Catfish v mosquitoes in foreclosed swimming pools

Don’t see this every day. From the excellent Dovdox, Alan Dove’s scijo blog:

Awhile back, I commented on the finding that abandoned swimming pools at foreclosed houses are producing a boom in mosquito-borne infections. Now, it seems, some Floridians have found a way to deal with at least one aspect of the abandoned pool problem:

Debra Mitchell, a code enforcement officer in Wellington, said the town is using catfish to clean pools in homes foreclosed on amid the devastated housing market. Officials were previously spending nearly $7,000 a month of taxpayer funds on chemicals to keep the stagnant pools sanitary.

“Some of us got clever and decided to try the fish-eating…er algae eating fish,” Mitchell told NBC affiliate WPTV-5.

At a typical home, the town drops 15 algae-eating fish in the pool to keep the water clean. In addition to being a potential health hazard, Mitchell believes that cleaner more sanitary pools will make the houses more attractive to buyers, as will the lower fees for upkeep.

The catfish aren’t likely to fix the mosquito problem, but if someone can encourage the town to add a few Gambusia to the mix, that would probably help.


Posted via web from David Dobbs’s Somatic Marker

Poison King, Golden Pen — Mayor’s bio of Mithradates wins National Book Award nomination


I am extremely pleased to report that my friend Adrienne Mayor’s riveting (if queasy-making) biography of Mitradates, “Poison King,” is a finalist for the National Book Award. It’s wonderful to see a skillfully executed and absorbing account of an obscure bit of history get this sort of well-deserved attention.

Congratulations, Adrienne. And to the rest of you, click above and read it now — so when she wins, you can say you’ve already read it.

Posted via web from David Dobbs’s Somatic Marker

The flu, Donald Fagan, Dana Blankenhorn, and the fellow in the brite nightgown

“The Brite Nightgown,” from Donald Fagen’s First And Only Solo Tour (2006) –
Dana Blankenhorn, who brings a distinctive mix of skepticism, intelligence, and gruff impatience to his flu coverage, digests some unsettling stats from the JAMA articles. Some of his highlights:

* Health care workers get little protection from fancy masks. Workers given ordinary medical masks had a nearly 1 in 4 chance of getting the disease. The same for those given fancy N95 fitted masks. Many medical workers have been resisting getting the shot.
* Hospitals must be prepared for extraordinary burdens in the face of H1N1. “Hospitals must develop explicit policies to equitably determine who will and will not receive life support should absolute scarcity occur.” Short version, convene the death panels now.
* A study of early victims in Mexico found critical illness concentrated in the young, with 58 of 899 patients admitted to the hospital. Among these 58, hospital admission “was associated with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome and shock, and had a high case-fatality rate.” If you were sick enough to go to the hospital you were sick enough to die.
* A study in Canada of 168 patients admitted to intensive care, including kids, found a median age of 32, with nearly one-third of the patients children. A variety of techniques were tried but overall, about 18% of these patients died.

Blankenhorn ends with this gem:

I have noted in comments here a blase attitude toward H1N1, and a definite resistance to get protection against it, for a variety of reasons.
W.C. Fields (above) famously called death the “fellow in the brite nightgown.” A few years ago Donald Fagan turned this into a catchy song. To those unconcerned about H1N1 feel free to hum it on your way out the door, when said fellow gives you the victory hug.

Anatomy of Japanese folk monsters

For its pure strangeness. 50E58632-FAF7-4F2C-88C2-B86F321581A6.jpg
The Makura-gaeshi (”pillow-mover”) is a soul-stealing prankster known for moving pillows around while people sleep. The creature is invisible to adults and can only be seen by children. Anatomical features include an organ for storing souls stolen from children, another for converting the souls to energy and supplying it to the rest of the body, and a pouch containing magical sand that puts people to sleep when it gets in the eyes. In addition, the monster has two brains — one for devising pranks, and one for creating rainbow-colored light that it emits through its eyes.
And I like the willow witch:
Yanagi-baba (”willow witch”) is the spirit of 1,000-year-old willow tree. Anatomical features include long, green hair resembling leafy willow branches, wrinkled bark-like skin, a stomach that supplies nourishment directly to the tree roots, a sac for storing tree sap, and a cane cut from the wood of the old tree. Although Yanagi-baba is relatively harmless, she is known to harass passersby by snatching umbrellas into her hair, blowing fog out through her nose, and spitting tree sap.
For others, visit the Pink Tentacle.
Hat tip Mo Costandi. Mo’s hanging out in some strange places.

If Vermont is #1 in health care, this country’s in big trouble


Mount Pisgah, diving into Lake Willoughby, way up noth

Vermont, my chosen and beloved place of residence, took the top spot last week in the Commonwealth’s “State Scorecard” for healthcare, which ranks states based on access, quality, costs, and health outcomes.
For people who live elsewhere, this report adds one more thing to add to the list of Things That Make Vermont Cool. (This is a jump up from second place in the 2007 scorecard.) For people who live here, this report raises amazement — and the feeling that it must be very bad indeed everywhere else.
Vermont’s health system is a mess. Our costs and premiums are high and rising. Almost 15% of adults under 65 lack insurance, and many, many more are uninsured. As elsewhere, insurers here routinely obfuscate, bamboozle, delay, and just plain refuse to give requested documentation when questioned about denied claims. And the cost of insurance is driving businesses and homeowners to the brink of failure, even as they provide plans that pass more and more costs to employees who often earn low wages.

Continue reading →

Charlie Houston, mountaineer, doctor, scientist, ends a great life at 96

charles houston
Charlie Houston, right, in 1936 with Pasang Kikuli (center) and British climbing legend Bill Tilman

I used to do a bit of climbing and a lot of climbing reading — a deep and rich literature.

If you read much about American climbing history, you’ll read about Charlie Houston, who made one of the most dramatic and tragic attempts at K2 in 1953, pioneered the modern study of high-altitude physiology, practiced and taught medicine for decades, and at one point ran the Peace Corp. Amazing man. He was one of many physicians and scientists who have loved climbing and made huge contributions in their day jobs as well. I once interviewed Houston for a story I did about his buddy Bradford Washburn, another climbing great who did great cartography, superb photography, and developed the Boston Museum of Science from a little house to one of the country’s greatest science museums. In his late 70s when I interviewed him, Houston was still razor sharp and a pleasure to talk to. (And Washburn, climbing the stairs 3 flights to his office in the science museum, was hard to keep up with.)

Charlie died last week (other obits here, here, and here) at his home in Burlington, Vermont, a few miles up the road here. Bill Moyers’ remembrance (you have to go to the site, as I couldn’t find an embed code) includes some footage from, and the tale of, the  he and some friends made on K2 in 1953, a tragic attempt that led him, in the superb chronicle he later published, to label K2 ‘the savage mountain.” 

It’s a moving clip. Moyers has Houston describe the horrid outcome of the 1953 expedition, and his decision to stop climbing then so he could live to enjoy his family and do his medical practice and teaching in Burlington. He walked away from it cold, and went on to live a rich, fulfilling life. He and Moyers talk about something else for a bit. And then Moyers returns to the climb, “I know you did so much else, but I want want to return to that K2 climb again…,” says Moyer. And Houston says, “The best thing I ever did.”

A fuller account of the accident, is shown in the film Houston made about the 1953 expedition, “Brotherhood of the Rope,” which occupies the bulk of this clip from a talk Houston recently gave at the local library in UVM. The film starts at 15:30, after some biographical talk from Houston. This too ends quite movingly, with an emotional reunion between the climbers and the sherpas when the climbers finally descend to the safety of base camp.

Healthcare reform roundup: The Turnaround

health care protests
The healthcare debate in Lincoln, NE, earlier this year.
photo: Nat Harnik, AP, via the NY Times

The tone of discussions of reform in both Congress and the blogosphere has changed remarkably over the last few days. It’s gone from pessimistic to optimistic, and from a sense of retreat and a whittling away of substantive reform toward a careful expansion of reform — including the inclusion of a public option.

Many a slip between cup and lip, of course, and things could (and almost certianly will) bounce around some more yet. But it’s certainly getting more interesting.

My own short list of posts from the last 48 or so:

Among the quickest to celebrate was Jonathan Chait of the New Republic, who has already written — jumping the gun, methinks — of How Health Care Reform Won. He says it’s turned into a fait accompli. I’ll buy fait most likely.

Ezra Klein sees the the opt-out public-option option as A Public Option Compromise That Might Actually Work? — while warning against what he calls Bad Public Plan Arguments. He also give a helpful look at what it means when polls report that people Are Satisfied With Their Health Care.

Nate Silver likes the public option well enough, lodges this request: Opt Me Out of Public Option Purism.

Then Nate looks at how the CBO Report Could Be Turning Point.

The CBO scoring is important rhetorically. It provides political cover for those who want to support the bill but do not want to expand deficits or explain to voters why they are voting for “bigger government.”

The Dartmouth Atlas project, which has done so much to reveal the wild excesses of health-care spending in some areas of the country, gets a look in How hysterectomies spurred Dartmouth Atlas’ birth. As a Vermonter, I’m proud to see that it started here, folks.

That’s probably enough for now.

Is American Healthcare Going All Euro on Us?

Ezra Klein thinks it might.

“We’re America,” Max Baucus likes to say. “Which means we have to write a uniquely American solution.” But the health-care solution that actually seems to be emerging in Congress — which looks like the health-care solutions proposed by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards during the campaign — isn’t all that unique. Not only does it look like another country’s health-care system, but it also looks like a European country’s health-care system. Quel Horreur!

In truth, it’s seeming more and more likely that America is going to go Dutch. And that’s not a bad thing.


As Klein notes, the caveats and hazards are many, and the key will be in achieving the degree of regulation that the Dutch have. I’ve grave doubts about that myself. The U.S. is in general much more hostile to heavy regulation than the Dutch are, and much more willing to weight public good over private business freedoms. And our regulatory systems (can you say FDA?) tend to get … I don’t want to say ‘hijacked,’ but … let’s say ‘heavily influenced’ by the industries and interests they are assigned to regulate.

Posted via web from David Dobbs’s Somatic Marker

Health-Care Secret Revealed, Again: More Is Not Better

Some things you can’t hear too many times.

stethoscopeIf there’s any way out of our current health-care morass, it’s this: In health care, more expensive care is often no better than less expensive care. We were reminded of this fact by a front-page story in this morning’s WSJ, which points out that Pennsylvania is the rare state that requires hospitals to publicly report a wide range of data — and those data show hospitals with good outcomes are often cheaper than hospitals with bad outcomes, even after you adjust for the patient mix.


Posted via web from David Dobbs’s Somatic Marker