found that these extinct humans had the modern human version of the gene, perhaps permitting them to enunciate as we do. Current estimates for when the Neandertal and modern human lineages split suggest that the new form of FOXP2 must have emerged at least half a million years ago. Most of what distinguishes human language from vocal communication in other species, however, comes not from physical means but cognitive ability, which is often correlated with brain size. Primates generally have a larger brain than would be expected from their body size. But human brain volume has more than tripled since the chimp-human ancestor—a growth spurt that genetics researchers have only begun to unravel.

One of the best-studied examples of a gene linked to brain size in humans and other animals is ASPM. Genetic studies of people with a condition known as microcephaly, in which the brain is reduced by up to 70 percent, uncovered the role of ASPM and three other genes—MCPH1, CDK5RAP2 and CENPJ—in controlling brain size. More recently, researchers at the University of Chicago and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor have shown that ASPM experienced several bursts of change over the course of primate evolution, a pattern indicative of positive selection. At least one of these bursts occurred in the human lineage since it diverged from that of chimps and thus was potentially instrumental in the evolution of our large brains.

Other parts of the genome may have influenced the metamorphosis of the human brain less directly. The computer scan that identified HAR1 also found 201 other human accelerated regions, most of which do not encode proteins or even RNA. (A related study conducted at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, England, detected many of the same HARs.) Instead they appear to be regulatory sequences that tell nearby genes when to turn on and off. Amazingly, more than half of the genes located near HARs are involved in brain development and function. And, as is true of FOXP2, the products of many of these genes go on to regulate other genes. Thus, even though HARs make up a minute portion of the genome, changes in these regions could have profoundly altered the human brain by influencing the activity of whole networks of genes.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

humans are responsible for swine flu

Physorg.com | Our demand for meat means pigs, turkeys, chickens, cows and other animals must be mass produced in crowded, feces-ridden factory farms like the one in Mexico that is suspected of starting the current swine flu outbreak. These farms are incubators for disease.

While it's easy to point fingers at Granjas Carroll and Mexico, disease-ridden animal factories can be found all over the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, studies have shown that 30 to 50 percent of pigs raised for food in the U.S. have been infected with some strain of swine flu. Hans-Gerhard Wagner, a senior officer with the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, has called the "intensive industrial farming of livestock" an "opportunity for emerging disease."

Other harmful organisms, including salmonella, campylobacter, listeria and E. coli, also spread from animals to people. E. coli is found in the feces of farmed animals and often sprays in every direction when animals are eviscerated at slaughterhouses. A study published in the journal Nature revealed that not only are U.S. meat and dairy products more commonly contaminated with E. coli than other foods are, they also contain a substance that can raise the risk of E. coli infection.

Although health officials have been quick to point out people can't get swine flu from eating pork, they have failed to hammer home one significant detail: Raising pigs for pork is what puts us at risk for swine flu in the first place.

The fewer pigs, chickens and other animals we raise for food, the fewer animal-borne diseases there will be. It's that simple. And since meat is high in saturated fat and cholesterol and can cause heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and a host of other health problems. We would all be better off if we stopped eating it today.

h1n1 systematization


Northwestern ROCS | In our simulations for the spread in the United States we take Mexico City to be the starting point of the infection. The initial conditions of the model are chosen to match the available information on confirmed cases in the United States and Mexico, and we permit for a bracket of unconfirmed cases. We take into account the travel of individuals between counties in the United States and the incoming flux of airline passengers from Mexico City. We consider a worst-case scenario based on assumptions made from the information we have gathered thus far. The key factors in our modeling approach are very accurate human mobility datasets on scales from a few to a few thousand kilometers. We obtained the underlying multi-scale human mobility network indirectly by our recent investigation on the geographic circulation of dollar bills in the United States, which is an excellent proxy for human mobility and includes small scale daily commuting traffic, intermediate traffic, and long distance travel by air. Our simulations consist of multiple layers, each layer possessing and increasing degree of accuracy and complexity. Our final projections are done with a fully stochastic model that incorporates the inherent randomness in disease dynamics that is particularly important at the onset of an epidemic when the number of infected individuals is small compared to the whole population.

CDC H1N1

CDC | CDC continues to take aggressive action to respond to an expanding outbreak caused by H1N1 (swine flu).

CDC’s response goals are to:

1. Reduce transmission and illness severity, and
2. Provide information to help health care providers, public health officials and the public address the challenges posed by this emergency.

CDC continues to issue and update interim guidance daily in response to the rapidly evolving situation. This includes guidance on when to close schools and how to care for someone who is sick at home. Supplies from CDC’s Division of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) are being sent to all 50 states and U.S. territories to help them respond to the outbreak. In addition, the Federal Government and manufacturers have begun the process of developing a vaccine against this new virus.

Response actions are aggressive, but they may vary across states and communities depending on local circumstances. Communities, businesses, places of worship, schools and individuals can all take action to slow the spread of this outbreak. People who are sick are urged to stay home from work or school and to avoid contact with others, except to seek medical care. This action can avoid spreading illness further.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

history and possible future of american coal

Uppsala University | Future coal production will not be entirely determined by what is geologically available, but rather by the fraction of that amount that is practically recoverable. Society demands energy, not energy from coal. This means if this energy can be obtained less costly and more practically from other energy sources, potentially nuclear power or wind, those will be favored.

Increased coal prices do not necessarily lead to increased production, increased reserves, and the transformation of resources into reserves. The price development and feasibility of other energy sources must also be considered, since it is the energy that is demanded. Increased coal prices might therefore also be a burden for the industry as investors may move towards cheaper energy sources. Increased concern around CO2 emissions from coal is likely to decrease coal’s price competitiveness, because of the potential from CO2-taxes and increased costs of carbon-capture and storage (CCS). A closer discussion of this is beyond the scope of this study, but has been performed by others (Kavouridis and Koukouzas, 2008).

There is a common belief in some form of self-regulating coal supply cycle (Thielemann et al., 2007), where increased prices and human ingenuity will automatically lead to reserve growth and higher production. Our results suggest that this theory should be reevaluated. The historical evolution of U.S. coal reserves shows a trend towards reduced recoverable reserves. There are a number of different factors causing this, ranging from land-use restrictions to changes in definitions. The historical trend towards reduced recoverable amounts is clear and likely to continue in to the future, with even stricter regulations imposed by increased environmental concern.

A steady decline in the heating value of U.S. coal has also been observed and this can be seen as a sign of the increased depletion and the movement to less optimal seams. This trend is likely to continue in to the future, justified by increased depletion of high energy coals in Appalachia and an overall increased dependence on subbituminous western coals. By 2030 the average calorific value could be slightly above 20 MJ/kg. This also implies that the coal production forecast in the International Energy Outlook (2007) would require the production volumes in 2030 be 70% higher than today. Whether this can be achieved is very questionable as shown by the historical production trends and the depleting reserves in many key producing states.

Using the recoverable reserves as an estimate of what is realistically available for production will yield a coal output of around 1400 Mt by 2030 through the rest of the century. This would require a massive development of the coal reserves in Montana, as they are the largest undeveloped reserves remaining for future exploitation. Unless this happens, US coal production could reach a peak around 2030. The demonstrated reserve base allows a significantly higher production volume to be reached but this should be regarded as unrealistic, as it completely ignores regulations and restrictions. The restrictions have proved to be a key factor for the amount of coal available for production and ignoring restrictions when creating possible future scenarios is a fundamentally flawed approach.

To summarize the geologic amounts of coal are of much less importance to future production than the practically recoverable volumes. The geological coal supply might be vast, but the important question is how large the share that can be extracted under present restrictions are and how those restrictions will develop in the future. Production limitations might therefore appear much sooner than previously expected.

from bust to boom?

WSJ | A massive natural-gas discovery here in northern Louisiana heralds a big shift in the nation's energy landscape. After an era of declining production, the U.S. is now swimming in natural gas.

Even conservative estimates suggest the Louisiana discovery -- known as the Haynesville Shale, for the dense rock formation that contains the gas -- could hold some 200 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That's the equivalent of 33 billion barrels of oil, or 18 years' worth of current U.S. oil production. Some industry executives think the field could be several times that size.

"There's no dry hole here," says Joan Dunlap, vice president of Petrohawk Energy Corp., standing beside a drilling rig near a former Shreveport amusement park.

Huge new fields also have been found in Texas, Arkansas and Pennsylvania. One industry-backed study estimates the U.S. has more than 2,200 trillion cubic feet of gas waiting to be pumped, enough to satisfy nearly 100 years of current U.S. natural-gas demand.

The discoveries have spurred energy experts and policy makers to start looking to natural gas in their pursuit of a wide range of goals: easing the impact of energy-price spikes, reducing dependence on foreign oil, lowering "greenhouse gas" emissions and speeding the transition to renewable fuels.

A climate-change bill being pushed by President Barack Obama could boost reliance on natural gas. The bill, which could emerge from the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May, is expected to set aggressive targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide, the most prevalent man-made greenhouse gas.

Friday, May 01, 2009

the nafta flu

truthout.org | La Jornada columnist Julio Hernández López connects the corporate dots to explain how the Virginia-based Smithfield Farms came to Mexico:

In 1985, Smithfield Farms received what was, at the time, the most expensive fine in history - $12.6 million - for violating the US Clean Water Act at its pig facilities near the Pagan River in Smithfield, Virginia, a tributary that flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The company, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dumped hog waste into the river.

It was a case in which US environmental law succeeded in forcing a polluter, Smithfield Farms, to construct a sewage treatment plant at that facility after decades of using the river as a mega-toilet. But “free trade” opened a path for Smithfield Farms to simply move its harmful practices next door into Mexico so that it could evade the tougher US regulators.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came into effect on January 1, 1994. That very same year Smithfield Farms opened the “Carroll Ranches” in the Mexican state of Veracruz through a new subsidiary corporation, “Agroindustrias de México.”
Unlike what law enforcers forced upon Smithfield Farms in the US, the new Mexican facility - processing 800,000 pigs into bacon and other products per year - does not have a sewage treatment plant.

America’s top pork producer churns out a sea of waste that has destroyed rivers, killed millions of fish and generated one of the largest fines in EPA history. Welcome to the dark side of the other white meat.

Smithfield Foods, the largest and most profitable pork processor in the world, killed 27 million hogs last year. That’s a number worth considering. A slaughter-weight hog is fifty percent heavier than a person. The logistical challenge of processing that many pigs each year is roughly equivalent to butchering and boxing the entire human populations of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Detroit, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Columbus, Austin, Memphis, Baltimore, Fort Worth, Charlotte, El Paso, Milwaukee, Seattle, Boston, Denver, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Nashville, Las Vegas, Portland, Oklahoma City and Tucson.

Smithfield Foods actually faces a more difficult task than transmogrifying the populations of America’s thirty-two largest cities into edible packages of meat. Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield’s total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums.

google flu trends


google.org | We've found that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity. Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity in your state up to two weeks faster than traditional systems.

here go the stupid....,

NYTimes | Egypt has begun forcibly slaughtering the country’s pig herds as a precaution against swine flu, a move that the United Nations described as “a real mistake” and one that is prompting anger among the country’s pig farmers.

The decision, announced Wednesday, is already adding new strains to the tense relations between Egypt’s majority Muslims and its Coptic Christians. Most of Egypt’s pig farmers are Christians, and some accuse the government of using swine flu fears to punish them economically.

According to World Health Organization officials, the decision to kill pigs has no scientific basis. “We don’t see any evidence that anyone is getting infected from pigs,” said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the World Health Organization’s assistant director general. “This appears to be a virus which is moving from person to person.”

The outbreak has been dubbed swine flu — now officially called influenza A(H1N1) — because scientists believe it started in pigs, but they do not know if that was recently or years ago. The name change was designed to allay fears about pigs and eating pork.

Egypt has not reported any cases of the new virus that has hit 11 other nations, but the country has been hard hit by avian flu.

The great majority of Egyptians are Muslim and do not eat pork because of religious restrictions, but about 10 percent of the population is Coptic Christian. As a result, Egyptian pig farmers are overwhelmingly Christian. And although some of the country’s Christians are middle class or wealthy, the Christian farmers are generally poor.

On Thursday, several urban pig farmers in Cairo said they see the government’s decision as just another expression of Egyptian Muslims’ resentment against Christians. Last year, there were several violent incidents that some believed were aimed at Christians, including the kidnapping and beating of monks. The Egyptian government denied the incidents had sectarian overtones, saying they were each part of other disputes, including a fight over land.

flu prompts shutdowns in mexico, texas


NYTime | The swine flu continues to spread slowly but surely, with 114 confirmed cases in 12 states on Thursday, up from 91 in 10 states on Wednesday. Many more states have suspected cases, and 11 countries have been affected so far.

But little else seems sure about the disease, including how bad it will turn out to be and even its name, now officially influenza A(H1N1), according to the World Health Organization.

“This is a rapidly evolving situation,” said Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It is a situation filled with uncertainty.”

Dr. Besser praised a decision by the W.H.O. on Wednesday to raise the global alert level to Phase 5, one step below a pandemic. He said the move would not affect the United States, which is already taking measures against the outbreak, but would alert other countries to get pandemic plans in order. On Thursday, officials of the health organization said Phase 5, which means a pandemic is highly likely, was still the appropriate level.

In this country, hundreds of schools have closed, including Fort Worth’s entire school district of about 80,000 students. Texas has 26 confirmed cases.

On Thursday, the White House disclosed that a member of the Obama administration delegation that traveled to Mexico in mid-April probably contracted the disease. The man had flu symptoms when he returned to Washington, and spread the illness to his wife and son, but he and his family have recovered and he is back at work. Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said the man did not work closely with the president and never posed any risk to him.

In Canada, the confirmation of 15 additional cases on Thursday brought the total number of cases there to 34.

Mexico now has 312 confirmed cases and 12 confirmed fatalities. More than 2,500 cases are suspected, and at least 150 people are believed to have died of the disease.

emergency medicine backchannel scoop...,

After I returned from a public health meeting yesterday with community leaders and school officials in Comal County and Hays County, Heather suggested I send an update to my patients in the area, because what we are hearing privately from the CDC and Health Department is different from what you are hearing in the media. Some of you know some of this, but I will just list what facts I know.

- The virus is infectious for about 2 days prior to symptom onset

- Virus spreads more than 7 days after symptom onset (possibly as long as 9 days) (this is more unusual than ordinary flu)

- Since it is such a novel (new) virus, th ere is no "herd immunity," so the "attack rate" is very high. This is the percentage of people who come down with a virus if exposed. Almost everyone who is exposed to this virus will become infected, though not all will be symptomatic. That is much higher than seasonal flu, which averages 10-15%. The "clinical attack rate" estimation from CDC and WHO may be around 40-50%. This is the number of people who show symptoms. This is a huge number. It is hard to convey the seriousness of this to those outside of the medical fields.

- The virulence (deadliness) of this virus is as bad here as in Mexico, and there are folks on ventilators here in the US, right now. This has not been in the media, but a 23 month old in Houston is fighting for his life, and a pregnant woman just south of San Antonio is fighting for her life. In Mexico, these folks might have died already, but here in the US, folks are getting Tamiflu or Relenza quickly, and we have ready access to ventilators. What this means is that within a couple of weeks, regional hospitals will likely become overwhelmed.

- Some of the kids with positive cases in Comal County have had more than 70 contacts before diagnosis as a minimum figure.

- There are 10-25 times more actual cases (not "possible" cases -- actual), than what is being reported in the media. The way they fudge on reporting this is that it takes 3 days to get the confirmatory nod from the CDC on a given viral culture, but based on epidemiological grounds, we know that there are more than 10 cases for each "confirmed" case right now.

- During the night, we crossed the threshold for the definition of a WHO, Phase 6 global pandemic. This has not happened in any of our lifetimes so far. We are in uncharted territory.

- They are advising President Obama to declare an emergency sometime in the next 72-96 hours. This may not happen, but if it doesn't, I will be surprised. When this happens, all public gathering will be cancelled for 10 days minimum.

- I suggest all of us avoid public gatherings. Outdoor activities are not as likely to lead to infection. It is contained areas and close contact that are the biggest risk.

- Tamiflu is running out. There is a national stockpile, but it will have to be carefully managed for law enforcement and first responders as it is not enough to treat the likely number of infections when this is full-blown. I don't think there is a big supply of Relenza, but I do not know those numbers. If I had to choose, I would take Relenza, as I think it gets more drug to the affected tissue than Tamiflu.

- You should avoid going to the ER if you think you have been exposed or are symptomatic. ER's south of here are becoming overwhelmed today-- and I mean that -- already. It is coming in waves, but the waves are getting bigger.

- It appears that this flu produces a distinctive "hoarseness" in many victims. The symptoms, in general, match other flu's; namely, sore throat, body aches, headache, cough, and fever. What is not too common in regular flu cycles is vomiting and diarrhea which seems to be associated with this, further dehydrating victims. Some have all these symptoms, while others may have only one or two.

- N-Acetyl-Cysteine -- a nutritional supplement available at the health food store or Wimberley Pharmacy, has been shown to prevent or lessen the severity of influenza. I suggest 1200mg, twice a day for adults, and 600mg twice a day in kids over 12. It would be hard to get kids under 12 to take it, but you could try opening the capsules and putting it on yogurt. For 40 pounds and up, 300-600 mg twice a day, for less than 40 pounds, half that.

- Oscillococinum, a homeopathic remedy, has been vindicated as quite effective in a large clinical trial in Europe, with an H1N1 variant. You can buy this at Hill Country Natural Foods, or the Wimberley Pharmacy.

I will try to keep everyone posted if I have any new information. Meanwhile, don't be afraid, stay informed and try to avoid infection. The fewer people infected the easier it will be for our public officials to manage it.

If any of my patients become ill, or suspect infection, call the office, do not come without calling and DO NOT go to the ER. If one member in a family is identified all would be given the Tamiflu or Relenza (that is normal course of action) if there is enough distributed to fill prescriptions. Public health stated that one family member identified or suspected to have contracted the flu it will require the whole family to be ‘quarantined’ in their own home until enough time has passed for the remaining household to have contracted it or be considered infection free ( 7 to 10 days per person). As another suggestion, if any member of the family is on routine medication- fill those prescriptions now. Have plenty fluids, Motrin, soups, etc available and make contingency plans in case your family is affected.