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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  • Texas auction house sells Lone Ranger outfit for $195,000

    By Marice Richter DALLAS (Reuters) - The western-style outfit actor Clayton Moore wore for appearances as the mysterious, masked Lone Ranger after portraying the character on the popular TV series sold for $195,000 at auction on Saturday, the auction house said. The Lone Ranger ensemble of matching light blue shirt and pants, a red kerchief, Stetson hat, cowboy boots and a belt holster that holds two custom-made Colt pistols, was sold to an undisclosed buyer by Waco, Texas-based auction house A & S Auction Co. The outfit fetched $45,000 more than its top-end pre-sale estimate of $150,000. Davis initially bought the Lone Ranger outfit for more than $100,000 at an auction in California after Moore’s death in 1999. "He was a big fan of the Lone Ranger and watched the show when it originally ran," Earl Davis told Reuters.

  • Disputed Afghan election to be recounted in full

    By Lesley Wroughton and Maria Golovnina KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. State Secretary John Kerry convinced Afghanistan's feuding presidential candidates on Saturday to agree to a total recount of last month's presidential election, which has threatened to split the country along ethnic lines. After two days of intense talks between Kerry, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, all parties agreed that the best way out of the acrimonious and protracted deadlock was to delay the inauguration and recount all the ballots from scratch. Preliminary results from the run-off vote on June 14 put Ghani, a former World Bank official, well ahead but Abdullah rejected the result, claiming widespread fraud and calling the outcome a "coup" against the Afghan people. "Every single ballot that was cast will be audited... This is the strongest possible signal by both candidates of the desire to restore legitimacy to the process." The recount was scheduled to begin within 24 hours, but was likely to take several weeks, meaning that a presidential inauguration scheduled for Aug. 2 will have to be postponed.

  • AP Source: LeBron James signs 2-year contract
    AP Source: LeBron James signs 2-year contract

    CLEVELAND (AP) — First, the Cavaliers got LeBron James' word. Then they got his signature.

  • Spectacular 'Supermoon' Rises This Weekend
    Spectacular 'Supermoon' Rises This Weekend

    You might want to step outside early tomorrow morning (July 12), when a bulging "supermoon" will glow brightly in the sky. At this point, known as "perigee," the moon is about 30,000 miles (50,000 kilometers) closer to the planet than at its farthest point, or "apogee." [In Photos: Glitzy Images of a Supermoon] Supermoons gained attention last year, when a June 2013 full moon was 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than other full moons, according to NASA. To the casual observer, it's not easy to tell the difference between a normal full moon and a supermoon.

  • Heads up! Supermoon is here
    Heads up! Supermoon is here

    Look! Up in the sky! It's supermoon!

  • Putin Writes Off $32 Billion of Cuba's Debts to Russia
    Putin Writes Off $32 Billion of Cuba's Debts to Russia

    Russian President Vladimir Putin is currently on a grand tour of Latin America. His first stop is in Havana, Cuba. Ahead of arriving in Cuba, Putin decided to bestow a gift upon the Cuban government. The first payment is due in October, and will be made from the National Bank of Cuba to the Russian lender Vnesheconombank.

  • 'Missing' Basement Boy's Stepmother Threatened to Make Him 'Disappear,' Court To …
    'Missing' Basement Boy's Stepmother Threatened to Make Him 'Disappear,' Court To …

    Boy Was Forced To Do Punishing Workout Routines Twice A Day

  • United 777 Diverts to Remote Pacific Island After Burning Smell Reported
    United 777 Diverts to Remote Pacific Island After Burning Smell Reported

    A United Boeing 777 diverted to the tiny Pacific island of Midway last night after a burning smell filled the plane while it flew over one of the most remote places on earth. The airline will only say it was a mechanical issue. But this may...

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