Smallmindedness in small towns

I rarely talk politics here, but I received this email from a cousin the other day:

According to the Book of Revelations the anti-christ is: The anti-christ will be a man, in his 40s, of MUSLIM descent, who will deceive the nations with persuassive language, and have a MASSIVE Christ-like appeal…. the prophecy says that people will flock to him and he will promise false hope and world peace, and when he is in power, will destory everything. Is it OBAMA??

The email itself, unfortunately, isn’t out of the ordinary; many of my family members believe we’re in the End Times. What made this one unique is that the Washington Post has an article up about my hometown (Findlay, Ohio, “Flag City USA”) discussing this phenomenon; more after the jump.
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Summer reading 3: Good Germs, Bad Germs by Jessica Snyder Sachs

Balance is a tricky thing to find in area, and medicine is notorious for its trade-offs. A drug that may make you well in the long run may also have side effects that make taking the medicine difficult. Even drugs that we often think of as typically innocuous, such as antibiotics, can have an enormous cost associated with their use, both at the individual and the population level. Sachs covers our love-hate relationship with antibiotics and germs in general in her book, Good Germs, Bad Germs. More after the jump…
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Summer reading 2: Richard Preston’s “Panic in Level 4”

I had ended up with a ratty old piece of Army gear, a space suit that belonged to nobody A little voice started speaking in my head. What are you doing here? the voice said. You’re in an Ebola lab in a fucking defective space suit. I started to feel giddy. It was an intoxicating rush of fear, a sensation that all I needed to do was relax and let the fear take hold, and I could drift away on waves of panic, screaming for help.

Martha was looking into my eyes again.

The little voice went on: You’re headed for the Slammer.

Richard Preston opens his new publication, a collection of essays titled Panic in Level 4: Cannibals, killer viruses, and other journeys to the edge of science, with a quotation: “In order to know soup, it is not necessary to climb into a pot and be boiled.” Preston disagrees with the sentiment, expressed by English mathematician and physicist Oliver Heaviside. Preston discusses how he, as a journalist, has created a living by jumping into the soup–even though it’s sometimes scared the piss out of him, as described in the excerpt above (the “panic” described in the title). However, Preston fans should be cautioned that this all isn’t typical Preston fare. More after the jump…

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Summer reading 1: Lauri Lebo’s “Devil in Dover”

Many of you probably followed the 2005 “Kitzmiller vs. Dover” trial in Dover, Pennsylvania closely. From its early days, with daily updates at the Panda’s Thumb to the publication of the ruling–“Kitzmas”— in late December, the trial was filled with drama and moments right out of the movies. From the defendants’ remarkable lying on the stand to Behe’s admission that his definition of a scientific theory included astrology, it seemed that each day was better than the last for the pro-science side, culminating in the stinging tongue-lashing doled out by Judge Jones in his decision in favor of the plaintiffs.

However, what was reported was only a small slice of the larger story, and Lauri Lebo’s new book, The Devil in Dover, brings us the rest. A journalist for the York Daily Record, Lebo grew up in the Dover area and has an intimate understanding of the local history and culture–and the personalities involved on both sides of the case, making “Devil in Dover” far more than just another recounting of the trial. (More after the jump…)
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As the waters recede…what now?

Here in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids corridor, the waters have been going down for several days, and people are being allowed back into their homes and businesses to begin assessing the damage and cleaning up what remains. However, while the dangers from the initial flooding are receding along with the waters, the clean-up and aftermath bring about a new set of misery.

Flooding is a potential nightmare when it comes to infectious diseases. The water can bring people returning to their flooded residences into contact with sewage, animal carcasses, and other sources of pathogens–and warm waters in June can mean the rapid replication of these organisms. Flooded waters can bring individuals into contact with a variety of diarrheal pathogens, including E. coli, Giardia, and Cryptosporidia. Individuals who have wells should also have their well water tested ( the University Hygienic lab offers testing kits), and individuals are being warned to avoid food from flooded gardens as well.

Eyes and skin are also vulnerable to post-flood pathogens, especially when coupled with another main cause of post-flood morbidity: injuries. These can exacerbate infection (by creating breaks in the skin, for example).

Another problem that will only increase in the coming days: mold. Again, the health department has a short instruction sheet on post-flood mold cleanup, and individuals are already removing carpet, drywall, and other soaked materials in an effort to start drying out.

Finally, another problem in the coming weeks could occur from the residual standing water, providing additional breeding grounds for mosquitoes–and therefore a greater chance of transmission of arboviral diseases (including West Nile and other viral encephalitides).

Update: MSNBC has a bit more detailed article describing the risks I list above as well as a few others.

Image from Iowa City Press-Citizen.

Flooding update–and why pandemic preparedness is paying off

Photo of Cedar Rapids, Iowa

The university has now canceled all classes through June 22nd, and told all “non-essential” employees to stay home. The town is almost impossible to navigate as bridges across the river have closed one by one. And it’s not only in town; interstate 80 and 380 both have closed in places, where they cross over the Iowa and Cedar rivers, making travel in the area near impossible. To make things worse, river levels aren’t even predicted to reach their high until Monday (assuming current rain forecasts hold). Luckily, we have some plans in place…more on that after the jump.

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Iowa’s flooded…and it’s raining

Two years ago Iowa City was hit by a tornado. Last year my hometown back in Ohio was underwater. This year, Iowa’s already been hit by an EF5 tornado, and now 49 out of our 99 counties are disaster areas because of flooding. And it’s raining now, and more is predicted for the next few days. All this is after an incredibly soggy spring where the rivers started out high due to one of the snowiest winters on record. Many farmers only in the past few weeks finally were able to get out in the field to plant crops–crops which are now underwater. So far I’ve not seen reports of any human fatalities, but flooding like this has the potential to take not only human life but also to put livestock in danger–and Iowa has on the order of 10 times more animals than humans. 2008 isn’t looking like a banner year for the state…

Image from