Opinion L.A.

Observations and provocations
from The Times' Opinion staff

Category: Public Health

Cheap coal? Tell that to the dead miners' families

President Obama in Oklahoma
The Obama administration announced new EPA rules Tuesday that sharply limit the output of carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.

And not surprisingly, the mining industry objected.

"Requiring coal-based power plants to meet an emissions standard based on natural gas technology is a policy overtly calculated to destroy a significant portion of America's electricity supply," said Hal Quinn, chief executive of the National Mining Assn. "This proposal is the latest convoy in EPA's regulatory train wreck that is rolling across America, crushing jobs and arresting our economic recovery at every stop. It is not an 'all of the above' energy strategy." 

Of course, what Quinn doesn't want to talk about is what types of jobs the EPA rules are "crushing."

To get a better idea of that, you need to read another Times story Tuesday, one headlined "Report: Safety agency failed to enforce laws at deadly mine."

That story tells of the regulatory and safety lapses at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia, where an explosion in 2010 killed 29 coal miners and seriously injured two others.

It's a story of lax regulatory enforcement, of inspectors simply not doing their jobs, and of a mine operator that, as the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration said in a report on the deadly incident, engaged in  "systematic, intentional and aggressive efforts ... to avoid compliance with safety and health standards, and to thwart detection of that non-compliance by federal and state regulators."

How bad were conditions at the mine?  Bad enough that "Alpha Natural Resources, the company that acquired Massey Energy Co. after the explosion, reached a settlement late last year with the Department of Justice in which it agreed to pay a record $209 million in compensation and fines and federal prosecutors agreed not to pursue criminal charges against the company," according to The Times' story.

Even so, some former officials at the mine are under criminal indictment. 

Last month, prosecutors charged the then-superintendent of the mine with conspiring with others to block federal regulators from enforcing safety requirements -- a charge that suggests other individuals are likely targets of action as well.

Prosecutors allege that the former superintendent altered the mine’s ventilation system while an inspector was taking an air sample and ordered that a monitor be rewired so that mining could continue despite elevated levels of methane.

What industry spokesman Quinn also didn't talk about is that EPA regulations would apply only to new power plants, and that, as The Times story said, "the proposed regulations further bolster a trend that the power industry began years ago, as more utilities replaced aging coal-fired plants with new natural gas plants. Very few new coal plants are now on the drawing boards."

Coal is a relatively cheap power source, but it's only really cheap if you ignore the costs in lost lives mining it and the health effects from burning it, not to mention the environmental costs from digging it up.

As The Times story concludes:

"[W]hat this essentially says is we will never be building dirty old coal plants ever again," said Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, one of the litigants in the lawsuit that led to the development of the new rules. "The dominant power source of the 19th and 20th centuries won’t be built the same again."

This isn't about "crushing" jobs.

This is about progress. And it's time to move on.

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-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: President Obama speaks about energy on March 22 at a TransCanada pipe yard near Cushing, Okla. Credit: Larry W. Smith / EPA

Big government won't build you a snore room, that's for sure

Del Webb home offers snore roomWhen it comes to domestic issues, Americans should trust the private sector.

That's a Republican Party mantra, and two stories in The Times this week have me convinced as well.

Now, I know you think one concerns gasoline prices. Really, though, who cares about that? Snore.

That's right: I'm talking about snoring.  As The Times' Lauren Beale reported:

A so-called snore room is the latest offering from Del Webb, which builds communities for people 55 and older.

Buyers whose marriages are plagued by a spouse who snorts, grunts and wheezes while he or she sleeps can opt for an adaptable bedroom plan marketed as the "owners retreat" at Sun City Shadow Hills in Indio. Designed for couples who start out in the same bed but end up apart because of ear-piercing snoring, insomnia or late-night TV viewing habits, this secondary bedroom is connected to the bathroom of the master bedroom.

See?  Big problem; private-sector solution. You leave that to government, and pretty soon you've got government-run snore insurance instead.

Still, even the private sector can stumble. For example, I'm a bit puzzled by Del Webb's logic:

"A nice enclave that shares the master bathroom provides a civilized alternative to the family room sofa," said Jacque Petroulakis, corporate communications spokeswoman for PulteGroup Inc., the parent company of Del Webb.

About a quarter of couples in the 55-and-older age group sleep apart to get a good night's rest, according to PulteGroup, which got the data from a third party but also conducted focus groups and interviews as it developed the bedroom plan.

Now first of all, the sofa isn't for snoring husbands; it's for misbehaving husbands, or came-home-late-drunk husbands -- which, come to think of it, is redundant. (It's never for wives, of course, who are too savvy to choose the sofa, regardless of their transgressions.)

Second, if you're 55 or older and still married to someone who snores, isn't it a bit late to be dealing with the problem? Seems to me the snore room should be marketed at 30-year-olds, who need all the help they can get keeping their marriages together.

But, staying true to the private sector's can-do spirit, in addition to the snore room, Del Webb is offering other conveniences:

Among other new life-easing features the builder is offering are pass-throughs from the closet to the laundry room. A door large enough to push a hamper through connects the two spaces.

Which brings me to my second domestic issue story of the week: widespread thievery of Tide detergent.

The Times Dalina Castellanos reported:

Thieves seem to be embarking on an anti-grime spree, some media outlets are reporting, saying thousands of dollars in Tide detergent is being swiped from shelves across the country.

One Minnesota man stole about $25,000 worth of the liquid laundry detergent from a West St. Paul Wal-Mart over 15 months, authorities there say.

And who's to blame for this crime wave?  Sadly, dear liberals, it appears that Rush and Sean and Glenn are right: It's the government -- or, in this case, at least one peson who apparently has fallen prey to the liberal-nanny-state mentality.  

Lt. Matt Swenke of the West St. Paul Police Department said in an interview with The Times that Patrick Costanzo, 53, was the suspect in the Minnesota thefts.

"He told [police] he didn't have a job and the state didn't help him in any way so he did what he had to do to get by," Swenke said.

Yes, it's true, liberals: You do a man's laundry, he's clean for a day. You teach him to do his own laundry, and he won't steal Tide.

Which doesn't make a lot of sense, I'll admit. But then again, my wife keeps me awake a night -- either snoring or doing the laundry.

Speaking of which:  Why do we have so much Tide?

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Red meat will kill you? Stick a fork in me, I'm done!

Sherwood Rowland, the scientist who saved the world 

Poll: What does Newt Gingrich need to do to stay in the race?

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: A so-called snore room is the latest offering from Del Webb, which builds communities for people 55 and older. Credit: Handout

Singing the blues about red meat

Red Meat counter
It might be smart to take the new data against red meat -- a study links the consumption of even a small portion daily to a higher risk of dying -- with a grain of (possibly blood-pressure-raising) salt. Not that red meat should get a pass: Overconsumption has been tied, over and over again, to poor health outcomes. And the fact that your grandfather ate 12 ounces every day until his 102nd birthday is no argument against the study; lots of people who smoke cigarettes live to a ripe old age. But there is no getting around the number of people who would live to much riper ages if they abstained from tobacco.

Still, this study was correlational, meaning that we know red meat is tied statistically to higher death rates within the time range of the Harvard study. If that's even so: The study didn't examine what people ate; it asked them what they ate. The question is, did the red meat cause the deaths? Was it all of the reason for the deaths, most of it, a small part of it, or perhaps an indicator of other factors? And is it the meat itself, or perhaps substances used in the raising of cattle or in cooking? Processed meat was linked to still-higher death rates.

Maybe people who avoid red meat are more likely to live healthier altogether. Considering the warnings over the years about beef, that's entirely possible. People who heed health warnings might be more likely  to eat vegetables, exercise regularly, meditate occasionally, fasten their seatbelts and, of course, not smoke, since cigarettes are still the No. 1 cause of premature death.

That would help explain the seemingly nonsensical finding that people who partake of red meat only occasionally and sparingly are less likely to die of any cause -- not just heart attack, diabetes or other ailments associated with poor diet but, say, in accidents. The only way a hamburger is more likely to cause a fatal accident is if it's being held in one hand by a driver.

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Red meat will kill you? Stick a fork in me, I'm done!

--Karin Klein

Photo: Red meat. Credit: Dave Thomson / AP Photo

Red meat will kill you? Stick a fork in me, I'm done!

Red meat is linked to premature death
You can have my steak when you pry it from my cold, dead fingers.

I hate to be politically incorrect, but that's my, well, gut reaction to a study released Monday that says eating any amount of red meat increases one's risk of premature death.

Now mind you, it's not that I don't believe the study. Its lead author is a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and only really smart people get into Harvard. And it's not as though the researchers weren't thorough: They looked at the eating habits and the health of more than 110,000 adults for more than 20 years. Which, on a scale of boring tasks, certainly tops the homework in the geology class that I took in college.

But first I read this -- "adding just one 3-ounce serving of unprocessed red meat ... to one's daily diet was associated with a 13% greater chance of dying during the course of the study" -- and I think, wow, I'm pretty sure that just two bites of that T-bone I had last month were more than 3 ounces.

Then I read this -- "Even worse, adding an extra daily serving of processed red meat, such as a hot dog or two slices of bacon, was linked to a 20% higher risk of death during the study" -- and I think, that probably means the bacon-wrapped hot dogs I had for lunch last week should've killed me by now. (To give me some credit, I skipped the onions and the fries; perhaps that's why I'm still walking around.)

Also, this part moves me not at all: "Eating a serving of nuts instead of beef or pork was associated with a 19% lower risk of dying during the study. The team said choosing poultry or whole grains as a substitute was linked with a 14% reduction in mortality risk; low-fat dairy or legumes, 10%; and fish, 7%."

Well, I had peanuts on Saturday afternoon. It didn't make me glad it wasn't steak; it made me think of being on an airliner. Then I had sushi on Saturday night. It made me think of fishing.

But here's the part of the study that has me really puzzled:

The Harvard researchers hypothesized that eating red meat would also be linked to an overall risk of death from any cause. ... And the results suggest they were right: Among the 37,698 men and 83,644 women who were tracked, as meat consumption increased, so did mortality risk.

Which means what, exactly? If I grill a nice New York strip on Sunday, that increases my chances of being hit by a bus on Monday?

Granted, I didn't go to Harvard, but that seems like a stretch. Or maybe it's just that all the red meat is killing my brain cells, in addition to clogging my arteries (and making me more likely to die in an airplane accident).

Probably a lot of people are going to have fun with this story. They may even ignore the more salient points, among them that at least cutting down on the consumption of red meat is good for your health and good for the planet.

But sorry, Harvard, my bottom line remains: As a red-blooded, red-meat-eating American, I just can't stomach a future that doesn't include a juicy rib-eye.

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Sherwood Rowland, the scientist who saved the world 

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo credit: William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

Sherwood Rowland, the scientist who saved the world

F. Sherwood Rowland
It's not often you can say that someone saved the world -- and mean it literally.

But that's the case with F. Sherwood Rowland. The UC Irvine chemist, who died Saturday at 85, was one of three scientists who won the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry, The Times reported, for their work "explaining how chlorofluorocarbons, ubiquitous substances once used in an array of products from spray deodorant to industrial solvents, could destroy the ozone layer, the protective atmospheric blanket that screens out many of the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays."

In hindsight, it seems straightforward: Bad stuff was eating away a vital part of Earth's environment. So get rid of it.

But it wasn't so simple in 1974, when Rowland and fellow scientist Mario Molina published their concerns in the journal Nature.

As The Times says, the findings "were met with scorn by the chemical industry and even by many scholars. For a decade, Rowland and Molina persevered to prove their hypothesis, publishing numerous scientific papers and speaking to sometimes hostile audiences at scientific conferences. It took almost 15 years for the international scientific community and chemical industry to accept the pair's findings."

Hmmm, starting to remind you of a little something called "climate change," is it?

But here's something of a vital difference between the ozone debate and the current climate change one:

Manufacturers began to phase out chlorofluorocarbons in the late 1980s, prompted by the discovery of an ozone "hole" over Antarctica that formed each winter in response to weather conditions and the falling worldwide levels of ozone. The Montreal Protocol, a landmark international agreement to phase out CFC products, was signed by the United States and other nations in 1987.

The protocol was proof that nations could unite to address common environmental threats, Rowland contended. "People have worked together to solve the problem," he said.

Rowland was right then.  Nations did unite to address a common environmental threat.

But have we taken that lesson to heart?  Will we accept the scientific consensus on climate change and work together to save the planet?   

Or will it continue to be a political football, at least in the United States, where too many politicians are opting for short-term partisan gains at the risk of the planet's future?

Donald Blake, a colleague of Rowland’s at UC Irvine, told The Times that Rowland considered the phase-out of CFCs his greatest achievement.

It would be a shame if Rowland won the ozone battle -- but the rest of us lost the war for Earth’s survival.

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'Obamacare' plaintiff Brown's bankruptcy: Instant karma? 

--Paul Whitefield

Photo: F. Sherwood Rowland, shown in his UC Irvine lab.  Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times

'Obamacare' plaintiff Brown's bankruptcy: Instant karma?

Supreme Court in Washington
What do you call it when someone who is suing to overturn the healthcare reform law files for bankruptcy, listing $4,500 in unpaid medical bills?

Karma? Fate? A lucky break for President Obama?

Really, you can't make this stuff up. Here's what The Times' David Savage wrote Thursday:

Mary Brown, a 56-year-old Florida woman who owned a small auto repair shop but had no health insurance, became the lead plaintiff challenging President Obama's healthcare law because she was passionate about the issue.

Brown "doesn't have insurance. She doesn't want to pay for it. And she doesn't want the government to tell her she has to have it," said Karen Harned, a lawyer for the National Federation of Independent Business. Brown is a plaintiff in the federation's case, which the Supreme Court plans to hear later this month.

But court records reveal that Brown and her husband filed for bankruptcy last fall with $4,500 in unpaid medical bills.

Now, you might expect Brown to be a bit, well, chagrined at this turn of events.  But remember, as Savage wrote, she "was passionate about the issue."

And she apparently still is:

Brown, reached by telephone Thursday, said the medical bills were her husband's. "I always paid my bills, as well as my medical bills," she said angrily. "I never said medical insurance is not a necessity. It should be anyone's right to what kind of health insurance they have.

"I believe that anyone has unforeseen things that happen to them that are beyond their control," Brown said. "Who says I don't have insurance right now?"

Who says? Well, Mary, your lawyer for one. Remember: She "doesn't have insurance. She doesn't want to pay for it. And she doesn't want the government to tell her she has to have it."

Oh yeah, that.  Those lawyers, always running their mouths.  

And for that matter, Mary, those aren't your husband's medical bills, at least not anymore.  Now that you've filed for bankruptcy, they are probably our medical bills, aren't they? 

Although it's not as though Brown is totally anti-government: The couple's Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition said her income was $275 a month in unemployment benefits.

So perhaps she intends to put that toward what she owes: "$2,140 to Bay Medical Center in Panama City, $610 to Bay Medical Physicians, $835 to an eye doctor in Alabama and $900 to a specialist in Mississippi."

Or maybe, as the story says, there's that other way out:

"This is a very common problem. We cover $30 million in charity and uncompensated care every  year," said Christa Hild, a spokeswoman for the hospital center. "If it's a bad debt, we have to absorb it."

Although when the hospital center says "we," it means "us"  -- as in you and I, the ones who do pay for health insurance.  We absorb it, in higher premium costs.

It's called the free market, or "there's no free lunch."  (It's also why a single-payer system such as Medicare would've been a better option than the law we've got, but that's another post.)

But it's also why the "individual mandate" requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance was put into the law.

Why that is so hard for Brown and millions of other citizens to understand is beyond me. 

This isn't Charles Dickens' London: We don't have debtors' prisons.  If Brown and her fellow travelers have their way and the healthcare law is ruled unconstitutional, many others will take the risk "of unforeseen things that happen to them that are beyond their control." 

And if they get sick, and have medical bills they can't pay, then they won't pay.  And neither will the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.

The rest of us will pay.

You see, Mary, the requirement that everyone buy health insurance isn't big bad government taking away your freedom.

It's just common sense.

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Photo: The U.S. Supreme Court plans to hear a challenge to the healthcare reform law. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

War on drugs' big catch -- 'Viagra man'

The U.S. is spending vast sums and still can't effectively stem the flow of drugs from Latin America, but we are managing to protect the country from the evils of counterfeit erectile dysfunction pills
These just in -- two dispatches from the front of the war on drugs:

"U.S. fails to catch two-thirds of drug boats, general says," and "Man charged with smuggling 40,000 erectile dysfunction pills."

One is about being stupid. The other is about being caught.

I'll let you decide which is which.

First, Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, told reporters Wednesday that military efforts to stem drug smuggling from Latin America are being hampered because planes and ships have been diverted to combat operations elsewhere.

It's certainly not a problem of funding, though. As The Times' story says:

The military has spent $6.1 billion since 2005 to help detect drug payloads heading to the U.S., as well as on surveillance and other intelligence operations, according to a report last year by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

At prices like that, it might be cheaper for the government to just buy the cocaine from the cartels.

And, of course, there's this little Catch-22:

"Any drug interdiction strategy is a Band-Aid, a temporary fix," said Bruce Bagley, who studies U.S. counter-narcotics efforts at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, Fla. "It may reduce the supply for a short time, but what does get in is worth more."

Well, yeah, there's that. Otherwise known as the 800-lb. gorilla of the whole war-on-drugs policy. Drugs are illegal, but people still want them.  So someone supplies them. So we spend a fortune to try to stop them. And whatever we catch just makes the stuff we don't catch more valuable, which makes the guys who supply it richer. 

Legalization, anyone?

Naw, then people might use more drugs, and that would mean more addicts, and that would mean we would have to spend money on treatment. Instead of, uh, spending a large fortune trying to fight cartels that corrupt governments and kill people and -- well, OK, it's a mess.

Honestly, I don't know if legalization would work. But I'm pretty sure that what we're doing now isn't working.

Still, I'll admit that the current system did manage to get its man, one Kil Jun Lee, 71, of Westlake, Calif. 

Lee allegedly tried to slip 29,827 counterfeit Viagra tablets, 8,993 counterfeit Cialis pills and 793 counterfeit Levitra tablets past authorities at LAX by hiding them in his golf bag and luggage. (Which, of course, was his first mistake, because as any wife who's been abandoned for five hours on a Sunday by her golf-addict husband can tell you, golf and sex never mix.)

And it's not as though the law enforcement guys didn't have a sense of humor:

According to the criminal complaint, Lee concealed the tablets in aluminum-foil-wrapped packets, and was questioned by authorities about whether the pills were all for personal use. He responded that he had a heart condition, and using all the pills would kill him.

Oh, ha ha -- "all for your personal use."

Also, Lee didn't come across as your typical hardened drug smuggler:

He also said he "did not believe the pills were genuine," adding that "he was sorry" for bringing the pills and "will not do it again."

Which, really, is good enough for me. A sincere apology and a promise not to be a repeat offender for what is, in a sense, a victimless crime. (Unless, of course, you paid good money for the counterfeit stuff -- but then again, caveat emptor!)

So the Navy and Coast Guard will continue their futile efforts to stop Latin America's cartels. 

And the good folks at LAX will continue to protect us from the evils of phony Viagra.

And we taxpayers will keep paying for it all.

And that's no joke.

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Photo: Colombian police at a cocaine production laboratory in the jungle. Credit: Mauricio Duenas / EPA

Birth control: What do bosses get to decide about us?

Sen. Roy Blunt
To read about the Blunt amendment, which was narrowly defeated Thursday via a U.S. Senate vote to table it, you'd think this was solely about whether religiously affiliated organizations -- such as hospitals or universities with links to churches -- have to provide health-insurance coverage for birth control.

Certainly, what kicked off the legislative move by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) was the Obama administration's rule that they would indeed have to provide that coverage; that was later softened to an agreement under which the coverage would be available, but the insurance companies would pick up the cost, which they have said they're willing to do.

But the Blunt amendment would have gone much further. Any employer would be allowed to refrain from any mandated coverage under healthcare reform if it offended the owners' religious or moral beliefs. That includes screening for sexually transmitted diseases and a load of other generally accepted and important care.

Certainly, if a university that has ties to Catholicism can refuse to offer birth-control coverage, it's hard to imagine why the owner of an auto-parts store who might have equally strong religious beliefs shouldn't get the same break. Which gets to the essential question at the heart of this thinking: What do our bosses get to decide about our lives? Supporters of Blunt might say that people are entitled to buy whatever they want as long as the employer isn't paying for it, but that didn't make much of a difference when the insurance companies were willing to pick up the tab.

The argument that employers shouldn't have to spend their money in support of activities to which they have moral objections has some serious implications, if you take it down the road for a spin. Most employers offer some paid vacation to full-time employees. What if the employee spends that time doing something the employer finds morally objectionable -- say, working to defeat Proposition 8, or working to defend it? Why should the employer have to subsidize that activity?

It's an extreme example, of course. But when you consider the narrowness of the vote taken in the Senate, it's worth wondering the extent to which the Blunt philosophy would hand moral judgments about private decisions to employers.

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--Karin Klein

Photo: Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) speaks on the Senate floor before a vote on his amendment dealing with contraceptives on Thursday. Credit: CSPAN.org

Gotta get some Google Goggles

Google Goggles illustration

You know what's so great about the world we live in?  It's that there are people out there right now inventing stuff you don't even realize you need.

Take Google. Its Google X lab is reportedly hard at work developing Google Goggles.

Despite the tongue-twister name, Google Goggles will apparently be the next must-have gadget. The so-called smart glasses (gee, who knew that regular glasses were "dumb"?) would somehow connect with the Internet to relay information in a heads-up display. (Shhhh. No one tell Rick Santorum. He'll want to pass a law banning Google Goggles. He thinks God gave us "eyes" for this sort of thing.)

Actually, Google Goggles remind me of Segways. You know, those really cool, high-tech scooters that relieve users of the chore of "walking"?

Anyway, here's what The Times said Wednesday about Google's latest ploy, er, toy:

Google Goggles uses photos, rather than text or voice, to conduct Web searches that can identify artwork, books, albums, contact information from a business card, logos, landmarks, wine bottles and even text to translate.

The experience offered by the glasses would be "Terminator-style" and would display information "based on preferences, location and Google's information," 9to5Google reported.

"The glasses will have a low-resolution built-in camera that will be able to monitor the world in real time and overlay information about locations, surrounding buildings and friends who might be nearby," the New York Times reported. Google intends that users not wear the glasses all the time, but only as needed, the report said.

Uh huh: "Only as needed." Not like that's a slippery slope or anything. Today's young people can't go five minutes without texting, surfing the Web or being on Facebook. (Heck, who am I kidding: A lot of adults can't go five minutes!) Giving these folks Google Goggles would be like those lab experiments in which rats push a button every time they want cocaine. What happens? Bing! Bing! Bing! Bye-bye happy rats!

I mean, didn't anyone at Google see "Brainstorm"? (R.I.P., Natalie Wood.)

However, it's not as if Google isn't taking precautions:

"Internally, the Google X team has been actively discussing the privacy implications of the glasses and the company wants to ensure that people know if they are being recorded by someone wearing a pair of glasses with a built-in camera," the New York Times said.

Which -- I don't know about you -- really puts my mind at ease. That should be an easy problem to solve. After all, Google is famous for worrying about privacy. (However, if Facebook is working on Friend Finder Frames, that's another story.)

OK, enough with the hyperbole. Here's what you really want to know:

According to the New York Times, Google wants the glasses on sale by the end of the year at a price ranging from $250 to $600 -- about the same as a smartphone.

Which is great -- because I thought they would be expensive or something.

Still, I'll bet Apple is toiling away right now on Apple Eyes (or would they be Apple i's?)

And why stop there? How about Nokia Noses, or Samsung Snouts, to help us smell better? And Ericsson Ears?

After all, my nose, and my ears, are pretty "dumb" too.

Bing! Bing! Bing!

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The Dow is climbing! The Dow is climbing!

 -- Paul Whitefield

Image: Illustration from a YouTube video of how Google's Google Goggles technology uses photos to conduct Web searches. Credit: Google Inc.

Valentine's Day: When love hurts

Heart
Was it just a coincidence that the most recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the one just before Valentine's Day, featured a warning about the rising incidence of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea? Some 1.7% of cases nationwide are resistant to the last line of drug defense, cephalosporins. That's 17 times more common than it was just six years ago.

With 600,000 gonorrhea cases per year in the U.S. (far more than newly reported cases of AIDS), Americans clearly have a long way to go when it comes to learning to love carefully. But in any case, the United States obviously has to do more to develop new strains of antibiotics. That's not a big priority for drug companies because antibiotics are difficult to develop and have low profit margins because they're not generally taken on a maintenance basis. As the Times editorial board discusses the issue for an upcoming editorial, what do you think the government should do, if anything?

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Valentine's Day: Symbiotic love connection

--Karin Klein

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