March 25, 2012

American Health Care Business: Who is in Charge?

Here is a question that every American should be concerned about: Are doctors choosing the best care for their patients, or are health insurance companies being allowed to choose the cheapest?

Recently, an American health economist asked a group of medical students this question: “How many of you think cost will factor into your decision-making with patients?” About 80% of the audience of medical students raised their hands. Surprised, he commented that when he posed the same question ten years ago, only about 20% of his audience raised their hands.

According to Scientific American, it is difficult to consider a career in medicine in the United States today without some awareness of costs. "Go to any talk on health care policy, and you will hear a similar message. Health care spending is increasing at an unsustainable rate. The United States spends more per person on health care than any other nation, and yet we are not any healthier for it. If we continue to spend at current rates, we will jeopardize the long-term fiscal stability of our nation. Something is broken. Something needs to be done. Physicians are partially responsible for doing something."

March 20, 2012

Powerful Earthquake Strikes Mexico

Acapulco, Mexico. Image courtesy of Google Maps.
An earthquake with a reported magnitude of 7.8 hit southwest Mexico today. The United States Geological Survey  (USGS) reports that the earthquake was 6.2 miles deep and about 120 miles east of Acapulco. The quake was strong enough to cause office workers in Acapulco to flee their buildings and gather in the streets, CNN reports. Fortunately, there don't seem to be any injuries or major damages aside from telephone service disruptions, according to NPR.

The offices of the President of Mexico and the Mayor of Mexico City have been using Twitter to post updates on the situation. According to President Felipe Calderón's Twitter feed, Mexico's seismology agency says the earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale. He adds, "There are still no reports of major damage." The mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, adds that there is no major damage in Mexico City. Ebrard used Twitter to report that the central and northern parts of Mexico City have been inspected and there is no major damage. The airport, Ebrard reports, is also operating normally at this time.

Read about  recent earthquakes that have shaken California and Haiti.

March 18, 2012

Extinct Flower Revived

An ancient seed that lay buried in Siberian permafrost for 31,800 years has recently been thawed and grown into a healthy plant. Scientists found the fruit of an ancient plant that had been frozen underground in Siberia about 125 feet below the surface. Using pieces of the fruit, the scientists grew the plants in a lab. The new blooms are the oldest flowering plants that researchers have ever revived from a deep freeze.

“This is like regenerating a dinosaur from tissues of an ancient egg,” University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) biologist Jane Shen-Miller said. This ancient plant has not bloomed on earth since mammoths and woolly rhinoceroses roamed the land. The fruit was likely buried by an Arctic ground squirrel near the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia. With delicate white petals, the ice-age flowers look similar to a modern relative called the narrow-leafed campion, or Silene stenophylla.

March 11, 2012

Weeds Now Immune to Roundup

Roundup has been the most popular weed-killer since at least 1980. The U.S. company Monsanto patented the stuff in 1970 and has been marketing it since 1973. However, widespread use has led to farms being overrun by weeds that have become immune to chemicals. Food prices are expected to rise as farmland becomes swamped with weeds that are immune to poisons.

Has Roundup use resulted in super-weeds?

More 11 million acres of U.S. farmland is infested with "super-weeds" resistant to the popular herbicide known as Roundup, made by Monsanto. The weeds, some of which grow three inches a day and can damage farm equipment, have become immune to the weed-killer.

According to the trade journal Weed Science, at least 21 weed species have become resistant to the popular herbicide glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in Monsanto's Roundup. A growing number of "super-weeds" now also survive a cocktail of other herbicides. The Daily Mail reports that desperate farmers and gardeners are resorting to even stronger chemicals. Wiser farmers and gardeners are ploughing and mulching fields in order to tackle the spread of the chemical-resistant varieties of weeds.

What is the GMO connection?
Monsanto also produces seeds which grow into plants genetically engineered to be tolerant to glyphosate, which the company sells as Roundup Ready crops. NPR reports that back in 1993, when Monsanto asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to approve Roundup-tolerant soybeans, it dispensed with the issue of potential resistant weeds in two modest paragraphs. It told the agency that "glyphosate is considered to be a herbicide with low risk for weed resistance." In other words, even though Monsanto was working to develop crops that could resist Roundup, they did not expect the weeds to adapt to the herbicide. However, excessive use has led to exactly that problem. And it doesn't stop at the United States borders with Canada and Mexico. “GM grass is a nightmare scenario for contamination into Canada,” said Lucy Sharratt of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, “GM plants do not stop at our border. To make matters worse, the grass is engineered to be tolerant to Monsanto’s herbicide Roundup, so the GM grass will add to the spread of superweeds. Herbicide-tolerant weeds are already a major problem for U.S. farmers.” Welcome to the Roundup aftermath, everyone.

What can I do?
  1. Try to buy local, non-genetically-modified, organically-grown produce. 
  2. Don't use Roundup to kill weeds or edge the lawn, lest you find your garden infested with super-weeds and the soil unable to support any other greenery. Instead, pull out weeds and use an edging tool around the lawn. Weeds can also be killed with boiling water or vinegar.

March 5, 2012

Earthquake Rocks Richmond, CA

An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.0 shook San Francisco's east bay this morning at 5:33 AM. The quake struck shortly after the commuter trains in this densely populated area began service for the day. The epicenter was in Richmond California, less than a mile from El Cerrito, only four miles from Berkeley, and seven miles from Oakland. The nine counties that comprise the San Francisco Bay Area are home to approximately 7.15 million people, many of whom live in the east bay and commute into San Francisco on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). BART trains were paused briefly so that the tracks could be checked for damage, but otherwise service not affected by today's 4.0 quake and no major damage has been reported.