FM newswire for 25 February, articles for your morning reading

Today’s links to interesting news and analysis, collected from around the Internet.  If you find this useful, pass it to a friend or colleague. 

  1. About China, the short version:   “China – The Mother of All Black Swans“,  12 February 2010
  2. About Japan, the short version:  “Japan – Past the Point of No Return“, Vitaliy Katsenelson, ContrarianEdge, 23 February 2010 — For more about Japan see As Japan sails into the shadows, let’s wish them well and wave good-by.
  3. Excellent summary of the global macroeconomic situation:  “”Is the economic recovery sustainable in the US“, Oxford Economics, February 2010
  4. Torture cover-up was planned:  “Destroying C.I.A. Tapes Wasn’t Opposed, Memos Say“, New York Times, 22 February 2010 — “At a closed briefing in 2003, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee raised no objection to a C.I.A. plan to destroy videotapes of brutal interrogations, according to secret documents released Monday.”
  5. “DNA Deception”, Texas Tribune, 22 February 2010 — “When state health officials were sued last year for storing infant blood samples without parental consent, they said it was for medical research. They never said they were turning over hundreds of dried blood samples to the federal government to help build a vast DNA database.”
  6. Illinois stuck in a ‘historic, epic’ budget crisis“, Chicago Tribune, 23 February 2010 — “Talk of major tax increases coupled with draconian spending cuts is building in Springfield.”
  7. More fruits from Climategate:  “Britain’s Weather Office Proposes Climate-Gate Do-Over“, Fox News, 23 February 2010 — Acting on proposals of climate sceptics for a new, transparent, and comprehensive surface temperature database.  Without, of course, acknowledgement by climate scientists that they’re doing so.
  8. High stakes poker:  “Greece Holds Back Bond Sale in Game of ‘Chicken“, Ignis Says, Bloomberg, 24 February 2010
  9. Justifying torture,  an appropriate role for attorneys:  “The Margolis Memo“, Scott Horton, Harper’s, 24 February 2010

About America the Fearful

Since WWII Americans have been dominated by fear.  Of Communism, black activists, feminists, AIDS, herpes, pollution, ALAR on fruit, Islamic fundamentalists, China rising, and God only knows what else.  Fear provides the easiest way to sell to Americans.  Consumer products.  Public Policy.  Wars.

How To Sell Germ Warfare“, Darshak Sanghavi, Slate, 24 February 2010 — “Can hand sanitizers like Purell really stop people from getting the flu?”  Excerpt:

Our homes and workplaces, we’re told, are trying to kill us. Recently, a University of Arizona microbiologist named Charles Gerba, author of hundreds of scientific papers about household microbes, gave a terrifying lecture at the offices of the Food and Drug Administration. Gerba—who, incidentally, has a child with the middle name Escherichia—that’s what the “E” in E. coli stands for — explained that

  • a kitchen sponge and sink are home to thousands of times more bacteria than a toilet seat.
  • 10% of household dishrags contain salmonella.
  • After playing with other children, toddlers have more fecal bacteria on their hands than does a person exiting a public toilet stall.
  • Those toilets, by the way, aerosolize so many droplets with each flush that Gerba compares their dispersion to “the Fourth of July.”
  • And every public swimming pool he’s ever tested has contained disease-causing viruses.

… The Centers for Disease Control’s flu information Web site recommends regularly disinfecting kitchen counters, bedroom furniture, toys, and any other “surfaces.” (In marketing terms, consumers were asked to increase their daily number of “wiping events.”) Public-health authorities advised exhaustive, frequent hand-washing with hand sanitizers to fight flu. Soap and sanitizer manufacturers targeted massive ad campaigns to encourage more frequent hand-washing. Such products, their makers promise, can help families stay safe from the filth around them. Purell’s slogan wistfully calls upon us germ-phobes, presumably paralyzed by fear, to “imagine a touchable world.”

Yet the data tell a less compelling story about sanitizers like Purell.

  • In 2005, Boston-based doctors published the very first clinical trial of alcohol-based hand sanitizers in homes and enrolled about 300 families with young children in day care. For 5 months, half the families got free hand sanitizer and a “vigorous hand-hygiene” curriculum. But the spread of respiratory infections in homes didn’t budge, a result that “somewhat surprised” the researchers.
  • A Columbia University study also found no reduction in common infections among inner-city families given free antibacterial hand soap, detergent, and cleaning supplies.
  • The same year, University of Michigan epidemiologist Allison Aiello summarized data on hand hygiene for the FDA and pointed out that 3 out of 4 studies showed that alcohol-based hand sanitizers didn’t prevent respiratory infections.
  • {I}n 2008, the Boston group repeated the study — this time in elementary schools — and threw in free Clorox disinfecting wipes for classrooms. Again, the rate of respiratory infections remained unchanged, though the rate of gastrointestinal infections, which are less common than respiratory infections, did fall slightly.
  • {L}ast October, a report ordered by the Public Health Agency of Canada concluded that there is no good evidence that vigorous hand hygiene practices prevent flu transmission.
  • … In hospitals where massive educational efforts have increased hand-washing rates from 40 percent up to 70 percent, there has been no overall reduction in infection rates.

… To begin, the influenza virus mostly spreads via tiny droplets in the air (for example, from sneezes)—not by dirty hands or surfaces—which limits the role of Purell. It probably wouldn’t matter even if flu transferred though hand contact, which is how most cold viruses spread. Though Purell kills them in the lab, hand sanitizers don’t stop their spread in the real world …

Afterword

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