Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Power failure in India: a warning of what could be much worse

The power outage across most of northern India, some of it for more than 24 hours, is said to have affected 675 million people, more than twice the population of the United States.

The cause is said to be inadequate infrastructure, in a country where most plants are coal fired.
At least, the power is coming back on.

In the meantime, in the United States, we’re getting warnings that power plants in drought stricken areas don’t have enough water to discharge waste properly within regulations.

And we’re warned that the power grid has unnecessary and dangerous exposure to cyber hackers through the public Internet.

But the biggest danger of all may be EMP attacks, as recently discussed in the media by Newt Gingrich and covered on my Issues, main and books blogs recently.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Outbreak of Ebola virus in Uganda

The Associated Press is reporting (through The Washington Post, among other papers) that at least fourteen people in western Uganda have died from an outbreak of Ebola virus.  The story is here

Ebola hemorrhagic fever was the subject of Richard Preston’s “The Hot Zone”, as well as a major book by Laurie Garrett.  It does not spread through the air, but is apparently easily transmitted by fluids and objects.  The disease likely has a reservoir in other animals, especially a species of monkey. It's not reported to be spread by insects, but when I see a poster like the picture above in the Washington DC Metro, the "sci-fi scenario" runs through my mind.  

WHO, the World Health Organization, has a link on Ebola (a Global Alert and Response page) here

The US Army does research on Ebola at Fort Detrick, Frederick MD, where the official security containment protocols consider it more dangerous than HIV.

Later reports indicated that overt bleeding is not as prominent as usual as a symptom in this outbreak. 
Newsy Science has a YouTube video:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Is China getting closer to ending one-child policy? Short film: "One Child Policy"

According to a recent story in the New York Times by Edward Wong, pressure in China is increasing to end the one-child policy. The link for the story is here
One of the catalysts for change is anger over forced late-term abortions.

Another is the obvious problem of supporting an aging population. It seems a bit of a contradiction for China to expect only children to obey Confucian ideas of family responsibility and filial piety. 

Still another is a problem is an obvious preference for male children (120 male births for every 100 female), with the likelihood that many heterosexual single men ("bare branches") will wind up without wives or even girl friends. 

There is a 2005 documentary "One Child Policy" from Journeyman Pictures, 25 min, here. The film points out that the fine for a second child can be four times annual income. But psychologically, kids are growing up as "little emperors" -- social policy promotes "fragility rather than stability".  In some rural areas, parents have recently been allowed two kids.  Chinese face a philosophical divide between loyalty to family and loyalty to country.

Friday, July 27, 2012

19th International AIDS Conference sponsors "Global Village" exhibit; functional cures for HIV on horizon

While most of the 19th International AIDS Conference (XIX) at the Washington DC Convention Center was open only to registrants, there was a “Global Village” exhibit open to the public, which I visited today as it was closing.

There were plenty of exhibits in the hallway spaces near 8th Street, including one bill billboard on condoms, one equating the price of lipstick cosmetics to AIDS resources in Africa, and some testimonials.

One such personal story concerned a man in an unnamed African country who could not buy a house without insurance, and who could not get insurance of any kind because he was HIV+.

Another exhibit concerned HIV-related tuberculosis for mine workers in South Africa.
That story would provide synergy with world environmental concerns.

The Washington Post, on p. A6, has a story Friday morning by David Brown and Alysa A. Bothelo discussing “functional cures” for HIV (maybe the word is “functionable”) on the horizon. One is the marrow transplant (Timothy Brown); another is waking the latent virus up and attacking it; one is immediate treatment after exposure.  The link is here

There is also another story, on the front page, by Lena H. Sun, “Patients with HIV enter old age”. By 2020, in the US, over half will be 50 or older. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Syria waves the WMD stick, like Iran?

Syria has made some pleonastic statements recently that it promises not to use WMD’s unless attacked.

It’s hard to fathom whether this could refer to defensive WMD’s on its own soil, against rebels, or handing them over to terrorists, such as biological, chemical, perhaps even EMP weapons, as is feared from Iran.  It sounds as though it would be much less capable of deploying anything than Iran or North Korea.  Yet, the statement is provocative.

Sam Nunn’s NTI has a guarded statement on Syria's capabilities as of 12/2011 here.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

EMP risk should make US assess its missile defenses -- "Star Wars"

I’ll be reviewing William R. Forstchen’s novel “One Second After” (with the introduction by Newt Gingrich) pretty soon, but I thought it was a good idea to think about the ability of the US to defend itself against any missile lobbed at it from offshore.

Back in 1971, I had a computer programming job with the Navy Department (NAVCOSSACT) dealing with coding the intercept formulas for missiles.  If software to accomplish this was already deployed in 1971 (of course, classified, and I cannot remember many details anyway), it’s obvious that it should be quite capable of detecting any stopping many inbound missiles today.

Remember Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars”?  A lot of it needs to be closer to the ground, able to detect objects launched from relatively short distances.

Can the US detect such weapons on every conceivable cargo ship?  Probably not. But it would appear to take some real hardware to launch a scud 20 miles into the stratosphere. 

Can the US detect all possible subs that might be off any coast?  During the debate on gays in the military (back around 1994), PO Keith Meinhold (“The best submarine hunter in the Navy”) described how he had flown Orions during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s to detect submarines in the Straits of Hormuz.  So we know that Iran has some submarines.  Probably not too many. If they are nuclear (rather than diesel) powered, that could suggest that Iran already has usable fissionable materials.  Could these "U-boats" make it all the way to the US without detection?  That sounds unlikely, but the Navy would need automated tools beyond flying 1980s-style search planes.  Presumably this detection technology is much more advanced than it was in 1994.

Then there was George Tenet’s speculation around 2003 that North Korea was capable of lobbing a missile (with a nuclear weapon or EMP device) toward the US West Coast.  So it must be capable today.

The Clinton Administration, back in the 1990s, considered North Korea a more dangerous threat than Al Qaeda.  We know what happened. 

Still – the motive for an asymmetric attack like this more to do with moral indignation or moral layering than conventional international issues.  I’ll visit that again in the book review.
This issue needs to be taken seriously.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Father arrest in Iran for content of overseas son's satirical blog

In Iran, authorities in the “Revolutionary Guard” are arresting parents for Internet posts ade my their adult kids overseas.

That is what has happened to the father of Yashar Zamaneh, after the son participated in Facebook satires called “campaign to remind Shi’ites of Iman Naghi”. 

There is a blogger story by Jannie Schipper, “Only in America: The Facebook sins of the sons: Iran arrests father for son’s Facebook posts”, link here

Apparently, the son believes his going back to Iran will not do his father any good, and would simply get him arrested to.

Totalitarian governments love to make a lot of family loyalty, and to hold people responsible for (or hostage to) what other family members do.

CNN reported the story Saturday and has a detailed story by Ashley Franz here
Apparently, the page suddenly got a lot of traffic in May after a rapper from Iran living in Germany became famous.  The web page makes fun of the idea of superstition in religion and of religious authority.
The son said that Facebook would not take the page down because of its own security policies.  Giving out his own password and access to authorities could put other bloggers and others in Iran in danger he said. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

New epidemic among children in Cambodia is a mystery, still

The most recent detailed story on the mystery epidemic in Cambodia, so far almost 100% fatal among about 65 children, seems to be by Sara Sidner on CNN, here

The epidemic is distinguished from a well known presence of dengue in Southeast Asia.

The finding of an old enterovirus, EV71, in many of the children is not thought to explain the neurological symptoms and rapid destruction of the lungs.  And SARS and H5N1 or related influenzas are supposedly ruled out.

And the disease does not appear to be transmissible within households.

All of this reminds us of the complexity of epidemics.  An infectious agent might be amplified in some way (blood contact, sexual contact, insects, close household) and not cause disease in most people until some other factor is introduced coincidentally.  An infectious agent might even be “protective” against some environmental factors.  Very mild infections, for example, can actually reduce the expression of severe allergies. The ethical dilemmas follow. 

Update, July 11:

On AC360 on CNN, Sanjau Gupta said that the disease has been found to have a multi-factor cause: EV71, streptococcus, dengue virus, and symptomatic treatment with steroids, which reduce the capacity to fight infections. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

FDA clears over-the-counter HIV test

The FDA has cleared the first non-prescription test kit for HIV.  It is a saliva test, with over a 90% chance of detecting HIV infection (through the antibody), and few false positives.

It could be very useful in Africa and undeveloped parts of the world, also.

It would not be considered an adequate test by itself to protect the blood supply.  And it would not be wise to rely on it as an excuse for “unsafe sex”. 

The Washington Post ran the AP story on July 4, here.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In TPP talks, US tries to sell "fair use" concept to trading partners

The Office of the United States Trade Representative is proposing a standard in intellectual property law in member countries at the TPP talks in San Diego, consistent with the idea of “fair use” in US law.

The standards would propose a “three-step test”  that would look at issues like criticism and comment, and research.  The USTP mentioned the US DMCA Safe Harbor in its statement.

The USTP press release on the story (tweeted today by EFF) is here

TPP refers to the Trans Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement, typical explanation on a Canadian politics site here

I also recall, early in the Clinton years, getting phone surveys seeking opinions on NAFTA and GATT, as if they were more important than health care or DADT.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Local Virginia pastor gives statistics on world wealth distribution

Sunday, July 1, at the first “summer season” service at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington VA, Pastor Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt  arranged an interesting experiment, giving out 100 pink cards (not pink slips) to congregation members (the total attendance was about 130), representing status indicators for a statistically chosen 100 people for a “global village” – maybe Hillary Clinton’s in style.

60 live in Asia, 13 in Africa, 12 in Europe, 18 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 5 in North America.
48 live on less than $2 US a day.

30 are children under 18, and of these 15 live in poverty.

Only 7 have a college degree. 17 are illiterate.

22 own or share a computer, 30 have Internet access of some kind.  But about 70 have cell phone access.
50 are hungry part of the time, 1 will die of starvation, but 15 are overweight by current medical norms (of BMI).

She didn’t mention how many were adults with children, how many were married, how many had children outside of marriage, how many were childless, or how many self-identified as gay or lesbian.

She also said that 20% of the world’s population uses 80% of its resrouces.

6% of the population in the US controls 59% of its wealth.  74% control the next 39%. The remaining 20% have just 2%.

She did get into the idea that those with abundance should not have too much and should meet the needs (personally) of those without.

 Picture: The Church, outside, last Sunday; the robin hopped away before I could get his closeup picture.