Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Friday, August 17, 2018

Suicide, the Impulse of Despair : Survival the Compulsion to Live

"When you do a face transplant, you’re trying to match a dead person’s face on another person. And there are no two people alike, so the bone height is not the same."
"Even if you practice on cadavers, obviously the person that you are getting right now might not be an exact match, so you still have to match those two people to fit as a puzzle."
"Of all the surgeries that we do as a surgeon, this is the most gratifying, because you’re giving a person a new start on life."
"[Pre-surgery, over 20 cadaver dissections were done to] perfect and optimize the results for Katie. By the time you come to the surgery, you are basically executing what you practiced."
Dr. Gaby Doumit, plastic surgeon and cranial facial surgeon, former director of craniofacial surgery, Cleveland Clinic
Ten surgeons were on a medical team that spend 31 hours performing a face transplant on Katie Stubblefield.
"Her injury may have been the worst injury of any face transplant injury ever. We can't necessarily make all of her muscles move again. Her tongue is not working well because she lost a lot of tongue muscle and nerves."
"We [the transplant team of 15 specialists] all like her nose. Her lips are pretty."
"My first wish for Katie is to be happy. That's number one, but beyond that, I'd like her to have some level of normalcy."
"Then, she can do all that and become a spokeswoman for so many aspects - for how to be strong in the face of adversity and not to make a singular decision dictate who you are."
Dr. Brian Gatsman, supervisor of transplant team, Cleveland Clinic
The pretty young woman of eighteen is now 22 years old. Katie Stubblefield decided at 18 that her life was no longer worthwhile. Depression leads many young people to despair their condition in life and many decide, like Katie did at 18, to simply forego life. So she took her brother's rifle and shot herself directly in the face and her brother discovered her in his home in Tennessee essentially with no face left, covered in blood and gore, her brain fully exposed. The bullet that failed to kill her tore through her forehead, nose, sinuses, jaw bones and left her eyes badly damaged. But she lived.

Surgeons in the Memphis hospital that responded to the emergency that Katie had become made an effort to cover her facial wounds with a tissue graft taken from her abdomen. That effort failed and when she arrived at the Cleveland Clinic it was with "her brain basically exposed". And there, 22 different operations took place in the hope that her face could be repaired, none of them approaching close to restoring what she looked like before she decided to die. A face transplant might work where plastic surgery failed, it was determined.

She waited, and she waited and three years passed during which two possible donors failed to fully materialize, and then a third was found, that of 31-year-old Adrea Schneider who had died from a drug overdose and who had been a registered organ donor. Adrea's grandmother gave her donation consent. Her granddaughter's heart, lungs, kidneys and liver were donated as well to other patients awaiting transplants; one lost life led to seven saved across the United States in this single, unfortunate/fortunate exchange.

A 31-hour surgery, using two separate operating rooms took place in May of 2017 at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic when Katie became the 40th individual known to have received a new face and one of the youngest. The bullet that failed to kill Katie but that caused such horrible damage was the cause of a traumatic brain damage and her hormones and sodium levels were also severely impacted, along with frontal lobe function. The team created a nasal passage, patched her face, formed jawbones with the use of her fibula and titanium. Her eyes were moved closer together and part of her thigh and Achilles tendon used to help patch the wounds. 

Side-by-side of Katie Stubblefield.
Family/Martin Schoeller -- Katie, before her catastrophic injury and after her facial transplant
Sandra Bennington, Adrea Schneider's grandmother, visited Katie after her transplant, telling her that she could make out some of her granddaughter's features in Katie's new face. But that regardless, Katie's face was unique to her and, she said, "You look beautiful". An additional three major revision surgeries took place fourteen months later. All of this detailed in a cover story by National Geographic magazine. Additional surgeries yet are being contemplated, to slim her face down, reduce scarring and to improve her eyelids. She has been given a second chance and she is grateful for that opportunity.

Side-by-side collage of Adrea Schneider and her grandmother meeting Katie
Benningdon Family/Maggie Steber/ National Geographic
  Adrea's grandmother said she recognised some features of her granddaughter (L) in Katie no

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

That Incomparable View -- Playing Chicken With Nature
Beachfront homes, Florida  Photo: the

"Its foundation is already starting to slip."
"We're going to see more of this kind of thing happen to coastal housing, and not just in Oregon."
"A lot of these wealthier homeowners are playing chicken with nature, and losing."
Phillip Johnson, executive director, Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition

"I plan to stay and fight as long as I can."
"I'm not even thinking about giving up my house. At least, not yet."
Justine Kenney, retired stockbroker, Nantucket, Massachusetts

"Erosion doesn't destroy the beach or the environment."
"The problem comes when you build on them and you don't want to move away."
Robert Young, geologist, Western Carolina University
Image: Sand dumped to protect homes
Some 3,000 cubic yards of sand were dumped outside these homes in Harvey Cedars, N.J., in early July as an emergency step. Most homeowners there want to go ahead with a beach restoration project, but a few are holding out. Erosion has created steep cliffs in some spots that the locals have dubbed "Harvey Cedars Bluffs.''

"When you look at oceanfront property, there are three things any property owner is interested in. Number one and the most important is the view of the ocean. Number two is access to the ocean, and number three is the breeze, which is an important factor."
"A lot of people don't like to use their air conditioning. They say the evening breeze off the ocean is something special. [Putting dunes as tall as 29 feet that are 50 feet wide in behind homes would reduce property values by 40 percent.] If you have a million-dollar property, it's now worth $600,000."
Ken Porro, lawyer, oceanfront property, Harvey Cedars, New Jersey
In the town of Rockaway Beach, Oregon, great beachfront swaths -- facing rising tides which result in record levels of erosion -- have been eaten away, threatening the stability of costly homes built on bluffs overlooking the ocean. A six-bedroom home on the northern coast of the state with a hot tub and a swimming pool, a Tuscan-style residence with a 3,300 square feet interior, boasting sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean is now in direct peril. The property was once considered a real estate treasure. Built in 2009 for over $1-million  it stood close to ten metres from the ocean.

Now, that last word in comfortable living, a sought-after property, is not quite so sought-after any longer. From the effect of erosion caused by those high tides the owners can enjoy watching from their large windows overlooking the ocean that sweep the beachfront, the house now is perilously perched under three metres from the dune's edge. It is a disaster waiting to happen, and happen it will, predict local officials -- guessing before the end of the year.

The owner of the property has expended tens of thousands of dollars, attempting to save his home. Dump-truck-loads of sand have been deposited on the beach in front of the residence. And the owner is contemplating the installation of permanent rock-and-boulder barriers, in the hope of protecting the bluff from any additional erosion under the waves' interminable onslaught. He is awaiting the go-ahead from state officials.

There is nothing particularly new about costly homes balancing on the edge of cliffs overlooking the ocean. Such homes are still in high demand, but that demand is soon to evaporate and the current owners left with little to celebrate. Affluent purchasers of such special beachfront properties were always willing to pay premium prices for palatial real estate, knowing those properties would be expected to increase in value. Rising sea levels, however, have altered both perceptions and the properties that were once so alluring.

Owners of homes in wealthy enclaves on both the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts of the United States now face similar battles caused by rising tides and the erosion they are responsible for. Some of the most prized waterfront real estate -- from New England to California is steadily evaporating into the oceans -- whose views and ocean-proximity were once the major selling point for these esteemed properties. True, the owners are wealthy, but they are discovering that their desperate efforts to save their investments are just that; desperate but futile.

Bluffs battered by rising tides that ravage their integrity edge homes ever closer to the sea despite millions some homeowners have dedicated to moving their homes further back on their lots. Experts estimate that in Malibu, California, home to one of the costliest beachfront areas in the country some lots have lost up to 17 metres of beach in the last ten years alone. Local authorities are prepared to spend millions -- up to $60M every ten years -- hauling tons of sand in hopes of restoring the vanishing beaches and dunes. Increased taxes will be levied on the over 100 properties involved, to achieve this.
Photo courtesy of Cocoran Group Real Estate
In Nags Head, North Carolina on the Outer Banks, waterfront property costs over a million dollars where the beach has been eroding roughly two metres each year, according to the North Carolina Division of Coastal Management; more than four times the median rate for North Carolina's coast and where the town is prepared to spend $48M dredging sand from the sea floor to dump it onto the beaches. At taxpayers' expense, of course. "These beaches are doomed. The buildings are doomed, too", states Orrin Pi8lkey, professor of geology, Duke University.

More than 300,000 homes in the United States likely will be affected by chronic flooding within the next 30 years as a result of rising sea levels, according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Properties valued at nearly $140-Billion across the country are at risk, suggests the study. Ocean City in Maryland, where town officials have been replenishing the beaches, spending millions in the process, is listed among a number of locations along the Atlantic Ocean at risk of chronic flooding by 2045.

Photo courtesy of Kiawah Island Real Estates

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Add A New Concern to Climate Change: Global Greening

"A 30 percent increase in photosynthesis does not translate into a 30 percent increase in strawberries off the land."
"While photosynthesis does pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, much of that gas goes right back into the air. The reason: At night, the chemical reactions in plants essentially run backward. In a process known as respiration, plants pump out carbon dioxide instead of pulling it in.... Part of the story is that photosynthesis is going up, and part of the story is that so is respiration."
"Every year we build more power plants, and every year the plants take out more C02."
"Plants are quietly scrubbing the air of one China's worth of carbon. What frightens me is knowing this can't go on forever."
"If respiration catches up with photosynthesis, this huge carbon reservoir could spill back into our air."
Elliott Campbell, environmental scientist, University of California, Santa Cruz

The bad news of course is what has been repeated time and again by those warning of the dread consequences of climate change, no longer referred to as global warming. Who in today's world is ignorant of the fact that weather situations have erupted that have been more of everything; more extreme in every conceivable way; hotter, wetter, drier, visiting catastrophic hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, drought, volcanic eruptions, more frequent earthquakes. The polar ice caps are melting, gigantic glaciers are breaking up, sea levels are rising, agricultural crops are failing.

In June, Johan Uddling of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden and colleagues suggested that the acknowledged rise in carbon dioxide has resulted in an increase in the rate that soil microbes take up and use nutrients, leaving plants bereft of the vital nutrients they need to thrive. By general consensus, scientists agree that plants remove a quarter of the circulating carbon dioxide that rises into the atmosphere resulting from industrialization's energy use -- and the cost of producing and using it is the diminution of environmental health.

Plants have been busy as vegetation is wont to do, scrubbing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in lock-step with rising emissions. The result is a greener planet. Described fittingly enough, as "global greening". But scientists are also urging caution over celebration; that carbon dioxide levels in reality continue to soar over the past two centuries' records. We are only just now in the past several decades beginning to fully understand how that rise is impacting the planet. For one thing, since 2010, the six warmest years on record have been noted.

Dr. Campbell's study, published a year ago, places these concerns into perspective, pointing out that the planet's energy use is responsible for emitting close to 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. Smaller studies suggest that human activity contributes hugely to the situation leading to an increase around the world in photosynthesis. And photosynthesis is the transformation of energy from the sun to energy for plant growth and production. All to the good...?

The question appears to be: how good? After all, plants are now converting 31 percent more carbon dioxide into organic material than before the Industrial Revolution. Many take the figures that Dr. Campbell's research team published as verification that increased carbon dioxide is a plus for the world: "The best messages are positive: C02 increases crop yields, the earth is greening", exulted Joseph Bast, chief executive officer of the Heartland Institute.

While Dr. Bast's takeaway from Dr. Campbell's conclusions seems reasonably deduced, Dr. Campbell is less than pleased with what he views as an incorrect perception leading from his research. While farmland is producing more food than a century ago, he feels the additional carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere is only part of the reason. Photosynthesis is responsible for pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, but a substantial portion of the gas returns to the atmosphere in nightly-occurring respiration.
Natural vegetation absorbs about a quarter of the carbon emissions created by burning fossil fuels.
Natural vegetation absorbs about a quarter of the carbon emissions created by burning fossil fuels. Photograph: Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images
As any grade-school child knows from age-appropriate basic introduction to science, during the day plants absorb circulating carbon dioxide, while at night they exude it through respiration. As a result, these researchers emphasize that the benefit to crops is minimal; plants growing more robust thanks to additional carbon dioxide tend to have lower nutrient concentrations, they point out.

Additionally, Dr. Campbell and his think-alike colleagues, not knowing how long global greening will continue, point out that as temperatures rise and rainfall patterns change, the possibility that vegetation may no longer pull in extra carbon dioxide is a future potential. In which case even the amount of carbon dioxide, estimated at one-quarter of the circulating atmospheric carbon -- that plants now consume, will no longer be the case at some future date.


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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Living With Multiple Sclerosis

"We have established a quality of life after the first year -- in some cases six months -- that is really improved."
"They [patients] return to their lives. Many have gotten their drivers' licences back, they have gone back to jobs and school. It normalizes their lives."
"Now, it is much less likely you will see patients in the progressive stage if we can get to them early."
Dr. Mark Freedman, neurologist, professor, University of Ottawa, director, MS research, The Ottawa Hospital
Harold Atkins, a haematolgoist, and Mark Freedman, a neurologist, worked on the Canadian study published in The Lancet (Trevor Lush/Ottawa Hospital)
Harold Atkins, a haematologist, and Mark Freedman, a neurologist, worked on the breakthrough Canadian study published in The Lancet (Trevor Lush/Ottawa Hospital)

"Initially, it sucked. It doesn't feel good when you take the drug, but it is really not going to feel good in a month. It took a couple of months for me to get over the chemo[therapy]."
"This [11 months after the procedure] is the best I have felt in a long time. It feels like I don't have MS."
"As much as I want to be an example of what is possible for people, I don't want to be the only one [undergoing treatment for aggressive MS]."
Blake Hurdis, MS sufferer, Smiths Falls, Ontario
Only a small subset fit the study’s criteria: those with an early, active, highly inflammatory, relapsing-remitting form of the disease who do not respond to drug therapies. Study participants ranged in age from 21 to 50; all had been diagnosed within the previous 10 years; all were ranked between 3 and 6 on an MS disability scale ranging between 0 and 10 (6 is someone who needs a walking aid to walk 100 metres). Atkins estimated five percent of the MS population could potentially benefit. That is a not inconsiderable number given that 2.3 million people are estimated to be living with MS worldwide, more than 100,000 of them in Canada where the MS Society has declared the condition “Canada’s disease.” And it is undeniably a breakthrough, but there’s a danger in forgetting it’s not a potential cure for 95 per cent of people living with MS. Macleans Magazine, Ann Kingston
A dual Canadian-U.S. citizen who served with the U.S. military in Iraq an Afghanistan, Blake Hurdis had become so incapacitated with multiple sclerosis he felt his life was nearing its end. But then he underwent a bone-marrow transplant at The Ottawa Hospital in 2017 and the treatment has created an astonishing new life for the 36 year-old man who is now training to run a marathon. A year earlier, a devastating MS attack had so incapacitated him he had to resort to crawling, pulling himself along with his hands, at home.

He is one of 57 MS sufferers in total who have undergone this pioneering new therapy, introduced close to twenty years ago. Dr. Freedman, who helped in designing the treatment, cautions that it is not a cure despite its remarkable results. Of the patients who had undergone the procedure since 1999, none, however, has experienced a new episode of multiple sclerosis. One patient even returned to his work in the construction industry, after his bone-marrow transplant.

This is a treatment engineered for roughly five percent of people with MS, those who present as young with the most aggressive forms of the disease. Medication to treat other patients is constantly undergoing improvement to successfully treat their MS and dramatically reduce its symptoms. The past two decades has seen a vast improvement in the treatment of MS, since the first treatment was approved in 1995. Steady progress has made the lives of MS sufferers more livable.

The bone marrow procedure uses a patient's own stem cells, rebuilding their immune system, a process that is physically arduous for most who take part in the process. Rounds of chemotherapy designed to eradicate the individual's immune system starts the process. It can take a year of a patient's life to recover to the point where they are ambulatory with ease. For Blake Hurdis it took 11 months of effort to rehabilitate his body and plan to push himself to run a marathon.

His progress in fact, amazed doctors. "I want to be an example in some way", he explained. "There is nobody who stands out there and says, 'This is what you can do'. I want to see what is truly abnormal. How far can you push  yourself? Is it 60 kilometres? Is it 100 kilometres? Is it 200 kilometres? Who knows!"

A year and a half ago Blake Hurdis, 36, couldn’t even crawl after a devastating attack of multiple sclerosis landed him in intensive care. However, following a stem cell transplant last November, he has exceeded all doctors’ expectations and even plans to run the PEI marathon on his birthday, Oct. 14.  Julie Oliver / Postmedia

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Monday, August 13, 2018

The Never-Ending Battle Against Deadly Bacteriums

"The fear is: Is it going to turn into the Hib story in the sense that it will grow more globally? And even if it doesn't, right now it's a problem in the North, where people -- and little ones, in particular -- are dying unnecessarily."
"This is an invasive bacterial disease. You can get meningitis, you can get septicemia, you can lose your leg. And once it gets a hold it really advances quite quickly, a little bit like the meningococcal diseases."
"The incidence is quite low but the mortality is quite high. ...In the first two years of life, you're most at risk for this disease. It does seem to be skewed toward the Indigenous populations being most at risk."
Andrew Cox, research officer, National Research Council, Canada
The vaccine developed at NRC kills all Hia Type A bacteria strains from different parts of Canada, leading Andrew Cox, senior research officer, to believe it will be 'a very good vaccine.' (Pierre-Paul Couture, CBC News)

The National Research Council was tasked to perform preliminary work on finding a pharmaceutical response to a deadly new disease afflicting Indigenous communities in Northern Canada. Researchers, under the direction of Dr. Cox worked diligently, undertaking major research work that began in 2012 leading to a workable approach on defeating the bacterium in question through to 2016. Undertaking a gradual and determined series of steps leading to a general concept to produce a solution that in mice could be proven to work.

Now what remained was to find a pharmaceutical company willing to take the concept through tests to determine whether the therapeutic process in question is both safe and effective for human use, and to proceed with the manufacture of a commercial product. "That's where the so-called Valley of Death is, where a lot of products don't get through because of the sheer cost and the stringency of the tests", admitted Dr. Cox, of a prevalent situation where brilliant ideas do not necessarily end up as drugs available to sufferers of a remote disease whose victims are few, making it unlikely that the costs associated would not be recovered through returns on investment due to the paucity of patients.

The vaccine in which much hope will now be vested is meant to grapple with a new type of bacterial infection breaking out across Canada's North called Hemophilus influenzae type A; or Hia. Name aside, this infection has little relation to and no bearing on common influenza, caused b a virus leading to the familiar symptoms we're all familiar with. This bacterial disease is extremely nasty and sometimes deadly. In decades past, a cousin of this disease, the Type B version, called Hib, caused consternation and illness on a wide scale. Drug companies developed a vaccine for Type B, the result of which is hat it has been largely eradicated in Canada as well as in many other countries.

That nature abhors a vacuum is proven by example after example, and in the case of Hia, it moved in where Hib had vacated its presence and expanded -- but for the time being, appears to be selectively targeting Indigenous communities in the North. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, over 300 cases surface yearly with a ten percent death rate. It remains a mystery why this killer bug has its dangerous presence in Nunavut, in the Far North of Quebec and in the Northwest Territories, excluding, for some unknown reason, Yukon where its presence is far less noticeable.
Frank St. Michael demonstrates how scientists at the National Research Council of Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada created a vaccine for Hia, a potentially deadly bacteria. It affects predominantly northern Indigenous communities. (Pierre-Paul Couture, CBC News)

"That's a key question [why it targets Indigenous communities]. Simplistically, you think maybe it's the living conditions", muses Dr. Cox, cautioning that the disease is certainly not exempt from surfacing in major cities in the south as well in due time. When Dr. Cox's research group in Ottawa and Montreal initiated their study of the disease, the basic approach was clear to them even before launching their research. To teach the immune system to 'recognize' a piece of the bacterium and for the immune system to respond by mounting a defence against its foreign presence.

The outside membrane of the bacterium was used; basically, a minuscule chunk of carbohydrate which the immune system 'learns' to recognize. Their research complete and ready for trials and eventually production, the NRC alerted pharmaceutical companies along with Indigenous communities and scientists from around the nation, inviting them to take part in discussions. What resulted was that InventVacc Biologicals of Vancouver has been granted a licence to take the technology pioneered by the NRC to the next step; testing and producing a commercial product.

Once -- and if -- approved, the resulting vaccine is meant to be given in the first months of life, responding to the reality that risk begins at a young age. InventVacc anticipates the drug trials starting around 2020, taking two to four years for completion before production can start. In acknowledging that more widespread health problems such as tuberculosis exist in the North, Dr. Cox addresses that reality by noting "...this is one thing that we believe we could prevent. It's a gratifying feeling when you think, 'Yeah, we found a way where we can combat this'. But I realize there's still a very long way to go."

  • Since the late 1990s, there has been an emergence of Hia infections, especially in Indigenous communities in the northern regions of Canada and Alaska associated with significant morbidity and approximately a 10% mortality rate.
  • A total of 102 Hia cases have been observed since 2007, an average of 12.5 cases per year, with territorial referrals representing one-third of the cases.
  • Most Hia cases were observed in Winnipeg, Edmonton and Montréal hospitals, which serve as referral centres for Canada's territories.
  • InventVacc Biologics Inc. and its parent company Inventprise specialize in developing and manufacturing vaccines for unmet needs. The president of the firm, Dr. Subhash Kapre, led the development of the MenAfrivac vaccine to prevent Meningococcal A epidemics in Africa.i

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Reaching For The Sky

"It's [a] blast, man! [To air traffic controller] I played video games before so, you know, I know what I'm doing a little bit."
"Man, I'm sorry about this. I hope this doesn't ruin your day. I'm glad you're not, you know, screwing up everyone else's day [by re-directing air traffic to steer planes away from the flight of the plane absconded with] on account of me."
"I got a lot of people that care about me and it's going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them. Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now."
"[I'm a ground service agent] That means I lift a lot of bags. Like, a lot of bags. So many bags."
"[But] it [his job] allows me to do some pretty cool things, too. I get to visit those [geographic places like Alaska, France, Ireland, Mexico] I love the most."
Richard B. Russell, Horizon Air ground service agent
Richard B. Russell, 29, Horizon Air Industries ground service agent : still from video

"They don't necessarily use a key, so there's switches that they use to start the aircraft."
"So if the person has basic understanding -- from what I understand he was support personnel, ground personnel -- they probably do have at least a basic understanding on how to start the aircraft."
Debra Eckrote, chief, north-west regional office, National Transportation Safety Board

"Commercial aircraft are complex machines."
"I don't know how he [Richard Russell] achieved the experience he did."
Gary Beck, chief executive, Horizon Air Industries

"I want to share how incredibly sad all of us at Alaska [Airlines] are about this incident."
"Our heart is heavy for the family and friends of the person involved."
Brad Tilden, chief executive, Alaska Air Group/Horizon Air

"We are going to be thorough, which means taking the time needed to scour the area, delve into other background of the individual believed responsible, and review every aspect of this incident with all appropriate public and private partners."
Seattle FBI field office statement
'This is probably jail time for life,' airline worker says before crashing empty Alaska Airlines plane near Seattle
Planes sit on the tarmac at Sea-Tac International Airport on Friday as service was halted after an Alaska Airlines plane was stolen. (Bettina Hansen / Associated Press)

How well do we know ourselves? Here is a man who on impulse or inner compulsion acted on a wish he may have long harboured to fly a commercial plane. He had no formal training. He used video instructions and simulations to acquaint himself with some basic flying methodology. A huge leap to take from thinking about something of that nature to actively setting out to make it reality. It ended, in the words of Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor of the Seattle region as a "joy ride gone terribly wrong".

Richard Russell had the requisite security clearance for his job. He had worked for the airlines for three and a half years, and was paid an hourly wage pittance for his labour. He knew he was underpaid and resented that, but he liked his job and enjoyed the perquisites that came with it; travel opportunities that he valued despite being paid under the minimum wage limit of $15 an hour.  He worked "on the secure side" of the airport, and he was on shift duty Friday.

"Just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess. Never really knew it until now", he remarked casually to the air traffic controller he had been in conversation with and who was guiding him and other planes to avoid his flight path. Are most of us susceptible to sudden, inexplicable impulses to commit to doing things we know will end up badly? He was aware that what he had begun was illegal, a criminal act, a dangerous one and that he could be imprisoned for endangering himself and the public.

He was paid and trusted to handle luggage and cargo and to tow aircraft. But he decided to take a chance, perhaps confident he would survive flying a plane for the first time. He'd had no flying lessons, wasn't obviously capable of applying for a pilot license. But there he was, soaring above the Olympic Mountains after takeoff from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Passengers were stranded in the terminal, alternatively seated in planes parked on the tarmac, their flight delayed while the drama in the sky played out.

Richard Russell enjoyed an hour in the air, admiring the views below at sunset after his 7:30 p.m. takeoff. And he was, as he said, having a "blast". Onlookers from the ground took videos and they watched as he took the plane into deep dives, broad loops and a heart-stopping upside-down roll. This was nothing like working on the ground, loading, fueling, cleaning airplanes. A work colleague who had known him for decades as school chums described him as a regular church goer "so he doesn't really fit the bill of someone who would steal an airplane. Funniest person in the room. Nicest person in the room".

"I do remember him as a nice quiet young man", remarked Rick Christenson, an operational supervisor with Horizon, suggesting that the young married man might have learned to fly from "flight simulator games". About 48 kilometres from the airport the plane descended and crashed on Ketron Island, killing the nice young man.

The plane was a Bombardier Q400, like this Horizon Air plane shown in May 2017. Horizon Air is a sister carrier to Alaska Airlines.
The plane was a Bombardier Q400, like this Horizon Air plane shown in May 2017. Horizon Air is a sister carrier to Alaska Airlines

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Saturday, August 11, 2018

Cooling in a Warming World

"When we look in fact at the hot countries in the world, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, where about 2.8 billion people live, only about eight percent of the population owns an air-conditioner."
"Air-conditioners are only second to the entire industrial sector. Twenty-one percent of the total world electricity growth is coming from the need to meet the growth of air-conditioner electricity demand."
Fatih Birol, head, International Energy Agency

"If you look at cooling degree days for Chennai or Mumbai [India], these are places that have twice as many cooling degree days as the hottest city in the U.S., Miami."
"It's unbelievably hot -- there's nothing in the U.S. that compares in terms of heat to these cities in India."
Lucas Davis, director, Energy Institute, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley
dubai heat
Cityscape in Dubai as the temperature soars to 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit).
Anwar Mirza/REUTERS

In fact, without the advent of air conditioning available in the southern United States to cool down the enervating effects of continual heat, the corporate superiority, production of manufacturing and advance of business in the United States might never have taken place to make it the world's largest economy, a giant of technology, enterprise, production and innovation. Air conditioning is responsible for bringing modern industry to a level it might never have attained without its presence, a way around heat producing worker fatigue and inefficiency.

Fully 90 percent of American households can boast air-conditioning. It makes life tolerable in areas of extreme heat and humidity, it enables people to be productive. More than that, in many instances during catastrophic heat waves, access to air conditioning can play a critical role in keeping people with compromised immune systems, the elderly and the very young from collapse and death. Premature deaths on hot days was reduced by 75 percent since 1960 in the U.S. according to one study, by the introduction of home air-conditioning.
Air conditioning units line a street in Singapore. Photograph: Ed Wray/AP

Now the availability of air-cooling systems for domestic use is growing, and with that growth electrical systems are being increasingly overburdened. And not only do electrical grids become taxed often beyond their capacity, but a concomitant increase occurs in emissions leading to planet warming. According to the International Energy Agency, the worldwide proliferation of air-conditioners is predicted to rise to 5.6 billion units from its current 1.5 billion units, by mid-century.

Should this occur without any change in the method of cooling delivery, air-conditioners are set to use fully as much electricity as comparable to what giant China uses for all its activities at the present time. The generation of electricity powering air-conditioners leads to greenhouse gas emissions released by coal and natural gas plants. The collective air-conditioners of the future would double the generation of electricity by 2050, producing emissions contributing to global warming, thereby heightening the demand for air-conditioning; a predicable and cruel cycle.
air conditioning china
Air conditioning is growing rapidly in places like Wuhan, Hubei, China.

The countries making most use of air-conditioning are the United States and Japan, with China's use creeping up behind. Incomes in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East are rising and as they do, enabling greater numbers of people to install air-conditioners. Much of the growth now predicted to rise in air-conditioning use will come from India, China and Indonesia, a huge population-swath of the globe.

In lock-step with increased household wealth comes the popular use of appliances that makes life easier, more convenient and entertaining, like refrigerator and television acquisition. Neighbourhoods become warmer the more electrical appliances are used, their energy vented from home interiors to the outside. Air-conditioning works through venting hot air to the exterior. In some cities with full use of air-conditioning there are estimates that overnight temperatures can rise about one degree Celsius.
Air conditioners in Hong Kong
Air conditioners in Hong Kong

Over 700 people died, attributable to the heat wave that struck Chicago in 1995. The European heat wave of 2004 and the 2010 Russian heat wave were each responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people. Climate change, according to researchers, produced a deadlier effect with both the European and Russian heat waves. Cooling temperatures to enable people to withstand heat waves is seen as an imperative to improving the human condition exposed to the deadly effects of extremes of weather.

But some of the risks can be mitigated with better technology. Air conditioners in India today use twice the electricity as more efficient units to produce the same amount of cooling. Air-conditioners available in Japan and the European Union are 25 percent more efficient than units sold in the United States and China, so the obvious response should be for governments to officially set efficiency standards for the manufacture of air-conditioners. Some manufacturers have already proven adept at passing energy-efficiency standards, so why not all?

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