Flu Mutating

Barack Obama warned today of a resurgence of flu this autumn. But it's summer in the northern hemisphere. Hard to fret in warm weather. Right?

Well here are some developments worth the worry, summed up by New Scientist.

In June, more than 98 percent of genotyped flu cases in the US were caused by the pandemic swine flu—which is to be expected, since seasonal flus tend to die out in summer.

But the same high percentages of pandemic flu are appearing in the southern hemisphere, where swine flu, A(H1N1), is replacing the seasonal flu.

In the Australian state of Victoria, swine flu now accounts for 99 percent of all flu cases, with similar numbers from South America. The seasonal vaccine is proving useless.

The pandemics of 1918, 1957, and 1968 also completely replaced their seasonal flus.

Yet many drug companies are still laboring to produce seasonal flu vaccines for use later this year for the northern hemisphere—when they might well prove useless.

It's also possible that three viruses will be circulating later this year: the milder H1N1, plus H3N2, plus the swine flu A(H1N1). In this complicated scenario, seasonal and pandemic vaccines would be needed with people in different age groups requiring vaccines based on their exposure to past flus.

During previous pandemics, the pandemic virus mutated and its effects worsened. Some ominous signs are emerging now with swine flu, including a mutation to the virus's polymerase enzyme that allows it to replicate more efficiently. This mutation appeared in Shanghai and could make the virus more contagious or more virulent or both.

Three cases of resistance to the main antiviral drug Tamiflu were discovered last week in Denmark, Japan, and Hong Kong—including one in a girl who had never taken the drug. This suggests that Tamiflu-resistant swine flu might already be circulating.

Plus the news from Germany today that swine flu is capable of spreading from people to pigs and then rapidly between pigs. This was an experimental exposure in Germany. But if swine flu really does get loose in the ghastly world of pig farms, there's a risk of the virus mixing with other strains to create a real flu monster.


The German researchers were heartened the virus did not spread to five chickens housed with the pigs. That's the worst case scenario: a swine-avian flu hybrid. The H2N3 seasonal flu currently circulating has the ability to bridge that gap since it's composed of swine and avian flu genes dating back to the 1957 pandemic.

Enjoy smmer. Winter's going to get interesting.
 

My favorite Kevin Drum graf today:

According to a recent Pew survey, 55 percent of scientists are Democrats and only 6 percent are Republicans. This is good news for everyone. Democrats now have quantitative backup for their sneers about Republicans being anti-science. Likewise, Republicans now have quantitative backup for their sneers about scientists just being a bunch of liberal shills who aren't to be trusted on questions like climate change and evolution. We all win!

Plus, four stories for your Thursday MoJo Mix.

1) Where in the World is the FTC? MoJo finds them briefing corporate lawyers in Aruba and Cancun.

2) How many Time journalists does it take to change Sarah Palin's defensive pull-out story into a coherent "just the frontier spirit we need for national office" narrative? (A: Five, at David Corn's last count.)

3) From the "Really, This Kind of Racist %)@* Still Happens?" file: A private Philly swim club booted an inner city day camp after members refused to swim with black kids. Stay classy, Philly.

4) Welcome to the High Sierras, where the woods are lovely, dark, and...full of gun-toting narcofarmers. Still up for a weekend hike?

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

Laura again, dropping off a few MoJo stories I think you'll like. Don't worry, Kevin will be back in the next post.

My favorite Kevin Drum graf today:

According to a recent Pew survey, 55 percent of scientists are Democrats and only 6 percent are Republicans. This is good news for everyone. Democrats now have quantitative backup for their sneers about Republicans being anti-science. Likewise, Republicans now have quantitative backup for their sneers about scientists just being a bunch of liberal shills who aren't to be trusted on questions like climate change and evolution. We all win!

Yours? Plus, four stories for your Thursday MoJo Mix.

1) Where in the World is the FTC? MoJo finds them briefing corporate lawyers in Aruba and Cancun.

2) How many Time journalists does it take to change Sarah Palin's defensive pull-out story into a coherent "just the frontier spirit we need for national office" narrative? (A: Five, at David Corn's last count.)

3) From the "Really, This Kind of Racist %)@* Still Happens?" file: A private Philly swim club booted an inner city day camp after members refused to swim with black kids. Stay classy, Philly.

4) Welcome to the High Sierras, where the woods are lovely, dark, and...full of gun-toting narcofarmers. Still up for a weekend hike?

Laura McClure hosts podcasts, writes the MoJo Mix, and is the new media editor at Mother Jones. Read her investigative feature on lifehacking gurus in the latest issue of Mother Jones.

Disney isn't the only company that thinks all girls want is some sparkly lip gloss. Since Hasbro has the edge at the box office, Marvel recently hawked costumes as summer-wear on its blog's "Summer Style Guide." Frankly, no self-respecting geek would think of showing up to (as they suggest) a comic con in one, but that isn't Marvel's only problem when it comes to understanding their fanbase:

For the young ladies out there, Marvel has partnered with Lotta Luv to create some awesome lip glosses and lip balms.

So guys get to be superheroes, and girls get to be..."perfectly pouty?" According to Lotta Luv's licensing coordinator, yes:

With a branded line of make-up from Marvel, girls will be able to feel as if they are going from ordinary to extraordinary just like the superhero characters in the stories.

I don't know about you, but a mask and some Lycra makes me feel way more extraordinary than fruity lipgloss. Unfortunately, the Marvel store's only girl superhero offering is a costume called Spider-Girl Sassy Deluxe. In the Marvel world, deluxe means shiny. I'm not quite sure how a halter-top helps you fight crime.

Granted, there aren't many major Marvel female superheroines to choose from, but there are female members of both the Fantastic Four and X-Men. Where are those role model costume offerings?

This round might have to go to DC Comics. After all, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, and Batgirl are all running for D.C. mayor.

The New York Times is surveying print subscribers (hey, why not me?) to see if they would consider paying an additional $2.50 per month to get the NYT.com content that is currently free. Non print subscribers, the survey explains, would have to pay $5.

This is silly. To be clear, I believe the NYT has every right to charge online readers, if they think that'll work. Journalism takes money.  Journalism is essential for a healthy democracy.  Journalists work hard and deserve to be paid adequately for the work that they do. Yes, yes, I know all about Judy Miller, and some journalists are in it for their own fame. But many got in, and stay in, for the public good. And most toil away with no fame and an unclear future on the horizon.

How bad is it? The Times is the country's best paper, and likely to be the last one standing. Yet management there recently sent out a memo telling staffers to cut out texting, calling 411, and making international calls on staff cell phones and Blackberries. (God forbid we talk to someone in Iraq.) The Bloomberg story which broke the $5 paywall story notes that not only has print advertising all but vanished but online ad sales at the NYT and its sister papers are way down too, falling "8 percent and 3.5 percent in the first quarter and fourth quarter of 2008 respectively. They gained 6.5 percent last year." So much for the theory that online ads will (eventually) save us all.

So yes, charge online. And charge me for my crack-er-mobile access. I'll totally pay. But man alive, are you really saying that if I keep paying for the print edition—which I'm only doing to do my part to keep you afloat, which costs me @ $1,300 a year, which comes at great green guilt despite SF's recycling program—you'll only discount me a small latte's worth of the price you charge everybody else?

According to the Bloomberg piece there are only 647,695 weekday home subscribers. That's a scary low number; MoJo has a little more than a third as many print subscribers. Until the Times, or somebody, anybody, figures out a revenue model to ensure reporting's survival, I'll pony up and pay the $1,300 and the damn $2.50 (x12=$30). But I wouldn't count on most home subscribers to follow suit.

But perhaps the Times scheme will help do the messaging that journalists have been for too long too reticent to do. That we are what stands between you and governmental and corporate corruption. That following decades of deregulation, our watchdog powers are more in need than ever. That sustained beat reporting can't be done by people in their spare time. That lovely features and beautiful photo essays and book and movie reviews and all the rest great journalistic institutions offer is what makes for a great Sunday morning and a bareable subway ride. And that the Daily Show or NPR or CNN or Rachel Maddow can't do their job unless scores of other reporters do theirs. And that reporting takes money, dammit!

How can you support the reporting that Mother Jones does? You can subscribe, a bargin at a mere $15. Don't like dead trees? Take heart in the fact that our paper is 90% recycled or get the digital edition. You can also help us by signing up to our newsletters. There's a tipjar at the end of every story and blog post. You can give to our investigative fund, or our intern program in which we train the next generation of investigative journalists. Learn more here.

Clara Jeffery is Co-editor of Mother Jones. Read more of her stories here. And follow her on Twitter here.

Last month I wrote about geoengineering, controversial schemes to deliberately manipulate the Earth’s climate to slow the planet’s warming. I focused mostly on a proposal often called “solar radiation management” (PDF), in which sunlight is blocked in the upper atmosphere in order to reduce warming at the planet’s surface. A new study, cowritten by one of the main sources in my piece, Stanford’s Ken Caldeira, makes a major conclusion about this type of geoengineering: It may cool the planet, but it won’t prevent dangerously high levels of carbon dioxide from wreaking havoc on our oceans.

As MoJo’s environmental correspondent Julia Whitty has written, our oceans are already at their breaking point: Man-made emissions have negatively impacted the ocean's chemistry, and toxic waste is being dumped into our oceans without regard for its harmful impact on fragile marine ecosystems. To make matters worse, scientists fear that large-scale geoengineering proposals could cause further acidification of our oceans (for instance, the sulfur injected into the atmosphere in a solar radiation management scheme would fall back to the Earth's surface through precipitation), damaging the lifeforms that live there. More recent geoengineering studies (PDF), however, allayed those fears, finding that solar radiation management wouldn’t acidify the oceans as much as first anticipated.

Nonetheless, the Caldeira report finds that our oceans and coral life are in grave danger—and even the best-case-scenario geoengineering scheme to block out the sun’s rays won’t help the oceans much. Paired with a report from earlier this year stating that global warming is essentially irreversible, that CO2 will hang around in the atmosphere for around a thousand years or so, the Caldeira paper suggests that solar radiation-related geoengineering efforts aren't worth pursuing.

Perhaps geoengineering researchers would be better off focusing on ways to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, like synthetic trees that “scrub” the CO2 out of the air. After all, why waste time, money, and manpower on a geoengineering scheme like solar radiation management if, as this latest research suggests, it won’t do much to save our planet?

A terrain board assists Iraqi soldiers in learning to relate what they see on the map to the terrain board and its use in planning missions. This training was part of the Master Trainer Course taught by Soldiers of Company A, 4th Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment. (Photo courtesy army.mil.)

rather be waterboarding

I'm of the firm belief that you should be able to wear whatever stupid or offensive t-shirts you want to wear. But I also believe that other people should be able to call you a moron if you wear something really dumb or spectacularly offensive.

Needless to say, there's nothing funnier than torture.

The site that sells these beauties notes that "The InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds, his wife Dr. Helen Smith, Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin, Drew Curtis of Fark.com, Mary Katharine Ham of Townhall.com, CNET.com Senior Editor Wil O'Neal, and author/blogger Bill Whittle" also wear their shirts. None of those folks seem to be sporting this particular gem, however.

From the Detroit News:

A majority of House members have signed onto a bill to reverse the closing of 789 Chrysler dealerships and block General Motors Corp. from closing more than 1,300.

The Automobile Dealer Economic Rights Restoration Act of 2009, sponsored by Rep Daniel Maffei, D-N.Y., now has 221 cosponsors — a majority of the 435-member House.

Idiots.  This comes via Jim Manzi, who explains pithily: "The practical effect would be to reverse or prevent the vast majority of dealer closings that were a key component of the auto restructuring plans. This seems only fair, as the dealers paid good money for these politicians."

This is a wholly nonideological porkfest, with 133 Democratic cosponsors and 88 Republican cosponsors.  (So far.)  Which just goes to show: under the right circumstances, bipartisanship isn't dead after all.  David Broder should be thrilled.

The Senate Judiiciary Committee has released the witness list for Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings next week, and suprise surprise! Testifying for Republicans will be Frank Ricci, the name plaintiff in the now-infamous Connecticut firefighter case in which Republicans have accused Sotomayor of sanctioning "reverse racism." What he has to offer about Sotomayor's qualifications for the bench seems pretty limited, but we in the media can only hope Ricci will liven up what promises to be a pretty perfunctory proceeding. (Sadly, the Republicans don't seem to have invited that nunchuck guy, who also has a bone to pick with Sotomayor.)

Democrats plan to counter such testimony with witnesses of their own, most notably, former Major League Baseball pitcher David Cone. Cone was one of the beneficiaries of Sotomayor's decision ending the baseball players' strike. Presumably Democrats are thinking that Cone will mitigate whatever nasty things Ricci has to say about Sotomayor's view of the white male.

(Hat tip to The BLT.)