Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and now Fukushima … what do they have in common?

with 11 comments

All three were nuclear accidents? True enough. Not what I’m looking for though. The Japanese government report on the Fukushima nuclear accident was released a few days ago. It clearly laid out the cause of the still smouldering Fukushima nuclear disaster: Human error. This is what I was looking for, in both prior nuclear accidents, human error was a huge part of the problem. This isn’t terribly surprising, in numerous industrial accidents human error was a major contributor. The Texas City Disaster. The Piper Alpha Fire. The Exxon Valdez spill. Bhopal. I could go on but I think I made my point, human error is often a major contributory factor in industrial accidents. And that’s being generous I am sure, I’ve yet to find a major industrial accident that didn’t have some component of human error. It’s not surprising. There are so any things that can go wrong with any complex system, some of them unforeseeable, that sooner or later someone is going to make a mistake or mistakes that lead to catastrophe.

I don’t think this is really debatable. Even airliners, where we have spent enormous (and largely successful) efforts to make safe, still sometimes crash. It’s just now been determined that the Air France jet that flew into the Atlantic a few years ago could have recovered had the crew acted correctly. People sometimes make bad calls in a crisis, that’s not ever going to change. The point here is that no matter how well designed something is; no matter how many safeguards, alarms, and back-ups it has; sooner or later someone or someones are going to bypass them all and cause a problem. And this of course applies to nuclear power plants, which are certainly as complicated as airliners. And we now have three “crashed” nuclear power plants, and it is 100% certain it will happen again. No matter how much they learn from Fukushima, it will happen again.

This is a problem. A big problem. A problem the nuclear industry and most of the world’s governments don’t want anyone to know about. It’s a problem because when an airliner crashes, a factory blows up, a ship sinks, etc., the damages are generally local and containable. Chernobyl badly contaminated 1,000 square miles, seriously contaminated thousands more, caused problems thousands of miles away, eventually spreading fallout all over the Northern Hemisphere. There’s every reason to believe that the damage from Fukushima will be at least that extensive. This is serious damage on a global scale from a single industrial accident. When a  plane crashes or a factory blows up a few hundred people are killed, but ultimately the damages are limited in geography and over time. The worst fallout (Cesium 137, Strontium 90)  from a nuclear accident has a half life of 30 years, which means it might be decades or centuries before the worst contaminated areas are safe again.

Which leads into the second major problem with nuclear accidents. We don’t really know how much damage they cause. Some people say Chernobyl only killed 28 people, most experts put the total at around 10,000. Some experts peg it at over 100,000. And in both of the last estimates, non-fatal cancers are estimated at about ten times the number of fatal cases. Basically one can find “expert opinion” for pretty much any level of death and cancer one wants. How do us worms know? Well, the cigarette industry had no trouble finding “expert opinion” saying cigarettes were more or less harmless for decades after the issue was settled as far as scientists were concerned. The nuclear industry is just as well funded as the cigarette industry, it’s far more difficult to do research on the topic, and it’s very easy to manipulate the data to get any result one wants. And unlike the cigarette industry, the nuclear industry has friends in big government and big military everywhere. In other words, when some government or industry spokesman claims that nuclear energy is “safe,” it should be taken with a large dose of salt.

My only real point here is that the safety of the nuclear industry has been wildly exaggerated, usually by comparing apples to oranges. There isn’t any really comparable industry. What other kind of industrial installation in the worst case scenario can render everything within 15-20 miles uninhabitable for decades, and cause thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) of cases of cancer over an entire continent, if not an entire hemisphere? And how close is the gentle reader to the nearest nuclear power plant anyhow?

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and is central to illustrating the post. I’m not sure who to credit it too,  but  got it from this fine site. It’s an image from the abandoned town of Prypiat near Chernobyl. I chose it because it is a beautiful and haunting image.)

Written by unitedcats

July 9, 2012 at 1:39 pm

Great, now the 2012 Election will be about Obamacare

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Sigh. And the American electoral process just lurched downwards again. The next few months is just going to be a cacophony from the right about Obamacare. Can we talk about foreign policy, maybe jobs? I doubt it. Not that they were going to talk about relevant stuff much anyhow, but now it’s going to be so much worse. Once the sound of conservative’s heads exploding from the Supreme Court ruling dies away, they will rise from the dead and begin a howling like we have never heard before. On the plus side, pundits on all sides of the aisle will have a field day, and it’s a good bet people like Rush will outdo themselves in their efforts to demonize Obamacare.

OK, a few thoughts, hopefully adding up to a coherent conclusion. First of all, America’s health care system is a disaster. The numbers speak for themselves, on every metric one cares to examine, life expectancy, etc. … America comes in dead last among the developed countries. Even worse, we actually pay the most for this ghastly health care! France provides cradle-to-grave health care for everyone within its borders, including dental care. Health care that by almost any measure is considered some of the finest in the world, when a ambulance arrives in France, it has an actual doctor on board for God’s sake! And they provide this for about 11% of their GNP. The USA’s system? It costs about 16% of our GNP, and provides health care that is the shame of the developed world.

Of course the big objection that the Tea Party and ilk seem to have is something along the lines of  “Forcing me to pay for my neighbor’s health care is socialism!” Aside from the lunacy of using ideology to support a social policy (a blog on that is in the works,) this is stupid because health care costs are distributed anyhow!  When your neighbor down the street goes bankrupt from a sickness or injury, like about a million families a year, guess who the shorted creditors pass the loss onto? When your uninsured neighbor goes to the county hospital at public expense, whose taxes pay for it? When your sick neighbor misses work because of a treatable illness, guess who their employer’s lost productivity costs get passed on to? Everyone pays for the costs of sick members of society. Yet the Tea Partiers and their ilk would apparently rather have a system where they can pretend they aren’t paying for their neighbor’s health care, while simultaneously paying more than anyone else in the developed world. That’s nucking futz.

In the same vein one often sees the most egregious crap about foreign health care systems bandied about as if it were fact by the Tea Party crowd. One routinely hears that in Canada “People have to wait six months for a check-up” or “People have no choice about what doctor they see.” Sigh. Canada has a single payer system. That means you go to any damn health care provider you like, and the government pays the bill. Canada has a vast assortment of modern hospitals and doctors, just chose the one you like. Sometimes there is a wait for non-emergency procedures, but few if any complain. Be honest, wouldn’t having free health care of your choice for life be preferable to having to pay through the nose for health insurance, even if it meant having to wait a few months for some non-emergency services? Of course it’s the better option, which is why numerous completely democratic countries repeatedly elect governments that provide cradle-to-grave health care.

So what do I think of Obamacare? Many of its provisions seem like a step in the right direction to me. I’ve yet to hear any practical objections too it.  Yes, it means some tax money will pay for health care for sick people. Um, you have a better use for tax money? That’s one of the things that amazes me about the Tea Partier’s objections, they have a problem with using tax money to help sick and injured people? Excuse me, but that sounds like one of the best possible uses for tax dollars. It beats the hell out of giving buckets of money to the people whose greed and gambling destroyed the economy, or using it to send soldiers to die on the far side of the world to defend corporate profits.

Granted it’s only a baby step in the right direction, towards a health care system where the only people profiting are the actual health care providers, not giant insurance companies  that  make their profits by denying coverage. How we ever even got to the point where huge corporations took over health care and turned it into a corporate gold mine is a testament to how far from a government “for the people” this country has gone. Still, it gives me hope in this age where the corporations have undue influence in government and the regulatory process that the people can still win a battle. There are plenty of sound reasons not to like Obama, but that the Republicans have thrown their lot in with the corporate death panel vampires that profit from sick Americans is disgusting. Shame on them.

Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. I don’t know who to credit but I wish I did, it’s brilliant. For those who haven’t heard, CNN and Fox both initially reported that the Supreme Court had stuck down Obamacare, apparently because in their haste to get the news out they only read the very first page of the Supreme Court decision before hitting send. It’s based on the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline.)

Written by unitedcats

June 29, 2012 at 8:49 am

Through Thick and Thin: Do we really want to cure senile mice?

with 5 comments

Another week gone, another week older. Still, another week without World War Three, another stroke, or a gunfight outside my door. Not complaining, still blogging. Hopefully I didn’t alienate too many readers this past week, but there’s always a few. And hell, if I’m not occasionally pissing someone off, I have failed at my task. I learnt as a young man that if something pissed me off, not  a bad idea to examine my preconceptions about the topic. Sometimes I’m mad because in my heart I know my thinking about something is screwed up, and my annoyance is about being forced to confront and admit the error of my ways. This is how I went from being in a right wing militia to being a blogger for peace and tolerance.

Moving right along, no war in the Middle East yet. On the one hand the US and its allies love the endless war scares, brought to us non-stop since 1979 by the annoying folks in Iran and Washington. On the other hand, they don’t really want or need a war. Israel on the other hand would love to have the right war, a war that would give them the pretext to “transfer” the Palestinians out of Gaza and the West Bank. The rest of the world would call it ethnic cleansing. Or worse. Still, not happening yet, maybe cooler heads will prevail. And in Syria, I have become so suspicious of what we  are being told that I don’t want to comment at this juncture.

A US appeals court struck down California’s prop 8, a proposition that limited marriage to a man and a woman. And they did so in a way that will likely make it though the Supreme Court. I don’t really grasp why anyone would care about two people they don’t even know getting married, but humans get their dander up about all sorts of  stuff other people do that really is none of their business whatsoever. I’m pretty sure religion is involved. Times change people. Does anyone know what they call gay marriage in Canada now? Marriage. People got used to mixed race couples, they will get used to this. And the minority that doesn’t, I’m sure there’s people who still foam at the mouth when they see an interracial couple, their problem. Chillax people, you will be able to better deal with it when one of your kids says: “Um, mom and dad … “

I’m considering post about Ayn Rand. A child murdering sociopath was one of her idols, so it’s going to be a tough row to hoe. The submarine conspiracy is coming up. I have another mystery picture. I might just do an Expanding Earth post, it really is kind of an interesting theory with some fascinating historical antecedents. More space exploration posts. Oh, yeah, I don’t have a grammar checker on my computer. If I make egregious grammatical errors, I would be happy to have them pointed out. Conceptual errors too, but of course those are extremely rare. Snort, I wish. Spelling errors, check your Canadian dictionary first.

In last late breaking news, a cure for senile mice as been found. Um, why are scientists trying to cure senile mice? Wouldn’t it make more sense to give mice senility? Kidding aside, this is a very promising study, and might lead to a cure for senility. Hopefully at a minimum it will lead to a better understanding of the condition. At worst it will accidentally release some senile zombie mouse plague that will jump the species barrier and kill 99.99% of the human race before Christmas.

Have a great weekend everyone!

(The above image is being used legally in accordance with the copyright holder’s requirements. Credit and copyright: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA; Colour Composite: Gordan Ugarkovic It’s an image of Saturn’s Moon Enceladus, lit by the reflected light of Saturn, giving it the golden hue. At the lower left ice volcanoes are visible, an indication that Enceladus may have liquid oceans under its icy surface. It’s only a little over 300 miles in diameter, with a surface area somewhat larger than Texas. Click on the image for the full size version. Why did I use this image? Because the fact that humans have had a nuclear powered robotic camera platform orbiting  Saturn for years is still mind blowing, and under appreciated I believe. When it comes to space exploration, human’s rock.)

Written by unitedcats

February 10, 2012 at 6:47 am

Virginia lawmaker: Children with disabilities are God’s punishment to women who previously had abortions.

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The gentle reader read that right. Virginia State Delegate Bob Marshall (R,) speaking at a press conference against state funding for Planned Parenthood had this to say:

“The number of children who are born subsequent to a first abortion with handicaps has increased dramatically. Why? because when you abort the first born of any, nature takes its vengeance on the subsequent children, in the Old Testament, the first born of every being, animal and man, was dedicated to the Lord. There’s a special punishment Christians would suggest.”

Yes, this man’s Christian God cripples babies to teach their moms a lesson. Wow. I don’t recall Jesus ever saying anything along those lines, but I missed a lot of Sunday School as a kid. On the plus side, we can be thankful this guy’s a politician, not a judge. “The jury has found you guilty as charged. Bailiff, shoot the defendant’s baby.”

Written by unitedcats

January 17, 2012 at 9:31 am

Posted in Health, Politics, Religion

Tagged with ,

Overpopulation, is it really a problem?

with 9 comments

World Population Growth

Overpopulation. This was a big issue in the sixties and seventies. One hardly ever hears of it anymore, at least in the popular arena. Partly this is because birthrates have gone down over much of the world, and it looks like the human population will level off at about 9 billion or so.  So of course, the problem has been solved, and we don’t need to worry about it anymore? There are certainly those claiming the population bomb has been defused.

I don’t think so. Overpopulation was one of the topics I promised to write about in my “coming apocalypse” posts this spring. My basic theory, which I have been refining since the 1970s, is that a number of things humans are doing are all going to hit the fan around 2015 or so. It’s not a terribly original theory, many have made similar predictions. And in my particular theory, overpopulation is one of the really big factors that’s adding up to this critical explosion.

There’s several facets to this topic that make it of particular interest when examining the human condition. The first though is the fact that this is a real issue. For example, if the world’s population had continued to grow at the rate it was growing in the 1960s, by the year 16,000 or so, all matter in the Universe would have been converted into human beings. Clearly an unsustainable rate of growth. The situation has improved since then, but the world’s population continues to grow. The world’s population will hit seven billion any day now, blithely assuming that adding another two billion people is “no big deal” is missing the point.

The point is we don’t know what the actual carrying capacity of the planet is, estimates range from 2 billion to 40 billion. The 2 billion figure is if everyone lives at the American average standard of consumption. 40 billion if we all live at the lowest possible consumption level, like 75% of the human population currently does. Since we don’t actually know what the number is, claiming that everything is fine while the number of people is still going up is like claiming a dam won’t break even though the reservoir is still filling and we don’t know how strong the dam is. And since the total mass of human beings is already far greater than the mass of any other single species that has ever lived, I think it’s safe to say that there is still cause for concern.

Another problem is that the 7 billion people currently living are already degrading the environment, and thus lowering the Earth’s carrying capacity. Ground water depletion, topsoil erosion, deforestation, pollution, over-fishing, soil desalinization, and others are still significant problems over much of the globe. So we have a situation where the world population is still going up, while the ability to support said population is still being degraded over much of the Earth. Um, as long as these two trends are diverging, I think it’s safe to say that we aren’t out of the woods yet.

And sadly, this is an issue where religion has played and is playing a truly ugly role. Catholicism and Evangelists in particular have worked very very hard around the globe to discourage family planning and birth control. There’s no telling how many extra mouths the world has to feed because of this, and it’s a problem that may be getting worse not better as America’s Evangelical movement becomes ever more powerful and ever more influential in US government operations. Once again an example of just how devastating ideology is, because it causes people to act against their own best interests, or even against the best interests of everyone on the planet.

In fact I have come to believe that when people use ideology to support their beliefs, it’s because they lack any rational reason  to hold said beliefs. That however is a topic for a future post.

(The above image as released into the public domain by it’s creator, and may be copied and used freely. I used it because it graphically shows just how stunning the spike in human population has been the past two centuries, and that the idea of it going up by another 2 billion in the next few decades just makes it even more extreme. Especially since the majority of these new people will live in abject poverty in slums, hardly an inspiring thought. And I’m pretty sure when God said “be fruitful and multiply” he didn’t mean “breed like there’s no tomorrow.”)

Written by unitedcats

October 24, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Dance of Death

with 14 comments

Saturday I was having a normal day, puttering about my apartment, being berated by my cats, playing around on line. At around one o’clock I got up, and my legs were like rubber, it was weird, I’d never experienced anything like it before. Denial of course immediately kicked in, and I decided I was just suffering from stress, and I ordered a burger from across the street and went to pick it up.  I made it across and back a busy street, but it was scary. And in retrospect,stupid. After eating I decided to take a little nap, and hoped my legs would feel better when I awoke.

Nope. When I awoke an hour or so later I could still barely walk. I realized this could be very serious, I grabbed my cell phone and charger, stuck a key and a note under a neighbour’s door asking them to feed my cats if I wasn’t back that evening, and went outside. Even then, clinging to the building’s gate to stay upright with passersby staring at me, I still wasn’t quite ready to dial 9/11. I staggered into the furniture store on the first floor of our building, collapsed into a chair, and accepted my fate. I handed my phone to the concerned store clerk, and asked her to call 9/11. Minutes later I was surrounded by concerned EMTs, and a few minutes after that I was in the ER at Highland Hospital. It was the first time I’d ridden in an ambulance in 35 years. It was about as fun as I remembered it from the first time.

In Highland a couple of increasingly puzzled doctors examined me. My heart sounded fine, I didn’t have any obvious stroke symptoms, there didn’t seem to be anything to explain why my legs were rubber. After a couple of hours they decided I had pinched a nerve somehow, told me to stay off my computer chair for a few days, and come back if the symptoms didn’t improve. I was a little dubious, but along came a nurse and I staggered towards the hospital exit. The nurse watched me walk maybe twenty feet, if balancing on two rubber stalks as I careered down the hall can be called walking. Then she said “Did the doctors see you trying to walk?”  Well, no, they hadn’t actually taken that particular diagnostic step. She took me back to the nurse’s station and asked some doctors there to watch me walk. I staggered passed them … and five minutes later I had wires attached to every part of my body as I was strapped to a gurney and wheeled into a giant humming machine.

24 hours of CAT scans, ultrasounds, blood tests, X-Rays, and various other tests followed … and the now team of doctors assigned to me still didn’t know what was wrong. Between tests I lay on a gurney in the ER listening to people scream as various medical procedures demonstrated the limits of human pain. I didn’t sleep well. And I still couldn’t walk. Monday morning they got me into an MRI, a far more unpleasant experience than I had imagined, and we finally had our answer. A one cm piece of my brain had died, I was now officially a stroke survivor. Even better, Sunday night they had finally assigned me a room and I was no longer living in the ER.

Monday and Tuesday I spent slowly recovering in my room, talking to my roommate, and still wired up like a Christmas tree. I learned a lot being there. For example if they announce a “Code Pink” over the PA, it means a baby is missing. And all the interior doors close and lock. And a “Code Grey” means a combative patient. There were  several of both while I was there, I guess hospitals are as exciting as they show on TV. I’d be upset about being prematurely discharged, but it was an understandable mistake under the circumstances. I didn’t have any of the classic stroke symptoms, and I had confused the issue myself by thinking both of my legs had turned to rubber. By Monday I realized that my right leg felt fine, and likely had all along. It had just felt so weird losing the use of a leg that I’d thought both legs were malfunctioning.

I’m home now, slowly but surely getting better. And I’m lucky as a stroke survivor, my speech and cognition are fine (or as fine as they ever were,) and there’s every reason to believe I will make a full recovery. Well, most of me, the 1 cm part of my brain that died is going to stay dead. And I will be with me the rest of my life. I can’t help but wonder, does this mean that I’m now part zombie?

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law, as its creator has been dead over 500 years. It’s a woodcut called “Dance of Death” by Michael Wolgemut in 1493. I’m the one laying helplessly on the ground. I chose it for many reasons, mortality has become a much bigger issue for me the past week.)

Written by unitedcats

October 6, 2011 at 6:40 pm

Doug’s Angryworld

with 6 comments

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, The Fall of the Rebel Angels

Part of the reason my blogging has slowed down recently is that so much of what is going on today makes me mad. So I decided to vent about it, maybe it will be cathartic, maybe it will just make me madder. In no particular order, and in no way comprehensive, here are ten things I spend my time seething about. Be warned, I may use some harsh language as the situation warrants.

1. The rich are ass raping us all, and tens of millions of Americans are clamouring for more. The rich have been getting richer in the USA since the 1970s, while the middle class has slowly and steadily lost ground. This is not debatable. They’ve moved our factories to foreign lands, slashed their taxes, taken over our government and mainstream media, and stolen trillions from the public till. And most Americans are so brain-washed and propagandized that they blame immigrants, liberals, conservatives, atheists, shriners, whatever. Anyone but the people who have actually gotten us into this mess.

2. The debt, an extension of number one. The Federal government  has been running in the red a record breaking 33 months now. State and local governments are no better. How in the name of God did the richest country the world has ever seen run up debts so insane that there is no conceivable way to ever pay them off? The infinite greed of the rich and the apparently infinite stupidity of the great unwashed masses is my guess.

3. The Pentagon. There was a reason the founding fathers were adamantly opposed to a standing army. Armies get involved in politics, and then get the country involved in wars. All of which costs the country blood and money. And it just keeps getting worse, while tens of millions of Americans regurgitate the crap that our legions overseas are fighting to “defend our freedoms.” No, they are fighting and dying to make the rich richer and create endless new enemies for the USA. Frankly the US army needs to be disbanded it’s so out of control.

4. The historic last flight of the space shuttle. Good riddance. The space shuttle was one of the biggest boondoggles in history, it should never have been built in the first place, and it most certainly should have been canned after the first one blew up. Yet Americans are celebrating the lives lost and the billions wasted on this flying cash cow.

5. Iran is going to have nukes soon! Yes, another right wing think tank claims that Iran is going to be building nukes soon! Yes, the exact same claim that has been made by Israeli and American war mongers since the 1980s! Yes, for nearly thirty years Iran has been “just about to” build nuclear weapons! Meanwhile Israel and the USA have massively increased their war spending, including the creation of an Israeli nuclear arsenal. The USA spends more money on air conditioning for its troops in Iraq and Afghanistan than the entire Iranian military budget, yet we are supposed to quail in our boots because Iran might someday acquire a few fifties era nukes?

6. Casey Anderson. A woman was acquitted of a terrible crime in a fair trial … and millions of Americans are braying for her blood. Literally. How does this make them any different than stone throwing Muslims? It doesn’t.

7. Health Care. France spends 11% of its GNP on health care, and provides everyone in France with cradle to grave health care of the highest quality. The USA spends 16% of its GNP on health care and provides its citizens with the worst health care in the industrialized world. Anyone who isn’t mad about this is a fool.

8. Fucking the globe. From climate change to deforestation to over-fishing humans are making widespread and unprecedented changes to the surface of our fine planet. Humans are now the greatest force for change operating on the surface of the Earth in numerous realms, in most cases either ignorant of what the end result will be, or worse, deliberately proceeding even though our best minds say the end result will be catastrophic. Collectively we are no smarter than ants.

9. Religious nuts. Even the Romans understood: “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” – Seneca the Younger (4 B.C. – 65 A.D.) And here we are two thousand years later blowing each other up, destroying the planet, and breeding like rabbits because people think it’s a great idea to do stuff because of what someone’s imaginary friend said. Jesus wept.

10. We’re all little better than monkeys. Yes, science has now shown that our brains are hard wired to be stupid. When most people are confronted with logical and scientific evidence that refutes some stupid idea they have, it reinforces their beliefs! This wouldn’t be such problem if our leaders weren’t all too eager to promote dumb fuck ideas because it makes them richer and more powerful.

In conclusion, speaking globally, this isn’t going to end well. Speaking locally, despite a missing lime and a recalcitrant pull tab, it’s going quite well and will end up nicely. And when I wake up, maybe the last 31 years will have all been a nightmare. A man can dream.

(The above image is of a painting made in 1562, so it’s currently Public Domain under US copyright law. I expect that to change soon as corporations twist the law to their own purposes. It’s titled “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” by Pieter Brueghal the Elder. I believe it’s self evident why I thought this was an appropriate image for this post.)

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