The Daily Dose: Massive explosions old and new continue to scar humanity

Thousand of tons worth of ammonium nitrate has been identified as the cause for the massive blast that has killed hundreds and injured thousands of people in Beirut yesterday. According to Ruters, “The blast was the most powerful ever to rip through Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections. It sent a mushroom cloud into the sky and rattled windows on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 100 miles (160 km) away. President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.” Many of Twitter’s armchair experts speculated that the blast was in fact a small nuclear explosion. Amazing how they can pivot from epidemiology to immunology to nuclear physics at the drop of a dime. Why can’t they turn their sites on cancer and cure that disease?

While we’re on the topic of massive explosions, it’s the 75th Anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb(s) on Japan. It remains a very complicated topic, especially among people who don’t view the world in purely black and white terms. An article in the Guardian looks at the complicated history of the event and its implications. “Behind the neglect lay a deep national ambivalence about what it represented, a quandary which endures today: was this the aircraft that finally ended the second world war, saving hundreds of thousands of lives – or the instrument of the mass killing of civilians, which heralded a new age of nuclear terror?” U.S. military and political orthodoxy insists that in the long run, the bomb saved lives by ending the war quickly and avoiding the need for a costly Allied invasion of Japan. There are a lot of historians who disagree with that take.

For a really good, detailed, and illustrative summary of the technology and implications of the atomic bomb, check out this Reuters article. It helps to place the advent of nuclear weapons in perspective,then and now. “Seventy-five years after the atomic flash set fire to Hiroshima, thousands of nuclear weapons sit in arsenals around the world, ready to deploy by aircraft or missile. The Arms Control Association estimates that there are nearly 14,000 such weapons, and that the United States and Russia account for the most by far: 6,185 for the United states and 6,490 for Russia, although of these only a third or so could be immediately used in a war.” The dark wonders of science.

Keeping children physically fit is a near-universal concern. Schools are often selected as the common point for organized physical fitness efforts to take place. A team of British researchers conducted a cluster randomised controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of a school-based programme (GoActive) to increase physical activity among adolescents. According to the paper’s authors, “We observed that a rigorously developed school-based intervention was no more effective than standard school practice at preventing declines in adolescent physical activity. Interdisciplinary research is required to understand educational-setting-specific implementation challenges. School leaders and authorities should be realistic about expectations of the effect of school-based physical activity promotion strategies implemented at scale.” The search for the magic pill continues.

Experts fear that the COVID-19 pandemic will worsen a problem that is already inexcusably widespread – modern slavery. A team of British researchers have been keeping a close eye on how the situation has deteriorated since February. “The UN has warned that inaction could lead to a sharp rise in the number of people being pushed into slavery because of COVID-192. The Rights Lab says that COVID-19 risk factors include non-detection for slavery victims and re-trafficking for slavery survivors; limited access to shelters and other key support services; and with economic contraction and resource reallocation, more individuals forced into precarious employment and at risk of becoming trapped in situations of modern slavery.” The persistence of slavery in society is a real stain on humanity, particularly for an era where everyone swears things are much better than in the past.

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons

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