The Lookout
  • Report: Mental health of U.S. soldiers in a freefall

    New York Magazine reporter Jennifer Senior has a wrenching report on the growing mental-health crisis among American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

    With military suicide rates rising to unprecedented heights—to the point where more soldiers are now dying by their own hand than in combat—Senior finds that many soldiers end up combating their own mental afflictions in isolation. Often, she notes, they end up falling out of social networks of support, dependent on a bevy of prescription anti-depressants and sleep aides to make it through each day.

    A spokesman at Fort Drum, home to the 10th Mountain Division here in New York State, tells me by e-mail that one-quarter of its 20,000 soldiers have "received some type of behavioral health evaluation and/or treatment during the past year." Defense Department spending on Ambien, a popular sleep aid, and Seroquel, an antipsychotic, has doubled since 2007, according to the Army Times, while spending on Topamax, an anti-convulsant medication often used for migraines, quadrupled; amphetamine prescriptions have doubled, too, according to the Army's own data. Meanwhile, a study by the Rand Corporation has found that 20 percent of the soldiers who've deployed in this war report symptoms of post-traumatic stress and major depression. The number climbs to almost 30 percent if the soldiers have deployed more than twice.

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  • AP04060406750A comprehensive analysis of 33 studies finds that teaching kids social and emotional skills leads to an average 11 percentile-point gain in their academic performance over six months compared to students who didn't receive the same instruction.

    That's a big jump, equivalent to a student at the middle of a class's performance curve moving into the top 40 percent of his or her peers, Sarah Sparks at EdWeek notes. The study's authors, led by Joseph Durlak, suggest the dramatic gain could be rooted in the physiology of the brain; social-skill instruction "may affect central executive cognitive functions," he notes—and improvement there helps kids to gain greater control over their impulses and actions.

    The classes emphasize self control, responsible decision-making, and how to form and keep positive relationships with friends and authority figures. One lesson plan from the "Caring School Community" program asks kids to think about "some things you can do if you're not included in a game"—or if you see someone else on the playground who is left out. Many of the programs have an anti-bullying focus.

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  • A natural gas well grows in a national forest

    gas drilling in forestWhat happens when an industry increasingly prone to safety mishaps and public controversy gets drilling rights in a national forest?

    The nonprofit investigative group Pro Publica gives a bracing answer, by digging into a U.S. Forest Service report on a natural gas drilling project in West Virginia's 4,700-acre Fernow Experimental Forest. In summarizing the Forest Service's findings, Pro Publica points up an impressive litany of environmental damage: The drilling killed off roughly 1,000 trees, while the natural-gas industry's controversial slate-fracturing gas-discovery process known as "fracking" released toxic chemicals into the ground and onto the surrounding land that could well render the immediate area virtually uninhabitable for native wildlife.

    Reports Pro Publica:

    According to the report, a well blowout . . . accidentally sprayed that fracking fluid onto surrounding land and trees, browning leaves and killing ground cover. After drilling was complete, Berry Energy, which owns the well, also sprayed some 80,000 gallons of wastewater into the forest. The briney liquid shocked about 150 trees into shedding their leaves. A year later, half of those trees still had no foliage. This disposal method, called land application, is legal in West Virginia with conventional wells, Schuler said, but is not allowed for wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale.

    Schuler said the scientists were surprised that the trees lost their leaves. Drillers normally spray the waste over a larger area but the scientists asked Berry to contain the application, which meant spreading the salts and chemicals on a smaller piece of land. The soil in that area was left with high levels of chloride, calcium and sodium. Animals were attracted to the area, likely because of the high salt content of the soil.

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  • Malaysia Airlines jet in emergency landing after tyre bursts
    Malaysia Airlines jet in emergency landing after tyre bursts

    A Malaysia Airlines plane with 166 people aboard was forced to make an emergency landing in Kuala Lumpur early Monday in another blow to its safety image after the loss of flight MH370. Flight MH192, bound for Bangalore, India, turned back to Kuala Lumpur after it was discovered that a tyre had burst on take-off, the airline said. "As safety is of utmost priority to Malaysia Airlines, the aircraft was required to turn back to KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport)," the airline said in a statement. The airline said tyre debris discovered on the runway had led to the decision to bring the Boeing 737-800 aircraft back.

  • 'This Week' Panel: Are Evangelicals Out of Touch With Mainstream Views?
    'This Week' Panel: Are Evangelicals Out of Touch With Mainstream Views?

    Despite major changes in public opinion in recent years, Rev. Franklin Graham, son of perhaps the most famous American preacher of all time, Billy Graham, reiterated his strong opposition to gay marriage and gay adoption today on ABC’s “This Week.” As a part of a...

  • Rosie O'Donnell Loses 50 Pounds

    Comedian and host latest star to undergo weight-loss surgery.

  • Delay in ferry evacuation puzzles maritime experts
    Delay in ferry evacuation puzzles maritime experts

    MOKPO, South Korea (AP) — It is a decision that has maritime experts stumped and is at odds with standard procedure: Why were the passengers of the doomed South Korean ferry told to stay in their rooms rather than climb on deck?

  • Baby Prince George visits Australian zoo
    Baby Prince George visits Australian zoo

    Baby Prince George stepped out in public with his parents on Sunday for the first time in Australia, for an encounter with wildlife at Sydney's Taronga Zoo. George, eight months old and third in line to the throne after grandfather Princes Charles and father William, stole the show as his parents toured the harbourfront zoo overlooking the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

  • Abrupt Lurch in Wyoming Landslide Splits House in Two
    Abrupt Lurch in Wyoming Landslide Splits House in Two

    Other Homes, Businesses Threatened by Sudden Earth Movement and Debris.

  • Canadians rally to legalize marijuana
    Canadians rally to legalize marijuana

    Several thousand people came out in Canada's biggest cities to call for the legalization of marijuana -- a yearly protest that happens internationally on April 20. The demonstrations -- dubbed the "420" rallies after the date, 4/20 in North American style, and the code-term popularly used to refer to pot consumption -- took place in Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa. In each city, including the capital, Ottawa, where protesters gathered on the lawn near the parliament building, music groups played for the crowds. In Montreal, a strong police presence surrounded the demonstrators, while in Ottawa and Vancouver, a pizza chain offered a free slice to any participant in the rally celebrating a drug known to prompt the munchies.

  • Nevada range war: Western states move to take over federal land

    The tussle over Cliven Bundy’s 400 cows – grazing on federal land, although he refuses to pay the required fees now amounting to more than $1 million – sharpens this debate, which has featured state legislators, county officials, environmentalists, and federal judges (all of whom have ruled against Mr. Bundy). In Salt Lake City Friday, representatives from Utah, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon, and Washington met for a “Legislative Summit on the Transfer of Public Lands.” "Those of us who live in the rural areas know how to take care of lands," Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder said at a news conference. There’s a modern tea party political element to it, but it goes much farther back to when many western territories achieved statehood in the 19th century, working out deals with Washington (as Mormon Utah did over what adherents at the time called “plural marriages”).

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