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March 28, 2006

What's in your toilet? War on drugs moves into the sewer space


No lie: the headline of Bill Turque's story on the front page of yesterday's Washington Post Metro section read, "Sewage Tested for Signs of Cocaine."

I guess the federal government has decided that if they didn't get you coming maybe they've still got a shot at getting you going.

Sorry — but you know how easily I yield to an opening like that.

I'm reminded of Oscar Wilde's wonderful epigram, to wit: "I can resist anything — except temptation."

Anyway, on to the breaking news.

The Post's article noted that last year Italy broke ground on this new approach to surveying drug use by testing the waters of the Po River in the northern part of the country.

Scientists there "... concluded that the Po carried the equivalent of about four kilograms [9 lbs.] of cocaine and estimated that the 1.4 million young adults living in the Po River Basin were consuming about 40,000 doses a day, more than twice the existing national estimates."

The Post story noted that "Earlier this month Fairfax County, bordering Washington, D.C., agreed to participate in a White House pilot program to analyze wastewater from communities throughout the Potomac River Basin for the urinary byproducts of cocaine."

So if you see someone lurking around your septic tank with test tubes in their hand you might want to ask for some I.D.

Though on second thought maybe you should pass.

As it were.

Gerald D. Connolly, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, told the Post, "It's a very strange request."


Here's the article.

    Sewage Tested for Signs of Cocaine

    Fairfax Participating In Federal Program To Assess Drug Use

    If government studies are a reliable guide, about 25,000 residents of Fairfax County -- 2.5 percent of its population -- have used cocaine in the past year.

    The same data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health suggest that about 9,000 have partaken within the past 30 days.

    Those estimates, based on personal and computer-assisted interviews, rely almost completely on the candor of the respondents.

    The Bush administration, hoping to someday broaden the government's knowledge of illegal drug use, is probing the mysteries of Fairfax's sewage for a clearer picture.

    Earlier this month, the county agreed to participate in a White House pilot program to analyze wastewater from communities throughout the Potomac River Basin for the urinary byproducts of cocaine.


    "It's a very strange request," Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said of the White House program.

    "We're ready to do anything and everything we can do to eliminate illicit drug use. But I'd want to know a lot more about what this will actually lead to."

    The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy said it is not seeking to single out specific localities.

    It also is premature, officials said, to conclude that levels of metabolized cocaine in sewage offer a more accurate index of consumption than traditional survey research.

    But David Murray, special assistant to national drug czar John P. Walters, said wastewater testing, which has been tried in Europe, "certainly has that potential."

    "We think it will be very, very useful," Murray said.

    County workers collected five days' worth of water samples between March 13 and March 17 at the pollution control plant in Lorton, according to a March 20 memo from County Executive Anthony H. Griffin to the Board of Supervisors.

    The plant, which processes about 67 million gallons of sewage a day, takes in commercial and residential waste from about half the county, including Fairfax City, Vienna and Fort Belvoir.

    The samples, which totaled about 500 milliliters, were shipped to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Rockville, where they will be analyzed for traces of benzoylecgonine, the main urinary metabolite byproduct of cocaine.

    Murray said many other utilities in the region were cooperating but declined to name any.

    A spokeswoman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which provides water and sewer service in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, said she did not know whether the agency was participating in the study.

    Griffin's memo to the board was not released to the public until the day after the Fairfax sampling was completed.

    He did not return a call for comment.

    Critics of the administration's drug policies said the effort seemed harmless enough but also wondered what it would add up to.

    "It can't hurt to check," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group committed to ending the federal government's war on drugs.

    "I'm skeptical that it can be a useful gauge for policy analysis."

    The wastewater research had its genesis in Europe.

    Last year, scientists of the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Milan tested the waters of the Po River in northern Italy, to surprising results.

    According to the Times of London, they concluded that the Po carried the equivalent of about four kilograms of cocaine and estimated that the 1.4 million young adults living in the Po River Basin were consuming about 40,000 doses a day, more than twice the existing national estimates.

    To confirm the findings, the researchers studied wastewater from smaller cities in other regions of the country, including Sardinia.


    After allowing for the difference between water from the Po and undiluted sewage, they said that the results were similar.

March 28, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BehindTheMedspeak: H5N1 — You'll want to get familiar with these letters and numbers because they're going to turn the world upside–down (maybe)


No — H5N1 is not a British or Canadian postal code but, rather, the bird–flu strain whose mention in all the major newspapers of the world more or less daily now heralds something very, very bad (maybe).

Some scientists say 20% or more of the world's population could die in a pandemic; others say no way.

For a historical perspective, consider the 1918 influenza pandemic: one–fourth of the U.S. population and one–fifth of the world's people became infected; 20–40 million around the world died.

Guess what?

You know as much about the likelihood of such a thing happening as any of the so–called experts.

Because when it comes to the future it's just like in Hollywood, in the legendary words of screenwriter William Goldman ("Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "All the President's Men," "The Princess Bride," et al): "Nobody knows anything."

But you will want to memorize that viral strain — H5N1 — because if/until and after a human pandemic strikes you're going to become as familiar with it as you are with your social security number.


A few good resources: here, here, here, here and here.

Let us pray — because science sure won't save us from this one.

Every day brings news of the virus in more countries.

Money and class cannot protect you.


Luck, be a lady tonight.

March 28, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack



Featured in Sunday's New York Times story by Paul B. Brown, this website is the brainchild of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank in Wisconsin.

Last year's online sales of discounted printer cartridges and other office supplies totaled $2.5 million.

After covering the $150,000 required to maintain the monastary and its grounds, the monks donated the remainder of the company's profits to "help support charities that range from a camp for kids with H.I.V. to a Buddhist orphanage in Tibet."

Brown noted that "The web site also accepts online prayer requests."

    Here's his article:

    If the members of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank in Wisconsin ever want to go into business full time, there will be no shortage of takers for their marketing prowess.

    "LaserMonks: Real savings. Real monks. Supporting real people."

    That could be the positioning statement of their commercial subsidiary, LaserMonks.com, which sells discounted printer cartridges and other office supplies online, Fortune Small Business reports.

    The business had $2.5 million in sales in 2005, and the monks plan to offer a full line of office electronics later this year.

    Sales cover the $150,000 annual cost to maintain the monastery and its grounds.

    The rest of the company's profits, Christine Y. Chen writes, "help support charities that range from a camp for kids with H.I.V. to a Buddhist orphanage in Tibet."

    The Web site also accepts online prayer requests.

[via Paul Brown and the New York Times and Christine Y. Chen writing in Fortune Small Business]

March 28, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Bayou Afternoon — by Amy Clampitt

Out of the imprecise, the muck
of bright and dark, the wavering
at the bayou's edge, such

specificity: the egret's samite,
filamented, barbed and folded,
hourly preened and realigned,

just so: the unmistakably,
topheavily crested and cravatted
kingfisher: just so, the wading

ungainly fantasy, paintbox–
tinged pink and green, that's
called the spoonbill, back from

a rim known as extinction: just
so, that afternoon, the colonies,
along the streambank, of lilies,

each perishable hieroglyph
filamented, in a flourish, with
a stroke of purple. Meanwhile,

out on the Gulf, the airs and
vapors had grown monumental,
their huge purple a flickering

testament to, at the rim we
necessarily inhabit, a happenstance
still brimming, still uncodified.

March 28, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

yes.com: 'Find out what song is playing — on any radio station in the country'


No exaggeration — pretty amazing.


Put your ZIP code (that's mine above) or radio call letters in the search box and like magic, stuff happens.


Cool stuff.

[via foundontheweb.com]

March 28, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Portia Wells Limited Edition Pen and Pencil Holder


This emerging Brooklyn designer has created all manner of interesting reimaginings of things generally taken for granted.


Just so with her pen and pencil holders.


March 28, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

bookofjoe Classified — Position Wanted: Teaching English in Mongolia


At 7:10:24 a.m. ET this morning while I was sleeping and dreaming, in came the following email:

    From: Magz

    Subject: English in Mongolia

    Date: March 28, 2006 7:10:24 AM EST


    This is probably a shot in the dark but here goes! I'm 34 years old, Irish, a newly qualified EFL teacher and I really want to find work in Mongolia. My reasons are in no small part due to my background in Archaeology/Anthropology (7years field/w experience) and a fascination with the Mongolian country & culture. I really want to live, work and experience the country for at least a year.

    I have been having difficulty tracking down schools to apply to other than Santis, which, on the basis of the article you have loaded up here, seems strange. So the minister needs 2,000 teachers now! Where do I apply??? If you have any ideas, or know where I might find more info, I would be very grateful.


    The other option is to just put my dancin' shoes in a bag, head out there and hope for the best. I'm not averse to that but I would like to have a little something to go on before I do such a thing (re options & visas etc.).

    Thanks for taking the time to read this. Have a good day.


    Magz (xenab2@gmail.com)


It would hardly seem right to have featured an item about the demand for English teachers in Mongolia without following up in the event the post flushed a prospect out of the bushes, what?

So here is what bookofjoe is going to do to try and make Magz's dream come true:

1) Put up her email here in our Classifieds Section (Oh, you didn't know we had one? Me neither) in the hope that Puntsag Tsagaan, Mongolia's minister of education, will contact Magz and expedite passage into one of that country's English–teaching classrooms.


2) Forward her email to Shawn Lea, my head crack team researcher (or should it be crack team head researcher — I've never been quite sure which is better...), who will move heaven and earth on her behalf to get the ball rolling.

3) Repeat, in boldface type, Magz's email address so that she may be contacted easily:


4) Here and now make her bookofjoe's official Mongolia correspondent, with unlimited access to all of the resources here at my World Headquarters™.

5) Guarantee Magz space on bookofjoe for any dispatches from Mongolia she might choose to file once she's there.

6) Ask my readers worldwide to email Magz if they have any leads or information to help her achieve her dream.

That seems fair.


Because, after all, bookofjoe was founded on the belief that, in the end, "We are such stuff as dreams are made on."

March 28, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Troubling uncertainty


March 28, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

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