Amazing Mono Lake!

There was an amazing story on Mono Lake that scientists had discovered a bacteria that lives only in Mono Lake that can survive on eating arsenic — that’s right, rat poison.

While this might not sound like a big deal to the layman, this is a huge discovery within biology and astrobiology circles. This is the first time any organism has been found that can live on arsenic, and it opens up the idea that forms of life can live in environments both on earth and in space that we can’t even imagine.

How cool is it something like this came out of Mono Lake? Mono Lake is one of the most interesting lakes I’ve ever seen. It sits at 6,500 feet in the desert just east of the Sierra Nevada. It’s surrounded by the Sierra to the west and a series of volcanoes to the south called the Mono Craters. Dry hills to the north, and barren desert wasteland to the east. Clint Eastwood made High Plains Drifter along the shore of Mono Lake in 1971. Today, you couldn’t film a big movie like that. The area is protected.

Four small streams from the Sierra flow into the lake, and the water just stays there. It has nowhere to go. Mono Lake does not drain anywhere.

Beginning in the 1940s, the L.A. Department of Water and Power, which was already taking water from the Owens Valley to the south, began siphoning water out of the four streams. They built a giant tunnel underneath the Mono Craters, and the water flows through the tunnel into the Owens River, then into the Los Angeles Aqueduct. The water goes more than 400 miles without a single pump. It’s all gravity fed. It was an engineering marvel.

And an environmental disaster. The lake shrank and the famous tufa towers of Mono Lake appeared. These are formations of calcium carbonate, created by the weird water chemistry of the lake. The lake shrank by one-third until a bunch of environmentalists won multiple court and state agency decisions against the L.A. Department of Water and Power. The case went all the way to the California Supreme Court. Now, the lake is maintained, by law, at a certain elevation. It will never be as big as it once was, but it won’t be allowed to die, either. The Forest Service manages it as a recreation area, and the DWP helped build a big, fancy visitor’s center by the highway.

If you ever go to Yosemite or Lake Tahoe, you really should take a trip to see Mono Lake. The tufa towers are amazing. And there is an old, dead volcano on the south shore you can hike to the top of. The volcano is made completely of black glass. Watch your step! And you can make a side trip to Bodie, one of the biggest ghost towns in the U.S. It’s only a few miles away in the hills north of the lake.

Mono Lake is often described as poisonous, but it is anything but. Sure, you will get deathly ill if you try to drink the alkali water (if you dip your hands into the water, it will feel very slimy, and then about an hour later if you don’t watch, you skin will start burning as if you’ve been using bleach without gloves), but that alkali water breeds trillions of brine shrimp and brine flies. Millions of birds — seagulls, grebes and phalaropes — stop at Mono Lake every year to feed on the shrimp and flies. You will never be surrounded by as much life. It is a riot of birds there. (But don’t go in the spring, because it is also a riot of no-see-ums).

If you really want to learn more about Mono Lake, check out (and they’re pretty darned excited by Mono’s little bacteria!) If you want to know more about the LAWDP, pick up “Water and Power” on Amazon or at the library.

Lung cancer doesn’t just kill smokers — The story of Jill Costello

Chris Ballard had an excellent article in this week’s Sports Illustrated. (Normally, I’m not a big fan of Chris Ballard’s stuff, some of it I find kind of trite, but this was his best article yet.).

Ballard wrote about a young coxswain for the University of California, Jill Costello, who led her rowing team to a Pac-10 championship, and to the national championship meet, while battling lung cancer.

I knew as soon as I started reading the article how it was going to end. Lung cancer has one of the lowest survival rates. Why? Part of the reason is because not a lot of research dollars go into lung cancer as compared to other kinds of cancer. Why? Because lung cancer has a stigma. Because many people still assume anyone who gets lung cancer deserves it.

Jill Costello was one of the 20 percent of women who get lung cancer who are non-smokers. About 15 percent of the people, male and female, who get lung cancer are non-smokers. Some studies have suggested that lung cancer is genetic. If you have a certain gene, and you smoke, there is a very high likelihood you are going to get lung cancer. If you don’t have the gene and smoke, you will probably never get lung cancer — but you will still get all the heart disease and COPD and other kinds of cancer smoking causes. If you have the gene and don’t smoke, you are at increased risk for lung cancer — not as much as if you smoked — but still an increased risk. Jill probably had the gene.

Jill battled her illness, and, more dramatically, the myriad side-effects of the chemotherapy, while continuing to compete for the Cal rowing team. It was a heart-wrenching article for me, having watched a parent go through this 30 years ago.

Like I said, I knew the story would end a certain way. Cal did not win the national championship. They came in fourth, and a month after the national championships, Jill died at the age of 23.

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate when I started getting involved in tobacco issues is how much stigma there is attached to lung cancer; how many times people with lung cancer have to answer the question, “are you a smoker?” I’ve since gone to great lengths to avoid attaching blame to smokers who get lung cancer. It isn’t there fault they took up a bad habit in their teens that turned out to be physically addicting. We all did dumb things in our teen years, but most of us can laugh about it. A smoker trying to quit, or a smoker with cancer, it’s not a laughing matter when they look back and say, “Why did I start smoking when I was 15?”

So, all I ask is if you know someone with lung cancer, just don’t ask them, “are you a smoker?”

Maps, maps, MAPS!

Ok, per Haruko’s request, here are several fascinating maps about smoking bans, lung cancer rates, diabetes rates and the 2008 election.

This four things may not sound related, but it’s definitely *intriguing* of how these four factors correlate.

What does it mean? Republicans hate smoking bans because they’re a regulation (I’m sure it has zero to do with how much money Republican legislators rake in from Big Tobacco.).

Where there are no smoking bans, smoking rates are higher. Where smoking rates are higher, lung cancer rates are higher. Also, education rates have everything to do with smoking rates …. and with how people smoke. College educated voters tend to vote Democratic, and Democrats tend to vote in favour of smoking bans.

And people who smoke tend not to take care of themselves healthwise more than nonsmokers. So more diabetes.

So, Republicans = high lung cancer rates, high rates of diabetes. It’s a vicious cycle, and that hypothesis is borne out by these maps.

White=Smoking bans, Black=no ban, Other colours=partial bans

Smoking bans

Lung cancer rates

Diabetes rates

2008 Presidential election

Damned amazin’, ain’t it!

South Dakota approves smoking ban; the South remains the ashtray of the United States

First on the docket is a month-old story from South Dakota (we gots some catching up to do). In South Dakota, the State Legislature passed a smoking ban a couple of years ago. Bar and casino owners passed around a petition to put the issue to a public vote. That petition went to court and it appeared would be overturned because it came out something like 13 valid signatures short.

Well, the judge wasn’t going to stop the ballot measure over 13 lousy signatures, so he approved the ballot measure, putting the smoking ban on hold for a year. I’m not wild about any tobacco measure being put on the ballot because the industry has a history of defeating measures at the ballot box by pouring millions into state elections (Read: Oregon, California cigarette tax increases).

On Nov. 2 (toldja I’m in catch-up mode), South Dakota voters approved the ballot measure with 64 percent of the vote, one of the widest margins I’ve ever seen. Similar measures in Ohio, Nevada and Arizona all passed with less than 60 percent of the vote. At least one restaurant is already reporting that their business has gone up since the smoking ban went into effect.

So, I haven’t checked this map in a while, but it now appears that 29 states have “strong” smoking bans (bars and restaurants), and 38 states have some form of smoking ban (at least restuarants.)

This map is helpful. Even in those black states, most major cities have smoking bans. The last I checked, San Antonio, Texas, is the biggest city in the country with no smoking ban.

What do those black states mostly have in common? They are all Republican-controlled states. Republicans hate rules and regulations, except of course when it comes to gays and women wanting control over their own bodies.

When I first started blogging about this, probably fewer than a dozen states had smoking bans. How far we’ve come.

Pepe’s Non Smoking Party Lounge explained

Well, it’s the tentative return of Pepe’s Non-Smoking Party Lounge, where we talk about smoking, tobacco, cigarettes, pot, health, lung disease and whatever else pops into the scrambled eggs of our minds.

One thing that will be different from the previous incarnation of The Lounge is I won’t be talking about Facebook stuff; there won’t be much personal information and I won’t be discussing local politics. That’s what Facebook is for. So, “Confederate” from Kentucky, you won’t find out much useful information about me here.

Here’s my agenda in a nutshell. I lost my dad to lung cancer when I was 16. He smoked four packs a day and was 49 when he died. He smoked the day that he died, hooked up to an oxygen tank. Later that day, he drowned in his own bodily fluids.

My mom has had cancer, a heart attack and for the past several years has suffered from COPD. She gets pneumonia and bronchitis every winter. COPD is almost exclusively caused by smoking. She has smoked as much as two packs a day. I figure between my mom and my dad, they have probably smoked considerably more than 1 million cigarettes in their lifetimes. To learn more about COPD, click here.

I grew up exposed to as much as six packs a day of other people’s (mostly my parents) cigarette smoke. I estimate that I ingested the equivalent of 25,000 cigarettes by the time I turned 16. I had constant ear infections, had to have three surgeries to combat the ear infections, and to this day have trouble with my ears. I grew up with chronic bronchitis which later evolved into a kind of asthma. I got pleurisy one year and pneumonia twice. Eventually, it cleared up. I haven’t had a single bout of bronchitis in probably 15 years and now I climb mountains for a hobby.

So, a few years ago, after watching my mom pawing through her luggage, desperate for a cigarette after being hospitalized for a heart attack, then begging me to stop at a store to buy her cigs as I drove her home from the hospital, then after getting word three months later she was back in the hospital with pneumonia, I decided to get more involved in anti-tobacco issues and start up an anti-tobacco blog. The blog did all right, but my readership never really got beyond the teens. I’m hopeful with more “pings” and more Internet contacts and more knowledge of how to build up readership, it will get a few more readers.

We’ll see. This will be a work in progress and I really am an neophyte with WordPress, so bear with me.


This is a tentative return of The Lounge. I let the other blog die on the vine nine months ago because I got fed up with Blogspot and because hardly anyone ever read it, except for this crazy guy from Kentucky who scared the shit out of me.