Hunger Awareness Day: June 5th

Today is the sixth annual Hunger Awareness Day, sponsored by America’s Second Harvest. All too often we think of hunger as something affecting other countries (which of course it does) and focus more on obesity than hunger in America, but we have a serious problem with it here in the United States as well. Some of the numbers:

• The A2H (America’s Second Harvest) system served an estimated 24 to 27 million unduplicated people annually, with a midpoint of 25.3 million. This includes 22 to 25 million pantry users, 1.2 to 1.4 million kitchen users, and 0.8 million shelter users.

• Approximately 4.5 million different people receive emergency food assistance from the A2H system in any given week.

• 36.4% of the members of households served by the A2H National Network are children under 18 years old.

• 8% of the members of households are children age 0 to 5 years.

• 10% of the members of households are elderly.

Via A2H, you can find out if any events are happening in your area, or check out other ways to help. Donations of time and money in addition to food are, of course, always welcome. They note:

The America’s Second Harvest Network believes that every single person can do something to help end hunger in America.

Whether you have one dollar to give or one hour to share, you can make an enormous difference in the lives of the hungry people all across America.

Behe pwned again

You’ve probably already seen a few reviews of Michael Behe ‘s new book, The Edge of Evolution. I’ve barely cracked open my review copy yet, but I already know that one example that features prominently throughout the book is malaria (hence my interest in it, moreso than any more “irreducible complexity” or bad math). However, Nick’s already managed to take away some of my interest even in the malaria angle, dang him. More below…

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Did Hitler have syphilis?

Syphilis is a disease frequently shrouded in many levels of mystery. It appeared suddenly in Europe in the late 1400s as a highly virulent and often fatal disease, a disease that could give Ebola a run for its money when it comes to sheer grotesque-ness. Victims may be covered with pustules from head to toe, diseased flesh peeled from their bodies, and patients may be in agonizing pain for weeks or months prior to death. However, after this inauspicious beginning, syphilis seems to have become less virulent, and instead shifted in presentation to more of the chronic disease that we know it as today.

Syphilis is caused by a bacterium called a spirochete: a twisted corkscrew-like organism named Treponema pallidum. The disease itself has been known by many names over the centuries, including “Morbus Gallicus” (“The French Disease”) and the Great Pox, to distinguish it from other diseases such as smallpox. It’s also known as “The great imitator,” due to the non-specific symptoms it frequently causes.

Illness caused by T. pallidum is typically divided into three stages: primary, secondary, and tertiary. Shortly after initial infection, a lesion may appear on the genitalia; typically, these will resolve on their own in another few weeks’ time. During the secondary phase, which can occur weeks or months later, a rash may appear on the body, typically over the extremities and frequently including the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Myriad other manifestations may also present at this point, making the diagnosis of syphilis (especially without the characteristic rash) difficult in the centuries prior to identification of the causative spirochete. Tertiary syphilis, then, would frequently manifest a year to ten years (but sometimes as long as 50) after the initial infection. This also was difficult to definitively diagnose, as symptoms could include effects in a number of bodily systems, including the cardiovascular, digestive, and nervous system. The best-known tertiary effect include late stages of neurosyphilis, which can result in blindness, dementia, and paralysis.

In times gone by, just like today, acquisition of sexually transmitted diseases carried a stigma. This stigma, combined with the difficulty of making an accurate syphilis diagnosis (especially prior to the 1900s, but even after identification of the causative organism, diagnostic tests could still show false negatives), has resulted in quite a bit of rumors swirling around famous historical figures: had they been infected with syphilis? Hitler is but one of the historical figures investigated in Deborah Hayden’s Pox: Genius, Madness, and the Mysteries of Syphilis. More below…
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Even Answers in Genesis thinks Michael Egnor’s using the wrong argument

Back when I used to discuss evolution directly with creationists more frequently, I’d often cite Answers in Genesis’ page of Arguments we think creationists should not use” page. I hadn’t checked this out in awhile, and forgot they have on there as an argument that is “doubtful, hence, inadvisable to use:” “Natural selection is a tautology.” Yet that was just the argument given by Egnor in several posts, starting here–so even the young-earthers think Egnor has something to learn.

Typical me. I’m the one who always thinks of the snappy comeback hours after a comment is made too….

Bone marrow donation–are you on the registry?

Razib calls attention to a life-or-death situation affecting many minorities in this country: lack of organ and tissue matches for those in need of a transplant. He highlights one man in immediate need of a bone marrow transplant:

A tragedy, in five lines;

This is Vinay and his wife Rashmi.

They were married in 2005.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2006.

He is 28.

He needs a bone marrow transplant, in the next six weeks.

It’s easy to join the bone marrow registry. You can check out the registration and donation steps here, and pretty much anyone who’s healthy and between the ages of 18 and 60 can list themselves on the registry and be tissue-typed. I’ve been on it for a number of years, since I enrolled as part of a call for donors after a girl I used to babysit for was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It was already too late for her–she died at the age of 21 after a short battle with the disease. Unfortunately, her story is all too typical–the National Marrow Donor Program estimates that 35,000 people could benefit from marrow transplants every year, but only a small number of those actually receive them. While the best matches can come from other family members, only about a third of those in need actually find a matching relative–the rest turn to unrelated donors in the hope of a match. Even for those of European descent, the odds of finding an unrelated match aren’t great; with minorities, the odds go down considerably. (You can see the relative numbers in this publication if you’re interested).

To find a match for Vinjay, his friends and relatives have organized a number of drives (mostly in California, where he’s from), that can be found at his website. No matter where you live, however, you can find a site near you to get registered, or help in other ways. And while the call to help Vinjay is going out specifically to those of South Asian descent (since that would be his most likely match), it should be pointed out that there are still only about 10 million people registered worldwide–so people of all ethnic groups are still desperately needed.

Image from http://www.helpvinay.org/images/photos/vinay_rashmi_2007_05_31_rev_150p.jpg