Vis-A-Virus

Dirty Little Secrets
About Hand Washing

For at least a century now, it’s common knowledge that one of the essential conditions for good health is to wash your hands often. That’s still true in the age of sanitizers and nothing like the virus du jour to highlight that. It’s also when most people realize that six seconds under running water doesn’t clean anything.
The personal care industry makes billions every year but we still prioritize appearance, voice tone, timing, and a series of other silly parameters to gauge whether the person in front of us is friend or foe. And yet they could kill us with a handshake. No wonder the doctor who became obsessed with cleanliness lost his mind.
What’s curious is that a dweller of any modern metropolis does value showering daily or almost, and depending on education, brushing their teeth a least twice a day. Somehow the initial step, though, and despite the usual comforts of contemporary life, like indoor plumbing, taking the time to wash up is treated as a formality.

It’s hard to understand how come such a crucial habit fell through the cracks of culture. Or that we even survived to this age. The evidence clean hands do save lives is around for so long, just like soap, and in the big scheme of things, time spent washing up is negligible compared to other human activities.
And yet, here we are, with the coronavirus wreaking havoc those very activities on a global scale. The benefits of this simple habit to improve global health cannot be overestimated and neither can the growth of the soap and cosmetics industry during the same period. Human awareness though went the other way.
FIGHTING GERMS WITH ALCOHOL
Hand sanitizers are an ultra-modern invention likely devised to quell germophobic anxieties and up to a few months ago, could be found at every counter of every food and retail places in America. It’s not so available anymore and for a while hoarders and mad-greedy merchants thought their price should be many times higher.
Amazon and other delivery companies – which by the way are making a killing – have stepped in to curb price gouging, but the initial widespread adoption of antibacterial soaps prompted a number of alarming studies about their long-term effects. That’s why the FDA banned Triclosan, despite industry efforts against it.
The current virus outbreak may potentially produce yet another unforeseen economic impact: to boost the moribund corn industry. A perennial recipient of government aid, corn depends on two factors for its commercial viability, subsidies and the fact corn syrup is now added to arguably 90% of American food. Thus the demand for corn-made alcohol is expected to spike.
AREN’T YOU FORGETTING SOMETHING?
But dirty habits die hard. Consider the study by late 2003 Ig Nobel Prize in Literature John Trinkaus of CUNY, published at the Annals of Improbable Research. It recorded public use of a hand-sanitizing station in the lobby of a teaching hospital, with heavy traffic of medical professionals, patients, and their relatives.
Of a total of 500 observations made, only three out of 108 healthcare practitioners stopped and used the station, which runs (more)
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A Year to Subtract

The Banned, the New & the
Obscene, Plus Satan Tweets

On the Chinese calendar, 2018 is the Year of the Dog, which is but another of many ironies we hadn’t really asked for. For there’s no doubt to whom this one’s been gone to. Yet, throughout its mostly painful months, we came through with another appreciation. For the trivial.
Whether for better, worse, or neither the case, is up in the air. Trump’s Orwellian ban on words, a new organ and continent, things we’ve got stuck inside, plus a Tweeter account wittier than the president’s, 2017 had us all gagging. But it could be even worse. Maybe.
Like this just in, breaking news: by closing time, we still haven’t heard from Mary Lee, the East Coast GPS tag-wearing, 16-foot shark, we grew fond of following. She’s missing and our hearts are skipping beats; knowing she was out there (without us) gave us so much solace. Please call home, proud Mary.

Speaking of the Orange-in-Chief, he’s beaten and abused us the whole year, and we ducked and despaired. But while he’s taken credit for the very air we breathe, the puppeteers behind him looked all familiar: they’re doing their usual worst, but, let’s not be coy about it, we know where they all live.
Just saying, not holding our breath about it, as our old Nanny from Kansas used to say. But as we prepare our hour of reckoning, we may count blessings for not having lost our heads, for we’ll be needing them when our ship arrives. By then, hopefully the New Year won’t keep going K-9 on us.

THESE WORDS SHALL NOT BE UTTERED
There hasn’t been precedent of a U.S. presidency being so often compared to 1984, the nightmarish dystopia George Orwell envisioned in his 1948 book, even discounting party-biased assumptions. But a recent Trump administration brief to the country’s top health agency seems to confirm people’s fears.
The words ‘vulnerable,’ ‘entitlement,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘transgender,’ ‘fetus,’ ‘evidence-based’ and ‘science-based,’ are for now on forbidden to be used by the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, government officials told the agency. Does that imply that, with the new order, you’d better watch what you say?
Enough to send chills down anyone’s spine, isn’t it? Yet, despite such blatant totalitarian ‘edit,’ which follows the redacting of ‘climate change’ from government environmental sites, many are not convinced (more)
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* Guilty as Charged
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Hairy Halloweeners

Zombies Are no Match to
People’s Phobia of Spiders

Halloween is upon us, and the walking dead continue to bury the traditional cast of goblins, ghosts, vampires and werewolves that used to dominate the season, in the hallowed ground of popular imagination. Only one creature packs a bigger fright punch than zombies: spiders.
They’ve been around for millions of years, more species are discovered every day, and unlike all other scary monsters, they’re very much real. And guess what? they’re growing bolder, scarier, and all research done lately has only increased our paralyzing fear of them.
For however beautiful creatures spiders may be, with their intense maternal feelings, their amazing stronger-than-steel silk-making abilities, and their endearing habit of liquefying their prey, they still can’t shake their reputation as overlords of both the crevices of the real world and of our most intimate nightmares.
Science has often come to the rescue of arachnophobes everywhere, who’re helpless to ward off their deep-seated fear of these crawlers. Discoveries in medicine and promising psychological therapies have been developed in order to find ways of soothing such fears, to not much avail, we must say.

For example, the lethal poison of the Brazilian Wandering spider, for which there’s no antidote, may one day replace Viagra-like therapies in the treatment of erectile dysfunction, according to a recent study. Great, right? But then, along comes the Trogloraptor Marchingtoni, or ‘cave robber,’ a recently discovered species with a horrendous set of claws, and we’re back into our fetal position.
CAN’T SHAKE THAT FEELING
Two separate studies about our fear of spiders and snakes, have concluded that, first, it may date back to early mammals, who had to (more)
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* Hallow Talk
* The Flours of Evil
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The Whirled Cup

Five Bullet Points On Brazil

& a Split-Decision to Strike

World Cup 2014 LogoYou may not know this but to most past World Cup hosts, the occasion was for national joy and jubilation, if not much for settling social scores. Brazil, though, is not buying into that placid template: in case you haven’t got the memo, Brazilians are actually angry.
They may have a point. But apart from all disturbing news about the (poor) preparations for the world’s biggest sports event that starts next week in São Paulo, here are five curiosities that go from the promising to the ‘peculiar’ to the far out.
We’ll get to them. But about that anger and the unsettling news: yes, it’s all true. The most expensive World Cup in history may turn out to be, arguably, the turnaround for Brazil’s dreams of being perceived as a global power, capable of handling its moment in the spotlight with composure.
A quick review of the staggering numbers shows that Brazilians are paying between $13 to $18 billion for the right to stage the games, but most of it has been invested either in riches that will quickly evaporate from the country, coming August, or will rot in some stadia built in the middle of nowhere.
Over 200 thousand people have been displaced to accommodate infrastructure projects for the cup and for the 2016 Olympic Games, also to take place in Brazil, according to a Mother Jones infographic, but many of such projects may not be finished for the opening kickoff, or may remain incomplete forever.
Discontent with the way funds have been diverted from needed and more permanent works, and public perception that President Dilma Rousseff hasn’t been fully cognizant to how Brazilians feel left out of the big party, have taken the country by storm and may only get louder during the cup.
In fact, she does seem less concerned about them than how the massive street rallies critical to what was supposed to be a celebration of Brazilians’ passion for the game, will impact the estimated one billion worldwide, expected to follow the month long competition.
But even as those problems have been called out over and over, and may be inseparable from the games this time around, it doesn’t mean we’re not working hard to provide you with some interesting alternatives to experience it all, insights that may be unique to this particular edition. And here they are:
1. THE WALKING STEAD
Talking about the opening kickoff, few know that, technically, it won’t be given by a human foot. Or it’ll but not exactly how one’d expect it. If all goes well, on June 12, a paralyzed person will walk on the field wearing an exoskeleton created by Brazilian neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis.
The technology behind the mind-controlled full-body suit has the potential to revolutionize mobility for millions of people. It’s not the first time that robotics is applied this way, but it still scores a kick in the arse of common indignities associated with being handicapped.
No word yet on who’ll be walking towards the middle of the Arena Corinthians and, with a thought or two, command the suit to help the foot kick the Brazuca. But you can bet your soccer shoes that, for many around the world, it’ll be as historical as the tournament’s winning goal.

2. WELCOME TO FAVELA INN
Some six million soccer fans are expected for the games, the last of them probably on their way in as we speak. But so is a severe hotel room shortage, with prices upwards of $380 a night to boot. So what choices a late comer has to rest their tired bones and avoid crashing in some godforsaken public square?
What about a shantytown? For a bargain $30, one can find a place to stay in one of the thousands of tiny houses, cramped together like jigsaw pieces, in one of Brazil’s hundreds of favelas, conveniently located in most state capitals and often with a much better ocean view than many a pricy hotel.
After all, this is a country where the so-called informal economy Continue reading

Undeadline

Pop Culture Adds a New Doomsday to
Be Afraid of: The Zombie Apocalypse

We’ve been trying to scare the hell out of each other since immemorial times. Few have tried harder than the church, of course. What, with all that talk about eternal damnation and unspeakable horrors awaiting the non believer, most people had reason to wet their herb-stuffed cots at night, and proclaim that the end was already near, even then.
Twenty centuries later, religious demons, and sea dragons for that matter, lost much of their currency. They’ve been replaced by humanlike creatures, man-made monsters, half-animal beasts, invading aliens and the post-nuclear hecatomb undead, not necessarily on this order. We seem to be living through a revitalization of the latter kind, a time ripe for a zombie apocalypse, according to many.
They’ve been so ingrained these days that regular entertainment channels such as comics, books, movies and plays can no longer prevent them from leaking all over contemporary culture. Thus government agencies, educators and commercial outfits have all reached out to the myth of the half-eaten ghoul, to warn, educate, and make a buck out of the masses.
There are marathons now, where participants are supposed to train their run-away-from the slow-moving wrecks; maps indicating where they’re most likely to surface; ideal places to congregate during the outbreak; and special gear to wear and display, so others will know what you’re up to. And of course, plenty of advice to the already half-prepared doomsday nut crowd.
That it may never happen is beside the point; as it’s the norm with the end-of-times and rapture-day converts, facts should never get in the way of a good old fright. Which is, just so we’re all in the same Continue reading

Prairie Space

Synching Cows & Using
Teeth to Castrate Lambs

Perhaps only on the Improbable Research blog you could find two reports that, despite being both about farm animals, couldn’t be more diametrically disparate.
One, about cows and their tendency to emulate each other when eating or lying down. The other, about the brutal and disgusting idea that two farmers had to castrate some lambs with their own teeth.
In other farm news, also covered by the I.R. blog, it turns out that truffles, traditionally found with the help of hogs or dogs, can also be spotted by squirrels.
With the outrageously expensive prices they reach in markets around the world, it’s only natural that connaisseurs will search for ways of finding the buried specialty at the lowest possible cost.
FLYING TRUFFLERS
What pigs, canines and squirrels have in common is, of course, a highly accurate sense of smell. Hogs have been used to find truffles since Continue reading

Bovine Inspiration

No Laughing Cows: When Herds
Go Mad & Burst With Pee Power

What would you do if you’d found a cow’s heart at your doorstep? Or if you were under attack by an angry bovine? Worse yet, what if the burger you’ve just ate had been grown in a Dutch lab? These are but just a few surprisingly news about the world of livestock, dear reader, and we bet you didn’t expect it to be so exciting.
Or sinister. That heart was found on Valentine’s Day. Mad outbursts in the countryside? They’re more common than you think and more people are killed by cows in the U.S. than by any other animal. Oh, and so you know, it takes just one cow, regardless if it’s a mad one, to supply the energy needed to heat up 19 houses.
Most of us carry on with the business of our lives never thinking for a moment that we may have the wrong ideas about the animals that surround us. Specially the ones that people also consider meals.
Take your neighbor and his cellphone, for example. Just kidding. Choose the cow, instead. Is there another animal whose public image is more identified with passivity and pastoral bliss? That is, until one visits a slaughterhouse, of course.
Still, how can anyone be prepared to find a gory package at the entrance of their home, as Scott Fleming of Portland did? Or what’s the odds for someone sashaying through the fields of the lord to be suddenly trampled to death by a formerly perfectly reasonable bovine? Continue reading

Loo and Be LoL

For the Poor, a Better Toilet;
But for the Plump, a Bigger One

One of most desperate challenges facing impoverished communities around the world (read it, the majority of the population), along with hunger and need for shelter, is the need for clean sanitation.
According to the World Health Organization, 2.4 billion people have no access to even basic sanitary facilities. That includes clean water, which is virtually off limits to 1.1 billion bodies in the world today.
Whereas the modern toilet system is an effective way for keeping people healthy in industrialized societies, its complexity and infrastructure requirements are simply not practical for most of the developing world.
Ironically, for such societies there’s also a new, almost opposite challenge to tackle: obesity. In the U.S., for example, about one-third of adults are overweight, according to the CDC, Continue reading

Hairy Halloweeners

Zombies Are no Match to

People’s Phobia of Spiders

Halloween is almost upon us, and the walking dead continue to bury the traditional cast of goblins, ghosts, vampires and werewolves that used to dominate the season, in the hallowed ground of popular imagination. Only one other character packs a bigger fright punch than zombies: spiders.

They’ve been around for millions of years, more species are discovered every day, and unlike all other scary monsters, they’re very much real. And guess what? they’re growing bolder, scarier, and all research done lately has only increased our paralyzing fear of them.

For however beautiful creatures spiders may be, with their intense maternal feelings, their amazing stronger-than-steel silk-making abilities, and their endearing habit of liquefying their prey, they still can’t shake their reputation as overlords of both the crevices of the real world and of our most intimate nightmares.

Science has often come to the rescue of arachnophobes everywhere, who’re helpless to ward off their deep-seated fear of these crawlers. Discoveries in medicine and promising psychological therapies have been developed in order to find ways of soothing such fears, to not much avail, we must say.

For example, the lethal poison of the Brazilian Wandering spider, for which there’s no antidote, may one day replace Viagra-like therapies in the treatment of erectile dysfunction, according to a recent study. Great, right? But then, along comes the Trogloraptor marchingtoni, or ‘cave robber,’ a recently discovered species with a horrendous set of claws, and we’re back into our fetal position.

CAN’T SHAKE THAT FEELING

Two separate studies about our fear of spiders and snakes, have concluded that, first, it may date back to early mammals, who had to quickly identify sources of potential harm, in order to survive in a world dominated by reptiles. Secondly, being afraid of them also distorts our perception of their size and we wound up thinking they’re bigger than they really are.

Both studies may one day lead to new therapies to easy people’s phobias against the two species. That’s wonderful. Until you read about a woman who had a spider living inside her ear for a week, and the hair behind your neck goes into instant shock mode. Even if there are questions as to whether this really happened, just the thought of it makes us literally cover our ears, say, forever.

And more. From the mild-fear inducing spectacle of watching a spider molt, to the invasion of large, biting ones that happened last summer in Gauhati, India, to their remarkable ability of not just walking on their sticky webs without getting glued to it, but dousing them with poison, so to keep ants off them, we keep learning more and more about spiders.

Generally scary things, of course. So, even though there’s merit in using an imaginary invasion of zombies to educate the public for a potential virus outbreak, as done by the CDC recently, all we can say is: we don’t need no stinking zombies to feel utterly terrified. And, as with every phobia, we can’t get enough of it.

GUESS WHO’S DROPPED BY?

So during Halloween, along with all creepy but mostly fictional creatures that are part of the fun of it, there’s one critter that’s not just real, but scarier for a percentage of the population. For these folks, the ‘eight-leg freaks’ surpass even the fear of the walking dead, and many would be glad to spend a night at a cemetery but never in a room they knew there was a spider hidden somewhere.

For us, the final straw happened just the other day, live during a news broadcast program in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Todd Kunz, the anchor, was delivering the news when a spider started a long, skin-tingling descent and landed right next to his lapel mike. Kunz haven’t lost his composure, brave man. We would’ve screamed so hard we bet the studio floodlights would have exploded.

It took us a while to recover, but now we’re happy to report that we’re fine, calm, and collected. Incidentally, we’re about to watch our favorite seasonal movie, one that we’ve been watching at least twice a year since it came out. A real classic and our personal favorite. Great story, wonderful actors. A family movie, really. We’re about to press play to watch yet again, Arachnophobia.

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Read Also

* Eight Legs

* Bug Time