Photo of the day

Looks like In Focus is now doing photos of the week galleries.  Cool!  From last week:

A picture taken on May 3, 2014, (released June 12), shows people visiting “The Gateway to Hell,” a huge burning gas crater in the heart of Turkmenistan’s Karakum desert. The fiery pit was the result of a simple miscalculation by Soviet scientists in 1971 after their boring equipment suddenly drilled through into an underground cavern and a deep sinkhole formed. Fearing that the crater would emit poisonous gases, the scientists took the decision to set it alight, thinking that the gas would burn out quickly and this would cause the flames to go out. But the flames have not gone out in more than 40 years. (Igor Sasin/AFP/Getty Images)


Guns and kids

Nice article in Slate on just how deadly guns are to kids.  The key stats:

The overwhelming empirical evidence indicates that the presence of a gun makes children less safe; that programs such as Eddie Eagle are insufficient; and that measures the NRA and extreme gun advocates vehemently oppose, such as gun safes and smart guns, could dramatically reduce the death toll. Study after study unequivocally demonstrates that the prevalence of firearms directly increases the risk of youth homicide, suicide, and unintentional death. This effect is consistent across the United States and throughout the world. As a country, we should be judged by how well we protect our children. By any measure, we are failing horribly.

The United States accounts for nearly 75 percent of all children murdered in the developed world. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 in the United States are 17 times more likely to be murdered by firearms than children in other industrialized nations.

Children from states where firearms are prevalent suffer from significantly higher rates of homicide, even after accounting for poverty, education, and urbanization. A study focusing on youth in North Carolina found that most of these deaths were caused by legally purchased handguns. A recent meta-analysis revealed that easy access to firearms doubled the risk of homicide and tripled the risk for suicide among all household members. Family violence is also much more likely to be lethal in homes where a firearm is present, placing children especially in danger.Murder-suicides are another major risk to children and are most likely to be committed with a gun.

But, but, but… 2nd amendment!!  Freedom!  Sure lots of kids may needlessly die, but how does that compare to my right to defend myself with an AK-47 in Chipotle?!

And as for that defensive gun use:

Crucially, these deaths are not offset by defensive gun use. As one study found, for every time a gun is used legally in self-defense at home, there are “four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.” A study of adolescents in California found that there were 13 times as many threatening as self-defensive uses of guns. Of the defensive encounters, many arose in confrontations that became hostile because of the presence of a firearm.

So, why not once again link to Gary Wills.  Our nation sacrifices its children on the altar of its love of guns.  This has to change.

Microbiome and malnutrition

Here’s some more fascinating micriobiome news I just could not resist sharing.  It seems that a key feature in malnutrition is a deficient micriobiome.  Basically, if you are malnourished and have a deficient microbiome, even once you have proper nutrition your healthy bacteria don’t really catch up and these kids stay permanently behind in a number of key developmental metrics.  The potential solution– address not just the nutrition intake, but the microbiome as well.

From National Geographic:

The current treatment for malnourishment doesn’t help the child’s system catch up to normal maturity, which may explain why formerly malnourished children still suffer from short height, immune problems, and intellectual delays, said Jeffrey I. Gordon, who studies the gut microbiome at Washington University in St. Louis and who led the research.

“There’s something lacking in our current approach to treatment,” said Gordon, who suspects the children may need to eat therapeutic foods for longer and/or get supplements of probiotics, or beneficial microorganisms, to catch up. “We need to think of food as interacting with this microbial organ.” (See our Future of Food series.)…

To conduct the new study, Gordon and his team collected monthly fecal samples from 50 healthy Bangladeshi children for the first two years of their lives. From those children, they found that a combination of 24 species could be used to predict the maturity of a child’s microbial ecosystem.

When these healthy children had diarrhea, their microbial systems regressed but quickly bounced back, the research showed.

The researchers then examined fecal samples from 64 infants and toddlers hospitalized for malnutrition and diarrhea. The children received antibiotics and therapeutic foods for a week or two and then their families were taught how to better support their nutrition.

But these children, who had an immature balance of microbes to begin with, only got a little maturity bounce at the beginning, then remained far behind their peers, Gordon said.

“Food alone wasn’t able to repair the maturity,” he said.

As for me, I’m still anxiously awaiting results on the health of my microbiome (though I feel pretty damn confident about it)

Judicial elections make judges politicians

And that’s just not a good thing.  Excellent column from Dahlia Lithwick from the campaign in Tennessee to vote against retention for three Democratic judges because they might, in the future (no actual cases were at issue), make decisions Republicans don’t like.  Here’s the rub:

And that’s the real problem. When judicial races turn into spending races, what suffers most is not Democrats or Republicans, but judicial independence and integrity. As has been exhaustively chronicled by one nonpartisan study after another, judges don’t want to be dialing for dollars from the attorneys who litigate before them, and litigants don’t want to appear before judges who dial for dollars. All of the data shows that the effect is a decline in confidence in the independence of the judiciary and a spending arms race that spirals ever more out of control. That’s the paradox of course: Cynically preying on an unspecified public fear of out-of control judges will ultimate result in actual jurists who are actually compromised, either by taking money they shouldn’t be taking, or making promises and pledges they are in no position to make. In either case, imaginary judicial shadiness  becomes a lot more real.

Yeah, that.  Need I add that these hyper-politicization of judicial races which fundamentally undermines this branch of government is coming predominantly from the Republican party.

Photo of the day

From a Telegraph photos of the week gallery:

After a hot day, a thunderstorm gathers over Glaernisch mountain near Schwanden, eastern Switzerland

After a hot day, a thunderstorm gathers over Glaernisch mountain near Schwanden, eastern SwitzerlandPicture: ARNO BALZARINI/EPA

US Health care in perspective

The latest report from the Commonwealth fund (nice summary in the Atlantic) compares the US to 10 other similar developed nations and we’re just where you would expect (if you’ve been paying the least bit of attention)– dead last.  Here’s a handy chart of various rankings:

You can also see that Canada is in 10th of 11.  There’s a reason that health care reform opponents like to pick on Canada and not Sweden, Switzerland, or others. But still, better than us.  But, of course, this chart is the real killer– we are paying so damn much for worse care:

How anybody can justify this is beyond me?  Okay, not really.  Just the power of political (conservative Republican, in this case) ideology.

Obama is not a scientist either

But he certainly appreciates the value of science.  Love his response to the whole Republican “I’m not a scientist” silliness on climate change:

Speaking to University of California, Irvine graduates in Anaheim, Obama said lawmakers were failing to uphold the responsibilities of their office by not taking bold action to curb the harmful effects of carbon emissions.

“Today’s Congress, though, is full of folks who stubbornly and automatically reject the scientific evidence about climate change,” he said. “They’ll tell you it’s a hoax, or a fad.”

He criticized those who ducked the issue by claiming they weren’t qualified enough to speak on the matter, like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Florida Gov.Rick Scott (R).

“Let me translate,” he said. “What that means is, ‘I accept that manmade climate change is real, but if I admit it, I’ll be run out of town by a radical fringe that thinks climate science is a liberal plot.'”  [emphasis mine]

“I’m not a scientist either, but we’ve got some good ones at NASA,” he added.

I think Obama gets it about right.  And just depressing that this radical fringe gets to drive our policy.

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