Whooping cough epidemic in Western Australia

Four babies have already died as whooping cough cases shot up in Western Australia.

A record number of more than 3,500 cases were reported last year, more than double the 2010 total. Four babies have died from the infection in as many years and the Health Department is urging parents to be prepared for more cases.

The department’s Paul Armstrong says whooping cough in the community seems to be rising. “In 2011 we had the highest number of cases reported to us of whooping cough, we know that whooping cough epidemics happen every three to four years, and we’re well overdue in WA for a whooping cough epidemic,” Mr Armstrong said.

Health Minister Kim Hames says parents must take responsibility for the vaccination of their children. “Whatever you hear of the risks of vaccination – of a whole range of different things – are totally outweighed by the risk of the disease itself,” he said. “Measles kills, whooping cough kills. All of those diseases that you can now get a vaccination to stop, can kill children.

Leigh Van Valen has died

Leigh Van Valen invented the Red Queen Hypothesis, which describes evolutionary arms races. John Wilson reports:

Leigh Van Valen, the originator of the “Red Queen Hypothesis” and a proponent of the Ecological Species Concept, died yesterday, John Hawks is reporting.

The comments are full of reminiscences. Prof. Van Valen was obviously a generous man and a character. He will be missed.

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Benoit Mandelbrot has died

Mandelbrot set, one visualization

A couple of blog articles have told me that Benoit Mandelbrot, discoverer of the Mandelbrot set of fractal curves, has died at the age of 85.

Domestic terrorist murders doctor in Kansas

An anti-abortion terrorist with links to Operation Rescue has shot down a doctor in church. The irony is fairly thick, here. The religiously motivated murderer hits his unarmed target, who was an usher at his church while his wife was singing in the choir. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada responds to the news.

Dr. Tiller was one of the very few doctors in North America who was able to perform late abortions on women whose pregnancies had gone wrong, or whose lives depended on the ability to get an abortion at a later stage. Women travelled from all over, including Canada, to access his services. Dr. Tiller has long been a target of anti-abortion protests, mostly by “Operation Rescue.” He suffered continuous harassment, including death threats, baseless lawsuits, pickets at his clinic and staff residences, vicious slander, and a previous assassination attempt in 1993, when he was shot in both arms outside his clinic by anti-abortion protester Rachelle Shannon.

“I’m in shock, I’m completely devastated. He was a friend of mine,” said
Joyce Arthur, Coordinator of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. “Dr. Tiller was called a saint by many of his patients, and ‘Saint George’ by abortion providers across the nation. His incredible courage was inspirational.”

This was a doctor who performed abortions for women who were in danger of permanent injury if they continued the pregnancy or whose prospective child would have been damaged or suffering and perhaps doomed.There were three doctors in the U.S.; that’s one for every 50,000,000 women. And that should tell you how rare and non-frivolous a late abortion is. Most doctors won’t do one after four months because at that point, abortion is more dangerous than childbirth.

Outraged members of the public are sending money to support abortion, abortion funds for women who need financial help, and especially Medical Students for Choice, who opt to learn techniques of safe abortion in medical school.

Death by chemistry

This is very unusual. This morning, on a quiet street in northern Toronto, a woman died by inhaling chemical fumes. Police believe that she committed suicide, apparently by creating hydrogen sulfide from household chemicals. The resulting fumes caused the evacuation of her neighbourhood and a secondary school. Hydrogen sulfide produces a smell of rotten eggs, but it quickly numbs the sense of smell, which makes it all the more dangerous. A high concentration can suffocate and kill.

Fire fighters were called, I presume, because of the rotten egg smell, and quickly evacuated buildings within 100 metres. That included Earl Haig Secondary School, where people were playing recreational basketball in the gym. The evacuation occurred around 10:30 a.m. and residents were out of their homes for about four hours.

One resident within the limit slept through the whole thing, but luckily he was far enough away not to be injured.

Nine fire trucks responded and eleven police cars brought members of the Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear response team.

No reason was given.

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J. G. Ballard has died

J.  G. Ballard has died. He was a science fiction writer and commentator whose fiction was haunted by his childhood in a Japanese concentration camp.

Author Lyall Watson is dead

I started out to recommend any science or nature books by Lyall Watson; he wrote quite a few. I have read two of them, “Jacobson’s Organ and the Remarkable Nature of Smell,” and “The Whole Hog,” which is a survey of all the pig species of the world and included his experience of raising and befriending an orphaned warthog in Africa.

But when I searched for his name to find a list of books, I found instead that he died in June! His obituary in The Guardian mentions a “versatile and telegenic life as an anthropologist, biologist, botanist, ethologist and zoologist.”

He wrote 25 books, mostly based on nature but also exploring some unproven ideas: ESP and the like. I’d skip those. Lyall Watson apparently came up with the “Hundredth Monkey” theory:

He had the knack, too, of distilling his discoveries about animal behaviour into catchy theories, such as that of the “hundredth monkey”. The concept was based on a story in Lifetide that a number of macaque monkeys on the Japanese island of Koshima were washing sweet potatoes in the sea, uncopied by the others; when another monkey – the hundredth – also started washing sweet potatoes, all the rest took to doing just that. He thought this could be because once the potato-washers assumed a “critical mass”, the washers changed the behaviour of the whole group.

Tie that in with Connie Willis’s Bellwether and you’ve got something.

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