3 Scariest Illnesses With The Potential To Become Pandemic; Antibiotic-Resistant Superbugs, Chagas A Growing Threat

By Susan Scutti | Mar 4, 2014 07:00 AM EDT Medical Daily

Simply the thought of disease is frightening. For those with a deep imagination, a whole assortment of ugly pictures will appear before the mind’s eye. What makes one illness more frightening than another? The number of people it affects? The way it is transmitted? Or the effects it has on a person’s body? All must be paid their due, though this list pays particular attention to the number of fatalities, relatively healthy people affected, and, in some cases, the possibility of the illness growing into a pandemic.

  1. The Flu
    Old-fashioned flu, what’s scary about that? Basically everything. A new strain of flu may appear at any time, and the path it cuts as it circles the globe may be deadly. When considering numbers of people and easy transmission, experts believe, according to an article in The New York Times, the next global pandemic is likely to be caused by a virus that can mutate especially quickly or one that can recombine elements of its genetic material while replicating. In other words, it will be a highly adaptable, easily evolving organism, one able to thrive under unfamiliar conditions in which it resides, including the human body, its host. Although various diseases may meet this criteria, seasonal flu should be considered first.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can be mild or severe though at times may lead to death. It is caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Viruses — the word comes from the Latin word for “toxin” — are parasitic in that they are only able to replicate inside the living cells of another organism; having infected a healthy cell, the virus takes over its function and reproduces more of itself within the host body. As a viral infection, the flu can either be prevented by a vaccination or be treated with an antiviral drug. Flu is said to become pandemic when it is spread across a large geographical area, often worldwide. Compared to an epidemic, which is specific to a region or even a city, a pandemic infects many more people.



A school’s experiment: Cutting out the classroom

By Dana Sand, Special to CNN updated 10:30 AM EST, Mon March 3, 2014

CNN) — It was just after lunchtime, and 17 kindergartners huddled around a table marked with paint. Teacher Lindy Shoemaker held a vase covered in small objects: an “I <3 Tennis” keychain, a LEGO flag and other goodies the students brought from home.

It might seem like any art class, but the students’ piece was inspired by the work of folk artist Howard Finster. The children knew about his colorful, eclectic art because they’d seen them up close that day at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

This, their teachers said, is the kind of learning that happens only when schools cut out the classroom and take learning on the road.
In late February, students from the independent, private Galloway School in Atlanta spent the entire school day inside the museum. It was closed to the public but wide open to Galloway’s 750 students, ages 3 to 18, for a day of “school without walls.”

This was no ordinary field trip, school leaders said. A museum visit typically means a bus ride, a few hours for students to observe the same exhibit, and a lot of reminders to stay quiet and not touch anything.
On this day, hundred
s of students, teachers and staff members flooded the museum, wearing white T-shirts with red logos that read “HIGH Energy.” Movement and noise filled the wings as teachers and students explored lessons in art, music, history, geometry, physics — all of them designed by teachers in collaboration with the museum’s education department.
The experience pushed the boundaries of the usual field trip, Galloway Head of School Suzanna Jemsby said, even in an era when many schools are cutting trips entirely.
The school was “rethinking about it as a carnival of learning,” Jemsby said. “There will be chaos, and that belongs to experiential learning, and that is what we’re looking for. We’re looking for a hubbub of activity and student inquiry.”

Teaching from reality



How to debate climate change deniers (without scaring them off)


This article originally appeared in Full Stop.
Full Stop If you want to see an expression of pure despair, ask a college freshman to parse Rachel Carson’s rhetorical choices at 8:00 in the morning. That’s what I’m doing this semester for a composition class I’m teaching at the University of Virginia. The course is called “Representing Climate Change,” and our collective goal is to discover and deploy effective methods of talking and writing about our looming environmental crisis. The task is daunting. Climate change is at once really easy and really hard to write about. It’s easy because there is so much to say, and hard because progress toward a solution is so slow.

But what do I know about the fossil fuel industry? I study literature. I am not a scientist. My specialties are agrarian novels and Modernist aesthetics, not cloud formation or sea ice. When making arguments, I have to trust the vast majority of scientists who agree that humans are changing the climate, that the changes will have huge and unpleasant effects, and that we should really get our act together and fix the problem. The scientists’ job is to perform and publish the research that supports these claims. My job — and my students’ job — starts where peer review ends: we need to make scientific evidence digestible and believable to a general audience. Since solving climate change requires mass engagement, how we talk about the problem matters as much as the science that confirms its urgency.

Few scientists are interested in this public communication project, with notable exceptions. Climatologist Michael Mann, author of the famous “hockey stick” climate model, recently penned an op-ed about the importance of speaking out as a scientist. Peter Kareiva, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, has been calling for a “new environmentalism” with a more positive, collaborative tone. And James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute, has long been outspoken about the climate crisis. He threw the Keystone XL controversy into the national spotlight by calling the proposed pipeline “game over for the planet.”



Can we protect ourselves from online privacy threats?

OMAR EL AKKAD The Globe and Mail Published Sunday, Mar. 02 2014, 11:14 PM EST

This is part of Life After Privacy, a four-part series on the risks, challenges and opportunities for citizens and consumers posed by a world where your private information is widely available to governments and corporations. Read part one on Big Data and part two on spy agencies.

The Debate
Are hackers, long considered a threat, now the best defence we’ve got?

For years, since the emergence of Wikileaks as a media sensation, we’ve been aware of a group of digital activists who have warned us, often in apocalyptic language, about the scope and scale of digital surveillance — and we’ve largely dismissed them. But in the wake of Edward Snowden’s whistleblowing on spy agencies that are prepared to monitor and collect our personal information, we’re finding out that those activist were, in many cases, accurate in their warnings.

So who are these people, and now that we know they’re more than just a bunch of conspiracy theorists, do we have a responsibility to listen to and act on their warnings? How did we get to a state where, even as this new generation of “hacktivisits” is making all kinds of noise about digital privacy and data security, data breaches and leaks continue to be a near-daily occurrence? Do we want to protect ourselves and our governments from the hackers, or do the hackers have something important to teach us?



Scientists More Certain Than Ever on Climate Change, Report Says

BY JOHN ROACH NBC News 2/27/2014

perts are more certain than ever that human activity is changing the global climate, even though they don’t fully understand every detail of the climate system, according to a new report released Wednesday by two of the world’s leading scientific bodies.

The document from the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the United Kingdom’s Royal Society aims to move the climate change debate beyond humans’ role in global warming to a discussion of how to limit the impacts on society.

“Climate change is happening. We see it in temperature, we see it in the melting ice, and we see it in sea-level rise,” Inez Fung, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California at Berkeley and a co-lead author of the report, told NBC News. The changes are due to rising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide with a chemical signature from the burning of fossil fuels, she added.

The report, “Climate Change: Evidence and Causes,” is written in simple language and filled with pictures and graphs to illustrate why scientists are certain human activity is causing the climate to change.

Clear evidence and uncertainty

Concentrations of carbon dioxide, the document notes, increased by 40 percent between 1880 and 2012 and are now higher than at any time in at least 800,000 years. As a result, global temperatures are 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than in 1900, Arctic sea ice is shrinking, sea levels are 8 inches higher, ocean acidity is on the rise, and the geographical ranges of many plants and animals are shifting.

“The evidence is clear,” reads the report. “However, due to the nature of science, not every single detail is ever totally settled or completely certain. Nor has every pertinent question yet been answered.”



Editorial: Education reform big, bold, together

Published: 27 February 2014 08:56 PM Dallas Morning News

Free community college.

That was a big idea laid down by the governor of Tennessee recently, and for the right reasons. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, leads a state with a mediocre college-going rate. Improving those numbers would upgrade that state’s workforce and, therefore, its economy. Tennessee’s proposal is a dramatic gesture intended to spur action.
Texas has similar challenges that require dramatic measures. Despite steady gains in producing college graduates, we still occupy low and middling rungs nationally on educational attainment. The competition is stiff out there.

Here’s a sobering statistic: Of every 100 Texas eighth-graders from 2002 — those who recently entered the workforce — only 19 earned any kind of college degree or certificate. And here’s perspective: The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board says that two-thirds of U.S. jobs by 2020 will require some kind of postsecondary education.
The Texas trajectory does not befit a growth state that wants to remain a career destination.
The good news is that education and business leaders are now coalescing in new ways, trying to align student preparation better with the job market. It means breaking down the silos. That theme emerged in a sweeping public-education-reform bill adopted in Austin last year; the law now requires closer coordination among public schools, colleges and universities, and the Texas Workforce Commission.

Just this week at Texas Instruments’ corporate headquarters in Dallas, a high-octane get-together illustrated the sense of urgency. Education commissioner Michael Williams, higher-education commissioner Raymund Paredes and Workforce Commission chairman Andres Alcantar met with a broad range of North Texas business and higher-education leaders. Private industry’s message was clear: Good jobs are out there, and many require solid math and critical-thinking skills.



Common Core Curriculum Now Has Critics on the Left

By AL BAKERFEB. 16, 2014 NYTimes

The Common Core has been applauded by education leaders and promoted by the Obama administration as a way to replace a hodgepodge of state standards with one set of rigorous learning goals. Though 45 states and the District of Columbia have signed on to them since 2010, resistance came quickly, mostly from right-leaning states, where some leaders and political action groups have protested what they see as a federal takeover of local classrooms.

But the newest chorus of complaints is coming from one of the most liberal states, and one of the earliest champions of the standards: New York. And that is causing supporters of the Common Core to shudder.

Carol Burris, an acclaimed high school principal on Long Island, calls the Common Core a “disaster.”

“We see kids,” she said, “they don’t want to go to school anymore.”

Leaders of both parties in the New York Legislature want to rethink how the state uses the Common Core.

The statewide teachers’ union withdrew its support for the standards last month until “major course corrections” took place.

“There are days I think, ‘Oh my God, we have to slow this thing down, there are so many problems,’ ” said Catherine T. Nolan, a Queens Democrat who is chairwoman of the State Assembly Education Committee.

The objections in New York have become so loud, and have come from such a wide political spectrum, that even the governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has become a critic. Governor Cuomo has called the state’s execution of the standards “flawed” and appointed a panel to recommend changes.



Science Linking Drought to Global Warming Remains Matter of Dispute


In delivering aid to drought-stricken California last week, President Obama and his aides cited the state as an example of what could be in store for much of the rest of the country as human-caused climate change intensifies.

But in doing so, they were pushing at the boundaries of scientific knowledge about the relationship between climate change and drought. While a trend of increasing drought that may be linked to global warming has been documented in some regions, including parts of the Mediterranean and in the Southwestern United States, there is no scientific consensus yet that it is a worldwide phenomenon. Nor is there definitive evidence that it is causing California’s problems.

In fact, the most recent computer projections suggest that as the world warms, California should get wetter, not drier, in the winter, when the state gets the bulk of its precipitation. That has prompted some of the leading experts to suggest that climate change most likely had little role in causing the drought.

“I’m pretty sure the severity of this thing is due to natural variability,” said Richard Seager, a climate scientist who studies water issues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University.

To be sure, 2013 was the driest year in 119 years of record keeping in California. But extreme droughts have happened in the state before, and the experts say this one bears a notable resemblance to some of those, including a crippling drought in 1976 and 1977.



Magnet Schools Find a Renewed Embrace in Cities

By MOTOKO RICHFEB. 16, 2014 NYTimes

MIAMI — Nearly five decades ago, as racial tension raged in cities, magnet schools were introduced here and elsewhere as an alternative to court-ordered busing in the hope that specialized theme schools would slow white flight and offer options to racial minorities zoned for low-performing schools.

Magnet schools never quite delivered on that desegregation promise, and in the past couple of decades they have largely fallen off the radar. But in this multiracial city — and, increasingly, in other urban districts including Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Newark and Washington — public school leaders are refocusing on the idea as traditional public schools come under increasing pressure from charter schools and vouchers for private schools.


Kimberly Celifarco with one of her kindergarten students, Gerson Perez, 5, at Public School 253 in Brooklyn.Common Core Curriculum Now Has Critics on the LeftFEB. 16, 2014
The number of children in Miami-Dade County attending magnet programs — which admit students from anywhere in the district and focus on themes like art, law or technology — has grown by 35 percent in the past four years. These children now account for about one in six students in the district.

The pattern is similar across the country. There are now about 2.8 million students attending magnet schools — more than the nearly 2.6 million enrolled in charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated.

Magnets have “become kind of a go-to alternative as a way to incorporate some of the popular elements of choice while keeping the choice constrained more explicitly within the traditional district,” said Jeffrey R. Henig, a professor of political science and education at Columbia University. “It’s a recognition on the part of districts that at least some of the enthusiasm and popularity of charters is a resistance to the notion of a one-size-fits-all school.”



Bullet Points: Inside the 2014 Student Loan Borrowers’ Bill of Rights Act

Published: February 16th 2014, 12:20pm Tess VandenDolder InTheCapital

In the summer of 2013 the debate over the high level of student loans in this country reached a crescendo. In the absence of a bipartisan solution, rates for federal student loans doubled. A month later, thanks to media pressure, Congress was able to pass legislation reducing them slightly, but still devoid of any lasting legislative solution. Now, a new bill hopes to give some relief to millions of young Americans struggling under the weight of student debt.

The Student Loan Borrower’s Bill of Rights Act, introduced by the Democratic Representative Frederica Wilson of Florida is the first step. The legislation would restore bankruptcy protections for students carrying both federal and private loans, and would limit the collection time to six years. The would also prevent student loan debt from being used to hurt a young person’s credit score and financial future.

“The soaring cost of college is not only hurting students and their families; it is hurting consumer demand and, in turn, hurting our economic recovery,” Wilson said in an interview with TakePart. “I’m introducing student loan reform now because I think it can improve lives, boost Americans’ purchasing power, and help promote job creation.”

[Related: A Complete Report on the Student Loan Crisis: What it is, How it Hurts, and What Comes Next]

Currently, there is over $1 trillion of student loan debt in America, with the average young person carrying an average of nearly $29,000 in student debt personally. While crippling for the young people who simply want to be able to afford a college education, student loans are actually a big windfall for the federal government. In 2013 the Department of Education made $41.3 billion from student loan interest rates.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is another ally in the fight against student loan debt. This year she has also drafted legislation that would pressure colleges to keep costs down, and force colleges that didn’t meet certain standards, such as timely graduation rates, to refund part of a student’s loan.