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October 2022 - Answers With Joe

Month: October, 2022

Why Did This Woman’s Blood Produce A Toxic Nerve Gas?

On February 19, 1994, Gloria Ramirez was wheeled into the emergency room at Riverside Hospital in California. Within minutes, the staff began collapsing to the floor and the hospital was evacuated. What turned this woman’s blood into a chemical weapon? It’s one of the weirdest medical mysteries of all time.


It’s Halloween, and chances are many of you have indulged in some scary movies over the last few weeks, maybe you have plans to do it tonight. Maybe you’ll be in bed by 8:00, I’m not here to judge.

A popular subgenre of horror films is known as body horror, which plays off our fears of losing control of our own bodies. Either to aliens like invasion of the body snatchers, or to technology like The Fly.

Or to The Thing in… The Thing.

Or The Stuff in… The Stuff.

Or The Blob in… You get the idea.

The idea that our own bodies, or the bodies of those around us could be weaponized is a deep instinctual fear. There’s a reason why the trope of “patient gets wheeled into the emergency room and infects the entire staff with a mystery illness” gets used so much.

And yet in February of 1994, this actually happened. A woman was wheeled into an ER, and as soon as a needle pierced her skin, she emitted a mysterious toxin that poisoned dozens of people.

She became known as The Toxic Lady. And scientists and doctors have been struggling to explain it ever since.

February 19th, 1994 was just like any other day for the staff of Riverside General Hospital. A car accident or two, a drug overdose. An old guy complaining of chest pains. Nothing out of the ordinary for an LA suburb.

And then, at 8:15 in the evening, paramedics wheeled in a 31 year old hispanic woman who was breathing shallow and barely conscious. They moved her into a space marked Trauma Room One and began trying to stabilize her.

They assessed what they knew so far. Her name was Gloria Ramirez, she was 31 years old, and she was being treated for cervical cancer. And now, for whatever reason, her vital signs were crashing.

Along with the shallow breathing, her blood pressure was dropping fast. Her heart was beating too quickly for its chambers to fill with blood.

So they gave her lidocaine and Bretylium to help control her rapid heartbeat, as well as Ativan, Valium, and Versed to help sedate her.

At this point, hospital staff were pouring into the room to get her situation under control, including RN Susan Kane, Resident Julie Gorchynski, and Head of Emergency Humberto Ochoa

Respiratory therapist Maureen Welch used an Ambu Bag on her to help her breathe.

But nothing they did seem to work. Ramirez’s vital signs continued to plummet to the point that they had to use a defibrillator to reset her heart.

When they cut off her shirt to apply the paddles, they all noticed an oily sheen covering her body that seemed to give off a fruity, garlicky odor.

Susan Kane, the RN, took a blood sample for analysis and noticed that the blood smelled… strange.

This actually isn’t that uncommon for chemotherapy patients.
But a chemo scent usually smells a bit putrid. This had a weird ammonia flavor to it.

Even weirder, she noticed that there were small manila-colored particles floating around in the blood sample. And this is where things start to get really weird.

Because she barely had a chance to say anything about it before she literally fell to the floor, saying her face felt like it was burning.

Unable to even stand, the staff had to put her on a gurney and whisk her out of the room, but as she was being wheeled out, Gochynski starts to feel light-headed.

She left the room to sit down at the nurse’s station to get her head together, and when one of the nurses asked if she was okay, she fell to the floor and began to shake uncontrollably, barely able to breathe.

At about the same time, Maureen Welch fell to the floor back in the trauma room, her arms and legs stiff and uncontrollable.

This prompted Humberto Ochoa, the Head of Emergency to order the ER evacuated. Nurses and doctors immediately scrambled to wheel their patients outside into the parking lot where they attempted to set up a temporary outdoor trauma center.

Ochoa and a few others stayed behind to work on Ramirez, trying to save her life. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at 8:50pm. Just 35 minutes after she had arrived.

But now, they had to figure out what just happened. To be safe, they moved her body to an isolation room. Along the way, one of the two orderlies began to vomit and complained that her skin was burning.

In the end, 23 of the 37 people on staff that night experienced some kind of symptom, and five were hospitalized.

Julie Gorchynski got it the worst. She would eventually spend two weeks in intensive care, suffering from hepatitis, pancreatitis, and avascular necrosis, a condition where bone tissue is deprived of blood and begins to die.

What the hell happened to Gloria Ramirez that caused her to secrete this mystery toxic substance that affected two dozen people? Was it the chemo medicine? Was she poisoned? Was this like an act of terrorism that used her as some kind of human chemical weapon?

There’s been no shortage of theories around this event, and for good reason, this is one of the craziest medical mysteries ever documented. One that would have Gloria Ramirez go down in history, unfortunately, as The Toxic Lady.

Here’s what we know about what happened. And the best theory that has been put forth so far.

All right, so back on the night of February 19th, as the ER staff was busy treating their patients in the parking lot – some of those patients being the staff themselves – a team of investigators arrived in hazmat suits to search the ER.

They were looking for any kind of volatile toxicant that could still be in the emergency room’s air. One of which was hydrogen sulfide.

Hydrogen sulfide is a poison that can kill someone after one or two whiffs if it’s at high concentrations. It also tends to smell like rotten eggs – that’s the sulfide bit.

And that was also a bit of a problem because nobody reported smelling rotten eggs when the incident occurred. Doesn’t really matter because the investigators didn’t find anything.

They also looked for phosgene, a gas that’s used in the preparation of several organic chemicals but has also been used in chemical warfare.

It’s pretty brutal, what it does is it rips open the capillaries in the lungs, and its victims basically just drown in their own blood. So, that’s fun.

Luckily for everybody on staff that night, that’s not what they experienced and it also wasn’t found in the air by the investgators. That or anything else that could explain it.

So then they examined the body, still in their moon suits to be safe.

They took blood and tissue samples and then sealed her body in an airtight aluminum crate. Again, just to be safe.

These samples were sent to the Riverside coroner, and he couldn’t find anything that stood out to him, so he sent it on for more advanced testing.

Using a computer-guided combined gas chromatograph-mass spectrometer, they found codeine, lidocaine, Tylenol, and Tigan, an antinausea medication. None of which is unexpected for someone going through chemo.

There were however, a few things that were unexpected.

One of which was amine, which is a derivative of ammonia. This may have contributed to the ammonia-like smell that Susan Kane noticed in her blood.

The second standout result was nicotinamide.

Nicotinamide is a B vitamin that’s crucial to our health. You can find it in a lot of multivitamins, I’ve taken it myself at times.

So that might mean nothing but… It can also be mixed into drugs like methamphetamines. Which could be a whole different thing.

And last but not least was dimethyl sulfone; and this one was interesting because it’s usually used as an industrial solvent.

But it can be produced naturally in our bodies from amino acids that contain sulphur. It usually breaks down in the liver in three days so it’s rarely detectable. But there was a lot of it in Gloria Ramirez’ blood.

This was weird… but regardless, it wasn’t at a high enough level to kill her, much less poison the rest of the ER.

So, yeah…

With still no answers, the California Department of Health and Human Services stepped in to investigate.

They assigned doctors Ana Maria Osorio and Kirsten Waller to the case, and they interviewed 34 people who were on staff that night, compiled all the data and eventually concluded that… wait for it… It was an outbreak of mass sociogenic illness.

Mass hysteria. Like the Dancing Plague.

Their theory is that whatever that smell was in the blood triggered a panic attack that just kinda traveled around the room.

They cited the lack of any evidence for poison and the fact that the women on staff suffered the most severe symptoms. Which sounds really sexist, but the authors of the report were both women so do with that what you will.

They also found that the people who were most affected by the fumes had skipped dinner that evening, not to mention the fact that the paramedics who were in the ambulance with Ramirez suffered no symptoms, even after being in close contact with her blood and skin. In a small, enclosed area.

That… is weird actually but still, so much of this theory just doesn’t make sense.

First of all, these weren’t a bunch of shrinking violets, these were experienced ER doctors and nurses. They saw car accident victims and gunshots on a daily basis, there’s no way a bad smell would be enough to make them faint.

And by the way, it wasn’t just fainting, they had real, diagnosed physiological problems from this. Julie Gorchynski lost so much bone density, she had to be on crutches for 6 months.

6 months that she wasn’t able to work and because of this report now she couldn’t collect any kind of workers’ comp. So I think it’s pretty understandable why she filed a lawsuit.

This is when Gorchynski and her lawyer reached out to Brian Andresen at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – he’s the guy who ran the gas chromatograph tests back in March.

They felt that there must have been something to those anomalies that were found, that I talked about a minute ago.

He was still pretty stumped by the whole thing so he enlisted the help of the lab’s deputy director, a guy named Pat Grant.
Let me stop for just a second and acknowledge that I know I’m throwing a lot of names at you and it’s probably starting to feel like we’re getting a bit in the weeds here. And we are. And we’re going to go deeper into these weeds but just hang with me. This is about to get super technical but it’s worth it.

All right so we’ve got this new guy Pat Grant, he’s looking at this file while flying to a business meeting in Washington D.C. New pair of eyes and all that, and he notices something.

He speculated that the lab’s detection of dimethyl sulfone might have actually been the product of a slightly different chemical, dimethyl sulfoxide, or DMSO. What the hell is DMSO?

DMSO is a heavy-duty degreaser; it’s often sold in gel form at hardware stores. But it has a really interesting history.

It turns out Grant used to work in a kinesthetics lab with athletes and back in the day, it was a bit of a folk remedy for achy muscles and joints.

It used to actually be sold for that purpose but it was kinda banned in the 1970’s after some lab tests showed that it could alter the lens of the eye.

But still a lot of people swore by it, and let’s face it, when you’re in pain, you’ll do pretty much anything to make it go away.

So it wasn’t uncommon for people to just get the industrial gel form of it at the hardware store and use it to treat all kinds of painful ailments like arthritis, muscle strains, and, yes, cancer pain.

This could also explain the oily sheen they saw all over her in the ER. As well as the garlicky smell.

AND… DMSO can combine with oxygen to create dimethyl sulfone, which would explain why that was so high in her blood.

Plus the paramedics had put her on oxygen on the way to the hospital, so her blood was flush with it.

Ah, see, the pieces are coming together now, it’s all making sense. Ah-ha!Except this still doesn’t explain the incident at all, none of these chemicals are toxic in any way.

But, this started Grant thinking, if adding oxygen to DMSO creates dimethyl sulfone, what other chemicals could one create with that combination?

Especially considering how high her oxygen level was.

So he hit up the Merck Index, basically a bible of more than 10,000 biological, chemical, and drug substances.

It turns out that if you add two more oxygen atoms to dimethyl sulfone, written as (CH3)2SO2, you get dimethyl sulfate, (CH3)2SO4.

And yes, we’ve gone from dimethyl sulfoxide to dimethyl sufone to dimethyl sulfate. Thanks science.

All right, so there’s a chance she made dimethyl sulfate, what is that… Oh… It’s a poison gas.

And not just a little poisonous either, tests have shown that a 10-minute exposure to half a gram dispersed over a cubic meter of air can be fatal.

In fact it was tested as a nerve agent but never used in war.

It basically kills cells in exposed tissues like eyes, lungs, and mouth. And its symptoms include convulsions, delirium, paralysis and coma.

All of which is lining up perfectly with the symptoms from the hospital staff.

So… Here’s where things stand.

Gloria Ramirez was suffering from cancer and used DSMO as a folk remedy to help with the pain.

She collapsed – possibly from cancer-related kidney failure and the paramedics put an oxygen mask on her in the ambulance.

Her blood became oversaturated with oxygen, which mixed with the DMSO to form dimethyl sulfone, which mixed with more oxygen to create dimethyl sulfate dissolved in her blood.

The guys at Lawrence Livermore tested this theory using a substance called Ringer’s solution as a stand-in for blood.

Not only were they able to get it to work at normal body temperature, when the solution cooled to room temperature, the dimethyl sulfone began to crystalize.

This explains the white particulates that they found in the sample of Ramirez’ blood.

All of which leaves only one mystery, which is how did this dissolved dimethyl sulfate become gaseous?

Dimethyl sulfate has a pretty high vapor point, around 148 degrees celsius (300F), which is maybe one of the reasons why it was never used in combat.

But that high vapor point is at one atmosphere of pressure. The lower the pressure, the lower the vapor point.

Put water in a vacuum chamber and start lowering the pressure, it will eventually boil at room temperature. Which is why if you were ever exposed to the vacuum of space, the last thing you would experience would be the water on the surface of your eyes boiling.

Sleep tight kids.

With that in mind, when you get your blood drawn by a nurse or a phlebotomist, they use one of these. This is called a vacutainer. Which is a container… filled with a vacuum.
So when they take your blood, they stick the needle into the vein, then pop the vacutainer on there and that vacuum pulls the blood into the tube. It’s pretty brilliant.

But in this… Incredibly specific and unique case, that vacuum caused a tiny amount of the dimethyl sulfate to vaporize, and poison 23 people. Because say it with me folks… PRESSURE CHANGES EVERYTHING.

And this provides the last ribbon and bow to wrap up the mystery of Gloria Ramirez, the Toxic Lady.

Of course, this theory has its detractors.

Those who disagree with this theory point out the fact that dimethyl sulfate doesn’t hit people like it did the staff. It’s more like tear gas.

So, while the staff didn’t start to cry from the vapors, they did report a burning sensation.

And its effects take hours to materialize, but the staff experienced it immediately.
Rameriz’s family wasn’t buying the theory, either. They insist that she never used DMSO and requested an independent autopsy two months after she died.

But by that point the body was extremely decomposed, and her heart and other organs were missing. Also, apparently what was left was contaminated with fecal matter. Yikes.

This of course, has led to a lot of suspicion that the hospital is involved in some kind of cover-up.

Maybe the wildest theory that has been floated was the hospital was manufacturing methamphetamine and smuggling it into IV bags, one of which was accidentally used on Rameriz.

In the end, the Livermore Lab’s theory is the most accepted so far. And it’s got plenty of tests and experiments to back it up.

But still it is just a theory. We’ll likely never know exactly what happened on that weird night in 1994. Luckily nothing like that has happened since that we know of.

Which actually leads me to believe the DMSO theory, it was just such a unique set of circumstances, everything had to be just right for it to happen.

And I should probably close by recognizing that at the heart of this mystery is an actual person, who was tragically taken far too soon, and is sadly remembered for the single weirdest thing about her life, that thing being how it ended. Rest in peace.

The One Where I Get Slightly Political And Lose Half My Subscribers

Elections are coming up in the United States, so I thought it was a good opportunity to talk about the best and worst voting systems in the world. Why are US elections so weird? And how can it be fixed?


Sorry, hold on one second, just deleting all these texts asking for campaign contributions…Sorry, hold on one second, just deleting all these texts asking for campaign contributions…
All right, sorry about that, so if you’re in the US, you probably know the midterms are upon us, a–
And according to about 50 of the texts I just deleted, it’s possibly the most substantial midterm election in our lifetimes. This isn’t untrue.
This is an important election, there’s a lot on the line, but doesn’t it feel like every election is THE MOST IMPORTANT ELECTION EVER lately?
Why do we seem to just bounce from one crisis point to another when it comes to our elections in the United States?

I mean, as we all learned in school, this country is the last great bastion of democracy in the world. Also, the first bastion of democracy. The beginning and the end of everything. Also the only free country in the world, the richest country in the world, the strongest military in the world, the smartest country in the world, the shimmering city on a hill…

Maybe the reason we bounce from one election crisis to another is  because when it comes to elections anyway, we’re none of those things. In fact, compared to a lot of other countries… we kinda suck at it.
All right before I lose all the flag-waving Americans in my audience, let’s start by acknowledging something here… the founding of the United States was a pivotal moment in the history of democracy in the world.

No, we didn’t invent democracy, in fact we gained our independence from a country with a parliamentary system, though with an unelected head of state.
And there were democracies in ancient Greece, that’s where the term comes from, plus many indigenous tribes had forms of democracy.
But the United States, according to many historians, is the oldest continuous democracy in the world. And you know what? We should be proud of that.
The problem is… We’re the oldest democracy in the world.

You know how the original iPhone was like a total game changer and launched us into the era of smartphones and now every other company is doing the same thing, arguably better in some ways?

Yeah, the original iPhone was amazing, it literally changed the world. But would you want to use the original iPhone now?
The election system in the United States is the original iPhone of election systems.
Although to be fair, it has evolved some over the years, so maybe it’s closer to an iPhone 6?
Also, in the interest of accuracy, the US isn’t one election system, it’s more of a patchwork of election systems because every state kinda has its own take on it but that’s my metaphor and I’m sticking to it.

The way the US runs elections made perfect sense 230 years ago. But the world has changed a lot since then and a lot of the newer democracies were able to jump in with newer systems that make a lot more sense today.
This is why, as much as we love to pride ourselves on being a free and democratic country, many international freedom watchdogs don’t have us at the top of the list. In fact we’re nowhere near the top.

We can start with Freedom House, which doesn’t have rankings per se, just lists countries as “Free, Partly Free, and Not Free”

Gotta love the simplicity.

Well they have the US listed as Free, which is a good start, and they give us a grade of 83 out of 100. Not great not terrible.
Then you’ve got the Democracy Index from the Economist Intelligence Unit, which has been keeping track of democracy trends since 1946.

They rank countries in 4 categories, Full Democracy, Flawed Democracy, Hybrid Regime, and Authoritarian.

They rank the US at 26th in the world, and in fact, we don’t even make the top category, coming in as a Flawed Democracy.
And one more I’ll point out is the Democracy Matrix from the German Research Foundation. They rank countries as Working Democracies, Deficient Democracies, Hybrid Regime, Moderate Autocracy, and Hard Autocracy.
And, again, we don’t crack the top category in this one, we come in as a Deficient Democracy, and ranked 36th in the world.
The countries that performed the best in these studies were:
(US is 36th

Democracy Matrix (German Research Foundation)

  1. Demark
  2. Norway
  3. Finland
  4. Sweden
  5. Germany
  6. Switzerland
  7. Netherlands
  8. New Zealand
  9. Belgium
  10. Costa Rica

Democracy Index
(Economic Intelligence Unit)

  1. Norway
  2. Finland
  3. New Zealand
  4. Sweden
  5. Iceland
  6. Denmark
  7. Ireland
  8. Taiwan
  9. Australia
  10. Switzerland

Common ones:

  • Norway
  • Finland
  • Denmark
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • New Zealand

And in case you’re wondering , there wasn’t quite as much agreement on the bottom 10 in each of these studies, but two that did make the worst of the worst were North Korea and Syria.

Bottom 10s

Democracy Matrix:

  1. Eritrea
  2. North Korea
  3. Yemen
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. China
  6. South Sudan
  7. Syria
  8. Qatar
  9. Palestine/Gaza
  10. Sudan

Democracy Index:

  1. Afghanistan
  2. Myanmar
  3. North Korea
  4. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  5. Central African Republic
  6. Syria
  7. Turkmenistan
  8. Chad
  9. Laos
  10. Equatorial Guinea

So I mean… At least we’re not them.

If you want to go into the details of how they made these rankings, what were the criteria and all that, I’ll put the links down in the description, feel free to take a look for yourselves. But the point is, we’ve got room to improve. And a lot.

There’s a long list of problems with our voting system in the US, from the outsized influence of money in politics, to rampant gerrymandering, to the electoral college system, all of which have led to an apathetic electorate that feels like their vote doesn’t matter, so they stay home.
Leading to the US having one of the lowest voter participation rates in the Western world.

Gerrymandering rant – dying on this hill

But the argument has been made, and I find it very compelling, that at the heart of all these issues is the voting system itself; the way we count the votes.
That’s right kids, we’re gonna talk about First Past The Post voting.
First Past The Post is basically “winner take all.” In other words, you count the votes and who ever gets the most votes wins. Which… sounds like it makes sense. I mean that’s democracy right?
And yeah, that does make sense – in a strictly 2-party system.

If you only have two people running, then whoever wins will by definition get more than 50% of the vote.
But add just one more person to it, whether it’s a third party or if you’re voting for multiple people in say a primary, then things start to not work so well.
If that third person gets any significant number of votes, you end up with someone winning the election without getting 50% of the vote.
In other words they win a plurality but not a majority.

So you could wind up with a representative that 60% of people voted against. And the more candidates in the race, the smaller the percentage of the vote the winner receives, and the less democratic the whole thing becomes.
This sounds like a little thing. But it’s not. It leads to some pretty bad results over time.
For example, the spoiler effect.

Let’s say you create a third party because you don’t feel either party really represents you clearly. In a First Past The Post system, you are basically ensuring that you will siphon votes away from the party you most align with and hand the election to the guy from the party you least align with.
In 2000, Ralph Nader ran as a strong Green party candidate on a progressive platform and wound up pulling just enough votes away from Al Gore to swing the election to George W. Bush.

Which, by the way, he did not win the popular vote or get more than 50%.
And hey, if you’re on the right side of the aisle and don’t like that I’m pointing that out, let me direct your attention to the election of 1992 when Ross Perot ran as a conservative Independent and basically handed the election to Bill Clinton.

Perot got almost 20 million votes, but didn’t win a single state, got zero electoral college votes, and Clinton won with only 43% of the popular vote.
I actually walked past Ross Perot at the mall here in Dallas one time…  It’s not much of a story but it happened.
But the point is, he was able to get 20 million votes because there’s a lot of Republicans that are fiscally conservative but don’t care about the social wedge issues that the Republican party gets involved in.
Or from the other side, maybe you’re a big environmentalist but you think the Democrats are too corrupt so you want to vote for the Green party, but in our current system you know that’s just going to help out the Republican, who wants to do away with the EPA.

Voters in this system are constantly having to vote strategically and play 4D chess and support the least bad candidate rather than actually vote for the person or cause they believe in.
It’s like every time you step in the ballot box you have to hold your nose and vote for someone you don’t like so the other guy doesn’t win. Or as South Park said, you’re always choosing between a giant douche and a turd sandwich.
So yeah. People don’t really get excited about voting.
To go even further, in our winner-take-all system, the party that has control of the house or senate, even if it’s just by one seat, gets to control all the committees.
So there’s no incentive to work together.
Candidates also have no incentive to move to the middle as they will always get primaried by the political extremes. All of which just moves the parties further and further apart. Leading to the polarization we see today.

All of this comes down to the way we count the votes. It’s not a left or right issue, it’s a systems issue. So let’s look at some different – arguably better – ways of doing it.
There are essentially three types of voting systems: Plurality/Majority, Proportional Representation, and Mixed System.
And every country has their own variations of these systems, there’s no way to cover all of them but here’s a few examples.
So under the Plurality/Majority category, you have First Past The Post, then there’s the Two-Round system, block voting, and party block voting.
First Past The Post we talked about earlier, the Two Round System is a way to prevent someone from winning the election without a majority.
Basically you have a first round of elections and if nobody gets more than 50% of the vote, you have a second round of voting with the top two candidates, that way nobody wins without getting a majority.

Block voting has voters use as many votes as there are seats to fill in their district. They’re often free to vote for candidates regardless of party affiliation.
One advantage is that this system helps retain a voter’s ability to vote for individual candidates while increasing the role of parties at the same time.

Party Block voting is kinda like Block Voting but you vote for a party and not for an individual candidate.
It’s a simple-to-use system, but it suffers from some of the same disadvantages found in FPTP.

So those are all examples of Majority/Plurality systems, the next major system of voting is Proportional Representation, often just shortened to PR.
It takes the percentage of total votes a political party receives and assigns the number of seats that party will have in a legislature.

So let’s say you have a legislature with 100 seats for easy math, and the Orange party gets 40% of the vote, the Green party gets 30%, the Red party gets 20% and the Blue Party gets 10%.
Those parties would be given 40, 30, 20, and 10 seats respectively.
This way the overall proportion of people’s interest is reflected in the representation.
An advantage of a PR system is that it often reflects accurately how a population has voted. Plus there are few wasted votes.
It also encourages the development of multiple parties. And, it incentivizes those parties to work together to form coalitions. Thus, moving parties more to the center rather than the extremes.
One disadvantage is that this system may weaken constituencies. In other words, local districts and county representation is less prioritized than the overall mix of public sentiment.

Mixed Systems

And then you’ve got Mixed Systems which are exactly what they sound like, they’re a combination of First Past The Post and Proportional Representation.
So a voter would have two ballots when they vote, one that’s a party vote for a proportional house chamber and one that’s for a candidate for a representative house chamber.
This way the overall will of the people is reflected but also local constituencies are also represented.

Ranked Choice, Single Transferable Vote, Alternative Vote

But no talk of different voting systems is complete without talking about Ranked Choice Voting. Also known as Single Transferable Vote… And Alternative Voting… And Instant Runoff Voting… Multiple names are fun.

I’ll stick with Ranked Choice voting for the purposes of this video because with Ranked Choice voting, you – wait for it – rank your choices.
So instead of just casting one vote for one candidate, you rank the candidates based on your preference.
For example if you’re a Libertarian and feel like the Republicans have gotten a little too brownshirty for your taste, you can actually vote Libertarian as your first choice, Republican your second choice and on down the line.

And then if your top choice doesn’t get a majority, your vote will go to your second choice. If that doesn’t get a majority, it’ll go to your third choice and so on.
This way you can actually vote your conscience and know that you’re not wasting your vote or actually leaning the table toward the party you least agree with.
In this system, third party candidates actually have a chance, voters can actually vote their conscience, and parties are incentivized to move to the center because if they get too extreme, their base can always vote for another party.

So let’s go back and take a look at those 6 countries that keep showing up in the top 10 democracy rankings, what do they do?

As I said before, there’s a million different ways of doing these things, and every country has their own twist on it but most international election observers agree some form of proportional representation is the most fair and democratic election system going.
People in these countries feel more represented, they have more say in their government, and their quality of living and happiness levels are higher.
Look at that, something that actually trickles down.


A Bicameral legislature

Instead of a House of Commons/House of Lords situation based on land districts…A proportional house and a district house.

In the Proportional House, people vote statewide for the party of their choosing and the seats are filled according to the proportion of votes each party receives. Seats are filled by votes within the party.The District House, people vote directly for candidates that represent their districts, but it’s done by ranked-choice voting so people can vote their true beliefsThis way the overall will of the people can be represented proportionally but the interest of regional communities is preserved.

Maybe you want to adopt a voting system like this, are there any politicians currently advocating for it.
How do we change this when the people in charge benefit from the current system?
Until we can get that done, we have to operate in the system we have, so here are some resources to get out and vote. Find the best online resources for people to learn about their candidates, find their polling places and make a plan.


It might sound impossible to get something like this done in the United States. Things just feel too stuck.
But to be fair to ourselves, we have evolved our voting systems before.
Originally only white, land-owning males were allowed to vote. In other words, the elite. Those rights were expanded over time, in fact, to be fair, one could make the argument that the history of the United States is one of regular expansion of voting rights – with irregular periods of backsliding.
Just to hammer this point home a little more, women’s suffrage happened just over 100 years ago. There are people alive right now who were born at a time when literally half the country wasn’t allowed to vote.

Alaska recently started using Ranked Choice voting and elected their first indigenous person to congress.
Many states joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, where they pledge to vote along with the winner of the popular vote to prevent electoral college upsets.
Things are slowly changing, and they can change. But the only way to do that is to vote for politicians who want to open access to voting rights, not restrict it.
I can’t tell you who or what to vote for. But if a better, more representative and less extreme democracy is important to you, you have to get out and vote in the next couple of weeks. Here are some resources to help you:


First is Vote, this is run by the League of Women Voters, and this is a pretty great website, just enter your street address and they’ll tell you when the election is, where your polling place is located, you can even pull up a sample ballot so you can see who’s running for what and in many cases what their positions are on various issues. You can also register to vote from here, depending on where you’re from, and they show upcoming debates and forums so you can get involved.
Then there’s, where you can check your registration and do it online if you need to, find your polling place, get election reminders, and find specific rules and info about your individual state.
And remember Rock The Vote? It’s still a thing! At, you can check your registration status, request an absentee ballot, click on your state on a map and find out all the rules for your state, and find a sample ballot, plus a lot of other information.
I’ll put links to all those in the description, of course there’s always the option of just Googling this information but hey, somebody else has already done this work for you, you might as well take them up on it.

But that’s really the main takeaway from this video. Yes, our election system is frustrating and ancient and it makes you want to give up on it altogether.
But that’s all the more reason that you should vote. The only way to move anything is to show up in massive numbers.
Right now we are in a bit of a crisis point. Polarization is about as bad as it’s ever been and faith in our elections is under attack. Again, I’m not here to tell you who to vote for. But I do encourage you to make a plan and do it. As the meme says, if your vote didn’t count, they wouldn’t be trying so hard to keep you from doing it.
And I hope this has been interesting enough to get you to look into other election systems and advocate for things like proportional representation and ranked choice voting. It’s time to upgrade the iPhone.
Or get the new Samsung whatever if you don’t like Apple– look, the metaphor’s hanging on by a thread but I’m sticking with it.


The Healing Power Of Wonder – Damian Skinner Episode 19

Damian Skinner is the founder of Camp Wonderment, a unique approach towards children’s mental health. By walking kids through a fantasy narrative, they learn how to identify and minimize the impact of traumatic events in their lives. Here we talk about the power of narrative, the importance of the feeling of wonder, and the inspirations that led him to this idea.

Find out more about Camp Wonderment on their website:

The Archeological Find That Broke History

In the mountains of Turkey lies a series of buried monoliths going back nearly a dozen millennia. It’s an archeological site known as Göbekli Tepe, and it’s changed everything we knew about the rise of human civilizations.


This is a piece of a brick from a 2,000 year old Roman fort that I visited in England maybe 20 years ago or so. I just saw it laying there on the ground and… took it.

I know, it was wrong, if everybody took one there wouldn’t be anything left, but it was my first time overseas and I’d just never seen anything that old… and it blew my mind.

Some actual human being who was walking around at the same time as Jesus picked up this brick and placed it on wall and smeared it with mortar and created a dwelling for someone else to live in.

Before that, a different person transported it there on a horse and cart probably, and before that, another person sold the brick to that guy, and before that a different guy altogether formed the brick and put it in a kiln.

Because that’s how a civilization works, lots of different people doing lots of different specialized jobs, working together in a system that provides for everyone.

It took a long time for human beings to advance to this point, to go from bands of hunter-gatherers – generalists, basically – to specialists. And the conventional wisdom has always been that it had to do with agriculture.

It took the agricultural revolution to not only provide a more stable food source but also it forced humanity to specialize and congregate and create systems to produce it and distribute it and trade with it. And it was out of that necessity that the first cities sprang up.

Most of these early cities were centered around the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The city-state of Uruk has always been considered the first city going back to 6000 years ago.

This is how civilization began as we understand it. It works. It makes sense. The pieces all fit together perfectly…
And then we found Göbekli Tepe.

For hundreds of years, the locals of the Anatolia region of Turkey knew of a unique hill in the Germuş mountains that rose slowly over the surrounding landscape to a moderate height of about 50 meters.

They called this hill “Potbelly Hill” and used it for sheep pasturing and agriculture.

Göbekli Tepe means “potbelly hill” in Turkish.
And that’s just what it was, a random hill with sheep on it until the 1960s, when it was first examined by a team of anthropologists from the University of Chicago and Istanbul University.

They found limestone and flint artifacts and assumed it was an abandoned medieval cemetery.

And that theory held until 1994 when German archaeologist Klaus Schmidt got ahold of the researchers’ reports, and he saw something different.

He had been was working on a survey of prehistoric sites in that region and something about the reports just didn’t read right to him. So he went to check it out for himself.

When he got there, he immediately knew he found something special, saying,
“In one minute – in one second – it was clear.”

What was clear to him was that this was no mere cemetery, and certainly nothing as recent as the middle ages. This was something much bigger, that probably went back to the stone ages.

He returned the next year with five colleagues, and that’s when they they discovered a series of megaliths, buried just below the ground.

Some were buried so close to the surface that plows scarred them.

These megaliths would become Schmidt’s life work for the next 20 years. But at the time, his team didn’t find any signs of a settlement. Things like houses, trash pits, or cooking hearths.

They did discover evidence of tool use, like blades and stone hammers, which actually matched artifacts in nearby sites that had been dated to around 9000 BCE. So they assumed this site was roughly that age as well.

Carbon dating on the structures later on would confirm that assumption. Making Göbekli Tepe twice as old as Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids.
Like Stonehenge, Göbekli Tepe’s structure includes circles of T-shaped limestone pillars, many of them featuring etchings of animals on them, like birds, foxes, lions, and scorpions.

The site’s pillars are arranged in circles of up to 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter.

And since there’s no evidence that it was used for animal domestication or farming, archaeologists believe hunter-gathers may have built it.
Thing is, the site features some architectural complexity that could’ve been too advanced for hunter-gathers.

A study published in the Cambridge Archeological Journal in 2020 explored the question of whether the site’s round enclosures were a cohesive scheme or built without reference to each other.
As study co-author and archaeologist Gil Haklay told Haaretz at the time:

“There is a lot of speculation that the structures were built successively, possibly by different groups of people, and that one was covered up while the next one was being built. But there is no evidence that they are not contemporaneous.”

The researchers used a computer algorithm based on standard deviation mapping to analyze the underlying architecture.

What they found was that three of the enclosures look like they were designed together in a triangular, geometric pattern.

So, the site comprises two, main layers.

Layer III is the oldest, made up of large, curvilinear enclosures, and it’s from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic A period around 8300 to 7500 BCE.

Layer II is from the early and middle Pre-Pottery Neolithic B periods around 7500-6000 BCE.

It features smaller, rectangular structures with lime-plaster floors all crowded together with shared walls.
Layer III’s enclosures experienced a series of backfilling events indicating like they were intentionally buried. This is has been a major component of the study’s theories around the history of Göbekli Tepe.
Because the structure’s center points formed an almost-perfect triangle with sides measuring 19 meters (63 feet) in length.

So the question becomes, did the original builders build one enclosure first and then planned the other two based on it to create a triangle? Or did different groups build them over time?

According to archaeologist Anna Belfer-Cohen, who, full disclosure, was not a part of the study, quote:

“[I]t is more likely that there were many different groups that considered this entire area sacred and converged on it to erect the enclosures, rather than a single group that went crazy and just constructed these complexes day and night.”
So, who were these people? And what were they doing there?

Was it a settlement or a city of some kind? Schmidt didn’t think so, mostly because there’s so few residential buildings and not much evidence of cultivation in the surrounding land.

Instead, he believed the site was a sanctuary and regional pilgrimage center where people gathered to perform religious rites.

The site does contain a lot of butchered animal bones, which may be evidence of feeding large numbers of people or for sacrifices.

But recent evidence shows that Schmidt may have been wrong about that. In fact, the site may have supported a semi-sedentary population from the beginning.
And it was kinda found by accident.

After Schmidt died in 2014 the site became a bit of a tourist attraction, so they decided to put up a giant fabric canopy to provide shade.

To do so they had to dig deep into the earth to build a foundation for the canopy, way deeper than they’d ever dug before down to the bedrock.

And it was way down there that they found evidence of houses and a year-round settlement. So, it may have been a thriving village with large buildings at its center for special events.

They also found a large cistern, channels for collecting rainwater, and thousands of grinding tools for processing grain.

As Schmidt’s successor Lee Clare told BBC in August 2021:

“Göbekli Tepe is still a unique, special site, but the new insights fit better with what we know from other sites. It was a fully-fledged settlement with permanent occupation. It’s changed our whole understanding of the site.”
So, cool, Göbekli Tepe was a fully-fledged civilization. Except not cool. Because that kinda breaks history.

As I said before, our understanding has always been that places like this were only possible after the advent of farming. Stonehenge, the pyramids, even the astronomical site of Nabta Playa that goes back 7,000 years, all of these coincide with the earliest use of agriculture.

Göbekli Tepe may even go back as far as 15,000 years ago. Not only way earlier than agriculture, but way before there were domesticated pack animals or metal tools. This whole thing was done by human hands.

This required massive amounts of effort and coordination. Which leads to maybe the biggest mystery of all – why? Why was it built in the first place?

A pair of chemical engineers made headlines in 2017 when they suggested that the animal carvings on the site’s pillars lined up with the positions of stars thousands of years ago.

They argued in a paper published in Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry that the vulture stone carved on Pillar 43 is a “date stamp” for a comet strike 13,000 years ago.
As the study’s lead author Martin Sweatman said in a press release:

“It appears Göbekli Tepe was, among other things, an observatory for monitoring the night sky. One of its pillars seems to have served as a memorial to this devastating event — probably the worst day in history since the end of the Ice Age.”

This idea… isn’t shared by everyone. The archaeologists on the ground weren’t buying it, saying quote:

“It is highly unlikely that early Neolithic hunters in Upper Mesopotamia recognized the exact same celestial constellations as described by ancient Egyptian, Arabian, and Greek scholars, which still populate our imagination today.”
To be clear, I don’t think they’re suggesting that the positions of the stars would have changed in that time, just that when they looked at those stars, it’s unlikely they would have seen the same symbols that future civilizations would have seen.

Keep in mind, the Greeks thought this was a bear. So, you know… interpretations change.

Maybe even more mind-blowing is that Göbekli Tepe was just the beginning. Turkish archaeologists working in the countryside around the site have found dozens of similar hilltop sites, all of them with T-shaped pillars and dating from around the same time period.

And in fact, some of these other sites show evidence that people were experimenting with domesticated animals and plants. So some believe the Göbekli Tepe site may have been a last-ditch effort by a hunter-gatherer society to hang on to their vanishing lifestyle as the world was transitioning to farming.

A society struggling to adapt as a new technology takes hold? What must that be like?

One piece of evidence supporting that theory is that Göbekli Tepe’s stone carvings feature animals that you wouldn’t have seen every day in that area.

As Clare said:

“They’re more than just pictures, they’re narratives, which are very important in keeping groups together and creating a shared identity.”
So we know that Göbekli Tepe wasn’t alone. But now we know that it may not have even been the oldest.

Boncuklu Tarla in southeastern Turkey resembles the discoveries found at Göbekli Tepe but could be 1,000 years older than Göbekli.

Located 300 kilometers (186 miles) east of Göbekli, Boncuklu Tarla’s excavations have unearthed houses, private and public buildings, 130 skeletons, and more than 100,000 beads.
Karahan Tepe is about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from Göbekli Tepe and is considered its sister site.

Findings suggest it was active during the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period, and has a lot of similarities with Göbekli’s Layer II.

These include 266 T-shaped pillars and animal reliefs depicting birds, gazelles, insects, rabbits, and snakes.

The site also includes circular homes and ceremonial structures, like one chamber that contains 11 giant phalluses watched over by a bearded head with a serpent’s body.

Like you do.

Unlike Göbekli Tepe, there are more depictions of humans at Karahan Tepe. This could mean people then began to see themselves as distinct from the animal world.

The site was intentionally buried and abandoned over time. Which seems to be the fate for most of these Turkish sites. For reasons that we may never know.
But before I close this thing out, I feel like if we’re going to talk about ancient cities, we probably should talk about Jericho.

Göbekli Tepe gets a lot of attention because it’s sexy and mysterious, but Jericho is almost as old, and it’s been continuously inhabited this whole time.

Jericho is, in fact, the world’s oldest continuously inhabited city.

The famous Tower of Jericho is one of the first indications that hunter-gathers stayed and built a community in the area, and it was built around 12,000 years ago.

The exact purpose of the tower has long been debated. It was built to be seen, and it could have been a gathering place for the community.

Jericho likely transitioned completely to farming around 7,000 years ago.

There’s evidence that people there grew barley, chickpeas, lentils, and wheat. They also domesticated goats and sheep.

The city was also located next to a huge spring, making it an ideal place to live for many years.
So Jericho was able to adapt with the times and transition to new technologies, new societies, new religions even… But they are the exception to the rule. Most ancient cities eventually fall and crumble under the weight of time.

And I’m sure there are many other ancient cities to be found. Fully-fledged civilizations confidently sure of their superiority and place at the center of a universe that was created just for them. People who couldn’t possibly imagine their great cities and ceremonial places could ever be forgotten to history. And yet, here we are.

I guess you could say, feeling timeless is timeless.

Countdown To Launch With Felix Schlang – Episode 18

Felix Schlang is the host of the YouTube channel What About It, where he covers space news, especially the testing and construction of the SpaceX Starship. Over the last few years, he has built his following to a quarter of a million fans and recently moved from his home in Germany to Florida to be closer to the space action.

You can follow his channel at

New Evidence In The Dyatlov Pass Mystery

In 1959, a team of experienced hikers in Russia went missing. When they were finally discovered, all 9 of them lie dead, under very mysterious circumstances. This event, known as the Dyatlov Pass incident, has gone down as one of the most mysterious deaths of all time. But some new data may have solved the mystery once and for all.


Maybe a similar story of a mystery that conjured up all kinds of crazy theories that turned out to be something basic and mundane.


Basic bitch version…

A couple of years back I did a video on 4 Mysterious Deaths and Disappearances, which no list of mysterious deaths would be complete without talking about the Dyatlov Pass incident.

So, I’ve covered this topic before, but there’s a lot more to the story than I was able to get across in just a few minutes, and there’s been some research in the last year that seems to kinda tie this mystery up in a bow. Most of it anyway.

So why waste time? It’s the Dyatlov Pass incident, it’s one of the weirdest internet mysteries in the world, and it might be solved, let’s talk about it.

On Jan. 27, 1959, seven men and women went on a hiking and skiing trip in the Ural Mountains of Russia.

Their plan was to hike from the city of Vizhay (vee-zhy) to the top of a mountain named Otorten. It was going to cover 306 kilometers (190 miles) over 14 days.

Let me stop for a second and acknowledge something I never hear people talk about when this mystery comes up, this was an ambitious and dangerous trip these guys were on.

They were going to be hiking, camping, and skiing for two straight weeks over nearly 200 miles of mountains in Russia, in January. I think it’s safe to say there were a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong.

The group consisted of graduates and students from Ural Polytechnical Institute. All of them were experienced hikers and skiers. Which they would have to be to attempt a trip like that. In fact, that’s one of the things that people point to, is that the fact they were such experienced hikers makes this whole thing even weirder.

To be fair, there are some super weird circumstances around this particular expedition.

Okay, so they left on January 27th. There was a 10th member of the group named Yuri Yudin. He got sick at the start of the trip and dropped out.

Dyatlov told Yudin he would send a telegram to their sports club when they returned to Vizhay.

This was supposed to happen by February 12th, but he told Yudin it could be longer.

So, that day passes with no message. Nobody thinks anything of it.

But then more and more days pass. Relatives got concerned and demanded a rescue mission.

The first rescue group of volunteers set out on February 20th. Then the army and police got involved.

The hiking group was located on February 26th. This is when things get strange.

Let’s start with an abandoned tent.

It was half torn, covered in snow, and all of the hikers’ belongings were still in it, including their shoes.

Even stranger: It looked like it had been cut from the inside.

Footprints were found. They lead to the woods nearby to the bodies of Doroshenko and Krivonischenko, who were beside the remnants of a fire.

Also, they were wearing only their underwear.

A nearby tree had broken branches up about five meters (16 feet) that suggested they climbed the tree to look for something.

Traces of skin in the bark supported that theory.

Searchers found Dyatlov and Kolmogorova’s bodies the next day between the tent and the woods. Slobodin’s body was found on March 5.

All three looked like they tried to return to the tent, and like the others, were found in only their underwear. Medical examiners named hypothermia as the cause of their deaths.

While the fact that they were found half-naked is strange, there is a logical explanation.

It’s called paradoxical undressing, and it’s something that happens a lot in the final stages of hypothermia.

As the nerves become damaged and brain functions start to dwindle, it creates a sensation of extreme heat. People feel like they’re burning up, so they strip off their clothes, which of course only accelerates the process.

The searchers found the rest of the bodies over the next couple of months. But more mysteries appeared.

It took the searchers longer to find the other group members because they were in a ravine covered in snow, 76 meters (250 feet) from the tree mentioned earlier and close to an improvised shelter.

These members were dressed better than the others, but they had fatal injuries, like chest fractures and skull damage.

One of them was even missing her tongue.

One doctor described the internal injuries as similar in force to what you’d receive in a car crash, but there were no external wounds.

The weirdest thing of all: Some of their clothes were radioactive.

The government’s official statement at the time was that Dyatlov committed a series of mistakes and the group died from overwhelming natural forces.

Some of the mysteries have logical answers.

We already talked about the reason for the disrobing. An animal may have taken the missing tongue.

But the strange jumble of other evidence has caused some wild speculation about what happened to the hikers.

Why did they abandon their tent, cutting themselves out instead of just unzipping it?

What caused the internal injuries with no external ones?

And what’s with the radioactive clothes?

So, there are a few theories about what exactly happened to them.

One is that an Indigenous people in the area called the Mansi attacked them. But the Mansi are known to be peaceful, and there were no indications of an attack.

Another theory is wild animals killed them. Investigators didn’t see any evidence to support this.

And then some people think the group ate psychedelic mushrooms, which lead to their disorientation.

Of course, some people believe things like a Yeti or aliens attacked them.

An interesting bit is that other hikers in the area did report seeing orange globs in the sky around the same time the hikers were traveling.

But that could be related to parachute mine tests the Soviet military was conducting at the time in that region.

Those mines are known to cause internal, but not external, damage to bodies. So, maybe that was it?

Or could infrasound lead to their deaths?

A wind phenomenon named the “Kármán vortex street” can create a powerful and terrifying sound.

Winds blowing through the pass could’ve been warped as they hit the sides of the mountain. This would’ve created a series of small tornadoes with deafening noise.

Under certain conditions, the noise can be subtle and produce infrasound, a vibration in the air with a frequency so low human ears can’t detect it.

Studies have shown that it can affect humans with sleep loss, shortness of breath, and extreme dread.

While that sounds interesting, I think the most plausible explanation is something more common than that: An avalanche.

Now, the area they were in wasn’t very steep. Plus, their diaries said the snow was thin at the time.

But there are some new findings that show it could’ve been a slab avalanche.

There are two main types of avalanches: loose snow and slab. And they behave very differently.

All avalanches have massive potential energy, how much depends on their height and the mass of snow.

For example, if a small avalanche contains 1,000 kilograms of snow, its force is 9,810 newtons.
Loose snow avalanches often start on a small area and expand as they move.

They are caused by snow getting deposited at a steeper angle than the snow’s natural angle of repose.

Slab avalanches are different. And way more dangerous.
With slab avalanches, instead of a little bit of snow slowly accumulating and spreading out, an entire layer of snow slides away all at once.

Basically the force of gravity overcomes the bond between the snow layers and they just separate.

This massive amount of snow falling all at once packs a giant whallop, and it doesn’t take a lot to trigger them; sometimes it’s the wind, sometimes it’s the victim themselves.

The avalanche theory for the Dyatlov Pass is the most plausible.

But it was the slab avalanche theory that was proposed by two scientists based in Switzerland in a study published in Communications Earth & Environment in 2021.

The scientists in question are Johan Gaume and Alexander Puzrin, and what they did was they scoured Soviet archives about the incident, and then applied computer avalanche simulations to it.

There were some questions they wanted to answer:

  •  Such as why there weren’t obvious signs of an avalanche when the search team arrived 26 days later,
  • whether the slope angle above the tent was steep enough for an avalanche,
  •  why the skull and thorax injuries weren’t typical for avalanche victims.
  • And whether the hikers made a cut into the slope for the tent,

That last one has been a bit of a debate for a while but that’s a common thing that campers do in the snow, they clear out a little space in a snow bank and then use that snow bank as a barrier against wind.

The theory is that the campers did that when they set up their tent, and may have triggered a slab avalanche that then fell on top of them.

The big question is what caused the delay in the avalanche? Why didn’t it trigger an avalanche right when they cut it? Why did it wait until several hours later before it fell on them?

Their theory suggests that there might have been a deeply buried weak snow layer that might have been strong enough to support the weight above at first, but that strong katabatic winds in the area slowly accumulated snow over the hours, eventually causing the weak layer to give way.

And according to their computer models, this would support the argument that an avalanche could have occurred between 7.5 and 13.5 hours after the hikers made the cut.
As the researchers wrote in their study:

“Dynamic avalanche simulations suggest that even a relatively small slab could have led to severe but non-lethal thorax and skull injuries, as reported by the post-mortem examination.”
They concluded that pitching a tent on an even mild slope of fewer than 30 degrees can be dangerous.

There were some objections to this theory.

These included that there wasn’t any snow cover on the slope, there wasn’t any wind the night of the incident, the slope is too flat, and avalanches don’t happen in that area.

They did find two Russian scientists to confirm that there was snow on the slope and that wind was present that day and night.

For the objection about how flat the slope is, the researchers helped organizers who were producing a documentary called “The Dyatlov Mystery.”

Two expeditions to the area were completed in March and September 2021. The winter expedition had snow cover, so they weren’t able to see the terrain’s topography.

But the summer session was clearer, and they were able to use a drone to create a high-res 3-D digital model of the area’s terrain.

And what they found was steps in the terrain with inclinations exceeding 28 degrees, and many steeper slopes of more than 30 degrees.

The slopes weren’t just local. They were everywhere, meaning you would likely be below one no matter where you pitched your tent.

To test the theory that avalanches don’t happen in that area, the organized another expedition to see for themselves, but it didn’t go well.

They set out on snowmobiles but hit some nasty weather. Like the wind was gusting so hard it was blowing them over kind of weather.

And when they finally got there, they found evidence of not just one slab avalanche, but two of them.

In fact, since the study’s publication, there have been several documented slab avalanches on the eastern slop away from the Daytlov group tent.

The mountain guides reported that one of the slab avalanches was invisible after less than an hour of snowing.

So the fact that they didn’t find any evidence of an avalanche three weeks after the incident, doesn’t really mean much.
As the researchers wrote:

“In such severe weather conditions the Pass cannot be easily accessed by hikers, while traces of small slab avalanches disappear within few hours.”

As for some of the other mysteries, like the fact that one of the bodies was missing a tongue… That’s not that unusual with bodies found in nature.

Yeah, when scavengers find a body, they often focus on the mouth and the eyes because… well, they’re holes.

Why spend the energy tearing a hole through the flesh of an animal when there’s a perfectly good hole right there? One with a big, loosely connected muscle just hanging out inside of it.

It’s an easy meal for a scavenger. So, there’s nothing really weird about that.

Another part of the mystery is that their clothes were slightly radioactive, which has led some to think that they were killed by some kind of nuclear test.

But the amount of radiation on their clothes was way too little to be harmful or be from a nuclear blast. My guess is they had some old items with glow in the dark paint on them.

I know old school clocks used glow in the dark paint that had radium in it – I did a whole video on the Radium Girls, which was insane.

But I imagine there could have been multiple pieces of camping equipment that had glow-in-the-dark paint on it so you can use it at night, and when impacted by the avalanche may have broken and scattered that paint on their clothes.

The only other bit of woo-woo around the story were the reports of seeing lights in the sky by other people in the area on the night it happened.

This is mostly unsubstantiated and most people believe that if there were any lights in the area they were probably from military exercises.

Which, to be fair, might have helped set off the avalanche.

I think mostly the avalanche theory wasn’t considered for a long time because they didn’t think there was enough of a slope, that’s just not something you see on areas that flat.

And these guys were experienced enough hikers to know what is a dangerous slope and what is safe.

But maybe in this instance, there might have been an optical illusion that made it look flatter than it was, they might have been a little off due to exhaustion, combine that with a hidden weak layer of snow and some unfortunate winds… Well there you go.

Now the researchers are quick to point out that they haven’t completely solved the case, there’s no way to definitively prove this is what happened. But they did show that it was plausible.

And in my experience with these types of cases, the most mundane answer is usually the most likely.

I know, I’m a huge buzzkill.

But I actually like finding answers like that, when you think there’s a big fantastical mystery and then you find out that oh, it’s just, you know, the guy tripped or something.

Kinda shows just how random life can be sometimes. And to me that’s the most interesting thing of all.

For the record, I don’t think there’s anything random about a group of hikers on a 2-week trek through the Russian mountains in January getting hit by an avalanche. In fact, I’d call it pretty darn inevitable in the long run.

All the same, rest in peace comrades.

6 Inventors Who Were Killed By Their Own Inventions

In the endless march of innovation, you’re going to have some missteps along the way. From balloon accidents to questionable bed apparatuses, here are 6 inventors who were killed by their own inventions.


There’s a vault in Paris at the ________, where inside a lead-lined box you will find a set of notebooks that nobody is allowed to handle without proper protection, because these books could kill you.There’s a vault in Paris at the ________, where inside a lead-lined box you will find a set of notebooks that nobody is allowed to handle without proper protection, because these books could kill you.
Consider for a moment a lead-lined box in the vault of the National Library in Paris. Inside you’ll find a simple set of notebooks.
Only a few people are allowed to handle these books and even they have to wear protective gear and can only handle them for a little bit at a time.

These measures might seem normal, important documents are often subject to extreme measures to keep them safe. The difference here is these rules aren’t in place to protect the documents. It’s to protect the people handling them.
That’s because these notebooks belonged to Marie Curie. Marie Curie was of course the chemist who discovered radium and radioactivity in general while she was at it.
She was seriously one of the most impressive scientists of the modern age, to this day she’s the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different disciplines, Chemistry and Physics.
And yet, there was so much she didn’t know, like the dangers of the radioactivity she discovered.
She handled radium and other radioactive materials with her bare hands, leading her to sadly develop aplastic anemia, and died at the age of 66.
And her notebooks, which she handled right alongside the radioactive materials she was studying, remain dangerously radioactive to this day.
It’s a prime example of someone who got a little too close to their work and paid the ultimate price for it. So today let’s take a look at some other inventors who were killed by their own inventions.

To compile this list, I had to kinda create some ground rules to define what it means exactly to be an inventor. To be honest, starting things off with Marie Curie might be a bit disingenuous because she didn’t invent radium, she discovered it.
But that thing with the notebooks is crazy, right?

So yeah, I cut out people like stuntmen, daredevils, and inventors who were so recklessly overconfident, their end was inevitable.  Franz Reichelt, I’m looking at you. —

Some of these guys were sincerely trying to advance the human race, some were just trying to one-up other people, some… maybe got what they deserved? I’ll let you be the judge of that.
Some might say that our first story falls into that category.

#1 Thomas Midgley, Jr

Thomas Midgley, Jr may be the best example of a “looking to make a buck” inventor, and possibly the least sympathetic character in this video. It’s also probably the oddest, most non-sequitor   ending of them all. If you laugh, I won’t judge you.
I’ve talked about Midgley before in my video about the Montreal Protocol, he’s the guy at General Motors who developed leaded gasoline that poisoned the air and chlorofluorocarbons that, you know… put a giant hole in the sky.
Well done, you twat.

In fact, it’s been said that no single human being in history has caused more harm to the environment than Thomas Midgley, Jr.

And you might say that’s not fair because he couldn’t foresee the unintended consequences of these things, but he probably knew at least the leaded gas was a bad idea. Multiple workers died at his chemical plants.

And Midgley himself got lead poisoning so bad he had to take a leave of absence from his job to recover.
So I mean, he knew. But he pushed it anyway. 

In 1940, he was stricken with polio.  The disease progressed to the point that he couldn’t get in and out of bed by himself anymore, so being a clever guy, he designed a harness and pulley system that allowed him that would lift him up and swing him over without needing anybody else’s help.
And just like his other inventions, he was smart enough to create it, but not smart enough to survive it.
One day in 1944, he got twisted up in the harness. One of the ropes got wrapped around his neck and he died of strangulation at the age of 55.

At least… That’s the official story.
There’s an argument he was lucky to die before he knew the damage he’d done.  Considering his reputation and ability to kinda compartmentalize the consequences of his inventions, I’m not quite sure he would have seen it that way.

#2 Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier

Next up is Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier.

And before I get into this one, I would like to extend an apology to the entire country of France for my pronunciation of his name.
de Rozier was a chemist, kinda like Midgley, but 200 years earlier.
He was also a physicist, and a contemporary of the Montgolfier brothers, who were early pioneers in balloon flight. You might remember them from my airships video.
In June 1783, de Rozier watched an unpiloted test of a Montgolfier hot air balloon, and he was hooked.  In September of that year, he helped the brothers impress King Louis XVI by sending a sheep, a duck, and a rooster on a balloon flight.
They then all walked into a bar and a hilarious joke ensued.

Anyway, de Rozier quickly escalated his balloon game and started making his own flights.
On November 21, 1783, he became the first person to pilot a hot air balloon without a safety tether.
Other balloonists followed, and a race soon started to see who would be the first to cross the English Channel in a balloon.  
de Rozier didn’t win. It was a fellow Frenchman named Jean-Pierre-François Blanchard who got there first in January 1785.

There is an asterisk on Blanchard’s flight though because he was piloting a hydrogen balloon, which was lighter than a hot air version, and even then, he had to dump all his extra weight to make it across, including his food and his pants.

Pretty awkward celebration at the landing point.
So de Rozier wasn’t the first one across but he thought he could be the first one across with his junk covered so he kept soldiering on.
He still wanted to make it across using hot air because of the buoyancy and control it provides but seeing that hydrogen worked, he developed something of a compromise.
He invented a hybrid balloon, where part of the lift was generated by hydrogen, part by hot air. Warmed with an open flame.  Where could this be going?

Before I get to the inevitable conclusion of this story, I should point out that hybrid balloons are totally a thing, and they’re named after him; they’re called Rozières and they’re kinda awesome.
Rozières fly a lot farther on less fuel, in fact, the first non-stop balloon flight around the world was in a Rozière.  But that happened centuries after this story.
I should also point out that modern Rozières use helium instead of hydrogen…

…And here’s why.

Truth be told, there are conflicting reports as to what exactly happened on Rozier’s final flight. Some say it burst into flames, some say it didn’t but pretty much everybody agrees that it got blown off-course.

Either way, the balloon plunged to the ground, killing Rozier and his co-pilot, who was also his brother.
There’s an artist’s impression of the crash that shows an unburnt balloon.  The artist may have been trying to be kind.  There is one account that suggests that hydrogen leaked out because of a faulty valve. A problem that has apparently never been solved.
However they died, the wreck made Jean François Pilâtre de Rozier’s and his brother the first fatalities in the history of manned aviation.

#3 Harry Smolinski

They were, of course, far from the last. As our next story shows.
Allow me to introduce you to Harry Smolinski, the inventor of the flying Pinto.

The Ford Motor Company introduced the Pinto in 1970.  It was a cheap, subcompact car that some poor souls considered sporty.
Later, it would develop a reputation for exploding after relatively minor impacts.

But in 1973, those problems haven’t quite cropped up yet. So when he had the idea of converting a car into a plane by attaching a wing and engines, the Pinto seemed like the perfect fit.
And to be fair, he was the right guy to do it. He had a degree in aeronautical engineering and worked for nine years at Rocketdyne. So he knew his stuff.
So, he started a company called Advanced Vehicle Engineers, hoping to sell modified Pintos with detachable air-frames for $15,000, the equivalent of 100,000 today.

The idea being, you drive your Pinto around like a normal car but when you want to fly somewhere, just drive to the airport, attach the airframe, and in 30 minutes or so, you’re in the air.

I mean… it’s not the worst flying car idea.

He named his prototype the AVE Mizar, after a double star in the Big Dipper, and it lifted off for the first time on August 26, 1973.
It wasn’t a perfect flight. The right wing started wobbling, so the pilot couldn’t turn. He just flew the car straight and eventually landed in a field.
They worked on the problem and a couple weeks later, the Mizar was ready for another test.  The pilot wasn’t available, so Smolinski decided to fly himself, this time he brought his business partner along, a guy named Hal Blake.

The air traffic controller watched the Pinto take off, but after taking a turn, he said he saw the wing fail. And pretty spectacularly, apparently, he said he saw parts scattering everywhere.
The car took a dive, clipped a tree and slammed into a pickup truck. And exploded.
Any kidding aside, the crash killed Harry Smolinksi and Hal Blake, and with them any hope that the flying Pinto could be a thing. The company folded, and the flying car has remained just out of reach to this day.

#4 Valerian Ivanovich Abakovsky

Soviet inventor Valerian Ivanovich Abakovsky had a similar idea, but instead of a flying car, he tried to invent a flying train.
1920s Russia was a land of opportunity for young engineers.  The Bolshevik government was eager to modernize the country and show off their technological prowess.
Plus it’s a giant country so they were eager to improve their transportation infrastructure.
Abakovsky worked as a chauffeur when he wasn’t engineering. So maybe he was just chilling in a limo when he first read about a German attempt to create a high-speed locomotive with a

The idea didn’t really go anywhere in Germany because the strict sanctions at the time after World War 1 made it hard to get parts, but Abakovsky realized he’d have no trouble with that in Russia.
So he pitched the idea, got enthusiastic funding from the government for all the reasons I just mentioned, and thus the Aerowagon was born.
It really was like a combination of a plane and a train, and they actually got it up to 140 km/h in tests.

So in July 1921, the Aerowagon set off on its first inaugural trip, and it actually got a huge vote of confidence from the Soviet state because they had several high-ranking party officials on board.
I feel like it’s worth mentioning, Abakovsky was only 24 years old at the time.
They set off on the morning of July 24th with 22 people on board, including Abakovsky and those high ranking officials.
They made their way from Moscow to Tula, a distance of 193 kilometers at an average speed of 40-to-45 km/h, about the same speed the trains go today.
Great success!

It was on the return trip that everything went wrong.  And it happened for the same reason many things went wrong in the Soviet era. The party officials wanted something, and nobody had the power to say no.

Reportedly the VIPs were tired and wanted to get home, so they insisted they go faster. It’s unknown how Abakovsky felt about it, but they doubled the speed to over 80 km/h.
And it was at this speed when the Aerowagon derailed. Six of the 22 passengers died at the scene, including Abakovsky himself.  One man died later.
This would go down as the worst train-plane hybrid accident until Starscream threw Megatron from Astrotrain in the Transformers Movie.

Seriously, it was a devastating blow.  The Russians abandoned aerowagon as a concept until 1970, and no model never left the lab.Now, in Abakovsky’s defense, there are some that think this wasn’t his fault. That in fact, the train was sabotaged.
There was a guy named Artem Fedorovich Sergeev, who was the son of one of the VIPs that died, he claims that the train was intentionally derailed to get rid of some of those high-ranking officials.

He was actually taken in by Joseph Stalin after his father died so he might have had access to information that others wouldn’t.  And it wouldn’t be the first or last time that high-ranking Russian officials, you know, “had an accident.”

#5 Horace Lawson Hunley

Go back another 60 years or so and you get the story of Horace Lawson Hunley, the inventor of the first submarine.
The time was the American Civil War, and the Confederates were being crippled by Union blockades of their ports, which prevented weapons and supplies from reaching the troops.
The situation got so desperate, they began offering bounties on Union warships. A single ship could bring a bounty of 50,000 Confederate dollars, which would be worth a million today, if Confederate dollars were worth anything.

That was enough money to get Hunley to partner with engineer and former steamship captain James McClintock to build a submarine.  
It should be noted that attempts to build a battle sub go all the way back to 1775, but none had yet managed to sink a ship.

Hunley and McClintock thought the time had come.  They built a sub named Pioneer but had to destroy it when the city where they were testing fell to the enemy.
Their second attempt produced a sub that had to be abandoned due to design flaws.
But the third time, they got it right.  Hunley financed this one himself, so it was named for him.  The H.L. Hunley, and it proved to be really good at killing people.  Those people being its crew.

Five sailors died during a test in August 1863, when a sailor stepped on a lever that opened hatches during a dive. Whoops.
Another test on October 15th killed 8 people when they attempted to dive under a ship at anchor and basically angled too steep and got stuck in the mud. All the sailors on board drowned.
One of those eight sailors was Hunley himself.
A little post-script to this story is that they did resurrect the Hunley and put it back into service, this time under the command of Lieutenant George Dixon. And this time, it actually worked.
Early the next year, the H. L. Hunley attacked and sank the Union ship Housatonic, becoming the first submersible to sink an enemy ship. And then promptly sank itself. For a third time.
Ironically, this took place in 25 feet of water so all the Union sailors were able to climb up the rigging and survived. Meanwhile all eight of the Hunley crew drowned.

So yes, technically the Hunley was the first successful military submarine. If by success you mean it killed 21 of your guys and none of the enemy.
By the way, when the Hunley sank, it kinda disappeared. Nobody knew what happened to it until 1995 when the wreck was found off the coast of South Carolina.
It was raised in the year 2000 and today you can go see it at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston. Don’t recommend trying to sail away in it though.

#6 William Bullock

William Bullock was an inventor who created the rotary press for newspaper printing, though you could argue he’s more of an innovator than an inventor. The rotary press was invented a decade beforehand but his improvements were so substantial he tends to get the credit for it.

Before Bullock’s press, paper sheets had to be fed by hand.  Bullock created a way for the press to draw its paper continuously from a large roll.  
He also added mechanisms for cutting and folding paper.

The patent for Bullock’s press was granted in 1863, and this massively improved the speed and efficiency of newspaper printing. In fact, a similar process is still used in printers today.
Unfortunately, he didn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his labor for very long. Four years after his patent was granted, he suffered a horrifying accident under his own invention.
Apparently he found a belt that was becoming dislodged from a pulley and tried to kick it back on. The problem is he didn’t turn off the machine first.
He probably thought he could just give it a quick little tap and pop it back on there while it was moving, in fact he’d probably done that dozens of times by that point but this particular time, his foot got caught in the belt and the machine crushed his leg.

Fortunately for him, it didn’t suck his entire body under there – the damage was limited to his leg – unfortunately for him penicillin was 60 years in the future, so the leg became gangrenous.
The doctors amputated his leg, but it was too little too late.  He died ten days later from surgical complications.
In a sad twist, the bank that had financed his press folded after Bullock died.  In the fallout, the bank’s former president ended up owning Bullock’s company.  It continued selling presses, but none of the money went to Mrs Bullock or her children.

For 97 years, William Bullock rested in an unmarked grave at Union Dale Cemetery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  In 1964, a magazine article raised enough interest to fund a marker and headstone.  One of the attendants of the ceremony was Bullock’s great-grandson.

Worthy Sacrifice?

Bullock’s death wasn’t the most sensational but I saved it for last because it kinda feels the most human, you know? I mean, who hasn’t kicked a machine out of frustration a time or two?

And I’d like to say that all these guys died for a reason, you know, pushing the human race forward and all that but Midgley and Hunley were on the wrong side of history, Smolinski and Abakovsky’s inventions died with them.
de Rozier might be the exception. He helped kick off an industry that’s changed the world, and a version of his invention is still flying today. You can’t help but wonder what else he could have done if he’d survived.

Maybe just finish on a note here about how some of these guys were reckless or foolish but in the end, their mistakes advanced engineering and helped shape the world today.
Going back to the beginning, of course is Marie Curie, who put her body on the line and changed the world in the process. Of course, cue the comments telling me she wasn’t an inventor though.

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