2007 - %3, April

Cho's Dark Manifesto Points to Lessons Not Learned

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:46 PM EDT

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So maybe you're feeling news-blitzed about the Va. Tech rampage. I was feeling that way until about 10 minutes ago, when I stepped out to get some coffee. On the way, I saw the huge headline on the local paper: "Nation Asks Why." When I returned, there was breaking news that Cho had sent a "multimedia manifesto" to NBC news and that it was "disturbing" and "incoherent": more evidence that Cho was mentally ill.

Really it's a simple math equation. Mental illness exists. Specifically, schizophrenia (which despite April's earlier post is almost certainly what Cho suffered from) occurs in about 1 percent of the population. Untreated schizophrenia almost always leads to violent behavior, and mental health care in this country is abysmal and difficult to come by—and yet Bush is still cutting funding for it. You know what's easy to come by? Guns. If you don't have a record, just pop in to a gun store and pick one—or two, or three—up. There's no legal limit on how many rounds each of them can fire. If you do have a record, just go to a gun show and voilà. As long as guns are easier to get than mental health care, we will continue to have tragedies like this.

The other thing that the mystified question "Why?" overlooks is that mental illness can look kind of banal from the outside. Cho was aloof, quiet. The warning signs were not especially dramatic. He inappropriately contacted two female students. He wrote violent things in creative writing class. But it wasn't until his private thoughts were submitted to NBC and made horrifyingly real to the students of Virginia Tech that we could see how devastating mental illness is. Maybe the university could have done more, but they did force him into a mental health facility at one point and he still slipped through the cracks. You can't detain every deranged person. But you can keep them from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. And the Rambo-like photos of himself Cho sent NBC also make it pretty clear that glorifying violence doesn't help either. Americans talked a lot about that after Colombine and then did exactly nothing.

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Worried About Global Warming? Go See an Eco-Therapist

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:38 PM EDT

Are you petrified by the thought of mass extinction, extreme weather, and global warming? If so, you're not alone in your fears, and there's even a word for them: eco-anxiety. It was only a matter of time before the now-trendy prefix was added to the ever-growing list of diagnoses.

According to the Philadelphia Enquirer, you can now see an eco-therapist to address your fears. Melissa Picket in Santa Fe sees between 40 and 80 patients each month suffering from eco-anxiety. For panic attacks and loss of appetite triggered by environmental concerns, she recommends that patients make lifestyle changes and even carry natural objects around.

This treatment might sound a bit less than serious, but there is a real weight to the issue. A growing number of people are concerned about, even petrified by climate change. The Philadelphia Enquirer blames media hype and scientists' poor PR skills for inducing eco-anxiety. Maybe scientists do have trouble communicating with laymen, and maybe there's shock-value in environmental horror stories. But I really doubt that putting a feather in your hat or a rock in your pocket will counteract the doom and gloom of melting polar ice-caps and disappearing bees that we read about every day.

--Rose Miller

Marijuana Cuts Lung Cancer Tumor Growth In Half

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:30 PM EDT

The active ingredient in marijuana cuts tumor growth in common lung cancer in half and significantly reduces the ability of the cancer to spread. This according to Harvard University researchers at who tested the chemical in both lab and mouse studies, as reported by the American Association for Cancer Research. The compound Delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) inhibits lung cancers that are usually highly aggressive and resistant to chemotherapy. Although the researchers don't know why THC inhibits tumor growth, they say the substance could be activating molecules that arrest the cell cycle. THC may also interfere with processes that promote cancer growth. --Julia Whitty

Breast Cancer Declines along with "Hormone Therapy"

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:20 PM EDT

Breast cancer rates dropped immediately after a major study in 2002 cast doubt on the wisdom of hormone supplements for menopause, and prompted millions of women to stop taking them.

"An awful lot of breast cancer was caused by doctors' prescriptions," Larry Norton of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, tells Rob Stein of the Washington Post. "That's a very serious and sobering thought."

Stein writes, "The findings also help explain one of the biggest mysteries about breast cancer -- why the number of cases rose steadily for decades."

"This is colossal," said Rowan Chlebowski of the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, who helped conduct the analysis. "It translates into thousands of fewer breast cancers that have been diagnosed in women in the United States and could be in the future."

Ethanol Vehicles A Threat To Human Health

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 8:09 PM EDT

A new Stanford University study predicts that if every vehicle in the United States ran on fuel made primarily from ethanol the number of respiratory-related deaths and hospitalizations would increase. "Ethanol is being promoted as a clean and renewable fuel that will reduce global warming and air pollution," says atmospheric scientist Mark Z Jacobson, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. "But our results show that a high blend of ethanol poses an equal or greater risk to public health than gasoline, which already causes significant health damage." Jacobson used a computer model to simulate air quality in 2020, when ethanol-fueled vehicles are expected to be widely available.

While E85 vehicles (those running on 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline) reduced two carcinogens, benzene and butadiene, they increased two others, formaldehyde and acetaldehyde. In some parts of the country, E85 also significantly increased ozone, a prime ingredient of smog. The World Health Organization estimates that 800,000 people die each year from smog. Furthermore, the deleterious health effects of E85 will be the same, whether the ethanol is made from corn, switchgrass or other plant products.

"There are alternatives, such as battery-electric, plug-in-hybrid and hydrogen-fuel cell vehicles, whose energy can be derived from wind or solar power," Jacobson says. These vehicles produce virtually no toxic emissions or greenhouse gases and cause very little disruption to the land--unlike ethanol made from corn or switchgrass, which require millions of acres of farmland to mass-produce. "It would seem prudent, therefore, to address climate, health and energy with technologies that have known benefits."

Foresight. Wow. What a notion.--Julia Whitty

Attention Boston Bloggers: Iceland wants you!

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 6:32 PM EDT

In an effort to "put web attractions in print" and reinvent notions of what a traditional newspaper provides, the new and free publication BostonNOW is grabbing up bloggers that will produce content for print.

BostonNOW is funded by an Icelandic company, Dagsbrun, that hopes to have NOW papers in eight to ten different cities in two years, with every one built from the bottom-up – or from the blog-up.

"It will be fun," Editor-in-Chief John Wilpers told NPR. It will also be a chance for bloggers – and maybe even self-described "sloggers" who blog about their sex lives – to see their name in print and potentially reach a wider audience. Initially bloggers will comprise about 10 percent of the paper's content, but the plan is to expand that to as much as 50 percent. Whether or not the blogs will be uninformed columns, personal diatribes or quick, informed snippets remains to be seen.

Wilpers is right, it probably will be fun. It will also be cheap. Bloggers won't be paid, although a business model that could pay bloggers is allegedly being developed. So is this the latest in crowd sourcing? Probably. Could it be a great strategy for providing fresh, irreverent content? Maybe.

-- Gary Moskowitz

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Why Don't We Talk about Gun Control Anymore?

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 5:48 PM EDT

Remember the Democratic Revolution of '06? It ended this week. The court just ruled against abortion rights and for a ban that tells doctors how to treat their patients. Monday, it became glaringly obvious, again, that gun control is the only reasonable position to hold, yet even the Democratic power centers in Congress oppose it: Dean, Webb (who needed to have his gun in the Senate) and Reid.

Looking at the MoJo Top Story box—when it was about gun control, that happier time of yesterday—I wondered why all of the stories except this one dated back to the '90s. Well, I'm here to tell you it's not our fault. It's because the Democrats dropped gun control like a hot potato in 2000. Many analysts blamed Gore's strong gun-control position in the Democratic primary for his loss to Bush in the general election. The Dems believed that swing-state voters were relatively pro-gun—which seems like a pretty inaccurate conclusion since the issue isn't banning hunting rifles but semi-automatic assault weapons.

But gun control is another one of those issues where the sane position is lost amid the ruckus the crazies make. Most Americans support gun control: In a recent Gallup poll, 49 percent of Americans said gun-control laws should be made stricter, and only 14 percent said they should be less strict. A Salon article explains the Dems' punt thusly: Robert J. Spitzer, author of "The Politics of Gun Control," says that "the typical gun control supporter is somebody for whom the issue is not a No. 1 concern, it's No. 6 or No. 8." Slate looks at it this way: The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence—the nation's gun-control lobby—donated $90,000 to pro-gun-control candidates in 2006. Pro-gun groups gave their candidates $3 million—33 times more.

The result? The federal assault weapons ban, passed in 1994, was allowed to expire in 2004. One of the guns Cho Seung-Hui used was in fact illegal under the assault weapons ban, and became legal again in 1994. And Slate reports:

The only meaningful federal restriction on handgun purchases, the Brady Bill, was considered a huge accomplishment when it finally passed in 1993 after a decade of lobbying. But thanks to the private-transfer or "gun show" loophole, about 40 percent of gun sales remain invisible to law enforcement, rendering the law's mandatory background checks easily avoidable.

Isn't it time we stopped allowing crazypantses like Wayne La Pierre to dictate our gun policy? After all, there are nearly 30,000 deaths from firearms a year in this country—2 to 3 times as many as in other developed countries.

Another Drop in the Bucket, Baghdad Government Pledges $25 Million in Aid for Refugees

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 5:30 PM EDT

Iraq has promised $25 million in aid for Iraqi refugees who have fled Iraq. This was announced yesterday at the UNHCR (U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees) meeting in Geneva. The Baghdad government is actually being more generous than the United States has been. Not hard to do -- Bush has pledged a paltry $18 million to handle a crisis his State Department has deemed its "top priority." (I guess if dollar amounts are any indication of priority, it's pretty clear what the U.S.'s are.) The only problem with Baghdad's pledge? It's nowhere near enough. As Kos notes, today at the meeting in Geneva, both Jordan and Syria claim they spend a billion dollars each year managing the rapid influx of Iraqis flowing across their borders. Currently, Syria is home to more than a million Iraqis and Jordan houses nearly that many as well. The International Organization for Migration claims one million more will flee Iraq this year. Last month, a UNHCR spokesperson, Lauren Jolles, painted a picture of life in Syria, of a country bursting at the seams:

Syria's economy is now groaning under the strain. The population suffers from water scarcity, electricity blackouts, increased competition for jobs and higher rent and food prices.

Jolles said that the United Nations aid conference will have to yield a very large aid package for these countries bearing the brunt of the exodus. I don't think $25 million is what Jolles had in mind.

Boys Are on the Decline

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 5:27 PM EDT

Seriously. This is scary. From William Saletan: Birth ratios have shifted so much since 1970 that the U.S. and Japan are "missing" about 260,000 men. Researchers say environmental toxins can prevent men from passing on the Y-chromosome. The full report here.

The scariest thing about "endocrine disrupters" are that they too tiny to research. Only in the past few years have we developed machines precise enough to test the presence of some of these chemicals in the body, in parts per million, billion, and even trillion. The machines cost a million dollars. So we can't run test thousands of people and aggregate the statistics.

The most shocking evidence of the effect of pesticides came out of comparing drawings by Mexican children in an agricultural valley to those by children in foothills nearby. Here's the story. And here are their drawings:

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Would You Have Voted For McCain the Independent?

| Wed Apr. 18, 2007 5:16 PM EDT

John McCain didn't waste anytime trying to score Jesus-points after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in support of the "Partial Birth Abortion" ban:

"The ruling ensures that an unacceptable and unjustifiable practice will not be carried out on our innocent children."

Since the world does not need another political eulogy for John McCain, I offer instead a "what-if." Instead of his current stumble to the right, what if McCain had chosen to run as an Independent? Sure '08 represents his last shot, and many argue that without RNC money he can't win a bid for the presidency. Maybe so, but it's getting clearer every day that the "New McCain" can't win either.

In 2000, the "Old McCain" (remember who walloped Bush in New Hampshire's open primary) had broad support among moderate swing-voters, McCain looked like a sure contender for the White House before he was smeared by Rove's push polling.

Had he run this time as an Independent, he could have distanced himself rather than thrown all his chips in on Iraq. McCain, the campaign finance reformer and the closest thing the conservatives had to a Global Warming Paul Revere, was actually admired by quite a fair share of Democrats. Had McCain run on his own ticket, he would have at the very least had done what Ralph Nader tried unsuccessfully to do--add some life to the corporately-sponsored and painfully-orchestrated presidential debates (No offense Jim Lehrer).

Instead, he has set a new bar for pandering to the kingmakers on the religious right and made assessments of the situation in Iraq that make Bush's seem factual. If he manages to win the Republican nomination, he will be seriously damaged goods and it's hard to imagine how he might ever re-capture his once revered reputation as a "straight-talker"[You Tube]. And to tell the truth, despite statement like today's, he seems to be having trouble proving the authenticity of his religious zealotry.

—Koshlan Mayer-Blackwell