Kit OConnell

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Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday July 22, 2014 8:34 pm

 

A close up of a cannabis plant.

The World Health Organization now disagrees with the UN about cannabis — and other drugs.

Tonight’s video is “How Heavy is Air?” from TED-Ed.

Too often we think of air as empty space — but compared to a vacuum, air is actually pretty heavy. So, just how heavy is it? And if it’s so heavy, why doesn’t it crush us? Dan Quinn describes the fundamentals of air pressure and explains how it affects our bodies, the weather and the universe at large. Lesson by Dan Quinn, animation by Sandro Katamashvili.

The United Nations still favors the international drug war. But the World Health Organization, a subsidiary, appears to be opposing its parent organization and calling for decriminalization. From the Economist: 

A report just published by the World Health Organisation, an agency of the United Nations, makes a discreet but clear call to decriminalise drugs. And not just cannabis—the report goes as far as recommending the decriminalisation of injecting drugs, which implies the harder sort.

The call comes in a new report on how to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV among ‘key populations,’ including drug users. Have a look at page 91 (page 113 of the PDF). Under ‘Good practice recommendations concerning decriminalization,’ the WHO recommends that for people who use or inject drugs:

- Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.

- Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs [needle and syringe programmes]) and that legalize OST [opioid substitution therapy] for people who are opioid-dependent.

- Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs.

Thanks to M. Christian for this link.

Bonus: Body armor for your Barbie Doll, via Boing Boing

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Monday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Monday July 21, 2014 8:23 pm

 

A formal portrait of a young Bly, serious faced

Gonzo journalist Elizabeth Jane “Nellie Bly” Cochran rarely remained neutral on her subjects, for better or worse.

Tonight the Watercooler is in solidarity with National Nurses United and their recent rally for access to water in Detroit.

Thousands of registered nurses, community, labor, environmental and community activists marched in Detroit today in a resounding protests against the shutoff of water to tens of thousands of city residents — an action the marchers called a wanton violation of human rights that creates a public health emergency. RNs lead the march demanding that the Detroit Water and Sewage Dept. turn back on the water to its residents.

[...] Their message: Turn on the water. Restore the water for those who were cutoff. Tax Wall Street to raise the money needed to revitalize cities and communities like Detroit harmed by the Wall Street created economic crash of 2008. And they voiced emphatic opposition to the corporate policies of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his undemocratically appointed emergency city manager who have declared a bankruptcy in Detroit and moved to privatize public resources, such as the water supply.

Jean Ross, RN, co-president of National Nurses United, the lead sponsor of the action, delivered a declaration calling the city of Detroit to be a public health emergency zone, supporting the call of numerous city activists of the health crisis prompted by the shutoff. ‘We need clean water for proper sanitation to combat the growth and spread of multiple infectious diseases and pandemics. We need clean water for a safe and healthy environment. We demand the guarantee that all Detroit residents have immediate and full access to clean water,’ said Ross.

It appears that the activists are being taken more seriously by police with the usual show of force in response: DailyKos reports on the use of an LRAD — a sound weapon used by militarized police — to disperse a crowd of protesters.

And Gonzo journalist Laurie Penny recently wrote about another great pioneer of openly biased journalism, Nellie Bly — who among other accomplishments infiltrated an insane asylum to report on the torturous conditions inside. From The New Inquiry:

In 1893, the celebrated reporter Nellie Bly went to visit Emma Goldman in prison. The young anarchist provocateur was held in the first Manhattan jail to be called the Tombs; it was built on the wreck of an old swamp and stank of rot and feces. The two women had both grown up in poverty and obscurity, and found fame, if not fortune, by writing about the conditions suffered by women and the working poor. But while Bly was lauded for circling the globe in only a fetching checkered traveling cloak, Goldman was locked up for incitement to riot.

Bly was one of the only journalists to show Goldman any sympathy and the first to understand her importance as a cultural figure. In Bly’s piece, Goldman is permitted to speak her truth at length, along with some girly chat about clothes of the frivolous sort that Goldman would never have stooped to in her own writings. These are the details that never make it into the manifestos but nevertheless make the politics a hundred times more human.

[...] ‘Gonzo’ journalism is now read as a macho practice: turn up somewhere ripped and stoned and undercover and immerse yourself in a culture or practice, then write viscerally, from the brain and the gut. In fact, women were doing it first. Bly was just 21 when she got herself committed to Blackwell’s Island Insane Asylum to report on the dispiriting conditions suffered by the inmates there: the beatings, the starvation, the cold. Her feature in the World drew public attention to the plight of the mentally unwell in the U.S. and led to some limited reforms.

Penny outlines Bly’s entire rise and fail, and why her famous round the world trip was perhaps the least of her achievements.

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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: Chainsaw Richard

By: Kit OConnell Friday July 18, 2014 8:42 pm

 

A young man wielding a chainsaw attacks a blood covered woman reaching for an axe.

OK, but Ramses was expecting a bit more burly …

It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

Do you want to see a burly man with chainsaws? I want to see a burly man with chainsaws.

How far would you go to sneak into the movies? Not as far as Ramses and Tiny Ghost go tonight in their attempt to see Chainsaw Richard.

This cartoon is from Cartoon Hangover, YouTube publishers of great animation like Bravest Warriors and Bee & Puppycat.

It was created by Christopher Reineman, who also does a similarly weird and spooky webcomic called Feel Afraid.

Seen any good cartoons lately? Or tell me about what you’re watching on TV these days.

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Thursday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Thursday July 17, 2014 7:41 pm

 

Tonight’s music video is “Too Blue to Have the Blues” by Detour, performed live at Zellie’s Opry House in Howard City, Michigan.

A human face with an implanted robotic eye

What ethical guidelines are needed for an implantable future?

At the beginning of this week, I shared some of the possibilities of “pharmacy on a chip” technology — implants which would release drugs into the body at set intervals. They are being tested for osteoporosis but could be applied to many needs, such as the hormones that trans people may take. I thought it was a promising development, but your comments were skeptical on the whole — concerned about the potential abuses of this tech.

It seems you’re not alone in that skepticism. Over on RH Reality Check, Abby Lippman considers the use of implantable drugs for birth control. It seems the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation are funding research into a “contraceptive implant with a remote control” — nearly identical to the osteoporosis chip above. Lippman says,

Referred to in the MIT Technology Review as a candidate for the elusive ‘perfect contraceptive,’ this new wireless device will, once implanted under the skin, deliver via remote on/off control measured doses of levonorgestrel (an ingredient of birth control pills that are already on the market) daily for up to 16 years in the woman with the chip.

It’s hard to know where to start in enumerating all the imperfections of this device. But a couple of the problems include how it not only removes control from women, but places it in who-knows-who’s hands, since everything that can go wrong with remote-controlled devices could happen with this device. There really is no foolproof way to ensure that only ‘registered’ people will have access to control the electric current needed to open the seal on the device to release the daily doses. Nor can there be guarantees that hackers won’t be able to access either the device itself or some interconnected computerized information or devices. And what about the potential mechanical failure of the device in the short or long term? What risks might there be from 16 years of use?

The device, which can be turned on and off without a doctor’s assistance, eliminates the need for a woman to visit a clinic to obtain contraceptives. While some have been touting this as a positive thing, saying it puts the power in the users hands, it also means there will be no visits to ensure the safety of the drug in the woman’s system, no opportunity to ensure she is aware of the need for condoms to protect against sexually transmitted infections, and no way to stop the drug delivery on her own [...] a health professional must remove the device; the patient herself cannot. We’ve already been down this hazardous route with earlier versions of long-lasting contraceptive implants—and their often coerced use, especially among individuals thought not able to manage their bodies themselves (for example, teens and marginalized women).

I tend to think that once humanity envisions and even prototypes a technology, it’s hard for it to close that door again. It seems like research and development into implantable medical devices of all kinds is only just beginning, and as person with a disabling chronic pain condition, I welcome new medical developments on the whole. It’s clear, however, we need to develop strong ethical controls that put people’s well-being and bodily autonomy first. In this corporate police state, that may take some work.

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Wednesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Wednesday July 16, 2014 8:47 pm

 

Tonight’s music video is “The Cold Song” by Klaus Nomi. Dangerous Minds recently re-shared this older post about an encounter with Klaus Nomi, including this video.

Protests in solidarity with the people of Gaza, and against the war crimes of the Israeli military and government, have been held worldwide recently. Today, protests occurred simultaneously in Chicago, Illinois where five were arrested at an action inside Boeing:

and in Austin, Texas, where over three hundred people came out to chant and rally in front of the Texas Capitol.

A crowd of hundreds assembled in front of the Texas Capitol dome.

Interfaith Stop Israel rally at the gates of the Texas Capitol.

 

Read more about today’s Chicago march and action on Storify, collected by @plussone. And more photos from today can be found on my Instagram. Of course, both protests are dwarfed by some other recent solidarity marches:

Bonus: You Won’t Believe What Happened When This Texan Decided to Talk About Abortion” from Andrea Grimes on RH Reality Check.

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Tuesday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Tuesday July 15, 2014 8:38 pm

 

Tonight the Watercooler offers solidarity to Medea Benjamin and CODEPINK, who interrupted the Politico Playbook Luncheon to put Dick Cheney under arrest for war crimes. Politico, of course, neglected to challenge the Cheneys on anything substantial (thanks to FDL’s Dan Wright for the link) so it’s a good thing someone did.

A man with a quizzical expression pushes buttons on his Nintendo Power Glove

If this had existed in the 80s, the Power Glove would have actually made you better at Mario Bros.

And Georgia Institute of Technology scientists have developed wearable technology that teaches your hands motor skills even when you aren’t consciously paying attention. Psypost reports that after trying it out with piano melodies, the scientists have moved on to teaching Braille (thanks to Eric W. Dolan for this link):

Each study participant wore a pair of gloves with tiny vibrating motors stitched into the knuckles. The motors vibrated in a sequence that corresponded with the typing pattern of a pre-determined phrase in Braille. Audio cues let the users know the Braille letters produced by typing that sequence. Afterwards, everyone tried to type the phrase one time, without the cues or vibrations, on a keyboard.

The sequences were then repeated during a distraction task. Participants played a game for 30 minutes and were told to ignore the gloves. Half of the participants felt repeated vibrations and heard the cues; the others only heard the audio cues. When the game was over, participants tried to type the phrase without wearing the gloves.

‘Those in the control group did about the same on their second attempt (as they did in their pre-study baseline test),’ said [Georgia Tech professor Thad] Starner. ‘But participants who felt the vibrations during the game were a third more accurate. Some were even perfect.’

The researchers expected to see a wide disparity between the two groups based on their successful results while using the piano glove. But they were surprised the passive learners picked up an additional skill. ‘Remarkably, we found that people could transfer knowledge learned from typing Braille to reading Braille,’ said [Georgia Tech Ph.D. student Caitlyn] Seim. ‘After the typing test, passive learners were able to read and recognize more than 70 percent of the phrase’s letters.’ No one in the study had previously typed on a Braille keyboard or knew the language.

Another form of technology-enhanced learning — zapping your brain with electricity — is discussed in Radiolab’s “9-volt Nirvana” (which I mentioned last Cartoon Friday).

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Monday Watercooler

By: Kit OConnell Monday July 14, 2014 8:23 pm

 

Close up photo of a micro chip

An implantable micro chip could release daily doses of medication on a regular schedule.

Tonight’s music video is “Neversleep” by ALIENS.

Scientists have completed a successful clinical trial of an implanted microchip that released daily doses of osteoporosis drugs. From the Guardian:

Seven Danish women with the bone disease osteoporosis had the chips implanted under their skin for 20 days in the first human trial to assess the safety of the technology. The devices released a dose of drug at a specific time each day, replacing the daily hormone injections currently used to manage the disorder.

The work is a major step towards an implantable “pharmacy-on-a-chip” that could be filled with a variety drugs to treat long-term conditions such as cancer, heart disease and multiple sclerosis, and programmed to dispense them automatically. While the implants remove the inconvenience of popping pills and, for some patients, the pain of regular injections, the greatest benefit will come from patients receiving the right dose of the right medicine on time. The failure of patients to take drugs as recommended is one of the most common obstacles to effective healthcare.

[...] In a half-hour procedure under local anaesthetic, women aged 65 to 70 had the domino-sized chip implanted through a 2.5cm-long incision just below the waistline. All were able to walk out of the surgery and leave the hospital without help. Several weeks after the devices were implanted, doctors programmed them over a wireless link to deliver escalating doses of an osteoporosis drug called parathyroid hormone. Each chip held 20 doses of the drug in tiny wells covered with thin wafers of platinum and titanium. When a small current is applied to the cover, it melts to release the drug inside. The molten speck of metal resolidifies on the chip.

Future versions of the chip could hold 365 doses for daily release, or add sensors that release drugs based on conditions in the body. Vanguard Vivian, who shared this link, suggested one important possible use for the technology:

Bonus: Fist Bump With Obama For Equal Rights from the Austin Chronicle

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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: Pot Theft

By: Kit OConnell Friday July 11, 2014 8:17 pm

 

An archaeologist holds up a potsherd with a bit of zig zag striped decoration

Another piece of an ancient thing.

It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

In one sense, I was pushing against the tide of all these artifacts that are coming out — millions and millions of objects that are disappearing from the land. I was putting one back in. – Craig Childs, Pot Theft

Pot Theft is a collaboration between one of my favorite NPR shows and podcasts, Radiolab, and YouTube animators Minute Physics.

Last month, we had our very first (unofficial) artist-in-residence at Radiolab: Henry Reich, the brains behind MinutePhysics. Henry took a story from Craig Childs, the adventure-loving, cliff-scaling explorer from our Things episode, and animated it in trademark Minute Physics style: magic markers, stick figures, and tons of charm.

This animation is part of a series of Radiolab stories about “Things.” But if you’re new to Radiolab I recommend the recent episode “≤ kg” or the brain-zapping fun of “9-Volt Nirvana.”

Bonus: If you follow Cartoon Friday, you know I love Bob’s Burgers. A lot has been written in praise of Tina Belcher, and the sex-positive yet hilarious way the show handles her character’s adolescent sexual awakening. But fewer writers have analyzed the Belcher family son, Gene.

Writing for The Horn’s Over the Rainbow column, Dana Sayre draws out the show’s LGBTQ subtext in her take on “Genderfluid Gene.”

I’ve always loved Gene’s character for the sassy quotes which make the viewer wonder if he’ll grow up to be gay. Gene’s character gets wonderful one-liners like, ‘You don’t just throw away satin!!’ in ‘A River Runs Through Bob.’ Whether it’s secret spa days with Linda or dressing up in a sequin gown and wig to perform with the girl group he creates at school, Gene isn’t afraid to embrace his feminine (effeminate?) side.

But there are also plenty of times when Gene acts like a ‘normal’ 11-year-old boy. Whether it’s recording fart noises on his electric keyboard, talking about poop, or eating the orange foam from Family Frackus, Gene is just as likely to be grossing out the family as being fabulous.

[...] That definition seems to fit Gene, whose character mixes and matches gender and sexuality stereotypes at will. In ‘OT: The Outside Toilet,’ for example, Gene’s maternal insticts mix with his love of toilets. In the episode, Gene’s class is doing a parenting exercise and he declares to the family, ‘I was born to be a mother.’ Unable to properly care for his bag of flour in class, however, Gene instead cares for an expensive toilet abandoned in the woods. Gene would rather be a mother than a father, but has a love of toilets our culture would not ascribe to the same group who normally mothers children.

Food for thought for my fellow queer pop-culture junkies.

What are you watching?

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