Russian Submarine Officer Who May Have Averted Nuclear War Will Be Awarded First Future of Life Prize

Fifty-five years ago, a Soviet submarine officer’s cool head may have prevented World War III. Now, the late hero—Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, who died in 1998 at the age of 72—will be awarded with a posthumous prize that acknowledges his actions, The Guardian reports.

As National Geographic recounts, Arkhipov was 34 years old in 1962, and on a secret submarine mission in the Caribbean. The Cuban Missile Crisis was in full force, and no sea traffic was allowed through the island’s waters. But the U.S. Navy spotted the sub, and began attacking it with depth charges.

What the U.S. Navy didn’t know was that the Russians had a tactical nuclear torpedo onboard. The Russian officers hadn’t heard from Moscow in days, but they’d already received permission to use their deadly weapon if needed. Believing that war was imminent, the submarine’s commander, Valentin Savitsky, decided to fire at one of 11 nearby Navy ships.

“We’re gonna blast them now!” Savitsky exclaimed, according to a report from the U.S. National Security Archive. “We will die, but we will sink them all—we will not become the shame of the fleet.”

Savitsky ordered the nuclear missile readied, and his second-in-command gave the go-ahead. That’s when Arkhipov—who was Savitsky’s equal in rank—came in and talked him down. The officer explained that the depth charges were off-target, and were actually the U.S. Navy’s way of asking them to surface. He refused to approve the missile’s launch—and without his sign-off, the initiative was a no-go.

To commemorate the fateful events from October 27, 1962, the Future of Life Institute—a U.S.-based organization that supports “research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future,” according to its website—will present Arkhipov’s family members with its $50,000 “Future of Life” prize.

“The Future of Life award is a prize awarded for a heroic act that has greatly benefited humankind, done despite personal risk and without being rewarded at the time,” Max Tegmark, an MIT physics professor and head of the Future of Life Institute, said in a statement quoted by The Guardian.

However, Arkhipov’s descendants believe that his actions were driven by duty rather than heroism.

“He acted like a man who knew what kind of disasters can come from radiation,” said Elena Andriukova, Arkhipov's granddaughter. “He did his part for the future so that everyone can live on our planet.”

[h/t The Guardian]

FYI: The FDA Has Ceased Its Food Inspections

istock.com/Olivier Le Moal
istock.com/Olivier Le Moal

It may be safe to eat romaine lettuce again, but The Hill is reporting that the FDA is suspending "most food inspections" amid the current partial government shutdown.

As the government shutdown rounds out its third week, the effects have begun to take a toll on both minor and major scales. Government workers are missing paychecks, affordable housing contracts are expiring, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not able to cover all of its usual duties. According to the official FDA website, around 55 percent of their $5.4 billion budget comes directly from federal funding, with the other 45 percent coming from industry user fees.

With fewer resources for protecting the nation's food supply, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb has had to delegate most workers to investigate "high risk facilities," such as those that produce seafood or cheese.

In 2018, nearly a dozen different products were cited for salmonella contamination, including raw turkey, pre-cut melon, and even Honey Smacks cereal. The FDA also warned of a possible salmonella outbreak from eggs last May.

Though the FDA will continue to inspect foreign manufacturers and products, the agency generally conducts roughly 160 food inspections per week. They look for any possible contamination due to various unclean circumstances, and that is only the beginning of a much longer process if foods actually need to be recalled. The FDA also investigates cases sent to them by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); after an illness or outbreak has been reported, the FDA works to trace where the contaminant could have come from before recalling and pulling problematic products from the shelves. All of this takes a lot of work, as we recently reported.

[h/t The Hill]

America's Paper Towel Obsession, Explained

iStock.com/Eerik
iStock.com/Eerik

At this point, the Brawny man can probably afford something nicer than a flannel shirt. Americans spend roughly $5.7 billion annually on paper towels, using them to clean up everything from spilled coffee to baby dribble to windows. Roll after roll is unspooled from a paper towel holder, makes a detour into a mess, then winds up directly in the garbage.

Are we really so lazy that we can’t wring out and reuse a sponge, a cloth wipe, or washable napkins? Or has Big Towel brainwashed us into believing that paper towels are simply the most convenient method of keeping things clean?

The question was recently explored by The Atlantic's Joe Pinsker, who noticed that Americans make up nearly half of the world’s paper towel use. (Second-place France spends just $635 million per year on discarded towels, little more than a tenth of what the U.S. shells out.) Pinsker wondered if it was due in part to population, but even on a per capita basis, we still spend more on towels than any other country in the world. Countries with comparable economies don’t buy as much as we do.

It turns out that the reasoning behind our alleged paper towel obsession may reside in how we problem-solve. In using a disposable towel, a mess can be immediately addressed and discarded, leaving no trace or obligation to clean our cleaning supplies.

There may also be pragmatic reasons: Using one-time-use towels reduces the chances of cross-contamination. (Imagine a sponge covering a bacteria-covered surface, then being set aside for reuse later.) And in a public bathroom setting, paper towels may actually be more hygienic than hand dryers, which can spread bacteria.

If you have a paper towel addiction, one tip Pinsker passed along is to consider reusing them. (Provided, of course, the mess wasn’t made up of raw meat or fish.) Sturdier paper towels can sometimes stand up to multiple applications before they start to break apart. You can also try using fewer towels by folding one in half and taking advantage of what’s known as interstitial suspension to trap water between the layers.

[h/t The Atlantic]

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