26 January 2006

Gulf War (II) Syndrome

Your Token Reader spent this afternoon wandering the depths of Miskatonic University's occult building, searching for the fabled Necronomicon. Though he has yet to find that unholy tome, he did stumble upon knowledge nearly as disturbing: a three-month-old issue of Science News (vol. 168, no. 17) that has mysteriously remained (to this reader's knowledge) unremarked-upon, perhaps because it has driven all previous readers into shrill, unholy madness. This cursed booklet told of a parasitic disease afflicting wounded Iraq (and Afghanistan) war veterans, a disease that had spread to kill some who were never overseas. Here, without further comment, is the tale of this war's Gulf War Syndrome (though I take no responsibility for insanity that may follow, and if the AAAS complains I'll take it down):
Iraq war casualties often complicated

Hundreds of injured soldiers returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan harbor an unusual bacterium that complicates their wound healing and may be spreading to other patients in hospitals where the soldiers are treated, a new study shows. Moreover, the microbe seems to be lingering in soldiers, cropping up during rehabilitation care recieved months after they have returned to the United States.
Paul M. Scott, a physician at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Md., and his colleagues isolated the bacterium, called Acinetobacter baumannii, from 148 wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan between November 2002 and September 2003. Since then, more than 100 additional wounded combatants have been diagnosed with A. baumannii.
Many of the A. baumannii strains found in these soldiers don't match those occurring naturally in Iraqi soil, Scott notes. Their origins are "murky," he says.
A. baumannii can cause pneumonia and infect the urinary tract and blood, says Walter E. Stamm, a physician at the University of Washington in Seattle and president of the Infectious Disease Society of America.
The infection also slows wound healing. It responds to antibiotic treatment, and none of the combat casualties so far has died from the infection. However, 18 people in the United States and Germany who weren't in active service but were being treated in the same hospitals as the wounded soldiers who have also been found to be infected with A. baumannii. Five of these other patients have died, Scott says.
Richard O. Oehler, a physician at the James A. Haley Veterans Hospital in Tampa, Fla., reports that seven of the nine wounded soldiers admitted there for rehabilitation between June 2004 and January 2005 harbored A. baumannii strains that were resistant to certain commonly used antibiotics. One soldier has died, and the others have recovered.
"This is an unusual bacterium that has not been seen frequently as a cause of disease in U.S. hospitals," Stamm says. "Once it's introduced into a hospital, it can be difficult to get rid of." —N.S.

19 January 2006

Busy, busy, busy

Not the blog. I'm just really busy now, so the Token Reader will probably only be blogging on a weekly basis or so. Nothing this past weekend, since I was off getting burried head-first up to my ankles in snow under a pile of a half dozen people (sled accident). You can see the aftermath here:

12 January 2006

I survived the Oregon Trail!

And that's about the best I can say. All I'm gonna tell you is that I will NEVER complain about the roads or the weather anywhere in California ever again. That and I have a small vocabulary lesson for y'all:
White-knuckle driving: n. 1. Extreme, potentially fatal driving conditions with no opportunities to pull over and stop. 2. Driving I-5 through Oregon at night in rain so hard you want to crank the windshield wipers up to 11, near-freezing temperatures, and winding mountains with potholes bigger than wheels (no joke) and three-trailer trucks to dodge. (See 1)
On the plus side, gas in Oregon was only around $2.20 a gallon and full-serve is required by law there. Plus, I think I got some nice pictures from along the Columbia River. As long as I didn't screw them up too bad (I'm still getting used to my new SLR) I'll post some once I get them developed.

Oh, yeah, one other thing. There really ought to be a law of nature preventing hangovers without the requisite intoxication, but apparently there isn't. I woke up yesterday with what may have been my worst hangover ever, and I hadn't had a drop of alcohol (or a toke of pot, or anything else) for two days. It seems a 12-hour drive from San Francisco to Portland will do that. Fair warning for anyone thinking about repeating my stupidity.

07 January 2006

Not to say "I told you so," but...

I told you so:
Not only will a future administration have to kill human space exploration when it becomes clear we're pissing away billions of dollars for no good reason, but in the meantime they're going to have to pretend they aren't just charging it to the national debt, and that means delaying, scaling back, or abandoning useful parts of the space program.
In fact, it turns out I was far too generous to Preznit Spaceman. I never considered the possibility that the spending boondoggle of Bush's manned mission to Mars would also provide a convenient excuse to kill inconvenient research. Alas:
Triana was never able to overcome its roots. NASA has quietly terminated what may have been its most important science mission. Critics of programs to limit emissions argue that climate change is caused by solar variation, not by atmospheric changes. There is one unambiguous way to tell: locate an observatory at L-1, the neutral-gravity point between Earth and Sun. It would have a continuous view of the sunlit face of Earth in one direction, and the Sun in the other, thus constantly monitoring Earth's albedo. Al Gore initiated the observatory project in 1998 to inspire school children with a continuous view of climate unfolding on our fragile planet. It was even given a poetic name, Triana, the sailor on the Santa Maria who was first to sight the New World (WN 24 Jul 98) . But Triana's importance to climate research, perhaps Earths biggest challenge, was not recognized until later. With urging from the National Academy, it was finished in 2001 and given a new name. It was still waiting to be launched when Columbia crashed. By then we had a new President and a new "vision." It was put on hold. The official reason for killing it is "competing priorities." The priority is to replace Gore's vision of the world with the Bush vision of sending people back to the moon. We should all weep.

06 January 2006

Friday Random 10

  1. The Offspring - "Americana"
  2. The Clash - "Red Angel Dragnet"
  3. King Missile - "The Sandbox"
  4. Bad Religion - "I Want to Conquer the World"
  5. Bad Religion - "I Love My Computer"
  6. NOFX - "American Errorist (I Hate Hate Haters)"
  7. Tool - "Reflection"
  8. Morphine - "Thursday"
  9. Pennywise - "Now I Know"
  10. Nine Inch Nails - "Just Like You Imagined"

05 January 2006

Administrative Notes

I've had a bit of catching up to do on blog maintainance, and now I've finally gotten around to it. First, the BARBARians were getting restless, so I finally added some new recruits I had failed to include thus far. Apologies on the delay to: Two other bloggy additions: Finally, I've added Cryptome to the reference section, as their information on spying, counterintelligence, and privacy has proven invaluable in contextualizing the transformation of the NSA into secret police. Besides, their information on cryptography is nice to have around, and you've got to love a website that posts pictures of Darth Cheney's "undisclosed location."

I never realized dilithium was that kind of crystal

With so many insignificant things taking our attention -- illegal domestic spying, corruption that would make Boss Tweed wretch with disgust, and the perpetually worsening Charlie Foxtrot that is Iraq -- I'd like to take a few moments to deal with issues that really matter:

Crackpots. New Agers. Quantum mysticism. Sadly, I'm not talking about What the #$*! Do We Know!? No, instead I'm referring to the latest stupid waste of money by the US Air Force and NASA. Put down those drinks, y'all, 'cause this is spit-take-worthy craziness that, ignoring the cost difference, puts Star Wars to shame.

Via /., it looks like the USAF and NASA have teamed up to combine the Air Farce's Project Stargate and antimatter bombs with NASA's perpetual motion machine into one unholy bundle of wastefulness and credulity: a hyperspace engine.

Now, before I get into just why this is so ridiculous, I should note that the idea of a warp drive is theoretically sound based on our current understanding of physics. The Alcubierre warp drive is the most prominent example, and others are mostly variants on the same concept. I should also say that nobody would be more thrilled than me if someone invented an actual working warp drive; I'd probably die of happiness with a big smile on my face and a soiled pair of underpants. The basic principle is simple: bypass the universal speed limit of the speed of light by not moving at all, but instead shrinking space in front of you and expanding it behind. These warp drives have difficulties of their own, such as requiring either more energy than is contained in the known universe or some source of exotic matter, but they aren't just pulled out of someone's ass.

Not so with this one. This warp drive depends on Heim theory, the completely unsupported claims of Burkhard Heim, a Nazi weapons scientist cum reclusive GUT physicist cum New Age icon. Heim actually didn't publish his theory in a scientific journal, but rather published in a book through a notorious New Age clearinghouse, Resch Verlag. Despite this, his theory actually was consistent with experimental results in particle physics for many years. The key word here, however, is "was." As measurements of particle properties have become more precise in recent decades, experimental results have diverged from Heim's predictions (unless you fudge the value and/or behavior of Newton's gravitational constant). Additionally, this leaves out the complete lack of any evidence for new particles his theory predicts, the chimerical "gravito-photon" and an electrically neutral electron, both of which would be well within the energy reach of modern experimental devices if they existed. On top of that, Heim theory is just plain wrong -- wildly wrong -- in light of more recent astrophysical discoveries, especially magnetars, which would have to be completely different if Heim's failed electrogravitics described our universe. Not so coincidentally, as Heim's claims got further from reality, they grew in prominence and support among crackpots of all stripes, especially New Agers and UFO enthusiasts (read the whole perpetual motion link above for a good example).

So then why the hell are we spending money on this nonsense? And why are USAF brass and NASA management actually buying the claim that they can have a working warp drive in five years? Simple: the 'gee-wiz' factor. It just sounds so cool, so why would they want to listen to the naysayers who babble about stuff like experimental evidence? This is doubly true when the people in charge can't tell the difference between science and science fiction, and won't listen to experts who can. After all, these guys sound all science-y and use lots of big words and complicated equations; if some other nerdy types say it's wrong, well, who's to say who's right? Balance and all that.

We now return to your irregularly scheduled programming.

04 January 2006

Happy New Year

A few days late, but happy new year anyway. I suppose I should have a few resolutions, so I have some empty promises to break in the next few weeks. Here goes:
Now, that last one might baffle some BARBARians, since you all know I'm just a slacker with too much time on my hands. But, as some of you may be aware, starting next week the Token Reader will be studying the occult at Miskatonic University in scenic R'lyeh. (Okay, not really, but I did get in to [redacted] College and will be studying astrophysics.)

One minor note of no particular interest... Other BARBARians who failed to attend Drinking Liberally tonight missed out on a real treat: legendary Moonie-hunter John Gorenfeld was in attendance. You may (or may not -- your loss) be familiar with his articles on Rev. Moon's influence in Washington, D.C., beyond the Moonie Times and UPI, particularly Bad Moon on the Rise and Hail to the Moon King (be sure to watch the video). Of course, being a physics geek, your Token Reader must confess to being partial to "Bleep" of Faith, his comprehensive and entertaining takedown of the cult-financed quantum mysticism flick What the #$*! Do We Know!?