For a long time now, I’ve referred to microwaving as “nuking” food. That is, of course, wrong. There is no characteristic splitting or combining of atoms as with nuclear power. Instead, microwave ovens use microwave radiation to heat up food by causing the fat, sugar, and water molecules in the food to vibrate faster.

Speaking of radiation, the FDA has green-lighted using radiation on spinach and lettuce to kill germs.

FDA Allows Produce to be Zapped With Radiation to Kill Food-Poisoning Germs

The government will allow food producers to start zapping fresh spinach and iceberg lettuce with just enough radiation to kill E. coli and other dangerous germs, a key safety move amid increasing outbreaks from raw produce.

Irradiated meat has been around for years, particularly ground beef. But food companies long worried that zapping leafy greens with X-rays or other means of radiation would leave them limp.

The Food and Drug Administration has determined that modern irradiation techniques kill food-poisoning germs without compromising the safety or nutrient value of raw spinach and lettuce. Its new rule takes effect Friday.

Radiation!I think irradiating foods like lettuce, spinach, and meat is an excellent idea. I like the idea of killing off any nasty little germs and parasites inside my food before I eat it. But the practice of irradiating food seems to expose people’s ignorance and fear of radiation.

Recently I was in a posh grocery store and saw a four-pack of mangosteens imported from Southeast Asia. It was the first time I had seen mangosteens in the U.S., but the asking price of $15 for four fruits was higher than I was willing to pay. I was surprised that they had even made it into the U.S. I remember looking for them in the ’90s, but fears of bringing in Asian pests like the fruit fly had prevented their import. But as I held the package of mangosteens, I noticed a little label that stated it had been irradiated. That would certainly eliminate the threat of fruit flies.

Next to me stood another customer talking with the grocery manager about the mangosteens. He agreed with me that the fruit seemed to be pretty light, and we both wondered if they were old and dried out. The grocery manager opened up the package and said, “Great, now I’ve released some radiation.”

BZZZT! Wrong!

Irradiated foods do not become radioactive themselves. Food is irradiated with shallow penetrating electrons or with deeper penetrating gamma or x-rays. While these techniques will kill living organisms down to viruses, none of them will make the irradiated food itself radioactive, any more than shining a flashlight on some cherries will make them glow on their own later.

You could make food radioactive by bombarding it with neutrons, but food is not processed that way. Doing so would be, to use a technical term, really dumb. Almost as dumb as believing that commercially irradiated foods become radioactive, or believing that radioactivity behaves like a gas trapped in a plastic container, or believing that a microwave actually nukes food. Almost, but not quite.

Another common radioactivity misconception centers on the dangers of radon. Radon is one of the noble gases like helium and neon, only radioactive. There are many public service announcements on the radio warning about the dangers of radon gas, and radon is listed as the second leading cause of lung cancer. But the truth is that radon isn’t dangerous by itself. As a gas, you breathe it in and out, and as long as it remains radon, it will do no harm to you. But the problem is that radon doesn’t remain radon. If you have the bad luck of breathing in an atom of radon that decays into polonium inside your lung, you are in trouble. From then on, as the polonium decays into other elements over the next four days, your lung will get zapped by alpha and beta radiation. And it is that cumulative radiation that will give you lung cancer.

So to be precise, it’s not radon that is dangerous, but the results of radon decaying that is the killer. However, that’s like saying it’s not guns that kill, but the bullets the guns shoot. I doubt I’ll ever hear a PSA about the dangers of radon, explaining that it’s the resulting decay chain that is dangerous rather than the radon itself, since it would take too long to explain in a 30 second radio spot.

Another common misconception about radiation has to do with the depleted uranium often used in military rounds. People have picked up the misconception that depleted uranium is horribly radioactive, but 238U isn’t all that radioactive. Compared to the four-day half-life of radon’s dangerous isotope, 222Rn and the 35 millisecond half-life of 218Rn, the 4.5 billion year half-life of 238U is as close to “forever” as people are likely to experience in their lives. A 4.5 billion year half-life is practically not radioactive at all.

“Oh, yeah? Well what about the trace amounts of 235U in depleted uranium rounds? It’s more reactive than 238U.” While it’s true that 235U has a shorter half-life than 238U, its half-life is still 700 million years. As Steven Den Beste wrote, “You’re talking about processes which are so slow that within the scope of a human lifetime they’re indistinguishable from ‘stop’.” I’ve heard people rant about the horrible radiation the U.S. forces have unleashed on the poor Iraqi people with two waves of depleted uranium ammunition during the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, but the truth is that you get more radioactivity from hugging your spouse than from hugging a similar-sized block of 238U. Den Beste does a masterful job of educating the ignorant about the nature of depleted uranium here and here.

But depleted uranium is dangerous because of heavy metal poisoning. Just like mercury, lead, and plutonium, uranium can be absorbed by the body, but that has nothing to do with radioactivity since it is a simple chemical process. While uranium can oxidize quickly if it burns, the result is a very heavy powder that would be unlikely to be breathed in, though it is possible. If someone tries to tell you that our use of depleted uranium in Iraq has lead to hundreds, thousands, or millions of deformed babies, ask them about the lack of deformed babies born in Kuwait since the Gulf War. After all, the vast majority of depleted uranium used in the Gulf War was fired in Kuwait. As we draw close to two decades later, Kuwait isn’t the hell-hole of depleted uranium horror that the blame-America-first types would have you believe Iraq is becoming. But facts have little effect when talking with some people. No amount of education can sway a mind that is made up and refuses to look at the facts.

It says something about the state of American education and of knee-jerk activism these days that so many people have so many misconceptions about radiation. It is sad, but more than that, it is dangerous–because people burdened by misconceptions make bad decisions, and that can contribute to a food supply that’s more likely to be tainted and dangerous, not less.

The Democrats are using the phrase often attributed to Queen Victoria, “We are not amused.” What is the cause? A $3 bill that was up for sale at the Evergreen State Fair’s Republican Party booth. Here is part of the report from the local KOMO news:

A $3 bill has both Democrats and Republicans talking.

The controversial bill features Barack Obama wearing a headdress, propelling a widespread myth that he’s Muslim. Some call it a joke, but not everyone’s laughing.

Carol Ronken is, in fact fuming over the bill which she found at the Evergreen State Fair’s Republican Party booth.

“It’s racist. It’s disgusting,” she said.

On the bill the words “da man” are printed under his face, perpetuating the myth. Obama is, in fact, a Christian.

Uh, using “da man” perpetuates the myth that Obama is Muslim? I don’t know who wrote this story on the KOMO staff, but that’s just silly. I also find it silly that Carol Ronken got her undies in a bunch over the bill. How exactly is it racist? It has a picture of Obama on it, but that doesn’t make it racist, or all photos of the Obamessiah would also be racist. Is it the headdress, making a satirical link between the Muslim-born, Muslim-raised, Muslim-taught, but now Christian Obama and Islam that is racist? If that’s it, please explain how Islam has become a race.

But who is this concerned citizen, Carol Ronken? Could she be an impartial observer concerned about the tone in this Presidential race? The article doesn’t identify her party affiliation, but when the article quotes Geri Modrell later on, it clearly identifies her as the Republican county chair. So who is Carol Ronken? The article doesn’t say, but a quick search shows that she is the chair of the Stanwood Democrats. So of course she is upset about someone mocking The One.

Waaah freakin’ waaah.

Come on, folks! Making fun of our political leaders is a long-held tradition. There are plenty of bumper stickers mocking President Bush and other Republicans, and I remember seeing $3 bills for President Clinton and Senator Clinton. Here in the States, we don’t have touch-me-not royals who must never be mocked by the plebes. Instead we have the freedom of speech that allows us, among other things, to make fun of our political leaders–from the noblest to the most infamous.

I see your disgust, Carol Ronken, and I trump it with the First Amendment. Go peddle your imitation of Queen Victoria elsewhere.

The political buzz is not about Senator Obama’s nomination by the Democrat party last night. Instead it is about Senator McCain announcing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his Vice President candidate today. I don’t know what the polls will say, but I’ll bet that there won’t be much of a bounce for Obama as there will be for McCain.

Gov. Palin is younger than Obama, and has served less time as governor of Alaska than Obama has served as Senator, but there is a difference: Palin has seven years of executive experience as mayor and governor, while Obama has none.

Yes, liberals will bring up her inexperience, but that is a two-edged sword that can cut Obama deeper than it will cut Palin. If she is asked about her inexperience in a debate or news conference, she could respond in this way: “While it’s true that I am younger than Senator Obama, I bring seven years of executive experience to the position as compared to Senator Obama’s none. I would say I am better prepared for an executive position than he is.”

While I was completely wrong in my guess 20 months ago about who the Democrat and Republican candidates would be, I still stand by this paragraph:

Since the office of President is an executive position, it makes sense that people elect proven executives to that office. This could explain why so many state governors have been elected President (G. W. Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Carter, F.D.R., Coolidge, Wilson, T. Roosevelt, McKinley). That makes nine the last time I counted them — nearly 50% of our Presidents since 1900. And whether the state is large or small, the office of Governor is an executive position. With all else being equal, I would prefer a candidate with proven executive experience over a legislator any day (but when do we ever have two candidates that are close to equal in belief and position?).

Of the Democrat and Republican candidates, only the Republican ticket brings executive experience to the job.

Here’s something to think about each time you hear someone talk about Senator Obama’s “historic” nomination as the first black Democrat Presidential candidate. Does this mean that the U.S. no longer has problems with race? Of course not, say liberals. That won’t happen until Senator Obama becomes President Obama, so any vote against him is therefore a racist vote.

Bull pucky.

America will have finally gone beyond race when people stop talking about the first black Democrat Presidential candidate and just talk about the Democrat Presidential candidate–when people stop talking about the color of his skin and focus on the content of his character. Hey, that’s kinda catchy.

I will not vote for Senator Obama this November, but not because of his race. I will not vote for Obama this November because I don’t want a barely-experienced, Marxism-enamored Senator to be our next President.

I was listening to the radio the other day, and I heard that the city of Bountiful, Utah, has banned visible tattoos on city employees:

City officials have banned employees from having tattoos in easily visible places in an effort to make sure employees put city government in a good light.

The policy mirrors that of the Los Angeles Police Department, which bans tattoos on the face, neck, head and hands.

Several people, including the show hosts, were questioning the legality of this rule claiming that it violates the freedom of speech of the people tattooed.

Baloney.

Accepting for the nonce that a tattoo is “speech,” it is well within the rights of the city, or any employer, to set a dress code for its employees. If you are unwilling to abide by the dress code of a company, why apply for a job there? But the city dress code doesn’t violate the free speech of tattooed people. They are free to tattoo themselves any place they like, but they do not possess a corresponding right to be hired by the city.

But the talk show hosts and some of the callers are not the only people who don’t understand the freedom of speech. A large segment of the U.S. population is equally ill-informed, as exposed by a recent Rasmussen poll:

Nearly half of Americans (47%) believe the government should require all radio and television stations to offer equal amounts of conservative and liberal political commentary, but they draw the line at imposing that same requirement on the Internet. Thirty-nine percent (39%) say leave radio and TV alone, too.

It’s obvious from this poll that 47% of Americans surveyed don’t understand the part of the First Amendment dealing with speech, so here it is: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” Congress had already attempted to abridge this with the Fairness Doctrine, but it was finally removed in the ’80s. As it was abolished, the FCC recognized that the Fairness Doctrine succeeded in limiting speech, not enhancing it.

If Congress were to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine as these 47% think they should, it would be a clear case of Congress making a law abridging the freedom of speech and of the press. After all, the owners and operators of the radio and television stations would no longer have the freedom to plan their own show lineups. They would have to obey the law telling them how to run their stations.

The report goes on to explain that 31% of those surveyed believe that internet sites should also be balanced. That would mean that for every right-leaning conservative piece I post on my site, I would have to allow an equal-length left-leaning liberal piece to be posted.

But I won’t allow that.

You see, it’s my site, my code, and other than the occasional posts by my wife, it’s my opinions. If people disagree with my opinions, they are just as free to get their own sites and publish their own opinions. My freedom of speech on my site does not limit the freedom of others to voice their own opinions on their own sites. But once the government steps in and mandates that I must allow someone else equal time on my site just to provide “balance” to my opinions, then the government is limiting my freedom to post what I will on my site.

If the government were to force me to obey the Fairness Doctrine, I would instead choose to close down the blog. The end result of “fairness” and “balance” would be less free speech, not more, but I have to believe that is the real and unspoken goal of the proponents of the Fairness Doctrine. And that is why I believe that too many Americans don’t understand the true nature of freedom of speech.

I’ve been sick for the last few days, and it’s not been fun. I thought I was finally over it yesterday, as I was feeling pretty good when I woke up from my nap in the afternoon.

At 8pm, I mentioned that I was feeling hot, and it was apparent that I was running a fever. I stood in front of the fan for a while, but I wasn’t getting any cooler. I took my temperature, and it was just below 103.

I filled the tub with cool water and soaked in it for the next two hours, shivering all the while. At intervals, I took my temperature, and it was steadily rising. When it hit 103.6 at midnight, I got out of the tub, and my wife drove me to the hospital.

I spent three hours mostly lying on a bed in the hospital and listening to music on my Zune in between the poking, prodding, aaaahhhing, and swabbing my throat for strep. That test came back negative, so the doctor diagnosed me with an “acute febrile illness.” That’s a fever to us non-doctor types, but I could have told him that.

And since I had a fever, my prescription is more cowbell.

About 8 hours after it started, the fever dropped to 102, and I fell asleep.