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Horse Virus Spreading to Humans

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 10:43 PM EDT

Horses.london.750pix.jpg Heads-up on new developments on a new disease. Australia's biggest outbreak yet of the highly virulent Hendra virus is underway. The disease is transmitted from fruit bats to horses and from horses to humans.

It was identified in 1994—the last year there was a major outbreak. One human trainer and 14 horses died then, reports the Sydney Morning Herald. A second infected person recovered.

Now changes in symptoms in Queensland horses are suggesting a new strain. Perhaps one capable of human-to-human transmission.

New Scientist reports that two veterinary workers became infected roughly four weeks ago and remain hospitalized. Fifty more people who may have had contact with horses will undergo a second set of tests.

So far this year at least seven horses are infected. Five have died. Thirty-six more will be tested for a second time tomorrow.

The classic symptom of Hendra virus in a horse is severely labored breathing, frothy nasal discharge and swollen muzzle. The animals often die within days.

But this year's horses are suffering from neurological symptoms, including paralysis and loss of balance.

Human symptoms include a severe flu-like illness, headache, high fever, and drowsiness, which can progress to pneumonia, convulsions, or coma.

The Hendra virus has not been identified outside of Australia. Every outbreak since the first has been successfully contained to only one horse. Between 1994 and now, one other person was infected and survived. Though, confusingly, the US Centers for Disease Control reports that two out of three human infections prior to this year were fatal.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the Kiriyama Prize and the John Burroughs Medal Award.

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New Snickers Ad Encourages Drive-By Shootings of Unmanly Men

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 3:41 PM EDT

mojo-photo-snickersad.jpgVia Towleroad comes a new spot for Snickers which appears to endorse violence against the effeminate, or at least against speed-walkers. In the spot, a yellow-shorts-sporting butt-shaking speed-walker is attacked by former A-Team star Mr. T (?!) with a Snickers-shooting machine Gatling gun, for being "a disgrace to the man race." Ga-wha? The ad was created by AMV BBDO, a subsidiary of the retro-futuristically named Omnicom, which turns out to be the company also responsible for a Dodge spot and another Snickers ad that inspired claims of homophobia. Ad Age critic Bob Garfield has written an open letter to Omnicom calling the spots "simply sick."

I've been a vocal proponent of everybody chilling out over fictional portrayals of LGBT people and the gender non-conformist, but this is appalling, and also completely unfunny: making fun of racewalkers is so, like, 1993. Watch the offending ad after the jump. What do you think, Riffers, does it make you feel like "getting some nuts" and having a Snickers?

Yearning for Better Coverage of Polygamists

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 3:30 PM EDT

yfz200.jpgToday the New York Times teased a Sunday magazine feature on the young women of the the Yearning for Zion Ranch—the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints' (FLDS) Texas compund that was raided in April.

Times photographer Stephanie Sinclair, the teaser says, "was given rare and intimate access to some of the young women who have found themselves at the center of the often-bilious battle between the state of Texas and the F.L.D.S." The result is an eye-catching essay of 16 photographs.

Contrast is really what makes these photos work so well artistically. The juxtaposition of the pastel prairie-style dresses against a run-of-the-mill suburban ranch house lends an appealingly surreal quality, reminiscent of the uncanniness of Diane Arbus' work and the magic realism of Gregory Crewdson's. But what are those strange-looking ladies really like?

Diverse List of Mercury Prize Nominees Revealed

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 3:02 PM EDT

mojo-photo-mercuryprizelogo.jpgHey, at least it's slightly more diverse than usual. You've got the pop-R&B of Estelle, the vintage rock of Robert Plant, the abstract dubstep of Burial and the modern jazz of Portico Quartet; throw in a little Radiohead, and that sounds to me like the list of the annual Mercury Prize nominees, an award given out to the best British or Irish album of the last 12 months. One of the judges called this a "remarkably rich year for British music," and while he may say that to all the years, it does seem like a pretty good list. Indeed, a spokesman for bookie William Hill (who puts odds on the nominees each year) said this year's odds are the "closest ever": Radiohead are first at 4/1 odds, The Last Shadow Puppets are next at 5/1, with Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Elbow and Burial tied at 6/1. Of course, just like the Emmys, some great work must get inexplicably overlooked: both Portishead and M.I.A. are conspicuously absent, although Portishead won for Dummy in 1995. The full list of nominees, William Hill's odds, and a video each, after the jump.

Canadian Corporal Killed by "Roommate's Rifle" in Afghanistan, Case Goes to Court Martial

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 2:17 PM EDT

The Canadian military announced yesterday that it will press ahead with its court martial of the 22-year-old Canadian reservist who shot a fellow soldier in March 2007 at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan. Corporal Matthew Wilcox has been charged with manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, and negligently performing a military duty.

This news comes as particularly striking to Mother Jones and its readers as this incident was first widely-publicized in an article we ran last summer. Canadian doctor Kevin Patterson, also a Mother Jones contributing writer, was in Afghanistan at the time helping to triage the understaffed and overwhelmed Canadian-run surgical hospital at Kandahar Airfield. During his few months on the ground Patterson treated civilians and soldiers alike (roughly 2/3rds of the hospital's patients were Afghan civilians and Army personnel, the rest coalition soldiers) and he chronicled his experiences in a frontline diary for the magazine.

Dr. Patterson was on call the evening that Corporal Kevin Megeney, a 25-year-old reservist, was rushed to the ICU after being shot in the chest. It turned out that the the gun was "a roommate's rifle," and at press time the incident was under investigation by the Canadian military. Prior to the article's release Mother Jones sent letters to Megeney's family, informing them of the pending story and the medical detail including regarding Patterson's efforts to save the soldier.

Is Blackwater Leaving the Security Biz?

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 1:38 PM EDT

If his controversial company exits the private security business, Blackwater president Gary Jackson wants you to know exactly who's to blame: "If you could get it right," he told the AP, referring to the journalists covering Blackwater, "we might stay in the business." According to the AP, which recently visited the company's Moyock, North Carolina headquarters, Blackwater is planning to refocus its operations on aviation, logistics, and training, moving away from the security work that has earned the firm hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts since 9/11. "The experience we've had would certainly be a disincentive to any other companies that want to step in and put their entire business at risk," Erik Prince, the company's founder and CEO, told the wire service.

The company has been a magnet for controversy, the subject of negative news coverage, sustained congressional scrutiny, and activist outcry. Its shoot-first-ask-questions-later rep has at times obscured the company's better deeds, such as when Blackwater operators swooped in to Kenya to rescue three young American women who'd gotten stranded in a part of the country that had descended into violence. But while Blackwater has at times served, unfairly, as a stand-in for all the security contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan—some of them fly by night operations that you probably wouldn't want protecting your local Target—and as the Left's favorite punching bag, its bitter experience in the protection field has more often than not been of its own making.

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Some Inconvenient Truths About The Olympics

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 12:06 PM EDT

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The hype machine is now in high gear. You would have to live on the moon not to know: The Olympics are almost here. Prepare yourself to see world leaders dancing in the aisles at the opening ceremony—those who will be there, anyway (Am I the only one who remembers Al Gore's hypnotic gyrations in Sydney?); to listen to countless hours of platitudes about world peace; to see hours of melodramatic footage documenting the life challenges faced by individual athletes; and, of course, to enjoy some world-class sport. Also in the mix, as seems unavoidable, will be mini-documentaries about China's place in the world, the advances it's made, where it's going, etc. We'll see images of picturesque rural landscapes and cities the size of Chicago that none of us have ever heard of.

I must admit, part of me looks forward to all of this, the spectacle even more than the sports. But lost in the pageantry will be the reality that the Olympics—not just those to be held in Beijing next month, but the entire Olympic system—is not always the rosy celebration of international peace and cooperation it purports to be. A piece by Olympic scholar John Hoberman in the current issue of Foreign Policy argues that the Games "often mask human rights abuses, do little to spur political development, and lend legitimacy to unsavory governments." The article itself is available only to the magazine's subscribers, but the following press release outlines Hoberman's attempts to debunk some prevailing myths about the Olympics:

Liberal Lawyer Helping Louisiana Kill That Guy

| Tue Jul. 22, 2008 10:28 AM EDT

In one of the more dramatic decisions of the last Supreme Court term, justices voted 5 to 4 to ban the death penalty in a Louisiana child rape case, Kennedy v. Louisiana. The court based its decision in part on the notion that there was a national consensus against executing people for rape, as suggested by the complete absence of any federal statute making child rape a capital crime. As it turns out, though, the court was wrong. There is such a statute under military law, an error pointed out by Linda Greenhouse on her way out the door from the New York Times.

Based on that omission, Louisiana yesterday petitioned the high court to rehear the case. It's still a longshot, but given the nature of the error, not impossible that the court might reconsider. Besides, the state has a good lawyer. Fighting to execute Patrick Kennedy is Georgetown law professor Neal Katyal. Katyal became a darling of the liberal establishment in 2005 after successfully arguing the Hamdan case, in which the Supreme Court found the Bush administration's military tribunals for trying Guantanamo detainees unconstitutional. (Katyal is currently defending Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former driver, in his military trial, which started this week.) The case rocketed the young, telegenic Katyal into the public eye—he was profiled in Vanity Fair, no less--and his name is one of those constantly floating in the ether as a potential democratic Supreme Court nominee.

His role in the Kennedy case suggests that Katyal is not quite the liberal he's been made out to be by the media. Or, he's got tremendous political savvy. His choice to defend the death penalty in a case that even some court conservatives can't stomach brings back faint memories of a young presidential candidate flying home to Arkansas to oversee the execution of a retarded man. If you aspire to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court, what better way for a liberal to prove political independence (and confirmability) than to get someone executed?

Meeting in the Ladies' Room

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 11:16 PM EDT

Man, I wish I'd thought to write this piece. Kudos to the Wall Street Journal for taking the ladies' loo seriously.

I have long been amazed at the camaraderie of the average women's bathroom, even in anonymous settings like restaurants and malls. A wedding or party? Forget about it. There's a reason we all pack up and go to pee together, gents: We're having fun and laughing at y'all.

Bad Air Killing Eastern US

| Mon Jul. 21, 2008 8:28 PM EDT

800px-Gavin_Plant.JPG Thinks it's just China? Well, every major ecosystem type in the eastern US is being degraded by air pollution. That's right: Adirondack forests, Shenandoah streams, Appalachian wetlands, and the Chesapeake Bay, to name a few.

A new report [pdf] is the first to analyze the combined effects of four air pollutants across a broad range of habitat types.

Most studies focus on one pollutant. And why not? Things always look so much better that way.

But the sulfur, nitrogen, mercury, and ground-level ozone that are released into the air from smokestacks, tailpipes, and agricultural operations fall back to Earth sooner or later. Ooops.

And because the eastern U.S. is downwind from gynormous pollution sources, it receives the highest levels of deposited air pollution anywhere in North America.

That's bad news for wildlife, forests, soil, water, and, guess what?, economies.