Tag Archives: regenerative medicine

On Football, CTE, And Its (Not So) Bleak Future

When you love something a lot, you’ll make any excuse possible to keep loving it, no matter how unhealthy it may be. Whether it’s a toxic relationship or skydiving naked over the arctic, our desire to love and preserve such love knows no bounds. It’s a testament to the power of excuses and our capacity for excuse banking.

We’ve all loved something that may or may not be unhealthy, if not downright toxic, at some point in our lives. We may know in the back of our heads that it’s unhealthy. We may even admit it to someone. That still doesn’t stop us from loving it. We’ll still try to find a way to make that love work. Like an alcoholic or a heavy smoker in denial, we don’t want to admit its a problem. In the long run, it often comes back to hurt us.

I say all this because in recent years, there are a growing number of voices calling American football the new tobacco. Apparently, getting hit in the head by a bunch of 200-pound athletes is just as dangerous as inhaling smoke. In the same way smoking contributes to dreaded diseases like lung cancer, football contributes to a new dreaded disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

CTE has become the most dreaded three-letter acronym to football players since ACL. It is a new kind of disease, one that ravages the brain of former athletes. It causes all sorts of horrors such as headaches, memory loss, erratic behavior, dementia, tremors, vertigo, and suicidal tendencies. These are symptoms that can’t get more terrifying without involving explosive diarrhea.

It has already rocked the sport, so much so that it inspired a crappy Will Smith movie called “Concussion.” Sure, it tanked, but it helped raise awareness to the issue for fans and players alike. In wake of the deaths of several high-profile football players, including Hall of Famers like Ken Stabler and Junior Seau, it’s taken on a tragic element that cannot be ignored.

Then, just this past week, a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report that probably has everyone at NFL offices banging their heads against the wall, if only to provide a sense of irony. Of the 111 brains of former football players they studied, 110 showed signs of CTE. In terms of sheer math, you literally can’t get a correlation that more precise without being paid for by oil companies.

This has led many to speculate that football’s days are numbered. Never mind the fact that it’s still, by a wide margin, the most popular sport in America. Never mind the fact that it generates billions in revenue and has some of the most passionate fans of any sport. An issue like this is just too damaging. A disease as awful as CTE is bound to drive people away from this sport, right?

Okay, I’m going to stop with the dire doom-saying rhetoric and call a timeout on the whole conversation. I do so while freely admitting, and admitting proudly, that I love NFL football and football in general. It is my favorite sport. I build my entire Sundays around watching NFL games.

I acknowledge that it’s a violent sport, one that leads to major injuries for various players. I make no excuses in my love for that kind of gladiator-style violence. I’m as human as anyone else reading this blog. Violent sports appeal to the primal parts of our brains. Like admitting you love an extra orgasm every now and then, there’s nothing wrong with admitting you love contact sports.

Does that make fans and team owners bad people for promoting a sport that leads to such a terrible health ailment like CTE? The answer is no. It doesn’t, not unless you’re willing to say car companies and car buyers are terrible people for promoting a product that killed over 32,000 people in the United States alone in 2015.

However, football fans and the NFL can take comfort in the knowledge that car companies have already created a model for addressing issues like CTE. There was no getting around it, even during the days of Henry Ford. Cars could be very dangerous to those who drove them and drove them poorly. Early cars were basically steel death traps.

Since killing customers is never a good business practice, car companies invested heavily in new safety features. They developed now-standard features such as air bags, seat-belts, and even on-board computers that stop your car for you. Cars today are safer than they’ve ever been before.

So how does this help football? A car is different from a human brain by orders of magnitude. The sheer complexity of the human brain ensures that a helmet or an airbag just isn’t going to cut it in terms of protection. We barely understand how the damn thing works. How can we hope to protect it?

Well, keep in mind that people once said the same thing about mapping the human genome. The human brain isn’t some magical object that runs on wizard spells and unicorn farts. It’s a hunk of biomatter no bigger than a football, ironically enough. It operates on the basic rules of chemistry and biology. It’s not some rough-cut diamond wherein one single flaw means it can never be fixed.

The brain can and does heal itself. It has to in a chaotic world that most people struggle to process. Sure, the damage endured by football players is greater than most. You can say that about anyone who spends four hours out of the week putting a target on their head and inviting others to hit it. What you can’t say, however, is that the problem of damaged brains in contact sports is insurmountable.

We’re not talking about teaching quantum physics to a hamster, here. We’re talking about a physical problem with the human body. As flawed as the human body may be, it’s also fairly malleable. The brain is no exception.

Back in 2013, a kid in North Carolina had half his brain cut out to alleviate his debilitating seizures. There’s no amount of head trauma any football player could endure that’s akin to having half a brain cut out. However, the kid recovered and his brain was able to effectively rewire itself so he could live a fairly normal life. That’s because of a little thing called neuroplasticity.

That’s just a fancy technical way of saying the brain can rewire and repair itself. Given how humans adapted in an environment full of giant predators and coconuts falling from trees, we kind of need our brains to do that sort of thing. The only issue is we still don’t understand it. However, we do understand the horrific damage done by diseases like CTE.

Therein lies the flaw in debate surrounding the future of football. It deals with something with which we don’t have a clear understanding. Even those who participated in the CTE study clearly admitted that it had its flaws. One of the researchers said:

“Families don’t donate brains of their loved ones unless they’re concerned about the person. So all the players in this study, on some level, were symptomatic. That leaves you with a very skewed population.”

That’s entirely understandable and a common problem within the realm of science. However, that will do little to alleviate the fear and dread among football players and football fans. We’re already seeing some players retire early due to concerns about concussions. Who can blame them, though? It’s a scary thought, the idea that playing a sport you love will destroy your brain.

However, fear often obscures the lens of reality. Add doom-saying, such as those who think a multi-billion dollar industry like the NFL is going to die, and you can expect reality to disappear from the conversation. The truth, in a sense, is not something you’ll find in a Will Smith movie. It also gives football fans and football players reason to hope.

Since the problem of CTE is a physical health problem, then that means there is a medical solution. Sure, there’s a lot we don’t understand about the human brain or healing it, but you could’ve made that same argument back in the 80s when AIDS was first discovered. For a while, that was a true death sentence. Now, we have treatments that make the disease manageable.

Keep in mind, though, that diseases like AIDS didn’t have a multi-billion dollar industry like the NFL with huge incentives to develop such treatments. When there’s a problem to be solved and there’s a multi-billion dollar industry with an incentive to solve it, you can probably assume said industry will invest billions in treating that problem.

That means if you’re a brain researcher and you develop a treatment for concussions, you can expect a lot of money from the NFL and various sports organizations to support you. Hell, Jerry Jones from the Dallas Cowboys will probably fly you to a resort and have the Dallas Cheerleaders give you unlimited massages.

CTE is a major issue, but it’s a solvable issue. On top of preventative measures like better helmets, medical science can help. That same science is what cured Small Pox, Polio, and is on the verge of eliminating many diseases with tools like CRISPR. It’s more than up to the challenge to tackle something like CTE.

Now that awareness of the disease is growing, you can expect the NFL and medical science to start pressuring it. That’s why football is going to be okay. This isn’t like smoking. This isn’t like human sacrifice. This is a problem that can only be solved with better tools. Say what you will about the flaws in humanity. We’re still exceptionally good at certain things and making tools is one of them.

For the players playing now, it’s definitely scary. However, that’s only because there’s still plenty we don’t know. It’s not an insurmountable challenge though. It is possible to defy the odds. If anyone knows that better than most, it’s NFL players. Just ask the 2007 New York Giants.

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Superman Vs. Boredom: Why It Matters (For Your Love Life)

In talking so much about boredom, it can get kind of boring just dwelling on it so much. I don’t know if that counts as irony or a paradox, but I think it’s kind of poetic. The more we contemplate the impact boredom has on our lives and our society, the more we realize just how powerful it is and how quick we are to avoid talking about it.

We still don’t know the true impacts of crippling boredom on society because, for the moment, there are plenty of distractions, jobs, and obligations to keep people busy. Horrific stories like the murder of Christopher Lane, which was allegedly inspired by boredom, will continue to be rare and newsworthy, at least for the near future.

However, there may very well be future generations, including those that will emerge within our lifetime, that will have to deal with a growing glut of boredom. Between advances in biotechnology that will cure disease and the rise of automation, which may necessitate a universal basic income, this may be an issue that impacts us sooner than we think.

That brings me to Superman. Bear with me. I promise that’s not a non-sequiter. I’ve used comic book superheroes before to make my points, be they inspiration for one of my novels or examples of a sex-positive female character. I even cited comics when I singled out Vandal Savage as a villain forged by boredom. For the purposes of this post I need to cite him again, but Superman will be the primary focus.

Being the personification of our ideals and morals, the things that affect Superman also affect and I’m not just referring to kryptonite. If the epitome of our heroes and the icon of our most cherished values cannot handle a certain burden, then what hope do we have? That’s why when there’s a flaw with Superman, one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe, we need to take notice.

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In a sense, Superman and the immoral villain, Vandal Savage, are indirectly linked. They’re facing the same overwhelming burden and neither of them has found a way to effectively deal with it. The only difference is that Savage had a huge head start. Superman will catch up eventually and that’s where the true struggle resides.

Based on his current power set, which has been prone to change over the years, Superman is functionally immoral. So long as he replenishes his powers with the energy of a yellow sun, he’ll never age and he’ll never die. That puts him in the same boat as Vandal Savage, who never ages and can’t die. That also means that, at some point, he’ll have to deal with the burden of crippling boredom.

That’s a burden that DC Comics has never had him deal with. Like so many other oversights, such as how glasses can be an effective disguise, it’s one of those flaws that’s easier to just ignore. However, it has been confronted to some extent and the implications for Superman, the real world, and our love lives is pretty distressing.

Image result for Superman struggling

Again, that’s not a non-sequiter. I brought up our love lives for a reason and it’s not just because I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer, although that is part of it. While we might not be immortal, our lifespan is increasing. There are emerging technologies that may very well make us functionally immortal. That’s going to, by default, affect our love lives just as it will affect Superman.

Nearly everyone, including non-comic book fans, know the extent of Superman’s love life. They may not know about that time he made a porno tape with Big Barda, but they know that Superman’s primary love interest is Lois Lane. His romance with Lois is, by nearly every measure, the most iconic romance in the history of superhero comics.

Image result for Superman and Lois Lane

While the romance has evolved a number of ways over time, the core themes remain the same. Lois Lane, being as human as they come, complements Superman in every meaningful way. She often acts as an emotional anchor of shorts, highlighting and strengthening the humanity within Superman. While she isn’t the primary source of Superman’s values, she is definitely a catalyst for strengthening them.

It’s a big part of what makes Superman so strong and so upstanding, with respect to his values. Lois Lane provides that sense of love and connection that reminds Superman that, despite being an alien, he has a strong sense of humanity. That is a humanity that Vandal Savage lost long ago.

While Superman’s romance with Lois Lane may be iconic, it still relies on one major flaw. Lois Lane, as beautiful, sexy, and charismatic as she might be, is still human. That means that at some point, she’s going to grow old and die. Superman may still love her all the same because he’s just that kind of person. However, she’s not immortal and he is. There’s just no way around that.

That’s not a primarily concern for him, though, because in the comics, Superman’s age is usually between 29 and 33 years old. There are some comics that explore an older version of him, but the bulk of his mythos is structured around him being the age of a typical man. That means, by default, the story can only cover a tiny sliver of Superman’s love life with Lois.

That has major implications because if Superman is functionally immortal, then he will outlive Lois Lane and that emotional anchor that helps him be the hero he is disappears. What will that do to him? Can he still be Superman without it?

Image result for Lois Lane Dies

Vandal Savage’s descent into madness sets a dangerous precedent. It’s entirely possible that Savage had someone like Lois Lane in his life at some point. The man has been alive for 50,000 years old. The sheer breadth of his lifespan makes that entirely possible.

Unfortunately, or tragically in some respect, that love died because everyone around Savage dies. It’s not because he kills them. He just outlives them. Being immortal, getting attached to anybody means enduring heartbreak and loss.

Even if someone he loves dies peacefully in their sleep, he still feels that loss. People in general, when they lose loved ones, feel emotional pain no matter what the circumstances. I had a relative live into her late 90s and die peacefully. When I went to her funeral, there were still people with tears in their eyes.

Imagine how many times Vandal Savage has endured that over his 50,000 year lifetime. Is it any wonder that he lost his humanity and has such a lower regard for human life? For him, forming human attachments of any kind just guarantees more pain. Whether you’re a human or a worm, you do whatever it takes to avoid that kind of pain.

That brings me back to Superman. He’s only lived a fraction of the life of Vandal Savage. However, he’s in a far worse position because while Savage may be a genius, he doesn’t have anything close to the power set that Superman possesses.

Superman is not just immortal and smart. He possesses the kind of speed, strength, and agility that allows him to do anything, go anywhere, and master every skill. Whereas someone like Savage may take centuries to master something, Superman can do it in seconds. That means he’ll run out of things to do even faster than Savage. It will not take 50,000 years for Superman to be overcome by crippling boredom.

Someone like Lois Lane might be able to keep Superman human, at least in his young age. However, there are many occasions in the comics where Lois Lane’s death leads to Superman becoming distant, detached, and despondent. While their love may be strong, the influence is at the mercy of time.

That’s not to say Superman will inevitably become like Vandal Savage. Granted, there are stories where Superman goes completely insane and becomes the kind of super-powered tyrant that North Korean dictators aspire to be. There are others where he ages gracefully and helps make the world a better place. In a sense, Superman’s potential reflects the uncertainty that such boredom will incur on immortals.

That’s an important concept to grasp because, as we humans live longer, healthier lives, we’ll have to contend with some of Superman’s burdens. Some people may be able to live centuries and maintain a strong sense of humanity. Others may end up like Vandal Savage and see humanity as a bunch of perishable meat bags.

This has huge implications for both our love lives, as well as the attachments we make. If we start living long, near-immortal lives, why even form romantic attachments? Why bother when time is just going to destroy it in the long run? Will we abandon those passions because it only leads to more pain? Will a world of functional immortals be completely devoid of love?

It’s impossible to say for sure and that’s what’s so disturbing about it. If someone as good and pure as Superman struggles to deal with the impact of crippling boredom, then what hope do we have?

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A Bionic Penis: It’s Real (And Has Implications)

When I ever I discuss or report on a certain topic, I do so with the hope that nobody mistakes me for a serious journalist or reporter. I’m as much a journalist and reporter as I am rocket scientist and a basket weaver. This blog is an insight into the kinky thoughts of an aspiring erotica/romance writer and not a news source.

I say this because in my exploration of artificial wombs, human enhancement, and sex robots, I missed something. I actually missed something pretty major that may have some major implications on these topics, as well as many others that may or may not become ideas for a future erotica/romance novel.

Now I usually try to be pretty thorough when it comes to researching certain issues. Well, I’m as thorough as a basic Google search will allow me to be so take from that what you will. Again, I’m an erotica/romance writer. I’m not a goddamn reporter. However, I’m also human. That means things are going to slip through the cracks every now and then.

Even so, the idea that I missed this kind of makes me feel inept. I feel like I owe my readers an apology for this one because it is pretty remarkable that I missed something like this. What is it, you ask?

Well, in my research into artificial wombs, it turns out that there’s already some major developments on the other side of the gender equation. By that, I mean that science actually begun rebuilding parts our bodies in an effort to make them function better. No, I’m not talking about an artificial heart either, although that is in development. I’m talking about a bionic penis.

Those are two words many of us never thought we’d hear outside science fiction and Star Wars porn parodies. Just saying them out loud is enough to conjure all sorts of dirty, kinky thoughts that’ll ensure we never look at the Terminator the same way again.

It’s real though. This really is a thing and I mean that in the most literal and figurative way possible. It’s also a fairly recent thing so that may be why I missed it.

It happened in late 2015 over in Scotland, a place more associated with kilts rather than bionic body parts. A man named Mohammed Abad, who lost his penis in a horrible car accident when he was six-years-old, became the first recipient of a bionic penis. The man is basically the Neil Armstrong of bionic manhoods. I’d throw him a parade if I could.

So how does this thing work? How does a bionic penis function? Well, according to the article, these are the basics:

The University of London team has spent more than three years crafting a new, 8-inch wang out of skin grafts culled from Abad’s forearm and becomes erect by mechanically pumping fluid into it. This pump is activated by a button located near his remaining testicle.

Read over that again and try not to conjure a crazy mental image of how this revolutionary technology looks, feels, and works. It can’t be done. I’m pretty sure of that.

It apparently works too. A year later, after a lengthy recovery period, Mr. Abad got to test it out, courtesy of a Charlotte Rose, an escort and sexual trainer. Apparently, that’s a real job. I don’t remember my high school guidance counselor mentioning it, but then again, that same counselor thought I’d make a good accountant for some reason.

This isn’t a one-time medical oddity either. Mr. Abad isn’t the only one to get this done. Another man from England named Andrew Wardle, who was born without a penis, is having one put in with the same procedure.

Sure, it’s comes with a lengthy recovery process that includes a two-week erection, but there are worse recovery processes. At the very least, he has a valid excuse for wearing loose pants and boxers.

Now the fact that this has been done more than once and is likely to be done again in the future opens up some pretty astonishing, not to mention damn kinky possibilities. This is the part where the erotica/romance writer in me starts to get overly excited, but I’ll do my best to temper my giddiness. As a man, I know this is serious business. You can’t get much more serious than the future of a man’s penis.

Whenever a new technology like this comes along, it goes through a fairly predictable process of development. We’ve already seen that with artificial limbs, which have been getting more and more efficient with each passing year. We also see it with technology like smart phones. Anybody remember what the first iPhone looked like?

It seems so long ago, but within a decade, smartphones have become so advanced that we’re using them for advanced medical procedures. That’s a lot of advancement in just 10 years. Think of what kind of advancement we’ll see for something like a bionic penis. Ladies, I’ll give you a moment to change your panties.

Now I’m not saying that bionic penises will advance at the same rate as smartphones. Medical technology has to progress slower, just because it’s harder to test and refine. However, as we’ve seen with other advancements like Lasik eye surgery, which I’ve actually had done, there will be progress as the market demands.

Make no mistake though. There will be a market for bionic penises. Mr. Abad is already having to fend off countless offers for sex with curious women. I imagine as the technology improves, it’ll become a full-fledged fetish. Some women may try a bionic penis and never be able to go back. It’ll spark a whole different breed of dick jokes.

At some point, possibly within my lifetime even, the technology will get to a point where a bionic penis is more effective than any natural penis. It may become so effective that men who are dissatisfied with the perfectly functional penis they were born with will opt to get a bionic one. It’ll be for men what breast implants are for women.

Right now, it seems extreme that a man would abandon the penis he was born with. I imagine women felt the same way when they heard about breast implants though. If the technology advances sufficiently, then the benefits would just be too much to ignore.

At the moment, the penises most men have are fairly durable. However, they do have flaws. They don’t stay hard for as long as some men would like. They tend to get ahead of themselves, thereby creating embarrassing moments that can ruin any romantic moment. They don’t always work on command either. Some men need a pill to get them working whereas Mr. Abas just has a button he pushes to get a boner.

Imagine, provided you have clean panties, a future where a man’s bionic penis is pretty much indistinguishable from what we consider natural today. It looks, feels, and functions like an ordinary penis. However, when it’s time for action, things get real interesting and damn sexy.

There’s no need to take a pill. There’s no need to repeatedly stroke it or maintain a mental image of Pamela Anderson in a thong. Just push a button or use an app on a smartphone and that’s it. You’re as erect as Ron Jeremy for hours on end. That greatly expands the sexual possibilities for men and women alike. All those jokes about men not lasting long in bed suddenly become relics of “Married With Children” reruns.

It’s an exciting and sexy future, one I think men and women alike can look forward to. I’m not going to lie. This gives me some pretty crazy ideas for a future erotica/romance novel. I look forward to sharing those ideas as they become more developed/sexy.

Whatever the case, men everywhere may look back on the day and cheer the name Mohammed Abad. He helped make the bionic penis a reality. On behalf of men everywhere, gay and straight alike, we thank you. You are a true pioneer Mr. Abad. May your bionic penis bring you all the joy you deserve.

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