Friday, 29 June 2007

BZP and party pills

In an article in the local paper (the Otago Daily Times - note that link is probably only good for a day or so) raises some interesting oppostion to legislation that proposes to ban party pills that contain BZP.

THE party-pill ingredient BZP will be forced underground following the Government’s decision to make it illegal, a Dunedin party-pill seller says.

Associate Health Minister Jim Anderton announced yesterday BZP would be reclassified as a Class C1 drug, making its sale and manufacture illegal. He hoped the legislation could be passed by the end of the year.
Surprisingly enough the move was condemned by the industry which makes and sells them and welcomed by critics (and one must assume Emergency department staff).

But maybe that Dunedin retailer (John Cockburn, owner of South Dunedin BZP retail outlet Herbal Heaven) might also have an ulterior motive

A ban would put him out of business, because he only sold BZP related products,he said.
Hmmmm, maybe he should be selling something other this, which is as herbal as drain cleaner, to kids who want a high.

His decision to recommend a ban to Cabinet was based on research, analysis of submissions and advice from experts and Government agencies. There would be a six-month amnesty for possession of less than 5g of the drug for personal use after the ban came into effect.
That sounds like a reasonable and well thought out action on the part of the minister.

However the comments of the reaction from some of the other points of view quite interesting.
First we have one of the more extremist parties in Parliament:
Green Party drug law reform spokeswoman Metiria Turei said the party was disappointed by the move, but pleased the Government had chosen to make the changes using the full legislative process, rather than by resolution, so the decision was open to full public and parliamentary scrutiny and debate.
Well at least they are all for the process. This guy sounds like he is from an industry lobby group:
Social Tonics Association of New Zealand (Stanz) chairman Matt Bowden said prohibition was not the right way to minimise BZP harm.

‘‘P is prohibited and look at the problems there,’’ Mr Bowden said.

The right answer was regulation, a power Mr Anderton had under the Misuse of Drugs Act, he said.
The main opposition in Parliament clearly have their head screwed on as to this issue but still manage to get a jibe at the government
National Party Otago MP Jacqui Dean said the process had taken too long, but she welcomed the move.

And more importantly from the people who have been studying the issue:
Meanwhile, a doctor who led a major study of party pill use said yesterday’s decision was ‘‘a tough call’’ but on balance was probably the right one.

Dr Chris Wilkins, from Massey’s Centre for Social and Health Outcomes, said there had been no research on the longterm effects of BZP or the role it might play in psychological illness.

‘‘Consequently, there was a strong case for stricter regulation of the use and sale of party pills and on balance a ban appears to be the low-risk decision,’’ he said.
Surely there have to be more fun things for today's youth to do than this. Although just thinking that last statement made me feel very much older than 27.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Lightning and Hurricanes

I found this recent paper by a couple of Israelis that I have had the pleasure of meeting, and that our group has had some ties with. They have come up with an interesting correlation between lightning activity in the East African sector and Atlantic Basin hurricanes. Hopefully the abstract at least should be viewable to the general public at the link. But the crux of the idea is that:

In this paper we provide evidence showing the connection between lightning activity over eastern Africa, and the AEWs that leave the west coast of Africa, some of which develop into hurricanes. We have analyzed the 2005 and 2006 hurricane seasons, one a very active hurricane year (2005), and the other a very quiet year (2006). More than 90% of the tropical storms and hurricanes during these 2 years were preceded by periods of above average thunderstorm activity in eastern Africa.

Before we go to much further we need to define a few things. AEWs are African Easterly Waves, disturbances in the African Easterly Jet a (high altitude?) wind that forms a the region of strongest gradient of the temperature gradient between the relatively cool equatorial Africa (due to the Guinean coast) and the hot hot air above the Sahara - this is the reverse of the usual gradient where it is warmer at the equator than either side.

It appears that ~60 of these AEWs can form in a year mainly in the months of April - November, and they travel west across Africa (in a matter of a few days to a week) and then move out into the Atlantic ocean where they may or may not form Tropical Depressions, Storms or Hurricanes. There appears to be no correlation between number of AEWs and the number of Hurricanes although some 60% of minor Hurricanes and Tropical Storms and 85% of major Hurricanes can be traced back to AEWs.

Now the central African region is the global hot spot for lightning with a rate of over 50 flashes per square km per year. The lightning flash rate here is higher than any where else on the planet, though lightning is a very seasonal and time of day dependant. Lightning seems to prefer the late afternoon-early evening sector so at varying times of the day it will peak in different longitude sectors. Surprisingly enough lighting is more common in summer than winter. Which naturally fits with our increased AEW occurrence in this time period.
The AEWs are associated with deep convection and intense thunderstorms over tropical Africa... One of the key questions relating to these tropical waves is whether the waves trigger the convection, or whether the convection triggers the waves... We investigate whether the intensity of the convection, measured by lightning activity, is related to the AEW intensification.

So we have pressure instabilities that are related to strong lightning activity that originate in East Africa (in the paper they specifically look at 10–20 N and 30–40 E, in the region of the Ethiopian Highlands), and propagate across the continent and out into the atlantic where these drops in pressure can sometimes become hurricanes.

Now to get the local lightning rates for this region you can either stand there and count or you can make use of a network set up to detect lightning. That is all well and good if you are in a developed country which has one of these. Most lightning detection networks are extremely localised and need many stations to cover any decent sized area - mainly because of the frequency range that they use to detect the lightning (MF - 300kHz to 3MHz). Now if you use a much lower frequency range (VLF 3 - 30 kHz) it turns out that the absorption of the wave is less and hence you can see the waves at a much greater distance.

So using this long distance propagation and a few other nifty tricks, a former Professor here at Otago Prof Richard Dowden set up a company (LF*EM Research Ltd) and a World Wide Lightning Location Network (or WWLLN - pronounced "woolen" as wool from a sheep). Because the VLF part of the signal from the lightning travels much further then you need a much lesser density of stations. In fact there in the WWLLN there are currently about 30 stations, (we host one here in Dunedin) and this covers the whole globe since we are able to see the signals of lightning strikes happening many thousands of kilometers away.

This network is far from perfect, it requires at least four stations to register the signal from a lightning strike and then the timing of the reception must be with certain limits (other wise you cannot be sure that the stations are all looking at the same flash) or the network will not register the lightning. So this means you have a trade off between number of "legitimate" detections and the accuracy of these detections but then I imagine that is true of any similar system. So this tends to mean that the detection efficiency (number of "legitimate" detections versus total lightning) is lower than one would like, however those detections are favoured to more intense lightning strikes - since these are the ones more likely to be detected at more stations, as they radiate more power and the signals are likely to be observed further away.

So this is the technique that the authors used to look for lightning (they host a station in Tel Aviv and as such have acces to the full data set rather than just the summary on the web). But I think that the interesting issue here is the one that they clearly are not getting all the lightning happening in the region buit we are reasonably confident that they are getting the locations of all the storms and most of the stronger lightning. The authors certainly see a link between the strong lightning, and the AEWs and hurricanes, but I don't think that this could ever be a forecasting tool for hurricanes.

Continue Reading...

Religious Freedoms

Two items from Bob Park's What's New newsletter both of which deal with religion or at least the religious imposing their ideas on every one else.

Peace activists say the same thing. The President said this while issuing his second-annual summer-solstice-veto of legislation to lift his ban on embryonic stem cell research. He said that the United States is "founded on the principle that all human life is sacred" – unless you’re in Iraq, where 80 American lives have been sacrificed so far this month. I couldn’t find such a principle in the Constitution; instead I found the First Amendment. By imposing his bizarre religious belief that embryonic stem cells are people on the rest of us, the President has violated the constitutional rights of every living, breathing American.

Before you applaud, it faces a veto, and there are not enough votes for an override. The ban is a key element of Bush foreign policy, though why the U.S. opposes birth control in other countries is beyond comprehension. Uncontrolled population growth will, in time, overtake every advance in human condition.

But of course you might say that these are Bush's policies and he has every right to act on them. However even the religious among us can see that these policies are grounded in his religion.

And hopefully everyone should understand that having someones will imposed upon then especially when it comes to religion is outlawed by among other things the first amendment to the constitution of the USA and Article 18 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights.

I am not claiming that Bush is not allowed to have his beliefs but what he is not allowed to do is to force others to have those beliefs too.

Continue Reading...

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

More terror

Which religion promotes terrorism again?

The Ridger over at the Green Belt points out that a group in Milwaukee are holding up terrorists as heros.

Read the post and the links that she provides, and then hope maybe that this one makes the list for Bush's "War on Terror".

What is the USA coming too. Some one please tell me that this is not what Christianity in America is all about. And once you have done that go and tell these guys that too.

Continue Reading...

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Positive News

Just wanted to say that we had good news yesterday. It would seem that my father-in-law's cancer has gone into remission, the doc couldn't be completely sure from the scan (there is some scar tissue that they are not 100% about) but so far so good, he will have another scan in 6 months and regular blood tests between now and then, so heres hoping that it all comes out clear.

Continue Reading...

Skeptic's Circle the Solstice Edition

Welcome to the 63rd edition of the Skeptics' Circle, celebrating today's Solstice (June 21 2007 18:06 GMT).

Now if you are in the Northern hemisphere this will be the longest edition of the skeptics' circle and conversely if you are in the Southern hemisphere it will be the shortest.

And now you may want to know how I am going to do this... well the answer is I'm not after all today is still 24 hours long regardless of where you are on the planet and so this edition of the skeptics' circle will be the same length for all.

That and the fact that my lack of ability to come up with anything better leads us straight to the meat of this last fortnight's skeptical round up in no particular order with the exception of the first.

Infophile has a good post, explaining part of what it means to be a skeptic, that really should be a must read for everyone (not just us skeptics).

The Discovery Institutes latest and greatest Dr Egnor continues to offer his ignorance on plate for the rest of us and his recent ideas about dualism (mind/brain) have provided much fodder. PZ of Pharyngula, Blake Stacey of Sunclipse and Orac of Respectful Insolence all take him to task for this.

The Hoofnagle brothers at Denialism has a good couple of posts, on the dangers of unrestricted advertising and how to be a crank

And now for a nice relaxing break a look at some good old fashioned (or not so old fashioned as the case may be) quackery, thanks to Tara of Aetiology, Andrea's Buzzing About, and Orac of Respectful Insolence.

Away from the Bench has a brief look at what went on at DC's Improbable science and DC himself tells how the saga has been some what resolved.

We will follow this up with Aurora Walking Vacation's little illustration of eggs and bad science, Infophile showing the absence of evidence can be evidence of absense and Prof. Bleen tells of the Peer review process at the IJCR

The old adage is that you are what you eat, however Junkfood science explains just what food processing is before illustrating that the point that if you are going to study what is in the food and what it does to the body it might pay to put it in the body (or at least a part of it). On a similar topic the Holford watch shares us the tale of quack being put to the sword on live tv, heck you can even watch the video.

And to finish up where would us loyal skeptics be with such classic targets as UFOs, Creationism and the autism mercury link for us to rant against.

I want to thank everyone who submitted posts for this, I just couldn't include everyone but they were all great posts.

And for all of you who stopped by please do follow all the links, they are great examples of what we want to see more of in this world.

Well that is all from me for this round of the skeptics' circle...
but never fear for it won't be long 'til we next appear...

In fact I hope to see you all at The Skeptical Alchemist in two weeks time for the 64rd Skeptics' Circle on July 5.

Any and all feedback is welcome so that I at least know that you are reading this. You never know, if you don't tell me how bad this is I might have to host it again.

Continue Reading...

Friday, 15 June 2007

More bad news for Pluto

The Bad Astronomer has a post up about new measurements on the size of Eris. Remember Eris it is the one that started out as Xena and caused the demotion of Pluto. Any way it turns out that Eris is a bit bigger than Pluto so there is no way we can ever have 9 planets again.

Call it a planet if you want. It doesn’t matter that much to me — and less to Pluto itself — but you’ll be doing the object, and yourself, a disservice. And Eris is bigger anyway. Nyah nyah.

Continue Reading...

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

The Circle is Coming to Town

Step right up folks and share the wonders of the skeptical world.

That's right next week I will be hosting the fortnightly blog carnival Skeptic's Circle (I am of the belief that this will be the 63rd edition).

So if you have something that you would like to be considered for this carnival email me before next Wednesday.

  • rmcsquared at gmail dot com
Since I am on the other side of the planet than most of the bloggers (I am in New Zealand!!) who will be submitting here I really actually mean before next Wednesday (which will be my Thursday). My aim is to have the circle up early afternoon my time (which will be early morning on Thursday GMT - late evening Wednesday for those in the States)

I look forward to what everyone has to offer.


PS My apologies for not having this info up earlier.

Continue Reading...