Dysfunction - Oct 16
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Mexico City: Bad air for growing brains and minds
Bruce Bower, ScienceNews
Mexico City’s air pollution may be undermining neural and mental functioning in some children
Mexico City wears a thick coat of air pollution that clogs lungs and takes a toll on hearts and blood vessels. But that’s just the beginning — the metropolis’s dirty air may have contributed to brain inflammation and intellectual deficits in at least some school-age children, a new study suggests.
Among healthy children aged 7 to 18, lifelong Mexico City residents scored lower than their peers from Polotitlán — a Mexican city with low levels of air pollution — on tests of memory, flexible thinking, novel problem-solving skill and the ability to monitor and change one’s behavior during challenging tasks, scientists report in an upcoming Brain and Cognition. These tests make up part of standard IQ measures for school children.
What’s more, brain scans of many Mexico City youngsters revealed alterations that can impair the prefrontal cortex, a neural region heavily involved in memory and thinking skills, say environmental pathologist Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas of the University of Montana in Missoula and her colleagues.
(10 October 2008)
Code Green, Stat!
Vanessa Farquharson, National Post (Canada)
Vanessa Farquharson learns that what's good for the earth is also good for our health care system
From biohazard waste to faxing and photocopying, leftover cups of Jell-O and disposable gowns, hospitals can be among the worst offenders when it comes to environmental stewardship.
As most doctors will affirm, the health of any population is dependent upon the health of the land, air and water around it -- less pollution, for example, translates into fewer instances of asthma and lung disease, which means fewer people in hospital and on drugs, thus easing the strain on the health care system.
That said, making the effort to, say, re-sterilize medical equipment instead of throwing it out can require harsh chemicals and high temperatures in an autoclave, not to mention increased labour costs. And from a patient's point of view, a never-been-used disposable syringe in a vacuum-sealed package will just seem cleaner than one where only the needle is replaced after each use.
The difficult task of weighing patient health and safety with pressing environmental concerns -- not to mention economic ones -- is a job Michael Young understands well.
(11 October 2008)
Why journalists stay silent
Jonathan Cook, Media Lens via Znet
Intellectual Cleansing 2
Lesson 1: It's all about money
In many ways, my introduction to journalism was far from typical. In the mid-1980s, after university, I was casting around for a career and decided to "try" journalism. I called the local free newspaper in the city in which I had graduated, Southampton, and offered my services.
Free newspapers were a new and rapidly growing form of print media. Cheap production had been made possible by the new technologies about to revolutionise the working practices of all papers, including those in Fleet Street. I was using a small Macintosh computer, writing stories and designing the pages, at a time when the nationals were still laboriously typesetting. At the Southampton Advertiser, we produced a weekly newspaper with just four editorial staff: an editor, two reporters and a photographer. The advertising staff was more than twice that size.
... Most ambitious journalists start out on a daily local newspaper (I would soon end up on one), owned by one of a handful of large media groups. There, as I would learn, one quickly feels all sorts of institutional constraints on one's reporting. As a young journalist, if you know no better, you simply come to accept that journalism is done in a certain kind of way, that certain stories are suitable and others unsuitable, that arbitrary rules have to be followed. These seem like laws of nature, unquestionable and self-evident to your more experienced colleagues. Being a better journalist requires that these work practices become second nature.
The Advertiser, however, offered a far more enlightening and free-wheeling environment for a young journalist.
... Lesson 3: Professional means servile
Most journalists learn their trade by working on local media with periods of study spent at one of dozens of journalism colleges around the country. Typically, the young journalist is taken on by a newspaper for up to two years on probation (indentures) at very low pay, and the study periods are paid for by the newspaper.
During this period, when they are both financially and professionally vulnerable, journalists are taught the main skills: how to structure and write news stories, master shorthand, navigate through the system of local government, and abide by the laws of libel. The newcomer is offered proper employment if he or she passes the exams, shows competency and is considered to have absorbed satisfactorily the constraints described above.
I travelled a slightly different route. After working at the Advertiser, I went off to get myself trained and won a scholarship to Cardiff University's journalism post-graduate course, one of only two such programmes in the country then. Of the 50 or so idealistic trainees alongside me, all hoped to leapfrog the local papers and TV and arrive in a plum job in the national media.
The course spent a lot of time reminding us that we were following in the footsteps of the country's leading journalists, many of whom had attended Cardiff. Instead of two years of probation on a local newspaper, we had an intensive year-long period of study to groom us for our probable rapid ascent through the ranks of the media.
Cardiff therefore spent a great deal of time persuading us that we were professionals: that is, members of a profession with rules and ethics just like our counterparts in the law and medicine.
That is actually a departure from the historic view of journalists, which was that they belonged to a trade and that they learnt their craft on the job through what were effectively apprenticeships. Journalists in the nineteenth century understood that they were little different from cabinet-makers: you learnt the rules of the craft from your elders and then applied them.
If that sounds difficult to believe today, my experience living in Nazareth - the largest Arab city inside Israel - may be helpful. Here journalists are essentially party political functionaries, working for newspapers established by and closely allied to those parties. Most journalists write little more than press releases for their party and then publish this propaganda as news reports in the party's newspaper. Unsurprisingly, journalists are generally held in low esteem.
Until the twentieth century that was pretty much the situation in Britain and the United States. A journalist worked for a proprietor with a clear political agenda and produced copy in keeping with that agenda. Such journalists were sometimes derogatively referred to as "hacks". According to Wikipedia, "hack" in this context derives from "hackney", "a horse that was easy to ride and available for hire". The proprietor was, of course, the rider.
The press earned its reputation as the Fourth Estate largely because the interests of these newspapers, representing different elite groups, sometimes clashed. In such circumstances a journalist was briefly able to shine a light on corruption or intrigues in the corridors of power.
Jonathan Cook is a British journalist living in Nazareth, Israel. His new book, published this month, is “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is www.jkcook.net
(15 October 2008)
A long personal account of a journalist's experience. Read it to find out why the media are the way they are.
Jonathan Cook's experiences in journalism are similar to the ones I've had. After being introduced to newpaper work during a six month stint with the Staten Island Advance, I spent a heady few years around alternative newspapers (the SF Bay Guardian) and studying the underground press (SF Good Times). Afterwards, corporate journalism felt boring and constricting. In contrast, I found small community newspapers (Menlo Park Recorder) to be more honest and emotionally satisfying. When the web came along, I saw its potential for opening up journalism and was eager to get involved. This is where the cutting edge of journalism is nowadays.
The original version of the article appeared October 5 on Media Lens. -BA