Archive for the 'Science!' Category

Flawless Victory

I have seen the enemy, and they are fungi.

About 7 years ago, I was in peak physical condition.  I was running 20+ miles a week and blazing through local charity races. I loved running.

My chief enemy was the stopwatch. My wartime goals were personal bests at various distances, and many a battle raged as I pushed my body to its limits of speed and endurance. I won some battles, lost even more. But I had fun.

One day, my enemy (time) engaged the services of an evil confederate: jock itch.

Bring on the shocking photo!!!

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This is not me; genitals were obscured to protect your innocent mind.

Suffice it to say that I suffered from this itching, chafing, smelly problem for a long time. I used over-the-counter remedies with abandon. They did nothing.

I read up all I could about the problem.  I started showering twice a day, thoroughly drying the area and applying Miconazole or Tolnaftate. The problem would subside, but if I skipped showering and powdering for even one day, the evil fungus was back with a vengeance.

This distressed me more than it did the woman I was dating at the time. She was a trooper, but I hated it.

My GOD, what an odor. When a breakout was in full force, my crotch became a seething, soupy cauldron of foulness, a stench so awful that Hades would bar its entry. I’d shower and scrub and dry and apply,  just to keep it under control.

Even Kung Fu strength Miconazole didn't work!

After a year of this bullshit, I went to the doctor. He was one of those bought-and-sold dupes of the pharmaceutical industry, and after a short inspection he gave me a prescription for what amounted to…Miconazole cream. I followed all the directions, showering, drying and applying twice a day.

The fungus subsided. But after the end of my course of treatment I decided to skip showering one day and – BAM! It was back with a vengeance.

At this point, I gave up. I had injured my back and wasn’t running anymore, but the jock itch remained. There was simply no killing it. It was more persistent than a three-year-old trying to show you his new trick.

Years went by and I spent hundreds of dollars on daily applications of powders and creams. I even went the alternative route and tried diluted tea tree oil, which was a severe mistake. That crap does not belong on your balls, full stop. Hippies need to stick to their areas of expertise (rolling joints, playing pan flutes) and leave the medicine to the experts.

Which is what I did. My previous doctor was arrested for selling expired flu shots and raping a patient, so I had to find a new doctor.

This is what a doctor might look like.

My new doctor is a good doctor, and he helped me with my back quite effectively. I didn’t bother him about the jock itch because I figured it was hopeless and I didn’t want to burden him with trivialities. I’m sure he’s bothered with trivialities enough already.

Then, about 6 months ago, the fungus re-appeared with a vengeance. By now, I was apoplectic. I had been fighting this war for seven fucking years at great expense. I resolved to see my cool new doctor and demand the nuclear option.

He inspected the disaster area and, after hearing of my seven year ordeal, agreed to offer the nuclear option. I took daily oral doses of a nasty fungicide for three weeks. It was harsh stuff, and I felt kinda chemical all the time, but there were no other side effects. I kept myself clean and dry.

At the end of my course of medication, I took off for Bosnia. I brought some cream with me in case the nuke had failed. I needn’t have worried. Once home, I let myself go for two days as a test. My hair was greasy and my pits stank, but my crotch was merely hairy. The tinea cruris was GONE!

Finally, my dick just smelled like…dick. You know – that musty aroma of manliness that causes slutty girls to sniff their fingers like their teenage boy counterparts after a heavy petting session. The kind of dick smell that seems to linger in locker rooms, barely detectable over the overwhelming attack of ammonia cleansers.

No more wretched fungus! Victory is mine!

No more does my crotch broil with reddened citadels of foul fungi; no more do I reach into my pants and pull back a finger full of ungodly stench; no more do I itch and chafe and rub.

This groin is CLEAN!

I have a new regimen to keep my manhood manageable. I shower and dry, but now I just powder the area  with generic talc. End of story. In the old days, my jock itch would laugh at fungicidal powder. The fungus would simply absorb and incorporate the powder, making the whole mess even more horrifying.

But no more! I can go days without showering, and my loins come through as sweet as honey-kissed cornbread. The war is over. Science has won the day (again)!

I would like to thank my doctor for making this happen, and I would like to thank my hair dryer for doing its best all these years.

And so, I have an announcement: ladies, the coast is clear!

Citizen Ted's the cleanest guy I know!


A Little Nukie Never Hurt Anybody!

ph_three_mile_island500

Look how cute!

When I bring up Peak Oil with my friends, some of them leap onto the nuclear bandwagon. And unlike the old days, nuclear power proponents aren’t just cigar-chomping engineers with high-and-tight haircuts. No, the hippies have been warming up to nuclear, too. Why?

Because nuclear fission doesn’t dump pollution directly into our communities, it doesn’t add as much to our CO2 load as coal or petroleum and because it’s a well-understood technology. Furthermore, it would be a meaningful stepping stone to becoming fully energy independent in a glorious new electrical world.

We currently have about 104 operating nuclear power plants in the US. If we converted our ground transportation fleet, our industrial power needs and our heating needs to electricity, we could power it all – even with current growth trends! – with about 720 additional high-yield nuclear plants. That’s right: just 720 comparatively small sites that can be placed where they are needed most.

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Nuclear fission FTW!!!

Sounds like a winner! Let’s start building now! Why wait?

Well, there are a few snags. First and foremost is the disposal question. What do we do with all the nuclear waste? The leftover heavy water and contaminated rods and other radioactive components are the most deadly objects on the face of the Earth. And they will remain lethal for tens of thousands of years. We currently can’t even clean up our previous messes. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state is still working on getting rid of radioactive materials from 50 years ago!

Don’t get me wrong; the men and women working at Hanford and other Superfund sites are doing a bang-up job with this massive undertaking. It will take billions more dollars and a few dozen more years to get Hanford cleaned up. And they’re racing against time: if cleanup doesn’t finish on time, the Columbia river could become a radioactive death trap for every living thing in the northwest US.

YuccaMountain

Yucca Mountain - put the yucky in Yucca!

“Let’s just bury the shit in Yucca Mountain!”

This has become the rallying cry of nuke proponents. It’s true: Yucca mountain leads to a massively deep and solid ignimbrite base that can keep nuclear waste far from the water table and our kid’s sippy cups. We could put shit down there, slap on a few warning signs and just monitor the place for about 50,000 years and we’ll be fine. Sort of.

Trouble is, Yucca Mountain is the leftover remnant of an ancient caldera and an active tectonic zone. Fault lines extend throughout the area. One good earthquake, and we’ll be one nervous country. Who’s going to go down and see how things held up after the big quake? Not me.

OK, so maybe disposal is a problem we haven’t solved. But maybe we could solve it. Maybe we could find the perfect spot to bury the waste or maybe we could encase the shit in thick nano-carbon sarcophagi, then just rocket them into the Sun. Poof! Problem solved.

Almost. There’s another concern: uranium supplies. According to the German research organization Energy Watch Group, most of the world’s easy, high-yield uranium has already been mined. That leaves less-rich ores which are more costly and energy-intensive to process. At current consumption, cynics guess we have about 33 years of affordably extractable uranium left. More liberal estimates are a few centuries at current consumption.

Either way, there isn’t enough uranium for America’s gleaming new 720 power plants.

In my mind, none of this matters.

What bothers me about nuclear fission is the danger of leakage and contamination. No, I’m not Bruce Springsteen and no, I’m not going to lecture you. Instead, I’d like to tell you some real-life stories.

chrnobyl

Sleep, my pretty. Sleep.

I’ve read several books about the Chernobyl disaster. I became interested in the subject from my personal interest in eastern Europe and from reading about various daring explorers who have posted photojournals of their visits to Pripyat, the Ukrainian city that was once home the Chernobyl employees and their families.

Among them are Robert Polidori, a cool collection from the folks at pripyat.com and the controversial motorcyclist Elena Filatova. Of course, you can also play any number of post-apocalytpic video games with creepy maps based in and around the Pripyat disaster zone.

Most nuke proponents scoff at the very idea that Chernobyl will ever happen again, because, well, “this time it’s DIFFERENT”!  (Hint: whenever anyone says that, it’s a lie.)

Yes, Chernobyl was not a poster child for safely-run nuke plants. And yes, we can avoid the same mistakes that occurred there. But nothing can alleviate the fact that the turning point that resulted in the Chernobyl failure was human error. Like many awful things, Chernobyl was caused by laziness. A stress test of the reactor’s cooling ability was being run, and when the day shift switched to the night shift, the night shift guys who took over didn’t realize the test was so deep into its cycle. It was a lack of communication between day and night crews. They let the test run and run. What could go wrong?

Chernobyl_Disaster

Um...this.

The core overheated and exploded, leaving the radioactive basin exposed to the air at full blast. And this is where we meet the heroes and villains.

Fire crews battled the blaze. Many of them reported seeing a green glow from the core that wouldn’t go out. They were, however, successful in putting the fire out. Nearly all of them died within a year from radiation poisoning.

The Soviet leadership from Gorbachev on down tried to put a lid on the story and failed to sound the alert – internally and externally. This reprehensible desire to contain the bad news is almost as criminal as the subsequent failure to adequately care for those affected by the disaster.

The real heroes are the men and women who gave their lives to contain the mess. Some of them were engineers and architects. Others were heavy equipment operators. Some were soldiers and nurses. Most were regular citizens looking for work in the moribund Soviet economy. All of them gave their lives to contain the disaster and their efforts saved untold thousands of lives.

chernobyl-heroes

In her book Voices from Chernobyl, writer Svetlana Alexievich interviews people who fought the Battle of Chernobyl. Nearly all of them died soon after giving their interviews.

Among the memorable and haunting stories:

  • A Russian Army helicopter pilot who was among the first to start pouring airborne drops of concrete onto the smoking husk of the reactor.  As he hovered over the glowing wreckage and dropped load upon load of concrete, he could feel pins and needles shooting up through the seat of his helicopter. He died a few months later.
  • A heavy equipment operator tasked with “clearing” the surrounding villages. He and his crew tore up the top few feet of soil in every village and farm for deep burial. When the contract was up, the government asked to take all his clothes for disposal. He gave them everything except his favorite hat. He gave the hat to his 6-year-old boy when he got home. The father died soon after from radiation poisoning. The boy died just a year later from brain cancer.
  • A group of engineers in Moscow had some bold ideas to encase the reactor. They needed to tunnel below it and fill the tunnels with concrete. After long delays from the government, they were given the go-ahead. After several months of awful labor, the base of the reactor was encased in concrete. Many of the attending engineers and workers died soon after.
chernobyl-victims

Meet twins Vladimir and Michael Iariga. Michael, on the right, is the older twin. Vladimir, on the left, is deaf.

The Chernobyl victims keep rolling in as people in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus continue to die in cancer clusters and children are born with profound genetic defects. Chernobyl released 400 times the radioactive fallout of Hiroshima.

This is what happens when you have routine human error at a nuclear power plant.

(An interesting aside: due to all the hard work of those heroes who cleared the immediate area, the ecosystem around Pripyat and Chernobyl has bounced back remarkably. Wildlife has returned and some villages are even inhabitable. It’s a wonderful case study for people interested in how our ecosystem bounces back from human folly.)

In sum: I know you may think nuclear power is comparatively clean and safe, but there is more to it than that. It’s non-renewable, intensely pollutive and very, very dangerous.

We must look elsewhere for answers.

We’re All Going to Die.

ZOMG PUSH IT!!!

I love America. Why? It’s our unending hubris. Everyone appreciates the guy with confidence. Women uniformly agree that they find confident men attractive.

The trouble is, overly-confident people usually have no fucking idea what they’re talking about or what they’re doing. The scientific method doesn’t give a crap how confident you are in your hypothesis. Bad ideas will be sussed out. Nature doesn’t care how confident you are. Earthquakes kill heroes and cowards alike.

Confidence isn’t always a good thing. I know it sounds insane, but sometimes a bit of caution is helpful.

Solving complex problems involves a bit of both: confidence that you will succeed and caution to avoid deceiving yourself. Knowing when to apply each is like cooking a steak over an open fire and using liquid butter and a water bottle to adjust the flames.

Which brings us to:

OMFG! Swine flu!

The way the media is telling it, swine flu is just inches away from killing your infant. Never mind the fact that your kid is 9000% more likely to die from regular flu. Never mind the statistics or the numbers. The American media wants you to know that swine flu is poised to cover the Earth with burning piles of corpses. There is no escape and no future; we are all royally fucked.

Burn, baby, burn!!!

OK, I’m being too goddamn sarcastic. Fact is, swine flu (Influenza A H1N1) is a particularly lethal form of the flu. And we are overdue for a pandemic. We haven’t had a real high-quality barn-burner for 91 years.

But folks, by all outward appearances, this flu isn’t THE flu. Its current form just isn’t virulent enough to do the kind of damage that the bobble-heads on TV are warning you about. Yes, it could mutate (unless you’re a Creationist, in which case mutations don’t ever occur unless the Bible describes them). A random mutation that increased virulence and lethality could make H1N1 a real pisser.

But that just hasn’t occurred. So stop freaking out. Stop running off to the ER because you got the sniffles. They can’t help you anyway; if you’ve contracted H1N1, there is no cure. You’ll either die or live. You’re better off staying at home, swilling NyQuil and watching re-runs of Hell’s Kitchen.

If the virus mutates in a bad way, the global networks will certainly let you know. In the mean time, let’s “Keep Calm and Carry On”, OK?

And if the worst should happen, you can rest assured that I will hole up in my bunker with six weeks of provisions and some powerful guns. When the worst is over, I will emerge into the smoking ruins to take full control over a society gone mad. I will rule with an iron fist, but if you prove your worth and join me in hunting down the last of the infected zombies, you can go with me to a secret Paradise waiting in the mountains.

You see? There’s nothing to worry about.