That pesky border

In the wake of a failed terrorist bombing of a Detroit-bound plane (thank Murphy for failures!), taking a plane to the U.S. is even slower and more intrusive than ever. I don’t know why the airlines haven’t installed one good bomb sniffer to sample the air over the ticket lines. Canada had the technology 10 or 15 years ago, just up the road at MDS Sciex, to sample air from a corridor, a cargo container, or blowing from a building and detect the chemicals in it, including drugs or plastic explosives. I’ll bet they could use fans and ducting to have all the lineups sampled by one or two machines. There’d be no need for patting down passengers’ legs or scanning them into virtual nudity, and the cost would soon be made up by hiring fewer patters or gymnoscanners.

But s’welp me, if one more American tells me the border is an unnecessary nuisance and we should just get rid of it, I’m going to suggest that the U.S. petition for admission to the British Commonwealth as Lower Saskatchewan.

Oldest living plant clone

In a sense, this qualifies as “oldest living plant.” However, this grove of shrubs in Tasmania is really a colony of genetically identical, vegetatively propagated clones: “World’s oldest plant?

A team of Tasmanian botanists claims to have found the world’s oldest living plant–a vast, low-growing, one-of-a-kind shrub born more than 43,000 years ago. If their conclusions are accurate, this Lomatia tasmanica, a member of Proteaceae family otherwise known as King’s holly, would be more than three times as old as the previous record holder, a 13,000-year-old box huckleberry in Pennsylvania

The leader of the research team, Rene Vaillancourt, a plant geneticist at the University of Tasmania, says the plant ranges over an area of 1.2 km. Its age–about 43,600 years–was estimated using carbon-14 dating of charcoal found along with fossilized leaf fragments. The fragments themselves were too fragile to date, he says.

Vaillancourt admits that there is no direct evidence linking the plant fossil to the living representative. But he says the time it would take for the slow-growing organism, which scientists have been monitoring for several years, to spread so broadly in the nutrient-poor soil is consistent with the isotope dating. A report on the discovery is to appear next January in the Australian Journal of Botany.

Discovered in 1934, the plant is the only known example of its species. “We’re trying to keep the exact location secret,” says Vaillancourt, noting only that it lives in a rainforest in the protected World Heritage Area in southwest Tasmania. It has shiny green leaves, 10 to 20 centimeters in length, dissected like other hollies; red flowers that bloom off the leaf tips; and about 200 stems. This specimen is sterile, propagating itself by sending out rhizomes, or roots.

Quoting John Adams

John Adams, one of the men who wrote the U.S.Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution, wrote:

The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses…

Then there is the treaty with Tripoli, which Adams signed into law, which bluntly declared that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”

Hat tip to Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, in “Chuck Baldwin’s Christian Nation nonsense.”

Why should life or death depend on income?

Unless you’re bribing your way past Nazi guards…

But it seems that in the U.S. you have to bribe yourself into the health system:  “Why should life or death depend on income?

Republicans for rape

There’s a web site listing U.S. Republican senators who voted against a law that would let their contractors call police if raped. It would prevent corporations from requiring contractors to sign away their right to press criminal charges if raped by other employees of the same corporation.

Where senators voted for protecting rapists

In pro-rape states, both senators voted against the bill.

Pro-rape states:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Wyoming

All men. All eager to deny the protection of law to women. And, coincidentally, many of them from anti-choice states.

Mild vs. deadly flu could come down to one molecule

A Canadian and international research team may have found the key to severe cases of flu or other respiratory diseases. Patients who had the most severe cases had more interleukin 17 in their bodies. We have been getting the idea in the last several years that an especially strong immune reaction could wreak more havoc than the disease virus itself. Many of the patients who died of swine flu and consequent pneumonia have little virus left in their bodies. Yet they remain severely ill, their lungs clog and fill with fluids, and they can die. This severe reaction is called up by chemicals called cytokines; it’s been called a cytokine storm. Interleukin is one of the cytokines.

Interleukin is also found in inflammatory, auto-immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma, according to Dr. David Kelvin, the head of experimental therapeutics at the University Health Network in Toronto. He is the senior author of a paper published in Critical Care journal last week. Dr. Kelvin says that this is the first solid clue to the problem.

Health insurance in Canada

My prediction for 2010 is that if Americans get universal medicare, those now without coverage will love it. If they ever edge out the profit-making, paperwork-generating, coverage-denying schemes of the insurance companies and provide not-for-profit universal medicare, most people will love it. As the BBC pointed out last night, unlike most other developed countries, the U.S. does not have health care for everyone, and despite spending twice as much per capita as those other countries, it still leaves 47,000,000 people uncovered.

To get an idea of what healthcare coverage is like in other countries, check out the tone and the coverage rules in Canada:

Provincial/Territorial health ministries and health insurance:

Botanical discoveries bloomed in 2009

Berlinia korupensis at Kew

The BBC news points out that many new plants were discovered in 2009. And about one-third of them are in danger.

The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew sent people to 100 countries. According to the article, ‘Kew’s botanists have described 2009 as a “bumper year” in which they described 292 new species, compared with 200 in an average year.’

Berlinia korupensis is a giant relative of the pea, a tree with foot-long dehiscent pods. But the surveyors were able to find only 17 trees in a Cameroon rain forest preserve.

Other researchers found seven new species of coffee bush.

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