If they use guns, it’s not terrorism

One or a few people shot up a Mothers’ Day Parade in New Orleans — nobody was killed, but 17 were injured.

It’s strangely quiet out there. The news has been non-stop “Boston terrorism!”, “Lone wolf terrorism!”, “Oh, woe, what shall we do about terrorism?” for the last few weeks, but guns blasting a parade, and…hush. I don’t know whether they’re waiting to see if the gunmen were foreigners (in which case it will be more non-stop wailing), or whether they’d rather not tag raging use of guns for their designed purpose, lest someone criticize home-grown gun culture again.

Did a bat land on you at the Kelso Depot in the Mojave Desert?

Boosting signal on this, because it’s potentially very urgent and the person at risk could be anywhere in the world at this point.

A week ago, on April 30, a visitor to the Kelso Depot in the Mojave National Preserve had a bat land on his neck. The bat — a Myotis lucifugus a.k.a. little brown bat — has since tested positive for rabies, and now San Bernardino County officials are trying to find the man. They don’t know if he was bitten or scratched: it wouldn’t take much of a bite to transmit the disease, and if that happened he’s got to get vaxxed.

Details on the incident and public health contact info are here. The guy doesn’t have a lot of slack before getting to the doctor at this point: onset of symptoms can start mere days after a bite. (Or years, which has caused people to falsely assume they’ve dodged a bullet.) Before symptoms start prevention is straightforward and no longer arduous. I’ve had rabies shots and they weren’t the worst injections I had that year. (Individual mileage varies there, but they’re way better than they were back in the day. Mine were a breeze.)

And it’s a good opportunity to remind people in bat and rabies country that while transmission of rabies from bats to humans is quite rare, bats exhibiting unusual behavior (like not being shy or nocturnal) should be given a wide berth and reported to local authorities.

Christian de Duve has died

Christian de Duve won the Nobel prize in 1974 (along with Claude and Palade) for his work on the biochemistry of the cell. He also wrote several books on the origin and evolution of life. Here he is speaking at the Lindau meetings a few years ago.

Christian de Duve is now dead at 95, by euthanasia.

“It would be an exaggeration to say I’m not afraid of death, but I’m not afraid of what comes after because I’m not a believer. When I disappear I will disappear, there’ll be nothing left,” he told the Belgian daily Le Soir just a month ago.

De Duve had decided to commit euthanasia after suffering a fall in his home but was awaiting the arrival of his son from the United States in early May in order to die surrounded by family.

“He left us serenely and refused to take anti-anxiety pills before the final injection. He left with a smile and a good-bye,” his daughter Francoise told Le Soir.

What a dignified and honorable way to go!

I know almost nothing about Jackiesue

I only just learned she even exists a few minutes ago. She calls herself “a pagan and a left wing democrat” in the tagline of her blog “Yellowdog Granny,” where she also says “I got older but I never grew up.” She’s a friend of someone I’ve known online for a few years. She’s in her late 60s.  She lives in Texas.

Oh, and I know that she works a day or two a month in the West Rest Haven, a nursing home in her town. And I also know how she spent her Wednesday evening, as recounted in her blog:

[S]he told me the fertilizer plant had blown up and that the nursing home had been damaged I said I’m going. She said not to go that the other one could blow at any time. I said “I’m going.” I drove straight down Reagan Street and passed a house on fire and then on the right I could see the Jr. High School was on fire and then I could see the apts which are directly across the street from the nursing home and it was almost a shell. I parked in my usual place and got my flashlight and leaving my keys in truck and purse too and went inside. I along with a bunch of other people were taking residents out in wheel chairs… water every where, the ceiling had falling, beeping alarms, insulation knee deep in places. I was soaked from head to toe. water leaking from the sprinklers and plaster all over the place. Each room with windows caved in, furniture upside down, beds turned over. The dining room was a jumble of chairs and tables. One of the nurses said the building just imploded. the roof went up and then came down and the windows blew in at the same time.…

The amount of immediate help was wonderful to see. They got all the residents to the senior center for emergency help. We went through the building about 4-5 times to make sure we got everyone.

I know I’m not the only person who’s commented on the people who’ve run towards the horror to see what they can do to help in the last few days.

But it’s been the kind of week where the more stories I hear about people trying to make the world better right now, the better I can make it through the rest of the week. Maybe you’re feeling that way too.

Like I said, I don’t really know much about Jackiesue. Except that I know yesterday she ran toward the horror to help people she cared about. That makes my world a little better right now.

Uh-oh

Worrisome news from China:

A person who had close contact with a dead H7N9 bird flu patient in Shanghai has been under treatment in quarantine after developing symptoms of fever, running nose and throat itching, local authorities said late Thursday.

So far, China has confirmed 14 H7N9 cases — six in Shanghai, four in Jiangsu, three in Zhejiang and one in Anhui, in the first known human infections of the lesser-known strain. Of all, four died in Shanghai and one died in Zhejiang.

That first paragraph is the really scary one: it suggests that there may (emphasis on the possibility, it has not been demonstrated) have been human-to-human transmission, rather than just bird-to-human. The latter case is slightly more manageable — avoid ducks. The former case would require avoiding people — not so easy.

The H5N1 bird flu virus, different than this one, had about a 60% mortality rate, but 36% mortality for H7N9 so far is not good. Also, H5N1 was lethal to birds, too — this one seems to be relatively harmless to the bird carriers, while being relatively deadly to infected humans.

Awesome cool scary horrible frightening!

A meteor exploded over Russia, injuring hundreds of people. At last report, no one had been killed, fortunately. Most of the injuries were caused by flying debris from the shock wave, but official police reports are describing the impact site and showing small fragments — it really went kablooiee.

There are also lots of videos of this event, because apparently everyone in Russia drives with a dashboard cam.

Russian drivers are probably scarier than rocks from space (usually), but it’s still got to give you pause— the universe really doesn’t care about us at all, and there is scary stuff whizzing about overhead.

Please stay safe, Eastern North American hordelings

I’ve been a lot quieter here the last week or so than I’ve wanted to be, mainly due to a low-grade ick of some sort that’s been making me not much good for anything after 4 pm for the last two weeks. The old immune system seems to be kicking in, though, and forecast is good for the weekend at which point my poking at wasp nests and mispronouncing shibboleths will pick up speed again.

Speaking of forecasts, those of you who are among the 67 million people staring down the barrel of Hurricane Sandy may well want to take note of the calm, measured language meteorologists are using to describe what the first few days of next week may be like between Virginia and Maine:

A very prominent and respected National Weather Service meteorologist wrote on Facebook last night, “I’ve never seen anything like this and I’m at a loss for expletives to describe what this storm could do.”

Weather blogger Mike Smith has a pretty authoritative rundown of likely effects of Hurricane Sandy, and if you’re in harm’s way you’ll want to read his post. Just for the sake of preparedness, his recommendations for weathering the storm:

  • Get prescriptions refilled now, especially if your doctor must approve the refill.
  • Vote. If the stronger models are correct, power could still be out in some places on election day. Regardless, that is one less thing you will need to do. The election will not (and shouldn’t) be postponed.
  • If you can get an electrician to install a generator, get it done. Do not try to install a generator yourself.
  • If you don’t have a generator, get a power inverter or two. Radio Shack and similar stores sell them. They are a “poor man’s generator” and will keep your cell phone, laptop, and similar charged.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank full.
  • If you have a wood-burning fireplace and you know your chimney is clear, get wood. Keep some indoors to keep it dry during the storm. You may need it to heat your home.
  • If you live in a 100-year flood plain (you can check at city hall or your library) or on the coast figure out your evacuation strategy now. Make your list of things you will take with you.
  • Fill a few gas cans (the type you would use for your mower) to have extra in the event of power failures.
  • Purchase extra staples. Without power, stores will be closed.
  • Purchase booster batteries for your cell phone and other essential equipment. If you need insulin or other medicine that must be kept chilled make plans now.
  • Consider what you would do if you were without electricity for a month. If you have an invalid living with you who requires electricity, there will be areas that will be without for weeks. Be proactive.
  • If you live in a heavily wooded area, does someone in your vicinity have a gasoline-powered chain saw? Does it have fuel and a reasonably good chain/blade? Test it, now.
  • Get to an ATM. Without power, credit card readers and ATMs will not be working. In a disaster, cash is king.
  • And, if you are planning to travel by air to or through airports between Richmond-Boston Monday through Wednesday, forget it.

With any luck, this will all be way overblown — if you will pardon the expression. Then again, I recall the last time I saw meteorologists start losing their cool and saying things that were so incredibly frightening they couldn’t possibly have been real, as in this National Weather Service forecast from some years back:

DEVASTATING DAMAGE EXPECTED

MOST OF THE AREA WILL BE UNINHABITABLE FOR WEEKS…PERHAPS LONGER. AT LEAST ONE HALF OF WELL CONSTRUCTED HOMES WILL HAVE ROOF AND WALL FAILURE. ALL GABLED ROOFS WILL FAIL…LEAVING THOSE HOMES SEVERELY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.

THE MAJORITY OF INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS WILL BECOME NON FUNCTIONAL. PARTIAL TO COMPLETE WALL AND ROOF FAILURE IS EXPECTED. ALL WOOD FRAMED LOW RISING APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL BE DESTROYED. CONCRETE BLOCK LOW RISE APARTMENTS WILL SUSTAIN MAJOR DAMAGE…INCLUDING SOME WALL AND ROOF FAILURE.

HIGH RISE OFFICE AND APARTMENT BUILDINGS WILL SWAY DANGEROUSLY… A FEW TO THE POINT OF TOTAL COLLAPSE. ALL WINDOWS WILL BLOW OUT.

AIRBORNE DEBRIS WILL BE WIDESPREAD…AND MAY INCLUDE HEAVY ITEMS SUCH AS HOUSEHOLD APPLIANCES AND EVEN LIGHT VEHICLES. SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES AND LIGHT TRUCKS WILL BE MOVED. THE BLOWN DEBRIS WILL CREATE ADDITIONAL DESTRUCTION. PERSONS…PETS…AND LIVESTOCK EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL FACE CERTAIN DEATH IF STRUCK.

POWER OUTAGES WILL LAST FOR WEEKS…AS MOST POWER POLES WILL BE DOWN AND TRANSFORMERS DESTROYED. WATER SHORTAGES WILL MAKE HUMAN SUFFERING INCREDIBLE BY MODERN STANDARDS.

THE VAST MAJORITY OF NATIVE TREES WILL BE SNAPPED OR UPROOTED. ONLY THE HEARTIEST WILL REMAIN STANDING…BUT BE TOTALLY DEFOLIATED. FEW CROPS WILL REMAIN. LIVESTOCK LEFT EXPOSED TO THE WINDS WILL BE KILLED.

That warning was issued the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall along the Gulf Coast in 2005. Of course much of the actual suffering and death from Katrina resulted from engineering incompetence rather than directly from the force of the storm. Let’s just all be grateful that there are no badly engineered public works anywhere on the Eastern Seaboard, amirite?

Be careful and safe the next few days, friends.

The Moon curse finally got him

God never intended men to walk on the moon; if he had, we’d have had rockets in our butts. At last, He has his revenge on he who had the outrageous hubris to dare to leave the Earth: Neil Armstrong has died, 43 years after walking on the moon.

I do like this quote.

I am, and ever will be, a white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer.

Nerds rule the world…and others!

Anti-vaxers kill another child

So North Carolina is reporting their first death (of the year, I presume) from pertussis, or whooping cough. A 2-month-old infant has died of the disease.

Whooping cough is highly contagious and spread usually by coughing or sneezing in close contact. It can be serious at any age, but it is life-threatening in newborns and infants who are too young to be fully vaccinated, state health officials said. Many infants who get whooping cough are infected by caregivers who may not know they have the disease.

This is a kid who was too young to have yet obtained the full range of vaccines, and was dependent on herd immunity…and someone carrying the disease infected them, and ultimately killed them. It’s remarkable that deaths from pertussis are now so rare that one of them will make the news—but the way we’ve made the disease rare is by preventive vaccinations. Every person who neglects to vaccinate is contributing to a deadly disease renaissance.