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May 03, 2013

Fracking ourselves to death

Fracking ourselves to Death: Hydrocarbons are bad for Children and other Living Things (Cantarow) | Informed Comment
Whether they live in Texas, Colorado, or Pennsylvania, their symptoms are the same: rashes, nosebleeds, severe headaches, difficulty breathing, joint pain, intestinal illnesses, memory loss, and more. “In my opinion,” says Yuri Gorby of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “what we see unfolding is a serious health crisis, one that is just beginning.” The process of “fracking” starts by drilling a mile or more vertically, then outward laterally into 500-million-year-old shale formations, the remains of oceans that once flowed over parts of North America. Millions of gallons of chemical and sand-laced water are then propelled into the ground at high pressures, fracturing the shale and forcing the methane it contains out. With the release of that gas come thousands of gallons of contaminated water. This “flowback” fluid contains the original fracking chemicals, plus heavy metals and radioactive material that also lay safely buried in the shale. The industry that uses this technology calls its product “natural gas,” but there’s nothing natural about up-ending half a billion years of safe storage of methane and everything that surrounds it. It is, in fact, an act of ecological violence around which alien infrastructures — compressor stations that compact the gas for pipeline transport, ponds of contaminated flowback, flare stacks that burn off gas impurities, diesel trucks in quantity, thousands of miles of pipelines, and more — have metastasized across rural America, pumping carcinogens and toxins into water, air, and soil.

May 02, 2013

Is it Viagra for women, or Hormone Replacement Therapy by another name?

Osphena is coming to market soon and is claiming to be the solution to painful post-menopausal sex. But what are the downsides? Will This Pill Fix Your Sex Life? - Newsweek and The Daily Beast
If even a fraction of those women are interested, the drug’s approval could be the start of a long-awaited dream for the pharmaceutical industry, which has labored for decades to define a catchall disorder of women’s sexuality and then develop a series of drugs to help. It’s been a fraught process, in which pharma has been accused of inflating numbers and has failed time and again to satisfy drug safety regulators at the FDA. So it’s no wonder that some connected to the industry are crowing. Osphena “is a milestone in women’s menopause therapies,” says Margery Gass, a practicing gynecologist in Cleveland and executive director of the North American Menopause Society, which lists the drug’s manufacturer among its corporate liaison council. “It’s really good to have ... options for women at this point in life.” But as the FDA allows Osphena (ospemifene) to head to market in June and Shionogi launches its “public education” campaign, starting with physicians, questions abound. First about whether this is a real disorder affecting a large percentage of American women. Second about how Osphena was approved. And third about whether Osphena, which mimics estrogen and has similar known downsides, may also be a back-door, off-label replacement for “hormone replacement therapy,” which was discredited a decade ago.

May 01, 2013

The Jamestown settlers butchered children and ate them

While excavating a trash pit at Jamestown, archaeologists stumbled upon a trove of human bones that show the starving settlers killed and ate children to survive. Grisly new evidence reveals American colonists resorted to cannibalism
The harsh winter of 1609 in Virginia’s Jamestown Colony forced residents to do the unthinkable. A recent excavation at the historic site discovered the carcasses of dogs, cats and horses consumed during the season commonly called the “Starving Time.” But a few other newly discovered bones in particular, though, tell a far more gruesome story: the dismemberment and cannibalization of a 14-year-old English girl. “The chops to the forehead are very tentative, very incomplete,” says Douglas Owsley, the Smithsonian forensic anthropologist who analyzed the bones after they were found by archaeologists from Preservation Virginia. “Then, the body was turned over, and there were four strikes to the back of the head [see image below], one of which was the strongest and split the skull in half. A penetrating wound was then made to the left temple, probably by a single-sided knife, which was used to pry open the head and remove the brain.” Much is still unknown about the circumstances of this grisly meal: Who exactly the girl researchers are calling "Jane" was, whether she was murdered or died of natural causes, whether multiple people participated in the butchering or it was a solo act. But as Owsley revealed along with lead archaeologist William Kelso today at a press conference at the National Museum of Natural History, we now have the first direct evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, the oldest permanent English colony in the Americas. “Historians have gone back and forth on whether this sort of thing really happened there,” Owsley says. “Given these bones in a trash pit, all cut and chopped up, it's clear that this body was dismembered for consumption.”