April 17, 2014

Odds and Ends

Dead Birds

Take off the tinfoil hat for a moment and understand that:

“Five billion birds die in the U.S. every year,” said Melanie Driscoll, a biologist and director of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Flyway for the National Audubon Society.

That means that on average, 13.7 million birds die in this country every day. This number, while large, needs to be put into context. The federal Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that a minimum of 10 billion birds breed in the United States every year and that as many as 20 billion may be in the country during the fall migratory season.

The above comes from an interesting story in the New York Times putting the 5,000 red-winged blackbirds that fell from the sky in Arkansas into perspective.  I’m not saying the end of the world is not nigh, I’m just saying …

Anitbiotic Resistance is Scary

Dan Rather did some recent reporting for HD Net on the antibiotic crisis and drug resistant bugs.  He also has a post about the topic on the Huffington Post. Good journalism and a story that portends more danger than dead birds in the Bible Belt.

“Crisis” is not too strong a word for describing what has happened to antibiotics. As our use of the drugs rises every year in the United States, bacterial resistance has risen right alongside it: there isn’t a single known antibiotic to which bacteria have not become resistant.

As just one example: staphylococcus aureus, or a staph infection, has become ever harder to treat. Staph bacteria can spread like mildew in a damp basement in hospitals when equipment, clothing, or even hands aren’t washed and sterilized properly. (Hospitals are loath to admit it, but this happens in every hospital in the United States — even in the very best ones.) There was a time, a long time, when staph could be knocked out almost immediately by antibiotics. These days, there’s no guarantee that any antibiotic can save you.

Every year, more than ninety thousand Americans die from similar infections that have become resistant to antibiotics. That stunning figure is higher than the death toll from AIDS, car accidents and prostate cancer combined.

Organized Labor: Influence Ebbing, Public’s Resentment Rising

James Surowiecki has a nice piece at the New Yorker, State of the Unions. How many times have you heard the recent world/U.S. financial crisis described as “the worst since the Great Depression?”  Surowiecki points out that back then, workers flocked to unions. In the wake of today’s crisis, public resentment and scapegoating of unions is on par with Congress and big business:

The hostility to labor is most obvious in the attacks on public-sector workers as what Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota’s former governor, calls “exploiters”—cosseted, overpaid bureaucrats whose gold-plated pension and health plans are busting state budgets. But there’s also been a backlash against labor generally. In 2009, for the first time ever, support for unions in the Gallup poll dipped below fifty per cent. A 2010 Pew Research poll offered even worse numbers, with just forty-one per cent of respondents saying they had a favorable view of unions, the lowest level of support in the history of that poll.

In part, this is a simple function of the weak economy. The statistician Nate Silver has found a historical correlation between the unemployment rate and the popularity of unions. Furthermore, an analysis of polling data by David Madland and Karla Walter, of the Center for American Progress, shows that, when times are bad, the approval ratings of government, business, and labor tend to drop in sync; voters, it seems, blame all powerful institutions equally. And although organized labor is much less powerful than it once was, voters don’t seem to see it that way: more than sixty per cent of respondents in the 2010 Pew poll said that unions had too much power.

We’ve got our own little anti-worker tyrant here in Ohio, John Kasich. It will be interesting to see how far backward the middle class and the electorate are willing to allow Republicans like Kasich and Pawlenty to take us before people start voting their interests and not the corporate/Chamber of Commerce interests.