Atlantis, Jules Verne, and Twenty Thousand “Leagues”

by on July 11th, 2011 0 comments

Misunderstanding the title of Jules Verne’s 1870 science fiction masterpiece Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea seems to be a pastime for English speakers everywhere. It’s such a commonly warped meaning that, believe it or not, “Saturday Night Live” even did a skit about the misunderstanding — and that’s not a show known for its nerd cred with science fiction people or oceanographers.

But I would have expected Dictionary.com to get it, since their job is, you know, defining things and stuff. Not so! In their July 8 Word of the Day Entry about why the shuttle Atlantis is called Atlantis, they say this:

What does “Atlantis” mean? And why is the Space Shuttle Atlantis named after something underwater?

 

The final space shuttle mission has blasted off, launching the fascinating word mystery of “Atlantis” into our consciousness: How did the name of a mythical kingdom thousands of leagues under the sea become the moniker for a vehicle soaring  thousands of miles into space?

[Link.]

Okay, first let me say that I am in favor of people discussing Atlantis every chance they can, but this is kind of a dumb question. It doesn’t seem any weirder to me to name a space shuttle after Atlantis than it does to name a U.S. battleship after the state of Iowa, or a 10-gun brig sloop after a kind of dog bred to fly biplanes. “But why would they call that aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Kitty Hawk? It’s not a kitty…and it’s not a hawk, either!” They name ships and planes all sorts of shit, srsly.

But I would be far more forgiving of the central problem with that leading paragraph if the word league didn’t link to this entry, which the author must not have read, since it kinda spells it out with definition 2:

(noun) a unit of distance, varying at different periods and in different countries, in English-speaking countries usually estimated roughly at 3 miles (4.8 kilometers).

Ergo, in case you missed it…twenty thousand leagues? Sixty thousand miles. Depending on where you stand, it’s roughly 3,947 to 3,968 miles to the center of the earth, so 60,000 miles would be past the sea, DEEP under the Earth…and out the other side of it, out the atmosphere, and a good portion of the way to the Moon, which orbits something like a quarter-million miles away.

Verne’s original title was Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, for which the “sea” word there is “mers,” meaning not “sea” but “seas,” which makes the intention somewhat clearer…the main character of Verne’s book travels 20,000 leagues or 60,000 miles under the seas, the same way I traveled 1,000 leagues or 3,000-ish miles from New York to San Diego when I was 19. In the book, they go as deep as four leagues or twelve miles, which is impossible — but they didn’t know that then.

At the time the “league” came in to use as a unit of measurement, they didn’t really have a concept for depth in the same way we do now, for obvious reasons. Everywhere I have ever read it, the term carries the strong connotation of horizontal travel, so it’s always kind of weird to me that people misconstrue it.

Mind you, that’s not the only Verne novel with a screwed-up English title that teaches people bad science when it’s misunderstood. The other one that springs to mind is Voyage au centre de la Terre, which can’t blame its misrepresentative title on a slight mistranslation. Though it was translated into English in 1877 as Journey to the Interior of the Earth, it had already been translated in 1871 as Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is the more accurate of the two translations of the title (duh….”centre” = “center,” not “interior.”).

That book never features anyone going anywhere near the “center” of the Earth; as I recall, they descend an undisclosed distance below the surface. The book does feature a screwed-up compass acting anomalously. This wonky-compass was reproduced in the 1959 film with James Mason and Pat Boone as a harmonica and other metal items flying around wildly. This was then explained as establishing that the characters are at the point equidistant from the Earth’s north and south magnetic poles — the center of the Earth. (Also, Pat Boone loses his pants not long after that). Since it’s the action of molten metallic elements in the Earth’s core(s) that creates the magnetic field in the first place, this wouldn’t happen (but there’s also probably not ape-men under the Earth).

It’s not the novel that gave them that idea, however. In the novel, the compass gets hit with an electric charge, and that’s why it goes nutty. Lots of the other science is wrong (volcanoes being a chemical reaction, etc), but that particular dream is not in the book.

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Bigfoot In the Sierras?

by on June 25th, 2011 0 comments

Amy Rolph at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a blog post about some evidence that some California paranormal researchers think they’ve found in the form of some snuffle-shaped  smudges on a windshield that don’t quite match the shape you’d expect from a big cat or bear.

Apparently there’s “DNA” involved. Presumably from snot, not to put too fine a point on it.

Rolph links to an earlier post of hers, from yesterday, that mentions the fact that these researchers think they’ve found a substance (did I mention snot?) that might contain the DNA of the creature in question, and are seeking private donations to have DNA testing done. There’s a video of the smudges on the windows here — though, sadly, not of Bigfoot putting them there.

Since this stuff is in my neck of the woods — you know, central California and all — my interest was piqued. One of the researchers is Mickey Burrow, who’s based in Fresno (about 2 hours south of me on I-5). Also involved are the Sanger Paranormal Society, which covers “Central California and Coastal Area,” but which focuses, from the notes on its Bigfoot page, on the eastern half of the state — that’d be the Sierras, not the coast, and certainly not the north coast.

That further grabbed my interest by the cojones, because that’s not where I’d personally go looking for Bigfoot.

The famous 1967 Patterson-Gimlin film that is reputedly of a big hairy hominid was, of course, shot on the whole other side of northern California (for the uninitiated, this is a big frickin’ state), in the Six Rivers National Forest in Del Norte County. That part of the state is where the Bigfoot Trail is, and the world’s only Bigfoot Trap is also over in that neck of the woods, in Jackson County in the extreme south of Oregon — Jackson County, that is.

The short version is that the majority of the interest and the bulk of the encounters with supposed outsized non-human hominids are in the Pacific Northwest, of which the Sierras are topographically part only in sort of a stretching-the-globe sort of way. Sure, it’s the general region, but I don’t think of the wilds of the Lake Tahoe region as being even remotely Bigfoot-infested.

I even felt sufficiently confident that there are no significant (real or legendary) human-sized ape-type things running wild in the Sierras (other than the occasional Pabst-addled feral hunter, of course) that when setting one of my many unpublished paranormal novels south of Lake Tahoe, I invented a hominid wholesale, rather than risk Scullying my reputation by locating the Bigfoot species someplace it ain’t. I called it Sierra Slim and implied that, with occasional disastrous consequences for hippies, Slim aggressively sought out carnal relations with ’60s vintage Volkswagens, with occasional disastrous consequences for hippies. This interest of Slim’s was owed to a brief but oh-so-satisfying amorous encounter deep in its racial memory with robotic visitors from Theta Alpha Epsilon that really knew the meaning of “air-cooled engine,” if you catch my drift.

Shows you how much I know! Not much, it turns out. In addition to the audacious team over at Sanger, there’s actually a Sierra Sasquatch Research Group, a Sierra Tahoe Bigfoot Research blog — and, of course, Sierra Nevada breweries’ barleywine-style Bigfoot Ale. As if to prove that I’m a dipshit, you can even find reports of the Sierra “DNA evidence” in that newspaper-of-record for pissing-me-off, the Daily Mail. Apparently the got the “Bigfoot in the Sierras” memo in London Town before we got it here in Sac.

Speaking of memos that people didn’t get, the folks at North America Bigfoot Search didn’t get the memo about open-sourcing that shit when it comes to the looking-for-Bigfoot project. On the contrary; when they decided put together an oh-so-helpful Bigfoot encounter map, not only was it limited to California’s Trinity, Humboldt, Sikyou and Del Norte counties (all contiguous, in the extreme Northwest of the state) but rather than thinking, “Let’s further human knowledge and make it interactive on the web, with GPS coordinates,” the NABS folks decided, “let’s charge $6.95 for it, plus 9.25% sales tax for California residents.”

My attempts to find anything approaching official Bigfoot maps that consolidate reports of all encounters went to interesting but slightly sketchy free sites and half-assed Wikipedia maps that only break ‘er down by state (and, speaking of which, when it comes to Bigfoot sightings, California is the sassiest, may I observe? Eat your heart out, Oregon.) If you want a county-by-county Bigfoot encounter map for the Sierras, your guess is as good as mine.

Mind you, I don’t actually approve of an army of people driving around attempting to spot and photograph Bigfoot any more than I would approve of them trying to bag-and-tag Bigfoot with a tranquilizer gun. I respect the work of wildlife researchers whether or not the species they’re looking for seems to be represented by, you know, like, consensus reality and stuff. But I worry what will happen if there’s ever a seriously credible video of the big hairy thing. Will there be an avalanche of thrill-seekers? While today’s Bigfoot researchers seem respectful and even a little bit wacky-spiritual about it, what happens if they find something? When Bigfoot Fever catches, will jackasses be selling $6.95 maps so that all y’all can drive into the forest and piss on Bigfoot’s campfire?

I think driving out into the wilderness with the specific purpose of bugging the hell out of some hairy thing that never bugged you is sort of a sketchy way to get hour ya-yas. I’d sooner suggest that hippies drive up to the Sierras and plant their VW’s tires on sacred ground with the rear-end jacked up, if you know what I mean.

This is B’s home, homies. Don’t put your feet on the coffee table.

Luckily for all who value the sanctity of the wild environment, the magnificent crush of humanity that descends on the wilds of California during camping-friendly times of the year is so extreme that Bigfoot hunters are really nothing more than a drop in the bucket.

I also repeat my earlier comment that in my experience genuine Bigfoot researchers, while they may seem wacky to many, have always struck me as far more likely to be clued in with the environment and wildlife habitats — and to encourage responsible use of our natural resources — than your garden-variety espresso zombie like yours truly. At least, that’s the theory.

Anyway, there are reported Bigfoot encounters in the Sierras. Now I know.

The Anti-Obama Right Grabs at Anti-U.S. Pakistani Conspiracy Delusion

by on June 19th, 2011 0 comments

Interpol surveillance photo of suspected Pakistani ISI agent (left) and American gun-nut right-winger (right). Note the concealed-carry permit in the latter's wallet.

As a second nuclear plant in Nebraska issued a “notification of unusual event” because of rising floodwaters, right-wingers are spreading the Pakistani story of a “news blackout” around the Ft. Calhoun nuclear plant…for no reason other than that it gives them an excuse to hate the government and be paranoid.

The “notification of unusual event” came from Cooper Nuclear Station operated by the Nebraska Public Power District — about 70 miles south of Omaha. It is a level 1 alert, which occured simply because the floodwaters reached a certain level. There has been no operational deviation within the plant itself. On the U.S. NRC’s scale, level 1 is the first of four levels of alerts for nuclear plants, and it means nothing in operational terms. The only thing that’s being done is that the plant operators have stacked sandbags and done other flood-preparedness activities. There is no “meltdown,” “nuclear disaster,” or “nuclear event.” There are only the rising waters.

Specifically, the notification was triggered because floodwaters surrounding the plant reached a level of 42.5 feet, and are expected to reach 42.7 feet (90 feet above sea level) this afternoon. If they rise another three feet, the plant goes offline — it’s currently online and generating power.

There’s no news on the Ft. Calhoun nuclear plant itself other than that I found this really freaky photo gallery of the workers there, on Nukeworker.com. Looks to me like those kids have been having a good time…

But it should be no surprise to me that “gun owners” in forums like this one right chere don’t care that no news is good news, or understand how to limit their Google searches to the latest results. Some anti-government conspiracy theorists — have seized on yesterday’s hysterical, fanatical report from a country whose rogue intelligence agency is currently waging a de facto proxy war with the United States in Afghanistan.

They do this without, apparently, being able to tell the difference between Pakistan’s The Nation and the U.S. “progressive” magazine The Nation (which also doesn’t like nukes all that much.)

No, this shouldn’t surprise me…I’ve been reading gun forums for years now, and the posters there are a bizarre mix of borderline-genius highly-functioning lunatics, garden-variety reasonable people and start raving mad fuckwads. Whenever the tone of the discussion migrates away from specific gun-related facts and experiences, the overheated core of roadside-attraction weirdness that forms the guns-and-butter heart of Bitterly Clinging America begins to puke forth its molten zirconium. Wanna know the terminal ballistics of a thirty-ought-six round in a deer’s ass or a human chest cavity? No problem, son, pull up a notepad and get ready for a six-hour lecture, with diagrams. Wanna know what’s going on in politics? Obama’s trying to take away our guns. Sometimes it seems like that’s all you need to know to talk politics on a gun forum…and all you ever need to know.

The same inexplicably credulous and stumblingly pro-Pakistan paranoia is true of these foaming-at-the-mouth right-wingers “inspired” by the supposedly “Libertarian” Gentleman from Texas at The Daily Paul, which repeated theclaim of a “news blackout.” The Daily Paul essentially republished without commentary the Pakistani article, which incidentally I already pissed on from a great height here, in case you missed it.

Out in liberal Oregon, Salem-News.com spread the anti-Barack yowls of certain doom, even going so far as to poop out a paranoid, deceitful and blatantly ignorant paragraph like this one:

US Orders News Blackout Over Crippled Nebraska Nuclear Plant

Report notes the “cover-up” of this nuclear disaster by President Obama is based on his “fantasy” of creating so-called green jobs which he (strangely) includes nuclear power into.

(MOSCOW ) – Editor’s note: I am about to approve a comment on this story that claims it is a hoax, in fact it is not a hoax, it possibly may not be entirely accurate, but this piece has been carried by many agencies already. There are so-called ‘Citizen Journalism’ sites that sometimes strike it with groundbreaking news, so the fact that they allow people to post their own stories means they need disclaimers, unlike Salem-News.com which is staffed by working news editors and other personnel

Now the fact that it is on Wikipedia does not make it true, but I think if that information were blatantly false, the nuclear plant’s publicists would have instantly stripped from the pages of the world’s online public encyclopedia.

This “editor” had the gall to add the “crippled” moniker to Ft. Calhoun — apparently by making it up wholesale. Maybe he wanted to make the situation seem worse than it is to attack Obama’s attempt at creating “green jobs” — without looking critically at whether Obama’s political opponents are also supporting nuclear…or, if they’re opposing it, looking at if they’re opposing it because they’re in bed with Big Oil and Big Coal, which never did anything to fuck us, did they?

Then again, maybe the need to leap on the conspiracy-theory bandwagon is just a desire to justify in right-wing anti-Democratic terms the verbatim reposting of an article that seems obviously, to me, written by a hostile foreign country’s intelligence service to discredit the the United States.

Here’s where I get mad. Here’s where I go screaming into I-Love-America territory. Here’s where I look suspiciously like the rednecks looked thirty-five years ago before Carter, before Reagan. Here’s where I start to look, if I may, like the crazed prospector stock character in a Western movie, with Tabasco on his butt plug.

Here’s where I hate on the gun nuts.

Look, I know full well that I am a howling-mad socialist liberal on the domestic front, except for the most part on gun control (which I think is  a turd-sniffing straw-man the Left should forget about). But in international terms, I’m actually a bit of a policy hawk. I think it’s a pretty fucked world out there, and if the U.S. helped make it that way…well, that blows, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean I’m going to “blame America first.” It means I think most governments blow steaming chunks, and America should be blamed when it’s culpable.

But let’s blame Pakistan when it’s culpable, shall we?

My problem with certain born-again anti-taxation pasty-faced right-wingers who name their rotary-magazine shotguns things like Lucille and their Chris Crafts things like the Freedom Isn’t Free is not so much when they’re anti-intellectual, xenophobic assholes who hate the rest of the world and any Americans who think differently than them.  It’s when they do it badly. People should refrain from making paranoid anti-government posts online if they can’t be bothered to figure out the international political playing field before they start believing anti-American stories that seem almost certainly promulgated by the sworn enemies of the United States they claim to love so much (except on April 15).

No, when I refer to the “sworn enemies of the United States,” I’m not referring the people of Pakistan — many Pakistanis and Pakistani-Americans are not anti-American, even remotely. Others are, sure; you don’t have to work to find anti-Americans in most part of the world, alongside people who support the U.S. (everywhere — including Iran).

Pakistan is a big frickin’ place. I would never make the kind of generalizations about the population of Pakistan that I read in gun forums routinely – where posters often can’t be bothered to know the difference between, say, the terms “Muslim” and “Arab,” which are completely unrelated descriptors. The result is that bizarre paranoid statements

Mind you, I’m not claiming that the majority of the Pakistani population in Pakistan loves the United States — as George W. Bush claimed the population of Iraq did. In fact, the nuclear scientist and entrepreneur A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani who pseudo-stole nuclear weapons technology from the Dutch and then sold it to Libya and North Korea and tried to sell it to Iran, remains a national hero in Pakistan. But it’s not just the people — many of whom are astonishingly underprivileged — who raise Khan to the level of a national saint. It was the government of Pakistan, which without question knew about Khan’s activities in selling nuclear weapons technology to three “rogue” nations…and then claimed not to. The government hung Khan out to dry and made him issue a broad confession of his crimes in public…in English…a language most people in Pakistan do not speak. In case anyone’s wondering who really sold North Korea those nukes probably aimed at Tokyo, it almost surely wasn’t Khan…at least, not acting alone. He had the support of some elements of the Pakistani government. Which ones? Fuck if I know — people who have worked for the CIA can’t keep that shit straight in Pakistan right now! Which is probably one of the many reasons they had no idea North Korea had a nuke until they detonated one.

As a liberal, I’ve been accused of being anti-America. I’m anti-America? I’m not going to claim that my fellow left-of-centers weren’t posting some serious jackass shit in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, but at least their information didn’t come from fucking Pakistan!

Anti-Obama right-wingers: You love America, right? You love the Second Amendment? Do you love the First Amendment? Do you think they have freedom of the press in Pakistan? Do you think that something published in TheNation.com.pk is unlikely to be vetted by the ISI — the Pakistani intelligence service? Do you credit for an instant — or even know about — the claims of American military intelligence operatives that one of the biggest problems of the war in Afghanistan is separating out “insurgents” from the Pakistani ISI itself? That it’s not just that the ISI is supporting anti-US Afghan rebels, but that they’re the same goddamn people?!?

Whether those facts (covered in some detail in this book by Army Reserve intelligence officer Lt. Col. Anthony Schaffer) are credible I don’t really know; I found the book far more convincing than the claims of the DOD that went out of its way to censor it.

But I sure as hell am aware of those claims. I know that I’m going to question a report coming out of Pakistan about a broad Obama-based conspiracy to hide a major disaster in Omaha from the American people — when Obama made himself the explicit enemy of the Pakistani government by making the first real overtures in years toward Pakistan’s nemesis, India, including advocating India getting a seat on the U.N. Security Council!! Do you think maybe there’s an anti-American slant going on here, from the government-controlled press of a nation whose government is waging a war against the U.S.???

Or could the Pakistani ISI and Afghan anti-American forces even be conspiring to keep the heroin flowing to Europe and the U.S. both to screw the US attempt to hold on to its role as the defining regional power in Central, South and Southwest Asia, and because dope is profitable?

Nah, what are the chances of that?

For fuck’s sake, all you Goldwaterites and concealed-carry lunatics out there!!! Get your sources straight!!! URLs do not stop at the dot!!!! TheNation.com.pk is not the same as TheNation.com!!!!! Russia provoked a war with U.S. regional ally Georgia just to warn Ukraine not to join NATO!!!! The Pakistani ISI is in a proxy war with the United States, people!!!It has been since at least 2001!!!! Get with the program!!! Just because it’s anti-Obama doesn’t mean it’s true!! Put down the shotgun and read a fuckin’ book once in a while, people!!!!

Pakistani Slam Piece Spreads Panic Over Ft. Calhoun

by on June 18th, 2011 1 comment

 

Image from Omaha Public Power District.

A truly crazed article in Pakistan’s The Nation leads one to believe that the Fort Calhoun nuclear plant is a Fukushima-style disaster not just about to happen, but already happening…and President Obama is to blame. Please don’t think for a second I believe the federal government is incapable of lying, or that there’s complete freedom of the press in the U.S. Far from it! But in this case, Pakistan’s The Nation is off its rocker, and factually mis-states something so critical that it totally derails any claims they make. This is anti-American hysteria, pure and simple, whipped up by a Pakistani publication and supposedly supported by a Russian agency that I know nothing about, but that I would, at face value, be inclined to trust about as far as I could throw it.

Regardless, the kind of hysterical coverage seen in the Pakistani article is just out of control. Here’s the madness:

A shocking report prepared by Russia’s Federal Atomic Energy Agency (FAAE) on information provided to them by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) states that the Obama regime has ordered a “total and complete” news blackout relating to any information regarding the near catastrophic meltdown of the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant located in Nebraska.

According to this report, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant suffered a “catastrophic loss of cooling” to one of its idle spent fuel rod pools on 7 June after this plant was deluged with water caused by the historic flooding of the Missouri River which resulted in a fire causing the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) to issue a “no-fly ban” over the area.

Located about 20 minutes outside downtown Omaha, the largest city in Nebraska, the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant is owned by Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) who on their website denies their plant is at a “Level 4” emergency by stating: “This terminology is not accurate, and is not how emergencies at nuclear power plants are classified.”

Russian atomic scientists in this FAAE report, however, say that this OPPD statement is an “outright falsehood” as all nuclear plants in the world operate under the guidelines of the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) which clearly states the “events” occurring at the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Power Plant do, indeed, put it in the “Level 4” emergency category of an “accident with local consequences” thus making this one of the worst nuclear accidents in US history.

 

[Link.]

For what it’s worth, the claim about a Level 4 emergency is complete and total garbage, and that’s really significant. It’s a basic fact that cannot be disputed…unless the NRC and plant officials are lying. I’m not saying they’re not — I have no idea — but I have no indication that they are, and that is not what the Pakistani source says the Russians say. Their claimed “falsehood” does not derive from a cover-up of facts (for instance, if there had been a release of radiation but the power company did not report it) — but from a FUNDAMENTAL MISREADING OF THE International Nuclear Event Scale that even I, a simple caveman with about a 7 I.Q. and an inability to do basic math, can understand.

That comes from an official Russian source? I hope not. If it does, the world has bigger problems than Fort Calhoun.

A Level 4 event requires a release of radiation to generate local consequences, or at least one death locally (i.e., in the plant) from radiation, not just from anything. (That’s OR! Or!! Not AND!). When the crane operator died at Fukushima, that did not fulfill the criteria for a Level 4 event — because he did not die of radiation.

However, for some time after that, Tepco was lying. The implication, here, in the Pakistani source, in claims they attribute to the Russians, is that the Obama administration is lying. I’m not saying they’re not — I haven’t the foggiest fucking idea. But it completely misconstrues the facts to claim that the reported incident on June 7 at Fort Calhoun is a Level 4 event. According to the report to the NRC (see my earlier article on this), there was no release of radiation. There were no deaths associated with radiation. There wasn’t jack kitty crap, other than a temporary evacuation.

Is Omaha Public Power District lying? I haven’t the foggiest, but either the Pakistani The Nation or the Russian source, and probably both, are deliberately misstating the facts of the INES, which you’d think Russia would have a handle on…given, you know, that its precursor state kinda set the standard for nuclear accidents.

Yes, that’s true, people, I, who never shut up about how full of shit the American press is, would still rather rely on the American press than on the Russian nuclear agency and the Pakistani press to tell me the truth about my own country. You know why? Because I know a thing or two about Russia and Pakistan. When they handed out Freedom of the Press, Pakistan was on vacation. And the government of Pakistan needs all the anti-American sentiment it can get, in order to counter the swiftly growing American political and economic overtures toward its perceived nemesis, India. Hey, I can’t say I blame them; as a nation, Pakistan is threatened by internal instability. Furthermore, after years of getting a free ride because it helped the U.S. in the “war on terror,” the Pakistani government is finding that the Obama administration is less inclined to completely blow off India in favor of a country that handed nuclear weapons technology over to North Korea and tried to sell it to Iran and Libya…then blamed it on a single rogue nuclear scientist, who had stolen said technology from the Dutch in the first place and who remains a national hero in Pakistan.

Don’t get me wrong…the U.S. press is repeatedly asleep at the wheel in covering both corporate malfeasance and environmental crises. I’m not trying to be an American chauvinist here — believe me, no one loves America or wants to slap it around more than I do. But in the case of hysteria like this — with a clear political bias — what irritates me is that a lot of the world will believe it.

Meanwhile, the dark tentacle-gods of Big Coal are locked in their hellspawn canyons deep beneath the earth, counting their gazillions…

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No-Fly Zone, “Level 4 Emergency” at Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant?

by on June 17th, 2011 2 comments

Screencap detail of AP photo, from USA Today.

About an hour ago, Reuters published an article reassuring readers about the Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant, North of Omaha, Nebraska. Associated Press published one about an hour and a half ago saying the same warmed-over crappy “Don’t Panic” garbage, with very little real information.

But viral sources are spreading fear right now about Ft. Calhoun, and it’s just getting started. It’s not surprising, after the gross malfeasance of Tepco and the Japanese government following the Fukushima nuclear crisis. (Incidentally, it is significantly ongoing — and maybe getting worse, though Al Jazeera‘s latest bit of “infant mortality” panic seems to be a gross misrepresentation of what passes for data).

Meanwhile, back in Nebraska: The Forth Calhoun Nuclear Generating Station is currently on an island in the Missouri River. No, it wasn’t on an island until the recent flooding…that whole being-on-an-island thing is new. I came to it because someone sent me an email with the quote, taken from a comment (not a post) on SFSIst, that said, and I quote:

“In other news, we have a level-4 emergency alert at the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant, which is now under water as a result of the Missouri River flooding and The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is advising people to avoid contact with the Missouri River altogether.”

First and foremost, the reason the Kansas Department of Health and Environment advised people to avoid contact with the Missouri River is (they claimed) because the flood could sweep “pathogens” into the water. That comment leads one to believe that the Missouri is about to become radioactive because of a release of radioactive material from Ft. Calhoun. That is not the case — at least, not insofar as public information is available. Could it be a smokescreen? Sure, but I see no indication of that, given that there’s been no reported release at all from Ft. Calhoun, no meltdown, no core damage, no irregularities in any core, just a bit of a problem cooling fuel rods…no big deal. Not that it’s not a big deal, exactly…but I do not see the faintest hint of a “level 4 emergency” — which is to say, basically, a radiation release.

And that “level 4″ tag is significant here, because Fukushima was a Level 4 for a while. So check it: A “level-4 emergency,” on the International Nuclear Event Scale would be kind of a big deal north of Omaha. (Or anywhere…but that’s, you know, like, in my country and stuff, so I get kinda worked up.). A level-4 event would mean something like either at least one death from radiation, or damage to a small part of a reactor core (0.1%) or “Release of significant quantities of radioactive material within an installation with a high ­probability of significant public exposure,” which would be indicated if you were to, say, assume that the Missouri was being irradiated and that’s the “real” reason Kansas doesn’t want you to drink the water…not because it has cow poop in it.

Things at Ft. Calhoun sure seem shady. But there’s no indication that there’s a huge problem. This local Fox News 8 story, which draws heavily from Reuters, adds a couple of details like the fact that the plant authorities have not declared a “notification of unusual event” to the NRC, and won’t until the water gets higher than it is. What that means is that there is no “Level 4 Emergency” — as far as the NRC is concerned. What there was, was an electrical fire with poisonous gases on June 7, which caused a “Halon fire extinguisher activation” and a partial evacuation, and was reported as a Level 2 event. That’s a hell of a lot different from Level 4.

But just to be a total conspiracy nut: Fukushima was said to be a Level 4 for quite an enormously long time…including a significant period of time after radiation was released i nto the environment. In the context of post-Fukushima nuclear politics, questions should be asked, and somebody at the AP and Reuters should have spent the months since Fukushima doing a little research on Wikipedia. The Omaha Public Power District  has not advised the NRC of an unusual event beyond June 7th’s fire, and there’s been no release of radiation.

But for what it’s worth, their report on the June 7th fire…didn’t get sent to the NRC until June 8. So there’s likely to be a lag time even in a relatively small irregularity.

Suggesting there is a “Level 4 event” seems completely unfounded as I can tell, and likely to cause panic.

Incidentally, the Omaha Public Power District is presumably publicly owned — not like Tokyo Electric and Power Co., which is private. The latter are Fukushima’s owners (the plant was built by General Electric).

Also, importantly, it’s a Kansas agency advising people to avoid contact with the Missouri River. It’s the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. They don’t necessarily have the faintest idea what they’re talking about when it comes to radiation safety. They should, sure, radiation being a significant potential environmental risk in a state with nuclear reactors. But we definitely saw with the Fukushima crisis that local and state agencies know fuck-all when it comes to radiation. That’s why there’s an NRC…which is from the government, they’re here to help us.) In any event, it’s far more credible that toxins and sewage are sweeping into the Missouri, not radiation from Ft. Calhoun.

Panic is spreading in places like the LDS Freedom Forum (yes, that’s “Latter Day Saints”), where a poster calling himself “Col. Flagg” (yes, he was the fanatic right-wing CIA agent on M*A*S*H…who knew the guy was still working?) started this hysterical thread that, nonetheless, comes up at the top of a search string for the SFSIst claim…and, not incidentally, has a lot of worthwhile informational links.

In any event, here’s why Reuters says you should not panic:

The Fort Calhoun nuclear power station in Nebraska remains shut down due to Missouri River flooding, but the plant itself has not flooded and is expected to remain safe, the federal government said Friday.

The rising river “has certainly affected the site, but the plant itself, the actual reactor is still dry,” said Scott Burnell, Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman.

The 478-megawatt plant north of Omaha shut April 9 to refuel, and has remained shut because of the flooding, said Omaha Public Power District spokesman Jeff Hanson.

“When the river reaches 1,004 feet above mean sea level, we shut down,” said Hanson. “We don’t have any idea when we’ll be able to start again.”

…The Fort Calhoun station is owned and operated by the Omaha Public Power District and supplies power to Nebraska’s largest city. Contractors at the plant have completed construction of an earthen berm around the plant’s switch yard and are protecting the plant and other facilities with large temporary structures filled with water.

[Link.]

Whatever you might say about me, I don’t through the “Corporate Stooge” label around that carelessly, but in this case I can’t avoid it. Reuters isn’t telling even part of the story….it’s actually telling less than none of the story, and the NRC sounds asleep at the wheel here, as far as public information goes.

The backstory, from a June 8 Wall Street Journal article: On June 7, there was a fire at the Ft. Calhoun nuclear facility, and the FAA established a no-fly zone over Ft. Calhoun, after the facility “briefly lost the ability to cool spent fuel rods,” following the fire. Here’s the actual no-fly order; it is, however, possible that it’s being overstated. The restriction is only for altitudes under 3,500 feet, which lends credence to the idea that it’s a PR move, not a safety issue. I don’t know enough about airplane altitudes to say.

Anyway, here’s the WSJ on June 8, following the fire at Ft. Calhoun and the resultant establishment of the no-fly (which is still in effect):

The NRC said the plant recovered cooling ability without activating backup systems and “temperatures in the pool remained at safe levels.” The public was not in danger because the plant has been shut down since early April for a refueling outage, the agency said.

Spent fuel pools in the U.S. have received increased scrutiny after a recent crisis in Japan involving potentially overheated nuclear fuel and the release of dangerous radiation.

The agency declared an alert, the second of four emergency classes, at 9:40 a.m., 10 minutes after “an indication of fire” in a building at the plant. The NRC didn’t disclose the cause of the fire. Automatic fire control systems activated and the fire was out by 10:20 a.m., the agency said. The plant is operated by the Omaha Public Power District.

[Link.]

Spent fuel, of course, was — and is — a huge part of the problem at Fukushima, and one of the things Tepco consistently lied about.

The above, incidentally, comes to me based on to this very helpful Metafilter post (and its sources), and one Metafilter commenter sensibly points out: “One has to wonder if keeping planes, helicopters, etc. in a two-mile radius outside the nuclear plant is really just to keep any embarrassing pictures from being taken and published in the news. Out of sight, out of mind.”

Given how (relatively) few photos have been published of the Fukushima site, and how full of crap the Japanese government, Tepco, and the news was in the Japanese crisis, and how sluggish US public health response was, and the mixed messages and bland disinterest in putting out correct info about, for instance, iodine, and how the Fukushima crisis just seems to keep getting worse despite the recurring ridicule of the pro-nuclear trolls, I’m left asking the same question…and about a million more.

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Chinese Prisoners Forced to Work as World of Warcraft Gold Farmers

by on May 29th, 2011 1 comment

 

World of Warcraft Cosplay Girls in Taipei, by Swanky.

 

A former prisoner at a labor camp in China claims he and other prisoners were routinely forced to play online games like World of Warcraft until their eyes crossed, to make money for gold farmers. According to an article in The Guardian:

As a prisoner at the Jixi labour camp, Liu Dali…says he was one of scores of prisoners forced to play online games to build up credits that prison guards would then trade for real money. The 54-year-old, a former prison guard who was jailed for three years in 2004 for “illegally petitioning” the central government about corruption in his hometown, reckons the operation was even more lucrative than the physical labour that prisoners were also forced to do.

“Prison bosses made more money forcing inmates to play games than they do forcing people to do manual labour,” Liu told the Guardian. “There were 300 prisoners forced to play games. We worked 12-hour shifts in the camp. I heard them say they could earn 5,000-6,000rmb [£470-570] a day. We didn’t see any of the money. The computers were never turned off.”

…”If I couldn’t complete my work quota, they would punish me physically. They would make me stand with my hands raised in the air and after I returned to my dormitory they would beat me with plastic pipes. We kept playing until we could barely see things,” he said.

It is known as “gold farming”, the practice of building up credits and online value through the monotonous repetition of basic tasks in online games such as World of Warcraft. The trade in virtual assets is very real, and outside the control of the games’ makers. Millions of gamers around the world are prepared to pay real money for such online credits, which they can use to progress in the online games.

[Link.]

The Guardian quotes figures from the China Internet Centre estimating that 80% of the world’s gold farmers are in China — 100,000 of them doing it full-time. These figures place the amount of make-believe currencies traded in China alone at well over £1 billion.

You don’t need to look very far to find the weirdness here. But in case your brain is not completely tweaked by hearing that prisoners in a real prison were really beaten for not generating enough fake online money, consider this: China has one of the most tightly controlled currencies in the world. The Chinese yuan is very different than the US dollar and the British pound. Those two currencies are traded freely internationally, and fluctuate based on world events ranging from wars to trade agreements to unemployment numbers to commodities futures to…whatever. In very basic terms, the dollar and the pound are regulated by the market.

Way back in 2006, NPR explained it as follows in an article about pressure on then-President Bush to insist that China stop undervaluing its currency:

China’s central bank simply declares an exchange rate and forces, by law, all market players to observe that rate. The yuan is allowed to fluctuate a tiny bit, but not much — and certainly not enough to accommodate the constantly changing pressures of the global marketplace. The Chinese have pegged the currency so that one U.S. dollar buys a little bit more than 8 yuan. Put the other way, one yuan is worth a bit more than 12 cents.

…By keeping the yuan artificially low in value, China is effectively giving U.S. consumers a discount on all Chinese exports. Why? Let’s say a Chinese factory can make a profit selling DVD players for 800 yuan. That means they can then sell it to someone in the United States for $100. If the yuan were allowed to appreciate in value, that 800 yuan DVD player might suddenly cost, say, $115. If an American factory makes a similar player for $110, then that change in the value of the yuan can make the difference between business success and failure for the U.S. manufacturer.

So, by keeping its currency undervalued, China is discounting its own exports. That’s good for U.S. consumers, who get to buy cheaper clothes and electronics and other items. But it’s horrible for many U.S. manufacturers who find they can’t compete with low Chinese prices. Some U.S. manufacturers, though, have adapted by buying many component parts at a lower cost from China. The ability of a manufacturer to adapt depends on the company and the product — and even on the level of globalization in that industry.

[Link.]

If you’ve watched the international economic news even a tiny bit, you’ve probably heard about this issue. American manufacturing jobs have migrated overseas for a number of reasons, but one of the most important reasons manufacturing has gone to China is the currency undervaluation. It’s utterly disingenuous to suggest that the differential is “horrible for many U.S. manufacturers.” Who it’s horrible for are U.S. workers, who are expected to adapt to a virtual world where computer jobs, healthcare and service jobs are the core of the economy. It’s also horrible for U.S. manufacturers that actually make things in the U.S..

But many companies that we think of as “U.S. manufacturers” long ago found it most expedient to move their manufacturing endeavors to other countries. China is far from the only country they moved to. When one says “U.S. manufacturers,” one needs to be clear what one is talking about — and the migration of U.S. manufacturing jobs to other countries can’t be blamed on China. That can only be blamed on U.S. companies, and the U.S. government that started favoring offshoring over keeping jobs at home, because it looked (and looks) better for corporate bottom lines.

But as for gold farming, if it’s true, as it’s said, that 80% of gold farmers are in China, it’s not just because of prisoner abuse. Such practices may cast an ever more disturbing pall over the already creepy practice, but back in May, 2010, Rowenna Davis wrote about organized gold farming in China in her Guardian article Welcome to the New Gold Mines. The rhetoric has a rhythm that I find disturbingly similarly to this May’s article:

Li Hua makes a living playing computer games. Working from a cramped office in the heart of Changsha, China, he slays dragons and loots virtual gold in 10-hour shifts. Next to him, rows of other young workers do the same. “It is just like working in a factory, the only difference is that this is the virtual world,” says Li. “The working conditions are hard. We don’t get weekends off and I only have one day free a month. But compared to other jobs it is good. I have no other skills and I enjoy playing sometimes.”

Li is just one of more than 100 workers employed by Wow7gold, an internet-based company that makes more than £1m a year selling in-game advantages to World of Warcraft (WoW) players. Customers may ask for their avatar’s skill level to be increased (“power levelling”), or for a virtual magic sword or precious ore to be obtained. As one player put it: “Where there’s a demand, China will supply it.”

…For thousands of Chinese workers such as Li, “gold farming” is a way of life. Workers can expect to earn between £80-£120 a month which, given the long hours and night shifts, can amount to as little as 30p an hour. After completing his shift, Li is given a basic meal of rice, meat and vegetables and falls into a bunk bed in a room that eight other gold farmers share. His wages may be low, but food and accommodation are included.

These virtual industries sound surreal, but they are fast entering the mainstream. According to a report by Richard Heeks at Manchester University, an estimated 400,000 Asian workers are now employed in gold farming in a trade worth up to £700m a year. With so many gamers now online, these industries are estimated to have a consumer base of five million to 10 million, and numbers are expected to grow with widening internet access.

[Link.]

 

What bugs me about the earlier article is that its obsession with worker conditions in gold farms in China reflects, as usual, First World public ignorance (or, at least, short memory) about worker conditions in other industries. What’s even more disturbing is that Liu Dali, the 54-year-old imprisoned in the first story and forced to gold farm, was imprisoned for “illegally petitioning” the government about corruption. How much more obvious does a corrupt government need to be before the international community, and the U.S. in particular, says boo to it?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/mar/05/virtual-world-china
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Short Film Fest Delivers 90-Second Zombie Horror Masterpiece

by on May 16th, 2011 0 comments

If you had told me that an awesome mini-zombie film could be – er – executed in under a minute and a half, I would have simply thought the zombie hantavirus had turned your brain into zomberrific mush. Then I watched Charlie Bit My Finger – The Horror, made as a promo for the (Toronto) CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival and it pretty much changed my life.

Charlie Bit My Finger – The Horror (official website) is a re-make of classic viral video ‘Charlie Bit My Finger‘ in a horror film style. On the website, you’ll see they also made alternate versions of ‘Charlie’ in both a musical style and a ‘dark comedy’ style. Moar, plz!

If the rest of the fest is this good… I want to go! It’s at the end of this month: May 31- June 5, 2011, in downtown Toronto with specially-themed 90-minute programs, with each program offering from 5-22 films – all for $10 a ticket.

There’s Still-Molten Fuel at Fukushima?

by on May 12th, 2011 1 comment

National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

In The Telegraph today, there’s an article about the confirmation, finally forthcoming from Tokyo Electric & Power (Tepco) that in the No. 1 reactor at Fukushima Daichi, there “was” a meltdown. But in case you think this is a “post-mortem” investigation…nope! The crisis is still going on. It’s very much active.

And when I say “active,” I mean…active. Says the Telegraph:

One of the reactors at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant did suffer a nuclear meltdown, Japanese officials admitted for the first time today, describing a pool of molten fuel at the bottom of the reactor’s containment vessel.

[Link.]

Molten. Molten? Molten. Not “melted and solidified.” Molten. That’s kind of bad.

Sadly, that’s not where the bullshit ends. The whole affair is still laced with double-talk. Here’s what The Telegraph said beyond that:

Engineers from the Tokyo Electric Power company (Tepco) entered the No.1 reactor at the end of last week for the first time and saw the top five feet or so of the core’s 13ft-long fuel rods had been exposed to the air and melted down…Previously, Tepco believed that the core of the reactor was submerged in enough water to keep it stable and that only 55 per cent of the core had been damaged.

[Link.]

I’m not sure whether to be more disturbed by the apparently lack of clarity on what exactly a meltdown is, or on Tepco’s math skills. Or is it the Telegraph’s math skills? Well…someone is unclear on how fractions work, that’s all I know. The generally accepted definition of a meltdown in the industry is “heat sufficient to cause core damage.” Now we get to the really technical stuff. Five-thirteenths is 38%, which is less than 55%. I’m unclear what Tepco is now announcing. “We thought only 55% of the core had experienced damage. Now we see that it’s much worse than we thought: It’s a whole 38%!” Just speaking for myself, that’s not the kind of math whiz I want working my nuclear reactor.

Meanwhile, The Atlantic Wire is both reporting that the Fukushima No 1 experienced a full meltdown. I was a liberal arts major, but I remember something about 100% being more than 55%, and considerably more than five-thirteenths. And The Atlantic Wire is also taking great pains to say that nuclear experts are not of one mind as to what the term meltdown means (true), that they may not agree on what the definition of full vs. partial meltdown may be (true), and that the difference may not be that important (kind of bullshit).

The good news is that we knew a long time ago the No. 1 reactor had not yet converted to mixed-oxide or MOX fuel, a mixed plutonium-uranium fuel that (usually) incorporates weapons-grade plutonium and which is far more toxic than the reactor-grade uranium that No. 1 was (presumably) using.

Look, I don’t mean to be a conspiracy freak or anything, but the uranium rather than MOX fuel may be why No. 1 is the reactor Tepco is confirming a meltdown in. Especially since they’re also confirming the likelihood of a containment breach from the No. 1 reactor — in which the fuel melted through the bottom of the vessel:

Now the company is worried that the molten pool of radioactive fuel may have burned a hole through the bottom of the containment vessel, causing water to leak.

“We will have to revise our plans,” said Junichi Matsumoto, a spokesman for Tepco. “We cannot deny the possibility that a hole in the pressure vessel caused water to leak”.

Tepco has not clarified what other barriers there are to stop radioactive fuel leaking if the steel containment vessel has been breached. Greenpeace said the situation could escalate rapidly if “the lava melts through the vessel”.

 

So…here we go, summarizing: the fuel is still molten, and it is hot enough to have already burned its way through steel. Liquid, molten reactor-grade uranium has breached the containment vessel, is leaking into the ocean, and they can’t hit it with a garden hose ’cause that’ll make the leak worse. That’s not great news. Seriously.

I have to say, I am skeptical of all these news reports, because it seems absolutely impossible that a full meltdown could have occurred at Fukushima, with fuel that is still molten two months after the event, and no one knew it until now. It seems pretty obvious that even when the news from Fukushima Daichi is reported truthfully — which is almost never — it is not reported in a context that means anything.

If the melted corium (melted uranium, fuel rod material, fuel rod assembly, etc) is still molten, that’s way worse than anyone has been led to believe. The Telegraph says that the fuel rods themselves, now melted down and exposed to air, can’t be cooled with more water because that will exacerbate the leak. Tepco  “said there was enough water at the bottom of the vessel to keep both the puddle of melted fuel and the remaining fuel rods cool,” which is crazy enough…But “melted,” not solidified, spells it out. It doesn’t make much sense to my brain, so I don’t know whether to believe the news (which seems unclear on the science) or Tepco (which seems to primarily be concerned with covering its ass).

But are we talking about decay heat or an active nuclear reaction? That’s a really important question.

One thing I couldn’t get a straight answer on was whether melted fuel rods, in which the uranium, zirconium, and steel kinda all goes glorp! together, means that an active nuclear reaction starts taking place — that is to say, have the melted rods in the No. 1 reactor re-achieved criticality, or are they just staying hot from decay heat?

A criticality means an active nuclear reaction. That means that hoppin’ neutrons from one uranium nucleus tend, at a rate higher than 1:1, to go Za-zing! into another uranium nucleus.

Decay heat just means there’s residual heat from natural radioactive decay in the uranium — which can last, significantly, for months or years following shutdown of a nuclear core.

The difference may seem minor. It’s not. The question is whether the fuel a self-sustaining reaction, or if the decay heat will dissipate naturally, and the temperature go down. Decay heat could be enough to cause core damage, as we saw in the midst of the initial crisis, in the warnings about the spent fuel pools at the No. 4 reactor. Those were said to be hot enough from decay heat — and then it was (sort of) admitted that there had been damage to the spent pool containment structure.

Why does it matter? Because the bad news is still piling up. Yesterday, ocean-bound leaking radioactive water from the No. 3 reactor (which also experienced a meltdown) was sealed. No word on how long it had been leaking. No. 2 reactor leaked radioactive water into the ocean last month.

Greenpeace has been putting out independent reports about how much radioactive iodine and cesium have been found in seaweed up to 40 miles from Fukushima — but it’s impossible to place statements like “five times the legal limit” in a meaningful context when it comes to human health. And, like I said, Greenpeace has an agenda here, and has shown in the past that it’s willing to play fast and loose with the facts when it comes to nuclear power. That’s an easy thing to do — the facts, when it comes to radiation and human health, are confusing and ambiguous.

But molten uranium is not that ambiguous. I’m not naive enough to claim “It’s either molten, or it’s not.” But if there’s molten fuel at Fukushima…why isn’t that the headline in The Telegraph, Bloomberg and the Associated Press?

Oklahoma, Minnesota Designer Drug Deaths?

by on May 11th, 2011 1 comment

Updated on 14 May 2011: Fox 23 news reports that now Andrew Ackerman, one of the people who took 2C-E at the May 7th party, has also died. (This report stands in contrast to the investigation about Walls, mentioned below, for whom the connection is murky at best based on the news reports).

In Konowa, Oklahoma, a town with about 1,500 residents, a batch of a “designer drug” is being blamed for one or more deaths following a party this past Saturday. Twenty-year-old Cody Weddle was arraigned on charges of giving Anastasia Marie Jewell, a resident of nearby Ada, Oklahoma, the drug 2C-E.

Jewell reportedly died after taking the drug at a party, though it will take weeks to get tox reports back and definitively determine her cause of death.

In the meantime, Weddel has been charged anyway, even though 2C-E isn’t illegal — or, well…it’s sort of illegal. While 2C-E is unscheduled in the U.S. (that means it’s not illegal, per se), it can be prosecuted under the Federal Analog Act — similar to its status in the U.K.

Regardless, what was unclear is whether the overdoses stemmed from a bad batch corrupted in the manufacturing process, a dosing problem, or a toxicity inherent to the drug. Other news reports about 2C-E seem to throw around the terms “overdose” and “toxicity” like they don’t mean anything — when in fact they mean fairly specific things. Deaths from a toxicity innate to 2C-E seem unlikely, or at least under-documented, but then again, 2C-E is an uncommon drug, so one wouldn’t expect to see toxic doses with great frequency. Common drug lore around substances like GHB hold that “the effective dose is close to the toxic dose,” which turns out to be (mostly) untrue, and cases of GHB overdose appear to stem from other intoxicants commonly taken with it.

The Oklahoman makes it sound like the Weddle case is a misjudgement or misunderstanding of the effective 2C-E dose, resulting in an OD: “Weddle, Jewell and Akerman diluted the 2C-E with water at Jewell’s residence on Friday…The solution was supposed to be further diluted before it was sold, Weddle told investigators.”

However, this isn’t the first time this year a Midwestern batch of 2C-E has (maybe) killed someone. The drug has been “flooding” North from Louisiana and Texas, supposedly. In March, the Star-Tribune indulged in vaguely revolting tragedy tourism when it described, in Requiem-For-A-Dream-a-Licious detail, the case of Timothy Lamere of Blaine, Minnesota, who supplied friends with the drug, resulting (apparently) in the death from cardiac arrest of one young man, and one other woman being in critical condition, plus 9 other hospitalizations (including Lamere):

Timothy Lamere took the bottle out of his pocket and poured the grayish powder on the living room table of the Blaine house, cutting it into lines that he and Trevor Robinson quickly inhaled, according to murder charges filed Monday against Lamere in Anoka County.

Soon after snorting the synthetic drug known as 2C-E at a party early Thursday, Robinson, 19, started to yell and punch walls. Then he stopped breathing, dying at a hospital hours later. Ten other partygoers overdosed and needed hospitalization, including Lamere, 21, who was found by police in a snowbank.

On Monday, Lamere was charged with felony third-degree murder for unintentionally causing Robinson’s death by giving away or distributing 2C-E, a controlled substance. Robinson died of cardiac arrest attributed to toxicity associated with the presence of drugs and no natural disease explained the death, according to the charges.

[Link.]

The Star-Tribune story reports that 2C-E is “a controlled substance.” I could not verify that’s true in Minnesota, unless you’re going to call it that because it’s prosecutable under the Federal Analog Act (which is really, really fudging). More specifically, here’s what it said about 2C-E’s legality in Minnesota, and how Lamere got it:

According to both the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the drug 2C-E is within the definition of a Schedule I Control Substance, which means it’s illegal, the document said….Police said they believe Lamere purchased the drug via the Internet, where it is widely available.

While the Star-Tribune didn’t specify a site, a story in The Oklahoman said that in the Konawa case, investigators believed that Weddle had purchased the drug online, at Chemicology.net:

A notice posted on its website Tuesday said the business would be closed….“Due to customer abuse and moral obligation, chemicology.net will be closing,” the announcement states. “Once our stock is depleted, we no longer intend to resupply.”

[Link.]

…but when I checked, Chemicology wasn’t just “closing,” it was closed; I got an error message from the site, and there was no explanation. As far as I can tell, there’s been no police bust of Chemicology has been reported so far, but it’s guh-GONE.

Also, speaking of whether this stuff is illegal or not, Oklahoma City’s KOCO reported just the opposite of the Star-Tribune‘s Minnesota-flavored answer to that question, quoting Scott Schaeffer of the Oklahoma Poison Control Center:

Schaeffer said that because substances like 2C-E are not illegal, a lot of people think they are getting around the law when they buy them and then use them in ways similar to known illegal drugs.

He said he believes the Internet plays a large role in the popularity of designer drugs but also makes it impossible to know exactly what the user is getting.

“There’s no telling actually where these drugs are coming from,” Schaffer said. “They might be from a chemical supply house, or they might be from somebody who has put it together in their bathroom or kitchen.”

While some of the products online may actually be created by legitimate chemists for legitimate purposes, most are really just meant to mimic the effects of illegal drugs, experts said.

[Link.]

The Minnesota case got Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar “working on a [Federal] bill to ban 2C-E, like synthetic marijuana, to ensure it stays off the market,” said the Star-Tribune. Meanwhile, Missouri lawmakers are already working on one, and Louisiana’s considering it.

Okay, so…remember that, you know, Bath Salts Panic from a few months ago? This is a much better example of the news treating a public health crisis like it’s a public health crisis. The press is still wiggin’; in fact they’re wiggin’ out. They get freakin’ all up in our shit, and shit. But this is a real case of a real drug that really killed someone (maybe), with documented charges filed by the cops, not random spooky-ooky stories about “teens” getting “high” for “$40 a spoonful.”

However, the media’s still blowing it, and blowing it hard. You see, today’s Oklahoman story tells us this:

Authorities are awaiting a medical examiner’s report to determine whether the unexplained death of a 29-year-old man may be linked to the same “designer drug” that killed one person and sickened several others at a party.

Jeffery Walls, a resident of Roff, was found dead in that small southern Oklahoma town Saturday, the same day people were overcome by the drug 2C-E at a party in Konawa, about 30 miles to the north.

There were no indications that Walls was at the party, said Pontotoc County District Attorney Chris Ross. Tests will determine whether drugs were in his system. Walls had a criminal record that included a charge of possession of a controlled substance.
[Link.]

Sadly, I’m left trying to figure out WTF the connection is between Walls and the drug, since this was an unexplained death 30 miles away. Did he, like…know them?” Awaiting a medical examiner’s report” is, you know…not that convincing an explanation for why they’re even wondering. The way the Oklahoman story is worded leads one to believe that the paragraph about Weddle’s sale of the drug follows logically from the section about Walls. It doesn’t. This story indicates no connection whatsoever, other than that there is one.

Even with that said, the timber of these reports does not yet meet my personal evaluation of a moral panic — even if legislators are getting involved. That is usually a sign that public health issues are turning into freakouts…but so far, even the tragedy tourism of the Star-Tribune has been notably restrained, at least in comparison.

But the case of Walls does seem to indicate a tendency to connect seemingly unconnected deaths without feeling the obligation to explain why they’re “maybe” connected…and that’s indicative of oncoming hysteria. In the case of 2C-E, the press managed to actually document people being harmed, before they panicked. As a news reader, I always appreciate knowing why I’m supposed to freak out. When it comes to bath salts, they handed me a bunch of warmed-over garbage and started waving their hands. The mainstream media can be kind of funny that way.

The drug 2C-E, according to Erowid.org, is sometimes called “Europa,” but no one I talked to has ever heard of it. With a chemical name of 2,5-dimethoxy-4-ethylphenethylamine, it is a phenethylamine first synthesized by 85-year old UC Berkeley Biochemistry PhD and Contra Costa County resident Alexander Shulgin, a former Dow chemist who popularized MDMA (ecstasy) and has been a longtime proponent of psychedelic use. (The 85-year-old Shulgin suffered a stroke last November and has been incommunicado publicly since then).

Part of the 2C family of psychedelics, 2C-E is described by Shulgin as one of his “magical half-dozen” of psychedelics. He and his wife Ann describe experiences with it here, and relate both positive stories and some frightening ones. Shulging rates 2C-E’s psychedelic effects at a 10mg dose as “plus 3″ or “+++” — which is described as:

Not only are the chronology and the nature of a drug’s action quite clear, but ignoring its action is no longer an option. The subject is totally engaged in the experience, for better or worse.

In other words, at 10mg, by Shulgin’s account, there’s no saying “I think I feel something,” or asking “Am I tripping?” There’s only the proclamation, “I’m tripping BALLS.”

One Erowid user describes an experience with 2C-E as assisting the “shamanic pagan path,” while another described the experience as “Glorious Pain, Beauty and Joy.” Another called their account “Paranoid Schizophrenia,” so…yeah, sounds like oodles of fun.

Japanese Company Neurowear Creates Wearable, Brainwave Controlled Cat Ears

by on May 9th, 2011 0 comments

If you’re crazy cat ladies like everyone here at Techyum, then like us, you know how expressive cats can be. And I’m not just talking about the presents they leave after terrorizing the local rodent population, the gift of shredded curtains, or loving tokens of having eaten too much food too fast and being overcome with the spirit of sharing in the hallway in the middle of the night.

No, I’m talking about their adorable ears. When your kitteh is pissed off, cat guardians know that the ears are often the first indicator that you’re going to lose a pint of blood if you don’t stop petting immediately. Or, perky and inquisitive ears adorably tell you that kitteh is interested in what you have to say, especially if you’re speaking the language of can opener or treat.

To the delight of cat owners like me that like all things kitteh perhaps a bit more than I should, and definitely to the excitement of furries the world over, Japanese company Neurowear has produced a prototype of brainwave controlled cat ears to be worn by humans.

I’ve done a significant bit of research on brainwave controlled consumer products. I have covered Neurosky and OCZ for CerebralHack, visiing both companies and tested their products, including OCZ’s Neural Impulse Actuator (NIA) and Neuorsky’s Brain Computer Interface (BCI) games. Video of me at Neurosky using their BCI and moving objects in the game with their headset and my brainwaves, is here.

(We love Neurosky on Techyum: don’t miss our post about their X-Wave Mind Interface Device for the iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch)

So it’s with great interest that I’m thinking about what it would be like to wrap a set of Necomimi’s on my head. Necomimi is a combination of the Japanese words for cat and ear): they look likea cat ear headband a teenage girl might buy at Claire’s (in the mall) around Halloween. The band has a sensor on the forehead area that transmits neural impulses into the rig, which causes the ears to move based on what kind of signals it receives. The response is said to be from thoughts or moods – but in my experience with BCI, it is actually difficult to control as they require a strange combination of relaxation and focus. According to Psyorg, the ears “stand straight up when the wearer is concentrating, or wriggle and turn slightly when amused, or lay flat when tired or bored, demonstrating what the company calls, an ability to reveal emotion.”

But we may not find out how well the Necomimi works, if at all, for a while. It looks like one prototype has been made, and was taken to a conference with an exhibit hall – but the Neurowear website and their Facebook page are brand new, and quite sparse. So little is to be found about the product or the company, I would think it’s a prank – if they hadn’t shot this video of people trying out the Necomimi at the Smile Bazar convention in Shibuya, Tokyo (April 28):

Regardless, I want a pair really bad. In black. And yes, I’ve emailed Neurowear asking how to get a set of Necomimi’s for review, as I’d gladly cover them for CBSi. I really sort of need a set of Necomimi… So far, the company (if they’re really a company) has not responded to inquiries. Keep your paws crossed.