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Great moments in marijuana history are being revealed
David Bienenstock has made it his mission to keep the history of cannabis alive.
- Cannabis journalists David Bienenstock and Abdullah Saeed launched Great Moments in Weed History to share the history of marijuana.
- They cover hilarious and amazing weed tales about Willie Nelson. Louis Armstrong, Barack Obama, and Fela Kuti.
- In this interview with Big Think, Bienenstock says it's essential to keep the history of marijuana alive in the corporatized age.
Louis Armstrong was a prodigious sweater, though that was usually when he was blowing on his trumpet. Having just completed an international tour as a Goodwill Ambassador for the US government, he was waiting in line at customs at New York's Idlewild Airport in 1958. Until this day he had never had to wait in line to go through customs. As a representative of the government (and one of the nation's most beloved jazz musicians), Armstrong was usually waved through.
The problem was he had three pounds of marijuana stashed in his suitcase.
When then-Vice President Richard Nixon approached Armstrong, the politician had no clue why he was sweating so much. He only expressed his deep love for the artist. In a moment destined for the history books—and in this case, podcasts—Nixon asked Satchmo if there was anything he could do for him. Yes, Armstrong replied, carry my luggage through customs. That is how the man who became notorious for codifying Harry Anslinger's racist drug policing as the "War on Drugs" became a drug mule for his favorite musician.
That is only one of the many tales featured on the podcast, Great Moments in Weed History, hosted by cannabis journalists David Bienenstock and Abdullah Saeed. For Bienenstock, who started working as a cannabis journalist in 2002 (playing that role for both High Times and Vice), it's important to preserve the legacy one of the planet's most important plants. During a time when most headlines discuss how much money the cannabis industry is raking in, he wants to remind everyone what led to this point in history. As he told me last week,
"There's so many incredible cannabis history stories that if we don't tell them, I don't know who's going to. A lot of what's in the media these days is about who's going to make a lot of money with big businesses moving in. That's an important story, but it doesn't tell the story of what this community overcame and survived. The more I get into stories like Willie Nelson smoking a joint on the roof of the White House or Napoleon invading Egypt is how hashish got to Europe, you just realize that these stories are not just fun and interesting, but a really important and a big part of human history."
This community, of course, was saddened to learned that Willie Nelson recently announced he stopped smoking. Yet as his son confirmed, there are other means to enjoy cannabis, such as "vaping, edibles, gummies, drops, etc.," all of which his father will continue to partake in.
'Great Moments in Weed History' Is Your New Favorite Podcast | NowThis
If anyone has the right to get in on the cannabis industry, it's Nelson, along with perhaps Snoop Dogg—both men have started marijuana companies. The corporate attitude is why Bienenstock left High Times after serving for many years as the publication's Head of Content. He met Saeed while working on Vice Media's marijuana cooking show, Bong Appetit. Downtime allowed the two men to bond over joints and stories, a trend that has found new life on the podcast: they always record high.
Investing some money in DYI podcast equipment, they created Season One by talking about the cannabis-related tale behind one of Fela Kuti's most famous songs, "Expensive Shit," Carl Sagan's love of lighting up, Maya Angelou's overlooked love for sticky buds, and Bob Dylan smoking out the Beatles for the first time. Sure, Introducing… The Beatles is a fun album, but you don't get to Rubber Soul or Revolver without Dylan's influence. Even Kuti needed the good herb to transform from James Brown-meets-jazz cover artist to the creator of Afrobeat, arguably (in my opinion, inarguably) Africa's greatest musical contribution in the twentieth century. (Okay, it's in tough competition with Tuareg music, but that's for another time.)
Bienenstock doesn't want to lose this rich history in the face of the sordid history that legislation against cannabis has caused in the last century.
"I'm 100% against anyone getting arrested for cannabis for any reason. To the extent that we are stopping those arrests [due to legalization] is such an incredible thing, not just for people who smoke pot, but for everyone. That benefits society at every level. When I first started reporting on cannabis in 2002, almost every story was about people having their lives ruined, having their children taken away from them, having their doors kicked down in the middle of the night. Obviously, that still goes on, not just in certain States, but all around the world."
Which is why he keeps referring to cannabis as a "fight," given all that so many have endured over the last hundred years. That doesn't given the capitalist attitude toward marijuana legalization a free pass. Bienenstock might be all for taking criminalization off the books, yet how we approach the plant as a society matters, and some companies are getting it wrong.
"The buying and selling of cannabis has been going on as long as the buying and selling of anything else. But now we are moving it into a capitalistic system that I believe corrupts everything, at least in the way that we have it in the United States, where the richest and most powerful people have undue influence over everything. Now they want to have undue influence over cannabis. That's going to be a very tough fight. But I believe in this community. That's one of the recurring themes in the show. Every episode is about a different sort of triumph of the cannabis community."
The jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong, also known as Satchmo, shouts with delight as his fellow performer Edmund Hall takes a bow after a solo at a 1956 concert.
Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
After going DYI for Season One, the duo teamed up with Spoke Media for Season Two, putting some might behind the storytelling. The initial format had Bienenstock relating a historical tale that Saeed had no prior knowledge of. His reactions are in the moment—Flavor Flav's ad libbing to Chuck D's knowledge—making for a wonderful blend of education and humor. In the second season they split that format; Saeed now plays Chuck half the time, a flow they'll be continuing moving forward.
They cover familiar figures in enlightening deep dives during the latest season, including President Obama's involvement in the weed-smoking Choom Gang (he inhaled) and a memorable story that any fellow Gen Xer that grew up loving wrestling will adore: "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan and The Iron Sheik getting high together.
Bienenstock doesn't reveal any of Season Three—it would ruin the surprise if Saeed happens to catch this article. We instead end our talk discussing CBD, the marketed wonder-drug that, as I've written about in this column, we should be skeptical of, not because of its wonderful therapeutic capabilities, but because companies are racing their horses while the carts haven't left the stable. Bienenstock introduces me to Project CBD, which he says is the premier destination for credible research on the cannabinoid.
Bienenstock also references a 2014 Vice article he wrote on families moving to Colorado to offer this substance to their children. The FDA-approved Epidiolex remains the only cannabis-related drug to legally be sold on the pharmaceutical market, but just five years ago families had to endure their young children's endless rounds of seizures. Efficacy rates are an important component in this movement, though Bienenstock warns about gas station tinctures.
"My biggest area of concern at this point is what is your source of CBD? If you're buying it at a gas station or a truck stop or Bed Bath & Beyond, where was that CBD derived from and is it actually in the amount that's on the packaging? If you're using CBD for 'wellness,' that's very different than if you're trying to treat a specific ailment. Even if that ailment is something like anxiety or chronic pain, it's hard to find information on what specific doses you should use."
When I follow up by mentioning my skepticism of the $10 CBD coffee at your local coffee shop, he replies by saying, "I think what you're talking about is the Carl's Jr. CBD hamburger." Just as with Great Moments in Weed History, our conversation ends with a laugh.
A new paper reveals that the Voyager 1 spacecraft detected a constant hum coming from outside our Solar System.
- Voyager 1, humankind's most distant space probe, detected an unusual "hum" in the data from interstellar space.
- The noise is likely produced by interstellar gas.
- Further investigation may reveal the hum's exact origins.
Voyager 1, humanity's most faraway spacecraft, has detected an unusual "hum" coming from outside our solar system. Fourteen billion miles away from Earth, the Voyager's instruments picked up a droning sound that may be caused by plasma (ionized gas) in the vast emptiness of interstellar space. Launched in 1977, the Voyager 1 space probe — along with its twin Voyager 2 — has been traveling farther and farther into space for over 44 years. It has now breached the edge of our solar system, exiting the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space influenced by the sun. Now, the spacecraft is moving through the "interstellar medium," where it recorded the peculiar sound.
Stella Koch Ocker, a doctoral student in astronomy at Cornell University, discovered the sound in the data from the Voyager's Plasma Wave System (PWS), which measures electron density. Ocker called the drone coming from plasma shock waves "very faint and monotone," likely due to the narrow bandwidth of its frequency.
While they think the persistent background hum may be coming from interstellar gas, the researchers don't yet know what exactly is causing it. It might be produced by "thermally excited plasma oscillations and quasi-thermal noise."
The new paper from Ocker and her colleagues at Cornell University and the University of Iowa, published in Nature Astronomy, also proposes that this is not the last we'll hear of the strange noise. The scientists write that "the emission's persistence suggests that Voyager 1 may be able to continue tracking the interstellar plasma density in the absence of shock-generated plasma oscillation events."
Voyager Captures Sounds of Interstellar Space www.youtube.com
The researchers think the droning sound may hold clues to how interstellar space and the heliopause, which can be thought of as the solar's system border, may be affecting each other. When it first entered interstellar space, the PWS instrument reported disturbances in the gas caused by the sun. But in between such eruptions is where the researchers spotted the steady signature made by the near-vacuum.
Senior author James Cordes, a professor of astronomy at Cornell, compared the interstellar medium to "a quiet or gentle rain," adding that "in the case of a solar outburst, it's like detecting a lightning burst in a thunderstorm and then it's back to a gentle rain."
More data from Voyager over the next few years may hold crucial information to the origins of the hum. The findings are already remarkable considering the space probe is functioning on technology from the mid-1970s. The craft has about 70 kilobytes of computer memory. It also carries a Golden Record created by a committee chaired by the late Carl Sagan, who taught at Cornell University. The 12-inch gold-plated copper disk record is essentially a time capsule, meant to tell the story of Earthlings to extraterrestrials. It contains sounds and images that showcase the diversity of Earth's life and culture.
As the American population grows, fewer people will die of cancer.
- A new study projects that cancer deaths will decrease in relative and absolute terms by 2040.
- The biggest decrease will be among lung cancer deaths, which are predicted to fall by 50 percent.
- Cancer is like terrorism: we cannot eliminate it entirely, but we can minimize its influence.
As the #2 leading cause of death, cancer takes the lives of about 600,000 Americans each year. In comparison, heart disease (#1) claims more than 650,000 lives, while accidents (#3) take about 175,000 lives. (In 2020 and likely 2021, COVID will claim the #3 spot.)
Headlines are usually full of terrible news about cancer. Seemingly, you can't get away from anything that causes it. RealClearScience made a list of all the things blamed for cancer — antiperspirants, salty soup, eggs, corn, Pringles, bras, burnt toast, and even Facebook made the list.
The reality, however, is much more optimistic. We're slowly but surely winning the war on cancer.
Winning the war on cancer
How can we make such a brazen statement? A new paper published in the journal JAMA Network Open tracks trends in cancer incidence and deaths and makes projections to the year 2040. The authors predict that around 568,000 Americans will have died of cancer in 2020, but they project that number to fall to 410,000 by 2040. That's a drop of nearly 28 percent, despite the U.S. population being projected to grow from roughly 333 million today to 374 million in 2040, an increase of 12 percent. That means cancer deaths will decrease in both relative and absolute terms.
What accounts for this unexpected good news? The lion's share is the number of deaths attributable to lung cancer, which is projected to decrease by more than 50 percent, from 130,000 to 63,000. This drop is largely due to the decreasing use of tobacco products. Other deaths predicted to decline include those from colorectal, breast, prostate, and ovarian cancers, among others, such as leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL).
The authors credit screening and biomedical advances for saving many of these lives. For instance, lead author Dr. Lola Rahib wrote in an email to Big Think that "colonoscopies remove precancerous polyps." She also noted that targeted therapies and immunotherapies have helped reduce the number of deaths from leukemia and NHL.
We'll never cure cancer
Now the bad news: We'll never cure cancer. There are at least three reasons for this. The first is obvious: We all die. The lifetime prevalence of death is 100 percent. The truth is that we are running out of things to die from. After a long enough period of time, something gives out — often your cardiovascular system or nervous system. Or you develop you cancer.
The second reason is that we are multicellular organisms and, hence, we are susceptible to cancer. (Contrary to popular myth, sharks get cancer, too.) The cells of multicellular organisms face an existential dilemma: they can either get old and stop dividing (a process called senescence) or become immortal but cancerous. For this reason, the problem of cancer may not have a solution.
Finally, there isn't really such a thing as a disease called "cancer." What we call cancer is actually a collection of several different diseases, some of which are preventable (like cervical cancer with the HPV vaccine) or curable (like prostate cancer). Unfortunately, some cancers probably never will be curable, not least because cancers can mutate and develop resistance to the drugs we use to treat them.
But the overall optimism still stands: We are slowly and incrementally winning the war on cancer. Like terrorism, it's not a foe that we can completely vanquish, but it is one whose influence we can minimize in our lives.
China has reached a new record for nuclear fusion at 120 million degrees Celsius.
This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.
China wants to build a mini-star on Earth and house it in a reactor. Many teams across the globe have this same bold goal --- which would create unlimited clean energy via nuclear fusion.
But according to Chinese state media, New Atlas reports, the team at the Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) has set a new world record: temperatures of 120 million degrees Celsius for 101 seconds.
Yeah, that's hot. So what? Nuclear fusion reactions require an insane amount of heat and pressure --- a temperature environment similar to the sun, which is approximately 150 million degrees C.
If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it.
If scientists can essentially build a sun on Earth, they can create endless energy by mimicking how the sun does it. In nuclear fusion, the extreme heat and pressure create a plasma. Then, within that plasma, two or more hydrogen nuclei crash together, merge into a heavier atom, and release a ton of energy in the process.
Nuclear fusion milestones: The team at EAST built a giant metal torus (similar in shape to a giant donut) with a series of magnetic coils. The coils hold hot plasma where the reactions occur. They've reached many milestones along the way.
According to New Atlas, in 2016, the scientists at EAST could heat hydrogen plasma to roughly 50 million degrees C for 102 seconds. Two years later, they reached 100 million degrees for 10 seconds.
The temperatures are impressive, but the short reaction times, and lack of pressure are another obstacle. Fusion is simple for the sun, because stars are massive and gravity provides even pressure all over the surface. The pressure squeezes hydrogen gas in the sun's core so immensely that several nuclei combine to form one atom, releasing energy.
But on Earth, we have to supply all of the pressure to keep the reaction going, and it has to be perfectly even. It's hard to do this for any length of time, and it uses a ton of energy. So the reactions usually fizzle out in minutes or seconds.
Still, the latest record of 120 million degrees and 101 seconds is one more step toward sustaining longer and hotter reactions.
Why does this matter? No one denies that humankind needs a clean, unlimited source of energy.
We all recognize that oil and gas are limited resources. But even wind and solar power --- renewable energies --- are fundamentally limited. They are dependent upon a breezy day or a cloudless sky, which we can't always count on.
Nuclear fusion is clean, safe, and environmentally sustainable --- its fuel is a nearly limitless resource since it is simply hydrogen (which can be easily made from water).
With each new milestone, we are creeping closer and closer to a breakthrough for unlimited, clean energy.