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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Hidden Truth Behind Hotel Drinking Glasses

A disturbing video uncovering a nasty hotel practice.

Crest Pro-Health Mouthwash: "I Woke Up With Brown Spots On My Teeth"

crestprohealth.jpgReader Monique says that she used Crest Pro-Health Mouthwash and woke up with brown spots on her teeth and no sense of taste. How terrifying!

Crest Pro-Health Mouthwash turned my teeth brown! And on top of that, I can't taste anything! I can't believe this stuff is even on the market. My wisdom teeth are coming in painfully, and I am prepping to get them removed next week. So while at Rite Aid last night, I picked up a bottle of Crest Pro-Health mouthwash. I typically use Listerine, but as I said my wisdom teeth are killing me and this Crest CRAP advertises "No Alcohol". Cool.


Except that after using it for ONE day (in the am and then before bed) I woke up today with brown spots on and in between my teeth and I cannot taste anything at all. After being scared almost to the point of tears, I started googling these symptoms. You wouldn't believe how many website there are that are dedicated to this nonsense. Crest should be sued for this!

More people need to be informed about this. On top of that, if you read the comments on the site I am linking, Crest wont even reimburse you for the lousy 4 dollars you spend on this poison. Never mind the expensive dental bills I am going to face whitening and repairing my teeth. Spread the word Consumerist.

Yikes! We took a look around the internet and found a lot of people complaining about this issue.

Here are some highlights from Amazon.com:

David Case from Flint, MI says:

At the beginning mouthwash was fine. Nice not having the alcohol burn and the breath, that my girlfriend hated. So that was nice.

But after extended use for a month it stained in between my teeth brown. It looked terrible and it cost me a one hundred dollar trip to the dentist to scrape that junk off. The dentist advised that it was my mouthwash after hearing it was this Crest mouthwash that I was using. I was surprised that a mouthwash that is suppose to help clean your teeth actually does the opposite.


Another guy says:
This garbage put dingy yellow and brown stains on my teeth, especially near the gums. A dental cleaning failed to get them off. If I had known this mouthwash could cause stains, I would never have used it in the first place. If my next dental cleaning fails to remove the yellow on my teeth, P&G may have a lawsuit on their hands. It's to the point where I don't want to even talk or smile. These Pro Health products should be illegal.

E.Leyden from NY, NY says:
The first thing I noticed was a buildup of white gunk on my tongue. I had just brushed my tongue until it was a nice pink before using the mouthwash, which annoyed me. But it wasn't just gunk -- this stuff was solid. It was annoying, but I could live with gunk. I can't live with what else it did, though.

Let me put this as simply as possible: This mouthwash destroys your sense of taste. Not just immediately after you spit it out, (it ruins it then too, since water tasted strange when I had a drink before bed) but the next morning as well. I COVERED my eggs in ketchup, yet the normally puckering taste of a mouthful of ketchup was missing. I ate kiwis, pineapple, apple, tea, and nothing. It was like a mouthful of sawdust, or water, or watery sawdust.

About 12 hours after the rinsing, I finally started to regain some taste. I looked up the "active" ingredient in Crest Pro-Health online, called cetylpyridinium chloride. This is what the Materials Safety and Data Sheet has to say about this ingredient: "Toxic if swallowed. Very toxic by inhalation. May cause severe eye irritation. Respiratory and skin irritant," with a large TOXIC warning at the top of the page. I'm sure the concentration in this product is low enough to be harmless in a single dose, but imagine years of using this? Hopefully this won't be on the market long enough for that to be possible.


Joseph Adams says:

This is easily the most disturbing thing I've ever had happen to me. I've never had side-effects like this from ANY over the counter medicine, much less an oral product. My bottom teeth now have visible brown spots between them and I'm worried that they won't come off (or that it'll cost me a lot of money to remove them). I don't think I've ever felt so screwed over like this before... this is simply inexcusable. Crest should not be allowed to have a product like this on the market without a huge sticker warning you about its side-effects.

Sadly I don't think people will see this, and they too will get brown garbage in between their teeth. No one googles or looks up mouth wash on Amazon, though I sure wish I did now...

Has this happened to you?

Original here

Next Question: Can Students Be Paid to Excel?

Ruth Lopez gives her student Abigail Ortega a certificate showing her earnings from test scores.

Correction Appended

The fourth graders squirmed in their seats, waiting for their prizes. In a few minutes, they would learn how much money they had earned for their scores on recent reading and math exams. Some would receive nearly $50 for acing the standardized tests, a small fortune for many at this school, P.S. 188 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Librado Romero/The New York Times

At Junior High School 123 in the Bronx, Jerome Johnson, a seventh-grade math student, also received cash awards.

When the rewards were handed out, Jazmin Roman was eager to celebrate her $39.72. She whispered to her friend Abigail Ortega, “How much did you get?” Abigail mouthed a barely audible answer: $36.87. Edgar Berlanga pumped his fist in the air to celebrate his $34.50.

The children were unaware that their teacher, Ruth Lopez, also stood to gain financially from their achievement. If students show marked improvement on state tests during the school year, each teacher at Public School 188 could receive a bonus of as much as $3,000.

School districts nationwide have seized on the idea that a key to improving schools is to pay for performance, whether through bonuses for teachers and principals, or rewards like cash prizes for students. New York City, with the largest public school system in the country, is in the forefront of this movement, with more than 200 schools experimenting with one incentive or another. In more than a dozen schools, students, teachers and principals are all eligible for extra money, based on students’ performance on standardized tests.

Each of these schools has become a test to measure whether, as Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg posits, tangible cash rewards can turn a school around. Can money make academic success cool for students disdainful of achievement? Will teachers pressure one another to do better to get a schoolwide bonus?

So far, the city has handed out more than $500,000 to 5,237 students in 58 schools as rewards for taking several of the 10 standardized tests on the schedule for this school year. The schools, which had to choose to participate in the program, are all over the city.

“I’m not saying I know this is going to fix everything,” said Roland G. Fryer, the Harvard economist who designed the student incentive program, “but I am saying it’s worth trying. What we need to try to do is start that spark.”

Nationally, school districts have experimented with a range of approaches. Some are giving students gift certificates, McDonald’s meals and class pizza parties. Baltimore is planning to pay struggling students who raise their state test scores.

Critics of these efforts say that children should be inspired to learn for knowledge’s sake, not to earn money, and question whether prizes will ultimately lift achievement. Anticipating this kind of argument, New York City was careful to start the student experiment with private donations, not taxpayer money, avoiding some of the controversy that has followed the Baltimore program, which uses public money.

Some principals had no qualms about entering the student reward program. Virginia Connelly, the principal of Junior High School 123, in the Soundview section of the Bronx, has experimented with incentives for years, like rewarding good behavior, attendance and grades with play money that can be spent in the student store.

“We’re in competition with the streets,” Ms. Connelly said. “They can go out there and make $50 illegally any day of the week. We have to do something to compete with that.”

Barbara Slatin, the principal of P.S. 188, on the other hand, said she was initially skeptical about paying students for doing well. Her students, many of whom live in the nearby housing projects along Avenue D, would surely welcome the money, she said, but she worried about sending the wrong message. “I didn’t want to connect the notion of money with academic success,” she said.

But after a sales pitch by Dr. Fryer, Ms. Slatin said she was persuaded to try. “We say we want to do whatever it takes, so if this is it, I am going to get on board,” she said.

In 1996, P.S. 188 was considered to be failing by the State Education Department, but it has improved dramatically over the last decade. In the fall, it received an A on the city’s report card. Still, fewer than 60 percent of the students passed the state math test last year, and fewer than 40 percent did so in reading.

Teachers at the school said that this year, they had noticed a better attitude among the students, which they attributed to the incentive program. One recent day, fourth graders talked eagerly about the computer games they have been playing to get ready for this week’s state math exam. During the school’s recent winter break, dozens of students showed up for extra tutoring to prepare.

Librado Romero/The New York Times

Part of the tally sheet that students at participating schools receive if they do well on standardized math and reading tests.

Annie Tritt for The New York Times

Masudur Rahman receives his “earnings” record from Dalia Johnson, the director of Public School 188 in Manhattan. The amount is determined by his scores on reading and math tests.

“My teacher told me to study more, so I study,” said Jazmin, who had already taken eight standardized exams this school year. “I did multiplication tables. I learned to divide.” When asked why she took so many tests, Jazmin replied earnestly, “To show them we have education and we learn stuff from education and the tests.”

The students spoke excitedly about their plans for the money. Several boys said they were saving for video games. Abigail said she would use it to pay for “a car, a house and college,” apparently unaware that the roughly $100 she’s earned this school year might not stretch that far. Another little girl said she would use the money simply for food. When asked to elaborate, she answered quietly, “Spaghetti.”

Changing the attitudes of seventh graders seems to be more complicated. At J.H.S. 123 in the Bronx, for example, a seventh-grade English class was asked one morning if there were too many standardized tests. Every hand in the room shot up to answer with a defiant yes. But at the same time, the students all agreed that receiving money for doing well on a test was a good idea, saying it made school more exciting, and made doing well more socially acceptable.

“This is the hardest grade to pass,” said Adonis Flores, a 13-year-old who has struggled in his classes at times. “This motivates us better. Everybody wants some money, and nobody wants to get left behind.”

Would it be better to get the money as college scholarships? Shouts of “No way!” echoed through the room. “We might not all go to college,” one student protested.

So is doing well in school cool? A few hands slowly inched up. But when their principal, Ms. Connelly, asked what could be done to make being the A-plus student seem as important as being the star basketball player, she was met with silence.

For teachers, bonuses come with ambivalence. So toxic was the idea of merit pay for individual teachers that the union insisted that bonus pools be awarded to whole schools to be divided up by joint labor-management committees, either evenly among union members or by singling out exceptional teachers.

Still, nearly 90 percent of the 200 schools offered the chance to join the teacher bonus program are participating, after a vote with each school’s chapter of the teachers’ union. At many schools this year, including P.S. 188 and J.H.S. 123, a decision has already been made to distribute any money they get across the board, and they are trying to include secretaries and other staff members as well.

No teachers were willing to say the rewards were unwelcome, but few said the potential windfall would push them to work harder.

“It’s better than a slap in the face,” said Ms. Lopez, who has taught at P.S. 188 for more than a decade. “But honestly, I don’t think about it. We’re here every day working and pushing; that’s what we’ve been doing for years. We don’t come into this for the money, and most of us don’t leave it because of the money.”

Newer teachers seemed more positive, saying the bonus was a rare chance to be rewarded.

“I tell my students all the time that I can sit in the back and hand them worksheets and get the same amount of money as I do if I stand in front of the class working with high energy the entire time,” said Christina Varghese, the lead math teacher at J.H.S. 123, who is in her 10th year of teaching. “What’s the motivation there? At least this gives us something to work toward.”

It will be months before Ms. Slatin and her teachers know whether they have earned the bonus, but initial test scores are promising. On one test designed to mimic the state math exam, 77 percent of fourth graders met state standards. Roughly half of those who did not were just below the cutoff, making it possible that more than 80 percent of the students would pass the test this year — a virtual dream for the school.

“We want to believe it, but it makes me nervous,” Ms. Slatin said. “Those are not numbers we are used to seeing.”

Original here

State universities to arm police with assault rifles

Police departments at Arizona's three universities plan to arm their officers with military-style assault rifles within the next year, officials said Tuesday.

The new rifles would give campus police officers long-range shooting capabilities, allowing them to hit targets at the end of long hallways or atop tall buildings, officials said.

Arizona State University will be the first of the three schools to use the weapons. Officers there will be trained to use the rifles in the next few months, said ASU police spokesman Cmdr. Jim Hardina.

Officers will undergo 40 hours of training before using the weapons.

"We don't want to just throw rifles out there," Hardina said.

Eight officers at the University of Arizona will get similar training before a rifle program launches there in four to five months, officials said. Northern Arizona University officials said a rifle program was in the works, although a specific start date was not immediately available.

ASU has bought four of the new rifles at $700 each, and is looking to find money to purchase four more. One challenge the department is facing: finding ammunition for the rifles. Increased military operations mean that the police department and the armed forces were competing for the same ammo, Hardina said.

Assault rifles are useful in "active shooter" situations in which there may not be time to wait for a SWAT team to arrive on campus, officials said.

They added that the plan has been in the works for a couple of years and is not related to recent shootings on college campuses, including last year's massacre of 32 students at Virginia Tech by a student with a history of mental illness.

Pistols that campus officers currently use aren't ideal for long shots, said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, UA Police Department spokesman.

"Beyond 50 feet, you lose a lot of accuracy," Mejia said. "You can take a longer, more accurate shot (with the rifles)."

ASU officers will store the new guns in their patrol cars while on duty, taking them out only when a situation warrants their use, Hardina said.

Jan Kelly, an ASU faculty member, said she understands why officers have a need for weapons with increased capabilities. She said she feels comfortable with campus officers' access to the rifles.

"I don't think the police are going to target students," Kelly said. "If they (the guns) aren't visible, most won't really know about them.

"Hopefully we'll never know about them."

Original here

TriggerStreetTV - Episode 35: "New Line Merges and Fanboys Unite"

In hindsight, Les Moonves seems to think the strike was a good thing, meanwhile Warner absorbs New Line Cinema and controversy rages on the Internet as Facebook bans "Untraceable" and Star Wars fans worldwide revolt against the Weinstein Empire; luckily, Dana and Evan have a unique insider's opinion.



Want to download and watch this or previous episodes of TriggerStreetTV? You can download them from iTunes right now. Just go to the iTunes Music Store and search for "TriggerStreet." It's free!

While you're on iTunes, please make sure to take a few minutes and write a review of the show. We'd love to know what you think. We hope to broaden the audience for this show to folks who may not be members of this site already, and your reviews on iTunes definitely help to make that a possibility.

SHOW NOTES - Episode 35

Original here

Researchers say marijuana is less of a drag than cigarettes

Teens smoking marijuanaA study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine was completed on 5,263 teenage students in Switzerland and is producing some hair raising results. In line with a lot of studies that have been released in 2007 and 2008, this study boldly claims that it has found that marijuana use does not produce the fearful symptoms spread by anti-drug groups. The study seems to make a case that teenagers who use only marijuana, opposed to students who use marijuana and cigarettes are more active in sports, have better grades, are more socially adept and have used less illegal drugs.

As this might seem completely crazy to some as they nod their head in doubt, we’ll cover the actual study statistics so you can define your own truth. Before we jump into the specific study data, it is important to note that this study was completed in Switzerland where laws around marijuana are more lax and it is more socially acceptable to use the drug. America definitely has much tougher laws on marijuana use and possession. Now that we have established the liberal differences, let’s jump into the data of the actual study.

If you would like to review this study in it’s published format at the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine you can get it here. The study was carried out at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland by J.C. Suris, M.D., Ph.D., and a group of his peers. A national survey was given to 5,263 Swiss students that ranged from 16 - 20 years old. One thing to note that could throw a slight curve-ball in these results is the way the Swiss educational system is structured. In Switzerland at age 16 students decide whether to attend high school (students on their way to obtain a university education, 30% of 16 year olds) or whether to go to vocational school (apprentices who spend two thirds of the week working in a company related to their field, 60% of 16 year olds) and the other 10% decide to do their own thing. While the study did a great job of mixing responses from students attending high school or vocational school, it would seem the 10 percent of dropouts might have provided important data to the study conclusions.

Putting the educational system differences aside, the study produced clear data that shows some surprising conclusions. From all 5,263 students in the study they break down like this: 1,703 smoked marijuana and cigarettes, 455 smoked only marijuana and 3,105 abstained from both marijuana and cigarettes. Directly from the study the researchers state, “Our findings in this nationally representative sample of adolescents show that 6 percent of them use cannabis without having used tobacco and that one-fifth of current cannabis users (21.1 percent) declare never having used tobacco.”

When you look at the students that claimed to have never used marijuana or cigarettes, you find interesting and unexpected differences. The survey found that non-users that claimed to play sports tallied up to 76.6 percent but 85.5 percent of “marijuana only” users played sports. With the repeated mentions of amotivational syndrome found in marijuana users in other studies, the sports participation was definitely surprising. In addition to sports, 87 percent of marijuana users said they had good friendships opposed to 82.2 percent of non-users. Sports and MarijuanaA nearly 20 percent difference was found in sensation-seeking teens with 37.8 percent of marijuana users seekers and 21.8 percent of non-users sensation-seekers. The parent relationships didn’t have a striking difference with 74.1 percent of teens using marijuana less likely to have a good relationship with their parents and 82.4 percent of non-users less likely to have a good relationship with their parents. As one can imagine, it can be a challenge to have a good relationship with any teen on the parental level throughout the various stages of their teen years if marijuana is involved or not.

Looking directly at the original comparison between marijuana only users and tobacco and marijuana users, you see bigger differences in the sports and grade portions of the study. When looking at playing sports, marijuana only users were at 85.5 percent and marijuana and tobacco users only had 66.7 percent of them playing sports. So a nearly 22 percent difference of these users playing sports seems to show that cigarettes put the kabosh on extracurricular activities in school. An 11 percent difference showed up when talking about grades in school. Marijuana only users were tallied at 77.5 percent with good grades and marijuana and cigarette users were only at 66.5 percent. As you might expect, the grades suffered due to using too many substances at once. It was eluded to in the survey that teens using marijuana and cigarettes were more likely to abuse alcohol and other illegal drugs too.

Alcoholic DrinksOther important parts of the study to take note of were that marijuana users were less likely to have drank alcohol in the last 30 days and less likely to have used any other illegal drugs when compared to students who smoked both marijuana and cigarettes. One thing to note about the marijuana only users that seems to show a reason for some of the differences is they claimed they were less likely to have used marijuana more than once or twice in the last 30 days. So although the teens classified as marijuana only users were in fact using marijuana, they truly were not spending their afternoons toking up.

There are more categories and comparisons that were revealed by the study, but we have covered most of the more interesting ones. If you want to delve deeper into the study remember that you can grab the scientific report from the link above.

As a listener to the Business Shrink radio show and a reader of the blog we want to know what you think about this study? Does anything seem not to add up to you? We would love to get your comments and how well you think this study applies to American students and if it has revealed anything surprising to you. The efforts behind medical marijuana legalization have become even more heated in the last year and this study seems to add to the fire. Please feel free to let us know your thoughts on America’s growing acceptance of marijuana.

Original here

Penis cancer: My very private hell

Artist John D Edwards's latest paintings tell a harrowing story: how he fought his way back from penis cancer. By Simon Usborne

'Cancer patients are often quite gung-ho," says John D Edwards at his studio in the Foundry, a converted biscuit factory in Poplar, east London, "but I could shut them up in seconds." Reliving his brush with death a decade ago, the celebrated painter tells how, in a bid to boost morale, patients on his cancer ward would gather to talk about their illnesses.

"There were awful cases – people with eyes missing, huge growths or bits chopped off," he recalls, "but none of them seemed fazed. Then I introduced myself. They said, 'so, what have you got?' 'Oh, er, men's cancer,' I replied. 'Prostate?' 'No.' 'Testicular?' 'No.' They dug a bit more until I just came out and said it. 'I've got penile cancer, OK – cancer of the penis!' You could have heard a pin drop."

It was one of many milestones in Edwards's long recovery from one of the rarest cancers, which the artist talks about with almost uncomfortable candour. Now all but clear of the disease that came very close to killing him, Edwards, 56, is showing some of the paintings he created throughout the ordeal in an exhibition now touring hospitals, starting at the Chelsea and Westminster in London.

Edwards has also produced a book. How Cancer Saved My Life, which includes a touching foreword by the painter's friend Sir Peter Blake, chronicles seven years of his life, starting before the diagnosis that changed everything. In the early 1990s, Edwards had returned to his beloved London flat at the Foundry, where moulds for sculptures by some of modern art's biggest names dot the corridors, after trying to "live like a rock star" in Gloucestershire. "When the postman is the most exciting person in your life you should worry," he says.

To celebrate his return to the capital, Edwards painted a series of playful visions of urban life, inspired by the cartoon annuals he loved as a child. The first painting shows a gurning bulldog in brilliant orange, its tongue hanging out. But, peering around the corner of a factory wall, the gnashing hound also appears to portend danger. "There was trouble in the neighbourhood," reads the caption.

It was in the bath that the artist discovered a lump in his groin. In a move that probably saved his life, he went straight to his GP. He was immediately referred to a consultant, who ordered a biopsy. "They told me I had a malignant tumour in my lymph nodes, that it was very serious, but that they didn't know where the cancer was coming from," Edwards says.

In a desperate hunt for the primary source of cancer, doctors at the Royal London Hospital, two miles from Edwards's studio, carried out a host of tests and biopsies. Soon, their search centred on Edward's penis. "They asked me if I had a foreskin, which I did," Edwards says. "Then they asked if I had ever had trouble pulling it back, which I had." Doctors circumcised Edwards and discovered a redness under his foreskin. This apparently innocuous rash was quickly identified as the source of his cancer.

Only 400 men a year in the UK are diagnosed with penile cancer, compared with 35,000 for prostate cancer. Placed way down the list of the most common male cancers at 23 (one place ahead of male breast cancer) it is extremely rare. It is also, says Edwards, very hard to talk about.

"I had always been quite squeamish and I was terrified at first," he says. "I told my family I had 'something' cancer. But it became so difficult not to talk about it so I just told them I had penis cancer, 'cancer of the dick!' With four sisters and a mother, you just have to say it like it is."

Reconciled to the nature of his cancer, Edwards then had to face treatment. Doctors started chemotherapy and prescribed him interferon, a stronger version of the anti-viral proteins already produced by the body. "The first day I injected it, all my nails fell off," he says. "It made me feel horrible."

Stuck in a hospital bed, it was one of the lowest periods for Edwards. When he could return to his studio, there was only one thing he could do. "I had to paint what I was experiencing – that's what I do," he says. But there would be no more childish cartoons. Perhaps the darkest depiction of his illness appears on the cover of his book. Out of this World shows Edwards as a bird, in bed, on the moon. "That's exactly how I felt," he says, "like an alien, completely cut off from the world, looking down at the life I might or might not go back to."

By this stage, Edwards's cancer was turning the artist into something of a medical celebrity. "A visiting consultant from France came in and asked, 'you're penile cancer man – can I have a look?' I said yes, and showed him my penis – it feels like I've showed it to the whole world. He had a look and said, almost in passing, 'In France, we would try radiotherapy with that.'" The snatched exchange would prove crucial.

Three months on, relentless chemotherapy and doses of interferon had turned Edwards, whose frame reaches well over six foot, into a grey-haired shadow. But worse was to come. "One day there was an explosion in my groin," he recalls. "This horrible Vesuvius – like a giant boil." Edwards was whisked straight to A&E.

The eruption turned out to be cancerous and marked a potentially terminal decline in Edwards's health. It was then that doctors confronted him with the worst decision a man could face. "They asked for permission to amputate my penis," Edwards says.

Demoralised, exhausted and full of drugs, Edwards gave his answer. "No, I told them. I just could not face another operation." Edwards started arguing with the consultant, whom he later nicknamed Slasher. "I told him unless you can say for certain this will save me, I'd rather die with my penis on, thank you very much."

Slasher appears in one of Edwards's paintings as a hawkish bird whispering his intentions to a colleague while concealing a terrifying, toothy saw behind his back. But, thanks to the French consultant who had visited Edwards earlier, the artist's penis would escape the chop. "I said I'd heard that radiation could work, and pleaded with them to try it instead."

Slasher relented and called off the penectomy, but the ordeal continued. First, Edwards had to be fitted with a mould for the radiation unit that would zap the cancerous cells in his penis. He remembers the day with characteristic good humour: "I couldn't believe there was a mould maker for penises in London. I went in there and he had these enormous moulds on a shelf. I looked at the man and said, what's this – are these for people or for London Zoo?"

Radiotherapy, while painless in itself, targets high-energy X-rays, and other rays, at the source of cancer. The side-effects can be horrific. Edwards's penis all but disintegrated before the skin could renew itself. "It was the most painful experience of my life," he says. But not all the effects were unpleasant. "About six months later, some American collectors of mine invited me to recuperate by their pool. Every time a mosquito landed on me, the radiation still inside me would kill it. It became my party trick."

The radiation had an equally lethal effect on Edwards's cancer. The artist slowly regained his strength and the colour returned to his paintings, in which sunrises and angels replaced dark skies and the Slasher. Indeed, Edwards credits his art with helping him to defy the odds. "I'd come back here and see these paintings on the wall and think, blimey, it can't be that bad," he says. "The ability to externalise was very important."

But most important, Edwards says, was laughter. "Cancer doesn't like humour," he says. "You have to decide whether to panic and fight it – I would see people come in like they'd run a marathon, who then couldn't cope with setbacks – or to live with it. I chose to live with it and if living included death, I would do that."

Edwards describes his experience as like "hearing a burglar downstairs – you know there's something unfriendly there, but you have time to decide what to do about it." Unsurprisingly, the artist's paintings, book, as well as the talks he gives at hospitals, have proved inspirational. "I got a message from a priest in Maidenhead who called my book a holy book of healing, which is all right by me," he says.

Edwards wants his experience to serve as a warning to other men not to ignore the warning signs. "I was amazed how many men had put up with so much before they went to the doctor," he says. "I'd talk to people who had been bleeding when they went to the loo for two years before they did anything about it."

So, how is the part of him that Edwards came so close to losing? "It works fine," he says, gleefully. "In fact, I was having an active love life throughout the experience, except for during the radiotherapy. I thought it was a bit like a footpath – if you don't use it you lose the rights to it."

Original here

Gene glitches may hold secret of a long life

A series of rare genetic mutations that boost human lifespan have been discovered by a team of scientists studying centenarians and their elderly children.

The genetic glitches are thought to interfere with the normal growth of cells, halting the ageing process.

The discovery mirrors similar findings from studies on animals, which have shown that certain variations of genes linked to an insulin-like growth hormone can extend animals' lives dramatically.

Dr Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Ageing Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, found a series of mutations exclusively among centenarians which affect sensitivity to "insulin growth factor 1", or IGF-1. This hormone influences the development of almost every cell in the body. It is crucial for children's growth and continues contributing to tissue generation throughout adulthood.

Barzilai's team discovered the genetic markers after scanning the genetic codes of 384 participants whose ages ranged from 95 to 110, with an average age of 100. They were compared with 312 controls, who came from families with a typical life span, none of whom had lived to 95.

Tests on cells taken from the elderly volunteers showed they were less sensitive to IGF-1, suggesting that the mutated genes were disrupting the body's ability to grow normally.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Original here

Pepsi Raw: Can Pepsi Actually Make Something Natural?

Pepsi recently introduced Pepsi Raw to the UK market, their first new Pepsi drink in ten years. Currently only available in select bars and clubs, Pepsi Raw is promising to be all natural, slightly less carbonated, and less fattening. Why select bars and clubs only? Must be the health conscious customers.
Best of all: no high fructose corn syrup! HFCS has been plaguing sodas for decades. It’s time American soda makers stop using this cheap, highly available, and terribly unhealthy sugar source.

The new drink claims to have 90 calories and have the following ingredients:

  • Apple extract
  • Plain caramel colouring
  • Coffee leaf
  • Tantaric acid from grapes
  • Gum arabic from acacia trees
  • Cane sugar
  • Sparkling water


I for one welcome the new Pepsi and hope it spawns a trend in American sodas. Already some other soda makers are using natural ingredients and cane sugar: Boylan’s, Dublin Dr. Pepper, Cricket Cola, and others. There’s no mention when Pepsi Raw will be available in the U.S. I hope it’s soon. In the mean time, at least we can enjoy the ad campaign.

Original here

Bottled Water Vs. Tap Water

Chemicals, contaminants, pollution, price: new reasons to rethink what you drink and beware of bottled water.

Growing Thirst

Remember the drinking fountain, that once ubiquitous, and free, source of H2O? It seems quaint now. Instead, bottled water is everywhere, in offices, airplanes, stores, homes and restaurants across the country. We consumed over eight billion gallons of the stuff in 2006, a 10 percent increase from 2005. It's refreshing, calorie-free, convenient to carry around, tastier than some tap water and a heck of a lot healthier than sugary sodas. But more and more, people are questioning whether the water, and the package it comes in, is safe, or at least safer than tap water—and if the convenience is worth the environmental impact.

What's in That Bottle?
Evocative names and labels depicting pastoral scenes have convinced us that the liquid is the purest drink around. "But no one should think that bottled water is better regulated, better protected or safer than tap," says Eric Goldstein, co-director of the urban program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a nonprofit organization devoted to protecting health and the environment.

Yes, some bottled water comes from sparkling springs and other pristine sources. But more than 25 percent of it comes from a municipal supply. The water is treated, purified and sold to us, often at a thousandfold increase in price. Most people are surprised to learn that they're drinking glorified tap water, but bottlers aren't required to list the source on the label.

This year Aquafina will begin stating on labels that its H2O comes from public water sources. And Nestlé Pure Life bottles will indicate whether the water comes from public, private or deep well sources. Dasani acknowledges on its website, but not on the label itself, that it draws from local water.

Labels can be misleading at best, deceptive at worst. In one notorious case, water coming from a well located near a hazardous waste site was sold to many bottlers. At least one of these companies labeled its product "spring water." In another case, H2O sold as "pure glacier water" came from a public water system in Alaska.

Lisa Ledwidge, 38, of Minneapolis, stopped drinking bottled water a couple of years ago, partly because she found out that many brands come from a municipal supply. "You're spending more per gallon than you would on gasoline for this thing that you can get out of the tap virtually for free," she says. "I wondered, Why am I spending this money while complaining about how much gas costs? But you don't ever hear anyone complain about the price of bottled water." Ledwidge says she now drinks only filtered tap water.

The controversy isn't simply about tap vs. bottled water; most people drink both, knowing the importance of plenty of water. What they may not know is that some bottled water may not be as pure as they expect. In 1999 the NRDC tested more than 1,000 bottles of 103 brands of water. (This is the most recent major report on bottled water safety.) While noting that most bottled water is safe, the organization found that at least one sample of a third of the brands contained bacterial or chemical contaminants, including carcinogens, in levels exceeding state or industry standards. Since the report, no major regulatory changes have been made and bottlers haven't drastically altered their procedures, so the risk is likely still there.

The NRDC found that samples of two brands were contaminated with phthalates, in one case exceeding Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for tap water. These chemicals, used to make plastic softer, are found in cosmetics and fragrances, shower curtains, even baby toys, and are under increasing scrutiny. They're endocrine disrupters, which means they block or mimic hormones, affecting the body's normal functions. And the effects of exposure to the widespread chemicals may add up.

Purely Deceptive

When exposed to high levels of phthalates during critical developmental periods, male fetuses can have malformed reproductive organs, including undescended testicles. Some experts link phthalates to low sperm counts.

Water bottles do not contain the chemical, which means the phthalates detected by the NRDC probably got into the water during processing at the bottling plant, or were present in the original water source (phthalates have been found in some tap water).

Bottled water is regulated for safety, but it's a tricky thing. The EPA regulates tap water, while the FDA oversees bottled. Yet FDA oversight doesn't apply to water packaged and sold within the same state, leaving some 60 to 70 percent of bottled water, including the contents of watercooler jugs, free of FDA regulation, according to the NRDC's report. In this case, testing depends on the states, but the NRDC found that they often don't have adequate resources to oversee bottled water, in some cases lacking even one full-time person for an entire state.

The FDA requires bottlers to regularly test for contaminants, but the agency considers bottled water a low-risk product, so plants may not be inspected every year. According to one FDA official, it's the manufacturer's responsibility to ensure that the product complies with laws and regulations. Some bottlers turn to NSF International, a trade group that conducts yearly unannounced inspections of plants, looking at the source of the water and the treatment process, and testing for contaminants. Other companies belong to the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA), which also performs annual unannounced tests to ensure the plant is up to FDA standards. IBWA has its own regulations, some of which are stricter than the FDA's.

Bottlers don't have to let consumers know if their product becomes contaminated, but sometimes they pull their products from stores. In fact, between 1990 and 2007, this happened about 100 times, says Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute in Oakland, California. Among the reasons for recall: contamination with mold, benzene, coliform, microbes, even crickets.

The Plastic Problem

Most bottled water comes in polyethylene terephthalate bottles, indicated by a number 1, PET or PETE on the bottle's bottom. (No, it's not the same phthalate mentioned earlier.) The bottles are generally safe, says Ken Smith, PhD, immediate past chair of the American Chemical Society's division of environmental chemistry. But scientists say when stored in hot or warm temperatures, the plastic may leach chemicals into the water.

Brenda Decker, 45, of Lake Stockholm, New Jersey, used to buy bottled water in bulk and store it in the crawl space under her house, where it was exposed to high temperatures. But a friend who owns a natural food store recently warned her that the plastic could leach chemicals into the water. So Decker has stopped buying bottled water and is going back to the tap. "It's a process, but I'm willing to go with it to make sure my kid is healthy. That's my biggest drive."

High temperatures in your storage space aren't the only potential risk; so are the other things you keep there. Experts advise against storing water in the garage, near gas fumes, pesticides and other chemicals that could, at the very least, affect the smell and taste of the H2O.

It's not just where you store your water, but what you do with it as you carry it with you. Many people sip from a bottle that's been sitting in a hot car, a potentially dangerous move. "Leaving bottled water out in the car changes the chemical equilibrium so that the materials from the plastic go into the water faster," says Smith.

When 22-year-old Amy Dowley, a senior at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, heard about these risks, she was worried. "I never drank bottled water, because I knew the water from my tap was clean and healthy, but I used to fill used plastic soda or juice bottles with tap water to carry around," she says. Now she uses a stainless steel Klean Kanteen portable container or fills a cup from the sink. "Any way we can cut back on plastic is a good thing."

"Are there hazards associated with these chemicals?" asks James Kapin, a chemical safety consultant in San Diego. "Absolutely." But as with many debates on chemicals, the exact health risks are unknown. "We very rarely get black-and-white answers for the health effects of long-term exposure. At some point, I hope, there will be a scientific consensus."

In the meantime, experts have raised a warning flag about a few specific chemicals. Antimony is a potentially toxic material used in making PET. Last year, scientists in Germany found that the longer a bottle of water sits around (in a store, in your home), the more antimony it develops. High concentrations of antimony can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. In the study, levels found were below those set as safe by the EPA, but it's a topic that needs more research.

Last summer, a National Institutes of Health (NIH) committee agreed that bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in polycarbonate (used to make watercooler jugs, sport-water bottles and other hard plastics, but not PET), may cause neurological and behavioral problems in fetuses, babies and kids. A separate NIH-sponsored panel found that the risk was even greater, saying that adult exposure to BPA likely affects the brain, the female reproductive system and the immune system. The FDA has reviewed these reports and says it will keep monitoring the data to see if the agency needs to take regulatory action.

The Environmental Toll

The potential health risks are important to understand, but bottled water also affects the health of the planet.

"Bottled water is an increasingly growing business, and with that comes a whole lot of environmental impact that can be avoided by a turn of the faucet," says Jenny Powers of the NRDC. While we struggle to cut down on our consumption of fossil fuels, bottled water increases them. Virgin petroleum is used to make PET, and the more bottles we use, the more virgin petroleum will be needed to create new bottles. Fossil fuels are burned to fill the bottles and dis-tribute them. (Stephen Kay of IBWA points out that it's not just bottled water, but juices, soda and other beverages packed in plastic that add to this waste.)

Some brands of water come from islands and countries thousands of miles away, and shipping bottles can cause carbon pollution to spill into the water and spew into the air.

Then there's the waste of water itself, says Todd Jarvis, PhD, associate director of the Institute for Water and Watersheds at Oregon State University. According to his calculations, it takes about 72 billion gallons of water a year, worldwide, just to make the empty bottles.

Treating and filtering tap water for bottling creates even more waste. By some estimates, it takes about two liters of water to make every liter you see on store shelves. "Bottled water has a significant environmental burden," says the NRDC's Goldstein.

A big part of the appeal of bottled water is those convenient single-serving bottles. Yet fewer than 20 percent of them ever make it to a second life, according to estimates by the Container Recycling Institute. The rest are tossed onto beaches and roadsides and into landfills, where they could be around for a thousand years. Nestlé Waters, Dasani and other bottlers are trying to be greener, introducing lighter-weight bottles that use up to 30 percent less plastic.

It's a good start, but more needs to be done—by them, and by us.

What You Can Do

Worried about the toll your bottled water habit has on you or the earth? Take these steps.

Try the tap again. First, check it out. If your water comes from a public source (rather than a well), you should get a water-quality or consumer-confidence report from the water company once a year. It's also available at any time from the local water utility. Read the report carefully, making sure not only that your water has received a passing grade overall but also that contaminants haven't exceeded the maximum allowable levels, even for a short while. If you have well water, get it tested every year. For more information, call the EPA's toll-free Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791, or visit the website for the Campaign for Safe and Affordable Drinking Water.

Get a canteen. Carry your plain or filtered tap water in a reusable stainless steel or lined drinking container, and clean it between uses. Some come with an easy-to-tote strap. We like the stainless steel versions from Klean Kanteen and New Wave Enviro, and the colorful bottles from SIGG.

Think twice about the office watercooler. If it's made of polycarbonate, it has the potential to leach BPA, a chemical that can cause neurological problems, among other things. And have you ever seen anyone actually clean the watercooler? Probably not.

Shop smart. When you must have bottled, look for brands that have NSF certifica-tion or belong to IBWA. Check out the lists at nsf.org or bottledwater.org, or look at the bottle itself (the NSF logo appears on labels of tested brands). If the brand you're looking for isn't there, contact the bottler. Ask where the water is bottled and what exactly is in it.

Keep it cool. Don't drink from a bottle that's been subjected to high temperatures (sitting in your car, for example), don't store it anywhere it will be exposed to heat or chemicals, and don't reuse plastic bottles.

Go with glass. Choose glass containers (Eden Springs and Voss are two popular brands) over plastic whenever possible. When you're done, recycle!

Do You Need a Filter?
The water that comes out of your faucet is probably safe. In general, toxins in drinking water don't exceed EPA limits, but there are still legitimate concerns. From a funny taste to lead contamination from aging pipes, your tap water may have picked up some unsavory additions along the way.

What's in your water? Certain areas of the country are subject to particular toxins, such as runoff from farms and by-products of industry, like arsenic, which can also occur naturally in the environment.

Have it tested. If you're concerned, have your water tested by a lab that's certified by the state; the EPA has an online listing of certification officers, or call your health department for recommendations.Choose a filter. Choices range from tabletop containers, such as a carafe with a carbon filter (Brita and PUR are popular brands), to devices that purify the water as it enters your home. In between are faucet-mounted, under-sink and reverse osmosis units. Look for one approved by NSF, Underwriters Laboratories or the Water Quality Association, and clean it as recommended by the manufacturer. Do it yourself. Some water is treated with chlorine to kill bacteria, but the taste turns people off. The fix? Pour water into a clear glass container and leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for 24 hours to let the chlorine dissipate into the air.

Fluoride Facts
Most bottled water doesn't contain added fluoride (if it does, it will say so on the label). Kids are drinking more bottled water and less fluoridated tap, and some say that's behind the recent rise in dental decay. While the cavity link hasn't been confirmed, pediatric dentist Mary Hayes, DDS, says, "I tell parents that if they choose bottled water without fluoride, they're losing an opportunity to protect their child's teeth. We know fluoride has a great track record in diminishing the risk of decay."

If your tap water is fortified, you probably don't need fluoride in bottled. But if your family has well water without fluoride, drinks only bottled or uses a filter that removes fluoride (many do), ask your dentist about supplements for your child.

Bottled Water’s Environmental Toll

Eco Footprint
• The energy used each year making the bottles needed to meet the demand for bottled water in the United States is equivalent to more than 17 million barrels of oil. That's enough to fuel over 1 million cars for a year.

• If water and soft drink bottlers had used 10% recycled materials in their plastic bottles in 2004, they would have saved the equivalent of 72 million gallons of gasoline. If they had used 25%, they would have saved enough energy to electrify more than 680,000 homes for a year.

• In 2003, the California Department of Conservation estimated that roughly three million water bottles are trashed every day in that state. At this rate, by 2013 the amount of unrecycled bottles will be enough to create a two-lane highway that stretches the state’s entire coast.

• In 2004 the recycling rate for all beverage containers was 33.5 percent. If it reached 80 percent, the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions would be the equivalent of removing 2.4 million cars from the road for a year.

• That bottle that takes just three minutes to drink can take up to a thousand years to biodegrade.

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The Warrior’s Guide to True Manliness


Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Evan and Spencer Burton. They author the blog Living Indubiously.

It was not long ago that men were born to be warriors and had no other obligations than to uphold the warrior code and to pass it on to their offspring. It was only during the past 500 years that man forgot this way of life and replaced it with a complacency seemingly suited for a new world of convenience. The time that has passed since we have forgotten our warrior days has been a mere fraction of the entire existence of humans, meaning that this warrior instinct is still entirely intact and awaiting to be awoken in the lives of all men.

A Warrior’s life was driven by his own survival instinct and his fear of death. It was this fear that drove him to persevere and constantly improve himself. After all, survival of the fittest was in full effect at this point. Without this fundamental understanding about life’s impermanence and an obligation to achieve greatness, we become complacent and unmotivated in life. If it is true that nothing defines manliness more than a motivated and inspired individual who lives with a quiet confidence and a zest for life, then the lessons we have to learn from warriors of the past will get us far on the path to Manhood.

It is only until after a life changing event that most of us have this warrior instinct woken within us. For many it is the call to overcome adversity through a circumstance in their lives that requires a warrior spirit. For Teddy Roosevelt it was his childhood illness that gave him his first mountain to conquer, as well as his first taste of success. For Lance Armstrong it was his battle with cancer that gave him the strength to achieve his unprecedented success. For Martin Luther King Jr. it was the racist, segregated world that he was born into that lead him to become a force for change in the civil rights movement.

It is through the understanding and application of the following ideas that you too can achieve true warrior status and get on the never-ending road to greatness.

Master Your Body. Although most people associate being a warrior with fighting and hunting, these are the most basic principles through which a warrior’s strength is expressed. It is the mastering of your intention and strength to find discipline and power in every aspect of your life that distinguishes the warrior from the common man. The first conquest for any man should be the mastering of his body. For a warrior this was a necessity for survival due to the extreme physical demands placed upon him. Today’s man should always strive for this goal for a number of reasons. The cause and effect of hard work and muscle gains is a microcosm of the bigger picture in life in which hard work is the only catalyst to success. Another important reason to push your body to be its strongest is the long list of physical benefits such as hormonal regulation, mental clarity, and the general feeling of well-being that will all combine to improve your life physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Use Death as your Guide. We all could die at any moment. It could be today, tomorrow, or next week. You could go and visit your dying friend in the hospital and then get hit by a bus the next day. Whether or not you have an existing condition is of no importance in your actual mortality. If this was the common outlook of today’s man, do you think we would sit around watching cable TV and spending our time worrying about how to afford the next big thing in consumer electronics? Hell no! We would go out today and start doing the exact thing that we have always wanted to do (our purpose) while not wasting any of our time on the petty, pointless things. After all, there is no better a teacher in time management than having death knocking at your door.

Choose the Path with Heart. All paths are the same. They lead absolutely nowhere. At the end of your life you will be in the exact same position except you will be able to look back with either regret or satisfaction on the choices you made. It is the path that is important, not the destination. It is better to have a followed a path in your life that brought you happiness in the moment, than to have followed a path that promised happiness at your destination. Using death as your guide will promote a distinct change in your level of presence and naturally lead you to living in the moment and choosing the correct path. The warrior who chooses his highest calling is also the one to achieve the greatest success, further strengthening the chance of the survival of his bloodline.

Fight Every Battle as if it was Your Last. If you are using death as your guide and living in the present moment then you will naturally fight every battle in your life as if it was a defining moment to make or break everything you have worked for. When you have this mentality you are naturally doing your best at everything and your chances for success are greatly improved. This is the type of performance that we have come to expect from our great leaders and role models so why should we sell ourselves short of realizing such greatness? It is through this concept that you will truly be living to your full potential and increasing your likelihood of being the man that others look to for inspiration.

Through the practical application of these ideas into your everyday life, you will begin to see a change in the outcomes of your goals and experiences. You will also take on leadership qualities as you start to embody the very essence of what every man secretly strives to become. You will switch from being a victim of circumstance, into being a master of intention. Living indubiously and confidently, you will begin to manifest the conditions that will transform yourself from weak to warrior.

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Raped and Silenced in the Barracks

When military sexual assault survivors call Susan Avila-Smith, she advises them to keep their mouths shut while she works on getting them home.

“It breaks my heart to do that,” she says, “but I want to get them out alive and that’s my main goal.”

Since she left the Army in 1995, Avila-Smith estimates that she has helped about 1,200 rape survivors separate from the U.S. Armed Forces and claim their Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits. As founder of Women Organizing Women, an online support group for survivors of military sexual trauma (MST), Avila-Smith has heard it all. But lately, she’s been more sensitive than usual.

“Maria’s case has triggered something in me,” she says. “I imagine the VAs are filling up right now with women who never even stepped foot in there before.”

“Maria” is 20-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, who disappeared from Camp Lejeune, outside of Jacksonville, N.C., on Dec. 14, 2007, one month before she was expected to give birth. As the local police enlisted the press to help reach out to Lauterbach and solicit information from the local community, it was soon reported that she had recently accused a superior at Camp Lejeune of rape.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent Paul Ciccarelli attempted to quell suspicions that the two might be linked, assuring the Associated Press that the “sexual encounter” was “not criminal.” On Jan. 10, the Marine Corps Times, a weekly newspaper serving military personnel, bolstered this claim, speculating that she may have fled to avoid charges for “making false statements.”

That same day, Lauterbach’s accused assailant, Marine Cpl. Cesar Laurean, was scheduled to appear at the Onslow County Sheriff’s office for questioning. He never showed up. On Jan. 11, Laurean, who had reported for duty for a full month after Lauterbach’s disappearance, failed to do so. His wife told investigators that she believed he had left for Mexico and gave investigators a note written by Laurean that said Lauterbach had slit her own throat with a knife, and he then buried her. Detectives have rejected that claim, and an autopsy found that Lauterbach died of a blunt force trauma to the head.

Later that day, her charred body was uncovered in a shallow grave behind the Laurean home. The horrific discovery took place only weeks before she was to testify against Laurean.

The drama set off a media frenzy, with updates on the cross-border manhunt constantly flashing across CNN tickers. Radio and talk show hosts, meanwhile, dissected Lauterbach’s character and credibility and questioned the delayed military response.

But Avila-Smith wasn’t surprised. “Unfortunately, the way her case was handled is the norm,” she says.

The Lauterbach case, according to Avila-Smith and many others, exemplifies the “criminal failure” of all branches of the military to address sexual assault for what it is—a violent crime. It is a “broken system” that she says puts victims on the defense, grants immunity to assailants and, in the end, puts rape survivors who have the courage to speak out, in even greater danger than if they had just accepted the abuse as collateral damage in their military careers.

Missing the mark

In 2003, a firestorm of media reports and investigations, prompted by an anonymous whistle-blower at the Air Force Academy, exposed the prevalence of sexual assault in the armed forces and its training centers. That same year, the results of a study conducted by Dr. Anne Sadler of the Iowa City VA Medical Center found 28 percent of female veterans having suffered MST while on active duty.

In response, Congress called on the Department of Defense to overhaul its approach to sexual assault within its ranks. The 2005 defense authorization bill mandated the creation of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), which, according to its website, has since served as “the single point of accountability and oversight for sexual assault policy.”

SAPRO has made many strides in fine-tuning the Uniform Code of Military Justice and encouraging MST reporting. It has held a range of workshops, trainings and outreach campaigns to define and denounce sexual assault. It also has set up a website to educate service members on how to deal with—and deter—the crime. At the same time, Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs) and victim advocates have been stationed on every major base to coordinate victims’ services.

However, according to many women, the reforms are missing the mark.

Former Army Pvt. 1st Class Jessica Doe, who prefers that her last name remain confidential, says that after she was raped by an instructor at Fort Eustis, Va., the SARC “blew it off like it was nothing.” Jessica pressed charges anyway, but says all that came of her search for justice was “rumors, scorn and lack of friends within my own unit.” The instructor was verbally reprimanded.

“I lost my benefits and everything,” she says. “I lost my career because the Army was going to be my career.”

Interrogators, not investigators

A 2004 survey of U.S. service members conducted by the Pentagon’s Advisory Committee on Women in the Services found fear of repercussions to be the number one “perceived barrier” to reporting sexual abuse, noted by 81 percent of female respondents and 73 percent of male respondents.

Confidentiality, career-related concerns and distrust of leadership were also cited by a majority of rape victims.

Marine Cpl. Brittany Thornton says a member of her unit in Okinawa, Japan, raped her on Christmas Day 2005. She reported the incident right away, pressed charges and was put on antidepressants, which she says her commanding officer saw as reason to remove her from her post in weapons maintenance and assign her to a desk job.

“They revoked all of my certification,” she says, “even though my psychiatrist said the drugs wouldn’t affect anything.” As a result, Thornton was unable to go on deployments, while her alleged assailant was “traveling all over the Pacific.”

“I felt like I was being punished,” she says. “I think it was just a way for them [the chain of command] to make things difficult for me because they didn’t believe me.”

The administrative position, however, gave her access to court documents and allowed her to look up her own file. Thornton says she was appalled at what she found.

The CID (or Criminal Investigation Division) agent in her case had taken the liberty to completely revise her account of the assault. “She made it sound like I told her that we went out and got drunk and had sex and I didn’t really want to, and afterwards I regretted it,” she says. “It was nothing like what I had [actually] said.” Meanwhile, her case “went nowhere,” she says, and her assailant eventually received nothing more than a “slap on the wrist.”

‘A different truth’

Former CID agent Sgt. Myla Haider told In These Times that Thornton’s case is not rare. “If there was an adequate response to begin with, it might have made it to court and gotten prosecuted,” she says, “but [Thornton’s case] wasn’t anything unusual from what I’ve seen.”

Haider has investigated dozens of rape cases and says she almost always encountered a pervasive “attitude toward victims,” that guarantees the failure of the case.

“The investigators themselves,” Haider explains, “when working on cases, tended to focus on reasons a victim could be lying.” She described seeing “tag team interviews,” in which “one agent after another is sent in there to ‘get the truth’ out of the victim.”

“On occasion, that results in the victims becoming very upset,” she added, describing one case in which a victim “went running out of the office and declined to cooperate any further.”

Every MST survivor interviewed for this investigation told a similar story.

“My CID wasn’t an investigator, he was an interrogator,” says Pvt. S. Clark, of North Carolina, who preferred her first name not be used. “The thing that I remember is him leaning over the desk, with his cigarette breath, screaming at me, ‘Why won’t you admit that it was rough, consensual sex between two drunken adults?’ ”

Clark’s attacker had beaten her so badly that, months later, she began having seizures, which her doctors attributed to “cranial tearing.” Still, she says, the CID agent “made me feel as if I had dishonored my army and my country by speaking out against another soldier.”

Sometimes this attitude, says Haider, leads to claims being recanted. “The law enforcement response makes it so that victims don’t want anything to do with the investigation anymore,” she says.

Even if the victim continues to cooperate despite being re-victimized by law enforcement, the focus on her credibility happens at the expense of collecting relevant testimony, leaving the case little chance of surviving.

While physical evidence is collected according to protocol, Haider says this can seldom prove anything other than intercourse—useful for “stranger rapes,” but irrelevant for proving acquaintance rapes, which are the majority of cases.

“CID training does not focus on evidence collection for acquaintance rape situations,” Haider says. As a result, “CID agents tended not to take acquaintance rape seriously.”

CID spokesman Chris Grey says that since Haider left the command, it has begun “a very comprehensive Sexual Assault Sensitivity Training program.”

However, according to Haider, recent data call into question the effectiveness of that training.

According to the Pentagon’s “2006 Annual Report on Military Services Sexual Assault,” 18 percent of the cases reported in 2004 were thrown out for being unfounded, unsubstantiated or “lacking sufficient evidence,” prior to reaching a court martial.

In 2006, the first full year during which the training program had the opportunity to reap results, the proportion of cases thrown out on the same grounds more than doubled, to 37 percent.

Even when cases do result in commander action, that action is rarely ever a criminal justice response.

In 2006, only 292 cases (out of 2,974 reported) resulted in a court martial. Meanwhile, 488 cases resulted in an “administrative punishment,” such as a letter of reprimand, a discharge from the military, forced resignation or a reduction in pay or rank.

“The 2005 reforms have done nothing in terms of offender accountability,” Haider explains. “There are public service announcements and ad campaigns that say the military has zero tolerance for sexual assault, but the reality speaks a different truth.” She said she doesn’t believe there are many rapists in the military, but those that are sexual predators learn quickly that they can get away with it and will inevitably go on to attack again.

“They are sending women into combat zones, but not doing what it takes to protect them,” she says.

Avoidable tragedy

Protection, however, is not only a matter of deterring crime through punitive measures. It is also a matter of taking action to protect victims from their alleged assailants after a crime is reported. That responsibility rests in large part with commanders.

Thornton was allegedly left to live in the same barracks as her assailant for a full six months after her assault, despite repeated requests for a transfer.

Sara, a former Airman 1st Class who requested that her full name not be used, says that after her assault in late 2005, she was met with the same indifference.

“I was never granted a protective order, although I asked frequently,” she says. “It also took me three months to be granted a new room so that my attacker would not know where I lived. Then they moved me into a room that was closer to his room than the first.”

According to Mary Lauterbach, Maria’s mother, it’s that kind of negligence that may have cost her daughter her life.

Maria Lauterbach had obtained a military order of protection -- a feat in itself -- but was forced to stay on the same base as her alleged assailant and attend meetings and functions that he would inevitably be at, in spite of her protection order. She was on her way to one such event on Dec. 14, when she was last seen.

Maria’s mother is now urging the Marine Corps to take greater steps to remove victims from harms way and put distance between them and their accused assailants.

“We think the Marines could have done more to protect Maria when she made the report,” Chris Conard, Mary Lauterbach’s attorney, told NBC’s “The Today Show.” “We know everything was done to protect the accused—perfectly proper. But they could have transferred her to another base, another unit.”

“It was an avoidable tragedy,” his co-counsel, Merle Wilberding, says.

‘The second rape’

Leaving survivors in the same place to fend for themselves also leaves them open to the scorn of their fellow soldiers. Many survivors call it the “second rape” -- the moment when they realize that not only their command but their platoon, as well, is going to desert them.

Lauterbach told her mother that Laurean was “very popular” on base, and that after filing charges against him, she was harassed and even punched by one of his friends. Someone even keyed her car.

According to Clark, the private from North Carolina, the hardest part of reporting her assault was losing the “spirit of brotherhood” that she previously enjoyed in the Army. “They all hated me and acted like I turned on them personally,” she says. “These are the people that if you go to war, you’re supposed to stand up and take a bullet for them. [Yet] they are the people that will turn their back on you and call you a whore when you are assaulted.”

Others were formally punished for making complaints, and hit with charges for “false reporting,” “lewd behavior” or “adultery.”

Airman 1st Class Cassandra Hernandez, 20, says three of her fellow airmen gang-raped her during a late-night party at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, N.C., in May 2006. She says she reported the incident and sought all of the help available to her. Nonetheless, she wrote in a letter to the governor of Texas, her native state, “I felt like no one was looking out for my interests.”

Hernandez says she stopped cooperating with the investigation when charges were filed against her for “lewd behavior” and “underage drinking.” The three men accused of gang raping her were offered testimonial immunity in exchange for cooperating with the prosecution.

After much media scrutiny, however, her commander dropped the lewd behavior charge but still gave Hernandez an administrative punishment for underage drinking.

Independence needed

According to the Dorothy Mackey, founder of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel and a former U.S. Air Force captain and commander, the only way to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military is by establishing an agency, completely independent of the Pentagon, that would be responsible for investigating and prosecuting rape within its ranks.

“The agency would be two-fold,” Mackey explains. “One part that deals with nothing but the victims, and another part that has prosecution authority.”

Although such an agency may be difficult to fund, she says, it would be in the interest not only of military personnel, but also the civilian world. “When assailants’ records are kept clean, they return to the civilian world with no record of violent crime and are kept out of the sex offender registry,” she says.

In the civilian world, that is significant. Nearly one in four veterans in state prisons nationwide were sex offenders, compared to one in 10 non-veterans, according to a 2004 Department of Justice report.

Mackey believes the military is incapable of policing itself because she says it glorifies violence and shuns individual rights. And she’s not alone in her thinking.

“We espouse violence as the means to all ends,” says former Maj. Tyler Boudreau, who resigned from the Marines last year after 18 years of military service, and became an avid blogger and war critic. “It is not curious when the individual soldier or Marine packs that brainwashing home with him to his wife or to the barracks where the females live.”

Although Boudreau says he preached the need to treat women with respect, the message was overwhelmed by the glorification of violence as a means to establish dominance, for both a man and a nation. That message, he says, transferred into an “intensely chauvinistic” atmosphere.

According to ex-CID agent Haider, the chauvinist culture might explain quite a bit. “Rape is not taken seriously enough in the military because it is a crime that affects primarily women—and women are still not taken seriously in the military,” she says. “There is a lot more sympathy if the victim is a man because most agents are male and they can relate to the violation. They are horrified by that. But when it’s a woman, it’s the opposite. Their attitude is almost contemptuous.”

But she hopes that will change.

So does former Pvt. Jessica Doe. “What happened to Maria Lauterbach was a worst-case scenario, but I know she wasn’t the first to lose her life like that,” she says. “I just hope that her loss will open more people’s eyes and help us to make a change.”

Maria Lauterbach was buried with full military honors on Feb. 2, with her dress blues placed in her casket. Her unborn son, whom she had decided to name Gabriel, was buried beside her in a small, silver casket.

Approximately 900 people attended the funeral service in Maria’s hometown of Vandalia, Ohio. Among them was Marine Lance Cpl. Robin Kahle, who drove 900 miles round trip to place her own Good Conduct Medal on Maria’s casket. She then paid her respects by reporting her own rape to a high-ranking Marine participating in the service.

“It was a very respectful service,” says Avila-Smith, who traveled from her home in Seattle to represent the thousands of military sexual trauma survivors moved by Maria’s story, “and a real wake up call.”

Original here