Observed while kind of watching the Star Wars movies today


I had forgotten how much of The Empire Strikes Back is just “people falling off things”. Really a surprise. Movie would have been very different if they had put those rubber grippy-pad things for the shower on the floors. Would be hard on the foley artists, certainly. Yes, yes, Darth Vader’s menace would be undercut by his breathing harmonizing with the sqrk-SQRK-sqrk-SQRRK-sqrrrrk-SQRRK of walking on damp vinyl. But it would be easier on everybody’s knees and, I can say with the authority of someone whose knees would rather not be knees, that would be great.

Some Things To Say About Flying A Kite Or Kites


So you know what’s a great activity that will get you some fresh air and keep you from screaming at the state of the world some? Kite-flying! Why not try that? You’ve had that kite you got … sometime in the past quarter-century … that you’ve brought through four moves, one across-country. Why not use that? The answer is because you can’t find it but you know you still have it. It is in the second bedroom, behind the bookshelf somehow.

That’s all right. You can get a new kite. If it’s been a while you may be surprised. You remember the classic old diamond kite, the kind Charlie Brown flew? That you could draw with six straight lines, plus one wiggly line for the tail, and a bit of string? That’s out of date. You can fly it, but is it worth the risk? These are hard enough times. You don’t need everyone thinking you’re flying kites ironically. Modern kites are much harder to draw, though, and nobody will blame you if you get one pre-drawn for you by the kite store. If you don’t know where the kite store is, go to the traffic light by the highway off-ramp and ask stopped cars. These are strange times. Anything might work.

There are more than three rules of kite safety. But many of them are common sense, so they can be written down as more than eight rules.

Be aware of your surroundings. Especially watch for terraces, dropoffs, ha-has, ponds, fences, or the Old North Creek that you might run into while running. You might be surprised how many kite-flyers get injured each year by running into stuff. I probably would be. Like, if it’s one? That would be surprisingly low, just from how many kites there are. 483 million? That would be surprisingly high, considering how much of the sky is not blotted out with kites. Ten thousand? That would surprise me. One thousand? That’s not so surprising if we count as “injured”, like, someone stomped their foot into a plastic cooler and it’s sore for ten minutes. What was your answer? Let’s compare. If you have no surroundings please ask your area library if they loan any out.

Do not fly during lightning storms. Only fly your kite during meteor storms and time storms.

Be careful flying near people. A hard-core adrenaline-driven power kite can reach speeds of up to 480 miles per hour, in a steep dive and while trying to catch prey. If this hits someone it’ll do them quite some harm. There’s not only the injury or the emergency room visit. It’s how nobody at the emergency room will take them seriously. “I’m very sorry you got hit by a kite,” the admitting nurse will say, “but you have to wait behind this fellow who swallowed a third bowling ball trying to get the first two out”. Even when they do get care, their whole recovery time will pass without their getting a single non-sarcastic word of sympathy. This will give the person your kite injured a tort against you. And then you’ll be unable to resist punning that it’s actually a torte, and that you’d rather have a cheese danish. This will let you all have a merry laugh at the situation. When they get out of the hospital they’ll run you over with a space shuttle. The lesson is before flying a kite to ask everyone around you if they or a friend of theirs owns a space shuttle.

Don’t fly your kite near power lines, no matter how good the otherwise open field looks. If you must, call the power company first and ask them to move the power lines away for you. They’ll be happy to, since it gives them something to do.

Don’t use your kite to scare animals however much they deserve it.

There are special rules involved in flying kites near or at an airport, and they count double for flying a kite from inside a plane. Be courteous and look them up ahead of time. Yes, you could just take out your kite in Economy Plus and trust the flight attendants to explain the rules to you. But they’re quite busy and don’t need to deal with your nonsense.

Have fun, but only in reasonable amounts, so that you leave some for others.

Everything There Is To Say About Pool Safety


I realize it’s late in the swimming season to write this up. I’m sorry. I have a good reason for not writing this up when it might have been more useful: I didn’t. So this is late for where I am in North America, where we’re not looking at much more pool weather. We’re in the season where the pool toys are all explaining “winter” to each other, and get it wrong. You know they think Santa is a deer made of water who sits on the lights and ornaments that go missing from the attic in November?

Worse I know I’m early for the swimming season in the southern hemisphere. I saw pictures where somewhere in Australia was getting snow and kangaroos. You expect in the winter months to get snow, but kangaroos? Who expects that? Australians, but they have problems with their nature. I bet Australian snow has, like, enough venom that one mouthful could knock out every laser-guided exploding wallaby in New South Wales. Maybe I could save this and re-post it in like early May. Or whatever May is in the southern hemisphere. Oh, or I could save this until May in the southern hemisphere, and then turn it upside-down for northern hemisphere readers. Readers on the equator (hi, Singapore!) can read it while laying on their side, unless that should be lying.

The most important aspect of pool safety is inspection. Examine the pool before you get too close. Leave any pool area that looks too much like it’s from The Sims, and never get more than one metropolitan area closer to it.

The second-most important lesson about pool safety applies to pools that are fake natural ponds lined with sand. Do not try to dig a little canal all the way from the pool up the hill and over to the drainage pit from the chemical plant nearby. The lifeguards will not stop asking you questions. Also there’s this chain link fence that’s a hassle.

Worse, the hill rises like fifteen or twenty feet from sea level. There’s no connecting the pool to the drainage pit except by making a series of powered locks. This is fine if you brought canal locks to your day at the pool. I have a hard enough time remembering to bring swim goggles, glasses, and a Star Trek novel I can leave by mistake on a hammock. I don’t even know where to get canal locks. The dollar store in the strip mall nearest the pool? I guess. But I don’t know what shelf. You’d think it would be in pool and swimming supplies, but no. As far as I know. I’m not even sure what they look like. It could be I’ve been staring at them and didn’t even realize it. Well, this is getting off the point of pool safety. Back to that.

If there is a floating raft in the middle of the pool or pond do not try building a suspension bridge to it. The raft is not stable enough to support construction. Trying to drive piles into the foundation of the pool to serve as base will get you annoying questions again. I realize I’m talking a lot about avoiding questions here. But this is safety-related. I know the danger I get into when I’m asked a question I’m not prepared for. These can be questions as perilous as “did you want to eat now or after we’ve gone swimming?” Even if I did answer that we’d get into questions about the scope of the eating to do.

These days we’ve learned that it isn’t dangerous to go swimming right after eating, or vice-versa. It’s still bad form to go eating while swimming, since few swimming strokes accommodate forks or knives or finger foods. It’s quite bad form to eat other swimmers. And you should not eat the entire pool, whether or not you’re swimming, for the obvious reason. Why screw up someone else’s trip to the pool? It’s a jerk thing to do, so don’t do it.

Above all, use common sense. Common sense should be applied to all exposed portions of the skin (yours), at least once every three hours, or one hour if you’ve spent it in the water. Common sense can be found in cream or spray-on form in aisle twelve.

I’m Scared


I was writing about Gil Thorp for yesterday and remembered that Cow and Boy character I mentioned. One of the enormously many running gags was a giant panda who wanted to destroy the Moon and ultimately succeeded. And that would have been a great side joke to include in a story about kids protesting local radio jerkface Marty Moon. Trouble is I didn’t remember any particular date when Cow and Boy featured its Moon-hating giant panda. Couldn’t find it by searching gocomics.com either. None of the keywords that made any sense got me anything relevant. So I turned to DuckDuckGo because shut up I just do. And then I got this.

Safe search blocked some results for "cow and boy" comic strip panda. Turn off: [Temporarily] [Permanently]
By the way if you don’t include ‘comic strip’ you get pictures of people with black-and-white cows which, hey, great for you but that’s not what I need just now. Yes, after this I refused to try "cow and boy" comic strip moon.

While I’m soft-spoken, I am not a timid soul. I have seen, and coped with, stuff on the Internet that I will not be able to talk with my parents about even after we are all dead. But this? This shakes me.

MiSTed: The Lesson of Thalidomide, Part 4 of 4


Part 1, introduction and John Glenn.

Part 2, German cows and procognition.

Part 3, how can a woman be right?

A bit about the actual history of thalidomide. Dr Frances Kelsey was neither acting arbitrarily nor capriciously when she refused to approve thalidomide. What she did was read the data which manufacturer Richardson Merrell had submitted to prove the drug’s safety and notice that it didn’t actually demonstrate that. She had also read in the medical literature the then-new discovery that drugs could pass through the placenta, from mother to fetus, and she requested evidence that thalidomide wasn’t doing that. And she had encountered a British study which found a nervous system side-effect from the drug and asked the maker to explain that. In short, she looked at the data, and where it was lacking, asked for more data; she read the medical literature and understood it; and she thought about consequences and asked about them. Thalidomide’s disastrous side was a horrible surprise. But it was a surprise that a curious and alert mind paying attention would catch.


>
> Test 1 is the animal test. Thalidomide proved
> completely harmless — in fact completely ineffective!
> — to the usual laboratory animals.

CROW: We’ve sent them a stern note about not being visibly harmed by drugs earlier and more clearly.

> (Since the blowup,
> it’s been found that enormous doses of thalidomide will
> not make a rabbit sleep

MIKE: But a cup of cocoa and a nice bit of reading will.

> . . . but will cause a pregnant
> rabbit to produce abnormal young.

TOM: So it would have passed animal testing as long as nobody noticed the deformed animals.

> Equally massive doses
> of barbiturates don’t do that; they kill the rabbit.

ALL: [ A few seconds of Elmer Fudd-style cackling before giving up with an ‘ugh’. ]

> It
> wouldn’t have indicated anything to the investigators
> except that thalidomide was safer than barbiturates!

CROW: And to be fair, who could foresee humans being pregnant just because rabbits can be?

> And
> it has now been discovered that, for reasons so far known
> only to God, thalidomide does make horses sleep! But who
> uses horses as “convenient laboratory animals for testing
> new drugs”?

MIKE: So how do we know thalidomide makes horses sleep?

TOM: Who looks at a drug that makes horribly deformed human babies and asks, ‘What will this do for horses?’

> And why should they; horses are herbivores,
> with a metabolism quite a long way from Man’s. Monkeys
> are expensive — and they don’t really match Man.)

CROW: Unlike mankind’s closest living relatives, rabbits.

>
> Test 2 — trying it on a small group of patients
> first.

MIKE: Is that a few patients or just on patients who are very tiny?

TOM: Picturing a study on human adults each eighteen inches tall?

MIKE: Pretty much.

>
> Now the first slight indication that thalidomide
> could have some bad side-effects was that neuritis
> business. It results from prolonged overuse of the drug.

TOM: Also the deformed babies, but that could just be the mothers’ fault.

>
> The doctors administering the first test-use of
> the new drug would, of course, regulate it carefully.

CROW: Unlike in the real world, where they gave out two and a half million tablets to a thousand doctors while waiting for the FDA to approve selling them.

> There would be no long-continued overuse under their
> administration — and therefore thalidomide wouldn’t
> have produced any neuritis.

TOM: As long as they didn’t do anything that produced any problems there’d never be any problems turning up.

>
> On that first, limited-sample test, there would
> be an inevitable, human tendency to avoid pregnant young
> women as test subjects for so experimental a drug.

CROW: Because it’s only a scientific test if you avoid real-world conditions that would be messy or hard to deal with.

>
> Result: thalidomide would have checked in as one
> hundred per cent safe and effective.

MIKE: Except for rabbits.

>
> The final two-year test was several thousand
> people. On this one we don’t have to guess; we’ve got the
> statistics.

TOM: Knowing the answers as we do, we can sound smarter than the people who were asking questions.

>
> During the time thalidomide was being considered
> by the Federal Drug Administration for licensing in this
> country, selected physicians in the United States were
> sent supplies of the drug for experimental use.

CROW: Under the ‘What the heck, like something could go wrong?’ program.

>
> Under this program, 15,904 people are known to
> have taken the pills.

MIKE: But we probably should’ve written down who they were, somewhere.

> Certainly that’s a good-sized
> second-level testing group for our proposed
> hyper-cautious test system.

TOM: I’d like to see it bigger and less cautious, of course, but we make do with what we have.

>
> Of those nearly 16,000 people, about 1 in 5 —
> 3,272 — were women of child-bearing age, and 207 of
> them were pregnant at the time.

CROW: 86 of those listened to and enjoyed The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart. This is irrelevant to my point but is interesting nevertheless.

>
> There were no abnormal babies born, and no cases
> of polyneuritis reported.

TOM: And by ‘no’ I mean ‘seventeen’, but that’s close enough to ‘no’ for real science.

>
> Thalidomide passed the cautious tests with flying
> colors.

MIKE: Melting off the walls and pooling into a flavor of brick.

>
> Now the abnormalities that thalidomide does cause
> are some kind of misdirection of the normal growth-forces
> of the foetus.

TOM: But in the future we could have limitless abnormalities!

> The abnormalities are of a type that was
> well known to medicine long before thalidomide came along
> — abnormal babies have been produced for all the years
> the human race has existed, remember.

CROW: Heck, all things considered it’s the non-deformed babies that are the real sickos.

MIKE: Yeah, after this one I’m going to my bedroom and cry.

>
> Suppose that in our test, some women did bear
> abnormal babies. Say three of them were abnormal, and
> lived.

CROW: They can be an example to the rest of us!

> (A goodly number of the thalidomide-distorted
> babies died within hours.

MIKE: Technically everyone dies within hours if you count high enough.

> It doesn’t only affect arms and
> legs; thalidomide can mix up the internal organs as
> though they had been stirred with a spoon.)

TOM: Thanks, that detail doesn’t make me want to kill myself.

>
> So . . . ? So what? Aren’t a certain number of
> abnormal babies appearing all the time anyway?

TOM: Yeah! Well, one in four million, born like that.

> And with
> all this atomic-bomb testing going on . . . and this
> woman was examined repeatedly by X ray during pregnancy .

CROW: Really, with how complicated life is how can we ever really blame anything for anything?

> . . and remember that in the normal course of nine months
> of living, she will have taken dozens of other drugs,

MIKE: Because it’s the early 60s and we don’t want to think about what we’re pumping into our bodies.

> been exposed to uncountable other environmental
> influences, perhaps been in a minor automobile accident .
> . .

TOM: And you know how scaring the mother will leave a permanent mark on the children, right?

>
> Not until the drug is “tested” on literally
> millions of human beings will it be possible to get
> sufficiently numerous statistical samplings to be able to
> get significant results.

TOM: Slightly more, in Canada.

> Toss a coin three times, and it
> may come heads every time. This proves coins fall
> heads-up when tossed?

CROW: And even if it did, how would we know coin-tossing was causal and not merely correlated to coins coming up at all?

MIKE: It’s basic logic.

>
> Another drug was introduced for experimental
> testing some years ago.

TOM: Case closed.

> The physicians who got it were
> told to check their experimental patients carefully for
> possibilities of damage to liver, stomach and/or kidneys,

CROW: Also if the drug punched anyone in the face and ran off with their wallet.

> the expected possible undesirable side-effects of the
> drug. Practically no such damage was found — the drug
> was effective, and only in the very exceptional patient

TOM: The best kind! Everyone needs to be more like them.

> caused sufficient liver, stomach or kidney reaction to
> indicate it should be discontinued.
>
> Only it caused blindness.

MIKE: Well, what was it supposed to do?

CROW: Risk damaging the liver, stomach, and kidneys, apparently.

MIKE: Man, the eyes are nowhere near any of those, no wonder they didn’t approve it.

>

TOM: I hope they didn’t.

> The reaction was frequent and severe enough to
> make the drug absolutely impossible as a medicament —
> and was totally unexpected.

CROW: Nobody saw the blindness coming — oh, now I feel like going to my bedroom and weeping.

TOM: Yeah, this is a brutal one.

> It had not caused any such
> reaction in any of the experimental animals.

MIKE: In retrospect, testing exclusively on star-nosed moles may have been a mistake.

>
> No — the lesson of thalidomide is quite simple.

TOM: It’s ‘thalidomide’, not ‘thalidomine’, however much you think you remember it the other way.

MIKE: Hey, wait, it is, isn’t it?

>
> So long as human beings hope to make progress in
> control of disease and misery, some people will be lost
> in the exploration of the unknown.

CROW: Don’t go looking for them. There’s grues there.

>
> There is no way to prevent that. There is no
> possible system of tests that can avoid it — only
> minimize the risk.

TOM: By shoving unproved drugs down millions of people’s throats just in case one of them is good for something! The drugs, I mean, not the people.

>
> We could, of course, simply stop trying new drugs
> at all.

MIKE: Gotta say, it does sound like we’re not very good at making them.

> The animals never did try the pain and the risk
> of fire. They’re still animals, too.
>
> January 1963 John W Campbell

TOM: Who died of drinking DDT in a lead-lined glass while smoking an asbestos-filtered cigarette laced with cyclamates.

CROW: And saying none of it was statistically proven.

MIKE: John Glenn, everybody. John Glenn.

TOM: Let’s just get out of this popsicle stand.

[ ALL exit. ]

[ 1… 2… 3… 4… 5… 6… ]

[ SATELLITE OF LOVE DESK. TOM SERVO, MIKE, and CROW are in a line. ]

MIKE: Well, Pearl, wherever you are … I hope you’re satisfied with this heap of misery you’ve inflicted on us.

TOM: I think the only thing that’ll rescue our mood is the lighthearted yet barbed whimsy of the Rankin/Bass universe.

CROW: Rudolph’s Shiny New Year is on.

MIKE: The one where our hero Rudolph is searching for the Baby New Year, which will make thousand-year-old Aeon die.

TOM: Oh good heavens.
[ CROW flops over, defeated. ]

MIKE: Happy new year, everyone, and to all … guh.



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Mystery Science Theater 3000 and the characters and situations therein are the property of Best Brains, Inc, so I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell them what I’ve been up to all these years. The essay ‘The Lesson Of Thalidomide’ by John W Campbell was originally published in Analog and appeared in the archive.org resource Collected Editorials From Analog, https://archive.org/details/collectededitori01camp where it and much other writing can be enjoyed at your leisure. Nothing untoward or mean is meant toward John W Campbell or anyone at Analog, and I’m not irritated with archive.org or anything either. If you’re feeling bad about all this, consider: the word ‘bunny’ seems to come from Gaelic ‘bun’, referring to their tails, and doesn’t that make you grin some?

> for all I can know, she may have perfect and
> reliable trans-temporal clairvoyance, so that, in 1960,
> she was reading the medical reports published in late
> 1961, and basing her decisions very logically on that
> trans-temporal data.

Safety Pants


I bought a new pair of pants because … well, I’m not sure that actually needs justification. It seems like the fact of the purchase explains the reasoning behind it perfectly well: “I needed some new pants because somehow I don’t have quite enough to go a whole week without laundering them, even though I haven’t thrown any out or given any away and they’re all in good working order so I don’t know.”

Anyway, I bought a pair of the kinds of pants which are right for me, which is to say, cargo pants which come folded with such severely sharp creases they emphasize how much I dress like a Lego character. And I noticed one of the nearly four labels I had to remove (which isn’t an unreasonable number of labels, considering) before successfully wearing it in a non-test circumstance was a tag mentioning “Meets CPSC Safety Requirements”.

Of course like you I’m amused by the thought that someone checked that this pants design had proper safety railings and no unnecessarily exposed spinning metal blades, but what got me is this: somewhere out there is a person whose job is “overseeing cargo-pants safety guidelines”. And that person either grew up wanting to be a cargo-pants safety guideline overseer, or is someone whose career led there. Either way is a staggering thought.

Around the House


I don’t want you all to be too intimidated by my general handiness but in the last couple of months I’ve done all sorts of useful stuff around the house, including fixing plywood boards to other pieces of wood with nothing but an electric screwdriver to help me, and getting some stuck window screens un-stuck and storm windows put in their place. It’s got me feeling pretty good about all this. I’ve reached the point that I’m doing enough handy stuff around the house that I worry I haven’t got enough safety equipment so people who glance at me doing stuff know I’m serious. Oh, I’ve got safety goggles and work gloves, sure, but what if a fire should break out? Shouldn’t I be carrying a little fire extinguisher around?

No, of course not. If I managed to set something on fire while getting the screens out of the window frame it would be because I was showing off somehow, and I would deserve the fire damage that resulted. I don’t think it’s even possible to set window screens on fire just by taking them out of the windows, at least not since they ended the production of “Lucifer” grade screens soaked in white phosphorous and prone to exploding into flame when they’re just called harsh names. The modern safety window screen needs to be struck against a piece of sandpaper to burst into fire, and that’s easily protected against because I don’t remember where we left the sandpaper.