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Mobile Phone Transmitter Causes Brain Tumours? 374

Peter writes "Seven staff in the one building have been diagnosed with brain tumours, and everything seems to be pointing to the mobile phone towers located on the roof. The building is owned by RMIT University and an investigation is taking place. Five of the seven staff worked on the top floor of the building. Medical experts contacted by The Age Newspaper said no definitive link had been proved between mobile phone tower radiation and cancer."
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Mobile Phone Transmitter Causes Brain Tumours?

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <(eldavojohn) (at) (> on Friday May 12, 2006 @09:51AM (#15316929) Journal
    ... no definitive link had been proved between mobile phone tower radiation and cancer."
    I wouldn't say that's entirely accurate. I seem to remember the problem with the research [] being a while back that they were exposing cell tissue to thousands or millions of times the amount of radiation that a cell phone produces. I'm not sure if a cell phone tower scales to be thousands of times that of a cell phone but if it does ... there might be a legit concern here.

    I believe that an SAR (specific absorption rate) of 10 Watts per kilogram is the safety limit set by the NRPB. I guess they need to do tests as to whether the people experienced this from the towers. Cell phones have a SAR of about 0.2 on average. As always, Wikipedia provides a great reference [] to this subject.
    • 10 Watts per kilogram

      So fat people are less likely to get cancer? Cool! Pass the donuts!

  • From the article:

    Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal said there was no proof of a connection but "if you get clusters of disease it's sensible to investigate."

    Dr John Gall, from private health company Southern Medical Services, which has been called in to assess the sick, said last night three of those affected had tumours showing symptoms consistent with radiation.

    But he said there was no causal link with the building based on preliminary observations.

    There you have it - three people

    • One guy says there's no "casual" link, and your natural conclusion is to take him completely at face value and make the assumption that they were all getting together after hours and building a nuclear reactor in someone's basement??

      So if you worked in that building, and seven of your coworkers suddenly got brain tumors at the same time, you'd have no worries at all, eh?
      • So if you worked in that building, and seven of your coworkers suddenly got brain tumors at the same time, you'd have no worries at all, eh?

        Of course I would be worried - I would be worried about the building however, not the phone mast. I've just been reading the forums attached to the story [] and there's a few interesting comments in there - notably this one:
        I would suggest that regardless of any link between mobile phone towers and cancer, a far more likely cause is toxic contamination of the building.

        Anybody who has taken a good look inside the RMIT building in question should be able to plainly that the building is unsafe in many ways.

        People may remember the floods and resultant evacuations that occurred at a city RMIT campus last year. Two floods, one cold water, another of near boiling water months later. This is the same building.

        The safety (or lack thereof) of the wiring and electrics in the same building is also very disturbing.

        Any student need only look beneath the desks in the computer rooms to get an idea.

        I think RMIT must investigate ALL possible causes of these brain tumors.

        It seems very controvertial as to whether mobile phone towers could cause any health-risks, and whilst I agree that it is impossible to say that these towers are safe, surely this building at RMIT with a mere two low power phone towers wouldn't be the first detected incidence of this in the melbourne CBD.

        However, it is well known that there are toxins which are highly carcinogenic. It would be prudent to do a broad panel of tests for mutagenic & teratogenic toxins in this building as part of the investigation.
    • Welcome to Slashdot, where electrical engineers, or people who think of it as a hobby, will swear backwards and forwards that they know and understand every effect of radiation.
      • Welcome to Slashdot, where electrical engineers, or people who think of it as a hobby, will swear backwards and forwards that they know and understand every effect of radiation.

        Errr right, maybe I just listen to the expert's opinion [].
        • There could be a million variables going on between what they have in the lab and what you have on top of your building. Variances in shielding, wiring, proximity....

          Just drop some lab rats into the top floor of this building, put the cages up near the ceiling.

          That will both give you a decent test AND improve morale. Who wouldn't enjoy working with rats suspended over their heads?
    • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:15AM (#15317114)
      The problem with the statement 'consistent with radiation' is that the Doctor means ionizing radiation, and a cell tower emits non-ionizing radiation. BIG difference. []

  • Anyone worried about radio waves causing cancer can try to make that theory work. There is a huge barrier, however, in the form of a very very small number: Planck's Constant []. Planck's constant = 6.626068 x 10-34 m2 kg/S. It's that 10**-34 that makes it difficult for low-energy electromagetism like wireless transmissions to interact with chemical reactions. Thirty-four zeros is a LOT of zeros after the decimal point.

    Off topic: I've linked to the Encyclopedia Britannica above because the article about Planck's constant is very short. The article in Wikipedia is long. I've frequently seen the Encyclopedia Britannica be misleading because of the severe limitation placed on size of the articles due to paper costs. Wikipedia does not have that problem.
    • GSM wavelength is not ionizing so it can't be dangerous by itself. But some think the bursts used by GSM protocol create a low frequency envelope that may affect living tissues (that would behave like an AM receiver). There is also the low but measured local thermal effect. Those effects are hard to evaluate but hundred of million people using cellular tend to show they are probably not that dangerous.

      On the other hand, the high occurence in this very building compared to the lack of such situation near the
    • Off topic: I've linked to the Encyclopedia Britannica above because the article about Planck's constant is very short. The article in Wikipedia is long. I've frequently seen the Encyclopedia Britannica be misleading because of the severe limitation placed on size of the articles due to paper costs. Wikipedia does not have that problem.

      I've frequently seen Wikipedia be misleading because some 10 year old has seen fit to erase stuff written by Ph.D.'s, and replace it with his own misunderstanding ramblings

    • Explain that to the microwave!

      Electromagnetism energy, at the "microwave frequency" is still energy. Even if it is not strong to pop-corn your brain in 2 minutes, it can still have some effects..

  • by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @09:54AM (#15316952)
    I suppose you're going to tell me that it's a bad idea to stick my head in a running microwave oven, too, eh?
  • Obviously studies will need to rule out other environmental factors. But assuming these seven employees don't all live in the same apartment snorting lines of plutonium powder, my guess is the math is going to point to those towers.

    That of course means a hell of a lot of other rooftop towers are going to be coming down across the nation in pretty short order.

    • Actually, from a maths point of view, my first question would be: Following the first two brain tumor diagnoses, how much more vigilant to the (now known) symptoms of a tumor did the rest of the workers become? This cluster could very well be explained by people picking up on subtle signs of a (non-malignant) tumor that they would have otherwise lived in ignorance of until they died at a 'normal' age.

      Also, again from a maths point of veiw, don't forget that a cluster of seven people with brain tumors is p

      • Also, again from a maths point of veiw, don't forget that a cluster of seven people with brain tumors is perfectly possible by random without any outside influence.

        Oh come on - there's as much chance of 7 people getting cancer like this as there is of someone winning the damn lottery!! It's impossible I tell ya, impossible!!!

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sometimes I'm wrong, but at least where I live, most commercial buildings have a metal base under the roof (steel, tin, aluminum, etc). And, generally, codes require the metal base be grounded--which makes roofs great for transmitting towers (they need a well grounded base).

    But if it *is* built like this, it is absolutely impossible that any radiation of any kind managed to get through that roof to the people below. Unless you want to prove Faraday wrong. I know I don't.
  • Research (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cephalien ( 529516 ) <> on Friday May 12, 2006 @09:56AM (#15316960)
    Hmm. I'd say 7 incidents in one building is probably very high; even so, that depends entirely on the relative frequency of the specific kind of tumor.

    Also, did any of these people work in hazardous areas? A university can have all sorts of nasty stuff around.

    It would seem to me that these incidents could be related to the cell phone tower; or it could be a very sad coincidence. You can't just freeze everything at one single point in time and go ah-ha!

    There are too many other factors that aren't considered.
    • I'd say 7 incidents in one building is probably very high;

      Depends on how many people in the building, and whether what they do could have any cause.

  • Any chance they were doing research on something that might cause brain tumours? Or maybe they were doing research on the effect of mobile phone transmitters, that would be quite ironic.
  • Australian Medical Association president Mukesh Haikerwal said there was no proof of a connection but "if you get clusters of disease it's sensible to investigate."

    Ya think? Maybe this represents your proof! I like to call this the "Keystone Cops Method" of scientific inquiry.

    Dr John Gall, from private health company Southern Medical Services, which has been called in to assess the sick, said last night three of those affected had tumours showing symptoms consistent with radiation.

    Indeed, Watson,

    • Just a question, since you talk about "living inside a nuclear reactor". Do you understand that electromagnetic radiation (cell phone tower) is completely different from nuclear radiation?
    • Re:Hmmmm (Score:3, Informative)

      by VeriTea ( 795384 )
      ...This is totally different; those towers are pumping out huge amounts of radiation...

      How do you know how much radiation is being put out by these towers? I've worked in the industry for quite a while, and can tell you that very few towers, even ones with lots of antennas on them are actually putting out significant amounts of power (where significant = within an couple of orders of magnitude less then you experience when using a cell phone, at distances where the general public is exposed, including fl

    • Re:Hmmmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by j_square ( 320800 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:49AM (#15317491)
      >This is totally different; those towers are pumping out huge amounts of >radiation, to try and make sure you can get a strong signal at great >distances. It's not like living inside a nuclear reactor, but its close >enough to be a bad idea.

      This is not true. A GSM cell phone puts out maximum 2 W peak (900 MHz band) or 1 W peak (1800 MHz band). The average is 1/8 of this. A base station puts out a few tens of Watts. The power levels cannot be that different since you want a fairly symmetrical link budget.

      The antenna elevation pattern of the base station is such that most of it is directed towards the horizon, and less towards the base of the tower. Since the power density (W/m^2) will drop off as the square of the distance, these two factors will cancel in such a way that you essentially get the same power density when moving out from the base station at ground level, at least for several hundred meters.

      You will not be nuked from the handset, and certainly not from the base station. The power density from the base station will always be many orders of magnitude below that from the handset...

      Since your handset will automatically decrease its power to mW when close to a base station (to save battery time, etc.), the best way to get less exposure is actually to be as close to a base station as possible!

  • by wolfemi1 ( 765089 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @09:59AM (#15316988)
    ...that all of this heartache could have been avoided by something as simple as a couple of tinfoil hats.

    Surely, someone here on Slashdot has one to spare for these poor people!

  • Ancilliary problems (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:00AM (#15317002) Homepage
    Perhaps it is from EMP from all the wires/power/machines that run up the wall *to* the tower, not the tower itself.

    Would it be possible for multiple low frequency signals to interact to form a sine wave of a much higher intensity? ... so the tower puts out a pulse that's too small to affect genetic replication (say 10% of the threshold), but there are other EMP signitures or emmisions in the area that compound (say 5 sources at 10%), followed by personal cell phones and computers and lights...

    so you could 99.999% of the time have these signals never amount to much until the proverbial "EM Seventh Wave" comes in and makes those brain cells start dividing wrong. It only takes one cell to seed a tumor.
    • by ( 199423 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:12AM (#15317104) Homepage Journal
      Cell site base stations are self contained. The only things that run to them are the mains supply cables, which are indeed beefy, but that's 60Hz, not the UHF that mobile phones run at. The antennas used for cell site base stations also have a decidedly toroidal or sectoral radiation pattern. Every one I've seen in the last 10 years has used a set of sector patch antennas, which have excellent pattern control (energy goes in a set direction with set limits, not anywhere else). It's in the best interests of the cell companies to minimized the radiation that goes straight down in favor of the radiation that goes out, as straight down mostly wastes power that could be used to increase coverage somewhere else.

      I don't doubt that there seems to be a link, but whether or not it's causal needs some very carefully done science, not a newspaper story.
      • This is incorrect information. I have worked on cell sites and the standard installation procedure, at least regionally, is to have transmission and switching equipment in a cabinet on the ground level and run several antennta cables up the tower to the antennas. On buildings sometimes the equipment cabinet is on the roof, shortening the antenna runs but I have seen a lot of building with installations similar to towers where the antenna runs go all the way from ground level to the roof on the exterior of t
  • It's more likely it's something in the water.
    • Nobody's modded this up yet, but the parent has a point! Every single person with brain cancer in this study was exposed to copious amounts of dihydrogen monoxide at several times each day. Logically, for the same reason that the radio tower MUST HAVE caused the cancer, the DHM must also have caused it!
  • it's the new Motorola THINKR (tm) implant. It resides in the brain, and is self-assembling. It has TV, DVD, GPS, Java, 12-megapixel camera that uses your eyeballs, and Itunes, of course.
  • by simon_hibbs2 ( 792812 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:08AM (#15317060)
    * There are mobile phone radio masts on tens of thousands of buildings all over the world, for almost a decade.
    * There has been no significant increase in the number of brain tumours since mobile phones became popular.
    * Why would people in one building sudenly have a greater chance of getting brain tumours from a radio mast, while the chances of the many (possibly hundreds of) thousands of people in other buildings with radio masts on them getting cancer stay the same? There's an antenna on the roof of a building next to the one I work in, I can see the antenna from here througn the window. Why don't I and all my colleagues have cancer?

    Unless there is a huge difference in the way this mast is installed and operated, or the structure of the building from other similar installations, there's no reason to suppose this cluster of cancers has anything to do with the radio mast. There could be thousands of other factors that could be the cause.

    Or there might be no cause. How many buildings are there in the world? How many random instances of cancer are there? Statisticaly, you'd expect to see the occasional fluke cluster of cancers in one building from time to time. If the odds against such a cluster in any given building were a million to one, in a survey of 10 million buildings you'd expect to see roughly 10 such clusters just by pure chance. Even if the chances were 10 million to 1, there's still no reason to suppose finding one such cluster in the sample is at all suspicious.

    Simon Hibbs
    • Parent is correct (Score:5, Informative)

      by BigDukeSix ( 832501 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:58AM (#15317584)
      As a physician, but not a neurosurgeon, I had to do a quick Pubmed search to refresh some things I haven't thought about since med school. Most environment-related brain tumors come from organic chemical exposure (pesticides, benzene, vinyl chloride, etc) or exposure to other known bad actors like asbestos. TFA says that the building used to be an old theater, so there's no telling what might be in there; the clustering of cases on the top floor might imply a lighter-than-air causative agent.

      The fact is, the human brain is surprisingly tolerant of radiation exposure. Radiation oncologists take advantage of this characteristic to treat cancers that have metastasized to the brain. Whole-brain external beam radiation therapy uses ionizing radiation, many orders of magnitude more energetic than any cell phone tower, but the occurrence of de novo brain tumors after brain XRT is actually pretty rare.


      • Re:Parent is correct (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hast ( 24833 )
        A previous comment in this thread quoted some posts in other threads about this article. Among them comments from people who have been in that building.

        Basically they suggested that it was a death trap and hinted that it was basically filled with potential health concerns. Eg there had been two floods of the building in resent years. I can imagine that such events can make a lot of things grow that you really don't want in your walls.

        It's likely to be something in the building, but I doubt it is the cell to
  • Cancer must be contagious!! Kill the lab rats--quickly!!
  • You've probably heard the interference your phone generates in your radio.

    Do you still have a CRT Monitor, and not a flat panel? Here's a fun experiment. Take your cell phone, dial up a number on it and place a call. Now, hold it up to your CRT - the emag field from it skews the electron stream in distinct waves. You can probably correlate the frequency the phone operates on to the wavelength on the screen if you know your monitors vertical refresh.

  • That doesn't make sense. Cell phone tower emissions may well "cause" cancer, but in the sense of a small increase in risk; and the increase has to be small because it has been hard to demonstrate experimentally.

    If there is a common cause for these cases, it's more likely to be some kind of chemical pollutant or biological agent. Chemicals, fungi, and viruses can and do cause cancer at high rates. I'd rather look to the chemistry department or the biology labs than the cell phone tower for a cause.
  • Bothered... (Score:3, Funny)

    by WebfishUK ( 249858 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:23AM (#15317167)
    Kinda lost interest once I read...

    "...the 16th and 17th floors are home to offices of senior management..."

  • Vinyl Chloride is one of the only environmental substances known to specifically cause brain cancer. Is it possible there is a source of contaimination in the building? Accidental or deliberate, perhaps? Small amounts of vinyl chloride can dissolve in water, and it is found in tiny amounts in tobacco smoke. These people may have been exposed years ago and are just now showing disease.
    • Brain cancer? Do you have references on this? I used to work occasionally in a vinyl chloride manufacturing facility, and was aware of cases of angiosarcoma of the liver, a rare form of liver cancer that was believed to be the result of exposure to vinyl chloride. I have never heard of vinyl chloride being linked to brain cancer.

      I think that the number of class A chemical carcinogens, non-radiactive, non-biological substances (like vinyl chloride) that are accepted to be actual causitive agents for human ca
  • I recall reading that when autopsies are performed about 1/3 of the time brain tumours are found. These are generally benign and caused no problem. They are found because people went looking for them.

    The same issue surrounds the thyroid cancers associated with the Chernobyl disaster. Again - the tumours appear to be natural and generally cause no problems.

    This of course does not change the fact that anyone so diagnosed will be scared to death (bad pun) and wonder when the next shoe is going to drop. So
  • by GroeFaZ ( 850443 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @10:27AM (#15317220)
    There was a small village in rural Germany. A broadcast tower for mobile phones was to be built there, and despite rabid protests from the locals, which were concerned about negative health impacts, the tower was built. Soon after its completion, more than the usual number of locals went to see their doctor, complaining about headaches, nausea, and various other little ailments which they linked to the tower.

    The funny part? The tower hasn't even been operational.
    • by deathcow ( 455995 ) * on Friday May 12, 2006 @02:11PM (#15319728)

      I dont blame the natives, it's scary having one of those antenna nearby. I moved into my house here in Alaska 10 years ago, I was a spry 26 years old and felt healthy all the time.

      Now, about 5 years ago a cell phone tower was installed in lot adjacent to us, maybe 350 feet from our house (and I telecommute so I am exposed to it all the time.)

      After five years of exposure to this tower, I've become very sedentary, I've stopped riding my mountain bike years ago, and I frequently end up working all day sitting in front of the computer with just short breaks. The cell tower has also bloomed my Coca Cola intake level, and I've put on about 45 pounds of unwanted weight. I feel less healthy than ever now.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    If there was any harmful effects of EM radiation, I think it would have been well established by now from the 100 year history of broadcast radio, where the people working at the station are exposed to more than 10,000 times the energy that people are in a building with a cell tower.

    This is just as stupid as the paranoia over high voltage trasmission power lines. They may be ugly, they may be dangerous if they fall down, but you're being exposed to thousonds of times more EM radiation from the wiring in yo
  • I used to work on cellphone software, and outside our building we had a COW (Cell on Wheels) to get us good quality reception to local mobile operators. I had a nice view of it from my window, since it was right across the parking lot from me.

    One day we had some tech dudes from an overseas MO, and being the geeks they were they fired up their phones in "test mode" to check out our COW.

    The look on their faces when they realized how strong the output of the COW... priceless! They suggested we go out and twidd
  • This is prima facia evidence. Yes, there are other possibilities. But if you RTFA, the chances of them are evidently low.

    To those saying that the causality implication is low, I'd say there's near empirical evidence to the contrary.
  • Avast! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nephroth ( 586753 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @11:38AM (#15318039)
    *Equips Nephroth's Trollbasher - Plus 21 damage to luddite trolls!*

    There is a radio tower on the roof, just like there are radio towers on the roofs of thousands upon thousands of buildings all over the globe. Just because one building had a statistically anomalous number of brain tumors, doesn't implicate the radio tower, it implicates the location as a whole.

    You can't just assume that because there is a cell tower and you so desperately want cell phones to cause cancer, doesn't mean that they do. The vast majority of the evidence (the fact that this is one isolated incident) suggests that the cause is elsewhere.

  • Virus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @11:44AM (#15318109) Journal
    Some cancers are caused by viral infections.

    That said, poorly-shielded microwave (GHz) equipment may produce spurious lobes on their radiation pattern that could affect the wrong places.

    And microwave radiation can also cause genetic damage leading to cancer.
  • by the_rajah ( 749499 ) * on Friday May 12, 2006 @01:33PM (#15319299) Homepage
    When you have a radio repeater situation, as is the case with cell phones, it does not make sense to have the fixed repeater transmitter power level higher than the remote transmitter (cell phone). The cell phone power is rather low, otherwise you'd have a backpack to carry the battery. In ham radio repeater circles, a repeater with a high powered transmit is referred to as a repeater that's "All mouth". Here's some technical explaination of the radiation situation regarding cell towers. []

    I'm not a statistics expert, but I know that abberations in distributions of whatever effect are not impossible, or even improbably, given a sufficiently large study group. My wife has experience in disease clustering in her past administrative job at a university where there was a "cancer dorm". In the end, it was all BS, panic and hype. The actual distribution was not far off the norm. Remember that perception is often much more powerful than the truth in many people's minds.
  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Friday May 12, 2006 @02:51PM (#15320116)
    I keep hearing the following kinds of short-sighted arguments. . .

    "Well, we've had radio towers broadcasting for ages now, and there's no problem with them. So obviously EM doesn't cause cancer."

    And. . .

    "The Sun hits you with more EM radiation than a cell phone, so obviously people complaining about Cell Phone Em are over-reacting."

    I've heard both of these arguments thoughtlessly repeated so often that they have become the same as any other meme or garden variety urban myth. I'd like to address them. First, radios. . .

    FM radio signals function in the 88 to 108 MHz range, and AM in the 535-1605 kHz range.

    Cell Phone signals operate in the microwave bandwidth, 1800 - 1900MHz and 800 - 900 MHz. While this is different than radio, the BIG difference is that Cell Phone microwaves are modulated all the way down to only 10 hz. Why is this significant? Because 10 hz also happens to be the general frequency where the brain's electrical activity operates.

    And therein lies the problem.

    Brain cells respond both physically and chemically to frequencies in that range and they do so in a variety of strange ways. For instance, the blood-brain barrier becomes permeable when exposed to modulated EM in the 10 htz range. --Which means that foreign (and toxic?) particles can cross into the brain cells themselves from the blood vessels. --If you spend a lot of time in a specific radiation zone where your blood-brain barrier is constantly not doing its job, it is reasonable to assume that the brain might be at greater risk from toxins in the blood.

    This is just one example. There are several others.

    Similarly, there are other problems with low-frequency EM. --For instance the 60hz electrical signals traveling down power lines have their own issues.

    In conjunction with the 10 gauss magnetic field of the Earth, 60hz causes cyclotronic resonance in Lithium atoms. So what? Well, Lithium, excited in this manner, moves on a vector and is able to cross the blood-brain barrier with much greater frequency than otherwise. Lithium, as some of you may know, has a medicinal affect on the brain, and is for this reason the main ingredient used in anti-depressant drugs.

    That's not contested science. People are simply not told about it. --The fact of the matter is that the people in charge of our society have a great vested interest in keeping people dumbed down and numbed in the head, both of which are achieved by deliberately designed EM pollution.

    As for the Sun. . .

    Who says that the Sun doesn't affect brain function? Astrology works, (despite the fierce head-shaking of those who don't like the idea but who have never actually studied a real horoscope). --But rather than cry, "There is no magic!" perhaps it would be better to ask, "Okay. So, how does it work?"

    I think there's a possible answer wrapped up in low-level EM emissions from space. . .

    For instance, when solar wind from the sun hits other planetary bodies, you get these reflected fields of energy vibrating in the 1-3 hz range which bathe the Earth for periods of time. As the brain tends to fall in alignment with whatever dominating frequency exists in it's environment, perhaps such periods affect the way brains work and develop.

    It is, of course, far more complicated than that, as different planets fall into different areas of the sky, and as the Earth and moon move around, you'll get all kinds of different fields in the 1-35 hz range where the brain functions. Indeed, the Sun itself is magnetically divided into 12 slices, rather like an orange. Perhaps as the Earth orbits, its inhabitants are affected?

    I don't know if this is the answer, but considering such ideas seems to me a great deal more sensible than a lot of fierce head-shaking.


Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.