Oil as an Unlimited Resource?

This may be world-changing.
A company named Changing World Technologies claims that it can produce oil and natural gas by recycling any carbon-based waste, with an energy efficiency of 85%, and scalable to almost any size. Almost any size. That means, in Samizdata’s words,

If you live in the middle of the Australian outback, you can chuck your shite and animal carcasses into the hopper on one end… and fill up the old diesel RV from the other fifteen minutes later.

Scalable energy production was the hope of the hydrogen fuel-cell crowd (myself included), but hydrogen distribution remained a difficult obstacle for practical use. In this case, the fuel would be mostly inert waste products already in abundant supply at almost every level of scale you can imagine. And the biggest benefit — energy indepence for not only the US but everyone — will almost pale in comparison to the long-term benefit of severly reducing our landfill and sewage levels as these materials are consumed in energy production. Politically, energy independence will allow us to deal honestly with the Arab kleptocracies, and will also reduce their one natural resource to a curiosity, a third- or fourth-option backup source. That will severely impact funding to terrorists as well.
If this technology is proven, it’s time to throw massive resources into licensing and producing these refineries. Let’s roll, people. (via QandO)
UPDATE: There is a fair amount of skepticism in Samizdata’s comments section; be sure to read through them. As one post says, “I hope this isn’t the 2003 version of Cold fusion.”

Off-label drug use growing

If you take prescription medication, you should read this entire article on “off-label” prescriptions:

A six-month Knight Ridder investigation has found that patients nationwide are being injured and killed as doctors routinely prescribe drugs in ways the FDA never certified as safe and effective.
Moreover, these unapproved prescriptions are soaring. In the past year, 115 million such prescriptions were written, nearly double the number of five years ago, a Knight Ridder analysis of prescriptions for the country’s top-selling drugs found.
The practice, called off-label prescribing, often is driven by questionable research, aggressive drug company marketing and cavalier doctors, and condoned by tepid regulators.

The story details the practice of giving medications for conditions not specifically targeted by the medicine, such as anti-depressants for premature ejaculation, even if no studies exist to validate such use. Doctors aren’t prepared for the possible damage these off-label prescriptions cause:

Victims of off-label prescribing whom Knight Ridder interviewed have suffered heart attacks and strokes, had permanent nerve damage or lost their eyesight. Most said they never were told the FDA hadn’t approved their treatments.
Based on the FDA’s own data, Knight Ridder estimates at least 8,000 people became seriously ill last year after taking some of the nation’s most popular drugs for off-label uses. The true number is likely to be many times higher.

The First Mate has several chronic health conditions and takes a number of medicines for these, but even when used as intended, certain medications can be harmful if taken for longer than designed. One example given is Reglan, which the First Mate just began using for diabetic gastroparesis:

In 2001, Glenna Baker, a loan officer from Burke, Va., came down with a debilitating stomach disorder that was suspected to be diabetic gastroparesis. She vomited repeatedly, prompting a specialist to prescribe Reglan. The FDA has approved the drug to be used for less than three months at a time, but studies have found that it’s frequently prescribed improperly and that long-term use exposes patients to unnecessary side effects.
One of the worst is tardive dyskinesia, a condition that causes relentless body tremors and facial tics. Baker, now 55, said she was never told about this, so when she moved into her fourth month on the drug she didn’t realize what was happening when she began to twitch every now and then. … Today, Baker is out of work; the tremors make holding a job impossible. She can sit only for short spells; her right leg constantly bounces, and she endlessly wrings her hands.

That opened my eyes, and we will discuss this treatment immediately with her physicians. How many people take Reglan without knowing these consequences? My advice to all is this: when prescribed any new medication, Google it immediately, or failing that, ask the pharmicist when you buy it about any potential consequences. Read the entire article; there are several other medications discussed in detail.
IMHO, the Pioneer Press outclasses its competition, the Star Tribune, by a country mile. I just wish they would design a better website in order for people to realize it.

Poor Eating Habits Start Early

It’s all about the carbs, I keep telling people. Who feeds pizza and hamburgers to two-year-olds as a regular diet anyway? It’s a brief story, so I won’t excerpt it here, but it just shows that American health problems are ingrained at an early age. If we could put off the crapola until at least school age, we’d have healtheir kids and less disease later in life.

… and Names Can Hurt Me Too

Forget the wisdom inherent in simple children’s rhymes — it appears that hurt feelings cause the same brain reaction as physical injury:

Using magnetic resonance imaging, Eisenberger and associates in Australia studied brain activity in 13 volunteers as they played a video game designed to mimic social rejection. The game involved throwing a ball back and forth. Volunteers thought they were playing with two other people.
After a period of nice three-way play, the game forced the volunteers to sit on the sidelines. The other two “players,” both controlled by the computer, began to throw the ball between themselves.
The social snub triggered nerve activity in a part of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which also processes physical pain.

This discovery has implications for social science, psychology, and education.

The physical distress from social rejection also may help explain violent outbursts among socially isolated individuals, Eisenberger said. Pain is a proven cause of violence in animals, she added.

It’s an interesting article; I found the test method a bit odd. I wonder what they told the volunteers prior to the testing. It also sheds some light on how our politics has become so polarized over the past three decades, or maybe better yet, since Vietnam. Prior to that, name-calling was limited to fringe elements in local elections (including Congressional races). While the public debate may have been heated, the tenor was serious and deferential, a legacy of which is the custom in Congress of referring to others as “my esteemed colleague”, and so on. As I’ve said before, we need to insist on intelligent and mature dialogue in order to repair our national discourse, because if this report is true, we are on a slippery slope indeed.

Longer Ambulance Ride Could Save Lives

If you are at risk of a heart attack, make sure you read this article — and then make sure you know which of your local hospitals perform primary angioplasties.

[H]eart attack treatment has undergone a quiet revolution, one that ambulance services and small hospitals have largely ignored. Many heart specialists now agree that the clot-dissolving drugs are passe, or should be, and large hospitals have generally stopped using them. Instead, the best treatment is an emergency procedure called a primary angioplasty.
Even more reliably than clot drugs, it can stop a heart attack cold if done within the first two or three hours. But it is available only at major hospitals with top-tier cardiac centers.
So the little community hospital is no longer the ideal place to treat a heart attack, especially if it occurs within driving distance of an angioplasty center, as the vast majority do.
Nevertheless, specialists estimate that only about a third of heart attacks in the United States are treated with primary angioplasty. Most end up at hospitals that can’t do them, and they aren’t transferred to places that can.

Make sure you read the whole thing, and make sure your family members read it too.