Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Fukushima Lies

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Well, as was obvious almost immediately, the nuclear power lobby and their supporters went into overdrive to downplay and obfuscate the seriousness of the Fukushima crisis in Japan. No, this isn’t another Chernobyl. And World War Two wasn’t the same as World War One, that doesn’t mean World War Two was no big deal either. I’ve even read commentaries claiming Fukushima “proves” that nuclear power  is safe. My jaw drops on that one, the Fukushima crisis isn’t over yet, so how the hell does this prove nuclear power is safe? Until the plant is safely brought back under control, and that may take up to a year, it’s a little premature to claim that this crisis is even over, let alone claim that Fukushima is no big deal.

The biggest lie I see about nuclear accidents is ones revolving around the death toll. By focusing entirely or almost entirely on how many people died, it’s easy to make nuclear power look safe compared to say coal power. There are two things horribly deceptive about this argument. For one thing it relies on the lowest possible estimates for deaths caused by nuclear accidents, often even limiting it to the people directly killed on site! It’s debatable how many people were killed by Chernobyl, maybe a few thousand, maybe many more, but focusing on this single statistic obscures the bigger picture. What about the people who got cancer but didn’t die? What about the hundred thousand people who were rendered homeless by Chernobyl? What about the area the size of Rhode Island (or Lancashire) that was rendered uninhabitable by Chernobyl? And what about the incredible cost of accidents like Fukushima or Chernobyl? Can a fire at a coal power plant bankrupt a nation?

And speaking of coal power plants, the claim is often made that we have a choice between coal power plants and nuclear power plants. To say this is oversimplification would be unfair, this is simply regurgitated energy industry propaganda. The energy industry has done a fabulous job convincing people that the only way to provide power in the modern world is giant power plants and their attendant giant electrical grids. Conservation, energy efficiency, distributed power generation, etc. are all simply dismissed as hippie nonsense. If this were really the case, the energy industry wouldn’t need tireless propaganda for their cause, and more importantly, it completely obscures the massive public subsidies that the energy industry has enjoyed for decades. From the Rural Electrification Act to the development of nuclear power itself the energy industry has enjoyed generous public subsidies. Not to mention that the health costs of both coal and nuclear power are simply dumped on the public. Anyone who says coal and nuclear plants and centralized power  are the “only option” is missing a big part of the picture.

Then we come to the amazing amount of misinformation spread about radiation itself. Mostly through conflating various types of radiation, and by claiming that “radiation” is normal and that a little bit more won’t hurt. Yes, we live in a world where there is a lot of radiation, it’s unavoidable. What the “it’s all OK” people deliberately ignore or don’t mention is that fallout is not normal. Fallout is radioactive particles that get released into the environment. And yes, the radiation produced by fallout is trivial. What they don’t mention, is that if the fallout gets incorporated into bodily tissue, it is horrifically non-trivial. It’s like if someone was shooting at you with a BB gun, close your eyes and you would be safe. If however they could insert that BB gun inside our body at shoot at point blank range at various organs, the results would not be pretty. This is the difference been the radiation one receives on a  plane flight and the radiation one receives by ingesting fallout, same “radiation,” wildly different consequences.

The other way that nuclear industry apologists deliberately understates the risk from fallout is that they make the claim that it’s so widely distributed in the environment that the dose anyone gets is small. While this is sort of true, it completely ignores the way fallout in the environment get concentrated in the food chain. Sure, there’s very little fallout on that grass. Then however the cows eat that grass, and a small amount of radioactive fallout gets concentrated and becomes dangerously radioactive milk or meat. In fact there are all sorts of ways radioactive fallout can get concentrated in the food chain, many of them no doubt as yet unknown. This especially goes with the release of fallout into the sea, this is simply a complete unknown at this point. Don’t worry though, the risk is so small that our government is going to protect us by not even bothering to test for it. Phew, see, no problem.

Which leads to another point. It’s so easy to hide the damage caused by this sort of event. Let’s think about this. Governments and the nuclear industry have incredible incentive to downplay the consequences of Fukushima. Combine this with the fact that the actual risks of this, increased cancer rates in decades to come, are going to be very easy to conceal and obfuscate and deny. Pretty sure any poli-sci freshman can give many reasons why governments lie through their teeth in situations like this. This is just how human institutions work, especially today when the mainstream media is owned lock, stock, and barrel by these very same interests that have reason to lie. Is this proof that they are lying or that the consequences of Fukushima are extremely serious? Of course not, but it’s definitely proof that people need to take government, industry, and media “expert’s”  pronouncements of safety with an extremely large dose of salt.

Lastly, a related point that Fukushima illustrates. Nuclear waste. There are decades worth of nuclear waste “stored” at Fukushima, under circumstances that are hardly safe. This is the most toxic waste humans have ever produced, and it’s going to remain dangerous for thousands of years. The fact that the fawning corporate media never even mentions this issue anymore is proof that they are simply shills for big energy and big government. I mean, passing their negative costs onto society is standard procedure for big business, but in this case they are passing the costs on to countless future generations. This should be factored into arguments about how “safe” and “practical” nuclear power is, but instead it simply gets ignored. I’m sorry, but ignoring the nuclear waste issue in the discussion of nuclear power makes about as much sense as ignoring a lump in your breast or testicle in a discussion about your health.

In summary, am I saying that Fukushima is a mind numbing disaster that’s going to kill huge numbers of people and proves that nuclear power is insane? Not at all. I’m saying that Fukushima  is a serous disaster of yet untold proportions, and it’s very much proof that the whole issue of nuclear power needs to be publicly debated. And I’m also saying that anyone, government or otherwise, who claims Fukushima is “no big deal” is at best premature  in their pronouncement, and at worst simply lying. No one knows the future scope of the Fukushima disaster, especially since the reactors and nuclear waste storage pools won’t be brought under control for months at best. This could still get a lot worse before it gets better. Sadly, I’m betting on worse.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. And yes, I’m kinda skirting the boundaries of copyright law here, but since I’m plugging their show, I hope that in the extremely unlikely event that a CBS corporate copyright attorney sees this blog, they can overlook this copyright violation. At worst, they can tell me to remove the image. Credit and Copyright: CBS. Anyhow, I digress. I chose this image for several reasons, the main one being that it illustrates that the comfortable post World War Two fantasy that most Americans have been living in is rapidly drawing to a close, and Fukushima and its attendant costs and disruptions to the world economy are one of the factors driving this sea change. Wealth can only be funnelled upwards while costs are passed onto the public for so long  before the whole rotten edifice collapses of its own weight. And also because it as a really good TV series and I highly recommend it to my readers.)

Written by unitedcats

April 18, 2011 at 7:21 am

“Oh, meltdown. It’s one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus.” — C. Montgomery Burns

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Sigh. Nuclear power. One can read opinion pieces all over the map about nuclear power, from Ann Coulter’s “radiation is good for you” to more sober analysis. Basically, if someone wants to believe this accident is no big deal, there’s plenty on the web to reinforce their beliefs. If one wants to go the other extreme, there’s stuff out there as well. The bottom line is that us sheep will never really know the full story, both because there are so many unknowns that no one knows, and the flood of conflicting opinion and information. However, this doesn’t mean that we should just throw up our hands in despair, there’s still wiggle room for thoughtful analysis. So, in my usual rough order, my current thinking on this unpleasant situation.

The first thing is that like the gulf oil spill, the powers that be have tremendous incentive to downplay this situation. More incentive really, we are talking about one of the world’s most important centres of finance and industry, not just some gulf coast fishermen and tourist traps. This means that it is a given that governments and the media are going to show a strong “everything’s OK, move along now” bias, they have to. Now this isn’t evidence that things are worse than they say, since they are going to downplay the situation no matter what, it just means that we shouldn’t simply take their word for it that this is no big deal. A codicil to this point is that it’s not over yet. IE, anyone who is now saying, everything’s OK, is considerably jumping the gun. The goddamn damaged nuclear power plants are yet to be brought under control, and the final cost is anyone’s guess, it’s way to early to assess the final impact of this disaster.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there’s no such thing as a “safe” amount of radiation. And by radiation I mean radioactive particulates tossed into the air by fires and explosions at the plants. Fallout basically. This is basically highly toxic dust that remains toxic for decades, though it does get less toxic over time. And unfortunately it is dust that gets concentrated in unpleasant ways in the environment, from animals grazing on radioactive grass to collecting in the ventilation systems of ships and buildings. And if it gets incorporated into an animal’s (or person’s) tissues, it continues to poison them for years or decades. Now maybe only modest amounts of fallout will ultimately be released in this accident, in which case, phew, we dodged a bullet. The point I am making is that pound for pound radioactive fallout is easily the most dangerous pollutant mankind makes. It’s been estimated that about 500 tons of cobalt could be used to make nuclear weapons that could destroy most life on Earth. I’m not saying that’s a possibility, but as a counterpoint to the argument so many people make about how dangerous coal power is as well. Yes, there are terrible costs to coal power, but is there any way to destroy the human race with 500 tons of coal?

So how bad is it? Is there any way for us to know? Well, actions speak louder than words. The US Navy for example is pulling the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington out to sea to avoid fallout. And it’s considerably further from the reactors than Tokyo. The fear is that the ship could become permanently contaminated by sucking fallout into its ventilation system.  The buildings in Tokyo don’t have the pulling out to sea option, so let’s hope the fallout doesn’t get that bad. It’s bad enough that they warned that Tokyo’s tap water is unsafe for babies to drink. I also find it  a little disturbing that they Japanese government dramatically raised the level of radioactive contamination a person must get before decontamination is mandatory. And to me possibly most disturbing at all, a German bond rating company will no longer rate real estate bonds in Tokyo … because it is simply impossible to to assign value to real estate in Tokyo. All of this adds up to … I am not reassured.

A couple of old friends of mine reviewed the videos of the various explosions at the nuclear plant, one of whom whom worked in the nuclear industry his whole life, the other an engineer. The nuclear guy is the guy who pointed out to me that the promise of “clean” nuclear fusion plants is a lie, that a hydrogen fusion plant would have similar if not worse nuclear waste problems than a conventional fission plant. One has to remember that the whole nuclear industry is built on lies and prevarication, but that’s a topic for another post. In any event the nuclear fellow thinks that the biggest explosion was definitely a criticality event, so some sort of partial meltdown at least occurred … and released God knows how much fallout. On the plus side he doesn’t think it poses much danger to North America, but it’s the danger it presents to Tokyo that should concern us all. And again, so far I am not reassured.

Lastly, I should point out something that is also getting short shrift by the media, the nuclear waste issue. When a  nuclear plant is refuelled, the old fuel rods are stored on site in what are basically swimming pools. This is because no one has ever figured out a way to properly and permanently store the rods. And these rods are basically just as dangerous used as when brand new, IE they still retain most of their radioactivity. And if not stored properly (say the water drains from the pool) they most certainly can go critical and create huge amounts of fallout. My point here is that decades worth of these used rods are in temporary storage at the plant (not to mention nuclear plants all over the world,) vastly more nuclear material than is inside reactor cores. And unlike reactor cores, there’s no containment vessel around them! This is literally insane, and it’s one of the things the mainstream media has obligingly ignored for the past few decades. We’re passing a terrible problem onto future generations so that we can enjoy the benefits of “clean” nuclear power now. Yeah, coal fired power plants kill a lot of people, but at least when the plant is closed it no longer poses much health risk. The health risked posed by nuclear power will be around for thousands of years, so it’s a little disingenuous to claim nuclear power is safe when it poses a risk of future Chernobyls generations into the future even if every  nuclear plant on the planet was closed tomorrow.

I’m not saying that nuclear power is a bad idea, I’m saying that building nuclear power plants (and storing their waste) where they present a danger to great cities is clearly insane. Chernobyl only required evacuating Pripyat, a city of 50,000 people. If Tokyo or other major Japanese cities have to be evacuated, the cost to Japan will be incalculable, and the cost to the world will be non-trivial. I hope nothing of the kind happens, but until the Fukushima plant is safely shut down and brought under control, it’s premature to be claiming that nuclear power is safe. And even when it is, the topic is debatable. “See, it was only a minor disaster after all” isn’t really a very convincing argument.

And speaking of still unfolding world wide disasters, my next post, Libya … where Obama has bravely led Nato crusaders to achieve, well, who knows. The USA has gone from starting wars on false pretexts to just starting the war and hoping to come up with a convincing pretext later. Historically, these sorts of  random military adventures don’t go well.

(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 don’t know who holds the copyright, but I got it from this site. It’s an image of Pripyat, the abandoned city near the Chernobyl nuclear plant. I chose it among millions of Pripyat images on line because of its ominous sombre feel. That’s the power plant in the distance. For a motorcycle tour of the region, click here: KIDDofSPEED.)

 

 

Written by unitedcats

March 23, 2011 at 1:00 pm

The Pont St Esprit Affair

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Pont St Esprit, a small town in southern France. August 1951. There was nothing remarkable about Pont St Esprit, it was just a  typical French town in post war Europe. It had been a wet summer, but otherwise unremarkable. And the war had been over for six years, so things were getting back to normal. And normal in France was going to the market in the morning and buying the daily meals, and this would include fresh bread. And that’s what the residents of Pont St Esprit did, they bought the bread, took it home, and ate it. Just like any other day.

August 15 wasn’t just another day though. The first thing that happened was that animals, dogs and some cats, that had eaten the bread … died. This was a little alarming to say the least, and in the modern world there would likely have already been people contacting authorities. In 1951 there were no such authorities, and people had to deal with things like this themselves. And who would get excited about a few dead pets anyhow?

The villagers talked it over among themselves, what else could they do? And talked. And talked. And then noticed the second strange thing going on. No one who ate the bread could sleep. The villagers who ate the bread spent the night standing in the streets talking to each other. Even in this era before horror movies, it’s a good bet that a lot of these people were pretty freaked out. I would be. The second day passed normally, and the second night it was the same. The people who had eaten the bread still couldn’t sleep.

And then, all hell broke loose. People started going, quite literally, insane. Wracked with terrible delusions and complete psychotic breaks with reality, they did terrible risky things. One guy climbed a bridge and walked along the narrow girders, convinced he was a high rise circus tightrope walker. I don’t recall how he ended up, but yes, people died. Many more injured themselves, sometimes in almost incomprehensible ways. One strong strapping fellow was restrained in an asylum with leather straps. He had a fit and tore through the straps holding him down with his teeth. Ripping out many of his teeth in the process. I don’t even want to think about how that must have felt. He survived, but yes, he had life changing injuries. One of the luckier ones became obsessed with the idea that he had some great knowledge to impart. He spent over a week at his desk scribbling furiously before his mind cleared. All gibberish, but he was thankful. It may have been gibberish, but it kept him from doing anything dangerous. Unlike some of his friends and neighbours.

Ina  few weeks it was over, people’s heads cleared, and many of them couldn’t even remember what they had done or what had transpired. Imagine a bad  acid trip that lasted for weeks, oh Dear God.  Seven people died, more than 50 had been locked up in asylums they had gone so out of control. There were minor outbreaks in a  few other areas, but Pont St Esprit was far and away the worst. It was traced to the bread, and was identified as ergot poisoning. Well, identified may be too strong a word, it was the best guess but no one knows for sure. Ergot is a fungus that grows on grains, particularly rye, and particularly during wet seasons.  Its active ingredients, if one can call them that, are very similar to LSD.

A variety of other causes have been suggested, various toxins like mercury and such that might have gotten into the flour. All of which are intriguing, but none of which seem like a good match for the victims of Pont St Esprit. It’s been suggested that this was a modern outbreak of something that happened in the Middle Ages called dancing mania or St. Anthony’s Fire. In these cases large number of people would dance and hallucinate uncontrollably, continuing to thrash even after they had collapsed from exhaustion. It too is unexplained, though ergot poisoning again has been suggested.

One of the big problems with ergot poisoning for either case is that ergot poisoning restricts the blood flow to the extremities making movement of any kind extremely painful, this doesn’t jibe with people dancing or being wildly physically active as in Pont St Esprit. It’s been suggested that some of the medieval cases were in fact a sort of mass hysteria, with at least one modern example, the Tanganyika laughter epidemic, to show it’s possible. No one has suggested Pont St Esprit was mass hysteria though. The symptoms were too severe and the dead pets obviously didn’t die of hysteria.

It’s recently been suggested that Pont St esprit was actually a deliberate mass poisoning conducted by the CIA. While this is getting headlines in the media, it’s a pretty wild suggestion. And a suggestion that’s not supported by much, the shreds of evidence the originators of this theory have come up with aren’t terribly convincing. On the other hand, by the US military was completely out of control and did such things as conduct secret biological warfare experiments on US cities. So it’s certainly not impossible that the CIA would try dosing a town with LSD to see what would happen. Unlikely, unproven, but not impossible.

And to this day the mystery of Pont St Esprit and medieval Dancing Mania remains unexplained. Pont St Esprit was mass poisoning of some sort, and that’s as far as we get. If it happened today we have the science to detect all sorts of subtle chemical and biological clues, and likely the cause would be identified. Likely. Who knows though, I described this case to show that once again, there are still unsolved mysteries in the world. And as a public service, the next time you have insomnia, and if you remember eating anything that tastes funny, have your friends chain you to your bed. Why take chances?

(The above image is Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s a Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) painting titled “The Temptation of St Anthony.” I chose it because I love Bosch’s work, and hopefully to some extent it captures what some of the victims of Pont St Esprit may have experienced. Lastly, I got a lot of the details above from a  book I read decades ago on the incident,  The Day of St. Anthony’s Fire. Hopefully my memory is reasonably accurate.)

Written by unitedcats

August 26, 2010 at 5:37 am

Artificial Life or Artificial Hype? And the Big Bang Gets Another Boost.

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Scientists announced last week the first creation of artificial life in the laboratory. And the media breathlessly reported the news before moving on to other things,  since the average human attention span these days seems to be approaching the planck limit. (For the non physicists reading, a Planck Time Unit is the smallest measurable length of time.) When I heard the news my first reaction was … haven’t they already created artificial life, like Geralda Rivera and Glenn Beck? I guess this means that they had mothers and were conceived and born in the usual fashion. Yikes. My second reaction was, hmm, this is sure a headline grabbing story, I wonder how much truth there is to it? I mean now that any big study involving genetics and bioengineering can mean buckets of money for the discoverer, one has to keep an open mind. Remember the announcement of the first cloned human a few years back?

So I looked into it, and this isn’t really a story about artificial life, it’s mostly a story about artificial hype. Yes, once again the media has credulously repeated a story without bothering to do any sort of critical analysis or ask any questions at all apparently. I guess since people will believe anything on TV, they figure it’s not worth the trouble to be even remotely factually accurate? The Weekly World Newsification of the media continues apace.

OK, so what exactly did esteemed scientist Dr Craig Venter do? In sum, he copied the DNA from an existing organism, made a few minor changes in it, and inserted it into a preexisting cell from which the DNA had been removed. Uh huh. This is like making a copy of a computer’s operating system, changing a few files,  then sticking it into another computer from which the operating system has been removed, and claiming to have made a whole new type of computer! *blinks* As one might expect, reaction from the scientific community is mixed. While it is a remarkable technical accomplishment, and a step towards the day when bacteria with custom written DNA will be produced, it’s a little premature to call this “synthetic life.”

Moving from the creation of life to the creation of the Universe (how’s that for a segue?) scientists last week announced further evidence for the Big Bang. Well, to be more accurate, they may have explained one of the long standing problems with the Big Bang theory. And that problem is, where is all the antimatter? Antimatter is the opposite of matter, in that the electron has a positive charge, and the proton has a negative charge. In other respects antimatter is normal matter, and one can have antimatter  atoms, molecules, and on up to antimatter suns, life, and galaxies. However, when matter and antimatter come into contact, they annihilate each other in an explosion of nuclear dimensions. This is why antimatter is a popular explosive or starship fuel in fiction, a pound of antimatter could power the USA for two days.  And while scientists can make small amounts of antimatter, there’s as yet no way to contain it in large quantities for such purposes. Antimatter is used for PET scans though, so it has some use. And other than the tiny ephemeral amounts created by radioactive decay there don’t seem to be any antimatter stars or galaxies floating around, and astronomers have looked for them.

So why is this a problem for the Big Bang theory? Well, according to the theory, when the Universe was expanding and matter formed out of energy, there should have been equal amounts of matter and antimatter. Which should have then mutually annihilated, which should have been the end of that. Instead, for some unknown reason, a universe made entirely out of matter came into being, eventually turning into stars, galaxies, and the readers of this blog. Well, the problem has been solved, or at least a  solution is in sight. Scientists working at Fermilab and the University of Chicago have discovered that when B-mesons (a subatomic particle) decay, they make about 1% more muons (another subatomic particle) than antimuons. This may not seem like much of a deal, but apparently it’s far more than enough to account for a universe made entirely of matter.

Granted, this discovery hasn’t been integrated with the Big Bang theory yet, and may in fact turn out to be irrelevant. What it does do though is show that on some levels there is a measurable bias towards matter in the Universe, so a solution to the “missing antimatter” problem is possible. This is one of the things the LHC (the Large Hadron Collider) will be looking into if scientists can ever get it up to full power.

So, two promised topics covered already, and it’s only Monday! Sometime during the week I will cover the third, since it’s harder to explain and I want to get it right before being pilloried. Basically cosmologists are starting to understand how the Universe created itself! I threw down the “no God required” clause because this has always been one of the “objections” to the Big Bang theory, the idea that there has to be a creator, since nothing can create itself. I use the word “argument” in quotation marks because it’s not really an argument, since it begs the question. If one can’t have anything without a creator,  and if God created the Universe, what created God? Nonetheless, what created the Big Bang is a real scientific question, theological implications aside. And there is now a theory that just might do the trick. Stay tuned.

So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”

Matthew 13:34-36

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: MotivatedPhotos.com. It’s an illustration of an alternate cosmology, one where the Ceiling Cat God created the Universe. I can’t claim the theory has a whole lot of observational evidence behind it, but it has a certain appeal.)

Written by unitedcats

May 24, 2010 at 11:01 am

Fluffy Forever! Scientists Announce that Immortality for Pets has Arrived!

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OK, I’m joking. Sort of. There’s reason to believe that someday soon, maybe next year, maybe next decade (studying cosmology has really warped my perception of time) it will be possible to go to the vet, get Fluffy a shot, and Voilà,  immortal pet. Well, as long as it doesn’t run under a bus, or fall prey to any of the other bad things that can happen to a small pet in a big scary world. And while there’s no guarantee that this sort of breakthrough will be made, scientists are studying ageing extensively, and there’s been a lot of progress recently. So best to think about this beforehand, what then are the implications of immortal Fluffy?

First off, one’s childhood pet could stay with one their whole life. That has at least some social implications. People tend to get really attached to childhood pets, allowances would have to be made when peeps went to college and stuff. Would politicians be judged on whether or not they still had their childhood pet? There would also be the issue of what to do with an immortal pet if the owner died. People would have to take more care in their wills. Then there’s just the weirdness of things like, “Oh yeah, that’s my great grandmother’s budgie. She died decades before I was born, but we still have her bird.” I guess one would get used to it, but still. Then there’d be the issue of famous people’s pets. Imagine if Winston Churchill’s bulldog was still around, or the Queen’s corgis lived forever. Whole palaces full of immortal royal pets?

The dog and cat show circuit would have to adjust somehow. Champion show animals would never age, so would they win year after year? The Kentucky Derby would be interesting, the greatest racehorses would live on and on to face each other again and again. Would there be a limit to how many years they could win? I suppose you could have two categories, one for immortals and one for mortals. There are some interesting and possibly disturbing implications for animals used for research. One could run really long studies. One could run rats through mazes that took years to navigate. Granted I can’t see any reason for that, but scientists come up with some interesting research sometimes. Would be good for studying things like really long term exposure to low levels of toxins or cell phone radiation or whatever I suppose. Good quality stud animals could live forever. This has some creepy implications too. Puppy farms could keep the same females constantly pregnant forever. Same problem with farms. Chickens, locked in a  box forever, basically just an egg machine. Same for cows. Granted these sorts of animals are not exactly well treated now, but still, forever? And if this living forever thing is genetic, and we’re really speculating here, what if it could be passed on? Imagine a population of immortal rats or mice on the loose. Or  deer, pigeons, or any number of “pest” animals.

On the plus side, it would be a boon for endangered species. Just make your condors or whooping cranes immortal and it’s going to be a lot easier to rebuild their populations. It would certainly be handy if highly valuable service animals like seeing eye dogs or rescue dogs lived forever. And I would get to keep cleaning the same litter box forever, that’s certainly a mixed blessing.  There’s probably all sorts of legal angles to any and all of the above too I suppose.

Is there a point to this post? Yes and no, it’s mostly a fun post. The only serious  point I’m making is that when we make changes, the implications need to be thought about. We are very possibly approaching the day when it may be possible to make humans immortal. If making pets immortal has so many implications, including many I’m sure I didn’t think of, imagine the changes in our society that immortal humans would imply. Yet research continues, and outside of a few medical ethicists, I doubt people have given it much thought.

And sadly, this is a very common trait in humans. We make all sorts of tremendous changes with little or no thought to the implications and consequences. People do this individually, we do it as a society. It’s kind of an interesting approach for a species that considers itself intelligent, nu? And as the power of modern technology and medicine grows by leaps and bounds, one can only hope that we get into the habit of giving things a bit more forethought. While futurology and future studies do exist, they certainly aren’t much a part of mainstream thinking for the most part. And even if they do exist, listening to scientists has been going out of style for decades. I dunno, I’m pretty sure that being able to predict the winner of American Idol isn’t going to be of much long term use to the race.

Tomorrow, random nonsense and upcoming changes to Doug’s Darkworld.

(The above image is used with the kind permission of the photographer, Mary Molnar. Credit and Copyright © Mary Molnar, all rights reserved. The cat’s name is Ginger Rogers. A little puzzling to me, it would be like naming a ginger cat “Blackie.” I’m puzzled a lot these days, in fact the more I figure out about life and the world, the more puzzled I get. Life, it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with no edges and new pieces arrive in the mail every day.)

Written by unitedcats

May 20, 2010 at 8:30 am

Posted in Health, Philosophy, Science

Health Care Reform … it’s not as bad as you might think.

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For one thing, Rush Limbaugh promised to leave the country if health care reform passed and was implemented. Oddly enough he plans to go to Costa Rica, a country with government financed universal health care. Facts have never been his strong point from what I can tell. I’d be surprised if he actually made good on his threat either, if there was ever someone who deserved to be called a blowhard, it’s the estimable Mr Rush.

I am assuming that the right wing blogosphere is sputtering with rage at this failure of their movement. Might even be entertaining on some level, but the foes of health care reform for the most part have been so out of touch with reality on the topic that it was sad, not funny. There’s nothing particularly radical nor socialist about the reform package, except for the patheitic fact that religious extremists have once again thrown America’s women under the bus.

In fact, there are some really good things about the health care reform bull. We didn’t get the single payer option that has worked so well in the rest of the industrialized world, but we at least reined in some of the worst excesses of the insurance companies. In fact the health care reform bill served to cripple the already existing insurance company death panels. Here then are ten good things in the bill:

  1. Insurance companies can no longer have a lifetime cap on insurance coverage. If you’re insured and something happens that requires lifetime care … you’re covered. What a concept, nu?
  2. The use of annual caps will be sharply limited and end entirely in 2014. Again, thank God.
  3. Insurers can longer say they will insure children, but will not cover a pre-existing condition. Yes, sick children will be able to get health insurance. Isn’t this the opposite of death panels?
  4. Adults with pre-existing conditions will get some help until 2014, at which point insurers will be required to cover everyone, pre-existing conditions or no.
  5. The dread rescission has been eliminated. This means if you get sick, your insurance company can’t cancel your policy. What a unAmerican concept eh, having to actually honour a contract?
  6. Children can stay on their parent’s health care program until they are 26.
  7. The “doughnut hole” in coverage for prescription drugs will slowly be eliminated. As it stands now, people get a few thousand dollars a year of coverage for prescription drugs, then no coverage at all until Medicare kicks in after they spend over $6k a year of their own money. Now if granny gets sick and needs drugs, they will be paid for.
  8. Preventative medical care from Medicare will be expanded and the co-pay eliminated. Keeping people healthy in the first place will save the country piles of money, something the foes of health care reform often seem oblivious too.
  9. Small businesses will get some nice tax credits for offering insurance plans to their employers.
  10. Insurance companies will have to reveal their operating costs, and ones with unusually high administrative costs will have to offer their customers rebates.

Is it all good? I dunno, maybe I’ll come up with a list of ten bad things next. It’s a positive change and a step forward though. Americans delight in thinking of themselves has a modern advanced country, and when it comes to our gadgets, it’s true. In other areas we are one of the most moribund nations on the planet, stuck in decades old and outdated social policies. Not to mention our shameful lack of investment in infrastructure, public transit, and education. Moving right along, giant industries need to be regulated. If the health insurance industry had their way, the only people able to get health insurance would be healthy people, and it would be cancelled as soon as they got sick.

Yes, this will cost some money. It will also save lives. Not sure why spending money to save lives and help sick people is such a problem for some people. And the bottom line is that as Americans get healthier, it will save buckets of money. Treating a problem before it turns into a an emergency room visit or a lifetime of disability will save all sorts of money. And finally there will be some incentive to end the culture of  ordering necessary and expensive tests because “insurance covers it.” There’s plenty of evidence that unnecessary medical tests and procedures cause more problems than they solve; in the medical world, just like in real life, excess is just waste.

Now Congress can go on to more important reform. Let’s cut the war budget and stop meddling overseas. Snicker. Snort. Oh well, I knew I couldn’t type that with a straight face. Have a healthy week everyone.

(The above image is a painting by Rembrandt and is public domain under US copyright law. It’s titled The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, and was painted in 1632. The list of ten good things was taken from this fine AlterNet Article. I chose the painting because it’s on topic, and I was fascinated by it as a kid. As a grown up, it’s still an amazing painting, click it for the full size version, the expressions on the faces are priceless. I’m a sucker for old classics, what can I say.)

Written by unitedcats

March 23, 2010 at 11:46 am

9/11 and 9/12 … The Hangover

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promise_keepers

Well, it’s over. Another 9/11 anniversary is past, yes the most memorialized crime in history once again reared its ugly head. I wrote my own 9/11 post, but it was so filled with anger I decided to forgo it. And while I was reviewing what every other pundit on the planet had to say about 9/11, a whole bunch of Americans converged on Washington to insist that under no circumstances must America’s incredibly well paid health insurance industry death panels be hindered in their efforts. It’s been a strange weekend, but frankly, living in a country where many people think that the government actually helping sick people should be our lowest national priority is a little strange at the best of times. I mean, our goddamn prison population has access to better health care than tens of millions of Americans. Interesting national priorities.

I was asleep in a trailer in the Oregon woods during the 9/11 attacks. I was dreaming about huddling with some folks in the corner of a basement or some such from an explosion. And then I was walking along a road in an open area with a city on the skyline. On one side of the road was an endless pile of tan dust or sand. There was a rickety barbed wire fence and some brush between me and the dust, and I was looking for a way to get through it and look at the dust closer.  Then I woke up from my dreams, went into the main house, and started watching cable TV true crime shows. The news of the attacks scrolled by, and that was that. For the first few moments I thought maybe it was some sort of War of the Worlds thing, like maybe a preview for a movie that had been mistaken for something real No such luck, 19 people had indeed hijacked airliners and used them as weapons.

And sadly within a few days the second hijacking took place and the real nightmare began. Within a week of 9/11 I knew that the “War on Terror” was going to make the “War on Drugs” look cheap and effective by comparison. What had been a terrible crime perpetrated by a tiny handful of religious extremists was parlayed into a terrifying existential threat to western civilization. The great terrorist witch hunt had begun, and while Americans were driven almost to hysteria watching out for terrorists jumping out of every corner and crying for the government to do anything to protect them from this threat … the rich and the military went on the greatest shopping spree in history. In fact they were so carried away with the thrill of having infinite credit cards, and a universal mandate, they even thought they could buy entire countries and reshape the world in their image! Yes, by God, good was finally going to triumph over evil!

Sadly, Iraq and Afghanistan, the first two countries in their heroic agenda have stuck in our craw, and despite never ending blood and money, don’t look like they will be transforming into the occupied post war Germany and Japan of our “greatest generation” anytime soon. Al Quaida is still around, even Bin Laden is still making the rounds, th0ugh he’s lost his edge. France is still around despite despite the fact that many of the proponents of the “War on Terror” had confidently written its epitaph. There’s no Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East, and just in general the Muslim hordes that were just over the horizon have failed to materialize. In fact except for a truly heroic pile of debt, some ungovernable occupied Muslim lands of our own, and a government/military/banker complex bloated beyond all reason like some great cancerous octopus … everything is pretty much the same as before the War on Terror. Yeah, Bin Laden wasn’t able to nuke New York, but there never was much chance he was going to do that anyhow. And yeah, terrorist attacks continue. As they have since the beginning of recorded history and will until human beings evolve past the shaved chimp stage.

Exit Bush, enter Obama, and we’re in a bizarre new land. Americans who for years stood by while Bush shovelled trillions out the door to bankers and the military are now up in arms because Obama wants to spend comparatively modest amounts on medical care for sick Americans? On one hand it’s nice that people are waking up to the fact that Washington has robbed us blind and that Washington’s credit cards need to be cancelled, on the other hand the anti-Obama and anti-liberal tone of it all was disturbing. Because I’m pretty sure most of these people were pro Bush, which hardly argues this is some national movement. And arguments on whether the march is spontaneous are pointless, because spontaneous or not they are benefiting the very efficient death panels we already have, the insurance companies who work so hard to make sure we have the most profitable and least effective health care system in the developed world.

And on top of this weirdness, boy, Obama is really blowing it. I suspected all along he was a clever politician with a silver tongue. Yeah, that’s an upgrade from a clever politician who only took the cowboy boot out of his mouth to change feet, but it wasn’t what we needed or were promised! Sadly it seems like Obama’s “strategy” so far has been to double down in Afghanistan and on the economy, and hopefully ram some sort of health care reform package through using the favours the former two generated. In fact for all practical purposes Obama has simply continued or even expanded on Bush’s policies, while liberals grow increasingly desperate to avoid acknowledging what the liberal intelligentsia knew from the beginning, Obama is no liberal. And as a last delicious icing to this giant cake of absurdity, Americans are having coniptions calling President Obama a socialist, a communist, and  a fascist for doing exactly what Bush was doing!

So what’s really going on here? Beats the hell out of me. My current theory … I’m still dreaming in my trailer in the woods.

(The above image as proof that millions of people marched on Washington? Um, no, even though it was widely claimed as such. It’s a photo from some previous event, probably the Million Man March in 95. And an example of to what great lengths the partisans in this debate will go to, partisans on both sides I should add.  I’ve seen credible estimates of 60,000 or more, up to hardly credible millions. I suspect the media is mostly ignoring it because even they aren’t really sure what is going on.  In President Obama’s America, every day is Halloween I guess.)

Written by unitedcats

September 15, 2009 at 6:36 am

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