More evidence of the mass extinction

There are a number of books out referring to how we’re in the midst of another mass extinction. I’ve recently finished reading “Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction,” and have just picked up “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.”

As the promotional material for “The Sixth Extinction” explains:

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

(First of all, to the creationists: Yes, the Earth is billions of years old.)

That’s the theme of both books. We regularly see stories about disappearing bees, millions of dying bats and regular mysterious deaths of sea creatures.

But let’s look at what this really means. This is a chart of the total weight of land animals on Earth (via XKCD):

land_mammals

There aren’t that many wild animals left. Human behavior is killing everything. Mass extinctions take thousands of years. None of us will be around when the one we’re currently in is over, but more important, the way things are going, the human species may not exist when this mass extinction runs its course.

Nelson Mandela: 1918-2013

New York Times correspondents remember Nelson Mandela:

And Mandela speaks:

Planning to deep fry a turkey this Thanksgiving?

Don’t do it!

Turkey frying is trendy … and deadly.

Stick with broiling. Or take out!

Pictures from an assassination

When President John F. Kennedy was killed 50 years ago today, it didn’t happen on live TV. If something like that happened today, there would be thousands of videos taken on smart phones and uploaded on YouTube within minutes.

But people did film the assassination. Home movies. Polaroids. Snaps from Kodak Brownies. It was an overwhelmingly documented event in American history. But the video above from the New York Times by noted documentarian Errol Morris reveals that the video evidence was pretty much ignored by law enforcement on Nov. 22 and the days, the weeks, the months, the years thereafter.

The day John Kennedy died

It was 50 years ago today. This is how America found out about it from CBS:

And here’s what we saw on NBC:

Meanwhile, here are two hours on ABC.

I’ve seen the Cronkite clip before. NBC and ABC are new to me. I was in school at the time. Third grade. Someone talked to our teacher, then she said, “The president has been shot.” The girl in front of me asked: “Is he dead?”

No answer. We were sent home. It was a Friday. Just like it is today. I was eight years old, and I still remember that day and the days that followed.

A massacre, within walking distance

130916-navy-yard-emergency-hmed-11a.photoblog600I bicycled to work this morning, as usual, and heard a lot of sirens on the way. As I headed along the Waterfront, I watched police cars speed by.

This is Washington. I thought it was some kind of motorcade.

Then I got to work and saw on the Web that there was an “active shooting incident” at the Navy Yard. That’s a military installation about three blocks from Nationals Park. I live four blocks from Nationals Park in the other direction.

And at the end of the day, I see that a heavily armed psychopath went on a rampage and killed 12 people before the police killed him. Seven blocks from where I live.

Crazy people with guns are getting too close to where I live. I expect to see the usual pontificating about gun legislation and the back and forth with the NRA about the right to bear arms vs. the right to live without being shot.

But why bother?

A psychopath with a small arsenal walked into an elementary school and killed 20 first graders less than 10 months ago. Congress didn’t do a thing. Why should we expect anything more when a psychopath with a small arsenal walks into a military installation and kills 12 adults?

And while all this is happening, states are passing this kind of legislation:

Iowa is granting permits to acquire or carry guns in public to people who are legally or completely blind.

No one questions the legality of the permits. State law does not allow sheriffs to deny an Iowan the right to carry a weapon based on physical ability.

The quandary centers squarely on public safety. Advocates for the disabled and Iowa law enforcement officers disagree over whether it’s a good idea for visually disabled Iowans to have weapons.

Let me make this simple.

No. It’s a stupid idea to let blind people carry guns. Just like it’s going to be stupid to let another mass murder go by without taking any kind of action.

But we seem to relish in our right to be stupid. Don’t we?

Poverty and a lack of education are fatal

There’s an odd demographic health issue currently plaguing America. Poor white women who haven’t completed high school have seen a significant reduction in their life expectancy.

According to an article in the American Prospect by Monica Potts titled “What’s Killing Poor White Women“:

These women can now expect to die five years earlier than the generation before them. It is an unheard-of drop for a wealthy country in the age of modern medicine. Throughout history, technological and scientific innovation have put death off longer and longer, but the benefits of those advances have not been shared equally, especially across the race and class divides that characterize 21st–century America. Lack of access to education, medical care, good wages, and healthy food isn’t just leaving the worst-off Americans behind. It’s killing them.

The journal Health Affairs reported the five-year drop last August. The article’s lead author, Jay Olshansky, who studies human longevity at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a team of researchers looked at death rates for different groups from 1990 to 2008. White men without high-school diplomas had lost three years of life expectancy, but it was the decline for women like Crystal that made the study news. Previous studies had shown that the least-educated whites began dying younger in the 2000s, but only by about a year. Olshansky and his colleagues did something the other studies hadn’t: They isolated high-school dropouts and measured their outcomes instead of lumping them in with high-school graduates who did not go to college.

The last time researchers found a change of this magnitude, Russian men had lost seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when they began drinking more and taking on other risky behaviors.

The article focuses on the death of a 38-year-old diabetic in Arkansas, but notes that she was part of a growing segment of the population who have to deal with poverty, inadequate health care and a lack of education: Factors, when combined, are significantly shortening the lifespan of this specific group of Americans. And the region of the country they live in is a factor:

The researchers colored the counties with an increase in female mortality a bright red, and the red splashed over Appalachia, down through Kentucky and Tennessee, north of the Cotton Belt, and across the Ozarks—the parts of the South where poor white people live. Location seemed to matter more than other indicators, like drug use, which has been waning. The Wisconsin researchers recommended more studies examining “cultural, political, or religious factors.”

Something less tangible, it seems, is shaping the lives of white women in the South, beyond what science can measure. Surely these forces weigh on black women, too, but perhaps they are more likely to have stronger networks of other women. Perhaps after centuries of slavery and Jim Crow, black women are more likely to feel like they’re on an upward trajectory. Perhaps they have more control relative to the men in their communities. In low-income white communities of the South, it is still women who are responsible for the home and for raising children, but increasingly they are also raising their husbands. A husband is a burden and an occasional heartache rather than a helpmate, but one women are told they cannot do without. More and more, data show that poor women are working the hardest and earning the most in their families but can’t take the credit for being the breadwinners. Women do the emotional work for their families, while men reap the most benefits from marriage. The rural South is a place that often wants to remain unchanged from the 1950s and 1960s, and its women are now dying as if they lived in that era, too.

This isn’t something that’s just been discovered, though. In June 2011, I posted an item on the shift in life expectancy among American women that included this map:

62375852

But at the time, the report didn’t specify that the trend specifically involved uneducated poor white females.

Part obituary and part medical journal, the American Prospect article digs deep into the problem facing poor people in rural America. It’s a fascinating read.