- Spencer Tunick's photo in Mexico City
On May 6, approximately 18,000 naked people in Mexico City’s principal square, the Zócalo, posed for Spencer Tunick. Male and female volunteers of varying ages, crouched in the fetal position, heads tucked, in the anonymous pose favored by Tunick. Known for his mass nude photographs, the Middletown-born photographer has shot flesh spectacles across the globe, including 7,000 people in Barcelona in 2003, as well as a number of shoots in the Hudson Valley. Tunick first made his name in New York City in the early 1990s when he was arrested on five separate occasions for shooting mass nudes in Manhattan; Tunick became a bete noir of the Guiliani administration, but was never prosecuted, as the courts ruled Tunick was operating within his First Amendment rights as a photographer.
Source: Associated Press
The government of Kazakhstan announced in early May that the canine distemper virus appeared to be the cause of a wave of seal deaths this spring in the Caspian Sea. Approximately 1,000 dead seals have washed ashore in Kazakhstan in March and April, most of them pups. The deaths have raised concerns about seals in the Caspian, which is heavily polluted by industrial contaminants and is a major transit route for oil and the site of a network of oil-pumping platforms. Environmentalists have warned for years that exposure to oil and heavy metals in the sea had weakened the seals’ immune systems. Caspian seals live only in the Caspian Sea and are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Source: New York Times
Despite having the most expensive health system in the world, the United States consistently underperforms other industrialized nations in terms of performance, according to an annual study by the Commonwealth Fund, a private health care advocacy group. Compared with five other nations—Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom—the US health care system ranks last or next-to-last on five dimensions of a high-performance health system: quality, access, efficiency, equity, and healthy lives. The Health and Human Services Department reports that up to 30 percent of current health care spending in the US ($300 billion) is inappropriate, redundant, or unnecessary.
In particular, the US (and Canada) provide inadequate access to care. The report states: “The US and Canada rank lowest on prompt accessibility of appointments with physicians, with patients more likely to report waiting six or more days for an appointment when needing care.”
The US is the only country in the study without universal health insurance coverage, partly accounting for its poor performance on access, equity, and health outcomes, according to the report.
Source: Commonwealth Fund
In early May, Sheriff Bill Bergquist of Clay County, Minnesota, denied a concealed weapons permit to Carey McWilliams, a 33-year-old North Dakota man who has concealed weapons permits from North Dakota and Utah. Sheriff Bergquist’s rationale: McWilliams is blind.
“I’m trying to prove a point that people without sight still can carry [a gun] because brains are more important than eyesight in securing public safety,” McWilliams said. “The shooter at Virginia Tech had really good eyesight and he killed 32 people.”
McWilliams said he completed the required class and shooting exercise with a National Rifle Association instructor and that he uses special low-range, hollow-point bullets that are effective only in tight quarters. “If I use a gun it will be at point-blank range, period,” he said. “A sighted shooter is probably more dangerous because they can see something scary and pull their gun in haste.”
Under Minnesota law, an applicant must be issued a license for a gun or a concealed weapon if he or she completes the class and shooting exercise and passes a background check—unless “there exists a substantial likelihood that the applicant is a danger to self or the public if authorized to carry a pistol under permit.”
McWilliams believes Minnesota officials have violated his constitutional right to keep and bear arms. “It’s nobody business that I’m blind,” he said.
Source: Associated Press
On April 30, the State Department released statistics on the number of “individuals in Iraq killed, injured, or kidnapped as a result of incidents of terrorism” in 2006. For the year, the number was 38,813, an increase of almost 50 percent over the previous year. In 2005, the number of “individuals in Iraq killed, injured, or kidnapped as a result of incidents of terrorism” was 20,685.
The Department of Veterans Affairs agreed to settle a lawsuit on April 20 with a group suing to add the Wiccan pentacle to the list of religious symbols approved for engraving on veterans’ headstones. The suit was brought by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State on behalf of Roberta Stewart, whose husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart, was killed in September 2005 in Afghanistan. The Wiccan pentacle is the 39th symbol to indicate the faith of deceased service members on memorials that the Veterans Affairs department has approved. It normally takes only a few months for a petition by a faith group to win the department’s approval, but the effort on behalf of the Wiccan symbol took about 10 years and a lawsuit, said Richard B. Katskee, assistant legal director for United for the Separation of Church and State.
According to a Pentagon survey, there are 1,800 Wiccans serving in the military.
Source: USA Today
According to a countrywide survey by Johns Hopkins University, infant mortality has dropped by 18 percent in Afghanistan since 2001. Health officials in Afghanistan view the statistic as one of the first real post-Taliban signs of recovery in the country. The 18 percent decrease means that 40,000 to 50,000 fewer infants are dying now than in the Taliban era, according to Dr. Muhammad Amin Fatimi, Afghanistan’s health minister. World Bank officials attribute the lower infant mortality rate mainly to the expansion of health clinics to rural areas and more widespread vaccination against measles, polio, and tetanus.
Afghanistan still ranks behind Chad and Somalia in terms of infant mortality, however, and the number of women dying in childbirth remains the second highest in the world after Sierra Leone.
Source: New York Times
According to a study in the May 15 issue of American Journal of Epidemiology, sending soldiers to war puts their children left at home at higher risk of abuse and neglect. The study, conducted among military families in 2002-03, shows that reports of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and child neglect peaked during the main deployment of troops to Iraq. When deployments began, reports of abuse quickly jumped from 5 in 1,000 children to 10 in 1,000. The study found that victims were typically age four or younger and the abuser was usually the parent who remained at home while a spouse was deployed. Military families had lower rates of child maltreatment than civilian families before war. The study found that abuse rates soared when parents were sent to active duty.
Previous studies have linked military deployment to higher divorce rates and spousal violence, but this study is the first to suggest a link to child abuse.
Source: USA Today
At least 46 detainees at Guantanamo Bay are participating in a hunger strike, according to H. Candace Gorman, a civil rights attorney representing Abdul Razak Ali, an Algerian being held there. The exact number on hunger strike is unclear because the military will not release details. Each hunger striker is force-fed the nutrition supplement Ensure twice a day via a plastic tube approximately 30 inches in length which is inserted into his esophagus while he is strapped to a chair.
Source: In These Times
On May 4, a four-foot sewer pipe broke in Yonkers, uprooted by a tree that came loose during a landslide near the Greystone Train Station. The total amount spilled: 7.5 million gallons of sewage. Health officials said that the sewage had contaminated the Hudson from the north Bronx, through Westchester, and into the southern end of Rockland County. Mary Landrigan, a spokeswoman for the Westchester County Department of Health, stressed that drinking water was not affected by the problem, and added that the volume of water in the Hudson would dissipate the sewage within days.
Source: Journal News