Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Sorry to disappoint you . . .

but I don't actually know everything. Here are a couple of issues that I kinda have an opinion about but maybe some readers have more info than I do.

Against fervent, bipartisan local opposition, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in Fall River, Massachusetts. While local resistance can still slow the project through environmental reviews, the energy bill now moving through Congress will give the FERC "exclusive authority" for making final siting decisions for LNG terminals. Those Republicans, such principled defenders of states' rights and crusaders against Big Government . . .

In case you didn't know, natural gas is a very important fuel for home heating in New England, and we have to import it, mostly from Venezuela, in tankers. In principle, the explosion of an LNG tank or tanker ship could be quite the interesting event, energetic enough to incinerate buildings for a third of a mile radius and seriously burn people a mile away. Then you would have secondary exploions -- vehicle gas tanks, natural gas in pipelines, etc. Bad scene. It is really imponderable, however, how likely this is. These tanks are heavily insulated and equipped with sophisticated fire suppression devices. Nobody has actually tried hitting one with a rocket propelled grenade, so we just have to take their word for it that it wouldn't work.

Okay. Obviously, it is very unlikely that you would find any community that actually wants this facility. But if New Englanders still want to heat their homes and turn on the lights, they're either going to have to let somebody get stuck with it, or they're going to have to come up with Plan B which nobody has even proposed. (And I have no idea what that might be, frankly. I heat my city apartment with wood but that is a possible solution for only a vanishingly small number of wackos.) The rationale for giving siting authority to an appointed federal commission is fairly compelling. Otherwise, it will never get done. So what do you think?

Then there's thimerosal in vaccines thing. That's a preservative containing mercury that some people, including Robert Kennedy Jr., are blaming for the recent rise in diagnoses of autism. The overwhelming consensus of scientific opinion is that this is as credible as creationism, or the flying saucer crash at Roswell. The apparent increase in autism is attributed largely to better diagnosis, and possibly factors unknown, but studies do not support a link to thimerosal.

Yet there is this substantial movement led by progressive environmentalists that says otherwise. I must say their claims seem to lack logical rigor. For example, the description of some symptoms of mercury poison sounds similar to the description of some symptoms of autism. However, the truth is that mercury poisoning syndrome is really nothing like autism. There are indications that people with autism may have metabolic abnormalities that affect the way in which their bodies eliminate mercury, but it does not follow that exposure to mercury causes autism -- just as the presence of aluminum in the neuro-fibrillary tangles characteristic of Alzheimer's disease does not indicate that ingestion of aluminum has anything to do with causing the disease. The amount of mercury in vaccines is far too small to cause observable poisoning. (There was a comparable scare in Europe about the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism, which has been thoroughly and irrefutably debunked, but it appears thimerosal was much less widely used in Europe.)

But you know, I haven't researched this issue personally. Maybe there's more to it. They scoffed at Prusiner, after all. Does anybody care to weigh in?

I may be scarce the next couple of days, don't expect to have access to your internets till Sunday. So I'll check back then.

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