Friday, December 30, 2011

Deadly Diseases Creep Back As Parents Hesitate To Immunize | East Oregonian

By KATHY ANEY | December 29, 2011

Less than a century ago, the world was a playground for deadly germs and viruses.

Epidemics of polio, influenza, smallpox and whooping cough wreaked havoc around the globe. Humans fought back with weapons honed in the laboratory — vaccines. These vaccines quashed the diseases with such shock and awe that most people have never seen them first-hand.

The fear of these diseases has ebbed so low that many parents are opting out of vaccinating their children.

Just across the border in Washington, 6.2 percent elected not to vaccinate this year — one of the highest rates of non-medical exemption rates in the country after Alaska (9 percent), Colorado (7 percent) and Minnesota (6.5). Oregon’s exemption rate rose to 5.6 percent, up from 5.2. (The percentages refer to kindergarten students.)

Public health officials are watching with trepidation as the exemption numbers rise.

Umatilla County Public Health Administrator Genni Lehnert-Beers is one of those officials who is concerned. Most of the diseases, she said, are only being kept at bay, but are in danger of roaring back.

“The only true disease to be eradicated is smallpox,” Lehnert-Beers said.

The rest are waiting in the wings for chinks in the armor. One disease, pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is already making an unsettling resurgence. The disease once was one of the most common childhood diseases and a major cause of childhood mortality.

So far, 58 children younger than a year have been diagnosed with whooping cough this year in Washington. Twenty-two ended up in the hospital and two died. Three cases cropped up last month in nearby Walla Walla in unvaccinated children.

In Umatilla County, one school-age child contracted whooping cough in September.

Whooping cough rarely kills adults. Most don’t experience the classic whoop at the end of each cough. The greatest danger comes when the virus is passed on to infants who aren’t as equipped to deal with the tenacious disease because they are too young to be fully immunized.

“In adults, it is a robust cough. In fact, it is often severe and persistent enough that some individuals have cracked ribs from coughing so hard,” Lehnert-Beers said. “But, it’s infants who have the enormous risk of dire pneumonia.”

Measles is also making a comeback.

New Zealand is in the midst of a measles outbreak that has affected more than 400 people this year. The United States is experiencing a spike in measles as well, mostly imported from other countries as Americans travel. According to the CDC, 118 people came down with measles in the first quarter of the year. In 89 percent of cases, the virus came from abroad.

In February, an unvaccinated 27-year-old Santa Fe woman is suspected of infecting people in several American cities after picking up measles in London. Flying home, she made stops in Washington, Baltimore, Denver and Albuquerque. The virus especially affects infants, pregnant women and people who have compromised immune systems. Side effects such as brain swelling and pneumonia, though rare, can prove fatal.

Diptheria and polio aren’t dead either. This year, an unvaccinated Australian woman, 22, died of diptheria this spring; Pakistan and China faced polio outbreaks.

“We have a very mobile world now,” Lehnert-Beers said. “Many other countries don’t have the same rate of vaccine coverage that we do.”

So, with these biological dangers only a hop-of-the-pond away or closer, why are growing numbers of parents hesitating when it comes to vaccinating their children?

The anti-vaccination camp has a powerful spokeswoman in actress and comedian Jenny McCarthy. She suspected the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine triggered autism in her son Evan. British research seemed to confirm the suspicion in 1998, though later research cast major doubt on the study and led to the study being dismissed as flawed.

But, Lehnert-Beers said, “the damage has been done — the information is out there.”

“It has been studied ad nauseum,” she said. “Researchers couldn’t find any link or indication that vaccines cause autism. The evidence just isn’t there.”

JB Handley co-founded Generation Rescue, the autism support group of which McCarthy is president. The Portland man, whose son has autism, said the research has been narrow, concentrating mostly on the MMR vaccine. Science is in the process of catching up to what he and thousands of other parents know is true.

“I have a 9-year-old son whose life was never the same after his 13-month vaccination appointment,” Handley said. “He went upside down.”

Handley said he has heard the same sad story from “thousands” of other parents.

“You can’t study one shot and say six shots are safe — it’s irrational and misguided,” Handley said. “The idea that the debate about whether vaccines cause autism is over is a pipedream of the CDC and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) – the sad reality is that children are going down every day.”

Lehnert-Beers said side effects exist, but they are rare and she doesn’t believe autism is one of them. She believes the main reason parents might be backing away from vaccination involves the passage of time.

“We don’t have a history of seeing these terrible diseases,” she said. “We have worked really hard to make these diseases go away.”

The problem is, they are not really gone. Unvaccinated people rely on vaccinated people to cushion them from disease. Public health officials talk about “herd immunity” where the vaccinated majority — the herd —provides protection for the unvaccinated minority.

Umatilla County’s exemption rate is fairly low — only 1.2 percent of parents filed exemptions in 2011 compared to the state average of 5.6. But, as more parents opt out of vaccination across the border in Washington, Lehnert-Beers said diseases could slip into Oregon.

“We co-mingle,” she said. “If rates of unvaccinated children continue to rise, we will see more and more disease.”

New Washington legislation may turn the tide of exemptions. The law requires parents and guardians, except for those who demonstrate membership in a religious body that does not believe in medical treatment, to first get information about the benefits and risks of vaccinations from a licensed health care provider.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

© 2011 East Oregonian

Computers, the Internet & the Future

Please spend an hour or so listening to Corey Doctorow speak about the coming war on general purpose computing. Very enlightening and thought-provoking.

http://bit.ly/sTTFyt (YouTube.com)

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Flush With Germs: Lidless Toilets Spread More Bacteria | Medscape Medical News

December 29, 2011

Put a lid on it. That is the conclusion of research examining the amount of Clostridium difficile that flies into the air and contaminates surrounding surfaces with the flush of a lidless toilet.

The investigation, published online December 2 in the International Journal of Hospital Infection, is the work of E. L. Best from the Microbiology Department, Old Medical School, Leeds General Infirmary, Leeds Teaching Hospital National Health Service Trust, United Kingdom, and colleagues. Using fecal suspensions of C difficile, the researchers measured airborne suspension of the bacteria in addition to surface contamination by the bacteria after flushing of both lidless and lidded toilets.

Air samples 25 cm above the commode, which is about the height of the handle, contained C difficile, with the highest numbers coming from samples taken immediately after flushing. The number of viable bacteria declined 8-fold within an hour, from 36 colony-forming units (cfu) collected at seat height to 8 cfu, and by 90 minutes, the number fell to 3 cfu. Surrounding surfaces were contaminated within 90 minutes of flushing, with relatively large droplets released in the immediate environment. The mean number of droplets was between 15 and 47, depending on toilet design, the report states.

Researchers also found the number of viable bacteria to be 12-fold higher from open toilets compared with the same toilet when the lid was closed. They collected 35 cfu at seat height within 30 minutes of flushing an open toilet, but only 3 cfu at seat height within 30 minutes of flushing a lidded commode.

Even with the implementation of strict disinfecting protocols, the authors write, C difficile clusters continue to spring up in healthcare settings, prompting a search for unaddressed contamination sources. Research published in 2008 and 2010, in BMC Infectious Diseases and Clinical Infectious Diseases, respectively, revealed a potential for aerial dissemination of C difficile, especially from patients with recent onset of diarrhea.

Our study is the first to investigate the effect of a lid closure on the aerosolization and deposition of C difficile associated with toilet flushing, the authors write.

Previous studies that suggested a low probability of environmental contamination from hospital toilets did not use anaerobes or spore-forming bacteria, the authors state. Notably, there was a 100-fold variation in the magnitude of airborne bacteria released when toilets were flushed, depending on which bacterial species was examined, the authors write.

To collect air samples, researchers clamped sampling tubes at 3 heights above a toilet bowl that had been thoroughly cleaned, inside and out, before the experiment. The tube air sampler was placed at toilet seat height, at 10 cm above the seat, and at handle height (25 cm) above both lidded and opened commodes. In addition, agar plates selective for C difficile were placed atop the toilet tank, to the right and left of the toilet seat, and on the floor around the toilet.

In separate experiments to determine the extent of droplets created by flushing, researchers added food coloring to 10 different toilets and stretched a sheet of cling film across the top of the seat before flushing. After flushing, they placed the cling film on filter paper and counted the droplets.

When the lid was closed, researchers recovered no C difficile from agar plates on any surface. With the lid open, bacteria were recovered at all sampling plates except those on the left side of the toilet, which the authors say may be a result of the hydrodynamics of the flush. Researchers found a mean of 1 to 3 cfu/plate.

Lidless conventional toilets increase the risk of C. difficile environmental contamination, and thus we suggest that their use is discouraged, particularly in settings where [C. difficile infection] is common, the authors conclude.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

J Hosp Infect. Published online December 2, 2011. Abstract

Medscape Medical News © 2011 WebMD, LLC Send comments and news tips to news@medscape.net.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

For the Herd’s Sake, Vaccinate | NYT - STEVEN L. WEINREB West Hartford, Conn.

December 27, 2011

I HAVE chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Three months ago, I underwent an allogeneic stem-cell transplant, in which my wise, 52-year-old white blood cells were replaced by bewildered, low-functioning cells from an anonymous European donor. For the next seven months or so, until those cells mature, I have a newborn’s immunity; I am prey to illnesses like chickenpox, the measles and the flu.

These diseases are rarely fatal, unless you’re a newborn or someone with a suppressed immune system like me. My newborn buddies and I do have some protection, however: the rest of you.

Young babies, the immuno-compromised and people who get chemotherapy are not able to process most vaccinations. Live vaccines in particular, like those for measles and chickenpox, can make us sick. But if 75 percent to 95 percent of the population around us is vaccinated for a particular disease, the rest are protected through what is called herd immunity. In other words, your measles vaccine protects me against the measles.

It’s the reasoning of Clarence, the angel from “It’s a Wonderful Life”: If you are vaccinated, you won’t pass a disease on to someone else, who won’t pass it on to six more people, and on and on. To quote Clarence, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.”

Unfortunately, vaccination rates for many diseases in Europe and in areas of the United States are falling. This is partly due to Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor who published a paper, now discredited, in 1998 in The Lancet tying childhood vaccines to autism. Celebrities like Jim Carrey have also taken a strong antivaccine view. As a result of these unwarranted fears, childhood diseases are returning. The rate of whooping cough cases has spiked over the past 20 years. In 1990, the incidence was 2 per 100,000 people; in 2000 it was 3; by last year, it had risen to nearly 10.

Measles cases are also increasing. For each year between 2001 and 2008, the median number of cases in the United States was 56. In the first six months of this year alone, there were more than 150 reported cases — the most since 1996. A vast majority of those who were sickened had not been vaccinated or had uncertain vaccination histories. Before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, 400 to 500 Americans died of measles every year.

During last year’s flu season there were 55,403 reported cases of influenza A and B; 116 children died of the disease. And now flu season is back.

The truth is, we should not get vaccinated for ourselves alone; we should do it for one another. Having cancer has taught me the value of living in a community. We assist the infirm, pay our taxes and donate to charity, and getting vaccinated — for the flu, for adult whooping cough, for pneumonia — is just another important societal responsibility. After all, we’re in the same herd.

Steven L. Weinreb, an internist who is certified in oncology and hematology, is on medical leave from his job at a private practice.

The Fat Trap | NYT

By TARA PARKER-POPE Published: December 28, 2011

For 15 years, Joseph Proietto has been helping people lose weight. When these obese patients arrive at his weight-loss clinic in Australia, they are determined to slim down. And most of the time, he says, they do just that, sticking to the clinic’s program and dropping excess pounds. But then, almost without exception, the weight begins to creep back. In a matter of months or years, the entire effort has come undone, and the patient is fat again. “It has always seemed strange to me,” says Proietto, who is a physician at the University of Melbourne. “These are people who are very motivated to lose weight, who achieve weight loss most of the time without too much trouble and yet, inevitably, gradually, they regain the weight.”

Anyone who has ever dieted knows that lost pounds often return, and most of us assume the reason is a lack of discipline or a failure of willpower. But Proietto suspected that there was more to it, and he decided to take a closer look at the biological state of the body after weight loss.

Beginning in 2009, he and his team recruited 50 obese men and women. The men weighed an average of 233 pounds; the women weighed about 200 pounds. Although some people dropped out of the study, most of the patients stuck with the extreme low-calorie diet, which consisted of special shakes called Optifast and two cups of low-starch vegetables, totaling just 500 to 550 calories a day for eight weeks. Ten weeks in, the dieters lost an average of 30 pounds.

At that point, the 34 patients who remained stopped dieting and began working to maintain the new lower weight. Nutritionists counseled them in person and by phone, promoting regular exercise and urging them to eat more vegetables and less fat. But despite the effort, they slowly began to put on weight. After a year, the patients already had regained an average of 11 of the pounds they struggled so hard to lose. They also reported feeling far more hungry and preoccupied with food than before they lost the weight.

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.

“What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight,” Proietto says. “This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment.”

While the findings from Proietto and colleagues, published this fall in The New England Journal of Medicine, are not conclusive — the study was small and the findings need to be replicated — the research has nonetheless caused a stir in the weight-loss community, adding to a growing body of evidence that challenges conventional thinking about obesity, weight loss and willpower. For years, the advice to the overweight and obese has been that we simply need to eat less and exercise more. While there is truth to this guidance, it fails to take into account that the human body continues to fight against weight loss long after dieting has stopped. This translates into a sobering reality: once we become fat, most of us, despite our best efforts, will probably stay fat.

I have always felt perplexed about my inability to keep weight off. I know the medical benefits of weight loss, and I don’t drink sugary sodas or eat fast food. I exercise regularly — a few years ago, I even completed a marathon. Yet during the 23 years since graduating from college, I’ve lost 10 or 20 pounds at a time, maintained it for a little while and then gained it all back and more, to the point where I am now easily 60 pounds overweight.

I wasn’t overweight as a child, but I can’t remember a time when my mother, whose weight probably fluctuated between 150 and 250 pounds, wasn’t either on a diet or, in her words, cheating on her diet. Sometimes we ate healthful, balanced meals; on other days dinner consisted of a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. As a high-school cross-country runner, I never worried about weight, but in college, when my regular training runs were squeezed out by studying and socializing, the numbers on the scale slowly began to move up. As adults, my three sisters and I all struggle with weight, as do many members of my extended family. My mother died of esophageal cancer six years ago. It was her great regret that in the days before she died, the closest medical school turned down her offer to donate her body because she was obese.

It’s possible that the biological cards were stacked against me from the start. Researchers know that obesity tends to run in families, and recent science suggests that even the desire to eat higher-calorie foods may be influenced by heredity. But untangling how much is genetic and how much is learned through family eating habits is difficult. What is clear is that some people appear to be prone to accumulating extra fat while others seem to be protected against it.

In a seminal series of experiments published in the 1990s, the Canadian researchers Claude Bouchard and Angelo Tremblay studied 31 pairs of male twins ranging in age from 17 to 29, who were sometimes overfed and sometimes put on diets. (None of the twin pairs were at risk for obesity based on their body mass or their family history.) In one study, 12 sets of the twins were put under 24-hour supervision in a college dormitory. Six days a week they ate 1,000 extra calories a day, and one day they were allowed to eat normally. They could read, play video games, play cards and watch television, but exercise was limited to one 30-minute daily walk. Over the course of the 120-day study, the twins consumed 84,000 extra calories beyond their basic needs.

That experimental binge should have translated into a weight gain of roughly 24 pounds (based on 3,500 calories to a pound). But some gained less than 10 pounds, while others gained as much as 29 pounds. The amount of weight gained and how the fat was distributed around the body closely matched among brothers, but varied considerably among the different sets of twins. Some brothers gained three times as much fat around their abdomens as others, for instance. When the researchers conducted similar exercise studies with the twins, they saw the patterns in reverse, with some twin sets losing more pounds than others on the same exercise regimen. The findings, the researchers wrote, suggest a form of “biological determinism” that can make a person susceptible to weight gain or loss.

But while there is widespread agreement that at least some risk for obesity is inherited, identifying a specific genetic cause has been a challenge. In October 2010, the journal Nature Genetics reported that researchers have so far confirmed 32 distinct genetic variations associated with obesity or body-mass index. One of the most common of these variations was identified in April 2007 by a British team studying the genetics of Type 2 diabetes. According to Timothy Frayling at the Institute of Biomedical and Clinical Science at the University of Exeter, people who carried a variant known as FTO faced a much higher risk of obesity — 30 percent higher if they had one copy of the variant; 60 percent if they had two.

This FTO variant is surprisingly common; about 65 percent of people of European or African descent and an estimated 27 to 44 percent of Asians are believed to carry at least one copy of it. Scientists don’t understand how the FTO variation influences weight gain, but studies in children suggest the trait plays a role in eating habits. In one 2008 study led by Colin Palmer of the University of Dundee in Scotland, Scottish schoolchildren were given snacks of orange drinks and muffins and then allowed to graze on a buffet of grapes, celery, potato chips and chocolate buttons. All the food was carefully monitored so the researchers knew exactly what was consumed. Although all the children ate about the same amount of food, as weighed in grams, children with the FTO variant were more likely to eat foods with higher fat and calorie content. They weren’t gorging themselves, but they consumed, on average, about 100 calories more than children who didn’t carry the gene. Those who had the gene variant had about four pounds more body fat than noncarriers.

I have been tempted to send in my own saliva sample for a DNA test to find out if my family carries a genetic predisposition for obesity. But even if the test came back negative, it would only mean that my family doesn’t carry a known, testable genetic risk for obesity. Recently the British television show “Embarrassing Fat Bodies” asked Frayling’s lab to test for fat-promoting genes, and the results showed one very overweight family had a lower-than-average risk for obesity.

A positive result, telling people they are genetically inclined to stay fat, might be self-fulfilling. In February, The New England Journal of Medicine published a report on how genetic testing for a variety of diseases affected a person’s mood and health habits. Over all, the researchers found no effect from disease-risk testing, but there was a suggestion, though it didn’t reach statistical significance, that after testing positive for fat-promoting genes, some people were more likely to eat fatty foods, presumably because they thought being fat was their genetic destiny and saw no sense in fighting it.

While knowing my genetic risk might satisfy my curiosity, I also know that heredity, at best, would explain only part of why I became overweight. I’m much more interested in figuring out what I can do about it now.

The National Weight Control Registry tracks 10,000 people who have lost weight and have kept it off. “We set it up in response to comments that nobody ever succeeds at weight loss,” says Rena Wing, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, who helped create the registry with James O. Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado at Denver. “We had two goals: to prove there were people who did, and to try to learn from them about what they do to achieve this long-term weight loss.” Anyone who has lost 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year is eligible to join the study, though the average member has lost 70 pounds and remained at that weight for six years.

Wing says that she agrees that physiological changes probably do occur that make permanent weight loss difficult, but she says the larger problem is environmental, and that people struggle to keep weight off because they are surrounded by food, inundated with food messages and constantly presented with opportunities to eat. “We live in an environment with food cues all the time,” Wing says. “We’ve taught ourselves over the years that one of the ways to reward yourself is with food. It’s hard to change the environment and the behavior.”

There is no consistent pattern to how people in the registry lost weight — some did it on Weight Watchers, others with Jenny Craig, some by cutting carbs on the Atkins diet and a very small number lost weight through surgery. But their eating and exercise habits appear to reflect what researchers find in the lab: to lose weight and keep it off, a person must eat fewer calories and exercise far more than a person who maintains the same weight naturally. Registry members exercise about an hour or more each day — the average weight-loser puts in the equivalent of a four-mile daily walk, seven days a week. They get on a scale every day in order to keep their weight within a narrow range. They eat breakfast regularly. Most watch less than half as much television as the overall population. They eat the same foods and in the same patterns consistently each day and don’t “cheat” on weekends or holidays. They also appear to eat less than most people, with estimates ranging from 50 to 300 fewer daily calories.

Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, says that while the 10,000 people tracked in the registry are a useful resource, they also represent a tiny percentage of the tens of millions of people who have tried unsuccessfully to lose weight. “All it means is that there are rare individuals who do manage to keep it off,” Brownell says. “You find these people are incredibly vigilant about maintaining their weight. Years later they are paying attention to every calorie, spending an hour a day on exercise. They never don’t think about their weight.”

Janice Bridge, a registry member who has successfully maintained a 135-pound weight loss for about five years, is a perfect example. “It’s one of the hardest things there is,” she says. “It’s something that has to be focused on every minute. I’m not always thinking about food, but I am always aware of food.”

Bridge, who is 66 and lives in Davis, Calif., was overweight as a child and remembers going on her first diet of 1,400 calories a day at 14. At the time, her slow pace of weight loss prompted her doctor to accuse her of cheating. Friends told her she must not be paying attention to what she was eating. “No one would believe me that I was doing everything I was told,” she says. “You can imagine how tremendously depressing it was and what a feeling of rebellion and anger was building up.”

After peaking at 330 pounds in 2004, she tried again to lose weight. She managed to drop 30 pounds, but then her weight loss stalled. In 2006, at age 60, she joined a medically supervised weight-loss program with her husband, Adam, who weighed 310 pounds. After nine months on an 800-calorie diet, she slimmed down to 165 pounds. Adam lost about 110 pounds and now weighs about 200.

During the first years after her weight loss, Bridge tried to test the limits of how much she could eat. She used exercise to justify eating more. The death of her mother in 2009 consumed her attention; she lost focus and slowly regained 30 pounds. She has decided to try to maintain this higher weight of 195, which is still 135 pounds fewer than her heaviest weight.

“It doesn’t take a lot of variance from my current maintenance for me to pop on another two or three pounds,” she says. “It’s been a real struggle to stay at this weight, but it’s worth it, it’s good for me, it makes me feel better. But my body would put on weight almost instantaneously if I ever let up.”

So she never lets up. Since October 2006 she has weighed herself every morning and recorded the result in a weight diary. She even carries a scale with her when she travels. In the past six years, she made only one exception to this routine: a two-week, no-weigh vacation in Hawaii.

She also weighs everything in the kitchen. She knows that lettuce is about 5 calories a cup, while flour is about 400. If she goes out to dinner, she conducts a Web search first to look at the menu and calculate calories to help her decide what to order. She avoids anything with sugar or white flour, which she calls her “gateway drugs” for cravings and overeating. She has also found that drinking copious amounts of water seems to help; she carries a 20-ounce water bottle and fills it five times a day. She writes down everything she eats. At night, she transfers all the information to an electronic record. Adam also keeps track but prefers to keep his record with pencil and paper.

“That transfer process is really important; it’s my accountability,” she says. “It comes up with the total number of calories I’ve eaten today and the amount of protein. I do a little bit of self-analysis every night.”

Bridge and her husband each sought the help of therapists, and in her sessions, Janice learned that she had a tendency to eat when she was bored or stressed. “We are very much aware of how our culture taught us to use food for all kinds of reasons that aren’t related to its nutritive value,” Bridge says.

Bridge supports her careful diet with an equally rigorous regimen of physical activity. She exercises from 100 to 120 minutes a day, six or seven days a week, often by riding her bicycle to the gym, where she takes a water-aerobics class. She also works out on an elliptical trainer at home and uses a recumbent bike to “walk” the dog, who loves to run alongside the low, three-wheeled machine. She enjoys gardening as a hobby but allows herself to count it as exercise on only those occasions when she needs to “garden vigorously.” Adam is also a committed exerciser, riding his bike at least two hours a day, five days a week.

Janice Bridge has used years of her exercise and diet data to calculate her own personal fuel efficiency. She knows that her body burns about three calories a minute during gardening, about four calories a minute on the recumbent bike and during water aerobics and about five a minute when she zips around town on her regular bike.

“Practically anyone will tell you someone biking is going to burn 11 calories a minute,” she says. “That’s not my body. I know it because of the statistics I’ve kept.”

Based on metabolism data she collected from the weight-loss clinic and her own calculations, she has discovered that to keep her current weight of 195 pounds, she can eat 2,000 calories a day as long as she burns 500 calories in exercise. She avoids junk food, bread and pasta and many dairy products and tries to make sure nearly a third of her calories come from protein. The Bridges will occasionally share a dessert, or eat an individual portion of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, so they know exactly how many calories they are ingesting. Because she knows errors can creep in, either because a rainy day cuts exercise short or a mismeasured snack portion adds hidden calories, she allows herself only 1,800 daily calories of food. (The average estimate for a similarly active woman of her age and size is about 2,300 calories.)

Just talking to Bridge about the effort required to maintain her weight is exhausting. I find her story inspiring, but it also makes me wonder whether I have what it takes to be thin. I have tried on several occasions (and as recently as a couple weeks ago) to keep a daily diary of my eating and exercise habits, but it’s easy to let it slide. I can’t quite imagine how I would ever make time to weigh and measure food when some days it’s all I can do to get dinner on the table between finishing my work and carting my daughter to dance class or volleyball practice. And while I enjoy exercising for 30- or 40-minute stretches, I also learned from six months of marathon training that devoting one to two hours a day to exercise takes an impossible toll on my family life.

Bridge concedes that having grown children and being retired make it easier to focus on her weight. “I don’t know if I could have done this when I had three kids living at home,” she says. “We know how unusual we are. It’s pretty easy to get angry with the amount of work and dedication it takes to keep this weight off. But the alternative is to not keep the weight off. ”

“I think many people who are anxious to lose weight don’t fully understand what the consequences are going to be, nor does the medical community fully explain this to people,” Rudolph Leibel, an obesity researcher at Columbia University in New York, says. “We don’t want to make them feel hopeless, but we do want to make them understand that they are trying to buck a biological system that is going to try to make it hard for them.”

Leibel and his colleague Michael Rosenbaum have pioneered much of what we know about the body’s response to weight loss. For 25 years, they have meticulously tracked about 130 individuals for six months or longer at a stretch. The subjects reside at their research clinic where every aspect of their bodies is measured. Body fat is determined by bone-scan machines. A special hood monitors oxygen consumption and carbon-dioxide output to precisely measure metabolism. Calories burned during digestion are tracked. Exercise tests measure maximum heart rate, while blood tests measure hormones and brain chemicals. Muscle biopsies are taken to analyze their metabolic efficiency. (Early in the research, even stool samples were collected and tested to make sure no calories went unaccounted for.) For their trouble, participants are paid $5,000 to $8,000.

Eventually, the Columbia subjects are placed on liquid diets of 800 calories a day until they lose 10 percent of their body weight. Once they reach the goal, they are subjected to another round of intensive testing as they try to maintain the new weight. The data generated by these experiments suggest that once a person loses about 10 percent of body weight, he or she is metabolically different than a similar-size person who is naturally the same weight.

The research shows that the changes that occur after weight loss translate to a huge caloric disadvantage of about 250 to 400 calories. For instance, one woman who entered the Columbia studies at 230 pounds was eating about 3,000 calories to maintain that weight. Once she dropped to 190 pounds, losing 17 percent of her body weight, metabolic studies determined that she needed about 2,300 daily calories to maintain the new lower weight. That may sound like plenty, but the typical 30-year-old 190-pound woman can consume about 2,600 calories to maintain her weight — 300 more calories than the woman who dieted to get there.

Scientists are still learning why a weight-reduced body behaves so differently from a similar-size body that has not dieted. Muscle biopsies taken before, during and after weight loss show that once a person drops weight, their muscle fibers undergo a transformation, making them more like highly efficient “slow twitch” muscle fibers. A result is that after losing weight, your muscles burn 20 to 25 percent fewer calories during everyday activity and moderate aerobic exercise than those of a person who is naturally at the same weight. That means a dieter who thinks she is burning 200 calories during a brisk half-hour walk is probably using closer to 150 to 160 calories.

Another way that the body seems to fight weight loss is by altering the way the brain responds to food. Rosenbaum and his colleague Joy Hirsch, a neuroscientist also at Columbia, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track the brain patterns of people before and after weight loss while they looked at objects like grapes, Gummi Bears, chocolate, broccoli, cellphones and yo-yos. After weight loss, when the dieter looked at food, the scans showed a bigger response in the parts of the brain associated with reward and a lower response in the areas associated with control. This suggests that the body, in order to get back to its pre-diet weight, induces cravings by making the person feel more excited about food and giving him or her less willpower to resist a high-calorie treat.

“After you’ve lost weight, your brain has a greater emotional response to food,” Rosenbaum says. “You want it more, but the areas of the brain involved in restraint are less active.” Combine that with a body that is now burning fewer calories than expected, he says, “and you’ve created the perfect storm for weight regain.” How long this state lasts isn’t known, but preliminary research at Columbia suggests that for as many as six years after weight loss, the body continues to defend the old, higher weight by burning off far fewer calories than would be expected. The problem could persist indefinitely. (The same phenomenon occurs when a thin person tries to drop about 10 percent of his or her body weight — the body defends the higher weight.) This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to lose weight and keep it off; it just means it’s really, really difficult.

Lynn Haraldson, a 48-year-old woman who lives in Pittsburgh, reached 300 pounds in 2000. She joined Weight Watchers and managed to take her 5-foot-5 body down to 125 pounds for a brief time. Today, she’s a member of the National Weight Control Registry and maintains about 140 pounds by devoting her life to weight maintenance. She became a vegetarian, writes down what she eats every day, exercises at least five days a week and blogs about the challenges of weight maintenance. A former journalist and antiques dealer, she returned to school for a two-year program on nutrition and health; she plans to become a dietary counselor. She has also come to accept that she can never stop being “hypervigilant” about what she eats. “Everything has to change,” she says. “I’ve been up and down the scale so many times, always thinking I can go back to ‘normal,’ but I had to establish a new normal. People don’t like hearing that it’s not easy.”

What’s not clear from the research is whether there is a window during which we can gain weight and then lose it without creating biological backlash. Many people experience transient weight gain, putting on a few extra pounds during the holidays or gaining 10 or 20 pounds during the first years of college that they lose again. The actor Robert De Niro lost weight after bulking up for his performance in “Raging Bull.” The filmmaker Morgan Spurlock also lost the weight he gained during the making of “Super Size Me.” Leibel says that whether these temporary pounds became permanent probably depends on a person’s genetic risk for obesity and, perhaps, the length of time a person carried the extra weight before trying to lose it. But researchers don’t know how long it takes for the body to reset itself permanently to a higher weight. The good news is that it doesn’t seem to happen overnight.

“For a mouse, I know the time period is somewhere around eight months,” Leibel says. “Before that time, a fat mouse can come back to being a skinny mouse again without too much adjustment. For a human we don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s not measured in months, but in years.”

Nobody wants to be fat. In most modern cultures, even if you are healthy — in my case, my cholesterol and blood pressure are low and I have an extraordinarily healthy heart — to be fat is to be perceived as weak-willed and lazy. It’s also just embarrassing. Once, at a party, I met a well-respected writer who knew my work as a health writer. “You’re not at all what I expected,” she said, eyes widening. The man I was dating, perhaps trying to help, finished the thought. “You thought she’d be thinner, right?” he said. I wanted to disappear, but the woman was gracious. “No,” she said, casting a glare at the man and reaching to warmly shake my hand. “I thought you’d be older.”

If anything, the emerging science of weight loss teaches us that perhaps we should rethink our biases about people who are overweight. It is true that people who are overweight, including myself, get that way because they eat too many calories relative to what their bodies need. But a number of biological and genetic factors can play a role in determining exactly how much food is too much for any given individual. Clearly, weight loss is an intense struggle, one in which we are not fighting simply hunger or cravings for sweets, but our own bodies.

While the public discussion about weight loss tends to come down to which diet works best (Atkins? Jenny Craig? Plant-based? Mediterranean?), those who have tried and failed at all of these diets know there is no simple answer. Fat, sugar and carbohydrates in processed foods may very well be culprits in the nation’s obesity problem. But there is tremendous variation in an individual’s response.

The view of obesity as primarily a biological, rather than psychological disease, could also lead to changes in the way we approach its treatment. Scientists at Columbia have conducted several small studies looking at whether injecting people with leptin, the hormone made by body fat, can override the body’s resistance to weight loss and help maintain a lower weight. In a few small studies, leptin injections appear to trick the body into thinking it’s still fat. After leptin replacement, study subjects burned more calories during activity. And in brain-scan studies, leptin injections appeared to change how the brain responded to food, making it seem less enticing. But such treatments are still years away from commercial development. For now, those of us who want to lose weight and keep it off are on our own.

One question many researchers think about is whether losing weight more slowly would make it more sustainable than the fast weight loss often used in scientific studies. Leibel says the pace of weight loss is unlikely to make a difference, because the body’s warning system is based solely on how much fat a person loses, not how quickly he or she loses it. Even so, Proietto is now conducting a study using a slower weight-loss method and following dieters for three years instead of one.

Given how hard it is to lose weight, it’s clear, from a public-health standpoint, that resources would best be focused on preventing weight gain. The research underscores the urgency of national efforts to get children to exercise and eat healthful foods.

But with a third of the U.S. adult population classified as obese, nobody is saying people who already are very overweight should give up on weight loss. Instead, the solution may be to preach a more realistic goal. Studies suggest that even a 5 percent weight loss can lower a person’s risk for diabetes, heart disease and other health problems associated with obesity. There is also speculation that the body is more willing to accept small amounts of weight loss.

But an obese person who loses just 5 percent of her body weight will still very likely be obese. For a 250-pound woman, a 5 percent weight loss of about 12 pounds probably won’t even change her clothing size. Losing a few pounds may be good for the body, but it does very little for the spirit and is unlikely to change how fat people feel about themselves or how others perceive them.

So where does that leave a person who wants to lose a sizable amount of weight? Weight-loss scientists say they believe that once more people understand the genetic and biological challenges of keeping weight off, doctors and patients will approach weight loss more realistically and more compassionately. At the very least, the science may compel people who are already overweight to work harder to make sure they don’t put on additional pounds. Some people, upon learning how hard permanent weight loss can be, may give up entirely and return to overeating. Others may decide to accept themselves at their current weight and try to boost their fitness and overall health rather than changing the number on the scale.

For me, understanding the science of weight loss has helped make sense of my own struggles to lose weight, as well as my mother’s endless cycle of dieting, weight gain and despair. I wish she were still here so I could persuade her to finally forgive herself for her dieting failures. While I do, ultimately, blame myself for allowing my weight to get out of control, it has been somewhat liberating to learn that there are factors other than my character at work when it comes to gaining and losing weight. And even though all the evidence suggests that it’s going to be very, very difficult for me to reduce my weight permanently, I’m surprisingly optimistic. I may not be ready to fight this battle this month or even this year. But at least I know what I’m up against.

Tara Parker-Pope is the editor of the Well blog at The Times.

Editor: Ilena Silverman

Gingrich, Perry Hoisted on Fake Voter Fraud Petard | freethoughtblogs.com

December 28th, 2011 by Ed Brayton

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have failed to turn in enough valid signatures to get on the Republican primary ballot in Virginia, a situation with at least two levels of irony to it. The first is that the Gingrich campaign is complaining about exactly the kind of measures that Republicans always advocate in their desire to make voting as difficult as possible, as Politico reports:

A Gingrich campaign official prior to the move by the Republican Party of Virginia said the problem is how the rules are set up, arguing that the party is, for apparently the first time, cross-checking the addresses that signature-givers gave against the electronic voter database file for accuracies. A name without a proper address match was tossed, the official said.

“What one needs to ask is ‘what percentage of valid, registered voters self-identify a current address that matches voter rolls that the voter might not have updated since 2008”? Are you 100% certain that your address you and all of your neighbors matches current voter rolls? It strikes me that this is not an accurate means to identify registered voters signing for ANY candidate, not just Gingrich,” the official wrote.

And yet that is exactly the basis for innumerable accusations of voter fraud by Republican poll challengers during every election. In any state, there are going to be lots of people who have moved in the few months, weeks or even days before an election. Republican vote challengers at the polling places routinely try to get voters rejected as fraudulent because of that. Thousands, probably tens of thousands, of voters are forced to submit provisional ballots after such challenges, which may simply not get counted because the vote totals are reported long before the challenge is settled.

They also use the exact same basis — comparing the official Qualified Voter File list to the names and addresses — to claim later that in a given state there were X number of possibly fraudulent votes cast in the last election, thus proving the need to purge the voter rolls and combat voter fraud. How ironic that they now complain about the same standards being applied in a primary.

The second level of irony is that both the Perry and Gingrich campaigns turned in many more than the 10,000 signatures required and still didn’t have enough valid ones once they were vetted. Remember all the screaming in 2008 about ACORN canvassers turning in invalid voter registration applications along with lots of good ones? That is absolutely inevitable in any canvassing operation. That’s why anyone who has ever participated in a petition drive knows that the goal is always to turn in 20-25% more signatures than needed, because a significant percentage of them will always be thrown out as invalid. When it happens in liberal campaigns, it’s a terrible evil and proof that they are trying to destroy the integrity of elections. When conservative groups have the same problem, it’s unfortunate — and proof that the campaign has been victimized. How amusing.

Arizona bans history books | RT.COM

Published: 28 December, 2011, 21:24 Edited: 28 December, 2011, 21:24

A judge in Arizona has decided to make a Mexican American history program taught in the Tucson Unified School District just that: history. According to Judge Lewis D Kowal, the program is in violation of state law.

The legislation in question went on the books a year ago and says that Arizona schools can’t offer studies designed for students of any particular ethnic group, a move that US Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) called at its passing a “dangerous precedent.”

This legislation against diversity might be focused on Tucson, Grijalva told the Huffington Post earlier this year, but it has significant ramifications across the country.

The ban specifically prohibits classes which are aimed at ethnic groups or promotes resentment toward a race or class of people. In June of this year, John Huppenthal, the state superintendent of public instruction, deemed the Tucson district to be in violation by offering a Mexican American studies program. Six months later, students and instructors are now being forced by state mandate to end the academic agenda, essentially outlawing the truth from being taught in public schools.

I made a decision based on the totality of the information and facts gathered during my investigation — a decision that I felt was best for all students in the Tucson Unified School District, Huppenthal says to the Los Angeles Times over his so-called victory with this week’s ruling. The judge's decision confirms that it was the right decision.

That decision will not only cause classroom teachers to drastically alter their curriculum but could come as a catalyst to keep other school districts coast-to-coast from careening towards the truth. The precedent being put forth in Arizona outlaws a program that preaches the historical facts pertaining to a whole culture, a program which apparently offends some lawmakers. With its passing, however, any item targeted by an influential enough group of opponents could be nixed next.

The Mexican American studies program, according to its faculty and supporters, offers Chicano perspectives on US history and culture. To Huppenthal, that point of view serves as a façade for perpetrating anti-American propaganda in the students.

Assistant Attorney General Kevin Ray spoke in support of the law’s opponents, telling the press that “The state does not believe that the teachers nor the prospective students have the constitutional right to be taught the current Mexican American studies program,” insisting that the classes could cause outrage and an uproar over the realities of US history.

For the program’s advocates, the classes make sense. We are descendants of those who founded this city and descendants of those who founded public education, activist Salomon Baldenegro, Sr. testified at the Tucson Unified School District board hearing earlier this year. It has been no secret that the establishment in Arizona has gone to great lengths to crush ethnic groups outside the majority from making any strides in the state; but while Arizona’s controversial SB 170 legislation justifies law enforcement agents to profile possible illegal immigrants on basis of looks, this act will end the practice of preaching any truth in the Tucson school district’s academic programs, essentially barring history books from the classroom.

If Arizona lawmakers can make telling the truth illegal, so can other states. First is the outlawing the history of Mexican Americans in that state, but will the slave trade be dismissed from classrooms where plantations previously littered the cities and counties? Residents in Arizona of Mexican origin account for 26.7 percent of the entire state population; by comparison, African American residents in the state of New York account for less than 17 percent of the state’s population. If a similar law was enacted in the Empire State, would America’s history books be stripped of a few hundred years of pages? Or would the internment of Japanese Americans be no longer taught in high school classes in California in fear that it would cause the nearly 5 million Asian Americans in California to engage in groupthink against the establishment?

The recent approval from Congress to submit the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 will allow the US government to operate similar internment camps for groups deemed detrimental to the nation’s security. Could a continuation of Arizona’s law elsewhere allow for future fallacies of America to go undocumented? If other states follow suit, absolutely. In the meantime, the effects of this ruling will impact Arizona residents only, but could cause a cultural collapse as citizens are scorned from learning of their own history. For residents of Arizona not of Mexican origin, the results are detrimental as well: Judge Kowal has found grounds to withhold 10 percent of the Tucson Unified School District’s state aid until it comes into compliance with the ruling, impacting the rest of academia outside of the class to the tune of around $15 million in funding. The ruling from Kowal comes as a recommendation to Superintendent Huppenthal, who will now have in his right to take action against the studies program if it does not come into compliance.

© Autonomous Nonprofit Organization “TV-Novosti”, 2005 - 2011. All rights reserved.

The New Dealers | Mother Jones, Tony D'Souza

Family, kids, minivan—and drug dealing. How the recession has driven average Americans into the game.
By Tony D'Souza
December 26, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

For some time, I'd been hearing stories from my sources in the interstate marijuana racket about law-abiding civilians turning to the game because of the recession, and so, armed with introductions, I hit the road to meet some of these unlikely criminals face to face. That's how, on a hot evening in June, I found myself in Dan's Northern California kitchen.

Dan isn't his real name. Nor are any of the names in this story, for obvious reasons. But his situation is a familiar, harsh reality for many Americans, as I learned while doing research for my recent novel on this subject. Dan is in his early 40s, a slim, soft-spoken former short-haul trucker who once owned all the toys: a used Mercedes, snowmobiles, Jet Skis. When they were both employed, he and his wife—a retail manager—easily cleared $100,000 a year. We ate out breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Dan, now a minimum-wage laborer, tells me with folded arms. That's the way life was for 17 years.

Today, Dan's toys are gone, sold to support an underwater mortgage. His wife, who kept her job, left him three years ago, driving away in the Mercedes. She didn't like the fact that I sat at home and she was going to work, he tells me. There were no jobs. I filled out a thing for the city, and 400 people were there for one opening—a garbage truck driver.

Keeping the house has been Dan's only real goal since 2008, when he was laid off. It's a simple three-bedroom, two-bath in a prefab, working-class subdivision off the I-5 corridor. I wanted my kid to grow up in a safe community, he explains. I have always made my house payment, and I've always made it on time. But he fretted over things like gas prices. My daughter would say, 'Can I take your truck to the store?' That's 1.2 miles, which makes it 2.4 miles round-trip. If she went there once, I would not make it to work the next day. That's how my money was. I've fought for it the past three years working two and three jobs. I've even changed my morals.

From his window, I can see the jagged outline of the Klamath range far off to the northwest. Surrounding those mountains is the Emerald Triangle: Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties—the heart of large-scale pot cultivation in California. In 2010, state voters rejected a proposal to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Nevertheless, in the 15 years since they passed Proposition 215—the state's vague and permissive medical-marijuana law—growing the drug has become more socially acceptable, local dispensaries have proliferated, and associated businesses have flourished like pilot fish on a shark. Mom-and-pop shops sell high-tech gardening gear and starter plants called clones. Pot colleges like Oakland's Oaksterdam University offer quality training for the cannabis industry. An inexhaustible array of websites tout everything from fertilizer to legal advice and grow-room insurance.

Pot prices have plummeted in California, in part because so many of the state's estimated 1.2 million medical-pot users now grow their own. But with a bargain-basement $1,500 pound of Cali outdoor fetching $5,000 or more in Eastern states, there are fortunes to be made in interstate commerce. Between the recession and the large amount of money you can make, there is just too much money involved not to do it, Sgt. Barry Powell, head of the Shasta County Sheriff's Marijuana Eradication Team, tells me. In Shasta County, medical-marijuana growers have tripled over the last three years. Just off our aerial flights, what we're seeing in people's backyards is unreal.

About a year and a half ago at a wedding, an acquaintance approached Dan with a solution to his financial woes. They wanted to do some indoor stuff, and no one had a place for it to go, he explains. I had a place for it to go. The acquaintance was a veteran grower, part of a loosely knit criminal network supplying major distributors as far away as Indiana.

I've never smoked, Dan swears, raising his right hand. I don't even drink. Even now, I will work wherever, whenever. It was a decision I made to try and catch up.

He agonized for six months. Within days of his assent, a grow room was under construction in his garage. The first time I got nervous was when they brought the lumber to my house, Dan tells me. They broke out tape measures, started cutting two-by-fours, throwing up drywall, insulation, plastic. There were 10 lights, two AC units, fans, a carbon dioxide generator, and more than 130 plants. It was way bigger than I wanted, he says. That I felt pressured into a little bit. I felt bullied.

One of the builders, a rural wiseguy I'll call Rocky, told me it cost $12,000 to outfit Dan's garage. Everybody getting 'scrips thinks you can just plant and you'll get money, he says when I visit his surprisingly spare apartment in Redding. That's not how it works. There's feeding schedules. The whole room is wrapped in plastic—you don't want bugs. With outdoor grows, Rocky adds, they're picking and shoveling May to October. Then you gotta sleep out there with shotguns. Do you know how many people try to 'black mask' it and get as many buds as they can? You steal the tops off 10 plants, that's six, eight pounds, and they didn't do shit but swing a machete. It's a fucking war zone.

The growers disabled Dan's garage door opener and reversed the lock on the garage's interior door to keep him out. The monthly electric bill, which they covered, shot from $45 to more than $1,000. Dan fretted that this might tip off the cops. The growers insisted that, with all the legal grows, the authorities no longer pay much attention to such things. The way the prisons are packed, they're not going to throw someone in for growing halfway-legal weed, Rocky says.

The first harvest arrived about three months later, and Dan was handed $10,000 in cash. I caught up on all my house stuff, my property taxes, he says flatly, with no hint of a victory grin. I paid off a family member who helped with an attorney about the divorce.

The work crew is now preparing for a third planting. Dan is no longer in a money ditch, but the stress of hosting a criminal enterprise is wearing him down. I'm standing here with a sick stomach, he says. It's nice to be able to give your kids what they want, to be able to spend the time with them that they need, but the partners I have are greedy. They don't want to work. I don't not want to work. All of us have agreed not to tell anybody, but I've found out that there have been people here trimming, people in and out. I've never been in trouble. I hope they'd be lenient, give me probation.

He's right to be worried. Growing or possessing small amounts of pot has been decriminalized or protected by 25 states and the District of Columbia, but the scale of cultivation in Dan's garage remains a felony punishable by up to three years in state prison. And while California police agencies have been hammered by budget cuts, generous federal anti-drug grants have helped fill that gap. Last year, Powell's boss, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, told the Wall Street Journal that marijuana eradication (for which his department received almost $720,000 in federal support this past year) is where the money is.

Two days after leaving Dan's place, I'm riding shotgun in a small car bound south for Sacramento, as the Central Valley blurs past outside my window. The commercial rice fields here are so vast they're fertilized by crop dusters, which buzz alongside the interstate like gigantic, low-flying bees. My driver, Colin, is a well-groomed white guy who lives with his wife and kid near the capital city. He keeps his hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel, stays with the flow of traffic, and glances in the rearview from time to time. I've warned him, just in case we get pulled over, not to tell me whether he's hauling a shipment. In turn, he's asked me not to publish too many details about him or his car.

As we cruise down I-5 doing the speed limit, he fills me in on his livelihood. One of the hardest things is getting the stuff from point A to point B, he says. Everyone has the impression that if you're doing this, you're high or have a drug addiction. But if you're driving a trunk full of somebody's product, even have your own money in it, why would you want to be high?

Colin's no slouch. He has a master's degree and used to teach part-time at local colleges. Two years ago, after his wife was laid off from her job, he was approached by a friend, the husband of one of his former students. They were always going on trips, Colin recalls. I was always like, 'What do you do for a living?' He was always vague: 'Real estate, blah, blah, blah.' I'm not a dumb guy. He's like: 'We've known each other a long time. Want to make some money?' I was like, 'Yeah, what is it?'

The gig was transporting high-grade weed from California to far-flung Eastern states. Colin has since driven thousands and thousands of miles, he says, and gotten to know everyone from big-time dealers who roll with guns down to working-class guys with families trying to make ends meet. Cobbling together a full load between a bunch of different schools, plus teaching summers, I'd pull in about $20,000 a year, he says in edgy, rapid speech that hints of excessive caffeine, or nerves. I made double that in a month driving East twice. When my wife lost her job, it just felt bleak. I would only have ever done this because of the recession.

The friend, it turned out, was a major grower and distributor. He taught Colin how to launder his earnings and promised no repercussions if he wanted to quit. This came my way, and honest to God, at the time it felt like manna from heaven, Colin says. Now he's made enough money to have a stake in the product. I can make $2,000 a pound taking it across the country.

He points to a shuttered auto dealership. You see that? he asks. These are the times we live in. You could say I had a fallback career, but there are so many people with degrees. I'm past 30. If I start another career now, what am I going to start? A couple of years have gone by, and my résumé in my own field is not what it used to be.

Througout our drive, Colin engages in a conflicted self-dialogue. I'm not a bad person, he says. I wouldn't get into other kinds of crimes. It's pot. It's practically legal out here now. This fit my morals: We needed money; I did something. I feel proud of that. I really do.

To avoid arrest, he does his homework, scouring police profiling manuals and keeping current with the Office of National Drug Control Policy's High Intensity Drug Trafïcking Areas program, which helps local authorities target stretches of highway where they think growers are moving weight. The feds are focused on the Mexican cartels, Colin figures, not people who look like him. If he were arrested, he could face up to 5 years in federal prison—or up to 30 in some states, like Louisiana. So far, though, he's never been stopped. You have to figure out how you're going to do your plates and not stick out, he says. I don't like Texas; Texas always has a ton of cops. I don't like it, but—all right, here's the truth: It's scary. You've got to build a pretty good veneer around yourself.

As if to prove it, he won't specify how much money he's made ( a lot ) or what he does to his license plates. ( I gotta keep that to me. ) He's also selective about which jobs he'll accept. ( Sometimes I get a feeling, 'I'm not going to do it this time.' ) And yet he finds it hard to say no. I definitely think about taking time off, but make everybody mad? he says. There's a whole lot of people with lives and families depending on what I do.

Late the following night, my plane touches down in Austin, Texas. The rental-car desks are closed, so I call Charlie. Not a problem, bro, he says. I'm on my way. Soon, I'm riding with him in a minivan full of car seats and baby toys.

Like my other sources, Charlie doesn't mention the names of funky pot strains, doesn't romanticize the drug. Unlike them, he's a bit of a stoner, but he's in this game solely for the money. A Frisbee-golf fanatic, he's the friendliest of the traffickers I've met so far. He's married, with two kids, and he repeats like a mantra the notion that everything he does, he does for them.

I felt like I was going to throw up, he tells me the next morning, as we sit watching Parks and Recreation. He's talking about his latest layoff, in May, from an IT job. The family's unremarkable suburban two-bedroom house is packed with stuffed animals and picture books. As we talk, his toddler wrestles on the living-room carpet with the family dog—an Akita. My wife had just quit her job to focus on going to school.

Charlie's recession story begins in Louisiana, where he ran a business producing records and promoting bands, taking home $80,000 to $90,000 a year. When the recession came, people couldn't afford to pay us, he says. He lost the business, went into debt, and decided to move. I thought we could have a good shot here in the music capital of the world, but we just became another small fish in a large pond.

In 2005, he gave up and looked for other work, figuring there would be a market for a guy with two bachelor's degrees in the sciences. All I could find were minimum-wage jobs, Charlie says. He sold retail electronics for almost three years. After the store folded, the family resorted to food stamps on and off. Things changed in early 2009, when a California friend offered to front him a pound of weed. If other people were presented with the same gift of opportunity, a good percentage would do it, he tells me later. We couldn't turn to our parents or anybody. If that wouldn't have happened, I think we would be homeless.

A gregarious type, Charlie had a large circle of stoner friends. My wife and I thought about it for a good month, he says. There were heavy cons, but once it got here, it exceeded everyone's expectations. The first pound took less than five or six hours to sell. After that, it started getting bigger and bigger.

Charlie buys wholesale for about $3,000 a pound. Selling by the quarter-pound, he more than doubles his stake, clearing $8,000 in a good month. Austin has lots of weed festivals, he explains. Then I can't get it fast enough. He spends the proceeds on diapers, clothes, gas, rent, lights, food, and college fees. He and his wife, Kim, both still owe on student loans—in Kim's case a $600 monthly payment for a useless culinary-arts degree that a promoter convinced her would lead to a high-paying career as a chef. Charlie's drug dealing freed her up to quit waitressing and pursue a bachelor's degree online. Plus, she explains, To give our kids the life I feel they deserve, you have to have money.

Charlie recoils when I ask him about expensive toys. God, no, he says. In fact, he hasn't given up searching for legitimate work, recently shuffling around spas for $7 an hour. He worries about the prospect of a two-year Texas felony sentence: That's always on my mind. If you don't watch everything you do, you're going to go away, lose your kids to Child Protective Services. But robbery is Charlie's most immediate concern. After all, he delivers. I'm having to transport it all the time, he says. When people catch on to that, you're done. That's what I fear. Luckily, I've never had a gun in my face.

There are lots of people with the same experience competing for the same jobs, he adds as we say goodbye. If I could find the way to get out of this, I would. But it's gotten me by so far, and I'm not going to stop.

Back home in Florida, I drive to a low-income, mixed-race neighborhood near Tampa to meet Tegan, a single mother and part-time restaurant hostess in her mid-20s. Like Charlie, she's been selling California weed to survive the recession. I only deal with marijuana, she says. I don't feel like a drug dealer.

Tegan's side job has allowed her to get off food stamps, spend more time with her daughter, and attend college full time. But recently, she had a major scare. Hard up for a driver, her suppliers said they would FedEx the next shipment. They'd been doing this for months, they reassured her, and the package would bear false names. So it came to my address, she recalls, laughing nervously. And yeah, the cops came.

She'd taken her daughter to the supermarket that day. When she pulled back into her driveway, an unmarked SUV sped down the street, and two burly undercover agents leaped out. They were screaming, 'Do you speak English?' Tegan says. (She's white but has a dark complexion.) The men asked if she was expecting a package, and she said no. I was really surprised by how cool I was, because I was scared shitless, she recalls. Spotting her toddler in the back seat, the men lightened up and told her they'd detained a Latino man who ran when they approached. They said he was saying, 'I just do the lawns!' Tegan says. They assumed because he was an immigrant, the package was for him. She let her suppliers know the delivery was a bust. Between hers and another abandoned shipment, Tegan estimates they lost $35,000 worth of product. But nobody went to prison.

Later, the agents returned to say they'd released the man for lack of evidence. Criminals regularly send drug shipments to the homes of innocent people, they warned. But courier services flag suspicious packages, and agents stake out the deliveries. We don't tolerate the illegal use of our network, and [we] work closely with law enforcement, explains FedEx spokesman Jim McCluskey. When I ask how the company detects weed in its packages, he snorts incredulously. We don't disclose that!

On the way home from Tegan's, I'm struck by how, despite such a close call, she doesn't seem at all eager to get out of the business. It reminds me of something Colin told me as we barreled down the interstate in his car. Maybe I'll go back to school, he said when I asked how long he planned on doing this. I don't know. These are scary times. The recession came, and I started looking for other options. Everyone's an amateur in the beginning. And then you're not an amateur anymore.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Molotov Party | New Yorker

For the new GOP, conservative isn’t nearly radical enough.

By Frank Rich Published Dec 26, 2011

Even those who loathe Karl Rove’s every word may be hard-pressed to dispute his pre-Christmas summation of the Republican circus so far: “the most unpredictable, rapidly shifting, and often downright inexplicable primary race I’ve ever witnessed.” And all this, as he adds, before a single vote has been cast. The amazing GOP race has also been indisputably entertaining, spawning a new television genre, the debate as reality show. Installment No. 12, broadcast by ABC in the prime-time ghetto of a Saturday night in early December, drew more viewers (7.6 million) than that week’s episode of The Biggest Loser. It’s escapist fun for the entire family (Hispanic and gay families excluded). Or it would be were it not for the possibility that one of the contestants could end up as president of the United States.

Rove does have one thing wrong, however. His party’s primary contest, while unpredictable, is not inexplicable. It is entirely explicable. The old Republican elites simply prefer to be in denial about what the explanation is. You can’t blame them. To parse this spectacle is to face the prospect that, for all the GOP’s triumphal declarations that Barack Obama is doomed to a one-term presidency, the winner of the Republican nomination may not reclaim the White House after all.

In the standard analysis of the race, which the embattled GOP Establishment is eager to believe, the rapid ascent and implosion of each wacky presidential contender is seen mainly as a passing judgment on Mitt Romney, the android who just can’t close the deal and improve his unyielding 25 percent average in polls of the Republican electorate. The Old Guard professes to have no worries. That steady 25 percent has been good enough to induce much of the press to portray Romney as the “presumed” (if not the “commanding”) front-runner ever since Beltway handicappers like Mark Halperin of Time and Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post labeled him as such early in 2010. One day or another Romney will surely make good on that bet. He has money, organization, and the looks of a president (or perhaps an audio-animatronic facsimile of one). Eventually primary voters will exhaust all conceivable alternatives and accept that no Chris Christie will descend from the heavens as a deus ex machina. Then they will come home to the 25 percent leader of the pack, because that’s what well-mannered Republicans always do. Add to this scenario the GOP conviction that much of the electorate shares its judgment that Obama is an abject failure—he’s “an incumbent nobody likes,” as Peggy Noonan framed it—and the presidency must be in the bag.

But this narrative is built on a patently illogical assumption: that a 25 percent minority is the trunk wagging the Republican elephant. What makes anyone seriously assume that the 75 percent will accommodate itself to that etiolated 25 percent rather than force the reverse? That lopsided majority of the GOP is so angry at the status quo that it has been driven to embrace, however fleetingly, some of the most manifestly unqualified, not to mention flakiest, presidential contenders in American history. The 75 percent is determined to take a walk on the wild side. This is less about rejecting Mitt—who’s just too bland a figure to inspire much extreme emotion con or pro—than it is about fervently wanting something else. While the 75 percent has been splintered among the non-Romney candidates, it is largely unified in its passionate convictions. Just because Trump and Cain have folded their tents doesn’t mean those convictions have fled with them, or that financial underwriters like David Koch (a major Cain enthusiast) have closed their checkbooks.

The 75 percent’s passions are hot because their GOP is a party of revolution. This underlying reality has tended to be lost in the brisk play-by-play narration of the primary-season horse race. While a recent Pew poll shows a decline in support for the tea party, that quaint brand, sullied by its early association with birthers and doofuses in Colonial Williamsburg costumes, was certain to fade and become superfluous once tea-partyers colonized the Republican Party. That takeover has long since been consummated. At the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., Romney won its influential presidential straw poll three years in a row until Ron Paul ended that streak in 2010, then beat him again this year. Both times Paul’s victories were dismissed by the GOP Establishment (CPAC’s organizers included) as aberrations—fleeting coups staged by hustling young cadres of fringe maniacs. But Paul’s triumphs were no aberration; he was a bellwether of the right’s new revolution. His zeal to dismantle Washington is now mainstream for the firebrand 75 percent. These days a Republican candidate who wants to send multiple departments of the federal government to the guillotine only risks a backlash when he can’t remember the condemned agencies’ names. Romney, a moderate reformer who emphasizes eliminating programs, not departments, is such an outlier next to this wrecking crew that he could be in the Obama Cabinet.

The GOP is even undergoing a cultural revolution to match its ideological reboot. A party that has spent much of the past three decades pandering to the religious right remains adamantly opposed to reproductive rights for women and equal rights for gays. But now it routinely rationalizes and even embraces the same licentious sexual culture it once opposed with incessant anti-indecency crusades. Extramarital behavior that Republicans decried as an apocalyptic stain on the national moral fabric in the Clinton era is the new normal on the right. Just look at Iowa, long an epicenter of the family-values brigade, and the plight of Rick Santorum, a hard-line proselytizer for every religious-right cause and an ostentatious promoter of his own religious orthodoxy and procreative prowess. He has not had one even near-winning week in state polls in 2011 despite campaigning in all 99 counties among what would seem to be his natural constituency. The thrice-married philanderer Newt Gingrich, despite little presence in Iowa and an even smaller campaign outlay than Santorum’s there, effortlessly surged to the top, however transitorily, beating his nearest competitor (Paul) by nearly a two-to-one margin among white Evangelical Christians in an early December Times–CBS News poll of likely Republican caucusgoers.

While the fierce anti-government absolutism of the 75 percent is the renewal of a creed that dates back to the Goldwater era, the cultural revolution is a recent phenomenon. Sarah Palin was the pioneer. Her ascent to the McCain ticket was almost immediately followed by the revelation of the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of her daughter Bristol. Enthralled with Bristol’s grizzly mama, the party instantly forgave the transgression, which the younger Palin would shamelessly turn into a multimedia show-business career, replete with an ungainly stint on Dancing With the Stars. (Another klutz and lapsed GOP moral scold, Tom DeLay, had preceded her onto that dance floor.) The messiness of the Palins’ domestic arrangements, later merchandised by the family’s own reality series, was applauded, not condemned, by their fan base. “She is beautiful, well spoken, and a sinner, but aren’t we all?” was Sean Hannity’s take on Bristol. Had she or her mother or perhaps even Levi Johnston had a “wardrobe malfunction” on-camera tantamount to Janet Jackson’s notorious Super Bowl misadventure, chances are the 75 percent would have ridiculed any public condemnations as a humorless overreach by insufferably p.c. liberals. It’s impossible to imagine the new GOP majority following the right’s previous template of demanding that the Federal Communications Commission punish any offending network.

This relaxed moral flexibility has been highly visible as Trump, Cain, and Gingrich have enjoyed their star turns in the Republican field this year. Once-powerful family-values hucksters like Tony Perkins and Gary Bauer have tiptoed around candidates’ marital pratfalls rather than rail against them; Hannity took the easy way out with Cain by refusing to believe his multiple accusers even as they threatened to reach a total of 999. After Cain dropped out, The Wall Street Journal editorial page didn’t fault him for his apparent misbehavior, only for his campaign’s “inept” efforts at crisis management. Gingrich’s infidelities have also been largely forgiven once he figured out he could retrofit them into a Christian redemption narrative and wrap them in the flag. (He confessed that his affairs were “partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country.”) The recent Times–CBS News poll found that while only 8 percent of Iowa’s white Evangelical Republicans cited Gingrich as the candidate who best shares their values, they still rated him as their top presidential choice.

Among those same voters, Romney (ranked fifth for president, behind Michele Bachmann) fared even worse on the values question—at 7 percent. Even allowing for the hits Romney takes with some Evangelical Christians for being a Mormon, that poor showing is astonishingly low for a candidate who is fond of boasting, especially since Newt’s reemergence, that he has been married to the same woman for 42 years. What Mitt doesn’t understand is that Gingrich’s personal life, like the Palins’, looks more like America than his does in the day of Modern Family. He doesn’t realize that parading his own picture-perfect, intact, shrink-wrapped domestic bliss carries a whiff of condescension and privilege, perhaps even more so than Callista Gingrich’s brandishing baubles from Tiffany. In a country riven by class war, the resentments are not only about money. Ann Romney’s smug campaign-trail mantra—“No other success can compensate for failure in the home”—is as tone-deaf as Mitt’s observation that “corporations are people.”

ike Romney, almost every Republican gatekeeper was startled when Gingrich, long given up for dead, improbably staged at least a brief resurrection. The list of those who lined up against him is almost epic in its length and breadth: Rove and Noonan, of course, but also National Review editorialists, George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Savage, Kathleen Parker, Alan Simpson, David Brooks, Joe Scarborough, Tom Coburn, and Peter King, not to mention Republican campaign hands like Alex Castellanos and Mike Murphy, and even Glenn Beck. Many of them have expressed a similar (if less histrionic) disdain for most of the other non-Romneys as they’ve cycled through—Paul, Palin, Bachmann, Trump, Cain. The gulf between the party’s Establishment and its troops could not be more stark.

Along with Rush Limbaugh, the most conspicuous conservatives missing from the list of Gingrich haters are Rupert Murdoch, who knows how to cover his bets, and most of his current stars. It was on The Wall Street Journal op-ed page that the Newt surge was anticipated in early November by Dorothy Rabinowitz of the paper’s editorial board, in a prescient piece titled “How Gingrich Could Win.” Her fellow board members, both in print and on their own Fox News program, have tended to be supportive of Newt (his $1.6 million take from Freddie Mac aside) and contemptuous of Mitt. Further empirical evidence of this tilt could be found in the airtime Roger Ailes bestows on Republican contenders. In a December 20 Media Matters accounting of the minutes Fox devoted to each candidate since June 1, Gingrich came in second to Cain, with Romney finishing behind Bachmann, Paul, and Santorum in this unofficial Fox primary. In Mitt’s most newsworthy appearance on the network, all it took was straightforward questioning about his record by the affable anchor Bret Baier to melt him down into a puddle of patrician prissiness.

That Gingrich could soar in popularity for even a nanosecond among the 75 percent and particularly its Fox core would seem, to put it mildly, counterintuitive. He is a far more extravagant flip-flopper than Romney, and, like Romney, has in the past endorsed radioactive elements of “Obamacare.” He is nearly a careerlong creature of Washington and its K Street gravy train. He has espoused the same (mildly) soft line on illegal immigration that was supposed to have destroyed Rick Perry. The Teflon that allowed Gingrich to deflect all these demerits—until an avalanche of attack ads threatened to bury him in Iowa—is surely not his public personality, an amalgam of preening egomania and snide superiority that borders on the transgressively hostile. And heaven knows his saving grace is not his perennially self-advertised genius as a “historian.” He is a scholar only if compared with Bill O’Reilly, whose current best seller, Killing Lincoln, is replete with references to the Oval Office even though the Oval Office wasn’t built until 1909.

No, what endears Gingrich to the 75 percent is the one big thing that matters: He is the only candidate who has been the leader of an actual Republican revolution, even if it went down in flames within a year. He walked the walk beyond even Ron Paul’s dreams, shutting down the entire federal government. And he has talked the talk as well, with a grandiosity beyond the wildest imagination of anti-Obama tea-partyers waving DON’T TREAD ON ME signs. Back in his 1994–95 heyday, Gingrich positioned himself as the leader of “a rising populist majority” taking down the last defenders of “the old order.” He saw his mission as to advance “the cause of freedom,” and he portrayed a government shutdown as nothing less than “the heart of the revolution.” In 2012, such Newtonian rhetoric from the “Contract With America” era could be dusted off and recycled with only minor updating (e.g., more anti-Obama slurs like his claim that the president exhibits “Kenyan anti-colonial behavior”).

The animosity of the Republican elites only empowers Gingrich, much as it did Palin and Cain; the Old Guard is the right enemy (along with Democrats and the news media) to have. The contrast that Mitt draws between himself and Newt also plays into Gingrich’s hands. “I’m not a bomb thrower, figuratively or literally,” Romney is fond of saying; he instead offers “sobriety” (figuratively and literally, as it happens). That’s a loser in the 75 percent marketplace, where bomb throwers, at least figurative ones, are the rage. If these are “crazy and extraordinary times,” wrote Jonah Goldberg, one conservative pundit who did not shut the door on Newt, “then perhaps they call for a crazy, extraordinary—very high-risk, very high-reward—figure like Mr. Gingrich.”

The leaders of the 25 percent just hope this mood will go away, after Newt presumably goes the way of all the other non-Mitts. David Brooks has written that the GOP working class (his language) will come to its senses and embrace Romney “when people actually start to think seriously.” The pro-Mitt Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review asserts that his party is “increasingly resigned” to Romney as if he were the nutritious political equivalent of spinach. The sole prominent national conservative whose enthusiasm for Romney extends beyond damning him with faint praise is Dan Quayle. The only real reason, one imagines, that any of the Establishment supports Romney is that he’s an incredibly useful front man. He puts a milquetoast mask of garden-variety old-school conservatism on a revolutionary party that would scare the hell out of moderates if one of its rank and file’s favored non-Mitts were leading the charge. This “electability” argument explains why a former Romney skeptic like Ann Coulter reversed herself and (halfheartedly) endorsed him.

The panicked GOP Establishment, belatedly closing its ranks to hasten Romney’s coronation, could well get its wish. Gingrich’s capacity for self-immolation is infinite, and the only non-Romney left who could make trouble is Paul. Either way, the 25-75 split has been a lucky break for Obama. Though the White House has made a great show of saying that it regards Romney as its toughest potential opponent, that stance has always seemed disingenuous. In a time of economic woe, it’s a gift to run against a chilly venture-capital tycoon who, in Mike Huckabee’s undying characterization from the 2008 GOP primary campaign, looks like “the guy who laid you off.” If a candidate can attract only a quarter of his own party after essentially four years of campaigning, where is the groundswell going to come from next November? The thinness of that 25 percent is dramatized by the Real Clear Politics compilation of polls of Republican contenders and voters: Of 59 surveys taken since the Perry boomlet of August, Romney has only placed first in 20. A bomb-throwing non-Mitt, by contrast, would energize the 75 percent majority that whipped Mitt the other 39 times—particularly the activists who might otherwise be tempted to sit on their hands on Election Day. But fielding a radical ticket would come at the price of energizing any Democrats who also are thinking of staying home in 2012.

Given its potentially lose-lose alternatives, some GOP elites are still hoping for a last-minute savior to be drafted at a brokered convention. But that’s a pipe dream—if not procedurally, then substantively. Even if any of the missing candidates were to reverse course and run, it’s hard to picture the 75 percent embracing them. Chris Christie is relatively moderate on guns, immigration, and climate change. Mitch Daniels has called for a “truce” on social issues. Paul Ryan’s Draconian plan for a Medicare overhaul was so unpopular with voters that even many in the Republican congressional caucus had second thoughts about it. (Nor has any sitting member of the House been elected to the presidency since James Garfield in 1880.) Jeb Bush’s very name is political poison—and he’s a moderate on both immigration and tax hikes besides. In the end, the most powerful Obama opponent remains the same it has always been—the economy.

Whoever ends up on the GOP ticket or in the White House, the 75 percent is no sooner going to disappear than the aggrieved 99 percenters in the blue populist camp. What Republican aristocrats in denial like Karl Rove can’t bring themselves to recognize is that “the most unpredictable, rapidly shifting, and often downright inexplicable primary race” they’ve ever seen is not just a conservative revolution but one that has them in its sights.

Debate Persists on Deadly Flu Made Airborne | New York Times

December 26, 2011

Debate Persists on Deadly Flu Made Airborne Debate Persists on Deadly Flu Made Airborne

By DENISE GRADY and DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

The young scientist, normally calm and measured, seemed edgy when he stopped by his boss’s office.

“You are not going to believe this one,” he told Ron Fouchier, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. “I think we have an airborne H5N1 virus.”

The news, delivered one afternoon last July, was chilling. It meant that Dr. Fouchier’s research group had taken one of the most dangerous flu viruses ever known and made it even more dangerous — by tweaking it genetically to make it more contagious.

What shocked the researchers was how easy it had been, Dr. Fouchier said. Just a few mutations was all it took to make the virus go airborne.

The discovery has led advisers to the United States government, which paid for the research, to urge that the details be kept secret and not published in scientific journals to prevent the work from being replicated by terrorists, hostile governments or rogue scientists.

Journal editors are taking the recommendation seriously, even though they normally resist any form of censorship. Scientists, too, usually insist on their freedom to share information, but fears of terrorism have led some to say this information is too dangerous to share.

Some biosecurity experts have even said that no scientist should have been allowed to create such a deadly germ in the first place, and they warn that not just the blueprints but the virus itself could somehow leak or be stolen from the laboratory.

Dr. Fouchier is cooperating with the request to withhold some data, but reluctantly. He thinks other scientists need the information.

The naturally occurring A(H5N1) virus is quite lethal without genetic tinkering. It already causes an exceptionally high death rate in humans, more than 50 percent. But the virus, a type of bird flu, does not often infect people, and when it does, they almost never transmit it to one another.

If, however, that were to change and bird flu were to develop the ability to spread from person to person, scientists fear that it could cause the deadliest flu pandemic in history.

The experiment in Rotterdam transformed the virus into the supergerm of virologists’ nightmares, enabling it to spread from one animal to another through the air. The work was done in ferrets, which catch flu the same way people do and are considered the best model for studying it.

“This research should not have been done,” said Richard H. Ebright, a chemistry professor and bioweapons expert at Rutgers University who has long opposed such research. He warned that germs that could be used as bioweapons had already been unintentionally released hundreds of times from labs in the United States and predicted that the same thing would happen with the new virus.

“It will inevitably escape, and within a decade,” he said.

But Dr. Fouchier and many public health experts argue that the experiment had to be done.

If scientists can make the virus more transmissible in the lab, then it can also happen in nature, Dr. Fouchier said.

Knowing that the risk is real should drive countries where the virus is circulating in birds to take urgent steps to eradicate it, he said. And knowing which mutations lead to transmissibility should help scientists all over the world who monitor bird flu to recognize if and when a circulating strain starts to develop pandemic potential.

“There are highly respected virologists who thought until a few years ago that H5N1 could never become airborne between mammals,” Dr. Fouchier said. “I wasn’t convinced. To prove these guys wrong, we needed to make a virus that is transmissible.”

Other virologists differ. Dr. W. Ian Lipkin of Columbia University questioned the need for the research and rejected Dr. Fouchier’s contention that making a virus transmissible in the laboratory proves that it can or will happen in nature. But Richard J. Webby, a virologist at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, said Dr. Fouchier’s research was useful, with the potential to answer major questions about flu viruses, like what makes them transmissible and how some that appear to infect only animals can suddenly invade humans as well.

“I would certainly love to be able to see that information,” Dr. Webby said, explaining that he has a freezer full of bird flu viruses from all over the world. “If I detect a virus in our activities that has some of these changes, it could change the direction of what we do.”

Some scientists dismiss fears of bioterrorism via influenza, because flu viruses would not make practical weapons: they cannot be targeted, and they would also infect whoever deployed them.

Dr. Fouchier said it would be easier to weaponize other germs. Which ones? He would not answer.

“That should tell you something,” he said. “I won’t tell you what I as a virologist would use, but I would publish this work.”

However, some experts argue that appeals to logic are useless.

“You can’t know who might try to re-create H5N1,” said Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

The A(H5N1) bird flu was first recognized in Hong Kong in 1997, when chickens in poultry markets began dying and 18 people fell ill, 6 of them fatally. Hoping to stamp out the virus, the government in Hong Kong destroyed the country’s entire poultry industry —killing more than a million birds — in just a few days. Buddhist monks and nuns in Hong Kong prayed for the souls of the slaughtered chickens, and world health officials praised Hong Kong for averting a potential pandemic.

But the virus persisted in other parts of Asia, and reached Europe and Africa; that worries scientists, because most bird flus emerge briefly and then vanish. Millions of infected birds have died, and many millions more have been slaughtered. Since 1997, about 600 humans have been infected, and more than half died.

Dr. Donald A. Henderson, a leader in the eradication of smallpox and now a biosecurity expert at the University of Pittsburgh, noted that even the notorious flu pandemic of 1918 killed only 2 percent of patients.

“This is running at 50 percent or more,” Dr. Henderson said. “This would be the ultimate organism as far as destruction of population is concerned.”

Dr. Fouchier was working on AIDS when the first bird flu outbreak occurred. He immediately became fascinated by the new disease and gave up AIDS to study it. He has worked on bird flu for more than a decade.

The medical center in Rotterdam built a special 1,000-square-foot virus lab for this work, a locked-down place where people work in spacesuits in sealed chambers with filtered air and multiple precautions to keep germs in and intruders out and to protect the scientists from infection. Dr. Fouchier said that even more security measures had been added recently because of the publicity about his work.

The Dutch government and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the laboratory, and the National Institutes of Health gave the Erasmus center a seven-year contract for flu research.

Because a government advisory panel has recommended that the full recipe for mutating the bird flu virus not be published, Dr. Fouchier declined to explain much about how it was done.

But he previously described the work at a public meeting, and various publications have reported that the experiment involved creating mutations in the virus and then squirting it into the respiratory tracts of ferrets. When the ferrets got sick, the researchers would collect their nasal secretions and expose other ferrets to the virus. After repetitions of this process, a strain of virus emerged from sick ferrets last summer that could infect animals in nearby cages without being squirted into them — just by traveling through the air.

The published reports say five mutations were all it took to transform the virus. Dr. Fouchier declined to confirm or deny that, and would say only that it took “a handful” of mutations.

Looking back on that day in July with Sander Herfst, the member of his team who told him the virus had gone airborne, Dr. Fouchier said, “We both needed a beer to recover from the shock.”

Then they planned their next step, repeating the experiment to make sure the results were reliable. There was one major obstacle: they had run out of ferrets. They ordered a new shipment from Scandinavia. So they had to wait several weeks to find out whether their discovery was real. Dr. Herfst took a vacation, timed to end the day the ferrets arrived.

They ran the tests again. Once more, A(H5N1) went airborne.


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