To wash or not to wash

Hygiene is a relatively new idea in the Western world. An early recognition of the benefits of washing came in the 1840s when doctors noted that hand washing could reduce childbirth fever. The idea of “germs” had been kicked around for several centuries, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that Pasteur proved, through a series of experiments, that germs were transmitted from one source to another. The previous idea was that they and things such as flies arose spontaneously. In 1865, Lister developed the idea of antiseptics, and in 1890, the country doctor Robert Koch came up with his postulates to prove the cause of disease. There was initial push back to germ theory –people didn’t want to be held responsible for making others sick. Even when germs were accepted, hygiene was regarded by some as “for sissies.” By the mid 1950s, films such as this one with Soapy, a somewhat haunted bar of soap, spread the gospel about hygiene. At last, people knew enough to keep clean. Now, the idea of frequent cleaning is being debated.

When I heard about the movement to not wash your hair, the no-poo movement, I knew it wasn’t for me. My hair is too fine and being a teacher and around a lot of people, most of whom tower over me since I’m 5′ 1″, their invisible pathogens fall on my head throughout the day. To be safe, I wash my hair every night, at least during the week. But is this over-kill? Do germs stick on your hair? The answer to this question is: Yes. But.

A study done by several researchers in Singapore, including some from Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore, with the title “Bacteria Display Differential Growth and Adhesion Characteristics on Human Hair Shafts” says that some bacteria cling to your hair while others simply sit on it.

They “showed the colonization and adherence of E. coli and P. aeruginosa on hair shafts, where P. aeruginosa, which tends to not be too dangerous to people with normal immune systems, was one bacteria that stuck to hair, formed a biofilm

E. coli inhabited only the edges of the cuticle scales..this study demonstrate(d) significant antibacterial effects of human hair shafts.”

Bottom line, yes germs stick to your hair but your hair can fight them off to an extent. Hair-derived antimicrobial proteins or peptides have been identified in hair shafts (Adav et al., 2018; Subbaiah et al., 2018).

Shampoo washes away germs on hair. However, grease from your hair can also kill germs. A threat may come from hairbrushes, which have been shown to contain fungal spores ( March 31, 2021, Infection and Drug Resistance)

How often should you wash your hair? It depends on the hair! It’s okay to wash it every day if it is fine because fine hair collects sebum more rapidly. Curly hair uses the sebum to make the curl so once a week can work for curly locks. African hair can go a week or two without washing. However, hair can trap pollen. Allergies can create the need to wash or rinse your hair more often.

Likewise, you should wash more often if you smoke or work with pesticides or other toxins.

What about beards? Beards are very germy and possibly a symbol of White Supremacy and anti-femininism. Beards need to be washed and brushed several times a week to remain sanitary. Wiggling a beard beneath a facial mask can release bacteria. However, having a beard doesn’t seem to be associated with being more sickly. Beards fall in the category of possibly being more of a danger to others. Beards haven’t been studied a lot.

Last but not least, there is the question of pubic hair–it is a natural cushion which will prevent STDs or is it germy and teaming with pheromones? Believe it or not, how this area is treated differs geographically. An interesting thing about pubic hair is that each person has a unique bacterial combination in this spot, with cohabiting couples sharing bacteria. However, like head hair, washed pubes are not overly germy. In fact, lack of pubic hair has been associated with a higher frequency of genital warts, herpes, and papillomavirus (HPV). However, you can and do give your mostly harmless germs to another via pube touching.

What happens when a person doesn’t bathe or shower regularly? A skin condition including a painful rash, can develop from bacteria, dead skin cells, and wax. Do you need to wash every day? No. A short shower every other day can work.

Of course, numerous diseases are spread by unclean hands. Even harmless bacteria can cause a nasty infection under certain situations, including entering a wound. As with pubic hair, each person has their own bacterial skin colonies and too much washing can damage skin and make way for new, less desirable bacteria. However, washing is necessary to remove bacteria from the skin. As with hair, some leeway depending on the situation is advised. Also along the same lines as the hair brush study, towels can be a source of bacteria and should be washed every two days.

Anyone with acne has probably been told that it is caused by bacteria and this is true. However, beneficial bacteria can help fight acne. Over-washing your face removes helpful bacteria and oils. Studies have found that products containing aforementioned lactobacillus (a type of bacteria usually found in yogurt) are effective in treating acne. Probiotic acne medication is being developed. Some companies are looking into probiotic make up. The problem with the later is that make-up itself can harbor germs and adding anything to help stop dangerous germs will also kill the probiotics. And, it’s not been proven that makeup with probiotics helps skin. Probably your best bet for giving your skin a boost of good bacteria is a yogurt face mask, which could increase moisture and elasticity.

Above: before and after a yogurt treatment on an over-washed hand

We each carry around our own little cloud of bacteria, controlled by our own natural antimicrobials. In fact, our bacterial cells outnumber our human cells by 10:1! Hygiene is needed to prevent invasion from outside germs, but we need to be aware that over-washing can stress our clouds and our skin and hair. However, other people might not always want to smell your cloud and they might not want to share your bacteria, so do wash when needed.

Three germs on dirty cloud of bad smell. Each of us carries around our own cloud of bacteria, some helpful and some not.

Want a little Red 40 with your Pretzel Salad?

Dig in. It’s only Red 40.

Mixed In takes place in Cochtonia, a city-state with futuristic technology and mid 20th Century mannerisms. This recipe is adapted from one in my Granny’s church cook-book (1987) which includes an abundance of Jello recipes. Although Jello seems lowly today, it’s a modern version of collagen rich aspic, used in aristocratic dishes of the past. Intricate layering was a part of aspic and Jello culture. You’ll find this recipe mentioned in Mixed In.

I’ll be honest. I bought things I didn’t know (or had forgotten) existed for this recipe.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad

Crust

Combine 2.5 cups of crushed pretzels

1.5 sticks of melted margarine

3 tablespoons sugar

Pour into a 9 x 13-inch pan

Bake for 10 minutes at 350o F

Cool.

Second layer

1 envelope Dream Whip, whipped with ½ cup cold milk and ½ tsp vanilla.

8-oz package of cream cheese, softened

1 cup sugar

Mix together the above ingredients and pour on cooled crust.

Top layer

1 6-oz box of strawberry Jello

3 cups boiling water

14 oz sliced frozen strawberries

Dissolve Jello in boiling water. Add frozen strawberries. Stir. Cool until slightly thickened. Pour this layer on cream cheese layer.

If desired, mix a half cup crushed pretzels with ½ stick of margarine and 1 tsp sugar, bake for ten minutes at 350o. Cool and use as a topping. Refrigerate for several hours or over night before serving.

Author’s note:

One question a person might ask about such a dish, which is delightfully sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy is: how dangerous is the red 40 dye that gives it the festive color? The answer is: it depends on who you are.

An article in Environmental Health Perspectives; Vol. 120, Iss. 1,  (Jan 2012): 1-5 noted that in a 1994 study in which children were fed placebos or capsules containing large amounts of dye some but not all “children displayed a clear dose-response function, with the higher doses eliciting higher scores on their 30-item behavior inventory, including five clusters of related behaviors: a) irritability/control, b) sleep disturbances, c) restlessness, d) aggression, and e) attention span.” In other words, some kids reacted poorly to the dyes, others did not. Yellow dye (tartrazine) appeared to have the most consistent negative effect. It didn’t seem to matter if the children were diagnosed with ADHD or not. Some kids had adverse reactions to high concentrations of dyes but many were unaffected.

 A more recent article ( J.Agric. Food Chem. 2017, 65, 12, 2588–2593:March 7, 2017) states that people who have elevated Red 40 in their urine often have high blood pressure.

Additionally, the dye has been associated with colon DNA damage in mice. (Journal of Toxicological Sciences (2010), 35 (4), 547-554CODEN: JTSCDR; ISSN:0388-1350. (Japanese Society of Toxicology))

Another study found that bacteria in your intestines can degrade Red 40 and turn it into a substance that can damage DNA and other chemicals that are be both toxic and carcinogenic. ( Journal of Pure and Applied Microbiology(Vol. 10, Issue 4) 2016) It’s thought this occurs to a greater extent in infants and children.

There aren’t an overwhelming number of studies showing the harmful effects of Red 40. Despite this, Nigeria, Switzerland, Canada and countries of the European Union as Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Norway have either banned Red 40 or added warning labels for the reasons mentioned above. 

When you think about it, does Jello have to be brightly colored? Wouldn’t it taste as sweet without the red dye? I’m not going to ban Red 40 from my diet. On the other hand, I’m not going to have a second helping.

Can volcanos ruin your summer?

In 1816, the year Dora Jordan died, Europe and most of North America seemed to be cursed. It was the year without a summer. The skies were overcast. Frost and even snow was common. Yes, it snowed in New England on 4th of July. Crops failed. Because of crop failures, horses, the main source of transportation, were expensive to feed. It’s believed this gave rise to the invention of the bicycle. Mary Shelley was inspired to write Frankenstein and the Gothic era of fiction took off. What gave rise to all this gloom and doom? The eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia the previous year.

The explosion knocked 4,000 feet of stone and rock from the top of the volcano. Ten thousand residents were killed immediately and 90,000 later starved.

In repose for thousands of years, the volcano began rumbling in early April of 1815. Soldiers hundreds of miles away on Java, thinking they heard cannon fire, went looking for a battle. Then, on April 10, came the volcano’s terrible finale: three columns of fire shot from the mountain, and a plume of smoke and gas reached 25 miles into the atmosphere. Fire-generated winds uprooted trees. Pyroclastic flows, or incandescent ash, poured down the slopes at more than 100 miles an hour, destroying everything in their paths and boiling and hissing into the sea 25 miles away. Huge floating rafts of pumice trapped ships at harbor.

Throughout the region, ash rained down for weeks. Houses hundreds of miles from the mountain collapsed under the debris. Sources of fresh water, always scarce, became contaminated. Crops and forests died….The major eruptions ended in mid-July, but Tambora’s ejecta would have profound, enduring effects. Great quantities of sulfurous gas from the volcano mixed with water vapor in the air. Propelled by stratospheric winds, a haze of sulfuric acid aerosol, ash and dust circled the earth and blocked sunlight.

The particles from the eruption settled and life returned to normal for the survivors. But this isn’t the only example of volcanos messing with life on earth.

A series of volcanic eruptions, beginning in 1256 and lasting until 1455, probably created the Little Ice Age. An abundant formation of polar ice kept the northern hemisphere cold until 1860. In other words, 1816 was a cold era, created by volcanos, made much colder by another volcano.

Long robes, hats–it’s damn cold in the 1500s! (Photo is a portrait of the alchemist Paracelsus)

More recently, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 created a cooling effect which lasted for three years.

Numerous volcanos are erupting right now with the most dangerous one being Nyiragongo in the Congo.

You can view a map of erupting volcanos.

So, if people ask you why it is so cold today even if we have global warming, there are plenty of good answers but if you want a simplistic answer maybe it’s the volcanos.

Can a virus cause depression?

Thanks to my daughter and her cousin, who took it upon themselves to set up appointments for their loved ones, I have been fully immunized against COVID-19. I can’t say I had the kick ass response to Pfizer-dose-two that some have had. I haven’t had a fever or chills or fatigue. It’s been more of a slow burn. I feel as if I’ve been day drinking and the euphoria has worn off. My reaction has been lackadaisical.

Since I’m sitting here with an unusually lazy psychology, I got to wondering: can a virus cause depression? The answer is yes.

Numerous viral diseases have been associated with depression. The list is a long one but some known culprits are H1N1 and other influenzas, AIDS, polio, herpes, and hepatitis C. Chicken pox can lead to a long term inflammation of the area of the brain responsible for spinal sensations. It can also cause depression. The COVID-19 virus can reach the brain and has been linked with numerous mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, and even ADHD.

Additionally, your immune response can cause depressive symptoms. “Illnesses like the flu or the common cold can closely mimic and cause depressive symptoms by activating your immune response and inflammation in your body“.

Cytokines are small peptides, chains of amino-acids, that direct your immune response.

They can fight arthritis and cancer.

They initiate wound repair.

They even influence your sleep patterns.

Cytokines and brain inflammation have been linked with depression for at least ten years.

Our immune, neurologic, and psychological systems are closely intertwined. When there is a foreign invader in your body, like the influenza virus, your cells produce proinflammatory cytokines, non-antibody proteins that activate and organize your body’s immune response”

An immune response known as the cytokine storm can result in a harmful over-reaction which may cause, among other things kidney and liver failure, pneumonia, seizures, confusion, and a rash. (Click here for a diagram of all of the associated problems).Most COVID deaths were caused by the cytokine storm reaction.

Some research says that too much sugar and/or stress or a zinc deficiency will cause an over abundance of harmful cytokines. Exercise can help regulate their over production. The COVID pandemic has highlighted the need to explore this further.

One thing professionals predict is that, infected or not, we will all suffer a mass trauma. Those who had to work risky jobs through the pandemic, those who lost loved ones, the lonely, the incarcerated, and those who lost livelihood will all be affected. One by-product to avoid is seeking authoritarian rulers! Yes, trauma of any kind can cause people to seek out authoritarians or become authoritarian themselves. Let’s not go there. it will only make things worse. One solution is to remember the past year, perhaps with a national day of no-work, and to allow ourselves time to recover.

from the Detroit Institute of Arts (Diego Rivera)

A mean boss or authoritarian ruler will just make your cytokines over produce!

Notes from an old chemist:Common Suffixes Used with Nouns in Chemical Terminology

Long ago, when my chemical world was new, I had a wise teacher by the name of David Crichton. He was a stickler for proper terminology and one thing he passed along was the proper chemical suffixes. I can’t find this list elsewhere so I’m posting it here for the Good of The Order.

David Crichton

Common Suffixes Used with Nouns in Chemical Terminology

-ance, -ence: denotes a state, a condition, a quality of being

            Example: valence, conductance, resistance, absorbance

-ant, -ent: denotes a thing acting as an agent

            Example: precipitant, titrant, diluent, dissectant, eluent

-ate: denotes nouns made from participles (verb forms), something resulting from the action of

        the verb stem

            Example: precipitate, distillate, condensate, decantate, eluate, absorbate

-gram: denotes something drawn or written

            Example: polarogram, spectrogram, chromatogram

-meter: denotes an instrument for measuring some specified thing

            Example: thermometer, spectrometer, spectrophotometer, photometer, potentiometer

-or: denotes an agent or doer

            Example: desiccator, monochromator

-tion, -sion: denotes action, a process

Example: precipitation, distillation, condensation, dissociation, decantation, elution,

    adsorption

-ty, -cy: denotes a quality, a state, a condition

            Example: density, conductivity, resistivity, absorptivity, accuracy

-graph: denotes an instrument for making records

            Example: polarograph, spectrograph, chromatograph

Desiccant (the blue stuff) does the drying and it goes in a desiccator (the glass thing).

Writing tips from Kurt Vonnegut

House where Vonnegut lived while teaching in Iowa City

Write what you care about.

Do not ramble.

Keep it simple.

Free write but then have the guts to cut. Vonnegut said, “Kill your darlings.” Although this has been misinterpreted to mean including murder and sacrificing main characters in order to generate emotion, what he really meant was to avoid being so in love with your own words that you can’t trim your prose. Kill your conceit.

Say what you mean to say.

A writer is foremost a teacher. Make sure the reader can learn a little useless tidbit here and there.

Pity the Reader: Don’t be boring. Stick with one point of  view. Don’t hold back information for the sake of surprise. Take out deadwood such as boring exposition. Keep readers turning pages.

Sound like yourself, even if it’s Midwestern speech aka “a band saw cutting galvanized tin.”

Remember, you’re in the entertainment business.

Writing is difficult .”You have to sit there. It’s physically uncomfortable, it’s physically bad for someone to sit that long, it’s socially bad for a person to be alone so much. The working conditions are really bad. “

***

These are some of Kurt’s many observations and words of wisdom from a new compilation Pity The Reader, On Writing With Style. I’d characterize this book as being more an emotional support book and collection of inspirational reminders than a beginner’s guide on how to write a novel. However, a movated beginner would glean much wisdom from it.

For teaching beginners, I use Wired For Story. which covers the basics of storytelling. For more serious beginners I use, Writing Fiction, which could be a self-study course and is focused on craft. Pity The Reader is the book I’d use for an advanced course–if I ever get to teach one. It’s been described as “illuminating”, “a love song for the writing life,” and “a breeze to read.” For the moment, I’ll use it as therapy, and so should we all.

My Kurt Vonnegut “prayer” candle in the early winter light.

The neanderthal lurking within

Sometimes in the course of writing a novel, an author will find a minor character becoming much more interesting than expected and a once major character fading. This has happened as I pen Book Three of the Unstable States Series. A minor character, a Neanderthal escort, became more important and a henchman was moved to a minor character. Cavemen Crispers (genetically modified erotic partners) were briefly mentioned in Book 2. Here, I quote a scene from Lost in Waste in which the protagonist asks a genetically modified male stripper, Ohho, if he has seen her genetically modified philosphically-minded stripper boyfriend, Remmer:

I was going to wet my pants before I learned anything of value from Ohho. Still, I had to try.

            “Do you know any stripping philosophers?” I asked. “Have you met a red-haired guy with a roundish nose who’s new in town?”

            “Philosophers?”

            “Someone who wonders about what if we lived in a cave? That kind of thing.”

            “A caveman. Good idea. We’ll add one. You get a free pass to the next show.”

I’ve had cavemen on my mind these past few months. Of course, this Neanderthal interest didn’t come out of the blue. Several family members turned over their DNA to 23andme as part of their Parkinson’s study. No evidence of a genetic link to Parkinson’s was found in our family. We did, however, have plenty of Neanderthal DNA. Being from mostly North Western European ancestry, this is not surprising. Most Eurasians & Native Americans have a small but significant amount of Neanderthal DNA– upwards of 4%. In chemistry, we’d call this a major component. In fact, even Africans contain some (although usually less than 1%) Neanderthal. Neanderthal DNA is everywhere.

There’s plenty of agreement on how Neanderthals looked when they lived 250,000 years ago–they were strong and sturdy, compact with a prominent brow, sloping, skull, large nose, and small eyes. They had good dexterity and loved tools. Around 40,000 years ago, they met up with ancient humans who spread into their territory. It’s suggested that humans, with the help of dogs, out-hunted the Neanderthals. Neanderthals hunted with spears in intimate combat with their prey. Humans hunted in tandem with dogs, which chased down prey and surrounded it before the humans moved in for the kill. It’s possible that this allowed modern humans to kill bigger prey. Human had dogs and killed mammoths. Neanderthals didn’t. (They possibly ate wolf/dogs.) But don’ think of Neanderthals as strictly meat eaters. They liked carbs just as much as most of us do.

Neanderthal women probably had an easier time giving birth than we moderns, nursed their babies, and had grandmothers helping. But interestingly enough, all of the human-Neanderthal DNA discovered so far comes from female humans mating with male Neanderthals.

Evolutionary genetics points to things which are troublesome today such as ADHD and blood that clots easily,-as being of benefit to ancient hunter-gatherers, and humans prior to the past 10,000 years. These traits probably came from Neanderthals.

Modern people of Eurasian ancestry have thousands of Neanderthal DNA fragments. Neanderthal DNA is associated with depression (especially Seasonal Affective Disorder & depression from disruption in circadian rhythms) & skin lesions resulting from sun exposure (keratosis). “Neanderthal alleles” are associated with an urge for tobacco use.  Bladder dysfunction and respiratory illnesses is blamed, in part, on Neanderthal DNA. Neanderthals introduced light skin and eyes to modern humans–although they had a variety of skin and eye color. They even might have been the first humans to have had blood type O. They are thought to have been night owls.

Neanderthals did not easily absorb thiamine–found abundantly in meat. Some source speculate that people with Neanderthal genes may have a tendency towards thiamine deficiency which might even cause or be related to alcoholism. But not all Neanderthal genes are bad–besides muscular strength, the DNA gives immune systems a boost–especially in fighting viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. But perhaps the active immune system can also cause allergies.

It’s not certain if the aforementioned traits are solely due to Neanderthal DNA. There’s still much to be learned. One of the happiest people I’ve known had relatively lots of Neanderthal DNA and never drank, smoked, or got sun-damaged skin. Did not much care for dogs.

Meanwhile, I’m going to keep writing, keep my circadian rhythms on an even keel, and eat a lot of thiamine.

keratosis skin lesions are usually harmless and associated with Neanderthal DNA

Teaching during COVID

As we return to the classroom, keep in mind that teachers have a higher rate of COVID than most of the population. One reason we don’t know more is that not enough data has been taken. Most states and the federal government have turned their backs on teachers.

How safe is it to open schools? That depends on how fast the cases in the area are rising. K-12 schools do not spread the virus more than any other place in the community, but they are not safe once the virus has gotten a foothold.“Once you get to a certain point of community infection rates, it does look like being in-person … is associated with COVID spread in the community,” said Katharine Strunk, an author of the study and professor at Michigan State University

It goes without saying that teachers are frightened. They will stand in line overnight if they have to to get the vaccine. Additionally, teacher morale has declined.

It also is important to note the importance of having a teacher who is dedicated to learning and knowledge, is kind and sensitive to different learning styles, and who understands the learning environment of the students. Interestingly enough, it is the teacher, and not the classroom, that helps students learn. Being morally fair and respectful is important in helping students learn. Teachers need to feel as if they want to be in the classroom. Teacher engagement and autonomy is at the core of an effective classroom. Keeping teachers safe should be of utmost importance and can be a learning experience in itself. If we want students to value other people and to care about society, we must keep teachers safe.

What are ways to keep teachers and schools safe?

According to the Mayo clinic, things such as outdoor classrooms, sanitizing, wearing masks, one way patterns in classrooms and halls, providing plexiglass barriers, and allowing for flexibility (some classes held remotely if needed), and keeping class sizes small are all ways to cut down on covid spread in classrooms and schools.

One wrinkle to this picture comes from colleges and universities. Colleges and universities HAVE been associated with increased cases locally. Those which isolated students when they returned to campus, tested them upon return and frequently after, and held on-line classes for the first two weeks of return to campus, were less likely to be spreaders than those that took a less stringent approach. Another thing successful colleges did was to switch everyone to on-line instruction when cases rose over 10%. College sports, especially with fans in the stands, are another vector associated with community spread. If sports themselves contribute to spread is not clear, but not all sports are equal. It comes as no surprise that football, wrestling, lacrosse, cheer, and dance are among the riskiest sports.

Many students do as well or better when college courses are on-line, but not all feel this way. However, switching to remote learning when cases rise and keeping students on-campus is safest for the community.

Teachers feel thrown to the wolves, in the lion’s den, and at the mercy of decisions made by those who are not and never have been teachers. They are tired of being “the giving tree.” On a personal level, I’ve had a hard time sleeping, which can manifest into a hard time thinking. I even did a little sleepwalking during which I changed a lightbulb. Hopefully, a vaccine will make this a thing of the past, but schools need to be better prepared for the next time.

I get ready to enter my building to teach chemistry lab.

A Film You Never Want to See

When it comes to lurking dangers in your home, have you considered your rubber duckies lately? A 2018 study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, ETH Zurich and the University of Illinois published in the Journal Biofilms and Microbiomes says you should. Scientists cut open toys used at bathtime, cultured them, and found almost all of them contained fungi and bacteria, included Legionella (which can cause a fatal pneumonia-like illness) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (which can cause a host of problems, including skin rash and sores with sweet-smelling pus). The toys were so contaminated with a living film of germs, they could not be cleaned, except by boiling them. The scientists concluded that although children might benefit from a little challenge to the immune system, squirting bath toys into their faces should be discouraged because it’s too germy. Only toys that completely dry should be used in the tub! The filthy film can be found in places beyond the rubber duckies.

Cheap plastic such as PVC+ dirty water + soap grows a biofilm. Biofilms are easily detected as a slimy surface. According to Food Poisoning Bulletin, “Biofilm is a kind of slime made of protein that surround the bacteria, allow them to communicate with each other, and protect them from disinfectants. Biofilms are common in Reusable Plastic Containers (RPC). “What was striking about this study, the bacteria “not only attached to the RPC but could not be dislodged by either sanitizers or physical scrubbing.”

Plastic is not an easy to clean material. Biofilms can explain bacterial antibiotic resistance. They are gangs of bacteria. They are why you need to take your full dose of antibiotics. They are on slippery rocks. They are in your mouth as dental plaque. Yup, pretty much everywhere. Bacteria are pretty darn social.

Medical devices such as catheters pacemakers, IUDs, breast implants, and plastic heart valves can harbor biofilms. (Fortunately, antimicrobial plastics are now being used in these devices.) They can lurk under shampoo bottles left in the shower, and at the bottom of shower curtains, in your toilet bowl, in your humidifier, appearing as a pink ring or stain. What other household item regularly sits with water inside? Your garden hose! If soap dispensers are not cleaned regularly, yes, they will grow biofilms inside. The best way to avoid a biofilm in the house is to keep things dry and clean your sinks, showers, and toilets weekly. Keep bottles out of the shower when not in use. Regularly clean soap dispensers.

Biofilms can form on pool toys. If water puddles or soaks into anything plastic, the resulting bacteria can cause a rash or ear infections. Plastics used for pool fun should not be stacked but dried in the sun and disinfected with chlorine or other cleaners periodically. Biofilms can also be formed on decks if they don’t dry out!

Biofilms form on discarded plastic and microparticles of plastic in aqueous environments such as lakes and oceans. Tiny bits of plastic that harbor bacteria on the surface, the plastisphere, has been studied extensively. The particles can transmit disease, especially to aqueous animals, and encourage algae growth, although most of the plastisphere bacteria is not harmful.This is, however, another reason why plastic waste is such a problem in the oceans.

I’m tossing out old plastic bath toys and getting my bottles out of the shower. Hopefully, I will never see the dreaded “pink ring” of biofilm again.

First men in the moon: 100 + years of lessons not learned

First encounter with Selenites living inside of the moon

One of my favorite classic sci-fi novels is HG Wells’s First Men in the Moon. Written in 1900 and published as a novel in 1901, it tells the story of a businessman and a scientist who take a trip to the moon, thanks to the invention of a new substance that acts as an anti-gravity shield. Not only do I find the premise of an anti-gravity shield delightful, the reactions of the two characters, stereotyped although they may be, rings true, especially now as we see the pandemic play out. The pair encounters a new civilization on the moon and while the scientist promotes cautious study, the businessman can think of nothing but exploitation. As I contemplate coerced returning to work, as a teacher, even though scientists warn against it, I am struck by the lack of moral leadership in education these days. The reason for this is simple: schools are expected to be run as businesses. And some of that push, from the outgoing secretary of education, who never went to a public school in her life, is that they must remain open, pandemic be damned.

The trouble with education as a business is that education is not a business. It’s meant to be a form of philanthropy for the good of society. As we move away from that ideal, into perversions such as public-private partnerships, we burden our education system with private agendas. Some of these agendas are simple things such as workforce development and career academies teaching things like welding, culinary arts, and nursing assistant skills. My college even got a grant for some of this, called Talent Pipeline, meant to aid coronavirus relief. Ironically, you can click the link and see our “only business matters” governor smiling at young people. There is nothing wrong with any of the aforementioned careers. The problem comes when college and universities are hamstrung by them to the point where they cannot afford to provide any moral leadership. The money could have been used to improve ventilation in classrooms or help those with no access to the technology needed for remote learning. Instead, we teach welding because local companies want welders. Your tax dollars will do this for them.

Currently, doctors and hospitals have seen a surge in cases and have urged people to shelter this holiday season. We know that young people (not little kids) are spreading the virus. They are the main spreaders. Many people now filling the hospitals have been traced to young people congregating. Some colleges are doing the right thing. Extreme testing has kept rates nar 0.1 % at some colleges. Yet many secondary schools and colleges, especially in the grain belt, have not taken steps to do anything because they are run like businesses and abdicate their moral responsibility to be leaders. Even worse, many religious organizations have also abdicated this responsibility. Instead of modeling selflessness, selfishness abounds. Scientists have had to take on the role of telling people what they should do morally to protect other people. Not schools, not churches–scientists. Guess what–that very scenario played out in First Men in The Moon. And, not to spoil it for you, but the businessman learns nothing from it. Nothing.

Learn or exploit?