Sunday, February 9, 2014

Litter Laughter - Funny or not?

Recently, my husband and I were driving across the Howard Franklin bridge that spans across the Tampa Bay in southwest Florida. We were enjoying the bright sunshine and the cool, crisp breezes. My husband handed me an apple to snack on while we finished our trip, so I heartily began chomping.

After a few minutes, I finished the apple and lowered my window to toss the core out into the bay. I didn't give that action any further thought. My husband spoke up and scolded me. "You're going to get a ticket!" he complained. I thought about it for a moment and then I offered my defense.

I explained to him that apple cores decompose and so because of that fact, it was not illegal to throw them out the window. He shook his head and said that he disagreed with me. I assured him that I was right, after all I was right most of the time whenever we had a disagreement.

Then, he turned to me and said in a rather frustrated tone, "Dead bodies decompose too, but would it be okay to throw one of those out the window?" LOL! My daughter was riding in the car with us and we both cracked up laughing at his comment for the next ten minutes.

Well, it turns out that my husband is right after all. It IS against the law to throw any trash out the window of your vehicle whether it's biodegradable or not. And the fines can be pretty hefty ranging from $500 to $1000 or more. And even if it wasn't illegal to throw these items out the window, it's a dangerous decision to make that just might cost someone's life.

These food items take longer than you think to biodegrade. An apple core, banana or orange peel can take up to six months to completely decompose. And while they are decomposing, they can attract rodents and maybe even other larger animals to creep near to the road and possibly cause an accident.

Moral to the story: Sometimes your husband is right.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The GoPro Hero Series High Definition Camera Lets You Take An Extra Eye Along For The Journey

No more telling fish stories about the one "that got away". No more chasing tornadoes and worrying about getting too close for comfort. No more coming back to town and telling folks that you missed Sasquatch...again.

And if you're friends don't believe you when you tell them that you went to Spain and ran with the bulls, simply strap a GoPro camera on the back of your head and run like the wind!

The GoPro high definition camera is lightweight, rugged, waterproof and can be mounted just about anywhere. Youtube videos are running wild with films about cameras being strapped to the backs of eagles.

Sky jumpers are videotaping in groups of 30 or more so you can share in the exhilarating experience with them. It's hard not to feel excited and breathless when taking in these views literally from the eyes of the outrageous beholder.

With dimensions of about the size of a business card and weighing in at about a half pound, the 35 mm GoPro camera was first released for mass production in 2005. It is now available as a digital camera. Inventor, Designer and Producer of the GoPro camera is Nick Woodman.

Woodman raised money for his company selling belts made out of sea shells and beads from the back of his VW van. He got the idea from a surfing trip in 2002 to Australia when he was hoping to catch photos of his surfing but no photographer could seem to get close enough to him to capture his essence.

So, as history would tell it, necessity is the mother of invention. There are several varieties of the GoPro Hero cameras, some with standard definition and others with high definition, some with 3 megapixels and others with 5 megapixels and still others can shoot stills up to 12 megapixels and able to capture 4K digital video. The camera comes with a self-timer, continuous shooting and the ability to shoot upside down, has low light capability and includes WiFi remote.

The Hero3+ Silver and Black Editions run $299 and $399 respectively. The company's website also sells mounts, accessories and software. 

Imagine how the face and the eyes for that matter, of journalism will change in the future because of this camera's capabilities.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Book Review - Climate Control by Robert Penfold

Climate Control is 31 chapters long and is written by Robert Penfold. This author's writing style is not quite as smooth and flowing as some authors, but his ability to tell a story with elaborate detail is unquestionable. There were a couple of typos and grammatical errors, but basically the writing was good.

Mr. Penfold began by giving me a thorough description of the story's characters. The story revolves around Mark Langham and his beautiful wife Emma, along with her father Simon. As I read through the first few chapters, I gradually gathered the picture on their jobs, their personal tastes and their personalities. The Climate Control system was designed by Mark to break up threatening weather by the use of satellites and the earth's electromagnetic force.

The couple live in Manhattan, New York at present, but they originally met in Maryland where Mark worked as a meteorologist for NASA . Mark is now a young, retired NASA employee who designed the Climate Control system that is now owned by the UN, but he remains on the payroll as a consultant. He comes across to me as a normally quiet, peaceful person who avoids the limelight.

His wife Emma is a TV news reporter and anchor person who is ambitious in her career and lively in her personality. This position puts her in danger as the story progresses. Her retired military father is strong and steady and devoted to his daughter. Emma's mother had recently deceased. It is assumed that Mark's parents have deceased.

The story starts out calm and normal with nothing out of the ordinary as time unfolds with descriptions of everything from how the couple met, how the Climate Control system got started and works, what their apartment looks like to what a normal day for them is. In the midst of ordinary descriptions, I was blindsided by a shocking development. I realized that something terrible had just happened and I sat up in my chair holding my breath while I read.

That chapter ends with a couple of kidnappings and some uncertainty as to their safety and in the next chapter, it's back to calm and ordinary descriptions of how Simon's day is going with his daily routine and kindness being showed to his neighbors, etc. Next, you are in Mark's shoes again with an important presentation he has been asked to give at the UN concerning the Climate Control system and it's 3 deployed satellites. But, he is unaware of the crime being committed as he speaks.

When the presentation is over, Mark is heading back to his penthouse apartment when he receives a very disturbing phone call from a group called the Desert Rain Alliance that puts him into survival and rescue mode. Mark along with the President, FBI, CIA and a couple of other organizations come up with a plan to give them what they want and stall them at the same time. The plan works to free the prisoners, but it also backfires at the same time so that now the terrorists have control of one of the Climate Control system's satellites.

Tragic weather begins to happen in the middle eastern tourist area of the Israeli Red Sea and surrounding areas as the terrorists who had once had seemingly noble ideas and plans for bringing relief to their world began to feel the power they now possessed.  A great deal of description goes into these scenes of a once travelers paradise into the vacation from hell. When the Israeli government fires missiles toward the UN's Climate Control satellite in retaliation, I couldn't help but wonder if these terrorists had inadvertently started a war.

The next step of the terrorist's plan is to teach the Americans a lesson for not giving them prior control of the system and for stalling them in their plots. Danger lies ahead for New York City and Mark has to get control back of the satellite or else destroy it, which is what the President and his security council wants to do. As a massive hurricane begins to hit the big apple, I could literally feel the panic in the descriptions of mass hysteria. I felt sorry for Mark as he had to sit helplessly by and watch this disaster unfolding before his eyes.

Finally, when the storm has almost passed over, missiles are fired towards the Climate Control satellite and it is destroyed. At this point, I thought that the story was near the end, but this is only chapter 23. The government presents a solution that is heartbreaking to Mark and he is forced to carry out their instructions. I thought the story was near over again, but then something very wonderful and exciting happens to the reunited couple and I was sure at this point that the story was about to present its happy ending. However, a few years pass and the face of danger comes knocking on their door again!

There is only a tiny bit of mild language in this book, there is no sexual content, but there are some graphic descriptions of violence. Also, since the writer is from the UK, there are some words common to that country that some Americans might not know or be familiar with, but I did not feel that it distracted from the story. I gave the book a 4 star review on Amazon.com.

To find out what happens, read...

Climate Control by Robert Penfold

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Dopamine - Why Do We Need It? Where Can We Get It Naturally?

Dopamine is an organic chemical that is very important to humans both in the brain and nervous system and in the proper function of many body organs. It is formed in the body by removing a type of organic amino acid from a molecule of L-DOPA, leaving an organic compound or derivative of ammonia. L-DOPA is made in the body by a process called biosynthesis. One method of this conversion is through an amino acid called tyrosine which is found in high protein foods such as meat, eggs, nuts, cheese, milk and soy products. In the body, it gets converted to L-DOPA* by a certain enzyme and then that converts to Dopamine in the neurons in the brain by a different enzyme.

If you were to inject Dopamine directly into the blood stream, it would not raise the amount in your brain because Dopamine cannot cross from the bloodstream into brain cells. This is called the blood-brain barrier. Sufficient amounts of Dopamine flow through your blood stream, but it depends on other acids and enzymes to be converted for brain cell use. Once these chemicals are converted to Dopamine in the brain cells, it can then be very useful for memory, muscle control, mood, sexuality and the prevention of pain and nausea. It even promotes proper lactation in females as well as preventing some severe PMS/PMDD symptoms.

While Dopamine is still in the blood stream, it is beneficial to several organ systems. For instance, Dopamine tells the kidneys to excrete excess salt and urine helping to maintain better kidney health. In the pancreas, Dopamine regulates insulin production thereby helping to control type II diabetes. In the digestive tract, it slows digestion and protects the intestinal lining. In the immune system, Dopamine acts to keep viral infections at bay by lowering the amount of a certain type of white blood cell. In the circulatory system, it acts as a vasodilator, possibly preventing or treating migraines and aneurysms.

Unnatural substances used to increase Dopamine levels in the brain are pharmaceutical drugs. Most of these drugs are stimulants such as Ritalin, Cocaine, Cycloset (for diabetes II) and other amphetamines. These medicines were designed to raise Dopamine levels in the brain and are many times used to treat ADHD, depression, and Parkinson's Disease. Natural places to get Dopamine include bananas as the highest source as well as potatoes, avocados, broccoli and brussel sprouts. However, the Dopamine in these fruits and vegetables are useless in the brain without the synthesis to L-DOPA which is found in velvet beans and broad beans. You can purchase velvet bean extract in a herb form called Mucuna pruriens.

Another herb that may be helpful with regard to Dopamine levels is Chasteberry. There is a necessary balance between Dopamine and hormone levels and that's why this herb has been found to be very helpful with symptoms related to PMS/PMDD. However, this herb should not be taken with medications for Parkinson's Disease because Dopamine requires a perfect balance in the brain and too much of a good thing can cause problems like schizophrenia, insomnia and hallucinations. And according to nih.gov, stress lowers dopamine levels too, so it's wise to try to live as calm a life as possible.

In summary, yes, we need Dopamine for many reasons both psychologically and physically and we can get it naturally in bananas and then we can convert it from L-DOPA in broad beans or with the herb Mucuna pruriens. Or, for our meat lover's audience, we can get tyrosine from meat, cheese, eggs, nuts, etc. and then that will convert to L-DOPA and then to Dopamine. It's also interesting to note that Psychology Today, in an article published in April of 2011 entitled Exercise, Pleasure and the Brain points out that exercise can increase Dopamine levels.

In conclusion, we should eat healthy food and exercise. Is this a new concept? Maybe to some.

*The L in L-DOPA refers to the counterclockwise rotation of the molecules in this compound.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book Review - Bloodsmoke by Rio Ramirez

The story takes place in Southern Florida on the gulf side coastal region near Longboat Key and Anna Maria island. The tropical setting is inviting even though the author has it that his main character seems to abhor the heat, humidity and the locals. 

The author has a unique writing style with many wonderful descriptions. He obviously loves the use of many words even to the point that sometimes I had to read a particular sentence a couple of times to understand what he was saying. 

Mr. Ramirez possesses a very contemporary, modern writing style that reminds me a lot of Lisa Gardner's books. Although I liked his edge of your seat and riveting way of descriptions, I also had some difficulty liking this story. 

The book contains some erotica that I was uncomfortable with. It came across to me as cheap and uncaring.

The hero (Tommy Darlington) is a paid assassin hired by a secret society. His front jobs include being an artist by day and a taxi driver by night. He describes a woman (Rachel) as the love of his life, but he doesn't seem to have much respect for women. He describes "releasing her from her virginal chains" at 23 years old as if women view their virginity as oppressive and need to be released. 

He then refers to this love of his life as a robotic sex goddess. These statements made it difficult for me to be convinced that she was truly the love of his life. The hero also came across to me as a bit egotistical. He talks about how young girls zero in on his muscled forearms.

Tommy coldly kills for $175,000 a pop and then suffers a measure of guilt if the target appeared to be a nice guy. It was difficult for me to like him or relate to his character. It also appeared that the hero had a side hobby of killing off pimps because they mistreat women. This came across to me as a contradiction of character because at the end of chapter 3, he murdered a young girl who he viewed as a "loose end". The relationship between the hero and heroine was also disturbing to me. They go from hateful, foul-mouthed insults and fighting to cheap sex and then back to insults again. 

At some point in the story, Tommy begins to rebel against the men who pay him and when he is discovered, is on the run with his girlfriend Rachel. Tommy is very aware of "the old man" Viktor's ability to be ruthless because he called Tommy over to his place once to witness the murder of his handler Alfred. Tommy and "the old man" exchange chit chat while watching poor Alfred get chewed to bits in an alligator pit.

Later in the book, Tommy, condemns "the old man" for flaunting his casual disregard for human life. This seems a bit hypocritical to me. Later, Rachel gets kidnapped and beaten brutally not once, but twice. Sensitive readers like myself might have a hard time with that.There's a bit of gore in his hit assignments and his taking of revenge on the couple who first kidnap Rachel. At first, you think he is describing their death and then he talks about them waving goodbye and inviting him to come visit them in Belize. Was that whole gory description just his imagination? I'm not sure. Maybe he imagined their ghosts after he killed them.  Again, I'm not sure what actually happened there.

If you are sensitive to language, there are quite a few "f" bombs throughout the book. I have respect for the author's intelligence and his very descriptive writing style, it's just a bit hard core for my taste.

Bad things happen to Tommy and readers wonder throughout the book if true justice will ever be served. To find out, read...

Bloodsmoke by Rio Ramirez

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Let's Talk About Popcorn, Coca-Cola and Bezoars

I love popcorn...a lot. To me, you just can't go to into a movie theater and sit down to enjoy a great movie without popcorn. If I don't have enough money for popcorn, then I don't go to the movies. It's just that critical. I think it might be because that's the first thing you smell when you enter the lobby of a movie theater -hot, buttery popcorn. Even just sitting at home watching a movie inspires the idea of putting in a bag of microwave popcorn (with movie theater butter of course) to enjoy along with the movie. If there are several nights in a row of watching movies, then that might mean eating popcorn several nights in a row.

Here's where the problem comes in. I recently had a bought of intestinal distress -severe cramps, fever, and a couple of other symptoms that I will spare you the description of. In my case, it turned out to be a simple stomach flu. But, when something like this happens, I always take to the internet to research possible causes. I came across a discussion thread about popcorn and one participant presented the comment that his uncle suffered from a Bezoar in his intestinal tract from eating too much popcorn. He had to have surgery to have it removed. Could this be true? And what the heck is a Bezoar?

According to the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health's website (nlm.nih.gov), a Bezoar (pronounced BEE-zor) is a lump or mass of undigested particles that lodges in the stomach, appendix, intestines or colon and refuses to pass. It can cause pain, fever, nausea, diarrhea, bleeding and further infection. These sometimes have to be surgically removed. Bezoars can consist of many different things. For example, some items that typically have trouble digesting and can form Bezoars are fruit or vegetable fibers, pith or pits, hair, seeds, bubble gum, soil or fine gravel, dehydrated milk solids, any small item that a child might swallow and yes...popcorn fibers.

Apparently, it's the tiny clear, yellowish seed coat called hulls that cover the kernel that are the most likely to form into Bezoars. There are pre-packaged varieties without this shell fiber that are typically sold in most grocery stores. Riehle's Select makes five varieties of gourmet, GMO free, hulless popcorn. Their website explains that this variety is actually a very tiny kernel that when popped, the hulls almost completely disintegrate, making it much easier to digest. Another good one is Tender Pop, also GMO-free and gourmet.

If unripe persimmons are a huge part of your diet, then you might have to worry about getting a Phytobezoar. This a a type of Bezoar that is formed from a chemical in the fruit called shibuol that binds with the acid in your stomach to form a hardened mass that cannot be digested. Phytobezoars are especially hard and difficult to dissolve or pass, more so than other Bezoars. But guess what? The high acid content in Coca-Cola has been successfully used to treat these Bezoars according to a study published at the Science Direct website in July, 2006. This study was performed by the Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at Hanyang University Guri Hospital in Guri, South Korea. 

During this experiment, doctors treated a 41-year-old man with a history of diabetes mellitus. He was admitted with lower abdominal pain and vomiting. The hospital performed an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and it revealed three huge, round diospyrobezoars in his stomach. He was made to drink two cans of Coca-Cola every six hours. When they did another endoscopy the next day, the bezoars were partially dissolved and were significantly softened. At this, doctors performed a direct endoscopic injection of Coca-Cola into each bezoar. When they repeated another endoscopy the next day, the bezoars were completely dissolved.

As exciting as this discovery is, it's also pretty scary. It's no secret that Coca-Cola can clean the corrosion off a battery post. Matthew Wright, co-owner of Wright Brother's Automotive in Atlanta validates that Coca-Cola does work to clean battery posts, although he's not necessarily recommending it.  Listverse.com also lists ten very unusual and rather scary uses for Coca-Cola including cleaning toilets, rust removal, de-blackening pots and pan, skunk smell removal and pain relief from stings. Most everyone knows that the original recipe for Coca-Cola contained cocaine from the coca leaf. However, some people may not realize that the present recipe still contains coca leaf extract that has been treated with a solvent and an acid base chemical process to remove the cocaine.

The present recipe also contains high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which has been linked with diabetes and liver disease. If you live in Argentina, as of June, 2013, you can drink Coca-Cola Life. This variety of Coke is sweetened with real sugar and Stevia and has 60% fewer calories than Coca-Cola Classic without the use of high fructose corn syrup. Why isn't this available in the US? I don't know. Maybe it's coming. In the meantime, regular Coke has HFCS and the phosphoric acid that gives these drinks their tangy or sour taste has also been linked with Osteoporosis according to WebMD.com. Bone density requires a critical balance of phosphorus and calcium, but the phosphoric acid in Coca-Cola apparently messes with this critical balance causing bone loss.

Based on this information, it's doesn't take a Ph.D. to deduce that drinking Coca-Cola in large amounts over time isn't the best idea for good health. However, in this case, moderation might be the key. If you plan to occasionally go to a movie and you want to eat popcorn, but you're worried about the hulls causing a Bezoar, drinking a Coke along with the popcorn might just dissolve the hulls, preventing a Bezoar. Obviously, this isn't something you'd want to make a regular practice of, but occasionally might not hurt and actually help prevent Bezoars.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review - Going Home Again by Sarah Atkins

Going Home Again is the story of a girl (Jana) who fell in love with a young man (Josh) who made a mistake...a big mistake. It broke her heart and so she moved away to a big city...Dallas. At a very young age, she made a decision to leave her home and her beloved grandmother who raised her based on the infidelity of this man who was also very young and foolish at the time.

Apparently, he did really love her despite his indiscretion because he never married or even dated during the ten years that she was away. He had once tried to find her in Dallas only to see her arm in arm with another man. There were other attempts to see her there but he never had the courage to face her.

Life in the big city for her involves a variety of long hour jobs that keep her stressed and busy and avoiding her past and her pain. Finally, she lands a job as an assistant TV producer and then a morning lifestyle show producer with a comfortable income.

She had originally wanted to be a published author, but life sometimes pushes those dreams to a back burner. She is away from her small town home for ten years without once coming to visit. When she receives the news about her grandmother's death, she is forced to face her own selfishness and neglect of her grandmother and the pain of her compulsive decision to end her teenage romance.

However, going home again apparently is a good thing because it brings her back together with her first love who is now the attorney handling her grandmother's final arrangements. They forgive each other and make plans to start a passionate and wonderful life together. Tragically though, the old object of Josh's indiscretion makes an unexpected appearance at his office as a client and tries to seduce him...again. Jana walks in just in time to catch the ugly scene and breaks everything off. She decides to return to Dallas believing now that she will never be able to trust him.

Was Josh truly being unfaithful again? Read this book and find out.

Ms. Atkins is a wonderful writer with an easy, flowing writing style. Going Home Again has been reviewed and rated four times on Amazon.com with an average rating of 3.75 stars.

Going Home Again by Sarah Atkins

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Krokodil - Heroin Drug Subsitute Horror

Just when you thought that you had heard the worst possible stories about drug addiction, Krokodil enters the stage. Krokodil is the street name for Desomorphine, a drug first patented and manufactured in the United States in 1932. It was a derivative of morphine, but ten times more potent and works as a sedative and pain killer. Desomorphine is made from a mixture of codeine and thionyl chloride (a main component in battery acid) and made into a pharmaceutical grade drug.

However, the street version of Desomorphine, better known as Krokodil is made from over the counter codeine, iodine and red phosphorus and likely other very impure chemicals like gasoline, paint thinner and alcohol. These very dangerous and caustic chemicals cause horrible reactions to the body's tissues like deteriorating them for example. In some cases, gangrene and other infections have actually rotted away the flesh and muscle tissue to the point that bones and other tissue become openly exposed and vulnerable to further infection.

Krokodil is considered an opioid which basically means that it is a psychoactive chemical or simply put, it means that this drug has an effect on the central and peripheral nervous system. This is not to be confused with the term "opiate" which is used in connection with drugs that contain opium from the poppy plant such as heroin. Krokodil is not a heroin drug, but it does have some affects similar to heroin, like the highs experienced with heroin use. A Krokodil high is stronger, but it does not last as long, usually only about an hour and a half, whereas heroin may last up to eight hours.

The reason that Krokodil has become popular especially in Russia is the price of this fix is cheap compared to heroin. Users may have been told that they were buying a new cheaper heroin. In some cases, users do not even know that they were sold Krokodil until a great deal of tissue damage had already taken place. The life expectancy of Krokodil users has been predicted to be about two to three years after the start of use. It is common for limb amputations and other emergency surgeries to be needed by Krokodil drug users.

In recent weeks, reports about the use of Krokodil have made their way into the US, especially in Arizona, Utah, Oklahoma and Illinois. In these states, a few cases of men and women have been hospitalized due to the extreme tissue damage caused by this drug. One patient describes and compares the initial damage to a cigarette burn that turns purple and then forms a blister after a few days. Eventually, the tissue dies, turns black and begins to fall off, exposing bones. It's hard to imagine anything more horrible than this. Doctor's have been quoted as saying that it's like the patient is dying from the inside out.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is still saying at this point that they don't believe there is any reason for concern in this country about Krokodil. At present, it seems that their focus is on cross-border marijuana trafficking. With an annual budget numbering in the billions, many times the DEA has had to focus on drug seizures that bring the most monetarily since according to a paper published in 1998 by students at the Suffolk University Law School and the Boston University School of Law, law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep a large portion of confiscated drug assets from these drug seizures.

When it comes to saving human lives, why does it always have to be about the money?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Traffic Deaths Verses Terrorist Attacks - Where's The Greater Danger?

Last week, I went with my husband to visit my daughter in Tennessee and then to my husband's parents in Virginia. We spent a wonderful week in a cozy cabin nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. On our drive home, I noticed a couple of lighted signs crossing the interstates of 75 and 24 in Georgia and Tennessee that listed that state's traffic deaths so far this year. For Tennessee, it was 723 as of mid-September and I can't remember for sure the amount for Georgia, but I think it was a similar number. Those numbers kind of shocked me as I was driving along the interstate. I mean, those are huge numbers!

This made me want to do some research concerning traffic fatalities in the US during recent years. I found a website called the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that was extremely helpful for this project. This website had the figures for traffic related deaths in the US from 1994 until 2011. I guess they are still working on the reports for the year 2012. I'm looking at these pages in horror as I see numbers like 29,757 for 2011 and 30,296 for 2010. These numbers stay pretty close in the 30,000 range each and every year all the way back to 1994. The total number of traffic deaths in the US from 2000-2011 is almost a staggering half a million (459,222).

As I'm studying these numbers, my ADHD mind starts wandering. I start thinking about the recent terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Kenya where the death toll presently stands at 68 with a believed number of 10 still remaining as hostages on the inside. The situation there is truly a terrible one and no one deserves to die by the hands of cruel and cowardly terrorists. But I can't help but make a comparison to these huge numbers of traffic deaths in the US every year. I'm certainly relieved that the number of deaths by these terrorists isn't larger, but half a million people in eleven years dying in our own "backyard" by accident?

This made me wonder how many people have died by an act of terrorism in the US in recent years. These thoughts brought me to another website called the Global Terrorism Database (GTD). I researched all the deaths resulting from acts of terrorism in the US from the years 2000-2011 and the number comes to 3034 (2836 of that number are from those who died in the 911 attacks). That's 3034 too many, but a small number by comparison to the half a million traffic deaths for the same years. With numbers like this, I can almost imagine the terrorist groups out there saying something like, "Uh...they're killing themselves faster than any damage we could do in a lifetime."

What can be done about this? In 1983, seat belt laws went into effect and in 1991, backseat belt laws were added. For twenty years prior to this law, US traffic deaths ranged in the 40,000 and 50,000's per year and continued to range in the 40,000's per year until 2008. That's twenty-five years after seat belt laws went into effect, 40,000 people were still dying on the roads every year. Of course, there are more cars on the road every year. According to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the number of vehicles on the road have been rising by an average of about 4 million per year since 1960. More cars, more accidents.

In 2008, the number of traffic deaths dropped into the 30,000's and in 2012, the number dropped into the 20,000's. A relieving trend to say the least. Maybe because vehicles are being built with stricter safety precautions. Airbags became mandatory in 1998. However, it takes time for the average person to own a newer vehicle and for these benefits to filter down to more people. Improvements in road construction may help as well, although the actual construction itself probably causes more accidents. Even with these major improvements, the number of deaths per year by traffic accidents is still unacceptably high.

My chances of dying in a car wreck caused by my "neighbor" are 1 in 19,000. My chances of dying in a terrorist attack by "strangers" are 1 in 1.7 million. Is this close to the definition of "Friendly Fire"?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What is Sarin Gas?

Sarin gas is a highly toxic nerve gas that can kill you within minutes of ingestion even in very small doses. It is a Schedule 1 chemical weapon which means that the CWC (Chemical Weapons Convention) has determined that it is a highly dangerous and toxic weapon of mass destruction and has no other useful purpose on earth. It is considered to be 500 times more toxic than cyanide. The production and stockpiling of sarin gas was internationally outlawed by the CWC  in 1993.

Death from sarin gas exposure comes when the lungs become paralyzed and the victim suffocates. The initial symptoms include runny nose, chest tightness, nausea, difficulty breathing, drooling and pupil constriction. Moments later, the patient will begin to lose control of all bodily functions by vomiting, urinating and bowel movements. Seconds pass and the person will begin to twitch and jerk and then slip into a coma just before death occurs.

Sarin gas was originally discovered in 1938 by German scientists trying to create a stronger pesticide. In 1939, it was introduced into the German military for use as a chemical weapon and by the end of World War II, estimates of up to 10 tons of it had been produced. But Germany was not alone in this, by the 1950's both Russia and the US were producing sarin gas as the standard chemical weapon. Franklin Roosevelt set up the United States Biological Weapons Program in 1943 and ordered it to research and produce biological agents and weapons. The US stopped regular production of sarin gas in 1956 and stopped re-distilling of stockpiled bulk sarin gas in 1970.

In June of this year (2013), 189 states had joined the CWC and two more countries (Israel and Burma) were getting on board to destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles. Five more countries (Syria, South Sudan, North Korea, Egypt and Angola) refuse to sign on with the CWC's international effort to disclose and destroy all chemical weapons. In addition, a couple of countries (Sudan and China) have been accused of not disclosing their chemical weapons stockpiles.

Over 70,000 tons of chemical weapons worldwide were declared to the CWC in 2010 before destruction of these agents began. Within two years, over 50,000 tons had been destroyed. Only three CWC member countries have completely destroyed all their chemical weapons (India, South Korea and Albania). President Richard Nixon ended the US Biological Weapons Program in 1961. The US is expected to spend $60 billion to destroy these weapons that cost them $300 million annually to produce.

An April, 2012 deadline was given to two CWC member countries to completely destroy their chemical weapons stockpile. However, by that date, Russia and the US had both missed their deadline. These two countries had declared the largest stockpile in the world. When the deadline passed, the US had only destroyed 57% of their chemical weapon stockpile, but Russia had processed the destruction of about 90%. Iraq didn't join the CWC until 2009 and has not even started destruction of their chemical weapons stockpile.

Are we any safer due to all of these efforts to destroy these horrible weapons? At present, the Syrian government is preparing defensive measures and a counterattack should the US issue a strike against Syria for their use of the chemical agent sarin last month. Their first attack is aimed towards five US destroyer ships in the Mediterranean Sea, but experts agree that the Syrian government has long range missiles as well.

During the early morning hours of Wednesday, August 21, 2013, in the suburbs east of Damascus, the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad  instigated a chemicals weapons attack on their own people. The bombs that exploded in these neighborhoods contained sarin gas as determined by hair and blood samples obtained from rescue responders following the attack. Over 1400 people died and hundreds of them were children and even babies.