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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fukushima: Why I'm not filling my root cellar with iodine pills just yet

Well, today I went to the doctor and turns out I have a slightly enlarged thyroid.

What, you say it's residual radiation from Fukushima? Should I rush out and buy iodine?

Good grief, you too?

Uh, no. Besides the fact that I have a cold (which is making all the glands in my neck puffy), the Centers for Disease Control has explicitly warned about the dangers of taking iodine unnecessarily. So if you're getting those panic-mongering spammy emails trying to sell you iodine tabs, report them to the FTC before you delete them.

Since I haven't blogged for awhile (and since lack of PhD + relevant experience isn't stopping anyone else on the planet) thought I'd weigh in on the subject of radiation, and whether we should commence global freak out now, later or never.

To tackle this, I'll rely on my undergraduate geology major and my extensive research for a novel I'm going to write someday.

(As a side to the main action, one loopy character is horrifying her friends by writing an erotic romance novel about two doomed Chernobyl first-responders who decide to live it up before they start, er, disintegrating. Don't steal my idea.)

I probably wouldn't feel the need to go crazy blogging about this, but seriously, if I see one more fearmongering, 3-day-late Tweet from the Drudge Report, I might lose it.

Radioactivity detected in food!

Radioactivity detected in milk!

OMG, we broke the universe.

Nah. Before you start hoarding iodine in your Nebraska root cellar, consider:

#1 Everything is radioactive. Even you.

Yup, you, your pristine little self. In fact, you give your own self a radiation dose of about 0.39 millisieverts per year, just from the radioactive potassium swimming around your body.

Did you sleep next to anyone last night? If he/she was human, they're radioactive too. In fact, they exposed you to 0.0005 millisieverts of radiation (according to this handy chart compiled on the fly by a couple reactor researchers. Almost all the levels quoted below are directly from this chart).

While there's some anecdotal evidence that some of us are getting more radioactive than we used to be, we're talking very tiny amounts of the bad stuff. And statistically, in America we continue to live longer, despite having an increasing chemical load on our systems and one of the worst health care systems in the free world.

#2 Like an earthquake, radiation exposure increases exponentially. But there's a wide spectrum that can be tolerated by the human body.

Other things that are surprisingly radioactive:
  • Eating a banana (0.001 millisieverts)
  • Hanging around a more-radioactive-than-normal area like the Colorado Plateau for 1 day (.0012 millisieverts). Hey that may sound small, but over the course of a year, it adds up to a whopping 0.44 millisieverts. Still, we're not exactly glowing in the dark here.
  • Flying from NYC to LA (0.04 millisieverts). Preliminary studies of flight crews have failed to isolate an increased cancer risk.
  • Living in a stone house (0.08 millisieverts/year)
  • Maximum external dose from 3-Mile Island (1 millisievert)
  • Mammogram (3 millisieverts)
  • Average yearly background dose (3.65 millisieverts, including medical procedures)
  • Chest CT Scan (5.8 millisieverts)
So when the goofballs on the news are throwing stats at you like, radiation found in sea water or plutonium found in ground water, your question should always be, HOW MUCH?

Because 10,000 times "normal" for the person sleeping next to you or Colorado is about 5 millisieverts, still less than one chest CT scan.

Not that you want to get one of those every night of your life, but also not terrible when you consider that the maximum year dose for US radiation workers is 50 millisieverts and the smallest amount clearly linked to cancer/genetic damage is about 100 millisieverts/year.

#3 Over time, environmental radiation might kill you -- if you hang out at one of three places on earth.

If you hung out next to the Chernobyl reactor (encased in its ever crumbling sarcophagus thing) on an average day, you'd receive an average of 6 millisieverts per hour of radiation.

This would amount to a clear cancer risk in approximate 16 hours, and acute radiation sickness in about 3 days. You probably wouldn't die, but might experience nausea and vomiting immediately, followed by weakness and fatigue in about a month.

To receive a theoretical 100 percent fatal dose of radiation (6000 millisieverts), you'd have to camp out next to Chernobyl for almost three years, and because the dose is spaced over a long time period, you still might survive (though you'd probably be a fright).

Since it's my blog and I'll digress if I want to, Chernobyl could have been worse, but by any objective criteria, it was (and continues to be) a human disaster of epic proportions.

The damage caused by Chernobyl was exacerbated by Soviet secrecy. Many who volunteered or were ordered to help with the containment efforts were not informed of the true risks they faced. Local people were warned late or not at all of the disaster and its health effects. Their health was permanently damaged, their lifespans shortened.

For more info see two (disturbing) documentaries The Battle For Chernobyl and Chernobyl Heart.

Continuing our tour of the world's major radioactive zones, we head next to the Ural Mountains near Kyshtym, Russia. The area was the site of an early Soviet nuclear facility called Mayak (which still operates). Mayak's underground nuclear waste storage facility exploded in 1957, dispersing radioactive material over a vast region.

Though not much is known about the lingering effects of the Mayak disaster, it was eventually estimated to by an INES level 6 event. Roughly half a million people were exposed to radiation, but statistics on death and illness are limited. Soviet secrecy at work again.

Before the explosion, Mayak also dumped high-level radioactive waste into local rivers and used unwitting prisoners to cover over the dry lake bed where early waste had been dumped with sand.

Early clues to the Mayak disaster surfaced in the US when a defecting Russian scientist described driving across the Urals in the 70s. On the way, he saw signs that warned him to "STAY IN VEHICLE" and "DRIVE FAST."

Disaster zone number 3 would of course be the immediate vicinity of Fukushima Daiichi, where radiation levels as of March 17 were hovering around 3.6 millisieverts per day. Not the worst the world has ever seen, but tragic if you live there and may not be able to return.

At that rate, a human would receive a potentially cancer-causing dose in just over a day. And as of this writing, the situation appears to have potential to get worse.

#4 So when should we panic?

In the US, never. Chernobyl was closer, and had far more widespread effects, and it really didn't impact American health at all.

For perspective, those containment buildings that have been breached in Japan? Chernobyl didn't even have one. Also, those cores that are "partially melting?" Chernobyl's exploded, caught on fire, and spewed high into the atmosphere.

Freaking out with Tweets and headlines about iodine tablets and radioactive milk (when all milk is radioactive) is not only an irrational response, it trivializes the plight of people in Japan who in addition to other traumas may not be able to return to their homes because of the radiation danger. Not to mention people who are sacrificing their health and their future at the Fukushima plant to keep the situation from getting worse.

If given objective numbers from reliable sources, you can calculate that you in the US are receiving more than 50 millisieverts of Fukushima radiation a year (half the dose proved to cause cancer), I'll go on 56 dates with your skeezy cousin Fred.

Until then Fred better find a hobby.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

When You're Too Tired to Run, Pretend There's a Tsunami Behind You!

So just finished the Canyonlands Half Marathon (13.1 miles) and feeling pretty good! Jen's off hiking, and I'm sitting in the hotel room drinking my victory beer.

So how was the run? I wouldn't call any half-marathon I've done fun (especially the last third), but this one was relatively painless as they go. My big injury was some chafing on my cleavage (I was carrying an emergency goo in my sports bra -- bad idea).

We were assured the very worst mile on the whole course would be Mile 9 -- huge, steep hill and all that. As you can read in the post below, 9 was the mile I dedicated Japan/Libya, so I decided that while I was running up the monster hill, I would pretend I was running from the tsunami -- and that I was chasing the 83 year-old grandma on her bike (see video for details).

I have been thinking about that Japanese lady a lot this week. Every time I watch the video above, it made me cry. This lady is such an inspiration to me. I should have given her her own a mile!

But when I got to killer hill (could see all he people going up), there was Coach Jen from TNT, and we just started talking, and suddenly she says, "Hey! Good Job! We're at the top!" And my response was something like, "Don't f### with me." (I know, not great language, but if you've ever run 13 miles, you'll understand).

And she says, no! It's a huge downhill from here. And just then, we started to hear this drumming -- there was a native American drum group way, way down at the bottom of the valley. So for the next mile, it was all downhill, and getting drummed along, which was a huge pick-me-up.

But then when we got into town, it was all uphill again, and I was getting a little tired. So I pretended I was chasing the tsunami lady, and then I pretended I *was* the tsunami lady. Because by that time, I was feeling about 80 years old. Or older!

So long story short, finished (about) 2:16:45 and that's 5 minutes off my previous personal best. Thanks again (I can't say it enough) to all who supported the run -- friends, family, donors, TNT team, Jen Nauck (who gave up half a day in Moab to cheer me on -- and brought me beer at the finish. This is Utah, so we had to hide behind the car and pour it into metal bottles. V. naughty =)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time to Run! And I've dedicated each mile to a hero of mine ...

So I can't believe the Canyonlands Half Marathon will be FINISHED in less than 48 hours! It's been such an adventure running in strange new places, running backwards in the freezing wind, doing speed workouts in the graveyard ... best of all, it's helped me reconnect with some wonderful people and meet some new ones through my wonderful and very dedicated TNT team!

So to keep me running during the race, I'm dedicating each mile to a hero of mine -- someone who has inspired me personally or supported me during this training season. It's also a trick I use to keep my butt moving, I wouldn't want to let any of you down by dropping out during your mile!

Mile 1 - To Jennifer Gessner, someone I haven't seen in person since high school who made the very first donation in honor of her friend Marti, who has been kicking lymphoma's ass for many years.

Mile 2 - To my aunt Patty Ryan Miller, who chased down donations from practically everyone she knew!

Mile 3 - To Kelly Kotary and Phil Haynes who donated generously to the cause even in the midst of starting their own businesses, remodeling a house and other financial craziness.

Mile 4 - To Valerie Keller, my patient, positive and encouraging roommate who has never complained that our house has been filled with stinky running clothes for four months straight.

Mile 5 - To the Hulses (Rob, Holly, Austin, Jason and Chelsea) who were hands down my biggest donors this season. They are an awesome family I met while working in Shanghai.

Mile 6 - Jen Nauck, my friend who will be accompanying me to Canyonlands on her birthday! Just having her watch is making the whole experience so much more gratifying.

Mile 7 - Kim Herzog, my friend in Cleveland whose grandma has lymphoma.

Mile 8 - My only Fort Collins teammate at Canyonlands, Donna McGovern. It's her first half marathon, and when she started training, she had just finished chemo for Hodgkin's Disease. She also just found out she's the biggest fundraiser in Colorado TNT this season.

Mile 9 - The people of Japan and Libya who are dealing courageously with respective disasters.

Mile 10 - To my TNT Fort Collins teammates, and especially to coach Jen, mentor Mary and team captains Johanna and Kristina who put so much time in for all of us.

Mile 11 - To our team heroes Kim and Annabel. Kim is a leukemia survivor who was diagnosed while pregnant with her daughter. They're both doing great!

Mile 12 - To my Dad, Greg Maurer, who is now walking on the treadmill at rehab doing his own brand of training. It probably feels like he's running a half-marathon some days.

Mile 13 - To my Mom, Kathie Maurer, who is a 10 year survivor of lymphoma in 2011 and inspires me every day. I was thinking of you on all those long, freezing, unbearable runs, mom! You just never quit, so I couldn't either.

I wish I had more miles to give away, because I could go on and on! So many people contributed and altogether we've raised about $2,500 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and donations are still coming in. Thanks to everyone who contributed. You'll all be with me out there running in the desert!

By the way, for all those who want to send their good vibes, the race starts at 10:00 a.m. US mountain standard time on Saturday, March 19. If you want to send extra vibes during your mile, I'm going at about at 10:15 - 10:30 pace.

Okay, I'm off to tattoo all your names on my arm (in Sharpie marker) so I can remember who's when!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Why I need a right-wing survivalist to write a book with!

Okay, so in response to all the hilarious and helpful comments from my latest Facebook post and hash listserve, here's why I'm seeking a right-wing coauthor who knows how to survive the apocalypse. (Interesting position to be in as a left-wing girl, believe me).

For friends interested in publishing their own books (I know you're out there!), this might be an eye-opener about the publishing industry as well. Certainly was for me.

NOTE: Most of the following applies to non-fiction publishing. Fiction is a different process.

Okay, so this all started when one of the freelance newsletters I subscribe to included a blurb from an agent seeking writers for some very specific non-fiction projects.

That surprised me -- I always thought the author seeks out the agent, not the other way around. At least with legit agents.

Turns it's pretty common for a publisher who wants to jump on the latest hot trend to turn to agents. The agent then finds an author with the expertise/voice/platform that fits the publisher's project.

In this case, the agent was looking for someone to write a survival skills book. Squee! Right up my alley.

I knew I was a long shot -- I've never published a book, and I didn't even have a national journo credit at the time, but I loved the idea. So sent her a brief e-mail, making my case and linking to my clips and blog.

I figured I'd never here back from her.

To my vast surprised, the agent asked me to put together a proposal package for a Big 6 publisher. This meant, among other things, researching all other survival books on the market (and a whole weekend at B&N).

Here are the current big sellers in the survival genre. Notice a trend?

* How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It (John Wesley)

* When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need to Know to Survive When Disaster Strikes (Cody Lundin)

* Bug Out! The Complete Plan to Escaping Catastrophic Disaster Before it's too Late (Scott B. Williams)

Agent and I agreed there was a definite need in the market for a book that focused less on the apocalypse and showed people how to survive the everyday scenarios they saw on the news. We also saw a need for a serious survival book in a female voice, because the existing survival books by women tend to be a bit schoolmarmish in tone and approach.

That's how I spent three days of my Palm Springs vacation with my face buried in the laptop pounding out a book proposal (I'd never recommend doing this in three days, by the way).

Proposal went off, and then for a month, I didn't hear anything.

Here's a funny aside: right after I sent in the proposal for the survival skills book, I went camping with my friend Jen. Neither of us brought a lighter. Shh. Don't tell =)

Here's what happened to my proposal behind the scenes.

Editor at Big 6 Pub really liked it. Called it fresh, smart, original, well-written (all these words that made me very happy when I heard them secondhand).

Then he pitched it to the Big 6 editorial board for final approval.

As fate would have it, Borders had just filed for bankruptcy and the publishing world was in a bit of a panic.

So Big 6 bean counters and editorial board ultimately decided that rather than blaze into brave new territory in the survival genre, they wanted to buy another book that dealt with an collapse-of-the-dollar, anarchy-unleashed, end-of-the-world type scenario.

Because that's what was already selling.

Proposal got rejected. But all is not lost.

Regarding the original proposal, agent and I will try to repackage it and sub it to smaller pubs.

And we still haven't completely given up on landing the Big 6 project.

"What if you found a coauthor?" agent said. She suggested someone who was right-leaning, male, possibly ex-military, and had a bunker in their house (I can't remember the exact words she used, but it was hilarious).

I told her that living in Colorado, I was pretty sure I could find such a person living within a mile of me. Though I wasn't sure said person would want to write a book. But I resolved to try.

So that's where things stand now ... I've put out my SOS on Facebook, Twitter and every listserve I belong to. Here's a recap of suggestions so far ...

* Bear Grylls (On whom I would have a raging crush, and wouldn't mind spending months in collaboration with. Probably a bit too famous, but hmm)

* Ted Nugent (Bingo. This is pretty spot-on the kind of person I need. Wish I had stopped by his restaurant on my way through Arizona and introduced myself. Possibly too famous, though)

* Sarah Palin (Also not far off the mark. Though concerned Sarah and I would end up in a puddle of blood by the end. Also, way too famous)

* Aron Ralston (Would be awesome, but probably not pessimistic and scary enough. Also, an excellent writer in his own right)

Thanks to the people sent spot-on suggestions of folks we both know. I'm going to float the idea with a few of those guys later today (so far, they're all guys).

If you have more ideas for coauthors, please send them along! Or have them read this blog first and see what they think. To recap, here's the flavor I need:

* Solid survival skills expertise (military, special forces, extreme survival experience a huge plus)

* Somewhat pessimistic worldview (believes some sort of cataclysmic social meltdown is feasible, if not imminent)

* Right-leaning (Think the Glenn Beck show and all those ads for gold investments and food insurance)

* Aggressive approach (prepare now or face the consequences!)

* Existing following is a plus (an industry expert, blogger, etc. But probably not TOO famous)

* Doesn't need to be a writer - I'll handle most of the writing. But should be interested in helping promote the finished book.

* Has personality and color (be it funny, intense, mildly abrasive, etc.)

* Open to the idea of spending A LOT of time working together (no joke - it's going to take some heavy lifting)

* Very different from me. That's the real kicker that makes this mission impossible. I have a ton of friends who are probably more qualified than I am to write on this topic. Unfortunately, the person I need to find is probably not someone I would run into in my usual social circles.

If the project sells, coauthors split the advance and royalties. Not all the money in the world, but not terrible if you have fun doing it.

Thanks again for all your help. I'm off to to troll for potential coauthors ...