Saturday, May 11, 2013

Mail Call Brane: Readers Seeking Answers

Just curious as to the latest on Colorado’s MJ laws, and Implementing them.- Allan, Montreal, Quebec

A. The latest news is that on Wednesday the Colorado legislature made history, becoming the first in the nation to pass laws regulating recreational marijuana use. This now makes 4 major bills passed this year on marijuana legalization, and now the legislature awaits Gov. Hickenlooper to sign them. If he does sign them, and as a Dem Governor presiding over a D-legislature he ought to, then we will see the following (Denver Post, Thurs. May 9, p. 1A):

1-Marijuana will be sold in specially licensed stores that can also sell pot-related items such as pipes. However, only Colorado residents can own and invest in the stores, and only current medical marijuana dispensary owners can apply to open recreational pot shops for the first nine months. The first stores will open on Jan, 1, 2014.

2- Colorado residents will be able to buy up to an ounce of marijuana, the maximum legal amount for non-medical needs. Out of staters will be able to purchase only a quarter ounce at a time. The pot must also be sold in child-resistant packages, with labels that specify potency.

3- Voters will have the option of imposing heavy taxes on pot sales. A ballot measure set for November will ask voters to approve a 15 % excise tax and an additional 10 percent sales tax on marijuana. The excise tax will fund school construction while the sales tax will fund MJ regulation. Hickenlooper has already advised voters to pass the bills, and one wonders given his past MJ opposition, whether he will postpone signing the passed bills until November. And also, if the tax ballots don’t pass, then vetoing the four already passed MJ bills. I wouldn’t put this past a guy that once drank fracked water and claimed it was fine.

4- Incorporated marijuana collectives will be banned, so will MJ coffee shops, MJ-smoking in bars and gov’t run MJ stores. Though Colo. will have the most liberal MJ laws in the country – it will have the most restrictive laws in the country for MJ-themed magazines. These, like pornography, will have to be kept under the counter. (Publications such as 'High Times' have vowed to sue.)

5-Colorado drivers for the first time will be subject to a “stoned driving limit” (which is still being worked out). Juries will be allowed to presume that anyone testing above the limit was too high to drive.

Q. Were you aware that Sally Jewel, President Barack Obama's newest appointed Secretary of the Interior, is a pro-fracking hireling? Having read your blogs on fracking I wonder what you make of this appointment?
- Cheryl T., Wauwatosa, Wisc.

A. Okay, what Jewell actually said is: “ We must develop our domestic energy resources armed with the best available science, and this unbiased, objective information will help private, nonprofit and government decision makers at all levels make informed decisions about the responsible development of these resources. “ And yes, a number of right wing papers (i.e. The Washington Examiner) have taken this to be a strong endorsement of fracking. But as the Examiner puts it:

"Jewell was referring to hydraulic fracturing, or 'fracking, ' the process by which a pressurized mixture of (mostly) water and chemicals is injected into shale rock formations deep underground. The process provides access to natural gas deposits that would otherwise be impossible to reach. The technology has been in use for 60 years in Texas and Oklahoma, but its phenomenally successful use more recently in Pennsylvania to develop the Marcellus Shale and in North Dakota to develop the Bakken formation has sparked an energy revolution in this country.  Environmentalists oppose fracking, claiming it threatens groundwater even though the evidence for this claim is all but nonexistent.”

Of course, assuming this is so, then it would be an unmitigated disaster. Anyone who has read my prior blogs on fracking would see why, e.g.

The facts are substantial so that appeal to scientific basis must mean not going forward with fracking and applying the precautionary principle: the frackers must prove their methods aren’t harmful to ground water supplies, not the converse- that potential victims must prove the harm. Already there have been more than 1,000 documented cases of water contamination while methane leaks associated with hydraulic fracturing have caused houses and wells to explode.  Moreover, fracking doesn’t just contaminate water but air as well. Residents in Dish, TX have repeatedly complained of illness since frackers arrived. Air quality tests have revealed high levels of benzene in the air.

The notion of natural gas as “clean energy” is also a myth. While it emits half as much carbon as coal and 70% as much as oil, it still imposes a carbon burden. In addition, it emits large quantities of methane gas which is 30 times more potent than CO2.  These figures, though smaller than the coal and oil carbon burdens ought not be ignored given that we have now hit 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere, a threshold not reached for nearly 3 million years (Denver Post, today, p. 1B). What the new threshold means is that we have far less margin for error. Do we really want to conduct an aberrant experiment to turn our planet into another Venus, with a runaway Greenhouse effect - making it uninhabitable for future generations?

The production of this fuel also isn’t “clean” as it damages water, air and infrastructure. It is, in reality, no different from fouling our own nest to get a temporary solution to an energy problem –which is really spawned by too high a global population and too concentrated energy use.

Here are 5 other facts on fracking that ought to cause alarm and get the attention of our politicos who are too often hostage to special (read 'monied') interests:

1- Fracking a single well requires more than a million gallons of water. Here in COS, a number of wells have consumed over 3 million gallons, and many have come up empty. This insanity is occurring in an arid region in which we’ve had severe drought the past three years. The wastewater produced by fracking also contains high levels of radioactivity that wastewater treatment plants aren’t equipped to deal with.

2- Dangerous fracking chemicals are kept secret. In many states, the drilling companies won’t disclose the chemicals used in the fracking fluid, claiming the mixture is a “trade secret”. But independent analysts have identified 41 known chemicals most highly toxic carcinogens.

3- There exists a “Halliburton Loophole” with respect to most laws and oversight applied to fracking. This means the effluent generate by the frackers as well as their shale driller cohorts is exempt the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act So, E coli, is controlled in your water but it’s A-ok if carcinogenic benzene piles up.  Pardon me, but this selective regulation shows the paws of big, I mean BIG, lobby money!

4- The number of fracking wells is now growing at an exponential rate, in 28 states.

5- Turning on your tap (see image in previous links) liberates water accompanied by methane which can catch fire.

Fracking is unacceptable as an energy extraction process, since it imposes severe long term health costs to extract a temporary energy fix.

Q. In your April 13 blog on Bird Flu you mentioned the reported mortality rate of highly pathogenic H5N1 avian influenza and that “studies of the levels of cytokines in humans infected by the H5N1 flu virus show elevated levels of tumor necrosis factor-alpha a protein associated with tissue destruction at sites of infection and increased production of other cytokines” What does this mean for getting sick? How sick can you get? - Delores, Bellingham, WA

A. Pretty damned sick! So sick in fact, that even if you don't die you will likely want to. The tumor necrosis factor-alpha a protein is implicated in severe inflammation and also potential degeneration of organs affected, including kidneys and lungs. Similar effects were reported during the Spanish Flu pandemic but of course the micro-biological, genetic marker tie- ins weren’t then available. However, doctors who performed the autopsies of some patients reported lungs turned to jelly as well as other organs. Basically, with the cytokine storm and tumor necrosis factor-alpha a protein, your whole body is sent into a death spiral of organ shutdown, shock,coma from immune system over-stimulation.

The closest I came to this was in December, 1968 when I got the Hong Kong Flu. I vomited for days, could barely breathe as I coughed up bloody mucus with each spasm, and felt like I had burst at least one lung. It was a god-awful experience I never want to repeat, and that flu barely killed 1 m around the world. The H5N1 will likely be 100 to 500 times more lethal and brutal.  I took more than 2 months to recuperate.

Q. I got a kick out of your brother Mike’s comments in your April 21 blog on the biblical exegesis test. He claimed that “the Jesuits themselves are the “storm troopers” of the RCC, and their purpose is propagation of the RC faith by any means possible? (i.e., SATAN!)”

What is he some kind of a crackpot? I couldn’t believe this guy couldn’t take the bible test or even answer one little question. And he claims to read the good book! It seems to me he’s got a lot of talk but little to show for it. I notice that since April 30 you have totally ignored him. Is this intentional? Alice K, Joliet, IL

It is. I think I mentioned in my blog on Colorado MJ issues and Mike's onerous errors (‘Reefer Madness Redux’, April 30) that since it's useless to try to argue or debate him (since he’s totally ignorant of the basic parameters that apply to the content of any worthwhile argument) . there'd be no further exchanges. At least not until he could pass a basic test in logic, for which I provided a link at the end of the blog.

Up to now, he’s not taken the test - which indicates to me he has no logic to demonstrate, nor is he the least interested in using logic in his arguments. This being the case, he's all about making noise and nothing more.

Therefore,  it’s a waste of time to engage him on any issue. He can believe whatever he wants to believe, but I don't have to give any heed to what I regard as noise.  If then he chooses to come to this blog (which he probably does to dredge for new material since he can’t think of any on his own) that’s his choice. As far as I am concerned his blog exists only as background noise in the blogosphere. It merits no more attention than noise, and certainly not being considered as any signal.  And if it is noise, then none of his harangues or "issues"  merit being dignified by any response.

Q. My husband of 44 just had his lab test come back and his PSA has tripled in 2 yrs. from 1.8 to 5.5.  I have pleaded with him to get a biopsy but he's terrified of sepsis as he read that this occurs in any cases with these biopsies. He also fears, after reading your own blog of July 19 last year (Notes on a prostate biopsy) having a young female physician assistant doing the procedure and not the actual urologist. He also fears the type of pain you described. Is there any way to get him to change? I fear he might have an aggressive cancer that might kill him!- Genevieve R.,  Los Angeles, CA

A. Your husband is actually quite right to be concerned, as the incidence of deaths, infections (including from sepsis, or massive blood poisoning via infection) have risen sharply, see e.g.

As the article notes:

"....the research team found that having a prostate biopsy resulted in men being more than twice as likely to need hospitalization in the immediate post-procedure period. And once hospitalized, the men were at an increased risk of serious complications including bleeding and infection, flare-ups of underlying medical conditions (such as heart failure or breathing disorders) and death.

The researchers emphasized in their paper that their new data should remind doctors to carefully consider the risks and benefits of biopsy for individual patients before performing biopsies to look for cancer in the prostate"

See also:

So what to do?  The best advice is to discuss the problem with one's personal physician, and this includes a cost -benefits assessment. In my case, the biopsy was done after PSA doubling, and then after the free PSA test, which also yielded a high probability of cancer. (The free PSA may actually be the most sensible next step. It measures the concentration of free prostate specific antigen, i.e. in the blood, relative to the bound form. The result comes back as a percentage. If it is 25% or higher then the chances are more than 90% the problem is enlargement of the prostate, not cancer. If the result is 5% or less, then the odds switch in the other direction: 77% that it's cancer and not benign hypertrophy.)

My biopsy, done after the free PSA,  then found an aggressive adenocarcinoma in two cores (Gleason socre 4+3) , and cancer present in five (lowest score Gleason 3+3). I was told by the urologist that watchful waiting could not be an option, so elected to have high dose radiotherapy. 

The infection risk from prostate biopsies can be contained with scrupulous cleanliness, and that means a thorough enema before hand. Also, the biopsy patient  takes a ciproflaxin  pill just before. Another alternative is to have the biopsy performed via the trans-perineal route (through the perineum) which carries vastly less risk of infection because the rectum wall isn't being penetrated by the tissue extracting needles. The problem is that this trans-perineal procedure is usually more costly, since in general the patient has to be put under (general anesthesia) and more staff are needed to be present.

Re: the physician assistant, I don't think the sex ought to matter - but whether the person is competent. A good way to find out is to become a temporary member of 'Angie's List' and then look up urologists and see what the reviews say.  The fact is that more and more physician assistants are now doing these procedures, and if they have the proper training - which most do - then the expertise should not be an issue.

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